Happy Star Wars Day 2022 + The Avengers Turns 10!

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! May the Fourth be with you and all that!

Yes, today (May 4th) is the fan holiday in which we celebrate all things Star Wars. The good, the bad, and the Jar-Jar.

Star Wars has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, but its place in pop culture history has long-since been solidified. It’s the movie world’s most indelible mythology, and has won over our hearts so strongly that it endures even passed its most egregious mistakes (“Somehow Palpatine returned…“).

Happy Star Wars Day you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herders! May the Fourth be with you!

“The ultimate counterargument to people who say the prequels had the best fights. Ugh.”

Today also marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of Marvel’s The Avengers! Yes, much like Palpatine’s return, somehow it’s been a full decade since The Avengers was released. Man, I feel old…

Back in 2012, there had been no big superhero crossover movies. Marvel had been slowly building up to it since 2008, when Iron Man kicked off the MCU. We all take it for granted now (and perhaps even Marvel itself does), but in 2012, seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and the B-Team of Black Widow and Hawkeye come together for the first time was magical.

One could even argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe peaked with the first Avengers film. The “Battle for New York” is still probably the best battle sequence in the entire mega-franchise. While later Avengers movies would tread darker, more serious territory, 2012’s The Avengers was a pure fun delight that remains as entertaining now as it was ten years ago, long after the initial hype has died off (something not a lot of MCU films can boast).

I remember, on this day ten years ago, I actually saw The Avengers twice! I saw it at one theater with one group, and then immediately went to another theater and saw it with a different group. I can’t say I’ve done that with a whole lot of movies.

“Back when Loki was interesting. Man, this movie really is old!”

The Avengers also proved to be one of the most influential films of recent memory, with every studio under the sun trying to construct their own “Cinematic Universes” in an attempt to replicate what Marvel accomplished with The Avengers (though only Legendary’s Godzilla and Kong-fueled “MonsterVerse” has somewhat succeeded). It’s the kind of influence I’m sure James Cameron wished Avatar had.

The MCU has gone a lot of places in the past ten years, with bigger crossovers and larger storylines. But some of that “pure fun” of The Avengers has been lost along the way. Sure, the MCU films are still mostly good (Eternals was a glaring exception. And Loki was kind of a “jump the shark” moment for me). But as the MCU has grown bigger it’s also become a bit too in love with itself, and at times cynical (again, Loki basically said every MCU event before itself was meaningless. Way to pay off fan investment). And the standalone stories are kind of giving way to everything being about the overarching plot, as if Thanos never left.

But in 2012, it was just six super heroes banding together, in a movie that had all the unadulterated enthusiasm as a kid playing with their action figures. And it was good.

Happy tenth anniversary, Avengers! And one more time, May the Fourth be with you!

My Month in Movies: April 2022

I guess I have another “My Month in Movies” left in the tank. Despite my saying these things aren’t going to be monthly, I’ve ended up doing them almost every month since I started doing them last October (for movies I watched in September). The only exception was February. Seeing as Uncharted was the only movie I watched during that whole month, I guess it makes sense I skipped it.

Still, I don’t expect to continue to make these kinds of posts regularly (I say that now). I still have movies and games from last year I’ve been meaning to review but still haven’t. I should really get to those soon. But, this month had a bit of a theme going, so I figured I’d make another My Month in Movies for the occasion.

That theme was video game movies! Although I watched a few films outside of the category, I watched six video game movies in April, and I couldn’t resist writing about them.

In total, I watched nine movies in April of 2022. Again, movies marked with an asterisk are ones I watched for the very first time.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2*

The Last Blockbuster

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore*

Double Dragon

The Bad Guys*

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Street Fighter

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

So again, you could say video game movies were the name of the… game! Ho ho! It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t get around to watching Mortal Kombat Annihilation or the 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot as I originally planned. Maybe I’ll do another video game movie-themed post in the near future as an excuse to watch them.

I know, I know, video game movies don’t exactly have the best reputation. But as I’ve stated in the past, the earlier entries in the sub-genre are like guilty pleasures. They tended to be dumb and goofy, but they were so bad they were entertaining. It was probably in the 2000s when video game movies became unspeakably bad. But, as I mentioned in my reviews for the Sonic movies and as I’ll soon mention here, video game movies have now found a way to be genuinely good.

My first movie this month was a re-watch of 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, AKA the last big movie before the pandemic (seriously). I love this movie. It has its problems, but I kind of don’t really care. It’s a fun movie that pays respect to the video game series (something not a lot of video game movies have done), and it gives Jim Carrey an excuse to be the most manic he’s been since the 90s. And as Dr. Robotnik, one of my all-time favorite video game characters, no less!

Sure, the structure can be a little flimsy at times, and the movie really jumps through hoops to try to explain why Sonic needs help from his human friend Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). But again, if I’m watching a movie based on Sonic the Hedgehog and starring Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, I mostly care that the movie is fun. And 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog is just that, fun.

And let’s all be grateful that the filmmakers and studio decided to redesign Sonic after that horrifying first trailer. Otherwise the film wouldn’t have worked (can’t really make a kids’ movie based on a classic video game character if that character gave kids nightmares), and we probably wouldn’t have gotten its superior sequel without the change.

Also, something to note: in my original review for Sonic the Hedgehog, I mentioned the only piece of music from the games that made it into the film’s score were a few renditions of the iconic Green Hill Zone theme. But that’s inaccurate. There’s one other musical number lifted from the games, as the film begins with the opening theme from Sonic Mania! That’s a really nice touch!

My next movie was logically Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Boy, this film did not disappoint! It’s a bigger, better sequel, pays even more loving homage to the games, features Tails and Knuckles, and Jim Carrey looks like Robotnik this time around (minus the round belly. Though word is Jim Carrey has wanted to portray a game-accurate Robotnik since the first film. Maybe by the time Sonic 3 rolls around Jim Carrey will go full Eggman with a fat suit). Yes, it can get goofy at times, but that’s hardly an unforgivable sin.

The simple fact is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is some of the purest fun I’ve had in a movie in years. I think it’d be fun even if you didn’t know the games. But this is a movie that really cares about going the extra mile for the adults who grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the kids who are growing up with Sonic the Hedgehog. Something like that is becoming pretty rare in this day and age.

Perhaps in retrospect my only real disappointment (besides the mid-credits tease) is that, unlike the first movie, I don’t think any of the music from the games made it into the film’s score. That’s doubly a bummer given how awesome that snippet of Emerald Hill Zone from the film’s teaser was.

Next up we take a break from video game movies and go into movie movies. Or movie documentaries. Or video rental documentaries. I’m talking about The Last Blockbuster, okay!

The Last Blockbuster was released in 2020, and chronicles how Blockbuster Video went from being a brand as big as McDonald’s to going broke and dwindling down to a single store (in Bend, Oregon). It’s a fun, nostalgic documentary that showcases some of the boneheaded business decisions Blockbuster made over the years (like not buying Netflix early on when they had the chance, and that illogical “no more late fees” thing). It really makes me miss the days of going to Blockbuster to rent a movie (or video game) every week. Hell, it makes me miss the days when I ordered movies in the mail from Netflix!

In the days before the internet, I discovered a number of games just by scrolling through Blockbuster shelves (I must have rented Brave Fencer Musashi at least a half dozen times before actually buying it). It’s kind of a shame we can’t have anything like that anymore. Damn internet.

The Last Blockbuster is definitely a fun watch, though I do wish it found a greater variety of film buffs to interview on the subject (a minute of Kevin Smith is too much Kevin Smith for me).

Going from Blockbuster and back into a movie theater, my next movie was Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Boy, are the subtitles for this series goofy.

I’ve actually been meaning to review this one, so I won’t say too much here. In short, I think The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement over its predecessor The Crimes of Grindlewald (seriously, those titles!), but it still fails to capture the magic of the Harry Potter series. Dumbledore feels like a big dose of course correction after the bungling second installment, but hasn’t elevated Fantastic Beasts to where I think it could be. But maybe now that it’s been pointed in the right direction and with two installments to go, maybe it can find greatness before the end.

I then dipped my toes back into the video game movie pool with Double Dragon from 1994. It’s uhhh… It’s no Sonic the Hedgehog.

I didn’t put an asterisk next to Double Dragon at the beginning of this post because I have technically seen it once before. But this may as well have been the first time because the previous time I watched it was when it was in theaters, and I would have been five at the time, given the film’s late ’94 release. So this viewing was basically like watching Double Dragon for the first time, and is most likely the longest gap in between my first and second viewings of a movie (not that I, or anyone else, could keep track of such a statistic).

This is a bad movie. It has some ironic entertainment, but unlike the other video game movies I would watch later in the month, Double Dragon is more guilty than pleasure.

I admit, I don’t have the deepest history with the Double Dragon video games, but I seem to remember them taking place in essentially an 80s-style setting, filled with martial arts and street gangs of a Karate Kid fashion. I guess the movie has street gangs and an approximation of martial arts, but it also takes place in the “future” of 2007, where a massive earthquake has devastated Los Angeles, giving the film a kind of post-apocalyptic setting. Also the bad guy uses a machine to mutate the gang members working for him into grotesque monstrosities, with the character Abobo from the game being one such creature.

I admit I haven’t played all of the Double Dragon games, but were any of them like this?

Although Robert “The T-1000” Patrick has some fun as the villain, Double Dragon ultimately stumbles. It’s neither a good adaptation or a fun martial arts movie on its own.

Switching back to movie theaters, I saw Dreamworks Animation’s The Bad Guys. I already reviewed The Bad Guys, which was a lot of fun. Its story may not tread very original ground, but the animation is daring and creative. Definitely one to watch if you want something visually unique, or just a fun and humorous riff on gangster and heist movies.

For the final three movies of the month, we go back to the early days of video game adaptations. The first of these was Mortal Kombat from 1995.

Although video game movies have had a very rough history from the beginning, they had at least one gold nugget (okay, bronze) in their early years in the form of Mortal Kombat.

While Mortal Kombat may not be a technically great movie or anything, it was far ahead of other video game movies in that it gave fans want they came to see: this is very much a Mortal Kombat movie. And it’s fun.

All the characters from the original game make an appearance, and they fight. Like, a lot! Seriously, a good chunk of the middle act literally zips from one fight scene to the next. The fighting is cheesy and over-the-top, but in an entertaining way. Some fans lament that the violent “fatalities” weren’t present in the movie. But given how the series became too reliant on the violence later on, I feel like the movie’s relatively tame violence makes it stand out in the franchise. I also like how they decided to make Raiden, the god of thunder and lightning, the funny character of the film in addition to being the mentor.

The big complaint, of course, is how Mortal Kombat’s (incredibly abrupt) ending undoes the whole point of the movie. The whole premise is that the good guys have to win the Mortal Kombat tournament to prevent the emperor of Outworld from invading Earth. Spoiler alert (for a twenty-seven-year-old movie), the good guys win the tournament. But then the emperor comes through a portal to Earth in the last seconds of the film anyway. If you know the stories of the games, this does play into the sequel. But given that the emperor’s sudden appearance is unexplained in the movie, it comes across as a big middle finger to the plot. Yes, it’s eventually explained in Mortal Kombat Annihilation, but maybe the emperor’s emergence itself should have been saved for the sequel to give the first film a proper ending.

Mortal Kombat is a silly movie, but very much a Mortal Kombat movie. In a time when so many video game movies couldn’t even get that right, that was enough. And it’s still goofy fun.

“Unironically a magnificent final shot.”

Next up we have Street Fighter! Talk about a guilty pleasure! People use the term “so bad it’s good” a bit too liberally, but I think it’s a very apt description for the Street Fighter movie. It’s so bad, but so glorious.

Street Fighter is basically a cheesy military action movie combined with a cheesy martial arts movie, and it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and the late Raul Julia as M. Bison.

The film has some notable deviations from the source material, such as Guile being the main character, while Ryu and Ken are bumbling comic relief. I don’t mind that too much, since they basically just swapped the generic guy wearing a gi as the main character in favor of the generic military character (personally, I always thought Chun-Li should have been the main character of the series since she stands out far more). There’s also the infamous change of Zangief being a bad guy (an idea that Wreck-It Ralph would unknowingly accept as fact), but he does go good by the end. But overall, it’s a decently faithful adaptation of Street Fighter II. Certainly a better adaptation than the anime movie, and more entertaining too.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Street Fighter movie without mentioning that it was one of Raul Julia’s last film roles. Sadly, Julia’s health had been in decline, and accepted the role of M. Bison because his kids were fans of Street Fighter and wanted to give them something to enjoy as one of his last roles (an incredibly classy act on his part). But his health rapidly declined after production began, which greatly affected the physical training for the actors (they often didn’t even get to practice for their fight scenes until right before they shot them), which probably explains why the fights are nothing special. Raul Julia would sadly pass away not long after the movie was complete, with the film dedicated to his memory.

