Justice League

Directed by Zach Snyder who is best known for 2006’s 300 and 2009’s Watchmen, Justice League follows a long line of superhero comic book movies that ultimately falls short of reaching the more entertaining adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the sixth installment in DC Comics Extended Universe that desperately tries to emulate the success of Marvel, the film is unfortunately only marginally better than the other critically unsuccessful installments, including 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2016’s Suicide Squad. Similar to The Avengers, the plot revolves around a group of famous superheroes who come together to fight off a villain trying to destroy the world. An alien creature awoken after thousands of years, Steppenwolf, along with his army of Parademons, is set on conquering Earth by locating three so-called Mother Boxes whose combined power would set off the destruction of the world. Eventually, Diana Prince who is better known as Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, is alerted to Steppenwolf’s malevolent goal and eventually joins forces with the superheroes Batman who is played by Ben Affleck, The Flash who is played by Ezra Miller, Aquaman who is played by Jason Momoa, and Cyborg who is played by Ray Fisher. After their first major battle with Steppenwolf in Gotham City, the team learns there may be a way to resurrect Superman, played by Henry Cavill, who died at the end of Batman v Superman and is universally mourned as one of the last great heroes. The ending is fairly formulaic because it involves the newly formed Justice League entering into one epic final battle with the villain Steppenwolf and the outcome has major repercussions for Earth and humanity. Overall, although it has many fine actors, the movie feels like a hodgepodge of several different superhero action flicks that includes several new characters that are not properly introduced for the casual filmgoer. It should have followed the extremely successful formula of 2017’s Wonder Woman in which the characters’ back stories are told in greater detail and thereby the audience feels a greater emotional connection.

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Thor: Ragnarok

Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi who is best known for the brilliant 2016 comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok is a wildly entertaining and hilarious comic book superhero movie that is unlike most of the other sixteen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the third installment of the Thor franchise, we first meet Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, as a prisoner on a fiery planet who eventually escapes to return to his home planet Asgard to discover that his father and ruler of the realm Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, is living on Earth and his trickster brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is the de facto leader. Both brothers learn from their father that there is a prophecy soon to take place known as Ragnarok that says that Asgard will be destroyed. Soon afterwards, Thor meets his secret evil sister Hela, played by the particularly devious Cate Blanchett, whose appearance will hasten Ragnarok through her destruction and enslavement of those living on Asghar. On a desperate mission to get rid of his powerful sister, Thor finds himself on an extremely colorful alien planet called Sakaar, which serves as the garbage planet for the universe, where he is captured by the female bounty hunter Scrapper 142, played by Tessa Thompson. She turns over Thor to the comically over-the-top ruler of the planet known as the Grandmaster, played by a perfectly cast Jeff Goldblum, who forces Thor to participate in a gladiator-like tournament against the dim-witted yet strong Hulk, voiced by Mark Ruffalo, who appeared with Thor in The Avengers movies. After several funny reunion scenes with Thor and Hulk, they team up with Scrapper 142 who turns out to be from Asgard and embark on a joy ride adventure to save Asgard and kill the deadly Hela. Reminding me of the equally comedic Guardians of the Galaxy films and the vulgar Deadpool movie, the film is chock-full of self-deprecating humor that pokes fun at superhero franchises and references to the other movies as well as today’s pop culture. It also includes completely random and unexpected cameos that further conveys a fun and sometimes ridiculous atmosphere. Overall, I found it to be one of the more entertaining Marvel movies and thereby provides a refreshing reboot of the increasingly stale comic book superhero genre. Even if you are not a fan of comic book superheroes, I would highly recommend going to the film if you are looking for an amusing and good old time at the movies.

