For years the criticism, such as it was, of Disney’s marketing was that it missed boys. It is a fair criticism, though this doesn’t seem to have hurt the bottom line all that much. Disney knows how to connect with girls and women just fine. They are tuned into the tiaras, fairies and flowers like nobody knows. It explains why all their later (non-Pixar) animation was in fact formulaic: Bad boy, princess with true heart, add schmaltz and (after Aladdin) really schmaltzy uninteresting romantic soundtracks. Even Lion King – ostensibly a story about men and boys – was about the boy having an emotional experience that could only be of interest to girls.
Much to my own surprise I have seen the three big action flicks released so far — Ironman, Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones & The AARP. Much to my even greater surprise, two of them are good.
Caspian is by far the best of the bunch. I don’t remember the book well enough to assess how much the movie deviates from it and I really don’t care. Movies are different than books and if you don’t try to adapt the story to the medium you are screwed. (See the first Harry Potter movie for example.) Caspian tells a good, solid story with actual emotional underpinnings that makes the action deeper without diverting from it. Caspian also has the added advantage of having Peter Dinklage, in my mind the most charismatic actor working today. I first saw him in the wonderful movie The Station Agent. He is perhaps best known for his role in Elf as the little person who beats up wannabe little person Will Farrel. I will watch anything he is in. I hope more directors are catching on to his possibilities. Someone cast him as Hamlet, quick. Not ironically or anything like that. In Caspian, Dinklage’s character is the moral center of the movie, doubting everything until he comes to believe.
Next on the ranking list is Ironman. Ironman continues a very hopeful trend in action movies — casting really, really good actors. The most obvious examples here are Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges, but it continues through the entire cast. Great acting helps the audience past those plot stupidities that seem to be required in most big budget action movies these days. The biggest example in Ironman is when the terrorist villain goes from being supersmart to superdumb for no apparent reason. Downey is so totally charming and wonderful as Tony Stark he alone covers up for several movies worth of dumb plot devices. Bridges takes a boilerplate bad guy and makes him real. The only real acting flub is Gwyneth Paltrow who isn’t actually bad but just flat in a dumb role.
A debate is raging as to whether Indy vs. The AARP is the worst sequel ever. No. It isn’t even the worst George Lucas sequel ever. That honor goes to the last three Star Wars movies. While you can make a plausible case for Phantom Menace being he worst sequel ever — the stupidity of the writing and directing is only surpassed by the racial stereotyping — for me that honor goes to Godfather III. The Star Wars movies were fun but nothing else, so disfiguring the brand really was no great wrong. Godfather III was — and I don’t use this word lightly — a desecration. Indy isn’t even in the same category of bad as either the Star Wars mistakes or GF III. Actually cut out 30 minutes and its a pleasant action movie. Sadly at two hours all the flaws become more evident and boredom really set in. That said, Collateral Damage Jr. loved it. He’s 11.9 which makes him the target demographic so his vote will count more than mine. See his full review here at his blog, The Watchamacallit. Just realized that on the horrible sequel list I also left out the Star Trek series which at my last count had only two (maybe three) good movies in the entire sequence.
Actually a more useful list would be sequels that are actually good. I’ll start: Henry IV, Part 2.
Mostly, I’m just killing time until WALL-E comes out, though.