Movie Review ~ Men in Black: International

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson

Director: F. Gary Gray

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: There are some movies you can’t wait to review. Once they are over you run home to your computer or laptop and hit the keys.  If the movie is good, the copy practically writes itself because you’ve been thinking about the specific points to make and how you want to let your readers know this is a film to keep your eye out for.  For bad movies, it’s often easier to pull your thoughts together on what to say but harder to pen a review that’s more than just a tear down of the production.  Then there are movies like Men in Black: International which is so instantly forgettable I had to prioritize its review for fear I would forget the movie entirely.

Arriving seven years after Men in Black III seemingly wrapped up the big screen adventures of the special agents tasked with protecting Earth from alien threats, Men in Black: International was originally intended to be a crossover with the gang from 21 Jump Street.  When that plan failed to materialize, the film went ahead as its own entity, spun-off from the original trilogy and, though retaining a few characters/creatures, largely telling its own story.  The result is a tedious time-waster by even the most generous of summer standards, with no one stepping up to make the case this was a franchise that needed to be rebooted.

Ever since she was a child,  Molly (Tessa Thompson, Avengers: Endgame) has been trying to identify the secret government agency that visited her house as a child and used a neuralyzer on her parents, wiping their memory clean regarding an alien encounter but forgetting to clear her as well.  She knows she saw a small furry blue creature and, though everyone tells her she’s crazy in the years that follow, is intent on finding out where the agency is located and joining their ranks.  By lucky happenstance (this is a 105 minute movie, after all), Molly is in the right place at the right time and finds what she’s looking for, eventually convincing Agent O (Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks) to take her on as a probationary agent.  The film races past any potential interest we have in how the agency trains its field agents, opting instead to just show Molly (now Agent M) suited up and ready to go, her boot camp days long behind her.

For her first mission, she’s dispatched to the London branch of the Men in Black, led by High T (Liam Neeson, The Grey) and her plucky curiosity gets her paired with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth, Vacation) on a routine protection detail that turns into a fight to save the Earth from an evil force known as The Hive.  To make matters worse, aside from a nosey co-worker (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) with a grudge against Agent H, there’s a mole in the London branch so H and M have to stay one step ahead of a traitor on the inside who is following their every move.  The set-up gives way to a plodding second act where the agents sorta make good on the “international” promise of the title but largely go up against CGI villans that are rarely menacing, let along convincingly real.

Though paired together well in Thor: Ragnarok, Hemsworth and Thompson have awkward onscreen chemistry that goes above and beyond the characters initial dislike/distrust of each other.  Hemsworth in particular looks like he’s coasting on fumes for much of the picture and all that positive support he built up in his Avengers run evaporates with his listless performance.  The usually interesting Tessa Thompson also strikes out too, but she’s mostly undone by a script that doesn’t provide any depth to her character.  It’s like she never existed prior to the opening of the film and while that makes for a great MIB agent, it makes for a fairly hollow character we’re supposedly going to be rooting for.  You get the feeling Emma Thompson and Neeson recognized how sloppy this whole thing was and slowly started to back away from the movie because they dissolve into the background whenever possible.  Normally I’m all for a Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman) appearance but her cameo as a zebra-wigged arms dealer that’s all arms is absolutely the time those with small bladders can get up and go to the bathroom.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) along with Iron Man screenwriters Matt Holloway and Art Marcum either never saw the original Men in Black films or did and just didn’t care about maintaining the quirky charm of the preceding films.  Especially in the debut film, there was a B-movie feel to the proceedings that helped make it’s shlockier alien creature elements a little easier to swallow.  The new film is straight-forward filmmaking 101 with little creative pride taken in anything from action sequences to creature design to 11th hour plot twists.  They say some movies are taken for the paycheck and this is one where everyone must have needed a new pool in their backyard.

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny.

Stars: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I can still recall waiting in line at the Eden Prairie East movie theater back in 1990 on the day the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released. An unexpected hit at the box office, I remember the film being exactly what I anticipated, filled with the necessary laughs and stylized butt-kicking action by our reptilian heroes. Followed by two sequels and one strange quasi-reboot in the form of an animated endeavor that I seem to have totally blocked out, the Turtles were comic book creations of 1984 and have demonstrated staying power through the years in television series and video games. However, it seemed like another big screen take on the ninjas would languish in the planning stages forever.

Originally intended for release in 2012, Paramount’s Michael Bay (Transformers: Age of Extinction) produced, Jonatha Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) directed live-action reboot is the stuff that nostalgia killing dreams are made out of. I’m sure the concept of talking teenage ninja turtles has always been as silly as it sounds but there’s something about this labored effort that drives that point home over and over again, leaving even the most engaged of TMNT fan audiences in a bit of a stupor.

Producer Michael Bay has made nice with his former Transformers star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), putting to bed the rift that resulted in her being replaced in that franchise.   He casts her here as plucky news reporter April O’Neil but Fox comes across more as weather girl material than investigative journalist. Delivering each of her lines as if she’s ordering Chinese takeout, Fox’s misplaced emotions are truly the mystery that needs solving.

I’m convinced Will Arnett (The Nut Job) and William Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) signed up for this film to prove once and for all they aren’t the same person…why else would these two usually decent actors ham it up in roles that should have been filled by soap stars more on Fox’s level? The normally attentive Arnett can’t make lemonade with his lemon role and Fichtner simply gives up two lines in.

While the Turtles themselves are nicely rendered and given genial voice by three unknowns and Johnny Knoxville (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), they are now almost too life-like. At least when they were in the rubber suits during the 90s there was arguably more of the kind of required suspension of disbelief those early movies went the distance with. In 2014, they just come across as creepy.

Perhaps the problem lies in the overall scale of the film. Built as a mega-million dollar 3D would-be blockbuster, the campy, wise-cracking nature of the turtles is all but obliterated within a soggy script that mixes a slackly delivered origin story with tired plot points liberally lifted from numerous other comic book flicks. The whole dastardly scheme enacted by Shredder and his Foot Clan bears such a close resemblance to that of The Amazing Spider-Man that Marvel Studios should be calling their lawyers.

Still, a lawsuit from Marvel would be the most exciting thing that could happen for the film. Supposedly more in line with the recent comics, aside from an admittedly spectacular chase sequence down a snowy mountainside there’s precious little happening here that would be of interest to anyone outside of curious die-hard Turtle fans. Add to that unimpressive digital effects and a ho-hum re-imagined Shredder that reads more like Edward HuntingKnifeHands and you have a late summer dud.

It’s truly time to let these teenage reptiles graduate, just as so many of their fans have grown up in the 30 years since they made their debut.

The Silver Bullet ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Release Date: August 8, 2014

Thoughts: I had to resist the urge to just publish the words that accompany the theme song for the classic animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as my review of the first teaser trailer for producer Michael Bay’s reboot. Though a big screen animated restage of the franchise was attempted in 2007, it didn’t catch on like everyone had hoped…until Bay swooped in and brought the turtles over to Paramount Pictures. Directed by Bay protégé Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), I’m surprised how fondly I’m reacting to our first glimpse of the redesigned turtles who work with reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) to combat The Shredder (William Fichtner, The Lone Ranger) and save the city. The humor looks to be on par with the original 80’s films while the action/effects/make-up is modern times all the way. Hope this is a nice retro ride for fans like myself weaned on the TMNT movies, animated series, and Nintendo video game.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Iron Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Leslie Bibb, Bill Smitrovich, Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Though highly successful with their Spider-Man films, Marvel Studios had long tried to get a solid franchise started around The Avengers and it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that things started to click.  After failing to start a fire with 2003’s Hulk, the studio treaded carefully until they saw an opportunity with Robert Downey Jr. to really take things to the next level.  The end result was truly the start of something great and five years later the character and the franchise are raking in the big bucks all over the world.

Iron Man was one of the comic book heroes that wasn’t much on my radar when the film opened in May of 2008 and I didn’t really get why the film was so highly anticipated.  Aside from seeing the character on the big screen, many fans knew that this really was the first film in a new series of planned superhero films that would culminate in a gathering of The Avengers.  All eyes were on the film when it opened and when it was so well received, a collective sigh of relief was heard from fans and studio bosses alike.

The success of the film can really be attributed to Downey Jr.’s well formed portrayal of mega-billionaire Tony Stark who becomes Iron Man after nearly losing his life in a terrorist plot that takes up a good 40 minutes at the start of the film.  These crucial 40 minutes have a lot of mileage to cover and for me the movie just skimmed along at the beginning.  When Stark returns to his life after a spectacular break-out is when the film really started to jive in my eyes with the script allowing more interaction with Stark and his surroundings as he hones a new idea about where his life is headed.

Most definitely an origin story that seems like more of a set-up for the films that would follow it, there’s still no denying that there’s a lot of excitement to be had in this first installment of Iron Man.  Downey Jr. is pretty excellent as the flawed anti-hero that comes into his own over the course of the movie.  There’s nice support from Paltrow and even if her role isn’t as developed as it would be in future films, she has a great rapport with Downey Jr. that feels right.  Director Favreau takes a small role for his own and one wonders why he even bothered because there’s not much for him to do.  Knowing now that Don Cheadle would replace Howard as Stark’s best friend, it’s hard to give the peformance much of a review…only to say that Cheadle is much more suited to the role than Howard was.  Future Oscar-winner Bridges is the very essence of movie villainy but there’s a curious lack of danger as the film thunders toward a conclusion.

For an introduction to Tony Stark and the Iron Man world, this is a very entertaining film…even with some bugs in the system.