Friday 10 November 2023

The Marvels (Movie Review)

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its expansion, one would be forgiven for having lost track of all the various movies and Disney+ shows that feed into its overall narrative. Long gone is the luster that once drove fans to devour each new entry, especially in the wake of the complete dumpster fire that was Secret Invasion. And it is in this environment that we now welcome The Marvels, a movie that serves not only as a sequel to 2019's Captain Marvel but as a follow-up to both WandaVision and Ms. Marvel as well. But does the new film signal a return to simpler times or has the franchise simply grown too big for its own good?

The film has Brie Larson reprising her role as Carol Danvers, aka. Captain Marvel, except this time around, she is joined by WandaVision's Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Ms.Marvel herself, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). The three women are brought together after a freak accident causes them to switch places whenever they use their powers. Meanwhile, the Kree are trying to restore their home planet, Hala, by siphoning resources from others just like it. And so our three heroes must go up against their leader, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) before she renders those other worlds inhospitable in the process.

Heading into The Marvels, I was forced to keep my expectations about as low as they could realistically get. This was mainly due to news surrounding its release, with the film getting subjected to multiple release date changes as it underwent extensive reshoots amidst what was clearly a troubled production. So I'd hoped that Marvel Studios would be able to salvage something worthwhile out of all of it, or at least something worth the price of admission. But as I quickly found out during the movie, hopes and wishful thinking can only get you so far.

Let me just start by saying that there are definitely things to admire about The Marvels. The film is heavy on action with more than enough set pieces peppered throughout its relatively brisk runtime. So those going into the movie solely for eye candy will get served plenty of it. It also marks the big-screen debut of Ms. Marvel and she was the clear standout amongst our trio of leads, bringing much of the same charm and charisma she was known for in her Disney+ show. Then the film has a very playful tone that some might find endearing especially if you enjoyed the humor in the two most recent Thor movies.

It is just a shame that the narrative tying all of it together comes across as a jumbled mess of ideas. The story felt disjointed in the worst way possible, relying on too many flashbacks and exposition dumps to fill in crucial aspects of its plot. The worst part is a lot of the material that got relegated to those flashbacks could've made for a very compelling narrative in its own right. I can't get into specifics without getting into spoilers but I was ultimately disappointed with how the filmmakers had chosen to present the story. A lot of it is most likely a result of those extensive reshoots as it becomes obvious a lot of the story must have gotten reshaped and dumbed down in an attempt to make the film appeal to the broadest demographic possible.

Tonally, the film was all over the place with some of its more heartfelt moments getting diluted by jokes and visual gags that fail to land. The film is also inconsistent with the way it depicts its heroes switching places, failing to respect its own rules in more than a few instances. The same can be said of the way it handles our heroes' power levels as I simply found it too hard of a pill to swallow that a hero of Captain Marvel's stature couldn't singlehandedly take down the villain. Then there is its jumbled-up script once again, which prevents its characters from getting anywhere near enough character development, especially the main villain, who is as one-note and one-dimensional as they come. All these things ultimately add up to make what could have been fun and decent come across as lame and cringe-inducing.

The fact that The Marvels is not the worst thing to come out of the MCU recently speaks volumes about just how dire a state the entire franchise is in. The movie serves as yet another example of why the current quantity-over-quality approach being employed at Disney and Marvel Studios is neither favorable nor sustainable in the long run. The good news is both Bob Iger and Kevin Feige have acknowledged the need for greater quality control in all current and future projects. So hopefully this is the last of these watered-down, obligatory entries into the MCU that fans would have to endure going forward.

Friday 27 October 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's (Movie Review)

2023 has been a great year for video game adaptations. We've had the phenomenal The Last of Us on HBO Max, which was not only faithful to its source material but also managed to translate flawlessly into a serialized TV format. Then of course we also got The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a film that was an instant hit with fans, going on to gross more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. And now it seems that it is time for fans of Five Nights at Freddy's to get in on the action as the familiar band of killer animatronics makes the jump onto the big and small screen. But does the film capture that sense of dread the games are known for or does it instead bring back the dreaded video game movie curse?

The film centers upon Mike Schmidt, a troubled young man who lands a job as a nighttime security guard at an abandoned family entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. Unable to find a babysitter for his younger sister one night, he decides to bring her along with him to spend the night there. But it doesn't take long into his shifts before he realizes that its empty rooms and hallways are haunted after midnight by its eponymous animatronic mascot, along with three others just like it. Now he must do whatever he can to survive long enough to cash his paycheck.

The Five Nights at Freddy's video games are renowned not only for their effective jump scares but for their lore-filled stories as well. And all that is presented to the player in a stripped-down presentation with very minimal setup or exposition. All you need to know is that you are a night guard at a defunct pizzeria who needs to fend off a group of killer animatronics in order to survive five nights as the title suggested. And while I've never actually played any of the games myself, I've still, like many others, watched enough Let's Plays on YouTube to understand what the noise is about.

So heading into this long-awaited movie adaptation, I expected to see the same barebones approach to horror but with perhaps some more character development and buildup to better fill out the film's overall runtime. But in its quest to give our main characters some backstory, the movie gets bogged down in the kind of melodrama that makes its leads come across as dull and uncharismatic. It didn't exactly help that a lot of its dialogue felt forced and unnatural, serving largely to telegraph character intentions or foreshadow future events.

All that can be forgiven of course, if the movie was at least self-aware enough to lean into its inherent cheesiness. This was in fact what had helped elevate Willy's Wonderland, another recent movie that was inspired by the Five Nights at Freddy's video games. But here we instead get a self-serious tone that often felt at odds with the ridiculousness of its onscreen action. And without the natural charms and star power of an actor like Nicolas Cage to help bridge that gap, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about any of it.

This was never a problem in the video games mind you, mainly because the main character was there solely to serve as a surrogate for the player. This was why they worked so well in Let's Plays videos, as it allowed the player's reactions to the horrors it throws at them to come across to viewers in their purest form. And the film is sadly devoid of all the personality that the likes of PewDiePie and CoryxKenshin brought to those Let's Plays.

This is not to say that the movie is without some fun moments. It was nice seeing Cory make a cameo as a taxi driver, complete with jump scares that were reminiscent of his own Let's Plays of the game. It is just that the film takes too long before anything remotely interesting happens. And even when the killings begin, they are confined by the limitations of its low-budget production and a PG-13 rating.

Five Nights at Freddy's is about as dull as a video game adaptation can get without outright putting viewers to sleep. It completely squanders a simple yet interesting premise by sticking too closely to horror film conventions. And while it does faithfully recreate the various locations from the video games, as well as the animatronics that inhabit them, it still fails to convey their sense of dread or impending doom, nor does it successfully tap into the rich lore that continues to spark discourse among fans, at least not in any meaningful way.

Friday 20 October 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (Movie Review)

As we enter into awards season, one can expect a good helping of Oscar-bait movies to find their way into cinemas. So while we've already had films like Oppenheimer and Air throwing their hats into the ring, most of the expected heavy hitters are only now starting to reveal themselves. And they don't really get much heavier than Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese's $200 million epic drama. But does the film put all that money to good use or is it simply overlong and overbudgeted?

Based on the book of the same name, the film tells the story of the true-life events that came to be known as the Osage murders. It features an acting ensemble that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The former plays a man returning home from the war to help his uncle in the Osage Nation, a reserve largely owned and controlled by wealthy Native Americans. But after he marries into one such family at the behest of his uncle, he is soon pushed to go to any lengths to help secure the family inheritance.

The first I'd heard of Killers of the Flower Moon was back when it was still being shopped around by Martin Scorsese. It immediately drew attention due to its $200 million price tag, an amount that was eventually raised when distribution rights were picked up by Apple TV+. But rather than relegate the film to their streaming platform, the company has chosen to give it a full theatrical release. This would no doubt go a long way in helping it recoup some of that cost as well as boosting its prospects for consideration at the various film awards.

As for whether or not any of that money is on display during the movie itself, I'd say that it certainly feels just as epic and sprawling as it had set out to be. The film is beautifully shot as one would expect from a director of the caliber of Martin Scorsese. But unlike his previous film, The Irishman, which had made extensive use of CGI to de-age its main actors, this one has a harder time justifying its budget, especially in the wake of a film like The Creator which was several times more ambitious and cost half as much to make.

This means that most of its production cost must have gone towards salaries for its stellar acting ensemble. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro give what could be considered career-best performances but it was actually Lily Gladstone that serves as the film's emotional core. Her performance was restrained and yet powerful, evoking all the pain and suffering her character was made to go through. So I'll definitely be expecting to hear her name get called out among the nominees at next year's Oscars, along with the two other headliners. The fact that both Jesse Plemons and Brendan Fraser don't even make an appearance until well into the movie's runtime just shows just how stacked the cast is.

Speaking of runtime, you do start to feel the film's overall length at nearly three and a half hours, especially during the second act when things began to drag a bit. But it is a testament to the tightly-written script that I was kept engaged for most of the movie regardless. It did sort of just fizzle out at the end though, right where one would expect a more pronounced climax and resolution, but I'll put that down to it being beholden to presenting the facts as close to the way they had happened in real life as it could, as opposed to something more cinematic or sensational.

And that is another area where I feel the movie might alienate more casual viewers, in the way that it presents some of its facts with very little context, almost as though it expects that the viewer is already well versed in its subject matter. It also bears mentioning that the film might be a little too hard to stomach for some due to the deplorable nature of the killings alluded to by its title, as it never shies away from depicting each one in cold and graphic ways.

Killers of the Flower Moon is as rewarding as it is challenging to watch. It forgoes traditional payoffs in favor of an examination of the evils people are capable of in their greedy pursuits. The fact that it is still able to pause long enough to allow the viewer to appreciate moments of beauty amidst all of its horrors helps keep it grounded and well out of the realm of being considered exploitative. But its length and dire subject matter might sadly keep it out of many people's comfort zones.

Saturday 30 September 2023

The Creator (Movie Review)

With the summer movie season now in our rearview mirrors, moviegoers are no doubt on the lookout for the next big thing. This is especially true following recent delays from the likes of Kraven the Hunter and Dune: Part Two, brought on by the combined weight of the writers' and actors' strikes. And like a beacon of hope amidst the ongoing drought, Gareth Edwards steps in with his latest science fiction offering. But does the movie compare favorably with his previous outings or does it perhaps fall short of its lofty ambitions?

In The Creator, humankind is once again at war with AI-powered machines. But before you roll your eyes and declare this yet another Terminator ripoff, at least consider that it attempts to throw a few twists into the mix of its well-worn formula. John David Washington plays Joshua Taylor, a former special forces agent who is brought back for a mission to destroy a war-ending weapon created by the machines. But when that weapon turns out to be a humanlike girl, he finds himself torn between carrying out his directive or protecting her from those who would like to see her and her kind made extinct.

As simple as its premise appears at first glance, The Creator is a film that explores some very interesting ideas. Chief among them is the question of whether or not mankind could truly ever hope to co-exist with another intelligent species, even one of its own making. Its high-concept depiction of AI is one where robots are given almost humanlike qualities, making their integration into certain aspects of society all the more compelling, at least from a visual standpoint.

And that is one area where the movie truly excels, in its production values. Its near-future world is brought to life through some truly impressive set designs and special effects. And with a reported budget of around $80 million, it immediately puts to shame other films with three times that amount and nothing to show for it. The various robots at the heart of its narrative were always captivating to look at, especially how they had taken on a diverse range of human qualities.

Some of it didn't exactly make much practical sense though, like how they'd adopted our need for clothes or even the way we walk or need to go to bed at night. A good chunk of it reminded me of the robots in the video game, Stray, except those had a strong narrative reason for adopting our ways while these seemed mostly that way for aesthetic reasons. Either way, they added to a lot of the film's personality, along with the futuristic cities and beautiful countrysides they reside in.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge how the movie's visuals were complimented by yet another stellar score from Hans Zimmer as well as some clever use of licensed music. I immediately cracked a smile when Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" started to play as the Kid A opener and its underlying themes of existential dread perfectly mirror the journey our two leads are on.

Speaking of leads, John David Washington was more than serviceable in the role of the reluctant father figure. It was also nice seeing Ken Watanabe in another Gareth Edwards production following their work together in Godzilla (2014). The director also proves once again why he is a force to be reckoned with in the science fiction realm, as much like Rogue One, his new film is helped by cool, new takes on preexisting concepts. But the area where I think the film suffers a bit is in its writing.

There were a number of plot contrivances as quite a few character actions seemed beholden to the demands of the plot rather than any organic reasoning on the characters' parts. The final act in particular was plagued by too many of such instances for my liking, resulting in a manufactured and somewhat unsatisfying ending. And while that in itself isn't enough to truly mar the overall package, I still feel it ends up preventing it from achieving true greatness.

The Creator is the exact type of film that the science fiction genre needs more of. It is an original IP that boasts an intriguing depiction of our future driven by a strong, creative vision. Some of it did tend to feel derivative of other works in the genre though, and for all of its gorgeous visuals and interesting concepts, it was still let down by a script that felt lacking in places. That said, the film should still satisfy genre fans looking for their next sci-fi fix, at least until Dune: Part Two resurfaces next spring.

Friday 18 August 2023

Blue Beetle (Movie Review)

As the DCEU prepares to end its run with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom later this year, one might rightfully wonder if it is even worth investing in yet another last-minute entry. But yet here we are with Blue Beetle, a comparatively lesser-known character from the DC pantheon of superheroes. Originally scheduled to make its debut on HBO Max, the movie has been cleverly positioned by James Gunn as the first and possibly only character to make the jump from the older cinematic universe into the rebooted one. But does the new film give any meaningful glimpse at what we can expect from the DCU or was it merely a marketing ploy to get some butts in seats?

The film stars Xolo MaridueƱa as Jaime Reyes, a young man who inadvertently gets hold of an ancient alien artifact called the Scarab. This would end up transforming him into the titular Blue Beetle, an androidlike being that is highly skilled in combat and capable of a number of superhuman feats. But when the original finders of the Scarab come knocking, seeking to weaponize his newfound abilities and profit off of them, Jaime will have to do whatever it takes to ensure that the other members of his close-knit family don't wound up as collateral damage.

Heading into Blue Beetle, my expectations were about as low as they could get. Not only was the movie coming in the wake of a number of high-profile DC flops, but the overall quality of the films in the DCEU had been hit or miss as well. The marketing leading up to its release had also done nothing to get me on board. For all intents and purposes, the film looked like yet another generic superhero origin story with little to offer beyond hitting an arbitrary diversity quota. And while there is nothing wrong with studios endeavoring to have more diversity in their films, I still feel the films themselves and the stories they tell need to be able to stand on their own in terms of providing entertainment value.

And in terms of pure entertainment value, Blue Beetle ranks on the lower end of the scale. Right off the bat, we are introduced to a pair of villains that are about as cookie-cutter as they come. Susan Sarandon in particular comes across as villainous for the sake of being villainous with hardly any nuances to her performance. They might as well have given her a mustache to twirl around with the way that the character was written and portrayed. The same can be said for most of the cast members. Xolo was adequate in the role of Jaime and George Lopez was about as obnoxious as I felt he was in the trailers. He did manage to garner the most laughs from the crowd in my screening, so your mileage may vary.

The story in the movie itself is what I would refer to as aggressively okay. It ticks all the boxes one would expect from a superhero origin story but doesn't attempt to do much more than that. It offers very little in the way of surprises and a lot of its plot points were heavily telegraphed in overtly obvious ways. Perhaps some of this can be linked to its adherence to the source material but since I have never read the actual comic books the movie is based upon, I can only speculate. What I know for sure is that for someone who was not a preexisting fan, I came out of the movie feeling just as indifferent as I was going in.

There is still some fun to be had in Blue Beetle, of course, don't get me wrong. It has the right amount of set-piece moments and laughs to keep most people engaged. But the jokes that landed are few and far between and the action, while largely serviceable, fails to reach the heights of some of its predecessors or offer anything we haven't already seen before. The only thing that truly attempts to help the movie stand out was a late revelation made regarding the past of one of its two main antagonists. Unfortunately, this comes a bit too late into the movie and my brain had all but already checked out by that point.

Blue Beetle is a superhero origin story that barely manages to get off the ground. That it exists in a very strange middle ground between cinematic universes only further adds to the confusion regarding its wider significance. Whether or not we see any more of this iteration of the character would ultimately depend on how well it performs over the course of its theatrical run. But I honestly think it should have stayed as the direct-to-streaming movie it was originally intended to be as the final product simply does not do nearly enough to justify the price of admission.

Friday 11 August 2023

Heart of Stone (Movie Review)

The Netflix content machine is still chugging along like the well-oiled train that it aspires to be. And as anyone who has tried to browse through its massive catalog of movies could attest, its Netflix Originals in particular are pretty much hit or miss with varying levels of quality and entertainment value. But every now and then, you get a genuine diamond in the muck, a film that is so great that it helps justify your continued subscription to the streaming service. Unfortunately, Heart of Stone is not that movie.

The film stars Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone, an MI6 agent with very little experience in the field. But unbeknownst to her teammates, she is actually far more skilled than her resume would let on. She is in fact a double agent also working for the Charter, a secret organization with the sole purpose of helping other agencies and world governments to keep the peace. But when the complex computer system that makes their clandestine operations possible falls into the wrong hands, Rachel will have to go rogue in her pursuit of the people responsible.

With a plot that sounds like a hodgepodge of Mission: Impossible story beats, Heart of Stone can't help but feel derivative by design. The fact that it is coming from the very same production company responsible for Dead Reckoning Part One only goes further to highlight that its writers might have been pulling from the very same well of ideas. This is not to say that that other movie would score any points for originality. After all, it was the seventh entry in a series that appears to have done it all at this point, a fact that is currently being reflected in its less-than-solid box office performance.

But even in the realm of derivative spy thrillers, Heart of Stone still manages to sink toward the very bottom of the barrel. This is primarily because it is a movie that feels like it could have been cobbled together by the very same AI at the heart of its narrative. It tries to tick a number of arbitrary boxes, like having a strong, female protagonist to root for in the person of Gal Gadot, a generic villain with a mysterious past that ties into the central conflict, as well as a quippy sidekick to bring in some levity. You know, the way that most modern action movies on Netflix would.

Except it doesn't endeavor to do anything more than the very bare minimum in each of those areas which results in a bland, uninspired movie-watching experience that barely manages to register or pass as entertainment. Add to that the fact that the movie often veers into full-blown campiness in the area of its characterization, with intelligence agents that lack intelligence and an overall ensemble that is driven by some of the most wooden performances I have seen all year, and you start to get an idea of just how poorly executed most of it feels. Even the music and song choices that fill out its soundtrack feel played out with its mix of forgettable pop songs and cookie-cutter compositions, none of which ever quite manage to elevate the on-screen action.

Heart of Stone is Mission: Impossible at home. And unlike those other films which at least sought to push the boundaries for action movies within the constraints of their fairly formulaic trappings, this one seems content with merely adding to the sludge of Netflix Originals created to pad out its library. Perhaps it could have been salvaged if the filmmakers had opted to lean into its corny dialogue and inherent campiness and turned it into a fun, B-movie-styled parody of the genre. But as it currently stands, the movie lacks any kind of heart or soul and I can't recommend it as anything more than something to pass the time with on a slow Saturday afternoon.

Saturday 22 July 2023

Oppenheimer (Movie Review)

Not many directors in Hollywood today can command the level of respect that Christopher Nolan gets. You only need to hear his name attached to a project for it to shoot up most people's most anticipated movies lists. This is a result of having consistently delivered great cinematic experiences like Dunkirk and Inception to name a few. So of course I was already onboard with Oppenheimer long before I even knew what the film was about. But does the film itself live up to the director's reputation or does it fall short of his incredibly high standards?

Set over a period spanning the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War, the film tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who was chosen to head the Manhattan Project. His work would lead to the development of the atomic bomb, a devastating nuclear weapon that would prove instrumental in bringing about the end of World War II. But as we learn over the course of the film, one does not flirt with such destructive power without psychological ramifications, and so the movie explores the moral quandaries of its titular character as he grapples with the dangers of the forces he has helped set into motion.

It is hard to dive into any kind of critique of Oppenheimer without first spotlighting the actor that helped bring the whole thing to life. Cillian Murphy delivers what is arguably his best performance to date in the titular role of J. Robert Oppenheimer with an acting turn that can be considered both restrained and poignant. His every move and mannerism embodies the troubled mind of the genius scientist at the center of the film, showing that the actor has an acting range that rivals that shown by the very best thespians. I know it is still too early to call an Oscar nomination for the actor a lock but I'll be very surprised if his name doesn't get called out among the nominees at next year's ceremony.

He was of course supported by a stacked cast of actors who likewise gave standout performances. Both Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh went the extra mile as the title character's two love interests while Robert Downey Jnr. in particular was almost unrecognizable as Lewis Strauss. There were a few actors like Rami Malek and Gary Oldman that I would have loved to see more of, but that would probably have meant the final cut of the film might have ended up even longer than the 3-hour theatrical cut we have presently.

Going behind the camera now, props have to immediately go to Christopher Nolan for his handling of the script and source material. And in true Christopher Nolan fashion, he once again uses the recurring motif of time to tell the story in a nonlinear manner. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, with two separate hearings serving as a framing device, before the whole thing ultimately coalesces during its third act. But because it juggles between quite a number of characters and events spanning several years, a lot of it might be hard to follow for those not already familiar with those aspects of world history. It also takes a fair chunk of its 3-hour runtime before things truly kick into gear. But once it does, the narrative flows in a way that is scarcely seen in the realm of biographical dramas. In fact, one could almost liken it to watching a psychological thriller with the way it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat as its events unfold.

But the area where Oppenheimer truly excels in my opinion is in its striking visuals, from the stunning black-and-white sections to the mostly practical effects that helped depict the sheer power and force of a nuclear explosion. It is all stuff you would want to see on the biggest, most premium screen available so do yourself a favor by heading down to your nearest IMAX theater or premium large format of choice. It also bears mentioning that all those incredible visuals were complimented by the cinematography, score, editing, and sound design, all of which come together to create an audio-visual experience worthy of the Christopher Nolan name.

As far as character studies go, Oppenheimer is one of the best ones I've seen in years. It takes you on a journey into the very psyche of its subject matter, asking you to judge for yourself if his heart was truly in the right place. And like any good character study, it never shies away from showing the various vices and idiosyncrasies that helped define the man. But most remarkably, the movie manages to transcend the typical character study to become one of the finest cinematic experiences Christopher Nolan has crafted to date, so go out and experience it for yourself if you haven't already.

Friday 14 July 2023

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (Movie Review)

After setting the box office on fire with Top Gun: Maverick last year, Tom Cruise is back in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One. This time around, he once again steps into the shoes of aging IMF agent, Ethan Hunt, who is on a new globe-trotting mission to save the world from those who would rather see it go up in flames. But having worn those shoes for seven movies spanning almost three decades, one has to wonder if they still manage to fit or if perhaps it is time for him to hang them up for good.

Billed as the first of two halves, the film has Ethan going after the lost keys to a rogue artificial intelligence simply referred to as the Entity. With the ability to hack into any defense system in the world, it soon becomes the target of several competing governments and shadow organizations, each one planning to use it for their own nefarious needs. But when Ethan is faced with an adversary from his distant past, he'll be tested like never before as he pushes himself to do whatever it takes to complete the mission.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has prided itself on thrilling moviegoers ever since the first movie came out in 1996. And with each subsequent entry, Tom Cruise and the various filmmakers involved have found increasingly inventive ways to up the ante. Except things wouldn't really get kicked into orbit until Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, a film that had the Hollywood star scaling the sides of the world's tallest building. And the franchise has continued to soar ever higher ever since, an ascent that would eventually crescendo with the phenomenal HALO jump and other stunts in 2018's Mission: Impossible - Fallout.

So heading into Dead Reckoning Part One, I already had doubts that it could ever manage to match or surpass the highs of the previous one. This is despite following up on news of its production, which was impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as watching an extended behind-the-scenes look at its audacious motorcycle cliff jump. And while I feel that the final product didn't indeed match the thrills of the last one, it at least comes with its own bag of tricks, even though some of it did tend to feel like already-explored territory.

We get the usual spy thriller staples like car chases and tense hand-to-hand combat encounters, all of which play out exactly how one would imagine for a film of that nature. But it is how these sequences are shot and edited that helps them feel alive and vibrant. The film is also well-paced for the most part, doling out such scenes at a steady enough cadence to keep most viewers engaged. I did start to feel the length of the movie over time though, especially while it took the needed time to explain the various twists and turns of its ever-evolving plot, and it took some time before the story truly kicked into gear.

But once it did, it never truly lets up until the very end. And with the story being the first of two halves, I was afraid that perhaps they might end it on a cliffhanger without any real resolution to the ongoing conflict. Except I still ended up coming out of it feeling like I had eaten a full meal, which is more than I can say about most other movies that get split in two. A lot of ground was covered in this first half and just enough threads were left unresolved to keep me interested in seeing how the whole thing wraps up next year.

In terms of acting and performance, Tom Cruise proves that he's still got what it takes, pulling absolutely no punches in his pursuit of delivering breathtaking stunts and top-of-the-line action scenes. I had to constantly remind myself that he was now in his 60s as I marveled at his latest feats of physicality. The fact that he is willing to risk life and limb for stunts that typically get put together with CGI in other films goes to show his commitment to the craft and his willingness to do whatever it takes to sell all of it to the audience. That level of dedication is rarely seen in the action film genre and for that reason alone, I hope that the movie gets to experience every bit of success that it deserves.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is a solidly-crafted spy thriller that once again serves as a showcase for Tom Cruise as one of the very best action movie stars working today. That it does that while telling a timely, cautionary tale about the dangers of AI in today's society only goes further to add to its overall appeal. And while I felt it didn't quite hit the same level of sheer brilliance as past entries, or even other recent action films like John Wick: Chapter 4, I still feel it is a movie that is very much worth experiencing on the best cinema screen available.

Friday 16 June 2023

The Flash (Movie Review)

The Flash finally graces cinemas this weekend after spending nearly a full decade in active development. But following the lukewarm reception Shazam! Fury of the Gods had received during its shortened theatrical run, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was just another remnant of the DCEU as started with Man of Steel back in 2013. The question then is does this new movie actually warrant going out to see or are you better off waiting for it to hit streaming or skipping it entirely?

The film centers upon Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the titular metahuman who is having trouble balancing his role as a member of the Justice League with working to prove his father's innonence in the case of his mother's death. And the fact that he is able to speed through the world around him isn't exactly helping. But when he inadvertently discovers that he also has the ability to phase through time, he makes the decision to travel back in time to save his mother from dying in the first place. Except this ends up having dire consequences on the current timeline as well as wide-reaching ramifications for the multiverse as a whole.

Stop me if it sounds like you've heard that plot synopsis before because it sure seems like multiverses are Hollywood's current obsession. And in the wake of the recently-released Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the bar of quality has been raised tremendously high for these types of movies. Gone are the days when a few throwaway cameos and visual gags were all it took to get us hooked and invested. Nowadays, audiences are sophisticated enough to demand that those cameos serve the narrative ala Spider-Man: No Way Home or at the very least bring something of substance to the movie.

I say all that to explain how the landscape had changed since the first trailer for The Flash dropped and why I had approached the film with some measure of apprehension, even as I was eager to see how it would build upon the events of the DCEU and the larger DC library of stories. I basically wanted to know what it did with the foundation already laid by Zack Snyder and others and if it pushed the narrative forward in any meaningful way or if it merely served as the reset button for the franchise many believed that it was.

Thankfully, it didn't take too long into the movie before I discovered that I had very little to worry about. Director Andy Muschietti clearly has a deep understanding of the title character as well as the famous Flashpoint storyline and he indeed manages to do both justice (no pun intended) over the course of his movie. The film respects the existing canon while still finding fun and inventive ways to expand upon it. A lot of it can be considered nostalgia bait though, as it did tend to lean heavily into the Easter eggs and references without really giving most of it any real narrative weight.

The film also has some truly impressive action setpieces that rank as some of the very best in the DCEU. The Flash's abilities are used to great effect throughout the film and they never ceased to be fun to look at. The third act did fall into the trap of being too reliant on spectacle though and the stylistic way some of the CGI characters were rendered might rub some people the wrong way as it creates an uncanny valley effect that feels out of place in a production of this size and budget.

But the area where the film really excels in my opinion is in its heartfelt narrative. As tired as the time travel trope might be nowadays, it is the very real emotions that propel our heroes to do the things they do that kept me most engaged with the movie. Their real-life shenanigans asides, Ezra Miller absolutely shines in the dual role of Barry Allen. It was also nice to see both Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton reprise their respective roles as Batman, although a part of me wishes that the former was given a bit more to do in the film.

The Flash is the closest thing to a fitting swansong that the DCEU could possibly hope to get at this point. It is also a fun and action-packed superhero romp in its own right, one that is elevated by the performance of its lead star. Whether you choose to go out and see it should probably come down to how much you valued the entries that came before it. And as a fan of the overall DCEU, barring one or two weaker installments, I'd say it is one of the better ones in the entire collection.

Friday 2 June 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Movie Review)

Spider-Man swings his way back into cinemas this weekend in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. This is the eagerly-awaited sequel to the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie that not only introduced moviegoers to Miles Morales but showed us that he was just as capable as the various Peter Parkers that came before him. And like any good sequel worth its salt, this one sets out to expand on the titular Spider-Verse while giving fans more of what they really loved about the first film. But does it manage to achieve either of those two goals or has it perhaps grown too big for its own good?

The film is set a year and a half after the events of the previous one with Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) still struggling to juggle between schoolwork and his duties as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In that time, he has amassed his very own rogues gallery of villains as well as some notoriety. He is soon sucked into a brand-new multiverse-spanning adventure with a fresh cast of Spider-People along with some returning favorites. And with a new arch nemesis hellbent on revenge to contend with, Miles would quickly find out that he needs all the help that he can get.

My expectations heading into Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse were about as high as you can imagine being the massive Spider-Man fan that I am. The first film had immediately won me over with its uniquely beautiful animation style which sought to replicate the look and feel of a comic book within a three-dimensional space. But it was its heartfelt story and great characterization that ultimately made it one of my favorite films of 2018, long before it went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. And since then, Spider-Man fans have been treated to gem after gem across the various entertainment media with video games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and live-action movies like the two most recent ones in the MCU.

But just when I thought things had gotten as good as they could get in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the crew at Sony Animation scoffed and asked us to hold their beer. Because you'll have to believe that I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this is now possibly my favorite Spider-Man movie of all time. That's high praise indeed considering that Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 had held the title of my favorite comic book movie since its release in 2004. And much like that movie had managed to take its predecessor to the next level, this one shoots everything that came before it into the stratosphere.

The animation is just as vibrant as it was in the first film with each variant of Spider-Man given their own unique animation style. This extends to the worlds they inhabit as well, with each one sporting a distinct look and feel. It would appear like we've been inundated by a heavy dose of multiversal adventures lately, between the MCU's recent movies and the impending release of the DCEU's The Flash. But nowhere has the multiverse been as clearly and as fully realized as it is here, not even in the Best Picture-winning Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

But the real highlight in my opinion is once again the stellar characterization. Miles is as fully formed as he has ever been and we get to watch him grow even further into his Spider-Man-sized shoes. We also gain new insight into Gwen Stacy's backstory with the film spending a significant portion of its runtime fleshing out her character. The same holds true for several new characters like Miguel O'Hara and The Spot, although fans of the first film might wonder what happened to the likes of Peni Parker and Peter Porker, but at least they'll get to instead witness Peter ParkedCar in all its glory. And no, I'm not making that up.

Another highlight worth mentioning is the curated soundtrack by Metro Boomin, several songs from which could be heard playing throughout the film. The one that stuck out to me the most was Mona Lisa by Dominic Fike, with its earworm melodies fitting the joyous thrill of watching both Miles and Gwen swing through New York like a glove.

The only real criticism I can give to Across the Spider-Verse is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger as it sets the stage for what is sure to be an epic conclusion in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse next year. Its extended runtime also keeps the movie from feeling as punchy and precise as its predecessor even though it does manage to cram in a lot of characterization and world-building into that runtime, not to mention the countless Easter eggs that are sure to have diehard fans going back to watch the movie over and over again.

It's a great time to be a Spider-Man fan and nowhere is that more evident than in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The film serves as another celebration of the webslinger's storied history even as it attempts to tie it all together in its very ambitious narrative web. That it largely succeeds while doing so speaks to a deep understanding of the superhero and his various iterations as well as a mastery of the art of storytelling by all those involved in crafting the film. This is the Spider-Man film to rule all Spider-Man films and one can only wonder where they could possibly take things next.