By: Addison Wylie
I understand why some films are big hits but then there are some films that when I find out they have a huge following, I’m flabbergasted. The Step Up movies have fallen into the latter category. In fact, I never understood the whole “dance movie” genre. To me, it’s essentially the same movie with the same, or similar, plot devices. In these Step Up films, the dancing may look interesting from observing the first handful of scenes but as the film develops a cookie cutter story as well as repetitive scenes of the same dancing, boredom ensues. It feels like everyone but me “gets” these films. I’ve always wanted to see these films go in a completely other direction story-wise or utilize a different filmmaking method that would keep my interest. When it was announced that there was going to be a third Step Up instalment, I was trying to keep an open mind but couldn’t help but dread the experience where I would end up watching it. However, when it was also announced that the film would be using 3D technology, my ears perked up. Mind the pun but, this could perhaps be a step in the right direction, and, after viewing it, it was definitely a strong step forward.
In this latest chapter, the audience follows previous Step Up character Moose, played by Adam Savani, as he enters into the world of University. He promises his parents that he won’t dabble in dance while attending school; he’s ready to move forward with his life. However, it doesn’t take him long to break this rule when he accidentally stumbles in on a dance performance and quickly turning into a dance off. Moose gets the attention of local street dancer, Luke, played by Rick Malambri, and he immediately takes Moose under his wing. Luke explains that he owns a place where street dancers, or people who are “born from a boombox”, stay. It’s here where Luke and his friends practice choreography in order to win dance battles and live life doing what they love. Think of it as a dancer Neverland and Luke is Mr. Pan himself. After some convincing from the dancing motley crew, Moose decides to take on dance once again and take part in the team’s practice’s leading up to the World Jam dance contest, all while attending school. However, the team has to be stellar if they’re going head-to-head with the team’s rivals, the Samurais.
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On paper, Step Up 3D’s story seems thin and cliche. But, when the script is performed on a big screen, the script is, well, thin and by the numbers. However, it’s as if screenwriters Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer are aware of the obvious cliches these films have been victim to in the past. That said, the duo doesn’t write this script as a spoof of dance movies and they don’t make the movie feel heavy-handed. Instead, the two have fun with the genre and make everything very over-the-top. To give you a taste of the silliness, there’s a scene where Moose is in a washroom and the Samurai’s pretty much “drive-by dance off” him. The two writers are very careful on tightrope-walking across the line of being goofy where it’s fun and being so goofy that the film becomes aggravating. I’m happy to say that the film ends up swaying into the fun realm and stays there for the duration of the movie. The cast and crew are much like Luke’s dancer safe house; with everyone being aware of the familiar formulaic structure, everyone is just having a lot of fun doing what they love doing. This is a tricky territory though. With everyone having fun, the film could’ve been in a position where the audience is being left out on the fun (ala Oceans Twelve). Again, I’m very happy to say that this isn’t the case. The film is filled to the brim with so much energy that the audience can’t help but have a giant grin on their faces the entire time. A good example of the amount of energy displayed is with the acting. Savani and Malambri and even Sharni Vinson, who plays Luke’s love interest Natalie, are all playing stock characters, however, this ensemble is having a lot of fun with the material and are given lots of space with how they display their choreography. The actors are so relaxed that they’re never taking them or the material too seriously and this attitude rubs off on the crowd watching the film. However, even though this energy is extremely uplifting and compliments the actors and the script quite well, I had major issues with the film’s villain, Julien, played by Joe Slaughter. The last name is appropriate because he butchers his lines and his attempt to establish a villainous role. Slaughter is so ineffective, wimpy, and uncharismatic here that it makes me question what the casting people were thinking of when they gave him the role of being the guy the audience is supposed to despise. That said, I definitely wasn’t rooting for him but not because he is the head of the Samurai’s. It was because I wanted him to have less screen time than he already has. Other than Slaughter’s lame performance, the rest of the content Step Up 3D provides is surprisingly entertaining.
The main selling point of the film is its use of 3D technology. This is, hands down, the best use of 3D filmmaking I’ve seen since Avatar. The 3D adds an incredible amount of depth to the dance sequences. No blurry picture or double-vision here, folks. There are given moments where characters break the fourth wall in order to use 3D as a gimmick. For instance, there’s a scene where Moose pops a bunch of bubbles and even displays one in front of the screen before popping it and getting soapy syrup all over the audience. However, the 3D touches, about 95% of the time, are very subtle and affective. During the dance scenes, characters are more well rounded, the picture is cleaner and there is a great amount of detail displayed making the scenes take your breath away. There’s a scene where a dancer, who is performing “the robot”, is slowly walking towards the screen and extending his hands out towards the camera. It may sound cliche but it does feel like the young dancer is creeping out of the screen and is going to grab you by your collar at any instance. There are many scenes where dancers emerge and it legitimately feels as if they are coming through the screen. The 3D filmmaking goes hand in hand with director Jon Chu’s ability to direct the hell out of a dance sequence. By having a solid amount of dance history, Chu knows where cameras and lights should be positioned and where his actors should be performing in order to display the full effect of a dance movement. Even during the scenes where characters are moving the plot along, the scenes still feel very involving by having the said energy brought up before, and by having the 3D issued. It’s as if we’re in the scenes while the dance group is organizing dance routines. Overall, this was a very wise choice to utilize new 3D technology with this picture.
Before this third chapter, nothing in these films felt fully developed and everything felt lazy; the acting, the script, and even the filmmaking. Even though Chu directed Step Up 2: The Streets, I found the second instalment very bland as well. I was more than blown away to realize that I actually enjoyed a creative dance movie. I think the cast and crew found a true calling with this new 3D technology. By using this new trend of filmmaking, the actors are able to use it as a transition in order to rub their energy off on the audience, Chu is able to involve his audience to a full extent throughout his film, and overall, a once old and dull movie genre has been given a face lift making it a fun and enjoyable experience. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. Colour me surprised!