“Is this world protected?”
Yes, Doctor, it is. But who protects it? Why, Rory Williams, of course, the Last Centurion.
Would you like him to repeat the question?
“Is this world protected?”
Yes, Doctor, it is. But who protects it? Why, Rory Williams, of course, the Last Centurion.
Would you like him to repeat the question?
Publisher: Image Comics. #1 of 6 Cover Price: $1.00. Written by David Baxter. Pencis by Javier Aranda.
In #1 of Marksmen, we meet Drake McCoy, a Marksman for New San Diego in a postapocalyptic USA. Drake is out to fetch some tech for Dr. Heston, who (seems to be) in charge of New San Diego’s science division. While doing his looting, he is attacked by a clan of cannibals and rescued by fugitives from the city of Lone Star in what used to be Texas. The fugitives are on their way to New San Diego to warn them of an impending attack by the religious fanatics who run Texas, because Lone Star has run out of oil and now wants New San Diego’s tech to keep their civilization running.
Marksmen was an impulse buy. I figured, I can’t really go wrong for just $1.00.
I figured wrong.
After massive recession the United States government collapsed and a civil war erupted between the cities and states to keep any last resources to themselves. This destroyed our country’s infrastructure and most of its population… the Big Collapse.
Out of the ashes rose New San Diego, one a few cities that survived by cutting itself off from the outside world. Rebuilt by a roup of top scentists and protected by the Navy Seals stationed at the Coronado Navel Base, NSD became a technological utopia. Sixty years later the ancestors of those Navy Seals still protect the city as… the MARKSMEN.
That’s the intro from the inside cover. Spelling, grammar and word usage are diligently copied.
Notice the problem? If so, you clearly did a better job than the writer, editor and publisher of this comic. The lack of English language competency shows throughout the comic, in bad word usage, spelling and word balloons pointed at the wrong person (at least according to context).
The story and the characters are also rather derivative. The Marksmen, as shown here, are slightly reminiscent of Judge Dredd and his cohorts, and the first half of the story is borderline “Judge Mad Max vs. The Hills Have Eyes.” The only moderately original idea is that the scientific utopia, which going by the very few hints in this comics is something of a science-based military dictatorship, is about to go up against an invading religious-fascistic dictatorship.
The art is servicable. With some more practice, Javier Aranda might eventually get to be pretty good. As it is, his figures are stiff, and he relies heavily on stock poses. However, his art passes what I call the Shooter Test: you can tell what’s going on in each panel even without the words.
There are of course hints of problems and complications to come, but I know for certain that I’m not going to be around to read about them.
Verdict: Very Not Recommended!
USA 2011. Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde. Runtime 118 minutes
A lone cowboy (Daniel Craig) wakes up a long way from home (or anywhere, for that matter). He has no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he came to be there. Which isn’t even the most bizarre thing he discovers; that would be the strange bracelet he wears on his left wrist. He eventually finds his way to the town Absolution, where at least some people seem to know them: the mysterious Elle (Olivia Wilde) and the local Sheriff, John Taggart (Keith Carradine). Actually, it’s from Taggart that the cowboy finds out who he is: Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw. Just as Taggart is about to ship Jake off to the judge in Santa Fe, they get a visit from Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the rancher who rules the town with the proverbial iron fist. Dolarhyde wants not just his son back (who shares the prison coach with Jake), he also wants Jake because Jake stole his gold.
At this point, Absolution is attacked by UFOs who abduct a considerable part of the town’s populace. Those left behind form a posse to chase the UFOs and rescue their loved ones. Along the way, they encounter a gang of outlaws that Jake used to lead, and an Apache tribe that also has missing family. Together, they take the fight to the aliens, who turn out to be just an advance party that is here to check if the planet is suitable for looting and exterminating.
With cross-genre stories like this one, one of the main questions is which one it resembles more closely. In this case, Cowboys and Aliens is more the archetypical western movie with aliens tacked on. It’s a movie about hard men riding lonesome trails — which describes the movie’s feel. Not to disparage Craig and Ford, but both of them channel Clint Eastwood (at different points in his career) for their respective parts. And Olivia Wilde isn’t really as mysterious as she is supposed to be — at least in part, for me, because I couldn’t manage to wrap my head around the baggy pajamas she wears in half the movie. Terribly distracting, and not in a good way. On the plus side, they do manage to make it feel like a classic western, even if they go overboard on the western tropes.
And that is where Cowboys and Aliens fails: the tropes. The characters in this movie are mostly stock characters. Their adventure is a mix and mash of various western tropes, played straight. (When I did something similar in my own cross-genre novel Cowboys and Barbarians, I also stuffed it with tropes, but in a tongue-in-cheek way.) There are some bizarre elements put into the second act, but those seem to be added for their own sake instead of leading anywhere. In total, the movie feels overstuffed, in places it appears as if the writers wanted to use the awe-factor to distract from the movie’s flaws. Less awe-factor, here as everywhere it is applied, would have been more.
The aliens are familiar. If you’ve seen any alien invasion movie since Independence Day, you know these aliens. The main difference is that (by necessity) they aren’t as invincible as those from Independence Day, Battle LA or Skyline. (I even entertained myself with the notion that all the three above and this movie all tell the story of the same alien invasion — they are all that similar.)
That means that any character who isn’t Jake Lonergan gets short shrift. When Dolarhyde bonds with the Sheriff’s grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer), it doesn’t work, because it’s really just a sidenote. The writers put some (metaphorical) loaded guns on the fireplace but don’t fire them (perhaps in earlier drafts of the screenplay?). Some character growth feels false because it doesn’t really develop naturally. And the showdown would have worked better if there had been more consistency — the aliens are bulletproof or not, depending on whether or not the writers want to kill the cowboy in question.
In summary: Cowboys and Aliens is an entertaining western with some sci-fi elements. You won’t leave the movie feeling that you’ve wasted your time. But you will leave the movie feeling that it could have been much much more. And by borrowing heavily from both other western and sci-fi movies, you never lose the feeling that you’ve seen all of this before.
Verdict: mildly recommended.
Within a short time, Doctor Who companion Rory Williams (otherwise known as Mr. Amy Pond) has shown himself to be the most badass character of the 21st century. Or any other century. I’m sure even the Doctor is at least a little bit afraid of him.
USA 2011. Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper. Runtime: 125 minutes
In the first days of America’s involvement in WW2, frail Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) desperately tries and fails to join the army. He is simply not fit enough. At one attempt, he is noticed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is working on a super-soldier program for the US government. Erskine considers Steve the perfect candidate and recruits him. The experiment is a success and turns the skinny little dude into a perfect specimen. Unfortunately, he will remain the only one, because Erskine is killed by a Hydra assassin.
As the only possible result of this experiment, Steve is considered too valuable to be sent to the front. Instead, he tours the country in order to drum up support for the war effort. But when Steve tours the front and discovers that his best friend Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) unit has been captured by the evil Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), he goes off by himself and frees them. His success earns him a series of field assignments that cover the entire war.
During this time, Schmidt, whose nickname is Red Skull because of a deformity he got as a result of his participation in Erskine’s prototype experiment, has built Hydra into a fighting force, mostly because he managed to get his hands on a superweapon called The Tesseract. In the final days of the war, the Red Skull decides to eradicate the US. As his plane takes off, only Captain America can get on board to stop the Red Skull’s plan.
Captain America is a dramatic, movie, it’s an adventurous movie, Americans might even consider it a patriotic movie. But at the heart of it, it is not an American movie. As in, you don’t need to be American to like the movie or the characters. Yes, Captain America dresses like the US flag, but the values he represents go beyond the US, and therefore the character can resonate with audiences all over the world. There is no patriotic flag-waving in this movie. And yes, that is a plus. Instead, it’s mostly a movie about people.
It is, of course, the story of Steve Rogers, who is willing to selflessly lay his life on the line for what he thinks is right and important. Be that standing up against bullies of all kinds and sizes, or just risking everything to save his friend. All the while remaining clueless about some other things, such as Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell). Chris Evans rises to the occasion, presenting a more nuanced and mature performace than I thought him capable of. It is as if here, for the first time, he was actually challenged to play against type, and he is up to the task.
It is, surprisingly, the story of Abraham Erskine, a German scientist in US exile, who also wants to do the right thing. Stanley Tucci puts in an Oscar-worthy performance. In the short time he has, he infuses Erskine with so much humanity and makes the character so very likable that you are honestly sad when he is assassinated.
It is, to a lesser extent, the story of the Red Skull, whose job is to be two-dimensionally evil and give Captain America something to fight. Hugo Weaving is a very good actor, but he is overqualified for this role, which doesn’t require much more than chewing scenery.
And on the fringes, it is the story of the Howling Commandos, an elite fighting unit; of Bucky Barnes; and of Tommy Lee Jones as Nick Fury in everything but name (since the character of that name is played by Sam Jackson). Dominic Cooper puts in a very fun performance as Howard Stark, so much so that I’d want him to take over as Tony Stark when Robert Downey’s contract expires.
The story itself is very simple, almost simplistic, but it makes up for that in adventure, fun and excitement. It works even better for comic fans, because they are likely to catch most (if not all) of the Easter Eggs, such as the cameo of the original Human Torch, and Matt Salinger’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it uncredited cameo. (In the observation booth during Steve Rogers’s transformation.)
The special effects work fabulously. The most amazing one being skinny Steve Rogers, who is played by Chris Evans with the help of invisible (= not noticeable) CGI. The film is in 3D of course, but except for one moment (when Cap throws his shield at the audience), the 3D is (as usual) rather superfluous.
The downside: not enough Nazis. While the Red Skull starts out as a Nazi scientist, he disowns the Third Reich during his third appearance, after which it is all about Hydra. Apparently, Nazis aren’t evil enough anymore for a WW2 movie. While the logic behind this is obvious (Nazis might adversely affect merchandising sales, which must be avoided at all cost), it leaves a very sour taste.
All in all, however, Captain America is a very entertaining (although not very deep) movie. Joe Johnston is a hit-or-miss director, having delivered gems like Rocketeer and bombs like Jurassic Park III. Here, he is in Rocketeer mode.
Verdict: very recommended.
USA/GB 2011. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon. Runtime: 127 Minutes
The year is 1962. Concentration camp survivor Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) has become a Nazi hunter. He is specifically after one person: Nazi scientist Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon). His quest seems to come to an end when he discovers that Schmidt now calls himself Sebastian Shaw and is in Miami, FL.
The year is 1962. CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating the mysterious Hellfire Club, which is run by Sebastian Shaw. When she discovers things that are patently impossible (how can a man have red skin and a tail, and transport someone else 3000 miles within a few minutes?), she seeks out the help of a geneticist who specializes in mutation: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He agrees to help her out in this case, and they track down Shaw.
Arriving at the same time as Lensherr. Despite Erik’s best efforts, Shaw escapes. But Charles has a plan: Shaw has a team of superpowered mutants on his side. The obvious conclusion is that Xavier assembles his own team to deal with it. And so, Xavier and Erik find and gather a group of young, powerful mutants to fight Shaw’s group.
The situation becomes desperate when Xavier discovers that Shaw plans to manipulate the USA and the USSR into starting a nuclear war, which will reduce the world to ruins — but ruins that Shaw will rule. The newly formed, barely trained and still unnamed X-Men dash to Cuba to stop Shaw.
X-Men: First Class is technically the fifth movie in the series (after the original trilogy and the Wolverine movie). This is usually the point where I wonder: does the world really need another (insert franchise name) movie?
In this case, the answer is a resounding YES. X-Men: First Class easily outshines and outclasses not only all the previous X-Men movies, I would rate it second only to The Dark Knight. The movie does everything right.
