Die Another Day (The Farce is Strong With this One)

Having watched half of Die Another Day, I now know why 1) I’ve been so resistant to seeing it and 2) why it is considered such weak entry into the Bond franchise.  I will be honest and say that I haven’t completed it as of yet (I’m about half way through), but even halfway is enough to start to figure out where it went wrong.

Story
To say that the story doesn’t make any sense would be disingenuous because there is sense to be had if you really take the time to follow the convoluted logic of the story, but none of the story scenes really resonate.  There is a tenuous tie through out the first half of the movie of uncovering the identity of spy/source who gave up Bond’s identity and helped to “burn” him (in spy parlance).  Yet, Bond goes from scene to scene without the audience clearly knowing what is driving him.  For instance, a short time after escaping from what we assume is a MI-6 recovery room after being tortured for 14 months in captivity, James is back to his normal “antics” with Jinx.  He is supposed to be consumed with a desire for revenge on the unknown “person” who set him up and a desire to clear his name, but he is back to his old “self” and is as right as rain, even back to the clever quips and ridiculous sword fight that would have (at the very least) sent members of the supposed fencing club running for their phones to call the police or running for their lives..

Too Much Farce
Which brings me to another point.  In DaD, there’s just simply too much farce to take seriously.  In one scene, Bond strolls into a ritzy and glamorous hotel (5 star) in his pajamas completely unshaven.  Now, let’s be real, even the local McDonalds has a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.  If you or I tried to do what Bond did in real life, we would be turned away.  If we insisted, the police would be called.  Yet none of this happens in this movie.  Bond turns heads, but it is meant to be humorous/funny, but the writers forgot that humor doesn’t come from ignoring the way things work in reality, but highlighting them and pointing out the absurdity.  Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor works because Rocket the Raccoon knows he is a Raccoon and comments on the fact (& takes umbrage when others belittle him for his origins).  Groot’s humor works because the audience only hears “I am Groot,” but we know based on the others’ responses that he is expressing himself in some manner that we are not privy to and that’s funny.  And so on with each of the characters.  DaD, on the other hand, expects us to laugh when they break the rules of how the world really works, when in fact, they are calling attention to the fact that this is unreal, that this is a “movie.”

Changing Tastes in Realism
M: The world changed while you were away.
B: I didn’t.
This is exchange was meant to emphasize Bond’s dedication to the mission, but what it really did was emphasize how Bond refused to change to be relevant to the change in audience tastes and expectations.  While Goldeneye still maintained much of the Bond tropes, it was actually a “forward-looking” Bond movie that was more realistic in a fun way than the dour realism of the Bond movies under Timothy Dalton’s reign.  Obviously, Ge’s realism was nothing compared to the gritty realism Casino Royal and Skyfall under Daniel Craig’s stewardship, but at the time, and for its time, Ge was fairly well received as a return to form for the Bond franchise.  DaD, so far at least, undermines this.  Yes, I know I like Roger Moore’s Bond and those Bond movies are often as silly as this one, but in the mid to late 70s and very early 80s, you could still get away with that.  Movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Silver Streak and even as late as Superman III with Richard Pryor were a lot of what the Roger Moore Bond movies were taping into with their campiness.  However, with the introduction of the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, the world’s taste in spy movies changed, and DaD didn’t change with them.  Audiences craved a more realistic depiction of the clandestine spy hero, but DaD regressed at the very time it should have been more like its more realistic sibling, Ge.

So, I’m going to wrap this up for this week.  If all goes well, I will either finish this up piecemeal over the coming week while I wait for my phone to be repaired or I will finish it next weekend, but unless something major changes, this one is very much neck and neck with the George Lazenby Bond movie for the one I currently dislike the most.  I will, however, reserve judgment until I finish it completely.

Advertisements

Dr. Strange: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

dr-strange

Source: ComingSoon.net

MAGIC AND MARTIAL ARTS

This is a really interesting story.  In many ways it is the story that I was trying to write with my own story, I, Magi.  The creators manage to combine Magic with Martial Arts and the results come together surprisingly well.  Now, martial arts movies are a “guilty pleasure” of mine.  I know some of the earlier ones in the 70s and 80s aren’t really good narratively speaking and that the English dubbing is sometimes so awful as to have entered into the realm of cliche, but I love the action, the movement, and the artistry of the genre.  Recent entries, since the mid-90s have been much better and I feel they have come into their own thanks to great actors in the field.  I love (& have seen most of the practicing martial arts actors–male and female–and have enjoyed them immensely, but I have a personal fondness for Jackie Chan, mostly for the outtakes reel that he includes at the end of his movies).  There are two or three centerpiece fights in this movie and add in magic–and well, you have a strong action based movie.

If there is a downside, its that the movie is an origin story, so if you already know the origin of the hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, then you will have a pretty good clue to the first half of the movie.  Still, that is a minor complaint (similar to knowing the origin stories of heroes like Batman or Spider-man.)

A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR

This movie has a pretty good sense of humor as well.  From other reviewers, some of the jokes seemed to be hit or miss for them, but for me, I chuckled at the jokes, even when the set-up was telegraphed a mile away.  There were some truly laugh aloud moments, but the movie didn’t set out to be a comedy.  In many ways, the humor is much more sedate, more dry than say, the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor seems on par with Ant-Man.

COMIC BOOK MOVIE FATIGUE

Many reviewers seemed to be noting comic fatigue for friends who they took to see the movie and reported not like it.  I think that they fact that it is also as much of a martial arts movie as a “Marvel” movie also has something to with one’s enjoyment.  If you don’t like Martial Arts movies then chances are really good you aren’t going to like this movie as many of its set-ups and structure follow that genre and its conventions.

In many ways, the director and writers of this movie did what I wished Joss Whedon would have done (if possible based on studio notes) for Age of Ultron. They completely went to another genre–martial arts movies, just as the last two Captain America movies have done to a larger/lesser degree political thrillers.  Imagine if Age of Ultron had gone for a completely “horror” movie vibe with Ultron (and the twins) hunting/eliminating Avengers in pursuit of the “Vision” prototype.

I wonder if it is truly a case of comic book movie fatigue or rather a miscommunication of what genre to which this movie actually belongs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

Fight scenes need clarity.  As I mentioned above, this is what I’d hoped I, Magi would be like, except that Magic is limited, so they (mages) have to rely on fighting skills to make up for the lack of magic available to them.  In the movie, however, I noticed that the fight scenes were clear.  I think that at times (especially when I try for action scenes) my own description breaks down and it is unclear who is where.

I intend to try to work on that and make might fight/action scenes more clear and more visual in the reader’s mind.

Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Movies–My Take (2017 Edition–now updated with Spider-man Homecoming)

marvel_cinematic_universe_wallpaper_by_theincrediblejake-d8lx9om

Writer’s Note: Rather than creating a new blog post, I’m going to continually update this one.  You can always tell the latest Marvel movie I’ve seen based on the last movie in the title.  So if X Movie in the title isn’t the latest Marvel movie, I probably haven’t seen it yet. However, the last movie that I’ve seen will be in the title, so hopefully I won’t be too far behind.

A while back, IGN did a feature on ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in light of the fact that Marvel has finished its “Phase II” movie slate.  Mine differs from theirs however, so I thought I’d do my own take on the list.  Now I’m fully committed to seeing the new Fantastic Four reboot, so I will probably assign a new number to it and then “push” all the other movies under it down by 1 number. (EDIT: Still haven’t seen the FF reboot based on reviews–I probably won’t include it here when I do see it as it isn’t technically in the MCU. I’m thinking of doing another list for the non-MCU Marvel movies    (X-Men, FF reboot, etc.), but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it at the moment).

A Note on Spoilers: Now, I tried to be as “Spoiler Free” as possible and not get into too many specifics and just give a general impression of why I felt it belonged where I placed it on the list.  I tried not to go into any plot discussion whatsoever (just in case), but I can’t guarantee that if you haven’t seen the movie, that these listings will be completely spoiler free.

15. Iron Man 2:  On this one, both IGN and I agree.  This one was the weakest of the Marvel Universe films.  IGN says that it is because they were trying to set up other movies in the Universe, but for me, they lost the through line of Tony Stark’s character.  Tony finding out that his life’s work was causing misery in the world in Iron Man 1 was one of the revelations of the character.  Not having that type of character introspection was a missed opportunity.  It was like the filmmakers wanted to do the whole “Demon in a Bottle” storyline here, but decided that it was too dark and then stripped it out while leaving Tony’s erratic behaviors in place.

14. Thor: The Dark World:  Missed this one in the theaters and saw it on Blu-Ray.  For some reason, this one missed with me.  I loved the 1st Thor, but the storyline on this one just seemed to not make a lot of sense.  I pride myself on being able to follow plot, but many of the scenes seemed to lurch from one “element” to another without the tight narrative flow throughout the movie.

13. The Incredible Hulk: I liked this one more than the critics and if not for the strong showing of other Marvel Universe movies, this one would be much higher.  I liked the “Hulk on the run” motif as it mimicked the TV show from the late 70s-early 80s (which I watched religiously as a child).  I also liked the Hulk vs. Abomination fight.  What really sold the deal for me with this movie was the awesome cameo by Lou Ferrigno and the fight choreography that called back to the Playstation 2 era Hulk video game.

12. Iron Man 3: Actually, liked this one quite a bit when I saw it in IMAX 3D.  Several scenes lose their punch when viewed 2D via Blu-Ray, but it is still a great movie.  This one worked better because (unlike IM2) they actually did use elements from the storyline “A Demon in a Bottle” (albeit they substituted PTSD for alcoholism) and that worked to explain Tony’s increasingly erratic behavior.   I didn’t like the Mandarin’s portrayal all that much, but if you are not going to allow Mandarin to have his rings then a significant change to the Mandarin character is necessary.

11. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Okay, I was expecting to like this one a whole lot more than I did.  I think that the final climax and set-piece was fine.  For me, the interactions did not ring as true as they did in the 1st movie.  This one was more set piece to set piece, but the interactions seemed forced for some reason.  Take the hinted Widow/Banner romance for instance.  Widow seemed to have much more of a rapport with Captain America based on the chemistry and camaraderie displayed in The Winter Soldier than she had with her interactions with Banner in both of the Avengers movies.  I think, though, what ultimately I didn’t like is that Ultron was “creepy,” almost horrific like a good classic horror villain.  Just like Winter Soldier was a mix of superhero and political thriller, I think Age of Ultron should have mixed superhero movie with horror movie elements, with Ultron “picking off” the Avengers one-by-one.

10. Spider-man Homecoming: I liked SPH, but I felt that it drifted into just the place that I didn’t want a new Spider-man movie to go: high school.  The high school elements were the worst elements of the previous Spider-man movies and this one was no exception.  I know Peter Parker was portrayed as a high school student for much of his “early” run, but really, Peter Parker is much better as a character when he graduated high school and was working at the Daily Bugle under J. Jonah Jameson.  There are elements of that (without J.J.J.), but it is still a high school narrative and those are probably one of the least interesting tropes for me.  The action was good, the story was pretty good, and the humor was very much in keeping with Spider-man, but at least half of the movie (perhaps more) is about Peter Parker’s high school life rather than Spidey and/or his life outside of high school.  That’s the only reason I’m rating this so low–I actually liked it quite a bit, but not as much as the movies above it (& that’s mainly because of the high school segments).

9. Ant-Man: Now we’re starting to get into territory where ALL of the following movies are good, but it just depends on individual preference.  Even in this grouping, I’m making fine distinctions between the movies.  Let’s just say that if any of the movies from here above are playing on TV and I have the time, chances are good I’d just sit and watch to the conclusion.  I liked this story–it was a fun movie.  It was also a “heist” movie and I’m not personally a big fan of those.  Luckily, the heist was part of the movie’s climax and it was pretty interesting.

8. Thor: So the first Thor movie doesn’t get a lot of love, but it set’s up the first Marvel Avengers movie, it features great performances from the leads (Tom Hiddleston owns the role of Loki), and has some great comedic moments.  I really like the earnest approach to the story–both in terms of acting and the story itself.  It is the “Fall from Grace” story, but because it isn’t a Tragedy (aka GrimDark), the hero is given the chance to redeem himself and learns what it means to be a hero.  The cynic in me says that this why the movie isn’t universally loved–it is hard to be a hero because a true hero isn’t a jerk or an anti-hero.  A true hero has to be willing to sacrifice.  And in America (and the world at large), that just isn’t a very popular idea (Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you).

7. Captain America: First Avenger: I really like this movie.  This is mostly a period piece movie, but I like it more for its message than its out-and-out action sequences.  This the quintessential American movie–the little guy with a heart of gold who becomes not so little and stands up to those who would oppress others.  Again, not a popular sentiment these days.  I didn’t grow up in the time period the movie describes, but as someone who minored in History, I love the period piece behind the movie.

