2009 has been an unfortunate year for movies. There were some good ones, but the majority of the movies that came out this year were terrible. I’ve been thinking about the movies I saw this year (not even close to all of the ones release) and the overall feeling is disappointment.
In no particular order:
Star Trek was a mess. Red Matter (aka magic) can sometimes create black holes and sometimes destroy ships and sometimes transport them back in time and sometimes destroy whole planets with a single drop and other times do nothing at all to a planet when a black hole forms in orbit… etc. I don’t think I can even begin to communicate how frustratingly inconsistent it was. Mr. Scott is reduced comedic sidekick, Spock is a Vulcan with anger control issues, and Chekhov and Sulu only exist because they are in the original show. Uhura, McCoy and Kirk are rendered pretty well and I hope that in the future the writers and director can be scrapped for people who think beyond a third grade level.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a good action movie if action is all you want. There was no character development and the plot seemed like a hash of ideas from a group roundtable. (Which it was, the story was actually compiled from pieces of three different comic books.) The movie went from bad to worse as more and more X-Men were introduced in sillier ways until the whole thing degenerated into a farce.
Angels and Demons felt like I’d seen it before. Let’s see. There’s a secret that the Catholic Church doesn’t want to get out and Tom Hanks, this time with his mullet tamed, is trying to find out what it is. An enjoyable, but forgettable movie. I don’t have any complaints about this one so I guess I’ll call it one of the good ones.
Up was a great story that had a lot to say about people and who we are. The characters are real to just about anybody who has lived and the story, although fantastical, was well constructed and believable. This was the best movie of 2009, that I saw. I have found of late that Pixar regularly provides the best movies every year (with the exception of Wall-E).
G. I. Joe was filled with a long list of bad actors saying bad lines, while fighting poorly choreographed fights under the direction of a bad director following a bad script. The director, Roland Emmerich is brilliant at directing explosions, battles, and epic disasters. He also is quite good at chase scenes. When this movie kept to those things it did quite well. If it had been a silent film, in black and white, it might have been quite good.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the worst movie I saw all year. It was, in a word, stupid. Just because the original media is a cartoon does not mean the movie need have no intelligence. (By the way the pair that wrote Star Trek also wrote the script for this movie.) All of the transformers look the same, with no distinguishing characteristics except the two annoying ones – and that is that they are the two annoying ones. None of them are even on screen as much as they were in the first movie, I still don’t know any of their names except Optimus Prime – who I’m assuming I was supposed to be upset was killed early in the movie. Decepticons can be pretty much anything they want, including airplanes and satellites but the good guys, Autobots, can only be cars, for no reason at all. Also for no apparent reason sexual jokes and innuendo , a lot of them, are necessary to entertain people who watch transformers. The action scenes are just blurry cuts of things smashing until it’s over and you hope somebody tells you which transformer is standing because you can’t tell which one it is by looking. The military has a top secret rail gun that can totally destroy the biggest transformer ever so they only fire it once because… well, we don’t know. This is not a review of Transformers so I won’t go into how characters magically transported across the world in seconds, or minutes (before one of the transformers discovered teleportation) or how characters would change clothes, bandages, wounds, and hair styles from one cut to the next, all in the same scene. I won’t mention that Michael Bay, the director could learn from a host of youtube stars about directing and cohesive story telling.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was the weakest of all the Harry Potter movies so far. It had no cohesion, there was very little story development, choosing instead to focus on the characters and their drama moments than on the events leading up to the death of Dumbledore. I have enjoyed the previous movies but this one lost all of it’s momentum and degenerated into a teen soap opera. The plot was left confused and incomprehensible. I know that apologists say, “well there is just so much in the book that there was no way to fit it all into the movie.” Frankly, I don’t buy that. Goblet of Fire was the longest book (by word count, I don’t know if it had the most pages) and that movie was brilliant and easy to understand. The plot moved along and made sense. Half Blood Prince felt more like a high school year book in motion picture form with a small dramatic scene at the end.
Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian was mostly stupid with a few funny moments. The funny moments, as usual, came from Owen Wilson (Jed) and Hank Azaria (Kahmanra). All of the historical figures were portrayed as idiots or they knew completely random things in order for the story to progress – like Teddy Roosevelt’s bust translating the Egyptian tablet that the Pharaoh didn’t know how to read, or Einstein saying “the answer is in the center of the pyramid” (with no clues whatsoever) and Amelia Earhart saying “pi” – like it makes perfect sense.
My first thoughts on Avatar were that it was the best movie that I saw this year. On further reflection I have decided that it is the best cinematic experience I have had this year. The 3D and the effects of this movie truly define what it is. The story however is so weak that the movie is not really worth watching in any other format. James Cameron has raised the bar for big budget, effects driven, science fiction movies. I doubt that any other movie will achieve the same heights, visually, as this one did. The story and plot of Avatar have been described as Dances with Smurfs, or Fern Gully on steroids – one review compared it to Disney’s Pocahontas. These are surprisingly accurate descriptions. There’s nothing new, or even unpredictable. It’s about the experience.
I’m hoping that next year brings us some better movies that I can get excited about. I haven’t been excited about a movie both before it’s release and after seeing it since the Return of the King was in theaters. I’m hoping that 2010 will change that. (But not hoping too much – holding my breath would be epic but I don’t think even Superman could hold his breath all year.)