Archive for November, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Starring- Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O’Hare, Oscar Jaenada

Director- Rob Marshall

PG-13- intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0k5n1Gf7dc

MODERN COMMENTARY, OCTOBER 2015:

Yes, children, gather round and I’ll tell thee a tale of a time long since past, about a movie buff named Matt who wrote a positive review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and since he never saw it again, he cannot rescind it TO THIS DAY! *stunned gasps around the campfire*

And that’s how it happened, folks. Admittedly, I would be okay with more of these movies if they actually do turn into Indiana Jones with pirates.

Possibly due to my drastically lowered expectations, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Oh, it’s not a great movie, mind you, but it’s brisk and entertaining and a considerable improvement over its predecessor.

In the fourth entry of the flagship Disney franchise (I did not intend that pun, but will nevertheless claim it retroactively), the wily Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in London, looking for a ship and a crew…

…Which is news to the real Jack Sparrow, who hasn’t been doing anything of the sort. He’s in London, yes, and wouldn’t mind a ship or a crew—he’ll need one, if he’s going to accomplish his goal of finding the Fountain of Youth—but isn’t sure how it’s possible he’s already begun looking.

The rumors lead him to an impostor—Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an old flame of Jack’s, who has similar ends but would rather not serve under his captaincy. And so she drugs him, and when he wakes up, he’s been shanghaied into service on the legendary Queen Anne’s Revenge under the notorious Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who also wants to find the Fountain of Youth, preferably before a certain prophecy—that he will be killed in a fortnight by a man with one leg—comes true.

However, they’re not the only players in the game—a group of Spaniards, aided by a member of the original crew of Ponce de Leon, has already gotten underway. And the British have dispatched their own player—a privateer vessel captained by the former pirate Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and you know what? I’m going to derail this here.

There is no way.

That’s like if Osama bin Laden had decided to turn himself in to American forces and apologize profoundly, and instead of throwing him into prison and probably executing him, we made him head of the CIA.

But I digress.

The point—the race is on. And Jack Sparrow is going to have to do what he does best—play all sides of an increasingly complicated game.

Despite having what sound like inherent convolutions, “On Stranger Tides” is an improvement over “At World’s End” in that its plot is quite a lot less busy. Sure, there are many conflicting parties, but the movie does a much better job overall of either uniting these plots or relegating them to a lesser degree of significance. It’s not like its predecessor, having a dozen characters who each get their own plotline. It gives the whole thing room to breathe.

But there’s a flipside to that—the plot of “On Stranger Tides” doesn’t feel full enough. They just can’t win, huh? Point is, there’s a lot more of what feels like filler, and the first half of the movie seems a bit inconsequential. Really, the whole thing is somewhat inconsequential, but then again—so are most Indiana Jones movies. The idea is to lend them the appropriate amount of gravitas to prevent them from appearing that way. “On Stranger Tides” gets there eventually, but it still drags its heels a bit in the first half hour and once or twice elsewhere.

   That said, it’s still a much more personal story, and I appreciated that. Unlike the previous film, it’s much more about the journey than the destination. It seems, at some points, like “Indiana Jones” with pirates—a big treasure hunt between warring antagonistic parties with the heroes caught in the middle, trying to find a way out while still beating the bad guys to the gold. It has lots of scenes where riddles have to be solved and hidden passageways found—usually by the hero, while villains point weapons at him and demand that he finish up already. It has some wild and effective set pieces—a ship hovering over a crevice is played to great comedic effect, and an encounter with mermaids is sultry and harrowing. It’s lacking in the scale of its predecessors, with big ship-to-ship battles involving many players. It has its fair share of swordfights—perhaps a bit too many—but it never feels like a large game. I was okay with that.

It’s a rare movie in which I can say that I didn’t care much about the story. It’s full of senseless backstabs and bizarre coincidences and gaping plot holes, but for once, I didn’t mind, because the writers were clearly having so much fun throwing in as many twists and turns as they could think up.

I was bothered a bit by the relationship between Jack and Angelica. It’s very love-hate, but it turns from one to the other so quickly that I was never quite sure where it was planning to go. Angelica is a fun character, for sure, but the dynamics of the relationship shift too often and too quickly to develop an emotional dimension. Still, that particular subplot has a hilariously subversive resolution, which is always a wonderful thing.

On top of that, Barbossa’s subplot was superfluous and lacked any weight. I wasn’t sure who to root for in it, as there was no defined villain, and the movie kept going back and forth on whether or not I was supposed to like Barbossa. Hint—the answer is “like,” and the movie becomes more watchable once it makes its mind up about it. Still, I think he’s only in the movie because fans wanted him to be—I think the same thing of Gibbs (Kevin McNally). I wonder if McNally is becoming too old for action, because the movie is constantly inventing excuses to remove him from the plot just before a swordfight and then reinsert him to exchange dialogue with Jack afterwards. Oh, well.

It should also be said that the movie is, at times, quite funny and marks a welcome return to the carefree silliness of “Curse of the Black Pearl.” Still, the humor doesn’t always sparkle. Some one-liners fall flat, and the writers began to make a mistake when, in “Dead Man’s Chest,” they started to shape Jack Sparrow’s character to Johnny Depp’s performance—that, unfortunately, holds true here. But it is easily forgiven, as I still love the character.

It’s not perfect—it’s superfluous, lags in places, feels (in direct contrast to its predecessors) under-stuffed and underwritten, and it can’t get a handle on all its subplots. Nevertheless, it is a welcome burst of summer fun in an industry too often dominated by irony and cynicism. It is also a huge step forward from the convoluted mess that was “At World’s End.” And, if they can tighten up those screws just a bit, I’m game for more. I’m still holding out hope that this franchise can live up to the promise of “Curse of the Black Pearl.” I’ve got goodwill yet to spare.

I give “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” a 7.5/10.

-Matt T.

Movie Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Movie Reviews

Green Lantern (2011)

Starring- Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown

Director- Martin Campbell

PG-13- intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-GO9fo9DtM

“Green Lantern” is not a bad movie, nor is it a good one. It exists. I suspect it didn’t want to do a whole lot more than that. It’s the sort of movie that’s basically-kind-of-almost enjoyable while you’re watching it, that devalues as quickly as five minutes after you stop.

It’s a tough review. If it had been released on the front end of the superhero movie craze, my feelings might have been more positive, in exactly the same way I might not have hated “Eragon” if it had been written before “Star Wars.” It’s not that it’s terrible; it’s that it’s more of the same, and we’re getting a whole lot of that sameness these days.

Short version—it has absolutely no imagination whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It is a superhero origin story that took the script to all of the other superhero origin stories, changed the names of the characters, and committed it to film.

The film establishes the Green Lantern Corp. as something of a superhero Jedi Order—intergalactic protectors, comprised of many different species, deriving their powers from specially designed rings. When a party of astronauts accidentally awakens an old foe of the Corp.—Parallax (voice of Clancy Brown), a smoke-like entity whose only instinct is to consume life, often in the form of entire planets—revered Green Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is sent to dispatch him and is mortally wounded in the attempt.

His ship finds its way to Earth, where he sends his ring out to choose a new bearer. The man it brings back is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a pilot who could be fairly accurately described as a poor man’s Tony Stark. Taking the ring, he assumes Abin Sur’s place in the Corp., the first human to do so. And so his training begins—and he’ll need it, because Parallax is bearing down on Earth next.

This training sequence goes more or less as follows:

Jordan: “Cool, I have a ring!”

Tomar-Re (voice of Geoffrey Rush): “Yes, you can control it with your brain to create anything you can imagine.”

Killowog (voice of Michael Clarke Duncan): “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to proceed to beat the crap out of you until you learn how to fight somehow.”

Jordan: “The beating I have just received has convinced me that I am worthless and ought to lose all faith in myself.”

Movie: “Having now established this new emotional subplot, we now intend to drop it entirely. Thank you for your patronage.”

Unconventional mentors are becoming the new convention. Not that it matters, since Jordan’s final fight with Parallax did little to persuade me that any other Green Lantern couldn’t have pulled it off. Also, how do you even damage a giant smoke monster? It seems like it’d be sort of…intangible, wouldn’t it?

I won’t dwell on it. I still owe you guys for “Cars 2.”

There are certain things to like about “Green Lantern.” Ryan Reynolds still has a certain charm, though he needs to consider broadening his horizons before it becomes tedious. The cast overall is good—Jordan and love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) have enough chemistry to be believable, if not emotionally interesting. The movie moves along at a brisk enough pace and has strength in its overall structure. And the effects are at least technically impressive, if not necessarily visually impressive (and we are getting there. Oh, we are so getting there). It also ought to be lauded for at least making an honest attempt at having an intellectual and emotional core, however well it’s pulled off.

Like I said—the major problem is the lack of imagination. You can take a tired, old story and dress it up as much as you want, but at the end of the day, it’s still a tired, old story. It has no new twists to put on this old premise. It is almost exactly the same as all other superhero movies—particularly “Iron Man,” which not only has a similar plot but even similar characters. It’s a story you’ve heard before, with characters you’ve seen before.

But even given that, it’s still at least a small cut below the films it’s aping. This is, in my mind, because of a combination of three reasons, which I shall list in ascending order from least problematic to most problematic:

1.     Its supporting cast. They exude the proper amount of personality, but it becomes clear at a certain point that they’re only in the movie because they were in the comics, and are thus required to have a presence here as well. Peter Sarsgaard plays a secondary villain on Earth; I’m not sure what he’s here to do. He appears to serve Parallax somehow, but it’s unclear in what way he actually does so. He has no effect on the plot, which is a shame, because he’s probably the most fun character. And Jordan’s support group—Carol and best friend Thomas Kalmaku (Taika Waititi)—exist only unto themselves, serving no purpose to the plot or to Jordan’s development. Instead, we just get scenes that basically say, “And now let’s see what Thomas thinks about this whole situation!” The movie also flat drops a subplot involving Jordan’s relatives. Lots of characters—nothing at all done with them.

2.     The film has no concept of buildup. A sci-fi film requires a certain sense of wonder or trepidation or even terror, in the sense of Parallax. This movie has no idea how to build those emotions. As an example, I’ll describe the opening scene, in which Parallax is released—shot of asteroid; shot of aliens; they immediately fall through a hole; before they even stand back up, pan over to frozen Parallax whose eye immediately opens as cracks form; he bursts out, kills them all, and leaves. The whole scene takes about twenty seconds, as does the following scene in which he fights Abin Sur, as does the scene in which the ring chooses Jordan. It’s just scene–>character–>things happen. The entire movie is like this. It’s kind of annoying.

3.     And… The biggie. This is one of the most visually unpleasant films I have seen in a long time. Freaking everything is CGI—not just the stuff that needed to be (which, I’ll admit, is quite a bit), but even little things like Jordan’s costume. Is there any reason why some of the sets on Oa, the Green Lantern home world, could not have been constructed physically? The CGI we do have is wildly inconsistent across the board, sometimes looking good, usually looking out of place and just plain too clean. It doesn’t look like it could exist in the real world, which actually brings me to my next complaint—the design itself. Apart from the CGI, when I look at the design of Oa and its inhabitants, it all looks like a cartoon. The majority of the aliens would not look convincing if the special effects were on the level of “Avatar.” They simply do not look like beings that could exist in the same universe as the human race; in fact, they reminded me of the aliens I would create for the science fiction stories I would write when I was ten. “And this one has a horn in the middle of its head! And this one only has one eye! And tentacles for arms!” The design is just awful. And all this pales in comparison to the most damning decision—the choice to make every little freaking thing in this movie the color green. The movie is even tinted green. This looks so fundamentally awful. The whole movie has this puke green overtone that is really unsettling. Everything visual about this movie is just wrong. The sequel needs to correct this—and the only way to do so is to effectively reconstruct it from the ground up. This isn’t a little fix; this is a total redesign. It’s just awful.

That’s not to say that “Green Lantern” is much worse than “Iron Man” or “Spider-Man” or what-have-you. Only a little bit. But its lack of imagination is totally inexcusable at this point. If you’ve seen literally any other superhero movie in your entire life, you’ve seen this one. We either need to retire the origin story or find some new way to tell it, and personally, I’m at a loss as to how to do that. Maybe we could just make “Justice League” and call it a day. But as we supposedly already have “The Flash” in production, I’d better be prepared to copy/paste this review again.

I give “Green Lantern” a 5/10.

-Matt T.

Movie Review: Cars 2 (2011)

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Movie Reviews

Cars 2 (2011)

Starring- Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna, Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jacobson, Bonnie Hunt, Franco Nero, Tony Shalhoub, Lloyd Sherr, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Jenifer Lewis, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis

Directors- John Lasseter and Brad Lewis

G

Trailer- http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3733888025/

MODERN COMMENTARY, NOVEMBER 2015:

So, once upon a time, I wrote a semi-positive review of Cars 2, and having not seen it since, I have no opportunity to renege on that opinion. Darn.

NOTE—The following rant is unrelated to the merits of “Cars 2” as a film and is simply an impulse I am required to indulge whenever discussing anything related to this particular film series. We will return to your regularly scheduled reviewing in a moment.

This universe, you guys. This universe. It infuriates me.

Oh, I can watch “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.,” and all of Pixar’s other more fantastical universes. They raise questions, but not insurmountable ones.

And then there’s “Cars.” Everything about it, just… UGH.

At multiple points in “Cars 2,” the characters go out for dinner. They never order anything, of course, because what are they freaking eating? Do they have stomachs? Digestive systems? And… Oh, lord, I did not need that mental image. At one point, a car is underwater, and he pulls out a breathing apparatus. Why? Does he have lungs? What about the submarines; are they, like, sentient whales or something?

   And at one point, a character makes a phone call. We see a keyboard full of numbers. How did he dial it? How do they do anything, for that matter? They have no hands, and yet, somehow, they have computers and tables and chairs and televisions and newspapers, and you would think hands would be involved in creating these or something. Oh, sure, they have those weird robot arm doohickeys they attach right above their wheels, but at some point, someone had to make that. Think of this from a historical perspective. At some point, the first cave-car had to find a way to develop such tools, and so… What? Did he…pick up a stick with his…wheel or something? Seriously, guys, I have to know this.

Also, a character mentions dinosaurs. Dinosaurs. They existed at some point. What were they? Did they coexist with cars? They say cars are manufactured in this movie (which, thankfully, resolves a lot of my really icky reproductive questions about this franchise). Who does this? Who manufactures them? Who manufactured the first one? Are cars God? Have they always been? Oh, oh, I just remembered—there’s a pope-mobile in this movie. I am not freaking lying about this. Cars have religion. Was there a car Jesus? Or what about a car Vishnu? Did it have six wheels?

Seriously, guys, these movies. They force me to the inevitable conclusion that humans once existed in this world, creating intelligent robot cars to serve their needs, only to have their creations revolt and destroy them. I look forward to “Cars 3: Terminator,” Pixar.

I promise, I did not mean to write an entire page of that. I have no impulse control. I suppose I have to designate this part as…

THE PART OF THE REVIEW WHERE THE ACTUAL REVIEW STARTS AND SANE PEOPLE CAN START LISTENING TO ME AGAIN, FOR SERIOUS.

Thank you for your patience. And now…

“Cars.” Yeah. I like that movie, but I sometimes feel that if I’d first seen it after my tastes had developed*, my opinion would have been less enthusiastic. It’s perfectly entertaining, I mean, and it has a lot of funny moments, but it’s really slow and not as engaging as most Pixar films. It was a definite step back, but it’s not some kind of unforgivable mark on their record. It’s serviceable entertainment, for what it’s worth, even if that’s not necessarily very much.

Needless to say, the idea of a sequel did not sit so well with me. I don’t like Pixar doing sequels to begin with, and might have even opposed more “Toy Story” movies if not for the fact that I love “Toy Story” with everything that is in me (and that said sequels are amazing anyway). But I didn’t see anywhere for the “Cars” story to go, and its sheer profitability from a merchandising standpoint made me suspicious from the beginning.

When the reviews of “Cars 2” came in, I was pretty much ready to cry. I was seriously not okay with Pixar making a bad movie. But, you know, I got used to the idea. I even began to see the benefit of it: “Hey, you know those people who try to devalue my opinion by saying that I always love Pixar movies? Yeah, they’re about to suck it.

So, I was absolutely prepared to hate this and almost wanted to, but confound it—I actually kind of liked “Cars 2.” Maybe even more than the first one, not that it’s saying much. I’ll try to justify that from here on out, but let’s face it, you’ve already tuned me out. Because I always like Pixar movies.

Okay, okay, “Cars 2” is still a major step back from Pixar’s usual fare. It’s entirely superfluous, and John Lasseter’s insistence to the contrary aside, I find it hard to believe it was made for any reason other than profit. It seems like an assembly of ideas for other films, and it shows in exactly one area—the new stuff, the stuff that’s unrelated to the previous film’s plot, is much better developed and more interesting than the carryovers from the first “ Cars.”

I’ll attempt to demonstrate—the actual plot of this film involves a new character, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), who is a James Bond-esque superspy, chasing after Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann), who is over-the-top and Eastern-European-accented and has a world-dominating plan involving the new alternative fuel developed by billionaire adventurer Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard). Along for the ride is Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), a rookie trying to learn the ropes.

You may have noticed that I have mentioned exactly nothing related to the original film. That’s because that stuff is basically an aside. It involves the previous film’s hero, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), and his comedy sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who, while on a race around the world, get caught up in this plot. Mater actually takes the lead here; this is…probably unwise.

Either way, you can see the problem. I honestly would not be surprised to learn that “Cars 2” co-opted another Pixar project’s plot and shoehorned the characters from the original “Cars” into it. Sure, Lightning and Mater get the majority of the screentime, but it’s bloated and stretched out. It drags.

The spy stuff, on the other hand, is a blast. Michael Caine brings a suitable amount of class to any proceeding. I enjoyed the character of Holly Shiftwell, too—the trailers had led me to expect a bland, boring, femme fatale character. The movie bucks the stereotype and instead gives us an inexperienced and insecure rookie who impedes missions as often as advancing them. She grows along with the protagonists, which works a lot better.

Like I said, it’s the carryovers from the first film that really drag it down. There’s no substance to that plot whatsoever. In fact, it’s much the opposite of the first film. The message there was that anyone can change to become someone better. The message here is that, even if you’re totally obnoxious and have a tendency to ruin literally everything, that’s nobody else’s problem, and you’re fine just the way you are. I’m fine with movies that empower, but if you think about it, this does the exact opposite. It basically states that the problem lies with everyone except you. This message, too, is handled with far less subtlety than I’ve come to expect from Pixar. It’s spelled out in excruciating detail, which involves a lot of conversations that were probably as awkward for the actors to record as it was for me to listen to it.

It also takes the deliberately slow pacing of the first film and turns it on its head—“Cars 2” moves at a breakneck pace and is stuffed with action sequences and comedy bits. This, I think, is for the better. As usual, I have to insist that slow films are often my favorites, but they require strong characters, which I thought the first “Cars” lacked. For a sprightly action/adventure, though, these characters fit in quite nicely. They’re just likable enough, on the whole, and the movie is rarely boring, if anything. It has its sense of fun fully intact, and that’s worth something.

That said, it feels in every way like a DreamWorks film. It’s stuffed with celebrity voice actors, far beyond any rhyme or reason; its humor is a bit stunted, awkward, and self-referential (though there are a few laughs); and it trades story and emotional resonance for action and…more action. When I stand this up against the quiet originality of “WALL-E” or the gentle inspiration of “Up,” it simply does not compare. The heartrending emotional moments for which Pixar has become famous are nowhere to be found. Not that all movies need to be deep and gripping, but “Cars 2” barely generates any emotions at all. It’s highly entertaining, but that’s about it. And that’s why I’m somewhat disappointed. I had fun, and lots of it, but I almost immediately forgot it.

A lot of people are totally okay with a movie that just entertains them. “Cars 2” will basically do that. I think critics have been a bit overly hard on it on account of it being a Pixar movie. Had another studio produced it, I’d bet anything it would have ended up somewhere in the 70s review-wise. It’s better than disposable and forgettable fluff like “Rio” and “Megamind.” But it’s far worse than what we’ve come to expect from Pixar. It’s fun, and gorgeously animated, but it’s not emotionally resonant or memorable.

Think of it this way—as a Saturday morning cartoon, it would be considered a well-made and un-insulting one. It’s good for kids, and it has the potential to bring out an adult’s inner child. However, it also has the ham-fisted message, awkward humor, and general innocuousness that seems to come with the territory. Take that for what you will.

I give “Cars 2” a 6.5/10.

-Matt T.

*If you were to say to me, “Matt, when would you say your tastes finally developed?” my answer would always be, “About a month or two before you asked me that question.”

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Starring- Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild, Bruno Ricci

Director- Joe Johnston

PG-13- intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action

Trailer- http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2912787481/

MODERN COMMENTARY, SEPTEMBER 2015:

I’m in a weird situation with this review, because I think it is absolutely, ridiculously wrong even though I still agree with most (not all) of the points it makes. I think the only change is that I started to love the good part of the movie even more and to dislike the bad part of the movie less. Honestly, if it weren’t for the weak third act, I’d be fully prepared to call “Captain America: The First Avenger” an outright great movie. The first third is so strong. And I’m warming up to the middle third; I’ll vouch for it up until just before the climax. I also understated how strong the direction is; it’s not awards-worthy stuff, but it gets the job done. Few other Marvel movies have been as overtly stylized as this, and I like that about it.

It took me a long time to decide whether this review was going to lean positive or negative. That’s a new one for me. It’s usually fairly obvious whether to focus on what was done right or what was done wrong, because movies usually do one or the other to a fairly overwhelming degree.

With “Captain America: The First Avenger,” I am faced with a conundrum. There is a great movie in its first half and a very bad one in its second. I am not entirely certain which of these ought to overpower the other. I don’t know that either of them does.

In the end, the movie is largely what I secretly suspected but hoped it wouldn’t be—an imitation, rather than replication, of the adventures of old. It hits all the right presentational notes, but misses on their heart and soul.

Or rather, that’s what the second half does. The first half is pitch perfect. You can see why I’m conflicted here. The first half is everything I want adventure movies to be. The second half is everything I’m sick of.

The first half is about Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a good-hearted young man in WWII-era America who wants more than anything to serve his country but has a serious problem—he is small and weak, routinely rejected by military recruiters who promise they’re saving his life. His best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) has already been accepted, and it looks like Steve will be sitting on the sidelines until he catches the eye of military scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who identifies him as a good man and gets him into a secret training program under Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones).

Erskine is a defected German scientist who formerly worked under HYDRA, the Nazi science division’s secret weapon, and its leader, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), for whom he created a serum capable of turning an ordinary man into an extraordinary one—faster, stronger, and more enduring than any other. Now, he’s brought that serum to America—and Steve is chosen as its first test subject.

The second half of the movie is about a drone called Captain America, who fights stuff.

It’s easy to see where it goes wrong. Steve is infinitely more likable than characters such as Tony Stark, but he’s also infinitely less interesting. His vulnerability, in addition to his goodness, endears us to him—we want to root for the little guy, because most of us identify with that in some way.

So, when he becomes Captain America, he effectively loses his one flaw. He becomes an absolute paragon of virtue with all the capability he requires in order to enforce that virtue. If there is any internal conflict over his new situation, we do not see it. The second half of the movie is a bland, one-note hero fighting Nazis, ad infinitum. It’s a jarring contrast to the quiet, almost slow first half of the movie, which makes its characters likable and interesting and conveys actual emotion when one of them dies. When another of them dies in the second half—a far more significant one, by the way—it has so little effect on the plot and characters it might as well not have happened at all. Sure, there’s at least one scene of moping associated with it, but it’s quick, soon forgotten, and reveals nothing interesting about Captain America as a character, making it merely obligatory.

It’s also quite clear that the writers had no idea where to go with the story after Steve becomes Captain America. That moment marks the completion of his character arc, something that’s normally saved for the movie’s end. The second half of the movie feels extraneous. It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t shed new light on the story. Steve completes his arc, and proceeds to fight Nazis for a really, really long time. When he goes over to join the war, the movie becomes almost video-game-like in its progression—setup, action sequence, set up, action sequence… Onward to the climax, which is no bigger or more emotionally significant than what came before it. Things happen so quickly; it’s almost like the filmmakers were shooting it in order and desperate to get it over with.

Also, oddly enough, the action sequences themselves lack a certain electricity. The first major one, where Steve chases a Nazi spy through the streets of New York, is the sole exception, perhaps because it was still a story with characters at that point. Everything afterward feels…off, somehow. They seem slow, in an awkward and clunky sort of way. Points go to Joe Johnston for keeping the camera still and not editing the crap out of them, but the cuts remain, in places, jarring, and the shot selection isn’t always ideal. And at the end of the day, most of them only consist of Captain America punching, kicking, and throwing his shield at stuff. This movie and “The A-Team” ought to get together and close up that gap somehow.

There remains much to like, however. There is something to be said for the fact that a movie like this could be made—a period superhero film that aims to be more like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” than “Spider-Man.” And even if it does, again, miss their heart and soul, it is certainly evocative of them. There’s an early scene with Schmidt/Red Skull searching for the Cosmic Cube that could certainly, out of context, be taken for an Indiana Jones movie. The score has the same playful rise and fall as well, and there’s just something to be said for a hero who poses epically, spouts cheesy heroic platitudes while the music swells, and then runs off to save the day. The movie may have benefited from being that silly throughout.

It is also filled with a lot of veteran acting talent—Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and others, who bring a sense of fun to the proceedings. I suspect I may have liked Chris Evans more had he been given more to do in the second half; he’s perfectly serviceable in the first. No one is bad.

The movie also has a sense of good humor throughout, and its effects are top-notch, special mention going to those used to make Chris Evans appear small and skinny, which are at all times completely seamless.

But it’s a disappointment, and I won’t deny it. Here is a movie that has all the pieces of absolute greatness—likable characters, a convincing period setting, an emotionally invested and well-paced story, a rousing score, a sense of humor, and a handful of great actors—and it absolutely squanders them in an obligatory, time-wasting, ineffective, and ultimately disinterested second half. The first half is one of my favorite movies of the year; the second ranks alongside “Battle: Los Angeles” as one of the most tedious.

In the end, I’d like to rate this one positively because of what it does right, or rather, almost does right, because it’s important to me that more talented people attempt to make more movies like this, only better. But it would be a failure on my part not to acknowledge that its entire second half is not nearly as good, and could almost be cut out entirely.

On my end, I think the first half is perhaps an 8.5/10, while the second is perhaps a 3. I’ll round up and split the difference:

I give “Captain America: The First Avenger” a 6/10.

 

-Matt T.

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Starring- James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Alex Gonzalez, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Lucas Till

Director- Matthew Vaughn

PG-13- intense sequences of action and violence, some sexuality including brief partial nudity and language

Trailer- http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi168926489/

MODERN COMMENTARY — OCTOBER 2015:

I’ve since gotten deep enough into online film circles that I have found respectable communities that share in my apathy toward the original X-Men trilogy. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this particular movie since I wrote this review — it’s on TV basically all the time now — but never the whole thing in one sitting. I think I would have to in order to evaluate this from my modern perspective.

“There are only two things certain in this life—death and taxes.” I have always disliked this quote, as I felt it lacked a necessary third certainty—that Matt will always dislike X-Men movies.

Well, in retrospect, I’m glad it doesn’t, because I actually kind of liked “X-Men: First Class.” This was the last franchise I would expect to be able to right itself after so great an abomination as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but lo and behold. “X-Men: First Class” is pretty good, and in a lot of ways, it’s what superhero movies ought to be—freaking stories, for crying out loud.

In the 1960s, mutants are unknown to the public, and only somewhat suspected by the government. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a telepath, is celebrating having recently obtained a doctorate in genetics when he receives a visit from Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), an agent of the American government who has a question for the expert geneticist—are such dramatic mutations possible?

Her last mission, you see, had her after the Hellfire Club, an organization helmed by the mysterious Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) that has its claws in several different governments and seems to be trying to manipulate the United States and Russia into nuclear war. While chasing him down, McTaggert was witness to several of Shaw’s cohorts demonstrating abilities beyond the scope of the normal human.

She wants to know—are mutants real? And if Shaw is going to have a team of them, then maybe the United States ought to have one of its own.

So Xavier and his adopted sister, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), also a mutant, head to Washington D.C. and scrape together a superhuman team, co-led in an increasingly unstable alliance by the magnetically-powered Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who has mysterious ties to Shaw and is determined to kill him no matter what the cost.

The greatest benefit to the success of “X-Men: First Class” is that, even though it kind of is one, it doesn’t feel like an origin story. I’m getting burned out on those. You know the ones—ordinary guy gets superpowers, ordinary guy learns how to use superpowers, ordinary guy must overcome *insert flaw here*, ordinary guy fights a villain who had his own subplot but didn’t really do anything important other than exist so that the hero could battle him in an obligatory action climax, and ordinary guy appears in a sequel that’s actually good. My review of “Green Lantern” is pretty much already drafted; I know exactly what type of movie it’s going to be, scene for scene.

And here’s the thing—they’re not really stories, are they? They are introductions to characters, the first act of a movie where the sequel gets to be the second and third. There’s a reason the second movie is better 95% of the time. It’s an actual story.

Think of it this way—if Thor was not a pre-existing character in a comic book universe, could you pitch his movie’s script to a Hollywood executive and have it made into a film? Probably not, because the script itself isn’t all that spectacularly interesting. It’s a long character bio that promises a halfway decent sequel, just like most other origin stories. Their existence on the whole makes about as much sense to me as refusing to make “Star Wars” until you have Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo and Chewbacca movies.

“X-Men: First Class” could possibly have been made on the strength of its script alone. It’s a standalone story that does not require prior interest in its characters to be engaging. Is the story fantastic? Not really. True, it has proper structure and, for once, all of the pieces of the plot are directly interconnected, lending the climax an oomph that is distinctly lacking in many other films of this type. But it doesn’t have many twists and turns, and its pacing lags in the middle. It’s not a bad story; it just lacks imagination in places.

The real interest is in its characters. I know the reason I don’t like the other X-Men movies, and I’m not ashamed to admit it—Wolverine. He makes a fine supporting character, but I can’t stand him as a protagonist. He’s uninteresting, spending all of his time either moping about his amnesia or ripping guys to shreds for looking at him funny. I’m not concerned about how “cool” he is. I can’t get emotionally invested in him.

Charles Xavier is a much stronger protagonist. Stronger still is Erik, the future Magneto, who may even border on fascinating. He was persecuted in a Nazi concentration camp as a child, which lends an intriguing undercurrent—Erik has been a feared and mistrusted minority. He knows what happens. He is determined to prevent it from happening again. He cannot hope to sue for the same kind of peace that Charles believes is possible. The optimism has been tortured out of him.

I will say that I prefer the Erik of the other films, surprisingly enough. The older Erik, Magneto, seems convinced his actions are a necessary evil, deriving no joy from them. He is cold and calculating. Here, he is a revenge-driven rage machine, taking the time to savor killing the former Nazis he encounters. That character is equally compelling, but is not the same, and it hurts the legitimacy of his cause. One of the few things I always liked about the X-Men movies is the emphasis on the social dynamic, balancing the argument between three poles—Charles, who insists on peaceful coexistence; Magneto, who believes that only be destroying the humans can mutants survive; and the humans, who, somewhat rightfully, wonder how society can survive when some people can crumble entire buildings just by thinking the wrong thoughts. The movies have never really lent as much legitimacy to each argument as perhaps they should have in order to be truly thought provoking. That Erik’s ugly side really comes out in this movie doesn’t help that.

Beyond that, though, it’s a real shame that the characters are not fantastic across the board. A few supporting players do hold their own and manage to be interesting or likable in more or less the right degree. The rest are extremely boring. The X-Men Charles assembles to be part of his First Class are so utterly devoid of personality that they’re borderline robotic, programmed at the best of times to conform to broad stereotypes. And other than Shaw, the villains aren’t too memorable either. Motivations are shaky—the movie is too determined to set up all the pieces to correspond with the first X-Men movie, to which this is a prequel. Erik/Magneto’s fall into outright villainy makes sense on an intellectual level, in terms of determining his reasons for it, but it needed more time, growth, and conflict in order to become emotionally resonant. Worse still is Raven/Mystique, who also needed to become evil, but only does so in this movie because she’s supposed to. More compelling reasons needed to be given for why she abandoned her new friends and her long-time stepbrother who took her in and always loved her in order to join forces with a couple of guys who not days before murdered dozens of people and at least two friendly acquaintances right in front of her. Really, the entire ending of this movie is built upon the need to have really crucial decisions made on the spur of the moment without giving them any real thought. This should’ve been pitched as a trilogy.

The acting is inconsistent as well. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Bacon are all fantastic, a few others are okay, and the rest are mediocre, with a handful being outright bad.

On top of that, the effects are kind of hokey in places, not that that’s something that really matters to me all that much. They’re not awful, but they do look very distinctly CGI-like. And directors need to stop conflating people shouting, “NO!” with genuine emotion, because at least twice this movie renders truly heart-rending moments silly by doing this.

Overall, though, this movie really is a lot better than I thought it was going to be, being neither a fan of X-Men nor of Matthew Vaughn. This is a solid effort, though flawed, and it gets the franchise back on the right course. It has compelling characters, some surprisingly good acting, and an actual story. It also possesses the single most hilarious cameo I may have ever seen in a comic book movie, and you would do well not to allow anyone to spoil it for you.

I give “X-Men: First Class” an 8/10.

 

-Matt T.

Movie Review: The Fighter (2010)

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Movie Reviews

The Fighter (2010)

Starring- Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee

Director- David O. Russell

R- language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality

Trailer- http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2330986777/

MODERN COMMENTARY, MAY 2015

Other than casually spoiling parts of the movie again — seriously, I have no idea why I did that so often in my first few years on this site — I don’t have any significant objection to this review. Maybe I would if I saw the movie again with fresh, better-educated eyes. But I never got around to revisiting this, primarily because its reputation is as solid but largely unremarkable formula. Of the things I remember in detail — Christian Bale is absolutely fantastic and deserved that Oscar win, and Mark Wahlberg gets a bit lost in all the great performances happening around him. As far as I can recall, the movie is mostly okay, but I’ve got higher priorities before I get around to seeing it again.

“The Fighter” suffers primarily from not being my sort of movie, because boxing is not my sort of sport. It is a game in which the core idea is to hammer your opponent until he is temporarily—if you’re lucky—incapable of hammering you back, or doing much of anything, for that matter. And that doesn’t disturb me as much as the people in the stands, loudly and violently egging on the two men as they permanently brain-damage one another.

As such, I always approach such movies with a level of natural reserve. I don’t want to be the guy cheering for one ordinary man to beat another ordinary man senseless simply because I know him better. That makes it difficult for me to review them objectively, because even when the protagonist is extraordinarily likable—Rocky, for instance—I don’t really root for him, except maybe in the parts of his life that occur outside the ring.

It’s easy enough to do this for “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), whose family life is the stuff that nightmares are made of. He is an up-and-coming boxer whose older brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), is the town pride for having once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard.

The two get along well enough. Dicky trains Mickey and does a good job of it in spite of having made a mess of his once-promising life, having no job, no money, an illegitimate son, a burgeoning arrest record, and a crippling drug addiction. The real problem is their mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), Mickey’s manager, who is determined to control everything and tends to get emotional otherwise—a teenager who never stopped being a teenager. The matches she picks for Mickey tend to get him slaughtered—and Dicky often supports them.

