Iron Man - marverlous.
Iron Man 2 - weaker, but with it's fun… MoreIron Man - marverlous.
Iron Man 2 - weaker, but with it's fun moments.
Iron Man 3 - well, here it goes:
Honestly, at the beginning of this year I wasn't all that excited to dive into the Marvel Phase 2 cinematic universe again. I was already so pumped up for Man of Steel that I didn't even consider going to see Tony Stark zip around on the big screen for a fourth time. But, my hype quickly grew at the end of April, and after revisiting his three previous adventures, I was plenty excited to explore Marvel's rendition of the billionaire playboy.
Enter Iron Man 3.
In the film, director Shane Black does a lot of new things with the character. This is welcome, considering the man in the iron mask really hasn't done much growing since his big screen debut. But even from the opening scene in 1999, I began to notice that this wasn't going to be like any other Iron Man, or Marvel film.
Tony Stark, as we've come to know and love, is somewhat of a blockhead. A jerk, really. And that's what made Iron Man so powerful. In that film, we got see a cynical prick change into a man with a real heart for saving the innocent. Here, all of that character is thrown out the window. But, before I begin discussing the many problems I had with this film, let's discuss the good:
Firstly, all of Stark's ensemble is strong here. I enjoyed Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Gwyneth Paltrow finally seems comfortable in her portrayal as Pepper Potts. Guy Pearce is the perfect balance of loser and wannabe rich guy, and Ben Kingsley has some pretty funny moments as "The Mandarin". Seeing how this is a spoiler-filled review, you all know how Mr. Kingsley turns out. Whoop-de-frickin'-do.
Secondly, I like that Black was not afraid to make this film different. I like that approach, and I wanted a different Iron Man film. But for me, I only really enjoyed this in theory - in execution, it's one of my problems with the film.
Now I know some may be wondering what my thoughts were on the Mandarin twist in the film, and for me I again like said before, liked the idea in theory. But in execution, it was once again another moment of failed humor. I like Kingsley in everything he's in, but here, it felt like Black was once again shoving another comedic moment in just because Hey! The rest of the film is funny right?!
I preferred Guy Pearce to Ben Kingsley. It was nice to have the film shift focus to only one villain. By that point the film was already so muddled that focusing on less did it's so-so plot a favor. And in all honesty, did it really come as that big of a surprise to everyone? The opening scene's only purpose was to establish Pearce, and about an hour into the film all we've seen of the Mandarin was some Bin-Laden esque videos on television. If the film would've made the Mandarin the true villain, it would've been worse because he would've been severely underdeveloped. And I also wouldn't of liked it because he just wasn't that interesting. So for me, although it could've been done better, this was something the film did that I enjoyed.
So now we'll move on to the moment you're reading this for. Why didn't I enjoy Iron Man 3? Well, for a number of reasons:
IM3 did not know what tone it wanted to create - at times, it was fully lighthearted, capturing the spirit of the original. Scenes like the plane rescue reminded me of what made the first Iron Man so great, and Tony Stark chatting it up in a bar with his suit parked outside like a motorbike is pure Americana. But the rest of the film seemed to switch gears, too often and too distinctly.
But perhaps the most definitive reason as to why I didn't prefer IM3 is Black's decision to make this mostly a comedy. Yeah, a comedy.
Post-9/11 Terrorism? Comedy.
Children dealing with divorced parents? Comedy.
Which, I wouldn't have a problem with had the attempts of humor actually worked. The theater I went too had the perfect kind of crowd for this film. People laughing, clapping, the whole 9 yards. But myself? I found myself confused and with a headache over trying to figure out why all of these jokes aren't working for me more than I found myself laughing. Black threw in too many jokes, way too often. There were a number of scenes in which I felt excited, feeling the rush of a superhero going in to save the day... only to have it interrupted with a joke, and then another joke, and then another joke. Most notably is in the climax of the film, where Tony, suitless, is facing the true Mandarin. Tony calls his Mark 42, so that he can suit up and end the villain. What could've been a wonderful moment of heroism for a film about a man questioning his identity as a hero, became a poor attempt at slapstick, as the suit trips over something behind Tony.
The audience roared.
I felt like a lot of the humor was in the same vein as Joss Whedon's The Avengers - which Whedon did, but not in every scene, and not all the time. Black needed to drip humor into the story, not soak the story in it. So for me, the snarky, cynical bad boy of the last three films got old, got muddled, and became boring, which is the worst complaint any critic can ever give a film.
Beyond the humor, this plot was very muddled - it had so many good ideas and not enough time devoted to any of them.
Another part of the plot (which again I liked the idea of) was Extremis. Bringing this famous element from the comic books into the films was great and showed that Marvel still cared about it's comic book fans, but, Extremis was poorly done. If you timed the amount of screen time devoted to explaining to newcomers what Extremis is, where it comes from, what exactly it is, why it's happening, all of those questions, it would've been around 4 minutes. I feel that the opening 1999 sequence explained Extremis poorly, and it took me a fair amount of time to make the connection between Rebecca Hall's plant and the men who attack Happy Hogan. Also, the Extremis CGI was pretty terrible, and reminded me of the abysmal Fantastic Four films from Fox, which featured the Human Torch in some bad CGI effects sequences.
Actually, that brings me to my next point: The Avengers had some fantastic CGI - and sure the aliens looked like crap, but the heroes, and magic all looked good. So why is the CGI in a 2013 film so sloppy? The effects in the first Iron Man look better than this, and I had no problem distinguishing between the practical Iron Man suit that was built versus it's CGI counterpart in Stark's fourth adventure.
Something that bothered me in IM3 is that Tony can now remotely control his Mark suits. This sounds cool, and it's conceivable that Tony would develop something so sophisticated, but for a film which is supposed to be all about Tony the man, as a character, it makes no sense to include. Whenever I saw a suit that I knew did not have a man inside it, there was no tension whatsoever. It's the same problem I had with Avatar. How am I supposed to care about something which has no consequences for whenever it fails? This for me is the biggest disappointment of the final action sequence. I didn't care, and neither did Tony, he blows all his suits up once it's all over.
The final sequence of this film is essentially a montage is which Tony removes his arc reactor from his body and then he... wait, what was that you just read?! Right, it's a big deal, isn't it? The symbol of who Tony Stark has become as a man is now gone. And Black devotes mere seconds too it. The device Stark built in the first film in order to survive, which also serves as an allegory for what Iron Man is about, Tony's heart, the device that begins dying and drives the second film? Is gone in seconds, without thought or without care. Also Pepper now has super powers, even though she's always been the grounded woman who's kept Tony from getting in over his head. But, Black says screw that! Let's make her have powers too, which physically makes her more powerful than the hero we paid money to see zip across the screen in this poor post-converted 3D. Allegorically, her character should not have gone down the path she traverses.
Tisk, tisk Iron Man 3.
All in all, I didn't hate this film, but compared to what's been done before, there is no excuse to see a film featuring Iron Man to be this uninteresting. There were too many things going on, too many failed attempts at humor, effects that didn't dazzle, important character developments that are given no attention, and once again ANOTHER villain that deals with arms dealing. It had some cool action sequences, some character moments that felt appropriate, but beyond that, there's nothing here.
Oh, and don't wonder about how they explain the Avenger's absence out of this story, because they don't. You would think saving the President of the United States would call for some sort of nod to Captain America, but no, I guess that's something the writers ignored.
I really like Iron Man.
I can stomach Iron Man 2 for some entertaining jokes and action.
But Iron Man 3? I can do without.
Wall-E is perhaps the most unique animated film to come out in past… MoreWall-E is perhaps the most unique animated film to come out in past decade. Now I know what you're thinking, what about other pieces from the house that is holding the mouse together, Pixar, and it's other films? Monster's Inc? Finding Nemo? Unique, yes, but they all still conform to standard narrative devices. Wall-E has the bravery to tell it's story in a unique way - with a main character who doesn't speak. This is very strange for western audiences, and even in the silent era people talked in films, it's just, the audience had to read what they were saying instead of listening to it.
Wall-E's dystopic future is haunting, and the only source of happiness we see is in Wall-E himself, along with his cute roach friend. Earth is caked in a brown ash, and trash piles have risen higher than the once majestic skyscrapers of the city Wall-E resides in. Wall-E as we learn, is a cleaning droid, part of the mop-up crew for the Earth. In this universe, the Earth has become unlivable thanks to pollution and garbage, and the population has taken to the stars in a large, cruise-ship of a space station, complete with all the luxuries any human could ever ask for.
Wall-E himself is the quentissential innocent hero. All he does day in and day out is collect garbage, as he was originally programmed too. Wall-E is charming, and very quickly you grow to like him, thanks to his innocence and love for the musical, Hello Dolly. Unlike other androids in most science fiction, Wall-E has a personality, and displays a wide range of emotions, including fear, sadness, happiness, confusion, and most importantly, love.
The moment everything changes for Wall-E and his mundane life is when he encounters a new robot, Eve, who is sent from the humans to see if any plant life has grown on Earth. The theory behind Eve is that if plant life is found, the planet must be livable, and thus the humans can return to go back to their old way of life. Eve is defensive, and begins her story similar to what we would call your typical artificial intelligence. As the story progresses, she quickly has a change of heart - and heart is at the core of this film.
Wall-E teaches that old familiar phrase "love conquers all" but also that this strange, big emotion called love transcends all things - even artificial forms of life like Wall-E. The film shows Wall-E grow as a character, without him hardly uttering a word. Actions do speak louder than words, and in Wall-E, it's what you do that matters, not what you say.
Here, the humans have become lazy, slaves to their own gluttony; they remind me of harvested humans seen in The Matrix or Minority Report. What's sad here, is that most audiences didn't catch the message at the time of this film's release - most thought this was an eco-friendly movie, preaching about pollution and how we should treat nature. To some extent, their right, but I think there is more to Wall-E than just hugging trees. Has the human race become a slave to their technology? From Blade Runner all the way to 1927's Metropolis, humanity has wrestled with the question of humanity and it's dependence on technology. And if we have become slaves to what we produce, has that made us weaker? Wall-E shows that anyone can be a hero, and that the uniqueness of who we are is important - all the humans in Wall-E sit on their fat behinds slurping food from straws and never really doing anything. It's sad, and in a lot of ways makes this Pixar's most haunting film, because it speaks most directly to it's audience. Being lazy, and living life through a screen is something that is possible today. Granted, we don't have spaceships and our planet isn't in the crapper, but still, you can lose yourself to something that isn't truly who you are.
Spiritually, a Christian can easily assimilate that Wall-E warns of idolatry, and the consequences of falling victim to sin. God will let you become a slave to your sin, just as the humans in space have become slaves to their own gluttony.
The film is fantastic, and has some very charming nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. Easily the most underrated gem in the Pixar crown.
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Finding The Tempest in Forbidden… More5/1/13
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Finding The Tempest in Forbidden Planet
Fred M. Wilcox is well known for basing his 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet off of William Shakespeare's beloved The Tempest. In actuality, Forbidden Planet is an adaptation of the magical play, with some minor changes, which service the story, and the time in which the film was made.
Before we examine the characters in the film and play, we must first examine some of the film's setting (and the play's). Like the classic sci-fi that it is, Forbidden Planet is tremendous at sending it's message - as a great film should, it shows us the struggles in it's narrative, rather than bashing us over the head with annoying narration every time something is meant to be implied. Forbidden Planet plays as a warning of the power of technology, and a warning of the human subconscious, suggesting that balance between the two is where peace lies. The Tempest on the other hand, is a play, and it should be noted that film and the stage send information in different ways; while it is effective to show us information in film, more often in a play speaking vital clues and details is essential, being that not everyone in the audience has the best view of the stage.
The Tempest takes place on an island, belonging to Prospero. In the film, the island has been changed into a large forbidden planet (hence the title); the play's ship is now a space ship. Forbidden Planet introduces us to technology from the very beginning of the film. Technology here, unlike the majority of science fiction, isn't stressed as being good or bad - and the only thing in Shakespeare's play I can relate it to is magic. If an audience in Shakespeare's day viewed Forbidden Planet, they would interpret Robby, and the wonderfully dated animation sequence of the Monster of Morbius' Id, as magic.
Speaking of magic, the iconic star of the film, Robby the Robot, is important not just as the film's Ariel, but important to the science fiction genre in general, because he is credited as being the first fully realized character that was not a human - he is a robot, and at that point in the 50's, robots were usually only monsters or some puppet for a human character to use. But not Robby; he is a character with humor, and emotion, that plays a significant role in the plot. This says a lot about artificial intelligence, almost encouraging it if it were done correctly. Robby is the perfect being created by humans - he does not have some plot to destroy his maker, and although he understands the limits of his "brain", he is perfectly happy living in those circumstances. Nothing makes Robby happier than serving his master, and he understands his place in the universe. In the play, Prospero claims Ariel as "thou, which art but air..." which reflects the first appearance of Robby, through a cloud of smoke zipping through the desert to reach the space crew we've just met.
Of these men, Commander John J. Adams is your usual hero archetype; Leslie Nielson is wonderful in the role, mustering up the perfect blend of charm and charisma, and always someone to trust when we enter the mysterious planet. What comes through most is his humor, and unflinching ability to swoon Altaira Morbius. It's important that from the opening scene of the film that we connect with Nielson, as so much of the plot in the first act in introducing us the strange new characters, ideas, and an entire planet. There isn't much time in the rest of the story to develop him. Like in The Tempest, where the reader is introduced to the island by way of discovering it alongside a crew at sea, we connect with the space crew from their first few moments of dialogue. Forbidden Planet is not without its dashing leading men, who as the film progresses erode until its just Nielson. Aside from Airplane! This is easily my favorite performance of his.
Next in line is Nielson's love interest, Altaira Morbius, who certainly is charming but if I had to pick a weaker part of the cast, it would be her. Anne Francis is not bad in the role per say, but she is a little too unassuming at times; her big doe-eyes are cute at first, and definitely get the message across that I am supposed to feel sympathetic to her for not understanding the world as her father does, but this part of her drags on a bit. By the time the third act rolls around, I asked myself "does she understand anything?". And no, she's not stupid, but this part of the film does age it a bit, and reminds you to be in a 1950's mindset. Altaira is a mirror of Miranda, who are both pure, young women who have distinct links with nature. If this film ever gets remade, (which talks of that happening have been going on for a good decade now) Altaira's character would be the one with the most need of an update. One could argue that as in Shakespeare's story, her innocence is very welcome, which I agree it is. She lets the audience in, and serves as the one to cling on to if you're not fully understanding everything going on. It just felt weird coming from a piece based off one of Shakespeare's plays, which are known to have unusually strong female characters.
Altaira's father, Dr. Morbius, serves as the film's Prospero. The only major difference is that in the play, Prospero is aware of his power - he knows that he is magical, and that his island belongs to him. However in the film, Morbius is unaware of the power he possesses; this, ultimately is his downfall, and causes him to fail in the third act. Prospero is helpful with his magic; Morbius is anything but helpful with his scientific "genius" - except for his creation Robby, who is plenty of help when defense is needed. Morbius is a dual personality; he most often acts on a rational plane, seeking the most logical conclusions to any questions brought forward. However it is his own Monster of the Id that is a symbol for his instincts. Morbius is great here, tragic like the character he is based on - his presence on screen is immediately felt, filling the role of the "scientist" similar to the likes of Dr. Frankenstein or Rotwang in Metropolis. Like Dr. Frankenstien, he is a tragic man, who longs for a great goal but fails in the process. His Freudian Monster of the Id (which was marvelously done and rather entertaining I might add) is agreeably seen as Caliban, the monster-man on Prospero's island; the Cook is Stephano.
Forbidden Planet was originally released (as previously stated) in 1956, when the United States was well into the atomic age and the Cold War. Japan's allegory of nuclear devastation, Gojira, had premiered a year earlier, and the world was stuck with the notion of nuclear supremacy being more devastating than helpful. Unlike Prospero, who used his magic for self-gain, the science of Forbidden Planet is meant to further all of mankind. Morbius knows that he is not the ultimate power, and the film suggests a warning to the world, reminding us the "...we are not God..." in it's final scene.
Spiritually, the film hasn't aged despite it's very 50's mindset. Lines claiming God as the ultimate power are scattered throughout, and while I wouldn't say this is a Christian film, it certainly has some ideas that I as a Christian could latch onto, giving the film a little bit more to chew on. First of all, the film is about a man who lives in ultimate power over a planet, who has to learn his dominion over said planet is not his greatest accomplishment - his daughter is. Secondly, the film's characters do not gain any sort of power, and it teaches that having power is not a guaranteed perfect life - in fact, the film suggests a more humble attitude to the things beyond our control is more applicable. "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." - Romans 13:1, as Paul ascribes. This is something Christianity teaches, as Christ often spoke of being loving, and caring for people we do not know or understand. Science Fiction in general is a genre that begs for answers, and understanding; all of these things are what Christians hunger for in our daily walks with Christ. The genre often asks what our purpose is here on Earth, and God grants us knowledge of that purpose by way of relationship with Him.
Forbidden Planet and The Tempest are both marvels to behold in their mediums. They both have stood the test of time, and serve for different ways to hear of the same message. If you can't stand Shakespeare's diction, perhaps Forbidden Planet is for you. If you have a hard time sitting through older films with slower paces and dated effects, the maybe The Tempest will appease you, allowing you to read at your own pace, and to use your imagination. They work well together and separately, warning of too much power and reminding us to be thankful for what we've been given. Both are excellent, Forbidden Planet in particular is a great translation of the original play and serves as a perfect example of the notion that there are no new ideas - everything in film and science fiction has been done before in some way. It's not about creating new ideas; instead it is about using something old in a fresh, intriguing way.