Saturday, May 30, 2009

WOLVERINE vs STAR TREK vs TERMINATOR SALVATION: Franchise Rescue, Sucess or Failure?

It's been awhile since my last post where I promised to start posting again, but people should be used to me breaking internet promises (I'll always come through on real life promises, but internet promises don't really hold much weight with me).

Anyways, I've recently had the chance to see the summer's three first "blockbusters", all of which are basically attempts at rescuing failing franchises from the shitty last shitty movie that almost ruined them. It shouldn't be news to anyone, but Hollywood is out of ideas. There is literally no new shit left to do in Tinseltown, apparently, so the snake has finally gotten around to eating it's own tail; everything old is new again... but is this a good thing?


X-MEN 3... sucked. Seriously, there is nothing good anyone can say about this turd. X-MEN shocked the shit out of people, and was the first successful (both conceptually and financially) comic to screen translation (I'm not really counting BLADE as vampire movies have their own audience) of the new century, and basically set the framework for what comic book superhero movies should strive be. X-MEN 2 was equally shocking because it took a strong start and managed to somehow run with it, making for a far, FAR, stronger movie on all levels. X-MEN showed the potential for the comic book superhero as serious cinema, but X-MEN 2 legitimized it. Then someone fucked up somewhere and Marvel lost Bryan Singer to SUPERMAN RETURNS (which I liked, despite it's obvious flaws, though I have to agree that Superman REALLY did need to fucking punch something), and someone else had the fucking genius idea to give what to this point had been a hugely successful franchise, both financially and critically, to fucking Brett Ratner.

Now, I'm not going to quibble over why you would think the guy that directed increasingly shittier movies since the first RUSH HOUR (which was actually a pretty decent throwback to buddy-cop movies the likes of BEVERLY HILLS COP or LETHAL WEAPON), but to give your biggest, most successful, franchise to a dude with no passion or concept for the project? Why would you expect success? You get what you pay for; an uninspired effects driven movie with no character and a fucking mess of a plot (there were some good idea's in the script, but they were all squandered and mishandled in favor of campy looking art direction and lackluster action set pieces).

So, considering how hugely unsuccessful THAT plan turned out to be, it's completely confounding to me that MARVEL STUDIOS would repeat this formula with what had the potential to be a hugely successful new franchise in WOLVERINE. And I'll admit it; I was fooled.

In the buildup to this movie, I was excited. The trailer looked good, Hugh Jackman was notorious for his passion for the character that he made (and that made him), and from what you could pick up from the trailer, it looked like they really had an idea about what this movie should be about; the long, hard, life of an unkillable soldier caught in an unbreakable circle of tragedy, violence, and lost love. Early hype had this billed as being MARVEL's version of THE DARK KNIGHT; which was appealing because the DARK KNIGHT was exactly what you wanted a BATMAN movie to be: RATED R. No compromising, no pussying out or pulling punches. The promise of a serious, violent, adult WOLVERINE was appealing to me. But that is not what I got.

X-MEN ORIGIN: WOLVERINE ended up totally copping out on all fronts. I was promised THE DARK KNIGHT, instead I got BATMAN FOREVER. A PG-13 shitfest full of cheezy jokes, campy looking costumes and effects, and a directionless, characterless, and worst of all PASSIONLESS story. Even the fights were lame! If you're going to turn in a turd of a comic book movie, at LEAST deliver on some good action (the lightsaber fight with Darth Maul is the only thing that allows me to forgive PHANTOM MENACE)!

Really, it should be no surprise. The movie was given to a guy that would logically have no passion or interest in doing WOLVERINE. I've never seen TSOTSI or RENDITION, but that doesn't seem like a dude that would give a fuck whether he "got" Wolverine. This movie went in every direction but the one it should have, instead trying to focus on pointless easter-egg cameo's by characters that added NOTHING to the plot, and souless action set pieces where Wolverine didn't even get to do anything remotely Wolverine-like! Like, say, GUTTING A FUCKING GUY WITH HIS CLAWS!

And so MARVEL STUDIOS manages to take a potentially money making franchise give it to a bunch of people that don't give a fuck, and shit out another turd, but Hugh Jackman, bless his optimistic, head-up-his-ass, heart, thinks that there's potential to shit out ANOTHER turd! Sorry guy... I like your passion, your dedication, and your hussle, but if you couldn't get it right the first time, you definately won't get it on the second go-around.

Please just let this franchise die for, like, 5-10 years before attempting to resurrect it.


