Tag Archives: Marvel

Avengers: Infinity War – Movie Review

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I am happy to say that Avengers: Infinity War pays off as the climax to a decade of movies that have built up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s been jokes made (by the actors themselves) about how bringing together so many stars and characters should render them each with trivial parts, but on the contrary, the movie actually gives most characters significant screen time and meaningful scenes (though some, like Black Widow and Winter Soldier, only show up for the action scenes). As well, there’s lots of good dialogue (especially lots of great one-liners — not just from Rocket Raccoon or Drax, either). So, to close off 10 years of stories, Marvel brings together the Avengers with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and recent additions like Dr. Strange, Spider-man, and Black Panther, all to stop the mad Titan Thanos (who has already appeared in several post-credit scenes) from bringing together six all-powerful cosmic artifacts known as the “Infinity Stones” and becoming a death-dealing god. It’s a relatively straightforward plot line, so there’s room for a lot of fun and action.

One of the best parts of a super-hero cross-over story is when characters who don’t normally interact, end up forming some interesting temporary teams. This device always brings out some fun, new dynamics. It was delightful to see Starlord Peter Quill get all insecure when everyone else in the crew could barely contain their admiration for Thor. As you might expect, sparks fly when two egotistical alpha males like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange begrudgingly team up. There’s even a kind of warrior sisterhood forged between Wakanda’s Okoye, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch when they face armies of baddies together. Only after investing in all the precursor movies could these new combinations have even been possible — score one for Marvel Studios.

The other major aspect to super-hero cross-overs (or even any super-team stories) in the comic books is the coordinated attack. I don’t know if it’s because of the constraints of the visual effects budgets, the lack of variety of super-powers, or simply deficiency of imagination, but so far the top super-team battles (Captain America: Civil War was probably the best so far) have been only mediocre from this perspective. They mostly find new ways to punch and kick each other, in teams. This time, when they face a big bad behemoth like Thanos (the guy’s like 10 feet tall!) or even his pretty bad minions (who aren’t really named in the movie but are known as The Black Order), the supers have to cooperate and use their powers in new and interesting ways. (As a Dr. Strange fan, I was gleeful to see a classic spell known as the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak used to bind Thanos while Spidey blocked his eyes with webbing and allowed the others to gang up on him.)

MCU has already made a reputation for doing some pretty good action sequences and this movie has these scenes in spades. From New York City, to Edinburgh, to Wakanda, to alien planets, battle after battle was awesome to watch. I know a lot of it was CGI, but it didn’t really feel like it. Even Thanos, who was all CGI over motion-capture, was really lifelike — especially his face and his expressions, which were actually more soulful than what I’ve seen from the real face of actor Josh Brolin, who plays him.

I don’t want to spoil, so I’ve been careful to avoid any real plot points here, but there’s a lot of big things happening in this movie. I even impressed myself by staying in my seat for the entire 160 minute run — there’s not a good time to leave. I think this is a landmark movie simply because Marvel Studios was able to bring together ten years of almost 20 movies into a thrilling quasi-finale, and that’s never been done before. For fans like me, it’s a huge reward for all the time and emotion spent with these characters on screen (and I even just rewatched the whole series prior to seeing this movie). To top it all off, they were able to conclude the story but not close off the future — in fact there’s many aspects for which I am dying to see what’s next. (4.5 out of 5)


Black Panther – Movie Review

I was never a fan of the Black Panther comics. His generic animal-based super-strength and agility didn’t really impress, and his background as a king of a technologically-advanced African nation was interesting, but less so in a comic book universe where technology can do anything a writer and artist wants to imagine. On screen, however, I am now a pretty big fan of Black Panther because his story has become noble, thrilling, and really enjoyable. I think Marvel Studios is getting better at its adaptations (ignoring the recent Inhumans tv series, which was awful), knowing just how to make each character’s story special.

Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, the son of an African king who was killed in Captain America: Civil War. When his father died, T’Challa inherited the mantle of the Black Panther, the mystical superhuman protector of the nation of Wakanda. In addition to the burden of rulership, he also has to bear the responsibility of protecting Wakanda’s secret: the nation was built on a mountain of space metal known as vibranium, which has given Wakandans power, healing, and technological advancement, and therefore a reason to keep their true status from the rest of the world.

