Captain Marvel Review

captain marvel poster

It’s a big year for Marvel Studios. Next month, Avengers: Endgame releases, a film that will end Phase 3. Then in July, Spider-Man will be back and heads to Europe where Mysterio will make his big screen debut. Before all this however, we are introduced to a band new player to the universe: Carol Danvers, known as Captain Marvel. This movie serves a few different purposes. Of course, it introduces a powerful new character to the film universe. It is the first female-led Marvel Studios film. It also bridges to Infinity War, as we learn about the relationship between Nick Fury and Ms. Marvel. Finally, it shows how Fury came up with the idea for the Avenger initiative, an unexpected, nice touch.

Carol has had a prominent role in the comics in recent history, and thanks to the movie, it’s only going to get bigger. Brie Larson, last seen as a photographer in Kong: Skull Island, brings the character to life. It’s a unique take on an origin story, and has surprising plot twists that radically change how the story is viewed. As a whole, Captain Marvel is solid. It’s an enjoyable film with especially great performances from Samuel L. Jackson as Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos.

The story begins with Carol (at this time known as “Vers”), training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law.) Yon-Rogg is a leader of the Kree Starforce, an intergalactic band of soldiers whose task is to bring down the Skrulls. The Skrulls are shapeshifters, making them potentially deadly enemies. After a meeting with the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, Carol is given the okay to join the team on a mission. That mission ends up going bad, as Carol is tricked by a Skrull named Talos. Carol is taken to a Skrull base, where she’s forced to relive memories she has no recollection of. Thanks to her Kree powers, she is able to escape, and crash lands on Earth. Skrulls follow her, including Talos. Now, Earth is seemingly in danger, but things may not be what they seem…

captain-marvel

Carol Danvers is established early on as a headstrong character with a sarcastic wit. It’s not all jokes though. Carol does show scenes of feeling, such as her conversation with Yon-Rogg about the picture she found of her life on Earth. Brie Larson brings a likable charm as Captain Marvel. I would have liked to see more of those emotional scenes, because the “sarcastic character ” is nothing new in these movies. This film does not go overboard with jokes or one-liners however, as was the case in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. and Thor: The Dark World. Although I didn’t get that same inspiring persona as Gal Gadot emitted in Wonder Woman, I am looking forward to seeing more of Carol. One of the most effective sequences (and great example of editing) was in the climax, as it shows that Carol had fallen down many times throughout her life – but she always got back up.

The early space mission was engaging. It introduced the Skrulls as a big threat, and featured good choreography on a gloomy planet. While the space stuff is good, a lot of the best parts of the film are actually back on Earth. Once Carol crash lands on Blockbuster, the fun rarely stops. From Carol walking into Radio Shack to establish communications, to Fury’s first dialogue with her, there’s a lot of great moments. Speaking of Fury, right from his meeting with Ms. Marvel, viewers know they’re in for a treat. Fury is much like his current self, but less hardened due to not being exposed to these otherworldly dangers up until this point. What we have is an extremely fun character, who works really well alongside Carol. This is personally one of my favorite buddy cop duos I’ve seen in awhile.

The most interesting character might be Talos. Ben Mendelsohn plays this Skrull with perfect charisma. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is in Maria Rambeau’s house. There was such great tension thanks to Talos. He has easily become one of the best characters in the MCU.  Meanwhile, Coulson appearing as “the new guy” was fun. It’s a shame he didn’t have a bigger role. What’s even more disappointing is Ronan the Accuser. When it was announced that this character, who first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, would be featured in Captain Marvel, fans were thrilled. But, it ended up being like a few glorified cameos. It would have been great to learn more about him, and what led him to become the psychopath seen in Guardians. This was definitely a missed opportunity.

talos

Another big character is Yon-Rogg. Here’s the thing: he was great in the first half of the movie, but then his character takes a different turn in the second. Jude Law portrayed the character of a mentor perfectly, bringing a sense of calm authority. But, this goes away because (spoiler) it’s revealed that he’s the one who killed Carol’s superior. Technically, this is a smart plot twist. But, Yon-Rogg just isn’t that interesting as a villain. Even Law’s performance took a dip – he was great as a mentor, but as an antagonist, it came off as run of the mill.

Captain Marvel features some great settings for actions scenes. Of course, we already discussed the film’s opening act on another planet. On Earth, there’s a great sequence inside an airforce warehouse. We’re also treated to action inside a Skrull spaceship, and later a Kree one. Of course, there’s also the train battle, probably the most memorable. The soundtrack definitely enhances these sequences, making use of some ’90s songs.

For a few last notes, the friendship between Maria Rambeau and Carol felt genuine. I also liked the scenes with Carol and Maria’s daughter, Monica (longtime comic readers will recognize her). Their sequence toward the climax was a very fun way for Carol to get the iconic costume. Oh, there’s also Goose, the cat-like creature. He was definitely fun to have around, but virtually nothing is known about him, which is a shame. He just kinda shows up, and then appears as a deus ex machina when needed. There’s definitely a cool aspect to Goose, but he could have used just a hint of backstory.

captain-marvel-1

Overall, Captain Marvel is yet another solid film in Marvel’s ongoing library. It doesn’t quite reach the quality of Black Panther, however. Carol herself could have used more compelling scenes, and Jude Law’s character ended up being a disappointment. But, the positives outweigh the negatives. Carol is still a very fun character that is portrayed nicely by Larson. The scenes with her and Nick are priceless, and feature some of the best exchanges from these films. Talos was also excellent – hopefully Marvel isn’t done with this character. All in all, this is a very good film with likable characters, fun action, and some great ’90s backdrops. (Hopefully you didn’t miss the Game Boy.)

8.5/10

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MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn Review

 

Made in abyss

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

MADE IN ABYSS began as a manga written by Akihito Tsukushi. It’s probably more well known for its 13-episode anime adaption, licensed by Sentai Filmworks in North America. This year sees the release of two compilation films of the anime for limited theatrical release outside Japan. Compilation films are nothing new for anime – we’ve seen that with Attack on Titan and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Making a compilation film can be tricky, as it’s more than just merging episodes together. For a 13-episode series, ideally you want to have at least two compilation films, as attempting to squeeze everything in one runs the risk of key scenes being cut. MADE IN ABYSS follows the two film format, with the first installment, Journey’s Dawn, releasing in select theaters next month. Part 2, Wandering Twilight, releases later in the year.

Now, moving on to the actual film, Journey’s Dawn compiles the events of the first eight episodes of the show. That’s a hefty amount of content, but the film gets the story going at a reasonable pace without feeling overloaded. Journey’s Dawn follows a young girl named Riko. She and many residents live near a hole in the earth called “the Abyss.” Here, many adventurers have gone in, but those who have traveled too deep never returned. Each layer of the Abyss gets worst and worst, to the point where people can lose their humanity.

While Riko is scavenging for relics in the upper layers of the Abyss, she is attacked by a monster. While she manages to briefly get away, the monster eventually comes upon her. Before being eaten alive, a mysterious blast repels the creature. Riko notices a boy, but learns that he is a robot seemingly connected to the Abyss. A bit later in the film, Riko receives a note seemingly from her mother, who went into the Abyss 10 years ago. It appears her mother is asking Riko to come find her. So, Riko and the robot boy, named Reg, journey into the dangerous hole in the earth…

made in abyss journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

Journey’s Dawn begins brilliantly by establishing the setting and Riko’s mom. The Abyss itself is almost portrayed as a character, an otherworldly area of beauty, but also danger. Later in the film, we see an area called the “Inverted Forest.” As the name implies, the trees are upside down, giving a rather unique, unsettling look. We see creatures with unique features, things that appear almost alien to the world on top. The Abyss and the monsters that reside in it evoke a similar feel to the The Shimmer in the acclaimed film, Annihilation. The Abyss is a fantastic setting, making the viewer want to see more by the time the credits roll.

Of course, before Riko and Reg enter the Abyss, we get to see the world on top. This serves to introduce Riko and Reg. Riko is established as a kindhearted girl, as seen when she attempts to help the boy who saved her. She’s also a bit of a trouble maker, as we learn from the head of the orphanage. Riko’s unyielding cheerfulness is fun to watch, but she’s also capable of emitting genuine emotion. The scene where she learns about her mom’s whistle was effective. Reg is arguably the more interesting of the protagonists, a robot that doesn’t know who built him, and why. He’s capable of emitting emotion, but there’s also something distinctly mechanical about him. The entire sequence of him utilizing his “incinerator” as Riko calls it was effective. Reg’s more subdued nature makes for a great contrast to the bubbly Riko.

The first quarter of the movie does a solid job introducing the characters, and the motivation for entering the Abyss. The only negative thing was that Riko became attached to Reg rather quickly. That’s one possible danger of compilation movies: character development can feel rushed in comparison to taking it episode by episode. Thankfully, aside from the quick friendship between Riko and Reg, the film never feels rushed. The first quarter does a great job of establishing Riko’s friends in the orphanage. The emotional goodbye between Riko and Nat was well done.

Once the protagonists enter the Abyss, the story really gets going. It becomes something of a darker Journey to the Center of the Earth. The scenes with the creatures are tension-filled, and well animated. The character designs may give off a younger vibe, but there is some dark imagery in the film. The scene with a bird-like monster called “Corpse Weeper” chewing on human remains comes to mind.

The final act of the movie has Riko and Reg meet Ozen the Immovable. This was not only the greatest aspect of the movie, but one of the most well done things I’ve seen in any media recently. Ozen is a fascinating character and big highlight. I won’t get into the specifics, as spoiling these scenes would be a disservice to the film. What I can say, is that Ozen leaves her mark as one of the most notable characters in recent animation history. Every scene with her and the protagonists is a treat. Christine Auten did a fantastic job at providing the dubbed voice for Ozen.

Ozen Made in Abyss Journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

The flashbacks with Rika’s mother, Lyza, are effective. Lyza is an interesting character, someone the viewer wants to see more scenes with. Meanwhile, the soundtrack does a good job enhancing the film. One particular piece of notable music is the theme that plays when Riko shows Reg the sunset behind the village. The music also works to give dangerous sequences, such as the early monster chase, and the Corpse Weepers, even more tension. It will be a treat to see the music in Part 2.

Journey’s Dawn is a strong opening to the MADE IN ABYSS saga. At its core, it’s about a daughter looking for her mother in a dangerous, unfamiliar land. Family is a strong bond, especially between mother and child. Despite not really remembering her mother, Riko is compelled to go into the Abyss. Meanwhile, Reg is an interesting character. Who built him? What’s his purpose? How does he connect to the Abyss? These questions make the viewer greatly anticipate Part 2. The Abyss itself is a fascinating setting, full of terrible creatures, and unique imagery. There are not many negatives. The development between Riko and Reg could have been better in the beginning. But, it’s not a deal-breaker. Journey’s Dawn is definitely worth checking out. I for one am excitedly anticipating Part 2: Wandering Twilight.

4/5

A big thanks to Sentai Filmworks for providing an advance screener for review. MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn will premiere in Los Angeles at Regal Cinema on March 15th. A wide release will then commence on March 20th (subtitled) and March 25th (dubbed), courtesy of Fathom Events. You can purchase tickets here

Frankenstein vs. Baragon – A Retrospective

frankenstein vs. Baragon poster

The ’60s were home to some fantastic movies. For kaiju fans, some of the all-time best were released in this era. King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters were all released in the ’60s. Even Gamera got his start here – his first film released in 1965. In fact, 1965 is an important year for this retrospective. Of course, it was the year Invasion of Astro-Monster (better known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) came out. But, there was another film from TOHO that also released in 1965. It also featured Ishiro Honda as director, Akira Ifukube as the composer, and Eiji Tsuburaya as the special effects director. Even the two core actors – Nick Adams, add Kumi Mizuno, were the stars. This film is Frankenstein vs. Baragon, originally known in the US as Frankenstein Conquers the World.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon is a peculiar movie, similar, and yet different than the other TOHO science fiction movies. The Frankenstein monster in this movie is a tragic figure, eliciting sympathy from the viewer. Baragon is a fantastic creation. (After watching this, you will be even more disappointed that Baragon didn’t get to do anything in Destroy All Monsters.) The story moves at a solid pace, though gets a bit slow toward the end. But, there aren’t many negatives that can be said about this movie.

As with Honda’s films, the cast deliver excellent performances. Kumi Mizuno for example demonstrates her ability to fully involve herself in her role. Kumi has played quite a few roles in kaiju films. In Matango, she played the seductress. In Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, she played the island girl. In Frankenstein vs. Baragon, she plays a passionate doctor. She can portray different characters with ease, a true actress in her craft. Of course, Frankenstein vs. Baragon delivers a satisfying showdown, as any versus movie should have. With Bandai having released the first ever vinyl figure based on TOHO’s Frankenstein, the time was right to look back on this gem of a movie. Hopefully when you’re done reading this retrospective, you’ll be inspired to check out the movie either for the first time, or the first time in awhile.

frankenstein vs. baragon screen

The opening sequence is an interesting one. It takes places in 1945, at the end of World War II. A German scientist is experimenting on something…something that sounds like it’s making heartbeats. Soon, soldiers come in and take the crate away, much to the scientist’s dismay. The scientist gives it to the Japanese, whom take it to Hiroshima. Upon opening the crate, it’s revealed that the thing making heartbeats is indeed, a heart. In fact, it’s the heart of the Frankenstein monster. The idea here is to create soldiers that can recover right away from being shot. Frankenstein’s heart would allow for such a thing to be possible. However, the idea is cut short when the Allies launch the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 15 years pass.

In a hospital, Dr. Bowen (Nick Adams), an American scientist, has dedicated his research to helping patients from radiation poisoning due to the A-bomb. He is joined by Dr. Sueko (Kumi Mizuno) and Dr. Kawaji (Tadao Takashima.) Sometime later, Dr. Bowen and Sueko come across what appears to be a homeless boy. He is found in a cave, where Sueko attempts to befriend him.

The boy is taken to a hospital, where many people are looking at him. He is growing at an alarming rate, and it turns out he is related to the Frankenstein’s heart incident. Although not explicitly stated in the film, it seems to be that the heart has regenerated itself into a new Frankenstein. Frankenstein eventually breaks out of his cage in response to the reporters angering him with their camera lights. He runs around looking for food. Meanwhile, a monster destroys buildings, and eats cattle. Frankenstein is blamed for these things. But, later, it’s discovered that another monster was indeed responsible. Frankenstein sees Sueko in danger from this monster, called Baragon, and rushes in. What commences is a duel between titans…

Frankenstein is one of the oldest science fiction stories. It’s compelling because it consists of science gone wrong, and tragedy. The Frankenstein monster is a tragic character, and that plays a part in TOHO’s film, but in different ways. Frankenstein is portrayed by Koji Furuhata. Unfortunately, not much information can be found about the actor. It’s a shame, because his performance as Frankenstein was excellent. It takes passion and talent to play a character who has no lines throughout the entire movie. Frankenstein does not talk here. He does grunt, roar, and make sounds, but doesn’t have dialogue. This kind of portrayal works within the movie, because the character is like a lost child. The relationship he develops with Sueko is engaging. There’s a scene where Frankenstein has grown to a monstrous proportion. He goes to Sueko’s apartment, showing that he considers her a mother-like figure.

Talking about the cast, I already mentioned how great of a character Sueko is. One scene in particular that’s worth mentioning is the conversation between Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji. Bowen and Kawaji seem to be leaning toward the idea of amputating one of Frankenstein’s limbs to prove whether or not he is actually the Frankenstein. Sueko is passionately against the idea, and it’s perfectly delivered by Kumi.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon Cast

Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno work really well together, here and in Monster Zero. The scene with them having a meal together really does sound like a sequence where two everyday people are talking. The trio of them and Kawaji were fun to watch. A few other TOHO golden era stars appear in the movie. In the 1945 sequence, Takashi Shimura (Dr. Yamane in Gojira) briefly appears as the surgeon analyzing Frankenstein’s heart. It was a quick sequence, but Shimura was excellent here. A more prominent role is given to the police chief. He was very good, but the scenes of him trying to explain that another monster was responsible for the destruction were a bit slow. These sequences felt like they belonged in the middle act, not toward the end. This brings us to Baragon.

There was another non-Godzilla kaiju film the year before Frankenstein vs. Baragon. That film was Dogora, The Space Monster. Dogora had one of the best human plotlines in the entire kaiju lineup. (While Nick Adams in Monster Zero has been called the best American actor in these films, one could make the case that Robert Dunham is the best thanks to his fun portrayal of Mark Jackson in Dogora.) However, and this is probably the only time you will hear this from a giant monster fan, the actual kaiju part took away from the story. The Dogora scenes felt shoehorned in. Why? The plot was about the people, and the monster could have easily been written out. I bring this up because Baragon falls into this in the beginning.

