Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Two years ago, J.J. Abrams reintroduced us to the Star Wars universe, mixing classic characters with the next generation. The stench of the prequels was washed away in one fell swoop as characters like Rey, Poe, Finn and BB-8 helped to usher in a new era. The Force Awakens left us with many questions, and The Last Jedi has finally arrived to answer them.

(Warning: this review contains spoilers!)

Before getting into my likes and dislikes, I want to mention that my expectations for this film were very high. I tried my best to avoid watching the countless number of TV spots that were being released and really only watched the first two trailers so that I didn’t have anything spoiled. Avoiding early reviews from the lucky film critics was also a chore, especially with Variety posting a careless review mentioning plenty of spoilers that drew the ire of other film pundits. With all of this out of the way, let’s get into my likes and dislikes.

Likes

There were certainly plenty of things to like about this film. The opening scene’s space battle immediately hooked me and brought me back to this galaxy that is so very far away. Seeing Leia onscreen again, especially after the death of Carrie Fisher, brought back “the feels”. Carrie’s presence is so much more pronounced in TLJ and Leia really gets a chance to shine.

We finally got to meet Supreme Leader Snoke in the flesh. His malformed features, creepy voice, and raw power had all the makings of a great villain. I really enjoyed how he served as a puppet master pulling the strings of Kylo Ren behind the scenes.

Speaking of Kylo, Adam Driver does a great job portraying this character. We saw his inner turmoil in TFA as he struggled with his temptation with going back to the light side, though killing his father, Han Solo, did him no favors. We see this play out even more in TLJ as his connection to Rey becomes stronger. I found it so interesting at how they were able to use the Force to seemingly astral project themselves during conversations. There were a few times where the audience was made to think he really was turning back to the light side, only to turn heel again. He had a lot of great moments with Rey and with Luke.

We got to learn about Luke’s and Kylo’s relationship, seeing the events of their training together play out further than the flashbacks shown in TFA. On the subject of Luke, he’s a beaten down shell of himself after the destruction of his Jedi Temple and the murders of his students at the hands of Kylo. I loved getting both Luke’s side and Kylo’s side of the story and how Rey struggled to find the truth in what actually happened. Luke’s character was very complex, going from an unwilling teacher to how he ends up at the end of the film. His arc comes full-circle from the original trilogy, but may leave fans upset or dissatisfied, which I’ll get into later.

Aside from the characters I mentioned above, there were also plenty of great action and battle scenes, character interactions, and exposition from Luke on his feelings about the Jedi, but there were also a lot of things I disliked or felt made little sense.

Dislikes

First off, I didn’t care for Finn’s part in this film whatsoever. If his role was removed from the film the outcome would have stayed exactly the same. His main mission with newcomer, Rose, was to travel to the casino city of Canto Bight to enlist the help of a code breaker to disable the tracking system on Snoke’s ship. They ultimately failed the mission and made things worse after being betrayed by Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ. The amount of time spent on these sequences took away time that could have been spent further exploring Jedi mythology. Finn was also prepared to sacrifice himself to save the remnants of the Rebellion at the end of the film,  but Rose stops his actions, allowing the First Order troops to gain access to the Rebel Base on Krayt.

With all of the buildup surrounding Snoke, his death at the hands of Kylo seemed out of place, especially since we didn’t get a lot of scenes involving Snoke. It’s difficult to understand Kylo’s true motivations for his actions. It all seems to boil down to him wanting to rule the Galaxy hand-in-hand with Rey, and his constant flip-flopping detracts from his ambitions. Snoke does reveal that he’s had a hand in developing the Kylo/Rey relationship, but it’s never really revealed why he was doing so.

Some of the other things that bugged me were the Porgs. They served no purpose other than to sell toys. I don’t understand why every time new creatures are shown they have to appear as cute, cuddly, big-eyed things. It’s distracting and unnecessary. There was also a lot of humor that fell flat for me, especially in the beginning when Poe sends his transmission to General Hux. It just doesn’t fit within the context of the universe this film takes place in. I also feel like Poe didn’t have much to do other than argue with Vice Admiral Holdo, though his opening space battle was fun.

Though we got to see some new Force-related actions like the astral projecting and Leia’s ability to survive an explosion and floating in space, nothing was explained. There were so many cool moments that could have had more of an impact if we had context as to how they were possible. We were shown the Jedi texts (Journal of the Wills) on Ahch To but weren’t told what was in them. Yoda’s cameo basically says they were boring.

Finally, we come to Luke’s apparent death. After astral projecting and fighting with Kylo on Krayt, giving the Rebels a chance to escape, we see Luke back on Ahch To where he eventually vanishes into thin air. It’s not clear if he truly died, but it was reminiscent of Obi Wan’s death in A New Hope, where his vanished after being struck down by Vader. If Luke is truly gone, it was an unsatisying, unceremonious end for arguably the biggest character in the Star Wars franchise. I have a feeling he will return as a force ghost, however.

Final Thoughts

After seeing this film for the first time, I found myself having mixed feelings. There were a lot of cool moments including the fight with Rey, Kylo and the Praetorian Guards, but other than that we didn’t get much lightsaber action. Kylo’s mixed motivations also make me fearful for Episode 9, as he will seemingly be the “big bad” with Snoke out of the picture. Yoda’s cameo was perfect, harkening back to his initial introduction in The Empire Strikes Back.

