With the summer half done, I thought it was a good time to take stock of the movies I’ve seen so far.
My #1 movie of the summer is World War Z (8.5/10): (SPOILERS AHEAD)
When I first heard that the film adaptation of Max Brooks’ celebrated novel was going to be substantially different from the book, I had my misgivings. What was the point of adapting a book, if you were going to change the story and potentially leave out everything that made it so good? The novel is structured as a series of interviews with the survivors of a 10-year long global war against zombies, which eventually the human race won. The interviews, which take place ten years after the end of the war, act as a commentary on the political, economic and social state of different countries across the world. The novel touches upon everything from black market organ trade to apartheid to fudging of test results by pharmaceutical companies. Then came the first trailer and I was appalled that the film makers had re-defined the inherent properties of zombies, making them fast-moving and seemingly capable of coordinated attacks. But after watching the trailer a few times, I had to admit, this version of zombies did behave like humans would if they had been infected by a mutated strain of rabies, which is what the novel indicates as the source of the plague. Anyway, I watched the movie earlier this week and if one puts aside all the comparisons with the book and the news about the troubled film shoot, it turned out to be a smart, incredibly plausible globe-spanning thriller giving the viewer a real sense of having to race against time before humanity is wiped out.
A lot of the credit must go to Brad Pitt, who like Ben Affleck in Argo, plays a capable, intelligent professional who calmly goes about his job and deals with crises without any sort of melodrama. Normally this genre of film is made by directors like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich and is accompanied by all sorts of inane dialogue. In spite of the fact that the script had to be re-written and polished by multiple writers, the realistic behavior of the lead characters makes this feel like something that could happen to any of us.
The movie has 4 major set pieces, one in a Philadelphia traffic jam (scary and so real), one at a military base in South Korea, one in Jerusalem (tragic) and the last one in a medical facility in Wales. The film makers re-wrote and re-shot the entire third act of the film, switching from an epic battle in Russia to that tense cat-and-mouse game in Wales. I think it was a brave choice, because for a global disaster epic like this, the playbook says it must end in some sort of climactic battle. Instead, the change of pace really works without compromising suspense or the audience’s emotional engagement. I contrast this with the last act of Man of Steel, which surely takes the prize for the worst case of mind-numbing cinematic violence seen so far this summer.
There has been some online criticism of how overly calm some of the people are in the face of all this death and destruction, but I feel this is the reaction of critics who have become too used to the cinematic version of grief…very public and visual, never private. In fact, I feel that the small touches pack the biggest emotional impact – Brad Pitt’s character Gerry Lane reacts with a mix of shame and exhaustion after making an insensitive remark about another survivor’s family, Lane’s wife’s face silently crumples as she struggles to contact him via satellite phone, a team of Black Ops commandos stoically goes out to face almost certain death.
I’m hoping that WWZ makes enough money at the box office that they will complete the planned trilogy of films, perhaps even retaining some of the events from the book like the South African ‘solution’ and the Battle of Yonkers. But even if not, it stands on its own as one of the best disaster films made; at the same level as my other favorites like Independence Day, Deep Impact and War of the Worlds (all of which were much more American than global, in terms of storytelling scope).
Listed below are the remaining summer films I’ve seen in order of preference. Two big gaps in the resume are The Great Gatsby and Fast and Furious 6, all of which I hope to watch before the summer’s out:-
#2: Star Trek Into Darkness (8/10)
#3: Despicable Me 2 (7.5/10)- I just watched the preview this morning. It was as entertaining as the trailer promised it would be. Gru has to be sweetest dad in movie history (at least, in animation movie history) and the Minions must surely be one of the funniest supporting characters ever, ranking alongside Timon & Pumba as well as the Penguins and King Julien from the Madagascar films . The new character Lucy Wilde played by Kristen Wiig (who I’m not a fan of in her live action movies, by the way) is an excellent addition to the cast. To some extent, one could complain that the movie is just a series of skits/ comedy set pieces strung together, but when all those sequences are so funny, who’s to complain. I think I was laughing more than some of the kids in the hall today. And of course, my favorite part is when the head of the Anti-Villain League introduces himself “I am the league’s director Silas Ramsbottom”, followed by sniggers from two of the Minions. Steve Carrel’s voice acting of course, is beyond awesome.
#4: Iron Man 3: (7/10)
#5: Epic: (7/10): Perhaps the most beautifully animated film of 2013 so far. Great eco-friendly concept, although the bad guys were very stereotyped. Lovely theme song “Rise Up” by Beyonce will definitely go into my iPod.
#6: Oblivion: (7/10)
#7: Man of Steel: (7/10)
It seems a bit unfair to have Man of Steel all the way at the bottom of the list, but the scores for the last 4 films are all level at 7/10 and if that last act had been handled better, then quite possibly MoS could have ranked as high as #2. For me, the summer season ends with the release of Elysium in early August. But the 3 biggies to watch out for before that are The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim and The Wolverine…all worth spending the extra coin to see on IMAX 3D! Roland Emmerich’s White House Down starring Channing Tatum (the biggest box office draw of 2012, but yawn for me) is the possible joker in the pack.