Raul Julia really gave it his all though. He knew exactly what kind of movie he was in and made the absolute best of it, hamming M. Bisom up to high heaven and creating a gloriously cheesy villain.

The rest of the film is also cheesy fun, with Jean-Claude Van Damme being an ironic highlight (and Ming-Na Wen as Chun-Li being a more genuine one). Capcom themselves clearly thought the movie was entertaining, sneaking in sly references to the movie in some of their games (like Chun-Li being a news reporter in Mega Man 9). Hell, the film even gave Ken his last name, Masters.

Street Fighter was released in theaters less than two months after Double Dragon, so it must have been something like a palette cleanser to video game fans back in 1994. Today, if you want to indulge in some “so bad it’s good” fun, Street Fighter is one of the best options. As is my final movie of the month…

I ended the month with the video game movie that started it all, Super Mario Bros. from 1993. Like Street Fighter, I consider Super Mario Bros. to be one of my great guilty pleasures, and a movie that’s so bad it’s good. Although Street Fighter probably has more genuinely praise-worthy elements, I still put Super Mario Bros. in the same boat because it is such a weird, surreal movie that it really does have to be seen to be believed.

Again, the Super Mario Bros. movie is a bad movie, but it is fascinating to behold. You may honestly ask yourself “what the hell am I watching?” when viewing it.

The film’s first slip-up was, of course, the fact that it’s live-action. How anyone could look at the Super Mario Bros. games, and decide live-action made any kind of sense for the series, I will surely never know. It’s perhaps no surprise then, that the film’s second great mistake is that it has virtually nothing to do with the games other than some of the character names (the film uses the Super Mario Bros. theme music during the opening title in what may be the most cruel tease in cinema history).

Granted, I stand by my past claims that early video game movies have a pretty decent excuse for their less-than ideal quality in that the video games of the time were so different from movies that adapting them for the silver screen would be difficult. And Super Mario Bros. was the first theatrical video game movie adaptation (there was a straight-to-video Mario anime in Japan previously), so it’s understandable that sailing such uncharted waters would be a difficult task for the movie. Now, I’m not excusing the Super Mario Bros. movie of its faults, but at least given the circumstances of the time, they make sense.

Some people complain about casting the late, great British actor Bob Hoskins as Mario and the Colombian actor John Leguizamo as Luigi, since the Mario Brothers are, you know, Italian. But honestly, Mario is such a cartoony character that I hardly think it matters (I also don’t mind Chris Pratt voicing Mario in the upcoming animated film). I’m more offended by the fact that they didn’t give Luigi a mustache. Plus, I think both actors do a fine job despite the rest of the movie, with Bob Hoskins in particular doing a great job at portraying a more realistic take on Mario as a plumber from Brooklyn. Though the fact that the film focuses so intensely on Mario’s occupation – which is little more than a tidbit in the video games – is telling of how poorly the movie understood the material.

“Pictured: Bowser and some Goombas. No, seriously.”

Oh yeah, and the film’s version of Bowser is President Koopa, portrayed by Dennis Hopper. The Goombas are really tall guys with tiny lizard heads for some reason. The film also uses the name Daisy for the princess (Princess Daisy having only appeared in Super Mario Land at the time), I suppose because the name Peach (or Toadstool) wasn’t realistic enough in a movie as grounded in reality as this. By the way, did I mention that the premise of the film is that the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs actually created a parallel universe where the dinosaurs evolved into humanoid beings, and Koopa wants the missing piece of the meteorite to merge the dimensions? So that’s fine, but the name Princess Toadstool is going too far.

Perhaps the most hilarious changes from the games are the little things, like how the Mario Bros. wear special shoes to allow them to jump high (because that really needed an explanation) or how, instead of overalls, the brothers Mario wind up wearing jumpsuits with color patterns that approximate their famous attire. Like, why couldn’t they even get the overalls right?

Even if you can somehow ignore the absolute mishandling of the Mario franchise, this movie would still be a weird fever dream of cinema. And yet, I can’t look away…

Alright, I’ve rambled long enough. Let’s dish out the usual awards so I can move on to some proper reviews (and maybe watch Street Fighter again).

Best Movie I Watched All Month *And* Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Go ahead and hate me, but I love these Sonic movies. The first one was a delightful surprise, being a legitimately good family movie that happens to star Sonic the Hedgehog. But the sequel is a full-fledged Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and the best video game movie yet made.

Obviously, Sonic 2 had a more difficult time winning over critics (but the reception was mostly positive). The fact the film is based on a video game probably had a lot of ‘professional’ critics making up their mind right off the bat, unfortunately. But for people who enjoy a little thing called “fun,” Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers that in droves.

Sonic 2 is terrific fun. Doubly so if you’re a fan of the source material (probably something else that turned most critics away. Can’t have fans being happy). It’s truer to the classic games than the Sonic games themselves have been in a very long time (with the exception of Sonic Mania). Who would have thought that the movie adaptations would be the best thing to happen to Sega’s flagship franchise in years?

Plus, it’s just nice to have this type of movie that has a tone, sense of humor and action scenes that don’t just ape the same stuff Marvel has been doing for a decade and a half (although the finale may come a bit close). And yes, I gave it a more glowing review than Spider-Man: No Way Home. I don’t regret that one bit.

Go ahead and hate me for praising this kids’ movie based on a video game. But it’s honest to goodness some of the most fun I’ve had with a movie in a long time.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Double Dragon

Whereas Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took video game movies to new heights, Double Dragon was something of an early low. It lacks the bungling insanity of Super Mario Bros. and doesn’t begin to compare to the glorious cheesiness of Street Fighter. So while those movies are the good kind of bad, Double Dragon isn’t so lucky.

I’ve seen worse movies (this is hardly even the worst movie to “win” in this category in the handful of months I’ve done these), and video game movies themselves would get much worse during the 2000s. But it’s safe to say that Double Dragon is pretty bad, and has less of the guilty pleasure factor of its contemporary video game movies.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Super Mario Bros. and/or Street Fighter

“This is actually a good movie poster.”

Super Mario Bros. is a hilarious disaster of a movie. As I said, being the first (Hollywood) movie to adapt a video game was already an uphill battle, but Super Mario Bros. also had a slew of other production problems besides that. It’s really no wonder it ended up a mess. The fact that it seemed to actively avoid any semblance of faithfulness to the games it was adapting only adds a slew of other issues.

And yet, the film is so bonkers I can’t help but get a kick out of it. There are so many bizarre details in this movie: Like when the cop in the dinosaur world is questioning the Mario brothers, there’s a woman rubbing her high heel on the cop’s shoulder the whole time. What the hell is that about? There’s also the running gag of Koopa waiting for a pizza he ordered, which ultimately has no payoff.

Some people try to claim that, if you removed the Super Mario name from the equation, that this wouldn’t be too bad of a movie. But I disagree. As a fan of the Super Mario series, I think the film’s utter ineptitude at capturing even the most basic elements of the games (again, the Mario brothers don’t even have overalls) gives the picture a kind of pitiable charm akin to The Room. It’s a bad movie, but you root for it nonetheless. Take away the “Mario” element and it’s simply a bad movie.

With that said, it is obvious why Nintendo was reluctant to let anyone make another movie based on their games for the longest time (though there was an Animal Crossing anime film in 2006 which has strangely never been released outside of Japan). Nintendo didn’t let Hollywood anywhere near their franchises until Detective Pikachu in 2019. And now we have a brand-new Super Mario Bros. movie finally on the way. Although the fact that it’s being made by Illumination has me skeptical (and I hate that Seth Rogen is Donkey Kong), I’m still excited for it. Here’s hoping it learns a thing or two from the Sonic movies (and that may be the only time Mario needs to learn anything from Sonic).

Finally, how can the Street Fighter movie not put a smile on someone’s face? It is the epitome of dumb fun.

The whole movie is one big, goofy ride. Littered with cheesy dialogue and cheesier action, not to mention Jean-Claude Van Damme struggling to deliver his lines. But it’s the efforts of Raul Julia that ascend Street Fighter to glorious ridiculousness.

Double Dragon may have been squeezed in the middle of them, but it really was fitting that Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter were among the earliest video game movies. It’s just appropriate that two games of such iconic stature would be adapted before any others. You can complain about their execution all you want, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way than have Mario and Street Fighter be the first video game movie adaptations.

These movies really are two sides of the same coin. Take that as you will.


That’s all folks!

I’ve rambled quite long enough (again). So let’s put this one in the books and call it a day. I don’t know if I’ll write another “My Month in Movies” soon. But I said that before and I’ve done a few since then, so I guess we’ll see. As always, I hope you had a fun read.

Take care!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the best video game movie ever made. I know, that’s not exactly a high hurdle to jump, but rest assured it was intended as a compliment without a hint of irony.

The past few years have seen video game movies give more of an effort to be, y’know, good. 2019’s Detective Pikachu, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot were both solid movies that, despite their flaws, were enjoyable and paid respect to their source material. Although the Uncharted movie released just a few months ago may have missed the mark, it still at least gave an effort. The best of this recent resurgence of video game movies was 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which – along with the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film – was probably one of the top two video game movies. But Sonic the Hedgehog 2 betters its predecessor both as a movie, and as a love letter to the video games that inspired it, creating the first great video game movie.

Some film snobs may take offense to that statement. But as someone who can appreciate the value of a little thing called fun, I will happily tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers just that, and in spades. It’s great fun. Tremendous fun.

The story here is that the titular Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) has settled into his new home in the small town of Green Hills, Montana with Sherrif Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Trying to find his place in the world, Sonic has been doing some moonlighting as a crime-fighter, but is a bit reckless and sloppy at it. Tom thinks Sonic needs to learn to be more responsible before he can become a hero, and leaves Sonic in charge of the house as a test in responsibility, while he and Maddie go to Hawaii for Maddie’s sister’s wedding.

Naturally, this is when things go wrong. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) has managed to escape his isolation on the mushroom planet with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Knuckles wishes to retrieve the Master Emerald – an artifact of infinite power once protected by the Echidnas – to honor the legacy of his tribe, and believes Sonic knows of the Emerald and its location. Robotnik, of course, is merely using Knuckles to claim the Emerald for himself (with revenge on Sonic being a nice bonus).

While Knuckles’ strength and Robotnik’s intelligence are too much for Sonic to handle alone, the blue hedgehog gets a partner of his own in the form of Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a two-tailed fox who idolizes Sonic after tracking the events of the first film. And so the race to find the Master Emerald is on, pitting Sonic and Tails against Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik.

As any longtime Sonic fan could tell you, despite the film being called Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the plot is actually based on the video games Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. There are some alterations that may upset overly literal fans (Knuckles trying to find the Master Emerald as opposed to already being its guardian, for example), but the movie can’t be exactly the same as the games. As someone whose formative years coincided with those of the Sonic franchise, I was constantly delighted by Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s faithfulness to the video games (which doesn’t simply feel like fanservice, but a genuine love for the series itself).

While I really enjoy the first Sonic film, it does in retrospect feel like it compromised a bit, playing like a 90s-style family comedy with Sonic, Robotnik and a few elements of the series sprinkled throughout. But now that it proved a success, it really feels like the gloves are off for this sequel, and it’s allowed to be a full-blooded, true blue Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Not only do we have the additions of Knuckles and Tails (the latter admittedly showed up mid-credits in the first film), and Jim Carrey actually looking like Robotnik now (as opposed to Jim Carrey with a mustache), but you also have the storyline from the games, and countless references, winks and nods to the series throughout. And not just references to the games, but even the old cartoons and comic books as well.

“The front for Dr. Robotnik’s continued operations is a coffee shop called “The Mean Bean.” Now THAT is a reference.”

The funny thing is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is, in many ways, truer to the video games than the games themselves have been for a very long time (exception being Sonic Mania). This is particularly true of the four core characters of the franchise: Sonic himself is wonderfully realized both in animation (we’ve come a long way from that first trailer for the original movie) and in Schwartz’s vocals, while Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik (my favorite movie villain of the past few years) is still a show-stealer. The addition of Tails (and O’Shaughnessey) adds some extra heart to the proceedings. And importantly, I feel like the film (and Idris Elba) have redeemed Knuckles as a character, resurrecting his badass strength and determination (while still bringing humor out of his naivety) after the games demoted him to the bumbling doofus of the series once Shadow the Hedgehog pointlessly stole his role as Sonic’s rival two decades ago.

That’s not to say that Sonic 2 is exclusively for the hardcore crowd, and left fans of the first movie out in the cold. Something I greatly appreciated about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was how it performs a balancing act between being a fantasy adventure more in line with the games and still having the family comedy vibe of the first film.

I was concerned that the newfound fanservice may have meant the characters introduced in the first film would be swept under the rug and awkwardly forgotten. But if anything, those characters now feel more important to the overall Sonic mythology. Characters like Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), Green Hills’ dimwitted deputy Wade Whipple (Adam Pally) and Robotnik’s thankless assistant Stone (Lee Majdoub) now have bigger parts in the story. And while Tails is now at his rightful place by Sonic’s side, Tom and Maddie play a new role in the story as Sonic’s surrogate parents.

This is where Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually surprised me. In the first film, Tom basically played an older brother role to Sonic, trying to keep the hedgehog’s juvenile antics in check. But now Sonic has to learn to be more responsible, as he’s now playing the role of big brother to Tails. Not only does this lead to some genuinely heartwarming moments, but it also cleverly builds on the characters, their relationships, and what they learned in the first film. Wow. I can honestly say I didn’t expect Sonic 2 to be the kind of sequel that would connect and grow the narrative of the first film. So that was a pleasant surprise.

I admit, there are a few moments where the film does lose some of its balance with its aforementioned two halves, which results in some pacing issues (including one scene that resolves a subplot that goes on a bit long, entertaining though the scene may be). But for the most part, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 succeeds in being both an organic follow-up to the original film while also being a more faithful adaptation of the games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retains the sense of humor of the first movie (including some nice callbacks to that film’s best gags without simply repeating them), which apparently hasn’t sat well with some fans (who probably take the series a little too seriously). But I personally find it to be good family comedy that reminds me of the old Sonic cartoons from my youth. I’d rather see the Sonic series be intentionally goofy like these movies over unintentionally hilarious like the more “serious” and cinematic games in the series ended up being. And it’s just nice to see a blockbuster in this day and age that doesn’t simply use the same brand of humor that Marvel has been utilizing for way too long now.

It isn’t all jokes though. While Sonic 2 shares its predecessor’s humor, it completely outshines it with action sequences. Again, the first Sonic film felt a little restrained, which was echoed in its action scenes. They were fun, but small-scale and sparse. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, seems to (once again) take inspiration from the games for its action set pieces, resulting in a more satisfying action movie. Though the finale may feel a bit too close to that of a Marvel movie (so Sonic avoided that pitfall in one area, but not another).

There’s a lot to love about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, even if you aren’t overly familiar with the games. But it does feel – more so than any video game movie before it – like it rewards fans of the franchise. This may sound like the biggest cliche, but watching Sonic the Hedgehog 2 honestly made me feel like a kid again. Not just because of the (often deep cut) callbacks and references, but because of its honest-to-goodness love of the series it’s adapting. A lot of franchises these days are suffering because the people behind the camera are using said franchises to promote themselves, as opposed to coming from a place of love for the material. So it’s nice to see a series give back to its fans for a change, instead of taking from them.

I will admit (without spoiling anything), the mid-credits teaser has me a bit concerned for the future direction of these Sonic movies (as does Jim Carrey’s talks of possible retirement, since he’s now as vital to these movies as Dr. Robotnik himself is to the series as a whole). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, let’s all appreciate this moment, and enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The first great video game movie.

8

My Month in Movies (March 2022)

Here we are again!

I know I said I wasn’t going to do another one of these for a while, but I changed my mind, I guess. Another “My Month in Movies” bit. It gave me another opportunity to praise Turning Red some more. In the illustrious words of Doctor Emmett Brown, “what the hell?”

I didn’t watch a whole lot of movies this month. Only eight. On the plus side, that gives me all the more reason to try to make this edition of My Month in Movies a bit shorter. Allow me to pull myself away from Elden Ring and Kirby and the Forgotten Land for a few minutes and let’s hop to it!

I watched the following eight movies during March 2022 (movies with asterisks are ones I watched for the very first time).

Sleepless in Seattle

You’ve Got Mail

When Harry Met Sally

The Kid (1921)*

Free Guy

Finding Nemo

Turning Red*

The Batman*

No real theme this month. Though the first three films share some DNA, and two of them are Pixar films.

Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally were all romantic comedies written by the late Nora Ephron, while the first two were also directed by her (When Harry Met Sally was of course directed by Rob Reiner). All three of which have Meg Ryan as the female lead, while the first two have Tom Hanks as the male lead (When Harry Met Sally has Billy Crystal instead, which seems really weird for a romantic comedy, but it’s considered one of the most influential examples of the genre so, hey, what do I know?).

Although this type of movie definitely differs from my usual interest (there’s no wizards in this movie?!), I actually genuinely enjoy all three of them. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have great chemistry, and Billy Crystal adds some sharp wit and adlibbed humor to When Harry Met Sally (although at times the character’s know-it-all attitude can be a bit much). Call them cheesy all you want, they’re entertaining movies. I do have to laugh at You’ve Got Mail’s dated computer/internet references though (hey, it was 1998).

After that I watched the classic 1921 silent film, The Kid, starring Charlie Chaplin in his iconic role of “the Tramp” (it meant something different back then!), one of the most influential characters in cinema history. The entertainment value has held up really well (Charlie Chaplin was basically a living cartoon character), as has some of the film’s more poignant scenes, though there are some uncomfortable moments early on when the Tramp finds an abandoned baby boy and contemplates leaving him on the street or in a sewer grate for a brief moment. Yikes…

Overall, a really good movie though. The Tramp ends up raising the kid, but because he’s poor he’s looked down on as being unfit to do so. So there’s some commentary in there as well. But it’s the genius slapstick that really makes it standout.

Entering more modern territory, I watched Free Guy again! I already reviewed this one, but it’s the 2021 film where Ryan Reynolds plays a video game NPC who becomes self-aware and begins to realize he’s in a video game. To my pleasant surprise, I found I enjoyed it even more this second time around. It was probably the funniest movie I saw last year, except maybe The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. It’s a lot of fun. Though I still wish it gave its references to real games like Mega Man, Portal and Half-Life the same pomp and circumstance it gives its movie shoutouts…

Next up was Finding Nemo, one of the most important movies to come out of the 2000s. I like to think of Finding Nemo as the movie that made Pixar, well, Pixar. Sure, Toy Story was revolutionary, Toy Story 2 was basically perfect, and Monsters, Inc. was charming to high heaven (also, A Bug’s Life was there), but I think Finding Nemo solidified Pixar’s place in animation history. It – and later, The Incredibles – were the Pixar movies that became pop culture phenomenon, and that everyone could quote by heart (I remember people making plenty of references to them in online games back in the day). Although it may not be my favorite Pixar movie, I do feel very grateful to Finding Nemo. I think its influence came at a time when most animation studios were banking off the cynicism and dated parodies spawned by Shrek (it was a dark time). Thankfully, Finding Nemo’s influence ultimately won the war, resulting in the far more thoughtful, sincere and insightful animated films we’ve seen in the 2010s to today.

Pixar’s classic about a clownfish searching the entire ocean for his son remains a classic. Its (strangely underrated) sequel is almost just as good.

Now we get to Pixar’s most recent feature, Turning Red! I also reviewed this one recently, and suffice to say, I loved it! I think it’s the best movie Pixar has made in the past few years. And the best Pixar movie that wasn’t helmed by one of the studio’s original team of filmmakers. That’s actually a pretty big feat, since it seems like animation studios in particular can have a hard time finding the right new blood to carry their mantle (even Studio Ghibli hit some road bumps with their younger directors… although now with that said, Whisper of the Heart – the first theatrical Ghibli film not by Miyazaki or Takahata – is pretty amazing. But now I’m getting sidetracked).

What makes Turning Red work so well is that it has a voice of its own, while still retaining the heart that Pixar is renowned for. It doesn’t simply try to mimic Pixar’s past but does something new with the Pixar legacy. And it’s great fun!

Finally, I managed to see The Batman in theaters. Like The Suicide Squad last year, The Batman continues the weird, modern trend of throwing the word “the” into the title of a previous movie for a sequel/reboot. I don’t get it. But the movie itself was surprisingly good.

I know it’s become popular on the internet to claim Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are “overrated” or whatever, but I still hold them as the benchmark for Batman/DC films (the first two, anyway, although I think The Dark Knight Rises is better than it often gets credit for). Although I don’t think The Batman reaches those heights, it probably is the best non-Nolan Batman film. For one thing, Batman doesn’t blatantly kill people like he did in Batman V. Superman, so right away that’s a bonus.

Robert Pattinson made a great Batman (and Bruce Wayne, for the five-ish minutes he appeared as the Dark Knight’s alter ego), and he was complimented by Zoë Kravitz Catwoman. I also like how the film really emphasized the detective aspect of Batman more so than past films, and that it went the route of Batman Begins by having a small handful of different villains, the best of which was an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin.

I do, however, have mixed feelings about its version of the Riddler. He just doesn’t really seem like the Riddler. I get that they wanted a more gritty and less ridiculous movie (so no Jim Carrey), and in some respects the character worked. But I don’t know, something felt off. Maybe it was the fact that he was a conspiracy theorist who was somehow actually right about things, or maybe it was the weird way he was dead serious for much of the film, and then delivers an out-of-nowhere joke late in the movie. Or maybe it was that he was basically the Joker. But I have mixed feelings on this Riddler. Maybe I’ll actually review The Batman soon and delve into it more.

Also, I do have to say (minor spoiler, but I think we all saw this coming), I’m actually kind of bummed that the film teases the Joker as the next villain. I know, he’s Batman’s archnemesis and one of the most iconic villains of all time, yadda yadda yadda. But given that we just had an entire movie dedicated to the Joker in 2019, as well as Heath Ledger’s acclaimed take on the character in The Dark Knight, it kind of feels like we should start giving other Batman villains the time to shine. Sure, this film has Riddler, but a Riddler who is suspiciously Joker-esque. And it hypes up Joker for the sequel in the end anyway (which Batman Begins already did). Wouldn’t it be cool if Scarecrow or Two-Face could get that kind of hype for once? I don’t know, maybe it’s just the ludicrous amount of Batman continuities we have going on in movies and TV over the past few years, but I kind of want to see another villain in the role of big bad for once. You can only reboot a franchise so many times in a few short years before certain characters start to lose their mystique and, well, there it is.

But, overall, I actually thought The Batman was very good. Again, let’s wait for a proper review before I delve deeper.

Anyway, on to the awards!

Best Movie I Watched All Month *AND* Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Turning Red

This is the first time since I’ve written these things that the same movie won my “Movie of the Month” and “Best Movie I Watched for the First Time” honors. So I figured I’d lump ’em together, rather than writing this twice. Or something.

Turning Red is simply an utter delight. It’s the funniest movie Pixar has ever made, and their most delightfully weird as well. It’s basically a reimagined coming-of-age story, about a weird, awkward kid entering puberty and facing the changes that come with it. But in the case of Meilin Lee, that also means transforming into a giant red panda when she gets too excited.

There’s also a delightful (and rare) specificity to it: It’s set during 2002, when the boy band craze was still strong. It’s about a Chinese family living in Toronto, and the culture shock that comes with it. It just feels so unique to see an animated film that’s this specific with the story and setting.

On the surface, Turning Red is the most chaotic and hyperactive Pixar movie (and it’s funny as hell for it). But look deeper and you’ll find an incredibly smart, witty, insightful movie about growing up and embracing change. It’s a beautiful story, brought to equally beautiful life with some of Pixar’s best, most stylized animation to date.

If Turning Red (and director Domee Shi) represent the future of Pixar, well then Pixar’s future is in safe and secure hands.

Seriously, don’t be surprised if I bring this movie up a lot going forward. I can’t get enough of it.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: N/A

Sorry folks, nothing to really hate on this month. True, not all the movies I watched were equals, but I still think they’re all good movies. As such, it would feel wrong to label any of them as the “worst” and give them the same dishonor I’ve given to such schlock as Netflix’s Bright and Jaws: The Revenge. Sorry.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: You’ve Got Mail (I guess)

I mean, I feel guilty about calling this a guilty pleasure. But I guess there are some cheesy moments, and as previously mentioned, the 1998 “computer talk” definitely dates the movie. But I think it’s a sweet rom-com. So sue me. And don’t tell me you don’t get just a little choked up at the end. Excuse me, I have something in my eye!


That’s all folks! Like I said, not a whole lot of movies this month, and I had been wanting to make these My Month in Movies shorter anyway. But as usual, I hope you had a fun read, that you were maybe mildly entertained, or gained interest in any of these movies.

As usual, take care, stay safe, and may we all have a good month ahead of us.

Uncharted Review

Movies based on video games have rarely worked out. In the past, you could argue that video games were so different from movies that it was difficult to translate the material onto the silver screen, giving something of an excuse to the lackluster quality of video game movies. But as video games became more and more movie like, you would think they’d be easier to adapt to the cinema. But apparently you’d be wrong, because video game movies didn’t get any better (you could say they even got worse, considering they no longer had the excuse of trying to adapt something that was so fundamentally different from movies).

However, the past few years have seen a rise in quality for the video game movie, with three entertaining films in the sub-genre being released in as many years: 2019 gave audiences the cute and charming Detective Pikachu, 2020 surprised us all when Sonic the Hedgehog actually ended up being good, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot was also solidly fun. They may not have been great movies, but they each proved to be entertaining features in their own right, and also notably paid respects to their source material, whereas the video game movies of yesterday seemed embarrassed by the video games that inspired them. Simply put, things are finally starting to look up for the video game movie.

That brings us to Uncharted, based on the video game series by Naughty Dog. The Uncharted games took inspiration from the Indiana Jones films with their non-stop “BANG ZOOM” style of action set pieces. The characters are fun, and the games have witty dialogue. If any video game should have a smooth transition into the world of movies, surely it’s Uncharted.

Which makes it so strange that this Uncharted movie has had such a turbulent time getting made at all, and that the finished product only kind of works.

Plans for an Uncharted movie go all the way back to 2008, the year after the original Uncharted game was released on the Playstation 3 (feel old yet?). Actor Nathan Fillion famously wanted to portray series lead Nathan Drake in whatever movie ended up being made (he even looks like Nathan Drake and shares his first name), but the closest he got was starring in a fan made short film as the character. For a few years in the early 2010s, Mark Wahlberg (who looks kinda like Nathan Drake) had been cast in the role. Though the ongoing turbulent production meant that never happened, either.

Fourteen years and a revolving door of directors and writers later, the Uncharted movie is finally a reality, with Tom Holland (who looks nothing like Nathan Drake) in the lead role. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg, still contractually attached to the movie, has to settle on the role of Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nathan’s friend and mentor who is much older than Wahlberg in the games (to be fair to Wahlberg, Sully is the best character in the games, so I wouldn’t call it a demotion).

Right away, I can tell you the two leads are miscast. Both Holland and Wahlberg are good in the movie in regards to acting (though they severely lack the chemistry of the characters in the game). But neither actor looks like – nor captures the essence of – their respective character. Nathan Drake always had kind of rugged, everyman good looks, not the babyfaced boyishness of Tom Holland (something that’s reinforced by the Playstation Productions logo at the start of the movie which shows us what Nathan should look like). Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg is not only too young to be Sully, but the fact that he’s constantly standing right next to Nathan Drake while looking more like Nathan Drake than Nathan Drake is just awkward. Plus, some of the humor of the character is lost with the reduction in age (surely I’m not the only one who thinks J.K. Simmons should have been Sully?).

That’s not to say that the movie gets everything wrong. Uncharted continues the recent trend of video game movies paying respects to their source material. The film begins similarly to the beloved Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, with Nathan Drake awakening in the middle of a death defying set piece before the story takes us back to the beginning and leads us back to this point midway through (a set piece which, by the way, is ripped directly from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception). We’re also given flashbacks of a young Nathan Drake (Tiernan Jones) during the time he spent with his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) and how that inspired him to become a treasure hunter, something taken directly from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. And the film even uses the overall template from the series by taking a real historic figure or event (in this case, Ferdinand Magellan and the Magellan Expedition) and giving it a fictional, treasure-centric spin (though now that I think about it, it’s kind of weird how the first three games had a supernatural twist, but the fourth game and this movie do not). So the movie is respectful to the games, which should sit well with fans.

The film is an origin story for Nathan Drake, showing how he met Sully and became a treasure hunter. Sully was once partnered with Sam, before Sam went missing. But the connection to his brother leads Nathan to join Sully on his adventure to find the treasure of the Magellan Expedition, the same treasure Nathan and Sam used to dream about finding. Along the way, Nathan and Sully are also joined by Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a mysterious treasure hunter who’s as much a rival as she is an ally (another observation: Chloe wasn’t introduced until the second game in the series but made it into the film, while the original female lead, Elena Fisher, is absent from the movie). Naturally, there are also villains after the same treasure, in the form of Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a millionaire willing to do anything to claim the treasure, and his hired mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).

Uncharted is a fun movie that follows the structure of the games pretty well. The big set pieces are entertaining, even if they don’t quite match up to those from the games (the finale comes close though). Maybe that’s partly because in the games you actually got to play those set pieces, which I kind of appreciate all the more now that I write that out. And it’s a well acted movie despite the miscasting. But there’s just something missing in the translation to the big screen. The Uncharted video games featured some strong character moments, and some sharp dialogue and banter between characters. The movie makes attempts at these, but such moments always end up feeling kind of rushed and flat. The aforementioned lack of chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg doesn’t help this at all, either.

It’s difficult to describe. Uncharted has most of the elements that made its namesake video game series so memorable, but it just never really seems to come together. It’s enjoyable enough, but Uncharted somehow just doesn’t click.

There are many worse video game movie adaptations than Uncharted, but there are a few better ones. Uncharted should have had a seamless transition from video game to movie, and could have been a great action-adventure flick in its own right. It’s a fun movie that has some exciting set pieces, but Uncharted ultimately feels like its treading familiar ground for the genre, and doesn’t reach the potential of what an Uncharted movie could be.

I think we’ll see more Uncharted movies in the future (whether they’re sequels or a reboot depends on the success of this film), and hopefully one day we’ll get an Uncharted film that lives up to the video game series. But Uncharted’s first big screen outing is simply an ‘okay’ movie.

Who would have thought that Sonic the Hedgehog’s big screen debut would have ended up so much stronger than Nathan Drake’s?

5

My Month in Movies (January 2022)

Looks like I’m doing “My Month in Movies” again. I feel I watched enough movies in the first month of 2022 to warrant another one. And the movies mostly followed the specific theme of ‘fantasy’ – which I like to think is something of a speciality of mine – so it made sense. Even more specifically, I rewatched the entire Harry Potter series again (Fantastic Beasts and all), partly because Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (what a title) comes out in a couple of months, and partly because I started the year watching that retrospective special on the Harry Potter movies’ twentieth anniversary on HBO Max, so I was feeling nostalgic for them. I’m glad I did, because I feel it rekindled my interest in the series, and even gave me new appreciation for it. I would like to review all of the Harry Potter movies someday, and perhaps sooner still make a ranking of them. But I have so many backlogged things I want to write as it is, so for now, they can be a part of this My Month in Movies.

Because ‘My Month in Movies’ has gotten ridiculously long in the past, I’m going to try and keep things as short and simple as possible. And due to the aforementioned backlog of reviews and other things, I don’t plan on doing another My Month in Movies for February or March. But then again, I only decided to write this one for January after I watched the entire Harry Potter series, so who knows. I’ll write them when I write them, I guess.

Enough intros and wasting time. Here are the eighteen movies I watched in January of 2022, in chronological order of when I watched them. Movies with asterisks next to them are ones I watched for the very first time.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts*

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

The BFG*

Bram Stoker’s Dracula*

Hook

It Follows

Labyrinth

Wild Wild West*

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild*


So yeah, ‘fantasy’ was definitely the name of the game this month. There are a couple of horror movies in there, but both would still ultimately fall under fantasy in one way or another (many people consider fantasy, horror and science fiction to be like different branches of the same tree. But I’d argue that fantasy is the tree itself, considering it supersedes the other two in terms of concept whenever it’s joined together with them. For example, when science-fiction dabbles into fantasy, it becomes science-fantasy. But when fantasy dabbles in science fiction, it’s still fantasy). You could even argue that Wild Wild West and The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild could be considered variations of fantasy.

My month/year in movies began with Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. You could argue it isn’t actually a movie, but it’s feature length and certainly entertaining, so I’m counting it here. A lovely look back on twenty years of Harry Potter movies. I was actually surprised how emotional I got during it. I’ve taken some jabs at Harry Potter here and there in the past, namely because people often (and strangely) compared it to The Lord of the Rings back in the day. And well, that was always a losing battle. But deep down I’ve always loved Harry Potter, despite some narrative shortcomings. And this 20 year retrospective reminded me of why I love it. It was great that the Harry Potter books got kids reading again (there have been other popular book series for children and young adults since, none of which are as indelible). And then you have the movies giving a generation of audiences a gateway to imagination and magic (figurative and literal, in this case).

I definitely have to appreciate the magic and world-building of the Harry Potter series, which feels all the more unique in retrospect now that movies aren’t allowed to have magic anymore (if Harry Potter took place in the MCU, every time someone casted a spell they’d have to stop and explain how it “wasn’t really magic, but a really advanced science”). The series is sometimes too loose with its rules, with magic seemingly changing for plot convenience. But for the most part, it’s well done and imaginative. And again, I’ll take it over the alternative of over-explaining fantasy elements or being embarrassed by them (again, I’m looking at you, MCU).

Something the 20th anniversary special really brought to my attention is how the Harry Potter series appropriately matures as it goes on. It’s maybe the only movie series in which you see its main stars grow up throughout it. Obviously I was aware of that, but I never really gave it much thought until watching the special. The fact that they were able to adapt all seven books (into eight movies) with the same cast over the course of a decade is quite the unique achievement.

The first two Harry Potter features, Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, feel more like kids’ movies than the others. Both were directed by Chris Columbus (he did Home Alone, among others), whose work with the series I feel is under appreciated. Some applaud the first two movies in the series as being the most faithful to the books, while others feel the series hadn’t yet found its voice, and that they’re too long given they’re targeted at a younger audience. I think both movies are pretty great, even if it’s obvious the three leads hadn’t quite meshed into the roles yet (which is forgivable, given their ages at the time). They’re great fantasy-adventure movies for kids that are equally entertaining for adults. I think Chris Columbus set a great tone for the start of the series. And we can’t forget the score by John Williams! Because having done Star Wars and Spielberg’s filmography wasn’t enough, John Williams also gave us the music to Harry Potter as well. What a legend.

The third film in the series, Prisoner of Azkaban, is often regarded as the best of the lot, and rightfully so. Azkaban isn’t simply a great Harry Potter movie or a great fantasy movie. It’s a great movie, period. It’s more grown up than its two predecessors, but still retains their more playful spirit (something some of the sequels lack). It also has perhaps the most self-contained story, and certainly the most character-driven one. It ended up being the only Harry Potter film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and the last one to feature music by John Williams.

Goblet of Fire is the first notable dip in the series, but it certainly isn’t bad. Admittedly, some of that dip is simply because Azkaban was so good. But it also feels like most of Goblet’s story is just padding to get to the ending, when the evil Lord Voldemort is resurrected. It’s hard to explain, but the ending of the film feels like the start of a new series (which I guess makes sense, since Voldemort’s resurrection marks the biggest tonal and narrative shift in the series). It doesn’t really feel like an ending to the story of the rest of the movie. And I always found it a bit weird how, after the elaborate plots Voldemort attempted to be resurrected in Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, he just has one of his minions perform a dark ritual to successfully be brought back. Seems like he could have saved himself some trouble by jumping straight into that. Goblet was the only Harry Potter film directed by Mike Newell before David Yates took over the rest of the series (which continues to this day with the Fantastic Beasts movies).

Order of the Phoenix is probably the Harry Potter movie I’ve seen the most times (except maybe Sorcerer’s Stone), although I don’t really know why. It’s a good movie, but I think it only occasionally reaches the same heights as the first three. I guess, with Voldemort back, the story had to change. I just don’t think the change is always for the better (perhaps it’s no coincidence that I and many others hold Azkaban in such high regard and it also happens to be the most Voldemort-free entry?). It’s still a fun movie, and gives us the franchise’s most gloriously hatable character in the form of Dolores Umbridge. With David Yates’ grip on the series starting here, Phoenix set the tone for the rest of the films to follow.

Half-Blood Prince is the penultimate story in the series. I never read the book for this one, which is sometimes considered the best book in the series. The movie seems to have a rockier reputation, and again, I tend to agree. Before my current run-through of the Harry Potter movies, I had only seen Half-Blood Prince once, back when it was in theaters. At the time, I would have said it was my least favorite Harry Potter movie, but now it’s a toss-up between it and Goblet of Fire (unless we count the Fantastic Beasts movies, in which case we all know The Crimes of Grindlewald takes the dubious crown with ease). Like Goblet of Fire, it’s not a bad movie, it just feels like something is missing. There are some great, key moments for the franchise here. But on the whole, it just isn’t as memorable as some of the other movies in the series. I also never really bought into the Hermione/Ron romance (something which J.K. Rowling herself regrets), and that enters the forefront here. Said romance also seems oddly placed given the severity of everything else going on (or maybe it’s just because I’m a predominantly asexual individual so teen romance is lost on me). Again, not a bad movie, but the series can do better.

Somewhat annoyingly, Harry Potter started that trend we saw in the early 2010s of a franchise finale being split into two movies with Deathly Hallows (technically, The Hobbit started the trend when it was set to be split in two a while beforehand, despite being released after both Deathly Hallows. Though The Hobbit was ultimately spread too thin with three movies). In all fairness, at least Harry Potter was a big enough franchise that splitting its finale felt warranted.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 set the stage for a big, epic finale. And for the most part, it succeeds. I think my two big issues with Deathly Hallows are that some of the notable character deaths happen off-screen (apparently these same deaths happened off-page in the book, so this is on Rowling), and that I think the whole storyline with Voldemort’s Horcruxes (cursed objects that contain pieces of his soul thus leaving him immortal) needed to be a little more spread out. The first Horcrux is taken care of all the way back in Chamber of Secrets, which makes sense and gives that story even more importance. But then when Harry and Dumbledore find another Horcrux in Half-Blood Prince, it needlessly turns out to be a fake, so a good deal of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is dealing with that same Horcrux. It seems like the one Harry and Dumbledore found in Half-Blood Prince should have just been the real thing and destroyed then and there so the story could move on to the rest of the Horcruxes.

Anyway, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a highly entertaining movie that fittingly feels like a big deal, even when watching it today. But I think that Part 2 is even better.

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is one of the best franchise closers in movie history. The sense of drama and urgency feels well earned, the emotion is strong, and it all boils down to an appropriately epic finale. And it has the best music in the series since John Williams left it behind. This is another great movie. Not nearly as standalone as Azkaban, nor does it have that film’s hard to describe ‘dreamlike’ quality. But because it’s such a satisfying end to the series, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 might be my second favorite Harry Potter movie (guess we’ll see when I finally decide to rank the series). I have a lingering complaint from Part 1 with the continuing trend of off-screen character deaths (for some of them I understand it. Harry can’t be present for every character death. But some of the more important characters’ deaths make it feel like Rowling started killing them off just to do it, since they happen off-screen). Though my complaint that’s unique to Part 2 is that – and I admit this may seem weird – there’s not a whole lot that happens after the final battle and before the epilogue. Basically, I think there needed to be more ending. Not necessarily a better ending, since I feel the ending is fine. Just more of it.

People love to joke that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has multiple endings. But I never took issue with any of them. They all gave an appropriate sense of finality to one of cinema’s great franchises. And I think Harry Potter could have done something similar. I would have liked to have seen more of the characters in detail after the final battle and before the epilogue. This is a series that earned the “never-ending endings” treatment. So it’s a shame it doesn’t get it. Otherwise, a great movie, and a prime example of how to close out a movie series.

Now we move on to the Fantastic Beasts series, a prequel/spinoff of Harry Potter exclusive to the world of movies (okay, there was a book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” but from what I gather it was more like a guide of fictional animals within the Harry Potter universe, as opposed to the story we see in the movie series). Prequels released after a beloved franchise has wrapped up don’t exactly have the best track record. And well, Fantastic Beasts hasn’t exactly done a great job at bucking that trend.

Okay, so the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is okay. It doesn’t do anything really great, but it’s fun and introduces us to some entertaining new characters like Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and the Muggle/No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the first non-magic main character in the series (something that proves to be a lot of fun) as well as the first American actor/main character in the franchise.

Fantastic Beasts is a solidly enjoyable movie that is at once nostalgic for the Harry Potter of yesteryear, while also showing audiences different aspects of that world. And in a move I like, it introduces us to some creatures in the Wizarding World that are actually cute! One of my ongoing issues with Harry Potter was how ugly all the creatures of its world were, so it was nice that Fantastic Beasts showed us some cute ones. Fantastic Beasts is nothing special, but it’s a fun movie.

The same can’t be said about the sequel, the awkwardly-titled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald. This movie is such a mess that it (as well as the whole Johnny Depp controversy) derailed the series for a good few years. Although it’s annoying that this sequel resurrects a character who seemingly died in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it otherwise starts out alright. But things quickly go off the rails as the movie devolves into an undying barrage of exposition, which leaves the second half of the film feeling more like the appendices of a book than an actual movie. We also can’t forget the introduction of a character who seems destined to be important to the series going forward, only for the movie to kill them off before everything is said and done. One of the main characters ends up siding with the villain in the most random heel turn ever. And the movie ends on a cliffhanger that is also one of the most annoying retcons to an established story I can recall (I suppose it is possible this can be undone in the upcoming installments, but we’ll see). Some even argue that the series entered into the “more serious” territory too soon with the second entry, considering there are still three more to go.

The Crimes of Grindlewald has some entertainment value, and it’s fun that we finally get to see Nicolas Flamel (the titular sorcerer/philosopher behind the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone). But boy, does it lose its way by the end. Here’s hoping that The Secrets of Dumbledore gets the series back on track.

As an added bonus, I also watched all four episodes of that game show Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses that aired in December of 2021, hosted by Dame Helen Mirren (I guess because she was just about the only notable English actor not to appear in the Harry Potter movies). I was surprised to hear the game show didn’t have too fond of a reception, as I found it to be pretty fun (though I did have some issues with the structure of the contest). I don’t know if a second season is planned, but I hope it happens.

And now we finally move on from Harry Potter.

Next up was the BFG, the 2016 Steven Spielberg movie based on the Road Dahl book, about a little girl who befriends a Big Friendly Giant (BFG). I intended to see this in theaters back in the day, but never got around to it. Apparently I’m not the only one, because the film was a box office bomb. That’s a shame, because the movie was actually pretty good. It’s certainly not among Spielberg’s best films or anything, and it takes a while to get going, but it ultimately charmed me. Considering this was Spielberg’s first movie to be released by Disney, you would think that combination would have put more butts in the seats. Alas, fairy tales such as this just don’t sell unless they’re made directly by Disney Animation. The BFG may not be a Spielberg or Disney great, but it’s a good family movie that deserves a little more attention.

Now we take a total 180 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the 1996 film Jack… and also The Godfather (I’ve been waiting to use that for a while). This is the Dracula movie where Gary Oldman plays the iconic vampire. And the one where Dracula has the butt/boob shaped hair. What? He does!

Anyway, the film is considered one of the more faithful adaptations of Dracula, hence Bram Stoker’s name in the title. Some people love this movie, others less so. I think it’s worth a watch for fans of Dracula and horror, and the film looks good. But if I’m going to be honest, some scenes are kind of unintentionally hilarious. And well, even the film’s defenders can’t deny that Keanu Reeve’s English accent makes Dick Van Dyke seem like a full-blooded Englishman.

One thing’s for sure, the theme music to Bram Stoker’s Dracula is amazing! So menacing and foreboding. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably heard the theme music. It’s so effective as villainous music that many other works have used it, ranging from an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to the original teaser for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. And though I can’t confirm it, I think Super Mario Galaxy’s rendition of Super Mario Bros. 3’s Airship theme was inspired by the theme of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Damn, this music is good!

Speaking of good music, my next movie was Hook. Oh boy, does the soundtrack to Hook kick ass!

For those unfamiliar, Hook is a 1991 Steven Spielberg movie that has a rather amazing premise: What if Peter Pan grew up?

The film stars the late, great Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan (perfect casting there), who has forgotten his past and now goes by Peter Banning. But when Captain Hook (memorably portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Peter’s children, Peter has to rediscover who he really is to take down his old foe and rescue his kids.

There seem to be two different opinions when it comes to Hook: There’s the more critical crowd who consider it one of Spielberg’s weakest movies (a sentiment shared by Spielberg himself), and those who grew up watching it on VHS who adore it. As is often the case with two such extreme opposing viewpoints, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think Hook is a better movie than it gets credit for, but no doubt it takes more than one serious dip once Peter makes his way back to Neverland. And even the film’s aforementioned amazing premise of a grown up Peter Pan gets a little squandered in the latter half as it devolves into a simple retelling of Peter Pan.

But the one thing that can’t be denied is that the soundtrack is phenomenal! It’s a Spielberg movie, which of course means John Williams was the composer. With John Williams, you expect good music, but the soundtrack to Hook goes above and beyond the call of duty. It’s up there with Star Wars and Jurassic Park as one of John Williams’ best scores. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s so good!

Importantly, the music to Hook played a roll in inspiring the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, AKA the best video game soundtrack. For that alone we should be eternally grateful.

Going back to horror with It Follows from 2014. Whereas Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a horror film with a great premise and so-so execution, It Follows has a concept that sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud or write it out, but the end result is actually very effective.

It Follows is a horror film about an unnamed entity that – true to the title – follows its prey until It catches up to them and kills them. But the premise is a bit more interesting because of the rules of how the entity, or “It” works.

“It” only stalks one person at any given time, and whoever is the current victim of “It” can pass “It” on to someone else by (and here’s where it may sound silly) having sex with them. But should “It” catch up to its current victim and kill them, it will go back to its previous target and keep going down the line. “It” has no definitive form, instead taking on the appearance of different people, and is only visible to its current and previous targets. But its victims have some advantages against “It.” Notably, “It” is incredibly slow, only capable of moving at waking speed. So even though “It” is aware of the location of its current target at all times, it can be outran in individual moments. “It” also is only an unstoppable killing machine if it catches its victim, otherwise it still has trouble opening locked doors or breaking through windows. Finally, even though it disguises itself as other people, because it has the singular goal of killing its current target and can only move at one speed, it’s pretty easy to pick out from a crowd.

Again, it all sounds a bit wonky when you explain it, but that makes it all the more impressive that the film manages to pull off the concept into a genuinely chilling horror film.

Next up was Labryinth, directed by Jim Henson and executive produced by George Lucas. This is a fun movie that’s often lumped together with Henson’s previous film The Dark Crystal, due to both films being fantasy worlds filled with crazy creatures brought to life by Henson’s signature puppets. In the past, I would have said Labyrinth was the better of the two movies since its smaller scope was more attainable with what Henson had to work with, though the excellent 2019 Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance has somewhat retroactively made the mythology of the original Dark Crystal film feel stronger (then Netflix, in their “infinite wisdom” decided to cancel Age of Resistance after one season). So it’s hard to say which of the two movies I prefer, but like the original Dark Crystal, Labyrinth is a good and fun movie that I still think could have been done better, given the talent involved.

The movie of course features two prominent human actors, which differentiates it from the exclusively-puppet Dark Crystal. Jennifer Connelly portrays Sarah Williams, a teenager who traverses the titular labyrinth to save her little brother from Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie).

As always with Jim Henson films, the movie is a technical marvel with how they brought everything to life, and for that alone is worth watching. But I do think Labyrinth is one of those fantasy films that feels like its concept could have been greater in execution. Imagine a Jim Henson movie with a story that could match the technical craftsmanship and artistry of it? That would be amazing! Though I guess we did get that with Age of Resistance, just in the form of a series instead of a movie (shame Netflix didn’t give it a proper chance).

Next in line was Wild Wild West, that western/steampunk movie starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline from 1999 that you probably only know about because the theme song outlived the movie. This is a bad, dumb movie. But the kind of bad, dumb movie I can at least get a kick out of. The film at least has some inventiveness with its steampunk creations. Again, it’s dumb. But whatever.

