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

 

Venom Review

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Before going into Venom, one must accept the fact that Spider-Man has nothing to do with the character in this portrayal. Now, Venom has been tied to Spider-Man in most media. In almost all the comics, most of the shows, and Spider-Man 3, the Venom symbiote was a parasitic creature that bonded with Peter Parker. Eventually, Peter learned of the symbiote’s dark intentions, and got rid of the symbiote. Eddie Brock, a person who hates Peter, bonded with the symbiote and thus was born one of comic’s greatest dynamics.

So, can Venom work outside of Spider-Man? Most things could work under the right writing team. With a passionate director, a great script, and involved actors, it could work. Venom has none of these things. The script is dumb, most of the characters are lackluster, and the comedy is often atrocious. This film is on the same level of mediocrity as Fantastic Four (2015) and Catwoman, maybe even worst. Again, I believe the film could have worked. Yes, having Spider-Man involved would have been great. But, since that was not the route Sony went, the studio could have worked to deliver a compelling story delving into the interesting link between Brock and Venom. Instead, the film is content with stupidity throughout. Brock jumping into a lobster tank to eat live lobsters? That’s just what one expects from a film based on one of comics’ greatest characters!

The story is somewhat similar at first to previous incarnations. A space probe is en route back to Earth carrying samples of some alien substance, known as symbiotes. Unfortunately, one breaks out, causing the probe to crash. On Earth, that one symbiote escapes, jumping from host to host. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter, is given an assignment to interview Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of the Life Foundation. Brock has his suspicions that Drake is a crook, but he is under strict orders not to interrogate. Despite that, Brock starts bringing up the lawsuits against Drake, which leads to the interview being terminated and Brock losing his job. Eventually, a renegade symbiote named Venom bonds with Brock, and the adventure begins.

venom eddie

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Eddie Brock has some charisma to it. A strong scene is when he brought up the lawsuits to Drake. After that though, Brock has to suffer through painfully “comedic” scenes, such as the entire restaurant sequence. “Is this real?” was the thought that came to mind as Brock went around eating people dishes and eventually jumping into the live lobster thank. All this is happening because the Venom symbiote is hungry, but even with that context, it’s still incredibly silly. This is the kind of film where you grab your buddies, jump on the couch with a few root bears, and laugh at how hysterically bad everything is. For some reason, the Venom symbiote actually curses. Guess they talk like that on planet symbiote, huh?

Romance is a staple in many movies, and when handled right, it can be a good thing. Venom starts the romance right. Eddie is engaged to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and the two have solid chemistry. But when Eddie is fired, Anne subsequently loses her job as well. (She was affiliated with the Life Foundation.) This leads to her breaking up with him. Fast forward six months later, and she has a new love interest. Despite the time gap, it stills feels incredibly sudden. This romance angle further detracted from the overall movie.

As for Carlton Drake, or as I like to call him, ‘Mr. Exposition,’ he does not have a screen presence. Heath Ledger’s Joker, Josh Brolin’s Thanos – these guys are legendary screen grabbers. Drake comes off as petty, with the script not really delving into his character at all. The writing may think giving him big exposition dialogue makes him a deep character, but it doesn’t. Interestingly, he does have a few lines of dialogue that seem to hint at something really neat, but doesn’t end up being the case because the Riot symbiote bonds with him much later in the film.

Speaking of Riot, he was solid. But, he looks way too much like Venom. The final battle between the two was decently fun, but can be hard to decipher the characters due to how similar they look. As for Venom himself, the scenes with him in his full Venomized form are the most entertaining of the film. The dialogue between Eddie and Venom is interesting. The relationship between the two in the comics is fascinating (I’d recommend reading The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Hunger for a great Venom story), and it’s explored in the film in a fun way. It’s too bad the rest of the film was mediocre. Also, it takes way too long for Venom to appear, even for an origin story.

The soundtrack is solid, with some notable tunes. At this point, I’ve been pretty negative on the film. The comedy usually just isn’t good. This is not a horror film, which is what Sony should have aimed for. Director Ruben Fleischer delivers a film that watches like a bigger budget college video product. Most of the comedy is just lacking. Yes, the Venom/Brock scenes are fun, but that’s about it. The film just comes off a story trying to be “fun,” using the Venom name, without delivering an actual quality story. The plot seems to be on fast forward, with little being explained or delved into. Ironically, Donna Diego (Michelle Lee), was 10x more engaging than Drake in her brief scenes. (She should have been the antagonist.)

Venom vs riot

Simply put, Venom is one of the worst comic books movies in recent years. (The mid-credits scene is better than the whole movie.) If Sony makes a sequel to this despite the critical backlash (the film currently has a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes), the studio needs to overhaul everything. As it stands, Venom is bad. There is some fun to be had, but it’s just a poorly made movie. Venom could work without Spider-Man, but it definitely didn’t work here.

3/10

 

Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run Review

looney tunes rabbits run

Ever heard of this movie? No? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Released in 2015, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run was a straight-to-DVD film in the Looney Tunes series. In fact, it was the first Looney production in nine years, following Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas. (That was a decent, fun take on A Christmas Carol.) Rabbits Run is particularly interesting, as it was based on The Looney Tunes Show, which ran from 2011 to 2014. The show had two seasons, with 52 episodes altogether. The show was controversial in that it abandoned the slapstick comedy the classic shorts were known for in favor of a sitcom format. While different than the iconic shorts, The Looney Tunes Show was nonetheless an incredibly written comedy. At its best, it was on par with Seinfeld. (If you need to be convinced, check out ‘Rebel Without a Glove‘ or ‘Gribbler’s Quest.’)

This brings us to Rabbits Run, a film that pretty much fell under the radar upon release. It was done by many of the same people who worked on The Looney Tunes Show, and has an identical animation style. Like the show, it is more dialogue based than the original shorts. I had originally seen this film a few months after release, and found it to be mediocre. After re-watching most of The Looney Tunes Show, I thought it would be good to revisit this movie and see if it was the mediocre viewing I remembered. Sometimes if you haven’t seen a film in awhile, you walk away with a new opinion of it, whether good or bad. Upon my revisit of Rabbits Run, I was quite impressed. The writing is very good, and features a lot of what made The Looney Tunes Show a modern classic. The film is not perfect, but it’s a great watch for any Looney Tunes fan, or those wanting to watch a quality comedy.

Interestingly, although animated in the same style as The Looney Tunes Show, Rabbits Run is in its own continuity. So, the story begins at a government base, led by Foghorn Leghorn. On the screen, they have finally found it: a rare, special flower. Before their ship can acquire it, the flower mysteriously disappears, or rather, is taken extremely quickly by a small figure. Meanwhile, Lola Bunny is a perfume salesperson, but has aspirations of creating her own fragrance. After being fired for breaking into song about her dreams and inadvertently breaking the shop, she heads out and eventually jumps into a taxi. The driver? Bugs Bunny, who wasn’t expecting the adventure that is about to unfold…

Lola and Bugs

 

When Space Jam released in 1996, it introduced a new character to the Looney Tunes mythos: Lola Bunny. She was okay, but little more than a love interest for Bugs Bunny. That changed in The Looney Tunes Show, where her character was revamped. Instead of just being a love interest, she was given an interesting personality. She was caring and indecisive. She was extroverted, and kinda crazy in her thinking. In short, she was a fun character, and that is carried over perfectly into Rabbits Run. In an early sequence, she accidentally gives wrong directions to taxi driver Bugs. Instead of her current apartment, she led him to where she used to live, where she used to be a boat captain…but she’s not sure if she was a seven year captain in real life, or in her dreams. In another scene, she explains to Bugs the reason why she knows the sewers so well:

Lola: “So, every day on my way to work, I would stop at the same hot dog vendor and get a hot dog. But then one day I read on the Internet, 10 unsurprising foods no one should be eating and hot dogs were number one. Well, obviously, I couldn’t keep eating hot dogs, but I still had to walk past the hot dog vendor to get to work. I just couldn’t face him.
His sad little hot-dog-vendor face. But that was the only way to get to work or so I thought.”

It’s comedic writing like this that makes this movie such a fun watch. Regarding Bugs, he’s also very good. He’s shocked by how crazy Lola is, and is forced into helping her escape from Elmer Fudd and Cecil the Turtle. Bugs grows fond of Lola, despite her zaniness. In The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs is constantly annoyed by Lola’s antics, yet can’t help but love her anyway. (In the episode, ‘Dear John,‘ there’s a big misunderstanding where he thinks she broke up with him, so he travels the oceans away from civilization in sadness.) In Rabbits Run, the two are extremely enjoyable to watch. In the end, Bugs abandons his dreams of wanting to be left alone, because he has found the bunny for him.

daffy bugs lola

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes adventure without Daffy Duck. Daffy was the major reason The Looney Tunes Show was so good. As the “Kramer” of the show, he sometimes found himself in crazy situations, such as going from a muffin man to CEO in the course of a day, and thinking the marine corps is the same as marine biology. Sadly, Daffy’s role isn’t that big in Rabbits Run. Still, his sequences are fantastic. As a taxi driver (yes, he drives a taxi too), he thinks he’s getting paid by salary, and gets to drive himself around, not give people rides. Later, he notices that ducks get to live in the zoo for free, and get fed, for free. “Interesting,” he says. It’s a shame that Daffy was only seen for a small part in the movie, but his scenes with Bugs, and later Lola, were comedy gold.

There’s a great, secret story at work within the actual story. Cecil was seemingly working for the US military, but in actuality, he was a double agent for Marvin the Martian. Cecil was a fun character in this movie. One of the best scenes was when he was told on the phone to eliminate Lola. He says that he didn’t know he would be eliminating anyone, but “that’s fine.” He says it so causally that the viewer can’t help but burst out laughing. The voice acting is excellent in this movie, and particular praise has to be given to Jim Rash for his portrayal of Cecil.

Marketing made a mistake putting Marvin in the trailer for Rabbits Run. His appearance in the film is treated as a plot twist. Despite knowing Marvin is involved in the story, his sudden appearance is nonetheless excellent. His line, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” was brilliantly delivered. (The background music that plays during Marvin’s scenes is fantastic.) It’s a shame the climax decided to be more on the slapstick side, wasting what could have been a climatic battle against Marvin.

That’s the only fault of the movie: the slapstick doesn’t work. See, The Looney Tunes Show was built as a sitcom, not as seven minute shorts. When there was slapstick in the show, it felt out of place and too goofy. It’s the same in Rabbits Run; any slapstick is out of place and unneeded. Because of that, the climax was ultimately disappointing. Still, there aren’t that many slapstick scenes, and what is there doesn’t ruin the experience.

Marvin

Overall, Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run is a very entertaining movie. The writing is on point, the comedy is usually great, and the character interactions are fun. Like The Looney Tunes Show, it has an emphasis on dialogue that both kids and adults can enjoy. Seriously, go check out The Looney Tunes Show, and then Rabbits Run. These are probably the last Looney Tunes media to use this particular style, and they deserve to be watched.

8/10

Revisiting Batman Begins

Batman-Begins

Batman is one of the most iconic figures in popular culture. He first appeared in 1939, making him one of the earliest comic book characters. He has starred in numerous other media – from the campy, but beloved Adam West 1966 series, to 2017’s Justice League film. At this point, Batman may be the most popular comic book character. People always look forward to films with him in it. In 1989, Director Tim Burton gave Batman a new film for the big screen, which was arguably the turning point in the general public’s perception of the character. Keep in mind that the general audience at that point knew Batman from the 66 series – something not to be taken seriously. That changed in Burton’s Batman. Burton delivered a serious story, with a good take on the Joker. But, things went wrong two films later.

Batman Forever introduced campy elements into what was a serious film series. Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Riddler was a joke, and don’t get me started on Two-Face in that film. Next, Batman and Robin needs no introduction, but that is the film that killed Batman’s film career for awhile. I don’t personally hate Batman and Robin – I think it’s a superior film to Forever. But, it’s easy to see why Batman and Robin is despised. That film had ice puns, and a generally silly feel. It was in stark contrast to the 1989 film. From 1997 to 2005, there was no Batman film on the big screen.

In 2005, Batman Begins released to critical acclaim. Director Christopher Nolan has remained one of the most passionate of directors, and it shows in Begins. The quality of the writing, and directing, is evident throughout. This film isn’t perfect – it’s a little choppy during the beginning and Christian Bale is at times a mediocre Bruce Wayne. But, everything comes together so well for such a thrilling climax. Batman Begins remains a very important film, and an excellent start to a fantastic trilogy.

The film’s first act is interesting, as it shows Bruce Wayne in a foreign prison camp. We don’t know too much of who he is, or what’s going on. His history is told through flashbacks. Here, I need to make mention that Linus Roache did such a great job portraying Thomas Wayne. There are many notable quotes in this film, and one of the best was Thomas telling Bruce, “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Thomas was a man striving to do the right thing, someone a son could look up to. That’s why when Rachel later says, “Your father would be ashamed of you,” it hits home.

The opening act is a little choppy with its editing between present day and flashbacks. I think if the film had begun using all the flashback footage, and then cutting to Bruce at the prison camp, it would have been more effective. With that said, most of the film is excellent. Bruce’s training with Henri Ducard (who later reveals himself to be the true Ra’s al Ghul) was great, and Bruce’s assault on the temple was appropriately intense, as many scenes in this movie are.

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Upon my latest viewing of this film, I realized just how great of a character Ra’s al Ghul was. Liam Neeson delivers a perfect portrayal, delivering someone whom is passionate about his ideals, yet not overly eccentric, but subdued. Neeson is always calm, delivering fantastic dialogue. When facing Batman on the train, Bruce has the villain at knife point with a batarang. Ra’s calmly says, “Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?” Ra’s commands every scene he’s in. One of the best scenes in the entire film is when he reveals himself to Bruce at the latter’s mansion. Dialogue is brilliantly said again: “If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them… and stab them in the heart.” It’s a shame that Neeson’s portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul isn’t that discussed today. It’s probably because Heath Ledger’s Joker overshadowed him when The Dark Knight released. The Joker was excellent as well. But, Neeson’s portrayal should not be forgotten; he is easily one of the best villains of the 2000s. No version of Ra’s al Ghul has come close in quality to the one featured in Batman Begins.

Christian Bale is a good Batman, but sometimes a mediocre Bruce Wayne here. A rather odd scene is when Bruce is talking to Rachel at the hotel gathering. The dialogue, “It’s– not me. It’s… Inside, I am…I am more.” just seemed off and poorly said. As for Batman, it’s easy to forget that while serious, he does have some funny moments here. When breaking through the asylum, he tells the two inmates, “Excuse me.” In one not funny, but sweet scene, he gives his periscope to a little boy, because the other kids doesn’t believe him about Batman. All in all, Batman is an effective character in the film. I won’t lie though; him saying, “I’m Batman” was executed in a cheesy way.

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I really enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Johnathan Crane/Scarecrow. The first scuffle between him and Batman was brilliantly choreographed. Later, the scene with Crane saying, “He’s here.” “The Batman.” was also well done. Overall, Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman’s rogues’ gallery has proved fascinating. In the trilogy, we had Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, and Bane. It would have been great to see more films from the director. I would have loved to see Nolan’s take on the Riddler, or Mr. Freeze. One more villainous character deserves mention in Batman Begins: Carmine Falcone. One really great scene was when Bruce confronted Falcone at the latter’s pub. Tom Wilkinson as the crime boss delivered such great dialogue; it’s almost a shame that Scarecrow put him out of commission later in the story. (Then again, Crane frightening Falcone was such a great scene.)

Alfred, James Gordon, and Lucius Fox all contribute to the story. These characters are portrayed by skillful actors. Morgan Freeman has a commanding presence as Lucius Fox, and knows how to deliver humorous remarks subtly. It’s hard to say which version of Alfred is the definitive one, but one can make the case that Michael Caine’s is. As for Rachel, she was an enjoyable character who stood up for what’s right. She had good dialogue, such as “Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better. Which is why we have an impartial system.” The scene where she held the little boy while holding a gun to inmates walking toward her was compelling. As for the soundtrack, Batman’s iconic theme comes from this film. It is powerful, and one of the best themes ever put on film. Though, one might say that the music themes are very similar to each other. I listened to the whole soundtrack as I wrote this review, and most of the music sounded the same. It’s not a terrible thing since the music is commanding. But, it should be noted that the soundtrack is not very diverse.

The action in this movie is brilliant. Every action scene is wonderfully directed. From Batman’s scuffle with Scarecrow, to the final battle in the train, this film has excellent, intense action. The climax is still one of the most thrilling in any comic book film 13 years later. Batman Begins, simply put, is a great movie. The battle against fear is a theme that is prevalent throughout the story. By the end, Bruce has fought his fear, and channeled it so he can bring hope into the streets of Gotham. Some films age well, others do not. 25 years from now, Batman Begins will still be a great watch.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

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Dinosaurs have been appearing in cinema since the early 1900s. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the extinct creatures were fully made alive in the eyes of moviegoers. The first Jurassic Park made dinosaurs appear as real creatures; it really did look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex was standing next to a person. From there, we got The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and then Jurassic Park III. Dinosaurs would appear in other movies as well – such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Land of the Lost. But, the Jurassic Park name always carries the connotation as the “true” dinosaur film. Naturally, as with Star Wars, a popular franchise will almost always make a return. Jurassic World released in 2015, 14 years after the third film, and became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. As of publishing, Jurassic World is the fifth highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. That is certainly an accomplishment, and shows that people will always have a fascination and enjoyment for the dinos.

However, making great money doesn’t mean you’re a great film. Jurassic World was decent enough, but was hindered by flat characters. Many of the mediocre aspects of that movie unfortunately return for its sequel, Fallen Kingdom. There are some great concepts, but it seems like the film was too busy trying to make the audience laugh than tell a complex story. The tone often lacks seriousness. Still, some credit has to be given. There is at least one outstandingly emotional scene, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is vastly improved. The climax has some inventive moments. Also, unlike the first Jurassic World, there is at least one interesting human antagonist. But, as a whole, Fallen Kingdom is a stereotypical summer blockbuster: unrealistic “funny” dialogue, an often non-serious tone when one is needed, and characters with no true development. Although far superior to films like Battleship and the recent Independence Day: Resurgence, Fallen Kingdom rarely achieves excellence.

As stated, the story has some great concepts. So, the setting for act one is on Isla Nublar, where the Jurassic World theme park was held before the Indominus Rex incident. Now, it’s just an island full of dinosaurs. However, the volcano is on the verge of erupting, forcing the government to consider an intriguing question: should dinosaurs be given the same rights as other endangered animals? Ultimately, the decision is to let the volcano destroy the island. Claire Dearing isn’t keen on letting that happen, however. With resources from Eli Mills, she sets out with ex-boyfriend Owen Grady to rescue the dinos from extinction. Sadly, it turns out to be a fake mission, as Mills wishes to sell the dinosaurs, thus turning them into weapons. Claire and Owen aren’t going to stand around and let that happen, however..

Two things should stick out from that plot summary. First, there’s the debate of whether the government should protect the dinosaurs from the volcano eruption. The second thing is selling the creatures, and making them into weaponized forces. These are intriguing concepts, and under the direction of someone who takes the happenings seriously and grimly, we could have gotten an engaging tale. But, Director J. A. Bayona delivers a film that seems to be set on just being another action blockbuster with no passion, no heart. Jokes and sarcasm are used in deadly situations, as if people would actually talk that way in these scenarios.

Chris Pratt’s portrayal of Owen is enjoyable, but generic – there’s nothing that sets him apart as being special. (Give him a leather jacket and a blaster, and he’s Star Lord.) Claire’s best scenes are in the beginning. She displays a genuine concern for the dinosaurs. Owen and Claire have better chemistry here than in the first Jurassic World, but why were they broken up in the beginning? Owen apparently had stopped caring about dinosaurs. But after a couple of conversations with Claire, he’s back and it’s like their break-up never happened. (Of course, we do get another kiss.) This break-up backdrop added nothing to the story.

As for new characters, there’s Franklin Webb and Dr. Zia Rodriguez. Franklin is the comic relief smart guy, and that’s it. Some of his lines and quirks are humorous (I particularity smirked at the bug spray scene), but it’s obvious he’s there just for comedy. In a movie that often lacks a grim tone, a constant comedic character is not going to help. Worst however, is Velma from Scooby-Doo Zia. Now, Zia may look uncannily like Velma, but her personality is the opposite. Zia is bold and brash. Okay, but what does she actually do in the movie? Much of her dialogue comes off as completely unrealistic. It’s almost as if the director gave Daniella Pineda the script and said, “Say these lines in the snappiest way possible.” So, who is she, what’s her story outside of being a doctor? Does she have development? Nope to all that, she’s pretty much there just to be a character with an annoying attitude.

There are a few antagonists, with the primary one being Mills. Well, he was boring. He had some interesting dialogue with Claire late in the film, when he compared his work to her’s, but that’s about it. I don’t think anyone will be remembering him. The best villain was easily Gunnar Eversol, portrayed by Toby Jones. Jones is no stranger to playing antagonists, having portrayed Arnim Zola in Captain America: The First Avenger and David Pilcher in the Wayward Pines TV series. He brings that subtle, villainous charisma to Fallen Kingdom. One of the most entertaining scenes was the “dinosaur auction,” and it’s primarily thanks to Eversol. He should have been the main antagonist, with Mills playing the secondary role. Ken Wheatley is another antagonist, but sadly not noteworthy.

