Thoughts: If you have yet to see Avengers: Endgame, I’m going to drop a spoiler so you may want to just watch the new trailer for Black Widow after reading my thoughts in a nutshell: this looks fun, it’s about time, what took so long?
If you’re still with me, you’re aware that Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit) sacrificed herself for the lives of her friends in Avengers: Endgame and could be wondering why she’s starring in her own movie. Well, this long overdue movie focusing on her popular character is taken from an earlier adventure during less dire circumstances. Fans have been wanting this movie for a while and it’s too bad we had to wait until Natasha was snuffed out to get a stand-alone film but perhaps the wait could be worth it. Boasting fun names like Rachel Weisz (The Favourite), David Harbour (Hellboy), and rising star Florence Pugh (Midsommar), I’m hoping this is more than a tired superhero one-off.
Synopsis: When a private eye goes missing, his son is prompted to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Pokémon and Harry’s former partner: Detective Pikachu.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ken Watanabe, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora
Director: Rob Letterman
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: By the time Pokémon made its debut in 1995, I had graduated from being the target audience for the global franchise. Starting as video games, as so many million-dollar empires do, before expanding into books, tv shows, comics, toys, etc. the brand was revitalized in 2016 when Pokémon Go became all the rage. Finally tapping into a more adult base, this scavenger hunt game was a sensation and the subject of many issues with players traversing onto private property or into oncoming traffic to “capture” their Pokémon. During the summer of 2016, you were either playing Pokémon Go or rolling your eyes at those who were.
If there was one area left for the Pokémon to conquer, it was live-action film. Over 20 animated films were released over the past two decades but when Pokémon Go reignited interest in this country, studios looking to capitalize on the craze sought out the rights to bring the characters to new life on the big screen. Using the popular 2016 game Detective Pikachu as inspiration, four screenwriters collaborated on PokémonDetective Pikachu and Warner Brothers locked down an A-list star to provide the voice for it’s title character. Now…would the audiences come out and play?
The relationships between humans and Pokémon have evolved at the start of PokémonDetective Pikachu. While they still “choose” their own Pokémon who become their semi-sidekicks, humans are no longer training them to do battle against others. This is all thanks to the vision of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, About Time), the creator of Rhyme City where everyone co-exists in harmony. In the prologue, an experimental laboratory comes under attack and a dangerous next-gen Pokémon is released, causing mayhem and what looks like a deadly car crash. Jumping outside of Rhyme City, we catch Tim (Justice Smith, Paper Towns) and his friend Jack (Karan Soni, Safety Not Guaranteed) trying to locate a Pokémon for Tim. Once interested in being a trainer, now Tim has his eyes set on climbing the corporate ladder for the insurance company he works for. Everything changes with the news his private detective father has died in Rhyme City, and when Tim starts to dig into the secrets his father was trying to expose it brings him face to face with his father’s Pokémon, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Life).
Usually, only the human that choses the Pokémon can understand what their little friend is saying but somehow Tim hears Pikachu loud and clear. Pikachu has lost his memory, only being able to piece together that he was also in the crash with Tim’s father. Just as invested in finding the evil Pokémon and who might be behind their actions, Pikachu teams up with Tim and they begin to sleuth around the city for answers. Along the way they encounter an eager junior reporter (Kathryn Newton, Ben is Back), a gruff police detective (Ken Watanabe, Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a plethora of wacky Pokémon. In one particularly notable bit, Pikachu and Tim have a run-in with Mr. Mime, an excellent but mischievous pantomime with an act that was a highlight of the film.
Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) knows how to work with blending live action and the computer animated Pokémon creations and most of the visual effects are impressive. It’s not as seamless as it could be, though, and that gives the film a second-tier feeling that doesn’t befit a release from a first-rate studio. The screenplay is fairly basic and hinges on a twist that becomes rather obvious within the first thirty minutes. Smith is not that appealing as a leading man (already proven by audiences actively asking for him to be eaten in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and the charismatic Reynolds is relegated to being merely a voice which only gets at half of what makes him so engaging. Yet, the film bounces along, working almost in spite of itself with a handful of nice gags and chuckle humor that was appealing. It’s not the raucous comedy of Long Shot but it doesn’t elicit deadly silence either. For what it’s worth, my audience absolutely roared with laughter at obvious insider Pokémon references that went right over my head. One thing is clear, the film wants you to invest in the Pokémon brand – it’s almost a feature length commercial for their line-up of characters which will equate to mass dollars being spent on products.
I can’t honestly tell you what a fan of Pokémon will think about PokémonDetective Pikachu but as an uninitiated viewer I found the film to be sporadically funny, rarely boring, but almost instantly forgettable. The kind of ho-hum pre-summer flick that arrives before the bigger players in the hope of cashing in quickly before vanishing from screens in time to be a back-to-school gift on BluRay. There’s nothing particularly bad to report but it’s all so pedestrian and uninspired you’d think a little more effort would be put in to mask the blatant consumerism on display.
Synopsis: Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: This should be a time of full-scale rejoicing. I mean, it only took 11 years and 21 films but Marvel Studios finally is releasing a superhero movie with a female lead. Though it may be trailing Warner Brothers’s epic Wonder Woman by a full two years, Captain Marvel is surely a welcome addition to the Marvel stable of action heroes and the studio seemed to be thoughtful in bringing the character to the big screen. Casting an Oscar winning actress as the titular character and signing on a directing team known for their independent dramas seemed like unexpected choices for an action movie of this size and unfortunately the payoff isn’t entirely worth the risk.
We’re so deep into this saga that it’s almost become a requirement for audiences to have seen, or have qualified knowledge, of previous films in order to make sense out of the action and developments that take place throughout whatever hero’s adventure we’re watching. That’s even true in this first appearance of Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995, long before the events of the movies that preceded it. Make sure to bone up on your Avengers knowledge (namely watch The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy) because it will go a long way in getting you up to speed.
Starforce warrior Vers (Brie Larson, The Gambler) is on a mission with her team on a desolate planet when she is captured by a band of Skrulls led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour) and taken back to their ship. Staging a daring escape, she crash lands on Earth where she meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Glass, de-aged quite nicely) and teams up with him to locate a power source integral to her own origin story…and future Avenger movies. Along the way Vers learns why she’s plagued with nightmares of a fallen comrade (Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and memories of a life before her time with Starforce. The secrets she discovers help shape the hero she’ll become and reframe what she’s actually defending.
I’ll be honest and say that I couldn’t resist closing my eyes for a small section of the movie around the forty-five minute mark. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck can’t quite keep up a solid pace and the film drags early on, even when we should be actively engaged with Vers uncovering more of her history. Things start to pick up once we meet her old Air Force buddy (Lashana Lynch) who fills in some memory gaps and helps to propel us forward into the final act. It’s when her old Starforce buddies, led by Jude Law (Side Effects), Djimon Hounsou (Serenity), and Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) show up that the film becomes unstoppable as Vers realizes the full force of her power (a moment that gave me goosebumps) and uses it against an enemy she never considered.
Working with a script from four credited screenwriters (Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan), Captain Marvel is a bit of an odd duck because it’s an origin story for several key elements that make up the Avengers universe. There’s the obvious first steps for Vers discovering she’s really Carol Danvers, a pilot with the U.S. Air Force presumed dead after her plane went down years earlier. Then you have the beginnings of Nick Fury’s pet S.H.I.E.L.D. project as well as grudges introduced that get resolved in later installments. It’s a lot to juggle and it’s not a totally satisfying balance of storylines.
It doesn’t much help that Larson walks through the movie strangely blank-faced, rarely changing expression from one emotion to the next. She’s definitely putting the acting effort into the movie but one wishes she’d loosen up a bit and I also wonder if she’d ever seen an Avengers movie prior to signing on. Most of the films are sold with tongue planted firmly in cheek but Larson seems averse to going along with any kind of joke. She does create a pleasant chemistry with Jackson’s Fury…you can see why he’d call on her when the going gets tough in Avengers: Infinity War. The supporting cast is what helps to keep the movie afloat, namely Mendelsohn and Lynch as two key elements to Danvers coming into her own and embracing her superpowers.
Starting off slow but gradually building to an exciting finale, right now I feel like Captain Marvel falls squarely in the middle of the Marvel canon. That being said, I’m willing to wait it out and see if time is kinder to the film over the next few years as the studio wraps up some loose ends and decides what’s next in their plans for the Avengers.
Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke
Director: Damien Chazelle
Running Length: 141 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: There’s nothing I love more than a movie about space. I like seeing monsters in space, I cheer for Muppets in Space, I love space adventures, and I really enjoy movies about the space program and how we made it into orbit. So you can imagine that First Man, focused on the life of Neil Armstrong, seemed like a slam dunk winner to me when it was first announced. Adding to that confidence was Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) so my interest was definitely piqued. Then something really strange happened…I saw the movie.
Little doubt remains that Chazelle is an accomplished filmmaker and that Gosling is one of the best actors working today but their reunion after La La Land is a chilly film that I just could not connect with. I know many supporters of the film have said that Armstrong himself was a hard nut to crack, legendary in his aloofness, and Gosling was just paying service to the man he was playing but the disconnect goes beyond that. I found it hard to find anything warm in the movie, not even Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) overselling her much ballyhooed role as Armstrong’s wife. This is the third Foy film I’ve seen in 2018 where she’s struggled with maintaining an American accent throughout and I’m wondering if anyone is listening to her in post production.
Where the film finds some modicum of success is chronicling the dangerous space program that Armstrong and his compatriots participated in in the race to beat the Russians to the moon. These men put their faith in new technology and materials that were unproven and were pioneers in our exploration of areas outside our atmosphere. With people dying in the process you do have to ask yourself if it was worth it and by the time Armstrong lands on the moon there is a sense of accomplishment you feel just as much as they do. Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer needed to find more of these moments to give their film a little more life.
Review: If I’m being honest (and c’mon, we’re close enough friends that I’ll always tell the truth) I’ll admit that at first I just didn’t know what to make of Guardians of the Galaxy. After several years of recognizable Marvel comic book properties making their way to the big screen (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers) I wasn’t certain where this new franchise film would fit in. Not being well acquainted with the source material, I couldn’t quite warm to the first jokey preview that set fan tongues a waggin’ but had me scratchin’ my noggin. And what was up with the raccoon and talking tree?
So I find myself hunkering down for a screening of Marvel’s latest attempt at superhero domination a little grumbly and prepared for my worst fears onscreen: an overblown yuk fest of an actioner with copious one-liners and inter-galactic battle sequences that pummel you with lots of noise and digital effects. Who knew that’s exactly what this summer needed?
If the previous Marvel superhero films equate to a stretch limo with your cool aunts and uncles, then Guardians of the Galaxy is the party bus transporting your crazy cousins. I ask you…which ride would you rather take?
Starting with an emotional Earth-bound prologue that segues into a silly credits sequence showcasing the first of several 80s musical hits, Guardians of the Galaxy hits its stride early on and never lets up as audiences are taking to various points throughout the solar system. When overgrown kid/space pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, now primed for A-List stardom) steals a mysterious orb that looks like the Omegahedron from 1984’s Supergirl, he gets into all kinds of hot water from blue hued baddie Ronan (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) that wants to use its powers to do some planetary damage. Additionally, Quill has a bounty put on his head from another Smurf colored character (Michael Rooker) that sent him to retrieve the orb in the first place.
Bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines) and deciduous sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel, Riddick, in possibly his best performance…heard not seen) aren’t the only ones after Quill. Sent by Ronan to fetch the orb, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace, trading her Avatar blue for wicked green) may have plans of her own for the strange object. It all turns into your standard case of multiple people wanting to possess the orb for numerous purposes. From prison breaks to narrow escapes, the movie has a breathless pace but never feels rushed or out of balance. It’s a full meal of a film that blessedly doesn’t wind up feeling like a franchise jumping off point (which of course it is).
Director and co-screenwriter James Gunn packs a lot into his film and there’s a welcome point of view sorely lacking in films made from comic book tales. He backs up strong characterization with an assembled design team that should get ready for Oscar nominations in visual effects, make-up, and costume design. From the mechanizations of the evil Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) to the body art of logic driven He-Man-esque Drax (Dave Bautista, who maybe would have been a better choice for Hercules), there’s a follow-through and attention to detail that acts as the sprinkles on top of Gunn’s visual sundae of a film.
Did I mention it’s incredibly funny as well? I was worried that the laughs would trump logic but from Gunn’s clever music selection and his willingness to capitalize on Pratt’s comedic gifts, there’s the sense that everyone is on the joke and relishing their chance to participate. Gunn doesn’t let the humor rule the picture but instead picks wise moments to break up some of the overly nerdy bits.
In a summer of ups and downs, Guardians of the Galaxy emerges as the most satisfying big studio film I’ve seen all year (my favorite films of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, don’t count seeing as they’re independent endeavors) and goes a long way in saving the Summer of 2014 from being remembered as three months of mediocre-to-terrible offerings like A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended, Jersey Boys, and the cinematic Ebola virus called Tammy. It’s a mammoth sized two hour superlative treat – the one film of the summer worth seeing twice.