Tomb Raider Review: The Last Crusade Meets National Treasures

There has never been a good video game movie. Never. Period. Not a single one. Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and House of the Dead, all failures.

Time and time again audiences get pumped up for the next video game adaptation, only to be entirely disappointed by the end product. Some try to defend such films like Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil, only for their opinions to be muffled by the multitudes of disgruntled moviegoers calling BS. It’s hard to blame the stubborn dissonance of the few, as making one decent adaptation of a video game isn’t asking for much. Yet, the closest we ever got to something good was Mortal Kombat in 1995, and even that was off the mark.

In many respects, I believe Tomb Raider to have finally broken this curse, giving audiences something entertaining and worthwhile to watch.

The film follows a young Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), an adventurous individual whose father (Dominic West) mysteriously disappeared years ago. Lara embarks on a treacherous journey to his last known whereabouts, a mythical Japanese island with an ancient (and powerful) tomb located on it. Upon arrival, she discovers a secret organization already there, looking for the tomb to use it for evil. Lara must now use her bravery to outsmart the organization and venture into unknown territories.

Tomb Raider is like the goofy, hilariously inept version of Indiana Jones. Take the plot of The Last Crusade, sprinkle in some National Treasures, and voilà! A perfect Tomb Raider recipe. Equipped with confusing ancient booby traps, numerous gun fights, and questionable logic/deductions, Tomb Raider is thrillingly incompetent in the sincerest of ways. It knows its far-fetched, so why not have some fun with it?

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft is the most respectable and serious part of the film, and this isn’t to be taken lightly. Her performance makes the movie what it is and gives it some real credibility. Any scene involving Vikander I was following along intently and very invested.

Her character of Croft has a somber and scarred side to her, but also an adventurous and carefree one. Her actions frequently reminded me of Indiana Jones, in that she wasn’t always trying to be some macho action hero. If somebody pulls a knife on her when she’s unarmed, she runs away! Croft doesn’t win every fistfight, in fact she loses about half the time! Scenes like these make her behaviors more relatable and comical for the audience.

The last five minutes or so, dedicated to setting up a potential sequel, didn’t sit quite well with me. It seemed hastily rushed and forced at the end, with no real buildup to what the film was leading audiences to assume. Tagging on something so trivial when the real adventure is already over was trite and unnecessary, and to conclude on it was disappointing.

Nonetheless Tomb Raider was exactly what it needed to be and precisely what it set out to be. Lots of big action movie fun. It has plenty of blunders and illogical moments, as well as some hokey acting and cheesy lines, but the overall experience remains untainted. I enjoyed myself and the time I spent watching Tomb Raider, and I hope others can share in that feeling too.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Death Wish Review

Director Eli Roth takes the reins of a rather untimely (and oddly surprising) Death Wish remake.

The movie stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey, an ER surgeon whose wife is killed in a burglary, with his daughter put into a coma. Filled with anger and turmoil, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands, bringing vigilante justice into the community.

I quite enjoyed the character of Paul Kersey, who goes from a reasonable, passive man to full on vigilante. Through experiencing tragedy and observing the injustices around him, it’s interesting seeing Kersey transition into this state of violence.

When came to Willis’ performance however, I found him to be both passionless and stilted, just like his past twenty or so films. It’s sad to think that the man who starred in Die Hard, one of the best action movies ever, has completely given up on acting. And yet, here we are, the remake of Death Wish. Willis puts zero effort into the role, therefore making it hard to derive any sort of connection with the character. His straight-laced, relatively boring character doesn’t even work on a machismo action hero level, making him terrible for the part on all fronts.

The antagonists are the usual 80’s villain archetypes, nothing more than forgettable thugs. They don’t even have the guy, the one distinct main villain that everyone remembers, kind of like Hans Gruber in Die Hard. I can’t remember a single detail about any of these random goons, other than that they get picked off by Bruce Willis (whose also an archetype) one by one.

I’ve seen many critics pan Death Wish for its portrayal of gun violence and gun ownership in a jokey, humorous tone. Critics have also boldly labeled it as fascist and offensive. And while Death Wish was undoubtedly released at a sensitive and crucial point for gun legislation in the U.S., to pan this film based solely off this aspect is too childish and asinine for my taste. I also think that labeling the film as fascist is too easy, and shows a severe lack in the understanding of what that political philosophy entails.

Roth’s seemingly “gun-rights propaganda” flick can’t be taken at face value, as many of his films have a sardonic underpinning anyways. I actually found this to be one of the more fascinating parts of Death Wish. The fact that Willis’ character makes this transformation from peaceful individual into a killing machine was again very intriguing.

This doesn’t excuse the filmmaking, which was poorly paced and had a certain amount of predictability to it. Even the surprisingly few fight sequences that Death Wish had to offer were shot incoherently, which is surely a drawback for action fans.

Setting aside the complexities of our main protagonist, all the actors seem like they’re playing generic stereotypes we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and I’m afraid we’ll see hundreds of times again. And I think that’s the best word to use in the case of Death Wish, generic. Death Wish was far from a dreadful film and felt more along the lines of a generic, 80’s action movie tribute, and I think it should be viewed as such.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

The Rocketeer Review: A Forgotten Disney Classic

Hearkening back to action/adventure serials of the 1940s and 50s (like Flash Gordon), The Rocketeer stars Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord, an overconfident pilot in love with a stunning actress Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). When Cliff discovers a hidden jet pack that was stolen from the U.S. government, he puts on the rocket, creates a makeshift helmet, and becomes the hero known as The Rocketeer. But when the criminals who initially stole the jet pack catch wind of this hero, they attempt to retake possession of the jet pack and use it for evil. Cliff must now assume the role as this masked hero to save the day, and his girl.

I love The Rocketeer in the same way I like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars. It’s simple action/adventure movie fun. A straightforward story with traditional characters and themes from a much simpler time, all leading up to an exciting, action-packed conclusion.

Our main protagonist Cliff Secord is the dashing everyman, as in every man would want to be him. Really, that’s the entire appeal to his character. The personality of Cliff is almost nonexistent and is more just an afterthought, but that’s okay as he serves his role in the story well. He’s charming, heroic, and willing to risk his own life to save those closest. And best of all, Jennifer Connelly is his girlfriend, a major plus.

The charming and devious Neville Sinclair (played by Timothy Dalton) is as evil as his name sounds. Dastardly villainous in every way, Sinclair turns out not to be a greedy businessman, but a Nazi secret agent. Can there be a worse evil? Well, Sinclair stands as the perfect antagonist for our heroic Rocketeer, who dukes it out with Sinclair and his cronies in a finale of epic proportions.

I enjoyed The Rocketeer in its entirety, and I wish more films could embrace the same simplicity that it operates on (while also putting in the same amount of attention and care). The Rocketeer never really got the affection it so rightfully deserved, and as far as Disney flicks go, this is long gone and forgotten. Audiences shrugged, critics shrugged, and everyone eventually forgot all about The Rocketeer.

I’ve heard news about a potential remake of the film by Disney, which would fortunately bring attention back to this wonderful, forgotten flick. At the same time, I fear Disney would lose sight in what made The Rocketeer a good film in the first place, attempting to force too much crowd pandering messages/themes into what should be a simple, cut and dry story. Just as a remake of something like Alice in Wonderland can’t tarnish the image of the Disney animated classic, a poor remake of The Rocketeer would only help to remind people of why the original was so good in the first place.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Black Panther Review

The latest Marvel flick to be deemed the “best Marvel movie ever” is none other than the prince (and now king) of Wakanda himself, the Black Panther.

Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the African nation of Wakanda so that he may rule as the rightful king. However, when a new enemy with royal blood steps forth and threatens world domination, T’Challa’s ability to be the king and Black Panther will be tested. Going to great lengths to maintain the throne and keep his people safe.

Hands down the best aspect of Black Panther was the awe-inspiring aesthetic appeal. The imagery was rich in African heritage and mystique, with a fascinating representation of tradition and tribalism around every corner. It isn’t often you see this kind of African style in film, and it’s worked in very well in Black Panther. Every scene involving some sort of ritual or custom fully engrossed me into the film, more so than I could’ve ever imagined.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (and the Black Panther) was incredibly charismatic without ever trying to do so. His character was so fleshed out and three-dimensional that the audience understood his tribulations and internal conflicts. And these features were only elevated by Boseman’s emotional and memorable performance, which I would put right up there with the other great Marvel actors/actresses.

Unfortunately, all the messages about race and discrimination were so half-baked and paper-thin that I’m confused as to what the fuss is about. It felt to me like a typical Hollywood move, to not even scratch the surface of a serious issue then run around screaming how they’ve helped to change the course of history. There are plenty of films and television shows today diving deeper into topics of race relations than Black Panther ever tread, and in much more clever and insightful ways. This was more like a studio bigwig went through a social justice checklist and less like an earnest, genuine look at complex issues. I’m not blind to the fact that Black Panther is the first of its kind in many unique ways and should be respected as such. But again, I’m frankly surprised that its being heralded as if it were Do the Right Thing, when a lot of the content begs to differ.

When the focus was on Africa, Wakanda, and Boseman, the film thrives in its own unique environment it builds. But when Black Panther remembers it needs to be a superhero movie and mass-appealing blockbuster first, that is when its charm weakens.

Most characters were developed and well-integrated, a few (mostly the villains) were predictable and had muddled motives. Many action scenes were fun and intense, but at the same time completely pointless for the story they were telling (like the obligatory gigantic battle at the climax).

Judging by the overwhelming praise the film has received, I’m currently one of the few not so satisfied moviegoers, even though I sincerely enjoyed many parts of Black Panther. Ultimately for me the weaknesses in the storytelling overtook some of the better aesthetic moments.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

The Commuter: Liam Neeson on a Train Review

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s another Liam Neeson movie! Only this time he’s stuck on a train, of all places.

A recently laid off family man named Michael (played by the oh-so lovable Liam Neeson) commutes every day to work via train, only this time it’s different. He’s approached by a stranger known only as Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who gives him the task of identifying a person aboard the train going by the alias “Prynne”. If he succeeds, Michael will be paid one hundred thousand dollars. Desperate for cash, Michael plays along at first, only to discover a hidden murder conspiracy behind it all. Now caught in the midst of the conspiracy, Michael must quickly find Prynne, or risk being killed.

If you saw Neeson’s more recent film titled Nonstop (which takes place aboard a plane), than chances are you saw The Commuter as well. That’s because both films are carbon copies of one another. The plots are so similar that I’m convinced they used the same script as Nonstop and just replaced the word “plane” with “train”.

And just like Nonstop, The Commuter is a middle of the road and nonsensical action thriller, with particularly schlocky fight sequences towards the climax of the film.

The stunts and action are so basic on a technical level that everything feels bland. Neeson doesn’t do as much punching, kicking, and fighting as he does just pushing and shoving people. I’m actually pretty sure Liam loses more fights in The Commuter than he does win, and without the help of others he probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of the movie.

And when you factor in all the property damage and loss of life he causes; his character really isn’t much of a hero at all. The filmmakers knew this too, which is why they frequently remind the audience that Neeson is in fact a bona fide “hero”.

The Commuter relies too heavily on tropes commonly found in Neeson’s other films for it to be at all clever or unique. Most aspects of the plot, cinematography, and characterization are so by the numbers that almost nothing comes as a surprise. The action is so slow-paced and monotonous that it made me want to laugh out loud more than cheer Neeson on.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of The Commuter, only not in the way it was originally intended. I guess all there is left to do is wait for the next Liam Neeson film, which will take place upon a charter bus. I think it hits theaters this August.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review (No Spoilers)

Opening to thunderous applause from audiences everywhere is Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After what I feel was a strong predecessor (not including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I felt was rather underwhelming), I was very excited to see what direction Star Wars would be taken in.

With the Resistance on the ropes and the First Order hot on their trail, things become increasingly desperate for the Rebels. Prepared to make one final retreat, the Resistance places its hope on Rey (Daisey Ridley), who desires to be trained in the Jedi ways by a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

The Last Jedi attempts to integrate many various characters (new and old) and side plots, which ended up feeling more like a juggling act. There are even some plot points established by the preceding film (The Force Awakens) that are completely blown off here.

The acting was mostly strong from the rather large cast, but the characterization varied. Poe Dameron (a highly skilled pilot for the Resistance) gets a lot of screen time and development, which was very nice to see. Our up-and-coming Jedi character of Rey gets lots of attention too, further solidifying her as a pivotal piece in the franchise.

Unfortunately, a lot of previously strong characters are inevitably thrown to the back-burner for the majority of the film. Take one of my favorite new heroes, Finn (played by John Boyega), for example. He’s given a not very important side plot with little to no further development on his character. A real shame.

Oftentimes I found the humor to be out of place and frankly miscalculated. Moments that could’ve and should’ve been more emotional are thrown away by quick little gags. I’d even go as far to say that the oversimplified humor interfered with some of the characters and their behavior. Which made everything feel less like a Star Wars film and more like a Marvel film pulling for laughs.

The characteristics that felt most consistent with the other more recent Star Wars films were the designs of the sets and creatures. Locations like Supreme Leader Snoke’s (voiced heinously by Andy Serkis) throne room

The designs of the creatures that inhabit The Last Jedi are pretty imaginative and cool. All except for the porgs (plush, penguin-looking animals), which frequently hijack the movie to needlessly remind you that they exist. They might as well put an ad for toys and stuffed animals in the film itself. Regardless of my disdain for these annoying characters, a lot of the creatures were brought to life through costumes and puppets, which is something I highly respect in a film nowadays.

The truly magical, awe-inspiring moments are few and far between in The Last Jedi, but are well worth the wait when they do arrive. One of my favorite scenes is where Luke Skywalker meets up with an old friend, who teaches him an important lesson on where to place his values. Not only does this scene look great visually, but at its core I believe it represents and understands Star Wars far better than anything else in the film.

And while these scenes like this are wonderful, I don’t think Rian Johnson and Disney were able to capture the passion and creativity that made the original Star Wars films so enjoyable.

On the surface it seems to have everything. The exciting space battles, witty characters, newly designed creatures, and intense lightsaber duels. And while all these aspects are genuinely fun to experience, I still feel that a few ingredients are missing. Perhaps it’s the gross overcalculations of Disney trying to mathematically appeal to all fans of the series. All the while unintentionally ostracizing some individuals who dare call the mass-marketing of Star Wars excessive.

I’m glad I saw The Last Jedi, and I enjoyed my time watching it too. However, it’s by far not the best Star Wars film, as I don’t think the writing, or the characters were as clever or powerful enough to warrant such a bold claim.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Justice League Review

The Justice League film finally makes its debut into theaters, featuring plenty of hollow performances, bad camera work, and one rushed incredibly story.

With signs of a great evil upon them, Batman (Ben Affleck) decides to assemble a team of individuals with superhuman powers. This includes the likes of The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). They together must learn to work together to stop the evil Steppenwolf (no, not the band, but I wish it was) from taking over the world.

Our extensive cast of superheroes are given very little time to build chemistry and learn to work together, which was oddly the whole message of the movie. One second they will genuinely dislike one another, then suddenly for no reason at all (other than for the convenience of the screenwriter) they were working as a team and cracking jokes. It was almost as if there were scenes missing from the movie that involved the bonding of the Justice League. But what we were left with was the sloppy edit version.

This aspect was sadly compounded by the hollow characterization, as the audience really has little point in caring for characters like Cyborg and Aquaman. Both had hastily rushed introductions that didn’t really fit the story. Even the introductions of Wonder Woman and The Flash were disappointing and drab.

One of the most abysmally embarrassing topics surrounding this flick was the comic relief, mostly provided to us by The Flash (a character I found to be revolting). The entire theater remained dead silent for the whole film. Occasionally there’d be a light chuckle or a halfhearted laugh, but the majority of the crowd was unamused.

And at the conclusion of the film, about five or so individuals stood up and applauded enthusiastically, with a few others who reluctantly joined in on the celebration. The rest of us sat there, quietly mourning what could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve been.

While some moviegoers may prefer this over perhaps Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman, I believe Justice League to be the worst out of the bunch. The story is a messy, rushed, paint-by-numbers version of the Avengers. Many of the action sequences were as incompetently filmed as Batman V. Superman, only the characters were twice as bored while doing it. Even Batman, my favorite in the series thus far, looked about as tired and disinterested as the audience I saw Justice League with.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint