Quick Hit: Continuing to have heart, but possibly losing some of what made the first one so great.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before – a movie comes out of nowhere to be a hit. Quickly thereafter a sequel is greenlit, and it is promised to be bigger, with more of what made the movie great. When the movie is released, it garners praise for delivering on that promise, but criticism for losing some of the feel that made the first movie a surprise hit.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 does fit most of these criteria. However, one thing that it does better than most is attempt to live up to the heart that I mentioned in the review about the first movie. This sequel seems to have dragons in every scene, capitalizing on the creature craze that stole our hearts in the first one. We have the same cast returning, and all are still tremendous (though Jay Baruschel’s nasal voice doesn’t seem to fit this more grown up Hiccup quite as well). But, as with most sequels, there is the definitive feel of having done that before, and the movie doesn’t quite grace the hierarchy of animation films the way other sequels (Toy Story 2) have done.
Honestly, my reasoning for this is multitudinous. The plot, which revolves around the entrance of a mysterious figure in Hiccup’s life, is easily derived and therefore easy to figure out. The side characters continue to be thrown almost nothing in the way of character development besides comedic lines. Along with that, the villain (if you can even call him that) is a racist charactericture of a bad guy, who is doing things for reasons in his dark past. You know what’s happening, and despite a solid voice performance, almost nothing he says or does seems to really mean anything.
The dragons and the inner story of Hiccup and his father Stoick save this movie. As I stated in the beginning, HTTYD2 manages to almost always have dragons in the forefront. In one sequence in a hidden hideout, there are so many dragons that the screen actually seems to expand to fill them. It’s a beautiful scene that helps to conceal some awkward moments. The relationship between Stoick and Hiccup has grown to the point of adolescent angst that you knew would eventually come. A young boy who has grown to become a natural leader now doesn’t want that leadership, leading to a father who is confused, to say the least. It does paint Hiccup into a bit of a corner with his character development, because where he seemed to have all the answers in the first film for how the Vikings should live, now he doesn’t want to see his vision play out anymore.
I will clearly state this though – I always applaud a film of any type that will wrestle with the themes of fatherhood and the themes of loss and mortality. Talk about something that can rip at your heart.
The film is a solid entry into what is an ever expanding series, but doesn’t ever live up to the original. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Overly filled with whimsy and goodness, this film is a neutering of the source material, and hangs on due to Rylance’s superb transformation.
Roald Dahl is one of those entries into the world of dark fiction that most of those that have some experience with horror came across once or twice. As a child, I was relatively late to discover the Dahl books – probably sometime in my teenage years. However, I do remember several Dahl movies I watched as a kid – first, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which featured a number of dark scenes (and of course Gene Wilder’s gleefully insane Wonka), and James and the Giant Peach, one of my first entries into the world of stop-motion animation.
What I remember most about those movies is how at times they could be so fun, and then quickly it could turn into something absolutely terrifying. I don’t dream much anymore, but when I do, they’re often nightmares. I haven’t dreamed of the giant rhino storm in the sky for many moons, but even now, despite my adult brain, I can’t help but remember the dread those scenes would fill me with.
Therefore, it’s a shame that often times the BFG heavily pulls its punches when it comes to the more gruesome parts of the movie.
For those that don’t know the story, we’re treated to a Dahlian orphan who knows everything about the world; that is, until she is taken by a larger hooded figure from the orphanage. This is undoubtedly the strongest sequence in the movie, with the BFG slipping through the streets of London, hiding in a variety of ways, nearly all of which are creative. But it’s at this scene a lot of the forward motion stops, and we fall into an almost by the numbers story and plot. We also begin to see a lot of the typical size oriented images that have been assaulting us for years in films like The Borrowers, Stuart Little, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and so on and so forth. There’s only so many times a person can see a little girl in a big bowl and find it humorous.
The only concession to Dahl’s original darkness is some dialogue nods (“The other giants eats beans”) (for those that don’t know “beans” equals “human beings”), and the names of the other giants, like Jermaine Clement’s FleshLumpEater. But we’re quickly whisked back to the landscapes and the focus on the BFG’s occupation as a dream blower before we can linger too long on the unpleasantness that comes with the idea of flesh-eating giants.
In my research for the film, I came across the fact that Walden Media, who has done similar neutered efforts of some beloved children books (like the Narnia films), were involved in this movie. It all makes more sense now.
What saves the movie entirely is the fact that A) Spielberg can still spin a yarn full of whimsy, and make it at least watchable and B) Mark Rylance.
The spy from Bridge of Spies, that fellow that won a Best Supporting Oscar for his performance, is now a towering figure on the screen. All the small intricacies that play across his face are now magnified a thousand-fold, and it’s actually a delight to see. The technical marvel that was brought to screen here is a testament to all the hard work the effects team, and Rylance in particular with his performance did. Otherwise, there would be no emotion to come out of the film, because we’d just be looking at another special effect. Rylance is frequently allowed to play with the fun delivery of Dahl’s invented language, because the BFG has a bit o’ trouble with words, and things comes out alls a squiggly. It’s wonderful and playful, and often buoys the most boring parts of the movie by only listening to Rylance speak.
Overall, I think this movie was made safely to be a family film, and most kids will find some enjoyability in it. But it’s not a great movie, and if taken as a while, is only average. I’m giving it a “C”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A movie that flips the script on what most superhero flicks are these days.
Ok, so where were we? Oh yes, Power Rangers. This time, it’s Saban’s Power Rangers. If people really expect us to call it that, they’re dumb. I can swallow the Mighty Morphin, but Saban’s Power Rangers? That doesn’t even deserve my italics. Ok. Moving on, deep breaths and all that.
Here we are. We’re given a modern take on the classic story of kids that are trained by an alien guy named Zordan that is voiced by Bryan Cranston. I mean, we’ve all been here before right?
Ok, so here’s what I really think of the movie. The movie did everything right for the first half of the movie. It gives us interesting characters to turn into our favorite primary colored heroes (more on that in a second). It gives us someone that is on the autism spectrum, something seriously underrepresented in movies. It gives us a character that is a lesbian, and an Asian that isn’t magically good at karate. I’m just saying that this is really, really different for a movie, and not just because of what it gives us in characters.
What it does is give us these characters without flaunting it on our faces. Along with that, it continually gives us dialogue that isn’t terrible. I think the fireside scene, despite the corny setting, is one of the best in the film, because it’s so very real. It’s a beautiful bit of writing by John Gatins.
I also want to talk about the acting. All of these guys do varying degrees of a good job. You have your stand outs, like RJ Cyler (who was in that little movie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and Ludi Lin, who I’ve never heard of before. But the other members of the Rangers aren’t terrible. Even the two with the most stereotypical roles are decent at them. My favorite though was Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. I know she is so campy that it’s ridiculous, but I couldn’t help but love it. She knows her role and embraces it.
Unfortunately, once the Power Rangers do appear, the movie just grinds down. The fighting is not really worth it. Goldar, who in the past has been presented as almost like one of the Evil Witches flying monkeys, is now a giant gold statue. Oh wait, no, he’s actually just a hunk of goo. Not even Ivan’s goo: gold goo. You barely get a look at the Zords properly, and the costumes. Gosh, they are just bad. I get they are trying to modernize things, and I understand that “dark and gritty” is all the rage. But after watching one Power Rangers film and going to another, you can see how washed out these really look. And why? It’s the same gripe I have with washing out Superman’s costume in Man of Steel. We’re talking about alien powers that magically morph people. Who cares if the colors are bright?
The movie has some really good starting potential, but it dies in the second half. We’ll see where that takes them for the inevitable sequels. I’m giving this a “C+”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"