Category Archives: Spy

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Movie Review

You know how I can tell this franchise is a satire of the James Bond series? The followup is even more ridiculous and weird than last time. This darkly comedic spy action film was released on September 22nd, 2017, earning back almost its entire $100 million budget in the opening weekend alone.  Dethroning IT for the top spot of the box office, this pretty much guarantees’s 2017 to be the biggest September of all time. Following the surprise success of The Secret Service, former Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn signed on to return to the helm again, a first for his career. And according to him, writing the screenplay with Jane Goldman was the hardest thing he had ever done. Roughly a year after the events of the first installment, Eggsy Unwin has firmly set into the titular espionage organization. A new drug organization called the Golden Circle led by Poppy Adams, played by Julianne Moore, systematically wipes out all of the Kingsman around the U.K. The only two survivors, Eggsy and Merlin, then travel to America to join their cousins, the Statesman. With their help, they plan to save the world from the drugs and avenge their fallen brethren. Kingsman: The Secret Service was a massive surprise on almost all accounts when it was released back in 2015. I loved almost everything about it: the action sequences, the cast, the dark humor, the wacky story. And admittedly, I am very skeptical about sequels, but I’ll always give them a chance. Since the film basically has nothing to do with the Mark Millar comic book of the same name, it would be especially interesting to see where this series would go. And while this followup is undeniably entertaining and over-the-top… it seems that this franchise has already run out of ideas. Many critics have complained about the film’s ridiculous and seemingly offensive nature. I would like to remind everyone that the first film featured a massacre inside the Westboro Baptist Church while the guitar solo of “Freebird” was playing. So if I were to go in expecting a challenging film from a serious filmmaker, then I would automatically be disappointed. But perhaps it’s because the first one was so shocking in its boundary-pushing attitude that we are less surprised when it happens. Its cynicism is actually quite apparent in its attempt to provide a satirical commentary on the War on Drugs. And while the female characters are relegated to the sidelines as villains or love interests, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it offensive. Easily the best thing holding this sequel together is Taron Egerton, who has grown comfortable as Eggsy. His foul mouth and sly wit make him extremely likable and worth rooting for against any bad guy that he faces. Mark Strong, meanwhile, gets a chance to show us more of Merlin after being a supporting player last time. Despite always getting typecast as a villain, he has a surprisingly effective sense of humor and his Scottish accent made his enunciation of certain phrases particularly chuckle-worthy. Colin Firth (Whose mere appearance in the trailers should warrant me talking about him, spoiler hounds) returns as Harry/Galahad and still retains the qualities of an unconventional father figure. At first he seemed like useless fan service, but he is later worked into the plot in a satisfyingish way. The way you can tell this film is bigger is because of how many big names have a role, large or small. Julianne Moore is one of the best actresses working today, and she’s not afraid to embrace her character’s quirkiness. You can tell she’s having a blast as the antagonist, especially since she parodies the cliches of a Bond villain. Elton John makes a three-scene cameo as a caricature of himself. He is rather hilarious and knows exactly how to make the audience laugh. The Statesman consist of Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, and Jeff Bridges as yet another heightened version of the actor we know and love. But honestly, I couldn’t really bring myself to care about them for they were so underdeveloped and speedily introduced. The whole technical behind-the-scenes crew returns for the second time around and it really shows. From the orchestral score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson to the incredible camerawork by George Richmond, Vaughn is able to keep his distinct personality in check at every frame. And while there was no real “church scene” this time, there was one battle near the end that seemed reminiscent of it as it was all captured (or edited and manipulated to look like) one shot. But the thing weighing The Golden Circle down is the absurd amount of new content shoved into the plot. As I’ve been critical with other films this year, the movie feels the need to put in more and more tidbits about the world that could be explored in a later installment. While some of that is interesting to see, and I do want to see more of it, there’s so much that is going on that it’s hard to stay attached to it all at the same time. It clocks in at just over 2 hours and 20 minutes long. It often feels as if at least 30 minutes were left on the cutting room floor. Studios- Make a good movie first, plan a franchise later. Even so, I didn’t completely hate it. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an overbloated and cumbersome sequel that still elicits some genuine enjoyment. Who knows, by tomorrow, I might not think anything of it anymore, but for now, it’s some passable fun. Without Egerton, Strong, Firth, or Moore, this movie would have sunk into the valley of forgettable corporate practice, but they make it more heartened. There is potential for this series in the future, and I want to see where they go. Just a little more restrained.

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Movie Review

I’ve come to the conclusion that this movie and its upcoming sequel are both more British than James Bond. And that’s saying something. This zany spy action-comedy from Kick-Ass director Mathew Vaughn held a surprise premiere at Austin’s Butt-Numb-Athon! event in December of 2014, before being released internationally on Valentine’s Day weekend of the following year. After that, it earned over $414 million worldwide against a ~$90 million, which is rather big for this kind of movie. Even though it’s based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the plot and characters are almost totally different than the source material. Think of it as one of those adaptations that use the original as a springboard for the opportunity to create something on their own. Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a troubled British youth leading a seemingly aimless life with his poor mother and abusive stepfather. One day, Colin Firth comes to his doorstep and invites him to join the Kingsman, a secret spy organization who Eggsy’s father was a member of. Following a grueling recruitment process, he joins a mission on stopping a wealthy megalomaniac, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Earlier this year, I reviewed the movie Atomic Blonde, a relatively enjoyable movie that suffered from a generic plot. And from the way that I just described the synopsis for Kingsman: The Secret Service, it sounds like it’s going to be another run-of-the-mill spy thriller that’s trying to copy James Bond, with just a dash of Men in Black. My friends, that is so far from the truth. This movie is anything but conventional for the genre. In fact, it goes so far out of its way to belittle cliches of the genre that you forget it’s trying to subvert them. There are many moments in the film where the characters specifically reference plot points from older Bond films like Thunderball and Goldfinger as comparisons for current happenings. As one person remarks, “This ain’t that kind of movie, bro.” It’s essentially the Scream of spy movies. I will say that sometimes, the film felt like it was a little too self-aware for its own good. But just the way it opens- “Money For Nothing” by the Dire Straits playing as a Middle Eastern compound is destroyed which inventively creates the title cards -lets you know that you’re watching a movie with a definite personality. As far as the performances go, this movie is filled with actors who surprisingly bring their A-game. Taron Egerton may be a newcomer, but damn if he isn’t one of the most promising ones to come along. You learn everything about his troubled past and the payoff for his training and hard work is so rewarding. Complete with a thick accent and endless charm, you’ll be rooting for him all the way through this 2 hour and 9 minute-long feature. Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and even a cameo by Mark Hamill elevate their small characters to have a certain human quality about them. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, overshadows all of them with his mere presence in each scene. His character has a weird lisp that can be kind of annoying, but the fact that he can’t stand the sight of blood makes him even more interesting and makes for some darkly comedic moments. Oscar-winner Colin Firth proves his worth as an action hero with the role of a mentor who teaches Eggsy how to be both a gentleman and a super-spy. According to IMDb, he performed approximately 80% of his own stunts, which makes him even more fun to watch. The film is also technically proficient, showcasing some excellent editing by Jon Harris and Eddie Hamilton through brutal and fast-paced action sequences. The camera work by George Richmond does fall into shaky cam at times, but to the point where you can’t tell what’s going on. The camera is constantly following whoever is the focus of the fight scene, including one particular sequence that I’ll discuss shortly. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson provide the musical score which perfectly accompanies the crazy scenes. They seem to take some inspiration from both Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, with high strings and bellowing horns overtaking big set pieces. But it’s not just original music, also some real-world songs that match the tone of the moments perfectly. One of those moments, the most discussed of the entire film, is when Colin Firth goes to a version of the Westboro Baptist Church and starts uncontrollably killing everyone inside. In fact, everyone starts killing each other, all of it going down to the guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” So, in case you had any ideas about watching this movie with your young children, keep in mind that Kingsman is very much rated R. A plethora of F-bombs and other British slang I’m not even going to explain already populated the screen, but there are also many violent sequences and a final anal sex gag that cements its homage to the James Bond franchise. For some, these moments are too over the top or off-putting to be enjoyable, and I understand that. Although its mature content will definitely not win over everyone, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an extremely fun time that never takes itself too seriously. I’m still in shock at how they were allowed to get away making this romp. I’m very much excited for the sequel, The Golden Circle, coming this September, and am generally happy that we have a new spy series to get invested in.

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“John Wick Chapter 2” Movie Review

Are you familiar with the phrase, “The sequels are just never as good as the original”? Well, to that, you should remember something: There’s always at least one exception to the rule. This neo-noir actioner was released over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2017. While it faced tough competition against The Lego Batman Movie and (unfortunately) Fifty Shades Darker, it still managed to gross over $171 million, more than twice that of its predecessor. Although David Leitch ultimately ducked out to do Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, former stuntman Chad Stahelski returns to direct this follow-up to the surprise hit of 2014, in a year full of surprise hits. Set only a few days after the events of the original, Wick is contacted by an old acquaintance after hearing of his recent exploits. Bound by a blood oath, he is forced to infiltrate and take out high-ranking members of an international assassins’ guild. His push out of retirement forces him to travel from New York to Rome and embarks on a journey that is best left unspoiled. The primary reason I held off on watching this picture for a while is that I hadn’t yet seen the first one. I’m the kind of person who likes to watch the original before the new one comes out, regardless if there’s any continuity. And in the case these movies, it’s especially important to watch the first one in order to gain a better understanding of the world built here. It jumps right in from the first scene- an exciting car chase through the streets of Manhattan -and never lets up. And from there, not only is Chapter 2 arguably better than the first movie, it’s perhaps the best action movie of 2017. And we’re knee deep in a year full of great ones. Keanu Reeves returns as the titular badass and hasn’t lost an ounce of his charm. One of the most likable movie stars on the planet, the fact that he is still making successful action movies at the age of 52 is really impressive. He also loves performing his own stunts, apparently getting himself into some hectic situations with the filming process. While John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Bridget Moynahan reprise their small but crucial roles, there’s a bevy of new characters- specifically villains -worth getting to know. Riccardo Scarmacio is our main antagonist and is pretty despicable. The task he gives Wick is difficult enough, but an action he takes later makes us love to hate him. Ruby Rose is his mute but efficient henchman while rapper Common is a bodyguard with a particular grudge against the main hero. Laurence Fishbourne shows up for about 15 minutes worth of screen time in his first collaboration with Reeves since The Matrix trilogy. Although he isn’t around much, his character is pretty interesting and makes for a nice change of pace with the dialogue. It’s clear that this film had a bigger budget than last time, given all of the lavish locations and glorious set pieces. Whereas last time it felt as though they blew most of their budget on the Red Circle Night Club scene, they had enough money to make as many extravagant sequences as they pleased. This film’s big standout was an escape sequence in the catacombs beneath a colosseum. My jaw was practically on the floor when it happened, and it may be- along with the car chase through the pass in Mad Max: Fury Road -the coolest action scene I’ve witnessed this decade. There’s another scene later on when John Wick is fighting these two hitmen who are after him and kills both of them with a pencil. With a FREAKING PENCIL! As if that story Viggo told us in the last movie wasn’t enough. The film already earned its R rating way early on with plenty of F-bombs and bloody action, but that scene cemented it. The film looks and sounds gorgeous, too. The many corridors provide an interesting backdrop for the action, drenching the characters in dark shadows and echoing footsteps. A film with this kind of gunplay is bound to have great audio, and it is really amazing. You can hear everything from the bullets whizzing by our hero’s head to the grunts from bullet wounds or hand-to-hand wounds. The color pallet is slightly differentiated from last time, but for the most part, it’s still a contrast between red and blue. And of course, the best part about the original John Wick wasn’t even the action scenes, but instead the inventive world-building. The credited screenwriter for this franchise thus far is Derek Kolstad, and he should get more name recognition for films like this. In the first one, he crafted a unique environment with enormous potential for a franchise, waiting for more interest to arise. Thankfully, he allowed this world to blossom in the sequel as we witness assassins not only all over New York City but everywhere in the world. All of the assassins, no matter what region they’re in, know who you are and the things you’ve done. This assassins’ guild, The High Table, may be the thing holding everything together, and there’s so much unexplained history worth exploring. You discover that the Continental Hotel reaches overseas, you see that their society is insistent on honoring codes, regardless of how bad they may be. It’s rare for action movies to build such a cool world while giving us some brilliant action scenes. Although a little less emotionally involving than the first one, John Wick Chapter 2 features incredible gunplay, intriguing world-building, and a badass hero staged at the center. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it doesn’t ever feel like it drags on or rushes too fast. In short, it does what every sequel should do: doubling down on what the first one great and running with. So much awesomeness to watch over and over.

