Now I Know How You Die Hard Transformers Fans Must Feel: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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The wildly popular Transformers movie franchise is often trounced by critics for a number of reasons. Most commonly I hear about how the movies took a beloved childhood series and strayed from the spirit of the source material. I could not relate. I played with Transformer toys growing up, sure, but I didn’t adamantly watch the series, and I couldn’t have given you any of their names. To me, the movies were nothing more than poorly constructed money farms. Then they announced that Michael Bay was producing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reboot. But with Bay Just producing, maybe the director had a chance? Jonathan Liebesman. He’s directed a few action films, none of which were of great note. “Still, it’s Turtles” I thought “It can’t be that hard to get right, I mean none of the previous movies were works of art. I’ll just wait to see who they cast”. The realization that Casey Jones wasn’t going to be in the movie was almost as heart wrenching as the fact that Megan Fox was cast as April O’neil. Sorry, I’m letting my nostalgia seep into this review. It’s just that for the first time, I think I know what those true Transformers fans must have felt like.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the fifth big screen title for the heroes in a half-shell, and is a complete reboot. The real focal point of the film is April O’neil, who is a doggedly determined reporter that wants to break away from the puff pieces she’s always assigned. This leads her to investigate a local crime organization known as “The Foot”. She learns that someone is thwarting some of The Foot’s operations. She eventually finds herself in a trap set by The Foot to lure out these vigilantes. They are, of course, the titular turtles. As April gets closer to the four reptile brothers, she learns how they came to be, and begins to comprehend just what the villains have in store for the city of New York. Along they way she meets the Turtles Master; a rat named Splinter and their nemesis; The Shredder.

 

The premise is pretty standard Turtles stuff. It’s a franchise about four anthropomorphic turtles named after renaissance artists who have mastered ninjutsu and fight organized crime in the city. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise that survives on a mixture of weirdness and charm. This film lacked  the charm and amped up the weirdness in all the wrong ways. Megan Fox sucked every quirk out of the character of April o’neil. No longer the smart and tough reporter, she reduced April to a pretty face to look at that served only to spout exposition to the audience. The turtles were…. uncanny. Their faces were unsettling to look at and I simply couldn’t get a tangible grasp on their being and where they belonged in the world of the film. The most frustrating thing was that it felt like the entire cast was on the verge of rolling their eyes because they thought the concept of a Turtle movie was above them. The movie would literally make fun of the weirdness and charm that made this series, and then make half an effort to duplicate it. I once went up with a group of people to sing Bohemian Rhapsody at a karaoke place. I was embarrassed, so rather than get super into it like the others, I attempted to save face and just sort of stood up there awkwardly and quietly sang along while the others were practically rolling on the ground. If the other movies were like the people singing and rolling on the ground, this one was me. None of us could particularly sing very well, but all the others were far more entertaining to watch.

 

This movie is worse than Turtles in Time a film that is almost universally recognized as the worst in the franchise. A big problem with this film was just how poorly it was written. The villains have no real goals other than some conceited plan to make lots of money, despite already being ridiculously rich. It felt like, with the exception of the turtles themselves, everyone was simply reading a rough draft of the script word for word. Most of the lines were there to blatantly state the obvious to no one except the audience. They spent far too much time explaining the nonsensical plot, and ultimately failed at that. There were one or two jokes that landed, but the majority of the humor was squelched by a lack of enthusiasm and heart. In it’s attempt to be a gritty reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles managed to be the one thing I didn’t expect it to be; boring.

 

If you’re interested in my reviews of the other Turtles movies check them out here.

 

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Web Slinging with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

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This weekend I watched my fifth Spider-man movie in theaters. I had no real intention of seeing it, but was invited at the last minute by a friend that had an extra ticket, so I, naturally agreed. There are few movies that I would pass up to see for free in theaters, and Spider-man anything would never be on that list. I had decided not to spend money on it because of the recent poor reviews, most of which stated that this was a disaster not unlike the unfortunate Spider-Man 3 that Sam Raimi dissapointed audiences with in 2007. The Spider-Man character is just about on everyone’s top ten favorite super heroes list, which is exactly why they keep making these movies. The recent reboot of the series seemed unnecessary, but proved to be quite good, despite similarities to the last series. And so, with a positive results the creative forces decided to jam pack as much as they could into the sequel. While not detrimental, it proved, at the very least, distracting.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts off with a flash back to Peter’s parents escaping from, we-aren’t-sure-what. There is a big spectacle as Peter’s father struggles to upload a mysterious file while fighting a villanous man that intends to bring their jet crashing to the ground. The file is uploaded. With that distraction gone we jump directly into the life of present day Spider-Man, which is really all we wanted anyway. Peter, during the opening spidey-sequence rescues an engineer from being run over, and in doing so introduces us to the movies big villain. This engineer, a nobody by the name of Max, becomes Electro. Electro is basically electric force in human form. Peter then must wrestle with the death of his Gwen Stacy’s father, the return of a child hood friend who is dying of a genetic disease and the unknown reasons his parents abandoned him. The movie throws around more plots than the vials of plutonium that are stolen at the start of the film… which is a lot.

 

First, the good: Visually, the movie is fantastic. The action sequences are well produced, smooth and exciting. The actors gave it their all, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone absolutely killing it with their chemistry. Jamie Foxx was almost a little too cartoon like with his character… but it worked. This was a step away from the darker hero movies of late and a step back about two decades into a more fantastical hero universe. I particularly loved the score and sound effects associated with Electro. Albeit a little corny, the music had me grinning. Garfield presents a fantastic Peter Parker, one that encapsulates the youth of today. Even though the Raimi series doesn’t seem to be much of a distant memory, Garfield pulls the character into 2014 flawlessly.

 

The bad: There was too much trying to be accomplished in this movie, and because of that issues got muddled and things didn’t make sense. In particular, Peter’s search for why his parents left him was a waste of time. There was a large portion of time and emotion devoted to Peter discovering what his parents were doing and what happened to them for very little pay off. The second plot I took issue with was the Green Goblin. Dane DeHaan did a fine job playing Harry Osborn and the Green Goblin, but it felt rushed and unplanned. We go from meeting the cahracter for the first time, and having him be a good friend of Peter’s to a murderous goblin a little too quick and with too little explanation.

 

The Spider-Man curse is packing the stories too tightly. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a blast to watch, but it was bogged down by confusing plot points and unexplained circumstances. That being said, what it got right was keeping the pace exciting and visuals stunning. Also I loved the return to a more fantastic, amazing heart of the super hero genre.

I think it’s time for Wonder Woman to get the blockbuster treatment.

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One major complaint in the super hero saturated movie market is the lack of female protagonists. Sure, we’ve got Pepper Potts, in Iron Man, Black Widow in The Avengers, and Catwoman in the latest Batman movie; but it’s blatantly obvious that women, for the most part, take a back seat to their male counterparts in the majority of comic book adaptations. This truth makes the glaringly obvious omission of a blockbuster scale Wonder Woman movie that much more conspicuous. It’s a risky step, for sure. I mean, as far as comic book movies go, there are the tent-pole figures that sell the most tickets. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wolverine etc. etc. X-Men may be the biggest “equal opportunity” franchise for women in the  superhero business to date, but after watching 2009’s animated Wonder Woman, I can’t help but feel like studios and audiences are missing out on something pretty big.

    To be honest, Wonder Woman wasn’t particularly on my “to watch” radar until Ryan Partlow recommended it. It was available for free streaming on my Amazon Prime account, so I bit. Wonder Woman is, unsurprisingly, an origins tale. Which was good, because I knew very little about her. The Amazonians, after a pretty sweet battle with Aries, are granted an island where they can be safe from the depravity of man. Centuries later, a fighter pilot crash lands in their midst and, long story short, Diana (voiced by Keri Russell), the princess of Themyscira Island is chosen to escort him back to his homeland. About the same time, Aries escapes from his prison and begins wreaking havoc on earth as he attempts to gain power in order to take over Mount Olympus. What begins as a simple escort mission, quickly becomes a bid to save humanity. But they never explained her invisible jet. Not even a little.

    With a short 74 minute run-time, Wonder Woman uses the time to efficiently tell a compelling origin story and discuss themes largely overlooked by the genre. The tone of the movie is largely focused on the role of women in society, taking shots at the chauvinistic “nature of man”. It’s a discussion that is surprisingly balanced with the use of  Dianna’s male counterpart, modern day fighter pilot  Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion). Steve Trevor serves as a vessel to showcase the best and worst of what mankind as a societal whole has to offer. What makes the Amazonian women weak is the very thing that sets them apart from humanity, their solitude from the outside world. Diana serves as a bridge between the two worlds, protecting both from stronger forces.

    The film itself looks like a weekly Saturday morning cartoon. That being said, it’s quite a bit more violent than what you’ll catch on the Cartoon Network on the weekends. The action sequences are intense, but not overshadowing to the overall plot. The story is concise and simple, but feels very fresh coming from an entirely new perspective. The voice casting was dead on, Fillion in particular is proving quite proficient in this type of role. Wonder Woman is absolute proof that you can make a superhero film with a strong female lead and have it be successful.

Ben Affleck: The Caped Crusader?

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     Well, that’s it folks. They didn’t choose Karl Urban to play Batman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel. While he was never really a consideration (as far as I can tell) it would have been a welcomed addition to the film cannon. We’re going to be dealing with a slightly older, wiser Batman in this film, someone that’s been through it all and can really carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, so they chose Daredevil Ben Affleck. This revelation is somewhat unsettling to a lot of people, as they remember Affleck’s previous stint in the superhero business as a bit of a let down. We’ve seen extremes with his career, but lately I’ve been convinced that Affleck is certainly maturing into his career and I’m optimistic for this choice, despite the fact that this is someone I hadn’t even considered as a possibility for the role.

Argo was probably my favorite film to be released last year, and a lot of this is thanks to Affleck’s ability to carry the film. He’s been around the game long enough ,and has been actively involved not only in the acting aspect of movies, but he’s had more than his fair share of time behind the camera as well. I have to believe that someone at his caliber should be able to manage the role of Batman. We’re going to be dealing with a less active, older and more brooding Dark Knight, or so we assume. Affleck seems to have perfected the brooding and somber role, however my concern is the grit involved with the role. While we’ve seen him be serious and deal with weighty dramatic roles, I have yet to see him give a convincingly frightening “batman growl”.

I think it’s going to come down to the role that Batman plays in Superman vs Batman. Bear in mind, this is a sequel to Man of Steel, I have to believe it’s going to be more about Superman than Batman, but that remains to be seen. If that’s the case, the part of Batman could easily be tailored to fit Affleck’s style. And again, it’s going to come down to how the movie plays out. We’ve seen the tone of this Superman universe, and it’s close to The Dark Knight Trilogy of the Nolanverse, but not quite the same. Man of Steel is a much lighter movie, which will allow for, perhaps, a more traditional Batman setting which will allow for a bit more lunacy  with Batman’s style of weaponry and actions, allowing a greater flexibility in the portrayal of the character.

I’ve given my initial thoughts on Batman vs Superman, and I remain optimistic. This is too big of a deal to be screwed up. The danger is that the hype machine is being ramped up to unprecedented and dangerous levels. And now they threw in Ben Affleck into the mix. I honestly have no idea what to expect at this point, but I know I’m excited at the prospect of what this could be. Shmee, however doesn’t seem too excited.

 

Initial Thoughts on Batman vs Superman

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    So, if you hadn’t heard, Batman and Superman are going to be in a movie together circa 2015. That’s right, I wasn’t there personally for the announcement, but Hall H at Comic-con in San Diego just about exploded after a A Batman logo appeared behind a Superman logo, announcing the imminent screen acquaintance between DC comics two tent-pole characters.  Each of these characters has a long and lucrative cinematic history and are easily the two most recognizable superheroes of all time. With the success of the Marvel film franchise in recent years, it’s  no surprise that DC wants in on that action now that they know the film media is more than capable of supporting multiple heroes from different franchises. I’m excited about this prospect of a crossover film; but that’s mostly just because I’m a sucker for crossovers. I remember when I was in the hospital at six years old due to a burst appendix. I had access to a butt-load of movies. When I saw that there was a Flintstones Meets the Jetsons movie, my appendix just about burst again. I love Chris Nolan’s Batman franchise, and Zack Snyder presented my favorite Superman movie of the lot, so I was pumped when I heard about this. After the initial excitement, however, I realize I have some genuine concerns with the prospect of a Batman vs Superman movie. Here they are:

 

1. Batman and Superman don’t have enough screen history to be at war.

It is positively chilling to listen to Man of Steel actor Harry Lennix recite Bruce Wayne’s speech to Superman shortly after beating him in hand to hand combat. It’s one of the most pivotal moments in the DC canon. However, it doesn’t happen until Clark and Bruce have spent a literal lifetime in each others stories. There is only a slight reference to the Batman franchise in Man of Steel and absolutely nothing about Superman in the Batman movies, so I find it hard to swallow that the next Batman movie we get will face the Caped Crusader against Sups. Batman and Superman don’t play nice, everyone knows that. But it’s going to be a mightier leap than Superman can muster to throw these two into battle and maintain a cohesive story line without drastically overstating the purpose of a film that is potentially titled Batman vs Superman.

 

2. The new Batman wouldn’t stand a chance.

If we’re following the Nolan universe at all, we have to face the fact that JGL’s character is taking over for Bruce Wayne. He’s got a lot of spunk, but even Bruce at the end of Dark Knight Rises wouldn’t stand a chance against Superman. Did you see Man of Steel? It would take a lot more than Fox’s toys to compete against Superman. Batman’s history is a lot more cartoony than Nolan let on, and Superman is nothing BUT an exaggerated caricature of grandeur, so they, under normal circumstances, would fit perfectly into each others universes. However the way the current DC universe is set up in film they wouldn’t cross over well. That being said, it’s a well known comic trope to have multiple universes, they very easily could present a different Bruce Wayne with an entirely new style.

 

3. They have a common goal.

I understand this is something the comics deal with, both have a common goal with different ways of doling out injustice. That being said, how will it work on screen? All we know of Batman shows him working, mostly, within the boarders of Gotham city. Gotham is Batman’s biggest concern, that’s his job; protect Gotham. Going back to concern number 1. There isn’t enough screen history for him to both expand his area of expertise AND perpetuate a war with Superman. On the other side of the coin, Superman certainly has bigger fish to fry than dealing with a lone vigilante who is cleaning up the streets of a single city.

    Those are my concerns. I am well aware that some if not all of them will be addressed and put to rest when the movie actually comes out. I really hope that that happens. If the movie doesn’t just focus on an ill-conceived grudge match between Superman and Batman it would work. Also, I think it MAY need to be established that we’re in an alternate universe than the “Nolanverse”, it just might be necessary, despite the fact that Nolan was involved with Man of Steel we’re dealing with a world that now has a hero with legitimate superpowers. In order to contend with that, you may have to get a little bit more colorful than a Batmobile/tank. I’m still “super” excited about the movie. We’ve been experiencing a veritable golden age of comic book films, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Warner Brothers and DC manage to pull this off, I know I’m certainly rooting for them.

“Unbreakable” would not be a good description of Shyamalan’s career.

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   One of the more baffling career swerves in recent Hollywood history has to be that of M. Night Shyamalan. The man is known for having a career that started strong, he was considered a visionary, then with each new movie released with his name attached, his status fell. If there had been a graft of his movies showing the level of quality, he would have started in the mid to high level and then plummeted to the bottom, where The Last Air Bender rightfully rests. Really, it’s a shame, because I loved The Sixth Sense and enjoyed Signs despite it’s mixed reviews.  He either lost sight, or never had it and was just lucky with a few movies. That being said, I will always enjoy the first three movies of his that I’ve seen. The aforementioned Signs and The Sixth Sense were both a blast, but today we’re talking about one that often is overlooked; Unbreakable.

 

    Sixth Sense wasn’t M Night’s first movie, but it was the one that got peoples attention, it was his break. Shyamalan had proved that he could confuse and scare an audience while bringing in a ton of money at the same time. The next project he embarked on was Unbreakable, an homage to the comic book genre, with characters that weren’t actually from any comics. Bruce Willis plays security guard David Dunn. Dunn is a seemingly ordinary man, up until he becomes the sole survivor of a horrific train crash which he walks away from with not even a scratch. Dunn’s life is full of obstacles, so he’s not eager to investigate this strange addition. However, comic book enthusiast Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) makes it his personal duty to make Dunn look into his past and see if he perhaps shares some of the heroic supernatural tendencies of the characters that fill the pages that consume his life. Price suffers from a disease that renders his bones as brittle as glass; he’s fragile. Price has always wondered if he had an opposite, someone that was not fragile; someone that is unbreakable. Dunn reluctantly looks into this theory, along the way discovering more about himself than he anticipated.

 

    The remarkable thing about Unbreakable, in regards to Shyamalan’s portfolio, is that it’s actually pretty great. He’s always had a thing for interesting coloring and whimsical cinematography, which is perfect for a film that’s supposed to look and feel like a comic book. He wrote an interesting origin story, one that never really delves too much into the actual theatrics that almost every hero gets caught up in. Rather, it’s an origin story about a man that’s just slightly above ordinary discovering himself and what responsibilities he must shoulder with his self discovery. The movie offers us a pretty fascinating character arc which seems minuscule at first, but on a second glance is simply subtle, which are two very different things. It’s a subtle arc that shows a flawed man, turn into a flawed man that realizes he is capable of carrying much more than he has been, both emotionally and physically. It’s a discovery of responsibility.

Shyamalan seems to strive in films where the pacing is slow enough for him to flesh out some interesting ideas. Later in his career he may have gotten sidetracked by over the top ideas and sacrificed the fiber of a good story for a cheap twist (arguably, he’s done this early in his career). Unbreakable is surprising because it’s both a comic book movie, and relatively slow paced; two traits that don’t go hand in hand. However, despite two opposing aspects, the film works. It’s as dark as a comic book movie should be, it tells an interesting story about a reluctant hero, and it’s done without many of the cliché comic book tropes of the time. Honestly, it’s a shame that a man capable of producing something of this caliber has become synonymous with the crappy movies he consistently comes out with. Well, here’s to the good old days, I guess.

Man of Steel

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2006 ushered in the return of the single most overpowered super hero ever created with Superman Returns. The return, however, was short lived. Despite having fairly good reviews, the film failed to be all that compelling, a problem that I have personally felt has plagued the Superman films since the late 70s. What was intended to be re-boot of the always-popular franchise failed to produce a sequel. We now have another reboot in Man of Steel. Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan present us with a darker take on the coming of age of Superman, with beautiful cinematography and new insight into one of the most well known origin stories in cinematic history.

 

Man of Steel had to re-introduce the world to a character that literally everyone already knew. Superman’s origin story is, arguably, even more well known than Batman’s. We’re talking about the most recognizable icon in pop-culture history, and Snyder had to come up with a way to say “hey, this is Superman” in a way that would keep the audiences attention. He succeeded. We are given a far better look at Krypton than we’ve ever seen before, and we’re introduced to Kal-El’s back story with his human family through a series of flashbacks during the time that he comes to realize his full potential. What makes this retelling so interesting is that it’s more a coming of age story than an origins story. We know where Kal comes from and we know what happens with his family, but the details have always been a bit fuzzy. We get to see a young Clark Kent struggle as a child to hone his skills, struggle emotionally with situations on a level unparalleled with other chapters of Superman history. The story is told in a way that makes it evident that Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s only weakness, his emotions and psyche are often times just as dangerous to him. When General Zod attacks, the distinction is made that, despite being of the same race, Kal and Zod are on different factions of an inter-species war.

 

Visually speaking, this is the best of the Superman films. It’s not as light as Superman Returns which many people found upsetting, but it was time for something new. Superman Returns offered the general public what was expected from Superman, a fun and bright story with romance and lots and lots of kryptonite to keep things interesting. This failed. In Man of Steel there is little to no kryptonite to be found, the romance is kept on the back burner (though certainly not forgotten) and the darker tone ads a layer of seriousness that is unexpected from the films. The motivation of the villains is clear, and the choices put before Kal-El are intriguing. In one film we’re introduced to Superman as if he was an old friend that we gladly welcome back into our lives. The darkness was not without its laughs, however. Kent remains a Kansas farm boy at heart, and the film even finds room for some corny jokes. I particularly enjoyed during one of the most intense scenes, Superman bashing into a sign that boasts how many injury free days that work environment has enjoyed. As he ricochets off the wall and onto the ground, the numbers fall off the sign leaving a zero in their place. The fact is, the film deals with some incredibly huge stakes, and to bog that down with an overtly light tone would have been a detriment.

 

The acting is superb, Amy Adams is an interesting and true-to-character Lois Lane, Henry Cavill is a less clean cut Superman, but one that offers a nice change from the last few decades of Superman films. Michael Shannon gives an awesome performance as the zealous and terrifying General Zod. We not only get an interesting story with compelling characters and situations, we’re also given front row seats to some of the most awe inspiring “super fights” in recent cinematic history. Sure it’s all CG, but the cinematography and emotional attachment that’s used throughout the film prepares you for it, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself enthralled by the CGI.

 

Man of Steel is my favorite Superman movie. I understand those that will stand firm next to the Christopher Reeves films (at least the first two), but the removal of the slapstick humor and the advancement of special effects as well as an interesting story acted out by passionate and talented actors puts this film as not only my favorite Superman film, but one of my favorite films of 2013, so far.