Some people view yet another remake of The Mummy as a cash-grab. I can't help but find that funny after the original had four unnecessary sequels, a British remake then a big budget action film reboot and it's two unnecessary sequels.
All movies are made to make money, the real question to ask is, “Why do certain films happen?”
To me, it makes more sense to remake The Mummy now than it did back in nineteen-ninety-nine. In today's trends it was inevitable that a shared universe of the iconic Universal Monsters would be attempted not just because Hollywood follows money but because with the Superhero genre at the peak of it's popularity, it only makes sense that it's dark reflection would soon follow.
In fact, it could be argued that without Universal's crossover films like Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein we would not have any concept for a shared cinematic universe at all and back in the eighties when our favorite superheroes at the time, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, were too busy with their pissing contest to co-star in a film together, the monster's were getting together for The Monster Squad.
The truth is that both monsters and superheroes have the same stories but one exists in the horror genre, the other in the adventure genre.
To call this new version an 'abysmal' start to the Dark Universe is a bit of an overstatement. Counting this one, we've had five genuine start-ups for a cinematic universe, with only one of them being exceptional:
Iron Man. Without question this is the gold standard, a modern classic that proved even minor league superheroes could make good movies.
Green Lantern was the complete opposite, a miserable failure in every sense of the word. Sadly Warner Brothers has been slow to learn and recover from their failures, what good will they had earned with Man of Steel being completely spent by the leaden joyless Batman V Superman.
Godzilla was a film that sparked, not unlike Man of Steel, mixed reactions. Some people were disappointed by the film's shortcomings, others were delighted to finally see their favorite character in a blockbuster film for the first time. Now with Kong: Skull Island, the Monsterverse is so far proving to be the most surprising success as a franchise.
Rogue One oddly enough was also directed by Godzilla's Gareth Edwards and while it shares many of the same flaws, it also boasts the same virtues; such as a strong third act and a satisfying ending. This one may have been carried over the finish line by nostalgia but the film was able to carry itself that far on it's own strength.
Now finally we come to our latest contestant:
Is it the worst?
No, it's neither the worst nor the best. It's really kinda average really. It's not a masterpiece like the nineteen-thirty-two original with Boris Karloff and it's not nearly as insane as the Brendan Fraser film but it still manages to be a lot of fun yet never slides into complete goofiness (something the Brendan Fraser sequels never managed).
The plot is all in the trailer: military contractor Tom Cruise discovers an Egyptian tomb in Iraq, releases the Mummy, gets cursed, is chased by the Mummy. Everything expected in every Mummy film ever made.
The biggest difference is now The Mummy is a woman. Surprisingly it works quite well.
As a fan, whenever I would line the monsters all together and try to figure out what role each of them fulfills, The Mummy was always one of the harder ones.
Dracula is obviously the big bad, the lord and master of monsters.
Frankenstein is usually the friendly one, the heroic monster.
Wolf Man is the attack dog.
So where does The Mummy fit in?
As a creature it's really just another Dracula, except Egyptian instead of European, with many of the same powers but different weaknesses. Yet if forced to choose between the two, most people would choose Dracula, because The Mummy has always appeared to be the weakest monster.
Yet as a woman in the form of Princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutella, it works. Now The Mummy is the stereotypical “bad girl” with dark hair and tattoos always tempting men to make poor life choices, as opposed to the more reliable, blond “good girl” represented by archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).
The center of the film though, is Tom Cruise, who seems impossible to hate despite his weird personal life. Despite his age, he's still fit and giving this high budget monster flick one-hundred-and-ten-percent, giving the film a lot more credibility than it might have otherwise.
Russell Crowe on the other hand could stand a visit to a gym. He appears as Dr. Henry Jekyll in a performance that seems a bit phoned in... until Mr. Hyde shows up, then at least you can tell Crowe is having some fun even if his “design” is rather disappointing.
Actually, the CGI throughout the film (mostly the monsters) is topnotch but much more impressive is how much is done practically. It's amazing how much you miss good imaginative set design when you haven't seen it in a long time. As befitting a Tom Cruise movie there is also a lot of practical stuntwork on display in the film including the scene of a crashing plane filmed with the actors in a state of real zero gravity.
As a monster fan, I had a lot of fun with this movie. It mines from not just The Mummy films but across the entire spectrum of horror films made under the Universal Logo. I counted at least six easter eggs and references ranging from John Landis to Hitchcock.
As far as I'm concerned, the movie was all worth it just to see the nod to the Gillman. Just give me a good remake of Creature from The Black Lagoon and I'll be happy.
Frankly, this film gives me hope for the potential of the Dark Universe. It's not great and a bit underwhelming in places but it's a lot more fun than you would expect and left me glad that I had seen it.
And it's still better than Green Lantern.
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Well, Wonder Woman finally happened and look, it worked!
Is there anything left to really say about Wonder Woman?
No but we're here anyway, so I'll try not to take up too much of your time.
Here's a non-spoiler quote for anyone who hasn't seen it: “It's a good movie, not perfect but an entertaining film that anyone should be able to enjoy.”
Now I'm going to discuss certain things in the movie that might be Spoilers, because I want to....
I liked this movie a lot more than I expected mostly because, the movie didn't actually hate me, despite the fact that I'm a straight pale skinned male. That was a pleasant surprise. It would have been very easy for this movie to slide into the trap of pushing agenda instead of story or going to the other extreme and treating Wonder Woman like a pin up model but instead director Patty Jenkins should be commended for going the third way, focusing on humanity; Diana's, Steve Trevor's, everyone's humanity.
In fact, that becomes the film's question, “Is there any humanity worth saving?”
A question more superhero films would do better to ask (but we'll get to that).
As expected the film attempts to cherry pick the very best ideas from Wonder Woman's seventy-year history, with a few new one's thrown in for good measure. Instead of coming to man's world during the Second World War, we're instead thrown into the brutal trench warfare of Belgium in World War One. From a pure historical perspective, the sight of Diana crossing No Man's Land in a swimsuit is (I'm sorry) so absurd it's cringe-worthy but from a narrative standpoint, it actually makes more sense. If there is one war I could believe was started by Ares purely for the sake of wiping out humanity, it would be The Great War.
Another interesting change, is the Amazon's themselves. In most versions of this backstory, the Amazon's are depicted as rejecting humanity in favor of isolationism, usually because of betrayal and abuse by “Men.” Perhaps I'm narrow minded but that always made Hyppolyta and the Amazons very judgmental and unlikable to me. Instead, in this film, they are basically the trump card of Zeus. Their entire purpose is to protect and prepare the “Godkiller,” a final security measure to deal with Ares and his campaign to wipe out all of humanity. I think that works very well.
Although I find it a bit incredible to believe that Ares alone was able to wipe out the entire pantheon of Greek Gods, I definitely agree with the decision to have them be gone from the greater DC Universe, because they have never been relevant anyway and stir up awkward questions no one ever answers (I'm still waiting to find out how they factor into Captain Marvel's powers).
I also couldn't be happier that they ditched the “molded in clay” origin. Normally I'm a strict traditionalist when it comes to comic book characters, literary characters or remaking classic characters, I believe you should only make changes to these characters when it is absolutely necessary (and NEVER when you have some ax to grind) however, I'm sorry, that origin was always stupid and it only gets dumber every time they maintain it in the continuity. So the Gods turn a clay figure into flesh and blood, then when she grows up she just happens to have superpowers?
Her being half-god, half-mortal just somehow makes more sense.
Interestingly, this is a much softer Wonder Woman than you would expect. Often Wonder Woman is very stern and judgmental when she first arrives in man's world but instead here she's innocent, naive and instead of angry, simply earnest in her purpose to find and slay the God of War. Her compassion is what drives her, which automatically separates her from pretty much every other female action hero, who are driven exclusively by either survival or revenge. Whatever misgiving I had about Gal Gadot's acting ability, she put them all to rest, in fact she gave us the Wonder Woman I thought we would never see: the courageous warrior with a feminine not Masculine core.
She IS Wonder Woman.
I was also impressed with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. One of the interesting commonalities between female led action movies is that while they possess a strong female, they almost always lack a strong male character, unless it's the villain. While yes, Chris Pine doesn't have AS STRONG a presence as I would like, it's enough. Definitely enough to convince you that he is Diana's equal and that she could fall for him. His most important role is to convey all of the best qualities that a man can possess: courage, conviction, dedication, compassion and faith.
I was even a little heartbroken when he died. No easy feat considering the extreme feeling of deja vu I felt through that entire scene.
Sadly, no one else in this film really matters. All of the actors are good in their roles but they are playing glorified extra's rather than real characters that exist beyond their role in the story. Even the Amazon's are completely forgotten once the story leaves Themyscira.
David Thewlis though, is spectacular. Easily the best villain we've seen in the DCEU thus far. I know that isn't saying much, but who ever expected Ares to be better than Lex Luthor or Zod?
Unfortunately he's the best part of the third act, a CG animated screensaver copied almost literally from other superhero films. If DC can't find a new way to end these movies they are never going to catch up to Marvel.
What elevates it though that that the film doesn't forget what Wonder Woman is about: saving humanity. Which is what the entire genre seems to have forgotten. These days heroes seem to be spending all of their time fighting villains who are codependent on them or fighting each other. Normal people don't seem to be important to them anymore, they are too focused on themselves to care.
Wonder Woman reminds us why superheroes exist: to bring us hope that despite ourselves we can be saved.
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There is a moment early on that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Two men are locked in a fight to the death, one of them has a knife, to prevent himself from being stabbed the other man grasps the blade, screaming as it slices into his fingers but it keeps him alive a few more seconds.
Survival can be a bloody business.
There a several brutal deaths throughout the film that really push the PG-13 rating to it's limit till even Kong gets beaten and bloodied by the film.
The plot is standard for any visit to a lost world: expedition attempts to explore an uncharted island, monsters show up, the survivors have to reach safety or be trapped on the island for the rest of their short lives. From John C. Reilly's slightly kooky survivor, to the natives and even Kong's slightly friendly monster there's really nothing new here.
For casuals that won't matter but for genre fans it's either the films most forgivable or most frustrating weakness. Ostensibly the period setting of the Vietnam war era is supposed to make it all seem fresh and new but without any engaging characters or plot twists, it's only a new skin on a game we've played beat for beat a dozen times before.
With the setting many are also claiming an anti-war theme rests under it's surface, which is false, what's really hidden underneath is a blatant hypocrisy. The film pays lip-service to the idea through Brie Larson's anti-war photographer and Samuel L. Jackson's increasingly irrational Colonel Packard, while Reilly brags about how there's no crime in the native village. All of this posturing overlooking the giant irony that all of that peace is bought through a giant wall studded with tree-sized stakes and the giant guard dog....
What about the big question on every fan's mind: Which is better, Godzilla(2014) or Kong: Skull Island?
Well, that's the biggest problem, because neither is really better than the other. You would expect that after Godzilla the filmmakers behind Skull Island would have worked to overcome the weaknesses from that film and they didn't. Both films suffer from this simple problem: they both have a plot, neither of them has a story. Look back four paragraphs, read my synopsis again. That's the plot in it's simplest form, what's the story?
Story is the Experience. It's what the plot looks like through the character's eyes. You can use the same plot ten different times but if you use a different character each time, with a different perspective and a different character arc, you will inevitably create a completely new story each time.
The problem with Skull Island is that it doesn't know who it's protagonist is. Unlike Godzilla the film does at least have a cast of interesting characters, with quirks, frailties and goals but it never builds beyond that. The only character with any kind of journey is John C. Reilly's Hank Marlow, the audience sympathizing with his plight of being lost for twenty-eight years away from his wife and a son he's never met. Is it any wonder he's the only character ANYONE who's watched the film remembers?
Tom Hiddleston's James Conrad is almost a complete cipher. Early in the film, John Goodman observes about Conrad, “Men go to war to find something. You're still here because you haven't found it yet.” The film does absolutely nothing with that. We never find out what he was looking for and we aren't given any moment of him finding a satisfying resolution to his journey. Which is frustrating because it's a problem fixed with relatively little effort, as Conrad explains that his own father, an RAF pilot, never came home from the war, which could be his motivation to see that no one here in his charge becomes lost forever like his father was, thus redeeming himself for what he lost. Maybe an extra scene and one or two beats is all you need to make that work.
Either that or a complete rewrite to flesh out a story somewhere from this script but... that's not the world we live in.
Well, that's enough running the film down, let's turn to the positives.
I've already mentioned the characters are okay, all of the actors are solid and reliable despite having so little to work with. Where the film really shines though is in worldbuilding. Skull Island has always been this vivid and imaginative place from the nineteen-thirty-three original's deep jungles to Peter Jackson's gigantic ruins and deep canyons, it has always been Kong's best co-star besides the Empire State building. While less grandiose than Jackson's version, this island feels more tactile and less computer generated, thanks to a lot of painstaking location shooting.
It's megafauna are more subtle but very believable, almost every creature feeling like another layer to it's ecosystem rather than just yet another one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater. They also look gorgeous, the standouts being the terrifying Skullcrawlers, from their unique design to their voracious personalities, they are a welcome addition to Kong's rather thin rogue's gallery (a certain giant sauropod* from Toho would have been welcome though).
In Godzilla the writer's reached all the way back to nineteen-fifty-five's Godzilla Raids Again to explain it's giant creatures. That they are lifeforms from “a world much hotter than the one we know today,” when the planet was more radioactive and these creatures were able to sustain their massive bodies by actually feeding on radioactive material. There is a line mentioning that as the earth cooled, the creatures retreated underground to survive, sustained by the heat and radiation of the earth's core. While one could easily assume that all they meant by that was that the creatures borrowed down and settled into a state of hibernation, Skull Island adds an entirely new layer with The Hollow Earth Theory, which is the idea from Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (and others) that there exist massive underground caverns deep within the earth, with their own water, light and plant life, thus able to sustain an ecosystem of often prehistoric creatures. Which is a brilliant way of explaining where these kaiju are coming from and how they have survived unseen by the world until now. Hopefully in one of the following Monsterverse films we will see this Hollow Earth explored, it's just too easy a film and would be yet another opportunity to reveal some giant monsters. We already know it's where the Skullcrawlers originate from, so what could be down there driving them to the surface?
Makes me wish we could have a sequel before we get to Kong Vs. Godzilla in 2020.
So all of this worldbuilding works in the film and for the context of the larger universe it exists but what about Kong himself?
I've noticed some negativity toward this version of Kong which frankly baffles me. I do think we need to acknowledge that as a “character,” I don't think Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson's version will probably be topped. Whatever else one wants to hold against that film, it remains in many ways a masterpiece of the genre because Kong is so well developed as a character, who does actually go on an impressive emotional journey through the story.
However, that is an exception not a rule. Most giant monsters, whether they're destroying the Earth or saving it, don't have great emotional arcs, they have function to serve within the plot and that's it. So no, this Kong does not surpass the previous one in that regard, does that mean all the negativity is deserved? No.
First of all, Kong looks spectacular!
I wasn't sure about the design at first but it really works. The upright stance, the round head, the thick bristly fur, Kong looks not only as real as CG can get but he looks beautiful. Which is important because I can count at least two times in the film when everything just stops and all the camera does is stare at this beautiful monster. It is very rare for a modern monster film to be willing to spend the millions of dollars for a scene where it's CG character is doing nothing, not killing anything or breaking anything just pausing for a moment to contemplate.
Scenes like that are what allows Kong to straddle that important line of sympathetic character and monster. Our introduction to Kong is him slaughtering the humans trespassing into his domain yet we're still rooting for him by the end of film. Quiet little character moments are what create that.
Then when it is time for stuff to get wrecked, Kong proves why he is king!
Without question, these are some of the best fight scenes we've ever seen involving Kong. Again, all props to the epic three versus one fight in '05 but that Kong was older, past his prime but hardened by experience. This is a young Kong, full of vigor and aggression, throwing himself into battle heedless of risk. Kong's final fight with the large Skullcrawler is everything a kaiju battle should be, intense, well paced and creative.
Honestly, I think it's better than Godzilla's battle with the Muto's.
The fight also gives us a taste of what we can expect in their big showdown. Godzilla is in essence a living weapon, besides the fire breath he also has his claws, his jaws, his tail, armored hide and the rows of spikes protecting his back. There are very few weaknesses for Kong to exploit and is far more vulnerable to Godzilla's attacks, so the question has always been, “How is Kong supposed to match Godzilla's power set?” The answer: Tools. Improvising weapons and using the environment against his opponent is how this Kong will even his odds against Godzilla.
I'm ready to see that.
In conclusion, yet again we have a rather flawed but incredibly entertaining monster movie. It's beautiful, it's exciting, it's funny and a good time. I'm happy with that.
*(I confused Sauropod with Theropod. I apologize about that.)
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(For the record, I'm still not over the loss of Carrie Fisher and now Bill Paxton's recent passing as well. For that, among other reasons, my viewing of this film may be tinted with more melancholy than most of you.)
Seventeen years ago, I took a seat in my local theater to check out one of the big summer releases of that year. It was in a somewhat rare genre, a superhero film and though I was not a huge comic book fan I had enjoyed the animated series when I was younger, so I was happy to see a big budget Hollywood adaptation of a series from my Saturday morning lineup. The film starts and it's nothing like the series I remember, it's dreary, emphasized by it's muted color palette, the theme song isn't present in any way and certain characters are VERY different from the versions I knew. Also back country cage fighting is apparently a thing in Canada, even back then I think I was a little suspicious of that but anyway, at least the story of the movie began to become clear as a young girl, alone in the world and on the run, found some help from a man haunted by the weight of both his past and his present. I'd never seen this actor before, he was reminiscent of a young Clint Eastwood, which is exactly who you cast in this part but this man was a little warmer and certainly not as taciturn as Clint was at that age. At the time, I don't think I would have said I was blown away by this actor but he did a pretty good job and it would be just fine if he came back for sequel.
Seventeen years later, pretty much every superhero and animated series I either did or didn't grow up with has been turned into a movie. When it began to tire the entire genre rebooted itself into the biggest phenomenon in the industry right now. In that time three actors have been Spider-Man, three have been the Hulk, two have been Batman, two have been Superman and the X-Men lineup has been completely switched out but one actor in one role, through good and bad, has remained consistent through all of it.
Now I'm coming back from another film about a little girl alone in the world and on the run, finding help from a man haunted by the weight of his past and his present and this time, I'm finding it really difficult to say goodbye....
If all you're wondering about this film is if it's worth seeing, my answer is: Yes.
However the weirdest thing, about my screening anyway, is that a lot of people brought their kids, which isn't normal for an R-rated film and this is very much an R-rated film, with about twenty F-bombs dropped within the first ten or so minutes, a literal flash of female nudity and more blood than all of the other X-Men films combined, I would expect a little more caution from people. Other than that I say go ahead take the kids, though most of them probably won't be able to fully appreciate the tone this movie strikes, which is more like Unforgiven than anything else, at least not until they are older.
(Spoilers lie ahead, along with nitpicks at what is a truly Great Film)
Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) takes great pains to identify this film with the Western. There is none of the usual computer generated spectacle or architectural carnage, while the action is still elevated, it remains a comparatively grounded film. Instead of industrialized environments, we're passing through the dusty southwest to the green corn crops of middle America and finally the rocky canyons and forests of the Dakotas. Everything feels like a real environment, even the glimpses of the latest incarnation of the Weapon X program look like a real medical facility instead of a mad scientist's lab. They stop at gas stations and make friends with actual ordinary mortals instead of stock comic book characters.
Logan himself is not the invincible CG character he was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His body cannot maintain that level of damage control anymore, even the adamantium in his bones is beginning to poison him. This makes all of the action scenes not only more visceral but more suspenseful, as we realize Wolverine is no longer the sharpest weapon anymore. Without question, this is Hugh Jackman's best performance as Logan. There is not a hint of weariness, no “phoning it in,” nor any separation between actor and character. Jackman is in his role one-hundred-percent and everything he feels, you feel. It is an Oscar worthy performance that will never even be mentioned around awards time. Which is fine as far an I'm concerned, the contest doesn't deserve the legitimacy.
Patrick Stewart is equally as fine, with a much more difficult role. The sad truth about Mr. Stewart's Charles Xavier, is that as wonderful as he's been, he has always been a side character. In the first film, he was sidelined for the entire third act and again in the third film, he's killed halfway through the story. Here, he's at least finally important to the story, fighting his own dementia and frailty to reach some part of Logan's humanity, yet despite all his efforts, his fate is to be buried to the side of some backroad, his school gone, his X-Men gone, his dream of reconciliation between human and mutant a complete failure? As the grace note to Patrick Stewart's run as Professor X, I wish we parted with a little more hope.
Which is the weird thing about this film, despite a story which naturally lends itself to a redemptive arc, there's actually very little payoff to that end.
There are, I think, Two factors to this problem:
1) First is Laura aka X-23. Now credit where credit is due, there is nothing wrong with the character or the actress portraying her. Newcomer Dafne Keene is perfect as the eleven-year-old death machine, absolutely convincing, her eyes conveying more than pages of dialogue ever could.
(In fact, I cannot help but feel the comics truly missed something wonderful not introducing this character into the storyline at this age, instead of as the standard mature teenager. All of Wolverine's other surrogate “daughters” have always been teenagers, seeing him have to deal with a pre-teen X-23 is something fresh and different.)
The problem arises when you try to think of how Laura has been changed by her time with Logan. The story's vagueness is part of the problem, since the arbitrary goal is for it's group of mutant children to make it to some kind of unspecified haven across a meaningless border somehow guaranteeing their safety against all of dark forces that will HUNT THEM ALL OF THEIR LIVES. And with no one left to teach and guide them, why should we assume they will become anything but the monsters humanity feared they would? With that kind of an uncertain future, how can Laura be anything except what they made her to be... a weapon?
I feel like the movie spent too much time with Logan as the broken old man and failed to really let him show Laura the kindness within him.
It's natural to desire that Logan not die at the end of the film, even though we all knew this is what it was building towards. With the X-men franchise eyeing a possible complete reboot on the horizon, this was the time and place to write the last chapter of this version of Wolverine and the X-universe. The problem is if you stumble to deliver a satisfying finale, it only seems to prove you had no right to end it in the first place. It just feels like this ending is not the one the movie was building towards, regardless of the franchise's concerns. It feels like a proper conclusion to this story would have been Logan assuming Xavier's mantle and watching over these kids, teaching them to channel their gifts for good and not evil. That would have been a much more affirming finale in the spirit of Xavier's legacy than what we seemed to get.
Maybe that's emotion creeping over my logic and maybe after some time has passed I will change my mind.
2) However, there is one other incongruous point to me here. To drive home it's connection to the Western, James Mangold references the genre classic Shane, especially Shane's final words to Joey, the boy he's bonded with. It's a little difficult however, to tie the films together on a common conclusion. Shane's whole point to Joey, is that a violent job had to be done and once finished, Shane had to fade away and that he did that job so that a boy like Joey wouldn't have to take up the gun, that he could live a life of peace, instead of the life of violence Shane had to live.
But how does one toss away the “gun” when it literally pops out of your knuckles? How can Laura ever live any other kind of life except the life of violence she was bred for?
When Shane leaves, Joey still has a mother and a father to give him love and guidance. Laura doesn't get that. None of the kids do.
I think the “super power” element of the story, the fact that at the end of the day it's still a comic book universe, actually works against the sense of renewal the Western always strives for.
Maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm feeling too much grief to let myself feel hope.
Or... maybe I'm just sick and tired of seeing men find a reason to live in their last seconds before they die....
All of these personal little quibbles aside, this is a truly Great Film (I don't care what the rest of you say), it easily ranks as one of the best superhero films of all time, right up there with The Dark Knight, Captain America: Civil War, Superman: The Movie or any other one you can name.
Simply put: Logan is the best there is at what it does.
Thank You Hugh Jackman, for giving us this wonderful good bye and despite all of it's pains, Thank You for being our Wolverine. Just...Thank You....