Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization, led by his father who trained him to become a deadly Kung Fu master from the day he was born.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings achieves the difficult task a new hero to an already enormous cinematic universe while still feeling as exciting and unpredictable as some of the past outings. The settings, characters and conflict are inviting, especially the vigorous execution from director Destin Daniel Cretton (whose previous movies Short Term 12 and Just Mercy I highly recommend). The action is dynamic with scale that ranges from martial arts on a bus to fantastical battles with ancient superpowers, and sets that range from San Francisco to China. The film clearly took inspiration from the practical martial arts days of Jackie Chan, and the passionate fights of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The music, including the excellent score and solid hip-hop soundtrack choices, also adds a lot to the film’s pace and globe-trotting adventure, reminiscent of the modern, colorful nature of Black Panther that also brought elements of ancient culture to its production design. And similar to that film’s effect on black representation and culture, Shang-Chi marks the first time an Asian main character gets their due in an action movie of this proportion, but there are badasses alongside the hero as well, including strong women in power whose place in the fight is never questioned. Simu Liu immediately fits perfectly into the roster of MCU heroes, delivering a well-rounded hero who’s journey you love to follow along. Liu excellently balances charisma and heart that makes you embrace Shang-Chi in a humanly way, with the pain and difficult decisions that comes with the character’s traumatic past. The family dynamic elevates the conflict and Tony Leung’s portrayal of his power-hungry father is ruthless, a character who’s mere presence makes you feel fear and distrust, yet you see his perspective that sends him on this destructive path that sees many hurt. Awkwafina, who’s worked magic almost every time she’s in front of the screen, is not just wonderful comic relief but a loving best friend whose chemistry with Liu makes the runtime interesting. Michelle Yeoh also adds plenty to the film in a key role in the film.

With every Marvel movie, the studio proves that they can reach wide audiences with their large budgets and marketing, but more than that, their heart and entertainment, and this movie has plenty. It’s also helpful that unlike Black Widow, this movie is set in the present day chronologically — so stay free of spoilers because Marvel loves throwing in some surprises, and boy do they pay off! Though a few moments of green screen are noticable and some of the exposition has tedious moments, Shang-Chi’s fast paced adventure of self-discovery, with emotional stakes and action that mixes modern and mythical feelings, presents a fun mix of action, comedy and emotion with great sound editing, fantasy and sets in addition to likable protagonists and formidable foes. By the end I felt on the edge of my seat, unsure of what will happen to the characters because of the stakes and surprises that are presented. Marvel once again brings theater-worthy fun to the screen that all ages can love and eventually rewatch along with the rest of their library.

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Free Guy

Guy, a background character in a videogame called Free City, learns the truth about his existence and must race against time to save his world and reclaim his free will.

It seems that with Free Guy, Ryan Reynolds has finally found a movie that lives up to his comedic skills outside of the Deadpool franchise. Reynolds makes the movie infinitely better with his exaggerated reactions, unpredictable and irreverent self-awareness and pop culture analogies, as well as a sense of purity to his character that isn’t seen in his raunchier, more morally ambiguous portrayal of Deadpool. Meanwhile, this movie has a PG-13 rating yet this movie finds its audience and the humor lands most of the time. He has plenty of charisma and humor that carries the story and action but also not overkill where it compromises his character development. Jodie Comer is also wonderful as a female badass who isn’t a traditional “female sidekick and love interest to the male lead”, yet she’s actually the protagonist of the story as much as Reynolds in the best way. Joe Keery also has much time to shine, he’s very famous as Steve in Stranger Things, and just as lovable here. Lil Rel Howery is excellent comedic relief and best friend material everywhere he appears, and Taika Waititi takes a role that in the script would’ve looked incredibly cheesy and hard to stand, and with his delivery, makes the part an irresistible, hilarious part that was perfect for him. I had the same feeling with Reynolds, the role would’ve been much worse with another A-list funny action star.

