“Justice League” Review

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 and 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: Ragnarok” Review

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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“Transformers: The Last Knight” Review

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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“Wonder Woman” Review

Wonder Woman is more of a superhero movie than a movie with superheroes in it. Warner Brothers’ previous DC Comics “superhero” movies seemed to deal with wavering themes, much too heavy for the likes of capes and cowls. Considering how obsessed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice became with the idea of gods to the point of crucifying Superman, I wasn’t looking forward to a DC movie about actual gods. Thankfully, director Patty Jenkins knew what she was doing to make a Wonder Woman movie work. She knew you couldn’t take a superhero film too seriously when a tiara-wearing Amazon warrior tries to stop the God of War and his evil sidekick Doctor Poison.
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“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” Review

Guy Ritchie firmly establishes from the first few scenes that this won’t be the same old tale of King Arthur. Within the first minute, there’s already an attack on a kingdom by evil wizards leading a pack of gargantuan elephants that could trample castles. A king jumps into battle with his magical Merlin sword, decapitating his enemies with magic fury in his eyes. The king’s jealous brother (Jude Law) wants that power and is willing to strike a deal of blood with a female octopus monster to make it happen. And there’s a giant wielding a flaming scythe that savagely brutalizes anyone in his path. For as over-the-top as such sights are in Richie’s wild vision of the classic character, it could stand to be a little more crazy, a little more creative and a lot more Ritchie.
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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

The best and worst thing that can be said of the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is that it’s more of the same. If you liked the last movie, you’ll be delighted to hear that Vol. 2 is just as abundant with crass, crude, cute and kicking 70s tunes. Not only are these elements present, but they’ve been doubled and smushed into 138 minutes. More subplots, more characters, more music, more slow-motion shots, more end-credit scenes and more than enough starship battles to make Star Wars blush. It’s rather surprising that, for as much fun as this movie transfers over from the previous film, it forgets to add the originality that made it stand out so well against the competition of other superhero movies.
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“The Fate of the Furious” Review

What can you do with cars in an action scene that hasn’t been done before? The Fast and the Furious film franchise seems to always have the right answer, letting the imagination run wild with automotive stunts and destruction that make any other movie about cars seem timid by comparison. Now on its eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious still has some of that giddy insanity that keeps the blood pumping as much as the nitro in the cars, even if there’s much less in the tank than there was before.

The plot plays as a cross between a soap opera and a James Bond picture. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is considering being a father with his love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Thoughts of settling down are put on hold as Dominic and his familiar team of drivers, hackers and government agents are tasked with stealing an EMP weapon. The mission proceeds smoothly until Toretto shocks everyone by going rogue and handing over the weapon to the blonde-haired terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron). Her plans are rather simple as far as villain ambitions go: Steal some nukes and hold the world for ransom. Sure, other bad guys have tried and failed with this exact scheme, but she’s a little more confident having convinced the seemingly invisible Toretto to do her bidding for the hostages she is holding. While she will get the blood boiling for the desire to see Toretto exact revenge on her, she’s not exactly a memorable villain with her infrequent tones and noodle-like hair. Theron must not have got the memo about what movie she was starring in as she’s playing her role far too seriously for a woman that wants to nab some nukes.

It’s a little disappointing that the series’ central theme of family doesn’t feel as strong here as it should, especially with how lacking in chemistry the movie appears. Not only do the protagonists spend more time apart, but can do little more than crack a few jokes on their laser focus to stop a terrorist. The nuke plot is so standard and boring that the passing of character development for easy quips makes the film a disappointment of lost potential. The heated relationship of agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and rogue assassin Shaw (Jason Statham) could have been fun if they did more than just shout insults at each other. Chris Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel have no time for an implied romance between hackers, Kurt Russell is mostly in the background with commentary and Tyrese Gibson can do little more than shout his way into the plot.

