Tag Archives: summer blockbuster

The Expendables 3 (2014)

Going Through the Motions

(image: moviesnet.nl)

When the original Expendables hit theaters back in 2010, the promise of aging action stars trundling out of their wheelchairs for one more run at relevance was deliciously inviting. My friend and I saw it, hated it and loved it. The acting was terrible, the script was pure corn and by the time the 150th explosion rocked our ears, we had enough. But it was still fun. In fact, we ended up laughing so hard at the movie, it became our favorite comedy of the year. Given the good time, it probably deserved a bit better than my 40% score.

Two years later, Expendables 2 was released and on the back of the blast we had poking fun at number one, we had to see the sequel. To our surprise, it did everything better than the original. The action scenes had well-crafted insanity, the team seemed more cohesive and everything was played with a knowing wink. The franchise had settled into a groove and, like the best Robert Rodriguez movies, knew what it was and played off of those strengths. That said, it still wasn’t good by any stretch and probably deserved less than my 70% score.

After my screening of the third film in the franchise, I’m confident my rating will not waver over time. The Expendables 3 chooses to tread water instead of building on the fun of the previous movie. The result is a noisy bore fest better left to the bargain bin.

Usually I tie an actor to their character but since nobody cares about series canon, I’ll refer to them by their real world names. At the outset we find Sylvester Stallone leading what’s left of the mercenary crew from Part Two on a rescue operation. Their target is Wesley Snipes, one of the original members of the Expendables team. After springing Snipes from a hurtling train, they get a new mission from CIA agent Harrison Ford. Their target is a mysterious arms dealer bent on world domination. But after the mission goes south, the team discovers the dealer is none other than Mel Gibson who looks to be “back from the dead.” Fearing the task is guaranteed suicide, Stallone dismisses his aging colleagues and recruits a brand new team of young bloods to go after the maniacal madman.

The biggest flaw is in the last sentence of the synopsis. The charm of the series has always been watching classic action heroes duke it out amongst a barrage of bullets and bombs. After two movies worth of team development, the original cast is thrown aside for a crew of no-names. While I’m sure this was done for practical reasons (seriously, how long can Terry Crews fire a Gatling gun), the core source of the campy fun is tossed away, reducing the movie to another generic action flick. The script “fixes the situation” towards the end, but by then it’s too late.

Wesley Snipes does his best to wake up Jason Statham and Sly Stallone in The Expendables 3. (image: torrentfreak.com)

While the kids never jell as a team or provide any reason to remember their names, the old guard doesn’t do much better. Aside from some fun moments between Stallone and Kelsey Grammer and the wasted potential of Wesley Snipes, the bulk of the team simply goes through the motions. Jason Statham deserves a better script, Mel Gibson is average given his importance to the story and Antonio Banderas provides the most annoying comic relief since Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element.

Much like the geriatric cast, the action feels tired and un-inspired. From the opening freight train gone wild to the final assault on a makeshift military headquarters, everything blurs together. While I’m aware this isn’t Saving Private Ryan, the leaps of faith Expendables 3 takes to hammer in the action goes beyond suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t want you to lose yourself in the fun. It wants you to not pay attention to the atrocious story.

Everything else falls flat. Corny references to better action movies sink like stones, the numerous quiet moments have an Ambien effect and the movie finishes off in a predictable, consequence free manner. When Arnold Schwarzenegger is forced to make three “get to the chopper” references in the space of 15 minutes, you know somebody, somewhere has given up.

Like an old factory worker putting in his time until his pension kicks in, The Expendables 3 simply punches the clock, does the basics and heads home to watch late night TV. The series was never “good” but unlike Transformers, they were at least made with a goal in mind. As throwbacks to the wild old days of 80’s action excess, they at least had a purpose. With bland direction, boring new faces and a stillborn feeling of age and fatigue, The Expendables 3 marks a new low point for a franchise used to poking fun at the barrel floor. Not even sarcastic laughs and a little too much booze would make this an enjoyable experience.

Score: 3.5 out of 10

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Damn Awesome Apes

Andy Serkis looks less than pleased as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (image: moviepilot.com)

Andy Serkis looks less than pleased as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (image: moviepilot.com)

Allow me to admit to a film fan faux pas. I used to dismiss the original Planet of the Apes as cheesy camp. But can you blame me? The corny costuming, the silly premise, an over the top Charlton Heston. It’s an easy movie for the unaware to dismiss. Now I know better. The 1968 sci-fi classic blew audience’s minds when it first hit theaters. It’s a surprisingly sharp social commentary wrapped in an imaginative world of apes, humans and our natural connection between the two.

