Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Summer movies, so far

Laura and I haven't been religious about seeing movies this Summer; until this weekend, we had only made it to the theaters for Iron Man, Indiana Jones, and The Hulk. Yesterday we snuck out to Wanted, and we just got back from the early-release screening of Hancock (where, surprisingly, we only had a dozen people in the theater with us). We're impressed with how good the movies have been so far, and we have high hopes for The Dark Knight, the only movie left on our must-see list.

Iron Man and The Hulk were very similar movies, so it's safe to discuss them together. Both were much better than we expected. Both featured surprisingly good performances from their lead actors, and some excellent actors as foils, enemies, and love interests. Both had a good mix of story and action. Best, both films were true enough to their comic-book roots that comics fans accepted and enjoyed them, without being self-contained enough that newcomers could enjoy them without knowing the backstory. I'm curious to see what the rest of the Avengers movies are like.

Wanted and Hancock had something in common, too: neither was the movie you expected after seeing the trailer. The trailers were very well made, in that they contained enough of the film to get you interested and in the theater, but they managed not to give away the important twists of the story. We assumed both movies would be bad but entertaining; imagine our surprise when they both turned out to be interesting as well as entertaining, action-oriented as well as (somewhat) thoughtful and clever.

Wanted
was sold on the basis of cool stunts, good action, and Angelina Jolie being hot; it delivered on all counts. But it was also a character study. We watch our hero evolve and learn, eventually moving closer to discovering who he is. Other characters aren't necessarily who we think they are, but Wesley Gibson is constantly changing, growing, and maturing as the movie progresses. It's odd to talk like this about a movie with so much gunfire and blood, but I suspect that if the same character's journey were filmed a few decades ago, without special effects or quite such a high body count, it'd be talked about in film school. Some of the action scenes seemed to be lifted directly from Equilibrium, which is a compliment. And, I should mention: cool, wildly implausible stunts and effects, fun action scenes, and hot Angelina.

Hancock broke my recent run of missing Will Smith films. I haven't seen anything of his since Bad Boys II (which I saw on DVD); I wasn't particularly interested in Hitch or Pursuit of Happyness, and I haven't found time for I, Robot or I Am Legend (I hear both of these share almost nothing in common with their source material, both of which were excellent stories). And Hancock was pretty good, and it's not really about what the trailer leads you to believe it's about. The cast was excellent, and Laura and I found the story thought-provoking. I liked the mythology they built, and the story was paced well. Plus, every time I hear Jason Bateman being funny, a part of my brain flashes back to Dodgeball: "It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see how it pays off for them."

The only real disappointment was the Indiana Jones sequel. I know this is an odd criticism to level, but it was unrealistic. Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? You never stopped in the middle of the movie and thought, "that can't really happen!" It was plausible action. The newest one, though, was full of wildly improbable -- or downright impossible -- moments that do a fair job of taking you out of the movie experience. I'm all for giving movies suspension of disbelief, but this pushed it too far, too often. The plot was thin and a bit stupid, and the writing was like a film student's attempt to recreate the Lucas/Spielberg style, with none of the warmth and humor.

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