Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

I really have to hand it to the Mission: Impossible film series, for nearly twenty years and five installments (a relatively low number for that many years, since most movies seem to rush sequel after sequel these days), the series just hasn’t lost its luster. Some say the second and third installments were low points in the series (I personally didn’t mind them), but while most series would see that as a time to reboot the whole thing, Mission: Impossible simply decided to reinvigorate the franchise with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to great success.

This fifth entry, Rogue Nation, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Ghost Protocol (that’s nothing to be ashamed of, since Ghost Protocol is easily one of the best action movies of the last decade), but it keeps the series’ momentum going at full speed.

It’s true that the Mission: Impossible movies, much like the TV series that inspired them, are more about death-defying action scenarios and espionage that are, well, impossible, than anything else. But what Mission: Impossible gets right that so many action movies get wrong is that they treat their action scenes as a story in themselves. Whereas a lot of action flicks just throw in a bunch of explosions and call it a day, Mission: Impossible’s action scenes are more elaborate, creative, and played out as their own kind of narrative. The action is the story.

Rogue Nation continues this tradition with exhilarating action set pieces that see Tom Cruise out Tom Cruising himself. The trailers and TV spots show off the scene where Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is hanging off an airplane as it takes off into the air (a practical stunt that involved no CG, a tradition of the series), and that happens in the first five minutes of the movie! If that doesn’t tell you that the rest of the film isn’t an excited roller coaster of events, I don’t know what will.

The action scenes are, of course, the movie’s biggest draw. They’re all terrifically played out, with few of them ever cutting away from the action, and some even going directly into another without the chance to catch a breath in between. There might not be a singular set piece quite as memorable as Tom Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, but there’s never a dull moment.

"A day in the life of Tom Cruise."
“A day in the life of Tom Cruise.”

The story sees Ethan Hunt tracking down a terrorist organization called The syndicate (named after the recurring criminal organization from the later seasons of the TV series), but the IMF is dissolved by a stuffy CIA director, and Ethan Hunt has to work on is own (recruiting his former teammates along the way of course) in bringing down the Syndicate and evading the CIA.

Admittedly, the plot retreads some similar ground as Ghost Protocol (how many times can the IMF be disavowed?), but again, this is Mission: Impossible we’re talking about. The stories of the action sequences are the real plot.

My only major complaint with Rogue Nation is that Ethan Hunt’s IMF teammates seem less important than they did in Ghost Protocol. Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) gets the biggest supporting role of the returning cast, but William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) just feel like they’re along for the ride. A new female lead is introduced in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who is involved with the Syndicate, which often puts her loyalties in question. Her presence adds some uncertainty to the team, which is a nice little spin on the formula, though nothing that will shake the series to its core.

This does bring up another little complaint I have with Rogue Nation though. The film keeps a solid continuity with Ghost Protocol (though it can easily be enjoyed on its own), and brings up the events of the previous film, including the attack on the Kremlin and its big finale. Yet, the female lead from Ghost Protocol, Jane Carter, is never even mentioned. Considering the established continuity, it just seems weird that a key character from the last movie is completely forgotten.

These are really not too big of complaints though, when you consider how entertaining the Mission: Impossible series still is at its fifth installment. How many movie franchises can keep up their pace through that many sequels?

In short, if you like any of the Mission: Impossible movies, or action movies in general, it’d be hard to not be impressed by Rogue Nation. It keeps the action-fueled spirit of the series alive and well. Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane is, literally and figuratively, only the beginning.

Why “The Pixar Theory” is Really, Really Stupid

Pixar

Fan theories are basically terrible. I know, that’s a harsh generalization, and I’m sure there are some exceptions. But for the most part, from my experience, fan theories tend to be overly thought out nonsense. One such fan theory that has gained way too much attention and given way too much undeserved praise is “The Pixar Theory.” The Pixar Theory is a fan theory that suggest, beyond all logic, that every Pixar movie takes place in the same fictional world, but in differing timeframes.

The starting point of this so-called theory is that the Witch from Brave is actually Boo, the little girl from Monsters, Inc. Why is this baseless assumption the starting point of the Pixar Theory? Because a magic user is a convenient way to connect entirely unrelated movies through time travel! Oh wait, the Witch has a woodcarving of Sully from Monsters, Inc. on one of her shelves (as well as the Pizza Planet truck). So clearly this means that the Witch and Boo are the same character, and she has the woodcarving of Sully as a reminder of their adventures together. Clearly the woodcarving wasn’t just a reference to Monsters University (Pixar’s theatrical release after Brave), because cameos can’t just be cameos.

Monsters Inc.
“I’m gonna grow up and be in an inferior Pixar movie.”

But wait, why would the Witch be old in the past but young during the events of Monsters, Inc., which is clearly set in a more contemporary world? Well, because The Pixar Theory has no consistency in anything resembling logic, the idea is that the doors in Monsters, Inc. that are gateways between the human and monster worlds are also portals through time (with the monster world being the most distant future in this supposed Pixar timeline). So Boo-Witch is using the doors to try to find her friend Sully, searching through time and space in what is a shoehorned attempt at trying to give this theory a heart.

So Boo-Witch eventually ended up in the world of Brave through one of these doors, where she was able to learn magic in a further attempt to find Sully (maybe she should find some human friends, eh?). And through her woodcarvings, she embeds her magic into the wood they’re carved in, which is somehow supposed to explain how, eventually, the inanimate objects of other Pixar films came to life (because Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen are totally made out of wood).

Brave
“Clearly the same person as Boo. Because convenience.”

Boo and the Witch from Brave, clearly the same character, are the foundation (I use that word very lightly) of The Pixar Theory, which then suggests that her influence spawned the rest of the *groan* “Pixar Cinematic Universe.” As if using a weaker Pixar movie like Brave as the basis for this atrocity wasn’t bad enough, it even takes some turns for the grim.

Apparently, Wall-E saving mankind at the end of his self-titled film didn’t end up so well, and humans eventually died off, leaving cars to evolve into the planet’s dominate species. Thus we have the Cars movies, which obviously weren’t just intended as fun movies for kids about talking cars. Clearly human extinction was in the minds of the Pixar filmmakers when creating Mater!

Cars
“Ta me, yer the good dinasaur!”

After the cars all died out, the world became the monster world of the Monsters, Inc. films. First off, why is this theory built so strongly around the weaker Pixar movies (Wall-E aside)? And second, humans to cars to monsters? Makes about as much sense as anything else in this gobbledygook, I suppose.

Movies like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, and other such contemporary movies all supposedly take place in roughly the same time period, this being the only piece of this crackpot theory that makes any kind of sense whatsoever. They are all connected, clearly, by things like the Pizza Planet truck and… other passing Easter Eggs…I guess.

When exactly did we get to the point that movies can’t just have these fun little details like cameos and references to a studio or filmmaker’s other works? At what point did these things become literal in people’s eyes? The Pizza Planet truck is a running gag. That’s it. It’s there for people to point out and say “Oh look, it’s the Pizza Planet truck.” Nothing more.

The Pixar Theory is so full of holes, logic gaps, and baseless assumptions that the theory’s original author felt the need to justify his stance with paragraph after paragraph of excuses in between just about every thought (maybe he should just admit defeat?). The excuses aren’t any more grounded than the theory itself.

I apologize that much of this writing just sounds like an angry rant. But frankly, I’m tired and somewhat disheartened that people can’t just enjoy movies anymore. They always have to come up with these needless fan theories and such. The “shared universe” concept is one that is especially annoying (Thanks a lot, comic books! Now no one can appreciate singular works anymore!). Why people are so obsessed with every work by an artist or studio all being connected is beyond me.

The Pixar Theory is one of the most eye-rolling fan theories in all of animation. It’s up there with the idea that Frozen, The Little Mermaid and Tangled are all part of the same fictional world (because Rapunzel has a cameo in Frozen, and Frozen and Little Mermaid both of sunken ships in them, so obviously…). The Pixar Theory is up there with the idea that Totoro is the God of Death… Actually, The Pixar Theory isn’t quite that bad, since that fan theory suggests a film Hayao Miyazaki created for the sake of happiness is actually grim. Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki have even openly dismissed that theory (Miyazaki in particular gets really P.O’d about it), but fans continue to cling onto it. Because apparently they know more about a movie than the man who created it.

"Evidently I'm made out of magic wood because a witch used to be friends with a fuzzy, blue monster."
“Evidently I’m made out of magic wood because a witch used to be friends with a fuzzy, blue monster.”

Anyway, getting a little sidetracked. The point is, The Pixar Theory, like most fan theories, is utter nonsense. But The Pixar Theory is especially criminal due to the baffling intrigue it’s created, and the fact that many people actually give it credibility. I’m not even sure it should be called a theory, it’s more like fan fiction! And even by the standards of fan fiction, the Pixar Theory is poorly conceived.

No. The Pixar movies aren’t all connected. Cameos are just cameos. References are just references. And Boo is most certainly not the Witch from Brave.

These conspiracy theory-like fan theories are only robbing movies (animated ones in particular, it would seem) of their purity. I’m sure there are perfectly fine fan theories that actually respect their subject in question out there somewhere, buried deep under all the “shared universe” nonsense and other such crap. But can we please stop giving these fan theories more attention than the movies themselves. People seem to care more about the “what ifs” and “but hows” conjured up by some random internet nerds than they do about these wonderful, cinematic works of art.

If you see a character or object from a previous Pixar movie appear in another, or get a glimpse of a future Pixar film in one you’re watching right now, it’s not part of some planned-out scheme. It’s just there to add just a tiny bit more fun for audiences to look out for, and a fun way for the filmmakers to pay tribute to their impressive library of works. That’s all.

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

Ant-Man, the newest release in Marvel’s seemingly endless canon of super hero movies, is now in theaters. The good news is it’s mostly enjoyable.

I say “mostly” because I still think the movie had some big problems in regard to its villain, who simply couldn’t have been more cartoonish (what is up with these recent Marvel movies and lame villains? Even Guardians of the Galaxy, great as it was, had a disappointing bad guy). And I admit a lot of the movie felt like it was simply going through the motions (if you’ve seen one super hero origin story you’ve pretty much seen them all). But overall I thought it was a lot of fun.

Ayyyyy!
Ayyyyy!

Ant-Man is, appropriately, a much smaller movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I really liked that about it. It seems like every super hero movie these days is aiming for bigger, louder, and more destructive. I really enjoyed that Ant-Man was a relatively small movie, and I liked that its hero became more by becoming less, which is the exact opposite of every other Marvel hero we’ve seen on screen thus far.

Also, unlike Age of Ultron, Ant-Man also has a rather straightforward plot. I kind of grew impatient with Age of Ultron’s comic book gobbledygook. It just got more and more convoluted as it went on. Not so with Ant-Man, which sets things up simply and just builds on its (often ridiculous but consistently fun) premise.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a thief who has spent time in jail and is separated from his wife and daughter. Scott wants nothing more than to spend time with his daughter, but finding (and keeping) work with his criminal record isn’t easy, so he isn’t able to pay child support, and thus is unable to see his daughter. In desperation, he returns to his criminal ways to make some quick cash, only for his big score to end up being a setup by a reclusive scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who needs Scott’s special skills to become the Ant-Man via a shrinking suit of Pym’s invention.

"Did I just rob a cosplayer's secret vault?"
“Did I just rob a cosplayer’s secret vault?”

I liked the story for three primary reasons: The first is that Ant-Man changes up the usual super hero formula by turning it into more of a heist movie than the usual action-based setup of Marvel’s movies. There are still fight scenes and a few action spectacles, but it’s all built around the Ant-Man sneaking into the stereotypical bad guy corporation’s building and destroying data files on a deadly formula. And when it finally delivers its action-packed finale, it’s one of the more original to be found in the Marvel Universe, as it takes place in a child’s toy-filled room.

"He's like Captain Olimar... but with Ants."
“He’s like Captain Olimar… but with Ants.”

The second reason is that Ant-Man is a ridiculous concept by definition, but the movie doesn’t make a complete joke out of it. There’s humor in Ant-Man, of course, but it plays its concept with enough seriousness to be taken seriously. I seem to be in the minority here, but I can’t stand it when movies like this go completely tongue-in-cheeck. Just because the nature of a story may be ridiculous it shouldn’t have to mean it needs to make a joke out of itself. A lot of internet nerds seem to like movies that “make fun of themselves.” I typically don’t. And I like that Ant-Man is with me on this.

The third reason is that, while the characters may not be complex, the movie gives enough attention to them to make you care (if only Age of Ultron had been so wise). Scott Lang having a daughter as his motivation makes him stand out from the other Marvel heroes and makes him sympathetic despite being a thief. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have a complicated relationship due to the death of Hope’s mother, but they are put into a situation where they need to work together nonetheless. The obvious exception is the aforementioned villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who fits so squarely into the evil, rich businessman cliche that he just might be a parody of it.

Ant-Man might not be the next greatest super hero movie, but it is one that at least feels refreshing in some areas. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much, and while it still has some Marvel tropes working against it, I thought it was ultimately enjoyable. I’m still a little on the fence with the small army of Marvel movies on the horizon, but at least Ant-Man gives me hope that the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has some life left in it.

Inside Out and Jurassic World: Proof That Classics Can Be Topped

Jurassic World

I’m going to make two very bold statements: I think Jurassic World is better than Jurassic Park. And I think Inside Out is the best Pixar movie to date.

Again, two very bold statements, considering the former blatantly says that *gasp!* I think a modern sequel in a franchise is better than the nostalgic favorite 90s originator, and the latter states that I think the newest entry in the Pixar canon is superior to their incredible back catalogue of classics, which includes the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many others.

That’s just the point I’m trying to make. Sometimes, classics can indeed be topped.

Now, I’m not one to suggest that newer automatically equates to better. I’m normally quite the opposite, and usually think that classics that prove their timelessness are indeed quite difficult to surpass. But I also roll my eyes at the growing trend that people seem to think older automatically equates to better as well. Sure, a good deal of my favorite films (and video games, and other things) would be considered retro, but I’m also open to the idea of newer things sitting alongside old favorites, provided they’re good enough.

I know Jurassic Park was revolutionary and influential for its groundbreaking visual effects, and that just about every visual effects-heavy blockbuster that has been released since 1993 owes a debt of gratitude to it. I know that Jurassic World can’t hope to have that same kind of revolutionary impact. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser movie.

Jurassic World, I feel, managed to capture the same spirit of Jurassic Park in a way that the previous sequels never could. But it also benefits from having an overall more entertaining cast of characters than the original film. Sure, there may not be any character in the franchise quite as memorable as John Hammond (who is an infinitely more compelling character on screen than his generic villain counterpart in the original book, but that’s besides the point). But let’s face it, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler were a pretty stock hero and heroine. They were there to move things along, but didn’t exactly give us enough reason to care about them specifically. We may not have wanted them to get eaten by a T-Rex, but you could also easily imagine any other character in their shoes (which may be why Ian Malcom, a supporting character in the first film, was promoted to the main role in the ill-fated second installment).

"A great movie, but rather bland main characters."
“A great movie, but rather bland main characters.”

Now, I’m not about to say Jurassic World introduces a whole new depth for characters in an action/thriller blockbuster, but it does give enough attention to the characters to make you care about them individually.

Owen Grady would feel right at home as a 90s action hero, but he has a more grounded, everyman aspect to his personality and a good sense of humor (courtesy of Chris Pratt) that make him feel more relatable (and mortal) than the 90s heroes that probably inspired him. Claire Dearing is also a much more memorable heroine than Sattler before her, since she gets some good character development (growing from thinking of the dinosaurs as mere “attractions” into appreciating them as living creatures, for example) which makes her more interesting than Sattler, who could be summed up as “the female lead” in the original film.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World also does a terrific job at meshing suspense and action in a way that not only does the first film justice, but may actually surpass the original Jurassic Park in this regard. Of course, this could be the benefit of being a sequel, since a large portion of Jurassic Park’s first half needed to explain all the “how did it happen?” in regards to the dinosaurs which, admittedly, could sometimes feel slow. Jurassic World can bypass all that exposition and use the added time to let us know more about the characters and double up on the action and suspense. We all know the premise by this point, now we’re given time to just soak it all in and enjoy the ride right from the get go.

This is not to say anything against the original Jurassic Park, as that film holds a special place in my heart for numerous reasons (it’s honestly the earliest film I can remember seeing in a theater, and then there’s that theme music!). But I’d be lying if I said Jurassic World isn’t everything I look for in a Summer blockbuster. It’s pure, unbridled entertainment through and through.

Inside Out

But now let’s address the bigger question: Is Inside Out really Pixar’s best? I’ve certainly come to think so.

Now, I’ll probably write more in-depth about the finer details of what makes Inside Out so mind-blowingly awesome at a later date, but for now I’ll just run down some of the more obvious things to avoid spoilers and such.

The idea of Pixar films making audiences cry has almost become a running joke at this point, given the studio’s penchant for bringing audiences to tears. But in all honesty, Inside Out really did make me cry my eyes out. Even long after seeing it, as it ruminated in my mind, just thinking about the depth and delicate beauty of its story continued to make me misty-eyed. I always find it wonderful when any film can move me in such a way, and it’s true that some other Pixar movies have had a similar effect on me, but not nearly to this extent.

One thing I was beginning to question about Pixar movies, even with their quality, is why the most emotional moments were always depicted through montage. There’s nothing wrong with an emotional montage, of course. But it was becoming such a habit for Pixar that I actually began wondering if it was simply an easy way out. A convenient means to bring on the tears through melancholic music in case the writing couldn’t get the job done on its own. The melancholic music is still there in Inside Out (in fact, I’d say it’s the best score of any Pixar film), but much to my surprise, I found the film had a profound way of creating emotion in simpler, quieter moments in a way not unlike the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I do not mean to dismiss the likes of Up or Toy Story 3 for their use of montages, as they are lovely films, but there’s something to be said about the emotional impact Inside Out can create even when it’s doing so little.

Inside Out also has a wonderful sense of invention in just about every scene. Pixar has always used a particular “schtick” for each of their movies (toys, bugs, fish, etc.), but it kind of got to a point where they were beginning to corner themselves with these motifs (you can only do so much with anthropomorphic cars, after all). Up was previously the closest thing Pixar made that could have potentially set their imaginations free to run wild without being confined to a singular motif. But Up’s best ideas all come and go within the first twenty minutes, after that it’s a great, but admittedly less whimsical movie than its opening suggests. Not so with Inside Out, as its idea of exploring the mind – fittingly – gives its filmmakers the opportunity to throw in seemingly whatever fantastic ideas popped up in their heads. And it never lets up with its creative genius, and in some moments it goes into such levels of whimsy and surrealism that I must once again say it’s comparable to Hayao Miyazaki’s features.

Inside OutThere’s much more I could say about Inside Out (and I no doubt will), but suffice to say I think it has all the hallmarks of Pixar’s classics of the past, but takes them to a whole other level in terms of imaginative storytelling and emotion.

I must repeat that I normally am not so easily swayed to say that a beloved classic is bested, with the only other recent example I can think of being Frozen, which I’ll happily say is the best Disney animated feature in the studio’s history. But seeing as Frozen was released in late 2013, and Jurassic World and Inside Out now join this club of quality newness, that’s three movies in less than a two year timespan that I can claim trump their beloved predecessors, which once seemed untouchable.

Could this be a new trend in quality that I can expect to see more of in the near future? Probably not. But it is wonderful for me personally to have had two animated masterpieces and one of the best popcorn movies ever released within a relatively short timespan, as I feel it’s lifted some of my jadedness towards the modern movie scene. At the very least, it has me eagerly anticipating if Star Wars Episode VII can join this club.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

I went into Jurassic World with very little expectations. After all, aside from Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol, how many fourth installments in franchises end up being very memorable (Star Wars doesn’t count)? Not to mention the whole setup with a genetically engineered dinosaur sounded downright silly.

I was wonderfully surprised when the movie was over, as not only did Jurassic World not suck, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a movie in years. Not only is it the best non-animated blockbuster since Guardians of the Galaxy (which, interestingly, also starred Chris Pratt), but I’ll even say it’s my second favorite film of 2015 so far, after Inside Out (which I now feel I underrated in my review, but more on that another time).

So where did Jurassic World go right where so many other blockbusters go wrong? First and foremost, the characters. Jurassic World takes time to properly introduce its characters to the audience before all the mayhem starts, and even once all the dinosaurs start running amok, it still provides some breathing room and gives us extra moments of character development.

Jurassic WorldChris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an action hero right out of the 90s, but with a bit of an everyman touch added to make him a bit more believable. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) probably goes through the most character evolution throughout the film, and even the kids are more capable and much less annoying this time around.

All of the characters are given time to develop interactions and stories. Jurassic World makes you actually care about the characters, and because you care about them it makes you care about what’s happening around them. Compare that to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where characters are rapidly introduced seemingly for the sole purpose of marking a checklist of how many super heroes from the comics the movie can cram in.

Now about that genetically engineered dinosaur. It was a risky move, but somehow Jurassic World pulls it off. I was a little worried at first since the movie itself is quick to make fun of the “Indominous Rex.” Yes, the idea of a brand new, mixed up dinosaur is a little silly, but I don’t want the movie to make fun of itself about it. Too many blockbusters these days make jokes of themselves, I’d hate to see that happen with Jurassic World. Thankfully, it doesn’t. After the initial jokes come and go, the movie quickly changes its tone on the creature from that point on. It addresses the potential ridiculousness at first, and then, appropriately, treats the Indominous Rex as a terrible threat for the rest of the movie. The Indominous Rex could have been a disaster, but it ends up working well as the film’s primary threat.

As you might expect, Jurassic World plays up the nostalgia card. But it does so tastefully, creating some moments of pure nostalgic joy (and melancholy) in regards to the first movie, but it never simply relies on it. The movie also makes the wise decision to ignore mentioning the events of the second and third films in the franchise. The climactic sequence even largely plays up on fanservice, but it does so in such a clever and genuinely entertaining way that I couldn’t help but applaud it. It was a moment that made me feel like a kid again.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World succeeds in regards to action, suspense and horror in a way that so few blockbusters do these days. It may not have been directed by Steven Spielberg, but Jurassic World has the same beating heart of Spielberg’s best blockbuster movies. It’s an expertly crafted piece of entertainment through and through.

Not too many blockbusters have won me over these past few years, with most of them relying too heavily on excessive destruction and garish visual effects. But Jurassic World takes the best kind of blockbuster from the 80s and 90s and makes it feel brand new again. I went into Jurassic World not expecting much, but came out thoroughly entertained.

Simply put, Jurassic World is awesome.

The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now one of the highest-grossing movies all time. That’s not too surprising, since it seems like all a movie needs to do to make such a claim these days is have a lot of super heroes and visual effects. But, Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie, which is more than you can say about most billion-dollar movies. Age of Ultron is more entertaining than more cynical nerds would want to admit (“I found one tiny flaw so now everything about it sucks and it betrayed the comics!”), but it also has its share of problems. Here are the things I loved about Age of Ultron, followed by the things I, well, didn’t.

*Be warned: spoilers ahead!*

Continue reading “The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron”

In Defense of Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland has quickly turned into a bomb for the Walt Disney Studios. Failing to win over the box office and garnering a mixed reception from critics, Tomorrowland is already drawing comparisons to another Disney bomb, John Carter (another live-action sci-fi flick directed by a former/future Pixar director). This is an unfair comparison since, unlike John Carter, Tomorrowland is actually entertaining.

Yes, Tomorrowland is a flawed film. It often can’t decide whether it wants to be a whimsical, bewildering sci-fi adventure (in which it mostly succeeds) or a fast-paced action flick (in which it’s less consistent). Some of the visual effects aren’t nearly as convincing as others, leaving one to wonder how Disney of all studios could skimp in that department.

But Tomorrowland is, in its own way, a beautiful movie. It has a sense of imagination that is uncommon in (would-be) blockbusters, and it has a lovely, earnest message that goes against the increasing cynicism of today’s movies (and culture in general).

The setup of the film is that the titular Tomorrowland (which is only referred to by name once in the movie) is a community within another dimension founded by the likes of Nikola Tessla and Jules Verne, where scientists, artists and other such “dreamers” are transported in order to make their creations without the burdens of Earth getting in the way. Of course, these dreamers do this to help make a better future for a troubled Earth.

This being a movie, something goes wrong in this seemingly perfect community of creative minds, and the promising world of Tomorrowland abandons its original goal of helping Earth, and Tomorrowland itself is left behind to all but a select few.

Although marketing would have you believe George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, is the star of the film, he’s only a supporting player. The movie’s real focus is on Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an optimistic tech-genius, and Athena, an android bearing the likeness of a young girl, who is still following her mission to bring more great minds to Tomorrowland.

"Why weren't we featured more in the marketing again?"
“Why weren’t we featured more in the marketing again?”

Both of the female leads are a highlight of the film, as neither of them fall under the tropes that most other movies would blindly follow when it comes to female characters (even Age of Ultron largely reduced Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow into little more than a romantic interest for Bruce Banner). It’s baffling that Disney hasn’t played up the “girl power” heroines of this movie more, given the wild success Disney has seen in that area in recent years. Casey and Athena serve as the real heart of the film. Sure, George Clooney brings the star power, but it’s time we stop pretending that George Clooney ever plays any character other than George Clooney in every movie he’s in.

"I'm only the villain because people suck!"
“I’m only the villain because people suck!”

What I most appreciated about Tomorrowland was its sheer optimism. It is cynical only towards cynicism itself. The film has a message about how the popularization of pessimism and the embracing of doom and gloom are disgusting trends of modern society. We constantly reinforce the bad and feed the negative, despite that we can make our futures better with a little work and effort. Even the film’s antagonist (portrayed memorably by Hugh Laurie) is fed up with the defeatists of today. As he so eloquently puts it:  “In every moment there’s a possibility for a better future, but you won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what’s necessary to make it a reality.”

In this day and age, when even the Avengers ends on the sour note of two robots discussing how doomed mankind is, it is infinitely refreshing to see a movie that is not only hopeful and optimistic, but that outright dismisses cynicism itself. While just about every other big budget movie aims for dark and gritty, Tomorrowland can’t think of anything more annoying than just that.

I have also heard a number of people write off the movie as “weird.” But its weirdness is one of Tomorrowland’s best qualities. I grow tired of sci-fi and fantasy movies feeling the unnecessary need to explain their every last detail to their audience. Movies these days are so afraid that they might alienate some of their audience with imagination that they either over explain or under develop their fantastic elements. There’s no awe to sci-fi and fantasy when they spoonfeed audiences their every detail.

Tomorrowland is a weird movie. But weird is wonderful. I love that it only went into detail with what needed to be addressed, while a good deal of other things were gleefully left unexplained. There’s even a fun line of dialogue that more or less dismisses audiences wanting more exposition. There’s something admirable about a movie so defiant in wanting to be itself.

“Looking up even when the box office is looking down.”

As mentioned previously, Tomorrowland does have its share of problems. It is the weakest of Brad Bird’s five directed films due to the aforementioned inconsistency in its tone, as well as some story mishaps (the movie makes the unwise choice of ending on an explosion-heavy action sequence, which undermines its feel-good intentions). Some may also find the insistent Disney references eye-rolling, but what were you expecting in a film called Tomorrowland?

Ultimately though, Tomorrowland is far more enjoyable than it’s getting credit for. Its box office failure has been discouraging enough for Disney to cancel its long-gestating Tron 3, and it looks like the studio will go the John Carter route with Tomorrowland and slowly but surely pretend like it never existed. Again, this is a shame, since Tomorrowland – despite its obvious flaws -boasts more honesty and originality than a lot of the movies that are making a billion dollars these days.

Tomorrowland is dismissed for being weird, but that’s what makes it unique among more cliched genre movies. It’s been written off by critics and audiences for its optimism, but that may just prove the movie’s commentary on cynicism to be more than a little accurate.

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

With Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us – bringing an end to “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process – I figured now is a good time to compile a top ten list of the currently released movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s my ranking of the ten movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s phases one and two from least to greatest. Here they are.

*Caution: Some spoilers ahead!* Continue reading “Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies”

The Good and Bad of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella

Cinderella

Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, it could be a whole lot worse than it is, but it also could be a whole lot better. It’s inoffensive, but it doesn’t exactly justify Disney’s recent obsession with turning their animated back catalogue into live-action films. So here’s a brief lists of the things I think worked for the new Cinderella, and the things that didn’t work.

 

The Good

It Means Well

While a straight up adaptation of Cinderella may seem a tad superfluous, seeing as Disney’s animated version is already synonymous with the House of Mouse, you have to appreciate that the live-action Cinderella isn’t trying to make the story into something “cool” or “edgy” to try to appeal to today’s audiences. It’s not trying to be hip or sexy. It’s just Cinderella. In this day and age, that’s kind of relieving.

 

It’s Better than Maleficent

Disney’s last attempt at turning one of their animated films into a live-action feature, Maleficent, was a bit of a mess. There wasn’t a single plot twist that didn’t feel both predictable and forced. It never knew whether it wanted to be a charming Disney movie or something (*cue Napoleon Dynamite-style groan*) darker and edgier. And its core relationship between Maleficent and Aurora never quite worked.

Cinderella, although lacking in surprises, at least knows what it’s going for. It may be the same story of Cinderella we all know, but I’ll take that over the clunkiness (and garish visuals) of Maleficent.

 

A Dash of Ethnic Diversity

Cinderella doesn’t aim for a whole lot of modernization, but it does have at least one respectably modern aspect about it. The movie acknowledges some diversity in the people of Cinderella’s kingdom without ever forcibly pointing it out, making it feel like a kind of idealized fairy tale world. However, there are still some areas that could have definitely benefitted from some modernization. More on that in a moment…

 

Cate Blanchett

CinderellaThank God for Cate Blanchett, who steals every last scene she’s in as Lady Tremaine (AKA the Wicked Stepmother). She commands every last scene she’s in. It doesn’t matter that her character is ridiculously antagonistic, Cate Blanchett makes Lady Tremaine interesting based on performance alone. Even when the film is at its shakiest, Cate Blanchett helps liven things up.

 

Frozen Fever!

Frozen FeverAww yeah! Frozen! Woo! Seriously, we all know the short film Frozen Fever is the primary reason Cinderella has done so well at the box office. People can’t get enough of their Frozen fix (self most especially included), and even seven minutes back in Arendelle is worth the ticket price.

 

 

The Bad

Cinderella Herself

CinderellaFirst thing’s first, I like Lily James as Cinderella. She’s charming. But although she fits the part, the part in question is still stuck in a very backwards role. I mentioned that the film makes some modernizations in ethnic diversity, yet no such improvements are even attempted on Cinderella herself.

Cinderella is still the same helpless mope she always was, if not more so. As a child, her parents teach her to “be kind and courageous.” Good advice, except once Cinderella ends up in the household of Lady Tremaine and her new, wicked stepsisters, she interprets her parents’ words as “let cruel and vindictive people walk all over you and never stand up for yourself.” There’s a great deal of difference between being kindhearted and being a pushover.

It doesn’t help that Cinderella is never given any real defining qualities other than her longing for a better life. It never seems to don on her that maybe she can be the one to make her life better. When the day is finally saved not by the heroine, but by a group of CG mice, I think it’s a sign that Cinderella needs to stop being such a sad sack. She could learn a great deal from those two sisters from Arendelle.

 

Character Backstories That Don’t Go Anywhere

Again, you have to applaud the effort. This Cinderella does give a couple of attempts at fleshing out some of the main characters by giving them more detailed backstories. The problem is that these backstories are all kind of forced into the movie through monologues, and the story never benefits from them. Lady Tremaine gives one such monologue, and although the delivery is great, it ends up going nowhere. Sure, it tries to make Tremaine a more sympathetic character (though it’s pretty hard to sympathize with someone so unreasonably cruel), but it ultimately doesn’t change her character, or her relationship with Cinderella. Again, at least the movie tried to add some interest to the characters, but I suppose these things are easier said (through monologues) than done.

 

 The Underutilized Fairy Godmother

CinderellaI actually enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the Fairy Godmother. The character seemed like she knew her role as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, but she got sidetracked on her way into the story, and kind of goes through the motions to make up for lost time. It’s a fun take on the character…for about two minutes, then she never shows up again. Granted, I wouldn’t want her to just magically get Cinderella out of all her jams (I’m looking your way, Blue Fairy from Pinocchio), but she’s a fun character who disappears all too quickly.

 

The Sidekicks Just Don’t Work

I don’t know if it’s the CG, or if it’s merely a result of the story’s transition to live-action, but the sidekicks never won me over. The mice may be cute, but something about them just comes off as sidetracking. Without the cartoonish personalities found in the animated version, they just kind of take up time. The same goes for the goose-turned-coachman and the lizards-turned-footmen (the former being charmless and the latter unnerving). The sidekicks are one aspect of the animated version that simply don’t translate in this live-action adaptation.

 

 

So Cinderella has its share of problems, but at least it has some good points as well. I’m still not onboard the whole Disney animation-turned live-action train, but at the very least Cinderella proves that, even with its missteps, this subcategory of Disney flicks isn’t entirely hopeless.

Why Frozen 2 Must Deliver the Goods

*Caution: Some spoilers ahead!*

Frozen

Frozen 2 has officially been announced to be in the early planning stages by Walt Disney Animation Studios. While animated sequels come in by the droves these days, this is one animated sequel whose announcement comes as a huge deal for a number of reasons.

The most obvious of such reasons being that Frozen is the most successful animated film of all time, yet it’s taken well over a year for this sequel to be announced (compare that to other animated films of today, where multiple sequels are announced after the opening weekend). Another reason this is interesting is that it’s a sequel to a Disney animated film. Sure, the 90s Disney films were tainted with straight-to-video sequels, but Disney was well aware of their “less-than favorable” quality. Not only has Disney long-since discontinued the entire concept of straight-to-video sequels, but those that they made are not counted as official movies in the Disney canon. The only ‘true’ Disney sequels are The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000 and Winnie the Pooh, the latter two of which aren’t necessarily continuations of their predecessors, either. Pixar and Dreamworks seem to have a heyday with sequels these days, but a true Disney sequel is a rarity.

So while it may seem obvious that a film as successful as Frozen would get a sequel, the circumstances of time and its lineage are something to note.

But one thing is certain: Frozen 2 must deliver.

On a personal level, Frozen is my favorite Disney movie of all time. I had gotten to a point where I still enjoyed Disney films, but thought that the studio was merely capable of making entertaining movies, not artistic ones. Then Frozen came along and was not only the most fun Disney movie I’d seen (and I’ve seen every Disney animated film), but also one that, finally, had deeper meanings, thematics and character development to it (a trait that carried over, to a lesser degree, to Big Hero 6). It proved me wrong so beautifully and I enjoyed it so immensely that I’m not afraid to admit it’s one of my favorite films, animated or otherwise.

Outside of personal interest, Frozen is also the animated film that has seemingly taken over the world. It’s not simply a movie that made a lot of money, it’s a genuinely beloved phenomenon. Yes, I will even say it’s on Star Wars levels of movie mania, and it has gained an international appeal that few movies can claim (it ranks as the third highest grossing film in Japan, where it topped the box office for sixteen straight weeks).

Suffice to say, there are a lot of people who will want this sequel to deliver. And deliver it must.

Frozen

First and foremost, Frozen 2 must tell a story as meaningful as the first, but it shouldn’t simply rehash the same themes. It can expand on them and introduce new thematics, but simply having Elsa become fearful again would only feel like someone hit a reset button. It would undo Frozen’s ending, and that’s a no no.

Then there’s the villain scenario. Simply having Prince Hans return for revenge would be too simple. Hans can still make an appearance, but he’s served his thematic purposes, and no longer needs to be the villain. Either introduce a new villain who can also serve a purpose for the movie’s themes, or just leave out the villain concept altogether and center the story’s conflicts around the heroes (which Frozen also did to great success).

Introducing new characters almost seems inevitable, and that’s fine, provided they don’t take the spotlight away from the main characters. Olaf and Sven don’t need a third member of their comedic troupe, and Elsa most certainly doesn’t need a romantic interest (a large part of the character’s appeal has been her independence). Frozen strayed from Disney norms by focusing its primary relationship on sisterhood, putting romance in the background when it wasn’t tossing it aside entirely. Frozen 2 would be wise to do the same. It can’t be just another Disney movie. It has to live up to the uniqueness of the original.

Given Frozen’s predominantly girl power attitude, it wouldn’t be too surprising if a third female character is introduced. Once again, this is fine, so long as any such character doesn’t overshadow Anna and Elsa, or get shoehorned into the plot (no long-lost third sister, please).

Then there’s the songs. Good heavens, how does one follow-up Let It Go? But they’re going to have to give it a try. With how wonderfully infectious the songs in Frozen were, the sequel can’t have anything less than that. These songs must etch their way into my brain and – ironically enough – never let go. Frozen

 

Of course, I have great faith in Frozen 2. Disney has not set a release date, meaning they’ve more or less given the filmmakers the time they need to get it right. Disney has also given the filmmakers full creative control, another great sign. Best of all, those filmmakers are Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who masterminded the original Frozen and shaped what was originally going to be another Disney princess movie into something truly special.

So I do have faith in Frozen 2 (more so than I do Toy Story 4 or Finding Dory). I believe Disney knows they have awoken a sleeping giant with Frozen, and they’ll want to make sure the sequel to their most popular movie isn’t just a mere cash-in (this isn’t the Michael Eisner era anymore). But Frozen 2 must be a sequel of Toy Story 2-like quality. One that takes what you loved about the original, and adds to it while also creating an identity of its own. Frozen 2 is already guaranteed to win over the box office. But if it wants to live up to the original Frozen, it must win over our hearts as well. I think it can do just that.