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.

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

Deadpool: Dark Romance/Action/Comedy Slices Superhero Tropes in Half

4.5 out of 5 stars (Nearly Perfect)

Deadpool poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

You are either going to love or hate Deadpool.  After years and years of being stuck in development hell (that place films go when they will likely never get made), the “Merc with a Mouth” (extreme emphasis on the “Mouth” part) is currently taking the world by storm for its pitch black humor, brutally gory action sequences, and a career-best performance by Ryan ReynoldsDeadpool is a comic book movie for people who are sick and tired of comic book movies and those simply searching for a bloody fun time.  My expectations were extremely high for this film, and it completely delivered, with nonstop wit, glorious action, and a surprising romance element that has nearly been left out of the marketing (which, in this case, was a good thing).  This movie will likely be regarded as a classic in the coming years for its unique take on the superhero movie.  That said, if you don’t have a stomach for bloody violence and endless profanity (however witty it is), then skip this film and go see Zoolander 2.  Not because it’s any good, but because it needs the money.

The story follows ex-special forces man Wade Wilson (Reynolds completely disappearing into the role within his first frame), a dude with a brutal sense of humor and a no-nonsense attitude. Wade spends his days doing one of two things: being a gun for hire, or making sweet love to prostitute girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin providing great work).  They are two crazy people in love with each other, and life couldn’t be better.

That life comes to a screeching halt when Wade discovers he has terminal cancer.  Though Vanessa remains optimistic, and his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) constantly offer support, Wade is concerned with the effect his death will have on Vanessa.  However, luck seemingly knocks when a mysterious man offers Wade a cure for his cancer, as well as new superhuman abilities.  He accepts, only to discover that the man behind the operation, Ajax (Ed Skrein providing a memorable villain) uses the patients as lab rats to see if they have mutant genes.  After a great deal of torture, Wade escapes within an inch of his life, blowing the place up in the process.  Despite his face now making Fred Kruger look attractive as a result of the torture, he declares vengeance on Ajax, as well as finding Vanessa again.

I cannot tell you more of the plot without spoiling it, but there are many unexpected turns here. Ryan Reynolds has never been better, utilizing every bit of his charm and likable demeanor to make us laugh when he’s splitting bad guys in half with his swords.  He also nails the more dramatic scenes (yes, there is a bit of drama here), showing layers I never knew he had.  Reynolds makes you feel Wade’s pain over his disease and understand his eventual decision to undergo treatment.  The film is a dark comedy overall, but the dramatic scenes give the movie unexpected weight and significance.  I want Wade and Vanessa to be together, and route for Wade to make that happen.

From an action standpoint, Deadpool is an absolute blast. Director Tim Miller uses the relatively small budget ($58 million) to the fullest, providing exquisite sequences that are perfectly timed, extremely well-shot, and very memorable.  The opening action sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a comic book film, and the climax is very entertaining, with a refreshingly spare use of CGI.  I don’t know how many practical effects are here,, but almost all the action looks like it’s really happening right in front of you, not some cheap CG trick.  Also, Deadpool talks to the audience (known as breaking the fourth wall), but Wade Wilson does not.  This was a welcome surprise for me, because I didn’t want someone talking to me during the entire movie, I wanted to watch a fun movie.  If I wanted someone to talk to me, I would go to a restaurant, not a movie theater.  The fourth-wall breaks work because they unexpectedly and never go on too long.  It’s an interesting technique that I look forward to seeing again in the sequel (and yes, a sequel has been greenlit).

The villain in this movie is very intimidating. Ed Skrein is perfectly cast, providing a memorable villain who you love to hate, but still see his point of view.  While Marvel villains in the Avenger’s movies have mostly been one-note, this one is scary, soulless, and downright evil.  He is a perfect foil to Wade because he is as serious as Wade is snarky.

The writing in this film is amazingly witty, sometimes reminiscent of a Buffy episode, but with a ton of F-bombs.  The film’s balance of raunchy comedy and character drama is perfect, keeping a suitably darkly comedic tone throughout the proceedings.  The actors are also completely devoted to their characters, making me feel like I’m watching real people (in an exaggerated sense).  This is more than a darkly comic action film.  It has real drama, palpable romance, and relatable characters that you actively care about.  That is very rare for an action film nowadays, and I was very happy to see it here.

The romance in this movie is extremely well-done.  As I said above, I want Wade and Vanessa to be together and feel Wade’s sadness and fear of rejection after his face is altered.  All men want to be loved by someone, and their biggest fear afterwards is losing it.  This is the best romance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie thus far, beating out the relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

Deadpool is violent, extremely profane, and will not please everyone. If you don’t like the F-word or over-the-top violence then go elsewhere (help support the financially floundering Zoolander 2, maybe).  If you want a well-written, witty raunch-fest with bloody good action and a sweet romance plot, then Deadpool will be the perfect sword to slice with.

(Rightly) Rated R for Strong Violence and Language Throughout, Sexual Content, and (very) Graphic Nudity (I hope you think Ryan Reynolds is attractive, because you see him in full at various points throughout the film. I guess I can cross that off my cinematic bucket list).

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Jennifer's Body poster
Poster from https://www.movieposter.com

In 2009, the screenwriter for Juno (Diablo Cody) wrote another teen film, this being the horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.  Again, I was too young to see it, but I loved the idea.  The ads wanted you to know that this was from the writer of Juno, a fact that I ignored because it didn’t matter to me at that time.  Jennifer’s Body is a decent teen flick, but doesn’t fully succeed because it’s too afraid to go all out on its gleefully dark/comic premise.

The story follows Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a nerdy mousy teen who has been BFF’s with Jennifer (Megan Fox) since childhood (“Sandbox love never dies”, as she puts it). Despite Jennifer being the equivalent of Kim Kardashian, she and Needy’s friendship powers on, much to the questioning of Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).  He tells her that Jennifer controls her life, but Needy doesn’t really see it that way.  Oh, the naivety of blonde girls in movies will never cease.

Jen coaxes Needy to skip a date with Chip so they can go to a rock concert for new indie band Low Shoulder.  Needy notices they’re creeps, but Jen seems very fascinated with them.  Before Needy can persuade her friend that these guys give her the heebee jeebees, the bar at which they’re playing burns down, killing several people.  The girls, along with the band, escape the blaze, but a shocked Jennifer gets in the unmarked, suspicious-looking van with the band members, who then drive off.  If that weren’t suspicious enough, the next time Needy sees her friend, Jen vomits black CGI ooze on the carpet before just walking away.  The next day, Jennifer appears at school as if nothing happened, thus disturbing Needy.  Needy must discover what’s wrong with her friend, who seems to have developed a more literal “taste” for men, before it’s too late.

This movie does a few things right. First, it seems like a realistic enough high school, with kids who look 18 or 19 instead of 30, something that is exceedingly common in movies about “teenagers”.  Second, the dialogue is fun and snappy most of the time, save for a few Juno-esque moments (where the characters suddenly give small soliloquys out of nowhere) that took me out of the movie for brief moments.  Fox and Seyfried work well off of each other, creating a believable friendship despite the script rushing through that aspect in the opening minutes.  This movie proves that good chemistry between actors can overcome a medium-level script.  I also cared about the other characters, a reaction that I can’t get from many modern horror flicks.  The special effects are also decent, though they are starting to show their age.  Finally, though not all of the comedy works, the stuff that does hit is funny.

Unfortunately, the horror element doesn’t work very well here. This movie should have been an absolute gorefest, but instead cuts away from the scary actions happening, only allowing us to see the bloody aftermath of the attacks.  This is a problem because the scary scenes have good buildup, but cut away right when the good stuff is about to happen (Think Godzilla 2014).  The difference is that Godzilla was more of a human movie, but this is supposed to be a supernatural horror film.  Supernatural horror films need gore, and this just doesn’t deliver enough.  The other issue I have is the rock soundtrack.  I like rock, but most of the songs chosen seem out of place, save for the awesome instrumental during the climax scene.  It would be like if Radioactive played in a scene from Ratatouille: It’s a good song, but it wouldn’t go with the film.  Musically, the instrumentals work wonders, something that many modern horror films get right.

I think the filmmakers were too afraid to go all out on this movie: It could have been something like Scream, a film which combines scares and dark comedy expertly.  I really wish this movie could be better than it is.  Watching it, I was thinking what I would have done to improve the movie.  I would have chosen different songs and increased the gore a little bit.  I mentioned that some of the comedy doesn’t work, mainly the soliloquys.  I swear, more than once, the girls will go from talking like regular teenagers to randomly spewing out dialogue that sounds like something Juno would have said.  Very few people can make teenagers consistently witty and make seem normal, and Cody isn’t one of them.  I suggest that she watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the new Doctor Who series.  Those were able to consistently blend smart and witty dialogue with horror elements very well, one of many reasons why I love them both.

Rated R for Sexuality, Bloody Violence, Language, and Brief Drug Use

“Krampus”: Holiday Horror Flick Deftly Mixes Scares with Humor

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Krampus poster
Image from http://www.joblo.com/

Good modern Christmas films are hard to find. Sure, we rewatch Home Alone and The Santa Clause each year, along with the Rankin-Bass collection, but there’s a depressingly small selection of modern Christmas flicks.  2008’s Four Christmases is funny if you like old Vince Vaughn, and one can always find their Elf DVD to watch for the umpteenth time, but the 2010s had yet to bring us a memorable Christmas film (Seth Rogen’s The Night Before could have filled this void were it not for its overdependence on raunchiness, but that’s another article).

Then, like that gift you never know you wanted, Krampus came down under my cinematic tree. On paper, Krampus sounds like yet another film where we watch good actors get killed until there’s one left and then we can go home, having gained nothing, but lost two hours of our lives.  However, with perfectly-cast actors, a surprisingly tense script, and taught direction, Krampus is a holiday movie that will make you believe in the Christmas spirit, or else.

The film opens with Max(newcomer Emjay Anthony) having another bad Christmas. The reason?  His middle-class parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) are at the throats of their redneck siblings (David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell).  Max is sick and tired of these repeated family feuds at Christmastime, finding solace in the arms of his grandmother (Krista Stadler) amongst all the chaos.

The last straw comes when one of Max’s cousins chastises him for still believing in Santa Claus, causing the boy to rip up and discard his letter to him. Little does Max know that this act will bring a supernatural demon upon his family that will force them to put aside their differences and work together to survive.

I did not know about this film until a friend recommended it. He told me that the film’s comedic side was kept out of the advertisements, leading to people being somewhat disappointed with the final product.  I personally enjoyed the film’s clever mixture of horror and laughs throughout most of the proceedings.  I say most because the movie decides to drop the humor in the third act, a decision that doesn’t ruin the movie, but definitely makes it strange when you think about where the movie began.

The cast here is perfect. Adam Scott fits well into the lead role, and Toni Collette is a force to be reckoned with, as always.  Emjay Anthony is appropriately sympathetic as Max, never becoming annoying like many kid actors do these days.  However, David Koechner totally steals the movie.  I believe this is his best role since the Anchorman movies, as it allows him to be absolutely hilarious as well as do some decent dramatic work.  Koechner’s character would have been annoying had it been played by another actor, so I am happy that he was chosen.  The rest of the family also holds their own, each becoming more likable as the film progresses.

I also must compliment the writing of this movie. The first 20 minutes cheat you into believing that the film will be another holiday dysfunctional family comedy a la Nothing like the Holidays or Christmas Vacation.  I generally detest dysfunctional family “comedies”, as watching people argue for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. Arrested Development is excluded from this, as it does it right.  However, the difference between this and Nothing like the Holidays is that the dialogue here is darkly comedic rather than outright hurtful, allowing for laughter to come.  However, the horror comes in at the start of act 2, seeing a majority of the comedy come in witty bits between the horror elements.  This works because, for the most part, one element doesn’t hurt the other.  The film maintains its dark and intimidating tone despite having funny bits.  Combining horror and humor is a very hard task, and I applaud the writers for being able to accomplish that throughout most of the film.

Unfortunately, that delicate balance drifts over to the horror side in the third act. I personally had no problem with this, but it may surprise people who were under the impression that the film was a comedy with horror elements in it.  The tone is at its darkest in act three, and the funny lines become few and far between.  There’s one sequence that is somewhat darkly comic, but it is played up more for serious horror than dark humor, which, given that the sequence involves (I’m not kidding here) demonic gingerbread men, I’m surprised they pulled off.  That is the genius of this film.  It gives you scenarios that you think will fail epically, but makes them work to the film’s advantage.

If you like horror films with a dash of humor, then this will be for you. If you like lighter horror comedy fair, I suggest Fright Night from 2011.  It’s not Christmas-themed, but it is entertaining.

All in all, Krampus is a well-written, perfectly cast horror film with a comedic edge that manages to both scare you silly and make you laugh.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence/Terror, Language, and some Drug Material