When it comes to movies, the third time is rarely a charm. For whatever reasons — chalk it up to audience expectations, weary and bored filmmakers, or corporate greed — “triquels” rarely seem to outshine their predecessors. But that doesn’t mean triquels don’t put up a hearty fight to not only beat their predecessors, but also the trilogy curse. So what happens when a swashbuckling, smarmy pirate takes a stab at a band of genetic outcasts with extraordinary powers? Do either stand a chance against a god-like martial artist with the power to bend reality? And what happens when a friendly neighborhood wall-crawling, spider-sense-tingling superhero swings in and throws his webs into the ring? Only one can remain standing, if at all, at the end of this brawl between triquels.
In This Corner
Disney found a golden booty all their own with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the movies grossing a bi-gillion dollars over the past years. With a charismatic and amoral Jack Sparrow bringing something interesting to the somewhat flat symphony of characters around him, these movies have offered awesome action, good humor, and pure escapism for any age group. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” picks up where “Dead Man’s Chest” left off, with Elizabeth Swan, Will Turner, and Capitan Barbossa taking to the seas to release the late Jack Sparrow from the tentacled Davey Jone’s locker just in time to stop the British East India Company’s genocidal campaign against the world’s buccaneers. As hard to follow as it is to write a sentence summarizing it, this fast-paced, yet unnecessarily long, adventure climaxes on the open seas, where a frantic whirlpool naval battle aptly describes this franchise’s dizzying out-of-control evolution.
In The Next Corner
“Spider-Man 3” swung onto screens with much publicity and fanfare, properly propelled by its predecessors reputation. “Spider-Man 2” had not only elevated Sony’s multi-billion dollar franchise, but also the entire comic book genre. Enter “Spider-Man 3,” where Peter Parker squares off against a bitter best friend, a rival photographer, a sandy murderer, and…his emo, black-suited dark side. As all Peter cares for crumbles under his overgrown and uncontrollable ego, Spider-Man must learn to forgive himself and others before facing the angst-ridden Sandman and CGI-ed Venom in an overwrought battle royale.
In The Other Corner
The X-Men franchise is arguably the beginning of the modern comic book movement. The 1999 film featured a band of outcasts with amazing powers fighting for equality among the very people they protected. Facing the morally-ambiguous and bigoted Magneto, Charles Xavier’s band of mutants eventually lost one of their own while stopping the genocidal William Stryker from psycho-bombing all of mutant-kind, leading to the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Directed by Brett Ratner, the films finds all mutants thrown into an anti-climatic war as a Magneto-phobic White House attempts to cure mutants of their God-given abilities. Add to this the resurrection of the X-Men’s former ally, Phoenix, who’s taken a liking to mercilessly killing the people she loves so as to elevate an otherwise inconsequential plot, and you have a finale which rushes through performances and token discrimination to embrace the filmmaking talent and ambition of Ratner’s Rush Hour films.
In The Last Corner
When the “The Matrix” first hit screens, it blew everyone away with its adept mix of philosophy, spirituality, science-fiction, and slow-mo action. Mankind is enslaved in a virtual prison by evolved machines and awaits the arrival of “The One” to free them. Much like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this movie trilogy decided to film its sequels back to back with a cliffhanger bridging the two. After discovering that he is just a pawn to restart the Matrix and re-enslave humanity, the messianic Neo travels to the Machine City with his love, Trinity, in an attempt to halt the complete annihilation of humanity by an armada of squid-like machines. Neo strikes a deal of peace with the machine’s leader and faces off against the replicating, all-powerful Mr. Smith in an aerial action sequence that is as ambitious and thrilling as any fight put to screen today.
I should start out by saying that by virtue of these all being triquels, they are all fundamentally flawed — which makes this a sort of bush league cat fight to see who gets to be a cyclops among the blind.
Most fail to live up to their predecessors, or even compete with most films in their genres. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is certainly the most popular of our combatants, mainly due to its target age groups and star power. Jack Sparrow is easily one of the most memorable characters in recent cinema. Yet, in the latest film, Sparrow’s flamboyance and quick wit falls to parody under a tired Depp and the character is lost in the overly-complicated narrative, where multiple captains go fetching multiple mythic objects at many mythic places to unlock various mythic beings and ward other mystical curses.
Among this unexplained and contrived mysticism, the audience is suppose to care about the stalling romance of Swan and Turner, an apathetic couple whose shining moment arrives when the lovers shout their wedding vows while swashing and buckling the barnacled, mutated sea army of Davey Jones during the film’s chaotic climax — it’s touching (not really). The film’s action sequences — notably Calypso’s whirlpool — are quite stunning, if closely cropped and shot. There is at least thirty minutes worth of footage consisting of only sparks, smoke, cannonball booms, and shattered woodchips. After all is said and done, the film tries to leave Jack Sparrow where the trilogy began, on a dock swooning women. However, Sparrow, like the franchise, is exposed for what he is — a self-absorbed braggart who’s lost all his charm.
“Spider-Man 3” shares the overcrowded feeling of “At World’s End,” using multiple villains to explore a single theme of forgiveness and vengeance. This is odd since a single theme should only need a single villain to play against Peter Parker’s tear-riddled journey, which was to learn the humility that comes with being Spider-Man. Lost in the myriad of underdeveloped and hastily introduced villains, Peter Parker’s character — a linchpin to the emotionality of these films — is portrayed as a egotistical brat who cheats on his girlfriend and basks in the public’s love. When the black symbiote conveniently arrives, Peter has already become a different creature altogether and his pre-suit jerkiness totally smites out his post-suit jerkiness (which consists of pelvic thrusts, praying mantis-like dance poses, and a whole lot of mascara).
Sandman, however, is one of the film’s shining moments, as the torture robber crumbles to sand while trying to fetch his dying daughter’s locket. The introduction of Venom, shoved into the final moments, reeks of fan petitions despite being a visually-stimulating character. All in all, like “At World’s End,” “Spider-man 3” has its audience not asking how it will end, but simply when.
There was a lot of controversy when Brett Ratner came aboard the X-Men franchise after Bryan Singer’s abrupt departure to helm “Superman Returns.” Sadly, the film represents the multiple creative conflicts between studio, writers, director, and actors — and of simply losing the director who hatched two very successful and sharp X-Men films. “X-Men: The Last Stand” attempts to push the X-Men franchise into Lord of the Rings territory, placing the mutants on the eve of a massive war between Magneto and humanity, the later of which wants to cure all mutants in a way oddly similar — in concept but not execution — to the Holocaust. Phoenix, the X-Men’s resurrected friend, returns as a god-like being with split-personalities. Ratner doesn’t use her to show the pain of the X-men fighting a family member whose spiraled out of control, or even explore the moral irony of mutants becoming “under-evolved,” but only to show that “anything can happen” as Phoenix carelessly snuffs out two major characters whose contracts were up the with franchise anyway. The smart tones and philosophies of this franchise are lost in Ratner’s stunning action sequences, which include Magneto’s awe-inspiring destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Phoenix’s telekinetic maelstrom on Alcatraz during the film’s soundstage climax. Both sequences showcase Ratner’s talents with action as much as the rest of the movie showcases his struggles with everything else.
Looking back, the Wachowski Brothers were doomed after the “The Matrix”; they couldn’t replicate the same surprise and mystery that came with the first film’s original idea. “Matrix Reloaded” was quite ambitious, taking everything people loved about the first film and multiplying it without thinking how it impacted the film’s pacing and enjoyment. The rambling pseudo-philosophical speeches of “The Matrix” became ten minute long discourses requiring sufficient post-high school education to understand. “Matrix Revolutions” had the tall task of resolving many of the plot and philosophical mysteries “Matrix Reloaded” introduced: why could Neo stop the machines outside The Matrix? What is up with Mr. Smith’s replication? How the hell did he get outside of the Matrix? Will the Merovingian return? Is Zion a Matrix outside a Matrix? The answers were quite disappointing — Neo had powers outside of the Matrix, Mr. Smith can just replicated, the Merovingian likes olives, and humanity can now have peace with the machines. Nevertheless, the toned-down language and visceral action of
“Matrix Revolutions” makes it superior to ” Matrix Reloaded.” The final rain-soaked fight between Mr. Smith and Neo is spectacular and tragic, a tone elevated by Don Davis’s operatic score. And even though the film ends on a bittersweet note, it serves up the same intellectualism that allowed philosophy professors everywhere to speak about Keanu Reeve’s unimpressive acting skills during their class lectures.
Whew! And the winner is…
Despite its amazing special effects and the simple coolness of Davey Jones’s character, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is simply too exhausted after three hours of wandering in circles to put up a fight to “X-Men: The Last Stand’s” leaner storyline and sharp action sequences. Jack Sparrow’s on the ropes early and falls soon after; “X-Men: The Last Stand” only stumbles away from this fight. Marvel’s band of merry mutants falls quick though to Spider-Man 3’s superior story and emotion, and also is demolished by “Matrix Revolutions” possessing more philosophical depth than the promising cure storyline ever cared to touch. In the end, its Spidey, the lovable Web-slinger, and Neo, humanity’s messianic cyberpunk savior, who sqaure off. “Spider-Man 3” is a fun film with great action sequences and lots of heart, helmed by a director who is becoming increasingly self-indulgent in his Spidey fandom. “Matrix Revolutions,” while a bit disjointed, continues to push the boundaries of redefining genre with its original concept, all the while serving up some nicely shot and choreographed action — even more so than its predecessor, “The Matrix Reloaded.” For its ability to beat, and not simply regurgitate, its predecessors, “The Matrix Revolutions” breaks away from “Spider-Man 3” as a cleaner, more ambitious, and better-written story about a man confronting his destiny and succumbing to his inevitable fate — as all of our films today had to do.