Let it never be said that I don't have my finger on the pulse, because I just watched that hot new movie that everyone's talking about and definitely hasn't forgotten even came out: Ready Player One. And I kind of hated it, but not really as much as I expected to. I don't know, it was fine.
Much has been made of the basic premise, i.e. "What if you, a useless white guy who has nothing to offer the world except a tiresome, pedantic knowledge of pop culture touchstones, were actually the coolest guy around and will save the world through a series of plot-convenient epiphanies helping you solve puzzles at just the right moment?" and, yeah, that's exactly what this movie is. I feel like this movie is the spearhead of the nerd glorification trend we've been seeing as movie studios realise that comicbook movies are where all the money is, so they're just starting to make movies about dorky losers so audiences can self-insert and pat themselves on the back. And, worse, I feel I am probably this movie's target audience, because I have wasted my life consuming all this stuff and I do get all the references. Ready Player One wants me to sit up and clap by showing me a lousy, worthless internet person (just like meeee) saving the world. Take that, everyone who bullied me in high school!
But joke's on them, baby, because they're about fifteen years too late to catch me in my "Yeah, I am pretty great" phase. These days it's all about self hatred and regret over having wasted so much of my finite time on memorising the names of fictional spaceships instead of talking to people, and the idea of seeing someone like me in a movie makes me want to run. At least someone like me as the hero. Casting a socially-awkward doofus as someone who isn't glorified in any way? As, say, the bad guy? As, say, perhaps, just for example, hypothetically, the main villain of a new series of followups to a beloved trilogy of the very same movies that Ready Player One encourages idolizing? Now we're getting somewhere...
Anyway, Ready Player One is a movie about overly-busy CGI setpieces so stuffed with recognisable characters that you'll miss seven of them in the time it takes you to say "Oh that's Robocop". There's a laughably self-congratulatory bit where our hero meets his cyber-crush in real life and finds that, HORROR OF HORRORS, she's a perfectly made-up, traditionally beautiful young woman with red hair... with a cool-looking facial birthmark, and he assures her that he is open-minded and magnanimous enough to accept her as she is. What a guy. But, whatever, it's OK. Spielberg knows how to put a movie together, so even if it is too long and a bit boring it's still totally watchable.
I watched The Incredibles 2 and Venom, and I found them both surprisingly enjoyable!
I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised about liking The Incredibles 2, since I did like the first one and, y'know, Pixar doesn't really make bad movies. But I haven't actually watched any of them since Inside Out, and I haven't really liked one since Toy Story 3, so I guess I just fell off the Pixar bandwagon. I don't want to say that I've grown out of this kind of movie, because I still love them when they're good, but at this point I can't really sit through a mediocre one. I need a bit of groundswell to get me interested, I suppose. Or maybe I just need a recognisable brand, and I only watched this because it had the word "Incredibles" in the title and I'm a helpless slave to the marketing machine like everyone else is.
It was good. It was fine. I don't know, it was a little bit on the boring side but it had some fabulous action scenes carried the rest of the movie. Boy oh boy, kinetic thrills and inventive superpower usage and all that good stuff. If there's one thing I can't fault Pixar on, they know how to make stuff look real good when it moves. Elastigirl is the main focus here, and they have such great ideas about what she can do with her powers. She's half Spider-Man, half Mr Fantastic, and she has this amazing way of doing basically everything. They convey her elasticity so well through her animation, and she's just a joy to watch. There's a new character named Voyd who can make Portal-style portals appear whenever she likes, who's another highlight of the show, and then the rest... don't really make an impression. I was a little disappointed they didn't do anything with Dash, whose running-on-water scene in the first movie is still one of my favourite moments in cinema, but you can't win them all.
I'll be good and gosh darned if I can tell you what the moral of this story is, though, or if it has any kind of deeper message beyond "superheroes are good, though". It's a premise vague enough that you can project your choice of uplifting triumph-over-adversity story onto it, like "be proud of the things that make you different" or whatevs, but the movie itself doesn't really say anything specific. They didn't really do any character development or arcs or anything, either. I thought they were going to have Bob learn a lesson about stepping back and letting someone else do the hero-ing, but they don't. I thought they might address the whole catastrophic collateral damage thing that got superheroes outlawed in this universe in the first place, but they don't. It's this weird water-treading thing where all the characters more or less end up exactly where they were at the end of the first movie, only now superhero-ing is legal again. Violet even finishes the movie asking the same boy out on a date due to some memory wiping shenanigans. Dash doesn't really do anything. They didn't even catch The Underminer. It's an odd direction to go with a sequel fourteen years in the making.
I don't know where to begin with Venom. What a weird movie. It's this totally boilerplate superhero-origin-by-numbers movie, where the only thing they really did to disguise the off-the-rack story structure is replace the customary beam of light shooting up into the sky in the third act with... a space rocket shooting up into the sky. The trailers all looked terrible, and by all accounts this Venom movie without Spider-Man, made by Sony without Marvel's input was bound to fail. But then you actually watch it, and it's honestly a lot of fun. Tom Hardy puts in such a bizarre performance that you can't take your eyes off him, and every now and then it'll zig when you think it's going to zag in some really silly ways, and I had a good time with it.
Tom Hardy makes all the acting choices in this movie. He shouts, he whispers, he sweats bullets the entire time and drenches not only his shirt but the hoodie above it. He talks like he fell from the top of the accent tree and got hit by every branch on the way down. He sounds like a completely different person from scene to scene, sometimes shot to shot. Sometimes it even looks like he's lost a significant amount of weight between two scenes. He's one of those actors who's bounced between being normal-sized and juiced up on steroids so many times that his body is all screwed up and he's kind of skinny, kind of buff and kind of fat all at the same time, and all these things I'm mentioning take place BEFORE he gets infected with Venom and really starts getting weird. Tom Hardy is unintelligible at the best of times, but Tom Hardy playing a guy with alien goop inside him is a spectacle worth seeing.
The villain this time is a California tech billionaire who brought a bunch of Symbiotes down to Earth for some reason I didn't catch, and wants to goop people up with them, and generally does a bunch of stuff you've seen movie villains do a dozen times before. The most interesting thing about him is that his assistant is named Dora Skirth, which is just so bizarre a name that I can't imagine how anyone thought it up. The first time she introduced herself I heard it as "Doris Girth", and then when they showed a close-up of the spelling on her business card I wasn't sure which name I liked better. Dora Skirth. Amazing.
So it pretty much goes the way you'd expect, but Venom living inside Tom Hardy's head makes for some nice scenes along the way. Michelle Williams is there in a pretty thankless role, and her boyfriend is Dan from Veep. The action ranges from reasonably OK to laughably bad, with these teeeerrible reaction shots from Tom Hardy during an awful motorbike chase. The idea of an action scene where the main guy's body is being controlled by another entity was done much better in Upgrade, which just so happens to star that guy who looks exactly like Tom Hardy: