Best Movie Posters of 2013

If you’ve read any of my reviews or retrospectives, you’ll probably notice that I have an interest in the design of film posters. As a result of this interest, I decided to put together a list of the best movie posters of the year. I’ve been collecting cool posters for months now and have had to do my best to whittle down this list to an acceptable number. In the future, I might turn this into a seasonal column, but for now enjoy my favourite movie posters of the year 2013!

Note: This list only encompasses films released in 2013, although some of the independent films may have been given a variety of earlier releases as well. So, as much as I want to put this amazing Godzilla poster on the list, I’ll have to wait til next year. Films with a few notable posters have been grouped together. Also, click on any of the posters for a larger resolution image (otherwise this entry will be too damn long).

Honourable Mentions:
I had a pretty long list of posters for this list, so naturally not all of them made the cut for one reason or another: maybe they were only a special issue poster or a cool design that doesn’t really do much to sell me on the movie. Maybe it was just not good enough to crack the top 10. Whatever the case, these are the posters that didn’t make the list, but that I felt deserved some recognition.

I never saw this movie because, frankly, it looked a) like the very definition of a generic buddy cop comedy and b) really bad. However, if they had based the entire marketing campaign on Struzan-esque posters like this, I might have been first in line. Unfortunately, the rest of the marketing campaign relied on gluing glasses to Sandra Bullock and trying to make Melissa McCarthy go through lipsuction.

I thought this one was just cute, although it doesn’t really tell me anything about the film. It’s definitely indie, maybe it’s quirky too, and there’s about a 25% chance of hot dogs being involved somewhere in there. Still, very clever design work went into this one.

This one makes the list for its unconventional tactics. No, not The Big Wedding, look closer. This is actually a poster for You’re Next, slipping a masked killer into the reflection (these were originally placed inside of bus stops… which is just awesome). Probably too subtle, but still a clever marketing tactic (and one which further ensures that You’re Next is gonna be in my blu-ray collection soon).

10) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Admittedly I mostly picked these because of Jena Malone and Jennifer Lawrence, but the posters do a good job of establishing the characters and “epic” scale of the Hunger Games franchise. The one of Katniss in particular has very interesting colour grading, making it almost appear… dated in a sense. In any case, it’s very well-composed and visually stunning. As for the one of Johanna, it does a good job of setting up this character as someone you don’t want to mess with, largely due to Jena Malone’s icy stare. The stunning subjects of these two posters really go a long way to cementing their exemplary quality.

9) The Wolverine
The Wolverine was a pretty mediocre film, but the posters marketing it were nearly all amazing. The high contrast water colour paintings of the characters are stunning and really helped to set this film apart from other super hero flicks which were going for flashy style over substance. Too bad the film couldn’t have been this artsy… hell, if they made an animated Wolverine in this style, it would be gorgeous.
 
8) Mr. Jones
WTF? Nightmares indeed. I have no idea what this movie is about, but the poster is disturbing enough by itself. For some reason, I imagine the film itself isn’t about how the ents get revenge on us, but I would bet that the movie is pretty harrowing.
 
7) World War Z
Much like The Wolverine, the black and white style really makes this poster standout. The fact that this scene is actually in the movie adds to World War Z‘s favour though. The poster promises an epic, blockbuster scale and that it will be unique – a feature which is crucial in a time in which we are exhausted with zombies. Of course, the movie ended up sucking, but at least the poster was awesome.
 
6) Machete Kills
Machete Kills was simultaneously exactly what I expected and very disappointing. It was incoherent and bloated, but it gained a lot of points in my book for how ridiculous it was – a feature highlighted very early by the marketing for the film. The poster of Sophia Vergara with the minigun brazier is hilarious and awesome and basically single-handedly won my ticket. The Lady Gaga poster is very intriguing as well. For one thing, I really don’t like Lady Gaga, but the poster does a fantastic job of portraying her as both exotic and intriguing. If only they had integrated her into the film more naturally, it may not have been for naught…



5) Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Story
Like quite a few films on this list, I have no idea what this movie is about, but isn’t this poster a thing of beauty? Based on the poster, I would assume it has something to do with racial conflict in America.


4) Would You Rather
OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH. NO. I can pretty much guarantee the movie isn’t nearly as harrowing as this poster is. Gah, just the thought of sticking a blade near my eye like that just freaks me out. If I was caught in the Death Mask trap from Saw II and the only way I could live was to cut my eye out, I’d just sit down and die. Suffice to say, this movie poster gives me the heeby-jeebies and just makes me think of all the other sick stuff the filmmakers might have put into a film with this title.

3) Iron Man 3
It takes a lot for a second sequel to cause excitement, especially after following up after a really poor first sequel (Iron Man 2, obviously) and a really good spin-off of unprecedented proportions (The Avengers, obviously). The marketing for Iron Man 3 lives up to this task, showing us a vulnerable Tony Stark who somehow has to get out of what is clearly an extremely deadly situation which one-ups the alien invasion storyline of The Avengers. The poster featuring the stylized Iron Man suits is also noteworthy for its very cool-looking design. For some reason, it makes me think of anime/manga art.




2) Gangster Squad
Gangster Squad had some truly exceptional posters perfectly capturing the spirit of pulp/noir gangster films. A lot of props have to go to the fact that Emma Stone is absolutely stunning in that red dress (hell, she carries her own poster and sells the film on that fact). Of course, the movie was an enormous disappointment, but between the trailers and the posters, the marketing for the film was undeniably brilliant.














1) Spring Breakers
This poster (the one on the right) is just brilliant. It looks pretty serene at first, like a still from an inspirational drama or a chick flick. Oh look, it’s a dude playing piano and serenading a trio of bikini-clad women in front of a gorgeous sunset. It’s covered in a girly purple font. It almost looks like a perfume/cologne ad. However, it also manages to be subtly unsettling. What’s up with the horror-esque font on the title and credits? And then you notice the girls surrounding the pianist are wearing ski masks and slinging rifles. Is this pianist just crazy or are the girls going to kill him if he doesn’t play? When you look past the very basics of this poster, it gets really intriguing. I haven’t seen Spring Breakers, but from what I understand of it, the poster captures the dichotomy of beauty and the threat of violence which really runs through the film.

Also of note are the less-artsy posters which made up the bulk of the film’s marketing – they capitalize on pastel colours and sex, which might be selling the film a little deceptively but at least the posters look good. I chose to show the Ashley Benson poster because it single-handedly put her on my radar, haha.

And there you have it – my favourite film posters of 2013. I think I’ll turn this into a regular column on this blog so be sure to come back for more in the near future! And be sure to add your favourite past and upcoming posters in the comments section below.
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Retrospective: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Merry Christmas good readers, and welcome back to the Die Hard retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to cover the fifth film in the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard (ugh, stupid title). Just as a note, since the Die Hard franchise started out as a “Christmas movie” of sorts, I’ve intentionally lined up this retrospective to coincide with the holiday. I’m sure plenty of us will be watching the original tonight… I’d also like to mention that this blog is over a year old now! It actually hit that mark on December 4th, but I thought it was a little later than that. In any case, I’m glad I’ve been able to keep this thing going at a regular pace, and hopefully we can continue to do so well into 2014! Oh and thanks for reading and supporting I Choose to Stand! Anyway, I missed A Good Day to Die Hard in theaters and so went into this retrospective with a fresh view on the film. Does it live up to previous films in the franchise? Read on to find out…

Again, same template for the poster design. Not particularly innovative, although it highlights the characters and setting (via the humorously photoshopped Kremlin in the background).

Despite the financial and critical success of Live Free or Die Hard, production didn’t begin on a fifth Die Hard film until 2010. Initially, the project was known as Die Hard 24/7, leading to significant speculation that the film was to be a crossover between Die Hard and 24. Supposedly, the film would have been pretty similar, with Jack McClane being replaced with Jack Bauer. Maybe John McClane would have been on vacation in Russia, which would make some of the film we got make a bit more sense… but anyway, this was never confirmed and the film was eventually retitled to “A Good Day to Die Hard“. In any case, A Good Day is the first Die Hard film to start production as a part of the Die Hard franchise instead of another source.

Scriptwriting duties were given to Skip Woods… and his CV is a doozy. X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Hitman? Swordfish? The A-Team? His screenwriting credits read like a history of major failed blockbusters. The film was directed by John Moore, notable for such films as Max Payne, the Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen remakes and Behind Enemy Lines. While I haven’t really watched any of his films, I am told that they tend to not be very good. That said, the trailers for Max Payne had a really strong, interesting visual element, so if nothing else then hopefully he could make the film look very nice. As for the cast, Bruce Willis returns (obviously), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a small cameo as well. Playing Jack McClane, John’s estranged son, is Jai Courtney, known for Jack Reacher and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Sebastian Koch plays Komarov, an imprisoned billionare who Jack has to defend. The film also features of few villains, although only a couple are notable. Radivoje Bukvic plays Alik, the main villain though most of the film. Yuliya Snigr plays Irina, the skanky chick from the trailer who acts as Alik’s main henchwoman.

Moving on to the plot, A Good Day to Die Hard follows John McClane trying to reconnect with his son, Jack. He discovers that Jack has been imprisoned and is on trial in Moscow for attempted assassination. Travelling to Moscow to bail Jack out, he gets caught up in a terrorist plot to assassinate billionare Komarov who Jack has been assigned to protect – it turns out that Jack’s actually a CIA agent and Komarov holds information which is vital to international security. As a result, John and Jack take the fight to the terrorists and bond in the process.

If it sounds like A Good Day to Die Hard has a pretty typical set-up for the Die Hard series, you’d be dead wrong. From the opening credit sequence, A Good Day feels very “off” from how a Die Hard film’s tone usually feels. The opening sets up a self-serious political action-thriller story about how Komarov and Russian defence minister Chagarin had a falling out, and now want each other dead. Considering that this is the first film intentionally written for the franchise, it’s very odd that they didn’t nail the Die Hard tone at all. I should also mention that I honestly didn’t really understand the plot all that much. It’s not very well elaborated on or particularly interesting. Say what you will about previous Die Hard films, but at least they always kept their plots engaging and left the audience invested in what was happening – we may not always know what the villains are planning, but we have a basic grasp of what their current objectives are. A Good Day just doesn’t really seem to care all that much about plot, just stringing together action sequences willy-nilly. Funnily enough, it feels like the sort of stupid action movie I would have filmed as a kid with my brothers, only with a $92 million budget (and no, that’s not a complement).

Speaking of student filmmaking, the script really comes across as an amateur production. “Emotional” scenes are hamfisted and handled with no subtly whatsoever. Oh looky, McClane and Komarov are talking about how they wasted their time at work instead of spending it with their kids, and Jack happens to be listening in on them! How touching! Oh, or the scene where John tells Jack that he loves him, but sounds really bored while saying it. Then there’s just tons and tons of action movie tropes, such as “the bad guy wants to destroy the world just because” and the generic “trapped heroes laugh with the bad guy while they hatch an escape” trope. Actually, they pretty much ripped that last one off of Die Hard itself. In fact, I noticed quite a few moments which were clear ripoffs of the original Die Hard, such as Jack and John defeating bad guys by “shooting the glass”, one of the villains getting caught with his (metaphorical) pants down and pretending to be a good guy and the same villain looking in fear as he gets thrown off a rooftop.

On top of all of this, there are lots of just plain illogical and overly-convenient moments in the film. If you’re getting shot at by a helicopter, is your first idea to run across the room and jump out the 20th story window? Luckily for John and Jack there was something to catch their fall, or they could have done their bonding… to the pavement. Why didn’t they just head to the damn staircase? Or what about the fact that John and Jack seem to have unlimited ammunition? They obviously don’t have spare magazines/clips, since they’re picking their weapons up off of dead bad guys half the time. And then there’s the moment where John sets off an incendiary grenade which (somehow) engulfs an entire lobby, and yet because Jack hides behind a skinny pole he gets through completely unscathed. I’d also be remiss to not mention the absolutely baffling moment where Irina gets her slightly damaged helicopter back under control and then decides to ram John and Jack with it in a display of helicopter suicide. The co-pilot screams “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!”… at least I think it was the co-pilot, and not God himself every time that scene is played. Could they not have landed and then, I dunno, shot at the McClanes instead? This just reeks to me of a studio afraid to have their all-American hero kill a woman. In any case, this movie just feels like a video game… in fact, it would have been much better served as one, since the plot’s about as good as the campaign in Battlefield 4 (read: horrible, but with gameplay it could be negated).

Oh looky, someone has seen a Tarantino movie before.

As for the acting, the movie colossally screws this department up as well. Bruce Willis looks and sounds bored throughout the entire movie. Gone is the wit and humour of John McClane of old – in this film, John actually manages to be annoying. Seriously. He does all sorts of quips like he used to in previous Die Hard movies, but they fall flat and I end up yelling “Shut up John, no one can hear you and you’re not being funny”. Most grating of all of these is the “I’m on vacation!” line which McClane throws about as a mini-catchphrase. I think it’s supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just stupid because dammit John you’re not on vacation. Who considers “picking up my son (who has been accused of attempted assassination) from a foreign prison” a vacation?! How the hell do you screw up a Die Hard movie so badly that John McClane, a hero whose longevity has stemmed from his charisma and smart ass attitude, ends up being one of the most irritating aspects of it? In fact, I’d only say a couple of characters were passable. Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane is okay, but he has absolutely no material to work with, so I can’t really fault him. Irina’s also alright, although she ends up as little more than eye candy (funnily enough, that stripping scene from the trailer doesn’t even show up in the movie).

As for the villains, they’re easily the worst in the entire franchise. The main bad guy is Chagarin, the Russian defence minister. He basically does nothing the whole film, seemingly orchestrating an assassination on Komarov by being a political dickhead. There’s one part where I literally burst out laughing when they show him walking in a crowd in slow motion as he takes off his sunglasses and grins. The actual main bad guy is Alik, a villain who they barely even bother to give any sort of personality. He’s “supposed” to be eccentric. He “intimidates” the main characters by eating carrots and… uh… dancing in front of them. Yeah, I’m not kidding, it’s as goofy as it sounds. Plus he literally says that he “hates all the Americans”… what is this, a Cold War propaganda film? Suffice to say, Alik sucks, and is nowhere near to the villainous standard set by previous films. I just didn’t give a half a shit about him at all.

Oh wait, it turns out that the actual actual villain was Komarov all along! He was orchestrating everything that happened to break himself out of jail and then get to Chernobyl so he could steal weapons-grade uranium and sell it on the black market to terrorists! Who saw that coming!?

Oh wait, that doesn’t make a lick of sense. Remember when I said that plot conveniences just riddle this movie? Everything revolving around Komarov is basically a plot convenience. For one thing, wasn’t there an easier way to pull this sort of thing off? It seems like everyone except Alik and Chagarin were in on it, so why not just get the bad guys to break Komarov out straight away and then head to Chernobyl by yourself? Why did he have to involve the CIA and his sworn enemy in the deal (not to mention putting his daughter at risk)? Doesn’t that just complicate things, like, a lot? Didn’t he think things were getting really bad when he was getting shot at, or blazed through incoming Moscow traffic at high speeds, or when he got freaking shot? Apparently that was all part of the plan. Seriously, the whole Joker-izing of villains is just stupid and has only ever worked in The Dark Knight. Hollywood hacks and Academy Award-winning screenwriters alike – stop using the Joker as inspiration, thank you. Komarov isn’t nearly as bad as Alik, he’s just bland and the unfortunate subject of most of the scenes which rip-off the original Die Hard – which just go to illustrate how woefully he measures up to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. In fact, the only good thing about him in the movie is his death, where he’s thrown from the roof in an uninspired, rip-off manner… until he gets sucked into a helicopter’s tail rotor and evicerated. Holy crap, that was an epic, brutal death and a good send off to damn near any villain in my books.

I want to be done complaining, I really do, but there’s just so much to bitch about in this film. For one thing, John Moore decided to film the movie in shaky cam style. Now I’ll admit, he actually has some justification for using this style: “McClane is in a strange world, with little or no initial control over his environment. He’s unable to anticipate things as he normally might. He’s caught off guard, and we want the camera to mimic that surprise and confusion.” Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Action scenes get the shit shaken out of them, and even dialogue exchanges get bobbed back and forth, especially evident in close-ups. The fact that we don’t really relate to McClane in this film either just exacerbate the problem. Now I’ll admit I don’t hate shaky cam – I think it’s well-used in the Bourne films – but A Good Day to Die Hard is a bad example of the process in action. It also features slap-dash editing, mashing together images at rapid-fire rates. Hell, there’s even a conversation between Jack and John in a car where everytime one of them goes to speak, the camera angle shifts… every… single… time… one… of… them… speaks. It’s noticeably distracting. All-in-all, the movie feels outdated, like it was supposed to be released five years ago on the coattails of the successes of Bourne.

Poor editing also takes a toll on the action scenes. Early on there’s a car chase that is actually pretty good in spite of the filmmakers’ efforts to make it as incomprehensible as possible – the camera shakes like hell, the editing is full of garbled quick cuts and the shots never really cohere into a proper string of events. What happened to epic, well-choreographed sequences like the amazing car chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark? There’s also a couple moments with some misjudged editing choices in my opinion – during a couple scenes, the audio is cut out entirely. This is supposed to be a stylistic choice to make the scene more “epic” or “cool”, but it doesn’t really work… and in one instance, it actually derives the film of a chance to get the audience up to speed on what’s actually happening. There’s just a distinct lack of ambition permeating throughout the film – it’s just content to ease back and let a hundred years of action movie cliches play out on screen for 95 minutes without adding any new ideas or mining its settings for anything beyond the conventional.

It should also be noted that while it is not as over-the-top as Live Free, A Good Day is still pretty ridiculous and nowhere near realistic. If anything, John McClane is knowingly indestructible, charging in headlong without even a worry about dying. He spins out and then flips a transport truck a dozen times without sustaining a scratch and falls from great heights on a couple occasions with Jack without being killed. Hell, I don’t think John or Jack get shot once this whole movie either. Also, while this film is rated R, it’s easily the tamest film in the entire franchise. There’s barely any swearing (even less than Live Free) and the violence is pretty tame as well (well… except for the helicopter blade death I suppose, but that could probably still get by on a PG-13).

All-in-all, I can count the things I liked in A Good Day to Die Hard on one hand – the Moscow car chase was cool at times (if badly shot), the bad guy getting thrown in a propeller blade was awesome and the slo-mo exploding helicopter jump was ridiculous, but cool… and that’s it. A Good Day to Die Hard is a dull, generic B-movie… which, if you’ll remember waaaaay back to the first entry in this retrospective, is exactly what Die Hard was created to not be. A Good Day to Die Hard is a total shame worth of the scorn placed upon it.

3/10

With the shit stain that is A Good Day to Die Hard now inked on the franchise, is there any real future for John McClane? Well, yes actually. Bruce Willis wants to give the character a final send-off… and I’m hesitant at this point, but I think this actually makes sense. Look at it this way – Live Free or Die Hard began a new trilogy that I dub “The Redemption of John McClane”. The first three movies saw John’s life more or less fall apart as he constantly screws up. Since Live Free, John has been reconnecting with his estranged children and rebuilding his life. If there is another Die Hard, John has to reconnect with Holly and finally live in long-deserved peace. It looks like this is the direction the series is headed in. Remember Ben Trebilcook, who I mentioned wrote two scripts for Die Hard 4, both titled Die Hardest? Well idiotic title aside, these seem to be the basis for the sixth film in the franchise, which will see the return of Zeus Carver as well. Bruce Willis seems pretty adamant that Die Hardest (sigh…) will be the final movie for John McClane, but of course that leaves the door open for Jack and Lucy McClane to take the reins. I had the feeling that they were testing this approach during A Good Day to Die Hard, but I can’t really see it taking off – people love John McClane, they don’t really have any reason as of yet to care about Jack or Lucy on their own adventures. In any case, A Good Day to Die Hard has shaken many peoples’ faith in the franchise, so if Die Hardest were to be cancelled right now, I wouldn’t be too torn up about it.

This is how I would rank the series from best to worst:
1. Die Hard
2. Live Free or Die Hard
3. Die Hard with a Vengeance
4. Die Hard 2
5. A Good Day to Die Hard

Thanks for getting through this retrospective series and as always feel free to comment and give suggestions for future franchises for me to review! Oh and have a Merry Christmas!

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Retrospective: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Welcome back to the Die Hard retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth film in the franchise, Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0 as it is known internationally). This was actually the first Die Hard movie I saw, and as of right now, it’s the newest entry in the franchise that I’ve watched (of course, that’ll change next week when I finally see A Good Day to Die Hard). After a 12 year absence, audiences thought that Die Hard was a thing of the past – could a fourth Die Hard movie give the franchise a second life? Read on to find out…

Basically the traditional Die Hard poster design. Not one of the more interesting uses of the design, but decent enough.

Live Free or Die Hard started life as an article called “A Farewell to Arms” in Wired, a theoretical piece on how modern day America’s entire infrastructure could be crippled by cyber terrorists. The article was adapted into a movie called WW3.com and was supposed to be released in the late 90s to capitalize on all the paranoia surrounding computers and the Internet in the new millennium. However, the movie ended up getting delayed and then was shelved all-together following 9/11. There were a couple of attempts to get the movie off the ground again, but it wasn’t until the movie was picked up as a Die Hard sequel that it finally gained traction. The modified script went through quite a few rewrites, with writers such as Doug Richardson (who did Die Hard 2), Mark Bomback, Kevin Smith (celebrity geek who appeared in the film itself) and William Wisher. At the same time, two other Die Hard sequels were being optioned, both written by Ben Trebilcook and both titled Die Hardest (remember this, it’ll be important later), but they were passed in favour of the WW3.com script. Eventually the script was retitled “Live Free or Die Hard” as a play on the state motto of New Hampshire, although it was decided that it should be titled Die Hard 4.0 in international markets since they wouldn’t “get it” (that said, as a Canadian, I didn’t “get” it, but there’s no denying that Live Free or Die Hard is a bad ass title… even if the movie doesn’t take place anywhere near New Hampshire).

The film was directed by Len Wiseman, who at the time was a pretty big name in Hollywood, having directed the very successful Underworld (although he had just come off of the major disappointment, Underworld: Evolution). Of course, now adays Len Wiseman is largely considered to be a reboot of Paul W.S. Anderson, since they are both known for making crappy films and the fact that their love lives are damn-near identical. Bruce Willis makes his return, obviously, although considerably more… bald than in previous Die Hard films. The villain, Thomas Gabriel, was played by perpetual up-and-comer Timothy Olyphant (seriously, outside of TV he just can’t seem to get that major break). Playing the role of McClane’s tag-along/”buddy” in the film is Justin Long as Matt Farrell, a computer hacker tied into the terrist attack crippling America. Probably best known at the time as “The Mac Guy”, which actually helps sell him in the role better. Also making an appearance is Retrospectives favourite Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane. She has a relatively small role (basically little more than a plot device) but it’s actually considered her most famous performance. In any case, she does a good job convincing us she’s the utter bad ass daughter of John McClane, despite the limited screen time. Also worth noting is Maggie Q as Gabriel’s lead henchwoman, Mai Linh, who is pretty kick ass, if robotic.

The film takes place in the aftermath of a cyber attack on the FBI. The director of the FBI decides to track down the top hackers in the country who could have pulled this off, but it is discovered that all but one of them have been systematically murdered. John McClane is sent to pick up the last one, Matt Farrell, but a shootout ensues. McClane is forced to protect Farrell as cyber terrorist Thomas Gabriel launches a “fire sale” attack, crippling American society with coordinated, systematic hacks on key parts of the nation’s infrastructure. Of course, it’s up to John McClane to stop the bad guys and save the day…

Based on the above synopsis, it’s pretty easy to see that Live Free or Die Hard has some pretty big problems. For one thing, John McClane has pretty much been transformed from a vulnerable, realistic man thrown into a bad situtation to a T-800. McClane jumps from speeding cars, jumps from a freaking exploding F-35, jumps from an exploding power plant… okay, he does a lot of jumping, but that’s besides the point. McClane gets run through a gauntlet of death and just walks away from it all with a bit of blood and maybe a minor bullet wound to show for it. It carries on the legacy of With a Vengeance, but then takes it to the next degree of ridiculousness with plenty of unbelievable scenes. McClane himself has lost a lot of his character from previous films as well. While he’s still highly invested in his family, his character has basically been boiled down to “smart ass old guy with a gun”. No longer does McClane run from danger, he drives from Washington DC to West Virginia to find it. McClane doesn’t worry about getting hurt anymore, he’ll actively shoot himself to kill a bad guy. On one hand it makes sense for McClane to be somewhat transformed considering how much crap he’s been through over the years, but Live Free could easily be a stand-alone action movie if they just changed McClane’s name and no one would notice.

The film’s plot should also be mentioned for being pretty ridiculous. Many, many articles have been written about how Live Free is basically the apex of Hollywood treating hackers like basement-dwelling Level 99 wizards. In fact, everything with computers in the film is basically just Hollywood cliche – everyone has a dozen monitors for each computer, laptops capable of magically hacking into US government databases instantly, hacking all of the US television networks simultaneously, sexed-up/impractical futuristic work stations for government security workers and instantly finding Farrell because of software analyzing all the voices on radio broadcasts… It’s pretty clear that very little actual research was put up on screen – well, except for when Gabriel manages to remote access Kevin Smith’s webcam, although at this rate that was probably just a lucky fluke (and yes, your webcam can be used to spy on you… sleep tight).

I’d also be making a mistake if I didn’t mention the MASSIVE controversy which was Live Free or Die Hard‘s PG-13 rating. Hollywood wanted to maximize profits on the film, which was fairly highly-budgeted at $110 million, and so cut out all of the f-bombs to avoid an R-rating (since PG-13 films tend to make more money than R-rated ones). Fans spewed vitrol over this decision, since bad language is considered a hallmark of the series, and the fact that John McClane’s own catchphrase is “yippee-ki-yay motherf–ker”… it’s just not something that you can do in a PG-13 movie. For that matter, Die Hard just isn’t really PG-13 material, although the fact that they managed to easily secure the rating by simply cutting out all instances of “f–k” (simply replacing them with more “minor” swear words which actually accumulate to a level equivalent of the first Die Hard) and removing a tiny bit of CGI blood says more about the MPAA’s standards than anything I suppose (the film easily has R-rating levels of violence fully intact, it’s just not bloody/gory). That said, this review is based on the Unrated version, which restores all of the cut language (maybe around 20 f-bombs) and blood, although the differences are really negligible – if you’re a hardcore fan who froths at the mouth at the thought of a Die Hard movie without at least one f-bomb, or hates any sort of compromise, then the Unrated version should sate your appetite in that department.

