Archive for the Adventure Category

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Superhero with tags on June 4, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Occasionally, it’s better to enjoy a movie for the spectacle that it is and worry less about the story contained within. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is that kind of picture. This is the sequel to 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature that introduced the idea of multiple Spider-People across variants of Earth. I dare say it’s even better than its acclaimed predecessor.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is an Afro-Latino teen living in Brooklyn. He’s a good kid trying to live up to his parents (Brian Tyree Henry & Luna Lauren Velez) expectations while balancing the responsibilities of being Spider-Man. Miles reunites with Spider-Woman and potential love interest Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). They meet a team of other Spider-People who act as the gatekeepers to keep these disparate dimensions intact. He learns from them that certain fundamental events must be allowed to happen (perhaps even the death of a loved one). If not, then their particular world risks being destroyed. There’s a new villain / evil scientist called The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), and Miles disagrees with the team on how to handle that threat.

This animation is so visually innovative that it resets the standard for the medium. Whether comic book illustrations, watercolors, newspaper cutouts, or Leonardo da Vinci sketches, the assortment of heroes and villains sample from an impressive variety of techniques. Each character is a uniquely realized creation. One (Jake Johnson) carries around his newborn baby, another (Issa Rae) rides a motorcycle; there’s an Indian personality (Karan Soni) from a city blend of Mumbai and Manhattan, a UK punk rocker (Daniel Kaluuya) that looks like Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a muscular “ninja vampire” version (Oscar Isaac) from the year 2099. Each is a diverse individual with a distinct identity, and they all combine to fight crime.

Directors Joaquim Dos Santos (Nickelodeon TV series The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul), and Justin K. Thompson direct from a screenplay once again penned by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) alongside David Callaham. It’s a chaotic epic bursting with stuff, but for most of the narrative, I was content to sit back and be dazzled by all the shiny colors and textures of the animation. Graphically it’s vivid and vibrant, but it still manages to insert some emotional stakes about Miles and his family that are genuinely compelling.

Given that Miles is a teen living in New York, the soundtrack captures the spirit of his musical tastes. Record producer Metro Boomin has assembled a collection of slow grooves and percolating beats that perfectly augment the visuals on screen. The sampling of modern hip-hop infused with pop vocals linger in the mind. “Am I Dreaming” (with ASAP Rocky and Roisee) and “Annihilate” (with Swae Lee, Lil Wayne, and Offset) are standout cuts. In addition, composer Daniel Pemberton returns to do the score.

My biggest quibble (and this is becoming an unfortunate trend because Fast X suffered from the same issue); the chronicle ends on a cliffhanger, so the saga is incomplete. You have to wait until 2024 for Beyond the Spider-Verse to see how it all plays out. They had plenty of time to construct a proper ending. This is a 2-hour 20-minute cartoon — the longest ever made in the West. (Japan has released many far longer examples) Nevertheless, this sets up an exciting promise for what comes next, so the film did its job in that sense. It is a dazzling extravaganza of style.


The Little Mermaid

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on May 27, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When critics lament the lack of creativity in modern entertainment, Disney’s habitual reliance on live-action remakes is usually exhibit A. I was surprised to discover Wikipedia lists ten made since 2019. I tolerate these pictures. Every so often, one will break through and captivate me. The 2015 adaptation of Cinderella remains the best because it felt like its own creation and, in some ways, improved upon the source. The two most recent examples, Pinocchio and Peter Pan & Wendy are some of the worst offenders. They bypassed theaters and went directly to Disney+ on streaming. The fact their existence is already forgotten is some consolation, given the unmitigated inferiority of those films.

It was only a matter of time before the studio would get their hands on The Little Mermaid. The classic cartoon kickstarted the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast were created during this period. Their live-action reimaginings were merely adequate but highly profitable. Both grossed a billion dollars worldwide. This big-budget production is getting a massive global release in theaters. The picture is expected to be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — hits of the summer. The new interpretation is competent, and while the movie has its moments, the magic is largely missing.

The good: A couple of the performances shine through. Halle Bailey is pleasant as Ariel. She has a beautiful singing voice and conveys the wide-eyed innocence needed for this part. Also, Melissa McCarthy is an effective villain as Ursula, the evil sea witch with octopus tentacles. She’s channeling actress Pat Carroll, who voiced the character before. McCarthy rises to the challenge of the campy part. She’s having fun. The production design is appealing, and whenever developments are happening underwater, things go swimmingly. Although nothing comes close to the breathtaking effects of last year’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

The bad: Everything is a dutiful exercise in copying something that already exists in a better form. It’s too frigging long. The animated feature was a breezy delight that didn’t waste a second in a scant 83 minutes. This update adds another 52 minutes to a patience-testing runtime. Every single scene in this bloated film is expanded until it overstays its welcome. Plus, three forgettable new tunes are added. The remainder of the cast (not Halle or Melissa) spans a spectrum of fair to not good. Pointless to list everyone else. I’ll simply highlight: Ariel’s ocean friends Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle were captivating characters with big personalities. Now observe these nature-realistic reproductions of a crab (Daveed Diggs), a fish (Jacob Tremblay), and a bird (Awkwafina). They are not cute.

The best — dare I say sacred — element has always been the songs. Yet even those have been manipulated and changed. Fundamental lyrics have noticeably been removed or altered to affect a less offensive worldview. My favorite (and most iconic) line: “And don’t underestimate the importance of body language!” from “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” is gone. Why someone thought the antagonist had to convey more positive language is a complete misunderstanding of the character’s motivation. How the songs are performed is occasionally different too. In the original “Under the Sea” number, the entire ocean floor of organisms is a rocking band that participates with backing vocals. Not here, though. The creatures dance around, but they don’t play instruments. Only Sebastian sings, with Ariel joining him at the end to sing in agreement. Huh? I thought she didn’t want to stay “under the sea.”

The Disney formula for these reworkings is to stick closely to the source for the sake of nostalgia but gently tweak a few details in superficial ways. If you’re taking kids to see this first before ever having shown them the 1989 release, the obvious question is, Why? The original blows this version out of the water. Children and some adults may be dazzled by what it is: an expensive spectacle. For everyone else, it’s hard to shake that this was done infinitely better 34 years ago. The animated model prevails as the standard.


Fast X

Posted in Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller with tags on May 20, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Fast X is an outlandish chapter in a series overflowing with ridiculous entries. The template was well-established long ago. Take a beloved group of individuals working for a mysterious government organization known as The Agency. Have them jet off to far-flung areas of the world and participate in various death-defying action stunts against some evil baddie. Remove anything that approaches realism. Treat everything and everyone like a cartoon.

Even given these loose parameters, Fast X is a sloppily constructed picture. Louis Leterrier directs from a screenplay by Dan Mazeau and original director Justin Lin (who left after a “major disagreement” with Vin Diesel). The adventure opens with the heist from Fast Five. Even the writers acknowledge the franchise hit its peak when the gang dragged a heavy safe of money through the streets of Brazil. They lifted it from crime boss Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). In a bit of retrofitted history, the script asks us to accept that his son Dante (Jason Momoa) was watching it all from a bridge. Hernan dies, but Dante is knocked off the platform and safely lands in the water. He wants revenge naturally.

Every Fast & Furious entry boasts a unique antagonist. This one has a doozy. Jason Momoa isn’t the “best” villain (that’s Jason Statham), but he’s definitely the most memorable. Dante Reyes doesn’t want to kill Dom; he wants him to suffer. Dante is a preening sociopath that wears his hair in pigtail buns and paints his fingernails in pink and lavender hues. His twisted spa day of drinks with corpses that have their eyes taped open is the most disturbing scene in the entire decalogy. I wish I could unsee it. Momoa stands out in an ensemble packed to the gills with stars. I considered listing them all, but (1) this is a “fast” film review, and (2) being surprised by random celebrities who pop up is one of this picture’s few joys. Vin Diesel still unites it all in the role that defines his career. He’s as inextricably tied to Dominic Toretto as Stallone is to Rocky or Arnold is to the Terminator.

Fast X isn’t a coherent story but an assemblage of action spectacles strung together—most of which recall things we’ve seen before. The gang goes on a bombastic tour of the globe, where death and destruction follow them wherever they go. Dom, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Han (Sung Kang) fly to Italy to apprehend Dante Reyes. There they confront a massive bomb on fire, rolling through the streets of Rome like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A lot of other crazy things happen. It’s a blur. Precious little of it makes sense, including the physics of the stunts, who is working for whom, and why people are doing what they’re doing. I’m still amazed their ever-expanding “family” keeps absorbing past antagonists. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Jakob Toretto (John Cena), and now Cipher (Charlize Theron) are all serving a team they used to oppose.

