Directed by Roland Emmerich who is best known for such Hollywood Blockbusters as 1996’s Independence Day and 2000’s The Patriot, Midway is a large-scale war action movie that heavily relies on CGI special effects to recreate the pivotal Battle of Midway during World War II but does not fully satisfy as a well-rounded movie as a result of its fairly generic script and characters. Based on true events of the beginning of the American involvement in World War II, the movie shows the devastating surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Empire of Japan. The plot follows a bunch of American characters from the top with the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, played by Woody Harrelson, to the top intelligence officer in the region Edwin Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, and all the way down to the Naval bomber and fighter pilots, including the real life Dick Best who is played by Ed Skrein and Wade McClusky who is played by Luke Evans. Also, unlike most traditional war movies, the film also follows several key Japanese Naval commanders and officers who are shown making battle decisions based on their best interest. After the somewhat haphazard introduction to almost too many characters to keep count, the story leads up to June 4, 1942 when the Japanese engage the American military at and around the remote islands of the Midway Atoll, a strategic base that allows for closer range to the Japanese Islands. What ensues is the Battle of Midway in which American aircraft carriers and their warplanes go up against the Japanese counterparts in what would become the one of the largest naval battles of World War II. In dramatic and spectacular fashion, the movie effectively uses special effects to capture what the battle must have been like with a constant flurry of aircraft and anti-aircraft fire on both sides. The main mission of the Americans is to destroy as many of the Japanese aircraft carriers as possible in order to recapture control of the Pacific Theater after the mass destruction of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The script also does scratch the surface of the personal lives of those involved, especially the Naval pilots, but is ineffective because it comes off as cheesy and formulaic, making for unnecessary storylines to the main thrust of the movie to portray a specific battle. Overall, I found it to be a suitably entertaining war movie that does a good job of using special effects to fashion realistic and thrilling battle sequences in order to tell the important story of the Battle of Midway, but, as a whole, relies on too many characters and a rather average screenplay to truly become an iconic war movie.
Directed by critically acclaimed African American filmmaker Kasi Lemmons best known for 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, Harriet is important as the first major motion picture about runaway slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman that tells a truly remarkable story but does not do justice to such an extraordinary person as a result of the film’s rather formulaic script. Based on a true story, the plot follows Harriet Tubman, played by Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, first living as a slave in Maryland who decides, after receiving visions from God, that she must escape and run away to the free state of Pennsylvania. We witness her courageous solo journey of over 100 miles being chased by slave catchers led by her brutal slave owner Gideon, played by Joe Alwyn. Eventually, she makes it to Philadelphia where she gets help from an African American abolitionist leader named William Still, played by Leslie Odom Jr., and a generous African American boarding house owner named Marie, played by Janelle Monáe. Receiving further visions, she makes the brave decision to return to Maryland to help her family also escape slavery using the Underground Railroad route given to her by Still. The rest of the film follows her numerous other expeditions as one of the most successful conductors on the Underground Railroad to eventually help almost 300 slaves escape to freedom. Following the tropes of the adventure genre, Harriet is constantly chased by the villain in the form of Gideon and his slave catchers, including an African American man, but she always perseveres to help her fellow man, woman, and child to reach freedom. Her missions are very much complicated by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed runaway slaves living in free states to be legally captured and returned to their slave owners in the South. Overall, I found it to be a much-needed and thereby very important depiction of one of America’s greatest heroes who has been overlooked in terms of the embarrassing lack of cinematic treatments. Despite the terrific acting performances and amazing story, the movie, unfortunately, adheres too much to a typical action adventure film with predictable actions and results and makes for a movie that does not rise to the stature of the truly extraordinary Harriet Tubman.
