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 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 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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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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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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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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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.
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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