Eternals

7,000 years ago, the Eternals, a group of immortal beings created by Celestial space giants, arrived on Earth to protect us from the Deviants. In the present day, the Eternals reemerge after living among us humans to fight against the Deviants, who have returned, and stop the end of the world.

Eternals has all the right elements there, including a 2-time Oscar winning director in Chloe Zhao, an acclaimed, diverse ensemble cast that includes Oscar nominees and winners like Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie, a compelling concept and premise, and tonal elements of a more intimate yet grand and mystical MCU film. Though all the parts are there, something feels missing that could have made this one of the best films in the franchise but instead falls short. The movie is very bold and feels the least like the rest of the series, mostly because of the slower, more character and emotion-focused story rather than fast-paced fun that dives straight into the conflict. There is big action and humor, but the movie never spends enough time with either tone at once to give us an earned emotional moment or a “classic MCU moment”. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t have neither the humanity nor the fun it wanted to evoke. Though it did keep me engaged throughout its runtime, I never really felt much of a reaction from watching what should’ve been exciting action go down, though the action set pieces do feel like a mess. There’s often too much going on at once during the fights and the finale especially has messy CGI and questionable character placements.

The cast is great, especially Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry. Chan plays an empathetic and strong protagonist and Nanjiani gives the movie its funniest and most entertaining moments, including a Bollywood dance being filmed for a movie his character Kingo directs and stars in. Henry gives the movie lots of charisma as well and an interesting edge due to his character having the most to lose on Earth, having settled down with a husband and son. Richard Madden, Barry Keoghan and Lia McHugh also come to mind with interesting performances of their own, and Lauren Ridloff also gives the movie a lot of heart, even though there’s an extended period of time where she’s not in the movie, which does happen with a few of the film’s best players. The problem is that with there being 10 main Eternals, the movie keeps trying to push them all to center stage and have all of them be the emotional core, which makes the character development very messy, and some of the best characters’ arcs have disappointing or unrewarding resolutions. Avengers: Infinity War managed to balance having over 20 main Avengers by having some beloved characters have more of a supporting presence while a few take the lead in terms of emotional importance, unfortunately the writers here try to shove everyone front and center which hurts the dynamic between the characters and the audience. Hayek’s performance feels especially weird and unnatural at times, and Jolie’s character keeps trying to feel important but the script has no idea what to do with her for the entire second half. Kit Harington needed to be a much bigger part of the film but unfortunately is sidelined in the movie, as he gives the film a lot of charm and humanity.

The movie runs at 2 hours and 37 minutes (even longer than Infinity War!) and though there’s a lot of grand world building including ties to ancient history which makes for interesting sets, the movie definitely slows down with the messy explaining and reexplaining of exposition and dragged out drama between acts 2 and 3 that could’ve been shortened by at least 10 or 15 minutes. If you’ve seen Zhao’s previous film Nomadland, which won Best Picture at the most recent Oscars, you know her style is very intimate and naturalistic, and the movie doesn’t spend enough time with the intimacy and beauty of the scenery to give you much to care about and feel with its characters, as too much is thrown in to really stop and care, despite some great moments between Chan and Madden. On the other hand, though there’s some good humor and lots of big action, the movie never gives you enough epic-ness or fun to feel the stakes and unfortunately, the action and endearing characters going hand-in-hand is always what make these Marvel films resonate. It doesn’t commit to being small-scale or exciting, and this as well as the unrealized pace holds itself back from really gripping you the way Shang-Chi hit the mark earlier this year. It’s a good watch once for MCU fans or those who are interested in the premise and cast, but won’t leave you with that same elation and wonder, and urge to rewatch and treasure the film later, if only the film had been shorter and more focused.

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Dune

Paul Atreides, heir to the powerful House Atreides, is to inherit the sand planet of Arrakis, but soon a galactic war begins between Houses and Imperial forces, leading Paul to have to discover his legacy and what kind of leader he wants to be.

One of the most ambitious cinematic projects of the year, Dune merges the styles of mainstream blockbuster and artistic epic, with majestic direction from one of the best filmmakers of our time, Denis Villeneuve. He creates an incredible scope, resonant of the world-building of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and the grand desert shots of Laurence of Arabia. The visual effects seamlessly combine practical and CGI effects to create an immersive new galaxy, but the action and scenery is defined by the meticulous and grand cinematography, which adds to the gripping, breathtaking nature of the film. The production design and visuals create the ultimate spectacle of the year visually, and the world-building exposition may be slow-moving and slightly hard to follow for some, but mostly done well. The score by Hans Zimmer is destined to be a highlight of his career. The booming sound design combined with Zimmer’s loud, often godly music creates unforgettable moments throughout the movie. The cast is stacked with famous faces so I don’t even know where to start. Chalamet in the lead wonderfully balances Paul’s sense of youth, discovery and uncertainty, though he is good at adapting and looks to embrace his destiny and survive. The heart of the film may rest in the hands of Rebecca Ferguson, who delivers not only the best performance in Dune but the best of her career, as Paul’s mother Lady Jessica. Contrasted to Paul’s father Leto (Oscar Isaac), a noble leader who loves his son but the film mostly focuses on their relationship from the diplomatic lens and the responsibilities Leto will pass down to Paul, we see how Jessica who comes from a lower-ranking society gives Paul new, unique survival instincts and his heart. Other standouts include Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa as warriors from House Atreides who serves as mentors to Paul as well. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is also really great in the film, not to mention other familiar faces show up that will excite audiences — Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, and Javier Bardem all have small but key roles as well.

Those who have never read the source material will find themselves drawn into these vast new worlds thanks to the beautiful execution, and fans of Frank Herbert’s novel will not be disappointed by the invigoration of the story to the big screen. To add to the intensity and large action, Villeneuve not only likes to immerse the audience in the consequences of violence but often just observe the chaos. Though everything is otherworldly, there’s plenty of moments of stillness felt like the omniscient shots of Sicario, Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. The film focuses on themes such as legacy, parentage, colonialism and our relationship with the natural world, as well as mentorship, and fate. Though the story is mostly engaging, the third act does fizzle out a little bit in an attempt to set up the sequel. Dune very much feels like the first half of a mega-movie that will be completed and certainly defined by the second part. Unlike other “two-parters” like Avengers: Infinity War which ended on a bang, this feels more like the end of The Fellowship of the Ring or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which ends less on a cliffhanger or large set piece but more on a feeling that the journey has just begun. Many plot points are left deliberately unresolved for that next film to adapt the second half of the book, and the movie has already much story and development to include in its 155-minute runtime. This can be frustrating for some, but for those like me who enjoyed this movie, you’ll be left wanting Part Two ASAP. Dune is a rich experience and a must-see in theaters for sci-fi lovers and fans of Villeneuve’s past efforts as well as the star-studded cast. Supporting this one on the big screen will not only get Warner Bros. to get to work on the next chapter soon, but will have its audience take away some beautiful visuals, scope and action, the kind we only get once in a while, even in the world of fast-paced blockbusters.

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is still learning how to live as a host to alien symbiote Venom, but a visit to an obsessed imprisoned serial killer leads to another symbiote on the loose that the duo must face.

The first Venom movie has a mixed reputation — it’s hated by critics thought it was a box office success and fans enjoyed the relationship between Eddie and Venom. The sequel understands what some fans enjoyed about the first film and leans even more into the silliness of that dynamic. Unfortunately, it carries with it everything that made the first film one of the worst superhero movies in recent years. The dialogue is horrendous — there are a few good jokes here and there but every time every time a plot point needs explaining or the villains open their mouth, you can’t take it seriously at all. And every time the symbiote Venom opens his mouth, his lines are incredibly bland and annoying. For a cast led by four Oscar nominees, nobody does a remotely memorable job, though Hardy looks like he’s enjoying himself more this time. Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady could’ve been a darkly hysterical psychopath of a killer, but instead he feels like his character’s twin brother in Now You See Me 2, meaning his performance is truly unbearable. Naomie Harris is also at her worst as Shriek, Kasady’s girlfriend from his teen years who he hasn’t seen in decades but they’re still madly in love. Even the humor often dives from funny into purely cringeworthy territory as the jokes don’t feel more thought out, just Tom Hardy goofing around with 2 different voices.

The action and editing are a mess, with nonstop cuts and dark lighting that prevents you from truly grasping onto the set pieces without laughing at everything that’s going on. The CGI also doesn’t feel so smooth though the design of Carnage is great — the character itself, though, is poorly utilized and we barely get to see him fight Venom or understand what makes him a unique symbiote and fan favorite comic-book villain. There’s no reason viewers would remember him or why he’d strike fear into the audience’s heads like he does with the characters in the film — he’s just a bad symbiote like Riot in the first movie. Considering director Andy Serkis has created some of the most interesting CGI characters of all time, it makes no sense for him to create something as haphazard and painful as this. In terms of conflict, there’s no interesting build of stakes or threat, and in terms of internal conflict for our hero, it’s literally just “Eddie and Venom have to fight less and get along more and Venom needs to eat bad guys but not good guys”.

Visually, script-wise, and tonally, Venom: Let There Be Carnage doesn’t have itself figured out, just like the bro-mance at the center of the film. Though the post-credits scene is worth staying for, the movie as a whole proves why these films can’t latch onto viewers as well as a symbiote like Venom latches onto its host Eddie.

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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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A Quiet Place Part II

Following the events of the predecessor, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. With both A Quiet Place and its sequel that’s now playing in theaters everywhere, John Krasinski has proven himself to be not only an awesome actor but a master filmmaker. It worries me whenever a studio greenlights a sequel to a great film that stands alone perfectly, but A Quiet Place Part II is one of the rare occasions where the sequel lives up the original, and not only that, but along with that 2018 film, is one of the best horror/thrillers of recent years. A lot of it is thanks to Krasinski’s direction and the style which made the concept and storytelling of the first film so memorable. The opening sequence is nail-biting and even though the violence is kept at a PG-13 level, the film knows where and how to scare most effectively with showing and not showing certain things. For example, we see scenes from characters’ perspectives so the aliens and action aren’t always in the frame but sometimes in the background. The cinematography and editing are great as well, but it’s the sound editing that makes the movie. It’s the small noises that make you terrified for the characters as they try to survive among creatures who can track them based on any small noise from a distance, and the sound creates its own tension without a single jump scare. The loud sound effects of the monsters contrast this excellently and make this a terrific theater experience.

Emily Blunt may be at her best in this series as a mother trying to protect her kids, including a newborn, from otherworldly threats that are a family’s worst nightmare. Cillian Murphy is also excellent as a new addition to the cast, a cynical, hopeless survivor who is changed by his time with the Abbott family. Millicent Simmonds, the deaf actress who plays the deaf daughter in the film, may be the film’s heroine as she takes on challenges courageously and delivers a stellar performance, with not only some of the most positive deaf representation I’ve ever seen in film but all around a brilliant actor and lead role. Noah Jupe, who plays the son/brother, is again excellent, and he’s proven himself with these films as well as his magnificent roles in 2019’s Ford v Ferrari and Honey Boy. And even with just a cameo, Krasinski himself makes his presence felt throughout the film, passing the courage and good-ness of his character from the last film into his children and the world of the movie. Beyond the brilliant scares, which are only strengthened by techniques such as cross-cutting that Krasinski marvelously uses to make scenes more powerful and symbolic, the film retains the heart that made its predecessor so emotional — in every frame and line, this is a movie about a monster apocalypse, but also about parenthood, family, human survival, and hope. And one can’t help but think that with a family taking back their world by venturing back into the unknown and fighting back against the apocalypse, it’s a perfect film to represent our return to theaters. I, for one, had not been to the theaters since Tenet last August, when some screens briefly reopened, and this is an impeccable choice to return to the big screen with for the thrills, sound, and amazing effects and story that will more than satisfy those who know what they’re in for, and for the shared experience we’ve been longing to have back and can finally experience for a new blockbuster once again.

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Godzilla vs Kong

The culmination of the 4-film MonsterVerse franchise pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.

This massively awaited film had plenty of promise, but ended up being a disappointment for me. What should’ve been a visually enthralling epic turned out to be a cartoonish WWE smackdown with sloppy direction and editing, and the worst writing in the franchise. The visual depth and feeling of actual destruction and danger from Godzilla: King of the Monsters is completely gone, and the visual style here is a lot less nuanced. While the storyboarding of this film must have been incredible, the CGI itself in some parts could have used some improvement to seem more seamless and epic, and a little less digital, which is odd because it had 2 years in post-production, less than its better-looking predecessor. Some cool visual moments are often ruined with silly editing choices like slo-mo and weird cuts, as well as some randomly placed rock songs that couldn’t have felt less fitting. The movie has a lighter tone than its predecessor, but unfortunately the messy editing and lackluster story aren’t willing to support that vision and maintain a style that consistently delivers.

It’s weird that a CGI giant gorilla has more emotional connection with the audience in this movie than the human characters, because that’s how I felt with Kong versus the humans in this film. And writing great characters has been a challenge for this saga before. Alexander Skarsgard is just there, and Rebecca Hall does well but her story wouldn’t have worked without her connection with this young deaf girl who communicates with Kong. Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison are solid but their story is very uninteresting. Demian Bichir plays maybe the worst character in the entire franchise, who is incredibly bland and predictable from the moment he appears. Eiza Gonzalez’s character is also very generic. While Kyle Chandler was the lead in the last film, he gets nothing to do here — he didn’t need to be a large part again, but this just adds to the underwhelming nature of the cast of great actors in this film. The one cast member who was utilized well and perfectly cast was Brian Tyree Henry, who elevates his character’s so-so writing with great comedic relief and energy. The story itself that surrounds the human and monster characters is often frustratingly cliché, with big companies conspiring around these monsters with heroes with nonexistent character development and some laughable lines of dialogue. While this is supposed to be the biggest of the franchise, it’s ironically the shortest. At only 113 minutes, it suffers from a very rushed pace that never lets the film breathe and build atmosphere and adventure. It could’ve used another 15-30 minutes. The titular fights themselves are awesome, and the choreography when Godzilla and Kong fight is very memorable. However, by the time it gets really good it feels like too little, too late, and is also short-lived because of an underwhelming and predictable climax that goes for the least emotionally rewarding or daring conclusion possible. The end of the last film also set up the idea of monsters living among humans, but that’s completely tossed aside here for far inferior storylines that have been used in so many films before. There’s also no tension present, because although there are large, exciting monster fights, the spectacle isn’t treated with enough care to build a true epic, instead feeling like a rushed cartoon that doesn’t care much about all it has to offer besides the fighting. While it may entertain those simply looking for some fulfillment on the title, it’s sad how much more this could’ve been had the movie understood the full potential it held at hand.

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Tenet

Whenever auteur Christopher Nolan makes a movie, he makes it impossible for it to disappear in the crowd of films being made. His approach to making and presenting films transcend being just a movie, he always crafts an experience. A Christopher Nolan movie is an event, and for years his audiences have craved not only his strong writing and style, but his ability to immerse the viewer in the plot through practicality, tension, and premium formats like IMAX, and challenge them with nail-biting questions and inventive concepts. Tenet is an experience, and a marvelous one for that matter. From the opening moments my jaw dropped as the clock immediately starts ticking with an unpredictable action sequence. The loud sound effects engulfed my ears and the realistically crafted action glued my eyes to the screen, in an unparalleled fashion. Nolan’s partner for 3 films, Hoyte van Hoytema, handles the cinematography beautifully, whether it’s for making the real action feel present or having incredible shots of locations such as the Italian Amalfi Coast and the streets of London. The director’s commitment to practicality makes for more urgent, nail-biting action and of course appeals to the eye. 

John David Washington portrays an action hero whose grace feels reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s performance in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Robert Pattinson is also great as Washington’s partner, delivering charm and fun as opposed to his darker performances in Good Time and The Lighthouse. Elizabeth Debicki delivers a lot of heart and soul to the film and Kenneth Branagh is also memorable as her husband, though it’s hard to be surprised when Branagh does something praiseworthy — at this point, he’s done it all! Dimple Kapadia also delivers a nuanced performance, and Michael Caine also makes a welcome appearance, as he has in nearly every Nolan film! However, I would argue that some of the younger famous talents, such as Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were underutilized considering their remarkable past performances and their intriguing small roles here.


Like I said, Nolan’s grand and large-scale approach to everything he makes pays off with Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous camerawork, and the booming sound effects and music by Ludwig Goransson (Oscar winner for Black Panther), whose inspired work seamlessly follows in the footsteps of Nolan’s past collaborations with Hans Zimmer while leaving enough room for himself to invent. However, the loud sound and music does sometimes overshadow dialogue which is a slight issue at times. The other important point is the script’s complexity. Nolan invents new concepts involving time, physics, and science and expresses them in a way that some may find hard to follow or lament as confusing. I personally found myself lost at times because a lot of exposition is spoken very quickly by the characters, and this is problematic when you have a lot of rules and objectives that you’re hearing about for the first time. This movie even outdoes Inception and Interstellar for how complex these themes and ideas are — and for some, confusing. Even those two aforementioned films have a lot of complex new ideas as well, they felt more accessible than the way the exposition is delivered here. And of course, that always means more rewatches are warranted which is also fun, but it’s also okay to admit that there could’ve been a clearer way to help audiences follow, even to Nolan fans like myself who love the intricacies that the filmmaker invented in those other films (which for the record aren’t also easy to comprehend in one viewing). This doesn’t take away from the spectacle and excitement that is to behold in many of the sequences that are unlike any action set pieces ever put to film. But the film did occasionally lose me in a few fast-talking scenes that clouded some of my understanding of some later scenes’ objectives and motives.

Christopher Nolan is also known for having big endings, and while some massive things do happen and get revealed (don’t worry, I won’t commit the movie sin of spoiling a Nolan movie’s plot), there’s some reward left to be wished for when compared to the “totem question” of Inception, or the resolution of Cooper and his daughter’s storyline in Interstellar. There still is so much to be discovered under the surface which is always a lovely thing, but I think the moments of revelation, tension, and mystery in the final sequences needed more catharsis to get a stronger reaction. Only time will tell how much this film’s mysteries linger with us audiences — looking back and discovering new things afterwards is always a perk of Nolan’s adventures.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The final chapter of the legendary story that’s spanned generations, The Rise of Skywalker follows the Resistance taking a final stand against the First Order, as Rey, the last of the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, prepares to face off against the Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker takes the challenge of concluding a culturally treasured story that’s spanned four decades head-on, yet sacrifices something important in the process. Part of Star Wars is taking you away from reality and over to a galaxy far, far away, and this film succeeds at making the eye-popping visuals stand out in every shot, especially if you watch it in 3D, as you should for every Star Wars movie considering the grand scale they have to offer. John Williams, one of the real MVPs of the franchise, has composed every film in this saga and once again stuns with his beautiful musical scores. The cast still has plenty of energy and heart, especially the trio of protagonists — Daisy Ridley’s Rey shows plenty of emotion and energy and it’s hard not to love her character as she embarks on the final chapter of her adventure, and John Boyega’s Finn, as well as Oscar Isaac’s Poe, are very lovable as the daring fighters who are eager to lead and defeat the First Order for the greater good of the galaxy. It’s difficult not to enjoy whenever the lovable Chewbacca, C3P0, or BB-8 are on-screen either. The late Carrie Fisher also appears as General Leia, and although her appearance is very small, it’s a welcome and bittersweet one. Also returning from the original trilogy are Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams as galactic legends Luke and Lando — if only they had a bit more to do on screen, though. Unfortunately, nobody really gets a meaningful arc this time except Rey, but even her arc gets muddled and confusing by a decision that harms the emotional weight of the previous two installments. Not even Adam Driver, who plays the main antagonist in Episodes VII and VIII, gets much to do. In the last film, Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader of the First Order, but instead of utilizing that brilliant and original idea of having a young, conflicted boy become the head of the evil, tyrannical organization, he ends up answering to Palpatine for most of the film, and I’m not sure if Palpatine’s role in the film was even warranted. Finn’s a deserter of the First Order who’s become a sign of heroism and bravery for the Resistance, but that isn’t explored as an important character trait anymore — hell, he’s no longer a multi-dimensional character anymore, barely anyone is in this movie. Naomi Ackie is introduced as a new character named Jannah. Her character seems fantastic, yet they do absolutely nothing with her character other than make her stand next to Finn for the film’s entire second half, so unfortunately we’ll never know anything about her or if she was really as great of a character as she could’ve been.

The runtime is stuffed with so many ideas that either don’t make sense or are rushed past in the blink of an eye; it felt so rushed that it was almost like Disney mandated them to not make it a minute longer. The editing in The Force Awakens was so excellent it even received an Oscar nomination, but here the cuts are so fast and occasionally feel unnatural. In the other films, the action scenes feel nuanced but the ones here are so quick that it’s going to be hard to look at them as “scenes” for their filmmaking and purpose. In a movie with so much fighting, I ironically can’t remember a specific moment where the action is notably impressive, although it’s thankfully loud and colorful enough to be engaging, yet not resonant. In the predecessor The Last Jedi, I was shaking in suspense for a lot of the film, but unfortunately in The Rise of Skywalker, there isn’t really a moment where I had that same feeling. Maybe it’s because although there’s so much plot, the script never gives us a moment to breathe or just develop the characters emotionally. Without any emotional arcs being set up, we can’t be concerned about what’ll happen to them later in the film. There’s also a few iffy lines of dialogue that either felt like placeholders or sub-par ways to convey ideas that could’ve come off as stronger. The movie also has plenty of moments that allude to the previous films, such as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and these moments will work well because how much of an impact this saga has had throughout the audience’s lifetimes. Some moments will make you applaud and smile, and my theater experience with this film only reminds me how beautiful these Star Wars films bring people together, even after 42 years. However, by the end The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t feel like the natural continuation of the trilogy’s story, but rather like it’s trying to be the antithesis of The Last Jedi. Many of the powerful decisions Rian Johnson made in VIII feel undermined by what J.J. Abrams chooses to do in some scenes, and instead of going with the flow of the story, it feels like he disregarded the tone and value of the previous film, and even his own film The Force Awakens (I’m not even sure what the tone of this movie is, if I’m being honest). Abrams is a filmmaker I regard with lots of talent towards bringing a sense of wonder and imagination towards the screen, and it’s unfortunate because there so many moments of greatness throughout that are harmed by the light-speed runtime (which although, at 142 minutes, is longer than most other SW films, still feels incredibly rushed and overcrowded), and the director’s working against the story that he and Johnson established so well before. Although the actual ending of the film and the Skywalker Saga is nicely done, the final chapter of the journey there should’ve hit home as well. Regrettably though, it’s the least risky and exhilarating film of the bunch (although it’s arguably better than the prequels, which to me don’t capture the true meaning of Star Wars that well).

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion to one of the most beloved stories in the history of not only film, but also the art of fiction itself. Unfortunately, as an enormous fan myself, I found myself disappointed. the overabundance of ideas Abrams tries to fit into a crammed runtime (if you ask me, they should’ve taken a page out of Marvel’s book and made the movie 3 hours in order to give this saga the fitting send-off it deserved), and the choice to emphasize too much fan service over a sufficient amount of character/emotional payoff end up harming the story that was so beautifully constructed in the past outings of this trilogy. This feels like a great film that was cut in half and then made some frustrating last-minute decisions that don’t even impact the later events of the film, and the main characters’ arcs would’ve been much stronger without these decisions. While there were definitely some plot points I enjoyed and the vibrant visuals and world-building, as well as the film’s role in concluding the franchise, will excite most audiences and incite instances of applause, the lack of boldness and spirit makes this the least gripping and rewarding film in the sequel trilogy, despite the satisfying nostalgia that makes for an awesome theater experience when you’re watching it with other Star Wars-loving audience members.

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Though it’s the sixth Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate disregards the events of all but the first two Terminator films and takes place after Judgment Day. In this new future, Sarah Connor’s fate has forever been changed when she teams up with an augmented superhuman soldier sent from the future to protect Dani Ramos, a young woman whose survival is critical to ensuring the fate of humanity. Along their way to stopping the Rev-9 (a new, advanced, deadly Terminator from the future), another familiar face, well, comes back, just like he said he would.

Terminator: Dark Fate attempts to be a course correction by righting all these previous films’ wrongs, including bringing back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and James Cameron as producer, and even straight up retconning them and pretending they never existed, except for the only two good ones. But even in all its efforts to return the franchise to form, the spark that this series once had is still missing in Dark Fate. It’s a step up from the previous installment Genisys, but I’m not sure by how large of a margin. It sticks closer in tone to the first Terminator film than the second, but soon it just becomes a rehash of the 1984 classic. Linda Hamilton gives it her all, returning as one of the greatest on-screen badasses on film. She’s accompanied by another returning ass-kicker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has some fun moments and even some humor in his role as a new T-800 who conveniently also looks like Arnie. Mackenzie Davis was well-cast to play her role, but the writing for her, as well as for the character of Dani, aren’t as interesting or fresh as they should have been. The villain feels like a ripoff of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and the CGI for his character doesn’t feel convincing.

Perhaps the thing that’s truly missing from this installment is the groundedness the first two had; they were relatively low-budget so they felt like action chase films. But in the age of infinite CGI, nothing feels real, imminent, or threatening like it did back then. At times it feels like the movie’s attempting to be the Logan of the Terminator franchise with small-scale sequences set in Mexico like a scene involving the characters being apprehended by border patrol officers — but soon it ditches all that for a CGI-filled mess, and the finale is almost as cartoonishly bad as some sequences from Genisys. The action sequences all have nice concepts and were probably storyboarded out really well, some of the action, like an opening fist fight or a car chase, turns out to be poorly shot, although a scene involving two planes colliding and a dam was very entertaining. And the score is no longer haunting or memorable — perhaps they could have benefitted from more use of the original theme? Also, the new evil supercomputer that’s producing Terminators is exactly the same as Skynet and everything is the same in the concept, even though the future battle is well-done. There’s also a “plot twist” near the end of the movie that’s embarrassingly executed and so predictable I could see it coming before the movie even began. The theme of fate recurs throughout the film, yet it never feels like it belongs. All the dialogue about fate feels so forced, if only they had focused more on this franchise’s real theme: humanity. None of this is made better by the fact that there’s a choice made in the film that may anger fans of the first two films, and never really justifies itself — or a “we’ll make a sequel if this one makes enough money” ending that I wish had the finality the first two films had, back when we weren’t worried about the continuations and each film could stand as one. There’s some fun callbacks to the original, like the iconic line that has made the series so popular, or a scene taken directly out of the second film. However, Hamilton’s depth and Schwarzenegger’s charisma is all that make the movie, and even those aspects aren’t as strong as they used to be, to which the script is at fault, not the actors. So many times has the sequel that “brings back the true spirit and nature of the franchise that people cherish so dearly” decades later been done now — it felt exciting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and daring and new with Blade Runner 2049, and was also done by Halloween, Mary Poppins Returns, Independence Day: Resurgence, and soonly enough by Top Gun: Maverick and Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, though it tries its best to maintain its ties to the original, Dark Fate falls trap to some more modern action trademarks, ending up being too formulaic and not as emotionally raw as before. The big action and concepts often compromise the urgency, excitement, and resonance Terminator used to have, while this one is rather disposal and forgettable. Perhaps the dark fate the franchise may be going down is what the title warned us about.

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