2022 saw two very different cinematic takes on the classic story of Pinocchio: One was Guillermo del Toro’s unique stop-motion adaptation, and the other was the latest installment in Disney’s seemingly never ending live-action remakes of their animated back catalogue. While no Pinocchio adaptation will ever likely live up to Disney’s animated original, it’s somewhat ironic that between the two 2022 versions, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s film that more lives up to the Disney classic with its unique take on the material. Disney’s own remake, on the other hand, feels like it’s lifelessly going through the motions just to give Disney+ an extra piece of content.
As mentioned, Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio was another entry in their ongoing trend of live-action remakes, which have been a point of contention among Disney fans (if an animated classic is timeless, what’s the point of remaking it? Unless we’re buying into the blatant falsity that live-action somehow makes films more legitimate). To be fair, not all of Disney’s live-action remakes have been bad (the CG showcase that was 2016’s Jungle Book was a spectacle, and 2019’s Aladdin was enjoyable), but by and large these remakes feel mostly unnecessary. Sadly for Pinocchio, it proves to be the rule and not the exception, as it comes across as another live-action remake for the sake of another live-action remake.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the basic outline of Disney’s Pinocchio by this point, but here’s a quick synopsis anyway: an elderly Italian toymaker named Geppetto creates a wooden puppet he names Pinocchio. Gepetto wishes upon a star that Pinocchio could be a real boy, to fill the void Geppetto feels from not having a family (in this version, Geppetto has a dead wife and son, which feels unnecessarily cruel to the old man). The Blue Fairy answers Geppetto’s wish, brings Pinocchio to life, assigns Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio’s conscience, and claims that if Pinocchio proves himself to be “brave, truthful and selfless” he will become a real boy. Naturally, there’s a lot of obstacles that get in the way of Pinocchio’s journey, among them a conman fox, a villainous puppeteer, an angry whale and a conniving Coachman, who takes children to Pleasure Island so that they may make literal jackasses of themselves so he can sell the children-turned-donkeys to salt mines. Yeah, Pinocchio was always a pretty eventful movie.
Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio more or less sticks to the 1940 original’s outline, but fails to capture the charm and spirit that has made the animated film endure for decades. Not even putting Robert Zemeckis – a man known for weaving story and visual effects together – in the director’s chair and casting Tom Hanks as Geppetto helps elevate this Pinocchio retelling into anything above average.
To be fair, Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio has its share of positives: Tom Hanks makes for a convincing Geppetto, and as odd a fit as it may sound, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as the voice of Jiminy Cricket (Gordon-Levitt does a pretty spot-on Cliff Edwards impression). And for all the people who complain whenever an animated character is redesigned, this Pinocchio looks identical to the 1940 animated character. So you can’t say the film isn’t faithful there. The supporting cast also does there best to liven things up, with Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy, Keegan-Michael Key as the voice of Honest John the fox, and Luke Evans as the evil Coachman (Evans seems to be making a habit of playing the villains in Disney’s live-action remakes, previously portraying Gaston in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast). But really, there’s only so much they’re able to do to liven the film up.
The movie just falls flat at trying to capture the magic of the original at every turn. While When You Wish Upon a Star and I’ve Got No Strings are still present, the new songs added to the film are entirely unmemorable. And while the visual effects on Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Jiminy Cricket do their job, much of the CG in the movie looks surprisingly cheap and unconvincing (we all know Disney can afford better, and we all know Zemeckis can do better in this area). Things look particularly artificial once Pinocchio gets to Pleasure Island, which is created with CG that looks dull and outdated.
Even the themes and tone of the story feel skittish here. The original film is considered one of Disney’s darkest and scariest animated features, and while the new film makes token attempts to capture those elements, it is only willing to go so far. One of the most shocking moments in the original is when Pinocchio’s mischievous friend Lampwick gets turned into a donkey for “making an ass of himself” by smoking, drinking, gambling and causing damage across Pleasure Island. It’s a sad fate that befalls Lampwick, but it’s a fate he made for himself by his actions, which kind of hits home the whole point of Pinocchio’s journey. In the 2022 film, that same scene is played more for laughs, which pulls the rug out from under the scene and weakens its intended purpose in the story. It further cheapens things that Pleasure Island no longer serves cigars and alcohol, instead opting for the more PG root beer in their place. I get that it would be taboo to feature children drinking and smoking in a movie, but isn’t that the point? It’s bad behavior. It’s what Pinocchio needs to learn not to do. Drinking soda pop may not be good judgement in terms of health, but it’s hardly a moral conundrum in the same way alcohol can be.
I have to admit there are a couple of changes that I appreciate. As classic as the 1940 film is, it always annoyed me how the Blue Fairy basically served as a deus ex machina when she rescued Pinocchio from a cage at the hands of Stromboli. Here that’s been changed to Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket using the puppet’s extending nose to reach a key, which makes the characters feel more crafty and independent (though having Pinocchio lie to make his nose grow to get out of the jam may be questionable in its own right). Without spoiling too many details, the ending of the film is even slightly changed in a way to question what it means for Pinocchio to be “real” (it’s a change that’s appreciated in concept, though could have admittedly been executed better). I also like that Geppetto’s infamous cuckoo clocks are now themed around various Disney references (though some of the fun of that idea is taken away when the film gives us too many close-ups of the clocks, which just gives away the references. And the fact that one clock features Roger and Jessica Rabbit only reminds us of an infinitely better Zemeckis film we could be watching). And I suppose Stromboli gets thrown in jail here, so at least one Pinocchio villain finally gets some comeuppance.
I certainly can’t say that 2022’s Pinocchio is the worst of Disney’s live-action remakes, but it does continue the sub-genre’s trend of creating a decidedly inferior version of a classic tale from Disney’s animated history. An unnecessary retelling that just kind of goes through the material, but without the beating heart of the Disney original.
That this live-action remake has made Pinocchio less “real” is an irony that probably won’t be lost on anyone.
I mean… Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody!
Today is the day in which we celebrate the special things in life: friends, family, peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and jolly, overweight prowlers clad in red who deliver Playstations or coal underneath your decorative tree depending on whether you’ve been good or bad during the previous twelve months (Santa Clause is such a badass. He’s up there with Popeye in terms of badass-ery).
Christmas serves as a double celebration here at the Dojo, however, as it was on Christmas Day that I first launched Wizard Dojo! Well, technically I launched the site earlier in December of 2014, but I didn’t post any content on it until Christmas Day, to make it more special (and easier to remember). So Christmas is the “official” anniversary.
As is Wizard Dojo tradition, this most festive of days serves as an excuse to write some long-winded babbling, compile some lists, give out some awards, and bombard you with gifs!
Before we get started, I’d just like to be serious for a (brief) moment and wish you all happy holidays.
Happy Rusev Day!
Happy everybody! Happy holidays to all, and here’s to a happy 2023! Hopefully in the next year this site will be more productive and not so reliant on movie and video game anniversaries for content.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Let’s move on to the Wizard Dojo Christmas festivities proper.
Chapter 1: The Best of Wizard Dojo in 2022
2022 may not have been Wizard Dojo’s most productive year (I hate how many years in a row I’ve had to say that), but I did write a few things that I think are worthwhile, if I say so myself.*
*it literally is only me who says so.
Here’s hoping that the Dojo’s 2023 will bear a little more fruit, but here’s the stuff I wrote in 2022 that I particularly liked.
Video Game Reviews
Video game reviews were once the bread and butter here at the Dojo, but sadly it seems I’ve slowed down considerably over the past few years in that regard. So I’ll make special note to rectify that in 2023. Including catching up on reviews for games released in 2022 and even 2021 (because how have I still not reviewed Metroid Dread?). At any rate, here are my video game review highlights of 2022.
I have a few mixed feelings about my movie review output this past year. On the plus side, I reviewed a decent amount of movies released during 2022, all things considered (though there are still a few I’ve been meaning to write on). On the downside, I only reviewed movies released in 2022. I usually have a couple of older movie reviews in the mix. Ah well, guess it’s just something else to prioritize in 2023.
“Other stuff” – the official, scientific terminology – suggests the majority of things I wrote that don’t fit squarely into the review territory. Mostly the aforementioned anniversary celebrations (I am a festive individual, after all), but some other nice things in there as well.
What, I have to explain to you what a list is? It’s like top 5s and top 10s and stuff of that nature. Unfortunately, I only wrote one such post this year, but it’s a good’n. After all, it’s about Kirby! So you can’t go wrong! Although I admit that my rankings of Kirby’s finest would be switched around slightly since I wrote it. Again, hopefully more lists next year.
He wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them was his real test, to train them was his cause…
It was recently announced that Ash Ketchum and (even more surprisingly) Pikachu would soon be retired as the main characters of the Pokemon TV series, with new protagonists set to take over after an epilogue series of episodes for good ol’ Ash and Pikachu.
Yes, the twenty-five year journey of a ten-year old boy finally comes to a close, and I’m not even going to lie, my heart sank when I heard the news. Pokemon has been an indelible part of not only my childhood and those of my generation, but of every generation since. And while Nintendo and Game Freak may release new editions of the Pokemon video games every few years, and the show has seen numerous character (and animation) changes over the years, the one thing that has always been constant within the series were that Ash and Pikachu were at the heart of it. The fact that the series is moving on without them (particularly Pikachu, who became the mascot of the series and one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time because of the TV show), well, it’s a hard pill to swallow.
I admit, I haven’t seen the show in a very long time, but the fact that I haven’t seen it in so long and yet the news of Ash and Pikachu’s departure still got to me the way it did speaks volumes to the impact these characters had on me (and so many others).
I can remember how every kid wanted to be Ash growing up; the excitement to see Ash and Pikachu on the big screen in Pokemon: The First Movie (as well as its admittedly better sequel and threequel), and how sad everyone in the audience was when Ash seemingly died when he turned to stone, and Pikachu tried desperately to wake him up. As a kid, I even wrote and drew a few of my own Pokemon comic books, which of course starred Ash and Pikachu.
A few Nintendo franchises have seen some pretty big shifts over the last few years, such as Breath of the Wild’s departure from the usual Legend of Zelda traditions. But Pokemon without Ash? Pokemon without Pikachu? Now that’s a seismic shift. Hopefully Ash’s journey ends with he and Pikachu coming face-to-face with the legendary Ho-Oh, to bring the series full circle after their encounter with the mythical bird in the very first episode.
I tip my metaphorical hat to you, Ash and Pikachu. Thank you for the countless memories you have given to countless people for over two and a half decades. Pokemon may endure, but it won’t be the same without the story of a boy and his Pikachu at its center.
Please keep Team Rocket around though.
Chapter 3: When Love is Found
Let me start this chapter by saying that The Muppets Christmas Carol is one of the best damn Christmas movies ever made! Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is already one of the best stories ever, and with its seemingly countless cinematic revisions, it may seem like a bold statement to say that the version involving the Muppets may very well be the best version of A Christmas Carol put to film, but that may very likely be the case. It’s a fantastic interpretation of the classic tale in every sense of the word. From the surprising faithfulness to the source material to the good-natured humor that never gets in the way of serious moments, to Michael Caine being one of the best Ebeneezer Scrooge’s (playing the role straight against Muppets in a way that recalls Bob Hoskins interacting with cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), to that trademark charm of Jim Henson’s creations, The Muppets Christmas Carol has it all.
But for a long while, it didn’t.
That’s because one of the film’s most important moments was omitted from its original theatrical release, but left an impact on many a 90s child when it was included in the film’s original VHS release, only for it to be removed once again in all subsequent releases (to the befuddlement of that same generation of 90s kids).
I am, of course, referring to the musical number “When Love is Gone.” The song that takes place during Scrooge’s trip to his past, when he witnesses the moment he chose money over love. Sung by Scrooge’s one-time love, Belle (Meredith Braun), When Love is Gone is emphatically heart-breaking, especially once the elder/present day Scrooge breaks down into tears as he relives the pain of his past (and when Michael Caine cries, we all cry). It’s one of the most emotional moments in the movie, made all the more apparent as the film ends with a reprise dubbed “When Love is Found.” As a kid, it was one of the first moments I can recall in a movie that really touched me on a deeper emotional level.
So why was it removed in the first place? Because Jeffrey Katzenberg – who was a prominent figure at the Walt Disney Company at the time – found it to be “too sad.” Brilliant deduction there, Sherlock! That’s kind of the whole point! Of course it should be noted that Jeffrey Katzenberg is the same dude who wanted to remove “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid (y’know, the song that explains the premise of the entire movie!) and once he moved over to Dreamworks, was responsible for all those obnoxious, cynical animated films in the 2000s. So yeah…
Well, thankfully, we can all rejoice. On December 9th of this year, When Love is Gone was integrated back into The Muppets Christmas Carol on Disney+ in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary (and just out of common sense, I suppose). You just have to go to the film’s “Extras” section and select the “Full Length Version” of the film. I would call it the “As God Intended Version,” but that’s just me.
Because the song plays such an important role in the film’s narrative, and because I have such a strong emotional attachment to it, I had refused to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol – despite its overall quality – on Disney+ until it was made whole. I’ve had Disney+ since it launched, and The Muppets Christmas Carol has been on the service for just as long, but only now do I feel the film can be viewed properly. And I couldn’t be happier.
Chapter 4: WWE Awards for 2022
It seems like forever since I’ve written about pro wrestling here on this site, and that’s probably because I stopped watching it for a little while. WWE had become so wrought with dumb storylines, start-and-stop pushes for wrestlers, utterly dumbfounding booking (especially where Bray Wyatt was concerned), and so many wrestlers being released, that I had to tune out. I know, mainstream North American wrestling now has an alternative with AEW, and New Japan Pro Wrestling is bigger than ever, which is all well and dandy, but I was too burned out for anything wrestling related for a while.
But this past July, the biggest wrestling news story in decades occurred, as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon – whom wrestling fans have always known to have been a pretty terrible guy – was forced out of the company amid controversy. I won’t go into the details here, but when the WWE’s shakeup occurred (especially former wrestler Triple H being promoted to Head of Creative), it got me back into it. And boy (Uncle) Howdy, the difference is night and day! There are still mistakes here and there, of course, but they’re reasonable creative mistakes. Not the failings of an out-of-touch, petty, senile narcissist like they were not so long ago.
Currently WWE’s programming is still the only wrestling I regularly keep track of (no offense to any other wrestling promotions, there are just only so many hours in a day), so I refrain from calling these “Pro Wrestling Awards” and instead I’m just focusing on the WWE side of things.
Anyway, with my renewed interest in this most bizarre and interesting of entertainment industries, let’s get on with the awards.
Best Tag Team: The Usos
No surprise here, seeing as the Usos still currently hold the tag team titles of both the RAW and Smackdown brands, similar to how the “Tribal Chief” of the Bloodline still holds both of WWE’s world titles as of this writing (talking of which, either unify the titles or separate them again, WWE). The Usos’ reign with the Smackdown belts has now even become the longest tag team championship reign in WWE’s entire history. The Usos have continued to be booked as strong, underhanded heel champions, and as part of the Bloodline, are among the best things WWE has going.
Runner-up: The Street Profits
Best Stable: The Bloodline
In other news, the sky is blue. But seriously, the Bloodline actually had some competition this year, with WWE bringing back the idea of wrestling stables in full force (Imperium, The Brawling Brutes, The Judgement Day, etc.). But with Roman Reigns holding both of WWE’s world titles (with his reign as Universal Champion stretching well past two years, which is unheard of in modern wrestling), and the Usos holding both tag belts, they’ve basically been at the forefront of all of WWE’s major storylines this year. And with the additions of Solo Sikoa and Sami Zayn (the latter of whom may be the most entertaining performer in WWE today), not to mention perennial bad guy manager Paul Heyman by their side, the group is more prominent than ever. That will probably end come Wrestlemania, but it’s been a thrilling ride while it’s lasted.
Runner-up: The Judgement Day
Wrestler of the Year: GUNTHER
Although I still question why WWE changed WALTER’s name to GUNTHER, it ultimately doesn’t matter what his name is, because GUNTHER is the best wrestler on the planet today no matter what you call him. No other wrestler puts on as consistently brilliant, more hard-hitting matches. GUNTHER somehow makes his matches feel like both a work of art, and a man being mauled by a bear (with GUNTHER being the bear, of course). His showdown with Sheamus at Clash of the Castle has already been entered into the discussion of Best WWE Matches of All-Time, and his ongoing reign as Intercontinental Champion has given that belt a prestige it hasn’t had in decades. It basically feels as important as the world titles now. It’s hard to imagine (yet easy to believe) that Vince McMahon “didn’t get” GUNTHER, and was ready to bury him before Triple H took the reigns. Bullet dodged.
Runner-up: Bianca Belair
Sports Entertainer of the Year: Sami Zayn
Wrestling purists might not like it, but the goofier “Sports Entertainment” side of wrestling is still an integral part of wrestling. As far as that entertainment goes, no one stood out quite like Sami Zayn in 2022. His constant efforts to win over the Bloodline and ultimately being accepted by them as the “Honorary Uce” is wrestling’s best storyline of the year. It’s been so entertaining, in fact, that when the Bloodline inevitably turns on Sami (or Sami betrays the Bloodline from within), many people think Zayn should be the one to go on to Wrestlemania and dethrone Roman Reigns. I myself am very much in that same camp. The honor will probably go to someone else (Cody Rhodes seems likely), but the storyline for Sami has already written itself. I’ll keep my fingers crossed WWE will capitalize on Sami’s momentum.
Runner-up: The New Day
Best Event: Clash at the Castle
Although it sounds more like the name of a Japanese wrestling event (or the title of an indie game), Clash at the Castle was actually WWE’s first major Premium Live Event to take place in the UK in 30 years (Premium Live Event being the new name WWE gives pay-per-views, because who the hell orders pay-per views anymore?). WWE didn’t half-ass the opportunity for their long-awaited UK comeback either, delivering one of their best “PLEs” in years. Only six matches on the card, all of them ranking from ‘good’ (Liv Morgan vs. Shayna Baszler) to ‘all-time classic’ (GUNTHER vs. Sheamus). No filler in between matches, good booking, a notable heel turn (Dominik Mysterio). Just an excellent show.
Runner-up: Survivor Series WarGames
Match of the Year: GUNTHER vs. Sheamus (Clash at the Castle)
As soon as Sheamus became number one contender for GUNTHER’s Intercontinental Championship for Clash of the Castle, I knew it was going to be a great match. However, the bout exceeded all expectations, delivering one of WWE’s best matches ever.
From before the opening bell rang with GUNTHER and Sheamus’ cohorts (Imperium and the Brawling Brutes, respectively) flying all over the place as the two proper combatants just stared each other down until the last moment when GUNTHER finally put Sheamus away with a simple (yet devastating) clothesline, this match was just an all-out war.
Perhaps this isn’t the same kind of match that usually gets called a “work of art” (no aerial maneuvers, neither wrestler stepping outside of their usual moveset), but it deserves the moniker as much as any of them. You can probably count the number of different moves both men used during the match (kicks, knees, elbows, bodyslams, GUNTHER’s patented chops, etc.), but both men used their movesets in such a way to tell a compelling story. Both GUNTHER and Sheamus walked into the match as heels, but Sheamus’ valiant effort turned him into a hero even in defeat. It’s easily the best match of Sheamus’ career, and it’s up there with GUNTHER’s as well. It kickstarted a career renaissance for Sheamus, who has never been more popular than he is now because of this match (which,I repeat, he lost). Also of note, the match occurred a little over a month after Triple H took over creative control in the company. This match never would have happened under Vince McMahon. I think, years from now, this match will be viewed as a turning point for the promotion.
An absolute five-star classic.
Runner-up: Seth Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes (Hell in a Cell)
Chapter 5: My Most Anticipated Video Games of 2023
2022 was a great year for video games, and 2023 looks to continue its momentum. A number of high profile games have already been revealed, and who knows what else will be announced during the new year?
The following are the five games I’m most looking forward to in 2023. But first, a special mention goes to A Frog’s Tale, an indie game inspired by the Mario RPGs with a rhythm-based battle system, which would have made it onto my list except it’s only tentatively slated for 2023. So until something is made official, it’s in the runner-up spot.
Now, onto the top 5!
5: Pizza Tower
I remember my brother telling me about Pizza Tower about two years ago (it’s apparently been in active development since 2018), but as promising as it sounded, it also seemed like one of those games that would never be finished. Recently, however, a release date for Pizza Tower was revealed, and it’s pretty soon. January 2023!
Pizza Tower is an indie title inspired by the Wario Land sequels (which, looking back, I feel I underrated with my reviews. Something to revisit down the line). You play as a pizza man named Peppino trying to save his pizzeria from getting blown up or something. Like his inspiration Wario, Peppino can’t die, instead gaining transformations from enemy attacks (he can, however, lose the pizza topping he collects along the way).
A return to Wario Land gameplay feels long overdue as it is, so Pizza Tower is already appetizing. But throw on hilariously exaggerated character animations based on 90s cartoons, and Pizza Tower looks like something special.
4: Mina the Hollower
More indie goodness!
Mina the Hollower is the newest title from Yacht Club Games, the creators of Shovel Knight. Yacht Club Games have stated that, if Shovel Knight is the studio’s Mario, then they hope Mina will be their Legend of Zelda.
To be specific, Mina the Hollower looks – both in gameplay and visuals – to be inspired by the Game Boy Zeldas of yesteryear. With Gameboy Color-inspired visuals that harken back to Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, to a gameplay setup that will intentionally use as few buttons as possible, Mina the Hollower is already looking like a brand new treat from the kings of indie games.
3: Crash Team Rumble
The Crash Bandicoot resurgence continues! After the first three games in the series were gloriously remade for the Playstation 4 in 2017 as Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy, the one-time Playstation mascot has never looked back. A stellar remake of Crash Team Racing followed. After that, a brand-new adventure with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Now, Crash looks to take things to the multiplayer stage once again with Crash Team Rumble!
Admittedly, not a whole lot of details have been revealed for Crash Team Rumble, except that it sounds kind of like a Rocket League-type of team-based multiplayer game, where players take control of different Crash Bandicoot characters (each with their own special abilities), try to collect as much Wumpa fruit as possible, and deliver said fruit to your goal, all while stopping the other team from doing the same. Interestingly, it looks to have the same platformer-style gameplay as the core Crash series, and multiplayer platformers don’t get the love they deserve. Here’s hoping that changes with Crash Team Rumble.
2: Pikmin 4
There’s even less information on Pikmin 4 than there is on Crash Team Rumble. Basically all we know is that Pikmin 4 exists, and that the three original Pikmin types return, and a brief glimpse at some new environments. It’s not exactly a lot to go by. But for me, it’s more than enough to be excited.
We only get a new Pikmin game about once every decade (in this case literally, as 2023 marks 10 years since Pikmin 3 released on the Wii U, which in tern was nine years after Pikmin 2). So it’s always something to savor.
I can’t wait to see what new Pikmin types may be in store, and what crazy creature designs Nintendo has come up with this time. One thing’s for sure, Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong’s younger sibling series is definitely one to look forward to.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
An easy choice for the top spot? Yes. But as I’ve said in the past, oftentimes the obvious choices are obvious for a reason.
It’s a new Legend of Zelda! That right there is reason enough to be excited! More specifically, it’s a rare direct sequel for the series, serving as a follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the most acclaimed video games of all time. While I may not want every Zelda game going forward to use Breath of the Wild’s rulebook, I’d be a flat-out liar if I said I don’t want to see more of it.
It seems the big hook to Tears is that now Link can traverse the land above the sky of Hyrule itself, in addition to, well, Hyrule itself. That already makes the game massive, and one of the things I loved about Breath of the Wild is how it made that massive world feel alive with all the things you could do.
Granted, there are some Breath of the Wild quirks I hope get smoothed out (breakable weapons, horses not being worth the trouble, inclusion of proper dungeons), but if Nintendo can make one of the best games of all time even better, that right there is reason to celebrate.
Unless a Super Mario Odyssey 2 or an Elden Ring 2 or a new Donkey Kong Country is announced and released within the next twelve months, I don’t see anything else dethroning The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as my most anticipated game of 2023.
Chapter 6: The Last One
Once again, my friends, we reach the end of our annual Christmas Special. I know, once upon a time these Christmas Specials had more chapters, plus an epilogue! I promise those days will return, hopefully next year. But in my defense, the newer Christmas Specials have a greater word count, and I’m (relatively) better at writing. So it’s a fair enough trade, I suppose. Plus, with all the stuff I currently have going on, I’m kind of surprised this Christmas Special managed to be as wordy and varied as it did.
So as we wrap up these Christmas festivities here at the Dojo, I’d just like to once again wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Whatever day you celebrate, I hope it’s as awesome as GUNTHER vs. Sheamus. And have an awesome New Year while you’re at it!
Here’s to a happy and awesome 2023 to the Dojo, and to you!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Wizard Dojo!
Well, this has certainly been a long time coming. James Cameron’s Avatar was released in 2009, introducing a new benchmark for visual effects. A film Cameron spent years planning, he literally waited until visual effects technology could keep up with his vision in order to make it. Upon release, Avatar smashed the worldwide box office, eventually becoming the highest-grossing film in history, overtaking Cameron’s own previous film, Titanic. Avatar would briefly lose the crown in 2019 to Avengers: Endgame but a re-release in China would bump Avatar back in the number one spot.
The interesting thing about Avatar is that, despite the ludicrous amount of money it made, it really didn’t leave much of an impact or influence on popular culture. Oh sure, the Avatar Land at Walt Disney World is cool, but as far as movies themselves go, has Avatar had any kind of lasting impact?
Truth be told, there may be a reason for that. For all its eye-popping visuals and boatloads of cash, Avatar was really just a so-so movie. Its man vs. nature story, while well intentioned with its environmentalism, had been told in much better stories in the past (most notably in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, which Cameron claimed as one of his inspirations, yet a film that he could never hope to match in his wildest dreams). Avatar was a movie that borrowed story elements from other movies, and made them shallower and simpler (Avatar’s depiction of humans as nothing but irredeemable killing machines who only care about profit basically made them cartoon baddies, to the point it’s almost surprising the villain didn’t have a mustache he could twirl). In short, Avatar was a movie that used its brilliant visual effects technology to try and gloss over a not-so-brilliant story. Whereas works like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and the aforementioned Princess Mononoke all created worlds that felt alive because of their thematic and character depth, Avatar felt like a shallow spectacle. Pretty to look at, but not something that lingers in the mind or truly touches the heart.
Still, with all that money Avatar made, sequels seemed inevitable… until they didn’t. Despite James Cameron promising three (later four) sequels to Avatar not long after the original’s release, a number of issues (not least of which being the need to pioneer new technology for the sequels’ visual effects) meant delay after delay for the follow-up Avatar movies to the point that they became something of a running joke. But here we are in 2022, thirteen years later, and the second film in the Avatar series (shot back-to-back with the third) is finally a reality in the form of Avatar: The Way of Water.
The question is was Avatar 2 worth the wait? After all, the many delays to get to this point have more or less shown how little long-term impact Avatar really had on the world of cinema (despite Cameron’s – and other filmmakers’ – protests about Marvel, the MCU has proven to have had more influence on movies than his own work). Visual effects have also continued to move forward between Avatar films, so even with The Way of Water pushing things even further on a visual front, it couldn’t really hope to recapture the same giant leap forward that the 2009 original had in that department.
I think, to put it simply, your feelings towards The Way of Water may be reflected of your feelings for the first Avatar. If you liked Avatar, you’ll probably like The Way of Water. If you didn’t like Avatar, then The Way of Water probably isn’t going to win you over. I personally felt that this sequel may have been a marginal improvement over the first movie simply because it spends more time with the creatures of the world of Pandora. But it still succumbs to its predecessor’s weakness of simply ‘making due’ with its plot and characters and hoping the visual sheen will be enough to hide this weakness.
For those who may not remember, the basic premise of Avatar is that, in the future, Earth is a dying planet, and so humanity takes to other worlds for their resources. Most notable among those worlds is Pandora, a lush moon of brightly colored flora and dangerous yet beautiful fauna. Every creature of Pandora is connected through a global neural network (don’t call it a god), which Pandora’s native sentient species, the Na’vi, worship as a goddess they dub ‘Eywa.’ The Na’vi are tall humanoids (about 10 feet in height) who have striped blue skin, lanky limbs, feline facial features and monkey-like tails. The Na’vi can communicate with the other creatures of Pandora through linking a band of tendrils hidden in their hair (gross) to share thoughts and memories, as well as speaking their own language and able to learn those of humans.
Humans, as mentioned, frequent Pandora for its resources (in the first film, they were after a material hilariously dubbed ‘unobtainium’). When humans aren’t just mindlessly ravaging the forest, they try a more civil approach to dealing with the Na’vi in the forms of Avatars. Avatars are artificial Na’vi bodies that humans link their minds to, so that they may communicate and socialize with the native Na’vi. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) was a human soldier in the first film, whose human body died (spoiler alert for the thirteen-year old highest-grossing movie ever), but who lives on through his Na’vi Avatar. He even married a Na’vi princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and became the leader of the Omaticaya tribe.
Now that we’re all caught up, The Way of Water takes place umpteen years after the first film. Jake and Neytiri now have four kids: Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), their oldest, headstrong son. Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), their younger son who tends to act before he thinks. Tuktirey (“Tuk”), their eight-year old daughter. And Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), Jake and Neytiri’s adopted teenage daughter, born from the inert Avatar of Grace Augustine (also Sigourney Weaver) under unknown circumstances in what seems to be a mystery to be resolved in a future installment. Kiri also seems to possess powers unique from the other Na’vi, making her perhaps the most memorable new character, though the fact that they’ve aged down Weaver’s CG face while retaining her normal voice makes for an awkward mix. There’s also a human boy whom they call Spider (Jack Champion) who lives both among the human scientists left on Pandora and among the Na’vi, and who also happens to be the retconned into existence son of the first film’s villain, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).
Speaking of Quaritch, even he manages to make a return despite dying in the first film (don’t worry, the film is a bit more elaborate than just saying “Somehow, Miles Quaritch returned”). It turns out the Resources Development Administration (RDA) has initiated the “Recombinants Program,” creating Avatar bodies implanted with the memories of fallen soldiers, with Quaritch’s recombinant leading a new group of soldiers, as the RDA plans to terraform Pandora into a new Earth. So it’s the whole “a clone embedded with someone’s memories to bring back a dead character” sci-fi trope, though at least here they acknowledge that this Quaritch is actually a separate person than the original instead of pretending otherwise (sorry sci-fi, just because a clone has someone’s memories doesn’t make them the same person. They didn’t live that person’s life. But now I’m getting sidetracked and philosophical).
So the RDA builds a new base on Pandora, with Quaritch and his goons sent on a mission to kill Jake Sulley, as he united the Na’vi tribes in rebellion in the first film. With Quaritch’s pursuit of Jake proving relentless (Quaritch even kidnaps his own kind-of son Spider in order to get more information of Sulley), Jake passes down his role as Omiticaya leader so he and his family can go into hiding. The Sulley’s find refuge with the Metkayina tribe; aquatic Na’vi with green skin and fish tails. Though welcomed by some Metkayina, the tribe also has some less friendly members, who distrust the Sulleys – particularly the Sulley children – for not being water Na’vi, and more specifically for being “half-Avatar.” So yes, this Avatar sequel has something of a “kids in a new school” story going on, if you can believe it.
The Metkayina are also strong allies (“spirit siblings”) with the other sentient species of Pandora, the Tulkun; large whale-like creatures which a marine biologist character informs us are “smarter than humans. More emotional, more spiritual.” And now I’m just curious as to what metric one uses to measure the spirituality of whales.
Anyway, the Tulkuns are important to the plot, because they possess a brain enzyme that can be used to stop human aging, which has made it the most valuable substance known to man (unobtainium be damned!). Naturally, this means that whaling (tulkuning?) is another threat that Pandora faces. And soon, the Sulleys find themselves caught in the conflict between the Metkayina and Tulkuns against the RDA.
It’s frankly a whole lot of details for what amounts to a very simple plot. And that’s reflected in the runtime of the film, which runs at a staggering three hours and fifteen minutes, but feels like it could tell the same story in half that time. I suppose, on the plus side, much of that bloat comes from the moments in which The Way of Water takes a break from the plot, and just lets us enjoy the scenery and the creatures therein. I almost feel like the best possible Avatar movie would be one that foregoes the plot, and just lets the audience bask in Pandora. But persists the plot does, and while I’m all for its pro-environmental message (especially its love of animals), I do think we live in a time in which people care more about what a story is saying than they do how well it says it. And I think many films have said the same things as Avatar, and said them far more eloquently.
I think my main criticism with the Avatar films is how dark and dreary their depictions of humanity are. Yes, it’s true, mankind has screwed up the environment, but humans are also capable of fighting to protect it. And while Avatar may showcase the occasional scientist who’s capable of compassion, on the whole the films have a big “Trees good. Humans bad” thing going on. The Avatar series just seems so defeatist when it comes to humanity, that it often comes across as a pessimistic series masquerading as a hopeful one. Hell, whenever the Na’vi kill human construction workers (who are hardly to blame for the overall plight) it’s treated as something to cheer. But if anything happens to a single tree, the film relishes in showing us the anguish of the Na’vi to emphasize the tragic loss (if I had a dollar for every time we see a Na’vi shriek in anguish, I’d be as rich as James Cameron). Again, I’m all for the environment and what the film is trying to say, but it does seem strange how the Avatar series seems to respect all life except for that of humans.
Compare this to Princess Mononoke: the “villain” of that film, Lady Eboshi, was destroying a forest, but did so because she firmly believed that its resources and ridding it of its animal gods would help her people prosper. She rescued women from prostitution and housed lepers. She had remorse for her actions, but was doing what she felt she had to do for her people. By contrast, Quaritch and the other human villains of Avatar seem to just get a kick out of blowing up trees. There’s no depth to their reasons or dimension in their actions. And while the past few years in real life may have made cartoonishly simple villains in positions of power a real thing, it still comes across as lazy writing in a movie.
I guess the upside to this is it makes Quaritch (unintentionally) the most entertaining character in the Avatar movies. His utter disregard towards the environment and the lives of anything that isn’t human makes him so outrageous, I can’t help but get a kick out of him. Still, introducing a more nuanced villain or two would definitely help add something to these Avatar movies.
As was the case with the first Avatar, The Way of Water is a very simple film that treats itself as something deeper, and hopes that its visual effects will cover up its narrative shortcomings. On the bright side, said visuals are as dazzling as ever, perhaps even more so when one considers that the film’s focus on water meant that James Cameron and company developed new technology to create underwater motion-capture.
That is where Avatar’s strength has always lied, the technology. Although we are more accustomed to CG spectacles now than ever, Avatar: The Way of Water’s visual effects still manage to stand out. The world of Pandora is an eye-popping one, to be sure. And that world is the real star of the movie. I reiterate that I wouldn’t mind seeing a plotless Avatar movie that just allows the audience to savor its environment and creatures. After all, it does seem a little counterproductive that in a movie this environmentally conscious, it ends with an explosion and gunfire-fueled finale to send the audience home happy. To say nothing of the irony of a movie about conservation being so gluttonously excessive (along with the lengthy runtime, we still have three more Avatar movies if all goes to plan).
I will emphasize again that, after viewing the first Avatar again during its most recent re-release, I do think that The Way of Water is something of an improvement. I think the environments and creatures are more captivating, and the aforementioned explosive finale is more fun. But your overall opinion of The Way of Water may depend on how you view it. As a visual spectacle, it’s a real delight. As a movie, it’s okay.
When the first Thor film was released in 2011, I don’t think many people would have guessed that it would be the first series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (outside of the Avengers movies) to reach a fourth entry. The 2011 film was decently fun, but was hardly as beloved as Iron Man. Meanwhile, the 2013 sequel Thor: The Dark World is widely considered one of the weakest MCU movies. But in 2017 the series headed in a new direction with its third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, with the Taika Waititi-directed film reinvigorating the series with a greater emphasis on humor and spectacle. With a newfound popularity for Thor, Marvel brought Waititi back for this fourth installment, Thor: Love and Thunder.
The good news is that if you loved Ragnarok, Love and Thunder provides a similarly good time, even if it may not be the breath of fresh air that Ragnarok was when it was released.
After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been travelling the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy, helping them save various civilizations from evil threats (with Thor causing a bit of collateral damage along the way). However, a distress signal from an old friend has Thor travelling back to New Asgard, located on Earth after the events of Ragnarok.
A being known as Gorr (Christian Bale) has come into possession of an ancient weapon called the Necrosword, which grants him the ability to slay gods (at the expense of infecting Gorr mind, body and soul). Now known as Gorr the God Butcher, he has been slaying god after god across the universe, with the Asgardians being his next targets.
After Thor and company dispatch of Gorr’s monsters, they realize that the God Butcher has kidnapped the children of New Asgard. So Thor, alongside the new king of Asgard, Valkrie (Tessa Thompson) and his rock friend Korg (Taiki Waititi himself), sets off to find Gorr and rescue the children. But Thor has a new superpowered ally in his old girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who was last seen in The Dark World. Unbeknownst to Thor, Jane is dying of cancer, and with her treatments failing to improve her condition, she desperately turned to the Asgardian magic found in New Asgard for help. As fate would have it, Thor inadvertently placed a spell on his old hammer Mjolnir back when he and Jane were dating, a spell that dictates the hammer would always protect Jane. So in the present, the hammer’s shattered pieces reform, and deem Jane Foster worthy to wield the mighty Mjolnir, thus giving her the power of Thor. Though she gains the strength and ability equal to that of the god of thunder, the effects are only present when she wields the hammer. Without it, Jane’s health continues to decline.
That’s some pretty heavy stuff coming from the sequel to Thor: Ragnarok, and I’ve heard some people fault Love and Thunder for a perceived inconsistent tone. But I actually appreciate that Love and Thunder attempts to tackle some heavier material, instead of simply betting everything on the comedy that made Ragnarok work and have it overstay its welcome. The more serious elements are what set this film apart from its predecessor. It was admittedly a risky move to use something like cancer as a plot element in a Marvel movie, but the film ultimately handles the subject delicately.
Speaking of the film’s serious elements, Gorr the God Butcher provides Thor: Love and Thunder with one of the MCU’s most complex villains. After wandering the broken remains of his world with his daughter, praying to his god for help and safety, his daughter succumbs to the elements, and he’s left wandering alone. Feeling his prayers fell on deaf ears, Gorr is summoned by the Necrosword to meet his god, who callously ignores Gorr’s plight. Gorr then uses the sword to kill his god, but with the Necrosword’s influence, it begins to warp his mind and ambitions, as he now seeks to kill all gods.
In a way, Gorr kind of reminds me of Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2 in how the combination of personal tragedy and an object infecting his mind leads him down a path of villainy. Although I don’t think any on-screen Marvel villain has equaled Doc Ock, Gorr the God Butcher is probably in the top three villains of the MCU. He’s even a visually cool villain with the way he travels in and out of shadows, lurking towards the screen like some kind of Dark Souls boss. The MCU has often been criticized for a lack of compelling villains, but between Gorr the God Butcher and Wenwu from last year’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it seems Marvel’s villain scenario is seeing some major improvements.
Before I start making Thor: Love and Thunder sound like it’s all serious subjects and dark and dreary villains, I do have to reiterate that the film retains the sense of humor and fun that audiences loved about Thor: Ragnarok. Granted, there are those who didn’t appreciate Ragnarok’s sense of humor and felt that it turned Thor into Guardians of the Galaxy. But I think the more serious aspects mixed into Love and Thunder may win over some of Ragnarok’s critics, while still providing plenty for returning fans of Ragnarok (special mention has to go to Russel Crowe as the Greek god Zeus, who might just steal the whole show). It’s one of the most fun MCU movies in quite some time.
Something else I can very much appreciate with Thor: Love and Thunder is that it (again, like Shang-Chi) is one of the increasingly rare MCU films that stands as its own movie, unburdened by excessive crossovers of other Marvel characters or having the overarching MCU story shoehorned into the proceedings. Even the mid and after-credits sequences still relate to Thor’s story, rather than tease someone else’s. Considering the recent Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sacrificed the setup the first Dr. Strange left open for the sequel in favor of catering to the bigger MCU plot, Love and Thunder’s insistence on just being a Thor movie is all the more commendable.
I do have to admit that even with all my praises, Thor: Love and Thunder doesn’t exactly bring new creative heights to the MCU. The more serious plot elements and its standout villain set Love and Thunder apart from its predecessor, but it still does follow much of the same MCU formula. It’s certainly a more solid MCU entry than we’ve been seeing as of late, but I don’t think it necessarily breathes new life into the mega-franchise either (something which you could argue Ragnarok did). But I think most audiences will be having too much fun to care about that (though they may be bummed that the Guardians of the Galaxy have a minimal role, despite the film’s marketing).
Thor: Love and Thunder is an undeniable good time that should leave any Marvel fan with a smile on their face. And for once, it may just tug at their heart a little bit too.