I’ve been intentionally front-loading all of the complaining in this review, and that’s because Live Free or Die Hard is a hell of a lot of fun. I know I’m probably going to get a lot of shit for this from Die Hard fans if any bother to read this review, but I really like Live Free or Die Hard. Len Wiseman isn’t a good director by any means, but this is probably the second best thing he’s ever done (really only rivaled by Underworld and surpassed by his coup to marry Kate Beckinsale). While the film is totally ridiculous and over the top, literally every single action scene is just plain kick ass. Seriously, I was listing all of the awesome scenes in this movie  for the review until I realized that I had written down every single action scene to that point. The movie is ridiculous and fun that it puts movies which are supposed to be over-the-top action fests, like RED, to shame (without dipping into parody for that matter too!). There are so many awesome moments throughout the film that it’s hard to pick a true standout moment (although the car killing a helicopter is certainly the most iconic moment from the film). This is in part due to the fact that barely any CGI was used in the film (in fact, nearly everything that looks like CGI was either composited, such as the scene where McClane and Farrell are nearly crushed by a flying car, or used miniatures, such as the F-35 chase). It is also due to Len Wiseman, er, wisely deciding not to shake the shit out of the camera during action sequences. Bourne was becoming very popular at this time, and so studios were jumping on the bandwagon by trying to emulate its shaky-cam style… but they did a horrible job at it, making many movies just plain incomprehensible (see Quantum of Solace and Battle: Los Angeles). There is a tiny bit of shaky cam present in Live Free, but it is not distracting and plays second fiddle to steady, well-shot footage which presents epic action moments to us in all their glory.

Adding to the fun are the assortment of “talented” bad guys who shake up the action at times. The first of these is the random parkour villain (dubbed “Hamster” by McClane) who flips, shoots and does all sorts of crazy shit, which is a joy to watch in spite of its ridiculousness (even if he’s basically a rip-off of the parkour bad guy in Casino Royale). Maggie Q also shakes things up by kicking McClane’s ass with martial arts in a rather entertaining fight sequence which culminates with McClane deciding to fight kung fu with an SUV (although McClane’s misogynist taunting is a bit off-putting, but I suppose it can be justified in the context of the film). Sure, these characters are pretty flat and make the film all that more ridiculous, but at least they’re far more visually interesting that the faceless goons McClane wipes out in the previous two films in the franchise.

And speaking of goons, Thomas Gabriel’s a pretty good villain. Sure a lot of his threat comes from his unrealistic hacking skills, but it makes him a legitimate threat in the film. In any case, Timothy Olyphant’s performance is quite menacing, even if he doesn’t live up to the same level as either of the Gruber brothers (mostly because the script makes Gabriel’s character somewhat boring). Meanwhile, Matt Farrell is the “ordinary guy”, sort of like Zeus Carver was in With a Vengeance. He’s the character the audience relates to, a sarcastic geek who can’t hope to be as badass as John McClane… actually, he basically embodies a modern day version of the whole “every man” aspect that defined the original Die Hard. Live Free would be much weaker (and far less funny) without Farrell and McClane’s dialogue playing off of each other, representing the past vs the present, a criminal vs a policeman, etc. Of course, Farrell himself isn’t just a foil, he actually gets to use his tech savvy to help McClane, who would be utterly lost without his expertise. Farrell sort of represents the bridge between the Die Hard films of the past and this film, since computers have become ubiquitous since then. There are also quite a few in-jokes in the film which also bridge the 12 year gap between this film and the last Die Hard, most of which are quite subtle. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more, but I noticed that there was an FBI agent escorting McClane called “Agent Johnson”, McClane saying that he was afraid of flying until he took some piloting classes and an off-hand comment about “taking it under advisement”. For my money, this is how references to previous films in the franchise should be handled, rather than employing the Predators or Rise of the Planet of the Apes model where they basically pull you out of your seat and go “HEY! DID YOU SEE THAT? THAT WAS A REFERENCE TO ANOTHER MOVIE! AND WE WROTE THE WHOLE PLOT TO ACCOMMODATE IT!” These were very well-done, subtle references which can easily go over your head and make subsequent viewings more enjoyable.

Live Free is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it isn’t a proper Die Hard movie at all, but it is a really kick ass action movie. However, if you watched it and would only be satisfied with a movie in the Die Hard mold, then that won’t matter to you. The movie is totally over the top, but it’s consistently and entertainingly over the top (whereas With a Vengeance became over the top halfway through after being relatively grounded in its first hour). The movie’s PG-13, but it’s still quite violent and has a lot of swearing – just no f-bombs in the theatrical version. “Yippee-ki-yay” gets cut off (in the theatrical version), but the moment it happens is easily the best usage of McClane’s catchphrase since the first film. You may not like where the Die Hard series has gone in this film, but this is what Die Hard is now (if my impressions of A Good Day to Die Hard are correct anyway). Hardcore fans seem to hate the movie, but it’s the highest praised film in the franchise since the original.

For my part, I really like Live Free or Die Hard. It doesn’t really fit the Die Hard franchise particularly well, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and way more consistent than any of the previous sequels (including With a Vengeance, which many fans dub the “only good Die Hard sequel”). If you can get over the fact that it’s a new, different kind of movie with the title of “Die Hard” then I’m sure you’ll be very entertained. If not, then you’re entitled to that opinion, but I can’t say I agree with you or will step down from my own assessment.

7.5/10 (oh yeah, I’m definitely going to be receiving hate mail for that)

Be sure to come back soon for the fifth, and final, part of this retrospective series with A Good Day to Die Hard!

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Retrospective: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Welcome back to the Die Hard retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third film in the franchise, Die Hard with a Vengeance (which started the annoying trend of the franchises’ sequels shoehorning Die Hard into a phrase for the film’s title)! Die Hard 2 was a rather lazy rehash of a sequel, but the producers seemed keen to not make the same mistake. Could the third entry in the franchise bring back the series’ AAA reputation, “with a vengeance”? Read on to find out…

Again, a nice poster with the prominence going to both its star (at his most bad-ass looking, I might add) and its setting.

Production on a sequel to Die Hard 2 stalled a bit after the entire premise became the template for every action movie of the 90s. Die Hard 2 was lucky enough to have the turn-around time to beat out a rival “Die Hard in an airport” movie (although technically it’s really just a canonized “Die Hard in an airport”), but by the time the third movie went into production, the premise had already been significantly mined. How many interesting, confined locations could be used when rip-offs had already had to resort to having terrorists on a bus? Well Fox decided to go back to the old well of unproduced scripts to find one to adapt. One of the early scripts they were interested in was called Troubleshooter, and would have seen McClane fighting terrorists on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. If this sounds like the disastrous Speed 2: Cruise Control… well, that’s because the script was the basis for that movie. The Die Hard producers passed on Troubleshooter after hearing about a similar-sounding film called Under Siege (aka, Steven Seagal’s entire career), but the script would later be picked up as the basis of Speed 2.

Quite a few scripts were optioned, but the one which would become Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn’t even supposed to be a Die Hard movie. A script by Jonathan Hensleigh called Simon Says was originally intended to be the fourth entry in the Lethal Weapon series (it certainly would have been better than the Lethal Weapon 4 that we got anyway…). However, this did not come to pass, and so the script was reworked to fit into the Die Hard mold. That said, there are still obvious parallels between this film and the Lethal Weapon series – in a lot of ways, the film feels more like a Lethal Weapon and less like a traditional Die Hard. The film is also notable for having a heist scheme which was so clever that the FBI investigated Hensleigh to ensure that he wasn’t actually planning on pulling it off (because, y’know, turning your plan into a major motion picture is the perfect way to get away with it).

John McTiernan made his return to the director’s chair, taking the reins back from Renny Harlin. He had just come off of the rather infamous Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and was looking to get into the studio and audiences’ good graces once more. Of course, Bruce Willis also returned as John McClane, although he is the only member of the original cast to return (aside from a very limited vocal cameo by Bonnie Bedelia… although I can’t even confirm that it’s actually her). Two major new faces were added to the franchise in this entry. The first is Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver, an electrician who becomes McClane’s unwilling sidekick throughout the film. The second is the film’s villain, Simon Gruber, played by Jeremy Irons. Simon is the brother of Hans Gruber, giving the villain’s motivations a personal vendetta as he matches wits with McClane. There are also a host of minor supporting characters, but they aren’t really worth noting – this film is held up by its major players.

The film opens with a literal bang, as a bomb unexpectedly goes off in the middle of downtown New York. It’s quite a surprising opening and certainly gets the audiences’ interest immediately without cheaply throwing us into the action. Anyway, it turns out that the bomber is threatening to detonate more explosives across the city if John McClane doesn’t obey his wishes. Along the way, McClane accidentally ropes electrician Zeus Carver to come along with him, and the pair are sent on races across the city to defuse bombs before they can detonate. However, McClane gets the sneaking suspicion that there’s more going on here than meets the eye…

As you can probably tell, With a Vengeance throws away the whole confined setting aspect of the series, as the film takes place all across the city of New York. It’s not necessarily a terrible decision, but it certainly makes the film feel extremely different than previous films in the franchise. I’m not sure why, but the film also looks very different than previous Die Hards… maybe it’s the lighting, the film stock or the lack of confined space… if I were a film student I could probably pin-point it, but the filming technique seems vastly different than any other film in the franchise to this point. I should also mention that I’m kind of annoyed that Holly has separated with McClane at the start of the film, but at least this makes McClane down on his luck again.

Anyway, beyond the intangibles, the realism of previous Die Hard movies is absent as well. At times the movie makes Die Hard 2 look totally plausible. Seriously, people crap on Live Free or Die Hard for being over the top, but that really just carried over from some of the ridiculous stuff on display in With a Vengeance. It starts out fairly innocently: McClane drives like a total nut, but somehow manages to avoid getting in an accident or killing anyone, he jumps onto a moving subway car, etc. This sort of thing is certainly straining believably, but it’s not exactly off the rails… no, that comes when McClane surfs a freaking dump truck to safety and then gets shot out of a water main right in front of Zeus (who just so happened to be passing by at the time). It’s such a ridiculous scene that it’s impossible to take the movie seriously beyond that point. It reminds me of a friend who said that he saw a movie called Escape from LA where a guy chases after one of the bad guys by catching a random tidal wave and surfing onto the guy’s vehicle. It’s the sort of scene that just sounds so implausible that you can’t believe it’s real, but it totally is. Anyway, the movie really jumps the shark at that point, culminating with McClane and Zeus surviving jumping from a ship just as it explodes into a giant mushroom cloud… yeah, so much for the grounded action franchise, With a Vengeance basically just moves into typical action movie territory.

Okay, I may be ragging on With a Vengeance for being over the top, but that’s not that big a deal in all honesty. To be fair, the film is a ton of fun. For one thing, it recaptures much of the humour of the first film. The whole situation where McClane is forced to go into Harlem with a racist sign is just a funny situation and shows that Simon Gruber is a troll. There’s also quite a few occasions where random douche bags in New York interact with the main characters, almost always provoking laughs. Of course, the interplay between McClane and Zeus also is a major source of humour – Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson have a lot of chemistry and it shows on-screen.

Also contributing to the fun factor is the script – for most of the runtime, the plot is very tense, the villain is great and the main characters are a lot of fun. The whole “Simon Says game” aspect of the plot is a very clever way to drive the plot forward and keep it engaging, especially when you consider that about a third of the movie boils down to “John and Zeus drive around New York”. Before the “game” can get repetitive, the heist aspect of the story falls into place, and it really is ingenious. Seriously, the master plan of this film more than lives up to Hans’ heist in the original Die Hard. It should also be mentioned that Simon Gruber is a great villain in his own right, basically a “bigger and better” version of Hans (although he’s not quite as memorable). Seeing McClane trying to unravel Simon’s plans is a joy in itself as he kicks quite a bit of ass as can be expected.

That said, while the plot quite fun, it also has some rather gaping holes in it. For one thing, how the hell did Simon manage to get financial backing for his heist? It’s sort of implied that a foreign nation is funding it, but I don’t think the movie bothers to dwell on it. In any case, Simon’s packing some expensive hardware and probably is managing a hundred baddies. There’s just so many intricacies that it’s hard to think that the plan only ever gets messed up when McClane’s involved (eg, they leave briefcase bombs in the open in a busy park, how is it that no random bystanders came along and stole them?). There’s also the fact that everyone’s travelling all across the city in no time at all due to the magic of editing, much like in Die Hard 2.

While I may gripe about plot holes in the film, I’ll be honest – they’re all pretty minor. The major issue with With a Vengeance is that it starts to rapidly lose steam around the 40 minute mark. For one thing, you can tell that the film wasn’t really figured out at this point. The aforementioned scene where Zeus just so happens to come across McClane shooting out of a water main just reeks of slap-dash editing. There’s also the fact that Simon Gruber plants a bomb at the school Zeus’ kids attend. When Zeus discovers this, he says that Gruber was doing that to keep him involved in the game. However, this was clearly just thrown in there to try to justify adding some more tension, because it makes no sense whatsoever. How did Simon know Zeus had kids? Are you telling me he didn’t plant his bombs until after his plans were already being set in motion? How is secretly planting the bomb in Zeus’ kids’ school going to keep him in line? Hell, why does Simon even care if Zeus stays involved (he doesn’t have a vendetta against him after all)? Anyway, it’s contrived and cliched stuff like this which make the final 40 minutes far less compelling than the preceding hour and a half.

