Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

In more recent years, with what was previously deemed as the “nerd side” of popular culture more or less becoming one with pop culture itself, it seems more and more properties are putting a higher emphasis on world-building, in the vein of Tolkien or George Lucas. On one hand, this is a great thing, as it’s always enjoyable to see a fantasy world create a backstory for itself and its characters. But I have recently began to worry that too many works are prioritizing world-building over actual storytelling. One reason I love the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that it bucks this trend, introducing elements such as The First Order in passing without detailing how and why they came to power, and letting the story at hand take center stage. By contrast, it seems that the Harry Potter prequel franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, goes in the exact opposite direction of the Star Wars sequels, with its own narrative being drowned in backstories and lore. While the first Fantastic Beasts at least introduced us to some potentially charming franchise players, its sequel – the bizarrely titled The Crimes of Grindelwald – feels like it completely surrenders its own identity for the sake of world-building.

Like the first film, the screenplay is written by J.K. Rowling herself. Though Rowling seems to handle the material as if she’s writing the appendices of one of her books, as opposed to a screenplay. This is a film that squanders so much potential with its characters, as it feels so much more inclined to explain elements of the Wizarding World than it does in following its lead cast. It does this to such an extent that it really feels like very little actually happens within the film’s plot.

“Sexy Dumbledore.”

The (supposed) story still follows magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his American friends; Wizarding sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol), and the muggle/no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). They are all caught in the middle of a crises in the Wizarding World, as the evil wizard Grendalwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped custody, and is rallying more and more wizards to his cause of “wizard supremacy” (that is to say, wizards being superior by nature to non-magic beings). While Scamander would rather not be involved in any greater conflict and just resume his studies of magical creatures, he is persuaded by one Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to aide the future Hogwarts Headmaster’s personal attempts to weaken Grindelwald’s efforts.

That may sound like a brief summary to avoid spoilers, but the fact of the matter is the story never really evolves from that setup. To make matters worse, elements of the first Fantastic Beast film’s ending are entirely retconned for seemingly no reason other than that they allow for more convenient progression to future sequels.

Kowalski – along with other non-magic folk in New York City – had his memory of the magic world wiped clean in the first film’s finale, which served as its most emotional moment. But apparently he still remembers everything just fine, because only “bad memories” were erased, and his were mostly good. Way to undermine the first film’s emotional crescendo…

Now, it’s safe to say we all assumed Kowalski would be getting his memories back, but to more or less brush aside an important part of its predecessor’s ending so nonchalantly just demeans the franchise itself. Ironically, The Crimes of Grindelwald would have probably been a better movie if getting Kowalski’s memories of wizards and magic back were a key plot point. At the very least, the plot would have actually been about the main characters in such a scenario.

“Unless you’re the most diehard Potterhead, this may be your reaction to all the mythology babble.”

Instead, we have a plot centered around Dumbledore and Grindelwald attempting to sway Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller) – the disturbed wizard with a demonic parasite who seemingly died in the first movie – to their respective sides of the struggle. Poor Newt doesn’t even feel like the hero of his own story, rather, just a figure passing through it. That’s a real shame, because Newt – as well as Kowalski, and Tina and Queenie – were characters who were distinct from the existing heroes of the Harry Potter series (particularly Kowalski, as his status as a non-magical being wandering the Wizarding World with childlike glee makes him one of the most unique characters in Rowling’s mega-franchise). But here we are, only in the second installment of this five-part series, and already the main cast feels like an afterthought to all the other goings-on. Heaven forbid the main characters get in the way of extended monologues of events the side characters went through.

All of this could have been made more forgivable if it only started out this way. Because in all honesty, there actually is some charm left in this Wizarding World as the film opens. The first few tidbits of lore and “for hardcore fans only” dialogue are fine, since they’re setting things up. But the film only builds on these overly descriptive elements more and more as the film goes on. I wish I were joking when I say the third act of the film comes to a dead stop as one character gives an overly long monologue on some backstory, before another character butts in and delves into their own overly long monologue on some backstory. What’s worse is that certain revelations that are made with the main characters feel completely rushed and meaningless because of this (one major ‘twist’ in particular comes across as utterly lifeless, as it seemingly comes out of nowhere). Maybe Rowling should have spent a little more time writing her main characters and less on…everything else possible?

There are some redeeming qualities to the film. The costume designs and special effects still impress, and despite their tragically limited presence, the primary quartet of characters still feel like a refreshing change of pace from Harry, Ron and Hermione. The acting is also pretty solid, with Jude Law and (I hate to admit it) Johnny Depp making the most of their limited screen time (seeing Grindelwald wave his magic wand like a conductor’s baton as he burns his enemies in blue flames is a memorable visual that feels overdue for the franchise, as it’s a moment that more or less defines the nature of its villain in one visual). The titular Fantastic Beasts that show up are still memorable (even if they only really show up in an attempt to justify this series’ ongoing title), and I like that we finally get to meet Nicolas Flamel (Brontis jodorowsky), the immortal alchemist first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, who has become so old that a small handshake nearly breaks his fingers, but still possesses strength in magic.

There are small doses of memorability in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald then. But they are too few and far between the constant cascades of exposition and sequel-hyping. There are still three entries left for the Fantastic Beasts series to live up to its potential (and Crimes of Grindelwald certainly lets you know more films are coming). But in order to make a great franchise, each individual installment has to be able to stand on its own two feet in addition to building the greater mythology. J. K. Rowling’s script for Crimes of Grindelwald is so deeply preoccupied with world-building that it forgets to be a movie in its own right.

 

4

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Venom Review

Venom is the kind of movie I wish I could say I liked more than I did. The idea of a Marvel film based around a villain/anti-hero certainly stands out in this day and age when several films based around Marvel heroes are released every year. But while the concept of Venom has some promise, and some strong performances, it ultimately feels indecisive with what kind of film in wants to be, which continuously halts any momentum it gains.

Venom of course tells the origin story of its titular anti-hero, a hotshot reporter named Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who, after raising suspicions of illegal activity with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) – the billionaire head of Life Foundation, a scientific research organization – loses his career and credibility, as well as his fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). It turns out (of course) that Drake really is committing heinous crimes, having homeless people kidnapped and experimented on under the guise of medical tests. In truth, the Life Foundation has come into possession of blob-like alien lifeforms called Symbiotes, which can’t survive on Earth for long without latching onto (or, more accurately, into) a host. Drake is using his victims as guinea pigs for the Symbiotes, but if the host isn’t a perfect match, the connection between them and the Symbiode will quickly kill the host.

Luckily for Eddie Brock, at least one of Drake’s scientist actually has a conscience, and she seeks him out so he can expose Drake’s crimes (the cops are a no-go due to Drake’s threats, which I guess also include any official press, so Eddie – being fired and all – is her go-to I suppose). She sneaks Eddie into the facility, and during his escapades he accidentally releases a Symbiote, which then uses him as its host. Thankfully for both Eddie and the Symbiote, they are a perfect match for each other. Not that the film gives much detail as to what that means. Are they a biological match? The Symbiote also affects his mind, so does it feed off his emotions? The former is probably what the film intends, though the latter scenario seems like it makes for a more interesting character.

With the Symbiote in his body and mind, Eddie Brock is able to become the creature Venom, who can manipulate its liquid-like body in a variety of ways, in addition to possessing superhuman strength and agility. Although a decent stretch of the film is dedicated to Brock getting used to a life shared with an alien parasite, it eventually becomes your standard superhero fare, with Venom destined to stop Drake’s evil plots involving the other Symbiotes.

The film is at its best when it focuses on Eddie and his struggles with the Symbiote. Tom Hardy’s performances as both Eddie Brock and the voice of Venom are the film’s biggest highlights. Hardy gives both characters a sense of complexity that you wish were present in the rest of the film. Not that Venom is ever truly terrible (I’ve seen many worse superhero films), just that it can’t seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s edgy and serious one minute, then tries to pull a Deadpool-esque joke between Brock and the Symbiote the next. It can, at times, be effective with being serious or comical, but it never finds a way to make them mesh together cohesively. So when we do get to the ‘funny bits’ after so much angst, it can come off as more awkward than funny.

Sadly, the characters outside of Eddie/Venom just come off as stock superhero movie stereotypes. Although Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed put in the effort, the characters they have to work with are just kind of flat and boring. This is particularly true of Carlton Drake, who falls squarely into the most cliched of super villain roles: the evil billionaire. I suppose it’s an easy archetype to work with (give a bad guy unfathomable wealth and it gives a good excuse why he can afford to act out evil schemes), but it doesn’t exactly change the fact that we’ve seen the evil billionaire super villain a thousand times before. On the plus side of things, the mandatory mid-credits sequence does give us insight as to who the villain in the next film will be, and given the character (and the actor they nabbed to portray him), that raises hopes for the sequel.

Without a more interesting villain here though, Venom suffers. Again, the film is at its best when it’s dealing with Eddie Brock’s struggles with the Symbiote. The film may have greatly benefitted if those struggles in themselves were the primary conflict of the movie, as opposed to the stock villain. Take a note from the Dark Knight films, with the first movie focused on its protagonist’s origin story, then deliver the big villain in the sequel. Venom got the second part right, at least.

As much as I appreciate the concept of a standalone superhero film these days (though I’m sure Sony will make sure Venom doesn’t stay that way), I can’t help but think Venom also suffers from existing in its own bubble without the Spider-Man aspects of the mythology. I understand that Sony has ‘lent’ Spidey to Marvel Studios, but I’m not saying this film needed to have ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s an animated Spider-Man film on the horizon with no connections to the MCU, so why not at least mention that the world of Venom has its own Spider-Man? After all, part of what makes the Venom character stand out is his contrast to Spider-Man. Spidey is the altruistic hero who’s willing to forgive even his greatest foes, while Venom is the more tormented soul who may have morality to him… but only to an extent, having no qualms with biting the head off someone more wicked than himself. With Spider-Man seemingly non-existent in this film universe, there’s no ‘greater good’ to compare Venom’s conflicting good and evil traits to, which ultimately makes him feel not all that different from any other super hero (sans for the head biting).

I don’t want to write off Venom completely. As stated, Tom Hardy’s performance does help elevate the film, and there are some fun moments and exciting action sequences. But by the time the credits start rolling, you won’t feel like you just watched a film that did anything for the superhero genre that you haven’t seen already. But at least when that aforementioned mid-credits sequence happens, you may feel that, next time, you just might.

 

5

Reservoir Dogs Review

1992’s Reservoir Dogs was a landmark in the history of independent cinema. The first film directed by Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs broke the mold with its nonlinear deconstruction of cinematic narrative, and set the tone for Tarantino’s films to come; with violence, profanity, and pop-culture references abound.

One could sum up the uniqueness of Reservoir Dogs with one simple factoid: it’s a heist film in which we never actually see the heist, only the events leading up to it, and its consequences. Summing up Reservoir Dogs as such wouldn’t quite do it justice, but it is a good starting point in describing its unique style.

Reservoir Dogs centers around a band of criminals, each of which have been given nicknames: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and Mr. Brown (portrayed by Quentin Tarantino himself). These six men are strangers to each other, but are acquaintances of mob boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney). Joe and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn) have recruited the six men to steal a fortune in diamonds.

Things go awry, however, and the heist goes disastrously wrong. Mr. Blonde, a violent psychopath, starts shooting civilians, Mr. Orange takes a bullet in the stomach, and cops were ready and prepared at the scene, leading the criminals to grow suspicious that one of them is an undercover cop, and that the whole thing was a setup. Mr. Pink is the only member of the gang to have absconded with diamonds, which he has hidden as he rendezvous with Mr. White and Mr. Orange – who is slowly bleeding to death – at a warehouse where they wait for any other survivors to show up.

Reservoir Dogs set the stage for Tarantino’s nonlinear storytelling. While most of the film takes place in the warehouse in the aftermath of the botched heist, there are three different ‘chapters’ spread throughout that showcase one of the characters in the events leading up to the formation of the planned heist. Before the opening credits, we see the criminals enjoying breakfast at a diner, which gives us a little insight to some of their personalities by means of Tarantino’s trademark ‘removed-from-the-plot’ dialogue. One conversation revolving around Mr. Pink’s vehement aversion to tipping being a particular example at just how entertaining Tarantino’s dialogue can be.

If there’s any notable drawback to Reservoir Dogs, it’s that there isn’t quite enough of that kind of dialogue and other such trademarks that define Tarantino’s works. That’s certainly not to say that there’s anything wrong with the writing at any point in the film, but seeing as the majority of Reservoir Dogs takes place after a horrific shootout, that is understandably the focal point of most of the film’s dialogue. Again, the writing is excellent throughout, but with the writing being so scenario-focused for most of the film’s running time, there’s not as much character to Reservoir Dogs as there is in most of Tarantino’s later work (you may even wonder why Mr. Blue even needed to exist in this movie given his minuscule amount of screen time). You could say the director’s hallmarks are present, but being Tarantino’s first film, they still had yet to grow. It would be with his second film, the masterful Pulp Fiction, that Tarantino’s trademarks were set loose to wreak havoc on conventional movie storytelling.

Still, that’s only a relative complaint. It makes sense that a director’s first film would be a little rough around the edges. And when you consider the limited budget and recourses Tarantino had to work with here (reportedly, some of the suits worn by the cast were owned by their respective actors, as the film’s budget could only afford so many costumes), then the achievements that Reservoir Dogs does make seem all the more impressive, making the shortcomings of both the film’s personality and some of the characters a bit easier to forgive.

Of course, this being a Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs doesn’t hold back on violent imagery. Mr. Orange spends most of the film writhing in a pool of his own blood, and the film’s most infamous moment sees the deranged Mr. Blonde torture a kidnapped police officer while listening to the Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You. Per the norm, the violence is all part of the style and craft of Tarantino’s work, though some audiences may understandably find the torture scene hard to watch (even if it isn’t as graphic as a lot of movie’s you see these days). So a small warning for sensitive audiences, but Reservoir Dogs’ merits certainly outweigh any moments that may make you wince.

Reservoir Dogs remains an immensely entertaining and captivating film even today. It can feel a bit like an unpolished diamond when compared to later Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and the under appreciated Jackie Brown, but it’s a diamond nonetheless. One worth absconding with.

 

8

Christopher Robin Review

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

“Hello there!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could they be any cuter?!”

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

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

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

 

7

Incredibles 2 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, when’s Incredibles 3?

 

9

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review

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

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

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

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

“This is just another Tuesday for Tom Cruise.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

8

Second Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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