In British-occupied India, a village protector travels to the city to rescue a kidnapped girl and an ambitious policeman is tasked to stop him.
Directed by S. S. Rajamouli
Starring N. T. Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan
Review by Jon Kissel
Cinema as a propagandistic vehicle got a workout in 2022. Top Gun: Maverick venerated the US Navy and its fighter pilots, generating billions in box office and warm fuzzy feelings towards the most powerful military in the world doing whatever it wants, wherever it wants. The Woman King rebranded a West African slaver empire as a bastion of gender equality. RRR became one of the highest performing Indian films and the first in decades to break out with Western audiences, seducing them with a digestible anti-imperialist story while having a deeper read as a pitch for Hindu nationalism that runs counter to India’s secular founding. Whatever queasy political meaning one takes from these and other films (China’s also figured out how to push a nationalist agenda through action filmmaking), it’s impossible to take issue with the imagination and audaciousness of what gets onscreen, especially with S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR. In a rousing thrill ride, peak spectacle meets operatic storytelling in Rajamouli’s epic of Indian resistance to British rule.
Of all the things to get irritated about in the last three years, the release of Luca direct to Disney+ streaming is extremely low on the worthiness scale, but that Pixar release was some of their best, most atmospheric work and I watched it at home, as opposed to in a theater. It’s not a question of Covid either, as it was released in a post-Alpha, pre-Delta period where even Covid maximalists would’ve been fine going out to see it. Instead, as they have for four of their last five releases, Pixar and their corporate monopolist masters dumped Luca on streaming. I’m an old-school cinephile, and skipping theaters feels like disrespect. The same can be said for Prey, a film shot on location in Alberta with practical effects that contains all the cathartic, chest-thumping moments that characterize the action genre. A film that would’ve done great in theaters instead lands on Hulu, and the world gets a tiny bit smaller. Prey, the fifth and arguably best entry in the Predator franchise, deserves better than it got, but what’s to be expected from a company that is increasingly shunting work it acquired through Fox off to the side in favor of gray CGI sludge and in-house production.
It’s Robert Pattinson’s turn to put on the cowl and the cape in The Batman, Warner Brother’s latest crack at its foundational superhero. Befitting a franchise reboot, director and writer Matt Reeves takes Batman all the way back to his early days just like Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins, though this is no origin story. Reeves has the difficult task of rebooting a story that most people on earth are familiar with by this point, of trying to find something new in a ubiquitous character. He reaches into a broader cinematic past and the dark anti-elite/anti-institution present for the right combination, and makes a film that, though universally regarded as too long at three hours, provides an introduction to the cast and the tone that’s going to carry the character through the next several years. Batman’s gone from being relatively grounded in Nolan’s trilogy to a cosmic character who fights next to or against Superman with Zach Snyder’s films. Reeves strips the character down to when it was most recently successful, and then strips it down some more for a gritty crime/serial killer drama that, if given its druthers, would jettison the part about a guy who goes out at night dressed like a bat.
With Thor: Ragnarok, the last of three 2017 Marvel films, the dominant superhero studio fully commits to idiosyncratic directors instead of the workmen guns-for-hire they started their extended universe with. No more Alan Taylors or Louis Letteriers churning out empty eye candy. Instead, Marvel has turned the keys over to weirdos like James Gunn and the refined vision of Ryan Coogler, and their films are all the better for it. Taika Waititi, the director of Ragnarok, splits the difference between the two, borrowing the wacky space opera flare from the former and the stealth critique of great powers from the latter. Waititi also happens to be the strongest comedic director Marvel’s worked with, and it’s no surprise that he would make a raucous action flick on par with something like Midnight Run or Hot Fuzz. That Ragnarok can be so much fun while also being about something beyond capes and magic powers marks it as one Marvel’s best outings.
The Dark Knight
One of the most influential movies of the 21st century, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight ushered in a wave of blockbuster filmmaking that’s either copying it or working in opposition to it. If a superhero movie is being made by Warner Bros or Fox in the ensuing years, it’s going to have to attempt to be a gritty/grounded film with a philosophical background on society. If Disney’s at the helm, the demands of the market force their superhero movies to leave the dark stuff to someone else and lean heavily into a jokey tone with little connection to the real world. The success of the latter strategy implies that the wrong lessons have been taken from The Dark Knight, that only this group of actors and filmmakers at this point in time could pull this off, as demonstrated by the insufficiency of The Dark Knight Rises four years later. It’s not like every facet of The Dark Knight is pulled off as successfully as some others. What does work here is some of the best of Nolan’s career and is worth emulating, but by so clearly aiming for profundity and seriousness, the film invites an interrogation it can’t hold up against. One wishes that a reckoning with the War on Terror didn’t have to be wrapped up in a superhero movie, but we live in the cultural world that Nolan helped to create.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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