Review: The Wolverine

This isn’t a review of the Blu-ray as I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but it’s recent release reminded me that I never reviewed the film, I really wanted to praise the film, but I had some minor issues with it that would seemingly negate my overall satisfaction, so at the time, I left it alone.  Here are my lasting impressions:

The Wolverine is the best Wolverine film so far. While that doesn’t say a whole lot, I think this time around actually delivers the best Wolverine centered film the proprietors of the X Men franchise are capable of offering. I would even call it their best X Men effort of all. James Mangold, director of Knight and Day, leads the action terrifically, almost from start to finish and Mark Bomback and cowriter Scott Frank’s (Minority Report) screenplay based on the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller series is very strong.

Beginning during US atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Logan saves a man’s life and many years later is summoned back to Japan to meet the old man before he dies.  He is offered a chance to become mortal, but sinister schemes are at work, putting the weakened Wolverine to the test as he protects a young woman from a deadly band of Ninjas lead by the Silver Samurai.

Like the first Wolverine film, we get to see a lot of cool things, but the dexterity with which this installment is handled is enviable.  It’s far from the perfect thrills of the very best Marvel films to date, but it is highly enjoyable and basically a really good movie.  Hugh Jackman continues to be the ultimate portrayal of Logan and gives considerable range to the character.  The very comics like appearance of Viper was a deviation from the look and feel of other movies which take steps toward a more believable film world, and ultimately that sense of being true to the source material is both The Wolverine’s greatest attribute and it’s greatest failure.

As the film progresses, it feels a little bit like a series divided between battles, which I thought was kind of a cool touch.  The story had me engaged all the way until the final act, which was the least climactic of all of the action sequences despite the high stakes, because you already expect Wolverine to win and it wasn’t staged particularly well.  I enjoyed the Avengers like tie in at the end that teases X Men: Days of Future Past.  I have a love/hate relationship with this franchise, but The Wolverine is a solid “like.”

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

gi poster iron man 3May third is finally here and that means Iron Man 3 is finally out.  The timely third installment about a terrorist regime bombing various locations across America and waging war against Tony Stark does not feel like an Iron Man movie.  It’s dramatic and dark with a surprising amount of death and violence that clearly eschews a pre-teen demographic, while on the other hand incorporating light comedic moments often with a young boy who helps Tony out of a few scrapes.  The film overall is fairly balanced though it loses me a bit at the climax and while it differs substantially from Jon Favreau’s hits, Shane Black has clearly taken ownership of the franchise and made it his own in an admirable way.

This is a straight action flick with Tony doing a lot of the heavy lifting after his suit breaks down leaving him stranded in Tennessee.  There is plenty of comic book material to drool over, but it only serves as a framework to support this gritty action drama that Tony surprisingly finds himself involved in, rather than a more likely Wolverine.  In fact, many moments on-screen, particularly between him and the kid, reminded me of Hugh Jackman and made me wonder if the makers of Iron Man 3 unwittingly made a better Wolverine movie than the soon to be released sequel to the X Men spin-off.

There are many things to love about Iron Man 3.  For starters, every one of the actors takes it so seriously.  It’s not pandering, and they have worked hard to get to the emotional core of everything, so that when the play it it’s wholly believable.  It goes a long way toward suspending disbelief when fantastic elements, such as remote controlled automated Iron Man suits, or unstable,  combustible, bioengineered A.I.M. operatives would otherwise threaten to undermine the credibility of the film.

Another thing I love is the individuality of it.  I like how it doesn’t try to fit the mold of the other two and instead, puts Tony way out-of-place, just to see what he does there.  It’s really cool to see how he responds to the need for Iron Man, without being able to get into the suit.  I think that was the most intriguing Idea at the beginning stages of planning the film, and it holds really strong and makes it a really unique story for the genre.

There’s plenty of danger, plenty of humor and plenty of opportunities for Tony to rely on ordinary people to help him through his Search for the infamous Mandarin.  From set up almost all the way through the film it is riveting, flawless, exciting, and fun.  For as much thought that I know went into the staging of the film however.  I do wish a couple of scenes had been cut from the final piece.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who’s not yet seen it.  But there is one moment near the end that I know everybody thought would be really cool and reinforce Tony’s anxiety and doubt beneath his cocksure approach to being a hero.  They probably played this moment in their minds and considered it one of the more definitive scenes in the film and cutting it out would be unthinkable.  While it is a surprising turn of events, I found it to weigh down the rest of the climax and it sort of pulled me out of the fantasy when no one on-screen, Tony in particular, seemed to really react.  From there, the resolution didn’t really work for me and it somewhat deflated my elation from seeing such a uniquely daring interpretation of Iron Man on-screen.  Luckily, the scene at the end of the credits put a big smile back on my face, and I there is much more of the film that I admired than otherwise.

