Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Very Good Summer Movie That Should've Succeeded

Sometimes, the mainstream movie scene really hits me with a real jolt of major-league disappointment. Usually most people say that the scene does it to them all the time, but it doesn't do it to me that much because I don't think the scene is that bleak… And it's not so much the movies themselves, but rather what happens and what leads to poor quality movies being made…

Edge of Tomorrow… I absolutely loved it. Just got back from seeing it. It was advertised by distributor Warner Bros. as a dumb, gritty shoot-em-up sci-fi film with very little substance. Sure the trailers made it clear that it was like Groundhog Day and Source Code, but that was just it. It looked like a typical summer blockbuster, it looked like a dull video game but on the big screen.

It was so much more than that. The movie doesn't have a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes for nothing!

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt knock it right out of the park as the two leads, the story is very well-thought out and full of clever, creative little things. It's very easy to follow, it's not needlessly crammed with plot and exposition. It gets its job done, it engages you. The action scenes are rewarding because of this, otherwise it would just be set piece after set piece after set piece. No, these battles are really, really thrilling. You also get that sense of frustration whenever Cruise's character has to wake up and redo everything, especially after he has gotten so far.

In short, I was really rooting for the characters. I was pumped during the action sequences, which are complemented by great fx work, awesome alien designs, lots of build-up and just how well it's all shot. Every time Cruise improves in battle, it's quite cool to watch. Why is that, though? The script. The movie has a *GASP* sense of humor! It's a combination of dark and witty, without coming off as forced. Everyone is likable, it's not needlessly gritty and grim/dour and depressing, in fact it's not that at all. It's not trying to be cool or anything. It's just telling a story, giving you info on what's going on without bordering on exposition, its emotions are well-handled, its heart is in the right place.

At the same time, it's not monotonous. They throw in other things and make it interesting; there's an intimate scene set in a rundown house. There's a pretty thrilling car chase too! The final battle leads to a suspenseful trip inside of a dark area! The training mission scenes are also handled very well. What else works? The supporting cast (Bill Paxton is particularly great in his role) is likable too. Christophe Beck's score also adds a lot to it, it gets you pumped!

This is one of the best summer blockbusters I've seen recently.

You wouldn't know that though, if you were going by Warner Bros.' dull paint-by-numbers marketing campaign. I saw the first trailer, was like "eh, another shoot-em-up video game-style movie". Second trailer? Didn't really intrigue me. An IMAX exclusive trailer got me a little interested, and I was in complete shock when I heard how good it was from critics and those who saw it. Who would've guessed?

By contrast, the trailers for Transformers: Age of Extinction make the film look amazing, even to this guy who didn't like the second and third films and have not much of a desire to rewatch the okay first film. I'm not going to see it unless it gets pretty good critical reception, which at this rate, it most likely won't. But if I was just your regular moviegoer, and you showed me the trailers for both of these films, which one would I have picked if I had the choice to see only one in theaters?

Add in the nature of box office today (shrinking release windows, marketing making or breaking a movie, audiences being fickle, high ticket/concession prices and other factors) and you've got a problem.

Maleficent is going to outgross this film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Godzilla domestically. Transformers: Yet Another Michael Baysplosions Movie will outgross all of these. Not all is doom and gloom though, I'm happy to know that The Lego Movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are this year's highest grossing films domestically. Great films backed by great marketing, everybody won in those situations.

Yet I'm troubled by the fact that How To Train Your Dragon 2 didn't hold on well this past weekend. No word of mouth? No praise from those who saw it? Wasn't the first a huge hit that everyone seemed to love? Okay, bad marketing caused it to make a disappointing amount on its opening weekend, surely the legs would kick in right? What else is there for families to see? That shouldn't matter, if the movie is good, people will still see it, right? Did audiences just not really like the dragon epic? I'm almost inclined to say yes.

Audiences are unpredictable. As much as I rib studios for marketing woes, they are not completely to blame for movies not doing well. Sometimes a really good movie is out and I just wonder why audiences don't flock to it on the second and third weekends. Why did Dragon 2 not dip 30% but a worrisome 50% instead? Why is Maleficent holding on well?

While I was beyond thrilled with Edge of Tomorrow, I was also not thrilled with the fact that such a good movie and several other ones aren't doing well. In a climate where box office is like some grand decider of what's to come of a studio, series or trend, it's disappointing to hear when a movie you liked that was well-received not make much. Now this is not the end of more original blockbuster movies, but if this had done well, think of how much more we would see? Even bad ones, at least they tried something different for once!

Case in point, another movie I just recently saw… Except this one is from last year, The Lone Ranger!

I missed out on it, but I now wish I had seen it in theaters. This poor movie was stabbed before the teaser even surfaced, the obituaries were written for this thing - as usual with the hungry wolf pack entertainment press - and the emphasis was on that inflating budget. Okay, but what about the movie itself? Then you'll get the snark, "Who is going to want to see a Lone Ranger movie anyway?" Ummm, who would've wanted to have seen a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? Or a 21 Jump Street movie? Let alone a sequel to that 21 Jump Street movie! Or how about a movie based on Legos? Huh, huh?!

The Lone Ranger I didn't think was particularly good. It was more of a decent film, but it held my interest. There were some pretty neat ideas in it. I thought Armie Hammer was great as the titular lead, Johnny Depp was good but he was really just playing Captain Jack Tonto. Again, the acting was fine but it was just a major sense of deja vu. In fact, a lot of the movie feels like a Pirates of the Caribbean film. Yes, it was directed by Gore Verbisnki, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Disney. I know, I know… But…

That kind of robs the film of any identity, at other times it's just a standard action-western. I would've liked the film to have a little more kick or verve to it. Its got a good score by Hans Zimmer and the locations are nice, though a lot of scenes are subdued by an unexciting color palette. It just looked… Plain. The script is no great shakes, it's mostly plain though it has its moments. It's not boring though, it kept me interested. Didn't mind the plot itself though its overly-long middle throws too much stuff in and soon I begin to not care as much. Then when it gets back on track, I begin to care again.

Its action is where all the effort was put in. The climactic train chase is one of my favorite set pieces, and I did care about what was going on, so there's something good about the film. It just at times feels like an unoriginal mishmash of things we've seen before, but at other times it shines and feels like its own thing. On the whole it's just a fun movie with some substance to it, not 29% on Rotten Tomatoes-level. It's not great, I wouldn't even call it good, but I did at least enjoy it. In fact I want to get it on Blu-ray!

So it flopped for three reasons in my eyes. #1) The press wrote the obituary for it and successfully convinced everyone it was a giant lump of shit. #2) The marketing made it look confusing and unlikable rather than engaging. #3) The movie certainly didn't strike a chord with audiences, judging by its poor legs and it dropping over 60% every subsequent weekend. It's long, it's drawn out, it's even kind of violent at times (there was controversy over the film's more violent moments that definitely earned it a PG-13 rating), a rather eccentric blockbuster-sized movie to say the least. But I liked it quite a bit, it's got many problems. I will not deny that, but the amount of good in it was enough to make it worthy of a buy.

What I'm trying to say is, maybe The Lone Ranger wasn't good. Maybe it was terrible, but here's one thing… Disney at least made that for over $150 million instead of something like Maleficent, which uses the iconic character's name and likeness to sell what is just a poor piece of fan fiction that happened to get $180 million poured into it, which is posited by the marketing as the untold story of Sleeping Beauty. And I'm sure a similar amount will go to Cinderella 2015, the Cruella movie, the live action Jungle Book and the live action Beauty and the Beast.

Similar gross amounts will go into films like Sony's planned Dark Knight-style gritty-and-grounded Zorro movie, another Spider-Man movie or spin-off that'll just be made to keep the rights, another Transformers movie that'll be just like its predecessors, a reboot of something that quite frankly didn't need rebooting…

Yes, this is all obvious. Hollywood is awful and doom-and-gloom and devoid of creativity. I don't think it is entirely. We still get films like Inception, Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolJohn Carter of Mars, World War Z, Pacific Rim and Edge of Tomorrow. We still get the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. We get some good animated films from the biggies. We get some good small-scale stuff. I don't think it's all bad, but the bad tends to rare its ugly head quite a lot. It'll do so this summer; Transformers 4 is sure to outgross a majority of the movies released this year. It may just be number one until the autumn, in which Hunger Games movie #3 will likely blow it away. But still, we have that succeeding while Edge of Tomorrow struggles and Dragon 2 doesn't make as much as it really should. We have Maleficent making lots of money, opening the door for more rehash-fairy tales like it when Disney can be doing better things with $150 million. *cough*Stuff of Legend*cough*Terra Incognita*cough*TRON 3*cough*Tribyville*cough*del Toro's Haunted Mansion*cough* We have studios chasing Marvel's formula instead of trying to craft good comic book films. And so on…

In short, go see Edge of Tomorrow before it leaves your local multiplex. I haven't seen the dragons yet, but I bet the film is as good as the fine original, so go see that too! I should be catching DreamWorks' latest in theaters next weekend, so expect a review soon!

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