Justice League: Grading Character Introductions

The Avengers set a high bar when it comes to skillfully integrating a barrage of characters. They start with scenes of single characters and slowly evolve the cumulative  situations in a natural way, where it feels right for the superheroes to be meeting, as the film’s title promises.

There’s a right and a wrong way to integrate characters into a universe, or a story, or a first film. And they’re all unique and require a certain sensitive, graceful directorial touch. It can’t feel like an inspection at the airport: you’re required to do this first before we can all get together and head towards our desired destination.

The way that these intros are put together can and often does determine the quality of the rest of the film. If the director treats the short introduction as a meaningless requirement and not a vital opportunity to show off a character’s personality and style, then the rest of the film probably won’t put much attention or emphasis on such details either.

Note: all members of the Justice League are included in the grading, not only the characters who haven’t had a solo film or been in any DC films yet. Superman’s inclusion is a bit of a technicality, but I counted his late-in-the-game arrival anyways. Also I decided to add a short bit on Alfred’s introduction – so he’s in there too.

Batman/Bruce Wayne

I definitely enjoyed the isolated scene introducing Batman in Justice League. He’s usually brooding as Batman or as Bruce Wayne at some party he doesn’t want to be at. Here, we see him perched on a building top in what seems to be a simple job: grab the thief, tie him up, hand him to the police; classic but unexciting Batman. Instead, he hangs the thief off the edge of the building.

“Fear…I can smell it,” he says, which in any other context would be a very corny line. But it has a very literal purpose in this scenario. The flying creature that Batman is tracking is attracted to fear like moths to a light. He pulls the man back onto the building top and jumps onto the flying creature.

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Great composition and shot of Batman reeling in the creature with an ultra-strength net contraption. It’s Batman at his finest: no guns or easy way out. He has to find a solution to beat his enemies in whatever manner possible. Using his surroundings, such as here, where he utilizes the net to staple the creature against the building wall.
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Moments earlier….This is not Batman. Points deducted. He’s a ground fighter, a tactician, a detective who reads situations and attacks accordingly. Their are safer, smarter ways to kill a flying alien than launching your non-flying self off of a building. A hook contraption that pulls him in. A paralyzing dart. Something other than spinning through the air, tightly hugging onto this colorful creature for an extended period of time.
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Such heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing..action? A lot of hugging and now alternating close-ups…maybe even a kiss? Go for it – aliens are people, too..

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It gets some exposition done while also showing off Batman’s great suit and overall look, almost demon-like. It’s just enough for a character that nobody needs to get more familiar with. We’re on board with Batman: we like him, we know him – he’s cool.

Batman/Bruce Wayne introduction: B+

Alfred 

It might be a very small detail, but I really like how they bring Alfred into his first scene/moment. He doesn’t join the action with a funny quip such as, “You’re at it again, I see” or, “What a surprise, you’re out at night..”

Alfred, in the comics at least, is an essential character, not a comedic one. He’s in Batman’s ear, assisting him with information, radar, locations, etc. And that’s how Justice League introduces him. He makes a statement about the situation in a frank manner, as if he’s seen and done this a thousand times before, which he has.

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Michael Caine was very good as a more fatherly version of Alfred, but Jeremy Irons’ no nonsense portrayal is just more fitting for Ben Affleck’s battle-worn, aging Batman.

Alfred introduction (albeit a short one): A

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is arguably the best aspect of the DC film universe thus far. She’s magnetic yet filled with inner and outer strength. She’s opinionated and has a backstory that meshes well with interesting scenarios. And that makes it all the more disappointing that her brief introduction involves having to thwart the plans of this boring ass, hat-wearing terrorist:

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You couldn’t create a more cliched, disposable villain if you made him in a lab, which this British bloke seems to have been. Nothing about him threatens to stop Wonder Woman or succeed in his plan. You could have literally cast a red punching bag, hung it from the ceiling, and had Wonder Woman quickly punch it until it breaks off the chain. That’s all this guy represents: a regular old bad guy written solely to be wiped out within the only scene he’s involved in.

Now, I understand that we know who Wonder Woman is and they just wanted to sweep through her intro and get to the characters that we haven’t met yet. But why even have a solo scene involving her if you’re going to phone it in like this? No creativity whatsoever.

A bomb. Hostages. Slow-motion (hi Zack!). Soldier-types with assault rifles. And a couple of corny lines to cap it all off: “I don’t believe it…what are you?,“. Ha. Ha. Heh. “I’m a believer,”. So she just repeated a similar sentiment back to him, but with added confusion: Is Diana saying that she believes in herself? That’s no surprise – she’s an Amazonian superhero; there’s no reason for her to not believe in herself. Thumbs up, screenwriters…Diana and Gal deserve better.

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Here’s a tiny detail that exemplifies why it’s important to establish major characters before assembling them into a team-up film. Why does Diana have to say, “the lasso compels you to tell the truth.” Just start throwing questions at him – she doesn’t have any rights to read to him. He doesn’t need to be informed of his situation and neither does the audience. Wonder Woman has had her own solo movie, a hugely popular one, but even if she hadn’t, it’s an easy thing to pull off visually. He could suddenly stop blinking or quit nervously mumbling, speaking very clearly, etc.

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince introduction: D+

Cyborg/Victor Stone

They handled Cyborg’s introduction really poorly. All exposition and brooding. How are we supposed to get attached to this vital member of the league if his first scene is comprised solely of him complaining about his “curse”?

It isn’t a compassionate father-son relationship: Victor yells at his dad and exclaims that he’s made him into a MONSTER! Sound familiar? Nervous scientist tries to calm raging man with confusing newfound abilities? It’s been done before. And this repeat of such a scenario doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

It only detracts from Cyborg’s arc or lack of an arc. If they could have added a little bit of character interplay, like a football game featuring Victor where his father shows up or doesn’t show up, either way. Anything that brings us into their relationship on some emotional level.

Great shot of the young, exciting new DC addition: the magnificent Cyborg!

Or ignore the father, as they mostly did here anyways, and just show us what Victor is all about, walking through the city streets, going to school, etc. To just drop Victor, distraught about his “monstrous” condition, onto the audience’s lap is a shame and a bit of a disgrace to his comic book legacy.

Conflict should arrive after something good or at least authentic happens, writers. Otherwise why should we feel bad or care or feel pity for Victor? The only impression I got from his first scene is that he’s very dramatic, whiny, and pretty outwardly cruel to his father. What’s that one quote about how crisis reveals character? No revelations here..

If you didn’t know about his storyline from the comics, it would be easy to think that he was going to lash out at his father and become the villain, eventually meeting up and battling it out with the league.

One saving grace as a result of Victor being a smug, angry teenager in his introductory scene: it gives Diana the opportunity to breathe as a character and act as a sort of motherly figure. She has a sense of responsibility, the sort that’s required of her as a major leader within the league.

Cyborg/Victor Stone introduction: D

Aquaman/Arthur Curry

The problem with bringing Aquaman to the big screen has always been the fact that he’s Aquaman. He talks to fish, as Batman lightly quips in their first scene. The screenwriters desperately want to tread within that fine line of creating a serious, complex character while also somewhat acknowledging his silly origins. He doesn’t jump ten feet into the air and plunge into the water in a half-spin torpedo dive. He does this:

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He flops backwards and slides underwater, disappearing. It’s kind of funny, really. The writers so badly want to avoid any form of mockery about the character and his abilities that they don’t really show them off much at all to begin with, and when they do, the shot is held for a total of .5 seconds. Blink and you’ll miss the back-flop into the water.

We see these cave-like drawings on the wall earlier in the scene:

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The simple sketches create a mythic aura to the character. Batman doesn’t know who he is, apparently, even though he has a dossier on every other league member or future member. Curry doesn’t want to talk to or be a part of Batman’s plan.

It’s kind of meta: the character that the audience and Batman have never met is annoyed for having to explain himself, for having to give any form of exposition. They barely have a conversation before suddenly the shirt is off and he’s plunging down into the ocean. Aquaman doesn’t need to talk too much: his powers are very tranquil and highly visual in concept.

It’s not a thrilling or action-packed scene, but they don’t all have to be, especially considering the very friendly serving of it later on in the film. It’s teasing his potential, which is huge and awe-inspiring in scope. They got most of the cultural stigmas/comedic aspects of his character out of the way.

“Can you at least point me to Atlantis?,” Bruce Wayne asks, a sly, knowing look on his face.

Affleck delivers it perfectly: he’s not making fun of him, he’s just giving him a bit of a hard time. A quarter smile – he doesn’t even think it’s all that funny, just intriguing. If Bruce started laughing heartily, smiling ear-to-ear, slapping Arthur on the back in jest – then we’d have a problem. But that doesn’t happen.

Batman is the leader and organizer of the league, so logically it makes sense that he would be the one to make the trek to Arthur’s location and try to recruit him. It just happens to work out that Batman is the most well-known person in the league and in real life – he has the most movies, toys, everything – so it evens out nicely to have the comfort of the known confronting the new. The interplay between them is a give-and-take: Batman and his stoic stiffness and Aquaman with his pessimism and disinterest.

Arthur even has a slight ideological difference with Batman, creating conflict within the league, an important part of any superhero team-up movie; they can’t all get along the second that they lay eyes on each other. A solid, subtle introduction of a tricky, easy-to-fumble superhero.

Aquaman/Arthur Curry introduction: B+

The Flash/Barry Allen

Whereas Cyborg’s introduction had too little emotion, The Flash’s intro has a bit too much sappiness. It’s important to explore his past, but this scene right here shouldn’t be our first look at The Flash:

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Maybe I’m being too cynical, but this gesture seems like something Barry would do the first time he’s able to come and visit his father. His dad even says that he comes too much and has to stop – wouldn’t this hand-on-the-glass act get a little repetitive after so many visits?

It’s a quick way to explain a general summary of his past and catch up on where he’s currently at in his life. They decide to cut straight to the prison, to this sad sequence of pure dialogue. Billy Crudup delivers an intense, authentic plea to Barry to stop visiting him and live his life. He speaks slowly and intently, as if he’s been thinking about this for a long time, practicing the words to perform for Barry and try to get him to move on.

The introduction is brief and only memorable for Crudup’s short but impactful performance late in the scene. It’s a huge contrast to Barry’s later role as the comedic relief, although there’s not much relief: he’s extremely unfunny. Bad timing, delivery, and some pretty awful writing, to be fair. The quips just fell really flat for me.

The Flash/Barry Allen introduction: D+

Superman/Clark Kent

Superman’s resurrection is a bit convoluted and overlong. It features a bit too much slow-motion considering the fact that the main catalyst in the plot/scene is THE FLASH.

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The fight between Superman and the rest of the league is visceral and exciting, yet entirely pointless as well as contradictory to the premise of a team of superheroes. Superman can destroy them easily; he’s more powerful than all of them combined.

So basically the film is making the assertion that the Justice League is a group of back-up heroes in the event that Superman dies and isn’t there to swiftly clean up any mess. There is a league in the comics meant for those who apply to be a part of the league and aren’t accepted. I forget what the secondary group is called, but I know it’s not “Justice League”.

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“I see Flash, people…”

It’s admittedly pretty cool to see all of the heroes vulnerabilities come to light as well as all of Superman’s unlimited strengths. It’s a moment of bigness: I’m better, you know it, try to deal with it. It doesn’t add or continue any plot strain from Man of Steel or BvS: it’s an isolated, one time zombie-Superman break out.

It isn’t the worst way to introduce a major character late in a film, but it isn’t ideal for it to be unconnected to the past or the present in any meaningful way other than, “we can’t do this without him!”.

Superman/Clark Kent re-introduction: C-

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And that’s all, folks. I don’t have anything to say about the rest of the film, both in the positive sense and in the sense that it’s been covered and dissected in every corner of the internet already. It’s not a bad movie; it’s got many good qualities and moments. But it also unfortunately falls a part many times, unable to withstand the pressure of juggling so many comic book entities in a single film.

 

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Lost Boy – Short Film Review


A visually stunning sci-fi short film that relies entirely on visual imagery to tell its story. The plot is rather vague and ambiguous, but there are several very clever cinematography tricks used against the backdrop of a desolate, dark landscape.

It seamlessly uses the pan across an object, swipe to a different character, pan, swipe, different character. The slow pans move in closer to the subject following each successive swipe, just like Spielberg did in Jaws as Brody watched the town folk swim in the water while he sat back and nervously watched.

In this story, the antagonist isn’t a shark, though, it’s a large android-like figure with a red band of light covering his eyes, like Cyclops from X-Men. He is chasing after a cyberpunk-looking figure, who’s often running in slow motion, the background a constant source of tension. The ‘cyclops’ weaves in and out of the frame horizontally, creating a demonic aura, though we don’t completely understand his moral position by the end of it.

Great world-building and production design, though it plays out more like a music video than an actual narrative. I couldn’t tell you the motivations of the characters if I tried, but whatever they are, they looked cool going after them. Personally, I would have liked the terminator-style chase sequence to be a bit more frantic and have a little less slow motion. The slow motion implies that we care deeply for this character’s livelihood, but we don’t. Speed it up and it becomes more energetic, intense, and engaging, instead of just simply pretty to look at.

Directed by Ash Thorp and Anthony Scott Burns

Baby Driver (2017) – Film Review

The opening to Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” feels a bit braggadocios, a bit indulgent, and a bit too similar to a recent Apple commercial. All in one take, the opening tracking shot follows our main character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, as he walks freely through the streets, crossing roads, passing murals, and avoiding bystanders. Each set piece he walks by correlates with the words in the song he’s listening to with his signature earbuds, always at hand and usually blaring full volume.

It’s a clever opening, though very self-referential: “Shaun of the Dead” featured one of the greatest one take tracking shots ever with Simon Pegg’s character bumbling through his town, ignorant of the blood and zombies surrounding him as he yawns his way through the vacant streets. The movie slows down a bit after the opening street dance/music video, getting into the reality of Baby’s life as a getaway driver for low-life, high-stake criminals.

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The leader of the operation is Doc, played smugly by Kevin Spacey. Jamie Foxx plays the confrontational character, even having a line in the movie commenting about the crazy position being filled already, by him. Jon Hamm plays a more sedated role as Buddy, another member of the crew; he wants to get the job done and get out of town with his girlfriend as soon as possible.

Baby drives as a result of a traumatic childhood experience involving a car wreck and the death of his mother. He has permanent ringing issues in his ears as a result of the accident, hence the constant music. The soundtrack is the lifeblood of the movie: the characters question it constantly, but when the music starts, Baby switches gears and turns into an 11th grade version of Ryan Gosling in “Drive”. He’s slick and intelligent, knowing the routes by heart, able to intuitively escape from seemingly inescapable scenarios.

Lily James plays Deborah, a young girl that works as a waitress at the diner where Baby’s mother used to wait tables. He’s a regular at the diner and soon garners her attention with a few of his songs and some friendly conversation. They have a runaway vibe throughout, though their relationship can’t be entirely filled out due to his responsibilities to Doc as the whiz-kid driver.

The movie has a lot of heart and clearly a lot of passion for the art of fast-speed driving. The coordination that had to happen to clear the roads and perform the spinning, sliding car donuts must have been exhausting. “Baby Driver” is an exhilarating chase movie made by one of the most inventive action directors of the decade.

Get Out (2016) – Film Review

Get Out is a marvel of a movie in an age where explosions and VFX are the main magnets that pull popular audiences out and into a comfy multiplex armchair. On the surface, both in the trailers and in the first act build-up, it’s a story about characters and social interactions. It plays off cultural stereotypes and commonly misused/abused racial phrases, contrasting some very real and at times shocking attitudes without pulling any punches. Yet it all seems too on the button, too hyper-focused and self-aware to be a movie that’s just about a family not accepting their daughters black boyfriend. And it’s not just that; there’s much more to it.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, an excited but hyper-nervous boyfriend. He leans on his girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams, helping to ease her worries through cute jokes and quips. Rose’s innocent, red-cheeked demeanor feels like a sort of android or human replicant that acts exactly like a stereotypical white college girlfriend acts. She’s way too accommodating to him; there isn’t any real drama between the two of them, only love and kisses, smoke and mirrors.

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The films marketing campaign focused heavily on the concept of a white young woman bringing her dark-skinned, African-American boyfriend out to the families farm estate.

The advertisements didn’t reveal much about the intricate plot details. With a very reasonable budget of 4.5 million, the producers of Get Out were hoping that, as a hybrid 2017 horror movie, the film would work best as a word-of-mouth product as opposed to releasing it in a more traditional manner through relentless TV marketing.

The studios certainly didn’t need to buy big TV ad spots in the end. As of mid-April, Jordan Peele’s horror film has grossed an impressive 184 million.

With overwhelming critical approval and praise, as well as the instant name recognition stemming from Peele’s hit show, Key & Peele, the film’s producers had very good reason to take a step back and let the quality of the movie speak for itself.

Director Jordan Peele has always professed a love for horror films, good or bad or atrociously bad. He has also expressed his fairly unique perspective on race. Peele is a half black man raised by and growing up alongside a predominantly white family.

A major part of Get Out involves small interactions between Chris and Rose’ parents’ white, country-club friends. These encounters are sometimes staged bluntly for comedic effect or in a more subtle manner to help build ambiguity and mystery.

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At times, the social satire veers towards being a bit too transparent, such as when the father, Dean Armitage, played by Bradley Whitford, insists to Chris that he would definitely vote for Obama for a third term, if he could.

A white man complimenting an African-American man on his “prowess” or “muscular strength” may appear to be a compliment at face-value, but those on the receiving end of the compliments clearly feel uncomfortable. They feel like they are being evaluated. It’s as if their body and entire being are being mentally measured and weighed for current or potential value, similar in a way to the extreme scouting tactics used on young, pre-teen athletes.

The story arc comes and goes without any lingering moments dragging down the fast-paced narrative. The first half introduces us to the characters and scenarios, giving the audience time to think about the direction of the story, to ponder about the potential twists and turns. Peele buys himself enough time in the first half of the movie to convince the audience that we know what kind of movie we’re watching, only to have the rug firmly pulled out from under us in the final act.

Some of the plot points don’t entirely add up, though I won’t go into spoiler territory. I think It’s important, though, to think more about the social and cultural messages rather than the labyrinthian, complex narrative.

The story details don’t 100% hold up upon multiple viewings, but the entertainment value remains the same. There’s plenty to talk about, and part of the fun is seeing it with someone for the first time and helping them fill in the pieces to the puzzle. Compared to the multitude of uninspired and unoriginal horror films being punched out these days, Get Out should get an oscar nom.

Overall, Get Out is a thoughtful look at race relations in America. It’s both funny and bleak in the way that it shatters stereotypes that people still commonly use to this day. A piercingly bold and occasionally frightening ride through the eyes of a young African-American man.

The Magnificent Seven – Film Review

The greatest moments of “The Magnificent Seven” aren’t the scenes where all the magnificent’s are sitting around, talking about their magnificent adventures. Movies should show, not tell, and I agree. But if you aren’t willing to show a characters journey, their past, their present state in the world, then you’ve got to try to tell us a little bit about them.

Cowboys talk in gravely, deep-voiced mumbles, I understand. But not all of them. Josh Faraday, the alcoholic magician played by Chris Pratt (or is it just Chris Pratt played by Chris Pratt?), has a lot to say. The quiet one, Chisolm, played by Denzel Washington, talks and acts as if he were living in an entirely different cinematic universe, a slow-burn, darkly-lit drama photographed by Roger Deakins.

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Luckily for Chisolm, he isn’t required to interact a whole lot with this ensemble, other than the obligatory assembling and introductions of the squad. We’ve got 7 here? One, two, three…I count six. Never mind, the seventh is standing over there, as Pratt’s character says in the beginning of the film, “Oh, good, we’ve got a Mexican!”

On-screen diversity is a hot topic in Hollywood and they’ve responded, if not in any dramatic way. They’re learning that people don’t just want diverse characters, they want actual characters. You know, a person with a motive other than revenge or a skill unrelated to their culture.

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The Chinese cowboy, Billy Rocks, played by Lee Byung-hun, is very skilled at throwing all sorts of sharp, metallic weapons, even his own hair-pin. It’s typical to cast a Chinese man as the prototypical knife-thrower (with a twist, albeit), but at least his stereotype isn’t dull. Billy actually rocks. He’s a quiet character but arguably the most entertaining of them all.

The second most engaging character arc would have to be Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, a PTSD-ridden sharpshooter who uses Billy as a circus entertainer for the locals, splitting the dividends between them. Their relationship seems very complex: Billy feels bad for Goodnight’s war-torn suffering, while Goodnight takes advantage of a foreign mans abilities for his own gain.

The film doesn’t come close to replecating the greatness of the original film, or even close to The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s original telling of the tale. But beyond the sketchy, loosely-plotted characters, there is a thirty-minute plus action sequence that’s very entertaining. If anything, you can be assured that director Antoine Fuqua hasn’t lost his interest or his touch in direction large scale, dynamite-driven action sequences.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Film Review

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The first thing I thought walking out of the theater is that this movie is either innovative or disrespectful; there is no hiding the fact that liberties have been taken with the entire genre in the new Tony Stark vehicle.

Without giving away any spoilers, if you look at the one liberty (and those who’ve seen it know exactly what it is),  and judge it solely on it’s merit and the merit it had in the comics, you’re going to call it disrespectful to the origins. But if you look at how it fits into the whole plot and schema of the movie, it’s a very clever device.

The movie is about identity and accountability, and of all the character flaws shining through Tony Stark, no-one can deny he’s not afraid of being known and being accountable.  Indeed, that was the whole moral conundrum that resulted in him de-weaponizing his whole company in Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man movie.  And then he goes and makes a public statement to a terrorist, even blurting out his home address (though it’s surprising that by now everyone doesn’t know where the great Tony Stark lives, especially an international terrorist).

The new Iron Man does have a boat load of humor, courtesy of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. But don’t let these cover-up the depth that aches beneath the surface. Tony Stark is living anxiously after the events of the Avengers. The anxiety-attacks could have been a little better written, maybe with hallucination or more of his pain shown alongside visuals.

Robert Downey Jr. looks wide-eyed and breathes heavily throughout the film. And although he’s a great actor, there’s just not enough built-in or earned emotion for us to feel a whole lot of sympathy; and just imagine how difficult it might be for a viewer who hasn’t seen the events of the The Avengers.

Some of the greatest scenes in the movie come in the form of a young boy Tony finds in a small-town.  Their personalities are very similar and it results in a lot of spark on-screen. They quip, talk about fathers, and help each other out in a charming, big brother sort of way.

The remote-controlled armor is an odd duality. The movie’s premise promotes the idea that Tony is Iron Man, Iron Man is not Tony.  It’s an inciting moment for Tony’s third-act epiphany; he has gone too far.  He builds a boat load of armor, his technology commanding a bit too much of his attention.

The movie is an interesting exploration of the old theme of man-or-machine, even if the climax may be a bit overlong. The explosions never really end in the climax and the lack of quiet moments spliced in between the chaos creates a numbing affect. The repetition of the action sequences simply normalizes the barrage of fireworks. It goes off the rails, falling into the default mode of a standard superhero showdown.

Dredd 3D (2012)

I was happy to be able to see Dredd not only in 3D, but also at a multiplex specializing in I MAX. It was a truly exciting film: from the beginning scenes spanning across the outer region of Mega City One, with towering buildings scattered across the land, to a zooming motorcycle hosting a well-equipped Judge: In this case, Judge Dredd. Played by Karl Urban, who seemed at first a little too much of a character actor, he puts on the boots and shows he’s got the muscle for the job. Wearing a mask that covers him from the nose up, he has the huge task of working with minimal gesture, and not making it look campy and forced, like Sylvester Stallone did in the original movie.

The plot is fairly simple and objective: a veteran judge is forced to take a rookie along, only to end up imprisoned in a tower swamped with gun-men and drug hounds. This rookie, though, is not the normal wanna-be judge. She is a very powerful psychic: she can twist the mind and predict the future based on the thoughts surrounding her. Quite the asset for a police raid, yes. The special drug involved is called ‘Slo-mo’, a substance that causes the user to slow down in time, seeing action and motion at a very low speed. This is used conceptually to great effect: when two men are thrown off a building, we understand why they are forced to take this drug. And we pity, unlike Judge Dredd.

The character of Dredd is not very complex: It seemed that in the original film, they tried more to pry into the skin behind the helmet, and the poor execution caused that to fail. But here they don’t seem to be trying to pry at all. It seems more attention has gone towards the action and intensity, which are both top-notch, while Dredd says little besides one-liners, some stronger than others. The one-location premise, though, is sometimes a bore: It’s hard to imagine the unpredictable when you know the location is static; it’s one of those movies where you wonder how it could go on and where it’s going to be headed next, which isn’t always a good thing.

The lighting and set-design for Dredd matches it’s tone perfectly: It’s dark shadows and gritty decor are a reflection of the corruption and abuse ongoing in Mega City One. Essentially, Dredd holds the same plot foundation as The Raid: Redemption from 2011, though the style is undoubtedly different. In The Raid, swat-teams are designated to take down a drug building: in Dredd, only two armored Judges are sent out.

Premium Rush (2012)

Premium Rush, a movie that brands itself as a thunderous, fast-paced thrill ride, is a bit of a disappointment. It features some excellent performances, most notably from Michael Shannon, but places them like simple pawns on the city streets, en route a formulaic plot and an unsatisfying, predictable pay-off. There are enjoyable parts in the film where we are amused and intrigued by the characters, their actions and situations, but not enough to sustain a feature-length film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, an enigmatic bike messenger who rides inexhaustibly throughout the streets of New York. The decisions made by the messengers have to be decisive and smart: there cannot be any indecision when looking for a way through traffic, and that’s why Wilee doesn’t have any brakes, period. This is the macho line that sets Wilee aside from the other hardcore messengers, though when we’re talking about bicycles, it seems like mentioning testosterone and competitiveness is a joke in itself. The slow-motion cinematography, implemented during times when Wilee is trying to calculate the best route in, around, and between speeding, dangerous boxes of rationally-assembled metal; arrows appear on the screen, a borderline lazy cinematic technique that could have easily been replaced with some urgent editing; anybody remember “Limitless”, with Bradley Cooper? A cinematographer can express distance miles ahead of where a person stands, and the viewer will understand the message, the size-able amount of land to conquer.

The rule is that once you get the package, you don’t trade or hand it off to anyone except the final destination, the recipient, ot explain who it’s intended for, or where it originated from. Wilee isn’t ready to break that rule, his job principles remaining firm.  He takes an envelope from a Chinese college student in intention of delivering it, and is encountered by a nosy man, Bobby Monday, who says nothing of credentials, and for a specifically implicit reason. The story that follows becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Wilee and Officer Monday after Wilee finds out Monday’s occupation while reporting him to his own station. A cop on a bike who doesn’t seem to have been trained along the lines of Mr. Livestrong, adds an ‘aw shucks’ comic-relief, always close to and in pursuit of Wilee but never actually capturing him.

The reasons behind Wilee being a daredevil bike messenger are not revealed through any sort of character development: instead, it is said that he simply does it because he doesn’t want to wear a suit and sit in an office, an explanation reminiscent  of the voice-over in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting”, a wholly different story, but with the same sort of social futility. The difference, though, is the rebel personalities in Trainspotting have been built up, their every word having an emotional impact. Wilee, for all we know, could just be a lazy, greedy maniac frantically spinning his bike wheels. He’s constantly talking from the blue-tooth device plugged into his ear as he rides, often times trying to repair mistakes while swerving through cars sweeping past him, a 8-bit arcade game brought to life. What a life.

It’s an enjoyable movie at face-value, even for people who shy away from prototypical ‘action movies’; maybe even more for them, as it isn’t any sort of martial-arts or gun wielding spectacle. The acting is solidly consistent and there are some engaging scenes that momentarily hold ones attention–but it’s little more than what the title suggests: a fast-paced pump of adrenaline to the gut, missing anything substantive or interesting for the viewer to keep track of.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The Bourne Legacy is not as urgent as the Ultimatum and Supremacy of the past, but it is a strong surge of paranoia and angst. The movie begins in a disorienting manner, like an old Bond film, with Jeremy Renner staked out in frosty mountains amongst the wolves. It’s not quite a homerun, a new re-amp that improves on the original, but such a feat cannot be expected. It takes an actor who was not quite a star and lifts him up to that level. And if in the long-run that’s all it accomplishes, fine, because Renner is an actor with true potential, though he recently said he will be taking a break from acting. No matter what they say about his size and physique, his energy is there–and if Tom Cruise can be short, so can Renner.

The plot is basically an aftermath ‘gathering-of-wits’ from the Bourne case, featuring Pamela Anderson in trouble with the law after assisting Bourne’s escape. It used to be called treason, one of the CIA operatives says. There is no cameo from Matt Damon as one would assume, besides the CIA files containing his twenty-something profile.

Next to Renner stars Rachel Weisz, a biochemical scientist working on the operatives ‘KEMS’, a programmable drug that enhances IQ and physique for Aaron Cross and other agents. Once he runs out, he is desperate for more–or else he will be incapable to do the hit em’ up tactics, and our movie would be over, or just plain unexciting. Edward Norton takes the place as CIA director–and he is my main criticism of the film, a man with no motivation besides duty, boring and meant only to give and direct orders. All other directors had some underlying reason behind there actions, whether out of malice or assisting the ‘enemy’. Maybe in the next film, since this one ends with the complete hope of a sequel to this sequel, a bit of a series overkill if you ask me.

The movie never drags on and will definitely please the average action-junkie. It has a cast of versatile stars, and fails only to punctuate in it’s own ‘after-the-fact’ story premise: It’s the wagging tail of a long-gone series. Directed by Tony Gilroy, a writer for the earlier series, he showed promise for this movie after directing ‘Michael Clayton’, a very intelligent political thriller. And he does fulfill the promise, at least partially: The Bourne Legacy is an entertaining and adrenaline-fueled adventure.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

This Sundance punch is a gritty, neo-violent mess of a movie, featuring a cast of SWAT-team members dropping the guns and bringing out classic but hyper-realized hand-to-hand combat. It slides story to the side, deciding to instead focus primarily on the kinetic fight sequences and over-the-top kills. A SWAT team is raiding a drug lords building complex, an untouchable resort filled with only a handful of innocent residents; most are criminals or drug addicts. The objective is to silently rise to the top and remove the drug lord: Except, after being flanked by the maniacally violent, meth-head henchman, the officers realize that it’s not going to be that easy. And in fact probably even a challenge to stay alive.

The voices in The Raid are synced with English voice dubbing. It worked fine for me, especially since there is such minimal dialogue, most of its running time filled with maximum violence. The only thing that I thought could have made a difference is having the voice-overs recorded by Japanese-English actors, instead of straight American voices. The scene transitions are well-done and there are some moments of sheer tension: A blade, cut through the wall that covers the covert officer, positioned directly onto his cheek. The next slash is in his head.

The noirish atmosphere fits well with the dark mood of the tale. Residents are shown lighting and smoking foil-crinkled pieces sprinkled with crystal. There is one guardsmen in the building that is torn between loyalties, a fresh dynamic to insert into an otherwise straight-forward tale. Like the grind house movies of the 60s and Tarantino, this movie strives on imagining the most creatively possible deaths. Smashing a head into a splintered door, using peripheral objects as convenient stakes of death; It’s like a piranha movie with the piranhas replaced with sweaty, knife-bearing psychopaths. Chaos on each floor, and a heightening sense hopelessness, no end in sight.

The movie is very impressive in its editing techniques. Dark-lit halls reveal a mob of gun-wielding henchman; and then pounding, vibrating music as the bullets soar through the air. The filmmakers make use of slow motion, and an insanely intense shootout brilliantly constructed with a shaky cam to match the chaos of it all. At times, though, it cuts to so many places that appear so similar to the last that it becomes hard to keep track of who’s who. With the characters being introduced very briefly at the beginning, the impressions aren’t very long-lasting, but the magnificently choreographed fight skills shine through and clear. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, but such a thing doesn’t and shouldn’t exist: If you like skillfully designed action sequences and over-the-top violence, it’s safe to assume that you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Raid.