Venom

Venom

By: Kevin Jordan

Where have all the villains gone?

According to IGN, Venom is the twenty-second greatest comic book villain of all-time.  I have no idea what that really means because I do not read comic books.  I would be very hard-pressed to name twenty-three comic book villains at all (unless we are just naming X-Men bad guys), let alone the top twenty-one, but that same IGN list is out of the top one hundred.  Not total one hundred, but the top one hundred.  Does that mean there are hundreds, if not thousands, of comic book villains?  Does that top one hundred include henchmen?  Villains’ accountants?  Spiteful ex-wives?  Again, I do not read comic books.  I did look up a little bit about Venom to find out how bad he really is and it turns out he is also well-known as an anti-hero.  Comic book fans sound confused.

(SPOILERS AHEAD – There are too many villains in this film and none are good.)

I went into Venom thinking Venom was an actual villain.  I saw Spider-Man 3.  Venom is an evil tar monster thingy that makes people do bad sidewalk struts.  The way the move starts makes you think that Venom is going to be the villain of the film.  A spaceship crashes, and the cleanup crew notes that one of the four swirly tar things they found in space is missing from the wreckage.  Some mayhem regarding the missing fourth ensues and you immediately think Venom is already up to no good.

Cut to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an in-your-face investigative journalist with his own show.  He’s dating Anne (Michelle Williams), a high-brow attorney representing a shady CEO named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed).  When Eddie is assigned a puff-piece to interview Drake, Eddie takes an illicit peek into Anne’s files on Drake, then ambushes Drake with the ill-gotten information during the interview.  Eddie is quickly fired and discovers that Anne was fired as well.  Anne dumps Eddie because love does not trump all.  Cut to six months later and – wait, six months?

If you are hoping to see this in the film, get comfortable because it’s going to be awhile.

If this movie was going to have any flow to it, this fast forward stomped all of it.  When we left the mayhem of the crash site, the fourth tar ball has possessed a person and jumped to a couple of other people as it sought a proper host.  You see, the alien tar swirlies are parasites (or symbiotes) that require a human host to survive.  Just don’t ask how they were able to survive for so long riding a comet in space with nary a human to be found.

The film then drags itself along as Drake starts locking homeless people in rooms with the three symbiotes, each time ending with one less hobo.  One of his scientists, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), wants to blow the whistle on the murders so she tracks down and contacts a nearly-homeless Eddie.  She does not call the police or employed journalists.  She must have Eddie, despite Eddie clearly being a terrible solution for this particular problem.

This looks like if Jackson Pollock directed a fight scene.

Dr. Skirth helps Eddie break into Drake’s research lab to gather evidence and proves, once again, that fictional research labs have the worst security ever (side note: why does every movie featuring a secret lab go out of its way to make it seem like its proprietor wants its secrets stolen?  I am looking at you The Shape of Water).  Anyway, while she is looking out for guards or something, Eddie sees a friend of his and breaks the glass of the highly-secure room with the super dangerous alien in it using only a fire extinguisher.  A symbiote jumps into Eddie’s body, but Eddie manages to escape back to his apartment.  After what seems like hours, the film finally gets to the Venom part when Eddie fights off a tactical assault team trying to recover the symbiote for Drake.

If you fell asleep for the first half or so of the film, you did not miss anything worth watching.  The film finally becomes entertaining during the apartment fight scene as we get a first look at Venom talking to Eddie (in Eddie’s head) and using Eddie to fight off the soldiers.  Hardy was clearly having fun with this concept, so I ended up having fun.  While the banter and exchanges between Eddie and Venom were cringe-worthy at times, they worked more often than not.  If you are not entertained by Tom Hardy arguing with himself while people looked at him like he was insane, you are not having enough fun in life.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying this movie should be regarded positively, just that it was entertaining despite itself.

*Laughter* This movie is so stupid and I don’t even care! *More laughter*

I kind of want to give the film credit for changing up the formula that usually comes along with a movie like this, but they changed it like Trump changed NAFTA, which is to say they doodled in the margins and did not actually make any real improvement.  The typical film would have had Eddie and Venom connected at the original spaceship crash or during Eddie and Drake’s interview and Drake later achieving a breakthrough and melding himself with another symbiote.  The film ends up there anyway, but the route it takes is no better.

Drake is a boring villain constantly delivering trite motivational speeches to his employees that sound like epiphanies learned from a Snapple cap.  Drake’s motivation for the homeless people experiments is that he wants to live in space because humans are destroying the planet.  Instead of a breakthrough in the lab, the original missing symbiote shows up at the research lab and Drake just happens to be a good match.  I hated this aspect of the film because it rendered nearly everything before that scene pointless.  Then again, it was all pointless anyway because the film does not bother trying to build a sense of progress in the experiments.  It just shows us puddles of goo and dead people and Drake delivering another shitty speech.

Synergy. Optimize. Agile. Holistic. Other bullshit words I can spout that are the opposite of inspiring.

I was also disappointed that Venom ends up being kind of a hero instead of straight-up evil.  He is even made to be an underdog when he inexplicably tells Eddie that their symbiotic foe has better weapons than him.  This makes zero sense because the symbiotes make blade weapons from their goo.  Does Venom not know who to make a scythe?  Dumb things like that were almost enough to turn me completely against this film and you all know how much I enjoy turning against films.

Despite this movie being objectively bad, my friend and I enjoyed ourselves because we had seen the early Rotten Tomatoes scores landing in the mid-twenties.  This allowed us to reset our expectations down to sub-basement levels and enjoy the movie the way that one enjoys a bad B-movie.  Granted, the stilted performance from Michelle Williams was a bit of a surprise; Williams seemingly unaware of what kind of movie she was in.  This probably had more to do with the writing and directing, but she did not look like she wanted to be there.  Even then, I still had a good time at this film.  Hopefully, the next villain in the franchise (don’t look so shocked) will be an actual villain or one that doesn’t suck.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back or wait until you can Red Box it.  It is not that entertaining.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

By: Kevin Jordan

Sooooooo worth the wait.

r1_poster

Has it already been a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all giddily applauding the resurrection of one of the greatest and nerdiest movie franchises of all time.  Okay, maybe not all of us – 8% of critics and 11% of audience members (on Rotten Tomatoes) gave it a thumb’s down and probably kicked a puppy for good measure.  For the rest of us, the countdown to Rogue One began the moment the proverbial curtain closed on TFA because, like the addicts we are, we wanted our next fix.  Finally, that clock has hit 00:00:00:00 and we nerds rejoice.

(I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but beware.)

My favorite conversation about this movie right now is the bizarre notion that Rogue One is a standalone movie in the Star Wars universe.  If you have been paying even the tiniest bit of attention, you know that this movie can only be a prequel to A New Hope.  The entire plot is how the rebellion manages to steal the plans to the Death Star and (SPOILER ALERT) you know they succeed because A New Hope opens with Princess Leia hiding those plans in R2-D2.  If you somehow forgot that or didn’t know it, you probably aren’t going to watch this movie anyway.

On a related topic, I predicted that everyone was going to die by the end of Rogue One because of a line spoken in the original trilogy by Mon Mothma – “Many bothans died to bring us this information.”  I would have sworn that this came from A New Hope and I think most people believed that as well (I confirmed this by asking several people about it).  As it turns out, that line was said in Return of the Jedi and was referencing Death Star II.  Whoops.  I’m not going to tell you how right or wrong I was, but I will say I wasn’t surprised at any death in this film because of my prediction.  I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake.  The impressive thing about this film is that the characters were written so well that, even though I was expecting them all to die, I still hoped they would all pull through.  You know what I mean – every time you watch A New Hope there’s a small part of you that thinks Obi-Wan will hightail it out of there rather than letting Darth Vader kill him.

More.

More.

The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that fix you’ve been waiting for is the equivalent of mixing Viagra with Ecstasy while drinking absinthe and consuming edibles – all through a firehose.  There are AT-ATs, AT-STs, and death troopers.  There are TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, star destroyers hovering over cities, and the Death Star rising over the horizon.  There is a new snarky droid (K-2SO), a new evil imperial commander (Orson Krennic), a new roguish pilot (Cassian Andor, who is dressed like a Han Solo worshipper), a new orphaned hero (Jyn Erso), and a new guy who might be a Jedi (Chirrut Imwe).  There are even familiar characters making cameos (Vader, to name one) or prominently featured (Grand Moff Tarkin).  It’s so much Star Wars that you’ll practically float through the next year waiting for Episode VIII.

MORE!

MORE!

You also need to know that the action in this flick is fairly limited.  Where TFA was almost non-stop fireworks finale, Rogue One saves almost all of the action for its actual finale.  That doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but not everything is draped in explosions and lasers.  It’s a nice change and gives the audience the ability to really admire the detail and care put it into realizing these places.  In other words, the special effects are so amazing that I’m half convinced that Disney created a wormhole to this galaxy, sent a camera crew through, and is literally just filming what is happening there.  If you don’t get shivers when you see the Death Star rising over the horizon of the planet in the finale…you…I just…bruised puppies.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That's the stuff.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That’s the stuff.

Another positive of reducing the action is we get to know the characters better and these actors shine.  Jyn (Felicity Jones) is exactly that mix of Skywalker and Solo without being quite as optimistic as Rey in TFA.  Cassian (Diego Luna) is the type of intense character that you now realize has been missing from a rebellion.  Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is just as loathsome an imperial commander as we like, though not as coldly evil as Tarkin, but far more intimidating than General Hux.  Then there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Cassian’s droid companion, who arguably steals the show.  K-2 provides the vast majority of the comic relief, but is also the trusty sidekick (to everyone, really).  Speaking of sidekicks, Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide the muscle, with Imwe appearing to be a quasi-Jedi, praying to the force and kicking ass, but with no light saber to be found.  Make of him what you will.  Rounding out the cast, we have Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – an extremist rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – imperial defector, and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – Death Star designer.  All three are good secondary characters, though Galen and Saw get very little screen time.  That might seem like too many characters, but Saw was the only one that felt underutilized/underdeveloped to me.

We've been a waiting for you.

We’ve been a waiting for you.

The last thing you need to know is that this movie is drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back and rightly so.  The movie is serious for far more of its running time than its brethren, with only a minimal amount of comic relief (but very well-timed comic relief).  The ratio of action to non-action is perfect for me, though I’ll understand if some folks get a little fidgety through the first half of the film (put the gigantic soda down).  And, again, those special effects…just wow (though one little facial rendering at the end of the movie proves we still have work to do with human faces).  As much as I liked TFA, I liked this one more simply because we got more of the nerdy stuff that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy, but wanted more of (like the Death Star doing Death Star things).  Like I said, the year was more than worth the wait and you will most likely agree.  If not, just leave the puppies alone.

Rating: Sooooooo worth more than the price of admission.

Jason Bourne

By: Kevin Jordan

What, no clever title this time?

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Seriously?  That’s the best title they could up with?  Considering The Bourne Redundancy is the most fitting, but worst for marketing purposes, I can kind of forgive them.  But do you know what the worst part of the title is?  It screws up the DVD shelf.  The first three movies in their viewing order are also in alphabetical order (take your time).  While Jason Bourne is in alphabetical order with respect to the franchise, it’s not with respect to the entire movie shelf.  Now there has to be a J movie in the B’s and that’s just wrong.  And don’t even get me started on the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – what a cluster.  My point is that, like its title, Jason Bourne is a generic film rehashing the same plot we’ve seen in every Bourne movie.

Don’t get me wrong, the film delivers on what we’re there for in the first place – Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) kicking ass.  It’s just the stuff surrounding it is very tired.  In a nutshell, here’s the movie – CIA agent discovers that someone wants to publicly out a black ops program (Ironhand), CIA director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) jumps to the conclusion that Jason Bourne is behind it, young female go-getter agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) promises to deliver Bourne and save the day, Bourne meets up with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), action-action-action, a Bourne-like asset (Vincent Cassel) is activated to take out Bourne, more-action, Bourne remembers some stuff, Dewey and young go-getter butt heads, climax scene, the end.  With the exception of small details and tweaks, that describes the first two sequels to a tee.  I even joked about it in my review of The Bourne Legacy – that the movies are very redundant of each other.  And this doesn’t make any sense because the books these movies are based on aren’t like that.

This looks familiar.

This looks familiar.

(Without sounding too redundant, very mild SPOILERS coming up.)

The strange thing about the film is that the very first thing we hear is Bourne’s voice telling us that he remembers everything.  If that were true, then why is he off on another crusade to learn about his past?  Several times throughout the movie, Bourne experiences flashbacks revealing things he didn’t previously know or remember.  This time around, the memories are of his father’s death and the circumstances surrounding Jason’s recruitment into the program.  I understand that they’ve tweaked it to be that his memory of the event isn’t the actual truth, but it still boils down to learning about his past.  Maybe you still want that out of these films, but I’m well beyond over it.

This is what we're here for.

This is what we’re here for.

To make matters worse, he’s not even actively searching for answers in the beginning, he’s street fighting.  He only gets drawn in because Nicky shows up at a fight to tell him what she found out about his father and the Treadstone program after hacking the CIA.  Incidentally, this is where that conclusion leap happens by the CIA director – someone hacks into the black ops files and, even though there is nothing to suggest it’s Bourne’s doing, it must be Bourne.  Thank you captain contrivance.

The truly missed opportunity with this movie is that it could have kicked off a narrative from the books surrounding an assassin known as the Jackal.  Instead of revisiting the same tired what’s-my-past story, why not have the go-getter agent secretly recruit Bourne to help take out the Jackal?  Let’s say the Jackal is taking out their assets and they need someone equally skilled who is outside the program to help.  You could even keep the head-butting between Dewey and Lee.  When people complain about Hollywood not being original, this is what those people mean (even though those people don’t realize it, instead couching it in the form of whining about sequels and reboots).  Heck, you could even keep a smidge of the what’s-my-past story by having Lee dangle information in front of Bourne as his payment.  This isn’t exactly a new plot either (Mission: Impossible and The Jackal both use it, to name two), but it’s fresh to this series.

In all fairness, the plot of this movie didn’t really bother me; I’m just noting that we’ve been here several times before.  The one thing that did bother me is how bad they handled integrating current issues into the narrative.  Ironhand (the black ops program) is nothing more than the CIA working with a social network developer (Riz Ahmed) to have a backdoor into said network (Deep Dream – a name as uninspired as the movie’s title) to collect everybody’s information to – say it together with me – “keep us all safe.”  Hilariously, the movie tries to simultaneously emphasize the importance of privacy, but both just come off as trite and irrelevant and sound as bungled and tone-deaf as our real-life politicians.  This might have worked if the movie had focused on this as its main plot, rather than Bourne’s past, but, well now I’m starting to sound repetitive.

They're worth it.

They’re worth it.

Much has been written by critics and users about how the new Star Trek movie is nothing special, that it’s more like a mid-season episode of a television series with nothing new to say.  Jason Bourne is very much the same.  But, is that a bad thing?  Most of us watch those repetitive shows precisely for the familiarity and formula and count the days to next week’s episode.  Most importantly, if you’re a fan of Damon or Vikander, you will be very pleased with this film.  It’s just that with movies, a multi-year wait in between episodes leads us to want more out of the movie.  At the very least, they could have given us a more familiar title.

Rating: Ask for four dollars back.  Or two if you like Damon and Vikander as much as I do.