Tag Archives: action

Way late review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

What was Brad Bird (director of cartoon magic like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille) thinking when he grabbed the reins of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol? For all its star power and name recognition, Mission Impossible is often just what its title says. I am stunned that Bird did what others could not and that is making a fun, action packed film that never gets bogged down in convoluted plots or contrived devices driven from its TV heritage.

Tom Cruise returns as the IMF super-agent, Ethan Hunt. The opening sequences of the movie set the tone immediately with an action packed Russian prison break. The lighthearted approach is made clear when Hunt’s IMF techno whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) tries to guide Hunt through the prison’s labyrinth by opening all the right doors. Problem is Hunt wants to break someone else out of prison and stubbornly waits at a security camera Dunn has control over until Dunn relents and opens the door so Hunt can go through a massive group of bad guys who are ready to pounce on anyone for no particular reason than they are bad guys.

The plot is not all that important in the movie and that is a strength. It is only important in that it doesn’t make one question the plausibility of every decision made on screen, because the plausibility factor suffers greatly if one ponders for more than a second about the action that takes place. The action is key, with fantastic set pieces and inventive spy gadgets. Whether it’s the cool gimmick used to infiltrate the Kremlin, the breathtaking scaling of the Dubai hotel, or the use of a high tech parking garage for a showdown, it all works. The only missteps are in between the Dubai and India action and the lack of a compelling villain. The lulls in the action are noticeable and the attempts to build stronger characters fall flat. The lack of a villain with much life is forgivable, as the threat of nuclear war is sufficient in generating enough suspense.

Ghost Protocol never pretends to be what it isn’t. Those looking for thought provoking cinema or even character development are sure to be let down. This is an action film that has fun being that and nothing more.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

Way late review: Thor

If you had told me at the beginning of 2011 that, of the latest batch of superhero movies coming out in the summer, Thor would be the one I enjoyed the most I would have laughed. There is nothing about Thor as a character that interests me. He’s absurd to me, even by superhero standards. And the trailers for the movie seemed even more absurd. It seemed like it was taking itself so seriously. Thankfully I was wrong – for the most part.

The details behind the story of Thor are not all that important. There’s quite a twist of characters and subplots in the world of Asgard. None of them matter that much. The key was that the early scenes in Asgard were OK. Yes, they tended to go a bit overboard with the manufactured drama but none of it was overdrawn. The overall plot moved forward fast enough where we eventually we see Thor thrown down to earth as a mere man.

I enjoyed the fun natured take of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on earth. I liked Hemsworth’s character and had a fun time watching him interact in the foreign land Thor found himself in on Earth. The good natured back and forth between Thor and his friends on earth, including Natalie Portman, kept things light and entertaining. It had a bit of a Superman 3 movie feel to it at times, complete with attempts at slapstick humor.

I’d normally complain about the lack of a good villain, which Thor is guilty of, but there was too much fun to be had throughout. And that’s not even to mention Marvel’s obsession with making all these movies feed into The Avengers. With that said, I enjoyed the movie for what it was – a fun ride that never confuses itself for more than that.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.


Way late review: X-Men: First Class

OK, I get it. Reboots are hip. Retelling superhero origin stories is popular Hollywood sport. I think I’m burnt out already and this is before we get a Spiderman reboot next year. Wait, weren’t there Spiderman and X-Men series out in the past ten years? Sigh. I digress. X-Men: First Class is a reboot. We have the retelling of the origin story. The biggest difference this time around is it’s set in the 60’s and starts with younger versions of the X-Men.

Beast

Thundercats Hoooo!

I love the look of X-Men: First Class overall. The costumes are spot on, aside from Beast, who looks like a Thundercat raised in Fraggle Rock. The aesthetics were 60’s all the way, which made for a more compelling setting to watch a superhero origin story take place. Unfortunately, it’s an origin story for X-Men, a gang of characters that aren’t terribly interesting. The idea of X-Men, mutants, some of whom have great powers, living in our world is more intriguing than the X-Men themselves. And since there are numerous characters in the bunch, the time spent on any one is short, making it difficult to connect to any one of them.

Much like Captain America: The First Avenger, we have another wasted opportunity of superheros interacting with real history. We get a convoluted plot involving a former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is responsible for the escalation of the Cuban missile crisis. Bacon plays a decent bad guy but that doesn’t change the fact that his character seems totally unnecessary.

The rest of the X-Men cast is solid, though limited by the screenplay and a general shallowness of the characters themselves. Each back story feels like a retread being told only to move us to the major conflict. The most fun I had was watching the X-Men come together to train and harness each of their individual powers. After that comes the obligatory big last battle and the tease for the follow up movie.

Another ho-hum 2011 superhero movie. Sigh.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.


Way late review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Superhero movies are all the rage. At least they were during the summer of 2011. When I saw the superhero movie lineup before the summer began, I was most interested in Captain America: The First Avenger. One, it wasn’t a remake/reboot. Two, it was set in the past, World War II. Seeing a superhero’s story told within the context of a real historical setting was different. Learning how a superhero helped make history rather than exist in his own version of a world like ours was an exciting proposition for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the comic book superhero movies. Tim Burton’s Batman, Spiderman 1 & 2, Superman 1,2,3 are all movies that I enjoyed and each existed in its own version of reality, a comic book world. But, that’s been done and done well. Then we have films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, which is grittier yet still set in its own world. A darker world, sure, but still not close to the one you and I live in. There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches. But both have been done and I was looking forward to Captain America doing something different by living in and impacting a real period of time. A superhero period piece of sorts.

Maybe my expectations were wrong and that set me up for disappointment. Captain America is a rather generic superhero movie set in WWII but ignoring much of the historical significance. Apparently Nazis and the fate of the world at stake weren’t good enough. Captain America creates a replacement for Hitler in Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who captures a mysterious glowing cube. The cube is supernatural and leads to the transformation of Weaving from a Nazi to the ultra strong Red Skull. Think Darth Maul minus the lightsaber. Red Skull creates super weapons based on the cube’s power. These weapons don’t just kill people, they make them explode and disappear at impact. With a comic book villain and weapons from a galaxy far, far away in place, we have the creation of HYDRA. Goodbye Nazis, hello HYDRA.

Meanwhile the US knows about HYDRA and has a refugee German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who is working on a super soldier program of his own. Dr. Erskine runs into the future Captain America, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). He discovers that the puny Rogers has attempted to join the armed forces numerous times, even going so far as to lie on his applications. Dr. Erksine decides that Rogers is the right man for his super soldier experiment. Rogers goes to training camp, shows a lot of heart but little physical prowess. Throw Rudy into WWII era basic training and you’ve got the idea. Dr. Erksine finally runs the experiment on Rogers, which transforms Rogers into a tall muscular man capable of superhuman tricks. The experiment appears to be a success and this should lead to an army of new soldiers for the US Army, but a HYDRA operative steals the special sauce and kills Dr. Erksine.

Instead of using Rogers in the fight against the Nazis, oops, HYDRA, the US government uses him as propaganda for pushing the sale of war bonds. He’s Captain America, complete with the costume and shield. That goes on for a while until Rogers takes his act on the road for the troops where he is promptly laughed off the stage. This upsets Rogers and gets him in the mood to use his powers for more than just selling government backed paper. Once he learns that his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), has gone missing behind enemy lines, he takes matters into his own hands and has Iron Man’s dad fly him to HYDRA headquarters. From there Captain America the superhero is born. We see him use his powers as he rescues a large group of soldiers, including Bucky, from Red Skull’s labyrinth.

The story goes on from there and ultimately leads to where all modern day Marvel movies lead, the birth of The Avengers. The details aren’t all that important. Some not so spectacular action sequences take place and we get to the end of the movie. WWII is ultimately rendered unimportant. What we’re left with is a solid origin story followed up by a lackluster retelling of one of the most exciting and dangerous times in (modern) world history.

While this probably makes it seem like I hated Captain America, I didn’t. I enjoyed Chris Evans’ performance throughout the film. I liked his budding relationship with Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine. I even enjoyed seeing how Captain America went from mere propaganda to full blown superhero. The problem became the unnecessary invention of a villain (as if Hitler wasn’t evil enough), a silly magical cube that powers unreal weapons and the wasted opportunity of WWII as a setting. The second half of the movie was only somewhat entertaining as a result and felt like it was only there to fast forward us to next summer’s big event, The Avengers. I can’t say I’m all that excited.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.


Way late review: Hanna

Hanna is part Bourne, part modern day fairy tale. It is more interested in sights, sounds, and odd characters than intricate plot development. The narrative holds together just as long as you don’t spend too much time thinking about the details.

Straight from the movie synopsis: Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenager raised and trained by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative, to become a highly skilled assassin. But when she’s sent on a deadly mission across Europe, Hanna takes to an English family and starts longing for a normal life.

The fairy tale elements of Hanna are important, as we have characters on the screen who make no sense otherwise. Take Cate Blanchett playing the role of the wicked witch…errr…Marissa, a CIA official. Then there is Marissa’s chosen henchman, Isaacs (Tom Hollander), sporting a 70’s track suit, slick backed blond hair and playing the part of the wolf. Isaacs even yells out from his car, “Run little piggy!” as he hunts down Hanna’s father. The final act of the movie is set in a run down Brothers Grimm theme park. If the veiled hints and references to a fairy tale were missed before, it’s hard to ignore by the last scenes of the movie.

Unlike modern day fairy tales told in cute animated flicks, Hanna never loses its grit or grasp of reality. Even while the Chemical Brothers soundtrack pumps noisy electronic tunes and the cinematography flashes (literally at times) with colorful action set pieces. The actors never break out of their character, which keeps the near perfect tone throughout. Those who need to be over the top (Blanchett and Hollander) are and those who need to be less so are just that (Ronan and Bana). There is never a sense of anyone ironically winking at the camera. The action is real and so are the stakes, even when the characters do seem straight out of the pages of children’s tales written long ago.

Hanna was entertaining throughout, avoiding the temptation to add unwieldy plot twists and characters (I’m looking at you Harry Potter). The tone of the film hit me just right. The experimentation within the action genre was a great success. While not a fan of sequels in general, I wouldn’t mind seeing Hanna 2.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.