Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

It’s no surprise that this is a dumb movie – it’s summer, it’s Bruckheimer. What’s disappointing is when these dumb summer action flicks can’t even get the action right. The parkour and swordplay are so cheaply shot – with excessive closeups, cheap camera cuts, and poor framing – that there’s zero sense of athleticism or excitement. It’s no wonder Gyllenhaal did most of his stunts when it involves hopping a few feet between camera cuts or aimlessly swinging a prop.

The pacing moves either so slowly that you can’t help but notice how irrelevant every other plot point is, or at such a blisteringly fast pace that you have no idea what was supposed to have happened. The only other speed is the series’ trademark rewind element, an effects-laden job that gets the point across but doesn’t quite impress.

The bulk of the character interplay is the banter between the prince and the princess, which is essentially the Han and Leia routine from the first two Star Wars films, dumbed down for the 21st century. (Star Wars dialog isn’t all poetry, but it truly is elegant in comparison.) The familial relationships could have carried some weight but don’t, and the remaining characters are mostly ripped from Gladiator, much too sloppily for the depth from that movie to have survived the transition.

If the film were somewhat shorter, it could have been mildly enjoyable for the desert vistas, fantasy cityscapes and rapid (if poorly shot) action, but at two hours it grows tiresome well before the climax, which true to form takes the nonsensical plot and juvenile theatrics to their pinnacle.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Boasts some impressive visuals (mouse cam!) and surprisingly intense action, but a haphazardly arranged plot and anemic writing and acting make it all feel pointless. It’s sad to see the fantasy film genre slowly dying after being brought to life by Lord of the Rings.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

It’s almost worth putting up with the random direction and cheap special effects (I’m aware they’re meant to be fantastical, they’re still cheap) to see another superb thespian effort by Heath Ledger in his final film. Alas, due to the sad circumstances of filming he’s absent for a good half of the movie, and thus unable to salvage an overall mediocre production.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Michael Bay likes the boom. The boom boom pow. And a lot like Will.I.Am, he doesn’t care how silly his lyrics are or how manufactured his stylings. The difference being that while Black Eyed Peas songs have their moments of dumb fun, Transformers: Age of Extinction only has moments of dumb.

Conversely Bay himself might actually be quite smart in peddling his products to the mass-market lowest common denominator. Maybe he knows audiences won’t mind that high-tech military helicopters somehow can’t accurately shoot an 18-wheeler… as long as the surroundings get blown up. Or that when said 18-wheeler’s robot mode has been defeated in battle (not a spoiler, it happens every movie), an advanced alien spaceship picks up the remains not with a tractor beam or a high-powered magnet, but with a net… as long as a hot blonde gets caught in it too. Or that the same robot, after spending most the movie driving to and from peril as a clunky 18-wheeler, suddenly exhibits the ability to rocket off into space… as long as it means there’s a sequel.

From a fanboy perspective the movie is still bad. There are a few nice effects shots, but nothing jaw-dropping or significantly different from the previous three movies. The Dinobots offer the potential for some impressive action and destruction, but as with Devastator’s appearance in Transformers 2, it goes largely unfulfilled. Fans often say they want to see less of the humans and more of the robots in these movies, but as annoying as the human characters can be, the Autobots are actually worse, ranging from a pot-bellied, potty-mouthed robotic redneck to a bright blue bot with a Japanese accent (Ken Watanabe’s second bad movie of the summer) and a sword.

It’d be nice if one of these Transformers sequels didn’t make a billion dollars so the studio would have an excuse to get a different director. But much like Megatron there’s no keeping Bay down, and even as producer he’d still likely put his unsightly stamp on the series (as seems to be happening with the awful-looking TMNT reboot).

Maybe some things are better left in the ’80s.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

There’s nothing Michael Bay won’t go through for a close-up slow-motion lens-flared shot of stuff blowing up. No writing too terrible and no story too senseless, as is in full evidence here.

Overall it’s not as mercilessly awful as the second movie, yet on the other hand none of its action scenes match the one standout sequence from that film. The first movie remains the best of the three by far, and the sole respectable outing.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Occasionally enjoyable purely on a visceral level for the action and effects, but be willing to kick your brain back to elementary school to get anything out of the rest.

The first film wasn’t exactly Oscar material, but it did make some efforts at establishing realism and plausibility. Revenge of the Fallen throws all that out the window for a silly story and characters that would fit right into old ’80s cartoons but don’t work so well in a 2009 live-action movie. Tons more robots are introduced, but only a select few are interesting and a couple are flat-out ridiculous. Meanwhile some of the staple Transformers from the first movie are disregarded, while fans of the old cartoons will find others straying too far from the characters they remember.

As for the humans, Shia LaBeouf’s character loses much of his charm from the first movie, Megan Fox grows more tiresome with each ridiculous Michael Bay slow-motion close-up, and as with the robots, most of the human characters play their bit parts with little purpose.

On the up side, the robot effects have improved noticeably over the already impressive CG from the first movie, and a couple of the action scenes (which are surprisingly few until the drawn-out final battle) are jaw-dropping. With such an utterly ridiculous story behind them, though, it really is hard to care.

Tron Legacy

Power Rangers with glow sticks. The opening in the real world is decent enough, but the remainder in the digital realm – what should be the good part – never evolves beyond a nine-year-old’s vision of scattering gunfire, meaningless quests, inexplicable powers and spin kicks concluded by ninja poses.

On the plus side, the early effects sequences are nice, and Olivia Wilde is gorgeous as always.  If you’re a sucker for eye candy then put on those 3D glasses and plug in some earphones – enjoy the light show and spare yourself the awful dialogue and storytelling.

Valentine’s Day

A rom-com that rarely tries anything remotely ambitious and fails when it does, as do almost all of its jokes. So jam-packed with stars and inconsequential storylines it could stand to have a few of them cut, but if you’re looking to gaze at beautiful people for two-plus hours it’s a marginally passable way to do so.

Brave

The first Pixar movie to feel like a regular Disney one. The humor is kids-only and the story is shallow and devoid of the sense of adventure implied in the trailers, devolving instead into the sort of heroine-and-animal-sidekick story typical of the parent studio’s lesser efforts. Pixar’s characteristically cartoonish style of computer animation doesn’t suit the comparatively realistic setting and even lessens the emotional impact of the movie at times. The ending redeems the film slightly, but only enough to recommend it to families with aspiring little princesses of their own.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Bookended between a moody, mysterious intro and an intriguing epilogue is a well-intentioned but bland retro action film. The pacing is slooow and the attempts at romance and comedy fall mostly flat. This would all be easier to accept if the action kicked ass, but unfortunately slow-motion shots of characters flying through the air with explosions in the background are the only trick in Joe Johnston’s action playbook. Tommy Lee Jones is awesome being Tommy Lee Jones but that’s about all there is.

Clash of the Titans

I went into Clash of the Titans expecting a popcorn movie and that’s what I got. I’d just hoped for a more exciting one.

The first half of the movie is decent enough .  The effects are solid and though the story is rushed and low on drama, it’s enough to set the stage for some outlandish man vs. mythological monster action.

Unfortunately the two major action sequences that dominate the second half are underwhelming (the best parts of the final one all revealed in the trailers), and with the story and acting being predictably thin there isn’t much remaining to carry the film, aside from a few cool costumes and effects.

Rango

Similar to Toy Story 3 in its eye-popping visuals and feisty musical score, while completely different in its slow, directionless plot and failed attempts at humor, with both the kiddie gags and some surprisingly adult asides mostly falling flat. Those with little children beware that despite the generally juvenile proceedings there’s some fairly dark and violent language at the end.