Getting Buff! Getting Dumb!

pain_&_gain_posterSay what you will about Michael Bay, but the man doesn’t let any of the shit anyone says about him get to him. He still soldiers on, his apparent disdain for the work he churns out practically drenching every piece of celluloid he’s ever produced. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m spitting. He so very clearly HATES the Transformers franchise, almost as much as we love to rant about how much we hate it. So, it’s a little weird to see his name on something that he is legitimately enthusiastic about. And since there aren’t any anamorphic robots or mansions to blow up this time, it would seem that the master of the lens flared destructathon is trying to prove that he’s more than a guy who knows how to make a… well, a lens flared destructathon! And he has… sort of. For most of its 130 minute run (yeesh!), Pain & Gain is an entertaining satirization of criminals, the misinterpretation of the supposed “american dream”, the body building lifestyle, and everything in between. The humor is poignant, the performances are pretty good, and it’s presented in the classic, Bay-esque style, which surprisingly aids the story as opposed to hindering it. And then, the movie takes a turn, and, for me at least, reveals itself for what it is. A sick, twisted, perverse joke!

Daniel Lugo is self-described doer. He has completely bought into the self help craze that you can be anything you want to be and the universe will give it to you if you believe hard enough. Unfortunately, despite his believing really hard, the universe hasn’t given shit to Lugo, who holds down the same deadbeat job at the Sun Gym, training those he deems to be his intellectual and motivational lessors in the ways of getting buff. Fed up with his lot in life and ready to grab the bull by the proverbial horns, he enlists the help of two fellow bodybuilders in a get rich quick scheme. These are Adrian Doorbal, a steroid abuser (which has rendered him impotent) with a taste for plus sized women, and Paul Doyle, a fresh out of jail meathead who has traded in an addiction to cocaine for an addiction to Christianity… and cocaine. The scheme? Kidnap and extort (read: torture) a douchebag millionaire out of his fortunes. Remarkably, they pull it off, but like all misguided dumbasses, once is just never enough. Soon, these three losers find themselves hopelessly in over their heads as their crimes escalate in severity and the authorities close in.

Based on a series of magazine articles by Pete Collins, which themselves depicted the true exploits of the “Sun Gym Gang”, that Pain & Gain is the best written Michael Bay movie should come as no shock. It boasts a “gotta see it to believe it” story, larger than life characters, and, above all, a grounding in reality that Bay has never even touched. And it’s funny. At times it’s really funny. I’m a sucker for yarns about dumb as bricks criminals, and this is a well made yarn about dumb as bricks criminals. The tone is consistent throughout, gleefully smiling along as these scumbags reap what they sew. It’s just that, the tone is so completely wrong for this story. I’ll talk about that later, but, in a nutshell, when the full escalation of the Sun Gym Gang’s crimes reaches its peak, the comedic tone ceases to be funny and just becomes flat out mean.

It doesn’t help that the performances are almost all consistent with their over the topness. That’s not to say that they are bad though. Indeed, some turn in career best work. Mark Wahlberg is pretty doofy as the “brains” of the gang, Lugo. Wahlberg is always at his best when he’s playing dumb and out of his depth. And just like in Boogie Nights and Ted, he’s deceptively charming here in his idiocy. Well, he would be, if his character weren’t, at the same time, so despicable. Wahlberg, at the very least, does a good job of balancing it all out so that we can, to a certain extent, root for him, and then smile in satisfaction as his world implodes on him.

Anthony Mackie is delightfully clueless as Doorbal. He’s the guy who’s just kind of there, and doesn’t really know why. He doesn’t necessarily agree with the crazy shit he and Lugo and Doyle are doing, but he figures he might as well go along with it since he’s already made it this far. Mackie hasn’t been pulling the “I was in The Hurt Locker too” card all that well since… he was in The Hurt Locker. But he does fine work here.

The real star here is Dwayne Johnson doing what is arguably his best work, uh, ever. He’s just as goofy as the rest of his cronies, displaying a healthy amount of his rock (hehe) solid comedic timing. See him coked out of his mind, and it’s only funnier. But he also is the subject of some heady moral and dramatic character beats. He’s the only one to ever voice any sort of doubt about what the gang is doing. And as the violence ramps up, he suddenly finds himself at odds with the rest of his “friends”. It’s great work from Johnson, who really internalizes this guy’s conflict as he realizes he’s gone against everything he promised himself he’d uphold, and I hope he capitalizes on it the best way he can.

