Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Spectre Review

Well, it’s always fun to review a divisive movie so let’s begin. And I’ll begin by saying, I hate this movie. Daniel Craig is my favourite Bond and Casino Royale may be one of my favourite action movies of all time. And we all remember when Casino Royale came out people praised it for being time appropriate. It was gritty and realistic. It treated the character like he was a human being rather than a superhero. He got bloodied, emotionally scarred and from beginning to end you felt like you ‘got’ this James Bond. The romance in Casino Royale was, dare I say, kind of moving and Eva Green is easily my favourite Bond Girl. Even, the action, fantastic as it was, still seemed grounded in some kind of reality, enough that nothing made you groan or pulled you out of the movie.

So why is it that now, barely a decade later, people who defend Spectre defend it by saying we’re back to a more “classic” or “proper” bond. A decade ago we collectively said, we’ve outgrown the unrelatable superhero Bond with Casino Royale. Spectre says, “No we haven’t!” And as if Casino Royale never happened, we’re back to goofy action that defies logic. We’re back to ridiculous escape scenes that leave our hero unscathed both emotionally and physically. We’re back to the “run, shoot, drive, gadget, straighten tie, end scene” Bond. And though they enthusiastically inundate us with eye-rolling action goofiness, the one thing they somehow manage to omit from our “classic” bond, is a sense of humour. Bond used to be funny, right?

I don't know why I have this here. I just find the Archer turtleneck hilarious.
It’s like we’re getting the worst of both worlds. The careless camp of the corniest bond movies, and the often dour tone of the new. I’d say the action scenes here are almost reaching the ludicrous (no pun intended) levels of a Fast and Furious movies, but with none of the fun. At very least, a Bond movie should have that one game changing scene or stunt that makes people pay attention. The bungee jump in Goldeneye, the game changing parkour scene at the beginning of Casino Royale and yes, even the car chase on ice in Die Another Day. I found myself thinking of the last Fast and Furious movie. At least they dropped cars out of a plane! And the over the top scene where the car flies between buildings? One of the best things I’ve seen all year! Great fun. Then I thought, “God help me, I’m watching one of my favourite franchises ever and longing for a scene from the Fast and Furious!” and “I had more fun with this plot in the last Mission Impossible movie!”

Among the many things missing from Spectre is my beloved Judi Dench who provided the last three movies with heart, soul and in my opinion some legitimate laughs, especially when she manages to cut Bond down to size. Ralph Fiennes is a great actor but as the new M he has nothing to do except be the guy who lets us know, “Bond has gone rogue.” Yes, Bond goes rogue again. AGAIN! What was great about Dench’s M is that she is not just another woman to swoon over bond, but also, she is not just another Beta-male for Bond to have a testosterone match with. Moneypenny, Q and that bald guy are there to provide exposition when needed. I found Lea Sedoux quite dull and when she tells Bond, “I love you” my wife and I looked at each other, genuinely appalled. And we’ve seen all 5 Twilight movies in theatres!

"I think I'm winning."

Was Spectre all bad? There was a car chase where Bond has some interesting banter with Moneypenny. That was the closest thing to enjoyment I had for the entire outing. There are other ominous moments, like the scene from the trailer in the dark room where we see Christoph Waltz silhouette.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yeah! Christoph Waltz is in it! I love him!” Yes. He’s in it. I like him too. But, he’s underused and has very little to do. And I really don’t get this villain. I get Le Chiffre, from Casino Royale. He’s a greedy business man with a gambling problem. I get Raoul Silva from Skyfall, who was creepy and did a great job of convincing us that he was betrayed by M. Christoph Waltz’s character claims he has a vision for the world, and it has something to do with spying on everyone on the planet. Okay? His super-villain soliloquy is incoherent, having something to do with a meteorite and making something beautiful out of something ugly. The rant has nothing to do with anything, and like so many things in Spectre, just reminds you of the same scene done much better in another Bond movie.

Was he moving his hand to straighten his tie and then realized he was wearing the wrong kind of tie?

For me, an action movie is all about the villain. The villain’s motivation gives the plot its momentum and often its thesis. They try to do that here and fail. It feels like to beef up the villain, they gave Waltz’s character a secret past with Bond and that’s where Spectre’s hollowness really shows. Here I’m going to have to go into some spoilers. Ready? Spoilers starting… Now!!!!

Maybe you saw the last Star Trek movie where it was teased that the main villain was Khan. Or was he? Well, it turns out he was. And no one cared. Why should they? I’ve heard of Khan but Captain Kirk hasn’t. When Benedict Cumberbatch says his name is “Khan” Kirk responded to this revelation with a furrowed brow and shrugged shoulders. Spock even had to ask old Spock. “Who the f**k’s Khan?”

They do that in this movie and it’s embarrassing. If you don’t see it coming from the trailers and one of the very early scenes in the movie, Christoph Waltz plays Bond’s stepbrother. He allegedly killed Bond’s stepfather and any woman Bond has had sex with, retroactively revealing that he was somehow behind the events of the previous three films. Why is this villain such a jerk? As best I can understand it’s because he was jealous of Bond’s relationship with his father, but they don’t go too much into detail there, possibly because they seem to realize how stupid, weak and contrived that motivation was for a villain who wants to take over the world. Bond, played by an emotionally bereft Daniel Craig, doesn’t react to any of this news either. But the astonishing revelations don’t end there! During a torture scene, Christoph Waltz, up until that point known as Obernhauser reveals that he changed his name to Blofeld! Blofeld? Wow! That’s the name of a character from other Bond movies! But in this continuity Bond doesn’t know that name. The name isn’t mentioned once before that scene and is not mentioned again afterward. I don’t even remember Bond raising an eyebrow at this before the torture scene resumes. And why should he? James Bond has never seen a James Bond movie, he doesn’t know or care who Blofeld is. And quite frankly in this movie, neither do I!

Previous Bond movies have been building to (or perhaps just hinting at) the discovery of “Spectre” a shadowy organization that rules the world, and when you actually get there, well, it’s difficult to care. It’s one of those movies that feels like it was written backward. They knew Bond had to discover Spectre. They knew they wanted Bond to discover that Blofeld was his brother, but they didn’t seem to know how to bring the story to that point. So, at different points in the movie someone will just tell Bond what he needs to know as a pander to the audience, to give this weak movie a feeling of scope that is entirely unearned. “I’m your brother Bond! I’m Blofeld Bond! All the other bad guys you fought in previous movies work for me, Bond!”  It’s also very telling and strange that each of these revelations is mentioned once and never brought up again. But what is totally unforgivable about these reveals is that they don't change the movie at all! They don't add anything to the characters, the plot or the franchise. I suppose one could argue that they don't take anything away from the movie either, but this insistence on meta, self-referential "plot points" felt like failed attempts to add substance or surprise to a movie that really needed some of both.

The heady success of Skyfall also seems to have convinced the producers that Bond movies now need to make over a billion dollars at the box office, making this the most expensive Bond movie ever made. What does that mean? Lots of safe decisions. If you were to pick Bond clichés out of a hat and pin them to a bulletin board, the result would be Spectre, which may not be a horrible thing for some fans, but was a huge disappointment for me who likes the plot driven movies that came before it.

Is it time for a reboot? I’ll miss you Craig but… Where do we go from here? Everything you got right in Casino Royale, Skyfall and God help me even Quantum of Solace you got wrong here. Worst Bond Girl, a villain with no intelligible motivations, unconvincing escapes, forgettable action, dull characters and an extremely bored looking Daniel Craig.

¸4 references to old Bond movies out of 10

Bonus Bitching!

Other things I hated: 1) Horrible unearned romance that makes the kiss between Lois and Clark in Man of Steel look like Romeo and Juliet. 2) At least three instances of Bond walking into a trap and the villain letting him off the hook because… movie. 3) They blow up the villain’s compound by shooting a gas valve. Like, the whole compound immediately explodes like the Death Star from a few bullets! 4) Tired, clicheed, “The bad guys want to spy on everyone” plot except, James Bond IS A SPY. His job is spying on people… I don’t… get…. 5) They were trying to shut down the double 0 program in the last movie. They’re STILL trying to shut it down here and I’ve stopped caring. 6) I know it’s a Bond movie and we have to suspend disbelief, but where the hell is he finding planes and boats with keys in the ignition ready to chase down bad guys?

Monday, May 04, 2015

Avengers : Age of Ultron Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron! It was super entertaining and really funny. I love the actors, I love Joss Whedon’s witty dialogue but this time around I also got a sense of impending doom throughout that I don’t get from too many super-hero movies. This is done without getting too brooding and mopey which I’m sure general audiences will appreciate. The story was a little simple (the robot wants to destroy the world). I was hoping for something a little meatier from this 11th Marvel movie, but I guess they can’t afford too much narrative with all the characters they need to service.

Hawkeye fighting to be less lame.
And Joss Whedon does an incredible job with this gargantuan cast. It’s kind of awesome actually. He knows when to spend extra time with our favourites, like RDJ as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Cap, but he’s also able to give Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye some of the best moments in the movie. To my amazement, he really did run away with the ball in this outing, having the best character arc, the best scenes all while making fun of how comical it is for a guy to go into battle with a bow and arrow when his peers can level a city block in minutes. They did a good job developing Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as well as newbies Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johson)  and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, sister of Mary Kate and Ashley from Full House!). And that’s to say nothing of the handful of cameos that manage to add some emotional weight to some scenes without coming off as awkward fan service. I found myself less likely to get bored of a scene with the characters sitting around and talking than I was watching a scene where everything was blowing up. Who would have thought?
Avengers being cool.
The plot about Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program going rogue runs along at a brisk pace. The movie’s villain, Ultron, is a robot that wants to destroy mankind, believing the extinction of the human race is the only way to bring peace to earth. It’s simple, it’s even a bit of a cliché but it works well enough. There is a lot to be said for execution and I found the scene where Ultron decides humans are too evil to survive was rather striking. Ultron, voiced and motion captured by James Spader, gets to exercise his comedic muscle just like everyone else in the  movie, sometimes to mixed effect.  I did find the humour was overdone in some scenes for all the characters. You can be in the middle of an intense action scene and Whedon will insert a corny joke into it, sometimes diffusing the tension.

