War for the Planet of the Apes Review

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In 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was revived. Rise was a reboot, but also a prequel to a new series. Modern effects would allow more realistic apes than what was seen in the original films, and in Rise, we got to see some of the best effects of a modern blockbuster. The film was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and to quote my review from it, it “is one of the finest movies of the century.” Caesar was already fantastic in Rise, but in Dawn his character was further cemented as one of the greatest of 21st century pop culture. War for the Planet of the Apes gets Caesar even further by making him and his ape companions the full-fledged protagonists. There’s no main human protagonist (aside from Nova) this time around. This works, because Caesar is an incredible character, and the other apes are great as well. They can easily hold a film together. War has many of the things that made its predecessors good films. It’s incredibly well written and provides a fine closure to a fantastic trilogy.

The opening scene makes sure to remind the viewer that this is a war. It’s a tension-filled sequence as we see the soldiers plan to attack the apes in the forest. Then, when the soldiers make an explosion, everything turns into chaos. It’s exciting when the apes rally to defend the woods. This opening scene grabs the viewer’s attention right away. It’s brutal as we see apes and soldiers getting killed from bullets and spears. After the battle, we’re shown Caesar deciding what to do with a traitor ape by the name of Red/Donkey and the soldier survivors. This is Andy Serkis’ best portrayal of Caesar yet. Every scene he’s in is Oscar-worthy.

Perhaps the core story is Caesar’s mission to take out The Colonel. It’s interesting because in a key scene, Maurice tells Caesar that the latter is starting to sound like Koba. This was a greatly written scene. Koba was the antagonist in Dawn, and in War Caesar at times “sees” Koba, showing that the rogue ape still haunts. Caesar’s journey, outward and inward, is engaging. He isn’t a one-dimensional hero. He fights to defend the apes, and goes through development after being hit with the realization that Maurice’s words are proving to be true. Caesar has easily become one of the greatest film franchise characters ever to be created.

As stated in the first paragraph, the apes can hold a film together. Each of the main ones are given personality, from Maurice being the soft observant one to Donkey being a loyal Koba follower. War introduces one new major ape protagonist, whom comes toward the latter part of the film. “Bad Ape” is actually the main negative why War isn’t the perfect film Dawn was. Dawn was a serious film, and arguably War should be even more serious. Bad Ape provides comic relief, such as saying “I’m okay” after tripping on something off screen. It just seemed like he was there to provide humor in an otherwise perilous story – but was it really necessary? I don’t think so. For an example backing up that standpoint, we have a scene where Bad Ape doesn’t know how to use binoculars. Then it cuts back to The Colonel’s ape prison. It goes from comedy then back to a serious situation; it just doesn’t mesh well. The tone change is abrupt and jarring. Ultimately, Bad Ape didn’t contribute much to the story and could have been left out of the script.

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The primary antagonist is Colonel McCullough. He’s no Koba, as The Colonel is more of a textbook villain. But to call him generic would be a disservice as well. His scenes with Caesar throughout the final act were especially interesting to watch. As stated earlier, there’s no human protagonist driving the story forward. However, there is a human character whom the apes pick up. A little girl whom is later named Nova, she was a good character to have around. Despite not being able to talk, she displayed great emotion.

The lead-up to the climax is almost as exciting as the climax itself. Seeing the plan to escape was engaging. Then, the final battle provides an epic action sequence that won’t soon be forgotten. However, while the explosions are grand, it’s the different characters’ decisions that make the final act so memorable. From Caesar’s last encounter with The Colonel, to Donkey’s grenade gun, there’s so much emotion conveyed in these fantastic scenes. The soundtrack is particularly strong as well. The final scene provides a genuinely emotional ending to what will go down as one of the best trilogies out there.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a great film. Though not perfect like Dawn, just about everything works. Caesar is outstanding once again, and is given more to do. The action is very good, but it’s the interactions with the apes that truly make the film stand out. The themes of mercy and leadership are there, as Caesar has to make a choice of whether to be like Koba or not. The different ape characters are great, aside from Bad Ape. The emotion the different scenes convey is amazing. Who could forget Luca grabbing a flower from a tree and putting it on Nova? With a memorable final act, War concludes Caesar’s journey with excellence. Though there could be more Planet of the Apes films, War provides fine closer to the story set in motion in Rise.

9/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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We are living in quite an interesting era for the comic book film landscape. Spider-Man got his first film all the way back in 2002, 15 years ago. When Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe, the idea of the Webhead fighting alongside the Avengers was nothing but fan fiction at that point. But, in an unprecedented event, a deal between Sony and Marvel allowed Spidey to join the MCU. He debuted in Captain America: Civil War to critical acclaim. To put it simply, it was surreal and a dream come true. Now here we are with Spider-Man’s first solo outing in this continuity and also his fist solo outing since 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, with all this pre-hype excitement out of the way, the question has to be asked: Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spidey film yet? It is not, but Director Jon Watts’ film is still fun from beginning to end.

The opening act takes place eight years ago, during the aftermath of the Chitauri Invasion. It’s an interesting way to set up the story, and in this case it’s setting up Adrian Toomes’, (known to comic fans as the Vulture) rise to villainy. I’m all for antagonists getting this kind of treatment in the beginning (and we all know villains in the MCU need to be better) but there’s something hammy to Michael Keaton’s portrayal in this first act. It takes a bit before the Vulture becomes an engaging character. It’s interesting when he brings up how rich people like Tony Stark rule, while working people like him have to eat off the scraps. It’s a solid motivation for him; it’s a shame the writing didn’t do a better job developing that in the beginning. To give some credit, Toomes has some good scenes toward the climax. In the end, Vulture doesn’t solve the ongoing problem of mediocre villains in these films, but he’s a step above villains like Darren Cross and Malekith. As a bonus, the suit design is genuinely menacing.

Of course, the primary reason why one would watch this is to see Spider-Man. For some, this is the first time seeing Spider-Man on the big screen. For others, this is the second rebooted Spider-Man film. Either way, I believe most will be satisfied with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the famous character. Holland portrays this energetic young Peter Parker well. Some particularly strong scenes are when he busts the fake Avengers robbery and when he tries to save the Staten Island Ferry. The writing does a good job bringing the story to street level. An example is the montage early on with Spidey helping the common citizen. (There are plenty of humorous scenes throughout the film, but my favorite comes from this montage – the brief clip of Spidey giving an older woman directions.)

Tom Holland’s portrayal is mostly great, but it can border on the annoying side in a few instances. The video clip early on for example was a bit much after awhile. Also, if one is used to the more adult incarnations of Spider-Man, it could be tough getting used to this 15 year old version. But, I think it’s possible since the writing does a solid job at making this about him discovering how to be a mature hero. One of the most powerful scenes was Tony taking away the Spider suit. Peter claims he’s nothing without the suit. Tony replies, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Speaking of Tony, Robert Downy Jr. steals the show every scene he’s in. He doesn’t appear too much, which would have taken the spotlight away from Peter. Iron Man appears for just the right amount of screen time.

There’s plenty of fun, fast-paced action. Though, there’s no truly notable battle sequence. Yes, the climax finally featured Spidey dealing blows to the Vulture, but before that the fight scenes were mostly brief. You won’t walk out of the theater saying, “Wow, that was one great action sequence.” Some of the more well done action pieces weren’t fights. The scene where Spidey breaks into the Washington Monument and the one where he attempts to hold the Ferry together were intense. Also, I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate seeing a famous comic scene adapted near the climax. (Personally, I think that particular scene would have been better saved for a future film.) The soundtrack isn’t bad, though not too memorable outside a couple of themes.

