(Review) Marvel’s Luke Cage: A multipurpose, all-American hero’s journey

(MINOR SPOILERS)

You have to give it credit for its ambition. Like the titular hero, the show is busy working multiple jobs. Luke Cage is a thoughtful, modern take on a superhero originally created in response to the Blaxploitation film craze. So on one hand it has a LOT to say about the African American experience. It ruminates on the topic but never gets too heavy-handed or bogged down by it. The show also features some of the most fair depictions of black people in this genre to date. Much of that is owed to showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker. There’s an earnestness to the black identity you just won’t find on the CW.

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Sorry, Iris.

On the other hand, it tries very hard to invoke the Blaxploitation style (or at least a Tarantinoesque, Kill Bill vol 1 interpretation.) The 70s musical cues can be a little obtuse. Sometimes the cuts work, sometimes they don’t. I’m not always sure what’s an homage and what’s just a cliche.

Mike Coulter portrays the character as both reluctant demigod and frustrated intellectual. Cage is acutely self-aware of every role he’s forced into: convict, gladiator/slave, fugitive, hero, freak. You can see how they all chafe against him. That said, he occasionally comes off a little flat. And I do have a hard time with his hazy but convoluted pre-prison origin.

Unlike its Netflix predecessors, Luke Cage’s biggest weakness is its lack of a compelling villain. In fairness, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and David Tennant’s Kilgrave are tough acts to follow that outshine most of the MCU movie villains. And even in the comics, Luke Cage has a D-list rogue’s gallery. But Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard bring heart and chemistry to cousin duo Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard. While not exactly larger than life, they make up for their lack of action figure bankability with character complexity. And this is definitely one of Alfre Woodard’s most memorable performances.

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Be glad they didn’t keep it too much like the comics.
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“Black Mariah.” Seriously.

And then there’s Diamondback played by the distractingly Tony Todd-like Erik LaRay Harvey. They spend half the season hyping up this guy and when he debuts, he’s like an over-the-top villain from a 90’s action show. I’m talking Robocop: The Series, Time Trax or The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. Diamondback is the most cartoon-like element of the series. I’m ambivalent about his mcguffin of a super weapon. His connection to the story is a bit implausible for me. Every line of dialogue was a sing-song threat.

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All he needed was a snake-like lisp.

Simone Cook charms and shines as Misty Knight. It wasn’t obvious at first but her character brings an important balance to this world: She an honest, black, human cop. I half expect her to make appearances in all of these shows just like Rosario Dawson.

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I hope she does, bionic arm or not.

And of course Rosario is back as Claire Temple, the healer and confidant to New York’s miscellaneous heroes. And I could tell from the moment we meet Claire’s mother that Dawson wanted in on the show’s ethnic grounding. The night nurse seems to be headed in a more proactive direction. I’m curious what her dynamic will be with the ensemble Defenders next year.

Theo Rossi as Shades gets an honorable mention. An enforcer/consigliere/liaison, Shades is a surprisingly great supporting character. He’s enigmatic, sinister and clear-headed. I assumed he had powers the minute he was onscreen. Shades genuinely seems evolved: more suited for a post-powered/post-superhero criminal world than everyone else around him.

This is another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe depicting a New York carrying on in the aftermath of alien invasion, the spectacle of the Avengers and an influx of vigilante and/or superpowered characters. As such, watching the previous Marvel movies is not exactly prerequisite but having seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones is a good idea. Of course it’s full of Easter eggs and clever references to both the Luke Cage comics and the MCU.

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It’s like they want to reward you for having sat through Iron Man 2.

Like the shared continuity into which it fits, the show works as long as you don’t focus too hard on the details. Wouldn’t Mariah’s family have been previously scrutinized? Are we going to acknowledge when the Hulk tore through Harlem (or is that shunned like Edward Norton?) What impact did the events of Daredevil season 2 have on organized crime in New York? Exactly how stupid is Tone?

The climax was similar to that of the movie Friday. (I’m still not sure how I feel about that.) There’s far less resolved by the finale than the first seasons of DD and JJ. With The Defenders hot on its heels, Marvel has no time for the modesty of self-containment. The show’s final shot and Cage’s last line of dialogue are almost on-the-nose in expressing their intentions. That said, it was a lot of fun and they definitely have my attention for the next phase.

I give it a solid B.

(Review) Suicide Squad: The solid C- for your honor roll expectations

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As ludicrous as the idea of shutting down Rotten Tomatoes is, the butthurt fandom of the internet has a point: RT can be pretty hard on movies. (The stylish, thoroughly entertaining Smokin’ Aces is sitting at a criminal 29%.)

With a rotten 26% rating based on 265 reviews, here is the website’s Critics Consensus:

Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren’t enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.

I would rewrite that as follows:

Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and more humor than previous DCEU efforts, which are barely enough to save it from a muddled plot, gaudy post-production choices and not nearly enough Joker to justify the hype.

Just to fill you in, Warner Bros. (the studio that brought us The Dark Knight as easily as it did Green Lantern or Halle Berry’s Catwoman) panicked at the negative response to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Say the whole name and imagine an exec going “Yeah!”)

And while Captain America: Civil War was earning our praise with its balance of comedy-drama-action, character motivations and most importantly COHESIVE FUCKING STORYTELLING, the total lesson that Warner Bros. walked away with was be funnier. And so, abandoning all faith in director David Ayer’s vision, the businessmen blindly ordered their respective lackeys to stuff MORE HUMOR into Suicide Squad.

You can read more about that shitstorm here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/suicide-squads-secret-drama-rushed-916693

I don’t always side with the director, but this sort of retroactive micromanagement has killed many a franchise. Needless to say, I lowered my expectations to the floor; I waited the whole movie for it to suck. And did it? There were some weak links:

  • Too much pop music. Clearly a conceit of the newer edit.
  • Kitana couldn’t be more generic.
  • A flashback that revealed nothing new.
  • The Ghostbusterish threat was some basic, Saturday morning cartoon shit. Very little gravity to said threat or the aftermath.
  • Stop telling us they’re the bad guys and let them be bad.
  • Cara Delevingne. At no point could I forget that she’s a model 1st, an actress 2nd.
  • The slow mo in the climax made it duuuuuumbbbeeeeerrrrrr.
  • We get it! Killer Croc is a black guy! Enough with the minstrel show dialogue.
  • The Joker was barely in the movie. I see why Jared Leto was pissed. He wasn’t even around long enough for us to rank his performance let alone this iteration of the character. What a letdown!

Yet despite its shortcomings, Suicide Squad has plenty of merits that keep it from being a total waste:

  • Will Smith’s bigger slice of the pie was well-served. You know exactly what you’re going to get with him. His Deadshot may be the most interesting depiction of what’s normally a 3rd-tier villain.
  • Margot Robbie was excellent as Harley Quinn. All wackiness and sexiness aside, there was surprising nuance in her performance. Quinn’s many reactions and non-reactions to other characters paint an unexpected picture of her mind in subtle strokes.
  • El Diablo may just be the best pyrokinetic character in any comic book movie so far.
  • This was definitely the best that could be done with Captain Boomerang and the only time I’ve ever liked Jai Courtney.
  • Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is harder than Darth Vader and never overcompensates (unlike Jesse Eisenberg in BvS.)
  • Killer Croc looks great. So there’s that.
  • No one cares about Slipknot. Thanks for not overplaying him.
  • What little we saw of the Joker was a promising take on the character. All those tattoos everyone hated didn’t take away from it.

In Suicide Squad, we wanted another dark horse crowdpleaser falling somewhere between the motley underdog heart of Guardians of the Galaxy and the nihilistic mania of Deadpool. What we got was a cheeky (in more ways than one) installment in a so-far underwhelming cinematic universe that immediately has me waiting for the director’s cut.

 

Review: Django Unchained

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This was the dose of unadulterated asskicking we needed for the holiday season. While not technically a “revenge” story, Django Unchained certainly feels like one. A lot has been said about the blood and gore, which is plentiful but not to be mistaken for gratuitous. The violence perpetrated by the movie’s villains packs the added weight of complacent injustice; they never feel the need to hide or apologize for their actions. It leaves the audience particularly uncomfortable knowing that such deeds were once common place.

Conversely, the violence inflicted against the bad guys plays far more cathartic than The Bride’s revenge in Kill Bill. Nearly every death dealt by the heroes feels like an overdue blow to an ugly status quo. (In that regard, the last Rambo movie comes to mind.) Grim, yet sweet comeuppance is what ultimately fuels this latest Tarantino yarn.

Jamie Foxx was far more believable a slave-turned-bounty hunter than I had expected. Django is a fast learner and a latent crack shot. While he’s haunted by the quest for his long-lost wife, he also seethes with a growing contempt for the people who view him as subhuman. But the fun is in watching his swagger as his newfound liberty emboldens him more and more.

Christoph Waltz plays a similarly ruthless but well-mannered manhunter as he famously portrayed in Inglourious Basterds. But in Django Unchained, it’s far more refreshing to be able to root for the morally ambiguous Dr. Schultz. One of the film’s underplayed charms is seeing the reaction he provokes from other characters. They resent his liberal, European sensibilities but begrudgingly respect his authority and social status.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the slimiest fucker of his career as Calvin Candie. He’s the sort of bourgeois sadist that brings to mind corrupt noblemen of Ancient Rome. Candie is so utterly convinced of his entitlement, you feel like any fate he meets by the end of the movie is too good for him. And I’m not saying that his relationship with his sister was implied to be incestuous. But I think the fact that I wondered this was no accident.

Samuel L. Jackson garners much of the movie’s laughs as an unexpected villain. His character Stephen is the most hilariously over-the-top Uncle Tom since The Boondock’s Uncle Ruckus. At the same time, he’s quite cunning and evil in his own right. His very existence in this film gives it a small but appreciated level of complexity.

Although Django’s wife, Broomhilda, was little more than the classic damsel in distress, Kerry Washington played the card well. Every time she was on-screen, she either inspired or emoted despite having very little dialogue. She sold the constant unease of a woman too beautiful to ever be safe as a slave.

I have very few gripes with the film. Perhaps it’s longer than it needs to be, but I was never bored. Compared to Inglourious Basterds, with its multiple character threads, Django Unchained is a simple story. Almost disappointingly so. The climax was a bit hammy, but by that point you just shrug and enjoy the ride.

Um, the nudity was unexpected. Tarantino just said “Fuck it. I’m going there!” But in its defense, the context was meant to be uncomfortable.

Speaking of Tarantino, this may have been his dumbest cameo ever. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why James Remar had to play two characters.

Regarding the N-word, obviously it’s used frequently, but I think critics are over-sensationalizing that aspect of the movie. Personally, it wasn’t nearly as offensive here as it was when Tarantino’s own character used it in Pulp Fiction. Clearly it’s been a LONG time since such a racially-charged movie was in the spotlight.

Spike Lee found Django Unchained’s setting of slavery to be in bad taste. Although I understand where he’s coming from (his issues with Tarantino not withstanding), I respectfully disagree. That particular time in history is starting to be omitted from basic education. If some clueless teenagers walk away from this bloody spectacle of an action movie with even a hint of how huge and horrible slavery was, then I consider that an added bonus.

I give it an A-/B+.

Review: Looper

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This movie could’ve gone flying off the rails any point. But with a fraction of the budget and twice the brains, Looper runs circles around the over-inflated Prometheus hands down.

This is writer/director Rian Johnson’s third feature, his first being the neo-noir Brick, one of my favorite indie movies of the last decade. Aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper contains a number of similarities to that film: startling dreamscape transitions, curiously discreet love scenes and quirky, stylized criminal underbellies are just a few.

(Note: I haven’t seen The Brothers Bloom yet, so I can’t compare that one.)

While Brick exists in a universe where SoCal teenagers talk like a 1930s crime novel, Looper’s genre-bending cultural mash-up comes in no small part from the story’s dystopian setting.

In 2044, America is in economic squalor. The yuan has replaced the dollar, poverty is rampant and the only lucrative industry seems to be crime. The Kansas of the movie has maybe slightly more homeless people than modern-day San Francisco.

The fun part is the odd mix of future, retro and ghetto: Beat up old cars slapped with solar panels. Flying motorcycles with engine problems. An updated blunderbuss for short-range executions along with a history-spanning variety of firearms (one large revolver referred to as a “gat.”) Not to mention the common occurrence of an utterly useless degree of telekinesis barely applicable as a corny bar trick. It’s the sort of awesome and eclectic sci-fi landscape I haven’t seen since Firefly. Okay, maybe Afro Samurai.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a fine, understated performance as Joe, a lowlife enjoying the high life in more ways than one. I was initially skeptical about the prosthetics to make him look like Bruce Willis, but it really is seamless.

Bruce Willis, although not exactly playing against type, exuded a surprising level of pathos as the older version of Joe from 2074. He’s breaking your heart one minute. The next he’s going full Bruce Willis and kicking ALL the ass.

There’s plenty of murky morality to go around. I found myself empathizing with both versions of the character at different moments. The audience’s loyalty is challenged when either young or old Joe makes a tough, nasty decision.

The movie itself makes some bold choices that I’m glad a major studio wasn’t around to micromanage. There was one sequence of unexpected time travel horror I don’t think I’ve ever seen committed to film before.

Looper isn’t flawless. I questioned a few character actions and the pacing seemed to dip here and there. Not every plot device plays smoothly. The time travel logic seems sound enough. Mostly. I’m trying not to think about it too hard.

Emily Blunt was decent but forgettable as a long-suffering single mother. She’s just one of those interchangeable actresses I can’t tell apart from 10 other’s just like her.

He may be a fine actor who held is own with Daniel Day-Lewis, but we can all predict Paul Dano’s role as soon as he appears onscreen.

Jeff Daniels was great. I particularly liked his character’s talk about fashion, culture and the future. But having seen Brick, I feel like more could’ve been done with him.

Noah Segan plays a good fool, but I wasn’t buying the accent.

Overall, this was the time travel film/thinking man’s action movie we were overdue for. In less capable hands, Looper could’ve gone the way of many brilliantly conceived, poorly executed, Hollywood sci-fi abortions (à la Surrogates). Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

I give a Full Price (or A-).

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (no spoilers)

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As much as I wanted to see it, The Dark Knight Rises is a difficult film for me to review. Not only am I ambivalent about the finished product, but even elaborating on my mixed feelings would invoke spoilers.

Try to avoid hearing discussions about it. You’d be a fool not to have seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight first, but the less you know going into TDKR the better.

Director Christopher Nolan has fascinated audiences with how seriously he’s handled this series. Some of his choices proved brilliant when they originally seemed terrible. But although he’s a slick and creative filmmaker, none of his films are perfect. I’ll try to keep this brief:

  • Christian Bale topped his previous performances as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Yes, he still did the voice, but somehow it didn’t bother me. By this point we just go with it. His dialogue behind the mask could’ve used a tweak or two.
  • Michael Caine, though featured less in this final installment, acted his ass off.
  • Gary Oldman shined in all his grizzled, I’m-too-old-for-this-shit, veteran cop glory.
  • Morgan Freeman was charming as usual. Nothing new there.
  • Marion Cotillard. I will critique her role as Bruce Wayne’s new love interest with a curt nod of approval.
  • To my surprise and relief, Anne Hathaway nailed it as Catwoman. Most people questioned her casting. We all felt pessimistic about the high-tech update of the 60’s TV show costume. A few more gimmicks would’ve been nice, but whatever. Somehow it worked beautifully on screen and she emerged as my favorite character.
  • Tom Hardy had the difficult task of following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger. Again, much of the disappointment people are going to feel is from comparing this movie to the last. Hardy did not quite steal the show like we wanted, but he was indeed fantastic as Bane. He was the perfect combination of intelligence, brutality, intimidation and gravitas. Memorable… but not quite phenomenal, which is a shortcoming I can only blame on the writing.
  • Oh, the writing. There were fallacies with The Dark Knight that we forgave or poked at after the fact because it did such a great job kicking our ass. (“Did the Joker just stun everyone else in the jail with the explosion or… holy shit, look at him stealing that cop car.”) The plot holes in The Dark Knight Rise are a bit wide. It asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief, even for a superhero movie. Forgivable? Maybe. Debatably. But there were certainly some fuzzy geographic and chronological gaps that made me think “Hmm. Sloppy.”
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great, but I don’t like where the writers ultimately decided to go with him. (The only time I actually groaned in my seat involved a later scene with him and an admin woman.)
  • A clever appearance by Cillian Murphy, but not enough of him.
  • The action was superb.
  • The “Bat” was awesome and I’m happy they included it.
  • I’m glad Nolan finally learned how to film fight scenes.
  • They noticeably overcompensated when they re-dubbed/augmented Bane’s voice.
  • A suspenseful climax and a great final act worthy of the film’s grand ambitions.
  • People are going to be split on the ending. It worked for me.

In summary, more satisfying than Batman Begins. Less jaw-dropping than The Dark Knight. Nolan chose to tie it back to the first film instead of delving deeper into the underbelly of the second. Not the direction I wanted but, again, maybe it just doesn’t get any deeper than the Joker.

I admire the scope of The Dark Knight Rises, even if it doesn’t always cover the distance (literally and figuratively). Watch it. Enjoy. Learn to like it. Despite the problems, it’s going to be a LONG time before Hollywood puts this much thought into another comic book movie.

