Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nine days of reviewin’ #8: The mediocre blockbuster

Terminator Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine

These things are always cleared in hindsight, but after 10 months, it’s easy enough to say that 2009 has been a terrific year for films so far. I have had some fantastic times at the movies this year, with unconditional and absolute love for films such as Star Trek, Inglorious Basterds, Drag Me To Hell, This Might Get Loud, In The Loop and District 9. They all had their flaws, but their brightest moments shined like the sun.

Like any year, there have been some pretty mediocre movies. The bored critical and commercial shrug that greeted Watchmen hid the fact the film still had some lovely moments, even if it was boring as piss for much of the running time. It ended up as just another thunderingly average mid-range blockbusters.

They’re out every year - Making the top spot at the box office for a week, (or two, if they’re lucky), before fading away. Making just enough money to almost be economically worthwhile, but nothing to set the world on fire.

God help me, I do enjoy watching these generally unloved films. I never miss them, although sometimes it takes a while, until I can rent them on DVD for a dollar. The vast middle ground of the modern blockbuster ­ not good enough to be notable, but not bad enough to sneer at. They’re just there.

I know they’re no good, and I know they’re unhealthy for me, but I still watch them. I know it’s wrong, and I know there is some real hatred out there for them, but I really did genuinely enjoy Terminator Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

* * *

The latest addition to the Terminator saga took a right critical kicking and some true fanboy rage, but I’m a fiend for any form of post-apocalyptic action, so I was always down for it.

There are reasonable arguments against the film: the fact that thematically unnecessary, (although the same could be said about every Terminator story beyond the original), or the relentless and unforgiving seriousness of it all. Vast bits of it saw logic run out the door and catch the next flight to Rio, while characters often acted more out of plot necessity than actual human reactions.

(Some of the other criticisms of the new Terminator have not been as well argued; making fun of McG because of his name is just infantile and says nothing about the quality of the film.)

But a good post-apocalypse story? Where people are dressed in the finest torn leather and metal spikes and there are mutant fuckers with neon Mohawks that want to eat peoples’ eyes? Oh man, I am always, always keen for some of that.

From the awful to the fantastic, I love ‘em all. For a long, long time, apocalyptic wastelands meant nothing more that a few scattered papers blowing around an empty street. If things were getting particularly bad, the hero might loosen his tie.

But then things got all dirty and grungy and spectacular a few decades back and it’s been wonderfully crazy every since. Now, they’re all about the breakdown of society more than Geiger counters ­ the way humanity reverts to feral nastiness in the name of survival, a dog-eat-dog mentality that can be truly imaginative in its brutality. You wouldn’t find the glory of the Thunderdome anywhere beyond a nuclear-blasted wasteland.

Some of them are sheer brilliance, including the magnificent Escape from New York or the mighty Mad Max trilogy. (I’m still not sure what to make of the fact that the very best post-apocalypse movies of all time came out of Australia.)

Some of them, like the last Resident Evil film of Neil Marshall’s overcooked Doomsday, are unreservedly terrible, but I still watched every second of them. Then there are all those vague memories of cheapo Italian desert epics that fit that post-apocalyptic profile, but they had a million different names for each country and I could never tell which is which. (Same with the zombies - there is one movie I’ve seen with five different titles, all some variation on Night of the Zombies.)

So the new Terminator had that going for it, and to be honest, that was all I needed to get in the door. There was also the bit with the original Terminator, which left me quite chuffed. It was telegraphed a mile away, but it was still a powerful oment to see that face emerge from the mist.

There were also some nice bits of acting ­ - Sam Worthington in particular doing a lot with very little ­ - and some action scenes that dialed up the intensity quite well. And at least they tried something new. After 95% of Terminator 3 featured little more than a rehash of the same old story (with added boobs), taking the Terminator saga somewhere it hadn’t really explored properly was actually refreshing.

Even the awful TAKEMYHEART!!!! moment at the end couldn’t kill that vibe.

* * *

I also kinda liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

It also featured a healthy dose of fanboy rage, but who cares about that? That anger can be sparked by anything that digresses from the fanboys sense of the Way Things Should Be, and almost any geek-related release will get some kind of backlash.

Fortunately, I missed most of the bile over Wolverine Origins due to international travel, and saw the Wolverine movie in a nearly empty cinema in Dublin one cold Wednesday afternoon without any of that influence and with no expectations at all.

Later I realised how unloved the Wolverine movie was, and was actually a bit surprised by it all. Because Wolverine wasn’t great, but it wasn’t irredeemably awful.

It shared much of the plot nonsense seen in Terminator and also shared that film’s incredibly po-faced seriousness and over-complicated plot. It also dealt with some of the unfortunately dull backstory that had been established in the comics over the last decade, while some of the action sequences were almost nonsensical.

But the charms of Liev Shrieber and Hugh Jackman did keep things moving along and I got such a kick out of the fight on top of the nuclear plant’s cooling tower that any flaws were soon forgiven. I like watching a good fighting scene and seeing superhumans slicing away at each other with impossible claws and improbable skills were enough for me.

I do still wonder about the bad things Wolverine was doing to his spine by arching his back and screaming at the sky every five minutes. Imagine having a bad back that is filled with an unbreakable metal! That would be a bitch to sort out.

No comments: