It's hard to believe but the original 300 came out eight years ago! Seems just yesterday that the movie that made me both hate my body and question my sexuality ("300 is how gay it was on a scale of 1 to 10" - Sarah Silverman...still kills me) hit the theaters and became the highest grossing March movie release in history and proof that films released in winter can make hundreds of millions of dollars. It introduced us to a style of filmmaking that we'd never seen before and made us all wish we were of Spartan heritage (my wife actually is...I'm jealous). It really was an awesome movie in the way that geeks can enjoy something. Hoping to capture lightening in a bottle, Hollywood creates an unnecessary sequel and almost destroys all that the first one established.
If you're like me, you'll wonder how a movie where (SPOILER ALERT) everyone but one person dies at the end can have a sequel. Well, in what is the only creative aspect of the film, it is both a prequel and a sequel. I love movies that do this. Rise of an Empire shows us what happened before, after and even during the events in 300 but from the perspective of a character named Themistokles, yes the one (if you know your Greek history) from Marathon, played by Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom, Gangster Squad). He tries to stop the Persian invasion from taking over Greece and wages his war on the water.
This choice to have the narrative jump in time becomes one of the areas where the film falls apart. It's hard to keep track of when certain scenes are taking place since it skips around in flashbacks and flash-forwards. This, however, is the least of its problems. The real issue comes from random newcomer Noam Murro taking over the directing since 300's Zach Snyder is still way too big to be bogged down with a sequel as silly as this. Sadly for Murro, we have no idea what he's capable of since the studio clearly told him that Rise of an Empire will look and feel like Snyder's vision of 300 in every single way. What sucks about this is that no matter how much you loved the look of 300, Rise of an Empire feels tired and played out showing you scene after scene after scene of everything you've seen before.
This is a real shame because so many people worked on such an FX-heavy film that any frame can be paused and it looks like a painting. But when someone shows up to a sequel, they expect to see something new since they could've saved the ten bucks and watched 300 again if they just wanted the same thing. The violence, the sex, the scantily-clad men with 8% body fat are all rehashed in sequences that don't blow you away anymore but instead make you exhausted.
The real shame is that the incredibly sexy Eva Green (Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) gives a wonderful performance as the ridiculously sadistic villain. She's over-the-top in every way but it works in a film that's already set in a hyper-reality. It's also fun to see a woman given the chance to show that girls can play baddies just as well as boys but her character is so superficially written that her wings are clipped in what could've been a more entertaining element of the film. Positively speaking, the one thing Rise of an Empire did well was make you want to watch 300 again.
During last years holiday season, a comedian went around to local news stations across the country pretending to be a chef. Here is video of him brilliantly promoting his fictional cook book about what to do with holiday leftovers:
Granted, I have not been keeping up with star Liam Neeson's career as closely as, I guess, I should have. I remember regarding him as a very serious and accomplished actor for most of my life. Maybe it was the Oscar win for Schindler's List or the underrated and heartfelt Love Actually. I think I should stop doing that since all he seems to do now are action films that are either the same thing over and over again or really, really bad. Non-Stop isn't bad. It doesn't join the ranks of Battleship, The Next Three Days or Clash of the Titans, but it does belong with the incredibly forgettable films of his career where it seems like he's in a pickle and has to punch and shoot his way out of it.
Non-Stop is an action murder mystery that takes place on a plane. Does that seem like a gimmick? At first, absolutely, but the premise of a Federal Air Marshal trying to stop a clever killer on a plane as an elaborate hijacking is at least interesting. What's really fun is that it feels like the 1974 classic Murder on the Orient Express. There is a killer in a trapped vehicle and everyone is a suspect. Whether it was intentional or not, I really enjoyed and appreciated that aspect of it even if it gets a little silly at the end.
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is a name that you shouldn't recognize because he's made some pretty awful movies like House of Wax, Orphan and the other Liam Neeson shoot-em-up Unknown. He does a relatively noble job making something out of almost nothing with some interesting choices to move the story along. He also shows us some things we've never seen before but that's probably because they're too silly to have been thought up prior to this, such as an elaborate fight scene in an airplane bathroom. I would've enjoyed the film a lot more if it wasn't as slick and over-produced as he made it considering the simplicity to which the great Sidney Lumet made Murder on the Orient Express.
