Deadpool 2: Family is Not an F Word

Family may not be an F word, but there are plenty of other F words is Deadpool 2. It’s ironic that a movie so full of brutal violence, profane language, and raunchy humor can feel so refreshing, but such is the case with Deadpool 2, which, like its 2016 predecessor, does not give a damn about being politically correct. This may be a superhero movie based on a popular Marvel comics character, but this is not a movie to take the kids to.

Images: 20th Century Fox

Deadpool 2 presents the continued misadventures of Wade Wilson, the “Merc with a Mouth,” the self-aware, superpowered killing machine with an endless sarcastic streak and terminal cancer, although his advanced healing powers keep his cancer at bay and also make him basically unkillable.

Not that that prevents anyone from trying. Through the course of the movie, Wade is shot, stabbed, sliced, punched, thrown through walls and windows, blown up, eviscerated, and even literally ripped in half. He survives it all and always has a quip to spare.

The plot this time around doesn’t have the immediacy of the original film, but it still provides plenty of fuel for often hilarious hijinks. The antagonist is Cable, a time-traveling cyborg assassin from the future who comes back in time to kill a teenage boy named Russell, in order to prevent him from doing some bad stuff in the future. Wade takes it upon himself to protect Russell, and mayhem ensues. If that synopsis sounds familiar then you’ve probably seen Terminator 2. It’s exactly the same thing.

Deadpool 2 may not be quite as fresh as its predecessor, but its still quite a bit of fun. Cable is played by Josh Brolin, who you may remember played the infamous Thanos in Avengers Infinity War, which came out less than a month ago. He’s been busy, and he’s quite good in Deadpool 2 as well, although Cable doesn’t get as much character development as Thanos.

Wade of course calls Cable Thanos at one point, leading to confused looks from the other characters. Part of what makes Deadpool so popular is his self-awareness, which means that he knows he’s a character in a movie or comic book or what have you, and will frequently break the fourth wall and directly address the audience. The movie is very funny, and judging from the raucous laughter in the theater where I saw it last week, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

It is impossible to talk about Deadpool without talking about Ryan Reynolds, who was born to play Wade Wilson. He’s so perfect in the role that not only is it impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character, it almost seems like Deadpool and Reynolds are the same person sometimes. Seriously, it’s uncanny. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch Reynolds’ recent in-character appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It’s hilarious and takes the movie’s meta self-awareness to a whole new level. It’s been a joy to see the trailers and commercials for the movie, they’re all very funny and creative. It must be a dream job to think of ways to advertise this movie, since you’d be able to let your imagination run wild.

Reynolds also has a screenwriting credit, along with returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are several lines of dialogue that are different in the movie and in the trailers, which makes me think that there were so many good lines that they couldn’t cram them all in the movie, so they put the best ones in the movie and some of the leftovers in the trailers. The deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray should be hilarious.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Deadpool costume Reynolds wears in both movies is 100% perfect. Not only is it completely faithful to the character’s comic book appearance, it just looks fantastic on screen. It has a certain grimy quality to it, it’s not always bright and shiny. It has a lived-in feel, which subtly helps sell all the gruesome punishment that Wade endures. Wolverine’s classic yellow-and-blue costume may look good on a comics page, but there’s a reason Hugh Jackman never wore it in any of the more than half-dozen movies in which he played Wolverine. It wouldn’t look good on the big screen, whereas Deadpool’s red-and-black costume translates perfectly to cinema.

The movie was directed by David Leitch, who made Atomic Blonde and co-directed the first John Wick. He’s a veteran stunt coordinator who knows how to deliver kinetic, bone-crunching action. The action sequences in Deadpool 2 are white-knuckled and exciting, particularly a show-stopping truck chase that is one of the best vehicular action sequences I’ve seen since Mad Max: Fury Road. He’s also good at mixing the action with the humor, particularly in the lead-up to the big truck chase, where most of Deadpool’s newly-recruited team meets a variety of grisly ends, in one of the movie’s best and most gruesome gags.

As enjoyable as the movie is, it is of course not perfect. It’s a bit of a mess tonally, and can’t always seem to decide whether it wants to be serious or goofy, at times trying for both and ending up with neither. The plot is a bit formulaic and lacks the immediacy of the first film’s single-minded quest for revenge (MUST. KILL. FRANCIS.). There are more characters this time around, which makes the film a bit unwieldy, although many of the new characters are promptly offed in various creative and grisly ways.

Post-credits scenes in Marvel movies are nothing new, but Deadpool 2 has probably the best post-credits scene in any movie ever. It’s too good to spoil, so let’s just say that Wade takes it upon himself to correct some past mistakes, with hysterical results.

The Deadpool movies are violent and vulgar and most likely not to every viewer’s taste, but I’d be lying if I said the vulgarity wasn’t part of the appeal. If 20th Century Fox keeps making R-rated superhero movies this wildly entertaining, I’ll happily keep watching them.

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Avengers Infinity War: The End of the Beginning

The screen cut to black, and the credits started to roll. And everyone in the theater sat in stunned silence.

I suspect this was the case in theaters across the globe last weekend at the conclusion of Marvel’s epic Avengers: Infinity War, in many ways one of the biggest movies ever made. It’s a damn good movie, one with such a devastating ending that I simply must talk about it. I try to avoid spoilers for new releases, but in this case it can’t be helped so be aware that this post will include spoilers.

There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

First off: there are a LOT of characters in the movie. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Star-Lord, Groot, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, Mantis, Nebula, Wong, Loki, Heimdall, Shuri, Okoye, and the Mad Titan himself, THANOS.

Images: Marvel/Disney
Whew. One of the movie’s many pleasures is seeing combinations of characters that haven’t met before. I particularly enjoyed Thor’s scenes with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man and Star-Lord bonding over 80’s pop culture references. Infinity War is frequently a very funny movie, and many of the funniest lines and moments come as a result of these characters being thrust together in unexpected ways. The only characters that aren’t in the movie are Hawkeye and Ant-Man, and Ant-Man will be in theaters again later this summer in his own sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp. Don’t know about Hawkeye though, maybe we’ll see him in Infinity War Part Two.

Speaking of part two, it’s important to remember that Infinity War is the first part of a two-part story, and the two films were shot back-to-back. So as devastating as that ending was, keep in mind that this is NOT THE END. More on this later.

Infinity War is a movie that requires a level of patience from the viewer, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are so many characters and so many things going on that it can be an effort to keep up with it all. The movie follows one group of characters for a while, then switches to a different group, meaning that the viewer has to frequently reorient themselves.

This can be a bit difficult, but it’s not a complaint. Infinity War is a movie that requires the audience to engage with it. It’s not a mindless blockbuster. There’s a lot of intelligence and heart behind it, and it benefits from a decade’s worth of audience engagement with the previous movies. It doesn’t have to make the audience care about these characters because if you’ve been watching every movie for the last ten years then you already do care about them, which is another thing that makes the ending such a gut-punch.

There’s not a whole lot of room in the movie for individual character development, but there doesn’t need to be since we already know all the main characters. If I had to pick one character that I would describe as the most important character in the film, it would be Thanos, the greatest villain the Avengers have ever faced.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been teasing Thanos since the first Avengers movie in 2012, and carefully introducing the Infinity Stones in various movies. Infinity War is the movie where it all comes together, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Thanos is everything fans could want from the character. As soon as he appears onscreen, which happens in the movie’s first scene, no one is safe. The stakes feel very real. One thing about the various Avengers’ solo films is that there’s no doubt the protagonist will survive to the end, but in Infinity War, everyone’s lives are very much at stake.

Thanos could easily have been portrayed as a generic bad guy, but he isn’t, and it is to the credit of directors Joe and Anthony Russo, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and actor Josh Brolin that Thanos is portrayed so well. The movie gives us some of Thanos’ backstory, and we learn that his home planet of Titan was overpopulated and everyone except him died. Since then, he has been trying to preserve life by conquering planets one by one and destroying half the population of each. This is a time-consuming process, and the powers of the Infinity Stones will give him the means to wipe out half the population in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Thanos doesn’t see himself as the villain. He sees his actions as being right, and is aware of the cost, but to him the preservation of life as a whole is worth the destruction of half of it.

Josh Brolin is excellent as Thanos, and his performance, the excellent writing and directing, and top-notch special effects make Thanos one of the greatest comic-book-movie villains of all time. I counted twenty-five characters in the list above, and all of their combined efforts are not enough to stop him.

Thanos wins.

Or does he?

It’s time, my friends, to talk about The Snap.

Despite all their efforts and the ferocious and thrilling battles that are waged along the way, the Avengers are ultimately unable to prevent Thanos from collecting all six Infinity Stones, and as Thanos and Thor grapple, Thanos extends a gauntleted hand…

…and snaps his fingers.

And people start to die.

It starts with Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, Captain America’s best and oldest friend. He drops his rifle and disintegrates as Cap watches, helpless.

Others follow.

Falcon. Scarlet Witch. Black Panther. Doctor Strange. Star-Lord. Drax. Mantis. Groot.

And, finally, devastatingly, Spider-Man. Peter Parker. A high-school kid. “I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark,” he says to Iron Man. He’s beginning to disintegrate. He collapses into Tony’s arms, sobbing. “I don’t want to go Mr. Stark, please, I don’t want to go…” he begs. Tony tries to comfort him, but it’s too late, Peter is gone, and Tony is left literally empty-handed, having just witnessed the death of a kid that he feels responsible for having dragged into this mess in the first place.

Oh.

My.

God.

I seriously didn’t get through writing that without tears.

Going into Infinity War, I was aware of the possibility of losing some of these characters that I love. But never did I think that there would be so many, or that their losses would be so devastating.

Especially Peter.

Batman will always be my favorite superhero, but Spider-Man is a very close second. I love the guy, and I love Tom Holland’s portrayal of him. Hearing the fear in his voice and the desperation in his eyes as he fades away tore my heart out and stomped on it, and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in that crushing moment was also superb. Earlier in the film, Tony and Pepper Potts, his fiancée, had been talking about getting married and having a family, and later, a kid for whom he had become a surrogate father literally fades away in his arms.

I’m sorry, I’m crying again.

Judging from people’s reactions on the internet, I’m not the only person who was hit so hard by that.

But it is important to once again emphasize that THIS IS NOT THE END. Time for some theorizing and rampant speculation.

First of all, there is no way Marvel and Disney would kill that many franchises in one fell swoop. The Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel already has a release date for 2019, and there is already talk of a Black Panther sequel and more Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which logically would have to take place after the events of Infinity War. Also, Black Panther just made more than a billion dollars worldwide and became a cultural talking point, there’s no way Marvel and Disney would simply shrug their shoulders and say, “Sorry guys, no more Black Panther movies!”

I don’t doubt that some of these characters will be back. I also don’t doubt that some of them won’t be. We’ve probably seen the last of Loki and Heimdall, and it’s hard to see Gamora coming back after Thanos sacrifices her to obtain the Soul Stone. Another thing I do not doubt is that reclaiming what was lost will require further sacrifice. The survivors of The Snap are mostly original Avengers such as Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and War Machine. Perhaps Infinity War Part Two will involve the efforts of the older Avengers to find out some way of bringing back the newer ones, even at the expense of their own lives.

It’s also worth remembering that two of the Infinity Stones are the Soul Stone, which can bring people back to life, and the Time Stone, which gives its wielder the power of time manipulation (used to great effect by Doctor Strange in his solo movie, and used to much more nefarious effect by Thanos in Infinity War). It’s not hard to see how those could be used to resurrect some of the heroes we lost, but doing so will require the remaining Avengers to somehow get the Stones from Thanos, which will be even more difficult at half-strength.

If/when some of the departed heroes do return, their loss in this film will still resonate, and will still affect the survivors moving forward.

Who knows what will happen in the as-yet unnamed Infinity War sequel? All I know is that it’s due out on May 3, 2019, exactly one year from the day I am posting this.

And now the wait begins…

RAMPAGE is Exactly What You Think it is

RAMPAGE is a deeply silly movie, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The movie is based on a series of arcade games that started in the 80’s. I never played any of them but from what I can tell they’re mostly plotless, and are simply concerned with letting the player control giant monsters and wreck lots of stuff.

This is totally fine, but presents problems for an adaptation, because there is no plot. The movie invents a plot that is profoundly silly and wildly implausible, and makes for a movie that is absolute tons of fun. I had a blast with RAMPAGE, despite its many obvious flaws. This is one of those movies where I was having so much fun that the movie’s problems didn’t bother me at all.

Images: Warner Bros.

Here’s my attempt to explain the ludicrous plot. The movie invents an evil corporation called Energyne which is run by two complete dipshits who are conducting some kind of genetic research that is so dangerous it has to be carried out in a space station. This inevitably goes horribly wrong (“The test subjects have gotten loose!” is one of the first lines of the movie) and canisters of dangerous experimental goo end up falling to earth. This is a movie where plot devices LITERALLY FALL FROM THE SKY. And wouldn’t you know it, various wild animals find those canisters and begin to transform into giant mutant creatures. This leads to the titular RAMPAGE, and yes, I will be capitalizing the word RAMPAGE every time I write it, so you might as well get used to it.

One of the animals exposed to what I will call the Genetic Goo of Doom is an albino gorilla in the San Diego zoo named George, who is best friends with Davis Okoye, played by none other than DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON, one of my favorite actors. I freaking love the guy. He’s got charisma for days.

His character Davis is a former special forces soldier turned primatologist, which is a resume that I’m pretty sure no actual human being has ever had. The man is a true pioneer. He rescued George from poachers when he (George) was a cute l’il baby gorilla, and the two are best friends. They communicate using sign language, and some of George’s language is a bit, shall we say, colorful. By which I mean that he is rather fond of flipping the bird. As with every animal specialist in every movie ever, Davis gets along with animals better than he does with humans.

So when Davis gets to work one day and discovers that George has grown several feet and killed one of the zoo’s grizzly bears, something is obviously awry. Meanwhile, a wolf elsewhere in the United States has discovered one of the canisters of the Genetic Goo of Doom, and promptly slaughters an Energyne security team sent to bring him in. There’s also an alligator in the Florida Everglades who gets exposed to the Genetic Goo of Doom, although the movie keeps this particular creature mostly offscreen until later in the film.

Soon, George breaks out of the zoo and is apprehended by shady government agents, among them an agent named Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan from The Walking Dead, who says things like “Assholes like us gotta stick together” with a Southern accent. He’s pretty great, because he’s initially positioned as an antagonist but ends up having more to do than being a generic government bad guy, and gets several funny moments.

There’s also a disgraced geneticist who used to work for Energyne, and whose research is largely responsible for creating the monsters. She’s played by Naomie Harris, a very talented actress whose talents are largely wasted in the movie. She does her best but there’s not much to her character. One thing I noticed is that she always has utterly flawless hair. Even right after she wakes up in the morning, hell, before she’s even had time to put pants on, her hair is absolutely gorgeous. That must be some kind of superpower.

Then there are the two evil corporate dipshits I alluded to earlier. They’re siblings whose names escape me. One of them, and the only one who has any brains, is played by Malin Akerman, an actress perhaps best known for playing Silk Spectre in Watchmen (a movie which Jeffrey Dean Morgan also starred in). The other is some idiot played by some guy, whose incompetence and stupidity are mainly used as sources of comic relief. They’re both soulless and shallow characters, whose only concern is money.

They activate some kind of beacon designed to lure the monsters to their corporate headquarters in Chicago so that they can capture them and, uh, make money off them somehow. The movie isn’t super clear on this, nor is it clear why they think that luring three giant unpredictable creatures to their corporate headquarters in the middle of one of the most highly-populated cities in America is a good idea. Clearly, critical thinking is not something these two are particularly good at. They also have actual RAMPAGE arcade machines in the middle of their office, which is something I’m sure that rich CEOs do all the time.

I talk a lot in my movie reviews about tone and the tone of RAMPAGE is all over the place. There is a tremendous amount of violence for a theoretically family-friendly movie, much of which is played for laughs. People are squashed, trampled, blown up, swallowed whole, and chucked off buildings. I admit I did find some of this funny, which is probably due to my own rather warped sense of humor, but parents with small kids might want to think twice before taking their kids to see this one.

The movie was directed by Brad Peyton, who previously worked with Dwayne Johnson in the movies San Andreas and Journey 2 The Mysterious Island. Peyton does a good job with the destruction scenes and the special effects are quite good, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the trio of monsters climb buildings and create mayhem, even if the considerable amount of collateral damage is glossed over. The entire movie is so insane and over-the-top that I couldn’t help but find myself swept away in its tidal wave of monsters and mayhem, anchored by a characteristically charismatic performance from my good pal Dwayne Johnson. He’s such a badass that getting shot partway through the movie doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

I’m not going to lie, RAMPAGE is a very dumb movie. It is also a very enjoyable movie. It’s surprisingly violent for a PG-13 rated blockbuster, and can even come off as a bit mean-spirited at times. But I had a ton of fun watching it and would happily watch a sequel.

Also, the wolf flies. Because of course it does.

Next week is going to be good, with the return of HBO’s Westworld on Sunday and Avengers: Infinity War on Friday. Expect posts about both of them very soon.

More Thoughts about The Last Jedi

When I started writing about The Last Jedi, I had a whole list of things to talk about. About 2200 words into writing about the movie, I figured it was time to wrap up the post, only to glance at my list and realize that I had only covered around half of the items on it. I decided to end the post anyway because I didn’t want it to become too long and cumbersome, and I figured I had hit the most important points.

Be that as it may, I have a lot more to say about The Last Jedi. So, I figured I would do something I have never done before and write about the same movie for two weeks in a row.

Let’s start by talking some more about good old Luke Skywalker. Specifically, there was one other big question regarding Luke that I have been pondering since I re-watched the movie.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Namely, why does Luke die?

Think about it. He can’t be that old. The new trilogy is set thirty years after Return of the Jedi, and Mark Hamill was in his early 30’s when that movie was released. Assuming Luke was around the same age, he’d be in his sixties in the new films. That’s not old. So he couldn’t have died of old age. He also hadn’t sustained any fatal wounds, or any wounds at all for that matter since he wasn’t actually on the planet Crait when he had his final showdown with Kylo Ren and the First Order, having projected himself there from the planet he had exiled himself to (the name of said planet escapes me).

I think the sheer exertion of projecting himself across such a vast distance was too much strain for him. Force projection is not an ability we’ve seen utilized in any other Star Wars movie, so presumably it’s not used very often. Maybe that’s because it’s such a huge energy drain that use of it could prove fatal, especially since Luke is using it project himself across such a vast distance, from one planet to another. I like this idea because if that is indeed the case, it would mean that Luke knew using it might kill him. But he did it anyway, sacrificing himself so that the few remaining rebels could escape.

I like this explanation because it would provide redemption for Luke, and a way to help assuage his guilt over having screwed up with Han and Leia’s son and subsequently shutting himself off from the rest of the (metaphorical) world. The problem with this explanation is that it is all rampant speculation on my part. I have no idea if any of this is accurate with Star Wars lore, but it’s an explanation that makes sense to me so I’m going to go with it.

On the subject of rampant speculation, there’s another small moment at the very end of the film that’s worth mentioning. In it, one of the kids on the casino planet who helped Finn and Rose escape picks up a broom and stares hopefully at the sky. But if you pay close attention, you can clearly see that the broom moves into the kid’s hand before he touches it. Is the kid using the Force here? If so, is he even aware of it? I really don’t know what to make of this. Talking about the potential significance of a kid picking up a broom strikes me as ludicrous, but you never know.

I mentioned Rose in the previous paragraph, who is a new character I didn’t have time to talk about in my previous post. She’s an absolute sweetheart, but I wish she had a more interesting subplot than that casino planet nonsense. Rose is played by Kelly Marie Tran, who is also a sweetheart. There’s a really charming story on the internet about how she was in a pub and listened to people at a nearby table talk about the movie in minute detail for an hour, and then walked over and introduced herself. She is a cool person and I hope her breakout role in Star Wars leads to a lot more acting gigs for her, she stole the movie in my opinion. I also hope Rose gets more to do in Episode IX, and doesn’t get stuck with another extraneous subplot.

I talked about Snoke a lot in my previous post, but one thing I didn’t talk about was the actor who plays him. Snoke is played by Andy Serkis, a true chameleon of an actor. Serkis’ most famous role is probably Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but he also played Caesar the ape in the recent Planet of the Apes movies and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. He’s played loads of other characters, and recently played a villain in Black Panther. On the Blu-Ray of The Last Jedi, one of the more interesting special features is a few of Snoke’s scenes from the film that are just Serkis wearing a motion-capture suit.

