Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest installment in the most popular film franchise of all time, and I can’t tell you anything else about this one, because if you’re a huge fan like me and most of the world’s population, you don’t need a plot description to get you to go see it. This movie picks up right after The Force Awakens left off, and as soon as the movie begins, the return to the galaxy which the world has grown to love over the last 40 years feels intriguing from the first scene. Like its predecessor, The Last Jedi is completely unpredictable and this one is even more different than the last film.

The cast once again knocks it out of the park, from the original characters portrayed by Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, the returning characters from the previous sequel including Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, and new additions to the universe played by Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Hamill is as terrific as he’s ever been as Luke Skywalker, the most beloved hero in the history of cinema. His performance and his character’s arc over the last forty years has been tremendous, and the addition to his arc here is an unexpected turn which Hamill portrays so well, as he expresses the loss of heroism and his giving up of hope after a mistake he made prior to the events of the trilogy. Fisher’s scenes are great as well, and her final film performance that was shot before her tragic death last year is poignant and the film does her justice, paying tribute to her like it should. If you loved Daisy Ridley as our new protagonist Rey, you won’t be disappointed in the path she takes in this movie, as her journey through the ways of the Force continues under Luke’s guidance. Ridley does a terrific job conveying the emotional conflict her character experiences and how she finds her place in the battle of good against evil. Driver is back as the menacing and superb antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is a complicated villain but perfectly developed, and experiences changes after he did something in the last movie that shocked us all. We root for the good guys and against him but we feel that he isn’t all-evil like his master Snoke, speaking of whom is very intimidating and well-acted by Andy Serkis. John Boyega as defected stormtrooper Finn is another one of my favorite members of the cast, and although the storyline he has with new character Rose isn’t as compelling as the rest of the film, Finn is still a character we enjoy going on an adventure with thanks to his great writing and acting from the awesome Boyega who had his breakout when he first played the character two years ago. Isaac as Poe Dameron has more to do this time around, and his clashes with authority and his morals are interesting to explore. Of course, expect appearances from your favorite creatures like the lovable wookie Chewbacca, droids such as C3P0, R2-D2, and BB-8, the adorable new birds from Luke’s planet known as the Porgs, and a shocking appearance from one of everyone’s favorite Star Wars characters.

As a middle installment that has the expectations as many set as high as Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi definitely reaches those standards for what has been set with The Force Awakens, which introduced us to this magnificent new setting within the universe we already love, and here we dive deeper into those characters and experience some dark twists and turns on the way. Many fan theories have been developed ever since everyone saw the first film in this new trilogy two years ago, but no theory was able to predict the events that happen in this movie. I loved J.J. Abrams’ direction of Episode VII, and although he will return for the last installment in the trilogy, this one is directed by Rian Johnson, who previously directed the high school mystery Brick and the sci-fi thriller Looper. Johnson does a very impressive job building on what’s already happened and bringing to life the new planets and settings. The cinematography is beautiful and so are the visual effects, capturing the memorable action scenes and sets magnificently, just like a Star Wars movie should. Reception from fans has been mixed, but I can’t see why. I was on the very edge of my seat for the entire movie, and stunned at what this had to offer. It’s risk-taking, unpredictable, and deprived of the familiar 3-act story structure, making it even more suspenseful, and it’s got plenty of originality for the eighth film in a franchise. It holds onto what people have loved about the series since 1977, but it still has room for lots of creativity and trust me, I was quite shocked by what happened in this film. It’s not the cheerful blockbuster that most big studio sequels are nowadays, but it’s a dark, thrilling epic that will have everyone, Star Wars fan or not, cheering throughout.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the movie everyone will be going crazy about, and whether or not you like these films, you really should see the definitive blockbuster of the year. As an enormous fan of the series, I was not let down by the amazement I got here. Star Wars has brought people together all around the world since the first film was released 40 years ago, and this movie brings back what fans have loved since then but also lots of surprises. Although a few minor moments/plot points were weaker than others, the cast, visuals, story, writing, and emotion redeem the film, and at best this is an epic and marvelous sequel that is strong with the force.

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Wind River

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In Wind River, the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) teams with a town’s veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Both the past films written by Sheridan did not fail to impress me, as both were masterfully written and very engaging.  Wind River sees Sheridan in the director’s chair and he delivers yet another excellent screenplay, this time set in a snowy reservation in Wyoming. Sheridan develops his settings and main characters very well in all three of his scripts, and here it doesn’t fail as well. Jeremy Renner delivers one of his best performances as the main character, who has a tragic past and an estranged family, and you feel for the emotion Renner provides in every scene, and his character is superbly written. As much as I love him as Hawkeye in the Marvel universe, his best roles are the ones in smaller films, those that go into emotional depth, even like in last year’s Arrival. This is definitely up there with his performances in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner The Hurt Locker and Ben Affleck’s heist thriller The Town as one of his greatest roles. Elizabeth Olsen has a few good moments in the film, but it mostly felt like she was just reading lines off a script and barely brought much depth into her character, and it was ultimately hard to care for her role.

Wind River has a Coen brothers vibe to it, as it feels like it drew great inspiration from Fargo, not just the development of the cold, isolated setting but also the way tension is built so well through small scenes. For those looking for a thrilling and interesting mystery thriller to watch, you’ll definitely be entertained, although I never felt like it brought anything new to the genre. The overall structure is entertaining but also feels very familiar and it didn’t offer much that was new or ground-breaking. Although the script is overall great, I was sometimes concerned by the directing before watching the movie, as this is Sheridan’s first time directing a film. I was mostly impressed by the directing, especially for a debut, but the use of handheld cam is often too shaky and sometimes distracting. Some shots are captured very well, but during the smaller, more conversational scenes, the camerawork could have used some improvement. There wasn’t the energy to it that Sicario and Hell or High Water had, as those films had more richness in their cinematography and directing, part of what made them both better films. This film could have used some more interesting and longer shots, as well as less noticeable handheld camera to make some scenes even stronger, but I overall was very pleased by what Sheridan was able to do as a director for the first time. He didn’t offer the incredible style brought by the directors of his previous scripts, but his work is still solid and appreciable, and I was still able to really enjoy the film. I hope to see Sheridan write and direct many more films in the future.

Wind River is a violent, engaging, and smart thriller with a great script and lead performance, and although the story is still somewhat familiar and the directing isn’t perfect, this is the type of film cinema should have more of to offer, and I’d definitely recommend this as a film to go watch when it’s released this August.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

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After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. This conclusion to the reboot trilogy that began with Rise and became even more comeplling in 2014’s Dawn, so I was extremely looking forward to see what would happen next in War. Matt Reeves returns from the previous installment after receiving lots of praise and doing a terrific job, and here he carries enough of the emotion and brilliant visuals and action sequences that kept me so engaged in Dawn over to this one. Andy Serkis is one of the most dedicated and talented motion capture artists working today, if not the best in our time. He’s delivered some of the most impressive motion-capture performances in recent years, including Gollum in the Middle-Earth movies, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the new Star Wars movies. His performance in this trilgoy as Ceasar is at the top, with the depth and presence Serkis is able to deliver only through a motion capture suit is unbelieavble. The visual effects, like its predecessors, are some of the best in recent years, with the CGI used in the three films to turn actors wearing suits into apes being some of the best motion capture and visual effects work recently. In both the previous movies, there are main human characters being developed, with lots of the last films being told from the perspectives of the humans, most notably the leads James Franco or Jason Clarke. However, the humans are a much smaller emotional focus this time and the apes are the sole core of the film. Despite the humans playing a big role in the plot, only one human character is developed, and that is a ruthless army colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson’s menacing and terrific performance poses an excellent threat against Caesar, and we understand the Colonel’s motivation and fear, as well Caesar’s hate against him. Harrelson was a perfect casting choice and really impressed me in one of the best villanous performances this year.

If, like me, you were impressed by how much the previous installment surpassed your expectations with its incredible directing, storytelling, characters, and themes, then War will have more than enough to amuse you.  Matt Reeves once again delivers great themes about what we do when we act out of fear, and the relationship between mankind and nature. The editing is never too quick, and the action is stirkingly shot. Most of the scenes that provide intensity were very good at achieving their goal to the audience in the way that they did. The way Caesar’s emotional conflict is explored is  smart and carries the film very well, as well as the development of every other ape character in the film. The trailers hardly reveal anything about the overall plot of the film, other than the obvious fact that the humans and apes are at war.It was interesting to learn what would drive the characters throughout the movie and where the conflict was going. Some exposition is slightly confusing at first but eventually effective once you get it, and a few supporting characters that I wans’t too sold on, including a human character named Preacher who could have used a tad more development and an ape named Bad Ape who didn’t do much for me. However, War was what it needed to be and will definitely satisfy those looking for a strong conclusion to this epic trilogy. Many are calling this the best in the trilogy, but I personally feel that it is the weakest of the three. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time with it and or wans’t impressed or satisfied by the end, but I just believe that Rise and Dawn were stronger installments. At the end of the first two, it feels like a lot has changed from the beginning, and this one has less of that feeling of change by the time the climax has ended. Also, this definitely did not feel like the 2-hour and 20-minute movie, but the pacing is good for whatt he runtime felt like. War for the Planet of the Apes is as good as I hoped for it to be, with terrific visual work and directing, as well as thrilling action sequences and dialogue. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson did not let me down, and although Dawn is still my favorite of the trilogy, I was by the end amused by what I had watched and this is a very admirable and recommended sequel.

Caesar, with a shotgun and Nova behind his back, Maurice, and Luca on horses face a human army and turncoat apes with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker returns to New York and, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture, emerges.

After 6 films and 3 franchises, Spider-Man has finally gotten the big-screen treatment he and fans deserved, in the hands of Marvel Studios. Spidey is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he also appeared last year in Civil War, and Tom Holland easily portrays the best incarnation of him yet. This time, Parker is 15 and still in high school, and his youth  and sense of adventure and humor brings so much fun to the film. I’m not a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and the Amazing Spider-Man films left us all wanting more, but Homecoming is the perfect big screen treatment for the character. It’s got all the spirit, humor, and entertainment you would expect from a film like this. Every scene in this movie is tons of fun to watch and the action is very exciting as well. The cast, which includes Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., and many other familiar faces, is really well balanced and every cast member gives it their all. Downey’s presence is delightful, and thankfully doesn’t overstay his welcome yet still has some memorable moments. Keaton gives a good performance like always, and was a great choice to play the villain of the Vulture, but his character’s writing and presence are weak, which is disappointing because he is the main villain of the film. However, his character has a few good moments fighting Spider-Man.

One thing that I have noticed in recent superhero films, most notably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is that, unlike most superhero films, that film wasn’t just driven by its action sequences and visual effects. That movie was driven by its characters and the script, as well as the emotion, development. and interactions between the characters. Marvel also gave me this sense with Logan, and here, it’s pretty clear that was the main focus as well. There is plenty of terrific action here, but the core of the film is the friendship between Peter and his best friend Ned, the mentorship he receives from Tony Stark, his crush for a girl named Liz, and his connection with his Aunt May. We see Peter’s internal conflicts as he’s facing issues every high school student goes through, but also his dedication to protecting New York and those he cares about. This film feels more human and fresh than the rest of the Spider-Man movies, and that’s why I was able to enjoy it so much. There’s also tons of Marvel references and easter eggs for fans of Spidey and the MCU, as well as some cameos from familiar faces, and these appearances include more than just Stan Lee. Spider-Man: Homecoming somewhat still follows the established MCU formula, but as I was watching it, I wasn’t reminded about the formula too much, and remember that this is not an origin story, allowing the plot to move more freely and feel less restrained. Michael Giacchino’s score is surprisingly fun and has some nods to other Spider-Man incarnations, but wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or extremely memorable. Director Jon Watts has never directed anything beyond a very low-budget indie, and he was able to handle the transition to an incredibly expensive and anticipated superhero blockbuster well. He was able to direct action, character interactions, and conflict very well, and I had an absolute blast watching another awesome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is anything but disappointing. The cast, writing, directing, and characters are very enjoyable and superbly executed. The action, humor, and story will definitely entertain audiences of all ages, especially fans of the source material. This is definitely the perfect Spidey film to be made today and released to this generation, and a great way to kick off the month.

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Cars 3

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After suffering a serious injury on the race track that could threaten to end his career, Lightning McQueen decides to give it his all and prove that he’s still the best race car out there, despite the more advanced technology in the new rookie racers around him.

There have been movies that I have watched an incredible amount of times as a kid, and among that list is the original Cars. Even eleven years after I first saw it, I still see it as an inspirational and touching flick, despite the idea of all the characters being talking cars. Pixar has made what are to this day the greatest, most touching, and mature animated films. Cars 3 may not reach the heights of the first film which is such a classic to me, but it’s a huge recovery from the awfully messy and disappointing mess of Cars 2, which is by far Pixar’s worst and a huge misstep for the franchise and the studio. Thankfully Pixar has been back on its feet lately and this film feels much more like the first than the second. The events of the second film even had absolutely no impact on this movie! Cars 3 is definitely the kind of sequel this film needed since 2011. The time lapse since the first film is used to the story’s advantage, bringing more challenges that McQueen must face such as new technology and forms of racing, and tackles the themes of generation differences and retirement, things we wouldn’t get from a studio that isn’t Pixar. Cars 3 also introduces new themes to the franchise that we need from a 2017 film, such as diversity, as a new main character, Cruz Ramirez, is a female car who is determined to be a racer no matter how much other cars discourage her, and her last name also implies a foreign ethnicity for the character. She is voiced very well by Cristela Alonzo, who I hope to see in more voice roles in the future. There are also other instances in the film which female characters are mentioned not stopping at any obstacles to get what they want, which you will notice in the film. There’s also the theme of mentorship as Lightning recounts his time from the first film with Doc Hudson, and later even becomes a mentor himself. The movie knows how to pay great tribute to the late Paul Newman, the legendary actor and voice of Doc Hudson in the first film. Owen Wilson is great as always as one of the most iconic animated characters. The film begins with the famous line, “Speed. I am speed.” and Wilson still has all the energy and fun that made McQueen so great 11 years ago. The movie doesn’t make the mistake of not making him the main character again, like in Cars 2. Chris Cooper and Armie Hammer also join the cast as interesting characters, and characters such as Sally and Mater return from the previous films, but this time in much smaller roles, although we still see the support and motivation McQueen gets from his loyal friends of Radiator Springs.

Ever since Inside Out was released to critical acclaim, Pixar has been on a winning streak, recovering from films that weren’t as well-received such as Brave and Monsters University, and I can’t say that Cars 3 is the one to break that streak. This movie still has plenty of heartwarming dialogue and themes, and some fun humor as well, Some of the callbacks to the original are especially entertaining. Director Brain Fee isn’t able to create sequences that are up there with the racing sequences, Lightning and Mater tipping tractors, or Doc training Lightning in the first film, or even close, but the plot is at least enjoyable and thankfully returns to the sports drama tone of the first one rather than the action spy thriller tone of the second one. Moments will have your young ones laughing and cheering, and will especially inspire younger viewers to pursue their dreams and there’s also plenty of great animation in the film, but younger ones won’t feel the intelligent spirit and heart built by the first one. It would be unfair if I just said this film isn’t great because it’s not as good as the first one, because I already knew it couldn’t and most likely wouldn’t be. However, some of the dialogue in the beginning isn’t written with much thought and feels just there to add to the film’s runtime. The first 5 minutes of the film is a quick montage of events that I think should have been stretched out to slightly longer. Although there are important events going on the dialogue did not intrigue me like it could have. Sometimes the film needed dialogue to build the rest of the scene and I don’t think those parts were handled very well. Similar literally every movie that is released nowadays, the film tries to deliver some smart lines from certain characters to inspire our leads but not every line sounds as wise as the script thinks it is. The humor is at first amusing but at one point gets too recycled and sometimes even unfunny at a few moments. Like I said before, the film delivers some poignant messages that I didn’t think an animated film like this one would handle, in a way that kids would enjoy, but once I understood the themes and messages the film was trying to convey, I immediately knew how the rest of the film would play out. It became very predictable yet somewhat heartfelt by the ending, which was fine but felt a little out of place and could have used improvement. At times the film relies on throwbacks to the first film a little too much just to carry the runtime forward, such as a scene in which Lightning and Cruz are training in a field of tractors. However, this did not stop me from having a fun time with this pleasing and lighthearted sequel that overall did not disappoint, and will entertain families, especially younger audiences.

Cars 3 is a step up from the disappointing second film and a strong finale to the Cars trilogy, that fans are sure to enjoy. It has some witty themes like most Pixar films, and even though it can’t be compared to the first film, the nostalgia and empowering messages are sure to be enough to make this worth a watch and anything but underwhelming. Also, make sure to be there on time for a short film before the feature, titled Lou, which wasn’t among Pixar’s best shorts but still a very sweet story about kindness that you’ll be sure to enjoy. So there’s another reason to buy a ticket for this sequel that’s fueled with family-friendly humor and fun!

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Wonder Woman

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Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons and trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

I’ve had much less faith in DC ever since the disappointments of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were released last year. The plot and development of the universe in both films were rushed and horribly written, yet one thing stood out to me from DC’s films last year – Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. She brought lots of heart into the character and didn’t let me down, so DC made a wise choice by making her the lead of their next film. Here, she’s even more impressive as one of the most surprising and entertaining superhero protagonists in a long time. Gadot showed us that she had talent in her minor role in the Fast and Furious films, but she does better when she carries the film in the leading role. Her charm, emotion, charisma, and determination build a fantastic heroine who kicks ass and brings hope to not only the discouraged and devastated soldiers of the war in the film, but to the DCEU franchise and its future. If it weren’t for Gadot’s outstanding performance, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much. I hope we see much more of her talent and her character in the future. Chris Pine is more than just the love interest, he’s also an interesting and well-written hero who has great chemistry with Gadot.

Wonder Woman not only has great leading roles but also very good directing and action scenes. If you liked seeing Wonder Woman fight alongside Batman and Superman last year, you’ll definitely enjoy seeing her beat up Germans as she deflects bullets and explosives and smashes through buildings with her shield. The action is very well-realized and although there is too much slow-motion at some points, it’s very exciting to watch how the action plays out in the film. Although the movie’s runtime isn’t too focused on action, plenty of the writing is there to develop the characters and give them interesting moments. The story of a god/goddess searching for their destiny outside of their home reminded me of Thor, and the WWI setting is reminiscent of the WWII set pieces in Captain America: The First Avenger. I loved the scenes in which Wonder Woman explores her motivation to fight, what she believes in, and her view on mankind, yet this time they made me care more about it than in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman because it isn’t delivered through slow montages and boring dialogue. Although it was produced by Zack Snyder, and he’s also credited for the story, which shows through the excessive use of slo-mo and some unbalanced pacing like in the other DC films, I’m sure glad he didn’t direct it, because Patty Jenkins was able to deliver a groundbreaking female superhero story in a much higher league than what Snyder has done. Thankfully this movie also doesn’t try to build on the universe and set up a sequel too much, it just left me wanting more films with Gadot in the main role in the future. There are villainous roles that are horribly written, including a villain reveal in the messy and CGI-heavy climactic battle that I really didn’t care about, and it took a while for me to really get into the story in the beginning, which starts with exposition and dialogue that could have used improvement. I’m glad that what follows is a fun and thrilling origin story for one of the most awesome and interesting female superheroes on the big screen.

Wonder Woman improves on DC’s underwhelming disappointments from last year, with a fantastic leading performance and well-shot action sequences. The writing could have used some improvement, but this film overall raises the bar for female superhero films and the DCEU’s potential. I can tell this won’t be the last of Gadot’s on-screen glory as the titular badass heroine.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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In the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old rival, Captain Salazar, who along with his crew of ghost pirates has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle, and is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack seeks the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.

Disney has benefited with billions of dollars from this popular franchise based on the famous Disneyland ride, so it’s no surprise that they’ve gone and made a fifth one. Dead Men Tell No Tales is not the worst of the series but it’s not the return to form that many fans were hoping for. I did not walk in with high expectations so I can’t say I was disappointed, but I was not impressed either. Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, one of the most popular live action heroes of our time, and he’s still entertaining in the role, but his character barely serves a point in the plot this time around. He has lots of screen time and makes lots of jokes throughout but he’s never developed at all or given a reason to be there other than the fact that the villain wants revenge on him. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario play two new protagonists to the series, and they both deliver solid performances, but their character arcs aren’t interesting enough to carry the film along. Javier Bardem stars as a frightening villain who starts out interesting but the dialogue and CGI make his character feel more comedic then threatening. Geoffrey Rush is also back as Hector Barbossa and is made a big part of the plot but his character’s writing failed to interest me.

I was never a huge fan of the series, but even those who loved the first few films won’t get much that they’re hoping for besides entertainment. The plot that drives the characters and the film forward are nothing near as compelling as the first film offered. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley didn’t reprise their roles in the last film, and here, they don’t appear much, either. The new young protagonists and the story that revolves around them just couldn’t fill that void or push the story forward well enough. There are some entertaining action scenes, such as a scene in which a bank is being robbed (not just the money, but the entire building is being dragged away), as well as one in which an execution is thwarted. There are moments that managed to entertain me and make me laugh, and shots that are done well, but the writers couldn’t come up with a story and character arcs that the audience could also enjoy. There are many magical concepts and backstories that were introduced but none of them made much sense or excited me at all. The movie doesn’t conclude terribly, but the post-credits scene sets up the potential sequel that I won’t be looking forward to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t the sequel many were hoping for, and although it will manage to entertain viewers, especially younger audiences and fans of the previous films, but the uninspired and boring storyline and character arcs make this film far from the saga’s best use of its potential. You may like it for its action, but there are films in theaters right now that you’ll probably like much better, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, and the new DC film Wonder Woman, which hits theaters this Friday.

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