Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull / ***½ (PG-13)

Indiana Jones: Harrison Ford
Mutt Williams: Shia LaBeouf
Irina Spalko: Cate Blanchett
George ‘Mac’ McHale: Ray Winstone
Marion Ravenwood: Karen Allen
Professor ‘Ox’ Oxley: John Hurt
Dean Charles Stanforth: Jim Broadbent

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by David Koepp. Story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson. Running time: 124 min. Rated PG-13 (for adventure violence and scary images).

There is a magic to the filmmaking skill of Steven Spielberg. No matter what the subject, his camera tells its story in a special way. There’s the way he zooms from a close-up of a hand, a face, or just an object to an even tighter close-up. He can tell little stories within the story with just shadows and light. He’ll follow a car chase with his camera at ground level so close to the tires that you think at any moment you could get sucked under the treads and shredded. His sweeping boom shots give his audience the sensation of grandiose flight.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”—the fourth installment of the adventuring archaeologist and the first in almost twenty years—is so ripe with material for Spielberg to sink his magical camera into that it drips with his unique directorial style. It is also filled with thematic and topical materials that have become signatures for both Spielberg and series creator and producer George Lucas. The opening moments give us Lucas’s obsession with the cars and music of the late 1950s, Spielberg’s recollection of the landscape of the American Southwest from his childhood, the terror that came following the world’s inauguration into the atomic age, the paranoia and blacklisting of the anti-communist movement of McCarthyism, and eventually the entire film finds itself in a plot straight out of the pulp fantasy magazine stories that must have informed two of the greatest science fiction filmmakers in history.

The film opens at Hangar 51 in Roswell, New Mexico. Embracing the Lucas signature of starting the story after the action has begun, we discover that a group of Russian KGB infiltrators, lead by the uber-cold Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There”), have already kidnapped Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, “Firewall”) and his current sidekick ‘Mac’ McHale (Ray Winstone, “Beowulf”) to use Jones’s expertise to find a particular unidentified item at the large storage facility. Echoes of the music from the closing passages of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” let us know that we’ve seen this warehouse before. The scene explodes into a glorious escape sequence and establishes Mac as a typical Jones sidekick, never doing what Indy asks and generally getting him into greater trouble than he bargained for.

After an FBI debriefing, Indy finds himself a victim of the Red Scare and decides to leave the country. Before he does, he is tracked down by a young greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf, “Transformers”). Spielberg and Lucas engage in a little hero worship of their own when LaBeouf enters on a motorcycle garbed exactly like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”. Mutt comes to Jones with a proposition to help rescue his former mentor Professor Oxley (John Hurt, “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”) and his mother from the very same Russians who used Jones to steal the item from Hangar 51. Oxley claims to have discovered the much-sought-after and feared Crystal Skull of Akator. The search for the skull and its purpose lead Indy’s team and the Russians on a chase through the jungles of Peru to an ancient Mayan temple.

While Ford’s hair is now grey and his voice filled with a little more gravel, he still retains all the spirit of the Indiana Jones character. Is it hard to buy a man entering the geriatric set as the centerpiece of such an action-oriented adventure? Well, if the plausibility of Ford pulling off the stunts he uses to escape certain death is going to be a hitch for some audience members, it is the least of the film’s believability problems. But to harp on the credibility of the action in this movie is to grossly miscategorize its purpose, which is to push the bounds of plausibility in honor of the grand extremities of popular entertainment.

LaBeouf makes a good foil for Ford in scenes where he acts as Jones’s sidekick but also provides the confidence of a full-fledged protégé of the durable archaeologist. And Blanchett makes for just as formidable a foe with her saber-wielding psychic as any male antagonist has ever been in the series. Only Karen Allen (“When Will I Be Loved?”) seems slightly out of place in the cast, reprising her role as Marion Ravenwood from the first installment. She adds a good deal of humor to the proceedings, but is never given the well-rounded treatment needed to reestablish the strength her character originally carried.

I read an early review from the Cannes Film Festival, which claimed that while the filmmakers tried their damnedest to recreate the adventure aspects of the first three Indiana Jones films, this one was devoid of humor. That writer must have had a very bad day before his screening of “Crystal Skull”. The movie is as rich with all the classic Indiana Jones humor as it is with the overabundance of signatures from Spielberg and Lucas. One scene exploits Indy’s well-established fear of snakes to gut-wrenching hilarity. And Ford still has the magic touch when delivering his down-to-earth take on all the ridiculous developments which surround him.

This story does travel a little farther into the land of the bizarre than the previous episodes, but when you’re talking about a series that has already brought you a box that melts people’s faces off, a man who can reach into the chest of his victims and pull out their still-beating heart, and a 400 year-old knight guarding the cup of life crafted by Christ himself—really, where are you gonna go? Spielberg and Lucas have created a worthy extension of one of the greatest film franchises ever to grace the screen. And it is indeed delicious.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / *** (PG)

Prince Caspian: Ben Barnes
Peter Pevensie: William Moseley
Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell
Edmund Pevensie: Skandar Keynes
Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley
King Miraz: Sergio Castellitto
Trumpkin: Peter Dinklage
Nikabrik: Warwick Davis

With the voice talents of:
Reepicheep: Eddie Izzard
Aslan: Liam Neeson

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Andrew Adamson. Written by Adamson & Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis. Running time: 144 min. Rated PG (for epic battle action and violence).

Writing about “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”—the first live action film installment of C.S. Lewis’s popular fantasy series “The Chronicles of Narnia”—I commented on how the movie seemed to raise the children’s fantasy to a higher level of maturity than the source material would lead you to expect. With Disney’s second film in the series, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”, yet another leap in maturity seems to have been made. “Prince Caspian” tells a more intimate tale than the first, yet still uses the same level of fantasy and action to more satisfying effect.

Taking place 1300 years after the events of “Wardrobe”, the kingdom of Narnia has long since fallen to the Telmarine Empire in the absence of its rulers, the Pevensie siblings. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, “Stardust”) is the tenth in his family line, but his uncle Miraz (Sergio Castillitto, “Arthur and the Invisibles”) has ruled in the interim since Caspian IX’s death. When his own son is born, King Miraz orders his general to murder Caspian X and ensure his own family’s legacy. Caspian escapes Miraz’s soldiers in the forest of Narnia where he meets some of the thought-to-be-extinct Narnians and uses Queen Susan’s magical horn to call upon the kings and queens of the past to save Narnia.

While more than a century has passed in Narnia, it’s been only one year since the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), returned to London from their Narnian adventure. They have had trouble readjusting to their London existence since they spent an entire lifetime ruling Narnia and have returned to life as children suffering through World War II bombings. One day in the Underground subway system, the walls peel away for the Pevensie children and they find themselves once again in the land they missed so much.

Meanwhile, Caspian has discovered a world most Telmarines thought to be a myth. The Narnians have survived in hiding, but Miraz’s desire to ensure Caspian’s death and ascend to the throne has exposed the woodland creatures of Narnia as myth no longer. Caspian falls under the care of an apprehensive dwarf named Nikabrik (Warwick Davis, “Willow”), a talking badger named Trufflehunter (voiced by Ken Stott, “Charlie Wilson’s War”), and an auspicious mouse warrior named Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard, “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”). The Narnians eventually decide that Caspian is their new savior and agree to follow him in an attempt to regain their kingdom. After the Pevensie children rescue a loyal dwarf warrior, Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage, “Death at a Funeral”), from Miraz’s men, they team up with Caspian and the Narnians to rise up against Miraz and his vast army.

The battle sequences seem much more organic this time around than the big climax did in the first film. The final battle in “Wardrobe” played like a foregone conclusion, a battle like so many we had seen before in films like “Braveheart” or “Lord of the Rings”. The two major battle sequences in “Caspian” are less predictable. The first is a siege on King Miraz’s castle, which doesn’t even exist in the book. It seems hasty and ill advised on the part of our heroes, and so it carries the tension of the unknown with it. The final battle is preceded by a stunning one-on-one sword fight between Peter and King Miraz. Director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) does a wonderful job keeping their confrontation tense by using the heavy nature of the armor and swords as a distraction for the combatants. These weapons and defenses were not designed for hand-to-hand combat.