Instead of a superhero movie, X-Men: First Class is a thriller where the protagonists happen to have superpowers. The stakes are high: the survival of the world. And the events actually happened, sort of: the Cuban missile crisis is an historic event, and it almost did cause a total nuclear war. The difference between the movie and the real world was that there were no mutants involved in the real world event. (That we know of. 😉 ) The movie does not rely on big, splashy special effects. Which means that when they do present a big splashy special effect (yes, I’m talking about Magneto raising a submarine from the ocean), it packs quite a punch. The chilliest and scariest moments, however, involve Magneto and a small coin.
X-Men: First Class focuses on the characters. This is mostly an ensemble piece, so it’s clear that not all the characters get equal time. At the center are the relationships between Xavier, Erik and, to an extent, Shaw. Vaughn doesn’t forget the X-Men, however. Each of the young mutants has their own storyarc, which is compellingly told and actually brought to a conclusion. The young actors who play the X-Men sell their roles completely. As the audience, you invest feelings into all of them, you want to see what happens to them, what becomes of them. Even in those cases where you know, such as Magneto and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), you can’t help an emotional investment in the outcome. Taking, for example, the moment when Mystique discovers that the boy she likes is just like everyone else and considers her real form ugly, that the only one who actually accepts her for what she is is Erik… you, as the audience, can actually feel her heart break.
It’s the bad guys who get the short end of the stick here, Riptide for example doesn’t get any lines at all. But it doesn’t really matter, because they only exist as foils for the heroes. The only villain who matters is Shaw — and that is because of his personal connection to Erik.
If Michael Fassbender weren’t already a star, I’d call this his breakout performance. His portrayal of Erik Lensherr/Magneto is compelling, conflicted, nuanced. His relationship with Xavier is a mutual brotherly love, two men who want the same thing, but because of their opposite pasts see the future differently. Xavier is a sheltered rich kid, who sees people as inherently good. Erik, as the concentration camp survivor, has seen humanity at its worst, and his views are colored accordingly. At the end, when the X-Men reveal themselves to the world, one man’s views will be proven right.
And the audience will see where Magneto’s coming from. Because Erik Lensherr is a thoroughly sympathetic figure. He doesn’t trust humans, and when the proverbial chips fall, he’s the one who is proven right.
The movie also manages to balance all that gravitas with a lot of humor. It’s a good kind of humor, though, the kind where you laugh with the characters and not at them. One of the funniest scenes is where the kids are in the CIA compound, showing off their powers. Kids will be kids. And let us not forget the cameos. One in particular had the entire audience howling with laughter. “Go f**k yourselves.” You’ll see what I mean, and you can’t tell me you didn’t laugh.
In summary: X-Men: First Class is an extremely well written, well acted and well-directed thriller with superpowered protagonists that manages to get the audience involved in the destinies of each of the characters. It ties neatly into the other movies (only two minor continuity quibbles remain unresolved), but stands out as the best of them. As a matter of fact, X-Men: First Class sets the blue-gold-standard for this year’s superhero movies — and frankly, I don’t think the others can beat it. Among all the other superhero movies, I rate this second only to The Dark Knight.
Verdict: extremely recommended.
USA 2011. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 114 minutes
A thousand years ago, there was a great war: the Frost Giants attacked the Earth. But the humans did not stand alone: to their rescue came the Asgardians, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Asgardians defeated the Frost Giants and sent them home. There was peace since then, but it was a fragile peace.
Now, Odin is about to retire from the throne, and intends to proclaim his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) king of Asgard. Unluckily, the ceremony is interrupted by a trio of Frost Giants who have breached Asgard’s defenses to steal the Cask of Ancient Winters. Odin’s superweapon The Destroyer makes short work of them, though. Still, it is not enough for Thor, who considers this an act of war and wants to retaliate. Against his father’s wishes, Thor, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their closest friends take the battle to Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. And much ass is kicked. But in the end, our heroes are outnumbered, and look to go down fighting, until Odin comes to their rescue.
