21 June 2011

TNS Update: Midsummer Night's Movie Reviews

Of the eight movies I discussed previously, I've now seen four of them. Let's discuss.

The Hangover Part II - I own the DVD of the original movie, which was a very funny, enjoyable and quotable film. Unfortunately, like I suspected, there was no difference between this film and the sequel. The plot hits all of the same beats as the original, goes for the same jokes and never once attempts a single thing that could be confused for original. Considering how surprisingly great I found The Hangover to be, and how fun Todd Phillips films usually are, this was a big disappointment. And poor Justin Bartha; would it kill them to include Doug in the festivities? Just once?

X-Men: First Class - While I still think that Thor has won the summer so far, in terms of superhero movies, this one is a close second. Seeing a Sixties era X-Men movie without mainstay characters like Wolverine or Cyclops would have sounded like crazy talk ten years ago. But now superhero movies are mainstream enough that this not only exists at all but is also neck and neck with X2: X-Men United for the honor of best of the X-Men films. Kevin Bacon oozes charm as Sebastian Shaw, Michael Fassbender plays Magneto like a cross between James Bond and Charles Bronson, and James Macavoy plays Professor X like the arrogant jerk he needs to be in order for him to be the benevolent and wise leader he'll later become. It's not a perfect film, mind you. January Jones proves that her range is solely that of Betty Draper from Mad Men, and, in a larger mythology that works as an allegory for both the Civil Rights Movement and LGBT equality, killing off one of the two minority characters and having the other one become a traitor in the first third of the film seems to show that someone misses the point. Still, this is a movie worth seeing and an argument can be made that it's the best of the X-Films.

Super 8 - My formative years were spent watching movies like E.T., The Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and JJ Abrams does a great job paying homage to those movies while never feeling derivative. The best part about the film is the chemistry between the group of friends, and that's something that's been missing from movies lately. Too many movies play adolescents off as either mindless stereotypes or mini-adults. The actors and Abrams find the balance of smart kids that don't sound like adults when they talk or interact with each other and still sound believable when having conversations with actual adults. It's a lost art that many movies I remember fondly from a long time ago got right, so I enjoyed that Super 8 nailed it in the midst of telling a simultaneously frightening and touching story about loss and hope. In short, this movie made my wife cry which is a category usually reserved for films like The Notebook.

Green Lantern - There's been more debate about this movie than any superhero flick I can recall. The two camps boil down to "It was completely terrible" or "It wasn't as terrible as people say." Either way, it fell way below my personal expectations. For me, many of the problems surrounded the fact that there felt like scenes were missing throughout the film. For instance, our supposed hero Hal Jordan and the bad guy Hector Hammond meet for the first time on screen at a big party more than half-way through the film, and it's a scene played as if the two know each other. There are also hints that Hammond has an unrequited crush on Carol Ferris, Jordan's love interest. However, none of this is ever spelled out or clarified. Not only does it make the bad guy come off as more sympathetic, but it doesn't give the viewer a reason to root for Hal Jordan. In fact, despite Ryan Reynolds doing a passable job and being a solid pick as Hal Jordan, the character comes off as a jerk who doesn't care about anyone or anything around him until the story gets to the point where he has to save Earth. Usually, this is known as a character arc, but his change of heart is completely false and arbitrary, meaning that Hal Jordan is a lousy hero in what is supposed to be a superhero movie. And it's not Reynolds' fault; this is clearly a writing or editing problem.

Nothing ever exists in a vacuum. On its own, Green Lantern as a summer popcorn movie has lots of explosions, some nifty special effects and really cool things that should be present in a movie about an intergalactic police force that gives every member a magical ring that can create anything the wearer wills. Unfortunately, Green Lantern exists in a world with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredibles, Kick Ass, the first two Spider-Man films, Hellboy, Hellboy II, and the aforementioned X-Men movies (the first, second and First Class). Granted, not everything can or should be The Dark Knight, but there's a lot of room for variation where storytelling makes sense. The last decade in superhero movies has shown that it's possible for a film to be both a special effects extravaganza AND tell a great story. When the two aren't mutually exclusive, it's fair to be disappointed when a film fails to have both. Instead, Green Lantern gives us redundant voice overs, thin characters with motivation lost on the cutting room floor, and a bad guy borrowed from the Fantastic Four sequel all in a very transparent and arrogant notion that it's setting up a sequel that may or may not happen due to relatively poor box office performance.

My favorite take on the film appears here, but know that the language may not be appropriate and that spoilers abound.

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