Christopher Robin Review

Of all the casts of Disney characters, the most likable has to be that of Winnie the Pooh. Sure, Mickey Mouse and company may be the figureheads of Disney, but the adaptations of A.A. Milne’s characters are Disney’s most endearing and charming consistencies. And while Disney’s recent trend of turning their beloved animated films into live-action retreads has been a bit of a mixed bag (for every Jungle Book there was a Maleficent), the idea of a Winnie the Pooh addition to this sub-genre of Disney films was promising. Thankfully, Christopher Robin ultimately delivers on the fun and charm one would expect from a film starring the bear of very little brain, though it does take a while to get there.

“Hello there!”

Christopher Robin begins where the original Disney film ended, with a young Christopher Robin ready to leave the Hundred Acre Wood to begin school and, subsequently, grow up. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garret), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang throw a going away party for Christopher Robin. And though Pooh and friends don’t forget about Christopher, as he grows older (becoming Ewan McGregor in the process), he forgets them.

We get brief glimpses of Christopher’s adult life from there: Meeting and marrying a woman named Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), fighting for the British forces in World War II, and having a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). After returning home, he finds a job as an efficiency expert at the Winslow Luggage Company, where he slowly but surely begins dedicating more and more of his time.

Admittedly, this is where the film starts to teeter both into overly familiar and slow moving territory. A movie about the importance of family over work – while always a well-meaning message – is a bit formulaic, and it’s here where the film maybe slows down a little too much. However, once Winnie the Pooh and company come back into the picture to help Christopher Robin remember his more carefree days, things pick back up and start building more steam. Not to mention heaps of charm.

Of course this is a movie about rediscovering childhood wonderment. Of course it’s about not being a slave to your work and the importance of, as Pooh puts it, “doing nothing.” But it works because it’s told well, acted well and, perhaps most importantly, because it’s impossible for Winnie the Pooh to ever come across as anything other than lovable.

The movie is naturally at its best whenever Pooh and friends are on-screen, with their childlike simplicity and humor being all too easy to win us over with. But Christopher Robin also manages to find some good footing in the live-action department due to the performance of Ewan McGregor as its titular character as well as that of Hayley Atwell.

I’ve already seen some comments regarding that the film is “confusing” in regards to the relationships between the human and stuffed animal characters. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and company are possibly created from Christopher Robin’s imagination as a child, yet other humans are able to see and hear them. And Pooh even manages to accomplish teleportation by means of entering a tree in the Hundred Acre Wood and finding London on the other side. But this is one of those movies where you really don’t need a logical explanation for things. When Christopher Robin questions his sanity when Pooh comes back into his life via the aforementioned tree, he claims Pooh’s explanation of the tree “being wherever it needs to be” to be silly, to which Pooh responds with “why thank you,” which delightfully sums up the nature of the movie.

It should be noted that although the film is (of course) the definition of child-friendly, I actually think it’s geared more for the adult crowd who grew up with these characters. This is, after all, a film about a grown-up Christopher Robin. It doesn’t bask in childhood like the animated Pooh movies, but rather expresses a melancholic yearning to recreate childhood. Younger kids may even get a bit antsy in the film’s slower moments, but adults may appreciated the film’s (very, very relative) more mature tone and pace.

“Could they be any cuter?!”

The CG used to bring Winnie the Pooh and his friends to life is, as you might expect with a Disney budget, top notch. It may not quite reach the levels of The Jungle Book in terms of realism, but the characters here don’t really require it. They mesh well with the live actors, and the character designs are adorable (especially that of Pooh himself).

Christopher Robin is a fun movie with a lot of heart, only held down by a sloggish start and some overly formulaic material (Christopher Robin even has a snobbish hire-up at the workplace who seems far too much like a Hollywood product for a Winnie the Pooh feature). But the flaws are easy to look past for the sheer warmth that radiates from the film. Though there’s nothing innately wrong with more hectic and serious family fare, it’s rare that you get to see a film aimed at a family audience that isn’t afraid to quiet down a bit.

Winnie the Pooh has always provided winning material by extolling simplicity and even passing on a good dose of wisdom (“They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everyday.” Explains Pooh). Christopher Robin follows suit with this tradition, and provides a film that, despite its early missteps, has a heart that continues to grow as it moves along.

 

7

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Incredibles 2 Review

Of all the great films Pixar has made over the years, there’s perhaps none more beloved than The Incredibles. The 2004 super hero feature – which still ranks above every super hero feature made since – garnered wild critical praise, and more importantly, became a cherished classic, but for very different reasons than most Pixar films. While the studio is often known for bringing audiences to tears, The Incredibles was instead an action-filled romp, but one filled with all the intelligence you would expect from the Pixar brand. It was also more adult than the studio’s previous features, dealing with issues and themes that would likely go over the heads of younger audiences. Perhaps most importantly, The Incredibles shifted Pixar and, subsequently, western animated features to a stronger level of auteurism. Brad Bird became the first outside director hired by the studio, and brought with him the concept of the film, which he had planned virtually shot for shot.

In a time when it seems every animated film and (even more so) every super hero film receives a sequel, The Incredibles seemed like the most likely Pixar candidate to receive a follow-up. Even when Pixar started producing more and more sequels, to the point where people questioned the state of the studio’s originality, The Incredibles was the Pixar sequel everyone wanted to see.

Audiences had to wait fourteen years, but Incredibles 2 finally became a reality. With Brad Bird returning as writer and director, the film serves as an absolutely winning continuation of the original, even if it doesn’t quite match it.

Almost tauntingly, Incredibles 2 begins mere minutes after the ending events of the first film. Three months after Syndrome’s defeat, the Parr family – the secret identities of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and their children – are re-adjusting to civilian life, when the mole-like Underminer attacks, resulting in the Parrs getting ready to do battle with the spelunking villain.

That’s where the first film wrapped up, and fourteen years later, it’s right there that this sequel begins. Mr. Incredible, AKA Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), Helen Parr, AKA Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) are on the Underminer’s tail, all while protecting civilians and babysitting the youngest Parr, baby Jack-Jack.

Though the Parrs manage to stop Underminer’s devastating machinery, damage has been done to the city, and the villain escapes. Super heroes are still illegal in the world of The Incredibles, and this last, botched scuffle proves to be the last straw for the government, who shut down their ‘Super Hero Relocation Program.’ With their last relocation being a ‘modest’ motel, the Parr family is in a bind.

Luckily, Bob’s best friend Lucius, AKA Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) happened upon an employee of eccentric billionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who is determined to help super heroes regain legality. Deavor wants to meet Bob, Helen and Lucius to explain his idea of improving the public image of supers. Winston and his cynical inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) hire Helen has their first representative (her stretching abilities being less destructive than Mr. Incredible’s strength or Frozone’s ice powers), which puts her back in the super hero role just as a new villain, the Screenslaver (Bill Wise), is coming to prominence. This in turn makes Mr. Incredible  Mr. Mom.

The film takes a cue from previous Pixar sequels Monsters University and Finding Dory by promoting the original film’s deuteragonist into the protagonist, with Helen Parr and her escapades taking center stage, while Bob’s story takes a relative backseat as he tries to manage stay-at-home life with the kids, which turns out more difficult than he prepared for. Violet is having issues with her crush, and Jack-Jack – whose powers were revealed to the audience at the end of the first film but remained unknown to the Parr family – are becoming more powerful and varied. Perhaps the only downside in the plot is that Dash doesn’t have much to do compared to everyone else in the family, mostly providing comic relief, as the closest thing he has to his own sub-plot is trouble with homework.

But I guess not every character can play as large of a role, and Dash’s reduced presence is a small price to pay for the fact that the story frequently matches the structural perfection of its predecessor, as well as its intelligent writing.

Helen’s story serves as the main plot, and features action scenes that match the excellence of the Mission: Impossible franchise and some top-notch moments of dialogue between her, Winston and Evelyn. Bob’s story is a little more comical and low-key, but it still manages to bring out a lot of heart and character development in the film. And as you might expect, the plots eventually converge on each other, which only kicks things into high gear.

Of course, with Helen separated from the rest of the family for most of the film, that does mean we get less moments of the sharp banter between her and Bob, which is a little disappointing. The Incredibles movies are often at their best when they’re dealing with familial issues, and though the early scenes feature some memorable moments with every Parr family member, you do kind of miss the realistic arguments and conversations between the parents in the film’s middle act.

Again though, these are only quibbles in comparing these elements to their presence in the original Incredibles film, which is a pretty much perfect movie. So any of these narrative complaints are only relative.

Incredibles 2 may actually be the funnier of the two films featuring the super hero family. Unlike most animated sequels, which introduce a new comic relief character for marketing reasons, the primary sources of comedy are Jack-Jack – whose multitudes of powers exhaust poor Mr. Incredible – and super hero fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself). Both were characters from the original film, with Edna once again wisely being used sparingly, and Jack-Jack getting a more prominent (and humorous) presence than in the first film. The only major new characters are Winston and Evelyn, as well as the villain Screenslaver and a spunky super hero named Void (Sophia Bush), all of which feel like natural additions to the Incredibles universe, as opposed to flashy new characters created to sell more toys because they’re new.

As stated, the action sequences are top-notch, proving once again that Brad Bird is one of the go-to filmmakers for A-grade action. Like the aforementioned Mission: Impossible films (which Bird has had a hand in in the past) and Mad Max: Fury Road, Incredibles 2 features action scenes that flow along with the story, instead of merely being attention grabbers that exist outside of the plot. Even with only two movies and fourteen years between them, The Incredibles may just provide the best action sequences of any super hero franchise.

Of course, in those fourteen years since the first Incredibles movie, CG animation has only gotten better, and Incredibles 2 certainly showcases how far the medium has come. Incredibles 2 features state of the art animation that rivals anything else out there right now. And with its uniquely stylized character designs, it may just outdo all of its contemporaries.

Much like the first film, Incredibles 2’s score evokes not only super heroism, but James Bond-style spy films and espionage as well. And just like the first go-around, it’s among Pixar’s catchiest and (dare I say it?) sexiest scores.

If Incredibles 2 falls short of the original, it’s only ever-so-slightly. But that’s only a testament to just how perfectly crafted The Incredibles was. Incredibles 2 really isn’t that far behind – suffering only from a bit of longing to see all of the Parrs together more frequently – and is very likely the best sequel Pixar has made since Toy Story 2. Its  animation and action set pieces may be outstanding, but they are merely complimentary to the strong storytelling and memorable characters. The shadow of its predecessor may be unavoidable, but Incredibles 2 more than lives up to its name.

Now, when’s Incredibles 3?

 

9

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review

Of all the ongoing action franchises today, Mission: Impossible has to be my favorite. Its first three entries were high energy action pictures in their own right, but with its fourth entry, Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible reached all new levels of entertainment. Through the sheer ingenuity and execution of its set pieces, Ghost Protocol ascended the series to one of the few in which the action becomes the narrative. The fifth entry, Rogue Nation, followed suit with action that flowed the story like exceptional dialogue. Now we have the sixth installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which proves to be a wonderful threepeat of the franchise’s newfound excellence.

Fallout once again follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his band of IMF agents; Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Ethan’s team is tasked with retrieving three plutonium cores before they fall into the hands of the Apostles (the remnants of the terrorist organization Syndicate from the previous film). Ethan fails the mission, however, when he chooses to save Luther’s life at the expense of the plutonium. Ethan and his crew manage to uncover the Apostles’ next move, and set out to retrieve the plutonium before disaster strikes. Of course, because of Ethan’s earlier bungle, the CIA assigns special operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow Ethan.

Story-wise, it isn’t too different from the past few Mission: Impossibles. Ghost Protocol was also about preventing a nuclear disaster. But the plot is still told gracefully when need be. The real story of any Mission: Impossible film, however, is in its action-packed set pieces. And Fallout delivers on just that in spades.

The film is almost one action set piece after another, and I don’t think a single one disappoints. Per the norm for the series, CG is used to a minimum, and Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts, which gives the film a more grounded and authentic feel, despite the sheer absurdity of some of the action sequences.

“This is just another Tuesday for Tom Cruise.”

It’s long-since become a cliche to describe an action film as a ‘non-stop thrill ride,’ but that seems to be accurate with this particular series. And Fallout ranks among the best in how frequently it delivers scene after scene of memorable action. I remember during the first action sequence, I thought it was among the best action scenes I’ve seen all year. And then I thought that about the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

The stunt work and cinematography used to bring these sequences to life is – as it was in the past two Mission: Impossible entries – really something to behold. If you’re getting a bit tired of seeing super heroes and villains destroy entire cities amidst their battles, it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie series that can continuously make the relatively low-key aspect of Tom Cruise punching several dudes standout. I mean, when a movie delivers one of the year’s best fight scenes in a men’s room, it definitely knows what it’s doing.

Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a downside to things in that it Fallout may seem a little deja vu at times. Again, its central plot seems to retread the last two MI pictures, and I think it may fall slightly short of its two aforementioned predecessors (albeit not by much). As terrific as the action here is, I still think the sight of Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol remains the series most memorable spectacle.

But if being a little derivative of excellent predecessors and falling slightly short of them is all there is to complain about, then I’d say Mission: Impossible – Fallout is doing okay. It still blows the Fast and Furious films out of the water.

If you’re itching for an all-out popcorn experience, but are a little tired of super heroes, then Mission: Impossible – Fallout shouldn’t be missed. Like it’s predecessors and Mad Max: Fury Road, it takes what is essentially one long string of action and turns it into a flowing narrative. If there’s such a thing as ‘artful action’ (and I think there is), then this is it.

 

8

Second Thoughts

So I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for the second time last night, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. Though most of my complaints still stand (the Indoraptor is not nearly as memorable of a movie monster as the Indominous Rex, too much of the film takes place in the Lockwood mansion, etc), I just thought it was a more fun film this second time around. Still not as good as the first Jurassic World, which is still one of my favorite popcorn movies of recent memory, but more enjoyable than I thought it was the first time around.

Of course, this has me considering if I should make some edits to my review of the film. Nothing major, mind you, but maybe enough to showcase my newer appreciation for the Jurassic World sequel. Normally, I hate changing my reviews (outside of correcting spelling and grammatical errors, and lord knows I have to go back and do that often), but it’s not like I’ve never done it before. Opinions do change, after all.

This also got me thinking of another 2018 movie I’ve been thinking differently about from when I first saw it, but in this case, for less positive reasons. This film is Deadpool 2, which I find myself liking less and less the more I think about it. Yes, I do think it was an improvement over the first Deadpool, and I think that it is decently well made for what it is. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I like what it is. I don’t hate it, but the whole self-referential/deprecating humor of movies has run its course in my book. In this internet age, when things are mocked for taking themselves seriously, entertainment and media has followed suit, insisting on mocking themselves to “stay cool with the kids,” as it were. This isn’t saying I have a problem with humor. A movie can still be a comedy or even a bit of a stupid entertainment, and still take itself seriously (perhaps “genuinely” is a more accurate word?).

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that all Deadpool is is self-referential jokes. There’s only so many winks and nudges I can take from a movie. And just because you make fun of yourself for following easy tropes doesn’t change the fact that you’re still following those tropes!

