2012 Media in Review: Movies at the Theater

Here in the final hours of 2012, it’s  time to start what I like to refer to as my series of Semi-Annual Media Review posts. So let’s start with movies watched in the theater. I got a late start this year — my first outing wasn’t until May — and saw four movies (two less than last year).
Everything had an action/adventure bent to it, because I maintain that rom-coms, comedies and dramas gain very little on the big screen, whereas action — particularly effects-laden action movies, stand to lose a lot on the small screen. And movies are expensive. So here’s the list by month with a wee bit of commentary.

MAY
1.  The Avengers
I had a great time at this — so much so, that I saw it twice within a week. It gets props for snappy dialogue courtesy of nerd-dom’s darling Joss Whedon. The action was great, and all the characters felt like fully-formed individuals, not cardboard cutouts. There was one moment where Robert Downy Jr. seemed to phone-in some technobabble, but when it counted, he was in top-form, as was Mark Ruffalo, doing a great job as the third Bruce Banner is as many movies featuring the character.  I still have this feeling, though, where if I think about the story too much, little pieces of it will start to unravel…but I think I’d have to watch it again to remember what that was about. But it clearly did not affect my enjoyment; it was just an observation.

2. Men In Black 3
Also very entertaining, but in entirely different ways than The Avengers. It straddled the line between comedy and adventure far better than Men In Black 2, which really helped. The crux of the story is that in K (Tommy Lee Jones) saved the world and put some alien away in 1969. In 2012, the alien escapes, goes back in time and kills K, so then J (Will Smith) travels to 1969 to save him.

And while I find it hard to find many faults with MIB3, I fully recognize that I may have some rose-tinted glasses on, because the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this movie is Josh Brolin’s dead-on Tommy Lee Jones impersonation as he plays Young K in the past. But beyond that, it’s the small things of 1969 that make this a really fun film: the corded, portable “flasy-thing” neuralyzer and it’s enormous full-body counterpart back at MIB HQ, W — the agent getting so bored with his undercover role as an artist that he’s started painting soup cans — and the vehicles that have a reason for not existing in the future.

Racism in the 60s is *mostly* glossed over, and I think that’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s a concept that is addressed in only one scene and then completely ignored. On one hand, that makes it feel glaringly like a token moment, and that’s almost as distracting as if the concept had been ignored entirely. On the other hand, I’m not really going to MIB3 to see Racism and Civil Rights 101. So make of that what you will.
And I even have to give the story some credit for making me think I knew exactly how it was going to end, and then not doing that. To be fair to myself, I eventually realized it wasn’t going to go down like I thought, and was then accurately sure in how it would end, but still. Good times.

OCTOBER
3. The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises exists in a weird place for me. I found it to be very predictable, and when it comes to villainy, Bane just can’t hold a candle to The Joker…but in general, I liked it so much more than The Dark Knight. I think most of that stems from what felt like a return to the Nolan-verse roots with Bruce having to re-learn how to be Batman, first after nearly a decade of not wearing the cowl and then after a beatdown by Bane. And it didn’t hurt that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a perpetual beacon of hope. The Dark Knight was kind of a dread-fest, with everything being horrible at the end, so JGL’s character was a nice way to back away from that. Plus, I found his final scene in the movie to be very visually compelling and leaves me hopeful for a Bat-future featuring him.

But let’s talk about villains. Because I didn’t dislike Bane. He was a complex character that stood in stark contrast to Joker’s brand of evil, which if we’re being honest, was kind of one-note. There’s not really a lot of depth to be found in wanting to watch the world burn just because. But damn if he didn’t have a charisma that Bane seriously lacked. I feel like Christopher Nolan maybe tried to make up for that with  Crane/Scarecrow, who seemed to have a bit of a personality transplant, after Arkham was let loose and Gotham cut off from the outside world. And I think that worked. One of my problems with The Dark Knight was that it tried to have the Joker be a Big Bad and then when that was dealt with Two Face had to be all big and iconic, and it was just too much.  I appreciate the way The Dark Knight Rises kept Crane as a background bit of fun while leaving the movie’s heavy lifting to Bane and his accomplice.

DECEMBER
4. The Hobbit
Bearing in mind that I’ve never read The Hobbit, I really liked the movie — and this after going into it already feeling biased against it for turning a less-than-400-page book into a 9-hour trilogy. Only a handful of scenes dragged, and of those, only one felt unnecessary. The movie appears to be framed with this idea that Bilbo has begun writing his memoir on the day of his birthday party in Fellowship of the Ring, and this not only goes on too long, it also doesn’t really work for me because Ian Holm has understandably aged over the past decade (Elijah Wood has not, and that’s just weird).

But one of the complaints I had read about this movie (thanks for making me do that, job) was that one particular villain was elevated from footnote status in the book or accompanying materials so that Thorin, the king of dwarves, can have a nemesis. Well, it didn’t feel out of place to me. After the movie, I asked my sister, a Tolkien nut, about that, and she said it didn’t bother her either. Because without the elevation, it’s pretty much everyone running from random orcs. This way there’s a purpose and other things that are good for drama. So no problem there.

Really, my biggest complaint about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that we’re something like 12 years out from Fellowship of the Ring, and to my eye, a lot of the CGI looks far less real. And I was at a 2-D showing with the 30-frames-per-second treatment. I’m not at all sure how it would hold up at 48 fps and in 3-D.

But regardless, I’m still eagerly awaiting the second part next December.

That’s it for my year in new movies. Next up may be my year in books, which is a list of similar length, or perhaps my year in DVDs, which is enormous.

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