Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second reboot of the Spider-Man film series with the first starring Tobey Maguire beginning in 2002 and the second starring Andrew Garfield beginning in 2012, Spider-Man: Homecoming is rather unnecessary but nevertheless spins a entertaining web that takes a more lighthearted approach to the superhero. Played by the fresh-faced British actor Tom Holland, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is approached by Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., about the possibility of becoming a full-fledged member of the Avengers after assisting in an operation featured in the 2016 Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War. Unlike the prior Spider-Man films, Parker appears to be much younger and is shown as a relatively typical highschooler who tries to fit in and impress his popular crush Liz. Without telling anyone, including his guardian Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei, Parker dons his Spider-Man outfit to combat mostly petty criminal activities throughout New York City. Eventually, he is faced with a much more dangerous criminal, a spiteful weapons dealer named Adrian Toomes who has stolen alien technology from the Department of Damage Control following an alien attack on New York. Toomes, played by the film’s real star Michael Keaton, uses the alien weaponry to develop a flying suit to become the villain Vulture and continues to steal more alien technology to enrich himself and increase his powers. Parker is faced with the dangers of being a superhero after he must rescue Liz and his other classmates during a trip to Washington, D.C. Back home in his “real life,” he makes a shocking discovery when he takes the young and beautiful Liz to the homecoming dance and must make a fateful decision to finally stop Toomes. Overall, I found it to be a fun cinematic experience that told a funny and more human side of Spider-Man, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would because of my initial misgivings about the originality of a movie that has been rebooted several times in the past decade.

Transformers: The Last Knight

The fifth film in the Transformers franchise that started in 2007, Transformers: The Last Knight is what you would expect from a Transformers movie: it is a loud and over-the-top CGI-heavy action extravaganza with a silly plot based on a line of Hasbro toys and filled with eyeroll-inducing dialogue. It is the second movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an inventor now living in a junkyard in South Dakota, who is friendly with the good Transformers the Autobots at a time when all Transformers are oppressed by the government. Eventually, he joins forces with a young and beautiful British female professor (with the requisite tight clothing and excessive cleavage for the stereotypical female lead in a Transformers film) and later an English Lord tied to a lineage of secret Transformers protectors played by Anthony Hopkins. Humanity’s survival depends on their actions as the bad Transformers the Decepticons led by the evil Quintessa and the brainwashed Optimus Prime set in motion for the Transformers’ dead home planet Cybertron to destroy Earth in order to bring life back to Cybertron. With a connection to King Arthur readily apparent by the Medieval battle sequence at the beginning, the trio must travel the world to discover historical artifacts, including a powerful staff, that may help in their quest to save Earth and the human race. The best part of the movie is Anthony Hopkins for his perfect narration voice, but I was constantly thinking why on Earth would such a fine actor participate in such a preposterous action porn. Overall, I found it to be your typical Hollywood blockbuster franchise film that does not really add much to the genre besides showing off new ways to blow up stuff and lining the pockets of the movie studio. 

The Mummy

A reboot of three different franchise series beginning in 1932, The Mummy is a fairly average Hollywood summer blockbuster action adventure monster flick that simply seems to be a money-making vehicle for the action superstar Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise portrays Nick Morton, a treasure hunter and mercenary for the U.S. Army, who, along with his wisecracking partner Chris Vail, played by comedian Jake Johnson, discover a large mysteriously secret Egyptian tomb in present-day Iraq. They soon realize with the help of the young and beautiful archaeologist Jenny Halsey, played by British actress Annabelle Wallis, that the mummy is a cursed Egyptian princess named Ahmanet, played by Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, who comes to life to make a pact with the evil Egyptian god Set. Morton finds himself possessed by the malevolent undead mummy princess and as a result survives a horrific plane crash in England with the sarcophagus. After battling reanimated corpses under Ahmanet’s spell, Morton and Jenny meet up with Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, who runs a secret organization known as Prodigium with the purpose of hunting down and destroying evil and supernatural forces. The organization’s soldiers are able to trap and keep Ahmanet prisoner in their underground base in London. However, her supernatural powers allow her to escape and wreak havoc on London with a dramatic CGI-enhanced sandstorm and creation of an undead army. At the end of the movie, Morton makes a drastic sacrifice in order to save Jenny and prevent Ahmanet’s further reign of terror. Overall, I found the so-called horror sequences not so scary and rather cheesy, and the film was less of an entertaining thrill ride like the most recent series starring Brendan Fraser that started in 1999. Its lackluster quality as a movie that did not really need to be rebooted and poor reception among critics and audiences is not a good starting point for Universal’s new Dark Universe movie series that wants to bring back the classic horror monsters.