Where the film does try to make up for its average action script is another barrage of over-the-top action sequences. Cool looking cars are thrown into a variety of locations where they burst into flames, skid around ice, avoid missiles, shoot grappling hooks and topple into each other by the dozens. Sure, these are all fun scenes, but they don’t have that certain level of craziness and creativity that makes The Fast and the Furious franchise so unique. One can only smash so many cars before the audience is just watching a tornado of a junkyard explosion.

Newcomer director F. Gary Gray attempts to give Vin Diesel more emotion and make the story a little more personal, but only as well as he can through the filters of the Furious series’ requirement for quips and car chases. It felt more as though Gray was sticking to a formula rather than doing his own thing in how he shoots and direct scenes that feel derivative of both the franchise and other action films. Lines and scenes that should be fun come off more standard than unique, which is saying something for a movie where a flaming car speeds backwards towards a finish line and hundreds of cars reenact World War Z. This is a franchise that needs to be taken into the shop if it hopes to maintain any sense of charisma and energy before reaching the big one-zero as more than just another dumb blockbuster where cars go vroom and explode into pretty balls of fire.

“300” Review

While Sin City used a CGI-created world to amplify the grit and bite of classic noir, 300 uses that same technology to turn a Greek war epic into a pro-wrestling cartoon. Based on Frank Miller’s overblown depiction of The 300 Spartans, this film is a visual feast of farce. There are massive armies of seemingly endless soldiers, far more than I doubt any kingdom would be able to manage for a single battle. The muddy palette of foreboding skies and darkly lit battlefields was probably intended to look gritty but comes off more like a vibrant depiction of a cloudy Sunday in August. And I can’t forget those laughably buff and greased-up muscles, always showcased in battle. Spartans would traditionally wear bulky armor to protect themselves, but maybe those rock-hard abs are as strong as metal.
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“Passengers” (2016) Review

To call Passengers junkie science fiction would be too kind. This is the slick Hollywood glaze of science fiction which is not about high-concept ideas for fun pulp, but an excuse to place A-list actors in a romantic space setting. I can only imagine that the producers were only thinking of the star power for having the big names of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, both of them no strangers to Marvel movies, would make a golden duo for a romance among the stars. Perhaps they believed so much in their charisma that they could carry such an immoral, uneven and shlocky script past its glaring flaws. Oh, how I wish they had such power.

Pratt plays Jim, an average engineer who finds himself awakened on a starship of 5000 passengers before having reached his destination. The ship will not arrive at the planet he is traveling towards for the next 90 years. There’s no way to get back into his cryo-sleep pod to avoid dying of old age, no means of awakening the ship’s crew and no way to ask Earth for help from such a distance. He is destined to die on this ship. But at least he has enough entertainment on the ship to pass away his remaining days with video games, fine dining, books, movies and a robot bartender. Of course, he’ll get bored with the isolation and become so depressed that he contemplates suicide.

A cure for his loneliness, he reasons, is to awake one of the passengers so that he can converse with a real human being. Perhaps he could research all the passengers and find one that has the closest of skills to an engineer that could fix his hibernation pod and, you know, maybe fix the crumbling ship. Nah, he’d much rather seek the hottest lady on board and condemn her to death so that he can find someone to love on a dying ship. And, of course, he picks the hottest looking dame on the ship who happens to look like a movie star. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is an author from New York City who dreams of having new experiences on a new planet to write some great stories. Too bad her life is going to be cut short so she can die of old age on a spaceship with Chris Pratt.

Because this situation is the worst possible event you could wish upon a human being, Pratt must naturally lie about having nothing to do with her premature awakening. He’ll keep that tucked away for the valley of their relationship so that the two can frolic, stare loving at each other during dinner dates, go on spacewalks and have passionate sex. Even when Pratt finally slips out the truth, she seems to be over it after a few jobs around the ship. After all, they can’t stay mad at each other. They’re top movie stars and need to be a couple for the big screen in this dopey piece of science fiction.

As the story loses its sense of morality, it also loses its tone. I thought I was witnessing a romance among the stars, but the third act quickly turns into the most lame-brain of action movie cliches. All those malfunctions around the ships that the couple casually ignore come back to bite them when the ship is mere minutes away from being destroyed. And it’s no exaggeration when I say they put these repairs off to the very last minute, even going so far as to take a nap and have a swim when they finally reach the malfunctioning reactor. On and on the third act continues with one danger after another, mounting with such uninteresting inevitability. The reactor cannot be repaired unless they pull a switch, but the switch is outside. The switch outside isn’t working so they need to vent the chamber. The chamber can’t be vented unless someone stands in front of the vent to manually open them. Of course, the manual control for opening vents would be right next to the vent! Where else would it be?

It is so disappointing to see such a concept for great science fiction turn into the most vapid, immoral and stupid of stories. It’s a film that seems to have been sold on its cast, its special effects and its romance, without the slightest ounce of intelligence to its script. I will grant that Pratt and Lawrence look good as an onscreen couple and the designs of the starship are uniquely imagined and polished. But it’s all in service of such trashy writing better suited for that best-selling romance novel where readers care more about the kissy-faces of the leads than the dopey decisions they make. This is science fiction for those who don’t like science fiction, believing this junk will finally turn them over to the genre. Let’s hope this type of film, bereft of ideas and common sense, will fade away into a galaxy far, far away.

“Spectre” (2015) Review

I fear that Daniel Craig’s arc as the iconic James Bond has reached its height with 2012’s Skyfall. It’s not an easy task to follow up one of the finest Bond films of the Craig era after taking risks, restructuring the characters and featuring an intense story to follow. Perhaps there was no possible way to topple such a feat that the filmmakers just put their feet up for the fourth James Bond picture starring Craig. This is average Bond and, at this point in the Bond franchise, average tastes awful.

What remains intact is the visual splendor we expect from every James Bond picture. Spectre opens up strong with James on a mission in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. There’s an exciting chase, a fight on a helicopter and a grand explosion that sends Daniel Craig racing across rooftops that crumble. It’s a thrilling opening that sadly doesn’t match the ho-hum plot. Bond is told to lay low by a company taking over the agency, but he just can’t help himself from investigating a secret organization he uncovers. He breaks out the usual gadgets, talks to all the right people and fights Dave Bautista on a train. The dots connect fairly early, but we’re stuck with Bond going through the motions of slowly uncovering clues in lavish locations with no big surprises.

Our villain for the picture was intended as a twist with Christopher Waltz playing the new Blofeld. There’s a backstory revealed of Blofeld’s family ties to James Bond and an orchestrating of the secret agent’s life, but all of this comes too late as a third act surprise that is anything but. More importantly, Waltz felt underused as Blofeld – never cackling or shouting at the camera loud enough to be a notable character. If a Bond film is going to go backwards, can it at least have standout villains?

The James Bond checklist is followed as a mix of both faithfulness and nostalgia. He sleeps with women and slurps some martinis (shaken not stirred). There’s an expensive car chase around a snowy cliff as a plane descends on our hero, piloted by gun-toting bad guys. Bond is taken to the secret base of the evil Spectre operation where our antagonist tortures him. Dave Bautista pops up as the muscle that gives Bond a good fight. There are plenty of big explosions to admire that may be too massive for their own good. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without a cool car armed with all sorts of weapons and devices.

But is this all that’s required for a James Bond movie? After the brilliance in both Casino Royale and Skyfall, I’m not ready to see James Bond slip back into its old habits. It can’t go this route with such a fantastic cast with Ralph Fiennes as M and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. At over two hours, the picture is far too long for floating between globetrotting questioning and gorgeous action set pieces amid a standard agency conspiracy plot. There’s no tension or wit to any of this – relying more on subtle grit than secret agent excitement. It may be time to retire the Bond franchise for a few more years before Daniel Craig stars in a much lesser James Bond movie. As it stands, Spectre is his worst Bond picture and I hope this is as bad as it gets.