Woody’s Roundup

Toy Story 2 is a rare sequel that either matches or outdoes an already perfect movie. Maintaining the highest 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a really long time. During production of A Bug’s Life, director John Lasseter knew children needed more Toy Story. So the third Pixar film also became the very first computer animated sequel. As flawless as Toy Story 2 turned out, the production might be the worst for any Pixar movie. Disney foolishly wanted it to be like their other cheap direct-to-video films. Something they’d still exploit with a Buzz Lightyear spin-off. Luckily they realized the potential of Toy Story 2 and made it clear that anything from Pixar deserved a theatrical released.

Toy Story 2 asks questions about toys that give more depth to their world. Like what does it mean for a toy to be abandoned, collected, or even outgrown? Despite coming 4 years after the first movie, Pixar only had 9 months to finish Toy Story 2. The story had to be changed midway through, the 1999 release couldn’t be changed, and all the footage was nearly lost when someone accidentally deleted the file. It’s a miracle Toy Story 2 came out at all. At 4 years old, the sequel became an instant favorite of mine. My mom took my brother and I to see it and we were apparently 5 feet from the screen. Yet I somehow don’t remember the experience. I only knew that Toy Story 2 set the standard for Pixar movies to come…

6. Toy Story 2

The toys celebrate

Toy Story 2 was accompanied by the early Pixar short Luxo Jr. Which centers on the lamp mascot and features the famous luxo ball. Toy Story 2 is a perfect sequel because it builds on what came before. Deepening the emotion, expanding on characters, and increasing the scope of the toy’s story. While still maintaining the computer animation style that came before. Some humans look better, but Andy, his mom, and Molly are about the same. Really it’s the impressive environments, lighting, and varied locations that Pixar continued to excel at. Along with the returning respectable cast joined by more respectable stars. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, and John Ratzenberger are all given a chance to shine the second time around.

Toy Story 2 begins in space with an awesome extended sequence of Buzz Lightyear on a mission. Fighting robots and entering the lair of his archenemy Evil Emperor Zurg. Who was mentioned by Buzz in the first movie. Turns out he’s like a purple Darth Vader with a large booster gun. It also turns out the entire mission was a video game played by Rex. Rex is actually given a whole subplot where he wants to learn to defeat Zurg. Woody frantically searches for his hat in preparation for Andy’s trip to cowboy camp. Buzz is now like a co-leader who’s grown from his past experiences and takes action every chance he gets. Hamm is his same old hammy self and Slinky is just as loyal as ever. The only difference for Mr. Potato Head is the wife he got at the end of the first movie. Estelle Harris was also born to play the sassy Mrs. Potato Head. Annie Potts’ Bo Peep performance is brief, but the love she has for Woody is clear.

Another change is the family dog Buster. Who’s a far more lovable and better rendered dog compared to Scud. Andy has another toy playing session with Woody & Buzz fighting Hamm as Evil Doctor Porkchop. Resulting in Woody’s arm being torn. Which opens up the possibility of Woody being forgotten. Leading to a particularly disturbing nightmare that causes him to discover Wheezy. An existential penguin toy with a broken squeaker forgotten on a shelf. Another toy problem is a yard sale. Something Woody rescues Wheezy from before being discovered by Al. From a toy’s point of view, a toy collector would be a villain. Wayne Knight is a great sleazy businessman who steals Woody and turns out to be the same Al from Al’s Toy Barn. The toy store mentioned in the Buzz commercial from the first movie.

It turns out Woody is a rare collectable with a line of vintage merchandise, cheesy 50’s marionette TV show, and a whole posse he never knew about. Jessie the yodeling cowgirl, Bullseye he’s Woody’s horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector. Joan Cusack can’t yodel, but she is the best new addition to the cast as the excitable cowgirl. Fun fact, when I dressed up as Woody for Halloween, my classmate (also named Jessie) dressed up as Jessie. Although she seems like just a female version of Woody on the surface, Jessie is far more complex on the inside. She’s a toy who was sadly abandoned by her owner Emily and has a fear of being packed away forever.

Randy Newman still writes the songs, but Riders in the Sky sing the folksy “Woody’s Roundup” theme, Robert Goulet sings a swingin’ version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and Sarah McLachlan sings the Oscar nominated “When She Loved Me.” The whole sequence of Jessie slowly being outgrown by her kid is the first genuinely tear worthy Pixar moment. Bullseye doesn’t speak, but he is loyal to Woody. Kelsey Grammer turns out to be a twist toy villain. As Stinky Pete has grown resentful after spending his whole life in a box. After Al has Geri from Geri’s Game fix up Woody in a very satisfying sequence, Woody is swayed into believing his place is as a collectible with his new friends.

Meanwhile, Buzz leads a team of Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, Rex, and Slinky to rescue Woody. Their banter is hilarious and the increasingly over-the-top nature of their mission is genius. First by causing traffic damage after crossing the street under cones. Then by wrecking the toy store. Which is where Buzz comically switches places with a delusional Buzz in a utility belt. Since the material from space ranger Buzz is too good not to do again. The toys also run into Tour Guide Barbie. After Mattel realized their mistake in not including her in the first movie. I’ve always loved Barbie’s bubbly innocence and Jodi Benson is the best voice for her. The toys make it to the apartment after more humorous misunderstandings from imposter Buzz. The real Buzz catches up and even though Hanks & Allen have less time together, they still give Woody & Buzz more heartfelt chemistry.

Woody snaps out of it when he realizes he’d rather be outgrown then miss out on Andy’s childhood. Unfortunately, Pete blocks the way out and Al rushes the collection to Japan. The toys give chase on the elevator, but not before facing off with a delusional Zurg toy that followed Buzz there. The face off is among the best affectionate Star Wars parodies. Since the other Buzz actually embraces his father Zurg. The toys continue to cause chaos when they hijack a Pizza Planet truck containing three little green men. Who become part of the group after Mr. Potato Head saves their lives and they are eternally grateful. The airport climax is massive compared to the moving truck from the first movie. Same with the enormous baggage handling room. Buzz finds Woody’s case and Pete is defeated when he’s placed in a little girl’s Barbie backpack. The action really picks up when Jessie is trapped and Woody & Buzz take Bullseye to save her. They’re trapped on the plane, but Woody uses his pull-string to swing to safety.

Ending with Jessie and Bullseye being accepted into Andy’s toy collection. Buzz also develops feelings for Jessie, Woody’s arm is repaired again, and Wheezy gets a new squeaker. The following mock blooper reel features a nod to Toy Story 3, a running gag from Mrs. Potato Head, funny pranks on Buzz, and even a cameo by Flick & Heimlich from A Bug’s Life. Toy Story 2 is an adventure filled follow up that improves on Toy Story in every way. The original still holds a special place in my heart, but there’s no denying this is what sequels should be. Sadly, no Academy Awards were won. Instead Toy Story 2 became the last animated winner of Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. As the years go by, Toy Story 2 will never lose what makes it special.

7. Toy Story 2

Buzz Lightyear vs. Evil Emperor Zurg

Preceded by: Toy Story & Followed by: Toy Story 3

Pretend it’s a Seed

A Bug’s Life is easily the most underrated Pixar movie ever made. Despite being only the second computer animated feature made by the studio. A Bug’s Life asks the question, what does the world look like from an insects perspective? After successfully exploring toys with Toy Story, Pixar chose to literally follow a bug’s life with A Bug’s Life. Most of the production staff remained the same with John Lasseter continuing to direct and Randy Newman continuing to score. Unlike most of Pixar’s work, A Bug’s Life is a lot closer to most Disney productions. It’s loosely inspired by the aesop fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, features a princess, and has a large cast of characters.

A Bug’s Life was another of my most beloved animated movies growing up. At 3 years old, it was the first Pixar movie I saw in theaters and many times on VHS. I even had A Bug’s Life pajamas. Although it was another well received success, there’s no ignoring the obvious controversy surrounding it. A Bug’s Life was released in 1998 along with another ant movie about a misfit in love with a princess who fights for his colony. It’s a complicated story, but basically disgruntled Disney chairmen Jeffrey Katzenberg might have stolen the idea. Regardless, A Bug’s Life is different enough to stand on its own…

4. A Bug's Life

The warrior bugs

A Bug’s Life is the first Pixar movie to begin the tradition of having a short film before the movie. Geri’s Game is a fun little story about an old man playing chess by himself. Whereas, A Bug’s Life had the difficult task of taking creepy insects and giving them emotions. Toys were easy, but bugs needed a more approachable kid friendly redesign. My brother and I were obsessed with ants and other bugs at a young age. So it was fun to see regardless of their reputation. All ants have unnatural blue & purple exoskeletons with anthropomorphic bodies, no mandibles, four legs, and only females possess wings. Disney prides themselves on accuracy, but liberties like these were necessary. Instead Pixar put most of their effort into the bug’s eye view of the ant’s island colony.

No humans are featured, so the computer animation is thoroughly impressive years later. The simple design of the insects meant the use of more characters than you’d expect from an early Pixar production. Hundreds of ants are rendered since all they need is a face change. A Bug’s Life centers on a colony of literal drones who are unable to think for themselves. Allowing them to be oppressed by a small gang of grasshoppers. It’s a deep message that likely went over many kids heads. Grasshoppers also look more cartoony, but they maintain a threatening appearance. A large multi-generational cast of mostly TV stars helps make A Bug’s Life another respectable cast for Pixar. Comedian Dave Foley is the eccentric accident prone inventor Flick. An ant whose individualist ideas make him the black sheep of the colony. Despite his bug sized inventions being cool.

After Seinfeld ended, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ first role was as Princess Atta. The sadly forgotten nervous wreck Pixar princess in training to become queen. Phyllis Diller is the lighthearted Queen and a very young Hayden Panettiere is the kid Princess Dot. She’s the only one who believes in Flick, but his latest screw up gets the entire colony in trouble. Hopper will always be my personal favorite Pixar villain. Kevin Spacey brings the right domineering tone to the oppressive grasshopper who rules by exploiting the ants fear. Which he cleverly compares to a tiny grain that only becomes a problem if it grows. Hopper is funny enough on his own, but his loud mouthed brother Molt plays off him well. Rather than stay and recollect food, Flick hatches an idea to find warrior bugs to defend the colony. Which the colony gladly accepts. Flick flies away on a dandelion and ends up in a tiny city under a trailer (next to a Pizza Planet truck).

Most of the humorous bug puns mixed with sneaky adult humor can be found in the bug city. The circus bugs are a hilariously diverse troop of insects & arachnids of all shapes & sizes. There’s self conscious stick bug Slim, hot headed male ladybug Francis, praying mantis magician Manny, his lovely moth wife Gypsy, gentle giant rhinoceros beetle Dim, kind hearted black widow spider Rosie, bickering pillbugs Tuck & Roll, and my personal favorite hungry caterpillar Heimlich. All with the retroactively impressive voice talents of David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Jonathan Harris, Madeline Kahn, Brad Garrett, Bonnie Hunt, Mike McShane, and late animator Joe Ranft. John Ratzenberger continues his voicing tradition by playing money hungry circus owner P.T. Flea. When an accidental performance gets them fired, Flick discovers the troop fighting off flies.

Leading to a comical misunderstanding where the circus bugs must pretend they’re warrior bugs. Something they only agree to after rescuing Dot from a bird. Which is very threatening from a bug’s perspective. So Flick thinks outside the box by building a bird out of sticks & leaves with the help of the entire colony and circus bugs. Which also sparks an adorable romance between Flick and Atta. Unfortunately the lie is revealed when P.T. returns and Flick’s exile is the closest thing to a tear worthy moment. Dot learns to fly and sets out to find Flick when the grasshoppers take over. With the circus bugs as a distraction, the bird plan works at first, but a fire ruins everything. You can’t beat the powerful moment when Flick at last stands up to Hopper and inspires the entire colony to realize they can fight back. The only snag is the rain that’s a lot more devastating from a bug’s perspective.

A chase ensues where Hopper attempts to squash Flick before his friends come to his rescue. Hopper’s defeat is pretty gruesome as he’s pecked by a bird and fed to her trio of hungry chicks. In the end, the circus bugs regain their purpose, Atta is made queen, and Flick discovers his place by her side. Another fun Pixar tradition that I wish they’d bring back is the mock blooper reel. Which is hilarious, self-referential, and even features Woody from Toy Story. Newman’s music became a staple of the studio, although his only song contribution is the dreamer song “The Time of Your Life.” A Bug’s Life has all the wit, heart, and edge that makes the rest of Pixar so brilliant. It may have been labeled the “kid friendly” ant movie, but it’s societal themes are complex enough to appeal to adults. A Bug’s Life is like a seed, in that it only gets better the more it has time to grow.

5. A Bug's Life

Flick confronts Hopper

You’ve Got a Friend in Me ⭐

Toy Story is my all time favorite animated movie. As well as my favorite computer animated movie, Pixar movie, and Disney movie. Although I’ve been gradually going through the entire Walt Disney Animation studio library, it would be wrong of me not to continue the 90’s with Pixar. An animation studio that I’ve been dedicated to since birth. Pixar has been a pioneer of state of the art CGI since the 80’s. Beginning with short films that caught the attention of both Apple founder Steve Jobs and the people at Disney. Their crude, but affective short Tin Toy eventually lead to the first ever computer animated feature film.

No matter how old I get, Toy Story will always be a beloved part of my childhood. Ensuring its place on my “Top 10 Favorite Movies” list. As high as number two, since I feel like a kid everytime I watch it. Toy Story was released in my birth year of 1995. I was only a baby when it came out, so I was too young to ever question the game changing use of computer animation. I had the appropriate Toy Story toys and I watched the movie on VHS a countless number of times. To the point that I can quote everything word for word. However better Pixar gets, Toy Story remains their greatest achievement…

1. Toy Story

“To infinity and beyond!”

Toy Story asks the question, what if toys came to life when we weren’t looking? Which lead to my entire generation attempting to catch our toys in the act. What I’ve always loved about Pixar, is how they bring emotions to the most unlikely characters. Following a toy’s perspective was a genius idea. Since our imagination helps bring them to life. Although I never inscribed my name on their feet. Toy Story is literally a toy’s story of how being played with by a child who loves you, means the world to a toy. All toys freeze when humans are present and only move when left alone. Andy is a happy child who opens the movie with an imaginative toy playing session.

Woody is a classic pull-string ragdoll with iconic cowboy outfit and trademark hat. He’s Andy’s favorite toy and the leader of the rest of his toys. Which are either original or licensed toys that most kids have had in the past. There’s Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex the dinosaur, Hamm the piggy bank, and so many others. Like toy car RC, an army of toy soldiers, Lenny the binoculars, Speak & Spell Mr. Spell, tape recorder Mr. Mike, and even an Etch A Sketch. Andy also plays with his baby sister Molly’s porcelain lamp figurine Bo Peep. Woody runs the room like an office that deals with toy related problems like new toys that arrive on birthdays and Christmases. Andy’s mom throws him an early party before they move.

Enter Buzz Lightyear, the coolest action figure ever made. Buzz is a space ranger packed with awesome features. The clever contrast between a cowboy and space ranger is the best unlikely buddy pairing in Pixar history. Woody finds himself replaced by Buzz, who genuinely believes he’s a real space ranger. An unfortunate misunderstanding leaves Woody & Buzz stranded at a gas station before being picked up by Sid at Pizza Planet. Their experience at Sid’s house allows them to bond and eventually find their way back home. Now that you know the story, this is why it’s my all time favorite computer animated Disney & Pixar movie…

2. Toy Story

“YOU ARE A TOY!!!”

Toy Story is so perfect that it has a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. As great as it turned out, the road to get there wasn’t easy. Toy Story had a notoriously rocky production. The original idea was to make a Tin Toy movie starring Tinny and a creepy ventriloquist dummy named Woody on a road trip. Tinny was later replaced by a space themed superhero who eventually became the more cop like Buzz Lightyear. Then Woody became a cowboy doll at the request of an animator. Interference from Disney insisted that Toy Story needed to be edgier. I highly recommend seeing the notoriously bad “Black Friday” test footage. Which features a very out of character Woody. Fortunately the father of computer animation, John Lasseter, fixed everything in time. Truly separating Pixar from Disney’s influence.

The biggest difference between studios is originality. Disney is often based on fairy tales, while Toy Story is distinctly modern. With more adult humor and a more kid friendly edge that helps make the toys feel three dimensional. The computer animation can be rough mostly for humans, but the toys, lived in environment, lighting, and weather has all aged beautifully. Animators had to learn on the fly with ancient computers no less. Another difference was not making Toy Story a musical. Instead the great Randy Newman composed 3 songs that tell the emotion of their scenes. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is the signature buddy song that represents the main theme of friendship. “Strange Things” represents Woody’s fear of being replaced and “I Will Go Sailing No More” is the closest thing to a tear worthy moment for Buzz.

As much as critics liked to praise the music & animation, Toy Story really does have the story to match. Along with hilarious dialogue that Joss Whedon actually helped write. Opening in the clouds is iconic and so is Andy playing round up with Mr. Potato Head as One-Eyed Bart. Tom Hanks has just the right wit and charm for Sheriff Woody. I had a Woody doll growing up and I even dressed up as Woody for Halloween. Tim Allen is just as likable as a battle ready Buzz who doesn’t know he’s a toy. My theory was always that Buzz’s programing might be why he thinks he’s a space ranger. Buzz’s eventual realization is both heartbreaking and sidesplitting. After a commercial reveals the truth. His initial arrival shows off all his cool features. Pop out wings, laser light bulb, many phrases, a whoosh helmet, karate chop action, Buzz Lightyear was another toy that I loved growing up.

Buzz is pressured into flying by Woody and that’s when we first hear the iconic “To infinity, and beyond.” Buzz falls with style and starts to get the attention of the other toys. Despite how different they are, Hanks & Allen have genuine chemistry. Which really comes out in their banter and heart to heart talk. The rest of the respectable cast is just as perfect. Don Rickles was born to play the cynical Mr. Potato Head. Who has a particularly funny running gag where he keeps losing his parts. Jim Varney’s friendly tone was a great match for Woody’s loyal dog Slinky. Although the dog version of the toy wasn’t as common as you might think. Wallace Shawn is a personal favorite as Rex. A fun play on an eccentric, not so fearsome t-rex.

Along with the Pixar lamp, luxo ball, Pizza Planet truck, and A113, John Ratzenberger first voiced the sarcastic scene stealer Hamm. Rounding out the mostly male cast of toys is Annie Potts as Bo Peep. Woody’s true love who flirts with him in a surprisingly suggestive manner. Of course R. Lee Ermey is the only actor who could voice the green army men’s leader Sarge. I had so many of those toys as a kid and it’s always fun seeing them march on those bases. Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window and it leads to a fight that makes clever use of their toy parts. As memorable as every quote is, “YOU ARE A TOY!!!” speaks for itself. Andy’s room is a great central location, but it’s Pizza Planet that I’ve always wanted to experience. It’s there Buzz encounters little green men who worship the claw from the machine.

From a toy’s point of view, a juvenile delinquent who tortures toy’s would be a villain. Even though Sid doesn’t know what he’s doing. His dog Scud is also a problem, but his sister Hannah just sort of puts up with him. Sid’s room is a nightmare populated by misunderstood mutant toys who help Woody after Sid straps Buzz to a rocket. Their break out leads to the toys scarring Sid for life by coming to life right in front of him. The following climax was pivotal to Pixar’s success. Woody & Buzz ride RC to catch up to the moving truck and attempt to board in an epic chase that no one sees. The battery runs out, but Woody lights the rocket to take off.

In what I’d call the greatest moment in Pixar history, Woody & Buzz take flight and Woody says “To infinity, and beyond!” It’s such a triumphant moment that’s sealed with Andy discovering the toys. They celebrate Christmas at their new house and all the new presents set up the sequel. Toy Story was so crucial to animation moving forward that it received three Academy Award nominations. Managing to win a much deserved honorary Oscar for Special Achievement. Toy Story will always have a friend in me no matter how old I get.

3. Toy Story

Andy finds Woody and Buzz

Followed by: Toy Story 2

Would You Like to Know More?

Starship Troopers is easily the most inappropriate movie I’ve ever seen at a young age. From the master of excessive violence and sexuality himself, director Paul Verhoeven. Although he killed his career 2 years prior with Showgirls, many forget how awesome Starship Troopers really was. My parents were fans, but they didn’t really keep us from watching it. Extreme gore still turns me off, expect I’m now completely desensitized to Starship Troopers. The movie is partially based on a 1959 book described as fascist propaganda. So Verhoeven goes for a satirical approach. “Would you like to know more?”

Starship Troopers is set in a future dominated by military power and populated by attractive soap opera stars. Casper Van Dien makes a name for himself as Johnny Rico. A rich kid who wants to join, but only does it for his girlfriend. A year before she was a wild thing, Denise Richards was passionate aspiring pilot Carmen. Neil Patrick Harris is their friend Carl with psychic abilities who basically becomes a Nazi. Johnny later befriends Ace played by Gary Busey’s son Jake. While also being caught up in a love triangle with his old friend Dizzy. Dina Meyer took a no name character from the book and turned her into the most sympathetic soldier. There’s a bunch of other soldiers, but try not to get too attached.

The funniest satire is the frequent newsreel revealing just how absurd the war really is. The enemies are the arachnids. Pointy bug aliens that are either drones, tank sized, plasma emitting, flight capable, or even brainy. The military is only partially armored with moderately effective weapons. Leading to tons of cool bug fights, nauseating carnage, and dead bodies all over the place. Which would feel incomplete without military mainstays like Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside. Of course Verhoeven couldn’t resist having nudity like the totally unnecessary, but welcomed co-ed shower scene. Starship Troopers proves I’m more distracted by the flashy action to care what the commentary is.

Starship-Troopers

Johnny Rico fights bugs

Dumpster Fire

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is easily one of the most horrifically awful movies I’ve ever seen in theaters. I was hoping for the darkly complex Ghost Rider from Marvel Knights. All that went away when I was bombarded with joke after joke. So I simply crossed my arms and stared blankly at the screen until it was over. I regret dragging my family to see it. Sure Ghost Rider was bad, but it was a fun kind of bad. The sequel is an unwatchable dumpster fire. The grittier design given to Ghost Rider was encouraging, so I looked forward to the sequel despite the MCU slowly taking over. I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw the unbearably juvenile flaming pee joke in the trailer.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has cringy animated narration, fast motion editing, and the most tryhard Nicholas Cage performance you’ll ever see. Just look at the “Scraping at the door!” scene. What else would you expect from the directors of Crank. Cage is literally the only returning star. Things are set in Romania where almost nothing matches what came before. Yet it’s somehow 18% on Rotten Tomatoes worse. Johnny Blaze is tasked by an unfortunate Idris Elba warrior monk to help save what might be the devil’s son. Only this devil is Ciarán Hinds as some guy named Roarke.

The non love interest mother is a gypsy named Nadya who’s not from the comics. Her son is Danny Ketch. The second Ghost Rider in the comics who’s turned into a bratty kid. Roarke wants him for vague possession reasons that I don’t care to remember. Enlisting a mercenary that he turns into the demon Blackout. Who makes things rot instead of whatever he does in the comics. Ghost Rider has a simpler Hell Cycle, but he does turn a mining machine into fire. That’s about all since he very annoyingly stands around doing nothing most of the time. Makes me glad Marvel regained the rights. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should be sent back to Hell where it belongs.

19. Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider roars

Preceded by: Ghost Rider

Flaming Skull

Ghost Rider makes the same mistakes as every other edgy Marvel adaptation made in the 2000’s. By favoring clean PG-13 campiness over the R rated scares an anti-hero like this is made for. No wonder Ghost Rider and Daredevil share director Mark Steven Johnson. Plus Marvel foolishly sold their rights to the Spider-Man owners at Sony. Ghost Rider is one of many dark characters created by Marvel in the 70’s. First appearing in Marvel Spotlight #5, Ghost Rider has an edge look that he totally pulls off (according to Rebel Wilson). It doesn’t get more badass than a spiky leather-clad motorcyclist with a flaming skull riding a fiery chopper. I definitely recognized the look when I first saw the trailer. My mom helped by getting comics for my brother and I, so it only made sense for her to take us to see it in theaters.

Despite all the demons, Ghost Rider has no horror atmosphere. I was 11 and none of the intended jump scares made me flinch. Likely thanks to Nicholas Cage’s involvement. Rather than the alcoholic chainsmoker from the comics, this Johnny Blaze enjoys Jelly Beans and orangutan videos. Cage has always been a huge comic book fan, but why Ghost Rider? His origin remains the same. With a young Johnny selling his soul to the Marvel version of the devil, Mephisto. Played by Peter Fonda in a clever bit of irony. When his stuntman father dies anyway, Johnny rides off with the Ghost Rider curse. Leaving behind his girlfriend Roxanne! She’s blonde in the comic, but you can’t go wrong with gorgeous latina Eva Mendes. Cage brings a lot of his cheesy Cage-isms to the role, but why does Roxanne have a Magic 8 Ball?

The main threat is the demon son of the devil Blackheart. Who looks more like an emo Wes Bentley than a monstrous demon. Similar to Blade, not just because of Donal Logue. He plans to unleash Hell on Earth with a contract of souls. Along with the help of his elemental boy band. Johnny receives help from the original Phantom Rider who also acts as Caretaker. You get what you’d expect from a cowboy Sam Elliott. As bad as Ghost Rider technically is, the initial transformation is awesome. As is his look, chain, Hell Cycle, and soul burning Penance stare. It’s just the CGI that looks more goofy than edgy. Blackheart is only defeated when he foolishly becomes Legion and has all 1,000 souls burned. Ghost Rider can’t hold a flame to its source material, but I still have fun with the uncaged portrayal.

18. Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider rides

Followed by: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

A Very Bad Thing

The Thing (2011) is the thing no one speaks of. As well as the prequel to The Thing (1982) I always assumed was a remake. It might as well have been a remake since all the best moments are rehashed in a less satisfying way. The prequel actually follows the 1982 Norwegian team that died before the events of the original. Although the Arctic researchers still need Americans in it. Otherwise it would all be in subtitles.

The Thing (2011) also includes ideas present in The Thing from Another World. Specifically the team finding the alien in a block of ice. As well as two female characters balancing the predominantly male cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a Ripley type who takes the lead and uses a flamethrower against the thing. The biggest problem is that CGI was used on the thing instead of the groundbreaking practical effects that came before. Making the deformed shapeshifter look half rendered with rubber partially gruesome skin. There’s just no passion behind it.

There’s still a sense of paranoia, but you don’t really feel a strong lack of trust. The blood test is replaced by a less tension filled tooth inspection. The flying saucer is seen, but it all feels like too much for something claiming to follow the original. The only indication of the decade is one 80’s song. There’s some feeling of mild dread, but the ending that ties directly into The Thing (1982) is the only reason to care. Like the thing itself, The Thing (2011) is just a cheap imitation.

thing-2011

The Thing emerges

Followed by: The Thing (1982)

Don’t Trust Anyone

The Thing is the much more faithful adaptation of Who Goes There? that gets all the attention. Since the story was always about a shapeshifting alien. It’s practically destiny for John Carpenter to be the director. Considering The Thing from Another World is on TV in Halloween. Unlike the 50’s interpretation, The Thing is a more hopeless R rated gorefest. So much so that critics and audiences surprisingly hated it. It was probably bad timing since E.T. came out the same year.

The Thing later became a cult hit and a major influence on sci-fi horror. Which is why I’ve seen it twice. The Thing is set in Antarctica with a small cast of all male research scientists. Kurt Russell will obviously survive in the end, but Keith David and Wilford Brimley are noteworthy as well. The Team is caught in the crossfire of a Norwegian pilot trying to kill a dog. They don’t make much of it, but they soon discover that this is no mere canine. The true stars of The Thing are the grotesque practical creature effects. This thing can take any gore filled shape it wants at any unexpected moment.

The thing takes the shape of its victims, so it leads to intense paranoia between the men. Everyone turns against each other until they’re picked off one by one. The most gruesome body reveal is the chest eating someone’s arms before sprouting spider legs. So Russell’s MacCready creates a tension filled blood test that reveals the one you’d least suspect. Fire kills the thing like in the original, but the stakes are higher if the creature escapes. The Thing is disgusting, but an impressive feat in body horror.

the-thing-rob-bottin

The Thing emerges

Preceded by: The Thing (2011)

Plant Man From Outer Space

The Thing from Another World is a lot more talk heavy than I expected, but that’s okay since it’s all about the atmosphere. Like most 50’s alien invasion features, The Thing from Another World is more of an allegory for communist paranoia. My parents always talked about the original 50’s classic, but its often overshadowed by the remake. My only knowledge of it was from John Carpenter’s Halloween.

I only now realize the novella it’s based on, Who Goes There?, was only a loose interpretation. The only thing that remains is the Arctic setting and an alien stalking a team of professionals. Most of the time is spent on a crew of Air Force pilots, scientists, and journalists at the North Pole. With a lot of time spent on a romance. They discover a flying saucer that contains a space man frozen in ice. When accidentally thawed, the team find themselves isolated with nowhere to run.

Since a shapeshifter was likely too complex for 1951, the thing is a plant based humanoid. Obscured by shadows and building tension by popping up when you least suspect. The thing is also impervious to bullets, feeds on blood, and can regrow its body. It’s actually one of the two female crew members that suggests burning the creature. A decision that divides the team. Since one scientist would rather study the alien. So the main lesson at the end is to “Keep watching the skies.” The Thing from Another World deserves just as much admiration as its more memorable remake.

thing-from-another-world-century-main

The Thing emerges

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Hulk was smart to drop its famous adjective. Since this is the furthest thing from an incredible Hulk movie. Out of all the superhero movies I’ve seen, nothing is more complicated than my opinion of 2003’s first theatrical Hulk adaptation. Next to Spider-Man, no Marvel hero is more iconic in pop culture than the Hulk. Created in 1962 as Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s second superhero collaboration, Hulk was Stan Lee’s way of creating another sympathetic monster. Similar to both Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Although The Incredible Hulk #1 is notable for debuting the Green Goliath with grey skin. His first comic book run ended after only 6 issues, but he maintained his popularity in guest comics and as a founding member of The Avengers.

Until his TV show from the 70’s became literally the only good live-action Marvel property at the time. Along with a popular animated series, a live-action movie that finally used CGI was inevitable. Then Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Universal. Where the studio made the woefully misguided decision to hire Oscar winning director Ang Lee. A man known for thought-provoking character drama. Yet I remember seeing the teaser for the first time, getting excited, and instantly recognizing the Hulk from the comics my parents got for my brother and I. At 8 years old, I was blown away by Hulk and actually saw it twice in theaters. I played the video game, bought the trademark Hulk Hands, and couldn’t stop smashing things. Until I really let the movie sink in…

10. Hulk

Hulk rages

Hulk did receive a mixed reception, but I’m still shocked at how close it is to the positive side. I’d seen X-Men, Spider-Man, and Daredevil many times as a kid, but I only really saw Hulk at least 3 times in its entirety. Despite it being the first ever DVD that my brother and I owned, it was the only movie we watched on fast forward. Since the Hulk parts were all we ever cared about. Ang Lee is a brilliant director, but that doesn’t mean he was right for a Marvel superhero blockbuster. It’s funny that Hulk deals so much with repressed memories, because it was a full decade before I watched the movie again. I only vaguely remembered the parts with just Bruce Banner. The biggest mistake Ang Lee made was taking things way too seriously. He described it as a Greek tragedy that dealt with a philosophical question nobody asked. What does it mean to feel angry?

What’s worse is that the 2 hour & 18 minute movie actually begins before Bruce Banner is even born. Although the green colored opening credits and Danny Elfman theme are fun. Then that fun goes away the second everything lingers on endless boring discussions between actors who are barely trying. Someone discovered the obscure comic storyline about Bruce’s abusive childhood and gave it way too much attention. Turning Hulk into a think piece between father & son. Instead of Brian Banner, David Banner is a scientist trying to create super soldiers for the military. His name is one of several nods to the 70’s series. Along with a cameo by Lou Ferrigno as a security guard that’s complemented by an equally enjoyable Stan Lee cameo. To make a ridiculously convoluted flashback short, David’s experimentation is passed onto baby Bruce. Repressing his emotions and later a traumatic memory.

One of the more personally annoying aspects is the fact that he goes by Bruce Krenzler due to a foster family. Then Bruce finally grows into Eric Bana. Easily the most forgettable actor to play the genius doctor. Since he’s completely monotone throughout. Not that Jennifer Connelly is much better. She’s just as bland as his true love Betty Ross. Who’s more appropriately been upgraded to a fellow scientist. They work with gamma radiation, but it’s downgraded to a university instead of a testing field. Betty’s relationship with her father General “Thunderbolt” Ross is strained since he’s connected to Bruce’s past. Which triggers a recurring nightmare that they go into way too much detail with. At least Sam Elliott didn’t even have to shave his mustache for the longstanding Hulk adversary. The very punchable Josh Lucas is Glenn Talbot. Who’s an ex-soldier, but still comes between Bruce & Betty. The lab also gets a disgruntled David Banner as a new janitor. Nick Nolte is far too unpredictable in a role like this.

All this is established before the accident even occurs. Bruce still saves someone, but it’s not Rick Jones for whatever reason. Instead a sphere belts him with gamma rays. Putting him in a hospital where we’re forced to endure even more lifeless scenes of dialogue. Before the first Hulk out nearly an hour into the movie. I can’t deny my excitement, but the smashing of the lab is kept in the shadows. Then we endure more unnecessary drama that leads to another more well lit Hulk out caused by Talbot. There’s even a nod to the “You’re making me angry” line. When you see the Hulk in full, the CGI has not aged well. Even back then I could tell something was off about it. His skin is a primary shade of green like the comics and he even wears purple pants at one point, but that look can only work so well on screen. Making him almost resemble a chunky version of Shrek. Something that really distracts from the humorless tone Ang Lee is going for.

Hulk flees his house and the military where he finds Betty hiding out at a log cabin. Another colossal problem is the fact that the Hulk gets bigger the angrier he gets. Until he’s the size of a house. Something he never did in the comics. The first and most ridiculous fight scene is between Hulk and David’s Hulk Dogs. A mutant Bull Mastiff, Pitbull, and Poodle that are as unintentionally hilarious as they sound. They’re in the comics, but that doesn’t mean they deserve the movie treatment. After the experimented animals, exploding frog, and Hulk Dogs, I feel like Hulk just hates animals. Between the next Hulk out is an excessive amount of attention given to Bruce’s repressed childhood. General Ross takes him to a military base where Talbot attempts to extract his DNA. The truth about his mother’s death is revealed in a tank where he Hulks out for the longest time in the movie.

Beginning with a video game quality Hulk attacking the base before Talbot’s explosive death that looks like a sticker. Hulk smashing his way through military tanks is exactly what we want in a Hulk movie. Same with the helicopter attack and super jumping in the desert. Even that’s ruined by Hulk calmly staring at moss. We get lots of lingering shots of trees and moss for some reason. The pursuit leads to San Francisco and another bizarre scene after Hulk is taken into space on a jet. Which is Bruce shaving before Hulk breaks through his mirror and calls him “Puny human.” Hulk continues to rampage San Francisco until Betty shows up to calm him down.

As much as I enjoyed the Hulk stuff as a kid, even I had to skip the climax. Since Bruce’s father hijacks the whole movie, they lazily decide to make him the main villain. Turning him into an insulting blend of Absorbing Man and Zzzax. At least the existential rant by Nolte leads to the only laugh I got from the movie. When he angrily flails around. Then David absorbs electricity, Bruce Hulks out, and they fight in the clouds. Eventually ending up in a barely visible desert where David becomes stone and water before absorbing Hulk’s power. Which is represented by a baffling water cloud filled with father/son memories. Hulk is mercifully brought to a close when Bruce is presumed dead. Followed by a never resolved cliffhanger of him helping people in another country.

To this day, I still can’t believe how misguided Hulk was. Ang Lee clearly doesn’t understand comic book movies. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made it look like a comic. With the silliest scene transitions you’ve ever seen. As well as literal comic panels that aren’t even consistent throughout the movie. Of course it would help if the tone matched even a little bit. At least we didn’t end up with mutant bug men. What we get looks like the source material, but doesn’t understand what the audience really wants to see. All I want is for Hulk to smash and fight a worthy opponent. Hulk delivers some smashing, but the artsy approach was so wrong a child could see it.

11. Hulk

Hulk escapes