Friday, 6 July 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Movie Review)


Much like they did in 2015, the folks at Marvel Studios have chosen to follow up another Avengers movie with an outing of their ant-sized heroes. And of course, after the gut-wrenching finale of Avengers: Infinity War two months ago, you can be sure that fans have been waiting for Ant-Man and the Wasp, looking for answers, or closure, or a bit of both. Except the filmmakers have their own story to tell, be it one that is on a smaller scale and with relatively smaller stakes.

Set following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the movie finds Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) undergoing house arrest for assisting Team Captain America in its fight against Team Iron Man. Scott is just days away from serving his sentence when he receives a message from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped in the quantum realm for some thirty odd years. This leads him to contact Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), her husband and inventor of the Pym particle.

Scott is broken out of house arrest by Hope van Dyne (Evangelline Lilly), aka the Wasp, who you'll remember had assumed the mantle during the mid-credits scene of the last film. The two of them must work together with Hank to rescue Janet. Except they have to contend with not only the authorities (Randall Park) and a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), but also a mysterious masked woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through walls and uses this ability to steal Hank's lab (yep, the entire lab) with hopes of also finding Janet for personal reasons.

If you're one of those expecting Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide answers to some of the questions you had after Avengers: Infinity War, then I'd have to say prepare yourself for some measure of disappointment. The movie is as self-contained as they come.There is not an Infinity Stone in sight. What we get instead is much talk about quantum realms and particle accelerators. Thankfully, the movie itself is just as funny as the first one, with Michael Peña once again stealing the show with his portrayal of the fast-talking ex-criminal, Luis.

The movie also boasts more of the inventive action sequences we saw in the first film, making great use of its heroes' abilities to switch sizes. But for those still wanting to know how all this ties into the greater ongoing drama of the MCU, I'll say this much: be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene. It might not provide all the answers, but at least it places the film within the context of that other movie.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

A Quiet Place (Movie Review)


One of the downsides of living in a country where there is little appreciation for anything outside what it considers mainstream is you tend to miss out on a lot of gems. So of course I wasn't surprised when the geniuses that run our local cinemas had elected not to show A Quiet Place all through its global theatrical run. And so I had no choice but to patiently await its release on digital download, even as news of its success filtered over to our shores. But man was it worth the wait.

The movie stars Emily Blunt and real-life husband John Krasinski (who also directs) as a couple struggling to keep their family safe in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the Earth's population has been decimated by vicious creatures that hunt by sound. Where did the creatures come from? A planet of angry librarians perhaps. The filmmakers don't even attempt to answer these sort of questions, choosing instead to focus on the plight of this one family stuck in this dire situation.

Much of the movie takes place on the rural farm the family calls home. They go about their day-to-day activities like any regular family would; they do laundry, help their kids with their homework, go out hunting and have dinner. Except they do all this in silence and with the knowledge that there are three of the creatures actively hunting in the surrounding area. It is quickly established that the creatures have no known weaknesses, other than the fact that they are totally blind. But things are about to get more complicated as the family prepares to welcome its newest member.

I know it is too early to call it, but A Quiet Place is quite possibly my favorite movie of 2018. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane before it, the movie plays out like an intricate game of chess, and we get to watch as all the pieces are moved into place. It eschews traditional jump scares in favor of a deeper sense of dread that permeates every scene. It also boasts one of the most memorable and impressive sound designs since Gravity, as it makes good on its titular promise, with stretches of silence that make even the most mundane sounds sound scary and unwanted.

But the movie is as much a family drama as it is a brilliantly executed horror film. Ultimately, it is a movie about parenthood, and what it means to keep your loved ones safe in the face of clear and present danger. I couldn't recommended it highly enough.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Incredibles 2 (Movie Review)


Everyone's favorite superhero family, the Parrs, make their return in Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2004's The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film picks off right where the first movie left off 14 years ago, with the mole-like Underminer arriving to lay siege on the city of Metroville, forcing the Parrs to once again don their superhero costumes and personas as they fight to protect its citizens.

They manage to foil the Underminer's plans to rob the city's bank, but not without leaving a trail of collateral damage in their wake. This causes the authorities to hold them accountable for the incident, especially since they had been acting against the laws forbidding all acts of superheroism. But their plight is brought to the attention of Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother-and-sister duo of superhero advocates (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener).

The pair are seeking to restore the public's faith in superheroes, and ultimately put an end to the law preventing them from fighting crime, and this they intend to do by showing the untold stories of the crime fighters. And in a reversal of roles, Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) is chosen as the face of this campaign, while Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) gets to play the stay-at-home dad who must tend to the day-to-day needs of their three superhero kids.

The Incredibles was revered for elevating the superhero movie genre, a genre whose landscape has changed drastically in the last 14 years with the advent of shared universes. So the fact that its sequel still feels as poignant today as the original did all those years ago is a feat in and of itself. As expected, the technology powering the production has improved since 2004, a fact that is immediately apparent from the very first frame, with details like hair and lights taking on a life-like quality.

The movie still retains the same animation art style though, with more of the fancy camera work and whiplash-inducing action we've come to expect from the original. Also worthy of note is the movie's score, which highlights and underscores all the key action scenes with a sense of urgency that gets the pulses racing.

2018 has already proven to be an awesome year for superhero movies, with heavy hitters like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 all finding success and critical acclaim (with Ant-Man and the Wasp and Aquaman still to come). We can add Incredibles 2 to that list, a movie that manages to feel fresh in the current landscape, while also staying true to form.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Movie Review)


Every summer, there seems to be at least one obligatory tentpole release from a long-gestating franchise nobody really asked for. In 2015, that movie was Jurassic World, except it exceeded expectations by breaking several box office records, proving that there was indeed a demand for just such a film. It also helped that the movie didn't totally suck. All that success of course meant that we would be getting an inevitable sequel, hence Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

It's been three years since the dinosaurs took over the titular theme park. In all that time, they've been left to roam wild and free on the fictional island of Isla Nublar. But their makeshift haven is about to come to a fiery end as an active volcano on the island draws closer to eruption. This raises the moral debate of whether or not their human creators should intervene or allow nature to run its course. But of course the film wouldn't be much fun if they'd chosen the latter.

So before long, a rescue operation is mounted and a team assembled to help with the evacuation. This includes the park's former operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and everyone's favorite dinosaur trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). The dinosaurs are to be transported to a new island, with the operation being funded by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of the original park's creator, John Hammond. Everything is not as it seems though and it soon becomes evident that their kind benefactors might be harboring some dark secrets.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom lives up to the legacy of its predecessors as a true summer blockbuster. The movie is full of spectacle, with some of the biggest set pieces the franchise has put forward till date. The visuals are appropriately spectacular, and the fact that a lot of the close-up dinosaur effects were achieved using animatronics helps sell their performances even more.

It's a shame the same thing can't be said about their human counterparts though, some of whose actions and motives were downright unbelievable. But overall, the movie provides enough thrills and close-quarters scares to tide fans over until the third and final installment of the new trilogy drops three years from now.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)



The second Star Wars anthology movie is here, arriving just five months after the release of The Last Jedi. There's been much talk over the internet about franchise fatigue, so I'd be quick to confess that like many fans, I was also skeptical about the prospects of a young Han Solo movie. I mean, here was a character we all grew to love over the course of the original trilogy, played so perfectly by Harrison Ford. And our skepticism wasn't exactly helped by news of the film's troubled production, with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being fired midway due to creative differences, prompting reshoots and a change of director.

They were replaced by Ron Howard, and he has done an admirable job of making the whole thing look like a coherent whole, unlike the last movie I saw with an equally troubled production. So the burning question then is how does all of this affect the quality of the final product? And the answer I guess depends on how you've felt about the recent crop of Star Wars movies, and more importantly, what you are expecting from this one. Billed as a space western, the movie makes good on its promise of depicting a fun adventure by a beloved character, but doesn't aspire to do much else.

The movie is set about 10 years before the events of A New Hope, at a time before Han Solo (now played by Alden Ehrenreich) became the hotshot pilot of the Millenium Falcon. Tired of life in the slums of his home planet Corellia, young Solo plots his escape with love interest, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). But the two are separated when she is captured at a security checkpoint during their escape. Han vows to come back for her, and he spends the next three years trying to raise enough money to buy a ship and do just that, first by enlisting in the Imperial Navy, before joining a group of criminals. Led by a man known as Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the group inform Han of a train heist that would reward him with enough money to carry out his vow.

Things don't go according to plan though and they are ambushed by a rival gang in the middle of the heist, ultimately losing the shipment of coaxium (a precious hyperfuel) they'd been after. Han learns that the job was actually done in service of the crime boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and their failure means they'll need to find another way to repay him. They manage to avoid certain death at his hands by convincing him they'd secure enough raw coaxium to repay him, but to do so, they'd need a ship fast enough to make the infamous Kessel run. And so they go in search of the one man with a ship that meets that requirement, the smuggler Lando Carlrissian (Donald Glover).

If I were to rank the recent Disney-produced Star Wars movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story would fall squarely into the last position. That said, the film is by no means a bad movie. Far from it. It has its fair share of flaws, for sure. It takes some time for things to really kick into gear, and it also fails to show any meaningful character development for its key characters, Han Solo most especially. There is also that overall lack of suspense, since we already know where the whole thing is headed. There were also some unresolved subplots and twists towards the end that allude to some sort of sequel or connection to a future anthology movie.

You can blame all this on the exceptionally high bars set by Rogue One and The Force Awakens. Or as the naysayers on the internet would put it, on franchise fatigue. But ultimately, the movie functions more like a fun excursion to a place we've all come to know all too well; beautiful for sure, but doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Deadpool 2 (Movie Review)


The Merc with a Mouth returns for another round of antihero mayhem in Deadpool 2. Helmed by David Leitch of John Wick and Atomic Blonde fame, the movie promises more of the over-the-top action and fourth-wall-breaking comedy that made the original such a hit. But does it deliver? Well, the answer depends on whether or not you subscribe to its brand of self-deprecating humor and extreme violence. In other words, there's plenty for fans to love, but not much else for anyone else.

The movie opens with Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) embracing his newfound status as a bonafide superhero. But his world is torn apart when he suffers a loss that sets him on a suicidal path made hopeless by his regenerative abilities. He is soon recruited by a sympathetic Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) to become an X-men trainee, and it is there that he discovers a new sense of purpose, after meeting Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) on their first mission, a young mutant boy also struggling to find his place in the world.

Unbeknowst to them, the young boy would eventually grow up to become a supervillain responsible for countless deaths. To prevent this, as well as the death of his family, a cybernetically-enhanced soldier from the future called Cable (Josh Brolin) travels back in time on a mission to kill the boy.  But Wade is determined to save the boy, and this he tries to do by assembling a team of would-be superheroes that would form the seeds for what would eventually become the X-Force.

Deadpool 2 is the sequel that fans of the original hoped and asked for. It is funnier and bloodier than everything else out there at the moment, and because it operates on a much smaller scale than the likes of recent superhero team ups Justice League and Avengers: Infinity War, it feels refreshingly personal. Ryan Reynolds (who also co-wrote much of the script) brings the character to life once again with another breakout performance, proving again why he is such a perfect fit for the role.

Deadpool 2 delivers the laughs and thrills while setting up more films in the franchise, with enough surprises to keep fans of the original (and of the X-men universe at large) happy and eager for more. And yes, you'll definitely want to stick around for the post-credits scenes, which were easily some of the best I've seen in any superhero movie.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie Review)


As far as event movies go, I think it's fair to say that there's been none as highly-anticipated as Avengers: Infinity War. Serving as the culmination of 18 movies and 10 years worth of buildup and carefully-plotted foreshadowing, the movie finally finds Earth's mightiest heroes facing off against their most formidable foe to date, Thanos. But is the movie itself worth all the buildup and hype? The answer is a resounding yes, and it delivers on the promise that was made in the post-credits scene of the first Iron Man movie all those years ago.

Infinity War picks off right where Thor: Ragnarok left off, with Thanos confronting Thor, Hulk and what remains of the Asgardians. And right off the bat, the movie shows us just how formidable a foe Thanos is. It is hard to talk about any specific plot points without falling into spoiler territory, even that early into the movie, but to sum things up, Thanos is basically gathering the six Infinity Stones. These are to be used in his ultimate weapon, the Infinity Gauntlet, which would help him become the most powerful being in the universe, capable of ending life with the snap of a finger.

In order to stop Thanos, the Avengers must put aside their differences and band together once again. But this time around, they would require all the help they can get, and they join forces with everyone's favorite ragtag group of heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy. I was indeed surprised by how much Infinity War felt like a Guardians movie, with all its intergalactic planet hopping and quirky sense of humor. But make no mistake, this movie is about Thanos, and he remains at the center of everything.

Much like they did in Captain America: Civil War, the Russo Brothers prove once again that they know how to juggle multiple heroes and still manage to give each one time to shine, even though there were times that felt like there was simply too much going on at once. This is definitely a movie that would benefit from repeat viewings, a requirement if you're hoping to catch all of its various hints and subplots. The movie's biggest shortcoming though is in its two-part delivery, a format that all but necessitates a cliffhanger ending. And what a heart-wrenching ending it was too.

But negatives aside, what Marvel has been able to achieve over these last 10 years is nothing short of amazing. And Avengers: Infinity War stands as the current pinnacle of that achievement. The movie had actual stakes, with the threat of death and total annihilation hanging over our heroes during its entire runtime. Thanos is also a complex villian, with actual, clear-cut motives, and I found myself rooting for him much in the same way we all rooted for Killmonger in Black Panther.

The movie also delivered the goods in terms of spectacle, with barely enough room between fight scenes to digest it all. Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that would be talked about for weeks, months and years to come, and it is quite possible we may never get to experience this level of anticipation and excitement again (at least until the second part comes out next year), so go out and enjoy it while you can.