Friday, May 27, 2016

The Angry Birds Movie Review

About five or six years ago I read an article that said an Angry Birds movie was in development. Anyone I mentioned this to refused to believe it because the market was already flooded with merchandise based on the popular casual gaming app and no one wanted to see more of it. Additionally, because making a story based on launching spherically shaped birds at building blocks with a sling shot doesn't sound like it has much story potential. Well, The Angry Birds Movie (2016) did finally hit theaters and it was every bit as weak, ridiculous, and unwanted as everyone assumed it would be.
Flightless birds lead a mostly happy existence, except for Red (Jason Sudeikis), who just can't get past the daily annoyances of life. His temperament leads him to anger management class, where he meets fellow misfits Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride). Red becomes even more agitated when his feathered brethren welcome green pigs lead by Leonard (Bill Hader) to their island paradise. As the swine begin to get under his skin, Red joins forces with Chuck and Bomb to investigate the real reason behind their mysterious arrival. When it is discovered that the pigs steal all the eggs from Bird Island, it's time for the birds to get angry, fight back, and save their children. But the only weapon they've got is a gigantic slingshot the pigs gave them as a gift of good will.
The Angry Birds Movie is, of course, based on the app of the same name. Since it was released in 2009, the Angry Birds game has been downloaded more than 3 billion times across all versions and platforms of mobile devices. Angry Birds has become a big merchandise brand name, creating not only several variations of the popular app game, but also plush toys, board games, t-shirts, candies, a line of Hot Wheels cars, LEGO and K'nex sets, sports equipment, pet toys, and more. With so many products already available, it was only a matter of time before a movie was produced. The Angry Birds Movie did feel a lot like both a celebration of the game and a 97 minute commercial for the game and existing merchandise. Of course, there had to be even more merchandise produced specific to the movie itself. The Angry Birds Movie really was a cash grab, and it wasn't even a vaguely amusing cash grab like the Minions movie.
On the one hand, The Angry Birds Movie doesn't take itself too seriously. That's a very good thing, given the ridiculousness of its premise. But at the same time it doesn't take the ridiculous premise seriously enough to take advantage of the potential humor. Jokes often fall flat as they simply draw attention to how weird a situation is. For example, when the anger management instructor is launched via the slingshot, she literally drops fireballs out of her butt onto the pig city below. That happens to be what this character does in the game, but it's given no explanation in the movie. They could have made a joke about spicy burritos, have her be embarrassed when her lady-like demeanor is compromised, or just about anything, but instead they had Red quip "Well, how about that? She can shoot fireballs out of her butt." That was the joke. Many jokes are as bland and fall flat like this. There are a number of bird and pig related puns, most of which I thought felt forced and were disappointing as a connoisseur of delightfully terrible puns. There are a few amusing nods to the game, such as in the opening scene, when Red asks two birds what they rate the birthday cake he delivers, he asks how many stars out of three. This is a reference to the game; the highest score you can get is three stars.
The humor was disappointing, and the writing in general was pretty weak, too. Rescuing eggs of course makes sense, but none of the character's motives beyond that makes much sense. They just do what they do without much of a rhyme or reason behind it. The aforementioned incident of Red delivering a cake had Red arrive late. We're not given a reason for him to be late, and the recipients of the cake accuse him being lazy, tired, or of sleeping in. Nothing suggests that these might have been the case, and Red is established as being a responsible, if grumpy, individual. The reasons for events happening and the motives for why characters act the way they do are left unexplored and unexplained, making the story and characters very weak and flimsy. I realize this is a children's movie, but there are much better children's movies you could take your children to see. The Peanuts Movie, for example, was outstanding. The Angry Birds Movie, is so poor in quality that I can't imagine anyone who is not ten years old or younger enjoying it much. There are a series of 2-D animated shorts based off of the Angry Birds game which have far superior writing than this full length movie.
The Angry Birds Movie is to date the best film adapted from an app. This is a pretty poor endorsement, as I cannot think of a second example of such a phenomena. The story is predictably weak, the humor frequently falls flat, the characters are shallow and have nebulous motivation, and the movie drags on for longer than needed. The Animation is decent enough and the all star cast was great, apart from the lousy script they had to work with. I realize I'm not the target audience here, but Author C. S. Lewis once said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” I believe the same can be said about children's movies; a lot of Disney films are enjoyed enthusiastically by adults. The Angry Birds Movie is mostly an annoying commercial for products you likely already own. This is not worth seeing in theaters, wait for it on home video if you must. If you really want an Angry Birds experience, you're better off spending movie ticket money on the entire collection of Angry Birds ads-free game apps and spending the evening playing those on your Smartphone.

Is there another casual gaming app that might make a good movie? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

It's no secret that Superhero mash-ups are a big thing. Ever since six of Marvel's greatest had to band together to fight villains from another world in The Avengers, audiences have been craving more alliances between Superheroes. This year, it seems, Superheroes aren't getting along so well. We've had Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice which pitted two of DC's best known heroes against one another. Now Marvel's heroes, The Avengers, are being split down the middle and are fighting amongst each other in Captain America: Civil War (2016). The result is a highly enjoyable and, holding true to Captain America form, makes some interesting political commentary.
With many people fearing the actions of super heroes, the government decides to push for the Hero Registration Act, a law that limits a hero's actions. This results in a division in The Avengers. Iron Man stands with this Act, claiming that their actions must be kept in check otherwise cities will continue to be destroyed, but Captain America feels that saving the world is daring enough and that they cannot rely on the government to protect the world. This escalates into an all-out war between Team Iron Man; Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland); and Team Captain America: Captain America (Chris Evans), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) while a new villain emerges (Daniel Brühl).
While overall I liked The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it could have been better. Civil War was much more along the lines of what I had hoped for. Tons of Superhero action, incredible fight scenes, intermingling between super powered characters, clashes of personalities, interesting themes, etc. Civil War is first and foremost a sequel to Captian America: The Winter Soldier. It's a continuation of the story of Captain America and his old friend who was brainwashed and controlled by Hydra. The second story is the governments of the world putting a system of accountability on the Superheroes and the resulting conflict between our heroes. This second story is a natural side effect of the Captain America/Bucky Barnes story, so they are intertwined in very logical ways.
The hard part is to know who to cheer for. In The Avengers there was a really great, but short, fight scene early on between Thor and Iron-Man. It was amazing because these were both characters I loved and the fight was incredible, and I simply did not know who to root for. It wasn't until Captain America intervenes to breaks up the fight, which itself was amazing, that the two lowered their arms. The fight was creative, took advantage of and displayed each hero's respective powers and abilities, and was edge-of-your-seat exciting. You wanted to see them really lay into each other, but you didn't want either one to lose because you already like these characters. Civil War is pretty much a whole movie with fight scenes like that one. But it's so well written that you still don't know which team to side with. The conflict that arises from the Hero Registration Act makes a lot of sense. Neither side is wholly wrong, and if you, yourself, aren't flip-flopping between which team you'd be aligned with, you're just being unreasonably stubborn. Civil War is that well written. The major fight between sides is absolutely amazing, and again you don't want anyone to really get hurt, but you just can't help but get caught up in the action and see the very different personalities and superpowers clash in the most epic ways. Most of the heroes are in it for a short while, but they are just so fantastic. I love how Ant-Man keeps forgetting less super powered hero's names; he refers to Hawkeye as "arrow guy."
Holding true to Captain America tradition, Civil War makes some social and political commentary. It explores topics of the morality and justification of revenge, how much control the government should have over its citizens, the idea that law is not an indicator of morality and how many horrible things have been done to people that were perfectly legal, and the traumatic effects that war has on innocent bystanders and those who get caught in the crossfire. There were lots of people who died in the epic fight scenes we love so much in previous Marvel movies, and the natural consequences of those fight scenes are coming to fruition here. Normal people are becoming fearful of superheroes and what they are able to do, so a Hero Registration Act makes sense. But at the same time, Civil War explores the idea that while war is absolutely a terrible reality, it is sometimes necessary. Having people who are able to stop the evil actions of others is good. They save as many people as possible but often are not able to save everyone, which is truly regrettable. But are the rescuers at fault for not saving everyone? Would it have been better to let the enemy have its way and save no one at all? The human cost of "Collateral Damage" is explored respectfully here. It's a complicated set of topics that can be touchy issues. Civil War explores these topics without getting preachy or telling you what you should think, and does it with a safe Superhero metaphor over the top so as not to potentially offend. The themes explored in this movie are fascinating and make for a rich story.
Two new heroes are introduced in Civil War, we were teased with these new characters in the trailer. The first of which was Black Panther. Wow, this character was fantastic. He was complicated, compelling, interesting, and a fun addition to the movie. I truly have limited knowledge of this character from the Marvel comics, but I couldn't help but love him. He's scheduled to have his own movie early in 2018 and I am psyched about it now that I've seen Black Panther in action. The other is my all time personal favorite superhero, Spider-Man. This is the third actor to play Spider-Man and he's quite possibly my favorite. That's saying something because Tobey Maguire was pretty great and Andrew Garfield did a solid job as well. We don't get an origin story for Spider-Man this time, which is good. It would have taken too much time and we've already had the origin of Spider-Man, possibly one of the best known original stories in the Marvel universe depicted on the big screen twice in a relatively short amount of time between two Spider-Man film series. This Spider-Man is still in high school, is reluctant to join the fray because he's got a big math test to study for, he's a hilariously talkative and cracks jokes during fights (a signature component of the character), he's not yet confident in himself and is still mastering his newfound abilities, acts like a fanboy in front of all the established heroes, and comes up with ideas for taking down opponents from "old movies" like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Sony owned the movie rights to Spider-Man and since the character was an important component to Marvel's Civil War storyline, Disney had to negotiate rights to the character back from Sony so Spidey could be in the Civil War movie. I don't know that we'll have another Spider-Man movie from Sony (probably not), but Disney has one starring Tom Holland as the infamous web-slinger due out in summer of 2017, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of this Spider-Man in action as well. We came to Civil War to watch Captain America and Iron-Man throw down, but frankly Black Panther and Spider-Man pretty much stole the show in every scene they were in.
So, we've got this new villain that gets much of the two storylines rolling. Helmut Zemo plays such a small role in everything that I often forgot he was there orchestrating events so far behind the scenes that he was often overlooked. He's not powerful, he has no superhuman abilities, he's working alone, he was dangerous only because of knowledge and convictions he held. He wasn't even much of a villain, but more of a weasel who would sneak around and push buttons in just the right way to get a small reaction that would escalate exponentially into big conflicts while almost entirely avoiding attention. I'm not even familiar enough with Marvel comics to know if this was ever a major villain; I've never heard of him before. He's a pretty good weasel, and his subtlety is a refreshing change of pace from the over-the-top flashy villains we've had in the past.
Captain America: Civil War begins the next wave of Marvel movies with an action-packed blockbuster boasting a decidedly non-cartoonish plot and the courage to explore some thought-provoking themes. It's thematically heavy, and indeed doesn't end on as positive a note as we usually get from Superhero movies. The writing is excellent, the large cast of heroes all get their due screen time and moments to shine, and their clashing personalities are positively delightful. The action is creative and riveting to say the least. Civil War is fun, smart, and coherent. Most importantly, it allows its heart to beat strongly amid the chaos, with character moments and set pieces working together to create one of Marvel's best films so far. I loved Captain America: Civil War. It is worth the ticket price to see in theaters, and worth getting a copy of when it's available on home video. Just make sure you're all caught up on previous Marvel movies before you see it; like The Avengers movies, it's important to know where each character is before they all come together again.

So, which side were you on while seeing this movie, Team Captain America or Team Iron Man? Comment below and tell me why, but please be careful to avoid spoilers.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War Review

Snow White and the Huntsman was released back in 2012 and was surprisingly decent for what it was, despite having Kristen Stewart as one of the leads. Charlize Theron as Ravenna, the evil queen, stole the show and made it exciting and interesting; I wanted to see more of this amazing actress in this interesting role. Well, a movie pegged as a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman was released and I was psyched to see more of Charlize Theron as Ravenna. Unfortunately, The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016) is a major flop and seems to go out of its way to avoid showing us what made the previous movie decent.
