Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Deadpool 2 poster
Image from http://collider.com/

Deadpool 2 is the first disappointment of 2018.  With a genius marketing campaign, hilarious trailers, and the prospect of seeing our favorite foul-mouthed antihero again, I was ready to dive head-on into this Pool.  Sadly, Deadpool 2 is a needlessly darker and sophomoric outing that emphasizes violent action over clever wit, making for a film that will satisfy action junkies, but leave those who enjoyed the cleverness of its predecessor yearning for more.

The mess of a plot involves Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) mourning over the death of his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), joining the X-Men, and attempting to save an annoying teenager (Julian Dennison) from, brace yourself, a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin).  Wade will sort of go on a journey to discover his inner hero and learn to move on from the death of his loved one, while still cracking jokes to the camera.

Deadpool 2 could have been a savage satire on how sequels always darken, but falls into that trap instead.  While still charismatic, Ryan Reynolds isn’t as likable here, overdoing Wade’s depression in the opening act and attempting to make out-of-place statements on sexism, racism, and other topics Deadpool should not discuss. Brolin acts like he’s in a completely different movie, but has good chemistry with Reynolds when onscreen with him.  The plentiful action sequences are well-done yet sadly unmemorable, and Dennison alternates between unlikable and annoying rather than menacing.  Lastly, the supposed emotional punch of an ending rings hollow.  I came here to laugh hysterically, not think about character drama.  It’s a sad state of affairs that should hopefully be remedied with the upcoming 3rd installment.

Deadpool 2 has more than enough action, but the plot and tone meander without much logic, the characters aren’t as endearing, and the writing is surprisingly juvenile rather than clever or witty.  While it certainly isn’t the worst X-Men film, Deadpool 2 is only slightly above X-Men Origins:Wolverine in terms of quality enjoyment.  I am sad to report that, of the three films I’ve seen this week, Book Club was the funniest one, not this.

Rated R for Strong Violence And Language Throughout, Sexual References, And Brief Drug Material.  Sorry, DP, but X is not gonna give this one to ya.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A Super Sequel with Brains

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Poster
Image from https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a prime example of how to do a sequel right.  It builds on everything that was good about its predecessor while still being a solid standalone movie.  I also applaud the inclusion of pointed political commentary that actually feels like it was researched and understood by the screenwriters before it was placed in the story.  But explosion junkies have no fear: all of that weighty material is perfectly balanced out by good old fashioned action that services the narrative and almost never overstays its welcome.

We follow Steve Rodgers/Captain America (A dryly charismatic Chris Evans) as he is adjusting to modern life after being defrosted by the military.  Working with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) as a field agent for secret government organization SHIELD, Steve doesn’t exactly trust that the men upstairs are honest about their work, a suspicion proven when someone puts a hit on SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).  Worse still, high-ranking senator Alex Pierce (Robert Redford) believes Steve was involved, causing him and Natasha to go into hiding and eventually encounter someone from Steve’s past who will complicate the mission even further.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier holds up better than most other comic book films.  It’s a political thriller and character piece before an action extravaganza, and that increases its appeal beyond comic junkies.  It also humanizes Steve Rogers and handles its plot quite smoothly.  This is the kind of movie that knows how to serve up awesome battle sequences and character drama in equal measure.  Action fans will be more than satisfied, and people like me who enjoy actual stories should be entertained too.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Action, and Gunplay Throughout

Spidey’s Homecoming A Funny Throwback to 80’s Teen Films

3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)

Spider-Man Homecoming poster
Image from http://marvel.wikia.com

I am getting tired of reboots.  Though some have been successful (The current Planet of the Apes franchise is consistently entertaining), many reboots serve only as ways for studios to make easy money off of a well-known property, with little regard for the quality of said film as long as it gets solid returns.  However, Spider-Man Homecoming is not another run-of-the-mill superhero tale, but in fact a teen comedy/coming-of-age story about Peter Parker learning how to balance his duties as Spider-Man with being a legitimate teenager, something that none of the other movies really explored.  While I will always love Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh spin on the character that differentiates itself with humor, some good twists, and a hero who truly enjoys what he does rather than complaining about it.

After fighting alongside Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Civil War, Peter Parker (played by newcomer Tom Holland) is having a bit of trouble balancing life as Spider-Man with the mundanity of high-school, with Tony telling him to lay low and wait for the Avengers to call him.  Like any teen in this situation, Peter doesn’t take to that well, believing himself ready to play with the big boys.  I would tell him those big boys graduated from high school before they became full-time heroes, but I would probably do the same thing if it were me.

Peter gets his chance for some action when the vengeful Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton giving a dedicated performance) starts using alien technology for nefarious purposes.  Now Peter, along with his comic relief best friend (Jacob Batalon) who discovered his identity, must try and stop Toombs before it’s too late.  And also, the homecoming dance is coming up, and Peter must work up the courage to ask Liz Allen (Laura Harrier) out.  Oh the joys of superherodom.

This film excels as a teen comedy, containing witty dialogue and a purposefully light tone, but is completely underwhelming as an action film.  Batalon and Holland are believable as best friends and Marisa Tomei (though criminally underused) does well with what she is given.  This is the closest thing to a John Hughes film I’ve seen in ages, and that approach was surprisingly perfect for this interpretation of the character.  Peter Parker has never felt more real, and I can only hope that feeling continues throughout his other solo adventures.

The action feels reminiscent of scenes from the other movies, or comes off as overly cartoonish (the latter being especially true of the film’s climax). It’s as if the screenwriters worked so hard on the teen stuff that they had to put the action in at the last minute.  Director Jon Watts (known for horror film Clown and gritty crime drama Cop Car) seems unsure of himself in those sequences, always shooting too close for us to really see Spidey in action.  Hopefully the sequel will improve on this aspect.

Despite the action deficiency, I laughed consistently at the jokes, though some were crude and/or sophomoric (the film was written by the same guys behind that over-raunched Vacation remake no one wanted). Michael Keaton’s performance is simultaneously menacing and sympathetic, even when he is dressed in an overly ridiculous outfit for the climax.  Lastly, the music choices were mostly solid, leading me to tap my feet at a few points.

Spider-Man Homecoming is a funny teen comedy that, despite lackluster action, provides consistent humor and endearing central performances.  Michael Keaton makes a surprisingly complex character, the toe-tapping soundtrack is enjoyable, and this version of Peter Parker is fresh, but the underwhelming action really took down what could have been one of the best films in this series and made it just a funny comedy.  It’s a good film, but it could have been better.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Action Violence, Language, and Some Suggestive Comments , (Someone remarks about watching porn at one point??????)

X-plosions Abound in Newest Installment of Marvel Franchise

3 out of 5 stars (average)

X-Men Apocalypse poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Despite the seriousness of its title, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the goofier entries in the ongoing franchise of films centering on the X-Men, a group of super powered people lead by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as they fight oppression from fearful humans as well as Xavier’s old friend Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  This time around, the mutants must defeat a villain more powerful than anyone or anything they have ever encountered, Apocalypse (an overacting Oscar Issac), the world’s first mutant.  He has awoken from a centuries-long snoozer and decides to, what else, destroy the world and rebuild it in his own image (can someone say God complex?)  Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence out of the blue makeup for most of the events) must put aside their differences and, with the help of a quirky host of new mutants (including some you may recognize, others you will not), defend the world once again.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the proceedings, so I won’t. I came into this movie hoping for the best, as it has received very polarizing reviews in the mainstream community.  Some are praising it for “finally” embracing its comic book roots, while others are calling it goofy, boring, and too action-happy.  I am somewhere in the middle of those two camps, as I appreciate the goofier look of some characters (especially Nightcrawler, a blue teleporter), as well as the action (however much of it there may be), but feel the pacing is off in some places and the acting is occasionally mixed.

First and foremost, I found the story to be engaging. It isn’t anywhere near the level of narrative engagement as “Days of Future Past”, but it kept me interested.  I wanted to see where the characters would go and how they would change by the end, something this series has always nailed in my opinion.  Even if it isn’t Shakespeare, the story in “X-Men: Apocalypse” is nothing to scoff at.

A large part of that is due to the actors involved. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove themselves as capable actors here, allowing us to feel their emotions gracefully and sympathetically.  I never would have imagined McAvoy as a young Patrick Stewart, but he finally shows shades of the original character here that make the transition easy to see.  Fassbender continues to stun me as a young Magneto, channeling Ian McKellan’s menace while adding sympathy to the character that McKellen never had.  Also, fan-favorite Quicksilver (Played with an unstoppable and unpredictable energy by Evan Peters) rushes back into the fray, providing much-needed snarky commentary on the tumultuous events.  I love this character because of the actor, and want to see him at least one more time.  Lastly, Jennifer Lawrence imbues Mystique with the maturity seen in the original films.  However, her character arc in these films has been eerily similar to that of Katniss Everdeen, her “Hunger Games” character.  I won’t say how, but you’ll know it if you think about it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the actors are either standard or not that great. Oscar Issac alternates between passable intimidation and YELLING ALL OF HIS LINES.  I hdon’t know if director Bryan Singer told him to do this or if Issac felt the need to imitate a Power Rangers villain, but it became unintentionally funny at some points.  Overall, he does a decent job, but this is a poor follow-up to Peter Dinklage’s menacing Bolivar Trask.  We also see younger versions of past X-Men here, and their actors are suitable, if not perfect.  That said, they had a lot to live up to, and they do a serviceable, if not memorable, job.

The action thankfully makes up for most of the acting shortcomings, until it doesn’t. The first half of the movie is primarily plot, something I did not expect and also enjoyed.  There is action, but it is quick and serves to move the plot forward. I was waiting anxiously for the big set pieces to come, and when they did, I wanted the dialogue scenes back.  The action is decently shot and suitably intense, with a minimum use of shakeycam and effective use of CGI, but the last 30 minutes hit us over the head with loud, endless explosions that nearly made me forget the end goal.  The 3rd act almost felt like a “Transformers” movie in its level of destruction, something I never want to feel in a Marvel movie.  I understand it’s the end of a trilogy (and likely the start of another), but the previous films were able to have big climaxes without sacrificing their narrative integrity, a trap that “Apocalypse” sadly falls into.  That said, it is a summer movie, so big over-the-top action is expected, especially in end-of-trilogy installments.  I just wish that I could have been affected emotionally by the action instead of staring in disbelief at its absurdity by the end.

All in all, I would recommend this movie to fans of the series. It’s action-packed, decently acted, and surprisingly funny for the circumstances (much of the humor comes from Quicksilver and Nightcrawler).  McAvoy and Fassbender again provide fascinating and layered performances that help compensate for the over-emphasis on explosions, and the new characters are good editions to the series.  “X-Men: Apocalypse” might not rock your world, but it will provide a chasm of entertainment for the summer season.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, And Destruction, Brief Strong Language, And Some Suggestive Images

“Suicide Squad”: 5 Things DC’s First Team-Up Movie Must Do To Succeed

Suicide Squad poster
Photo from https://imgc.allpostersimages.com

After dealing with less-than-stellar box office figures for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film division of DC Comics is in some seriously burning hot water.  After spending an estimated $800 million on BVS, Warner Brothers has been watching their collective dream$ go down the toilet as their supposed juggernaut was taken out of first place this weekend by Melissa McCarthy’s highly criticized comedy The Boss.  Accounting for McCarthy’s undeniable star power, it appears that the continued lifespan of the DC Extended Universe (which I find to be one of the most laughable titles ever given to a series) now rests on the sadistic shoulders of the next installment in the DCEU, Suicide Squad.

 

That trailer aired during the 2016 MTV Movie Awards last night to massive acclaim.  I saw the trailer this morning and was pleasantly surprised by it, as it appeared that the marketing people finally realized the kind of movie they wanted to promote.  This darkly hilarious advertisement is in a stark contrast to the original trailer we got at comic con a few months ago, which showcased a much darker movie.

Original Trailer

I was not excited to see THAT movie, as I could not hold in my laughter watching people in Panda costumes shoot up a convenience store, as well as a tantalizing Margot Robbie (known the world over for her breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street) fulfilling the fantasies of fanboys everywhere with her spot-on portrayal of Harley Quinn.  Having watched some of Batman: The Animated Series, as well as play Arkham City, I was astounded at how well Robbie channeled the psychotic glee of the character, from the exaggerated Boston accent to her overtly sensuous movements.

That being said, many movies have had fascinating characters stuck in bad scripts, a category that Suicide Squad could go under all too easily if the material is mishandled.  I will wait and see the film in its entirety when it hits theaters on August 5th, but for now, here is my list of 5 Things Suicide Squad Must Accomplish In Order To Be Successful:

  1. Do NOT Be A Guardians Of the Galaxy Rip-Off

The year was 2014. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Avengerverse” as I call it) was riding strong on the surprise awesomeness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and they had another film following it up that year.  That film was Guardians of the Galaxy, and it looked really, really dumb.

I thought this movie would be Marvel’s first outright bomb. While some missteps had been taken (cough, Iron Man 2, cough), none of the Avengers films had been outright horrible.  This looked like an overbloated excuse for CGI and generic characters who happened to have famous actors playing them.  However, to the shock of absolutely everyone, GOTG was a light, fun, and surprisingly hilarious action romp that had memorable characters and as good heart.  Like its heroes, the film proved that the biggest underdog can sometimes soar past the expectations of those watching him.  As a bonus, you didn’t have to see any other film in the MCU to understand what the heck was happening, a delightful breath of fresh air.

Suicide Squad is DC’s answer to that. Both feature relatively unknown comic book characters with one or two biggish names behind the project (GOTG had Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt, SS has Will Smith and Jared Leto) as well as their own unique tone compared to other films in their universes. Suicide Squad looks like the filmmakers are finally realizing how dumb this entire universe idea is and are going to have some fun with it, rather than trying to play it straighter than Saving Private Ryan. It is imperative that this movie be something unique and memorable in order for audiences to enjoy it, not be a darker copy of something that worked a few years ago.  While I appreciate the trailers not showing us who the villain is, this film needs to be crazy, darkly hilarious, and, of course, exhilarating, in order to stand out from the crowd.

2. Have a Solid Story

I miss the days when action movies ran on a solid story and not endless F/X shots. Think of the greatest action films ever made: The Fugitive, The Hunt for Red October, Braveheart, and many others all had engrossing narratives that invested us in the proceedings of their characters.  Action movies as of late seem to have the idea that 15-20 minutes of basic character and story development are all we “stupid” audiences can handle before hurling action set pieces in our face.

This theory applies to the comic book genre as well. Think back to the first time you saw Iron Man.  Sure the action was (and still is) great, but what kept you coming back?  The character of Tony Stark and the journey he went on.  You liked Tony as a character and felt relief watching him transform from an egotistical warmonger into a slightly less egotistical human being who cared about and wanted to apologize for the damage he caused. Suicide Squad needs to be able to weave a good narrative into or around all of the craziness.  We don’t want 2 hours of endless shooting with a paper-thin plot.  It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but I need to be able to remember the story of Suicide Squad.  If a film called Kill Bill can tell an engrossing story with good characters, then this should as well.  That leads into my next point:

3. Make The Characters Interesting

Team-up movies are a big gamble because they have to establish and develop a large group of main characters and make them interesting individually. The Avengers took the loooong route and gave most of their heroes individual movies before having them team up, but Suicide Squad didn’t have the grace (or time) to do that.  Most audience members know of the Joker and Harley Quinn through pop culture, but I had never heard of The Enchantress, Deadshot, or Killer Croc (yes that is his actual name) before that first trailer.  As such, each character needs to be distinct and original in their own way.  My favorite line in the second trailer for SS comes when Will Smith describes the characters: He eats people, he burns people, you’re (referring to the Enchantress) possessed by a witch, and she’s (Harley) just crazy”.  That is a perfect explanation of who everyone is physically, but I don’t know who they are as individuals.  They all have the potential to be great and memorable characters, but they could also be one-note and bland.  Hopefully the writers have been able to make every one on this island of misfit maniacs into a complex person, but I’m only hoping.  That goes into my next-to-last point:

4. Find the Right Tone

I love black comedies. They are able to help us enter the dark recesses of our minds and laugh at the ridiculous things in life.  A great example of this is The Big Short, which took a seemingly humorless topic (the 2008 economic crash) and turned it into a sly dark comedy while still recognizing the seriousness of the situation.  Many black comedies have more serious endings because they need to make a point about something.  This is fine as long as the film remembers what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that.

Suicide Squad has the potential for both dark hilarity and serious drama. Most of the characters are psychologically damaged, which we’ve seen will lead to some good jokes.  However, at the end of the day, these are very messed-up people with serious problems, and that needs to be accounted for.  For example, the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker is an abusive one.  She gives herself completely to a man who will never ever love her, but instead use her as a prop for his own self-gain.  This version of Harley seems fiercely independent, but it could be a charade to hide a beaten and abused child on the inside.  I want to see Harley come out on top of her abuser and show women that it is possible to escape the monsters who torture them.

That could be asking for too much out of one movie, but my point is that they need to decide on a tone and stick with it. Think of Batman Returns.  We know immediately that this is going to a dark, sad movie, and that darkness never lets up. Suicide Squad needs to maintain a darkly comedic tone while allowing us to take it seriously when necessary.  If they make it too serious, then the dark humor will clash with the tone, but if they make it too funny, then a random serious change will seem out of place for what preceded.  My point is that this film needs to be able to make us laugh our butts off AND make us take the events seriously.  The way to do that successfully is my last point:

5. It Needs to Be Well-Directed

The director of Suicide Squad is David Ayer.  He is known for intense dramas with well-rounded characters and memorable action.  I don’t know why he was chosen to direct a dark action-comedy that takes place in a world where men dress up in clown makeup and batsuits, but I can tell you that he gets results out of his actors.  It appears that DC is giving their directors a large amount of creative control over their movies (for the moment anyway), so Ayer’s style will likely be all over this movie.  In full form, he can make every one of my aforementioned desires for the film into reality, but he has to remember to have some fun with it.  This should NOT be like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, this should be a fun, edgy, adrenaline-fueled ride with a dark undercurrent, a combination of Mad Max: Fury Road and the better parts of the Dark Shadows movie (the fun parts).  As well, David Ayer should know that the future of the DCEU rests on this film, and its failure could very well be the biggest embarrassment of the year.

Those are the things I think Suicide Squad needs to do in order to succeed.  Will this be the surprise hit of the year, or is it going to hurt really, really bad?  We’ll find out when it hits theaters on August 5th, 2016.

Marvel’s New Film Not Fantastic, But It’s No Failure

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Fantastic Four 2015 Poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Note: My thoughts on this film (often stylized as Fant4stic) have changed dramatically since this review.  Today, I completely agree with the majority opinion: the characters are weak, the tone is overly dour, and the film completely lacks a second act due to studio meddling.  Today, I would likely give it 1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst of the year).  I don’t know what possessed me to give this a decent review back in 2015, but please enjoy my faint praise below:

Marvel’s newest, non-Avengers offering: Fantastic Four is not what you think it is.  The marketing for this made it look overly dark and contemplative for a film of its type, leading me to believe it would be a serious character study that would bore me to sleep.  The reviews thus far have said that this movie is dull, overly dark, and anticlimactic.  I wholly disagree.  Though it is noticeably flawed, Fantastic Four is a fun, decently entertaining sci-fi action film with some good humor and likable characters.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller of the Divergent series and Whiplash) is a misunderstood genius who has been building a machine that would allow interdimensional travel with his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell of 2005’s King Kong) since the 5th grade.  Now a senior in high school, Reed displays his machine for a science fair, only to have his teacher to laugh it off.

Reeds’ luck changes when he is given the opportunity by scientist Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey of The Wire) to get his machine up and running.  Reed will work with Franklin’s children, hothead Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Frank’s old colleague Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to achieve this.  The quartet eventually makes their dreams come true, but that comes at a price that none of them could have ever seen coming.

I understand that my plot description seems a bit rote, but I cannot tell you anymore of the story without spoiling it. I can assure you it is worth it.

The cast is fine in their respected roles. Miles Teller and Kate Mara are believable as nerds, and Toby Kebbell does fine with what he is given.  Michael B. Jordan provides good comic relief, but he isn’t very interesting.  Jamie Bell gets the short end of the stick, as he doesn’t have enough to do in the film, and disappears for some of the first act, only appearing when the plot needs him to.  Because of this, I didn’t have a strong connection with the character, something that the last set of films (yes, this is a reboot) nailed.

Action-wise, it’s good when it’s there. There’s one action sequence at the beginning, a very short one in the middle, and one at the end.  They are intense, well-shot, and don’t go on too long (In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if the climax was a bit longer, but it’s good as is).  Josh Trank (who co-wrote the script) confidently directs the action, but he could improve in directing his actors.

In my review of Ant Man, I mentioned the good chemistry between the actors. Fantastic Four is the exact opposite.  The actors don’t have consistent chemistry with each other, making many of the scenes awkward to watch.  I understand that Reed and Sue aren’t going to be like Buffy and Willow right away, but Reed’s chemistry with Ben is so bad that it’s nearly laughable.  On the bright side, Franklin and Johnny work passably off of each other, but only passably.  This is not the script’s fault (though it is far from a perfect gem), it’s the fault of Josh Trank.  This is only his second film, and I feel it was a mistake to give a big project like this to someone who isn’t experienced enough to handle the pressures of it.

My final complaint is the amount of profanity in the movie. I normally have no issue with it, but Marvel doesn’t have a lot of bad language in their movies, and this one had much more than I expected.  I have seen lots of kids in Marvel theaters throughout the years, and this movie alienates that audience segment by inserting the profanity.  Kids beg for the merchandise for these movies, so putting in profanity only prevents them from being able to see it.  Those kids might be a saving grace for the movie, given its current projected box office returns.

Fantastic Four is not Marvel’s best by any means, but it certainly not its worst either. The individual actors are good and the humor is appropriately placed.  When present, the action sequences are intense and decently exciting, and the script is mostly sound (despite a few over-the-top lines and catchphrases at the end, but they are forgivable.)  See Fantastic Four at the $2.00 Theater, and you should be decently entertained.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence and Language