Friday, July 07, 2017

What I Watched In June

It took Warner Brothers and DC Comics at least two decades too long to finally create a Wonder Woman feature film. Easily the most obviously commercial superhero idea for the cinema since 1989's BATMAN success and they couldn't be bothered to sit down and figure it out. I can guarantee you that even a bad Wonder Woman film would have made a boatload of cash and it seems that everyone not involved in the decision making process at Warners knew this. Madness.

The good news is that the new WONDER WOMAN (2017) is actually a very good film and easily one of the best of the year so far. For the backstory of the character they have chosen one of the more straightforward versions i.e. the one most people are vaguely familiar with from the old television series. The timeline is shifted to the first World War from the second which doesn't change anything important but adds a sense of nostalgia to the tale. Maybe it's just me but there have been so many films about WWII that having this one set in the earlier war makes it more interesting. It places the two American characters closer to the volatile period of the 1800's making their friendship all the more fascinating. Of course, it helps that Chief seems to be a sly presentation of Apache Chief from the old Super Friends cartoon and part of the pantheon of other gods Diana will meet in her time among men. I can't wait to see what they do with his character in future WW stories.

The only real problem I had with the film was that the story they tell is simply a retread of the story of the first Marvel Captain America film. The shift to WWI is a way to hide that fact but once you recognize the plot it's a little hard to not see the parallels - especially when the Steve Trevor third act exit kind of shoves it in your face. I've read a lot of bitching about the final battle between WW and Ares which I find to be silly. What did you expect a battle between a god and Wonder Woman to look like? This is a comic book film, after all. I'm very happy with this film and it just adds to my anticipation for the Justice League movie.

I often speculate about what the reaction to a particular film might have been if it were released in the age of the internet. Would fanboy rage have scuttled the success of certain films that were huge blockbusters in their day? My favorite pre-internet fan rage was the rage squeal heard around the world when it was announced that Michael Keaton had been cast as Batman back in the late 1980's. Comic book geeks reacted as if they had been kicked in the face by this choice and it wasn't until the dark edged film came out that they (mostly) shut up and enjoyed themselves. But now imagine that all those screaming fanboys had gone onto public forums and made a massive stink about their opinion. Imagine that those negative opinions had been out there for months and part of a large discussion/argument about this casting choice in which these people had spent a lot of time backing up their feelings with hundreds of words typed condemning the film sight unseen. Imagine the emotional investment these people would have in seeing this film fail so that they could be proven right.

Universal has been trying to find a way to bring their incredibly lucrative monster films back to big screens for years. The misbegotten Mummy films of Stephen Sommers were profitable but were much more copies of the Indiana Jones movies than anything resembling the dark tales of the classic 1930's and 40's. The 2010 WOLFMAN film was very good but it's graphic violence and dark tone put off enough of the audience that it didn't make enough money to spark sequels. 2014's DRACULA UNTOLD was an interesting attempt to start a new round of monster stories but it was a little too generic to fuel the interest needed for a franchise.

Now we have what is going to be the first in a series of big budget monster films and Universal has learned a couple of lessons from the franchise successes of the last decade. First, cast movie stars and second, set up your next movie in your current one. To those ends THE MUMMY (2017) stars Tom Cruise (cue fanboy rage) and Russell Crowe while making a larger universe of creatures central to the film's story.

Of course, Universal attempting to bring their monster ideas to the screen for a new generation has been met with the expected fan-rage. A huge subset of these people will not be happy with anything done to resurrect this idea so it doesn't really matter what is done, they will whine. But others actually give voice to the concern that the governing concept being used is too much of the action adventure mold rather than the horror genre. This complaint I can understand to a degree as I despised the Sommers Mummy films as the broadly comic action disasters they were. For me it would be important that - if we were not going to be allowed to have violent period werewolf films - that these new Universal films somehow manage to avoid the snarky childishness of the Sommers films.

I'm happy to report that THE MUMMY (2017) is a pretty darned fun modern day action adventure film with more than enough horror elements to push it into the dark area I was hoping to see. Tom Cruise plays his typical arrogant jerk who finds himself in the middle of a supernatural nightmare that gets him killed, resurrected and central to a plot that might destroy his soul. The film is well paced and lays out it's ideas very effectively introducing the darker concepts as it goes along. There is humor in the film but, although in one scene it teeters on the juvenile, I found it actually funny instead of cringe inducing. The movie borrows from past films I love (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, LIFEFORCE) but folds these steals into its story well enough for me enjoy them and not be annoyed. The introduction of Crowe's Jekyll character adds a nice tone of world building although I think the frequency with which he has to take his medication is terrifying. The mummy villainess is a wonderful creation both from the casting of the lovely Sofia Boutella and the visualizing of her powers being manifested. It is in these sequences that this movie makes its claim as a horror movie and I think it succeeds quite well.

But, of course, we live in the age of the internet. This film was judged BAD before it hit the screens and condemned to the scrapheap without a chance at big time success. I suppose that Universal's Dark Universe will limp along on momentum for at least on more film but fan-rage has done it's work again. We're long past the days when a film was judged on what it is instead of what a loud fanbase expects. Now we have to make up our minds about a movie before we see it and then, to avoid being called traitor, stick to that prejudgment regardless of anything else. THE MUMMY will become another in that long line of movies like THE WOLFMAN (2010) that finds it's audience years too late to matter while the fanboys go off in search of their next outrage to decry. After all, someone has to protect us from liking the wrong thing.   


KILLER FISH (1979) - 7 (rewatch) 
WAX MASK (1997 )- 3 (rewatch) 
WONDER WOMAN (2017) - 9 
THE MUMMY (2017) - 7 
KILLER SNAKES (1974) - 3 
WHITE LINE FEVER (1975) - 7 (truckers vs big business) 
SANTO VS THE RIDERS OF TERROR (1970) - 4 (El Santo in the Old West fighting lepers and bandits) 
SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949) - 8 (excellent film noir) 
HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1964) - 5 (watched the Italian original version) 
LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA (1969) - 5 (Satan's Doll) (mediocre giallo in a castle)
FIRESTARTER (1984) - 4 (rewatch) 
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN FABIAN (1951) - 6 (solid Errol Flynn/Vincent Price tale set in New Orleans) 
SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) - 7 (extended edition) 
SHADOW ON THE LAND (1968) - 6 (TV movie about a fascist America)
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) - 7  (rewatch)
CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)- 6 (rewatch) 
UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979) - 3 (terrible killer Corman produced giant fish film) 
PLEASURE CRUISE (1931) - 6 (fun little pre-code tale of infidelity) 
THE SECRET SIX (1931) - 6 (bootlegging gangsters - amazing cast!)
THE DOLL SQUAD (1973) - 5 


Randall Landers said...

Fan rage is just so damn pathetic. Months before its release, the fan boys were bashing Wonder Woman as well. Where are those idiots now? Telling everyone how bad Justice League will be. Ridiculous. Wish they'd just shut the f up.

Stephen D. Sullivan said...

Totally agree about the Mummy. Good film, possibly crippled by fan expectations and unreasoning rage. Not hard to find reasons to dislike a film when you've decided you won't like it in advance. But I thought it quite a good attempt. (I didn't like Wolfman, because it was far too depressing with no likable characters. Drac was entertaining but not suitable as a basis for a franchise -- unless it was a Fist o' Bats franchise.)