Posted on February 12, 2014


Black Lightning (2009)

Timur Bakmambetov is not a guaranteed win. I loved Night Watch, but the sequel Day Watch is only okay. I really enjoy Wanted, even on repeated viewings, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter just wasn’t good.

Well, Black Lightning is another winner. Everyone who made The Amazing Spider-Man (see below) should be forced to watch this movie over and over until they learn.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, a corrupt bureaucrat redirects some scientific work to dig under Moscow for diamonds. The experimental gear doesn’t work, and the people on the project barely escape with their lives.

Fast forward twenty years or so, and engineers doing construction uncover the old mine works. They have no idea what they’ve found, but they haul the stuff out and sell it. One of the items is a Soviet-era sedan.

A guy buys it for his son, who finds the car desperately uncool. The son needs money to impress a girl, and starts using the car to make flower deliveries all over Moscow. One day, stuck in traffic, he starts pounding on the car in frustration…and triggers the car’s ability to fly.

Turns out some of the scientists hid unauthorized experiments in the car, and it is an sci-fi marvel of a vehicle.

Of course, the corrupt bureaucrat is now a millionaire who will do anything to get the tech in the car. Of course, the kid’s dad refuses to help the bureaucrat’s goons, and they kill him. Of course, the bureaucrat winds up threatening the girl that our hero likes.

So what? It hits its marks every time, and tells a thrilling story with exciting visuals. This is a movie clearly made by someone who believed in the power of fantasy to tell morality tales.

Our DVD came with subtitles and with dubbing, so you won’t have to suffer with whichever one you dislike.

See this.

Gantz: Perfect Answer (2011)

This is a sequel to a 2010 Japanese superhero movie called Gantz. Apparently Netflix sent me the sequel before sending me the original.

The sequel was so boring and impenetrable that I cancelled the original from my list.

In this movie, characters die and awaken in a room empty except for other people and a black sphere. The black sphere presents text and images, giving the characters missions to kill aliens masquerading as humans. Killing aliens earns the characters points. When they get to 100 points, they can either retire, or bring one of their teammates back from the dead.

I should probably check with some of my friends to see if they have translations of the manga on which this was based, because it’s a cool idea. I mean, how do you know your targets are aliens? Where did the sphere come from? Is this some kind of shared hallucination created by the random firing of neurons as the brain dies?

Sadly, the movie completely ignores these kinds of questions and treats the entire premise as literal fact. The characters are interchangeable. The action is filmed well, and easy to follow, but it’s nothing new. It’s not visually interesting (among the many drawbacks of costuming your characters in uniforms), and we don’t care since we don’t care about the characters.

Don’t see this.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

I like Matthew Vaughn’s work. He was a producer on Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch; Layer Cake; Stardust; and Kick-Ass. He directed the last three, as well as this entry in the X-Men franchise.

If you haven’t seen it, this is an origin story, set in 1962. You can tell the date by how heavily the Cuban Missile Crisis figures into the storyline. Professor X has yet to found the Xavier Institute for Gifted Young People, which is a cover for his team of mutant superheroes.

Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, etc) and Vaughn were two of six writers on this movie, which does a good job of blending tensions. In fact, what makes the movie work is the complex dynamics. Don’t be intimidated, though. I mean the dynamics are more complex than most movies, not that they are difficult to follow.

Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) wants to bring mutants into mainstream society. Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), because of his experiences in a Nazi death camp, believes mutants should prepare to fight the inevitable genocide against them. Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) believes that if he initiates a nuclear war then the only survivors will be mutants like him, the next evolutionary step for mankind.

Caught up in that three-way struggle is the rest of humanity, various mutants recruited by one side or the other, and the CIA (personified by Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt).

I thought this was an excellent film even without the X-Men brand attached to it. It’s not perfect, but it’s well worth watching.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

This, on the other hand, was awful. The writers, director, and Marvel Entertainment staff should all be beaten with newspapers until they learn.

The special-effects and the acting are all top-notch. The problem is with the modernization and updating of the characters and story.

In the comic books, Peter Parker is a gifted academic, far ahead of his high-school peers. Physically, he’s shorter and skinnier than his classmates. He gets picked on all the time. There is nothing “cool” about Peter Parker. His parents are dead, and he lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Stan Lee is on record as saying that he wanted Peter Parker to be a loser, so that the contrast between his normal life and his superhero life was heightened.

As Spider-Man, Peter is strong and agile. He’s quick-witted. He’s free to do whatever he wants, and he chooses to help people. One of my favorite comic book moments comes from the X-Men: Age of Apocalypse series. Professor X is talking with another hero about Spider-Man and Daredevil. Looking over the epic events of the series, he reflects that in the minds of the common people, Spider-Man and Daredevil matter more than the Avengers or anyone else. They matter because everyday they are down in the streets protecting the common people from crime.

This movie gets that completely wrong. They try to make Peter edgy and cool, and he comes off as a dick. The one time he sticks up for a classmate against a bully is not enough to make him sympathetic. Taking care of other people is completely secondary to his hunt for vengeance.

In case I’m not clear: This movie fails at telling a good transformation story about someone overcoming obstacles to become a hero. Whether or not you are familiar with the comic books is irrelevant.

Yes, there’s a sequel coming, no doubt because the Mighty Marvel Juggernaut is behind it. I say that because this movie did really poorly at the box office, and there’s no other reason for a sequel to get a green light.

I feel bad that I gave any of my money at all to this film. Please don’t give any of yours.

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Posted in: Movies