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Movie Review: Abominable

Abominable

Abominable is a movie we’ve seen dozens of times before, so even though it runs on rails it isn’t altogether bad. The one thing that switches it up even a little bit is its Chinese setting. In the dozen of other iterations of this film, this would have always been set in America. Likely the most interesting thing about Abominable is what it says about the future of Sino-American relations and global culture as even American animation studios with American creative teams try to go after the Chinese market more explicitly.

But otherwise, this is just an animated E.T. with a Yeti.

Our main story revolves around Yi, a teenage girl played by Chloe Bennet (Marvel’s Agents of Shield), herself a Chinese-American, who finds this runaway creature, befriends it and decides she needs to take it back to Mount Everest where it came from. This trip ends up mirroring a planned trip that she and her recently deceased father had always meant to go on. The trip ends up healing her and her grief as they discover more and more of the yeti, who she names Everest, and his magical powers.

But also this seems like a tourist travel video promoting the beautiful and varied landscapes of China. If this movie had been set in America, they would have stopped at the iconic places we all would think of– Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc. They do the same with the Gobi Desert and the Yangtze River as it seems Everest’s most powerful magic is to completely distort space and time so that each of these things are within walking distance of one another. But hey, it’s a kids movie.

The animation is crisp and beautiful. It’s everything we expect DreamWorks to do. Everest’s playful design is quite reminiscent of another Dreamworks Animation main creature– Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon films. Kids will absolutely love him.

It’s also worth noting that writer and director Jill Culton is a veteran of Pixar who worked on not only the Monsters, Inc. films but also several of the Toy Storys. Everest is essentially Sully mixed with Toothless, and that’s not a bad combination. But as I said, we’ve seen this movie before. And frankly, it’s been done better. Monsters, Inc IS this movie, except the human Boo is the magical monster. But if you’re going to steal, then stealing from that and ET isn’t a bad place to start.

One of the most interesting choices of the film is that its antagonists, played by Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson read as English and American. That can’t be accidental, as it’s their greed, pride, etc that leads them to want to capture the yeti for their own nefarious purposes. It’s hard not to read something into that, although perhaps it’s completely earned.

Or perhaps we shouldn’t read anything more into it oh, the same way we don’t particularly read Maleficent or Cruella Deville as being “English” in an American context. Maybe it’s just a cute movie about a teenage girl and her friends who go on a magical adventure with a yeti.

Regardless, while you can do far better then this by-the-numbers animated film, you can also do much worse. If your kids drag you to Abominable, you won’t hate it, and you might even enjoy aspects of it. It’s not Pixar or How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s trying to be. And that’s not so terrible.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Glass

Anyone who expected better as a follow-up to Split, well, you get what you deserve. While Glass isn’t quite as terrible as that garbage, this is the proof of the adage that you can add as much mayonnaise as you want to chicken crap, but you’re never going to make chicken salad out of it.

Glass tries to borrow from the good will we have from Shyamalan’s Unbreakable by pitting its protagonist David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and antagonist Elijah “Mr. Glass” (Samuel L. Jackson) against The Horde/The Beast (James McAvoy). At the center of all of this is psychiatrist Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) whose name couldn’t be any more indicative of her place in the movie– to staple the disparate elements together. Shyamalan no doubt thinks that this is “symbolic.” It’s about as deep as the film goes in its symbolism.

On the plus side, the film does have both Willis and Jackson. The film even lifts entire scenes from Unbreakable and puts them in this movie. Unfortunately, we get too little of them– Jackson plays catatonic for fully two-thirds of the movie. Willis just isn’t given that much to do, except to play hero.

They’re also joined by David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard) reprising their roles from the original cast of Unbreakable, and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) returning from Split. These five actually do their best and are mostly watchable. And that is where the good will for this film ends.

For a movie with so many women in it (and Shyamalan pointing out how he oh-so-progressively gender swapped Staple’s character. . . ugh), it’s amazing that the film still fails to pass the Bechdel test. Every single female character in this movie only serves as an adjunct to male characters.

Those who thought McAvoy was good in Split were and still are wrong. Shyamalan learned nothing from the criticisms of that film and, indeed, doubled down on some of the more problematic elements. Since Shyamalan lifted pieces of Unbreakable and Split into this film, I’m going to do the same with quoting my review of Split and McAvoy’s acting, because nothing has changed:

McAvoy’s performance is also. . . just. . . not good. A lot of what he does makes the audience laugh– and not in a good way. Because we are not laughing at a joke or a funny person. We are laughing at a person suffering from a serious mental disorder. That is not ok. And even if it was, so much of what McAvoy is doing is jarring and borrows from the “Master Thespian” school of scenery-chewing “ACT-ING!!!” McAvoy is better than this. And him as a goat-footed faun or a guy who can bend the path of bullets are more believable. At least X-Men doesn’t pretend its superpowers are anything but myth and fantasy.

He does, however, go hard AF in this movie. Some of the scenes where he becomes The Beast, shot in full daylight instead of being obscured by the darkness of Split, are actually kind of cool. If only this movie made a lick of sense on a narrative or thematic level.

Unbreakable was a good movie. It was a love letter to comic books and posits that our stories of super-heroism are based in reality. Glass adds literally nothing to that except to repeat the conceit several times. I also have a hard time taking any film seriously that wants to talk about comics on the meta level who keeps saying “limited edition” in their dialogue when they mean “limited series.” Unbreakable worked, partially, because the superhero explosion hadn’t happened yet. It was a novelty. Glass plays like no one has touched a comic book since 2000 or the world hasn’t changed. Your insights aren’t new or interesting or unique.

Add to that numerous plot holes and a “twist” ending that isn’t really a twist because you see it coming miles away, and this is just unsatisfying. The movie also teases an ending (with a not-so-subtle Die Hard homage) that it then doesn’t do at all. It’s not misdirection. It’s an excuse to do a smaller-scale finale. And actually, the final showdown is one of the parts of the film that works best, but the tease of something else entirely is just annoying.

It’s clear there’s a market for this schlock because so many people went to see (and apparently enjoyed?!?) Split, and those people deserve this movie the same way people who enjoy eating fast food deserve it too. But it’s objectively terrible and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. The nicest thing I can say about Glass is at least it wasn’t as bad as Split.

1 out of 5 stars