For a while, 2014's Godzilla was one of my favorite films, and certainly my favorite monster film. I know a lot of people took issue with the lack of the titular lizard in the film, but I loved the slow buildup to his reveal late in the movie and the excellent performances (namely Bryan Cranston) on display. Godzilla set the stage for my excitement for Legendary's MonsterVerse, excitement that was dulled by the disappointing Kong: Skull Island. However, Godzilla: King of the Monsters reinvigorated that excitement, preparing me for a two-hour spectacle of kaiju fights and destruction. Boy, was that excitement misguided.
King of the Monsters picks up five years after the conclusion of Godzilla, opening with the San Francisco scene of that film shown from the perspective of the main characters, the Russell family. It follows the emergence of several other similarly sized monsters, dubbed "Titans" by the scientific community, and their effect on the world through the destruction they cause. These monsters include Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, among others, and their conflict with each other and with Godzilla. Accompanied by these creatures are a variety of human characters, including the Russell family (Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things), Doctors Graham and Serizawa of the first film (Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe, respectively), and Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), an eco-terrorist trying to reawaken the long-dormant Titans and, by the way, a bland and boring villain. Now, these characters weren't as underdeveloped or flat as other reviews had led me to believe, but they were still poorly written and hard to connect with. Aside from Chandler's and Watanabe's characters, I found it difficult to care about any of rest of the cast, including Bobby Brown's, who I thought would be a surefire hit in the film. It makes much of the film, which shows these people standing around in rooms and spouting off exposition, rather uninteresting. This is a shame, since King of the Monsters features an A-list cast that should have knocked it out of the park.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of King of the Monsters, aside from the mediocre character inclusions, is the muddled and messy plot. One of 2014's Godzilla's strengths came from the focused narrative, which concentrated on one family and their experiences with Godzilla while also featuring the giant lizard battling the MUTOs. King of the Monsters struggles because it tries to do more than its script was equipped to handle. This doesn't mean that the film is overstuffed, but the plot is far more complicated than it needed to be, making it hard to follow as a result. For instance, character motivations shift back and forth several times in the film without any evident reasons. This includes the monsters, as one scene shows King Ghidorah nearly murdering Rodan, even though the two creatures fight alongside each other a few scenes later. Another example is a device called ORCA, the MacGuffin of the plot, whose purpose or capability is never clear. The most clarity that the film offers comes in the form of scenes that are loaded with exposition, which typically include characters standing around rooms and pointing at computer monitors or people talking to each other in video calls. Several inconsistencies arise in the film as well, like the fact that Monarch (the "monster-hunting" organization included in Godzilla) unexplainedly operates dozens of multi-billion dollar research facilities around the world and possesses an armada of aerial vehicles, like VTOLs, fighter jets, and a massive flying wing, that most modestly-sized militaries would be envious of. It seems the writers just wanted audiences to turn their brains off and sit tight for the monster fights. Speaking of…
The main appeal of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the spectacle of massive animals, in this case Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan, duking it out in glorious fashion. These battles, which include three distinct types of shots, sometimes deliver. Two of these three types of shots are spectacular: wide shots that let audiences see the massive scale and full CGI glory of the combatants and shots from the human perspective that show how f*cking gigantic and scary the creatures are. Unfortunately, the third type – ground-level shots that show the destruction up-close – are an absolute mess of explosions, flashes, and upheaval that made me dizzy more than anything. It was stupidly hard to follow what was happening in these shots since there wasn't much coherence on the screen. These moments held back the monster fights from being as entertaining or watchable as they should have been. However, if you exclude those shots from the film, you're left with some pretty stunning and entertaining scenes.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters mostly succeeds at delivering the large-scale, bombastic monster v. monster action that fans of the franchise want to see. If that's all your expecting from the film and all you want to see, you're going to get your money's worth when you buy a ticket. Unfortunately, when you look at the rest of the film, you'll find an incoherent plot, uninteresting characters, and a messy attempt at world-building in the MonsterVerse franchise. Right now, the future isn't looking great for the much-anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong: the filmmakers need to direct their efforts towards a focused and easy-to-follow plot that isn't bogged down by too much exposition or a muddled narrative. As it stands, I'm still excited for the next film in the franchise, but this one was nevertheless a disappointment for me. I'm giving Godzilla: King of the Monsters 2 out of 5 stars.
In 2007, Spider-Man 3 hit theaters. While it still received an overall positive reception from media outlets (i.e. its Rotten Tomatoes score of 62%), it faced a mixed reaction from fans and from many of the film critics who reviewed it. This was for many reasons: the overabundance of villains and the "emo Peter" scene were a couple. But the criticism that stood out the most was the film's mistreatment of Eddie Brock / Venom. Many believed Topher Grace was miscast in the role and that the character wasn't done justice by the script or the actor. As a result, the film went down infamously in the history books of film nerds and comics fans. Now, in 2018, Sony has released a form of apology for Spider-Man 3 in the form of Venom, an origin story of the villain / anti-hero that every fan of the Spider-Man character has been waiting to see done right.
Venom stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a journalist who spends his time exposing seedy businessmen and defending the poor and homeless of San Francisco. That is, until his life is turned upside-down by the shady Life Foundation and he is bonded with the Venom symbiote. Hardy's casting as Brock is my first praise of the film: he is excellent in the role, and I found the change of personality from the vengeful Eddie seen in the comics to the more valiant one seen in this film refreshing and enjoyable. The back-and-forth banter between him and the symbiote made for some great comedy and a great representation of their conflicting goals and personalities. He also looks the part much more than Topher Grace did: bulky, muscular, and intimidating, traits that are multiplied whenever the symbiote takes over. Which, by the way, looks awesome. The design for the Venom character in this film is much closer to what comics fans, including myself, wanted. It is understandably CGI heavy, but I thought it was very well done.
As far as other characters in Venom are concerned, they're... well... lacking in quality. Tom Hardy undoubtedly steals the show here, which is unfortunate when considering the surprising amount of acting talent that surrounds him. Riz Ahmed plays the villainous head of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake, who later dons the Riot symbiote. His character is as bland and boring as they come and is one of the most poorly written and poorly acted evil-businessman-type villains that I've seen in a while. It's hard to decide if Ahmed's acting is to blame, but I'm more inclined to lend that blame to the writers due to his stellar performance from 2014's Nightcrawler and his great role from Rogue One. Michelle Williams is also underutilized in the film, but I thought the criticism directed towards her character's uselessness was harsher than was merited. The remaining supporting cast is small and serviceable, not particularly memorable or creative nor particularly bad.
Now it's time to address some of the criticisms that have filled the majority of reviews for Venom. For most films, I try to avoid watching / reading too many reviews if I plan to see the picture in question. However, I couldn't really help myself with Venom, so I think I'm just going to state my agreement / disagreement with some of the more common points that were made. First of all: should the film have been rated R? Yes, I think it should have. While it was fine as a PG-13 film, it definitely would have benefited from showing some decapitations and exploring more of the body-horror elements that would have made the film great. Next: is the action bad? No, I don't agree with this one. Sure, Venom is a darkly-colored character and many of the action scenes take place at night, but I still very much enjoyed these scenes. The CGI-heavy finale definitely wasn't as impactful as the cool car chase sequence or the SWAT team encounter shown in the trailers, but it worked well enough for me. Next: is the film's beginning boring? No, not completely. This isn't to say that the film's first half is exciting, but I overall enjoyed the exposition that led to Brock's encounter with the Venom symbiote. It was relatively interesting and fueled by the charisma that Hardy brings to the film. Finally: is it any good? Actually, yes! I think Venom is a film that will receive a much warmer audience reception than the predominantly negative reaction coming from film critics. Despite its lack of Spider-Man or connection to the MCU, it somehow manages to work as a standalone film. It does justice to the character and I'm intrigued by the potential of other similar "Spider-Man villain origin" films in the future.
Of course, while I enjoyed Venom, I still wouldn't call it "amazing" or any word much stronger than "good." Like I already mentioned, the villain is poorly written and presented, which wouldn't be a problem in some films. However, Venom's story relies heavily on the Elon Musk-like Carlton Drake, so his importance hurts the film quite a bit. The writing is also very scattershot: there are several events that happen way too quickly or are brushed aside mindlessly, character motivations switch around without explanation, and some of the dialogue is downright cringy. The shot-to-shot editing in the film also stood out to me for seeming careless on several occasions, possibly due to reshoots or the removal of certain frames. The sound and music make the film feel needlessly loud at times. And, finally, the CGI, while better than what was shown in the trailers, isn't quite top-notch.
Venom acts as a fitting apology to the mistreatment of the character that we saw over 10 years ago. Tom Hardy portrays a fantastic version of Eddie Brock and is accompanied by a satisfyingly large, menacing, and badass-looking Venom. I think its safe to say, objectively, that the film does the character justice. I only wish that the rest of the film matched the quality of its leading characters beat for beat. Despite its handful of flaws and imperfections, I walked out of Venom happy and pleasantly surprised, so I'm giving it 3 out of 5 stars.
Like the Alien franchise that it crossed over with, the Predator franchise has had a long series of disappointing sequels and misfires, including Predator 2 and both Alien vs. Predator films. The franchise's legacy continues to live on through the iconic alien that is featured throughout the films and the famous quotes that Arnie spouted in the 1987 original... "Get to the chopper!" Sadly, 2018's The Predator destroys the hope that 2010's Predators created in the potential for quality Predator sequels.
One of the film's most notable missteps comes in the form of its cast and characters. Boyd Holbrook portrays Quinn McKenna, the Army Ranger and sniper in the center of the film's plot. Holbrook does his best to make McKenna compelling and likeable, a difficult task considering how poorly written the film is as a whole. He is joined by a large collection of forgettable supporting characters, the highlight of which is Keegan-Michael Key's Coyle, a wise-cracking ex-soldier who drops some memorable jokes and one-liners. The remainder of which - a group of quirky military criminals with annoying character traits, an evil government agent who order the deaths of people without much reason, and an evolutionary biologist who manages to survive every ridiculous near-death situation because of her pretty face - are all forgettable and thinly written. This makes the plot uninteresting, unfunny (I say this because the film attempts to make a LOT of ill-timed jokes), and void of tension.
The issues with the characters in The Predator, however, are a result of a bigger problem that plagues the entire film: the writing. The Predator features some of the most scattershot, lazy, and brainless writing that I've seen in a film in some time. Granted, I don't make my way into subpar action films very often, so as far as I know, the writing could actually be thoughtful and well-crafted compared to other movies of the same caliber (although I doubt it). Throughout the film, characters make decisions that have no reason behind them. Things happen without any sort of explanation. Plot points are treated as important but are then completely ignored later. Major events occur without any sort of repercussion. Etc., etc., etc. The script seems to be constantly struggling to coherently lead the characters to the film's action scenes, filling the gaps in between those scenes with nonsense and half-assed references to the Predator franchise (its "homage" to Schwarzenegger's "Get to the chopper!" line is horrendous). And even when the action finally happens, it is underwhelming, bogged down by poor camerawork and hard-to-follow editing.
The only redeeming qualities of The Predator come in the form of the things you expect out of this sort of movie: big menacing Predators sporting cool technology, neat visual effects, an explosive action-packed finale, and, most importantly, some satisfying Predator kills and good old-fashioned gore. These things prevent The Predator from being a total flop, but they by no means outweigh the film's many flaws.
In summary, The Predator delivers some of the things that fans of the series want. Unfortunately, these things are overshadowed by a wealth of flaws, spearheaded by lazy writing and poor directing. I was fully expecting and hoping to walk out of the theater having disagreed with the low score posted on Rotten Tomatoes, but I was underwhelmed and disappointed. Maybe one day the film industry will give us another Predator film worth of the name created by the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, but until then, we have The Predator, which I'm giving 1 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Mission: Impossible is a franchise that, much like its protagonist Ethan Hunt, just doesn't quit. While the first three entries in the film series ranged from "alright" to "pretty meh," the most recent three films have set new high bars for action films and have exhibited some of the most impressive stunts ever done for a movie. Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation are two of my favorite films and have showcased Tom Cruise at his best and most daring. Fallout continues this trend. You would think that a franchise that is six films in would have started to slow down, but Mission: Impossible has impossibly kept the momentum and excitement with its most recent entry.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout features the same actors and characters that have become familiar to fans of the series. Tom Cruise is of course back as Ethan Hunt, the skilled and seasoned agent of IMF (Impossible Mission Force) who has prevented world-changing disasters more times than he probably ever wanted to. Cruise is somehow still at the top of his game in Fallout, and it's hard not to respect the man for the dedication he gives to his craft. As per usual, the insane stunts that you see Hunt perform in the film are done by Cruise himself, and this is something that continues to bolster the film's already-incredible action. Shots of Cruise piloting a helicopter through mountains, jumping from a C17, or leaping across buildings look completely real because they ARE completely real. Even though he's getting old (56 years old as of July 2018), I hope he continues to do what he does for just a few more years.
Cruise is joined by many of the franchise's recurring favorite characters. Ving Rhames returns as Luther Stickell, who is finally given more to do in the film and serves as a permanent member of the IMF team of agents rather than as a brief cameo or supporting role. Simon Pegg is back as Benji Dunn, another IMF agent, and Pegg does an excellent job again even though the writing dials back the character's humor this time around. Rebecca Ferguson continues her role as Ilsa Faust, an MI6 agent and love interest (?) of Hunt's, and she delivers another convincing performance. Henry Cavill joins the cast of Fallout as well, portraying a tough and burly CIA assassin who is tasked by the CIA's director (Angela Bassett) to supervise the IMF team. Every performance in Mission: Impossible - Fallout is superb, and no one (except for Cruise) really outshines the others. This is especially important when considering the team dynamic in the film, something that Ghost Protocol in particular nailed on the head. Everyone on the IMF team feels as capable as the rest, and each contributes their own unique skills and personality that make them compelling and worthy additions to the team.
Now let's get into the meat of the film: the action. The Mission: Impossible franchise has always been about the high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting action. This is something that Fallout doubles down on, and I can confidently say that it features the best action of the franchise. I'll even venture to say that it features some of the best action of all time. Its hand-to-hand combat sequences are brutal: the edits and camera angles bring out the force of every punch, kick, jab, and block, and the fight choreography is directed beautifully. Vehicular chase scenes are filmed in a way that you never lose track of where characters are in relation to each other and the landscape feels familiar and easy to follow. Gunfights are intense and made powerful by the sound editing and cuts. The action is simply marvelous to behold and assembled masterfully by a director, Christopher McQuarrie, who proves that he has harnessed his craft. These scenes, which are memorable to say the least, have been replaying in my head over and over since I walked out of the theater, giving me the urge to watch the film again.
Aside from the film's stellar action, the other aspects of Mission: Impossible - Fallout are great as well. The writing is superb. It fills the plot with twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat (and probably confuse you a bit). It adds development to characters in ways that you wouldn't expect from an action film. It also makes the most ridiculous things seem plausible and believable in the film's context, something I cannot elaborate on without spoiling things. The acting, as I already mentioned, is top-notch, and the entire cast contributes greatly to the movie. The cinematography is excellent as well: beautiful wide shots of cities, mountains, and landscapes are present throughout, and the camerawork during the film's most gut-wrenching moments enhances the intensity and emotion.
Can I name any flaws with Mission: Impossible - Fallout? I have one, single flaw that comprises a single second of the film. There is a single shot of computer-generated rocks tumbling over the edge of a cliff, and this shot looked really bad, like something out of a 1980s video game.
That's it. The only real flaw with Mission: Impossible - Fallout is a second-long, unfinished CGI shot. You could argue that the film's twists and turns that I mentioned could be too much or be too confusing, but that is purely a preferential issue with the film and one that did not affect me. One could also point out the clichéd last-second resolutions that happen a few times and the deus ex machina that is scattered throughout, but I honestly thought these were handled so well in the script that they were not a problem at all.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the rare action film that is smartly written, beautifully directed, well-acted, memorable, and an absolute joy to watch. This is the first film I have seen all summer that I've loved and had no significant issues with. Without a doubt it is the best film in the franchise and one of the best action films I have ever seen, and I have every intention of seeing it again, buying it on Blu-Ray, and convincing as many people as possible to see it. This is a franchise that I hope continues to pump out excellent films as long as Tom Cruise is willing to work on them. Rest assured that you will find me in line to see it on its opening night whenever it is released. Mission: Impossible - Fallout gets 5 out of 5 stars.
One thing I realized just before writing this is that Ant-Man and the Wasp is the TWENTIETH film in the 10-years-long-and-counting Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like Avengers: Infinity War, this serves as a slap in the face reminding me how far along this once small franchise has become. Additionally, I'd like to apologize for taking so long to write this review: I saw the film last Tuesday but never found the hour I needed to get it done. However, I realized that this was a bit of a blessing in disguise. Letting the film sink in for a week has allowed me to think about it a little bit more and develop a very personal opinion on the film instead of one influenced by the excitement surrounding its release. I only wish the same thing had happened with Star Wars: The Last Jedi... I gave it 4 stars the night I saw the film, and now would barely give it 2 stars. Don't worry, my opinion of Ant-Man and the Wasp did not degrade THAT much, but I did realize many of the weaknesses and flaws that held the film back.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a sequel to the surprise 2015 hit Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd as the titular character. Rudd returns to this film as Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant-Man and is joined by a wealth of cast members also returning from the first film. Evangeline Lilly portrays Hope van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp, the badass former girlfriend of Lang who uses a suit that can shrink, fly, and fire blaster shots. Michael Douglas portrays Hank Pym, Hope's father and Lang's mentor, who possesses an intellect that outmatches even Tony Stark's. Lang's former crew of thieves (who now own a small security business) returns, portrayed by Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian. The new characters here include Ghost (portrayed by Hannah John-Kamen), a reality-phasing woman who gained her powers after an encounter with the Quantum Realm; Bill Foster (portrayed by Laurence Fishburne), a former colleague of Pym's; Sonny Burch (portrayed by Walton Goggins), a black-market dealer; and Janet van Dyne (portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer), Pym's wife who was lost long ago in the Quantum Realm.
One of the most common criticisms I've heard regarding Ant-Man and the Wasp is that the film has weak villains, keeping with the general trend set by early films of the MCU. This is one gripe that I disagree with. The film has two villains: Ghost, who is less of a villain and more of a misunderstood, determined young woman, and Sonny Burch, a run-of-the-mill black-market dealer who is constantly getting in the way of things. The first "villain," Ghost, was a great character. Her motivation for hindering the progress of our heroes was simple: she was close to dying and needed Pym technology to save her life. Her character kept up with the trend set by recent MCU villains like Thanos, Vulture, and Killmonger: in her eyes, she was doing what she thought was necessary to get what she wanted/needed, in this case her own life. The second villain, Sonny Burch, is by no means a great villain, please don't think I think that. Rather, the film's writing seemed totally self-aware of his blandness and annoying habit of showing up when it was inconvenient. As a result, most of his lines and appearances are played purely for comedy, which I thought was brilliant. So instead of two "meh" villains, Ant-Man and the Wasp features a driven female character trying to save her life and an object for comedy.
My biggest issue with Ant-Man and the Wasp comes in a separate aspect of its writing... several, actually. First of all, the inaccuracy of the physics behind the powers of Ant-Man and the Wasp continues to bother me. An object is going to retain its mass no matter how big or small it is. In other words, when Ant-Man gets tiny, he should become a tiny 160-pound weight. And when he gets huge, he should be nothing more than an unsteady pile of cardboard boxes. Of course, at the end of the day, this is a comic book movie, so if these are the powers of the characters as they appear in Marvel Comics, then I'll get over it. I'm not going to dock the film points for that.
The real issues come from the film's two focuses: Hank Pym's lost wife, Janet van Dyne, and the place she is stranded in, the Quantum Realm. Again, this is a comic book movie, so I don't expect an explanation of the Quantum Realm that abides by real-world physical concepts. But the film never makes a clear explanation of what this place is or how it works or the rules that it abides by. The script alludes to some of this, but it is never consistent enough to satisfy me. This was frustrating, especially since many of the Avengers 4 rumors suggest our heroes will be time-traveling using the Quantum Realm. This is a great idea, but that film needs to give the concept a more clear and consistent base. Ant-Man and the Wasp does NOT have this base. This contributes to the climax that the film builds to lacking any sort of tension or urgency. This also contributes to the underwhelming presence of Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet. She is hardly in the film even though the advertising materials feature her prominently, and there are things about her character that suffer from the same lack of explanation I've already discussed. I can't go into details because of spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.
I feel like I've bagged on Ant-Man and the Wasp a little bit harder than I intended. The film has lots of flaws, but it is overall a fun time and has the light tone and comedy you would expect from an Ant-Man sequel. The film is funny, the action sequences are creative and exciting, and I imagine most people will generally find themselves smiling in the film. This could be from the comedy, the lightheartedness, or even just the adorable relationship that Scott Lang has with his daughter in the film. As a whole, I really enjoyed the film. Most of the problems with it become evident when you step back and take a look at the writing. To summarize, Ant-Man and the Wasp serves as another worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while not holding up as well as its predecessor. It's enjoyable once you look past the writing and I'm sure I'll watch it again after it comes out on Blu-Ray. Ant-Man and the Wasp gets 3 out of 5 stars.
P.S. - Stick around for the mid-credits scene, it will not disappoint.