Black Panther doesn’t really tell an origin story, but still does a great job introducing viewers to its characters, including T’Challa’s scientific genius sister, Shuri; his ex-girlfriend and spy, Nakia (played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o); his general, Okoye; and enemies Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) who has a sonic weapon for a hand, and Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan). When vibranium is stolen from a British museum, the movie takes a turn into spy-fi territory as T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye go in pursuit of the villainous Klaue (who also has a history with the Wakanda). These Bond-inspired scenes are full of fun action, especially when a three-car chase breaks out in the streets of Busan, South Korea. The Wakandan technology (which includes gadgets with the ability to remotely take control of a car) really adds a “Mission Impossible” element to the mix as well. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects to this movie is the blending of futuristic technology with a traditionally African aesthetic. I loved the interiors of Shuri’s lab, which held all kinds of sci-fi equipment but with styling and details that carried tribal overtones. Similarly, there were many scenes involving rituals and ceremonies which also had a similarly mystical, timeless, and traditional feel. Much has already been written about how this movie is a landmark for black representation in popular culture, but without overanalyzing or getting into a political discussion, I agree that this movie has done a great job glorifying the African cultural legacy.

Another aspect to this movie that made it enjoyable is that there were a few twists on who was the enemy or “bad guy” (though not in an ambiguous anti-heroic way), and it all came back to the past and tied to Wakanda. There were themes of nationhood, patriotism, as well as power and duty. Every character (not just T’Challa) had to make a choice between serving their own needs or the good of their nation. As enjoyable as it was to watch Boseman as T’Challa, the other characters really stole the show. Shuri was the fun-loving younger sister, so she always had the humourous lines. Nakia was the skilled fighter/agent, so she always came through to save the people who needed saving. However, the one who stole the show was Okoye, the vibranium-tough, fierce warrior with a clear sense of honour, and an unbreakable sense of duty (actress Danai Gurira plays Okoye with a wonderful intensity and physicality — she speaks volumes with the thump of her spear).

The look of the film is also top-notch (Did we expect anything less polished from Marvel Studios and Industrial Light & Magic?). I’ve already touched on the wonderful production design, but the African landscapes look magnificent. The action scenes are robust and exciting, and all the effects look slick and flawless.

After feeling a sense of fatigue at the superhero movies that were being made prior to last year, Black Panther is a great continuation of the trend towards sharp, fun, thoughtful and enjoyable superhero movies that have turned my sentiments around. Landmark or not, this superhero movie really made me look forward to all the ones that are yet to come (and from all the trailers I saw before the movie, I’m sure that’s exactly what the studios are hoping). Bring on the Infinity War! (4.5 out of 5)

Thor: Raganarok – Movie Review

After Wonder Woman and Spider-man Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok seems to prove that we’ve hit a good patch of superhero movies at the moment. Starting out with a tongue-in-cheek, fourth-wall-breaking monologue fakeout, I was having a good time with the charming humour right from the start — which didn’t let up all the way to the (more somber) end. Chris Hemsworth is now one of my new favourite movie stars (an honour he didn’t achieve in either of the two other Thor or Avengers movies). He’s got that action-hero-charm that has made stars out of Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, and more recently Chris Pratt, and this movie lets him work it. As a prisoner of the fire demon Surtur, he never breaks a sweat as he cracks wise while defeating Asgard’s timeless enemy and returns to the cosmic home of his god-like people. Upon arriving, he finds things a bit out of whack (and his father Odin is missing) and we are treated to a humourous play within a film (featuring some great celebrity cameos). The light-hearted tone continues as Thor returns to Earth and meets up with Doctor Strange (another cool cameo with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his MCU role). Within a short time, this movie has already featured appearances of some of my current favourite actors (Tom Hiddleston, Cumberbatch, etc.) and soon will feature cinema-queen herself, Cate Blanchett. She plays Hela, Norse goddess of death, and sister to Thor and Loki. When she’s unwittingly released from banishment, she quickly takes action to regain control over Asgard and begins by destroying Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir (simply by gripping it tightly).

Surprisingly, while the Hela storyline is the cause of the titular Ragnarok (the end of the world), it’s not the focus of a big part of the movie, putting it on the backburner for most of the middle half of the movie. Instead, in the course of trying to stop Hela, Thor and Loki get catapulted to some previously-unknown junk world called Sakaar. On Sakaar, Thor becomes a contestant in the gladiatorial games run by the Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum in a trademark, weaselly peformance). Of course, by a huge galactic coincidence, anyone who’s seen the movie trailer knows who Thor faces in the arena as the Grandmaster’s current champion. Seeing the Hulk, Thor is surprisingly happy, stating that it’s OK because “He’s a friend from work”, right before getting slammed into the wall. As I mentioned, the humour is one of the best parts of this movie, and thankfully that is not the best joke in the film (far from it). The rest of the story has the characters working to escape from the planet in order to return to Asgard and end Hela’s reign of terror and possible destruction of everything. Sounds pretty packed, eh?

The other wonderful aspect about this movie was the fast-paced action. From scene to scene, it toggled between well-shot, space-action (similar to either of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies — in fact, this would have made a great Guardians 3); and some slower-paced funny dialogue and interaction between characters. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves making this movie and that enthusiasm comes through. New Zealander director Taika Waititi is a breath of fresh air for the Marvel cinematic universe, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

With a high degree of Australia/New Zealand content in the cast and production roster, it’s certainly the crown jewel to have Blanchett playing Hela. The role is a walk in the park for her, but it’s great how she revels in Hela’s superiority complex and bitter resentment of everyone who wronged her even a little bit. Frankly, I think Blanchett needs to play more of these deliciously villainous roles. I only wish that more of the plot had involved her. As a movie villain, she didn’t really get to stretch her wings much beyond snarling a lot and tossing her endlessly conjured blades everywhere, like magicians’ scarves.

After the disaster that was Thor: The Dark World, it’s nice to see that all it took for the franchise to hit its groove was to loosen things up a bit. Let’s hope that we’re on a roll. (4 out of 5)

Fall TV 2017 – New Shows

After a pretty unexciting summer movie season, it would have been nice to come home to some exciting new shows this fall. Alas, so far some aren’t too promising despite a strong pedigree, and others are downright terrible. Good thing there are still a number of returning shows to keep us satisfied (I’ll get to those later.)

Young Sheldon

I don’t quite understand why this show got made. Compared to its parent-series, The Big Bang Theory, this prequel show about the childhood of its main character, Sheldon Cooper, is a lot more ordinary. From The Wonder Years, to Malcolm in the Middle, to Everybody Hates Chris, to Fresh Off the Boat, there are so many shows as flashbacks to the story of a boy growing up in a normal-yet-quirky family. The narration from older/future Sheldon (still voiced by Jim Parsons) reminds us that he’ll one day be a super-nerd, but for now, he’s just a regular dweeby kid who’s been bumped ahead a few grades. Sheldon doesn’t know how to behave around normal people even as an adult on Big Bang Theory, so obviously he’s hopeless as a child. Are we just going to see him get bullied and ostracized for the entire series of Young Sheldon? The first episode showed us Sheldon’s family, but the only one who seemed interesting was the younger version of Sheldon’s mom. There were some character moments between Sheldon and his father, but considering that we know he’s going to leave his family, every moment of connection between father and son is bittersweet. Even with that potential for drama, this show is not a dramedy. It’s pure sitcom, and (despite its already having received a full season order) so far it doesn’t seem like a very interesting one.

The Good Doctor

This show kind of echoes some of the themes of Young Sheldon, but it’s about Freddie Highmore (last seen playing pre-psycho Norman on Bates Motel) as a young surgeon who’s also an autistic savant. Like Sheldon, Shaun Murphy knows way too much stuff (plus he has a super-human ability to diagnose a suffering person’s medical ailments), and people just don’t understand him. In the first episode he tries to save a young boy in the airport, but gets tackled by security when he grabs a knife from the confiscated-articles box. No one (except the audience) sees his genius. As much as I enjoy Highmore in the role, and he makes a good addition to the long line of medical miracle-workers celebrated on-screen, I don’t really know how this show is going to go. His character seems a bit like an alien who floats through the hospital intervening with his super-human medical abilities. Hopefully he will develop genuine relationships with his colleagues and become a more organic part of the hospital, but that has not happened yet.

