The final installment in The Maze Runner trilogy that was first released in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fairly typical action movie based on a series of young adult books about a dystopian future, reminiscent of the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise. The plot follows a group of young people led by Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, who are immune to a virus that has killed off much of humanity and become members of The Right Arm rebellion against the all-powerful organization known as WCKD who experiment and torture those who are immune to find a cure. Thomas along with characters Frypan and Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, go against the orders of The Right Arm leaders Vince, played by Barry Pepper, and Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame, by breaking into the heavily fortified Last City, one of the few remaining uninfected cities and home to the headquarters of WCKD led by Patricia Clarkson’s character, to rescue one of their immune friends Minho. After meeting up with the resistance forces outside the city walls led by Lawrence, played by Walton Goggins, the group are reunited with their friend Gally, played by Will Poulter, who can help them fight their way in against the vicious leader of WCKD troops Janson, played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame. They must also convince a previous member of the group Teresa who now works for WCKD to align with the rebels to undermine the malevolent organization. However, things get more complicated after Teresa discovers that Thomas may help lead to a cure for the deadly virus. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining film that helps pass the time but ultimately does not add much to the already bloated genre of young adult dystopian movies.
Directed by three-time Oscar nominee Alexander Payne best known for 2004’s Sideways, 2011’s The Descendants, 2013’s Nebraska, Downsizing is an intriguing yet ultimately rudderless film with a very unique twist and applaudable acting performances. I was surprisingly letdown by what was advertised as a comedy with a fun and preposterous premise and came away disappointed by the lackluster effort put forward by a very talented filmmaker. The story revolves around the scientific discovery of being able to shrink humans to only five inches tall as a way of reducing the environmental footprint of humanity. Paul, played by Matt Damon, and his wife Audrey, played by Kristen Wiig, are a middle-aged couple stuck in a rut living in Omaha who decide one day to undergo the procedure known as downsizing. They are convinced after meeting up with their high school friend Dave, played by Jason Sudeikis, who enjoys the financial benefits of living small. They are all prepared to live the rest of their days as small people living in the luxurious Leisureland community, but Audrey has grave misgivings about leaving her family. Eventually, Paul lives alone as a downsized person in a small apartment located in Leisureland after his wife decides not to downsize and files for divorce. Living a rather boring life at a dead-end job, he decides to go partying with his upstairs neighbor and Serbian playboy Dusan, played by an affable Christoph Waltz, who is wealthy from his black market dealings. Further changing his worldview, Paul runs into a Vietnamese refugee and housekeeper named Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau whose performance is the highlight of the movie, who is very charitable to the poor residents despite her financial situation. Paul becomes close friends with her and eventually romantic feelings develop between the two. In yet another strangely abrupt and unnecessary plot shift, Paul along with his new and unusual friends embark on a journey to the original downsized community in remote Norway. They learn from the Norwegian scientist who invented the procedure that mankind is in peril as a result of the irreversible environmental impact of full-sized people. Thereby, the movie drastically shifts to becoming a drama about the environment after the first third of the film plays out like a satirical comedy. Overall, I was impressed by the filmmaker’s creativity in concocting such a bizarre concept; however, the film’s execution fails its great potential as a result of jumbled plotlines and largely unsympathetic characters besides Ngoc.
Directed by Rian Johnson who is best known for 2005’s Brick and 2012’s Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a terrific follow-up in the Star Wars saga film series that effectively recreates the magic and creativity of the original trilogy in addition to creating an entertaining epic story with emotional heart. It takes place immediately after the 2015 installment Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the appearance of Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, who lives a solitary life on a remote island when he is visited by the Resistance fighter Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. She urges him as the Last Jedi to help the losing cause of the Resistance against the First Order led by the Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis, and the powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. As Rey struggles with the reclusive Luke, the relatively few remaining ships of the Resistance led by General Leia Organa, played by Carrie Fisher, with the help of the stubborn X-wing fighter pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, are under siege by the First Order and General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson. In what could be the last hope for survival, the former Stormtrooper and now Resistance fighter Finn, played by John Boyega, joins forces with the unlikely hero and mechanic Rose Tico, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, on a secret mission to prevent the destruction of the Resistance’s fleet. Besides the spectacular CGI action sequences characteristic of a Star Wars movie, the filmmaker also employs intimate interactions, particularly the philosophical relationship between Luke and Rey, to engender a powerfully emotional story. As such, it is also able to provide a touching and fitting farewell to Carrie Fisher who tragically passed away before the film’s release. In an ode to nostalgia and the legion of Star Wars fans, the movie additionally works beloved characters into the story, including Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2, while developing such new and adorable creatures as porgs and crystal foxes. Overall, I found it to live up to the original trilogy first released 40 years ago and exceeds the expectations set forth by the well-crafted first reboot of the series in 2015. With thrilling action and rich storytelling, the latest Star Wars movie will definitely please die-hard fans and casual moviegoers alike.
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.
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.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve who is best known for the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 is an extraordinary film that lives up to its predecessor, the science fiction cult classic Blade Runner released in 1982 and based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel. Heavily influenced by the first movie’s director Ridley Scott who is one of the producers of the sequel, the film remarkably recreates the dystopian hallmarks of the original with beautiful cinematography of a bleak yet futuristic world of monolithic skyscrapers illuminated by extravagant neon signage rising above a rain-soaked suffering population. The story takes place thirty years after the first Blade Runner and follows an officer with the LAPD officer named K, played by Ryan Gosling, who is sent on a secret mission by his boss Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright, to discover the truth behind the discovery of a mysterious skeleton. K is what is known as a blade runner whose job it is is to hunt down and destroy renegade replicants, human-like robots originally created by the now defunct Tyrell Corporation featured in the original. Officer K is a replicant himself but of a more advanced and better controlled version built by the all-powerful Wallace Corporation led by the vicious Niander Wallace, played by the especially creepy Jared Leto. The Wallace Corporation is intrigued by the LAPD’s investigation because it may lead to a key development in their replicant program. Throughout the slow burn and sometimes complex esoteric scenes, K questions his own existence and whether he is in fact a human and not a replicant with implanted memories. The very nature of what it means to be human is the core of the film’s deep dive into the philosophical exploration of humanity and artificial intelligence. Eventually, Gosling’s character comes to a greater understanding of who he is after encountering Rick Deckard, the main character from the original played by a particularly gruff Harrison Ford. Deckard is a replicant who has been on the run over the past thirty years and had a romantic relationship with another replicant named Rachael who may have had a very unique capability desired by Wallace. Overall, although the heavy dose of sci-fi and philosophical elements may not appeal to all viewers, the movie is without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece as a result of being a visual marvel presenting a stylized dystopia complete with a very futuristic-sounding soundtrack emphasizing the dark and moody themes. If you are a fan of the original Blade Runner or any other sci-fi flick, you will not be disappointed by this long-awaited sequel.
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.