Meet the New Kids (Toy Story 3, 2010)

Toy_Story_3_PosterWhile Pixar had pushed the Cars franchise at an aggressive rate, their other films had been allowed to remain largely untouched.  In spite of the second film’s success, it was not until 2010 that we saw the third installment of the Toy Story films.

This time, we find Andy getting ready for college.  When the toys are accidentally mistaken as trash, they decide to stow away in a box marked for the local daycare center.

Woody promises them it will be terrible, and shortly after they arrive, he tries to sneak out to return to Andy. However, on his way, he is found by young Bonnie, who brings him home.

 

The other toys are greeted by Losto (a stuff bear) and the other toys.  They sell our old friends on what a paradise the daycare is. But the truth is much darker. Lotso is pretty much the Godfather of the joint.  He runs the show and force new toys to be played with by the youngest kids in the daycare…regardless of whether these toys are meant for that age or not.

This is a pretty crazy story, but it works pretty well. Lotso is charming at first, but you learn he has turned dark from rejection.  Meanwhile, his henchman Ken is taken with Barbie. At first she is smitten, but when she discovers what Lotso does to the other toys, she rejects the cushy life Ken offers.

Meanwhile, Woody is also living a good life with Bonnie and her toys, but he wants to return to Andy…and when he finds out the truth about Lotso and the Daycare, he is determined to save the other toys.

The animation in this is pretty terrific and has come far.  Textures, vibrant colors, hair…everything looks great.  And this time around they have opted for a more stylized look to the human characters which is some much more pleasant to watch than the humans of the previous films.

As usual, there is a lot of heart to this film…it is a bit heavy as the toys contemplate death and complete destruction…but still, it really tugs at the heartstrings.

Again, the performances of the voice cast bring this to life in a way a lot of films fail.  Even the stunt casting never feels like a mere stunt.  The performances feel full of care, and everyone delivers.

Somehow, Pixar managed to keep the same quality in three films, avoiding the dreaded failure within the franchise that each announced film brought.  Toy Story three would have been a perfect cap off to the series, really.  You would have had a high quality trilogy.  It is full of love, humor and even grown up fears and emotion.  Toy Story 3 is a great continuation of the Toy Story Series.

 

 

Swing High (Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017)

Spider-Man-Homecoming-PosterSpider-Man has the distinction of having been rebooted three times in the last fifteen years.  Both the Raimi Films and the Marc Webb films have good points.  Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is a high point for super-hero themed films.  But they also never quite fully got Spider-Man as a character.  Maguire’s Peter Parker could be to goofy, while Garfield’s Peter was to moody and mopey.

Sony hit some hard times, made all the worse by a major hack that exposed all sorts of internal issues.  One thing it revealed?  Sony had talked with Marvel about a deal that would allow Spider-Man to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The talks fell apart before the hack.  But this brought them back to life.

Sony decided to let Marvel bring a heavy creative hand in.  In exchange, Sony got to include MCU characters in their Spider-Films.  The MCU introduced Spider-Man into their world via Captain America: Civil War.  Spider-Man was a highlight of that film.  And rather than try to retrofit Peter Parker in, as if Spider-Man had been there all along… they stepped into his career early, so he is new on the scene.

Homecoming picks up roughly eight months after Civil War, with Peter enjoying using his Stark supplied super-suit and anxiously awaiting his next big Avengers mission.  Which seems to never come along.  Instead, Peter races around trying to get better by fighting street crime and helping lost old ladies.  His day to day life has, of course, been tougher since Tony Stark has come into his life, and he starts to withdraw to make more time.  He dreams of beautiful classmate Liz and hangs out with his closest friend Gan-uh-Ned.  Of course, he makes a major discovery, the adults don’t listen and Peter over-confidently decides to take on guys who may be out of his league.

One of the refreshing story points is that this is not about Peter learning about “with Great Power comes Great Responsibility”…at this point, he has learned that lesson.  We only get vague reference to Uncle Ben’s death.  In fact, the origin of Spider-Man is tossed out in a two second exchange.

Holland’s Peter Parker is sweet and awkward…his Spider-Man is quippy, but still learning.  He is not yet the confident Peter Parker, he practices lines, tries to get into a good pose before alerting bad guys to his presence.  But of the previous film versions, this is easily the strongest portrayal of Peter.  He may be in-experienced, but there are just so many things that make this version…well Spider-Man.

The rest of the cast of characters are updated in some interesting ways.  Ned Leeds is really Ganke from the Miles Morales Spider-Man comics, and he is a very fun character.  This is largely due to the comic timing and enthusiasm of actor Jacob Batalon.  I was most hesitant about Marisa Tomei as Aunt May…not because of her acting ability…but because she is only a few years older than me…and she feels more youthful and vibrant than traditional portrayals of Aunt May.  But I ended up really liking her in the role.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a terrific improvement on the character.  I never really cared for the comic version…he never seemed like he was all that much of a threat.  And the green suit did not help.  Keaton’s performance is solid and menacing…yet his motives are understandable.  He is a guy who wants to provide for his family, and saw secret government agencies undercutting his business.  He turns to crime to make up for that.  The Vulture look is a nice combination of modern with hints of his original look.  It works very well.

The action scenes are all nice and effective.  Sometimes these films can get confusing during busy action scenes.  Homecoming makes the action easy to follow.  And the film is infused with humor.  While theses were not absent from the previous versions, it is much more present here.  And yet, the humor is not at the expense of Peter’s character.  He feels the heavy weight of responsibility, regardless of his experience.

Admittedly, the film does not break new ground for Spider-Man…but I think it may be the best of the Spider-Man films so far.  Or, at worst, a close second to Raimi’s second Spider-Man film.  This is a fun film, and fun should be part of (a lot more) super-hero films.  Being overseen by Marvel, there are plenty of easter eggs…but what Marvel is usually really good about is that the easter eggs are a bonus for fans who love the comics…and if you have not read the comics, you won’t feel like you are missing something.

Honestly, I recommend seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming in the theater.  It benefits from being seen with an audience.

Batman Will Go On (Batman Forever, 1995)

Batman_Forever_PosterBatman Forever had some big shakeups.  Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were out.  Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer were in.  But the real shakeup was…Warner Brothers wanted to sell more toys.  Schumacher had read Batman: Year One.  He really wanted to tell that story.  The studio was not interested.  Schumacher thought that if he gave them the movie they wanted, he might be able to persuade them on the next film to do the film he really wanted to do.

For the Riddler, the film hired Jim Carrey (fresh off Ace Ventura:Pet Detective, the Mask and Dumb & Dumber) and for Two Face?  Tommy Lee Jones (their established actor choice-no doubt selected for his uncanny resemblance to Billy Dee Williams) was their choice.

The casting of Kilmer was treated like this was a James Bond casting choice. We can replace anybody.  Anyways, The story also introduced Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell).  Batman’s love interest is sexy psychiatrist Chase Meridian.  Really.  Adding more characters means more action figures…and vehicles…Super-heroes gotta have a lot of rides…as do their arch enemies.  Well, unless you are Chase Meridian…you do not get to be an action figure.

Much of the film is given to Jim Carrey to do his typical over the top goofiness that he was known for.  This was three years before he started playing roles that required him to tone it down.  It can become obnoxious, and Tommy Lee Jones tries to keep up, going over the top himself.  Kilmer just fills his tuxedo and walks through the film.  Multiple villains make for a bloated plot.  Add to that the introduction of Robin?  This is not O’Donnell’s finest moment.  He is just not convincing as a skilled martial artist or acrobat.  Chase Meridian is a very boring character.  She seems to be a character existing solely because they felt there should be a love interest.  You know…for the girls.

Again, there is little meat for characters like Commissioner Gordon…and the films make him feel like an old man who is ever so ineffective…and knows it, so he waits on Batman to save the day.

Visually, Schumacher goes more Art Deco with his Gotham City.  He plays with vibrant colors and visual queues.  This is certainly an interesting change…except it also becomes highly implausible that such a city would be built this way.

This was the Bat Franchise teetering on collapse.  But there were no lessons learned.

Back In Gotham (Batman Returns, 1992)

batman_returns-posterJack Nicholson kind of established the villains would always be played by big names.  Danny DiVito was brought in to play the Penguin.  But this was not the traditional Penguin from the comics.  Not merely a short round guy is a top hat, Burton envisioned an origin in which Oswald Cobblepot is born to an affluent family who are repulsed by his grotesque appearance. His father (played by Paul Reubens, who would play Penguin’s father on Gotham decades later) and mother (Diane Salinger) dump him over a bridge where he is found by penguins.

Batman Returns is a rather odd duck.  Selina Kyle is a meek secretary who discovers the evil plans of her boss Max Shreck (Christopher Walken).  She is thrown out a window and barely survives…but wakes after being found by cats.  She flips out and apparently has the nine lives of cats and a really sexy persona.

While the film still  has the gothic visuals, it really feels all over the place.  Adding the secondary “villain” of Catwoman means there is that much more story to address.  On top of that you have a villain in the name of Max Shreck.  Add to that a few moments of implications of Penguin being a bit of a sexual creep (for instance, he is running for mayor and he puts a button on a young woman, groping her breast as he does it).

The film has a more interesting plan than the first film, but still, the sheer goofiness makes it almost to campy.  You have penguins fitted with rocket launchers, weird carnival henchmen, evil businessmen, latex covered secretaries…It never really comes together, and falters repeatedly.

Last Laugh (Batman, 1989)

batman-poster1989 saw the release of the most controversial Batman casting until Batfleck.  Michael Keaton, known almost entirely for comedies such as Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho was cast as Batman…oh the horror and oh the wailing.  A long tradition of freaking out over casting began right here.  People were a bit more open to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker.

As it turned out, Keaton was okay in the role.  His Batman was appropriately serious, while his take on Bruce Wayne was an interesting approach.  His Bruce Wayne seems to be constantly distracted.  After the 1960’s series, Batman’s comics had returned to a darker version of the character.  A dark soul, haunted by his parents’ deaths at the hands of a low level criminal.  People feared Keaton would make this more 60’s Batman, rather than the Dark Knight Returns.

With Tim Burton at the helm, the film was a dark and gothic affair filled with crime bosses and corrupt police officers.  And the fabled Batman haunting the city.  In a attempt to thwart a mob crime, Batman knocks aspiring Crime Boss Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals.  He emerges with a chalk white complexion and a new smile.  He goes off and takes over the Grissom (Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance) criminal Empire.  This leads to an ongoing battle with Batman.

The film has a great cast, headlined by Keaton, Nicholson and Kim Basinger.  They are supported by a crew of character  actors and well known faces.  You have Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and the glue that held the franchise together?  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted butler and aide.

While the visuals are grand, the Joker’s motives seem supremely mundane.  He wants to be a mobster.  And woo Vicki Vale.  He may be cruel and ruthless, but so are lots of mob bosses in the movies.  Take away the grin and face-paint? He would not stand out.  Batman’s greatest weakness is not Keaton, but the fact that he cannot even turn his head.  The costumes look good in still shots, but seem goofy when Keaton is having to turn his whole body to look around.

In addition, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent feel more like set decorations than characters.  They are almost entirely inconsequential to the story.  They seem to be there because they have to…it is a Batman movie.  Gough is the bright spot in the film.  His Alfred is kind and wise.  He is not as involved in the day to day support of Batman, he is more there to support Bruce Wayne.

While 1989’s Batman is not terrible, it does not quite stand the test of time.  It is still enjoyable, but it does not live up to the character’s full potential.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