Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

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

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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.

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

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

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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

Dwayne Johnson’s Newest Will Leave Audiences in a Rampage

1.5 out 5 stars (one of the worst I’ve seen this year)

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Rampage is one of the most bizarrely terrible movies I’ve seen this year.  Taking its “story” from the always successful-source of a video game, this film collapses on impact due to insultingly underdeveloped characters, less-than-half-baked ideas, and a cast full of people who look either confused or bored throughout (excluding an appropriately hammy Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who understands the malarkey he’s in).  I don’t often leave for the restroom without qualms on missing vital pieces of plot info, but Rampage was an exception.  I knew where it was going, and it wasn’t anywhere good.

Dwayne Johnson is Davis Okoye, an ex-military man-turned-primatologist for a nature preserve who prefers animals to humans.  His main charge is George (a truly awful bit of CGI), an ape with a quirky sense of humor.  However, their lives change when George encounters a piece of scientific technology from space that causes him to grow in size and aggression, leading to the involvement of Government Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), scientist Kate Caldwell (a laughably unconvincing Naomie Harris) , and the worst onscreen military this side of Godzilla 98.  Oh yeah, there’s also a generic evil corporation headed by Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) whose experiments also lead to a giant flying wolf and alligator.  Now, Okoye and Co. must stop the animals from destroying Chicago and possibly save George in the process, all while dealing with their half-hearted personal dramas that have no actual bearing on this story.

I would normally discuss performances here, except for there isn’t much for me to go into.  Dwayne Johnson has never been Lawrence Olivier, but his usual charisma is painfully suppressed here, save for a few out-of-place jokes that go against the needlessly serious tone.  Harris and Akerman are completely miscast here, failing to sell a single line of their awful dialogue.  The only person to almost salvage the project is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays his over-the-top stereotype to a tee and brought much-needed (if not always unintentional) levity.  He’s playing the part like he’s in a Sharknado movie, which is what this should have been, while everyone else can’t decide to play it straight or not.  It’s awkward, perplexing, and honestly boring watching these actors try to make ice cream out these cat droppings called a script, and made me hope they all got big pay days.

The action, when it finally arrives, also fails.  This is the same kind of wanton destruction we saw in the Pacific Rim and Godzilla movies, but without any of the fun.  I tuned out shockingly early, realizing that the action was the only thing the filmmakers cared about, but was amazed when even that underwhelmed (an exception being George’s final move to defeat the giant wolf).  What’s more, the movie is executed like a lazy children’s flick, but has dialogue peppered with swear words that most parents wouldn’t want their youngsters repeating.  Swearing in films doesn’t bother me most of the time, but its inclusion here is unnecessary.  There’s a perfectly solid babysitter movie here, but the 4 screenwriters and 7 executive producers mucked it up.

Lastly, the portrayal of the military in this film is absolutely juvenile, with a general giving the go ahead to bomb Chicago to stop the monsters, despite both his own troops and civilians still being in the area.  I know that casualties are often a risk with operations like this, but the general starts shooting at the animals directly after Johnson tells him that doing so will accomplish nothing, which it does.  I don’t normally notice the misrepresentation of the military in film, but this particular case left me irritated as I watched our national defense be made into idiots.  This makes the Transformers franchise look realistic in comparison.

Rampage is an overlong, boring, and horribly acted mess that fails as a dark action film, a fun summer blockbuster, or a babysitter kids film (the latter of which would have saved it from my disgust).  I was bored from beginning to end, mentally counting the minutes until I could leave.  It only gets the 1.5 star rating because of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and one cool kill.  Besides that, this Rampage is pointless.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, and Destruction, Brief Language (surprising, given the amount they swear here), and, pathetically, Some Crude Gestures (one of which, despite getting an honest laugh out of me, was totally inappropriate for children to see).  Skip it.

This article also appeared on on April 18, 2018.

Pacific Rim Uprising: Fun Sci-Fi Sequel Should Satisfy its Fan base

3 out of 5 stars (average)

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Pacific Rim Uprising is, above all else, a live-action cartoon.  Its dialogue is cheesy, the characters are basic, and most of the story that is here can be predicted by space satellites.  But who seriously goes to a movie called Pacific Rim Uprising expecting a deep narrative?  All most of us really want to see here are giant monsters (here called Kaijus) fighting giant robots (here called Jaegers), and that’s exactly what we get.  Pacific Rim Uprising is light, fun, and packed with thrilling action that more than compensates for its thin characters and Power Rangers-like plotline.  If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, then go buy that umpteenth ticket for Black Panther or wait until Ready Player One comes out next week.

The story picks up 10 years after the closing of the Kaiju Breach (the portal where the monsters came from), following Jake Pentecost (John Boyega regaining my sympathy after his pitiful turn in The Circle), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie.  Rather than follow in Dad’s footsteps, Jake left the military for undisclosed reasons and instead spends his days selling Jaeger parts on the black market.

Of course, Jake is roped back into the military after he and 15-year-old genius Amara (Cailee Spaeney) are summoned to a Jaeger training camp so he can lead new pilots and she can become a recruit.  This means we get the generic rivalry between Jake and “uptight” officer Lambert (Scott Eastwood), as well as some ho-hum teen drama between Amara and the ethnically diverse recruits.  However, all must put their differences aside when a new kaiju threat appears, with the fate of the world once again at stake.

Like the original, this is a love-it-or-hate-it movie.  Having laid the groundwork for this universe last time, the filmmakers let loose and embrace their inner 12 year-olds as they bombard us with flashy, thrilling action sequences.  While I would ordinarily criticize a movie for emphasizing action over plot and character, Pacific Rim Uprising is aware of its own outlandishness and doesn’t ask us to take it seriously.  The characters are constantly joking around, the tone is light as a feather, and the story expands upon the original mythos without contradicting it.  Though this certainly won’t enter the pantheon of classic modern sci-fi sequels like Blade Runner 2049, it is still a worthy follow-up with a few surprises along the way.

If you want well-developed characters or thought-provoking commentary, then you can go watch Black MirrorAction sequences rule the day in Pacific Rim Uprising, and they are thankfully well-handled.  Most of the fights are shot in the daytime, meaning I can actually distinguish one giant robot and monster from another one, a large smile spread across my face as I watch the pure unadulterated destruction that I was promised.  Each fight is thrilling, unique, and fun, easily topping the set pieces in the Transformers, Godzilla, and Power Rangers franchises without breaking a sweat.

On a final (and surprising) note, Charlie Day’s character experiences the most progression from the previous film, and is all the better for it.  I groaned upon his entrance, but was quickly put at ease when I saw that someone actually directed him instead of letting him act like an over-caffeinated intern again.  Rinko Kikuchi also returns as Mako, along with Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman).  Without getting into spoilers, there is a sequel-bait at the end that made me excited to revisit this world, if only so I can see more giant robots fighting giant monsters.  Come on, what more could I ask for?

Pacific Rim Uprising gleefully embraces its inner child, providing rousing action, corny dialogue, and surprisingly improving on its predecessor in certain aspects.  While the original film had better world-building and characters, I prefer this one because it isn’t afraid to just have fun, an element lacking in most modern blockbusters.  If you liked the original, B-movies, or want to feel like a kid again, then See Pacific Rim Uprising.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action, And For Some Language

“The Accountant”: Ben Affleck Drama Provides Realistic Portrayal of Autism, Has Great Action

5 out of 5 stars (One of my favorites)

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I walked into The Accountant expecting a violent action flick with a conveniently autistic main character.  The film has been marketed as a potboiler character drama/action thriller with a star-studded cast and a director with one popular movie to his name, an advertising tactic used by countless films every year to make them seem “adult” in nature.  The Accountant utilized this very well, making one of the best trailers of 2016 (and maybe of the 2010s).  My skepticism stemmed from how the filmmakers would portray autism, as I am on the spectrum myself and don’t especially like when Hollywood botches it.

It didn’t help that reviews I had seen were criticizing the film for making autistics come off as emotionless killers, or that Ben Affleck’s last film was Batman V. $uperman: Dawn of Ju$tice (in which I hated his portrayal of the Caped Crusader.)  In short, all the cards were stacked against me liking this film.  However, after some convincing from my mother, examination of the gifted cast, and the heavy desire to escape my college campus for a few hours, I went to see Ben “Aspie-fleck.”

