Quick Reviews: “Spider-Man” “War for Planet of the Apes” “Pirates 5” “Kidnap” “Dark Tower”

By | December 18, 2017

Five summer “blockbusters” that—“War for the Planet of the Apes” excluded—really weren’t even trying to be stimulate the mind, but in the case of one that isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

Spider-Man: Homecoming…Michael Keaton’s villain has “it” all over tween Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking about 12) and his creepy uncle Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. probably making 50 million dollars to look like a smug sack of shit in a suit for 10 minutes of screen time, at point Iron Man literally phones in his heroism), but—of course—this is a Marvel-property so an interestingly blue collar villain can’t really win the day. It’s just a (predictable) shame that a movie like this would set up an interracial love triangle between Spider-Man and two black love interests, but have him actually kiss neither one of them. Much like “Thor Ragnarok” made a big deal about Tessa Thompson as the love interest but actually just shuffled her to the friend zone. Grade: C

Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales…I’m a sucker for aquatic movies, so just about any movie set mostly in the ocean is going to have a built-in advantage, but the “Pirates” films remain a strangely unloveable franchise. The luster of watching Johnny Depp splash around as a rock-star-gone-to-seed lost its appeal a while ago, and now you might be watching these films mostly for their villains, their set pieces, and (if you’re me) their scenery. But I’ll admit that Javier Bardem’s undead Spanish naval officer with a vendetta is the series’s best villain yet, and there’s just something unique about seeing gargantuan FX deployed on behalf of the old-fashioned pirate movie genre rather than the latest superhero extravaganza. In scenes like Depp being spun around a loose guilliotine-turned-gyrosphere or dragging a bank vault through island city streets, there’s a physical comedy here not seen Jackie Chan got too old to deliver that sort of thing, and—as I said—any movie that features people in the middle of the ocean looking up at star-filled sky can’t be all bad. Best Part: This is one of the shortest “Pirates” films, finally understanding that a goofy pirate movie shouldn’t be nearly three hours long. Grade: B-

War for the Planet of the Apes…What starts off as a cool, mysterious war film set in mystical, forest-filled mountains eventually turns into a bleaker prison-camp drama where we’re largely waiting for something to happen for the second half of the film. I’m sure that there’s larger allegories here at play, but I couldn’t help wondering why, exactly, we’re supposed to root for the downfall of the human race over the ape protagonists. “Avatar” was a little bit better at shifting our species-endangeering sympathies, but “War” should be a little more fun, and a little less self-serious. It’s a (supposed) franchise-ender that’s a little bit like “Logan,” another Christ-mythology showcase that swamps itself in earnest gravitas that feels a little ridiculous given that we’re watching apes talk to each other in a film that’s 99% CGI-assisted. Still, Woody Harrelson continues his stellar 2017 as the villainous colonel that a lesser actor would’ve portrayed as crazy, but Harrelson makes as coldly pragmatic and unemotional in his ideals. Grade: B-

The Dark Tower…It’s an old cliche to say the book isn’t as good as the movie, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that wasn’t even trying. Yes, technically this “Dark Tower” is actually a sequel to Stephen King’s books—a cop-out that feels like an unsatisfying excuse to be wildly unfaithful to the books, and will likely leave book fans (like myself) feeling ripped-off—so they can get away with narrative inconsistencies, but they don’t even attempt to capture the rhythm, the flavor, the old-school, meat-on-the-bone gumminess of Stephen King’s work. Danish hack Nicolas Arcel stages it like a non-descript videogame, and most of the dusty magic of King’s “Gunslinger” tales are gone. Not to mention the bizarre decision to make Matthew McConaughey’s “Man in Black” no fun at all, and to not do a very good job explaining the world of the books to uninitiated viewers. Grade: D-

Kidnap…I never understood what happened to Halley Berry, who seemed to be unceremoniously dumped from Oscar-winning A-list super-stardom after making only a couple of bad movies. Somehow she went from creme of the crop roles (assuming there was one for a black actress in a Hollywood movie, by the way there still hasn’t been another non-white Best Actress winner in the 15 years since Berry’s historic win, and this year won’t even have a non-white nominee in that category) to a shitty sci-fi show on CBS like “Extant.” In the last few years, Berry’s biggest roles seem to be in kidnap thrillers like “The Call” and, well, this thing. Still, there’s something undeniably visceral and fist-pumping in this tale of every parent’s worst nightmare: seeing your young kid being dragged into a car with a total stranger. It’s then up to Berry to chase down the kidnappers, literally, and the result is low-key white-knuckle magic that also features some of the year’s best car chases (overrated “Baby Driver” be damned). Grade: B

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