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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Ad Astra

In Ad Astra, the galaxy’s only hope is Brad Pitt’s interstellar mission to find his long-lost father and his experiment-gone-wrong, which is causing deathly surges across the galaxy. In real life, our only hope is projects as ambitious, imaginative, and captivating as Ad Astra. From scene one, I was gasping for air and holding onto my seat — in the opening moments, the camera reveals Pitt walking on a space tower standing thousands of feet above the Earth. Immediately, the space between your seat and the setting feels no more, and you are transported onto that tower with him, gazing down at the heights beneath you, as anxious and fearful as Pitt’s character would be on such a high structure. You don’t have to imagine how he’s feeling, because you’re no longer in your theater, you’re there with him. Director James Gray immerses you into a futuristic version of our galaxy, where traveling to the moon is a casual pastime — and they even have Subways there. Nothing quite feels like Ad Astra — the originality shown as we journey through otherwordly military bases, territory wars, and space guns, demonstrates the spark of imagination this film has, and it feels like it could become the Blade Runner of our generation. Nothing looks like a set or a computer-generated effect — like Interstellar and First Man, it feels like we may as well be looking at HD footage sent back from the Hubble telescope. The visuals are so gripping and with a clearly fictional setting that still feels so real and will keep you on the edge of your seat, and the camera makes you part of an immersive journey to the other side of the solar system. For a filmmaker who’s never established himself as a high-budget director to suddenly make the jump to a visually impeccable galactic sci-fi adventure, it’s truly incredible. The cinematography achieves its goal often by putting you in Pitt’s perspective or showing the things going on through the reflection of his space mask where we also see his reaction. Even the wider shots that establish the scale of the scenes serve as immersive eye candy.

Our stunning ventures with Roy McBride bring him closer to our heart, but it’s really Pitt’s delivery that will makes its way into your emotions. For a character who spends a lot of the film trying to distance his emotions from those around, Brad Pitt makes you feel very close to him by subtly delivering his reactions to the screen scene by scene so that when he finally does crack and get sentimental, all the emotion comes pouring down on you. You will certainly be rooting for Pitt to find his father and achieve his objective and feel devastated when his character faces another emotional obstacle. The movie also raises some strong themes about humankind’s search for what’s beyond the stars and our lack of appreciation for what we have down on Earth. But there’s also more personal themes, like the impact that the abandonment of a child by their parent has on them growing up. Gray relies less on dialogue and heavily on the visual movement to carry the story forward so that you still deeply care what will happen and your heart will race during the most intense sequences. The story is rather simple as opposed to mind-blowing sci-fi hits like Interstellar and Arrival where the plot is so complex that some may have to talk it out to really take in what happen, but despite the simplicity, you can never really tell what’s going to happen next because of the immersive scale and the outstanding screenplay. If I had to change one thing, it’s that the movie is heavy on narration from Pitt, which for some, this may make up for the scenes that have less talking. However, I personally felt that in certain scenes, simply telling us how to feel rather than showing it actually lowers the emotional punches of some scenes, when relying more on visual storytelling, like flashbacks and Pitt’s expressions, strengthens the effect it has on viewers. I would have omitted most or nearly all of the narration, because a lot of the time, as cliche as it may sound, less is more. Other than that, I need to see that Ad Astra is a mezmerizing visual masterpiece and a gripping voice through space. It’s originality, imagionation, and ambition make it a striking standout this year, but the storytelling requires more patience than the average moviegoers today than are experiencing exposure to more and more franchise/genre films and not much else. Yet what makes it so great is the terrific leading role from Pitt, which continues his winning streak from earlier this year in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — plus the beautiful cinematography and visual effects that make the experience so thrilling, and the meditative and poetic themes and tone that lie beneath all the beauty. Yes, it may only be truly appreciated if seen on the big screen, but that’s why there’s no excuse to not watch it in theaters.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker goes on a school trip to Europe with his friends, only to be recruited by Nick Fury to take on the Spider-Man mantle once again and team up with interdimensional hero Mysterio to fight new threats known as the Elementals.

Spider-Man: Far From Home marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had a lot of expectations to fill consider it not only has to follow the grand phenomenon that was Endgame but also follow up on the story of Spider-Man: Homecoming and make a story that still feels new and exciting. Well not only does Spider-Man: Far From Home live up to the expectations for a good Homecoming sequel but it also introduces new concepts and unexpected turns even after 23 Marvel films, proving that they haven’t yet lost their steam. Tom Holland still carries the film wonderfully and continues to convince me that he’s the best Spider-Man yet. Peter is now trying to hold onto his youth and is afraid to accept new and bigger responsibilites after losing an important figure in his life. Peter must learn to mature and step up throughout the film which makes for a strong arc in the film. Also great is his chemistry with Zendaya, who is also really great in her role as MJ, who we didn’t see enough of in Homecoming but is a leading part here. Watching their connection blossom throughout the film is really sweet and was done well by the writers and actors. Also really fun parts of the film are Jacob Batalon as Peter’s hysterical best friend Ned, and Jon Favreau as Tony Stark’s assistant Happy who is still played with plenty of charm, and he and Peter once again have great scenes together.

What director Jon Watts is once again able to do with this sequel is maintain that “high school movie” tone with Peter facing issues like bullies, crushes, etc., but Watts also makes sure to bring us a high-stakes superhero movie with threats and responsibilites that Peter must face as Spider-Man. He keeps the tone light and adds plenty of humor as we’re used to seeing from Marvel, and keeps the signature Marvel hero, villain, and conflict tropes. However, one thing I was underwhelemed by was the visual look of the film. Marvel has always impressed me with the production design, cienamtography, and visuals in their films, espeically lately with the gorgeous Captain Marvel and Avengers movies, but here the movie feels very boringly shot and there is no color scheme or visual style that will keep your eyes in awe like the past Marvel movies this year have. The battles often feel well-realized but the green screen also sometimes doesn’t blend in and the design for the Elementals villains as well as the final battle are also less impressive visually. Also, the fact that Sony oversees these Spider-Man MCU films while Disney controls all the others leads to some questionable or unexplained references to the bigger universe, which are sometimes welcome but sometimes a bit much or raise unneeded questions rather than serve as world-building. While Homecoming had fun small appearances from Iron Man and Captain America, here some of the connections to the rest of the MCU feel like Sony trying to constantly remind the world that their property is part of Disney’s Marvel universe as well. Other than the obvious impact Infinity War and Endgame have on the main character, some of this world-building raises more questions than it needs to and possibly tampers with the consistency Disney has been keeping so smoothly through its MCU films. I feel like there were also some underdeveloped plot points throughout the film, and they could have extended the runtime by only 5 minutes to help establish these more, like we don’t see much of how the world is readjusting after Thanos’ actions shook the universe, and we also hear peoople repeadetly mention a large character from Endgame but I think we needed a bit more about how Peter is affected by that character’s loss. Also, the timing of the release was way too soon (only 2 months) after Endgame, which was the big conclusion to many years of MCU films — so why not wait a bit longer and let us take in the first big chapter instead of diving right into the next one? Hopefully this won’t undermine the effect of Endgame as a finale as time goes by, because both these films are still great on their own. What Spider-Man: Far From Home does best, however, is remind us why we love this incarnation of the character and why he resonates with audiences, as well as provide new challenges and growth for the character as well deliver on the tone of a film that has to feel large-scaled on small-sclaed at the same time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a satisfying sequel that ups the scale and stakes for Spidey with more locations and more cdhallenging foes than before, even though it’s visually dull compared to the other big Marvel movies this year, and the pacing could’ve been slightly improved. However, the performances, storyline, and humor all deliver as expected and there’s an awesome mid-credits scene that changes the game for the future of Spider-Man.

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Men in Black: International

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In this Men in Black spin-off, new agent M arrives at the MIB London headquarters and teams up with senior agent H to find a mole in the organization and stop an alien being from destroying all life on Earth.

The Men in Black movies have been very unique and enjoyable in the past, with moments that many generations can remember or quote — so it’s a shame this new installment is just pretty standard. It’s a movie we’ve seen god knows how many times — two agents/cops have to get along and fight bad a guy, but turns out it’s not who it seems. One golden aspect of the MIB films is the main duo, agents J and K, so they really needed to nail that without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones around. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are the saving grace of the film and play off each other well, like they have in the past as a lovable duo in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame. Thompson especially delivers a great performance as the rookie agent discovering a huge world of extraterrestrial friends and foes. Kumail Nanjiani is also clearly having fun voicing an alien named Pawny, because… well, he’s a pawn. Get it? But the thing about cast members like Hemsworth and Liam Neeson are that they basically play the same types of characters we’ve already seen them play — give Agent H a magical axe and I would’ve certainly thought he was Thor. Some of the exposition gets uninteresting and the villain does nothing for the film, and barely any of the humor lands, whatever does was already shown in the trailer. Also, this is an action movie, and while the action here will keep most viewers in their seats, that’s just about the best compliment I can give it. I found the action to be dull and boring and it feels too much like the other films — or any action film, in that matter — to be praised, but most viewers will find it not bad enough to at least sit down in front of. The visuals are sometimes serviceable but there are even moments when the green screen and set design seem too obvious and stand out in a bad way. There’s also a huge plot twist in the final act that, well, I saw coming before the movie even began. The final battle is the most boring part and the ending is also very silly. I don’t know if they’re planning on making more of these films, but they should get new writers and directors, and also the original titular duo, on board to make it better.

Men in Black: International hits all the familiar notes, and you won’t really remember it after watching it. It has an enjoyable cast and some moments the general audience will enjoy if you’re looking for a light-hearted action film, but if that doesn’t necessarily mean a good film in your books, then you should just give it a go.

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Dark Phoenix

The X-Men have become global heroes, taking on riskier missions, and when Jean Grey is hit with a solar flare on a space rescue mission, it unleashes an unimaginable strength in her that threatens the X-Men and the entire world.

As the conclusion of this Fox X-Men saga, Dark Phoenix is somewhat enjoyable with a fascinating cast and characters that are stayed true to here. Sophie Turner does a solid job as Jean, and even if she sometimes overacts, she does a good job of delivering fear, uncertainty, and pain in her performance. Despite the title though, the real standouts are actually the supporting characters played by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult. These characters really get moments to shine and the writing from the previous films is carried down to keep them effective characters like they are here. However, there are some writing choices that make Charles and Mystique feel a bit out of character, like Raven’s constant doubting of the X-Men’s mission which was there before but in this film’s situation is a bit of a stretch. Also, Charles clearly introduces some of the conflict in the movie but it also feels like the other characters treat him too poorly for the sake of the story. Also, one of the coolest characters from the last few films, Quicksilver, is hardly in the film, which is a missed opportunity considering how much enjoyment he brings to the screen and the fact that X-Men: Apocalypse also revealed him being Magneto’s son, which has absolutely no payoff (not really a spoiler, it’s a fact revealed early on in the predecessor which was released in 2016).

It’s surprising that the real reason this film works is besides the main story and the fact that this is a Phoenix adaptation, it feels above all like an X-Men movie and the character relations are what work best. Jean’s internal conflict which is the central arc of the film actually falls second to the world-building and the connections between the other characters, as well as nods to themes that even have allegories of WWII events, like the idea of one incident drawing fear towards an entire group of people. The action works at times, especially a fun space rescue scene at the beginning that has striking visual effects, as well as an exciting battle in New York City later on which does an impressive job displaying the characters’ powers. The score from Hans Zimmer is also remarkable and helps bring a darker tone than most superhero films which isn’t really ever interrupted by light humor, something most Marvel movies like to include. Unfortuantley however, one of the hardest parts of the film to enjoy comes when an alien race is introduced, led by Jessica Chastain in what is sadly one of her least notable on-screen performances. This shape-shifting alien race feels too familiar, as we just saw the same idea with the Skrulls in Captain Marvel, and their designs and powers are so inconsistent and boring, as well as their overall presence which was just unwelcome. There’s also some lines and moments that feel out of place, like Halston Sage singing a modern pop song at a party in the 90s, or cringeworthy dialogue like a random moment in which Raven says that “The women always save the men around here so you should really think of changing the name to X-Women,” a line that comes out of nowhere, has no context and serves no purpose to the story.

Also, after some interesting drama and action, the film takes a drop in quality during a final battle where suddenly a lot of the excitement is lost and I didn’t really care about where it was going. This final battle was poorly choreographed and obviously felt like a last-minute reshoot, and sacrificed any convincing emotion the previous two acts may have had, and it culminates in a horrible and laughable climax that might be one of the worst scenes in the entire franchise. The ending to the film, which is now supposed to end the entire franchise, feels pretty abrupt and anticlimactic as a conclusion and I wish they had made one or two more films after this before bringing the story of the X-Men to a proper close. The way the film ends also leaves lots of plot holes in the timeline and unresolved things that make no sense when looking at the ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this film is now supposed to be a prequel to that film’s final sequence but instead it diverts away from that to make the story in the franchise even more confusing. There’s also a huge plot hole in this film that completely ignores the events of X-Men: Apocalypse — if Jean used the Phoenix force in the ’80s, how does she only get the Phoenix force in the ’90s? Dark Phoenix feels darker than the other films and focuses more on character and plot than large world-ending scale, but by the end, I wasn’t really sure what it wanted to be. What redeems Dark Phoenix as a film though is the acting, music, and action (sometimes), as well as some interesting dilemmas and character arcs raised that may or may not appeal to both fans and non-fans, but personally I found it to be a lot better than the critics are calling it, though it’s still disappointing considering how awesome I’ve seen this series become before.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla resurges from the depths of the ocean once again to face off against monsters like King Ghidorah to claim dominance over the other Titans and determine the fate of humanity and the Earth.

In 2014, Godzilla introduced us to a new MonsterVerse from Warner Bros. with exciting monster action from the new wave of Hollywood blockbusters. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, well, succeeds at making that film and every monster movie that came before look like an absolute joke. The stakes and scale are raised to an all-time high, with cities submerged underwater, millions in peril, and nuclear blasts that could cover oceans. Nothing ever looks or feels delicate because of the amount of destruction that occurs here. The vibrant blue and orange colors paint the screen and the visuals on the monsters look even better than before, as they battle and wreak glorious and enormous havoc. The visuals feel like a real achievement for the genre and always stand out in a way unlike most action films today where the CGI often feels taken for granted and not treated with such meticulous care like here. The director also did a great job of topping the action from the last film, with epic sequences fans have likely dreamed of that will immerse you with loud monster sounds and excite you with impressive visuals and fights.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters works as a fun monster movie — if only the story was able to keep up. The first act starts out as an intriguing and decent film but once the focus turns away from the main characters and toward the philosophies of whether or not the Titans should be let loose in the world, it gets extremely tiring and all the character drama gets lost in muddled story and irritating side characters who do nothing but explain things about monsters and nuclear science. Once a character’s motives are revealed, there’s an extremely frustrating second act that makes you want to get lost in all the loud music and monster extravaganza rather than care about what’s going to happen. Most of the cast is pretty underutilized except for the lovable Millie Bobby Brown, who does a great job as one of the only characters in the film who doesn’t keep making questionable decisions. Every other cast member that you want to love is either given poor dialogue or just not given good screentime or an interesting arc. Thankfully we are given time in the end of the film to enjoy yet another big battle, with an awesome finale and a grand final shot that leaves me excited for the potential of the next sequel — I just wish that they can make sure the script isn’t sacrificed next time in order to make a rewarding visual treat.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters fulfills its purpose of being a huge monster mashup with plenty of destruction, violence, and excitement, but the story is often second to fun eye candy — so come for the monster action, stay for that and not much else.

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Avengers: Endgame

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After the decimation of half the universe at the hands of Thanos, the Avengers must fight to restore order to the universe once and for all in the conclusion to an 11-year, 22-film-long journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you’ve ever felt like all these shared universes and year-long franchises have been leading up to something, then, well, it’s here. The moment fans have been waiting for since 2008 has finally arrived, culminating an already enormous franchise in a gigantic finale that’s everything I wanted it to be and more. It’s the most shocking and emotional movie out of the entire superhero genre, but also brings all the excitement and fun Marvel knows for while having a more somber tone than most Marvel films as well. This movie brings eleven years of cinema in a cinematic event that pays off every minute dedicated to waiting for, watching, and discussing Marvel films over the years. If you think you could get away with only watching a few of the previous films before this one, then you’re wrong — in order to truly grasp the substance of Endgame like the movie wants you to, you are required to watch every film from the Iron ManCaptain America, and Thor trilogies to all the other connected adventures such as Guardians of the GalaxyDoctor StrangeAnt-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel, and of course, the first three Avengers film. After all, it has been an eleven-year adventure and, to be honest, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the center of popular culture for as long as I’ve known about it and have been following it. In case you don’t know, I’ve seen every Marvel movie in theaters since 2012 and this franchise has always had a special place in my heart. This movie is one that everyone can love, but simply going to see Endgame without any prior knowledge won’t bring you as much joy and emotional payoff as that which so many fans in my theater, including myself, experienced when watching this film. The performances are all spectacular, including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans reprising their beloved roles as the leading names of the Avengers, which have easily become the greatest characters in modern cinema. The movie does a wonderful job continuing every character arc from the previous films but still takes characters in unexpected directions, which may be why characters like Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Thor are such highlights as well. Every actor wonderfully reminds us why they were so perfect from the role, including the previously mentioned actors, as well as Mark Ruffalo who is always so enjoyable as Bruce Banner. Not to mention Paul Rudd, who is perfect comedic relief but also delivers a terrific performance overall as his character Scott Lang, better known as Ant-Man. Another character I was very impressed by is Nebula, who originates from the Guardians of the Galaxy films and is most deeply connected to Thanos from all the characters in the film. Nebula’s arc has always intrigued me though many have overlooked it, and the script takes advantage of what makes her great very well and transforms her into a real hero, as opposed to her darker, villainous personality when her journey began in Guardians of the Galaxy. Telling you who else is in the film would already be a spoiler, but every cast member that does appear in the movie perfectly utilized and is very much welcomed every minute they’re on screen.

Remember when Avengers: Infinity War came out and everyone called it a cinematic landmark because of the incomparable scale and stakes? Well, Avengers: Endgame succeeds at topping that scale by creating something even more unimaginably enormous and climactic. Moments fans have awaited for years and buildup waiting to be payed off, it’s all rewarded here in scenes you would never think to picture in your head but finally can. Audiences will continuously clap and cheer as the past films are referenced and heroes do awesome things you’ve always wanted them to do. This movie made me react like no movie before, and I had a huge smile on my face in some scenes that I just couldn’t get rid of. Even after twenty-two films, Marvel takes unexpected directions that you wouldn’t have thought of but still remain true to the long-lasting story arcs. This results in an emotionally surreal experience where you cannot tell what will happen next, or if Hollywood can ever top such a glorious event. The way Endgame handles its story serving as a climax of eleven years of cinema and as a 3-hour movie lover’s dream, well, it convinces me that this is the peak of filmmaking history here. Every movie in history has always promised to “up the ante”, but after Endgame, it’s hard to see how the scale, stakes, and weight of this film can ever be topped. But that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it just means that we lived in the right time, to witness such a grand phenomenon unfold in front of our eyes, and that we’ll be able to tell those who come after us of the adventure we went on with these characters over the years, and the conclusion of their stories that we see here, wrapped up terrifically in one of the greatest superhero movie endings of all time, which in turn helps make up the greatest superhero movie, and one of the most astonishing action movies and blockbusters put to film in this day and age.

Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic event that must be witnessed on the big screen, marking the end of an era for Marvel but one that still exceeds expectations with fantastic writing, emotional value, nostalgia, and visuals and set pieces that will be remembered for the rest of however long superhero and action movies continue to be made. Thank you, Marvel Studios, for making such a sensational universe and making the experience of being a fan an unforgettable one. I’m sure more people can agree with me on that than Thanos can snap away. You’ve definitely already heard of Avengers: Endgame and now that you know why you should see it, what are you waiting for?

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