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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
A Jarring Shift in Formula Gives us the Best Thor Movie Yet
I always sound like a broken record, but once again what Disney/Marvel continues to do in the film industry is unprecedented. To be able to pull off a dozen-plus movies and interweave them in the same exact universe (and then toss in television shows that link up) is unfathomably impressive to a point that we take it for granted. When Marvel was bought by Disney, it was a complete mess with their best IPs roaming all over the place and usually in the hands of Disney's very own competitors. What they were left with were properties that were well-known but were not the moneymakers of a Spider-Man or an X-Men. And Disney turned dirt into solid gold. And yes, I am certain I have written the likes of this before.
Thor is one of the best examples of a comic being a good supporter in the Marvel universe, but not popular enough to successfully lead an entire trilogy, let alone his own movie. Yet here we are, third film in, and by far the best of three cinematic trips to Asgard. After seeing the success and acceptance of the insanity surrounding the Guardians of the Galaxy, the madmen of Marvel decided to throw out the book of the previous Thor movies and delivered a chaotic experience that meshes mythological themes with Star Wars scope, material of previously made comic books (Planet Hulk has a strong influence here) and then showering it with the 80s Marvel flair that made Guardians so enjoyable in the first place.
This movie is action-packed, full of surprises, and has about as much humor as the best of comedies this decade. The storyline nonetheless is a lot more serious than the resulting tone and pace, as we see Thor stuck on a violent distant planet trying to escape and return to his homeland of Asgard and take on the Goddess of Death and prevent the end of his planet. And yes, the Goddess of Death is quite angry for many reasons. Unlike previous Thor flicks though, we have plenty of Marvel characters to see, including Hulk, Doctor Strange, Loki (I point this out because there wasn't enough Loki in The Dark World), and even some memorable new ones like Valkyrie and Korg.
Ragnarok fixes all the issues of previous Thor movies and improves upon the elements that worked. For starters, Natalie Portman is gone. Let's toss this out of the way, that woman is a fine actress but was so disinterested in Marvel it shows in her performances. We have a deeper roster of characters, and see more time given to some of the better supporting characters (Once again, Loki). Chris Hemsworth is given more room to be humorous, and this pays off significantly as we are treated with a hilarious performance that is also full of heart and sheer confidence. The casting is excellent, with Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum also providing excellent performances of MCU villains that are actually decent.
The biggest and most obvious difference between the MCU and the always-inconsistent DCEU is the cinematic package of each installment. Disney and Marvel have gone to great lengths to make sure none of their blockbuster films ever gets too dreary, too predictable, or too dark. Notice they usually change up directors whenever they feel that the particular series needs a shakeup, resulting in a quirky director from New Zealand providing his talents for Ragnarok. The MCU always tries to blend comic book glee with comedy, some drama and sentimental value, and of course an arsenal of likable characters to always root for. Up until Wonder Woman, DCEU kept the tone somber, kept the tone gloomy, and just piles on the depression while failing to deliver decent characters or a wholesome experience that gives you a variety of emotions.
Batman AND Superman lack the heroic flavor of previous generations and this is why Wonder Woman (who has the best actress/writing/directing combo) became the new face of DC---whether they like it or not. You will never see a DC movie get drizzled with 80s flair to lessen the tension and allow you to just enjoy the ride. And it's that 80s flair I keep praising, the zany humor, and the fast-paced directing gives Thor: Ragnarok a feeling of freshness you usually wouldn't expect from third installments of any trilogy. The creative freedom obviously given to the staff (even the musical score ditches the epic sound for a more synth-friendly barrage of tunes) allows for them to make wild series-changing decisions. The final act especially goes off the rails and opens up new doors for new story lines in the near future.
Disney and Marvel's big advantage over all the "universes" is its ability to link up all the films tightly and be willing to fearlessly expand their horizons for the future. Ragnarok's horizons and overall scope was bursting through the screen, which allowed to see many fun action pieces, delightful cinematography, multiple foes and obstacles, and just relentless top-notch entertainment. The MCU may have had its slight difficulties in the beginning but have quickly emerged into achieving Pixarish levels of expected quality. In a blockbuster film environment that has been sputtering lately, Marvel and Disney continues to shine above the gunk.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
A delightful cocktail of female Bond, crazy violence, and cool 80s vibes
If Bond had a spiked martini with ecstasy in an 80s European nightclub, the result would be Atomic Blonde.
After years of having to catch up to Indonesia (The Raid/Raid 2still the best action movies this entire decade), England (Kingsman) and Australia (Mad Max: Fury Road) on the action cinema landscape, it's nice to see Hollywood getting slightly closer to the mountaintop of quality action filmmaking. Between the surprise-surprise John Wick flicks and now the stylishly sinister Atomic Blonde, America now has a team learning from the mistakes of the blockbusters and the disappointments. Being an action movie fan, it's good to be in this era.
Charlize Theron has become an underrated action goddess over the years with an intriguing display of action flicks ranging from the forgotten (Aeon Flux) to the underrated (Italian Job) to the spectacular (Once again, Mad Max). Although being considered a female Bond is a bit of a stretch, Atomic Blonde seizes the opportunity to take advantage of Theron's skillset of physical toughness combined with the ability to display emotion whether there is tons of dialogue or no dialogue at all. Similar to how it's impossible to separate Bruce Willis' performance from Die Hard, it's impossible to deny Theron any sort of credit to the film's overall enjoyment.
Based off a graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is an espionage flick with an abundance of twists and turns, which under the right writing/directing combo could have made for intriguing look at the spy life during a lesser-explored timeline in global history. But the John Wick crew isn't fully interested in the story, and treats it mainly like a backdrop while delivering a fistful of action sequences that ranges from short and exciting, to the downright intense and breathtakingincluding an insane tracking shot that delivers the best hallway fight since the epic hallway showdowns from The Raid. This is where the movie falters and shines, the see saw here is completely uneven, so if you are here for good storytelling move on. Otherwise, stay put, and watch some of the best action all year.
Atomic Blonde also carries a cool 80s aesthetic that you never see in a Bond film, another reason why the comparison is inaccurate, even if it was meant to be a compliment. Between the Cold War setting, the killer Vice City-like soundtrack, the surprisingly-good costume design, and the muted tone, Atomic Blonde looks and feels like an expensive hipster film made in the basement of a Euro-techno nightclub. Theron might run the show, but the background work is stellar, and gives the film a different tone you generally don't see outside spoofs of 80s culture. And everyone is in on the Raegan-era glee, including James Mcavoy who gives yet another understated performance, this time as Lorraine's partner/mysterious renegade, in his remarkably hype-free career.
Carrying the typical clichés of your normal actionaire, Atomic Blonde is a bit lacking in character development and storyline. So usually, you need to recover with ridiculous action, and enough popcorn entertainment to disguise the screenplay shortcomings. Thanks to the amazing Charlize Theron, David Leitch, and the John Wick stunt team, you won't leave this movie disappointed even if you might be confused at the twists and revelations.
Wonder Woman (2017)
DC Finding Its Groove Back, Wonder Woman is propelled by great direction and Gal Gadot
I have been a vocal critic of the Warner Brothers/DC array of entertainment since Dark Knight Rises disappointed me immensely during that one fateful night. And for years after that I have been led down a dark path of pure disillusionment that ranges from the frustrating Snyder saga that gets nearly everything wrong, the unforgivable Teen Titans reboot, the strange cartoons we've seen of Batman, and of course the fiasco involving the animated adaptation of Killing Joke's abysmal first act. It's reached a point in which I was accused of just hating DC altogether. But I have finally seen a good side of DC cinematically, and it's in the shape of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman isn't perfect, but is hands-down the best product from the DC/Warner Brothers spectrum since The Dark Knight ignited and changed the film industry back in 2008. Whatever issues you can dig up in the movie will be eradicated by a superb cast, great amount of respect for the source material, and an entertaining flick with a nice blend of action, comedy, drama, and comic book flair. The film doesn't try too hard to win you over, as it paces nicely to allow you to warm up to our newest Wonder Woman and her allies.
Damaging some of the momentum of Wonder Woman has nothing to do with the movie, but its actually the timing. If this had been made and released before Batman vs. Superman and the revelation of Justice League it could have had a deeper impact to the DCEU; similar to when the original Iron Man jump-started the ultra-successful Marvel series of films. Wonder Woman sets the correct tone and mood for the DCEU and is the first of the modern DC properties to successfully establish the direction the comic book company was engaging in. It's dark, its gritty, doesn't have much time for jokes, even if we saw plenty of them in the first two acts.
Gal Gadot is absolutely perfect as Wonder Woman. Whatever complaints you may have had about her should be diminished off of the face of the earth because she gave the role life, personality, a sense of wonderment, a layer of feminist power, and the exotic flavor to truly separate her from the rest of the characters in World War 1 Europe. She has great chemistry with everyone around her, especially Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, the WW1 spy that accidentally stumbles upon the hidden world of Themyscira. Trevor's initial appearance allows the plot to move from Diana's hometown to wartorn England, where she wants to find the source of the war and end it as soon as possible using her warrior skillset, determination, and desire to make the world good again. Of course, with war, there is no easy answer, there is no person to point to, which contradicts Princess Diana's viewpoints of the way the world works.
Not sure how Patty Jenkins, a great but quiet director, wound up with the director's chair since she isn't as big a name in Hollywood. Nonetheless, she does a great job with Wonder Woman by spending time with the characters, allowing us to get to know everyone, and showcasing the horrors and consequences of war to complicate a simple plot. Then we have the feminist empowerment imagery and the well-designed action sequences that make up for the budget that isn't quite as high as that of the Marvel blockbusters. The village battle sequence especially is a delight. The final act however behaves a bit much like Marvel when it could have behaved more like the grounded Dark Knight in terms of content and execution (the villain should have been handled differently, common theme in recent comic book films), but it won't ruin the overall experience in the least bit.
Wonder Woman connects better with the audience than the modern Batman and modern Superman. Chalk that up to Snyder and the subpar writing team, but Wonder Woman just might wind up being the new face of the DCEU because of Gadot and the way she has handled the character. This is the one branch of the franchise that needs to be protected from weak sequels and weak decision-making towards the character's future. They have something great here, about as strong as Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man portrayal. I beg they don't mess this up, as Wonder Woman is the best-written and performed cinematic female superhero since Elastigirl from The Incredibles.
We finally have a DC movie on par with Marvel. Even though Wonder Woman imitated Marvel a bit too much in the climax, this is still a step in the right direction. Jenkins, Gadot (especially), Pine, Allen Heinberg (wrote the script), and the rest of the cast should be proud for striking the right combination between comic book mayhem and great emotional depth to allow us to care for the cast. I am silently begging that DC and Snyder doesn't mess this up, even though the track record would say otherwise. Wonder Woman is a long-awaited empowering delight, and hopefully a sign of more great DC-related works to come.
The Two Hour Continuity Error
The Pirates franchise has been a bit of a doozy since it's shocking box office success way back in 2003. Curse of the Black Pearl was never meant to house a sequel, as it was an open-and-shut swashbuckler flick that was heavy on energy, action, humor, and blockbuster soul. It garnished tons of Oscar nominations (and money), upped Johnny Depp's persona several notches, and helped give Disney the box office crown in 2003. 14 years later we see the fifth installment, with the second consecutive attempt at creating a new Will/Elizabeth love story, the second consecutive attempt to replace the underrated director of the original trilogy Gore Verbinski, and once again taking the crown as arguably the most expensive film shoot in cinematic history.
Production hell doesn't begin to describe the attempts to create the fifth movie, even though On Stranger Tides was met with very poor reviews. Johnny Depp refused the original idea, which would have featured a female villain for the first time. Johnny Depp was going through a nasty divorce and got injured, delaying the shoot even longer. Disney and Bruckheimer were arguing about costs, and the script itself (which is a disaster we can describe later) was undergoing changes and multiple hands. And I'll still never understand how the writer of Rush Hour 3, Speed 2, and Tower Heist managed to get his hands on such a big film. Oh Hollywood The only company willing to cling on to a sinking ship of a film is Disney, simply because their patience constantly gets rewarded, and it's impossible to discontinue a franchise that has earned them a nasty 3.8 billion within only four films. So after epic struggling for many years, we finally see Dead Men Tell No Tales gracing the screen.
Not going to lie, this film is an entertaining mess, and part of the wave of recent sequels/prequels that went through similar production issues which affected the final product. Alien: Covenant went through tons of trouble, and then we see Fate of the Furious have to find a way to edit out the obvious tension between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. But the Pirates franchise is more than just a cluster of movies, its part of the Disney fandom culture, it has a life of its own through video games, books, and mysteries and intrigue surrounding it all. So copying, abandoning and contradicting plot elements of the original trilogy gives this movie a layer of frustration we didn't need, and we definitely don't deserve after such a long wait. Even after the entertaining first half, it all gets damaged by the unmet potential and by the awkward familiarity of the plot. And this comes from the Disney Company, a film studio notorious for being vigorously detailed with all of its IPs, from Marvel to (especially) Star Wars.
Another curse that doesn't allow the cursed to touch land? Sounds familiar. Woman who doesn't believe in the oceanic supernatural mumbo-jumbo? Sounds familiar. A person who denounces pirates suddenly becomes one? Also sounds familiar. British navy trying to conquer the seas from the pirates? Heh, okay. The entire plot line felt very similar to Curse of the Black Pearl, yet this installment felt like it was tapping the brakes far too much. This watered down and clownish Jack Sparrow didn't perform any swordplay once, he didn't trick anyone a single time, I don't think he even delivered any clever quips of any kind. The villain didn't have a final showdown against Jack, as we witness a CGI-laden chase as our climax, a far cry from the dizzying mayhem during the big showdown in Dead Man's Chest. Worst of all, we didn't get the dramatic showdown between the enemy ships and the Flying Dutchman, the ship that you know, controls the damn seas, and has a captain that's related to someone that is in danger throughout the film!
The potential was there, and wasn't met. From script to direction to storytelling decisions, Dead Men Tells No Tales has us wishing for the original writing team and the original director to somehow bring this franchise back to decent waters. This film only further enhances At World's End and Dead Man's Chesttwo films that were met with ho-hum reviews but have honestly aged well and remain better than most of your modern-day blockbusters. The script here opens the door for many intriguing scenes, and they didn't deliver. We could have explored Jack Sparrow's aging and increasing alcoholism, Barbossa's past, the Flying Dutchman/Salazar curse connection, the fallout of the elongated separation of Will and Elizabeth, and the series-shifting scene of breaking every curse. And after seeing this, I don't have much hope in the eventual sixth installment touching these story lines either.
The Pirates of the Caribbean series now looks like its more interested in the international box office receipts and just keeping people entertained above keeping the flavor of the franchise and keeping a continuity between each chapter. On Stranger Tides, despite the mediocrity, had interesting unresolved story lines that were completely neglected here. The original trilogy's details don't match up with the backstory of Jack Sparrow in Dead Men Tell No Tales.
You will see some high-budget fun, comical mayhem, a good performance by Javier Bardiem, but it all gets evaporated when we reach the series-changing yet series-contradicting final act. The franchise is far from being dead, but boy it might be time to let this ship disappear out into the horizons unless we get a superior cast writing and filming it. Jack Sparrow and all his fans deserve much better.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
In action, more is good. John Wick Chapter Two is much, much, much more
Whether you love or hate Matrix Reloaded, the film wrote the modern successful blockbuster sequel rules:
1) Bring back everybody, add a few new faces 2) Jack up the stakes of the conflict 3) Increase the scope 4) Expand the universe and the origin story 5) Go absolutely crazy on the second half 6) Leave the audience asking for more, while promising more
The Matrix Reloaded has more action, more insanity, and more juicy content than the original. It may not be overall superior to the 1999 sci-fi masterpiece, but it wasn't for lack of trying. We were still thrilled (The Highway Scene remains an incredible work of cinema) and were left begging for more from the franchise. Matrix Revolutions was an utter disaster, but that's another story.
Hardly are action sequels better than the original, even the good ones struggle matching up to the film its following. John Wick: Chapter Two however is not only better than the first, but is the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road. Chapter Two takes the excellent stuntwork and camera-work of the original and turns it up a few notches with a better budget, larger run time, and oh so much more carnage.
Part of the glee and joy of the original surprise-surprise hit was the intriguing premise being intertwined with well-directed and choreographed action. Assassins having this special code and hidden locations where one can interact and be safely tucked away from violence was a fresh spin on an otherwise stale concept of secret assassins existing all over the world. Chapter Two explores this further by expanding past the United States and digging into foreign locale. Although the scope is larger, the movie actually suffers slightly from having to explain the rules and regulations to its audience before unleashing all the mayhem.
Action movies struggle the most in balancing content and story, because we see action movies not for the story but for what can be delivered within the script. Chapter Two's opening half is entirely plot-driven except for the sequence preceding the opening credits. Take the entertaining car fight away, and you wouldn't get a gun battle until 45 minutes in. But The Raid 2 also has a slow opening third before delivering some of the best action ever put to celluloid, so the ticking time bomb formula works as long as you fully commit to the chaos. Chapter Two is saved because the twist halfway unveils a dilemma that guarantees a relentless outpouring of action. And boy did they deliver.
Once the true conflict actually arises from seemingly out of nowhere, we are treated to a beefy stew of gun fights, hand-to-hand combat, cleverly drawn-out showdowns, and even an Enter the Dragon-like climax towards the end. Just like in the original, Chad Stahelski uses his skills as a stunt coordinator and experience in the action film industry to carve out some killer sequences where the body count is high, the action is easy and clear to see, the sound mixing is top-notch, and lastly the camera-work rivals that of your best sweeping epics. The pacing is consistent, the special effects is kept to a minimum to focus more on stunts, and the violence is gritty and organic. The variety is also great, as we have a concert shootout, a subway battle, a museum chase, and an exchange of bullets and punches in the historical parts of Rome.
Keanu Reeves may not win any acting Oscars, but his approach to action movies deserves some mention. In here he does nearly all his own stunts (driving and gun battling included) and garners sympathy as a man that clearly wants to leave his old life while grieving over his loss. Adding to the fun is a good cast of minor characters each with their moment to shine, each with their vital role in the doozy of a flick. Lastly, we are left wanting more, even you though you have to feel for the obviously crappy month John Wick is experiencing.
John Wick Chapter Two won't change cinema like The Raid nor will it set a benchmark like Mad Max: Fury Road. Nonetheless it improves upon the original flaws and all because you get a healthier dosage of action-packed fun that is full of variety, creativity, and superb intense precision. If you like your action bloody and raw like the best we've seen this decade (Raid, Raid 2, Mad Max) then you will not be disappointed in the least bit here. Between this and the upcoming Atomic Blonde, it's good to see American filmmakers finally stepping up on their uncut action skills.
An extremely impressive wrap-up to the Wolverine trilogy, Logan is leagues above the other X-Men films
Logan might become the first film to truly force the Academy to rethink its opinion on comic book films since 2008, when The Dark Knight forced the committee to expand its Best Picture yearly lineup. Yes, it is that good. And yes, it's the best superhero film in nearly two decades. Yes, I am pitting this above The Dark Knight. Stop shaking your head.
What is a masterful blend of action, drama, and comic book flair, Logan is perfectly executed from beginning to end even though it will tear your heart apart as if Wolverine himself is coming at you in the midst of his infamous berserker rage. Even if you secretly and calmly knew the results of this film, considering that Jackman won't be reprising his role and considering the obviously bleak tone, you still won't be ready for the heartbreak. This dramatic style of comic book cinema is what DC has never fully been able to pull off (especially recently, I'm looking at you Batman vs. Superman) and Disney's Marvel has always refused to aim towards (Because Disney enjoys Marvel following the Pixar formula). It is a fitting end and an excellent finale to a rather clunky spin-off trilogy that is embedded amongst a plethora of other films.
I don't use the term Oscar-worthy very often, especially in the comic book realm. However from the cinematography to the acting many elements of Logan deserves extra praise and an abundance of attention. We can start with James Mangold, whose writing and directing skills here have hit peak momentum. With an interestingly diverse career that spans from Kate and Leopold to Walk the Line to Knight and Day (huh?), Mangold and friends concoct a deep script that remains very much grounded even if the concept involves X-Men and superheroes. In here we see a much older and dying Wolverine and Professor X trying to help a young mutant reach the northern border for safety before the evil company that created her catch up and grab her. The emotions of a difficult life are explored far more than the whimsical events that usually follow comic books that we've read over the years. From the music to the cinematography, every element of Logan points to presenting a story that forces you to reflect on a life you've lived.
Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have always been the best parts of the entire Fox X-Men franchise (which has more mediocre films than good, I must add), and seeing them working together here in such a dramatic picture continues to showcase their range and phenomenal talent. As Logan and Charles as opposed to Wolverine and Professor X, we see them stripped down of their power and youth and witness a severely condensed version of what they used to be. It hurts to watch, but we maintain engaged and begging for them to just survive the day. They both deserve some Oscar buzz, I am deathly serious. And serious extra points to Stephen Merchant and newbie Dafne Keen for their remarkable performances. The cast was overwhelmingly stellar and made the film tougher to witness as the stakes are raised and you know death is imminent.
I avoided this movie longer than I should have not because I was afraid of DC-like disappointment, but more because I knew it was the end of an era of films I grew up with, and I knew deep down that it was going to be a difficult watch. Much like us (most of us) as we grow older, the X-Men films have indeed matured, especially in the Wolverine timeline. Logan is nonetheless entertaining indeed, with the dizzying violent action and impressive visuals that compliments a story that feels like a grim western. The production value was top-notch, considering the smaller budget (for a film of its caliber and genre anyway) and considering the fact that the comic book visuals were mostly taking a backseat while allowing the story to organically grow and advance.
It doesn't feel like a comic book movie because it hits so close to home. Logan is a punch to the gut, but a mesmerizing film that is hands-down among the all-time best of the genre. Whether you enjoy comic book movies or not, this is required viewing.
Bad Moms (2016)
The True Feminism Film of Summer 2016
Ghostbusters was slaughtered and fed to the wolves in terms of box office because the feminist twang to the franchise was not well-received in the least bit. Some complained it was pointless, some complained it was just milking a franchise that is heavy in nostalgia, and others complained that it was pandering to the female-driven audience as opposed to the fanbase that had supported the franchise in the first place. Despite the good critic reviews, it became a major loss for Sony, and killed any hopes for a sequel.
Bad Moms on the other hand is the little summer film that could, taking a $20 million budget and already matching that amount after the first weekend. And with strong word-of-mouth and good reviews it continues to make decent money in a crowded summer schedule. This film also has a heavy feminism touch, yet hasn't received the male-bashing you've been seeing from Ghostbusters. And that's because the film from the ground up was made for moms, made for female millennials, and doesn't hold anything back and keeps the focus on the ladies.
Led by the screen writing duo that penned the clever original Hangover flick, Bad Moms is a cinematic stress ball for mothers around the world. It follows a trio of ladies fed up with their stressful lives and start rebelling against the norm. It starts a revolution amongst the community which counters the strict clockwork ways of the PTA---leading to a culture clash against its leader. The plot isn't anything drastically revolutionary, but it has a lot to say about modern society's difficult expectations for mothers.
With the plot being slightly thin, it gives plenty of room for the main cast to go vulgar, go nuts, go raw, before ultimately getting the point across. And Kunis, Kristin Bell, and especially Kathryn Hahn knocks it out of the park with timing, delivery, and a good range of emotions to boot. Mila Kunis' character rises from humble soccer mom into a wild force of nature that results in crazy parties, rebellion against her children and deadbeat husband, and even nachos for breakfast (my hero). Step aside men as most of the focus was on the relationships between mother and child, with men popping in only once in a while. Then toss several funny scenarios, a wild cheap wine scene, and a couple fun cameos, and you'll be seldom bored at the chaos that emerges once the second act rolls in.
This movie definitely isn't perfect. The tone gets slightly uneven, the soundtrack is overindulgent, and the final moments doesn't quite match the comedic wrecking ball of the second half, but if you are a mother this is your guilty pleasure. The cast is too fun, the movie doesn't slow down, and it gets unapologetically vulgar and uncut and doesn't let go.
Mothers: Bad Moms tailors to you, speaks to you, represents you, and challenges societal beliefs held against you. And prepare for the final scene once the credits roll in---it wraps up the motherhood themes perfectly. You can't just switch genders on a film and try to staple a feminism theme and expect it to work---you need to fully commit to your audience and also explain what your 21st century movement is all about. Otherwise it feels like a gimmick. Ghostbusters was simply trying to ride the wave of feminism. Bad Moms actually has something to say, which is why ultimately amongst the flaws and hard-R rating it actually works.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Hulk of the MCU, Civil War is a relentless powerhouse that entertains once the wheels start turning
The cinematic equivalent to tossing dozens of awesome comic books in a blender with a heavy budget and pouring it out into celluloid, Civil War is not only a superb sequel and improvement to the Avengers films, but just might actually become the best MCU flick yet. And yes, the movie is extremely bloated. Yes, the movie becomes a bit of a downer especially after funnier offerings like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. But once the wheels start turning and the conflict shifts into the second act you will be enthusiastically entertained up until the final scene.
Civil War is honestly Avengers 2.5, but the half is only in terms of chronological order. In the third Captain America installment, the events from past Marvel offerings has the world afraid of the superheroes, and over a hundred nations want to be able to monitor and control where the Avengers goes and what they should do after an espionage mission gone wrong. This creates a rift between all the heroes, especially with Winter Soldier being a fugitive and another threat lurking within; and differing opinions on how to handle the situation. Civil War's biggest strength is the sheer amount of characters; as they bring back all the Avengers, and then threw in some new additions.
Black Panther was flawless in performance, visuals, and execution. Second-billing favorites like Ant-Man, Falcon, Black Widow (who deserves her own movie) and Hawkeye make an appearance and also greatly deliver. Lastly, Spider-Man undoubtedly steals the show and he barely makes an appearance here. After 14 years of cinematic Spider-Man appearances, Marvel truly gets it right this time. Unlike what happened with Age of Ultron (entertaining yet forgettable), you will be excited for future features based off the new characters you meet within the 150 minute timeframe----especially Spider-Man. Sadly not all the Marvel personas get enough screen time, but it's part of the sacrifices made when there is such a long guest list to the motion picture party.
The chemistry within the MCU is off the charts, and Civil War raises the bar even higher. What DC films are missing is this key element; mostly because we barely see any character development and consistent cast from sequel to sequel. The interactions between each of the heroes is what really allows this movie to go to the top tier of comic book mayhem, as even Bucky has his moments when involved with the others, especially (surprisingly) Falcon. The complicated relationship between Iron Man and Captain America is front and center, and both deliver spectacular performances as two guilt-ridden heroes desperately trying to avoid conflict even though all signs point to a clash.
Helping Civil War maintain its bite is a strong (and rather gloomy) script and flawless direction from the Russo Brothers, who have impressed mightily since their debut with The Winter Soldier. The film honestly has it all: deep themes, lots of loss, plenty of surprises, tons of drama, tons of action, controversial decisions, and a good amount of humor to mix it all together---even though we really could have used more jokes in the first act. The action scenes range from clever to intense to downright entertaining. The Airport Battle will become a part of Marvel movie history, I promise you. The scene will be embedded in your memory if you are a fan of the comics. Then there's the incredible Bucharest Chase that's the best chase since Raid 2. At the same time, the final fight will break your heart.
Painstaking amount of effort is given to not only making these characters come to life, but also making them likable and relatable. Marvel does a fantastic job picking the right staff behind the scenes, and does even better picking the actors and actresses to represent the MCU. Combine that with a proper budget and an extremely tight structure that connects all the films together and always leaves room for the upcoming sequels and you have a systematic series of films that resonates with the worldwide audience. Captain America: Civil War is now the peak result of this formula, as this is the first mega Marvel film since the original Avengers to appear to not pull any punches and maximize the content with the pieces allotted.
As a comic book fan, there's no way you can walk out disappointed. And as a summer blockbuster fan, you will also have a lot of fun while simultaneously think about the events that occurred long after the final punch is thrown. Civil War is absolutely fantastic, and among the best comic book movies of all-time. DC, you need to watch this and take notes.
Delicious dark chocolate, Zootopia looks colorful, tastes dark, but will be among the best films of 2016
Some movies perfectly personifies the past (Saving Private Ryan), some movies predict the future (Fight Club), and some (like this one) perfectly nail the current issues so accurately you feel like they financed, wrote, and filmed the movie yesterday. Read the following sentence slowly because you might not believe it the first time you glance through it: Zootopia is the best film under the Walt Disney Animation Studios banner since Emperor's New Groove, and is arguably the most important animated film since Princess and the Frog. Yes, the clock has to reach back 16 years before you can find a Disney Studios animated film as strong as this one. Between the layers of intense subject matter and a surprisingly strong mystery plot lies a beautiful message for the kids and tweens that needs to be heard, especially today.
Nothing on the surface can actually prepare you for what happens once you enter the setting of Zootopia. However, the surface is quite delightful to look at. The animation is spectacularly detailed and contributes mightily to the storyline about animals living together. The main city itself branches off into several subdivisions, each with its own distinctive personality. Unlike most Disney films, Zootopia itself is so massive its practically begging for continuations through film and television. It's an expansive visual feast of colors and colorful characters, similar to the creative world of Wreck-It Ralph. However, once the movie gets going you will quickly realize that although it is a children's movie, there is plenty for teenagers and even adults to laugh at and to be moved by. The mystery is slightly more mature than what is expected, and we even reach quite dark territory once the second half kicks into play. This is a children's movie, but has an incredible script full of heart, soul, drama, and necessary comedy to offset the bleakness. Using Pixar's collective creativity technique (which has been rusting lately), we have three directors and nearly a dozen writing credits attached (two wrote the screenplay, many others contributed to the story). It is a miracle that so many contributors to a single script made a film that flowed so well.
Disney and Pixar are the best at coming up with the required vocal talents to bring the animated films to life, and this is no exception. Jennifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are absolutely perfect for each other and play to their strengths: Goodwin with her charming all-American bubbliness and Bateman's sly hustling ways. They dominate the film but luckily you'll learn to love them immediately through their strengths and their flaws. And in keeping with recent tradition, you won't know who the true villain is until later as the stakes start getting higher.
Rich Moore (most experienced of the three-director team) should be a bigger name because his directing credits includes the early 90s Simpsons and some of Futurama's greatest episodes. What those shows and this film has in common is the electric mix of well-paced story, strong characters, and shades of drama and commentary that speaks to the current issues. Zootopia explores racism, sexism, classism, and diversity fears better than any of the trailblazing Disney animated films before it. That being said, it's not a knock on Princess and the Frog, Mulan, or Hunchback of Notre Dame---the truth is Zootopia would have never been fully greenlit by Disney in the 90s, and perhaps even the 2000s.
Disney has gotten gutsier and ballsier in recent years with the Too Big to Fail attitude; and although the company definitely remains officially mum on the current political turmoil, Zootopia can and should be its resume and cover letter concerning what side of the fight they are on. Zootopia is a daring animated film that will frighten you (especially the youngsters), will emotionally hurt you, and will leave you thinking long after Shakira's gazelle character lets out her final note. It's the perfect concoction of mystery, comedy, action, and social commentary that not only allows it to become an early entry for Best Animated Feature, but (dare I say it), a Best Picture nomination.
Zootopia on the surface, beneath the surface, and everywhere in between is essentially flawless. It has something for everyone, although the youngest ones will struggle as it gets darker. Through its importance as well as the engaging, ever-revolving plot, I give this film the highest marks. Zootopia will stand as one of the best in all of 2016, and among the best works of animation this entire decade. Disney has unveiled its stance through adorable animals while simultaneously proving that it remains the animation king of the world.
Cinematic Redemption: Deadpool gets the restart we all deserve, despite the limitations
Finally we have a decent X-Men origin story with plenty of heart, spirit, chemistry, and good connections with the original source. The baffling thing is that we receive this gift in the form of the most incoherent and random Marvel character in the entire universe. The character that least requires an explanation gets the most structured and most engaging Fox Marvel film since X-Men 2. But of course, the behind-the-scenes licensing drama and the infuriatingly small budget (compared to what the storyline demands) entangle the film quite a bit.
Ryan Reynolds might be the only man in the history of film to totally mess up a cinematic character, and then get a second chance at getting it right by starting entirely from scratch. With the rated R guaranteed and a looser approach to Deadpool, Reynolds knocks it out of the park with a much more accurate performance, and one with plenty of depth and sympathetic pull. His chemistry with the rest of the cast reminds you why he's much better unhinged and uncut (Waiting, Adventureland).
Reynolds has actually been the main catalyst at making sure that he helped right the wrongs caused by X-Men Origins. He helped fight to keep the R rating, helped increase the (already small) budget to make this a reality, and has helped craft the flood of social media hype. The hard R rating was the biggest requirement in making this film work; the story and mannerisms of Deadpool are not for the faint of heart. Deadpool is far more in the realm of Spawn as opposed to Fantastic Four in terms of adult content.
The script is formulaic in nature, but fresh with crisp dialogue, great one-liners, constant shifts in timeline, and plenty of fun sidekicks to be entertained by. Sadly, because of obvious budget constraints, we are treated to only two major action sequences (the first one overshadows the finale by a long shot), not a single major X-Men cameo, throwaway villains, and most of the time being spent on the creating of Deadpool as opposed to the anarchy that follows. 10 years of production hell and dozens of re-writes could doom most screenplays, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick do a great job saving whatever was left.
The biggest achievement of Deadpool is how closely it resembles the source material and personality despite getting less money. If you enjoy Deadpool in the comics, you'll enjoy him here as well---even if the eccentricity is toned down just slightly enough to keep the plot structured. The action is intense, the injuries are gruesome, the humor is dark and crude, and the movie never really takes itself seriously. Fourth walls go down, it reveals its own production setbacks within the film, and it has this kinetic comic book flavored energy that hardly ever slows.
It might be a case of less money = more freedom, but the lack of funding really tarnishes the movie. Part of the glee of Deadpool in the Marvel universe is his wild interactions with other characters, especially the X-Men. But to put Deadpool in the same supposed Marvel universe as the X-Men and then refuse to have any of the popular characters join in on the fun is baffling and infuriating. Even worse is that we have long-unused X-Men like Gambit (especially) and Cable available. In a tragic case of the production team having more faith than the studio itself, the limitations aren't obvious but become apparent once the final act rolls in and you are left desiring more Deadpool chaos.
As a risqué, adult version of The Little Engine That Could, this was a comic book film that was supposedly doomed, expected to fail, and was released with minimal hope---only to be saved because of the strength of the Marvel brand, the incredible online/Reynolds marketing campaign, and a legitimate effort to stay true to the source. Great cast, great energy, and great humor is restricted because of Fox and the ridiculous guidelines everyone has been forced to follow since Disney purchased the property. Deadpool can become a successful franchise as long as they are willing to tie him closer to the rest of the X-Men and Marvel movies---and as long as we keep the same dedicated staff. Don't expect pure unadulterated crazy here; but do expect a great blend of crazy, heart, and entertainment---wrapped together in a limited budget.
Most importantly, this is much, much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.