Thursday, June 9, 2016

Double Review: 'X-Men: Apocalypse' and 'TMNT: Out of the Shadows'

A comic book double-header, featuring one movie that’s way better than it has any right to be and one that sucks a whole lot more than it ever should’ve.

By: Jimbo X

Howdy ho, all you movie-watching motherfuckers! This week, we here at The Internet Is In America take a look at two big-budget superhero-sequels - one yet another installment in a long-running Marvel cash cow (which may or may not be helmed by a serial child rapist) and the other is a kinda-sorta-not-needed follow-up to a much-maligned re-re-reboot that was actually a lot better than it probably should've been. So, how do these two soulless, popcorn cinema offerings fare in head to head competition? Well, let's hop right into the reviews, why don't we? 

X-Men: Apocalypse

Director: Bryan Singer

Inauthentic 1980s regalia aside, I can assure you the corresponding hamburger is much better than the film itself. 

For better or for worse, you can trace back Hollywood’s obsession with the superhero picture to the first X-movie in 2000. Bryan Singer’s original Marvel Mutant outing more or less set the template for all genre movies to follow: a huge cast of characters, lots of angst, strangely chummy hero/villain relationships, tons of quasi-existential dialogue about what it means to be human and, of course, the now industry-standard "Armageddon-porn everything is about to blow up, we are goddamn serious, people" grand finale.

Alas, after nine Mutant-verse movies and dozens upon dozens of sometimes-superior and sometimes-inferior coattail riders, the X-template has gotten about as stale as three-month-old corn chips and about as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters game. In the long, laborious, two and a half hour Apocalypse, the filmmakers don’t throw us a single swerve, nor attempt to introduce one new idea into the tried-and-true formula. Indeed, the film literally rehashes so many sequences from 2014’s Days of Future Past that calling this a “new” movie feels like a misnomer.

Our villain of the week is canonically one of the biggest and baddest in the entire Marvel cosmos – the evil, genocidal, half-deity Apocalypse, who in the comics, becomes the eventual autocratic ruler of a post-nuclear war new world order. Alas, the character – played by Llewyn Davis himself – is depicted as a non-dimensional, time-displaced bore in his eponymous feature film debut, spending the first act of the movies stumbling around Cairo like the main character in Being There before being clued into the advents of modernity by a certain teenage mutie with impressive meteorological skills. Outside of periodically offing characters by burying them alive in some sort of metaphysical quicksand (a power that, to the best of my knowledge, Apocalypse never possessed in the comics), he doesn’t really get any more interesting, even after he assembles a ragtag group of Horsemen – more on that in just a bit – and starts spouting his trademark social Darwinist rhetoric.

As with the last three “group” movies, this one is technically a period piece, this time around set in the totally tubular early 1980s. Over in Europe, Angel and Nightcrawler are forced to have pro ‘rasslin death matches in some trashy German dive and here in the States, high schooler Scott Summers is coming to terms with that awkward phase we all go through as adolescents when laser death starts shooting out of our eyeballs for no apparent reason. In Poland, the self-described “master of magnetism” is living under an assumed name and still having flashbacks about his family being killed in the Holocaust – which, in turn sets us up for one of the most remarkably out there scenes in a mainstream, junior high allowance-baiting Hollywood offering in recent memory. And, of course, there is Reagan Era nostalgia out the (suspicious white powder-encrusted) nose, with Ms. Pac-Man and Knight Rider and Eurythmics and Jubilee walking around in her goofy Streets of Rage 2 atomic yellow rain slicker. In fact, the titular bad guy learns out about contemporary politics via VHS, deciding that America has to be destroyed simply because he hears a news anchor describe the country using the term “superpower.” So, yeah, if you are keen on subtlety, you probably aren’t going to like this one too much.

So, that Four Horseman stable I was talking about earlier? It consists of Angel (who, in the movie’s best scene, hangs out by himself listening to a rather fitting Metallica track), Psylocke (played by what’s her name from Attack of the Show, and who doesn’t really do anything of note throughout the entire movie), Storm (whose powers appear to have been retconned into an unholy gift from the big A hisself) and Magneto, who is cajoled into the super group after being offered a chance to tear Auschwitz to the ground with his metal-bending powers. Eventually, A-Poc decides that the best way to rid the world of that scourge humanity is to telepathically take over the world’s nuclear arsenal via hijacking Cerebro – that little computer-controlled helmet Professor X (who begins the movie, but doesn’t finish it, with hair) uses to mind-link with other mutants across the globe.

Playing homo superior defense force is Mystique, who for once, spends an overwhelming majority of the flick outside of her trademark blueface. With Prof. X momentarily sidelined, she helps the fledgling X-peoples band together against the forces of evil, ultimately resulting in a dreadfully by the numbers castle siege conclusion in which an unlikely X-human rises to the occasion and gives ol’ Apocalypse the telekinetic what-for. Oh, and there is also a brief segment in which the youngsters encounter some crazy, hairy dude in a metal box, but eh, it’s not like he’s a major tent-pole character or anything.

As if my drab description of the film didn’t clue you in, this is a painfully lifeless film, yet another half-hearted “event” flick that’s bogged down by so much palpable ennui that keeping your eyelids from locking shut becomes an exercise in willpower. Reintroducing the same old characters for the second, third and sometimes fourth time, all of the X-tropes feel incredibly forced and routine, and the boredom is clearly visible on the faces of the actors – especially Jennifer Lawrence, who is definitely phoning it in and no doubt looking forward to wrapping up her contractual obligations with the film studio.

It’s amazing how formulaic the film feels, even for a genre effectively built upon repetitive storytelling. The troubling “avuncular” camaraderie between the understanding older males and their lonesome, younger colleagues, the endless kvetching on the idiosyncratic pain of being an outsider, the clumsy attempts to blur the lines between whose actions are moral and immoral - all rehashes of rehashes of rehashes, to the point that the filmmakers simply recreated Quicksilver’s slow-mo tomfoolery music video from the last all-star flick instead of doing anything new or more substantial with the character.

With the doors now wide open for yet another sequel – complete with a tease for Mr. Sinister, one of the most overrated and uninteresting villains in the Marvel mythos – one has to wonder just how much longer this gravy train can keep chugging along, especially since the box office take suggests said train is damn near out of gravy. No matter you thoughts on the franchise, this movie is certainly a low-water mark for the once-venerable, once-valuable X-cash cow, just as bad – if not worse – than the universally loathed Last Stand.

Considering how un-animated this latest outing is, the stewards of the X-brand shouldn’t be thinking about hitting the reboot button – they ought to be reaching for the respirator plug.

My Score:

One and a Half Tofu Dogs out of Four.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Director: David Green

My greatest nightmare made flesh: four green George Foremans chasing me down in a weapons-equipped garbage truck. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the first TMNT reboot/remakequel from 2014. Fully expecting the shindig to be a colossal clusterfuck of biblical proportions, I found the overall film – though not without a litany of flaws – to be much more entertaining than it had any right to.

Despite the sequel’s lukewarm reception from critics and the movie-going masses alike, I’ve got to go against the consensus opinion (a shocker, I know) and declare Out of the Shadows not only a vastly superior film to the already fairly decent ’14 offering, but really, one of the best pure popcorn movies to come out so far this year. In my humblest o’ opinions, it’s a much more enjoyable movie than Deadpool and Civil War and it is MILES ahead of Dawn of Justice and Apocalypse in just about every category you can think of. It may be brain-dead, extended toy commercial anti-cinema, but by golly, it’s some of the best brain-dead, extended toy commercial anti-cinema chucked down to us in quite some time.

If for some reason you aren’t familiar with the Turtles mythos by now – or you skipped out on the first Michael Bay-produced flick – there’s not a whole lot of pretext needed for this one. Forced to dwell in the sewer system of New York, our reptilian vigilantes strike out each evening to battle the forces of evil (and periodically, drop slices of pizza at half court at Knicks games.) The no-good, evil suminabitch Shredder is in the slammer for trying to blow up New York at the end of the first movie, and as expected, a whole bunch of his ninja underlings have plans to spring him out of a police escort during a facility transfer. Thanks to interdimensional technology invented by Tyler Perry (who, portraying nefarious scientist Baxter Stockman, is a nearly perfect facsimile of Neil DeGrasse Tyson), old Shred-Head is sucked into a mini-black hole, where he meets Krang – fittingly described as a “piece of chewed up gum with a face” by one character – who gives him a can of funky purple goop to experiment on.

Now, anyone with a cursory knowledge of the I.P. knows what that means. Once Shredder figures out it has the ability to mutate people into their literal spirit animals, he nominates lackeys Bebop and Rocksteady (the latter played by pasty-skinned, Irish ‘rasslin stereotype Sheamus) to be test subjects – and, sho ‘nuff, they wind up turning into a C.G.I., bipedal rhinoceros and warthog chimera, respectively. Before long, he’s sending his spaghetti-slurpin’ manimals to the jungles of Brazil to retrieve some sort of obscure alien technology, which, naturally, allots ample fisticuff opportunities with our half-shelled protagonists.   

Along the way, the TMNT team fragments, with Raphael and Michelangelo opting to strike out on their own after the more level-headed Leonardo and Donatello withhold information about an auxiliary side effect of Shredder’s transdimensional, heliotrope-hued ooze – namely, the fact that it has the potential to transform them into normal-looking humans. Once again tag-teaming with Megan Fox and her toe-thumbs, the red-and-orange-clad Turtles form a crime-fighting outfit with rogue cop Casey Jones (played by that dude from Arrow, a show I’ve never watched and frankly know nothing at all about), before the police sneak a peek at them and their cover is blown. The po-po’s reptile-phobia subsides, however, once Krang tries to teleport his way into our world, slowly but surely assembling the dreaded Technodrome (which is pretty much the same thing as the Death Star, albeit on a much smaller scale) over the NYC skyline. And yeah, you don’t need to be an Einstein to figure out this thing is destined to end in one thing, and one thing only – hot tortoise on robotic brain creature violence.

Some dude on my Twitter feed described this movie as the closest we’ll likely get to a live-action version of the old 1980s cartoon, and really, that sums up this movie to a T. It’s just so much unrefined, inconsequential, no-brain-cells-needed fun through and through, with lame jokes and ham-fisted dialogue and unnecessarily over-the-top action pieces one after the other. Whereas so many other comic book/superhero movies this year try so hard to convey a sense of apocalyptic dread and are jam-packed with a bunch of pretentious, existential pseudo-babble, this is a rare big budget, Hollywood offering that isn’t hung up on how artistic and smart and socio-politically relevant it thinks it is. It’s just big, dumb, explodey fun for two hours, and by golly, I enjoyed every second of it. Sure, it’s light on character development and commentary on the human condition, but I’d much rather watch a film like this that revels in its simplicity and stupidity than some overblown, vainglorious attempt to turn children’s theater fare into some kind of meaningful statement about the nature of our own mortality, or worse yet, some half-baked attempt to recast the material into blunt-as-a-sledgehammer political proselytizing. Although one has to wonder about the curiously homoerotic relationship between Rocksteady and Bebop, and it is fairly hard to read the subplot about the turtle-to-human transformative goo as anything other than a subtle allegory about today’s contentious transgender rights debate

Time will tell if the box office proceeds and affiliated merchandising revenue will be enough to goad Platinum Dunes (who, apparently, have partnered with a consortium of Chinese backers to produce this sequel) into moving forward with TMNT 3. If they don’t, it’d be a real shame, because Out of the Shadows leaves the door wide open for a downright perfect end cap to the trilogy – one in which Krang (voiced, believe it or not, by Brad Garrett, who turns in perhaps the film’s most entertaining performance) and his army of frozen intergalactic warriors wreak havoc in a Goosebumps style, cameo-strewn battle royale. Alas, even if we never see Wyrm or Pizza Face on an IMAX screen, Out of the Shadows remains an immensely entertaining, thought-not-required-or-desired, hyper-consumerist, watch-it-all-go-boom micro-masterpiece of trashy, post-post-post-modern juvenile cinema. Like eating an entire jumbo-sized bag of Reese’s all by your lonesome, you really can’t call the film a healthy undertaking – but by Job, if you don’t have a ton of instantly gratifying, guilty-pleasure fun in the process, you might as well give up on movies altogether.

My Score:

Three Tofu Dogs out of Four.

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