Betrayed by her evil sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron), heartbroken Freya (Emily Blunt) retreats to a northern kingdom to raise an army of huntsmen as her protectors. Gifted with the ability to freeze her enemies in ice, Freya teaches her young soldiers to never fall in love. When Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) defy this rule, the angry queen orders them to be killed. Eric escapes, believing Sara to be dead. Many years later after Snow White had defeated Ravenna, The Magic Mirror Ravenna used as the source of her powers is stolen before it can be destroyed. Fearing the return of the Evil Queen, Eric is ordered to seek out the Mirror and destroy it. Accompanied by dwarves Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon), Eric sets out to find and destroy The Mirror. But Freya also seeks The Magic Mirror for its power, and she sends one of her most lethal Huntsman to retrieve it first and kill Eric along the way if necessary.
The Huntsman: Winter's War was marketed and promoted as a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. That's just fine, of course. However, the story is more of a prequel/sequel mash up. The first fourth of the movie is a prequel and we are introduced to Freya, Sara, and Eric, and we see Ravenna's relationship with her sister. Then we get "Seven Years Later" on the screen and from that point on, everything is supposed to have happened after Snow White and the Huntsman, effectively making it a sequel. A sequel is also fine. But doing both in one movie is both confusing from a narrative perspective and a blatant cash grab from a film making perspective. Yeah, I wanted to see Ravenna's fantastic villain in action again, but this was a convoluted way to make it happen. Yes, it's just fine to have a few years pass in a story to shorten the span of time between important related events. But it's sloppy story telling if within that elapsed time, which we gloss over, a whole other movie's worth of events occur, the likes of which have a significant impact on rest of the story. I can appreciate a movie expecting it's audience to have seen the previous movie, but there's so much that The Huntsman assumes the audience knows and doesn't bother to explain. It makes the story confusing, convoluted, and poorly presented. The dreadful quality coupled with rehashed good quality special effects and big name actors makes this seem like a cash grab; there's no heart in it. It feels like it was thrown together at the last minute just to sell tickets.
The trailers for The Huntsman were pretty exciting. We got to see some shots of Freya and Ravenna throw down against each other with flashy special effects and action. That's the kind of larger-than-life stunts I appreciated about the first movie and wanted to see more of them in this second movie. Unfortunately, nearly every scene in which that sort of action occurred was shown in the trailer. I wanted to see lots of Ravenna doing her crazy thing; using beauty as a weapon, harnessing the power of The Magic Mirror, and manipulating blood in disturbing ways. Sure, we see some of that and what we see is pretty cool, but what we see is only toward the end during the climactic fight. We see a whole lot more of Freya, but we don't really see her use her powers much either. Granted, what made Ravenna so menacing in the first movie was how powerful and manipulative she was before she even resorted to using magic. Here, she's all super powers with none of the sophisticated subtlety of the previous film. The big fight at the end is probably the best part of the movie; but, it spends too much time with uninteresting characters mucking about in the woods doing very little pertaining to their intended quest.
The Huntsman does have a pretty good cast. Chris Hemsworth has shown us some good acting in the past. Charlize Theron is reprising a role I adored, and she was incredible in Mad Max: Fury Road. Emily Blunt is great actress as well. Nick Frost plays an excellent comic relief as usual. Really, the whole cast is good, they just had a horrible script to work with. The few characters returning from the previous film aren't as interesting or well developed as they were before. I actually feel sorry for the cast involved. It seems like they were present only to fulfill contractual obligations, not because they thought this would be a good movie. The best part of The Huntsman is that while Snow White is mentioned nominally a few times, Kristen Stewart does not appear in the movie.
The Huntsman: Winter's War boasts some nice special effects and a stellar cast, but neither one is enough to make up for the sloppy storytelling, lousy script, and convoluted nature of this entirely unnecessary sequel. This movie is disappointing no matter how you look at it. The returning characters aren't as interesting or fleshed out as they previously were, new characters were weak and bland, and important points of the story are left out under the assumption you've seen the previous movie. It seems like the producers thought that Elsa in Disney's Frozen was popular and tried to shoehorn a rip off of that character into a half-baked sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. This movie lacks the heart and epic quality of its predecessor, and even that movie wasn't all that good to start with. I cannot recommend seeing The Huntsman: Winter's War even if you did like Snow White and the Huntsman. It's a blatant cash grab which I can't imagine anyone involved in it enjoyed making.