Dive Deep (Aquaman, 2018)

Aquaman_posterSure, you know Aquaman can swim fast, talk to fish and punch hard. But what do you really know?

This holiday season, we have the full story of the savior of the seas.  Born of a lighthouse keeper from the surface world and the Princess of Atlantis, Arthur Curry has long dealt with the heartbreak of the death of his mother, believing it really to be his fault.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! when his half brother Orm sets his sites on uniting the kingdoms of Atlantis and destroying the surface world, the princess Mera seeks the aid of Arthur, who has avoided his Atlantean heritage.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! See, there is a magical trident that Aquaman will need to defeat his half brother, so he and Mera go on a big time treasure hunt.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! There is a guy called Black Manta who wants revenge on Arthur!

BUT THA- Oh, you get the idea.  They have packed a ton of stuff into this film, making it a bit of a mess. It is such a busy film full of story ideas it can make you wonder if any of those stories could have better room to breath in their own film.  However, one gets the sense that they had multiple assignments with this film. They had to fill in the back story not just of Arthur, but of Mera, Orm, Atlantis and a magical trident.

And yet, the film is a lot of fun.  The whole little side story in which Arthur and Mera are trying to find the trident National Treasure style is fun excitement.  And the film sets up a simple but good message for Aquaman to learn.  The effects are really good, which is important, because the entire sense of design depends on it.

The real highlight of the film is Atlantis. It is a lush and colorful undersea kingdom.  The use of undersea life in the designs of their vehicles and architecture is wondrous. This is DC film embraces the whimsy of it’s conceit to give a unique corner of the DCEU. There is also a real attention to small detail in all the underwater sequences that make is easy to forget people don’t breath or talk underwater. We get Aquaman in his traditional outfit and you know what? It looks great.

But it is not just the design and effects that the film has going for it. Now, Mamoa has limited acting range…but the filmmakers have filled the movie with a cast that keeps this from being an issue. He can do his brash and confident guy thing, because he is supported by top notch talent like Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson. Wilson really carries a lot in the relationship between Orm and Arthur. He somehow manages to give a heart to a megalomaniacal maniac king. His hatred of Arthur is in a misguided blame for the loss of their mother, and Wilson sells this well.

And then there is James Wan. Wan is without a doubt one of the strongest directors in action films today. Even his giant action scenes are easy to follow. He balances sequences with multiple simultaneous leads exceptionally well (such as when Arthur and Mera become separated and have their own individual fights).

Aquaman manages to overcome a lot of odds, being far more entertaining than the elements ought to allow. So, in spite of a busy storyline, Aquaman is a rollicking fun adventure.

Nothing But Star Wars Episode Three (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, 2005)

Revenge_Of_the_Sith_PosterAnd finally…we see how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader!

Spoilers are about to slice through here like a lightsaber through butter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spoilers! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-*cough* *wheeze*

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Opening in the tail end of the Clone Wars, we begin in the middle of a heated space Battle.  The Jedi and the Clone Army are trying to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from the Separatist leadership of Count Dooku and General Grievous.   Anakin and Obi Wan end up in Grievous’ ship.  The fight Dooku, who again knocks Obi Wan out quickly (Obi Wan is looking pretty incompetent here). This time, Anakin gets the upper hand, and at the encouragement of Palpatine, beheads Dooku.

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Remember my complaint about how they killed Darth Maul in the first film? Revenge of the Sith does sort of do my suggestion. Christopher Lee has a great expression of fear on his face as he realizes Sidious (Palpatine) is wanting him to be killed by Anakin.  Except, it occurs at the beginning of the film, making it not a special line being crossed.  Sure, it indicates Palpatine’s growing influence, but it is not that last step before accepting the role of Darth Vader.  And Dooku has not been a character really built up.  We barely got to know him.  I believe he appeared a bit in the Clone Wars cartoon on the Cartoon Network, but in the movies, he never gets to be a major heavy.  Like Mace Windu, he is primarily earning credibility via the face in the role.

General Grievous, a character introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon, escapes in a lifeboat, while sending his warship plummeting down towards Corsucant’s surface.  Anakin and Obi Wan manage an amazing crash landing.

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Padme reveals that she is pregnant.  Though worried about people discovering their secret relationship, Anakin is overjoyed by the news. However, he is soon beset by nightmares of Padme dying while giving birth.

Anakin is asked to spy on Chancellor Palpatine for the Jedi Council while Obi Wan checks on a lead for General Grievous. Anakin is uncomfortable with this, as Palpatine has taken on a mentoring role and even a father figure for him.  Palpatine starts to drop hints about the power of the Dark Side, especially the power to save and even resurrect life.

Obi Wan finds and confronts Grievous.  Grievous is actually kind of a neat character.  A bit of a proto-Darth Vader, he is an alien cyborg.  Like Obi Wan said of Vader, Grievous is more machine than man.  He collects lightsabers of fallen Jedi, and his arms split from two to four.  This creates a pretty cool visual where he spins his arms while holding four lightsabers.

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Obi Wan manages to send Grievous packing into the great galaxy beyond.  Meanwhile, Anakin is troubled by the realization that Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Palpatine has control of the Republic and is secretly leading the Separatists.

After learning of the news from Anakin, Mace brings several Jedi to take Palpatine into custody.  He surprises them and manages to kill all the Jedi except Mace.  Mace proves far stronger, and has Palpatine’s back (literally) against the wall.

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While trying to use his force lightning against Mace, Anakin arrives.  Palpatine begs Anakin for mercy.  Windu is ready to kill Palpatine, stating there is no other option, but Anakin states he should face trial, not merely executed on Mace’s whim.  Mace refuses and as he goes to strike, Anakin chops off Mace’s hand.  Sidious takes this opportunity to fire another Force Lightning blast and launch Mace out a window to his death.

Now, I always assumed that the Emperor’s appearance was him being old (there was also once a version that he was constantly cloning himself, and the clone bodies were breaking down, but this is no longer canon).

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Apparently, however, it is a result of expending ridiculous amounts of energy.  He anoints Anakin as Darth Vader.  He sends out the secret Order 66, which commands the clone soldiers to kill any Jedi they are with.

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Now, Ben Kenobi told Luke how Darth Vader hunted down and slaughtered the Jedi.  But it turns out he was not the frontline for this.  Instead, he is sent to the temple looking all tough and scary…

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To kill a bunch of little kids.

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And while that is monstrous, it also makes Vader seem like less of a threat in general.  He kills the easy prey, while the Clones are killing fully trained Jedi. Darth Vader is then sent to the Mustafar system, on a volcanic planet to remove the separatists. Obi Wan and Yoda survive the attempts on their life.  Obi Wan and a very pregnant Amidala go to find Anakin.

Yoda takes on Darth Sidious in a powerful battle, leaping around and dodging Sidious’ attacks.

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Yoda ultimately slips away and meets with Senator Bail Organa. Both Sidious and Vader proclaim the Jedi have attempted a coup, forcing Organa and Yoda to flee.  When Obi Wan and Amidala reach the volcanic planet, they try and talk Anakin down, so to speak.  But he believes they are betraying him, and starts to force choke Amidala.  This results in a dramatic life and death lightsaber duel in the middle of flowing rivers of lava.

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Obi Wan delivers one of the dumbest lines of the entire franchise. “Only Sith deal in Absolutes”.  It makes a certain amount of sense regarding Obi Wan’s attitudes towards facts in the original trilogy. But it is just a dumb line, as we saw Jedi dealing in absolutes just…heck…twenty minutes earlier.  As the fight concludes, Obi Wan cuts off Anakin’s arms and legs.  There is a lot of dramatic but weird dialog.  Obi Wan laments that Anakin was his friend, he was supposed to bring balance to the force, yadda yadda yadda.

And then he leaves Anakin to slowly burn to death.

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The Emperor pops over and picks up Anakin.  Then we get scenes of Amidala giving birth, while Darth Vader is encased in his new suit.  Amidala dies as she looks upon her twins.  They give Leia to Organa and take Luke to Anakin’s half brother Owen Lars.  Because if you want to hide a kid from his dad, his family is probably the best place.  And you know, don’t give him the last name of Owen or anything. And seriously, Amidala died why? Other than she had to as a plot contrivance?  They seriously don’t have the technology to save her? She appears to have died of a broken heart.  Really?

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And speaking of Amidala? She is practically set dressing in the film.  Poor Natalie Portman is sidelined the majority of the film to be Anakin’s plot device.

I really found the prequel film rules about the things like the Rule of Two, which states there are only two Sith Lords at a time.  A master and an apprentice.  This makes no real sense, and the original films had no such implication.  The idea that there would only be two Sith in comparison to endless Jedi seems bizarre. Within the legends (books and comics, mostly), this is also challenged by Darth Plagueis, who was the master to Palpatine. But the rule makes no real sense, because it is not a notion that there is like a single Sith Emperor over all other Sith…It is literally that there are two Sith at a time.

Nobody has any real chemistry in this film.  It just feels like everyone is delivering their dialog so they can be done with it.

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In spite of this, Revenge of the Sith (a title meant to recall the original working title of Return of the Jedi) is far from the worst of the prequels.  The first twenty minutes are terrific.  The various action sequences that follow are quite good, especially the Mustafar battle.

I also like how the technology of the world feels fresh and shiny, like this is everything at it’s heights.  Contrasting that with episodes four through six where everything seems old and broken, like the rule of the Empire has crushed any sense of beauty and design and left only the most industrial sense of design.

But unfortunately, the entire prequel series was obsessed with answering questions nobody had. And this one is no different, making a mad rush to pack in stuff we don’t really need.  The film takes place twenty years before a New Hope.  And we get a shot of Gran Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader watching the beginning of the Death Star.  Now, is the idea it could take twenty years to build the Death Star is not implausible.  But they built a second Death Star with totally different specs in a couple years. Infant Leia sees Amidala, while infant Luke’s eyes are closed.  Why? Because in Return of the Jedi? Leia tells Luke that she remembers her mother’s smile. Luke cannot remember anything about her.  It is like Lucas sat down and watched the original films making a list of things he thinks have to be in the new films.

However, the three prequels just never meet the goal of being a great new trilogy, because they are bogged down in weird choices of storytelling and fan service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing But Star Wars Episode Two (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 2002)

Attack_of_the_Clones_PosterThe Star Wars machine keeps plugging on.  Episode one had a rather mixed reception, but it made money.  It would have taken a catastrophic return to derail new trilogy.

The film would make a jump and start to try and “right the ship” so to speak.  As much as Lucas tried to defend Jar Jar Binks, his role gets diminished greatly in both this and the next film.

And let us go back on our spoilerific journey!!!! Send in the clooooooones!

 

 

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Picking up around ten years after the Phantom Menace, Amidala is now a Senator.  This is, funny enough how they move Jar Jar out of the picture…he is a representative for Naboo. But anyways, after an attack on her ship as she arrives on Corsucant, the Jedi Council sends Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to protect the Senator.

Anakin apparently still has his crush on Amidala, who is shocked to see Ani went from nine year old boy to a good looking teenager. They plan to stand guard in her apartment as they also try and determine how best to investigate the attempt on her life.

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The investigation gets a boost though when a second attempt is made by letting to poisonous bugs into her bedroom.  Artoo derails the attempt by alerting the Jedi.  They pursue the shadowy killer through the skies of Corsucant (the skies are full with levels of traffic).

This leads to an exciting chase sequence with Anakin being incredibly reckless.

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Really, it is a pretty enjoyable scene.  It ends with them crash landing in a seedy part of town.  They follow their target into a bar.  It turns out she is a shape shifting bounty hunter.  She starts to confess, only to be shot with a poison dart, dying almost instantly.

The Jedi Council formulate a new plan.  Anakin will accompany Amidala undercover to a remote part of Naboo, while Obi Wan will focus on the investigation. Obi Wan starts by focusing on the dart.  But he really cannot connect it to anything.  He visits a friend who runs a dive restaurant who tells him that the dart belongs to the Cloners of Kamino.

This starts a new mystery, as Kamino does not appear in any star maps he can find.  With Yoda’s help, he locates his destination.  When he arrives, he is surprised to find that they were expecting a visit.  Not from Obi Wan, but another Jedi Master who Kenobi reveals died several years before.

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He discovers that the previous Jedi master had hired the Kimino people to create an army of Clones.  He is introduced to Jango Fett, a bounty hunter who is the basis of the clone army.  Jango had one requirement, and that was a clone untouched by the Cloner’s programming to raise as a son (can you see where this is going?). Lucas actually added actor Temuera Morrison’s voice as Stormtroopers and Boba Fett in the original trilogy.

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There is a fight and Jango escapes with Boba, but Obi Wan follows them to the planet Geonosis.  There, Obi Wan discovers the Separatist army, led by Count Dooku.  Dooku is an ex-Jedi (and gets cool points because it is Christopher Lee).

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Meanwhile, Anakin confesses feelings for Amidala.  At first she pushes back due to her career and the Jedi rules against love and marriage. Anakin argues they can love, and follows the Jedi tradition of loopholes.  But he becomes distracted by nightmares of his mother in trouble. He returns to Tatooine.  He discovers that his mother was sold to the Lars family.  However, rather than keep her as a slave she has married the farmer.  She was kidnapped by Sandmen.  Anakin locates the Sandmen village and discovers his dying mother.  In a fit of rage, he slaughters all of the folks in the village.

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As they ready to depart, they get a message from Obi Wan.  Anakin and Amidala head off to Geonosis (taking C-3PO, who was with the Lars family,  with them). When they arrive, they are instructed to wait, but Anakin gets impulsive and they enter a factory making a droid army.  Elsewhere, the Galactic Senate gives approval to the Clone army.

Obi Wan has already been caught, but Anakin and Amidala are fighting their way through the factory, dodging the automated machines building droids. Instead of saving Obi Wan, they end up captured as well.

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After getting caught, the three are brought into an arena to fight to their deaths against three very unique monsters.  In the midst of this battle Amidala gets a totally implausible rip to her uniform…like, comically implausible.  Just as it looks like the Separatists will when, the other Jedi arrive along with the Clone Army.

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There is a big fight in the arena between the separatists and the Jedi and Count Dooku runs off.  Everybody takes chase after he and the retreating droid separatists. Anakin and Obi Wan reach Dooku’s lair.  Dooku manages to incapacitate Kenobi, but Anakin puts up more of a fight.  Dooku manages to sever Anakin’s hand and get the high ground so to speak.  Suddenly, before he can dispatch the two Jedi, Yoda walks in and they have the fight nobody knew they wanted.

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Once Dooku realizes he probably won’t win this fight, he retreats to his ship and escapes to fight another day.  The Clone Wars have begun.  Anakin gets his robot hand and secretly marries Amidala.

The film ends one this note, with a rather weak cliffhanger.  The Empire Strikes back ended on the note of the big reveal.  Here there is no big reveal really. “Luke, I am your father” drives discussion and anticipation for the nextr installment.  Here it is just…”Well, there is one more!”

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So…about the whole romance.  Amidala was about fourteen when she met Anakin.  And generally I would not balk at a five year age difference. But as they are tied together by her time where he was just a cute kid…it seems like the intended romance might have been able to spring more organically had they started out more like a year or two apart (her sixteen and him fifteen or something). Christiensen and and Portman also lack any chemistry to sell the fast moving relationship. The relationship just feels so rushed it is hard to buy it ever happens.  And again, had they been much closer in age in the Phantom Menace, the seeds could have been laid much more organically.

This film is really the first to make a big show about the Jedi rules forbidding marriage and attachments.  Frankly, it is a dumb and terrible rule that calls into question the concept of the Jedi as an organization.  How is not having attachments going to make you a better protector? But then, we have seen that the Jedi are pretty sketchy.

To a certain extent, I don’t see this concept as bad.  The original films gave us only Obi Wan’s portrayal of the Jedi as noble Knights who fought oppression and stood for Justice in the galaxy.  That the prequel films are revealing a far more political organization is not a problem…but how it pulls it off is leaving a lot to be desired.  It is kind of dull, and in spite of their ineptness, it is pretty obvious we are supposed to be rooting for the Jedi.

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) Directed by George Lucas Shown: Hayden Christensen (as Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (as Senator Padmé Amidala), Samuel L. Jackson (as Mace Windu), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi)

The whole subplot with Boba Fett is really pointless.  It is, in fact, one of the most pointless fan service moments of the franchise.  Jango is killed, beheaded by Mace Windu in front of Boba.  We see young Boba holding his father’s helmet to his face.  And, this might have been a powerful image had Boba Fett been a major player who we saw a lot of in the original trilogy.  But he has, like, three lines including a scream before he dies Between Empire and Return of the Jedi.  This gives us no insight, and frankly, undermines part of what made him popular.  He was mysterious.  Things in Star Wars that needed no backstory? C-3PO and Boba Fett.

One thing that stands out is how lazy the world building is. In the original trilogy, things that paralleled our world still felt unique.  When Obi Wan is offered an illicit substance, he refers to it as “Death Sticks”.  I know there have been cigarette brands with ironic names like that…but really? Obi Wan’s friend with the diner? The diner looks just like a fifties diner.  And they have drinks like “Jawa Juice”. It just feels like there was no effort put into this world.

In spite of my complaints, this is a step up from the Phantom Menace.  We get some cool lightsaber duels, for one. Seeing Yoda in action turns out to be surprisingly fun.

