Mini Movie Reviews - March Madness!
When did March become blockbuster territory??? It’s starting to feel like summer movies are taking a page from Christmas’ book in trying to consume as much of the damn year as possible. I will say though, I don’t mind an increase in the number of tent-pole movies…whereas this Christmas shit needs to stop.
Okay, avoiding a rant [That’s a first! – Ed.], let’s tackle that first question. Yes, there have been blockbusters in March before…The Hunger Games, Tim Burton’s live action Alice In Wonderland and 300 come to mind [No, only 300 came to mind, the others came from web research. – Ed.] but I think a convincing argument can be made for last year, 2016, being the year where March and thus by proxy February and April, were swallowed up by the summer. Granted, the February thing was a surprise…well, at least to anyone not paying attention. Deadpool hit on Valentine’s Day 2016 and outpaced everyone’s expectations. Then when March hit, you had Batman V Superman and Zootopia which would continue to roll into April…then being joined by the live action Jungle Book and then by May 4th, you had Captain America: Civil War and boom…summer was off and running. With March 2017, it’s safe to say that the month is tent-pole territory with the month opening with Logan, followed by Kong: Skull Island, the live action Beauty and the Beast, Saban’s Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell wrapping things up.
One little mini-rant: I’m not watching any of Disney’s live action adaptations of any of their animated classics. The fact that Disney’s even doing them is an insult in my mind. I understand the opposing argument, with special effects these days being so advanced that we can actually achieve things only thought possible within the confines of animation…I get it. But hear me out. At the dawn of American animation (and I’ve already ranted about this before HERE), Disney either chased off or devoured the competition. New challengers have come and most have fallen before the House of Mouse. Still, to their credit, Disney fought hard to keep animation alive and in the public consciousness…even with their bombs. [Fuck you, I liked The Black Cauldron dammit! – Ed.] But their live action remakes almost seem like the biggest FUCK YOU to those animated classics. My stance is somewhat akin to all the complaining about remakes: Does Disney have no fresh ideas anymore? They have to go back and remake their animated classics? But it goes a step further: it seems like Disney, the once champion of animation, is even adopting the sensibilities of the majority of the American public, that animation is the realm of kids-stuff and not a serious form of entertainment. In doing this, the groundbreaking work done by early Disney animators is having a CGI shit taken on it…and while I don’t like many of Disney’s animated films (I’m just not that much of a fairy tale sort of guy) I will NEVER forsake the works of such greats as The Nine Old Men and the animators that came after them making classic after classic in favor of this Nu-Classic bullshit. So yeah, no fucking Beauty and the Beast here. Fuck that movie. [Ahem. Composure, please? – Ed.]
Better. Now let’s take a short look at what March gave us.
Logan: Reviews have said this is the Dark Knight of the X-Men films…and they’re absolutely right. At the same time, I’ll go so far as to say that this is the antithesis of the MCU films. It’s not saccharine, it’s RAW. It’s unflinching. It’s the story of a man who is the best there is at what he does and what he does isn’t very nice. And given the positive critical reviews and the box office draw, one would hope that Marvel Studios might consider something like this in the future [They won’t. – Ed.] You know what? It’s a good thing that they won’t. This gives Fox a place for their films to inhabit and a market to sell to when the MCU formula starts to show its seams…and they ARE starting to show. The drama, themes, extensive knowledge/homages to Western films of days past allow this film to really show its intelligence. And I’m glad the movie-going audience was able to go along with it this time…because they sure as shit didn’t go with it last year with BvS. [Let it go man. – Ed.]
While I’ll agree with all the high praise the film has gotten, I can’t say it’s perfect. One of the reasons is on me…and I understand that. See, before I had Bat-Fatigue, I had Wolverine Fatigue…especially when the X-Men films became more Wolverine and the X-Men and then the Nickelodeon cartoon really was Wolverine and the X-Men. No. Just…no. But again, that’s my bias. The flaw that keeps the film from being perfect is that it falls back on a well-worn Superhero Third Movie trope: battling the dark reflection. Superman III, Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3, Iron Man 3…they all do it, and so too does Logan. I won’t say anything else so as to avoid spoiler territory and overall the story works even with this trope in it…but I really wish a third movie would come along to break this pattern and avoid this trope.
