Tag Archives: action

The Predator

I’ve been distracted lately.

Like, sometimes I’ll be too busy to post reviews in a timely fashion. But this isn’t that. I went to see The Predator, and I liked it quite a lot. Army Ranger (or some other special forces guy) and a group of military misfits vs., you know, the predator. Right? Lots of in jokes from previous movies (at least, from the original one), a cool autistic kid (which sounds implausible, but yeah, this may be the best use of a child in an action movie), a 90% valuable use of a token female scientist, plus lots of blood and explosions.

To be clear, my standards are not very high. The movie is what it is, but this was a solid example of its type.

My point is this: I liked the movie, but I still just forgot to write a review until I was thinking about watching a movie today. “Wait, I can’t do that until I’m not behind!” I guess I’m just glad I remembered at all?

Popcorn is also a fine example of what it is, ie, empty calories that taste pretty okay in context, but it’s not like you’ll be telling someone in a week or so how great the popcorn you had last week was. Which is maybe what I actually thought about the movie? But I’m sticking with “I’ve been distracted.” Because I have, even if the other explanation is pretty valid too.

Justice League

You may recall that Wonder Woman was a solid movie, and that it gave me the impetus to watch the other DC movies I had skipped in the meantime, which, I mean, they were not abominations upon the face of the earth, but neither did they exactly inspire any more confidence in the DC train than the previews upon the basis of which I had originally decided not to bother.

Still, now that I’ve watched the whole series, might as well watch Justice League, right? And it was fine. Better than anything besides Wonder Woman, and it had some pretty sweet musical cues at key heroic moments, but… well, it’s like this. You know how DC missed the whole point of what Marvel was doing when they decided that one movie was enough of a lead in to their team-up movie?[1] By the same token, they missed the point exponentially moreso when their existential threat to the planet from space was introduced as the plot of an entire movie without ever having mentioned him before.

Plus, I mean, Steppenwolf? That’s a band.

But I still like the Flash, and like I said, it was mostly pretty good. It would just be better if I didn’t have ten years of Marvel to compare against, and if I weren’t snickering every time they mentioned the guy who is here to destroy Earth without also pointing out that he was born to be wild.

[1] And okay, technically that’s not how it went, they made like four movies total before Justice League. But Man of Steel[2] was just another Superman remake when it came out, and I honestly think it’s more coincidence than design that allowed Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad[3] to fall between Dawn of Justice and this one. Which ultimately means I’m shaping the facts to suit my narrative, but I’m not lying when I say it felt this way.
[2] Somehow, I didn’t review Man of Steel. That was an oversight.
[3] Also, let’s be honest, even though Suicide Squad is in the same continuity, it does not build toward anything here. It’s like a spin-off.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

If I think about Ant-Man and the Wasp outside the context of the comics in general and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, it is an anodyne, albeit fun, heist movie sequel, which I have no idea if I would have bothered to watch. But there’s something to be said for a summer popcorn chase movie, and even if there weren’t, I do not think about these things outside their context very often. (Also, most heist / chase movies are not able to use a building[1] as the constantly stolen and restolen object, so that’s pretty cool. Thanks, Pym Particles!)

As a Marvel movie, it’s, yknow, also an anodyne heist movie. Better than Ant-Man, both in how it treated its heroes and its villains[2]. Solidly middle of the pack as a Marvel movie overall, and considering that I like these pretty well as a collective, middle of the pack is good news for me!

Also? Best blanket fort of all time. Including the one in Community.

[1] I’ve just realized that the internal physics of this pair of movies are irretrievably broken.
[2] While I’m not exactly classifying Hank Pym as a villain here, I do appreciate how his jerkish, just barely this side of bad guy, behavior actually ends up having consequences. (Though I could wish fewer of them were to his shrunk out of existence wife.)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first thing I did upon preparing for this review was to look up my review of Jurassic World. Thankfully, it came with correct opinions already firmly in place: the treatment of the female lead was abysmal, the children were badly tacked on, the dinosaurs and action disaster portions were exactly what I wanted them to be. So, it was a flawed film that I can understand would have been far worse to people who were unconcerned by the primary focus.

Therefore, I have pretty good news! The recent new sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has the same strengths and virtually none of the flaws of its predecessor. We pick up with the same two lead characters three years later, deciding what to do as the world learns that Isla Nubar[1]’s volcano is no longer dormant, and all the dinosaurs are about to go extinct, y’know, again. I’m not going to pretend there’s much tension as to their decision, but having established that some people are going to an exploding island to rescue some dinosaurs from oblivion, I’ll leave the plot at that instead of delving into any details of the remaining acts[2].

But so my point is, none of the old flaws. That’s awesome! I’m not claiming it’s a Bechdel ready film (although it honestly might be), but it doesn’t kick feminism in the crotch like last time. The kid is not annoying, and furthermore is actively relevant. (Spoiler: there’s a kid.) A thing I don’t know but wish I did is whether any of the previous sequels captured the same sense of wonder as those original herds of dinosaurs in the very first movie did for teenage me. Like, maybe they did not, but maybe they did and I just forgot because it was not the first time anymore? Which means maybe I’ll forget this too, but I had some sense of wonder, at least by proxy, when the paleo-veterinarian encountered her first dinosaur in the flesh. (Second spoiler: there’s a paleo-veterinarian.[3])

Which is, ultimately, the other really good thing about this movie besides that it fixed its progenitor’s flaws: Fallen Kingdom has an emotional core, around the literal fact of dinosaurs dying and dying out. Not only did I care about some of the characters, I absolutely cared about the dinosaurs. (Not just the one with a name.) I’m sad if this movie isn’t doing well, because it deserves to be.

Even if Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on. (Third spoiler: Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on.)

[1] the island off Costa Rica where the park(s) used to be, before things(es) went wrong
[2] …which is more than I can say for the trailers. I really hate movie trailers.
[3] I’m not thinking very hard about how you get that doctorate / degree sans practical application training. I’m also judging you if you are thinking about it very hard.

Deadpool 2

So, cool story, I saw a Deadpool double feature on Thursday. Which was only five six days ago, which means I guess I’m doing better than usual? Sigh.

Anyway, I still like the first movie. I did not laugh as hard, because familiarity, but I still laughed. Later, they showed Deadpool 2, which I also liked. The short version is, it’s the same movie again. Yes, the plot is different, but it’s still Ryan Reynolds mugging for the audience and choosing ridiculous, hyperviolent solutions to problems whenever possible[1] while Colossus looks on disapprovingly.

Did I like it unreservedly? Nah, it had some problems.[2] But even though the final act was too busy and muddled[3], there was a good story in there with at least one good character arc, and also I am really very much a fan of one of the new characters. So, muddled final act, problematic plot devices and all, I still dig this movie, and I’m pretty sure I look forward to a third one. But the first one is damn near perfect, and this was very much not. Oh well! It’s still funny.

[1] Can he grow and learn? I mean, maybe. Maybe not though.
[2] Another thing I hate about taking so long to review movies, aside from the guilt factor, is that societal reaction / consensus creeps into my opinions by now, and I don’t like it one bit.
[3] The fan service got in the way of the main plot, very distractingly. (And I say this as someone who was extremely pleased by the fan service!)

Avengers: Infinity War

Man, I screwed the pooch. It’s been what, two weeks since I saw Infinity War? In the meantime, it has been discussed to death, both with and without spoilers. Which is sad because it means probably that I can say nothing new, and anyway the only novel thing I had to say in the first place is kind of a spoiler.

But, here we go nonetheless, since I pathologically can’t just not review the things, I can only feel guilty about not reviewing them.

They have been calling this new Avengers movie the most ambitious crossover in history, ten years and eighteen movies deep. That’s not entirely right, because the first few movies leading up to the first Avengers did not foretell this. Not really. But as far as ambition goes, I cannot disagree. For the number of characters involved, none of them was ignored or given short shrift. (Not wholly true, as some characters were literally ignored by not being in the movie, but if they were in the movie, I mean.)  And the pacing was great. In a world of modern action cinema where scenes cut every minute or two, this was divided into 10+ minute chapters focusing on the characters involved from start to resolution of a scenario (or at worst, start to nadir, with the next scene fully exploring resolution). It’s hard to remember that movies[1] used to work this way, instead of snippets of individual strands that only weave together at climax.

So, A++ for ambition and execution. I also liked the plot and most of the character beats, although I understand why some people did not. Basically, my point is: if you have invested in eighteen movies and a handful of optional TV series leading toward this movie, you should check it out. They stuck the landing.

Spoiler-esque observation as first comment.

[1] Again, action / genre movies. I understand that your snows falling on your cedars always kept to that path.

Tomb Raider

The single biggest problem with Tomb Raider as a movie is that it’s based on a video game. I mean, it’s based on the truly outstanding reboot of the original series, and that helps a lot. But it’s a really solid modern take on the 1930s pulp adventures serials, in much the same way that Raiders of the Lost Ark was a really solid modern take on those same serials when it came out in 1981, but this is nearly two generations later and so the modernism is taken up a few notches, is all. (Also, it’s not set in the 1930s, which, good call.) And to the extent that it was rushed and messy, that extent is because it was following the broad script of a game that you play for twenty plus hours, and yet was given only two hours to tell that story.

The story is this: Lara Croft is a wealthy young heiress to a fortune about which she cares nothing; her only interest is in finding her missing father, who she refuses to accept is dead even though his estate is about to dry up from underneath her since nobody is in charge of it due to his years’ long absence. And she goes looking for him, but it’s one of those “goes looking for” kinds of stories where the person you really find is yourself. Will Lara Croft, rebellious twenty-something who spends her time kickboxing and racing bicycles become Lara Croft, globe-trotting, er, tomb raider? I mean, duh, but not in this movie. This movie is how she finds out those things about herself, while in the midst of drive-in movie mayhem. I wish I’d realized soon enough to keep up the drive-in totals, Joe Bob style, but I can assure you that there is a body count, faces melt, dicks get punched, the whole shebang.

But since she starts off as a novice and ends up far from that space, two hours is maybe not enough time to really buy into her ability to survive on her own, take down an army of mercenaries, and solve archaeological and literal puzzles along the way. To be fair, that’s not entirely what the movie is about the way the game was, but it’s a little close for comfort. My prediction is that the sequel I’m hoping for will do better, since it won’t have to spend any time establishing her credentials, and since it maybe won’t be based on a different game (that I have yet to play, but maybe this year?).

My point is, there’s a great series here, and if they realize it, it will be better than the pretty good movie I watched last night.

Black Panther

It took me until Monday night to see Black Panther, which was in a way annoying but in another way heartening. Tickets all Sunday afternoon and evening were sold out down to the front couple of rows, you see. This pleases me, both for the studio and the character. And not having seen it on Thursday night, it’s not like my review was going to factor into much of anything at all, so.

The thing is, T’Challa is a compelling character and Wakanda is a compelling nation. There is a book that I have not read called Guns, Germs, and Steel that lays out an (as I understand it) compelling case for the idea that European dominance of the colonial and modern world has a lot more to do with geography and resources than with any innate superiority of its peoples. Enter Wakanda, a small African nation whose technology is far ahead of any part of the world not personally owned by Tony Stark, because that happens to be where a huge chunk of vibranium[1] landed lo these thousands or millions of years ago, and the Wakandans happened to get there first. And you can say that this is so much wish fulfillment. Probably that’s true? But it’s awfully comfortable saying that if you happen to be the person whose wish was fulfilled by reality instead of the person whose wish was not.

And to a large extent, that’s where my review ends, because as cool as the Black Panther is, and as fun as it was to see him rushing around the world fighting some of his biggest name enemies from the comics, and as well realized as his fellow Wakandans each were, and as socially and historically relevant as Killmonger’s origin story is, the real star of this movie was Wakanda. And they did that country up right, every bit as well as Asgard or Ego have been presented in previous MCU flicks.

[1] It’s what Captain America’s shield is made out of. More to the point, it’s virtually indestructible and has a number of rather intriguing properties in addition to this that make it a boon to scientific and military advancements over time. It’s, y’know, handwavium.

Bright

When I was in LA in mid-December, I saw posters everywhere for a Netflix movie called Bright, starring Will Smith. It was to be released in like a week, but I had never heard of it before that weekend. No idea why, really. I mean, I suppose the fact that 90% of LA billboards are advertising for the screen instead of like 20% here in Dallas could account for part of the reason?

Anyway, it looked interesting. See, it’s the modern world as we know it, except orcs are the stand-in for the downtrodden classes, elves are the stand-in for the wealthy and powerful classes who don’t want to be bothered with having to acknowledge that there even is an underclass who got a raw deal, and humans are the stand-in for, y’know, whoever fits in between the two extremes I just detailed. Oh, also, there was a Dark Lord a long time ago, and people hate orcs because they were on his side then. Institutionalized racism at its finest, folks!

And, frankly, that’s the problem with the movie in a nutshell. Someone decided that, oh, cool, we can highlight the massive race and class problems in America by using fantasy race stand-ins! …and then they didn’t really do anything else with the idea except point at it over and over again. For example: at one point, cop Will Smith and his orc partner (who is the first ever orc policeman, and if you guessed that both every orc and every cop hates him, then you already see my point here) are interviewing some hispanic folks in a house, and they’re speaking Spanish, which Will Smith knows and the orc does not. But it’s okay, because Will Smith doesn’t speak orcish when they’re in the orc gang hideout, and, oh, wait, why do elves speak elvish and orcs speak orcish, but humans have all the same languages we’re already used to since it’s regular earth? It’s possible this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it’s just so damned shoddy!

Anyway, yeah. Buddy cop movie with high tension between the nominal buddies, and there’s a lot of magic floating around via all-powerful wands that most people can’t touch without just exploding to death, and of the people who can, mostly they’re only elves, but also the world is so shitty that people would go ahead and grab a wand anyway if they were just laying around because hey, if you don’t explode, cosmic power is yours for the wishing. And I’m pretty okay with that as a setting, but man, the clumsily (and, worse) lazily-handled race stuff ruins the whole thing for me.

But I hear it did well and there’s a sequel, so maybe they can focus on Dark Lords and magic next time, or at least have someone set them straight on how to not build ridiculous caricatures that we’ve all seen before. (I should say: the opening credits of the movie highlight the tensions and problems of both their world and ours extremely well, so much better than the plot or dialogue ever came close to.)

Minty: The Assassin

While at my folks’ for the weekend, I ended up diving into the free streaming service Dish Network has to offer, in search of the Maze Runner movies. Unsuccessfully, as it happened, but while plumbing the depths of the “action movies from 2010s” section (since they don’t seem to have a search function), I stumbled across Minty: The Assassin, which probably was a mistake.

Minty (and the other characters) are comic book characters who exist in real life in the world that writes comics about them. This is not really a new idea; it pretty much lines up exactly with how Marvel has always run its comics division, for example. Anyway, after a series of really inexplicable vignettes in which we are introduced to Minty (her power is like Popeye, except she eats chocolate), her vampire potential girlfriend, and her mentor Big Boss, the meat of the movie begins when Big Boss is kidnapped by a psychic surgeon and used as bait to lure Minty to his tower. She fights her way up the tower past various colorful level bosses, losing bits of clothing as she goes, only to discover (okay, spoiler alert I guess, but seriously, don’t watch this) that it was all a set-up. The point of the kidnapping was to get her naked to the top of the tower, because Dr. Brain Bender is actually a creepazoid fan of her comic, and he wanted to see her with her clothes off.

Leaving aside the inherent contradiction of stripping her down in pursuit of an anti-sexism plot, the movie nevertheless had the germ of a good idea there. He’s clearly a bad guy, and he’s clearly a crazy loser, and you can at least imagine someone taking the message to heart. ….except that the final 15 minutes is exploitative in the extreme, of the characters and the audience alike. The fact that the bad guy gets assassined in the end really doesn’t make up for how sleazy the path to his death was.

Avoid.