The film is more about the family than the boxing. The entire middle act of the film has next to no boxing whatsoever. Instead, it shows Mickey as he fights a personal battle, torn between his dominating and fractured family and a desire to make his own way in the world, centered particularly in Charlene (Amy Adams), his new girlfriend, who tries to pull him into being his own man—but does she really?

It’s an interesting view into a world full of people who screwed up their lives and are trying to create a better one through someone who hasn’t had a chance to yet. Other than Mickey, it seems like everyone in this movie has blown his or her shot. Dicky is trying to reclaim the stardom he once possessed, perhaps knowing in the back of his mind that his planned comeback has little hope. Alice has had more husbands than anyone other than her own children can count, and most of them still live under her wing, while she tries desperately to earn their love and to experience her own taste of greatness. Even the townspeople seem to live vicariously through Mickey—his trainers and friends and, yes, even Charlene, who went to college on an athletic scholarship and blew it, act as though they’re allowing him to make his own decisions when, really, they’re pressuring him into making theirs.

This is conveyed very well, but the film doesn’t have anything in particular to say about this. It’s just a reality that it presents and asks the audience to live with. The story arrives at compromise between Mickey’s own desires and those of his friends and family, but never offers any real indication that any of these relationships have been patched up, except for maybe Mickey and Dicky. The film seems to consent to the reality of how screwed up the rest of Mickey’s life is, or perhaps glosses it over. It’s difficult to tell. Obviously, the central interest is in the relationship between Mickey and Dicky, and it works the best. Everything else is secondary, and tends to be inferior in so doing.

The central idea here, of the family living vicariously through Mickey, does present interest, though, and also a missed opportunity. Here is a man getting beat up, sometimes very viciously, and the family treats it like it’s no big deal. At times, it begins to seem that Mickey’s welfare is of no concern, only the potential he has to be great.

It’s almost as though it’s a criticism of boxing itself, huh?

Unfortunately, as the plot resolves itself, it devolves into the typical climactic fistfight that demonizes the opponent and expects us to whoop and holler for Mickey as he faces off against him. That takes away some of the luster.

The film does have good takeaways from Dicky. His ends up being the most redemptive subplot. A better movie may have made him the main character. Much has been said of the acting, so I won’t dwell on it, but Christian Bale’s performance is sheer majesty, a perfect inhabitation of the character that may be the best of the year, period. It becomes even more impressive when one views the footage of the real Mickey and Dicky at the end of the film and realizes that Bale has perfectly appropriated his character’s mannerisms. Mark Wahlberg seems to play Mickey in exactly the same way as his real-life counterpart as well, and yet, it lacks the same power. Perhaps Mickey simply does not make the best protagonist. His character lacks in emotional richness, and the performance isn’t all that subtle. I don’t blame Wahlberg for this. He gets the least to work with. The rest of the cast is fantastic. Special attention should be drawn to Mickey O’Keefe, who has not gotten enough accolades for what he does here. This man has never acted before in his life. In this movie, he plays himself. And it’s not a cameo; it’s an important supporting role. And it is seamless. When I viewed the film, I did not know the character was being played by his real-life counterpart, as he blended perfectly in the film, standing toe-to-toe with a cast that mostly got nominated for Academy Awards over this movie and not for a second standing out. For a first-timer, that is an impressive feat. Hollywood, take note and sign him up for more movies.

Outside of these things, the movie is well made, but lacking in depth. It sets up a lot of interesting scenarios and themes, and it executes them perfectly, but it doesn’t in so doing set up any particularly interesting questions about its subject matter, and many of its plot threads feel shakily resolved. And it is difficult to pick up on much of the depth anyway, given the proclivity of the film’s characters towards engaging in chaotic shouting matches whenever they feel the need to speak.

It may be, in the end, this that keeps “The Fighter” from greatness. Its characters are so hateful and so governed by their emotions. I’m not sure this works all that well for a movie that is supposed to be rousing. Rocky came from the same environment and was, in spite of this, a good man. I think Mickey Ward is as well, but the rest of the cast is questionable, seeming at the best of times to care only about themselves. Dicky finds redemption, and that is the film’s one grounding, its one hope spot, that people can change when they want to.

But the rest of the characters are stubbornly determined that they’re fine just the way they are. The film never addresses that. It should have. It might even agree with them. And that, to me, is even more bothersome than the sport of boxing itself.

I give “The Fighter” a 7/10.

 

-Matt T.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Starring- Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong, Glenn Morshower, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker, Leonard Nimoy, Jess Harnell, Charles Adler, Robert Foxworth, James Remar, Francesco Quinn, George Coe, Tom Kenny, Reno Wilson, Ron Bottitta, John Di Maggio, Keith Szarabajka, Greg Berg

Director- Michael Bay

PG-13- intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo

Trailer-  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi543989017/

It has been four days since I viewed “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” I now finally judge myself competent to compose this review. I have been in an odd state lately, like my mind has been in a different plane of reality than my body, one where there is nothing but loud noises and flashing colors. There is no laughter there.

Fortunately, after a good deal of electro-shock therapy, I am now able to live a mostly normal life, apart from the zombie-like meandering of the last few days. Music is beginning to sound like music again. I am also starting to regain my ability to taste food.

I would like to congratulate Michael Bay. He has made a truly immersive film, the only one I can think of that accurately simulates what it’s like to have a giant robot punch you in the face over and over again for two and a half hours. It’s a good thing “The Last Airbender” had previously familiarized me with the idea that movies worse than “Revenge of the Fallen” could be made. Otherwise, “Dark of the Moon” might have stopped my heart.

I want to be perfectly clear about this. I have, as of right now, written eighty-nine reviews for this website. Among them are such abominations as “Jonah Hex,” “Old Dogs,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Skyline,” “Aliens in the Attic,” and, yes, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is worse than all of them. Take a moment and ponder exactly what it means when I say that. I would rather watch any single other movie I’ve reviewed for this website, any at all, than be paid to watch this again. It is that tough a sit.

As with the previous “Transformers” movies, I have a difficult time remembering what “Dark of the Moon” was about. The plot eludes me. That’s not to suggest that information disguised as a plot is not thrown at the audience for the first two-thirds of the movie, but the climax batters it out of you. There’s a thing with NASA and the original moon landing and a giant robot ship that crash-landed there. Its captain is Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), who is important for reasons I don’t recall. There’s also Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is still the star of this franchise for some reason. He needs a job. This involves John Malkovich and Ken Jeong and general wackiness. He has a hot girlfriend, named Hot Girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), because this is required.

Then, the Decepticons, led by Megatron (Hugo Weaving), and staffed by identical-looking drone guys I’m told are actual, individual characters, attack, because that’s what Decepticons do. They want humans for slaves, because I guess it’s more efficient than giant robot labor. To this end, they start killing them, because the undead are more obedient, I guess. Don’t look at me like I know their strategy. And there are magic pillars and a bird robot and Chicago and a dude who sells cars and hits on Hot Girlfriend, and Sentinel Prime is evil for some reason. Oh, spoiler.

Oh, and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is in it. I can’t remember what he did.

Yeah, it’s really pointless to review this. I’ll get started. Tell me when I tread old ground—the robots are confusing, the action sequences are overlong and incomprehensible, the plot is boring and poorly paced, and the characters are mediocre at best and deplorable at worst. Did any of that surprise you? I thought not. And so, I’ll just commence with some scattered observations:

-Calling these movies “Transformers” makes about as much sense to me as calling “Star Wars” “Lightsabers.”

-The Decepticons would have a better time of things if, whenever they encountered an important heroic character, they actually took aim and shot at them instead of just creating mayhem in their general vicinity.

-The Autobots’ general attack strategy seems to be as follows—arrive just in time to save the day, disappear because this is a very easy thing for giant robots to do, allow many humans to get killed until only characters with names are left, arrive just in time to save the day, and repeat from step one. My heroes.

-When I think “element of surprise,” my list of priority targets is, in descending order, super-powerful main bad guy, bad guy’s random henchman, annoying and ineffective human enemies. Autobots seem to interpret this order in the opposite direction.

-“Hey, hey, guys! I’ve got a totally awesome idea! It’s gonna make ‘Dark of the Moon’ the best thing ever, I swear. So, John Malkovich, right? He’s really famous; people love him. Let’s put him in our movie! I know, I know, genius, right? And we will have him play a character who is in the beginning of the movie and seems like he’s important, and then just completely disappears for no reason and is never mentioned again. Man, I just have the best ideas. I know, right? Right? Why, yes, I will accept a raise in my paycheck. What would you guys do without me?”

-Also, why does the movie completely forget that the two annoying little robots exist at the end?

-One of these days, I will understand why only white middle Americans qualify as normal humans in the Wacky World of Michael Bay.

-When to use a grappling hook—as a makeshift weapon against a giant robot that is currently trying to eat you. When not to use a grappling hook—when you are falling down the corridors of a crumbling building and scrambling for a handhold, because that’d just be too freaking easy.

-I have constantly wondered why “Transformers” movies make for such awesome trailers and such terrible movies, and as of “Dark of the Moon,” I understand why. It’s because the movies are trailers. It’s especially obvious here; the entire movie is filmed like one, especially towards the climax, where it just jumps from one emotional image to the next, fades to black, and starts again without really tying them together. And also playing slow Linkin Park songs, because when I think giant robots…

-Fans of the original TV show—does Optimus Prime have a personality beyond making speeches that are ready for commercials that end with, “Yours for $19.99! Accessories not included!”? Because these movies don’t give me that impression.

-I really wish Sentinel Prime hadn’t been red, because there’s a new good robot who’s red, and the only way I follow these action sequences is by determining which blurs of color I’m supposed to be rooting for.

-I think Que (John Coe) was supposed to look like a robot version of an elderly British man, but he ended up looking like Murder Clown 5000. Seriously, I can’t be the only one.

-Is Michael Bay encouraging Shia LaBeouf to go more over-the-top, because he gets more intolerable with each movie. I don’t normally hate him, but I was seriously rooting for his character to die, so he’d stop shrieking like a little girl.

-Not that it matters much anyway. The climax of this movie is an entire hour long, so at a certain point, I was rooting for characters the way five-year-olds root for football teams—whoever happens to be winning at the moment.

To switch back into a more review-like tone for a moment (and hopefully a less irreverent one as well, though that will be difficult), the main problem with “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is that, whereas the last few movies at least seemed, on some level, to be intentionally stupid, this one is dark, serious, and tries really hard to be dramatic, like it’s the “Lord of the Rings” of giant robot movies. It isn’t. It thinks of its seriously indulgent climax as an epic moment, when really it’s a test of will, of nerve, and of how long you can watch clashing and bashing when you literally don’t care about anything that’s happening.

Honestly, it’s the fact that these movies want me to care, but also don’t want me to care. It wants me to care enough that its painfully long action sequences become bearable because of my connection to the characters, but it wants me to care so little that when a whole bunch of innocent people running screaming down the streets get vaporized by a giant robot, I don’t just glare at the jerk staring at me going, “Having fun yet?”

I may have exaggerated. I’m not sure if it’s the worst movie I’ve reviewed. It’s certainly a contender. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is more cynically violent, “The Last Airbender” is more inept, and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is more stupid and contains more fart humor. However, it is certainly the hardest to sit through—long and boring, and it’s the first “Transformers” movie where I get the sense even Michael Bay didn’t give a crap. It just feels so slapped together.

I’m not going to miss Michael Bay directing these movies. But honestly, “Dark of the Moon” may have finally put me off “Transformers” movies forever. They’re too violent for kids and too dumb for adults. I don’t know who they’re for, but it’s certainly not me.

(Also, I’m told Skids and Mudflap were killed in the novelization. This scene should have been filmed.)

I give “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” a 1/10.

-Matt T.