Tony Shaloub is deliciously detestable as Victor Kershaw, the self-made millionaire that these guys rough up and Ed Harris does his best Steve McQueen as Ed Du Bois III, the private detective who takes the case when the Miami Police Department deem it too absurd to follow up on.


The biggest surprise, though, is Michael Bay, who shows an uncharacteristic restraint for most of the movie. Sure, his usual tropes are here. You still have the overblown slo-mo shots as dudes epically stand up. You still have the absurd levels of color saturation. Seriously, I don’t think Miami looks like that in real life. And you still have the almost offensive sexualization of pretty much every woman who graces the frame with her presence. But, Bay’s characters here are (in all likelihood) a bunch of misogynist pigs, so maybe his own misogyny here is just a way of showing how these guys see the world. That’s a stretch, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in this case.

But he shows a level head and steady hand when it comes to the comedy. One of the more novel ideas of the picture is that every character is a narrator at various points. So, you’ll have Lugo’s inner monologue waxing poetic about one thing or another, and then you’ll have Doyle’s inner monologue completely contradicting what was just said. And Doorbal’s conscience takes over for a bit, and then Kershaw’s, and Du Bois, and so it goes. It’s a recipe for disaster, but Bay manages to make it all work together. Indeed, some of the best laughs of the movie come from these narrations.

And the first hour and 40 minutes of the movie are very funny. It’s just these guys misguidedly beating up on Kershaw, who is such a scumbag that it’s easy to root against him. And then, when Kershaw gets away and tries to hunt them down, it’s just wild antics as these delusional “criminal geniuses” just keep acting stupid. And why is it so funny? Because it’s, largely, pretty innocent. Low stakes, low risk, high reward. It’s just bad people doing bad things to other bad people, but without any major harm done. OK, sure, you can say the extortion of millions of dollars is major harm, but it’s a harm that you as the movie audience can easily chortle at.

But then, suddenly, in the last 30 minutes, the movie remembers that it’s a true crime story, and not only that, but a true crime story where people died, and died badly. And the movie doesn’t shy away from showing the gory details. The tone takes a abrupt turn into hyper dark territory, which would be fine, except Bay is still giving off an air that it’s all still pretty funny. He still will have captions shooting into the frame making a joke about the proceedings and stop to laugh at certain character’s misfortune. And it’s here that the movie not only lost me, but ruined everything I had liked about it till then.

See, the fact that it’s a true story makes it very hard to laugh at this stuff. And when you are laughing hysterically for an hour and 40, only to have the rug pulled out from under your feet as you realize that you were laughing at the awful events that left people dead and ruined the lives of many others, it just makes you feel dirty. I felt guilty at the end of Pain & Gain, like I had partaken in some heinous school yard prank. All the goodwill the rest of the movie had built up prior to those 30 minutes had completely evaporated, and all I was left with was a foul taste in my mouth. I hated myself for laughing, and I hated Bay for crafting enough of a smokescreen to ensure that I did laugh.

And, for those reasons, despite the fact that Pain & Gain is, on a purely objective level, Michael Bay’s best movie, it is, without a doubt, my least favorite of his. Say what you will about Transformers or The Island or Bad Boys. At least I didn’t feel like I was to blame for something after watching those. They are shitty, loud, busy, popcorn flicks, but I don’t feel guilty after paying to see them. I did feel guilty after watching Pain & Gain. I can’t figure out if Bay was trying to hold up a mirror in an effort to show us how desensitized we’ve become to this shit (or… something like that), or if we are the victims of the ultimate joke of the film. Either way, I don’t appreciate it.



Disenfranchisement and the American Dream

I was just as excited as most about Killing Them Softly. A pulpy crime drama that sees Brad Pitt playing against type as a cold blooded gun for hire? Hell to the yeah! Unfortunately, something found its way into the the web and tarnished the whole damn thing. Killing Them Softly is a pretty dreadful film to sit through, boring as hell and touting a “message” even less subtle than an anvil to the face! A few good performances can’t make up for a weak, meandering script and ill-advised forays into empty style. A strong sense of setting can’t save it. Pitt’s charm can’t save it. This one is toast! Soggy, cold toast!


Around the 2008 presidential election, tensions are running high in the world of low level criminals. The economy is in the tank, and they are feeling the heat as much as the next guy. Looking out for their own interests, a group of thugs hold up a poker game of one Markie Trattman, assured that they will get away scott free, since Trattman has a history of holding up his own games. Never ones to be made fools of, the mob brings in Jackie, a super cool, smarter than he looks killer, who quickly pieces together that Trattman didn’t rob the game, and is soon set on the path to find those who did. Along the way, he crosses paths with a host of men down on their luck, from the corporate lackey fed up with the committee he speaks for inability to make a decision, to an old friend who has lost everything and is now a pathetic excuse for a man, drowning in cheap booze and whores. All in a day’s work in the business known as America.

FUCK! THIS! MOVIE! With a setup like that, you’d think you’re in for a hard hitting, introspective crime flick that could easily have been the product of Scorcese or Mann or The Coen Brothers. But Killing Them Softly squanders its intriguing setup and turns the whole thing into a horrendously overblown metaphor for the financial crisis the United States finds itself in. And normally that would be fine. But director Andrew Dominik goes about it with absolutely zero finesse. You can barely watch five minutes of this thing without a sound clip of George Bush or Barack Obama speaking about the economy piping in. And, before you get all up in my case about me missing the point, it adds nothing! I don’t know if it’s even possible to miss the point of this movie! It wears it on its t-shirt in bright, flashing capital letters! But the plot of the movie has no stake in the message of the movie. Jackie makes his kills, Markie whines like a bitch, and everyone else plays their roles, with nary an attempt at examining how the financial crisis would effect these men who make a living stealing money. It’s all just one big stew of wasted opportunities.

Speaking of wasted opportunities… the characters in this thing. Oh sure, everyone performs well. Dominik somehow managed to attract some serious talent, but the characters they are saddled with are some of the most uninteresting all year. As much as it pains me to say it, Brad Pitt very well might have the least interesting of the bunch in Jackie. Where movies of this sort usually offer you glimpses into the tortured soul of a mob hitman, Killing Them Softly goes the opposite route and shuts the door in your face; Jackie might as well have been played by a computer. The character doesn’t have an arc; he doesn’t grow at all. He just does his job, demands his money, and goes home. That’s it! And Pitt plays him well, there’s no doubt. It’d be a real pleasure to see him play this type of guy when the script and characterization can match his talent. This isn’t it.

Everyone else is just kind of along for the ride. Richard Jenkins does class things up considerably, but his character has barely any impact on the events that occur. Ben Mendelsohn is pretty grating as one of the hoods who hold up the game, if only because his character is so gross and despicable. Scoot McNairy fairs better as his accomplice. For all the credit he’s getting, Ray Liotta as Markie is barely in this thing. And when he is, he just cries a lot.

If there’s one person I must single out, if only because of how much I dislike them, it’s James Gandolfini as Jackie’s friend Mickey, whose character actually makes the film even more overtly ponderous and slow than it already was. His character is just so awful and his two scenes are just sooooo long, that you find yourself wishing for Jackie to just tell him to shut up already.

And that highlights the biggest, most glaring problem with Killing Them Softly. It is boring. So boring! For all the slow motion, balletic car crashes and the whip snap dialogue, the movie very nearly put me to sleep. Dominik, who made the narratively challenged but gorgeous to look at Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, bites off way more than he can chew, and tries to mask it with quick bursts of ultra violence and supposedly cool stylistic choices. There’s a beatdown that is visceral and sickening, but goes way too far. There’s a drive by shooting that starts off cool but gets carried away with the slow motion and the flying glass. And the dialogue is certainly well done; Dominik, at the very least, is great at transporting us into this seedy world, but at times it’s too clever for its own good.

And all these stylistic choices distract from what the movie is actually about. I’m getting the sense that Dominik and Co. realized that the point they were trying to make was getting lost, so they compensated by trying too hard. Killing Them Softly left me rolling my eyes and checking my watch on multiple occasions. If you want to know the dire straits that the country is in, watch the news. If you want to see a fictional version of the dire straits that the country is in, watch Fox News. Don’t watch Killing Them Softly.


Bourne To Be Wild

The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum are some of the best movies I’ve ever seen, easily taking the crown as the two best action blockbusters of the last decade. No one before or after those two flicks has managed to replicate the perfect combination of hard hitting fisticuffs, mind bending espionage and unflinching characters that Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies did. Full to the brim with jaw dropping scenes, they are two films that I could watch on endless repeat without ever getting tired. Which brings me to The Bourne Legacy. Ignoring the obvious unencessity of a fourth Bourne movie, the fact cannot be overlooked that, even though Legacy is helmed by one of the overseer’s of the previous films, and boasts a healthy amount of the same talent, it is no more than a pale imitation of what came before. It has plenty of decent action and makes valiant attempts to tap into the vein that made Supremacy and Ultimatum the basically perfect films that they were, but falls way short, hindered by its obsession with imitating without recognizing what made the product its imitating special to begin with.

As Jason Bourne exposes Operation Blackbriar, and all its various sub-divisions (and they are legion) to the world, the higher ups in the CIA go into damage protection mode, quickly assessing which programs will be hurt by this unfortunate turn of events. Operation Outcome is one such program. The solution? Burn it to the ground, killing all the assets currently in the field. One of these assets is Aaron Cross, a highly capable agent, who, to no one surprise, survives his assassination attempt. Forced into going on the run, he teams up with a program scientist who was also targeted, and together they try to get clear of the craziness that has been unleashed upon them.

So… it’s basically the original films all over again, with a specially trained agent going up against the guys who made him. But there are two big differences with the character of Cross. First off, he knows who he is. Part of what made Bourne so fascination was that he had no idea who he was before Treadstone, who trained him, what he did within the program, or why everyone wants to kill him. With Cross, there is no such existential quandary. He knows full well who was before Outcome, the he volunteered for the program, and who is superiors and whatnot are. This lack of mystery does a disservice to the character, because now he is just running to survive, as opposed to discovering himself all over again.

The other big change is the explanation for how Cross can perform some of the spy stuff that he does. When Bourne was front and center, the only explanation needed was just “Cuz he can”. His training was just that good. Cross is different. Rather than being the master of great physical strength and a godlike intellect, Cross has to rely on pills, or “chems”, to give him those traits. So now, not only do we have a less interesting character, but we have one who is not all the special either. Bourne was a badass, and you believed 100% of the time that he was just that capable of a spy. Having Cross rely on drugs to make him good feels like a cop out.

Fortunately, Jeremy Renner is pretty damn good as Cross. While he does lack the raw intensity that Matt Damon brought to Bourne, Renner is more than able to carry the film. It’s his first headlining role in a big, event film, and he does not disappoint. Though the lines he is given are generally pretty terrible, he proves once again that he is capable of overcoming such technicalities as that.

Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton take the reins as the two biggest supporting players. Weisz is used the most as the scientist Cross goes on the run with. She’s ok, but only just. I’ve never really thought much of Wiesz as an actress, and making her adopt a pretty heinous American accent is not helping matters. Couple that with the fact that she has the film’s worst lines, and, well, you can see where I’m going with this. Edward Norton is an effective antagonist as the head of Operation Outcome. Taking over, more or less, the same role previously inhabited by Chris Cooper, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn. It’s not that he does a worse job than those three, though it’s hard to top them; it’s more that the movie barely uses him. Yet another wasted opportunity in a movie full of them.

It seems that writer/director Tony Gilroy made this movie by looking at the previous two and going, “Well, it worked really well there, so I’ll just put it here.” Motorcycle chase. Check. Chase across rooftops in an easter country? Check. Crazed shootouts in tight spaces? Check. Scenes of dudes shouting at office drones to put something up on screen 1? Check. Pretty much everything in this movie is a carbon copy of what came before, but soulless.

And the stuff Gilroy doesn’t put in stings all the more. For example, there’s an agent that chases Cross for the last third of the movie, but the two of them never come to blows. Part of what made the original three so awesome is that there was always a one on one fist fight between Bourne and whoever was dogging him. It was great, especially given the fact that Bourne proved to be a resourceful bastard, beating down on his aggressors with the likes of a pen, a magazine, or a book. Here, the only time Cross punches someone, it’s always a hapless security guard or police man. There’s never anyone who presents a real challenge for him, which all but drains the suspense from the picture.

That the performances are good and some of the action is decent is easily overlooked when taking in the bigger picture. The use of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” as the credits music is wholly inappropriate. The Bourne Legacy is not a Bourne film. You know all those gritty, hard hitting, shaky cam loving action movies that came out as a result of the success of Supremacy and Ultimatum? Films like Quantum of Solace, Taken, and CrankThe Bourne Legacy is one of those, and it’s not even a good one. And if that’s not a big problem, I don’t know what is.


Remembering Wishing You Could Forget

It’s been a crazy few weeks, hasn’t it? What with a certain superhero taking up everyone’s cinema going time, the Olympics, and The Great Gatsby being moved to next summer (what is that about?), time for writing has been hard to come by. Then again, I have only myself to blame. I have spent way too much time drooling over Missy Franklin the last few days.


Nothing like a hopelessly problematic film to pull me back into the limelight.

In the not so distant future, chemical warfare has left most of the planet uninhabitable, with only Britain and Australia surviving. Britain is now the United Federation of Britain, where the rich and powerful reside in relative comfort, and Australia is now The Colony, where the poor, retched factory workers of the UFB live in poverty, under the heel of the oppressive police state that employs them. A resident of The Colony, Douglas Quaid, is plagued by vivid nightmares of a violent nature and harbors a disdain for his current lifestyle, despite the fact he is sharing a bed with his absurdly hot wife, Lori. Unsatisfied with his life, Doug visits Rekall, a service that implants memories into your mind. However, doing this triggers a series of catastrophic events, as Doug is revealed to have had his memory erased, and that he is a secret agent working to gain independence for The Colony from the UFB. With no memory of who he was, and no knowledge of who he is, Doug goes on the run, pursued by the UFB’s agents, while getting closer and closer to discovering the means to bring down the oppressive regime.

There’re questions about human nature and how we are defined, ideas about identity and allegiance brought into the forefront. This setup has a lot going for it. So why does this suck? Headlined by characters we don’t give a shit about and bolstered by execution so woefully boring and predictable, Total Recall never even scratches the surface of the heady themes it purports to explore. This is a quote-on-quote remake of the 1990 thriller starring everyone’s favorite Austrian meathead, which was in turn based on a Phillip K. Dick short story. Now, I’m in a minority that didn’t think the original Total Recall was all that. It’s was fun, sure, but, like this one, it didn’t really do anything with the themes and ideas that made Dick’s story so interesting. It was just a very pretty shoot em up, and this version is, more or less, the same thing, except this one is now at a kid friendly, PG-13 level, so no ridiculous bloodshed or… well, no. You still get the three titted hooker. No one in their right mind would leave that out.

Colin Farrell, God bless him, really is the only saving grace of this movie. With this and last year’s Fright Night, he seems to be making a name for himself starring in big budget remakes of classic genre pieces. While his turn as the amnesiac Doug isn’t nearly as fun as his devilishly demonic Jerry, he still makes an effort to imbue the character with humanity. Good on him, he does the best with what he has, which isn’t much, admittedly. It’s also easier to see him in this role, if only because I’d buy Farrell as an every man who just happens to be a killing machine way sooner than I would Ahnold.

Unfortunately, the people supporting him are pretty much dead on the water. As his wife, and eventual adversary, Lori, Kate Beckinsale is alright. She’s never done a villain before, and she has potential, but her character is so unoriginal, and Beckinsale doesn’t really attempt to overcome that. Jessica Biel does her usual, female sidekick thing, and it’s just as grating as we’ve come to expect from her. Bill Nighy shows up ever so briefly in a thankless role as the leader of the resistance, and Bryan Cranston, so good in Drive and on Breaking Bad, hams it up mightily as the supreme chancellor of the UFB.

It’s clear that no one gives a shit. With the exception of Beckinsale and Biel, it’s obvious that the people here just took this as an in-between job before moving onto things of greater interest. Don’t believe me? Fine. Cranston has Breaking Bad and has a major role in the upcoming Argo. After this, Farrell re-teams with his In Bruges director, Martin McDonough, for the film Seven Psychopaths, and Nighy… well, to be honest, he probably was probably all in from the beginning on this one.

The real disappointment here is director Len Wiseman. While he still has yet to direct something legitimately good, his last couple of movies have been great fun. He helped Beckinsale rocket into stardom with the first two Underworld films, and proved the Die Hard franchise still had some legs with the fourth installment of that series. But while Underworld rode high on an infectious gothic aesthetic and Michael Sheen’s incredibly fun villain, and Live Free or Die Hard had John McClane, Total Recall has nothing to make it stand out. Wiseman is at a complete loss here. Characters change characteristics seemingly mid-scene and the action is, for the most part, ho-hum.

There’s a difference between being inspired by other films, and straight ripping them off, and unfortunately, Total Recall falls into the latter category. The Colony is a mess of tall neon lit buildings with obvious asian influences that is consistently drenched in what seems like perpetual rain, like, oh I don’t know, Blade Runner. The UFB is glitzy and polished, with cars that are carried by automated services to the roads like a certain Spielberg vehicle that also happens to be based on Phillip K. Dick story. There’s chase across some rooftops that might as well have been copied from The Bourne Ultimatum, and OH MY GOD, more lens flares than even the biggest defender of lens flares would know what to do with. JJ Abrams would be proud.

Also, Wiseman gets way too caught up in accentuating his wife’s looks. We get it man! Kate Beckinsale is absurdly hot, but all you’re doing is making us wonder how such a gorgeous creature would settle for you! Take a hint!

And all this is a real shame, because that original stuff that Wiseman and his team bring to the table is actually pretty cool, at times, ridiculously cool. Since the UFB and The Colony are separated by thousands of miles of inhospitable land, there’s this awesome, gigantic elevator that travels through the planet’s core to connect the two. The final action set piece hinges on this elevator, and it’s pretty spectacular. It’s a marvelous creation that affords some exciting moments and sets the “wow” scale to max. And then there’s an action scene set in a network of elevators (notice how the two best things in this movie have to do with elevators) that’s both thrilling and well made. Wiseman knows how to shoot an action sequence, but his talents only really come to light with these two scenes.

Everything else might as well have been left at home. Now, Wiseman is saying that his director’s cut adds in a healthy 17 minutes of footage that does a lot toward expanding the ideas of the film and adding meaning to it’s supposedly ambiguous ending. Ok, fine. I’ll get on board with that. Plenty of times the director has to make cuts for the theatrical run that hold the overall movie back from what it could have been; look at Kingdom of Heaven. But where Kingdom of Heaven was actually pretty good to begin with, Total Recall is basically stalling right out of the gate. Those extra 17 minutes might be the best 17 minutes of film ever committed to celluloid. They’d have to be if they want to save this piece of crap!




Black As Raven, Dumb As Bricks

I don’t know what the whole Snow White craze in Hollywood is all about. Between this and Mirror Mirror, we’re getting more than our fair share of the “fairest of them all”. Maybe the gods of showbiz are aware of some growing trend, but whatever. I have no stomach for speculation. All I know is that if this trend continues, we are in for some dire circumstances. Though it has good ideas, boasts spiffy visuals, and has one hell of a villain, Snow White and the Huntsman is a pretty terrible movie, with an awful screenplay, undeveloped heroes and predictable plotting. It’s all dirt and grime and loud noises, and while I think it’s a great move taking something as kiddy as Snow White and making it hyper dark, this is not the way to do it.

I’m the God of Thunder. You love vampires. This will never work!

Years ago, the incredibly vain Ravenna took control of a magical kingdom, taking the princess Snow White hostage. Snow White is said to be the most beautiful woman in all the land, and the only one who can challenge Ravenna, cuz apparently, if you’re pretty, you can overthrow a monarchy. Snow White escapes one day and retreats into the twisted dark forest. Since she can’t have her one weakness running away on her, the queen dispatches Thor a huntsman to find her. And then there’s a prince who is looking for her. And there’s a rebellion brewing. And there’s some dwarves.

This is a busy movie. There’s a lot going on, and yet, nothing really seems to be going on. Wait, that doesn’t make a lick of sense. Hold on. Let me rephrase.

Nothing interesting happens here. There we go. Everything happens exactly when you expect it to. Snow White escapes that the fifteen minute mark. Check. There’s an obligatory fight scene where a sympathetic character dies at the end of the second act. Check. The final battle proceeds and your heroes seem to be completely invulnerable. Check. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, story wise, which is a real tragedy. We haven’t seen a version of Snow White before. Usually, the ivory princess is an innocent girl who doesn’t really do much in the way of taking charge. But here, we see a Snow White that is as much warrior as she is little girl. Well, that’s what was promised. In reality, Snow White isn’t all that interesting of a character. Neither is the Huntsman. Neither are the dwarves. Really, the only character that seems to have meat behind her is the evil queen. A good villain goes a long way, but it can’t be the only thing you have working for you.

And the whole thing just meanders. It’s doesn’t really ever focus on a direction. Like, why does there have to be a prince in this thing? Oh right, cuz love triangles are such a necessary aspect to films like these now. Ok, fine, but nothing is done to resolve that. Does Snow White love the prince, or does she love the Huntsman? We never know, and the movie doesn’t care enough to tell us.

Also, the dwarves. They serve absolutely no purpose, other than some painful attempts at humor.

Fucking Hell, Kristen Stewart!!! Make up your mind! Do you want to be remembered as a talented young actress who does great work, or do you want to be remember as Bella Swan? Because that’s the road your heading down. Ok, fine! Snow White is a slightly better character. Slightly! Yes, there is some more grit than that vampire loving excuse for an independent woman, but not much! Though she does do some of the ass kicking herself, for the most part, she is just the same helpless waif, completely reliant on everyone else to rescue her. And Stewart doesn’t do anything to elevate the material. She does the same thing she does with Bella. And she’s just as infuriating.

Chris Hemsworth is Thor the Hunstman. And he is even more one note than Snow White. Yes, there’s this thing about him being a widow, but it’s handled in the most simple minded way. Of course he’s going to fall in love with Snow White, and of course it’s going to be because Snow White reminds him of his dearly dead beloved. Oh come on. That’s not a spoiler. You knew it was going to happen. Hemsworth does fine, but you can tell he’s just doing this to ride the wave of popularity that comes from being a member of The Avengers.

My name is Charlize Theron, and I’m the best thing in this movie!

And everyone else is pretty much the same. No one is really trying here. Well, except Charlize Theron, who is fantastic as the evil Ravenna. She shows no shame at all in this thing, running about her halls, screaming her head off. It’s completely over the top and ridiculous. It’s also chilling, ruthless, and compelling. You actually feel some sort of sympathy for Ravenna as she goes about wreaking havoc on civilization, because Theron is just that good. Though she is often shoehorned into roles that exemplify her stunning beauty, she excels at playing mean, sometimes evil women. So it’s great that she’s in a role where she can fulfill both parameters.

Fledgling director Rurpert Sanders knows how to stage a sequence. There is some marvelous visual trickery on display here. From the opening battle with the dark army, to the horrors unleashed by the dark forest, to the lush foliage and fairies in Sanctuary. And the action is pretty good too. Sure, the finale is all jumpy camera and a never ending cacophony of steel on steel, but the sequences before hand are pretty good.

But the thing about the visuals that is so good is how clever they are. The marketing campaign has been focusing on how the minions of the queen look like they are made of black glass, and justifiably so. Those shots of the glass flying everywhere are awesome! But it doesn’t stop there. The costumes, especially those of Ravenna, are all exquisite. The sweeping landscapes that are necessary for an epic such as this look spectacular. And the forest, well, let’s just say that the things Snow White sees there would send Hunter S. Thompson into fits of existential mayhem.

But Sanders is lost in everything else. The movie only has a pulse when Theron is on screen, and when she’s not, the thing is barely worth watching. Sanders does nothing to imbue the film with any sort of humanity. When a a character dies, it’s meant to be heartbreaking. It wasn’t. It was actually pretty funny.

You know, that’s how it was with all the heavy hitting “dramatic” moments in this thing. They are meant to be moving and touching, but I was just laughing my ass off! Now, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think that was the desired effect.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a squandered opportunity. I highly doubt it is the worst interpretation of this tale to come out this year. There’s no way it could be worse than the god-awful looking Mirror Mirror, but as it stands, there are good things in Snow White and the Huntsman, but not enough is done to capitalize or take advantage of those good things. Instead the film gets trapped in the same pit that all others of its ilk do. It’s a wasted opportunity, and one that will soon be forgotten. And believe me, you’ll be thankful when it is.