The Little Mermaid (2023)

Ariel, a young mermaid longing to experience the human world, makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs so she can discover the world above water and impress a prince.

Disney’s live-action remakes have fallen on a spectrum from awe-inspiring to mediocre to horrendous. The Little Mermaid‘s execution reminds me most of the Aladdin remake, in that it’s trying so hard to emulate the style and feel of the animation instead of embracing the fact that it’s in live-action, which makes the look and feel turn out artificial. The visuals in the underwater scenes fail to establish a balance between fantastical and photorealistic, and look too much like they were a shot on a soundstage, with the actors and the effects not blending in too well. Not to mention the beautiful and immersive underwater worlds we’ve recently seen in Aquaman, Avatar: The Way of Water, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and The Little Mermaid‘s depiction can’t distinguish itself or awe in a new way. Halle Bailey is possibly the best Ariel we could’ve gotten — though at first it feels like she’s trying too hard to emulate a 1989 animated character, she eventually gets the chance to make the performance her own as the film goes by, and gives Ariel that naive curiosity and goodness she needed. And her wonderful, angelic singing voice does songs like “Part of Your World” justice. Daveed Diggs is a highlight as the voice of Sebastian, giving us a laugh-out-loud entertaining time as the iconic sidekick and a personality that feels like Diggs is having the time of his life. But Melissa McCarthy as Ursula is an absolute blast here — she feels like what Ursula was always meant to be had they ever made this story into live-action, but McCarthy also makes Ursula borderline likable when she’s not doing evil things due to simply how much fun she’s having being flamboyant, cackling and over-the-top. Though some were concerned about her casting as Ursula, I think she completely nailed it and elevated the whole movie.

The Little Mermaid‘s strengths often lie in the aforementioned cast members, but Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King also have a lot of chemistry, and the movie’s heart gets to flow a lot more naturally when they’re hanging out in the surface world, including the iconic “Kiss the Girl” scene. But besides that, Prince Eric’s character arc, including his relationship with his mother, really only feels “cute” and that’s it. Perhaps that’s all you should ask for in a Disney remake, for it to be sweet and likable enough for kids, and the movie delivers on that part, as the underwater scenes and the themes of compassion will be enough for younger audiences to feel that intrigue. But it also reuses a lot of the tropes we see in these Disney live-action remakes, not to mention the movie is concerned with anything but Ariel’s role as a sister, as Triton’s other daughters are a mere afterthought in the script, and Triton himself is perhaps more understandable than the writers wanted. For a director like Rob Marshall, who’s a cinematic musical veteran including with Chicago and Mary Poppins Returns, the shots during the musical scenes feel often redundant. There’s an atrocious new song led by the usually great Awkwafina that feels too much like the songwriters took a decades-long break before writing this song instead of fitting in well with the rest of the music, and a song delivered entirely through narration in Ariel’s head that could have also been directed in a more creative way. Like I said, the film feels too much directed in the language of animation that it simply feels like an animated movie in live-action rather than a live-action adaptation of an animated film.

Though there’s a lot that can be enjoyed, The Little Mermaid fails to justify its existence in the live-action medium, as there’s too much here that feels like the style of animation, even in something like Moana, would have complimented better, and those visuals feel too devoid of that effortless personality in live-action, but it still has its charm and is still one of the more watchable live-action remakes of Disney classics.

Fast X

Dominic Toretto and his loved ones are targeted by Dante Reyes, a man seeking revenge for his father’s death looking to torture Toretto, while the fate of the world and Dom’s family lie in the balance.

What happens when a franchise that requires the lowest common denominator of intellect to work can’t find ways to excite? Science, physics, and logic have become myths the Fast Saga, but even the eighth and ninth installments were fun action comedies with ridiculously exciting scale. Fast X unfortunately feels like almost the same movie as F9 with a lot of the same beats, but the progression of the story threads and the globe-trotting action are no longer fun or feel like they’re actually aiming somewhere. There is an action scene in Rome that cleverly indulges in the silliness and scale that these movies are known for, but its all downhill from there. With the consequences of Dom’s past catching up to him, it felt like a great opportunity to really deconstruct Toretto as a character and focus on the recklessness of his younger self and have him reckon with and grow. As a character, the movie is still only concerned with having him protect his family and worship shiny cars, though, and Vin Diesel’s lacking of charisma or range bring him deeper into caricature as he heroically overcomes certain death by the minute. A lot of the other leads such as Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris, fall flat as well as the latter two’s humorous banter no longer feels self-aware in a funny way, while the far more talented Nathalie Emmanuel is mostly there as the “straight woman” to their goofy antics. John Cena delivers a far more charismatic and fitting performance to his talents, and is actually the standout in this film despite being overly serious and wooden in the last film, while Jason Momoa tries to defy that same “muscular man” stereotype by delivering a psychotic, Joker-like unhinged character, but his dialogue often annoys and brings the film down. The film also suffers from an overabundance of characters and storylines that simply aren’t inviting, including several characters like Sung Kang, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster and Helen Mirren who do nothing for the story or the film’s personality and are simply there for fan service — not even Charlize Theron, a favorite of mine, feels like the writers understand where to take her character. Daniela Melchior is a great addition to the cast, and while Brie Larson and Alan Ritchson are both talented, their roles feel out of place in the movie, though that may speak to how much worse the rest of the material is compared to their acting abilities.