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As for the other characters, the most major is Jacob Batalon’s Ned. He was fun to have around; he worked well as a friend and later “guy in the chair” for Peter. Laura Harrier as Liz wasn’t bad. She wasn’t much besides a love interest for Peter. But, to give some credit, she wasn’t devoid of personality. The romance angle wasn’t terrible. In the end, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but without it, it would have been hard to have the well done car scene with Toomes. Zendaya as Michelle was one of the most interesting characters with her unique, quirky personality. It looks like the writing has plans for her in future installments, which is good. Out of all the supporting characters, ironically the standout wasn’t a human – it was Karen, an A.I. built into the Spider-Man suit. One of the best scenes is when Spidey talks with her while being stuck at a base. Oh, we can’t forget Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The writing really tries to make her the complete opposite of the original trilogy’s May. It mostly works, but the last scene went a little too far.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid addition to the Marvel film library, Tom Holland’s energetic outing in Civil War takes the center focus here, and it’s mostly well done. As he should be, Peter is portrayed as an upbeat kid. At its core, the story is about Peter becoming the hero we’ve seen throughout the years in comics. When Tony takes away Peter’s suit, Spidey is forced to reevaluate himself. The Vulture is a decent enough antagonist. There’s enough solid material to avoid calling him a mediocre villain. The action is fun, but it feels like there should have been one more important fight scene. But, despite any negatives, Homecoming remains an engaging watch. By the end, it makes the viewer anticipate Spidey’s future appearances.

8/10

 

Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s surprise hit. The characters were relatively unknown to the general public until the film came out in 2014. Now everyone knows “I am Groot” and Rocket Raccoon’s constant sarcasm. Though having a grand outer space backdrop, the film was about different characters coming together and forming a team – or better, a family. The concept of family continues on in the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Anticipation was high, and with Ego the Living Planet as the antagonist, one expects a grand sequel. Sadly, though it has some of the things that made the first film great, Vol. 2 is a mediocre sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has an exciting climax that ends with a  genuinely emotional sequence. The last 30 minutes makes the viewer forget about any mediocre things prior to the final act. Of course, as a reviewer, one has to look at the film as a whole and unfortunately there are quite a few negative aspects. The film does retain some of what made the first Guardians a blast. There are plenty of fun character interactions and space battles. The writing is sadly a lot weaker than its predecessor.

Vol. 2 is a prime example of the writing going to the extreme in the comedy department. The first Guardians perfectly balanced comedy and storytelling to deliver one of the best comic book films ever. Vol. 2 takes that comedic aspect and multiplies it tenfold. The problem is that the “funny” scenes are often obvious and forced. Even the character interactions at times were trying too hard to be humorous. The intro with the characters battling Sharktopus an Abilisk was fun, though Groot dancing went on a little too long. Since we’ve just brought him up, baby Groot is cute but by the middle act the viewer misses the adult Groot from the first film.

Pacing is one of the most key aspects of any film. The first Guardians had perfect pacing; the film moved smoothly. The second film unfortunately lacks that. Vol. 2 slows down drastically when the Guardians land on Planet Ego. Things happen, but they’re not particularly interesting. It felt like the scenes on the planet were just buying time until the climax. Yes, the core aspect of the film is Peter finding his father. But it’s not as engaging as a reunion as it should be. This could be because Ego isn’t the best antagonist. The writing gives him some meta motivations and technically his goal might be the grandest from the Marvel films, but the actual character just isn’t notable. To give some credit to the reunion aspect, some things worked well, such as the playing catch scene.

Something that worked really well was the Gamora/Nebula subplot. Nebula’s backstory on why she hates Gamora is fascinating, and also shows how evil Thanos is. The scenes with the sisters are some of the most well done in the film. Their last scene put an extra emotional touch to the final act. Gamora is one of the best characters, showcasing that hardcore warrior persona while also showing genuine emotion. The theme of Guardians Vol. 2 seems to be family, and while some of the Star-Lord/Ego scenes were a bit flat, other aspects were fantastic. We just discussed Gamora and Nebula; there’s also Yondu, who could be the best character. His scene in the climax might be the most emotionally well done of all the Marvel films.

