We have a theory that maybe, sometimes, a film gets such a bad rap early on that its reputation is unfairly spoiled for the rest of that movie’s history. This is Second Chance Cinema. We re-examine the most infamous films to determine whether its reputation is earned or not.
I know a lot of people who love comic book movies. Curiously, of those people I know, very few actually read comics. This may or may not lead to some comic book movies being unfortunately passed by or panned.
I’m not here to make any claims as to why or why not a person doesn’t read comics. What I will say is that Hulk (2003) is a super hero movie that emulates a comic book very well.
Part of Hulk’s legacy is that the movie holds the record for second biggest box office drop for a movie that premiered at number one. This is not a movie that the critics or audiences were fond of.
Since its release, Hulk has limped along as a footnote in Marvel’s cinema library. It was the first Marvel franchise to be rebooted. (Yes, there was a Punisher movie made in 1989 and then one made in 2004. The Incredible Hulk was the first Marvel movie referenced as a reboot.) Not to mention the above “record.”
So what makes Hulk worth of a second chance?
The visual palette and aesthetics are astonishingly good. This is especially true for the editing. In Hulk, every scene, every moment, every sequence looks as if it were lifted directly off a comic book page. Some sequences even feature an editing style that uses “panels.”
It seems to me that audiences in 2003 weren’t ready for such an extreme visual style. But as movies like Sin City and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World show, borrowing comics’ visual vocabulary can be immensely beneficial to a comic book movie’s success. Hulk was one of the first movies to bridge the gap between printed comic and film.
The most prevalent complaint about Hulk is that the movie is too slow. What most call slowness, I call emotional depth. Yes, the Hulk is a giant green monster who smashes things. That should be part of a Hulk movie. And it was apart of this Hulk movie. On the other hand, Dr. Bruce Banner is a character so afraid of his emotions that he is in a constant state of internal turmoil. That is what Hulk as a movie is about. Even the two most important side characters in the movie — Betty Ross and General Ross — reflect the two sides of Banner: emotional openness and repression.
Again, it was a timing issue that worked against Hulk. From movies like The Dark Knight to A History of Violence, we’ve seen that it is possible to have an emotionally complex comic book movie.
I often wonder if Hulk would have been better received if the filmmakers had known that Marvel was going to have a grand unification movie universe. Perhaps the film could have had a different plot that worked in concert with the other Marvel movies but still be a movie with a strong emotional core.
Hulk is not the best superhero movie. Not by a long shot. The film tends to rush past important plot points. The acting is a little wooden too. However, Hulk is a movie that got an unfair shake the first time around and deserves a second chance.
We’re not Luddites here at Movie Debaters and know that the cinema (however the optimal) isn’t the only way people watch movies today. Both Harrison and myself are both internet and Netflix users and wanted to introduce a new piece on the site called “Quick! Before it Expires.” Every so often Harrison and I will scour our Instant Queues for a soon to expire movie and offer it up as a recommendation. Maybe we can influence your instant queue(s?) and then you will become a MD minion…
The first film I recommend you watch “Quick! Before it Expires” is 1969. It is the directorial debut of Ernest Thompson, who wrote the play and the Academy Award winning adaptation of On Golden Pond. And while 1969 lacks the critical success of On Golden Pond, it still an interesting film that is written by a talented author and contains some good performances by a talented cast, including Kiefer Sutherland, Bruce Dern, Robert Downey Jr., and Winona Ryder.
1969 revolves around two young “hippies” (Sutherland and Downey Jr.) who are living their Beatnik dream: traveling around the United States in the summer while attending college to prevent their draft during the rest of the year. The plan backfires when Ralph (Downey Jr.) flunks out.
The movie has really good moments including the scene where Ralph overdoses on LCD and announces that he’s flunked out of college at Beth’s high school graduation. The film has some faults such as a cheesy ending, an underdeveloped romance between Downey Jr’s Ralph and Winona Ryder’s Beth, and it’s a bit frantic and whimsical, much like the year it is set in. However the bad is greatly overshadowed by a sense of nostalgia that comes close to never reaches sentimentality. Many who remember the year 1969 will enjoy the flashback, while those too young or too stoned will enjoy the early performances of some great young actors.
You have 9 days from now (8/19/11) before it leaves the Instant Queue
Pixar’s near flawless run of movies indicates that a successful kids movie can’t pander to children. A kids movie should contain mature themes and ideas. Not rape and murder mind you. But themes like the ones in Up. A kids movie should not stoop down and assume its audience is comprised of idiots or people who cannot comprehend a “real” movie. Pixar does not pander to its audience. Pixar does not compromise the foundation of a good story to make sure kids “understand” the film.
This isn’t just for the benefit of adults watching a kids movie. A kids movie that has nothing to offer an adult (no inside jokes, no believable characters, no relatable themes) can lead to an I-wanna-blow-my-brains-out reaction. Mature themes in kids movies serves two functions: one, it challenges the child viewer; two, it subtly expose kids to more complex emotions and ideas about the world around them.
Point one: The best art challenges the viewer. I don’t really believe in revenge, but after seeing something like Oldboy, (in which the main character is imprisoned for 15 years for seemingly no reason), you might have to re-evaluate your opinions on revenge.
Point two: “Subtly expos[ing] kids to more complex emotions and ideas…” might sound like when Fox News complains about the Hollywood Liberal Agenda indoctrinating kids. But for the record, if a kid sees Wall E and decides it’s probably not a good idea to pollute the Earth, I’d chalk that up in the win category.
So far what I’ve written might seem like I want movies to be a catalyst for social change. Not true. The idea behind making kids movies that aren’t pandering is to make kids into better movie goers. It’s to make sure they grow up to have good taste. If kids are challenged by art at a young age, they’ll have a desire to challenge themselves with art later on in life. Starting kids early on good movies is the arguably the best prevention for this:
Based on the above, it might seems surprising that I picked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the best family friendly martial arts movie from the 90s.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a movie that does not suffer from the nastiness of nostalgia. I envy kids today for the quality of movies made for them. Nine times out of ten when I revisit a movie from my childhood, I think, “What the hell was wrong with me?” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, however, is a movie that holds up in every conceivable aspect: plot, characters, acting, action, humor, and special effects.
Not only does the movie hold up, but it is rife with mature themes and actions. A quick rundown:
Two characters have a conversation about vigilantism. Not a conversation about whether it’s good or bad, but a conversation about the best weapons to use.
One character is tortured.
One character almost dies and we see an extended sequence of the attack on him.
A woman gets the shit slapped out of her.
One supporting character robs a main character’s wallet.
Donatello: Ha. You’re claustrophobic.
Casey Jones: What? I’ve never even looked at another guy.
Sam Rockwell is in it.
The villain is crushed by a garbage truck.
One character comes dangerously close to sexually assaulting another.
While the above descriptions may seems really out of place in a kids movie, the genius of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that none of it is so explicit that the movie ventures into PG-13 or R rated territory.
The filmmakers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only managed to take the most insanely popular intellectual property of its time and turn it into a great movie, but they also managed a movie that would help viewers investigate, explore, and appreciate movies to the fullest extend later in their lives.
If all the above didn’t convince you, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has amazingly good fight choreography. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite fights in a movie ever.
The Last Dragon
The martial arts film has been a theater presence since the early 1970s when action films from Hong Kong began kicking their way into American cinemas on the shoulders of Bruce Lee. For most of us born from 1975 onward the martial arts film have been a mainstay due to the 1990s subgenre of the Family-friendly martial arts film. While our debate is about the best Family-friendly martial arts film of the 1990s and I too have fond 1990s memories: seeing 3 Ninjas with my uncle (who is only 8 years my senior) and bringing home the newest karate-filled feature from my local video store. But, this subgenre truly began June 22, 1984, when Columbia Pictures released a PG rated martial arts film called The Karate Kid.
What happened wasn’t earth shattering, the film only pulled in $5 million it’s opening weekend, but it continued to make around $5 million for the next eight weeks. The Karate Kid remained in or around the top 5 from June 22 to September 21st. It proved to be a reliable money maker, the fifth highest grossing films of 1984, behind only Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Gremlins, and earning more than $90 million dollars. Pretty good company, eh?
The other studios scrambled, green-lighting similar family friendly martial arts films to some success. Columbia immediately produced a sequel that the fourth highest grossing film of 1986 raking in $115 million dollars. Thus the genre was born and we were given such “hits” as Three Ninjas, Surf Ninjas, Street Fighter, and the ultimate in 1990s family friendly entertainment the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
Don’t get me wrong Teenage Mutant Turtles is a solid choice, but I can’t ignore a disturbing trend in this subgenre; the weird trend of white people surpassing minorities, especially asian minorities, in martial arts matches and fights. This is a trend in Hollywood: Kevin Costner out Indian’s the Indians in Dances with Wolves, Tom Cruise out samurai’s the samurais in The Last Samurai. What is particularly nefarious is when white people are the good guys and minorities are the bad guys. 3 Ninjas is notoriously bad for both of these; watch three preteens beat up a bunch of Asian henchmen:
Even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is guilty here. Granted it’s turtles, but there is a capable white “martial artist” in Casey Jones and two Asian baddies: the Shredder and Tatsu who are not the best role model for young Asian children watching these films.
Enter my choice for best Family friendly Martial arts film, the Last Dragon (1985). Am I bending the rules? Yes. But this film offers not only a less racially insensitive alternative to most other family friendly martial arts films, but it offers several positive role models. Leroy, is a young African American martial arts student (played by actual martial artist Taimak) whose role model is Bruce Lee. He is often called Bruce Leroy throughout the film. His enemies in the film are the evil Sho’nuff a martial artist and gang leader, and a gangster and rescue the girl, Laura Charles, played by Vanity. Simple enough plot, right?
Does the Last Dragon have training scene montages? Yes. It contains most of the same features of the early nineties and late eighties martial arts films. It also contains some good performances from Taimak and Vanity and some interesting visuals. What separates it apart from the rest of them is it’s incredible heart. The Last Dragon isn’t the most successful on a filmic level, but everything is done with a quirky admiration and an immense respect for Asian culture and Martial Arts cinema. If you’re going to watch a subgenre of film that owes itself to the larger genre of Martial Arts film why not watch a film that admires and respects its forefathers instead of just cashing in on them. Unlike Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles it’s more than simple parody it’s homage.
And the best part: its planned remake is set to star Samuel L. Jackson.
Hey Millenials, you’ll remember these classics from movie theaters or your local video store. That’s right the Martial Arts craze of the early 90s is back in our next post. We decide what is the Best 90s Family Friendly Martial Arts Movie of all time. Our contenders are:
Are we wrong, let us know? Make your case for your best 90s Family Friendly Martial Arts movie.