Attention everyone: 2014 is, and will continue to be, a year of movies that really might go down in history. We’re getting blockbuster sequels, a wide range of relatively out-of-nowhere movies ranging from The Lego Movie to A Million Ways to Die in the West, and just generally a huge selection of really fantastic movies in theaters all year.
This is my first movie mashup post of the year so I’m going to start with what I’ve seen so far (up to about May). Unfortunately, I have missed a few movies: The Lego Movie, which I’ve heard was a big hit with everyone who saw it, That Awkward Moment, which also got extraordinarily positive reviews, and I, Frankenstein, which I think the critics hate but I am going to love. It’s possible that I forgot about a few little ones but that’s all I can remember right now.
As for what I have seen this year…
300: Rise of an Empire
THIS! IS NOT! SPARTA! This time, we’re in the city-state of Athens, fighting against the Persians in a later part of the Persian Wars. Starring Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles, leader of the Athenian naval forces, and Eva Green as Artemisia, the opposing Persian commander, this was quite a treat to watch (and later discuss with my Greek History professor!).
300, like a lot of other movies set in classical history, is not overflowing with historical accuracy. 300: Rise of an Empire is similarly flawed if one wants to critique it from such an academic position; I’ve seen/heard both movies criticized for making a mockery of the story of the Persian Wars. However, I think that in many ways that assessment of Rise of an Empire is just wrong. What the movie is about is the Battle of Salamis, and – while it gets plenty of things wrong – it gets a lot of things right.
Rise of an Empire tells the tale of an under-equipped and outnumbered Athenian naval fleet facing a much more powerful Persian fleet. Themistocles cannot defeat Artemisia in head-to-head combat so instead he uses a series of tactical positions and tricks to take the advantage away from the larger (and less maneuverable) Persian ships. And, to anyone who knows anything about the Battle of Salamis, this should sound pretty damn thematically accurate.
Is it important that, in the movie, Artemisia commands an entire FLEET instead of her five-ship contribution like history says? No, because five ships would be lame. You know what’s not lame? Hundreds of ships. And a woman in a movie commanding all of them. Even if, y’know, a woman didn’t really command that many ships at that time in history, is it really sending a BAD message to people to say that a woman can command a few hundred ships and be a total badass while doing so? (JYSK, this movie shouldn’t be taken as good for feminism in any way other than the fact that Artemisia and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) are TOTALLY badass and totally in command during battle scenes. They don’t need no man. The flip side, though, is that Artemisia is still a manipulative second-in-command, which always seems like the consolation prize for commanding women in movies and is really an unfortunate trope; she also has sex with Themistocles to try to convince him to join her side, which is not only monumentally WRONG on a historical level, it’s also NOT a good strategy that we want to be passing on to young people [I think] and adds to that whole stupid idea about women using sex to get what they want.)
The acting in this is passable but not great on all sides but Eva Green, who is pretty great, and Lena Headey, who I will praise from now until eternity. The action is epic and virtually unparalleled – you simply cannot beat a movie based on an ancient battle for sheer epicness, especially if that movie takes the real battle and blows it up to Hollywood proportions. And the story – of Athenians desperate to survive, rallying tiny numbers against a massive invasion fleet – is too basic to be anything but timeless. 7/10.
(One thing I’m going to be angry about: the Persian Great King was NOT seen as a god!!!!! He was divinely chosen, NOT divine!)
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
When I saw this I honestly thought, “Blockbuster of the year.” This movie was absolutely phenomenal, as the Marvel collection consistently is. At times (e.g. most of the movie) concepts in the plot got a little out of hand (abandoned underground shelters? An AI that’s been orchestrating… nevermind. No spoilers!). But Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson make a good team in terms of acting rapport – and so do their characters in terms of defending the world.
First off, the movie’s pairing of Evans and Johansson was simply marvelous. (I couldn’t resist.) They crack jokes, especially in battlefields, and the dialogue is wicked sharp and quick. It also helps a lot to establish the difference between the old-school Captain America, unfamiliar with the modern world, and Black Widow, who’s basically the complete opposite.
Bringing back Sebastian Stan might’ve been the only decision I didn’t love about this movie. Added on top of a lot of stretched plot, it seemed far-fetched. And as the bad guy? Kind of… odd. However, the sheer badassery of the metal arm makes up for this complaint.
The action and visuals are AWESOME. Straight from the beginning of the movie we get blazing guns, explosions, and lots of punches from the Captain himself.
Plus, we get those giant air battleship things, which always give me good inspiration for my own sci-fi writing.
Overall this was a movie I could watch another hundred times, aside from some plot problems. Totally awesome and totally worth seeing. 9/10.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
There is one rough patch in this movie. When Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are outside the Chinese restaurant, I thought the acting was a little flat.
The other 140 minutes or so of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are some of the best minutes of action movie I’ve ever seen.
Whatever you wanted from a Spiderman movie, this movie gives to you: swinging from buildings, fast-paced combat, incredible visuals, and a bunch of teenage-ness coming from Garfield and Stone alike, who – apart from that one scene, I think – wholeheartedly deliver an outstanding performance in this movie.
We also get a lot of comic references – Gwen’s wearing a very specific outfit in one scene, and overall the movies seem to have held more strongly true to the comics than the generation of Spiderman movies we got last time. In addition to that there’s a lot of backstory for the Parker family. As was true in the last movie, Garfield sells “teenager” very strongly – little things, like accidentally smacking a crowbar into his face instead of his phone with a missed webshot, collapsing into awkward nervousness when his aunt asks if she can do his laundry, kissing Gwen onstage at their graduation, and other moments really give a sense that he’s one of us.
However, this movie wouldn’t be what it is without Jamie Foxx.
Starting off the movie as an electrical engineer, Max Dillon (Foxx) accidentally falls into a tank of electric eels with a live wire, filling his body with electricity and turning him into Electro, who – at first – appears to be essentially human, powered by electricity, but later develops into something more, a being that seems to move through electricity just as electricity moves through him. (Hint: this provides for some really awesome visuals in fight scenes.)
What I found most compelling about Foxx’s character – and, in some respects, the movie as a whole – were the probably-intentional references to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. From the multitude of lightbulbs on his walls to his constant wish to “just be seen,” Max Dillon seems to represent – to some degree – the narrator of Ellison’s work, which focuses on issues facing African-Americans early in the 20th century. If it’s unintentional, then I drop the issue… but if it’s not, maybe the character was partially designed to shed some light on the idea that racism is still very real and very present in the 21st century. If a major blockbuster is spending part of its time and money trying to send that message, that’s a very good decision by Marvel.
You can’t miss either of the movies in this series (and I am assuming, based on the ending, that a third movie is in the works). For action, music, acting, and everything in between, I give this movie 10/10.
More reviews will come soon, but I think I’ve caught up on my winter/spring visits to the movie theater, so I am going to take a break and do more later. Stay tuned for reviews of late spring/summer movies later this summer!
As always, thanks for reading.