Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Miles Morales is juggling his life between being a high school student and being Spider-Man. However, when Wilson Fisk uses a collider to open a portal to new dimensions, Peter Parker, another Spider-Man from another dimension, accidentally winds up in Miles’ dimension, joining others from across the “Spider-Verse”.

This animated version of Spider-Man is brought to life with a less popular iteration of the character, Miles Morales, and is animated to look like a comic-book with many different editions of the Spider-Man character appearing, as well as many familiar villains. Though it starts about the same as any Spider-Man story, the second half presents some unexpected and mature character moments that are touching and make the final act of the movie exciting and rewarding. There are some humorous moments throughout, and a solid voice cast, including Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Mahershala Ali. The animation is often vibrant and colorful, even though some scenes and details feel very vague and dull graphically. Even though it did make me laugh a few times, some moments do feel cringeworthy or only there for fan service. The soundtrack was also poorly chosen and the awful rap songs distract from the strong point some scenes were trying to make. Even though I enjoyed seeing villains like Doc Ock and Green Goblin appear, I don’t approve of them turning Fisk from a compelling and unpredictable human being into a heartless, soulless antagonist who doesn’t stop before making evil decisions and has no moral compass like the superior portrayal of the character in the Netflix series Daredevil. It’s clearly a kid’s film, so I don’t expect them to make him an R-rated character, but I was hoping for enough layer to stay true to what I love about the character but also fit for a PG-rated movie. I really loved Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, who I had no idea was also Spider-Woman before seeing this movie (and I’d easily watch a spin-off of her own should Sony choose to make one), and Spider-Ham is also an unexpectedly fun character. There’s also a terrific Stan Lee cameo and a touching tribute to the late legend during the credits. Even though the movie does teach kids that they can all be Spider-Man, we don’t need the line “Anyone can wear the mask” constantly repeated to understand that.

Kids and families will definitely have a good time with this new family-friendly version of the friendly neighborhood hero from New York. However, I personally felt that it’s only in the second half of the film where it really finds its heart and makes up for a predictable first half with some heartwarming moments, adding to its solid cast and characters as well as its unique style.

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Aquaman

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Arthur Curry, known to the mortal world as the Aquaman, goes to Atlantis to claim his birthright of the throne and prevent his half-brother Orm from waging war against the surface.

Visually stunning with its immense use of CGI for its gorgeous setting of Atlantis, Aquaman stands out from the rest of the DC Extended Universe because of its engaging action and splendid visuals brought very well to the screen by James Wan. His action scenes feel inventive and the style feels very ambitious. The way he immerses you into this vast underwater kingdom looks great and the VFX are very appealing to the eye, with the exception of one desert scene which did not look authentic. James Wan experiments with long takes and creates very fun set pieces including a submarine battle, a fight on the streets of Sicily, and a giant underwater battle the size of the third act of a Star Wars movie. The sets and costumes blend in with the visuals to create a lively mood that feels huge in scale and does not hold back on feeling like an epic, crafting some of the best DC fights and settings yet. Unlike Batman v Superman and Justice League, this installment actually has a thoughtful emotional arc for its characters, including its lead, even thought not all the performances hit home. Nicole Kidman is always fantastic, so it’s no surprise that she’s the highlight of the cast as Arthur’s mother, and Willem Dafoe is also great as an Atlantean who trains Arthur as a young boy and allies with him throughout the movie. Other than that, none of the performances were noteworthy enough to remember their characters as unique comic-book characters. Despite Arthur and Orm’s strong motivations, Patrick Wilson’s acting isn’t strong enough to really hate his villain and even though Jason Momoa has some humor as well as heart, he doesn’t deliver a complex character that embrace the audience as human beings, like actors such as Chadwick Boseman and Chris Hemsworth have done in the past. As for Amber Heard, she isn’t boring to watch on screen but she really is just a female sidekick/badass that helps Arthur on his journey, and there’s an unnecessary romance between them thrown in at one point too. There’s also a character named Black Manta who feels like a justifiably fueled character but ends up being unneeded to the rest of the film and only there to throw punches in a great action scene set in Sicily.

Aquaman has a lot of great things going for it, but it ultimately feels like a bit much. There’s a lot of aspects about this film that could’ve worked but don’t get the focus they need — a mature tale of Aquaman learning what being a hero means, a duel between two brothers longing for their mother’s love and the worthiness of the throne, a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adventure across the globe in search for an ancient artifact. So much is explored that had potential but it feels like the film only needed one or two of these elements to work as it did. James Wan experiences with different shots and editing techniques, and some hit home while others do not, and some of the dialogue needed improvement. The overall writing for these conflicts is solid but ultimately this family rivalry between Arthur and Orm doesn’t feel as potent as Black Panther and Killmonger’s relationship earlier this year. Aquaman at times wants to be more than it is, and it ultimately won’t spark any conversations like a few lines try to or hit that mark where you’ll embrace all these characters as family like you would in a Marvel movie, but Aquaman ultimately does its job, which is to entertain, and thankfully feels more coherent than DC’s past failures like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Entertaining and stylish action let this feel like a standalone film and not just a studio exploitation, and it went above my expectations by making an immersive and exceptional world in Atlantis and building on the mythology of the DC universe. Ultimately, those with high hopes for Aquaman or average action moviegoers will find themselves cheering for the titular hero by the end.

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Venom

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Eddie Brock is a journalist going after insane corporate head Carlton Drake, only to get infused with the same threat he fears — a symbiote that calls itself Venom and lives inside of Brock. The two beings band together and must now take down a master evil plan before it’s too late.

Venom seemed like what could have been a dark antihero/villain story that would take a risk and maybe give Sony’s Marvel property a little hope, and with the cast and director, it seemed likely at first. However, what Venom ends up doing is turning its story into a cartoonish and predictable superhero story that has no hints of the darkness that makes its character a memorable fright in the source material. Even with the light tone and pace, the great actors all deliver unimpressive performances and the writing is nothing that hasn’t been done before. There is nothing unique about Eddie Brock that is brought to the table — Tom Hardy probably has much better projects ahead of him that maybe he’ll even enjoy doing next time. Michelle Williams also seems like she’d rather be anywhere else, and the chemistry between her and Hardy feels flat. Riz Ahmed’s villainous character’s writing is so annoying that at times it gets painful, especially after he meets a symbiote of his own. Hardy and Williams are two of the generation’s most promising performers — and I expect good things from Ahmed as well — but the poor dialogue for them and lack of unique personality for any of the characters is what makes them forgettable. The action sequences are very poorly shot, with too many cuts and unclear angling during what could have been cool moments for the audience to connect to the hero — like Marvel has achieved with its MCU heroes and even with other Sony properties like Spider-Man. The connection between Brock and Venom doesn’t feel believable either and way too rushed, and at times the film tries to be funny but often crosses the line to cringe-worthy. The visual effects look horrendous and don’t blend into the rest of the shots — the final battle between two symbiotes was the worst superhero movie fight I’ve seen in a long time.

Venom delivers some scenes that could entertain or frustrate action lovers — and either excite or underwhelm comic book fans. It doesn’t tie much into the Spider-Man universe despite a few post-credit nods that I won’t spoil, and other than that, the character of Brock/Venom isn’t given the big screen justice he deserves and the way Venom is treated as a superhero feels way too rushed. The development doesn’t feel complete, the script plays it too light and safe, and the plot is so predictable one could have guessed the ending as soon as the film started. The lackluster writing and unsatisfactory action compromises something new for the same old formula that was still used three Spider-Man actors ago. Venom is supposed to be a much more dark character but instead the titular symbiote often feels like a joke to the rest of the film. Perhaps this film could’ve benefited from an R-rating to fully realize the grittiness of the character and allow the director to make something unique — what’s the point of hearing Venom talking about eating people’s heads when we hardly get the satisfaction of seeing it? It doesn’t feel like the director had much of a say in the creative execution of the film (not that there’s much creativity in the film anyway), and it’s simply Sony looking for a way to say that they’re still trying to launch their own universe when there is  Venom doesn’t go for any strong character arcs, visual feelings, story nods, or any reason for us to care. Marvel fans may want to give this one a try, but maybe this movie is best left outside the world of Thanos and the Avengers — and not on the must-watch list of die-hard movie lovers.

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Ethan Hunt and the IMF must race against time to prevent global chaos after a mission gone wrong.

What most action franchises are missing by the sixth installment is the jaw-dropping thrills, and wracking action sequences and the passion and dedication from a lead star that Tom Cruise still delivers after 22 years. Like expected from this series, the action is like nothing before, with realistic stunts requiring little to no computer generated effects that only a star like Cruise would be willing to pull off. Whether it’s on a motorcycle, helicopter, or jumping off a plane, Cruise’s love for authenticity pays off and every scene is not only shot unbelievably and must be watched on an enormous screen, but the suspense and incredible sound editing will keep you on the edge of your seat. Tom Cruise achieves what no action star would achieve, let alone at age 56, and not only does he leave a mark with his name in action history, but the writing for his character is better than it was before in the series. Henry Cavill is a great addition to the franchise who has notable chemistry with Cruise and a very well-written character. Simon Pegg is once again great comic relief, and Ving Rhames is a memorable supporting character who’s been in these movies for as long as Cruise has. Rebecca Ferguson is also a pleasing return from Rogue Nation and so is Alec Baldwin as the new secretary of the IMF.

Director Christopher McQuarrie, who returns from the previous installment, once again proves that he’s got a terrific realization of the scale and excitement of the Mission: Impossible franchise and delivers top-notch fights that will glue your eyes to the screen throughout the whole runtime, even though some moments don’t reach the heights of Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa or holding onto a plane in the previous movies. The story is filled with twists and turns that will keep you guessing. However, my main problem with the film is also in the story — it often borrows too much from the 5th movie, Rogue Nation. For example, Solomon Lane returns after being the main villain from the last movie, but nothing new is done with his character to make his return feel necessary. However, the exciting action is what has made this series so much fun over so many years and is why fans of Cruise and the genre should not miss this one on the big screen.

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Skyscraper

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Dwayne Johnson stars as a former FBI agent who must save his family from a group of terrorists on a skyscraper in China.

Skyscraper feels like the least unique or memorable thing the studio could go for — the plot feels the exact same as Die Hard and there’s nothing about The Rock’s character to distinguish him from every other role he’s ever played. Even the action often feels effortless and tiring when they could have at least put thought into that aspect. The villainous characters feel cliched and flat while none of the heroes feel interesting either, and the only thing clever about the lead is his backstory. The Rock always gives it his all but continues to find himself in the same recycled role these last few years, and this one is unfortunately no exception for his character. Every move the script makes is predictable and done many times before. Nothing is invented to make the film stick out or feel different from any action film set on a large building or in real-time, and the dialogue and writing are mostly weak and bland. The CG-structure of the skyscraper feels visually engaging in a few shots that should be experienced on the largest screen possible, but that’s about as much as the film has to offer that will keep you amused.

Skyscraper is a dull, generic action movie with nothing to offer other than a few cool visuals, and the only excuse for it to be made is so that kids don’t have to watch Die Hard.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Scott Lang, now under house arrest after helping Captain America protect Bucky Barnes from the law in Captain America: Civil War, he is approached once again by Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym, who present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a sequel that has the great laughs and entertainment that has always made the MCU great, but doesn’t learn from some of its predecessor’s mistakes and fails to stand out from the rest of the Marvel universe. However, the bright tone delivers a fun 2 hours that will please fans of comic-book movies and action films. Paul Rudd delivers a charismatic performance as Scott, who’s not only a great hero but a loving father, and Evangeline Lilly finally suits up and does a much better job than she did in the last film. Michael Douglas is also a welcome return as Hank Pym, and you can count on Michael Pena to make you crack up in every scene he’s in. The humor is memorable and well-written (which isn’t a surprise when it comes to Marvel films as they always nail their comedy wonderfully) and the action isn’t unforgettable but is able to be fun and engaging enough to entertain.

Ant-Man was a fun and lighthearted action flick from Marvel but I feel it lacked anything to make it deep or unique — and this sequel unfortunately has that same problem. We don’t get enough new depth to Scott and the only thing that felt emotional is the plot involving someone from Hank and Hope’s past. I don’t feel like this movie or its predecessor added anything new or outstanding to the MCU, which I feel every Marvel movie has been able to do in the last 4 years except these two. These films feel like great surface-level action comedies, but lack the humanity, creativity, and ambition I’ve seen in every film in this universe since The Winter Soldier — I’m used to seeing each Marvel movie have fleshed out characters and rare directing and writing that feel different from other franchises — and usually we see the main hero learning a life lesson or having an emotional arc that you can only find in these movies. However, Peyton Reed doesn’t really dig under the surface for Scott and make the story feel meaningful or resonant like Black Panther and Infinity War. It feels fun and holds its ground but doesn’t have as many important themes that have made me love the other MCU movies. The villain has a good backstory and motive but this character’s conflict with the heroes didn’t feel as enticing as it could’ve been and the well-realized plot takes a few detours with unnecessary side characters or events. We dive deep into the Quantum Realm and the science behind it, as well as the history of the Pym family, but not very much into these character’s souls and emotions like many Marvel movies have done to make us think and look back for so long.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is another fun and appealing Marvel action movie, but doesn’t reach the standards many Marvel Studios films have set so high, and doesn’t feel as blod and delightful as other installments. It’s got nice action and memorable laughs but the script doesn’t feel as well-realized and profound as it could have been and this cinematic universe has seen much brighter stars. However, all Marvel fans like me will have a good enough time to be worth the ticket, and also stay for a great post-credits scene as always.

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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FBI agent Matt Graver teams up with operative Alejandro Gillick to prevent Mexican drug cartels from smuggling terrorists across the U.S. border.

Sicario director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, who helped make the first one feel so special, are absent this time, but Stefano Sollima and DP Dariusz Wolski still hold their ground to create beautiful production and violent sequences that nearly hold up to the first one’s glamour. The sound editing is harrowing and elevates the terror of sequences that could feel like real-life combat, and the gunfight choreography and use of blood to elevate terror are fitting. Like the first film, even with a slight amount of violence the stakes can be gripping, which is strong for a world with movies filled with loud sound effects and explosions. Even without Emily Blunt, the cast is great, particularly Benicio del Toro once again as a complex lead who isn’t all heroic and also dark at times. Josh Brolin also has a great return as a man trying to get the job done, and this actor never seems to disappoint or perform under your expectations, as he’s able to embrace every one of his performances to the fullest. Some of the powerful writing from the first film is present — like exploring the children of drug lords and their experience in the crosshairs.

Like its predecessor, Day of the Soldado is very well-shot, with night vision scenes to intense shootout sequences in the desert, and the music is as awe-inspiring as in the first. However, there are some scenes that feel unnecessary to the plot or don’t lead to many places, and the movie introduces some great ideas in the first two acts that are ignored towards the end. The ending feels like its teasing what could be next in Sicario 3 which is fine but it ends a little too abruptly to be taken in. I’m glad it’s unpredictable and well made like the first movie but it doesn’t feel as motivated and suspenseful, and it hardly felt like a complete story because a little too much was left open for the next movie and there wasn’t edge of your seat tension and shock in the climax or most importantly emotion like the first film’s insane final minutes. It’s still got a dark story and themes like the first one that work very well, and holds its ground in terms of style, but in the end never justifies its existence other than promising a hopefully better Sicario threequel.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado feels as well-done and harrowingly violent as its predecessor, with great performances as well, but doesn’t completely embrace its themes and saitsfy in terms of substance by the end. Recommended for action fans who will likely enjoy the  thrilling and violent fight sequences like I did.

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