The makers of Wreck-It Ralph clearly have a loving respect for video games old and new: with fictional arcade titles that can actually be played on Disney’s website, game characters who make their virtual home feel believable and lively, and an exciting, humorous, and deeply emotional story, Wreck-It Ralph succeeds on pretty much every level, especially as a tribute to classic arcade gaming. Stumbling mainly in a few areas of content appropriateness, this is an overwhelmingly wonderful movie.
There are some monsters you just don’t mess with.
Take Mewtwo, for instance, who is spoken to be the most powerful of all of the diverse species of creatures known as Pokémon. Mewtwo is brought into the world as an artificial being, a clone of an especially rare species known as Mew. This clone, an “animal” with superhuman intelligence and devastating psychic abilities, begins its life by questioning that life’s purpose–and then by destroying the lab that created it.
Pokémon is not a franchise I immediately associate with mass destruction and existential crises (neither of which I consider especially appropriate for children, despite this movie’s rating), but both are on display in the series’ first feature film. This movie is well aware of what it wants to accomplish, and even as it doesn’t always know how to reach that goal, it’s a fun film with plenty of exciting moments.
A movie that fulfills its title in every way, Premium Rush is a quickly paced, thrill-a-minute New York trip in which bike messengers frantically evade pedestrians, vehicles, and the occasional cop. The delivery boys and girls and the police are sometimes (not always) just doing their jobs, but both sides’ actions have powerful consequences for themselves and others. Even though this film has some major content issues and too many ends-and-means questions to count, this is a ride well worth seeing to the end.
It might be hard to argue the necessity of an origin story for a superhero who already had one on film not all that long ago, but even though The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t revolutionize main hero Peter Parker’s past, the movie usually gets its genre basics right while boasting some significant improvements over director Sam Raimi’s franchise works.
A wonderful fairy-tale adaptation from Studio Ghibli, Howl’s Moving Castle is a visually amazing film that deals in themes of love, war, and trust in a setting where magic and technology sometimes go hand in hand. The storytelling sometimes tries to do too much and doesn’t always juggle its various plot threads well, but even with the film’s many oddities, it’s more than gorgeous enough to make up for its narrative shortcomings.
The Robe is a fictionalized account of a Roman soldier whose life is forever changed when he wins Jesus’ robe at the latter’s crucifixion (an event mentioned in passing in Matthew 27:35). The movie’s Oscar-winning costumes and art direction look amazing sixty years after the film was made, but its most important success by far is its wonderfully humane storytelling.
This is how you make an action movie that’s smart and exciting while remaining appropriate for older children.
Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky is an epic and dangerous race to find the legendary floating island of Laputa, and it’s a journey defined as much by its remarkable amount of chaos as by its wonderfully established ties of friendship and its somewhat restrained environmental message. This is an amazing film that throws the simpler pacing of Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies completely out the window and instead opts to almost relentlessly surprise the viewer with new sights and events from start to finish.
This Syfy original movie has a brilliant premise–tornadoes are forming over the ocean, sucking sharks up into the air and flinging them all over, very much alive and very hungry–but it’s the execution that makes this film a thoroughly enjoyable and ridiculous classic. Sharknado is a creature feature that believes in itself almost uncompromisingly from start to finish, and its incredible successes in pacing and action make the movie an unbelievable ride I would have been impressed with even in a theater.
(Update: As a special note, a good buddy of mine has published his own review of this film on his website.)
Pacific Rim is a robots-versus-monsters masterpiece that’s more than just a special-effects blockbuster. With surprisingly effective characterization and no-detail-spared production values from start to finish, this is a movie that succeeds at more or less everything it sets out to do, which was far more than I’d expected a movie in this genre to even attempt.
What would your childhood look like if you made friends with nature spirits and a giant cat, all of which were invisible to adults?
Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, for the most part a delight, is a movie that loves to play around with this premise, even as the concept’s rich potential doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. The film’s numerous issues merit serious discussion about how much they hold the movie back, but viewers willing and able to navigate those hurdles will find a lot to like in what is otherwise a fun and adorable story.