Saturday, August 1, 2015

2015 Preview: August

Summer may be coming to a close but the 2015 year in film is still going strong. Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films that are set to come out in 2015. This is Part 8 of 12 and today we’ll be looking at all of the films that will be hitting theaters this August. It’s commonly said that this is when the Summer Movie Season begins to fizzle out but I think that there are still quite a few noteworthy films coming out this month. So without further ado, here are the films of August 2015.

AUGUST 7- A pretty busy weekend with four new wide releases kicking off the month, including the last major Marvel film of the year.


*Director Josh Trank (‘Chronicle’) helms the third major film adaptation of Marvel’s First Family, the ‘Fantastic Four’. As with previous adaptations of this particular franchise, the film centers on the foursome of Reed Richards AKA Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), Susan Storm AKA the ‘Invisible Woman’ (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny Storm AKA the ‘Human Torch’ (Michael B. Jordan), and Ben Grimm AKA ‘The Thing’ (Jamie Bell), who gain unique superpowers during a scientific experiment. The film also stars Toby Kebbell as Dr. Doom and Reg E. Cathey as Susan and Johnny’s father Franklin.


*Joel Edgerton makes his directorial debut with ‘The Gift’, in which Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall star as a married couple whose relationship becomes complicated when the arrival of an old acquaintance (played by Edgerton) of Bateman’s character leads into the reveal of an old dark secret from their past.


*Meryl Streep stars in ‘Ricki and the Flash’, directed by Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’) and written by Diablo Cody (‘Juno’). Streep plays a former musician who returns home for the first time in years after leaving it all behind to pursue a music career. The film also stars Kevin Kline and Sebastian Stan.


*Finally this week there is the ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’, a feature film adaptation of the British stop-motion animated series ‘Shaun the Sheep’, which centered around the titular character of the same name who had first appeared in the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ short film ‘A Close Shave’. In this film, Shaun decides to take a day off but ends up having to get everyone he knows back home following a mix-up.

AUGUST 14- Three major wide releases this month, including a spy flick, a musical biopic, and an animated sports film.


*An adaptation of the 1960’s spy TV series of the same name, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is directed by Guy Ritchie (director of the Robert Downey Jr. starring ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films) and stars Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill and Armie ‘Lone Ranger’ Hammer as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, respectively, who are forced to work together in order to stop a criminal organization from using nuclear weapons on the world. The film also stars Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant.


*Directed by F. Gary Gray (‘Friday’), ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is the true story of hip-hop group N.W.A. and the intense controversy that spurred from their music, particularly in their hometown of Compton, California. Produced by band members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the film features Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. in the role of his father and also stars Paul Giamatti as the group’s manager.


*Originally released in Argentina and the United Kingdom in 2013, ‘Underdogs’ focuses on a boy named Jake (Amadeo in other regions) who attempts to defeat an old rival in a game of Foosball. Along the way, he discovers that he can actually talk to the board’s ‘foosball’ players. The film’s US voice cast includes Matthew Morrison, Ariana Grande, Bella Thorne, Nicholas Hoult, and Taran Killam.

AUGUST 21- A stoner comedy and video game adaptation headline the weekend.


*In ‘American Ultra’, Jesse Eisenberg stars as a stoner who learns that he’s actually a ‘sleeper’ agent for the government who must now deal with being labeled a ‘liability’ and marked for elimination. The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, and John Leguizamo.


*The second major film adaptation of the ‘Hitman’ video game series, ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ (which was written by the same writer of the 2007 ‘Hitman’ film), Rupert Friend stars as the titular ‘Agent 47’, a secret agent who takes on assassination missions for an organization known as the International Contracts Agency. The film also stars Zachary Quinto and Thomas Kretschmann.

AUGUST 28- Finally we have three flicks that will conclude both the August lineup and the Summer Movie Season.


*The sequel to 2012’s horror hit ‘Sinister’, ‘Sinister 2’, not directed by Scott Derrickson but still written by him and C. Robert Cargill (AKA ‘Carlyle’ from the old Spill.com film review website), centers on a young mother (Shannyn Sossamon) who moves into a new home with her two sons but must then deal with the mysterious demon known as ‘Bughuul’.


*Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson star in ‘Regression’, in which Hawke plays a detective who investigates a case in which a young teenager (Watson) accuses her father of a crime that he has no memory of.


*Finally, in ‘We Are Your Friends’, Zac Efron stars as an up-and-coming DJ looking to become a record producer. However, things get complicated when he gets involved with the girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski) of his ‘mentor’ (Wes Bentley). The film also stars Jonny Weston and Jon Bernthal.


And those are the films that will be coming out this August. Check back next month for Part 9 as we start up the last third of the year with the films of September. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vacation (2015) review


In September of 1979, humor magazine National Lampoon published a short story by iconic 80’s film director John Hughes titled “Vacation ‘58” which was inspired by a family trip that he had taken with his family when he was younger to Disneyland. Four years later, Harold Ramis directed a film written by Hughes based on his original short story. Starring Chevy Chase as the enthusiastic but borderline crazy Clark Griswold, who embarks a series of misadventures with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their two kids, Rusty and Audrey, as they take a cross-country trip to California to visit the theme park Walley World, ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ became one of the most famous comedies of the decade, spawning a full franchise of films starring Chase, D’Angelo, and continuously changing actors/actresses in the roles of Rusty and Audrey. While both the immediate follow-up ‘European Vacation’ and the 1997 sequel ‘Vegas Vacation’ weren’t as well liked by critics and audiences, the 1989 entry ‘Christmas Vacation’ is now considered as a modern holiday classic. Almost two whole decades after the last official ‘Vacation’ film, the series returns again with a brand new film simply titled ‘Vacation’. Though for the record it is not a remake of the original film, even though it does share the same primary plot. Instead, it is a sequel that now centers on a grown-up Rusty Griswold as he goes on the same road trip that he took with his family 30 years ago. The end result is a solidly funny comedy that pays homage to the legacy of the franchise while also doing its own thing as a ‘modern update’. 

30 years after the events of the original ‘Vacation’, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) has become a pilot for a low-rated airline company and has raised a family of his own, living in Chicago with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). Recognizing that the family has become rather dysfunctional, to the point where younger brother Kevin constantly bullies his older brother James, Rusty decides against the idea of the family going on the same trip to their cabin in Sheboygan, Wisconsin that they had been taking every year around this time. Instead, he decides to take them on the same cross-country road trip that he had taken with his parents Clark and Ellen (Chase and D’Angelo reprise their roles in cameo appearances) and sister Audrey (played here by Leslie Mann) 30 years earlier to Walley World in California. Taking off in their new rental car, the Tartan Prancer (the ‘Honda of Albania’), Rusty and his family begin their cross-country road-trip to Walley World, which Rusty hopes will allow the family to reconnect. However, just like that original Vacation that he took with his family back when he was a kid, what is intended to be a nice little family road trip ends up becoming a nightmare as Rusty and his family end up in a series of misadventures on the long journey to Walley World.

Even as a film that follows the same plot of the original ‘Vacation’ film from 1983, which of course results in a few meta jokes including the one from the trailer in which Rusty declares that ‘the new Vacation will stand on its own’, this new ‘Vacation’ film actually does manage to stand on its own by not following the exact same beats of the original. Of course, being a part of this long-running franchise, there are obviously a few callbacks to the original, from the use of the iconic tune ‘Holiday Road’ to even an appearance by the classic Family Truckster station wagon. But on a positive note, they don’t overshadow the film at all and are pretty subtle in terms of execution. As far as the humor is concerned, overall I’d say that it’s a pretty darn funny film. No, not every single joke hit but there are definitely quite a few major ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments in the film, from the opening credits (and the beginning of the end credits) in which we see much more than one would expect out of seemingly nice family vacation pictures to a fight sequence right at the end of the film involving the Griswolds and the family of a rival pilot (Ron Livingston). Compared to the original film which, while rated R, is fairly tame by today’s standards, this ‘Vacation’ opts for much raunchier humor but even then there have been comedies that have been far raunchier than this one. In other words, this new ‘Vacation’, like the original, is actually rather tame by today’s standards.   
  
Obviously Chevy Chase was one of the key elements that made the previous ‘Vacation’ films so successful. Sure at the end of the day, Clark Griswold may have been a womanizer and a bit of an asshole but his unnerving optimism even in the face of extreme adversity actually managed to make him rather charming and relatable. Ed Helms is a solid successor to Chase in the lead role of Rusty as he carries the same confident and optimistic attitude of his father to a fault. And considering that Rusty isn’t a womanizer like his father, he’s also arguably the more likable lead. Helms has great chemistry with Christina Applegate, who also gets some really hilarious material to work with, primarily when it comes to the reveal that Debbie used to live a wild lifestyle during her college years. Both of their sons are also great as well, especially Steele Stebbins as younger brother Kevin in a rare case where the younger brother is the one bullying the older brother and not the other way around. And of course, like any ‘Vacation’ film, there are also some extremely memorable cameos. The most notable is ‘Thor’ AKA Chris Hemsworth as Stone Crandall, the husband of Audrey (Leslie Mann is unfortunately underused here despite being in the role of one of the series’ main characters) who of course loves to show off his six-pack abs. And of course, this wouldn’t be a ‘Vacation’ film without a cameo by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold.  

‘Vacation’ may carry the same plotline of its 1983 predecessor but it is not a remake and because of that, it is able to do its own thing and it does that quite well. This film may currently only carry a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes (which certainly means that you’re going to be hearing a lot of fanboys on the internet complain about how the directors, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, are slated to write the screenplay for the next ‘Spider-Man’ film) but I thought that it was pretty darn funny. No I don’t think that it’s the best comedy of the year but as someone who may not have grown up with the franchise but likes both the original ‘Vacation’ and ‘Christmas Vacation’, I think that this film is a worthy successor to those films and continues the franchise’s tradition of celebrating both family and Americana even amidst some of the more mean-spirited bits of humor. And on that note, yes the humor can be quite raunchy at times so it’s not for everyone. But ultimately I thought that it worked out fine here and it isn’t even that overt when compared to some of the other R-rated comedies that have come out over the years. If you’re a fan of any of the other ‘Vacation’ films, then you’re definitely going to like this new film that continues the tradition of having the Griswold family go through all sorts of chaotic misadventures on what were just meant to be simple family vacations. They may be going through all sorts of hell on-screen but for us, the audience, it’s another fun little trip on the ‘Holiday Road’.  


Rating: 4/5

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ant-Man: SPOILER POST

WARNING!!!
The following post contains spoilers for the film ‘Ant-Man’. If you have not yet seen the film, please instead refer to my Spoiler-Free review (the link will be provided below) as I will be talking about some of the major points of this film in spoiler-y detail.



In the days leading up to the release of ‘Ant-Man’, I’ll admit that I wasn’t really sure if I was going to do a Spoiler Post for this particular installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is because at the time I figured that after the epic events of ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’, there probably wouldn’t really be that much to talk about in regards to this film, sort of like 2013’s ‘Thor: The Dark World’ compared to the other MCU film of that year, ‘Iron Man 3’. But, in the end, there actually is quite a few noteworthy things to talk about in this, the final installment of the MCU’s Phase Two. Namely this is in regards to some major implications towards the future of the franchise. And of course I’m happy to see that ‘Ant-Man’ turned out as successful as it did with critics and audiences given all of the unfortunate bad publicity that it got following the whole Edgar Wright incident when he dropped out of directing the film, which he had worked on since 2006, due to creative differences with Marvel. Hopefully at the end of the day this film managed to make a good chunk of its biggest critics eat their words because it turned out just fine even without the fan-favorite Wright directing it. So now that I got that intro out of the way, let’s start talking about some of the biggest elements to Marvel Studios’ latest superhero adventure that I just couldn’t delve into that much in my original spoiler-free review.

FAVORITE MOMENTS

I guess you can say that this is becoming a recurring topic in these MCU Spoiler Posts of mine. I’ve always praised the MCU for perfectly establishing a fun and light-hearted atmosphere while also perfectly balancing the epic action with humor and heart and ‘Ant-Man’ is no exception. So today it’s time to highlight some of my favorite moments from ‘Ant-Man’;


*As noted in my original review, Michael Pena is easily the biggest standout of the entire film as he has many of the best lines in the film. Of course there are the montages where he talks about how he came across major tip-offs in which he provides the dubbing for any major character in those scenes (including good old Stan Lee in his usual cameo). But then you also have some other hilarious moments involving his character Luis, like when he helps save a guard (who he had knocked out earlier) from the Pym Technologies building before it explodes and his first scene in the film where he tells Scott Lang that even though “his girlfriend left him, his mom died, and his dad got deported”, at least he got to “keep the van”. I’ve heard quite a few people now complain that the character is nothing more than a stereotype but I think the character is much more than that. I mentioned the whole ‘dragging a guy out of a building before it explodes’ thing, right? I don't care what anyone says... Luis is awesome!


*Scott’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) also gets some highly memorable bits of funny dialogue. The first is when her father visits her at her birthday party and she goes to tell her mom, Scott’s ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer). Cassie then tells her dad that her mom “was so happy, she choked on her drink.” The other funny line from her is when she’s with her mom and her new stepdad Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) after Scott uses the Ant-Man suit to break out of jail. She asks Paxton if “he’s looking for her dad”, to which he responds by saying yes and that he’s just trying to keep Scott safe. She then tells him that she hopes that he doesn’t catch him. Epic Burn!!!


*Of course you can’t go wrong with a training montage and ‘Ant-Man’ has a pretty memorable one, from Scott getting freaked out by ants resulting in him quickly reverting back to normal size and getting stuck in the backyard (this happens twice by the way (“That was much more frightening a few seconds ago”)) to the famous scene from the trailer where Hope van Dyne teaches Scott how to punch… by punching him in the face (“Were you aiming for the hand?”). What else can be said but, “That’s how you punch”?


*When Hope and Hank got out of Pym Technologies with the help of Hank’s ‘keychain’.


*During the first major action sequence between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket in a helicopter, the two of them end up getting stuck in a briefcase as it plummets down to Earth. Yellowjacket declares “I’m going to disintegrate you” but before this, Ant-Man accidentally activates Siri on Darren Cross’ IPhone, who translates that into “Playing ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure”. Cue epic fight scene backed by ‘Plainsong’.


*Speaking of epic action sequences, the film’s climax is definitely one of the most unique climaxes in the entire MCU… and it takes place within Cassie’s room. This of course leads to many hilarious moments in which the action sequences that look epic at ant-sized scale aren’t really that major when viewed from a distance. This includes the famous shot from the trailer when Yellowjacket is run over by Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas is then later blown up to gigantic size by one of Ant-Man’s ‘Pym Particle discs’ and crashes through the house. One of Scott’s ant allies also gets hit by one of the discs and by the end of the film, Cassie apparently adopted it as a pet.

There are still a few more moments that I didn’t mention here, but we’ll move on for now so that this doesn’t go on forever…

SCOTT LANG/ANT-MAN


One of the major reasons why I was really looking forward to this film was how it was going to give us a different kind of superhero lead compared to the others that we’ve seen over the years, like Thor or Spider-Man. Scott Lang doesn’t have any special superpowers; he’s just a regular guy who at the beginning of the film is down on his luck having just been released from prison as he now tries to turn his life around so that he can be there for his daughter Cassie, whom he can see only if he can provide child support according to Maggie and Paxton. But obviously, due to his criminal background, he has difficulty keeping any jobs… he even gets fired from Baskin-Robbins (because “Baskin-Robbins always Finds Out!”) This is also the first major MCU film to place emphasis on a ‘father-daughter’ relationship (two in fact… we’ll get to the other one in a second). Sure, Cassie doesn’t actually play that big a role in the film but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t vital to Scott’s character arc. His motivation to be with his daughter again legitimately helps him become better at using the Ant-Man technology, primarily in regards to effectively communicating with his ant allies. Because of all this, Scott ends up being one of the most relatable leads of the MCU to date and Paul Rudd does a terrific job in the lead role.

HOPE VAN DYNE AND HANK PYM


The second, and most prominent, ‘father-daughter’ relationship in the film is between Hope van Dyne and her father Hank Pym. Early on, there’s shown to be some major tension between the two, especially after the loss of Hope’s mother (more on her later). Hank reveals to Scott that when he was kicked out of his company by Darren Cross, Hope was ‘the deciding vote’, though she came back to him later on after realizing the sinister intentions of Cross in his effort to re-create her father’s ‘Ant-Man technology’. But the most important aspect of their relationship in this film is how it addresses Hank’s reluctance to have Hope take on the mantle of Ant-Man. In the beginning, it is clearly established that Hope is more than capable, definitely more so than Scott, of being a superhero, having trained in karate (a little while after her mom ‘died’) and being much more familiar with Pym Technologies due to her being Darren Cross’ primary business partner. But as the film progresses, we eventually do learn of the major reason why Hank doesn’t let Hope wear the suit. And it is actually a pretty damn legit reason as Hank doesn’t want ‘the same thing’ that happened to her mother (I’ll delve more into that later on) happening to Hope. As I stated in my original review for the film, Evangeline Lilly may not have gotten that much to do in terms of action but that doesn’t mean that her character is wasted in this film. In fact, from what I’ve heard online, Hope’s role in the film would’ve been much less significant if the film did end up getting directed by Wright. So yes, there’s actually a major positive to Wright not directing ‘Ant-Man’; a much more substantial role for Hope van Dyne.

YELLOWJACKET


Boy those poor MCU villains can never catch a break when it comes to critics and fans negatively comparing them to everyone’s favorite, Loki. Earlier this summer, I did a post in which I ranked the MCU’s first eight major villains and ultimately defended the majority of them as being better than what most critics put them out to be. But as for Darren Cross, the main villain of ‘Ant-Man’, I unfortunately have to side more with the critics on this one. Cross admittedly is a rather one-note villain despite the interesting enough set-up of him looking to enact revenge against his former mentor, Hank Pym, for keeping the Ant-Man technology away from him, leaving him to have to try and recreate it himself. I mainly tribute Cross’ shortcomings as a villain to the fact that he’s not really in the film that much to be that much of a ‘threat’. He’s in the film but most of the runtime is instead focused on the protagonists. But as I’ve stated in the past, I really don’t mind that at all because I do think that one of the biggest strengths of the MCU is that their main characters have always been so well-developed to the point where these films don’t always need a ‘Loki-esque’ villain. But despite all of this, that doesn’t mean that I think that Cross is a ‘terrible’ villain.

Going off of what I said in that previous ‘Ranking the MCU villains’ post, one of the main reasons why I feel that most of the non-Loki MCU villains are better than people give them credit for is because at least the majority of them still manage to have a solid enough screen presence that I feel manages to at least make up for any other shortcomings that they might have. The only instance in which this didn’t work was Malekith from ‘Thor 2’, who was not only a majorly underdeveloped villain but also one that had absolutely no screen presence whatsoever. Despite the fact that Cross ends up being a fairly one-note villain, Corey Stoll at least has a solid villainous screen presence in the role. He does actually manage to be rather intimidating whenever he’s talking to one of the main characters, whether it be Scott, Hope, or Hank. And yes, that Yellowjacket suit is pretty damn badass. Sure, Cross doesn’t put it on until the finale but once he does, that’s definitely one of the film’s biggest highlights. So in conclusion, while Darren Cross AKA Yellowjacket may not be the absolute MCU villain of all-time, he is also by no means the worst. If I had to rank him alongside the other MCU villains based on my original rankings from earlier this year (which would now obviously include Ultron, who would be #2 by the way, following ‘Age of Ultron’), he would be ranked somewhere around 7 or 8.

FALCON


Taking the honor of being one of the best cameos of 2015 is everyone’s favorite ‘wingman’, Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Sam Wilson also made an appearance in ‘Age of Ultron’ but it was a very minor cameo as he only appeared in two scenes, the first being an brief appearance at the Avengers’ party in Stark Tower and the other occurring right at the end as he becomes one of the newest members of the Avengers. Thankfully he gets a much more substantial role in ‘Ant-Man’ as he partakes in one of the best action sequences in the entire film; a fight between him and Scott. Before the big heist on Pym Industries, Hank and Hope have Scott break into an old Stark Industries facility in order to find a Signal Decoy device that will help them out in their mission. But when Scott finally gets there, they all realize that it has since become the new headquarters for the Avengers, which we the audience first saw in ‘Age of Ultron’. Despite Hank and Hope repeatedly telling him to get out of there, Scott sticks to the plan and almost immediately crosses paths with Falcon. The two of them get into a brief fight but Scott manages to beat Falcon by sabotaging his wingsuit. As he leaves, Falcon embarrassingly tells whoever he’s talking to on the radio to not tell Cap about this. But this isn’t the last we see of Falcon in this film, as he later appears at the end of the film as part of one of Luis’ famous ‘tip-off montages’ in which Scott learns that Wilson is offering him a chance to join the Avengers.

JANET VAN DYNE


One of the major questions brought up by fans in the months leading up to the film’s release is whether or not Hank Pym’s wife Janet van Dyne AKA ‘The Wasp’ would be making an appearance in the film. While she ultimately doesn’t play a major role in the film, the story of what happened to her is a key scene in the film and arguably the most emotionally impactful as well. As stated earlier, this is why Hank doesn’t let Hope take on the mantle of Ant-Man despite the fact that she’s clearly more qualified than Scott. Hank eventually tells both Scott and Hope what really happened to her mother. Back in 1987 when Hank took on missions in the Ant-Man costume alongside his wife, she had sacrificed herself in order to stop a Soviet missile by going subatomic and disappearing into a quantum realm. So obviously, Hank doesn’t want to lose Hope like he lost Janet. It’s definitely a touching moment, allowing both Hank and Hope to reach an emotional catharsis after a considerable amount of time at odds with one another and I’ll even admit that I got a little teary-eyed during this scene… even if Scott ends up ruining the moment a few moments later by remarking how the two of them are re-connecting.

But did Janet van Dyne really die in the Quantum Realm? This is put into question during the film’s finale after Scott also goes subatomic in order to sabotage Yellowjacket’s suit to defeat him. He ends up in the same Quantum Realm and while he doesn’t come across Janet while he’s there, he does manage to get out by reversing his suit’s shrinking mechanism, allowing him to return to normal size. This of course leads to Hank beginning to wonder if Janet may still be alive, which given the fact that Scott managed to survive the Quantum Realm seems very, very possible. And quite frankly, I do think that Janet is still alive and that we’ll be seeing her sometime in the future. I may not be that much of a comic-book reader but I can definitely tell that the Wasp is a fan-favorite character amongst Marvel fans so I know that fans have been eager to see her make an appearance in the MCU. Plus, in the comics, she was also one of the founding members of the Avengers. Obviously the same distinction does not apply in the MCU but Kevin Feige has stated that there are plans to have her appear in future films. But while we may not yet know is Janet is still alive, we do know what will happen next for ‘the Wasp’. This of course leads me to the final topic of today’s Spoiler Post…

THOSE POST-CREDITS SEQUENCES


If we’re talking MCU post-credits scenes, then ‘Ant-Man’ arguably has two of the most important sequences in franchise history as both lay the groundwork for future events in the MCU. Going back to what I just talked about in regards to ‘the Wasp’, the mid-credits scene shows Hank giving Hope a prototype Wasp suit that was developed by both him and Janet, showing that he’s finally able to accept Hope taking on a superhero mantle after showing much hesitation earlier in the film. As stated earlier, Hope did not have much to do in the film in terms of action but that was fine because she was still just as important to the story, primarily in regards to her trying to reconnect with her father. But with that said, it’s definitely very cool that she’s now going to get to be a superhero as well in future MCU films. Though according to Kevin Feige, she won’t be appearing in the next MCU film, ‘Civil War’, because the character was cut from the story so that they “wouldn’t do her a disservice”. Yeah it’s a little disappointing, especially considering that Scott Lang will be in the film, but then again ‘Civil War’ does have a pretty big ensemble cast to the point where it can now pretty much be considered as an ‘Avengers’ film so it’s not really that big of a deal. So now I’m guessing that she’ll at least be in ‘Infinity War’. Either way, to quote Hope in this mid-credits scene, “it’s about damn time”.


Speaking of ‘Civil War’, finally there’s the post-credits scene, which was directed by the Russo brothers and will apparently be seen again in ‘Civil War’. The scene consists of Captain America and Falcon having finally found Bucky, which was their goal at the end of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, and debating what to do next. Both of them point out that they’re unable to contact Tony Stark due to ‘the Accords’, obviously foreshadowing the future conflict between Cap and Iron Man in ‘Civil War’. But of course because Falcon was part of a major action sequence in this film and at the end was shown to be looking for Scott Lang to ‘recruit’ him into the Avengers, he tells Steve that ‘he knows a guy’. So while we don’t yet know when this scene will occur in the next film, it definitely sets the stakes for what will be surely be another epic superhero film when ‘Captain America: Civil War’ hits theaters on May 6, 2016 to kick Phase Three of this grand Marvel Cinematic Universe. But for now, this sequence, and the entire film in general, closes out Phase Two of the MCU. Sure there may have been quite a bit of controversy surrounding this stage of the MCU from the Mandarin fake-out to the whole Edgar Wright incident but ultimately it ended up delivering some of the franchise’s greatest films to date.

IN CONCLUSION


Whenever I update my rankings list of the MCU, I don’t add in the newest film until after I’ve at least seen it twice. So now, having seen ‘Ant-Man’ twice in theaters, here are my updated rankings for the first twelve films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe;

12. Iron Man 2

11. The Incredible Hulk

10. Thor: The Dark World

9. Thor

8. Iron Man

7. Iron Man 3

6. ANT-MAN

5. Captain America: The First Avenger

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

3. The Avengers: Age of Ultron

2. The Avengers

1. Guardians of the Galaxy


Ultimately there are two main reasons why I can’t really put ‘Ant-Man’ in the Top 5. The first, as noted earlier, is that the main villain is rather one-note but as I also noted earlier, this has never bothered me as much as other people and I don’t even think that Yellowjacket is a ‘terrible’ villain. Like I’ve said in the past, I don’t hold the MCU villains to the ridiculously high standards of the internet in the wake of Loki’s turn as the villain in ‘The Avengers’. The only other problem that I have with ‘Ant-Man’ is that it starts off rather slow but thankfully gets moving once Scott first puts on the Ant-Man suit. All in all, ‘Ant-Man’ is another excellent entry in the MCU film. It’s sad that this film had to be overshadowed by the internet’s unwillingness to get over the departure of Edgar Wright, and unfortunately I have seen some people negatively compare the film to ‘what could have been’ with Wright, which is straight-up BS. But at the end of the day, ‘Ant-Man’ did not end up being the disaster that some predicted it to be. Marvel managed to move on from this initial setback and director Peyton Reed more than proves to be a solid enough replacement for Wright. As a result, ‘Ant-Man’ is another highly entertaining installment of this highly entertaining franchise and is definitely one of the most unique MCU films to date. Like I said in my original review, at this point it is foolish to have any sort of doubt about Marvel Studios because they obviously know what they’re doing. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mission Impossible (1996-2011) Film Series Retrospective


In 1966, writer Bruno Geller created the spy TV series ‘Mission: Impossible’, which revolved around a group of government agents who took on various missions for the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). The members of the group changed with each episode with the only full-time leads of the series being agents Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the latter of whom took over the lead role of the series from Hill after the first season. The series was a solid success when it first aired on CBS, running for 7 seasons from 1966 to 1973 while also producing numerous iconic bits of pop culture history from the theme song by Lalo Schifrin to the ‘this tape will self-destruct in five seconds’ hallmark. In 1988, the series was revived on ABC with Peter Graves reprising his role of Jim Phelps. However this new iteration only lasted two seasons primarily due to poor ratings. However, six years later, the series resurfaced again, this time on the big screen starring Tom Cruise in the lead role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Since then, the ‘Mission Impossible’ film franchise has been one of the most successful action franchises of the last two decades, grossing over $2 billion worldwide across four films. And this is one of those rare franchises that has actually got better as it has gone on, namely by placing more emphasis on the ‘team’ element that had made the series so successful in the first place whereas earlier films focused more on Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character. So today, in preparation for the latest entry of the series, ‘Rogue Nation’, which hits theaters soon, your Mission, should you choose to accept it, is to join me as I look back upon the first four films of the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996)


Brian De Palma (‘Scarface’, ‘The Untouchables’) helmed the first installment of the series in 1996 which, while commercially successful (it was the third highest-grossing film of the year with $457.7 million worldwide), was a little more polarizing amongst fans of the show and even some of the members of the original TV series’ cast such as Greg Morris and Martin Landau. The primary reason for this was due to the decision to have the series’ main character Jim Phelps serve as the main villain of the film. The fact that the film also opened with the majority of Ethan Hunt’s team members being killed off was probably something that fans also had issues with. But overall I don’t think that these two things are that big of a problem in regards to the film. While the film obviously strays heavily from the show in terms of the characterization of Jim Phelps, I thought the whole twist of him being a traitor was actually handled well enough even though he’s only the ‘main villain’ during the finale. And while the film did do away with the original ‘team’ in the film’s opening sequence, resulting in the primary focus being on Ethan Hunt, if anything there’s still enough team-related moments in the film to at least capture the spirit of the original TV series as much as possible. I mean at the end of the day, the first ‘Mission Impossible’ at least focused more on the core IMF team than ‘Mission Impossible II’ did (more on that in a little bit).

The film’s greatest selling point, though, is its action sequences. From the scene where Ethan Hunt descends into a CIA vault to recover a file containing info on all IMF agents to the finale on top of a moving train, the action sequences in this film are well-shot and edited thanks to De Palma’s solid direction. As for the writing, many have felt that the plot was a bit too complicated. Compared to a film like ‘Memento’, I wouldn’t go as far as say that this film’s plot was ‘that convoluted’ but I do recognize where those people are coming from as there are some scenes that you do really have to pay attention because otherwise you’re going to get lost. In short, ‘Mission Impossible’, despite its major deviations from the original source material, is still a solid start to this series and for a film that was made nearly 20 years ago, it still holds up pretty damn well today. Is it the absolute best entry in the series? No, but like franchises like ‘Harry Potter’, this is just due to the fact that the series would get better as time went on. Still, the first ‘Mission Impossible’ is still highly recommended as it is easily one of the best action films of the 90’s if based solely on the action alone. Simply put, this was the film that proved that Tom Cruise was a premier action star and that is what continues to define his career to this very day.

Rating: 4/5

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II (2000)


On paper, ‘Mission Impossible II’ seemed to be another solid hit for the franchise. In the director’s chair this time was John Woo, who at the time was known as one of the most prestigious action directors in the world for his work on films like ‘Hard Boiled’ and ‘Face/Off’. But at the end of the day, Woo may not have been the best choice to helm a ‘Mission Impossible’ film because unfortunately, ‘Mission Impossible II’ is the weakest entry of the first four ‘Mission Impossible’ films. The primary reason for this is because this is a simple case of style over substance. The plot for the film isn’t as convoluted compared to the first film but this results in the film ending up being a rather mindless action flick. Now don’t get me wrong, the action sequences are still as solid as they were in the first film. There’s no denying Woo’s talent when it comes to directing action. But they ultimately end up lacking depth for the most part and the main villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) is a pretty damn weak villain; Scott’s frequent over-acting doesn’t help much either. Not only that but Woo’s directing trademarks on are ‘full overload’ here, from his use of overly symbolic imagery to frequent slow-motion moments and of course, doves. It may just be because I haven’t really seen any of Woo’s other films before this but here it’s just a bit too much. For a ‘Mission Impossible’ film, this feels more like a James Bond film and as much as I am a fan of the James Bond franchise, that style just isn’t right for the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise.

This film is also the worst of the series when it comes to handling the one key component of the franchise; the ‘team’ element. As many have no doubt already pointed out, this film is pretty much ‘the Tom Cruise show’ as the film constantly over-glorifies how much of a badass Ethan Hunt is, which is unnecessary because we already know that Tom Cruise really is a badass because he does do a lot of his own stunts. Here it just feels like he’s showing off. If I haven’t mentioned it already, he’s one of the producers of the franchise but even the other films didn’t over-glorify Cruise as much as this film does. The overt focus on him results in pretty much everyone else in the film being downplayed save for Thandie Newton in the role of the female lead Nyah but even then she’s wasted in an arguably rather sexist role. Sure Ving Rhames reprises his role of Luther Stickell from the first film but the other member of the team, pilot Billy Baird (John Polson), is easily one of the most underdeveloped characters in franchise history and ultimately both Polson and Rhames are severely underused. In conclusion, I don’t think that ‘Mission Impossible II’ is a ‘terrible’ film. There are some legitimately good things in this film though ultimately it’s mostly just the action sequences. The plot is mindless, Woo’s directorial style goes a bit too overboard, and Tom Cruise really hogs the spotlight in this entry to the detriment of the other characters in the film. At the end of the day, ‘Mission Impossible II’ strays the farthest from the spirit of the original TV series hence why it is ultimately the worst entry in the series to date. Thankfully there would be nothing but blue skies for the franchise after this disappointing installment.

Rating: 2/5

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006)


For ‘Mission Impossible III’, Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner went with a newcomer who would make his feature-length directorial debut with this film. He would later go on to direct a few films that you may have heard of, including the upcoming ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Yes J.J. Abrams helmed this installment of the franchise and just like how I feel that he was responsible for resurrecting the ‘Star Trek’ franchise (and I’m confident that he will do the same for ‘Star Wars’), the addition of Abrams to the franchise (he would go on to produce the next two films in the series) helped get the ‘Mission Impossible’ films back on track, especially after the major disappointment that was ‘Mission Impossible II’. Through Abrams’ stellar direction, this film regains the high-speed pacing and tone that was lost in its immediate predecessor. And of course, the action sequences are excellent as always, from the highway attack scene to the raid upon a building in Shanghai where an object known as the ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ (which for the record we never actually learn what it is) is located. Something I noticed about this film in particular was that some of the action sequences are pretty damn intense or, to quote the MPAA rating for the film, really ‘frenetic’. While that does mean that the action sequences are much more chaotic than they are in other ‘Mission Impossible’ films, I do think they do a great job in really upping the tension. That is especially evident in this film’s cold opening, which fits the term ‘cold opening’ both figuratively and literally, resulting in quite frankly one of the best opening sequences that I’ve ever seen in a film.

This film also does a better job than ‘Mission Impossible II’ at balancing out the roles of Ethan’s main IMF team. As stated earlier, the previous film really focused too much on Ethan Hunt and while I can’t say that these are the most ‘developed’ characters of the franchise, namely as a result of the film’s action-heavy pacing, the bottom line is that at least the three other members of Ethan’s team; series regular Ving Rhames and newcomers Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q, aren’t underused like Rhames and John Polson were in ‘Mission Impossible II’. This film also has the best villain in the entire series in Owen Davian, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Admittedly most of the other ‘Mission Impossible’ villains have been rather weak, but Hoffman is phenomenal in this film, making Davian such an intimidating villain especially through his plot to get back at Ethan by kidnapping his wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan). The addition of Ethan’s wife also helps bring some solid emotional depth to the film which I feel was sort of lacking in the last two films, which is pretty ironic given that the second film focused so much on a love triangle. All in all, I’d say that ‘Mission Impossible III’ is the first ‘truly great’ entry in the franchise. For the record that’s nothing against the first ‘Mission Impossible’ film but overall I just prefer this one over the first as I feel this is where the series really started to capture the spirit of the original series. Little did any of us know that things would only get better with the following installment of the franchise.

Rating: 4.5/5

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (2011)


Another ‘newcomer’ was chosen to helm ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ but this wasn’t a case of a ‘newcomer’ who was making his feature-length debut like J.J. Abrams did with ‘MI3’. Instead, this director was making his feature-length ‘live-action’ debut having primarily worked on animated films for the majority of his career. In some ways, that can be perceived as a risk but ultimately it isn’t when you take into account that the director is none other than Brad Bird, the genius behind some of the greatest animated films of all-time like ‘The Iron Giant’ and ‘The Incredibles’… and this year’s criminally underappreciated ‘Tomorrowland’. Under Bird’s direction, ‘Ghost Protocol’ ends up being the absolute best entry in the entire ‘Mission Impossible’ series to date. Bird’s talent for visual storytelling translates perfectly into the film’s amazing action sequences, from the iconic climb up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the subsequent car chase through a sandstorm. And hopefully a lot of you got the chance to see this in IMAX because these action sequences are even more amazing on that big-screen. Not only that, but this film is arguably the best in the entire series when it comes to creating tension, mostly through said action. Part of this also comes from the main plot of having Ethan Hunt and his team having to go rogue after a bombing incident at the Kremlin forces the US government to disavow the entire IMF organization. Factor in other things like their equipment frequently failing and the tight pressure that they’re under and you have one of the most suspenseful action films of the last few years.

But the other great thing about ‘Ghost Protocol’ is that it is the first in the series to finally perfect the one major element of the Mission Impossible franchise that some of the films (save for 3) were fairly lacking in and that is through placing a greater emphasis on the main IMF team and not being entirely centered on Ethan Hunt. Sure, this is still a Tom Cruise film and Ethan Hunt is still the main character but this film does a fantastic job at balancing out the roles of Ethan’s team and giving solid character development to each of the other members. This includes Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, reprising his role from the previous film), who takes on his first major field mission, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), who during the mission deals with a personal vendetta against one of their targets, assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux), who was responsible for the death of her teammate/lover Hanaway (Josh Holloway), and finally ‘analyst’ William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who is revealed to have a major connection to Ethan Hunt as he was a former field agent who feels responsible for the ‘death’ of Ethan’s wife Julia while they were on vacation on Croatia. Though at the end of the film we learn that this was all faked and that Julia is still alive, resulting in a touching moment when Ethan and Julia notice each other from afar. ‘Mission Impossible III’ was on the right track when it came to having greater emphasis on the other members of Ethan Hunt’s IMF team but ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ ends up exceeding that high mark with the series’ best group of leads to date.

I only have one major complaint towards this film and that is in regards to the main villain, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). Despite a solid-enough performance by Nyqvist in the role, Hendricks is arguably the weakest villain in the entire film series. As I stated earlier, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian has basically been the only ‘great’ villain in the series and while originally I felt that Sean Ambrose from ‘Mission Impossible II’ was the weakest in the series, at least he had a presence in that film and a much more substantial role. Hendricks on the other hand disappears for a sizable chunk of the film’s run-time, not really doing anything major until the finale. In fact, pretty much every major ‘adversary’ in the film is only in it for like a short period of time each. But like how I defend many of the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for being better than what most critics put them out to be, here I don’t think it’s that much of an issue because the film does such a great job in developing the main characters. All in all, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ is not only the best film in the entire series up to this point but it’s also quite frankly one of the best films period of this decade, with Brad Bird making a fantastic live-action film debut and once again proving why he's one of the absolute best directors currently working today in Hollywood.


Rating: 5/5!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man (2015) review


7 years and 12 films in, it’s ridiculous to think that people are still doubting Marvel Studios even after all they have done in creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe and bringing us into the Golden Age of Superhero films. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Marvel has yet to make a ‘bad’ film and despite all of the talk from Marvel’s biggest critics about how the studio is very strict in terms of forcing their directors to stick to their creative demands, all of their productions have gone by pretty smoothly save for the initial trouble over the search for a director for ‘Thor: The Dark World’. But as for their newest film ‘Ant-Man’, this has easily been the studio’s most difficult production yet. For you see, while ‘Ant-Man’ is now being released as the final installment of Phase Two of the MCU (originally it was going to be the first ‘Phase Three’ film but that honor will instead go to ‘Captain America: Civil War’), it was actually one of the very first projects ever developed for Marvel Studios back in 2006 before the first ‘Iron Man’ film was even released. It was to be written and directed by Edgar Wright, who nowadays is well known as the director behind some of the greatest comedies of the last few years, namely the three films of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ in ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Hot Fuzz’, and ‘The World’s End’. Despite the need for some re-writes in order for the film to fit better into the canon of the MCU, everything seemed to be going well for Wright and Marvel Studios as the film began pre-production with filming set to start in the Summer of 2014.

But then, in May of that year, a major bombshell was dropped as it was announced that Wright would be leaving the project due to ‘creative differences’ with Marvel. And let me tell you folks, I have never seen a greater shift in general perception towards any film quite like what occurred with ‘Ant-Man’. Despite the fact that Marvel managed to move on from this fairly quickly and get production back on track, with director Peyton Reed (‘Bring it On’, ‘Yes Man’) taking over for Wright and Adam McKay and lead Paul Rudd both stepping in to help work on the screenplay, Wright’s departure from the project had a highly negative effect on the film in regards to the general reaction amongst film fans across the internet. Now there were many people who were starting to predict that the film would be a disaster, a first for Marvel Studios. It didn’t help that Ant-Man is generally considered to be one of the more odd characters in the Marvel Universe and keep in mind that this was all before ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ came out and proved that Marvel Studios was more than capable of producing top-quality superhero films based around some of their lesser-known characters (which for the record is pretty much what they’ve been doing since the beginning). Well now that this film has finally come out, it’s safe to say that all of that backlash towards this film solely due to Wright’s departure was completely unfounded as ‘Ant-Man’ proves to be yet another fun and exciting installment of this grand Cinematic Universe and arguably its most unique yet.    

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, an ex-con who struggles to find a stable job after he is released from prison in the hopes of providing child support for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) after his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) re-marries. But because his criminal past continually prevents him from finding a full-time job, Scott ultimately ends up taking on another sting op with his ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Pena) and their new partners Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (‘T.I.’). However, instead of a ‘proper score’, Scott only ends up finding an ‘old motorcycle suit’ but soon learns that this suit allows him to shrink down to the size of an insect. Scott is then approached by the creator of the suit, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who offers him ‘a chance at redemption’. Scott learns that Hank had developed this special technology through the use of subatomic particles but hid it away from the world, even resigning from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he learned that they were trying to replicate his technology, as he feared that it was too dangerous. But when he learns that his former protégé, and current head of his company, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is on the verge of developing his own form of the Ant-Man technology in the form of the Yellowjacket suit, Hank, along with his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) recruit Scott into their plan to break into Pym Technologies and steal Cross’ technology before it is unleashed upon the world.

By now you’ve probably heard a good chunk of the unfortunately growing backlash against superhero films, with one major argument from these critics being that they’re ‘all the same’. And sure in the grand scheme of things, all of these films are fairly similar in terms of story structure and plot. But I feel that these critics are ignoring the true ‘variety’ of these films in terms of all of the unique characters that Marvel has brought to the big-screen. Ant-Man is no exception as his powers of shrinking and the ability to communicate with ants result in some very cool and unique action sequences, including arguably one of the best finales in any MCU film to date… and it all takes place in Scott’s daughter’s room. At the same time, Marvel once again delivers yet another very fun and entertaining superhero film with everything you can now come to expect from the MCU; excellent visuals (which in the case of this film given Ant-Man’s abilities are very much on display), solid pacing, exciting action sequences, and a screenplay full of hilarious bits of dialogue. And after the bigger-scale exploits of ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’, ‘Ant-Man’ proves to be a nice change of pace as a much smaller-scaled superhero flick. Like I’ve said in the past, I disagree with any of the complaints about why the Avengers weren’t called in to deal with some of the incidents that took place in these films or that films like this don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of the MCU because that’s not true. Not every superhero film needs to be an ‘Avengers’ film. Solo-based superhero films can be just as exciting and epic as team-based superhero films and thanks to Marvel’s reliance on the former, their lead characters have been fleshed out very well because of that.

One of the other great things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how they’ve been able to implement different film genres into their films, from 1970s spy thrillers (‘Winter Soldier’) to ‘Star Wars’ esque sci-fi epics (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’). In the case of ‘Ant-Man’, it’s a heist film a la ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and it’s executed very well. Without saying ANYTHING at all about what this film may have been like under Edgar Wright, Peyton Reed does an excellent job in Wright’s place as he does a great job at handling the film’s humor and action sequences. It just goes to show that nowadays comedy directors can do just as great, and arguably better, jobs than most action directors when it comes to directing films like this. The same occurred last year with the Russo brothers and James Gunn for their respective MCU films. But it’s not all just about the action and visuals; this film also has a lot of heart as well, namely in the two major father-daughter relationships in this particular story, something that hasn’t really been explored that much in the MCU films. Of course there’s the touching relationship between Scott and his daughter Cassie which is the main driving force for Scott in his path of redemption. But the major father-daughter relationship in the film is between Hope and Hank. It’s established very early on that Hope could have easily taken on the mantle of ‘Ant-Man’ but the reasoning for Hank’s objection to this idea, which mainly stems from a tragedy in their lives, makes the arc of their relationship all the more powerful.   

The character of Scott Lang could’ve been a rather tough character to get right on-screen given his criminal background. But thanks to the character’s motive of turning his life around for his daughter and the fact that he’s a superhero without any actual powers compared to someone like Thor or Captain America, he manages to be a very relatable lead and Paul Rudd does a great job in exuding nothing but charisma in the role. Backing him up is Evangeline Lilly, who’s also excellent as Hope Van Dyne. She may not get to do much in terms of action compared to Rudd but that doesn’t mean her role in the film is lessened because of that. Hope’s relationship with her father and the arcs that both of them go through in the film more than make up for it. In fact, I’ve heard that her role was actually expanded on after the whole Wright incident. Speaking of Hank Pym, who better to play the role of the ‘original’ Ant-Man than a Hollywood legend like Michael Douglas? He works excellently alongside Rudd and Lilly and brings a whole bunch of class to this fun superhero adventure. And like with every MCU film, there’s definitely some major scene-stealers in this film’s stellar ensemble cast. In this case, that honor belongs to Scott Lang’s heist partners; David Dastmalchian, T.I., and most notably, Michael Pena, who’s easily the biggest scene-stealer in the entire film. Many of the film’s best comedic moments come from him and I also loved how, in the scenes in which he is talking about how he came across key pieces of information from his acquaintances, all of the characters in that scene talk in his voice.

Now let’s move onto to the one major element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that always gets the worst rep from critics; the villains. And based on reviews, it doesn’t seem like Darren Cross is going to buck this trend. While I’m usually much more positive about most of the MCU villains than the rest of the internet, unfortunately this is one instance where I’m admittedly a bit more in line with the critics on this one. At the end of the day, Cross is a fairly one-note villain. Heck, he’s not really in the film that much to stand out anyway and he doesn’t even get into the Yellowjacket suit until the film’s finale. But does that mean he’s a ‘terrible’ villain? Actually, the answer is no. Despite his ‘one-note villain’ status, Corey Stoll manages to carry a pretty darn intimidating and villainous presence that, if anything, makes him a much memorable villain than someone like Malekith from ‘Thor: The Dark World’. And that Yellowjacket suit is still a pretty damn cool visual. It’s basically like a much more threatening version of the Iron Man suit. Again, he may not be in the film that much but I’ve always felt that this hasn’t ever been that big of an issue in the MCU films because it allows us to spend more time with our main characters. Not every MCU villain has to be as good as Loki.

At this point in time, it is completely absurd to have any shred of doubt in regards to Marvel Studios because time and time again they have proven their critics wrong and have successfully pulled off projects that many felt were major risks going in. ‘Ant-Man’ is no exception, especially after the whole incident involving Edgar Wright’s departure from the project. Yes it’s sad that Wright ultimately didn’t get the chance to direct this dream project of his and it is even sadder when considering the fact that he spent around eight years working on this film before he left. But while we ultimately didn’t get to see Wright’s take on ‘Ant-Man’, that doesn’t mean that this film is the disaster that some predicted it to be. It’s a MCU film; it’s fun, it’s light-hearted, it’s entertaining, it’s got a great cast, and it’s got awesome visuals and action sequences. It is exactly the kind of top-quality entertainment that you can always expect from Marvel Studios. Is it the absolute best MCU film to date? No, not really but that is by no means a bad thing considering all of the other great superhero films that Marvel Studios has produced since 2008. And with that, ‘Ant-Man’ concludes Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, there have been some controversy from time to time but at the end of the day, I’d argue that Phase Two actually managed to outdo Phase One and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us with Phase Three.


Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, July 13, 2015

Terminator Genisys: SPOILER POST

WARNING!!!

The following post contains spoilers for the film ‘Terminator: Genisys’. If you have not seen the film yet, please instead refer to my spoiler-free review of the film, of which a link will be provided below, as I will be discussing key plot points and elements of the film in spoiler-y detail.




Whenever I do a spoiler post for a film on this site, it is usually for a superhero film, having started with ‘Iron Man 3’ and most recently for ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’. I’ve only done one Spoiler Post for a non-superhero film and that was for ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ in regards to the big ‘Khan’ reveal of that film. But today, I’m finally doing another non-superhero Spoiler Post and today’s subject is ‘Terminator: Genisys’, the fifth installment of a film franchise that many people feel should have ended after the series’ second entry, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. You can definitely tell that just by the reviews for ‘Genisys’, the under-performance of the film here in the U.S. box-office wise (thankfully it has fared much better overseas), and the overall uneasiness amongst film fans leading up to the film’s release due to the aforementioned feelings towards the franchise post-‘Terminator 2’. But, as you will recall from my original review for ‘Genisys’, I actually quite enjoyed it. Was it the absolute best entry in the franchise? No, not by a long shot. But of course what do you expect when James Cameron’s original two masterpieces were such hard acts to follow? Ultimately though I do feel that ‘Terminator: Genisys’ was a pretty darn entertaining sci-fi flick that perfectly balanced action and humor while also staying faithful to the legacy of the franchise’s first two installments. And it did this while also setting out on a unique new path brought on by none other than…

AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE


As I’ve no doubt stated in the past, one of my favorite films of the past few years has been the 2009 ‘Star Trek’ reboot, which made the bold move of creating a brand new alternate timeline. While this clearly was a controversial move in the minds of long-time ‘Star Trek’ fans, I for one was 100% supportive of this decision as I feel that the franchise can now move on in new directions without having to strictly adhere to series canon… and yes, I say that even after the last ‘Trek’ film, ‘Into Darkness’, proved to be even more polarizing amongst ‘Trek’ fans for its callbacks, though seriously not as many as ‘Trek’ fans claim, to ‘The Wrath of Khan’. Clearly the success of the ‘Trek’ films inspired Paramount when they developed ‘Terminator: Genisys’ as it too goes with the ‘alternate timeline’ storyline. The film opens up basically re-telling the original plot of the first ‘Terminator’ film but from the perspective of the future war. In the midst of the war against Skynet, resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) learns of a plot by Skynet to send one of their Terminator robots back in time to the year 1984 to kill his mother Sarah, thereby erasing him from existence. John’s top lieutenant, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), volunteers to go back in time to save her. But once he gets into Skynet’s time machine, that’s when things start to change. Before leaving, he sees John being attacked by another ‘soldier’ (more on this character later) and before he arrives in 1984, he starts to have new memories of his childhood that are much different than what he previously remembered.

It is established at the beginning, through narration by Reese, that he was born in 2004 after Judgment Day, which for the record has been reverted back to the original August 1997 date from ‘Terminator 2’. In other words, this film straight up ignores ‘Terminator 3’ and ‘Salvation’, which had Judgment Day occur in July 2004. But now his childhood is different as the world, for some reason, hasn’t ended yet and his younger self repeatedly tells himself about how ‘he can shut down Skynet before it is born’ and that ‘Genisys is Skynet’. He arrives in 1984 and basically goes through the same beats that we saw in the first film. He steals a pair of pants from a bum (“That son of a bitch stole my pants”) and rushes into a store to avoid the cops. But this time the cop (Lee Byung-hun) happens to be a T-1000, the liquid metal shape-shifting Terminator who can take the form of anything it comes into contact with. Before the T-1000 can kill him, however, he is saved by Sarah, who is not the scared and vulnerable young woman who Kyle was expecting to find based on what he was told by John in the future. Instead, she is already a badass warrior who just so happens to be protected by a T-800 Terminator. Slowly realizing that he is now in a new alternate reality, Kyle learns that in 1973, Skynet had sent a T-1000 (presumably the same one that the trio deal with in 1984) back in time to kill Sarah when she was a child. However, a as of yet unconfirmed party sent back a T-800 to protect her, who ever since has trained her in combat to prepare her for the impending apocalypse.

Now this new ‘alternate timeline’ storyline has been referred to by some of the film’s biggest critics as ‘lousy fan-fiction’. But you know what? ‘Star Trek’ basically did the same thing and you don’t see anyone complain about that (Oh wait…). The fact of the matter is that, as I noted earlier, I don’t mind this at all because I like the idea of re-writing the canon to allow for new storyline possibilities that may or may not go down the familiar paths that we had seen in the first two ‘Terminator 2’ films. If this new alternate reality wasn’t real then this would be nothing more than a remake of the first film. Maybe then it would be ‘lousy fan-fiction’ like those critics say but as is, it is by no means that at all. I for one am intrigued to see what happens now for this film franchise as it begins to uncover some of the mysteries that are established in ‘Genisys’, like who is responsible for sending Sarah’s T-800 back in time. I also like how this film challenges some of the pre-conceived notions of what we saw before, namely in regards to the relationship between Sarah and Kyle. As we know from the first ‘Terminator’, the two of them ended up falling in love, resulting in the birth of John Connor. But in this film, that future relationship is put into question. For one thing, Kyle learns about his fate from the other timeline; that he dies protecting Sarah, and also has difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he’s John’s father. Throughout the film, Kyle and Sarah have, to put it lightly, a rather strenuous relationship. I mean at the end of the day, they do get together but seeing how Kyle doesn’t die in this film, it’ll be interesting to see where their relationship will go from there, especially since they come across his younger self and even go as far as giving him the memories that the grown-up Kyle experienced while traveling through time.

ARNOLD!!


Whether or not you like this film, you cannot deny that one of the absolute best things in the entire film is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heralded return to the franchise that made him a star. He may not be the absolute best actor in the world but that correlates perfectly to his role in these films as a robot that has difficulties trying to fit in with humans. Seriously just admit that you at least laughed once when the T-800 tried to smile. And you know what? For a 67-year old, Arnold still manages to not only kick major ass in what is easily his most iconic role to date but also continues to excel in delivering memorable one-liners (“Old but not obsolete!”). The fight sequence between him and the younger-looking T-800 from 1984 is easily one of the biggest highlights of the entire film. And hey, at the end of the film, he basically becomes a T-1000, having been thrown in a vat of liquid metal by the T-3000 AKA John Connor (again, more on him later) so it’ll cool to see how that will affect the character in future films. He also gets major kudos for the solid father-daughter relationship between him and Sarah, which ultimately is the heart of the film. This leads perfectly into my next point…

SARAH AND ‘POPS’


I’m just going to throw this out there… at the end of the day, ‘Terminator: Genisys’ doesn’t really carry the same emotional depth of the first two ‘Terminator’ films. I’m not saying this as a criticism of the film; it’s just that the first two films, especially ‘Terminator 2’ with the father-son relationship of John Connor and the T-800, were so successful in this regard. But ‘Terminator Genisys’ still manages to have some good emotional depth, primarily in the form of the father-daughter relationship between Sarah and, as she refers to him as, ‘Pops’. I loved the back-and-forth between the two in scenes where they have arguments, like when ‘Pops’ brings up the awkward point about how Kyle and Sarah, as he puts it, are expected to ‘mate’. And while of course he’s a robot that doesn’t 100% grasp the concept of feelings and emotion, there are times where he clearly shows how much he cares about Sarah. One notable example of this occurs when Sarah, Kyle, and ‘Pops’ hide out in the latter’s secret base and Sarah notices that he still keeps photos of her as a child and drawings that she made of them. And while I’ll admit that going in I already knew that this T-800 wasn’t going to die like in ‘Terminator 2’ (or ‘Terminator 3’), the scene where he appears ready to sacrifice himself was handled great from an emotional standpoint, especially when he tells Kyle to ‘take care of my Sarah’.


Sarah Connor is, without a doubt, one of the best female action heroines of all-time and that legacy is done justice once again in this film thanks to Emilia Clarke’s excellent turn in the role. Like Linda Hamilton before her, she does a great job in giving Sarah both her confidence and fearlessness in combat while also doing a perfect job in capturing the character’s vulnerability. In ‘Terminator 2’, Sarah’s vulnerability came from her past experiences in the first ‘Terminator’ film and her distrust of John’s guardian T-800. In ‘Terminator: Genisys’, this is shown primarily through her relationships with both ‘Pops’ and Kyle. Relating to what I talked about in my Spoiler Post for ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ in regards to the controversy surrounding the character of Black Widow, I feel that, contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly fine for female action heroes to show signs of vulnerability because it shows that they’re human. Nothing’s perfect and a character that is meant to be ‘perfect’ isn’t always the best-written character. I know that right now a lot of people on the internet are raving about the character of Furiosa from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ but at the end of the day, that character has nothing on Sarah Connor and this film is 100% proof of that.

KYLE REESE


In terms of respect/credibility, Jai Courtney has about as much respect from film fans as Shia LaBeouf or Sam Worthington… in other words, not very much. In fact, this makes ‘Terminator: Genisys’ the second instance in which Courtney has starred in a major film franchise in which the installment that he starred in was one of the worst-rated entries in the entire series, the other being ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ and I’m pretty sure all of this makes some DC fans hesitant about his involvement in ‘Suicide Squad’. But I stand firm when I say that Courtney is not at all to blame for the shortcomings of ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ and in response to some people who say that he ‘ruined’ Terminator too, let me be the first to say that this is not true. Contrary to popular opinion, I think Courtney did a fine job in this film. Was he the absolute best Kyle Reese ever? No, not at all, but I do feel that Courtney did a good job in the role as it was written in this film. In this film, Kyle Reese is basically the avatar for the audience as he traverses through this new alternate timeline trying to come to terms with what he’s dealing with. And ultimately Courtney was at his best when he was with Clarke and Schwarzenegger so at the end of the day, he serves his purpose in taking on this iconic role for the revival of the ‘Terminator’ franchise.

EVIL JOHN CONNOR?


It’s time to delve into what is arguably the most controversial element of the entire film, which first attracted controversy when many people (even director Alan Taylor) felt that it was spoiled in the film’s second trailer. And that is the reveal that in this film, John Connor, who is arguably the main protagonist of the entire series, has been turned into a Terminator by Skynet, effectively making him the main antagonist of this new film. Of course, as noted earlier, Kyle notices a mysterious figure grab John before he travels back to 1984 which then results in him ending up in a new timeline. After helping Sarah and ‘Pops’ defeat the T-1000 that’s after them, Kyle and Sarah travel forward in time to the year 2017 while Pops stays behind; in other words, he ‘takes the long way’ to reunite with them in the future. The two end up getting caught by the police but are then approached by John while they are in the hospital. All seems well, despite Kyle and Sarah questioning why he is there, until ‘Pops’ returns and shoots John, who then reveals his new Terminator form. Now he is the T-3000, having been turned into a Terminator by the mysterious figure who attacked him in the future through the use of Nano machines. He is also the only T-3000 in existence as any other attempts at creating this particular Terminator have failed as a result of the human subjects driven mad.

Now I’m not here to talk about the second trailer for the film and how many people feel it spoiled the big twist. Instead, I’m going to say this… as controversial as it is, I’m totally fine with this twist. I mean it’s not like the character of John Connor was ruined by having him be the villain in this film. It’s just an interesting new plotline that, to quote James Cameron, is “a riff against expectations” and also makes the threat a much more personal one for Kyle and Sarah to deal with given their connections to John Connor. As I stated in my original review, I’m also glad that this meant that Jason Clarke, one of the most underrated actors working today, had a much more substantial role than what the very first trailer for the film implied. At first I thought that John Connor would only appear in the scenes that took place in 2029 but thankfully that’s not the case. In fact I’m just going to say it… Jason Clarke has been the best John Connor to date, and yes that is even when taking the whole villain characterization into account. In early scenes before Connor’s transformation, Clarke does a great job in capturing John’s leadership qualities, which are most evident from his speech to his troops before they go off to fight Skynet. And after the big twist, Clarke ends up being a pretty darn entertaining and intimidating baddie, basically being like a much more advanced version of the T-1000 with the ability to regenerate and break apart into particles during combat, the latter of which produces a pretty cool visual for the action sequences.

Most badass 'walking away from an explosion' scene EVER!!!
MATT SMITH’S ROLE


And now to close off this Spoiler Post, let’s end by talking about the most notable secret of the entire film and that is Matt Smith’s (fresh off of his work as the Eleventh Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’) role in the film. Whereas the big ‘evil John Connor’ twist was revealed in the film’s second trailer, Smith’s role was kept secret up until the film’s release, which of course led to speculation over who he was playing in the film. The most common theory that I saw online was that he was John’s best friend Tim from ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ which given the film’s decision to revert Judgment Day back to 1997 could’ve made sense. But in the end, he played a much different role in the film, one that will no doubt play a bigger role in the grand scheme of things because… he plays Skynet. Taking on the form of a super-advanced Terminator, the T-5000, he is the one responsible for turning John into a Terminator and it is implied that he has traveled through various timelines to get to this point. So obviously he’s the one who is primary responsible for the new alternate timeline and I think it’s safe to say that he will also be the primary villain for the rest of the series. Because while Kyle, Sarah, and ‘Pops’ destroy Cyberdyne and stop ‘Genisys’ AKA Skynet from going online, a mid-credits scene shows that Skynet’s primary core survived the events of the finale, meaning that Skynet isn’t defeated yet.

IN CONCLUSION



I know that I’m in the minority when it comes to liking this film. But having now seen the film twice in theaters, I am 100% serious when I say that this film is by no means as bad as critics, and the internet, are putting it out to be. Like I said before, it is by no means the best entry of the series but that’s just because the first two ‘Terminator’ films were so good that they set up insurmountable expectations for any subsequent entries in the franchise to have to live up to. But ultimately I concur with James Cameron in that this truly feels like the true ‘Terminator 3’. Ignoring the events of the original ‘Terminator 3’ and ‘Terminator Salvation’ and instead following off of the first two films, ‘Genisys’ does not go the same route of the former by pulling a shameless retcon that goes against what happened at the end of ‘Terminator 2’. Sure the ‘alternate timeline’ storyline is just as controversial but in my opinion that just made the story much interesting. Alan Taylor also deserves a lot of credit for almost perfectly recreating classic moments from the first ‘Terminator’ film save for a few cosmetic differences that are primarily due to that film being owned by another studio. So in conclusion, ‘Terminator Genisys’ may not be the absolute best film that has come out this summer but I still had loads of fun while watching it, which ultimately makes it one of the most underrated/underappreciated films of the year.