Friday, October 20, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming


RATING: B

It's hard to believe this is the third iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in only 15 years. But after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's trilogy ended, Sony just had to make a reboot in order to keep the rights. But it was actually going pretty well. The two Andrew Garfield films weren't great, but they were good enough and they were setting up some pretty interesting stuff with the Sinister Six being on the way.

And then the deal between Sony and Marvel happened to share the film rights. At probably the worst time. Things were actually probably going to get pretty good in the Garfield reboot. But it all got canned, and everyone got *seriously* screwed over. All so we could put Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And put up yet *another* doggone iteration of the character. At that point, I was feeling pretty Spider-Manned out. 

With all of that, this movie had no right to be any good. This movie probably should have crashed and burned, and Spider-Man should have been written out of Infinity War and put on the shelf or whatever for about 20 years to give everyone time to get over everything. And yet... it actually turned out fairly good. 

They're quite fortunate in that their latest actor for the character--Tom Holland--has turned out to nail the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man quite well. But it also helps that the director and writers did him some justice too. They wrote in a lot of good humor and snark for Spider-Man. While I don't find Holland groundbreaking, he does enough to distinguish his performance of the character and not feel like a tired cliche.

This particular Spider-Man film with a rather lame title ("Homecoming?" Really?) takes place during Peter's sophomore year in high school, where he's trying all too hard to become a part of the Avengers after the events of Civil War, while Tony Stark/Iron Man just wants him to be a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." However, the appearance of goons in Spidey's neighborhood with way high-tech weapons leads him to investigate, leading him into conflict with... the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Or at least, an upgraded version of the Vulture with high-tech wings and stuff, since the original Vulture was too dumb for today's audiences. 

There is a lot to like here. There's a whole lot of humor, and though they don't do the "Uncle Ben dies/"...comes great responsibility" backstory here, there is still growth for the character of Peter here, albeit of a different sort. Michael Keaton's performance helps the Vulture avoid being a forgettable villain--though a late plot twist regarding him doesn't hurt either. While I'm not sure how to feel about the "twist" in the final minutes regarding Zendaya's character Michelle, she's still quite amusing in the scenes she's actually in.

There's still some issues, though. The film does have way more emphasis on the "high school" part of Peter's life than previous films really did--and thus more of the cliches and cringing that comes with such things. Also, although director Jon Watts mostly did a good job, he does not know how to film an action scene. Virtually all the fights with the Vulture take place in the pitch dark with horrible lighting (save for the daytime ferry scene) so it's quite difficult to tell what's going on and there's a little bit of choppy editing too. 

Also, it's still difficult to shake the feeling  that this is the third Spider-Man iteration in 15 years. While this movie is good, it's not better than most of the other movies we've seen featuring the character over the years. While it's easy to enjoy the film in the moment, it's hard to shake that feeling when you think about it more. 

But at the end of the day, it's a fun enough movie. Like many of the other Marvel movies, it relies on humor and lightheartedness for the majority of its runtime, and it works here. While it might be in the lower tier of MCU movies, that's still above average. Indeed, this movie is a lot better than it has any right to be. Maybe there is a place for Spider-Man in the MCU after all... even if I'm not completely happy about that. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Transformers 5: The Last Knight


RATING: D-

The Transformers movies have never been works of art. Works of visual and special effects art, maybe. But that's probably the best thing most people can say about them. That said, the formula sort of worked for the first three movies... somehow. As silly and sometimes dumb as those movies are, they are also extremely entertaining and I could see myself going back to watch them again. But then the fourth movie happened and they got lazier on every front. I think to myself, the odd-numbered movies (the first one and Dark of the Moon) are the better ones so far... so maybe this one will be an improvement? Uhh... no. Not even close. 

If you thought the Transformers movies were brainless, annoying and overwhelming before, fasten your seat belts. This is actually one of the most brainless and nonsensical action movies I have ever seen. I'm not sure I've ever seen so little effort get put into a big-budget movie like this. It's like the writers had all their sessions while drunk on the strongest drinks possible. 

And yet I have to try and somehow explain the plot. That will prove difficult... but I will try. So Optimus Prime went looking for his "creators" at the end of the last movie... and finds one now. Quintessa. On the remains of Cybertron... even though Cybertron was totally destroyed at the end of the third movie. (But you surely don't remember silly details like that, right? Apparently that's what Michael Bay thinks...) Quintessa brainwashes him and turns him into Nemesis Prime. Now that all sounds kind of interesting, right? 

Well... now it starts to get ugly. Quintessa *and* the Decepticons on Earth are both after this mythical staff that's hidden somewhere on Earth. It was used before by King Arthur, of all freaking things--in one of the most incomprehensible opening scenes I've ever seen. Turns out the Transformers have been on Earth much longer than we expected somehow (even though that's totally impossible in this series' continuity), and all this time they've been searching for this staff. Because it can rebuild Cybertron. Or something. I mean, forget that silly All Spark or that weird space bridge from the third movie, right? No, *this* is the real deal. Sigh.

This movie is seriously frustrating in a lot of ways. The only part of the plot that's even interesting is Quintessa's brainwashing of Optimus, but after that initially happens he kind of disappears for a while and then once he shows up as Nemesis Prime... it is resolved in about ten minutes or less, with still over thirty minutes to go. And although the battle between Prime and Bumblebee is pretty good, the way in which it is resolved is also another blast to continuity.

Beyond that, the plot ranges from boring to stupid. Somehow Mark Wahlberg's returning character and Laura Haddock's new character are "keys" to the whole thing. Unicron is introduced in this movie, but only through an unbelievably dumb twist. Megatron is back and so is his original voice actor Frank Welker, but even the "Galvatron" shell he possessed in the last movie looks different. This new young girl character named Izabella is introduced and is actually kind of decent, but is quickly put to the side about an hour in, making one wonder what the point was.

The script is incredibly bad; even moments that might've worked before like Optimus Prime's latest rallying speech feel weak and rehashed. The biggest victim of the script is Anthony Hopkins, who somehow got dragged into this. He seems like even he doesn't know what to do with his ridiculous lines. John Turturro's character is back as well, but he's sadly only on screen for about two to three minutes.

Even most of the action scenes feel a little more lazy than before. There's a couple decent moments, but they don't really stand out with any of the better action scenes from the first three movies. Now normally things get a little bit better in the climactic act on the action front. That doesn't happen here. Instead, we're given a bit of a ridiculous finale in which Cybertron's remains enter Earth's atmosphere, leading to a battle mostly in the sky on terrible CGI platforms that I'm not even sure how to describe. Sure, there's a few cool moments isolated within this chaos--such as Optimus dispatching about six of Quintessa's minions at once--but overall it's more difficult to keep up with what's going on in this final act. Steve Jablonsky's soundtrack is probably the best part about it. And once it all ends, not very much is even resolved--which presumes to set up a sixth film not too much unlike this one, but who knows what they'll do since we might finally be getting a director change and these guys have proven they don't seem to mind breaking their own canon.

I've defended some of these Transformers movies a little bit more than most. I recognize what they are, but I've also kind of enjoyed them. But this one is pretty much indefensible. It's honestly depressing, because the Transformers deserve better. And even if you hate these movies, you still have to admit they were better at one time than this. Even Michael Bay is capable of better than this. It is quite enraging to see a movie this lazily made when you know it can be better--even if only to a certain point. I'd like to see what a new decent director could do with these movies, but whoever it is will have their work cut out for them. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Fate of the Furious


RATING: C+

It's hard to believe this franchise has gotten as far it has. They didn't even start becoming "good" until the fifth one, and even then they still had issues. The increasing ludicrousness of the plots and impossible stunts eventually caught up with them a little in the last movie, so I had to wonder if the franchise had run out of what little gas it had to begin with. The title of this one certainly didn't help much. "The Fate of the Furious." Fate. F8. Get it? Ha. Ha. 

This particular plot centers around the idea "What if Dominic Toretto, the guy who preaches 'family' so much, turned his back on them?" That was what the trailer gave us. The problem in the actual movie is that the big twist as to why he does it is telegraphed almost *immediately* after he meets Cipher, our new villain. And then about 20-25 minutes later, they just flat out give up on trying to hide it and just give the reveal anyway. (Despite the predictability, I have to give some props at some point for Vin Diesel's acting through all of this--he actually does *really* good in this movie.) 

With that said, the plot and storyline of this movie still in general makes more sense than Furious 7. That one advertised Jason Statham as the bad guy, but then they threw in Djimon Hounsou as well and created a rather convoluted plot that was lost amidst sloppy direction and writing, and stunts and impossible survivals that were ridiculous even by this franchise's standards. This one at least feels a little more simple. Or at least simple in that it's kind of familiar. Because what the bad guy (or girl in this case) wants is nuclear launch codes to gain access to nuclear missiles. Simple enough, right? And even the "blackmailing Dom" plot that happens here isn't completely unheard of. Sure, there's a bit of technological nonsense along the way, but don't tell me you weren't expecting that by this point in these movies. Cipher herself is kind of annoying though, due to her constant ridiculous monologues on things like fate and choice.

The good news is that director James Wan is gone. No more ridiculous circling camera movements when characters are fighting. And the writing's better too--not great or anything, but it certainly feels less amateur. And, believe it or not, suspension of disbelief isn't as big of a problem here as it was in the last movie--maybe even the sixth one. We have two main big action set pieces--one in New York where Cipher is able to hack a *ton* of cars remotely to create a "zombie" car chase of sorts. It's actually pretty awesome. And the final set piece on the icy tundra is quite good too, and not that unbelievable--at least not until the submarine shows up and then the film reverts to the usual F&F "impossible things" antics for a few minutes. But there's nothing here that's as ridiculous as driving a car off a parking garage ramp, actually hitting a helicopter with it, falling multiple stories in said car and still surviving. 

Now we get to an interesting point of contention--Deckard Shaw's return. Due to having his own vendetta against Cipher, he actually kind of *teams up* with the heroes.  I won't say too much even though you might be able to predict how it goes from there, but they try to make him a bit more sympathetic. Which is difficult, given his actions in the last movie. And yet they somehow actually kind of pull it off--even though I'm also left confused as to how the rest of the team is able to work with him without constantly scowling. 

But what we do get out of that is the glorious continuation of the rivalry between The Rock's and Jason Statham's characters. It was cut short last time when Hobbs got injured early in the movie, but this time we actually watch their "frenemy-ship" build. Which ranges from the prison break scene where the two of them beat the crap out of other prisoners and cops (the most fun part of the movie) or the hilarious jargon they trade. It's enough to make me actually kind of interested in the newly announced spin-off featuring the two. 

At the end of the day, The Fate of the Furious does what I did not expect--improve on the previous movie and actually makes the franchise kind of fun again. There's still problems, of course, but you wouldn't expect anything less. The series has gone back to embracing its spectacle without going too over-the-top. I don't know if they'll be able to keep it up--especially if they ever go to space, since that's actually apparently a small possibility--but they've still given us at least one more fun popcorn action movie out of this long-winded series to watch. This movie doesn't really have much right to be that good, so the fact that it kind of works is a bit of a victory in of itself. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Thor


RATING: A-

After the release of Iron Man 2, which truly began to set the wheels for The Avengers, they still had to bring in other superheroes of course. They had already done an "Incredible Hulk" movie, but due to a re-casting of the Hulk, no one really knows if that movie is canon or not. So this was really the first movie in the Avengers series to feature a hero other than Iron Man... with a cast member who actually stayed on. 

Much like Iron Man, Thor takes us into somewhat more obscure territories of Marvel. Norse mythology in the Marvel universe? Seriously? Well, they had to set up the sci-fi part of the MCU somehow since they weren't ready to give us Guardians of the Galaxy yet. 

Thor does indeed center around the God of Thunder and his large hammer with insane power. While he hails from Asgard--another "realm" entirely, also from Norse mythology--much of the movie actually does take place on Earth. Why? Because Thor--heir to the throne--does something really stupid and starts a war. Early on in the movie, he's both arrogant and a bit battle-hungry. So his father Odin strips of him his power and banishes him to Earth. 

So thus he is stuck on Earth, forced to live without his power and to learn a few life lessons and be confused by Earth customs. Meanwhile on Asgard, there's still trouble as Thor's brother, Loki, wants to stir up some trouble of his own. Unfortunately the original trailers never even tried to hide the twist of Loki being the main antagonist--even if it's not that shocking anyway. 

While Thor may throw us quite a bit of Norse mythology--which many may be unfamiliar with--and does some more universe-building, it's actually fairly simplistic. It's actually not that different from Iron Man's origin story in that the titular character ends up in a situation that makes him rethink life and have to become a better person. The only difference maybe being that Thor takes more strides--he's more obviously a hero and changed man by the end of this movie (not to discount Tony Stark's redemption). 

Now one thing that might seem strange to some is that this movie is directed by Kenneth Branagh. A guy who's mostly known for his Shakespearean film adaptions doing a superhero movie? He actually pulls it off quite well. We're given mostly likable and memorable characters--from Thor himself and his love interest Jane Foster to even the antagonist Loki, who got a good start to his long tenure as the most memorable Marvel villain. It's a well-made movie with strong action sequences and special effects and good pacing. The story, even if predictable, is well done too. There's also quite a strong cast, including Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins. Plus Samuel L. Jackson in another post-credits scene. 

While Thor may not be among the strongest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe pack, it's still quite good enough to stand on its own. It's noteworthy in that it was really the first big risk for Marvel Studios--it could've easily misfired--but they pulled it off quite well and continued to set up future movies too. It may not be truly special, but it's still as good a superhero film as any. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Collide


RATING: D+

I have to admit, I'm not entirely sure how to introduce this one. Apparently the people who made this weren't either--they start off with a car crash that leads to a voice-over monologue before giving us the incredibly boring setup that we have a hard time caring about. But this is a movie that, despite a strong cast and decent enough looking action, was filmed in 2014 and then somehow took nearly three years to get released. That's not a good sign. 

The film centers around this guy Casey (Nicholas Hoult) in Germany who's working for a drug dealer and falls for a fellow American in Germany--Juliette (Felicity Jones). He gives up his old life to be with her, but trouble comes up in their new life pretty quick when it turns out Juliette needs a kidney transplant. Which they don't have the money for and it can't be done in Germany because reasons. So Casey is left desperate in need of money to help keep his new girlfriend alive. Hmmm... where do you think he'll turn for *that?* 

The tagline for this film is "How far would you go for the one you love?" And the idea is pretty much anything goes if you're trying to save someone you love. (Which of course opens up another can of worms... but that's besides the point.) Kind of like Taken, only this time it's two boring lovebirds instead of Liam Neeson trying to save his daughter. In this case, it ends up being difficult to care about the whole "romance" angle and "I'm doing it for her" deal when their relationship feels rather forced due in part to a very lazy script and sloppy direction. I like Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones, but they don't have much chemistry here and they're given very little to work with on their own in general. So ultimately we have a dull plot with questionable direction, some nonsensical moments and two main characters we don't really care about. 

So what is salvageable about this film? Mostly Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley. Yes, they somehow got dragged into this mess. But unlike Hoult and Jones, they make the best of what they're given, resulting in rather gloriously over-the-top performances. Hopkins in particular gives a rather hilarious monologue to Hoult's character before an attempted torture scene. It works quite well, especially given the fact that you've been pretty bored for most of the movie up to that point. 

Also, while most of the action scenes aren't anything special, it is worth bringing to attention that because this movie takes place in Germany, it also takes place on the autobahn at times. In other words, we actually get an autobahn car chase at one point--and that turns out to be pretty awesome. It's the best and arguably only good set piece of the movie (save for *maybe* a climactic bar confrontation). Considering how rare an autobahn car chase is though, it's just a shame that it had to be in a below-average movie like this. And not even in, say, a Fast and Furious movie. 

So yes, Collide has a few fun things about it that make it not a total waste of time--even if most of the first half is pretty boring. But it's still kind of a wasted effort that didn't have a whole lot of hope from the start. The biggest draw is the cast--and many will probably wonder why they signed up for this. I enjoyed watching Hopkins and Kingsley ham it up, though. The film's a mess, but it's an occasionally enjoyable mess. And I guess that's better than being a nonredeemable mess.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


RATING: D-

Who knew it could be this difficult to put out a halfway decent King Arthur movie? The last wide-release outing with the character back in 2004 (simply titled King Arthur) was a complete mess that barely had anything to do with the actual mythology, taking place in the Roman Empire era for some reason. It was also surprisingly boring. Now we have a new outing, and this one's actually a little better... which is not really saying anything at all. 

This one at least actually takes place in Camelot, and it does use the classic Excalibur "sword in the stone" mythology here. It also involves Arthur being unaware of his heritage due to a treacherous relative having taken over the throne who is ruling the general populace with an iron fist. Once Arthur pulls out the sword, a small resistance of sorts immediately bands with him. He is encouraged to use the sword to mow down Vortigern, the kind of Britain who stole his birthright, but he is rather reluctant to accept his destiny. 

The story itself isn't too awful--it sort of adheres to the Arthurian legend a bit more than the last attempt did. And there's a few interesting ideas here and there. Merlin isn't involved much, but there are some more mages in this general version of the King Arthur universe, which is an interesting touch. Excalibur's powers are seemingly upped quite a bit to some slightly cool effect (although the editing kind of robs such scenes of actually being that good). 

The big problem is that the film is rather incoherent. Guy Ritchie's directorial style worked well for his Sherlock Holmes movies, but it does not work well here. We're given an overdose of horrible editing, some awkward camera jumps, confusing transitions, and out of sequence dialogue (discussing what will happen in the next scene while we're actually watching said next scene). Simply put, all too often you will probably have no idea what the heck is happening. 

The action sequences do not fare that well either. Once again, there is a lot of poor editing, as well as weird camera angles, shaky cam, and some weird use of going from slow-mo to overly sped up and back again which really doesn't work well here. It's a shame too, because there's a couple of sequences that would've probably been pretty cool if not for all that.

The acting is a bit iffy as well. I just wasn't sold with Charlie Hunnam as Arthur. He never showed much charisma or much of anything, really. Jude Law fared better as the villain, but the few remaining actors you might've actually heard of (Djimon Hounsou and Eric Bana) aren't given much to work with in general, which also suggests an iffy script.

This movie is pretty close to being a complete disaster. There's a couple of decent things about it here and there, but it's just all too hard to follow and lacks coherence. There are times when you say "that's cool," but then there are other times when you wonder how this actually ended up being the finished product. Thus, this is another failed attempt at adapting the King Arthur legends and it could potentially be the last one for a while. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Iron Man 2


RATING: A-

Universe building is a fun thing, isn't it? If they weren't quite fully doing it yet in the first Iron Man movie because they didn't know if it would take off, they certainly were in this movie. It might be called "Iron Man 2," but it's also what begins the actual steps towards The Avengers. But because Iron Man was the first movie they made and the Hulk movie from that year didn't take off as well, it's also an Iron Man sequel. 

Tony Stark is Iron Man now and he's a better person than he was before, but he's still got work to do. And he's trying to make the world a safer place, but again... he's still got work to do. It might be easy at first when no one else is really a match for you, but when some Russian dude builds his own weapon out of the arc reactor technology, that might be a bit of a problem. You know what might also be a problem? Having the palladium core in your arc reactor that's keeping you alive also ironically slowly poisoning you to death. So yeah, Tony's new life isn't so easy. 

Elsewhere in the movie, we also get to deal with the continued dealings with SHIELD and Nick Fury, and we also get to have the introduction of Black Widow, who later becomes a frequent character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. Oh yeah, and there's a post-credits scene teasing the next film, Thor, so yeah... they're universe building.

When this movie first came out, it was considered disappointing to many for not being as good as the first Iron Man. But it's actually pretty great as well--it stands alongside the first just fine. It has a good enough storyline with various subplots and a couple of twists here and there. Jon Favreau's direction still works quite well. On the action front, the final confrontation is somewhat underwhelming, but there are still some great action scenes--namely the racetrack scene where the villain Whiplash is introduced, Black Widow vs. a dozen security guards, and Tony having a skirmish with his buddy Rhodes--with both of them in Iron Man suits. Things get slightly slow two-thirds of the way through, but they kick up again eventually--otherwise, the film manages to keep one's interest throughout. 

The casting is still pretty great. Robert Downey Jr. owns his role as usual and Scarlett Johansson works quite well in her introduction. Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie more, and he's also great as usual. Although I enjoyed Jeff Bridges' over-the-top performance in the first movie, Mickey Rourke is decently threatening as the main villain in his own right--especially once you see where his character is coming from. Sam Rockwell is also good, and he and Rourke have a lot of pretty hilarious snark with each other. 

Iron Man 2 is actually a pretty underrated film. While it's not necessarily a classic or anything, it still does what it's supposed to do--be an Iron Man sequel *and* start setting up The Avengers--and it does it well. It's not quite on the top tier of MCU movies, but it's not on the lower tier either. Of course, when you have Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark around, it's pretty much impossible for one of these movies to be a complete letdown, isn't it?