Thursday, June 30, 2011

Update (6/30/11)

New reviews:
Green Lantern
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

I felt like delving into the Green Lantern and X-Men franchises this month because of their current films in theaters. Daredevil was just a random whim that came out of nowhere.
Next up is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, just as soon as I get the chance to go see it. Otherwise, the next few films will probably be X2, Tangled, Thor, and whatever else I get around to.

Upcoming reviews:
Green Lantern: First Flight
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Lion King
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Quantum of Solace
Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 3
The Spirit
Sucker Punch
Superman: The Movie
Superman II
Superman III
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman Returns
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: The Last Stand
Wonder Woman (2009 Animated)

Movies I have yet to see this year:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Captain America
Cowboys and Aliens
The Muppets
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes 2

Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern

For those who don't know, I am a huge fan of the Green Lantern character and comics. I've read the original story upon which this film is based multiple times, and enjoyed it greatly. I wish I could say the same of the film itself.

The basis for Green Lantern is this:
On the distant planet Oa, the guardians of the universe created the Green Lantern Corps, a group made up of 3600 individuals recruited from across the universe. Using their green power rings—technological weapons of incredible strength, fueled by their user's willpower and imagination—they act as intergalactic policemen, keeping innocents safe from various threats.
Hal Jordan, an overly cocky fighter pilot, has now been recruited as the first-ever human Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Parallax, a massively powerful and evil being made of pure fear, is on a course headed for Earth. Hal must deal with his own personal fears before being able to successfully wield the ring's power and defeat Parallax.

The bizarre thing about this film is that it gets so much of the Green Lantern universe right, but doesn't make it interesting. Hal Jordan's story is somehow robbed of its emotional resonance from the comics, despite the fact that most of the story is exactly the same. It's the little moments that are missing; the ones that show Hal as a compelling character. The same goes for every other character in the film. The audience is simply never given a reason to care about any of the main characters.

The best scenes on an emotional level are the romantic bits between Hal and his former girlfriend, Carol Ferris. While Carol is perhaps shown too often as nothing more than a support for Hal, her scenes are genuinely sweet. One moment in particular is notably hilarious, and contains the best genuine laugh in the entire movie.

The script in this movie is awful. Every single line is terribly bland. Hal is somewhat funny, but it seems as though most of that humor was due to Ryan Reynolds' improv skills and comedic timing. The overall story and editing are terribly problematic as well. The film jumps back and forth between plotlines in ways that are more frustrating and distracting than anything else. Furthermore, the interesting plotlines (those involving the Corps) end up going nowhere. Certain plot twists come up only in order to set up a sequel, and the main villain isn't even a real character.

Parallax isn't a character; he's just a giant puffy-headed death cloud. The only character that's actually developed as a villain is Hector Hammond, but he's more of an annoyance in the film than anything else. He's not interesting, he's not fun to watch, and he only distracts from Hal's story.

Mark Strong plays the character of Sinestro, a fellow Green Lantern from another sector who has more militaristic—and perhaps even immoral—ideas about the Corps and how it should operate. He's a hugely important character in the Green Lantern mythos, but gets nothing more than mere setup here. Furthermore, his relationship with Hal Jordan, a very important character and story point, is entirely glossed over here. Mark Strong plays the hell out of Sinestro with what little screentime he has, but it's not enough. This is a character that deserved much, much more.

Still, however, there are enjoyable things about the movie. Seeing Hal Jordan use his power ring in superheroic ways inspires a bit of childlike glee. The action, for what little is there, is fun. It's that tiny bit of enjoyability that saves Green Lantern from being terrible. And, to be fair, there's nothing in Green Lantern that's particularly offensive; it's just extremely bland.

The eight-year-old in me wants to give this movie a six out of ten. The twenty-one-year-old in me wants to give it a four. I'll split the difference. Let's just hope that if and when a sequel is made, it's better than this one.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Emerald Knights is a not-sequel to the previous DCUAM Green Lantern movie, First Flight. It uses the same animation models with a new voice cast and story continuity.

This is a jumbled bag of a movie. First of all, it's an anthology film, consisting of several different stories all placed within a framing story.
The framing story, with Hal Jordan mentoring young Arisia, a new Green Lantern recruit, is passable. It's not very interesting, and feels more annoying than anything else. A straight-up series of short stories presented separately might have been more interesting than this.

A few of the short stories are enjoyable. Laira's story is decently emotional and very well-choreographed. The opening story, focusing on Avra, the First Lantern, is adequate.
Most of the stories, however, are passable at best. Additionally, a few of these stories have been told before in the comics, with a mere few pages each. Those original comic versions, which only took a mere two minutes each to read, were more compelling than these animated tales are, despite their ten-to-fifteen-minute runtimes.

Most confusing of all is the fact that Emerald Knights looks exactly like First Flight, but is clearly not in the same continuity. Seeing the same characters but with drastically different voices doesn't help, either. Some fare better than others. Nathan Fillion has a great voice for Hal Jordan, and some of the side characters, Arisia and Laira, never had major speaking roles in the first film anyway. But others, like Sinestro, Kilowog, and Abin Sur just feel bizarre with their new voices. It's incredibly distracting, and not at all enjoyable.

If you're a huge Green Lantern fan, this could be worth your time. Otherwise, skip it.


Friday, June 3, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Let me preface this by saying that I am a very big fan of the first two X-Men films (the ones directed by Bryan Singer), and to some degree, the franchise as a whole. The night I saw the first X-Men film is forever locked into my memory as a huge moment in my childhood. X2 is one of my favorite superhero movies, possibly tied for my favorite overall. I haven't been a fan of either of the X-Men films after X2 (X-Men 3 and Origins: Wolverine were, to put it mildly, garbage), but I will always love the X-Men at their best. First Class, being produced by Bryan Singer, had all the potential in the world to return to the high standards of quality seen in those earlier films—or at the very least, one would expect it to respect those films. How odd is it, then, that First Class seems in some ways to do the opposite?

X-Men: First Class is a blending-together of the scripts for two separate X-Men films, one being a Magneto/Xavier origin story and the other being a film about the "first class" of young X-Men. Apparently one of these scripts was very good and the other wasn't. The Magneto/Xavier moments in First Class are largely good, while the moments with the teen trainees are largely boring.

James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender are absolutely perfect as the young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Their performances are by far the strongest aspect of the film as a whole. Perhaps wisely, they take their cues more from the comics' portrayal of the characters than the past films', but without contradicting the film versions either. It's rather masterful, really. Their story isn't as good as their acting, but it's good enough for the most part. If there's any aspect of First Class that definitely deserves to be held up as one of the best elements of the series, it's these two characters.

Unfortunately, most of the other characters are either useless or ill-portrayed. Nearly all of the other X-Men are, at best, C-list characters that frankly don't deserve to be part of the so-called first class. Instead of classic characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, or Iceman, we get Cyclops' kid brother (who is somehow older in this continuity), a different character coincidentally named Angel (whose most notable trait is that she's a stripper with an attitude), Banshee (an Irish kid with screaming powers who we are given zero reason to care about), and a random guy named Darwin who is almost literally in only one scene before dying. The only one of the teens that's particularly compelling is Hank McCoy/Beast, who it should be noted is the only member of the team that was actually part of the first class in the comics. His story actually works very well, even if his blue furry makeup very much does not.

The villains of the story are varied. Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw is largely very good, and a rather fitting villain for the story. The presence of the demon-mutant Azazel is also rather welcome, as he fills the "super-cool silent evil henchman" role well while also referencing continuity (Azazel being Nightcrawler's father). The other villains, however, are terribly bland. Riptide's only use seems to be generating badly-rendered CG tornadoes and filling camera space next to other more important characters, while Emma Frost—a huge character from the comics—is so badly-acted and -written here that it's painful for an X-Men fan to watch. Emma in the comics (as well as in the various animated series) is a cold, commanding, brilliant, and powerful character. Emma in First Class is essentially Sebastian Shaw's whore and little else.

The biggest issue with First Class is how it handles continuity with the other films. Normally, continuity shouldn't be such a big issue, seeing as how, at the very least, the film should be able to stand on its own terms, irrelevant of how it fits with everything else. However, in this case the continuity is central to the story and can't be ignored. Many elements of First Class directly call out continuity, setting up characters and events precisely to line up with the other films. A couple of actors from past films even make cameo appearances. There is no way that this is meant to be a "reboot" of any kind; this is a prequel, plain and simple. The problem is that while it definitely wants to be a prequel, First Class outright contradicts so much continuity that the emotional ties it draws to the past films actually hurt the experience more than help it. Apparently the reason almost no classic X-Men characters were used in the film is that chronologically they would have been too young for the era in which the film is set, requiring a different set of characters. Yet other elements of the story seem not to care about things like ages, sequences of events, etc. Here's a list of some of the biggest continuity contradictions:

-In X2, the main threat revolves around the fact that Magneto helped build Cerebro and is capable of building it again from memory. In First Class, Hank builds it and Magneto knows nothing about it.
-In both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Xavier is shown as an older man (in either the 1970s or the 1980s) able to walk, yet we see him paralyzed in 1962.
-In the first three X-Men films, it's said that Xavier and Magneto met as teenagers and spent years working together. In First Class they meet as adults, work together for a several months at most, then part ways—notably before they meet Jean Grey in the prologue of The Last Stand.
-While not technically a continuity error, it seems odd that Mystique and Charles grew up together for eighteen years as brother and sister, yet this is never referenced at any point during the other films. Given how incredibly close First Class's Mystique is portrayed to the trilogy's version of the character, it seems very ill-fitting to make her Xavier's sister. Why would Xavier repeatedly mention his close friendship with Magneto that only lasted a few months, but never reference Mystique being his adopted sibling?

Ignoring the contradictions in continuity for a moment, perhaps the thing that disappoints me most about First Class is that it handles many important parts of the X-Men mythos so poorly. As mentioned before, the "first class" of X-Men are mostly poor, useless characters that do not live up to the X-Men name. Charles and Erik don't have a long, legendary partnership; they barely know each other, really. "Magneto" is a nickname given to Erik by a bunch of rowdy partying teenagers. Emma and Riptide shouldn't have even been allowed to grace the screen.

Now, as for scoring the movie, I'm going to try to remain more objective. As an X-Men fan, it's hard to see First Class as anything but a disappointment with some high moments. However, putting aside my personal bias, it is at least a pretty decent film. The two leads and the main villain are very good, the plot is good, and production values are decent enough.

In terms of personal enjoyment, I can't give First Class anything more than a four out of ten. On a somewhat more objective scale, it probably deserves something closer to a six.