Push” (2009) is a movie-length version of what TV’s “The Gifted” would later show: people with superpowers on the run from government agents. Director Paul McGuigan’s film makes a strong case that this material works better in a movie than in a drawn-out TV series. One thing is notably missing: character development. But there is no padding to the narrative, and no melodramatic ennui.
Only 12 years pass between the third and fourth chapters of the “Die Hard” series, but the difference between the 20th and 21st centuries is striking. In “Die Hard with a Vengeance” (1995), the bad guys steal gold, and in “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007), they steal money digitally. I don’t know how well the details hold up to expert scrutiny, but screenwriter Mark Bomback – who went on to write the last two “Planet of the Apes” films – effectively taps into the unease we feel in knowing that our money is represented by numbers on a computer screen as opposed to old-school bars of gold.
James Lovegrove’s first “Firefly” novel – 2018’s “Big Damn Hero,” co-plotted with Nancy Holder – spans several genres. But his second is a straight-up Western, all set on one dusty planet. “The Magnificent Nine” (March 2019), as the title suggests, has the same plot as the 1960 Western film classic “The Magnificent Seven.” But we get to see how our big gorramn heroes deal with the situation: The already bedraggled townsfolk of Coogan’s Bluff on Thetis are being harassed by murderous, rapist bandits who aim to control the water supply.
Iappreciate that “Jonah Hex” (2010) is only 82 minutes long – the length of some episodes of “Westworld” nowadays – because it makes for a fairly painless viewing experience. Unfortunately, it’s also brainless. This adaptation of DC Comics’ Western superhero invented in 1972 is short for a reason: Writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor tell the thinnest possible story. And it’s directed by Jimmy Hayward, who primarily does animated films. As such, “Jonah Hex” has the simplicity of an animated kids’ movie; it’s for adults only because of the violent revenge narrative.
Everyone looks they’re having a good time on “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998). That’s sometimes a warning sign that the viewer will be as miserable as a wallflower at a raucous party, but that’s not the case here. Although director Richard Donner, veteran TV writer Channing Gibson (in his film debut; no relation to Mel) and the cast make this stuff look effortless, “LW4” is at the same time the most tightly plotted of the sequels as it finds room for boffo action sequences.
Tom Hardy gives one of the best turns in a thankless role you’ll ever see. Known behind the scenes as Sony’s attempt to cash in on a “Spider-Man” character it has under its creative control, “Venom” (2018) is about a journalist, Eddie Brock, who gets possessed by an alien Symbiote. When Eddie is in the throes of possession, the sweat-drenched Hardy is sympathetic and funny; when Venom takes over, the performance is lost in a black CGI blob with white eyes and teeth.
The Crow” saga moves the action from Detroit to Los Angeles for its first sequel, “City of Angels” (1996), and I expected a slicker entry in a thriving metropolis with a love story and a Goo Goo Dolls song. But I was mixing this up with 1998’s romance movie “City of Angels,” from which the ubiquitous GGD song “Iris” comes. As it turns out, “The Crow’s” gritty Los Angeles looks the same as its Detroit; the whole saga takes place in an alternate near-dystopian reality.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993), like most animated films based on properties best known for live action, made only a blip at the box office. (See also 2008’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” movie.) It was released on Christmas Day 1993 to tide Bat-fans over between 1992’s “Batman Returns” and 1995’s “Batman Forever,” and it’s regarded by many as being better than all of the 1990s live-action entries.
Idon’t know if anyone keeps track of this sort of thing, but Vin Diesel must hold the record for most franchises for a B-list action star. Joining “Fast & Furious,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “XXX” and “Pitch Black” is “Bloodshot,” the first entry in the Valiant Cinematic Universe. An actor who no one hates and no one lines up for, Diesel plays the title character (real name: Ray Garrison) who speaks gruffly and seeks vengeance for the murder of his gal Gina (Talulah Riley).
Through the end of May, I’m looking back at the nine movies of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, watching most of them for the first time. Next up is the spinoff movie “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019).