Every year, May ushers in the season of the summer blockbuster movie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m usually a sucker for these things. Probably my guiltiest pleasure, in fact, though I don’t feel any guilt at all. I enjoy going to movies, I enjoy spectacle, and there are certain movies that simply must be seen on a big screen. So every year there are easily a half-dozen or so that I look forward to. So far this year I’ve seen three.
The Great Gatsby
Does this qualify as a blockbuster? Maybe not, but I’d mentioned before my desire to see it, so I figured I should report back the results: I really liked it. I don’t know that I loved it, at least not to the degree perhaps that George R.R. Martin did, but I probably enjoyed it the most of the three films mentioned here. The telling adheres quite closely to the Fitzgerald novel, and the changes made I definitely feel serve the story. I like the glitz and bombast, though frankly I’d have preferred some of the dancing scenes to be extended a little, or at least not cut away from so quickly. Using modern music was also a plus, and the cast was excellent. Much of the cinematography was breathtaking, even the CGI stuff. Scenes cut with actual footage from the era were excellent as well. Leonardo DiCaprio killed it in the title role, and I’m not saying this as someone who generally considers himself a Leo fan. Top to bottom, I felt all the performers delivered the goods.
My favorite scene [and this might be a spoiler if you don’t know the story] is the one toward the end, where the tension reaches its highest point, when Gatsby is trying to convince Daisy to tell Nick that she never loved him, and that she always loved Gatsby. This builds to the climax of the entire movie, and I thought it was handled very well. We see all the emotions of the characters, and I was riveted to the screen. Daisy struggles with her emotions, and seems to be with Gatsby . . . but something changes. Is it when she sees him lose his temper? Is it when Tom reveals the source of Gatsby’s wealth? Who knows for sure, but it happens. And from there the end comes at us like a freight train.
Good stuff. Compared to the next two movies (which I saw before this one), it was a nice change to have an ending that wasn’t totally overwrought. Recommended.
Iron Man 3
I had high hopes for this one based on the trailers. I was never much of an Iron Man fan, but when the first movie came out I loved it and thought Robert Downey Jr. did an excellent job as Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 was just so-so to me, but then the character rebounded mightily in the Avengers movie. This one was a little disappointing; I’d slot it in somewhere between the 1st and 2nd movies in this franchise. There are some nice twists in it, and Guy Pierce does an awesome turn as a villain, but Downey’s shtick as Stark is wearing a little thin. Maybe I’m just tired of Downey in general. I think I learned I liked him better in a supporting role like the Avengers than as the main guy. My favorite parts were his interaction with this kid he encounters — he was kind of a dick to the kid in a lot of ways. Frankly, I enjoyed that. I also liked that his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), isn’t just there to be saved.
The problem with it is there is just too much going on. Too many robotic Iron Man suits. Too many of the same gags of him working out the kinks with his technology (one of the highlights of the first movie). And the ending . . . just way, way too much. It’s like directors get this toy box of CGI shit they can mess with and want to use ALL OF IT. It gets tiresome. Bigtime action movies, even comic book properties, don’t have to be like this. I enjoyed it okay, would see it again, but it isn’t anything that will make you a comic book movie fan if you aren’t already one. It won’t turn you off them either, but it might make you just a little bit weary.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
I’ve never been a huge Star Trek fan. Never really watched any of the TV shows, saw a couple of the previous movies and liked them to varying degrees, but never considered myself a big fan beyond my general interest in sci-fi stuff. I enjoyed the reboot from a couple years ago, so I was interested to see this one as well. This is one of those movies that, for most of it, I was having a great time with in the theater, but by the end it was starting to lose its luster. By the time I was out of the parking lot I was liking it less and less. I don’t regret seeing it, but it has its problems.
Stuff I liked: spaceships, Klingons, people blasting away at each other with phasers, all the characters but Captain Kirk
Stuff I didn’t like: no decent role for any of the women (and the gratuitous underwear scene was a friggin’ joke and unnecessary), too much reliance on “old” events from previous movies, plot holes I couldn’t ignore, Captain Kirk
And the ending. I really hated the ending on this one. You think it’s over . . . then we have to endure another 20 minute friggin’ action piece. I swear, if I never have to see another movie where characters are jumping from one moving object to another I’ll be happy. And the stuff going on in this one was just too ridiculous for me to suspend my disbelief. It is by no means terrible, but I think if Michael Bay had made the exact same movie that J.J. Abrams has here, it would be rated waaaay lower by critics . . . yet it really isn’t any different from a Michael Bay flick. But don’t take my word for it; here’s a review from my writer friend Jack Badelaire. And here’s a pretty snarky — but fun — takedown from the io9 website.