Lastly, remember how I said Amidala gets an implausible rip in her outfit?  A cat monster things takes a swipe at here…this is the result:

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Mythical Voyagers (Moana, 2016)

moana_posterDisney’s Moana is the second time they have visited Polynesian.  The first was the fun Lilo and Stitch. This time around, Moana goes for mythical adventure.

Moana is a young woman, destined to be chief of her island, like her father before her.  But part of her longs to go beyond the reef at the entrance to the island’s cove.  She tries to fulfill her duties, and is doing well, until she suggests going beyond the reef, as the fishermen are catching no fish.  The coconuts are spoiling.

The reason is, because long ago, the Demi-God Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti…and this resulted in a malevolent force spreading across the sea.  Moana’s people have not left the island for fears of what lies beyond the reef, but Moana finds no choice when the sea gives her the Heart of Te Fiti.  She seeks out Maui to make him right his wrong.  The two are forced to endure each other on the mission.

Mismatched heroes is nothing new, and yet, the personalities of Moana and Maui are quite charming.  This is in spite of the fact that Maui is a tremendously egotistical guy who sees everything he has done as heroic.  Moana is both responsible and adventurous, which is a bit more unique.  Often, it seems brash and impulsive heroes have to learn the lesson of responsibility.  Not Moana.

The fact is, rather than take the easy route of making impediments for Moana some brand of villain?  They opted for making them likeable and relatable.  The one time we see Moana’s father express anger, it is not cruel or abusive.  It is out of personal fear that Moana may be to much like him.  Her parents are loving.  Her grandmother is gentle, wise and goofy.

The writers and Dwayne Johnson are able to imbue Maui with charm even when he is being stubborn and selfish.  You want to see him turn it around.

The animation in Moana is vibrant and beautiful.  It is fluid, like the ocean it crosses.  The concept of Maui’s tattoos being a living part of him that act as a conscience is a terrific idea.  It is also worth noting that the tattoos are hand drawn and animated.  They are seamless with the digital animation.

The songs, by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina are both powerful and engaging fun.  The more Polynesian influenced songs play, they swell and explode with a certain power.  The more pop songs (there is one Bowie-esque songs that is truly enjoyable) make you want to move.

The story is inspiring, built on thoughtful dialog, along with a whole lot of humor.  I have tried to find something not to like.  But you know what?  I cannot.  Moana was pure joy to watch.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green (Green Lantern, 2011)

green-lantern-movie-posterTwo years before the Man of Steel, Warner Brothers had an opportunity to start building their cinematic universe.  In simple ways, they could have started building.  Hints of a bigger universe…start introducing characters who could cross the films.  I have talked about the missed opportunity before.

The film introduces us first to the ancient evil Parallax trapped by the powerful Green Lantern Abin Sur.  When some unfortunate astronauts stumble into his prison, he uses their fear to free himself and pursue Abin Sur.  This results in Sur crash landing on earth and his magic ring seeking a worthy person.  It chooses carefree pilot Hal Jordan.  When he is dragged into space he is trained in the ways of Space Copping by Sinestro, Tomar-Re and Kilowog.  Sinestro is dismissive of Jordan, thinking he is unworthy of being a part of the core.  Tomar-Re and Kilowog are less certain.  Hal returns to earth and tries to patch things up with Carol Ferris, a fellow pilot and daughter of the guy who owns Ferris Industries.  Both are not noticing the changes occurring their friend Hector Hammond, who was infected by Parallax.

There is a final grand battle where Hal Jordan vanquishes Parallax into the sun all by himself.  Note, Sinestro took a squadron of the finest Lanterns with him and they were all destroyed in seconds.  The film also has a voice over from Tomar-Re declaring Hal the best Green Lantern ever!  This is not a particularly good way to end the first film in a franchise.  It clearly was not meant to be the only film in the series based on the end credits scene.

Characters appear that have no place and are used very poorly, such as Amanda Waller, who resembles he namesake not one bit.  Using a universe ending villain in your first story pretty much means you have nowhere left to go.  No other villain is going to feel like such a large threat after that.

Reynolds is rather charming, but ironically, he and Blake Lively have no onscreen chemistry in the film.  The characters are bland, and how Hal uses the ring are not terrible imaginative (He makes a car! A jet plane! A Gatling Gun!).  The effect are decent, but not really memorable.  Maybe I hoped for better from the director of Casino Royal.  But this film missed the mark on many levels and failed to take the opportunity to start building the franchise they wanted.  Which I guess is all the better for Deadpool.

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