Okay, now I’m getting a bit sidetracked. I suppose I’ll save my rants on modern media’s insistence on self-parody just to appease the cynical internet age for another day. My point is that I initially awarded Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a 6.5 out of 10, while I gave Deadpool 2 a 7.5. After consideration on Deadpool’s sequel and seeing the Jurassic World sequel a second viewing, I actually find myself wanting to flat-out reverse their scores. I haven’t quite decided on that just yet, so in the interim, I’ve altered both movie’s scores to 7.0s, until I can more strongly decide on whether or not to alter my reviews. Of course, some might say a second viewing of Deadpool 2 may be in order before making such a decision, but that’s just the thing. I don’t find myself particularly wanting to see Deadpool 2 again any time soon. Doesn’t that say something?

Does this dilemma of indecisiveness and possibly changing review scores make me a bad critic? Eh, maybe. But I’d also feel a bit lame if I felt my reviews no longer represented my opinions. Besides, it’s not like I’m altering something I thought was great and suddenly am claiming it to be terrible or vice versa or anything.

This whole ‘ordeal’ has opened up another can of worms, however, in that I’m once again considering changing my rating system from its current .5 state to a simpler whole number scale. With simple whole numbers, the possibility of altering a score just doesn’t seem quite as taboo. Then of course there’s my silly idea of the “mostly” whole number scale, in which it’s whole numbers, except the 9.5 score remains, both as a means to be a little cheeky and have some fun at the expense of people who are maybe a little too stingy with their scoring, while still being able to seriously retain the prestige of perfect and near-perfect scores. Because if my earlier sidetracked rant a few paragraphs earlier was any indication, I have a fondness for things that can balance sincerity and silliness.

Again, I’m sidetracked. Case in point: my complaints with Fallen Kingdom still stand, but I thought it was more fun the second time around, while Deadpool 2 seems less appealing with time, so I might change those scores. Hell, even Black Panther, one of the better movies this year which I scored an 8.5, is feeling more like an 8.0 to me. That is, if I keep that ‘.5’ differentiation at all.

So anyway, I thought I’d ask you, my beautiful, beautiful readers, your thoughts on the matter. Is altering scores and tweaking reviews too unprofessional? Or does the changing of opinions justify such actions, if even just on occasion? Am I a bad critic (even if I am, I’m gonna keep writing anyway. So that’s a moot point)? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and whatnot.

Very, Very Late: My Favorite Movie of 2017

* The following contains spoilers in regards to some 2017 films*

2017 was an interesting year for the movies. Some great films, some bad films, some overrated films, some overlooked films, and so on. It was inconsistent, to say the least. As much as I enjoyed some of 2017’s films, my opinion as to which one I enjoyed the most was as fluctuating as the year’s releases themselves. So fluctuating, in fact, that I missed out on writing a proper favorite films of 2017 list and am only now – in July of 2018 – writing about which one was my favorite. I flip-flopped back and forth what to finally name as my favorite film of 2017. So, in the end, I simply went with the film that left the biggest emotional impact with me. And well, if you’ve followed my writing for a while, you probably won’t be the slightest bit surprised.

 

Winner: Coco

Runners-up: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (really), The Disaster Artist, Dunkirk, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Yes, I know, I picked another animated film. That may seem obvious coming from me, a confessed lover of animated cinema, and someone who has officially named an animated feature as his favorite film of the year consistently since at least 2013 (Frozen, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Inside Out, and Your Name, respectively). But I think it’s a fair statement to say that the past two decades have seen animated films reach new heights and consistency in quality. Japanese animation has received wider recognition in the west, while western animation has become more sophisticated and achieved a greater sense of autersmanship, thanks in large part to the efforts of Pixar and others. With animation providing better and better movies, it’s simply a great time to be an admirer of animated cinema.

