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
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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.

These “Turtles” Should Have Stayed in the Shadows

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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Childhood is an interesting time. We are young, inexperienced, and easily entertained.  When we are children, all we need is a talking animal and we like what is right in front of us.  That was the case for me at least.  I remember seeing Shrek in the movie theater when I was six years old, being entertained by a fast-talking donkey and an ogre with anger issues.  I also loved anything having to do with Scooby-Doo because there was a talking dog who solved mysteries.  My other childhood memory is of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, four butt-kicking amphibians trained as ninjas by an old, wise rat.  I could identify with all of them on one level or another, and thus my love of them was born.  I was first exposed to them when I was nine or ten with the 1990 film.  It was dark, funny, and action-packed (to a kid-friendly level), and I loved the way the turtles looked.  Though I never saw the TV series the movie was based on, I still enjoy that film to this day (on certain occasions).  The following two sequels were entertaining as well, but then the CGI reboot came in 2007.  It was boring, unfunny, and a poor attempt to start a franchise.  After that film, it seemed that the turtles were cinematically dead.  I heard there was a CGI series on Nickelodeon, but at that point, I had lost hope in the turtles.

So imagine my feelings of glee and worry when I found out that a new “Ninja Turtles” movie was in the works. Who would be in it?  What would the story be?  Most importantly, would it be any good?  These questions and more flooded my mind when I heard that my favorite “heroes in a half-shell” were getting another big-screen treatment.  Eventually, the cast was announced, trailers were released, and they looked decent, as if someone were going to give the “Batman treatment” of taking something stupid and making it great to the turtles.  Unfortunately, my hopes were too high for this film: while old turtle fans will enjoy it, others might find it too preposterous to be entertaining.  I’m in the latter category.  It’s just not good.

The story follows April O’Neal (Megan Fox giving her best performance since “Jennifer’s Body“); a news reporter stuck doing fluff pieces. April would rather be reporting big stories on the Foot Clan, a militaristic group terrorizing New York City, but her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) won’t throw her a bone.  Luckily, April has the support of her cameraman Verne (Will Arnett getting the most laughs in the movie), who has a not-so-subtle crush on her.

April’s luck changes when she happens upon a robbery thwarted by a mysterious figure. She snaps a picture of a symbol left by the figure to show to her boss, who (realistically) rejects that there’s a story lurking in this mystery.  Ever determined, April investigates the symbol and her search leads her to four genetically-altered turtles, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, trained in the art of ninjitsu by a rat, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub, “Pain & Gain”).  Meeting them puts April on a path with an evil businessman, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner doing a decent job as a villain), a man connected to all of their pasts.

This film has one or two positive aspects. The “human scenes” are interesting enough, but the film is surprisingly boring whenever the turtles are alone on screen.  Also, the turtles and Splinter look a bit creepy, as if they all used steroids that turned them into grown “men” instead of teenagers.  That could just be me, because the kids in my theater never seemed scared.  The technology used to bring the turtles and Splinter to life is the same used to bring the apes to life in “Rise” and “Dawn”, but I personally liked the ‘90’s “men in turtle suits” better.  Also, the original movies were about the turtles, not April.  This film takes what I like to call the “Transformers Approach” and focuses more on the human characters than on the turtles, something I was very grateful for in the long run.  The cast has decent chemistry, and the acting is surprisingly passable (especially from Fox, who wasn’t exactly Meryl Streep-like in the “Transformers” movies).  I feel that her acting talents have improved over time, something that I didn’t expect from her.  That being said, I would have preferred the writers giving the title characters half as much screen time and development as her character.  The filmmakers could have called this film “O’Neal” and it wouldn’t have made much a difference.

The action sequences are below average (excluding the fantastic climax battles.) It felt like choreographer Nuo Sun put little effort into the mid-movie battles, but then gave it all he had for the climax.  The humor in the movie is extremely childish, barely resembling the way teenagers would talk, something the 90s movies nailed.  I laughed and smiled a few times, but those jokes will be tragically dated in a few years (Raphael uses his “Batman” voice to intimidate April).  Other jokes are extremely sophomoric (At one point the turtles are skateboarding down the sewers, they all get stuck in a big hole, and one farts, ha-ha).  There are one or two jokes geared at the older crowd (One of them sings “Happy Together” at one point.)  The film also has a generic story that borrows from much better superhero movies of the past several years (including not showing the title characters for a significant amount of the movie a la “Batman Begins”).  This movie literally combines the climaxes of “The Wolverine” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”, both much better movies.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not good. With an overemphasis on the human characters, the turtles get extremely underused and underdeveloped, making it impossible for a non-turtle fan to care about any of them.  Also, the decision to have Michelangelo (the one with orange bandana) constantly hit on April is a little creepy given the audience the film is designed for.  I would suggest seeing “Guardians of the Galaxy” if you haven’t seen it yet.  That film contains large amounts of action and humor that outdo this film by leaps and bounds.  To put the final nail in the coffin, a sequel for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be released on June 3, 2016.  I’m hoping it’s better than this.  It can’t be worse.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

These “Guardians” Rescue the Summer Film Season

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

Guardians of the Galaxy poster
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Marvel has saved the summer once again. They had “X-Men: Days of Future Past” back in May and now, they bring us “Guardians of the Galaxy”, that now-rare superhero movie that doesn’t have a brooding, depressed main character, a grave tone, or a dark score.  Marvel became solemn in the last film in its cinematic universe with “Captain America the Winter Soldier”.  I admire a series that matures with its audience, but that film was too gritty for my liking, an issue I never thought I would have with a Marvel film.  Thankfully, “Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t take itself too seriously, giving us a funny, action-packed sci-fi flick that is reminiscent of the original “Star Wars”.  In all honesty, this summer has (with a few exceptions), not been all that great at the movies, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” has swooped in to save us when (nearly) all hope was lost, for me anyway, of there being one more memorable blockbuster of 2014.

The film follows a ragtag group of misfits: Starlord (Chris Pratt giving a surprisingly good performance), Gamora (Zoe Saldana giving the best performance I’ve seen of hers), and Rocket Raccoon (voiced energetically by Bradley Cooper).  Vin Diesel voices Groot with not a trace of normal wooden performances, and Drax (Dave Bautista) as they race to defeat an enemy that wishes to destroy the galaxy.  The dialogue is wickedly clever with laugh-out-loud one-liners throughout.  This is the first Marvel film that I could almost call a comedy as well as a great action film.  The comedic dialogue is much more ingenious than suggested by the previews.`

What separates “Guardians of the Galaxy” from the other Marvel superhero movies is its unique approach to the superhero origin story. While most Marvel films open with narration or a cool action scene, this one opens on possibly the saddest note I’ve ever seen for a Marvel film.  I thought it was a trailer for another movie, but it turned out to be a character setup.  To add to the uniqueness, the characters don’t technically have superpowers, they are just individuals who are gifted in one way or another.  The character relationships are extremely entertaining to watch, especially that of Rocket and Groot.  Rocket is able to translate what Groot is saying even though all we hear is “I am Groot”, similar to Lassie barking at Billy and Billy knowing that some kid is trapped in a well.  Pratt and Saldana have good chemistry, making their interactions equally as enjoyable.  That said, one of the greatest personal joys was watching Glenn Close take a small role very seriously, as if she were in a regular movie.  The same applies to John C. Reilly’s cameos; but he gets more funny lines than she does.

The music in this film is a blast, using 70’s rock tunes throughout the film to set the tone for scenes in just the right way.  I don’t think I’ve tapped my toes in an action movie this much in my entire film reviewing career.  The older crowd (those who grew up in the 70’s) will certainly enjoy this aspect, while some (my mom) might argue that younger viewers will learn what good music is.

The 3D in this movie is actually worth the money, something that surprised me.  Those who read my reviews know my opinion on the use of 3D, and I was very skeptical about it, but nearly every action scene has something pop out at you in an effective way.  For once, the cost of the ticket is worth it for the 3D version, so see it if you can.

The film is not without problems, unfortunately.  The climax scene has characters engaged in both hand-to-hand combat and in space vehicles, a common occurrence in modern sci-fi.  The problem is that the scene feels overly long when in the vehicles (an issue thankfully avoided by the other action scenes in the movie), as if writer/director James Gunn briefly ran out of interesting ideas and just went generic for a few minutes.  Thankfully, the combat is engaging to watch and well-filmed.  Honestly, had the flight sequence been shorter and better-shot, this film would have gotten a four and a half star rating.

There is one other problem, this one more personal.  Marvel has always avoided having a large amount of profanity in their films, choosing instead to get their PG-13 ratings for violence (AKA an element that is required for the film to work).  Marvel films are generally pretty clean when it comes to language, and that is something I have always admired.  Sadly, that trend did not follow in this movie.  This film unexpectedly has the most swearing I’ve heard in a PG-13 Marvel movie, instead of the company’s normally classy handling of that specific area.  I know that they’ve been endlessly advertising this movie on TV for some time now, and that kids love superhero movies, but think carefully before letting young ones see this.  The language is saltier then I felt comfortable hearing with my 9 year old buddy Colin.  I hope this is specific to this franchise (yes, a release date for the sequel has been set for July 2017) and not for future installments of their popular heroes.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-fi, Violence and Action, and Some Language