Venom, as a concept, is a good one. It’s the guy who has a devil on one shoulder and no corresponding angel on the other, trying to teach an alien life form the concept of right and wrong. “Venom,” on the other hand, is heartbreaking. The last Marvel-related film that Sony produced, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” is arguably one of the best Marvel films to date, but on the Disney Marvel scale, “Venom” ranks somewhere between “Thor: The Dark World” and “Iron Man 2,” and possibly below both of them. It’s unfortunate, because Venom is the perfect character to open up new doors in the MCU, but from a creative standpoint, it’s woefully lacking.
“The Meg” plays like a film written by someone who just finished watching a three-day Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer marathon, and when you consider that the book on which the film is based was written in 1997, it’s entirely possible that that is exactly what happened. The film languished in development hell for over two decades, and it’s easy to see why; it’s just not as interesting as other works of art, be they books or movies, written around the same time.
Here’s the kicker, though: the script has undergone a substantial rewrite – it bears little resemblance to the original story – and it still feels like a ‘90s film. Twenty years of development, and no one could get this story into the present?
Navy diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is saving crew members of a downed sub at the bottom of the Philippine Trench when the sub is attacked by a massive creature. Faced with the possibility of everyone dying, Jonas does the unthinkable and leaves two members of his crew behind in order to save the 11 people they had moved to the rescue ship. Five years later, Jonas is drinking his life away in Thailand, haunted by the memory of those he left behind (and the subsequent smear campaign he endured), when he is approached by old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis) and Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), who work on a state-of-the-art marine facility off the coast of China. The group had recently discovered that the Mariana Trench has a false floor, and as they explored what lay beneath, their deep sea vessel, piloted by Jonas’ ex-wife Jaxx (Ruby Rose), has also been attacked and grounded. Jaxx’s last message before losing contact confirms Jonas’ long-held, and widely derided, fears: a giant megalodon shark, long considered extinct, is alive and well, and terrorizing the deep.
The biggest strike the film has going against it is the tone of the source material. “Meg” the book is a horror story. “Meg” the film is directed by Jon Turteltaub, who made his bones helming “While You Were Sleeping” and the “National Treasure” movies. There is a clear disconnect between book and film, and yet the studio was right to move away from the story’s horror leanings and go for something lighter. If anything, they didn’t go far enough towards the funny. “Armageddon” was a film about the end of the world, and yet it was loaded with jokes. “The Meg” is absolutely begging for levity, yet it never comes at the right time or in the right dosage.
Even if the funny parts were funnier, though, the recycled nature of the supporting characters, in addition to the awkwardness of the story structure (I felt sorry for BingBing Li during her meet cute with Statham), is enough to do the film in. There’s the heavy-set funny guy, whose character name on IMDb is literally The Wall (see: Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Twister”). There’s the cowardly asshole billionaire benefactor (see: too many movies to mention). There’s the African-American who refuses to play by the old movie rules (see: LL Cool J in “Deep Blue Sea”). There’s the short-haired female tech expert that everyone takes for granted (see: Anne Heche’s assistant Rachel in “Volcano”). Very little original thought is taking place here.
There are some legitimately thrilling moments here (the view from the diver’s point of view will make people jump), and the damage the shark does to a boat makes the destruction of the Orca in “Jaws” look like child’s play. But it’s just not enough, in any way. Not scary enough, not funny enough, not original enough. The worst part is that the timing was finally right for a movie like “The Meg.” For it to turn out like this is just crushing.(2 / 5)
It wasn’t until the ‘90s that the studios learned how to cut a decent trailer. Here, look at the trailer for “The Princess Bride.”
When “The Incredibles” hit theaters in 2004, it was arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time (and remains at or near the top of the list to this day). Between the pulse-pounding action sequences and the family story at its core, Brad Bird’s Pixar debut was a game changer on a number of levels. When years had passed without a whisper of talk regarding a follow-up, it made sense. After all, walking in the shadow of that film is a fool’s errand, and yet, everyone still wanted them to try. And here we are.
It is not lost on Ryan Reynolds that the best trick that “Deadpool” had under its sleeve was the element of surprise, and that that is gone now. He’s admitted that he’s not sure if he has a third “Deadpool” movie in him, and personally, I think he should listen to that voice. That is not a commentary on the quality of “Deadpool 2,” for the record. It’s as entertaining as the original film, and arguably funnier. The story structure, though, is a bit too close to a certain Rian Johnson film, and more importantly, how far can you take this joke before it runs out of gas? As it is, these films are a couple of bad jokes away from being parodies (“Meet the Supers”?). Indeed, if the closing credit jokes are any indication, Reynolds has already cashed in his chips, and plans to go out on top right here and now.
“Rampage” was a slyly subversive video game. Players earn points by unleashing their inner monster to break stuff and stick it to the Man (kill or eat soldiers dispatched to shoot them down). “Rampage” the film, however, is mostly joyless, and takes itself waaaaaaay too seriously, a stark contrast to the tone set in the trailers, which suggested something light-hearted and self-aware. The full-length film is neither of those things.
Watching the beginning of “A Wrinkle in Time” felt eerily similar to watching 2017’s film adaptation of “It,” in that the film was enjoyable but in a bubble, a product of its time. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the present the next day, when a high school classmate of mine expressed concern that the filmmakers were going to ruin the last two chapters of the book in order to make political statements.
There is a lot to unpack in “Black Panther.” Solid arguments are made on both sides of the topic of isolationism versus open borders. An outsider armed with a dark heart and fiery rhetoric assumes power, and literally burns sacred traditions to the ground. The governing body of the fictional country of Wakanda splinters, turning countrymen against each other. They’re not being subtle here: this is as Trumpian a movie as the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ever see (one hopes, anyway). On top of this, the movie is led by a group of strong women, who symbolically serve as the #MeToo component. “Black Panther” is so ridiculously of the moment that it’s tempting to believe that, between the perfect timing of “Zootopia” (race relations) and this film, Disney has “Minority Report”-style pre-cogs in its employ, scanning the future in order to read the room, as it were.
The official trailer for “Downsizing” does an impressive job of convincing the viewer that the film is a comedy. Let us make one thing clear: this is not a comedy. It’s occasionally amusing, and at some point in the script’s development, it may have been a biting social satire. And then the first act ends, at which point the movie doesn’t just lose its way: it falls off a cliff. Whatever point it was originally trying to make is long forgotten by the end of Act II, and Act III is completely rudderless. Alexander Payne is “credited” with directing the film, but it’s clear that he was bound, gagged, thrown in a locker and left for dead the moment Matt Damon’s character makes the jump to Smallville.
At the beginning of the decade, no one could blame Pixar staffers if they thought their offices were bugged. In 2008, Pixar announced that they were beginning work on a film called “Newt,” about a male and female blue-footed newt that were the last of their kind, paired up by scientists to save the species. Set for release in 2011, the film was scrapped in early 2010 once the studio discovered that 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios was about to release a film called “Rio,” about a male Spix’s macaw who’s taken from his home to mate with another Spix’s macaw. A few months after “Newt’s” cancellation, “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich, on the heels of the film’s out-of-the-gate success, announced plans to make a film about Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.