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“Atomic Blonde” Movie Review

So, many people will probably tell you that this movie is a cross between Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and a female version of John Wick. I, for one, beg to differ. It’s a female version of John Wick crossed with Cold War-era The Usual Suspects… kind of. This neo-noir spy thriller from director/stuntman David Leitch first made waves at the South by Southwest film festival in March of 2017. After its wide release on July 28, it earned back over $45 million against a $30 million budget. The film was bought before its source material was even published and was meticulously put together over time. Based on the one-shot graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 operative in 1989. After a fellow agent/lover is cold-heartedly killed, she is assigned to find the killer who has a list of many other double agents smuggled into the West. Now she is sent to Berlin on the eve of when the Berlin Wall was torn down and gets entangled in a web of lies, spies, assassins, and murder. If the plot sounds like any spy thriller that you’ve seen before… that’s because you’d be right. I’ve always been optimistic about international spy thrillers, being a fan of films like The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Bourne Ultimatum, and the Mission Impossible and James Bond franchises. They often tend to be the same, but it’s typically both the style and the characters that keep them separated in my mind. Atomic Blonde definitely succeeds on a level of pure style, but its story and characters leave something to be desired. The style itself feels like a mixture of 80’s action with the slick production merits of modern filmmaking. The credits are shown through an old-fashioned computer screen and some of the graphics are shown through spray-poainting. Pretty much its own way of saying, “Look how different we’re trying to make this.” Most of the same technical crew behind the John Wick series are returning here and much of their talent is reused here to pretty good effect. Jonathan Sela’s cinematography uses many of the same color pallets and cues from before and uses them here. Seriously, this guy loves the contrast between blue and red, especially in the scenes of both Broughton’s apartment and various German clubs she attends. And yet again, it flows nicely with the editing job of Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir in many of the action scenes. The most talked-about sequence is a long and grueling fight in a hotel staircase. In a single 9-minute take, we follow Broughton from the top of the stairwell through two rooms, the lobby, a car, and the open streets of Berlin. It was a brutal and fast moment that kept me gripping my shirt (My seat was already gripped by someone else) and shocked at how they did it. Charlize Theron completely owns her role, officially cementing herself as one of the biggest female badasses of the decade. Although not as cool as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, her character is relatively interesting and keeps you guessing as to her true motive for everything. Apparently instrumental in getting this movie made, it’s also worth noting that she did all of her stunts and even chipped a tooth during filming. James MacAvoy is devilishly charming as her handler David Percival, a lustful con of a spy moving from West to East Berlin on a daily basis. His profane nature and mystery is a great departure from his role of Professor X in the new Xmen films. Sofia Boutella is becoming one of the fastest growing stars in Hollywood, and it’s clear to see why in her small but semi-essential role here. Her French accent and physique already make her attractive, but the way she delivers her lines is great. John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, and Bill Skarsgard round the supporting cast, and some shine more than others. Another thing worth noting is that Leitch clearly knew what to do about the music for this film. Even though Tyler Bates provides the original score, it’s completely overshadowed by the soundtrack of 80’s songs. From George Michael to the synthesized years of Queen to even some David Bowie, it was said that the director had requested a certain list of songs be used in the film, and roughly 75% of his ideas made it through. The film opens with a relatively tense scene set the beat of HEALTH’s cover of “Blue Monday,” which worked to establish the tough but fun tone. What weighs the film down is the execution of the story. As I said earlier, its plot is pretty much a retread of other spy films, specifically Mission Impossible from 1996. That would be fine, if safe, but much of the story is unfolding through a flashback inside an interrogation as Broughton is explaining the previous 10 days to her superiors. At that point, it felt like it wanted to be like Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, even throwing in a big whammy twist at the end for good measure. But the problem is that it twists itself into a messy bow and did it simply for the sake of providing a twist to keep people guessing. Say what you want about The Usual Suspects, at least it tried to satisfy us with a reveal that made sense and brought everything together. Oh yeah, and there’s a lesbian subplot. So? How did that help the movie overall? It didn’t make it any less tough to follow. Here, the story started out good but soon took a few too many turns for its own good. Atomic Blonde boasts some outstanding style and a badass hero but lacks much staying power. You’d probably be better renting this one. You don’t necessarily NEED to see this film, but if you do I’m sure you’ll have fun with it.

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“John Wick” Movie Review

You know, I own a dog myself. A boxer, in fact, and she’s the most adorable thing on the face of this planet. If she was killed by some mobsters in the middle of the night, I would totally go after them and kill anyone standing in my way. This stylish neo-noir action thriller was initially released on October 24, 2014, when it quadrupled its $20 million budget following its premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Fantastic Fest a month prior. The script was reportedly tossed around for a while before Keanu Reeves caught wind of it. After that, he contacted Lionsgate, and now we’re here. Reeves stars as John Wick, a highly efficient and renowned assassin who has recently retired to live a quiet life. A few days after his wife dies, he is left with a dog in her memory, and while out on a road trip of sorts with it, insults some young Russian gangsters. That night, they break into his house, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. Now Wick is on an Apache warpath for revenge, reigning down the wrath of God on the Russian mafia. Whenever Reeves is involved in the production of a film, I’m always cautious. In real life, he’s an extremely nice and likable guy, but his acting chops have been a bit hard to buy. He’s virtually been playing the same character for nearly 20 years since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And none of the advertisements really grabbed my attention. It just looked like yet another action film riding on our nostalgia from hits in the 1980’s as well as the 1990’s. But there’s none of that here. Turns out it’s actually a really fun time and feels so modern in so many different ways. For one thing, the action scenes themselves are remarkably constructed and brilliantly helmed. What makes them work is the fact that there is NO shaky-cam and very few cuts, allowing the audience to follow and see everything with ease. The standout moment for me, as it was for a lot of other people as well, was when John infiltrated the Red Circle Night Club and just went to town on every bodyguard centered there. Hands down the best night club sequence since Michael Mann’s Collateral in 2004, this will likely be evaluated as a new benchmark for action filmmaking. The cinematography by Jonathan Sela echoes something of Roger Deakins, as he uses controlled lighting to create harsh shadows and beautiful contrasts in color. Specifically, between a blue teal and light red. And Elizabet Ronalds’ slick editing is nice and doesn’t go all Tak3n on us. Let’s talk about the acting. It’s fine. Not especially impressive, but fine. Reeves plays arguably his best character to date, a morally ambiguous hitman who just wants to lay low. There are some scenes which require him to show off some dramatic feeling, and for the most part, it worked. He virtually has an immunity to bad dialogue and is perhaps the only person who could possibly make this series work. Not to mention, he brings a lot of physicality by performing his own stunts, and you can actually see his face. Michael Nyqvist stars opposite as the leader of the Russian mafia who wants to avoid a conflict with the titular hero. He doesn’t want to take over the world or even fight Wick; he just wants to keep his family business running. Game of Thrones alum Alfie Allen is foolish and cocky as his son who basically sets everything in motion. There are also a surprising number of supporting players, such as Ian McShane as the mysterious owner of an interesting hotel, both Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki as two assassins from John’s past, John Leguizamo as a quirky head of a chop shop, and Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s deceased wife. All of them contribute something interesting to the overall package. The best part about John Wick, by far, is the intriguing world-building. At first glance, it looks just like any other action thriller that you’ve seen. But in reality, it spends time constructing a fascinating heightened version of the world we live in, built specifically for assassins. There’s an actual currency of gold coins, a clean-up crew for nasty jobs, hideout locations for various mobs, and an understanding of law enforcement. The biggest standout is the Continental Hotel, an international housing business that prohibits criminals from carrying out business on their grounds. And now, there’s a planned T.V. show centered on this hotel in development, so I’m definitely surprised by all of it. In a way, it felt kind of like a video game world, but you buy it. Just the creation of this whole world alone is worth repeat viewings to catch all of the intricacies because 1 hour and 41 minutes didn’t quite feel like enough to satisfy. Although it lacks a certain tangible depth for me to recommend for everyone, John Wick is an excellent return-to-form for its star and a really fun thrill ride. You’ll also see a review for the 2017 sequel in a little while, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, you can enjoy this fast-paced action film and have some fun picking up everything in this complex world.

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“Wonder Woman” Movie Review

Sometimes, movies can teach its audience a valuable lesson. The lesson I took away from this one? Never question a woman when she has an opinion in the war room. Ever. This historical superhero adventure released worldwide on June 2nd, 2017, grossing over $220 million in the opening weekend. It took years for the character to make her onscreen debut, with Joss Whedon making attempts at it in the late 1990’s. Under the reigns of Monster director Patty Jenkins, Warner Bros. finally gave her a solo film this year. The titular character from DC Comics, played by Gal Gadot, lives on her paradise island of Themiscyra with her fellow female Amazon warriors. When American pilot Steve Trevor lands on their doorstep, Princess Diana is swept up into the War to End All Wars. Now, she must find the God of War Ares, who she believes is causing the conflict, and save humanity from tearing itself apart. Going into Wonder Woman, there was a certain level of expectations I had set. In the past, I was probably way too forgiving to Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a massive disappointment. But listening to the initial critical reactions, I was wondering if it would truly be the first great movie of the DC Extended Universe. Well, I’m very happy to report that that is the case. The biggest thing at the forefront of this film is the character interactions, particularly between Steve Trevor and Diana. And that is arguably the strongest aspect of the entire movie. Gal Gadot is practically flawless as the main hero, showing off all the charisma and charm of any cinematic male superhero you could think of. Her gradual discovery of mankind’s capability for violence and compassion gives her a genuine arc, rather than some god who is perfect at everything. Chris Pine is a magnificently funny counterpart to her in both essence and philosophy. While Diana believes strongly in the inherent goodness of man, Trevor is more world-weary and idealistic. Their back-and-forth banter is written sharply. In fact, the biggest thing distinguishing this film from its predecessors is just how funny it is. Previously, both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were total gloom-fests and Suicide Squad has some trouble finding its identity with a lack of balance. But Wonder Woman emerges with zero shame in its protagonist, highlighting much of the absurdity in a comical light. Is it cheesy and cliched sometimes? Yes, it is. You’ll likely hear this in many other reviews, but this charm is reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s Superman from 1978, the granddaddy of all modern superhero films, regardless of license. The period setting and “God-is-a-fish-out-of-water” premise are also familiar with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. To be clear, Wonder Woman is better and funnier than either of those two, but seeing that kind of influence is just so amusing. The funniest segment comes in the portion set in London when they come to visit higher-ups. Not only does Lucy Davis nail the role of Steve Trevor’s secretary, but there was a scene when Diana saved Trevor from thugs in an alleyway. Yet again, that reminded me of Richard Donner’s classic. The main villains were a mixed bag for me. Two of them were actually interesting and it was rather nice to watch their plans unfold. However, I felt that the reveal of Ares in the final act was ruined by a bit of miscasting and predictability. And like the previous installments of the DC Extended Universe, as well as arguably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman‘s final battle is a CGI-heavy festival of explosions and fantasy elements. It wasn’t necessarily a mess, it was relatively easy to follow but felt drawn-out. Speaking of action scenes, when they do happen in the movie, they are absolutely riveting to behold. The greatest and by far most memorable sequence in the entire movie is when our heroes are trying to help their comrades survive a bit of trench warfare. Diana brings out her outfit, shield and God-Killer sword, and walks into No Man’s Land determined to bring down the Kaiser’s men. In some ways, this was the centerpiece of the film, elevated by Martin Walsh’s fast-paced editing and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ pulsating orchestral score. Mixing the titular character’s electric guitar-driven theme song from Batman v Superman with swelling strings and horns is an interesting play. Also worth noting, pop artists Sia and Labrinth wrote an original song for the soundtrack called “To Be Human,” which plays as the credits begin to role. Fans should hold out to listen to a rather inspirational song. Just don’t expect any post-credits scenes of any kind while you’re at it. Ultimately, this movie has a message. A very important and relevant message that all of mankind, let alone comic book fans, need to be reminded of. As most of the film is told through the eyes of Diana/Wonder Woman, we see the human world as she does: grimy, desperate, washed away, and on the brink of self-destruction. But she also sees that as deeply flawed as it may be, and as evil the atrocities it can commit throughout history, humanity is still worth saving from the darkness. Incredibly challenging and uplifting, this message is the kind of optimism and hope our world desperately needs right now. My faith in humanity has been what it’s always been, but movies like this remind me of something that seems impossible to conceive of, yet easy to grasp. That, or I have no idea what the hell I’m actually talking about. With thrilling action, tons of heart, great acting, and clever homages to the original films of the genre, Wonder Woman is a love letter to female empowerment and a celebration of man’s worth for salvation. Go see this movie and support it actively. And then buy it on Blu-Ray. That’s what I’m doing next.

