I suppose we were a bit naive, thinking Hollywood could tell the entire story of a government intent on murdering ALL of its secret agents in only three movies. When you look at the more than $700 million the first three Bourne movies made and add to that the fact that they’re genuinely good movies, well, why stop train now? And if Matt Damon doesn’t want to come back for Round 4 — whether the studio isn’t paying him enough money or *shudder* he’s worried the story just isn’t there — well then, they’ll recast him and make the damn thing anyway.
Enter The Bourne Legacy. The one where we find out that “Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg.” OF COURSE HE WAS. Well, like I said, those movies were pretty dang good, and I’d love to see more, so I’m perfectly willing to give this one a shot. Although I do have reservations. And I made a list.
1. Jeremy Renner. He was great in The Hurt Locker and The Town, but not much else. I thought he came off as contrived in Mission Impossible 4. And while he was competent in both Thor and The Avengers, I wouldn’t label him the breakout star of either film.
2. No Matt Damon. It is Matt Damon. Would you want to see an Ocean’s movie without George Clooney (or, for that matter, Matt Damon)? Don’t underestimate the je nais se quoi a star can take out of a franchise once he leaves. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll eventually have to watch a new Batman movie without Christian Bale. The horror.
3. Can lightning strike four times? The Next Generation? Great. Deep Space Nine? Loved it. Voyager? Uuugghhhh… By the Enterprise rolled around, Star Trek had turned into that friend who stays another five hours after everyone else has gone home. Heaven forbid they keep churning these movies out after they’ve run out of steam.
So, a few concerns. But cautious optimism is still optimism. So I’m gonna go and do my best not to set my expectations too high. And how does the movie stack up, after the dust has settled and every perfectly choreographed punch has landed? I’m happy to report that your hard-earned shekles won’t have been wasted here. Is it as good as the first three? No, it isn’t. But it lays the groundwork for another series of films that I think can be every bit as good. A few points…
All’s clear on the Jeremy Renner front. As one of the first of a new, genetically-modified breed of super soldier, I felt like I knew his character better than I did Matt Damon’s after The Bourne Identity. This isn’t just a Jason Bourne retread. Aaron Cross is someone who’s not exactly sure why Outcome (the new Treadstone) does what it does, and has a habit of asking too many questions. His training helps him keep his composure, but you get the sense that he’s a bit of a smartass. And as much as it pains me to admit it, it brought a level of realism to the role that Matt Damon didn’t. Or maybe it’s just a level of personable-ness. Yeah, that’s it.
Rachel Weisz, playing an Outcome scientist developing the medication that gives agents like Cross their physical and mental edge, is Cross’s love interest without actually being his love interest, which I found a welcome departure from the norm. My wife found her to be a bit too frantic, but her character is fundamentally different from Franka Potente or Julia Stiles, so I bought it.
Overall, I found Legacy’s plot to be more substantive than what came before it, even if it was a little more clumsily wielded. We learn more about what the government is doing with soldiers like Cross — genetic modification — and that makes it easier to understand why they’re so eager to slash and burn everything to the ground once Jason Bourne, completely off-camera but often referred to, shows up in and starts car-chasing his way through Manhattan. I think most people don’t find it a stretch to believe that the US has CIA kill squads out there, getting into all sorts of shenanigans, but genetically modified super soldiers? A bridge too far, I say!
The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the science talk gets a bit wonky and clumsily delivered. And again, how many government manhunts can we watch? I’m willing to buy that Treadstone was just one cog in a much larger machine, but I don’t want to follow twenty different agents, all on the run from the men who trained them. Eventually these films are going to have to find something else to do, and I felt Legacy took the first steps toward that. It’s not there yet, and I fully expect Edward Norton to show up whenever the next installment rolls around, trying to get his hands on Cross. But by the time we get to The Bourne Sanction (if we’re going by the book titles), Cross could be free — or sanctioned, if you will — to go after a target of his own. You know, if the movies do follow the book titles, the next one up will be The Bourne Betrayal! And if the titles are small hints at what the movies are doing, what could that mean? Douche chill!
I was recently listening to the excellent IGN UK podcast, in which the IGN team was discussing its most anticipated movies of 2012. Editor-in-Chief Alex Simmons said that his was the upcoming Bond film, Skyfall. He said he believed that Skyfall would mark a return to form for the franchise, bringing back the gadgets, the cheekiness, the sexism he felt were absent from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He said that he had recently seen Ghost Protocol, and felt that it was a movie that out-Bonded these past few Bond films, saying that it proved you could have the gadgets and the humor and still have an intelligent, smartly made spy thriller.
I don’t think a BMW i8 that shoots rockets from behind its headlights or a wristwatch that shoots poison darts from behind its headlights and a good story are mutually exclusive things, but all those gadgets do make it harder for the movie to tell a good story. And in the case of Ghost Protocol, the gadgets are definitely the movie’s biggest problem. Why is that? Because there are too damn
many of them. No matter what problems the IMF comes up against, they’ve got some technological wonder to help them get past it. Tom Cruise has to climb seven stories outside the world’s tallest building and has nothing to hold on to? There’s an app for that. Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg have to move down a hallway but appear invisible to the guard sitting 10 feet away? There’s app for that. Jeremy Renner has to move through a giant computer mainframe that’s boiling hot so he can’t touch the floor or walls? There’s an app for that.
So, in the end, what you’re left with is a movie in which half the tension comes from wondering whether or not the gadgets are going to crap out. And guess what? SPOILER ALERT… they do. But even that’s sabotaged by the knowledge that while things may go sideways, they’ll never go too sideways. The team’s got to come back for Mission Impossible 5. There’s too much money at stake.
These aren’t the only problems the movie suffers from. Things can’t be all sex and explosions, so it tries generating sympathy for Jeremy Renner’s character by making him believe he’s responsible for withholding some vital piece of information during some previous mission that led to Cruise’s wife being killed. And if the scene weren’t so choreographed and Renner’s acting weren’t so subpar (this is the same guy from The Hurt Locker, right?) it might have worked. Also, while he looks good for a 49-year old, Tom Cruise is getting a little too old to play the action hero. Of course he finds an excuse to take his shirt off, and you notice he’s in the beginning stages of old-man physique. Again, good for a 49-year old, but these Mission Impossible movies definitely have a sell-by date.
This is the part of the review where I say that despite Ghost Protocol’s problems, I still enjoyed it. As long as you don’t think too much about it, you should have a good time. And honestly, not thinking too much about it isn’t a problem. We’ve seen so many movies like this that eventually we tune out all the details about rogue Russians and launch codes and just enjoy the eye candy blowing up in front of us. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that here (not the old-man physique).
There’s no reason that not being able to resist the siren song of Tom Cruise doing what he does best — sprinting, hanging off of stuff — should make you feel bad. It’s too strong for most people. There are definitely worse things you could do. But if you’re looking for a movie that delivers the action and a smart story, you’re probably better off waiting for Skyfall.
Имейте в виду, и знаю! Пираты борьба за власть и свободу морей!
I watch a lot of movies and a lot of TV. And with the exception of things like soap operas and most of the CBS primetime schedule, there isn’t too much out there I wouldn’t be willing to give a shot. My point being that I like to keep an open mind. And because I watch so much and am so incredibly open-minded, I’d like to think that my tastes are at least somewhat refined.
Then a movie like On Stranger Tides comes out, and two different thoughts go through my mind. One: Big-budget sequels are bad! Curse of the Black Pearl was good but Jack Sparrow and that squid whatsisface were s**t! You ARE NOT allowed to like this movie. Two: You went and saw the movie, and despite its problems you enjoyed it. Your tastes aren’t refined, you dirty Philistine. In fact, quit writing about movies, TV shows, or anything else and go live with that man baby they showed on NatGeo because he’s the only one who will have you.
On Stranger Tides was an admirable attempt to go back to the beginnings of the Pirates franchise and do over what made it all work in the first place. I remain adamant that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were both good movies, but I don’t think anyone will disagree that they both came off as a little bloated. The two being filmed back to back means that they’re two halves of the same film, and as the third film serves as the climax to the story, its natural tendency is to top the second in as many ways as possible (read bigger action pieces). On Stranger Tides scaled things back some, and tried relying more on its story, its characters. BUT, in scaling back on the things that had gotten away from them, the filmmakers may have gone too far and pruned away some of what had been working all along.
The film begins with a familiar situation: Jack escaping from a whole bunch of British soldiers for some reason or another. This is one of those areas that could have been cut entirely, but the filmmakers insist on doing them over and over again. In the first movie, it’s fun to watch. Now, however, it’s all descending into Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-esque tomfoolery, with Jack walking on people’s heads, standing with both feet on two different moving carriages, stuff like that. Now he’s swinging from a chandelier! Now he’s swinging from a rope! This whole beginning sequence goes on and on, with Jack getting out of tight spots by swinging on things. I understand wanting to hook people in, but can’t Jack start things off at a T.G.I. Friday’s or something?
It’s here we’re also reintroduced to Barbossa, who’s serving as a privateer in the court of George II, tasked with discovering the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish. If this movie can be said to have one singular representation of all its problems, then Hector Barbossa is that representation. A character who truly was a character in the first three films has been almost completely stripped of life in the fourth. This is where we discover that, since the last film, Barbossa lost the Black Pearl to Captain Blackbeard, along with one of his legs. A lot has happened since last we saw Jack, and that’s not a coincidence. As much as the story has going for it — mermaids! zombie pirates! — the source material (adapted from a novel of the same name by Tim Powers) does some impressive contorting to serve as a PotC story.
Not long thereafter, Jack meets with an old lover (played by Penelope Cruz), who takes him to Blackbeard, who’s putting together his own expedition to the Fountain. Blackbeard may be the best part of the movie simply by virtue of being played by Ian McShane. Watching him lapse back into some of those Al Swearengen mannerisms opens up those old wounds all over again. Here we’re treated to a scene showing exactly what makes Blackbeard so special, not unlike the scene from Curse of the Black Pearl which showed us the curse afflicting Barbossa’s crew.
The rest of the movie, the search for the Fountain of Youth, is not unenjoyable. On Stranger Tides is not bad, it just lacks the excitement and spirit of the films that came before it. In many areas, it feels as if the movie is simply going through the motions. Without Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, two other young lovers are introduced — a religious man who’s a part of Blackbeard’s crew for some reason, and a mermaid who’s been taken prisoner — but their performances are bland to the point where you wonder why they were brought on in the first place, and it’s impossible to make any sort of connection with them.
This problem is indicative of the film as a whole. Before you know it, it’s all over, and it feels a little underwhelming. “But wait!” you say. “That sounds horrible, but you said it wasn’t! Does that mean there’s something wrong with yoooou?” Very possible. But you see, the reason I say that this isn’t a bad film is because I do have a connection with the world, if not everyone living in it. It’s still an interesting — if not fully-realized — story, and it has its moments, even if much of it falls flat. I didn’t feel like I had wasted two and a half hours, and I wouldn’t classify what I saw as “unmitigated bulls**t,” as some overexcited reviewers might. Your kids are gonna love On Stranger Tides. And even though you won’t be impressed, don’t get too uppity, because you know you’ll be there for Pirates 5 and 6.
Before we begin, go see Thor. It’s fun. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad. *cough* And it’s required viewing if you’re planning on checking out The Avengers, which, let’s be honest, has the chance of truly being awful. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at a movie I enjoyed, but had its fair share of problems. That is to say, I felt deep down that–
1. Post-humans. One of the biggest challenges of sticking Thor in the run-up to the superhero orgy that is The Avengers was going to be mixing the magic of Asgard with the science of Stark Industries. A challenge, but not an insurmountable one. When thinking of the many ways in which Marvel could screw this up, I took great solace (great!) in a quote from Arthur C. Clarke, one of science fiction’s Founding Fathers: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Thor isn’t a god, he’s a post-human. And a lot of what we see in the movie points to this. He and the rest of the Asgardians live on a kind of modified Alderson disc. They’re in possession of advanced technology, such as the Bifröst Bridge, a sort of quantum teleporter which they use to travel the cosmos. In the movie we also see Thor and co. using advanced robotics, claytronics and nanotechnology. Look them all up on wikipedia and be amazed!
2. Plot points. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t address the advanced technology in a way that makes it clear exactly who the Asgardians are. When Thor explains where he comes from to Jane (Portman), all he says is that it’s a place where magic and science are the same. Well, that’s great, but which one is it? If you’re a god, what’s going to drag you back to Earth to help Iron Man and Captain America do whatever it is they’re going to do together? What’s going to drag you back if you’re a post-human, for that matter? Thor has more than its share of moments like these. Moments when the movie needs to explain some important piece of information, but chooses instead to jump over it and charge headlong toward the end. At one point, S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives to steal the work Jane — an astrophysicist — has compiled on all sorts of freaky science stuff surrounding the effect Asgard is having on our mortal plane. One might ask, what claim does S.H.I.E.L.D. have to her work? How do they know who Jane is, or where she’s at? None of this is ever explained. Agent Coulson shows up, says he’s sorry and takes her stuff. When Stellan Skarsgård is trying to get Thor out of S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, he uses a fake ID with Thor’s picture on it. When did he have the time to make a fake ID? The movie tells us not to worry about it, because all sorts of s**t is about to blow up.
3. Portman, et al. Like the movie or not, it’s got a pretty impressive cast. Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård. And they’re all proof that an actor is only as good as the material they’re given. Take a movie like Black Swan, and Natalie Portman is amazing. You take Thor, and she’s good… and, well, she’s got a winning smile. The truth is, without this cast, the movie probably wouldn’t be half as good. Thor had been bouncing around between potential directors and studios for close to 20 years before finally being released, and I imagine that the ball only really got rolling once the powers that be realized it would play a role in The Avengers. By this time the script had been rewritten a number of times, and undoubtedly could have been rewritten several more. But with deadlines lurking just over the horizon, there’s only so much time you can spend rewriting and tweaking the story. What wound up being released was pretty mediocre, speaking strictly from a story point of view. Fortunately, the cast does its part to draw your attention away from all that. Somewhat, anyway.
4. Phriends. Unfortunately, not everyone in the movie is a star. The Marvel universe is a big place, so with one Thor movie (assuming we’ll see a trilogy) coming out every 2-3 years, there’s a natural tendency for the filmmakers to cram as much as they can in each installment. Thus we have the Warriors Three, or the Merry Men, or Thor’s Band of Christians. Take your pick, because they’re all equally as useless. The fat one eats a lot, the Asian one talks in a gravely voice and looks woefully out of place, and the blond one was Errol Flynn in a previous life. I feel like anyone who writes a movie like this is going to be a fan of the property on some level, but it always feels like characters like these are only thrown in, not because the writer sees them as essential to the story, but to please the hardcore fans. Robin plays a big role in the Batman universe, but Christopher Nolan didn’t see him as a part of his version of the story, so he’s just not there. Thor could have benefited from the Warriors Three just not being there.
5. Pectorals/pelvic thrusts/private parts. This one’s here at the behest of my wife. Maybe I should have added prenuptual agreement to the list. LOL! My marriage is failing!
Writing this, I remember all the good times I had with Thor. The time I went and saw it. The time I wrote about it. For all its many, many faults, I enjoyed it. I don’t know if I can really explain it, except to say that there’s something exciting about these movies, something that speaks to the kid in us and helps us to look past all the sh**ty parts. So yes, even though my review is kind of harsh, this one is definitely worth a watch. And by that I mean a wristwatch, because I had to sell my Rolex just to pay for the effing tickets. And what’s up with the prices at the concession stand? Six dollars for a thing of Twizzlers? Get out of here.