Tag Archives: blockbusters

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Honestly, I never thought this day would come. In 1983 there were rumours in the playground that George Lucas had nine chapters of Star Wars planned, but it seemed made up. None of us would have have predicted that a fourth Star Wars film would be released 16 years later, and none of us could possibly have foreseen that another 12 years after the disappointing prequels wrapped up, the third trilogy would kick off.  It’s been more than 42 years in the making, which is essentially my whole life, but at long last Star Wars’ ninth chapter has finally arrived. 

rosPicking up more or less where The Last Jedi left off, Rise of Skywalker immediately confirms that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back and hasn’t lost one bit of his galaxy-dominating ambition.  With a whole fleet of Star Destroyers at his command and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at his side, the Emperor’s goal is to destroy the Resistance’s rebels once and for all.  It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to lead the Resistance into battle against the Emperor and finally foil his dark plans, with the help of many old friends along the way.

By any objective measure, Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest film of the final trilogy.  Clearly spawned from a checklist of items that needed to be addressed, Rise of Skywalker is exactly the sum of its parts.  Fortunately, its parts are very well-crafted and they fit together to close out the Star Wars ennealogy as well as this fanboy could have hoped.  Some of J.J. Abrams’ choices are not entirely satisfying on their own, but combined, they provide some closure, some redemption, and a whole lot of Return of the Jedi flavour.  The choice to borrow so liberally from RotJ, in particular, grants a satisfying symmetry to the whole affair.

An argument can be (and has been) made that Rise of Skywalker plays it too safe.  No doubt that is a conscious choice by Abrams and an understandable reaction to the (unfair) hate The Last Jedi received for trying to take these films to new places.  The choice to emulate the final (and weakest) movie of the original trilogy is one such safe choice, and overall, I agree that Rise of Skywalker plays it safe at every turn.  But isn’t that beside the point?

Rise of Skywalker takes us to where we’ve been and in revisiting these familiar places gives us a final showdown between good and evil where the fate of the galaxy is at stake, where lightsabers and force lightning flash while a small rebel fleet takes on impossible odds, where working together for the right cause offsets a shortage in numbers, and where good always finds a way to win.  That is the only way the Star Wars saga could have ended, and that’s exactly what Rise of Skywalker delivers.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Things have really changed for Peter Parker, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland). He went to space, fought Thanos, vanished for five years, returned from the dead, fought Thanos again, and lost his mentor. But now, after all that, he’s back in high school, and he’s headed to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his crush MJ (Zendaya), his rival Flash (Tony Revolori) and the rest of the science club. All that’s on his to-do list is to tell MJ how he feels about her. Unfortunately, as always happens to Peter, Spidey-stuff keeps getting in the way of his best-laid plans.

Just like Homecoming, Far From Home gets Spider-Man right. He’s best as a high schooler, trying to balance his hero responsibilities with his studies and social life. He’s also best as a small-scale hero who’s thrown into Avengers-sized problems. Far From Home gives us lots of both, as Peter’s trip happens to coincide with a major attack on Venice by a water elemental. Naturally, Peter dives into the city defence with gusto and in doing so teams up with a fishbowl-wearing hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and an eyepatch-wearing ray of sunshine named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Both need Spidey’s help to save the world.

Things are not as simple as they seem, of course, and even a casual Spider-Man fan will know basically where things are headed from the trailers alone. But in getting to the climax, the movie has almost too many twists and turns, because at times the script struggles to make sense of the on-screen events (and the post-credits “solution” seems like a cop-out even as it raises some interesting questions).

As a fanboy, I have no problem at all overlooking those minor flaws. Far From Home is just so damn entertaining and Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man and a better Peter Parker. Still, as a critic, I hope the next live-action Spider-Man movie takes a few more cues from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which stands as the best Spider-Man movie ever because the action never stops AND the script never stops making sense. Despite being chock-full of Spidey goodness, Far From Home doesn’t bring everything together into a cohesive whole like Spider-Verse did, but Far From Home’s can-do attitude and wacky humour still make for a really fun movie that Spidey’s fans are going to love.

Men in Black: International

When did aliens become so boring? In Men in Black: International, everyone is trying to out-deadpan Tommy Lee Jones, and succeeding. There is no excitement, no awe, just a bunch of bored white men joined by a bored diversity hire, all bumbling around England, Paris, and Morocco trying to save the world from an unseen alien menace after an alien prince is killed but not before delivering a MacGuffin to MiB’s newest agent (Tessa Thompson).

As the first three MiB films showed, it can be fun to have one disinterested agent in our lead duo. But those films worked because Will Smith’s junior agent brought enough energy and wonder for the two of them. They worked because Smith’s Agent J was the audience’s stand in, who marvelled and freaked out at the marvelous and freaky stuff onscreen. And also, they worked because for all his surface gruffness, Agent K was actually quite an interesting character, and Jones let us see that just enough to make us invest in him. Unfortunately, MiB:I’s H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) both have seen it all before, and even worse, so has the audience. So everyone ends up being disinterested, including the viewer.

The aliens and events in MiB:I simply don’t measure up to what the franchise has previously offered us. The aliens are bland and the stakes are surprisingly low consindering our heroes keep telling us their job is to save the world. Basically, it’s the opposite of what is expected from a summer blockbuster. The only joy in the film comes from Kumail Nanjiani’s pint-sized sidekick, who has all the best lines and whose hilarity highlights the disappointing blandness of everything else.

MiB:I simply has nothing to offer and no reason to be. That’s a particularly damning critique when this franchise’s defining trait has been ridiculousness. MiB:I didn’t need to be a good movie, but it did need to be silly, loud, and campy. Instead, it’s forgettable and unoriginal to the point that I’d have been better off rewatching any of its predecessors. I’m sure they’d have offered more surprises on a rewatch than MiB:I did on my first (and undoubtedly only) viewing.

Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Ready Player One

ready-player-oneThere are very few immutable truths in this world, but here’s one: if you don’t like Steven Spielberg’s movies, then you don’t like movies. The brilliance of Ready Player One (and it is brilliant) is that it’s a Spielberg movie through and through, only because its source material references Spielberg repeatedly, the result is something exponentially more Spielberg than you could ever have though possible.  Ready Player One is a true blockbuster and a worthy addition to Spielberg’s list of classics.

All the references contained here, not just to Spielberg’s past work but to every pop culture thing ever, are essential for this movie to work, and Spielberg clearly knows it. Moreover, he embraces it without reservation. After all, the book (which should be read immediately by anyone between ages 30 and 50 who grew up playing videogames) is the perfect vessel for 80s nostalgia. The movie clearly is trying to top the book’s reference count, and it may have succeeded (the totals are way too high to accurately count).

What is great about the book remains great in the movie. And yet, the movie and book tell significantly different stories, which is greater still because there are all sorts of some amazing surprises to be found in the film even if you’ve read the book repeatedly. At tonight’s SXSW world premiere, Spielberg introduced the film by stating he approached it as pure fan service and his mission was to give the people in the seats exactly what they wanted, and I can confirm he accomplished exactly that. Oh, yes, that’s right, WE GOT TO WATCH READY PLAYER ONE WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG. It was every bit as mindblowing as it sounds.

Also mindblowing: one particular sequence in the movie that pays homage to a classic film (incidentally, it’s not an homage to a Spielberg film; rather, it’s to a film directed by someone who influenced Spielberg – and it’s not something that was in the book).  I do not think I am exaggerating to say it is one of the finest sequences that Spielberg has given us, which obviously is a big deal because we are talking about STEVEN FUCKING SPIELBERG. You will know this sequence when you see it, and as soon as you do you will want to immediately see it again. And again. And again.

That amazing sequence is a standout but it’s not alone. There are several other incredible set pieces in Ready Player One, containing some of the best visual effects we’ve ever seen. Of course, the effects are only window dressing. What makes the scenes so great is Spielberg. As the camera swerves and dodges, and as avatars fight monsters, drive cars through obstacle courses, and traverse epic battlefields by leaps and bounds, the viewer is never lost for a second, because we are being guided through the chaos by a master. I loved this movie and I bet you will too. I’m just sorry to have to wait two weeks before I can watch it again.

 

Justice League

“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.

“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.

“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.

“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.

“Whatever,” he replies.

That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.

I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.

Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them  and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.

Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen/The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.

The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.

Transformers: The Last Knight

I wrote a whole other review of this horrible, awful, infuriating movie and then accidentally deleted it.  Honestly, my review was unremarkable for the most part so it’s not a huge loss.  This movie makes no sense, it’s the fifth movie in a tired franchise that was only ever enjoyable if you, like me, liked seeing robots decapitate other robots in slow motion (and which stopped being awesome four movies ago), and it’s got Mark Wahlberg doing his usual “acting” by which I mean that he talks really fast in a whiny voice when he is under pressure and otherwise just stands around flexing his biceps and looking confused.  In short, it is the why-critics-say-transformers-the-last-knight-is-2017s-most-toxic-movie (1)worst Transformers movie yet, and the next one will probably be even worse.

But there was one part of my review worth saving, and it’s this: Mark Wahlberg was clearly born to be in Michael Bay movies.  It is the perfect match of all perfect matches.  These two eventually found each other, but there are so many Wahlberg-less Michael Bay movies, and isn’t that a shame?

So…what if Michael Bay made special editions of his back catalogue, George Lucas style, and digitally inserted Wahlberg into all his “classics” as a way to link all his movies together?

Think about it!  It would be the greatest shared universe of all time.  We could have Bad Boys fighting bad robots under the supervision of Wahlberg and his good friend Joe Pantoliano, the space shuttle in Armageddon could be a robot who owes a favour to Wahlberg and who figures out a way to save Bruce Willis as payback, and Wahlberg could help bring Sean Connery and his estranged daughter Claire Forlani together while at the same time helping Nicholas Cage foil Ed Harris’ plot to steal that face-meltingly-deadly VX gas, this time without losing Michael Biehn’s whole SEAL team.  And then Wahlberg could assemble a team of one million Ewan MacGregor clones along with the time travelling pilot duo of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett to destroy the Transformers once and for all, saving us all from ever having to see Transformers 6: Shia’s Revenge.

This needs to happen.