Uncharted

Uncharted

By: Kevin Jordan

Inter-National Treasure.

Given the number of video games released every year, it’s surprising to see how few of them are adapted into movies. Ever since Super Mario Bros. debuted as the first video game adaptation / cow pie in 1993, it makes sense that studios would be hesitant to make more movies from video games. Well, except Sony Pictures, who have produced approximately eighty-three Resident Evil movies.

Since 2017, there have been a total of ten video game movies (two of them are Resident Evil flicks, in case you were wondering), two of which nobody saw or even heard about (including me). Personally, I still say the latest Tomb Raider is the best adaptation and it’s not particularly close. Now we have Uncharted, a very similar game to Tomb Raider, including a very similar plot. Considering that, plus Tom Holland playing the hero, Nathan Drake, I had high hopes going into the film. And by high hopes I mean not something to avoid stepping in.

(SPOILERS – I won’t spoil anything the trailers didn’t already spoil.)

Nathan Drake hasn’t seen his brother Sam in years. Ever since Sam fled out of the window of their dorm room at a private school after being expelled for breaking into the school’s museum when Nate was twelve, Nate only hears from Sam via postcards from around the world. On that fateful day, we are told that explorer Ferdinand Magellan wasn’t sailing around the world just for prestige, but rather was searching for gold. Because of course he was. Only school children believe the nonsense we are fed about the age of exploration being about exploration and not about plundering other civilizations for gold and slaves.

Back in the present, Nate is tending bar when Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) presents Nate with an opportunity to go find the treasure that Magellan may or may not have found. Nate initially rebuffs Sully but changes his mind after breaking into Sully’s apartment and seeing the same map that Sam and he were going to steal from their school’s museum so many years ago. Now the movie can actually start, by which I mean you can press the ‘start’ button on your controller.

If you have any doubts about this movie being adapted from a video game, the opening scene will erase those doubts immediately. And, that’s only if you haven’t already seen the trailers. We meet Nate coming to consciousness, his foot tangled in the webbing of a string of crates trailing out of the back of a currently flying cargo plane. He proceeds to parkour his way back to the plane via the string of crates while fending off evil henchmen and the scene ends with him being knocked back out of the plane by a car, cutting to twelve-year old Nate. This scene couldn’t be more videogame-esque short of Nate disappearing down a giant green pipe.

Once we get to the treasure hunt part of the film, you will feel like you are watching National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, and The Goonies all at the same time. There are clues leading to clues leading to more clues. The clues require an in-depth knowledge of history and symbols related to the treasure. There is a heist of an historical artifact from a well-secured building that is a key to finding the treasure. There is silly banter. There is a hot girl, Chloe (Sophia Taylor Ali), who teams up with Nate and Sully. There are a bunch of well financed bad guys who are always just one step behind the good guys. There are even pirate ships in a cave. The only things missing are Josh Brolin and a skeleton with an eye patch.

And you know what? It’s a fun movie, as well it should be. If you thought the Frogger-crate scene was fun, just wait until you get to the part with a helicopter chase scene featuring flying, 500-year old Spanish ships (also spoiled by the trailers). Yeah, I was laughing. It was hilarious and exactly the kind of scene that would be in a video game.

I also enjoyed the performances from the cast, including Antonio Banderas and Tati Gabrielle playing the lead villains. Everyone performed their roles to the best that one-dimensional video game characters can be portrayed, though Holland did stray dangerously close to falling into his Spider-Man character a couple of times (I blame this on the director, Ruben Fleischer, but I’m also okay with it). I thought the interactions between Holland, Wahlberg, and Ali worked really well, enough that I want to see them do another one of these films.

Overall, it’s a movie I liked because it appealed to the gamer in me, while also appealing to the film critic in me, by embracing its roots without tripping all over itself, like most video game movies tend to do. Sure, it was borderline ridiculous at times, but it never came off as trying too hard or trying too little. Like with the video games, I’m in for a sequel.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, not even a doubloon.

Mile 22

Mile 22

By: Kevin Jordan

Just brutal.

As I have been thinking about what to say about Mile 22, I spent some time perusing other reviews to see what other critics have been saying.  Of note, the early-review embargo for Mile 22 was not lifted until Thursday, so pickings were slim.  The initial consensus was that the movie is a brutal action flick with far too much action and that director Peter Berg edited the film – especially the action scenes – like a rabid chipmunk on crack.  Also, that the film is a species of shit.  While I agree with most of those sentiments, too much action?  That is like complaining that a comedy has too many jokes or a porno has too much sex.  This is not a problem.

The one thing those reviews barely mention (if at all) is that you have seen this movie before.  Many times.  The main plot is that a team of secret agents has a limited amount of time to escort an informant from point A to point B while a whole lot of people try to kill them.  S.W.A.T., Babylon A.D., Safe House, you get the idea.  There are plenty of others, but those three are the same level of quality of Mile 22.  That *ahem* quality appears in the title – the distance between said point A and point B, but with bad grammar.  Given how microscopically thin the characters and story are, that title makes perfect sense.

No fight scenes? You know I am Ronda Rousey, right?

James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) leads a team of paramilitary agents that are so secret and lethal, they are only called upon when diplomacy and the military failed.  No, seriously, he tells us this, describing their operation (codenamed Overwatch) as option three.  On the surface, this statement makes no sense whatsoever, but when you think about it for a minute, you get a headache.  The film opens with Silva and team raiding a Russian FSB safe house and displaying why Silva and team are option three instead of option one or two.  Using technology from a galaxy far, far away to peer through walls and locate five people in the house, they herd them into a sitting room where the team does not tie up the Russian spies and while one team member rummages through hard drives.  Due to action movie cliche requirements, their magical x-ray drones miss a sixth person in the house and all hell breaks loose, ending with six dead Russians, one dead agent, and an exploded house.  Silva is right – rolling a tank through the house was probably a better idea, but someone decided to skip straight to option three instead.

I have the hard drive you guys need because you are bad at your jobs.

Months later, in a country in southeast Asia that is not important enough to named by the film, the team is tracking down a supply of cesium.  In case you do not know what cesium is, you will after Silva berates a team member with every scary cesium fact he knows because that team member has not cracked the uncrackable encryption of a hard drive in the five minutes since the last time he yelled at her.  Speaking of which, Silva is an asshole.  We are supposed to be forgiving of his assholiness because he is on the autism spectrum (implied) and had a rough childhood.  In what passes for a backstory for Silva, we find out his mind works faster than everybody else’s, he is prone to violent outbursts, and his parents died in an accident when he was twelve, so of course he became a Jason Bourne type agent.  The problem is that when he is not shooting bad guys, he is obnoxiously snapping a large yellow rubber band on his wrist (we are told this is to keep his emotions in check, which means he would otherwise be murdering everyone in Overwatch without it) while monologuing in the worst case of diarrhea-of-the-mouth outside of a certain president’s Twitter feed.

The problem with Silva’s backstory is that none of his traits are useful, including his so-called super fast mind.  All it actually does is tell us why he was recruited as an agent, which does not matter to the movie or to the audience.  But, at least he got a backstory.  With the exception of agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and the informant, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), not a single character is more than a trope, and Alice and Li only barely.  There is a computer guy, a computer girl, another computer guy and another computer girl, a boss, another boss, three team members who probably had first names, and John Malkovich playing John Malkovich with a buzz cut.

Cool ‘do.

I get it though.  This is an action movie, so let me tell you a bit about the action.  Those other critics are not wrong about the insane number of cuts shredding the visuals.  But, that did not bother me.  That is how most movies are these days and we are used to it.  Do not get me wrong – I wish it would stop so we could actually see all of the choreography in the scenes.  From what I could see, Iko Uwais appears to be an amazing martial artist kicking the ass of everyone near him.  Also from what I could see, he grabs a guy by the head and rakes that guy’s neck back and forth over the broken glass of car door’s window frame.  Cut away!  Cut away!

In short, the film is a brutal action flick with nothing more to say than scary words like ouroboros and radioactive.  The film fails in almost every way possible, including casting Ronda Rousey and not giving her a single fight scene (not kidding even a little bit).  There is a good moment or two, especially an unexpected twist at the end, but you may be so numb from the brutal violence and Silva’s brutal dialogue to notice or care.  It is too bad there was not an option four.

Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back and remember to snap that rubber band rather than the alternative.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)

transformers

Optimus Prime rides a dinosaur.

This is what I wrote at the end of my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon – “It also appears to have concluded the story, though I’m sure they could find some way to keep it going.”  Well, they found a way; a really, really stupid way.

Age of Extinction begins the same way the stupendously asinine Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen begins – by showing transformers screwing with Earth in the distant past.  This time around, a fleet of ships is dropping bombs and killing all of the dinosaurs and most of the life on Earth.  See what they did there?  Yay for pseudo-history.  This is supposed to provide us with information needed to explain what’s going to happen later in the movie, but I promise you will only be more confused later on.  In present times, a hot blonde chick shows up at an arctic mining site where a dinosaur made of metal has been unearthed.  Since we know from the previews that Optimus Prime will ride a Dinobot (if you aren’t familiar with Transformers toys or the animated television show, they are exactly what you think) into combat at some point, you would think maybe this is that Dinobot but you’d be wrong.

Cut to Texas, U.S.A. (the movie actually prints “Texas, U.S.A.” on the screen to make sure we don’t confuse it with, say, Texas, Russia), where struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a wrecked semi-truck from a dilapidated movie theater.  Yes, that scene is as ridiculous as it sounds and yes, the character’s name actually is Cade.  Yeager.  At this point in the movie, if you aren’t drinking already, you should start.

Anyway, Cade’s character is given the standard character treatment for any character you’re not really supposed to give a shit about – he’s broke, widowed, super-smart, and has a ridiculously hot seventeen year-old daughter who “takes care of him” (incidentally, this is one my wife’s biggest hatreds when it comes to character tropes – kids who are smarter or more practical than their parents).  On that note, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is constantly on his case that they are broke, is hoping to get a scholarship to go to college, and is secretly dating a rally-car racer even though her father has forbidden her from dating.  Does this matter at all?  God, no.  Her only job in this film is to be hot (usually wearing what can only be described as denim underwear with long pockets), scream, and run.  Cade’s job is to “fix…ahem” Optimus Prime (that old truck he bought) and run around firing a sword/gun thingy (this happens much later) while cracking jokes in the form of embarrassingly unfunny one-liners.

Meanwhile, transformers – Autobots and Decepticons alike – have been deemed illegal aliens (because, of course they have!) and are being hunted and killed by the CIA, and sold off to a defense contractor for research and materials.  Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) heads up the operations, declaring that “the age of transformers is at an end.”  Okay, what the fuck is going on?  Not only have we already gone through blaming the Autobots for everything in Revenge of the Fallen and they have saved the Earth and the human race three times, but “age of the transformers?!”  Were we ever told it started?  And, at this point, could you blame the Autobots if they teamed up with any remaining Decepticons and just slaughtered the entire human race?  Could you?

Anyway, Attinger has secretly made a deal with a transformer called Lockdown – who can transform his face into a cannon and is some kind of intergalactic assassin/bounty hunter – because, apparently, Boba Fett was busy.  Seriously, we don’t know anything about Lockdown other than he wants to capture Optimus Prime on orders from “the creators” and because “the balance of the universe must be restored.”  If you want to know who the creators are or what is out of balance, you’re shit out of luck because this movie wasn’t about to waste a couple of minutes (out of 165; yeah, that’s two hours and forty-five minutes) explaining itself when there are things to blow up.

In exchange for capturing Optimus, Lockdown will give Attinger a seed, which when detonated, will turn organic matter into Transformium – programmable metal that the transformers are made from (these are the bombs that destroyed the dinosaurs).  You see, Attinger also has a deal with the CEO of that defense contractor, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), to build their own transformers and they need the seed to create more material because they are running out of transformers to kill and the arctic-metal-dinosaur supply is also exhausted.  What does all this have to do with the Yeager family?  Take a drink.

The Yeagers exist solely because director Michael Bay and writer Ehrun Kruger insist that audiences give a fuck about humans in a movie about giant transforming alien robots fighting an intergalactic war.  Newsflash: we don’t.  Considering how pointless they are to the, er…plot, Bay and Kruger don’t either.  If we gave a shit about the human story, we’d be watching The Fault in Our Stars.

Since we’re on the topic of plot, this movie didn’t have one.  Is the movie about a perceived fight for the Earth between humans and transformers?  Is it about the poor plight of a genius who thought the best place to build a robotics company was in the scientifically-retarded Texas wilderness?  Is it about some unknown galactic creators who built knights, including Optimus, that did something somewhere and they were mad enough to send cannon-face after them?  Is it about dinosaurs?  Illegal immigration?  EVERYTHING IS BLOWING UP AND NOBODY WILL TELL US ANYTHING AND THIS MOVIE IS REALLY REALLY LONG AND REALLY REALLY LOUD!!!!

I know movies like this are not best-described as cerebral, but it would have been nice if anything had made any sense.  This is the fourth movie in the franchise; plenty of time to have developed a coherent narrative spanning the four films.  Instead, we’ve had a hodgepodge of nonsense piled on top of the very good original film so Bay could try to one-up himself each time around with bigger, louder, and more inventive transformers and effects.

On the bright side, Age of Extinction isn’t the worst movie in the franchise, but it is the second worse.  Like the rest of the films, the special effects are top notch and the film provides more action, explosions, and car chases than you can imagine possible in a single movie.  Tucci and Grammar appear to be having fun, but they are the only humans given roles that ask them to actually act (also a nod to T.J. Miller who plays Cade’s assistant and provides the only comic relief in the entire film).  On the flip side, John Goodman and Ken Watanabe must have needed money or been really bored, providing voices for two of the Autobots and delivering dialogue that must have been written by the same brain-damaged monkeys that wrote Revenge of the Fallen.  They also made the same mistake Revenge of the Fallen made by stylizing transformers with beards, samurai garb, trenchcoats, and pot bellies, even though that makes no sense at all (even in this ridiculous fantasy world).  Even the transforming got incredibly lazy, as the human built transformers’ transformations were depicted as a flying snake of squares looping through the air.  Yes, it was just as stupid as you imagine.

And, what about those Dinobots?  Aside from only appearing in the last fifteen minutes of the film, they are just as unexplained as Lockdown.  After freeing them from Lockdown’s ship, Optimus fights with the Tyrannosaurus, keeps referring to all of them as great warriors, then rides the Tyrannosaurus into battle after defeating him in combat (yes, that is as funny in the film as it is in the previews).  Why were they prisoners in the first place?  Why do they transform into dinosaurs?  Why is Optimus able to grant them freedom?  Ah shit, I’m thinking again.  Sorry.

As much as I’d like to say Age of Extinction isn’t a bad movie, it’s not a whole lot better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was awful.  Being a story guy, I am obliged to say Age of Extinction’s story is a big pile of bullshit that would have been far better off just leaving the humans completely out of it and running with whatever caused Lockdown to hunt for Optimus.  Instead, we get two hours and forty-five minutes of 3-D, IMAX action porn.  If that’s your thing, you’ll love this movie.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back.  The unintentional comedy of Optimus Prime riding a robot dinosaur, even though he can fly, is worth a couple bucks.