The Ice Road

Release: Sunday, June 25, 2021 (Netflix)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Starring: Liam Neeson; Laurence Fishburne; Marcus Thomas; Amber Midthunder; Benjamin Walker

 

 

 

**/*****

Though Liam Neeson’s latest thriller The Ice Road may be out of season for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it lies smack in the middle of a prolific run the 69-year-old Irish actor has been enjoying the last decade-plus, marking one of three movies he will star in this year alone. Presumably it will also be the worst.

Written and directed by Jumanji (1995) and Armageddon (1998) scribe Jonathan Hensleigh, The Ice Road just may represent the nadir of Neeson’s post-Taken routine. Action titles such as Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), The Commuter (2018) and indeed the Taken sequels have all coasted on the goodwill of a built-in audience but few as shamelessly as The Ice Road, a bare-minimum effort with original ideas as commonplace as service stations out on the Canadian Prairies. Compounding the problem is some really questionable acting from supporting parts and a villain who becomes the Terminator in ways more comical than compelling.

Neeson blends into the environment just fine but his Mike McCann, a North Dakotan big rig driver, is nothing you’ll remember when all is said and done. Recently fired from his job having stood up for his PTSD-suffering brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), he joins a highly dangerous mission to deliver crucial equipment from Winnipeg to a mine in Northern Manitoba that has collapsed after a methane explosion. The 20+ souls trapped inside are relying on this last-ditch effort before they run out of oxygen. Time is of the essence but the trek to get there is paved with hazards, many natural and others man-made.

Good old-fashioned subterfuge at the corporate level is the cliched dramatic destination to which the increasingly apathetic viewer is pulled. This is less an action thriller as it is a conspiracy snoozer involving blue-collar truckers and white-collar snakes (Benjamin Walker’s characterization as a risk assessor belies his apparent immortality). At the Katka mine, company suits (Matt McCoy and Bradley Sawatzky, both pretty bad at acting on evidence of this movie) attempt damage control through an omniscience that becomes increasingly cartoonish. 

The best stretch of The Ice Road is its first half, as we are pulled into an extreme environment that offers entertaining man-vs-nature conflict not seen in a Neeson flick since 2011’s The Grey. The physical and technical challenges are effectively communicated as the crew — Mike, Gurty, a Winnipeg trucker named Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) and the hot-headed Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) — battle variable ice conditions and all sorts of nuances the layperson would never think about. Apparently dashboard bobbleheads are more than purely decorative. However, as environmental factors take a backseat to the human treachery lying underneath, The Ice Road sacrifices its blue collar identity for woefully generic melodrama. None of it written or performed particularly convincingly. 

While it is refreshing to see Neeson take on a character who is not endowed with a mythical set of skills, one is left wishing that the guy could have at least been endowed with better lines and quite frankly, a better film overall. 

“I do not believe in chance. When I see three wellheads, three drivers, three trucks, I do not see coincidence. I see providence. I see purpose.”

Moral of the Story: Pushes the line, for me personally, in terms of what a fan should be willing to accept at a base-line level of entertainment when it comes to these kinds of slight action-thrillers. Goodwill isn’t in infinite supply. The above review may be harsh, largely a reflection of frustration over how I entered the film with low expectations and not having even those met. There’s nothing sinfully bad about it, but all added up The Ice Road is just too lazy to recommend when there are so many other, (even if slightly) better Neeson options. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 109 mins.

Check out the “slick” Official Trailer from Netflix here! 

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John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Release: Friday, May 17, 2019

→ Theater

Written by: Derek Kolstad; Shay Hatten; Chris Collins; Marc Abrams

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Actions have consequences, as we are quite explicitly shown (and told, too!) in the ultra-violent third installment of the brawn-over-brains John Wick franchise. Literally footsteps removed from the mayhem of 2017’s Chapter 2, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum beats the audience silly down a two-hour gauntlet of unrelenting, bloody comeuppance that sees an entire city of potential assassins descending upon the one they call Baba Yaga. It’s open season on John Wick, part-time killer, full-time puppy lover.

Rules. Order. Something called ‘fealty.’ These are boundaries and amusingly old-school — almost Feudal — principles John Wick (Keanu Reeves) ignored when he murdered a man on the consecrated grounds of the Continental Hotel (as seen in Chapter 2). Exceptions aren’t made for acts of self-defense; John acted against the established order set by the vaguely defined society known as the High Table, and now as a consequence he’s been excommunicated by hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane), leaving him without the friendly services of the Hotel and with a $14 million bounty on his head.

Director/former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski returns with a palpable confidence, albeit he’s still sticking to the rules he himself established with 2014’s surprise hit John Wick. His latest expands the jurisdiction of the High Table to an international stage, so if you’re thinking this was just a New York problem, think again. Rest assured though, he triples down on the things you’ve come here for: exquisitely choreographed, close-quarter combat with all kinds of brutal weaponry and creative kills — you’ll never look at hardcover books the same way again — a ridiculous body count, Laurence Fishburne as The King of the Homeless People, and Keanu “Monosyllabic” Reeves dressed to the frikkin’ nines. Like previous outings it does this all while sparing you of the hassle and inconvenience of sitting through talky scenes.

John Wick has always been a one-note franchise, but I now come full circle to admit awkwardly that it’s not a dumb one. I have increasingly enjoyed each successive installment, increasingly embraced the in-joke that the guy can’t really be killed (it’s the most obvious signpost ever, there can’t be a franchise bigger cash cow without John Wick). Now, getting shot point-blank, off a rooftop, smacking two staircases and a dumpster on your way to the ground 40 feet below and not dying is just plain silly, but John Wick on the whole is at least smart enough to recognize that the killing of a grieving man’s puppy is kind of the ultimate in earning audience sympathy in a timely manner. Clearly this is about more than just a dog now, but vengeance has been the driving force behind it all. This time the writing team raises the stakes notably by not only increasing the number tenfold, but also empowering Wick’s opposition with that same passion. In reinforcing its themes of consequence and retribution Chapter 3 installs some new key pieces like Asia Kate Dillon’s Adjudicator, sent by the High Table as a reckoning for all who have aided Wick along the way, and her own loyal minions in sushi chef-by-day, butcher-of-men-by-night Zero (a memorable Mark Decascos) and his knife-wielding buddies.

Indeed Wick is a man with an increasingly large cult “following” and a shrinking list of trusted sources, much less anything in the way of friends. He turns to his last few bargaining chips in other series newcomers like The Director (Anjelica Huston), who runs a school that John attended as a boy (really, it’s a front for something darker, natch), and Sofia (Halle Berry), a former ally and a ruthless killer in her own right who now runs the Moroccan branch of the Continental, along with her equally capable and fiercely loyal dogs. I swear, more crotches get mauled in this Casablanca-set scene than have been in the entire history of film up to this point. It’s a stunning, visceral and damn savage sequence that puts the hurt on everyone, even you in the cheap seats. (Ditto that to the movie as a whole, actually. Death by horse hoof, ouch.)

If the intense crowd interaction in the Thursday night screening I attended is any indication, Chapter 3 is poised to become the standard against which all future 2019 action reels are to be judged. The film dethroned Avengers: Endgame at the box office (after three weeks of domination). It’s being described as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far; John Wick is presented in his most ruthless, most capable form yet — where is the threat, exactly? Given his immunity to death I suppose I should just settle like everyone else, being entertained up to my eyeballs with all the different ways the hapless attempt to be the one to take out the Boogeyman. Still, that leaves me with the question that if those efforts require this degree of violence, what happens next? Will we be treading water in the forthcoming Chapter 4 (slated for a 2021 release)? Probably not. It’ll be more like treading blood. Call it a consequence of modern audience expectation.

Someone’s overdue . . . for an ass-whooping.

Recommendation: So here we are with a third installment that is most interested in just how much John Wick can physically withstand. It’s essentially a videogame replete even with a “Boss Level” showdown, and it’s unequivocally the most violent episode yet. And yet we take it because the devastating dance between Wick and his hungry would-be killers is the gift that just keeps on giving — at least for fans who are as loyal to the character as his pups have been.

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “After this, we are less than even.”

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The Mule

Release: Friday, December 14, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Sam Dolnick; Nick Schenk

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

The Mule marks the 37th time Clint Eastwood has directed a movie. Remember that the next time you go out for Trivia Night. From The Eiger Sanction (1975) to his Best Picture-winning western Unforgiven (1992); Mystic River (2003) to Gran Torino (2008), the man has cemented himself as a national treasure who has done a little bit of everything — oh yes, I nearly forgot The Bridges of Madison County. How dare I? His latest effort won’t ever be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and contemporary successes like Million Dollar Baby (2004), yet The Mule seems destined to always have a place in my heart. It’s a quietly profound drama about aging, regret and misplaced priorities that finds an ever-more introspective Eastwood returning to acting for the first time in six years.

The Mule is inspired by a true story about an 80-something-year-old horticulturalist fallen on hard times who unwittingly becomes a prolific coke smuggler for a dangerous Mexican cartel in an attempt to reclaim his home and way of life. Names and locations have been changed. His character, Earl Stone, a Korean War vet whose age, race and spotless criminal history help him maintain a low profile while doing multiple drives from the border city of El Paso, Texas to Chicago, Illinois, is based upon the real Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran who became a courier for the infamous Sinaloa Cartel and eluded capture for more than a decade.

Eastwood sets up a deliberately paced journey into the soul of a lonely man who has always put work before everything else and now finds himself having to come to terms with certain realities. The character is a perfect fit for the big screen veteran whose larger-than-life persona grafts well with Earl’s social butterfly. There is an interesting dichotomy within this man, someone who’s well-recognized around town for his gregariousness and those beautiful, award-winning (and world-renowned) hybridized lilies, all while being a complete stranger to his own family. That dynamic becomes even more pronounced as he begins making serious dough doing dirtier work and turns into this Robin Hood-esque character who funnels his ill-begotten cash into worthy causes, like renovating the facilities of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

The stakes really couldn’t be higher despite The Mule‘s lack of physicality and bloody conflict. The passing of time plays a major role in building tension. Time is Earl’s most precious resource and despite the unsavory characters he ends up getting in deep with, time is also his greatest enemy. He hasn’t spent it well and his future is as uncertain as ever, with the proliferation of internet-based floral shops making small businesses like his relics of the past. You might argue that The Mule isn’t really about the things he is doing to survive but rather the things he isn’t doing or not doing nearly well enough.

The Mule really becomes an elegy for time wasted when it comes to exploring Earl’s personal failings. His absenteeism hasn’t just affected his immediate family; it ripples across generations. His granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) is a prime example, her naivety towards Earl and his propensity for disappointing the people who matter most setting her on a collision course with a rude awakening. Meanwhile his long-ignored wife Mary (Dianne Wiest, heartbreaking) and estranged daughter Iris (real-life daughter Alison Eastwood) have learned to adapt. Sort of.

There is a disturbing real-world parallel that is all but impossible to ignore when you consider the revelation of this past December, when Eastwood was spotted at a promotional event for the film alongside someone who had rarely been caught in photos before. This younger woman was none other than Laurie Eastwood, reportedly the daughter he had given up for adoption in 1954 and whom he had never acknowledged until now. A 1999 biography — Clint: The Life and Legend — attempted to shed light on the matter, but the book’s publishing was met with serious opposition and no other media outlet ever attempted to confirm.

Despite Earl’s initial reluctance to commit to more than one run, his stock quickly rises and his loads increase exponentially — at one point he is carting around in his truck bed something like $3 million in product. His reliability, not to mention his remarkably calm composure around his new employers, earn him the respect of low-level street dealers and big-time suppliers alike. “El Tata” eventually ingratiates himself with el jefe, Andy García’s El Chapo-like Laton and his many curvaceous mamasitas. His status amongst the cartel is challenged with the sudden and violent coup staged by the power-hungry Gustavo (Eastwood’s ex-son-in-law Clifton Collins Jr.), who seeks to put the clamps on El Tata’s liberal interpretation of the rules governing his employment (no delays, no unplanned pitstops, etc).

Tension is further amplified by the circling vultures of Chicago’s DEA agents Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (a disappointingly under-used Michael Peña). They’re seeking a number of significant busts to satiate their higher-ups, represented by Laurence Fishburne‘s Special Agent and Pete Burris’s DEA Regional Manager. Time isn’t on Earl’s side, but it isn’t exactly in favor of Bates and his partner either. Their bosses want the results Bates’ hard work simply isn’t yielding. Kilos upon kilos of white powder are flooding the city. The two narratives become increasingly interlinked, with Cooper and Eastwood getting a few interesting (if perhaps far too coincidental) moments of shared screen time as they exchange pleasantries under the canopy of well-crafted dramatic irony.

The culmination of events certainly won’t be to everyone’s satisfaction. The Mule goes out quietly but not without a sense of closure. No big shoot-outs, no grand-standing, no soap-box taking. No glorifying. No pretense of making drug running a sexy, enticing lifestyle. In short, no (or very little) Hollywood gloss. I appreciated that level of restraint. The story is familiar and riddled with cliché but I still find it hard to resist Clint Eastwood in this mode, seemingly repenting for aspects of his own life he is none too proud of.

Recommendation: As it turns out, the promotional material has been selling quite a different experience, the trailers suggesting a harder-hitting, more action-driven adventure than what you end up getting. Where there might have been action or at least more snarling intensity in an Eastwood picture some twenty years ago now there is more solemn reflection. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe set expectations accordingly.

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for everything.”

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

Release: Friday, July 6, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Chris McKenna; Erik Sommers; Paul Rudd; Andrew Barrer; Gabriel Ferrari

Directed by: Peyton Reed

You’ve read it everywhere: Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshingly lightweight summer adventure that offers up more laughs than big character moments. It’s more of a superhero side dish than an entrée. But that’s okay for viewers like me, whose stomachs are starting to get pretty full with all the superhero shenanigans.

Is it me, or does “quantum entanglement” sound more like the way scientists fall in love rather than an actual problem they must solve? (“Hey everyone, I’d like you to meet my Scientist Girlfriend — we just recently got quantumly entangled.”) Alas, this isn’t a joke. Getting stuck in the quantum realm is quite serious, I assure you. Granted, not as serious as what we all went through a few weeks ago when Thanos snapped his decorated little fingers and turned half the audience into a sobbing mess. Mercifully, this is a new, pre-war chapter that gets away from all of that and returns us to a time when the superhero stakes weren’t so tiresomely dramatic.

The follow-up film to the Phase 2 finale finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) growing restless under house arrest. On the one hand, this has provided him an opportunity to spend some quality time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). On the other, his careless actions at the airport two years ago (you know, when Steve Rogers blamed Tony for losing his luggage) have created a rift between him and his mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and love interest Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). They’ve gone on the run in an attempt to keep their miraculous shrinking technology a secret.

Scott has only a few days left to finish out his sentence, but that’s a large enough window for him to find trouble. But the interesting thing is, he doesn’t go looking for it; it finds him. He spends his time trying not to go insane in isolation, kept on a short leash by his parole officer (Randall Park, enjoying himself immensely). When Scott experiences a vision of Hank’s wife/Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) still stuck in the quantum realm, his former allies seek him out in an attempt to retrieve her from the abyss to which they believed she had been forever lost.

It’s a ridiculous leap of faith following a simple voicemail but hey, there are worse plot mechanizations out there. Solving the problem of returning safely from the microscopic world isn’t the only challenge ahead of them, however. Because Scott in effect went public with his little stunt in Captain America: Civil War, a number of competing third parties are coming out of the woodwork in an attempt to benefit in some way from Pym’s genius.

There’s the black market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who sees the potential profit that can be made from getting into the quantum business. He gets into a little bit of a struggle with Hope over a parts deal that sours just as Ava Starr/”Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) appears out of nowhere. Ava is a young woman who seeks a cure for her gradually weakening physical state as a result of — and let’s not get too personal here — her unstable molecules. On top of that, we are introduced to a former colleague of Hank, a Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), whose life work blahdee-bloodee-blahblah. He has a few reasons to make things more difficult for Ant-Man and the gang.

If anything, Ant-Man and the Wasp is about a family coming back together. That’s kind of the perfect scope for a film following one of the most financially successful (and costly) cinematic events in history. Like the incredible shrinking Pym lab, the drama is very self-contained; there is almost nothing linking this film to the Avengers narrative at-large, with the exception of the constant berating the ex-con receives from Hank and Hope. This sense of family extends to Scott’s friends over at X-Con Security, a consulting firm he and his ex-con friends — Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (T.I. Harris) — started up in an attempt to go legitimate. Though these personalities don’t get much time to do their thing, you still feel the support system they provide for their perpetually-in-trouble pal Scott.

Of course, Ant-Man and the Wasp can’t really achieve any of these things without Rudd anchoring the movie. Never mind the fact he offers up a pretty wonderful example of fatherhood, he is just so effortlessly likable in the suit that he has quickly become a favorite of mine, in spite of how minor that role really is in the grand scheme. For my money, he’s right up there with Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Reynolds in terms of infectious personalities. You have to squint to see him but he’s there, standing on the shoulders of giants while slowly but surely becoming one himself.

“Honey, I shrunk everything I cared about.”

Recommendation: Ant-Man and the Wasp is the beneficiary of Paul Rudd and a really likable all-around cast of characters. In a time when browsing through the back catalogue of the ever-expanding MCU feels a lot like shopping for flavors of Gatorade, it’s nice to have a superhero film that is not quite as preoccupied with furthering, deepening, expanding, extrapolating, implicating, duplicating, redacting, whatever-ing that all of the other chapters seem to be about. The more I think about the simplicity of this film the more I like it. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “Well, the ’60s were fun, but now I’m paying for it!”

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John Wick: Chapter 2

john_wick_chapter_two_xlg

Release: Friday, February 10, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Derek Kolstad

Directed by: Chad Stehelski

If you are on the fence as to whether you should see what happens to John Wick in a sequel, you should first ask yourself how much of a geek you are for the really technical stuff, like fight choreography. If you aren’t enthused about spending $12 to watch a glorified stunt reel, then there’s really no need to see John Wick: Chapter 2.

Despite appearances, Keanu Reeves isn’t the star here. It isn’t his new pup either. It’s a man by the name of J.J. Perry, controller of chaos and chief architect of silliness whose dedication to providing moviegoers with ridiculously high-octane action sequences is on full display. Perry is billed as stunt coordinator, but it is his passion that gives John Wick purpose; his technical expertise that cleverly disguises Chapter 2 as a brilliant display of martial arts that merely masquerades as a movie.

John Jonathan finds himself dragged out of retirement and clocking back in for another murderous shift when he gets a house call from one Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). In an effort to expand the story to an international stage, Wick must travel to Rome where he takes to the shadowy subterranean stretches of the Catacombs in order to eliminate his target — D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), who is about to take a seat at the High Table, a council of high-level assassins.

Along the way he manages to make more enemies than friends and yet successfully thwarts an onslaught of bullets and daggers at the expense of an increasingly anesthetized audience. Not even The Hulk is this invincible. Or Neo. Or God. It’s the mythos surrounding the character that I really have a problem with. There’s absolutely no tension because John Wick is unassailable. He exists beyond rules, but it’s awkward because the guy is, at least in theory, mortal like the rest of us. There is something “badass” about him, sure, but that’s mostly his choice of wardrobe.

Where Chapter 2 really goes wrong is in its attempts to homogenize John Wick’s killer instinct. In spite of his ability to survive absolutely everything and to leave his assailants with less than nothing, we learn he is actually a part of something larger, that the rogue qualities that defined him in the original were a function of him merely being better at surviving. Chapter 2 tells us Wick isn’t really special. He just gets luckier than the average assassin.

The action may be mindless but it isn’t artless. Quite the opposite in fact. Perry’s knack for simulating natural movement in high-stakes, fast-paced, close-combat settings is pretty incredible. And if it’s not the art of the ass-kick,* then surely it’s the settings in which they take place that lend the film value — some of the most atmospheric and dynamic environments you’ve seen since The Matrix (a totally intentional reference once you find out who the other famous face is here).

Of course, we’re not done yet. Not even close. John Wick: Chapter 3 actually could be an interesting proposition given the events of the finale here. I’m hoping that someone will realize the potential that’s lurking beneath the surface. Something other than the potential to make a lot of money on the back of some impeccably rehearsed dance routines involving guns, knives and fists.

* John Wick gives new meaning to the idea that cigarettes are hazardous to your health, while Heath Ledger’s Joker could learn a thing or two about how to properly wield a pencil

jw-2

3-0Recommendation: Absolute mayhem continues in John Wick: Chapter 2. If you were a fan of the first you’ll probably like what comes next even more. For those who weren’t so convinced, well . . . 

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “You stabbed the devil in the back. To him this isn’t vengeance. This is justice.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Passengers

passengers-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Spaihts

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Morten Tyldum is a Norwegian director who has been on the fast-track to success ever since bursting on to the world stage in 2011 with his critically acclaimed Headhunters, an action thriller based upon a novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø and featuring a Scandinavian cast. He’s never looked back since. From there he made a movie based upon the life and achievements of British mathematician Alan Turing, the 2014 Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game in which Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed the father of what we recognize today as artificial intelligence. Two years later Tyldum finds himself collaborating with two of the world’s most box office-friendly stars in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence on a romantic/science fiction adventure called Passengers.

With each subsequent venture behind the camera, Tyldum has increasingly found himself surrounded by luxuries filmmakers the world over could only dream of one day having for themselves, if only just for one project. He has a knack for attracting big names and turning profits. There’s little doubt Tyldum has been privileged — so much so that it’s difficult to gauge how deserving he is of his status. His big-budget blueprints are going to endure, despite them lacking personality or any sense of novelty, unlike something produced by the likes of, say, Christopher Nolan, a household name who routinely challenges his audiences to, god forbid, use their brains while rummaging through buckets of popcorn. By comparison, Tyldum’s meteoric rise feels less justified.

Mainstream filmmaking at its most indistinguishable is the best way I know how to describe his oeuvre, and Passengers all but confirms the director has no intention of suppressing the urge to pander to the masses, especially when it is to the tune of $130 million in global receipts in less than three weeks. His new film is essentially Titanic set in space, but with a moral twist (or is that, a twisted sense of morality?) — the only element that differentiates this interstellar adventure from a plethora of other doomed-vessel melodramas. Tyldum’s latest posits that people need people, that we have not been created to exist alone. It’s a theme well worth exploring, but once again I found the same generic, unexciting direction that robbed The Imitation Game of its potential similarly blunting the cutting edges of Passengers‘ would-be high-brow narrative. What could have been thought-provoking is instead estimated as “something audiences should really go for.”

The story is about a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston (Pratt) who wakes up 30 years into a 120-year voyage between Earth and a colonial planet in a distant galaxy. He is among the 5,000 passengers board the starship Avalon, blissfully sleeping away the years until they reach Homestead II, along with another some 200 crew members. A computer glitch causes Jim to awaken from suspended animation and when he realizes what has happened he sets about trying to solve the problem rationally rather than panicking or wallowing in despair, with the faintest aroma of Ridley Scott’s The Martian arising in the opening stanza. A year passes and Jim is unsuccessful in getting back to sleep, although he strikes up a “friendship” with a cyborg bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Unable to share an authentic human relationship with Arthur, Jim starts to slip into the despair he has spent a long time trying to avoid.

That is until he comes across a pod containing an Aurora Lane (Lawrence), whom he learns about via a digital portfolio explaining her background as a writer in New York City. He even becomes familiar with her personality from his investigations. He visits her pod frequently, reading about her and imagining what it would be like to have someone else to share in what will in all likelihood be the remainder of his life on board the Avalon. He struggles mightily with the decision to wake her up, which would necessarily and similarly doom her to a premature death.

The morality play is made fascinating because of the star power Tyldum has been afforded. The leads prove why they are paid what they’re paid as they breathe life into a robotic screenplay. The establishing first third sets the stakes high and Pratt makes it easy for us to buy that Jim really doesn’t want to use his engineering prowess to effectively murder a fellow passenger. And it’s kind of a brave new world watching Pratt embody a character who ultimately isn’t very likable. Lawrence isn’t at her best as Aurora, yet it’s something of a miracle she turns a snobby, self-aggrandizing writer who values prestige over anything else into a person we end up wanting to actually succeed. But for my money, the underrated Michael Sheen makes the most compelling argument for what makes us human, playing the part of some futuristic vision of The Overlook Hotel barkeep in whom a steadily unraveling Jack Torrence frequently confided. Arthur hasn’t been wired to keep secrets. He doesn’t know how to lie or judge. The android offers a contrast that imbues Passengers with the humanity its poorly written flesh-and-blood characters, or at least Jim’s troubling actions, do not.

Unfortunately it’s those sorts of stereotypes and broad statements that could come to define Tyldum as the most recent example of a foreign director making one too many compromises. Six films deep into a directorial career with only a third of them being English-language features, he’s already ‘gone Hollywood.’ He has no distinctive voice. No masterful, inventive way of presenting his Big Movies’ Big Themes. Nor does he frame his stories in ways we have never experienced before. Passengers only gets weaker and more familiar as it plods onward to a thoroughly disappointing action-packed finale, when the Avalon’s technical malfunctions become more frequent and more serious and as Jim and Aurora put aside their differences in order to work to find a solution together.

The destination, such as it is, is so underwhelming (and so expected) it begs the question as to whether the film needed to dive into the morality play at all. Aurora stays mad at Jim for a long time, perhaps even an appropriate amount of time, but the film seems to equate a broken tether with a broken heart. The denouement is not only lazy, it’s disingenuous. It made me long for the pure innocence and the schmaltz of Jack and Rose’s forbidden love. The melodramatics are as damaging to the intellectual constitution of the story as the asteroid is to the ship’s computers and reactors.

Debating the merits of the finale is pointless really because it’s clear Tyldum isn’t in this for the art of storytelling. The Avalon is one of the more visually pleasing spacecraft we’ve seen in some time and the thick ribbons of stars across a canvas of black has rarely looked so beautiful and yet so terrifying. I could write love letters to Passengers‘ production design. There’s a sleekness that cannot be overlooked, that only a film built on this kind of money can provide. The more cynical side of me, the part that enjoys thinking while watching, can’t help but feel Tyldum is making a bid for becoming the most Hollywood-friendly foreign-born director in history. Honestly, that’s not the worst thing in the world. There’s nothing amoral about making a lot of money doing something you love.

Recommendation: I think it says something that the most interesting ‘character’ in the film is the spaceship Avalon. The luxury space liner is a thing of beauty. Passengers is a senses-stimulating film, aggressively so when it comes to the visual elements. It’s a gorgeously rendered production, but it lacks the soul and conviction needed to carry the weight the story deserves. And while I’m not as upset about the implications of the way Jim’s actions are basically excused by film’s end as others have been, I understand where the anger is coming from. This is like Titanic set in space, with Rose suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and instead of Jack being a swell fella, he’s actually a selfish jerk. If you just read that one line and that’s all you knew about the film, then Passengers sounds pretty interesting. And maybe it will be to those who have a stronger tolerance for formulaic blockbusters.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “A drowning man will always try to drag you down with him.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Release: Friday, March 25, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Terrio; David S. Goyer

Directed by: Zack Snyder

I see civil war erupting between the die-hards and the casual-hards (and let me quickly interrupt myself here: casual-hards are people like me who don’t really have a firm grasp on either the mythos or even all of the character trajectories in the source material, we’re just here for the spectacle, that is, the overall product not simply the CGI spectacle). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is no mould-breaker but it does provide in its last half hour set one of the most intense assaults on the senses that cinema has ever created.

It’s overlong, it’s melodramatic, it’s preachy and more often than not it’s a child kicking its foot in the dirt with hands in pockets because it doesn’t know how to play nice with everyone else and now is forced to spend time alone. Maybe its playing out so scornfully is a function of a super-human sense that no matter what it does, some critics are just going to tear it limb from limb. Similar to how the fanbase is likely to poke holes all through its not-so-textured skin, columnists at large — probably not Lois Lane or Perry White though — are going to have, and have been having this week, a field day trying to convince the rest of the populace why it’s not something you should go and see. Hilarious. That’s like an armor-less Batman going toe-to-toe with a Kryptonian and expecting to emerge the victor.

Despite the film suffering once again from gorging on an overabundance of material, the overarching narrative remains simple and simply compelling: this is the episode where the Batman and the man of steel get into a bit of a spat. An older, wiser and ever more embittered Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears the powers of the metahuman known as Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) will perpetually go unchecked unless he intervenes. Meanwhile, the other guy doesn’t think much of all the vigilantism in Gotham that has only succeeded in perpetuating the “weed effect,” as a dejected Batman himself puts it — you crush one weed and pull it out only for another to grow in its place. He’s talking, of course, about criminals. The Dark Knight hasn’t done shit in the way of gardening in the last several years when we first swoop in to meet him.

Zack Snyder, putting himself in the crosshairs much like J.J. Abrams did last year, reaffirms that his gritty style challenges the senses, and that your eyes and ears in particular best come prepared in this bombastic epic that pits the stealthy deceptiveness of Batman against the brutal physicality of Superman — a being, it ought to be said, finds himself falling out of favor with much of mankind following the destructive events in Metropolis two years prior. There’s much anticipation for how a modern film could or should handle the DC Universe’s version of the Neo-Agent Smith battle (sans the whole thing about one of them being a total psycho bent on the unequivocal destruction of man), and yet, for all that’s at stake, Snyder impressively manages to contain his excitement, teasing out the relationship patiently . . . perhaps too patiently for some.

That’s why half of the film manifests as a relatively slow meditation on a number of more human concerns: things like aging, losing one’s relevance, sense of purpose and the loss of innocence are all touched, though never harped upon. Some areas could use some expansion, surely. And yes, that would mean sacrificing a bit of the pixelated action sequences later on. But it’s the steady camerawork of Larry Fong that guides us through the seedy streets of a broken Metropolis, as well as a still-despairing Gotham, an observance of how both time and people have moved on. There’s a bittersweetness to the way Affleck carries himself as a 40-ish-year-old man in a cape whom most have forgotten about by now. There’s a longing for a return to the time when Kal-El first thundered his way to earth, an aura of mystery (or is that terror?) swirling about his godly physique and impossible strength.

Dawn of Justice is most powerful when it’s sending up the deific Kal-El; there are some unforgettable shots of the man in the red cape, one in particular of him hovering above a flooded town, a mother reaching out to him from the rooftop of a submerged house recalls Regan’s possessed soul clawing for the form of Pazuzu outside her window, only in this case we’d like to think the reach is one towards heaven and not hell. Then there’s the image of Cavill’s face imploding in the vacuum of space, his body dangling in suspended animation before awakening once again. If you were asking me which figure is done the most justice (e-hem), I favor Cavill’s Superman. As an image, he’s too powerful, too ferocious, too graceful to ignore. And the Brit looks comfortable as ever in the suit.

It’s not for a lack of trying for Affleck. Unfortunately he’s in a similar position as Jared Leto, attempting to put his own spin on an icon that has been so solidified in the most recent Dark Knight trilogy that any steps taken to divorce from that image will inevitably be labeled as at best inferior and at worst unholy. Affleck doesn’t seem to mind the pressure though; he’s convincing as a surlier, lonelier billionaire with a penchant for creating lots of fancy, shiny new toys and Jeremy Irons as Alfred makes for wonderful companionship but it’s just not the same as Christian Bale and Michael Caine. It’s just not. For these most somber of circumstances though, perhaps this is the Dark Knight we deserve.

For all of its visual symbolism and the bravado with which Cavfleck (please let me be the person to coin that one) carries itself throughout, there are some questionable decisions that hold Dawn of Justice back from becoming the classic it is so close to being. I’m not referring to Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliantly unhinged performance as the evil genius Lex Luthor — his nervous, passive-aggressive and awkward countenance isn’t a natural thing to watch at first but the guy builds some serious strength as the movie plods forward and as his position in this universe becomes slightly more clear. I’m also not referring to the limited screen time afforded Gal Gadot’s ass-kicking Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (though this was an aspect that let me down considerably).