Though the last few films made up for formulaic storylines with a comedy and style that the audience could connect to, the editing here is irritatingly flashy and overblown, and any feeling of personality they try to give to the adventure feels artificial. Its greatest sin, though, isn’t just that it’s repeating itself yet again and losing its steam, but that it’s stuck in the past. For this saga, building new characters instead of re-emphasizing stale decades-old ones seems to not be an option unless they have connections to past movies. The movie is trying to constantly remind you that events from the last films have happened, as a way to indicate this is (allegedly) the first of a two-film finale, and instead of rewarding to fans, it’s the most headache-inducing and condescending trick the film could think of. Even when it’s still tonally goofy and claims to be aware of its ridiculousness, that warmth this time around really only shines when John Cena is present because the plot itself is so poor and doesn’t feel to be moving forward or taking any slick directions. It’s hard to imagine who these movies are still for, because while it’s still humorously using the tired formula it’s now worn out, it’s so seriously bent on having those same tropes from the saga’s past and making everything about family and nothing more. By the end, it feels like a dull caricature of what’s come before, trying to set up more dramatic stakes and dangers for its team of heroes as well as for the sequel, in a franchise where that can’t work for the audience after nothing really changes for good for several movies straight. This one simply fails at its most important job to feel bigger and most importantly, cool.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Years after defeating Thanos alongside the Avengers, the Guardians embark on an uncertain adventure to save one of their own from a monumental threat, meeting old and new friends and foes along the way.

It’s been almost a decade since James Gunn’s first Guardians changed the game for superhero movies — and so many copycats or inspirations have come to the mainstream since, or attempted to. But the camaraderie of the titular team has not gotten old, even if it’s their sixth overall appearance in the MCU, and likely their last. The goofy quirks of Gunn’s humor, poking fun at the mistfit-like attitudes of the characters, or his way of giving the outcasts a traumatic backstory and a chance to grow, breathe life and soul into nearly every frame of Vol. 3. It’s not necessarily the best of the three, but it is the most visually dynamic, with engaging settings and interesting close-ups or moving shots during the actions. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista continue to deliver in the roles that have come to define their career and help shape their A-lister status, but it’s Karen Gillan and especially Pom Klementieff who get to really grow and steal the screen from them. Rocket is also given a heavy storyline that is as tear-jerking as it is revelatory for his character. Though Chukwudi Iwuji’s villain is very over-the-top, he’s also entertaining and works for the film’s purpose. However, the inclusion of Gamora’s alternate version from an Endgame timeline feels like the storyline that didn’t add too much to the film, and her original incarnation’s death in Infinity War still feels best left untouched as it hangs weirdly over her appearance here. Here, her character is more to serve Peter Quill’s arc or simply an excuse to have the awesome Zoë Saldaña around. However, Will Poulter’s presence is Adam Warlock suffer here despite the movie’s already long (yet breezy and earned) 150-minute runtime — though he’s built up as a threat to interact with the Guardians and make his own decisions, he’s left as a very basic side character who cracks a few jokes. The character deserved an awful lot better than he got, especially due to the great work Poulter does do with what he’s given, it’s just a shame his and Ayesha’s story set up from the post-credits scene of Vol. 2 gets the bare minimum payoff. In addition, a notable standout is Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova as the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog, a very entertaining critter who gets her deserved limelight.

The soundtrack in the last two films was dominant and diverse, practically its own character within the film and a driving force for Quill’s arc. The soundtrack in this movie definitely hits less hard and may have a few too similar songs, but it’s made up for with a few amazing needle drops that set the tone and immerse you in the moment. Most of all, the character’s dynamics are all so beautiful and the building of the action is the backbone of the film, rooted in the bond of this team that has strengthened and matured over a few films. Even if the first film is a beast that’s only rivaled by a few other Marvel movies for the title of the studio’s best film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has undeniable charm and is also one of the most emotional MCU films across all the phases. It’s one of their better post-Endgame works and a great big-screen watch for the visuals, heart, and cast of characters.