The Incredibles is the Best Super Hero Movie Franchise

Well, after fourteen years of waiting, Pixar’s The Incredibles FINALLY has a sequel, and a damn good one at that. Incredibles 2 has already broken box office records, and is on track to break several more. It couldn’t be more deserved, because not only was The Incredibles one of Pixar’s greatest achievements, but (if you ask me) the best super hero film of all time. And now, Incredibles 2 can also claim to be among Pixar’s best, as well as one of the best movie sequels ever (dare I say it has surpassed Toy Story 2 as Pixar’s best sequel?), and with its release, The Incredibles can now claim to be the greatest super hero movie franchise of all time.

I know what you’re thinking, “but what about the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” Well, it’s true that the decade-strong mega-franchise now boasts 19 films (with the 20th soon to hit theaters) that branch through several different tones and styles, which is no small feat. And the fact that Marvel has managed to pull off this complicated crossover is an achievement unto itself.

While I may enjoy most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the Iron Man sequels kinda sucked), I have to admit, even the ones I like begin to blur together. Yes, it seems no matter how different their heroes’ powers are, or whether their plots are more serious or comical, they all ultimately get lost in the shuffle. Again, that’s not to say that I dislike the MCU – far from it – but I find it hard to say I “love” most of the movies within it. I may acknowledge them as being good movies, and that they do what they do really well, but for the most part, the MCU as a whole is what feels like a big deal, as opposed to the individual films within it. The first Avengers movie was something special in that it brought the various Marvel heroes together, and the first Guardians of the Galaxy, along with the Captain America sequels were very well done. But even they kind of blur with the rest of the franchise.

It may be telling that the movie based on a Marvel comic that I still hold in the highest regard is Spider-Man 2 (2004), a film that predated the MCU by a full four years, because it felt like something special in itself. It was a vast improvement over its predecessor, and took the genre to new heights with added character depth and emotional storytelling (shame about that Spider-Man 3…). But the MCU, no matter how fun it gets, almost exclusively feels like it’s always giving a wink as to what’s ahead, instead of producing timeless classics in their own right.

The Incredibles, by contrast, always felt exceptional. Perfecting – and yet, defying – both its status as a super hero film and a mainstream animated feature, The Incredibles was built on layers of narrative depth and themes, and told its story in such a smart way that it was perfectly relatable and entertaining for both kids and adults. In short, it was quite possibly the perfect family film. Even in Pixar’s practically peerless pantheon, The Incredibles was (and is) a standout.

Fourteen years later, and The Incredibles finally has a sequel, one that’s so good that, if it doesn’t match the sheer excellence of the original, it comes damn close enough to not make it an issue. It is every bit the fitting continuation we could have hoped it would be. It feels special, without having to hype up some impending crossover with a dozen other movies in order to do so. It’s sharp script, impeccable set pieces, and strong character depth give it an identity that stands well above most super hero fair.

But things don’t end there, as I would argue that, despite being “kids movies” both Incredibles films are much more intelligent in both structure and thematics than what their live-action contemporaries offer, with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight being the only super hero film that can stack up against them in those regards (though it still falls short).

There’s a humanity to the Incredibles films – both of their depictions of every day life and conversation, and in their philosophies – that the Marvel films simply lack. Even The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 don’t quite share that human quality that either of the Incredibles movies boast. They at once deliver big, blockbuster entertainment, family comedy and drama, and a sense of cinematic auteurism that make them feel like works of art that stand above anything produced by other super hero franchises.

Now, that’s not to say that I need every super hero movie to be a masterwork. That’s a tall order to fill for a film of any genre. But my point is that, although the MCU films have been mostly solid fun, their lack of producing any such film has prevented them from feeling distinct from one another. Yes, the Marvel movies are entertaining, but The Incredibles films – like Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight – take the super hero genre to greater artistic heights, and do so better than the aforementioned films. So while the Marvel Cinematic Universe may keep cranking out hit after hit, in the end, they all just end up feeling like “another” Marvel movie. Very entertaining movies, mind you, but I’d be lying if I said the MCU films linger in my memory in the way that The Incredibles films do.

The Incredibles has provided a one-two punch, producing two of Pixar’s very best films. And that extensive (and painful) wait between the two has only made them feel that much more special. As fun as they are, all twenty MCU films don’t stack up to being as meaningful as just two Incredibles.

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Well, Now I HAVE to Get Kingdom Hearts 3

I may not be the biggest Kingdom Hearts fan out there. Despite some fun ideas, I find the games are bogged down by an utterly convoluted, incomprehensible plot, cliched original characters, and often monotonous gameplay. Not to mention the fact that all the spinoff titles released on a myriad of different platforms all serve as parts of the main story have made it impossible for anyone but the most diehard of fans to follow.

But by God, Kingdom Hearts 3 has a Frozen level!

Allow me to fanboy-out for a moment here. Frozen is my favorite Disney animated film, and yes, one of my favorite films, period. And yes, its presence in Kingdom Hearts 3 is enough to sell me on buying the game (again, the series isn’t horrible. If it were, I wouldn’t buy it even with the Frozen stuff).

Now, this really shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. Seeing as Frozen is the biggest animated film in history – and is especially popular in Japan – it would be nothing short of dumbfounding to leave it out of a game filled with Disney franchises. But to actually see it in action is just…YES!

On the downside, some of the dialogue in the reveal trailer suggests that this entry may still suffer from the narrative gobbledygook of the series. But heck, I’ll push through it for Anna and Elsa.

Although I still have my skepticisms with Kingdom Hearts 3, I do admit I’m intrigued by the fact that it seems to be emphasizing modern Disney movies more than past entries of the series. Along with Frozen, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Pixar films like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. have already been announced. I’ve made it no secret that I think Disney’s current run is their best ever (I don’t care what your nostalgia says). So while some older Disney films will be making a return (Hercules), I’m happy to see something as prominent as Kingdom Hearts is putting modern Disney in the spotlight.

Yeah, I would probably prefer Kingdom Hearts if it were just the Disney (and Final Fantasy) characters. But whatever. We get Frozen. And they even nabbed Josh Gad to voice Olaf for the game, which is pretty great.

Anyway, here’s the reveal trailer for the Frozen stuff in KH3, though be warned, some elements are clearly unfinished (pretty sure Elsa’s ice blast is supposed to have sound), which makes some parts a little awkward. Same goes for the fact that Haley Joel Osment is still the voice of Sora, despite the actor now being 30 and the character still a teenager (have we learned nothing from Goku’s ungodly Japanese voice?).

 

…I promise I’ll add meaningful content soon.

Meet The Robinsons Review

Walt Disney Animation Studios may be the world’s most famous producer of animated features, but their history is one of peaks and plateaus. Though the post-Walt/pre-Renaissance era was their darkest age, Walt Disney Animation Studios entered another dry spell during the 2000s, which bridged the aforementioned Disney Renaissance of the 1990s and their modern resurgence of the 2010s that continues to this day. Outside of Lilo & Stitch, the Disney films of this period either had no staying power, or were downright terrible. Meet the Robinsons, Disney’s 2007 animated feature, can at least claim to fall under the former category. It was certainly a marked step-up from Disney’s previous animated feature (2005’s Chicken Little, more than likely Disney Animation’s all-time low point), and feels like a genuine effort on the studio’s part. Unfortunately, even with its charms, Meet the Robinsons falls well below what the studio is capable of.

Meet the Robinsons follows the story of an orphaned boy named Lewis (Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry), a boy genius and would-be inventor hoping to find a family. He manages to invent a ‘memory scanner,’ which can uncover lost memories, in hopes of finding his birth mother. He brings the machine to his school’s science fair, and that’s where things get complicated.

A teenage boy named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman), who claims to be from the future, shows up to the fair to warn Lewis that a man in a bowler hat – aptly labelled the ‘Bowler Hat Guy’ (Steve Anderson, the film’s director) – has stolen a time machine and is running amok in Lewis’ time. Unbeknownst to Lewis, Bowler Hat Guy has sabotaged his machine, which then wreaks havoc at the fair.

Losing confidence at yet another failed invention (one that could help him find his family, no less), Lewis becomes frustrated and decides to give up inventing. Wilbur returns to cheer Lewis up and to encourage him to continue his inventing. But a disheartened Lewis wants to hear none of it, and doesn’t buy that Wilbur is from the future. To prove himself, Wilbur takes Lewis to his future home via his time machine (one of two built by his father), where he introduces Lewis to his expansive and often bizarre family (while hiding the fact that Lewis is from the past). All the while, they try to find a way to recover the other, stolen time machine to prevent the Bowler Hat Guy from messing with the space-time continuum.

It’s a pretty wacky plot, and like any film that deals with time travel and isn’t Back to the Future, there are certain elements that really don’t make much sense when you think about them (in Back to the Future, the characters’ presence in the past altered historical events, while in every other movie, it seems the tampering with history somehow results in the creation of the events of their original timeline, which wouldn’t make sense unless they had been altered before, but differently). But Meet the Robinsons doesn’t take its time travel element as seriously as a lot of other movies, so I suppose the fact that things don’t always add up doesn’t matter too much in the greater context of the story.

The sad thing about Meet the Robinsons is that it actually feels like Disney made a solid effort to try to get things back on track after years of misfires (which is a big step up from Chicken Little, where I can’t imagine what the filmmakers were thinking). So it is a shame that Meet the Robinsons ultimately comes off as disappointing.

Though the plot can be fun and heartwarming, it just takes too long to get going, with a first act that feels like it came off a conveyor belt. And not all of the humor hits the mark (one member of the Robinson family is married to his hand puppet, which elicits more questions about his mental health than it does laughs).

Meet the Robinsons can also be kind of weird at times, which on one hand feels a little ahead of its time (just look at the surreal animated series that aired on TV a few years later, like Adventure Time or Regular Show), but in execution it stumbles, and feels more like the filmmakers were acting out of desperation to get a few extra laughs out of audiences. The Robinsons have an octopus monster for a butler, they have singing frogs as pets; and two members of the family live like potted plants at the family’s front door, each insisting guests ring the doorbell on their side of the door. I’m all for weird, especially in animation, which feels right at home with the surreal and strange. But again, Meet the Robinsons weirdness feels more thrown together – perhaps to make up for a lack of comedy in the writing – than it does imaginative.

The animation itself also seems uninspired. Though it’s not ugly, the character designs and animation are far from impressive. Usually, Disney movies – at the very least – stand out visually. But Meet the Robinsons only ever looks average.

By this point this is all sounding negative, but the truth is that Meet the Robinsons is a film I wish I could like more. It’s far from a total loss, with some solid voice work, and a strong improvement in story quality in the third act, including a pretty touching ending.

Long story short, Meet the Robinsons feels like a genuine effort, and I can appreciate it for that effort. Perhaps even the young audience that serves as the film’s target demographic can have a lot of fun with it. But when you consider that this is a Disney animated film, a canon that boasts more than their share of timeless classics that both older and younger audiences can appreciate, Meet the Robinsons comes off as a pale imitation.

The next year would see the release of Bolt, which served as another step forward for Disney, but it wouldn’t be until two years after Robinsons when the animation giant would really get their mojo back with The Princess and the Frog, which started a winning streak that continues today. Meet the Robinsons is thus one of Disney’s more forgotten animated films, but it’s certainly a lot better than many of Disney’s output that came before it, and may even win over some audiences. I mean, any film that names its villain ‘Bowler Hat Guy’ definitely has something going for it.

