May 25, 2016

Of The Jungle Book and the Blockbusters of 2016 So Far

            It’s been a while since my last update so let’s get started with reviews of some of the big movies of the late spring and early summer season.  The biggest “surprise hit” (I mean no one didn’t expect it to not do well but it’s become a bigger hit than many thought possible) of the season was The Jungle Book.  It is very difficult to look at this film as its own separate entity.  Hollywood has been trying to make adaptations of The Jungle Book for almost a century and still continues to do so (the delayed Andy Serkis adaptation still looks quite intriguing despite this adaptation’s recent success).  This film, itself, borrows heavily from the Walt Disney animated classic.  Despite this I still think Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book finds its own place within the pantheon of The Jungle Book adaptations.  It finds just enough time to explore the darkness of mankind in a way that is interesting and slightly refreshing.  It’s quite impressive that Favreau is even able to balance this theme at all with the sillier elements of the animated classic that find their way into this film.  Certainly, the thematic nature of this film will struggle to find any room in sequels with the songs and light comedy also contained within this film being the main selling points for the future. 
            It was also nice to see that Jon Favreau has really developed into a visual master.  Set pieces have never really been his forte, but there have been some interesting visuals put on display in his two Iron Man films and even Cowboys & AliensThe Jungle Book feels as though Favreau had become completely confident in his abilities to direct CGI heavy films, and wanted to take his abilities to the next level.  The visuals here are astounding and the 3D effects are quite impressive too.  A lot of the film will look fake at times, but that’s just due to the vast amount of CGI put on the screen.  Individual elements (such as Shere Khan or the wolves or the wildebeest) look completely photorealistic. 
            Do I wish the film rid itself entirely of its animated classic roots for a darker interpretation? Absolutely, but this film is still strong enough to deliver a strong adaptation that will be remembered for its visuals and the best interpretation of Shere Khan (Idris Elba is a force and the script is strong enough to make him a quite reasonable character) yet.
            The week following The Jungle Book’s release, Universal tried to produce a hit of its own with The Huntsman: Winter’s WarThe Huntsman: Winter’s War is a prequel/sequel to Snow White & The Huntsman.  The later was a visually stunning film that suffered way too much from derivative world building and flat acting.  So it wasn’t exactly the best thing to build a franchise out of.  The buildup for The Huntsman: Winter’s War certainly suffers because of this, as there is very little to get invested in, in the early goings-on of this film.  The only real signs of life in this film in the first half are whenever Emily Blunt appears onscreen.  She brings just enough charisma to get past an otherwise dry script.  The same can’t be said for Chris Hemsworth and shockingly Jessica Chastain, who suffer playing characters with little personality other than very distinct accents.  The film doesn’t get much better in the second half either as the action scenes begin to fall flat in addition to the acting.  The only true highlight of this film is a glorified cameo appearance by Charlize Theron as she happily hams up the stage and has some great chemistry with Blunt.
            Next up was the beginning of the summer movie season with what could ultimately be the biggest film of the summer, Captain America: Civil War.  The Captain America films have always been my favorites of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (the Iron Man series has highs as high as the Captain America series but the Captain America series doesn’t have a film anywhere near as bad as Iron Man 2), and if this is to be the end of the Captain America series we got an entertaining if overlong and slightly disappointing end.  Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a fantastic job of making the very personal elements of this film tick.  The fight between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark is really interesting and ultimately quite complex.  Both characters are in the wrong here and it’s interesting to see a blockbuster movie like this attempt something as difficult as that.  That being said the more blockbuster elements of this film don’t quite work.  The centerpiece airport sequence and a chase sequence between Captain America, the Winter Soldier and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman in a knockout debut in this series) are really strong but a lot of the other set pieces fall flat.  Additionally, there is just way too much crammed into this film.  Is the latest incarnation of Spider-Man fun? Absolutely, but it also has no purpose whatsoever in being in this film.  The moral of this story is that the character dynamics of this film are intricately set up and to see them pay off is more than enough to keep this film afloat amid numerous problems.

The Jungle Book=8/10
The Huntsman: Winter's War=5/10
Captain America: Civil War=8/10

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