The tension felt between Caspian and Peter adds another element to Peter and Miraz’s face-off. This is Caspian’s fight, but the Pevensie children—once as inexperienced as Caspian—are now the practiced veterans. But this is not the Narnia that they once ruled and conventions have changed to some degree. Caspian knows the Telmarines and how they work, but he must fight against his own youth and inexperience to find the hero within. The Pevensie children, Peter especially, must fight against their own urges toward leadership and let Caspian find his own way.

Plus, many of Peter’s bold decisions backfire against the Narnians. The great lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, “Batman Begins”) hasn’t been seen in Narnia since the time the Pevensies ruled. Much of their success as Narnia’s champions was due to Aslan’s guidance. But the lion seems to have abandoned them as much as he has Narnia. Only the youngest, Lucy, seems to have any enlightenment from Aslan, who appears to her in dreams. At one point, he offers Lucy a warning that “nothing happens the same way twice.” This is true in many different ways in this movie.

“Prince Caspian” embraces all the fantasy elements audiences have come to crave from films like “The Lord of the Rings” and the previous Narnia installment. There is little here to disappoint. But it also follows its own philosophy; nothing here happens the same way it did in the previous film. More than just a “Chronicles of Narnia” version 2.0, it is a whole new experience that improves upon its predecessor and makes you wonder, just what else does this world of Narnia have to show us?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer / *** (PG)

Speed Racer: Emile Hirsch
Racer X: Matthew Fox
Royalton: Roger Allam
Trixie: Christina Ricci
Pops: John Goodman
Mom: Susan Sarandon
Spritle: Paulie Litt
Taejo Togokhan: Rain

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Based on the animated series created by Tatsuo Yoshida. Running time: 135 min. Rated PG (for sequences of action, some violence and language).

In a article on Ang Lee’s 2003 film “Hulk”, I discussed how a critic can change his mind. In watching “Speed Racer”, the latest visual epic by the Wachowski Brothers (the team responsible for “The Matrix” trilogy) and in absorbing the critical fallout that has greeted it, I’m reminded of the backlash against Lee’s film. Both films share a rich and original visual approach. Both have been praised for their visual virtuosity, and yet both have been rejected by the critical and popular majority.

American audiences seem to like their motion picture entertainment in a form they can easily recognize. Even the critical elite have certain values they expect their vastly ranging taste to uphold, whether they wish to admit it or not. “Speed Racer” breaks away from the form we expect popcorn entertainment to take. It is visually experimental and yet conventional in its themes and structure.

Based on the popular Japanese animated television series from the late sixties, The Wachowski Brothers seem to be channeling the spirit of the original series into the filmmaking techniques of the future. The original series, for many Americans, was their first exposure to the animation style known as anime. Anime is distinguished by characters with widely expressive facial features, such as eyes and mouths that can go from the smallest speck of an impression to large outlets taking up a character’s entire face. While American animation is more concerned with the action of the characters, Japanese anime focuses more on character emotion, using stills to represent much of the action. With “Speed Racer”, the Wachowskis have attempted to translate American action combined with that sort of Japanese expressionism into a live action format.

Speed (Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild”) has been obsessed with racing since he was just a kid. He looked up to his brother Rex (Scott Porter, “Prom Night”), the fastest driver on the track circuit until he left one night to join the rougher road race tournaments and soon was killed in an accident. Speed develops into his brother’s equal under the tutelage and technical knowledge of his Pops (John Goodman, “The Big Lebowski”) and Mom (Susan Sarandon, “Enchanted”). His own image and rambunctiousness have been copied by his younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt, “Jersey Girl”), who provides comedic relief along with his pet monkey, Chim Chim. Trixie (Christina Ricci, “Penelope”) gives Speed more personal support and is treated as an inevitable family member.