I do have some burning questions, ranging from why the President doesn’t even look like Obama, to how the Iron Man suit runs without the arc reactor in Tony’s chest.  There is very little by way of explanation for any of the technology, which I like.  On the other hand It felt this time around the suspension of disbelief was taken for granted and stretched a bit beyond its limits without any proper support.  The pains originally taken to reinforce the character’s believability are gone, which is slightly alienating when that credibility that inspires belief is one of the things that made the franchise so appealing and such a tremendous success.

The innovative approach to making the film more of a pure action genre and somewhat skirting the science fiction/fantasy elements of the comics resulted in a breathtaking adventure that puts Tony Stark in the type of position more fitting for Ethan Hunt or James Bond.  It’s fun to see the result and it’s even greater to realize that there is room in the films of the Marvel universe for great stories to be told through different lenses.  I appreciated the tonality of Iron Man 3 over that of The Avengers.  Once again the envelope has been pushed and even though Iron Man 2 remains my favorite I happily accept this new installment as a win for team Marvel.

Movie Review: Battleship

The low held expectations of, I think, most people when they found out that Hasbro not only planned to make a movie based on the Battleship board game, but that it was in fact put into production as a summer blockbuster a la Transformers was due mostly to skepticism about how such an adaptation would even be possible.  The inevitable question that would follow the rolling eyes of anyone who’d read about it was “How?”  It seemed an insane and poor attempt to wring more money out Hasbro’s properties, especially in the wake of the underwhelming G.I. Joe.  When the Ouija board movie was scrapped it seemed like Battleship shouldn’t stand a chance, yet it was given big money production and seemed unflinching in its development and marketing strategy.  All the while, I for one believed the entire experiment was doomed.

Such gross conflict is exactly what Battleship thrives on in its film incarnation.  It may be flippant and clumsy, but the premise is actually very strong and the plotting really proves that not only can it be done, but it turns out it can be done pretty well.  It is funny to me when I think of how much must have been riding on the success of the film and how little the makers seemed to take it seriously, particularly at the start of the film, where engaging your audience is crucial, they seem to test your willingness to submit to a film over two hours in length with no (then) discernible plot.  The characters are goofy with questionable dialogue and the scenes are irreverent and almost whimsical.  It’s fun, but only increases doubts that the movie will ever come together.  Happily this trial is a short one and once the filmmakers begin to take things more seriously the film begins to look better and better and slowly, but definitely wins you over by the end.

The hero of the story is Hopper, a romantic, gifted, but arrogant naval commander who is always in trouble and looked after by his strait laced brother, a captain.   Their superior is also the father of Hoppers girlfriend and they need his permission in order to marry.  Hopper is like maverick in Top Gun if he consistently under performed and disappointed.  He’s not the guy you want making decisions when the fate of the world is at stake.  Meanwhile, the alien threat in this movie is very menacing.  The set up, which somewhat and very ingeniously mirrors its source of inspiration in a way that should satisfy even the most cynical movie fan, leads the naval fleet into near hopelessness.  The film turns out to be very delicately plotted, satisfying the basic, but crucial demands of its source material, and previous Hasbro successes.  The references to the game, whether implied by peg shaped missiles or graphically depicted with computer monitors and birds eye perspectives, or simply buried in the premise made this adaptation a win, as did the wildly imaginative alien tech and the strategy that keeps you engrossed and hoping Hopper can pull out a “W” just this once.

Battleship borrows heavily from Iron Man, Top Gun, Aliens, and is definitely modeled after ID4.  While it doesn’t reach that level of greatness it does bring some freshness to the mix of “been there done that ” that makes it a fun, enjoyable film worth watching at least once.  In fact, in terms of the many sources cited and referenced in the film I’d compare it to John Carter which is also reminiscent of several earlier films in its search for a unique identity.  I only think that while John Carter might have been more interesting because of those allusions Battleship comes out a better film in spite of them.

