Saturday, May 18, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Is Bad As A Film, But Even Worse As A "Star Trek" Movie

This review will be split into two parts. The first will be my critique of the film from my perspective as a movie lover and self-proclaimed film aficionado. The second will be my observations as a Star Trek fan (which means swearing will happen). I do this because I don't want one perspective to seem like it's heavily influencing the other. I also do this to argue that Star Trek Into Darkness fails in both arenas.

The worst thing that can be lobbed against a summer blockbuster action movie is that it's boring. Unfortunately, Star Trek Into Darkness (candidate for worst title of the year) is exactly that. A meandering pace, undefined characters, and damaging serious tone doom the film in almost every department.

After a terrorist attack at a Starfleet building, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are sent by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) after the man behind the attack, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). But, the mystery behind this fugitive may reveal even darker secrets and force the crew into a head-on battle with their greatest foe yet.

Now, I know that readers like to have some kind of synopsis about the film when they read a review, so that's why I provide them. But, that synopsis up there makes the movie sound far more exciting than it actually is. What the film actually consists of is a lot of characters standing around and talking, while falsely manufactured tension surrounds them. The pacing of this film is one of the worst I've seen this year, with scenes feeling much longer than they actually are. It doesn't help that the action bits are all too short and feel wholly unoriginal, either cribbing from previous incarnations of Star Trek or even this film's progenitor.

Considering this is a sequel, I don't think it's unfair to invite comparison to its predecessor in order to highlight what this film does wrong. Both 2009's Star Trek and its sequel are extremely dumb at a script level, but the original succeeds in overcoming its weak storytelling with a fun and playful tone. Star Trek Into Darkness abandons that for a sense of self-seriousness that makes the bad story decisions far less easier to dismiss. That tone infects the entire cast and turns these new iterations of these classic characters into self-important caricatures, making nearly everyone either unlikable or incomplete as a fully realized person. That's unfortunate for the actors, who all do decent-to-good work, but the tone and script fundamentally handicaps them from giving a well-rounded performance. The only one who barely escapes this fate is Simon Pegg as Scotty, but that's more to do with his natural charm and comedic talent than anything the film actually provides him.

It should be noted that the production side of the film is unsurprisingly spectacular. The effects are fantastic and look gorgeous, but that means nothing if there isn't any emotion behind them. Seeing a cool spaceship or lush alien world has no effect if the story doesn't give those things any weight. Still, the designs of nearly all the science fiction elements are great, especially the undeveloped alien race seen in the film's opening.

Speaking of weight, another thing lacking it is the film's antagonist. While no one is going to argue with Benedict Cumberbatch's acting chops, the script fails to give him a properly imposing presence by sidelining him for too much of the running time. The film also has trouble deciding who it wants its antagonist to be (more about that in the "Fan" section of the review) and that uncertainty deflates any kind of menace the movie could hope to cultivate.

There's also a broad reaching appeal the movie is going for that takes away a lot of what makes the particular brand of Star Trek special (again, much more in the "Fan" section). Specifically, all the laughs in the movie feel cheap and unearned, especially for our second outing with this particular cast of characters.

But, the most damning piece of the movie (structurally) is it's anti-climactic ending. Star Trek Into Darkness has to have one of the most abrupt denouements in recent memory, utilizing a cut to black at the most inopportune moment. I was actually taken aback by the way things were wrapped up and felt completely robbed of a satisfying conclusion.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a major disappointment. It'll please the most cursory movie-goer (a group of MTV types were chuckling along while texting and checking their Facebooks on their phones) simply because it's loud and big, but that's all it is. It's has a plodding pace, characters with no weight, and a tone that steals away any chance at experiencing the film as a fun roller coaster ride. It's pretty to look at, but that wears off within the first ten minutes. I hope J.J. Abrams has better luck with that other space franchise everyone is so crazy about, because this one is a big letdown.

Fan Review: This section will contain what some may consider "spoilers." However, if you aren't aware of Benedict Cumberbatch's identity, then you aren't smart enough to visit Also, things could get mean down here. I really didn't like this movie.

Star Trek Into Darkness (ugh, I hate even typing that awful title) is one of, if not the worst Star Trek film in the entire franchise. Yes, I'm even counting the TNG movies. Not only is it a poorly constructed film, but it gleefully shits over everything that makes the property unique and interesting.

Let's take a moment to reflect on J.J. Abrams initial reboot of the franchise, because I actually liked that movie. Why? Because even the though the script was horrendously stupid, the tone they decided to go for was downright swashbuckling adventure. The energy and verve in that film far outweighed the few stabs at seriousness (Nero's revenge and the destruction of Vulcan), and it helped save the film from itself. STID (that's better. Makes it sound like the disease it is) dropped that attitude in favor of taking itself completely serious. This immediately brings all the stupid aspects of the script to the forefront and makes them impossible to ignore.

Okay, so I kinda already covered that in my first section, but it bears repeating because it gets to the core of what is so wrong with STID: the makers of this movie either don't know what Star Trek is or just don't care. Now, since they've rebooted everything, the argument is that this doesn't need to be like your dad's Star Trek. It can be it's own new thing! Well, then why is STID a blatant and lazy attempt at indirectly remaking The Wrath of Khan?

Oh yeah, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan by the way. Spoiler alert.

But, that's not the only thing this movie lifts wholly from the best Star Trek movie. In fact, it's not even the best thing it steals and misappropriates! In this movie, Kirk is the one who sacrifices his life instead of Spock, and direct lines from Wrath of Khan play out during Kirk's death scene. There's also the concept of two Federation starships doing battle against each other, which was one of the highlights from Wrath of Khan. In this film, it feels and even looks silly. Ooooooo a bigger looking Enterprise that is painted all black. Soooooo intimidating.

However, the worst thing this movie does is try to "please" fans by not only lifting a lot of things from the best movie in the franchise, but it goes so far as to take William Shatner's career defining shout of, "Khan!" and give it to Zachary Quinto to scream right after Kirk "dies" (I put that in quotes because he's dead for about 5-10 minutes before being magically revived, taking away any possible impact his death would've had). It feels like the worst kind of parody in that it hopes to be sincere. It made me physically cringe during the movie.

It feels like J.J. Abrams wanted to make a movie that appealed to the broad movie-going public (most of who are those MTV types I mentioned earlier) but insert things that only the fans would get. It backfires miserably and makes the movie feel like a sleight against Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever term you want to use to define yourself), almost like it's making fun of those people who have stuck with this franchise through multiple incarnations, including Abrams'.

Anything even remotely Star Trek is out the window now. The characters are not at all what they should be. Kirk was always kind of boorish in his original incarnation, but now he's an outright dick and even blatantly stupid. As soon as he finds out one of the officers on his ship is the daughter of their attacker, Admiral Marcus, he doesn't immediately contact the admiral and say, "Hey, I've got your daughter. Stop shooting me!" He runs around for a little longer and lets his ship get blown to pieces, killing a bunch of his crew. Then, he decides to let her communicate with her father. Idiot.

I guess this is a good point to bring up the character of Admiral Marcus, who I darted around in my review of the movie because he's the real antagonist, or at least should be. He's the one that thawed Khan out of cryo-sleep in order to use his tactical mind against an imposing Klingon threat. Yeah, the Klingons are in this movie and they are utterly wasted. They don't feel like a threat at all. Anyway, Marcus is planning to go to war with the Klingons, but wants to secretly initiate the war and get things rolling. Peter Weller actually is really good as a bad guy, but the movie doesn't want him to be the bad guy. It wants Khan to be the bad guy, so you have this awkward transition between Khan being the antagonist and then Marcus for the majority of the film and then back to Khan. It's a tonal nightmare and sucks any tension out of the proceedings. If the movie could have committed to Peter Weller being the villain and actually turning Khan into something of an anti-hero, that would've been a saving grace. But, it doesn't. Because it sucks.

What else is wrong with this movie? Oh, the science part of the science fiction. Now, I know that Star Trek isn't a textbook for scientific application, but it always tried to be. From the very opening scene of this movie, that's thrown out the window. The Enterprise is submerged underwater (which makes no logical sense at all) for what reason exactly? Then, when the Enterprise is at warp speed, Marcus' ship catches up with them and... knocks them out of it? Warp speed isn't a water slide, J.J. Abrams! You can't just slip out and not jar your entire ship.

Ugh, I can't even write anymore. That's how much this movie irritated me. In summation, I'll only say this: I would rather watch a back-to-back showing of Star Trek V and Star Trek: Insurrection than sit through this dogshit again. That's how bad it is. I'm gonna go watch some Deep Space Nine.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Why does Bates Motel have to tease me with little bits of goodness? The opening bit with Norman and his quasi-girlfriend's taxidermist father is wonderful, and perfect Psycho prequel stuff. Why? Because it lets us into what makes Norman tick, and even accentuates some positive aspects of his character. Guess what the rest of the episode is filled with? Same old side-plots and silly soulless "tension." Is the season over yet so I can stop reviewing it?

Dylan does some homoerotic bonding with his partner-in-crime in a good old-fashioned barfight. He also shows he has the guts to be a criminal head honcho by kicking a hippie out of a van. RIVETING!

The bypass storyline that hasn't been mentioned since the pilot gets a brief shoutout when Norma asks Sheriff Eyeliner for a political favor, and he promptly shuts her down. ENTHRALLING!

Emma tells some girls that Bradley slept with Norman, since they were dissing him and she's all protective of her boy(friend?). This upsets Bradley, which upsets Norman, who gets upset at Emma and then they make up next to Norman's stuffed dog. HAIR-RAISING!

Norman's teacher suggest he sees a therapist, and Norma agrees but sits through the session with him. Afterwards, the shrink tells Norma she may be a little controlling, which turns on Norma's incredulous anger mode. SPINE-TINGLING!

The Man in Number 9 does some mystery stuff and Norma follows him around. They dryly banter back and forth, and Norma kicks him out of the motel. He responds by digging up Deputy Shelby's autopsied corpse and putting it in her bedroom. ...Hey, that was actually kind of fun! Goddamn it, Bates Motel. Can't you just commit to this kind of kookiness weekly? With only two episodes left, I'm hoping we get a heap of corpses coming our way. If Norman can start doing his Psycho thing, maybe the show is savable. That's a big maybe. I leave you with my Freddie Highmore Face of the Week.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: THE GREAT GATSBY May Be A Mess, But It's A Beautiful One

It's always nice to see a big blockbuster production that is based off of a piece of classic American literature, if just to be reminded that not every summer movie has to be filled with superheroes and aliens. As far as adaptations go, The Great Gatsby does its job admirably, and despite a few curious artistic decisions, it just manages to rise above the perceived stuffiness F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel has become infamous for.

Director Baz Luhrmann couldn't have been a better choice to helm a story drenched in opulence and glamour. The look of the movie is genuinely stunning, with Gatsby's outrageous parties taking the cake in terms of visual brilliance. If this movie does make an Oscar bid, the costuming department should certainly win. The suits and dresses worn by the cast are top notch, and are easily the best thing in the movie as far as capturing the look and feel of the roaring twenties. There are also plenty of cool visual bits (my favorite being a sequence where we see into the multiple windows of a New York apartment building) that keep the look of the film fresh and moving, without seeming overly gimmicky or tacky. As far as production design goes, The Great Gatsby scores high in every department.

But, props and costumes aren't the only things doing great stuff. Leonardo DiCaprio infuses a wonderful bit of boyish charm into the figure of Jay Gatsby, and makes him even a bit more relatable then his ink and paper counterpart. DiCaprio also gets to show off some of his comic chops, and it makes me wonder why he hasn't tried his hand at a comedy role, since his anxiety about meeting Daisy is quite an amusing number in the film. Carey Mulligan as Daisy manages to capture the airy quality of the character, and her eyes do reflect an unfortunate sadness that is vital to her character. However, Joel Edgerton as her husband, Tom, may very well be the star of the show. He's a deliciously decadent villain, and even though you are given no reason to like him, there are a few key moments where he actually manages to ring some sympathy out of you. It's an almost impossible feat to achieve, but somehow Edgerton does it. Isla Fisher (as Tom's mistress, Myrtle) doesn't get quite enough screen-time for us to fully bond with her, but her few bits are very good, and she does give her character's eventual fate enough weight to make her appearance justified.

However, the big coin-toss here is Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Saddled with being the narrator of the picture, his performance is pigeon-holed into being an observer of events, leaving little for him to offer. It's also disappointing since he is presented as our main character in the first third of the film, but once Gatsby's relation to Daisy comes into play, Maguire is forced to sit on the sidelines for the majority of the second act. This is more of a writing and pacing issue then a performance one, since Maguire isn't given much to do. His few bits of depression and anger are welcome diversions from his lackadaisical attitude as an observer. I feel like there was a missed opportunity at focusing solely on Nick and seeing things through his point of view. While the film does adhere fairly strictly to that, it doesn't involve Nick as much as it needs to in order to keep him interesting. Maguire's voice-over in of itself does get the job done, but it's not the most riveting material.

I'm certain the big conversation piece of this movie will be the use of contemporary music, and it's something that bears discussion, but doesn't work in the big scheme of things. Actually, it's almost uniformly hit-and-miss affairs. One of the really good applications is when we first visit Gatsby's house for a party, and the opening notes of Bach's Toccata and Fugue begin to play, only to slip into a remixed party version. That's one of the few (and maybe only) successful attempts at utilizing modern music styles to set a tone. For the most part, they only serve to pull you out of the era in question. On paper, the idea of using contemporary music to reflect the similarities of party atmosphere sounds new and exciting, and would be a way to make the story of The Great Gatsby click with a younger generation. In execution, it mostly turns meaningful sequences into over-the-top music video segments. It's too bad, because there are other moments where the music is spot on. The first time we see Gatsby is during an enormous fireworks show set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and that couldn't be more apropos. I feel that the thing to do would've been to appropriate period music and have artists do cover versions of those songs, so that the music would sound modern but would actually be rooted in the era the story takes place.

As a movie, The Great Gatsby is a lot like someone dumping a bucket of glittery gold paint on the floor and then sprinkling diamonds into the puddle: it's a horrible mess, but it's certainly gorgeous to look at. With such a strong visual sense, it's impossible to completely write the movie off. The performances are all solid (if sometimes poorly written) and the story does manage to shed it's literary skin and become something that seems almost inherently cinematic. If only the musical direction and the script were tighter, The Great Gatsby would be a bonafide classic. Instead, it happens to be a satisfactory alternative to the wealth of genre fare we have in store for this summer at the movies.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


It seems appropriate that the halfway point of the series should be the real kickoff into focusing on Hannibal and his career as the unimaginatively titled "Chesapeake Ripper." And it's quite a kickoff, giving us our first taste of the most familiar setting in the mythology: the maximum security psychiatric ward that Hannibal is fated to become an occupant of. This means we also get introduced to Dr. Chilton, the eventual head of the institution and future tormentor of Lecter's. Played by Raúl Esparza, Chilton is just as smug and full of ego as his previous incarnations, but Esparza imbues something original into the character: insight. In other mediums, Chilton has always been the bully who grew up to be the jailer. He's not as bright as he thinks he is, but in the end, that never mattered because he knew he held the keys to the kingdom. Lecter always despised Chilton for his ineptitude and boorishness, but this time around, Chilton may actually have something resembling a brain beneath his thick skull. The little scene with him and Lecter preparing dessert is wickedly fun. I love that this show is taking characters and doing unexpected things with them. Purists of the Lecter canon (are there actually any of those?) may find it blasphemous, but I think it makes the characters more interesting than they have been in years. I'm sure we'll be seeing Chilton sooner than later, and I'm all for that.

Although the search for the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper unknowingly revolves around Hannibal, the real focus of this episode is on Jack Crawford and the agent-in-training he sent out two years ago to do some digging on the case. She never returned and was the Ripper's last known victim. Fishburne does more excellent work, and I'm loving any scene that puts him and Hannibal together. He gets to be vulnerable and honest, and it's great stuff. I also love that Hannibal is actually extremely comforting to Jack, letting him know that even though his wife's cancer has her losing hope about life, she's revealed to Hannibal that she, "didn't marry the wrong guy." That's the kind of humanizing a monster like Hannibal needs. Though he is a villain, he doesn't come off as particularly villainous and that just makes him more entrancing to watch. Have you figured out that I'm gaga for Mads Mikkelsen yet?

However, there are two elements to this episode that didn't completely win me over. The first is the guest appearance by Eddie Izzard. His usage is a little too dead-on when it comes to referencing Lecter's memorable moments from The Silence of the Lambs. His opening scene is a lot like Lecter biting the nurse's face, and his performance even feels directly inspired by Anthony Hopkins. It's not that distracting, but it just feels a bit too derivative. I know the show has to deliver familiar elements to remind people, "Hey! This is like that one really popular movie from over twenty years ago!", but I hope they can spin that material into something unexpected and new like they have with every other aspect of the show.

But, that I could look over. The ending of this episode is what really gave me pause. So, we flashback two years prior to when agent-in-training Miriam Lass is looking around for clues to the identity of the Ripper. They figure he has a background in surgery and decides to visit some of the doctors that treated one of the Ripper's victims. Smart move. Naturally, this leads her to Lecter's office. He invites her in, deflects her questions and offers to give her his journals from his time in the ER. While he's grabbing these journals, Miriam waltzes around Lecter's office and sees two of his etchings on a desk. The one on top is a nude portrait and underneath that is a drawing of his victim. You see, the Ripper likes to impale his victims multiple times with various instruments, and Lecter has not only drawn that, he's left it on top of a table in his office. This just seems ridiculous for someone so methodical and smart. I can understand him making the drawing, but leaving it out in plain sight? The writers could have had Miriam looking at his library of books (which she did!) and find one of peculiar interest, like something on Vlad the Impaler (an appropriate reference for someone who feasts on people). She takes it out, flips through it and the picture falls out. The way it's presented in the show makes Lecter look a lot stupider than he has been portrayed. This has been the only serious misstep the series has had so far, in my opinion, so hopefully it's the only one. Still, I can't get over that. Next week better overcompensate and have Lecter solve cold fusion or something.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Everyone has a story to tell when it comes to the first time they ever saw a memorable movie (whether it be enjoyable or deplorable). Art is dependent on the experiences we bring to the table, and these are mine. Some are funny, some are sad, some are good and some are very, very bad. Hopefully, they'll all be worth a read.

The Film: Critters (1986)

Let Me Set the Scene: In my very early years (let's call it ages 3 to 6), I was something of a scaredy-cat. I loved going to the video store (remember those?), but I couldn't even walk down the horror aisle because I was frightened by the box art. My mother once grew out her fingernails and tried to appeal to my love of Batman by saying, "Look, Drew! I have claws like Catwoman!" This sent me running behind the couch because it reminded me of Freddy Krueger, even though I had never even seen a single frame from any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Long story short, kid Drew was a puss. The only movie that I enjoyed that had some connection to the horror genre was Jaws, but that leaned more into adventure so it wasn't as terrifying. And even though I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, it was easy to avoid the scary element of Jaws: don't go in the damn water.

Then, by some random happenstance, a VHS copy of Critters made its way into my little cabinet of tapes.  When I started writing this article, I began seriously racking my brain for the memory of how it came to be in my possession. It was either given to my mom by her friend Sherrie (who also gave me a similar film, Gremlins), or my aunt personally gave the film to me. I blame my aunt for sewing the seeds of my film obsession, since she was the one who gave me a letterbox (old school term for widescreen) copy of Jaws and sealed my movie nerd fate. She also had a huge collection of VHS tapes, including what I assume was the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was always in awe when we went and visited her, since she had three cabinets full of movies to choose from. I remember she had all of the Friday the 13th films, all of The Godfather films and even the original VHS releases of the Star Wars trilogy. I would kill to have her entire collection now that I'm an adult, even if the format is outdated. It was a wonder to behold when you were five years old.

Anyway, my parents were not what you'd call "horror lovers" and probably thought the movie was garbage. That meant it got pawned off to me. Now, my parents were never big sticklers about a lot of the content I watched (I have great memories of watching Tales from the Crypt episodes with my dad), but they did take notice of what ratings films had. It pretty much only applied to horror films, since they were probably worried about me seeing something that would... I dunno, traumatize me or something. Since they were aware of my skittish nature, I think they just wanted to look out for me. Luckily, Critters came with a PG-13 rating, and that must have assuaged any of their reservations because I was allowed to watch it completely unsupervised. Let this be a lesson to parents everywhere: watch everything with your kids. This was the movie that clued me in (even at an very early age) that ratings didn't mean jack, especially when it came to scaring your pants off. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.

"Hi, I'm a Crite and I'll be your nightmare fuel for this evening."

The First Viewing: Critters didn't get immediately watched when I received it, due to my laughable tendency to be spooked by cover art (the art for the Critters VHS is at the top of this article). I kept it in my movie cabinet for a few days with only the spine visible. Every time I'd open up the cabinet to choose something to watch, those bright red letters would scream at me. Eventually, my curiosity won over my childish trepidation. I took the tape into my living room and popped it into the VCR.

Looking back, I had unknowingly started the movie at the perfect time of day. It must have been around six or seven in the evening, so it was still fairly bright out. The movie starts during the day and takes place over the course of a night. By the time night had fallen in the movie, it had become dark outside my window as well. I had unwittingly given myself the appropriate atmosphere in which to become properly immersed into the story.

At the beginning, I remember finding the movie wasn't as scary as my brain had conceived it to be. The opening bits in space with the faceless bounty hunters lulled me into thinking this would be more of a science fiction adventure film, not the monster movie I had imagined. The sunny and endearing introduction to our family of heroes, the Browns, gave me a similar false sense of security. "This isn't so scary," I told my unsuspecting self.

Well, things wouldn't stay that way for long. After crash-landing on Earth, the Crites (such a clever name for the little beasties, innit?) first knock off a deputy. This scene was suspenseful (for a five year old) but didn't outright terrify me. It wasn't until a bit later, when we see dutiful housewife Dee Wallace Stone washing dishes. She drops one on the floor and bends down to pick up the shattered pieces, when she hears a strange noise outside. Slowly, she peeks over the sink and looks outside her window, and then this happens:

Those are the glowing red eyes of a thousand childhood nightmares. It is impossible for me to accurately articulate how much this single moment petrified me. In retrospect, it seems pretty tame, and my attempt at capturing it doesn't do it justice. I still get a bit unnerved if I see anything similar to it in a movie. From here on out, I was on edge. Even so, there were moments of levity spread throughout that kept me from shutting the movie off. Though I was incredibly scared of the Crites (their toothy design is truly inspired, courtesy of the very talented Chiodo brothers effects team), the filmmakers did something that instantly made them easier to accept. As the Browns are being attacked and they retreat into their home, this golden moment of cinema occurs:

And my little self couldn't help but laugh. This may very well be the first PG-13 film I saw that dropped the F-bomb in such a glorious manner. Although I still was frightened by the villains, the fact that they could be humorous and have personality gave me a better grasp on my initial fear. Put that together with the bitchin' bounty hunters strolling around town and blowing up everything in their path, I knew that this was a movie that was going to stick with me for the rest of my life. I'll say it again: Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Lasting Effects: Along with Jaws (which will assuredly make its way to this column eventually), Critters was definitely one of the first films that made me want to seek out all the other entries in its franchise. I remember being so excited when we went to our local Albertsons and in their movie rental section, there was a copy of Critters 3. My parents must have hated driving me to all our local video stores, searching for the other sequels. Strangely, both Critters 2 and Jaws 2 were the last movies I saw in each franchise. Huh.

Now, here comes some laughworthy material. For years, and I mean years, the Crites would show up in my nightmares. Even after I'd grown past being afraid of them (and afraid of horror movies in general), they'd still pop up to torment my subconscious. One vivid dream I can remember is running into a large warehouse, and all the lights were out. I said to myself, "I'll definitely be safe in here," and proceeded to light a match. I looked around me and the entire room was full of Crites. They plastered the walls and the ceiling, and they were all chomping their teeth and giggling in their distorted alien voices. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I had a dream where I made peace with a Crite (this one was more grey like the ones in Critters 2, not jet black like the originals) and proceeded to take him on as my pet. I'm sure all you psychoanalysts could have a field day with that.

I saw this film around the same time that I saw both of the Gremlins pictures, and it led me to look for more "little creatures run amok" movies. Not much came out of that, except maybe the bizarre Ghoulies franchise. Those are some nutty films.

And just to leave things on a cheery note, here's a deceptively cute baby Crite wishing you a very untimely season's greetings.

Friday, May 3, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: IRON MAN 3 Breaks the "Third Film Curse" and Is the Best of the Trilogy

I try to keep my reviews fairly "spoiler free", but there are certain elements about Iron Man 3 that I really want to bring up, and many would probably consider them spoilers. While I won't directly reveal anything, that specific section will be marked with a spoiler tag and will also be in invisotext. As always, feel free to continue a "spoilers welcome" conversation with me and others in the comments section.

It's too bad that Shane Black probably won't be returning to the Marvel movie universe, since his single contribution is easily the best constructed film they've released since beginning their "shared story" experiment five years ago with the original Iron Man. While Iron Man Three (I love that the film's credits actually title the movie that way) does lack some of the relentlessly outrageous spirit previously seen in The Avengers, it makes up for it in spades with a more practiced pace, excellent characterization, a focused sense of action and the dependably unflappable charm of its star.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a changed man after the alien invasion in New York. He's shut himself away in his laboratory, while the world outside is being terrorized by a charismatic villain known only as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley). Once things become personal, Tony, along with his friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle), will have to suit up and take out the bad guys just like always. But, in order to protect the love of his life, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), he may also have to keep his eye on scientific entrepreneur Aldritch Killan (Guy Pearce), a former love interest of Pepper and spurned colleague of Tony.

One of the strongest aspects of all the Iron Man films (and The Avengers) has been Robert Downey Jr.'s  charismatic portrayal of Tony Stark, and this third entry is no exception. In fact, he seems even more rapid fire than ever, churning out quips with nearly every line he delivers. This film also gives him the most introspection since the opening scenes from the first film. Tony's exploration about what it means to be Iron Man is a driving part of his character this time around, and it allows for some fantastic reevaluation for him. I've never been more interested in Tony Stark's cinematic incarnation than I was in Iron Man Three. It doesn't hurt that Downey is as on point as ever, and never feels checked out in the least. Both he and Gwyneth Paltrow have given consistently great performances, and nothing about that has changed. Don Cheadle feels more in the swing of things this time around, and his best bits all come from when he's out of his Iron Patriot suit. It should also be mentioned that former director Jon Favreau returns as bodyguard Happy Hogan (now head of security at Stark Industries) and gets some of the best laughs in the movie. While his screen-time is diminished, his importance isn't.

***SPOILERS*** [Highlight to read]: But the real surprise of the show comes from the film's villains. Sir Ben Kingsley's Mandarin is only seen through terrorist broadcasts, so while his threat has plenty of presence, it's hard to feel intimidated by him since we don't meet him until much later. But, when he is revealed, his character ends up being insanely watchable and a highlight of the film. It also turns the focus on Guy Pearce, who is easily the best foe Tony has had to face in any of these movies. He's calculating, cool and like some of the best villains, says some things that actually make a lot of sense. Pearce's performance is top notch, and is reason enough to check out the movie. ***END SPOILERS***

Every single action scene in Iron Man Three is an absolute blast. There isn't a dull moment once things start getting rough and tumble, and this is bolstered by a well-thought-out pace that outshines any of the other Marvel films. Even when Tony requires the help of a young boy (which is almost certain death in most movies), things move along briskly, always aided by Robert Downey Jr.'s unstoppable wit. Another thing that this film has going for it is that it doesn't feel obligated to any other upcoming movies. That was one of the fatal flaws in Iron Man 2, which devoted a huge chunk of its second act to setting up events in Thor, Captain America and The Avengers. Iron Man Three is only beholden to previous films, and that gives it plenty of narrative freedom to tell the story it wants to tell. I know Marvel is fully committed to their shared universe, but if they can pull off films like this that work as standalone entries, they'll be much better off.

All of Marvel's films have always had a sure hand behind the camera, and this same professionalism is seen in Iron Man Three. There isn't an abundance of editing to the point where you can't tell what's happening, and everything is framed well. The score by Brian Tyler is fairly standard, but it gets the job done. I can't say I wasn't whistling the film's theme when I walked out of the theater, so that's a good sign.

The most exciting thing to come out of Iron Man Three is definitely the way things end. I won't give anything away, but know that it is a big shock to the status quo, which is something fanboys are often very reactionary about. They like these characters because they are so non-mutable, but Iron Man Three throws a big monkey wrench into that, and that is a very good thing. Characters need to change and evolve to continue to be relatable, and if superhero movies (particularly Marvel's) want to progress, they have to show that kind of dangerous growth. Iron Man Three does this in a very gutsy way, all the while staying true to the character and persona of Tony Stark. It also positions Marvel Phase Two movies as entities that you won't be able to predict, and that's exactly what needs to be established.

Iron Man Three isn't just a great progression of Marvel's continuing story, it's an extremely competent popcorn adventure film that isn't dumbed down or willing to pull any punches. It's got loads of humor (it's easily Marvel's funniest movie, until Edgar Wright gets Ant-Man finished, I'm sure), stellar set-pieces, phenomenal characters, a deft grasp on pacing and plenty of good old fashioned comic book fun. If Iron Man Three is indicative of what this summer at the movies is gong to be like, 2013 is going to be one hell of a cinematic year.