Thursday, December 19, 2013
A prologue opens the film, introducing Malekith, the leader of the Dark Elves, an ancient race that went into some kind of disappointment-hibernation after failing to capture "The Ether," a mystical evil energy force as old as time itself, or something like that. This sequence elicits the first in a series of groans that last through to each of the films three endings (depending on how soon after the credits one chooses to saunter out of the theater) as we're subjected to a heap of lofty exposition like this, all so that we can understand a very simple premise. The plot turns, and turns again, and an anti-gravity warp zone opens up because every x-amount of time the Nine Realms line up, and something and something, and so love interest Jane Foster ends up with the magic Ether inside of her blood-stream, a sad turn which relegates her character simply to Vessel for Plot Progression as she becomes the target of Malekith, somehow awakened by Ether activity.
Fortunately Taylor inherits the well-drawn characters for Branaugh's film, whose likability acts as The Dark World's saving grace, filtering all of this nonsense through the levity-inducing sensibility of its ragtag group of Earth scientists and their side-kicks... And their sidekicks' side-kicks. Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor, again providing the right balance of snarky arrogance and endearing tenderness. Tom Hiddleston's back as Loki, too, and thank Odin for that, because without him there would be no edge to the film, very troubling considering there's barely any with him.
Where a great sequel builds on the world introduced in prior films, further developing its characters and ideas, Thor: The Dark World simply gives us bigger, and more. We see more of Asgard, but still don't really get a sense of what it's actually like there, beyond home of Odin's palace, where most of Asgardian screen-time is concentrated. It seems as though great opportunities are squandered at every plot turn, with Taylor often holding back from the audience vital information that all of the characters know, in order to manufacture cheap suspense which will never hold up on a second viewing. One such episode involves Loki, finally free of the shackles he's been under for most of the film, immediately betraying Thor when we've all (thought we've) been fooled into trusting him, but it turns out that it was just part of a plan they hatched up off-screen to fool the Dark Elves.
And that's pretty much how the film goes: just when something might happen that will set the film apart from others and make it at all unique, it turns out it's just part of a bland plot twists that negates whatever was interesting. What's left is still a serviceable piece of ephemeral popcorn entertainment, which hits all of the expected beats, but what's most memorable about it is how much potential it leaves unrealized. Rather than taking the opportunity to further develop Thor and co., Marvel uses it to boost their brand, and The Dark World is instead yet another largely generic feature-length trailer for whatever comes next with the Avengers.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Looking back on the story arc of Catching Fire leaves one wondering where the hell the rest of the film is. For all its flash and grandiosity, not much really happens, and it leaves very little to ponder beyond how we got suckered into making this series the phenomenon that it now is. Maybe that's because, like the first Hunger Games, about halfway through, the characters are again thrust into an unsatisfying fight-to-the-death which contributes relatively nothing to the film's already convoluted narrative, and manages to be about as thrilling as a group of toddlers playing hide-and-seek in the backyard.
Director Francis Lawrence takes over directing duties, surpassing the lackluster Gary Ross, and he provides more edge to the action, while handling the drama with a subtler touch, focusing on some interesting details the first film glazed over in its broad-strokes approach, and yet he still turns out a film that couldn't accurately be described as better than average. If Lawrence, whose films include I Am Legend, and Water For Elephants, has a trademark as a director, it's that he makes a great first half that is negated by the absolute mediocrity of the second, and while Catching Fire's narrative woes can hardly be ascribed to him, it nevertheless falls in line with his seeming lack of follow-through.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Monday, December 9, 2013
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
So... How is the actual film, ten years removed from all of the hype? It's still pretty bad, but tolerable most of the time. It's totally understandable that it seemed like a good idea, on paper: written and directed by Martin Brest, it follows in a similar vein as Midnight Run or Scent of a Woman, aiming to be a tale of quirky criminals falling for each other through a series of overly verbose battles of wits. Unfortunately Brest misjudges the likability of his characters, who are as smug as the film's title and, like the film itself, lack a modicum of self-awareness which might have made them, and it, interesting. So their loquacious bouts become exhausting rather than endearing. Oh, and it probably doesn't help that the plot centers around them kidnapping and holding for ransom a retarded kid who thinks they're taking him to the Baywatch set and loves to sing Baby Got Back, something the filmmakers obviously thought was so painfully funny that they couldn't resist throwing the audio of which in over the end credits.
And yet there's still a faint charm to Gigli... It's ill-conceived and poorly executed, but its intentions are so well-meaning; it really does think it's being nice and sweet when Affleck's self-proclaimed "Sultan of Slick... Rule of fuckin' cool... Fuckin' original, straight-first-foremost, pimp-mack, fuckin hustler, original gangster's gangster!"shows Justin Bartha's Sir Mix a Lot-loving retarded kid how to sweet-talk ladies. And when they do happen upon the Baywatch set, and Affleck watches from a distance as Bartha wanders his way into the scene and chats up a model, his smile of approval is so genuine it almost makes you almost want to share in his, and the film's, self-satisfaction. *1/2