Time for another couple of mini reviews! As you can see, this Duet is totally dedicated to sci-fi. One of these films I actually saw quite a while back, but I couldn’t muster up the energy for a full review. The other is one I’ve been meaning to see for some time because of all the positive reviews, and I finally got around to it yesterday. The latter was totally worth a trip to the theater—the former, not so much. You’ve probably already guessed which is which, but let’s break it down anyway.
Synopsis: “A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- Scarlett Johansson as Lucy. It’s funny—I didn’t used to be a big ScarJo fan, but she’s really won me over lately. Her character could’ve been very bland, but Johansson makes Lucy badass and interesting. She undoubtedly carries this film.
- The visuals. This film is certainly not short on interesting images. Lucy’s eyes rapidly change shape and color with each blink. She waves a hand and an entire group of armed men drops to the floor. She can actually see phone conversations, each one represented by a line of colored light. It’s pretty nifty stuff.
- The ideas. Nobody really knows what would happen if we were able to use more of our brains, but some of the stuff writer/director Luc Besson dreams up is pretty cool. Lucy learns foreign languages with ease, transforms, controls other people, and so much more. It’s heavy on the “fiction” of science fiction, but it’s fun.
The Low Notes:
- Morgan Freeman is wasted. It’s like Transcendence all over again! His character might be a little more important in this film, but not by a whole heck of a lot. And he’s so bland! Freeman should not be reduced to such dull characters. Sigh. Oh well. At least he’s probably getting a hefty paycheck.
- The film just loses steam. What starts out as a really interesting, unique concept gradually transforms into a predictable action/sci-fi affair. It’s disappointing. And it gets worse when we get to…
- The ending. It’s just really, really dumb. If you’re interested in seeing Lucy, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I hated the way things wrapped up—if you can even call it wrapping things up. When the film ended, I just felt kind of blah.
The Staccato Version: Lucy isn’t a terrible film, and that’s almost entirely thanks to Johansson. She’s pretty much an action/sci-fi pro at this point, and her character—badass, compelling, and generally likable Lucy—is the glue holding everything together. The film has enough cool stuff in it to maybe warrant a rental for sci-fi and/or ScarJo fans, but I wouldn’t go to the theater for this one if I were you.
My Grade: B-
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Synopsis: “In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The apes. These creatures are not only an amazing achievement in special effects, but they’re actually complex, fascinating characters—Caesar (Andy Serkis) in particular. He’s trying to be a strong leader for his fellow apes, but he was raised by humans, so he sympathizes with them and wants to treat them fairly, too. It’s a tough balance, particularly when he’s wrangling bloodthirsty apes like Koba (Toby Kebbell). Caesar becomes a well-developed, surprisingly likable character.
- The emotional resonance for both the humans and the apes. There are great moments on each side. Ellie (Keri Russell) remembers her lost daughter. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) looks at pictures of his family. Caesar watches old footage of himself with the man who raised him. It’s actually very touching stuff above and beyond what you’d expect from a film like this.
- The well-crafted, exciting story. It’s action-packed, tense, fun, smart, emotional, gripping…What more can I say? This is a thoroughly entertaining film.
The Low Notes:
- Not enough Gary Oldman. What the heck is up with all these sci-fi films casting big names and barely using them? Gary Oldman here, Bryan Cranston in Godzilla, Morgan Freeman in Lucy and Transcendence…I just don’t get it. These actors are awesome, and they deserve more of a chance to shine.
- Leading man Malcolm (Jason Clarke) could use a little more development. This isn’t a huge problem—it just tips the scale more in the apes’ favor in regards to the more interesting characters. Poor Malcolm does a lot of standing around and gaping, leaving us little time to really get to know him.
- There are times I couldn’t help thinking things were a tiny bit silly. As cool as it looks to have an ape on a horse with a huge gun in each hand…it’s a freaking ape on a horse with a huge gun in each hand. There’s a degree of silliness to the film have to accept, otherwise you won’t really get into the film. I was able to get past moments like that and just have fun, but I’m not sure everyone would be able to.
The Staccato Version: Much like Rise of the Planet of the Apes was three years ago, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been a pleasant summer surprise. But Dawn improves on Rise in a lot of ways. It’s more exciting, there’s more at stake, and the emotions run deeper. To put it simply, it’s just a great film. One of my favorites of the summer!
My Grade: A-