Monday, May 25, 2009

Wolverine vs. Terminator

I should be working, but as Mark Twain said, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow." So instead, I'm going to reflect on the two movies I saw this week: X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation. (SPOILERS!)

First of all, I give both movies *** three stars ("worthwhile"). They were both fairly entertaining action movies, but without much depth. That surprised me, as I had expected Wolverine to be a two-star movie and Terminator to be a four-star one. Here are some more thoughts:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

  • The first two X-Men movies were great; the third was possibly worse than Ghost Rider. The difference was storytelling: in X1 and X2, there was character development and an consistent underlying story that people could relate to about what it feels like to be different. Not everything worked in them, but the stories were strong enough to make the movie more than just a series of action scenes. X3 lost all of the subtlety of its predecessors. It tried to keep the same themes, but was heavy handed about it and threw a bunch of extra gimmicks into the plot that didn't make much sense. (A lot of this stems from trying to be too faithful to the comic book source material, instead of creating something to work specifically in this movie format.) So in the end, X3 lost the magic and went all alien robot zombies.
  • In a lot of ways Wolverine - a prequel to the X-Men trilogy - is a lot like X3, but it does have some differences that ultimately make it better. Early buzz on Wolverine was that it was horrible, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was merely incredibly shallow. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It is that shallowness that keeps the plot from getting bogged down trying to wrap up loose ends that shouldn't have been started in the first place. I've seen X3 twice and still couldn't tell you what it was about. I can tell you what Wolverine was about, though: man gets metal claws and slices up bad guys with them. There are some additional things going on, but the plot never gets sidetracked from this basic premise, and if that sounds like an interesting diversion to you, this movie will not disappoint.
  • Don't think too deeply about character motivation or intelligence, though, or a lot of it won't make sense. As a case in point, one of the things that I always find myself wondering about is the mechanics behind Wolverine's claws. Those things have to retract into his forearms when not in use, which means: (a) he has to keep his wrists straight when they come in or go out; (b) the claws can be no longer than his forearms, including whatever portion of them anchor within his hand; and (c) there should be a noticeable difference in the size of his forearms and hands when they're retracted. (Also, since they rip through his flesh of his hands whenever they come out, there should really be some blood involved - mutant healing power or no.) During the movie, a so-so job is done showing how Wolverine's claws emerge. However, at the end of the movie, the "Deadpool" character is shown to have metal blades that some out of the back of his hands just like Wolverine. However, the blades are a lot longer, meaning that retracting them should prevent him from bending at the elbows. Impractical to say the least!
  • There are lots of similar areas where you just have to be willing to look the other way in terms of logic. However, if you can do so, you might just have some fun.

Terminator Salvation
  • As I mentioned, I had expected this movie to be four stars. Apparently, so had a lot of other people, because word-of-mouth has not been strong and the film only earned 34% at Rotten Tomatoes. The movie even ended up getting topped at the box office on its opening weekend by supremely meh family drivel Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian. That's unfair, though, because the movie really is worth seeing. It's not as good as it should be, but it's still enjoyable. (Seriously... Night At The Museum?!)
  • I couldn't quite put my finger on why this movie didn't work as well as it should, but I scanned some other reviews, and this one from sci-fi website io9 sums it up pretty well: Terminator Salvation's Terrible Shortfall. Reviewer Charlie Jane Anders is considerably more negative about the movie than I am, but hits the nail on the head on several points. Short version: there is a compelling story here, but the dialogue is weak, the editing is horrid and ultimately the movie fails to tell it.
  • The movie had one moment that made the audience laugh. Other than that, it was gritty and intense the entire two hours. Unlike the earlier Terminator movies, this is a war movie first, sci-fi action movie second.
  • There were several moments during this movie where I had to stifle my mental gag reflex. Why would Skynet create a Terminator it couldn't control? Why wouldn't Skynet kill Kyle Reese as soon as they captured him and win the war? Why wasn't Skynet headquarters better protected? Why did they cut Moon Bloodgood's topless scene?
  • With such weak storytelling, a lot of the actors are wasted. Moon Bloodgood should have been used more (as mentioned above, she should have gotten at least one more scene). And Common - who has bad-ass rapper street cred and an incredible, distinctive voice - doesn't appear in any action scenes and hardly speaks. Huh? Sam Worthington and Christian Bale each have some great scenes in the beginning of the movie, but the second half is a mess and neither character develops its potential.
  • Also, the ending is alien robot zombies. There's an entirely unnecessary heart transplant that doesn't make sense scientifically or even really in terms of the story.
  • Probably the biggest disappointment for me, though, was the lack of a dominant bad guy. There was no one to fill Ahnuld's shoes. (Although I will say that seeing the CGI Schwarzenegger Terminator at the end was exciting.)
  • Nevertheless, many of the sets, effects and action sequences were incredible and ultimately redeemed the entertainment value of the movie. (Bale's helicopter scene in the beginning is simultaneously artistic and thrilling.) And really, that's what the Terminator franchise is all about - or have we all forgotten that this is exactly what we said about T2?

1 comment:

  1. Pretty much right on on Wolverine... haven't seen the Arnoldless T yet. (papa)