Monday, January 8, 2007

Summer Blockbusters

Months later, long past the time anybody cares, seems like the perfect time to cover summer blockbusters. Right?

Mission: Impossible III (JJ Abrams 2006) - I had doubts about Abrams. I watched the first season of Alias which was moderately entertaining but had too much padding and far too little imagination. Lost was much worse; I could only get through the first disc of it. But the surprise is that this is pretty much just a speedy action film just inventive enough to be interesting but not much else. There's almost no substance--Ethan's relation with his fiancee is completely superficial--but the various set pieces show that Abrams has a knack for action that was constrained by TV budgets (or he had a lot of assistance). In particular the bridge rescue of the bad guy is a small masterpiece.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Gore Verbinski 2006) - Here's one title so long I think we would all have welcomed numbering the films. It does have a few moments but after sitting through two hours thirty minutes only to discover that this is just the first half (yes just the first half) of a film is annoying. Verbinski & the writers also didn't really resolve the problem of how to make a self-serving anti-hero like Jack Sparrow into a more conventional hero. Which is only actually a problem because that's what they were trying to do. Clearly they can't replicate the surprise and freshness of the original film so they were shooting for epic. Maybe they should just have tried for slapstick.

Cars (John Lasseter & Joe Ranft 2006) - Pixar finally stumbles and the sad thing is that it doesn't look like a Pixar misfire so much as another company's Pixar ripoff. A major problem is just the idea of using cars, especially when trying to keep them so close to the actual models. Makes the romance seem a bit weird - what's the difference between male and female cars? Animals and toys are one thing but cars need far too much anthropomorphizing that in the end this starts to feel like Lasseter's Folly. Cel animation might have helped ease some of that problem but duh not with Pixar. Plus it's so slow you start wondering about the ecology. Why do cars need cultivated fields and threshers? Motels?

Superman Returns (Bryan Singer 2006) - Worst movie of the year? Another two and a half hour snoozefest but this one can't even claim to have just a little bit of humor and the action sequences are mostly proforma. I think one problem is that Hollywood usually tries to fit comic book stories into a form the studios are more familiar with, in this case a brooding romance. (I remember an interview with James Schamus before their Hulk film and he was proud of having added psychology to it. The only appropriate response was What? Had they not even read the comics? For long stretches the Hulk comics are some of the most blatantly psychological written; heck the Hulk's psychiatrist is a major ongoing character.) One reason the Spider-Man and X-Men films (and to a lesser extent Batman Begins) worked is that they were mostly pretty faithful to the sources and I'm not saying that because faithfulness in and of itself is important but because these characters have been around decades and anybody who's going to re-invent them really needs a good reason to do so. Superman is admittedly a bit of a challenging case because of his invulnerability etc and because most of the good comics stories rely on secondary characters. Still it would be cool to see a goofy Silver Age Superman but I guess mass audiences are so conditioned to upstanding George Reeves/Christopher Reeve (so close to some kind of pun without quite making it) that I'd guess goofy isn't what they want.

The Da Vince Code (Ron Howard 2006) - Or is this the worst movie of the year? I guess nobody ever expected this to be any good but Superman Returns at least had a glimmer of possibility. Actually The Da Vince Code might have worked if Howard treated it as pure pulp and stripped it for parts. But then this is the guy who destroyed the Grinch. Instead we have yet another two and a half hour film that mainly salvages a plot that was the least important part of the book while treating all the BS with something bordering on reverence.

X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner 2006) - Somebody at work summed this up accurately I thought: If it had been the only X-Men film we would have thought it was amazing but after the first two it just looks mediocre. It's also a good argument about the importance of directors since I can't imagine Bryan Singer would have made anything like this even knowing he did Superman Returns. Has Ratner ever made a decent film? So much of it is clumsy to the point that I (and apparently lots of other viewers) didn't know that Scott had died as well as several other plot gaps. Plus even though I know it's pointless to wonder about such things but if Magneto is really so powerful that he can move the entire Golden Gate Bridge then why doesn't he just drop it on the facility or start tossing gasoline tankers, etc?