Aquaman

January 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Movies

The DC Cineverse seems to want to catch up to Marvel these days, now working on giving each member of the Justice League their own film. A bit of a backwards logic, as the “Justice League” film has already been done. But, things have been a little more uneven in the DC world. “Man of Steel” was messy, “Batman v. Superman” was even messier, and then things seemed to get right with “Wonder Woman”. Now, they gave themselves the ultimate task: make Aquaman NOT the joke of superheroes, and even go a step further: make him entertaining. They got the casting down: Jason Momoa proves he is more than capable of carrying a film. But that still leaves the question: can you give him a good villain, a good premise, and maybe even a love interest?

Director James Wan gives it the old college try, and for the most part he does succeed. We are introduced to the backstory through Aquaman–known as Arthur Curry–narrating his origin. His father, Thomas (Temuera Morrison), finds Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, lying on the rocks beneath his lighthouse. This kind of “Splash” origin is a little goofy at first, but Atlanna and Thomas do share some chemistry before having Arthur, and raising him on land. Atlanna has left Atlantis and eventually is taken after raising Arthur briefly. Thomas takes over until Arthur is a grown man, and learns about his heritage. He is trained by Vulko (Willem Dafoe) but Atlantis ultimately doesn’t want anything to do with the “half-breed” as he’s called. Not even his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is trying to take over the undersea world as Ocean Master.

Arthur confronts a group of pirates, led by a father/son team Jesse and David Kane (Michael Beach and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II respectively), and David vows revenge after his father dies in the battle. Arthur is also met by Mera (Amber Heard) who has an agenda to stop Orm (even though she’s actually betrothed to him). She and Arthur also have good chemistry, and work together to stop Orm from waging war against the surface dwellers: aka, us.

There is plenty to like about “Aquaman”, but the main reason for that is the strength of charisma of Jason Momoa. He makes up for some clumsy tonality shifts (especially when the film tries to be humorous), and some clunkiness late in the second act of the film. David Kane is actually a more intriguing villain than Orm, because he wants to avenge his father’s death (which, Aquaman pretty much regrets allowing to happen in the end). He is aided by Orm at one point and is given armor and weaponry to battle Aquaman competently, and gives him his villain name–Black Manta. Certainly credible as a superhero villain, and we will most likely see him again (this will definitely be given a sequel).

The film is not as strong as “Wonder Woman”, but it does have its own charm. I think if they turn this into a series, they might want to get a director who has some chops doing superhero action films. James Wan is mostly in the horror genre, and he definitely shows his talents in that for a few scenes (the creepy deep sea underdwellers are pretty striking). But the pacing isn’t strong, and the running time really starts to lag toward the end.

The family story not only between Arthur and his parents and Arthur and his ocean family is probably the best part of the plot, and makes for an endearing story. The movie is worth seeing simply because they do actually pull off a good Aquaman movie. Something I don’t think anyone ever saw coming…certainly not anyone from “Entourage”.

My rating: :-)

Kick-Ass 2

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Kick-Ass” was a fun, if a bit overviolent romp that put a bit of a realistic spin on the superhero genre. Of course, it wanted to have it both ways: cartoonish violence mixed with realistic violence. In most ways, it worked because it had so much fun with itself and didnt take itself too seriously. With the sequel, it packs on more violence and does the same thing; but it also adds another wrinkle, which is a “sexy” angle that comes off more as just audaciously perverse than it does comical or ironic.

“Kick-Ass 2” again follows the exploits of a group of superheroes who are real people and really have no super powers. Dave, or Kick-Ass, played well again by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is now a senior in high school with his bombshell girlfriend and is learning to be a better “ass-kicker” basically with the help of Mindy, or Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). The two here have great chemistry, and there’s even a bit of tension between them because of what Dave wants to accomplish versus what Mindy isn’t allowed to any longer. She’s basically grounded from being Hit Girl after her father (Big Daddy) was killed in the first film and her guardian, a cop named Marcus, wants to protect her from sharing that same fate.

Meanwhile, Kick-Ass realizes he can’t save the city of New York by himself and instead of being a dynamic duo with Hit-Girl, he is enlisted in a team of crime fighters known as Justice Forever, headed up by Colonel Stars and Stripes (well played by Jim Carrey), a born again ex-mafioso who can either beat you up by himself, or have his dog do it for him. Other heroes include Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) and Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), the former who begins a bit of a romance with Kick-Ass as they patrol the streets fighting crime.

There’s still a “real world” element in this film that they like to play with: in one scene, a group of punks try recording a fight with Kick-Ass on their phone in the hopes it’ll go viral. In another, the new supervillain The Motherf*cker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tweets his rage and want of revenge for Kick-Ass after he killed his father in the first movie, and recruits a group of evildoers in hopes of making an army of villains to take down the city of New York–for no apparent reason.

That’s all well and good, and there are some comic scenes involving these antics that makes the movie fun. But the†whole product†never seems to be quite right; and, sometimes when the movie is supposed to be funny or goofy, it just comes off as awkward and even offensive. The bigger faux pas is the more sexual angle the film takes. This is handled in a pretty useless subplot involving Mindy and a group of snobs led by Brooke (Claudia Lee) as head cheerleader. This plot feels more like a sequel to “Mean Girls” than it does “Kick-Ass” as Mindy tries to find a new identity for herself, Popular-Girl (sorry). There’s an entire dance sequence that just feels a bit icky if you realize that Lee isn’t even 18 yet in real life; but in terms of importance of the plot, there isn’t any.

This film is completely unadulterated, and unfiltered. I have no issue with that in theory; but you have to execute it correctly. If you’re going to bill the movie as a black comedy or a cartoonish superhero comedy action film, you have to use the right tone, and this film never achieves that. The satire isn’t convincing, there doesn’t seem to be an awareness that some of the humor is tasteless and unworthy, and there are even pacing problems as the film comes to its climax because there has been so much exposition in the previous two acts that try to pull the movie in too many directions. Some of the narration by Kick-Ass makes it seem like you’re watching a synopsis of a film rather than the film itself.

I can’t say I was bored through any of it, or that it was a waste of time. Some of it is very charming; and since this revolves more around Hit-Girl and Moretz is such a good young actress, it can be very appealing. In some ways it wants to be a coming of age story, and it works occasionally.†There are humorous scenes, and some big laughs. And of course, the fight scenes are competent. The sequel raises the ante of stakes and ambition. But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and this film really doesn’t want the responsibility. It just wants to wallow in its indulgence. If that were the point, and it was driven home correctly, then I’d say the film did its job. But writer/director Jeff Wadlow and company needed to do a better job of putting it all together. Maybe the comic book series this is based on does that; but then again, in that medium, you can get away with a lot more and pay less consequences. In the movie world, there are rules. And if you’re going to break them, you’d better have a good excuse. This film’s excuse isn’t much better than “the dog ate my homework”.

My rating: :?

Man of Steel

July 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“The world’s too big, Mom.”

“Make it small.”

Superman has been probably the most recognizable super hero ever created. Back in the 50’s, he made his way from comic book form into a TV legend. In the late 70’s, we finally saw Superman on the silver screen (I’m not counting “Mole Men”). Richard Donner did a spectacular job transcending the super hero into a gorgeous blue and red symbol of justice. He was kind, sensitive, and well…super. He was indestructable. Maybe we needed a hero like that during the waning days of the Cold War, I don’t know. But we embraced Superman.

Then, things got a little…weird. While “Superman II” was a fantastic sequel (either version you see), “Superman III” saw the decline in the franchise. And do we need to go into “Superman IV: Quest For Peace”? This marked the end of the Christopher Reeve era of Superman. We were given another taste in 2006 with the elephantine “Superman Returns”, a complete waste of time and money. And what we unfortunately didn’t realize was that between the mess of IV and “Returns”, we had 2 very good TV shows still making Superman a great story (“The Adventures of Lois & Clark” and “Smallville”).

I had always wanted to see “Smallville” be made into a feature film rather than see the franchise rebooted from the start again. But then Christopher Nolan stepped in, and things seemed to be heading in the right direction.

I wish, though, that it had headed to the right director. Zack Snyder, a notoriously whimsical visual director who seems to constantly be bereft of any thematical or narrative arc, takes the helm here and like he did with “Watchmen”, he makes an ambitious but completely lost movie. At least he didn’t permeate the film with stop-and-slow motion camerawork, though. And, he was given half a good script to work with.

Things get started a bit slowly, however. Not only is this an origin story for Superman, it’s also loaded with backstory for Krypton itself. The first fifteen minutes feel like it belongs more in a sci-fi action yarn than a superhero film. But we are given a handful of characters, Jor-El (well played by Russell Crowe), his wife Laura (Ayelet Zurer), and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Jor-El and Zod saw eye to eye on only one thing: that Krypton was dying. How they want to go about preserving the race beyond the planet’s demise is another matter. Zod is militaristic, so he stages a coup against the Council. Jor-El thinks this is not the way to go about things, and tries to send the first biological born child on Krypton to another planet to start a new race there. This infuriates Zod because he wants something called a ‘codex’ that is sent along with Kal-El, Jor-El’s son. Jor-El is murdered, and Zod and his gang are imprisoned. Krypton eventually falls apart.

But before that happens, Kal-El lands on earth, and we are immediately thrown into the future about 30 years to see an already grown Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) who seems to already be intent on saving people with super powers. He saves people on a rig that’s on fire, and also saves the life of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) while searching on a ship that came from Krypton that could tell him about his past. Lane was part of a research team that was excavating things in ice, and found the ship as well.

Clark has had a troubled past, we learn through flashbacks. As a kid, his father (extremely well played by Kevin Costner) believes these powers he has will be seen as a threat to human kind and tells him not to use them. Clark saves a bunch of kids on a bus and this disappoints his father. “What was I supposed to do, just let them die?” he asks. “Maybe,” his father trails off in response.

This father/son angle is the strongest part of the film. I wish it would have stayed on this path. There is a lot of guilt that Clark takes with him into adulthood, which also explains why he’s so intent on helping people. But this isn’t explored all that much because…

…Krypton is destroyed and the jailed rogues led by Zod are freed, and go searching for Kal-El. They find him, send a message to the world that “You Are Not Alone”, and then send a message to America that they need to give up the alien or be destroyed. Clark, who by now has been identified in print because of a leak by Lois Lane to a blogger, turns himself in.

After that, the film just becomes a joyless exercise in action and extremely noisy explosions. Now, in the middle of all this is a very quiet, patient story of a man who is told he has this great gift and can save mankind. Superman has always been a very Christlike story. He is both god and man. He has the power to save, heal, and he can make the world a better place. His struggle with his identity, and his struggle with his father’s acceptance and self-acceptance is a very good story. But it doesn’t pay off because Superman has to stop Zod.

And the biggest problem I have with this is that there is no dramatic tension between Zod and Superman. Zod is Jor-El’s nemesis, not Superman’s. Sure, Zod killed Superman’s father; but Superman never knew his father. He never even knew where he came from until he was an adult. Zod is simply a cosmic villain, and Shannon plays him at such a heightened, cartoonishly overzealous level that he’s never really anything more than a raving madman. His henchmen do a lot of dirty work, causing another “miniboss sndrome” (the film takes a detour to show us 10-15 minute long sequences of the hero vanquishing lesser villains just to fill space); and, to my surprise, Superman does some dirty work himself. He nearly demolishes half the city of New York while taking Zod with him.

This isn’t the Superman we love! Superman would never destroy anything; and if he did, he would do that thing where he spins around the world a bunch of times to fix what he had broken.

While Henry Cavill turns in a very good performance as Superman, Amy Adams seems very miscast and out of place as Lois; and the two share no chemistry. The only chemistry that really blossoms is between the young Clark and his father. There the movie is very good. It just doesn’t last long enough or follow through for me to completely buy the whole package. The special effects and fights are grandiose, but they grow very tired very quickly because we know how it’s going to end and I’m kind of tired of seeing New York City get demolished in the movies.

This movie was too big. When they made it smaller, it was effective and sound. Instead of going so big, they should’ve kept it smaller. Then it would have been, like young Clark, focused.

My rating: :?