Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan review

There's probably some unique challenges involved in writing a movie based on source material as old as Tarzan. Times change after all, and in trying to adapt the story to appeal to modern sensibilities you might lose something essential to the original piece. I don't know if that's what happened here, but I did not find this movie to be very enjoyable.

The plot was not bad, but the movie was very slow to get started: it took a while for anything to really happen. The first half was heavy with flashbacks filling us in on Tarzan's history, but I found these to have little impact, perhaps due to their short fragmented nature. It never really managed to make me care about the characters, and overall I just wasn't drawn into it.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Tarzan himself is just plain boring. He has almost no character or personality, he never comes across as more than just a dour set of muscles. Neither his expression nor his voice ever really changed no matter what the situation.

Jane was more expressive and had some scenes that fleshed out her character a little bit, but it wasn't really enough, and it was dramatically obvious right from the start that she was just going to get kidnapped and Tarzan would have to rescue her. Hell, we even saw it in the trailer; her whole character was undermined before we even set foot in the cinema. But what made it worse is that Tarzan told her not to come but she insisted: the film-makers want us to believe that it's her fault that she was kidnapped, if she had just quietly stayed at home like (what I assume they believe is) a "good wife" then Tarzan wouldn't have had to rescue her. What's up with that?

Now she did have, like, one single scene where she was arguably actually useful, but it was far too little. I mean, at one point she actually had to be rescued in a flashback; she really never did amount to anything more than just a damsel in distress. What makes it really sad - apart from how clichéd and generally insulting that kind of writing is - is that even by being kidnapped and needing rescuing, she really didn't contribute very much to the plot. Ugh, I'd better leave this topic to the spoiler section actually.

I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, and I felt that his character in this movie borrowed heavily from that performance. Unfortunately the character was never really allowed to be very menacing or impressive, and as a result it just didn't work; Leon Rohm just wasn't a very impressive villain in the end.

There were a number of scenes in this movie that I did enjoy, and every single one of them featured Samuel L.M.Fing Jackson. He was genuinely the best thing about this film; his character was entertaining, relatable, and had a little more depth than I had been expecting. In fact, I found his back-story, delivered in a two-minute monologue, more intriguing than all of Tarzan's flashbacks.

The action was nothing special, with some potentially decent scenes let down by the now-standard Hollywood quick-cut shaky cam. The VFX wasn't quite good enough to bring some of the ambitious scenes to life; generally it was OK but there were a few moments troublesome enough to bring me out of the movie - but to be fair, I might be a little bit more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people.

Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. There isn't really anything bad about it, there's just nothing particularly good about it either.


I mentioned that Jane being kidnapped wasn't even important, and that's because several members of the village were also kidnapped, and Rohm just generally needed to be stopped, so Tarzan was going to chase him down either way. So yeah, not only was it a tired cliché, it was also ultimately superfluous.

The film had some minor sub-plots that were probably intended to add depth, but really didn't amount to very much. Initially Tarzan seems to hate Africa, probably because of how much he suffered and how much family he lost there; I believe at one point he called it a "wretched place". But when he goes back... he gets repeatedly beaten up, his old friend gets killed, and his wife gets kidnapped and they both almost die. After this, he... stays there? What part of all that made him hate Africa any less?

Also, there's some brief hints that they want to have a baby, but no explanation why they haven't. Then at the end they have one. I assume that's supposed to be a happy ending, but they really didn't give me any reason to care, them having a baby at the end just didn't carry any weight.

Tarzan sure did get his bee-hind handed to him a whole lot this movie. I mean, out of several fights that he got into, he only really won one of them. The bit at the end where he finally faces off against Leon Rohm was particularly disappointing.

Speaking of Leon Rohm, him apparently falling for Jane just undermined his character, it didn't strengthen hers. I don't really understand the rationale behind it, other than perhaps to try to crib the scene from Inglorious where Hans Landa is having dessert with Shosanna Dreyfus.

By the way, near the end of the movie we finally hear Tarzan's roar, but I don't recall ever seeing him making it? Slightly strange that they didn't show him actually producing it, but I guess that would have required Tarzan to actually display energy or emotion, which they didn't seem to want for some reason.

The movie keeps going on about how big a deal Tarzan is; he's "Africa's favourite son", villages sing songs of his legend. And what legend is that exactly? All we see in the flashbacks is a wild boy lead a group of apes to hunt down and murder some typical tribesmen, and then get beaten up by another ape and need to be rescued by some white people. What part of that made him a famous legend that eveyone loves?

One issue I had was that I found the film's portrayal of animals to be somewhat inconsistent. The apes (which it claimed were not gorillas but something else?) were vicious bloodthirsty beasts. Hippos sped towards distant humans in water like they were planning to eat them, while lions nuzzle people affectionately (they seemed to have far more affection for Tarzan than the apes that were his family) and herds of elephants stop their nocturnal migrations (is this a real thing? Nocturnal elephants?) to have extended telepathic conversations (sort of) with strange humans. He was able to communicate well enough with apes and lions to get them to herd oxen, but not enough to say to his brother "Hey bro, don't mind us, just passing through". I dunno, I wish the film had been a bit more straight about saying something like "most herbivores won't go out of their way to attack you, but they will protect their territory", rather than "Not-gorilla apes will kill you, hippos will kill you, elephants are cool though" or whatever.

Also, whatever those apes were supposed to be, I had no sympathy for them. I'm surprised that the film seemed to expect us to at times. They were brutal and violent creatures that killed humans on sight, completely unlike my understanding of actual gorillas. By the way, why the hell was Jane wandering alone two steps away from their territory at one point?

I really liked the scene where Doctor Williams is sewing up Tarzan's wound using ants. That was pretty cool. Also, that man knew his guns!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad review

Suicide Squad was not exactly what I had been expecting. The trailers had led me to believe it was something of a dark comedy, but the actual movie was more of a straight-up action flick. Pretty much all of the jokes in the movie are in the trailer, and I actually thought they worked a little better there. I'm not sure why exactly, something about the timing or the tone of the surrounding scenes or something.

What's more, after seeing the bright colours and and characterful costumes in the movie posters, I was a little surprised at how generic most of the film was visually. While there were some moments with visual flair, most of the movie's settings are kind of bland; dark prison cells and dead-standard city architecture (usually at night) - we don't even see any interesting buildings, just typical square skyscrapers. While the "main" villains were pretty cool, the "grunts" that fill most of the action scenes were just boring, and it was usually so dark that they were little more than just moving black blobs. Mild spoiler warning for the rest of the paragraph: the big doomsday device was just a beam of light shooting into the sky, same as we've seen in Avengers and Man of Steel; again, generic at this point.

Having said that, it was a pretty good action movie with pretty entertaining characters who are given enough depth for us to care about (some of) them even though they are "bad guys". While the basic set-up is not complicated, the plot does have a few cool twists; there's enough parties working against each other that I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

There's some enjoyable acting here; it was pretty obvious from the trailers that Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was going to steal the movie (which she did), but I was personally impressed with Viola Davis' turn as Amanda Waller. Cara Delevingne had some stand-out moments as Enchantress; she had some really great body language that made the character feel so alien. Will Smith was fine as Deadshot, but the character - while strong - was a little bland next to the rest of the crew, so his acting was never going to stand out as much as some of the others. Jared Leto's Joker... didn't really work for me. While he definitely pulled off the "crazy", "unpredictable", and "dangerous" aspects that are vital to a good Joker, I never really felt as if he was having fun, which is kind of a big part of the character to me. Jay Hernandez was great as Diablo, I would have liked to see more from him. The rest of the cast did well but didn't really get enough screen time or juicy material for me to be able to say very much more than that.

In the end I'm going to give it a 7/10; it's a good action movie with an engaging plot and entertaining characters.


