Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I guess summer has come early this year and although I usually am trying to catch up on my ever-growing comic book “to read” pile for AICN Comics, I always try to make it to as many films as I can. This weekend, I was able to see two flicks and I figured I’d schmeld them together for a double review for those of you who may give a fig on how I took them in. The films, though vastly different in quality, had one thing in common; they are geared toward the geek audience. Did they succeed in appealing to the geek in me? Scroll down, Faithful Talkbackers, scroll down and see.
I grew up on X-MEN. One of my first comics was the AVENGERS ANNUAL where the Avengers had to team up with the X-Men to face the New Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. What I loved about that issue was that it was a showcase to a lot of characters with fantastic powers. I don’t know much about the story or the themes or how one panel worked in conjunction to the next, but I remember a lot of cool characters beating the snot out of other cool characters and that it made me seek out other comics to find out more about these characters.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
I guess I started out this review in this way because that’s kind of what I took from X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Like the previous two X-movies, it was more of a showcase for a bunch of cool characters with neat powers tossed together with little or no interest in how it all was supposed to make sense. Now, I’m sure Hugh Jackman and Co. thought they were making a cool movie. It’s just that they were too interested in filling it with as many characters as possible to bother with making things work logically or bothering with anything resembling a theme or plot to the film.
And I guess that is what bothers me most. Flawed as they were the other X-films had a theme of prejudice/racism and specifically with Wolverine, the theme of how an outcast loner fits into the world and takes responsibility for himself and others. By the end of Ratner’s painful film, at least Wolverine had grown up a bit from his rebel days of the first film, accepted responsibility as a teacher at the X-Mansion and found a home among his own kind. Even though the first three had problems, at least they were about something.
There’s nary a theme to be found in this film. Just a strand of action sequences filled by characters we don’t really know anything about other than the fact that they are apparently always bad@$$ (something made apparent in an early scene swiped from the first scene in PREDATOR where we meet the crew on their way to a mission). Is it about brotherhood? About tragedy? About white tank tops and pompadours? I don’t know, but director Gavin Hood and High Jackman want to distract you from all of that with plenty of snarls and ‘splosions. Wolverine does a pretty decent job of fitting in. He’s got a hot school teacher girlfriend. A lumberjack job. Friends. A swanky cabin on top of a mountain. He’s done a pretty decent job of assimilating into this world. Gone are any themes of being an outcast or being hated because one is different (themes that used to make the X-comics so accessible and did the same for the first here films). No, Jackman and Co. are more interested in making Wolverine out to be a tragic hero rather than a troubled loner. They want to make him Rambo (there’s even a “Murdoch…I’m comin’ ta get choo!” scene), but hell even the RAMBO films had a point about violence being necessary in today’s world.
Acting wise? Jackman is decent with the script he has. He can crane an eyebrow like no other. He’s a good actor, but all the chops in the world can’t save a plot-less flick. Liev Schreiber is good too, but he’s sort of doing a cartoonish version of his role in DEFIANCE as the rage-filled arch nemesis. Still some of Liev’s lines were painfully smug. But all of the actors aside from Jackman seem to be in the films just a few moments. Dominic Mognahan barely registers as a cameo here. Ryan Reynolds does a decent job as Deadpool, but his contrived appearance and inconsistent powers in the end will leave fans of the Merc with a Mouth in comics scratching their head as to what they are seeing on screen. There’s a fun but completely contrived boxing match with the Blob that serves as more of a special effects showcase rather than a necessary advancement of plot. A bigger role was given to Will.I.Am as John Wraith who looks as if he walked off with Don Cheadle’s outfit from BOOGIE NIGHTS, but still, he’s just there to fill a special effects quota. But all of those characters are side notes. The main thing to see here is Wolverine and we get a lot of him brooding, flexing, snarling, staring, and three--count ‘em-three scenes of him holding a dead body and screaming to the heavens!
And then there’s Gambit. Let me clue you guys in. Gambit sucks. He sucks in the comics. And he sucks here. Many people are fans of the character, but there’s nothing on screen that makes me change my mind that he’s an incredibly lame character. In the comics, he had the power to be drawn smoking a cigarette and leaning against a wall. In the movie, Gambit has the power to be fall out of a scene only to jump back into a scene at the exact right moment ten minutes later just in time for him to ‘splode something. Boo Gambit. Let’s move on.
A couple of random observations:
The opening was incredibly lame and obviously swiped directly from Snyder’s WATCHMEN slo mo opening trip through the ages. The Blob’s make-up was pretty good. Agent Zero’s gun fu was fun. Deadpool’s swirling swords was pretty sweet. Jackman is very vein-y in this one, more so than previous X-flicks. There were too many characters with too little to do here. There was a scene towards the end where Wolverine just walks away from the main baddies and I both had no idea what was going on and seriously wanted to do the same thing, by that point. Will.I.Am.’s cowboy hat didn’t really fit him right. Would it kill them to try to yellow and brown even the brown and tan costume? Gambit sucks.
In the end, once again the movie felt more like a company’s special effects reel than an actual movie. It was all so…unnecessary because much of it was hinted at before in the films and would have worked much better as interspersed snippets into a much more substantial film set in the present. I’m all for Jackman to try another Wolvie film. There’s potential here for future films; Tyger Tyger’s bar in Maripoor, Miller’s miniseries set in Japan, Logan’s time with the Hudsons & Alpha Flight in Canada, maybe even a team up/slugfest with the Hulk against Wendigo. I just hope that the scope can be toned down, the depth of character can be amped up, the amount of characters can be pared down, and the themes can be built up and explored. Out of the four X-movies, this ranks above X3, yet below X-MEN (with X2 being the best, of course).
Capone was cool enough to let me check out his STAR TREK premiere last Thursday and it was a treat seeing all of the AICN readers showing up for this one. There was a lot of excitement in the crowd and among my group of four that got to check out the flick. With me was fellow @$$Hole Sleazy G and our two friends; one a trekkie who had reservations about the new film and was not a J.J. Abrams fan, the other an Abrams fan who was actually excited to see the movie. Myself, I wouldn’t consider myself a trekkie. I’ve seen the films. I’ve probably seen half of the original series and probably more of TNG. Much of what I know about Trek comes from paying attention to spoofs of the franchise as seen in GALAXY QUEST, IN LIVING COLOR, SNL, and comedy sketches. Let’s just say I know enough about Trek to get me into trouble, but not enough to call myself a die hard fan.
STAR TREK 2009
The film I saw, though, made me one. Abrams takes the term blockbuster seriously here by amping up the thrills and generously peppering in humor and enough heart to actually want to follow the adventures of this crew for many more films to come.
From the first moments, Abrams tosses us in the middle of a heated battle between Kirk’s father and a mysterious mining vessel piloted by Romulan warrior Nero. The opening sequence is dynamic and sets the scope letting us know that the cardboard sets of the first series are not going to be seen here. After that flashback scene, we get to follow Kirk and Spock as they skip from troubled youth to starfleet cadets. These scenes are fun, but serve only as placeholders until the stars of this film show up.
Let me say that although I thought his role in SMOKING ACES was damn cool, I had no idea how much I was going to like Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk. He really does shine here and carries a presence that allows him to be both completely charming and badass and hilarious all at once. Pine will be a major star as a result of this film. He’s got charisma and a down to earth quality that makes you want to root for him. The scene where Kirk is shipped off to the Hoth-like snow world is as thrilling as it is fun, but wouldn’t be so if not for the scenes prior where we see Pine drunk and hitting on Uhura in a bar, then cheating his way through the academy. By the end of this film, he captured everything Shatner’s Kirk had without any of the baggage the character carries with him. This is a Kirk that is unpredictable and fun to watch.
The rest of the cast is fun too. Zachary Quinto’s Spock channels Leonard Nimoy here without making it some imitation. His is probably the hardest role because the character has been parodied the most, but Quinto has a presence that sheds all of those trappings. This is very much Spock’s film and Quinto has the chops to carry that responsibility.
****SPOILER****I didn’t particularly hate the twist of Spock’s relationship with Uhura, but I do think that the PDA displayed late in the film was a bit out of character for the Vulcan. It would have been much more fitting for Kirk to happen upon the mismatched couple making out rather than having Spock openly embrace and smooch Uhura on the teleporter bay. ****END SPOILER****
PATHFINDER’s Karl Urban was surprisingly good too. Sure a lot of his lines were added as comic homages to previous episodes, but they were not overdone and seemed to come at just the right time to break tension. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura was hot. Simon Pegg’s Scotty was fun. HAROLD & KUMAR’s John Cho was used as comic relief a bit much, but still stood out as Sulu. Only Anton Yelchin’s Chekov proved to be somewhat annoying to me, mainly because his thick accent was used as a joke one too many times. Rounding out the cast was Eric Bana’s Nero. Bana is more engaging here than in other films. He’s got a bit more personality and seems to let loose more so than I’ve seen elsewhere; still out of all the cast, his was the most cardboard.
The winks and nods to the original series were apparent here, but there was never a time in the film where I rolled my eyes. For me, the humor and homage were just right. Towards the middle there’s a bit of a lag where time-travel and alternate universes are incorporated into the plot. I was able to follow it, but Joe Movie-Goer or the girlfriend you may have dragged there with you may start to look at their watches once the discourse begins. And there were moments during this discourse where I was fascinated (and somewhat distracted) by Old Spock’s dentures and felt as if I were watching a trapeze artist at times, on the edge of my seat hoping there wouldn’t be a Polygrip slip-up resulting in an embarrassing moment for the old dude and my empathetic self. But all in all, this was a fast paced film that lived up to the hype showcased in the previews.
So how did the guys I went with feel about it? Well, Sleazy seemed to like it quite a bit too, although he thought that some of the science towards the end was a bit off. The Abrams fan liked it too, citing that he couldn’t believe people wouldn’t be satisfied by it. The Abrams-cynic/trekkie tentatively agreed that it was a good film, but felt it was more like watching TREKKIE BABIES rather than a STAR TREK film. The crowd seemed to love it, punctuating the ending with a pretty big round of applause. Me? I think I can sum it up by saying that watching this film made me want to go home and watch some of the original episodes. To me, that’s the best compliment I can give this one. It served as a fun homage to the old series while embracing the mythos and modernizing the storytelling to fit into the blockbuster model. And hell, it even offers a cop-out/explanation to those die hard trekkies by labeling the characters and events of this story as an alternative universe than the original series. As far as big budget popcorn movies go, this one is better than most. I’m sure there are things a die hard trekkie would take umbrage to, but this casual Trek fan was left satisfied.