Ruk Ranks Every Movie He Saw in 2017 (70-66)

70. Lego Ninjago

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Boy, the LEGO Universe really divebombed this year, didn’t it. I mean, I didn’t hate Lego Batman by any means, but it was kinda disposable and didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. And needless to say, it was a darn sight better than this.

I think the best description of this movie is ‘If the LEGO Movie was made by less talented people’. And I don’t mean that just because both are LEGO movies, I mean that because LEGO Ninjago is clearly trying to be the LEGO Movie, from its irreverent ‘meme’ humour to its attempt at having an emotional throughline through which it attempts to redeem its ‘quirky’ main villain (seriously, I’m surprised they didn’t just repaint Will Ferrell’s character from the first LEGO movie). Except, y’know, Ninjago does both of those really terribly. It couldn’t even do the villain redemption thing right. The movie treated it as a bad thing when Lloyd tells Garmadon that he wished he wasn’t his son, but I was entirely with Lloyd on that one. Garmadon is a massive prick and the movie’s attempts at redeeming him are so shallow, predictable as unconvincing.

And don’t get me started on the ‘humour’. The jokes in this movie feel like someone just copied and pasted a bunch of jokes off the internet that theoretically ‘should’ be funny, but removed all context, sense ot comedic timing, comedic delivery, appropriateness and more or less everything that made them funny to begin with. It’s genuinely painful to watch. People (stupidly) shit on Marvel all the time for having jokes in their movies, but there is an art to comedy and Marvel actually knows how to pull its jokes off (most of the time) and how to make them rooted in character or world. As does the LEGO movie. LEGO Ninjago does not. Thus it fails.

I will say, there are a few things I liked about it. The visuals are nice, a handful of jokes do land, some of the action scenes are decent, but overall this movie feels like a store-brand version of a superior project. And not a good store-brand either. Like, one of those super cheap ones that you’re not entirely certain is edible and you find a toenail clipping in. Maybe it maintains a little bit of the original flavour, but I wouldn’t buy it.

 

69. The Void

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Sigh. I’ll be honest, I had pretty high hopes for this. A horror movie made entirely of the sort of fucked-up practical monster effects you’d see in the likes of old John Carpenter films? Yes please. Unfortunately, while said monster effects are really cool, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the rest of the movie is kinda awful. Awful story, awful acting, awful dialogue, and not nearly enough in the way of cool creature effects to make up for it.

And, you know, maybe I might be more forgiving if the movie itself was aiming to be a campy fun mess, but no. It’s trying to be serious. Entirely too serious. It’s trying to be dark and dramatic and scary and lovecraftian. And it sucks at it. Almost anything not creature-effect related is dull or uninteresting. Stop trying to be so serious, movie, and let us sit back and enjoy the fucked up creature effects more. Because, as mentioned, they’re really good.

 

68. Wolf Warriors 2

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Overseas Box Office enthusiasts might recognise this movie as ‘That one which made like, all the money in China’.

Honestly though, this was actually a fairly interesting movie to watch. Not because of anything to do with the plot or direction mind, those were just generic action stuff, but because it gave an interesting view of a patriotic action movie that wasn’t made through a Western lens. Yes, Wolf Warriors 2 glorifies China and the Chinese military, but it does so very much in the same way that a lot of classic 80’s action movies did the same for the American military and it’s genuinely fascinating to watch it from the other side.

…Unfortunately, that was about all that was fascinating about the movie, because the rest of it wasn’t really very good. Mainly because, just like The Void, I think it took itself way too seriously. Because while the movie has a lot in common with those 80’s action movies I mentioned, there’s one major difference between them. Most 80’s action movies are cheesy, know they’re cheesy and play into said cheese perfectly. Wolf Warriors 2, on the other hand, is a cheesy movie that seems to think it’s really dramatic and emotional, tries to play a lot of scenes as dramatic and emotional and, as a result, just kinda ends up being really boring in said scenes. Especially towards the end I found myself very heavily losing interest as most of the previously passable action choreography tapered off for dull tanks and explosions and the movie even had the audacity to try and play Amazing fucking Grace of all things with a straight face.

Funnily enough, the only actors who genuinely seemed to understand what kind of movie were the villains, led by Frank Grillo, and it’s no surprise that they were more-or-less the best parts of the movie. Especially with their silly codenames and accents and Grillo just chomping at that scenery. If everything else about this movie played into that same attitude, this would probably be a lot higher on the list. But as it is, as interesting as the new cultural viewpoint was, it was too much of a substandard action movie to really work for me.

 

67. Dunkirk

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Now I suspect this will one will prove a touch controversial, but honestly, for all the praise it got… I just felt kinda ‘eh’ on this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it and it certainly wasn’t the self-indulgent snoozefest that was Interstellar, but a lot of Nolan‘s weaknesses as a director are still rather on display here, possibly even more so than Interstellar or TDKR. And the relative lack of dialogue only serves to highlight them further.

See the thing is, I think Nolan‘s style was kinda wrong for what this movie was trying to achieve. The movie is attempting to be a constantly tense survival thriller, akin to Gravity or Train to Busan, with constant danger after constant danger piling on and on as the protagonists desperately try to struggle past it all to get home to safety. The problem is that this doesn’t really suit Nolan because his style of building tension is waaaaaaay too meandering to work for such a movie. Nolan‘s directing works best when he’s able to milk a tense moment for all that it’s worth, like the shuttle docking in Interstellar (one of the few scenes I unambiguously liked in that movie). However, Dunkirk is almost nothing but tense moment after tense moment, all of which Nolan ends up drawing out, until eventually it feels less tense and more just boring. Especially when the gimmicky framing device means some stuff ends up getting repeated. (Did we really need to see the same minesweeper boat get sunk three times from vaguely different angles?). The land portion in particular got the worst of it (since the air portions were relatively short and the boat portions had some actual characters to give a damn about).

Speaking of, considering the all-star cast he had available, Nolan really needed to rely on his actors a lot lot more here, because they felt very underutilized and certainly not to the film’s benefit. Don’t get me wrong, I get what he was trying to do here, tell a story through mainly through visuals and directing rather than dialogue. And I’ve seen that work really well in a lot of movies and comics. But it really is not a good fit for Nolan, who’s kind of a ‘one tone director’ (that is to say all of his movies more-or-less have the same consistent tone throughout.) Of course, being a ‘one tone director’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’d place a large amount of Nolan‘s success on his ability to (usually) pick his projects sensibly to best play off that tone. However, it also makes him a poor fit for the sort of visual storytelling I think he was trying to achieve here. It’s impressive when you can go from a happy tone to a sad tone through visuals only (see the opening of Up). It’s less impressive when you go from Nolan‘s usual tone to… Nolan‘s usual tone. And without much in the way of character established neither through visuals nor dialogue, we’re left wondering why we should really be all that invested. Again, it’s the land portion which gets the worst of this. Shame too because when the characters are allowed to actually talk to each other, the movie gets a lot more interesting.

There’s a lot of other stuff I could say about this movie, both positive and negative, and again I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, despite how much I’ve complained about it. Some of the tense moments do work, most of the actors are great when given a chance to be and I liked a fair amount of the stuff on the boats and in the air. But there are still a lot of glaring problems with it, some of which are down to problems with Nolan as a director. Hopefully he can reign himself in and pick a more suiting project next time.

Then again, I say that, but apparently literally everyone except me loved this movie so what the hell do I know?

 

66. Geostorm

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Hooo boy… How exactly do I describe this movie? Well first, go back to that time back in the 90’s when disaster movies were all the range. You know the sorts, Twister, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, so on and so forth. Now imagine one of those movies, on the way to the cinema, accidentally drove into some sort of temporal anomaly and was frozen untouched in time for nearly 20 years, where it was released in its present form. Oh, and also said movie was really really dumb.

Yeah, that’s basically Geostorm in a nutshell.

Seriously, it is amazing to me that this movie got released in 2017. It almost personifies every single ridiculous cliche and trope of 90’s disaster movies down to the smallest detail. And while something like that could be fun if approached and executed with a sort of post-modern eye riffing on the sillier aspects, this movie doesn’t do that in the slightest. It takes itself entirely seriously despite being eminently ridiculous. And… honestly… I kinda enjoy it for that?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a good movie by any measure and if you go in without the right attitude, you’ll probably end up hating it. But if you have a fond spot for the overly-destructive goofiness of 90’s disaster movies, like I do, there’s a strange charm to its ‘out-of-timeiness’.

The movie itself follow genius scientist Gerard Butler (*snik* …Sorry, couldn’t get that out there with a straight face), the disgraced inventor of a revolutionary system of satellites named ‘Dutch Boy’ that allow humanity to control the weather through the power of really bad 90’s science. Seriously, I’m not one to be a stickler for 100% scientific accuracy in my silly disaster movies, in fact I actively welcome creative embellishments here and there, but the science in this movie is really dumb. Trust me when I say that if you know anything about climate or weather or space or computers or basic common sense, then this movie will more than raise a few eyebrows. Still, perhaps to some degree that’s part of the movie’s charm? Its po-faced seriousness in the face of a truly idiotic premise can’t help but endear you somewhat to it.

Now where was I? Oh yes, Gerard Butler. Anyway, Gerard Butler’s character has the same uninteresting family drama that almost every single 90’s disaster movie protagonist has and that almost every viewer wants to skip over in favour of getting to the tidal waves destroying shit. I suppose I should give the movie credit that at least his daughter doesn’t end up getting in cheesy overblown peril in the final third, but… eh.

Anyway, something has recently been going wrong with Dutch Boy, causing catastrophically abnormal weather events around the world. With the nations of the world on a tipping point, Gerard Butler is sent into space to try and find or fix the problem, while his estranged brother stays behind and tries to find out whether this is all truly just a simple error or if some sinister force is secretly at hand.

Spoiler alert. It turns out to be the really obviously evil-looking guy.

(Did I mention how 90’s this movie is?)

Anyway, what follows is a mix of silly political thriller, silly space adventure and some pretty decent city-destroying disasters. I’m not going to pretend the disasters in Geostorm are any real standout for the genre, but as far as enjoyable wanton destruction goes, its fairly decent.

Honestly though, silly science aside, where the movie mainly fails is the same thing that always failed me about a lot of 90’s disaster movies. It clearly thinks its emotional issues are far more interesting than they actually are and insists on spending a lot of time with them instead of, you know, the massive disasters. Which is the stuff people actually want to see. While I certainly don’t necessarily hate the ‘family brought together through adversity’ story idea, there’s no denying it’s been overdone to death in disaster movies. And, to be blunt, this does not bring anything new to the table. Which, to be honest, you could say about the whole movie.

Honestly, a small part of me thinks that Geostorm was a bit of a missed opportunity. A chance to look back with a post-modern eye at the silly, cheesy yet endearing aspects of disaster movies while simultanously trying to top them all. But no, it instead rather bafflingly insists on playing everything straight without realising that its audience has rather moved on from the time when disaster movies were popular.

Still, I’m not going to say it’s entirely without merit. It’s still a fascinating time capsule of a movie if you’re at all fond of disaster movies. And if you go into this movie seeking that sort of enjoyment, you’ll probably get at least some level of entertainment out of all of this. Which is a lot better than I can say about most bad movies.

 

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