*** This review contains minor spoilers ***
Disney's Tomorrowland implores us to imagine a world without limitation. One where nothing is impossible, and all of our wildest dreams can come true. (Sounds very trademark Disney, doesn't it?) In the movie, that world exists in the form of a secret utopian society that has been built by only the brightest of minds. It is a place that exists free of politics and corruption, where people can push the boundaries of possibility as far as their imaginations will take them. Tomorrowland is a world meant to inspire, to evoke wonder, and to nurture creativity. It's a stunning shame then, that all I ever felt while watching the movie was sheer boredom. For all of its endless opportunity, Tomorrowland ends up being almost completely uninteresting. With Tomorrowland's lifeless fantasy world, bland characters, second-rate special effects, forced dialogue, and uninspired story, your own future will undoubtedly be better off if it doesn't involve ever watching this movie.
With the star talent of George Clooney, the directorial skill of Brad Bird, and the film's promising trailers, I must admit that I was caught off guard by Tomorrowland's lackluster execution. The greatest compliment I can give the film is that it's blandly passable, but in no area is it particularly good, engaging, or thought-provoking. For being a film that is about celebrating creativity, it sure is lacking in that regard. Tomorrowland itself feels like a poorly-realized pipe dream. It's supposed to be this wonderfully ingenious world of innovation, but nothing about it struck me as notably exciting or exceptional. From the surface, it looks like your typical futuristic metropolis, complete with jetpacks and flying cars. Beyond that, I couldn't really tell you what makes Tomorrowland so special, and I believe that's largely because we're given so little access to it. The movie treats us as outsiders to this place, and we spend the majority of the film tagging alongside the two main characters as they try to get in, but we're never given any sort of rewarding payoff once we get there. The world of Tomorrowland is practically nothing more than a shallow, fantasy world facade.
The movie starts off with an uncomfortably awkward recruitment video recorded by Tomorrowland's two main characters, Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), in which they argue over how they should tell their story. It's a poor attempt at humor with banter that feels entirely forced. If anything, this overly long introduction should have served as an early indicator that I was about to embark on a two-hour snooze-fest. From there we transition to each of their character's respective origin stories, and their separate journeys that led them to Tomorrowland.
Frank's story takes us to the 1964 World's Fair at Disneyland where as a young boy he's trying to enter with his faulty jetpack creation. His invention is rejected, but he still manages to catch the attention of a girl named Athena, who gives him a special pin with the Tomorrowland logo. Young Frank is ordered to secretly follow her in the theme park, leading to the "It's A Small World" ride, where he's magically transported to Tomorrowland. Here we're given our first glimpse of this futuristic world, but the entire sequence isn't nearly as fun or awe-inspiring as it should be. Frank takes to the skies in his newly-repaired jetpack and yet this significant moment somehow winds up feeling surprisingly empty. The movie fails to capture that youthful element of whimsy and excitement that comes from discovery.
Next we learn the much more recent story of Casey, an enthusiastic high school student with a passion for making the world a better place. She's the daughter of a struggling inventor who gets herself in trouble with the law after trying to sabotage the government's planned demolition of a NASA launch pad. Once bailed out of jail, Casey finds a mysterious Tomorrowland token among her belongings, and upon touching it, she is magically transported to a wheat field with the distinguished metropolis of Tomorrowland in the distance. However, when trying to reach this futuristic city, she finds that boundaries in the real world inhibit her in this golden future world, even though she cannot see them while holding the token. It's a novel idea, and one of the movie's better moments, but if you've seen the film's trailers then you've already seen most of how it plays out.
The trailers also spoiled Tomorrowland's best, and arguably only good action sequence, in which androids invade Frank's house in an attempt to capture Casey, who possesses that coveted Tomorrowland token. It's a well-crafted and exciting moment that demonstrates Brad Bird's talent, but it's also an unfortunately rare instance of entertainment in what is otherwise a dull film. As for the aforementioned androids, they're unbelievably cheesy and lame. These robot villains are sourced from the pinnacle of technological advancement, and yet they're remarkably derivative and hokey. The most original thing about them is that they blink their eyelids alternatively. That's some real cutting edge creativity right there! To top it off, Tomorrowland even throws in an android-to-human love story for good measure, because why not? Robots need love too, you guys!
You know what the most troubling thing about Tomorrowland is for me? The fact that Brad Bird was the very first choice to direct Star Wars: Episode 7 and he turned it down to make this movie instead. That is almost incomprehensible to me. Even more so when you consider that Tomorrowland features a comic book store scene that is literally brimming with Star Wars props. It's a decision that may come back to haunt him, but given how poor this movie is, I'm now actually thanking my lucky Death Stars that he's not the one making the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In the end, Tomorrowland is a movie that I don't feel any connection to. I wasn't captivated by the characters or the performances (not even George Clooney could save this one). The plot was a total bore. The sci-fi elements missed the mark. The visuals were mostly just decent, and tended to look more fake than impressive. The underlying message of hope was weak, and please, don't even get me started on that cliché "two wolves" story that was needlessly tacked in. Nothing about the movie ever reminded me of the actual Tomorrowland from Disneyland Park, nor did it share its level of creativity. The longer the movie went on, the more I wanted it to end. I can honestly tell you that I have had more enjoyment standing in line for two hours for a ride in Disneyland's Tomorrowland than I ever had while watching this movie. If this is how dull our ideal future is going to be, then sign me up for a front row ticket to the apocalypse where the future belongs to the mad!
Mad Max: Fury Road
*** This review contains minor spoilers ***
30 years and a fresh face later, the Mad Max series makes an extravagant and exhilarating return to theaters with Mad Max: Fury Road. Mel Gibson’s iconic wasteland warrior hero Max Rockatansky has been recast with the talented Tom Hardy, who gives us a more visceral and damaged portrayal of the character. Having endured years in the Hellish wasteland, Max now acts on his sole instinct of surviving. He's ravaged by the horrors of his past and has lost all semblance of hope in this bleak, post-apocalyptic future where water is scarce and mayhem is bountiful. Director and series creator George Miller does a masterful job in creating a remarkable and inventive world of chaos and destruction, with action sequences that are practically unparalleled. Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie that keeps its fat, irradiated foot firmly pressed on the gas pedal throughout almost its entire duration, resulting in a movie that's intense, action-packed, visually stunning, perfectly bizarre, wonderfully inventive, and wildly entertaining. It's only when the action slows down that the film starts to show signs of decay.
In Fury Road, we first encounter Max alone in the wasteland in what is about to be a very long and very bad day. He's quickly spotted and pursued by a pack of deathly-pale skinhead warriors known as Warboys. Outnumbered and easily captured, Max is taken to The Citadel, which serves as the home of the film's central conflict. The monstrously plagued Immortan Joe rules over The Citadel like a cult leader, promising eternal salvation to his army of Warboys who die fighting for him. The city is a place of great disparity, as Joe teases the peasants with water, while he enjoys the excesses of his precious resources. Even worse is that he's enslaved healthy, young women, known as his Five Wives, for the sake of producing his children.
This predicament doesn't sit well with the battle-hardened woman warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who serves under Immortan Joe's command. Tired of Joe's tyrannous ways, Imperator Furiosa betrays her leader during a routine gas run by venturing her armored war-rig offroad with the Five Wives secretly in tow. When news spreads that Furiosa is trying to escape and has taken the Wives with her, Joe and his army of Warboys feverishly follow in pursuit. This begins an epic, elaborate, and expertly crafted chase sequence that is absolutely outrageous and unmistakably brilliant.
Meanwhile, the enslaved Max ends up being inopportunely thrust into the action at full throttle, chained to the front of a car like a hood ornament. While Max's name may be in the title, make no mistake about it, this is Furiosa's story. Max is primarily just along for the ride, and doing whatever he can to survive. That's not to say that Max is simply an unfortunate onlooker to the events of the film, but he is given little in the way of dialogue and backstory, and is chained up for a substantial portion of Fury Road. Though it should be said that the movie as a whole is rather thin on story and dialogue and it merely glosses over the plot to retain its focus on the action, which is where the film really sets itself apart.
The majority of the Fury Road serves as this long, impressive chase sequence that miraculously continues to escalate as the film goes on, despite appearing to throw the whole kitchen sink at you right at the beginning. It's explosive, crazy, and jaw-droppingly awesome from the get-go, and yet believe me, it only gets bigger and better. Just wait until later when they start adding monster trucks, mini-guns, pole-vaulters, dirt bike-riding grannies, and a guitar flamethrower. It will leave you giddy with excitement. It's an amazing, heavy-metal, end-of-the-world spectacle that you just got to see to believe. What makes it all even more incredible is that so much of the action is achieved by practical effects, with real stunts and car crashes and explosions.
Unfortunately, in the rare moments when Fury Road lets its foot off the gas and slows down the action, it sometimes sputters. Take for instance, the film's climactic turning point when Furiosa's dreams are spoiled. She dramatically falls to her knees in the sand, reeling in despair, and screams out into the void. This pivotal moment should be the most powerful moment of the film, but for me it fell completely flat. The problem here is that I never felt a strong attachment to the characters. While I respect Furiosa and Max for their strength in this struggle, I also feel like I don't know much of anything about them, except that they're adept at surviving and have battled through Hell to get to this point. So while this brief interlude drags a bit, Max thankfully turns things back around and leads us right back into the heart of the action, where Fury Road is at its best.
Charlize Theron gives a commanding performance as Furiosa, easily establishing herself among the ranks of the great female action stars. She makes for an excellent partner to Tom Hardy's Max (though reportedly not so much on set). Hardy, on the other hand, puts in a solid performance, but I do take some issue with it. Truthfully, he just didn't quite feel like Mad Max. His take on the character is too rugged. He's missing the charm and likability that Mel Gibson's Max had. His character may be cool, but he's difficult to relate to, and feels remarkably reduced as he grunts throughout half of the movie without uttering a word. I can't help but feel that perhaps Hardy took Max's madness and survival instincts a little too far. The film also stars Nicholas Hoult as Nux, the Warboy that led Max into this whole mess, who expresses a much more appealing level of craziness. Whereas Nux is an energetic, lunatic cult follower, Max seems like he's just a few bolts short of becoming a mentally-deranged hobo, which might not bode so well for future films. Lastly, there's Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who has an exceptional screen presence by being imposing, frightening, and so over-the-top that he's kind of funny.
Visually and artistically, Mad Max: Fury Road is a triumphant success. It's more gorgeous than you would ever think possible for a decrepit, wasteland warzone. Considerable skill and attention to detail are demonstrated to bring beauty out of this decaying environment. It features first-rate cinematography and unbelievable creativity. You'll wonder how anyone ever thought of this stuff, but you'll be grateful they did. The characters all look outstanding, unique, and memorable. I particularly loved Furiosa's appearance with her prosthetic arm and grease-smeared warpaint. More impressive still is the menacing Immortan Joe with his mask and elaborate body armor. Fury Road similarly has beautiful special effects which greatly enhance the atmosphere as well as the film's many remarkable stunts. In all, this is sure to be one of the best looking films of the year.
Mad Max: Fury Road may not be a perfect film, but it makes for an explosive and unforgettable return to the series. It's truly a creative tour-de-force, with ingenious action, stellar design, and stunning visuals. It features brilliantly choreographed fights and chases, and some of the coolest movie stunts I've ever seen. The movie doesn't always get the emotional punch it's aiming for, and it has its share of awkward moments, but it sure makes a lasting impression with its intense, adrenaline-pumping theatrics. It might be a little too strange and twisted for some (though it's relatively tame for being rated R), however, those who can handle the wasteland are sure to find a film that is deserving of respect and admiration. While I have my gripes with Hardy's portrayal of Max, I know that I, for one, still can't wait to see what the future holds for everybody's favorite road warrior.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Two years after the events of The Avengers, Captain America is still struggling to adapt to a modern world that is becoming increasingly governed by technology. Being a man placed out of time, he has to accept that the old values that he once knew have changed, while also coming to terms with the fact that good and evil are no longer so plainly black and white. Therein, the people of today are consciously willing to sacrifice some of their freedom for a better sense of security. The good Captain is troubled by this submission of basic liberties and is well aware of its potentially terrible ramifications. Captain America: The Winter Soldier explores these concepts of command and control, imploring us to question who we can trust and at what expense.
The movie plays with a lot of interesting and socially relevant ideas, especially in an age of heightened national security. While Captain America trusts in the general morality and goodness of man, he finds that most of the world has grown fearful and no longer believes in the common good. But are countermeasures that could jeopardize innocent lives really the solution? Or is there a better way? These questions are fundamental to The Winter Soldier, although when coupled with the film's ambitious agenda that includes setting up future events for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fast-paced plot regrettably becomes overly complicated and congested.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier plays out like a fast-paced spy thriller where Captain and his companions are trying to unravel a large-scale conspiracy that threatens the entire globe. It leads us on a wild good chase in search of the villainous Winter Soldier. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been in any standalone Marvel movie to-date, and yet unfortunately, the emotional weight behind these events is lacking. The Winter Soldier plays things too safe, resulting in a movie that’s predictable, and egregiously cheesy and over-the-top. As a viewer, I found myself increasingly disengaged from the film the longer it went on, leaving me in a frustrating position where I wasn’t able to enjoy the movie as much as I wanted to. Despite how great certain aspects of The Winter Soldier may be, it’s frequently reduced to being too ridiculous to be taken seriously, or to truly stand out from the crowded pack of conventional superhero movies.
It's a real shame, too, because a lot of The Winter Soldier is quite good. Yet it pushed me to the point where I had had enough. There were just too many close calls -- too many improbable, overly-dramatic, last-possible-second escapes. It becomes easy to dismiss the dangers in the story when everything is cleaned up ever-so-neatly, time and time again. It takes away from any genuine sense of struggle and eliminates any fear of failure. The result is that it made it hard for me to care about what was happening, as the drama of the movie was never anything more than a tease.
Frankly, though, I find this to be the case with many Marvel films. If the incessant teasing of danger is not an issue for you, then by all means, I'm sure you're going to have a great time with this one. After all, the action sequences are undeniably impressive in both scale and visual effects. One of the film's highlights is a long overdue action scene starring Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. It's a wildly entertaining car chase and it concludes with a fantastic and chilling introduction to The Winter Soldier. Captain America also has his share of standout moments, including an awesome elevator brawl, and also his stealthy infiltration of a cargo ship. Though as the film moves on, the action ventures into truly ridiculous territory, even for a superhero movie I'm afraid. So as the stakes increased, my level of belief decreased, reaching the point where it became tiresome to care about at all.
It also doesn't help that the movie's central character is somewhat difficult to relate to. While Captain America was one of my favorite characters in The Avengers, I found him to be largely uninteresting this time around. He's still a swell guy, but rather than appearing as a courageous and honorable leader, Chris Evans' performance has him looking mostly stoic and dumb. He also lacks chemistry with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, leading to some occasionally awkward dialogue. Fortunately, Anthony Mackie makes a strong debut performance as ex-soldier Sam Wilson. His only downside is that he all-too-quickly transforms into the superhero Falcon. He ends up literally jumping right into the action alongside Captain, jarringly out of nowhere. Nick Fury gets a good amount of screen time, which is a pleasant change, and Robert Redford gives a solid performance as Alexander Pierce, a senior representative of SHIELD. There's also the titular Winter Soldier, who ends up being one of Marvel's strongest movie villains to date. Not only does he look cool, but he's intriguing and even fairly frightening.
There's undoubtedly more good than bad in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but if like me you're growing weary of Marvel's mode of operation, then you'll probably feel similarly frustrated by the film. While there's plenty to respect and appreciate in The Winter Soldier, I walked away from the film feeling that all of its coolest moments were largely overshadowed by its more cheesy moments. Additionally, the film fumbles with its emotional aspects, and thereby fails to capture the severity of its own chaotic circumstances. The stakes never feel even remotely as large as the film makes them out to be. However, if you can look past the overblown action and predictability (and many of you will), then you may find this to be a pretty solid superhero movie after all.
5 Minute Movie Guy
I'm just a movie crazed dude, with a love for Tom Cruise.