Does the Wreck-It Ralph review from Monday count as a callback? Sure, why not.
I enjoyed watching Wreck-It Ralph, and if you are a long-time fan of video games, you will almost certainly enjoy it too.
Does the Wreck-It Ralph review from Monday count as a callback? Sure, why not.
I enjoyed watching Wreck-It Ralph, and if you are a long-time fan of video games, you will almost certainly enjoy it too.
The 1980s were the Decade of the Arcade. Propelled by the success of such classics as Pac-Man, Galaga, and the original Super Mario Bros., the video arcade became a fixture of modern culture. However, as home consoles and personal computing technology became more powerful, at-home gaming began to eclipse the shared experience of the coin-op. By the late 90s, the arcade was on the decline.
But somehow, in the world of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, Litwak’s Arcade has managed to stay open for over 30 years, and this venue provides the setting for the titular hero’s adventures.
Wreck-It Ralph is a career bad guy in the game Fix-It Felix Jr.. Every day he smashes up Niceland’s apartments, gets thrown off the roof after Felix repairs the damage, and repeats the process level after level until the arcade closes. As the game’s hero, Felix gets pies, parties, medals, and the approbation of the Nicelanders; Ralph gets to go home to the dump. After 30 years of the gig, he’s had enough.
So Ralph heads to Game Central Station, goes AWOL from his game, and sets out in search of an opportunity to prove he can be a hero. He manages to earn a medal in the arcade’s new Halo-esque shooter “Hero’s Duty,” but in the process he ends up cross-contaminating the candy-themed go-kart racer “Sugar Rush” with a robotic insect enemy. It’s up to Ralph to fix the wreck he’s made before the arcade’s game machines start going haywire and getting unplugged.
Ralph’s relatability is among the film’s strongest points. Audience members can easily find something to identify with in his questions about his role and identity as the low guy on the totem pole; he’s stuck, frustrated, and grappling with a quarter-life crisis. The movie opens with Ralph voicing his dissatisfaction at a support group for game villains, and it’s no mistake that the scene featured prominently in the trailers. When Ralph befriends a sharp-tongued outcast Sugar Rush racer named Vanellope von Schweetz, their rapport drives the second half of the movie as they team up to get Vanellope a slot in the game’s daily roster—and later to save the game itself.
Another of Wreck-It Ralph‘s strengths is how it brings video games to life on the big screen. A la Toy Story, it’s a look into the secret lives of video game characters: how they feel about their roles, what they do in their off-hours, what they want and what they fear. At its best moments, it captures what makes us want to step into these characters’ shoes and interact with their digital worlds. The voice cast is well-selected and plays their roles to the hilt—Jack McBrayer in particular was born to play the gung-ho, squeaky-clean Fix-It Felix. The characters have an iconic appeal and a lot of heart. When Ralph smashes up Vanellope’s kart to keep her out of the qualifying race, insisting that it’s for her own good, the scene hit me in the chest, and I cheered for him as he raced toward the film’s climax to set right the wreckage from all his mistakes.
The classic cameos and gaming gags make the whole show tons of fun, as well. The punster in me loved the wordplay such as King Candy’s “fungeon” and Vanellope’s glitchy “pixlexia.” The 3D-rendered characters and environments are well-animated, but they’re also complemented by pixelated, sprite-based graphics, another nice touch. When the Bad-Anon meeting concludes, it’s revealed that it occurred in the central box of a Pac-Man level, and 16×16 sprites of Ralph, Bowser, M.Bison, and others leave for Game Central Station via the level’s side-tunnel. The action in the modern FPS Hero’s Duty is dark and frenetic, and the Sugar Rush “set design” packs its tracks with giant gumball boulders, cherry bombs, and crazy ramps over milk chocolate rivers. The “kart baking” mini-game sequence by which Ralph and Vanellope construct a racing vehicle is fantastically fun, and the scene where the two of them learn how to drive the kart is the most successful training montage I’ve ever seen. Video games are incredibly weird—the best-selling game franchise of all time features a plumber who increases in size by grabbing mushrooms and jumps on other, evil mushrooms. When Ralph grapples with a robotic bug in a sci-fi escape pod crashing through cotton-candy clouds into a candy cane forest, it’s one of many moments that capture that manic video-game surreality.
The film is not without its warts, though. The script is generally on-target, occasionally sharpens its wit for a pointed one-liner, but at points turns obnoxious or dull. There’s a surfeit of hit-or-miss lowest-common-denominator gags, e.g. a stream of “Hero’s Doody” jokes from Vanellope which is only partially redeemed from unfunniness by its machine-gun relentlessness. The film’s potty humor is more potty than humorous, with frequent references to biological and excretory functions (“go[ing] pee-pee in your big boy pants,” “It’ll make Felix’s medals wet their pants,” etc.), and the concept of “vurping” (vomiting while burping) is not nearly as entertaining as Vanellope thinks it is. At such points, the script is lackluster where it ought to bristle with wit; the slapstick, while still occasionally obnoxious, is generally more successful.
Ultimately, Wreck-It Ralph has a lot in common with its protagonist: amiable, funny, a little foul-smelling at times, but willing to put its heart into it when the chips are down. Die-hard video game enthusiasts of all ages will easily find it worth the full price of a ticket. More casual gamers or animation fans may want to catch a matinee or wait for its release in dollar theaters or on DVD. It’s a solid video game movie—and while video game movies have fallen flat more often than not, Ralph is a film that can stand on its own two feet.
Over Thanksgiving weekend I saw The Muppets with my family. I did not stop smiling through the film; Kermit and crew are as ridiculously charming as ever.
The plot is simple: while touring the run-down Muppet Studios with his brother Gary (Jason Segal) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), an enthusiastic muppet fan named Walter (himself also a brightly-colored puppet with no nose) discovers an oil magnate’s scheme to raze the Muppet Theater and start drilling on its grounds. Much of the movie’s charm comes from its self-aware cheese. Walter tries to convince Kermit the Frog to reunite the Muppets for a fund-raising show to save the theater, and when Kermit seems hesitant, Mary remarks with a worried frown: “This is going to be a very short movie!” As Kermit tracks down the rest of the team, they decide to speed up the process with a musical montage, and when they discover that Miss Piggy currently resides as a fashion mogul in Paris, Fozzie suggests that they travel “by map.” Cut away to a red line tracing its way across the Atlantic, and a shot of the car driving up on a crowded European beach.
Propelling the plot is the question of whether the muppets are still relevant to the present generation. The silver screen hasn’t seen a new muppet film in some ten years, and the brand has dropped out of the limelight since Disney acquired it in 2004. Contemporary culture is more cynical, with fewer taboos about potentially offensive material: how could the family-friendly slapstick of the muppets speak to the Judd Apatow generation? This movie is a rather daring answer to that question, that with humor for humans of all ages, the muppets can bring us “the third-best thing of all–laughter.” And it succeeds, with rambunctious slapstick, self-aware schtick, and just a hint of an edge for flavor. I’m not sure whether to give it a 3 or a 4, but I certainly enjoyed it, as will any other metahumor junkie. (And aren’t you, a reader of Sketch Comedy, also a metahumor junkie?)
That’s my take on it, anyway. The following links may also be of interest to you:
Tom Brazelton from the webcomic Theater Hopper has been celebrating Muppet Fever for the past two weeks, and his accompanying blog entries have some salient reflections for long-time muppet fans.
Plugged In Magazine also has an interview with Kermit the Frog about his past body of work, maintaining the integrity of the Muppet brand, and what to call him and Miss Piggy as a showbiz couple.
Have you seen The Muppets yet? What did you think?
I finally got to see the new Planet of the Apes movie this week. It was real good! I try not to just hand out 4’s like candy, but I honestly think I’d give it a 4/5. It is good for precisely the reasons discussed in the comic.
Making out with the characters in your comic, on the other hand, is never a good idea. Generally, if you have to ask, there’s your red flag already.
The joke is more about the theater they’re seeing it at than the movie itself. The funny thing is, I’m not even all that excited about Cowboys and Aliens.
(Warning: sometimes the Multiplex 10 is R-rated. Please use discretion in reading webcomics.)
P.S. Hey, check it out! My question was featured in Ask Axe Cop!
Captain America is the best superhero movie I have seen this summer.
I’m not planning to do a formal review here. Those things take like three hours to do and end up sounding like a college essay, not that that’s a bad thing. But I thoroughly enjoyed the flick and thought it got a number of things right. First, the cast delivers a solid performance all around; Hugo Weaving is a standout as the villain Red Skull, and everyone brings their A-game. Second, Captain America puts a 1940’s war-movie twist on the superhero movie, with a bit of pulp-adventure sensibility for flavor. It’s a welcome bit of variety to shake up the superhero formula that Thor so thoroughly relied on. Third, it’s uncompromisingly uncynical. The Captain has just enough flaws to make him believably human, but more than enough virtue to paint the picture of a hero; as Dr. Abraham Erskine says, the Captain is “not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it delivers the action. Captain America pulls off all the sweet shield stunts you’d expect; the pacing of the build to the climax is excellent; each challenge leaves you wondering how Cap will overcome it and then going “Dude, that was awesome!” when he does.
At the end of the day, I’d give it a 4/5. Looking back over my past reviews, I note that it is the first movie covered on SC to not receive a 3.5/5. I would even go so far as to say it is almost as good as Iron Man, which is the only superhero movie at which I have cried.
You can’t go wrong with Captain America.
Since their introduction in the early 1960s, the X-Men have become one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic and popular franchises, and central to the franchise are the characters Charles “Professor X” Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), better known as Magneto. Over the decades the two have embodied an ideological clash of peaceful coexistence versus mutant superiority. In 2011, in keeping with the proud comic-book tradition of retconning, rebooting, and generally playing fast-and-loose with continuity, Marvel Entertainment Studios both revisits and re-imagines their origins with X-Men: First Class.
As their respective mutant leaders, a lot of weight rests on McAvoy’s and Fassbender’s shoulders, and the two deliver. Fassbender is by far the show-stealer here. As the film’s antagonist, a Nazi collaborator named Sebastian Shaw, psychologically tortures the young Erik Lensherr to release his mutant powers, the doctor notes, “We unlock your gift with anger, Erik—anger and pain.” Fassbender as the older Magneto displays the anger and pain of his childhood with a calculated, vengeful genius. When he forcibly pulls out a man’s iron fillings to extract from him a lead on Dr. Shaw, the audience can identify with the emotions that drive his viciousness. Similarly, McAvoy’s Professor X is less straight-arrow than Patrick Stewart’s portrayal in the X-Men film trilogy; he often drinks, uses his knowledge of genetics as a pick-up line, and manipulates others with his psychic powers much more casually. Much of the film’s fun comes from watching Charles Xavier mature as a leader—and watching Lensherr torn between an ethic of revenge and the hope for peaceable change that his colleague extends to him.
A strength of the X-Men franchise has always been how it addresses social themes and issues of identity through metaphor. Notably, X-Men: First Class presents a nuanced view of choice. Most superhero movies deliver a simple message: “We all have a choice to do good or evil (say, by throwing a truck at the bad guys)!” XFC, however, questions to what extent our choices are shaped by our histories and how we interpret them. Cautioning Lensherr against pursuing revenge, Xavier warns, “Killing Shaw will not bring you peace.” Lensherr responds, “Peace was never an option.” While Lensherr views the present through the lens of his childhood experiences of human prejudice and cruelty, Xavier’s privileged upbringing gives him a reason to believe in the possibility of peace. The film confronts the uncomfortable prospect that, at least to some extent, where we come from and how we choose to view our past may well predetermine our present actions.
XFC also employs superhuman spectacle to develop its themes. A superhero movie without over-the-top action would hardly be worth seeing, and this movie delivers, as when Erik tears a ship to shreds using the chain of its own anchor. Characters employ their powers tactically, making battles play out like chaotic games of human chess. The devilish-looking teleport Azazel brings particular strategic menace to his fight scenes. He uses his powers to disorient, lacerate, and transports foes to enormous heights and dropping them before teleporting away, attack methods that are both visually impressive and tactically sound. Throughout, director Matthew Vaughn doesn’t overdo the action. He plays with dramatic tension through the fights in such a way that when Xavier mind-controls a foe at a critical moment, it’s almost as awesome as Lensherr’s submarine stunt. Almost.
Unfortunately, for all it gets right, the film also gets plenty wrong. It suffers from jerky pacing, and as it jumps forward through space and time, the plot gets broken into loosely-connected geographical pieces, Argentina to the US to Russia to Cuba. Gratuitous sexuality mars the plot as well; in more than one scene, lingerie-clad prostitutes flirt with partying bureaucrats and businessmen before retreating to intimate quarters. The sexual content does little to develop character or advance the plot.
While Xavier, Lensherr, and a few other major characters see ample development, much of the ensemble cast gets short shrift. Xavier’s superhero recruits introduced late in the film get a token nod to development through a cliché training montage, while supporting villains are lucky to get a line of speaking dialogue. Emma Frost (January Jones) embodies these two flaws at once: her character in the comic books could have all the engaging backstory in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie. With her midriff-revealing, low-cut tops and uncompelling acting, her role is reduced to mere fanservice.
XFC digs deep in some areas, mining its source material for some unique glimpses into human nature and the nature of choice, but elsewhere it leaves a lot of untapped potential. Ultimately, the gratuitous sexual content sank this ship for me, and the pacing issues made it difficult to enjoy. You may find it to be worth your eight bucks, but my advice is to skip it—and if you haven’t already, go see Thor.
Marvel Comics’ Thor has always been about the collision of the old world with the new.
First appearing in Marvel’s Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962), Thor and his fellow Asgardians are extradimensional beings of vast power, the truth behind the legends of Norse mythology. Odin (Anthony Hopkins), to teach his prideful son a lesson, banishes Thor to the modern world to live as a mortal and learn humility. Thor (Chris Helmsworth) struggles to discover who he is when stripped of his divine power—and his divine hammer Mjolnir—fumbling for direction in a world of Toyotas and iPods. Meanwhile, conflict brews with the frost giants, Asgard’s ancient enemies, and an underhanded plot threatens the kingdom from within.
Via a cross-dimensional atmospheric storm, Thor is ejected from his heavenly realm smack into the research van of astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and from that point, the two show palpable romantic chemistry. She quickly realizes that Thor’s mysterious origins make him a potentially-helpful wild card in her studies on wormholes. Every glance and gesture, every question Jane makes into Thor’s identity, every lesson she teaches him in decency and humanity (“When you want another cup of coffee, you ask nicely, not smash the mug on the floor!”) draws them closer together. Portman and Helmsworth perform their romantic roles with satisfying restraint, which is fitting, as their romance isn’t the centerpiece of the film.
At its heart, Thor is an archetypal story of redemption after a fall from grace, and through Jane and the others he meets, the god of thunder learns to temper his rashness with wisdom. From the beginning, Thor exhibits heroic qualities such as bravery and loyalty, faltering as a hero only when his pride drives these traits to excess. When, in a subversive echo of the Arthurian legend of Excalibur, he tries to pull Mjolnir from the rock it’s embedded in and fails, he realizes he is unworthy to wield the hammer. His frustrated roar to the heavens is the turning point in the transition from headstrong boy to humbled hero. Helmsworth delivers the roar, and the rest of his performance, with little subtlety or restraint.
After all, Thor is also a superhero movie.
And ultimately, the film is more epic clashing spectacle than profound drama. Asgard is rendered with sleek and monolithic CG architecture, palaces full of smooth shiny surfaces and breathtaking chasm-spanning views: utterly believable as “a place where technology and magic are one and the same.” Fights are brutal and impressive. Thor and friends throw themselves with battle-hungry vigor into an ill-advised and unsanctioned attack on their enemies, the frost giants, but come to realize their mistake as the giants slowly turn the tide with every icy clutch and stab. Later, to save his friends, Thor fights a losing battle as a mortal against an Asgardian war machine—then curb-stomps it with satisfying finality when he regains his powers.
Delivering action and drama, Thor is a solid movie—but not without its shortcomings.
As soon as Thor hits earth, a modern-humor sensibility injects itself into the narrative. A few “clever” quips detract from the film’s prevailingly epic mood, as when Jane’s assistant Darcy bemoans, “They took my iPod!” one time too many. At times the humor is used to good effect as part of Thor’s humbling, but the script fails to tone back the witticisms as it approaches the middle of the movie. Director Kenneth Branagh, with his Shakespearean background, can command plenty of dramatic gravitas, but when a modern SHIELD agent describes Thor’s companions as “We’ve got a Xena, a Jackie Chan, and a Robin Hood,” the audience is laughing when they should be bracing for battle.
Secondly, Thor’s younger brother Loki is ostensibly a trickster, but a schemer of his divine caliber should be able to muster more than the flimsy card-house of lies by which he usurps Asgard’s throne. It’s all too easy to see through his schemes, and Jane and company are much more successful liars—their deception actually manages to get Thor out of SHIELD’s hands! Loki isn’t an impressive villain, his fight scene near the end suffers from sluggish pacing, and among human prevaricators he fails to stand out.
Still, this is a movie worth your eight bucks. It brings entertainment and drama wrapped up in the story of Thor’s expiation. Moreover, it makes one of Marvel’s less-known superheroes accessible to the casual viewer, and brings the grand scope of Norse mythology into the modern world. The film is only as deep as it has to be—but it’s not content to stop at brain-dead entertainment. You won’t learn any new moral truths, but you may well remember something you already knew.
C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are, at their heart, children’s stories. Many readers have fond childhood memories of them, and even those who discovered them later in life may find that they appeal particularly to their inner child–no surprise, considering that Lewis wrote the first book particularly for his god-daughter, Lucy Barfield.
Subsequent attempts to translate Narnia into film, from the 1979 animation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the BBC’s four television serials of the early 90s to Walden Media’s recent offerings, have met with varying degrees of success. The latest installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, may not be the best cinematic adaptation of Narnia, but it pulls off that childlike sense of wonder and adventure that Prince Caspian failed to deliver.
As the story begins, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the younger Pevensie siblings, are staying with their irritating cousin Eustace, when they happen upon an unusual painting that transports the three of them back to Narnia. Plunged unceremoniously into the Narnian sea, they are quickly rescued by their old friend King Caspian and the crew of his ship, the Dawn Treader. Together, they explore uncharted waters in search of Narnia’s seven lost lords in order to combat a sinister and amorphous green mist; along the way, they encounter slave traders, alchemical pools, a retired star, invisible monopod dwarves, and a deadly sea serpent before finally reaching the edge of Aslan’s Country.
Much of the story focuses on Eustace’s growth from odious brat to repentant adventurer, and Will Poulter plays his role to the hilt. Precocious, petulant, self-centered, and entirely dismissive of anything imaginative as “children’s stories” and “nonsense,” Eustace’s logical approach to the fantastic otherland is engagingly obnoxious. Too much Eustace would be off-putting–and the film does border on too much Eustace–but thankfully he possesses a measure of wit, and excerpts from his diary add a sympathetic aspect and make it his story. (And let’s be honest: as scientific-minded, modern individuals, Eustace’s skeptical reaction to a world of magic and wonder would probably be our own.)
Eustace, when he succumbs to greed, finds himself transformed into a dragon to reflect his inward dragonishness, a form he is impotent to shed without the help of Aslan himself. Others must also face their inner demons–Edmund grapples with guilt over aiding the White Witch and a desire for power, Lucy contends with jealousy of older sister Susan and a desire for physical beauty, and King Caspian…well, has daddy issues. Not every facet of our heroes’ temptations is handled compellingly, but when Lucy caves and recites a spell to turn her into Susan (thereby erasing Lucy momentarily from all of existence), or when Edmund pulls his sword on Caspian over a pool that transforms anything into gold, such moments are genuinely chilling. Henley and Keynes are very much at home with their characters by now, and are just as capable of portraying their darker faults as the traits that make them so endearing.
It’s difficult to translate literature to film, and Dawn Treader‘s episodic nature and explorations of character do not easily lend themselves to contemporary movie sensibilities. In essence, the movie takes the key elements and events of the book and weaves them around a primary conflict with a mysterious and corrupting green mist. The movie is reasonably faithful to the source material, though perhaps not as faithful as it could have been. Most notably, the green mist is added as a central antagonist, and the characters describe it in the hyperbolic moral rhetoric of fantasy–a “great evil” that threatens Narnia as we know it. To successfully port Dawn Treader to the silver screen, it’s all but necessary to invent an antagonist, but the voyage turns into a “fetch quest” for the seven Narnian lords’ swords that would be more at home in a Legend of Zelda game. It’s hard to take this amorphous “pure evil” seriously, especially when it’s described with overblown gravity more fitting for Lord of the Rings than a fantastical seafaring picaresque.
At the end of the day, Dawn Treader is a solid and family-friendly adventure that will engage your inner child. Enter the theater ready for fantastic sights, strange lands, and just enough self-discovery to keep things interesting. Also, forego the 3D, which is used well and inobtrusively enough, but doesn’t really add an extra $3 worth to the experience. It may not be all that it could have been, but Dawn Treader delivers wonder and adventure that you’d be pressed to find anywhere else.
I went to see RED over the weekend, at my brother’s suggestion. David’s been looking forward to this movie, owing to the all-star cast, the fact that it’s based off a DC comics property, and the trailer showing Helen Mirren with a gatling gun. As we headed out, I figured I’d give the movie a full-fledged review and grabbed my notebook.
I always take notes when I’m going to do a serious review–Gordon McAlpin recommends it, and it’s served me well. With notes, it’s much easier to remember specific examples to support your critical summations. But a funny thing happened at RED: as I was scribbling in the dark through the whole film, it ended up diminishing my enjoyment. RED was a lot funnier than I expected, and even though the conspiratorial convolutions of its plot were pretty standard fare, it did have plenty of fun action scenes and entirely likable characters. But with my attention to scrawling notes and thinking ahead to my review, I found my attention divided, and I missed some of the fun.
So, here’s my review: don’t review this movie! If you’re looking for something substantial–a film that reaches to your core, that says something about what it really means to be human–you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you think it’s a little early to say goodbye to the summer action flicks, RED will be well worth your bucks. Plugged In has a review of it describing it as “a chocolate-drizzled deep-fried Twinkie of a movie.” Honestly, I couldn’t agree more with that.
And, lest you think that’s entirely a positive thing, allow me to quote another line, this one from our friend Gordon: “Too much junk food rots your teeth. Too much junk storytelling rots your brain.”