The family was away this weekend which means I watched a lot of bad movies – you know, the ones which you know are going to be terrible but you want to see anyways. In what is impressive slothfullness for even myself, I saw 4 movies in the span of 24 hours… Tomb Raider, The Wandering Earth, The Meg and Transformers: The Last Knight.
Unintentionally all 4 ended up being sci-fi/action movies from the last year or 2, and as such, suffered from very common themes: a) they were massively overstuffed – too many characters (most of which you just didn’t care about), too many silly plot twists (making them too long) and b) generally lacked a soul focusing more on spectacle, big explosions and effects, rather than character development or plot.
Some thoughts… roughly in the order from best to worst… or really, from least worst to most worst.
1. Tomb Raider (the one from last year, not the terrible one from 2001 with Angelina Jolie)
Overall this movie was decent. Generally well put together, tenable plot and gorgeous sets. And seriously, speaking of gorgeous, Alicia Vikander, as the main character Lara, was *HOT*. Unfortunately her kicking ass and looking good doing it just wasn’t enough to carry this movie. Her acting was wooden and she showed off a grand total of 3 facial expressions. She went from from innocent, oppressed, ingenue to cold blooded murder bot way too fast (this is incidentally the exact issue that the 2013 reboot of the game had (which I am maybe a third of the way thru, more on the trials and tribulations with my XBox in a later post)).
Many other character transitions were rushed as well – Lu Ren went from depressed drunk to Lara’s BFF in a heartbeat without any real reason. Matthias, the main bad guy, started off as somewhat menacing but just evolved into an oblivious idiot, constantly complaining about not having anyone to talk to even though it was obvious that half the prisoners and almost all of the guards did indeed speak English.
The movie’s ending was botched as well. The last act was similar to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the bad guy threatens to kill the hero’s father if s/he didn’t help him get inside the tomb. However, while in Last Crusade, Indy was acting out of true desperation to save his father’s life, Lara just came off as incredibly stupid, selfish or just obtuse in her desire to help the bad guy.
Ahh, Lara, I didn’t hate to see you go, but I loved watching you leave.
2. The Wandering Earth
I was interested in this one as it got a lot of press as China’s biggest blockbuster ever, rivaling the spectacle and production of any movie out today – overall it didn’t disappoint, emulating the best and worst of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The premise was interesting – the sun was going to explode and so people built a thousand rockets jets which were going to move the entire planet 4 light years to the nearest star after using Jupiter’s gravity as a sling-shot to get speed.
Now, I do realize that a healthy suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy a movie such as this but I am a big nerd and there are a few things which I just have to get off my chest. It seems to me that thousands of super powerful rocket jet would burrow into the Earth before it would be able to start moving the planet. And unless I misunderstood, they are powered by rocks? Or is it those balls they were dragging around all movie long (the light cores)? And these work for 2000 years? And while they showed nicely how uninhabitable the earth gets at Jupiter’s distance, not sure how the planet was planning on surviving for 2000 years with NO sun whatsoever.
Anyways… premise shenanigans aside, the movie’s plot plodded along pretty typically without a ton of surprises. It did get a little complicated at the end, mainly because each of the plethora of characters each had to be given something to do in the final climax.
The acting was all good – I generally liked the relationships between the characters. You cared when the father leaves or the Russian died, etc. The cast was pretty male-heavy… in fact the only female character (the sister, Duoduo) clearly would not be able to survive on her own and served no value except as a prop to be taken care of/saved by her male family members.
It did seem a little silly that the the United Earth Government, which was largely impotent for most of the film, was able to rally so much help for the main characters right at the end. If they could have been that effective throughout, this would be a significantly shorter movie. And, I want to know what happened to the guy who barfed in his helmet? Did he pour it out and wear it, or make that guy sitting next to him wear it. When you have a funny moment like that, you can’t leave me hanging!
Overall, this movie was enjoyable yet unsurprising with an overly complicated plot and neat effects that added very little to the end result. Basically China has made an action movie as mediocre as any we see here in the US.
3. The Meg
Overall the character ensemble here was good. There was enough witty banter to make me care about each and every one of them. There weren’t a lot of “useless extras” and every time someone died, you cared.
I love Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office) and his character was hilarious. Unfortunately it also felt completely unnecessary, he added no value to the story. Don’t think anything would have been affected if his entire character was cut in editing. Overall it was a wasted effort.
Li Bingbing was unnaturally attractive as the marine biologist… there is no way that any person with hair that perfect and skin that smooth spends all of her time in salt water environments. And unlike Wandering Earth, they tried to paint this token women character as a bad-ass who can take care of herself and save the day, but she just largely came off as impulsive and stupid which then required her to be saved.
The plot was repetitive and predictable, and can generally be summarized as… overly long setup with some menacing foreshadowing of the shark. Whew, we killed the shark (but wait, it’s only halfway thru the movie). Oh no shocker, there’s a second shark. Yayy, we killed it! Nope, it’s just a whale. Oh there it is. Now let’s do an obligatory beach carnage scene (for no reason) before we get to the final showdown. Many scenes in isolation were awesome but were generally strung together in a haphazard way. I really wanted to like this movie, but it was harder than it should have been.
4. Transformers, The Last Knight
I can’t explain this movie – it’s a bizarre hodge-podge of random features from other movies… with Transformers. Take any one of the three Death Stars (or Galactus?), give everyone swords because hey, Game of Thrones is popular (but give Bumblebee a hammer for some reason), and you know what, every third movie has a dragon these days, throw in one of those. Even though we created a new bad guy for this one, let’s go ahead and bring Megatron back to life for some reason. In fact by my count, the useless characters who didn’t do anything of value included the 14 year old chick, the hot chick, everyone in Cuba, baby transformers, Grimlock and the confused butler droid. To that, add an equal number of non-useless ones as well and you have no idea who is doing what. And fer sure, if the giant robots are using swords well then the humans have to as well, because that’s fair.
I could go on but will just close by saying that this movie does “big robots causing explosions while falling” really well. So for 10 minutes this movie kicked ass… For the other 144 minutes, i wanted to claw my own eyes out while my brain slowly melted from stupidity.