Way late review: The Dark Knight Rises

Some films demand a grandiose treatment. After The Dark Knight, it is only fitting that Cristopher Nolan indulge in making The Dark Knight Rises a sprawling epic full of thought provoking themes supported by sometimes majestic and other times troubling sights and sounds.

Bruce Wayne is in bad shape. The billionaire and his alter ego, Batman, disappeared after taking the blame for the murder of Gotham’s beloved district attorney turned two face villain, Harvey Dent. As much as Rises is about super heroes and villains, it’s about the inner conflict of a man who has lost his sense of purpose. And, even when he believes he has that purpose back, we’re left to wonder if the purpose has turned into one last suicidal mission to save the city he loves.

The headlining villain this time around is Bane (Tom Hardy), a man who wears a mask that may have been stolen off the set of Silence of The Lambs, which makes him difficult to understand when he speaks. The voice sounds like a mix of Sean Connery and Darth Vader.  (Special thanks to my wife for that one.) There was some serious audio magic performed to make Bane more audible and clear, to the point where it was jarring to hear this booming voice coming from a muzzled mouth. Had the original voice been used (from earlier trailers) I think that and a combination of sub-titles may have been more effective, but I understand why the change was made. Having a villain with sub-titles probably wouldn’t fly with a majority of English speaking audiences. Regardless of the voice, Bane is a menacing character. The lore surrounding him is revealed over time and only adds to his puzzling motives. Whereas the Joker was the maniacal terrorist in a clown motif, Bane is the pro wrestler with a masterminded plot to destroy Gotham, but not before he has a chance to run some evil sociological experiment where he serves as the ringmaster and the people of Gotham revel in a world which punishes the rich and gives them freedom all the while crushing them.

Adding more characters to the mix is always tricky for super hero movies. Add one too many and the story bogs down with the weight of too many stories to tell and not enough time to tell them all in. Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), seemed like she would be the tipping point this time around. Instead of becoming a boat anchor, Catwoman’s story compliments that of Batman’s quite nicely. Catwoman’s arch is much like Han Solo’s in Star Wars IV. She’s a sketchy character whose desire for fortunes outweigh her desire for doing good. Both she and Batman want to be different people. She a thief who can’t get away from her life of crime even if she tries, and he a seemingly washed up crime fighter who wouldn’t mind dying if it meant a valiant effort to save the people of Gotham.

Nolan will never be accused of keeping his stories straight forward and simple. Dialogue here and in his other films is full of exposition, which is a big no-no for most. Somehow the Dark Knight director makes even plodding material interesting. Credit the constant use of an emotionally charged soundtrack for much of that. If all our lives were backed by cinema soundtracks they would instantly seem other worldly and overly dramatic. And maybe the nearly non-stop swelling music is overkill, along with a two hour and forty-five minute running time but I never once did a time check.

Commentary on modern day issues cannot be missed. The attacks on corrupt Wall Street bankers and the one percent are spread throughout much of the film. Providing some equal opportunity of a critical eye, the Occupy movement is also alluded to and, if the allusion is correct, the picture is not a pretty one. The use of laws to make organized crime a thing of the past even though they may overstep civil liberties is touched on lightly. None of it is heavy handed in a preachy manner. Nolan keeps the focus on the story while touching on various themes, some timeless and others capturing current day events.

Some will fondly recall the previous film in the trilogy as superior, with Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the Joker being the main reason. Both films are excellent and both provide numerous areas to nitpick. The Dark Knight Rises goes out with an operatic crescendo, a thrilling yet satisfying ending to a trilogy all about a man dressed as a bat.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

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Way late review: The Avengers


Comic book heroes are made for the movies and vice versa. Whether it’s the darker tones of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, the lighter comedic fare of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or something in between yet all together different like Tim Burton’s take on Batman, the caped crusaders, mutants, and wildly skilled men and women of comic books make for promising cinema fodder. So why is it when you take an ensemble of these characters, some of whom have had solo features, the results are so bland? That is the question I have after watching The Avengers. I saw it closer to its release date and again recently at home, and both times I was bored even though the premise was intriguing, the director (Joss Whedon) would seem the perfect pick, and the cast is solid.

Kicking off with exposition promises problems early on. The magical energy source, the Tesseract, first seen in Captain America is back and gets our full attention. S.H.I.E.L.D. possesses the Tesseract and is performing all sorts of experiments. Loki, Thor’s half brother, wants the Tesseract so he can summon an alien force to put the Earth under Loki’s control. So Loki portals through into the headquarters, grabs the glowing blue cube, puts some people under his control and escapes from the compound. Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Avengers are assembled as a last gasp effort to save the world.

The time spent rounding up each of our heroes feels slow and dragged out. The only highlight is when Thor shows up and gets in a tussle with Iron Man and Captain America. Otherwise, the inevitable occurs. Those with super powers come together under one roof. They then spend much of their time holding conversations which are supposed to show us the evolving team dynamics at play. None of it matters or makes much sense. Loki is captured and supposedly doesn’t mind because he’s going to trick them all by somehow harnessing the Hulk to come out and play. How Loki is involved with making this happen, how it will help his cause, and how it will play out in theory or in reality is never made clear. The part we’re supposed to latch onto is how amazing it is to see all these super heroes together for the first time in a feature length film.

Aside from the initial action sequence that follows Loki’s escape with the cube of incredible power, there are two more big action scenes. There are three acts and each one is highlighted with a battle. Unfortunately the action is mostly a big ball of blah. When anything is possible (thanks to computer animation) the danger is to do everything which in turn results in very little feeling consequential, let alone real. The setting for the second big action scene is on a flying aircraft carrier which looks interesting from afar but serves as a lame action set piece. The last showdown is in New York, and while there are some interesting shots and decent attempts at humor, the battle between the Avengers and a generic alien force falls flat. The time wasted leading up to the final act makes the almost two and a half hour runtime feel like an eternity.

None of our heroes is given room to develop. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) feels like a non-stop quip machine. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) mopes around as we’re promised he might explode into the uncontrollable (yet magically controllable later on) Hulk at any moment. Captain America (Chris Evans) should be a fish out of water but he adapts to the future so quick the opportunity is missed. Thor is Thor. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) walks around looking pretty while attempts are made to give her a bit of a back story. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is mostly absent and not missed.

A lot happens in The Avengers, yet not much of any consequence. Loki and his alien allies are placeholder villains at best. The threat they present is never all that real. Far too much time is spent between characters having conversations that neither develop character or the narrative. The end result is an ordinary film filled with characters who hold extraordinary powers. What a shame.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=” “]

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Way late review: Rambo: First Blood


Rambo is a legend. He is as much a part of American pop culture as Coca Cola and McDonalds. An ’80s icon during a time when men with muscles took on the world by themselves and won. When Rocky isn’t a big enough movie franchise one must up the ante. Drop the boxing gloves and pickup endless amounts of ammo, a gun, a knife, a homemade bandanna and start a new, more violent mythology. I know this about Rambo, yet it wasn’t until recently when I saw my first Rambo flick, Rambo: First Blood. I hesitated all these years to watch any of the Rambo films because I thought they were likely mind numbing. I was wrong, at least in regards to the first in the series.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a former Green Beret who served his time in Vietnam. He’s trying to find his what’s left of his brigade, walking through the remote parts of Washington. He discovers his last known living member is dead due to cancer he got while fighting the war. Rambo makes his way through a small town where he is immediately confronted by the sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and escorted out of town. The sheriff doesn’t like the looks of this straggly vagabond.

Sheriff Teasle: If you want some friendly advice, get a haircut and take a bath. You wouldn’t get hassled so much.

Rambo isn’t pleased and after the sheriff drops him off outside the city limits he heads back into town. Teasle sees this and confronts his new nemesis. Things don’t go well and the Vietnam vet is booked in jail. The town must be run by some of the worst policemen in the world. They harass Rambo until he snaps. One flashback too many from Nam and the belligerent officers experience John Rambo up close and personal. Our protagonist flees the jail, takes a motorbike, and the chase is on.

The pursuit of Rambo by the hard headed, fun to root against local law enforcement is non-stop action filled with interesting set pieces thanks to the mountainous terrain. Watching a green beret use all his tricks against guys who fancy themselves equals makes for a good time. Just when it seems he is out numbered with nowhere left to go, Rambo pulls another rabbit from his hat. He could easily kill anyone in the group hunting him down but he lets them live. Egos are often hard to heal. Egos the size of those belonging to Sheriff Teasle and his hapless crew are off the charts, which means an all out war breaks loose. And to think, all this started because Rocky Rambo wandered through town looking for a place to eat.

Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) enters the scene when Treasle unleashes hundreds of men on the forest in all out man hunt. Trautman created Rambo. He tells Treasle to give up. These men are no match for the war machine Trautman molded. Treasle doesn’t listen and brings some more hurt on himself and those around him. If there is any misstep in a film full of archetypes it is Trautman’s character. He is there to give Rambo a voice and grow the legend even while it plays out on the screen. His hyperbolic chatter becomes almost nauseating. We want to like Rambo but his commander almost gets in the way at certain points. The action overrules the chest thumping dialogue, even if the end provides a slightly over the top monologue. Still, after all the non-stop chasing, hunting, hand to hand combat, gun fire and explosions, a shift to the quiet moment expressing deep hurt is admirable even if it is a little heavy handed.

Watching a movie so long after the main character has been established as an icon for an era is often a recipe for disaster. First Blood surprised me. In the place of camp was pure, entertaining action. Rambo may go on and disappoint me in future films. I know the drill. I’ve seen the Rocky series. But I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, which makes me wonder why I waited so long to watch it.

