I Hate Mondays Chapter 3 (John Wick 3: Parabellum, 2019)

John_Wick_3_Parabellum_PosterJohn Wick was one of those suprirse franchises.  I went into the first film with low expectations…and had a great time with a basic revenge action film.  I was sure that John Wick Chapter 2 would be the failed follow up and instead it turned out to be even a little better than the first.

So, does John Wick 3: Parabellum keep the momentum?

For the most part? A big yes.

Picking up directly on the heels of Chapter 2, there is a bounty put on Wick’s head and he is essentially excommunicated from the elite assassin community he had originally sought to get out of in the first place.  But now it is a matter of survival.  And Wick plans to go to the top. But his situation now means he cannot get any help from the support network he has had access to previously.  This puts him in a situation where he spends much of the first act without guns.

But then, this is the trick of John Wick.  Anything is a weapon in the hands of John Wick…anything. Take away the simplest and most obvious weapons?  He will figure it out.

The weakest part of the film is that the film does not expand on the existing mythology in a way that is terribly interesting.  The auditor who arrives to hold everyone who has helped Wick to account is okay, but I found the people above her less impressive.

On the other hand, the assassin fights are a lot of fun.  And Mark Dacascos is highly entertaining as Wick’s direct opponent during the third act. The action choreography is a wild watch, especially some of the earliest confrontations.

The casting of these films is impressive.  Every character, even the most minor, feel like the actor was cast with a serious intent. And the new additions, such as Halle Barry, are great.

One of the things that make the Wick films so enjoyable is that the action is pretty easy to follow.  The fact that all three films were directed by Chad  Stahelski is a strong argument for keeping a single visionary at the helm for a franchise.  While not quite as good as John Wick Chapter 2, this film is a strong follow up that means the franchise has yet to truly falter.

Big Little (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018)

Ant_Man_Wasp_PosterWe last saw Ant-Man in prison with the other heroes who sided with Cap in Civil War. People noticed that he was absent from all the Infinity War promotions, and while Infinity War gave a quick explanation of where he and Hawkeye were, Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us the “full story”. With days to go on his house arrest, Scott Lang has been out of contact with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne for months, having parted on less than good terms as he stole the costume for his role in Civil War.

Hank and Hope have renewed hope that Janet Van Dyne (believed lost in the Quantum realm) may be alive.  They are working in secret to locate her. When one of their experiments coincides with a crazy dream of Scotts, the three are brought back together to try and rescue her. But it is not as simple as they hope, as they are in competition with underground arms dealer Sonny Burch and a mysterious villain called Ghost. Ghost is trying to get the Pym lab because she has phasing powers, but cannot control them. Add to this being hunted by the FBI, rescuing Janet may not be as easy as they hoped.

The film is more focused on Hank and Hope, with Scott brought along somewhat unwillingly, but I found this worked okay. The first film had a running joke about how Hope was far more competent a super-hero, but never got to wear the suit. This film gives us a lot of Wasp action, and it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Scott gets some solid action of course as well, and he even gets a few opportunities to really show his cleverness (a FBI breakout sequence calls back to a scene in the first film, but flips the roles).

Rudd is as goofily charming as in the first film…and Michael Peña is hilarious (even though they only give us one of his elaborate stories). The return of Judy Greer and Bobby Cannaval is welcome.  I really like that the relationship between Cannaval’s Paxton and Scott is not some sort of rivalry over their shared family. Instead, Paxton seems to want the best for Scott and genuinely like him.

The film has some genuinely touching moments with Scott and his daughter Cassie. A wise kid who looks up to her dad and wants to be his sidekick.

The story works very organically, the things that bring the first film’s cast together makes sense (Scott, Luis and their team of ex-cons now have a security business to help businesses avoid being hit by folks like…well, themselves).

The first Ant-Man was a surprising film and a welcome relief to the trend of telling bigger and bigger stories in the solo Marvel films. Ant-Man and the Wasp carries the fun over, building on it’s small scale mythology (the post credit scene ties it to Infinity War).  Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty worthy sequel and a lot of fun to watch.

 

The Hunter or the Hunted? Pt 9 (Predators, 2010)

PRED_B-ALT_Eng1sht (Page 1)After the second film, the Predator series went dormant.  The alien hunters only saw the screen in the “team up” Alien vs Predator films.  It was not until about 2009 Predator was announced as getting it’s own new film.  It was spearheaded by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn, Sin City) and was referred to often as a reboot.  The problem with the tendency to treat every film as a remake or reboot is that it is not always clear what a particular entry is.  These days, people tend to refer to a new film in a franchise as a reboot, even when it is in continuity.  Admittedly, it is a little unclear here.  Nothing discounts the previous two films, but they are not really acknowledge in reference (# 2 made reference to the first film).

It does however feature the original Predator design along with a much bigger and more aggressive version.

Anyways, whether this is a new start or simply a new installment is not that important.  What we have is a group of people who find themselves falling from the sky.  They apparently had not planned this themselves.  As things unfold, we find that the most common trait the group has is they are mercenaries, soldiers, mob enforcers and so on.  There is one odd man out named Edwin who is a doctor.  He seems meek (but very smart).  He is played by Topher Grace, so, you know something is up with him.  Adrien Brody plays mercenary Royce.  Royce takes on the role of defacto leader, convincing everyone they need to work together.

After encounters with strange animals, they start to try and find safety, only to realize they are not on earth.  Unlike the previous films, the people being hunted have been dropped onto a planet that functions as a big game hunting preserve.

This does make for an interesting idea, though it is basically a jungle like the first film.  The new Predator design is good, building off the previous design in a way that is sleeker and more threatening.  While the film strives to have lots of surprises, in the end, there is not much new here.  The humans are picked off by the predators in violent and bloody fights.  But it is pretty straight forward action, and pretty predictable.  Frankly, it feels like the franchise may have hit a wall, and truthfully, I don’t know that people will care all that much about it.  The second two films are not strong enough to pretend this is a trilogy.  It is just a decent action film followed by two okay sequels.

Surf the Skies (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)

Fantastic_4_Rise_of_the_Silver_Surfer_PosterI think people were a little surprised that the Fantastic Four got a sequel.  And you gotta admit, doing the Silver Surfer/Galactus saga is a grand idea.  Then they get Doug Jones for the physical body and Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the Silver Surfer (this was not actually a great idea in retrospect).  Things are looking good!  Man, who will they cast a Galactus, right?!  Will he be totally CGI or what?!

So, we start off with Galactus eating a planet.  Actually, we get a planet sized version of the Smoke Creature from Lost.  Not kidding.  Maybe Galactus is inside the cloud, right?!  Then the Silver Surfer heads towards earth… where we find Sue totally freaking out about her pending nuptials.  Seriously, how freaky must an invisible Bridezilla be?!  But the Surfer ruins their first wedding attempt.

Johnny chases after the Surfer and ends up being dragged nearly into out space.  He has trouble as he falls to earth.  We find out that this is due to the effects of the cosmic energy that the Silver Surfer gives off.  The Surfer continues gliding across the globe-his magic (so to speak) starts to impact the atmosphere and even frees Dr. Doom from his statue state.

Reed discovers Johnny can now switch powers with his team mates.  This allows for another “Sue Caught Naked In Public” scene.  It also gives an amusing moment when Johnny becomes Thing-i-fied and Ben returns to normal and has fire powers.  The team has to try and save people from the effects of the Surfer’s travels, and find it harder than usual as they keep switching powers every time Johnny bumps into someone.

Reed soon discovers a pattern by tracing the Silver Surfer’s path through the cosmos.  All the planets he has visited have been destroyed.  So he starts formulating a plan to catch the Surfer.  Both the Military and Dr. Doom join in.  Of course, the audience knows he has an ulterior motive.  Sue, meanwhile contributes about whining about not getting married yet.  Eventually, they catch the Surfer (partially because he is enamored by Sue).  This is when Doom strikes, stealing the Surfer’s tubular board-the apparent source of his power.

Dr. Doom plans to rule the world-while the giant cloud of smoke threatens to destroy it.    The Fantastic Four tries to fight Cosmic Doom, but instead, he hits Sue with a fatal shot.  Johnny takes everyone’s powers and beats the crap out of Doom, gets the Surfer his board back.  The Surfer uses his magic to heal Sue and he flies into space to take on Galactus.  So, now we finally get to see the real Galactus!!! AWESOME!!!! Oh wait…it actually is just a big cloud.

The Surfer seems to sacrifice himself to save the earth (except we find out he survived for a potential spin off).  Reed and Sue get married and everyone is totally happy.

Well, except the viewer.  The first film stumbled a lot, and the folks behind the this one (the same team as the first, pretty much) seemed to indicate they learned their lesson.  But from character design to strange choices… Sue is once again reduced to offering little in the way of being a strong heroine, as she spends the whole film whining about getting married.  It gets so bad that she chastises Reed both for having fun dancing in a club and also trying to protect the world instead of focusing on getting married.  Because…why save the world, y’know?

While the power switching issue is an interesting concept, it never quite gels.  And frankly, a Fantastic Four movie where three members sit out the final battle and one member pummels the bad guy?  It kind of misses the point of calling them the Fantastic Four.

Galactus seems so secondary as a threat… Doctor Doom and his scheme to get the Surfer’s power.  Once he has that power?  He does not run off to stop Galactus from destroying the planet he wants to rule.  No, he just goes around flaunting his power.  This is a terrible lapse in logic and reduces one of the great complex comic book villains to Bad Guy with No Real Plan.

And let’s look at Galactus.  I’ve commented on this before, but it bears repeating.  A giant cloud is not awe inspiring.  I get that folks involved might have thought the traditional appearance of the character would look goofy.  But the cloud has no identity.  What, a large (twelve feet or so)  guy in a ship that is his life support machine was impossible to create?  Make the ship in the shape of the helmet from the comics as a tip to fans.  Done.

I will say that I found Ioan Gruffud far more engaging this time around.  McMahon less so.  Evans and Chiklis were terrific…and Alba?  Well, god bless her, she tries to make a thankless role work… but they really give her two jobs… pout and be pretty.  And yet again, the second film finds a way to get a sequence where she is naked in public.  Oi.  Kerry Washington is back as Alicia Masters…she does fine, but the role is pretty much there to show that the only person who could love Ben Grimm is a person unable to see him.  Granted, that is part of the character in the comics as well…but still.

I will say the effects are pretty solid, and the Silver Surfer looks terrific.  And Doug Jones is a top notch performer.  I had the opportunity to speak with Jones last year and he noted he had actually been recording a really unique voice for the Surfer, which makes it a shame they over dubbed him, even if it was Laurence Fishburne.

Instead of stepping up and blowing it’s predecessor out of the water, the second film feels even more lackluster, and screws up a great comic story that should have been pretty easy to pull off.

Super Pals In Conflict (Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice, 2016)

batman_vs_superman_pop_art_postersThis film has been both hotly anticipated and less than interesting depending on who you ask.  In fact, the talk at the beginning of the week was that people had seen the movie and loved it.  It was starting to look like Deadpool all over again.  The early reaction made me wonder if my preconceptions were fair.  Then, as the week progressed and more official reviews started to come out?  It started to suggest my low expectations were warranted.  Of course, I still felt I needed to see the film before declaring it a dud or success.

I am inclined to say it is better than the (at the last time I checked) 30% Rotten Tomato rating.  But it is not truly great either.  Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, it is reaching for a standard of epic.  Snyder and Nolan have emphasized that their films are different than those of Marvel.  And it is true…the Marvel films, to a large extent, combine humor, adventure and suspense.  Sure, some do it better than others.  But they are lively fun films.  Snyder has describe wanting his DC Cinematic Universe to be more epic Greek Myth.

Affleck actually works well in the role.  There was plenty of online hemming and hawing…but Affleck’s Batman was pretty strong.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred worked very effectively for me.  I enjoyed the larger screen time to Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White.  He seems to be having a lot of fun as the tough Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet.  I liked Amy Adam’s Lois Lane in Man of Steel, and she is just as good here.  In spite of criticisms of the Man of Steel, I like Henry Cavill and feel he gives us the best Superman we can hope for given the material.  I also liked when they focused on Lois and Clark’s relationship.  I also enjoyed the brief time given to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and find myself looking to her solo film now.

The weakest link of the characters was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.  The character never feels as brilliant or as menacing as he should.  Instead he just comes across as weird and quirky.

I can appreciate that they tried to make the destruction of Man of Steel a real sticking point that Superman has to face.  That his heroics can even see negative results.  This does really give a plausible motivation to Batman.  The Batman we get in the film is cynical and has given up hope, rather than seeing Superman as that hope, he becomes determined to stop Superman.  When Lex Luthor manipulates events, Batman falls over the edge.  This actually works pretty well.  It is an old comic book trope where two heroes meet, not realizing they are on the same side and fight, before realizing they are on the same side.  The first Avengers film did this in very entertaining fashion in about five minutes.  Here, Superman and Batman spend a majority of the film in distrust.

However, the film is just so packed with advance planning for the cinematic universe, they start forcing stuff into the film to prepare us.  This also becomes confusing on telling apart dreams from memories from possible future events…at one point I was trying to determine if Bruce Wayne was having a potential prophetic vision.  The film also lacks a strong central antagonist, and the introduction of Doomsday for the final battle just makes the film feel overloaded.  The film feels bloated and confusing, and could use some streamlining.

It is also obvious that the criticisms of the Man of Steel’s massive destruction really stung Snyder.  At points a general points out that they cleared an area, a newscast points out that the workday is over and everyone had gone home…Batman explains he chose a particular area for a fight because it was abandoned…the filmmakers really want you to know just how many people are not getting killed.

The movie is full of iconic visuals of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and that is what they feel like.  “Remember this panel from Dark Knight Returns?!”  But they do not enhance the story.  And Snyder’s cynical approach infects even the color grading.  It is almost a dull and faded world.  I am missing vibrant color in the DC Universe.

In the end, like Man of Steel…there are things I really did like.  There are things I really did not care for.  The film just misses the mark in a way that bums me out.  I want to leave a movie starring Superman feeling hopeful and happy.  I cannot say that here.  The film never earns it’s deeper questions of hero worship and power, or the repercussions of Superman’s actions.  I appreciate that they tried to aim for depth…it just is not as deep as they would like us to think it is.

Better, But Still Not Quite…There…

So San Diego Comic Con saw the release of a new trailer for next year’s Batman vs Superman and…

Well, I am a little more hopeful…but not yet excited.

The trailer is unclear if Batman has been active for years or if he retired, though there seems to be indications he is returning to his cowl.

While I am a bit bummed that we will not have an established friendship, they are clearly coming at this with the heroes fight, realize they are wrong, join forces model.  This is, certainly, a classic comic book story.  But Superman and Batman have a long history as close friends.  I would hope they can do it as effectively as John Byrne did in 1986’s Man of Steel mini-series.

bats_supesThey cannot, of course, give us a long established relationship, as Man of Steel established the very first time people saw Superman was his battle with Zod.  And the Man of Steel is our introduction to the DC Cinematic Universe.  It is off to a grim start.  I have expressed in discussions with friends that I am bothered by the literal hero worship aspect because I felt it had not yet been earned.  Granted, the film is likely set a few months after the previous film…and I can appreciate that they are trying to address all the destruction in Man of Steel.

So what makes me feel more hopeful?

Lex-LuthorThe Man of Steel Returning cast.  Getting to see Clark Kent active as a reporter.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is intriguing to me right now.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred seems to nail the idea that Alfred is Batman’s needed conscience.  It looks pretty exciting.  Wonder Woman looks tough.

wonder-woman1So, I am still cautious and not yet at optimistic.

Jor-El Sent His Only Son (Man of Steel, 2013)

Preface: This is a review I wrote two years ago.  I have, however, edited it a bit.

And lo, there was much controversy and arguing. So it was I saw finally got around to seeing the tale Man of Steel.  Zak Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher’s grimmer take on the Superman mythos.

In a lot of ways, this is a response to the toughly reviewed Superman Returns. One of the cries was “more action” and boy do we get it.

man-of-steel-posterFirst, the good. I think Henry Cavill did a solid job as Superman. The film spends it’s time focusing on a Superman who is not working for the Daily Planet, but rather Clark Kent roaming the planet and saving people. It is borrowing an idea from Mark Waid’s terrific Birthright…and while not quite as nicely executed, it makes sense to use it as a reference.

The film opens on Krypton, one like we have not seen in previous film or television adaptions. I am pleased to see they opted to break free of the influence of Donner for this film. It is a Krypton that has evolved to genetic engineering, something scientist Jor-El seeks to set his son free of. This happens in the midst of a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon). He and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone, shortly before the destruction of Krypton.

Amy Adams is a tough and fearless Lois Lane who is on the trail of the mysterious hero. I liked her quite a bit in the role. She was aggressive and dedicated to finding her story. I also felt Zod and Faora were solid characters. As Superman’s parents, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are all quite strong. Lara’s role is short, but she is strong and full of courage. Crowe is mainly there for exposition, but he makes it work.

The visual effects were great, seeing Superman use his powers was exhilarating. I truly had fun watching him use his powers.

The tougher stuff…while I liked Costner, I had the same problem with Man of Steel as I did with Smallville. Pa Kent is obsessed with “keeping the secret” which extends to “let people die”. This is troubling on a lot of levels. The action in the film is relentless, giving little time to catch our breath. The characters are also given little space to grow, so we get familiar, but new sketches, rather than full blown character moments. And the destruction becomes numbing…it is just to much.

In addition, Superman never appears as Superman until after Zod arrives.  Clark runs around saving people, but once he dons the costume, he saves one person directly, otherwise he is busy fighting Zod and his army.  You might ask why this matters…but if we had Clark appearing in Costume before Zod arrives, saving people and stopping crime, that establishes him.

We as the audience have every reason to see Superman as the good guy.  We get it, we have seen Clark use his powers to help people.  But in the world of the film?  The citizens of the world have no reason to trust Superman over Zod.  Donner’s original Superman film had a great sequence of Superman doing all sorts of heroics.  And it allowed us to see the city of Metropolis becoming excited about Superman.  We have seen from the teasers that in Batman vs  Superman they plan to explore the motif of hero worship.  And this could have set that up.

The other problem was, this feels like Nolan filtered through Snyder.  I like Nolan, I liked his take on Batman…but his Batman was grounded in a fairly real world idea.  There was no room for a Superman or Wonder Woman in the Nolan Bat Universe.  I also liked Watchmen by Snyder.  But between the two, they created a Superman world of darkness and paranoia.  Even the color schemes are digitally washed out and bleak.  This is still slightly better than Stalker Superman.

In the end, I still enjoyed this more than Superman Returns. It is imperfect, but not salvageable for the continuation of Superman.

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