I’ve seen a lot of stuff lately, and I haven’t had too much to add to the discourse about them that is already happening. So, in lieu of long-form reviews for all of them, here are a few capsule reviews of three films I’ve seen recently.
Thor: The Dark World
I was only a moderate fan of the original Thor film. I thought that it was a fun film that was held back from being particularly great due to a mostly ineffective, non-threatening villain. Sure, Loki eventually became one of the better things about Marvel, but his treatment in the original film was really poorly characterized, and I stand by my lukewarm initial reaction to him.
The Dark World, unfortunately, has not learned from its predecessor’s mistakes. Alan Taylor, the new director, brings some of the gravitas of his stint directing Game of Thrones to the proceedings, and the film is actually a bit better off for that. But it falls into the same trap of a weak villain. Though played well by Christopher Eccleston, Malekith the Accursed is an underdeveloped villain that gets thrashed about every time he appears, ultimately feeling tremendously weak and nothing like the threat that characters profess him to be. His goals are pretty shoddily defined, with a very flavorless “destroy the world” plot that lacks any particular ambition.
On top of that, the film feels very… plotless. There’s a lot going on, but none of it feels particularly related. It’s all about the in-the-moment feel, but as soon as the moment passes, then the details of that moment are mostly irrelevant. Characters flit in and out of the film, rarely sticking around long enough to become crucial players to the plot (other than Thor himself).
It was ultimately just a disappointing effort that had promise, but squandered it. C-
12 Years A Slave
This is the best movie of the year. A
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I was not a fan of the original Hunger Games film. I had issues with its pacing, its cinematography, and its surface-level exploration of some genuinely interesting ideas and themes in favor of what appeared to be a hackneyed love triangle. Catching Fire fixed every single problem I had with the original film, and has the distinction of being one of the best blockbusters I’ve seen in a while.
It’s smart – it uses the love triangle plot from the last film to delve into some pretty heavy discussions about celebrity, image control, the power of the media, and control of the state. It’s very powerful, not quite subtle but not quite overt. It’s in the sweet spot where you can see plainly what they’re doing on first watch, but not feel as if they’re beating you over the head with it. The parts of the film outside the titular games are just a massive game of politics, and it’s engrossing.
Like the first film, the Games themselves are the least interesting part of the film. The first hour or so is spent on the Victor’s Tour, with Katniss (the always wonderful Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (a frighteningly grown up and surprisingly capable Josh Hutcherson) attempting to stand alongside the people of the Districts while simultaneously not angering President Snow (a terrifying Donald Sutherland) of the Capitol. Things happen fast – President Snow and new game maker Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in an interesting turn) respond to Katniss’ and Peeta’s ostensible insubordination with fiendish schemes involving the media that seek to destroy their image and thus the beacon of hope that they give the Districts. It’s a game of “moves and countermoves,” as Hoffman’s character says several times. Unfortunately, the Games are just one of those moves/countermoves – it’s a slight contrivance in the plot that is nevertheless nested perfectly into the political brinkmanship of the first hour – but rather than lasting only about 15 or 20 minutes as most moves and countermoves do, they are extended to a full hour and a half.
The pacing isn’t destroyed – the Games are still exciting and exceptionally well done – but it does force the plot to shift gears and brings the interesting political situation to a halt. That said, I did greatly enjoy the Games – much more than in the first film – so I won’t complain TOO much.
But let me tell you right now: the film goes for an incredibly ballsy ending that I honestly did not see coming, and it left me speechless in the theater. It’s one of the best endings I’ve seen in a while, and it will absolutely leave a major impact on you. A-