Back in 1991 I saw TERMINATOR 2 at a local theater that had just been refitted with Dolby Sound. The first film in this series had been fast-moving, original, and emotionally involving. T-2 had some of these qualities, but the special effects, especially the sound, exploded beyond my imagination. When I left the theater, my head throbbed; I felt as though I had been pummeled to death. In the decades since big sound, 3-D, High Definition, et al, have hammered us action fans into submission.
The latest example of digital and sensual overkill is IRON MAN 3, as if we needed it. There are a few affecting moments in this two and a half hour explosion. Tony Stark is befriended by a sweet kid in rural Tennessee, Gwyneth Paltrow looks wonderful, and Don Cheadle is, as always, dependably appealing. The plot, such as it is, involves billionaire genius Tony Snark (aka, Stark) coming to grips with his own mortality, not to mention his inability to sleep, his usual sarcastic comments, and his addiction to work. When he challenges a world terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, who was once known as Ghandi!), his world crumbles, literally. The Mandarin's forces wage a missile attack on Stark's Pacific view palace, probably mistaking it for Barbara Streisand's digs. This is the high point of the film for action fans and for those who dig watching one percenters' palaces crashing into the sea. There's not much more to say, except that the Australian actor Guy Pearce plays a mad man with gleeful abandon and the closing sequence is twenty minutes and about as many iron men too long.
On a quieter and far more interesting note, Tom Cruise's new sci-fi thriller OBLIVION avoids most of the excessive pitfalls of IRON MAN 3. Earth has been devasted by Aliens, and most survivors now live on Titan. Tom and his female partner (Andrea Roseborough) work on an observatory above the remains of New York City scouring the environs for alien remnants. In 2 weeks they will join fellow earthlings on Titan. 5 years earlier their memories were erased, but Tom keeps having disturbing dreams about him and a beautiful woman at the top of the Empire State Building. And it's not AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER or SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. No, something far more sinister and exciting, but to say what would give away the fact that I never understood what was going on then, now, or in the future. But that's the nature of sci-fi, right? OBLIVION is a visual treasure with breath-taking special effects that are so beautiful and realistic that you don't notice they are special effects. Of course, Tom still looks the way he did 20 years ago. At 50, he's buff, gets to save what's left of the world, and have suitless love with his partner in their posh swimming pool. I mentioned that recurring dream, and she's played by Olga Kurylenko, a French/Ukranian actress so svelte, so gorgeous that you and Tom will forget all about the plot.