There is nothing greater for a cinephile like me to watch a movie for the first time and falling in love with it. This is especially true when you see said movie in a theatre with all the hype surrounding its release and you can’t help but get swept up in it. The first viewing of a film is often the most magical. It is also, at least in my experience, the least reliable. Many a time I have left a theatre feeling euphoric at what I’d just watched only to realize upon revisiting the movie that it simply wasn’t that great (A Phantom Menace anyone?).
The following movies below are ten years old. Some of them I’ve seen several times and some of them I’ve seen only once before. But all of these movies have one thing in common: it has been years since I have seen these movies and are far away enough from their original release dates that some perspective can be garnered. And while revisiting a movie always carries with it the danger that your original assessment of the film might not hold up, it also opens up the possibility that the movie may be as good and maybe even better as you remember. While falling in love with a movie for the first time might be the greatest thrill for a cinephile, falling in love with it again may be a close second.
(Note: Even though Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” would be a prime candidate for this post, I’m saving it for a further post looking back at Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” as a whole. So it is not an unintentional omission here.)
IRON MAN (dir. Jon Favreau)
Given everything that has happened to comic book movies and the movie industry in general since Iron Man came out, it is almost jarring to revisit the original movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and see just how small and intimate it is. The movie is very much a portrait of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and is almost myopically focused on his journey from a flippant billionaire playboy into the eventual superhero who would become the centrepiece of the MCU. Right off the bat Iron Man displays all of the key ingredients that would turn the MCU into the mega-blockbuster uber-franchise that it is. Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as the glib Stark and even though he has had ten years and nine movies to refine the role, it is surprising just how fully-formed his character is right off the gate. He displays the prerequisite humour that would be Stark’s calling card throughout the MCU but also the intense vulnerability that would make him such a compelling figure. His journey from unwitting war profiteer to someone who wants to bring peace to the world to assuage his own guilt is a great twist to the often mundane superhero origin story, while the relationship between corporate America and wars in the middle east displayed here show shockingly real-world parallels that make the story compelling beyond the usual action shenanigans. This real-world underpinning in Iron Man is also what makes Tony second-in-command Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and eventual rival such a compelling villain (an all-too-rare occurrence in the MCU) – he acts believably as any corporate shill eventually would. Rounding out the cast is Gwyneth Paltrow as work-colleague/love-interest Pepper Potts (is it crazy to posit that this might be one of her best roles?), Terence Howard as James Rhodes (who is so good as Rhodes that it is disheartening he blew it in negotiations for Iron Man 2 that he got replaced), and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson (the one universe-building piece in this movie, and a nonchalantly intrusive one at that). I don’t think any of us could’ve truly anticipated how big this eventual universe would get, but undoubtedly every subsequent MCU movie owes a debt of gratitude to the amazingly good Iron Man.
Does it hold up? 10 years and a gargantuan ton of superhero movies later, Iron Man still stands out as one of the best. So yes.
IN BRUGES (dir. Martin McDonagh)
After an assassination attempt goes horribly wrong, ending in the death of an innocent, the assassin himself Ray (Colin Farrell) and his partner and mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) flee to Bruges in order to lay low. Ken sees this as a wonderful opportunity to explore one of Europe’s grandest cities and decides to take in the sights until he hears from their boss (the greatest trick this movie pulls off is in being a perfect showcase of the Belgian city without ever turning into a travelogue). Meanwhile Ray finds his stay more of a torturing exile as he lashes out frequently at anyone and anything that irks him in the least while finding more and more debased ways to avoid his crippling guilt. Of course, this setup dictates that things must go south at some point, but the way it unfolds is is frequently surprising and inventive. It is also a thriller that’s very much concerned with the nature of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption as it is about any sort of conventional thrill. The performances of Farrell and Gleeson is some of the best work these two have done, as they bounce off one another in a father-petulant son sort of way creating plenty of moments of humour but more importantly moments of heart-wrenching pathos. A late-act against-type appearance by Ralph Fiennes simply cements the movie as one of the hidden gems of 2008, and has seemingly only gotten better in the intervening years. It also is a clear reminder that though McDonagh’s recent American sojourns have ranged from interesting (Seven Psychopaths) to less-than-compelling (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), he would do well to return to his Irish roots.
Does it hold up? Hecks yes.
HANCOCK (dir. Peter Berg)
Hancock was released in between Iron Man and The Dark Knight and as such is an interesting snapshot of the film world before the relentless inundation of superhero movies. It is a superhero movie without any intellectual property attached to it and banks solely on the star power of Will Smith to carry the movie through. Smith plays John Hancock, a surly homeless boozer who happens to have superpowers and whose crime-stopping exploits are arguably more a public menace than the crimes themselves. When he comes across Ray (Jason Bateman), a public relations expert, he is slowly moulded into a public figure worthy of respect and admiration. Unfortunately the execution of this movie can only be described as extremely poor. Smith plays Hancock with his usual snark but brings none of the charismatic energy that made it so easy to root for him in his earlier roles – he looks like he is on cruise-control. Meanwhile his co-stars Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron as Bateman’s wife Mary look like they are appearing in different movies. Bateman engages in his best Michael Bluth impersonation and puts the “comedy” into the “action-comedy” part of this movie while Theron’s role is altogether too serious and jarringly so. The movie is simply a tonal mess and is thus also the last remnant of a bygone era when studio executives thought all that you needed to do to get fanboys into the theatres was to slap a huge mega-star in some tights and call it good. Clearly that strategy got ripped to shreds in the following decade.
Does it hold up? In their own ways Iron Man and The Dark Knight elevated the superhero genre to new heights. Hancock looks like a relic in comparison.
CLOVERFIELD (dir. Matt Reeves)
Cloverfield’s legacy probably lies in the absolutely groundbreaking viral marketing the movie put out. I remember seeing the first teaser trailer for the movie that arrived without any fanfare and dared to not even give us a title at the end of it. It sent me and my friends down a rabbit hole trying to figure out exactly what this movie was about. The marketing officially created MySpace pages (remember those?) for obsessives to sleuth for clues, while brilliantly just about every other piece of viral marketing, whether it was actually for Cloverfield or not, fuelled further speculation as to what this movie was. By the time the movie finally did hit, it didn’t disappoint as a Blair Witch Project crossed with Godzilla movie detailing a chaotic night of destruction and carnage in New York City. The shaky-cam was nausea-inducing to some (I count myself as one of them) but the overall feeling was that the movie lived up enough to the hype of the marketing campaign as a movie-going event. Ten years later, far removed from said marketing campaign however, and the creaks of this movie are readily apparent. This movie heavily relies on the idiot-plot as the central quartet of Rob (Michael Stahl-David), Lily (Jessica Lucas), Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), and home-video cameraman Hud (T. J. Miller) increasingly throw self-preservation to the wind in order to further the story along. Also since we now live in a post-Erlich Bachman (Miller’s character in the sitcom Silicon Valley) world, the undeniable feeling of wanting to punch Hud in the face every time he speaks has only increased ten-fold in the intervening years. Meanwhile as the John Wick action franchise is showing, the shaky-cam trend of the 2000s in increasingly looking like a dated (and nausea inducing) technique. The strength of this movie lies entirely in its concept – the execution leaves a little to be desired.
Does it hold up? Away from the hype of its marketing campaign, the movie is basically a sci-fi B-movie that good for its camp effect and little else.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (dir. Andrew Adamson)
The problem with the trying to adapt the Chronicles of Narnia, as became easily apparent through this movie series, is that each novel in the series is vastly different from the other. The only pieces of continuity in each book is Aslan, who appears in brief cameos throughout. and the land of Narnia itself. While Aslan and Narnia are enough to keep a reader enraptured and hooked throughout they prove less than sufficient continuity links when viewed onscreen. In this second instalment just about every major supporting character from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is gone as this movie is set 1300 years in the future in Narnia. At least we still have the Pevensie children but this turns out to be both a blessing and a curse because while they are familiar faces, it is also clear that their acting abilities are still the weakest part of this franchise. Meanwhile the movie spends most of its running time introducing a whole new cast of characters with varying degrees of success. Seemingly knowing that the lack of continuity was going to be a problem, the filmmakers also shove just about as much action into this movie including at least two action scenes that don’t appear in the novel and a conflict between Peter and Prince Caspian that is also absent from the literature as the movie desperately tries to approximate the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy but comes off looking like a cheap imitator instead. It is no wonder that Disney ended up ditching this franchise the first chance it got.
Does it hold up? Did it ever?