A Few Quick Thoughts on Get Smart

The new Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway is pretty good.  It’s a solid comedy of classic style (versus the gross-out, stoner, and sex comedies that have been prevalent of late) that hits with all of its jokes, has a great cast, and pays homage to its roots while updating appropriately for the modern age.

Carell, naturally, plays Maxwell Smart, and it’s hard to imagine another actor working today that would be more perfect in the role of Agent 86.  In something of a departure from the original series, he actually displays deliberate competence — though he also has more than his share of dumb luck and misfortune as well.

Anne Hathaway plays Agent 99 in a fairly straight role, though as her partnership with Smart develops, she loosens up and acquires more of the quirky feel of her role’s predecessor.  That bit of character development is, perhaps, indicative of some of the arc of the movie itself, as Smart’s old-style secret agenting turns out to be effective even in today’s world.

The rest of the cast is also solid, with Alan Arkin as The Chief, The Rock as Agent 23, Terrence Stamp as Siegfried, Masi Oka as one of the tech guys, and a number of other cameos and brief appearances (James Caan as the President, Bill Murray as the lonely Agent 13, and Patrick Warburton as Hymie in what appears to be set up for a sequel).

The plot is, well, CONTROL versus KAOS.  It follows the first mission of Smart as a field agent (after having been an analyst) and how he and Agent 99 come to work together.

So, yeah.  Nothing mind-blowing or genre-transforming here, but a solidly entertaining and funny movie with no serious flaws.  Furthermore, it’s a remake that doesn’t suck.  That makes it something of a rarity these days.

Doc Bruce Banner, Pelted By Gamma Rays

Sadly, the tune referenced in the title of this post did not appear in the latest adventure of the Hulk on the big screen, that that is perhaps the only reference to a previous incarnation that was not included in The Incredible Hulk .  Despite this tragic shortcoming, it was still a good movie.

This movie — as every press release and preview article is quick to point out — is entirely unrelated to Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk , which I thought was just okay.  (In that regard, my sense is that many peoples’ opinions of that movie have degraded since it was first released, but I thought it was okay then much as I do now.)  Thankfully, it doesn’t waste much time rehashing the Hulk’s origin, but instead jumps right into the thick of things.

Those things include some good action sequences, a much better-looking Hulk than the previous version, a coherent storyline, and some decent character development.  The movie is also thankfully angst-free, unlike its predecessor — a movie about the Hulk is not really the place for daddy issues.

Ed Norton does a good job as Banner, and Liv Tyler is effective as Betty Ross, his love interest/conscience.  Tim Roth is particularly entertaining in his portrayal of Emil Blonski, an old soldier who is in the military for the joy of fighting rather than the honour of serving.  Let us say that such things do not end well on that front.

The Incredible Hulk is set in the same universe as the recent Iron Man movie , confirmed by a delightful cameo by Robert Downey Jr.  This is possible since Marvel Studios was the sole producer of both of these movies (having reclaimed the film rights to the Hulk after no sequel was made for Ang Lee’s movie); they have others in the works in the coming years (Thor and Captain America ), and have already announced plans for an Avengers movie that would bring together these heroes in a single movie.  If they can maintain the level of quality of these last two movies, and not go off the rails like the producers of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises did, then the future looks promising indeed.

So, as you’ve gathered, I liked the movie.  I don’t think it was quite as good as Iron Man , but I was thoroughly entertained, the cast and special effects were good, it was chock full of cameo appearances and set-ups for future developments (new villains and allies, for example),  and it provided a nice blend of well-executed action sequences alongside story and character development.  If you like superhero movies, you’ll like this one, I think.

As a side note, much of this movie was filmed in Toronto last summer, and specifically at the University of Toronto St. Georgee campus and Yonge street — parts of town where I live and work.  (I saw lots of production vehicles set up, but none of the movie stars.)  So it was rather neat seeing places I’m intimately familiar with pop up in a Hollywood blockbuster, and how they made these places appear to be not quite what they are.  Of course, the Sam the Record Man sign cannot be disguised, and you’ll see people running past it several times in the climactic battle scene.

(As another side note, while googling something for reference, I got sucked into reading the Marvel Database , where I’ve spent over an hour reading Marvel comics backstory.)

Glancing back over all of the above, I realize that all I’ve said can be effectively summed up with "I liked it; it was good."  But since I took the time to type out all that, I’ll leave it, and sign off.

Go Speed Racer Go

In the last nine days, I’ve actually seen the live-action Speed Racer movie twice, once on IMAX , and once on a regular screen. This probably seems rather odd, given how universally the movie has been reviled by critics. I had kind of wanted to see the movie before it came out, just to see how a campy cartoon was adapted to live action, but the lackluster critical review meant nobody really wanted to see it with me.

Then I read this review by Kazu Kibuishi, a comic creator I’m a fan of, and it convinced me to get off my ass and track down a theatre still showing it. As you may have gathered, I am so glad that I did, because it was actually — surprisingly, mind-bogglingly — a really good movie.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a movie for everyone. Visually, it looks like a live-action cartoon — not a mix of actors and animation, but rather a fairly sound extrapolation of what a cartoon would look like if suddenly real. The movie also retains a lot of the campiness and goofy comic relief of the original cartoon, right down to the kid sidekick with a pet chimp.

And that’s about all that most of the negative reviews seem to mention. A few have even gone so far as to say there is no story, or to dismiss it as simplistic, or for little kids only, and it leaves me wondering whether those reviewers saw the same movie that I did.

I, for one, question whether younger kids would actually be able to follow the story — I can see kids easily enjoying the car racing, but the seamlessly fluid incorporation of flashback and flash-forward into the narrative as a means of establishing character motivation and background that so enthralled me might just be confusing to them. Perhaps that was the case for a lot of critics as well.

Now, when I talk about how flashback and flash-forward are incorporated seamlessly, I mean just that — at no point does the narrative ever stop to fill in back-story; rather, it is blended in in real-time, in a way I’ve never seen before. And it works so well . I was utterly captivated by how they used this to tell the story. (The kickin’ 70s-style muscial score by Michale Giacchino also provided boundless enjoyment, incorporating themes from the original cartoon and fitting the mood of the movie perfectly. It’s the first movie score I’ve bought in a long time.)

This being a Wachowski movie, the action sequences are naturally over-the-top, but it works in this context as it also retains an element of goofy charm. They aren’t flawless — some of the action in the final car race isn’t as comprehensible as I’d like — but they provide a lot of intensity and fun.

The last thing I should mention, oddly enough, is the cast. Emile Hirsch plays a solid lead, with John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci providing excellent support. (Christina Ricci looked surprisingly natural as a cartoon character… actually, that’s not so surprising.) The characterization is not necessarily all that complex (is is based off of a cartoon, after all), but they all pull it off well, and nail their characters and relationships. Solid casting all around. There are even a few cameo appearances by Richard Roundtree .

Overall, this was probably one of the most pure movie experiences I’ve ever had — everything worked so well together to pull this movie off, that I can’t even quibble about the the bits that, from an objective point of view, I wouldn’t like *cough*kid brother with chimp*cough*. I was more satisfied coming out of Speed Racer than I have been by a movie in a long time. So, if you think you wouldn’t find the visuals off-putting, and can deal with the campiness and comic relief, I strongly urge you to see this movie. I brought my girlfriend the second time I saw it, and she liked it, so I know I’m not delusional. And I know I’ll be getting the DVD as soon as it’s released.