The Orville

The Seth MacFarlane sci-fi show came into the mix with a confusing premise. It is meant to be a space-ship series with a positive, upbeat outlook, similar to the many Star Trek shows that have come before (especially Star Trek: The Next Generation). What was not clear was whether this show would be a parody of Star Trek, or a copy. The show got an early start, so now that we’ve seen four episodes, we know it’s the latter. While the involvement of MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) means that there is bound to be some humour, it is clear that the show is meant to be a replica of Star Trek — from the uniforms, to the ships, to the crew, even the music — all make you feel like you’re watching Trek. Unfortunately two things make The Orville a pale copy: the writing is incredibly weak; and the humour is limp. If the show intended to follow in Trek’s footsteps, its writers needed to develop a much better understanding of sci-fi and what has gone on before. Most of the episodes so far have been variations on Trek (and even Stargate) stories, but not taking itself seriously enough to fully develop the ideas and themes of each. The worst example is an episode where a crew member from a single-sex race faces a storm of controversy when he tries to follow his culture by reassigning his female child to conform with his race’s male gender. Many of the characters rant about how barbaric this surgery is on an infant, and how women are just as good as men (and one scene even uses the stupidity of the ship’s male pilot as proof that males are not superior). The arguments are weak and poorly thought-out both as political discourse and as science fictional allegory. Similarly, the jokes also show ridiculous lack of thought. Almost every joke shows that MacFarlane’s character (Captain Ed Mercer) is really just a displaced 21st century guy in a show set 400 years in the future. No one would laugh at those comments: not then, and not even now. It’s as if a character on Big Bang Theory was making jokes that a Shakespearean audience would find funny. The humour is so anachronistic that it seems pasted on. This show is clearly MacFarlane’s vanity project and I don’t see how it can possibly survive, especially when compared to…

Star Trek: Discovery

Finally, after over a decade, Star Trek returns to the small screen, and not a moment too soon. Despite the fact that this series is set in a time before the original series (and despite the fact that I am tired of Trek creators going back to that period), everything looks and feels very modern and futuristic. The production values of the two-part opening episode is movie-quality stuff (complete with a few unwanted Abrams-style lens flares). The story features Michael Burnham, a first officer rather than a captain, as she tries to save her crew and captain from an encounter with the Klingons (remember, in this time period Klingons are enemies to the Federation). Rather than the episodic exploratory encounters of Star Trek and The Next Generation, so far this new series leans more towards action and the power politics of space (similar to Deep Space Nine, or even The Expanse). The premiere episode is very much like a movie and sets up Burnham’s story, rather than how episodes of the show will go. It’s definitely less traditional than previous Trek, but it could be a really exciting new direction for the franchise. I’m a little disappointed in how they’ve set up the Klingons again as a kind of enemy-race (It always seems unrealistic that an entire space-faring species would have the same motives and agendas). I hope things will become more nuanced and complex as the series progresses. Nevertheless, even out the gate, Discovery flies rings around The Orville.

Marvel’s The Inhumans

Oh, the (in)humanity! This is perhaps one of the most hyped sci-fi shows of the fall. Many people are already familiar with the Inhumans from recent comic book events and series featuring these characters. As well, this show’s pilot episodes were shot in IMAX format so they could premiere on the big big screen before its tv debut. I’m not sure why it seemed that Marvel Entertainment spent so little effort (and obviously not enough money) on the show, but it definitely shows. From inferior scripts, to second-rate acting, to ridiculous costumes and terrible CGI effects, this show has so much going wrong with it that it’s doomed to failure. The story of a race of super-humans living on the moon who are given fabulous mutations as they reach adolescence has a lot of sci-fi potential. Unfortunately this show does not yet live up to any of it. Black Bolt and Medusa are the king and queen of the Inhumans and when Black Bolt’s brother Maximus stages a coup (with only about a dozen soldiers), the rest of the royal family escape to Hawaii, where they are scattered as fishes out of water and need to make their way to each other. Much has already been written about the poor CGI effects, most notable being Medusa’s prehensile hair, which in comic books is huge and strong like gigantic tentacles that she uses to grip and fight enemies, but on the show they’re poorly animated strands that she wraps around Maximus’s throat or pushes him up against the wall. What makes it look worse is that her hair is so short that it everything she does with her hair could just as easily be done with her hands. Then as part of the coup they even shave her hair off (thus saving the CGI dollars)! There’s also a giant bulldog named Lockjaw, which is the royal family pet, that can teleport anyone anywhere. When he does, the CGI looks like he’s being sucked off the edge of the screen, or like when I minimize the apps on my Mac. However, all the poor production values would be liveable if the script and acting were good. Unfortunately they are not.

Me, Myself and I

Finally, I had not originally planned to watch this show, but the premise caught my eye. The triple title describes the format where we get to watch the story of the main character, inventor Alex Riley, in three periods of life: childhood, middle age, and retirement. It’s a dramedy starring SNL comedian Bobby Moynihan as the middle-aged Riley, John Laroquette as the elderly version, and newcomer Jack Dylan Grazer as the kid version. The formula seems to bring the three story parts together along a loose thematic thread, but even without that connection, the stories are nice little vignettes. So far, I can see how the show will be charming and uplifting. It’s like a lighter version of This Is Us, without the big-three-fold drama and the looming death of the father. If they keep drawing connections between the three time periods, things may start to seem too unnaturally parallel, but this is still a potentially enjoyable show until then.

That’s all the new shows that I’ve seen this season so far, but sadly there are only a handful more to come. This year the networks have concentrated their premieres all within a short period (which is how I like it), but that means I don’t have time to cover them all at once. I’ll be back tomorrow with Returning Shows, and then come back again to close out the remaining premieres that follow. Later!

Spider-man: Homecoming – Movie Review

After so many incarnations, it’s hard to believe that another reboot of the Spider-man story could be fun and fresh, but I really enjoyed Homecoming, and a lot of the credit goes to this younger version of the web-slinging hero, and the exuberant performance by rising star Tom Holland. While I had already raved about the previous Spider-man, played by Andrew Garfield, having a more character-driven story — dealing with his relationship with girlfriend Gwen (played by Emma Stone), this time around the character is portrayed even younger (he’s only 15) and there is a lot of teenage energy and fun to it. It’s great to see Spider-man’s alter-ego Peter Parker going through challenges of high school (though he’s super-smart, so the academics are no struggle) and teen melodrama (at one point, his hi-tech talking suit tries to give him advice on girls). This movie has a non-stop sense of humour throughout the movie that is driven mostly by Holland’s aw-shucks kind of innocence (along with his hilarious nerd side-kick Ned). (They are such classic movie teens that I almost felt like I was watching an 80s movie!).

However, one of the things that reminded me that we are very much in the twenty-teens, was how Robert Downey Jr. made a few guest appearances as Tony Stark/Iron Man from the Avengers. If you didn’t realize, the “homecoming” is bringing Spider-man back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after many years of being isolated from the other characters by virtue of intellectual property rights. Downey’s presence reminded that even though this is a Spider-man movie, it’s part of that other pop-culture juggernaut. Interestingly enough, while the character needs a place among all the various cinematic super-heroes, Peter Parker is also trying to find his place as a hero. Having come off the thrill of teaming up with the Avengers in the events of the Captain America: Civil War movie, now he wants to prove himself worthy to be a grown-up super-hero: one of the big boys.

One of the best decisions made for this movie was that they didn’t go back and replay Spider-man’s origin story again (there’s a bit of mention that he was bit by a spider, but that’s it). This allowed a bit more time to spend with Peter Parker’s life — we even get to know his friends and classmates (he’s part of the academic decathlon team, which actually plays a meaningful role in this movie) and there was time to develop the villain’s story as well. This made the pieces fit together really well, and I felt like we got a good understanding of the characters — which is something lacking from the movies where producers want to cram a lot of characters onto the screen and give us a lot of explosions and crashes. This movie was even able to make an interesting bad guy out of the Vulture, a staple of Spider-man’s rogues gallery, but not generally very cool. With Michael Keaton in the role, he’s got a few really good speeches and does some moustache twirling, gradually becoming a true nemesis to the young Spider-man.

So is it all just characters talking, or high-school drama? Of course not. There is plenty of action (at some of America’s very well-known tourist attractions, no less) and as I mentioned, the humour is non-stop. I think this is the funniest super-hero movie ever — even more than Deadpool (which had a much darker undertone). There’s a moment of decision at the end of the movie that sets the direction for any sequels. Though it goes exactly as I expected, it also made me wonder what could possibly be in store for subsequent films. I guess I’ve been so programmed by the other blockbuster super-hero movie events that I almost can’t imagine what a down-to-earth, friendly, neighbourhood hero movie might be like — so I’m really looking forward to finding out. Much to my surprise, this third version of cinematic Spider-man seems to be the perfect one (as long as they keep Tom Holland) to take the character forward. 4.5 out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 – Movie Review

C_MR_WhUIAApVo9The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has become something of a beast, weighed down by continuity, history, and the expectations of big budgets and big fandom. However, a new Guardians of the Galaxy movie comes out to remind us that there are still fun adventures to be had in the MCU. One of the advantages that the Guardians have is that they were relative unknowns in the Marvel Comics world before they burst onto the big screen three summers ago. Even with the runaway success of their first movie, they are still not icons like Captain America, Spider-Man or the X-Men. They could have just as easily been a totally new sci-fi franchise featuring a rag-tag band of space adventurers. In fact, it’s probably no surprise that they remind me a lot of the original Star Wars crew. In this second movie (“volume”), we seem to be catching Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and (now baby) Groot in the middle of a job, hired to protect giant space batteries by a race of golden-gods known as The Sovereign. The opening sequence is full of action, but hilariously baby Groot (the cute little tree person) takes the spotlight as he dances to some grooves while all his fellows fight a giant tentacular, toothy-mouthed monster trying to steal those darn batteries in the background. It perfectly reflects the tone of this movie franchise and its tongue-in-cheek blend of spectacular space-action with mundane, shoulder-shrugging humour.

The other element that completes the Guardians formula (which also happens to be a Star Wars hallmark) is “family issues”. Their payment from The Sovereign for doing this job is to get custody of Gamora’s sister Nebula (in order to hand her over to the authorities) and so the two gals have ample opportunity to work out all their differences over some beat downs and attempts at mutual destruction. Meanwhile, when the crew ends up needing to flee The Sovereign (courtesy of Rocket’s sticky fingers around the priceless space batteries), they get a helping hand from a mysteriously powerful stranger, which leads to some family issues for Quill as well.

This ensemble is very nicely balanced and it’s great how each of the main characters is needed: not only as part of the team, but also to make the movie enjoyable. While Groot and Rocket typically steal the show, this time around Drax was the source of the most humour for me. Dave Bautista is wonderful as the faux straight-man. He’s big, strong and kind of serious, but he’s also full of jokes because he laughs at the “wrong” thing and just doesn’t feel the same sense of impropriety that we might. (This will make me sound like I have a 4-year-old’s sense of humour, but I was rolling with laughter from Drax’s line “I have famously huge turds.” Please don’t judge me.)

The story itself is not too big, even though it involves galaxy-ending possibilities, the focus is still pretty personal. Almost all the aliens we meet are slight variations on humans. When The Sovereign pursue our heroes their fighter ship swarms are remote-controlled, making all their pilots act like a bunch of gamers at an arcade. Similarly, the storyline where Quill’s foster father Yondu struggles with mutiny in the ranks of his own crew of Ravagers, it feels like something inspired by The Sons of Anarchy, or some other human biker gang. Yondu himself has a pretty big role in the resolution of this movie. I actually grew to like him a bit more — not just for his relationship to Quill, but also for his bad-assery and his cool mind-controlled arrow.

The Guardians are a lot of fun to hang out with over the course of a two-hour movie, but there is so much potential for more adventures that I really wish that they were a TV series (I’d probably enjoy it way more than Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD). There is also so much room for sci-fi goodness in their corner of the galaxy that I want to see more before the next sequel movie. I know, there is an animated series that I should probably check out, but from what I saw, it was not nearly the same thing. Anyway, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 as a great kick off to a summer filled with blockbuster movie sequels and franchises. (4 out of 5)

Summer Movies in the Fall

I know that everyone’s probably seen these movies already (They were, after all, some of the biggest hits of the summer.), but now that some of these blockbusters are coming to iTunes, I have been able to catch up a bit (if you follow my blog, you should know that I’m always catching up with movies). Of course, I like to give my opinion on all things pop culture, so here’s my quick rundown on what I thought of them.

insideoutInside Out

I don’t think I’ll ever not be a fan of Pixar. Everything they create has an extra dab of imagination and polish. However, while this movie was fresh and fun — with its quasi-allegorical take on emotions — it lacked a little something in the overall story department. It was cool to see the characters who represent the five emotions (and the voice actors were well chosen): Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). I know, it’s simplistic to have only five, but it makes for a more straightforward movie. What made less sense to me was that these emotions were able to feel things on their own. What does it mean when Sadness feels joy? or Joy feels sad? Still, I can forgive logical flaws in the interest of a good story. Unfortunately, majority of the screen time is spent with Joy and her misadventures once she gets taken away from the central hub, where the emotions are running the show. I think that the movie should have spent more time in the real world (with Riley’s story). Now, basically all we have is the story of one character making her way back to a central location, with a few obstacles along the way. I concede that’s the premise of a lot of movies (including Pixar’s very-successful Finding Nemo) but it still seems kind of weak here. (4 out of 5)

avengers2Avengers: Age of Ultron

I love the Avengers and director Joss Whedon, plus the movie looks awesome, but I think everything/everyone is wasted on a movie that is kind of a repeat of the first one. Essentially, the Avengers keep squabbling while we wait for a villain to manifest. The action set pieces are so elaborate that it seems like we’re just killing time between them. I liked the introduction of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (though they seemed to really alter her powers in this movie) — I’m not sure they would have kicked so much butt in the comic books as the did here. Beyond that, the idea of computer-AI-turned-super-robot Ultron trying to conquer everything and then release an onslaught of robots is so much like Loki trying to conquer everything by calling up the aliens. It’s like they just want a bunch of bloodless, disposable enemies for the Avengers to toss around. Despite having a lot of dialogue (for an action movie), I don’t think we really know the characters very well — at least not well enough that we should care about the romances between them (Widow and Banner/Hulk? Really?) or about their secret home lives (Why did we spend that time at Hawkeye’s farm?). This movie totally seemed extraneous to me, however, I’m alway a sucker for fun super-action, and bringing super-teams to the big screen. (3.5 out of 5)

pitchperfect2Pitch Perfect 2

I really enjoyed the first movie, and like Avengers, this movie seems like it took the best parts of the first and tried to find a way to do it all again without being too obvious. Anyway, this sequel has the acappella champions, the Barden Bellas, come crashing down at the height of their success, courtesy of a wardrobe malfunction. To keep their sorority/club alive, they need to win the World Championships. My favourite new element is the introduction of their nemesis, the German acappella super-group Das Sound Machine. The actual dramatic story seems incidental, but: there’s a newbie named Emily who joins their group (despite auditions being closed) and Becca (Anna Kendrick) is trying to break into the recording industry as an intern to an egomaniacal music producer. One of the good parts of the movie is the showdown scene (similar to the “riff-off” scene in the empty pool from the first movie, but this time they are at an invitation-only gathering aka the First National A Cappella Laser Ninja Dragon League, at an eccentric billionaire’s place — I know. Plausible, right? Whatever.) They face Das Sound Machine (DSM) there, and it’s pretty funny how they trash-talk each other constantly. The two leads from DSM replace Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) as my favourite characters — their eurotrash-talk is a riot! Finally, of course the world competition is fun, but mostly for the showy numbers. So, if you left the first movie thinking, “I could watch this movie again”, well then you’re kind of in luck. (4 out of 5)

mad_max_fury_road_charlize_theron_as_furiosa_and_tom_hardy_as_mad_maxMad Max: Fury Road