Directed by Tim Miller best known for 2016’s Deadpool and produced by James Cameron who directed the original The Terminator released in 1984, Terminator: Dark Fate is a surprisingly satisfying action film that is almost as good as the first three installments of the six movie franchise that works as a result of adhering to the framework of a traditional action flick with intense fight sequences and complex characters. Similar to some of the other Terminator movies, the movie’s plot takes a revised journey into the Terminator universe by presenting an alternate reality in which the humans and machines from the dystopian future travel back in time to protect or terminate a character integral to the future survival of humankind. The film begins with the appearance of the augmented human Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis, who is sent on a mission from a future timeline, as well as the villainous latest version of a Terminator sent by a powerful group of AI machines resembling the original Skynet. Grace’s mission is to protect a young woman from Mexico City named Dani, played by Natalia Reyes, whose survival is somehow vital to the future human resistance. After being cornered by the new Terminator, the heroine of the franchise Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, shows up guns a-blazing to also help protect Dani and destroy the advanced Terminator. In addition to the appearance of Sarah Connor, the film also brings back the T-800, played by the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger, which helps add to the nostalgic elements of the movie taken from the influential first Terminator movies. Much of the film is an elongated action-packed chase sequence in which Grace, Dani, Sarah, and Arnold’s Terminator must do everything in their power to fight the practically indestructible new Terminator. It is a highly entertaining and thrilling sight to see one of the most beloved action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger relive his most iconic role without missing a pulse-pounding beat alongside Linda Hamilton and deadly shapeshifting liquid metal Terminator machines. Yes, the plot does seem to be recycled from the original installments, but there are slight alterations updated for the 21st century, such as the inclusion of more female heroes, that allow for it to feel fresh to contemporary fans of action movies that may or may not have seen the first few films. Overall, I found it to be a much more enticing action flick than what I was expecting, especially in light of the subpar recent installments, and is an especially rewarding cinematic experience due to its first-rate action sequences and nostalgia for the original Terminator movies.
Directed by visionary director Ang Lee best known for 2013’s Life of Pi which won him the Oscar for Best Director, Gemini Man is a high-concept and technically brilliant film that uses new technology for great visual effect but ultimately fails as a movie due to its poor script writing and slow pace. The plot revolves around the aging secret government assassin Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith, who is close to retirement after his latest assassination almost goes terribly wrong but is forced to remain in action as things go awry with his handlers. He teams up with a fellow secret government agent named Dani, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who greatly helps him evade those who are chasing him. Henry is on the run from a secret non-governmental military force known as GEMINI after its leader and a previous military acquaintance of Henry must do whatever he can to protect his company’s secrets. The increasingly misguided head of the organization Clay, played by Clive Owen, dispatches his own clandestine assassin Junior who we later find out is actually a younger clone of Henry as part of a secret operation to create a superhuman force of clones for the American military. Like a typical action thriller, there are a few visually dazzling action sequences that occur across the world, including in Columbia and Budapest. What really makes the movie stand out is the filmmaker’s decision to film in a much higher frame rate of almost a 120 frames per second when the typical movie is only 24 frames per second. The high frame rate along with a less gimmicky version of 3D made the movie much more smooth and thereby realistic. Another technical breakthrough is the fact that the younger version of Will Smith is a completely digital creation made from CGI and a compilation of Will Smith’s earlier works. Unfortunately, these quite innovative cinematic tools were used on a surprisingly ineffective and sometimes boring action flick. Overall, I found that the only reason to see the movie is to witness the birth of several technical milestones, but otherwise I would avoid the movie because of its weak story, almost entirely devoid of emotion.
The follow-up movie to the 2009 movie Zombieland also directed by Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland: Double Tap is an over-the-top zombie comedy that relies on ridiculous graphic violence and absurd and often sarcastic humor, all revolving around a zombie apocalypse that has overtaken the United States. The plot follows the original cast of characters, including the tough and gun-obsessed Tallahassee who is played by Woody Harrelson, the talkative and smart Columbus who is played by Jesse Eisenberg, the sarcastic and female leader of the group Wichita who is played by Emma Stone, and the younger and rebellious Little Rock who is played by Abigail Breslin. Taking place ten years after the original, the group comprised of some rather difficult personalities find themselves in a relatively easy life of fending off weak zombies while living at the White House. Little Rock is obviously getting anxious and eventually sets out on a plan to escape the father-figure of Tallahassee and leave the group with her sister Wichita. Columbus is very much in love with Wichita and so decides to go with Tallahassee to try and bring back Wichita and her sister out of the dangers of the zombie-infested country. They eventually end up meeting up with a very attractive but dumb young woman named Madison, played by Zoey Deutch, and take her on the adventure to find Wichita and Little Rock who they discover are headed to Elvis Presley’s home Graceland in Memphis. Over the course of their cross country road trip, the group discovers that there is a new breed of super zombies who are much harder to kill. In one particularly funny sequence, Tallahassee and Columbus encounter a duo of fellow zombie killers who have a uncanny resemblance to them and are played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch. Over the course of the movie, there are quite a few moments of rather gratuitous violence as the characters come up with creative and grotesque ways of killing the zombies. The wicked sarcasm and funny banter between the characters definitely help make the movie more than just your regular zombie apocalypse action flick rather becomes more of a absurdist comedy. Overall, I found it to be a fairly entertaining film that is definitely not for everybody, especially those who are squeamish around violence, but it does add an interesting component to the overused zombie genre.
The ninth installment in the action adventure movie franchise Fast and Furious first started in 2001 and the first spin-off movie, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a surprisingly entertaining action film deriving from a mostly cheesy and popcorn blockbuster movie series and is successfully able to set itself apart as a result of the charismatic rapport between the two main protagonist who themselves have starred in previous Fast and Furious movies. The plot follows the American government secret agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, and his one-time nemesis the British government secret agent Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham, who are forced to team up to fight a vast criminal organization and its new mechanically weaponized soldier Brixton Lore, played by the always terrific Idris Elba. They work with Shaw’s estranged sister Hattie, played by Vanessa Kirby, who is also a British spy falsely suspected of stealing a powerful biological weapon developed by the same evil organization that hired Brixton. All three team up to prevent the use of the deadly weapon known as Snowflake that could kill millions of people around the world. At the same time, they have to fight off the super powerful Brixton that is practically invulnerable because of the technology implanted in his body. Like the previous movies, there are elaborate car chases and spectacular action sequences that make it a typical action movie. The climax of the film takes them to Luke Hobbs’ home country of Samoa where he tries to reconnect with his estranged family in order finally defeat the threat posed by Brixton’s organization. What follows is a explosive battle sequence that involves traditional Samoan weapons instead of the generic gun battle. Overall, I found it to be a slightly more than just your stereotypical action flick that had elements of humanity all created by the terrific chemistry between all of the actors.
The fifth movie installment in the Shaft franchise first started with the original released in 1971 starring Richard Roundtree, Shaft is not the best movie you will see this summer, but it definitely was an entertaining film with a charismatic cast of characters and harkens back to the original blaxploitation version but with the twist of making it more of a comedy. The plot follows the son of John Shaft II, played by the suave foul-mouthed Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson who reprises his role from the 2000 spinoff, nicknamed JJ, played by Jessie T. Usher, who is a smart straight-laced MIT graduate now working as a data analyst for the FBI. After the mysterious death of his childhood friend, JJ along with his other childhood friend Sasha, played by the beautiful Alexandra Shipp, investigate what actually happened to their friend who was a war veteran and recovering drug addict. Eventually, JJ reluctantly realizes that his estranged father known for his borderline illegal yet extremely effective private investigator skills has to help them navigate the underworld of Harlem. He enlists his father’s help against the wishes of his mother Maya, played by Regina Hall, who left John for endangering JJ as a child. Just like the original Richard Roundtree character, Jackson’s character is very much a ladies man who cares very little for emotion and is often giving profanity-laced outbursts, all the while protecting his neighborhood from criminals. The film is more of an action comedy that does not take the extremely outdated and chauvinistic Shaft character too seriously and definitely does not condone his behavior that is considered controversial according to today’s standards. Towards the end of the movie as they get closer to a resolution and find the villain, JJ’s smooth-talking grandfather John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree as the original character, makes an appearance to help out the younger Shafts. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable movie that does not try to elevate the original asource material but rather attempts to present a different type of Shaft movie, full of often vulgar humor and outrageous situations.
The fourth installment in the Men in Black film franchise first started with the release of the original in 1997 with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black: International is an average entertaining summer blockbuster that is not as bad as critics have proclaimed and the strongest asset of the movie is the dynamic chemistry between the two protagonists. A spin-off of the original, the movie follows the young and new female Agent M, played by Tessa Thompson best known for her role in the Creed movies, who becomes a probationary agent after tenaciously trying to find the secret agency following an experience as a young girl. The head of the United States division Agent O, played by Oscar winner Emma Thompson, sends her on a mission to help her colleagues in the London division led by Agent T, played by Oscar nominee Liam Neeson. There, she is teamed up with the popular yet recently reckless Agent H, played by the charismatic Chris Hemsworth, to eventually track down an extremely powerful alien force that could destroy the world. The two agents who have a playful and entertaining rapport find themselves traveling throughout the world, including Marrakesh and Paris, to save humanity and all friendly alien races. They are later joined by a wisecracking small alien creature named Pawny, voiced by the funny comedian Kumail Nanjiani. Along the way, they discover that not everything at the agency is as it appears and several plot twists develop as a result. Like the other installments in the franchise, the movie does a good job of creating fantastical alien creatures that are not scary but rather funny and endearing and are terrifically captured by CGI that has vastly improved over the years since the original. Overall, I found it to be a good movie to pass the time that brings back good memories of the original film and is more entertaining than the critics would have you believe.