I just feel like this film could have been so much better if there was more of a focus on the Force-side of things. We should have gotten more interaction with Rey and Luke. We should have gotten more of Kylo’s backstory and his involvement with the Knights of Ren. And when Rey’s parentage was finally revealed, it was a huge letdown and really took away from the connection between her and Kylo.

I’m sure there are plenty of plot points that I haven’t mentioned, plots that I didn’t discuss, and things I flat-out missed, but this film will require additional viewings to really give me a clearer picture of how I really thought about it. Not a bad movie, but also not a great movie.

Justice League Movie Review

For fans of the DC Extended Universe DC film universe, the ride through films like Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, BVS and Wonder Woman has been one filled with twists, turns, ups, downs, and enough fanboy trash talk to make you want to quit the internet.

Despite poor critical reactions from the first three efforts in Man of Steel (55% Rotten Tomatoes score), Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (27% Rotten Tomatoes score) and Suicide Squad (26 % Rotten Tomatoes score), 2017 has been a solid year for the studio that also brought us Shaquille O’Neal as Steel and Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern in the past. Wonder Woman busted through to the joy of fans and critics alike (92% Rotten Tomatoes score) and seemingly changed the outlook for DC’s future on the big screen. With the backdrop of DC’s past out of the way, let’s get into Justice League. I’m going to get into my likes, dislikes, and my thoughts moving forward.

Likes

Bringing together heroes like Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and The Flash presents a bevy of problems in terms of screen time and usage, but the combination of Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon did a masterful job of showcasing each hero in this film. I loved seeing Bruce Wayne doing his damnedest to wrangle everyone together for the greater good, as each character had their own situations going on in the background. Whether it was Barry’s struggle to find a way to free his father from prison, Cyborg’s struggle to cope with existing in his new form, or Aquaman’s reluctance to even join the team, each character was very well fleshed out on a personal level.

There were so many moving parts to this film in terms of the plot. The main arc saw the villainous Steppenwolf on his quest to claim the three motherboxes, but the film was about more than just that. It opened up so many other avenues for future films in such a positive way that leaves me very excited for the future of these franchises. Since I mentioned Steppenwolf, let’s talk about him for a minute. I enjoyed about 95% of Steppenwolf’s inclusion in this film. He was an extremely formidable foe, continuously wreaking havoc at-will.

The scene on Themyscira as he is attempting to steal the motherbox from the Amazons was incredibly well done. The intense action sequences and ensuing carnage brought upon by this New God was an adrenaline-filled thrill ride. Seeing the mighty Amazons struggle (and fail) to protect their motherbox set the tone for the rest of the film.

Keeping in the realm of the action sequences, they were all pretty incredible. Watching these heroes work together was pure joy. While some people may complain about the overuse of CG, I thought everything looked really great for the most part, but I’ll come back to this again later. One other sequence that really stood out for me was the Atlantis portion of the film. The speculation about how underwater scenes would look in the upcoming Aquaman film has been a hot-button issue, but seeing it for the first time dispelled any negative thinking from my mind. The underwater sequences, to me, were flawless and really elevated my expectations for Aquaman.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman took an even bigger step forward in this film. Batman, in his own way, helped her to realize that she’d hidden herself away from the world for long enough. She becomes such a great leader in this film that makes me believe she could eventually serve as the overall “leader” of the Justice League down the line. She was smart, powerful and beautiful all at the same time.

 

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is certainly NOT the same character that comic readers grew up with. Gone are the days when the cast of Entourage can make fun of him. He was very complex; hesitant to be enlisted by Bruce until Steppenwolf stole the motherbox from Atlantis. His conversation with Mera really seemed to push him over the edge in terms of joining the rest of the heroes.

Admittedly, Cyborg is the character I knew the least about, but after seeing Ray Fisher’s portrayal of the character, I’m definitely a fan. His emotional turmoil paired with his need to save both his father and the world was really moving. Seeing him not in control of his own body and learning to use his “powers” was a fun ride.

As I am a big fan of The Flash both from the comics and the series on The CW, I was probably the most nervous about seeing him on the big screen. Grant Gustin does such an amazing job as the Scarlet Speedster on TV, but Ezra Miller’s take on him was so much fun. I think he really nailed the character, coming off as youthful, naive, scared, but ultimately a hero in his own right. His interactions with each of the other heroes was a lot of fun. His use of nervous humor brought levity to this film without detracting from the overall tone of the film.

What else can be said about Ben Affleck’s Batman? I’ve seen them all: Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale. None of them hold a candle to what Ben Affleck brings to the table as the Dark Knight. He’s a bona-fide ass-kicker, a legitimate detective, an incredible tactician, and he even played nice with others. Despite the rumors that he may not continue to carry on the role, I remain hopeful that he will, especially after seeing him in this film.

 

There’s only one hero left to talk about, and that’s Superman. The Last Son of Krypton was given new life after being imbued with the power of a motherbox, returning to seemingly want to kill everyone. The first scene where Clark returns was something special. Seeing the look of pure rage and hatred on his face as he began to dismantle each JL member was something that I certainly didn’t expect. And when he finally sees Batman and grips him up and asks him if he also bleeds (a call back from BVS), it literally sent chills down my spine. Though Clark would eventually come to his senses after Lois arrives, I had the thought that this might not be the last time we see Superman behave in this manner. Could an Injustice storyline be used in the future where Superman turns evil? After seeing him behave this way, if only for a few short minutes, would be really cool if expanded upon.

Dislikes

Though I enjoyed what Steppenwolf brought to the table as a villain, his backstory could have been given more development. We’re not really told too much in terms of who he really is or what his goals are besides destroying worlds. I understand why he wasn’t more developed, though, as WB mandated a strict 2-hour runtime for this film. Getting into the mythology of the New Gods is something that I’m eager to explore; hopefully this is something that comes to fruition by the time Darkseid joins the fray. There were also a few times where I thought he was giving too much exposition in terms of revealing his plan.

I mentioned that while I enjoyed the use of humor in this film, there were definitely a few times where maybe it could have been toned down just a bit, but these instances weren’t a distraction for me. I also could have done without the red backdrop of scenery during the final battle, but if you’ve seen anything Zack Snyder has directed in the past, it’s just kind of his thing. I also said that I thought the CG was mostly very good, but I think Steppenwolf looked just a little bit off.

There were only a few other dislikes I had, chiefly with Aquaman’s and Mera’s conversation after Steppenwolf stole the Atlantean motherbox. Mera started going on about his relationship with his mother and it just didn’t feel like the right time or place. It also felt like they didn’t really seem all that upset about losing the motherbox. I also could have done without the inclusion of the Russian family seen towards the end of the film. They added nothing to the film at all except for the opportunity for Superman to save people, which momentarily took him out of the fight against Steppenwolf.

Final Thoughts

There were so many awesome things about this movie that I really enjoyed, especially with how little I’ve liked the majority of the DC films to this point. The future of the DC film universe certainly looks bright with how great each of the main characters were as they head into their own solo films. Hopefully DC and Warner Bros. can stop the behind the scenes antics that are killing said hope: losing directors, announcing too many films at once, potentially losing Ben Affleck as Batman, etc.

Easter Eggs

  • Steppenwolf mentions Darkseid (who is his nephew in the comics)
  • Steppenwolf also mentions the New Gods
  • Cyborg is shown to have a version of his costume seen in the comics at the end of the film
  • A Green Lantern is shown fighting Steppenwolf in the beginning of the film along with the Old Gods
  • The term ‘Doomsday Clock’ is mentioned, which is a nod to a comic arc.
  • While inside Wayne Manor at the end of the film, Bruce mentions adding a large table to the giant empty room, possibly laying the groundwork for the Hall of Justice.
  • Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor appears in a post-credit scene having escaped prison with the help of Deathstroke. Luthor also mentions forming his own Injustice League
  • In another post-credit scene, The Flash races Superman, which is a call-back to an earlier scene in the film and a famous storyline from the comics

I’m sure there are plenty of others that I missed after my first screening of the film, but feel free to comment further if you pick up on anything else.

Now that the League has been united, what are your thoughts on the film? Where do you see this film universe going? What characters did you like or dislike? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

 

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Following his absence from Captain America: Civil War, Thor has returned to the big screen for the third installment of his own franchise. With what has been billed as Marvel’s funniest film yet, Thor: Ragnarok wastes no time bombarding the audience with a steady stream of jokes, puns and naked Hulk butts that will be sure to have the casual fan in stitches.

In norse mythology, Ragnarok is the eventual death and revitalization of the world. With a title such as Ragnarok, one would think that the stakes in this film would be incredibly high. However, director Taika Waititi, known for his work on Flight of the Conchords, made sure that the doom and gloom was completely wiped from the slate.

Without going into full details about the entire plot of the film, I’m going to get into my likes and dislikes about this film as well as my thoughts about the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Likes

Like all MCU films, the production value, cinematography and visuals are flawless. The aesthetics of Ragnarok are quite a spectacle. With different characters and beasts like fire demon Surtur, giant wolf Fenris, and The Hulk in full gladiator armor, the CG work was very well done.

Despite the Thor franchise not being the strongest in the current MCU, I’ve always enjoyed learning more about Asgard and the mythologies that go along with it. In each of the Thor films, we’ve gotten to see various locations on Asgard and Ragnarok continues this, which I definitely appreciated. Getting to learn more about Odin’s backstory with the inclusion of newcomer, Hela, was also really neat. We learned about Odin’s nefarious past before becoming more of a benevolent ruler, learned about the legion of Valkyries that were all but eradicated, and got to see good old Heimdall actually do some cool things besides guard the bifrost.

I did enjoy a lot of the banter between Thor and Hulk, although a lot of it also annoyed me, which I’ll get to later on. On one hand, the character interactions felt genuine, as most of them have been around for a number of films and have shared plenty of screen time. I also was happy to see the exploration of the Bruce Banner/Hulk relationship. When we meet Hulk in this film, it’s revealed that he’s been Hulk ever since the events of Age of Ultron, a full two years without changing back into Bruce Banner. When Bruce finally returns, he’s visibly disturbed by the lack of awareness he had while taking a backseat to Hulk and the loss of time also has a major effect on him. The gladiator battle between Thor and Hulk was really fun to watch. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie was a very well-developed character and stood out.

