Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Logan (2017): His Time Has Come

Posted: March 7, 2017 in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
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Years after the near extinction of mutant kind, Logan has gone into seclusion except for a part-time job driving a limo service. He is approached by a woman but continually tries to avoid her. Eventually, she corners him and offers to pay him the money he has been searching for to take her and a young girl to Canada. While taking time to think about it, he returns to the woman to find that the motel room has been raided and the girl is nowhere to be found. Though he believes that he has dodged the job, he is followed back to his hideout and trouble join him.

The Beginning of the End: The story in this X-Men film took a dark turn from the start. With most of the mutants gone, it initially appeared that only Logan and Xavier remained. Both men were in dire straits and extremely poor condition. While Xavier seemed to be struggling with a combination of mental illness and his psychic abilities, Logan’s healing factor had significantly slowed and his motivation to live had all but died. The chaos that erupted from meeting Gabriela and Laura interrupted his self-destruction, but it also set him on a dangerous path against odds that no longer fell in his favor.

Loss of Innocence: This film was the first time that Marvel/Fox ventured into the rated-R realm with a well-established character. Deadpool started at rated-R and was billed to be a very different sort of superhero film. Wolverine, on the other hand,  has had some mixed adventures, including some bad one-liners and rocky storylines. This venture felt more like DC’s decision to go dark with the Dark Knight trilogy after having a very different experience compared with the 90s films. The combination of language, violence, gore, and heavy, emotional themes has helped Marvel turn a corner into an area not explored until now.

Days of Future Past: While this may have been the final film for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the the success may also pull both actors back into the fold for future stories. Now that we have seen the end of the X-Men, there exists plenty of story to fill in the gaps of how the mutants disappeared and what events led to the deterioration of Professor X. If the story were to push toward the future, there is opportunity to build off the ending from Logan.

Final Verdict: While Wolverine has had multiple outings with different storylines, this was the best film in the series. The characters had depth. Dafne Keen was a complicated and compelling young actress. Hugh Jackman gave the best start to finish performance of his career and introduced a whole new version of superhero films.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Rouge One (2016): A Star Wars Story

Posted: February 27, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
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With the Empire in development of a great weapon, a band of rebels wondered if there was a chance of survival against the increasing impossible threat. When the Rebel Alliance discovered Jyn Erso in captivity, they get her released in an effort to see if they could uncover the secrets of the weapon partially created by her father. She reluctantly agreed to help the Rebellion, if only to get her freedom and get away from the conflict. As they continued to pursue the Death Star plans, Jyn’s desire to see the mission through and avenge her father drove her to lead a group into the fray.

The Start of a New Hope: While this may have been a story to provide context for the start of A New Hope, it stood on its own as part of the struggle against the Empire and in the battle of the light and dark sides. Jyn Erso did not choose to be part of the Rebellion, but she served as the catalyst for how the Rebels found their opportunity to battle back the darkness that was spreading throughout the galaxy. If the films had been produced in the order of the actual story, it would have fit directly into the storyline.

The Increasing Strength of Heroines: While it has been an increasing trend in films over the past decade, sci-fi has taken a lead in creating roles for women to serve in position of strength and complexity. For Felicity Jones, her performance was one of great leadership and power. It reminded me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, as a woman seeking a sense of purpose and empowering those around her to act for the greater good.

Knowing but Still Surprising: While the end result of the film was already known, the story was still full of surprises and excitement. Most of the characters were new to those who have only seen the films and the locations were as imaginative and expansive as the main trilogies. Considering that A New Hope gave away the fact that the mission was both a success and a tragedy for the lost lives, the action on Scarif remained a gripping moment in the epic struggle.

Final Verdict: This standalone feature may be part of the epic Star Wars story but also an achievement in branching out. The magic of Star Wars is something everyone can appreciate and the Rebels came out fighting.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
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Three years into their five year mission, Kirk is questioning his position as captain of the Enterprise. Seeing an opportunity to prevent feeling lost in the depths of space, he pursues a chance to seek out a vice admiral position at the space station, Yorktown. While in port at Yorktown, an escape pod is intercepted with a distressed passenger. Kirk takes up a mission to help her save her people by traveling through an uncharted nebula. Their mission is cut short when danger appears on the other side of the nebula and threatens the lives of the entire Enterprise crew.

Finding Purpose through Challenge: One of the main themes of the film pitted Kirk and Spock in a battle of purpose. While Kirk was proud to serve his crew and would risk his life for them, he felt he was always in his father’s shadow. He doubted his purpose and motivation to serve his crew to the best of his ability. Similarly, personal challenge seemed to cause Spock to become more distant and personal tragedy had him questioning whether he should stay with the crew or return to New Vulcan to support his people.

Reboot Successful: While Star Wars has experienced significant success expanding the universe over the past few years, Star Trek was believed to still be more niche. With strong actors like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, the stories and themes feel more relatable and entertaining than the other recent attempts to bring back the series. It feels like there is a future for the Starship crew.

Tribute & Dedications: One of the saddest pieces of news prior to the release of this film was the loss of Leonard Nemoy. He had been a cultural icon in the sci-fi community and was truly loved by many, many people. In addition to Nemoy, Anton Yelchin passed suddenly, just as he was rising in the spotlight.

Final Verdict: Star Trek Beyond has all the elements that have aided in the growing support for the new series. The blend of current trends and classic elements makes for an entertaining experience.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

In the wake of the death of Superman, fear of a future metahuman attack is rising. Amanda Waller, a secret government official, has devised a plan to pull together some of the worst villains to serve under her control as a safety measure against a potential future metahuman attack. At the head of the team are Harley Quinn and Deadshot, with Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Killer Croc, Katana, and Slipknot in tow. Rick Flag, serving as the team leader, takes the squad into Midway, which has been overrun by a strange mutant presence at the control of the Enchantress and her brother Incubus. With the world ready to fall under the magical grip of the ancient old evil spirit, the squad is thrown into the fray with only their lives as motivation to follow out Waller directive.

Introductions Incomplete: This film felt like the plot was an afterthought in an attempt to get this band of villains on-screen together. The only three characters to have a real story told about them were Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and the combination of Flag and Enchantress. With Harley, the Joker was an important piece, but her devotion to him and her insanity stole the show from the entire rest of the cast (partially because Margot Robbie actually is a talented actress). For Deadshot, the motivation was very clear for his continued engagement in the fight, but it took away from the true essence of the squad with the multiple cutaways to his backstory and inner struggle. Flag and Enchantress were set up as a requirement for piecing together a rather weak story, but the rush of their storytelling pales in comparison to the rest of the team and DC’s continued attempt to do too much.

Bad Does Not Have to Equal Bad: It is less common for films to focus on the villains as the protagonists (somewhat an oxymoron) but this film had real promise. The idea of forcing villains to do good presented a story where morality, redemption, and the strength of evil could all play with one another. Instead, DC churned out another haphazard combination of scenes meant to wow the viewer with special effects while minimizing the attention to the depth of the character development or foundation for an epic set of stories. Independence Day was another “good” example of this, as they focused on nostalgia to sell tickets and confuse their viewers with awkward, frantic fight scenes. What was the squad even fighting in this film? What was the Enchantress turning people into? Why was the Joker even part of this film?

What is the Deal with the Joker: With all of the hype of this film, some of the biggest questions were why the Joker was even part of the story and why they hyped him up in the first place. Unfortunately, Jared Leto’s version of the joker paled in comparison even to the awkward Joker-like performance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther in Batman v. Superman. Were they trying to make him a more mature version of the 90s cartoon version of the Joker? If so, they completely missed the mark. His scenes added little development to an already weak story, and his only real significant moment was his attempted rescue of Harley. At least his presence got Harley to say “puddin'” multiple times?

Final Verdict: DC Comics still has a long way to go to figure out how to develop a thoughtful, organized, tasteful, and balanced film. Their superheroes have so much potential, but only the original Superman series and the Dark Knight trilogy have provided promise for bringing the Justice League into existence. In the meantime, people will flock to these films (like me) to see the attempted imagining of these characters and stories hitting the big screen, but I am not holding my breath for them to figure it out anytime soon.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

The Purge (2016): Election Year

Posted: July 9, 2016 in Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
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After years of accepting the Purge as a necessary evil, Senator Charlie Roan finally has enough momentum to strike a blow against the New Founding Fathers of America. Fearing the potential loss against the upstart politician, NFFA changes the game and eliminates the immunity previously provided to politicians on Purge night. Leo Barnes accepts a job on Roan’s security detail and works to ensure that her home is safe. When the security fails and the home is infiltrated, Leo rushes out of the house with the senator and takes off to find new refuge. Safety may be short-lived, but the pair find another group of survivors trying to outlast the night.

Election Year Themes: While the story focused on the election going on in the fictional US, there were a number of themes directly connected to the real election of 2016. One of the most prominent elements was the slogan, “Keep America Great.” There are also a number of religious-political associations with Christianity being used as a distorted weapon of cleansing through sacrifice and atonement. The Purge supporters used the night as a way to get their bloodlust out of their system, eliminate their enemies, and move on with life as usual the following day.

The Worst of Humanity: Tied to many of the real-world themes we see in social politics and the political world was this intense desire to lash out against ideologies and individuals who are different from you. Whether the snobby girl stealing from the convenience store or the civil rights leader looking to eliminate a threat, violence seemed to be the only expression these people could find to manage their dissonance. The Purge was a scapegoat for allowing people to subvert to their baser instincts and destroy that which they disagree or detest.

Graphic Detail but Lack of Depth: While there were some intelligent connections made to current issues, the film was not much more than an excuse to exhibit craziness, violence, and unusual ways to harm others. One of the quick flashes included an alleyway with a guillotine, but more significant was the moment where the Purge supporters purged their sins through the sacrificing of one they deemed unworthy of life. While some of the violence was not much more graphic than the bulk of similar films out there, the overall theme made some of the events feel a bit more intense.

Final Verdict: This is not a very quality film and misses an opportunity to dive deeper into its themes. Violence was obviously the most significant element of the film, but political tensions, honesty, and humanity’s struggle between base survival and higher living were only surface level inclusions.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

Judy Hopps aspires to do more than work with her family’s carrot farm. Graduating at the top of her class, she sets off for Zootopia, a metropolis where animals of all backgrounds live together in harmony outside of the traditional predator-prey relationship. As the first rabbit police officer, she believes she will be treated as an equal. Instead, she is reduced to the role of a meter maid. Though she gets caught up with a mischievous fox, it is a series of reports of feral animals that present an opportunity to rise to something more. The only problem is that the case may lead her to the awful truth about predators and prey.

Disney Wins Again: While it was not one of the Pixar features, the proven formula for Disney films continues to breed successful additions to their library. Anthropomorphic animals tend to be hits with all audiences, but the thought and care into the environments was just as important as the characters themselves. Creating a metropolis that engages animals from all walks of life took some true planning and thoughtfulness. All of the themed animal puns and connections did not hurt either.

Social Justice on a Different Level: This film tackled some interesting social justice themes. The elimination of predator-prey relationships was meant to be a move toward social equality, but fear of the predators falling back into their violent ways could have been interpreted in several different ways. It could have been a representation of hidden bigotry being ingrained and something that has to be overcome. It could have been related to a sense of being unable to fight one’s primitive ways, though this is overcome in the end. Judy’s and Nick’s stories challenged those perceptions as both worked through their ingrained fears. The odd twist in this case was that the story focused on the prey holding prejudice against the predators, distrusting the predators’ ability to overcome base instincts.

Cartoon Buddy Cop Comedy: While there are plenty of buddy cop comedies out there, few star a rabbit and a fox. Their personalities could not be anymore different from each other. Judy represented a someone focused and determined to achieve great things. She focused on honesty and hard work. Nick was more like his animal namesake. Sly and shifty, he was focused on skirting the law to earn money and cheat the system. They only found themselves stuck together when Judy realized that she needed someone who could help her solve the disappearing citizens case and she could exploit his many misdeeds to lock him in as a partner. Their understanding and respect for each other grew over time, as one would expect from a Disney film.

Final Verdict: Rich with content, story, and atmosphere, Zootopia is another strong showing from Disney. While it may have not surpassed the phenomenon of Frozen, its deeper story and thought-provoking themes make for a stronger overall film. This may be a dark horse to sneak its way into Oscar status, even with other major releases like Finding Dory and Secret Life of Pets in the mix.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

20 years ago, aliens were almost able to destroy the world. After their defeat, a period of peace followed with nations around the world working together on adapting the technology to improve planetary defenses. Believing that Earth was prepared for another attack, a time of celebration was set for the anniversary. Unfortunately the new threat is much bigger than the first. Though equipped with the technology to somewhat match up against their defenses, the fight seems beyond the Earth’s reach.

Big Cast, Little Development: One of the things this film banks on is the reintroduction of the cast from the first film and addition of older castings for some of the children. No Will Smith, no problem. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, and Brent Spiner all reprised their roles. Jessie T. Usher stepped in to take over as the adult version of Dylan and Maika Monroe took over as Patricia Whitmore. With many more elements to the cast, it felt quite a bit stretched with almost no real connection to any of the characters. There were enough moments with emotional manipulation to hide some of the problem, but it was also quite clear.

Destruction of World Part II: In 1996, the giant spaceships with city-destructing beams were awe-inspiring and horrifying. 20 years later, the ante was upped with a ship that covered at least 15% of the Earth. Trying to mine the Earth for the molten core, the aliens were looking for energy to power their technology. Though they had other intentions with tracking down another alien race, Earth also had an element of retaliation to make up for their previous failure.

Minimal or Maximum Death: With an alien invasion of significantly larger size, it would only be assumed that there would be significantly more death. There were a couple of named deaths in order to give the film some sense of loss, but there were a few problems with the way it was done. The named deaths were rather quick and lacked solid emotional setup to make them truly noteworthy. As for the wide scale destruction, large numbers of people died without a second thought or any real representation on-screen, while a couple moment of survival appeared rather infeasible.

Final Verdict: The film has the blockbuster explosions and action that would be expected as a followup to the original. While the dialogue was not as cringeworthy as I thought it would be, the story was a little too grandiose and underdeveloped to be a truly successful sequel.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5