Baragon appears briefly in the middle act, but disappears for awhile afterward. You could argue that it’s ominous, but such a lack of Baragon and mention of him made it seem like he was an afterthought in a movie titled Frankenstein vs. Baragon. Now, the film does kind of make of make up for this in the final 25 minutes. Baragon gets fun screen time as he breaks some beach houses, and snacks on some chickens. The story also finally gives Baragon an important plot by having him “frame” Frankenstein for the destruction. The writing could have done a better job at incorporating Baragon earlier, but the climax is satisfying enough to avoid calling it another Dogora. That, and the fact that Baragon himself is a fantastic creature.

When you watch a “vs.” movie, you expect quality action. Japanese monster movies do not disappoint, and especially not in Frankenstein vs. Baragon. The battle is lengthy and full of the creative maneuvers these classic movies are known for. Baragon has a unique jumping ability that is fun to watch. What I like about this battle is how much personality there is – both in the characters, and how the fight was choreographed. Frankenstein takes note of Baragon’s tail, and grabs it, seemingly gaining the advantage. But Baragon, realizing what’s happening, swipes his tail to make Frankenstein tumble over. In another scene, Baragon burrows into the ground, only to appear on top of a hill, much to Frankenstein’s surprise. It shouldn’t come as a shock how great Baragon moves and acts in this battle, as he was portrayed by none other than Hauro Nakujima – the man who brought Godzilla and Rodan to life.

The camera work is really good in the movie. There’s a scene in the climax where Sueko is on the ground and Baragon is approaching. It’s a genuinely terrifying sequence, as Baragon approaches and roars when he’s right over her. The special effects are mostly excellent, as one would expect from Tsuburaya. Of course, most fans know about the infamous horse. Instead of using an actual horse, a miniature was used. Honestly, it’s not that bad. What is bad however is the brief scene where a miniature tank and doll representing a soldier appeared. That scene, and the one with the boar, are the main negatives in a film with otherwise fantastic special effects and camera work.

The ending is worth discussing for a couple of reasons. If you watch this movie via the Tokyo Shock DVD, you’ll notice the “theatrical” and “international” versions. The original theatrical version features what you would call the true ending. In it, Frankenstein kills Baragon (by actually snapping his neck) and roars in victory. But, the ground beneath them breaks open, engulfing them into the earth. In the international version’s ending, Frankenstein kills Baragon, but instead of the ground opening, something else transpires. A giant octopus appears, the same creature that tussled with King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Frankenstein tries to fight, but the octopus grabs and takes him to the bottom of the ocean.

As for which ending is more effective, the giant octopus one is too abrupt. However, it’s definitely more enjoyable as it adds a brief kaiju battle to end off the film. But, the original ending makes more sense within the context of a coherent story. Interestingly, the giant octopus would once again show up, this time in the film’s direct sequel, War of the Gargantuas. (Gaira had much better luck with the octopus than Frankenstein.)

Akira Ifukube delivers an excellent soundtrack. The opening, rather mysterious theme, sets the tone for what’s to come. Unlike many of the Godzilla films, the music here is more downbeat – fitting, because the story has a tragic element. The final battle against Baragon was dramatic, and the music was a major part of that. All of this works to the film’s benefit, because the story has an emotional core to it. Like Honda, Ifukube treats the happenings with the utmost respect, and it shows in the maestro’s music.

baragon

Frankenstein vs. Baragon is tragic, fun, and an engaging movie. The Frankenstein creature is one of tragedy, a misunderstood being whom doesn’t want to hurt people. Honda is masterful with monsters and creating compelling stories around them. Baragon unfortunately takes awhile to become part of the main story. He does get great screen time in the climax thankfully, and is a major part of why the final battle is so memorable. The core human cast is excellent – Kumi Mizuno and Nick Adams are engaging leads. This film is a fine example of the amount of passion that went into making these classic kaiju movies.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly Review

dragon ball super broly poster

Credit: FUNimation

Dragon Ball Super has remained a global phenomenon, successfully bringing the Dragon Ball Z franchise back into the spotlight. Go into a store like F.Y.E. or Hot Topic, and you’ll find many Dragon Ball related items. Last year saw the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ,  which won best fighting game at The Game Awards. Putting it simply, Dragon Ball has returned as the most popular anime franchise. It continues in 2019 with the release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly.

Although the English dub of Super is currently airing on Toonami, the show ended last year in Japan. (If you wish to catch up for the release of the movie, Super is available subtitled for streaming on Crunchyroll, although the film does not contain any major spoilers.) The Tournament of Power was a crazy final arc for all the right reasons. Jiren served as the antagonist, and proved to be the strongest non-deity opponent Goku had faced. How do you top that? The answer: bring back one of the franchise’s most popular antagonists. Many of the prior Dragon Ball film villains are liked, but Broly in particular is loved by fans. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Broly is just as popular, if not more popular than the big three – Frieza, Cell, and Buu.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly serves as an adaption of the rather obscure manga titled Dragon Ball Minus, and grabs many elements from Broly’s original film, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan. This film is wonderful for longtime Dragon Ball fans. There’s fantastic backstory, great moments, and the fights are epic. While lacking some of the overall cinematic quality of Resurrection ‘F,’ it features just about everything we like about the franchise.

broly

Credit: FUNimation

The movie begins over 40 years ago, when Planet Vegeta was still around. Its ruler is King Vegeta, but the Saiyans are subjected to the Cold force. We see King Cold arrive, but he’s there to tell the Saiyans that he is retiring. Instead, he is putting his son Frieza in charge. This eventually leads to Frieza plotting to destroy the entire Saiyan race. We also learn about a Saiyan baby with extraordinary powers even exceeding King Vegeta’s son. King Vegeta decides to exile the baby, named Broly, to a distant planet with no humanoids named Vampa. Broly’s father, Paragus, heads to the planet as well.

We all know what happens to Planet Vegeta. Frieza goes ahead and blows it up, but not before a pod escapes. Bardock and his wife Gine managed to put their son Kakarot into a pod for escape to Earth. In the modern day, Frieza is currently looking for more warriors to join his ranks. Two soldiers, Cheelai and Lemo, find Broly and Paragus on Vampa. Fueled for his hatred of King Vegeta, Paragus is happy to use Broly in service to Frieza. Now, Goku and Vegeta will once again have to face a powerful opponent.

The first quarter of the film serves as background for Broly and Planet Vegeta. The opening act is fantastic. The arrival of King Cold is filled with tension. This is actually King Cold’s first major appearance since being sliced by Future Trunks. Cold commands a presence in a similar, yet different way than Frieza does in the modern day. It’s not that long of a scene, but it shows that King Cold was a great character.

This scene also shows Frieza’s coming to power, and it’s appropriately brutal. Next, King Vegeta sentences baby Broly to Vampa. Paragus concludes that King Vegeta is doing this because Broly has more potential than the king’s son. Paragus is understandably fueled with hatred toward the king. Meanwhile, the Bardock scenes are great. It’s interesting how King Vegeta and Bardock are portrayed here. Bardock is clearly a hardened Saiyan, but still displays heart. Goku would take that trait. King Vegeta displays many of the traits Vegeta would inherit.

Bardock and Gine have a couple of scenes together, and they are nice. It’s particularly emotional when Bardock reveals he wants to send Goku away. Gine is a heartbroken mother; one could feel her turmoil as she watches the pod take off. Many non-viewers may look and think Dragon Ball Z is devoid of story substance, and only focuses on battling. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When Dragon Ball gets serious with its storytelling and dialogue, it’s some of the strongest you’ll find. That is evident throughout the first part of the film.

The only regrettable aspect of the backstory is that the film does not feature Bardock’s famous speech against Frieza before the planet gets blown up. Instead, Bardock is shown trying to repel the blast, but with no dialogue. Thus, the planet’s destruction was not as memorable as it was in the original Bardock film. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s worth mentioning.

vegeta vs. broly

Credit: FUNimation

Of course, most of the film takes place in the modern day after the Tournament of Power. The early scene with Goku and Vegeta sparring was fun. The story here is that Frieza’s forces have stolen six Dragon Balls and the radar from Bulma’s lab. There is only one Dragon Ball left. Bulma, Goku, Vegeta, and Whis head on down to locate Frieza’s henchmen. The dialogue isn’t quite as captivating as the writing in the flashback. But, Bulma’s reason for collecting the Dragon Balls is interesting.

The more interesting aspects of the film during this are with Cheelai and Lemo, members of the Frieza army. They have been tasked with locating powerful members for the force. Despite who they’re working for, they are shown not as sinister lackeys, but as people with diverse personalities. Cheelai in particular is a highlight. One interesting sequence was in Frieza’s ship. At this point, Broly and Paragus have been brought on. A member of the crew hits on Cheelai, with her telling him repeatedly to go away. Broly’s response is anger. Due to the runtime of this film being longer than the original Broly film, there is more screen time for Broly’s character to be deepened. His scenes with Cheelai and Lemo were great at accomplishing this.

The main spectacle is Broly’s fight against Goku and Vegeta. Marketing confirmed a little while ago that Gogeta, Goku and Vegeta’s combined form from Fusion Reborn, would be appearing. It’s a shame this was spoiled, as it would have been a pleasant surprise. But before that fusion, we get incredibly animated battles. Base form Broly against Vegeta was great. Goku’s battle as a Super Saiyan God was arguably even better. This is clearly a theatrical film, replacing a lot of the rapid punches seen in the show in favor of more actual blows being felt. Goku has great dialogue in the middle of the fight, once again showing that he has the biggest heart of all the characters. Finally, seeing Gogeta again was a treat. (Though Vegeta at first refusing fusion has gotten a bit old.)

gogeta

Credit: FUNimation

With all that said, while the fights are a lot of fun, Broly himself isn’t all that interesting during them. The problem is that we’ve already seen this type of character multiple times. We saw that in Broly’s original film. We saw that with Kid Buu. We saw that recently in the Tournament of Power with Kale, a character who was even clearly based off of Broly’s Super Saiyan design. So, Broly’s persona of constantly shouting is a bit lackluster. Still, Broly overall is an effective character in the story. The film successfully introduces him as one of the most tragic figures in the franchise.

On a few last notes, Frieza holds a screen presence, like always. It was particularly interesting seeing him in the flashback. Also, his brief scuffle with Broly was fun. The film’s soundtrack is epic, as expected from Dragon Ball. There are a number of notable themes, such as during the sparring match between Goku and Vegta, and Gogeta’s arrival. You won’t find any of the much-used themes of Super (though they are really good); the music is wholly original. The film’s ending is different than in the original Broly movie. It’s a nice way to end off, and it could mean some exciting things for the future.

goku

Credit: FUNimation

Overall, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a very good film re-introducing an iconic character. Broly is a tragic figure, perhaps even more so than Jiren. Although Broly is a bit dull in his Super Saiyan form, there are enough story scenes to prevent him from being labeled a one-dimensional character. Goku is good, with a couple of great sequences. Although the second half of the film doesn’t reach the cinematic level of the opening act, the fights are grand. Dragon Ball fans will not want to miss this.

4/5

A big thanks to FUNimation for supplying a theatrical screener for review. Dragon Ball Super: Broly will be released in limited theaters starting on January 16th. You can locate a theater and purchase tickets here

 

 

GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER Review – Where did it all go so wrong?

the planet eater

It should have been epic. The Godzilla anime trilogy should have been a lot of things. The potential was there. In the first film, Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla was established as an unstoppable threat. I remember feeling in awe when he unleashed his iconic roar in the climax of the film. The actual movie wasn’t anything great, but it was decent setup. The potential was there. The sequel’s marketing hinted at a battle between Godzilla and a new Mechagodzilla. City on the Edge of Battle did not feature a Mechagodzilla throwdown, instead rehashing the battle against small machines from the first film.

City on the Edge of Battle had some neat ideas. Mechagodzilla taking over an entire city, and the Bilusaludo willing to become one with it in order to face Godzilla were interesting concepts. The problem is that these things completely took the place of why we watch Godzilla movies. In City on the Edge of Battle, Godzilla doesn’t do anything until after the first hour. That’s a bold move with a movie titled Godzilla, but maybe it could work if the climax was amazing. It wasn’t. At the very least, the poster for The Planet Eater showed Godzilla battling an intriguing new version of King Ghidorah. There is definitely a confrontation, but fans will likely be disappointed. The film itself is kind of bizarre in that it barely even feels about Godzilla at times.

Look, deep themes and meta storylines can be fascinating. Anime is home to many fantastic concepts and themes that Western animation barely touches. So, it’s certainly welcome that a Godzilla film in anime format could touch upon themes, such as what it means to be human, and the will to keep fighting. That sounds interesting, but it only works if the themes don’t overpower the kaiju element. The Planet Eater goes full on in attempting to convey something profound with its protagonist. The film is certainly thought provoking to some extent, but in the end, it got lost in its themes and forgot to be a quality movie. The ending is downbeat and out of left field, reminding everyone that this is the Haruo Sakaki saga with Godzilla just as a guest star. The after credits scene is strange in that it literally has nothing to do with Godzilla.

Now, that’s not to say everything about The Planet Eater is awful. The story, summed up, is about Metphies revealing his plan to Haruo. The Exif plans to bring King Ghidorah, a powerful space monster who the Exif worship as a god, to deliver Earth’s destruction. Haruo is of course against this, but is manipulated by Metphies in mind games. Ghidorah arrives on Earth, and Godzilla is powerless to stop him. With Haruo edging closer and closer to the end, Maina goes to the large egg and summons a familiar moth to go inside Haruo’s mind. With Haruo later back to his senses, it’s time to stop Metphies and Ghidorah’s menace…

haruo

So, one thing that was well done was the build-up to Ghidorah. I got goosebumps when hearing the classic Ghidorah cackle. Ghidorah is treated as a god-like being, and the scene where he arrives and destroys the Aratrum was awe-inspiring. His arrival on Earth was also well done, with the animation being quite good. The encounter between him and Godzilla was, at first, interesting. Godzilla was clearly on the verge of losing, and the overall feel was that of a big climax. The problem is that the way Ghidorah was designed did not allow for a very engaging battle. It was barely even a fight as Godzilla couldn’t even touch Ghidorah until later.

The strange thing is that the film teases viewers with the classic winged Ghidorah look, but we never actually see that in the flesh. An even bigger tease was Mothra. Yes, Mothra does sort of show up – but only as a silhouette who goes inside Haruos mind. That’s her only appearance. Mothra appearing in person to help take out Ghidorah? A team-up with Godzilla, as a reference to their partnership in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Godzilla: Final Wars? Nah, none of that stuff. Instead, the film thinks we’re satisfied by Mothra being a flying shadow.

Some of the dialogue was good. The mind sequences with Haruo and Metphies were interesting, as Haruo was brought lower and lower by Metphies’ elegant vocabulary. Methphies was definitely a highlight of the trilogy, and it was great seeing him go full on calm fanatic in this movie. Haruo isn’t a terrible focus, but at this point we’ve so much of him and so little of Godzilla, that it’s hard to be engaged. It also doesn’t help that the ending was a terrible conclusion to his story.

The Houtua were interesting characters in City on the Edge of Battle, and the twins return here. One of the best sequences was Miana discovering Metphies’ alter to Ghidorah. Meanwhile, her sister, Maina has one notable scene where she goes to the Mothra egg. However, Maina is also given a rather…odd role. Haruo seems to have gotten over Yuko quickly, huh?

At this point, there isn’t too much else to be said about The Planet Eater, and the anime trilogy as a whole. Perhaps people who have never seen a Godzilla film will enjoy these more. The themes can be interesting, but they are sandwiched with dull pacing and little kaiju action. The Planet Eater teases with winged Ghidorah and Mothra, but not much happens there. Ghidorah’s “battle” with Godzilla did have some great moments, like Godzilla snapping one of the head’s jaws. But, it did leave a lot to be desired. The soundtrack was strong overall at the very least, especially when Ghidorah arrived. The Planet Eater attempts to be a deep movie, which is admirable, but in the process loses key things associated with the Godzilla saga.

ghidorah

All in all, The Planet Eater is a mediocre conclusion to a mediocre trilogy. Throughout the films, there have been great moments and intriguing concepts. But, there is no satisfying endgame. Planet of the Monsters was decent setup, and City on the Edge of Battle was one overly long middle act for The Planet Eater, none of which delivered. Hopefully Godzilla’s journey into anime doesn’t end here.

Aquaman Review

aquaman poster

“Fun” is an overused word in the area of film criticism. At the same time, it’s still a great term to use in describing certain kinds of movies. There are films that may not be good critically speaking, but have some entertainment value that boring stories with better production values do not have. However, there are many great pieces of cinema that are both “fun” and and well made. The Avengers is one such movie, having a fun tone throughout, while also having consistently strong writing, never sacrificing storytelling for comedy. A movie like Aquaman leans more toward the camp of being fun, but flawed. But, it’s still leagues above films like Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, comic book movies that sacrifice storytelling for unfunny comedy.

There are areas of greatness in Aquaman – Aquaman’s character arc of becoming king is mostly engaging, the battles are excellent, and the visuals are some of the most unique yet. (It’d be tough to think of a better underwater film visual wise.) The movie does suffer from unfunny comedic scenes, and a decent, but generic antagonist. The DC film universe is an interesting case, as it was clearly designed at first to be the opposite of what Marvel was doing. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were darker, and deeper films than many comic book films. But, many viewers criticized the gritty take on the characters. Going forward, the films began to take a different look. Aquaman is similar to Wonder Woman, in that it is still a serious movie, but negates the grittiness in favor of a standard tone. Wonder Woman is a fantastic film. Aquaman lacks the quality writing of that film, but is still an enjoyable undersea epic.

Aquaman takes place after Stepphenwolf’s attack on the world in Justice League. Here, we see Arthur Curry as a man who wants nothing to do with Atlantis. But when he sees that his half-brother, King Orm, means to war with the surface world, Arthur is convinced by Princess Mera to challenge Orm. What follows is a duel, followed by a quest to find the lost Trident of Atlantis…

aquaman vs. ocean master

The problem with Aquaman’s inclusion in Justice League was that the character was not given enough time to flesh out. That film introduced Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash, not a whole lot of time to give these characters backstories. Cyborg succeeded, but Aquaman was arguably the least compelling member of the team. He was portrayed as brash and hardcore, endearing traits perhaps, but not without knowing the character ahead of time. Aquaman the movie fixes this for the most part. He is clearly a character with a good heart, and a sense of humor. A good sequence was him saving the sailors early on and telling them, “Hurry up, I’m missing happy hour for this.” By the end of the movie, Arthur has emerged with the characteristics of a king, and looks to be a character who will be (almost) as compelling as Wonder Woman.

With all that said though, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has some painfully unfunny moments. This is more due to the writing than the actor. Aquaman saying “screw you” to the Karathen came off as forced, and some of the comedy was just cringe worthy. (The scene with Mera and Arthur discussing the ship’s smell comes to mind.) It’s usually best when comedy flows naturally than when a film takes a scene to get the viewer laughing. While not an absolute deal breaker, there are cringe-worthy scenes (complete with the goofy music in the background to let the viewer know that this is supposed to be funny dialogue) that could have been removed.

Speaking of Mera, she was a strong character overall. Her passion for Atlantis is genuine. She and Aquaman make for a good team. The scenes in Sicily with Arthur showing her surface world life was nice. With that said, I think the romance between the two characters should have been saved for the sequel. What’s unintentionally funny is that in the climatic battle, Mera literally says they have to end the battle now. Instead of Arthur going right away to battle Ocean Master, they decide to share a rather long kiss. This is happening in the middle of an underwater war, so the timing of this scene was definitely poor.

black manta

As Roger Ebert said in his review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Each film is only as good as its villain.” If this is true, it’s a good thing that Aquaman has Black Manta. The film’s primary antagonist, King Orm/Ocean Master, is decent, but forgettable. Orm says almost everything a viewer would expect from a character in his position; there isn’t much in the way of unique or new. The problem is that Patrick Wilson doesn’t deliver much of his lines with passion. Michael Shannon’s Zod from Man of Steel was a clearly passionate character. Ares from Wonder Woman had a sense of grandeur, same with Stephhenwolf. Even Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman was more charismatic and interesting than Orm. Ocean Master isn’t as one-dimensional as Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, but he does not make any notable mark in the world of cinema.

Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s portrayal of Black Manta was a highlight. Early on, we see the reason why he grows to hate Arthur. It’s a compelling character arc, one that will hopefully take the center focus in the sequel. The scenes with Manta and Arthur are fantastic. As for other characters, Willem Defoe turns in a compelling performance as Vulko, servant to the throne, and a teacher for Arthur (shown through flashbacks). A particularly strong performance was Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. The early discussion between Orm and Nereus was great, mainly because Lundgren gave Nereus a charismatic edge that Orm did not have. Hopefully Nereus will return with an even bigger role in the sequel.

There are some great action sequences in this movie. Easily the most exciting was Aquaman against Black Manta in Sicily. The scenery was unique, and the choreography was excellent. The two showdowns between Arthur and Ocean Master were also good. Visuals wise – Aquaman is unparalleled. There’s a scene with Aquaman and Mera travelling underwater, and the viewer is treated to an almost fairy tale-like Atlantis. The CGI is solid, with Karathen being a big highlight in the climax. As for the music, the film’s soundtrack overall is one of the stronger comic book movie soundtracks.

aquaman-7594

Overall, Aquaman is a solid entry in the DC film lineup. Most of the characters are solid, the action is great, and the visuals are wonderful. However, it’s not in the same league as Wonder Woman, or Man of Steel. Aquaman lacks the all around great script those two films had. The humor can be mixed, and Ocean Master was a dull antagonist compared to Black Manta. The film is still very enjoyable, nicely setting up Arthur as the King of Atlantis, and for what comes next in the story.

8/10

Creed II Review – The Best Film in the Rocky Series?

creed_ii-_poster2

Creed II is the best film I’ve seen this year. Some movies are extremely well directed, well acted, and come together perfectly. Others, like the recently released Venom, are done with seemingly the only intent of entertaining – and not in a smart way. Creed II, directed by Steven Caple Jr., continues the story from Creed back in 2015. It is a continuation of the overall Rocky series, one of the most iconic franchises in film. This was a production that was taken seriously by everyone involved, to make sure it was a worthy sequel to a great film and another chapter in the Rocky saga.

At this point, it can be tough to create a story that isn’t similar to previous movies. A common complaint is that Creed II is too similar to the movies before it. That is technically a legitimate complaint. Creed II features the protagonist thinking he’s ready for the fight, but is soundly defeated. He then goes into a depression, but is soon brought back to life and trains hard. In the rematch, he takes the advantage. It’s a comeback story, but not dissimilar to what we’ve seen before, preventing the film from feeling too unique among other Rocky films.

At the same time, I would argue that Creed II executes these “generic” tropes exceptionally well, to the point one can watch the film without the thought, “Well, that’s just too similar to Rocky III.” Creed II has a lot more going on other than the loss, and build up to the rematch. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca takes a center focus, and it’s wonderful. The Dragos’ part of the plot is fascinating. (We’ll talk more about that soon.) Finally, the ending is emotional and avoids a generic knockout trope, cementing the climax as the best in the series.

Creed II continues the story of Adonis Creed. He is now the heavyweight champion of the world, and things are looking good for him. He proposes to his girlfriend of three years, Bianca Taylor, and soon they learn that she will be giving birth to a baby. Meanwhile, Ivan Drago, the Russian antagonist from Rocky IV, has come to Philadelphia with an announcement to Rocky: Ivan’s son Viktor will beat Adonis in the ring. After a public declaration, Adonis has the choice of whether or not to accept the challenge and fight Viktor. This is something personal as well, as Ivan was responsible for the death of Apollo Creed, the father of Adonis. Adonis of course agrees, although Rocky does not want anything to do with it. From there, Adonis enters the ring enraged and doesn’t fight smart. He loses, and is crippled for a bit. After talking, Rocky decides to train him, and the road to the rematch begins…

rocky and creed

Sylvester Stallone steals every scene as the retired boxer. Any scene can be taken as a highlight, but one particular interesting one was Rocky attempting to talk Adonis out of the battle with Viktor Drago. Rocky talks from experience, not wanting Adonis to end up like Apollo. This is especially personal for Rocky because he could have thrown in the towel all those years ago, but chose not to, to respect Apollo’s wish to continue fighting. Rocky has great scenes throughout the movie; I would say this is Stallone’s strongest performance yet as the character. Rocky is so good in this movie, that the danger is that he could upstage Adonis. But, smartly, the director is careful to make sure that this is Creed’s movie, not Rocky’s. Rocky is there a lot, but he never upstages Adonis.

Adonis and Bianca had good chemistry in the first movie, and it’s only gotten better here. The two big plot developments are that Adonis proposes to Bianca, and they learn that a child is on the way. Boxing movies are more than just the fights; they are about the people within those fights, who they are and how they got to this point. In this regard, (and just about all other regards) Creed II triumphs. There is some interesting, tragic drama as Bianca worries that her child will be born deaf.

Let’s talk about the Dragos, perhaps the greatest aspect of Creed II. The film actually begins with Ivan and Viktor in Russia before cutting to Adonis’ fight with Danny Wheeler. Continuing with the knowledge that boxing films are more than just fights, Creed II shows the reasons why Ivan has Viktor challenge Adonis. As Ivan explains to Rocky at the restaurant (one of the best scenes in the film), after his loss at the end of Rocky IV, he lost everything, including his wife. We see later in a scene set in Russia that Viktor is being set up to bring boxing back to glory in Russia. Ivan’s wife actually shows up, but we see that she doesn’t actually care about Viktor; she just cares about the name Drago as a glorious name.

Regarding Viktor, he doesn’t talk all that much during the film, which might lead some to say he has little character. But, I believe that’s the point. This film is in many ways a mirror to Rocky IV. Ivan Drago in that film also said few lines. He had less “personality” than Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang, but that didn’t mean he had less character. Ivan in Rocky IV was displayed as an emotionless super boxer, whose only goal was to serve the Soviet Union’s cause. However, in the climax, Ivan turns to a Soviet Union leader and says, “I fight to win! For me! For me!” This was a key line showing Drago did have his own character rather than just being a machine for the Soviets.

With Viktor, we learn that he has had a tough childhood, with Ivan training him harshly. Viktor is raised with only one thing in mind: his fists. However, as the movie smartly shows, the two of them have an interesting relationship. Viktor never displays any hate or distaste for his father. In the Russia scene, we see Viktor distressed about his mother coming, telling Ivan that she is a stranger to them. Then, during the fight, when Viktor is clearly on the losing side, his mother actually walks away from the audience. This cements the fact that she doesn’t care about him. Despite that, he continues to fight. Ivan notices that his wife has left, and throws in the towel. We see briefly that Viktor is upset, with Ivan telling him that it’s okay. This shows that Viktor is a broken person, hoping to succeed in what his father trained him to do, and that his mother would come back into their lives.

ivan and viktor

Since I just mentioned it, it would be good to talk about the climax. Instead of opting for a generic knockout win, Adonis wins by the towel being thrown. This is a key thing cementing this film as the best in the series. When Ivan notices his wife has walked away, and sees his son being beaten, he makes the call that Rocky didn’t in Rocky IV. He throws in the towel, stopping the match, and consoles Viktor. It’s hard to describe just how emotionally impactful the entire sequence was. When a scene can bring a tear to your eye, it did something right. In this case, we see that Ivan does indeed love his son, and didn’t want him to die in the ring. As part of the final scenes of the movie, we see Ivan running side by side with Viktor as they train in Russia. This is a great scene because earlier we saw Ivan training Viktor using a car, a rather impersonal approach.

Finally, Rocky reunites with his son. This was a great way to bring everything full circle. The Rocky film series could continue, but if it ended with Creed II, that would be fine. Creed II is the perfect sendoff for the franchise. It continues the storylines from Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, and Creed. Everything comes together for a satisfying final fight. The acting is great all around from everyone. Dolph Lundgren steals every scene he’s in as Ivan Drago, and of course Rocky is always great. The fights are well choreographed as always, and the soundtrack is good. In fact, the classic Rocky theme returns, and it’s placed perfectly within the story. Creed II has one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. Simply put, the film is fantastic. It may have a technically generic storyline, but it’s done so well that it may even exceed the original Rocky.

 

10/10