Monday, November 04, 2013

Movie Reviews: Ender's Game, Jobs, Thor: The Dark World

Ender's Game: Ender's Game - the movie - is about the possible immorality of resorting to violence as a proactive defense. This issue dominates any part of the movie that is not a video game walkthrough, which is about half of the movie. Ender's (Asa Butterfield) personality is just enough to sustain this theme; his comrades have nearly no personality, and, of his three mentors, Colonel Graf (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) have one-dimensional personalities of devil/angel, while Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) has none at all. But that's not really the problem: the problem is that this issue isn't interesting enough to sustain a movie. It's an overused trope and the movie doesn't have anything new to add to it.

In the future, Earth is attacked by bugs in spaceships, and they are beaten back by Earth's forces and the brilliance (?) of a guy named Mackham Razer. Children are then recruited to control Earth's forces in order to deal a blow to the bugs in their own system before they can regroup and send another invading force. Children are used because they are good at playing video games. Ender, in particular, is singled out because he has a tendency to kick harder than he has to in order to make a point.

The acting is fine, the sets are cool, but everything is rushed without follow-through. Ender is supposedly set up to be a loner during training, but a minute of screen-time later he already has a band of friends. He is supposed to be learning something in training, but there are only two or three training sequences and he seems to know everything he needs immediately.

I try not to let my knowledge of the book influence my review of the movie, but it's nearly unavoidable here. While a main plot point of the book is, indeed, the above moral issue about unnecessary violence as a form of defense, the great majority of the book is about Ender's training and transformation: his fear, his sleep deprivation, his isolation, his slow change from loner to leader, and the dozens of battles that slowly reveal how he learns to think in 3D and survive by fighting cheating with cheating. The last part of the book was represented ok by the movie, but that part is really just the necessary cap to the book. This movie is barely a version of the book at all.

The movie introduces Ender's brother and sister but makes little use of them. It uses the story of the bug entering Ender's private video game world, but doesn't explain how and doesn't explain how the bug - a queen no less - could be walking distance from Earth's great military base or communicate with Ender. It completely dispenses with all of Ender's and Bean's brilliance and all of the politics.

If you haven't read the book, the movie will be a bit confusing but will probably be ok. If you have read the book, you're curious to see it and it will probably be a bit of a letdown.

Bottom line: I wouldn't call it necessary viewing, but it wasn't bad. Better if you like watching video game walkthroughs.

Jobs: Ashton Kutcher plays Steve Jobs, from his latter days in college to his firing from Apple in the mid-1980s. There are some very short scenes of his return to Apple in the mid 1990s and an opening scene of him announcing the iPod.

The movie's interest to computer geeks and non-geeks is on par with that of The Social Network, which was a better movie. This one wasn't bad. However, the movie spends a whole lot of time on Jobs' negative traits and personal fights and too little time on the brilliance and fun he had and brought to others (and barely any time at all on Bill Gates, who was a seminal part of the Apple story). The actual interesting aspects of the inventions are not discussed. This movie was obviously someone's vendetta.

The early parts of the movie are more entertaining and colorful; the latter parts are mostly boardroom scenes that lead to their well-known conclusions. All of the supporting characters are good, especially Woz (Josh Gad). Ashton does fine, though he seems to be just slightly shy of doing a parody of Jobs' mannerisms at certain points.

Bottom line: Possibly worth seeing on a small screen, but not necessary viewing (there are other biopics about computers and Apple that are better (Pirates of Silicon Valley was a nice TV movie), and you should probably just read the book).

Thor: The Dark World: The movie Thor didn't excite me too much, though it was sometimes humorous and Loki is pretty charismatic. This entry is a bit better: still sometimes humorous, Loki is still charismatic, and the action sequences are well-paced and not all over-the-top, which lets the characters (at least the main ones) drive the action. But the movie is still depressing.

The plot is 12th generation recycled boredom: There was a big battle and a big artifact of power was hidden away, but a human stumbles onto it, and some bad guys chase the human to get it, and some lone good guys try to prevent it (in defiance of other good guys who want to do nothing), and the bad guys catch up to the human and take possession of the artifact, and just when they are about to use it ... they do and the entire universe is destroyed (yeah right). Sound like any other Marvel movies?

With the exception of quick scenes in which Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Thor's buddy, and Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor's mother, fight, the women in this movie are helpless victims. Natalie Portman is wasted, spending her on-screen time fainting.

This movie has very little to do with its Norse mythology source; I know little about comics, but I suspect that it has little to do with its comic source, either. It's just a Marvel action movie, with little to distinguish it from every other Marvel action movie; and frankly, they're getting tiring.

The gods, and Asgard in general, are far more foolish and vulnerable than they should be. The mythology made them vulnerable, but not to simple attacks by space ships or basic deception that any mortal earthling would see coming a mile away. Asgard's line of defense is taken straight from the Gungans in The Phantom Menace: a field generator and some inaccurate laser guns.

Things made of rock fall to pieces all over the place, but if a main character is in a building, it doesn't fall on his head, even if all the support columns are knocked out. And no one cares about the thousand of innocents killed in all of the other buildings.

Lastly, and I can't go into it because it's a spoiler alert, but the major plot point around Loki's character is Badly Plotted. He steals all his scenes, and has good lines, but the movie introduces a plot turn for him and then undermines it with a bad resolution.

Bottom line: If you're into Marvel movies, this one holds up like the others - and it's better than Iron Man 3 - so I can't stop you.
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