Rocket is usually a highlight, but the film does one big negative thing with him. So, a major subplot is that an alien race called the Sovereign is after the Guardians. The reason? Rocket stole their batteries. This came off as petty and something that didn’t need to happen. Rocket does get some fun scenes with Yondu on the ship. Drax doesn’t have much of a character arc this time around unfortunately. He’s there mainly for comedy, and it can range from laugh-out-loud funny to forced. Star-Lord is a fun character like in the first film. Though, there’s a lack of well-acted emotion. He seems to have the same static face even when faced with the revelation of who killed his mother.

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As stated earlier, the climax is awesome. Fighting a living planet seems like something that could only be done in a comic book, but the film pulls it off. The visuals are fantastic (want to see Pac-Man chomping away in space?) and there’s quality emotion as the writing reminds the viewer that family isn’t always by blood. The soundtrack is very good, though not as notable as the soundtrack from the first film.

Overall, this review seemed to be a bit on the harsher side. That is because the first Guardians of the Galaxy set a high standard. Vol. 2 doesn’t live up to it. The writing is weaker and doesn’t balance the comedy properly. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if most of the funny stuff were genuinely funny. A lot of the dialogue just doesn’t seem like what actual people would say. That might sound silly since most of the characters aren’t human, but a lot of the dialogue is obvious comedy. This is not to say the film isn’t a good time. If one enjoyed the first movie, one should like the second. The character interactions are at times priceless and the climax is one of the most exciting from any Marvel film. It’s a shame the rest of the film didn’t live up to it.

6.5/10

KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

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It’s been 12 years since the last King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is a remake of the classic 1933 story of a giant ape who falls for a woman and ends up meeting an unfortunate demise. Skull Island takes a break from this plot to tell a unique tale using elements from the original story. This isn’t the first time Kong has deviated from the usual story of course, with one example being TOHO’s King Kong Escapes where he battles a mechanized version of himself. Skull Island brings an ensemble cast to the titular setting for an adventure that feels both familiar and new. It lacks enough quality writing to call it a “great” film, but it’s still an enjoyable, fun trek.

The primary reason why people would come to watch this film is to see the title character in action. Kong himself doesn’t disappoint. The sequence with him taking out the helicopters was excellent and rivals Godzilla’s grand airport entrance in the 2014 film. The music going silent when the tree struck the first helicopter changed the mood drastically, and as one by one each helicopter was destroyed the viewer got a sense of how ferocious Kong was. This is his most violent portrayal yet, and in this early scene the viewer actually begins to think that Kong might actually be bad in this one. The story smartly destroys that thought later on. The writing perfectly balances Kong’s gentleness with monstrous ferocity.

Again, his big scene with taking down the helicopters was incredible. It featured some of the best cinematography and editing ever in a monster movie. It’s actually a shame that the very first scene in the film featured a full face shot of Kong, because the helicopter sequence later on would have been a much better way to first show the character. Kong commands a presence every time he’s on screen, and the film features him a lot, which is a nice change of pace from monster films hiding the beast for extended periods of time.

Like in the previous King King films, Skull Island is home to many dangerous creatures. Unlike the previous films, the creatures in this film aren’t ones we’d find in a book. Instead, they’re either abnormally giant (the spider) or completely brand new, such as the Skullcrawlers. The creatures are used to great effect. The spider sequence was very well done (it features one of the creepiest deaths in a monster movie) and how the characters managed to overcome it was pretty smart. There’s even a giant octopus which Kong battles. (It reminds the viewer of his encounter with another giant octopus in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.) The Skullcrawlers are the film’s primary antagonists, and they are really well utilized. They’re genuinely creepy and also command a presence. (The quick death scene of a character turning around only to be chomped by a Skullcrawler was something straight out of a horror film.)

Of course, the climax couldn’t feature Kong simply taking on a bunch of little creatures. The final battle featured a giant Skullcrawler. It got some quality buildup beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It takes what made the little ones creepy and amplifies it. The fight was very well done. The battle is brutal, the setting is used to great effect, and above all else – it’s satisfying. There are no extended cutaways, there are some surprises, and it’s just fun to watch as a moviegoer and as a longtime kaiju fan.

The main thing the story suffers from is an unnecessarily light tone. There is some seriousness to the atmosphere, namely when the music stops when that tree struck the helicopter. Despite scenes like that the story appears more on the light-hearted side at times. John C. Reilly’s character for example kinda takes the viewer out of the realism at times with his dialogue. With horrific deaths taking place on an unknown setting, it seems like the overall atmosphere should be consistently more serious than what it is. Perhaps the idea was to differentiate itself from Godzilla, since that film was completely series from beginning to end. This is not to say Skull Island is a comedy, because it isn’t. A more serious tone throughout just could have been better.

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A rather big drawback is that the Island natives don’t really do anything in this film. It felt like they were just there for tradition’s sake. (They barely do anything other than stare and nod.) An additional 10 minutes could have been added to explain more about their relationship to Kong and the fascinating backstory only briefly mentioned. Moving on to the characters, the film features a cast with quite a few familiar names. Just about all of them are fun to watch. (It could be a fun game counting how many zoom-ins they give Samuel L. Jackson.) Ultimately though, there’s no standout performance. Maybe it’s assumed that simply having these big name actors on screen is good enough. (We have Tom Hiddleston grabbing a sword and slashing like a samurai.) The characters needed to be fleshed out just a little bit more.

The pacing is solid. Some of the early scenes on the boat were a little on the boring side, but it doesn’t take too long for the characters to arrive on the Island. There’s just the right amount of Kong scenes and humans, whether the latter be talking or running away from another creature. The soundtrack has some great moments. There’s also some classic music thrown in the mix, being set in the 70’s. This is used to great effect in the helicopter sequence.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a worthy addition to the large catalog of monster movies. Director Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts’ vision of Kong is truly special. The ape steals the show, having the perfect balance of being the kind creature viewers have come to know and displaying monstrous ferocity. If Kong had a reputation of being on the weaker side before, this film changes that. The other creatures are really cool to watch, especially the Skullcrawlers. The big one made for an excellent final boss, with the actual battle being a satisfying finale to the story. The characters aren’t bad. They’re fun to watch, and are given enough personality to keep them from being dry. Still, they could have used just a bit more development. Some of the lighter elements and humor didn’t work, but they don’t ruin what is Kong’s most explosive film yet.

7.5/10

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

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Star Wars is enjoying a revitalization this decade. Last year Episode VII, the continuation from Return of the Jedi, released and ended up being one of the highest grossing films of all time. This year saw the release of another installment in the series. This time however instead of the next chapter, we have a prequel detailing some of the major events leading up to A New Hope. The idea of a standalone-ish film important to the overall saga is an excellent concept; and it’s something Rogue One succeeds at marvelously. Gareth Edwards of Godzilla fame directs a film that puts the Wars in Star Wars.

Rogue One tells a familiar tale at the surface. It follows a group of rebels in a mission to halt the progress of the Empire. Perhaps the biggest contributions to the franchise here are how the Death Star came into existence and how the Alliance acquired the plans of the weapon’s weakness. As a longtime Star Wars viewer, it’s great to see how this connects to A New Hope, a film almost 40 years old. There are other things to look out for, along with other references to the franchise such as The Clone Wars. Of course, the film doesn’t sell itself as one only focused on being one big reference; it’s an excellent showcase of quality written characters and some of the best action sequences of the series.

The opening act shows the main character, Jyn, as a young girl and how she got separated from her parents. It’s a well done sequence as it establishes her hate for the Empire, Krennic’s menacing persona, and how Jyn’s father got taken into the Empire to build the Death Star. The jump to modern day is interesting as we see Jyn a battle-hardened character. Felicity Jones does an excellent job portraying that throughout the film, especially in the first and middle act. Rey from The Force Awakens was a fun character, but Jyn is more interesting thanks to her more down-to-earth, realistic persona. Her journey from hardened prisoner to inspiration for the rebel cause was engaging. This nicely complements the rather grim atmosphere the story has.

Perhaps the most notable character is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial Droid for the Rebel cause. One of the reasons why A New Hope is fondly remembered is for its introduction of C-3PO, who was constantly bringing humor. K-2SO plays a similar role in Rogue One, and it’s fantastic. (Also, unlike C-3PO he can actually fight.) K-2SO’s scene in the climax is one of the most powerfully written in the entire series. Most of the other characters are good. One of the few that wasn’t particularly notable was Rook. It’s easy to see what the writing was going for in his personality, but it didn’t work most of the time in making him likable and there was a severe lack of backstory. Saw Gerrera wasn’t memorable either and may have actually been the weakest character. The viewer doesn’t feel any sense of emotional attachment so when he stops appearing it’s more of an empty scene.

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Even though the original trilogy took place in a galaxy controlled by the Empire, Rogue One is the first one where the viewer really gets a sense of what it’s like to live under this occupation. There’s a down to earth tone which lacks in the other films. This is also helped by the careful usage of humor. The Force Awakens most of the time had an upbeat tone with plenty of comedic scenes, sometimes forced. Rogue One is a lot smarter in this department. Its “funny” scenes are spaced out and when they appear they are genuinely good. Action films can learn a thing or two from the style of Rogue One.

As stated earlier, the film features some of the greatest action scenes in the franchise. The first major fight sequence on Jedha when Andor and Jyn arrive comes to mind. Not only is it choreographed well and there’s a great amount of tension, but the viewer also gets a sense of a brutal war backdrop. The climax is a big highlight; the Rebellion plan is fun to watch unfold, which leads to some -once again- great action sequences and emotional scenes. The tagline for the film is “A rebellion built on hope.” The final act of the story is unexpectedly somber, but with a glimmer of light in the end since it leads straight into A New Hope. It’s one of the most effective and well done climaxes in recent history.

On some last notes, the soundtrack features a few classic Star Wars themes. They are used effectively. (The opening crawl was unfortunately missed.) The other themes are very similar and while not as iconic as John Williams’ work, Michael Giacchino does a solid job complementing the legendary music. Darth Vader was one of the most highly anticipated aspects of the film. (He hasn’t been seen in film since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.) He could have used maybe one more scene, but what is there is spectacular. It’s as if you can watch this film and then jump into A New Hope and not see any difference with the villain. If this is truly Vader’s last appearance in a film, he went out showcasing that he still is one of (if not the) greatest villain in cinema.

Overall, Rogue One might be the most well made Star Wars film to date. It goes darker than previous entries while containing pockets of genuinely humorous moments. Jyn’s character journey is engaging, and the theme of hope shines throughout. As iconic as the original trilogy was, there was sometimes a lack of tension because of cheesy writing. The serious tone in the latest installment coupled with the most intense Stormtrooper action scenes in the franchise gives the film a consistent atmosphere that The Force Awakens -or just about any film in the series- doesn’t have in comparison. Rogue One is a great film of diverse, likable characters and an excellent prequel to A New Hope.

9/10

Doctor Strange Review

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Marvel Studios has cemented itself as a company viewers expect great things from. For the past two years it has been consistent in delivering quality. This year saw the release of one of the finest films in the franchise, Civil War. Now the company takes a short break from the ensemble to focus on introducing another character to the fold. Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange is an enjoyable installment with a unique spiritual backdrop. The main thing stopping it from being truly great is a mediocre climax.

In some ways Doctor Strange is similar to the first Iron Man. Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange is introduced as an arrogant man only looking out for himself. The path to his redemption is engaging. The opening act does a good job establishing who he is as a surgeon. Everything seems to be going right, but one event can change everything. In Iron Man’s case it was the terrorists killing Tony’s companions and kidnapping him. In Doctor Strange it’s the car crash that sets him on a path he didn’t expect to be on.