But first Speed must race himself out of his brother’s shadow, which he almost literally does in an opening race sequence that alternates between Speed’s breakthrough race and flashbacks of Rex’s record-holding win. Speed’s white Mach 5 morphs back to Rex’s red Mach 4 as he races the course in a replication of his brother’s biggest win. As Speed closes in on his brother’s record, the ghost of his brother’s car can be seen flying down the track next to him.

The races quite appropriately provide the most stunning images. Take note that there is no reality to be found here. This is a pure fantasy racing movie where the cars can use hydraulic springs to flip over each other and jump forward and backward around the track, knocking each other about as if it were some sort of street fight using the cars as weapons. Some cars are even equipped with illegal devices designed to take out the other cars. In fact, to call this movie live action is quite misleading, since the CGI elements far outweigh any in-camera images. The actors are about the only live elements in a story that centers more on the races than the conversations.

Actually, much of the criticism the film has received has come from the large amount of time it does spend on the non-action scenes. Perhaps this is not entirely unwarranted as the story is far simpler than the script seems to realize. There is a great deal of unnecessary screen time dedicated to the movie’s villain, the corporate devil Royalton. Royalton offers Speed a contract to race for his company, and when Speed turns him down Royalton makes him regret it with his “you will rue the day” speech alone. I didn’t have any problem with the teeth gnashing by Roger Allam (“V for Vendetta”) as Royalton, but there’s about twenty minutes here that could have easily been whittled down to three.

When Royalton squeezes him out of a qualifying race for the Grand Prix, Speed then teams up with the mysterious Racer X to expose Royalton’s corruption of the racing industry. Racer X is one of the most exciting elements of the story and the filmmakers use capricious restraint in this character’s treatment. Matthew Fox (“Vantage Point”) portrays this wild card with an underplayed quality that might seem to give him a “one of these things is not like the other” presence but actually serves to exaggerate the mysteriousness of his presence, fitting well with all the film’s other exaggerations.

One of those exaggerations—the film’s highlight—is the editing style. The Wachowskis and film editors Roger Barton and Zach Staenberg have taken a cue from Lee’s “Hulk” and amped it up in the process. Like “Hulk”, the filmmakers use multilayered images, overlaying different shots on top of one another, with various wipes and sweeps to give the movie a comic book feel. They even use still images to comedic effect to realize some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes. It gives the film an impression of something that has never been attempted before, at least not to this degree.

While the visual originality and editing style of “Speed Racer” ties it to “Hulk” in its look, it does not attempt the depth of Lee’s film beyond its indictment of big business conglomerates. I suppose there is some irony in that, since the film was released by a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest media corporations. It does, however, deliver the action-oriented plot people wished for with “Hulk”. I think two of my son Jack’s observations during the film sum it up best. During one of the final races he said with astonishment, “There’s a lot of explosions in this.” And during Speed’s initial trip to Royalton headquarters he said, “That doesn’t look like a city; that looks like a wonderland.”

Friday, May 09, 2008

Shotgun Stories / **** (PG-13)

Son Hayes: Michael Shannon
Boy Hayes: Douglas Ligon
Kid Hayes: Barlow Jacobs
Shampoo: G. Alan Wilkins
Nicole: Natalie Canerday
Annie Hayes: Glenda Pannell
Stephen Hayes: Lynnsee Province
Mark Hayes: Travis Smith
John Hayes: David Rhodes

International Film Circuit presents a film written and directed by Jeff Nichols. Running time: 92 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence, thematic elements, and brief strong language).

A type of film is being made independently in America today that is unique to this country’s psyche. Like that most American of genres, the Western, these films are often about survival. They capture the essence of small town life in America, depicting a kind of blue collar squalor that is generally found in the Midwest and deep South. They depict simple people, but not simple-minded ones, whose everyday life consists of working a hard trade without much else to live for. They dream of a better life but don’t much expect one. They aren’t necessarily unhappy people, but they are worn down by their place in the world.

A cinematic element that distinguishes these films in look and mood from the standard Hollywood fare is their stark yet beautiful landscapes. The people who make these films have an intimate knowledge of the environments they place their characters in and a special appreciation for their locations that comes out as a sort of love of the land on film. Some recent examples of these films include Joey Lauren Adams’s “Come Early Morning”, Hilary Birmingham’s “Tully”, the documentary by Andrew Douglas “Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus”, and just about any of the films of David Gordon Green.

Jeff Nichols’s “Shotgun Stories” is another masterpiece in this new mode of independent filmmaking. It tells the story of three brothers. Son (Michael Shannon, “Bug”) is the oldest. His wife has just left to live with her mother because Son can’t quit gambling. Boy (Douglas Ligon) is the middle brother who lives in a van down by the river. He isn’t exactly the bumbling motivational speaking van-dweller that made Chris Farley famous, but he is the slightly overweight funny one of the bunch. Kid (Barlow Jacobs) lives in a tent in Son’s back yard and still retains some of the hopes and dreams his older brothers have come to realize are out of their grasp, but he lacks the maturity to focus his energies toward them.

Nichols must have grown up with brothers of his own, so acutely does he capture the unique relationship shared by male siblings. Never have I seen brothers portrayed so well in a film. They talk to each other about each other in different ways. For example, Kid and his girlfriend have decided to get engaged. She wants Kid to talk to his brothers about it. Nichols only gives us the tail end of his conversation with Boy, where they talk about the difficulties of juggling an affair with multiple lovers. But in his conversation with Son, Kid reveals his genuine fears about the prospect of spending the rest of his life with one person. “I don’t have a truck. I don’t have a house. And a life time is too long for two people,” he says. He isn’t really talking about the difficulties of marriage so much as the difficulties of life that two people must bear together in marriage.

Kid’s fears reflect the world in which all three brothers live. Son works with Kid in a fish hatchery. It is the type of work you grind through daily and then spend your nights forgetting about. The other workers at the hatchery gossip about why Son’s back is scarred by shotgun shot, while Son spends his own time trying to develop a card counting system for the casino. Boy has no apparent job and spends some of his free time coaching a youth basketball team. He has so little ambition in life but agonizes over his coaching strategy from the previous season, seeking out advice from his brothers—who have no discernable knowledge on the sport. They all seem to be just trying to fill their time with anything of substance they can grasp.

Unfortunately, life has a way of presenting problems that can develop uncontrollably. One evening the boys’ mother (Natalie Canerday, “Sling Blade”) shows up with some news. The boys called her “Nicole” with a contempt that suggests they hoped never to see her again. She is no more thrilled to be in their presence but has come to inform them that their father has passed away. For all the coldness of their exchange with their mother, their opinion of their father seems to be far worse. Bad enough that Son feels the need to attend the funeral so he can tell his father’s second family just how awful they all feel the man who abandoned them was.

This action revives a feud between the two sets of half brothers that was dormant during their father’s illness. The boys from the father’s second marriage all have proper names, illustrating Son’s, Boy’s and Kid’s alienation from the happiness his second family was able to attain with him. The oldest of those brothers, like Son, has a family of his own, which factors into his desire to move on from the past. When Kid begins to feed his own fire against their half brothers, Son also begins to worry that the future of their family is too high a cost to risk; but events have already grown beyond their control.

As the feud escalates it becomes easier to understand how the male temperament is conditioned to resort to violence—not just with these particular characters, but with any man. There is a character named Shampoo (G. Alan Wilkins), who is just looking for a place to park his car to hide it from the cops. He is present at almost every event that adds to the volatility of the brothers’ feud. Nichols has described this character as the devil. He seems to just be a laid-back observer. He only provides each side with information, yet that information serves to fuel the anger felt by each party. Is this contribution the same service 24-hour news networks like CNN perform in our world?

Although the themes of this movie reflect the times in which we live, it’s in the visceral nature of family and life that this film really strikes its harmonic chords. Nichols gives us shots of dogs sniffing trash in the streets, and he provides an unparalleled look at the bonds of family stirring in these brothers’ hearts. And we can see life that we recognize. Even if you aren’t from the same depressed environment that surrounds these characters, their sparse world only sharpens the focus.

The way these brothers would truly do anything to protect each other reminded me of the only fight I was ever in as a child. Some guy I didn’t know was trash-talking my brother. Listening to him say negative things about my brother really got under my skin, even though this jerk didn’t know who I was, and despite the fact that I wasn’t incredibly fond of my brother at the time. Out of the blue, I attacked him. Perhaps this violence is in us all; but if we can just find away to distract ourselves from the outside forces that provoke such rage, we might be able to live content with what we have.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Iron Man / ***½ (PG-13)

Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr.
Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger: Jeff Bridges
Jim Rhodes: Terrence Howard
Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow

Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment present a film directed by Jon Favreau. Written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway. Based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby. Running time: 126 min. Rated PG-13 (for some intense sequences of sci-fi violence, and brief suggestive content).

The summer blockbuster machine boots up this weekend with the release of yet another comic book hero brought from page to screen, and it is—quite literally—a blast! “Iron Man” marks Marvel Studio’s first self-financed movie, and it seems as if the controlling venture from the comic book’s publisher has paid off. This movie is a wonderful way to kick off the summer season.

Robert Downey, Jr. (“Zodiac”) is Tony Stark, a second-generation weapons manufacturer and playboy who lives life with lavish attitude. After a demonstration of his latest missile in Afghanistan, terrorists who want him to build his new missile for them ambush his convoy. Stark, an engineering genius, instead builds himself a suit of robotic armor to escape his captors. Once back in America, he realizes the errors of his war-mongering past and decides to dedicate his life to help those that his weapons have come to threaten.

The movie spends a great deal of time working out the logistics and functionality of the armor technology Stark creates. The original suit he designs to escape from the terrorists is very basic with a high impact purpose of destruction and an unexpected getaway. When he returns to the States, he upgrades his original design into a sleeker more, refined weapon with an emphasis on flight. There are some great moments of levity from Downey and director Jon Favreau (“Elf”) in a sequence where Stark tries to get the hang of the suit’s jet propulsion.

Stark’s decision to give up manufacturing weapons doesn’t sit well with his business partner, Obadiah Stane. Stane’s own interests in the company’s dealings are a little darker than Stark suspects, and so he becomes an adversary. Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) might seem a strange casting choice for a comic book villain considering the laidback nature of most of his roles, but he is a rather large imposing man whose subtle acting makes for a great bad guy.

Stark’s change of heart also comes as surprise to his best—or rather only—friend, Col. James Rhodes (Terrence Howard, “The Brave One”). Head of the military’s weapons development division, Rhodes is able to help his friend avoid some undue military aggression after Iron Man shows up in Afghanistan to remove some Stark-produced weapons from terrorist hands. Stark’s heart also gets turned for his long-time assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”). But the filmmakers do good not to get carried away with their romance, which is never quite realized here.

Favreau’s direction isn’t flashy, but it’s sure and confident. The action sequences are tight, easy to follow and keep the audience involved. But the development between the action scenes never seems rushed and is equally involving. I never once wanted for the movie to get on with it, nor did I spend any time reflecting back on what had happened. The movie only has one direction—forward.

“Iron Man” lacks much of the pathos of many of the more successful comic book adaptations, such as “Batman Begins” or “Spider-Man 2”. But that is really fitting for the character of Tony Stark, who’s not really an introspective guy. Downey brings a matter-of-fact directness lacking in most superhero roles. He starts out all surface material here, and although his kidnapping changes him, he remains the goal-oriented character that could have built a multi-billion dollar company like Stark Enterprises.

This movie never missteps. “Iron Man” is popcorn entertainment, but it executes the material very well. All the developments fall into place logically and each character remains true. It is an efficient movie—despite a running time topping two hours—where everything that happens draws the story along and nothing seems extraneous. There are explosions and laughs and a good time to be had. What better way is there to kick off a summer blockbuster season?