Friday, June 02, 2006

X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND

Why we fight?

Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman,
Halle Berry, Sir Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen

Tagline: Take a Stand

Much flack has been launched at large target Vinnie Jones, for his turn in X3 as the Professor’s rough and tumble brother Juggernaut. He may be hammily reprising the same character from Swordfish, Eurotrip and She’s The Man, a version of the role that made him famous in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, only watered down into Wolf from Gladiators, but think about it: precisely who is equipped for a part requiring a giant metal helmet, a computer-imposed muscle body and dialogue ranging from ‘I need a pee’ to ‘I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!’? Yet more grievances have been saved for infamous director Brett ‘Man, he ain’t gonna be in X-Men 4’ Ratner, but again, look at what he’s up against. To his credit, he manages to steer the franchise to a conclusion reminiscent of Revenge of the Sith, in that while thrilling on at least the first viewing, there isn’t much to really praise.

In the correct hands (i.e. the Marvel equivalent to those who penned Justice League Unlimited) Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Phoenix, Rogue, Beast, Mystique, Iceman, Pyro, Juggernaut, Angel, Callisto, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Multiple Man, Jubilee, Flea, Siryn, Leech, Kid Omega, Arclight, Psylocke, Lizard Man, Spike, Toad, Glob Herman and many more wouldn’t live up to the oft-repeated ‘too many mutants’ claim, but instead almost half of the dialogue is wasted in an unambitious attempt to signpost who each character is (powers not personalities). If only the writers had realised that nearly every mutant’s power can be explained visually, they could have saved twenty minutes, enough to write a developed love triangle story for Rogue, Kitty and Bobby (if you like, I’m not that fussed). Those given more attention, likely the stroppiest actors, end up feeling unsettling and in the way of the plot. Take Wolverine, as he’s getting his own pic soon; the comics and cartoons about him involve him getting into scraps, settling old rivalries, enduring brutal psychological torture and generally misbehaving like James Dean. Then and only then is he in a position to do something out of character like feeling sorry for a cute girl, being licked by a kitty (kitty, not Kitty) or saying something to remind you he’s the funniest mutant in the room. Hugh Jackman is out of character all the time here, enfeebled on his knees four times and emasculated so much that you actually start to ask yourself if he had more hair in the previous film. The only exception is Beast, brilliantly cast and splendidly played.

A flaw of the whole trilogy and of nearly all other Marvel blockbusters (and many other blockbusters like The Fifth Element, Mystery Men and a couple of Superman’s) is the dependence on a certain type of cinematic ending, sometimes called the ‘A Giant Alien Force More Violent and Sick Than Anything You Can Imagine Ending’, whereby in an orgy of sexual grunts and state of the art light effects, sodding huge waves of molten, burning, Dolby 5.1 whooshing, clothes-vaporising, Ark-of-the-Covenant-y energy come soaring out of something, endangering everyone’s well-being. The only way to stop this apocalyptic firework show is to become (or die like) a man, a timid cop-out, both because we know it’ll go away and because character development crammed into one of these endings is lazy, lazy stuff. It can work in a comic, but it’s very, very rare to get it right onscreen.

Oh, and the Stan Lee cameo is far too early on.

PS- For those of you who haven’t seen it, stay for the end to hear more from your favourite character in the trilogy in a scene guaranteed to elicit thunderous cusses from everyone in the cinema.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3

Jumps everything but the couch

Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michele Monaghan, Ving Rhames

Tagline: The
Mission Begins 05/05/06

How many times has a girl connected with Tom Cruise been asked for a rather large favour? More to the point, has it ever been put as eloquently as this:

‘I need to ask you for something… incredible’

A few crafty meetings between this film and the bizarre life of its star have made it a lot more of a curiosity than its predecessors. As Ethan Hunt struggles with people who believe his marriage is a poor idea, a girlfriend/fiancée/wife who needs to accept that she will never truly understand his life and the increasingly plausible rumour that he has gone insane, he has to genuinely appear to be contemplating his escape route at all times. It works: Cruise may be the centre of this title, but he doesn’t look like a colon. His action sequences are brilliantly simple, even if seven or eight voices are going back and forth over the top of most of them and a lot of fat has been trimmed from the plot too. The majority of the excitement surrounding this film comes from the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is great, able both to sell his supervillainous dialogue (“Who are you? What's you're name? Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm gonna find her. I'm gonna hurt her. I'm gonna make her bleed. And then I'm gonna find you, and kill you right in front of her.”) and to make the scenes between him and Cruise feel like a dialogue, something almost no-one else can manage (the disconnect between Tom and other actors is exploited to great advantage throughout, most notably with the appearance of Simon Pegg, in a part written for Ricky Gervais, creating the illusion that he was edited into the film for laughs), but it turns out that Ethan Hunt is the only one given much attention, a successful gamble. Elsewhere certain attempts at jokes fall flat and, women pretty much exist to suffer and there is the odd unbelievable switcharoo, but fun will be had. He might even be in on it.

THE DA VINCI CODE

A Barn Endows Lip Pin 

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellen, Jean Reno

Tagline: Seek the Truth

(Didn’t read it, unless you count a smidge of the audiobook)

It’s common enough to compare a summer blockbuster to a videogame, even moreso when it has a videogame adaptation released simultaneously. Lengthy CGI battle scenes you wish you could participate in, predictable endings, overly simplistic dialogue, legions of disposable henchmen, that sort of thing. Rarely however does the term merit use when discussing a novel adaptation, psychological thriller or anything that inspires cheap companion pieces into existence on the History Channel. Flashbacks to holy warfare might look like cutscenes, Hans Zimmer’s score may be almost identical to Jeremy Soule’s score for RPG Elder Scrolls IV and Paul Bettany’s Silas, the becowled albino flagellator might look like a Speaker for the Dark Brotherhood, but the sense of weightless linearity extends to the entire ethos of the movie: travel, exposition, mild peril/fleeing, repeat ten times, credits. Somehow the game is also shoddy:

http://ps2media.ign.com/ps2/image/article/709/709677/the-da-vinci-code-20060523003557091-000.jpg

Halfway through this film, I received a text message instructing me to imagine Sir Ian McKellen shitting into the mouth of his co-star Tom Hanks, the cruel revenge of the girl I didn’t get drunk with in favour of watching this horrible film. And it made me think. How do I get that into a review?

The issue is digestion. It took years for people to figure out that film could be anything other than low art, thanks to the studio’s reliance on a system of imagination-free adaptation between media. Don’t change a thing, save for what interferes with time and money and you will retain maximum fidelity to a source, maximum truthfulness. This hokum prevails no longer, most people know you’ll just get dung out of food. The current problem is how unimaginative the adaptors are. The makers of The Da Vinci Code videogame for instance, have pieced together the fighting using the tacky minigame mechanics from God of War (this time applied to multiple-monk punchups), the cryptology and symbology is reduced to the object-based jigsaw puzzling of the old point and clicks (only with none of the wit) and predictably, the whole sloppy game has been stuck in the lifeless third-person dynamic of most shit Playstation games. Such vomit is created by the ingestion of droppings from a stooly film made under the advice of people who still don’t get that ‘change nothing’ isn’t a viable option, combined with the pressure to appeal to as much of the book and Ron Howard’s audience base (Americans, then everyone else) as possible. This onscreen fecal matter in turn begins by lapping up a book which chews at the already soggy whip of Indiana Jones, the spoor-bucket of the History Channel (again) and of course, Holy Blood, Holy Grail a history book so grounded in factual truth that its writers sued Dan Brown for ripping off their intellectual property. In short, too many shitty cooks have made poo out of excrement out of bum solids and it has ended up boke at every turn. Now try having a debate about its factuality.