If my 8-year-old self knew there’d be a movie adaptation of the city-destroying monster video game Rampage, I’d probably be in a state of perpetual glee until it was released in theaters. Of course, my 8-year-old self had yet to indulge in the campy cinema candy of the Godzilla franchise or the King Kong movies. Your taste in giant monster movies grows a little broader as you get older and it’s sad to admit that the big-screen depiction of a giant ape slamming a giant wolf into giant buildings doesn’t hold as much excitement as I thought it would. It’s still a pleasing treat for the eyes and will probably be held up by many as one of the few solid video game movie adaptations, even if the destructive scenes seem like mild hurricanes compared to the stellar treatments for Godzilla and King Kong.
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Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One reads like a geeky ode of a fanfiction, crossing over several properties into his dream of a limitless cyber adventure. Steven Spielberg is the perfect director to make that dream come true, having enough pull to round up all the toys they love to play with and letting them loose on the big screen. Their combination results in one of the dorkiest fangasms of a movie that visually, narratively, and verbally rattles off pop-culture appreciation like the ultimate machine gun of geek. This aspect may rob the film of being little more than a glorified monument to cool, but as someone who gets a kick out of Gundam, Back to the Future, and Buckaroo Banzai all being present in the same film, I couldn’t help but be delighted by such a boundless trip through a nostalgic wonderland.
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As someone who grew up adoring the giant robot anime of Gundam and Robotech, Pacific Rim made my inner geek explode with joy. Uprising continues to ride that high with a similar story and familiar formula for the first-time director Steven S. DeKnight to slide comfortably into the mecha masterpiece Guillermo del Toro started. Yes, this is very much more of the same, but as someone who dug the tongue-in-cheek silliness and robot-fist-in-monster-jaw action of the previous film, I’m all for a second helping.
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If the previous Tomb Raider films were ridiculous renditions of a sexy James Bond heroine blazing her way through an Indiana Jones plot, this reboot is a gritty female action picture trapped inside a been-there-raided-that treasure hunting story. It does away with all the silly gadgets, skimpy outfits, and ludicrous setpieces to present a film that turns Lara Croft into a female cross of Rambo and John McClain. It even plays it safe by replicating the most recent and gritty video game. If only the writers and director had the foresight to recognize that treasure hunting movies are goofy and not take Tomb Raider so seriously that it turns into the very corny film it was trying to avoid.
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Perhaps it should have been prophetic that Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake had to be rescheduled after the Vegas shooting and is still debuting at the wrong time with the recent Florida shooting. At a time when gun control is the hot topic of debate, the gun-loving insanity of Death Wish comes with bad timing. Or, if you have a throbbing love of guns to an absurd degree, the right time. Yes, I know a film this violent and giddy shouldn’t be approached with a political bias against it, but when a film this bizarre rubs its nose in the issue without saying anything, you can’t help but get a sour taste in your mouth.
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There is a lot of pressure in the tsunami of cinematic superheroes to make something that will stand out from the crowd, but Ryan Coogler is more than up to the challenge with Black Panther. He doesn’t merely give the hero first introduced in Captain America: Civil War a standard solo film to showcase his powers, world, and rogues gallery. Coogler loads his picture up with a unique style, purpose, and, yes, even politics, to create one of Marvel Studio’s best films and not just a bridge to Avengers: Infinity War.
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You can usually tell when a film about Americans doesn’t feel as though it’s directed by one. If you saw Hacksaw Ridge, you could see that Mel Gibson gave the story of Desmond Doss a real perspective and a purpose. Despite the abundance of bloody war scenes, it wasn’t just about the war, but about a philosophy on saving lives in a time of war and how one person can do so much. This is not the case of 12 Strong, a film that seems more concerned with staging cool shots of soldiers on horses than taking in the more personal aspects of such an operation.
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Full disclosure: I’m more of a DC Comics man than a Marvel reader. So I was very much anticipating the first big-screen depiction of the Justice League, despite Warner Brothers’ questionable stumbling towards creating a DC movie universe. The bar is pretty low for this film, which is rather disappointing for DC’s first theatrical ensemble picture. Though Snyder’s direction is still spotty and flawed, there are small bursts of hope present, more so than the painfully dark and muddy Batman v. Superman, though not as many as the triumphantly bold Wonder Woman movie.
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Thor always felt like a character of untapped potential. He’s a god of thunder that defends his mystical kingdom of Asgard from the other intergalactic forces of the nine realms. So why does everything have to take place on Earth? Finally ditching his female love interest, Thor finds on a new mission where he gets to fight more monsters, meet more odd characters and travel amid the most lavish of locations. It’s more fun to watch his adventures on a junker planet of gladiator combat than stopping yet another doomsday device from blowing up the planet. There are more than enough heroes on the planet for the hammer-wielding god to have a Work-From-Home-Realms week.
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Michael Bay’s fifth round of relentless robot carnage is as noisy, incoherent and insulting as this franchise ever was. From its very first shot of fireballs hurling over the Paramount Pictures logo to the final speech of Optimus Prime that contradicts any shred of heroism or morality in the rest of the picture, its a consistent mess of terrible filmmaking. Believe me, I didn’t enter this picture with the intention of hating it. To be fair, this picture didn’t offend me as much as the previous Transformers film, Age of Extinction (2014). There’s no older gentlemen lusting after a teenage girl, keeping a laminated copy of Juliet’s Law in his pocket at all times to excuse his actions. There’s much less product placement, reserving the obligatory Budweiser shot for one bottle taken out of a fridge. I can see a little, but not a lot, of the action going on where I just barely have an idea of who is attacking who. The plot doesn’t seem as overly convoluted this time. There’s even a surprising element of female empowerment for young girls, a rarity of any Bay production. These minor improvements, however, do little to improve a movie where there is very little to care about.
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