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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Nicsperiment's 1/10/17 Blockbuster Movie Marathon Reviews, featuring Batman v Superman, The Legend of Tarzan, Suicide Squad, and Jason Bourne

Last year, after Thanksgiving, I figured I should just take a day off of work to watch movies all day. Yesterday, I did the same thing. I was going to only watch three, but I threw on a late edition, giving me nine hours to watch four movies. But will these four critical piƱatas all rain down Werther's Originals, or sweet, sweet candy?

*     *     *
I start the day at 5 am, helping my wife off to work and my son off to school. I make a big bowl of Frosted Flakes, and toss in Batman vs Superman, a movie I've been avoiding since its release...but curiosity finally got the better of me.
I see as I review this that the title of the film is actually Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know they are trying to presage the upcoming Justice League film, but what a stupid title.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 
The recent Zach Snyder Superman reboot took America's most golly gee superhero and tossed him into a gray, joyless, overlong slog. Also, it severely miscast the leads, making for a charisma-free Superman and a Lois Lane who seems like she'd rather knit him a sweater than get in his cape (and before that, I would have guessed Amy Adams could have chemistry with a chain-link fence). Instead of trying to inject some of Marvel's carefree joy into their films, DC seems to be going all in on the grimmest tone possible here. Again, for Batman v Superman, the casting is hit and miss. Jesse Eisenberg's highly irritating Lex Luthor seems like a troll on the audience--an awful choice (and I like the kid). Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is good—strong and otherworldly, just like she should be. Ben Afleck as Batman is surprisingly not bad, but not at all written well. In fact, this is a big dumb movie, and it is big and dumb because the script is terrible, going from one needless scene to the next like my dog chases butterflies she is never ever going to catch. The writing is so contrived, stupidly ponderous (especially when it tries to incorporate religion!), convoluted and badly structured, when what it is getting at—Lex Luthor tricking and coercing Batman and Superman to fight each other--could have been accomplished easily, in half the time, just like this sentence could have. Instead, this simple story is barely comprehensible, even when it has 2.5 hours to breathe, and it still feels hyper-rushed and overstuffed. How can you spend this much money so incompetently? Plenty of inept action films lack geography in their action scenes, and this film certainly does, but it also lacks geography in general...and logic...and humanity. I'm not saying all of this as some incensed fan of Superman and Batman, and here they're only unlikable mopes, anyway. I'm saying all of this as a person who doesn't like bad movies. This movie is really damned bad. I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 2/10.
The review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes, gives Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a 27%. Right on, Rotten Tomatoes.

A family friend got us one of those little electronic popcorn poppers department stores had for sale this past Christmas. I was initially skeptical of his gift, but now that I've used it a dozen times in the past two weeks, call me a believer. I set up a towel on the floor so that I could pop batches into my bowl as I watched these that I would not have to get up...ever.

The Legend of Tarzan
In the 1980's, Hollywood loved Africa. Unfortunately, Hollywood is all about trends, and when they got tired of that, they just moved onto the next thing. Same thing with music: in the 80's, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel did their best work under the influence of Africa. Africa, however, is not a trend, but an actual place full of actual, beautiful humans (and a few really ugly ones, too—and I don't mean aesthetically). The return to this location after a long absence is welcome. Even though this Tarzan movie is a basic rescue film, with mid-level CGI and a “tired of us yet” cast, including Christopher Waltz as the villain and Margot Robbie as the damsel-in-distress (no matter how many times the film tries to tell you she's not one, though at least, for once, she's not objectified), it's shot well, and the story is coherent, unlike that travesty I just watched before this. A coherent film can set up its conflict in less than 90-minutes, and this one does it in 15. The Legend of Tarzan also does a good job explaining Tarzan's origin and who he is now without making the film into an origin story. It's a Tarzan story, but you can enjoy it whether you're a fan, know anything beforehand about Tarzan, or think Tarzan is a weird name that you've never heard before. I enjoyed it, even if it is just an inconsequential bit of fun. It's also kind of strange to just get a random Tarzan film when Tarzan hasn't been around for a while. Actually, now that I think about it, it makes sense: chiseled male lead who hardly wears a shirt...female lead who always keeps her's on...focus on romance storyline between the two...actual character development (Samuel L Jackson is somehow in this movie, too, and he has a solid arc)...shot at the end that shows how the romantic leads finally do decide to try again at that thing that didn't go so well the last time... and a gentle pace? This is one of those based-on-an-old-property date-movie action films! Like Zorro in the 90's! I didn't know they made these anymore! I should have watched this one with my wife. I give The Legend of Tarzan a 6/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives The Legend of Tarzan a 36%. Maybe, after the video game demo Batman v Superman, I just appreciated watching an actual movie.

Running just barely on schedule, I make easy mac and pop open a can of pringles and a Mountain Dew while Suicide Squad's Blu Ray loads.

Suicide Squad
Man, I'm starting to think that DC hates their own properties. First Man of Steel makes Batman Begins look like Citizen Kane. Then DC decides, for some reason, to just hand their whole thing off to the guy who made Man of Steel. Then that guy made the unbelievably bad Batman v Superman. Then they took an easy grand slam idea of putting all of their B-villains together for a quirky, fast, and fun adventure, cast it perfectly, and then they hired David Ayer to make this steaming pile of crap. I'll give Suicide Squad this: at least it's actually fun at points. Suicide Squad goes for that “introduce a bunch of characters to popular songs, then keep introducing scenes the same way” vibe (think Forest Gump). That carries it for a little while, but then the plot falls apart, the scenes themselves aren't as good as they should be, characters get scattered cool moments together when they should be getting them the whole time, and then the ending goes into slo-motion for a killing object flying toward the bad guy for seemingly 20-minutes. This movie could have been a cult classic for the ages, full of style and memorable scenes. Instead, the only thing that sticks from this film is the super cool, trippy neon color-swirl artwork from the posters (and opening logo and credits). Oh, yeah, and the complete Margot Robbie hypersexualization picks right back up. Tarzan let her keep her clothes on (even her love-scene and the aftermath with Tarzan just shows some tasteful shoulder), but in Suicide Squad, it's a crop-top and panties for her for the majority of the film. Maybe it's Martin Scorsese's fault. I give Suicide Squad a 4/10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Suicide Squad a 26%. Keep aiming high, DC!

I make more popcorn, lock up the dog because she's acting weird, and throw on my final movie, with just enough time left on the clock.

Jason Bourne
Out of all four films, the one I was least looking forward to was Jason Bourne. It just looked like a quick re-hash cash-in by filmmakers and a studio who needed money. The Bourne trilogy ended satisfactorily nearly a decade ago—why continue his story? Plus, a reboot from a few years ago failed. Plus, the reviews seemed mediocre, and the film had zero buzz...but then I actually watched it. 
Holy crap! If you like the other three Bourne movies, you have to watch this one (NOTE: THE JEREMY RENNER ONE DOESN'T COUNT! nooffensejeremyrener). It's got a closing car chase that just might be the best of the entire series (which is saying a lot), a destruction derby for the ages. The closing fight, and the film's other action sequences are great, as well. As for plot, Jason Bourne tries to incorporate current cultural events, and even though it's still a general “old white dudes at the CIA are evil” storyline, it cracks along nicely enough, and never gets in the way. Bourne, now grizzled and wearing down, gets a little more character background, stuff splodes, and Paul Greengrass shows how, with great editing, quick cuts can actually be used to show the grace of motion. After Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, I thought we'd be in for more awesome action films with real stunts; visceral films that didn't have to lean on CGI. Instead, films like the three above this one(particularly the first and third), where nothing is real, and nothing feels like it has any weight or substance, have filled the cineplexes. Jason Bourne reminds me that this franchise (along with, surprisingly, the Fast and the Furious franchise) has been keeping practical stunts alive in the CGI wilderness. A real police SWAT car smashing through five dozen real cars, or a CGI Superman smashing through five dozen CGI cars? I'll take the real thing every time. I give jason Bourne an 8/10.
Jason Bourne only got 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Reading over a few negative reviews, it doesn't look like any of those reviewers actually watched the film--they get simple plot points incorrect, and neglect to mention any of the standout scenes. Film criticism is all a crock, except for on The Nicsperiment, of course. Also, 56% is the highest Rotten Tomatoes aggregate review of any of the movies I watched today. HOLY CRAP, MOVIES SUCK NOW!!!

BONUS OBSERVATION: In recent years, I've been very saddened by the lack of memorable music scores in action films. Outside of Star Wars, few have had any memorable cues of which to speak. Not one Marvel film score outside of the first couple of X-Men has even registered. Fury Road again got my hopes up for iconic music making a return to film. With these four films, Tarzan and Suicide Squad feature pretty forgettable orchestrations. However, I have to go against the grain and say that I love Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL(of Mad Max)'s Superman theme. It has received a lot of flack for paling in the face of John Williams' legendary Superman music from the 70's (and I love that music!), but I like that they tried to do something different. Their ambient, minimalist, yet powerful theme stirs my emotions, even though nothing that's actually on the screen is making an impact. Also, John Powell's Bourne music is as resonant as ever, even ten years since the last one. It still gets my blood pumping. Or maybe that's the eight pounds of popcorn I just ate. Good day.


Crystal Loup said...

Yes, you should have watched that with your wife.

Neal said...

Nicholas, were you watching movies your significant other also wanted to watch? Tsk, tsk.


I agree with you on the scores for the Marvel films. Though another reason Doctor Strange was kind of a breath of fresh air for those (besides its visuals) was the music. Michael Giacchino added a nice flavor to those which was pretty good. Not necessarily the most memorable of his work (I'd have to see it again to say better), but it did add to the film.

We may have to give this Bourne movie a try. I think I saw commercials for it and thought it seemed a lame "we need another Bourne!1!!" after the first three wrapped themselves up so well. If nothing else, it sounds like it could be a fun diversion.

I didn't hate Man of Steel as much as some did, but this one I have no desire to watch, whatsoever. Wonder Woman's standalone and the Justice League movie have decent trailers, at least, but we'll see if they hold up. I kind of hope they do, since the DC movies have been so sad for the most part. Even if I prefer most of Marvel's characters, there are still fun ones in the DC universe. :(

Nicholas said...

I still need to see Doctor Strange. I love Giacchino (I saw him conduct live last year!).
Hey, at least Logan is coming up (and by early reviews it should satisfy!)! ... !

Neal said...

Yeah, I really liked one trailer I saw for it (not sure which it was) and hope it will live up to that promise. Before IMDB removed its troll-ridden forums, I saw one person complaining that it looked all emo with only a couple good fights. Apparently they just want a Wolverine that growls and slashes things?

I still need to check out The Wolverine... I'm way behind on movies because we keep binge-watching TV shows these days.

As for Dr. Strange, I just remember Jessica commenting during the credits that the music felt atmospheric and reflected the film's setting well, which I agree with.