Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The final installment in the nine-part Skywalker saga of the Star Wars movie franchise that has spanned over four decades beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, although definitely not the best film in the series, is a suitably entertaining movie that will appeal to Star Wars fans for its attempt to wrap up all of the many different character narratives and also will attract casual viewers looking for a CGI space epic. The movie takes place in the midst of the Resistance against the First Order led by a mysterious leader that may be recognizable from the previous films, as well as the increasingly powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. The characters that we have come to know over the previous two movies return as they are shown strategizing and bringing the fight to finally take down the even more malevolent First Order. General Leia Organa, played by the late great Carrie Fisher, is still the beloved leader of the Resistance along with the more symbolic leader Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who finally masters the Jedi Force. Rey again teams up with the X-wing fighter pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, and the former Stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, to discover the whereabouts of the true evil overlord behind Kylo Ren who has one last major weapon that could destroy the Resistance and its supporters for good. Of course, a Star Wars movie would not be the same without the sidekicks Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 who appear as members of this desperate mission. In order to please Star Wars fanatics, the film effectively uses the tropes of a Star Wars movie by including spectacular sci-fi action in space and on strange planets, showing the return of some of the more unique creatures, and finally answering such questions as who Rey’s parents are and who is really commanding the First Order. This final installment could have been one of the greatest if it was not for the feeling the filmmakers were rushing to find a way to conclude the long-running series that would give fans a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker narrative arc. Yes, there are some emotional moments of the film, including the complex relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren in addition to a proper farewell to Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. The filmmakers did an excellent job of bringing Princess Leia back by using unused footage from the previous films that were filmed before Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016; the reappearance of such a beloved character made her scenes the most meaningful and sentimental parts of the movie. Overall, I found it to be a good continuation of the global phenomenon that is Star Wars by trying to tie up the loose ends of such a large cinematic universe developed over several decades, but it still did not live up to the very high standards of the first Star Wars movies made in the 1970s and 1980s.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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.

Gemini Man

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.

Ad Astra

Co-written and directed by James Gray best known for 2017’s The Lost City of Z, Ad Astra is a visually stunning sci-fi space adventure movie that is much more philosophical than your typical space film in that it explores the relationship between father and son as well as the existence of intelligent life beyond humanity on Earth. Set in the near distant future in which humans have colonized the Moon and Mars, the protagonist of the story Major Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt in one of his best performances, as a member of the U.S. Space Command is sent on a secret and personal mission to stop mysterious cosmic power surges crippling human infrastructure and threatening all of humanity. Roy is chosen for this mission because it is believed that his father H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is somehow involved despite disappearing sixteen years ago on a mission to Neptune. The emotionally stoic and dedicated Roy, who we discover through flashbacks has had a difficult personal life with his estranged wife and long-lost father, sets out on a interplanetary expedition to the SpaceCom base on Mars by way of the Moon where there is a war between countries and pirates over the control of minerals. He is accompanied by a longtime friend of his father who is played by Donald Sutherland to go to Mars in order to deliver a message to the Lima Project spacecraft, led by his father, that mysteriously disappeared years ago. Without spoiling too much of the plot, Roy goes on even further adventures across the solar system while he is internally grappling with what it means to be a human and trying to understand the intentions of his father who is praised as a hero of SpaceCom. Rather surprisingly, the movie is much more of a meditative experience that relies on magnificent cinematography exploring space and the dreamlike states of Roy as he spends days by himself in outer space. Since his father’s mission was to try and discover extraterrestrial life on solar systems far from our own, the film contemplates on the existence of life and what it means for humans to possibly be the only intelligent beings in the universe. Overall, I found it to be a very well-done space film that has brilliant elements of science fiction in its depiction of space travel in the future in addition to being a personal drama that takes an inward look into the human psyche and our relationships with others, particularly family.

Men in Black: International

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.

Dark Phoenix

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.

Captain Marvel

The twenty-first installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie franchise, Captain Marvel is your fairly typical superhero comic book movie but is elevated by above-average acting performances and a script filled with humor and female empowerment. The story revolves around Vers, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson, who is a member of the Starforce tasked with protecting their own alien race known as the Kree. Her commander and mentor Yon-Rogg, played by Oscar nominee Jude Law, trains her to control her superpower of having a powerful energy force that can be used as a very destructive weapon. They are in the midst of a war with another alien race known as the Skrulls who can shape-shift into any life-form and are led by Talos, played by Golden Globe winner Ben Mendelsohn. Eventually, Larson’s character finds herself on Earth in 1995 after she is captured by the Skrulls. She is discovered by bewildered agents of the secret American agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., including Nick Fury who is played by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson. He is teamed up with Larson’s character whose Earth name is Carol Danvers and thereby is ordered to keep eyes on her by the agency’s director Keller, also played by Ben Mendelsohn. Over the course of the storyline, not everything is as straightforward as first presented at the beginning, and it does not become entirely clear who the real enemy is and the true motivations of the characters. Things get increasingly complicated for Danvers after discovering she was connected to a secret United States Air Force program known as Project Pegasus run by a woman that Danvers previously forgot about as a result of amnesia, Dr. Wendy Lawson who is played by Oscar nominee Annette Bening. Par for the course with such a blockbuster, the film is filled with CGI-enhanced action sequences and cross references with the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the film does have moments of humor, especially the scenes involving the cat Goose who is seemingly always around for no apparent reason. Overall, I found it to be yet another entertaining blockbuster in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that provides just enough levity to not take itself too seriously while also presenting a powerful female superhero, in the same vein of the inspiring 2017 movie Wonder Woman.