Skyscraper Review: Dwayne Johnson With a Vengeance

Dwayne Johnson’s new action flick Skyscraper is a hard movie to put a finger on. I guess it’s best summed up by the following two words: ridiculous and inconsequential.

As many have pointed out, the plot of Skyscraper mimics the basic formula of Die Hard: action guy (Dwayne Johnson) in tower fights European terrorists in order to save family (his wife being played by Neve Campbell). The plot attempts to get deeper than this, but overall it doesn’t stray from this premise.

Several obvious MacGuffins, Deus ex Machinas, and other overused tropes make Skyscraper a painfully standard action movie. It borrows every last detail from other films that have already done these ideas much better. It’s sterile, Hollywood green screen look is matched only by its lifeless acting and countless inconsequential scenes.

A character will double cross Johnson, only to be killed moments later. Johnson will be seriously wounded and must perform first aid on himself, only to be perfectly fine in the following scene. Someone pivotal to the story will be introduced into the film, only to be forgotten entirely.

In the end it’s all filler gunk that has no real impact on the convoluted and not well-thought-out plot.

As strange as it is, there were multiple instances where the film set itself up for some great foreshadowing. Particularly the opening scene (where Dwayne loses his leg) and the climax (the final showdown with the villain), both of which were formatted similarly. So similar in fact that I hoped they’d make an insightful comparison to the two scenes, maybe about how Dwayne had grown as a person and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But no, they squandered that potential too. They instead try and top the memorable ending to Die Hard by adding in a death scene so corny, so over the top, that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

One of the most astonishing mistakes that Skyscraper flaunts happened whenever Dwayne would leap off a ledge and catch himself safely on the other side. You could actually see his hands completely miss the ledge in the first shot yet cut to him magically catching the ledge in the next. It may sound minor, but this little goof-up is basic editing that the makers of Skyscraper carelessly neglected.

The sloppy editing was incredibly consistent, becoming the biggest nuisances of the film. Action scenes were choppy and often not very satisfying to watch. What’s worse is sometimes the screen would go dark during intense fighting sequences, which coupled with the bad editing made Skyscraper an incoherent mess.

The most enjoyable part of Skyscraper is just accepting the nonsensical nature of the film and watching Johnson live through the impossible. Leaping off exploding buildings, hoisting himself up by thin pieces of rope, defying gravity, Dwayne Johnson is probably the most impermeable action hero I’ve ever seen.

Nevertheless, even this easygoing mindset had its limitations.

Ultimately my feelings towards Skyscraper are ones of confusion and amazement. 125 million dollars spent on a cheap Die Hard knock-off with terrible editing, so-so effects, and a cheesy script. And for what purpose? I refuse to believe for a second they thought this could make its money back. Dwayne Johnson can bring in a lot of money (as we’ve seen with Rampage and Central Intelligence), but there’s no way he can save this film.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

After the exciting but desolate film that was Avengers: Infinity War, it’s nice to see Marvel’s Ant-Man sequel be an upbeat and cheerful continuation of this franchise.

In Ant-Man and the Wasp, we see our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) down on his luck (i.e. on house arrest) after being convicted for his so-called treasonous actions in Captain America: Civil War. He’s soon contacted by Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Pym, who believe their wife/mother Janet may still be alive in the Quantum Realm. One thing leads to another, and soon Scott adorns the Ant-Man suit once again to fight off some new enemies and help find Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) before it’s too late.

Ant-Man strikes me as a more comedy-focused film than most Marvel movies in the franchise. Even when considering Spider-man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (which are also comedies), the material never gets as light-hearted and thin-plotted as it is here. There’s more time set aside to focus on long-running gags and even entire scenes dedicated to pushing a singular joke.

This would’ve been an interesting take, if the style of humor used in Ant-Man wasn’t so hit or miss with the audience. Some jokes garnered uproarious laughter while others got complete and total silence. I chuckled more frequently than most individuals in the theater, and I myself didn’t find Ant-Man that funny. Some bits would start out unfunny and stale but redeem themselves with a hilarious witty line. Other scenes would be hysterical right off the bat, but then draw-out the joke too long and ultimately devolve into boring jibber-jabber.

The action scenes are fast, flashy, and occasionally very creative, pretty much what you’d expect this time around. Every now and then there’s a new camera trick, a goofy moment, or a stunt we haven’t seen yet that is visually exciting and memorable. I never thought I’d see a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser thrown out the back of a moving fan and knock out two guys on motorcycles. And now I have.

Ant-Man and the Wasp does a little too much plot juggling for what the story really is. Taking a quick glance at the two-hour runtime as well as the numerous characters incorporated into the flick, you’d think there was more substance to the storytelling.

Still, this was a sturdy enough film to support a slew of great casting choices and consequently many powerful performances. The cast easy being the strongest component of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, the list goes on. And because these actors pulled off great performances, they even managed to make the message of the film (which was your run-of-the-mill morals on friendship, family, and teamwork) feel genuine and not cheesy.

Dedicated Marvel fans will surely enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp, especially for its tie-ins with Infinity War. Those not as committed to the series may find it hard to get into the thin plot and semi-functional comedy routine. There’s enough great performances mixed in to make this a fun viewing, but I’m not sure if it was entertaining enough to warrant a rewatch anytime soon.

 

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Avengers: Infinity War Review

It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for. The film that’s been teased and speculated about for what feels like an eternity, Avengers: Infinity War.

The time has come for the Avengers and friends to finally unite against their most formidable foe yet, Thanos (James Brolin). Bent on the cruel idea of random genocide, Thanos must gather the six Infinity Stones (which are basically colorful space rocks) to harness enough power to carry out his plans. With the fate of the galaxy in their hands, the Avengers must set aside their differences in order to stop the forthcoming events. Bringing audiences’ favorite superheroes together in quite unpredictable ways.

