SAMARITAN (2022) – Sylvester Stallone Kicks Butt as Grizzled Gray Superhero

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Sylvester Stallone as a superhero?

Who’s he playing? Senior Citizen Man?

And with that, we’ll dispense with the “old people” jokes for the rest of this column. I just think it’s funny that in this day and age, between CGI effects in the movies, and the healthy regimens of many actors who like Stallone are aging much better than previous generations, you can tell a story about an older superhero with a 76-year-old actor in the lead role and have it be believable! This is a good thing.

SAMARITAN (2022) opens with young Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) recounting the story of twin brother superheroes Samaritan and Nemesis, who fought to the death twenty years earlier when Nemesis went rogue and tried to kill his good superhero brother Samaritan with a special hammer he forged just for the job. Both men were killed in a massive explosion inside a warehouse, but Sam doesn’t believe Samaritan died. He believes the former superhero is just hiding out somewhere.

And when the garbage man named Joe (Sylvester Stallone) who lives in the apartment across the street from him shows up one day and saves him from some gang member bullies, showing off superior strength and fighting skills, Sam believes he has found his man. He believes Joe is Samaritan.

Meanwhile, local gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) discovers Nemesis’ hammer and mask and decides to use them both as he begins a crime campaign to wreak havoc and cause chaos across the city. Sam is part of this gang, and Cyrus has taken a liking to him, but when things get more dangerous and Sam’s life is endangered, he turns to Joe for help, and he gets it, but not in the way he was expecting.

As superhero stories go, the one told in SAMARITAN, now playing in theaters and also available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video, is pretty standard. It didn’t really do all that much for me, and the longer it went on, the less I was interested in it. Also, the big reveal at the end wasn’t that hard to figure out, because there were enough clues in place earlier in this one to see how it was going to go down. Bragi F. Schut wrote the screenplay, and other than a few good lines for Stallone, it’s nothing to write home about.

I like Stallone, and admittedly he’s the main reason I wanted to see this move, and on that front, it wasn’t a disappointment because he’s pretty darn good in the role. Of course, he’s been doing this for so long he can probably do it in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean it’s not another enjoyable performance. From Rocky to Rambo to a myriad of other action film performances, Sylvester Stallone has a presence and persona that serves him well. He’s the working man’s action hero, the blue-collar tough guy, who is more at home dishing out wisdom and advice over wise-cracking one-liners.

And he’s at it again here. Joe becomes a mentor and father figure to Sam, and late in the movie schools the boy on the nuances of good and bad in the world, of how people mistakenly believe it’s all about good vs. evil. Joe tells Sam it’s not that clear cut because there is good and bad in every person, and it’s all about the choices people make. It also goes without saying that Stallone is believable here as the grizzled superhero, as he efficiently kicks the butts of much younger villainous foes.

This also isn’t the first foray into superheroes for the Rocky/Rambo star. He provided the voice for the CGI-created King Shark in the hilarious THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), a fun performance in a very fun movie. He was less memorable in a small role in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) as Stakar Ogord. Stallone is currently working on THE EXPENDABLES 4, due out next year, a series I’ve enjoyed.

I can’t say that I was all that impressed with Javon “Wanna” Walton as Sam. There was something rather annoying about his personality.

Pilou Asbaek is decent as the villain, Cyrus. He’s had plenty of practice. He’s played similar tough guy roles in films like OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) and GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017). He also played Euron Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES (2016-2019).

I did enjoy Dascha Polanco as Sam’s mom Tiffany. She makes for a memorable hard-working single mom who because of her job can’t be there as often as she likes for her son. She’s as tough as nails, a side of her which she gets to show off later in the story.

Moises Arias also stands out as an annoying gang member named Reza who is a constant thorn in Sam’s side.

Directed by Julius Avery, SAMARITAN is a decent superhero movie, but not a great one. Its look is standard and didn’t offer anything I hadn’t seen before, and its action sequences, while okay, aren’t mind-blowing. It’s ultimately successful for a couple of reasons. It tells a simple straightforward story and doesn’t get lost in a convoluted muddled mess of storytelling like some of the recent Marvel entries, films like DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2021) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). It’s also not overlong and doesn’t get boring.

Most of all, it benefits from the presence of Sylvester Stallone. Watching him play the lead role was a real treat. It’s like ROCKY meets UNBREAKABLE (2000).

He’ll not only go the distance; he won’t even be down for the count. Not ever.

Yo, Adrian! Look, no black eyes!

—END–

BEAST (2022) – Idris Elba Anchors Solid African Adventure

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For an actor as talented and as popular as Idris Elba, he sure has made his share of bad movies.

And based on the trailers for his latest, BEAST (2022), a tale where he plays a dad protecting his two daughters from a menacing lion in the wilds of Africa, I expected this one to be added to that list. The good news is BEAST is not a bad movie.

Not at all.

BEAST opens in Africa, where we see a bunch of poachers killing a pride of lions, but the male lion gets away and moments later returns to attack and kill the poachers who had remained in search of him. So, right off the bat, we learn that this isn’t just some random hungry lion, but rather, an animal with an agenda. He’s out for revenge, against the poachers or any other human who gets in his way!

Cue Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) who arrive in Africa from the U.S. to reconnect after the death of Nate’s wife and the girls’ mother. Nate and his wife had been separated, and while separated, she had died from cancer. Meredith blames her dad for not being there for their mother while she was sick, and the guilt is something Nate carries with him deeply. He never intended not to be there for his wife, and he wants to make amends now by being there for his daughters. His wife was born in Africa, hence the trip, to reconnect with her roots.

They are greeted by Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), Nate’s good friend and uncle to his daughters. Martin is the man who introduced Nate to his wife, and so they all share a special connection. Martin spends his days helping the authorities keep the poachers away from the animals. When he takes Nate and his daughters out for a ride through the wilds of Africa, they unfortunately cross paths with the vengeful lion from the movie’s opening, an animal with only one goal in mind: kill every human it comes in contact with.

And that’s the set up for the rest of the movie, as it pits Elba’s Dr. Nate Samuels against the vicious lion, as Nate vows never again to let his daughters down.

As premises go, the one in BEAST isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The reason it works however is the material is handled well by everyone involved.

The screenplay by Ryan Engle, based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, rises above the material mostly because the dialogue is excellent, and it gets the dynamic between Nate and his daughters right. They act like real people, and when you put real people in danger, you have an exciting movie. There is just so much stress in the conversations between Nate and his daughters, and all of it comes off as real. It also helps that both Meredith and Norah have distinctive personalities. There’s one scene where Nate tells his daughters to stay behind while he goes up ahead to see what’s going on, and when Martin tells him to run, and he turns to say the same to the girls, he sees that Norah is missing, and he asks Meredith where she is, and she says she was there minute ago. As Nate desperately searches for his youngest daughter, he says to Meredith, “You had one job!” In this one moment, you have genuine father/daughter angst plus the suspense of the rogue lion closing in on them.

Engle co-wrote the screenplay to RAMPAGE (2018), a very different “attacking animal” movie, as that film, which told the story of a giant ape and some other giant monsters, was based on the popular video game and was high camp and was a perfect vehicle for Dwayne Johnson. Engle also wrote a pair of Liam Neeson action thrillers, THE COMMUTER (2018) and NON-STOP (2014), both of which were formulaic but ultimately worked because they were Liam Neeson action thrillers! I liked these movies, and BEAST is not only on par with them, but it’s probably the best of the lot for creating realistic believable characters.

Director Baltasar Kormakur also does a nice job here. First and foremost, the lion scenes are intense, better than I expected. Sure, it’s CGI, but it looks really good. The best part is the lion moves with a speed and a ferocity that is quite scary. There are these quick bursts of insane aggressive energy which jostle the audience. Even though the final outcome of this movie is never in question, the lion sequences where he constantly attacks Nate and his daughters are quite suspenseful.

And of course, the film takes place in the wilds of Africa, which is a plus. I believe it was movie critic Gene Siskel who once said when he was reviewing the Sidney Pollack film OUT OF AFRICA (1985), a love story starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford which took place in Africa, that any movie which was set in Africa would be improved just by the scenery and setting alone. He wasn’t wrong.

But I didn’t go to see BEAST because of its African scenery or its marauding lion. I went to see it because of Idris Elba. As I said, he’s a terrific actor, and I’m a big fan. And yes, he has made his share of bad movies…. NO GOOD DEED (2014) and THE DARK TOWER (2017) come to mind…. but the thing about Elba is, regardless of the movie, he always delivers a top performance and often lifts up lesser movies by his performance alone. And when he’s in a movie that really works, like THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) for example, the results are usually outstanding.

Elba is terrific here in the lead role as Dr. Nate Samuels, a man who is guilt-ridden over the death of his wife, since he wasn’t there for her, and who is hell-bent on protecting his daughters from the menacing lion. He’s also believable in the physical aspects of the role, having to go toe to toe— or is it claw to claw?— with the lion, even if towards the end some of the sequences do border on the far-fetched. The other neat thing about his character is at first his daughters seem to have lost a lot of respect for him, and later, when his skills as a doctor become so important to their survival, and they witness this, it makes for some noteworthy moments.

Of course, the gold standard for Elba fans remains his work on the superior TV show LUTHER (2010-2019). And for years now, Elba’s name has been floated as possibly being the next James Bond, and even though the producers of that series are supposedly seriously interested in him for the role, he’s on record this year as saying he’s not interested in Bond, so it sounds like that’s not going to happen. Which is too bad. He’d be really good.

Both Iyana Halley as Meredith and Leah Jeffries as Norah bring their characters to life, and they represent a complicated family dynamic that only ads to the tension in the film. They are both fiercely independent characters, and for example, at one point when Nate tells them to say inside the vehicle, Meredith believes otherwise and doesn’t listen to her father. What makes this moment and these characters work is that she’s not wrong, She sets out to do something she believes she can do, and she does it.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sharlto Copley in a movie, and he’s fine here in a supporting role as family friend and guide Martin Battles. Back in his heyday, Copley was playing major roles in some pretty big science fiction movies, as the soft-spoken hero in DISTRICT 9 (2009) and as the violent and vicious villain in ELYSIUM (2013).

BEAST was better than I expected. It’s a well-written movie that creates believable characters and puts them in danger. For the most part, it keeps things realistic, although things do grow more far-fetched towards the end, and its ending does strain credibility. I think most people would be dead when put in similar predicaments. Elba’s Nate pretty much challenges the lion to a hand-to-hand combat battle. Yeah. That’s the one part of the movie that— yeah.

But the rest is all very good. You have an exciting story throughout, amazing African scenery, and yet another worthy performance by Idris Elba anchoring the whole thing.

BEAST is a genuine popcorn movie that provides solid summertime entertainment.

Give it a roar!

—END—

THIRTEEN LIVES (2022) – Ron Howard Expertly Chronicles True Story of Extraordinary Underwater Rescue

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THIRTEEN LIVES (2022), the latest movie from director Ron Howard, tells the extraordinary true story of the rescue of thirteen young soccer players from a flooded underground cave in Thailand in 2018, and it does so in a straightforward manner without fanfare or fuss.

This is both good and bad.

But since the story on its own is indeed so extraordinary, it’s mostly good.

In June 2018, a group of school-age boys on a soccer team decide to visit a cave before going to one of their teammate’s birthday parties, and they’re accompanied by their coach. Despite the fact that the cave has a history of flooding, it’s still before the monsoon season, so the boys feel they are safe. However, torrential rains hit shortly after they descend into the cave, flooding it and trapping them deep below. By the time their families arrive at the cave looking for them, it’s too submerged in water for them to go inside and search for the boys.

They call the local authorities, who quickly see they are in over their heads, both figuratively and literally. Soon, Navy Seals arrive, but they too cannot get far into the cave to reach the boys, as it’s all underwater in narrow passageways, and there is zero visibility. The call goes out worldwide for help, and two of the most skilled cave divers in the world, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) heed the call and arrive in Thailand where they are looked down upon by the Thai Navy Seals for being too old, and while they certainly are older than the Seals, John points out that they train specifically for diving in and around caves.

John and Rick receive permission to dive into the cave, and after many trials and errors, they eventually, after a six hour plus dive, find the boys and their coach alive. They promise to return to the boys with help. When news breaks that the boys are alive, there is great joy and celebration, but Rick is not happy at all, and as he tells the authorities privately, the boys may be alive now, but there is no way they are getting out of the cave alive. For that to happen, each of them would have to be able to swim underwater with the divers for six to eight hours, and as Rick points out, even when earlier they helped an adult volunteer who had been trapped inside, he had panicked during a much shorter swim.

Faced with a no-win situation, the authorities go silent, frustrating the waiting families, but it’s Rick who suggests a very controversial plan, one that had never been tried before. Even though it is extremely risky, and he tells the authorities point blank that the boys may die, if they try nothing, they will die anyway.

Ron Howard directs this one without any frills, and it plays out like watching news footage or a documentary. It’s really well done. I’m not always the biggest fan of Howard’s movies, but he definitely taps into here the suspense of one of his best movies, APOLLO 13 (1995) starring Tom Hanks which chronicled the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission. I enjoyed THIRTEEN LIVES more than some of his recent movies, including SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015). Howard won an Oscar for Best Director for A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), which also won for Best Picture that year.

Here, the most amazing part of Howard’s work is the underwater photography. It’s breathtaking. The scenes of the divers submerged in the caves are claustrophobic, riveting, and heart pounding. And like I said, Howard doesn’t film these like a suspense movie. He simply lets the action unfold, and we are drawn in watching these volunteers risk their lives to save these boys. Just as astounding, the actors, including Mortensen and Farrell, did their own underwater stunts! Even though professional divers were there and available, Mortensen felt so strongly about the authenticity of the project that he and the others trained to dive in caves, and they convinced Howard to let them do it.

And while obviously it was filmed in a massive underwater set and not inside real caves, it was still a dangerous undertaking for all the actors. Their dedication pays off, because these scenes really work.

Viggo Mortensen is terrific in the lead role as diver Rick Stanton. His cool, aloof persona is perfect for a man who spends his time swimming in life-threatening, narrow underwater caves. And he’s not reckless. At one point, he says point blank that as much as he wants to save the boys, if he thinks they (the divers) can’t get out alive, he’s not going in.

Colin Farrell is also superb as fellow diver John Volanthen. He’s the more empathetic of the two, and as a divorced dad of a young son, his own child is always on his mind as he tries to rescue the trapped boys.

Equally as good in a supporting role is Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, another diver who John and Rick call in to join them, as they assemble a team of the best cave divers in the world. And they are particularly interested in Harry because of his expertise, which is part of Rick’s controversial plan to rescue the boys. And when they first tell Harry of this, he refuses, because he knows it could kill the boys, but later, when he sees there is no other alternative, he relents and changes his mind.

The screenplay by William Nicholson based on a story by Don MacPherson is comprehensive and thorough and goes beyond just the story of the divers. There’s a whole other story of other volunteers led by a water expert who understands that the cave is not flooding from below but from the rains above, and so he assembles a team to find and plug up all the sink holes in the area, an undertaking that is nearly as impossible as the underwater diving mission. In fact, the sacrifice among the locals is just as great, as plugging up the sink holes means diverting the water, which will destroy the local farmers’ crops. The farmers agree, knowing they are helping to rescue the boys.

There’s the story of the families, waiting anxiously over the course of seventeen excruciating days, and of the local leadership who have to navigate around the politics of the lives and possible deaths of thirteen children under their watch. It’s a really good screenplay, which comes as no surprise, because William Nicholson has a ton of writing credits, including EVEREST (2015), MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013) and LES MISERABLES (2012) to name just a few.

If there’s any knock against THIRTEEN LIVES it’s that it runs for two hours and twenty-seven minutes, and with its no frills style, sometimes it seems a bit long. When the divers are underwater, the film had me on edge. When the action returned to above ground, things could have been edited a bit more tightly.

THIRTEEN LIVES is an Amazon Original movie and premiered on Prime Video and in select movie theaters. It’s one you definitely want to see.

Sure, you may already know the ending, but the story of human ingenuity, camaraderie, and bravery it took to rescue these boys under pretty much impossible odds, is one you don’t want to miss.

Thirteen lives could very easily have been lost that day. But they weren’t.

The movie THIRTEEN LIVES successfully celebrates this fact by so expertly telling this amazing story.

—END–

BULLET TRAIN (2022) – Stylized Action Sequences and Silly Banter the New Norm in Hollywood

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Stylized action and banter.

That’s the new normal in Hollywood action movies these days. Sure, it worked for Marvel’s AVENGERS movies, and actually for most of their movies pre-AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), but for that level of success you need both nifty writing and characters you care about, which is not as easy as it sounds.

BULLET TRAIN (2022), a new action/comedy/thriller— why not throw in musical while we’re at it? — directed by David Leitch, the man who directed FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW (2019) and DEADPOOL 2 (2018), and starring Brad Pitt, is the high concept story of several assassins all on the same bullet train roaring through Japan, all interested in the same gray briefcase. Before I go any further, I have to give a shout out to Peter Bogdanovich’s classic comedy of yesteryear and one of my all-time favorites, WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972), one of the most underrated comedic films ever made, which featured Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal and used a similar plot point, but in that film, it was a bunch of cases that all looked the same. That was a funny movie. BULLET TRAIN has its moments, but it also has to split time between being a comedy and a thriller and an action movie. Maybe it should have just picked one and focused on that!

BULLET TRAIN reminded me a lot of a movie we just saw a couple weeks ago, THE GRAY MAN (2022) which starred Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Same formula, action and banter, similar results. BULLET TRAIN has a couple of things going for it which makes it preferable to THE GRAY MAN. One, its action scenes aren’t as ridiculously over the top (although some come close), and two, it has Brad Pitt, who creates a character in this movie who is more fleshed out and enjoyable than either character played by Gosling or Evans in THE GRAY MAN.

Pitt plays an assassin whose codename is Ladybug, and as the movie opens, he’s in Japan enjoying some rest and relaxation, working on getting his head and mood together, so when he agrees to return to action and take another job, he’s feeling rested and terrific, even if he feels he’s always plagued by bad luck, which is a running gag throughout the movie. The job he receives from his handler (voiced by Sandra Bullock) is described as very simple: just board a bullet train, locate a gray briefcase, and take it off the train.

But the job is anything but simple because there are a bunch of other assassins on board, and they also want the briefcase. And that’s the plot folks, as pretty much the entire 126-minute running time is spent with assassins vying for the same case on a speeding train. I half expected Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and Wile E Coyote and friends to show up.

As I said, BULLET TRAIN was directed by David Leitch, and it plays like any number of movies he’s made already, although it reminded me the most of his HOBBS AND SHAW vehicle, which was more silly than fun, and I felt similarly about BULLET TRAIN. Leitch also directed ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) which was not a comedy and featured some of the best action fight scenes in a movie in a long time, and so that’s probably my favorite Leitch film.

BULLET TRAIN looks great with its colorful cinematography, and you can’t go wrong with its polished stylish action sequences. You just aren’t going to believe many of them, because they come off as cartoonish. Pitt’s Ladybug is like Bugs Bunny. Bombs explode and he walks away without a scratch. Always.

Zak Olkewicz wrote the amiable screenplay based on the book by Kotaro Isaka, and it’s filled with nonstop banter, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll have fun here. It works for me up to a point. It’s certainly better than the dialogue in another action/comedy hit (which I did not like at all) from earlier this year, UNCHARTED (2022), a ridiculous movie that featured Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg exchanging barbs while travelling the world in search of treasure. Audiences ate this one up, though. I found it dumb and redundant.

Here, Brad Pitt is very funny as Ladybug, the assassin who can’t stop thinking and philosophizing on life. His character and his performance are the best parts of the movie. His laid-back attitude is the perfect foil for the high-octane action sequences. From his genuine disappointment upon being attacked— you stabbed me? Really?— to one point where he’s speaking to a woman during a fight sequence and catches himself, saying I’m mansplaining.

Pitt is very good, and the script does its best job with his character, but it’s not enough. The biggest knock against BULLET TRAIN is I’m just getting tired of this kind of movie. After a while, the action and banter get boring. Even with a whole host of assassins on board.

The two best, besides Pitt, are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), “twins” who work together but who share nothing in common other than the fact that they treat each other like brothers. Tangerine is a proper speaking Englishman, while Lemon bases his entire life on the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s stories. Their banter is also funny, but as is the case with Pitt, they are simply not enough to carry this movie.

This is probably the most fun role I’ve seen Aaron Taylor-Johnson play since way back when he was much younger playing the lead in KICK-ASS (2010), and the most satisfying role I’ve seen him play since SAVAGES (2012). Bryan Tyree Henry is equally as good, and it’s probably the best performance I’ve seen him give. Henry has also appeared in GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), JOKER (2019) and HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018) to name just a few.

Joey King as Prince was probably my least favorite character in the movie. She’s a young woman pretending to be a victim when in reality she’s a major villain. In spite of the duality of the part, it’s pretty much a one-note character and performance on King’s part.

The Japanese characters pretty much play it straight. Andrew Koji as Kimura and Hiroyuki Sanada as The Elder are serious throughout, and as such, kinda seem out of place because the rest of the movie takes nothing seriously.

Michael Shannon shows up late in the game and briefly as The White Death, but it’s both way too late and too short for him to make much of an impact. And when we finally see Sandra Bullock, she looks like she’s either been heavily airbrushed to look younger or they used CGI on her. She just doesn’t look natural. For such a brief appearance, it was weird.

BULLET TRAIN doesn’t really know what kind of a movie it’s supposed to be, yet it feels comfortable in this role, because that’s kind of a new genre today. Make a movie that’s equal parts action, comedy, and thriller, with lots of good-natured banter, and the audience will go home happy. In other words, show lots of stylized violence and bloody deaths, but if the main characters remain cool and make jokes about it, and survive, it’s all okay.

Sort of.

At times, BULLET TRAIN with its R rating seemed to be aiming for a Quentin Tarantino vibe, but it’s vastly inferior to Tarantino’s work. First, Tarantino isn’t above showing the gruesome realities of violence. His characters are still funny and still banter, but his worlds are less cartoonish and safe. Also, the editing here, especially early on, seemed off. It took me a while to really settle in with BULLET TRAIN, as its jumping-around early scenes were more jarring than introductory.

BULLET TRAIN had a lot of moments that I liked, and it featured performances by Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Brian Tyree Henry that I really enjoyed, but at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough because it’s part of a new “genre” of films that likes to link action and comedy, and through amiable clever banter give the illusion that death and destruction is safe and harmless.

A la Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. But they’re cartoons. And movies should be more than cartoons. I’m not arguing that you can’t make “safe” action comedies. You can.

But you can also make less safe action comedies that are even funnier and work better because the audience is on edge and feeling less safe.

BULLET TRAIN, in spite of its high body count, remains a safe passage for its audience for the entirety of its ride, even with its R rating.

Fans of nervous laughter might want to ride a different train.

—END—

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) – Fourth Thor Movie A Misfire From Start to Finish

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So, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens and in the first scene we see a thin bald humanoid on a barren desert landscape, and for a split-second my mind flashes back some thirty some odd years to the opening of STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) which opened in a similar way. I chuckle and quickly dismiss the memory, but then a funny thing happened over the course of the next two hours.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, the latest Marvel superhero movie and the fourth Thor movie, goes full throttle with the humor, most of it silly, and sadly, most of it misfiring, which once more reminded me of that STAR TREK movie of old, STAR TREK V, which is generally considered to be the weakest in the original STAR TREK movie series. STAR TREK V followed the immensely popular and successful STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) which had a superior script and at times was laugh out loud funny. STAR TREK V tried to recapture this formula, but with a far lesser script, its humor didn’t really work, and the film suffered from a bad case of the sillies which sadly didn’t translate into laughter.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER also suffers from a bad case of the sillies.

The bald humanoid in the opening scene is Gorr (Christian Bale) who, after watching his young daughter die, gets to meet their god, only to be disappointed when he learns from this god that his and his daughter’s life means nothing to the gods. When Gorr denounces the god, the deity tries to kill him, but an all-powerful dark sword reaches out to Gorr, and he uses it to slay the god. Not only this, but Gorr decides to make it his life’s goal to kill all the gods in the universe.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, busily saving different planets and civilizations from disaster, but when he receives a distress call from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who’s running the new Asgard on Earth, he leaves his guardian friends and returns to Earth with his rock buddy Korg (Taika Waititi). There they learn that Gorr is in town, and he’s taking no prisoners.

Thor also learns that the love of his life, the woman who he has not been able to forget, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has changed her look a bit: she’s now wielding his old hammer and dressed in fighting garb, and she calls herself The Mighty Thor. While he’s impressed, he’s also confused, but it turns out that Jane has cancer, and she doesn’t have much time left, and so when she felt the hammer reaching out to her, she accepted it, hoping that perhaps it could restore her to health. And while it does give her great strength and the ability to fly, it’s not doing anything to rid her of the cancer.

Gorr wants Thor’s new hammer, Stormbreaker, to use it to access unlimited power in the universe to destroy all the gods, and when he manages to steal it away from Thor, it’s up to our heroes, Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie to chase Gorr to the ends of the universe to get it back and save the gods.

I’ve said this before, but I’m just not a big fan of fantasy plots in superhero movies, and the Marvel films have increasingly gone this route, being more about witches, evil spells, gods, and a whole host of other things that are so far outside any sense of reality. So, the plot here in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER did nothing for me. In fact, I was quite bored. I did like the theme of the uselessness of gods, of how they really don’t help humanity all that much, and much of what Gorr has to say in this movie makes a lot of sense, but the film downplays this theme.

The rule of the day in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is silly humor, and unfortunately, it just isn’t all that sharp. I saw this is in a fairly crowded theater, and it was a fairly quiet theater. No loud laughter, cheers, groans, just silence. Even after the two post-credit scenes, the audience departed quietly. No chatter, no buzz, no excitement.

It’s no surprise that humor is a huge part of this movie, since it was written and directed by Taika Waititi, a very funny guy who wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from 2019, JOJO RABBIT (2019). Waititi also directed the previous Thor movie, THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), a film I enjoyed more than THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, mostly because the humor in that movie worked better.

Here, it’s one misfire after another, from Jane’s constant search for a catch phrase, which was more sad than funny, to Thor’s banter with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which for the most part fell flat. Speaking of whom, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and friends are completely wasted in a glorified group cameo that has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. Unlike the appearance of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in THOR: RAGNAROK, who was integral to the plot of that movie, the Guardians of the Galaxy here in this movie have no importance whatsoever other than to exchange some quips with Thor before they disappear for the rest of the proceedings.

Then there’s the screaming goats— yes, you heard that right. Screaming goats—, two animals which Thor receives as gifts early in the film. For some reason, they can’t stop screaming, this horrendous high-pitched wail. They do this nonstop throughout the movie whenever they show up. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s not.

The humor reaches its lowest point when Russell Crowe shows up as Zeus, in one of the most unfunny tries-too-hard-to-be-funny scenes in the history of the MCU.

So, the humor is a complete disaster. The screenplay which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin-Robinson struggles to get laughs, and also doesn’t really have much of a story to tell. The whole thing just felt muddled from beginning to end.

The other theme that is prevalent in the movie is love, as the love story between Thor and Jane makes up a huge chunk of the film, and for the most part, I like these two characters and their story is interesting, but sadly, it’s not much of a love story. We have barely seen them on screen together, and when he have, it’s not like they were steaming up the theater. And the overall theme, that love is the reason for everything, as Thor tells Gorr at the end of the movie, and that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, largely falls flat. It all just seemed superficial.

Chris Hemsworth has never looked better as Thor. He’s in super shape, and he looks like he’s as powerful as the character he is playing. But the forced humor in the script doesn’t do him any favors, and gone are the days when his awkwardness with humanity would be funny, simply because he’s no longer awkward and that source of humor no longer exists.

Natalie Portman largely hams it up as The Mighty Thor, and while she may have been having a good time in the movie, it doesn’t translate all that well to her character. Her best scenes are when she is Jane, dealing with her cancer.

Tessa Thompson fares better as Valkyrie. She has a more natural story arc throughout the movie, and Thompson makes her formidable, and she’s very comfortable playing this exceedingly strong female superhero.

But the most intriguing performance and perhaps the best in the movie belongs to Christian Bale as Gorr. Yes, the Dark Knight is now a dark villain! Bale is now the second movie Batman to play a villain in a Marvel movie, as Michael Keaton played the villainous Adrian Toomes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017). Playing Batman must be good practice because both these actors, Keaton and Bale, have been some of the best Marvel villains yet!

In Bale’s case, he doesn’t fare quite as well as Keaton did in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING for the simple reason that unfortunately his Gorr isn’t in the movie very much. But when he is, Bale is very, very good. He looks as if his character from THE FIGHTER (2010), boxer Dicky Eklund, donned some silver make-up and gained some superpowers! Gorr’s story is certainly the most intriguing in the movie, how he felt slighted by the gods, how they didn’t save his daughter, and so he has decided to take them all down, in the interest of making the universe a better place to live. There are times when it’s difficult to argue with that logic.

But like I said, as good as Bale was as Gorr, he’s not in the movie much. Instead, there’s plenty of Thor and Jane/aka The Mighty Thor, and gods, and silliness, and more silliness, and a pair of screaming goats.

I saw THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER in IMAX, and I can’t say that it added a whole lot to the movie experience. It was a bit louder, yes, the screen a bit larger, but the film did not have any element in its story which IMAX enhanced, unlike another Christian Bale movie from a few years back, FORD V FERRARI (2019), in which he co-starred with Matt Damon (who has a cameo here too by the way playing an actor who plays Loki on stage) in which IMAX made the racing car scenes even more authentic, and I really felt as if I were in those cars with the actors.

Marvel is officially in a slump. Since AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), they have really struggled to reclaim their mojo, and other than SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) haven’t made a film that I’ve truly enjoyed since.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER means well but is a misfire from start to finish. Whatever seriousness its story wants to project is lost in humor that doesn’t work and in a plot that suffers from a very bad case of the sillies.

It simply tries too hard to be funny, so much so, that for the most part, the audience forgot to laugh.

—END–

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) – Underwhelming Doctor Strange Sequel Keeps Marvel Slumping

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The title says it all.

Multiverse of madness, indeed. That’s how I felt watching this one. As if I were stuck in a multiverse of bad Marvel adventures which after two hours eventually led me to madness.

I don’t know. Maybe, like a lot of you, I’m finally growing tired of the Marvel formula. Or maybe DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) just isn’t that great a movie.

Anyway, I finally sat down to watch the second DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which premiered in theaters in May and is now streaming on Disney Plus.

The movie opens with a long and not terribly exciting battle sequence with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a teenage girl (Xochitl Gomez) fighting a giant monster which ends with Strange waking up— ah, it was just a dream! Actually, it wasn’t. Because later, the girl, whose name is America Chavez, shows up in real life and tells Strange that it wasn’t a dream– that it was real but in a different universe. See, America possesses the ability to travel through the various multiverses, but the trouble is she doesn’t know how she does it. It only happens when she’s scared, which is a lot, since she is being chased by some unknown villain who wants her powers. She also tells Strange that dreams are real. They are just things that are happening in other universes.

Wait, what? Stop. Stop right there. Dreams… are real? Dreams… are events from other universes? Hmm. There are some pretty weird universes out there, that’s all I can say.

Anyway, back to our movie. Doctor Strange and his buddy Wong (Benedict Wong) decide they have to protect America— that’s the character, not the country— from this unknown villain, but since doing so involves witchcraft and evil spells, Strange decides he needs the help of an old friend, and so he seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) aka The Scarlett Witch. But it turns out good friend Wanda isn’t over her “WandaVision” trauma, and much to Strange’s horror, he discovers that she’s the villain who is after America’s power, which she wants in order to travel to other universes to find her sons who do not exist in this universe.

The battle lines are drawn, and the battles takes our heroes and villains through all sorts of multiverses and multiple versions of characters, which sounds like much more fun than it actually is in the movie.

Yeah, at the end of the day, I just wasn’t all that impressed with DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. I had much more fun with the most recent SPIDER-MAN move, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021). That film also involved the multiverse, but it had a much more playful attitude, and what it did with the various universes in that movie, like bringing back previous versions of Spider-Man and previous villains, was much more fun than what happens here in this second DOCTOR STRANGE movie.

Speaking of previous Spider-Man movies, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS was directed by Sam Raimi, who directed the three Tobey Maguire SPIDER-MAN movies. Of course, Raimi is mostly known for helming the EVIL DEAD horror movie trilogy. There are some neat Raimi touches here, like Doctor Strange having to resurrect himself as a corpse, which later has a key scene in the movie. And with evil spells and some violent ends to some of the heroes, along with some well-timed humor, there were plenty of moments that had me thinking more of the EVIL DEAD movies than a Marvel film.

But it wasn’t enough for me, largely because the screenplay by Michael Waldron I found to be a snooze. Granted, I’m a bit biased, because I’m just not a fan of magic, fantasy, or supernatural when it shows up as the main plot point in a superhero movie. These stories ultimately don’t work for me. So, there’s that. But I also didn’t find the dialogue very effective, and it certainly wasn’t the snappy kind of dialogue one has become accustomed to in a Marvel movie.

Yes, I appreciated the story arc of Doctor Strange having to learn how not to do everything himself and at the end defer to America, but at the end of the day it wasn’t terribly exciting. I actually preferred Wanda’s story arc, where she is driven to find her children, who in reality don’t exist because she invented them in a fantasy, but as she tells Strange, they do exist, in other universes, and she knows this to be true because she’s dreamt about them.

On the other hand, none of the other characters, including teen America, did much for me. And the storyline following Strange’s failed relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was disappointing in that it didn’t really go anywhere.

You know things are bad when even Benedict Cumberbatch is boring. The guy is a tremendous actor, and I believe I have enjoyed every performance I’ve seen him play, but this time around as Doctor Strange he plays second fiddle to the special effects, which of course, are first-rate. But effects alone are not enough to carry a movie.

As I said, I enjoyed Wanda’s storyline more here than Doctor Strange’s, and as such I really enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/The Scarlet Witch. Not only was her story the most compelling in the movie, but she also makes for a heck of a villain! Part of her effectiveness is because she was an Avenger, after she wasn’t, and so there’s the whole back and forth element for the character, and we’ve seen her enough to understand that she wants to do well by others, but life keeps knocking her down and giving her sh*t, and finally she snaps and says she’s not taking it anymore. As I said, I really enjoyed Olsen here.

But the rest of the cast not so much.

Xochitl Gomez was fine as America, the teenage superhero, but the character was pretty boring. Benedict Wong adds nothing new to his Wong shtick, and Rachel McAdams, another terrific actor, is stuck in a bunch of redundant dull scenes as Strange’s former love interest Christine Palmer. Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Baron Mordo from the first DOCTOR STRANGE movie but does nothing terribly exciting here.

A bunch of other folks show up in bit scenes and cameos, to little avail, including Haley Atwell as Captain Carter, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, John Krasinski as Reed Richards, Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Charlize Theron as Clea, and Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa, to name just a few. But none of these portrayals and reprisals do much for the movie.

The whole tone of the movie is underwhelming. The DC movie, THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) is a film that also featured a ton of superheroes and crazy shenanigans, but that film had a script that rocked, and the movie just took off. DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS just sort of runs in place as it jumps around from one multiverse to another, with nothing particularly memorable happening in any of them.

I remember liking the first DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) movie well enough, but I didn’t love it. Similarly, I liked DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERS OF MADNESS less, but I didn’t hate it.

And yes, I’m still a Marvel superhero movie fan, and I’m looking forward to the next release in two weeks, of THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022), but there’s no denying that these folks have been in a slump lately. With the exception of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, they have really struggled to get the ball rolling after they wrapped up their initial story arc with AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019).

With DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, that struggle continues.

—END—

INTERCEPTOR (2022) – Netflix’ Latest Action-Adventure Entertaining in Spite of Uneven Script

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After watching INTERCEPTOR (2022), a new action-adventure movie which just premiered on Netflix this past week, I couldn’t shake the feeling that had this movie been in different hands, and had it been a major theatrical release, it could have been so much better.

Instead, this tale of one woman’s stand against a band of terrorists as they try to disarm and destroy the last of the United States’ interceptor missiles, so that the Russian nuclear warheads they stole could be used to nuke a bunch of cities in the U.S., all in the name of burning a country to the ground which they had lost faith in, so they could build it back up the way they wanted, plays out like a “B” movie of old. Everything about it is decent and watchable, but none of it is amazing or first-rate.

Then again, even in the right hands, this tale may have been too convoluted to actually work. There’s a lot to swallow here.

INTERCEPTOR tells the story of Captain J.J. Collins (Elsa Pataky), an army officer who has been dealing with the backlash of calling out a superior officer for sexual harassment. As such, she receives threats and vulgar sexual slurs, as well as being assigned to a post in the middle of nowhere, a rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean housing the U.S. interceptor rockets. J.J. barely has time to unpack her bags when the station is attacked by terrorists.

The terrorists, who infiltrated the station by posing as janitors, are led by the dashing Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey) who in the spirit of movie supervillains everywhere, takes the time to explain to J.J. his plans. They’re there to destroy the interceptor missiles, which are the United States’ only defense against nuclear attack, and they want to knock out this defense so they can use the Russian nuclear warheads they stole to bomb major cities in the U.S. Everything has gone according to plan, except J.J. was assigned to the base at the last minute, and so they were not prepared for her, and she lets them know that she is more than up to the task of stopping them, even if it means taking them on single-handedly.

Kessel is assisted by army officer Beaver Baker (Aaron Glenane), a traitorous type who represents the far-right presence in the movie, as he constantly talks about minorities trying to take over the country, and that this is his way of “cleansing” the nation of these impurities. So as not to alienate one side of the political spectrum, Kessel holds another view, that basically the entire country needs a “re-do” because it’s the government and the elites who are ruining it for everybody, and he speaks about racial disparities and how people of color have it so bad and how nobody is doing anything to help. So, he’s there to do something.

But not if J.J. has anything to say about it.

Yup, INTERCEPTOR is pretty much a DIE HARD movie, with the Bruce Willis role changed to a female character. It’s the same formula, but not as well-done.

This is no fault of the actors who all do commendable jobs. I really enjoyed Elsa Pataky in the lead role as J.J., who she makes a believable action hero as well as a woman pained by constant attacks because she spoke out against a male superior officer who sexually assaulted her and basically got away with it. Pataky plays Elena in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies.

Likewise, Luke Bracey makes for a polished, handsome, and trying-to-be-charming terrorist Alexander Kessel. As I said, he would be right at home in a DIE HARD movie. The only knock against him is he went to the “Dr. Evil school of villainy” and talks too much about his diabolical plans of terror.

Aaron Glenane uses a thick Southern drawl to be that character you wouldn’t want to meet if you were hiking alone in the wilderness. Can anyone say DELIVERANCE (1972)? Actually, he plays Beaver Baker less like a hillbilly and more like a character who might cross paths with the heroes in SUPERGIRL (2015-21). In fact, I can almost hear Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl lecturing him now.

The biggest knock against INTERCEPTOR is its screenplay by director Matthew Reilly and Stuart Beattie. The dialogue is particularly bad throughout, and the plot is definitely convoluted and not all that believable. Since this is an action movie, the convoluted part didn’t bother me all that much, but the often-laughable dialogue was a major distraction. The script tries to cover both sides of the political spectrum in its plot to “cleanse” the United States, and to this end largely succeeds.

Stuart Beattie has written lots of movies. He’s worked on the scripts for some of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and co-wrote 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), an intense horror movie I really enjoyed. But he also co-wrote the screenplay for G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) and I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014), two rather dreadful movies.

Matthew Reilly’s direction is okay. None of the action scenes are all that impressive, and the fight scenes definitely seem slower and less intense than some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences we’ve seen in other movies of late, action films like EXTRACTION (2020) and ATOMIC BLONDE (2017).

All of this being said, I have to say I enjoyed watching INTERCEPTOR. It held my interest for its one hour and forty-minute running time, and while the dialogue could have been better, I bought into J.J.’s plight and was certainly rooting for her to take down the bad guys in this one. It’s an enjoyable ride even if it’s not all that believable.

So, as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you might have fun watching Netflix’ latest action adventure.

I did.

—END—

UNCHARTED (2022) – Actioner Based on Video Game Wastes Talents of Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg

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UNCHARTED (2022) proves once again that movies based on video games often play out like… video games, and as a result, aren’t any more fun than sitting there watching someone play video games. Some people like that sort of thing. I don’t.

I only decided to watch UNCHARTED because of its two leads, Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, two actors I enjoy a lot, and I was curious to see how they would be working together. And you know what? After watching this movie, I don’t really know how they are working together, because they are playing two characters with as much depth as characters… in a video game. In short, while they were both doing their thing on screen, Holland acting like he walked off the set of his latest SPIDER-MAN movie, and Wahlberg like he was in another action/comedy, it didn’t matter, because the characters they were playing in this movie could have been played by any actor.

UNCHARTED, which is based on the popular video game franchise by Sony PlayStation, tells the story of Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) who is recruited by wisecracking treasure hunter…. always a bad sign in a movie when the main character has as his main job title “treasure hunter,”….Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to help him find a treasure lost by Magellan some five hundred years ago. I swear, as soon as this plot point was mentioned in the movie, I was ready to bale. I mean, if there was such a treasure, these two knuckleheads would be the last two people to be able to find it!

Anyway, Nathan agrees to help Sullivan, or “Sully,” because Sully tells him he had been working with Nathan’s older brother, who’s been out of Nathan’s life for years, and if Nathan helps him, Sully promises that there’s a good chance he’ll find his brother. Now, you don’t have to listen to Sully talk for more than three seconds before you realize he’s about as trustworthy as a villain in an Indiana Jones movie, but Nathan listens to him anyway and joins him on his treasure hunt. Along the way, they join forces with fellow treasure hunter and equally untrustworthy Chloe (Sophia Ali), and cross paths with villains Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) and Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas).

Yawn.

And more yawns.

There’s no getting around it. UNCHARTED was by far the dullest and most boring movie I’ve seen all year. In spite of polished and energetic directing by Ruben Fleischer, the story is a snooze, and the characters are literally right out of a video game with no more depth than that. It’s also one of those stories where the main characters find all the clues so easily there’s simply no dramatic tension whatsoever.

