Let’s Get the Band Back Together (The Mummy Returns, 2001)

The_Mummy_Returns_posterStephen Sommers returns to helm the next installment of the franchise.  Set about ten years after the first film, Rick and Evie are married and maverick adventuring archaeologists.  Think if Indiana Jones was rich, rather than a college professor.  With their young son, Alex, they explore an ancient site and discover artifacts related to the fabled Scorpion King.

The film actually begins by establishing the myth.  In his film debut, Dwayne Johnson (billed in the film as The Rock) is the Scorpion King.  A fierce Warrior who wandered the desert and on the verge of death made a pledge to the god Anubis.  In the present day, a Cult has resurrected Imhotep with the help of Meela, the reincarnation of his beloved Anck-Su-Namun.

Alex tries on a bracelet that reveals a map to the oasis of the Scorpion King…and the bracelet won’t come off.  This sets into motion both the O’Connells and Imhotep racing to the oasis.

The Mummy Returns is guilty of the sequel tendency to be “bigger”.  Every action scene is a major event.  Every character a greater purpose.  Evie suddenly has super fighting skills, and it is discovered she is the reincarnation of Nefertiti, daughter of the Pharoah and opponent of Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun.  And Rick? Well, he is revealed to actually be Magi (with magical knowledge of their code phrases) the watchers over Imhotep from the first film (Oded Fehr returns as Ardeth Bay).  They must fight an army of pygmy mummies.  I mean, the movie is full of mummies beyond Imhotep.

This is not to say the film is not fun.  It actually carries a lot of the spirit of the first one.  The action is fun, there are daring saves, exciting sword fights and so on.  The film relies on the same humor of the first.

The digital effects are mostly on par with the previous film. There were not real leaps in technology for these films, and it all looks…okay.  But there is one glaring issue here.  Even by the standards of digital effects in 2001 (and remember, this is post “Phantom Menace”)?  The digital Scorpion King monster looks absolutely terrible.  It looks like a sub par video game creature.

In spite of the ridiculous flourishes (reincarnation for Evie, Rick being Magi, etc) the Raiders of the Lost Ark feel still works in the film, and it comes out as a fairly decent sequel.

How It All Began… (The Thing, 2011)

thing_2011_posterWhen it was announced that they were making a movie connected to John Carpenter’s the Thing, the internet seemed unsure how to describe it.  Is it a Sequel?  No.  Is it a reboot?  No.  Is it a remake?  No.  But boy, I saw it constantly referred to as a remake and a reboot, even after it came out.  Here is the thing, there is literally no doubt that this is a prequel.  It is set shortly before Carpenter’s film at the Norwegian camp that discovers the alien thing.

Of course, being a prequel, the film spends a lot of time trying to set up and explain stuff we saw in the first film.  How was the ship so exposed?  How did the alien get out of the block of ice?

This is not to say they do not try and be a bit different.

For one, the cast has female characters, rather than the original’s exclusively male cast.  Specifically, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, a scientist brought by an old friend to the Norwegian base for mysterious reasons.  Of course, once she arrives, she can see why they were not so quick to tell her what they found.

They discover a body in the ice, and bring it back to the base.  They start to investigate, and are all excited, imagining what this discovery means.  But of course, that is when the creature awakens and the horror begins.  Once the infection starts, it moves through the cast quickly.  One of the things that they successfully do differently is how the characters determine infected from uninfected.  This all leads to an eventful showdown as the alien tries to take off with his ship.

Unlike the original, which often would slow down, and the ending fight was small and contained, this film is full of major action on a regular basis.  The paranoia takes a back seat to fast action sequences.

While there were actually quite a bit of practical effects designed for the film, the studio pushed for more digital.  The digital is not terrible in the film, but still, it feels less real than the effects of the original.

As the film races towards the end it becomes heavily focused on filling in the blanks of the destruction discovered by Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart in Carpenter’s film.  In the end, while a strong idea supports this film, the execution never comes close to having the impact of John Carpenter’s the Thing.

 

Elves! But DARK Elves (Thor: The Dark World, 2013)

thor_the_dark_world_posterThor’s post Avengers story stays outside of the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man and Captain America.  It focuses squarely on Thor, Jane Foster and Asgard.

The story opens with Odin telling the tale of how the universe had once been in darkness, and after a time, the dark elves sought to plunge the universe back into the darkness.  They were stopped by Odin’s father who had their weapon (the Aether) hidden deep below the ground of…somewhere.  Jane Foster is doing the whole “Chasing Anomalies” thing and stumbles on the Aether which she absorbs.  Thor shows up because suddenly the Bifrost Bridge has been restored.  He brings her to Asgard, the Dark Elves show up, things go very badly and Thor is forbidden from heading out of Asgard.  So Thor frees the imprisoned Loki for help in slipping out “unnoticed”.  This is one of the film’s big set pieces.  Eventually Thor tries to destroy the Aether and is unsuccessful, and the dark elf Malekith gets hold of it.

There is a battle on earth which nearly succeeds in destroying everything.  But Thor saves the day (with help from none of the Avengers) and the universe does not blink out of existence.

Thor: the Dark World is not terrible.  It has some real fun moments, mostly provided by Loki.  And the action scenes are very well done.  Taylor is a pretty accomplished television director, including Game of Thrones.  He is able to frame exciting battle sequences.  Hemsworth is likeable as Thor, Hiddleston’s Loki is entertaining as usual.

The film attempts to really show Jane Foster is a scientist.  There is a cute moment where Jane asks if a magical piece of Asgardian equipment is a quantum field generator.  The person working it states it is a “Soul Forge”.  Jane asks if the Soul Forge transfers molecular energy from one place to another.  The person responds, “yes”…and Jane  quietly tells Thor proudly that it is a Quantum Field Generator.

Loki gets most of the best character moments, both in humor and drama.  But the story has holes.  Why do the Elves want to erase the universe?  Why not bring in the Hulk to fight the nearly indestructible Berserkers?  If it is not Odin on the Throne towards the end…just where is Odin. It is pretty average, especially in comparison to Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.  It also does nothing to advance the characters beyond where they already were.  It is primarily to introduce the Aether, which will be part of the third Avengers film.

Suicidal Tendencies (Suicide Squad, 2016)

suicide_squad_2016_posterAfter the cool reception to Batman V Superman from critics and fans alike (It has it’s supporters) DC and Warner Brother started providing hype for Suicide Squad to divert attention.  Set to classic hard rock music the trailers screamed “This will be fun and exciting!”

Suicide Squad, for the uninitiated was a DC Comic written by John Ostrander (he actually was reviving an earlier comic, but the Suicide Squad as it is known now was Ostrander’s baby).  It was a government task force that forced some of DC’s baddest villains to take high risk jobs for our government in return for reduced sentences.  Of course, nobody was expected to survive long enough to get to take advantage of their reward.  Not a bad idea.

The film always seemed out of place for the DC Cinematic Universe.  We are actually meeting some of the enemies of heroes we have barely met.  Including Suicide Squad?  We have about two minutes of Flash time.  I am including that Justice League trailer from SDCC.  And this is actually one of the big problems with the film.  They are trying to fill in so much information, we are bogged down with tons of background.  The cast is pretty large, causing more than one character to get little to do.  Killer Croc has a few moments, but gets little to do until the very end of the film.

I wondered how the Kitana character would fit in (she is not a villain in the comics).  Here she is pretty much a baby-sitter until the final act.  It feels more like they put her in the film in case they wanted to use her in the future and she would already be established.

The emphasis on the Joker and Harley Quinn relationship is that it…well, polishes up their relationship.  We do get a moment that makes it clear that the Joker tortures Harley Quinn before she takes on the identity.  The film apparently cut a lot of bit that really suggested the relationship was abusive.  It could have been an interesting opportunity to have her standing against the Joker, but instead, she keeps running back to him.  Harley Quinn is also often forced into the position of eye candy.  The character has always had a sense of being…innocent.  Like she just thinks she is being wacky and funny.  Like when little kids insult grown up and are “only teasing”.  One scene has her dressing in public, looking around and realize everyone is staring and then just asking “what?”  Had Robbie not been stuck in outfits putting her on display throughout the film, that might have been more effectively funny.

Jared Leto’s Joker has been the source of much criticism and concern for many fans.  I have run into many fans who were tired of him long before the film saw release.  And I did feel like he was one of the weaker links of the film.  Not because the performance was terrible…but rather the performance was inconsistent.  He has an effective scary laugh which is barely used in the film.  Sometimes he seems bored, but other times he is very menacing.

And yet, in spite of these things?  I enjoyed the film quite a bit.  I felt it worked far better than Man of Steel or Batman V Superman.  Smith’s Deadshot is an interesting character who on the one hand is a deadly sharpshooter and a doting father.  While not a wholly original dichotomy, it works pretty well here.  Harley Quinn’s big focus is as the Joker’s Girlfriend.  In spite of this, Robbie really captures the core of the character.  She seems carefree, but yet dangerous.  Almost sickeningly sweet, all while being thrilled by mayhem.  Robbie is endlessly engaging.  Viola Davis brought Amanda Waller to life in an amazing way.  She was every bit as frightening as she should have been.

The big surprise for me was Diablo.  I went in knowing next to nothing about him other than he was the fire guy.  His character is a pacifist refusing to use his power for fear he will lose control and kill people.

The action is pretty easy to follow as it unfolds on the screen, and aside from the obligatory slow motion shot towards the end, is exciting to watch.  The fact that you really have a bunch of characters that want nothing more to walk away makes a “Let’s Do this” speech entering into the final act really tough.  Yet, somehow, the group choosing to act as a team works.

The rumor is that a lot of the humor was from re-shoots demanded by Warner Brothers.  If that is the case, good call from Warner Brothers.  The film peppers humor through out the film that works effectively at keeping the characters likeable.  I know that there have been some real rough reviews…but I avoided reading them so far because I wanted to see the film without pre-set expectations of terribleness.  And I walked out entertained.  I am not saying it is a great film.  Of the Super-hero films we have had this year?  I still give it to Captain America: Civil War.  But I had fun, and that can be hard to say with DC films as of late.

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