Fast X uses the Roman numeral for 10, but it could well stand for X-treme. The end is in sight. We’re twenty-two years in, and the series finally appears to be packing its bags with an eye on the finish line. But ever so slowly, mind you. This installment is allegedly part one of a climatic trilogy. So be forewarned that the movie ends abruptly on a cliffhanger with the bad guy on top. Speaking of bad guys, if there’s a common enemy in every flick, it’s restraint. This has always been a franchise where more is more. At $340 million, it’s the most expensive of the Fast & Furious releases by a wide margin. It could have been the longest as well but F9 narrowly exceeds it by a mere two minutes. Fast X just feels the most exhausting. I did enjoy the film, but I can’t defend it. Let’s say it’s not good, but it is fun.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on May 8, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 caps off a trio of films nine years in the making. I’ll cut right to the chase. The 32nd chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a touching and satisfying end. It’s the most consistent trilogy in the MCU (Spider-Man and Captain America are contenders too). It may not compete on a level with the original Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but I teared up several times. I wasn’t expecting that.

Our ragtag team of intergalactic mercenaries is just settling in their new headquarters. We see that Peter Krill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova) are all there. Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) will appear later, but she, well, uh, her reemergence requires more explanation. Anyway, they are suddenly attacked by a powerful being named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). In the ensuing fight, Rocket is injured to the point where his very life is at stake. Now the team must search for a cure which leads them to a wicked scientist named The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).

We learn in flashback that Rocket was part of a cruel genetic experiment by this man. We meet other animals, an otter with mechanical arms (Linda Cardellini), a walrus with wheels for legs (Asim Chaudry), and a rabbit (Mikaela Hoover) with robotic attachments that make her look like a spider. They are strange in appearance but have sweet and cuddly personalities, giving Rocket emotional strength. What sets this episode apart is the sentimental component. Sure, we get a big-budget extravaganza boasting a curated soundtrack full of songs that I love, but it’s in the narrative’s quieter moments that truly shine. Rocket Raccoon is the focus, and his backstory is truly affecting.

This PG-13 release pushes that rating to its limit. The High Evolutionary, played by Chukwudi Iwuji, is a sadistic villain full of Shakespearean intensity. He is a degenerate with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The account can be violent. “Kill ’em all!” Star-Lord instructs when faced with an unholy army at one point. Or could that be the Earthling’s favorite Metallica album? Director James Gunn’s casual disregard for life is troubling. However, it’s the scenes involving animal cruelty that have garnered the most discussion. Some of it is a bit much.

The various incidents — even the traumatic ones — inform a narrative with real stakes. Ok, so yeah, there’s a surplus of characters, and it’s overstuffed with plot. Nevertheless, I’m now convinced MCU films need over two hours to excel. Thor: The Dark World is the shortest and arguably worst entry. Vol. 3 presents a thrilling saga with action spectacles that deliver. The production design is a dazzling display of sets and costumes with an eye toward humor. Nathan Fillion appears as Master Karja wearing a suit that looks like it was borrowed from the production of The Fifth Element. That’s exalted praise. Throw in a genuinely poignant tale that tugs at the heartstrings. Rocket’s origins are explored in depth, and his past is tragic, to say the least. There’s a lot going on. Developments can get visceral, but the story’s intentions are noble. Animal testing is wrong, and good wins out over evil. This beloved group goes out with style. I couldn’t ask for a more hopeful sendoff than that.


Peter Pan & Wendy

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on May 4, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play and 1911 novel have inspired a multitude of live-action movies. There’s been nine (according to Wikipedia), including Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), Peter Pan (2003), directed by P. J. Hoganan, and Joe Wright’s 2015 prequel Pan. The most notable is still the animated adventure fantasy by Disney in 1953. That is the inspiration for this official non-animated version of their animated treasure.

Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) has a talent for detailed art direction, heavy on the mood. The Green Knight (2021), a poetic saga, was a feast for the senses but low on plot. Predictably, Lowery’s take here offers a darker, more realistic look than its predecessor. The production design is luxurious. Unfortunately, an inherently captivating adventure is somehow rendered less engaging. Peter Pan & Wendy would play better with the sound off and listening to an alternate soundtrack. Leonard Bernstein’s score for the 1950 Broadway musical would seem appropriate.

