Friday, April 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 19: X-Men: The Last Stand

I last saw X-Men: The Last Stand (more commonly known as X-Men 3) when it was in the theaters. Even with the generally low reviews and lower expectations, I found the movie a massive disappointment at the time, for reasons I'll get to in a moment.

In the meantime, I've assembled every other movie in the franchise on DVD - including X-Men Origins: Wolverine which I picked up for a buck or two last Christmas. When I came across a used copy of Last Stand on a clearance rack for three bucks, I felt obligated to complete the set. Besides, I wanted to include it in this series.

Overall, my reaction hasn't changed significantly since the first time I saw it. The movie is bad, but its most serious issues are in context: it seriously damages the franchise and fails to meet even a fraction of the promise of the previous installment. But I don't find it anywhere near as painful to sit through as most people report. Frankly, I think this is orders of magnitude better than Origins: Wolverine; again, setting aside the damage Last Stand does to its source material and Singer's franchise.

On its own merits, the movie is more bizarre than anything else. Essentially, this is Brett Ratner trying to prove he can handle serious material. For those of you unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes mess that led to Last Stand, here's a synopsis: Bryan Singer made the first two X-Men movies for Fox, despite serious problems with the studio (they cut half a year of production from the first film, gave both ridiculously low budgets for their exposure, and held off on green-lighting the third despite the fact the second was immensely successful). Singer got a better offer from Warner Bros. to make Superman Returns, so he took off.

As soon as Singer left, Fox fast-tracked The Last Stand. They cycled through a handful of directors before setting on Brett Ratner, who was willing to agree to a release date before Superman Returns. They also killed Cyclops off screen in the first fifteen minutes of Last Stand, presumably in retaliation for the actor signing on as a supporting role in Singer's Superman.

Watching Ratner attempt to fill Singer's shoes is weird. He fails, of course, but damned if he doesn't give it his all. The movie is filled with numerous asides and sequences clearly intended to instill a sense of gravitas and drama to the story. The result is mostly just funny, but at least he put in the effort.

The best part of the movie is Magneto. Despite working with a moronic script, Ian McKellen manages to remain interesting: no small feat. There were a handful of other sequences I enjoyed: I still say the danger room Sentinel fight at the beginning is kind of fun.

I mentioned at the start that I left the theater mad, despite going in expecting the worst. The reason wasn't what was in the movie, so much as what was absent... namely, Phoenix. Setting aside the fact Ratner completely undercut the character's concept, he couldn't even give us the visual of Jean Grey manifesting the fiery form that was promised at the end of X-Men 2. More than anything else, that pissed me off. I wanted to see the Phoenix brought to life, even if it was in the middle of a bad movie. Ratner couldn't even give us that.

Fox threw more money at The Last Stand than they spent on the first two combined, and the result wasn't half as good as either. It derailed the franchise, which is only now recovering (thanks in no small part to Singer's return). That said, this often gets high placement on lists of the worst superhero movies ever made, and I think that's a stretch. This is bad, but I'd take it over Wolverine, either of the two recent Punisher movies, Blade Trinity, either of the Schumacher Batman movies, Barb Wire, The Spirit, and others. It's bad, but there's much worse.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Futures Market 2013

Another summer is almost upon us, which means another set of summer movies is on the way. It's become tradition around here to have a look at what's on the horizon and what it'll take for me to see them. As always, I could care less about anything that isn't geeky in nature, so we'll just be filtering those out.

Here's what's coming:

May 3

Iron Man 3
Projected Tomatometer: 87%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'm seeing this movie

The first of Marvel's post-Avengers flicks is coming right up, and there's a lot to be encouraged by: the writer/director, Shane Black, might be the world's foremost authority on snappy dialogue, the footage we've seen looks fantastic, and we're finally getting the Mandarin in a movie. If there's one area of concern, it's that Black is largely inexperienced as a director - he's actually only made one previous movie, and it certainly wasn't a big budget feature. Granted, that movie was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fantastic noir picture.

All signs point to this being great, but I'm trying to keep my expectations properly managed. Regardless of what critics say, I can't imagine I'll be anywhere else on opening weekend. I'm really looking forward to this one.

May 10

The Great Gatsby
Projected Tomatometer: 75%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth, bad weather

The trailer for this certainly piqued my interest. The fact it's directed by the same guy who made Moulin Rouge! doesn't hurt either. While that's hardly my favorite movie of all time, I have to admit to really enjoying the over-the-top style. If this can deliver an experience like that, I might have to check it out. Well, unless the weather's nice: then I might have to spend that time outside.

May 17

Star Trek Into Darkness
Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'm seeing this movie

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the critics - or anyone else, for that matter - says: there's no way my wife would let us skip this. Not that I'd want to. I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams's first installment. Sure, everything except the characters is closer to Star Wars than Star Trek, but who cares? It's a hell of a lot of fun, and the casting was just about perfect.