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review

Fan expectations, just like rebellions, are built on hope. This epic space opera opened to $323 million worldwide in the first 5 days. I have to assume that there are people who may think this the next film in the Star Wars saga; it’s not. This is the first of an Anthology series, where every other year there will be a completely different spin-off story set in the same universe as the titular franchise. This one takes place right before the events of A New Hope and follows Jyn Erso, an outsider who has been on her own for much of her life. Long story short, the Galactic Empire is building a brand new superweapon known as the Death Star, and a test for its effectiveness is eminent. The Rebel Alliance recruits Erso to help them find a way to stop it and get valuable information on how they could potentially counter it. I’m keeping it kind of vague for some people who wish to go into the movie completely cold and might not even know what I’m talking about. After giving us the modern incarnation of Godzilla 2 years ago, Gareth Edwards returns to the director’s chair in his third theatrical effort to date. And he does his best to make this film as different from the previous entries as possible. From the very beginning, there is no opening crawl with John Williams’ iconic score. Instead, an intense cold opener immediately sets the tone of the rest of the story. If they did have an opening crawl, it would have probably just recited the plot of the background novel, Catalyst, which is not required reading in case you’re wondering. The second in a string of strong female protagonists from the Walt Disney-owned franchise, Felicity Jones is excellent in the lead role. She puts a hard shell above the surface, but underneath is a vulnerable young woman who is trying to find her place in the galaxy; a universal theme in the series. The standout character of the movie isn’t human, nor even alien; it’s Alan Tudyk as the droid K2SO. He brought the right amount of humor into the dark story without compromising the flow. He was so hysterical, everyone in the theater was dying laughing at everything that he said. I love me some sarcastic, smart-ass characters. Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe kicked complete ass as a blind Force-sing monk. His dialogue and nature brought a newly found depth to already existing lore. His relationship with the mercenary Baze Malbus, played superbly by Jiang Wen, is one of the most interesting and appealing in the movie. Now let’s touch on the villain. If you went to this movie because Darth Vader is in it, you probably going to be disappointed because he only appears in about 3 scenes total. He’s still badass, and for the first time, it becomes apparent that this guy is legit scary. The REAL villain is Orson Krennic, played marvelously by Ben Mendohlson. He’s obsessive, brilliant, cruel, and yet in some way sympathetic. In fact, the thing this movie does best is showing the uglier, grayer side of warfare. It’s not just good guys are trying to take out bad guys. Even though there’s still a dynamic of good vs evil, the Rebel Alliance make a few decisions in the story that could be considered immoral. But on both sides, there are people who genuinely believe that they’re doing what’s best for the future of the galaxy. Forrest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera proves as much. Even though he’s not in the movie much, his actions are extreme but you understand where his motivations come from. But the pacing in the first half of the movie drags on for a bit. It spends a lot of time introducing new characters and locations quickly, resulting in the story slowing down. However, I can’t judge whether or not 133 minutes was long enough or too short for this to happen. Could they have shaved off or added several minutes? That’s entirely your opinion. However, in moving on, we get to the third act, the final battle; it’s epic. That’s the only word I can use to accurately describe the entirety of the final 45-50 minutes of the film. It’s at that point the writers decided to really put the “Wars” in Star Wars. It’s gritty, it’s harsh, it’s explosive, there are no lightsabers clashing. Of all the entries in the series, Rogue One is probably the most ground and violent when it comes to action, with more onscreen deaths than most of the original trilogy. Edwards shows his affinity for large-scale filmmaking with Greig Fraser’s swooping cinematography of the land battles and space combat. It’s also worth noting that a couple characters from the original trilogy were brought back with extensive CGI. I won’t say which characters, but I could tell they needed some work from ILM. Admittedly, though, I adjusted to them after a while and didn’t have much of a problem. And with series regular John Williams sitting this one out, Michael Giacchino steps in to score the soundtrack- and I can’t think of a better composer they could have gotten for the job. Utilizing familiar themes while toying with brand new ones, each track matches perfectly with the scene in question. It brings out all the emotion and excitement we can expect from a Star Wars movie at this point. Even though the first act was slow, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic action movie with enough balance of spectacle and heart to warrant the Star Wars logo. Delivering impactful mature themes along with one of the most exciting and satisfying final acts for any movie I’ve seen recently, there’s a bright future ahead for this franchise. I’m now more excited than ever for the Han Solo prequel film in 2018. Yes, I’m excited for a Star Wars prequel. Crazy.

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