@synth_cinema: Review Roundup - Scraps and Leftovers

Search

Review Roundup - Scraps and Leftovers

2023 SCI-FI CATCH-UP

Time to take a look at a few random bits and pieces that I've either forgotten to consider at an earlier stage, or forgot were actually the big thing for fifteen minutes last year. As someone wise once said this can be catalogued under the heading 'too late nobody cares'. But there are always more expensive looking blockbusters to talk about, many filled with robots, creatures and animated wizardry. When some of them forget to include basic elements like well written stories or charming protagonists it starts to become exhausting. Do I really want to look at yet more movies based on 1980s toys? Has Gareth Edwards learned from his mistakes? Let's look what's on offer...

As one of the few people that wasn't a fan of Godzilla 2014 or Rogue One, either as cohesive stories or character pieces, it was with some trepidation that I considered Edwards's latest sci-fi offering The Creator. It looked stunning of course but there's only so much eye candy can do to cover a weak story without any depth. Things aren't helped by the way it seems on the surface, and in a few details, to crib from Elysium, another example of incredible visual effects and a mediocre script. There's another rush to access a space station, and there's another cloying story about a child needing help from a cynical hero. But does the rest of the film offer more than that beyond all of these details?

The plot surrounds a race to defeat the threats of artificial intelligence. Which for some reason has taken the form of, not a computer, but a nation of synthetic humans. Why does A.I. need a physical form? Why are some robots and some partially human? Why are the latter not fully human looking if they're being hunted? Questions start to pile up in a story that lacks any central logic or a unified idea. In some scenes characters discuss selling their likeness to corporations, in an attempt to bring contemporary concerns into the film. But the reasons behind this are unclear. Elsewhere an orbiting platform bombs A.I. labs and the homes of synthetic people, again in an attempt to suggest allegory.

But when the tech being used is both primitive and fantastically advanced it just feels confused. Why are old explosives even being used when they have so many gadgets? This mixed bag approach extends to the journey of jaded soldier Joshua (John David Washington) and artificial child Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) which is both engaging and emotionally shallow. It's not the kind of film that deserved to a box office flop, but it's also muddled and careless. A lot of care has been paid to make it visually stunning, and references from everything from The Golden Child to Akira are fun. But with a tighter script and better world building it could have been more than just an action packed road trip with some cool effects.

3/5

Meanwhile Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has bigger problems, since apparently someone at the studio forgot that Bumblebee worked because it was simple and charming. This time it feels like two or even three script ideas thrown together haphazardly, with two leads who are both lacking charisma. It never becomes another Michael Bay style migraine filled with screeching teenagers and nonsensical plotting, but it has a lot of that DNA for reasons that are unclear. Less is more, or at least it was, in the previous instalment. But here we're back to Optimus Prime being an angry killing machine as a series of world heritage sites explode in the wake of his shape-shifting cohorts.

They do try to tell the story of underdogs Noah (Anthony Ramos) and Elena (Dominque Fishback) but these are stock characters with little screen presence. One is a job seeking older brother looking to help his family pay for healthcare, the other is a museum intern being abused by her vapid supervisor. One knows machines, the other knows history, and so of course they will need to solve a problem involving ancient robots. But eventually this convenient pairing has to do more than get into places their new friends will be too noticeable, and nothing really falls into place. It could have been a fun Indiana Jones style romp, but it also needs to be a story about planet ending threats.

The ancient evil, in this case world eating machine Unicron, has to be stopped by Transformers from the past and present. The Maximals and the Autobots have their differences, as well as differing opinions on their human allies, which is at least something of a plot hook. But eventually it just devolves into visual effects noise involving exploding volcanoes and crumbling Peruvian landscapes. The previous instalment was supposed to be a course correction, but this feels like a step backwards which is pretty strange. Some might find the Beast Wars references fun, or enjoy the CGI fuelled action, or get into the globe trotting relic hunt. But it's too messy overall, and in this case I understand the lack of box office takings.

2/5 

It doesn't have to all be doom and glom for rehashed toy based properties. In fact sometimes it can be good, as shown by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. This time every hero is an underdog, and every character is a weird ugly freak, which means that the whole thing is oddly cute and charming. It's clearly been inspired by the recent Spider-verse films but it adds layers of gross New York City goop to everything. Which means that it can reference a whole bunch of earlier TMNT iterations, ride a current animation trend, and manage to be its own thing all at once. While at the same time adding a bunch of classic Shaw Brothers clips, which I can get behind.

It's a pretty simplistic story, but it helps that the main characters are all actually teenagers for once. They have a naive view of the world above the sewers, and they have childish needs and obsessions. Even the regular allies and antagonists are of a similar age group this time around as the team of four try to find their place in the world. All while trying to avoid the suspicious eye of their adoptive father Master Splinter. Of course this eventually becomes a crime fighting quest and a battle against characters spawned from TCRI ooze, but it keeps things relatively simple. Which is nice to see when the previous big screen incarnation was yet more Michael Bay associated noise.

It's not a perfect movie by any means, and the major flaws all revolve around pop culture references and humour. A lot of the recurring gags are pretty funny as things progress, and a lot of the musical inclusions are fun. But in some cases it feels overloaded as the apparently obligatory jukebox moments come along, or when yet another character says something about a TV show or a movie from the real world. If there was any feature that didn't need to include those kind of references it's this one; a sketchy, chaotic, and colourful comic book come to life. Luckily for them it manages to be an enjoyable action adventure about fitting in and doing the right thing, which is refreshing in a lot of other ways.

4/5

Last and in some ways least it's Elemental, another animated movie. But like a lot of recent Pixar efforts there's a sense that it might have been created early on as a short film. Those who remember when this kind of fare was a theatrical event will of course recall the short at the start of the main feature. One was about a stork and a cloud in a baby delivery sketch, dealing with things like the weather and animal offspring. One was about day and night as two characters, confused by the world they inhabit changing with the passage of time. So in this latest feature it's a romantic comedy about characters that are fire and water, anthropomorphic elements that can't be mixed without causing chaos.

Is that enough for a feature length release? Well no, which is where it starts to feel disjointed. The elements of fire, water, earth, and air, exist in a fantasy world as different nations or races. Which is one major idea as characters deal with things like transport and clothing and food. It's something which doesn't need dialogue to work, and so feels the most well realised. The visual gags are abundant and the world is creative, but it's never in service of a story with much else going on. In some ways it's all one big West Side Story pastiche. In others it's an immigration tale about traditions from a small island being transplanted into the big city.

None of these individual ideas are terrible and the whole thing is full of intriguing moments about how someone made of leafy soil might have different emotions to someone made of cloud vapour. Which eventually leads to some kind of synthesis further down the line once all the melodrama unfolds. Fire and water can't mix... until they do of course. Career choices set by strict parents have to be respected... until they don't. Earlier releases in this streaming era like Turning Red and Soul weren't perfect but they felt more concrete as unique spins on existing clich├ęs. This is ironically just a bunch of ingredients that don't mix very well. Individual bits and pieces are a lot of fun but it's never cohesive.

2/5