Film Review: Expendables 2

Sometimes you leave a particular film with a lot of thoughts or ideas that need to be talked out or talked through.  Other times you have a definite opinion right at the end.  You love it or you hate it.  Other times you might think you feel one way and on further reflection decide on the complete opposite.  All of these reactions are great for writing a review.  On the other hand the take it or leave it opinion is a little more difficult to express and the attitude of general disinterest implied makes it even harder to do any kind of write-up of a film.

Such was the case with The Expendables 2.  I liked the film.  It was corny, but it delivered for the most part.  I think if you paid for a ticket you should be satisfied with what you got.  On the other hand, if you haven’t yet bought one, I don’t think it’s necessary.

One of the things I loved about the first film was the sub plot.  The sequel lacks one.  Mickey Rourke’s character which contributed so much to the first film is absent in the second.  Other talent is brought in to fill the void, but they are mere cameos that add little depth to the big picture.  Depth is missing, but lots of video game type action sequences fill the top of the movie.  It takes it’s self much less seriously, I think to its detriment.  It’s kind of like an overweight kid making fat jokes to mask his insecurities.  These action dinosaurs do the same thing, but with plastic surgery.  Just kidding.  But not really.

I liked it.  I did.  There was some cool stuff and it pretty much lives up to every possible expectation.  What it lacked in plot complexity it made up for in big action and lot’s of cheesy dialogue.  I liked seeing it on a big screen and I’m not sure how it will translate on a smaller one, so it might be an all or nothing deal when it comes to seeing this particular picture.

Review: The Amazing Spiderman

Fantastic?  Incredible?  I’d say that The Amazing Spiderman truly lives up to its name.  Besides earning points for best Stan Lee cameo ever, The Amazing Spiderman takes the cake as best Marvel based film of the year, beating the thoroughly enjoyable MIB 3 and the mildly disappointing Marvel’s The Avengers.

It turns out Marc Webb wasn’t just chosen for his name.  His sensibility brought Spidey to life in the best vision ever shown, live action or animated.  Borrowing heavily from Chris Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight while retaining Sam Raimi’s horror and comedic influence,  Webb created a world for spiderman that is genuine and exciting.  Andrew Garfield matches him bringing everything to the table to creat the perfect Spiderman.  Add to him, the gifted cast including Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary and inspired staging and visual effects and you’ve got more than a blockbuster.  It’s a true classic.

In this take, which retells Spiderman’s origin, Peter Parker wants to know why his father, a secretive scientist mysteriously disappeared.  In the process of investigating the matter, he comes in contact with some of his father’s life’s work, a radioactive spider.  gene splicing is researched in the lab to find a way to use the advantages of certain animals to heal humans.  Dr. Conner, a former colleague of Peters Dad hopes to use reptile DNA to regenerate his lost forearm… but something goes terribly wrong.  Peter’s character is much more complex and satisfying this time around, making both good and bad choices, while remaining true to his perspective as a teen with a lot of questions.

James Horner sets the mood beautifully throughout the film with his masterful score and Alvin Sargent returns as co-screenwriter to Basic, The Losers and soon to be Robocop scribe James Vanderbilt.  The film was wonderfully paced and well-balanced thanks to the remarkable work they did pre and post production to build and enhance the character of this fine story. A+

Review: 21 Jump Street

Even though I never watched the TV show I was interested in how this movie was going to turn out.  I just wasn’t curious enough to check it out in theaters.  When it came out on DVD I figured it was a good rental for $1.20 at Redbox and I was very pleasantly surprised.  I don’t think it’s franchise big, or even worth buying, but it is good solid entertainment, that is very funny and well crafted.

It’s quick pace and reliance on the simplicity of the concept help the story to focus on what is important from an information stand point, and how to extract great comedy from those situations and characters alike.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a great unlikely set of partners and the fish out of water effect on the guys discovering how high school has changed just a few short years after being students themselves is priceless.

It’s a story about two guys who were very different from each other in high school join the force and learn to rely on each other and ultimately becomebest friends.  That friendship is strained when an undercover mission forces them to reverse the roles they once played as real life students.

There is a lot of great stuff in the film bt what I mostly admire is it’s willingness to admit that less is more and not subject it’s audience to forty-five minutes of frivolous junk.  The value of the film increases tremendously when the filmmaker has that discipline.  Good material, short and sweet, and very entertaining comedy/action make 21 Jump Street a winner, even if it isn’t quite a classic. A