As stated in the first paragraph, the film has a unique spiritual backdrop. Scott Derrickson is a Christian, and he brings quite a few Biblical themes to the table. The conversation between Stephen and the Ancient One on life in general comes to mind. Ancient One shows him in a fun sequence how there’s more to life than what is happening in front of them. Derrickson delivers something refreshing with utilizing aspects of faith which is unfortunately rare in films.

The core of the story is found in the middle act with Stephen traveling to Nepal in hopes of healing his hands. This is one of the main aspects of the origin: Stephen training alongside other sorcerers. It’s well done mostly, but falters in perhaps being too long. There isn’t a big action sequence for quite awhile after the opening scene. The biggest problem with the training aspect might be that the film doesn’t let the viewer know how much time has passed since Stephen first walked through the doors. If we take the film at face value, it hasn’t been that long, so it’s hard to believe that Stephen was able to master all these techniques so quickly. He learns spells and actually outsmarts Wong.

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Benedict Cumberbatch owns the role as the title character. By the end of the film he’s one of the most engaging Marvel protagonists. His role as Sorcerer Supreme will be a lot of fun to watch in future films. The story does a good job detailing the type of work the Ancient One and her fellow sorcerers do. Wong’s dialogue stating,“The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.” was excellent. Speaking of Wong, he was a lot of fun to have around. Every scene he was in with Strange was a highlight. Going back to the Ancient One, she was a compelling character. The writing gave her the best lines; Tilda Swinton delivered them with excellence.

Baron Mordo is an interesting, likable character. Anyone who has read the comics knows what happens; nonetheless, the writing does an excellent job building up to his big plot development in the after-credits scene. Before moving on to the antagonists, there’s one more character of note. Christine Palmer doesn’t appear too much but when she does it’s almost always a good scene. The viewer can feel her sadness when Strange early on basically tells her that without his work, life isn’t worth living, even with her. This plays into the excellent development later when Strange admits he was wrong. Romance doesn’t play a huge part in the story, but what is there is very genuine, in contrast to what is seen in some other Marvel films. (Thor and Ant-Man come to mind when it comes to poorly developed romances.)

The film has two main antagonists. The first is Kaecilius. He wasn’t that interesting, but at least the idea of a former student turning over to the dark side was done alright. The true villain behind everything is Dormammu. He gets a lot of hype throughout the story, and rightfully so. In the comics he’s a powerful figure, on the level of Thanos. Marvel had the opportunity to introduce a major character, and it failed miserably.

Dormammu is Doctor Strange’s greatest antagonist and an extremely powerful character. In the film he is described as a destroyer of worlds but we never get a glimpse of that. Instead when he finally appears he is just a floating head with a deep voice. In the comics he has a menacing, humanoid appearance with a flaming head similar to Ghost Rider’s. We didn’t see that here. Marvel is typically good with accurately bringing characters from the page to the screen but this is just as bad as what FOX did with Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climax also doesn’t help. Instead of a grand final battle, Strange beats Dormammu in a most unsatisfying way. It’s amusing after the first couple of times (though the ability is too overpowered) but becomes an annoying running gag considering it’s at the expense of Dormammu actually doing something. This was a massive disappointment and could potentially ruin the film for longtime fans of the villain.

The visuals are perhaps the film’s best feature. They are unlike anything we’ve seen in previous comic book films and rival that of Inception’s loopy visuals. They made for some really unique action sequences. From the opening fight scene to the battle in the mirror dimension, it’s an experience witnessing reality being warped. The soundtrack is another highlight. Marvel films don’t typically have notable soundtracks, but Doctor Strange breaks that trend. It’s still not spectacular (there are a few generic themes in there) but it’s solid thanks to the epic choir throughout the film.

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Overall, Doctor Strange is an engaging introduction for the Sorcerer Supreme. Scott Derrickson brings excellent themes to the table. Time is limited – we’re not here forever, so we need to make the most of every opportunity to do good. This is something the Ancient One says to Stephen later in the film. There’s a lot of excellent dialogue. The visuals are unique and something to be experienced on the big screen. Unfortunately the climax is disappointing and a major drawback.

8/10