I give it a B.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

So here were my prejudices going into the movie:

I loved the 2002 Spider-Man the FIRST time around. Big budget comic book movies were still pretty new, so we all forgave the movie its flaws because it was a mostly well-done, big screen debut for the character. I never felt the need to own the dvd.

Spider-Man 2 may be the best one of the Raimi films. Origin out of the way. Alfred Molina kicked ass as Doc Ock.

We’ve all reached the consensus that Spider-Man 3 was a studio-micromanaged slap in the face. So much dancing! So much crying! So much to hate! So much for Mr. Raimi.

A lot of people bitch. I was glad they rebooted the series. It was about time for some fresh blood and a different perspective from a fresh set of eyes.

After catching an early, no-frills matinee, here’s my critique.

THE GOOD:

Spidey’s a smart-ass. This is the Peter Parker they should’ve given us a long time ago.  He’s a good-hearted underdog, but he’s not a constipated boy scout. Peter was raised in the big city and it shows. When he gets his powers, the confidence becomes apparent. When the mask is on, he just lets it go. In Raimi’s films, the lack of this evolution was the biggest letdown for me. (You know, that and Venom.)

He’s a little off-kilter. Andrew Garfield is hands down superior to Tobey Macguire. Silly as it sounds, Garfield said he studied spiders while crafting the role. One review compared his twitchiness to Jeff Goldlum in The Fly. It’s a solid comparison and I found myself wondering how much of the quirk was from Parker being a socially-awkward teenager and how much was from some transformed, inhuman way of seeing the world.

Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is better than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane. I really got sick of Dunst’s ever-distressing damsel. Honestly, I never found her that likable. I would almost say she was a lousy bitch of a girlfriend. But in all fairness, Marc Webb is just better with female love interests. Gwen Stacy may not have been the most thoroughly developed character, but she came off as charming, smart and endearing. I actually believed the relationship between her and Peter and was relieved that she wasn’t quite the MacGuffin we were all expecting.

The tone was perfect. Don’t believe all the “dark and brooding” talk. Sure, he broods in a few parts, but the film is NOT trying to be The Dark Knight. It is grittier than the previous Spider-man movies, but hell, that’s not very hard. High school is an appropriate setting (despite Garfield’s age) and Peter’s angst in this context feels genuine. Also: His changing dynamic with Flash Thompson was also a nice touch.

It implies a larger world of Spider-Man while still working as a complete story. I was really afraid the film would be too busy setting up sequels to give us a proper ending. I’m happy I was wrong. There are some unresolved issues, but we’re given the sense that they really can wait. It’s good that not all cards are shown at once. Norman Osborn is powerful and high up the totem pole. His name is everywhere but you don’t get to see him. (My guess is that they’re saving him for Part 3.)

Likewise, there’s a moment where Peter gets an education in how not busting small criminals can lead him to bigger fish. I like this implication for where the series might go. The cartoons and comics have delved into the whole Spidey vs organized crime angle, but the movies have always been Spidey vs Monster of the Week with a few purse snatchers as a warm up.

Martin Sheen was excellent as Uncle Ben. He was such a convincingly great father figure, I couldn’t believe his real-life son is Charlie Sheen.

THE OKAY:

A soft reboot would’ve been fine. Probably even perfect. A clever montage was all it needed. We wanted to see a Spider-Man who at least had Year One under his belt. They ignored the groans of the masses and retold the entire origin anyway. But you know what? It may not have been necessary, but it’s actually fine.

It was worthwhile largely for the fun of watching him have no control over his powers at the beginning. Because of that, I never felt the need for them to just get on with it.

The web-shooters were good enough, I guess. Meaning that they copped out a little on where he gets the webbing and how he built the devices. But I still prefer this to “He just shoots the shit out of his arm cuz that’s his power now.”

THE BAD:

The Lizard kinda sucked. I wasn’t crazy about the look of the CG monster or his agenda. I didn’t hate him as much as I expected ONLY because Rhys Ifans was fantastic. I did like his various stages of semi-transformation. He really made the mad scientist angle (a more malevolent take on the character) work in a way that I wanted to see how the series handles the other mad scientist villains. But the second that Goomba from the Super Mario Bros movie opens his mouth and talks –> Shitsville.

There were plot holes regarding the movie’s climax. I won’t spoil them, but you’ll know them when you see them. There were definitely some scenes on the cutting room floor. Still, I don’t know if I like the idea of the Lizard even having a master plan. It was all just so damn retro.

I don’t care about the mystery of his parents. I mean, I did for the first half hour. It’s a worthy topic and I guess I’m curious to see where they go with it. But it just comes off as such a weak enticement to stay tuned for the entire new trilogy… which I will probably do regardless.

Sally Field was underused. I know it sounds weird that I’m asking for more Aunt May, considering how many of her sweet grandma moments Raimi shoved down our throats. But with the exception of 2 or 3 nice scenes, she almost felt like a piece of furniture in the Parker household.

And I almost forgot: Quit taking your mask off, Parker! He’s either taking it off or getting unmasked WAY too often. At night on a rooftop – sure. In the sewers – okay. At a place he goes everyday in broad daylight – c’mon! We know who you are, Garfield. It’s your movie! You’re already getting plenty of face time.

OVERALL: (B+)

Many of the critics on the geek sites are being hard on this one. We all wanted it to be “Amazing” but what we got was “Pretty Good.” The elements that “The Amazing Spider-man” gets right really are a breath of fresh air. But every so often, you smell a hint of old ass. I would still see this again, attribute its flaws to growing pains and hope for a sharper sequel. ($20 says it’ll be titled “Web of Spider-Man.”)

A mildly spicy sci-fi jambalaya (my mostly spoiler-free review of Prometheus)

I couldn’t help but enter the theater with high expectations for this one. Not just because “Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction” was so heavily touted, but because I also paid $21 to see it in IMAX 3-D.

Let it be known that I am a fan of IMAX, not of 3-D, but they have been largely inseparable thanks to the great (ahem) engineers of box office profit.

I stayed away from reviews and the spoiler-heavy TV spots.

The movie is as visually impressive as you might expect, and I can admit that the effects are worthy of the IMAX 3-D experience. The story, however, falls short of its own Herculean ambitions. It plays with religious and existential concepts and frightens you with many unexplained biological terrors but never ties it all together. Even the tie-in to the universe of Alien was unexciting for me and may have actually weakened Prometheus as a stand-alone film. Although he’s not the most consistently excellent storyteller, I really wanted more out of Sir Ridley Scott this time around.

Also, a couple of scenes were editted a little awkwardly. This tells me that, as usual, Scott plans to release an extended Director’s Cut. Unless there’s a completely different ending, I doubt it will be enough to make this feel like a complete film.

But Prometheus isn’t entirely without merits. The primary actors gave excellent performances, particularly Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as a long-suffering, yet idealistic archaeologist and Michael Fassbender as the indispensable and ambivalent android David.

I can’t praise the nuance of Fassbender’s performance enough. You find yourself liking David, who clearly aspires to be more than just a machine. Although he’s full of dandyism and courtesy, you are frequently reminded that he has no soul and thus, has the morality of a crescent wrench.

Rapace refreshingly brought some Lisbeth Salander-intensity to the role of Elisabeth Shaw. The movie’s more suspenseful scene was powered by her solo A-game performance. It was unfortunately a suspense that the rest of the movie sorely lacked.

Charlize Theron smoldered with alpha-female authority as the curt corporate bigwig the way a block of dry ice emanates fog. She was impressively understated.

Idris Elba was decent as the captain of the titular Prometheus, but I felt the British actor was slightly over-exaggerating his blue-collar American schtick.

Guy Pierce gave a brief but excellent performance under a ton of old-man make up, but his appearance in the movie is baffling. I expected much more use out of his character considering the trouble they underwent to age the actor so convincingly. This is indicative of my biggest problem with Prometheus: it’s spends too much time creating mysteries and not enough time solving them.

I wish that this movie were as smart as it wants to be. I feel like movie audiences need smart stories, but smart science fiction is necessary for several reasons. One is that Hollywood needs to stop spoon-feeding us multimillion dollar, alien invasion, explosion-porn based on toys and board games.

We need more movie like Moon with Sam Rockwell. It had an intriguing, solid story regardless of its low key trappings. Hell, I even liked Pandorum, despite that it’s third act resembled a Milla Jovovich flick. It may have under-performed, but Pandorum maintained a suspenseful atmosphere fueled by the fear of everything that can go horribly wrong in outer space. Its final act surprised me and finished with a satisfying conclusion.

The fact that Ridley Scott and his writers (one of whom wrote for Lost) couldn’t meet the same level of storytelling with several times the budget is more foreboding than Prometheus’s ominous trailers. I’m afraid Sir Ridley’s losing his touch.

The movie still gets a B- (matinee). I suppose that’s only disappointing because we all wanted an A this time.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I give it a C.