Movies Reviews

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Directed by Gavin Hood
At the end of this movie, one of my reviewer colleagues remarked about superhero back stories and their generally downbeat nature. He was right: After all, one doesn’t get a grudge, a revenge motive, or a haunted, dark personality from a childhood full of happy picnics in the park and adorable puppies. You start to feel bad for anybody who encounters these characters early on. It’s like watching TV’s “Seventh Heaven” and sympathizing with anybody who had the misfortune of encountering the Camden children – only more violent.

However, in all of its dark moodiness, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is a fairly fun ride. After seeing the previews, I was expecting to spend more of my time in that eye-rolling “oh please” mode, watching endlessly ridiculous stunts and fight sequences. But there were only a couple (watch out for the helicopter and fire escape sequences) that really reached that ‘Legolas riding a shield down a Helm’s Deeps staircase’ level – the film equivalent of the ‘Fonz’ jumping the shark on “Happy Days.”

Hugh Jackman continues to play the Wolverine role well. He’s joined here by Liev Schreiber as his even moodier but equally likely to snag a sweater older brother, Sabretooth. They’re both recruited into a secretive military unit headed by William Stryker (played by Danny Huston – previously played by Brian Cox in X2). But when things don’t go quite according to plan, the not-so-happy gang go their not-so-happy ways – until, of course, their not-so-happy paths cross again. Not so happily.

I’m not qualified to judge whether “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is faithful to the comic book origins of the story and characters. But it does a good job of providing a background for our hero while fitting quite nicely into the established sequence of the previous X-Men movies. There’s also a timely lesson in doing the right thing, or at least not doing the worst thing simply because one is told to do so by a superior officer. It should appeal to fans of the genre and subject matter and is fun enough to keep their friends and significant others pleasantly amused at the same time.

Note: Not only is there a scene after the beginning of the credits, but there’s also an extra scene after the end of the credits – so stick around until the very end.  (Opens May 1)

Battle for Terra

Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas
“Battle for Terra” is the latest politically-charged kids’ movie. It’s also the latest to come to the screen—where available—in ‘Real D’ 3D. Thankfully, it didn’t seem quite so overt in its pandering to the 3D technique and, as such, I think I enjoyed the effect more than when I feel like I’m being played by having things cinematically thrown at me.  

Alternatively titled as just “Terra” the story expands on an idea that director Aristomenis Tsirbas explored in a seven minute animated short of the same name in 2003. We’re first introduced to an alien world of seemingly near-idyllic bliss, with a capable but seemingly low-tech species who fly and float around their planet in harmony with their neighbors and surroundings. This setting is disturbed by the appearance of an object in the sky, initially prompting religious questioning, but resulting in an attack by humans. We are told that in our future, humans have exhausted the limits of Earth and have terra-formed both Mars and Venus, with a subsequent war of independence between the planets resulting in disaster and a group of survivors on a quest for a suitable new planet to colonize.  
For starters, the resource-centered themes are as heavy here as in any kids movie. But there’s also the even deeper question of the morality of invasion, conquest, and dominance. The story happens to focus on humans and aliens, but the message might just as easily be directed at perceptions of ethnic/religious superiority or the disregard towards native populations portrayed throughout our own history by assorted waves of expansion. Interestingly, the film also shares with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” a strong message of questioning authority and not following orders that seem contrary to societal lessons about right and wrong. It’s certainly well matched to the resurgent torture debate.

The imagery is designed to appeal to children. Though there is too much death and destruction for the youngest among them, and the material is certainly not lightweight and could prompt some pretty heavy discussions in the minivan/crossover/SUV on the way home from the theater. There’s also a resemblance to “The Village,” in the idea of a group of elders sheltering their people from reality, in a manner they believe to be for their benefit. It’s probably better than “The Village” in that regard, but then that bar is Shyamalanningly low.

I enjoyed “Battle for Terra” more than I expected to. It’s a modern day futuristic parable, and it’s worth knowing a little of what to expect before walking in with the kids. It’s also probably not the film to have your kids watch with other parents who don’t share your political ideals, as it has the potential to cause a few sparks to fly.  (Opens May 1)

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