Friday, May 17, 2019

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part


RATING: D+

It's been five years, but we finally got a sequel to The LEGO Movie, which was one of the biggest surprises of "wow this is actually really good" movies in recent memory. Since then, we got a couple of spin-offs--once centered around LEGO Batman, which was quite hilarious and memorable as well. Then there was the LEGO Ninjago Movie, which was quite a bit more forgettable. But now we're going back to the characters we know and love from the original LEGO Movie, and as that movie would say, everything is going to be awesome! Right? Right...? Oh dear.

This movie starts off by picking up literally where the first one left off; however, after about five minutes, we have a time-skip of five years. Now the former Bricksburg (or whatever it was called) is basically a post-apocalyptic wasteland due to the attacks of the Duplo aliens. Everyone has had to adjust to a tougher life, and toughen up themselves in the process. All except Emmett, who is still convinced that "everything is awesome." However, things get crazy again when a new alien connected to the Duplo lot shows up--General Mayhem--and kidnaps most of Emmett's friends, who now must go after them and save them.

Let's cut to the chase: this movie is not that good. This is the second animated movie sequel I've seen recently which really was a huge step down from its predecessor and also went bizarrely off the rails (Ralph Breaks the Internet being the other). There are a ton of problems with this movie, some of which I can't go into very much without revealing spoilers.

First off... the plot. It does start off pretty promising with a post-apocalyptic version of Bricksburg, but once we go into space, it goes downhill from there. Like the first one, the events of this movie are basically in the imaginations of a real kid--only this time it's two kids. And this brother and sister have very serious differences on how to play with LEGOs. Those differences are solvable in real life, but in a movie, those differences are irreconcilable. I mean, how are you supposed to mix a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic adventure with an elementary girl's imagined LEGO space wedding? (Yeah, I know... they're both space-related. But trust me, they do not mix.)

But the real problem is that the movie tries to make the sister out as the victim of having her LEGO toys messed up when she tries to play with her brother... but the problem is, she actually *steals* LEGO toys from her brother. (I don't consider this a spoiler, because if you saw the first movie, you know about the events of these movies just being imagined... and it's kind of easy to see what Mayhem's capturing of Emmett's friends symbolizes.) While that doesn't justify the brother's response (which I won't reveal), I find it difficult to have much sympathy for the sister.

This is another big issue with the movie, though: there's very little subterfuge or surprise this time. Possibly because we already know that these movies take place in the imagination of children, they don't even bother trying to hide it this time. Most namely, the name of an actual LEGO apocalypse is clearly a reference to a real-world character as well. So it's pretty easy to guess what's going to happen in that regard. There are other twists that you don't necessarily see coming, but the problem is... they're not good ones. Namely in who the identity of the real villain is.

There are two more key things I take incredible issue with in this movie. First is what happens to LEGO Batman. He's quite dumbed down in this one and doesn't actually do much memorable... except do a musical number with a shape-shifting alien queen. Yes, seriously. And that's memorable for all the wrong reasons, which segues into the second other key issue I have with this movie -- there are a few musical numbers in it. I am honestly befuddled and confused as to why musical numbers (which we also saw one of in Ralph Breaks the Internet) are suddenly making a comeback. Maybe they appeal to certain people... but I just find it annoying.

After four paragraphs of explaining why this movie is really not good, you'd think there would not be much positive to say. But there are still some good moments. Probably the best part is actually the first action scene after the five-year time skip, which basically feels like a LEGO version of a Mad Max: Fury Road chase. And that's actually pretty awesome. And there are still several laughs to be had; some of them are related to the other LEGO Justice League members. Also, there's the character Rex Dangervest, and while his character is a separate can of worms, he has pet LEGO raptors... and those are cool.

But ultimately, we have another failure of a kids-movie sequel--just like Ralph Breaks the Internet, which this movie actually has a few subtle things in common with. This movie does have a certain message, and I get what it's trying to say. But it is executed so, so poorly. I'm not sure how the makers of this movie thought this was supposed to be entertaining; and heck, the laughs even generally disappear in the second half. And this is all the more bizarre because the first LEGO Movie was inventive, surprising, and generally a joy to watch. The only thing of those that this movie is would be maybe inventive. But it's possible for a movie to be inventive and still be terrible.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Glass


RATING: B-

If one is familiar with M. Night Shyamalan at all, then they've probably heard of Unbreakable--which was probably his most popular film after The Sixth Sense. It was a pretty unusual superhero movie that didn't rely on source material, and had more in common with the thriller genre than with action. Still, it was pretty good and some who watched it hoped for a sequel... which never happened. Then Split happened, which was sort of a resurgence for M. Night, and it was revealed to take place in the same universe as Unbreakable. And because of the success of Split, M. Night was able to make a final chapter that acted as a sequel to both Unbreakable *and* Split... as well as a final entry in a trilogy of sorts. And thus we have Glass. 

This takes place shortly after Split (which I actually never watched), and Kevin/The Horde/The Beast/James McAvoy's character is still on the loose. And at this point, David Dunn is trying to hunt him. However, both of them end up in the hands of a psychiatrist named Dr. Staple who already has Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, and she is out to prove that in fact they do not possess superhuman abilities. All the while, Mr. Glass, being the super-genius he is, has something up his sleeve for the occasion.

I am left with kind of mixed feelings on this movie. First off, it moves rather slowly at times during the first half, although this is a common trait of Shyamalan movies. But the bigger issue is the whole "you're not really superheroes" game Dr. Staple tries to play with the three main characters. Even though it does kind of serve a purpose, it's still rather irritating at times to see her attempt to twist events of previous movies when we *know* for a fact that at least David and Kevin *are* superhuman. It also comes off as kind of silly when, after a rant by Dr. Staple, her motivations seem for a moment to basically be "I hate Comic-Con." (This is not the case, but it's kind of a bizarre dig.)

The second half is certainly a lot more interesting. It's also a lot more bonkers, resulting in an ending that's insane even by Shyamalan standards--both in good and bad ways. There's a bit of pretty awesome payoff, but there's also a sense of disappointment. Whatever the case, the ending probably isn't what you may expect.

M. Night seemed to be tasking himself with going against normal superhero conventions (while still making a sly wink here and there to superhero clich├ęs), which had to be quite tough in a Hollywood environment that is heavily saturated with superhero movies--much more so than was the case when Unbreakable was released, when Spider-Man hadn't even hit the big screen yet and the X-Men would only do so for the first time that same year. M. Night does kind of succeed at that task... but it does come at a little bit of a cost.

What does work without a doubt is some of the acting. James McAvoy and Samuel L. Jackson are both superb. In particular, McAvoy's ability to convey different personalities so well is insane. You probably already knew this if you saw Split, but it's worth mentioning anyway because he's just that good. Bruce Willis does seem to be unfortunately phoning it in a little bit this time... but on the other hand, that could just be because of who he has to share the screen with.

Glass is a movie that both works quite well in some ways and then kind of doesn't in some others. To a certain degree, it's typical Shyamalan pulling out the rug from under us. The difference is that unlike in some of his other endings, this one isn't altogether satisfying. As previously stated, it still works in some regards. But I find it hard to imagine that there won't be some people who are disappointed. Still, this is a generally pretty interesting follow-up to Unbreakable and Split and a unique installment in the superhero genre, so it does deserve some credit--even if it never really stands out the way Unbreakable did.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame


RATING: A-

Here we are at last, at the end of it all--at least until Marvel starts another new saga in their massive Cinematic Universe, anyway. But this is the final movie of the saga that started with Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers. After about 20 or so movies and 10 years, and after basically giving us The Empire Strikes Back (and then some) of superhero movies last year with Infinity War, Marvel's ready to give us the close to the Infinity Stones/Thanos arc.

When we last left the Avengers, they were in pretty bad shape--since they had not only lost to Thanos, but lost half their comrades and in the process half of all life in the universe had died. And yet, the surviving Avengers (mostly just the original Avengers, plus Rocket, Rhodey and Nebula) aren't ready to give up yet. For one thing, they want to make Thanos pay. But if there's a chance at all that they can reverse what he did... they want to take it as well. But as one of them points out, that's not going to be easy--even with a few extra hands they didn't have in the last movie, namely Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Captain Marvel. 

Little more can be said about the plot than that, because the marketing deliberately did not reveal very much. And because of the extra outcry from folks (including the directors themselves), I'm going to try harder than usual to avoid even vague spoilers. So I'll just say what I can. 

First off, this is certainly a great movie and a mostly satisfying conclusion for sure. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Infinity War, but that's simply because IW took risks and did things that hadn't been done in the genre before. Hence why earlier I called it The Empire Strikes Back of superhero movies. Endgame isn't without such moments either, but some of the plot devices it *does* rely on feel slightly more familiar... and also a little more flimsy at times. 

Yes, Endgame is slightly more sloppily plotted at times. Regarding a certain plot device which shall be unnamed, there are a couple contradictions and just some things that make no sense. But often during these moments I often found that I just didn't care. Those are more heavily invested in this series and not more casual viewers may feel the same way. And for the most part, the general plot/idea works--even if it feels like it literally would not work anywhere else than a comic-book movie. 

And even if one finds themselves a little frustrated with a couple of the plot devices used and some of the pacing, they still ought to find themselves quite fulfilled by the final hour. The final act is basically the single biggest comic-book nerd/geek fever dream ever brought to life, and so much awesome stuff happens during that part that even I were writing a spoiler-filled review for some reason, I could not possibly cover it all. 

Beyond that, a lot of character arcs are pretty satisfyingly handled. Some fare better than others, but namely Iron Man's, Captain America's, and (surprisingly) Hawkeye's stand out. On another note, while some may be disappointed to find that Captain Marvel really doesn't play as big of a role in this movie as you'd expect, she still shines when she is present--and doesn't feel *too* overpowered versus the general competition here.

Elsewhere in the movie, I liked how they took some time to shed light on the effects of the Snap on Earth--and just how devastating it would be in general. One scene in particular of Ant-Man wondering his old neighborhood, which now looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, stands out. But even amidst all the tragedy, coping, and action, there's still a good amount of levity--particularly in the first half. In general, it does not feel out of place and they tone it down a bit for the more serious final third of the movie.

Endgame is not a perfect concluding movie. But it's still pretty doggone good and generally satisfying, and it's difficult to see scarcely anyone who's been invested in this series for a while being disappointed. Some may like it more than others, as some will be more forgiving of some of the plot holes. And even if I felt a little annoyed with a couple parts here and there, it's all worth it purely for that final battle--because that bit is about as awesome as anything you will ever see in a superhero movie. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Aquaman


RATING: C+

When we last left the DC Extended Universe, they were truly on life support. The last movie they'd made before this was Justice League--which was a mess of a movie in multiple facets. At that point, the only good thing about the DCEU was Wonder Woman. So what's next for the DCEU? Apparently, it's making a movie about your dumbest superhero. Sure, they made Aquaman somewhat passable in Justice League, but he was still probably the least-needed hero of the bunch. Why would we want a movie about the guy whose abilities are breathing underwater and talking to fish? 

The premise of this movie is that Arthur Curry/Aquaman is the heir to the throne of the underwater kingdom Atlantis. Yup, Atlantis is a thing in this movie. What complicates matters is that he is a "half-breed"--child of an "Atlantean" and a human. Which kind of makes him an outcast from that underwater world. But he's kind of okay with that. Until his half-brother and current Atlantean king Orm decides he wants to unite all seven of the underwater kingdoms and lead a war against the surface world. So how is Aquaman and his compatriot Mera going to stop him? By finding a mythical trident MacGuffin that would make Aquaman "the one true king." Or something. 

Probably one of the biggest problems with this movie (aside from its unnecessary length) is that the plot, while not bad, is quite derivative. This is basically Black Panther and Thor, but underwater. But also let's include the whole "chosen one" trope crossed with the "half-breed" trope, and also the quest for the mythical MacGuffin. Like I said, it's not really a bad plot--it's just unoriginal and completely devoid of any surprises or twists. And the dialogue that comes with it is often pretty poor or just silly. The phrase "one true king" is repeated too often, and these underwater societies are so annoyingly obsessed with pure blood that you might think you're in a Harry Potter movie. 

With all of this (and more to be mentioned), it's kind of amazing that this movie sort of works--or at least, it's not bad. For one thing, the visuals underwater are often pretty astounding (and perhaps a bit overwhelming) to look at. They put a lot of detail into the places and creatures down here. While not all of the action scenes work, a couple do; namely the extended fight with Black Manta about halfway through, who really should've had a bigger role in this (more on that later). The opening scene where Aquaman infiltrates a submarine and decks pretty much everyone on there is also quite fun. Elsewhere, our two main leads Jason Momoa and Amber Heard play off each pretty well, which leads to some decent banter at times. 

The final act is a mixed bag--at first, we get a pretty awesome colossal war between various underwater factions. But once Aquaman shows up, it's over all too quick. He defeats his enemy too easily. It doesn't help that Orm isn't really as interesting a villain as Black Manta at all. The latter has more interesting motivations and also a cool villainous outfit during the signature fight scene with him. Orm's motivations are limited to "I don't like humans because they pollute the water." He's supposed to be a cross between Killmonger and Loki, but he's not as effective as either one. 

