Saturday, November 29, 2014

Noah (2014)

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Back in the 1950s and 60s, Hollywood came out with a series of epics based on stories from the Bible. I admit to seeing only a handful of these, but I did watch "The Ten Commandments" (the 1956 Charleston Heston version) a little over a year ago and was very impressed with its grand scope and strong themes in regard to human freedom and faith in oneself. So while I did not exactly go out of my way to see the newest adaptation of Noah's Ark and I have mixed feelings on director Darren Aronofsky's previous works, I was at least a little hopeful that they would try to recreate the majestic feeling of these larger-than-life films.

Well, I did eventually see it. And it was...interesting...I'll give it that...

Before I get to the movie, a few housekeeping notes. First, this will be a full-film review, so there will be spoilers. Secondly, while this will mostly be in chronological order, I am going to jump around a bit to explain certain parts of it better. Thirdly, my knowledge of the Bible is very limited, so if I get some things wrong on that score, I apologize ahead of time even though I will not be talking about it much. This also means I am not going to nitpick at certain controversies that people have had about it, like the fact that they use the term "Creator" instead of "God."

Lastly, and in that same vein, I am not going to use this review as a forum for a theological discussion. It is outside the scope of this blog and this post would never get completed. Hell, it took me two years just to complete the "House of Wax" review! So it would be best to get this one out of the way. Now.

After a brief prologue, we are introduced to Noah, played by Russell Crowe. He and his family are basically nomads who wander a vast wasteland populated by now-decrepit cities. But when a flower all the sudden grows instantly from the ground and Noah starts having bad dreams, it appears that something is amiss. They decide to go find his grandfather to try and get an explanation for things. They also come across an orphaned girl named Ila, who they eventually decide to adopt. As they travel, they are chased by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a clan leader who had killed Noah's father decades earlier.

However, they are saved by holy hell what are these things...?

So, these things that lost out in meetings over the film's budget are the Watchers, who are fallen angels condemned by the Creator to life on Earth as weird stone creatures because they tried to help humans back in the day. Look, I get it, they are suppose to be ugly and unnatural. But seriously, these guys look like stop-motion monsters from a cheesy 1980s sci-fi movie. Are we really suppose to take them seriously?! Oh and two of them are played by Frank Langella and Nick Nolte. Whoopie-do.

Well, anyway Noah and his family get saved and they meet up with his grandfather, Methuselah, a powerful man who is shown in flashbacks to have defeated evil forces with mystical powers. So...if that is the case, why do they spend all their time wandering the desert hoping to avoid getting killed by savages? He seems like someone who would be handy to have around...and his place is a lot nicer too. Then again, once you get to know the character, you kind of question why they bothered going back to him...

In any case, because he is played by Anthony Hopkins, his first onscreen appearance consist of him standing awkwardly in the middle of a room just for the sake of being creepy.

"I am still waiting for my second Oscar, Clarice..."

His running gag - because, honestly, that is what it boils down to - is that he has not gotten out in a while and has a desire for the taste of blueberries (I guess human liver with fava beans and chianti are a little too exotic for someone his age). Anyway, he basically tells Noah that he should do what the visions tell him to do. So, why was his advice needed in the first place...?

Anyway, it turns out the Creator is going to wipe out humanity with a giant flood and an Ark needs to be built to house two of every animals plus a handful of human beings. I know, shocker, didn't that one coming! So Noah starts building the Ark over the course of several years and his kids grow up. Shem (Douglas Booth), the eldest, and Ila are now lovers, but it is a bittersweet romance since Ila cannot have children, a product of injures she sustained prior to being found by Noah's family. She is played by Emma Watson, who was Hermione in the Harry Potter series. So let's see how this adds up:

Gets attacked as a child. Becomes The Boy Who Lived. Later enables him to vanquish evil.

Gets attacked as a child. Becomes infertile. Feels she has nothing to offer for the future of humanity. 

Yep, seems fair. Hooray, feminism!

But whatever hurt she feels is nothing compared to that of Noah's second son, Ham (Logan Lerman, a.k.a. the "Percy Jackson" kid). Why? Because he doesn't have a girlfriend and has teenage angst! The horror! There is also a third son, Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), who is born during the construction of the Ark and...serves no practical purpose in this film. Well, he was in the Bible, so might as well just leave him in there...

As the Ark nears completion and the animals start arriving - scenes which are admittedly pretty cool - Noah heads out to find potential mates for Ham and Japheth so the human race can later be repopulated. Or maybe just to get Ham to shut up, I don't know. However, when he arrives at a human settlement, he is shocked by all the violence and depravity he sees and walks away empty-handed.

Ugh, worst grape-stomping competition ever.

Ham runs off and tries to take matters into his own hands by rescuing a girl from the settlement named Na'el (Madison Davenport). She gets killed in a stampede after only five minutes of screen time and we learn nothing about her, but I am sure she would have been a great character...*faceplam*

Anyway, as the rest of the family looks for Ham, Ila comes across Methuselah, who is still looking for those damn blueberries. He tells her that he has come to realize that he has had almost no contact with her during the building of the Ark. He apologizes by using his powers to make her fertile.


So let me get this straight...he has been living next to his adoptive great-granddaughter for roughly TEN YEARS without any real interaction with her. Why? Because he just never got around to it?! Did that take a lot of valuable time away from his normal routine of giving away obvious advice and blueberry hunting?! And his way of saying sorry is to make her able to have children, something that he could have done AT ANY TIME over the decade and spared her from all those brewing feelings of bitterness...???!!!

Well, at Ila seems to be cool with it because right after this happens, she finds Shem and they have sex right then and there. Yep, Ham has gone missing, they are surrounded by hoards of dangerous people, and the whole world is about to flood, but they are just going to take the "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus" approach: giving in to the slightest physical impulse for the sake of plot convenience! (Yes, I did just compare a Biblical film to "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus." Deal with it).

Anyway, eventually they do get everyone back together and they have this big fight with Tubal-cain's people. The stupid rock things, I mean Watchers, end up sacrificing themselves to save Noah's family and they ascend into Heaven for redeeming themselves. or just so we do not have to look at them anymore. Meanwhile, the flood comes in at full force and carries away the Ark, along with all its animal and human passengers.

The Biblical version of "Get in the choppa!"

Cool, Russell Crowe on a boat! You know what that means...! No, not "Master and Commander," I mean this:

Oh, and Methuselah gets left behind and dies. Or rather, he finally finds his goddamn berries (in a place not very far from his place that should not have taken a decade to find) and, apparently feeling perfectly content with how he has conducted himself over the years, willfully gets washed away by the waves. Normally I would question why there was no explanation for him staying behind, but frankly, given the nonsensical nature surrounding his character, I am willing just to send him off on his merry way. Believe me, we haven't even gotten to the "good" part of the movie yet...

Now, up until this point, I'm still sort of content with the film. It's not great and its flaws only get bigger the more you think about them, but it has decent special effects (other than the Watchers) and the plot still keeps me intrigued. But then Noah starts to lay out his game plan and this is where it really starts to lose me:

After Noah gives a monologue about...umm, Creationism?...forget it, not going to ask...he tells his family that the Creator is telling him that man has become too evil. So instead of trying to repopulate the planet, he tells his family that once they get back on land, they will live out the rest of their days with no more procreation before they die, effectively killing off the human race.

So...Noah is a religiously-inspired ecoterrorist now! But wait, it gets better! It is discovered that Ila is pregnant (I know, did not see that one coming either), so Noah, being the kind, gentle soul that he is, makes a deal: if she gives birth to a boy, he can live; if it is a girl that can procreate, she must be killed.

Who. Is. This. Psychopath?!!! Is he really that messed up in the head that he thinks his own family is not good enough to redeem mankind?! And as a result he is just going to basically hold them hostage, not knowing whether or not he might at some point kill one of them?! Wait, Russell Crowe plays a guy who takes direction from visions that only he can see and as a result endangers his family, including his wife played by Jennifer Crowley...


Well, before I get any further with this, I should say that Tubal-cain is actually still alive at this point: despite being badly wounded before the flood hit, he managed to sneak onto the Ark while no one was looking. When Ham discovers him, he makes a deal with the boy to keep his presence a secret until he has healed enough to kill Noah. He then gathers his strength by eating the animals nearby. Remember, there are only two of each, so just killing one effectively causes an extinction!

Tubal-cain: the reason why we no longer have Jackalopes.

So what exactly is Tubal-cain's grand plan after he does away with Noah? In a nutshell, he is going to make the remaining females on the boat his brides, and he will repopulate the human race in his image. Okay, there are many things that can cause this idea to fall apart, but I am not going to bother listing them down. You know why? Because he cannot even get the first part right! His great idea on how to kill Noah: make him come down to where he is on the ark and then jump him. Yep, jump him. Oh, by the way, when he decides to launch this "attack," enough time has gone by that Ila goes into labor. So, in other words, he had NINE MONTHS to figure this out and he still screwed it up!!! Killing Noah in his sleep? NAH, let's given him the chance to fight back and see how that turns out. Well, as it does turn out, Ham changes his mind...for some reason...and ends up killing Tubal-cain himself. And so goes another useless character due to a complete failure to judge his basic surroundings...!!!

Honestly, was there really a need for a villain at all in this movie? Noah is pretty scary already! Which do you think is scarier? The guy who you know is bad and just need to find the right time and place to kill him? Or the guy who is suppose to be mankind's savior and yet he keeps his own family in a constant state of paranoia for nine months (hey, whatever happened to "40 days and 40 nights"... ah forget it...) and is willing to kill his own grandchild based on a hunch that only he knows about?!!!

*Deep breath* Moving on...

As I mentioned, Ila goes into labor and gives birth to...twin girls! Oh, the irony! The end result? Well, Noah looks into their eyes and sees good in them, so they and the rest of humanity get to live on after all. he looks at them and sees goodness but not the other members of his know what, we are almost done, so let's just get to it...

"So, that whole me going crazy and threatening your lives thing? We're cool, right?"

The family comes across land and start their new lives. Noah spends some time acting like a bum, feeling guilty that he did not fulfill the Creator's simple favor that he commit infanticide in order to wipe out his own species. But his family tells him to get over it, so he does. Ham goes off to be his own man or something. And...the movie ends.

Wait a minute. A guy who takes direction from visions that only he can see terrorizes his family in an isolated location, to the point where his son seeks the help of an outsider to help kill him, only for that said outsider to get killed really easily. Hey, this is not "A Beautiful Mind" at all, it's...

That's it! That is what it was all along! So that means...Stephen King wrote the Bible!!!

Or this movie is just weird, I don't know...

Wow, You know one of the things about writing these reviews is that it gets you to think more about the movies you just saw, which can be both a good and a bad thing. With this movie, it is certainly the latter. The more I go into detail about it, the more I realize how bad it is. There are just so many plot holes, a number of supporting characters are useless, and the movie's namesake is such a despicable human being that you really cannot get behind him. Now I should say that making Noah a flawed character is not itself a problem; it should almost be encouraged because it makes him more relatable. But if you are going to make any story and you are going to purposely make a character with major flaws, you have to at least give a reason why your audience should still like him or her. Or at the very least give some rational reason why they are who they are, not take them so far into Walter White/Frank Underwood/Jack Torrance territory and then bring them back from the abyss, pretending they were a hero all along. It is disconcerting and ruins the whole point of what you are trying to get across. That is, if you had a point to begin with...

There is not much I can defend in this film, with a few exceptions. Some of the visuals are impressive, as I mentioned, and the acting is more or less decent. And I do not necessarily blame Aronofsky and the others for wanting to do something different with a story that has been told countless times and virtually everyone knows about. They could have easily have said "We have Russell Crowe and a multimillion dollar budget. Go see it." You can tell they were at least trying. But as I have said in the past, different is not always better, and this time it really did not work out. So let that be a warning to all those planning to see the upcoming "Exodus: Gods and Kings" movie coming out. It might be better than this film, but just be careful what you get yourself into.

As for this film...yeah, I do not recommend it.

Thanks, Yul Brynner. You know what, go see "The Ten Commandments" instead. It's 10,000 hours long, but it's all worth it. And it's not "Noah," so that's a bonus!

The pictures and videos in this post do not belong to me and are being used for entertainment purposes only. Please do not sue me; it says so in the Bible.