Friday, October 27, 2017

Thor: The Dark World


When the basic plot of your first movie around a certain character revolves around him being a jerk and then changing himself, it can be difficult to make a second movie where you're literally just killing time until the next main Avengers movie. At least with Iron Man 2, they actually had some universe-building to do. But in this movie? Um... they introduce another Infinity Stone. That's about it. 

This second Thor movie centers around a rare occurrence in the cosmos called the Convergence, in which the Nine Realms align perfectly and the lines between reality are extremely blurred... but only in one specific location on any given realm. And there's this supposedly extinct race of bad guys called the Dark Elves led by Malekith who wants to use this ancient vague weapon called the Aether and use the Convergence to destroy the universe. 

As you can see, there's a fair share of sci-fi mumbo jumbo here and a pretty generic villain plot. Thor's continued story is kind of interesting, even if there's nothing major really happening in it like the last movie. But honestly this film probably has one of the weaker foundations of any Marvel movie. 

Malekith, despite being played by Christopher Eccleston, is about as flat a villain as there is in the MCU. There's not really any backstory to him that makes him interesting, so he's basically just another dude who wants to destroy the world. As a matter of fact, it ends up being Loki who steals the spotlight--not only from Malekith, but from pretty much the whole doggone movie. We get to see much more of what the trickster is capable of in this film, and he is full of surprises. Tom Hiddleston just seems to be getting better in better in the role. 

Luckily, Loki's not the only good thing about this movie. The cast is still pretty stellar. Despite a rather average plot, the film is still pretty exciting and fast-paced overall. There's a couple of pretty great action sequences, namely the Dark Elves' assault on Asgard. The climax is a bit of a confusing mess, but at least there's comedy in it. And there's comedy thrown in elsewhere too. Even if it isn't the most well-written of the Marvel films, most people who've enjoyed the MCU to this point shouldn't have much issue finding some fun and excitement in it. 

Thor: The Dark World may be near the bottom of the MCU food chain, but it's still a quite passable couple of hours. It's another one of those films that's just good enough to help kill time until the next bigger Marvel movie. It definitely could've been a lot better, but I've said before that when even the worst entries in your movie series are well above average, you're doing something right. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming


It's hard to believe this is the third iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in only 15 years. But after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's trilogy ended, Sony just had to make a reboot in order to keep the rights. But it was actually going pretty well. The two Andrew Garfield films weren't great, but they were good enough and they were setting up some pretty interesting stuff with the Sinister Six being on the way.

And then the deal between Sony and Marvel happened to share the film rights. At probably the worst time. Things were actually probably going to get pretty good in the Garfield reboot. But it all got canned, and everyone got *seriously* screwed over. All so we could put Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And put up yet *another* doggone iteration of the character. At that point, I was feeling pretty Spider-Manned out. 

With all of that, this movie had no right to be any good. This movie probably should have crashed and burned, and Spider-Man should have been written out of Infinity War and put on the shelf or whatever for about 20 years to give everyone time to get over everything. And yet... it actually turned out fairly good. 

They're quite fortunate in that their latest actor for the character--Tom Holland--has turned out to nail the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man quite well. But it also helps that the director and writers did him some justice too. They wrote in a lot of good humor and snark for Spider-Man. While I don't find Holland groundbreaking, he does enough to distinguish his performance of the character and not feel like a tired cliche.

This particular Spider-Man film with a rather lame title ("Homecoming?" Really?) takes place during Peter's sophomore year in high school, where he's trying all too hard to become a part of the Avengers after the events of Civil War, while Tony Stark/Iron Man just wants him to be a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." However, the appearance of goons in Spidey's neighborhood with way high-tech weapons leads him to investigate, leading him into conflict with... the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Or at least, an upgraded version of the Vulture with high-tech wings and stuff, since the original Vulture was too dumb for today's audiences. 

There is a lot to like here. There's a whole lot of humor, and though they don't do the "Uncle Ben dies/"...comes great responsibility" backstory here, there is still growth for the character of Peter here, albeit of a different sort. Michael Keaton's performance helps the Vulture avoid being a forgettable villain--though a late plot twist regarding him doesn't hurt either. While I'm not sure how to feel about the "twist" in the final minutes regarding Zendaya's character Michelle, she's still quite amusing in the scenes she's actually in.

There's still some issues, though. The film does have way more emphasis on the "high school" part of Peter's life than previous films really did--and thus more of the cliches and cringing that comes with such things. Also, although director Jon Watts mostly did a good job, he does not know how to film an action scene. Virtually all the fights with the Vulture take place in the pitch dark with horrible lighting (save for the daytime ferry scene) so it's quite difficult to tell what's going on and there's a little bit of choppy editing too. 

Also, it's still difficult to shake the feeling  that this is the third Spider-Man iteration in 15 years. While this movie is good, it's not better than most of the other movies we've seen featuring the character over the years. While it's easy to enjoy the film in the moment, it's hard to shake that feeling when you think about it more. 

But at the end of the day, it's a fun enough movie. Like many of the other Marvel movies, it relies on humor and lightheartedness for the majority of its runtime, and it works here. While it might be in the lower tier of MCU movies, that's still above average. Indeed, this movie is a lot better than it has any right to be. Maybe there is a place for Spider-Man in the MCU after all... even if I'm not completely happy about that. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Transformers 5: The Last Knight


The Transformers movies have never been works of art. Works of visual and special effects art, maybe. But that's probably the best thing most people can say about them. That said, the formula sort of worked for the first three movies... somehow. As silly and sometimes dumb as those movies are, they are also extremely entertaining and I could see myself going back to watch them again. But then the fourth movie happened and they got lazier on every front. I think to myself, the odd-numbered movies (the first one and Dark of the Moon) are the better ones so far... so maybe this one will be an improvement? Uhh... no. Not even close. 

If you thought the Transformers movies were brainless, annoying and overwhelming before, fasten your seat belts. This is actually one of the most brainless and nonsensical action movies I have ever seen. I'm not sure I've ever seen so little effort get put into a big-budget movie like this. It's like the writers had all their sessions while drunk on the strongest drinks possible. 

And yet I have to try and somehow explain the plot. That will prove difficult... but I will try. So Optimus Prime went looking for his "creators" at the end of the last movie... and finds one now. Quintessa. On the remains of Cybertron... even though Cybertron was totally destroyed at the end of the third movie. (But you surely don't remember silly details like that, right? Apparently that's what Michael Bay thinks...) Quintessa brainwashes him and turns him into Nemesis Prime. Now that all sounds kind of interesting, right? 

Well... now it starts to get ugly. Quintessa *and* the Decepticons on Earth are both after this mythical staff that's hidden somewhere on Earth. It was used before by King Arthur, of all freaking things--in one of the most incomprehensible opening scenes I've ever seen. Turns out the Transformers have been on Earth much longer than we expected somehow (even though that's totally impossible in this series' continuity), and all this time they've been searching for this staff. Because it can rebuild Cybertron. Or something. I mean, forget that silly All Spark or that weird space bridge from the third movie, right? No, *this* is the real deal. Sigh.

This movie is seriously frustrating in a lot of ways. The only part of the plot that's even interesting is Quintessa's brainwashing of Optimus, but after that initially happens he kind of disappears for a while and then once he shows up as Nemesis Prime... it is resolved in about ten minutes or less, with still over thirty minutes to go. And although the battle between Prime and Bumblebee is pretty good, the way in which it is resolved is also another blast to continuity.

Beyond that, the plot ranges from boring to stupid. Somehow Mark Wahlberg's returning character and Laura Haddock's new character are "keys" to the whole thing. Unicron is introduced in this movie, but only through an unbelievably dumb twist. Megatron is back and so is his original voice actor Frank Welker, but even the "Galvatron" shell he possessed in the last movie looks different. This new young girl character named Izabella is introduced and is actually kind of decent, but is quickly put to the side about an hour in, making one wonder what the point was.

The script is incredibly bad; even moments that might've worked before like Optimus Prime's latest rallying speech feel weak and rehashed. The biggest victim of the script is Anthony Hopkins, who somehow got dragged into this. He seems like even he doesn't know what to do with his ridiculous lines. John Turturro's character is back as well, but he's sadly only on screen for about two to three minutes.

Even most of the action scenes feel a little more lazy than before. There's a couple decent moments, but they don't really stand out with any of the better action scenes from the first three movies. Now normally things get a little bit better in the climactic act on the action front. That doesn't happen here. Instead, we're given a bit of a ridiculous finale in which Cybertron's remains enter Earth's atmosphere, leading to a battle mostly in the sky on terrible CGI platforms that I'm not even sure how to describe. Sure, there's a few cool moments isolated within this chaos--such as Optimus dispatching about six of Quintessa's minions at once--but overall it's more difficult to keep up with what's going on in this final act. Steve Jablonsky's soundtrack is probably the best part about it. And once it all ends, not very much is even resolved--which presumes to set up a sixth film not too much unlike this one, but who knows what they'll do since we might finally be getting a director change and these guys have proven they don't seem to mind breaking their own canon.

