17 June 2016

Intelligence is Central to Finding Dory

Here we go people. After weeks upon weeks of terrible underperforming shit (although I'll contend not exactly horrible movies), we have what could be the first really great non-Captain America weekend. The two films set to face off today are as close to surefire hits as we're going to get any time soon, although who the hell knows how things are playing out this summer. On the one hand we have what looks like an entertaining vehicle for two of the dwindling number of bankable stars, Central Intelligence (2016) with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. On the other side of the theater is the latest from a studio that has never shown a lot of cracks, until recently, which is also a follow-up to one of their most popular properties, Finding Dory (2016). Let's take a look at each:
There's a sincere goofiness here that I'm really appreciating.

Kevin Hart has made the valiant effort to star in every movie coming out every year. He's reached his pinnacle with Ride Along (2014) and Think Like a Man (2012), but has had solid appearances in everything from Ride Along 2 (2016) to Think Like a Man Too (2014). We can throw in Get Hard (2015) and The Wedding Ringer (2015) and his status as the ultimate buddy comedy star of our generation is cemented. Of course, none of these movies is really all that good (his best tend to be films where he's not the central focus), but that matters less than the fact that people generally turn out to see his films. OK, mostly black people, but we haven't had a film that caters to black-specific interests in quite some time.

To be fair, Central Intelligence doesn't really resemble a black movie. Neither did Ride Along. The presence of black actors (or whatever the Rock is) seems to denote a "black film." Central Intelligence could buck this trend and actually be a film starring actors of color that attracts all sorts of people to the theater. What a concept!

Pairing Hart with Dwayne Johnson in an action-comedy is a spectacular move, and the Rock is riding the height of his fame. Remember watching The Rundown (2003), which was a legit good action movie full of insane Chris Walken-not-quite-trying-to-be-comedy-but-comedy, and seeing that really corny Arnold "passing the torch" scene that made it totally as if the Rock was supposed to be the next incarnation of the giant dude who beats everyone up? And then like, nothing great happened with his career, including The Rundown, which everyone has fond memories of but no one saw in theaters? This site posited a good question - when exactly did The Rock become a global megastar?

It certainly wasn't any of his early efforts to cross over. Walking Tall (2004)? DOOM (2005)? Gridiron Gang (2006)? Do you remember these films? I mean, what the fuck? Somehow by 2010 he was recognizable enough to partner with Sam Jackson in The Other Guys (2010) in a joke-ish cameo that riffed on his persona and the kind of character we're used to seeing in action movies as much as gave him a role in the narrative. But how did he build his pedigree? It's probably something like how The Rundown built an audience in the years since its release. It's also notable how popular The Mummy Returns (2001) was and how constant it played on the USA Network for the past fifteen years. That's legit, bro.

Somehow by Fast Five (2011) The Rock was the kind of A-lister that could inject life into a dying franchise. The sight of him going toe-to-toe with a man as equally beefed up and equally racially ambiguous was spine-tingling. It is notable that he still has his faults, though. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) was far inferior to its predecessor, although it made slightly more money worldwide (while being lackluster domestically). And Hercules (2014), while a fantastically entertaining film, never really caught on. I'll contend this was because its marketing material was fantastically cliche and played out. San Andreas (2015) was certainly a bigger hit both culturally and commercially, but it's not exactly like we're looking like end-all blockbuster here.

So what's our final verdict? Well, Hart and Rock are both pretty solid on their own, but not exactly the Box Office Gods common thought has made them out to be. It's more like since there's literally no one else out there that can open a movie on their own, we tend to give them a lot of positive press. Central Intelligence looks like it has a good hook, some pretty funny character moments, and a solid amount of action and intrigue. It's also wholly original. The key, though, is that people don't want original. They just want good. I think it will be decently successful, although how much do we really think about Ride Along or San Andreas in our daily lives (I actually have friends who talk a lot about San Andreas. That may not be a great comparison). I'm very curious how this shakes out, but my impression is pretty positive.
Although this octodad looks incredible.

On the other side of the aisle is Finding Dory, which slots into an incredible crowded year for children's computer animated films (or even more specifically - talking animal children's computer animated films). In 2016 we've already seen Kung Fu Panda 3 (remember that? That actually came out five months ago), Zootopia, and The Angry Birds Movie, with The Secret Life of Pets and Ice Age: Collision Course on the way. These have ranged from the terrible (KFP3) to the critically-lauded billion-dollar grosser (Zootopia), with everything else somewhere in between. Finding Dory feels a hell of a lot different than The Angry Birds Movie, so kids are probably ready for it, in part because it's got to appeal to a different, less jaded kind of kid. It's also Pixar.

Pixar sequels are really tricky. It's important to remember that sequels aren't really a new thing for the studio. Toy Story 2 (1999) was their third film, a sequel to their first, and in doing so set a damn high standard for the studio's follow-ups. Toy Story 3 (2010) proved that they could do it again, although Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013) were both arguably so bad as to damage the heretofore unflappable Pixar brand. They certainly bounced back in a big way with last year's Inside Out (2015), although at the same time The Good Dinosaur (2015) didn't feel like a thing at all, and could be considered the studio's first unequivocal flop. So the past few years must feel sort of funny for the studio. I really dug Brave (2012), but no one else did, so with the exception of Inside Out, suddenly we haven't really had a movie from the studio that everyone loves since 2010.

These are weird standards to have, but it's Pixar. You can't make 11 great films in a row (I generally also dislike Cars [2006] and Ratatouille [2007], but other people love them. That's a reason alone why they're so great - they inspire some kind of great fanbase in everything. Except The Good Dinosaur) and then start missing the mark, even a little bit. I could personally not care less about Finding Dory, even though I'm a big Finding Nemo (2003) fan.

So why don't I care? Mostly because Dory was annoying as shit. And because despite the decent reviews so far, something just throws me. Maybe it's because Nemo was so crisp. Its storytelling and character work were so apparent. It's all right there in the title. There's something derivative about applying that to Dory, regardless if the story structure actually ends up being quite contrary. Its title gives me an Evan Almighty (2007) kind of vibe that feels more like a spin-off than a sequel. None of this is bad, because I'll always contend that a film needs to be good on its own merits no matter what its inspiration may be, but I get weird juju. Maybe it's the simple fact that it's had surprisingly little trailer buzz or media placement. I need to stop watching The Lone Ranger (2013) on SyFy.

By any account it ought to be a solid outing. That's what we've come to expect from Pixar. Pre-Good Dinosaur Pixar, that is. With one of their most solid brands fueling this outing as well as a prime June placement that they've come to dominate in recent years (again - non-Good Dinosaur release dates. Will they ever drop a film in November again? They're apparently trying with Coco [2017]. Woof.). And Andrew Stanton has got to feel good getting into his wheelhouse again, with his bread and butter, or just anything non-John Carter (2012) here. Man Disney had a lot of flops at the start of this decade.

So what say ye? Are these sure bets this weekend? Or do you have some misgivings like I do? I think these both ought to do pretty well in just about every metric that I'll typically measure, but for sure nothing's for certain these days. What do you think?

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