Tag Archives: action

Kong: Skull Island

I feel bad about this, insofar as it implies things that are not true. See, I saw the new Kong movie like 10 days ago, on opening weekend. And yet, no review! The implication, of course, is that I didn’t care for it, when the implausible truth is that I just completely forgot to write anything. (I mean, I remembered once or twice while being busy with other things, but basically not at all until I finished the book I’ve been for some reason reading, and then remembered, wait… uh-oh.) So now here I am, both late to the party and simultaneously devoid of credibility.

Through such predicaments I forge ahead! Here’s the deal with this movie. It’s a monster movie, and those are always, at heart, as dumb or as cool as you think monster movies are. Of course there’s no uncharted island in the Pacific populated by humans co-existing with giant prehistoric beasts. Of course there wasn’t in the 1970s when this is set, either, even though it’s mildly more plausible from a “we haven’t charted every square meter of the world yet” angle. And either you’re the kind of person who nods at what I’ve just said and goes on with your day, or you’re the kind of person who says, I know there isn’t such an island. But wouldn’t it be cool if…? On top of that, it’s a Kong movie, which means that an oversized ape is going to fight oversized non-ape monsters and helicopters, and some people are going to respect him while others want to use him, and he’s going to have a soft spot for diminutive blondes. All of these things are inevitable, and you’re either cool with them or you’re not.

My point is this: if you are cool with those tropes and inevitabilities, this is a spectacularly executed example of the genre. Samuel L. Jackson, in one scene, portrays Captain Ahab as well as I believe he has ever been or will ever be portrayed, and John C. Reilly’s character would be enough to carry a lesser movie by himself. (The leads are pretty good too? But with less to work with script-wise, since they are busy being leads.) Plus sexy special effects, an Apocalypse Now visual sensibility without getting bogged down in being anything like Apocalypse Now as a story, and a post-credits scene that has me salivating for this movie to make back enough on its investment.

Logan

So, another X-Men continuity movie[1]. Logan is set in 2029, which is somehow only 12 years from now. I think there are maybe two or three things I can say about this movie, without getting into territory I’d rather avoid. I mean, it’s basically impossible to review anything without spoilers[2], so I always try to limit myself to what you’d know within 5 minutes (or 1-2 chapters) anyway, but sometimes it’s more than that, and this is one of those times.

The first thing is, this is a movie that doesn’t fuck around. Wolverine has always killed people, which is unusual enough for a comic book setting, but he’s never killed people the way he would kill people, you know what I mean? Here, he definitely does. Which is useful as a calibration tool for the rest of the movie, is my point. The second thing, I’ve already said in one of the footnotes anyway, so if you are trying to avoid spoilers more than I am (which maybe you should!), you can miss that easily. The third thing is that the movie is about something. I think it’s been a while since the theme of a film has shone strongly enough for me to care about mentioning it. (Or maybe they’re always so obvious as to not be worth mentioning?)

Anyway, this is a movie about responsibility. It is the lens through which nearly every character views things. Like, I don’t know if everyone is right about what responsibility has or has not accrued to them, nor whether everyone is right about how they do or do not discharge that responsibility. But it permeates every decision, and it’s a strong theme for a strong movie. Which reminds me of a fourth thing I can definitely say, which is that the three lead roles are acted exceptionally well. Nobody will look at this movie when the 2017 retrospective awards season comes along, but I think maybe they will have made a mistake, when they do not.

[1] As opposed to the rest of Marvel continuity, since the Disney people made a deal with the Sony people to share Spider-Man, so now there are only two such continuities extant.
[2] I picked the poster that most reminded me of The Last of Us, because the movie put me in mind of that. Which is a spoiler if you’ve played that game or know of it, but explaining that the correlation is by no means perfect, or even necessarily strong, would itself be a spoiler. This is hard, is all I’m saying.

John Wick: Chapter 2

I don’t remember thinking John Wick was going to be amazing. It was just an action movie that looked pretty cool, y’know? But then I saw it, and the purity of motive and clarity of purpose have stuck with me ever since. So, when they told there was going to be a sequel? Damn right I’m gonna see it!

Which I have, and apparently on opening weekend to judge by the crowds. So, okay, cool. This means they will make back their budget and do chapter 3, which is fine, because I want to see that too. Still, that’s not what I’m here to talk about, so let’s get to it.

The thing about Chapter 2 is… all actions have consequences. Since this is a movie about the consequences of the original, of course the purity has dried up. See, there’s this guy who helped Wick get out of the game, before the events of the first movie. And now that he’s apparently back in, said guy decides to call in the favor. The thing about an organized criminal underworld, with its declared neutral spaces and its own economy and its codified rules about favors owed, is you know whatever the favor is? It’s not going to be pure. It’s going to be complicated and messy, and that mess is going to get on you. Which I like to think is why Wick retired in the first place. He finally found a chance for thing to be clean and orderly, and he took it.

Not anymore, is my point. This is not to say I didn’t like it. It was stylized and hilarious in the same ways the first one was[1], and I care enough about what happens to John Wick to look very much forward to another sequel. (And I have some good ideas about how that sequel will go, let me tell you.) I just cannot say that I liked it as well as the first one; that, I would recommend to anyone who is okay with the genre. This, I would recommend to people who really liked the first one, but would not bother to talk about it otherwise. Y’know?

[1] Only, seeing it in a full theater made me realize that mostly people do not think these movies are as funny as they are. I wonder which of us is wrong.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

I’ve reviewed, let’s see, four of these movies before. All of them except the first one, which predates my presence here by a couple years. And I’ve mostly liked all of them! (At least, as far as I can remember. I didn’t actually check any of the reviews, but that time when I rewatched the whole series in advance of the most recent movie but this one is pretty fresh in my mind too. So, I liked them is what we’re saying. If you have time to prove me wrong, feel free!)

The nominally final chapter, though? Like, the bits and pieces of new world building were cool, and I don’t want to give them up. But the plot was so damn linear. Alice gets in a fight, she gets a mission. She gets in another fight, she moves toward her mission. She gets in another fight, she gets a little closer to her mission. And so on. None of them felt this bland before!

I’m sure I’ll give it another chance when it’s time to marathon the whole series, but until then, I’m pretty disappointed in a mediocre capper on such an otherwise reliable sequence. Cool graphic design on the poster though, right?

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed was a game with an incredible premise. Using an sfnal device called The Animus, you could connect yourself to display monitors and relive the genetic memories of your ancestors, with an audience of observers along for the ride. This was a tool to tell the story of a war down through the ages between the Knights Templar (on the side of order, thoroughly lawful evil) and the Assassins (on the side of freedom, thoroughly chaotic neutral) to determine the fate of humankind. See, there’s this differently sfnal device called the Apple of Eden which nobody seems to exactly know how it works or what it does, but which everyone agrees will allow their side to win once and for all.

It was, unfortunately, an incredibly flawed game in execution, but both the basic premise and the underlying modern and historical parallel stories that premise enabled were not among the problems the game faced. In the meantime, that series has blossomed into some dozen or so games now, the first third of which I’ve played.

Enter last month, in which a movie based on that series was released. Which makes sense! You have a pre-built plot that contains lots of lavish historical sets and an interesting conflict, not to mention all kinds of cool parkour and medieval weapons combat. What’s not to like? Only… I mean, it wasn’t bad. Those things I said about how rich the premise and conflict are, they are true and cannot just be erased unless you made a movie that was actually unrelated to anything the games had done. And they did not, this is definitely an Assassin’s Creed movie.

At the same time, the plot fell apart to such a drastic degree in the final act that I don’t actually know what character decisions were made or how I should feel about them, even though up until then I had liked the two main characters (the Assassin descendant and the Templar scientist) and their developed relationship. Plus, the lush historical settings? Were instead consistently crowded with so much dust and smoke that you couldn’t really sit back and enjoy them. I did not expect anything so immersive as a 60 hour game can provide, but, talk about missing the point. Especially since the historical setting and timeline (1490s Spain) are both unaddressed by the games.

I guess what I expect is that any potential sequel will fix all of the niggling flaws and turn into something brilliant, just like the second game did. The parallels are just too strong to ignore!

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

First completed video game in ages! Moving and getting married are hard, distracting work. Anyway, knowledge of this game’s release was exciting, because I’ve played the rest of the series in part as a bonding experience with my father. Then it took long enough post-release for me to get him to my house[1] that I probably should not have pre-ordered after all? Whatever, the price is only like $20 less even now.

Last Nathan Drake game, I said the series needed some kind of plot shake-up to avoid the trap of “these are all the same game”. Because, I mean, they are. You climb around on walls, you shoot people who are guaranteed to shoot at you if you don’t (and probably even if you do), and you seek a really big treasure of some kind. It is known.

My point is this: A Thief’s End provided the shake-up I wanted. Good job, game designers of the previous future / current past! See, it starts with a flashback to an unguessed at childhood, then proceeds through some things that I would definitely consider spoilers, resulting in yet another treasure hurt, of course, but in a way that pre-empts at least some amount of the currently in vogue backlash against how Nathan Drake and so many other video game avatars are “murder hobos”, willing to slaughter dozens or hundreds of foes standing in the way of said treasure. And then the epilogue provides a whole new kind of shake-up, to boot!

The title indicates that this is the last game in the series. If it is, I think it went out on a really good note. If it isn’t, I’ll get the next one, because how could I not? I definitely liked it, which is not a shock considering my previous reviews on the series. But most of all, I appreciated the new depth to, well, every part of the game.

Huh. No. That’s not true. The depth of the fighting and climbing is basically identical. But there were some new and improved aspects of how to move around the map and solve the puzzles, and mostly I meant the plot. Which you probably already knew. Jerk.

[1] I have a PS4, he does not. His possession of a PS3 is why the other series entries were played at the Ranch, you see.

Doctor Strange

mv5bnjgwnzaznjk1nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzq2nji1ote-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_I know that Doctor Strange occasionally crosses over with other characters in the Marvel universe. I mean, maybe someday he’ll be at the heart of a big crossover event, but as of 15 years of Ultimate comics and 20 years of mainstream comics, he has only ever been at the fringes. And this is a thing that makes a lot of sense! Except for the artifact of history that Stan Lee decided to build a stable of shared characters in the early 1960s to compete with what DC had been doing, there’s no way anyone would say Strange fits into Marvel. Different genre than anything else they publish, and an entirely different style to boot. The only thing that comes close is Thor, and that’s only because they both share a love of stilted declamations.

Do I have a point, here? Maybe. See, as promised in a blink and you missed it scene in The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios has dropped a Doctor Strange film onto an unsuspecting[1] public. And sure enough, there is no apparent connection between it and any other movie they’ve made, at first glance[2]. But this is fine, because unlike some Netflix series I could name, Avengers Tower is prominent in the midtown skyline. Even better, both the characters with names and dialogue and the pedestrians in the background are becoming more comfortable with the bizarre turns of events that occur with increasing regularity in their world, just as befits a maturing familiarity with superheroes. I would not have thought to be so appreciative of a touch like that, but I don’t think I would have thought to expect such a touch in advance, and yet here we are. Normalcy. I dig it.

Anyway, all that’s about the world and setting. The actual movie, though? See, Stephen Strange is the best neurosurgeon in the world, but after a series of unfortunate events related (mostly) to his personality, he finds himself seeking alternative answers about his place in the world. It took Stan Lee and Steve Ditko maybe three pages to establish all of this before turning Strange from a doctor into a sorcerer, and it took the movie a good 45 minutes. Now, don’t get me wrong, Lee has never written under the auspices of “show, don’t tell”. Man loves to tell approximately as much (and as floridly) as PT Barnum did. But at the same time, 45 minutes is a lot of celluloid to squeeze out of three pages. Maybe there is some kind of middle ground? Like, I would never say they should have skipped the origin story entirely, because who has heard of Doctor Strange?

The good news is, that’s the only bad thing I have to say about the movie. It is a feast for the eyes, and moreso in 3D (unless that kind of thing makes you ill), and if the plot is a little bit bog-standard good v evil for modern Marvel, to be fair fantasy and spellcraft kind of lends itself to that. And even so, it’s far more nuanced than you might think from what I’ve said. Not-apparently-a-Baron Mordo in particular is fully realized in a way that never would have been predictable based on his turn in that same initial Lee/Ditko comic I mentioned before.

Tl;dr go see it, they’re not out of juice yet.

