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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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Frenemies Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw must reteam two years after The Fate of the Furious in order to stop a genetically enhanced criminal mastermind from unleashing a deadly virus onto humanity.

I’m normally quite an admirer of this franchise; their storylines aren’t always amazing but they’re ridiculously fun and something that I can’t miss on the big screen. These kinds of huge action movies bring audiences together and normally put a smile on my face. So while I wasn’t expected to be moved by Hobbs & Shaw or see something particularly unique, I was at least expecting more than what I ended up getting. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw lacks the energy and personality that makes this series exciting and memorable. Fast & Furious is about people using cars to pull of unbelievable stunts and going on impossible missions. Meanwhile, Hobbs & Shaw is just another action movie. Is The Fate of the Furious necessarily a great movie with masterclass choreography or some sort of strong message? No. But what makes these movies work so well for what they are is moments like Dwayne Johnson pushing a torpedo with his bare hands or Vin Diesel flying his car through different skyscrapers in Furious 7 that allow the past movies to indulge in the ridiculousness that it is and find merit through crazy popcorn action and likable characters and dialogue. Nothing about the action in this movie has any of that personality that makes the rest of the series’ action, while ridiculous, ultimately entertaining. It’s only in the climactic final battle where the movie allows itself to up the ante, get over-the-top, and actually have somewhat lively fight scenes. The cinematography and editing are also sometimes poor and either too choppy or just not consistent or interesting. The humor, despite some good moments, also falls flat many times and gets tiring. Dwayne Johnson still breathes light and liveliness into his role but after a while him and Jason Statham roasting each other gets old. Also, they made amends at the end of the last film so it’s not even clear why they still hate each other. Another thing that really bugged me is the villain, played by Idris Elba. His character is nonsensical and laughable (I mean you can expect that from this series but can we also ask for a villain that isn’t so absurd you want to laugh at it?). I mean, that’s what this movie is, absurd, and that’s what its supposed to be. But the movie tries to make Elba’s character deep and motivated but it really is hard when his evil organization feels like something out of a bad Ninja Turtles show. His purpose is questionable and his motive is nearly the same as another big villain this year from the film Avengers: Endgame. His antagonist was probably even as bad as Charlize Theron’s character in the last movie. Fortunately, the movie does make up for it with some awesome and unexpected celebrity cameos that are perfectly utilized.

I’m a fan of David Leitch’s directing for Deadpool 2, as well as some spectacular action for an otherwise mediocre debut film Atomic Blonde, and while sometimes the lighting and settings are well selected, the action feels either too quickly edited so it’s hard to take in what’s happening, or just too dull and boringly choreographed. Like I said, Hobbs & Shaw‘s action lacks personality so it feels like this could’ve been out of any standard spy action film worth passing over. The plot has a somewhat cool device involving a virus, but really nothing interesting is done with the story until Hobbs is forced to confront his past and his family in Samoa. The scenes where we see Hobbs’ family and culture being embraced are some of the best parts of the film story-wise, and every other attempt to craft a compelling story fails and there are some lines that don’t really belong. Like I said, I’m not looking for an incredible script with these movies, but at least the past movies were able to make their themes of family and friendship work. Hobbs & Shaw aims for this but it only really lands towards the end, like I said. It feels like writer Chris Morgan, who has worked on this franchise for seven films, has started to lose grip on how to make effective humor and conflict to craft a truly worthwhile blockbuster like he has several times before. When the final act utilizes a unique setting and culture, it becomes amusing, but Hobbs & Shaw unfortunately takes many of the wrong things too seriously and when it does go for comedy, it sometimes doesn’t hit the mark. There’s also a very forced hinting at a romance that thankfully never happens but the writers felt they had to push it into there just to check off a studio box. There’s also an ending that’s pretty abrupt and for some reason the movie decides to tell its entire epilogue through the credits. Believe me, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is quite ridiculous, but it doesn’t succeed in having that personality that makes everyone enjoy the hell out of this franchise, and lacks that energy that got me pumped while watching Fast 5, 6, 7, and 8. Instead this movie feels tiring and doesn’t allow the audience to indulge in the lack of believability, instead it takes the plot too seriously and the humorous banter doesn’t always succeed either. Perhaps this movie would’ve worked better if it was marketed as some sort of parody rather than a real spin-off to a franchise I’ve had better times with. I’m glad next time we’re getting a different director and writer, and some more of Dom, Roman, and Tej. If you want to watch an action comedy where Dwayne Johnson fights people, well, this movie has that. But what I was also hoping for was that spark of energy and exhilaration that has always made the absolute insanity of the Fast & Furious franchise worth it.

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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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Jason Bourne

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Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the CIA’s most dangerous former operative, is drawn out of hiding when old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds him, to uncover more explosive truths about his past.

Jason Bourne reminds us that the series it belongs to is still one of the greatest action franchises out there, especially with Paul Greengrass in the director’s chair, and Damon in the spotlight. In 2012, we got The Bourne Legacy, which starred Jeremy Renner instead of Damon and failed critically because it didn’t feel much like a Bourne movie because of Damon’s absence and the lack of everything that distinguishes a Bourne movie from a regular action movie. In this film, Greengrass shows us that this series can still return to form after a mistake like that. Jason Bourne follows the formula set by the first three films, with lots of impressive shaky-cam action while Bourne is running from the CIA. However, it gets even more personal this time around, as he starts to uncover a final secret from his past. The story isn’t very new but as a huge fan of the series, I never lost interest thanks to the pacing and intense action. Damon is still fantastic as the titular character, even fourteen years after portraying the character for the first time. He never loses character both physically and emotionally, and it’s so much fun to watch him constantly kick ass in all four of these films. Tommy Lee Jones portrays a ruthless CIA director who’s as perfectly written and developed as Chris Cooper’s antagonist in the first film, while Alicia Vikander is superb as a CIA agent that, in a way, resembles Joan Allen’s Pam Landy from the previous movies. Although both characters feel familiar, they are most skillfully portrayed by two excellent casting choices for their roles. Vincent Cassel is also a great villainous newcomer to the series, with an interesting backstory and great writing to his character. It’s so impressive that even though the main characters are part of the franchise’s formula, each one of them was written so profoundly, and I loved the way they were developed and portrayed.

If you’re hoping to get some spectacular action sequences from this movie, then you won’t be let down because there is plenty of intense bone-crunching and heart-racing action that’s just as great as what Greengrass gave us in Supremacy and Ultimatum. There’s an epic motorcycle chase during a riot that glued my eyes to the screen, as well as an enormous car chase in Vegas that kept me on the very edge of my seat. The incredible use of practical stunt and shaky camera work definitely hold up. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is more reliant on shaky cam than Oliver Wood, who shot the original trilogy; Ackroyd has however proved to be a master at capturing exquisite action and scenery with his style in films like The Hurt Locker and Captain Phillips. Here, his style may feel overdone to some, but I believe the camerawork was done impeccably, especially during the action scenes. A lot of critics have sadly been disappointed by this movie, saying it doesn’t live up to the previous work of Damon’s Bourne pictures, but let me tell you that skipping this movie is not the right move for fans of action movies and especially of the saga. Jason Bourne gave me everything I wanted and even more. It’s strikingly written, phenomenally acted, and stunningly shot and directed. It’s definitely on par with the first three films, probably even better than Supremacy. The Bourne movies have truly raised the bar for action movies, and I haven’t seen many others like them. Jason Bourne is another fantastic example that did not disappoint, so please, despite what many critics have said, go see this movie with an open mind like I did, and who knows how much you may end up liking it?

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Suicide Squad

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In DC’s latest attempt to recover from the backlash received by this year’s Batman v Superman, A secret government agency recruits a group of imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency, which inevitably leads to chaos.

Suicide Squad was easily one of my most anticipated movies of the year, but I was also expecting so much from it, and unlike other films that unsurprisingly disappointed, I was almost certain I was going to get everything I wanted from this film. With great casting choices and an intriguing story, I didn’t think anything could go wrong. However, despite a few perks, Suicide Squad is ultimately a chaotic and poorly constructed supervillain extravaganza. This movie isn’t completely bad, as most of the action is tons of fun and the film’s cast is packed with awesome and entertaining performances. Will Smith leads the cast with great humor and writing, and Margot Robbie steals the movie with her insane and lively performance as Harley Quinn. Robbie always seems like she’s having so much fun in the role, as she’s always full of energy and she definitely lived up to what I expected from her. Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, and the rest of the cast are solid and mostly funny. I expected more, however, from Jared Leto. His take on the Joker is nowhere as memorable as Heath Ledger’s take on the psychotic villain in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and his role is of little significance in the film. The DC universe just wastes this character in the film and I didn’t like his use in the film, although I liked Leto’s performance. Another thing I enjoyed about the movie was the amount of humor incorporated in the movie, and how much it delivered. Characters like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang were hilarious and delivered some great lines. I was impressed and overall satisfied by how much the movie made me laugh. The action mostly entertained me as well.

I was hoping Suicide Squad could help DC recover from Batman v Superman‘s terrible failure this year, however, I was wrong. Like its predecessor, the movie suffers from many continuity errors and plot holes. Many things happen that don’t make any sense later on, and although the movie tries hard, there is ultimately no emotional weight that got to me, and by the end, the story felt completely empty and pointless. The editing is too choppy and flashy, all the takes are transitioned through too quickly, and I could tell that too much was cut from the film. Not much is explained and regarded that I wish was addressed to have made more sense. A lot of the development for more minor characters was not there, so emotionally there was nothing this film gave me. Despite the backstories provided for more major characters like Deadshot and El Diablo, nothing hit me deep like other films of its genre, like Guardians of the Galaxy and other films in the Avengers saga. The film’s villain also did nothing for me, as the villain’s plot and presence were dull and effortless. The ending of the movie makes the plot and even the film itself feel so pointless and nothing seems to be in its place anymore. You may want to watch Suicide Squad for a few fun action sequences and good laughs, but don’t expect a redeeming summer blockbuster for DC, or anything close.

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Star Trek Beyond

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In the third of the Star Trek reboot franchise, the  crew of the USS Enterprise explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

Star Trek Beyond brings to the screen everything we love about Star Trek and more, even without J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair. Beyond is packed with great action, laughs, writing, cast chemistry, and editing. Justin Lin surprised me by how well he was able to direct this film without losing the energy, heart, and extraordinary style that Abrams brought to the first two films. You can’t get enough of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and the late Anton Yelchin (who sadly passed away due to an accident last month) as the crew of the Enterprise. They are all filled with so much energy and fun. The chemistry between all of them is golden, the writing for their characters is outstanding, and they always seem to be having so much fun in front of the screen. Sofia Boutella (who you may remember as Samuel L. Jackson’s henchwoman in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service) surprised me in her newcoming role to the series, and although her role wasn’t the most original character the writers could have come up with, I didn’t expect as much from her and enjoyed watching her onscreen. Idris Elba delivers a favorable performance as an evil alien warlord named Krall, but can’t nearly top Benedict Cumberbatch’s menacing Khan from Into Darkness. In the film’s last act, Krall is given a backstory that only complicates things and makes him less intimidating. The backstory they gave him felt too familiar and flat, and didn’t work well with the rest of the film.

Can a Star Trek movie ever disappoint me visually? Not quite. The effects in this movie are splendid, and although it lacks the glamorous touch Abrams gave the visual atmosphere and look of its predecessors, there is some marvelous cinematography and visual surrounding in the film. This experience was especially enhanced for me because I saw this in IMAX 3D, which explains why I felt so sucked into the movie’s setting, which was always animated beautifully. The action is shot and choreographed very well, and it’s all very fast-paced and fun to sit through. The action definitely holds up to the excitement and intensity in the first two films. This movie is a thrill ride packed with tons of sci-fi violence throughout, even though it doesn’t forget to provide the character development we want from a Star Trek movie. Expect plenty of nostalgia and throwbacks to the original Star Trek franchise and cast, the film doesn’t get rid of the great feeling that you’re watching Star Trek, a different kind of enjoyment than most other action films. If you’re a fan, you definitely won’t get let down by how much the original franchise is paid homage to, and by how much this saga still feels like Star Trek did decades ago. Although it’s not as great as the first two films, Beyond is still tons of fun to watch, with a stellar cast, plenty of vivid action and effects, and doesn’t forget to pay tribute to the late and great Leonard Nimoy, and of course, Anton Yelchin. Go see Beyond if you’re a fan, or if you simply want to have a great time at the movies.

The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.

Now You See Me 2

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In the sequel to the 2013 heist thriller hit, a good percentage of the Horsemen resurface for a comeback performance only to be threatened into pulling off a dangerous heist by tech prodigy Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). Their only hope is to perform one last stunt to clear their names and reveal the mastermind behind it all.

Now You See Me 2 sacrifices everything that made the first movie successful and entertaining to bring you a bloated, unimpressive, and ridiculous mess of a sequel. Jon M. Chu (director of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and other bad films) was one of the worst choices to direct this film. He turns the franchise from a heist chase thriller into an action caper, which really does not suit the films. The first movie’s original taste and fun is gone here. Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco are not as good as they were in the first film, although Mark Ruffalo still delivers almost as well. Replacing fourth Horseman Isla Fisher is Lizzy Caplan, who is surprisingly entertaining and without a doubt, the most fun part of the movie. However, none of the actors besides Caplan seem like they’re having fun with the film, even Ruffalo doesn’t feel like he’s always enjoying being there, even though he gives it his all. Daniel Radcliffe’s onscreen presence here was awful, with his character having an unclear motive and barely any point in the film. Michael Caine was also very dull, and Morgan Freeman’s return was way too unnecessary. The movie’s plot is not focused well, and is badly shot and edited, with every shot not feeling continuously edited well. Even the movie’s title feels very lousy and unimaginative (what’s wrong with a title like Now You See Me: Now You Don’t?) By the end of the movie, everything is so ridiculous, not to mention that there is way too much going on, and the right things are never explained. The third act was too complicated and tiring and nothing important went explained. Also, a lot of the movie was way too predictable because of how cheesy and cliche a lot of the plot points were. This film brings the franchise on a completely wrong track, to the point where a third film just wouldn’t work.

Now You See Me 2 is a disappointing and uninspired summer sequel with unfocused narrative and directing. There is just way too much going on for you to care, and nothing is explained well when explanation is needed. Most of the cast is not great, and the movie is lost within the wrong genre. If there’s a film you want to go watch on the big screen, you should not consider this one.

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