Wonder Woman

Directed by the first female director of a superhero film with a female protagonist, Wonder Woman is one of the better comic book superhero movies that I have seen because it effectively blends action, humor, and drama, all underscored by a unique feminist approach. We first meet Diana, later known as Wonder Woman and played by the beautiful and strong Israeli actress Gal Gadot, as she grows up on the mystical island of Themyscira, which is home to the female warriors the Amazons, and begs her mother Queen Hippolyta to train as an Amazonian warrior. Her aunt General Antiope considered the greatest fighter, played by Robin Wright, secretly trains Diana to become one of the best warriors on the island. Throughout the first part of the film, we learn the back story based on ancient Greek mythology of the Amazons: they are a group of strong females created by Zeus to protect humanity against Ares, the god of war who murdered all of the gods except Zeus, and his corrupting influence on mankind to engage in war. Suddenly Diana’s idyllic life changes after she rescues Steve Trevor, played by the charismatic Chris Pine, who is an American pilot spying for the British whose airplane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. Eventually, Diana travels with Steve to help bring World War I to a peaceful end and prevent the use of a new deadly chemical weapon developed by the evil female scientist Doctor Maru, also known as Doctor Poison, under the guidance of the equally villainous German General Erich Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston. When Diana first arrives in London, the movie becomes more of a funny fish out of water story as she tries to understand feminine fashion and that she cannot carry a sword and shield out in public. Eventually, Diana and Steve along with Steve’s hodgepodge team, including Sameer the North African spy, Charlie the drunk Scottish marksman, and Chief the Native American smuggler, make their way to the Western front in Belgium in hopes of discovering Ludendorff’s weapons factory. In an unusual twist for the superhero genre, Diana is the one with super-strength and superhero powers who helps the male protagonists complete their mission and kill most of the bad guys. At times, Steve and other men are shocked and somewhat embarrassed when they see Diana outmaneuver and outfight them. The film ends with Diana facing an unlikely enemy and losing a newly loved one, but, otherwise, she successfully completes her mission to save human lives. Overall, I found the movie to lend a greatly refreshing take on the wildly successful yet male-dominated superhero genre by creating a strong-willed feminist superhero who can take down the bad guys herself without male intervention. The filmmaker is able to avoid the pitfalls of many recent DC Comics movies and craft a greatly entertaining action hero film, complete with realistic World War I settings and explosive CGI effects while subtly relaying a message of female empowerment and equality for Hollywood and beyond.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The fifth film in the Hollywood Blockbuster movie series beginning with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl released in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an entertaining swashbuckling fantasy that ultimately suffers from being basically a retread of the previous films and not as fun and innovative as the original. The highlight of every Pirates of the Caribbean is Johnny Depp’s character Captain Jack Sparrow who is both charismatic and a buffoon that keeps audiences entertained. This film follows Henry who is the son of Will Turner, previously played by Orlando Bloom, and the beautiful Elizabeth Swann, previously played by Keira Knightley, as he embarks on an adventure to release his father from a curse by finding the mythical Trident of Poseidon. He is faced with daunting obstacles, especially after encountering the villainous undead Spanish Captain Salazar and his equally cursed crew. Salazar, played by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, is also trying to find the Trident to break his spell and leaves a path of shipwrecks to enact revenge. At the same time, a young woman named Carina is imprisoned for witchcraft and eventually meets up with Henry and Jack, and they all escape after Carina tells them of a way to find the Trident of Poseidon. Also, Captain Barbossa, played by Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, is searching for Jack while Salazar pursues him and destroys much of Barbossa’s fleet. After eventually making a deal with Salazar, Barbossa switches allegiance to Jack, Henry, and Carina in hopes of finding the Trident. All of the film’s constant, almost excessive compared to the other movies, swashbuckling and high-speed and often explosive maritime chases across the Caribbean finally lead all of the characters to an island and an epic fantastical CGI-enhanced sea battle. Overall, I found it to be your typical summer blockbuster sequel that was an unnecessary addition to the already bloated Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; the originality is lost at sea, and it feels like the same movie as the others, even with the new young characters Henry and Carina appearing as look-alikes of Will and Elizabeth. 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Directed by Guy Ritchie who is known for stylish thrillers like 2000’s Snatch, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a unique and visually over-the-top take on the classic legendary story of King Arthur and Camelot. The star-studded cast and director gives a certain gravitas but, unfortunately, the film is nothing more than an average attempt at a Hollywood blockbuster Medieval action/adventure with the hopes of booting a highly profitable series of sequels. The movie begins with a fast-moving epic battle sequence at Camelot between malevolent fantastical forces known as mage and Uther the king of Britons, played briefly by Eric Bana. Ultimately, the king is killed and his scheming brother Vortigern, played by a cunning Jude Law, ascends to the throne but Uther’s young son escapes. The new brutal king spends years searching for his nephew who threatens his rule, and the appearance of the sword Excalibur, which can only be removed by the rightful heir to the throne, gives him a test to find his nephew. It turns out that his nephew is Arthur who lived for most of his life in a London brothel unaware of his heritage and portrayed by new action star Charlie Hunnam. After he is able to extract Excalibur, he must live a life on the run from his uncle’s vicious soldiers known as Blacklegs. Eventually, he teams up with his father’s former general Sir Bedivere, played by Djimon Hounsou, and his loyalists, a character played by the terrific Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame, a mage who worked with Merlin, and some of his friends from the brothel. He must first go on an adventure and learn how to harness the sheer power of Excalibur, which he could not handle at first. With his renewed strength, Arthur leads several ambushes on the Blacklegs, and he eventually successfully confronts his evil uncle who has sacrificed many of their relatives to gain mystical power. At the end of the movie, Arthur becomes who he was predestined to become and hints of the creation of the Knights of the Round Table. In typical Guy Ritchie fashion, many of the scenes include narration on top of frenetic and bloody stylish fight sequences and often includes flashbacks and flash-forwards. However, the quickfire editing sometimes creates a convoluted narrative that looks pretty but may be hard to follow. Also, the over-the-top fantastical elements and the extremely dark and mysterious atmosphere and mood of the film undercuts the classic Arthurian stories the audience may remember. Overall, I found that Guy Ritchie brought a certain amount of energy to the age-old King Arthur tales, but the movie ultimately failed with its over-reliance on style rather than substance.

The Lost City of Z

Based on the best-selling non-fiction book written by David Grann in 2009, The Lost City of Z is a beautifully crafted film in the great tradition of the Hollywood epics, complete with gorgeous panoramic cinematography and detailed adventurous storytelling. It tells the true story of British Colonel Percy Fawcett, played terrifically by Charlie Hunnam, who is a early 20th century explorer and led expeditions to Amazonian South America and ended up obsessed with discovering a lost city. He was first recruited by the British Royal Geographic Society to help survey the Bolivian frontier to settle a border dispute with Brazil and, while on the arduous months-long journey, he heard and saw evidence of a long lost civilization in the middle of Amazonia. He is also accompanied on most of the expeditions by a fellow explorer and close confidante, a British corporal played by Robert Pattinson. Returning home for a while to his wife, played by Sienna Miller, and his two young children, he eventually decides to embark on yet another adventure back to the jungle to find what he calls the lost city of Z. However, things do not turn out well after taking one of his investor explorers and running into unwelcoming indigenous tribes on the especially challenging trip. His almost fanatical quest is interrupted by World War I when he is sent to the front lines in France and where he witnesses the horrors of war alongside a number of his expeditionary companions. In 1925, he sets out on his final mission with his son Jack and a much smaller group, but the expedition comes to a mysterious end that has yet to be solved. Besides reminding me of such classic epics as 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, the film’s dark and mysterious atmosphere of adventuring into the dangerous unknown is reminiscent of 1979’s Apocalypse Now. Like in Apocalypse Now, the protagonist is a complicated character who is close to descending into madness deep in the jungle and surrounded by unsuspecting natives, some of whom are primitive cannibals. Overall, I thought the filmmaker did an excellent job of recapturing the epic adventure genre and creating a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating cinematic experience.