Reynolds producing and starring gives the movie the perfect opportunity to be meta and let loose on pop culture references and self-aware jokes. Unlike Space Jam: A New Legacy, however, it never descends into immaturity and nonsense, instead embracing its stars talents instead of overly relying on effects. It also takes time to comment on the violent nature of Grand Theft Auto and similar videogames, as well as our obsession with hyperreality and simulated reality like Ready Player One did. The movie’s heartfelt side also asks us to use our humanity for empathy and connecting with other humans more. Believe me, it sounds cheesy but it’s delivered with plenty of heart, as well as themes about free will, the potential of AI, and being more than what people expect of you. The depiction of the world inside the videogame is colorful and lively and feels like a great live-action companion to Wreck-It Ralph, making you think about what such a world would be like in live-action, striking the perfect balance between letting the audience indulge in the silliness but always retaining heart and fun. The movie sometimes hits similar beats to other mainstream other action comedies, and you may be reminded of elements of similar films but it never lets the familiarity get the best of it. Free Guy flourishes when utilizing the loose, free-spirited edge to the humor, story, and characters, including hilarious editing and some unforgettable cameos that had my audience hysterical in the theater and are too brilliant to spoil. While it’s not a must-watch, it’s a great theater experience that makes the best of its potential and talents. It’s especially great to watch Ryan Reynolds and crew have a clearly awesome time starring in and making this entertaining movie that put a smile on my face and never sacrifices the insane visuals for a good story and time that like Deadpool, knows it’s very out there but is always on the audience’s side and never gets too cheesy for its own good.

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Black Widow

Set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Natasha Romanoff, on the run from the law, encounters friends and enemies from her past as she confronts her dark origins.

With the return of theaters, it’s so exciting to see a Marvel movie again on the big screen, a whole two years after the last one, Spider-Man: Far From Home. The action, set around the globe from Cuba to Budapest, is exciting and more grounded than other MCU films. It focuses less on superhuman or fantastical abilities and more on the grit and hand-to-hand combat, along the lines of spy films like Jason Bourne and Atomic Blonde. The fights have lots of impact and feel nail-biting — there’s only a few weird moments of slo-mo that weren’t needed. Scarlett Johansson never lets us forget why she’s such a beloved actress and Avenger, and Natasha’s spirit is ever present as personal revelations about her surface. It’s really great to see her front and center, headlining her own film, but it feels like it should’ve been released back in 2017, in between the films it was set. In a cinematic universe all about bringing in connections from past films and setting up future ones, it feels weird to ask the audience to dial their brain back only a few years to an era we already passed where films like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther are set. What requires even more suspension of disbelief is the fact that we know where Natasha’s journey leads afterwards in Infinity War, and ultimately ends in Endgame. However, that doesn’t completely sink the film’s quality and consistent enjoyment factor, from the get-go with an exciting opening action scene. The visuals consistently stand out, which was enhanced for me by the 3D experience, and the pacing is also strong for a film that’s 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Florence Pugh is the highlight of the film, bringing her fantastic acting chops to the emotion and heart of the film, and shares some wonderful scenes with Johansson as well as David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, who form Nat’s makeshift family. Pugh and Harbour bring their already respected reputations with them, but reinvent themselves with memorable, humorous and heartfelt roles, though Weisz is worth mentioning too. My main issues are mostly minor, but the themes aren’t often as emphasized as in other MCU films, which is a shame, and the progression of the plot isn’t as strong either. It isn’t Black Widow’s best appearance, don’t go in expecting The Winter Soldier, Civil War or Endgame, but better late than never to have her as the lead in her own film. The villain are also very uninteresting, and though he does the job to motivate our hero, Ray Winstone’s performance is very one-dimensional. His sidekick, however, Taskmaster, is a very intimidating presence who’s great to watch. It’s overall not top-tier Marvel material, but still a satisfying standalone film that utilizes its tone, action set pieces, and cast well, and worth the theatrical experience, as always, stay seated for the credits and enjoy and intriguing post-credits scene.

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Luca

Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Luca shares an adventurous summer with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.

Luca proves that Pixar’s stories are always rooted in family appeal, charm, and emotional truth. Though it’s not as revelatory as Inside Out, Coco, and Soul, it would be unfair to dismiss it solely for that reason. It provides a sweet story about differences and compassion, though that may be the main aspect that draws similarities to other animated films like Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid, especially the idea of a young character wanting to leave the nest to the disapproval of an overprotective parent. The strongest aspect of the story is the innocence of the main characters, such as their friendships, heart, and aspirations. The purity of childhood is beautifully depicted and draws parallels to the feels of old Italian cinema. Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer deliver great voice performances and their parts’ friendship beautifully anchors the story. Maya Rudolph, who was also wonderful in the 2021 Netflix animated film The Mitchells vs the Machines, seems to never do wrong and here plays Luca’s sea creature mother. Be on the lookout for a special voice cameo in the first act from a beloved star that you may or may not miss. The characters are ones to root for, and their wonder and awe of the world around them is such a fun part. Whenever Luca must face his fears, he goes “Silenzio, Bruno!” to silence the voice inside of him that tells him he can’t, a relatable message for all of his. The animation of the Italian settings is terrific, although the character designs feel more 2-dimensional than Pixar’s previous films. The musical score by Dan Romer is the highlight of the productional values and even warrants an Oscar nomination if you ask me. The movie keeps bringing new situations, sometimes obstacles they must face and sometimes humor — both situations and details off to the side that will make you laugh. Ultimately at all culminates in another heartwarming story that feels exactly like what we all need right now — no matter your age — presenting many themes to children in a positive light that won’t ever feel exclusively for kids either, as Pixar excels at making stories that fit every audience’s desires without exception.

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F9

Dominic Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but a new threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob.

F9 will fulfill the fans and audience’s expectations of adrenaline-pumping, large-scale action the franchise delivers. But is it enough this time around? The answer is — the movie is best when focused on the action set pieces and excitement, but the theatrical experience is strictly needed. And the Fast & Furious saga was built just for that. Justin Lin, who directs for the franchise for the fifth time, understands the massive grandeur necessary to experience the action. He directs expensive, impressive stunts that will get you excited — when you don’t think about how they obey the laws of physics. He also brings back the comedic, irreverent sense these films need which I don’t think Hobbs & Shaw managed to nail without becoming too parodical. The comic relief in this series has always been Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris as Roman and Tej and they give so much to this movie with their humorous banter. However, it’s the villains that bring the fun to a halt. Charlize Theron, who’s normally one of my favorite actors, is terrible once again as Cipher, but at least in the last one she was imposing and raised the stakes — here she does almost nothing. John Cena’s performance also didn’t work for me — and neither did lots of the supporting cast shoehorned in from previous films. The villains’ plans and objectives are also boring and not treated with enough care for the audience to even feel like there is a real possibility of danger. Tej and Roman even comment on the fact that after all they’ve been through in these films, they feel “invincible”. And whenever the movie tries to connect to predecessors and tie up “loose” ends with exposition, it feels incredibly heavy-handed and unfitting, and often just there as fan service, especially a certain character who is brought back. This excessive use of flashbacks feels like a pause in the story rather than world-building as the movie believes it is.

F9 continues the growing expansion of the series which started as films about street racing into what they are now, enormous, expensive superhero movies. Logic has been thrown out the window for a lot of the action sequences in this movie, but Lin treads the line between practicality and splendor to keep the audience there with the nail-biting and excitement he wants to deliver. And as said before, the comedy is very important here and he handles that well too. Whenever the script inevitably takes itself seriously at times, though, with big twists and tiring cliches, it becomes a checklist of a formula that the series keeps repeating. The franchise’s reputation has given fans room to laugh both with and at the story, but that’s only excusable with a series that has evolved so expeditiously without truly alienating any demographic of moviegoers. The first 30 minutes are genuinely great and the action gets the audience going and laughing, and the loud action throughout will get you excited, it’s just the series’ character development that feels like it’s given up on truly reinventing the wheel. After all, the saga is notorious for Vin Diesel’s “family” mottos. Although its mostly what you’d expect from this franchise, perhaps for the Fast Saga, that may as well be enough — especially when the scale keeps aiming higher and in a consistent direction that graps onto what its audiences want from an enormous, irreverent theatrical experience like this.

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Cruella

Cruella dives into the origins of the infamous 101 Dalmatians antagonist. Emma Stone is seriously great as the lead and another reason to praise the actress as well as the seemingly impeccable casting directors at Disney. Her performance is charming, unpredictable, and twisted. Though she is notoriously an insane criminal and dog-killer, she is likable in comparison to the other big Emma of the film. Emma Thompson plays a ruthless, egomaniacal fashion designer whose absolutely repulsive without a single redeeming quality. Her repugnance reminded me of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, another evil, sadistic, fashion designer. Thompson portrays this narcissism and wickedness well, and the movie does a mostly good job, aside from a few lines, keeping her out of cartoonish territory. The relationship between the Emmas onscreen is easily a gripping anchor for the film’s story. Two other standouts are Cruella’s loyal surrogate brothers and sidekicks, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. My favorite was especially Hauser, who is much more comedic (and British) than his other popular turns in films like I, Tonya, Richard Jewell and Da 5 Bloods, and nails every moment he’s on screen. As a fan of his, I was especially glad to see him be in a film with a wide audience like a Disney film.

Cruella‘s script manages to, for most of the runtime, distance itself from the famous story it’s inspired by, despite a few nods and a shoehorned post-credits scene thrown in for the Disney hardcore fans. It feels very much like a Craig Gillespie movie — like his previous film I, Tonya, it’s a fast-paced chronicle of a morally ambiguous woman’s journey into such obscurity. However, it’s the hyper-stylistic approach that’s most detrimental to the film. The soundtrack is a nonstop barrage of rock music with no room for silence or drama, with one popular rock song after the other, and the music choices being frankly on the nose and unoriginal (seriously, why do so many films use “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones?). Had the style kept some of this energy but toned it down to make scenes feel less fluffy and more dramatic for its villain, the movie would’ve resonated more. With such gorgeous production design and costumes that made me awe (and trust me, I don’t always notice beauty in costume design like I did in this film), as well as solid acting and writing, why didn’t Disney trust its audiences to stay engaged from these elements instead of throwing in popular music every second? There’s also a little too much narration for my taste, and you can tell this took inspiration from Scorsese’s hyper-style he trademarked with Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street — a style at least one big movie a year feels the urge to adapt. The movie’s script is best when it follows the psychotic nature of Cruella and her descent into darkness, which Stone wonderfully portrays and is the most intriguing part of the film. It’s also enjoyable to point out the similarities between Cruella and other popular solo movie villains like Joker and Harley Quinn (who headlined the considerably entertaining Birds of Prey), I only wish this movie embraced what worked so much about those two aforementioned films’ approach to their villains. And that’s not saying they should have gotten rid of the energy and fast pace — which does work once Estella becomes Cruella — just give the darker, more unpredictable moments of Stone’s performance room to breathe rather than be edited like a fun heist sequence from an Ocean’s Eleven movie. There’s also a few iffy moments of CGI, including the dogs and a scene involving water, that made me cringe. Cruella is entertaining, fashionable, and has fun with its concept, but feels boxed in by a soundtrack poorly edited into the film that weakens the impact of certain scenes and connections to the original IP that feel thrown in just to check boxes on a studio checklist. Those who are interested will enjoy it, as it’s certainly a good time that’s carried well by its cast, especially the insanity conveyed by Stone, but I feel like there was potential for a stronger film in the editing room.

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The Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) Winners

After a crazy year with movies being released in streaming and hybrid formats, the Oscars have finally happened, this time in late April! In case you missed it but want to find out who won, here you go:

Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: “Fight for You” (from Judas and the Black Messiah)
Best Cinematography: Mank
Best Film Editing: Sound of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Visual Effects: Tenet
Best Sound: Sound of Metal
Best Foreign Language Film: Another Round (from Denmark)
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Live-Action Short: Two Distant Strangers

I think for what they were given, the Oscars did a good job creating an interesting show with a more intimate space and less people than the Dolby Theater. There were a lot of great winners and milestones, including Chloe Zhao as the 1st woman of color to win Best Director and the 2nd woman to win the category. My favorite win of the night was Daniel Kaluuya who I’ve been a fan of since Get Out, and blew me away as Chairman Fred Hampton. However, I was susprised by the winners for Best Actor and Actress. The expected winners were Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan who I was rooting for. Boseman delivered a magnificent final performance and not only was it my favorite lead performance, it would’ve been a terrific way to honor his legacy. Mulligan was also brilliant in the provocative and unforgettable Promising Young Woman, and I would’ve awarded her — it also wasn’t so long since Frances won in that category for the fantastic Three Billboards in 2017. McDormand has now won 3 times in that category, but won an additional time this year for producing Nomadland, a unique film experience that won the biggest award of the night! Another Round is an excellent Danish film and the director Thomas Vinterburg’s speech was the most moving of the night. However, I have to give a special shoutout to the award-winning short films — Two Distant Strangers (live-action) and If Anything Happens I Love You (animated) are available on Netflix and tackle grounded issues, but I should warn you that they are guaranteed heartbreaks and both took my breath away with their creativity and messages. My Octopus Teacher is also a wonderful documentary, and this comes from someone who normally isn’t into nature docs but this one really moved me, find it on Netflix too. Many of these terrific films that won are available on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax and Hulu, and I beg you not to sleep on them. Seeing new entertainment releases helped me get through this unusual time without theaters — which we’ll hopefully see the return of soon!

Academy Reveals Poster Art for 93rd Oscars - Awardsdaily - The Oscars, the  Films and everything in between.

The 78th Golden Globe Awards

Last night, the Golden Globes honored a hectic year of movies and television. Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: Nomadland

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor – Drama: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress – Drama: Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Rosamund Pike – I Care a Lot

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian

Best Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best Foreign Language Film: Minari (USA)

I was mostly satisfied by the winners, even though the presentation was far from perfect with the hybrid in-person/virtual format. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did their best but clearly they thrive best with a full audience and even though they tried to stick it to the HFPA’s controversies, Ricky Gervais did a much better job last year. The nominees were also far from perfect — Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was completely shut out. Minari won Best Foreign Language Film because it is mostly in Korean, but sparked controversy because it was produced in America, so why not let it qualify for Best Drama? In my opinion, cinema is cinema and the boundary of subtitles is simply an addition to watching a film when it’s in a different language, not an obstacle. Sia’s directioral debut Music was nominated despite apparently having an offensive representation of autism, and Hamilton, while culturally resonant, was a filmed musical, not really a movie. So in that weak comedy category, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the only decent one in my opinion (but still not excellent), while Emma, On the Rocks, and The King of Staten Island would’ve made for great nominees over Hamilton, Music, and The Prom. There was also the controversy coming up of the lack of black members in the HFPA. While this was addressed and needs to continue to be addressed, a large number of black artists did also win awards during the ceremony, including the incredible Daniel Kaluuya who took my breath away as Fred Hampton. Another deserving win was the late Chadwick Boseman, who delivered one of the best performances of the year and his wife paid touching tribute to the legend as he won posthumously. Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director for her unique work in Nomadland, and there was a record number of female director nominees, including Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami — all three were deserving of a nomination to me. However, the one win I disagree with was Andra Day — she was amazing in her debut role, but having seen all 5 of the films in her category, I think all 4 of the other performances were superior. Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby were groundbreaking in their respective films, and I wish one of them had won. Jane Fonda also won a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in films, TV, and activism throughout the decades.

2021 Golden Globe Nominations: See the Full List | Entertainment Tonight

Soul

In Pixar’s latest film, which after delays from theaters, is now out on Disney+, Joe Gardner is a music teacher who aspires to make it big as a jazz pianist. However, on a big day where his dreams start to get closer, he gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body, bringing him to the You Seminar, a limbo where souls are prepared to start a life on Earth. He goes on an existential journey through New York with another soul and learns the true purpose of life.

Soul brings no less to the screen than the lively, all-ages-friendly adventures that Pixar has made us used to. Director Pete Docter, who has brought to life Pixar classics like Monsters Inc. and Up, brings the same wondrous animation and spirit to Soul that he brought to Inside Out. The streets of New York are depicted with such realism and beautiful, diverse energy. The You Seminar is also portrayed vividly although not difficult to compare to the animated corners of Riley’s brain in Inside Out. Within the first few seconds, Jamie Foxx proves to be perfectly cast as Joe Gardner, who aspires to become a famous musician while teaching middle school and living up to the expectations of his mother, also perfectly played by Phylicia Rashad (who you may know as the titular character’s mother in Creed and its sequel). Tina Fey delivers a great voice performance as Soul 22, a both unenthusiastic and curious/energetic soul who has her reservations about starting a full life on Earth. Graham Norton, in what I believe is his first film role outside of himself in Eurovision Song Contest, is funny and entertaining in a supporting role. However, an absolute standout for me was Angela Bassett, whose immediately recognizable voice brings ferocity and status, exactly what was needed for her part — Dorothea Williams, a respected jazz musician and sax player whose band Joe hopes to join.

With every following year, I realize more and more how intricately mature Pixar’s films are to not just appeal to kids, but also tug on the heartstrings of adult audiences, and never compromise the entertainment for any age group, even with a film like this that has some physical comedy. Like I said, the lovely animation is hard not to appreciate — even small details like cars passing by feel rhythmic. At first I was surprised by how quickly the story gets going but as the film progresses, it develops Joe even more with his decisions in and out of his body. The plot also manages to play with concepts about life, history, and souls in believable and fun ways. It’s easy to notice borrowed elements from Inside Out and Coco, though, especially the visual tones of the former and the afterlife aspect of the latter. The writing is also a little all over the place in a few moments, but ultimately nails its themes. It’s a film that reminds you to live in the moment and amount life not just to our goals, but to every cherished memory we have with our world, ourselves, and our loved ones. Viewers will be able to connect as the film emphasizes the passions we all chase and can’t live without, and stresses the importance of those things that “bring out the real you”, but reminds you to embrace every minute of life on the way.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her in 1984 facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah. This highly anticipated sequel was finally released simultaneously in theaters and streaming at home on HBOMax.

The first film inspired many viewers with its hopeful messages and the fierce, courageous hero played by Gal Gadot, whose performance became a symbol of female empowerment in thru superhero genre and all around the world. The charm, optimism, and tone that made the first film special are still here, and director Patty Jenkins still does a good job bringing the gigantic action to the screen, with better visual effects than its predecessor. From the exciting opening scene in Themyscira, you are reminded as to why this corner of the DC Extended Universe is one of the most notable. Gadot again brings genuine humanity and morality to Diana, inspiring us all to work together and see the beauty in the world. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is again great, although his death in the previous film makes his appearance here a little less welcoming, as he doesn’t feel as adventurous and memorable. However, the movie handles emotional moments between them really well, and their coupling still helps drive the film forward. Kristen Wiig, beloved for comedies like Bridesmaids and SNL, does really well as Barbara Minerva, who is very humanized through her performance and introduction. However, her character’s drastic transformation is when her writing became insufficient and unbelievable, and feels like a wasted opportunity that deserved much better. Pedro Pascal is now highly popular with TV audiences, not only as the titular Mandalorian but also for fans of Narcos and Game of Thrones, as well as with action movie fans for Kingsman and Triple Frontier. For those reasons, I was very excited about his casting, but his performance is such a huge step down from his famed presence in other franchises — his silly character is made worse with awful dialogue and a villain plot that I can only compare to Jafar from Aladdin. And because the conflict isn’t that great, that really hurts the movie. This makes a lot of the script feel over-the-top, including the objective feeling very cartoonish and the messages becoming muddled.

The pacing isn’t as slow as another lengthy DCEU movie, Batman v Superman, was, but still felt like an issue; the first one at 141 minutes seemed to pace itself well and fly by briskly, but at one point during WW84‘s 151-minute runtime, I was starting to feel like the story should jump to the action quicker. Much of the buildup entertaining, but in some instances I was hoping for the film to pick up and get to the point more speedily. This is by no means a film that’s hard to get through; like I said, the tone is still fun and heartfelt, and the action is really good, with some good set pieces like a mall fight, and other strong settings where the fights take place, as well as Wonder Woman getting to show off some new powers. The set design that reminisces the 80s feels lively and great, although it takes advantage of the time period less than expected (I can’t help but compare that Stranger Things utilized its 80s setting in a more memorable manner). Even though the backdrop for the final act is excellent, it ultimately feels wasted (both Wonder Woman movies have had a villain reciting a terrible evil monologue and I don’t know why the writers felt the need to keep it). There’s also themes about women dealing with catcalling and insecurities about their looks that feel underdeveloped, or needless as not much is done with that. The first movie’s simplicity helped it work better, but the goals and messages here start to feel overcomplicated to the point where I wish the film had stuck to the simple ideas that made the first movie more thoughtful and inspiring. The layout for the hero’s journey is there; Diana has wants that don’t quite coincide with her needs and the greater good, and so a choice must be made. But the film isn’t strongest when dealing with humanity’s greed and desire for self-interests, it’s when it deals with the love, unity, and heroism we should all see in ourselves and others. This sense of inspiration and optimism is the golden strength of both Wonder Woman films, but I wish the road to get there was less long and windy, and a little more fresh. Also, don’t get up quite yet when the credits start; there’s a cameo that will get all generations of audiences to feel excited. In summary, this is a sequel that retains many great elements from its predecessor and will satisfy comic book fans and those who were moved by the first, but the weak conflict and subpar writing hurt the film and make it, while entertaining, less than wonder-ful. The one thing that’s always consistent is Gadot’s acting and the heart she gives to the titular heroine we all love.

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