Saturday, January 27, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure


Remember when these YA sci-fi dystopian adaptations were all the rage? That feels like a long time ago now. That era did not last very long at all. To recap its demise, it essentially ended when the Hunger Games did--after Mockingjay Part 2 came out in 2015. Many people were disappointed with both Parts 1 and 2, something that I still have been unable to comprehend to this day. But splitting the final books into two movies was part of the reason for the genre's fate. The third movie in the Divergent series came out in 2016 and bombed to the point where they cancelled the fourth one. And that was that--The 5th Wave had failed to get off the ground at all, and at this point people just got sick of the whole thing. 

Over a year later, we get the final gasp of the genre--the final entry in The Maze Runner series, delayed almost a whole year due to Dylan O'Brien getting injured on set, and *not* split into two. The Maze Runner was arguably the most inventive one of the bunch, even if parts of its premise felt ludicrous at times. And the films--particularly the first--had a since of relentless mystery to them that kept one's attention. Unfortunately at this point, some seem a bit pre-disposed to hate this genre by default--something I again fail to understand. To be clear, it should not matter who the target audience is *or* the age of the protagonists if a good yarn is being told (or at least an interesting/exciting one). 

In this final installment, the organization who lacks subtlety in their acronym (WCKD) is still trying to find a cure to the virus that turns you into a zombie. Unfortunately, the means they've taken to find that cure have obviously been questionable at best--hence why they are the bad guys. And they have a few of main protagonist Thomas's friends now. And he is gonna do whatever it takes to get them back and destroy WCKD for good--even if it means breaking into the seemingly impenetrable "Last City." Good thing he has some help. 

Like the previous movies, The Death Cure takes you right into the action--only even more so this time, as it opens with an excellent train action sequence. And once they get to the "Last City" and start their plan, the action is pretty relentless from there--it basically becomes over an hour of total chaos, insanity, and the usual twists and turns we are used to in this series by now. One thing that admittedly was a little underwhelming in Mockingjay Part 2 was the short length of the final assault/battle between the Districts and the Capital--which lasted about all of three minutes. Death Cure improves upon that, giving us a colossal assault upon the Last City from a bunch of random rebels who help add some extra chaos. Basically, one thing is for certain: one will not be bored easily. 

Visually, this is a pretty great movie to look at as well. There is a great level of detail in the Last City, and there are plenty of excellent shots. Wes Ball has shown himself as a talented director over the course of this trilogy, and it will be interesting to see what he does next. Elsewhere, some of the actors step up their performances. Dylan O'Brien has been doing pretty good the whole time, but Thomas Brodie-Sangster steps it up quite a bit (perhaps because they actually did more with his character this time), and Aidan Gillen does *way* better in his second go-around in this series as well. Also of note is Walton Goggins, who is new to the series and does not get much screen time, but does well with the time given. (Also some impressive detail on the design of his face--you'll see what I mean.) 

While this is an improvement over The Scorch Trials, there were still some issues. While they finally do a better job explaining why the heck they put some virus-immune kids into a dangerous maze, they still never really explain the whole "Flare virus" thing and how in the world that could turn someone into a cast member of The Walking Dead. There's some other little things that could've been fleshed out a bit more too. They bring back a character from the dead, but that character does not end up serving much purpose to the main plot itself. Also, as thrilling and tense as most of the final act is, there was a certain late event (not *that* one, book fans) that feels like it was supposed to impact us... but it really doesn't. And the very end in general kind of felt a little cheap--without spoiling anything, my thought was "Why didn't you just do this a long time ago?" 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure will probably not get seen by many people unless they already read the books or they enjoyed the movies without reading the books (me being one of those)--and the latter seem to be few and far between. That's a bit unfortunate. Maze Runner has its problems, but it's a pretty exciting trilogy. And ironically, it actually avoids some of the tropes of its peers in the genre (no love triangle, for example). It may not end up being a well remembered series, but it was still a fun ride and this was still a pretty good final installment. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


They really love making you wait for these Terminator movies, don't they? The wait between Terminator 2 and Terminator 3 was *twelve years.* And though some argue that the story really pretty much ended with T2, there was still plenty of people who wanted more of Schwarzenegger in his most famous role. And hey, these things make money so it was going to happen eventually. 

This one takes place after the supposed date of Judgment Day and about ten years (give or take) after Terminator 2, with John Connor living off the grid despite Skynet supposedly no longer being a threat. His fears prove to be somewhat merited when Skynet sends back yet another Terminator--the "T-X"--to kill certain resistance members, John included if possible. And so another reprogrammed Schwarzenegger Terminator is sent back in time--once again to protect John Connor, as well as one Kate Brewster, who has her own important role to play in the future. 

Okay, so let us first try and address the muddled timeline--if we can. I did this in my review of Terminator 2 as well, but now there are some new issues, of course. Near the end of T2, Skynet was essentially destroyed before it could even go properly online. And that *did* change the future--Judgment Day ended up not happening. Which would logically mean Skynet wouldn't even exist in the future anymore. Now we are shown in this movie that some military installation is still building Skynet yet again--yet we are never shown how that's even possible. We've been led to believe all along that that Skynet only exists in the future because the technology ends up coming back to the past. But they don't seem to have access to that tech in T3--at least, they don't show it to us. So what gives? John himself asks Arnold's Terminator why he's even here, because "we stopped Judgment Day." The Terminator replies with this: "You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable." Not sure how, since it's debatable that Skynet shouldn't even exist anymore in the present timeline we witness on screen. 

This is just the big plot issue surrounding the existence of this movie in general. This movie in general is more sloppily plotted than its predecessors. Now, the good news? It's still pretty much as entertaining as ever. Probably the most memorable set piece is the chaotic car chase scene which is still pretty early in the movie. There's also a good cemetery escape set piece, and an extended finale that offers plenty of action. There's also quite a whammy of an ending which is arguably the antithesis of its predecessor's endings, but also is impressively bold. 

Those are pretty much the main draws and positives of this movie: entertaining action set pieces and chaos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the ending. It's enough to make the movie above average, but we are still left with issues such as the headache-inducing timeline. Also, there's the new T-X Terminator. This one has some impressive new abilities, but Kristanna Loken's T-X just isn't as memorable as Arnold's Terminator or even Robert Patrick's T-1000--and oddly enough, the T-X special effects still don't look as good as the liquid metal effects in the T-1000. Loken's not the only letdown on the acting front--there really isn't anyone notable on the cast list besides Arnold and it shows at times. 

Terminator 3's the kind of movie that you'll probably enjoy in the moment, but think later about just how flawed it is. If you try not to think about the timeline, it'll probably help with the viewing experience. It's still quite entertaining despite its problems. It won't hold up as well against the first two movies, but it's a decent enough experience of its own. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Terminator 2: Judgment Day


The best thing about Terminator 2--and its predecessor--is Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator. And it's hardly even close. 

Oh sure, there are some other likable things about these movies. The first Terminator movie had its frantic thriller-esque pacing which kept us all on our toes, as well as some well-done action scenes. And this movie has a brand-new Terminator with awesome brand-new abilities, some astounding visual effects which still hold up to this day, and some even more exciting action scenes that also hold up well. 

But here's the deal. These two movies take place in a universe that is undeniably interesting with its tale of AI gone wrong (Skynet) and machines attacking humankind. But the timeline is incredibly confusing--perhaps even more so in the sequel. Much is made of changing the future--but given the fact that the future has sent back time-traveling robots *and* people which have made a massive impact on the present which then should also have a consequential impact on the future... well, it screws with one's mind a lot. For example, if the future is changed and Skynet doesn't exist, then John Connor never meets Kyle Reese who then never goes back into the past... which if you saw the first movie, you know how that's a massive problem. Ugh. 

And elsewhere, there seems to be a problem with developing likable/interesting human characters. Again, perhaps that is more the case in this movie. Sarah Connor herself never became that interesting until the very end of the first movie--and here, she's fallen on hard times and for the first half of the movie, displays some almost psychotic tendencies on occasion that make it difficult to root for her. Sure, she improves down the stretch, but when the character never overwhelmingly stood out to begin with, making her temporarily unlikable does not help the viewer. And John Connor? We meet him now when he's about ten or so. And he is an annoying little punk for most of the movie. I don't necessarily expect him to be the fearless leader that he is in the future, but I do expect him to be at least somewhat likable in one way or another. And again, he improves down the stretch as well. But some of the dialogue he's given is still pretty ludicrous. 

But one tends to forget about these things when Schwarzenegger is eating up the screen, making us smile, chuckle or cheer with every little thing he does in this movie. See, Arnold's Terminator in this movie is again sent back from the future... but this time to protect John. And in the process, the Terminator actually evolves--he's not just a relentless killing machine with charisma, he actually becomes a bit of a character now as he learns further about human behavior--and becomes a better character than anyone else in this movie. Whether it's his unforgettable one-liners, or how he dispatches people *without* killing them (under John's orders), just about everything he says and does in this movie is awesome. 