Anyone see STAR TREK: NEMESIS? If ever there was a movie to kill a franchise, THAT was it. Of course... INSURRECTION, FIRST CONTACT, GENERATIONS, FINAL FRONTIER, VOYAGE HOME, SEARCH FOR SPOCK, not to mention the ridiculously boring THE MOTION PICTURE probably didn't help. All told, there were two good STAR TREK movie; WRATH OF KHAN and THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. WoK was basically RED OCTOBER in space, and TUC was basically A FEW GOOD MEN... in space. And really, isn't that what a STAR TREK movie should be? A naval movie set against a sci-fi backdrop? Isn't that really what ANY good sci-fi movie should be? Something familiar set against the backdrop of the fantastic? An ordinary, mundane, concept taken to it's extreme? I believe someone once said that when you're writing science fiction, you're not writing about the future, you're writing about now.

And that's why J.J. Abrams STAR TREK is such a successful movie. Without the blinders of fandom on, Abrams managed to look at STAR TREK with eyes unclouded by nostalgia and took everything that was good about the STAR TREK and do it bigger, sexier, and most of all BETTER.

Everything that was great about the original STAR TREK (which, to me, is really the only STAR TREK worth a damn. That's right, I said it. FUCK GENERATION. FUCK VOYAGER. And especially FUCK ENTERPRISE. But not DEEP SPACE NINE, that was actually pretty good), is all present in this film. The action, the humor, the characterization, even the sexiness; everything that made STAR TREK worthwhile viewing is present in the new one, but amped up like the franchise drank, like, 30 Red Bulls and dropped some wicked powerful E before blasting out at you from the big screen in vibrant color and huge, pounding, epic soundtrack. And most of all, Abrams managed to capture the original series by-the-balls sci-fi adventure attitude. Characters are intelligent but proactive. Rather than spouting unintelligable technobabble at their problems, they rush in, fists clenched and guns blazing. Action sci-fi at it's finest!

That's not to say that meant taking a big shit on the fans of the old show. The real genius of the movie to me is that Abrams did it in such a way as to leave nerds, notoriously afraid of change, with absolutely nothing to be pissed off about! He's not saying "Fuck what you know! I did it better!" (unlike a certain Micheal Bay or Shia LeBouf, who just LOVE to shit all over the fandom that made their franchise a massive, surprising, success), he's saying, "Everything that you love... happened. It's still just as real and legitimate as it ever was, and nothing has been thrown away. This is just something exciting and new, and you're free to come along if you like." Abrams made a movie that doesn't pander to fans, but also makes great efforts not to alienate them. THAT'S the sign of a guy that gives a fuck. And that's why this franchise resurrection was successful. STAR TREK has risen like a majestic pheonix from the ashes of countless shitty movies that preceded it.

I'm totally onboard with this new franchise; every aspect from the cast onward was inspired, and there not one weak point I can see. No, not only was this a good STAR TREK movie, it was just a GOOD MOVIE. And THAT'S what every movie should strive to be.


Unlike WOLVERINE, I can't say that this movie was a turd. But unlike STAR TREK, I can't say it was a huge success either. Really, after the third TERMINATOR movie, it's not like the bar was set too high (though I have to admit... while TERMINATOR 3 was by no means a great or worthwhile sequel to TERMINATOR1 -2, it was still a entertaining movie to me; but I'm totally biased because I find mostly ALL Arnold Swartzenegger movies entertaining... except for SEVENTH DAY). But it's not like SALVATION tried to hard to hurdle that bar either.

SALVATION's good points are that it delivers on the action, which is what you're really there for in both a TERMINATOR movie and a summer blockbuster, and some great effects and production design. As for the plot... at least it wasn't, like, completely ludicrous. It was just sort of stupid.

The real problem comes from trying to take what was a simple, effective, sci-fi concept for a 1980's chase movie, and taking it entirely too far. Time Paradox just doesn't work on a large scale like this. There's to many variables to do it in any sort of hap-hazard fashion. You either dedicate yourself to working out the mechanics of the Paradox, or you JUST DON'T DO IT. Otherwise, what happens is that if you sit down and really think about any of SKYNET's plans or motivations, it just becomes ludicrous. It's best if you just turn you mind off, sit back, and watch shit explode. The problem with that, though, is that TERMINATOR 2 left you expecting more from your sci-fi action movie plot. You WANT to be challenged. You WANT there to be more to the plot. You WANT there to be a worthwhile character arc. And TERMINATOR: SALVATION just doesn't deliver on that. It's very much what you see on the surface.

That said, the slick, shiny, sheen of McG's (ugh. >_<) music-video direction, and the general ignorance of the target audience of this movie, combined with the modern movie audiences lowered expectations, will probably result in at least one, most probably, shitty sequel.

On a more selfish level, I just can't help but think that this franchise just doesn't work without Arnold Swartzenegger.


Of the three franchises that Hollywood has tried to resurrect, only one has delivered, and there's more to come this summer. Another TRANSFORMERS, which I'm ambivalent about, GI JOE, which could go either way, really, and another HARRY POTTER on the way, which may be a good thing, as it's the only franchise to consistantly deliver without fucking it up. And probably more on the way. It's been said, "There are no new stories", but now it's becoming entirely too literal.