Film critics really are masochistic.
Oh, sure. It sounds like a fun job and there are some wonderful perks for those film critics with established credentials and professional affiliations.
Those in broadcast and print media have the thrill of regular, wide exposure to large audiences. There are some film critics, especially broadcast critics, who are invited to press junkets and a wide variety of press conferences. Most accredited film critics enjoy the benefit of free screenings, screener DVD's, press conferences, occasional interviews and other perks.
I wouldn't trade this job for anything. I love being a film critic.
But, there is a price to pay.
It starts with having to see everything. I mean everything. Unless your last name is Ebert or you have national exposure, odds are you don't have the option to pick and choose the films you cover. You cover it all...Good, bad, horrible and really, really horrible.
It's nearly June of 2010, and I've yet to see a single wide release film that I'm expecting to arrive in my Top 10 for the year. Not one. For every really awesome 3.5-4.0 star review I award, I've usually sat through anywhere from 20-30 mediocre films.
I see the bad films so you don't have to, though with frightening regularity you choose to anyway.
Having never particularly been a fan of the Shrek films, I can honestly say that I found myself looking forward to the supposed final film, Shrek Forever After, with about as much anticipation as when I go to the dentist.
In case you're wondering, I HATE going to the dentist.
So, imagine my surprise when I report that I actually enjoyed Shrek Forever After.
While Shrek Forever After doesn't offer quite the impact as the series original, perhaps mostly owing to the fact that the novelty itself has worn off, the film is a delightful, funny and heartwarming end to the wildly lucrative series that has had incredible highs (Shrek) and equally incredible lows (Shrek 3). This Shrek may very well come the closest to capturing the spirit of William Steig's writing, upon which the series has been based.
Steig, despite writing for children, was known as not ever being particularly fond of them. Steig managed to infuse his writings with this sort of hostile ambivalence towards children and family, a feeling that opens Shrek Forever After with its wondrous scenes of a not so blissful domesticity having come over the now "jolly green joke," as Shrek refers to himself. Shrek (Mike Myers) is hunkered down with a now pleasantly plump Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and their three ogrettes while those Shrek formerly taunted now regularly stop in asking for autographs and treating his home as a tourist attraction.
It's enough to make any ogre very, very angry.
Shrek's anger leads to an ill-fated agreement with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn)to experience one day as a real ogre again.
Needless to say, this agreement doesn't turn out to be everything Shrek expects it to be.
The agreement turns Shrek's world upside down and takes away everything he loves or, at least, everything he grows to realize he loves. This leads to a series of scenes where Shrek must again prove his love for Fiona, who is now an enemy of the kingdom, and must go to battle against Rumpelstiltskin, who has become the kingdom's ruler.
Don't worry. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is still here, though Shrek Forever After is disappointingly devoid of that wonderful Shrek/Donkey banter that has proven so delightful. Puss n' Boots (Antonio Banderas) is also here, a much larger version, as the princely kitty has become one fat cat, indeed.
If one were to summarize the Shrek series, the original was endearing and wonderfully inventive while Shrek 2 was even more clever yet definitely skewed older. Shrek 3 was to the Shrek series what Jaws 4 was to the Jaws series...a boring, laughably weak mess. Shrek Forever After completes the circle, and while this final chapter doesn't live up to the original it does manage to return to the original's endearing, gently humorous and heart-filled beginnings.
By now, it would be reasonable to expect the returning cast to be bored with the characters and for this boredom to radiate on the screen. To the credit of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas and Eddie Murphy, the performances are as alive and energized in this film as they were in the original.
Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke's script is an entertaining blend of witty one-liners and the expected pop culture references, though the pop culture references are kept largely in check and never seem to dominate the story. Shrek Forever After contains obvious salutes to everything from Harry Potter to It's a Wonderful Life with sprinkles of The Carpenter's tossed into the soundtrack and appearances by new characters featuring effective voice work by Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Glee's Jane Lynch.
The film is directed ably by Mike Mitchell (Sky High, Surviving Christmas), with both 2-D and 3-D versions available. Save yourself a few bucks, the film needn't have been made in 3-D and what effects are utilized aren't quite awesome enough to warrant the extra expense.
While DreamWorks has reported and advertised Shrek Forever After as the final film in the series, if this "final" film equals its predecessors at the box-office it's hard to fathom that DreamWorks won't find a way to milk its cash cow one more time in the future.
While most will undoubtedly still call the original Shrek their favorite in the series and even this writer would likely acknowledge it as the best film of the series, there's something about the heart and soul of Shrek Forever After, especially when coupled with the more subdued pop culture references, that makes me give the nod to this heartfelt, positively inspired and more authentically funny closing chapter.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic