And What I Thought About Them
First thing first: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED FOR THE FOLLOWING MOVIES:
- X Men: Days of Future Past
- How to Train Your Dragon 2
DO NOT CONTINUE READING PAST THIS POINT.
There, that should be more than efficient in warning.
Ever since I saw the teaser trailer with Angelina Jolie in full costume, I have been excited for this movie. Consistently on people’s top ten Disney villains, usually top three or number one, Maleficent is often described as being the most evil simply because her whole reason for conflict is not being invited to a birthday party. Of course, in order to make a whole movie about the character, you would have to expand that conflict. Overall, it charmed me with it’s storybook-telling narrator and it’s Wicked (Maguire (1995)) overtones.
As you might expect, the viewer is meant to sympathize with Maleficent rather than the princess she condemns to sleep forever. And I can see some people struggling to enjoy this movie overall. It is very feminist in its story and morals, making King Stefan (who is also in the Disney cartoon) the villain. The conflict is a metaphor for sexual violence against women and Maleficent’s redemption is found in platonic female love. (Prince Phillip does make an appearance, but has little screen time and lines. Arguably, you can compare this to the Disney movie, where Aurora spends the majority of her movie unconscious.)
Overall, I found Maleficent it be a very empowering and refreshing as a female-centric movie with strong female characters. (And the throwbacks to the Disney movie are fun and entertaining as well.) The cinematography is gorgeous and while the 3D was a little annoying at sometimes, did not distract from the overall settings. Jolie does a wonderful job with the title character and her ability to channel the maleficence (ha!) of the Disney villain is spectacular. None of the other actors stand out nearly as well, though Sharlto Copley (King Stefan) makes for a despicable enough villain. Elle Fanning (sister to Dakota Fanning) was a bit bland, but seeing as how she was not the focus, just served to make contrast to the striking Jolie.
You will not enjoy this movie if strong women characters or the vilifying of violence towards women offends you. I can see many critics of the feminism resenting the movie, as well as people that love the classic Disney movie with the very simple romance story.
As for myself, I would love to see more films in this direction. More women who support each other, more women who find strength in themselves, more women who don’t need no man (but it’s fine if one happens to come along). My only real critique of the movie was that I would have liked to see Stefan be more ambiguous in his morality, but (as Sam pointed out) it is important to go to the opposite extreme first before finding a comfortable middle.
Oh, X Men. One of the most beloved of the Marvel franchises and has about as much polarization as Spider-Man in and outside of the comics. And like any comic book turned into movie franchise, it has been a roller coaster for fans and everyday viewers alike. With the original trilogy of movies, most would agree it peaked with X2 (2003) and went past the point of no return with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). (Most refuse to acknowledge the Wolverine movies existences.)
(I know, I didn’t know there were two of those, either. I’m still not over what they did to Deadpool.)
X-Men: First Class (2011) did the closest thing to a reboot without actually rebooting for the X-Men movies. And Days of Future Past literally rebooted the X-Men franchise while technically not starting over from scratch, a’la Spider-Man. That being said, I specifically only want to discuss DOFP and will only reference FC if necessary.
Overall, this movie made me giggle like a little fangirl the entire time. I loved FC‘s portrayal of Magneto and Xavier and while I would have loved to see more scenes of them together, it was enjoyable and they stayed true to the characters in DOFP. There were a lot of funny moments with one liners and the plot, though admittedly having wholes especially due to the fact that they were messing with time travel, was definitely enjoyable.
The movie was a delightful romp through fandom while touching on the issues that the X-Men are famed for (i.e. discrimination, diversity, etc.). Many described the movie as “campy”, but I prefer to think that it balanced out the harsh realities that the movie talks about with fun (or at least action). (I always think of Adam West’s Batman when I think of “campy” and nothing has been that bad in theaters in a long time.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Quicksilver scene in the movie. It was well done, entertaining. But overall I was just impressed with the storytelling of the movie. Because unlike all the other X-Men movies (apart from First Class) has been Wolverine and friends! DOFP, however, doesn’t really have a main character. Sure, Wolverine is in most of the scenes, but as a passive observer. It was a story with multiple characters that had equal stakes in the outcome and it felt that way.
And every character felt unique to how they handled the situations that they were dealing without being overstated and obvious. Stand out performance by Jennifer Lawrence and Peter Dinklage are particularly notable and this movie just added even more admiration I had for the two actors.
My only wish for this movie was for it to stay true to the original comic book material and send Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) back in time instead of Wolverine. Unfortunately, popularity demands Wolverine be the focus point for almost every X-Men movie that comes out.
After Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), my confidence in DreamWorks has sky rocketed, especially when it comes to sequels. But I am sad to say out of all three of the movies listed, I am most conflicted about HTTYD2. Now before I go into the story, I have to say that this is worth seeing for animation alone. It is stunning and I fully recommend it in 3D, where the world with dragons envelopes you as a viewer. The illusion of flying is even better than the first movie. And of course, more cute kitty-dragons!
But here we get into one of my first complaints: you don’t really get to learn about any these other dragons other than by proxy. We just learned more about Toothless, who admittedly is still very interesting, but it would have been nice to see more dragons get their chance to shine.
One of my biggest pet peeves of movie trailers nowadays is the trailer giving a major (or several major) plot point(s) so that the movie looses suspense and story value. Such was the case with Hiccup’s mother, Valka. In at least two trailers, she was revealed as one of the new characters, therefore subtracting from the reveal of said character. That being said, the introduction of Valka is completely awesome. She’s completely fascinating and nuanced and the glimpses we get into her life during her absence are so interesting. I feel like she deserves her own movie, like a prequel to HTTYD.
Instead her back story is quick, sacrificing, I feel, a lot of explanation of why she “knew” dragons weren’t dangerous. All we got was that she was constantly disagreeing with Stoic (Hiccup’s dad) and the rest of the vikings about dragons, she gets kidnapped when Hiccup was a baby, and TA DA! eighteen to twenty years in isolation from human contact. When Stoic finds out that she’s alive, the family is briefly reunited in a scene that is way, way, way to happy to last. I mean, come on. So the Lion King-esque tragedy that follows is not a surprise and therefore not nearly as heart wrenching as one would expect.
[Valka] faces the villain (the villain she’s apparently been successfully resisting alone for years!) and she’s instantly, summarily defeated. Her husband and son utterly overshadow her; they need to rescue her twice in maybe five minutes. Her biggest contribution to the narrative is in giving Hiccup a brief, rote “You are the Chosen One” pep talk. Then she all but disappears from the film, raising the question of why the story spent so much time on her in the first place.
– Tasha Robinson, We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome (June 16, 2014)
And that’s about it for movies I’ve seen recently. Did you see them? What did you think? Do you still want to see them if you haven’t?
How to Train Your Dragon 2. Directed by Dean DeBlois (2014).
Kung Fu Panda 2. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (2011).
Maleficent. Directed by Robert Stromberg (2014).
Maguire, Gregory. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. New York City: HarperCollins, 1995.
Sleeping Beauty. Directed by Clyde Geronimi, et al. (1959).
X Men: Days of Future Past. Directed by Bryan Singer (2014).
X-Men: First Class. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (2011).
X-Men: The Last Stand. Directed by Brett Ratner (2006).
X2. Directed by Bryan Singer (2003).