Snoke is a fully CGI character, and it’s amazing to see Serkis’ performance without the special effects. His facial movements and gestures and body language are so expressive. Even though he’s wearing a goofy-looking motion-capture suit and is covered with electrodes and cameras, he’s ACTING the absolute HELL out of that character, and I highly recommend anyone who bought the Blu-Ray to check out that feature.

Another thing about this movie that stands out to me is the color red. Blood red is all over the movie and is the dominant color in most of the posters. From Snoke’s red throne room and red Praetorian guards to the vivid red colors during the final battle sequence on Crait, red is all over the place. It’s an interesting color choice for a variety of reasons, one of them being that red is of course the color of the dark side, and every dark Jedi throughout the series wields a red lightsaber. It gives the movie a unique look that I really like and sets it apart visually from other entries in the series, and other sci-fi movies in general.

I also want to address one more thing that bothers me. This isn’t a criticism of the movie, but of the response to it, which has been frequently toxic. The movie was critically acclaimed but got a much more mixed reaction from fans, which is understandable. What is not understandable is how absolutely awful some people were about it. I read comments on the internet by arrogant idiots stating that if you like the movie, then you’re not a “true fan” of Star Wars.

Words cannot describe how much I loathe that appalling statement.

If you liked the movie, that’s totally fine. You are still allowed to be a fan of Star Wars and are not beholden to some random jerk’s definition of what a “true fan” is supposed to be. This is emblematic of a lot of toxic fan culture these days. If your opinion is different then you “just don’t get it,” which is stupid and is a total cop-out. I could go on for a long time about this but I don’t want to because it makes me angry. I just wanted to say that if you like this movie that’s completely fine. You are still a good person.

After having had a chance to watch the movie again and put down my thoughts about it, I like the movie more now than I did after the first time I saw it. I still have a lot of issues with it but writing about it has helped me sort out my feelings about it. In many ways this has been one of the most difficult movies I’ve ever written about, so thank you for coming on this journey with me. Next week’s post is going to be about RAMPAGE, with Dwayne Johnson and a bunch of city-destroying monsters. See you then.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is as Frustrating as it is Exhilarating

Like many people, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi when it was in theaters, and like many people, my feelings about it were mixed to say the least. Now that the movie is on Blu-ray and I’ve had the chance to watch it again, I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired and it’s time for an in-depth discussion. There’s a lot to talk about so let’s get started. There will be spoilers aplenty, so if by some bizarre circumstance you want to see it and haven’t yet, go see it. Love it or hate it (or both), it’s worth a watch just to see what all the fuss is about.

My thoughts on The Last Jedi are complicated, but can be boiled down to one basic summary: the movie is beautifully directed, but poorly written. The Last Jedi was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who is a very smart guy and a very talented writer/director, and his twisty 2012 time travel thriller Looper is one of my favorite movies. His Star Wars movie looks amazing and the action sequences are among the best of the entire franchise, and there were times watching the movie when I thought, this is why people got excited about Star Wars in the first place.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Unfortunately, I also have a LOT of problems with the movie.

Let’s start with one of the big ones: Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was one of the biggest mysteries in The Force Awakens: who is this guy? How did he become the Supreme Leader of the First Order? How did he lure Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia and nephew of Luke Skywalker, away from the light side of the force and into the dark? In the leadup to the release of The Last Jedi, I was looking forward to getting some answers to these burning questions.

And then the movie came out, and did not answer a single one of these questions.

The movie does not address Snoke’s background at all. He’s as much a mystery at the end of Episode VIII as he was at the end of Episode VII.

Now, I get that there is a lot going on in The Last Jedi, and there is not time to provide a detailed backstory for every single character. But I don’t care that much about Snoke’s background, I care about how he was able to turn Ben Solo to the dark side and make him become Kylo Ren, and cause him to hate his parents and his uncle to the point of trying to kill all of them (and actually succeeding in the case of Han Solo in The Force Awakens).
The conflict between Kylo and Luke is arguably the most important plot point of the entire sequel series, since it provides the reason for Luke’s self-imposed exile and his abandonment of the Jedi Order, which presumably helped give rise to the First Order. Giving no indication whatsoever as to how this happened leaves a gaping hole in what should be the emotional core of the entire movie. All we’re told is that Luke could sense Ben being led to the dark side, and a misunderstanding between Luke and Ben, as well as a moment of weakness on Luke’s part, led to Ben destroying Luke’s new Jedi Order, Luke’s exile, and so on. That is simply not enough.

I also don’t buy that Luke would completely turn against the teachings of the Jedi Order as quickly as he does. The entire original trilogy sets up Luke as being the one to bring the Jedi back, and then he makes one mistake and just gives up? Says screw it, I’m done? What kind of way is that to treat one of the greatest and most influential sci-fi protagonists of all time? I like Rian Johnson, but what the hell, man???

This is my biggest problem with the movie. Snoke is just the tip of the iceberg, because his actions are key to the story and knowing nothing about him damn near kills a crucial plot point. And now he’s dead, and who the hell knows what will happen in Episode IX.

But we’re just getting started. My other biggest problem with the movie, and the best example of how sloppily written it is, is embodied in the character of Admiral Holdo. Holdo is played by Laura Dern, who I’m sure is a very nice lady but her character makes not one but two of the most bafflingly stupid decisions I’ve ever seen in a movie.

The viewer spends a large portion of the movie thinking she’s evil, or that she must at the very least be a First Order spy who is deliberately attempting to sabotage the rebellion’s escape attempts. Her behavior is so blatantly suspicious that it’s obvious to the viewer (and the other characters in the movie) that she’s bent.

And then she isn’t.

Yes, it turns out that Leia and Holdo had an escape plan all along, and Holdo was simply carrying out that plan. But here’s the problem: why the bloody hell would she not tell anyone that??? What is the freaking point of having everyone think you’re evil? Why would you not tell everyone what the plan was? Why would you not just say hey, here’s what we are going to do? Can’t you see you’re just causing more problems?

But Holdo’s inexplicable stupidity doesn’t end there. After the escape pods are loaded, Holdo stays behind on the mothership to lure the First Order away, only for the First Order to promptly begin blasting the escape pods to smithereens. And then Holdo just stands there watching and DOES NOTHING!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WOMAN!?!?!?! YOUR FRIENDS ARE GETTING ANNIHILATED AND YOU’RE JUST STANDING THERE!!!

WTF?!?!?!

Whew. Sorry about all the capitalization and punctuation marks, but I needed to get that out of my system.

Holdo does eventually redeem herself, at least partly, by crashing the Rebel mothership into Snoke’s flagship at lightspeed, which cripples the First Order’s fleet and is one of the most spectacular special-effects sequences I’ve ever seen. When the First Order’s ships break apart and it’s all completely silent, you could feel everyone in the theater holding their breath.

It was amazing, but why the hell did Holdo not do this as soon as the Rebel escape pods left the mothership? I get that sacrificing yourself is not a decision to be made lightly, but the entire reason she stayed on the mothership in the first place was to lure the First Order away, which presumably would have ended with them killing her anyway. So as soon as it became apparent that that plan wasn’t going to work and the First Order begins blasting the Rebel ships into nothing, why does Holdo wait so long to do anything about it?

I have absolutely no idea.

I also have no idea what the point of the stupid casino planet subplot is. Finn, the reformed former stormtrooper from The Force Awakens, goes on a mission to a planet called Canto Bight to find a codebreaker who can get him onto Snoke’s flagship so he can disable it, but the entire subplot feels inconsequential. Why couldn’t the movie just have had Finn go directly to Snoke’s ship himself? What’s the point of the codebreaker character and subplot? Removing it would have made the story much more streamlined. The entire sequence set at the casino on Canto Bight feels like a waste of time.

What it really feels like to me is an attempt by Disney to generate more merchandise for the film. There are tons of weird creatures and whatnot at the casino, and the obvious effort put into designing and creating so many different characters is impressive, but that effort could have been better spent elsewhere. The entire subplot feels like filler in a movie that doesn’t need filler. Get rid of the filler and focus on the stuff that matters, like the Snoke/Kylo/Luke story. This is Star Wars, there shouldn’t be any filler. I just can’t help but feel like the Disney overlords told Rian Johnson to make the movie as merchandisable as possible, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said okay.

It also doesn’t help that I’m not that invested in Finn as a character. He’s fine I guess, but I care a lot more about Rey, who is more important to the overall story anyway, and I’m not just saying that because I have a crush on Daisy Ridley, who is really great in the role. One of the other biggest mysteries left over from The Force Awakens was the question of Rey’s parentage, and why they left her alone on a backwater planet in the middle of nowhere. Fan theories abounded, one of the most convincing being that Rey was the daughter of Han and Leia, and therefore Kylo Ren’s sister.

But, nope. The only scrap of information that we get from The Last Jedi is when Kylo tells Rey that her parents were nobodies. It’s hugely anticlimactic, and feels like another tease from the previous movie that the makers of this movie just didn’t care about. Also, how does Kylo know who Rey’s parents were? Did he use Space Google? There’s always the possibility that he’s lying and is just trying to manipulate her, but for now it feels like another big plot point that the movie doesn’t care about.

On the Blu-Ray of the movie there is featurette called Balance of the Force, in which Rian Johnson talks about how in the original trilogy, the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is the worst thing that could have happened to him, since it turns out that the evil he’s trying to fight is a part of him. Similarly, the revelation that Rey’s parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her, because it denies her the answers she’s looking for.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Last Jedi is Rey’s search for answers about her role in everything that’s going on. For me, the most moving scene in the film is when she tells Luke, “I need someone to show me my place in all of this.” As someone who has yet to find his place in life, this resonates strongly with me. Johnson’s argument that her parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her is compelling from this standpoint, since if she had turned out to be Luke’s daughter or Han and Leia’s daughter or something like that, it would have helped give her a sense of purpose and identity, and denying her that means she’ll have to keep looking.

I like this explanation, but it still feels like Johnson is pulling the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. The entire Balance of the Force featurette on the Blu-Ray strikes me as odd, since it’s mostly Johnson explaining some of the more controversial aspects of the story. It feels like an attempt on the behalf of the filmmakers to cover their butts and explain away some of the aspects of the story that understandably angered fans.

The movie is also tonally uneven. There are too many attempts at humor, many of which feel out of place and detract from the drama of the moment. This is best exemplified with porgs. Porgs are cute little creatures that are like a combination of a puffin and a guinea pig. They may be cute little buggers, but the movie relies on them too much for comic relief and cuts to them at odd moments. For example, during the final battle on the mineral planet Crait, when Rey and Chewbacca swoop in on the Millennium Falcon to provide some much-needed help to the Rebels, there’s a damn porg on the Falcon that keeps screeching. Seriously Chewie, just bite the damn thing’s head off already! Why Johnson is so obsessed with the bloody porgs is yet another mystery that the movie leaves unsolved.

Despite my laundry list of problems with the movie, I don’t hate it. It didn’t ruin Star Wars for me. There are sequences in the movie that are some of my favorites in the entire series. I love the opening space battle, Rey and Kylo’s epic fight against Snoke’s crimson-clad Praetorian guards, the fight between Finn and Captain Phasma on Snoke’s burning command ship, and the epic final battle on Crait (aside from the porg, anyway). The movie looks absolutely stunning and the acting is top-notch. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both give soulful performances in iconic roles, and Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are both excellent as the two most important characters in the new series.

But the movie has crippling problems that I can’t ignore. There’s plenty of material I didn’t cover in this post, so there might be a follow-up at some point in the future, since I don’t want this post to become too long and unwieldy. But I’ve hit the most important points, and it feels good to do so, since all of this has been swirling frantically around in my head ever since I saw the movie. The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie, and it’s not hard to see why.

What will the future hold for Star Wars? Only time (and JJ Abrams) will tell.

Pacific Rim Uprising is All Flash, No Substance

I never thought I would see a sequel to Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monsters vs. robots epic. The movie cost a ton of money to make and met with a mixed critical reception and underwhelming box office numbers, making a sequel unlikely. But five years later, here we are, and a sequel is in theaters. And it’s…just okay.

I loved the first movie. A lot of people out there didn’t seem to like it, which is baffling to me because I enjoyed the hell out of it, and still do. It’s better than all five Transformers movies put together.

The first film had a sense of immediacy to it that made the story compelling. Mankind was on the brink of extinction, and the sense of imminent doom gave the movie dramatic heft because there was always something at stake. I also liked the characters and cared about what happened to them.
Neither of these are the case with the sequel.

Images: Universal Pictures/Legendary Pictures

The movie spends a long time spinning its wheels before the inevitable return of the kaiju, the building-sized monstrosities that were seemingly defeated in the first film. The plot of the sequel feels inconsequential, and there were several aspects of it that, as I drove home after the movie, I realized made absolutely no sense.

It’s no spoiler to say that the kaiju return in the sequel, since if they didn’t there would be no movie. But the way the writers engineered the reemergence of the great beasties was…kind of stupid. There were several moments as I watched the movie where I thought to myself, really? That’s how they chose to do it? It sounds weird to say that a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots jumped the shark, but it’s true. Pacific Rim Uprising jumps the shark in a major way.

I also didn’t care about the characters. The protagonist of the new film is Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, Idris Elba’s character from the first film, who famously cancelled the apocalypse.

I didn’t like Jake Pentecost.

He’s a stuck-up, obnoxious jackass. Pacific Rim Uprising suffers from what I like to call Jurassic World Syndrome, which is when characters in a movie repeatedly talk about how cool they are. Jake is so full of himself that he talks multiple times about how sexy he is. I’m not joking, he calls himself sexy on more than one occasion. It’s the worst. I really liked Raleigh Beckett, Charlie Hunnam’s protagonist in the first movie, but the protagonist of the second movie is a cocky jerk.

Jake is played by John Boyega, who is not a bad actor and looks and sounds quite a bit like Idris Elba, so I could buy him as the son of Elba’s character. But his character is badly written and not very likable. The supporting characters are more likable but not much more memorable. One of the other main characters is Jake’s friend who is played by Scott (son of Clint) Eastwood, who has his dad’s jawline but none of his screen presence. I don’t even remember his character’s name, I think it was Nate something. He’s about as interesting as a slice of white bread stuck to a beige wall. He’s a black hole of charisma.

One of the only returning characters from the first movie is Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, and she’s barely in the movie. Only a few mentions are made of Charlie Hunnam’s character, and no reasons are given for his absence. Returning from the first movie are uber-nerds Dr. Herman Gottlieb and Newton Geiszler, who are quirky but not as funny or likable as they were previously.

Uprising was directed by Stephen S. DeKnight, whose background is mostly in television. This is his big-screen directorial debut, and the results are decidedly mixed. I’m a fan of some of DeKnight’s TV series, such as Starz’ Spartacus and Netflix’s Daredevil, but his direction of Pacific Rim Uprising is just okay. He does good work with the action sequences and special effects but the plot is crummy and the characters are boring. He also doesn’t have a great sense of spatial awareness, since during the film’s lengthy final battle I had a hard time keeping track of where the various robots were in relation to each other, and which characters were piloting which robot.

The movie does look good. The special effects are great and I liked the designs of the robots and monsters, and the city-destroying climactic battle is pretty fun, spatial awareness issues aside. The final battle takes place in Tokyo, which has been destroyed in countless Godzilla movies, and at one point three kaiju form together to create a MEGA KAIJU, which made my inner 12-year-old happy. But unlike the first movie, the special effects are all the new movie really has going for it. There’s no substance underneath and no reason to care about the people piloting the enormous ‘bots.

Pacific Rim Uprising is ultimately a disappointment. Its ending sets the stage for future sequels, but it’s hard to get excited about the prospect. Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much, since I went into the movie expecting some serious robot-on-monster action, and in that respect I was satisfied. But the unlikable protagonist, lack of characterization, and slow, nonsensical plot drag it down. The movie as a whole feels more commercialized and less personal than Del Toro’s original. It’s still better than most of the Transformers movies, and doesn’t have the unfunny racial humor and weird sexism that characterize those movies. In that sense at least it would make a better entertainment to take your kids to, but the lack of substance is just too bad.

Ah, well. Only about a month until Avengers: Infinity War!!

Tomb Raider 2018 is the Best VIdeo Game Movie Ever Made

The title of this post makes what might seem like a bold claim, but let’s be honest: the standards aren’t very high.

Even video game-based movies that I enjoy like the Resident Evil movies and the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies aren’t what I would call good movies. They’re mindless fun and I enjoy them for what I feel is their considerable entertainment value, but they’re all just as stupid as hell.

2018’s Tomb Raider is more of a gritty reboot in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or the Daniel Craig Bond films. The new movie takes most of its cues from the 2013 Tomb Raider game, which itself was a gritty reboot of Lara Croft, a dark and violent tale that was one of my favorite games of that year. Its sequel, 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, was arguably even better, and the new film combines story elements from both games. So if the names Yamatai, Himiko, and Trinity mean anything to you, then you probably have a good idea of what the movie’s plot will entail.

Images: Warner Bros./Square Enix

Lara is played this time around by Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning Swedish actress. We first meet Lara as she’s getting her butt kicked in an MMA match, which gives the viewer a good look at Vikander’s amazing abs. She got in incredible shape for the movie, and she gets plenty of opportunities to show off her toned physique. I hope I don’t sound like a pig for saying this, but sex appeal has always been a big part of the appeal of Tomb Raider, and Vikander is very sexy.

She’s also a damn good actress and gives a performance that gives Lara a lot of empathy and personality. In the games, she’s not just a sex symbol anymore, and this applies to the movie as well. At the beginning of the film, she’s making a meager living in London as a bike courier. She’s the heir to a large corporation, but she refuses to accept her inheritance because that would require her to declare her father legally dead, which she is not prepared to do. Her father disappeared years ago and she is determined to find out what happened to him, which is her main motivation throughout the film.

Her search lead her to discover her father’s hidden research into Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen who was said to have power over life and death. She finds a recording left by her father in which he instructs her to destroy his research, but of course she doesn’t, and follows his trail to Hong Kong. There she meets Lu Ren, a ship captain she convinces to take her to an island she believes to be the island her father was searching for. They are promptly shipwrecked and wind up in the clutches of Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition on the island to unearth Himiko’s tomb. It turns out Mathias knew Lara’s father, and his research was the final piece of the puzzle required to locate Himiko.

Lara has just brought him exactly what he needed. Remember in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, where Indy’s dad gets mad at him for bringing the Grail diary with him when the Nazis capture them? It’s like that. Tomb Raider may not be the most original movie. It’s a bit derivative, and much of the film’s final act is very reminiscent of the Last Crusade’s final act, where the bad guys force Indy to go on ahead and solve the puzzles leading to the Grail. Pretty much the exact same thing happens in Tomb Raider. But hey, if you’re going to steal from another movie, at least steal from a good movie.

I liked this new Tomb Raider quite a bit. The acting is solid, with Alicia Vikander making Lara into a likable and vulnerable character who is also a force to be reckoned with in the action scenes. Tomb Raider is one of the most visually faithful video game adaptations. Vikander looks almost exactly like the Lara of the recent games, and the clothes she wears and the weapons she uses (like the bow and the climbing axe) look like they came directly from the games.

Several of the action set pieces come directly from the games as well, like when Lara finds herself in a rusted-out old airplane dangling precariously over the edge of a waterfall. There is plenty of fan service for fans of the games such as myself, and the film’s ending shows Lara with her hair in its trademark braid and acquiring her famous dual pistols, as well as setting itself up for a sequel. Vikander wouldn’t have been my first choice for the role of Lara but she nails it, and if there are any sequels she’s the right woman for the job.

The rest of supporting cast is also good. The villainous Mathias is played by Walton Goggins (I love that name) who is good at playing slimy sleazeballs. Lara’s father Lord Richard Croft is played by Dominic West (I love that name too), an actor with a voice I could listen to all day. Lu Ren the ship captain is played by Daniel Wu, from the badass AMC TV series Into the Badlands, which is a show loaded with top-notch kung fu action.

It is, of course, not a perfect movie. The first act is a bit sluggish, since it takes about 45 minutes for Lara to reach the island, and the pacing lags a bit in the early going. There are some underused characters too. Lu Ren seems like a cool guy and Daniel Wu is a good actor but once when they reach the island he doesn’t get much to do, and Kristin Scott Thomas is a very capable actress who is barely in the movie, which is too bad. But there are a couple of fun cameos from Nick Frost and Sir Derek Jacobi of all people, which helps make up for it.

The movie was directed by a Norwegian director named Roar Uthaug (another great name) who does good work with the material. It’s not perfect and has gotten a mixed critical reception, but I feel it’s a genuinely good movie despite its flaws and I had a lot of fun with it. If you’re a fan of the games you’ll find a lot to like here and will appreciate the various callbacks to the games, but even if you’ve never picked up a controller you’ll still find a fun adventure movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that.