The screenplay by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway scores highest with the banter between Holland and Wahlberg, but at the end of the day, this dialogue doesn’t matter because neither character is fleshed out. The experience was like listening to Holland and Wahlberg exchange wisecracks while they were playing video games. Their characters were no more interesting than two dudes playing a game. And the story is dreadfully unbelievable and dull.

Director Ruben Fleischer has made some good movies, films like ZOMBIELAND (2009) and VENOM (2018), and this movie looks great, but none of it means anything. It’s one polished action scene after another with no compelling characters or story, the perfect recipe for a two-hour nap.

UNCHARTED opens with a rousing action scene featuring Tom Holland’s character battling bad guys while falling out of a plane. It’s a sequence that borrows heavily from a far better sequence in the Timothy Dalton James Bond movie THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987). The sequence in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS was better because they had real stuntmen up there falling out of the plane, whereas here it’s all CGI. Plus, it’s the opening sequence of the movie, and we know nothing about Holland’s character at this point. More importantly, we don’t know why he’s up there in that plane. Imagine if RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) began with Indiana Jones simply fighting villains without seeing him attempt to snag the treasure first. You’d be like, neat action, but who is this guy and why is he fighting all these guys?

UNCHARTED, which premiered in theaters back in February and is now available to rent on Prime Video, is the emotional equivalent of its source material, a video game. Some people like this. I don’t.

And if you like movies, you probably won’t either.

So, for movie fans, UNCHARTED is best left unwatched.

—END—

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) – Third Tom Holland Spider-Man Movie Playful with the Multiverse

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I finally caught up with SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021), Marvel’s super successful Spider-Man movie, the third with Tom Holland in the lead, which hit the big screen this past December and is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

Like the previous two Tom Holland Spider-Man films, NO WAY HOME is exceedingly playful, and definitely belongs with the lighter Marvel superhero fare. Of course, one of the main reasons it performed so well at the box office was its exciting and creative decision to play with the multiverse and bring back characters from previous unrelated Spider-Man movies, including the two previous movie Spideys, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as well as their villains.

This happens because in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, which begins right where the previous film SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) ends, dying villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) true identity as Peter Parker, and the moment is captured on video and broadcast to the world by Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who also frames Mysterio as a hero and Spider-man as his murderer.

The result not only is massive hating on Spider-Man but on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). So, Peter Parker pays a visit to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks if he could use some time travel magic like he had wielded to save the world in AVENGERS: END GAME (2019) in order to help him out, to which the good doctor scolds him for suggesting such a thing, adding that even if he wanted to he no longer possessed the time stone. However, Strange suggests he could cast a spell which would make everyone forget Peter was Spider-Man, to which Peter agrees before he realizes he still wants MJ to remember him. And then there’s Ben, and Aunt May… Peter basically interrupts Doctor Strange’s spell and inadvertently causes him to screw up, and as a result, portals open from different universes, letting in villains like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Electro (Jamie Foxx), to name a few.

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange then work together to capture these villains in order to send them back to their proper universes, until Spider-Man realizes that back in their prospective universes they all will die, and so he decides to find a way to “cure” them in the here and now in order to send them back with the chance of surviving, an idea that Doctor Strange disagrees with, but Spider-Man is undeterred, until the Green Goblin makes it known he has no intention of being “cured.”

Eventually, two other visitors arrive through the portal, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and…. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire). and they decide to work with the Spider-Man in this universe in order to send everyone back home to their proper places.

So, pretty much the plot in SPIDER MAN: NO WAY HOME is nothing more than cleaning up all the messes made by Peter Parker and Doctor Strange because they decided to play around with the multiverse. No villains trying to take over the world or the universe. Nope. Just fixing what Parker and Strange messed up, and since this is a Marvel movie, you can rest assured that at the end of the day, all will be well. Did I mention that this was a playful movie?

I have been a huge Marvel movie fan since their amazing run started with IRON MAN (2008), the film which introduced Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark to movie audiences, and while others have been bemoaning the frequency of their movies and complaining that the formula for success has gone stale, I haven’t been one of them. However, since AVENGERS: END GAME wrapped up nearly every storyline their movies had been telling for over ten years, Marvel has struggled to keep it going. I was tepid on both BLACK WIDOW (2021) and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021), as neither film worked for me. I didn’t even see THE ETERNALS (2021).

Now, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME worked better for me than the two movies mentioned above and went a long way towards recapturing the magic of the Marvel superhero movie. In short, I had fun watching it and enjoyed it a lot. However, the main reason I enjoyed it was watching the two previous actors who played Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, on screen with current Spidey Tom Holland. When all three are on screen together, the movie rocks.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching the return of all the villains, most notably Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, who remains with apologies to Thanos, as one of Marvel’s best movie villains ever. Dafoe is excellent once again, and for my money, delivers the best performance in the film. He has such an evil presence as Green Goblin. I wish there were more superhero movie villains with this kind of edge. Dafoe is a master at it, and it’s sad to think that this is only the second time he’s been able to strut his stuff as the character. He did have cameos in the second and third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, but that barely counts.

So, while nostalgia rules the day in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, it doesn’t exactly look forward, unless there are plans to keep these resurrected characters in the mix. It does of course set up the next DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which hits theaters this week, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022), as it looks like Doctor Strange is still working on cleaning up the multiverse mess he started in this movie!

My favorite of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies remains the first one, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), as that one not only featured Holland’s high-octane Spider-Man for the first time in his own movie, but also Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Michael Keaton as a nifty menacing villain. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is my second favorite of the Holland Spider-Man movies. All three were directed by Jon Watts, and he imbues all of them with an energetic and high-spirited style.

One of the reasons the Marvel superhero movies have been so successful is they have for the most part sported some amazing casts, and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is no exception.

Tom Holland has been a bright spot as Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he first played the role in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2017), and he’s amiable once again here. Likewise, Zendaya is perfect as MJ, and she and Holland really generate chemistry in their scenes together. Jacob Batalon is back as well as their best buddy Ned, and as they have been doing since SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, they generally entertain when sharing the screen.

Then you have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx as Electro, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan— a role he’s been playing since IRON MAN, in addition to directing that Marvel trend setter! —and of course Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Charlie Cox even shows up as lawyer Matt Murdoch from the Netflix’ Marvel show DAREDEVIL (2015-2018).

For my money, the two best parts of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME are Willem Dafoe’s scene stealing performance as the Green Goblin, and watching Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield share the screen together. Their scenes are the best in the movie, and they really capture their individual Spider-Man personas and work seamlessly together in this movie. They really do seem to be three Spider-Man brothers here.

Last week I finally saw THE BATMAN (2022), Matt Reeves’ ambitious reimagining of Batman, a film I enjoyed for two of its three hours before it ran out of gas and stalled. It’s interesting to compare these two movies. THE BATMAN was by far the more ambitious and innovative of the two, and had more to say, but it went on far too long and ultimately lost me during its final hour. SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME was a much lighter and less ambitious flick that while also running fairly long at two hours and twenty-eight minutes, did not lose me. This film, with a screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, kept things simple and grounded in its characters, specifically its three Spider-Man characters. As such, the end result was much more satisfying.

The Marvel superhero movie universe still hasn’t found its full footing since ending its major storylines with AVENGERS: ENDGAME, but SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME provides a nice diversion as well as a friendly homecoming for some prior Spider-Men.

It’s a highly entertaining movie that shows that the Marvel movies are not quite finished yet. There are more stories to be told. Even if some of them, as was the case here, are older ones that are dusted off, revisited, and re-imagined.

—END—

THE BATMAN (2022) – Film Noir Batman Goes On Way Too Long

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A funny thing happened while I was watching THE BATMAN (2022).

The latest Batman movie, which is yet another reimagining of the masked vigilante of Gotham city by one of my favorite movie directors working today, Matt Reeves, and which introduces Robert Pattinson to the role of the Caped Crusader, has been receiving heaps of praise from critics and fans alike since its theatrical premiere on March 4… it’s currently streaming on HBO Max… with some even calling it the best Batman movie yet!

For me, I was really enjoying it, and like many others was blown away by its dark film noir take on the subject, and at the end of two hours, I was leaning towards agreeing with those who were calling this the best Batman ever. But then that funny thing happened. The movie kept going. And going. And going. So… at the end of three hours, I didn’t hold that same opinion.

See, THE BATMAN is long. Like, super long! As in two hours and fifty-six minutes long. And yes, these days this is a pet peeve of mine. Movies in general are trending towards the time management equivalent of Major League Baseball games. If you’re going to make a movie that is three hours long, you darn well better have a good reason for it, and for my money, most films I see that run well over two hours, don’t. Someone needs to edit these would-be sagas down.

So, while I liked THE BATMAN, what I liked least about it was that it was so gosh darn long. And this is from someone who was really into this film and was enjoying the ride all the way up to that two-hour mark.

It also didn’t help that the plot as laid out in the screenplay by director Matt Reeves and Peter Craig isn’t anything to write home about. The story is all about corruption. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is targeting the corrupt public officials of Gotham City because he’s sick and tired of the lies and cheats of those running the city, and hence the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and others are all being murdered in the most horrific of ways, complete with personalized letters and riddles meant for Batman (Robert Pattinson) who decides he will find out who is killing the corrupt leaders of Gotham and why. He teams with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) to do this, as Kyle is interested because her best friend was involved and was subsequently killed because of her involvement. Their investigation leads them to the dark underbelly of Gotham City, filled with organized crime and corruption, and folks like Oz aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and gangster Carmine Falcone (John Turturo).

At the end of the day, you know who wins.

You don’t need three hours to figure it out. Did I say THE BATMAN was long?

The screenplay is not a strength of this movie. It does a decent job with some of the characters. I liked the take on Batman where he’s viewed more as a detective and vigilante, who is quite shadowy and frightening, and I also liked how most of the comic book aspects of the villains took a back seat to more realistic interpretations, but sadly we’ve seen all this before.

Craig was one of the screenwriters who wrote THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), the very dark Sandra Bullock drama where she played an ex-con out of prison dealing with people who continued to see her as a worthless monster who didn’t deserve to be alive. The feeling of hopelessness from that movie is often on display here in THE BATMAN, and that works well. Likewise, the dark tone is on par with Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) which Reeves wrote and directed. I have no problem this. In fact, I really liked the grim outlook which THE BATMAN presented.

The problem though is a question I asked myself before I sat down to watch this one, which was: do we really need yet another reimagining of Batman? I mean, it used to be years would pass before filmmakers would return to remaking great stories which had already been told. I mean, we just saw Ben Affleck in the role a mere five years ago in JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017).

So, while I liked a lot of what Matt Reeves did with this movie, most of it is just stuff I’ve seen before. And if I’m going to sit through a three hour movie, I’d prefer it not be on stuff I’ve seen before. Have I mentioned yet that this film is long???

As I said, Matt Reeves is one of my favorite movie directors. He directed CLOVERFIELD (2008), LET ME IN (2010) Hammer Films’ vampire remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz that I actually prefer over the original, as well as the very entertaining DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). For the most part, I enjoyed Reeves’ work here on THE BATMAN. I loved how he depicted Batman’s movements, with slow heavy footsteps that made him more monstrous and ominous than any previous interpretation. He instilled fear before he threw any punches. The film noir feel of the movie was awesome. With its constant rain pelting Gotham City, the film had a definite BLADE RUNNER (1982) feel to it.

The action sequences were okay. I’ve seen better. But the overall drama, conflict, and story simply doesn’t hold up for all three hours of this very long movie.

I’m a fan of Robert Pattinson. Not because of TWILIGHT, a series which I hated then and still hate now, but because of what he’s done since. He’s been terrific in such movies as THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016), GOOD TIME (2017), and most recently as a slimy reverend in THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020). As Batman, Pattinson is excellent! He is certainly not the problem with this movie. In fact, I enjoyed Pattinson as Batman so much I would be more than happy to watch him play the role again. I liked his tortured take on the character… again, nothing new… but Pattinson did it well.

Where does Pattison rank with the movie Batmans? Tough to say now, as he has only played the role once. I love Christian Bale’s take on the character, and I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work as the Caped Crusader in his two Batman movies. Interestingly enough, the Batman I believed Pattison resembled the most was… Adam West from the campy 60s version! There’s something about Pattison’s jawline beneath the cowl that calls to mind West. For such a dark movie, there are several nods to the Adam West version of Batman here in THE BATMAN, such as the bust of William Shakespeare in Wayne Manor.

The rest of the cast is solid, and all add to the pieces which make up THE BATMAN. Zoe Kravitz is okay as Selina Kyle. We just saw her in the thriller KIMI (2022), and I actually enjoyed her more in KIMI than here as Catwoman.

Jeffrey Wright, fresh off his memorable swan song as CIA agent and James Bond buddy Felix Leiter in NO TIME TO DIE (2021), makes for an effective James Gordon. An unrecognizable Colin Farrell is excellent as Oz aka The Penguin who looks like he would have been right at home operating inside the world of THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007) The same can be said for John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. Besides Pattinson, Farrell and Turturro deliver the best performances in the movie.

Andy Serkis does well as Alfred in limited screen time. Speaking of limited screen time, we barely see Paul Dano as the Riddler, which works against the movie. In his brief screen time, Dano didn’t really impress me as the villain.

THE BATMAN also features an atmospheric and haunting music score by Michael Giacchino, which reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.

Is THE BATMAN the best Batman movie ever?

No.

Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) remains the gold standard of Batman movies, and for my money is the best Batman movie to date. Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005) is not that far behind. And while they have not aged well, Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) are both excellent Batman movies. You have Michael Keaton as Batman in both, and Jack Nicholson’s Joker in BATMAN, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman— still the best movie Catwoman yet— in BATMAN RETURNS.

Where does THE BATMAN rank?

Well, for its first two hours, it was right up there with THE DARK KNIGHT. But it goes on far too long and just doesn’t have the legs to go the distance. It lost me in its final hour, and by the time Batman and Catwoman are taking down the Riddler and friends, the only thing I was thinking about was finally being able to stand up again.

Did I mention this movie was very long?

—END—

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