the rest-of-summer round-up
Some brief thoughts about the movies I have seen during the latter half of the summer.
Great premise, poor execution. The film doesn't want to alienate viewers who think Will Smith's ears are cute (read "the general public"), so it avoids confronting superhero conventions or the psychology of its main character with the depth it would require to be satisfying. It's kind of a shame that Hancock missed the mark because now that the 2008 summer season, with its deluge of comic book movies, is over, the moment for Hancock's timely themes has passed.
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
I'm struggling to recall whether I liked this film or not, which suggests that it was not particularly memorable. Honestly, though, I had the same response to Hellboy numero uno. Both installments pass the time without making me wish I was elsewhere, knitting or something, and offer minor delights, mostly visual. Every review of the Golden Army that I have read speculates that director Guillermo del Toro either had leftover creatures from his previous film, Pan's Labyrinth, and/or had recently spent some time in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Had I bothered to review Hellboy II at the time, I would have likely blurted out similar quips. The creature designs, though, remain quite faithful to the style of Hellboy artist Mike Mignola, too. So, yes, there's optical splendor that probably works best on the big screen, but my overall indifference towards the film makes it difficult to recommend.
THE DARK KNIGHT
You know what The Dark Knight needs? More buzz. Really, though, what am I going to add to a discussion of the film that hasn't already been said? I belong to the camp that thinks The Dark Knight is not quite as wonderful as it has been raved to be, but most of my quibbles are minor. The first time I saw the movie, I spent the initial forty minutes wondering what was so great about the film, but then it kicked into gear and wowed me like it did so many other viewers. I left the theater with the same kind of buzz I felt after seeing The Empire Strikes Back so many years ago. I saw The Dark Knight again in IMAX, and was not as bored during the opening scenes, but I recognized that there are a number of sequences that seem to be over before they're finished. What happens at Bruce Wayne's dinner party after the Batman jumps out the window, for instance? Heath Ledger: very good. Christian Bale: deserves more recognition for how good he is, also.
For better or worse, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and their cadre of regulars have set the bar for contemporary comedy with their series of successful R-rated flicks (in which nothing is sacred, except maybe pot). In comparison to movies like Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder has an air of gentility that belies its attempts to skewer its targets with significant audacity. The film opens with some clever gags, including the parody advertisements and trailers that introduce the main characters. In general, though, the jokes are kind of lame.
The semi-controversial retard material is less shocking than protesters made it out to be, and whatever shock-value was intended in the casting of Tom Cruise to play studio exec, Les Grossman-- oh my god, he's so playing against type-- is undermined by the fact that Tom Cruise really stinks. If the humor was as outrageous as it needed to be, it might be easier to accept the ridiculous plot: actors who think that they're filming in the jungle, guerrilla style, end up doing battle with an Asian drug cartel. As it stands, however, this movie offers no incentive for me to suspend any degree of disbelief.
If Tropic Thunder is valuable in one regard, it would be its contribution towards catapulting Robert Downey, Jr. to A-List fame. Along with his recognition for Iron Man, Downey's performance in this film has been appropriately lauded as one of this summer's highlights. I think we can look forward to seeing him in future projects that are not as easily summed up as: