Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp


Choosing to release this film two months after Avengers: Infinity War was not a good move. Mainly because Ant-Man is one of the lamest heroes in the Marvel Universe, and his first movie only worked because of the humor angle. I mean, come on; it was hard to not enjoy all the shrinking/enlarging madness, right? Despite all that, what Ant-Man is up to is probably one of the last things on most people's minds at this point. And yet here we are. 

In this film, Scott Lang/Ant-Man is on house arrest because of the events of Captain America: Civil War. And as such, he hasn't really had any contact with Hank Pym or his daughter Hope. But that changes when the Pyms discover there might be a way to bring back Hank's long-lost wife from the Quantum Realm (the place you go when you "shrink between the molecules" in this universe... which basically means if you didn't see the first movie, don't bother with this one). And Scott will be needed for that. But this time, Hope will also be suiting up into action as the Wasp--which is basically the same thing as Ant-Man, only with wings and some weird blasters with vague abilities. 

Anyways, so Scott and the Pyms set out to bring Hank's wife back. However, someone else--a "villain" by the name of Ghost--wants the technology as well to fix her weird unstable condition, which involves... well... ghosting through things. And for some reason, some non-super-powered normal criminal guy played by Walton Goggins wants the tech too, because... uh... you know, I'd already forgotten why before the movie was even over. 

This movie is admittedly pretty enjoyable; they take the best parts of the last movie and use them heavily. Which is to say, all the humor, plus all the shrinking/enlarging action. The latter caps off with a quite fun car chase involving a car that is constantly shrinking and then enlarging back to its normal size. In other words, the best thing about the movie is once again not even really Ant-Man (or the Wasp)--it's just the epic applications of the technology that allows Ant-Man to exist. Between stuff like that and just the often-hilarious dialogue, it's difficult to not enjoy the movie.

With that said, this movie is pretty doggone pointless. It doesn't really contribute hardly anything to the Marvel Cinematic Universe plot-wise; and when they're making us sit through as many movies as they are, that's a problem. If this movie (and its predecessor) stood completely on its own apart from any cinematic universe, I would probably be more forgiving. But I want this movie to mean something, and it really doesn't. Aside from a mid-credits scene which ties the movie to Infinity War, the only critical plot thing that happens here is the retrieval of Hank Pym's wife, which really isn't a good enough excuse by itself for this movie to exist. 

And then there's the problem with some of the characterization. Ant-Man often feels less like a character (except for the scenes with his daughter) than he just feels like Paul Rudd running around in a suit. And furthermore, Scott himself isn't allowed much room for progression; he's still a bit of a screw-up that is constantly being told by Hank and Hope "Shut up, Scott!" or "Darn it, Scott!" (The latter is more often said in less polite terms.) That heavy dose of deprecation gets annoying after a while. And while the Wasp and her actress Evangeline Lilly fare better than last time, it's not enough to bring this movie out of low-tier MCU material. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp will certainly make you laugh a lot. It's hard to not enjoy. But it's also hard to not shake the feeling that it's pretty pointless; and really, that mid-credits scene I mentioned earlier only exacerbates that. This movie doesn't really mean anything. It's a weak attempt to tide us over until Infinity War Part 2. And while it's impressive how Marvel continues to make even their low-tier material above average, I still think it's fair to expect that when they're putting out as many movies as they are these days, that all the movies *mean* something. This is basically one of those episodes of a TV show that you enjoy quite a bit but is still kind of filler. Even in a cinematic universe like this, this still isn't a TV show. Filler "movies" shouldn't exist. But then we wouldn't have a scene where a bug-sized car changes back to normal size while driving under a normal-sized car, thus sending the other normal-sized car flying. So you can see that I'm slightly conflicted here. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Star Wars: Solo


Have you ever been interested in the story of how Han Solo became Han Solo? Or just how he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs? Or just how he got the Millennium Falcon from Lando? Or how he met Chewbacca? No? You're not interested in any of those things? Well, too bad. Because Disney decided to make it happen anyway. In part of their quest for more cash, they have given us the latest "Anthology" Star Wars spin-off movie. Rogue One's existence is at least somewhat excusable, but this latest prequel venture is just pointless. 

The movie is indeed about Han Solo's younger life; basically him trying to get out of the servitude of everyone and everything. Born as an orphan made to steal, and then enlisting in the Imperial Academy at one point... he doesn't really care for any of that. He just wants to be a pilot and to have the universe essentially to himself. Well, him and his apparent longtime friend and now lover Qi'ra. As part of a means to all of these ends, he gets caught up with a group of criminals looking to get their own way to freedom. However, as he gets further into their life, he kind of ends up finding there's not much going back. Or something. 

This is a movie that's kind of difficult to get excited about. For one thing, it really has no reason to exist. No one but the most hardcore of all Star Wars fans would be interested in this. But the biggest problem is the fact that doing a "young Han Solo" movie means that someone besides Harrison Ford has to play the role. And that is just unacceptable. Alden Ehrenreich is okay, I suppose. But he's kind of in over his head here. There is only one Han Solo, and that is Harrison Ford. 

Another big problem is the lengths they go to in order to explain the Kessel Run. They try way too hard to explain one line from the original Star Wars: "[The Millennium Falcon] is the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs." Obviously, there's a problem here since a parsec is in regards to distance, not time. But I really don't think any of us honestly cared that much. I certainly didn't have a burning need to know what exactly the Kessel Run *was.* And while they (maybe?) address the whole "parsec" issue, it honestly doesn't help. And while this isn't the overall point of the movie, it still takes up a massive section of it. And it feels like a waste of time. Oh and by the way, Han Solo's version of the "Kessel Run" is totally impossible too--because it involves driving through a large space maelstrom with tons of large debris and basically no visibility. At least when Solo drove through an asteroid field he could actually properly *see* the asteroids he was trying to avoid. 

And now that we've gotten through that... now I already feel like there's not a lot left to talk about. The movie's highlight scene and set piece is easily the sci-fi monorail train heist scene, which they make fit quite well into the SW universe and is actually quite exciting. But aside from a shocking cameo from an unexpected character near the very end, there's very little else about this film that actually sticks out in the brain. Nothing certainly sticks out as well as Darth Vader's hallway scene in Rogue One, which arguably alone was worth the price of admission there. 

There is some good acting to be had. Woody Harrelson plays a sort of mentor to Han, and he's quite good. Donald Glover also fares much better as a young Lando than Ehrenreich as a young Han. Paul Bettany also delivers an enjoyable performance as a crime lord. Emilia Clarke is fine too, but her character (Qi'ra) gets so confusing at times--particularly at the end--that it still feels like she stands out less compared to any of the three previously mentioned actors. Elsewhere in the movie, there is some decent levity here and there. There's still some good banter between Han and Chewie. 

All in all, Solo really isn't so much a bad movie as it is totally pointless. It's a movie with no real reason to exist other than making money (and even that didn't work). There's enough entertainment that you won't necessarily regret watching it, but you probably won't remember it that well later. As previously stated, it's just not that memorable. If this film accomplishes nothing else, at least Disney is now apparently going to pull back on the "Anthology" films a bit--which is probably the best thing that could've happened. I just do not hardly care about this Star Wars spin-off nonsense. I just want the main episodic movies. So if the failure of this movie means less or even no more of these spin-offs, then that's a good thing. Is this the worst Star Wars movie ever? Hard to say. But it's definitely the most pointless one ever. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

John Wick: Chapter 2


The first time we saw John Wick, it was a basic revenge movie. "They killed my ____, now I will kill them all." With a ton of headshots, some admittedly pretty awesome fight choreography, some amusing dialogue here and there and a good cast; but not a whole lot of a plot or a soul beneath all that. I mean, it was sort of enjoyable... and I certainly see the appeal. But when the plot is as limited as it is, it's probably going to have a hard time winning me over that much. So what's Chapter 2 like? Uhh... more of the same, really. Only this time we don't have a dead dog to keep us on John's side. Oh yeah, and the final act actually means something this time. So that's cool, I guess. 

The movie opens up actually with a somewhat pointless opening action scene: with John retrieving the car that was stolen from him last time. Seemingly just so he can keep a picture of him and his dead wife he had stashed in the glove compartment. Given that he had pictures at home, kind of feels like a lot of trouble to go to, given that he has to kill about 15 more henchmen and have the car essentially destroyed by the time he escapes. 

But once that's all done with, now he's really done. For good. Or rather... for about 5 seconds until some random criminal boss jerk-face shows up at his doorstep, wanting to call up on a debt that John owes him; more specifically, a blood oath. Left with basically no choice, he obliges on an assassination... and of course, one thing leads to another. And this film kind of ends up turning into the epitome of Al Pacino's words in Godfather Part III: "Just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in!" 

This movie really is a lot more of the same. John Wick shows up. Has to deal with bad guys. So he shoots them in the head. And other places sometimes, if necessary. Sometimes does some hand-to-hand combat. Repeat. A bunch of times. And occasionally a break. There's even another doggone nightclub fight scene. And the plot is still pretty loose. I mean, after John completes his mission, then the guy who commissioned him puts a bounty on him, because... uh... reasons. I guess they couldn't think of much else to keep the plot going at that point. Also, we're still missing some potentially interesting backstory or exposition info on this massive assassin/hitman society that exists in this universe. 

All of that said, what we get is still often pretty entertaining. The action is still very nicely done and choreographed. Chad Stahelski is *very* good at directing fight scenes, if nothing else. Ones that stand out include the two fight scenes between Common's character and Wick, and a late fight scene taking place in a hall of mirrors (it sounds like a bad idea, but it's executed quite well). In general, the fight scenes that involve more prolonged one-on-one fighting fare a lot better. 

One thing that had me interested in this sequel was the prospect of Neo and Morpheus being reunited. Yes, Laurence Fishburne is in this movie that Keanu Reeves stars in. Sadly, Fishburne is only in it for about 10 minutes tops. But he does kind of steal the show by hamming it up a bit. Good news is he'll apparently be in Chapter 3. Now all that needs to be done is to cast Hugo Weaving for the next movie to complete the cycle. 

I'm not really sure at this point if these John Wick movies are just senseless exercises in glamorizing violent killing, or a Breaking Bad/Godfather-esque proverb about choices having consequences that in cases like these can lead down an ugly spiral. Or maybe they're both. The series downplays the latter quite a bit, but it's still kind of there. And it's probably what keeps these movies interesting at this point, because even as cool as the fight scenes are sometimes, I probably would've stopped caring by the end of this movie otherwise. Because John Wick isn't cool or interesting to me just because he's a master assassin. He's interesting because he's not a totally soulless killer; but that soul is fading. Whether Chapter 3 will end with the inevitable culmination of that spiral remains to be seen, but I am a bit concerned that these filmmakers think *too* highly of their character and how many headshots he can get to allow that to happen. And perhaps I'm just reading too much into this nonsense anyway. Ultimately, the average viewer will be watching to see John Wick rack up a high body count once again, and they will be satisfied. Whether that alone is enough for the rest us is another matter. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


In David Yates' first go-around as a Harry Potter director, he had to adapt the longest Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix). And then he chose to make it the shortest movie in the series (at the time). That should have totally not worked, right? Well, it more or less did--somehow. And he got to stay on as director--the first repeat HP director since Chris Columbus, who directed the first two movies. His next task? Adapt the worst Harry Potter book. 

To be clear, it's not that I actually dislike the book version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But compared to the rest of the series, it is a bit more slow-paced and underwhelming and easily my least favorite of the series. Part of the problem is that there actually isn't a whole lot of action scenes--even in the book version. Aside from the finale, most of the plot revolves around the dark past of Lord Voldemort. The rest of the story is essentially a bunch of love triangles. Oh yeah, and then there's this Potions book that Harry ends up with that has some extra material written in it by the "half-blood prince." 

And although there is some very important material in this book/movie regarding the past of Lord Voldemort, there's not so much about what he's up to in the present day. There is a dastardly plot being hatched, but it's being carried out entirely by his minions. And aside from the opening scene, we don't get much of a sense of Voldemort or his Death Eaters causing havoc in the world--even though the fact that he's back is well known and accepted now. In fact, we never actually see present-day Voldemort himself in this movie. Keep in mind that this would be the penultimate movie if not for them splitting Deathly Hallows into two parts; and yet we don't even see the series' main antagonist, even though he's been in almost all the other movies (in one form or another). 

Despite the fact that there's less going on in this movie, it's still surprisingly decent. David Yates arguably actually does a better job at directing this movie, even if the final product isn't as good as the last movie. That doesn't make sense, right? Well, as I've already explained, this is the weakest installment in the book series. Making it *not* the worst movie is impressive. Also, this is actually one of the most cohesive and easy-to-follow movies in the series; people who have not read the books are much less likely to be confused in this movie than in the last few ones. The flow is quite good; no awkward transitions here. And perhaps due to there being more disposable material from the original source this time, very little important material is cut out this time. (I do feel like they cut out more of Voldemort's backstory than they should have, but the two most critical "memories" are kept, so it works for cinematic purposes.) 

Another thing that really helps out this movie is that it arguably has the most levity in the film series. There's plenty of fun dialogue to go around; and little of it even has to do with the often-annoying teenage-love stuff. One of the more standout parts involves Harry being on a "liquid luck" potion, which makes him act a bit silly while still providing him with... well... excellent luck. Also, there's just more time given on screen this time for the protagonists to hang out and crack jokes or snark a bit now and then. It's not overdone, but it is a welcome presence given that the film might very well be a slog without it. 

Still, the lack of action is felt at times. Aside from the final act (and even that doesn't really feature straight-up magical duels like the last one did), the most exciting parts in this movie are an attack on the Weasley's house which is interesting but wasn't even in the book and feels forced in, and a brief duel between Harry and Draco, and... uh... that's about it. I guess this reflects more poorly on the source material than anything when you have to literally invent a whole new action scene for the movie just to keep the audience from getting bored. There's enough interesting stuff going on via the exposition front that the story isn't altogether boring, but it does definitely feel more slow-paced. 

Anyway, I always seem to devote at least one paragraph to talk about the casting, since it's pretty much always excellent. Besides the usual stars whose names hardly need mentioning at this point, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) and Tom Felton (Draco) kind of break out in this movie. Gambon had been fine before, but he gives his best showing as Dumbledore in this movie. And for Felton's part, he hadn't been given much to do for most of the previous movies except "my father will hear about this" scenes, but he finally is given more to do here as his character becomes a bigger part of the plot, and Felton does very well as a result. Newcomer Jim Broadbent is also noteworthy as Professor Slughorn. Also, Evanna Lynch's character Luna Lovegood is sadly a bit underused here, but she's still great when she is on screen. 

Half-Blood Prince still belongs in the bottom half of the Harry Potter movies in terms of ranking. But it's still pretty decent. I do feel like it's about as good as it could have been. Most of my complaints aren't really a reflection of the movie itself, but more the source material. I have to give credit to Yates for doing as well as he did with this; if anything, this certainly proved he was the guy to go with for the final stretch.