Fast forward 25 years to a modern reboot and while the original James Franco movie was good fun, the sequel has matched the excellence of the original. A breathtaking combination of action, social revelations and an award worthy performance by Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the must see movie in a sea of quality 2014 offerings.

Taking place 10 years after the events of Rise, humanity has been all but eradicated by the simian flu. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nation of intelligent apes have built a sprawling society founded on the concepts of unity and strength. When Serkis first played Caesar in Rise, there was a strong campaign amongst fans for an Oscar nomination. Back then, I didn’t agree but Dawn is a monkey of a different color. The goal for any actor is to connect with his fellow cast mates and Serkis’ emotive eyes and patient work supersedes any computer aided magic or technical wizardry. His entire performance is controlled whether he’s leading a charge or cradling a newborn in his arms. Serkis more than deserves a Best Actor nomination come January. To deny him would be a crime.

Caesar and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) share a moment.  Awww...aint that adorable!

Caesar and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) share a moment. Awww…aint that adorable!

Since humans haven’t been seen in almost decade, things become tense when a group of them discover the simian society. A colony of survivors have been living nearby for years but without the use of a hydroelectric plant, situated in the heart of ape territory, they won’t last much longer. Clan leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants to eradicate the apes but Malcolm (Jason Clarke) asks for three days to work out a deal. A refreshing shift from the standard man versus beast setup, each faction is fighting for their own survival. Since the narrative drive focuses on staying alive rather than fighting for power, it blurs the line between good and evil. In fact, the story is almost Shakespearian, with backstabbing and in fighting on both sides of the evolutionary tree.

When Rise was released, I thought the human actors were outdone by their CGI counterparts and while the apes still win on the acting front, the homo-sapiens do a much better job. Stereotypes like the anti-ape trouble maker, the cowering love interest (Keri Russell) and an over the top Oldman are prevalent, but the actors keep things believable with solid work. There are also a few silly plot holes that stretch your suspension of disbelief but not enough to ruin the experience.

And of course there’s a good amount of action, which is handled almost flawlessly. At first I thought apes with guns would cause Dawn to jump the shark, but it actually makes sense given the plot’s framework. Some exceptional shot direction enhances the experience, my favorite being a moment where an ape takes over a tank turret. Rather than focusing on the carnage he creates, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) positions the camera at a fixed point behind him. As the turret turns, we see the growing sense of power from the attacking ape as opposed to the carnage he’s creating. Smart decisions and flourishes separate Dawn from your standard action fare.

Hollywood blockbusters are not supposed to be this good. When the summer season rolls out its usual roster of superheroes, rom-coms and fratboy / teenage comedies, we don’t expect much. Summer 2014 has been an entirely different animal and the sequel to the 2011 original continues what’s shaping up to be the best summer in recent memory. With an award worthy performance by Andy “Golem” Serkis, engaging action and a story worthy of the 1968 classic, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a film going experience that will satisfy fans of every type and tradition. Charlton Heston would be proud.

Score: 9 out of 10

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

More Than Meets the…BANG, ZAP, POW!

Don’t see this movie! Megatron commands you! (image: http://crabscorner.blogspot.com)

Put away the pitchforks, extinguish the torches, call off the rabid dogs. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t the death knell of cinema my fellow critics are claiming it is. Like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Michael Bay’s opus of noise, clanging metal and eye scorching visual effects is an easy target. Always has been, always will be. But after my first experience with a franchise pulled straight from my childhood, I ask the above question. It may be loud, crass, poorly written and full of brain bending nonsense but let’s be honest. What did anybody reasonably expect? Perhaps a result of dismally low expectations, Age of Extinction stinks pretty bad but it’s not the rancid pile of dog meat the world has made it out to be. Barely.

The story is a muddled mess but here goes. Inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), while scrounging around in an abandoned movie theater, discovers and salvages a dilapidated truck (don’t ask). Wahlberg, after doing some amateur mechanical work, fixes and discovers it’s none other than Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots from the Battle of Chicago. Meanwhile, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a Steve Jobs style media mogul, has perfected the manipulation of “transformium”, the material our Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots are made of. With the help of CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and the evil mercenary Lockdown, the remaining Transformers become hunted for their raw material. But when a mysterious device known as The Seed becomes the target, the fate of the planet hangs in the balance.