No, the concern is more of a financial nature, and how the studio seems to have mishandled the responsibility of allocating resources properly. For a film budgeted at an estimated $250 million (you can make 25 movies for that price tag), it sure doesn’t look like it. Perhaps part of the issue here is inherent in the sprawling ambition of the story. Because we are dealing with so much complexity, one of the battles Snyder and company picked was to close the physical gap between Metropolis and Gotham, such that only the Delaware River separates these two disparate worlds. When human-Krypton-Bat drama eventually reaches critical mass and the ultimate threat is revealed, so much happens in one indeterminate pile of rubble that nothing looks good.

In some ways the quasi-headache that the action set piece becomes finds us at the threshold of ridiculousness; our demand for quality superhero cinema shouldn’t rely on CGI orgies to get the job done. But that’s old news since the superhero movie fad took off (thanks Iron Man). The only way it seems possible to hit home how crazy these creations are is to go upwards, in one direction. In keeping with what Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch decrees during one of the inevitable government intervention scenes, unilateral decision making is bad for business. But that still doesn’t really answer the mystery as to why, with all of this money, the CGI renderings in particular stand-out moments look like extracts from films in the late ’90s and early 2000s. It’s bizarre.

What’s not bizarre is the critical derision Dawn of Justice is suffering. This is what happened with Man of Steel, remember? Superman stepped in and parted the red sea of fandom. Dawn of Justice is mind-blowing in some aspects and lacks restraint, thereby quality control and thereby consistency, in others. It’s huge and it’s a few trims shy of a true final cut. But it is at the basic level, entertaining and that’s all this little dude wanted out of a movie of this scale. Maybe I regret not being a fanboy?

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Recommendation: . . . do I . . . do I have to say something here? Really? Okay. Well, if you’re on the fence about this, the good news is that Ben Affleck isn’t a disaster (he’s also no Christian Bale) and that the film also makes some room for female talent and as macho as the film is, the timing of Wonder Woman is spine-tingly well-judged. She’s reason enough to go see this. So is Jeremy Irons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 153 mins.

Quoted: “The Red Capes are coming! The Red Capes are coming!”

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Photo credits: http://www.ernest93.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: The Matrix (1999)

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This entry is probably going to throw some people off, as I am indeed including it during my search for the love affairs that have impacted me most in my very limited movie-watching career. I’ll admit this one isn’t a very obvious choice. Sure, it’s a technologically-driven action/fantasy epic but to overlook the far more fundamental driving force is to essentially ignore that which makes the Wachowski’s best film(s) a truly complete legacy. I absolutely cannot get enough of this, or its sequels. (Yes, I am a supporter to the bitter end!)

Today’s food for thought: The Matrix.

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Following the white rabbit since: March 31, 1999

[DVD]

When Trinity finally admitted her true feelings for Neo and went in for the kiss just as the Sentinels were tearing apart the Nebuchadnezzar, the hairs on my arms stood straight up. Not really, but they might as well have. It was a moment of great peace and calm, one of an elite few that confessed the true depth of the Wachowski’s vision of a future where our world would be overtaken by artificial intelligence, thereby laying waste to the vast majority of human life. This wasn’t just a kiss.

Everyone remembers The Matrix for the bullet-dodging and the gothic dress code. Perhaps as the saga sprawled out into Reloaded and concluded with a bang in Revolutions there were fewer iconic scenes to latch on to, and more common were ones of convoluted theory and the development of additional, arguably less interesting characters and subplots. I can’t sit here and say that my love for the trilogy was (or is) equally distributed; the original finds security in my top ten favorite films of all time — a potent concoction of visionary direction, commitment from a cast that will never be this cool again, and incredible martial arts/fight sequences that countless films since have gone to great lengths to try and duplicate. (Oh, hi John Wick.)

What’s less talked about, and this I can’t help but blame on the film’s tremendous visual appeal and high-brow concept, is the powerful love story anchoring Neo to a world he once was dangerously oblivious to. But in The Matrix you won’t find another case of meet-cute; it’s more like meet. . .badass. In an underground dance club bathed in only the purest of dystopian light a jet-black-haired woman named Trinity informed him of his importance. Despite appearances the introduction was anything but secretive, for there existed another world entirely — the last human city on Earth — whose fate hinged upon whether or not Thomas Anderson would trust this mysterious woman.

Worlds collided. The computer hacker’s forced to confront a reality (well, I guess he could have taken the blue pill) that would make the hardiest of men sick to their stomach. Humankind being harvested as an energy source for the continuation of Machinekind. The Matrix, of course, had little time for sappy romance; that stuff was saved for Reloaded in a spectacularly choreographed celebratory scene in the aforementioned subterranean city of Zion.

Neo and Trinity form a bond late in the first film, a unity of lips that would quite possibly seal the fate for both man and machine alike. Part of the adrenaline rush of The Matrix is watching Neo gain his powers, slowly coming into an acceptance that he is The One, a title that has since been parodied over and again. (Keanu, take those as compliments.) But if The One can stop bullets under his own strength, what could he accomplish with Trinity at his back? Hers was not the same kind of belief Morpheus stubbornly clung to for most of the film before having it temporarily, if not convincingly, wrenched from his soul. With Trinity there was never any doubt, though Carrie Anne Moss’ enviable performance brilliantly subverted a passion that would much later become quite apparent.

One of the greatest things about this romance is that the word itself doesn’t aptly describe the emotions that propel both Neo and Trinity. They are an indisputable romantic couple, again in reference to The Matrix: Reloaded and in the final devastating chapter — the most romantic thing Neo probably ever did for Trinity was remove a bullet from her abdomen with his bare hand — but the love angle is downplayed to fit the desperate times and the enormously high stakes surrounding the discovery of The One. If you are looking at The Matrix and The Matrix alone, this is tough love. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to illustrate this than when Trinity pulls rank after Neo says it’s not a good idea for her to follow him back into the matrix to save a captured Morpheus. She’s every bit Neo’s intellectual and physical equal, even if she couldn’t quite bring it upon herself to take on Agent Smith even at the most opportune of times.

“What is he doing?” “He’s beginning to believe.” The moment was anything but an epiphany. The kiss was anything but a simple act.

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5-0Recommendation: We’ve all seen this one by now, so recommending this one seems, again, unnecessary. The Matrix represents one of the most uncompromising and unique visions of the future we have ever been handed on a silver screen. Hard to believe this film debuted 16 years ago this March. There are too many interesting things going on in this film to count, but of the many things I could talk about, I find the relationship between Neo and Trinity one of the most fascinating and also one of the most rewarding. Fans of the film(s), would you agree?

Rated: R

Running Time: 136 mins.

TBTrivia: The filming of the helicopter scene where they rescue Morpheus nearly caused the film to be shutdown because they flew the helicopter through restricted Sydney airspace. Laws in the state of New South Wales in Australia were changed to allow the film to proceed.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.coroflot.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ride Along

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Release: Friday, January 17, 2014

[Theater]

It’s official. Kevin Hart is the black Chris Farley. Er, well. . .he’s certainly trying.

His new comedy vehicle sees him performing at a spasmodic level not seen since cocaine was readily available in the 80s. I mean, damn dude, someone give this guy a beta blocker before he strokes out! Bless his little fast-beating heart, he is more than welcome to try and imitate the great SNL star, just as long as he makes a promise to not go out in the same way as Farley. . .

The jokester, standing all of five-foot-four, is a storm of energy and quick wit in Ride Along, and while the laughs he extracts from audiences may not quite approach the painful levels of his Philadelphian peers like Dave Chapelle or Eddie Murphy, he turns this incredibly bland buddy-cop adventure into an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment. There’s not much to chatter about excitedly afterwards, yet for the lack of creativity on display there’s no harm done in the process. Unless, of course, you take exception to the mental images of Kevin Hart and his black hammer. Ew.

Ben (Hart) is waiting for the right moment to ask James (Ice Cube) for his blessing in taking his sister’s hand in marriage. The two haven’t exactly been getting along ever since Ben apparently damn near barbecued his potential brother-in-law alive at a family gathering awhile back. But because he failed to melt Ice Cube’s cold heart over a charcoal grill, Ben sets out on a mission to prove himself worthy of James’ respect. So he enrolls in the Atlanta police academy, with the goal of becoming a lieutenant on his horizon.

Oh man, can you imagine?

One thing that actually isn’t difficult to imagine is the fact that the camera gravitates toward Hart for most of the duration, despite some other big names present as well, such as Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill and, yes, the aforementioned Barbershop star. Because James reluctantly agrees to take this obnoxious motor-mouth on a “ride along” with him, Ben finds all sorts of ways to become an obstacle more than a useful partner, and more importantly, a man worthy of Angela (Tika Sumpter)’s love. James is attempting to track down the whereabouts of a notorious criminal named Omar (Fishburne), much to the annoyance of his superior, Lt. Brooks (McGill), who doesn’t approve of this hot-shot officer’s renegade tactics. Wherever these two go, the camera can’t help but get stuck on Hart’s frenetic energy and perpetually rubberized facial expressions.

However, when it moves away from Hart and reveals other bits and pieces of this loosely-assembled plot, the problems stack up quicker than Hart’s feathery frame getting blown sideways against a wall at the firing range.

Ride Along simply insists on being a very brainless exercise as director Tim Story seems comfortable with his usual formula (you need not know much more than the fact he directed Fantastic Four and Think Like a Man to realize he’s a pretty uninspired filmmaker). In this case, he maps out the Atlanta area in a simplistic blueprint, leading us by the hand from point A to point B, tossing in jokes wherever and whenever possible. As it so happens, this is arguably the only fault in Hart’s presence: at times he gets a bit irritating with the sheer number of his faux-Farley freakouts. The supporting roles barely are worth mentioning, although it is quite chuckle-worthy to see Morpheus talking all gangsta-like in his role as the big baddie.

Despite the film’s underachieving status, extra points are still going to be awarded here because Ride Along makes the best of the chemistry between Ice Cube and the world’s funniest short man. If that’s not enough for you to call shotgun on this joy ride, then. . .well, you can just ride in the backseat. Party pooper.

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Legit gamer.

2-5Recommendation: Ride Along fails and it doesn’t. The audience it plays up to should be perfectly satisfied with the results — as evidenced by the drastic difference between critical and audience reviews on the big aggregate sites like RT and IMDb. Feel free to select this one if you’re keen on shutting down your brain, stuffing some popcorn down the hatch and laughing like a hyena at a few scenes featuring Hart doing his thing. Oh yeah, and there’s just a killer hot girl in it. The damsel in distress thing should really draw in a crowd. Boom.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Thank you, ass-face.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Man of Steel

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Release: Friday, June 14, 2013

[Theater]

You could sit and argue all day whether what’s inscribed on Superman’s chest is an ‘S’ or a symbol of hope, but it should take little to no time at all coming to the conclusion that the epic new blockbuster from Zack Snyder (who directed 300) is just that — epic.

Unfortunately the term ‘epic’ and similarly lofty descriptions are often two-sided coins, and have this tendency to invite criticism more than they do praise since these words conjure up the idea that nothing has been or will be coming close to this particular standard, at least not any time soon. Hyperbole is so easy to use when describing superhero films and in particular, the reboots thereof, and I really don’t want to go into this review using a boatload of them; however there is almost no other way. This film is just so intensely visual and action-packed it is a total manifestation of that one word.

This is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to talking Man of Steel. Grand in its scale, sprawling in its running time, and ambitious in its execution of a relatively simple plot, it seems as though Snyder has bitten off a little more than he could chew with this one. Only so much can be gained out of a bombastic vision: Michael Bay (and I’m not comparing this movie to a Michael Bay movie, just to clarify. . . ) sacrifices even halfway decent dialogue and character development for the sake of spectacle and CGI parties because that is his style. He’s become a lightning rod for criticism in that regard. Christopher Nolan (who operates in a producer capacity for this adventure) bases his characters in reality and lets the action speak for itself, thus making it more authentic and believable, as opposed to the sheer awe factor that comes with an excess of exploding shit. Other directors have their own styles that define works possessing various other strengths and/or weaknesses. But here, Snyder seems to be throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Man of Steel, hoping that whatever sticks sticks firmly. Well, some does and some does not.For all of the film’s surprising shortcomings, the more critical factors worked in its favor, leaving only details (some may say big details) to be left as questionable.

For all of the film’s surprising shortcomings, the more critical factors worked in its favor, leaving only details (some may say big details) to be left as questionable.

Snyder begins the film in spectacular fashion, focusing on a Krypton that is falling apart due to the planet’s unstable core. In the midst of all the panic, we bear witness to Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) giving up their only child so that he may live elsewhere in the universe, free of the destruction of his home world. It is a heartbreaking moment and a heck of a way to start things off. The journey to Earth is also compelling and this transitional scene manages to connect our two worlds as succinctly and brilliantly as I (and I’m sure scores of years-old fans of Superman) had hoped.

When we cut to a scene that’s obviously years after his crash-landing in Kansas, we see a fully grown and disheveled looking man (Henry Cavill) who at once appears displaced and lonely. He’s working as a sea fisherman, which is pretty much one of the most isolated jobs I can think of off the top of my head.

Despite the following sequence being a hodgepodge of flashbacks and flash-forwards, this hectic arrangement of scenes allows us to really get a big-picture perspective of how this incredible individual is adapting to our world. Indeed, I’ve read more than a few reviews that indicate relief that we are spared the “growing-up” First Act, which could have just as easily been used here. Where he’s been and who he has tried to be is vital to the story Snyder has gone with here. We are experiencing a more honest characterization of Superman, and it’s just the earlygoing here. (At least, I’m assuming there’ll be sequels — plural.)

These early days — that is to say, pre-General Zod invasion — build interesting drama, but not in an overt way. The scenes in which young Clark Kent (I love that adoptive name, by the way) and his “father” Jonathan (Kevin Costner) talk about his place in the world are wonderfully written, and they really help contribute to a growing list of reasons why we should love and care about Superman….er, rather, Clark’s life and what the future holds for him. “You’ll have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be,” he tells Clark, who’s just recently been hassled by some bullies from school. There is a poignancy in these small moments that really help carry and build momentum to the spectacular action sequences that still lay ahead — you know, the stuff that probably most of us are going to see this movie for.

Clark/Kal-El’s departure from Krypton does not go unnoticed, though. The impossibly angry and powerful General Zod (Michael Shannon) soon emerges from the cloak of deep space and delivers a chilling message to the human race. Unfortunately his message goes the cliched, blockbuster route and is only but one example of some of the glaring weaknesses of the Goyer/Nolan script. It goes a little something like this: “Hand over the suited hero, or we destroy the planet.” The foreshadowing of a gigantic scene of violence and chaos is less than subtle, to say the least.

Even with a star-studded cast, including those behind the cameras and the ones responsible for the script, there is a lot left to be desired in moments that are not filled with an incredible amount of CGI. The Lois and Clark relationship is neither as accurate nor as compelling as I was hoping for, and we still are plagued with a lot of the cheese-factor as it pertains to bystander reaction and the general mass confusion of the populace of our world, as told by the blank expressions set on only a few faces — some military leaders, the staff at the Daily Planet, for example. I thought we would be past this with a cast (again, referring to more than just those on-screen) as talented as this.

Even with a star-studded cast, including those behind the cameras and the ones responsible for the script, there is a lot left to be desired in moments that are not filled with an incredible amount of CGI. The Lois and Clark relationship is neither as accurate nor as compelling as I was hoping for, and we still are plagued with a lot of the cheese-factor as it pertains to bystander reaction and the general mass confusion of the populace of our world, as told by the blank expressions set on only a few faces — some military leaders, the staff at the Daily Planet, for example. I thought we would be past this with a cast (again, referring to more than just those on-screen) as talented as this.

There is also no holding back during the massive fight scene that comprises the climax of this film (a.k.a. the Third Act; seriously, the final showdown must be at least 45 minutes in length). The action does get a little numbing. How many skyscrapers can we count where Superman and Zod crash through at lightning speed? Though this may seem like a trivial complaint, the end of the film suffers from a bit of a bloated ego — mostly as a result of Snyder thinking this needed to have the most grandiose of grandiose send-offs when in fact there is likely going to be more installments under the guise of Man of Steel. Don’t get me wrong — seeing what Superman is fully capable of in this particular case was exhilarating. But to a point. The film could have benefitted from some editing; somehow seeing him disappear under the harsh laser of Zod’s impressive ‘World Engine’ just didn’t do much for me when everything leading up to it has been just as insane.

There is one thing that has been overlooked quite terribly, though. There’s a consensus about this film’s lack of humor or discernible “warmth” to the script, or even to the characters, that distances Man of Steel from it’s theoretical potential. Such is simply a gross oversight and misses the point of this film’s purpose: bringing Superman back full-strength and true to the character. He’s human, but not really. He’s invincible, but not really. He’s a member of planet Earth, but. . . not really. Notice how none of these are really descriptions of Tony Stark, Spider-man (at least the Tobey Maguire version), nor the Green Lantern — the likes of which Clark Kent is most definitely not.

Wit and the inescapable buddy-buddy relationships in other action films don’t have much of a place in Man of Steel. Superman walks alone; this is part of the motif not just for this 2013 version, but of any of the films made. This movie’s title alone suggests a ‘colder,’ more dispassionate atmosphere, and is evidenced by the immediate introduction of General Zod who commands as much screen time as Henry Cavill’s God-like physique. Realistically, the world is a cold place. While I thought there could have been a few more happenstance laughs (Nolan does that quite nicely in his Dark Knight saga) sprinkled throughout, the purpose here is not to be funny. It is to drop those jaws to the floor.

It’s just too bad that most of that comes from the magic of special effects, and is not the result of incredible scriptwriting in conjunction with impressive action. So. . . ultimately, is the final product successful in the sense that it lived up to the record-levels of hype building up to its release? That’s very easy to answer: no it isn’t. Is it a good film? Most definitely. It’s epic and sweeping. We go to so many places within this film, and so easily too. It may be easier to overlook some of the many flaws within the narrative for some people and harder for others. Opinions are going to vary widely, but there’s no denying the size and beautiful grandeur of Snyder’s vision.

The director may have set his sights a little high going into this project, and he’s also no superhero who can shoot lasers from his eyes (which would be badass). But his film has taken an awfully hard bashing, more so than it deserves. If there was this much anticipation going into this film and the result is a mediocre 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, then there’s no telling what the damage will be with expectations for the next installment. . .

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4-0Recommendation: While it’s not vintage Christopher Reeve, this is a film that holds nothing back with energy and visual splendor. The best way to enjoy this film — and although it’s probably impossible to avoid seeing extra spoilers or reveals by now — is to go in with an open mind. Make your own opinion on this new take on Superman. Highbrows and perfectionists, yes, are going to be in varying degrees let down. The casual moviegoer is going to be blown away. The ratio of the latter to the former is something like 10:1, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you watch this behemoth unfold.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 143 mins.

Quoted: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com