I suppose you can imagine how unhappy Odin is with his favorite son. He’s unhappy enough that he banishes him to Earth. But with an escape hatch: a quickly whispered enchantment and a hammer throw provide Thor with the means to eventually return to Asgard: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
Both Thor and hammer end up in New Mexico, where Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her friends. Jane is an astrophysicist who has been busy exploring peculiar electromagnetic occurrences. Thor, of course, happens to be in the middle of one of them: Jane was tracking Bifrost, the bridge between Asgard and the other realms. Once Thor finds out that his hammer Mjolnir is also in New Mexico, he sets off to reclaim it. Bad news: he can’t. He isn’t worthy. Which means he is now stuck on Earth.
Meanwhile, on Asgard, Odin has slipped into the Odinsleep, leaving Loki king of Asgard. Loki, never one to miss an opportunity, sets out to cement his rule and make sure that Thor never returns. Leaving Thor stranded on Earth sounds like a plan, if only it weren’t for those pesky Warriors Three Fandral (Joshua Dallas), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and their companion Sif (Jaimie Alexander). (For those who wonder why Sif receives extra credit, instead of being part of Warriors Four – the three guys take their collective name from the comics, and in the movie, Sif is badass enough to merit an extra mention.) These four set out to bring Thor back, because they don’t like the idea of Loki being king. Which means Loki has to kill Thor. Pity. He hadn’t really wanted that. Destroyer, if you would, please.
When the Destroyer comes to smash New Mexico, Thor shows some new found humility and the willingness to sacrifice his own life for others. That seems to make him worthy, because now Mjolnir takes off to return to its master’s hand. And much ass gets kicked.
The good things first: Thor kicks ass. Or rocks. Whichever you prefer. On a scale of Marvel movies, it’s not quite as good as Iron Man 1, but better than Iron Man 2.
The movie wins because of the cast and the characters. Because of the story and the writing. Thor is a jock, a braggard, he’s big and strong, he has never met anyone he couldn’t take, and he never had to grow up. For Thor, life is an adventure. And it helps if your father is king of the gods. Chris Hemsworth sells this, he owns the part. He walks with a swagger, and he is so utterly charming in his arrogance that it’s impossible not to like him.
Something similar can be said of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. He’s a schemer and a planner. His plan in this movie is far more layered and complex than it seems at first. But even though he is a wily manipulator, his actions don’t grow out of evil. They grow out of being the second son, the less-loved son, who stands in the shadow of his larger-than-life brother. As Hemsworth and Thor, Hiddleston makes Loki believable. Likable, even. Sure, he wants to have his brother out of the way, but at first he doesn’t even want to kill him. He just wants to humiliate him, then get him out of the way. As the situation escalates, so do Loki’s plans, as he grows increasingly annoyed and lashes out with the same petulance that Thor exhibits at the film’s beginning. In that, Loki’s increasing childishness while Thor grows up, Hiddleston and Branagh present Loki as the mirror image of Thor.
Those are just the two principal players. All in all, the entire movie is perfectly cast, up to and including the two actors where I had certain problems. Before the movie, I was opposed to the idea of African-American actor Idris Elba playing a Norse god, as much as I was opposed to the idea of slim actor Ray Stevenson playing a character known as Volstagg the Voluminous. Both won me over, because they nailed their characters. There is not a single bad performance in this movie.
The story is not too complex, and yet Thor manages to be a rather smart action movie. There are several laugh out loud moments, sometimes in the dialog, sometimes in the way the actors present their lines, sometimes as physical comedy. But they are never out of place. The humor comes from the characters, their interactions with each other and the world(s) around them.
The bad: you will want to see this movie in 2D, because the 3D is Last Airbender-level bad. The 3D makes the movie darker, it becomes blurry, and it doesn’t add anything positive to the experience. The best scenes are those where the 3D doesn’t punch you in the “lookee, 3D” face. Scenes that are really just 2D. Well, it’s not as if this problem is anything new with post conversion, right?
The other bad is that Thor shows that Kenneth Branagh, who is a solid character (and story) director, is not an action director. The four major action pieces — the Frost Giant attack on the Vikings, the battle in Jotunheim, the fight of Thor vs. Destroyer and the showdown with Loki — are visual messes. I’ll have to see the movie again in 2D to know just how much the bad 3D helped jumble the scenes (the opening action piece was definitely ruined only by the 3D), but the Thor vs. Destroyer fight was almost as bad as the showdown in Ang Lee’s Hulk — it was very difficult to tell what was going on.