The 12th installment in the X-Men movie franchise first started in 2000 and a direct sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is a remarkably bad superhero comic book film that is very predictable and full of dull moments in which the undoubtedly talented cast give rather lackluster performances. The movie follows the younger version of the X-Men from an alternate reality separate from the original X-Men movies headlined by Patrick Stewart and is set in the year 1992 when the X-Men mutants with extraordinary powers are sent on a rescue mission in space to save NASA astronauts. Primarily focused on the character Jean/Phoenix who has telekinetic powers and is played by Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame, the film delves deep into the circumstances of Jean finding herself among the X-Men and her transformation into a much more powerful mutant after being exposed to an extraterrestrial solar flare. She is joined by fellow X-Men led by Charles Xavier, played by Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy, Professor Xavier’s right-hand man Hank/Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult, one of the older X-Men Raven/Mystique, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, Jean’s love interest Scott/Cyclops, played by Tye Sheridan, as well as younger X-Men still learning. Jean becomes a danger to all of her friends as well as the rest of humanity when she absorbs the full power of what we later learn is a super powerful extraterrestrial being that an alien race of shapeshifters are looking for their own benefit. This is alien group is led by Vuk in the form of a female human, played by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, who is hell-bent on harnessing Jean’s superpowers. Eventually, the X-Men team up with Charles Xavier’s arch-nemesis Erik/Magneto, played by Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender, whose powers are needed to save and protect Jean from her own power and the aliens who are hunting her down for it. The movie does have several very typical CGI action sequences in which the X-Men use their fantastical strengths, but the scenes in between are rather mundane and lacking in any real emotions for such a character-driven movie. Overall, I was truly surprised by how much of a misfire the movie was for being part of the highly popular superhero genre, and it felt like a truly unnecessary addition to the already expansive X-Men franchise.
The 35th installment in the Godzilla movie franchise first started in 1954 in Japan and the third Godzilla production from a Hollywood studio, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a summer blockbuster that has everything expected from a monster movie, especially a film about the iconic Godzilla, full of spectacle and CGI chaos but light on story despite a stellar cast of well-known talented actors. The movie, which is a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, follows scientist Dr. Emma Russell, played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, and her daughter Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown best known for her role in the Netflix TV series Stranger Things, who are kidnapped by a shadowy eco-terrorist group led by Alan Jonah, played by the terrifically villainous Charles Dance best known for his role in the HBO TV Series Game of Thrones. Dr. Russell has developed a machine that can attract and control the large God-like monsters known as the Titans that are seen as a threat by governments across the world and are under surveillance and guarded by the secretive zoological organization known as Monarch, which Dr. Russell and her husband Dr. Mark Russell, played by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler, worked for as scientists and researchers. Over the course of the film, several of these Titans are released and inflict widespread destruction with Jonah’s idea that it would restore the Earth’s ecological balance with humans. Monarch tries to track down these monsters and prevent them from causing more chaos. This expansive classified agency is led by an expert team of scientists, including a Japanese scientist and the de facto leader played by Ken Watanabe, a paleozoologist played by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, a technology expert played by Thomas Middleditch best known for his role in the HBO TV series Silicon Valley, and a wisecracking crypto-sonographer played by Bradley Whitford best known for his role in the TV series West Wing. It will surely delight fans of the Japanese kaiju monster genre with the appearance of such iconic large-scale creatures as Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Godzilla. Initially referred to as Monster Zero, Ghidorah is an extremely powerful three-headed monster who acts as Godzilla’s arch rival and is often shown in huge battles with Godzilla over who will be the apex predator. Godzilla becomes a sort of ally of the human race and the Monarch scientists as a result of his ability to defeat the other monsters and restore balance to the planet without further disaster. The best part of the movie is the CGI fight sequences between the humongous creatures as they lay waste to such major cities as Boston, and the filmmakers make the rather unusual decision to have the footage appear darker and granier to perhaps provide a dire atmosphere. Overall, I found it to be a fun and silly entertaining popcorn flick that provides enough monster mayhem to make for a suitable Godzilla film, and it should not be criticized so severely because its overall intention is not to take itself too seriously.