Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So I just got around to seeing Maleficent.

I'm a really big fan of the original animated Sleeping Beauty, so I was really excited to see it brought to live-action. As it happens, it wasn't really the same story at all.

I really liked the movie overall, but I do have some big problems with it. I'm gonna go into crazy spoiler territory here, so if you haven't seen the movie yet (and it is worth seeing), don't read any further.

In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the baby Princess Aurora is cursed by by Maleficent, "the mistress of all evil," who decrees that on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. In order to protect Aurora, the Three Good Fairies are able to slightly alter the curse so that Aurora will not die, but rather fall into a permanent sleep. Additionally, the fairies take Aurora deep into the woods and raise her as their own daughter, hiding her away from Maleficent's gaze. As Aurora's 16th birthday nears, she meets and immediately falls in love with Prince Phillip. Meanwhile, Maleficent finally discovers where Aurora has been hidden, and the curse is finally fulfilled. Prince Phillip, with the aid of the Good Fairies, is able to slay Maleficent. Aurora is still comatose, but awakens when Phillip kisses her.

Maleficent is much more complicated, and I don't want to summarize the entire thing here. But essentially, in this new movie, Maleficent replaces Three Good Fairies and Prince Phillip. Those characters still exist in Maleficent, but they're entirely useless. The Three Fairies completely fail in their task in every conceivable way; they add absolutely nothing to the story. Aurora herself seems to not even care that they exist. Where Prince Phillip's romantic kiss broke the spell in the original movie, Maleficent's change of heart and motherly love broke it in this one. Maleficent takes on the motherly traits of the fairies as well as the heroic traits of Phillip, meaning that those characters are rendered worthless. Even Aurora herself isn't much of a character, though that's not much of a change from the original. And in order to make Maleficent an anti-hero rather than a full villain, there must be someone even more evil than she is. King Stefan takes on that role, being nearly as all-consumingly evil as Maleficent was in the original film.

Where the animated film had somewhat of an ensemble cast, with no single protagonist but a group of heroes united against a villain, Maleficent is singularly focused on Maleficent, giving her every role at once: hero, villain, mother, victim. It actually reaches the point where Maleficent herself doesn't at all resemble the original villain—the single greatest villain in all of Disney history, I might add.

This movie isn't about Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; it's about a completely different character that merely looks and sounds similar. Such a complete reinvention isn't an intrinsically bad thing, of course, except that the movie itself is clearly a modern commentary on the original. It even ends with a voiceover saying, "this is how the story really happened..."
And that's the thing: if it wanted to be an original story, it shouldn't have bent over backwards to constantly reference the older movie. And on the other hand, if it wanted to caringly revisit that story, why did it effectively crap all over everything that actually worked about it?

Sleeping Beauty had a light-and-dark moral tale, with clearly defined heroes and villains. It's often criticized for being too simplistic, but it works. Maleficent is a story that tries so hard to rework Maleficent into a positive character that every other character in the story is either evil or useless.

Now, I did say that I really liked the movie, and overall I did. I just don't like some of the plot choices that were made. Maleficent's story works on its own, even if it's just odd in comparison to the original.

I think I'm gonna watch the animated movie tonight, and I'll definitely watch Maleficent again when it comes out on blu-ray.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction on Friday.

I've had kind of a weird history with the Transformers movies. Every time I've walked out of a Transformers movie, I've been happy with it.

Despite the stupidity of the first movie, getting to see actual photorealistic transformers on the big screen was too much of a dream come true for me to not be happy. Every time I've seen it since, I've liked it less and less. Last time I watched it (which was last week,) I realized that a good 70% of the movie does not matter. Literally, you could cut out most of the movie and the story would still work.

With the second movie, my expectations were so incredibly low (I'd read early reviews) that *anything* good in that movie would have pleasantly surprised me. Also, I walked in thinking, "all I want is to see giant robots smashing each other, and for Optimus Prime to have one awesome fight scene." And both of those things happened on an EXTREME level, so I was incredibly pleased. Then I saw the movie again and thought, " this the same movie I saw last week? This is seriously bad..."

The third movie I think is the only one that, on some level, actually succeeds as a Transformers movie. The action works, there's less stupidity, and it focuses primarily on the transformers themselves rather than the humans. Upon repeat viewings I've liked it far less, but I still don't hate the movie. It has some big problems, but I do still like it to a mild degree.

And then we have this new movie. Transformers: Age of Extinction. I'm really not sure why they didn't just title it Trans4mers, or Tr4nsformers, or Transformers: 4ge of Extinction, or T4: Judgment Day, but whatever.

So here's the way T4 is laid out:
After the gigantic battle in Chicago in the last movie, all transformers—including the Autobots—are now pariahs from humanity. A bounty hunter transformer, Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon, is aiding the CIA in hunting down the remaining transformers on Earth. When we find Optimus Prime, he's wounded, barely alive, and rightly pissed at humanity for betraying him. He's seen his allies slaughtered and their bodies used for scrap metal; he's completely done with his mantra of, "we must protect humanity at all costs." That storyline is incredibly cool. It's not dumb, it's done well, and it's a legitimately great new idea for Transformers. But that only goes so far.

At some point in the movie (really it's when the rest of the Autobots are introduced into the story), the story takes a nosedive back into the cartoony, ridiculous nonsense that plagued the first three movies. Now, this movie doesn't have any of the absolutely horrendous things from the old movies. There's nothing in Age of Extinction even approaching the level of racism and stupidity from the Twins in Revenge of the Fallen. There's no robot testicles like in Revenge of the Fallen. While there is a "hot girl" in the movie, she's nowhere near as molested-by-the-camera as Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were. What this movie does have in the negative category, though, is length. This movie is almost three hours long. And it honestly only needed to be maybe an hour and forty minutes. There's so much unnecessary fluff in T4 that it's sickening. It's like no one hired an editor. Toward the end of the movie, I was sitting there wanting to scream at the screen. I wanted all the robots to die, not for story reasons, but just because I wanted the movie to end. Ironically, the lack of goofiness in the movie only hurt it—without the campy nonsense to lighten the mood, a long Transformers movie is a complete chore to get through.

And then there was one last fight scene at the end—not over-the-top, well-choreographed, and all in all very well done. It actually made me a little bit bitter at the movie. It started off with a really great premise, worked well up to a point, then went sour for an hour and a half. And then it ended with a great fight scene that only seemed to remind us how good the movie could have been.

And that's the thing, really. I've seen tons of movies that let me down as a fan of the story: Superman Returns, The Last Airbender, Man of Steel... and this one. I don't put the other Transformers movies on that list primarily because they didn't exactly disappoint me. I've never been 100% certain that a live-action Transformers movie could work the way it does in animation and comics. But here, for the first time, we got a glimpse into a world where Transformers movies were good. And it was squashed in that same movie. Age of Extinction is the Icarus of Transformers movies.