6. Doctor Strange: Okay, I liked this one just slightly more than I did the first Captain America movie, but less than I did the first Iron Man movie.  I think that Benedict Cumberbatch was an awesome choice to play this role because of his time with Sherlock and that gave him the right “timbre” for playing the narcissistic Stephen Strange.  I also thought that the change from selfish to selfless was well earned, and unlike the critics and masses, I liked the conclusion and final fight.  I thought that it was well earned and concluded the story well, but was also darkly humorous.  I loved the special effects and Doctor’s Strange’s cloak was a great character all by itself!

5. Iron Man: This one’s special to me as it is the first time that I realized that Marvel was really serious about “Universe-building.”  I’ve always been a Spider-Man and X-Men reader (on the Marvel side), but it was impossible ignore the other heroes.  I would see references in other comics about Iron Man and had a comic that was the precursor to the Marvel Handbooks that described the tech of Marvel’s heroes.  It diagramed how Spider-Man’s web-shooters worked, how Falcon’s wings and flight apparatus worked, how Mandarin’s rings did their thing, and so on.  As I recall, the comic showed several variants of Tony Stark’s armor, including the “gray Iron Man” suit.  Seeing that suit on-screen and then seeing Tony reworking it into the “contemporary” suit blew my mind!  If nothing else, I realized that this batch of Marvel movies (unlike the 1st batch in the mid/late 80s) intended to get it right and treat the source material with respect.  I was hooked on Marvel’s movies with this one.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy: So this one was one of those movies that I decided that I really loved the Trailer and that I was going to see no matter what.  To understand my reasoning, you have to understand that I had been talked out of seeing World War Z at the theaters by the lukewarm reviews.  When I saw WWZ on Blu-Ray, I loved it and wished that I’d seen it via Imax (as I’d intended before watching/reading reviews).  I made up my mind that if I ever saw a trailer that I liked, I was going to see the movie no matter what.  I saw the trailer for GG in March/Apr. and liked it.  I expected the critics to hate this one or at least be lukewarm with it like WWZ, but to my surprise they liked it and so did I.  WWZ taught me that if I’m already predisposed to like the movie, to go see it, otherwise I might miss out.  I was doggedly determined to see GG no matter its critical reaction–and I’m glad I did.  It was both a good Marvel movie and a good Sci-Fi movie as well.

3. Captain America: Civil War: I thought this would go to number one based on the fact that even though this is a Captain America movie, it is essentially an Avengers movie because the plot line revolves around the fracturing of the Avengers based on ideologies. When I saw this in the theaters (IMAX 3D), it was by far my number one movie.  However, after purchasing it and rematching it multiple times, I’ve found that after the first major scene, the pace really slows until spectacular sequences in the middle.  I think, however, what keeps this one lower than CA:WS and Avengers is the fact that while I liked the ending, the reason why both Cap and Tony fracture, while set up earlier in the movie, seems forced.  It was almost as if I could see the screenwriters pulling the strings in order to put Cap and Tony at each other’s throats at the end.  Neither CA:WS or Avengers gave me that feeling.  I love this movie, don’t get me wrong.  The “airport” scene alone is one of the best scenes in movies, but I just can’t help feeling that the two heroes were “manipulated” into their final fight, not by the villain of the story, but by the screenwriters reaching too hard to wring pathos out of the audience.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Just watched this one again recently.  If not for the 1st Avengers film, this one would definitely be my favorite.  It had everything that I look for in a movie.  Spectacular fight sequences and choreography, tight plotting, reversals, betrayals, secrets, spy vs spy, secret organizations, two leads who work well together, cats and dogs living together in harmony (okay, so I threw that last one in there from Ghostbusters, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention).  For me, this one paid off the promise made in the first Captain America film.  A man of a different era now has to come to grips with the modern world and all its perceived faults.

1. Marvel’s Avengers: Off all the Marvel Universe movies released so far, this one is my favorite.  It has all of the elements that I enjoy (strong characterization, tension between teammates, heroism, and teammates banding together against a common foe).  The fight sequences were astounding and more importantly, seemed real and engaging, and the character interactions were spot-on.  The final sequence was jaw-dropping in its scale and intensity.  I almost ALWAYS stop and watch this one out to the end whenever I run across it playing on TV.  They got this one perfect for me.

There you have it–my top Marvel movies, so far.