Geostorm

Written and directed by Dean Devlin who is best known for writing 1996’s Independence Day and 1998’s Godzilla, Geostorm is a ridiculous and cheesy movie that tries to be an epic blockbuster disaster film but largely fails through a combination of underwhelming writing and acting and a laughably improbable premise. The story involves the cataclysmic failure of a massive space satellite program created to control the weather that has increasingly become extreme as a result of climate change. Played by Gerard Butler, Jake Lawson is a brilliant scientist and the creator of the program known as Dutch Boy but is removed from his position as a result of his reckless behavior in front of American government officials. Several years later, with his brother Max, played by Jim Sturgess, as the head of the program, Dutch Boy is to be handed over to be controlled by an international coalition of climate scientists and government officials. However, the satellites controlled from the International Climate Space Station malfunctions and results in extreme weather events that kill hundreds of people and poses an existential threat of creating what is known as a geostorm, a massive storm enveloping the entire Earth. Jake reluctantly returns to the program to help investigate the problems and travels to the space station where he works with a female commander named Ute Fassbinder. Themselves in danger as the space station self-destructs, they begin to unravel a vast conspiracy that may involve the President of the United States, played by Andy Garcia, and the powerful Secretary of State who is played by Ed Harris. The film becomes a race against time as the Earth is beset by colossal tornadoes, flooding, and other natural disasters. After a while, the obviously CGI-enhanced disaster sequences become tedious as a result of the low quality visual effects used and the preposterous situations. The movie concludes with a overly dramatic climax in which some high-ranking officials prove to be untrustworthy for self-gain. Overall, I found it to be a rather generic disaster blockbuster that never really provided the necessary thrills for a truly entertaining experience. The film could actually have been somewhat interesting because of its timely premise about climate change and the science fiction solutions that could be used to fix such a massive issue. However, it never gets past the sloppy writing and acting skills that made the movie more of a comedic disaster. 

The Foreigner

Directed by Martin Campbell who is best known for the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, The Foreigner is a fairly typical yet entertaining action thriller significant for the dramatic acting performance given by the usually funny martial arts superstar Jackie Chan. The aging Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, a hard-working Chinese restaurant owner in London whose beloved teenage daughter Fan is killed in a bombing claimed by a group of terrorists sympathetic to the anti-British IRA movement in Ireland and Northern Ireland. After his wife and other children were murdered as they migrated to England years ago, the death of his only remaining family member sets Quan on a path to find those responsible and enact revenge. He approaches the Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy, played by a dramatic Pierce Brosnan, who Quan believes knows the perpetrators. Hennessey is suspicious because he was once a powerful figure in the IRA who still has connections with active members despite his apparent allegience to the United Kingdom. Chan’s character rapidly escalates his anger at Hennessy by bombing his office in Belfast and systematically terrorizing him at his farmhouse. Throughout the entire conflict, Hennessy claims he has no knowledge about the bombing in London and actually investigates it himself to see if any of his former IRA associates were involved. As he tries to find the culprits and smooth over relations with the central British government, Hennessy tasks his bodyguards, including his ruthless nephew Sean, with hunting down Quan who we learn has a particular set of skills as a former Special Ops trained by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Towards the end of the movie, things get more complicated with surprising twists on who was really involved in the London bombing. As with any other Jackie Chan film, there are several well choreographed fight sequences in which Jackie Chan uses his martial arts skills to the fullest. However, I was surprised by the relatively few scenes involving Jackie Chan; the promotional material gives the impression that his character would be the central focus and that Pierce Brosnan’s character would be less of a major character. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable but fairly formulaic action thriller whose strengths include the dramatic turn of Jackie Chan and the uniquely fresh take on the IRA.

The Mountain Between Us

Based on a novel of the same name written by Charles Martin in 2011, The Mountain Between Us is an interesting take on the romance genre by fashioning it as a survival movie and whose greatest asset is the always terrific acting performances of Golden Globe winner Idris Elba and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Both are strangers who find themselves chartering a small plane out of Idaho because they need to be somewhere after flight cancelations. Dr. Ben Bass, played by Elba, is a talented neurosurgeon who must be back in Baltimore to perform an emergency pediatric surgery, while Alex Martin is an acclaimed photographer who must be home for her wedding the next day. Piloted by Beau Bridges’ character and accompanied by his loyal dog, their small aircraft crashes in the extremely remote mountains of the High Uintas Wilderness somewhere in Utah en route to Denver. Both Ben and Alex, along with the dog, survive the crash but quickly realize that they are stranded because no flight plan was filed and none of the radios and cell phones are working. The more pragmatic and cautious Ben urges Alex who injured her leg that they must stay at the crash site in hopes that rescuers will come to them. Despite her condition, the much more adventurous and emotional Alex decides that it would be in their best interest to hike down the mountains to find civilization and survive. Eventually, they decide to venture through the increasingly brutal wilderness even with the full knowledge that it could lead to their deaths. Throughout the ordeal, they discuss fairly intimate details of their lives, including Ben’s wife and Alex’s engagement and marriage ceremony that she is missing. Their unique bond caused by the human desire to survive over time leads to a romantic spark, which puts their future lives into question if they make it out of the mountains alive. For better or worse, the movie is a relatively simple romantic story of two strangers coming together and finding love in the most unusual way possible. Overall, I was expecting more of a survival movie with thrilling adventures and came feeling like something was lacking to create a movie worthy of the immense talents of the two actors.

American Made

Directed by Doug Liman who is best known for 2002’s The Bourne Identity and 2014’s The Edge of Tomorrow, American Made is an entertaining and thrilling drama loosely based on real events and stars Tom Cruise in one of his better performances from the past couple of years when he had a string of poorly received movies. The plot follows the unbelievable life story of Barry Seal, played by Cruise, who was a pilot recruited by the CIA in the 1970s and later worked for the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar as well flying secret American missions to support the anti-communist Contras hoping to overthrow several Central American socialist governments. We first meet Barry as a wild TWA pilot who lives in Baton Rouge with his beautiful wife and young children in the 1970s. One day, he is approached by the CIA operative Monty Schafer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and asks Barry to work for the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America. Eventually, he is recruited to do increasingly dangerous and questionably legal activities for the CIA, including acting as a covert courier between the American government and General Manuel Noriega who would eventually become the authoritarian leader of Panama and delivering weapons and supplies to the rebel Contra militias who President Reagan secretly supported. However, as he is helping the American government, he finds himself flying cocaine out of Columbia to Louisiana for Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and makes millions of dollars in the process. To help protect Barry, Monty sends him and his family to a small town in Arkansas named Mena where he can continue his operations out of a private airstrip. Although he is mostly shielded from arrest for drug trafficking because of his CIA connection, things begin to unravel after the arrival of his troubled brother-in-law JB. Towards the end of the movie when it takes place during the 1980s, the involvement with the CIA and particularly the Medellin Cartel ends poorly for Barry. Overall, I found it to be a fun and energetic movie that tells a hard to believe story that is somewhat based on reality, but I thought that the rest of the film’s pieces fell short of my expectations. It felt like a continuation of the hit Netflix TV series Narcos, which superbly dramatizes the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar as well as other Colombian drug cartels throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The sequel to the widely successful 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service from the director Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a crowd-pleasing action spy comedy that like its predecessor has an irreverent twist and is brimming with comically over-the-top violence. It takes place a year after the original and follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, as a newly recruited member of the secret British intelligence agency known as Kingsman. Towards the beginning, he is still dealing with the loss of his mentor and fellow agent Galahad, played by Colin Firth, when the entire Kingsman organization is obliterated after missile strikes on its safehouses, including its London headquarters at a high-end tailor. Eggsy along with the only other surviving agent Merlin, played by Mark Strong, are confronted with a vengeful former recruit and a secretive criminal organization known as The Golden Circle. They must activate the so-called Doomsday protocol, which connects them with a similar secret American organization based out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky called Statesman and led by Jeff Bridges’ character Champagne. Eggsy and Merlin must join forces with the very Western Statesman agents Whiskey, played by Channing Tatum, and Tequila, played by Pedro Pascal from the hit Netflix TV show Narcos, and are subsequently taken on a globe-trotting, shootout-filled mission to save millions. They are put into action after a previously unknown and extremely powerful drug trafficker named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, has laced her illicit drugs with a deadly poison that will kill millions of drug users throughout the world unless the President of the United States agrees to legalize drugs at which point she will release the antidote. One of the more bizarre characters, Poppy is portrayed as ridiculously vicious and lives in a 1950s-themed headquarters in the jungles of Cambodia where she also has Elton John held captive. Eggsy learns that no one can be truly trusted and must also please and protect his beautiful girlfriend who happens to be the Crown Princess of Sweden during some particularly inappropriate missions. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that contains some of the same elements of fun and thrills as the original, but, unfortunately, falls short of the first film’s originality and hilarity and is hampered by its bloated two and a half hour runtime.