There’s no one to root for. The characters are sapped of their charm and warmth. The biggest miss is the titular Wendy Darling herself (Milla Jovovich’s daughter, Ever Anderson). She affects a perpetual state of resentment. Her two younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), irritate her. She’s also upset that she’s being shipped off to boarding school the next day. She tells her mother (Molly Parker) she does not want to grow up. She’d much rather swordfight. That night a sprite (Yara Shahidi) that emotes without words appears in their room. Tinker Bell was a fiery and jealous individual in the original. Here she simply exists as a device to sprinkle magic dust and little else. Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) appears as an afterthought. Actor Alexander Molony is a suitably impish boy but strangely gloomy and withdrawn. His waifish countenance is almost expressionless. No matter because his role is significantly reduced in this narrative.

The rest of the cast fares no better. The three Darling children (that’s with a capital D) get sprinkled with Tinker Bell’s fairy dust and fly off to Neverland. There they meet Captain Hook (Jude Law), who we learn had his right hand cut off by Peter Pan and fed to a crocodile. Hook is the villain but has a backstory explaining why he’s misunderstood. Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) is a dignified and noble hero who heads an ethnically inclusive coterie of children. The so-called Lost Boys also happens to include girls. “But you’re not all boys,” Wendy notices, then immediately corrects herself. “I guess it doesn’t really matter!” she observes. Indeed, it doesn’t, and neither does any of this.

Peter Pan & Wendy begins promisingly. Their mom, Mrs. Darling, portrayed by actress Molly Parker, affects a maternal love that is most appreciated. But over 109 minutes, the developments become a chore to watch. This straight-to-Disney+ exercise is labored and dreary. It needs fun. Even the battles are monotonous. The messy amalgamation inartfully blends a slavish devotion to its source but with conspicuous course correcting. The film feels more like an apology than an affirmation of Disney’s animated classic.

What more can I add? The actors are unengaging. The action is mundane. The color is often dull. Oh, Peter is a supporting character in a movie that bears his name. Just call this Wendy: The Tale of a Petulant Individual.


The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on April 13, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There’s nothing wrong with giving people what they want. This is sometimes necessary when adapting a video game into a feature-length film. A collection of references only a connoisseur could appreciate satisfies a fundamental requirement. The Super Mario Bros. Movie honors the original entity, which makes it far better than the infamous 1993 adaptation Super Mario Bros. It checks all the boxes as fan service at its most effective. Why did this take 30 years?

It’s a basic hero’s journey that the youngest viewer will understand. Based on Nintendo’s popular video game series, the chronicle concerns a pair of Italian-American plumbers from New York City. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) leave their employer Spike (Sebastian Maniscalco), to start their own plumbing business. While fixing a leaky pipe in a Brooklyn sewer, the duo is sucked into a portal and separated into alternate dimensions. Luigi plummets into the Dark Lands, ruled by a ruthless fire-breathing Koopa King named Bowser (Jack Black). Meanwhile, Mario arrives in the Mushroom Kingdom, ruled by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). There he also meets an anthropomorphic mushroom named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key). They all join forces. Mario’s goal is twofold: find his brother Luigi and save the world from Bowser.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is centered on the platform game of the same name with a long history. Developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it was first released in Japan in 1985 before making its way to the rest of the world by 1987. However, a myriad of spin-offs featuring the Mario character exists. Even oldsters (Hello, me!) will recall this all started with Donkey Kong in 1981. The premise here is to celebrate the totality of all the various iterations in the franchise and reward knowledgeable viewers.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a Nintendo lover’s dream. Early on, the brothers appear in a commercial for their new plumbing business. They don yellow capes a la Super Mario World. The brothers sprint lively through Brooklyn in the classic side-scrolling manner of the computerized game. In her empire, Princess Peach shows him an obstacle course that alludes to Super Mario Bros. 2. The powerups are introduced, which include eating mushrooms. The gag is that Mario hates eating the fungi back in the real world, but in this realm, they allow him to grow by one foot and jump even higher. Later in Kong Kingdom, Mario must fight Cranky Kong’s (Fred Armisen) son Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), who throws barrels at him in the arena Super Smash Bros.-style. Mario rings a bell, giving him a catsuit (Super Mario 3-D World) to win. The heroes design their custom go-karts to go after the Koopas, and the display menus are lifted directly from Mario Kart.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is straightforward children’s entertainment presented as an amalgamation of nostalgia. The latest offering from Illumination — the studio that brought you the Minions — is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (animated TV series Teen Titans Go!) from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel (Minions: The Rise of Gru). The film isn’t deep. The script for The Lego Movie or Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers have significantly more substance for a film of this type. It’s simply a greatest-hits anthology. A compendium of “Easter eggs” designed to create as many “I remember that from the video game!” exclamations as possible in an efficient 92 minutes.

The rudimentary story is pitched more to children but gives a few nods to more mature viewers. A soundtrack features tunes that adults will recognize: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (Beastie Boys), “Holding Out for a Hero” (Bonnie Tyler), “Take On Me” (A-ha), “Thunderstruck” (AC/DC), and “Mr. Blue Sky” (Electric Light Orchestra). Even voice actor Jack Black gets to sing as Bowser in a tribute to the musician’s rock group Tenacious D. At one point, his character sits at a piano and croons a power ballad called “Peaches” to his unrequited love. The Super Mario Brothers is a colorful bit of undemanding fun that disappears from the mind a day later. I enjoyed it in the moment.


Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on April 3, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The criticism that one film is too silly while contending another takes itself too seriously can feel a bit contradictory— especially coming from the same critic. I acknowledge this. Enjoyment of a movie is an emotional experience. The subsequent review ultimately demands that we assign capricious reasons as to why we did or didn’t like something after the fact. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves certainly ticks off specific boxes in providing a test-screened piece of Hollywood entertainment in 2023. It’s a competent interpretation of the role-playing game (RPG) first introduced in 1974–but not much more.

I played the game back in 1980. It simply required a book, a pencil, graph paper, and dice. Oh, and it involved a lot of arguing with a DM (dungeon master) because it gets made up as you go along. The haphazard nature of this narrative gets that part right. I’m going to boil the plot down to its essence. The saga concerns a wisecracking thief, perfectly realized by Chris Pine and his band of random adventurers, including Michelle Rodriguez as a barbarian, Justice Smith as a sorcerer, and Sophia Lillis as a tiefling druid. No need to explain what that is. Her shape-shifting race is immaterial to people unfamiliar with D&D. This picture has been designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Anyone can understand it.

It’s basically a heist film, and our heroes are out to retrieve a lost relic. They receive help from a handsome knight named Xenk Yandar (Regé-Jean Page). However, things don’t go as planned (they never do). The individuals meet up with some nasty characters. Hugh Grant stands out as an evil ruler named Forge Fitzwilliam. Hugh Grant’s breakthrough came nearly three decades ago, depicting the likable leading man in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). I appreciate how he’s pivoted to bad guys at this career stage. He’s very good at it. This is a compliment.

The entire cast is excellent, and they bring the requisite charisma and personality to their roles. So why didn’t I enjoy this more? , Well, the chaotic plot is a mishmash of special effects and CGI, and the visuals look fake. It’s all served up with numerous jokes and quips. That air of inconsequentiality eliminates the threat. Whenever the script stopped for a fight scene, I tuned out because there was such a casual disregard for risk. The spectacle didn’t inspire fear in our protagonists. It’s a lighthearted computer graphic-enhanced cartoon. There are no stakes.

My fondest memories of watching movies in the 1980s were fantasies like Clash of the Titans (1981), Dragonslayer (1981), The NeverEnding Story, and The Princess Bride (1987). Those classics contained danger and excitement, and they felt real. The screenwriters had the sense to pause and develop a fable you could embrace. I missed that quality here. Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Gilio) know comedy. I consider Game Night one of the very best films of 2018. But here, frivolity works against the material.

Dungeons & Dragons is fine. It’s an adequate effort that incorporates some funny gags. My favorite bits are the scene where Chris Pine plays the lute and another where the group casts a spell to speak with the dead. Still, the whole exercise is a product of our age that doesn’t forge a distinct identity. Dungeons & Dragons aspires to be Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok more than anything else. That approach worked in that context but not in this realm. Structured like a Marvel production, it’s designed to please as many people as possible, which is ironic because it didn’t please me.


Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on March 19, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

2019’s Shazam! was about children who metamorphosized into superpowered grownups. The chronicle was charming because the developments were fresh and new. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) was introduced as an orphaned teenager that received the abilities of the ancient gods from the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Whenever the teen yelled “Shazam!” he transformed into a muscular hero (Zachary Levi) in a red bodysuit with a lightning bolt on his chest. He possessed strength, courage, and speed, but his brain remained as a child. He was still fraught with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. He was aided by his adoptive siblings, with whom he shared the powers of a magical staff. They likewise became superheroes.

The “kids” are a powerful team of crime fighters in this sequel. They must face off against natural disasters in Philadelphia, like saving people on a collapsing bridge in the opening setpiece. However, their mission is complicated when confronted by the Daughters of Atlas. These villains include Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu). The sisters want to harness the power of the Wizard’s staff for themselves.

That would be enough story, but there’s so much more. Billy has turned 18. He’s concerned about aging out of the foster system. Billy is now an adult, and he looks it. He’s not the only one. Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) — his more mature and academically minded sister — has aged so much that she is portrayed by the same actress in her adult form. Meanwhile, Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) falls for Anne (Rachel Zegler), a mysterious new girl at school who may not be all she seems. Together Freddy and Anne radiate a flicker of chemistry that I enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film is unbearably stuffed with gags. Sure, the first picture was light-hearted. That made it a refreshing change in a DC Extended Universe previously known for Zack Snyder’s gloomy worldview (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League). Here the wisecracks are so relentless it’s oppressive. I never laughed. A series of jokes fashioned around multicolored candies are nothing more than a shameless advertisement for that product. Furthermore, Zachary Levi’s mugging performance is so tedious. The actor has dialed up the doofiness considerably. The actor smirks, sneers, grimaces, and giggles, contorting his face like never before.

Shazam is more than a manchild; he’s a complete doofus. And he blathers incessantly — rarely pausing for a breath. The rapid-fire cadence of words spewing from his mouth so fast you fear the chatterbox might pass out. His inane quips include the Fast & Furious franchise when speaking about family. Ugh! Do you ever think anything you don’t say? At one point, Billy uses a sentient pen to draft a negotiation letter. The enchanted stylus includes all the random thoughts he speaks out loud. When Helen Mirren, as Hespera, recites the letter for all to hear, it is admittedly an amusing bit. Ok, so I chuckled there.

The worst superhero movies take a simple idea and make it confusing, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is more! More people! More special effects! More plot! It has more everything but charm. It is an explosion of computer graphics and chaos masquerading as a narrative. When the Daughters of Atlas command a mythical dragon, the manifestation is so disconnected from anything resembling a logical development that it doesn’t even seem like a real threat. Explosions occur, and buildings fall. This is an exhausting display of destruction that happens to feature beloved personalities from the first movie. They do a bunch of stuff. Very little of which is interesting.



Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on March 16, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Random thought: Did anyone else watch the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost during its original run? Just me? Ok.

So I can sum up the entire plot of 65 in 10 words. “An astronaut crashes upon an unknown world and finds dinosaurs.” There are a few more details — but not much. Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods write and direct. The team also penned A Quiet Place. However, this movie solidifies the ongoing suspicion that director John Krasinski’s contribution to that script was significant. The opening crawl informs us that before the onset of homo sapiens, other civilizations across the universe (which implausibly look like humans, too) have engaged in intergalactic travel. Mills (Adam Driver) — a pilot — and his wife Alya (Nika King) live on the planet Somaris. They have a daughter named Nevine (Chloe Coleman), who suffers from an illness. The money he earns from this two-year expedition will be enough to treat her. 

Planet of the Apes understood the power of a reveal. The twist that would have made this chronicle interesting is foolishly disclosed in the first 20 minutes. The mysterious environment upon which Mills crash lands is Earth during the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. That’s the explanation for the terrible title. His ship has been split in half. The space pods that offer an escape are resting unharmed at the top of a mountain. Sadly the other passengers on board have been killed. Then he discovers a lone survivor — a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) cryogenically frozen in a chamber.  

The story is about a trek to a mountain. This is a picture that rests on the interactions between Mills and Koa. The “Grumpy Dad-Adopted Daughter” dynamic is so very hot right now. Nearly 30 years ago, the trope gained popularity with 1994’s The Professional. It has continued with 2017’s Logan and the Netflix show The Witcher. The Last of Us on HBO is a current example. However, here the child speaks an entirely different language. They have difficulty communicating, which conveniently alleviates the scribes from writing anything of substance. This characteristic renders their discussions incredibly dull. I understand her presence. She reminds him of his daughter, but nothing is done with that idea. Oh yeah, along the way they encounter some dinosaurs. This component is practically an afterthought. 