 

5

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

There’s perhaps no more beloved Star Wars character than Han Solo. The roguish rule breaker made famous by Harrison Ford was thus the perfect candidate to get his own standalone origin film. Although a host of production issues – including replacing directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord with Ron “Arrested Development Narrator” Howard – meant the film stands on some shaky foundations, it still delivers another solidly entertaining Star Wars adventure.

Of course, the movie centers around a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), and the various adventures that made him the scoundrel we all know and love. We see how he meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), his first flight with the Millennium Falcon, and we even get to see that fabled Kessel Run first mentioned in the very first Star Wars movie.

The film begins with Han’s hard life on the planet Corellia, where we meet his first love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). When it finally looks like Han and Qi’ra are free to get off the harsh planet, Qi’ra is caught by Imperial troops at the last minute. Thus Han begins his journey to become a great pilot to return to Corellia and find Qi’ra. Han first attempts this by joining the Imperial forces, but after flunking (due to not following orders), he decides to join a band of smugglers who are ready to pull off a major heist, one that could snag Han his own ship.

This ragtag band is comprised of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his wife Val (Thandie Newman), and a small, multi-armed monkey-man named Rio Durant (Jon Favreau). They are later joined by the aforementioned Lando Calrissian and his droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). But things grow complicated, and eventually Han and the gang find themselves serving a mob boss called Dryden Vos (Paul Bethany).

Appropriately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a much simpler film than most other Star Wars fare, with galactic struggles of good and evil being replaced with a much smaller scale story of Han and company simply trying to survive the criminal underbelly of a certain corner of that galaxy. Because of this, Solo lacks much of the drama and depth of recent Star Wars features The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and even fellow anthology film Rogue One. While Solo may be lighter fare than its Star Wars kin, it nonetheless shares their adventurous spirit.

“Fun” is perhaps the key word to describe Solo. It lacks many of the fantasy elements of the series (no Jedi here) and instead solely focuses on the ‘movie serial’ quality of the franchise. It lacks in ambition, being the safest Star Wars movie since Disney’s acquisition of the series, but makes up for it in one thrilling set piece and action sequence after another.

That’s not to say that their aren’t a few bumps in the road along the way. As fun as Solo is, the film’s troubled production may be present at times, with the movie having somewhat inconsistent pacing. Not to mention some of the film’s best characters (Rio Durant) could have used some more screen time, while the film’s most obnoxious character (L3-37) gets way too much.

Though the biggest issue with Solo: A Star Wars Story goes back to its sense of complacency and its unambitious nature. Solo is a fun movie throughout, and certainly a solid effort at delivering what it promises (a little detour of the series focused on a single, beloved character), but it’s also the first of these recent Star Wars films to not feel ‘special.’ At least not within the context of being a Star Wars film. I suppose the fact that it’s a big-budget crowd pleaser that doesn’t involve super heroes is a special achievement in its own right in this day and age.

If all you’re looking for is a good time at the movies, and a thrilling adventure that happens to take place in a certain galaxy far, far away, then Solo: A Star Wars Story easily delivers. But you might want to downplay your expectations if you’re looking for the next Star Wars classic.

With that said, we do get to see Chewbacca kick all kinds of ass. And that’s always a lovely, lovely thing.

 

7

Coco Review

Pixar has been in an interesting place over the past few years. In the 2000s, it seemed like no one in the animation business could approach what Pixar was achieving with feature after feature. The 2010s, on the other hand, have been a bit less consistent, with their parent company Disney seemingly taking the animation crown for themselves. Toy Story 3 got things off to a strong start, but Cars 2 marked the studio’s first real dud. Brave wasn’t bad, but well below what we had come to know the studio for, and The Good Dinosaur is probably second only to the aforementioned Cars 2 at the bottom of the Pixar ladder. During the last few years, Pixar has also relied heavily on sequels: Monsters University was a fun if uneventful prequel to Monsters, Inc. Cars 3, though far from great, was an improvement over its dreadful predecessor. Finding Dory was perhaps Pixar’s only non-Toy Story sequel that matched up to its original, though even it wasn’t the most ambitious Pixar feature. Somewhere in the middle of all this though, Pixar released their most original, imaginative and (in my opinion) greatest feature in Inside Out. So while Pixar may not quite boast the inhuman consistency in quality they once did, they’re still more than capable of delivering the magic they once did so regularly.

Where exactly does Pixar’s most recent feature, Coco, fit into this equation? Well, it’s certainly the famed studio’s most original outing since Inside Out, and probably comes in second place (again, to Inside Out) in being Pixar’s most imaginative feature. Its plot does have some shaky elements that the studio’s best features usually lack, but in terms of emotional resonance and that indelible Pixar magic, Coco is up there with anything Pixar has created before.

Coco revolves around the Rivera family. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the youngest member of the family, and dreams of being a musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel’s dreams clash with his family, however, as the Riveras have banned music for generations, after Miguel’s great-great-grandmother’s musician husband abandoned her and her daughter, Coco. Understandably, the family has long-since erased the great-great-grandfather from their lives, and Coco – the only living relative who could remember him – suffers from severe memory loss at her old age (it is implied, though not explicitly stated, that she suffers from Alzheimer’s).

During Dia de los Muertos, Miguel happens to stumble upon some clues as to the identity of his long-forgotten great-great-grandfather; none other than Ernesto de la Cruz himself! Now more determined to become a musician than ever, Miguel confronts his family which, as you may have guessed, doesn’t go too well. After an argument with his grandmother, Miguel runs away from home, and looks to borrow Ernesto’s famed guitar from the singer’s mausoleum to use in a talent show to help his dream come true. But by “stealing” from the dead, Miguel has brought a curse upon himself, becoming invisible to all the humans around him.

Luckily for Miguel, many of his deceased ancestors are visiting the area for Dia de los Muertos. The spectral skeletons are able to see the boy just fine, but recognizing that he’s still alive, take Miguel to the Land of the Dead in order to find a way to send Miguel back home. Miguel can return to the land of the living with the blessing of one of his ancestors, but when they all add the condition that he must give up music when he gets back, Miguel leaves to find Ernesto de la Cruz in order to send him back home while still being able to keep his dream of becoming a musician alive.

Along the way, Miguel meets up with an old friend of Ernesto de la Cruz, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a skeleton who’s in danger of being forgotten in the land of the living, which would result in him vanishing from the land of the dead (the “final death” as the skeletons refer to it). Miguel and Hector team up, with Hector having connections to Ernesto de la Cruz, he can help Miguel get home. In exchange, he gives Miguel his photo to be taken to the land of the living and be put on his family’s ofrenda for Dia de los Muertos, thus ensuring he won’t be forgotten.

In case my lengthy synopsis of the setup weren’t evidence enough, the story of Coco is a bit complicated compared to most Pixar fare, at least in terms of setup. Using Dia de los Muertos as the backdrop for the story makes for both imaginative storytelling and eye-popping visuals, with the locations of the Land of the Dead being up there with the world of Riley’s mind of Inside Out as one of Pixar’s most vibrant and beautiful creations.

The only real downside to Coco is that, in order to make all these world-building elements around Dia de los Muertos work with the plot, the story does have to jump through some hoops in order to work properly (I can understand why the spirit of Miguel’s great-great-grandmother wouldn’t send him back unless he gave up music, but the fact that his other ancestors are afraid to do so just seems overly convenient).

That’s not to say that I have too many complaints with the story. As stated, all of these issues occur in the build-up, and the payoff ultimately makes it all well worth it. But most of Pixar’s best features seem to come together flawlessly. By comparison, Coco’s story may ultimately prove to be a beautiful structure, but it’s on a bit shakier foundations.

Again, these are all quibbles in the end, because when Coco works, it works wonders. The animation is among the best Pixar has ever created, and it is also arguably the best Pixar feature to listen to, with a host of songs written by Robert Lopez and Kristen-Anderson Lopez, the duo who helped make Frozen Disney’s best musical.

Most importantly, Coco lives up to Pixar’s legacy of heartfelt, emotional storytelling. Miguel and Hector end up being some of Pixar’s most likable creations, and the film boasts some heavy themes about death, family and remembering lost love ones. Appropriately, with such subject matter comes some of Pixar’s biggest emotional punches (and boy, is that saying something). In discussions of Pixar’s most heart-tugging moments, it’s usually the opening montage in Up and the ending of Toy Story 3 that are most frequently mentioned (perhaps not surprisingly, I’m partial to the entire third act of Inside Out). But I think the ending sequences of Coco stand next to Inside Out in being the most emotionally powerful and meaningful material in the Pixar canon. During my first viewing, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theater when Coco’s credits started rolling.

It’s often said that the journey, not the destination, is what’s important. And while that may often be the case, Coco is an example of a flawless ending justifying whatever missteps the journey may have. That’s not to say that the journey of Coco is a troubled one – there are only a couple of bumps in the road early on – but when all is said and done, you’ll probably forgive them for being there, considering what they lead up to.

 

9

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

I have to admit I was thoroughly lost during Spider-Man: Homecoming. Throughout the entire movie, I kept wondering how this Peter Parker kid became Spider-Man. I mean, what’s the backstory here? Why does he just have these powers? This is the kind of thing that begs for an origin story.

I am of course joking. Spider-Man’s origin story is such common knowledge that he, like Batman, doesn’t need another cinematic retelling at this point. 2002’s Spider-Man remains one of the best super hero origin story movies (along with, ironically enough, Batman Begins), and there really wasn’t a need for us to hear it again through the less-than stellar 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Besides, super hero films tend to be at their best once the origin story is behind them, with Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight remaining at the top of super hero storytelling, as they could focus more on the characters themselves and not have to worry about how their heroes earned their costumes and powers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming wisely does away with re-re-introducing us to Spider-Man’s origin story, with the details of being bitten by a radioactive spider only being mentioned in passing, and the death of his uncle Ben only being implied. So Spider-Man: Homecoming not only serves as another reboot to Marvel’s iconic web-slinger, but also, thankfully, works as something of a self-contained sequel to a narrative we are all beyond familiar with by this point.

This “proper reboot” of the franchise is only one of the newsworthy aspects of this new Spider-Man series, with the other big news being that this newest incarnation is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most prominent movie franchise not called Star Wars.

We met this newest Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he was part of Iron Man’s team who did battle with that of Captain America. But now we have Spidey’s first solo outing in the MCU, and it actually turns out to be one of the best entries in the mega franchise, due in no small part to the film taking cues from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 by creating fleshed-out, relatable characters in both its hero and villain.

Not only does Homecoming show us Spider-Man still trying to learn the ropes of being a super hero (and often stumbling), but it also dedicates a good deal of time to Peter Parker’s high school life, and the real-world problems and hassles therein.

Meanwhile, the film’s villain is the Vulture, whose secret identity is one Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). If the MCU has had one persistent problem – even in some of its better films – it’s that the villains have been largely forgettable, with only a select few standing out, and none of them really being anything more than a villain. What makes Toomes such a winning antagonist (along with Keaton’s excellent performance) is that, much like Peter Parker is depicted as a real kid, Toomes is a very relatable everyman. Tasked with cleaning up the damage that the Avengers leave behind (the film begins with Toomes’ crew beginning reconstruction on one of the set pieces of 2012’s The Avengers), Toomes and his men end up jobless as soon as the government decides to butt in. So Toomes, wanting to provide for his family and to keep his friends doing the same, goes rogue, and leads an underground operation that steals technology left in the wake of the Avengers, SHIELD, Hydra, and any other “super” organization, crafts their own weapons from it, and sells them on the black market.

The fact that Toomes is selling super-weapons to criminals obviously makes him the villain, but he’s also presented as a relatable figure who was wronged and simply wants to set things right. Unlike so many past villains in the MCU, Toomes actually has a strong motivation for his actions.

It’s because of how wonderfully realized both its hero and villain are that ascend Homecoming to being one of the better super hero movies of recent times, though unfortunately, it does suffer a bit from its supporting characters, which can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides some good comic relief, but some of his actions may not endear him to audiences (the trailers already reveal that he learns of Peter’s secret life as Spider-Man, and he almost outs his best friend’s secret at the first opportunity). Peter’s crush Liz (Laura Harrier) works well enough for the plot, but she doesn’t exactly get a whole lot of character development. They are forgivable though, since their characters have enough likable qualities about them. Less forgivable is the character of Michelle Jones (Zendaya) who, as you may guess by her initials, is to be the MCU’s equivalent of “MJ” Mary-Jane Watson.

Seeing as this is the second cinematic reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I perfectly understand the filmmakers trying to change up the characters a bit so we can see something we aren’t already overly familiar with. But the Michelle character is simply unlikable. Zendaya’s acting is fine, but what she has to work with doesn’t exactly make Michelle an appealing character. She’s obnoxious, pretentious, brags about not having any friends… She’s basically like a checklist of all the things older generations ridicule millennials for.

But the rest of the characters are all well and fine. This being the MCU, we of course have to have crossover characters involved, though Homecoming is wise to keep them to a minimum as to not take the focus away from the story at hand: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) returns as Peter’s mentor. Meanwhile, Stark’s former driver and bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) returns to keep an eye on Peter while Iron Man is off with bigger things. And in perhaps some of the best uses of MCU cameos, Captain America (Chris Evans) is featured in public-service announcements in Peter’s high school.

I really enjoyed how Homecoming is a relatively smaller-scale Marvel movie. We’ve seen so many cities get leveled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by this point, that I’m starting to get more tired of the mass destruction than anything. But Homecoming takes the time to humanize both Spider-Man and the Vulture, while also showing us how complicated the lives of Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes can be. The stakes aren’t to save the planet, or even a city. It’s just about a kid trying to be responsible and to do the right thing, and trying to stop a downtrodden, misguided man who’s caught up in doing wrong. And by this point, that’s pretty refreshing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the super hero genre, but it does take inspiration from the better films from the genre’s booming early years (most notably Spider-Man 2) to make a film that may not be the most grandiose of super hero outings, but one that succeeds in the two areas where it most counts: story and characters. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have great action set-pieces, because it delivers on just that as well. But for the first time in a while, I feel like the MCU has a hero worth rooting for not just because of a charismatic on-screen presence, but also for his relatability. Just as noteworthy, the same can be said for its villain.

 

7

Cars 3 Review

Pixar’s resume has built such a prestige over the years, that the release of a new film from the studio is often cause for celebration. Though it was a little harder to get too excited for Cars 3. While 2006’s Cars was a good enough movie, it was far from Pixar’s best. Its 2011 sequel, Cars 2, broke Pixar’s then-undefeated streak of quality films, and was the first flat-out bad Pixar movie. But the Cars franchise remains Pixar’s biggest merchandise seller, so here we are with a third entry in the series.

I tend to favor the Andy Warhol outlook in believing that, just because something is made with commercial intentions, it doesn’t automatically disqualify it as art. And Cars 3 ended up being a good example of just that. While it certainly won’t be in discussions of Pixar’s finest achievements, Cars 3 manages to avoid the pitfalls of its immediate predecessor and delivers a heartfelt (if familiar) tale that justifies the series’ continuation.

First thing’s first, Cars 3, in many ways, seems like an apology to audiences for Cars 2. None of the original characters from the second film return (which is a little bit of a shame, as I actually enjoyed Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer’s characters, despite the film they were stuck in). Perhaps even more notably, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the comic foil of the first film who was the miscast star of the second, has a completely minimized role; only appearing in a small number of scenes and with few spoken lines of dialogue. The role of comic relief is mostly passed on to series mainstays Luigi (Tony Shalhoub) and Guido (Guido Quaroni), as well as newcomer Cruz Remirez (Cristela Alonzo), who serves as Lightning McQueen’s new trainer.

Speaking of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), the red race car is back to where he belongs as the central character in the film. Taking place a good deal of time after the events of the second film, Lightning McQueen is now a veteran racer, and he’s beginning to be upstaged by younger, newer racers who are changing the game to such an extent that many of Lightning’s old friends and rivals on the racetrack are heading for retirement. One newcomer in particular, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), is proving to be a thorn in Lightning’s side.

During one such race, Lightning – desperate to beat Storm and prove he’s not ready to hang it up – overdoes himself and ends up in a terrible crash. Lightning fears he may end up like his mentor, Doc Hudson, and be forced into retirement without getting the chance to show what he has left. From there, Lightning’s sponsors sell their company to billionaire Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who plans to put Lightning through vigorous new training techniques to get him back on the winning side.

When it looks as though Lightning is too old to handle these new training methods, Sterling wishes to send Lightning into a quiet retirement, and continue his legacy through branding. Lightning, wanting to decide for himself when he’s done, makes a bet with Sterling. If Lightning can win one more big race, then he gets to continue to race for as long as he sees fit. But if Lightning doesn’t win, he will agree to retirement. Sterling assigns Cruz Ramirez to help train McQueen who – along with Luigi and Guido – are ready to do whatever they need to make sure Lightning continues racing.

It’s a simple enough premise, and echoes the 2006 original in a number of scenes (I suppose playing it safe to what worked just fine is better than whatever happened with Cars 2). But Cars 3 has enough heart to hold its own as a film.

The Doc Hudson character (voiced by Paul Newman in the original Cars) was the heart and soul of the first film. When Paul Newman passed away in between the first two films, the character was written out of the sequel. An understandable choice on the part of the filmmakers, but no doubt the absence of the first film’s best character was one of the many aspects that left the second film feeling so empty. Cars 3 finds a way to keep the character’s presence intact in a way that’s still respectful to Newman, with flashbacks involving both returning dialogue from the first film, as well as unused lines recorded by Newman. It also helps this threequel that Doc Hudson’s passing is actually used as a thematic point, and not just present in a throwaway line like in Cars 2.

The film as a whole has a nice message about growing older and continuing what you love, even if the world may suggest you’re passed your prime. And the presence of Doc Hudson brings back the heart the second film so sorely lacked. But it’s Cruz Ramirez who gives Cars 3 an identity separate from the first film, with her relationship and interactions with Lightning McQueen standing out as high points for the entire Cars series. And she even proves to be effective comic relief.

Cars 3 is also a beautifully animated film. Though it uses many of the same characters and assets as the other films in the series, Cars 3 looks sleeker and more eye-popping than ever. The racing and action scenes in particular, are quite stunning to behold.

If there’s any fault to be had with Cars 3, it’s simply that it is unambitious. Perhaps it has its reasons for playing things safe after Cars 2, but the similarities to the first film in Cars 3’s narrative are more than a few. And as unfair of a complaint as this may sound, the concept behind the Cars movies has always been far more creatively limited than Pixar’s other works. There’s only so much that can be done with talking cars both in terms of  their movements in animation and the stories they can tell. Cars 3 does the best with what it has, and is certainly a worthwhile rectification for the Cars series, but if one were to compare it with Pixar films such as Inside Out, The Incredibles or Wall-E, then Cars 3 falls drastically short.

With all that said, Cars 3 is a fun movie from start to finish. Its fast-paced action, coupled with its exquisite animation and charming characters (also including Doc Hudson’s former crew chief Smokey, voiced by Chris Cooper) make for a film that children can easily love, and one that may prove surprisingly entertaining for adults.

 

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