When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.
And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.
The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.
Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.
Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship) has made a portion of her career playing tough fighters in poorly scripted movies (can we talk Underworld?). And here we are again in an obvious franchise play with a script that is just as often good as it is, well, not.
This isn’t a story with a lot of surprises, just a lot of clever quips and many fun fights. Jai Courtney (Honest Thief) serves as catalyst for Beckinsale’s Lindy with a sort of guilelessness. And Bobby Cannavale (Thunder Force) and Lavern Cox (Promising Young Woman) provide a weird, almost believable cop duo. And while you’d expect the addition of Stanley Tucci (Supernova) and Susan Sarandon (The Calling) to elevate the story some, they’re just there to have fun.
For a first script by Scott Wascha’s it isn’t unwatchable, just occasionally cringey (especially the prologue). And director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) manages to keep it all moving along with just enough character to the action. The result is a hyper-real tale of female power, not unlike, though with considerably less finesse and panache, as Gunpowder Milkshake or Sin City. It isn’t great, but it is definitely diverting and, if you can handle the violence, entertaining.
I’d love to see where they could take this story and if they can expand on the universe in a way that makes sense. Certainly they’ve queued it up to be an ongoing black-ops series. Time will tell, but at least this movie is relatively self-contained (and with a tag during the credits) in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging.
There’s 80% of a movie here. Sadly, that missing 20% is sort of essential to pull it all together. Director and co-writer Edward Drake (Breach) either was unable to deliver the missing footage or simply over-edited the movie in a way that excised important aspects of the plot. Honestly, I don’t know which, but more than once I had to ask WTF about situations and comments where the base information was never revealed or setup events don’t seem to have occurred.
Now here’s the thing. Bruce Willis (Breach) and Frank Grillo (Skyline) are the names that helped sell the production, I’m sure. And they deliver exactly what you’d expect them to deliver…dry wit, hard action, dark comedy. But about the only character with any set of levels is Adelaide Kane, and her role is relatively small, if integral.
The initial concept, that of first contact gone (maybe) wrong, is classic and full of possibility. But the level of male toxicity (and I even hate typing that statement) makes the rest of the story inevitable and just plain sad. There is no nuance, no humanity to the decisions and actions, despite some lip service to moral implications.
You can comfortably skip this and miss nothing. But if you insist, just strap in for the action and let the plot just wash over you like bullet points.
OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.
As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)
Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.
But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.
Imagine a blend of John Wick and Bad Times at the El Royale, with maybe a dash of Terminal thrown in. Think a sort of hyper-real, female assassins tale. It isn’t quite as lyrical as it might have been, and the editing and timing were off for the first half of the film bringing down the energy, but it holds together and is definitely a fun ride.
At the center of it all is Karen Gillan (Spies in Disguise), in full Nebula voice, as a disassociated, abandoned woman doing the only thing she’s ever known how to do. And she does it very well. Things, of course, go wrong and she finds herself suddenly in the position of trying to do the right thing to balance out the voices in her head. This brings us to another wonderful performance by Chloe Coleman (My Spy), who has now lost her second chance at a big screen launch thanks to the pandemic, but who continues to impress.
This isn’t a perfect film. As I mentioned, the energy and timing are off for the first third to half. However, it does come together and has room for more stories. Much like John Wick, there is ongoing potential as the various levels of the onion get involved. For a bit of mayhem and girl power, spin this one up and enjoy the carnage.
The third of the D+ MCU series is, again, unique in design and storytelling, playing into it’s main character to inform the style. I give them great credit for that. Like each of the original comics the series are based on, they are allowing creators the freedom to tell the character stories in the most appropriate ways.
However that means that each time, each show has to level-set for the audience. Because of that the initial pacing of this short series, much like WandaVision, was slow, but it had an ever-increasing cadence that came together by the end. Interestingly, the light-hearted feeling of it all made the entire season feel like a close cousin of Doctor Who, especially given one of the bigger reveals. For those who don’t watch both shows, they would have had no dissonance while watching. But, for those of us who are broader omnivores in the genre, the tone and pace were unmistakable. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was occasionally distracting for me.
Also, much like WandaVision, I feel like this is a show that is going to be more enjoyable on rewatch…once it all makes sense. I didn’t have suspense pulling me along so much as curiosity while all the parts were spinning in the air. Some of that is the Owen Wilson (bliss) interplay with Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok), which was amusing, but not quite intense enough to pull me in.
On the other hand, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn), and Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country) really brought the energy and impact throughout the story. There are several shorter-lasting roles of note too, but to list them would be to spoil. Suffice to say that the cast embraced the absurdity of it all and ran with it in earnest. (Also not unlike Doctor Who.) And they sold it well. It certainly helped to have a single director, Kate Herron, to guide the entire ship into its final port. Herron’s complete guidance was especially needed so that the delightful physical metaphor in play could be handled well from beginning to end.
My biggest gripe: I only wish it had more than six episodes for the season. Even though it didn’t feel rushed, and I got ahead of several aspects, I’d love to see what more they could have explored. Fortunately, there is a second season already planned.
As a total sidebar, what is happening now in the MCU as Phase 4 is getting spun up is exactly what Ron Howard had hoped to do with Dark Tower (jumping between movies and TV series). The idea was thwarted by the studios. You gotta believe Howard is watching with a certain amount of evil glee at the success of the MCU. You’d also hope that the studios are kicking themselves at this point having missed the chance to blaze that ground and build an empire. But studios don’t have a soul…or long memory…so I suspect they’ve not even acknowledged the miss.
Preface: It has been 18 months since I last saw a movie in the theater. The last film I saw before lockdown was a dual weekend of Bad Boys for Life and Dolittle. I have wide tastes, what can I say? It wasn’t until the beginning of June I was even considering the possibility of returning thanks to finally being able to be vax’d in my state. But it wasn’t until this movie I was even motivated to try again.
So why did we even need this movie? It’s a reasonable question given what we know of Black Widow’s path. This movie nestles between Civil War and Infinity War for Scarlett Johansson’s (Marriage Story) character. We know where she ends up. So why? The simple answer is that she was always an enigma. It was part of her allure and charm. But we also had hints of her past and how it haunted her throughout Phases 1-3. There was never time to explore those tales because they would have been distracting to the main plots. This movie focuses solely on her and gives us the depth and some of the answers we had been looking for: who was Natasha and what was all that red ink she was on about for so long?
Basically, Johansson got the send off her character deserved in this gap-filling flick. But that is, of course, also part of the problem. We know a good deal of who lives and who dies because, well, we know what came next. It sucks some of the tension out of Eric Pearson’s (Godzilla vs. Kong) script which is, otherwise, an action and suspense-filled story. Though Director Cate Shortland did her best to keep us distracted from those facts with lots of clever fights and a mostly great cast.
As Johansson’s sister, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is more than up to the task. No real surprise there either given her range and previous showings. And as her “parents,” Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and David Harbour (Extraction) are comically and nicely cast. Harbour is doomed to be a sidekick the rest of his life, but he does it well.
If there is a flaw in the cast, it is Ray Winstone (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). He just comes across as absurd and uncredible. Even if you buy into what he appears to have achieved, his demeanor and how he uses it feels wrong. From his accent to his posture he feels fake. Certainly, we enjoy his wrap up to this tale, but I would have liked to see someone else in that role who could have carried it with a bit more gravitas and truth.
Another aspect to this movie is that it was delayed almost 18 months. It should have come out before Falcon and Winter Soldier (which, in turn, should have been out before WandaVision). The only real connection is the tag to Black Widow, which is echoed at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it is also about the shape of the stories and information. Someday I may rewatch it all in the right order to see what that’s like, but it is interesting seeing the all the intended bits finally. And there is still plenty left untold about Black Widow…some of which I think we might see in the forthcoming Hawkeye. But if not, I’m OK with that too.
And to the last and most important question: is it worth seeing in theaters? That answer is mixed. It is certainly filmed for the big screen (I did go see it in IMAX). It’s gorgeous at times. But the pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already bad before the lockdowns: people think the theater is their living rooms. Talking, phones, etc were all on display. And, on a personal note, having folks right next to us (they opened the seats that morning unbeknownst to me) wasn’t very comfortable.
The truth is, a good movie is good on the big or the smaller screen, because it is about the story, not the spectacle. Black Widow will certainly be less breath-taking at moments on a home setup, even with a large TV, but the story should hold up and be engaging if you have interest in the MCU.
To be honest, I haven’t decided if I’m going back to the theater any time soon. My recent experience has left me a tad nonplussed on the idea, but we’ll see. And given the rise of variants, it may not even be a choice I have in a couple weeks, cause that’s just the world we live in now. Part of the reason I pushed for this outing was that I saw a window of opportunity and wanted to take advantage. It was certainly interesting to be packed in with the public again after so long. It also helped me realize just how nice my own home setup is now, having enhanced it a bit during the pandemic.
Tomorrow War opens with a bang. And, honestly, that was my first warning signal. Because then it jumps back in time to set up that moment before coming back to it. I understand why director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) felt he needed to do that. A segment of his audience would have been impatient with the setup; but I wish he had trusted them a bit more. Especially as the real frame of the movie isn’t the action, but rather the family relationships that are set up before the action really begins.
Chris Pratt (Onward) drives this story on that level. And he does it without all the wry humor and forced boyish charm he uses in his other franchises. Not that his humor isn’t present, it just isn’t weaponized in this role. Along with Betty Gilpin (Isn’t It Romantic) and Yvonne Strahovski (Predator), he builds out a dynamic and set of connections that pull along the story. J.K. Simmons (Invincible) and Edwin Hodge (The Purge) add to all that nicely as well.
But, as I mentioned, there are concerns in this movie. Genre shortcuts abound. Aspects are only half-considered. The world is only partially exposed. And there is a moment at the start of the final act that will simply make you cringe. It is the epitome of willful-stupid. Fortunately, they get past that rather quickly, though they still don’t accept all the consequences of the actions at the end. But I will say that Zach Dean’s script does try to cover at least some aspects of the science before the story wraps up.
What it comes down to is this: if you’re looking for more of a time-travel action flick, you still can’t beat Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat. But that isn’t really what this movie wants to be. This movie is more like Contact or Interstellar. It’s about family with aliens as the foil for getting there. However, there is plenty of action to keep you focused in between and around the rest of the tale.
A couple things you should know as preamble. One, I hate cold. I’ve lived in some of the coldest parts of the US and finally gave it up for the Pacific Northwest and its more temperate weather… in theory anyway. Which leads us to number two, the day I watched this film it was a record setting 107 degrees. Which made the ice I typically hate a sort of mental balm to the several day inferno we were experiencing. I figured context is only fair.
With that in mind, suffice to say that Liam Neeson (Honest Thief) is at it again. This time he’s a big-rig trucker with an injured, veteran brother trying to save miners from disaster and, potentially, nefarious goings on. But, amusingly, despite Neeson and Laurence Fishburne (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) being the clear names on this marquee, it’s Amber Midthunder (Legion) who walks away with the best lines and more memorable role.
Jonathan Hensleigh directed and wrote a serviceable action/thriller, but only just barely. The script is often cringeworthy, but some of the rig gigs are impressive; think early Fast and Furious but with really big vehicles.
Even when the bones of the movie got weak, it certainly helped keep me in a cool state of mind. But the story is utterly transparent and the fight scenes are often just not as exciting as you’d like them to be. However, it was a diverting couple hours and not unwatchable. And it definitely treads somewhat new ground for the genre.
I came for the Jackie Chan (The Foreigner) and stayed for the fights and action. Really, there isn’t much else in this latest Stanley Tong adventure. The story is standard and the dialogue (in a multitude of languages) is neither clever nor surprising. And, just as often, delivered with the emotional truth of a large pine tree as anything else. There isn’t even much of the trademark Chan humor.
But the fight choreography is pretty wonderfully conceived. Even the wire-work and CGI moments are fun. But there is plenty of honest work in there too. And it’s visually pretty amazing as it globe-trots through various continents.
What was also interesting was how loaded with cliché and Chinese propaganda the script was. Chan, as a Hong Kong native and with a movie that was finished just as China was locking down, headlines this flick that is arguably a slap at his roots. While Chan is only acting in this film, I was surprised he stepped into it…though I’m sure it had something to do with how previous collaborations with Tong’s helped launch him out of Hong Kong and into the world with movies like Rumble in the Bronx.
This is an entertaining diversion if you like the genre, but this isn’t a good film. Settle in for the eye candy and athletics, but check your brain and emotional critic at the door.