Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
Whether audiences are looking for the final pieces of the puzzle before Avengers: Endgame,  the first female-led Marvel film (finally), or simply another entertaining, empowering superhero movie, Captain Marvel has something for everyone. It takes place 20 years before the beginning of Iron Man before Nick Fury came up with the Avengers Initiative but still feels connected to events that happen later in films like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Even though she isn’t one of the MCU’s brightest heroes just yet, Captain Marvel has plenty of heart and soul delivered to the screen by Brie Larson, who also shares great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, whose appearance isn’t just impressive because of de-aging CGI made to make him look 25 years younger, but also because it’s the best portrayal of the character, in his more adventurous, laid back years before assembling the titular project of one of the biggest cinematic events of the decade, and also is in one of his more prominent Marvel film roles, compared to merely a post-credits cameo in last year’s Infinity War. The film beautifully presents its set pieces with astounding visual effects for new planets, powers, and spaceships that never fail to stand out. There’s also some witty dialogue and great comic relief in the form of Goose, a seemingly adorable cat with a shocking secret. There’s also a wonderful tribute to the late legend that started it all — Stan Lee — that kicks off the film and celebrates decades of comic book writing and cameos, and will make everyone watching break into applause — I sure did, as well as my entire crowd. There’s plenty to behold about this enthralling origin story, including great action sets and a fantastic final act, with a lovely theme of discovering who you are, and an interesting plot twist that not many would expect. However, within all its qualities, it’s just missing something — more of it. Despite a great story, Captain Marvel clocks in at 124 minutes, which would seem like a solid length for an action film but the pacing made it feel like they didn’t have a minute to spare. It felt like Marvel and Disney had interfered too much and left too many scenes on the cutting floor. This fast pacing and more focus on story development, leading to less focus on emotional development, is what makes it have less of an emotional connection with the audiences as other Marvel films, and though audiences will love characters like Carol and Fury, and be enthralled by the visuals and action, I feel that the film needed more sequences in the beginning for world building and introducing who Carol is before all the action kicks in, and more emphasis on her emotional arc and vulnerabilities. These scenes would be the key yo establishing that true emotional connection that would have made Captain Marvel another quintessential Marvel movie, like Black Panther was instantly able to do last year. I know these scenes exist somewhere, but unfortunately, the omission of these 10-20 minutes make it feel a bit less rushed and keep it from being the fantastic classic it almost was. It’s also a bit less thrilling to see the discovery of her past when, well, we already know who she is and where she’s from because of the trailer. Despite this, Captain Marvel still has plenty to offer, including empowering themes, entertaining plot and action, and one of the most jaw-dropping post-credits scenes in the history of the MCU, which, without spoilers, will make you want to buy tickets for Avengers: Endgame as soon as you’re out of the theater.
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Alita: Battle Angel

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Centuries after a devastating war known as the Fall, Dr. Dyson Ido finds and revives a deactivated female cyborg who cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is, who the enemy she fought was, and who the enemy is now.

With some large talents like James Cameron behind the talent but risky material to adapt and bring to the screen, like the anime-style look of the main character and the world building that could feel either enthralling or detaching to the audience, Alita: Battle Angel is a mixed bag and a film that not everyone will love. It’s a visual treat that must be viewed in 3D on the big screen, should you decide to see it. The way this futuristic universe is brought to the screen feels vivid and engaging, even if the narrative feels inferior to the visual storytelling. The action also feels lively and grand, and there is some violence that feels brutal for a PG-13 film and pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect from the action when the film begins. The film’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness — it feels very much like a manga adaptation, translating luminous worlds to the screen, but also horrific character designs and sound effects. The world building feels fresh and ecstatic, but also too overly done to really convey any meaning. There’s a rich over-world people want to reach to escape a poor and corrupt society underneath, a popular sports game called Motorball, a big war that happened in the past that we learn more about (but still not much by the end), a “Hunter-Warrior” underworld where anyone can stand up and fight rogue criminals and robots, and a “Cyborg-Lives-Matter” message. But did all of this interesting buildup lead to much by the end? The answer is unfortunately no. Whatever potential these ideas had are traded for a tiresome romance and focus on lifeless antagonists and conflicts. Whatever performance that Rosa Salazar may had delivered, good or bad, is lost in the distracting animation on her face that makes the character feel less likable. The only really memorable performance was that of Christoph Waltz, as Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali are underutilized in forgettable and disposable roles that have little screen-time and don’t feel very imposing or significant.

Though the movie has a few good things going for it, any charm or meaning ultimately is overshadowed by terrible dialogue, and for a cult filmmaker like Robert Rodriguez, it felt like he was struggling to make everything not feel awkward and out of place. Also, there didn’t feel like there was much development for Alita as a hero because she jumps from not remembering anything about her surroundings, right to being a nearly unbeatable badass. The film could have delivered more emotion between its characters if it hadn’t only hinted at this theme of discovering yourself and instead really emphasized it, but the movie ultimately sacrifices any emotional satisfaction to set up a sequel that will probably never happen. In the end, nothing story-wise feels worth merit or reflecting on because there is really no ending to the film. It’s not even similar to other franchises that had open-ended installments like The Hobbit or The Hunger Games, because in those situations, there actually felt like there was more story to tell and more of those worlds to explore. Alita could have gone on for twenty minutes longer and everything would have probably come full circle. Unfortunately, there is nothing about the conflict they set up for the next one or much about this movie to promise a great sequel, and considering the mixed response and average box office performance, how much more faith should studios and audiences put in the stories yet to come in the world of Alita?

Alita: Battle Angel is a visually exciting 3D experience with entertaining action and interesting world-building. However, the story and writing fail to keep up with the visual appeal, and the set-up of sequels feels frustrating and forced, making this film feel too incomplete and unrewarding. James Cameron is a filmmaker who’s full of fascinating ambition and imagination, but maybe he’s better off dedicating himself to the upcoming Avatar sequels.

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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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