Movie Review

Logan is the Superhero Movie We’ve All Been Waiting For

We’ve suffered through a few rough installments of the X-Men series, and frankly, we’ve been suffering through a lot of superhero movies that blatantly ripped apart character development or spat in the face of canon all for the sake of the Big Audience. Blockbuster movies have been a staple of the superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genre for decades, and for many viewers, the predictable plot lines, deaths for shock value, and poor application of special effects, editing, or cinematography have made the movie-going experience a little stale. But we’ll go because we love the genre, and the production houses know it.

Last year, Fox Studios was backed into a corner when it released Deadpool, a rated R superhero (antihero) movie that featured sex, cursing, and more bloody murders than any red suit could conceal. It was a hilarious punch in the face to movie execs who swore that the superhero movie’s target audience was the PG-13 crowd, and it couldn’t be a success if there wasn’t the opportunity to market the movie to the whole family and pump out some serious merchandise for kiddos to gobble up.

What Deadpool did for the genre in terms of shaking things up, Logan has taken a step further by doing the unexpected. Going a step in another direction, Michael Green, David James Kelly, and James Mangold present a grim character-driven film that does what X-Men has always (or should have) done – presented the audience with interesting characters, a social commentary that is culturally relevant, and questions that stay with them when the lights go up.

Logan is a lightly-played prophetic dystopia of what feels like a very realistic future. It drives into the heart of society, of Logan and Charles Xavier, and of our own humanity while posing questions about personal autonomy. Mangold’s story has depth without exposition, and paired with John Mathieson’s eye for shooting compelling scenes, Logan is a beautiful film – something that most superhero movies can’t claim. There’s action, explosions, and all the other traditional action fodder that audiences eat up, but it’s done in a way that is compelling. There were moments while watching I was captivated by stunts and choreography that I hadn’t seen before. And even better, Logan doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety; there’s no sense of the hero shall prevail. Instead, the audience is in the moment, not sure whether or not anyone will make it to the next day. There’s no nightmare to wake up from, and everything will not be okay.

Beyond the outstanding visuals and somber story, the acting of Sir Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Dafne Keene (who we should all most certainly watch) was superb. Perhaps there was more body to the script than previous movies, but Logan simply stands out from the performances of previous installments. The supporting cast, including Orange is the New Black‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and Eriq La Salle, is excellent as well, seamlessly adding to the dynamic of the narrative.

At this point, I don’t have any criticisms of the film – the questions left unanswered aren’t truly relevant to appreciating the story we were given. There was drama, humor, action, and meta-references that actually prove to aid the story and aren’t a standalone prop for fans to point and smile at. To top off the already deep satisfaction of the film’s ending, Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” plays us off in a fitting tribute to the title character.  Hopefully the success of this film leads to more R-rated, character driven flicks that do these characters and their stories justice. These movies don’t have to be guys and gals in spandex who never curse; take these characters and ground them in reality and you still have an extremely compelling story to tell, both through narrative and visually.

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Ghostbusters is Just Awesome Fun

I was witness to some pretty wonderful things this week, and some not so wonderful things. But that’s nothing new; between my outdoor excursions and having access to the internet, I’m exposed to a great deal of what humanity has to offer, which unfortunately includes some pretty disappointing things.  This week, I’m glad to say that Ghostbusters was not one of them. 

It’s hard to put aside personal feelings and expectations when seeing a highly publicized movie. The backlash began as soon as the all-female cast for the reboot of the 1984 and 1989 films was announced. This was unsurprising, considering the outrage over the direction and focus of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, an amazing reboot that won six Academy Awards and broke barriers in the film industry. An impressive feat of writing and cinematography (as well as every other aspect of the film), Mad Max: Fury Road did great things for the female audience. Misogynists came out of the woodwork again for Ghostbusters, this time throwing a fit even bigger than the ones they threw over Fury Road and The Force Awakens (I patiently await the epic Star Wars tantrum to continue after Rogue One releases in December). Although done in a completely different genre in a completely different way, Ghostbusters managed to give female movie-goers a taste of how females can be positively portrayed in movies as, to the shock of everyone, human beings. 

I know it sounds like I’m reaching, but let’s break this down. Given the usual movie tropes, what do we normally see out of female characters? The reason the Bechdel test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: female characters interacting with each other) and the Mako Mori Test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: a female character’s existence and development) are even a thing is that there are so few films that manage to produce female characters and stories that treat them as people with their own ambitions. The Ghostbusters reboot is exactly that – a reboot. It’s its own entity, and the mistake many members of the potential audience made going in was that it would be the female embodiment of the original. Instead of going that route, Sony produced a film that was fun, smart, and entertaining. It wasn’t as raunchy as some may have expected, which was a somewhat pleasant change of pace but may have been disappointing for some viewers, which is so far the only reasonable complaint I’ve heard of the movie as a whole. The most notable thing about the comedy in Ghostbusters was that it didn’t rely on exploiting female sexuality, jokes about the actresses sizes, or any of the other go-to devices used when targeting a male audience. Melissa McCarthy’s character Abby Yates doesn’t receive any jokes about her weight or eating food – a breath of fresh air that may seem like a little thing, but in a body-shaming culture where overweight women are the butt of jokes and are made to feel as if they can’t even eat in public without qualifying it, it really is a big deal. Patty Tolan, played by SNL’s Leslie Jones, isn’t subject to jokes about her size either – 6ft tall to McCarthy’s just over 5ft frame – and is valued for her knowledge of the city as well as her positive “let’s do this” attitude. Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert is a bit of an unfashionable and awkward academic, but ambitious and earnest. She’s the only one swooning over the idiotic eye-candy Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth, who the others don’t find attractive (looks aren’t everything – sorry fellas) and are reluctant to hire. Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann is phenomenal in every way, and gay (also representative of the phenomenal part). The women are smart and don’t qualify their intelligence by attributing to their fathers. They eat without talking about having to hit the gym later. There’s no romantic subplot (Erin’s attraction to Kevin is shown through awkward interaction that isn’t romantic – or rudely done). And the biggest sexual draw in the movie turns out to not be Hemsworth’s character Kevin, but McKinnon’s Holtzmann – the weirdly sexy engineer who in any other movie might just be “the young, cute, odd one”.

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Look at these nerds doin’ WORK.

The best part? None of this is shoved in the audience’s face. It’s just part of the story. Not once in the movie do you have to pause and digest the point being made – it’s simply integrated into the film. Amazing. Finally. In 2016.

In the end, Ghostbusters is a fun movie perfect for the end of summer, full of cameos from original cast members and nods to the original films while creating something new. Unfortunately the innovative aspect of realistic comedic storytelling the script provides will go unnoticed to those who don’t experience misrepresentation or marginalization. Bottom line: the film doesn’t deserve any of the hate it has received. Ironically, the loudest outcries against well-written female content come the same people who already have decades of well-written representation in media – and are vehemently against anyone pointing it out. Outspoken fans of female-driven media are sent hate through social media, threatened with doxxing, rape, or death, and recently actress Leslie Jones was besieged with racist and misogynistic tweets that caused her to take a break from social media. It seems that this Ghostbusters reboot is necessary, not only to organically show the audience what they’re saying about women in film in terms of presenting how female characters can be written in comedy, but also to reveal the vicious nature of misogynistic fan culture. Maybe it’s fitting that the villains in the most bitched about films with female characters (Fury Road, The Force Awakens, and Ghostbusters) are all power hungry white dudes who, oh so shockingly, get really pissed when women stand up to them (#NotAllWhiteMaleVillains). 

Whether it turns out to break even in the international box office market or not (numbers watched carefully by those who are excited to call the movie a failure), Ghostbusters is a fun movie worth your time and money. Especially if you have kids. The hate that has hovered over this movie since the beginning has been unnecessary, with added complaints ranging from ruining someone’s childhood to crying reverse-sexism with Kevin’s dumb-blonde inept secretarial character. Feels like I’ve seen that before though…. It seems like some salty fans and critics just need to go pet a dog. Or actually just settle in and enjoy a movie instead of looking for every reason to tear it down.

Review: Batman Vs Superman

It was interesting watching the fans split after Batman Vs Superman‘s opening weekend and the continuing arguments over whether or not the film performed well. With worldwide sales nearing $700 million after its second weekend and owning the slot as the fifth top-grossing opening for a superhero movie, it’s hard to say it was a failure – but people still are.

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Vs Superman below.

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Can I buy the Deadpool team a round?

There have been a few comic characters that have consistently stood out to me as being hands down perfectly imperfect and absolutely awesome. While my love for other characters may seem to waver in intensity (and I always have a writer or two I’ll favor over others when it comes to characterization), my love for Deadpool has been steadfast since I picked up the comic a couple years ago – but my adoration for Wade Wilson is nothing compared to that of Ryan Reynolds’.

The beauty of the Deadpool movie is the passion that went into making it. The utter relentlessness and tenacity it took to get this thing made is fucking inspirational. Reynolds took the phrase “if you want something done right, do it yourself” and ran with it, while writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (give these guys a raise) took an amalgamation of characteristics from various Deadpool writers’ take on Wilson over the past twenty-five years to create this awesome cinematic version that is true to the comics. Tim Miller’s vision for the movie and insistence on Deadpool being pansexual made me want to pull a Macho Man Randy Savage Oooooh yeah! and punch a straight white boy whining about Deadpool’s non-existent heterosexuality in the face. I was already sold at the leaked footage, but with the genius marketing team (and Reynolds himself) pushing Fox Studios to the point that those who weren’t completely sold on the profitability of the NSFW style of super hero were probably suffering from stomach ulcers and anxiety, I knew walking in that I was not going to be disappointed – and that’s an amazing feat when it comes to Fox Studio superhero films. The X-Men franchise is one that I always have high hopes for and am slightly disappointed with if not entirely upset that I didn’t spend the time writing crack fiction instead. This time, Fox got it right – thanks to a creative team fighting the studio for Wade the entire way. Honestly, they should be thanking the pains in the ass that kept fighting for this movie to be made for all the heartache.

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Deadpool, Fox Studios 2016

The movie that resulted was a visually pleasing, crass, in-character, fourth wall-breaking ride that had the entire theater laughing. I’ve never been in a theater with so many pleased audience members – except maybe the morons that let their children sweet talk them into taking them to see the R-rated “super hero” flick – which was R-rated for a hundred different reasons, as it should have been; if Deadpool hadn’t been R-rated, it would have been untrue to the character and a disappointment with fans. Thankfully, it wasn’t PG-13’d down. It was oddly refreshing and appropriate to hear “Fuck fuck fucking shitfuck!” coming from the speakers. As for the cinematic elements, even though there were amazingly violent visuals that were on par with the comics, we weren’t overwhelmed with special effects. Other than Colossus and the instances of Angel Dust’s landing and Negasonic Teenage Warhead using her powers, the only obvious special effects sequence is also one that had a lot of physical effects – the road and bridge scene we saw in the leaked footage and the trailers. 

Ultimately, this movie came down to the characters and the story. When it comes to character background, I’ve always leaned toward Marvel because of how much I’m invested in their personal narrative. Whether it’s Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. agents or Agent Peggy Carter – these characters have stories that are begging to be told and the audience wants to hear, which is obvious with the film and television franchises. Deadpool’s success is notable not only because of the R-rated content, ingenuity of marketing, and unique storytelling that matched wits with the source content, but because of the characters. Had the characters been watered down in either humor or tragedy, this movie wouldn’t have been a success, let alone a record breaking one. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Rhett Reese said that the success of the movie showed “how much people really love character above special effects”, and this is especially true with comic book fans. We love the explosions and fights, but fuck if we don’t love the characters above all else, which the Deadpool team brought in force. Being accurate when it comes to a character and providing an interesting story doesn’t have to involve $100 million in special effects, dramatically and inaccurately killing off a character for shock effect, or laser eyes. Critics are saying this is a game-changer in the super hero movie genre, and I sincerely hope it is. The family-friendly movies are great, but when the opportunity is there to create a movie for adults, why not take it? Sure, there’s not a lot of marketing opportunity for the toy aisle at Target, but I’m sure the adult market will make up for it. Maybe this will finally be the dick waving in the face of the studios that makes them realize it.