A team of co-stars was assembled for this that each have the capacity for stellar performances. Anson Mount (AMC's Hell on Wheels), Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy (Argo, 12 Years a Slave) and Michelle Dockery (PBS's Downton Abbey, Hanna) are all wasted in roles that are as cliche and one-dimensional as you can get. The worst case of this is Lupita Nyong'o, who's nominated and will probably win the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, in a role that has perhaps five whole minutes of combined screen time. In a movie where everyone is a suspect, these types of characters need to be deep, complex, suspicious and challenging. Sadly, in Non-Stop they are none of those.
I'm not a movie snob and I recognize that movies like this have their purpose in the culture of cinema. They're fun and silly and meant to be enjoyed for the 90 minutes you're staring at it and then forgotten about. What makes this one feel different is the motivation of the killer is deeply political and an important message. Fine, but don't put something like that in a movie where a gun rises in slow motion off the ground as the plane loses altitude just long enough for our hero to grab it in mid-air and fire it. Moments like that get an unintentional laugh from the audience. Again though, that's fine in the right movie; but if it happens moments after a character says the most interesting and profound statement in the film, you've made a lapse in judgement.
Growing up was challening at times for me because my parents had a strict rule with not allowing me to see R-rated films growing up. I can't really think of a time this pissed me off more than when Robocop came out in 1987. I was only 7-years-old, as were most of my friends, but their parents let them see it despite its gore and bad language. What made my crew talking about it extra frustrating was that it had an extensive line of toys that came out supporting the film and everyone had them. Everyone. I did eventually get to see it when I was a teenager when friends of mine wanted to watch it for nostalgia. I didn't love it and thought it was cheesey and silly but in that I saw the appeal for other people. But a remake of Robocop that gets rid of the cheese and silliness is more ridiculous than a Robocop with it.
Brazilian director Jose Padilha is no slouch when it comes to action films. His Elite Squad films, which got very little attention in the states, are really well done action films. When I saw that he was being handed Robocop by Hollywood I was pretty excited. A gritty hardcore action film about a half robot-half human police officer seemed like something he'd be able to do wonders with. What I forgot was that Hollywood was involved and what they ended up doing was watering down his potential to a PG-13 level so this time around repsonsible parents like mine could bring their kids. What they ended up doing was making it an action movie where lots of people die but in ways that make you think you're watching an old Spaghetti Western; shot, yell, fall, no blood.
The other change they made was to pump in a message and humanity. Now, this is something that I typically love in cinema! When Christopher Nolan did both to the Batman series, particulary in The Dark Knight, I thought it was what officially made that the greatest superhero movie of all time. In Robocop it doesn't work though. You have Samuel L. Jackson playing a Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck type lunatic who uses his show as propaganda for a corporation trying to bend US law and public opinion to allow these cyborg cops on the street. You also have Gary Oldman playing the brilliant scientist who begrudgingly strips away Robocop's humanity and soul until he's nothing more than an organic robot. Both of these concepts seem brilliant and obvious but they end up making everything tedious and rather dull.
What was lost in the film was that it's called Robocop. That title is one of the silliest titles ever created. The reason why we accepted that as the title of the original was because you got what you paid for; a man-robot shooting bad guys in Detroit. What you end up seeing with this remake is attempted deepness that instead should have had a prentious title like The Loss of Self or At What Price. Instead of a badass hero running around blasting holes in everything, you get a lot of people standing around debating the merits of what is happening and then seeing the emotional toll it takes on the characters. I'll watch that movie but not when I'm expecting Robocop.
That's not to say there isn't action, of course there is; but it goes back to my original critique that it's watered down. In fact, it's so watered down that some moments feel like you're watching CSI or some other carboncopy network cop show. But what really helps the film are two great performances from star Joel Kinnaman (Safe House, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who's a face and name you don't recognize but when you're wearing a mask over your face over half the movie, you're not gonna get an A-lister and Michael Keaton who's the CEO bad guy. What I loved about Keaton's performance is that he's likable and logical. He's calm through the entire movie and that makes him scarier because it's a far more realistic villain for the time.
Will this version of Robocop have the same impact on society that the original did? Not at all. He looks cooler and I'm sure kids will buy a toy or two but it's not the same. They tried to make the film for everyone and, just like with everything, when you try to make something appeal to everyone you end up making it appeal to no one. Despite its FX and performances and everywhere it succeeds, Robocop just comes across feeling...well...robotic.
Gavin's Giveaway this week is Advanced Screening passes to see Non-Stop! CLICK HERE to enter to win!