If we’re talking about summer-movie plots, this one has got to be the simplest one: good guys drive away to escape bad guys through a desert wasteland. However, this was probably my favourite summer blockbuster, regardless. It’s not about the plot, but about the gorgeous visuals and cinematography, along with amazingly choreographed action sequences (so you gotta see them. I can’t describe them). I had not watched any of the other Mad Max movies, so I didn’t know anyone’s backstory and it didn’t seem to matter. Max himself (played by Tom Hardy rather than Mel Gibson this time) had a helpful, but secondary role. This movie seemed to be more about Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) and her quest to free the slaves/wives/harem of desert warlord Immortan Joe and bring them to a paradise that she remembered from her childhood. She takes them all in a big, armoured truck called a War Rig, and Joe’s forces, primarily the War Boys, chase them. There is an overlay of sci-fi, but that’s pretty incidental. The meat of the movie is about survival, escape and freedom from oppression — not to mention stunts. I was more than surprised that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. (5 out of 5)

exmachinaEx Machina

This was probably less of a blockbuster, and I remember it coming out in the spring, but I’m tossing it into this mix as well. However, maybe I shouldn’t, because it’s more of a thinker than an all-out action flic. There are only three main characters: Caleb, an unassuming but very smart programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works for Nathan, the CEO of a Google-like search engine mega-company (played by Oscar Isaac) and Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), an android built by Nathan. The film feels very much like a play since it’s mostly a series of one-on-one dialogues. When Caleb is invited to Nathan’s isolated mountain home, he soon learns that he’s there to interact with and test Ava for how alive she really is. It may seem cliche that Caleb falls for Ava, but it’s also a bit simplistic. For one thing, Nathan is constantly playing mind games with Caleb (at one point he even questions whether he himself might be an android and not realize it). Similar to the movie Her, where Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with the AI in his operating system, this movie struggles with the definition of humanity. I really found this movie well-made and thought-provoking, however I think that it really took a downturn at the end when things get predictably out of control. Nevertheless, Ex Machina is the kind of intelligent sci-fi that I enjoy and want to see more of. (4 out of 5)


In contrast, (if it were possible) this movie is even more simplistic and ridiculous than the first Divergent film. Janine (played by Kate Winslet) is continuing her evil schemes, but this time she’s after some mysterious message hidden in an old box/device that can only be unlocked by a divergent (that means someone who doesn’t fit into one of the five factions of this dystopian society because they have qualities of all five). Again (see also Inside Out), we’re simplifying humanity down to five elements. In case you’ve forgotten, they are Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, and Amity. Tris and Four (the rebel heroes from our first movie) have escaped the city and are hiding with the Amity folk in their hippie commune. What doesn’t really make sense is that Janine sends troops out to capture Tris and the others, but Tris ends up wanting to get back to the box herself so she can try to pass the tests and open it. Essentially the hero and villain of the story have the same goal — which would kind of take the thrill out of the conflict. Sophisticated and thought-provoking this movie is not, but its production values are good and it’s not completely un-fun. (3 out of 5)

jurassicworld_14Jurassic World

Chris Pratt really does make an excellent lead actor. He’s charismatic and capable. He’s like Harrison Ford with a bit less snark and a bit more strength (too bad Pratt didn’t pick up the Indiana Jones franchise instead of Shia Leboeuf). In this movie he plays Owen, an ex-navy, dino handler who has a special bond with the four Velociraptors at this Jurassic World theme park. Even though it’s acknowledged right in the movie itself, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since the Jurassic Park phenomenon began on screen. In this movie, 20 years has allowed them to properly set up a theme park using cloned, live dinosaurs as exhibits. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, who runs the park. Her two teenage nephews arrive at the park for a mini-vacation. The plot is not anything spectacularly different from previous films. A new man-made breed of dinosaur (called Indominus Rex) is being put through its last paces weeks before being shown to the public. This new dino is stronger and larger than any other, and made from a mix of all kinds of DNA (whatever the plot seems to require). So, any movie-goer worth his salt knows what happens when humans create such a dangerous monster. When it escapes, Claire and Owen try to rescue Claire’s nephews while saving all the park visitors from the Indominus, along with any other prehistoric menaces. There are plot holes big enough to fit a T.Rex through, but still I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It was interesting that they gave the Velociraptors even more personality than before (including pet names). Even those of us who had felt some dino-fatigue from how much dino content there was out there would enjoy some of the fresher scenes (including the one where Pratt rides along on a velociraptor hunt on his motorcycle). I loved the first film, and I’m amazed that they kept the franchise going through so many sequels. I think they have found success with this new reboot. (4 out of 5)