The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan Review

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The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan is a spin-off of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. More specifically, it is a spin-off of the film, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. In that movie, Nagato creates an alternate reality where she is a normal girl, and strange things like aliens and time travelers don’t exist. The Disappearance of Nagato takes place in this alternate world. It’s an interesting idea, but the anime does little to justify its existence. While watching, it’s easy to think, “Why aren’t we just watching more of the real-version characters?” Despite an overall feeling of the show being filler, it’s still enjoyable. There are plenty of great character interactions, and it’s never boring.

Disappearance grabs the main cast of Melancholy, with some changes. Of course, the biggest difference is that the characters are normal humans. This hurts Koizumi the most. He was one of the most interesting characters in Melancholy, being an esper and having connections to what’s going on supernaturally in the world. In Disappearance, he retains his elegant personality, but is given little to do other than act like a servant for Haruhi. It is interesting that he has feelings for Haruhi here, but since it never really goes anywhere, it leaves Koizumi a shell of his real-version self.

In  Melancholy, Mikuru is the time traveler. Besides that fact, she was given little to do than be put in fan service situations set up by Haruhi. One would imagine with her time traveler persona being eliminated, she would be even worst off in Disappearance. Actually, she’s given a bit more character here. Yes, she is unfortunately the victim of fan service once again, but there are two key scenes where she encourages Nagato. These were really good in showing Mikuru’s down to earth character. Meanwhile, Mikuru’s friend, Tsuruya, is given a much larger role than in Melancholy. It was definitely fun having her around to match dialogue with Ryoko and Haruhi.

As for Haruhi, she is pretty much the same character as in her show. What I personally liked is that she was given a bit more emotion than what was seen in Melancholy. In one scene, she consoles Ryoko, and in another, has some monologue near the end of the show. Speaking of Ryoko, one of the biggest changes from the original show is her. In Melancholy, we found out that she was a psychopath. Here, she is simply a person with a good heart who takes cares of her best friend. It takes true talent to make a character likable both as a crazed villain, and as a kindhearted person. Her relationship with Nagato is sweet, and makes us appreciate the Ryokos (the one in Disappearance anyway) in our lives.

One engaging scene was Ryoko sternly telling Nagato that she isn’t her mother or older sister, so she can’t solve Nagato’s problems, but she could help. At this point, Nagato was ready to give up on the Literature Club, so Ryoko had to say that because Nagato can’t rely on her to fix her own problems. It’s a great dialogue. The ongoing plot point is that Nagato has feelings for Kyon. Thus, this show is much more of a romance than Melancholy. This could have some good aspects, and in some ways, it has. We really do root for Nagato. But the trope of attempting to convey feelings to someone, only to be interrupted, is dated and annoying. The show could have shaved off some episodes in getting to the point.

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There is some great drama to be found here, making The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan a good watch. The mini “amnesia” saga near the end was very compelling, as was Ryoko’s outburst at Haruhi during the Valentine’s Day episodes. The anime can also be genuinely humorous, like Melancholy. Disappearance lacks the overall quality writing of Melancholy however, and doesn’t really have a satisfying ending. So, it’s not essential viewing, but if you’ve seen Melancholy and the movie, it’s a pretty good watch.

7.5/10

Dragon Ball Super: Broly Review

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Credit: FUNimation

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

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

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

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Credit: FUNimation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: FUNimation

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

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

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

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Credit: FUNimation

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

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

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Credit: FUNimation

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

4/5

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Review

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was one of the more popular anime of the last 15 years. It features the usual setting: a high school with a cast of diverse characters. Kyon provides narration into the happenings, but the story is truly about a girl named Haruhi. Her thing is that she’s tired of everyday normal life. She’s interested in aliens, time travelers, and espers, concepts one would not associate with normal reality.

But wouldn’t you know it, Haruhi actually encounters a time traveler, an alien, and an esper. Though, she is not aware of it. Only Kyon knows that these people claiming to be classmates are not normal. Haruhi forms the SOS Brigade, and together these characters go on numerous adventures. The only real question remains: why did these beings appear now, just when Haruhi told Kyon of her boredom with reality?

Melancholy is an engaging anime for quite a few reasons. The first is Haruhi herself, one of the strongest and most interesting anime characters I’ve ever seen. Her bold personality, and command of the situation is unparalleled. Her dialogue with Kyon is always a lot of fun, as Kyon always finds himself dragged into these crazy scenarios. His narration gives a nice sense of humor to the events.

Koizumi joins the Brigade a bit later, and is another notable character. He’s one character who explains to Kyon the mysterious phenomenons revolving around Haruhi. Koizumi’s calm demeanor, along with his role in the story as an esper, was interesting. Next, Mikuru is the time traveler. One of the most interesting parts of the series was when future Mikuru met present day Kyon. Present day Mikuru is unfortunately used for fan service. Aside from being a time traveler, there isn’t too much to Mikuru.

Finally, we have Nagato, the alien working for something called the “Integrated Data Sentient Entity.” Her dialogue is always interesting. One of the best parts of the show was the battle between her and a character wanting Kyon dead. Nagato displays no emotion, but does care for Kyon in some capacity. What’s frustrating is that the show leaves the viewer in the dark about the Sentient Entity. The show does explore the mysterious events surrounding Haruhi, but there are more questions than answers by the end. Of course, this isn’t the end of the anime part of franchise, as there is a movie and spin-off.

While the show is almost always really good, there is one big factor stopping it from getting the legendary 9/10. If you’ve seen this anime, you know what I’m about to say: “Endless Eight.” This arc had a time loop as the premise. Now, something like this could be interesting…for about three episodes, four max. But there are eight episodes with pretty much the exact things happening. No, they are just about literally the same episode, give or take some dialogue.

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Overall, “Endless Eight” aside, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a very engaging show. Haruhi is a great character, demonstrating intelligence, brashness, and even a sense of unbalance. She is truly a fascinating character. Meanwhile, Kyon is a fantastic narrator, and perfect foil to Haruhi. Koizumi is very good. Nagato is interesting, but needed to be explored more. Mikuru has her moments, but ended up feeling little more than a character for fan service. Generally though, most things about Melancholy are good.

8/10

Aquaman Review

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“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.

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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.

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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?

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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

venom-poster

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