[1] I mean, if you discount years of announcements and months of previews. Look, nobody asked you.
[2] At second glance, this is completely untrue, but only because the writers made an effort to relevance that I cannot decide if I appreciate or oppose. That is in full on spoiler territory, however, so I shall say no more.

Star Trek Beyond

MV5BMzQ4Njk3MTQ1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQyODg5ODE@._V1_SY1000_SX660_AL_First of all, it’s weird that “Star Trek” has turned into an imperative verb in the new movie series. I mean, it is, right? Who is being commanded? I guess probably Kirk. (I reject the idea that the audience is the object.) And that established, Star Trek Beyond what?

Given ample use of spoilers, I could probably wax rhapsodic with theories and themes galore that might or might not fit the bill; but there’s no use in spoilers here. That said, I do have more questions. This one is more from the original series, but I had reason to be reminded of it. Given that the Enterprise‘s five year mission is to expand the borders of known space, why are they so frequently coming across Starbases? My best answer is that it’s not the random exploration we’ve been lead to believe, but instead a boring grid pattern search, such that the Federation is expanding somewhat close behind them at any given moment. Which is a sensible way to do things, but it definitely kills a lot of the cowboy mystique that has grown around Kirk’s era of Starfleet.

Anyway, though: this is definitely a Star Trek movie, and for once does not suffer from JJ Abrams’ fundamental misunderstanding of the size of space. There are other reasons to watch it, but that should probably be enough all by itself? Also, it is way, way, way better than The Search for Spock, even if I belatedly notice at least one parallel to that flick.

X-Men: Apocalypse

MV5BMjQxMjY5MzU1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyNjY0NzE@._V1_SX690_CR0,0,690,999_AL_I saw the new X-Men movie a week or two ago, and I liked it, but what with being busy and behind on internets and seriously really busy what with houses that don’t clean themselves and weddings that don’t plan themselves and jobs and the whole being an adult thing, I’ve maybe lost track of anything I might have said about it.

Apocalypse, as you will learn in the opening moments of the flick, is set in a tenuous 1985 between the recent First Class and Days of Future Past and the original X-Men movie that due to timeline manipulations may not even exist anymore. See, there’s this Egyptian guy who I haven’t gotten to in my readings of the source material[1], and now that he’s awake again, he wants to rule the world as is his wont.

And then, you know, mutanty things happen. It seems like there should be more to say, about themes or some such? Maybe I waited too long, maybe I expect more than is necessary from a perfectly fine X-Men slugfest. Either way, I’m seeing a movie tonight that I will perhaps review more timelily, and this is what you get.

Final thought: Psylocke, another character who I have not gotten to in comics, seemed kind of shoehorned in just for the purposes of costume fan service. Which is kind of lame.

[1] Unless I have? But if this dude is based on the Living Pharaoh, he is much, much cooler in this movie than in the comics he was drawn from.

Captain America: Civil War

MV5BMjI3ODEwMTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg3MDczNzE@._V1__SX1859_SY891_I saw the latest Captain America movie on Friday morning, with the intention of getting a spoiler-free review up quickly. It was going to reflect on the difficulty of setting up a scenario in which the good guys could get into serious fights over matters of policy and morality without turning some portion of themselves into bad guys, and then acknowledge that I felt like it was done quite well, such that I empathized most strongly with the apparent wrong side of the debate in reality while also admitting that of course in context I would pick the apparent right side. Then it was going to slyly approve of the many characters brought into the conflict, the various ways this was done, and how plausible each such character’s position was. Not to mention how great it is to have a movie series with enough depth as to be able to do that without stretching to 4 or 5 hours, because we know these people from more than what was shown on this particular screen today.

Also, I might have praised the venue, with its history of awesome pre-show perks and (although I missed it) a secret menu whereby you order something they used to serve with a previous Cap movie by whispering “Hail Hydra” to your server.

But right after the movie I had to pick up an engagement ring that I had been waiting on for rather a while, and then later in the afternoon my oldest friend (from the age of 12!) died from complications due to cancer, and then on Saturday I was at a renaissance fair getting engaged, and by now everyone who would read this has seen the thing themselves, so I guess I won’t bother to write a review after all.

If I’m wrong, though, it was really pretty good, and you should go ahead and see it.