Otherwise, top marks, go see it. I’ll even go so far as to say that if the Oscars snub this film, well, to paraphrase from Blade Runner: I was quit when I started writing this…I’ll be twice as quit then. It’s that good. It shows that comic book movies aren’t just the MCU…they can be anything and, most importantly, they CAN be serious…some stories and some characters need to be serious and when they’re done right, they can be just as much a masterpiece as any art film, period piece or shitty musical that these old white fucks just love to shower with golden…um…statues. [On the bright side, that choice of words might have gotten the President interested in this website! – Ed.]
Kong: Skull Island: Anyone worried about whether or not Warner Bros/DC can turn around their cinematic universe need look no further than Kong. Yeah, yeah, I know, Kong’s not part of that, but it is part of WB’s Monsterverse which is a Kaiju-centric cinematic universe that started with 2014’s Godzilla. And while the last act of that film ended up saving it, the movie itself is RIFE with problems, the biggest of which being Ford Brody: Unkillable Dude. Unlike Godzilla, yes, we get a team of humans to follow but the movie is about Kong. No, he’s not in every scene…but you can feel him in every second of the picture, his very presence permeates the entirety of the film. Also unlike Godzilla, you see Kong within the opening minutes of the film. [Not that there’s anything wrong with the slow-burn approach Godzilla took, when done right it could be amazing, but that’s just it, Godzilla didn’t do it right. It focused on Ford Brody: Unkillable Dude and only in the last half hour remembered, ‘Oh, yeah, I think this is actually supposed to be a Godzilla film. – Ed.] In the span of one film, the Monsterverse has completely turned around and has successfully course corrected. These movies might have humans in them, and humans might be the characters we follow the most…but they are about THE MONSTERS…not some nigh-invincible Army jackass.
The film is a great mix of monster action with a dash of Apocalypse Now with a good ensemble cast (with a notable tip of the hat to John C. Reilly who ends up having a full and satisfying arc no matter what other online reviews tell you), great effects and action. One thing that took me by surprise was how much I liked the fact it was set in the past…back in the Vietnam War or, more accurately, the closing days of the conflict. For reasons that I can’t explain…maybe it was the Apocalypse Now vibe I mentioned earlier…but goddamn that fit like a glass slipper. Oh, and stick around for the stinger at the end…because as much as Godzilla is said to be the beginning of this shared universe I gotta say no. While I love the big lug, his 2014 outing was more a false start. As far as I’m concerned, it all starts with Kong. Check it out.
Saban’s Power Rangers: With March being 2-for-2 for me so far…I knew one of the remaining films had to stumble and this one had the greatest likelihood of being it.
Power Rangers is the best example so far of taking a children’s TV property, adding a little bit of reality and SLIGHT darkness to keep the older crowd or any newcomers interested all the while throwing in a dash of nostalgia for the longtime fans. There are two tidbits of praise that I can throw out that should illustrate how much I enjoyed this film. First, I never cared for this franchise when it came out…I skewed just a little bit older than the demographic they were looking for, even though I’ve always been a fan of Voltron and Godzilla (so it should have been something I adored). But coming out of this film, not only can I not wait for what they’ll do for a sequel, but I wanted to buy the toys immediately. [He actually hasn’t done it yet…but he’s planning to. – Ed.] Second, anyone reading this site should know by now I’m a huge Transformers fan. When the franchise came to the big screen back in 2007, I was open to Michael Bay’s adaptation even though a fair number of Transformers fans were not. As the films went on, it became consistent that juvenile humor and just generally stupid shit was always going to be present (due to Bay’s involvement) and as a result, while I might enjoy the bulk of the films, there are always going to be parts that needed to be fast-forwarded past. I was accepting that this was simply a fact of life for these sorts of adaptations. Power Rangers proves this wrong. Sure, there are goofy moments and moments of comic relief…but they’re done so well and are so enmeshed in the spirit of the film that there’s no single joke that feels like it’s talking down to you or hits below the belt…whether it’s the “pee in this cup…NOW!” gag from the trailers or the silliness that the battle to save the Earth takes place at a Krispy Kreme…there’s nothing that made me squirm in my seat or made me make a mental note that this was a scene I was going to have to skip in the eventual home video release. As much as it pains me to say it, well done Power Rangers fans, you’ve gotten a movie that eclipses my beloved Transformers franchise. Bravo.
It’s not perfect though. Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa can get a little over the top even though I do love the reveal that she was a former Ranger herself. And while I wasn’t a fan of the franchise before this, I, like many, have wondered why they opted to give the Mastodon Zord eight legs or the Triceratops Zord six. Neither of these things were deal-breakers for me and I was quick to look past this…but I can see how it might be an irritant to long-time followers/fans of the franchise.
Ghost in the Shell: By the time this one came out, well, I was worried. You see, from the trailers, I’d gotten the same feeling as I had from when I first saw The Matrix trailer: either this is going to be amazing or it’s going to suck on an epic level. From what it looked like the movie was trying to achieve, there was not going to be any middle ground. [Don’t forget prior to all that, you had that idiotic ‘whitewashing’ controversy. – Ed.] And then the reviews came out…and the critics were not kind. Let me rephrase that: American critics weren’t kind. Japanese critics, where the source material originated, actually looked favorably on the film. Not surprisingly, I ended aligning more with the Japanese critics. Actually, I’m a step up from them…I absolutely loved the film.
Let’s start off with that source material. The film begins by mentioning Project 2571. Now, for those familiar with the original anime (I didn’t check to see if it was in the original manga), you’re asking “didn’t they mean 2501?” No. No they did not…and thank goodness. For those of you coming to the franchise fresh, Project 2501 refers to the Puppet Master, a sentient artificial intelligence and the focal point of the first anime. As to why I said ‘thank goodness’…well, EVERY iteration of Ghost in the Shell, be it the follow-up anime, Innocence, the two seasons of Stand Alone Complex, its associated OVA Solid State Society and maybe Arise (don’t know…I’ve only gotten about halfway through that one) and its associated OVA ‘The New Movie’…have all had the main focus fall on this type of complicated antagonist. So I was really happy to see the film go in a different direction from this. Project 2571 actually culminates in the creation of the Major…in this case named Mira Killian (…or is she?). The main antagonist…at least at the start…is a hacker named Kuze who is hacking into the cyberbrains of those associated with this Project. There are twists and turns…all the while capturing imagery from the original anime. The story itself, in the terms of this context, is original…but overall it’s a ‘theft and reclamation of identity’ type theme that we’ve seen before. I found this to be more forgivable than most critics for a couple of reasons. First, with this being an adaptation, it’s perfectly natural for the themes to shift. The original anime was created for a vastly different audience than this film and the same story just wasn’t going to float in a mainstream American audience. Second, by changing the antagonist from the Puppet Master to Kuze, you HAVE to change the theme. A sentient AI lends itself well to a discussion of what makes up a soul, the definition of self and the questions of existence. A man searching for an identity and a past stolen from him due to corporations pushing blindly forward with untested science in the name of the next shiny weapon gives rise to a whole other set of questions…and the film handles them fairly satisfactorily.
The real story about this film is the visuals. To put in one word: breathtaking. Between establishing the world of the film and capturing key moments in the anime and flawlessly translating them into live action, Rupert Sanders is to be congratulated. And if you really want to blow your socks off, go see it in IMAX 3d. [Which would have been an option to readers if you’d been more timely with this review, jackass. Hell, at this point, they’ll be lucky to find it in theaters at all! – Ed.] As I sat there watching the film, the only thing I could think of that was comparable, visually, was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
And that’s where the epiphany hit. I’ll gladly go on the record to say that Sander’s Ghost in the Shell is this generation’s Blade Runner. Scott’s film opened to very mixed reviews and ended up bombing at the box office thanks to “a muddled plot” and being “an exercise of style over substance”. In the following years, the audience matured to see what a gem the film truly was (granted a few ‘revisions’ were needed by director Scott). I suspect that once American audiences move past this excessive political correctness and actually sit and see the movie for what it is…well, I’m certainly not expecting for Ghost in the Shell to be elevated to the same level as Blade Runner…but I hope in the passage of time that the film will be viewed more kindly and appreciated for being the visual masterpiece that it is.