Saturday, November 4, 2017

Five Movie Reviews

I enjoy superhero / sci-fi flicks from time to time. Most are not very good by any fair standard of film criticism. They tend to be riddled with cliches, plot holes, and often just straight up bad writing and acting. However I grew up reading comics and my morbid curiosity compels me to see how these stories are interpreted on the big screen. I also can enjoy them on a technical level by just focusing on the directing, music, effects, costumes, and set design.

So as an exercise in concision I present five quick reviews all just one paragraph in length. Enjoy!

Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman is the DC movie universe's first completely inoffensive film. The best word for it is, "passable." Gal Gadot looks great in costume, the story is coherent, the themes are straightforward and exemplified by the plot, the special effects are solid, and the directing is competent. That said, it is vastly overrated. Gadot is not a very good actress. The final scenes and battle were awful. The plot was predictable and boring. There were a lot of missed opportunities given the unique setting and all the build up about the First Wonder Woman Movie Ever! But DC played it safe and we ended up with a serviceable origin story. Oh well. Wonder Woman is at least a pleasant film that is easy on the eyes. Sure, it's a sexist appraisal, but it's also an honest one.

Grade: C+

Spiderman: Homecoming


Mediocre on most fronts. Homecoming is Marvel at its laziest. Instead of letting Spiderman tell his own story the film uses the reliably bankable Iron Man as its foundation. Robert Downey Jr.'s snarky Avenger provides the film with its villain, moral authority(!?), comic relief, and multiple deus ex machinas. It's a tedious story that only works in moments, such as Childish Gambino's two brief scenes. Given the tangled web that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is remarkable how unnecessary this film feels. The film's only real saving grace is the delightfully menacing Michael Keaton as Vulture. He looks like he's having fun. Tom Holland also put in a good effort. He is a natural at embodying Peter Parker in a way that feels true to the comics.

Grade: D+

Valerian


Valerian is a beautiful mess. It is ambitious and earnest, but still, at root, a mess. It was supposed to be a classic sci-fi adventure. It shoots for the stars (bad pun) but falls way short. The consensus view that Dane DeHaan is unbelievable as a leading man is accurate but he's not the only bad casting. Cara Delevingne is also exhausting to watch. Her character, ostensibly the heroine, was written to be as surly and unlikable as possible. This of course makes her irresistible to the male lead who throws away all of his convictions in the film's final big choice just to make her like him. There is zero consistency both in terms of story and characterization.  It's a shame because, as with Luc Besson's other films, Valerian is just really pretty. Watch the film on mute and every few seconds you will be treated to some gorgeous and imaginative work of CGI. It is a successful technical exercise but a bad film.

Grade: D

Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner is a solid but frustrating film. In its best moments it really shines. In those moments the movie is not just a cheap cash grab nor is it trying to recreate the magic of the original. In those moments the film is blazing its own trail. There are a number of great scenes. The cinematography is fantastic as is the sound design and music. The movie is A E S T H E T I C. It plays with great ideas about artificial intelligence, identity, memory, and genetics. And then in comes Harrison Ford to ruin everything. In comes Harrison Ford taking top billing in all the trailers and posters for about ten minutes of phoned in screen time looking like he didn't even bother to get in costume. Even his action scenes seem cheap and forced, as if Ford himself insisted they be there to make him look tough. His contribution to the film is to make it overlong and convoluted. The story is so well paced for the first 90 minutes and then just goes down the drain by outgrowing its own carefully crafted frame. It's a shame because the original was so good in part because the plot was so simple and small in scale. Blade Runner 2049 had the makings to surpass it.

Grade: B-

Thor: Ragnarok


MCU's formula is still meeting Disney Corporation's quarterly profit expectations and getting decent reviews. Even as a comic fan who can enjoy, "turn your brain off," action movies, the formula is wearing thin for me. This movie felt like a long episode of Family Guy. I cannot recall a single scene that didn't have some forced quip. Even towards the end of the movie when Thor and his people befall an incredible tragedy, the scene is punctuated with a joke. They just couldn't help themselves. They are so terrified of sincerity. It just makes you not care about the story or characters at all. Viewers need some contrast. Thor: The Dark World was awful but it at least had the nerve to be serious occasionally. The funeral for Thor's mother is the best example. It is the film's most powerful scene. Ragnarok is funny at times but shallow and unmemorable. As bland as Ragnarok often feels there are two decent consolation prizes: Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett. Both are fun to watch. I also have to give the film credit for its amazing costume and set design. The technical effects are generally good. Also, given my recent article about Black Panther being an Alt-Right story, it was funny to hear Odin remind Thor that Asgard is, "a people, not a place." An interesting bit of likely unintentional right wing nativist ideology.

Grade: C-