Saturday 27 March 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong (Movie Review)

The epic showdown to rival all epic showdowns is here folks. The two monsters at the center of the ongoing MonsterVerse finally go toe-to-toe with one another in Godzilla vs. Kong. The people at Legendary Pictures have been building towards that fight since the 2014 reboot of the Godzilla franchise. And with this latest movie, it would appear that they've finally gotten the DNA of what makes these movies so appealing down to a science.

This is the part where I normally give a basic plot summary for the entire movie, before proceeding to share my thoughts. But to say that this movie had anything resembling an intelligible plot is a bit of a stretch. At best, it is all just meaningless setup to get the two titular titans to fight one another. But for anyone that has been following the threads introduced in the previous films in the MonsterVerse, here is all you need to know.

Kong has basically outgrown his home on Skull Island since the events of that movie. This prompts the scientists looking after him to take him on a journey across the ocean to find his "true home." Meanwhile, Godzilla is back again after asserting his position as the Titan alpha in King of the Monsters. Only this time, he attacks a research facility for reasons unknown as he goes on a rampage. And with the two monsters now out in the open, it is only a matter of time before both apex predators butt heads.

To say that I was excited heading into Godzilla vs. Kong after all the excellent trailers that preceded it is a bit of an understatement. My hype level for the film was through the roof, being a fan of at least one of the two monsters since early childhood (for anyone wondering, I was squarely on Team Godzilla). And I'm pleased to report that the movie didn't disappoint, at least on a purely visceral level.

The movie makes good on its promise of having the two titans duke it out, and then some. I especially loved how both monsters got to shine at various points throughout the movie, adding even more fire to the fan debates. The final showdown in particular was appropriately epic, hearkening back to the classic Toho movies while still delivering something that was ultimately fresh and modern. The overall outcome was fairly predictable, but it was still satisfying to see all of it play out.

It should go without saying that some suspension of disbelief is required in order for the movie to truly work. The human characters are also once again the weakest part of the movie, existing solely to give exposition dumps that try to make sense of everything that is happening. Thankfully, the film spends far less time following those characters, and puts the focus squarely on the two larger-than-life monsters moviegoers came to see.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the Marvel's Avengers of the Legendary MonsterVerse. It is easily the best film in the franchise thus far, and it stands as an improvement over the three films that came before it. And while it is far from a perfect film, the fact that it fully embraces the ridiculousness of its premise makes for a culmination that earns an easy recommendation from me.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League (Movie Review)

The moment DC fans have been waiting for is finally here, again. Zack Snyder's cut of the previously-released Justice League makes its debut on HBO Max today. The fact that the film opens with a message from Zack Snyder himself reinforces the long and troubled road that has led to the movie's eventual release. And now that it is here, the unavoidable comparisons with the theatrical cut of the movie begin.

On the surface, Zack Snyder's Justice League is an alternative take on the formation of the DC superhero team. But by and large, this is the same core movie we got back in 2017, with Bruce Wayne traveling the world in an effort to put together a team of metahumans to stop the threat he had seen in a vision in Batman v Superman

That threat would once again materialize in the form of Steppenwolf and his army of parademons, who are still out searching for the three mother boxes, and Superman is still dead and not even seen for the bulk of the movie. That's all you need to know about the movie's story really, that it is largely unchanged aside from some fleshed-out backstories and a few surprises here and there.

The biggest difference then comes in the form of its length and overall style. There's plenty of Zack Snyder's signature flair for slow-motion sequences, some of which call back to his work on the visually-stunning 300. The movie also has a darker tone more in line with previous DCEU entries, as well as boasts an R-rating, which is immediately evident in its violent action scenes.

Some of the newer stuff doesn't quite match up with existing VFX shots though. I suspect that has more to do with the time between both cuts of the movie than anything else. There is also the issue of the movie's overall length, which starts to border on the edge of over-indulgent before long. But considering that my biggest criticism for the theatrical version was the fact that several key characters felt underdeveloped, the additional footage here brings some much-needed context.

This was especially true of Aquaman and Cyborg, with the latter in particular feeling more integral to the overall story this time around. You could really get a better sense of where both characters were coming from, making their initial reluctance to join the Justice League all the more understandable. Flash also got to shine with more extended action scenes, and the character was still responsible for much of this version's comic relief.

Another character that really benefited from the extended footage was Steppenwolf. He was not only depicted as a far more formidable foe than his depiction in the theatrical version, he was also given a fully fleshed-out backstory and a clear-cut motive. His desire to get back into the good graces of Darkseid meant we finally understood why he was so desperate to get the mother boxes, allowing me to even sympathize with him in a way that was impossible in the previous version.

And speaking of Darkseid, the DC villain was indeed in more scenes than I'd expected, but I can still see why he was ultimately cut from the theatrical version. He didn't really add much to the story, other than in an extended flashback sequence that helped establish the origin of the mother boxes. A part of me suspects he was merely included here to give hints of a potential sequel that may never see the light of day. But if the release of the Snyder Cut has taught me one thing, it is to never say never.

Zack Snyder's Justice League seems almost tailor-made for fans of the DCEU. It delivers its promise of a more coherent story, as well as a vision that was consistent with the director's two previous films. So the fact that it also manages to surpass that other version in several ways shouldn't really come as a surprise. And while it is quite unlikely that its release would prompt any shifts in plans for future movies, I am still glad that it exists and would gladly recommend it to fans and critics of the DCEU alike.

Thursday 11 March 2021

Cosmic Sin (Movie Review)

Every now and then, I find myself drawn towards the occasional B-movie. This is especially the case whenever I see big name Hollywood stars like Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage attached to such projects. Call it morbid curiosity, but I typically go into these movies hoping for a potential gem, or at least one that might be worthy of the "so bad, it's good" designation. Cosmic Sin is unfortunately neither of those two things.

The movie takes place in the year 2524, after humans have developed the ability to travel to distant star systems. While trying to colonize a seemingly deserted planet, a group of soldiers make first contact with a race of aliens that prove hostile. To deal with the threat of further attacks, a rogue unit of soldiers decide to take matters into their own hands by executing a retaliatory attack on the alien's home world.

Fresh off his appearance in the sci-fi-martial arts hybrid, Jiu Jitsu, Frank Grillo plays Gen. Eron Ryle, the leader of this outfit. He is forced to enlist the help of a man named James Ford (Bruce Willis), a retired soldier who was renowned for his skill and calculative measures. Together, the two men must work to find the coordinates of the alien planet, before the aliens find their way to Earth and launch an all-out assault.

I don't know what I was expecting when I'd decided to check out Cosmic Sin exactly. Definitely not to be bored out of my skull though. For a movie that had been billed as a science fiction action film, I was surprised by just how uninspired that action turned out to be. The movie throws every war movie cliche and one-liner imaginable at viewers, with the hope that their inclusion would somehow mask its unremarkable storyline.

But this only added to my inherent frustration with the film. The dialogue was barely intelligible, filled with sci-fi jargon, and the actors themselves were far from convincing. Bruce Willis in particular looked like he would rather be somewhere else. In a better movie perhaps. His phoned-in performance was matched only by some truly cringe-worthy lines of dialogue. 

All that is to say that the movie was a chore to get through, which is saying something considering its barely 90-minutes runtime. But I guess you could also say that it comes with the territory. This is a B-movie after all. Except most B-movies at least offer some level of fun that make them worth the price of admission, a key aspect that was severely lacking in Cosmic Sin.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon (Movie Review)

At the start of the year, I had shared what I considered my most anticipated movies for 2021, most of which were carryovers from 2020. And the only animated film to make that list was Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon, a film that had been on my radar ever since it was announced at the D23 Expo in 2019. Originally slated for a November 2020 release, the movie debuted simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+, through a $30 premier access fee, this past weekend.

Set in a mythical kingdom called Kumandra, the movie follows the adventures of a young woman named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). She is on a quest to summon the last dragon, Sissu (Akwafina), in a bid to reverse the curse that has turned much of her people to stone, and to banish the Drunn, the evil creatures responsible. But in order to do that, she must journey to the other warring factions that make up Kumandra, to steal back the pieces of a magical orb that serve as the source of the dragon's powers.

The first thing that struck me about Raya and the Last Dragon was its jaw-dropping animation. The wizards at the Walt Disney Animation Studios continue to impress with each subsequent movie they put out, and this latest one is certainly no different. Their movie is populated with lush landscapes and expressive characters, and the whole thing really pops in a way that only big-budget animated movies tend to do.

On the audio side of things, Akwafina once again shines, lending her voice to the titular last dragon. She was full of energy in an excessively talkative way, but never became obnoxiously so, much in the same way that Ellen DeGeneres managed to be in Finding Dory. Kelly Marie Tran also imbued Raya with all the quiet determination the character called for, and the ensemble as a whole was one of the better ones I've seen in an animated film.

Raya and the Last Dragon has all the right ingredients that make up a Disney animated classic. The movie is beautiful to look at, and the voice actors really help to bring the characters to life. But even more than that, it tells a heartfelt story with a message about setting aside our differences and coming together as one, a message that is especially timely today.

Saturday 6 March 2021

Coming 2 America (Movie Review)

It has taken more than three decades, but we've finally gotten a sequel to one of the biggest breakout comedies from the 1980s, Coming to America. In that film, a young African prince had decided to scorn the traditions of his kingdom, as he journeys to America in search of true love. Considered a cult classic till today, the movie was a hit with audiences all over the world. So it comes to reason then that expectations were reasonably high for this long-awaited sequel.

In Coming 2 America, Eddie Murphy reprises his role as Prince Akeem of Zamunda. It's been 30 years since the events of the first film, and now with the king (James Earl Jones) on his deathbed, Akeem must prepare to take the mantle for himself. He must also contend with General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), a local warload and leader of the neighboring kingdom of Nextdoria, who is still displeased that Akeem had opted not to marry his younger sister, Imani, in the first film.

With the two kingdoms on the verge of war, Akeem finds himself trying to secure Zamunda's future in the event of his untimely passing, a task that is made harder by the fact that he only had three daughters and no male heir. But he soon learns that he'd fathered an illegitimate son (Jermaine Fowler) with a woman named Mary (Leslie Jones) while in America. Now he must journey back to New York with his trusty aide, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), with hopes of finding him.

Coming 2 America doubles down on everything fans loved about the first movie. The result is a movie that might not be considered fresh or original, but one that also never ceases to be entertaining. And the fact that it doesn't even try to reinvent the wheel is certainly not a bad thing, not when the movie had so much going for it.

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall look like they've barely aged a day since the first movie, with both actors once again taking upon multiple roles. But the true highlight for me was Wesley Snipes, who looked like he was having the most fun out of all the actors. He also managed to garner the most laughs, as every single one of his scenes had me smiling from ear to ear.

The other performances ranged from good to adequate, although I found Leslie Jones' turn as Mary, the mother to Akeem's illegitimate son, a little too over-the-top and stereotypical for my liking. But taken as a whole, the ensemble certainly holds their own, even though other areas like the script left a bit more to be desired.

Coming 2 America might lean a little too heavily upon the nostalgia fans had for the first movie, but it is still a worthy sequel in more ways than one. Its predictable story is made up for by some truly funny performances, and even the over-the-top antics of some of its characters felt right at home. I don't see the film winning over any new fans, but it has certainly managed to please this one.