Off the bat, let’s make one thing clear. Transformers isn’t a movie. It’s a product, a cinematic pop song designed to be digested quickly and forgotten about moments later. It’s a commercial for Budweiser and Beats Audio, complete with horrible product placement and a Twitter feed of constant sensory distractions. We’re not supposed to enjoy the movie. We’re supposed to absorb it and everything it’s selling. Let it jack up our blood sugar and take us on a mind numbing ride and in that sense, it succeeds. Like a great Superbowl advert or a Katy Perry concert, Age of Extinction only cares about distracting you enough to pull in your dollar and provoke you to spend more. It’s a movie screen car salesman.

Jack Reynor and Mark Wahlberg sneak around an alien ship in Transformers: Age of Extinction (image: http://www.grantland.com)

But that doesn’t mean it has to be this confusing and convoluted. The story of Transformers is a pot luck of pieces that never jells into anything tasty. Without going into a film school discussion on the concept of tone, the movie has no idea of what it wants to be. One minute it’s a family drama, the next it’s a buddy cop car chase flick and further on, it becomes science fiction, complete with spaceships and aliens. If movies are car trips, Transformers is like riding in the back seat of a crazed NYC cabbie dipping in and out of downtown traffic. Simply put, it doesn’t need to be this twisty turny or attempt to appeal to everybody at once.

All of the above is held together by mind numbing action. About half of Transformer’s massive three hour run time involves car chases, fighting robots and crumbling buildings and for the most part, the effects look great. In particular, the practical effects, a hallmark of old school Michael Bay, are very effective and add some realism to the CGI madness. There’s just too much of them. The final thirty minutes is a constant drone of bullets and fiery explosions that normal brains simply can’t handle. Thanks to a terrible script and non-existent character development, it’s impossible to care about the carnage, turning the wonderfully created computer whiz-bangs into nothing more than shiny distractions. The film is literally exhausting to sit through.

All that said, this isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen all year thanks to a surprisingly solid cast. With the exception of Nicola Peltz, who has little to do but scream and wear short shorts as Wahlberg’s daughter, they make the best out of a bad situation. Mark Wahlberg is completely serviceable (if unbelievable) as the broke inventor, Stanley Tucci is over the top but entertaining and Jack Reynor surprises as Shane, the love interest of doctor Cage’s daughter. The cast is let down by cliché ridden script, but at least none of them mail it in. There are also a few well constructed and paced action set pieces, including a great bit where cars, trucks and tanker ships fall from the heavens to crush our “who cares” heroes.

Optimus Prime hurts my eyes. Too much for a frontal lobe to process. (image: http://www.tfw2005.com)

The saddest bit, however, are the robots themselves. Born from the nostalgic ridden 80’s cartoon, these CGI’ed monsters are caricatures of better, more interesting characters. While much of the problem lies in the stale archetypes, the filmmakers tried to make them too human. With faces made of metal, the Transformers have a thousand flexing plates to express emotion but without the elasticity of skin, they look creepy and strange. I’d site specific examples, but I have no idea who was named what or what their role was in the story. Not even a Wikipedia search helped. Giant, hulking and generic, the characters you’re supposed to root for and care about are as distinctive as a highway McDonalds. It saddens my inner child to see the once awesome Optimus Prime reduced to a “rally the troops” ball of corn.

But, in the end, what did anybody really expect? A hulking monstrosity of a movie franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t about being subtle, engaging or even entertaining. It’s about throwing gallons of spine melting action in your face, tying it together with a threadbare story and hoping you walk away tired and thirsty for a cold Bud Light. Thanks to a cast that cared and some very impressive visual hootenanny, it’s not the worst movie of the year but given the spread of above average action flicks released this summer, it’s easily worth avoiding at all costs. Unless you enjoy screaming through Manhattan traffic in a beat up cab while the back seat TV plays a commercial for Subway sandwiches. If that’s your bag, then feel free to give this a spin.

Score: 4 out of 10

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise regains his action star form in Edge of Tomorrow, one of the most completely satisfying flicks of 2014.  And yes, I’m aware I said that about Godzilla a few posts down.  It’s just been a very solid summer!  Click the image of bad ass Emily Blunt below to give it a read!