Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

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

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thankfully taking a rather lighthearted look at this dark and drab series, Thor: Ragnarok is a satisfyingly fun and adventurous film.

Imprisoned in a gladiator contest on the furthest side of the universe, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is pitted against his old Avengers ally the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). With time working against him, Thor must escape his captures in order to stop Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of his home world and Asgardian civilization. Full of unique and entertaining characters, Thor embarks on one of his biggest journeys yet, literally across the universe.

Visually, Thor: Ragnarok was noticeably more bright, colorful, and vibrant than previous Thor movies. Perhaps the stylistic successes of Guardians of the Galaxy inspired the Thor creators to take a more imaginative route. Whatever the case may be, the beautiful color palette and crafty costumes and character designs give Ragnarok the kind of sci-fi look that I love.

Also nicely designed was Cate Blanchett’s character the evil goddess Hela, who reminded me a lot of Rita Repulsa from the underwhelming Power Rangers remake. Only she didn’t chew the scenery so much (and is in a much better film). I think the writing of the character was a bit bland and not really that menacing. A lot of her dialogue, while communicated terrifically by Blanchett, was very inconsequential and insignificant. Hela said and did a lot of things any typical supervillain would do, and I sadly think her character is the least memorable of the bunch.

This is especially true when it comes to the colorful group of individuals we meet on the planet of Sakaar (where the film predominantly takes place). These entertaining, yet very quirky characters are a pivotal part of Thor: Ragnarok‘s identity, and help make the film as fun and lighthearted as it is. My favorite of these characters would have to be that of Jeff Goldblum, who is hilariously charming every second he’s on-screen.

The humor in Ragnarok was particularly well written, with the comedic timing almost always right on the money. Witty jokes at the perfect times kept the audience laughing throughout a good portion of the film.

Scenes attempting to tie Ragnarok into the Marvel Cinematic Universe were the weakest features of the film, as they usually are for these flicks. Take the Doctor Strange cameo for example. It was funny and well written, except it felt entirely too forced and tonally out of place. As if the studio big wigs told director Taika Waititi that he had to somehow shoehorn this scene in, so Waititi did the best he could.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, as many critics would have you believe. It is however, a solid, colorful, and stylish film that often felt less like a superhero movie and more like a straight sci-fi adventure.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Blade Runner 2049 Review

As a lifelong follower of the science fiction genre, Blade Runner has always been revered as a classic. Pioneering many awe-inspiring visuals that films today look to for guidance. While I respect Blade Runner for its visual achievements, emotionally the film has done very little for me. I find it a bit mundane and heavy-handed, with little going for it other than the artistic style.

In many aspects, Blade Runner 2049 is very similar.

The film takes place about thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner. Since then, the world has fallen into somewhat of a dystopian mess. With a new era of blade runners (hitmen, essentially) hunting down replicants (a term for bioengineered humans) of the past.

Blade Runner 2049 follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a particularly skilled blade runner on a mission with enough significance to throw what’s left of the world into complete chaos.

Beautifully crafted sets, enticing visuals, and monumental sound design all blend together to make Blade Runner 2049 artistically stand out. Concepts and knowledge only briefly mentioned in the previous film are expanded here tenfold. Scenes are shot and crafted with such delicate precision that viewers like myself will be left completely spellbound. The level of imagination in its design is on par with the Star Wars trilogy, and the perfectionism in the lighting and set pieces is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, it is here where I’d argue the film does too much expanding, to the point where it exhausts itself. Dramatic scenes that, overall, carry very little weight last for ten to fifteen minutes, when they could be summed up with two simple lines of dialogue. Instead, the film goes for this melodramatic, philosophical dialogue so that it may beat its themes and messages into the viewers head.

And unfortunately, the themes are all recycled from the first Blade Runner. “What does it mean to be human?” Boiled down, that’s the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the audience. Only it takes them three hours and way too many dialogue pauses to say it.

With so many needlessly lengthy scenes, the conclusion of Blade Runner 2049 felt all too rushed by comparison. Plot lines that needed more depth and discussion get no such thing, which leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers.

So, while most of Blade Runner 2049 was still entertaining to watch (mostly due to the visuals and Goslings straight-faced performance), I think the story and themes have very little to offer viewers.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

In the same vein as its predecessor, Kingsman: The Gloden Circle is an outlandish spy movie full of plot twists and zany gadgets.

Taking place about a year after the events of the first film, Kingsman follows the English Secret Service agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as he, once again, must save the world from complete destruction. This time around, Eggsy must team up with an American spy organization known as the Statesman, led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal). Together, they must work to stop the new supervillain of the week Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a criminal mastermind that specializes in illicit drugs.

Kingsman is one of those movies that thinks it needs to be two and a half hours long. So, in a feeble attempt to buffer its runtime, the film overcompensates and tacks on too many subplots. The ensemble of characters, sets, and plot devices felt very long-winded, and a bit overwhelming. It would’ve served the audience much better if the filmmakers cut the fat away and focused on creating a more condensed movie.

Even the action scenes, which were used somewhat sparingly in the first Kingsman, felt unnecessarily bloated here. The opening scene cuts right into a ten-minute car chase sequence that I believe jumped the gun. The action was highly stylized, with very fluid camerawork and choreography that made the fight scenes mesmerizing to watch. It was only when they dragged these parts out that they became tedious and mundane.

The entire cast, old and new, had so much fun with this film that I couldn’t help but do the same. The energy and excitement in the performances elevated some possibly underwritten characters to new heights.

The humorous nature of Kingsman is still alive and well here in the sequel. With situations and moments that are so unusual that you wouldn’t expect them from other more reasonably grounded films. One of the more comical aspects of Kingsman was the inclusion of Elton John (a rather peculiar celebrity cameo) as a minor character, who takes part in the action-packed climatic showdown.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is most enjoyable when you cease to take the film seriously. It teeters between nonsensical and extravagantly excessive, in this little unique world of spies that it has built itself. Kingsman isn’t high art, nor is it trying to be. It knows its core audience, and will deliver plenty of enjoyment to those who liked Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Review

The idea of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson acting in a buddy comedy together sounds like a match made in heaven. The type of roles they typically play are tremendously different, which would theoretically make for a highly interesting film. I say theoretically, because The Hitman’s Bodyguard perfectly displays the sad truth that, just because you have good actors, doesn’t mean you’ll have a good movie.

The film stars Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a protection agent who’s called upon to help protect a notorious hitman named Darius Kincaid (played by Sam Jackson). With a long, complicated history between them, Bryce must now escort Kincaid across Europe so that he may testify in court against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman).

Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson are pretty funny as individual characters, but don’t work well off each other’s comedic style. Most attempts at jokes dragged on for far too long, and nobody in the theater was even laughing to begin with.

This poor comedic outcome is due to the writers going for the double act style of humor, which is what you see in most buddy comedies of this caliber. Double act works in films like Tango & Cash and Men in Black because the characters are written with complete opposite personalities. Well, herein lies part of the problem with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, as neither of our protagonists have well-defined personalities

Jackson was more severe than Reynolds, but neither ever stuck with a singular set of characteristics. Jackson would often go from being a cold-hearted killer to a more sensitive and understanding person, almost at the flick of a switch. So when the actors don’t have defined personalities, it’s hard for the audience to relate to one of those characters, which entirely defeats the purpose of double act.

The villain of the film, played by Gary Oldman, is a bland Eastern European stereotype with absolutely no depth to his character. After having just watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard, I can’t remember anything about him. Now, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite Hollywood actors, and I think he can play a very diverse range of roles. So I’m incredibly confused as to why he was given so little to do the entire film. He never says or does anything of importance, making his character one of the more forgettable villains of past months.

Some of the action scenes were energetic, while others were fairly lackluster. Take the grand boat chase seen for example. It has a mix of clever and generic moments, however what really ruins the chase sequence is that it goes on for an eternity. The best chase scenes (and action scenes as well) are short and to the point, condensing what the viewer is shown into the most exhilarating moments. The Hitman’s Bodyguard unfortunately wasn’t all that exhilarating, or exciting.

When you boil it down, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is about as standard as a buddy comedy can possibly get. It attempts to go through the same motions of other films in its genre, but because of the lopsided writing it fails to leave any lasting impression on the viewer. It had some funny, even hilarious scenes. However, even the most enjoyable moments of The Hitman’s Bodygurad are overshadowed by sloppy writing and a sense of mediocrity.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Atomic Blonde Review

Based on the graphic novel titled The Coldest Winter, Atomic Blonde gives audiences a thrilling spy movie experience set in the Cold War Era.

The film stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 field agent named Lorraine Broughton, who’s on a mission to Berlin, Germany to retrieve a valuable piece of microfilm. The contents of this film, in the hands of the enemy, could extend the Cold War for many decades to come. While in Berlin, Lorraine teams up with an eccentric CIA station chief nicknamed Percival (James McAvoy), who helps her navigate an unsettled city full of secret spies and double-crossers.

Atomic Blonde exhibited a variety of long, uninterrupted action sequences that somehow felt both choreographed and improvised. There’s one particularly impressive scene where Lorraine takes part in hand-to-hand combat with a couple of KGB spies in a stairwell. All the actors involved slowly became bruised and battered over what felt like a ten-minute-long sequence. The KGB spies (who I assume were played by professional stuntmen) are repeatedly knocked down staircases, punched, and hit with random, indiscernible objects that Theron picks up off the ground. I found myself getting very invested in scenes like this, where the violence is so realistic that you wonder how the actors ever pulled it off. Or how physically painful falling down the stairs backwards was for the stuntmen, after doing it three consecutive times already.

Charlize Theron played the part of a sensual and fierce spy tremendously well, with no-nonsense body language and razor-sharp intelligence. Her character felt like a cross between John Wick and James Bond, and was by far one of the highlights of the film.

Just like most films based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde tries too hard to be artsy and stylistic in its filmmaking, and usually just came off as gimmicky. A fine example of this would be the neon spray painted title cards that introduced the audience to new locations. Unfortunately, small touches like this felt too forced and out of place, and I could almost hear the director screaming “I’m artistic, applaud me!” in my ear.

Another issue with the stylistic approach of Atomic Blonde was the incoherent way it told its story. The first half of the film jumped around to different characters and locations way too frequently, to the point where it became difficult to keep a firm understanding of what was happening.

By the time the film became more focused and coherent in the second half, the audience was already playing catch up in an attempt to comprehend the complex story. Character motives and alliances were so scrambled that, for this reason, I still don’t fully grasp the disjointed ending.

So, while it has its minor issues in storytelling and style, ultimately Atomic Blonde accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. That being, to create a female spy movie on par with the James Bond series. I don’t think that Atomic Blonde was as stylistic as it so desperately wanted to be, and the bizarre plot pacing actually hindered its storytelling capability.

Nonetheless the film was vastly entertaining, with great use of lighting and 80’s tracks to set the proper mood. With well-crafted action scenes and a fantastic lead actress, Atomic Blonde is an action film I’d recommend you give a watch, so long as you have the patience to sit through an overly complicated story.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint