Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale

You know his name.
You know his number.
You know his legend.

But you don't know a thing about him anymore.

Casino Royale is a reboot of the Bond franchise, restarting the chronology and reimagining the style.  Although the story takes place in what is apparently the year 2006, it also takes place before the "original" Bond film, Dr. No.  The "timeline" isn't ultimately the important thing in this film, however.  What really matters is the way that the character of James Bond is reworked.

In this film, Bond—as portrayed by new actor Daniel Craig—is not the two-dimensional, super-smooth secret agent that he was in the past.  Instead, he is a much more realistic character, one with obvious strengths and weaknesses.  He is a "blunt instrument" of MI6, exceedingly arrogant and forceful.  Fortunately, he has enough charm, cleverness, and physical ability to make his way through the endlessly torturous challenges set before him.

It's been said that Bond films are often made with the legacy of the Bond series in mind, and should be viewed within that framework.  Casino Royale, however, is simply a great film in its own right.  It does away with the overly grandiose and nigh-cartoonish stunts of the past, replacing them with realistic-yet-still-jaw-dropping modern style.

The action is brutal and relentless, riding on a rush of adrenaline and only stopping when the audience is on the brink of exhaustion.  Many of the scenes are so complex and awe-inspiring that they stand up with the best in film history.

The characters' interactions are remarkably well-done.  In particular, Bond's dialogue with Vesper Lynd (the "Bond girl" of the film) is stellar.  Vesper and Bond share a slightly antagonistic-yet-flirtatious relationship, and grow together realistically.  By the end of the film, the audience learns to care for Vesper, much as Bond himself does.

The character of M reappears, once again played by Judy Dench.  She is extremely important to the story, as her dialogue highlights Bond's character—and charts his progression.  The character of Felix Leitner, a CIA ally of Bond's seen in many previous films, makes a return here, with a kind of comforting effect.

There are a few absences in Casino Royale that are sorely missed.  The character of Q does not appear, nor do any of Bond's "gadgets."  (In fact, aside from a super-advanced defibrillator, Bond has nothing that even remotely resembles technology any better than what the average civilian could obtain.)  There are no hints at the greater Bond mythos, such as the evil organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  One might say that this film is so intensely focused on story and character that the mythos comes second.

Before this review finishes, I have to say one thing:
I love this movie and what it has done to the Bond franchise.  I am very interested in Daniel Craig's version of Bond, and I care about what happens to him.  However, to me, Daniel Craig is not James Bond.  He is a much more realistic character, yes.  A much more compelling one, in fact. But he lacks the smoothness and style that the other Bond actors possessed—notably Craig's immediate predecessor, Pierce Brosnan.  This bothers me.  I still greatly enjoy the film, but it's not exactly a Bond film to me.

All of that said, however, it's still a great movie, despite any of my personal gripes.


Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman Returns

"Returns" has been the title for a thousand remakes. However, it does not always hold much meaning.
Batman Returns was really just another Batman movie. It had nothing to do with Batman returning, since he never actually left. Superman, however, has been gone from the big screen for nearly two decades, and there hasn't been a Superman film that was actually good in even longer. Besides the fact that Superman III wasn't very good, and IV was terrible, much of the reason that we haven't seen a Superman film in so long is that the world has seemingly moved on from Superman. After all, if we are to believe Hollywood, chivalry is dead. There are no true heroes anymore. Look at Wolverine, Daredevil, The Punisher, etc. They're not heroes, they're anti-heroes: those who break the rules and don't care much for any kind of morals. Even the characters that come close to being truly heroic, such as Spider-Man, are ultimately flawed. After all, who wants to watch a movie about a boy scout who can seemingly do anything?
This film's story neatly mirrors reality by making a story in which Superman has been gone for years, and the world has seemingly moved on without him. Or have they?
Before I went to see this film, I rented the original 1978 Superman: The Movie. I was quite pleased and somewhat overjoyed with parts of it, but other times I thought "Oh, so this is why people hate Superman". However, Superman Returns is a semi-sequel to Superman I & II, so it's a nice idea to sit and watch them just for background information. As I said before, I didn't like parts of the original film, and I found myself hoping to death that this new movie wouldn't follow so closely in its footsteps. My hope came through.
As previously stated, Returns is about Superman's return to Earth after an absence of several years. Clark Kent returns to Metropolis only to discover that Lois Lane, the woman he loved, is now engaged, and has a son (yes, she had a son before she was married. Watch Superman II for a hint at the whole story). Even worse, Lois is angry at Superman for leaving, and won a Pulitzer Prize (like the Oscars for books) for her article titled Why the World Doesnt Need Superman.
Now, this isn't a simple "just kill off the fiancee whos really a jerk" scenario. Her fiancee is a really good guy, and by the end of the film I was hoping desperately that he wouldnt be killed, even knowing that his life would seal Clark off from Lois.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mind of all time, is hatching an Earth-shattering scheme to both take over the world and annihilate billions of people.
The film starts with a bang. No, really. Not even just an Earth-shattering bang; it's much bigger than that. This briefly stunning visual effects shot is followed by a series of mediocre ones, although considering the multi-planetary scale of the project, it's more than forgivable.
The first twenty-or-so minutes of the movie are very slow. I sat there hoping and praying that I wouldnt end up agreeing with the one-out-of every-ten reviewers who said it was too slow. My prayers were answered, in the most mind-blowing way possible. I wont ruin it for you. Suffice it to say that nothing on this scale has EVER been successfully done before. In one scene, my mouth dropped open in awe as I whispered, "No, freakin' way..."
Brandon Routh is great as Superman. All the Supermen are different--as each version of the character is different--but Routh's version is possibly my favorite. He successfully pulled off both Clark Kent and Superman, and he did so wonderfully.
Kate Bosworth is.... decent... at Lois Lane. I liked her performance a lot, but she didnt quite look the role. She looked like a princess, yet acted like the traditional tough-as-nails Lois Lane. It didn't quite mesh.
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor... can I just say awesome-times-infinity and get away with it? He is both chilling and hilarious at the same time. I can't give away any good moments, but he has many of them in this film.
The visual effects of the environment arent ground-breaking, but the effects on Superman himself were simply astounding. They were virtually flawless; I sat there in awe. Everything Superman does looks both real and amazing. The original 1978 film's tagline was "you will believe a man can fly." I believed just the opposite after watching that film. Now, however, I think they really should have re-used that tagline for this film. 'Cause man, I SO believe it this time around.
Returns is directed and produced by Bryan Singer, who directed and produced X-men 1 and 2. I was initially wary of the idea, because Singer is noted for his ability to blend fantasy and reality. I didnt want Superman to be made more real. (After all, hes a guy who flies without wings or a jetpack. Without the fantasy, whats left?) After watching Returns, I realized that Singers talent for realism isnt that he alters the original material, its that he can tell a human story, with realistic people. After that, you can make me believe that, well, people can fly.
Superman isn't outdated, and we haven't moved on past him. By the end of Returns, we see that truth literally appear before our eyes. I've been saying that for years, but cynical people are really stubborn. Ill give you a hint: lose your cynicism before you watch this film. Or keep it, and see if you can really say you dislike the movie by the time the end credits roll.
This was an amazing movie. Unlike X-Men 3, which I disliked the more I thought about it, I only like this film even more now than I did last night.

It was worth waiting for.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

When I saw Underworld, I thought "where was all the sex and violence?" When I saw the 2006 sequel, Underworld: Evolution, I thought "ah, there it is."
Underworld: Evolution starts off where the first film ended, and begins—refreshingly—with a look at just what it's like to be an immortal. Vampires and Lycans alike cannot eat normal food, and are forced to drink cloned human blood. It's nice to see some actual development of the main characters' everyday lives, now made more complicated with the events of the last film.

As stated before, this film is far more violent than the last. People are repeatedly impaled, eaten, dismembered, and ripped apart. The blood and gore really never stops, and is rather superfluous.
There are also a couple of sex scenes, one of which is entirely pointless.
This entire film feels as if someone said "the first film didn't have enough sex and violence. Let's add more this time!"

The plot is both convoluted and uninteresting, though it does delve a bit deeper into the Underworld mythology. Because of certain events surrounding Selene at the end of the film, it'll be interesting to see what happens with her if and when another sequel is made.

I really have very little to say about this movie. It's just not very good.