Finally, Thor tries to stuff too many characters into this movie. Every single one of them gets a moment to shine, and every single one contributes something essential to the story, but it does make for a bit of a clutter.
All in all, however, those two are the movie’s only flaws. All in all, Thor presents a coherent and clever story, likable and nuanced characters and solid acting by every single member of the cast.
The after-credits scene, by the way, connects Thor to both Captain America and Avengers. I’m not going to spoiler it any more than that.
Verdict: very recommended
USA 2011. Directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. Runtime: 96 minutes
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago commuter train. He has no idea who the pretty woman, Christine (Michelle Monaghan) in front of him is, but she knows him. When he goes to the washroom, the face in the mirror isn’t his own. Before he can even begin to figure out what has happened to him, the train he’s on explodes, and everyone dies.
Everyone, that is, except for Colter, who wakes up in a strange-looking contraption. He is told that he works for Beleaguered Castle, a section of the US military that works with a program called Source Code. Source Code allows to send a person back into the head of another person eight minutes before that person’s death. The same terrorist who bombed the train threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb in the heart of Chicago in six hours. Colter’s assignment is to identify the terrorist, so that he can be apprehended and the greater disaster can be averted. Colter’s only contact to the real world are Sgt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), his handler, and the inventor of the Source Code (Jeffrey Wright), whose drive to prove himself is so great that he is willing to send Colter through hell for it. Again and again and again.
And even though everyone tells Colter that he can’t change the past, Colter is determined to try.
At first glance, Source Code looks like a mix of Quantum Leap (time traveler with swiss-cheese-memory wakes up in a stranger’s body) and 7 Days (time traveler is sent by secret government agency to prevent a catastrophe), with a dash of Déjà Vu and some video game logic. A closer look reveals that Source Code is very much its own thing. The story unfolds mostly from Colter Stevens’s point of view, and the audience discovers the twists and turns (and there are many) almost as he does.
Source Code has plenty of action and explosions. Okay, so there’s only one explosion, which repeats over and over again. And even though Colter races a ticking clock (6 hours until the nuke goes up), the audience doesn’t really feel that ticking clock, because Colter’s journey is like a level in a video game – you get killed once, you restart the level, and knowing what you did wrong the last time helps you through the next try.
All of this would make for a very dull, shallow and pointless action movie. It’s a good thing then that Source Code isn’t that. Rather, the movie focuses on the characters.
On Colter’s feelings as he discovers what he is supposed to do, his frustration at being unable to save the people or even of talking to his father.
On Goodwin’s feelings as she begins to develop sympathy for Colter’s plight. Goodwin’s character shows the most development in the movie: she starts out as someone who might be a computer simulation, to the one who proves to have the most heart, the one who takes the greatest risk to do the right thing. For me, Goodwin was the movie’s main character.
On the project’s inventor’s almost monomanic ambition to see this through and prove himself, at any cost (to Colter). He’s the kind of person who you wouldn’t want to succeed, the one who you’d want to fail if that didn’t mean millions of people would die.
These three characters drive the movie, their journeys make the movie. They make Source Code an action movie with heart, where you don’t look for one-liners, but you feel for and with the characters.
The only one who doesn’t get to shine is Michelle Monaghan as Christine. That isn’t her fault, she does the best the script allows her to do, but that isn’t much: she suffers from being a romantic interest for the hero, whose existence is limited to eight repetitive minutes.
I’m afraid I can’t really say more about it, because it’s almost impossible to say more without spoilers. So suffice it to say that if you liked Inception, you’re likely to like Source Code: it is as clever as the much more expensive movie, but with much more heart.
With Source Code, Duncan Jones shows that Moon was not a fluke: he’s a director with brains and heart. Just like this movie.
Verdict: very recommended
USA 2010. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner. Runtime 127 minutes
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), CEO of Encom, vanished in 1989, leaving behind his little son Sam. Fast forward to the present: Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin’s friend and Sam’s one-time guardian, brings Sam news of a page from Kevin. When Sam goes to investigate those news, he is transported to the Grid, a world within the computers, where progams live and work. It is a world terrorized by the Clu (Jeff Bridges), whose mission was once to make a perfect world. Which he did, by setting himself up as dictator. Forced to fight in the Games until he dies, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who reunites him with his father. Kevin explains to Sam that he was stuck on the Grid after the portal closed. Now Sam reopened it. For Sam, the matter is clear: make a dash to the portal, get back to the real world, and take care of Clu by simply deleting it. The problem is that this is exactly what Clu wants: he has figured out how to travel from the Grid to the User World. Now that the portal is open, Clu can bring his army through and make the world of the users perfect. It is a goal that Sam’s brash actions put Clu on the verge of accomplishing. Now Kevin Flynn is forced out of hiding in order to deal with it. Which, again, is exactly what Clu wants.
Let me get this out of the way: the original Tron was a milestone in filmmaking. I talked about it previously. Does this sequel, Tron Legacy, compare?
Not entirely. The original basically invented modern filmmaking. This sequel takes what is currently available and pushes the envelope a bit farther out. Its major innovation is the digital deaging of Jeff Bridges, who can now convincingly play his current age and his 25 years younger self. It’s stunning, but it doesn’t push the envelope as much as the original did.
That doesn’t mean that Tron Legacy is not absolutely worth your while. The movie is made of win and awesome. Because its 3D sequences (the scenes on the Grid) show even better than Avatar did exactly what 3D can do. The Grid is designed as a completely alien landscape. It is weird, it is bizarre, it is totally unique. Anyone with the least bit of design sense will probably want to watch this movie several times just for this. The movie makes perfect use of 3D without having it be in-your-face. Even less so than Avatar, which did have its “look! 3D!” moments. Here, the 3D flows naturally into the landscape and the storytelling. It actually improves some of the action scenes.
Tron Legacy takes the worlds and the characters established by the original and evolves them. It plays with them. Almost all the characters are back (yes, including Tron himself, played by a de-aged Bruce Boxleitner). Most of the effects from the original are seen in a new and improved form. The new generation of Lightcycles is breathtaking, and the new generation of Recognizers stuns the viewer with the sense of actual mass and substance it now projects. There are constant nods to the original, little things like the son of Ed Dillinger (the villain from the first movie) sitting on Encom’s board of directors. A little item that is reminiscent of the Bit that accompanied Flynn on his first trip. If you know the original, you’ll recognize them. If you don’t it doesn’t matter, all those little homages don’t impede the flow of the story. It’s a clever balancing act, successfully accomplished, that out the creators of this movie as fans of the original.
The cast is convincing. The dangers to the characters seem real, and somewhere along the way it even appears that Clu’s insane plan will actually succeed. Garrett Hedlund is probably the discovery of the year. Oh, he’s been around for a bit, but not in any way that I noticed. This is definitely his breakout part. Olivia Wilde is wonderful and charming as Quorra. Watch her eyes. Jeff Bridges manages to keep his two very different characters distinct.
Does that mean the movie is perfect? Oh now. Nothing is. If you know the original, Jeff Bridges’s Flynn is a bit out of character. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. What is grating, though, is that throughout he talks like a hippie who left the world in 1969 instead of a geek who left in 1989. While Clu’s younger Bridges-look is totally convincing, it is at first irritating that he still talks with an old man’s voice. You get used to it, but that’s the next thing the digital wizards need to fix. And I didn’t like the ending. The last 2 minutes or so of the movie are too kitchy. End the movie before that, and it’d be perfect. You’ll know what I mean when I see it. Maybe if they had tacked that ending on as an after-credits easter egg…
But those minor quibbles didn’t noticeably impact my enjoyment of the movie. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.
Oh, and: you’ll want to buy the OST CD. Trust me on this.
Verdict: extremely recommended. Go out and see it, right now.