Of course, none of that compares to the abysmal ending. It turns out that the original ending wasn’t very well liked – originally, McClane’s life was going to be ruined by Gruber’s antics. As a result, McClane hunted down Gruber to play some Russian roulette… with a rocket launcher. It’s kind of a ridiculous scene, but it wasn’t liked for how it made McClane look un-heroic. As a result, we ended up with the dud of an ending which we have been cursed with: McClane and Zeus (for some reason) travel to Quebec and make a bunch of wisecracks until Simon shoots down their helicopter. Then McClane shoots a power line, destroying Simon’s helicopter. That’s it. Simon dies like a total bitch and the whole plan unravels in about 5 minutes. What a major letdown. There’s also a really awkward and completely random sex scene thrown in there for absolutely no other reason than they could, which doesn’t really help the ending any. Whatever the case though, this is supposed to be the climax of the film, but it’s nowhere near as thrilling as the climax of the previous two movies. Hell, pretty much every action set piece in this movie is better than its ending. It’s just completely half-assed, and it really shows.

Overall, I want to love Die Hard with a Vengeance. For much of the first two acts, it is absolutely the sequel that Die Hard deserves which lives up to its legacy. However, the final 40 minutes just kill it and the ending in particular leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Die Hard 2 may be a worse film overall, but at least it improves in the last half hour and leaves a better impression – With a Vengeance just makes me feel disappointed when all is said in done. Many fans of the franchise cite With a Vengeance as being the only good sequel to Die Hard, but I think they’re being too forgiving – it’s about 2/3rds of a good sequel. It really is a shame that they couldn’t have worked out a proper third act and ending before commencing filming, because there really isn’t all that much holding With a Vengeance back from being a great action movie. As it is, it has to settle with being the film that fumbled it in the third act.

6.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part four of this retrospective series with Live Free or Die Hard.

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Retrospective: Die Hard 2 (1990)

Welcome back to the Die Hard retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the second entry in the franchise, Die Hard 2 (aka Die Harder). When Die Hard revolutionized the action genre and made a hefty profit, a sequel was an inevitability. Could Fox make lightning strike twice? Read on to find out…

This poster’s much like the original Die Hard‘s, with a similar layout telling you pretty much everything you need to know. The whole “just like the original!” aspect is a bit of a trend though, as we’ll get into soon enough…

Soon after the success of Die Hard, production on a sequel began. Rather than write an original script, the producers decided once again to borrow from a pre-existing source. This time, the 1987 novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager was selected, since it had a very Die Hard-esque premise. From what I understand, the novel and film are both fairly similar, with John McClane and a couple other characters being substituted or added in to please fans of the original film. Of course, Bruce Willis returns as John McClane. Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton and Reginald VelJohnson also reprise their roles. Playing the leader of the terrorists was William Sadler (not a big name to us, although he has shown up in a variety of roles that you’ve probably seen him in, including The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist and Iron Man 3). Most of the rest of the cast are unnotable, although two of the minor terrorists would become known actors later: John Leguizamo (Sid in Ice Age) and Robert Patrick (T-1000 in Terminator 2… in fact, he’s badass enough in his 30 second screen time in this that it’s kind of distracting).

John McTiernan did not return to the director’s chair, going on to do The Hunt For Red October instead. Replacing McTiernan as director was Renny Harlin, who had achieved success with the well-received Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The name sounded familiar to me, and that’s because Harlin was one of the many people who were brought in to direct Alien 3 – however, Fox passed on all of his ideas rather quickly, offering him Die Hard 2 instead.

Exactly two years after the original film, John McClane’s waiting at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. for his wife to arrive for Christmas Eve. Coinciding with this is the arrival of extradited South American drug trafficking general, Ramon Esperanza. A team of terrorists, led by rogue US Army colonel, Stuart, seize control of the air traffic control system, effectively holding all the planes in the airspace hostage unless Esperanza is set free. Of course, John McClane isn’t going to let a bunch of pansy-ass terrorists put his wife’s life get in danger. Pretty conventional set-up for a Die Hard movie… of course, that’s because the movie is pretty conventional itself.

Die Hard 2‘s script can be pretty convoluted at times and just doesn’t make a lick of sense when you put thought to it. The script is definitely the biggest issue in Die Hard 2 for a number of reasons. First of all, how can you justify the exact same situation happening to the same guy on the same day of the year twice? The movie tries to lampshade this by having John acknowledge it, but it’s still clear that they don’t bother to chalk it up to anything other than coincidence. Credibility get stretched even further by the fact that Holly and scumbag reporter Thornburg happen to end up on the same flight by mere chance, despite the fact that Thornburg has a court-ordered restraining order against her. Then there’s also the question of how the hell everyone keeps getting into the damn air control tower, although that’s a smaller “JUST BECAUSE!!!” issue in the grand scheme of things…

Then there’s just the fact that the plot isn’t paced very well. The opening scene doesn’t ease you into the plot, it plops you right into John’s shitty day. I almost wonder if the editors cut out a longer opening, because the opening scene just feels so stilted. Die Hard had a good 20 minutes of set up to get you up to speed on the situation and characters. Die Hard 2 has 3 1/2 minutes before the villains show up and start doing dastardly things. The first gunfight is only around 10 minutes in. Yet, in spite of all this, literally the first 30 minutes are incredibly dull to watch. The next hour has moments of interest, but the movie lacks a lot of the tension that the original had in spades. I mean, sure, there’s only 90 minues left til airplanes begin falling from the sky, but we rarely feel the urgency of this fact, in part due to the fact that everyone just sits around until John McClane decides to do something. Seriously, John McClane is apparently the only competent person in the whole airport – he must have run a few marathons over the course of the movie with all the footslogging he does while everyone else shoves their thumbs up their arses. It’s not until the last half hour that the movie finally starts to get legitimately fun, kicking off with a rather surprising (if cliche) twist and ending with an exciting, explosive climax.

Then there’s the fact that the characters in this film just aren’t anywhere near as good as they were in Die Hard. John McClane stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Colonel Stuart’s not a bad villain, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Alan Rickman… plus he really doesn’t get all that much to do anyway. Bonnie Bedelia’s given a leading role in the film, but her contribution is minimal and it makes her role feel like little more than an over-glorified cameo. Then there’s airport security captain Lorenzo, whose only real job is to antagonize McClane incessantly, which gets grating quickly. Whereas the terrorists in Die Hard were all pretty distinguishable, the terrorists in this film all blend together (except for the aforementioned Robert Patrick, although that’s because he had an iconic role later in his career). Other than that, supporting characters such as Sam Colman (played by Sheila McCarthy, who fellow Canadians might recognize from Little Mosque on the Prairie) are basically useless and contribute practically nothing to the plot. The lines they get to spout aren’t that great either – Die Hard had some fantastic one-liners, but nearly every attempt at a one-liner in this film falls flat. For example:

McClane: Hey, Carmine, let me ask you something. What sets off the metal detectors first? The lead in your ass or the shit in your brains?

Umm, what? Does anyone know how that’s supposed to make any sense? I mean sure, it’s kind of insulting, but usually you want your insults to actually make sense…

Oh and I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredibly random and awkward scene early in the movie where Colonel Stuart practices martial arts in his hotel room… in the buff. The whole point of the scene is to provide an exposition dump from a news reporter on the hotel TV, but it’s completely distracted by the fact that there’s a naked guy practicing punching people the whole time. If there was ever a movie scene that made me feel like a closeted homosexual, it’d probably be this one. Anyway, this scene also makes me wonder if Die Hard 2 beat Game of Thrones to the punch with the whole “sexposition” thing…

Sure I’ve beat up the plot quite a bit, but there is one legitimately surprising and ballsy moment in the movie when the terrorists decide to bring down one of the circling planes. It’s pretty disturbing to watch the people on board unwittingly head to their deaths while the air traffic controllers are helpless to stop them. The crash itself is pretty spectacular, although the size of the fireball’s probably excessive considering that the plane was “running on fumes”… but whatever, I can let a minor detail like that slide.

Then there’s the campy tone of the film. The original film was a lot of fun, but it tried to have a generally realistic tone. This film seems to play up the campy angle with a bunch of silly moments. For example, when a bad guy goes running away across the tarmac, McClane grabs a kiddy bike and chases after him. Then there’s the above screen grab, where McClane escapes the bad guys by firing an ejector seat just before the plane blows up. Just from the way it’s shot, it comes across as being an extremely silly moment. Everyone has an infinity bandana too, because the number of shots that come out of the characters’ single clips is just ridiculous.

Overall, I’ve been ragging on Die Hard 2 quite a bit, because it really does have a lot of problems and is clearly inferior to the original film. However, it is a fairly fun movie, which exonerates it to a point. That said, it’s basically just a generic, mindless action movie hardly befitting a sequel to one of the greatest action movies of all time.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 3 of this retrospective series with Die Hard with a Vengeance.

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Retrospective: Die Hard (1988)

Welcome back good readers to the beginning of a new retrospectives series! If you need to get caught up on the last series, then you can read about the Planet of the Apes franchise by clicking on the link. The series that we’re going to be focusing on for the next few weeks is the venerable Die Hard franchise. Since this is the first entry in this retrospective, we’re going to examine the one that started it all: 1988’s Die Hard.

A bit of a mish-mash of design, but I like it. Classic.

Die Hard had a bit of a convoluted inception. In 1966, Roderick Thorp published a novel called The Detective, which was adapted to film in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra as detective Joseph Leland. Thorp’s novel attempted to pursue a more “adult” outlook on police work, depicting topics such as homosexuality, police politics and moral ambiguity. In 1979, Thorp wrote a sequel titled Nothing Lasts Forever, which saw the retired Leland trying to rescue his daughter from German terrorists who have seized control of the American Klaxon Oil Corporation building. The novel maintained the moral ambiguity and mature politics which had punctuated The Detective, but injected them with a good ol’ dose of ass kicking as well. When work started on adapting Nothing Lasts Forever to film, Frank Sinatra was contractually obligated to be offered the role (despite now being 73 years old). He turned it down, and so the producers attempted to retool the novel as the basis for another story.

After the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando (the quintessential generic 80’s action movie), the retooled Nothing Lasts Forever was put forth as a potential sequel written by Steven de Souza and Frank Darabont. However, Schwarzenegger was uninterested in reprising his role and so the script was retooled yet again by de Souza, this time as a stand-alone movie called Die Hard. In spite of all the changes it had undergone, much of the details of Thorp’s original novel remain, including a number of the supporting characters’ names and the plot basics, as well as most of the key action sequences. However, by the time Die Hard was underway, most of the politics and moral ambiguity had been excised in favour of a fun actioner (in part because Fox saw the script as the basis of a summer blockbuster).

Many actors were approached to play the film’s lead, John McClane, including Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, but they all turned it down. Apparently desperate to find someone to fill the role, Fox signed Bruce Willis for $5 million, a figure which was considered extremely high for a (at the time) low profile actor. Willis only had a single moderately successful film and TV show to his name at the time, and was seen as a comedic actor rather than an action star (oh the irony). Villain Hans Gruber was played by Alan Rickman, his first major film appearance. Also cast was McClane’s wife, Holly, played by Bonnie Bedelia. John McTiernan was brought on to direct, after having just completed Predator with producer Joel Silver. However, the script wasn’t entirely finished when things got underway, with entire scenes being added on after shooting started. Also surprisingly, McClane’s character wasn’t even figured out until half way through shooting, so reshoots of previous scenes had to be done to make him fit coherently. Fox rushing a major blockbuster through production to meet a release date? Never!

Luckily, Die Hard ended up being an extremely badass, financial and critical success of epic proportions. Seriously, who doesn’t like this movie? It’s one of my mother’s favourites, and she’s not exactly the sort who’s into uber-violent action movies. The film follows down on his luck NYPD cop, John McClane, who travels down to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to try to reconcile with his estranged wife who has taken on an important job in the Nakatomi Corporation. During the Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, terrorists led by the evil genius, Hans Gruber, seize control of the building and set about orchestrating an elaborate heist. However, McClane slips away and then begins taking down the terrorists one at a time to try to save his wife and the hostages. If you haven’t seen the movie yet for some reason, suffice to say that the story is thrilling and revolutionary. The film is nothing like the typical 80’s Commando/Rambo-model where a single man marches into a military base and somehow manages to kill an entire private army with his machine gun. Instead, we get a single, desperate, ordinary man, a confined location, a finite number of villains and extremely high stakes which just keep mounting until the explosive climax. McClane spends half the movie in hiding, runs away in nearly every fight he gets in, gets badly wounded and improvises his way through situations. As a result, when McClane does get into a fight or goes on the offensive, it makes the film far more exciting and tense, because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Bruce Willis must have been a revelation as John McClane – he’s fantastic and it really feels like he is an unhinged every man who is capable of becoming an ass-kicker in a pinch. Alan Rickman is also fantastic as Hans Gruber, and is easily the standout performance in the film. He’s mostly cool and collected in his performance, but there’s a palpable menace as well, especially when he discovers that McClane has stolen the detonators he needs to make his plan work. Of course, Bonnie Bedelia is also a convincing Holly Gennaro, displaying both fear at the situation, but a sense of strength and leadership for the hostages. Even the supporting characters are memorable. Everyone loves (or loves to hate) Al Powell, Argyle, Karl, the FBI agents Johnson and Johnson, Dwayne Robinson and Richard Thornburg. Hell, even each terrorist is given at least a couple lines and some screen time, making their eventual deaths have a bit more resonance than the faceless mooks that get gunned down in your typical action movie. The only annoying character is Ellis, although he’s supposed to be a douche bag, so he gets a pass.

Also contributing to the movie’s success is its great sense of humour. Bruce Willis’ comedic past plays a part here, but there’s a lot of hilarious one-liners and sight gags which go a long way to making Die Hard a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve seen the movie at least a half dozen times now, but there’s still scenes which never fail to make me laugh out loud – the exasperated comment about ordering a pizza and the C4 down the elevator shaft especially…

Of course, the movie isn’t all just fun and games. There is actually quite a bit of social commentary present in the film. There’s the really overt messages about responsibility in news media, overbearing police and state authority interfering with saving lives and the government viewing its citizens as little more than statistics. However, there are less-obvious references which are there for people who want to look a little deeper. For one thing, Nakatomi Plaza itself represents the increasing globalization of industrialization which was occurring at the time of the film’s release. The film is also comments on second-wave feminism, embodied by Holly’s position in the Nakatomi Corporation and the cause of her estrangement from John. The only reason they had become separated was because she wanted to pursue her career, but John didn’t support her moving away to Los Angeles. During the course of the movie, John hates himself for being such an ass and wants to make amends. However, the status quo isn’t entirely rocked – at the conclusion, Holly reinforces that her name is “McClane”, not “Gennaro”, suggesting a level of macho backlash against feminism. That said, the film doesn’t become outright misogynistic or act as an anti-feminist parable, but there does seem to be a certain level of backlash present.

Anyway, there’s not all that much to say about it: Die Hard is an action classic. It revolutionized the genre, created its own sub-genre and started a franchise which continues to this day. If nothing else, it’s a kick-ass film in its own right. There’s a good chance you’ve already seen it, and if you haven’t then I heartily recommend that you do. Yippee ki yay indeed.

9/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 2 of this retrospective series with Die Hard 2: Die Harder!

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7 Ways AVP Inspired Recent Alien and Predator Movies

So when I wasn’t playing the shit out of Battlefield 4 on PS4, the AVP Miniatures Game I’ve been talking about the last two weeks inspired me to go back and revisit Paul W.S. Anderson’s much-maligned 2004 Alien vs Predator movie. It was actually worse than I remember it being, but while watching it I noticed something a bit… odd. Considering that Predators and Prometheus, the most recent Predator and Alien movies respectively seem to draw plot points and details from AVP liberally. This is especially surprising considering that they have done their damnedest to distance themselves from the AVP films. I’ve compiled seven examples of these instances here for examination.

As a note before we begin, I would like to mention that Prometheus and Predators are much better films than either AVP. I also figure that most of these similarities are coincidental, but find the links interesting enough to warrant mentioning. Oh and it should probably go without saying that SPOILERS ARE IN EFFECT.

Honourable Mention: Two expendable goofballs get separated from the main group and have very bad things befall them… (Prometheus)

I didn’t include this one because it seems more like a genre trope than anything, but in AVP… uhhh gimme a second to look up the names of the “characters” in this movie… umm so Miller and Verheiden get separated from the main characters and begin bumbling and freaking out. Neither have really done anything so far but they try to buddy up to get through things since they’re both “dads” and therefore can’t give up. If only they knew they were in a horror film they might have just turned the guns on themselves… Anyway, both end up getting captured by the Aliens and impregnated.

Meanwhile, in Prometheus, scientists Fifield and Milburn have had enough scary alien crap and so head back to the ship… but get lost like dumbasses despite having a digital map on them. They basically scream and hold each other until Milburn tries to pet a hissing serpent (no homo). They are mysteriously killed and/or weaponized soon after.

7) Predators Hunt in Threes (Predators)

I think there’s some precedence for this development in the Predator and AVP comics, hence why I rank it so lowly. However, to be fair, how often do films series respect extended universe stories? Just look at Alien 3, which took a dump on all the Alien comics which had been written as sequels to Aliens. I imagine that the new Star Wars movies will invalidate all the post-ROTJ fiction as well. In that regard, considering that all prior Predator films featured only a single hunter, this is a pretty interesting correlation.

In AVP a trio of Predator teenagers head off to their ritual hunting grounds to kill some xenomorphs (and any foolish humans who get in their way). In Predators, a trio of Super Predators hunt aliens and humans on their game preserve planet. In either case, three isn’t the magic number as they all get killed.

6) Mysterious Temple of Bad Things (aka Human Killing Grounds) (Prometheus)

Considering that both AVP and Prometheus are horror films, it makes sense that the mysterious, alien-built temple of doom that the protagonists come across would turn out to be something bad in the end. However, I think it’s more than a little odd that Prometheus features this trope at all, considering that it is trying to do something unlike the AVP films. If you really wanted to stretch it you could probably try to make an argument that both structures are pyramids, although the Engineer’s weapon facility looks more like a mound to me. There’s other similarities as well, such as the fact that the protagonists are able to conveniently read and translate the glyphs on the walls which are written in an unknown language. The owners of the temples also end up getting defeated by Xenomorphs/proto-Xenomorphs, both during and prior to the events of the films.

In AVP, the humans discover a temple 2000ft beneath Antarctica. It turns out that it is an ancient Predator hunting ground where humans are sacrificed to create Xenomorphs. In Prometheus, the humans travel to the Engineer’s planet to trace back to the origin of life. They end up discovering a weapon’s facility where the Engineers destroyed themselves with biological weapons before they could purge humanity from the stars.

5) Aliens Are Responsible for Civilization on Earth (Prometheus)

What’s with the recent fascination with the belief that humans were created/improved by aliens? I mean, they have a bloody TV show on “The History Channel” for goodness sake. Oh and of course there are people who think that Prometheus is a true story, but covered-up to look fictionalized (because as we all know, the best way to hide the truth is to give it a $130 million dollar budget and a wide release and then expect that absolutely no one will be crazy enough to believe it). Anyway, both AVP and Prometheus have this idea as a central plot point, even if it doesn’t make all that much sense.

In AVP, the Predators established the early civilizations and taught them to build pyramids so they could hunt Xenomorphs in them. They also apparently did a whole Tower of Babel thing too, because apparently the temple in Antarctica has all of the ancient cultures in its architecture and language, but somehow this singular origin didn’t muddy their own cultures, since they still remain unique (…AVP is really dumb). In Prometheus, the Engineers were the origin of life on Earth through a Christ-like sacrifice. They also came back later and helped civilize humanity, being worshiped as gods by us and leaving behind star maps for us to follow.

4) People Inexplicably Bring Weapons on a Scientific Expedition (Prometheus)

Scientific research is to the Alien franchise as archaeology is to Indiana Jones – if it can’t be shot at then it isn’t worth investigating. Supposed “scientists” in both films don’t do their jobs at all, generally acting like stupid tourists gawking about on their field trip. Also worth noting is the fact that the female protagonist in both AVP and Prometheus says that weapons aren’t needed, but are dismissed offhand. Guns are cool, but seriously… they aren’t really justified in either film very well at all. Of course, the weapons end up being useless anyways. In AVP I think a grand total of… two Aliens end up getting shot by the humans (and one of them was with some sort of sci-fi gun which just showed up out of nowhere). In Prometheus, only one creature gets killed by guns, but to be fair it was more because he ended up getting backed over by a huge-ass car.

As for justifications, AVP takes the cake for being more inexcusable. It’s a scientific expedition to a temple 2000ft beneath Antarctica… there’s not going to be anything alive down there. You could argue that they have the guns in case another team comes to investigate the site, but doesn’t that sound excessive? Obviously the only reason they have the guns is so that Paul W.S. Anderson can have his stupid action movie. At least in Prometheus they are venturing into the unknown to meet a potentially hostile alien species face-to-face… but still, considering that they had no reason to believe they harboured us ill-will (considering the Engineers created us and all that), it’s a tad tenuous.

3) The Hero Teams Up With a Predator (Who Gets Killed for His Troubles) (Predators)

LittleJimmy hates this trope, but I don’t have a huge problem with it myself. That said, Predators should not be seen as good guys, but rather as lawfully evil figures. Predators fits that criteria, while AVP ventures too close to making the Predator a hero. Oh and I could have swore to God that Paul W.S. Anderson was going to make Lex and the Predator kiss, it’s probably the most “WTF!?!!” moment in the whole movie. In any case, both Predators end up getting killed shortly after (is it too much to ask that a Predator actually survive a damn Predator film for once? They must have a ridiculous mortality rate).

In AVP, the humans steal the Predators’ weapons, which makes them get picked off easily by the Aliens. In the end, the last remaining human and Predator team up to bring down the temple and kill the escaped Queen. However, right at the end the Predator gets impaled by the Queen’s tail and dies. In Predators, Royce frees a captured Predator who begrudgingly directs Royce to a Predator shuttle in exchange. The Predator ends up getting killed by a Super Predator shortly after though.

2) Weyland (Prometheus)

This is another odd similarity for a series that was trying to move away from the AVP movies. Why is an aged and terminally ill founder of Weyland enterprises a commonality between the two? Even if you dismiss the rest of this article, this one’s pretty damn compelling to me because we get a really similar character and motivation in both films.

In AVP, Charles Bishop Weyland discovers the temple in Antarctica and wants to lay claim to the find. He is dying and wants to leave his mark on history by making the greatest discovery in human history (read: he wants to become immortal in a metaphorical sense). He also seems to have secret agendas and doesn’t heed warnings that he should let go of his hubris. He gets killed for his troubles of course. In Prometheus, Peter Weyland wants to lay claim to Elizabeth Shaw’s discovery of the Engineers. His crew have a secret agenda which hangs over the entire expedition. It turns out that Weyland was secretly in stasis aboard their ship and is close to death. He wants to meet the Engineers and have them make him literally immortal, even though Shaw warns him that they will kill him instead. Predictably, he ends up getting bitch slapped to death by an Engineer.

1) The Opening Briefings are Nearly Identical (Prometheus)

This is the plot point which really kicked off this article because when I watched it in AVP I thought “wait a minute… didn’t I already see this…?” Both scenes follow the same purpose and structure, they’re at similar points in the film, hell even the details are similar. They’re basically the early exposition dump to get the audience up to speed and set up what’s going to happen. Both scenes open with Weyland’s right hand man/woman beginning the presentation before giving the floor to Weyland himself (or a hologram of Weyland at least) to explain the finer details. The briefings are occurring in a wide-open chamber aboard their respective ships, while the attendees are sitting in cheap folding chairs (!).

The nature of the briefing scenes also create their own problems, because from what we’re shown all of these people apparently didn’t know where the hell they were going or doing until this briefing started (especially egregious in Prometheus). At least in AVP they try to create a sense of urgency, in Prometheus it’s just lazy. The whole scientific angle also gets thrown out the window in Prometheus because Shaw says that they’re on this expedition for Engineers is because “that’s what she chooses to believe”. Umm, good thing for you that Weyland’s a crackpot then I guess. Oh and then there’s another problem – why send a manned team at all? Why not send an unmanned drone to investigate first instead of pouring a trillion dollars into searching for Engineers who probably aren’t there in the first place (as the characters state on many occasions)?

Anyway, despite everyone hating AVP, it seems that it has managed to spread its influence to subsequent Alien and Predator films. Sure, it’s probably entirely coincidental, but the connections are interesting at the very least. I hope you enjoyed. Retrospectives should be beginning next week so stay tuned for that!

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Quick Fix: Follow-up + Current Events

Okay, due to the nature of last week’s quick fix, we’ve got a bit of follow-up on some of the “top stories” which were in that post. First of all, I caved in and got that Elgato Game Capture HD I had been looking at and it seems to work quite well. I suggest that you see the results for yourself if you don’t believe me. Currently I’m stuck with PS3 footage, but I’ll be getting a PS4 before the next blog post is up so expect footage at some point soon thereafter. In fact, you can always reach my Youtube channel by clicking the link in the sidebar near the top of the page – now that I’ve got this Elgato, updates should be fairly regular.

Also as follow-up, the AVP miniatures game has been announced and has already gotten underway on Kickstarter! I’m a bit torn on it to be honest… on the one hand, the minis are amazing and it looks like it’ll be a pretty fun game. Plus it’s FREAKING ALIENS AND PREDATORS (if that wasn’t clear enough)!!! On the other hand though, the game company’s communication has been lackluster and it’s rather expensive… even more-so with the stretch goals getting unlocked which are largely paid expansions. I mean, I’d LOVE Alien Warriors and Predator Hounds, but the notion of paying 30GBP on top of my 75GBP pledge isn’t particularly appealing. On the plus side though, the freebies are starting to pour in (at present, pretty much everyone’s getting free Facehuggers, a 10GBP add-on, a Berserker Predator [SQUEE!!!!] and almost certainly a model on a 40mm base once we hit 2000 backers). On the whole, I’m still happy about the project and will probably even increase my pledge, although I hope that the news is only positive from here on out. If you’re interested in checking it out, the Kickstarter is underway here. You can also check out the awesome minis on their Facebook page.

Now, onto current events. It’s been a little while since I last tackled a recent news story, but this one’s a doozy which I just can’t escape when I turn on the TV. I’m talking of course about Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto. Honestly, I wish he’d just step down because then I wouldn’t have to listen to the media drag this thing on indefinitely. In all seriousness though, Ford really does need to bow out – he has become an international embarrassment to himself, his city and his country. Saying that he’s going to keep working just makes no sense – does he think that no one else can run his job as well as him? Obviously there’s something up there.

