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Movies on My Mind
Week Ending 4 June 2016

Doc Savage

Have no fear, the Man of Bronze is here! I loved the 1970s Doc Savage when I was a kid. I’m fully aware that it doesn’t stand up, divested of such fledgling enthusiasm (it can’t quite sustain the camp brio of Adam West’s Batman or Roger Moore’s Bond it so wants to), but it felt like the perfect distillation of all things superheroically pulpy.

It was ahead of its time in some respects, anticipating the throwback adventuring of Lucas and Spielberg’s serialised storytelling (it even ended on a cliffhanger, and I was accordingly most disappointed there was no follow up to be had; as doubtless was Warner Bros, when the film was lacerated by critics and shunned by the public), and the po-faced, slightly sent-up heroism of the Christopher Reeve Superman.

Where it was fundamentally shipwrecked was in the choice of director Michael Anderson, never a visionary, but a guy who sometimes got lucky (Logan’s Run, a couple of years later, lives on, but more due to Jenny Agutter than filmmaking prowess). That Savage was producer George Pal’s last film also testifies to its status as the tail end of a certain approach to movie production, lumbering along rather than spurred by enthusiasm and invigoration (I say that, but Flash Gordon, also camp and lumbering, has become a cult favourite).

Doc Savage was a movie that, like The Land that Time Forgot, I cherished, not as cheap and cheerful, or laughably shoddy in places, but as wildly imaginative. Can Shane Black distil the essence of the Man of Bronze? I shouldn’t really be proprietorial, as I haven’t read any of the stories, and for some strange reason have a desire to see him done right because of a movie most people don’t rate at all.

I think if anyone can, Black can. He’s got a lead with bags of natural charisma and a great sense of humour, regardless that Dwayne Johnson hasn’t had a really strong starring role in his career thus far. There’s also the simple fact that Black’s one of the best writers in Hollywood (to be fair, there isn’t a lot of competition, but that’s not to do him down). The question that interests me less since Iron Man Three’s PG-13/12 is whether he can rein himself in for a family movie. Which leaves whether he can bring his unique style to a period romp, some forty years prior to his recent period romp. I’m betting he can; it’s only a shame this can’t leap frog The Predator into production. Oh, and he should definitely re-use the theme song.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

So Disney suits didn’t warm to a movie all the pre-publicity announced was tonally different from a straight, episodic Star Wars movie, owing to it being more of a war movie, because they’ve now discovered it’s tonally different from a straight, episodic Star Wars movie, owing to it being more of a war movie? Well, it’s good to know they keep up with their memos. I suspect this means that, if Alan Tudyk’s droid wasn’t a funny droid before, he will be now, because, you know, Tudyk is a funny guy. 

I didn’t have much anticipation for this from the get-go, and the trailer failed to change that one iota. The cumulative sense from Monsters and Godzilla is that Gareth Edwards might be best off making movies carrying a glacially distant, cerebral theme (if he could just find one), but with bags of action, so getting past the small problem of not really being able to invest in his characters. His visuals are full of portent, but unsupported by content. But hey, I’m sure this will be a fun-filled romp by the time the reshoots are complete. Alternatively, all of the above (including some reports suggesting up to 40% is to be done over, which does sound absurd) is BS, and there's no big deal at all. Which may or may not be damage limitation and spin.  


Monster Trucks

Just, WTF? It boggles the mind, this. I’d understand if Chris Wedge made Monster Trucks as some sort of vanity project package, guaranteeing an Ice Age 19, but it’s from Paramount. Perhaps that explains it; they’re a studio desperate for a decent franchise (they have Transformers, but I did say decent), or one they can keep afloat (I’m looking at you Star Trek, and Jack Reacher), and are unable to boast even a successful animation beyond SpongeBob. Thus they have a string of pictures audiences will struggle to find remotely enticing, including a Rings sequel, xXx3, Ghost in the Shell, Baywatch, and World War Z 2. The latter might turn out okay, depending on whether zombie fatigue has set in, but there lie slim pickings.