Some commentary on the length needs to be made as well. I'm not often one to complain about movies being too long... but this one is definitely longer than it needs to be at 143 minutes. While Justice League was too short, this one is just too long and probably should've been cut down by about 20 minutes. This along with the derivative plot makes it feel like DC really has no idea how to make a truly good movie. It seems like Wonder Woman was not good because of DC, but despite them. Man of Steel is the only other one they've made that was above average. 

While Aquaman is fairly entertaining and a bit of a step up after Justice League, it's still weighed down by DC shooting themselves in the foot too much. And while I suppose they deserve credit for making their worst superhero passable, this is still merely average material. If you're a big fan of DC or the superhero genre in general, I suppose this is worth a watch. But probably only the one. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


RATING: B-

Look, I'm going to give full disclosure here: this movie never had a chance of 100% working with me. Allow me to explain why. You know how some people these days are feeling superhero-movie fatigue, and have been grumbling more and more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe lately? Well, generally this is not me. Except for one category: I have Spider-Man fatigue. There have been three iterations of Spider-Man in the past two decades, each one feeling less inventive than the other (though each actor has brought something good to the table, in their defense). 

And now we're going to make a cartoon animated version? Where we're going to introduce the multiverse and have multiple Spider-Men/People on at the same time? To me, this was literally the worst idea they could've had. In a time where we've already had two many versions of Spider-Man in a short span of time, the last thing we needed was a movie with *multiple* people wearing the mask. And if you *were* excited about this prospect from the beginning... then you're probably better off not reading the rest of this review and finding a review from someone who actually was excited about this from the get-go. 

I'll give them credit for at least trying to do something different, which the previous reboots have struggled to do. And that includes using a different Spider-Man--Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker. (It helps that it is canon in the comics.) This at least gives them room to do different things with the character of Spider-Man. Those things may not necessarily be that much better... but at least they're trying. The problem is, as passable as Morales is, he's not one of the most memorable things about this movie. 

But before we get that far... let's do the quick premise. In this Spidey universe, Miles Morales--a young teenager struggling to settle in a new boarding school and not feeling totally on the same page with his father--gets bitten by the famous radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. Thing is, Peter Parker actually did exist in this universe as well--he's just dead. (The fact that he's dead is not a spoiler, because it was advertised... but *how* he came to be dead would be a spoiler, because that was not advertised.) Miles doesn't quite have the natural penchant for this Spider-Man business that Peter did, so he needs a mentor. Fortunately, he's about to get plenty of help there--because the Kingpin is opening a dimensional portal which manages to suck in other Spider-Men/People/Things--but not much else (don't ask why or how). And they all need to go back and the Kingpin needs to be stopped--along with his minions the Prowler, and... a female version of Doc Ock? Why is she not the one in charge here? Feels to me like she could kill the Kingpin easily if she wanted to and just run the multi-dimension project herself if she wanted. Oh well, whatever.

One of my biggest concerns about this movie was just how many iterations of the Spider-Whatever they were going to jam in here. The impression I got was that there was going to be a *lot.* However, much to my relief, it's only six including Miles--which is easier to keep up with. Three of them actually work better than Miles does. There's an older and more jaded version of Peter Parker, who has an interesting character arc of his own. There's Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, who actually has a pretty good backstory and is one of the more appealing characters here. Then there's Spider-Man Noir, who is voiced by Nicolas Cage. Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie is that Spider-Noir is not in it more, because every moment he's in it he steals the show--probably in part because it's Nic "Not the Bees" Cage voicing him. 

It's the remaining two iterations where this movie gets really weird. There's a weird Spider-Pig like thing--and yeah, many of you are probably thinking of The Simpsons right now. "Peter Porker," as he's called, is probably also the most useless of the bunch. And *then* there's an anime girl version--complete with a mecha suit. Yes, seriously. Her presence definitely feels the most jarring here. 

Probably the best thing about this movie is the humor it brings to the table. This film's pretty funny at times. From some slapstick to an amusing homage to the previous Spider-Man movies to every time Spider-Man Noir speaks to some fourth-wall leaning to one of my favorite post-credits scenes ever. Seriously, watch through the entire credits for that scene--especially if you keep up with memes. 

The plot is alright, if nothing to write home about. It has a nice few tricks up its sleeve, such as a stunning twist regarding the identity of one of the baddies. But while the multi-dimensional thing makes enough sense at the time, it makes less sense the more you think about. And for a movie that actually has some pretty doggone good action sequences, it's rather unfortunate that the final act descends into incomprehensible madness for a fight in the midst of an unstable multi-dimension portal. 

I guess I haven't commented on the art yet. While the comic-book style animation can be a little jarring at times due to it being quite fast-paced, in general it actually is pretty great. There are some parts that are just gorgeous. And it emulates an actual comic book pretty well--even including yellow thought panels and large words appearing out of thin air like "Boom!" when explosions happen. 

This movie definitely has some interesting ideas and I do want to give it credit for at least trying to do something different. But the only thing that really sticks out about this movie to me is its humor... and this iteration of Gwen, I suppose. And of course, Spider-Noir... but he falls into the "humor" category. And even if I think that spin-offs for Gwen or Spider-Noir might be a better idea than an actual sequel to this... there's still a part of me that wishes they would just stop making anything Spider-Man related for at least a couple of decades. 

Look, this movie is fairly hard not to like. Somehow they made this idea sort of work and not be a total disaster. And I'm sure anyone who's a Spider-Man fan and who's *not* Spider-Manned out will enjoy this. But at this rate, the character's going to be run into the ground eventually. Maybe not on the next installment, maybe not for a few years yet. The issue is that I'm already in that process of feeling some Spider-Man fatigue--just as some are feeling the MCU fatigue. All of that said, if they can keep writing good humor for these "Spider-Verse" movies (assuming there are more of them) then they might at least be good for the laughs--if not a whole lot else. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Ralph Breaks the Internet


RATING: C-

Ever since it was announced that there was probably going to be a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, most of us were pretty excited. Wreck-It Ralph was one of a couple excellent Disney Animation movies that *almost* got lost in the shadow of Frozen (the other being Big Hero 6). It was a quite creative movie with strong character development arcs and plenty of action, humor, and fun video game references. 
From the outset, it's admittedly not a movie that necessarily needed a sequel; but given how well they were able to pull off a tough concept about video game characters coming to life and living in a giant surge protector and traveling between games, I had hope that lightning could strike twice here. 

This time, instead of staying strictly in the gaming world, the film introduces our characters Ralph and Vanellope to... the Internet. The owner of the video game store sets up a wi-fi connection there, and due to Ralph and Vanellope needing to get a "part" for the latter's game Sugar Rush following an incident which leaves the game unplugged, they end up travelling there... and getting a lot more than they bargained for. As does the viewer. 

There is a *lot* to unpack here, so let's cut to the chase--this movie is not that good. It is a perplexing big step down from the predecessor. There are multiple reasons why; but there are two critical ones that stand out above the rest. Let's start with Ralph himself. Rarely have I seen a character regress as badly as he does in this sequel. For one thing, he's oddly more useless action-wise here. Remember, he has "freakishly large hands," as Vanellope called them once before--and those actually have quite a few good uses. But he scarcely uses them at all, except for towards the beginning. He doesn't do much "wrecking" in this movie, if you will. 

But the real problem is Ralph's character development takes a huge dive. He's quite insecure about his friendship with Vanellope for some reason--and this ends up being a major plot point. And while this does lead to a lesser-used message about friendship (which is still delivered without subtlety at all), we have to deal with Ralph making some shockingly bad decisions just to try and save his friendship and keep things going his way. Ralph had issues in the first movie too, but they felt more justified because of all the abuse he was taking. But he still grew as a character, and learned to become quite content with his life. His new issues in this movie are way more unjustified, and often feel out-of-character. (Unfortunately, Vanellope's not free of dumb decisions either. Basically, there are a lot of dumb decisions made by characters in this movie.) 

And that issue of Ralph's character taking a nosedive leads directly to the second major problem with this movie: the final act. Obviously, not too much can be said here without a spoiler warning. But I will say this: there are some parallels with the first movie in terms of Ralph's actions accidentally causing chaos, only this time... there is no big plot twist regarding the villain. Instead, we're given one of the dumbest climactic acts that Disney has ever written. There's potential for massive stakes, but it all gets shot as the focus becomes more on the main characters instead of the implications of what's happening around them. 

But there's plenty of other problems with this movie. They kind of ignore the rules of the previous movie at times; Fix-It Felix says he'll cover for Ralph during the day while's gone in the Internet. But wasn't his absence during the day what caused the game to almost get unplugged last time? And Vanellope is considering joining another racing game called Slaughter Race (basically a PG post-apocalyptic version of Grand Theft Auto... I think?), despite the big deal the last movie made about "game-jumping." 

And then there's the "Disney" section of the Internet, which feels kind of shoehorned in. I'm a little conflicted here, because there's a few funny jokes in here--namely the Groot cameo. But this is part of where the movie loses focus for a little bit, especially once the Disney Princess team-up happens. Obviously some will enjoy that part; not really my cup of tea, though. But I could've probably overlooked it a bit more if it hadn't led to Vanellope having a silly musical number. Yup, that actually happens. 

Also, if you had any trouble wrapping your head around the concept of the first movie... you're gonna have a bad time here. Remember, this is basically an anthropomorphic of the Internet. And though much of what you see your brain can probably accept in the moment, when you think about questions like how in the world is this Internet world interacting with the real world, and how can our video game characters even really be here... it kind of blows your mind a bit. 

After all this, it may seem amazing that there is anything positive to say about this movie. But there actually is some funny stuff in this movie. Despite the overwhelming nature of this virtual Internet world, it's actually not that bad during the first half. There's amusing characterizations of a search engine and an algorithm. And there's also just some amusing Internet jokes/references. Also, the car chase that takes place in the "Slaughter Race" game is actually pretty fun. Even though the film can feel implausible at times during that first half, it's really not until the second half that things really start to go truly off the rails. (And when they go off the rails... boy, do they ever.) 

This is one of those movies that I didn't dislike too much at first despite the ludicrous final act and Ralph's character regression, but the more I thought about other issues with the movie, the more it infuriated me. I don't know what I'm more confused by: how the same director/writer who made the superb first movie gave us this for a sequel... or how this movie actually got well-received. But then again, I'm also among the minority of people who didn't care for Frozen and thus isn't interested in the upcoming sequel either. So what do I know? 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Mortal Engines


RATING: B-

It's been a while since we've heard from Peter Jackson. When we last saw a project of his, he was going through a George Lucas-esque stage (this makes two reviews in a row I've referenced this now!) and making a pretty poor prequel trilogy out of one book--aka the Hobbit trilogy. Now it seems he's moving on to a different book series--Mortal Engines, a steampunk/sci-fi/adventure series. Of course, now it looks like we'll never get a sequel to this because the movie bombed so badly during the theatrical run. Oh yeah, and although this is really Jackson's project, he did not direct this--Christian Rivers did in his directorial debut. 

Mortal Engines takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the cities that weren't destroyed by weapons of mass destruction are now surviving... by rolling around on wheels. Or even flying, in one case. And in order to survive, these cities consume each other for supplies and fuel. This may sound like a ludicrous premise, but they mostly make it work--though I'm still unsure on how the destruction of one city fuels another. 

This one mostly takes place on the mobile city of London, where a young scarred girl named Hester attempts to assassinate a high-ranking important person in London--Thaddeus Valentine. One down-on-his-luck apprentice named Tom foils the assassination, and through a series of events, both Tom and Hester end up in basically no-man's-land outside of London. And now they'll have to work together to get back to London and prevent a conspiracy from occurring, which centers around Valentine. 

This was yet another recent film that was unfortunately kind of hurt by its marketing. The film marketed itself as a crazy CGI-fest and also kind of as part of the young adult niche. With regards to the former... that doesn't really happen until the final act (more on that later). As for the latter... I really don't see it. There's some mild similarities here and there (there is a resistance group, for one) but the final film really does not target a limited audience of young adults in my estimate. And really, are we just going to start dismissing every book-to-movie adaptation that's post-apocalyptic as young-adult-only fodder? 

Unfortunately, the film did less emphasizing of some of the cooler stuff in the marketing. Namely, the resurrected cyborg "Stalker" Shrike (who you might have known as Grike, depending upon which version of the book you read--if you read it at all). His design is excellent and he's played quite well by Stephen Lang, and in general he's one of the cooler things about this movie. This is another reason why it's kind of unfortunate there will never be sequels, because there would've been plenty more of those Stalkers. Also, there's the character Anna Fang, who has a few pretty nice fight scenes that are almost Matrix-esque. 

The biggest problems with the movie do crop up in the final act--and unfortunately, some of the problems extend from the book here. The final act deals with an old superweapon called MEDUSA with vaguely defined power--other than that it's destructive. This is where the crazy CGI-fest comes into play. The problem is, the book wasn't really any better at explaining what exactly MEDUSA did either other than destroy things. The final act is also changed quite a bit from the book; some of the changes are negligible and a couple are even welcomed (one likable character who died in the book not dying here), but one decision made very late by Hester seems to go against her character--the character the movie established early on, and also the character that she's supposed to evolve into in future books. (It should also be noted that Hester is quite less scarred in the movie version than in the book version--something that will likely be a point of contention for book purists.) 

Despite having a pretty decent budget, it seems they blew a lot of it on the special effects because the cast surprisingly isn't that high-profile. Besides Lang, the only other actor one may recognize is Hugo Weaving, who we haven't seen much of lately--and it's good to see him in a big role again, and he does quite well with it. Hera Hilmer is also pretty good as Hester. 

Mortal Engines' biggest problem is pretty much the final act, which descends into CGI madness and goes on for quite a while. There's other problems too. The antagonist's motivations aren't really developed as well as they should be. There's also an ill-advised reference early on to Minions, of all things--which is probably not going to age very well. 

Still, it's kind of unfortunate that we're only going to ever get one movie out of this. Because it's a unique and interesting premise, and even if the film is a little more lackluster down the stretch, I would've liked to see how the book sequels would've turned out in film format. Heaven knows we need more book-to-movie adaptations to be successful anyway... instead of Hollywood continuing to produce utterly pointless remakes of old movies. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald


RATING: D+

It is official. J.K. Rowling has gone the way of George Lucas. 

Now, to the very casual viewer, one might be tempted to blame David Yates for this mess. After all, he's directed every "Wizarding World" movie since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, including this movie's predecessor. And they wouldn't be totally wrong--it's just that Yates is to blame for this movie's failings for another reason entirely, which we will get to later. But the point is that these films wouldn't exist without Rowling. She wrote these stories / scripts herself. The only difference here is that she's not writing book versions prior. You want to look for the reason as to why we have this mess? Look no further than her. 

Now although the first Fantastic Beasts movie did feel like an unnecessary prequel and return, it wasn't really that bad. In fact, it was even enjoyable at times and it was also more well-focused and easy to follow. And despite the fact that we were going to have to sit through five movies of this, at least we get Jude Law as young Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, right? Surely this movie will be at least enjoyable for that reason? ...Ugh.

So, in this movie Grindelwald is starting to build up his forces. Part of the key to all this may be one Credence Barebone. Remember him? That one disturbed kid who turned into the crazy magical force called the Obscurial? Also, he was totally dead at the end of that movie, remember? But now he's back and they offer no explanation whatsoever. Albus Dumbledore commissions Newt Scamander to go look for Credence and to help stop Grindelwald. "I cannot move against Grindelwald," Albus says. That may sound bizarre... but the explanation for this is actually one of the few twists in this movie that *does* make sense. A reluctant Newt agrees; obviously he's going to need the help of his friends from the last movie, namely Tina and Jacob. Yeah, Queenie's back too... but her role in this film is more complicated than you'd expect.

This film is kind of an insane mess. There's a ton of subplot threads and twists jacked into this thing, and yet... after Grindelwald's prison escape in the opening, not a whole lot interesting actually happens until towards the end. It's pretty clear that this was supposed to be three movies originally instead of five, because this feels like the way overextended first half of one movie.

But the big problem is how many of the various plot threads and twists really don't even make much sense in the context of the Harry Potter canon. A particularly ludicrous twist at the end concerning the identity of Credence is the worst offender. For some reason, Rowling is feeling the need to make add-ons to her own canon; I don't know how she's justifying some of these twists in her mind, but this is basically everything that's wrong with prequels taken to near-maximum insanity.

Not even Johnny Depp or Jude Law can save this. They're excellent castings for Grindelwald and Dumbledore, respectively; most of the more interesting parts of the movie are when they're on screen. And yet they're not utilized fully; partially because we're stalling for time until the two have their famous duel referenced in the books, but that probably won't happen until the fifth movie, and good grief why'd there have to be five of these things instead of just three?!

What's kind of sad is that the film actually could've been more coherent; apparently, there's an extended cut that actually explains some critical things (for example, how Credence survived the end of the first movie). The problem is, that would extend the length of the movie from 134 minutes to nearly 150. And this movie is already long enough. (That's where you can extend some of the partial blame for this mess to David Yates, by the way--for cutting these important scenes in the first place.) And even if this film was more "coherent," this still wouldn't excuse the outright stupidity of some of the plot threads/twists in this thing.

It's bizarre how this prequel series went so quickly from being unnecessary but mildly enjoyable, to actually angering fans like myself and making us wonder how it's possible that J.K. Rowling has lost her marbles this much. I mean, obviously we've seen this kind of thing happen before. George Lucas and Peter Jackson kind of ruined themselves too with their prequel movies. Hopefully these movies will get better again, because right now I'd watch the Star Wars prequels again rather than watch this particular installment again. But I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Peter Rabbit


RATING: C-

Here's a bit of an odd idea for a movie: making an adaptation of a children's series that doesn't seem to have stood the test of time in terms of popularity--at least not as well as some others, anyway. And then make it one of those live-action/animated CGI hybrids, because people just love those. And insert in lowbrow humor too, because people also just dig that. And make the adaptation of Peter Rabbit a very loose one... I guess? My memories of those Beatrix Potter books from quite early childhood are so far removed I really couldn't say myself. But I will have to trust the word of those who actually are fans, and who say it was not a faithful adaptation. 

For those who aren't familiar with the source material (and it may not matter anyway): this movie centers around a small clan of rabbits who like to steal vegetables from the local gardener's garden. But then the gardener kicks the bucket and his great-nephew General Hux--uh, I mean Domnhall Gleeson--stays in the place temporarily. And becomes friends with the other local human Bea, who adores the rabbits--despite the obvious mischief they get up to. And eventually, Peter decides that the younger farmer MacGregor has "got to go." Insert the words of Bugs Bunny here: "Of course you realize this means war!" 

In this movie's 90-minute runtime, about 30 to 40 minutes of it are basically a cross between Looney Tunes and Home Alone as Peter and MacGregor try to outwit each other with traps, pratfalls, and slapstick comedy. These parts are actually pretty funny at times. The headline gag that comes to mind is when the rabbits somehow re-wire an electric fence so that the house door knobs are electrified (don't ask how)--and the result is MacGregor (or someone else) flying across the room. More than once. Since this is live-action, it looks painful, but it's still pretty hilarious. 

If the majority of this film had been this way, it might've been a little better. But for the most part, this movie's still pretty dumb. It's not as bad as some people make it out to be, but it's still not that good either. Part of the issue is that some of Peter's antics are a bit much over the top. But there's also the fact that this movie can't decide whether it wants to be more serious or not. Some of the scenes which try to make Peter more sympathetic or which try to build up MacGregor and Bea's relationship would suggest the former. Given the concept this movie bases itself around, it would've worked better as the latter; giving us more of the slapstick cartoonish humor (minus some of the more over-the-top lowbrow stuff) and also more of the almost Deadpool-esque narration we get at times from Daisy Ridley. (Yup, seriously.) 

Another thing that doesn't help this film is that it feels like they're making stuff up as they go along at times--namely, when they decide without about 10 to 15 minutes left in the movie that MacGregor can suddenly understand the rabbits. Which also brings up the issue that the film ends a bit abruptly and without really much of a proper final act. Oh, and I should probably also mention the annoying pop/hip-hop soundtrack that crops up often. But I did like how a few times we had a flock of birds attempting to start a musical number--only to get interrupted, usually by getting mowed down by another animal. Again, more of the non-serious/self-aware stuff that this movie should've had more of. 

There's a few parts of this movie that are legitimately quite funny. There's also quite a fair share of dumb material. Again, the problem in part lies in the film being unable to decide whether it's serious or not. Unfortunately, it still doesn't hit all the right notes even when it's not being serious. There's a shadow of an actually fun comedy in here somewhere, even though this film doesn't have much right to be that good. But the kicker may be simply the apparent fact that it's not close to being a faithful adaptation, which may alienate the Beatrix Potter fans out there--and it's not like there's a ton of other people who were going to be watching this anyway. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Captain Marvel


RATING: B+

We still have a little under two months to go until Avengers: Endgame, the follow-up to Infinity War. But until then, we have been given this movie to tide us over--focusing on Captain Marvel, a newcomer to the series. And unlike Ant-Man and the Wasp--which came out two months after Infinity War and was basically meaningless, albeit still fun--this one actually is kind of important, because it introduces to us a new superhero who will likely be playing a big role in Endgame. 

Who is Captain Marvel, exactly? Well, her alias is Carol Danvers--or "Vers," at the start of this movie. She lives with the Kree, who you'll likely recognize from Guardians of the Galaxy or Agents of SHIELD. And she's been infused with some impressive powers--namely photon blasts and impressive strength. Right now, the Kree are at war with the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifters. And after a mission gone awry, she crash-lands on Earth... right in the middle of a Blockbuster Video. 

Yup, this movie takes place in the 1990's. The next clue to that will be when Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury shows up, only he looks a lot more like what Jackson looked like in the 90's, and Fury's still got both eyes. For the time being, Carol is here to help protect Earth from the Skrulls, who have come to Earth as well looking for some energy core MacGuffin (which turns out to be an unexpected source). And she's gonna need Fury's help with that. 

I didn't go into this movie with the highest of expectations; mainly because the marketing really did not do this movie any favors. The marketing somehow sucked out the heart and fun that is actually in this movie. Because this film actually is pretty good. This is not top-tier Marvel material, but it's not low-tier either. It's a perfectly adequate introduction to an important character. 

Brie Larson is generally quite good as Captain Marvel; despite the marketing somehow missing this, she brings a certain liveliness to the character that helps carry the film, while still being appropriately serious when necessary for the most part. She and Jackson also play off each other pretty well. Actually, one of the better things about the movie is its humor; including some of the various 90's culture references. Anyway, also notable in the cast is Jude Law, who plays a different character than usual for him, but does it quite well. 

Perhaps the main issue with this film is the fact that by the time we get to the climactic action scenes, there scarcely feels like there's any stakes--because of how overpowered Captain Marvel becomes. This wouldn't have been a problem if they had given her an equal opponent (like Thanos will presumably be), but they really don't. Instead she basically obliterates everyone all too easily once she unlocks her full powers. It's fun to watch in its own right, but it robs the final act of any tension. 

There's also a trope of sorts that they kind of run into the ground but that never really pays off. Carol is constantly told--at multiple times in her life--to control her emotions, for one reason or another. After we get enough scenes of this and some flashbacks which cement this, you'd think there'd be some kind of payoff, or at least a purpose for why they fed us all that. But there isn't. It ultimately means nothing. 

Still, this is a fun movie and a good installment in the MCU. Besides introducing Captain Marvel, it does tie into the franchise in other ways too, so it's certainly worth a watch and it actually means something in this series--which was my primary issue with Ant-Man and the Wasp. This movie isn't anything special, but it suffices quite well. 


A postscript of sorts: going back to the issue of Captain Marvel possibly being a bit overpowered. I've noticed that many people are excited about this and what it could mean for Endgame, saying things like "Thanos is so screwed." To me, that would actually be cause for concern. It might be cathartic for some, but if Captain Marvel were to be able to defeat Thanos as easily as she defeated this movie's villains... well, that would be kind of a letdown. We don't go into the finale of a long-running series to see the bad guy get KO'ed in seconds. And we shouldn't expect that either. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Grinch


RATING: B

Here we are with our third adaption of the story of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"--this one being the second film adaptation. Which one you are most partial to may depend. Many people (myself included) like the original cartoon from the 60's with Boris Karloff. Some people like the 2000 live-action version with Jim Carrey. I am definitely not one of those people. Carrey himself was fine, but that film was still a horribly misguided vision; turning the people of Whoville into such jerks that it gets to the point where you actually start rooting for the Grinch to actually steal their Christmas. 

That's one of the first good things about The Grinch--this feels like a much nicer version of Whoville that is more faithful to the original cartoon. The next good thing is that this isn't live-action. Some stories just do not translate well to live-action; How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of them. 

In this version we get Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch, although you wouldn't know this if you watched the film without knowing a thing about it. Because it does not sound like Cumberbatch--it sounds a little more nasally, and we also have Cumberbatch doing an American accent here. It takes some getting used to, and it's just kind of bizarre--you bring in Benedict Cumberbatch, why would you not have him sound like his normal self? (It's worth noting that it was actually Cumberbatch's idea, but that doesn't altogether excuse it.) 

We all (presumably) know the story of the Grinch. Everyone in Whoville liked Christmas... but the Grinch did not. So he plotted to steal Christmas. And so on and so forth. Not much of that changes here. However, to make the film long enough, you still have to add more stuff. The Carrey version took this a little too far; in that movie the Grinch didn't even start *planning* to steal Christmas until halfway through. But one interesting thing it did was introduce a backstory for him--to explain why he is the way he is. 

This new version does that as well, only to a lesser degree. It's more simplistic, and thankfully it doesn't rely on the Whos of Whoville being horrible... uh... Whos. Actually, this one finds the people of Whoville co-existing fairly peacefully with the Grinch in general. 

That brings me to one of the few things this movie doesn't get quite right. This is not fully the same Grinch from the cartoon or even the 2000 version. This is still a Grinch that is antisocial and generally a mean one. But he also shows actual concern for his dog Max on a couple occasions. And when faced with a situation where he could force a reindeer into servitude or let it go with its family... he lets it go. This is something that Boris Karloff's Grinch would never have dreamed of doing. 

Is this really an actual flaw? Difficult to say. On one hand, it's definitely not faithful to the source material. On the other hand, it's perhaps not a bad thing altogether to have the Grinch show *some* glimpses of decency--from a realism standpoint, it can help make his eventual redemption make more sense. (Yeah, yeah, spoiler alert. But it's not like we haven't seen at least one version of this tale at some point in our lives--and if you haven't, then you probably weren't super interested in this one either.) 

But what *does* help set more of that in motion is the Grinch's encounter with Cindy Lou in this version. This is one of the points that is actually an improvement over the source material--it acts as more of a proper catalyst that does help make the Grinch's change of heart make more sense. It's not something we ever really questioned with the original cartoon, but it's a quite welcome addition anyway. 

The truly biggest mistake to be found here is within the musical soundtrack that crops up a few times, which is more hip-hop/rap oriented. Depending upon your musical tastes, that may or may not be a good thing. But the big, big mistake is making a rap rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." That is just wrong--and given some of the actual improvements that are made here, it's an incredibly bizarre ill-advised error on the part of the filmmakers. 

But on the whole, this movie is quite enjoyable. It gives a far less cringe-worthy feature-length adaptation of the Grinch's story--and actually tells a genuinely good tale. It also includes some cartoonish slapstick humor, which is quite fun. It just gets a lot more right of what the 2000 version got wrong; and that in of itself is a great thing. 

Some might argue that we still didn't really need a feature-length version of the old cartoon anyway. And that's a fair argument. But I think this at least acts as a good complement to the original. And this is also easily one of the best Dr. Seuss film adaptations we've ever gotten--although that's really not saying much. Regardless, I just hope that people will look back on this Grinch movie with more fondness than the previous attempt. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World


RATING: B

DreamWorks Animation has really fallen to the wayside in recent years. Yeah, they've generally not been as good as Pixar; but for a long time, they were their greatest competitor for better or for worse. And they had a few great franchises of their own; namely How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. But the problem is: they haven't made an original movie that even approached good since 2013's The Croods. Since then, we've been given a couple good sequels, like HtTYD 2. But we've also been subjected to drivel like The Boss Baby and Trolls. 

Drivel like those movies has also been what's kept us waiting way longer than we should have for the third movie in this trilogy. It's been five years now since the last movie. And now in this movie, we have Toothless meeting a female Night Fury; or rather, a Light Fury, as Astrid deems it (since it's entirely light-colored instead of dark). Elsewhere, Berk and its people and dragons come under fire from a new threat named Grimmel, who wants to put an end to dragons in general. As a result of all this, Hiccup and Toothless find themselves looking for a mythical "hidden world" that Hiccup's father told him of, where they and their dragons will be safe. 

Let's get the main thing out of the way: this movie is not as good as its predecessors.While the second movie progressed near-perfectly in terms of both world-building and character development, this film doesn't make much progress aside from the "hidden world" and introduction of the Light Fury. In fact, in terms of character development, it bizarrely seems to take a step backwards. 

Hiccup, who is now chief of Berk, is having issues again with doubting himself; to the point where a few people seem to question if he's fit to be chief. Hiccup had self-doubt problems in the last movie too, but it made sense then as he wasn't sure he should be chief. But by the end he seemed ready to take the challenge on. But Hiccup just does not seem as strong of a character here; besides the fact that he seems a little weaker here (until the end--again), it also starts to not feel like his story anymore. 

But another problem is Grimmel, the antagonist. The first movie didn't have a human antagonist, but the second one did in Drago Bludvist, who was quite good and turned out to have a decent backstory too. Grimmel wants to kill dragons... because he can, basically. And he's just not as entertaining. He's not given much characterization, making him sort of a by-the-numbers villain--not what you want in your third and final movie. The acid-fire-breathing dragons he carries with him are better antagonists than he is. And that's not good. 

What does work best is, for starters, the "hidden world." The animation in this movie is already quite great, but the hidden world is an astounding work of visual art. What's unfortunate is that we don't spend enough time here--another big mistake by this film was not having its final act take place there, especially since this place is supposedly so important. Elsewhere, the relationship between Toothless and the Light Fury is also a high point due to the humor it often brings. And though the action scenes seem a bit tamed down from what the last movie gave us, they're still pretty fun. And the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless which has helped carry this series is still pretty nice. 

Then there's the matter of the final act. The climax is another misstep for the film, because there's scarcely ever a sense of danger; it just feels too easy for Hiccup and company. It does feature a pretty awesome gambit by Hiccup at the end, so that helps make up for it. But then we get an ending which really should have had a lot more impact, but it's so obvious that it's going to happen long before we get there, and then the very final scene only serves to confuse me in terms of just how much finality there is here (even though it's still a pretty good final scene). 

The Hidden World is not a bad movie by any means, and it's quite an acceptable finish to the trilogy. But it's still more inherently flawed than its predecessors, and given how much natural progression the second one showed, it's odd that this one shows quite a bit less. Nonetheless, it's still a film well worth watching if you liked the previous two (like most people did), and concludes DreamWorks Animation's probably best trilogy/franchise of all. Just keep in mind that--aside from maybe how amazing the hidden world looks--there won't be anything as good/breathtaking here as Toothless's and Hiccup's flight (with his flying suit) near the beginning of the second movie. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Goosebumps 2


RATING: C-

The first Goosebumps movie probably was good at least partially by accident. On one hand, getting Jack Black to play a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine (the author of the books) was an interesting move that worked out pretty well. But though the movie itself turned into a surprisingly delightful blend of Gremlins and Jumanji, it could have just as easily felt tired and derivative. And in principle, was a Goosebumps movie really something we needed? Maybe it could appeal to some weird "horror-for-kids" niche, but it would've been hard to get scarcely anyone else interested. But it worked. 

