Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Full Review)

The Mission: Impossible franchise has been one of the best in the spy genre for over twenty years. From Ethan Hunt dangling from a wire in the 1996 film to hanging from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the character has given us some of the most intense and jaw dropping action sequences in the genre. And just when I thought Tom Cruise’s stunts couldn’t get more outrageous… he ups the ante like never before for Mission: Impossible Fallout.

MI_–_FalloutFallout begins by placing IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his usual allies Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames) on a mission to keep the last remnants of the terrorist organization, The Sindicate, from getting plutonium for nuclear weapons. When Hunt is forced to give up the plutonium for his friend’s life, the head of the IMF (Alec Baldwin), sends his team on a mission to meet with a shady arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby), in hopes of extracting and interrogating the leader of the Sindicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). But Hunt and his team aren’t alone this time. Determined to fix Hunt’s mistake, CIA head Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) sends her top agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) along for the ride.

The story can certainly get convoluted at times, especially for anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise. It also doesn’t help that not all of the plot twists land. But story isn’t as important to these films as the obstacles for the protagonist. And Fallout has plenty of obstacles for Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise brings his all and seems to operate with the sole mission to bring more incredible stunts to Fallout than any action film that came before it. And he absolutely succeeds. There is hardly a dull moment, with each action sequence bringing vigor whether it be via stakes or the captivating camera angles.

Director Christopher McQuarrie also manages to bring the same touch of character charm that was felt in Rogue Nation. It helps that Fallout brings back its best character from its predecessor. Rebecca Ferguson’s returns as the English double agent, Ilsa, with the same stunning femme fatale energy. The supporting characters, both old and new, all bring charisma and well timed comedic flare. Combining that with the sheer passionate, recklessness of both Tom Cruise and his character, means that while there might be better spy films and perhaps smarter Mission: Impossible movies, you’d be hard pressed to find one more entertaining than Fallout.

FINAL GRADE: A

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The Equalizer 2 (Full Review)

So what, if Denzel Washington is 63-years-old? He could be an 80-year-old, blind, paraplegic and he’d still be able to sell himself as an action star. Few actors can command a scene like Washington. So even though he’s getting up there in age, it’s still exciting to see him reunite with Director Antoine Fuqua and reprise his role as Robert McCall for The Equalizer 2.

The_Equalizer_2_posterWhen Robert McCall isn’t spending time exacting vigilante justice on bullies and gangsters who prey on the little guy, he’s ferrying people around as a Lyft driver and mentoring a young artist (Ashton Sanders) who lives in his apartment building. But that all changes when McCall learns that his closest friend and former colleague (Melissa Leo) has been murdered. With only the help of another former partner (Pedro Pascal), McCall begins a violent mission to avenge his friend.

It should be no surprise that Washington is once again magnetic as McCall. The wholesome charm and calculated intelligence he brings to the character reminds you of a guardian angel or the father figure everyone would want. The action sequences also don’t disappoint… unless you’re actually looking for the hero to be challenged (Hint: It’s not that type of movie). Like John Wick or Liam Neeson in Taken, Denzel moves throughout this film punishing his enemies with inventive fight choreography and some keen camera work to highlight each move.

But there is one massive problem with The Equalizer 2. It barely has a story. The first third of the movie feels like snippets of a T.V. show with McCall playing nice with uninteresting side characters and beating up random bad guys. Sure, it’s important to show audience members who skipped the first Equalizer that McCall is a badass, but one scene of this nature would suffice. We also don’t need to have a bunch of minor characters for McCall to connect to when one (Sanders) is clearly established as the most integral to the plot.

While the first film didn’t have an intricate plot by any stretch, it still maintained a focus around Chloe Graze-Moretz’s character. Yes, Denzel Washington is fun to watch in his return to the role, but it appears as if his character doesn’t actually have anything interesting to do this time around. It shouldn’t take an hour for a film to find its focal point, and when it does, it’s hard for anyone to stay interested regardless of who is in front of the camera. Equalizer 2 has some exciting moments, but it’ll be one of the last movies you’ll remember from 2018.

FINAL GRADE: C

The First Purge (Full Review)

It’s easy to tell when a franchise has lost its luster. Things begin to feel redundant and the themes start to lose subtlety. When The Purge was released in 2013, it created an interesting concept. What if all crime, even murder, was legal for one 12-hour period each year? The Purge: Anarchy and Election Year expanded upon that concept. But having milked that premise in a trilogy, not even a prequel can keep this series from starting to feel stale.

The_First_Purge_posterThe First Purge takes place nearly a decade before the first film. With the aid of a psychoanalyst (Marisa Tomei), the radical government regime known as the New Founding Fathers of America decide to use Staten Island, New York for the first experimental purge. Once they realize more citizens are interested in partying rather than committing murder, the NFFA takes matters into their own hands by bringing in trained killers and white supremacists. Caught in the chaos are an activist (Lex Scott Davis) and her drug dealing brother (Joivan Wade), a single mother (Lauren Velez), and the island’s biggest kingpin (Y’lan Noel).

In case it wasn’t made clear earlier in this review, The First Purge is redundant and lacks any subtlety. There is virtually nothing in this film that will be considered refreshing or exciting to anyone who has seen any other Purge movie. We’ve already seen both skilled combatants and mere civilians stuck in the streets during the Purge in two other movies, so it adds no real intrigue here. The concept of the government masquerading as purgers as a means of population control has also been used before. So aside from gangster movie cliches, more creepy masks, and some fresh faces with decent acting chops, there’s absolutely nothing this movie has to add.

What makes matters worse is the ending. Y’Lan Noel’s character going full John Wick to save his friends from a pack of neo-Nazis in an apartment building, makes the film go from typical Purge movie to an outright ridiculous 90’s Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. If all the creators of this franchise can do is come up with different ways to get people out on the streets during the Purge, then it is definitely time to put it to rest before it gets any more unbearable.

FINAL GRADE: D

Ant-Man and The Wasp (Full Review)

Welp… someone had to draw the short straw. 2015’s Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, mainly because it relished in being a comedic heist film more than an outright superhero movie. But this time around, Marvel’s shrinking hero has the unenviable task of following up the two highest grossing films in the history of comic book cinema. And while no intelligent person should be going into Ant-Man and The Wasp looking for it to be as thematically profound as Black Pantheror as epic as Infinity War, it is fair to expect a film equally as fun, or exciting, as the first Ant-Man.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAfter aiding Captain America in Civil War, ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. Determined to finish the last days of his two year sentence and spend more time with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has given up the moniker of Ant-Man. But, having escaped the subatomic quantum realm in the first film, Scott is also the key to helping the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), rescue his long lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the same mysterious dimension. With the FBI, a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a villain who can phase through solid matter (Hannah John-Kamen) standing in their way, Scott takes up the mantle again with Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as his partner.

Calling Lilly’s Wasp the “partner” is actually pretty ridiculous. By the first action sequence, it becomes clear that the movie should be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. She is tougher, smarter, and more heroic to the point that it relegates Lang to being, not only more of the sidekick, but inherently mere comic relief and a plot device for her adventure. And that would all be fine if this sequel had the same narrative flow as the previous film. But it never rightfully gives her the tonal forefront.

Miguel Peña, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, and Davis Dastmalchian all return as Lang’s goofy, ex-con coworkers. Laurence Fishburne appears as a former colleague to Dr. Pym. Oh… and Randall Park also plays a bumbling FBI agent. By the end, there are just too many characters and story threads. The over-reliance on quips and gags makes for a ton of disjointed scenes that, like in Thor: Ragnarok, undermine serious stakes. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins and his crew of buffoons seem to be onscreen only to provide henchmen to beat up, which only wastes the potential of John-Kamen’s visually stunning, but underdeveloped villain, ‘Ghost’.

Peyton Reed returns to direct, and he tries mightily to give this film the same tone. But at its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a heist film. With Hope and Dr. Pym’s emotional journey to reunite with their lost matriarch being the main focus, The Wasp should’ve been the main character. Rudd’s Lang is still charming, and his endearing relationship with his daughter was enough of a subplot to bring him along for the ride, but he needed to take more of a backseat. Continuously giving screen time to clownish characters is frequently becoming Marvel’s biggest weakness. And here, it squanders the showcasing of its tremendous female lead. It certainly has some fun moments, but there’s too much going on for Ant-Man and The Wasp not to land near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Full Review)

Few expected Jurassic World to be the worldwide box office success that it was. But thanks to the charm of Chris Pratt and some well played nostalgia, the movie managed to recapture the essence of the original Jurassic Park. But just like with the original Jurassic Park sequels, it’s tough to keep the franchise from becoming stale when the dinosaur theme park isn’t the focal point. With a weaker storyline, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes dangerously close to crumbling under the weight of its own outlandishness.

Jurassic_World_Fallen_KingdomA few years after the foolish decision to create a mutated dinosaur led to catastrophe and the closing of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar find themselves facing extension thanks to an active volcano. With the U.S. government refusing to get involved, a wealthy benefactor (James Cromwell) and his financial successor (Rafe Spall) launch a secret expedition to save the dinosaurs. To accomplish their mission they recruit raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt), former park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a hacker (Justice Smith), and a dino veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). It doesn’t take long for the dino-loving group to learn that the organization has dangerous ulterior motives.

Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, clearly the best two films in the franchise, worked because they kept things simple and played on the fear of people who thought they were going to experience a fun zoological atmosphere. Like Jurassic Park 2 and 3, Fallen Kingdom falls into the same plot pitfalls that make it teeter on being ridiculous. The motivations of the antagonists are beyond stupid, but they successfully set up what you come to these movies to see: people running in terror from carnivorous dinosaurs.

Any blockbuster with a flimsy plot has to tow the line between between being stupid and being big dumb fun (just ask Michael Bay). Fallen Kingdom manages to fall into the latter thanks in large part to the cast. Pratt once again delivers a charismatic tough guy performance that keeps the tone light. The newcomers, Smith and Pineda, are surprisingly welcome additions. Pineda adds wit and Smith brings a ton of sidesplitting physical humor. Thus, when things go inevitably haywire, we enjoy seeing them run and scream on screen with Pratt playing the infectious hero.

Decisions by characters we don’t care about are beyond dumb, like a hunter entering a cage of a vicious dino-hybrid to collect a tooth as a trophy. At times it almost feels like characters should turn and wink at the camera before they get eaten. But that’s part of the fun. Even when you can see the outcome a mile away, Fallen Kingdom works its way through the suspense with chilling cinematography and lighthearted quips. So while this unnecessary sequel doesn’t reinvent the wheel or create the same fun as its better predecessors, it is still an absolutely exciting summer ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

FINAL GRADE: B

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Han Solo is one of the most popular characters from the original 1970’s Star Wars trilogy. The slick talking, charmer and his furry, temperamental partner Chewbacca, are two of cinema’s greatest outlaws. So, there is perhaps no characters worthier of a spin-off movie. With Harrison Ford far too old to reprise the role that launched his career, Aldin Ehrenreich has the lofty task of portraying the character in this prequel adventure.

Solo_A_Star_Wars_Story_posterSolo: A Star Wars Story introduces Han as a young, wannabe pilot, looking to free himself and an old flame (Emilia Clarke) from a life of servitude. Han’s mission to procure a ship and escape life working for the Empire, leads him to his future partner Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and a crew of thieves (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau). Eventually, Han finds himself working for a vicious gangster (Paul Bettany) who needs him to pull off a virtually impossible heist. To accomplish the job, Han will need the help of famed hustler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and their impressive ship… the Millennium Falcon.

Ron Howard stepped in to take over directing duties for Phil Lord and Christopher Miller after most of the film was already shot. The changes in direction are a bit noticeable in the film’s overstuffed plot. It takes a while to get going, and newcomers will likely find themselves scratching their heads at the many unexplained plot elements that Star Wars purists will fully understand. But when Solo manages to find its footing, it is actually one of the most fun, visually appealing, and exciting Star Wars films.

The set pieces and action sequences make the film feel like a cross between a gritty western and a space age, heist caper. As for Ehrenreich, he holds his own in a role that is essentially impossible for anyone to truly embody better than Ford. He brings enough charm, and the script gives him enough moments, to make the entire journey feel like an organic Han Solo story, even if the absence of Harrison Ford makes things feel a tad off.

The new characters in Solo don’t quite do enough to become memorable. L3-37, a witty droid hell bent on freeing her fellow robotic brothers and sisters from servitude, is easily the most enjoyable. But she doesn’t get the screen time to quite steal the show. The rest of the faces all feel like stock counterparts only there to further the plot, with the exception of Glover’s fantastic embodiment of a young Billy Dee Williams. The movie also succumbs to the popular prequel problem of trying too hard to weave in threads from other movies in the series.

With plenty of charm and some exhilarating action to counterbalance some obvious flaws, Solo is a movie that will entertain most casual fans of the genre, even if we all wish Harrison Ford was a few decades younger to breathe more life into it. Solo won’t be considered a top shelf sci-fi entry, or even an upper echelon Star Wars film. But for a film that isn’t holistically necessary, it deserves credit for having some incredible moments.

FINAL GRADE: C, Not bad, but highly flawed.

A Quiet Place (Full Review)

Silence is pretty terrifying when you think about it. Who hasn’t been alone in an empty home at night and been freaked out by a noise coming from an unknown place? Director John Krasinksi (The Office) takes that concept and adds elements of horror and science fiction to create a simplistic, but eerie thriller.

A_Quiet_Place_film_posterA Quiet Place is set in a world where most of humanity has been killed off by blind alien creatures that are attracted to any sound above a whisper.  Living on a farm with his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds), and young son (Noah Jupe), Lee Abbott (Krazinksi) must find a way to protect his family from the deadly creatures while also carrying on day to day life in virtual silence.

As you might expect, the premise of the film can make for a slow burn at times. With limited dialogue and only a hand full of characters to focus on, things can feel a bit dull between the more suspenseful moments. But when those suspenseful sequences do come, they are ‘edge of your seat’ captivating like the raptor scene from Jurassic Park on steroids. And even through the film’s more sluggish moments, Krasinksi, who also wrote the film, does a wonderful job revealing important details and building character depth without the use of heavy dialogue or flashbacks.

The runtime isn’t dragged out and dedicates itself solely to its self contained story for better and worse. You may find yourself leaving the movie with questions about the film’s universe and character pasts. But such specifics aren’t the point of Krasinksi’s story. A Quiet Place is, above all, about family, sacrifice, and survival and with some classic monster movie elements, it carves out enough of a framework to make it both entertaining and memorable.

FINAL GRADE: B

Blockers (Full Review)

Every parent wants their child to obey, but also feel comfortable enough to confide and be truthful once they’re older. Every high school kid wants nurturing parents who will still give them the freedom to venture out and learn their own lessons. This universal dichotomy is the framework for Blockers, a movie that manages to blend just enough family endearment with its raunchy blend of comedy.

Blockers_(film)Kay Cannon, writer of the Pitch Perfect movies, makes her directorial debut in this story about a trio of parents hell bent on keeping their daughters from losing their virginities after they learn of a Prom night sex pact. Lisa (Leslie Mann) is a single mother whose afraid that her daughter (Kathryn Newton) will go far away for college and make the same mistakes she did. Mitchell (John Cena) is happily married with a newborn child but is afraid his oldest daughter (Geraldine Viswanathan) is going to sleep with a student known for cooking up drugs. Then there’s Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a down on his luck divorcee who just wants back into his daughter’s (Gideon Adlon) life.