It goes without saying the action was great, but it’s hard to get excited about action these days, isn’t it? What CGI scene could a computer produce that we haven’t seen a million times already? And what peril could possibly be dreamed up for our heroes that would actually cause us to fret with concern? The climax came out of nowhere for me. I was never entirely sure what Ultron was up to and when we finally got to his end game with a floating city it kind of blind-sided me. It felt like one set-piece after another until : “Oh, we’re almost at the 2 hour mark. Time to wrap things up!” And then the movie ends with a handful of rushed sci-fi/fantasy contrivances.
Are you not entertained?
These criticisms are offset by the movie’s devotion to pure entertainment however. I was either laughing or gawking at the spectacle for 2 hours and 20 minutes. What more can you ask? It’s also kind of fascinating to see how much this movie is a product of its time. I found it very funny how the movie dealt with the now controversial issue of collateral damage. In these super-hero movies, buildings topple over like dominos and we’re often left to wonder how many people were killed in the rubble. We’re usually not explicitly shown human casualties but in movies like Man of Steel which strives to be a “realistic” take on the character we can only assume lots of people die in battles like this. It ended up being one of the biggest criticisms of Man of Steel and some people pointed out that the climax of the first Avengers movie was not much better.

Enter Age of Ultron! Every time there’s a battle in a city our heroes will preface the pending destruction with a half-ass disclaimer. “Hey, we have to keep the casualties low!” But they still want to destroy buildings. So before levelling a building our heroes will say something like, “That buildings is empty!” or, “There’s only one family in that building, so it won’t be too much trouble to get them out!” (I have in mind one jarring scene where Iron Man flies people out of a collapsing building in a bathtub). Too many convenient and easy rescues seem like cheating to me, but it's better than nothing (is it?), I guess from now on big battles in a city scenes will always need to include a line that lets us know the people are okay.

Other moments that brought me out of the movie, despite how funny these moments were, is when they take shots at the lamer heroes’ powers. “Vibranium. The most versatile substance on Earth, and humans use it to make a Frisbee.” Referring to Captain America’s shield. “We’re in a floating city, fighting an army of robots and I’m armed with a bow and arrows. It makes no sense.” Hawkeye taking a jab at how lame he is. Has it taken 11 movies to finally become insecure about how ridiculous the super-hero genre is? It’s interesting and probably wise that Age of Ultron chooses to embrace its cheesiness instead of trying to dampen it. People did not respond well to Man of Steel which really did take itself too seriously in an attempt to give credibility to its high stakes plot. I enjoyed Man of Steel, but I have to say, acknowledging the implausibility of these movies with some light humour does seem to be the way to go. I just wish the Marvel movies didn’t always go as far as they do with the comedy.

There is no denying it’s a good time at the movies. I am constantly wary that this era of super-hero movies probably comes with an expiry date. But Age of Ultron assures us that it’s not anytime soon. The biggest praise I can lavish on this movie is it didn’t feel as repetitive as many of the other Marvel movies. It’s one of the rare occasions in the Marvel Universe where I feel like I’m on track for some new and interesting stories with Civil War and the Infinity War right around the corner. Age of Ultron was satisfying on its own and still managed to hook me with its sequel bait. Maybe I should wait for a second viewing before giving it a rating but for now it stands at a solid

7.5 casual detours to a foreign (and sometimes fictional) country out of 10

Post review rant : Anyone notice that all the cameos in this movie are the Black sidekicks from the other movies? Wouldn't it have been a great opportunity for Black Panther to have shown up in Wakanda to say, "I am no one's sidekick! But my movie has been pushed back to 2018 :-( #AvengersAgeofAfricanAmericansidekicks." Also, isn't it weird that Ultron's lips move like they're made of flesh? I don't know how I feel about that. Also, how come Ultron doesn't back up his consciouness on a USB stick or something? Did RDJ seem kind of tired in some scenes to you? Also weird, when Black Widow says, "They sterilized me when I was very young. Do you (Hulk) still think you're the only monster on the team?" Being sterile makes her a monster? She kills people.

How would I rate other super hero movies? Here’s a quick list off the top of my head.

Dark Knight - 9/10
Man of Steel - 8.5/10
Winter Solider - 8.5/10
Watchmen - 8/10
Days of Future Past - 8/10
The Rocketeer - 8/10
Iron Man – 7.5/10
Darkman - 7/10
Avengers - 7/10
Spiderman 2 - 7/10
Blade - 7/10
Guardians of the Galaxy  - 6.5/10
The Incredible Hulk - 6/10
Thor 2 - 5/10
Superman Returns - 4/10
Amazing Spiderman 2 - 2/10