If there’s anything positive to say — and there is — it’s that the atmosphere is visually impressive. Dinosaurs are inherently exciting. It’s why the Jurassic Park franchise has a worldwide gross of $6 billion. I will admit the special effects are amazing. There are some potent scares — augmented by loud, jarring sounds. However, more is needed to sustain this film. Even at a concise 93 minutes, there isn’t enough to support this picture’s paltry amount of narrative developments.

The stop motion animation in Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning serial Land of the Lost was nothing to brag about, but at least the story was compelling. It’s available on the TV app ReDiscover Television. If you need to satiate your “father-daughter surrounded by dinosaurs” fix, watch that instead.


Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on February 18, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I feel like a newbie whenever I watch the latest superhero release. As a critic, I’ve seen every chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Yet I can never remember who did what to whom because I see so many movies, and comic book adaptations are a tiny part of that. My perspective is good news if you are a casual moviegoer and simply want an entertaining picture. Bad news if you’re a comic book aesthete who demands that a sequel correctly address the happenings and characters of the previous installment.

Phase 5 of the MCU kicks off with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. For those keeping track, it’s the 31st film of the franchise and the 3rd one to feature Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) as the central hero. Paul Rudd brings the carefree charm we’ve come to expect. He’s such a likable guy. I realize that every mention of Baskin Robbins is a shameless product placement, but Rudd sells it as comedy. I was amused. However, despite the title, neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp (Evangeline Lily) conveys the impression of being the star. There are a plethora of individuals that populate this sci-fi conflict in space. The story is a random assortment of events that feature a large cast. It’s overflowing with personalities.

Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the real star of the tale because every major development involves her in some way. As the original Wasp, she was lost in the Quantum Realm for 30 years. Janet foolishly downplays her bad experiences there to family and friends. Even her husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is unaware of specifics. Meanwhile, Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) believes the universe in the Multiverse holds secrets to helping the world. Unfortunately, her experimental communication device indirectly gets everyone sucked through a portal. Now Cassie, her father Scott/Ant-Man, his girlfriend Hope/Wasp, and Hope’s parents Janet & Hank are all trapped in the Quantum Realm. They must find a way to escape. Let the fun begin!

Quantumania is a movie at odds with itself. Director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Jeff Loveness (Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Rick and Morty) fluctuate between two extremes: giving the audience serious stakes vs. buoyant fun. At its core, Quantumania is a silly space opera. When it leans heavily into camp characters, it’s a kicky blast. The dimension is a veritable Mos Eisley Cantina expanded to an entire planet. There’s William Jackson Harper as a reluctant mind-reader, martial artist Katy O’Brian as a fierce freedom fighter, and David Dastmalchian who voices a pink CGI slime creature named Veb. Oh, and I have yet to reveal the bad guys.

We are presented with three, count ’em, THREE separate villains. We discover that Janet van Dyne previously met a mysterious fellow named Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) in the Quantum Realm. He ultimately turns out to be the chief antagonist. Thespians Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonathan Majors are acting in a different — more somber — film than everyone else. They’re solemn, slightly dour, and full of self-importance. Before we meet Kang, however, we are introduced to a couple of secondary scoundrels that behave like his goofy minions. Bill Murray is a hoot as Lord Krylar, a wealthy and pompous governor that claims to have had a romantic tryst with Janet. There’s also MODOK (Corey Stoll), which stands for “Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.” The salvaged identity of Darren Cross/Yellowjacket possesses tiny arms and legs that sprout out of a huge misshapen head. His appearance is a visual gag every time he appears. Those two rogues are hilarious and add to the absurdity.

Quantumania is a fun, lighthearted popcorn flick. I’ll concede the narrative doesn’t feel as weighty, especially arriving on the heels of Wakanda Forever. But not every movie has to be a political statement. The saga includes everything you’ve come to expect from a Marvel release. It’s hard to tell where art direction, production design, and special effects begin and end, but kudos to them all. I liked the weird alien world. It looks like a 1970s album cover illustrated by Roger Dean. There are also epic action sequences, lively dialogue, and good triumphing over evil. If each MCU phase can be considered a 6-course dinner, this is the appetizer, not an entrée. Quantumania is tuna tartare in sesame ginger sauce served before the main course of pan-seared scallops with capers and brown butter. It may not be the central dish, but it is a satisfying starter.