There is a moment where multiple characters projectile vomit, a scene where John Cena’s Mitchell has beer poured down his rectum, and gratuitous sex jokes a plenty. But Blockers actually works best when it isn’t being raunchy and just feeds off of the surprisingly fluid chemistry of its lead actors. John Cena is hilarious every time he speaks, owning the role like he’s back in Wrestlemania. And while Leslie Mann has portrayed manic mother’s seemingly a million times, here her knack for playing vulnerable OCD characters brings the film’s overarching theme home better than anyone else.

The surprising standout in Blockers, however, goes to MADtv alum Ike Barinholtz. He delivers funny, yet timely dialogue and physical humor while also managing to give a heavy dose of heart whenever the story focuses his way. Along with Cena, Mann, and a cast of youngsters whose characters all hold relevant narratives, this film manages to make its many outrageous scenarios believable simply because we care about the folks involved. So even though there aren’t a ton of truly side splitting moments, the hearty chuckles will come often enough to keep you entertained while the endearing tone does the rest to make Blockers memorable.

FINAL GRADE: B

Ready Player One (Full Review)

Steven Spielberg knows how to make an adventure film. For decades he has created and adapted unique worlds for the big screen that have become iconic in pop culture. So there is perhaps no one more equipped to tackle Ready Player One, a 2011 novel written by Ernest Cline that is bursting at the seams with 80’s nostalgia and nerd culture.

Ready_Player_One_(film)Ready Player One takes place in the 2040’s where most of humanity spends there time engulfed in a virtual world known as the OASIS where they can be whoever they want and gamble away their money playing games. After the creator of the OASIS (Mark Rylance) dies, he hides an Easter Egg within the game that will make the finder the wealthy sole owner of the OASIS. Living in poverty with his aunt, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) joins forces with a group of other gamers (Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki) to find the egg before the greedy head of a rival company (Ben Mendelsohn) can.

This film celebrates nerd culture like nothing else, at times for better and worse. The character arcs get a bit cheesy at times and if you’re not into gaming, the whole experience might be overwhelming.  This movie is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for MMO players and the people who understand most of the references in Family Guy, but what makes it work well is the story it tells. Sure, the effects are breathtaking and the pop culture references are fun, but without an intriguing narrative, the film would be a bore.

Ready Player One manages to weave a likable tale with surprisingly heartfelt themes thanks in large part to Mark Rylance’s James Halliday. The brilliant, but socially awkward character uses the game as a means to teach an endearing lesson about connection and taking chances. Rylance’s quirky, loveable performance makes the overall journey one worth taking even if you aren’t a fan of video games or can name all of the characters that pop up in the background. Combined with thrilling visuals and some well timed humor, Spielberg’s latest film ends up being an absolutely blast for anyone who just enjoys a good treasure hunt.

FINAL GRADE: B

Red Sparrow (Full Review)

A Russian girl is sent to an underground military program that trains her to be a sexy, seductive spy. No, this isn’t an ‘R’ rated version of the Black Widow movie Marvel should’ve made a long time ago. It is an adaptation of a novel written by Jason Matthews with director Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Catching Fire) at the helm.

Red_SparrowJennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a star ballerina who is forced to give up her life of dancing when she suffers a gruesome injury. In danger of losing health coverage for her ill mother (Joely Richardson), Dominika is coxed by her government head uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) to enter the aforementioned spy program. As a sparrow, she is tasked with seducing an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who is protecting the identity of a mole within the Russian government.

If you can get past her boorish Russian accent, Lawrence does a fair job. She holds her own in all of the brutal action sequences and certainly doesn’t skimp on the sexiness of the role. But Red Sparrow falls into some of the same listless doldrums that plagued 2016’s Atomic Blonde. The film, which carries on about a half hour too long, seems to take the scenic route in getting to its focal point and as such, it can easily make you lose interest.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton’s Nate Nash never feels genuine, which at times makes it hard to understand either character’s motivations in certain scenes. Throw in a needless subplot about extracting information from a U.S. chief of staff (Mary Louise-Parker), and the movie never quite satisfies as a spy thriller. It is certainly worth a watch if you’re into the genre, but years from now there won’t be much to remember this story by.

FINAL GRADE: C