[2012] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: The Avengers

Everyone remembers the moment Avengers came out and changed cinema forever. I’m sure it was widely expected that, after the rousing success of the first two Iron Man movies and the decent runs by the first Thor and Captain America, this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment was going to work. A crossover between a bunch of popular movies into one big adventure was always going to be a hit. But just how much of a hit, I’m not sure anyone could have guessed.

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[2014] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a good movie that worked as a nice prequel to a classic film franchise while also standing alone as a sci-fi monkey drama.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a great movie that kicked everything up a notch and went into far greater emotional depths while being a true blockbuster experience as well. However, it worked so well partially because of how standalone it was from its predecessor. The human cast does not return, and our cast from the original have character arcs independent of those they had in the original movie.

This opening scene, then, acts as a bridge between those movies, but also as its own standalone art piece of a pandemic growing and human society collapsing. The peaceful globe-spinning graphics mixed with the increased panic of the archival footage makes for an unnerving intro that firmly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Sequels do these sorts of “recap the previous movie” intros all the time, but rarely do they succeed on an artistic level all their own. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is special.

[2017] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Listen, I’m not about to attempt to explain this movie to you because you won’t believe me even if I did. I’ll just say that Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a bonkers film, probably Masaaki Yuasa’s best work yet, and absolutely one of the most visually excellent films of the 2010s. Cinematic maximalism.

Also, can we just stop and reflect on just how prolific Masaaki Yuasa has been in the past ten years? He started off with a bang with The Tatami Galaxy in 2010, then two more series, Ping Pong in 2014 and Devilman Crybaby in 2018, plus the brand-new Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! that started just this January. Then he has released THREE theatrical films–Night is Short plus Lu Over the Wall and Ride Your Wave (which premieres in the U.S. next month in a one-night event; go see it!). Add in all the other weird stuff he’s been going and you have one of the most productive men in the realm of animation. And all of it is great, somehow. Let’s hope he keeps this up in the 20s!

[2017] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Luke Skywalker vs. Ben Solo lightsaber duel. You know the one. We all know the one. Gosh, we all know the one.

A cowboy duel (or more accurately, a samurai duel), where a single blow ends the match, where all the emotions are thrown into getting that single winning shot. Decades of history between two characters swirled up into one moment.

And the best part isn’t the fact that it’s gorgeous; it’s that the entire duel is a subversion of our fanboy desire to see Luke Skywalker, ultimate badass, instead giving us Luke Skywalker, ultimate pacifist, a savior who will throw his own life away to save the family he loves, including his own nephew.

It’s an anti-fight scene that packs more of an emotional punch than almost any duel in the Star Wars Saga.

[2014] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Noah

Darren Aronofksy’s Noah was a really good movie. Nobody really talks about it anymore, though. It made bank at the box office, got great reviews, and generated tons and tons of controversy for presenting a decidedly non-Evangelical interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Even so, it faded from the limelight quite a lot.

But what I want to talk about with Noah is its Creation Scene, one of the most visually stunning sequences in any film in the 2010s. If you liked Aronofsky’s other heavily symbolic and religious The Fountain, this scene will be perfect for you. It works amazingly in-context as part of the moral drama of Noah and his family, but it also works completely separately as a standalone scene:

Amazing stuff, ain’t it?

The scene really speaks for itself. It tells the story of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, using trippy timelapse visuals to show the progress of the world and the descent of man into the sinful world that has become life for Noah and his family.

The movie takes Noah’s allegorical tale and meshes it with both recorded human history and other Biblical stories and it’s so cool. (Also, definitely part of the controversy behind this film for Evangelical groups.) But it most certainly represents director Aronofsky’s beliefs about Creation, shown off in the grandest way possible.

Check out another 2014 movie that did wonders with visual storytelling: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

[2017] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Valerian

I’ll defend Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to the end of my days, which isn’t hard because nobody actually saw the movie to be able to criticize it.

The movie has some of the most inventive and visually interesting action sequences this side of Mad Max Fury Road, and the art direction is something else. Also, while everyone thinks Dane Dehaan was a poor choice for a leading man, that’s just because they wanted Valerian to be some generic Han Solo ripoff instead of accepting him for the skeevy scummy horndog he was meant to be. The second half is a lot quieter and maybe less interesting than the first half, but it’s got a fantastic not-actually-action-packed climax and a resolution that’s shockingly heartfelt as much as its political undertones are bitingly cynical.

Y’all say they don’t have chemistry, but y’all weren’t watching the same movie I was

But I’m not here to talk about the movie as a whole, except that oops I already did. I’m here to talk about the opening.

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