May 24

Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer of 85%, Some Indication this isn't Crap

Some of the early imagery for this movie was incredibly promising, and elements of the premise - while certainly derivative - were pretty intriguing. But then the snails started talking in the trailers, and expectations plummeted. On top of everything else, this is being made by Chris Wedge, the guy who made Robots and Ice Age, so I'm not exactly anticipating greatness. The trailers for Robots also looked pretty, but it wound up one of the most disappointing experiences I've ever had at a theater: I want some guarantee this is better before I consider investing my time and money in what's almost certainly going to be another disappointment.

June 7

After Earth
Projected Tomatometer: 25%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer of 80%, Good Word of Mouth, No Stupid Twist Ending

I'm actually bucking trends in predicting a Tomatometer of 25%: Shyamalan's movies have been following a fairly consistent trend of being 40% lower than his last film, which would give this a score of about 4%. But, at some point, you have to assume that Shyamalan will take steps to correct his downfall, even if it requires something drastic. Like, say, listening to other people's opinions.

The trailers for this look fine, but even The Last Airbender had decent trailers. My guess is that this will be pretentious SF fare that's a little better than his last four movies, but not good enough to matter. Maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised, though.

Much Ado About Nothing
Projected Tomatometer: 92% (86% current)
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Eh. I'll probably wait for Netflix. But I'll hate myself for it.

I kind of love that Whedon's follow-up to The Avengers - the 3rd biggest movie ever made - was to film a black and white adaptation of a Shakespearean comedy in his backyard with his friends. The thing is, as much as I love Whedon's work, and as much as I love that this exists, movie tickets aren't cheap, and I can't see myself getting my money's worth.

If I hear this is really REALLY good, I might go see it, anyway, but... I don't know. As much as I want to support the guy, this really feels like something I should be watching from the comfort of my home through a streaming digital service I'm already paying for.

June 12

This is the End
Projected Tomatometer: 50%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer 75% and Good Word of Mouth

I'm not sure what to make of this. There are some great sequences in the trailers, but there's also a lot of stuff that just seems stupid. I'm also baffled as to why there are so many comedies about the end of the world coming out this year.

If I hear that this is more than a loosely connected string of dirty jokes and self-deprecating humor, if there's actually a story here, then I might check it out. Otherwise, I'll just keep enjoying the trailers and assume I'm getting the best scenes, anyway.

June 14

Man of Steel
Projected Tomatometer: 70%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Whatever. It's Superman - I'll see it regardless.

The question here is whether Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan cancel out each other's flaws or magnify them. Snyder's a master of visuals, but he clearly never figured out how to tell a compelling story. Nolan's generally a good storyteller, but his movies lack the style a superhero flick requires. There's some potential for a great collaboration here, but I'm not entirely optimistic. The trailers have been mediocre so far. We've seen some cool moments, but very little suggesting either of these guys has much love for Superman's mythology.

This one's kind of a wildcard. But better or worse, I'll be there. It is Superman, after all.

June 21

World War Z
Projected Tomatometer: 50%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth.

I never read the book this is based on, but most of people who have seem to be saying the trailers look nothing like it. That's not usually a good sign (though there are exceptions). I think I'd be having flashbacks to I, Robot if there were anything memorable in that movie.

Monsters U
Projected Tomatometer: 90%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Better than 80% on the Tomatometer

So far, Monsters U looks pretty good. The trailers are funny, and the info they've leaked on the expanded world is cool. But Pixar's time as undisputed king of animation certainly seams to be waning, and it's hard to get excited about another sequel that doesn't rhyme with "The Bincredibles". That said, doing a prequel is a good way to go this time, and everything we've seen is promising. Still, I think everyone - probably even the folks at Pixar who must have greenlit this BEFORE Cars 2 came out - are wishing there was an original concept coming out of that studio this year instead.

July 3

Despicable Me 2
Projected Tomatometer: 72%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, happen to see part one first.

I still haven't seen Despicable Me, despite having heard it's pretty good. Ultimately, neither movie looks great to me, though. If I start hearing this one's fantastic and part one appears on Netflix... well... maybe I'll give the series a chance. No promises, though.

Lone Ranger
Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 80% or split decision with glowing positives

I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a new Lone Ranger movie. The character was one of the most influential proto-superheroes, and it's a shame he's fallen out of favor (same goes for Zorro, The Shadow, The Phantom, and Green Hornet). But... there's not a lot of indication this is going to do the character justice. I actually liked the trailer for this when it first aired, but the more I watch it, the less I like it.

While I want the character to make a comeback, I'm just not seeing much indication this is going to be anything more than mediocre, and I'm sick of supporting mediocre movies. I'll be watching the Rotten Tomatoes when this opens, though: maybe it'll turn out better than it looks.

July 12

Pacific Rim
Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Anything better than 50% or a few good recommendations

A lot of people are in love with the footage that's out there; to be honest, I'm not one of them. I like what I've seen, but none of it really has me geeking out the way I do every time I see a trailer for Iron Man 3 or Star Trek. That said, I have a lot of faith in del Toro, and I am looking forward to seeing this. I love a good giant monster movie, and there aren't a lot out there.

July 19

Red 2
Projected Tomatometer: 64%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth and a chance to see part 1

Another case where I missed part one and haven't gotten around to it yet. I've heard it was decent, so long as you go in with modest expectations. If I get a chance, I'll try to see part one and decide if it's really worth going to see the second.

July 26

The Wolverine
Projected Tomatometer: 58%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'll probably see it regardless. Then quite possibly regret it.

This is another wild card. The first Wolverine movie remains - in my humble opinion - the worst in the X-Men franchise (and, yes, that's counting X-Men 3). I get the impression the studio realized they'd released something abysmal, though, and has set out to correct their mistake. Going with a new director was a good step; getting Singer to produce it was even better. But is it enough? The footage we've seen so far has been pretty mediocre, though the same could be said about the First Class trailers, and that was awesome.

I'm keeping an open mind about this, but I'm not getting my hopes up yet.

August 2

300: Rise of an Empire
Projected Tomatometer: 18%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: A decent score on Rotten Tomatoes and good word of mouth

God, is that coming out this year? I liked 300 well enough as a ridiculous action movie, but I don't think anyone other than Frank Miller actually wants a sequel. Look, I like Frank Miller's work in the 80's as much as the next comic geek, but I'm pretty much over it now. His era is long gone, and it's been a long, long time since he was associated with anything good.

I know nothing about the director of this, other than the fact there isn't much to know. I suppose he could be some kind of genius, and the movie could be fantastic. If I hear that's the case, I'll be there opening weekend. But I'm certainly not holding my breath.

August 7

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Projected Tomatometer: 40%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer above 90%

I didn't see the first of the Percy Jackson movies, nor did I have any interest in seeing the second. Then the trailer came out. Turns out, Nathan Fillion is in this one. The thing about Fillion is that he makes anything interesting. I'm pretty sure he's incapable of being filmed without doing something entertaining. Is that enough to make me rush out to the theater? Of course not. But it is enough to make me pay attention to the movie's reviews.

August 9

Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer around 90%

This is a spin-off of a Pixar movie originally intended for a direct-to-DVD release that was upgraded to theatrical but is being released without the Pixar logo: that's probably not a good sign.

To be fair, Toy Story 2 was originally going to video, but that was done by Pixar. Actually, I'm unclear what "done by Pixar" really means these days. I've heard John Carter was originally going to be released with the Pixar branding before they switched it over to Disney (I wonder if it might have done better business with Pixar's name attached). Regardless, I can't help but suspect if Planes was anywhere near Pixar quality, it would have a Pixar label attached.

Also, the trailers look pretty bad.

Projected Tomatometer: 75%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth

District 9 was cool, but it certainly wasn't as intelligent as I'd hoped. Yeah, it was message-driven science fiction, but the actual story was pretty simplistic. It was also Blomkamp's first big budget movie (well, medium budget is probably more accurate, but he got his money's worth), so there's a good chance he's had some time to refine his writing skills.
I'm expecting this to be good, but I don't want to get my hopes up for anything more yet. Dark science-fiction is an easy genre to do well and a difficult one to do really well. My problem is I'm bored by the former. I give superheroes and adventure flicks more slack, I know, but that's how it is. The thing is, I love great SF: if this can deliver that experience, I'll be thrilled. But, like I said, I don't want to get my hopes up.

August 16

Kick-Ass 2
Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth from trustworthy sources (i.e.: people who didn't love the first one).

A lot of people loved Kick-Ass; I didn't. In fact, I felt completely underwhelmed and disappointed by the movie. But, to be fair, there were a couple extenuating circumstances. Kick-Ass was preceded by a large-scale online campaign featuring tons of footage. I think I saw at least half of the scenes with Hit Girl and Big Daddy before walking into the theater, so all I had left was the story, characters, and dialogue... none of which were really all that good.

Also, while I'm not overly squeamish, I don't really need to see people blown up in industrial microwaves or churned through car crushers. Just not my cup of tea. All that said, Hit Girl was an awesome character, and I am at least intrigued by the idea of another movie featuring her (Kick-Ass, on the other hand, I could take or leave). I'll see what people say and decide whether I want to see this in the theater or just wait for Netflix. Right now, I'm leaning towards the latter, but that could easily change.

August 23

The World's End
Projected Tomatometer: 91%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth, good trailers, and/or good reviews. Really, just give me a reason to go, and I'm there.

This was a straightforward projection: both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz have a Tomatometer score of exactly 91%. While it's statistically unlikely the third collaboration will get the same score, imagine how embarrassing it be if I guessed something different and it got 91% again. I just can't take that chance.

There's not a lot of information out there about this yet. It's a buddy comedy occurring at the end of the world, which is a bizarrely common premise this year. I consider Shaun of the Dead absolutely brilliant and Hot Fuzz quite a bit of fun, so I'm certainly intrigued.

Honestly, I'm tempted to keep going: September opens with Riddick, the follow-up to the single greatest bad movie ever made. But there are a lot of geeky movies this fall. So, with that in mind, let's summarize May through August:

Movies I'm Going to See No Matter What:
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
Man of Steel

Movies I'll Almost Certainly See:
Pacific Rim
Monsters U
The Wolverine
The World's End

Could Go Either Way:
Kick-Ass 2
The Great Gatsby

Long Shots:
Everything else