And he totally nailed it.  The Accountant should be held as the primary representation of high-functioning autistics in cinema.  My parent’s generation had Rain Man, my generation will have The Accountant, a beautifully filmed, superbly acted, and memorably well-written drama that has action, humor, and twists that will knock your socks off.

The film follows Christian Wolff (Affleck giving an Oscar-worthy performance), an accountant with high-functioning autism who handles the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.  If you need somebody to come in, do the books quickly, and leave without asking questions, then you hire this guy.  He won’t be the life of the party, but he’ll look over seven years of taxes in about seven hours.

Christian’s newest client is Living Robotics, a more legitimate business run by Lemar Black (John Lithgow).  They need someone to make sure their books are on the up-and-up, and Chris is the hot commodity.  Provided an assistant in the spunky Dana Cummings (A thankfully non-singing Anna Kendrick), Christian goes to work, discovering that the company may have some insidious purposes behind closed doors.  Elsewhere, a dedicated analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and the head of the Treasury (J.K. Simmons) are tracking Chris’s past exploits, igniting a chain of events that will leave everyone changed forever.

As previously stated, I have autism myself.  I had never seen a modern Hollywood film attempt to explore this, so I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when I found out that it would be in the plot.  Would the filmmakers do their research?  Would they understand the numerous, complex intricacies of the autistic mind?  Would Ben Affleck, normally a charming and energetic presence, be able to portray the physical, psychological, and emotional complexities of a high-functioning autistic?  The answer to each and every one of those questions is, unexpectedly, yes.  I’ve seen Ben Affleck give good, bad, and laughably ugly performances in his career, and I presumed that this would be nothing but a forced Oscarbaiting opportunity that only understood the broad strokes of the disability.  No one can fathom the amount of joy I had watching him nail every single aspect of the autistic personality: His speech patterns, ritualistic behaviors, and black-and-white thinking pattern were all perfect mirrors of how I would have responded in the situations he was in (If my area of specificity was math and I balanced books for terrorists, that is).  In short, Affleck completely disappears into his character, never letting the persona drop throughout the entire film.

You might be saying to yourself: “Okay, he’s good, but what about the rest of the movie?”  My answer to that is: Exquisite.  The supporting actors do a very fine job, even if some of them don’t get as much screen time as I presumed (Kendrick and Simmons disappear for a brief span of time, but they return and make up for it.)  If I had one complaint in the acting department, it would probably be Jeffrey Tambor, who seemed like more of an important cameo than anything else.  Not to say that he isn’t important, but I wish I could have had more with him.  Kendrick gets to show a full range of acting abilities, both serious and comedic, and the dynamic between Simmons and Robinson leads to unexpected depth.  Simmons is smart in picking projects, and this is no different.  All the characters are flawed, grounded people; there is not a real “hero” or “villain” here, a refreshing change of pace for an action film.

Speaking of that, the action in this film is extremely well-done.  While violence is prevalent throughout (mostly seen in flashbacks), there are only three legitimate “action sequences” in the film.  While I expected a few more sequences involving Chris actually killing people, the ones I got were tense, fun, and very well-shot, avoiding the dreaded shakeycam (besides the first scene, but the technique works in its favor there).  Director Gavin O’Connor (known for Warrior and the notorious flop Jane Got A Gun) is masterful with his camera, allowing every shot to be clear and visible to the audience.  The action is bloody, but never overstays its welcome; even the climax is perfectly timed to give you the thrills without being so long that you forget why it was happening in the first place.

If Affleck doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, then the cinematography should.  Every shot is important to the story, either to advance the narrative or provide a detail about the characters.  In short, O’Connor seems to understand that film is a visual medium; I never felt like characters were spewing exposition because the screenwriter couldn’t figure out how to show things visually.  I wish more directors and screenwriters would wrap their minds around this so films wouldn’t have to stop and explain things I already know.  We are shown Chris’s meticulous routines, his quirky mannerisms, and gift for mathematics in a Beautiful Mind-esque sequence where he calculates 15 years of tax information overnight.  I had great pleasure watching a movie where my brain had to process information instead of it being spoon-fed to me, and hope that more films will do the same.

The Accountant is a wonderful examination of high-functioning autism that provides a disarmingly realistic portrayal of the disability while still qualifying its action film pedigree.  While I wouldn’t have minded another scene with Affleck killing someone, it would have taken away from the beautifully rendered story about a man with autism adapting to new and unexpected dangers.  The film will likely have more meaning if you or someone you know has autism, but if you don’t, there is a great scene in which Chris lays out what autism is in just a few sentences.  In short, this is one Accountant you should actually want to see.

Rated R for Strong Violence and Language Throughout


Newest “Trek” A Fun and Rousing Adventure With Great Character Interactions

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

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Star Trek Beyond is a fun sci-fi action movie that feels closer to the 2009 reboot in terms of tone and character interactions. Whereas Into Darkness caused “Khan-troversy” among the Trekkie community, this film is lighter on its feet and, as far as I know, feels more like an episode of the classic 60’s TV show.  I have (sadly) never seen a full episode, but I can definitely say that this installment feels much smaller in scale and focuses more on the characters.  There’s still a ton of cool action sequences, but they help the film this time rather than hurt it, emphasizing the familial dynamic among the crewmates of the U.S.S. Enterprise rather than seeming like an excuse to blow something up.

The film picks up three years into the U.S.S Enterprise’s five-year mission to explore the galaxy, with Captain James T. Kirk (a thankfully mature Chris Pine) feeling a bit burnt out and considering leaving the ship for a new position. After recovering a McGuffin artifact, he and the rest of the crew, Vulcan Spock (Zackary Qunto, spot-on as always), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (the late great Anton Yelchin), Scotty (a funny Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and snide crew doctor Bones (a hilarious Karl Urban) go to a Starfleet base for some brief R and R, only to receive a distress call from an area where Starfleet will be unreachable.  Duh Duh Duhhhhhhhhhh!

That distress call turns out to be a trick ambush by the villainous Krall (a reliable Idris Elba), who wants the artifact for nefarious purposes. This attack forces the crew to jump ship on a nearby planet, being separated from one another.  Now the crew must get back together and defeat Krall, with no help from Starfleet whatsoever.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The action is fun, fast paced, and well-shot, and the script (co-written by Pegg) has several bits of humor and some surprising subtlety that would have greatly helped the last film.  The movie doesn’t go as deep as it could into some plot elements, but I frankly didn’t care, as this is meant to be a fun summer movie and nothing else, a promise upon which it delivered.

My favorite part of this film is its characters. They are fun, relatable, and you legitimately care about them getting home.  With the knowledge of the future series pushed aside, the threats they face are pretty hardcore, making you wonder how they will get out of them.  Lastly, there is a touching tribute to the original series at the end of the film that made even me, the most casual Trekkie, have the feels.

The performances continue to dazzle, especially Pine, who has evolved from a pompous hotheaded teenager who stole his dad’s car and treats everyone like he’s better than them into a captain who loves his ship and crew. Quinto again is brilliant as Spock, with perfect dialogue delivery as well as great chemistry with Karl Urban.  Urban also does well, delivering some of the film’s best lines.  Elba does his best with Krall, but the script sometimes lets him down with generic bad guy lines.  The shining star here is newcomer Sofia Boutella as an alien the crew encounters.  Boutella has a good screen presence and enjoyable comic timing.

The action is pretty good here. Justin Lin knows how to direct insane action and make it look awesome, putting his talents to good use.  The battles are intense in a fun way, with the climax (which I dare not spoil) being one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen this summer.  No sequence overstays its welcome, each lasting long enough to both progress the plot and provide the necessary thrills without going into overkill.

Star Trek Beyond respects its source while still succeeding as a modern blockbuster.  The dialogue is often funny, the characters are enjoyable, and the action, while not the best ever made, completely satisfies.  Whether you enjoy the original series, or just these reboots because you think Chris Pine is hot, Star Trek Beyond should satisfy your craving for a fun summer movie.

(P.S.: Though I didn’t stay for the credits, I heard they dedicate the film to the late Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy. Yelchin died shortly after the film was completed, and Nimoy passed last year.  They were fantastic actors and I am personally sad to see them go.)

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence