Someone forgot about the Kaiju
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018): Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.
Hey, Oscar! I have a really good idea for a Pacific Rim sequel. Now, bear with me for a second because FOR SOME REASON this is really hard for Universal//Legendary to wrap their minds around: in a universe dominated by giant robots fighting giant monsters....you ready for this idea? This is going to blow you away: why don't we make a film with a bunch of giant robots fighting a bunch of giant monsters? WHOA. I know, I'm a genius. Wait......you want to first make a Pacific Rim installment featuring a bunch of boring lore and bad character development, and exactly ONE giant action sequence? Are you sure that's what you want to do? Are you SURE? I guess so, because that's exactly what we have here, and it makes absolutely no sense to me. WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? Haven't we learned anything from the Alien franchise? You don't marginalize the best aspect of your world in a sci-fi movie! For some reason, there's exactly one giant action sequence in this film. That's inexcusable and completely mind-boggling! It's tough to look past this horrific miscalculation, but even if you do.....there's not much to keep anyone engrossed in the sequel to 2013's Pacific Rim.
For the record, I enjoyed the first film, but I do think it's a tad overrated. But at least in the original Pacific Rim we had a significant amount of giant action sequences featuring robots and monsters, which were, amazingly, the best part of that movie. I wish I had been in the writer's room as they were conjuring up the script for the sequel. Somebody should've done us all a great service and been in that room to say NO when the idea of having one giant action sequence in this two hour movie was pitched. And accepted! UGH.
I don't understand why Universal/Legendary thought this was a good idea. What's even funnier is that the marketing team behind the film understood the draw of Pacific Rim better than the studios did. After all, they marketed the CRAP out of the one giant action sequence we did get. Yes, there are a few other sequences of robots fighting other robots, but.....that's not why we're here, guys! We're here for robots fighting monsters. That's it! That's all you had to do! You had one job, and you couldn't do it.
So, what do we get instead? A lot of boring "world-building." The lore of this film is not very interesting, sadly. Early on there's a few good moments that I enjoyed, particularly around the introduction Amara, played well by relative newcommer Cailee Spaeny. She's a pretty awesome female protagonist that reminded me a lot of the badass Izabella from Transformers: The Last Knight. (I know, interesting analogy, but she was the best part of that film) But, unlike in Transformers, where the young actress Isabella Moner is uncomfortably objectified by some the men of the film because Michael Bay can't help himself, Amara is just.... there. Never once did someone remind her that she was a woman. Never once did someone hit on her in a really uncomfortable way. She was just the protagonist alongside Jake Pentecost. (John Boyega) I really appreciated that, and I hope we reach a point in film where all female characters (and characters of color, for that matter) are not type-casted for specific roles tailored to them. Instead, they're cast simply to play "the protagonist." So kudos to director Steven S. DeKnight and co. for writing Amara the way they did. Sadly, though, they couldn't break free of this trend completely, as one of the other three women in the film, Jules Reyes (Adria Arjona) is only there to be oogled at by the male leads. One day.... Anyway, I did also love John Boyega's performance. The dude is so charming and charismatic, and he tries as hard as he can (along with Cailee Spaeny) to carry this film. Hopefully he decides to pursue the action star route outside of Star Wars, because I would be VERY ok with that. The rest of the cast is whatever. There is a mildly interesting twist with one of the cast members, but otherwise they're pretty forgettable. Burn Gorman/Charlie Day are nowhere near as good together here as they were in the original, but I'm not too mad about that. Especially given the fact that I'm still mad at Charlie Day for enthusiastically showing up in I Love You, Daddy. STILL MAD AT YOU, MAN.
When we did FINALLY get to the giant monsters vs giant robots action sequence, I had a ball of a time. There's no denying that it's so much fun seeing a big budget action film with giant robots fighting giant monsters in a huge city. (Tokyo, in this case) At one point one of the robots (though I've already forgotten which because who cares) uses some gravity weapon to bring down skyscrapers on a Kaiju, and I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. We don't need those, right? And hey: they did give us a throwaway line about how the entire city of Tokyo was evacuated in like 5 seconds, which is absurd obviously but enough for me to just turn the brain off and have a good time watching all the destruction. (Looks at something like Batman V. Superman) But, in order to get to that awesome final sequence, you have to sit through what basically amounts to 90 minutes of dull dialogue and lazy lore. (That was coincidental, I swear.) Is it worth it? I say no. Wait until the final sequence hits YouTube in a few months, and just watch it there. Otherwise, don't bother with this garbage. Let the Asian markets carry it to a decent gross, and hopefully in the third installment the studios will realize that Alien-ing this franchise is NOT the way to go. Hard pass.
The Critique: Despite a thrilling final sequence and great performances from John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny, Pacific Rim: Uprising lands with a thud thanks to dull dialogue, lazy lore, and nowhere near enough giant robots fighting giant killer monsters.
The Recommendation: Check out the final action sequence on YouTube whenever it gets there, otherwise stay away.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Quick Reviews, Winter 2018: The Commuter, The 15:17 to Paris, Game Night, Red Sparrow, Thoroughbreds, GringoRead Now
The 15:17 to Paris
Not quite the follow-up we were hoping for
Annihilation (2018): A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply.
Wow. I don't even know where to start with this film. In this case, I think that's a good thing. Annihilation is a bold film. Director/writer Alex Garland has crafted an ambitious sci-fi film that embodies its genre to the fullest extent. I will warn you: if you're anything short of a die-hard science fiction fan, you will likely not enjoy this. It's a deep watch in every sense of the phrase. It's ambiguous and very science-y, (for lack of a better word) which a lot of people will enjoy, including me. I was completely engrossed, and there's no doubt the execution of this complex premise is fantastic, even though the film can come off as self-aware. Alex Garland knows how to craft n engrossing sci-fi film, and he knows it. For better or for worse. One thing's for sure, though: can we get more films like this, please?
There are some shortcomings here for sure. Alex Garland knows how to make a good genre film, but his “character development” writing is not as strong. In fact, it's pretty disappointing. Natalie Portman plays her character marvellously, but there are certain aspects of her origin story that make very little sense, and certainly aren't relevant to the overall story. In Garland's previous film, Ex Machina, the viewer knows very little about the characters involved. This is a strength of that film: it gets its characters right into the crux of the premise with very little setup, which allows Garland to focus on the AI instead. In Annihilation, though, we spend a good amount of time developing characters (Portman most of all) before they begin the primary mission, and during this first act the film does leave something to be desired. And once they do get into the primary mission, the film has a tendency to come off as pretentious and self-aware. There's still a lot to like here, but I think a lot of people will be turned off by its indulgent storytelling style.
That said, I'm not really one of them. I had a blast and was totally engrossed by the concept of this film. It is absolutely spectacular to look at too, featuring beautiful cinematography and spectacular production design, with a good score and sound design to boot. While this will be a decisive film, there's no doubt there will be a consensus with how it looks. Once the main characters finally enter The Shimmer, that is. Also, I really enjoyed the dynamics between the characters once they did enter The Shimmer, and how it affected them individually was really interesting to me. However, it all leads up to this climatic third act that will be really decisive depending on which side of the fence you fall on. Initially, I really enjoyed it, but the more I've thought about it, the more I'm “on the fence” versus anything else. I think there's a way to better execute the finale, but regardless, it's definitely resonated with me more so than most big budget sci-fi films out there. (Looking at you, superhero movies. How about that totally unnecessary shot, eh Oscar?) The finale here worked for me until the final shot, which adopted the “gotta leave this on an unnecessary (and unexplainable) cliffhanger” kind of ending ripped straight out of Inception. But I had enough fun to look past this. End of the day, this is a good film that is quite thought-provoking (for better and worse) that did have a real shot at greatness. Sadly, though, it is held back by a decisive third act, disappointing character development, and an overarching self-indulgent style. See it if you're a fan of sci-fi, but everyone else? Stay away.
The Critique: While boldly original, Annihilation's overall pretentious and self-absorbed manner in which it tells its engrossing story holds it back from the greatness it could (and should) have achieved.
The Recommendaiton: For hardcore sci-fi fans only. Not much else to like here for everyone else.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Creative to a fault
A Wrinkle in Time (2018): After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.
I really don't know what to say about this film. On the one hand: it's REALLY messy. The film bites off WAY more than it can chew and feels frantic, chaotic, and incoherent. On the other hand, it is really creative and has a lot of visually stunning setpieces. This feels like 2018's version of Cloud Atlas: director (and real-life warrior) Ava DuVernary swings for the fences with this version of A Wrinkle in Time and this kind of over-the-top big budget film is rarely seen in Hollywood nowadays. Especially with someone like Ava DuVernay leading the way. I'd say if you have kids, you should go without question: support the personnel behind this film and the choices made and your kids will have a ball as they see their imaginations come to life. I was in a full room for this, and the children around me were enthralled, to say the least. Juuuuuust don't think too much about it, because it is pretty absurd.
Let's go against my usual MO and start with the bad. The film does bite off WAY more than it can chew. The pacing is disastrous, and every scene feels like it should be its own movie. This really tanks individual character arcs, to the point that even the main characters can be pretty forgettable. The character Calvin (played not-so-well by Levi Miller) is the quintessential example of this. Calvin's arc is practically nonexistent to the point that I actually forgot all about it before the movie ended. At the end Calvin reminds us of his arc and I said to myself, "Oh ya, that was a thing!" This guy is one of the three main human characters in this story! I mean, I get that Levi Miller didn't portray him particularly well, but he didn't get any decent writing behind him, either. (He's the "token white guy" that's just there to "look pretty" and support the protagonist, so I can't complain about that being a white male for once.) Also, the other male character, Charles Wallace, wasn't played very well either. Poor Deric McCabe. He wasn't very good, but he didn't have any good dialogue to work with either. Hey, a note to any prospective screenwriter out there: if you're going to have novice child-actors in your movie, you have to give him some good dialogue to say that they would actually say. Here it is obvious that an adult is writing their lines. From the actual first line spoken by Charles Wallace, I was thinking to myself, "Nope. No child would ever talk like that." The biggest problem with this film, though, is also its greatest strength for a younger demographic: the setpieces. We'll get to the positives of them in a moment, but the negatives are impossible to ignore: each setpiece feels like its own movie, and we're never in a new setpiece long enough to truly appreciate it. We travel to 3 (I think?) different worlds throughout the brisk 109 minute runtime, but we never spend any more than 10 minutes at any of them. Because of this, the "rules" of these worlds feel haphazard, and only there to service the overall story. Never once did I think to myself "Oh, how are they going to get out of this?" because I knew a convenient "rule", like flowers being able to band together (really?) to break someone's fall would come in and save the day.
THAT SAID. This is also the part that kids will love, because they aren't thinking about the "rules" of an individual world when they see it. They'll just be in awe of these setpieces. I don't blame them: the worlds we visit throughout the runtime are breathtaking. The visuals are incredible, and I did wish we had spent more time investigating these landscapes. Oprah Winfrey literally towers over everyone as Mrs. Which, (my favorite part, by the way) and Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling clearly had a blast portraying Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, respectively. And Ava DuVernay found herself (and Hollywood) a STAR in Storm Reid. Her portrayal of the main character, Meg, is the hero we all need, and one that I think a lot of people (myself included) can relate to. If there's one thing to come out of this film, I hope it's the rise of Storm Reid. Meg is a strong protagonist that doesn't need men to come in and save the day. I loved how she even used science to get out of certain situations, even if that science was.....shoddy, to say the least. I haven't felt this excited about a child-actor since Jacob Tremblay burst onto the scene back in 2015's Room. For all the film's faults, and for all its shortcomings with the other two main characters, it did manage to knock its main character out of the park. Expect Disney to milk that for all it's worth.
In conclusion, while A Wrinkle in Time does bite off more than it could chew, (I think it could've benefited from being split into two films, believe it or not) it does so from the stance that Ava DuVernay and company left it all out on the table. I respect that, and I think because of this the film is still worth a watch, even if it is on Netflix/Disney's upcoming streaming service in a few months versus in the theater. There is a difference between "swinging for the fences" (ex.: Cloud Atlas) and "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks." (ex.: Last Flag Flying) The former is much more enjoyable to watch, but it's also much tougher to do. Unfortunately, "swinging for the fences" and missing still leads to the same result as "throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks" and missing. The former just managed to look a lot cooler as it unfolded.
The Critique: A Wrinkle in Time is creative to a fault. Incoherent (but beautiful) setpieces dominate this overly ambitious film, and poor dialogue sinks the performances of two of its three child-actors, despite the excellent performance of its third, Storm Reid.
The Recommendation: I do think it's worth seeing if you have kids. It's going to be better than a lot of the kids movies that are out there. Everyone else? Buy your ticket for A Wrinkle in Time at the theater to support it, then go and sneak into Black Panther again.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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