And the new Terminator--the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) isn't a slouch either. Patrick doesn't carry the same charisma as Schwarzenegger, but he is appropriately threatening and the T-1000 has some crazy abilities. And here we get to see (multiple times) what we couldn't see in the first movie--two Terminators going toe-to-toe against each other. The result is awesome. 

Now the one other main issue with this movie is the middle of it. I saw talk of the movie having a slick pace and not really letting up, but they seem to have forgotten the middle of it--where the main trio (Arnold and the Connors) go on a road trip and eventually hide out for a while and nothing really happens except some attempted character development with mixed results. And there's another issue, actually--the T-1000 actually kind of disappears for a while. During all of this "road trip" bit and most of an extended sequence where they try to take out Skynet before it comes into existence (which is also a bit slow at first), he is nowhere to be seen. 

Despite that slow middle, though, the rest of the movie is pretty briskly paced and there are some incredible action scenes. There's an exciting car chase early, a super-fun hospital escape/battle, a building escape and a brilliant 30-minute climactic action scene which starts with another excellent car chase of sorts and ends in a brutal battle in a steel factory. (These movies love ending in factories, don't they?) It culminates in an unforgettable ending which will make you (and the characters) realize just how far we've come with the Terminator in a short time. 

Terminator 2 is hardly as flawless as some people make it out to be. The human characters are really not that memorable and even annoying occasionally (especially John). But Schwarzenegger basically single-handedly takes a movie that would've probably been just decent at best without him and turns it into a movie that is considered a classic. Despite some of my gripes, I can't really argue. Arnold's performance and the Terminator's character arc are what make this movie what it is. And at the end of the day, that was enough. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Terminator


So here's the beginning of a franchise that has lasted almost 35 years now... but has only had five movies during that time (with a sixth and possibly final upcoming). The first Terminator movie is regarded a classic, and it is not difficult to see why--it is also difficult to not enjoy. But it is also easy to see why they waited seven years to make the next one.

You see, this is a movie with tons of ambition that is limited by its time. Luckily, they made it work quite well regardless. This is a movie about an artificial intelligence robot that is sent back in time from an apocalyptic future to kill the mother of an unborn future resistance leader. Now how would they pull that off without it being campy or looking ridiculously dated in just fifteen years? Well, you create a robot that has human tissue on it--and thus, it's technically a cyborg. And you make Arnold Schwarzenegger play that cyborg. Problem solved--well, at least most of your problems anyway. (I guess Arnold technically is a little campy himself, but it's the good kind of camp--and hey, it worked for basically everyone.)

Although we've gotten to five movies now in this franchise, this first installment is actually fairly simple. It focuses pretty strictly on just a few characters: Sarah Connor, the hunted; Kyle Reese, the guy who comes to save her from the future; and the Terminator himself. The only other actual characters who are on screen longer than two minutes are Sarah's roommate and her boyfriend, and some cops. The only info we find out about the terrible future ahead comes from Reese's mouth--plus a couple of scenes in that future that are technically flashbacks for Reese now. (And those scenes--with battles between the resistance and the machines--are one of the things that haven't held up well.) 

Despite the simpleness of the whole thing, it's pretty exciting/intriguing for most of the way through. It's a little slow at first (save for a couple scenes of Arnold doing Arnold things), but after Reese saves Sarah for the first time, the thing basically never lets up. It's basically relentless chasing and action and when we're not watching that, other important stuff is happening--such as Reese giving info on the future he came from. 

Though most of the film holds up okay (save for some of the 80's tropes--hairstyles and the like), there is one thing that kind of glaringly stands out--and that's when the Terminator loses its human flesh near the end and is just a robot. (Not really a spoiler--even if you haven't seen the movie, you'd probably expect it to happen anyway and it's not really plot related.) This is why it's a good thing they waited until 1991 to make another movie, because 1984 was not ready for that robot--the thing moves so stiffly and awkwardly it's difficult to take seriously despite the creepy eyes. I understand why they had the robot there despite that, and I'm glad they had the sense to limit it to the very end especially since Schwarzenegger is far more threatening. But it still kind of sticks out. 

Beyond that, the other main issue is a key plot twist near the end--which is honestly more weird than anything and will have you scratching your head a little bit about how the time/space continuum is getting a little screwed with. Despite that, The Terminator is still undeniably quite an exciting and often fun piece of work and is probably the quintessential "AI robot" movie of its time. And it probably never would have worked as well as it did without that one critical casting choice. Funny how that works...