#REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

You could be forgiven– I would forgive you, at least— if you dismissed the idea of watching Hulu’s The Princess almost immediately upon hearing about it. You have literally heard the plot a thousand times; the titular Princess, who is never named in the movie, is expected to marry a Bad Guy to ensure the also-unnamed Kingdom has an heir, refuses to do so on account of he’s an obvious sociopath, blah blah blah everyone’s captured and she’s chained up in the top of a tower awaiting her forced marriage because apparently the Bad Guy’s only rule is that he can’t just usurp the kingdom by killing the king; he has to do it “legitimately,” even though the wedding is a farce.

The movie has the distinct feel about it, especially in any scene not starring Executive Producer and star Joey King, of something that Disney would make with 7-10 year old girls as the expected demographic. There’s a lot of broad humor. At one point there’s a trap pulled directly from Home Alone. There’s a guy whose only role in the film is to be fat. The first forty minutes or so are structured in a way that feels very video-gamey. It’s all very, very Disney, and while there’s nothing wrong with making movies for 7-10 year old girls, it is also fine (especially if you aren’t a 7-10 year old girl) if you are someone who does not enjoy said movies.

And then, maybe five minutes into the start of the movie, the Princess dislocates her own thumb on camera so that she can slip out of her chains and then messily kills the two men who are there to keep her quiet and under guard. And, uh, we’re off to the races after that.

So take that Disney movie you had in mind, and then cross it with a really hard-R Charlize Theron action film, only with better fight choreography and a petite redhead who doesn’t immediately scan as a monstrous badass, and understand that there is DNA of both of those things in this movie (which is, for the record, rated R), and that this film, which starts out with the Disneyest of imaginable plots, ends with a beheading.

It’s … really something.

I only found out about this movie from TikTok, which advertised it to me relentlessly for weeks until I caved. I haven’t seen any promo for it anywhere other than TikTok and Hulu.

You want to see this movie for a couple of reasons: 1) the fight choreography really is fucking amazing. It’s well-shot, which is getting rarer and rarer in action films, and the choreographer never (well, really rarely) forgets that his heroine is a 120-pound girl, and despite fighting lots of grown men who are much bigger than she is, she manages to come off … realistic? She uses her agility and size to her advantage throughout the movie, fighting with accuracy rather than strength– there’s a bit where she’s fighting a knight in full armor that is just remarkably well-done, as she focuses on dodging big, heavy swings and counter-attacking at the gaps in his armor, and the movie never lets you forget that swinging a sword around is exhausting, as King spends roughly half her time on-screen gasping for breath.

Oh, and she has virtually no dialogue at all for about the first 45 minutes of the film. There’s only escaping, hiding, and kicking ass. The film’s even really light on badass quippery, which wouldn’t feel appropriate with this character. She does get a great “to the pain” monologue late in the movie, but there’s surprisingly little badassery for the sake of badassery in this movie.

The second reason is closely related to the first: Joey King is awesome, and I want to see her in many many more movies, only movies that know from the start that they’re geared for adults. I don’t know how well this has done for Hulu (it’s possible it’s been a runaway success; I genuinely don’t know) but it straddles two genres that really don’t generally … uh … straddle together, and I fear that that might have cost it some well-deserved viewership. This kid’s the real deal, and the fact that she somehow snagged an executive producer role for this and a couple of other Hulu projects makes me think that she’ll be around a while. The movie itself? Harder to say, but the bad parts are wrapped around some seriously cool shit, and I think it’s probably worth your time.

#REVIEW: The Batman

The short version of this review is this: That they have finally made a Batman movie that I approve of, something I had formerly thought was impossible.

Slightly longer version: I am hard on Batman movies, y’all. I liked Tim Burton’s first Batman movie way back in 1989 and that has been it. I hated the second one so much that my neighbor came over when I got home to ask me to rant about it to my parents less quietly, and when I say neighbor, I would like to remind you that we lived in a house. I don’t even recognize the Nolan movies as having Batman in them. That’s a murder-happy bat-ninja. That’s not Batman. And the less said about Batfleck the better.

This movie is not perfect, but it is closer to being about Batman than any other live-action Batman thing I have ever seen. I am sorely tempted to dive into gripes; the Batsuit is ridiculously tough, rendering Batman virtually immune to gunfire and at one point a C4 explosion that goes basically directly into his torso and doesn’t even scratch him; the chief of police is completely forgotten about as a character after Batman beats up Jim Gordon and flees police custody, and a few other things. There are bits where it is goofy and I suspect that the goofiness is not intentional. Also it is three fucking hours long and yet somehow lacks a few pieces of critical exposition that should probably have been in there somewhere. We watched it over two nights; I highly recommend this approach.

This is also a very different Bruce Wayne than we have seen before, either in the movies or the comics. Bruce Wayne has always been portrayed as a charming playboy; I’m pretty sure this one is a virgin, and he’s a shut-in to a degree that it constitutes clear evidence of a mental health problem. My wife referred to Bruce as a “weird little goblin” at one point during the film and a “drama queen” during another and frankly those are both pretty damn accurate assessments. There is some romantic stuff going on with Catwoman (who hasn’t really adopted that role with a capital-C yet, but whatever) but it’s all at her initiative and they both play it like she’s toying with him because it amuses her.

So it’s not perfect. That doesn’t stop it from being real real good, though, mostly because of the things it gets right: first and foremost, unlike every other Batman movie ever, Batman is a fucking detective in this movie. He is a detective and he is working directly with the GCPD for large chunks of the movie despite many of them not being especially happy with it. And while they do veer into what I think is unintentional camp a couple of times, the movie never forgets how weird it is that this dude is literally running around in a cape trying to beat up criminals. He’s new enough that people are scared of him, but he’s also new enough that some clearly don’t take him seriously, and watching the reactions during the scenes where he strides into a packed nightclub in full gear is really something. This doesn’t appear to be a world with superheroes; there’s a mention of Bludhaven at the very end of the film but no, like, coy references to blue Boy Scouts or anything like that. This is, essentially, entirely separate from any of the rest of the DCU, and frankly, I don’t see this guy being buddies with Superman.

But you know what else he does? He saves people. Which is something you see sadly little of even in superhero movies I like. You know what he doesnt do? Kill people. Or use guns. Which is a huge deal, and they make it very clear at multiple points in the movie that Batman doesn’t like guns, and especially in the big fight at the end the film is at pains to make sure you realize that the criminals he’s fighting are being incapacitated, or taken out of the fight one way or another, and not killed. This is, to me, a big deal; not killing and not using guns are the two most critical aspects of Batman’s character and the one thing the movies have consistently gotten wrong.

Now, beyond the Batman-centric issues: the cast is phenomenal. Colin Ferrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin (and now I want him to replace Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin) and provides one of the movie’s most unexpectedly hilarious moments when he reacts with absolute disgust to the idea that Batman has gotten, no shit, a detail of Spanish grammar wrong. The Riddler is creepy as all hell, which is not a sentence that anyone had ever even thought prior to this movie being filmed. Zoey Kravitz and John Turturro as Catwoman and Carmine Falcone are great. I also really liked Robert Pattinson. His Bruce Wayne, as I’ve said, is certainly a different take on the character than what we’ve seen before, but his Batman is spot-on. There has been a lot of talk about the raspy, growly voice that other actors tend to adopt as Batman, and I think one of my favorite things about how he plays the character is that his “Batman voice” just projects calm. That’s it. There are definitely some moments where he lets the rage through (there’s a great bit with Riddler toward the end of the film, and another where he thinks someone is in danger and is freaking out) but in general he just sort of radiates this preternatural calm for 90% of his screen time, and it’s a really interesting take. Also appreciated are a couple of moments where his inexperience shows; there’s a great moment where he tries out a gadget for what sure looks like the first time and he has a moment of absolute undeniable terror on his face as he activates the thing. And while I complained about the Batsuit being bulletproof, there are a couple of places where he does take some seriously brutal hits (one right after activating the device I just mentioned) and he might actually inject himself with Venom at one point in the film.

The movie looks great, and the action scenes are phenomenal; you always know what’s going on and where everybody is, which is something that a lot of directors simply haven’t mastered. The score is great, and I feel like I’ve said that already but it’s worth saying twice. Gotham itself is a grotesque, broken mess; this is the ugliest Gotham we’ve seen on screen, I think, and it fits the aesthetic of the film, which owes a lot to Se7en in a lot of places.

So, yeah. It’s streaming. Go watch it, now that you can do it without spending three hours sitting in a pool of aspirated Covid. You’ll like it.

This might actually be real

My wife mentioned to me earlier today that Spider Man: No Way Home, or whatever it’s called, because I’m not sure that’s it, is fully available for streaming now … and I shrugged. And then I thought about the fact that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is out next week and I have no desire to go see it, and that Thor: Love and Thunder comes out in June or July and the trailer for that didn’t do a damn thing for me either.

I know I’ve mentioned this multiple times, but it’s amazing that it seems to be actually true: I really don’t seem to care if I ever see another Marvel movie or not. Like, she could download the Spider-Man movie on her own and watch it (and she might) and I really don’t think I’d care at all.

Amazing.

A random note on adaptations

I’m rereading The Return of the King right now, for the who-the-hell-knowsth time, probably somewhere between thirty and fifty. My current “reading copies” (I have a lot of different editions of this series) are the ones that came out along with the movies, and all three feature scenes from the films on the covers.