A character who deserves mention is Maisie. She was likable. There is one scene in the film when she discovers something tragic, and she hides. She’s smartly silent, but tears are rolling down her face. It’s a genuinely emotional scene. There is an intriguing plot twist regarding her that’s revealed late in the film. It’s interesting, but comes out of left field, and doesn’t really go anywhere. Hopefully this is a focus of the next movie.

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The dinosaurs are the stars, as usual. There’s a fantastic sequence when the volcano is erupting, and a Carnotaurus gets into a skirmish with a Sinoceratops. After the Sinoceratops leaves, the Carnotarus is soon killed by the T-Rex, who gets a fantastic roaring shot. The way the dinosaurs move in this movie comes off as realistic; it’s always a treat when they are on screen. The new dinosaur, the Indoraptor, is good, and its scenes are always intense. But, it does come off as a retread, because it’s pretty much a smaller Indominus Rex.

Going back to the eruption, the most well done and impactful scene of the movie is when the camera pans to a lone dinosaur that had been left on the island. Owen and Claire look sadly at the creature as it roars and eventually disappears into the smoke. It’s a haunting, emotional scene. What really hits home is that it hammers in the fact that dinosaurs are not fantastical monsters – they are just large creatures. Godzilla is a monster, a creature that can withstand even molten lava. That isn’t the case with dinosaurs, so there is a sympathy for these creatures as they run from the volcano. The climax is intense, and Blue (the main Raptor from the first Jurassic World) is a standout character. The climax is not as exciting as the T-Rex against Indominus Rex battle in the previous film, however. The soundtrack is generic, with only a few highlights. The Indoraptor does get a great theme in the climax.

There is nothing wrong with having a “fun” tone. Many films succeed by having a constantly fun, exciting atmosphere. But, it just doesn’t work when there’s an inconsistency. Fallen Kingdom tries to be dark at times, but it’s hindered by comedy and flat characters. Compare this film to 2014’s Godzilla. Director Gareth Edwards took the material seriously, with no obvious comedy. Pacific Rim was lighter in tone in comparison to Godzilla, but Director Guillermo del Toro still took the material seriously, and delivered a mostly engaging story. Fallen Kingdom would have benefited from a more serious direction. Can you imagine how great it would have been if the film went deeper into the subjects of dinosaur rights, and weaponizing the creatures? Fallen Kingdom is instead a film trying to be an enjoyable ride, and in the process, loses any special identity that could set itself apart from the other films in the series.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom can be enjoyable. Some sequences are genuinely funny, such as when Owen and Claire attempt to extract blood from the T-Rex. The dino scenes are always intense and fun, and there’s an emotional backdrop during the end of the first act thanks to the erupting volcano. The film can be called fun. But, a “fun” film is not always a “good” film. Many of the Marvel movies have pulled this off with stellar results. Fallen Kingdom does not pull it off. It is a film with unique ideas, but ironically, the outcome is a generic product.

5.5/10

 

Avengers: Infinity War Review

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The Russo Brothers have used the term “heist” to describe what Avengers: Infinity War looks like. Indeed, there are feelings of a race against the clock as the heroes try and stop the mad titan Thanos from acquiring all the Infinity Stones. Like the best heist films, the films moves at an expert pace with characters one enjoys watching. Of course, Infinity War is more than a heist movie. It is the culmination of 10 years of film making. It all began in 2008’s Iron Man, when Nick Fury walked from out of the shadows to tell Tony Stark, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” From there, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became one of the most notable franchises in the history of film.

Infinity War grabs almost all the major characters -the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man- and puts them in a universe-shaking situation. Few films have combined so many characters in a connected continuity. One of the earliest examples is 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, which grabbed all the famous kaiju at that point for a world-shaking story. Infinity War however is built upon 18 movies. Everything begins to culminate here. With so many characters running around, it would be difficult to keep the picture from collapsing under its own weight. The Russo Brothers have proved masterful with an ensemble cast, as seen two years ago in Captain America: Civil War. While Infinity War doesn’t exceed Civil War or The Russo Brothers’ other MCU film, The Winter Solider, Infinity War is nonetheless a crowning achievement in entertainment.

You might hear the complaint that most of the characters aren’t fleshed out in this movie. That would be a foolish complaint however, because Infinity War features many characters whom have appeared multiple times. We know who these characters are already, so there’s no need to spend too much time on deepening their personas. The Russo Brothers do not make this film accessible for newcomers; it doesn’t have to be. The story is the culmination of a plot that began in The Avengers. With that said, the film does amazingly manage to continue character arcs seen in previous movies, which is a feat in itself. The dynamic between Tony and Pepper is touched upon, and the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora is brought to a center focus in a couple of spots.

With so many characters, many would think it inevitable that some would get the shaft. But the Russo Brothers manage to give every character a moment to shine. Even when it does feel like a major character is missing for awhile, when he/she does return to the screen, it’s a notable appearance. For a primary example of this, after Steve Rogers has his entrance (one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the film) and a couple of other small appearances, there’s this long stretch of the runtime where he’s missing. But when when the movie does return to him, it’s good stuff.

Chris Evans’ portrayal of Captain America was fantastic in Civil War, and it’s tempting to say his portrayal here exceeds it. Cap has always been a serious character, but here there’s truly no sense of irony or comedy coming from him in Infinity War. Two scenes come to mind to highlight this portrayal. A little early on, Cap tells Thunderbolt Ross that he will fight Ross if the latter chooses to stand in his way. (One can see Cap’s internal anger with the Sokovia Accords here, and his alienation with the government.) Later, as the war against Thanos’ forces is about break out, we see Cap (alongside T’Challa and Black Widow) talking with Proxima Midnight of Thanos’ Black Order. As Cap stands firm, and says that what the Black Order wants is not going to happen, there’s such a great nobility coming from Cap. Evans really shows that Cap is the greatest of all the heroes in every scene he’s in.

Because the MCU began with Iron Man, it makes sense that Tony would get a substantial amount of screen time. Robert Downy Jr. is given the usual sarcastic dialogue, but there’s an engaging seriousness to Tony’s character arc. We see early on that he cares for his future with Pepper, and later when he knows that the universe really is at stake. There’s a scene late in the movie when he’s shouting to Star-Lord not to give into rage. It’s brief, but it does the best in showing Tony’s passion in wanting to put a stop to Thanos. Speaking of Tony shouting at Quill, one of the highlights of Infinity War was seeing characters whom have never interacted together. Tony’s dialogue with Dr. Strange was fun, and Thor alongside Rocket Raccoon was a humorous dynamic. Thor was great in this movie too. One of the most powerful scenes was when he volunteered into what was dubbed “suicide” in order to buy enough time near the climax  of the film.

Two major highlights are Thanos and Gamora. This is by far Zoe Saldana’s most compelling portrayal of Gamora. This is because she has a very emotional character arc that runs through a good chunk of the movie. She being the daughter of Thanos made for a fascinating dynamic. Every scene with Gamora and Thanos was five star quality. There’s anger, and sadness in Gamora that shows when she is discussing Thanos, whether it be with Quill, or the Titan himself. Gamora is a character haunted by her parentage. Out of all the heroes, she might have been the most compelling. One of the most powerful scenes was the flashback of when Gamora, as a little girl, was taken in by Thanos. The writing in that sequence was wonderful.

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This brings us to the Titan himself. The MCU has had a problem with villains. Quite a few of them – Malekith, Darren Cross, Killian – come off as one-note and forgettable. Thanos is neither one-note nor forgettable. Thanos’ goal is to erase half the universe’s population. But it is not because he’s “bad” in the sense of just killing for the fun of it, but because he’s attempting to bring an equilibrium to the universe. He states at one point during the film that there is a finite amount of resources in the universe, so one must have the will to do what needs to be done, and in his mind, the thing to do is to get rid of half the population.

Perhaps the best sequence explaining his reasoning is when he relates his backstory to Dr. Strange, showing that his planet was once a paradise. But, there were too many people and not enough resources. So, Thanos’ told the elders his plan: wipe out half the planet’s people. He was deemed mad, but in the end, the planet died. In his mind, Thanos was proven right. Because of that, there is an unwavering conviction that drives him. Thanos is the most compelling antagonist in a comic book film since Heath Ledger’s the Joker from The Dark Knight.

There are of course other characters whom have not been mentioned, most of them good. Spider-Man is mostly engaging. Like in Civil War, where he brought up The Empire Strikes Back for an analogy of a plan of attack, he uses his pop culture knowledge again here for a fun sequence. Another brief, but excellent exchange of dialogue was between Spidey and Quill, discussing Footloose as the so called best movie of all time. Speaking of Quill, Star-Lord is fun for the most part. His exchange with Tony, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours. I think it’s good, except it sucks” was good. There is a scene later in the film that many might groan at. One can argue that Quill was being human, but with the high stakes and everything happening, it came off as more annoying than anything. Meanwhile, teenage Groot gets one compelling scene late in the film, but that’s it; everything else that comes before makes the viewer wonder why the much more compelling adult Groot isn’t back yet.

T’Challa was a highlight. Chadwick Boseman commands every scene he’s in as the Black Panther. There’s passion from T’Challa as he demonstrates his ability to lead. This is evident in the buildup to the big war sequence against Thanos’ army. Quite a few other characters appear, such as Bucky and M’Baku. They aren’t given many notable scenes, but contribute in the scenes there are in. Scarlet Witch is engaging, and her new relationship with Vision is interesting. Their dynamic takes a center focus in the climax, and it was well done emotionally. The Black Order, while not given much of a character arc, served their purpose well enough as servants believing Thanos to be enacting a righteous cause.

There is one character that sadly detracts to the story, so much so that he really took it out of the viewer in almost every scene he’s in. That character is Bruce Banner. It would be good to briefly touch upon the history here. In 2008’s The Inedible Hulk, Banner was played by Edward Norton. It was a solid performance, but Norton did not return for The Avengers, and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo proved to be a fantastic replacement. He had charisma, and it seemed like his dynamic with Hulk was at its peak; Banner proudly states, “I’m always angry,” in that he’s able to bring out the Hulk at will. That was reversed out of nowhere in Age of Ultron, where there was this melodramatic character arc of him not being able to control the Hulk anymore. Bruce reappears in Thor: Ragnarok, and is little more than a comedic character, meanwhile the Hulk has an annoying child-like persona. But at least Hulk fought when it counted and felt important to the conflict. That doesn’t happen in Infinity War.

After the opening sequence, Hulk doesn’t return, and refuses to come out, despite Banner telling him to. Banner is mostly a comic relief character, delivering unbelievable lines and just detracting from the overall atmosphere. His (and Hulk’s) portrayal is so bad, the thought, “What were they thinking?” crosses one’s mind. Banner doesn’t contribute much to the story, and Hulk comes across as weak. It’s a sad time for Hulk fans.

There is a lot of great action in this film. A lot of is divided into a few different set pieces. Everyone will have their favorite team-up battle, but every battle brought something to the table in terms of pure comic book fun. The war sequence at Wakanda was appropriately intense, and the characters’ stand against Thanos was both epic, and emotional. Who can forget Cap giving it his all as he tries to hold back Thanos? Granted, there isn’t a singular action sequence that can match up against the famous airport battle in Civil War. But to be fair, it is hard to top that one. No one should be disappointed with the action, because every character gets to be a part of it. The actual build-up to the action scenes are also excellent. Early on, a Black Order ship touches down on New York City, and chaos ensures. The scenes of people running, and Tony walking outside to see what’s happening, were some of the best parts of the film.

Like other MCU films, Infinity War has scenes whose goal is to generate laughter from the audience. Most of it is fine, and flows naturally. (As opposed to unnaturally in Thor: The Dark World.) The humor is rarely overdrawn (aside from Banner scenes), with only one scene in particular taking it out of the viewer, where Drax on the ship apparently has mastered the art of standing still. But overall, Infinity War’s tone is almost always consistent. The soundtrack is what you would expect from this type of blockbuster. While technically generic, the themes nonetheless work for the scenes and help to make them extra important. One notable theme is the usage of violin in the final part of the opening scene, as Thanos acquires one of the Infinity Stones. The violin helps to elevate the scene to one of a poetic nature.

The Verdict

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Infinity War has an ensemble cast of fantastic characters, and a compelling antagonist. The story features a universe in peril, and big action scenes. It is the definition of a comic book made into a production. There are so many moments throughout that will get a smile out of the viewer. It’s a well paced story with a unique heist element. Not everything is perfect. The character of Bruce Banner is continually mishandled, and his dynamic with Hulk was painful to watch. The humor is mostly good. All in all, there’s too much to like in this movie, and it makes sure to leave viewers clamoring for the fourth Avengers movie.

9/10