Although a sequel really wasn't needed, we got one anyway. In a few respects, there's almost a "soft reboot" aspect to this one. Aside from Jack Black (more on that later), the entire original cast and characters are ditched. That's not necessarily a huge loss, but the problem is the new characters (and the vast majority of the cast playing them) really aren't any good. 

Actually, even though this movie is relatively watchable for the most part, the first 20 minutes are surprisingly terrible. We get hit with boring characters, stunningly terrible writing and dialogue, and just a whole lot of nothing in general happening. At least the "protagonist with divorced parents who moves into new neighborhood" thing from the first movie was mildly interesting, even if super cliched. 

Things change a bit when two of the new main characters (Sonny and Sam) discover an unfinished Goosebumps book in an abandoned house. And out of this one comes... Slappy? Yup, the same crazy puppet dummy from the first one. And if you're wondering how he ended up in that book, forget it. It's actually not impossible this is a different Slappy entirely--only once is it hinted that he remembers the events of the first movie. Anyways, this time Slappy is concerned mostly with just causing general chaos; though this time he wants a "family" to do it with. (If you think they're making him sympathetic, think again.) Eventually he uses some weird magic to bring a whole host of Halloween decorations/costumes to life and into monsters (a family of monsters. Get it?). However, some of them just bizarrely turn into the same monsters from the last movie. If it wasn't clear, this film does a bit of rehashing. 

Slappy is actually arguably the best thing about this movie. The first half of the movie (once he shows up, anyway) is essentially just him trolling everyone, and it's pretty amusing at times. Somehow, a scene where he's playing Rocket League with Sonny and Sam and says "I'm crushing you guys and I'm not even using my powers!" is one of the most memorable parts of the movie (probably by accident). 

However, this movie does still ultimately fall well short of the mark of the first one. This is in part because particularly in the second half, it's a little too similar to the first one--and despite Slappy's over-the-top antics which amuse, it just doesn't hit the mark as well as before. Hence why the first one may have been good by accident. There's also those pretty bad first 20 minutes, which are a slog to sit through--and a pretty ridiculous sequence where our characters get attacked by Gummy Bears. I wish I was kidding. (We do get a "You'll never take me alive!" moment at the very end of it which I chuckled at--but it's not enough to redeem the scene.) 

Probably the biggest problem of all, however, is that Jack Black is basically relegated to cameo status in this one. Even though his performance was one of the best things about the first, he doesn't show up until halfway through and even then only probably has about five minutes screen time. It seems pretty clear they were working with a lower budget this time--Black doesn't even voice Slappy like he did in the first one (though Mick Wingert does surprisingly well in his stead). 

Goosebumps 2 isn't as awful as the first 20 minutes will probably make you think it is. But it's hardly anything that good either. At times, it seems like it doesn't totally know what it is--whether it wants to be a rehash of the first one, or "Slappy: The Puppet That Trolled Everyone." Furthermore, the film can't decide if it wants to be more kid-oriented or take a more grotesque approach at times than the first one did. If you liked the first one, you probably won't hate yourself for watching this one. It helps that it's quite short at only 90 minutes. At least we probably won't get a third movie. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Venom


RATING: D

This is a film that I didn't really believe would actually happen. It was a rather silly concept, and it was stuck in development for so long. A movie centering around a Spider-Man villain? Really? What could they possibly do with that? Oddly enough, apparently there is some interest among comic book fans for seeing movies centered around more villainous types. I can't see the appeal in that, in general. The biggest reason for this is that it generally becomes difficult to root for or like these type of--ahem--protagonists. Now, being an antihero can work if it's done correctly. But it was hard to see how it could be done here, especially for a guy who hadn't read the comics and whose only exposure to Venom was Spider-Man 3.

But the point is, I didn't believe the film would ever happen. I figured it would just be stuck in what they call "development hell" for all eternity; kind of like the X-Men Gambit film in the same genre. But now Venom has finally happened. (And Gambit might happen? Maybe? Who knows?) And it's... not as bad as it could have been. But that's probably one of the best compliments I have for it.

In this version of Venom, in a world where Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen, Eddie Brock is once again a reporter. And not a very good one; Tom Hardy's version of Brock is quite impulsive and it gets him fired. And he loses his fiancee. So he's down on his luck until, through a series of crazy events, gets bonded with the symbiote Venom. And he and the rest of his symbiote buddies (there are a few other ones on Earth) want to destroy Earth and eat its inhabitants. Nice, right?

Now, here Brock and Venom are two distinct personalities. Venom is actually a voice inside Brock's head; and one time he briefly detaches himself to speak to Brock face-to-face in some ghost-like form. This is actually executed pretty well; there's some pretty nice levity resulting from some of the dialogue between these two.

The problem here is that the movie takes a surprisingly long time to get going. It takes 35 minutes for Brock to get bonded with the symbiote. And it takes about 20-25 *more* minutes before Venom actually makes himself known via the "look" that we're used to from him. And about 30 minutes later... it's over.

Now Venom himself actually is pretty cool. But the problem is everything you have to sit through before the cool stuff finally starts happening. Basically all the characters in this movie are idiots. Brock himself isn't that enjoyable of a character, even if he isn't the weaselly jerk that Topher Grace's version of the character was. What makes it worse is that they seem to have no idea what kind of character Brock is. Is he an idiot? Is he smart? Is he down on his luck or does he have enough money to give handouts to random people? The movie has no idea. Also, I have no idea what kind of accent Hardy is trying to do for the character of Brock; it really doesn't work.

Furthermore, the plot is pretty stupid. The bad guy (the human bad guy, anyway) wants to merge humans with symbiotes and send them all into space because the planet is about to die. And then he's all too willing to give up the planet to the symbiote Riot when he shows up.

Now, some of the action scenes are pretty fun. The fight between Venom and Riot is pretty cool, even if it devolves into some silly CGI by the end. Venom dispatching some human minions by way of various methods like throwing them into each other is also fun. The car/motorcycle chase of the movie does not fare as well. It brings to mind Mission: Impossible 2 at one point, of all things.

Venom actually does partially succeed at making Brock and Venom people we don't feel too bad rooting for in this movie. That's probably one of the tougher tasks in a movie like this. Unfortunately, aside from some of the action scenes and visual effects, the movie gets just about everything else wrong. The script is laughable. You can kind of tell at times that this movie stinks of troubled production.

Even though they were able to succeed at making Venom an antihero (in a way), this still feels like an unnecessary movie. Maybe I'm in the minority of comic-book-movie fans, but a Venom movie would never have been on the shortlist of movies I'd ask for. As previously said, it's certainly not as bad as it could have been. And hardcore fans of the genre/character could probably do worse with their time. But the casual viewer can safely skip out on this.