Bringing all of Marvel’s current superhero lineup together (minus Ant-man and Hawkeye) is about as exciting as one would imagine. I particularly liked the clashing of personalities between characters like Doctor Strange and Spider-man or Thor and Star-Lord, which makes for some pretty hilarious moments.

At the cost of having all these characters finally together, we get little time committed to each hero. Captain America, Spider-man, Black Panther, all footnotes on a story so large and all-encompassing that it’s surprising we even saw some of these heroes. Yet, If I had to choose a character who steals the spotlight of Avengers: Infinity War, it’d be the antagonist Thanos. For how many characters are shoved into this picture, the audience is given a lot of time devoted to understanding Thanos and his motives. The kind of thing we typically only see with the best of Marvel’s villains.

And for being over two and a half hours long, the film hardly dragged at all. Scenes were usually fast-paced and action-packed, with humorous dialogue and one-liners filling the voids in-between. Other than the occasional lull, Avengers: Infinity War keeps things moving productively and efficiently, even if that means skimping out (or short-cutting) on character development.

I believe those with a love for Marvel are sure to get their money’s worth with Infinity War, especially if you’ve been waiting anxiously for its release for the past few years. The expression of intense emotion ran rampant at my theater; as my viewing was accompanied by shouting, crying, laughing, cheering, the works. Sometimes all at one.

Excitement and Marvel obsessions aside, this is really just your standard sci-fi/adventure film, and I think it should be viewed in proportion to that.

The simple fact that “the show must go on” gives too much obvious insight into the future direction of the series. Without spoiling anything, we unfortunately know exactly what must happen in order to make this franchise continue in a successful manner. That includes reversing events that happen during Infinity War. This all being salient to me while watching the film, it made the emotional scenes slightly less moving.

All the give and take is a small price to pay for such a far-reaching, unprecedented film series.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Rampage Review: My Monkey and Me: A Dwayne Johnson Story

Rampage, loosely based off the arcade game by the same name, was just about everything I expected from the sloppy trailers. That being a generic (yet overly complex) plot involving a gorilla, mixed with hokey acting from the entire cast (especially Dwayne Johnson), all leading up to a forty-minute fight resulting in the destruction of the city.

If the film was truly committed to only being this typical, big-budget action movie, then why not go all the way with it? The audience is introduced to many unnecessary side characters, villains, and plot details that only hinder the true intention of Rampage. That being to get a giant gorilla, lizard, and wolf into a big city and have them destroy everything in sight. And since the main point of Rampage was to accomplish this, it would’ve been better to have the entire film be one enormous fight sequence. The audience viewing this doesn’t care how the monsters get into the city, only that there is destruction and action abundant in the product.

Yet, Rampage couldn’t even get this simple idea right. The film holds the audience hostage for an hour before the real action begins, trying to mimic films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Godzilla remake. Except where those movies had a little class and excitement attached to them, Rampage just assaults moviegoers with “stuff”. Boring, nonsensical, stuff.

Rampage was right on the money in terms of my expectations, except it was somehow even lazier than anticipated. It wears all the tropes of bloated action movies shamelessly on its sleeves, making no attempt to put a creative twist on conventional storytelling. Sometimes it’s funny how poorly glued together the film is, however it’s mostly just painful and predictable to watch. The most enjoyable part of the film is Dwayne Johnson’s relationship with the gorilla named George, which occasionally dipped into bad touch territory. Although, goofy scenes like this are frequently offset by large buildings being destroyed, wounded people emerging from the wreckage, and smoke and rubble everywhere. Naturally taking my mind to places I would rather not think about when watching a movie about Dwayne Johnson and a gorilla.

If you like the explosions, the destruction, and the PG-13 violence and swearing, then by all means get your fix with Rampage. Anyone looking for a little more meat to their movies will have to check elsewhere.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

Pacific Rim Uprising is the same as its predecessor in every way, only two steps in a worse direction.

It takes place ten years after the conclusive events of Pacific Rim, only now there is a new enemy that threatens humanity. We focus in on out semi-main protagonist Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who was once a promising soldier now turned to a life of crime. But, when giant evil robots and monsters return for round 2, Pentecost must return to pilot his giant robot and save the day. At least, that’s the general gist of what’s going on.

The biggest fundamental flaw with the film is that the characters are poorly written and don’t fit with this story. Never are they charming, funny, or even relatable. They just felt like people in a film studio doing stuff. Their personalities were the cookie cutter stereotypes done in the most clichéd way imaginable. There was the tough military guy played by Scott Eastwood, as well as the cool rebellious dude, who felt more like he was playing a discount John Boyega rather than the real John Boyega. And who can forget the sciency guy who speaks in intellectual jargon and looks like a coked-out Willem DaFoe.

All together, they try their best to give audiences as bland and forgettable of an experience as science fiction can possibly allow.

The climax does provide us with the robots vs. monsters fight we were promised, albeit not as stylish or exciting as the previous film. Maybe it was the unconvincing CGI effects, or perhaps the exhaustion from the last ninety minutes setting in. Whatever the case, this action sequence wasn’t nearly as intense or rousing as it should’ve been.

Those pulling the strings of Pacific Rim Uprising seemed too preoccupied with turning this into the next summer blockbuster franchise. Little effort was put into characterization and overly complex story, resulting in a hodgepodge of sci-fi nonsense that rivals the intelligence of Transformers 5Pacific Rim Uprising is just fine for those who want to watch a monster get beat up for twenty minutes, so long as they’re willing to sit through ninety minutes of gibberish to get there.

Pacific Rim was a big, dumb, exciting action movie. This one was just dumb.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

 

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