Aquaman

ratings3

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

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

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

Aquaman poster.jpg

Advertisements

Venom

ratings2

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

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

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

Venom poster.jpg

Ant-Man and the Wasp

ratings3

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

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

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

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

Ant-Man and the Wasp poster.jpg

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

ratings2

Three years after the fall of Jurassic World, Owen and Claire return to the island to rescue the dinosaurs from a volcano that will cause the extinction of all the dinosaurs on the island.

There’s no surprise that audiences, including me, will continue to go pay watching dinosaurs wreak havoc on the big screen, not just because I enjoy it, but also because Jurassic Park is still on my top 10 favorite movies and I continue to have high hopes for the franchise. Unfortunately, Fallen Kingdom ditches a lot of the heart this series used to have for new high-paid cast members and plenty of scenes dedicated to rich corporate officials talking about dinosaur genetics. Jurassic World was far from perfect but still really enjoyable and had tons of edge-of-your-seat suspense, and one of the best parts of that movie was Chris Pratt’s protagonist, Owen Grady. Last time we met him, he was a unique dino trainer who knew the creatures better than anyone and took on threats in style. Here, there’s nothing heartfelt or fun to his role that all of Chris Pratt’s other performances seem to possess. His character is hardly developed this time around and his connection to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is done the exact same way as in the last movie. The new characters played by Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, and Toby Jones are anything but engaging and a large subplot involving a young girl made zero impact on the film’s plot. The child protagonist subplot didn’t work well last time, so why try it again with a new child character? Also, if the movie can afford Jeff Goldblum in its budget, why only have him in two scenes instead of having him be a main character again like the old times? The movie’s character roster could have really used a lot more of him as none of the characters outside of Pratt and Howard are interesting at all.

If you’re looking for some monster fun, don’t worry, this will probably please you as plenty of scenes are entertaining for a wide audience. The CGI is great, and even better than the last time around. Every dinosaur has a fun look and characteristic to it and the dinosaur action is quite pleasing most of the time, especially a scene on the island which has been highly teased in the marketing. Viewers new to the franchise and those who love the fright the previous films offer won’t be let down on an action standpoint, and director J.A. Bayona quite delivers with some great shots and visuals. The story does start off with a nice concept that raises the question of whether these creatures that us humans created deserve to live — but it rushes to the action without much meaning or strong buildup. Soon the plot becomes too uneven and it focuses not enough on its main characters and too much on useless or boring parts without moving forward into new ideas the franchise hasn’t explored before. The trailer makes this seem like the Empire Strikes Back of the Jurassic Park movies but there isn’t much tension or suspense besides the constant dinosaur noise after dinosaur noise, and even the action scenes have the familiar “characters making dumb mistakes near monsters” tropes. At the end, it didn’t feel like I had watched a complete movie because though the story could’ve been something very thrilling, there isn’t much depth to it. This could’ve worked really well and even been one of the best Jurassic movies, if only there was a reason to care and get invested into the plot aside from great CGI and chases. The ending is an interesting choice that teases a (hopefully) better final installment, but there wasn’t much of a reason to get excited when it ends. I remember at the end of Jurassic Park, I felt like I had seen something magical like never before, and at the end of Jurassic World, I felt like I had to catch my breath after all the intense and awesome action, but here, there’s no reaction or takeaway that I felt like I did with previous installments of the saga.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom works on the surface as a good looking dinosaur extravaganza with action that will please many wide audiences, but the story has nothing fresh to the franchise and the character focus is out of place. I would recommend it for its action but as a film with real quality, not much is offered that will resonate. It doesn’t reach the heights of what’s been done before and I feel that this saga has much more to it than what’s offered here. It ends up being a mediocre monster movie that many can still have fun with, but won’t be remembered as one of the greats.

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.png

Incredibles 2

ratings4

After defeating Syndrome, the Parr family continues to balance their superhero lives with their civilian lives as Elastigirl is recruited to help legalize superheroes.

Since The Incredibles was released 14 years ago, it’s become one of Pixar’s greatest sensations and it’s no wonder everyone anticipated this sequel for so long. Having grown up with the first movie, I was one of the people waiting so long to see this one. I loved the action, heart, and approach to the superhero genre the first one offered, as well as the brilliant style we always see from Pixar. Thankfully, a lot of that returns in Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up that carries down all the heart the first film had. It’s not just a movie about superheroes fighting villains, but a movie about being a family while having superpowers. The terrific cast from the first movie is mostly back — Holly Hunter is wonderful as Elastigirl with plenty of fun to her character once again as she takes on new duties in the spotlight, and it’s also great to see Craig T. Nelson back as Mr. Incredible as he strengthens his bonds with his children after being away in the first movie, and learns to take care of the home life as a father. It’s also great to have Samuel L. Jackson back as the lovable and awesome hero Frozone, and director Brad Bird once again voices the hysterical suit designer Edna Mode. New additions to the cast are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener who are both great as siblings who are advocating to legalize supers.

Another element worth noting is how the animation has stepped up since 2004 which really shows in every frame. The years worth of animating work pays off with the stunning detail in every picture. Another welcome return is the brilliant and exciting score by Michael Giacchino, who also composed the first movie, arguably his best film score. The jazz feel to the music makes it feel different than any superhero film or animated movie. The villain definitely isn’t as memorable as Syndrome from the first movie or even close, the rest of the script feels interesting and engaging enough despite a predictable villain reveal. Though the action isn’t as memorable as in the first, some are so great you could even expect to find them in a Marvel movie. Even though so many superhero franchises have started since the first movie was released, none of it feels affected by the fact that we get so many superhero films a year, and it still feels like the Pixar family adventure we got in 2004. Every character feels unique and heartfelt once again — Elastigirl is determined to make the world a better one for supers, Mr. Incredible is determined to take care of his children on his own, Violet has boy problems at school, Dash needs help with math homework and enjoys annoying his sister, and Jack-Jack — you’ll just have to see. These characters don’t just feel like action heroes working together — they feel like a real family. And that’s what this movie is, a family movie. It’s not just about fighting crime, but also getting along as a family and helping the ones closest to you. This also feels like something even adults could enjoy — one could see it as much of an action superhero movie as something like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers. At no point does the movie feel compromised to impress children, all of it feels like it could be pleasing to the most mature of viewers but kids can also love it. Basically, this movie is for all ages, and definitely one to go watch with the whole family.

Incredibles 2 is another fun animated movie built for all ages, with great animation, action, cast, characters, and music. You can count on Pixar to make the 14 year wait worth it.

The Incredibles 2.jpg

Upgrade

ratings4

When Grey Trace’s wife is murdered and he’s left paralyzed after an assault, he is offered a piece of technology that helps him walk again, which sends him on a path to avenge his wife.

Upgrade has a clever science fiction concept boasted by great action and directing. It takes a while for the adrenaline to kick in, as the first 20 minutes aren’t interestingly written and feel dull in terms of style, but when the story really begins, the movie picks up and becomes and engaging ride. Logan Marshall-Green isn’t one of the biggest Hollywood stars right now but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him in a leading role and he impresses me every time. He not only brings charisma to the main character but also emotional strength which he demonstrates in some scenes. The action is very well done and always entertaining, as the cinematography is creative and the over-the-top blood is fitting and adds to the excitement of the violence. The movie raises some interesting questions about technology and how far its usage could go, and though it struggles with making its villains and side characters as strong as the hero (none of the characters besides the lead are any memorable), it’s got some note-worthy action sequences and suspense, as well as a brilliant twist ending. I was also amused by the quality of the visual effects for such a low budget film. Upgrade looks impressive and also has a solid plot and thoughtful elements that fans of action and science fiction can enjoy.

UpgradePoster.jpg

Solo: A Star Wars Story

ratings3

The lastest Star Wars prequel tells the story of the galaxy’s greatest smuggler and what he was up to before he teamed up with Luke and Leia in the original movie. We follow Han as he meets his best friend Chewie, and makes new alliances as he pulls off heists and fights new enemies.

If the record-breaking sequels weren’t already enough, Lucasfilm has decided to come up with spin-offs that take place after the prequels but before the original trilogy. First we had Rogue One, about how the rebels got the plans for the Death Star, and now Solo, focusing on the past of one of cinema’s most beloved heroes. I can’t say these Star Wars Stories are the strongest of the franchise (though definitely better than the George Lucas prequels), but they’ve still got plenty for fans to enjoy. I still feel that these spin-offs are missing the heart and emotional strength that the main installments currently have, but so far they have the right mix of fun and nostalgia to be worth the trip to the theaters especially for fans, and Solo is no exception. It’s got plenty of entertaining action sequences and brings back some of the memorable characters we love from the original films, which includes not only Han and Chewie but also Lando Calrissian. Alden Ehrenreich, who you may remember from the Coen brothers’ recent work Hail, Caesar!, doesn’t perfectly capture everything Harrison Ford brought to the role but on his own he carries the movie with charm and spirit. The bar is set high for a performance of a legendary character from a legendary actor, and it’s tough when you’re expected to imitate another performance, and though he’s nowhere near as charismatic and fun as Ford was so brilliantly, he still was a good choice and did a nice job bringing the adventurous sense to the character. Also great is Donald Glover as Lando, who’s probably the standout of the film, as he gives a strong interpretation of the character with also lots of enjoyment to him. Woody Harrelson is always great, and here is no exception and Beckett, and Emilia Clarke as Q’ira is a well-realized partner and anchor for Solo’s character. Also worth-noting are Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau in noteworthy voice roles, and of course, don’t forget to be on the lookout for the once again lovable and awesome wookie Chewbacca.

Ron Howard directs Solo with a beautifully realized visual style and excellent CG-planets and settings created in front of your eyes. The cinematography and color palette is marvelously done and the screen is always filled with wondrous settings and creatures. The action is very entertaining, from heists to chases on the Falcon, some moments will definitely have you on the edge of your seat. Despite the fun action, filmmaking, and cast, I feel this movie could’ve used stronger writing. We see how Han does things like meeting Chewie and Lando, as well as getting the Falcon, but most of the notable events that Han does in the movie have already been explained through exposition in the original trilogy. There isn’t much change for Han on an emotional level to justify why we need this movie to precede the original film. I expected to learn more that’s new about Han that we haven’t learned about already and that’s important to know about his past, but nothing really powerful impacts Han on a substantial level that brings him to be the person we’ve come to know in the originals. Despite a connection to a lover that is established well, there aren’t too many strong character relationships that he has, and some of the story arcs aren’t really figured out by the end and feel a little contradictory to what’s set up earlier. There’s also a cameo at the end that shocked me but doesn’t do much else other than set up who knows how many more spin-offs.

Solo is definitely a fun time that offers a lot of entertainment and many Star Wars fans like myself will enjoy, but I felt it was missing the strong script and heart that the sequel trilogy installments like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have both realized so fantastically. Solo misses some of its potential to be as great as I was hoping, and though it’s definitely a fun ride that I’d revisit sometime and future generations will enjoy watching along with the other films, doesn’t completely justify its existence and misses some emotional marks that I think it could’ve gone for (which I feel Rogue One missed some of as well). Definitely watch it if you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s a solid film with good work from Ron Howard and the cast, but it’s far from the franchise at its best like we’ve known to love it in the past.

A group of people standing in a row, in the middle stands Han Solo pointing his blaster. The background is divided into blocks resembling a cockpit window.