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The Mummy – A Review

the_mummy_poster_2What do we want with a Mummy movie? Do we want an action-adventure like 1999 Brendan Fraser movie? Do we want a horror film? Period piece or modern day? European, American or Egyptian location?

I ask these questions because I feel like The Mummy isn’t very itself. While the previous trilogy of films had a clear vision, that doesn’t mean it has to be the blueprint for a new movie. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to have a blueprint of it’s own.

The film starts off well, once it gets past the cold open with Russell Crowe. We have Tom Cruise in trouble, stuck in a lost cause of a shootout. He discovers a tomb, is joined by a boring blonde, they grab a mummy and then the mummy’s curse starts messing with people.

Breaking the film down in thirds, the first is by far the strongest. It seems to have a vision, a hectic pace with both action and horror and it’s here Tom Cruise seems to be the most game. My appreciation of Cruise as an actor has grown over the years, in going back to his earlier work and enjoying some of his new output. These days, it seems like the he and the audience have the most fun when he’s getting beat up. Whether he’s being thrown around, punched, dragged, stabbed or chased, Cruise has a way of making his pain amusing and thrilling at the same time. I can’t think of another actor who’s as fun to watch get knocked around.

There’s some genuine horror that’s stylish and small scale. Even though the plane scene has been shown nonstop in all the trailers, it’s still a cool sequence and it’s actually creepier in the film itself. Cruise’s interaction with the movie’s mummy, played by a fantastic Sofia Boutella, is fun and flirty. He’s definitely over his head with this monster. There’s some early scenes at a church and later in a forest that fit a smaller scale horror movie that has some action to keep the excitement going. Unfortunately, the movie is soon derailed by it’s second act.

I mentioned needing a blueprint earlier and the one this movie decided to borrow was Marvel’s. Except, when Marvel made Iron Man back in 2008, they made a movie first and world-built second. If you re-watch Iron Man now, after all the Marvel films that have come after, it’s surprising to see how standalone that film really is. If there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie would still be self-contained, even with S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up to help the plot move along.

dr-jekyll-mummyThe end credits scene in Iron Man, with Nick Fury mentioning the Avengers Initiative, worked because it was short and not part of the movie proper. We get the tease and then can only speculate what’s going to happen in the future. Now imagine if, in the middle of Iron Man Nick Fury showed up and spent a whole act explaining S.H.I.E.L.D. and super heroes and how the world worked and… well, I guess we’d have Iron Man 2.

The Mummy has that middle chapter as Russell Crowe spits out exposition while trying to chew as much scenery as possible. As Dr. Jekyll, he’s fine, I suppose. He’s not as compelling as he was when playing Jor-El, but he gets the job done. As Mr. Hyde? Yeesh. Supported by neither compelling effects or accent changes, he’s a dead stop and the movie never recovers. Prodigium, this universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is dull, ineffective and wastes the time given to it. I have to believe there was a better movie here at one point, one with a more suspenseful and exciting middle chapter, but it’s not the one we’re being shown.

Maybe a different color pallet would have helped liven things up. As it stands, the movie is gray. Every location, even those that take place in the desert, are filmed in a gray hue. And I don’t mean to hue-shame, if that’s what’s in the director’s heart. But. when most movies, even Captain America: Civil War, have that unoffensive, neutral color scheme of parking lots, a little bit of red and yellow stand out. The Mummy goes for gray in all things; sets, skies, even Sofia Boutella is made-up in gray costumes and makeup. It makes for a dull picture, to be sure.

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The third act of the film tries to right the ship, but it’s already taken on too much water. If the movie had kept the tone set by the earlier reel, the smaller scale climax wouldn’t feel like such a letdown. After all that Prodigium exposition, we need more than the one-on-one conversation between hero and villain. There’s a brief moment when the movie seems like it’s going bigger, but it just equates to flying glass and a bus stunt (flying debris hasn’t been exciting since the car chase in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). If the movie had stayed the course, all of that would have been a cool raising of the stakes. And then, when it went back to the the more personal ending, it would have fit with what came before. Instead, we have a movie that crawls to the finish.

The Mummy is disappointing. Disappointing in terms of what the franchise has been before, in what it could have been and, since we already know Universal wants a spanning franchise of monster films, disappointing in what’s to come. I would love a bunch of new Universal monster movies but this does not leave me with hope. Maybe, if the next film downplays or completely ignores Prodigium, we can have a more standalone movie. Maybe Bride of Frankenstein will have it’s own tone and style. Maybe general audiences won’t connect this movie with The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Maybe Universal will change that stupid Dark Universe logo.

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Wonder Woman – A Review

wwposter5It’s insane to me that Warner Bros. and DC Comics took seventy-five years to make a Wonder Woman movie. In that time, they’ve made movies for Steel, Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Supergirl, Constantine, the Suicide Squad and yes, I chose the bad ones to point out. I mean, they had a Lobo film in the works before they had a final script for their premier heroine.

But, the movie is here, so we can (but probably not for long) move on from that fact. Let’s focus on the film instead.

I had hesitancy about the movie leading up to seeing it. After all, Man of Steel made me rage until I had destroyed all the love in my life. (old blog, please come back to this one). Batman V. Superman was so dumb I just felt bad for it. And though Wonder Woman was a highlight in that movie, anything remotely NOT dumb would have been a relief during that two and a half hours.

But I was pleasantly surprised. For first two thirds of the movie, Wonder Woman is the film I wanted for years. The first third, which takes place in Themyscira, is great and the island itself feels exactly right. The Amazons have a Spartan vibe, without the machismo, and feel like a real society, even if our time with them isn’t that long. The action scenes that take place there have a 300 vibe, but those scenes are done with confidence and not in way that wears our patience.

Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, is likable and charming, but he’s got an edge to him and also comes across as more progressive than his World War I society. The chemistry between him and Gal Gadot is on point and there’s some great interplay between the two early on.

The action is great. I think, like Captain America, we sometimes forget how strong Wonder Woman really is. But, unlike the First Avenger, Wonder Woman’s powers are big league. She can topple buildings, toss trucks and wreck through soldiers as she goes for jog. When her full powers are on display, such as the terrific charge through the front lines that ends the first half of the movie, she really is a full blown super hero.

ww-11802rv21But Wonder Woman is more than just a set of powers and lassos and bracelets. Gal Gadot is, and I don’t want to understate this, fantastic. For years, I thought Wonder Woman would be one of the hardest characters to cast, but I can’t imagine anyone doing the job better than her. There are times when I could of sworn the character walked right out the comics. She’s inspiring, she’s dangerous, she’s funny, smart, naive, she’s stubborn but for the right reasons. When she speaks, you believe her. When she charges into battle, you want to follow her. Gadot embodies the character in such a defining way that it feels iconic before the movie is even over.

wonder-womanAnd now, with all that praise, here comes my critique and my struggle to not spoil anything. And that’s hard, because my problem with the film, is in the third act and might qualify as a twist. For a long time, the movie seems like it’s going one way and it works. Characters are learning lessons, humanity is getting called out for being the worst species to ever walk the earth and it feels right. But, they need a big action scene to end with and after we’ve seen what a tank Wonder Woman is, the stakes have to be raised. The final confrontation is so fantastical and out there, it almost feels like it’s betraying the rest of the excellent movie that came before it. Actually, the excellent animated movie with Keri Russel might have hurt the live action’s take on the confrontation. It’s not a deal breaker, it doesn’t make the movie a bad film, but I feel like a stronger third act could have put this movie up there with Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins.

But, please, don’t take my issues with the finale to indicate I don’t like the movie. It was great, should be seen and I look forward to watching it again. To meet expectations seventy-five years in the making is a daunting task, but Patty Jenkins was up to the challenge and delivered. This was the first live action DC movie I loved since the Dark Knight way back in 2008.

 

Logan

logan_1_origI’ve talked a lot about the X-Men and their movies on this blog that, even though I’m behind, I’d be remiss not to talk about Logan. And since it’s now out in stores, everyone can watch the movie. Including me. Forever.

Logan broke me. I’ve seen movies that made me sad, that got me emotional but few have hit me so hard that I had to bring it up in therapy. Yes, Logan is an action movie, full of blood and violence and adamantium claws doing what adamantium claws do. But, it’s also a powerful piece of legacy, aging, family and your place in the world, no matter how bloody.

And all of that is well done and can effect you alone. Normally, it would get me to that emotional level as well. But the reason Logan got me was something I’m not sure the movie should be blamed for. The end of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and the ultimate fate of the character in the movie felt like a long, heavy book closing on my life and I was not prepared to deal with those emotions.

The first X-Men movie came out in 2000 and I was 14 at the time. It changed my life in pop culture related ways, getting me into comics and making me a fan of the characters and the Marvel universe. But, as a weird, unpopular and messed up teenager, the X-Men gave me a place that I wanted to go and live, gave me characters that I wouldn’t to be friends with and take me in like a family. Not since Animorphs had I found a world and characters that felt so real that I could almost see the door.

And Hugh Jackman was there from the start and he’s stayed for seventeen years. As my life has gone on and changed, as I’ve dropped out of school and graduated college and got married and traveled around and said goodbye to friends and family, this has been a constant. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine has been one thing, one of the very few things, that hasn’t changed, that I could expect on a regular basis. And while he’s always teased retiring from the role, it always seemed like something vague, something I wouldn’t really see.

And I didn’t think watching his last performance would be as emotional for me. I mean, it’s just a character. I can read Wolverine adventures in the comics, rewatch the movies, there’s plenty out there. But it dawned on me while watching Logan that the character, as played by Jackman, is one of the most consistent father figures I’ve ever had. The character has been something I could trust was going to be there. And yes, it’s also because I love the character and Jackman’s portrayal of him and I don’t want it to end.

But like Logan in the film, I had to face how much older I am than when this all started. I had to except that I may someday die very far from home, that the world won’t be the same as when I was younger. That family and loved ones leave. There was a lot I wasn’t expecting to come to the surface.

I’m not 14 anymore, free from the oppressive figures that had been in my life. I’m not the 17 I was when the second movie came out and I was a dropout with no direction. Nor am I the 21 that I was when the third movie came out and I was about to start college. It goes on and I’m not that age anymore.

I’m still not sure I’m explaining this well enough. I don’t want the character to end? Is that what I’m trying to say? This run is over and it’s been so integral in my life there’s an empty space now. It’s its bigger than I thought it would be. I know how this sounds, but it’s like I lost a friend, or family. Because Logan wasn’t just an end for Hugh Jackman’s role, but it has a sense of finality for the X-Men series as well.

And I wasn’t ready.

Super Hero Movies: Excitement Level Check

2016 is going to have seven super hero movies! There was a time when four was a lot, but 2003 is far in our past now. So, now it’s time to look ahead at these movies and see what I’m excited for and what I’m less than thrilled about.

v9eu3y1Deadpool ( February 12)

Now, I’ve already seen this, as have most people who wanted to, so I’ll be short. I was hesitant about this film. I went back and forth about whether I wanted to see it, if I should just wait for the DVD, ect. I wasn’t convinced that this movie had to be R-rated and crude. Having grown up reading the Joe Kelly run of the character, plus the rest that followed in his original series, I had a set idea of what Deadpool was like.

And to be honest, those reservations are still there. The movie was funny, it had it’s moments of genuine comic book glee, but something still felt off for me. Hearing Deadpool drop the F-bomb was hard to get around, because I’m used to it all being bleeped out or struck through with a black bar in the comics. I don’t see the precedence for the character being such a hard R, but Fox is rolling in cash now, so what do I know? Again, I liked the movie just fine, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I’ll watch the sequel(s?) but I want be waiting with baited breathe for them.

Excitement Level = Hesitant

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25)

I won’t talk anymore about Man of Steel, at least not now. But it can’t be denied that this film is battling the bad taste that movie left in my mouth. I’ve slightly mellowed to that first film, as long as I tune in after all the Pa Kent stuff. The trailers and interviews for and about this new movie have not left me hopeful for Superman. I just don’t think anybody involved really understands what makes Superman different. It’s too bad.

So I’m split in two over BvS. One part of me is very scared for Superman and how this movie will further hurt the character. The other part of me, however, is excited for Batman. If Zack Snyder was just making a Batman solo film that looked like this, I’d be thrilled. Give us something like Hush, Under the Red Hood or just a straight up adaptation of the Dark Knight Returns and I think Snyder could knock it out of the park. It’s just too bad he’s been given the keys to Superman and the rest of the Justice League.

Excitement Level = Nervous

 

Captain America: Civil War (May 6)

I didn’t need that second trailer to get excited but it helps. I think this movie shows a key difference between Marvel and DC. With BvS, I doubt a lot of the general audience is going to be rooting for Superman. We don’t know anything about him, his solo film didn’t really endear us to him and he’s going up against Batman. Batman has had more movies, more video games, more cartoons, the guy is beloved.

Meanwhile, you watch a trailer for Civil War and it’s stressful for just those two minutes. Captain America vs. Iron Man is not easy to take sides with. Everyone loves Captain America after right now. Also, everyone loves Iron Man right now. These characters have had multiple movies to grow and enter our lives and now we’re watching them fight. True, the characters themselves have never been super close in the movies (unlike the comics), but they have a certain respect for each other. This movie is going to be like watching Mom and Dad fight and Uncle Spider-Man is just making things complicated.

Excitement Level = Highly Stressful

 

X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)

This one is weird for me. I’m usually through the roof excited for a new X-Men movie, watching the trailers over and over again. Not so much right now, even with Apocalypse, a villain I always wanted but never thought we’d get to see. We’ve got a sweet line-up of Horsemen, Nightcrawler and Psylocke and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto!

I think I’m just getting a little tired of Brian Singer’s choices with this franchise. I’ve loved this series forever, but I’m also ready for some color in the costumes, characters who have the same powers they have in the comics, characters who act like they do in the comics, characters who are the same age they are in the comic. I don’t know what I’m trying to say but it has something to do with comics.

Again, I’m plenty excited for this movie and I’m sure it will be great, but the franchise might need another kick like X-Men: First Class to make it fun again. But then, this movie is apparently closing out all six of the main X-films, so I better be careful what I wish for before this series is taken over by Deadpool.

Excitement Level = Controlled

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (June 3)

Man, everyone hated the first movie! Except me! I thought it fun, action-packed and not serious enough to have be bothered by it’s problems. But not everything has to be Civil Wars or Apocalypses, you know? Sometimes it can just be easy popcorn fun.

And this second movie looks like everything is being dialed to eleven. Bebop and Rocksteady, Shredder, Baxter Stockman, Casey Jones, Krang in a giant suit and the technodrome? This looks nuts. It looks like the 80s cartoon threw up. I know everyone loves the original movies and the first is great and will likely always be the best, but geez, relax and have a good time that isn’t set between 1982-1991.

Excitement Level = Extreme

 

Suicide Squad (August 5)

What is it with DC? I want to be excited for this movie, I really do. I love the Suicide Squad and a lot of the characters they’ve chosen to be part of the team, but something is off. Well, it’s really two people.And, surprisingly, it’s not the Joker that’s bothering me!

Harley Quinn and Deadshot bother me. Sure, I’m just going off the trailer so I’m sure I’ll be surprised by how much better they are in the full film, but what I’ve seen is getting to me. I like Deadshot in the comics because the dude is apathetic to his core. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies, doesn’t care who he kills, he just doesn’t care. Again, no idea if what I’ve seen in the trailer is the full story, but it looks like Deadshot has a bit more… care about him. And Harley Quinn? Well, maybe the character is like Deadpool and moved past me. Neither seem to need me anymore, losing some of the appeal that I fell in love with at the beginning. It’s a brave world out there and I’m outdated!

What was the point again? Oh, right. Suicide Squad. Outside of those concerns, I’m pretty excited to see how they pull this off!

Excitement Level = Medium-Well

 

Doctor Strange (November 4)

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I like Doctor Strange. I think he’s cool. I like his mini-series by Brian K. Vaughan. I like when he turns up in Spider-Man stories. I like when people ask, “What sort of doctor are you?” and he answers, “The strange kind”. Classic stuff there.

But I’m excited to see some magic in the Marvel movies. Sure, it’s probably pseudo-science magic, like quantum physics or something, but that will work. Benedict Cumberbatch  is looking pretty great in costume and everything I read about this movie makes it seem weird and different from all the weird, different stuff Marvel has done before.

Excitement Level = Spellbound

 

And that’s it for the year! We’ll see which films meet or exceed expectations and which fall flat. I think each of these films will be interesting and good in their own ways. None of them seem bad or fatally troubled. It helps that, outside of the Bat/Supes/Cap/Stark fighting, all of these movies seem pretty different from each other. I’m on board.

Excitement Level for 2016 = Super