As this is a full spoiler review, I will mention that the eventual destruction of Asgard at the hands of Surtur was a bold choice. While a lot of the film was very cookie-cutter, this action not only added much-needed drama to this film, but also set a precedent leading into next year’s Infinity War. With the theme of Ragnarok being present and the reiteration of the line “Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people” (or as close to the actual line that I can remember) throughout the film, the fall of Asgard was necessary.

Let’s talk about the main antagonist, Hela. SPOILER ALERT: she’s Thor’s sister! (What, you did not see that coming?) Hela’s backstory, though vastly changed from the comics, was very interesting. She served as Odin’s executioner and was eventually banished by Odin for her thirst for power. Hela was a very formidable villain, shown killing pretty much all of Asgard’s military and besting Thor in combat initially, also killing the Warriors Three (RIP Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg). Touted as the goddess of death, Hela ultimately wants to rule the entire cosmos, which I can get behind. I’ll get into my dislikes on her later on.

Before I start bashing the overuse of comedy in this film, there were a handful of scenes that got a chuckle out of me, but they certainly were few and far between. There were definitely plenty of elements of this film that I did enjoy.

Dislikes

Ok, here we go. I previously posted an article discussing the overuse of comedy in the MCU, and Ragnarok did nothing to change my thoughts on it. If anything, it furthered my thinking on the issue. There are an overwhelming amount of positive reviews on this film out there from fans and critics alike. It seems that the majority of people enjoy the comedic angles shoehorned into these films, and I can understand that. But understand this: it’s one thing for these films to be “fun” and another thing for them to be comedies. Look at it like this: in this cinematic universe we have characters that are talking raccoons, living trees, space vikings and big green rage monsters. The level of ridiculousness is already high. These characters may have been “created for kids” but they don’t have to be portrayed as stupid or silly.

Take for instance our villain, Hela. She has killed countless soldiers and is then shown cracking jokes with her flunky, Skurge. The fire demon, Surtur (one of Thor’s most powerful adversaries) has Thor bound in chains as he gives exposition about bringing on Ragnarok, but all Thor can do is crack jokes before easily handling the ruler of Muspelheim. I don’t think there was more than a full minute in this film that didn’t have some kind of a joke, gag or pun in it, and to me, that’s just unacceptable. It’s ok to add in some humor here and there to break tension and have some fun. But when it comes at the expense of good storytelling, there’s an issue. If you read my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review, you’ll know what my thought about this very issue were with that film as well.

I could go on and on about the humor topic, but I’ll digress and move along. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster character was just terrible. He was a purely campy character that brought absolutely nothing to this film and pretty much wasted screen time.

I also feel like this film tried to do too much in terms of storytelling. In it was the actual Ragnarok plot (which was underdeveloped), Hela’s quest for universal domination, and the Planet Hulk arc. Half of the film was spent on Sakaar, which I really didn’t care about at all. Another thing that really made no sense was Odin’s death. After Loki banished him to Earth in The Dark World and started posing as the king of Asgard, Odin’s life force seemingly dwindled. When Thor and Loki find him in Norway, thanks to Doctor Strange, all of a sudden he just disintegrates on cue and Hela shows up. It was a really bad way for Odin to go out, especially with the huge funeral that his wife Frigga got in The Dark World.

The tone of this film was all wrong. When it tried to be more dramatic, it just didn’t have the right feel with the onslaught of humor being thrown at the audience. It felt like everything Thor said and did was just a setup for a joke and at no point did I feel like he really had any other emotion other than just trying to be funny.

Presumably, Hela was killed by Surtur when he destroyed Asgard. If this is the case, Marvel missed out on a huge opportunity to continue her arc and a possible plot with Thanos. And oh yeah, where was Lady Sif?

Final Thoughts

Thor: Ragnarok, when first announced, was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The entire premise of the advertised plot, the inclusion of The Hulk, and the correlation with Infinity War just over the horizon, I was really excited for it until we were finally shown trailers, promotional TV spots, and other marketing. I was extremely letdown by this film. Here’s hoping Black Panther can stop this current trend of comedy movies set in this film universe, especially as Infinity War is right around the corner.

Easter Eggs

Like all MCU films, Ragnarok was full of easter eggs. I did my best to pick out what I could, but I’m sure there are plenty that I missed.

  • Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum appears as the Grandmaster in a more prominent role, however his co-star Sam Neill also appears as an actor playing Odin in a play. Chris Hemsworth’s brother, Luke, also plays Thor in the same play as well as Matt Damon as Loki.
  • Doctor Strange abducts Loki as he and Thor appear on Earth, dropping a sheet of paper with the address of the Sanctum Santorum for Thor to find. Doctor Strange introduces himself and tells of his actions of observing beings from other realms on Earth. He also helps Thor and Loki locate Odin, who is in Norway.
  • Odin’s treasure room is shown again just like in the first film. Artifacts like the Casket of Ancient Winters, The Tesseract, and The Eternal Flame are shown. The Infinity Gauntlet is also in there but is revealed to be a fake by Hela.
  • The planet Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy is mentioned
  • Thor loses an eye an dons an eye patch like Odin
  • Thor, new king of Asgard, is bringing his people to Earth like in the comics
  • Stan Lee makes a cameo as a character that cuts off Thor’s hair
  • Black Widow’s video message to Hulk from Age of Ultron is played again and the line of dialogue she uses to calm Hulk down is used by Thor multiple times
  • Thor gives Bruce Banner Tony Stark’s clothes from Age of Ultron to wear
  • In a post credit scene, Thor and the ship’s inhabitants come upon a much larger ship, though it’s unknown who it belongs to

 

 

IT Review

Coulrophobia is defined as an abnormal fear of clowns. From the time I was a kid, I have always suffered from this affliction. I never had a bad experience with a creepy clown at a circus or state fair, just an inert feeling of dread whenever having the misfortune to see one of these foul creatures.

Despite this fear, I have been able to watch movies and TV shows that depict clowns. The It 1990 TV mini-series, starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, further solidified my phobia, but it’s always been a movie that I’ve enjoyed. When the new imagining of the film was announced, I had a morbid curiosity to want to see it. The trailers, TV spots and promotional images were terrifying enough, but seeing the film was a total different experience.

Let’s get one thing straight: It was absolutely terrifying. Bill Skarsgård had big shoes to fill in his portrayal as Pennywise, but he delivered. From start to finish, my body remained so incredibly tense that my joints physically hurt when I stood up to leave the theatre. It’s hard to put into words just how visceral this film was for me, but at one point I yelled “Oh God” out loud and actually had tears in my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of films in theatres, but never have I had such an involuntary response like I had with this one.

Aside from the sheer terror director Andy Muschietti laid out, the film was also littered with great humor and heartfelt interactions between the main cast of youngsters. The Loser’s Club, consisting of characters Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Mike, Eddie and Stan, were perfectly cast. These kids did such an amazing job in this film. They had the feel of the Stranger Things cast (Richie is played by Finn Wolfhard from the show) mixed in with a dash of the cast of Stand By Me. The banter between these characters was a lot of fun and helped break the tension between scenes featuring Pennywise and his various forms.

I also really enjoyed getting more of each character’s backstories. Whether it was Bev and her sexually abusive father or Mike and the revelation of the death of his parents, each character was very well fleshed out, making me care even more about them. They have all faced extreme hardship in their past, which helps to strengthen their bonds while facing certain death. I found it so powerful and moving to see Bill keep the pursuit of finding his brother, Georgie, and how much he grows throughout the film. The same can be said with each character having to face their fears to ultimately overcome the supernatural obstacle that is Pennywise.

As I reflect on this film, I can’t help but to be extremely excited for the second chapter that will follow. Keeping in tune with the mini-series, the second part will feature adult versions of the main cast, as they have vowed to return to Derry should Pennywise ever return. Though it will be sad to see this cast of kids go, I have every bit of confidence that the adult actors will step in to do an amazing job in part two. Seeing this film makes me want to pick up the book (I actually bought the book off of Amazon a few years ago but it was missing pages).

In my movie reviews, I often talk about major plot points and describe individual scenes, but not for this review. This film is one you need to experience for yourself.  If you’ve seen the mini-series, you’ll certainly have an idea of what to expect. However, prepare yourself for something different from what you think you’ll be experiencing. I know I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.

 

 

 

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!

The third film in the new Planet of the Apes franchise promised war after the rise and dawn of said apes, and war surely was brought. Director Matt Reeves delivered the conclusion to a very solid franchise in a beautifully told story that will leave fans of the franchise rooting for the apes to win the day. Andy Serkis returns to the role of Caesar, the leader of the apes, in one of his gretest performcances to-date.

Set 15 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the outbreak of the Simian Flu that caused the deaths of most of the planet’s human population while also giving higher intelligence to primates, the impending battle between man and ape comes to fruition…or does it? As I’m not going to recap every plot point in the film, I do want to caution readers that haven’t yet seen this film for spoilers, as I will be talking about some of them, so be warned.

Likes

One of the biggest take aways from this film was the character interactions. The different primate characters dialogue, whether spoken, signed, or even grunted, was so captivating that half the time I didn’t even realize they weren’t human characters. The way this franchse has given humanity to these apes has been an incredible achievement. To pair with the interactions is the masterful CGI work that brings the apes to life. In my opinion, there hasn’t been better graphics work with non-human characters than in this franchise. The incredible detail that goes into the apes’ faces is a true work of art. Though a chimp face, I can still see Andy Serkis through the digital overlays and his acting shines through impeccably.

Aside from the events of the first two films coming to a head, the main plot of the film is revenge. After the death of his wife and son, Caesar is out for blood to avenge his family, much to the behest of his people. His advisors caution him that he is becoming like Koba (from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), which plays a psychological effect on him throughout the film. Caeser’s actions become harmful to the other apes, as they are seeking a new home away from humans and nearly leads to all of their deaths.

I really enjoyed the development of the film’s antagonist, played by Woody Harrelson. His character is such an evil person and his viciousness is highlighted by the sheer brutality he displays. The reveal of the death of his son proves that he will do anything he can to get what he wants. But the thing that I found most intriguing about his character was that he didn’t believe he was a bad guy. The best villains are always the ones that believe that they’re doing the right thing, and Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough surely fits that description.

The action sequences that we did get were very well done and felt very real. (Side note: the new Dolby Theatre my local AMC now has makes action films 100 times more enjoyable!). The stakes were so high for the apes, as they faced imprisonment, slavery and ultimately death. There were some nods to the first two films as well as the original franchise, like the inclusion of the character Nova (though changed for this film). And I would be remissed to mention what will surely be the fan favorite of the film, Bad Ape. He was a quirky charcater with a vivacious personality that brought levity to the film without disrupting the overll tone.

Dislikes

Though I very much enjoyed this film, it was very slowly paced. After starting off with a great action sequence, the majority of the film really slows down to develop plot points and interactions. Because of the quality of the storytelling, I didn’t mind the pacing, but felt that the title of the movie was a bit misleading, which leads me to my biggest gripe. The “war” for the planet of the apes wasn’t really fought by the apes.

The film’s final act sees Colonel McCullough’s group going to war with the batallion of his superiors, as McCullough’s cruelty has spurned other humans. As Caesar and his crew are rescuing the rest of the apes, the actual war is fought amongst the humans. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the major throughline of this franchise has been the foreshadowed war between the apes and humans, but sadly, this was not the case. I would have very much liked to see an end-all be-all battle for the top spot on the evolutionary chain, but it was not to be. There were plenty of small skirmishes shown during the film, but the big battle was a bit of a letdown for me.

Final Thoughts

If this truy is the end of the franchise, it will surely go down as one of the best that we’ve had in a long time. The Academy needs to find a way to credit motion capture actors in the Oscar balloting, because Andy Serkis and others like him have such a tough job of bringing these characters to life in such a way that it makes it real for viewers. Seeing the evolution of Caesar from a baby chimp to what he becomes at the film’s conclusion was such a joy to watch over the past 6 years, and he is one of the greats for sure. Hats off to everyone that helped to make these films and pioneer the incredile technology that we have today.

My rating: 8 out of 10

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

The inclusion of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War finally brought the wall-crawler into the sandbox that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, much to the delight of Spidey fans everywhere.

After all, Spider-Man fans like myself have had our hearts ripped out with poor films like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The joint effort by both Sony and Marvel have finally given us the version of the character we’ve been longing for, as Spider-Man: Homecoming is finally here. Before I get into this review, I will say that Spider-Man is my favorite super hero and up until this point, The Amazing Spider-Man has really been the only Spider-Man film that I actually enjoyed (no, I didn’t care much for Spider-Man 2).

With all of the formalities out of the way, let’s get into it. Spider-Man: Homecoming was, to me, a very fun film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Director Jon Watts did such an awesome job of blending Peter Parker and Spider-Man together in a “coming of age” way that hasn’t been done to this point. I really felt such a strong connection to Tom Holland’s portrayal and felt the inner turmoil he faced as he is still learning about himself while beginning to become a super hero. The social situations that Peter faces while trying to be Spider-Man are perfectly depicted and added a level of realism to the story.

For the most part, the cast was very well put together and it was refreshing to see a cast of high school-aged kids that actually looked like they were in high school. The interactions between the kids felt very natural and fluid. Unlike Sam Raimi’s trilogy that featured “high school-aged” characters that were already in their 30s, the youth of this cast was exactly what the doctor ordered. The pacing of the film kept me invested in the overall story throughout the length of the film, as different elements were woven together masterfully. As I get into my likes and dislikes below, please beware of spoilers.

Likes

There are some many things I liked about this movie. After seeing Tom Holland in Civil War, I was already ready to declare him the best Spider-Man/Peter Parker we’ve ever had, and Homecoming reinforced my thinking. Tom is absolutely perfect in this role. He does such an amazing and comic-accurate job of being the wise-assed web-slinger while in costume in between showing his naivety and inexperience as an up and coming hero. He has great emotional range in many scenes as he’s awkward, funny and vulnerable all at the same time. I could go on and on about how perfect he is in the role, but it would take too long.

I absolutely loved how this new Spider-Man universe was integrated into the overall MCU. Instead of just adding this new branch on top of what’s already been happening, the characters and plots are intertwined into the inner workings of past events. The main plot point features Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) as a salvager, finding leftover Chitauri technology from the battle of New York in The Avengers. Right off the bat, this film connected to past events in the MCU and automatically made me feel like it was a natural fit. Speaking of Michael Keaton, he was a very menacing villain. One of the downsides of the MCU has been its weakness with villains with the exception of Loki and Red Skull, but Vulture, for the most part, was a perfect foil.

I enjoyed a lot of the supporting cast like Ned Leeds, who was a great “sidekick” to Peter, providing comic relief while serving a helpful purpose. Though I’m not a fan of love stories in super hero films, I’m glad this film gave a different love interest instead of Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy. I also really dug the different capabilities of Peter’s suit, which was designed by Tony Stark. Watching Peter discover the various functions of the suit in the both the midst of battle and on his own time was a lot of fun to see.

Though I love Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, I’m glad he had a small, mentor role. It helped to bridge the MCU connection and allowed us to not have to see Uncle Ben die again. His relationship with Peter is a lot of fun. There were also a lot of fun MCU easter eggs,  such as: Damage Control, the hilarious Captain America educational videos, Avengers Tower and the New Avengers facility, the mention of different pieces of Avengers equipment, and even Ultron’s head. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch, but just wanted to name a few. I would be a fool not to mention how awesome the opening scene of this movie is, as we see Peter’s recording of the events during Civil War.

Dislikes

I don’t really have that many dislikes, to be honest. I didn’t care much for Zendaya’s character of Michelle. I feel like she was flat in her scenes. I’m kind of split on my feelings of the action scenes. An argument can be made that Peter’s fight scenes weren’t all that great, which I would agree with.

At the same time, understanding where Peter is in terms of his training and capabilities, it makes sense that he’s not the greatest fighter. In one scene, Peter is talking about how we took on Cap, but Tony remarks that if Cap wanted to lay him out, he would have. Peter may have looked like a seasoned veteran in Civil War, but Tony’s statement regarding the matter makes me think that the other Avengers surely didn’t give their best effort against Spider-Man during that airport fight. Peter gets handled quite easily by Vulture for the most part, but it makes sense that he would have been at this point.

I do have one gripe: Adrian Toomes is somehow Liz Allen’s father. Though her last name is never actually mentioned in the film, it’s implied that it’s her name, so why doesn’t she share the Toomes name? This was really the only thing that took me out of the film for a moment, and I didn’t care for the reveal that Michelle is actually Mary Jane (she says that her friends call her MJ. Maybe she won’t actually go by Mary Jane and the character will be altered, we’ll have to wait and see.

Final Thoughts

After my intial viewing of this film, I can definitely say that this is THE version of Spider-Man that I’ve been waiting to see. There were a lot of seeds planted, such as the inclusion of Mac Gargen (Scorpion), Donald Glover’s Aaron Davis (The Prowler) and the mention of his nephew (whom is Miles Morales in the comics), the new Iron Spider suit that Tony reveals to Peter at the end of the film,  the return of Pepper Potts, and Peter’s hesitancy of becoming an Avenger. The future of Spider-Man in the MCU is looking very bright at this point, let’s hope Sony doesn’t rock the boat with their plans for their own “Spider-verse” and muddy the waters.

My rating: 8.5/10

 

Captain America: Civil War Review

The weeks leading up to the release of ‘Civil War’ seemed to be some of the longest ones I can remember. It felt like every day we were getting another tv spot or promotional piece. As the movie started being released in international markets and for critics, the positive reviews started pouring in and set the internet on fire.

My expectations for this film were so high that I would surely be in for a letdown.

My friends and I have been attending the Thursday night advanced screenings of super hero films since 2008’s ‘Iron Man’, a tradition we uphold now with our fiances and significant others. We had purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and were prepped for the Thursday night show.

But a funny thing happened on Monday, May 5th, as I received an e-mail from Collider, stating that I had been invited to attend a special screening of ‘Civil War’ in New York City (I live in the Philadelphia suburbs) and that the directors of the film, Joe & Anthony Russo, would also be there for a special Q&A session following the film.

I quickly started asking my friends to go, as my fiance wasn’t able to get off work. In order to secure a spot, I had to RSVP myself and a guest and even then, seats were not guaranteed in the theatre. After a 90-minute train ride and a lot of anxious moments, my friend Pat and I arrived outside of the Loews Theater and waited in line for around an hour until we were allowed inside. Yes, we did get in!

Another hour of waiting inside followed. The editor-in-chief of Collider, Steve “Frosty” Weintraub (who worked his butt off making this whole event possible) greeted us all in the theatre and introduced the Russo Brothers. A few quick questions with them lead up to the start of the film. I’ll get into my review here soon, I promise.

The Q&A session that followed the film was an INCREDIBLE experience. We got to see behind the curtains into the creative process of such a huge, blockbuster film. The Russo Brothers were super nice guys and answered many fan questions, signed autographs and took pictures. An amazing night all-around.

Getting back on track, our group was also set to see the film together the following night. Seeing the film again reinforced my positive feelings about it. Enough is enough, let’s get into the spoilers!

*******************************SPOILER WARNING********************************************************************

If you’re still reading up to this point, you MUST be ready to get into spoiler territory.

The film opens up to The Winter Soldier being unfrozen and mind-wiped in 1991. Russian military personnel recite a series of seemingly random words that initiate the mind control protocol inside Bucky’s brain. Bucky is seen on a mission causing a car accident, but we don’t know who the assassination target is.

Shifting to present day Lagos, Nigeria, our “new” Avengers team of Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Cap and Falcon are scoping out a crowded area of the city, as they are hunting down Crossbones/Brock Rumlow. Crossbones has been at-large since the events of ‘The Winter Soldier’. Wanda is being trained on how to be covert during missions, and the team discovers a truck that is headed for the Infectious Disease Center, in which the truck crashed the gate, allowing Crossbones and his minions inside. The team goes to work fighting the soldiers in some shaky-cam fight scenes (one of my only gripes about the film) and Crossbones is seen stealing a vial containing a biological weapon. He gives it to one of his cronies and they disperse, causing the Avengers to chase them through the city.

After tracking the man who has the vial, Natasha recovers it, but Cap is attacked by Crossbones. They do battle, and after Cap gets the upper hand, Rumlow, complete with bomb vest, blows himself up to kill Cap. Wanda contains the blast with her powers and tries to move it up and way from Rogers, but in doing so causes a building to take the brunt of it, killing many people including Wakandans. The news outlets are all over the story and are calling for action against the Avengers.

We also see a scene of a young Tony and his parents which turns out to be a virtual reality simulation that he is expoing at a conference at MIT. After his presentation, he encounters a woman who tells him that her son was killed during the events in Sokovia, prompting Tony’s guilt.

At the Avengers complex, General Ross, now secretary of state, talks to the Avengers about the past events that have led up to the proposed Sokovia Accords. Voted on by many nations of the world and overseen by the UN, the accords will control The Avengers’ activity. Stark, Rhodes, Vision, and Natasha are all on board, with Rogers and Sam against it. Cap is called away from the meeting from a text telling him that Peggy Carter had passed away. Steve, Sam and natasha attend her funeral in London, and a speech by her niece Sharon/Agent 13 reinforces Steve’s stance on the accords.

During another scene, we are introduced a man named Helmut Zemo, who is seeking out records on The Winter Soldier.

At the signing of the Sokivia Accords, we are introduced to King T’Chaka and Prince T’Challa of Wakanda. T’Challa notices strange activity outside of the building and an explosion is set off, killing King T’Chaka and many others. Reports of a sighting of Winter Soldier prompt a manhunt for him. Because of Steve’s history with Bucky, he also goes to look for him and finds him in Bucharest, where a team of soldiers is there to bring him in. Cap and Bucky fight their war out of the situation but are then pursued by Black Panther/T’Challa, out for revenge because he thinkgs Bucky killed his father. An intense chase scene sees War Machine arrive to bring Cap and Bucky into custody. Because he did not sign the accords, Cap is now a wanted man, splitting the Avengers in half.

Another scene shows Cap, Falcon and Bucky (now remembering who he is) try to figure out a plan of action, as Tony’s team is pursuing them. Tony, now in Queens, shows up at the apartment of Peter Parker. YES, I SAID PETER PARKER! When Peter arrives home, he sees Stark in his living room talking with Aunt May. During a private conversation, Tony reveals he knows that he is Spider-Man and enlists his help, as they travel to Germany. Falcon had also enlisted the help of Scott Lang/Ant-Man. The two teams meet up at an airport and a battle begins. This fight scene is INCREDIBLE! We even get to see Ant-Man turn into Giant-Man. Hands down the best fight sequence I’ve ever seen in a super hero movie.

Before this fight, Cap discovers that Bucky is not responsible for the bombing, but that it was Zemo. He and Bucky then travel to Russia, where Zemo is hiding out. There were other Winter Soldier test subjects besides Bucky. Cap think Zemo will unleash them on the world, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. Zemo tells them that he lost his family in the Sokovia incident and is out for revenge. His plan was to divide the Avengers and have them destroy each other. When Tony shows up, things seem to be ok, but Zemo shows him footage of Bucky’s assassination plan from the beginning of the film, where it’s revealed that he in fact killed Tony’s parents. An enraged Tony battles Cap and Bucky, with Bucky losing his bionic arm in the process. Cap, with the opportunity to kill Tony, destroys his arc reactor, ending the battle.

At the end of the film, Cap is shown rescuing his Avengers team from The Raft and writes a letter to Tony, which gets delivered comically by Stan Lee. The letter apologizes to Tony for withholding the news about his parents’ murder, which he knew about. He tells Tony that if he ever needs him or his team that he’ll be there. The Avengers are still split at the conclusion of the film, heading into 2018’s ‘Infinity War’. It will be interesting to see how they can come together to save the universe from Thanos.

The end-credit scenes: The first one showed an armless Bucky voluntarily going back into stasis until the HYDRA programming in his brain can safely be removed. T’Challa is hiding Bucky and Cap in Wakanda, as they have made peace. T’Challa knows that Bucky didn’t actually kills his father. The seconds end-credit scene features Spider-Man bruised from his battle in Germany, with Aunt May talking to him about it. Peter discovers a new feature added to his web shooter, assuredly left by Tony, that displays the Spider-Man logo on the ceiling and looks to have some kind of interface options for communication purposes. A tagline stating that ‘Spider-Man will Return’ is also displayed, as he will get his own solo movie ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ next July.

At around two and a half hours, there was SO MUCH going on in this film that I just couldn’t cover it all. Here’s a list of events in the movie that I didn’t touch on, and I’m sure I’m still forgetting some:

Scarlet Witch/Vision relationship
Hawkeye coming in to rescue Wanda
Cap/Agent 13 romance
No origin story for Peter
Slight background on Black Panther
No Hulk or Thor
No classic costume for Zemo
Classic ‘Civil War’ shot of Cap vs. Tony
Tony and Pepper breakup
Rhodes shot down by Vision, injured badly
No Thanos end-credit scene

To me, this is certainly the best Marvel movie to date, and is a strong consideration for the best super hero film to date. The action and fight scenes in the movie were phenomenal. The character interactions and dynamics were the main fuel for the engine. You really felt the weight of everything when you saw them battling each other. I was glad none of our heroes were killed, but War Machine is now seemingly permanently out of commission. The introductions to Black Panther and Spider-Man were handled perfectly. Chadwick and Tom Holland were perfect castings for their roles and I cannot wait to see their solo films. It’ll be interesting to see how Marvel & Sony continue to work together regarding Spider-Man, as Sony controls the film rights to the character. At times the story was slowed down by politics and dialogue, but the action scenes far outweigh the lulls of the film.