(I never really loved Viggo Mortensen’s casting as Aragorn, but in general I have very few complaints about the films, and I very well might end up taking a weekend to watch through the extended editions if I ever finish playing Elden Ring.)

Anyway, it just hit me tonight, as I moved into Book Six, the halfway point of ROTK, where Sam and Frodo finally reach Mount Doom: I have completely lost the versions of these books that existed in my head before the movies came out. And these are books that I read for the first time in second grade, and– again– reread repeatedly and religiously over my life between then and Fellowship hitting movie screens in a year long enough ago that I don’t want to look it up.

I had mental pictures of these characters once. All of them. Probably pretty detailed ones, too. Now, granted, they were probably at least a little influenced by Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Fellowship of the Ring, particularly Boromir, who will forever be a thickly-bearded Viking in my head. But they were there, and they didn’t particularly look like Elijah Wood or Sean Bean, and now they’re gone. Similarly to every other filmed adaptation I’ve ever seen of a book I read first– it’s fascinating and more than a little sad how completely and utterly watching a movie, even a movie you didn’t particularly enjoy, will just erase the ideas you had in your head of what everything looked like when everything was created in your head.

(Okay, probably not Dune. Nothing from Dune is rewriting anything. But still.)

I don’t have any larger point to make about all of this, but it was kind of a striking realization so I wanted to get it written down before I lost it.

#REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m going to try to write this review without whining about Avengers: Endgame, which … nope, finishing that sentence would be whining about Endgame. And I’m not doing that. This is an interesting movie; it simultaneously feels more stand-alone than a lot of the MCU’s recent product and is pretty thoroughly tied into the universe, to the point where I keep rewriting this sentence because I can’t come up with a version of it that I feel makes sense. There are a lot of characters in this movie from other MCU films, several of whom we haven’t seen in a long time, and the movie actually reaches back to the MCU’s earliest films in some ways, but the bulk of the film explores a distant enough corner of the MCU that it feels like its own thing.

We finally got around to streaming it last night; we still aren’t doing movie theaters, and it just became available to stream last Friday, when we were out of town.

(stares for ten minutes)

… holy shit, I don’t want to write this.

OK, super short version: this is a good movie. Its ties to the wider MCU only annoyed me twice, both with mentions of that other movie that seems to have completely killed my desire to invest any further emotional energy into this franchise that I used to love. Simu Liu and Awkwafina (who I think I’m not supposed to approve of, but I don’t remember why?) are both delightful, and Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh are awesome. It takes a good twenty minutes before a white person gets a line, and it’s like four words long, and I think the guy who has the line is the only white person in the entire movie who ever speaks, which is super cool.

(If you’ve seen the movie, you might be thinking “what about that guy,” who I’m not naming because spoilers, and he’s not white. Look him up if you need to.)

(Okay, there are two cameos at the very end of the movie of other MCU people in the stingers. They count, I suppose.)

This movie does a lot of cool things, and moves in a lot of unexpected ways, to the point where my wife paused it at the halfway point and said, with more than a trace of awe in her voice, that she had not been able to predict even a single thing that had happened in the movie to that point, and that she had no idea where the hell it was going, which was a hell of a thing, especially for a superhero movie. It manages to be a very small, personal movie and have the main character save the world at the end, which doesn’t happen all that often.

And, like, okay, I just said I didn’t want to write the review and then wrote four paragraphs after the words “super short version,” but I can’t escape the feeling that no one really needs anyone else’s opinions on Marvel films anymore. Like, are there people out there who only watch some of these? People who saw, like, Iron Man 2 and Doctor Strange and Black Widow and that was it? Maybe watched the middle two episodes of Loki but otherwise haven’t dipped into the TV shows? You already know you’re going to see Shang-Chi, or you know you’re not going to; there’s no one out there who is going to be, like, “Oh, Luther liked the 30th Marvel movie, so I guess I’ll check it out too.”

I mean, I guess if you aren’t into superheroes but you like martial arts movies, this is worth a look? I don’t think I’d actually call it a martial arts movie despite the main character, but I thought the action was pretty damn well shot– the director has a good sense of space and you can always tell what’s going on and where everyone is relative to everyone else, and there aren’t any scenes where the action is dark and muddled so that it looks Cinematic, which is an absolute plague on moviedom. The movie looks really good, and everyone is very pretty, and ok maybe some of the CG is a little dodgy here and there– there are some lion-things that, frankly, look stuffed– but whatever. And I spent the entire movie wondering if I should have some idea who the character on the far right of that image up there was and never figured it out. But that’s the best I can do in terms of criticisms. The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and the best thing about this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and yes those are both true at once, and I’m heading back into being tired again so I’m going to bring this to a close.

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, and in observance of our ancient traditions, I close by presenting you with this: