Tag Archives: Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes

On Saturday I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes back-to-back. I enjoyed both of those movies quite a bit more now than I did when I first saw them, and the refresher course made War for the Planet of the Apes much more enjoyable. I hadn’t realized just how much character continuity we have among the community of apes before. That alone helps the story along a lot.

This film is best considered as part III of a trilogy, and that entire trilogy functions as a prequel to 1968’s Oscar-nominated Planet of the Apes. Or rather, as a prequel to a potential remake, which we don’t actually need but will almost certainly get (I’m giving the 2001 film a wide miss. It doesn’t seem to fit here.)

I’m amazed at how Caesar, Luca, Rocket, Maurice and the other apes have crossed the Uncanny Valley and become real-world people to my eyes. The actors behind the motion-capture did fine work, and the animators are obviously sorcerers who have made some sort of dark pact with an eldritch god of cinema.

War for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quite clear my Threshold of Awesome, but it’s a very near miss.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I am quite glad to have a Spider-Man movie that doesn’t tell us the Uncle Ben story. Spider-Man: Homecoming clears my Threshold of Awesome, and comes in at #5 for me for the year.

This film does what the best YA books do—it gives us a story in which young people are the focus (right down to the various tropes whereby grown-ups can’t or won’t help out) without depending on that focus for appeal. Young people and old people alike will enjoy the movie not because of the young cast, but because of how the characters drive a great story.

Is it the best Spider-Man movie we’ve ever had? I don’t know. The first two Spidey films of this century are still close to my heart, and Captain America: Civil War remains my favorite concentrated dose of Spidey, probably because of the wide variety of opponents and the delightful back-and-forth banter.

I’m absolutely not dissing Spider-Man: Homecoming, however. Like I said, it clears my Threshold of Awesome.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight was a waste of some pretty cool robot fight choreography, and an absolute squandering of Anthony Hopkins and Isabela Moner.

This doesn’t surprise me, given the track record of this less-than-meets-the-eye cinematic franchise, but I was still disappointed.

The plot is far too convoluted for a straightforward McGuffin match-up¹. There were three times more speaking-role characters than the average audience member (myself included) is likely to have emotional space to care about. Making the film longer (2 hours 28 minutes) doesn’t solve the problem. It means we’ll all be tired, exhaustedly awaiting the end of the movie about 38 minutes before it shows up.

“Leave them wanting more” does not mean “leave them wanting more of their day back when they leave the theater.”

Fortunately, the actors all turned in solid performances, especially Isabela Moner, who was one of the very best things about the film. Sadly,  she’s completely absent for Act II, but when she does return in Act III she masterfully acts far above the hackneyed plotonium the writers deployed to work her into the climactic battle.

My biggest complaint lies with the mythos. Tying the Transformers into Arthurian legend may have seemed cool and clever at some point, but it fell completely flat for me². Stanley Tucci played Merlin quite well in the prologue, doing an outstanding job with “drunken charlatan thrust into the wrong movie” but the humor said to me “this is going to be bleak, so let’s loosen you up with some laughs. Here, have an inebriated wizard!”

I said earlier that the robot fight choreography was good. It was! Bumblebee’s entrance was pretty epic, and although I couldn’t always keep track of which Transformer was which, I was able to see what they were doing, and on several occasions they did cool things. Somebody told Michael Bay to hold the camera steady, I suppose.

Transformers: The Last Knight is the first film this year to cross my Threshold of Disappointment. I feel bad for the many people responsible for the good parts of this movie, because they deserve to have those parts show up in a less disappointing film³.

¹ “McGuffin match-up” is what I call it when the characters have to find multiple important plot-thingies (‘McGuffins’) and put them into the hands of the right people in time to save the day.  
² “Secret history” stories often fall flat for me, usually when they take great moments in human history and tell me it was actually aliens, or when they take human atrocities and tell me the terrible people were all vampires. Actual heroes and villains from history need to remain human. That’s how actual humans learn to be heroes.
³ I also feel bad for the boy who, as the crowds were exiting the theater, was telling everyone within earshot that this movie was awesome. To my long-time-parent ears his tone suggested that his opinion of the film’s awesomeness was actually kind of shaky, but he couldn’t bear the thought of not having seen a good movie. Nobody jumped in to validate him, but neither did anyone smack him down. I guess we all chose the kindness of silence, tacitly agreeing to let him find his own way through dawning disappointment.

The Mummy

The trailers for The Mummy suggested that it was going to be a supernatural horror film retreading ground that Universal Studios has already covered several times. There was no hint that the movie would have any joy in it. 

To my delight, there was a lot of joy¹. While not as outright campy as 1999’s The Mummy², it definitely leaned in that direction. Yes, there are jump-scares and spooky bits, but there’s also lots of witty banter, and a healthy dose of dark comedy. I had a pretty good time. My 16yo daughter really liked it too.

Fans of the 1999 film may be pleased to note that a prop from that film³ has a featured cameo in this one, suggesting that perhaps Rick, Evelyn, and Alex O’Connell share this universe with Jenny Halsey, Nick Morton, and Dr. Henry Jekyll (along with the rest of Universal’s DARK UNIVERSE stable of monsters and mortals.) It’s not explicitly declared, but there’s nothing explicitly ruling it out.

The Mummy (2017) doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, but it was a lot of fun. It entered my list at #6 for the year, which is not too shabby for June.

¹Recent experiences with misleading trailers invite comparison: Suicide Squad‘s trailer promised campy fun, but the movie was bleak. The Mummy’s trailer promised horror, and the movie was horror plus dark comedy. I prefer having my expectations set low.

² I’m sitting down to watch 1999’s The Mummy right now, while I ink. It’s like an old friend. A really old friend, who tracks sand everywhere, and doesn’t like my cat.

³ If you must know, it was the big gold book with the fancy star-shaped key. You’d think I’d know the name of my friend’s favorite book, but no, I do not.