1993’s Jurassic Park remains one of the most revolutionary and innovative films ever made. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel pioneered visual effects in a way that continues to influence movies today, and it remains a captivating combination of adventure and horror to this day. It’s no surprise that it spawned an entire franchise.
A second Crichton novel was adapted into The Lost World: Jurassic Park, before the series ventured off on its own starting with Jurassic Park 3 and, after lying dormant for fourteen years, was revived with Jurassic World. Though Jurassic World couldn’t match the impact of the original, it did bring out the best entertainment in the series since the 1993 classic, and kickstarted a trilogy of its own.
Jurassic World Dominion is the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy, and seems to be aiming to wrap up the franchise as a whole (though much like the dinosaurs in the films, don’t be surprised if it’s eventually dug back up later). On the plus side, Dominion is a fun ride, and a marked improvement over its immediate predecessor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. On the downside, Dominion doesn’t really seem to have any new tricks to help reinvigorate the series, and it even squanders some of the set-up of the previous Jurassic World films.
Dominion is set four years after Fallen Kingdom, whose ending saw a number of dinosaurs released into the wild. In those four years, the dinosaurs have repopulated the Earth (I don’t know how exactly, there were only so many that were released at the end of Fallen Kingdom, and even if I can suspend my disbelief that the flying pterosaurs bothered to fly across the world, it wouldn’t explain how the land dinosaurs have spread so far. Whatever). Humans now coexist with dinosaurs all across the globe, which I admit is a fun direction to take this series. Director Colin Trevorrow said he wanted to depict a world where seeing a dinosaur would be akin to a bear encounter. You probably won’t experience it, but it’s a possibility. Again, it’s a fun idea. Which makes it a shame that Jurassic World Dominion doesn’t fully commit to it.
Instead, the film quickly reveals that an extinct form of locust has also appeared, and are devouring crops at an unparalleled rate, threatening the food chain and life on Earth. These locusts eat all crops except those produced by the Biosyn corporation. Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) suspect Biosyn has bioengineered the locusts to control the world’s food supply. So she recruits her former colleague and love interest, paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), to help her uncover the conspiracy. Their friend and fellow Jurassic Park survivor Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) is working for Biosyn, and can help get his friends into Biosyn’s headquarters.
Meanwhile, the Jurassic World mainstays, Owen Grady (Super Mario himself, Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are once again a couple, and are the adoptive parents of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is a cloned human wanted by Biosyn for research. Maisie – along with a baby raptor – is eventually kidnapped by goons hired by Biosyn (for an evil corporation, they really don’t do a good job at hiding their shady dealings). Owen and Claire then set out to rescue Maisie, with the help of a pilot named Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). Naturally, this means that the Jurassic World and Jurassic Park characters inevitably cross paths in order to bring down Biosyn and it’s corrupt CEO, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Yes, Dodgson. As in “Dodgson! Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here!” Man, I wish Wayne Knight could still be in these movies.
The film’s strengths lie in two areas: the first and most obvious being the dinosaurs themselves, which are once again brought to life with both CG and practical effects (reportedly, Dominion features more animatronic dinosaurs than ever before). The film’s second strength is the interactions between the characters of the Jurassic World trilogy and the stalwarts from the original Jurassic Park. This makes it unfortunate that the film really takes its sweet time for the new and classic casts to get together. But once they do, there’s fun to be had between the different generations of Jurassic Park casts. And even before they all meet up, there is a nostalgic glee in seeing the original Jurassic Park trio together for the first time since the original movie (many Star Wars fans critique the sequel trilogy for never having a reunion with Han, Luke and Leia, so thankfully Jurassic Park has avoided that pitfall).
Going back to the dinosaurs, Dominion has a lot of fun showing us dinosaurs that have thus far gone unrepresented in the series, most notably the giganotosaurus (which the film repeatedly reminds us is the “biggest land carnivore that ever lived”). Of course, series favorites like the tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptors also show up. Although no Jurassic sequel could hope to capture the same degree of majesty, thrills and horror with its creatures as the 1993 film, Dominion does a pretty good job at it and still brings its dinosaurs to captivating life with state-of-the-art visuals.
Had the film stuck with the idea of dinosaur encounters being an everyday possibility, and brought the characters together through means other than the locust conspiracy, Dominion would probably have been a much stronger, more imaginative movie. I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun while watching Jurassic World Dominion, but the addition of the locust plot feels forced onto the proceedings, and Maisie’s role in how it can be resolved feels contrived, like a means to justify why the character needed to be a clone. With that plot tacked on, the movie feels like it’s going through the motions for the series.
Not only does that plot detract from the dinosaurs (!?) and the set-up from the end of Fallen Kingdom, but it also seems to undo what the first Jurassic World set in motion. To clarify, Jurassic World brought back the character of Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), Jurassic Park’s primary geneticist. Interestingly, despite only appearing in a single scene in Jurassic Park, Jurassic World reintroduced Wu as the new trilogy’s overarching antagonist, as he was secretly working to weaponize the dinosaurs he created. It was a nice twist that plucked a character from obscurity and made him the villain. But fast-forward to Dominion, and Dr. Wu is now an apathetic sad sack who helped Dodgson create the locusts, and is now remorseful for his actions. It’s a redemption arc that has seemingly come out of nowhere. So did he just give up on the idea of weaponized dinosaurs? Or did the filmmakers forget about that storyline? Retconning Wu to be the ultimate villain of the series was one of my favorite aspects of Jurassic World, so it’s a shame to see that element basically be dropped unceremoniously. And it makes for a less cohesive trilogy to just change course with something like that.
While no follow-up was ever going to top the impact of the 1993 original Jurassic Park, it is unfortunate that the first Jurassic World was the only sequel that felt like a worthy successor. And it seems the Jurassic World trilogy has followed the same pattern as the original Jurassic Park trilogy of starting with a good movie, followed up by a bad movie, and ending with a so-so movie.
I have to reiterate that I did have a lot of fun while watching Jurassic Park Dominion. Having the original cast back and seeing them team up with the newer characters is the good kind of nostalgic fanservice, and the dinosaurs still bring the suspense and scares. But whereas Jurassic World was fun just thinking about it after the credits rolled, I feel like whatever fun Dominion has ends as soon as the credits begin (to say nothing of whenever the locust plot takes center stage). It’s a more fleeting fun, but fun nonetheless.
When Bob’s Burgers debuted on Fox in 2011, it was the latest in a long line of animated series that the network greenlit in hopes of finding another success that could be a mainstay for their animation block, alongside The Simpsons and *groan* Family Guy. While Bob’s Burgers initially had middling ratings and a lukewarm reception, it eventually grew into the critically acclaimed stalwart of Fox’s animation block, with many considering it the spiritual successor to King of the Hill. Like King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers focuses on dry, character-based humor, as opposed to the increasing gimmicks of The Simpsons (which has long-since lost its luster) or the desperate shocks and humorless cutaways of Family Guy (which never had luster). The series has now been on the air for over eleven years and 200 episodes, more than earning the right to have its own feature film. After numerous delays, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is finally a reality, with the finished product being joyous fun, even if it feels more like an extended episode than a proper movie.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie sees the big screen debut of the Belcher family: father and restaurateur Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and their kids; awkward 13-year-old Tina (Dan Mintz), goofy 11-year-old Gene (Eugene Mirman), and spunky 9-year-old Louise (Kristen Schaal), who is always wearing her bunny eared cap. Joining them is dimwitted but goodhearted handyman (and regular customer) Teddy (Larry Murphy).
The story here is that Bob and Linda are turned down for a business loan and have only one week to make the month’s payment or face repossession of their restaurant equipment. Already a tough task, things are made more complicated when a sinkhole appears at the front of their restaurant, blocking access to customers. The city plans on filling in the sinkhole as soon as possible, until the skeleton of a missing carnival worker named Cotton Candy Dan is found in the hole, and it becomes a crime scene. Given the unique circumstances, Linda asks their eccentric landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and his brother Felix (Zack Galifianakis) if the Belchers can delay their month’s rent in order to make their loan payment. Calvin’s response is a resounding “maybe.”
Things get yet even more complicated when Calvin Fischoeder becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Cotton Candy Dan and is arrested. Desperate to save their business, Bob and Linda sell their burgers from a makeshift cart created by Teddy, despite not having a license to do so. Meanwhile, the Belcher kids try to clear Fischoeder’s name, so that he can help the family out by waving the month’s rent.
The plot is good, simple fun. But aside from the presence of a murder, it does feel like the same kind of plot you would see in an episode of the series. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the quality of Bob’s Burgers, but you can’t help but wish the film would have aimed a bit higher. The Simpson’s Movie (which is somehow fifteen years old) almost went out of its way to have a bigger scope and scale in story than its series, to justify its movie-ness. I can’t help but feel that Bob’s Burgers missed the opportunity to do the same. Though to be fair, I’d rather have a good extended episode than a disappointing movie. And between the Bob’s Burgers and Simpsons movies, Bob’s Burgers is the one that falls into the former category.
A few elements are present that make The Bob’s Burgers Movie feel more cinematic. The most immediate being the animation itself, which is more fluid and detailed than ever. The characters look more three-dimensional than in the series, with a heavier focus on lighting and shading throughout. This higher quality animation even adds to the film’s humor. The characters of Bob’s Burgers always looked like something of a cross between classic Simpsons and the Muppets, and to see such goofy and endearing characters move with the fluidity of an animated feature is in itself funny.
The “movie quality” is really brought out during the film’s musical numbers, which are much bigger than they are in the series. The songs themselves are also surprisingly good (the opening number “Sunnyside Up Summer” deserves mention for Best Original Song awards come next award season, for its infectious melody and lighthearted humor). These songs are so catchy, in fact, that you can’t help but wish there were more of them. I feel like it may have been another missed opportunity by not making The Bob’s Burgers Movie a full-fledged musical.
Still, it’s easy to recommend The Bob’s Burgers Movie to fans, and it may even convert audiences who haven’t seen the series (despite the film’s many callbacks to past episodes, it still serves as a perfectly accessible entry point for first time viewers). The movie has the same irreverent yet wholesome humor of the show, and it gives its characters some good development (particularly Louise, who seems to be the de facto main character of the film, as she tries to prove herself capable of growing up). The voice work is as funny and quirky as ever, and the film on the whole is a lot of fun.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie maybe could have been a little more “movie.” But a little more Bob’s Burgers is always a good thing.
I made my second trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on May 22nd, so it’s been a week ago now, but I still wanted to write about it. So sue me.
Unlike my first trip to the Academy Museum, where I tried to see as much as possible, this time I simply spent the day visiting the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit, since that’s sadly going to be leaving the museum in June. Goodness gracious, what a magical exhibit! Filled with so much artwork, sketches, character designs, even sculpted recreations of locations from Miyazaki’s films (the model of the house from My Neighbor Totoro even hides some Soot Sprites to find). They even have a little mock patch of grass that you can lay on to look up at some clouds (as characters in Miyazaki films often do)!
I’m really going to miss this exhibit when it goes. I mean I’m REALLY going to miss it. Like, the idea of going to the Academy Museum and that exhibit no longer being there makes me genuinely sad. Sure, there will still be other interesting exhibits. But sadly, the ‘magic’ will no longer be there.
I’ve often said Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker, and that his films are my favorites. But really, that doesn’t even begin to do justice to what his films have meant to me. Now, I say this with all due respect to the many great filmmakers throughout history, but for me, none of them can even begin to compare to Miyazaki. I have a friend who claims that the original Star Wars (that is to say Episode IV – A New Hope) transcends all of their favorite films and is in a category all its own as a perfect film. And I guess for me, that’s what Miyazaki’s films are like (it’s also why I’m not satisfied with any of the reviews I’ve written for them and have thought about rewriting them in a way that differs from all my other reviews). Sure, not all of Miyazaki’s films are equals (though Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that’s notably ‘weaker’ than the others), but his style, tone, voice and artistry are simply beyond anything else in movies. They really are magical.
In short, I’m really going to miss the Miyazaki exhibit, and so my entire second trip was spent revisiting it. I even went back into the exhibit around closing and had it practically to myself for a while. That was pretty darn cool.
Once again, they didn’t allow pictures within the exhibit itself (and boy, was it difficult to resist the urge to photograph everything). But I got some pictures of the outside of the exhibit again. This time with me in them!
What a magical experience it was to see this Hayao Miyazaki exhibit. Finally, a place here in the US for Studio Ghibli fans to appreciate (and maybe geek out) about the world’s greatest animation studio. From entering a woodland tunnel greeted by “The Path of the Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro, to seeing the Kodama from Princess Mononoke appear on the walls, to finally exiting via the tunnel from Spirited Away (complete with Stone Spirit guardian), I absorbed every last drop of that exhibit. The fact that I actually got to see original artwork and concept sketches from Miyazaki’s films firsthand… that’s something that will stick with me forever.
It’s going to be really sad to see the Miyazaki exhibit leave (though I don’t know why the museum can’t at least keep the merchandise in the gift shop), though I can’t blame Studio Ghibli if they want their stuff back in their native Japan. But what a delight it’s been to be able to experience it.
Also, a big shout out to the little girl waiting in line for the exhibit who freaked out with enthusiasm at the sight of Totoro and Ponyo. What a cool kid! Warms my heart to know that kids these days have that kind of adoration for Miyazaki’s films.
Thanks for the Miyazaki memories, Academy Museum! It was a magical experience.
When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, it was a defining moment in animation history. Not only did the film meld live-action and animated characters so seamlessly it still hasn’t been matched since, but it also created renewed interest in animation itself. This renewed interest led to Disney’s ‘Renaissance’ era, in addition to inspiring other studios to throw their hat in the animation ring. Roger Rabbit’s meshing together of beloved animated characters has also had a reverberating effect, with films such as Wreck-It Ralph, its sequel and Space Jam: A New Legacy all trying something similar in more recent years. This influence even found its way into weekday and Saturday morning cartoons (remember those?), with Disney in particular creating a slew of animated programs in the late 80s and early 90s that repurposed their animated characters from yesteryear.
Goof Troop reimagined Goofy as a single father and Peg-Leg Pete as his nosey neighbor. TaleSpin featured characters from The Jungle Book in a period piece setting and focused on aviation. DuckTales – the most famous of the lot – saw Scrooge McDuck and his nephews on Indiana Jones-like adventures, much like Scrooge’s old comic books. And Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers saw the titular Chipmunks as detectives who, along with some new friends, would solve cases that were “too small” for the police to handle.
In this day and age where nostalgia (particularly for the 80s and 90s) has a strong influence on pop culture, it makes sense that we’re seeing these shows get resurrected in one way or another. DuckTales saw a successful reboot series that ran from 2017 to 2021, and now Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers has been given its own feature film on Disney+. Though it’s probably not the Rescue Rangers movie you would expect.
Rather than go for a straight feature film adaptation, this 2022 Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a satirical, meta live-action and animated hybrid movie that features many beloved characters from animation history… kind of like Roger Rabbit. So we’ve basically come full circle. The results are mostly enjoyable, even if the film ultimately can’t compete with the film that inspired it (or should I say ‘the film that inspired the show that inspired it?’).
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers chronicles how Disney’s chipmunk duo first met in early 80s (strangely ignoring the characters’ history in Disney shorts decades before then). Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) became close friends and struggled in Hollywood until getting their big break with the aforementioned series. With Rescue Rangersa big success, Chip and Dale were finally living their dream. But Dale, tired of being looked at as the goofy sidekick, tried to branch out and get a show of his own, a Bond spoof called Double-O-Dale. But Dale’s conflicting roles lead to the cancellation of Rescue Rangers, and Double-O-Dale wasn’t even picked up as a series. The Rescue Rangers cancellation caused a riff between the chipmunks, with Chip leaving Hollywood behind to sell insurance. Dale, meanwhile, continues to milk his former glory, making appearances at fan conventions. He even went so far as to get “CGI surgery” in order to stay relevant in the changing world of animation.
Fast-forward to the present, and both Chip and Dale get separate calls from their former Rescue Rangers costar, Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). Monty needs Chip and Dale’s help, as his cheese addiction has landed him in hot water with a crime boss named ‘Sweet Pete.’ If Monty can’t pay back his debt, Pete will have Monty ‘bootlegged’ (a process that alters a character to avoid copyright laws, so they can be shipped overseas and make bootlegged versions of Hollywood movies). Chip and Dale promise to pay Monty’s debt, only for Monty to end up kidnapped that same night. The police, led by the claymation Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons), are looking into it, but have their hands tied with a series of other toon disappearances. So Chip and Dale begrudgingly set aside their differences to start an investigation of their own to find their missing friend with the help of human officer Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne). All the while, Dale hopes the team-up leads to an eventual Rescue Rangers reboot.
The setup is a lot of fun. Using a real show from yesteryear as the backdrop for a Roger Rabbit-style comedy is a really entertaining idea. And the movie is clearly having a ball with all the characters, cameos and references it can cram in. One benefit this film has is that animation has changed a lot since Roger Rabbit hit theaters, so there’s a lot more types of humor and visual styles they can squeeze in.
Not only do we have toons interacting with humans, but the toons themselves (whether existing characters or ones made up for the film) come in a range of styles, from anime to stop-motion to Michael Bay’s Transformers to the 80s incarnation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sweet Pete’s gang even consists of “uncanny valley” CG characters like Bob the Viking Dwarf (Seth Rogen), who is based on the Polar Express/Beowulf era of motion-capture (complete with dead eyes and lifeless movements), and a polar bear based on the old Coca-Cola commercials. Perhaps best of all is that one of the minor characters in the film is none other than ‘Ugly Sonic‘ (Tim Robinson). That is to say, the original character design for Sonic the Hedgehog for the 2020 film that haunted that initial trailer, before internet backlash delayed the film for the redesign of the character. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is full of visual surprises and variety that helps keep the film’s concept fresh throughout.
With that said, there is a bit of an asterisk to all this, since most of the characters are done with CG, even when they’re supposed to be traditionally animated or stop-motion characters. The most glaring examples being Chip, Monty and fellow Rescue Rangers characters Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper (Dennis Haysbert), who are obviously created with a cel-shaded CG meant to mimic the look of traditional animation. This not only feels like a shortcut was taken, but it also kind of deflates the whole joke that Dale had cosmetic surgery to become a CG character when the supposedly hand-drawn characters around him are also CG.
That’s not to say anything against CG, of course. All forms of animation can create things of beauty and wonder. But given the premise of the movie, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that it didn’t go all out and capture the different characters with their appropriate medium (there are a few delightful exceptions, such as a quick cameo from Roger Rabbit himself. Because of course he’s in this movie).
While Rescue Rangers is often very funny – sometimes outright hilarious – it does admittedly have a few jokes that it doesn’t know when to let them go. Most notably are the constant remarks about reboots, which after a while may become as insistent as the reboots they’re commenting on. The humor can even feel a little bit smarmy at times, which is a trap the more earnest Who Framed Roger Rabbit never once fell into.
Something else I have mixed feelings about is the film’s villain, Sweet Pete. I guess this is something of a spoiler (though the trailers already blatantly revealed it, and the reveal happens somewhat early in the film), but Sweet Pete is revealed to be a fat, balding, middle-aged Peter Pan (Will Arnett). On one hand, the idea of a middle-aged Peter Pan and Arnett’s voice work are funny. But on the other hand, the idea of “evil Peter Pan” is becoming almost as cliche as the evil Superman trope. Plus, Sweet Pete’s motive is that he became bitter once he got older and Hollywood forgot him, which seems kind of weird since the Disney version of Peter Pan is still a decently popular character who shows up here and there (this origin story is made even weirder with how Peter Pan is inexplicably the only toon in the movie who has aged). It seems like Disney could have used a more genuinely forgotten character to go with the backstory, like McLeach from the Rescuers Down Under, or Gurgi from The Black Cauldron. But now I’m overthinking things.
None of these complaints are dealbreakers, however. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fun and funny movie that should be doubly entertaining for fans of animation and the people who grew up during the time when shows like the original DuckTales and Rescue Rangers were still airing. It’s a film filled with visual delights and fun callbacks and references for fans. The smart-alecky attitude of the film holds back some of the humor, and no, it’s certainly no Roger Rabbit. But Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is certainly one of the better Roger Rabbit imitators. And it may be the only time we ever get to see Ugly Sonic in a movie.
Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! May the Fourth be with you and all that!
Yes, today (May 4th) is the fan holiday in which we celebrate all things Star Wars. The good, the bad, and the Jar-Jar.
Star Wars has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, but its place in pop culture history has long-since been solidified. It’s the movie world’s most indelible mythology, and has won over our hearts so strongly that it endures even passed its most egregious mistakes (“Somehow Palpatine returned…“).
Happy Star Wars Day you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herders! May the Fourth be with you!
Today also marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of Marvel’s The Avengers! Yes, much like Palpatine’s return, somehow it’s been a full decade since The Avengers was released. Man, I feel old…
Back in 2012, there had been no big superhero crossover movies. Marvel had been slowly building up to it since 2008, when Iron Man kicked off the MCU. We all take it for granted now (and perhaps even Marvel itself does), but in 2012, seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and the B-Team of Black Widow and Hawkeye come together for the first time was magical.
One could even argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe peaked with the first Avengers film. The “Battle for New York” is still probably the best battle sequence in the entire mega-franchise. While later Avengers movies would tread darker, more serious territory, 2012’s The Avengers was a pure fun delight that remains as entertaining now as it was ten years ago, long after the initial hype has died off (something not a lot of MCU films can boast).
I remember, on this day ten years ago, I actually saw The Avengers twice! I saw it at one theater with one group, and then immediately went to another theater and saw it with a different group. I can’t say I’ve done that with a whole lot of movies.
The Avengers also proved to be one of the most influential films of recent memory, with every studio under the sun trying to construct their own “Cinematic Universes” in an attempt to replicate what Marvel accomplished with The Avengers (though only Legendary’s Godzilla and Kong-fueled “MonsterVerse” has somewhat succeeded). It’s the kind of influence I’m sure James Cameron wished Avatar had.
The MCU has gone a lot of places in the past ten years, with bigger crossovers and larger storylines. But some of that “pure fun” of The Avengers has been lost along the way. Sure, the MCU films are still mostly good (Eternals was a glaring exception. And Loki was kind of a “jump the shark” moment for me). But as the MCU has grown bigger it’s also become a bit too in love with itself, and at times cynical (again, Loki basically said every MCU event before itself was meaningless. Way to pay off fan investment). And the standalone stories are kind of giving way to everything being about the overarching plot, as if Thanos never left.
But in 2012, it was just six super heroes banding together, in a movie that had all the unadulterated enthusiasm as a kid playing with their action figures. And it was good.
Happy tenth anniversary, Avengers! And one more time, May the Fourth be with you!
I guess I have another “My Month in Movies” left in the tank. Despite my saying these things aren’t going to be monthly, I’ve ended up doing them almost every month since I started doing them last October (for movies I watched in September). The only exception was February. Seeing as Uncharted was the only movie I watched during that whole month, I guess it makes sense I skipped it.
Still, I don’t expect to continue to make these kinds of posts regularly (I say that now). I still have movies and games from last year I’ve been meaning to review but still haven’t. I should really get to those soon. But, this month had a bit of a theme going, so I figured I’d make another My Month in Movies for the occasion.
That theme was video game movies! Although I watched a few films outside of the category, I watched six video game movies in April, and I couldn’t resist writing about them.
In total, I watched nine movies in April of 2022. Again, movies marked with an asterisk are ones I watched for the very first time.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2*
The Last Blockbuster
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore*
The Bad Guys*
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
So again, you could say video game movies were the name of the… game! Ho ho! It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t get around to watching Mortal Kombat Annihilation or the 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot as I originally planned. Maybe I’ll do another video game movie-themed post in the near future as an excuse to watch them.
I know, I know, video game movies don’t exactly have the best reputation. But as I’ve stated in the past, the earlier entries in the sub-genre are like guilty pleasures. They tended to be dumb and goofy, but they were so bad they were entertaining. It was probably in the 2000s when video game movies became unspeakably bad. But, as I mentioned in my reviews for the Sonic movies and as I’ll soon mention here, video game movies have now found a way to be genuinely good.
My first movie this month was a re-watch of 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, AKA the last big movie before the pandemic (seriously). I love this movie. It has its problems, but I kind of don’t really care. It’s a fun movie that pays respect to the video game series (something not a lot of video game movies have done), and it gives Jim Carrey an excuse to be the most manic he’s been since the 90s. And as Dr. Robotnik, one of my all-time favorite video game characters, no less!
Sure, the structure can be a little flimsy at times, and the movie really jumps through hoops to try to explain why Sonic needs help from his human friend Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). But again, if I’m watching a movie based on Sonic the Hedgehog and starring Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, I mostly care that the movie is fun. And 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog is just that, fun.
And let’s all be grateful that the filmmakers and studio decided to redesign Sonic after that horrifying first trailer. Otherwise the film wouldn’t have worked (can’t really make a kids’ movie based on a classic video game character if that character gave kids nightmares), and we probably wouldn’t have gotten its superior sequel without the change.
Also, something to note: in my original review for Sonic the Hedgehog, I mentioned the only piece of music from the games that made it into the film’s score were a few renditions of the iconic Green Hill Zone theme. But that’s inaccurate. There’s one other musical number lifted from the games, as the film begins with the opening theme from Sonic Mania! That’s a really nice touch!
My next movie was logically Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Boy, this film did not disappoint! It’s a bigger, better sequel, pays even more loving homage to the games, features Tails and Knuckles, and Jim Carrey looks like Robotnik this time around (minus the round belly. Though word is Jim Carrey has wanted to portray a game-accurate Robotnik since the first film. Maybe by the time Sonic 3 rolls around Jim Carrey will go full Eggman with a fat suit). Yes, it can get goofy at times, but that’s hardly an unforgivable sin.
The simple fact is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is some of the purest fun I’ve had in a movie in years. I think it’d be fun even if you didn’t know the games. But this is a movie that really cares about going the extra mile for the adults who grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the kids who are growing up with Sonic the Hedgehog. Something like that is becoming pretty rare in this day and age.
Perhaps in retrospect my only real disappointment (besides the mid-credits tease) is that, unlike the first movie, I don’t think any of the music from the games made it into the film’s score. That’s doubly a bummer given how awesome that snippet of Emerald Hill Zone from the film’s teaser was.
Next up we take a break from video game movies and go into movie movies. Or movie documentaries. Or video rental documentaries. I’m talking about The Last Blockbuster, okay!
The Last Blockbuster was released in 2020, and chronicles how Blockbuster Video went from being a brand as big as McDonald’s to going broke and dwindling down to a single store (in Bend, Oregon). It’s a fun, nostalgic documentary that showcases some of the boneheaded business decisions Blockbuster made over the years (like not buying Netflix early on when they had the chance, and that illogical “no more late fees” thing). It really makes me miss the days of going to Blockbuster to rent a movie (or video game) every week. Hell, it makes me miss the days when I ordered movies in the mail from Netflix!
In the days before the internet, I discovered a number of games just by scrolling through Blockbuster shelves (I must have rented Brave Fencer Musashi at least a half dozen times before actually buying it). It’s kind of a shame we can’t have anything like that anymore. Damn internet.
The Last Blockbuster is definitely a fun watch, though I do wish it found a greater variety of film buffs to interview on the subject (a minute of Kevin Smith is too much Kevin Smith for me).
Going from Blockbuster and back into a movie theater, my next movie was Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Boy, are the subtitles for this series goofy.
I’ve actually been meaning to review this one, so I won’t say too much here. In short, I think The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement over its predecessor The Crimes of Grindlewald (seriously, those titles!), but it still fails to capture the magic of the Harry Potter series. Dumbledore feels like a big dose of course correction after the bungling second installment, but hasn’t elevated Fantastic Beasts to where I think it could be. But maybe now that it’s been pointed in the right direction and with two installments to go, maybe it can find greatness before the end.
I then dipped my toes back into the video game movie pool with Double Dragon from 1994. It’s uhhh… It’s no Sonic the Hedgehog.
I didn’t put an asterisk next to Double Dragon at the beginning of this post because I have technically seen it once before. But this may as well have been the first time because the previous time I watched it was when it was in theaters, and I would have been five at the time, given the film’s late ’94 release. So this viewing was basically like watching Double Dragon for the first time, and is most likely the longest gap in between my first and second viewings of a movie (not that I, or anyone else, could keep track of such a statistic).
This is a bad movie. It has some ironic entertainment, but unlike the other video game movies I would watch later in the month, Double Dragon is more guilty than pleasure.
I admit, I don’t have the deepest history with the Double Dragon video games, but I seem to remember them taking place in essentially an 80s-style setting, filled with martial arts and street gangs of a Karate Kid fashion. I guess the movie has street gangs and an approximation of martial arts, but it also takes place in the “future” of 2007, where a massive earthquake has devastated Los Angeles, giving the film a kind of post-apocalyptic setting. Also the bad guy uses a machine to mutate the gang members working for him into grotesque monstrosities, with the character Abobo from the game being one such creature.
I admit I haven’t played all of the Double Dragon games, but were any of them like this?
Although Robert “The T-1000” Patrick has some fun as the villain, Double Dragon ultimately stumbles. It’s neither a good adaptation or a fun martial arts movie on its own.
Switching back to movie theaters, I saw Dreamworks Animation’s The Bad Guys. I already reviewed The Bad Guys, which was a lot of fun. Its story may not tread very original ground, but the animation is daring and creative. Definitely one to watch if you want something visually unique, or just a fun and humorous riff on gangster and heist movies.
For the final three movies of the month, we go back to the early days of video game adaptations. The first of these was Mortal Kombat from 1995.
Although video game movies have had a very rough history from the beginning, they had at least one gold nugget (okay, bronze) in their early years in the form of Mortal Kombat.
While Mortal Kombat may not be a technically great movie or anything, it was far ahead of other video game movies in that it gave fans want they came to see: this is very much a Mortal Kombat movie. And it’s fun.
All the characters from the original game make an appearance, and they fight. Like, a lot! Seriously, a good chunk of the middle act literally zips from one fight scene to the next. The fighting is cheesy and over-the-top, but in an entertaining way. Some fans lament that the violent “fatalities” weren’t present in the movie. But given how the series became too reliant on the violence later on, I feel like the movie’s relatively tame violence makes it stand out in the franchise. I also like how they decided to make Raiden, the god of thunder and lightning, the funny character of the film in addition to being the mentor.
The big complaint, of course, is how Mortal Kombat’s (incredibly abrupt) ending undoes the whole point of the movie. The whole premise is that the good guys have to win the Mortal Kombat tournament to prevent the emperor of Outworld from invading Earth. Spoiler alert (for a twenty-seven-year-old movie), the good guys win the tournament. But then the emperor comes through a portal to Earth in the last seconds of the film anyway. If you know the stories of the games, this does play into the sequel. But given that the emperor’s sudden appearance is unexplained in the movie, it comes across as a big middle finger to the plot. Yes, it’s eventually explained in Mortal Kombat Annihilation, but maybe the emperor’s emergence itself should have been saved for the sequel to give the first film a proper ending.
Mortal Kombat is a silly movie, but very much a Mortal Kombat movie. In a time when so many video game movies couldn’t even get that right, that was enough. And it’s still goofy fun.
Next up we have Street Fighter! Talk about a guilty pleasure! People use the term “so bad it’s good” a bit too liberally, but I think it’s a very apt description for the Street Fighter movie. It’s so bad, but so glorious.
Street Fighter is basically a cheesy military action movie combined with a cheesy martial arts movie, and it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and the late Raul Julia as M. Bison.
The film has some notable deviations from the source material, such as Guile being the main character, while Ryu and Ken are bumbling comic relief. I don’t mind that too much, since they basically just swapped the generic guy wearing a gi as the main character in favor of the generic military character (personally, I always thought Chun-Li should have been the main character of the series since she stands out far more). There’s also the infamous change of Zangief being a bad guy (an idea that Wreck-It Ralph would unknowingly accept as fact), but he does go good by the end. But overall, it’s a decently faithful adaptation of Street Fighter II. Certainly a better adaptation than the anime movie, and more entertaining too.
Of course, you can’t talk about the Street Fighter movie without mentioning that it was one of Raul Julia’s last film roles. Sadly, Julia’s health had been in decline, and accepted the role of M. Bison because his kids were fans of Street Fighter and wanted to give them something to enjoy as one of his last roles (an incredibly classy act on his part). But his health rapidly declined after production began, which greatly affected the physical training for the actors (they often didn’t even get to practice for their fight scenes until right before they shot them), which probably explains why the fights are nothing special. Raul Julia would sadly pass away not long after the movie was complete, with the film dedicated to his memory.
Raul Julia really gave it his all though. He knew exactly what kind of movie he was in and made the absolute best of it, hamming M. Bisom up to high heaven and creating a gloriously cheesy villain.
The rest of the film is also cheesy fun, with Jean-Claude Van Damme being an ironic highlight (and Ming-Na Wen as Chun-Li being a more genuine one). Capcom themselves clearly thought the movie was entertaining, sneaking in sly references to the movie in some of their games (like Chun-Li being a news reporter in Mega Man 9). Hell, the film even gave Ken his last name, Masters.
Street Fighter was released in theaters less than two months after Double Dragon, so it must have been something like a palette cleanser to video game fans back in 1994. Today, if you want to indulge in some “so bad it’s good” fun, Street Fighter is one of the best options. As is my final movie of the month…
I ended the month with the video game movie that started it all, Super Mario Bros. from 1993. Like Street Fighter, I consider Super Mario Bros. to be one of my great guilty pleasures, and a movie that’s so bad it’s good. Although Street Fighter probably has more genuinely praise-worthy elements, I still put Super Mario Bros. in the same boat because it is such a weird, surreal movie that it really does have to be seen to be believed.
Again, the Super Mario Bros. movie is a bad movie, but it is fascinating to behold. You may honestly ask yourself “what the hell am I watching?” when viewing it.
The film’s first slip-up was, of course, the fact that it’s live-action. How anyone could look at the Super Mario Bros. games, and decide live-action made any kind of sense for the series, I will surely never know. It’s perhaps no surprise then, that the film’s second great mistake is that it has virtually nothing to do with the games other than some of the character names (the film uses the Super Mario Bros. theme music during the opening title in what may be the most cruel tease in cinema history).
Granted, I stand by my past claims that early video game movies have a pretty decent excuse for their less-than ideal quality in that the video games of the time were so different from movies that adapting them for the silver screen would be difficult. And Super Mario Bros. was the first theatrical video game movie adaptation (there was a straight-to-video Mario anime in Japan previously), so it’s understandable that sailing such uncharted waters would be a difficult task for the movie. Now, I’m not excusing the Super Mario Bros. movie of its faults, but at least given the circumstances of the time, they make sense.
Some people complain about casting the late, great British actor Bob Hoskins as Mario and the Colombian actor John Leguizamo as Luigi, since the Mario Brothers are, you know, Italian. But honestly, Mario is such a cartoony character that I hardly think it matters (I also don’t mind Chris Pratt voicing Mario in the upcoming animated film). I’m more offended by the fact that they didn’t give Luigi a mustache. Plus, I think both actors do a fine job despite the rest of the movie, with Bob Hoskins in particular doing a great job at portraying a more realistic take on Mario as a plumber from Brooklyn. Though the fact that the film focuses so intensely on Mario’s occupation – which is little more than a tidbit in the video games – is telling of how poorly the movie understood the material.
Oh yeah, and the film’s version of Bowser is President Koopa, portrayed by Dennis Hopper. The Goombas are really tall guys with tiny lizard heads for some reason. The film also uses the name Daisy for the princess (Princess Daisy having only appeared in Super Mario Land at the time), I suppose because the name Peach (or Toadstool) wasn’t realistic enough in a movie as grounded in reality as this. By the way, did I mention that the premise of the film is that the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs actually created a parallel universe where the dinosaurs evolved into humanoid beings, and Koopa wants the missing piece of the meteorite to merge the dimensions? So that’s fine, but the name Princess Toadstool is going too far.
Perhaps the most hilarious changes from the games are the little things, like how the Mario Bros. wear special shoes to allow them to jump high (because that really needed an explanation) or how, instead of overalls, the brothers Mario wind up wearing jumpsuits with color patterns that approximate their famous attire. Like, why couldn’t they even get the overalls right?
Even if you can somehow ignore the absolute mishandling of the Mario franchise, this movie would still be a weird fever dream of cinema. And yet, I can’t look away…
Alright, I’ve rambled long enough. Let’s dish out the usual awards so I can move on to some proper reviews (and maybe watch Street Fighter again).
Best Movie I Watched All Month *And* Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Go ahead and hate me, but I love these Sonic movies. The first one was a delightful surprise, being a legitimately good family movie that happens to star Sonic the Hedgehog. But the sequel is a full-fledged Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and the best video game movie yet made.
Obviously, Sonic 2 had a more difficult time winning over critics (but the reception was mostly positive). The fact the film is based on a video game probably had a lot of ‘professional’ critics making up their mind right off the bat, unfortunately. But for people who enjoy a little thing called “fun,” Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers that in droves.
Sonic 2 is terrific fun. Doubly so if you’re a fan of the source material (probably something else that turned most critics away. Can’t have fans being happy). It’s truer to the classic games than the Sonic games themselves have been in a very long time (with the exception of Sonic Mania). Who would have thought that the movie adaptations would be the best thing to happen to Sega’s flagship franchise in years?
Plus, it’s just nice to have this type of movie that has a tone, sense of humor and action scenes that don’t just ape the same stuff Marvel has been doing for a decade and a half (although the finale may come a bit close). And yes, I gave it a more glowing review than Spider-Man: No Way Home. I don’t regret that one bit.
Go ahead and hate me for praising this kids’ movie based on a video game. But it’s honest to goodness some of the most fun I’ve had with a movie in a long time.
Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Double Dragon
Whereas Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took video game movies to new heights, Double Dragon was something of an early low. It lacks the bungling insanity of Super Mario Bros. and doesn’t begin to compare to the glorious cheesiness of Street Fighter. So while those movies are the good kind of bad, Double Dragon isn’t so lucky.
I’ve seen worse movies (this is hardly even the worst movie to “win” in this category in the handful of months I’ve done these), and video game movies themselves would get much worse during the 2000s. But it’s safe to say that Double Dragon is pretty bad, and has less of the guilty pleasure factor of its contemporary video game movies.
The Guilty Pleasure Award: Super Mario Bros. and/or Street Fighter
Super Mario Bros. is a hilarious disaster of a movie. As I said, being the first (Hollywood) movie to adapt a video game was already an uphill battle, but Super Mario Bros. also had a slew of other production problems besides that. It’s really no wonder it ended up a mess. The fact that it seemed to actively avoid any semblance of faithfulness to the games it was adapting only adds a slew of other issues.
And yet, the film is so bonkers I can’t help but get a kick out of it. There are so many bizarre details in this movie: Like when the cop in the dinosaur world is questioning the Mario brothers, there’s a woman rubbing her high heel on the cop’s shoulder the whole time. What the hell is that about? There’s also the running gag of Koopa waiting for a pizza he ordered, which ultimately has no payoff.
Some people try to claim that, if you removed the Super Mario name from the equation, that this wouldn’t be too bad of a movie. But I disagree. As a fan of the Super Mario series, I think the film’s utter ineptitude at capturing even the most basic elements of the games (again, the Mario brothers don’t even have overalls) gives the picture a kind of pitiable charm akin to The Room. It’s a bad movie, but you root for it nonetheless. Take away the “Mario” element and it’s simply a bad movie.
With that said, it is obvious why Nintendo was reluctant to let anyone make another movie based on their games for the longest time (though there was an Animal Crossing anime film in 2006 which has strangely never been released outside of Japan). Nintendo didn’t let Hollywood anywhere near their franchises until Detective Pikachu in 2019. And now we have a brand-new Super Mario Bros. movie finally on the way. Although the fact that it’s being made by Illumination has me skeptical (and I hate that Seth Rogen is Donkey Kong), I’m still excited for it. Here’s hoping it learns a thing or two from the Sonic movies (and that may be the only time Mario needs to learn anything from Sonic).
Finally, how can the Street Fighter movie not put a smile on someone’s face? It is the epitome of dumb fun.
The whole movie is one big, goofy ride. Littered with cheesy dialogue and cheesier action, not to mention Jean-Claude Van Damme struggling to deliver his lines. But it’s the efforts of Raul Julia that ascend Street Fighter to glorious ridiculousness.
Double Dragon may have been squeezed in the middle of them, but it really was fitting that Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter were among the earliest video game movies. It’s just appropriate that two games of such iconic stature would be adapted before any others. You can complain about their execution all you want, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way than have Mario and Street Fighter be the first video game movie adaptations.
These movies really are two sides of the same coin. Take that as you will.
That’s all folks!
I’ve rambled quite long enough (again). So let’s put this one in the books and call it a day. I don’t know if I’ll write another “My Month in Movies” soon. But I said that before and I’ve done a few since then, so I guess we’ll see. As always, I hope you had a fun read.