Now I hate conspiracy theorizing, but I’m going to do some speculation so take the rest of this paragraph with a huge grain of salt. An acquaintance on Facebook made a post after the confession came out, suggesting that Ford might have called out a hit on gang members he had been famously photographed with (in front of a suspected crack house), one of whom was murdered recently. Now while I didn’t think there was much to back up this statement, it was certainly an interesting take on the situation. In any case, it is likely that Ford knew more than he was willing to admit to the press leading up to his confession. For one thing, there’s a story going around that his office hired a hacker to try to destroy the tape before it could fall into police custody. I can’t exactly verify it, but based on the information and evidence it presents, I’m willing to believe it. If it’s true, then there’s probably some seriously illegal and corrupt actions going on in the highest levels of the Toronto government. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a film I watched called Tycoon: A New Russian, where a gangster funds a politician, but keeps a sex tape to blackmail him with (according to the story, it is thought that the Dixon City Bloods have a Ford sex tape as well) in case he ever turns on them. I wonder if a similar sort of situation is going on here which will be revealed in due time… Again though, this is almost entirely speculation and unverified information, so don’t take this as anything more than that.

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Quick Fix: Battlefields, Retrospectives, Aliens and Novels

A bit of a quick post this week on, coincidentally, the 5th of November. Not that I’m an anarchist or even a huge fan of V For Vendetta, but the date has a bit of pop culture significance so it’s notable in itself.

Anyway as you probably know, Battlefield 4 was released a week ago and (predictably) I’ve been playing the shit out of it. Actually, I rented it for 4 days and have since had to return it, but I’m already jonesing to play again. I’ve only gotten ahold of the PS3 version so far, but I’m stoked to see it in action on the PS4. I’m actually surprised at how BF4 turned out on PS3, the beta had tempered my expectations, but it’s fully-featured and functional. Graphically, it’s muddier and has worse textures than BF3, and I think the maps might have been shrunk, but overall if you can’t get any other platform then the current-gen versions of the game are certainly a lot of fun. When I’m a bit more acclimatized to it I’ll probably make a new “Battlefield Tips” post, but in the meantime you can check out my Battlelog profile. I’m also seriously considering buying an Elgato Game Capture HD to record in-game footage, so keep an eye out for that – my Youtube page might be getting updates in the near future… On the negative side though, the netcode needs some retooling, at the moment it’s extremely frustrating getting killed in what seems like a single shot by everyone. I probably need a bit more practice (it took me about 30 hours to acclimatize to Battlefield 3 from Battlefield: Bad Company 2), but hopefully this issue is rectified in the PS4 version, or a patch comes along soon.

I think I’ve also got the next Retrospective lined up, partially out of convenience since one of my brothers owns the whole series on DVD. I don’t have a firm date on when I’ll begin the series, but it should be before the end of the month… actually, now that I think about it, that’s pretty much perfect and should coincide well with future events… and I won’t say anymore than that. Ho ho ho. In any case, I’m thinking of doing something unconventional for the Retrospective after this one, so be sure to keep an eye on the blog in the new year!

This is a bit of personal excitement here, but there’s an AVP miniatures game coming soon, and based on the sculpts it looks FANTASTIC. I’m seriously stoked beyond belief for this. It’s coming to Kickstarter and traditional retail methods soon, so I’ll post up a link when it becomes available and when more info is released. In the meantime, I need some people to play it with on release…

Finally, a bit of exciting news. I have begun writing a sci-fi novel, which will expand into a series at some point. Of course, this is assuming I finish it – I already have an unfinished manuscript sitting on my computer from an abandoned project so I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched. The novel is largely in the conceptual stage at the moment, but I’ve got the basic trajectory of the story developed and have written first drafts of the prologue and about half of the first chapter already. All-in-all I’m pretty excited about it and sincerely hope I actually take the effort to finish the damn thing!

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Feminism in Media

In modern North American society, feminists have about as bad a rep as a man goosestepping down the street with a Swastika on his shoulder. That’s not to say that everyone necessarily thinks that women should get back into the kitchen and collectively make us a sandwich. Rather, it would seem to me that both men and women are sick of feminists shoving their agenda down the public’s throat. I’m sure there’s a good deal of failed communication which is at the root of this problem (this is a huge generalization but from my observations, feminists don’t bother to explain their views to the uninitiated and get really angry when anyone goes against them). There’s also the issue that many people think that feminism is beating a dead horse – after all, aren’t women equal to men in society now more or less? I’m not exactly versed in women’s studies so I’ll leave that particular question to someone else to handle.

In any case, despite the stigma which is attached to feminists, I do have to say that I have really noticed considerable sexism and misogyny recently in the media I have been viewing. Three 2013 releases have gotten me thinking about the state of feminism in film today: World War Z, Gangster Squad and (to a much lesser extent) Machete Kills. World War Z is what really kick-started this entire article for me. If you saw the movie, then you probably know what I’m talking about – the entire first half hour of the film features Brad Pitt protecting his useless wife and equally useless daughters who seem to be doing their damnedest to get them all killed. I can guarantee that no one walked out of that film thinking “wow, I really liked Gerry’s wife and kids, they were great characters!” Now I’m not saying that the women should have suddenly picked up machine guns and blown away the zombies while making an obtuse point that women are as good as then men (a la 80s action films). Rather, it would have been nice if they had done… I dunno, anything. Sure, Karen can try to keep her children safe, but she can do that by trying to fight off the zombies sometimes. Or maybe she can not call her husband in the middle of an important life-threatening mission (and subsequently getting a lot of people killed). Oh and when Karen and the kids are holed up on the aircraft carrier, maybe they could try to help out? Hell, read up on the original ending of the film – it was supposed to be even more misogynistic than it ended up being.

Clearly the writers only threw the female characters into World War Z to be plot devices. In a movie like World War Z which feels like it was written and directed by committee, it’s clear that the studio didn’t give a damn about how the women were portrayed in the film or that casual misogyny would affect their bottom-line. In fact, I’m surprised by how well it did and was received in spite of this glaring issue. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa”, where Achebe decries Joseph Conrad for reducing Africans and the continent of Africa in Heart of Darkness to nothing more than a plot device. While I don’t entirely agree with Achebe on his criticisms, he does make a good point, that reducing people and places to plot devices strips their history and identity away, making them little more than a reflection of the male protagonist.

If World War Z kicked off this article, then Gangster Squad sealed the deal that I was going to have to write about it. I was actually very surprised by how Gangster Squad handled women, although considering that it was a rip-off of The Untouchables I probably shouldn’t have been. I’m not really referring to Emma Stone’s character either, the generic femme fatale love interest (and plot device to add some tension for good measure). Instead, I’m referring to basically the only other female character in the film, O’Mara’s wife, Connie. Like World War Z, the women in the film are reduced to plot devices who the male characters don’t seem to actually be all that invested in. The film tries to be uber-macho, with the protagonist O’Mara dealing with organized crime the only way he knows how – by shooting it in the face. Of course, Connie whines to him that he shouldn’t be risking himself because she can’t live without him. Obviously, the point this puts forth is that violence is a man’s realm and passivity is for women… and according to the film and it’s hilariously hamfisted finale, violence is the only thing that gets results. Of course, the whole movie’s a complete fabrication, although you might have figured that out when you saw some of the over the top action in play. Regardless though, it seems that the whole “action gets results” message the film tries to get across is total bunk, making the entire film even stupider in retrospect. That said, I will acknowledge that Connie does get one surprisingly interesting scene where she actually helps O’Mara pick out his “gangster squad”.

Which brings me to Machete Kills. I actually don’t have a huge beef against it in regards to sexism or feminism or anything like that – it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation film and therefore it gets a lot more leeway than a mega-blockbuster like World War Z or “historical” film like Gangster Squad. However, it did remind me of a Cracked article in which the authour stated that women rarely get shot in the head on-screen in American cinema. To sum it up, the article states that “the reason that we so rarely see women getting their brains splattered? Masculine violation of, and domination over, a woman occurs on her body and not her head”. Machete Kills actually seems to subvert this idea, since in the opening minutes a female character is shot graphically in the head, on-screen. However, near the ending a pair of women fight and the more physically domineering of the pair shoots the other in the head, but this is left off-screen. The implications there are interesting, since that character’s actions seem to make her androgynous (not that she’s really overtly feminine anyway). I don’t really have any real profound conclusions to give in regards to that, but it’s certainly an interesting observation that’s worth keeping in mind and mulling over.

Before I close, I’d like to mention another example in a video game I played recently, called Lollipop Chainsaw. Again, it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation venture so it gets more leeway, not to mention that video games in general have a pretty big sexism issue. However, while I found the game to be quite fun, there was one annoying aspect which I found very grating and more sexist/misogynist than any of the objectification in the game. This aspect was that the enemy dialogue almost always consisted of gendered insults – seriously, nearly every time an enemy yells at you they call the heroine a “slut” or “whore” and, on one particularly colourful occasion, a zombie declares he’s going to “fist his ass with her face”. Ahem. Maybe if it had happened once it would have been shockingly funny, but when the game barrages you with that sort of dialogue over and over it just becomes annoying (at best).

Anyway, hopefully this little write-up has shown that as much as we love to hate them, feminists do have a purpose in society. Equality is still a work in progress, and media still has a way to go before it is truly adequate. Besides, equality doesn’t have to equal hamfisted morals, it can be an epic and subtle action romp like Dredd (seriously, buy the damn movie already!!!).

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Quick Fix: “Fat Shaming”

I was at work the other day listening to the local rock radio station’s morning program. It was the typical somewhat-raunchy banter you’d expect from morning hosts on a rock station, but it helps get through the day. Anyway, as I was listening the morning hosts mentioned that they had posted a photo on their Facebook page which was causing a bit of controversy. This got me curious and so I went and checked it out:

Apparently this photo has gone viral, and I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s clearly ripe for generating debate… although this being the Internet, that really means people screaming at each other and ignoring everyone else’s perspective. On the one hand, the woman who made the picture is coming across as being rather smug. Considering that her job is to be a physical fitness trainer, it shouldn’t be quite so difficult for her to get ripped in comparison to, say, someone who works 40 hours a week in a cubicle. The radio hosts were mentioning that there were people commenting on the photo claiming that it was an example of “fat shaming”, that the woman is bullying fat people and that she should go jump in front of a bus (again, it’s the Internet).

On the other hand, I kind of agree with the picture. I’m pretty skinny, but I wouldn’t kid myself into thinking I’m in great shape or anything. The picture isn’t shaming fat people, it’s shaming anyone who isn’t fit, which pretty much everyone seems to have ignored. But anyway, what’s my excuse for not having a six-pack? It really does come down to laziness. Sure, I could probably look like that if I put the effort in and reordered my priorities, but I don’t have the motivation to do so. Sure some people may physically be unable to look like that and then okay, you do have an excuse. That said, if you’re like me and (I imagine) 99% of everyone else who the image is directed at, then you need to fess up that maybe you don’t have an excuse beyond laziness. Obesity is becoming a major epidemic (not to mention those of us who just aren’t in shape to begin with) and I’m sure the vast majority of us don’t have some sort of incurable malady to give us a get-out-of-shame-free-card. Honestly, instead of being offended, many of us just need to look at ourselves and take the blame for once instead of deflecting it onto others.

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Quick Fix: 2013 in Film (aka Bitching About This Year’s Movies)

I’m back! For those who didn’t know, I spent the last week on vacation in Cincinnati and Atlanta and so getting out that last Apes retrospective entry was a bit of an ordeal… that said, I’m back in Canada and good to get back down to business on the blog! Before we get into the rambling meat of this entry, I want to mention that the open beta for Battlefield 4 has been up for almost two weeks now. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then do so ASAP (it’s free)! I’m only able to play it on the PS3 right now (which is extremely inferior compared to the PC beta), but I’m looking forward to playing on PS4 as soon as it launches.

2013 might be the best year for gaming ever. The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite would both be effortlessly Game of the Year winners if they hadn’t come out in the same year as GTA 5 (although I’m still rooting for The Last of Us). However, the same cannot be said for Hollywood, as it seems to me that 2013 is one of the most disappointing years in popular film in recent memory. Now to be clear, I’m talking about “major” films in the public conscience – there’s always good festival fare and indie darlings, but these usually fly under the radar of the general public. It should also be mentioned that we’re just getting into Oscar season, so the big Best Picture candidates are going to be making their way into cinemas quite soon, if they aren’t there already.

Here’s your Big Five winner right here.

Anyway, as you can probably tell I’m a bit of a film buff. Certainly not as much as some people, but I’ll usually see 15-20 new movies each year (not counting the films I then catch up on in the next year, at which point I’ll be closer to 35-45 movies released in any one year). That said, 2013 has been extremely disappointing for me – I’ll usually see any movie which interests me, but it’s now October and I’ve only seen 8 2013 films (Evil Dead, The Purge, Kick-Ass 2, World War Z, Iron Man 3, Oz the Great and Powerful, This Is the End, Red 2 and Gravity). Of these, I’d only say half were in any way decent, with Gravity being the only one which I thought was actually good (seriously, FREAKING SEE IT!!!). Sure I’m missing some high-profile films, but looking through the general consensus of what was “good” this year, I’m basically just missing Star Trek Into Darkness, Side Effects, The Conjuring, The World’s End and Rush. Unfortunately, these are disproportionately outweighed by the disappointing, mediocre or bad films released this year. Among the major disappointments were Gangster Squad (I seriously was predicting Best Picture when I saw the trailer), The Purge (how the hell did they screw it up so badly!?!) and Man of Steel. Legendarily bad films have all seemed to converge on 2013 like a plague: Movie 43, InAPPropriate ComedyA Good Day to Die Hard, The Host and Scary Movie 5 to name a few. Then there’s the just plain uninspired which was the rule rather than exception during the summer movie season: Jack the Giant Slayer, Olympus Has Fallen, The Hangover Part III, The Lone Ranger. Hell, even high-profile indie films weren’t spared as Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling both destroyed their reputations with Only God Forgives. Sure, there’s always more bad than good films in a year, but this year it seems to me like the good stuff is in much lower supply than normal, and the disappointments were far more high-profile.

I don’t have all the answers for why 2013 has been such a disappointing year in film. However, it has gotten me thinking about one particular issue in Hollywood which I’d like to address (and which is a factor in some of this year’s releases). As usual, Hollywood is concerned with making money, but this year they seem to be taking more of a stranglehold on it and compromising their productions in the process. One of these trends which has reemerged recently is taking an R-rated film and editing it down to PG-13, because PG-13 films have the widest prospective audience. Now obviously this is hardly why 2013 has been a bad year for cinema, but it is a contributor in the downfall of at least one high-profile example. World War Z was totally neutered by its forced PG-13 rating. Now I’m not one of those ratings snobs who believes that every movie would be improved with an R-rating and gratuitous violence and nudity (hell, I agree that Robocop wouldn’t be all that much worse if they cut it to PG-13), but some subjects don’t lend themselves to a family-friendly audience. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t think that a movie about mass human extinction, cannibalism and visceral violence really would be best served by being PG-13. As a result, then entire film feels compromised, an issue which doesn’t even get fixed by the Unrated cut (the zombies seem to just jump on people, bite them, and then run away). This is a Hollywood trend which has been annoyingly pervasive since at least 2004, with such examples as AVP, Live Free or Die Hard, Terminator Salvation, Priest, Taken and Taken 2. Of course, the upcoming Robocop remake is coming out with a PG-13, which is going to further create backlash against this trend (even if it isn’t as abysmal as everyone is predicting it will be). As someone who loves good movies, I wish that studios would have a bit more faith in their audiences and give their filmmakers a bit more freedom… but that’ll be the day.

On an unrelated note, here’s a picture of some fat cats…

UPDATE: Since posting this I’ve also watched Gangster Squad and Machete Kills, both of which were rather average, held back by disappointing elements (this seems to be the trend with 2013 releases… I’m curious to see what I think about Man of Steel when it comes out on DVD).

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Retrospective: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the latest film in the franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes! After the major misfire that was the Planet of the Apes remake, faith in the franchise was at an all-time low. Despite making a healthy profit off of the remake, Fox did the right thing and let the series take a bit of a break. However, ten years after the Apes remake destroyed our faith in Tim Burton, the franchise was rebooted with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Could this entry restore faith in the franchise, or were the Apes doomed to extinction? Read on to find out…

SHITTY TAGLINE ALERT! SHITTY TAGLINE ALERT!

After Planet of the Apes became a go-to example of one of the worst remakes of all time, it seemed like the franchise was pretty much dead in the water. In spite of this public perception, around 2006 husband and wife screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (what’s with these ape films and husband-wife screenwriting duos?) became interested in stories about pet chimpanzees. I can’t find a confirmation of this, but it’s very likely that one of these stories was that of Nim Chimpsky, an ape whose story is somewhat similar to that of Caesar in the final film. Whatever the case, Jaffa and Silver realized that the story they were formulating would fit into the Apes franchise quite well, and so wrote a script which they sold to Fox. While not officially a remake, the film plays out like a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes on a very superficial level (in that it’s about the fall of humanity, brought about by an ape called Caesar who leads an ape uprising). That said, its themes of genetic engineering and human-ape interaction largely replace the revolutionary overtones and vengeance prevalent in Conquest. Early in development, the film was simply titled “Caesar”, which was the first I heard of the project. Considering that Conquest was my second favourite Apes movie, I was excited to see what they could do with the premise given a respectful budget to make it. However, the film seemed to have a bit of development trouble because Caesar was officially cancelled at one point before the project reemerged as Rise of the Apes (which was changed to the mouthful that is Rise of the Planet of the Apes because the studio was afraid people wouldn’t realize that it was an Apes movie otherwise).

Attached to direct was Rupert Wyatt whose only other directing credit was The Escapist in 2008, which had fairly positive reviews. For the visual effects, the producers decided that the apes were going to have to look like actual apes instead of the anthropomorphic ones which had populated the previous films. To accommodate this need, Weta Digital (the effects company behind The Lord of the Rings and the appropriately ape-centric King Kong remake) was brought in to do performance capture for the apes. Andy Serkis was also brought in to play Caesar, due to his unparalleled experience, mastery of motion capture and experience with playing an ape (again, King Kong). James Franco was also cast as Caesar’s owner, Will. When I heard all of this stuff for the first time, I was giddy with excitement: “A new apes movie with Andy Serkis, Weta Digital and Jame Franco? Holy crap it sounds like they’re actually trying this time!”

Unfortunately, as the release drew closer and closer, my optimism began to diminish. It started with the first trailer which, as this blogger sums up quite well, was not very good. The early marketing for the film just wasn’t good, focusing more on the action than the emotional core, and making it look like we were in for a disappointment. Then there was the title change and some mediocre posters which just further until I found myself approaching the film very cautiously leading up to release…

Rise follows a scientist named Will who is developing a serum to cure Alzheimer’s. After a lab accident in which Will’s reputation is shattered, he discovers that the child of a lab ape has had the serum passed on to him, which makes him incredibly intelligent. Will ends up raising the ape, dubbed Caesar, as if he were a human. However, as Caesar grows he finds that he doesn’t fit in with the humans and is eventually taken to a corrupt primate shelter. It is here that Caesar realizes that he has to do something to liberate the apes, sparking a revolution…

As you can probably see, Rise isn’t nearly as simplistic as many of the previous Apes films. It has a smart script with plenty of twists and turns, and one which is extremely relevant to modern audiences, much like the paranoia of nuclear annihilation would have resonated with fans of the original 1968 Apes. There’s also many genuinely affecting moments, such as when we discover that Will’s drive to cure Alzheimer’s stems from the fact that his father is succumbing to the disease. It’s pretty heartbreaking and turns Rise into something far beyond the stereotypical mad scientist trope. The “NO” scene is also incredible, and is easily going to go down as one of the most iconic sequences in the entire franchise. Simply put, Jaffa and Silver put together a fantastic script, and it really shows.

That said, there are some weak points in the story. Plenty of the characters are given very little depth or characterization. The douchebag neighbour and Will’s boss, Jacobs, are both completely one-dimensional (the neighbour’s always bitching at people and Jacobs is completely obsessed with making money). In both cases it works, but it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t have given them a bit more substance. They’re far from the only characters who suffer though – the staff of the ape shelter are all given nothing to work with, despite featuring Brian Cox and Tom Felton in their ranks. Probably the biggest disappointment in terms of character depth though would have to be Freida Pinto as the veterinarian, Caroline Aranha. Again, she isn’t given much material, being little more than a conscience and generic love interest (funny how we still can’t get past that trope 45 year later).

While many of the human characters are weak, the apes are far more interesting (this is probably intentional too, since the apes are the “heroes” of the story). Being the first apes movie with completely CGI apes, one could be forgiven for worrying that the effects may not be sufficient, but the special effects really are great. I’m worried that they might look kind of dated in 15 years, but if nothing else the facial expressions are spot-on. This is really a testament to the amazing mo-cap work of Weta and the actors, since the apes rely on facial expressions and gestures to convey their emotions (Wyatt “cheats” only on a couple occasions with subtitling, but generally he lets the audience figure things out for themselves). Caesar is brought to life fantastically by Andy Serkis, who I was hoping would win Best Supporting Actor in 2011 (he didn’t, sadly). We follow Caesar from his childhood innocence and see him grow into a capable leader, but we’re never really sure if he is going to go over the homicidal edge or not. The other apes are given recognizable characterization as well, and it’s impressive that we actually find ourselves caring for and cheering them on as the film progresses. Maurice is Caesar’s orangutan advisor, Rocket’s the former alpha male at the sanctuary who becomes one of Caesar’s most reliable followers and Buck is Caesar’s gorilla enforcer (it’s truly tragic when he gets gunned down). There’s also Koba, the long-time lab test subject who clearly has psychotic tendencies and wants to get revenge on the humans.

I’ve also got to give a shout-out to Rupert Wyatt who directs the film with real expertise. As I mentioned earlier, Wyatt elects to show, rather than tell, more often than not. This makes many of the film’s details into real heartbreaking moments, such as when we discover that Will’s father has Alzheimers (and when it returns as well). He also is very adept with action sequences, as the entire ape “revolution” is very exciting and funner than… well, a barrel of monkeys. He also manages to make an end credits sequence totally epic… how many movies can boast that!? Of course, Patrick Doyle’s score helps significantly as well, I really can’t stress enough how great it is.

That said, there is one aspect of Rise which bugs me more than any other, and that’s the sheer number of immersion-breaking references to the original film. Sure, a few call-backs are fun for fans of the franchise, but when it feels like entire plot points are only present to serve as a reference it gets a bit grating. For example, here’s a list of references I compiled while watching: the film opens with a hunt reminiscent to the famous human hunt, the intelligent apes are called “bright eyes” because their eyes have green flecks in them, Caesar is seen building a Statue of Liberty puzzle, Dodge yells “It’s a madhouse!”, the “damn dirty ape” line and sprays Caesar with a hose and one of the characters watches a Charlton Heston movie. If that wasn’t enough, the names of many of the characters are also references: the orangutan Maurice is named after Maurice Evans (who played Dr. Zaius), Dodge Landon is named after the other two astronauts who arrived with Colonel Taylor and Caesar’s (likely) future love interest is named Cornelia. At that point it’s just excessive and distracting, especially for someone like me who knows the original film inside and out. That said, it’s a relatively minor complaint overall.

It should be pretty clear that I love Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s fantastic, I love it more every time I see it. It’s easily the best Apes movie since the original and hopefully bodes well for the franchise’s future. If you haven’t seen it yet then I heartily recommend that you do so immediately!

8.5/10

So how is the future of the Apes franchise looking? Well there’s a new film in the pipeline for a 2014 release called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Much like Rise is a loose remake of Conquest, Dawn looks like it will be a remake of Battle. Clearly there’s going to be conflict between Caesar and Koba, with Koba being a stand-in for General Aldo. Considering how clearly unhinged Koba was in his limited screen time in Rise, Dawn should feature some brutal showdowns between the warring factions. As bad as Battle was, this was largely due to its budget – with the proper budget that Dawn‘s getting, I’m totally stoked that it will be another awesome film. In fact, Dawn is up there with The Hobbit films as my most anticipated films. Sadly Rupert Wyatt isn’t back, but he’s been replaced with Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), which I have to admit might just be an improvement. With Weta and Andy Serkis back, plus a new cast featuring such famous actors as Gary Oldman (!) and Kerri Russell, it should be an amazing time. Plus Risehas left plenty of room for sequels – I almost wonder if Brian Cox was left with little to work with in order to bring him back in a sequel as a General Kolp analogue… not likely, but possible. Whatever the case, I’m happy that one of my favourite franchises is still going strong and looks to do so well into the future.

This is how I would rank the series from best to worst:

1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

3. Escape from the Planet of the Apes(it’s a better film than Conquest, but they’re both about neck-and-neck for me)

4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes

6. Battle for the Planet of the Apes(this and the remake are pretty much equally bad, it’s hard to objectively decide which I dislike more…)

7. Planet of the Apes(2001)

Thanks for getting through this retrospective series and as always feel free to comment and give suggestions for future franchises for me to review!

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Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the sixth film in the franchise, Tim Burton’s remake of the original Planet. Quite a bit has been said about the remake over the years, but it’s been over a decade since its release – have the years changed the public reaction to it at all? Read on to find my take on it…

The ape soldiers look pretty awesome but overall it’s a pretty generic poster.

While the original Apes film series ended on a low note with Battle in 1973, the franchise continued to stay in the public conscious. Two separate TV series were released in the 70s, both of which had merchandising tie-ins. In anticipation and promotion of these TV series, Fox studios also released a Go Ape marathon of the franchise which drummed up further interest. Of course, the classic status of the original film also meant that the series was always going to be remembered, and so it was only a matter of time before the apes would rise again…

It turned out that it would take almost 15 years for a new entry in the franchise to come to light.* The first rumblings of a new Apes film came about in 1988 when Fox executives became impressed by Adam Rifkin’s Never on Tuesday. Rifkin, a huge fan of the original film, pitched a new entry in the franchise, one which would be a sequel rather than a reboot. Perhaps most intriguingly, this film would form an alternate continuity branching off from the first film and ignoring the events from Beneath onward. This sounded like an absolutely fantastic idea since the direction of the original series left so much unrealized potential that was ripe to be mined by further installments. The film was titled Return to the Planet of the Apes, was meant to allude to Spartacus and was set 300 years after the original Apes ended. The film would see the apes’ society reaching its Roman era, and would follow a descendant of Colonel Taylor, Duke. Duke would end up leading a human revolt against the apes… by all accounts, the film sounded fairly simple but also pretty damn awesome. To make matters even better, a young Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen were both in contention for the lead role, which would have brought a lot of clout to the production. Everything seemed good to go, but days before the film was to enter pre-production, new executives arrived at Fox studios. Suddenly the film was put back into active development and Rifkin had to go through a number of rewrites until the film was unceremoniously shelved. Dammit Fox, if there’s one primary antagonist running throughout the Apes series, it’s the bloody studio heads – from meddling to budget cut-backs, the damn, dirty apes can’t get a break…

The next attempt to get the project off the ground involved one of my own personal favourite directors, Peter Jackson and his long-time collaborator/partner, Fran Walsh. Jackson and Walsh pitched their own version of the film which would see the apes undergoing their own Renaissance. The conservative ape government we witnessed in the original Apes movie would be clashing with the new arts movement as liberal apes begin sympathizing with humans. There would also be a half-human, half-ape child which would be central to the plot, an idea which was explored briefly in the development of Beneath (a tricky element to implement though, of course). To make things even better, Roddy McDowall was on board to play a Leonardo da Vinci-type ape character. Unfortunately, this version of the film failed to get off the ground as well (the executive Jackson met apparently didn’t even realize McDowall was even in the original Apes films), and thus the Apes continued to languish in development hell. That said, I’m kind of glad this version didn’t end up getting made – I’m an enormous Lord of the Rings fan and I wouldn’t trade it in it’s present (amazing) state, even for a new Apes film.

From there, Don Murphy tried to get Oliver Stone on board. Stone wasn’t interested in directing, but did sign on as an executive producer. Stone pitched a film in his trademark conspiracy theorist style… in fact it’s so confusing that I think it would be better to just copy/paste his own words rather than try to sort through it: “It has the discovery of cryogenically frozen Vedic Apes who hold the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilizations. It deals with past versus the future. My concept is that there’s a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it all out”. Umm ok then Oliver… Despite the rather out-there premise, the studio executives seemed to be impressed with Stone’s pitch and a screenplay by Terry Hayes titled Return of the Apes was commissioned. This script featured geneticist Will Robinson trying to cure a genetic plague, which causes all humans to have stillbirths, by going back in time. Here he discovers that humans and apes are at war and that the apes engineered the genetic plague as a time bomb of sorts in human DNA. The president of Fox studios declared that Hayes’ script was one of the best he had ever read, and Arnold freaking Schwarzeneggar was signed on to play the lead role. Unfortunately, the studio wasn’t happy with Hayes’ script, which they felt was too serious. Instead, they wanted something campier (remember, this was the 90s – think of Batman & Robin and you’ll get an idea of the tone that was in vogue). Apparently this direction was spearheaded by studio executive Dylan Sellers who kept pushing for his “baseball scene”: “What if Robinson finds himself in Ape land and the Apes are trying to play baseball? But they’re missing one element, like the pitcher or something . . . Robinson knows what they’re missing and he shows them, and they all start playing”. Ugh, I don’t even… sigh. Unfortunately, when Hayes turned in his next rewrite of the script and didn’t include Sellers’ precious baseball scene, he was fired and the entire enterprise crumbled once again. As confusing as the initial pitch was, it sounded like there was some real potential in this iteration of the production and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t allowed to see the light of day.

After the Oliver Stone iteration of the film failed, it seemed that Fox still wanted to pursue a campy tone for the series (there were reports of makeup tests in which apes were seen skiing). Chris Columbus (known for Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter films) was brought on to direct a new script which was more closely based on Pierre Boulle’s original Apes novel than the previous films had been. This one featured an ape astronaut landing on Earth and releasing a deadly virus. Two humans use the ape’s spacecraft to return to its homeworld to find cure for the virus, finding a planet where the apes hunt humans. When they get the antidote, the heroes return to Earth to discover that the planet has been conquered by the apes in their absence (which is actually the original ending of the book). However, there were still misgivings about the script (for good reason) and so a series of directors became attached and then dropped out. Among these directors were Ronald Emmerich, James Cameron (!!!) and Peter Jackson (again).

The film finally began to take shape in 1999 when William Broyles Jr. turned in a script which caught the attention of Tim Burton. Richard Zanuck, who greenlit the original Apes film way back in 1968, signed on as producer since it was a very personal project for him to see the remake through. Unfortunately, Burton budgeted the script at $200 million (an exorbitant amount at the time), but Fox would only grant him $100 million to work with. Burton and Fox clashed quite frequently throughout production, as the studio had a very firm release date, forcing Burton to rush the shooting, editing and visual effects. Considering that it took them over 10 years to even get the film into pre-production, you think they could have afforded him at least another year to make it properly… Makeup effects wizard Rick Baker, famous for such impressive makeup-heavy films as An American Werewolf in London, was brought on to do the ape costumes, with Burton aiming for a more realistic take than any previous Apes film had attempted.

For the cast, Mark Wahlberg was cast as the lead, Leo Davidson. Currently he’s easily one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but at the time his star was still rising quickly. If you’re familiar with his work then you know he can be a great actor (Boogie Nights, Three Kings, The Fighter, etc), but his main issue is that he’s as good as his script… and he doesn’t necessarily pick the best projects to embark on either… Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, The Incredible Hulk) was cast as the lead villain, General Thade, a sadistic chimpanzee warrior. Rounding out the lead cast was Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Harry Potter) as Ari, an ape sympathetic to the humans’ cause. Also cast were Michael Clarke Duncan, Estella Warren and Paul Giamatti, with Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison in cameo roles.

Moving onto the film itself, the plot concerns an American astronaut, Leo Davidson, who works with chimpanzees on the research space station, Oberon. When the Oberon encounters an electromagnetic storm IN SPACE, Leo’s favourite chimpanzee, Pericles, is set in a spacecraft to investigate. When things go wrong, Leo disobeys orders and attempts to retrieve Pericles, but ends up crash landing on a mysterious planet where apes hunt the humans. Leo quickly escapes their clutches and makes for the sacred ruins of Calima to link up with the Oberon before the bloodthirsty chimpanzee, General Thade, goes to war and destroys all of the damn, dirty humans. Now that might sound like a half-decent plot in summary, in practice it is pretty damn inadequate. On one hand, there’s a lot of things that just don’t make sense (why send an expensive, trained chimpanzee into the mysterious electromagnetic storm instead of a cheap, unmanned drone?). There’s also lots of massive plot conveniences (why would the human-hating Thade love Ari when she’s staunchy pro-human? Why does Thade kill the two gorillas who saw Leo’s ship crash, other than to make him appear to be super evil? Why introduce Leo’s gun and then destroy it minutes later if only to make the plot work? How the hell does the power still work in Calima (they say it’s a nuclear power core, but considering how in ruins it is, how are the electronics still in a functional state…)? Simply put, the plot is quite simple, but it’s undermined by a story that lacks logic and gravitas.

The next major problem with the film is that the characters are all paper-thin, totally undeveloped, useless or one-note. As a result, we don’t really give a shit about what’s happening or when one of them dies. Leo Davidson’s a boring main character who we honestly do not learn a single damn thing about (except that he loves his chimpanzee). Predictably, Mark Wahlberg doesn’t have a good script to work with and so his acting really suffers as he runs around with that constipated look he has in half his filmography. Estella Warren’s character Daena is a totally generic love interest and while she’s a (ridiculously) pretty face, she might just be even more useless than Nova was in the original Apes film. Ari and Thade are both completely one-dimensional (although Thade’s at least enjoyable because Tim Roth really hams it up to delightful levels). Colonel Attar and General Krull are both interesting because the pair have a rivalry with each other, but it is so poorly integrated into the plot that it has no real resonance (and Krull dies so poorly that it’s ridiculously anti-climactic). The other characters are practically useless and equally half-baked, with Paul Giamatti’s Limbo being probably the most egregious offender – he does absolutely nothing and is just tagging along to be comic relief. That said, Charlton Heston’s cameo is pretty cool, and I do not think he deserved his Razzie award in the slightest – his win was probably more due to his NRA politics at the time than his actual acting (which was serviceable, although the script was characteristically shitty here).

There’s also smaller problems with the script which further hurt the film. For one, the humans can talk in this film, but it’s not established until well after they first appear. Since this is a remake of Planet of the Apes, the audience expects the humans to be silent, so when they suddenly just start talking to one another it is a bit of an (unintentional) shock. It’s also just plain doesn’t make a lot of sense either because if the humans and apes speak the same language and express themselves just as well, how can the apes possibly sustain their belief that humans are inferior for thousands of years? On top of that, if the humans can speak and are just as intelligent as the apes, why haven’t they staged a revolution and armed themselves yet? This one little change just causes too many problems which no effort has been put in to address. The movie also completely jettisons the satirical elements which had been prevalent in nearly every previous Apes film, replacing them with more superficial racial overtones. While this isn’t a death knell by any means for a remake (eg, the Evil Dead remake jettisoned the humour and still made for an effective and intense horror film), the satirical elements were a key component of the original films and so dumbing the film down and playing it straight really feels like a betrayal of the concept. Another complaint is more of a very minor one, but the apes in this film are even more primitive than those in the original film, and yet they are more modern sociologically (eg, religion isn’t in vote, they’ve formulated the concept of evolution, etc). It’s kind of nitpicking, but I hate how historical/fantasy/sci-fi films often casually force modern ideas without good reason (eg, Orlando Bloom’s secular knight in Kingdom of Heaven). It just seems to me that Planet of the Apes was in serious need of a rewrite but the studio forced it into production too quickly, perhaps in fear that it would continue to languish in development hell.

The another problem with the film is its pacing (probably in part due to Tim Burton’s minuscule 3 month editing deadline). The film doesn’t waste any time with something as unnecessary as “set-up”. For example, as soon as Leo lands on the planet, he’s instantly being hunted by the apes (who show up about 15 seconds after the first human is glimpsed). On top of that, the humans escape the apes only 40 minutes in – in the original, the apes were only just showing up by that point. The breakneck pace makes events like the hunt lose all of their shock value, forces obvious plot conveniences and just further makes the story feel inconsequential to the action.

On the positive side, Rick Baker’s ape costumes are FANTASTIC. Seriously the makeup effects are almost perfect and the actors really do look like real apes. There aren’t even weak spots like in the sequels where background apes have noticeably inferior costumes – I didn’t notice any extras who looked bad. That said, I’m not a fan of the female chimpanzees’ design, especially Ari’s – they look frighteningly similar to Michael Jackson. I also think that General Krull might have the worst-looking costume in the whole film… it’s still pretty good but doesn’t look as realistic as the other costumes and I think it makes him look more like a wookie than a gorilla. It’s also cool to see the apes have actual ape mannerisms like jumping around during fights rather than just being cumbersome like a human. This should also go without saying, but the special effects vastly eclipse previous Apes films and still look pretty damn good 12 years after the film was released (perhaps in part because they are used sparingly and intelligently). Danny Elfman’s score also has to get a shout out for being quite effective and primal, much like Jerry Goldsmith’s original score.

The film’s climax, the final battle between apes and humans, is also a highlight. It’s a pretty damn awesome sequence, especially the fuel cell “bomb”, but it’s really the only plot highlight in the film. The battle itself is exciting, if muddled and lacking in emotion. However, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense that when the battle ends the humans and apes are suddenly all friends with each other without any lingering tensions whatsoever. That said, while it could have been better, the final battle is definitely a cool sequence.

Of course, there’s one element I’ve been purposefully withholding up until this point and that’s the film’s ending. Obviously trying to riff on the original Apes‘ classic ending, the remake tried to throw in a twist of its own (doubly so because twists were in vogue at this period thanks to The Sixth Sense). Unfortunately, the remake must have one of the absolute worst twist endings I’ve ever seen. It’s so incredibly stupid and nonsensical. Leo leaves the planet of the apes and returns through the electromagnetic storm to Earth. He crashes his ship in front of the Lincoln memorial and discovers that somehow Thade beat him back to Earth and apes now rule the planet… WTF!?! Okay, this has to be broken down somewhat because it’s just that confusing. For one thing, yes, this is how the original Boulle novel ended. However, the changes made in the remake make Boulle’s ending a bad fit for this film. For one thing, ditching the satire makes this ending have no sort of comeuppance or logic. For another thing, there is absolutely nothing to allude to this ending and so it just comes out of nowhere and is given zero explanation.

That said, there is an “official” explanation which makes it make some sense, but it’s still pretty inadequate in my opinion. This explanation involves the “logic” of time travel in the remake – things which enter the magnetic storm come out the other side in inverse order (hence why the Oberon arrives thousands of years before Leo Davidson). As a result, when Leo leaves the planet, Thade somehow escapes Calima and recovers Leo’s ship, beating him to Earth in the process. Obviously you can see some pretty gaping logic gaps here (how did Thade escape, pilot the ship, conquer Earth, etc), but the bigger problem is much more simple – this explanation of time travel only works in a story. I mean, we only follow three objects going into and out of the storm, but obviously other things are going to pass through here and mess up the theory. On top of that, what (aside from plot convenience) determines when objects emerge from the storm? Pericles arrives only days after Leo after all. On top of all of this, how is the audience expected to think up all of this stuff to make the ending make a modicum of sense? People who think it’s a very clever ending are deluding themselves – the Apes remake has an indefensibly terrible ending which is an insult to the audience’s intelligence.

So all-in-all, I think you can tell that I don’t like the Planet of the Apes remake. In fact, it gets worse every time I see it. However, I do owe it a debt of gratitude because I probably would never have seen the original without it – close to its release the 1968 classic was on TV and I watched it with my family… and the rest is history as they say. It might be better-made than Battle, but the Apes remake is a hollow husk of weak characters and a crappy plot with a totally idiotic ending to boot.

3/10
Be sure to come back soon for part 7 of this retrospective series as we wrap up with Rise of the Planet of the Apes!

*Research on the development/production process comes from David Hughes’ fascinating insight on the Hollywood machine, Tales From Development Hell and from the remake’s Wikipedia page.

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