Monday, 2 July 2018

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (2018)




The plot: Lonely and overworked, Dracula (Adam Sandler) needs to take a break. Luckily, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) gets tickets for them and the rest of the Drac Pack to go on a luxury cruise just for monsters. As they indulge in some down time, it seems that Dracula may have found what he's looking for in the ship's captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). However, it seems that this cruise isn't all that it seems, and Dracula's old adversary Dr. Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) lays in wait to wreak his revenge on all monsters.

Sandler has well and truly moulded into the character by this point, making for a rather awkward but endearing presence as he struts across the cruise ship. He's come a long way from basically doing the exact same thing way back when with Going Overboard. Gomez may be saddled with essentially being what Sandler was in the first film (the overprotective family member all-too-concerned about someone else’s love life), but credit to her for making it as palatable as she does here. Andy Samberg is still abrasive but manageable, Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi still bring the goods as part of the core Drac Pack, and special mention goes to Keegan-Michael Key as Murray for delivering this film's surprisingly poignant coda. Asher Blinkoff and Sadie Sandler are both adorably distracting and yet not to the point where it feels like they’re wasting time… although, to be fair, that giant puppy is never not a delight. And then there’s the newcomers, specifically Gaffigan and Hahn. As the kooky and bloody-minded Van Helsing, Gaffigan does quite well at being both menacing and funny. Hahn definitely gets to cut loose initially, but as the story brings her and Sandler closer, she ends up being one of the more compelling characters here… as well as the touchstone for the film’s core message, but all in due time.

For the third time now, we have Gennedy “I own your Cartoon Network-fueled childhood” Tartakovsky as director and now co-writer alongside Michael McCullen (Undercover Brother, Baby Mama, The Boss Baby). Also for the third time, the animation for this is fantastic. It maintains the bounciness of the last two films, while keeping the energy levels high as to avoid the second film’s slower moments, and even shows signs of real improvement as far as fidelity goes. Apparently, we’re just at the point with CGI technology where things like lighting and movement are now as easy as ever to pull off right, as this follows in the wake of Pixar’s more recent ventures in just how textured it looks. Even the movements of the characters show a serious upgrade, with enough articulation and hyperactivity to make the numerous dance sequences rather entertaining even just from a technical standpoint. To add to that, it seems that Tartakovsky wasn’t content to just have everyone stuck on a cruise ship for 90+ minutes, meaning that we get some pretty damn cool set pieces to mile-mark the narrative. From the Bermuda Triangle to the deliciously chaotic Gremlin Airlines, even the singing Kraken overlooking a very Atlantic-City-looking Atlantis, all of it hits the mark and allows for the visual gags to ring through.

Of course, when it comes to this film’s sense of humour, it is far more visual this time around than to do with wordplay or tongue-in-cheek referential jokes. Not that this film completely skimps on the writing stakes, though, as this manages to continue the second film’s look at the classic monsters by turning attention towards the other half of the equation: The humans who look on them with terror. This franchise’s use of monsters as an allegory for all things ‘Other’ has managed to stay consistent, with this film asking certain questions about why humans are afraid of the monsters. And the answer, however simplistic it comes across here, still makes a solid point: Tradition. Legacy. That which is passed down through the generations. Hate has a tendency to grow through what we learn, and what we first learn typically comes from our families. And as this series has shown, family is a very important aspect of our lives, regardless of who we are. So, what happens when a human, who has been taught by her family to hate monsters to the point of helping commit genocide (yeah, it’s dressed up to be family-friendly, but let’s not kid ourselves here; Van Helsing is kind of a dick), meets a monster who not only has no ill will towards humans but actively wants the two to get along? Well, you get the sort of star-crossed love story that is a tad overused but ends up fitting into the Hotel Transylvania aesthetic quite well. Beyond simply being a gender reversal of the first film.

As much as part of me wants to call this out for recycling, given the purpose of Dracula, Mavis and  Ericka in the narrative, this film ending essentially where the first film ended actually feels… right. Between all three films, Tartakovsky has given a very energetic, Looney Tunes-inspired look at the classic monsters (the vampire, the werewolf, the mummy, Fran Drescher, etc.), the culture that surrounds them, whether they are still scary and, with this third installment, what makes them different from humans. Or, more specifically, what keeps the two separated. The answer to that is what most of us have come to know about two opposing sides of any matter: Fear and prejudice feed off each other, and that ends up colouring our perceptions and our actions.

But what’s the solution to that? I mean, the Van Helsings are hell-bent on destroying all monsters, and try as Dracula might, there is still a lot of friction between him and most humans. Do we just try to fight fire and fire? Meet the oppositions’ aggression with more aggression? Anyone reading this should know full well how that idea works out in practice. Hell, I myself have had to come to terms with the ineffectuality of that notion over the last couple months. No, if anything constructive is going to get done, we have to do better than resort to the tactics of our enemies to win the day. We have to show that compassion, empathy and (this word has become quite overused of late, but to hell with it) civility are not casualties of whatever fight we may be embroiled in. Like Murray says: "Gotta be better than the haters."

All in all, the Hotel Transylvania trilogy comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion with a summation of not only the series’ look at the Other, but also posits how we can go about changing the way society sees the Other. The acting is still spot-on, the animation has improved over last to create some seriously fun visuals, and while the writing may not be as witty or in-depth with its humour this time around, it still makes some solid yet digestible points about people’s attitudes towards each other and the generational damage that prejudice can cause. I’m always up for family films that give the younger members of the audience something helpful to work with, and this certainly delivers in that department.

It ranks higher than Maze Runner: The Death Cure, which as a conclusion to a series worked but not quite as well as this. Hotel Transylvania 3 builds on the themes and characters of the first two to finish off the series on an incredibly solid note. However, as fun as this is, it’s still working off of two really damn good films; I had enough faith in Gennedy Tartakovsky to not screw this one up. Rampage not only managed to surpass a large swathe of the work of its director and lead actor, it even broke the glass ceiling for its entire sub-genre. This is good, but it’s not “At last! Video game adaptations don’t have to suck anymore!” kind of good.

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