November 21, 2016

Of the Sad State of the Fall Season Blockbusters

            Thus far, 2016 has certainly been considered a somewhat disappointing year in the film world (and in general, actually).  That has especially been the case in regards to the blockbusters that have come out this year.  I think the root cause of this has been studios taking their established franchises and running them into the ground.  There have been just way too many examples of this as of late, and despite not many blockbusters being released during the fall season, the ones that have been released during these months have followed this pattern.

            Let’s start with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.  Now the original Jack Reacher wasn’t exactly a big hit at the box office ($80 million at the North American box office), but with a star in the lead in Tom Cruise, its much read source material, and a supporting cast filled with familiar faces (Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall), it certainly has the pedigree of a blockbuster.  It’s unfortunate that the follow-up, Never Go Back, reveals no real reason to exist at all other than the studio thinking it could make some easy money with infrastructure it already had in place.  There is no artistry on display in this film despite the usually dedicated efforts of Tom Cruise.  In this film, Reacher (Cruise) tries to meet up with a major (Cobie Smulders) that has taken over his old job.  However, when he reaches her she has been jailed and caught up in a massive conspiracy.  This sounds like your typical action thriller plot, and that’s because it is.  There are no new ideas here, and the film mostly goes from uninspired set piece to the next uninspired set piece.  This is especially disappointing when you consider the first film had some moments of originality and that the director of this second film, Edward Zwick, has done some notable work in his past.

             One of the next films with a blockbuster pedigree to come out this fall was Inferno, the latest Robert Langdon film teaming up Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.  Through two films of the series, the team behind this series hasn’t exactly delivered anything inspiring.  However, Angels & Demons was at least a well-acted thriller that didn’t require much thought.  Inferno once again assembles an impressive cast.  However, the plot of this film just goes by so quickly it makes you wonder what the filmmakers were trying to do with this film (other than making some money).  Almost, every character that Robert Langdon comes across has some interesting backstory that is only briefly touched upon.  If this film gave some of these developments some room to breathe maybe we could have gotten a great film or at the very least much better performances out of the likes of Felicity Jones, Ben Foster and Sidse Babett Knudsen.  The film also is not helped by the fact that this film brings back flashbacks where Ron Howard utilizes that awful, gritty sheen that he used to such terrible effect in The Da Vinci Code.  Despite the plot moving so fast, these moments tend to bring the entire film to a halt and contribute to the increasingly growing mess.

            As we have gotten closer to the holiday season we have seen even bigger blockbusters, and yet they have been just as bad.  The latest edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange, turned out to be one of its worst entries yet.  Strange oddly has a similar problem with Inferno in that it moves at such a fast clip that there is no room for the many developments to breathe.  That is especially troubling for a film that needed some world building.  Instead we are just thrown into a world of multiple dimensions, sorcerers, and time-bending artifacts in the shape of eyes.  Throw all the special effects you want on a film, but nothing is going to help it if you present a crazy idea and don’t ground it in something.  Instead with this film we get a weird and confusing adventure that feels like a rip-off of Inception (just without the heart of that film).  What’s really irritating about this film is that so much great talent is wasted.  Benedict Cumberbatch is dragged down by the fact that he is forced to use an American accent.  That ends up being a choice that causes him to waste so much effort on just one thing that he never really acts in this film.  Mads Mikkelsen gets forced into the typical “well he’s the big bad guy, but he’s not the really big bad guy that we will show you next time” MCU villain role, and Rachel McAdams is really just there to look pretty.  It just seems like all of the MCU’s problems (as well as some new ones) all came to a head in Doctor Strange.

            Finally, there was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  It’s a spinoff of the Harry Potter franchise and yet I’m still trying to figure out how it added any depth at all to those films.  Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne in a role that does not help with his tendency to ham it up) as he tries to recover his creatures that accidentally got loose in 1920s New York City.  That is until the film randomly decides it wants to be about a teenager (Ezra Miller) that is being forced to suppress his magical powers.  Sure, Newt is the main character and it’s his ordeals that the film follows for the most part, but the thing that this film really wants to be the heart of the movie is the stuff dealing with Ezra Miller’s character and Colin Farrell’s auror.  This is a colossal mistake by J.K. Rowling and director David Yates as the film fluctuates so massively and so frequently in tone that it’s hard to ever know what this film is really about.  In that respect it’s very reminiscent of the problems that plagued Spider-Man 3.  There’s even a sequence just as ridiculous as Peter Parker’s emo dance in this one.  This all leads to a finale that comes out of nowhere and features a twist that just wants to set up the next film rather than give a defining note to this one.  In conclusion, Fantastic Beasts is just another example of the majority of blockbusters as of late spending way too much time setting up the next film or trying to capture the magic of a predecessor.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back=3/10
Doctor Strange=5/10
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them=5/10

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