That’s not to say that I simply name an animated film as my favorite of the year because it’s animated. In fact, I seriously considered naming The Last Jedi or The Disaster Artist as my favorite 2017 film just so my current streak didn’t showcase too much of a bias…before I realized that’s utterly stupid and the movie that I genuinely think is the best should be named as my favorite. When you’re naming anything as “the best” or “your favorite,” shouldn’t you pick what you believe earns that monicker, even if they fit a continued trend? Not everyone should get a trophy. You shouldn’t deny what you think is best just to be fair to everyone. That’s idiotic.

And if it makes you feel any better, my worst movie of 2017 would also be animated, The Emoji Movie. So there’s that.

So yes, in the end, it was Pixar’s Coco that left the biggest impact on me of any film of 2017. Yes, I greatly enjoyed The Last Jedi and appreciated it from a filmmaking standpoint, a concept that’s clearly beyond the understanding of fanboys who simply want movies to pander to them. But at the same time, there are still some creative decisions where I can understand the (more civil) complaints, as they currently just leave a big question mark on things (I actually like the idea of Rey’s parents being random nobodies, but killing Supreme Leader Snoke – the “big bad” of this trilogy – in the second entry without explaining anything about him is still something I flip-flop on). Meanwhile, while The Disaster Artist gave a fun insight on the backstory of arguably the greatest bad movie ever made, it didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as Coco did.

I know, saying a Pixar movie made you emotional is a bit obvious, to the point that the cynical internet age often makes it out to be a running joke (“how dare a movie express genuine emotion and not just be filled with self-referential nonsense that doesn’t take itself seriously!”). But the way I see it, the fact that Pixar has so regularly made films that can bring such emotion to audiences is a testament to the studio’s capabilities of storytelling. After all, it used to be a rare thing that people would admit that a movie made them cry. But Pixar has been consistent at providing such an effect.

Although Coco may not be as ‘structurally perfect’ as, say, The Incredibles or Inside Out, it may provide Pixar’s most emotional highs outside of the latter aforementioned film. It’s a movie about life and death, love and loss, that is able to beautifully convey such heavy subjects while still being a perfectly enjoyable piece of family entertainment. Again, staples of Pixar. But if your staples are being pretty much the best at your craft, well, is it a problem if you follow suit with just that?

No, Coco may not be the most ‘perfect’ Pixar film, taking a few narrative shortcuts in order to get to its ending, which was surely the first thing Director Lee Unkrich and company thought up. But when the ending is that beautiful and emotional and rewarding, I think a few small narrative blips are easy to look past. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theater when the credits began to roll during my viewing. And I was right there with everyone else, teary eyes and running nose. Pixar’s story of a young boy, Miguel, searching for his deceased great-great-grandfather in the land of the dead proved to be one of the most heartfelt and poignant films from a studio that is no stranger to heartfelt and poignant films.

Unfortunately, it was another example of an animated film being ignored come award season, only being allowed to win its token animation award as well as Best Song (both of which it deserved, but could have, and should have won more). Yet, the awkward and clunky romance between a woman and fish-monster as depicted in The Shape of Water could snag Best Picture. I guess the story of a young boy learning the importance of remembering lost loved ones was just too unrealistic for the Academy or something. But I’m not here to judge the continued ignorances of the Oscars. Rather, I’m here to declare my favorite film of 2017.

Coco is simply an exceptional film. It’s beautiful animation and soundtrack are merely complimentary to the wonderfully heartfelt and emotional story. In a time when it seems the climax of every movie is a super fight in the midst of citywide destruction, a film in which the payoff of the adventure is a kid singing a lullaby to his great-grandmother is all the more special.

It may not quite be Pixar’s best film, but no doubt that Coco was, as far as I’m concerned, the best film of 2017.

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Some were a bit skeptical about Marvel releasing the sequel to Ant-Man as the follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War. After all, Infinity War is the (first part of) the grand crescendo of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point, and Ant-Man is a more lighthearted and small-scale sub-series within the MCU. But really, after the heaviness and somewhat exhausting Infinity War, a movie like Ant-Man and the Wasp is exactly what the MCU needed. Sure, it’s one of the smaller Marvel movies of recent times, but it’s kind of nice to have a film in this mega-franchise that feels like it goes back to basics with a simplistic super hero romp, without having the need to connect to the bigger goings-on in the MCU.

Ant-Man and the Wasp follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the one-time Ant-Man, under house arrest, following the events of Captain America: Civil War. But Scott soon finds himself getting pulled back into super hero duty by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily).

After the events of the first film, in which Scott Lang managed to escape from the “Quantum Realm” after his shrinking powers as Ant-Man were taken to the extreme, Pym and Hope believe they can find a way to rescue the long-lost matriarch of their family, who has been trapped in that very dimension for thirty years. Meanwhile, Pym’s technology is soon the target of two very different antagonistic forces: the black market criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman with the ability to phase through solid objects.

It’s a refreshingly small-scale plot, and one that is consistently fun due to how it juggles between its different sub-plots (one of the more unique aspects of the story is how it’s always finding ways for Scott to go back and forth between being Ant-Man, and continuing his house arrest, all while finding ways to get the authorities to believe he never left his home). It also becomes all the more fun when the film’s central plot device becomes Pym’s lab itself, which he can shrink to become a wheeled briefcase. I don’t know, there’s just something fun about a miniaturized building being at the center of the action.

Speaking of action, that’s another area where Ant-Man and the Wasp shines. The first Ant-Man made super hero action sequences fun with the way Scott Lang was able to change size during the fights, and now that he’s joined by Hope’s alter-ego of the Wasp – who has the same shrinking abilities plus blasters that can change the size of other objects – the filmmakers are able to get really inventive with how the action scenes play out.

One of the things that made the first Ant-Man one of the more memorable MCU movies were the characters themselves, and this is another area in which Ant-Man and the Wasp delightfully follows suit. Scott Lang differs from many of the other heroes of the MCU thanks to his everyman personality, and his standing as a father doing his best for his young daughter amidst his divorce and criminal background. Hope continues to be a great foil, as her intellect serves as a great contrast to Scott’s more comedic ‘averageness.’ Ghost is also made into one of the MCU’s more interesting villains, going into a life of crime not for selfish gain, but to find a means to save her own life. There’s even an excellent scene in which Ghost and her accomplice dialogue about how far they’re willing to go for her goal, and even set a perimeter for what they’re not willing to lower themselves to.

So far so good. On the whole, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a very fun and humorous addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all the positives though, the downside to Ant-Man and the Wasp is that, in the end, it doesn’t exactly ascend beyond the majority of quality MCU entries. It follows the winning formula, and like its predecessor, does so with one of the MCU’s best casts. But now that we’re at a point when three or four MCU films are released a year, it’s all the more important for each individual MCU entry to stand out. And, well, if you’re a little super hero’ed out at this point, Ant-Man and the Wasp probably isn’t the entry that will pull you back in. I’m someone who has greatly enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (Iron Man sequels and Thor 2 aside), and even my enthusiasm for them is getting a little diluted by this point.

That’s a shame, because had Ant-Man and the Wasp been released a little further apart from Infinity War, and Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnorok (and so on), it might be better remembered. But being the smallest Marvel release in a year that’s crammed with their heavy-hitters, Ant-Man and the Wasp ends up having a bit of a ‘flavor of the month’ feeling to it. The fact that it follows Incredibles 2 – a super hero feature that greatly ascends from the genre’s standards – hurts this Ant-Man’s sequel’s appeal all the more.

Ant-Man and the Wasp may be a really enjoyable film in its own right, but unless Marvel and Disney can start changing up the MCU formula a bit, they may need to rethink their release strategy for their smaller MCU features, lest they get lost in the shuffle.

 

7

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

I loved 2015’s Jurassic World. I know, in this day and age of internet cynicism, it’s a popular movie for people to hate on because the characters make some illogical choices here and there (apparently the people complaining forgot they were watching a movie about a dinosaur amusement park running amok), but damn it, it was the sequel the original 1993 Jurassic Park always deserved. Just as important to me on a personal level, it also reminded me of that almost mythic outlook on dinosaurs that I had as a kid. Dinosaurs are always interesting, but Jurassic World made them wondrous again.

That’s why it saddens me that it’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, lacks that magic. It’s still ultimately a thrilling and exciting addition to the franchise, and even cleverly veers the series into horror territory. But it never has that same sense of wonder as its predecessor or the 1993 original.

Three years have passed since the events of Jurassic World, and now the island that housed the ill-fated amusement park is facing an impending doom, as a volcano on the island is now active and threatens the remaining dinosaurs (man, this theme park was doomed from the start! If it’s not an Indominous Rex it’s a volcano!).

Returning heroes Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) become a part of an expedition to rescue as many dinosaurs from the island as possible, before the inevitable eruption (take a hint people! God wants these suckers dead!). The expedition is helmed by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Jurassic Park founder John Hammond’s old partner. Lockwood wants to save the dinosaurs, feeling that mankind brought them back to life, and thus it’s their responsibility to save them. But the well-meaning billionaire is gravely ill, and his conniving right-hand man Eli Mills – who is in charge of Lockwood’s company’s future – has ulterior motives for the rescued dinosaurs. This of course leads to a series of set pieces taking place both on the doomed island, and Lockwood’s castle-esque home.

This brings me to one of the reasons I was disappointed with Fallen Kingdom, too much of the movie takes place in Lockwood’s mansion, making things feel considerably smaller than they did in Jurassic World. On the plus side, this benefits the film when it ventures into the horror genre territory, as many of the thrilling set pieces have a claustrophobic feel to them. But after Jurassic World gave us the whole island – let alone the theme park – to house both adventure and suspense, this sequel feels strangely unambitious by comparison. It works for what it is, but Fallen Kingdom often feels like it would be better suited as some kind of spinoff with different main characters, as opposed to the continuation of a movie as big as Jurassic World.

“The Indominous Rex made you hate it for killing the “real” dinosaurs. But the Indoraptor feels like just another raptor.”

Another downgrade is in both the film’s human and dinosaur villains. Mills comes off as a generic businessman villain, which falls short of Vincent D’Onofrio’s hammy-yet-somehow-dead-serious Vic Hoskins of the previous film. Meanwhile, Fallen Kingdom introduces us to the “Indoraptor,” a new hybrid dinosaur created from Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex and a Velociraptor (didn’t the Indominous Rex already have Velociraptor DNA?). Not only is the Indoraptor not featured nearly as much as its predecessor, but it fails to leave a terrifying presence like the Indominous Rex did.

Before things start sounding too negative, I will say that I had fun watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yes, it still features characters making baffling decisions that seem to go against the obvious, but I guess I’ve also never been chased by a hungry dinosaur, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. More importantly, the action set pieces, and the darker moments that veer into horror, are effectively entertaining. I admit I jumped out of my seat on more than one occasion, and clenched my knuckles in anticipation to the outcome of an action scene just as frequently.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a good piece of entertainment, then. The problem is that its 2015 predecessor was a great piece of entertainment, and in many ways matched up to the beloved 1993 film. Fallen Kingdom follows suit with the usual assets of the franchise (people running from hungry dinosaurs), and continues some of the lingering plot threads of Jurassic World to connect it into a proper trilogy. But for all the pieces Fallen Kingdom gets right (action, suspense, and trying its hand at horror), it lacks the sense of awe and wonder that made both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World standout.

There’s still another film to go in this Jurassic World trilogy within the greater Jurassic Park franchise, and here’s hoping that the third installment can add a bit of newness to the series while also bringing back its magic. Action and suspense are fun and all, but nothing I can’t see in other movies. When I see one of these dinosaurs on screen, I want it to mean something.

 

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