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[xrr rating=4.5/5 label=” “]

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

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Way late review: The Grey


Based on how some (many?) would describe The Grey, it was all about Liam Neeson punching some wolves in the face. When did Liam Neeson become 80’s circa Sylvester Stallone? I remember him most for his roles in Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Rob Roy. Certainly it’s the 2000’s where Neeson’s name becomes associated with big action with little brains. The Grey is a little more intelligent and nuanced than his action films of late. In other words, there is more to it than awesome action set pieces and our favorite Irish tough guy bashing in the brains of monster wolves.

Some rough and tumble guys make a living drilling for oil in Alaska. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) has the honor of protecting them from wolves. He uses a rifle to pick off the predators before the canines pick off the men. The team sets off for a new job on a flight. The ride goes from rough to tragic and crashes into the Alaskan wilderness. Seven men survive only to find themselves in a new battle for their lives. They’re being hunted by a pack of wolves whose territory they’ve intruded on. To call these animals “wolves” is like calling a T-Rex “Barney”. These wolves are on the Barry Bonds training program. In fact, Barry Bonds would likely advise these wolves to lay off the PEDs.

Ottway is the leader. While most of the others either suffer from trauma or varying degrees of immaturity, Ottway rounds up the troops and provides direction. One slight problem. Ottway was only moments away from ending his own life before making this trip. He is haunted by the loss of his wife. Now, thrust in the midst of a near death experience, the wolf hunter finds himself fighting for life – his and those around him.

Jump scares are plentiful. The sounds of wolf attacks are as brutal as anything actually shown. The dire situation makes for a non-stop survival thriller. And yet, in the quieter moments the thoughts about nearing death seeps in. The quip that there are no atheists in a fox hole doesn’t play out in The Grey. We don’t get to know the men alongside Ottway all that well, but we find that most cling to what they see and experience. There are moments where faith in a creator are displayed or called into question – or both at the same time; but the bulk of the men come back clinging to the observation made in the very book most of them mock: eat, drink and be merry. Of course, there is little to be merry about while ravenous wolves track your every footstep. There is no rest for these men. Death is inevitable for all, but for these men it feels inevitably close.

More than a wilderness survival thriller, The Grey takes the sub-genre and contemplates the biggest moment in all our lives – the end. There are no answers provided, no sermons preached. The men examine what matters most to them and often come up with little. Their fight against the odds is compelling. And, yes, you get to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRWF4cepn8U[/youtube]

Way late review: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh could have made the female Bourne movie. I’m afraid Joe Wright beat him to that with 2011’s Hanna. Granted, Hanna was an adolescent girl set in a bizarre modern day fairy tale. Haywire replaces the girl with a woman MMA fighter and trades the fairy tale for mostly mundane exposition.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is on the run. It’s not clear what for exactly in the opening moments of the film but we learn quickly that someone is not happy with her being out and about. There is something different about Mallory. Within minutes she is bashing in the head of Channing Tatum as she makes a run for it out of the rural diner. She forces a young man to get in his car and give her the keys. And away they go.

During the car ride Mallory explains her predicament. She’s a special agent for a private company that does work for various government agencies. It’s not the cleanest line of work and the reward for a job well done is being setup by her boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Mallory escapes the trap with casualties trailing behind her. From that point forward the hunt is on for Mallory Kane.

What should be an action packed movie is mostly a lot of slowly paced scenes with plenty of dialogue to fill the gaps. A star studded cast fills the movie but is put to little use. Everyone seems subdued. And while some may blame Gina Carano for bringing the level of acting down several notches, she is not the problem. The entire cast is incapable of breaking free of the malaise that plagues them. Carano may be a bit of a gimmick, but no one can blame her for the lulls in the pacing, the generally out of place soundtrack, the dialogue heavy screenplay, and the ugly look of the film. Soderbergh’s style normally agrees with me. His penchant for using odd coloring is normally OK, but Haywire is flat out ugly. The colors distort an already flat looking picture. Rather than artistic, the look feels sloppy at best.

When there is action, it’s quite good. The fighting is not cut up with quick edits and annoying close ups that obscure the action. Fights are given the room to breathe, which is a rarity these days where special effects and hyperactive editing make a mess of far too many action sequences. Those scenes are entertaining and leave one wondering why there are five minutes of action followed up by three times as much filler. If only Soderbergh took his sense of fun and style with Ocean’s Eleven and mixed it with the energy of the fight scenes. Oh well.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFV0Uvzpz0o[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QteCmX15Olo[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=””]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHBnrJowBZE[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=””]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrbHykKUfTM[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=””]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY6HhoHPH7Y[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=4.5/5 label=””]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugireeCoYyU&hd=1&t=7s[/youtube]