I've defended some of these Transformers movies a little bit more than most. I recognize what they are, but I've also kind of enjoyed them. But this one is pretty much indefensible. It's honestly depressing, because the Transformers deserve better. And even if you hate these movies, you still have to admit they were better at one time than this. Even Michael Bay is capable of better than this. It is quite enraging to see a movie this lazily made when you know it can be better--even if only to a certain point. I'd like to see what a new decent director could do with these movies, but whoever it is will have their work cut out for them. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Fate of the Furious


It's hard to believe this franchise has gotten as far it has. They didn't even start becoming "good" until the fifth one, and even then they still had issues. The increasing ludicrousness of the plots and impossible stunts eventually caught up with them a little in the last movie, so I had to wonder if the franchise had run out of what little gas it had to begin with. The title of this one certainly didn't help much. "The Fate of the Furious." Fate. F8. Get it? Ha. Ha. 

This particular plot centers around the idea "What if Dominic Toretto, the guy who preaches 'family' so much, turned his back on them?" That was what the trailer gave us. The problem in the actual movie is that the big twist as to why he does it is telegraphed almost *immediately* after he meets Cipher, our new villain. And then about 20-25 minutes later, they just flat out give up on trying to hide it and just give the reveal anyway. (Despite the predictability, I have to give some props at some point for Vin Diesel's acting through all of this--he actually does *really* good in this movie.) 

With that said, the plot and storyline of this movie still in general makes more sense than Furious 7. That one advertised Jason Statham as the bad guy, but then they threw in Djimon Hounsou as well and created a rather convoluted plot that was lost amidst sloppy direction and writing, and stunts and impossible survivals that were ridiculous even by this franchise's standards. This one at least feels a little more simple. Or at least simple in that it's kind of familiar. Because what the bad guy (or girl in this case) wants is nuclear launch codes to gain access to nuclear missiles. Simple enough, right? And even the "blackmailing Dom" plot that happens here isn't completely unheard of. Sure, there's a bit of technological nonsense along the way, but don't tell me you weren't expecting that by this point in these movies. Cipher herself is kind of annoying though, due to her constant ridiculous monologues on things like fate and choice.

The good news is that director James Wan is gone. No more ridiculous circling camera movements when characters are fighting. And the writing's better too--not great or anything, but it certainly feels less amateur. And, believe it or not, suspension of disbelief isn't as big of a problem here as it was in the last movie--maybe even the sixth one. We have two main big action set pieces--one in New York where Cipher is able to hack a *ton* of cars remotely to create a "zombie" car chase of sorts. It's actually pretty awesome. And the final set piece on the icy tundra is quite good too, and not that unbelievable--at least not until the submarine shows up and then the film reverts to the usual F&F "impossible things" antics for a few minutes. But there's nothing here that's as ridiculous as driving a car off a parking garage ramp, actually hitting a helicopter with it, falling multiple stories in said car and still surviving. 

Now we get to an interesting point of contention--Deckard Shaw's return. Due to having his own vendetta against Cipher, he actually kind of *teams up* with the heroes.  I won't say too much even though you might be able to predict how it goes from there, but they try to make him a bit more sympathetic. Which is difficult, given his actions in the last movie. And yet they somehow actually kind of pull it off--even though I'm also left confused as to how the rest of the team is able to work with him without constantly scowling. 

But what we do get out of that is the glorious continuation of the rivalry between The Rock's and Jason Statham's characters. It was cut short last time when Hobbs got injured early in the movie, but this time we actually watch their "frenemy-ship" build. Which ranges from the prison break scene where the two of them beat the crap out of other prisoners and cops (the most fun part of the movie) or the hilarious jargon they trade. It's enough to make me actually kind of interested in the newly announced spin-off featuring the two. 

At the end of the day, The Fate of the Furious does what I did not expect--improve on the previous movie and actually makes the franchise kind of fun again. There's still problems, of course, but you wouldn't expect anything less. The series has gone back to embracing its spectacle without going too over-the-top. I don't know if they'll be able to keep it up--especially if they ever go to space, since that's actually apparently a small possibility--but they've still given us at least one more fun popcorn action movie out of this long-winded series to watch. This movie doesn't really have much right to be that good, so the fact that it kind of works is a bit of a victory in of itself.