Finally, I watched the newest Ice Age film, The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild, which was released on Disney+ at the end of the month. I admit I still haven’t seen the fourth or fifth Ice Age movies in their entirety yet, but the first three were adequately entertaining. Nothing special, like Pixar. But nothing snarky and cynical, like Dreamworks. Also, I just realized I typed “the fourth and fifth Ice Age movies.” Why are there so many of them?!

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is the first Ice Age film since Disney bought 20th Century Fox and dissolved Blue Sky Studios (the animation studio behind the Ice Age films). So the animation was outsourced here, and boy does it show! This movie looks more like the kind of straight-to-DVD CG you would see in the early 2000s, not the latest installment of a multi-billion dollar (really) movie franchise. And aside from Simon Pegg returning as Buck Wild himself, all of the original cast has been replaced, and you can hear the difference right away. It also doesn’t have much in the way of story (but then again, none of the Ice Age sequels did). Perhaps worst of all, despite being named after Buck Wild – who was introduced in the third Ice Age movie and was probably my favorite character in the series – the film seems to focus more of its time on returning Ice Age characters Crash and Eddie. So why even make a spinoff movie about Buck Wild if it isn’t even really about him?

Also mysteriously missing is Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel, whose side antics to get/store an acorn were often more entertaining than the main stories of the Ice Age features. Apparently there was some legal trouble involving that character, and Disney couldn’t get ahold of him during the Fox acquisition or something. How weird is that?

One good thing I can say about The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is that Simon Pegg’s voice acting is great. He’s one of the few mainstream actors who is willing to make his voice unrecognizable when doing voice over work (Benedict Cumberbatch is the other one that immediately comes to mind). Lest we forget Simon Pegg was Unkar Plutt (the “One Quarter Portion Guy”) from The Force Awakens and the SkekSis Chamberlain in the aforementioned Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I do have to ask, why is the movie called The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild? After twenty years and six movies they suddenly decide to add a “the” to the franchise title?

Let’s wrap this up with the usual awards. Though because I’ve already rambled way more than I intended to when I started writing this, let’s keep things short.

Best Movie I Watched All Month: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I suppose the fact that I watched every Harry Potter film this past month and am naming Prisoner of Azkaban as the best movie I watched this past month, I just gave away the ending of my eventual Harry Potter movie ranking. Oh well.

While a few of the Harry Potter movies are great, Prisoner of Azkaban is the one I’ve always thought was a great film full-stop. Harry Potter fan or not.

Azkaban is more mature than the first two installments, but still retains their sense of magic and wonder (something the later Harry Potter stories somewhat lost, as they focused more on how evil Voldemort is than they did the magic of the world of these stories). It’s the entry that best focuses on Harry, Hermione and (to a lesser extent) Ron develop as characters. It also gives us a kind of standalone story that can be appreciated on its own merits outside of the overall series more so than the other entries. And it introduces us to at least two of the best characters in the series in the forms of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis). It’s also uniquely the only Harry Potter story in which the main villain isn’t Voldemort, but one of his minions, Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), a baddie who sadly seems largely forgotten about in later installments.

Prisoner of Azkaban is also the most visually captivating Potter movie, with lots of saturated lighting in the daytime sequences, and an eerie fogginess at night. It reminds me of a Team Ico game in a way. Azkaban feels more subdued than past and future Harry Potter movies visually, but somehow that brings out the magic of the series all the more. The whole movie has a kind of dreamlike quality about it. I can’t really explain it.

Sure, the time travel aspect is a little wonky, but it’s one of those “small price to pay” kind of things with how great of a movie Prisoner of Azkaban is on the whole. This is to Harry Potter what Spider-Man 2 is to Marvel in that it’s a great movie even without taking the franchise into consideration. It’s the movie lover’s Harry Potter.

But let’s save some of the gushing for when I actually review and/or rank the Harry Potter movies.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

This was actually a toss-up between Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (which I initially thought was guaranteed this “honor”), Wild Wild West and The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild (or TIAAOBW, for short). Grindlewald almost singlehandedly halted the Harry Potter spinoff franchise, but I suppose it has some merit, and with three sequels still to come, the series may be able to salvage itself. Wild Wild West is a bad movie, but again, it’s dumb fun. It’s hard to pick on something too much when it knows exactly how dumb it is.

But in the case of The Ice Age Adv… you know, let’s just call it Buck Wild.

In the case of Buck Wild, it felt like it took a series that has already overstayed its welcome, and stripped it of the few things fans of the series had left to enjoy (animation quality, the voice acting, Scrat, etc.). Outside of Simon Pegg’s vocal work, this is bottom of the barrel, cash-grab animation. If you have a Disney+ subscription, watch any of the countless infinitely better animated offerings on the service instead.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time this Month: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts

“Mrs. Puff…I think I cheated.”

Does this count as a movie? A documentary? I never know with these kinds of specials. So my claiming that Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is the best movie I watched for the first time this month may be a bit dubious. But whatever, I greatly enjoyed it.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I think this is a must watch. Even if you’re not totally engrossed in the franchise but have an interest in pop culture phenomenons, I also think this is a must watch. It’s a detailed look back at one of cinema’s (and literature’s) most successful franchises, gives insight into the series and the making of it. And thankfully, the special’s feature length runtime means it gives plenty of attention to each individual installment in the series.

It’s a very insightful, fun special. I’m not even sorry that I’m cheating by selecting it.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Hook

Hook could have, and should have, been a better movie than it is. But it’s still better than its critics say. It’s a good time that may lose its magic as it goes, but it’s still a fun movie.

Most importantly, the music is sublime!


That’s all folks!

What did I say at the beginning of this? “I’m going to try to keep this as short and simple as possible?” Well, mission failed there!

I don’t know why these keep ending up being so long. I have so many other things to write, I need to start focusing on those instead. I still haven’t reviewed Luca, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Ron’s Gone Wrong or Encanto. And let’s not even get into all the video games I’ve been meaning to review…

So, let’s see this as the last My Month in Movies for a while. I enjoy writing these, but they’re taking away too much of my writing time that I should be spending elsewhere. So until I catch up a little bit on all of those other things, let’s put My Month in Movies on hold for a while.

At any rate, I hope you had some fun reading all this. I also hope you found any of it even the slightest bit interesting. And most importantly, I hope you’re having a good and happy 2022 so far.

Take care.

Cruella Review

Disney’s recent fixation with remaking their beloved animated films into live-action features has been met with a mixed reception. To be fair, not all of these live-action remakes have missed the mark (I rather enjoyed 2016’s The Jungle Book and 2019’s Aladdin). But Disney turning the idea of remaking their animated legacy as live-action films into a kind of sub-genre seems superfluous. Disney’s animated films are (mostly) considered timeless, very few of them are actually asking for a remake. And with the possible exception of the aforementioned Jungle Book, I don’t think any of these live-action remakes have been as good as the animated movies they’re adapting.

Interestingly, in 2021 Disney released Cruella, a live-action film about the villainous Cruella de Vil character from 101 Dalmatians. I say that’s interesting for two reasons: the first reason is that Disney already made a live-action remake of that movie in 1996 which starred Glenn Close as Cruella. The second reason (and perhaps as a consequence of the first reason) is that 2021’s Cruella isn’t really a remake of 101 Dalmatians, but an origin story for the Cruella de Vil character, with Emma Stone in the title role.

Personally, I don’t think Cruella de Vil needed an origin story. But to be fair, Cruella is actually a pretty entertaining movie. Though I’m not too sure who its intended audience was meant to be.

Cruella is set in 1970s London (the change in decade is a notable alteration from the animated original, seeing as that film was released in 1961). A young girl born with half-black, half-white hair named Estella has a gift for fashion, but has a notorious mean streak, with her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) giving her the moniker ‘Cruella’ to address the less ideal half of her personality. When Estella’s behavior lands her in trouble, her mother hopes to transfer her to a better school, but lacks the money to do so. So Catherine stops by the notorious Hellman Hall to ask for a loan from her old friend and former employer, the Baroness (Emma Thompson). While there, Estella is chased by the Baroness’ three dalmatians, who end up knocking Catherine off a cliffside balcony to her death…

Before I go on, I have to stop and address this. Disney movies often feature the death of a parent or guardian, going all the way back to Bambi. Usually, these moments are appropriately sad and meaningful. But I gotta say, death by dalmatian pushing someone off a cliff… now THAT’S a new one. And is this supposed to justify Cruella’s disdain for dalmatians down the road or something? As if someone hating dogs could ever be justified.

As ridiculous as this moment is, the story does pick up. So let’s move on.

Estella, now an orphan, flees Hellman Hall, accidentally leaving behind the necklace her mother passed down to her. She ends up meeting two orphaned boys, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and she becomes something of their surrogate sister. The three grow up living as conmen and petty thieves. One day, on her birthday, Estella is gifted an entry-level job at a department store by Jasper and Horace, as they believe Estella is too talented and deserves better than what life with them can provide.

Though the job isn’t much, it opens the door for Estella’s dreams. Eventually, she winds up getting a job as a designer for none other than the Baroness herself. Though her dreams seem to be coming true on paper, the reality of it is much less of a dream, as the Baroness rules her empire with an iron fist. While Estella seems to manage the hardships (and verbal abuse) for a while, her attitude shifts when she realizes the Baroness has her mother’s long-lost necklace. Estella enlists the help of Jasper and Horace – as well as their dogs Buddy and Wink – to try to steal the necklace back (Estella’s argument being that the necklace is technically hers), which eventually escalates into a rivalry with the Baroness. Estella will stop at nothing to bring the Baroness’ empire down, both from the inside and outside of it, adopting her old moniker of ‘Cruella’ when she starts a rival fashion company of her own. But the deeper the rivalry goes, the more the Cruella persona begins to take over Estella’s life.

The film basically plays out like The Devil Wears Prada taken to the extreme. And to be perfectly honest, Cruella ultimately is a fun movie, due in no small part to its cast, Emmas Stone and Thompson in particular elevating their characters and their rivalry. And it’s an appropriately fun movie to look at, due to its emphasis on fashion as well as its setting. I was actually surprised in how much I ended up enjoying Cruella and how engrossed I got in the rivalry between its titular anti-heroine and the Baroness. With that said, there are still a few questionable elements in the film.

First and foremost, try as it might, Cruella can’t quite justify why Cruella de Vil needed an origin story (other than to separate this film from the 1996 live-action remake, I guess). During many of the earlier scenes of the movie, whenever Estella was getting a tongue-lashing from the Baroness, I couldn’t help but think the movie could have worked just fine if Cruella had been in the Baroness’ role, and Estella could have instead been the character Anita from the animated film. Seeing as Cruella and Anita were described as ‘schoolmates’ in the 1961 original, changing that history to that of boss and employee would at least explain the mysterious age gap between the two characters from the animated film. That’s certainly not a knock on Emma Stone’s Cruella, of course. It just seems like the movie could have cut out the middle man.

Anita does show up in the film (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), as a gossip columnist who ends up helping Cruella in her schemes against the Baroness. And if you’re wondering, her future husband Roger shows up as well (Kayvan Novak), as the Baroness’ lawler.

Maybe the reason Disney opted for an origin story for Cruella was that it was the only way to make a movie about Cruella and still have the audience root for her? Cruella de Vil was always one of Disney’s most popular villains, but she’s one of the least likable of the lot when you think about it (her goal in the animated film was to skin a bunch of puppies to make a fur coat, after all). They couldn’t exactly make a movie about Cruella as depicted in the animated film and still expect the audience to cheer for her. I guess the origin story was Disney’s way of having their cake and eating it too. But, like Maleficent, it does make me wonder how fans of the character would take to the film, if they had to change Cruella so much in order to make her the central character (though the results here are much better than they were in Maleficent, and at least in this movie Cruella’s personality ends up closer to her animated counterpart by the end, whereas Maleficent never did in either of her live-action films).

Maybe some fans of Cruella de Vil will like the movie, and maybe some won’t. But I don’t think younger fans of 101 Dalmatians will much care for it. I guess, to be fair, the film is rated PG-13, so it is probably made with older kids and teenagers in mind. But that again makes me wonder why Disney would adapt 101 Dalmatians in order to make such a movie. Cruella is a movie for teenagers based on a movie for kids about that movie’s villain in which that villain is now a good guy. I guess it’s not impossible to make that odd concoction work, and I have to admit that Cruella does mostly work. But I think it still suffers a bit of awkwardness from that identity crises (do I need to point out “death by getting knocked off a cliff by a dalmatian” again?).

I don’t think Cruella reaches the same heights as the Jungle Book or Aladdin remakes, but it’s maybe a better movie than you’d expect. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson really make the film engaging, and the supporting cast help carry things as well (I especially like Hauser as Horus, who is the most faithful to the animated character).

Cruella is a curious little oddity for Disney fans, and a fun movie in its own right. It may be a bit ridiculous at times, but it’s a pleasant surprise.

6

Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the third installment of the Spider-Man sub-series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It seems the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has had a strong influence on the direction of the MCU’s Spider-Man, with No Way Home introducing a multiverse into the series. While the whole multiverse concept is done to death these days (and often feels like a cheap means to “change up” a series and its characters), No Way Home at least uses the concept in a fun way to connect itself to the pre-MCU Spider-Man films (AKA the better Spider-Man films, at least in regard to the original Sam Raimi-directed features). While the merging together of different Spider-Man adaptations provides an entertaining feature filled with fanservice that I think is a step up from the previous Tom Holland-era Spider-Man flicks, No Way Home can feel a bit overstuffed at times, and it doesn’t always do right by the characters it brings back from yesteryear.

Taking place shortly after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, No Way Home sees the aftermath of Peter Parker having his identity as Spider-Man revealed to the world by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Having been framed for the death of Mysterio, Parker becomes public enemy number one, with his worldwide infamy not only affecting his life, but also those close to him: his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon).

With his life in shambles, and his loved ones suffering as a consequence, Peter Parker turns to his fellow Avenger Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to find a way he can get his life back to normal (I guess if you know a wizard, that’d be the person to turn to for answers). Strange says he can perform a spell that will undo the world’s knowledge of Peter Parker’s identity (in a scene I’m sure you’ve seen a hundred times in the trailer). But because Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is annoying and intrusive, he keeps bothering Dr. Strange during the spell, and the magic is botched. Not only does the spell fail to erase the world’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity, but it also starts summoning people from other universes who are aware of Spider-Man’s identity in their world. Namely, it starts bringing in Spider-Man’s foes from other worlds: Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), Flint Marco/The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx).

With all these villains on the loose, Dr. Strange instructs Peter Parker to help him collect these villains in order to send them back to their own worlds, as their continued presence in this world threatens the fabric of reality. But after learning of the sad fates that await each of his foes in their own world, Peter Parker starts to have second thoughts about his mission (though Sandman got off pretty easy in Spider-Man 3, if you remember).

The plot is a little… wonky, for lack of a better word. I love the idea of bringing back these past villains, particularly because the Sam Raimi era antagonists (the first two, anyway) were much better written than any baddie in the MCU (their inclusion here is basically Marvel’s way of admitting “yeah, we can’t do better villains than that. So just bring them back in our movie.”). But the setup of resurrecting these villains just feels kind of clunky. It gives off the impression that the filmmakers saw Into the Spider-Verse, and wanted to use a similar multiverse setup, and then had the idea to use that as a launching pad to connect the film to pre-MCU Spidey films and bring back the classic villains (an admittedly fun idea). But then they suddenly remembered they had that cliffhanger from Far From Home that they needed to address, and then scrambled to find a way to connect that cliffhanger with their multiverse/returning villains idea. And because these MCU Spider-Man movies love shoehorning in another Avengers hero, they decided to use Dr. Strange – a wizard – as an easy means to link their new concept and lingering plot thread together (because the MCU only acknowledges magic when it’s a convenient plot device).

“I gotta say, I’m getting really tired of Spider-Man being gifted with all these gadgets and gizmos from other Avengers. As if Spider-Man needs anything other than being Spider-Man to be cool.”

So the premise is weak. But at least it gives us a chance to revisit all these memorable foes of yesteryear, with the highlights of course being Willem Dafoe’s Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock (the latter of which I’ll still say is hands down the best villain in any Marvel movie). On the downside, No Way Home seems to take delight in poking fun of these characters and their movies as much as it pays homage to them, because of course the MCU just has to undercut anything serious or heartfelt with a snide remark or two.

The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, as campy as they could get at times, never felt the need to belittle their own stories for the sake of jokes. That might explain why I still remember them so fondly, whereas the MCU films have much less of an identity of their own (that, and the MCU’s constant need to hype up future movies at the expense of the story at hand). The Sam Raimi films could be cheesy, but they were honest and genuine in a way that even the best MCU films are not. Even Spider-Man 3, as messy as it was, was at least its own mess.

I mention this because, by bringing in characters from the past Spider-Man films, No Way Home inadvertently exposes the MCU for its over manufactured nature. We’ve seen this same Green Goblin and this same Doc Ock in other movies that had heart. No Way Home acknowledges that these villains have more to them than meets the eye, but it’s tough to say whether or not No Way Home has anything more to itself. Just as Green Goblin and Doc Ock are displaced from their time and place in the film’s story, they’re also displaced as complex villains from more genuine superhero movies who now find themselves in an increasingly pandering “cinematic universe” (fun though it may be). The films Green Goblin and Doc Ock came from had something to say. The MCU is always hyping what’s on the horizon, rarely taking the time to say much.

Annoyingly, the film makes the returning villains out to be not much of a threat on their own – being quickly beaten or outsmarted by MCU’s Spidey and Dr. Strange – and only banded together do the bad guys prove dangerous to the MCU heroes (because the MCU is childish like that and NO ONE CAN BE STRONGER THAN ITS CHARACTERS!). It’s just kind of weird how the film wants us to delight in the nostalgia these characters provide, only to undermine it by enforcing the idea that these characters aren’t as good as the new ones (a concerning trend in the MCU as of late). There are ways to make a current story feel more important without stepping all over the past. Maybe by caring more about the present and less about hyping the future? Just a suggestion.

I guess I shouldn’t say it’s all hype this time around. No Way Home gives a solid effort and has some strong emotional moments, but it still ultimately succumbs to some MCU-ness that takes some of that away. At least Tony Stark’s overbearing presence is no longer casting a shadow on these Spider-Man films, though you could say Dr. Strange simply takes over that role, conveniently just in time to build hype for his upcoming sequel.

“Dr. Strange knocking the soul out of Spider-Man… it’s almost symbolic of Strange’s role in the movie itself.”

Okay, I’m sounding pretty negative. But I suppose most of my complaints are more towards the MCU as a whole, and how it affects No Way Home, than they are with No Way Home itself. On the positive side of things, No Way Home brings fun back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Eternals saw fit to be an excruciating bore.

Spider-Man: No Way Home doesn’t skimp on the action scenes, and though they can’t quite match those of the recent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the action scenes here are more visually distinct from most of those in the MCU. An early encounter against Doctor Octopus on a freeway over a bridge is a notable highlight (due in no small part that Doc Ock’s conceptually simple power of having mechanical arms on his back provides a visually perfect supervillain). A duel between Spidey and mentor Dr. Strange also delivers a visual spectacle (especially since it seems to unapologetically turn to the video game Portal for inspiration). And of course, No Way Home features plenty of great fanservice moments, perhaps more so than any other MCU film (Endgame be damned), seeing as it gives so many blatant callbacks to the original Spider-Man trilogy and the Amazing Spider-Man films in addition to the usual MCU fare. Again, some of the references are deprecating, which is disappointing. But when No Way Home pays proper respects to past movies, damn, it’s satisfying. Without spoiling anything, one moment in particular is probably the most touching piece of nostalgia/fanservice I’ve seen in a long time, and honestly gave me a lump in my throat. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s probably not the moment you’re thinking of. Or that other one. Or that other one. But it was special to me.

“The perfect Spider-Man villain doesn’t exi…”

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a very entertaining movie, even with its faults. It provides the crowd pleasing fun you’d expect from the MCU, and even has moments that pack an emotional punch. Simply seeing Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe back as Dock Ock and Green Goblin (and to a lesser extent, the other villains) is an utter joy. But it’s a shame the setup to it all feels a bit forced. It has plenty of merit, but Spider-Man: No Way Home can’t help but feel a bit cluttered, and the overarching MCU is starting to negatively affect the individual stories within it (I’m really not spoiling much by saying the end-credits sequence here is literally a trailer for the Doctor Strange sequel). As big as the MCU has become, it would do well for itself to learn from the movies that No Way Home borrows from.

“And the rest!”

I think my point can be summed up by the character of J. Jonah Jameson. While I couldn’t be happier that Marvel brought back the great J.K. Simmons to portray Jameson in the MCU (making him something of the “connective tissue” between Spider-Man’s cinematic past and present), the MCU version of the character is purely antagonistic. He’s a corrupt newsman who spreads misinformation and fearmongering. While the real-world parallels are timely, they come at the expense of the character himself, who’s now a one-note villain. Compare him to the Jameson of Sam Raimi’s trilogy: he was still a biased newspaperman who let his emotions get the best of him, but there was more to him than that. In the 2002 film, Jameson was loud, bombastic, and was out to smear the good name of Spider-Man, the hero we were meant to cheer for. But as soon as Green Goblin attacked Jameson in his office demanding to know “who takes the pictures of Spider-Man” for Jameson’s paper, without missing a beat, Jameson wouldn’t surrender Peter Parker’s name to the Goblin. The same character who up until that point was depicted as antagonistic comic relief was suddenly willing to risk his life to save someone he barely knew.

“The perfect comic book movie casting doesn’t exi…”

That’s the kind of character element that continues to make the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films so memorable. And it’s something the MCU is sorely lacking. Spider-Man: No Way Home tries to replicate that by bringing back the classic villains and the stories they entail. But it only seems to half-understand what it has on its hands. Either that, or it’s place in the MCU only makes it able to half-realize it.

To this day, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 is not only my favorite Spider-Man movie (sorry Into the Spider-Verse), but my favorite Marvel movie. And possibly one of my favorite movies outright. It had its faults and its cheesy moments, but damn it all, it had heart! Suffice to say, I don’t think Spider-Man: No Way Home poses any threat to displacing Spider-Man 2 as my favorite Marvel/Spider-Man movie. But in a way, No Way Home reminded me why I love Spider-Man 2 so much. I suppose that’s a victory in its own right.

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The Lord of the Rings Turns 20!

“A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

November had more than a few anniversaries to make us feel old, but now it’s December’s turn! Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in theater. That’s right, the first installment in cinema’s greatest trilogy first hit the big screen on December 19th 2001.

Wow, twenty years… On one hand, it really does feel like a distant and ever so fond memory, seeing Fellowship of the Ring in theaters for the first time. On the other hand, it’s so vivid in my mind it feels like it wasn’t long ago at all.

“I’ve certainly gotten good mileage out of this gif, haven’t I?”

The Lord of the Rings trilogy made fantasy mainstream (okay, Harry Potter also helped, but J.K. Rowling’s imagination was never on Tolkien’s level). It helped change the way movies are made, and revolutionized visual effects in a way similar to Star Wars, Roger Rabbit or Jurassic Park before it, and in a way I don’t think we’ve seen since.

Peter Jackson’s films proved to be perfect adaptations of Tolkien’s work. I know some purists would hate me for saying that, given the changes Jackson did make to the material. But keeping in mind that books and movies are different artforms, I feel those changes were necessary and complimentary to bringing Middle-Earth to life on screen. So yes, they are “perfect adaptations” in that sense. I honestly can’t imagine the Lord of the Rings films being any better. Both individually and as a collective trilogy, they easily rank highly among my all-time favorites, and may even be my favorite films that aren’t animated.

The Lord of the Rings films were (and are) so great, in fact, that even the Academy Awards, who are so averse to fantasy and seemingly allergic to imagination, couldn’t refrain from lavishing the trilogy with awards!

The quest to destroy the One Ring, an epic journey that has yet to be matched in cinema, first began two decades ago. And in those years, the trilogy hasn’t lost any of its luster or mystique. Peter Jackson’s later adaptation of The Hobbit couldn’t hope to match what was accomplished with The Lord of the Rings, though personally I think the Hobbit films are much, much better than they get credit for (they’re certainly better than other spinoff movie series we’ve seen, such as the Star Wars prequels and sequels, or the Fantastic Beasts movies). But it’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy that’s undoubtedly a timeless classic.

Come to think of it, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Spirited Away all celebrated their twentieth anniversaries this year. I think it’s safe to say that 2001 was easily the most impactful and influential year for fantasy films.

Happy twentieth anniversary, Lord of the Rings!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dedicate the next few days to watching the extended editions.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review

Well, this has certainly been a longtime coming. The original 1984 Ghostbusters remains one of the most beloved comedies of all time. It’s one of those movies that helped define its decade and shape a generation. Simply put, Ghostbusters was a phenomenon.

Despite being an adult-oriented comedy, its fun, supernatural premise made Ghostbusters one of those movies that won over audiences of all ages, with toylines, video games and a popular cartoon series released in its wake. Such franchising may seem commonplace these days, but in 1984, the only other movie that had that kind of impact was Star Wars, released seven years prior. One would think with the level of success Ghostbusters reached, that we would have seen many Ghostbusters sequels by this point.

Nope.

Five years after the first film, Ghostbusters II was released. Though a modest success, it failed to reach the critical and commercial heights of its predecessor (though the sequel has gained more appreciation in the years since). While it’s understandable that the humbler success of Ghostbusters II slowed things down, this was still Ghostbusters we’re talking about. A third film (and more) seemed inevitable. Yet fans waited and waited for years and years and years, and ‘Ghostbusters III’ never materialized.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Series creator, co-writer and co-star Dan Aykroyd had ideas planned out, and even scripts written in various different forms over the years. I can’t remember a time growing up in which there weren’t talks of Ghostbusters III nearing production. And yet, it never happened. Despite being one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, one of the earliest blockbusters, and one of the most popular film franchises in history, Ghostbusters – as far as the movies went – seemed locked in the 80s.

Fast-forward to 2009, which saw the release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Not only did the game bring back the original cast to voice their respective characters, it was even based on several of the potential Ghostbusters III ideas. The game’s success, and the fact it was able to nab the cast (including Bill Murray, who was previously reluctant to return to the franchise) revitalized studio interest in possibly producing a third Ghostbusters film. A few more years went by, and still, nothing came about.

Sadly, in 2014, actor and filmmaker Harold Ramis – who portrayed Ghostbuster Egon Spengler and wrote the first two films alongside Aykroyd – passed away. This halted plans for Ghostbusters 3 yet again, which eventually lead to Columbia and Sony deciding to outright reboot the franchise.

It didn’t go well.

The 2016 reboot ended up being a box office bomb and was, sadly, one of those things that became unnecessarily politicized due to its all female cast, with studios all too willing to vilify disappointed fans, and blaming its lackluster box office run on sexism (Wonder Woman and Frozen say hello, by the way). In actuality, it was the nature of rebooting the Ghostbusters outright that was so deflating to fans (myself included). Again, we weren’t talking about a franchise that already had several sequels and was in need of a fresh start. Ghostbusters bizarrely halted after its second entry, and ‘Ghostbusters III’ always seemed to be floating around. Fans simply wanted it to become a reality. A reboot was not something that anyone asked for.

Finally, in 2019, it seemed like Ghostbusters III was actually happening, with Ghostbusters: Afterlife being revealed by director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman, the director of the original two films). The movie was originally scheduled for a Summer 2020 release, but we all know how 2020 ended up, and the film’s release was delayed by over a year.

So here we are, thirty-two years after Ghostbusters II, and audiences are finally getting a follow-up to the classic 1980s films. Being thirty-two years old myself as of this writing, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, in a way, a movie I have waited my whole life to see.

Though it isn’t the movie that I (and I think others) ultimately wanted, Ghostbusters: Afterlife still provides an entertaining feature that plays out more like a love letter to Ghostbusters, and a fun way for today’s kids to jump into the series, if maybe not the proper Ghostbusters III we’ve waited ever so patiently to see.

Appropriately set thirty-two years after the defeat of Vigo the Carpathian, the Ghostbusters have long-since disbanded due to the lack of supernatural activity in New York City. Right off the bat, that’s a little disappointing. Knowing that the Ghostbusters didn’t have any further adventures in between Ghostbusters II and Afterlife is kind of a bummer. The film could have at least said the ghost activity quieted down after another decade or so, to at least let us imagine the shenanigans the Ghostbusters could have gotten into together during that time.

Anyway, as the Ghostbusters went their separate ways, only Egon Spengler continued his research on the supernatural. These studies eventually lead him to the small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, a town founded by the Gozerian cultist Ivo Shandor (who was mentioned in the original film, and served as the villain in the 2009 video game). Sadly, Egon has recently passed away due to a heart attack, leaving his Summerville farmland to his estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon).

Callie has recently been evicted from her apartment in the city, and moves into her father’s farm with her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), who never knew their grandfather and are unaware that he was a Ghostbuster. Though neither kid is too enthusiastic about living in the dilapidated farm, Trevor quickly takes to the new town, getting a Summer job at a restaurant to be close to his new crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). The more socially awkward Phoebe has a tougher time fitting in, but manages to find a friend in a kid who calls himself ‘Podcast’ (Logan Kim). Though Phoebe is more interested in the ghostly presence that seems to be living in the farm than she is with the town itself.

Naturally, as time goes by, the Spengler kids begin to unearth their family history. Phoebe discovers her grandfather’s secret room, where he kept most of his Ghostbusters equipment, while Trevor repairs the Ectomobile hiding out in the shed. Additionally, Phoebe’s Summer school teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), a lifelong admirer of the Ghostbusters, helps the kids learn of their grandfather’s work.

Of course, with Summerville being founded by Ivo Shandor, there’s going to be more to the town than meets the eye. And Summerville hides a secret that connects it to the evil, interdimensional entity Gozer.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is undeniably a fun movie: It plays up the fanservice for the series and introduces us to some fun new characters, it’s a well-acted picture (with particular praise going to McKenna Grace, who fittingly makes Phoebe a young, female version of Egon), and the visual effects are quite good. But the film does hit a few bumps in the road.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room right away: the original Ghostbusters cast are barely in the movie. Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd all return as Peter Venkman, Winston Zeddemore and Ray Stantz (respectively), but only for a few all-too-brief moments of screentime.

Now, okay, I get it. It’s not their movie. I understand that, and I’m fine with it. After things got to a certain point, I always figured a potential third Ghostbusters movie would be about the Ghostbusters passing the mantle down to a new generation. The issue I have is that Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t that. The original Ghostbusters just kind of show up in Afterlife, without any real significance to the story, other than Egon’s legacy. While seeing Peter, Winston and Ray will always be a welcome sight, their role in Afterlife feels kind of like a glorified cameo. Annie Potts also returns as Janine Melnitz, but what you saw of her in the trailer is what you see of her in the movie. At least they’re all playing their beloved characters this time, instead of unrelated cameos like the 2016 movie.

What I’m getting at is the film really takes its time relishing in the fanservice of all the gadgets and gizmos of the Ghostbusters. The movie basks in the glory of the Ecto-1 and the ghost traps, but it didn’t stop and think that, just maybe, the fanservice Ghostbusters fans would most want is the Ghostbusters themselves? Again, I’m fine with the fact that it’s not their movie anymore, but after all the time that’s passed since Ghostbusters 2, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have loved to have seen the iconic original cast actually have some role in the plot. I can kind of get what they were going for, building up to the classic characters that made us love the series to begin with. But after thirty-two years and all the start/stops of a potential third entry, we kind of want to spend a little more time with these beloved characters.

It just seems so weird that Sony and Columbia can’t seem to figure this out. First they give us a reboot that no one asked for, and now we finally have a follow-up to Ghostbusters 2, and the role of the Ghostbusters is minimal. It really shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp. You have a Ghostbusters movie, give us the Ghostbusters!

Okay, I’m going on about this quite a bit. But I think this is an important aspect to bring up because I think depending on how you view Afterlife’s position as a sequel to Ghostbusters II will affect your overall opinion of the film (if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise like me, anyway). If you’re looking at Afterlife as Ghostbusters 3, then you’re probably going to be disappointed, because it doesn’t really fit that bill. But if you view Afterlife as its own movie that simply takes place in the Ghostbusters universe, it becomes easier to admire.

Even with its merits, however, Ghostbusters: Afterlife still folds a bit under the pressure of living up to the original 1984 film, as much of the plot is derived from the mythology surrounding the Gozer character established in that film (and sadly, as a fan/nerd of the series, I can point out some inconsistencies Afterlife creates within the established Gozer mythology). One of the downsides to this is that Afterlife simply recreates many of the same story beats of the original film in regards to said Gozer mythology, instead of getting creative and making something new out of it (we are talking about an interdimensional god, after all. There’s plenty of room to get creative with that concept). There are so many directions they could have gone when you have a villain like Gozer, so it’s a shame that Afterlife chooses to fall back on familiar territory.

Unfortunately, as much as Afterlife loves to make callbacks and create fanservice, it only does so in regards to the original film. Because outside of a few background Easter eggs, the only reference to Ghostbusters II is that Ray is back working at his occult book store, first seen in the 1989 sequel.

Look, I understand that Ghostbusters II isn’t as esteemed as its predecessor (I love it to death, personally), but it’s still an important part of Ghostbusters history. The characters in Afterlife are constantly referring to the events of the original film as the “Manhattan Incident,” but shouldn’t it be the Manhattan IncidentS? Did everyone just forget that the evil spirit of a 16th century tyrant almost resurrected himself through a painting, and that the Ghostbusters animated the Statue of Liberty to stop him? That seems like something the characters in this movie should remember. It’s almost like Afterlife is embarrassed by Ghostbusters II’s initial reception, and glosses over its events as a result. But in ignoring the sequel to Ghostbusters, it makes Afterlife’s reverence for the series’ history feel incomplete.

Another downer is that the whole subplot involving the Ivo Shandor character feels underdeveloped, like maybe there were several scenes involving this aspect of the story that were cut from the final film. Ivo Shandor’s subplot in the film is introduced, forgotten about, and then rapidly resolved all at once (sadly for fans, this also probably means Ghostbusters: The Video Game is no longer canon). Without spoiling any details, the scene that wraps up Ivo Shandor’s role in the story is also the worst scene in the movie, being edited so sloppily you can tell some of its events are clearly playing out of order (and not in a way I think was intentional). The scene in question moves so hectically and sporadically, that I wonder if the editor downed an entire gallon of Kool-Aid beforehand. It’s reminiscent of the chaotic pace of The Rise of Skywalker, albeit not nearly that bad (and at least here it’s just a single scene, not the whole picture).

Aside from that one scene/subplot, most of my complaints with Ghostbusters: Afterlife are admittedly rooted in my status as a lifelong fan of the series (it plays up fanservice but doesn’t feature enough of the Ghostbusters themselves. It pays homage to the original film but ignores Ghostbusters II, etc.). Granted, due to the continuity of the films, I feel those complaints are still worth mentioning, but they are still the complaints of someone who’s been waiting their whole life for Ghostbusters III. But let’s be fair, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not Ghostbusters III. It’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. And that’s okay.

I admit it took me two viewings to be able to properly appreciate Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The first time, the shadow of its predecessors (and the whole “waiting my entire life” thing) worked against it. I still enjoyed it, but my misgivings were stronger the first time around. Only after seeing it a second time, and seeing it only for itself, did my complaints become more subdued.

There is a lot to like about Ghostbusters: Afterlife once you accept it for what it is. The film made the right choice by making its young heroes the descendants of Egon Spengler, with the whole film playing out like a loving tribute to Harold Ramis and the character he brought to life. There are also plenty of fun scenes to be had, with some highlights being a chase sequence where the kids follow a runaway ghost in the Ecto-1, and a scene where an army of mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Men torment Gary Grooberson in a Walmart.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an entertaining movie. It may get bogged down at times by playing up the fanservice and not always getting it right. But this is a movie aimed more towards introducing a new generation of kids to the Ghostbusters. It presents the material in a more kid-friendly, Spielbergian way. So even though the film may fall back on nostalgia, it does open the door for a new direction for the series going forward. The Spengler family and their friends could have more adventures, and the film even hints that one of the original Ghostbusters may start things back up in New York.

During my first viewing of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, there was a group of kids in the audience dressed like Ghostbusters. It warms my heart knowing that the series still appeals to kids today. I think it’s important to remember that Ghostbusters: Afterlife was made more for these kids, with us older fans still getting a little bit of what we want out of it.

Ghostbusters III, as we always wanted it, is a myth. Sony and Columbia (bafflingly) missed that opportunity years ago. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife gives us something else to enjoy in its own right. And if all goes well, maybe the kids that this movie was made for can get a Ghostbusters III of their own.

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