And what’s with animators’ obsession with cars? Is it because they were all nerds and they’re now enacting some sort of wish fulfilment over being uncool at school? I have no idea how Monster Trucks got the green light, and why anyone thought E.T. developing a symbiotic relationship with a carburettor would sell tickets. On one level I admire the flagrant impulse to flush money down the toilet. On another, the pursuit of the most banal imagining imaginable is quite tragic. The creative equivalent of a sterile promontory, but then, this is from Derek Connolly, co-writer of the highly imaginative Jurassic World and the likely to be equally so Kong: Skull Island. And, alas Star Wars Episode IX. I hope no one’s expecting Monster Trucks to make a fortune. Or even half of what Cars 2 brought in (minus merchandising).


No Exit

Last week I expressed my doubts over the glorification of Deepwater Horizon, with Peter Berg turning an environmental disaster into a chronicle of oil rig heroes battling the odds. No Exit is another upcoming tale of valour in the face of the scourging of nature, documenting the 2013 Yarnell fire in Arizona and focussing on the Granite Mountain Hotshots, only one of 20 of whom survived. This sounds like more laudable subject matter than the Beg movie (or treatment thereof, at least, with the caveat that the screenwriter also penned Black Hawk Down), but it still feels like the pursuit of a vague, slender hope of audience response. We all know firefighting movies are popular. To wit Backdraft, and Ladder 49

The big shame is how director Joseph Kosinski’s TRON 3 fell through last year, after Disney (of all studios, given they have more dead certs than any kid on the block) got cold feet and pulled the plug. I bet now they’re wishing they’d gone with it rather than Alice 2. One has a definite cult following, the other had a definite number of kids trying out 3D specs. There’s a vocal view out there proclaiming that TRON: Legacy sucks, but purveyors of such opinions probably also decry Prometheus. They’re both movies with more than their share of flaws, but if you can’t get with the plus points, well, I pity the fool.

Batman v Superman: Brunch of Justice

Sure, there have been longer versions in the past that have either completely salvaged (Once upon a Time in America) or rehabilitated (Heaven’s Gate) maligned or mangled movies. Generally, though, these have been arisen from the ashes of studio edicts or tampering in the first place. To be fair, I doubt the longer cut will harm Batman v Superman in any way. It might make it even duller, yes, but I feel fairly certain it couldn’t render the opening half less coherent. Unlike many, I didn’t outright despise the picture, but I felt it fundamentally lacked drive and pace, which is probably the worst thing for a superhero movie.


Box Office

The summer sequel slaughter continues. I didn’t expect most of these to improve on the performance of the originals, but neither did I expect audience indifference to so accurately mirror my complete lack of interest in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Alice Through the Looking Glass and now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Which arrives with an opening weekend take of about half the original’s. And is anyone going to line up for Now You See Me 2 next week?

At least The Conjuring 2 ought to perform, so that weekend shouldn’t be a complete flounder (Warcraft also topples headfirst onto US screens, having failed to make much impact internationally). For the rest of June, Finding Dory is a no-brainer. Can Central Intelligence find a space for itself? Independence Day: Resurgence might prove to be an Alice 2, or it might be a less substantial echo of Jurassic World  (it at very least needed Will Smith to stand a chance of being that kind of monster). And Free State of Jones might prove successful counterprogramming, or it might just disappear.

The potential for further summer cinematic corpses doesn’t end there. In July, The BFG and Jason Bourne ought to click, The Purge: Election Year will probably turn out fine, and The Secret Life of Pets might benefit from not being a sequel at that point, or get crushed by Ice Age 5. Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond and The Legend of Tarzan have big question marks hanging over them, though. And in August, while Suicide Squad is sure to open, less confident are Pete’s Dragon, War Dogs and – surely a stinker of Warcraft proportions – Ben-Hur.  

Does this mean kids thought TMNT 1 was lousy, all told? In which case, there’s hope for the next generation, and its success can be put down to the kind of aberrance that saw Inspector Gadget garner an audience. Perhaps international grosses will make up the difference for Out of the Shadows. If not, bring on the next reboot.

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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