Movie Reviews: Super 8, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, Green Lantern

Well, I’ve seen three speculative fiction movies in the past week–one great one and two which I think were really good. I enjoyed all three. Two were in 3D, in both cases unnecessary and just a jab by Hollywood for more money. But regardless, I recommend them to genre film fans and general audiences as well.

“Super 8” is an homage to the kind of movies Spielberg made in the lates 70s and throughout the 80s, the movies I grew up on like “Goonies,” “E.T.,” “Close Enounters Of The Third Kind,” etc. A charming story about a group of friends (kids) who witness a train accident while trying to make a home made horror movie and uncover a government conspiracy involving aliens, missing pets, and military coverups going back decades. Their hometown is overrun and almost destroyed but the kids and two of their parents, fight against the destructive forces both manmade and alien and struggle to save the town.

This movie had good characterization, good humor, warm family moments, strong special effects and a good plot. The ending was a bit muddy and left some plot holes, such as did the kids finish the movie, which was a driving motivation for one of the characters, and does the government get a comeuppance? Also, what was the alien doing with the humans he hung in his lair? The ones freed seemed to recover quickly, what were his plans for them? Why were the dogs all found in other counties? They ran in fear? The alien sent them away? These plot points were really left mostly hazy. Sure the main government baddie died and the alien they held captive escaped, but there wasn’t as much satisfaction at seeing that rubbed in their face because the movie ended there without a little closure scene. I also felt the opening train crash was so over the top that it made everything else kind of pale by comparison and become almost anti-climactic. Yes, it was the pivotal moment for the story, but it no other moments matched it at being spectacular.

The movie captured its setting, the late 70s in a small coal mining town, very well, in my opinion. It was reminescent of “October Sky” in that sense. It also had the combination of heart warming family moments and young love which really played real and were very relatable for the rest of us. Lots of “I’ve been there moments,” including the dreams of the circle of kids and their interactions with each other, their families and the community. The military guys tended to be a bit cardboard, as they often are in these kinds of films, but they were not in any scenes where a central, developed character didn’t appear. Even some of the potentially cheesy moments with the alien and horror aspects were well handled. A few of the twist and turns also weren’t what I expect them to be. Hands down one of the best movies I’ve seen in years and one of the few I didn’t mind paying current ticket prices to see.

I didn’t know what to expect from “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The last two movies were jumbled masses of over ambitious plotting and subplotting which left me less satisfied than the original franchise launching film. I expected this one to be more of the same over the top style, but I think the filmmakers wisely stripped this one down a bit. The plot, a race to find the Fountain Of Youth, was really kept in focus and the few subplots were far less in number than the previous films.  Johnny Depp played Captain Jack Sparrow with his usual flair and comedic touches and the character was less cartoonish than it ought to be after so many outings with such a similar lead.

The Zombie stuff was actually underplayed this time around and that was a nice change. I got bored with that after the first three films and enjoyed seeing more human on human pirates and less of the underworld magic themes. They did have some of it, of course, but even Barbossa got a but humanized by losing his leg and seeming thus less invincible. Rush chewed the scenery as usual but it was amusing watching him try and sell himself as part of the Upper Crust establishment and interact with characters who would ordinarily hold him in great disdain.

Keith Richards was fun as Jack Sparrow’s father and Penelope Cruz did well as Sparrow’s long lost love interest/nemesis. Altogether, I thought this was an enjoyable entry, even though none of the “Pirates” movies have ever been strong on making sense or even caring if they do.

The third film I saw was “Green Lantern.” I was always intrigued by Green Lantern as a kid. He was a different kind of hero, with real science fiction elements even more so than many of the other League of Justice members. He was portrayed as a bit older (at least to my childlike eyes) with his gotee and haircut, but he was amongst my favorites in the cartoon League and one I always wanted to know more about.

This film is really an origin story, telling the tale of how Green Lantern is chosen and comes into understanding and accepting his calling. Ryan Reynolds adeptly handles the lead. Having first discovered him in “Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place” and only seen him since in comedies, I wasn’t sure if he’d make it too campy for my taste, but although there were a couple campy moments, the humor was well handled and he was given strong dramatic moments. The character was well rounded with real weaknesses of character and self-confidence which he had to overcome. The other Lanterns were more cliched but none of them had much screen time. The main baddy Paralox was also really underdeveloped but Hector, the scientist pawn of Paralox who was a childhood friend of Reynold’s Hal Jordon character had multiple dimensions and even some real sympathetic moments with his difficult, judging father. It’s hard to grow up in the shadow of such a man, terminally misunderstood by family and even friends and never feeling respected or appreciated. A lot of geeks and others can relate to that and it was handled well.

Hal Jordan’s initial cockiness is also played well as well as his tendency to abandon people and situations he cares about when it requires too much responsibility or work for him. Having to make the choice to take on responsibility for saving his planet forces him to rise to the occasion or risk the lives of the woman he loves and the planet he calls home in ways which challenge him and force him to dig deep to succeed.

The big weakness for this film was the 3D was underutilized. So many great opportunities to just blow me away went by with either weak 3D or 2D. I literally have to think hard to remember any spectacular 3D moments and other than the scenes of flying on the Lantern’s planet, I can’t think of any. I also think the story wrapped up a little too neatly with the final confrontation not having enough twists and turns. It was like Jordan just knew what to do with pieces planted earlier. He didn’t have to think very hard or improvise as he went. The odds were supposedly incredible but it was all too neatly handled for my taste. This is where filmmaker and studio’s desire to keep the film a certain length may have caused them to sacrifice storytelling–a weakness all too often the case in these films today.

The film is visually stunning with great aliens and special effects. I’d like to see some of the various alien races developed more in fact in future sequels. I also felt the action scenes played relatively well and the characters had good chemistry, although the damsel in distress heroine could have benefitted from more character development.

Still I recommend all three for people who like genre films. “Super 8” in particular is not to be missed.

For what it’s worth…