Let's have a quick look at my earlier wishlist for Suicide Squad. I said that I wanted:

1. For characters to betray each other.
This I got. Enchantress turned out to be the main villain, Boomerang goaded Slipknot into making a break for it so that he could test whether the explosives were real, and Harley ditched the team and ran.

2. For important characters to die.
Kind of. Several characters died, but the only one we actually cared about was Diablo, and that was a heroic sacrifice right at the end. They killed Slipknot, but he'd only had about three seconds of screentime until that point, and the only thing we had seen him do was punch a woman for talking, thereby making damn sure we didn't like him and didn't care about his death. Enchantress died, but then she was the villain, that's not the kind of thing I was talking about, and in fact June Moone survived (something that I felt was just too convenient). Overall the effect that I wanted, that is for them to create the feeling that any character could die at any time, even ones that we like, did not happen.

3. For them to remember that these are actually bad guys and not to just have them turn into heroes at the end.
Yeah, they totally went heroic at the end. Stood together as a family and strode forwards into near-certain death and everything, when they could have turned around and walked away. I mean, sure, it's all great cinema and everything, just a little, you know, clichéd. Plus, it creates a situation where you can't really tell the difference between the heroes and the villains in the DC cinematic universe: both kill without remorse and both save the day at the end, just the "villains" have a little more fun doing it (and they don't whine as much).

So overall I felt that they tried to stay true to the source material but ultimately made the concessions that you would expect for a movie aimed at attracting as large an audience as possible. I guess I can't blame them for that. To be honest the only time that I really felt they did something that I would consider "not true to the comics" was when Harley came back after escaping.

That's probably my biggest complaint actually. Why did she come back? If she believed that the Joker was dead, wouldn't she go on a killing spree, murdering everyone she thinks might be even remotely responsible for his death? And why did everyone, both military and criminal, just accept her back with hardly a word despite the fact that she had betrayed them and ran away? This is after her friends opened fire on everyone with heavy weaponry and stole the helicopter that they were going to use to get out of the city by the way.

Although there is one interpretation of the movie where it makes sense. One thing we've been discussing is just how much of the movie was actually just happening in Harley's head. The bit at the end where Joker suddenly just busts in and rescues her? Clearly just a delusional fantasy. But what about the rest? I mean, think about it, what's easier to believe? That the U.S. government would pick a normal human with no military training who's only notable for being an insane and uncontrollable killer (a flashy one at that) to be part of a covert team assembled to fight superhumans, then send her into battle armed only with a baseball bat and an archaic pistol to fight against a pair of resurrected deities building a floating lightning machine that will destroy the world? Or that an insane person is having a weird dream? Plus it explains how no-one objects when she just rejoins the team after betraying them, or how Enchantress is willing to accept her as a servant even though she was a party to killing Enchantress' brother, and how she was personally able to trick the ancient deity with such an obvious ruse to save the day.

I rather wish they hadn't tried to tie this movie to the Justice League stuff they've got going on as the less I'm reminded of the B.S. movie the better, but they did, and so I have to ask: if Enchantress spent three days building this doomsday machine of hers (as is mentioned at one point), then where were all the superheroes that we know exist in this world the whole time? Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash; these are all established superheroes at this point, yet we don't hear a whisper from them. Don't tell me they didn't hear anything about half a city being evacuated while a giant magical storm hovers in clear sight. At the very least Batman should have caught wind of something; he's supposed be to be fairly plugged in, right? Well, it's always possible they'll retro-actively explain it in a future movie: "Huh, looks like something weird happened while I was busy fighting parademons on Apokolips, oh well" or something like that.

As usual I do have a few nit-picks, but I'm not going to bother writing them out as I don't think any of them are important enough to matter really, I'm just going to ask one last question. With the death of Diablo, they don't really have any actual superhumans left on the team other than Killer Crock, who isn't really that big a powerhouse. And the most popular character, Harley, has escaped (maybe). So... what are they going to do for the inevitable sequel? I guess the obvious answer is "introduce a whole lot of new characters". They just have to balance doing that with keeping the old guys relevant I guess.