Sep 2, 2013

The Expendables: Where it's Been, Where it should Go

The other day former Commando and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted out the picture on the right. It's of himself, Harrison Ford and director Patrick Hughes on the set of The Expendables 3. Nice picture. I dig Arnie's jacket, although I'll miss his colorful shirts from earlier in the franchise. Which is really what I want to discuss today. Not Arnie's shirts, but The Expendables as a franchise. 

The Expendables began as an "Avengers" of action star icons from the 80's and 90's. It's fueled by nostalgia and the desire to see these titans team up. But they aren't getting any younger. This franchise needs to evolve if it's going to continue. I believe Stallone is aware of that. Here's a quote from an interview with Best Movie he said of early The Expendables 3 ideas:

"The Expendables… they’re broken up, they’re shot, they’ve had it, they’re done. We have to hire new us, we have to find new Expendables, but there are none! They don’t make people like us anymore; they are all like robots. So I can go out and hire five young guys, but they’re the new army, they got drones and technology, but they’re not like us. Remember in Tropic Thunder? Just like those guys!"

I'm not sure if he's ever seen Tropic Thunder, but the first section of the quote has merit. And it seems to be the direction the franchise is going in. Here's the official plot blurb:

Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team comes face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill… or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables — but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables’ most personal battle yet.

So it's looking good. What the franchise should turn into is a franchise fueled not just on nostalgia but fan service. So let's look at the official cast list which at one point could've included Jackie Chan, Nicolas Cage and a returning Mickey Rourke.

-Sylvester Stallone
-Jason Statham
-Harrison Ford
-Mel Gibson
-Dolph Lundgren
-Wesley Snipes
-Jet Li
-Randy Couture
-Antonio Banderas
-Ronda Rousey
-Terry Crews
-Arnold Schwarzenegger
-Victor Ortiz
-Kellan Lutz
-Glen Powell

So they've added Wesley Snipes (who would've had Terry Crews' role in the first but couldn't take it because--well--prison.) They've also got Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford. Bruce Willis bowed out/was kicked out. Rumor has it he wanted four million dollars for four days work and Stallone told him "no." Aside from those guys there's... uh. Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Kellen Lutz who are presumably the next generation of Expendables. So--who? I don't know much about them other than Rousey is an actual MMA fighter so she'll fit right in. Lutz was in Twilight and Immortals, Ortiz is another fighter, and Powell's had bit parts like Trader #1 in The Dark Knight Rises.

Look, I don't know these guys. I'm sure they'll do fine. This is The Expendables here, not Shakespeare. But the next generation of Expendables should be a follow up to the first generation. In other words they should be established action stars in there own right. They started in that direction with Liam Hemsworth in the second one. While he's not an action star, he's got the flavor of that new generation, and people knew who he was when they heard his name. Even if most people knew him as "Thor's little brother." But these guys and gal? They don't have that. The Expendables needs actors like Ryan Reynolds, who would excel at being the team smartass. Hell, Josh Hartnett wouldn't be a bad choice either. Jeremy Renner would fit in. Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim who don't have the mainstream fame yet but every action film fan has seen or knows of their martial arts flick The Raid. Where is Vin Diesel? Where is Tony Jaa? Where is Dwayne Johnson? Where the hell is Gina Carano? Katee Sackoff would be a great choice too. These are the action stars that should be eased into the movies while easing out the old guard (who are quickly becoming too old to do this.) They are action stars that would get audiences into seats in the same way Stallone and Schwarzenegger teaming up have. I remember in Fast Five, the first time Diesel and Johnson locked eyes the electricity of seeing these two contemporary action stars about to face off gripped the audience. It felt like a big moment. That's not something that can be replicated with Ortiz or Lutz (yet.) Talented actors and/or fighters they may be, but The Expendables has always been about star power and fire power. The newbies just don't have it. The old guard of action stars peaked in The Expendables 2. All the big names were in it. It even ended with Arnie saying they all belonged in a museum. Norris won't be back, neither will Van Damme and likely Willis either. It's time to hand it off to the new generation. The Expendables 3 could/should be that transitional movie. Which cast would you be more excited to see? Johnson, Diesel, Reynolds, and Carano or Lutz, Ortiz, and Rousey?


Sep 24, 2012

Laying down the Law (Dredd Review)

It is what it is. That's a good opener right? But that's basically what my review of Dredd is. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

I've discussed this before; that a movie can only be judged on its own terms. (See what I did there?) If a movie is trying to be high art and shake the very foundation of a genre than it must be evaluated with that in mind. Dredd is not trying to do that. Dredd is straight up and embraces its own carnage and brutality. 

Set in a dystopian  future where most of the world is a radioactive wasteland; Dredd takes place in the urban hellhole Mega City One. The city's name is apt, it stretches from Boston to Washington D.C. The justice system is quick and ruthless. The heavily armored Judges act as judge, jury, and executioner. Often within three seconds. A judge sees you kill a person? No evidence, no arrests, they kill them right where you stand. They find evidence of a crime you've committed? Stealing? Vagrancy? Vandalism? You get incarcerated for however long the Judge sees fit. The movie follows Judge Dredd, the big dog on the block and Judge Anderson, the rookie on her first day. They get stuck in a mega apartment building/slum controlled by drug lord Ma-Ma.

It's a straightforward premise and sticks to it. It doesn't aim to deconstruct the ethics of what the Judges do, (although there are a couple moments where it touches on that,) it's focused on the practicality of the situation Dredd and Anderson are in. They are locked in, now let's watch them get out.

It's not cheesy like it's 90's predecessor. Karl Urban plays Dredd without an ounce of humor or remorse and it works. He doesn't spout off catch-phrases or one liners. He rolls up and kills the bad guys with extreme prejudice. The acting is fine to very good, the gun play is magnificent, the gore is nasty and detailed, and the film has some fantastic visuals when certain characters are high on "slo-mo." If you are at all interested in action movies or extremely violent shoot'em ups you should go see this. It delivers what it sets out to deliver.

Over on they have an ultimatum to people who expect some lofty philosophizing about how Dredd fails to be more than the sum of it's parts, "If you're a film critic and you analyze this movie as anything more than a comic book about an apocalyptic cop who shoots first and asks questions later, then I hope your nuts get stapled to a seesaw."

It's a bit... harsh. But I agree with the sentiment.

Now let's compare that to this piece of crap.

To quote Judge Dredd after he threw someone out a window to their death, "...Yeah."

Jul 17, 2012

Marvel After Avengers

Avengers has changed everything. It's a definitive point where now there are two kinds of superhero movies. Before-Avengers and After-Avengers. It's what Marvel called the end of "Phase One." So what's "Phase Two?"

At Comic-Con over the past weekend Marvel spelled it out their plans for the future clearly and showed off some goodies. At this point I would like to brag (shamelessly), I definitely called some of this.

First off are the titles for the sequels to Thor and Captain America. Thor: The Dark World will be directed by Alan Taylor ("Game of Thrones.") Little is know about the plot but it will likely involve one of the other nine realms. Possibly Svartalfheim, which is where the Dark Elves are. I don't believe its coincidence that it's the next Marvel film. I think it will also deal with the fallout of Avengers, with Loki imprisoned and what happens to the tesseract.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier from the directing duo Russo brothers is up next. This is the one I called since the first film. The story is from the mid-2000's. It fits perfectly because it's about Cap facing down his former partner Bucky who was recovered by the Russians after his fall and turned into a brainwashed assassin. (He is still around in modern times because the Russians kept him on ice and only let him up and around during missions.) It's worth noting that this storyline featured Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter's great niece as Cap's love interest. I thought that the sequel would go this route because it allows Sebastian Stan (Bucky) to return. Doing this ties the film closer to the first film. It'll help the transition between 1940's Cap and 2010's Cap. Also worth noting, rumor has it Anthony Mackie is in final negotiations to play Captain America's crime fighting partner and fellow Avenger Falcon. This pleases me quite a bit as Mackie is a fine actor and it gets another Avenger on the screen without giving him his own movie.

Speaking of other Avengers: Ant-Man is coming by director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead.) It's been long-rumored but now it's official. Its plot will revolve around the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, a burglar with a sick daughter who steals the Ant-Man tech from Hank Pym (the first Ant-Man.) This is a very good move. The simple reason is the Hank Pym character can't carry his own movie, but Scott Lang and the former Ant-Man probably can. It's also got the classic redemption tale going for it.

Next is the big one: Guardians of the Galaxy. "Who?" you may be thinking. I'll be honest, I'm aware of their existence but never read any of their books. Think Avengers in Space. The highest profile among the team is Rocket Raccoon, who is exactly what it sounds like. He was a playable character in Marvel vs Capcom 3. The full line up is Drax, Groot, Starlord, Rocket Raccoon, and Gamora. Since they are the space fairing Avengers (basically, they aren't officially associated with each other) I expect Thanos to show up. Thanos was the purple guy at the end of Avengers. Basically Thanos is on of the biggest bads, if not the biggest bad of Marvel. Where most villains threaten Earth, Thanos is the UNIVERSE-conquering type. I think the Guardians will run across Thanos before everything comes together in Avengers 2 in 2015. Guardians of the Galaxy will come out in August 2014.

Some Iron Man 3 footage was shown off featuring Ben Kingsly in full Mandarin garb. They've been setting up Mandarin since Iron Man (the terrorists that caught Stark were with the Ten Rings.) There will be a few other villains in the film such as Firepower and Coldblood, another "Iron Man" and cyborg respectively. The rest of the cast is expected to return.

So that's it for the Avengers movieverse. How's everyone else doing?

Well plans are in development for further Spider-Man sequels to The Amazing Spider-Man. Expect at least a trilogy. The Sinister Six might show up in later films (basically all of Spidey's villains team-up at once to attack him.) There is a Venom movie in the works that will take place in the same universe and will tie into the main series at some point. As for me, I didn't go see the new Spidey flick because I have the first one on DVD and The Amazing Spider-Man is a remake. There's a difference between reboots and remakes. They just swapped different characters into the same roles. They stuck in Gwen for MJ and Lizard for Green Goblin. Meh. My impressions of the it and from what I heard they made a product rather than a movie. And the whole "Peter Parker's mysterious parents" plot won't be resolved until the third one. Sony confirmed that. Meh, I'm fine with just having Raimi's trilogy.

The next X-Men film will follow X-Men: First Class and starts filming next winter. A little birdy possibly leaked the title of the next film "Days of Future Past." Fox reportedly reserved that as a title for a movie with the MPAA. If this is true then I will be very pleased. Think the X-Men crossed with the Terminator movies. A politician is killed and as a result the giant mutant hunting robot sentinels start rounding up mutants into camps. Eventually they take over the planet completely leaving a few old resistance fighters and X-Men to fight them. The future X-Men send back Kitty Pryde (played by Ellen Page in X-Men: The Last Stand) to the past to prevent it from happening. As a movie it would have to be tweaked with the "First Class" line-up and 1960's time period but it could be great. The movie would be split between the 1960's X-Men with the future X-Men. It would be a way to get Hugh Jackman into the new franchise without him actually appearing with the early X-Men. Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen could come back too as they would be older anyway. It also rips open crossover possibilities. Fox also has the rights to Fantastic Four and "Days of Future Past" features Franklin Richards (son of Reed and Sue) as a member of the future X-Men. The climax of the future X-Men's story actually happens in the Baxter Building. But all of this is pure conjecture and based solely on a possible rumor Fox reserved a movie title.

Jessica Biel has been cast as Viper in The Wolverine. Hugh Jackman will return and this film will ignore X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It'll be an adaption of Wolverine's first solo story which was set in Japan. Silver Samurai is set as the villain.

On the Fantastic Four side of things, Josh Trank, director of the solid film Chronicle has been given the reins of the upcoming reboot. David Slade, the director of the upcoming Daredevil reboot on the other hand has dropped out. These movies (much like X-Men: First Class and The Amazing Spider-Man) exist and were made for the sole purposes for their respective movie studios to hold onto the rights to the franchises. If they aren't used in so many years they revert back to Marvel (who could use them in Avengers but I digress.) So production needs to start on them soon. I believe Daredevil has to start shooting next month, which will be hard without a director. I'm crossing my fingers Fox loses the rights to him.

Whoo. That was a long post about superhero movies wasn't it? But I forgot something... I know there was something else I wanted to pass along... oh yeah.