Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler Free) Review

The word ‘Ambitious’ isn’t quite enough to describe it. Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige probably couldn’t have imagined that this vast cinematic universe would become as successful as it is when Iron Man first released ten years ago. Along with a host of incredible directors and acting talent, he has carved out a collection of unique films that seamlessly blend into one cohesive story. It has all led to a film that holds no punches.

Avengers_Infinity_War_posterThanos (Josh Brolin), an intimidating force who has been pulling strings behind the scenes in several films, has finally come to the forefront. Hell bent on wiping out half of the universe to create balance, he along with his minions, are out to capture the Power, Space, Reality, Soul, Time, and Mind infinity stones. Standing in their way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Braldey Cooper, Pom Klementieff, and Vin Diesel) along with a horde of supporting characters from the MCU (Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba).

Anyone familiar with comics knows that you have to often suspend your notions of practicality to enjoy the overarching stories and their themes. Avengers: Infinity War is no different. The movie moves at a sometimes disorienting pace that will leave those who aren’t familiar with these types of films in the dust. There are so many characters, that the movie can’t help but feel complex and at times muddled. But after eighteen films of character building, Infinity War serves as a visual narrative treat to those who have been there every step of the way.

The vast collection of cast members intermingle with characters they’ve never been on screen alongside with an almost flawless chemistry. We get Thor teaming up with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Iron Man with Dr. Strange, The Avengers with the army of Wakanda. When fan favorites arrive on the scene there’s a nostalgic sensation that is enough to make fans absolutely giddy. So even at its rare hokey moments (one character does something atypically stupid and a new character feels completely out of place), Infinity War revitalizes the same fun, awestricken feeling audiences got with the first Avengers movie.

The humor feels organic, but make no mistake, this movie raises the MCU stakes unlike any other. Thanos, off nothing more than sheer might, determination, and intimidation, manages to cement himself as one of cinema’s most daunting villains. The heart pounding climax of the film is sure to leave audiences frozen in their seats as the credits role. For a franchise whose biggest flaws have usually revolved around lack of strong antagonists and unwillingness to sacrifice major characters, the Russo Brothers (Captain America Winter Solider and Civil War) manage to create a film that serves as a middle finger to anyone who ever criticized. The result is a sometimes uneven, but overall shocking, emotional roller coaster that feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the superhero genre.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Full Review)

If you grew up in the 90’s, odds are you remember Jumanji, the movie about a jungle themed board game being brought to life. Starring the late great Robin Williams, this movie has become a classic fun family film. But nothing is sacred in Hollywood. So you had to know it was only a matter of time before someone reentered the world of Jumanji whether you want it or not.

Jumanji_Welcome_to_the_JungleJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is technically a distant sequel. Taking place years after the original, this time the board game has magically changed into a video game. After a nerd (Alex Wolff), a jock (Ser’Darius Blain), a popular snob (Madison Iseman), and a quiet loner (Morgan Turner) get detention and discover the Jumanji game, they are sucked inside where the nerd becomes the macho hero (Dwayne Johnson), the jock becomes the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), the quiet loner becomes the sexy bad ass (Karen Gillan), and the popular girl becomes a tubby old male archaeologist (Jack Black). To escape the game, they’ll need to get assistance from a pilot (Nick Jonas) and defeat a villain with the ability to control animals (Bobby Cannavale).

If you’re going to revitalize an old, popular property you can go one of two ways: Do the exact same thing over again or try something new. Welcome to the Jungle does more of the latter and it makes the film much more successful. This movie doesn’t try to be anything like the original, instead focusing more on the gimmick of being set in an adventure video game while keeping the same family fun tone.

The cast is what makes the movie a thoroughly entertaining experience. Johnson, Hart, and Black are all equally hilarious and play their roles well. They take turns owning each scene with some memorable physical comedy. The one weak link is Gillan, who is understandably a bit out of her element in a comedy. The younger cast isn’t terrible, but they aren’t on screen long enough to come off as anything more than stereotypes.

There are a few cheesy moments and the story is basically void of any real twists or turns, but the action is popcorn movie good and the laughs are heavy. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ends up being a movie worth a watch with moments that resonate well after its viewing. If you disassociate it with the original, it becomes that much more enjoyable and it could easily be just as memorable for a new generation of younger viewers.

FINAL GRADE: B

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

The Circle (Full Review)

Just how much social media is too much? Is social media and the rapid growth of technology making the world less private? Is privacy worth trading for security? These are just some of the philosophical questions that are bound to pop up in the coming years as our world evolves. The Circle, adapted from a 2013 novel written by Dave Eggers, is a story that raises many of those questions. If only it had answers for them.

The_Circle_(2017_film)The Circle takes place in the near future where people all over the world are connected through a Facebook meets Apple meets Google media conglomerate known as ‘The Circle’ ran by tech genius Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and legal figurehead Tom Stenton. When her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a customer service job at the Circle, Mae (Emma Watson) sees it as a golden opportunity to help her ill father (the late Bill Paxton) and improve her dull life. As her career within the company rises and her relationship with a close family friend (Ellar Coltrane) begins to deteriorate, she begins to question the morality of the Circle.

There is a strong theoretical core to The Circle as it does manage to raise all of the questions mentioned earlier, but overall this is a film that collapses on itself without truly understanding what it should be. After taking far too long to introduce actual conflict, the film teeters in its final act when it doesn’t quite know how to answer all of its many hypotheticals. Emma Watson’s character goes through tragedy as a result of the issues brought up, but the resolution matches neither the build up or the lesson that should’ve been learned.

We are asked by the narrative to think about what social media means to our societal privacy. We are asked to wonder how much information is too much, and yet… the film’s climax veers off into a hardly relevant commentary about corruption. As a result, The Circle ends up like an uneven equation. It raises questions then responds with an answer to one that was never asked.

The lack of resolution wouldn’t be as frustrating if there were other elements that made the film worth while. But the performances are mostly flat, save for an underutilized John Boyega as the one questioning cog within the Circle. Emma Watson gives her worst performance since childhood as she spends most of the movie poorly hiding her accent and trying to find the correct emotional footing through an uneven script. Several characters also have uneven arcs like Gillain’s Annie, who goes from peppy Circle subordinate to paranoid, jealous, pill addict without any real transition. And sure, thought provoking films don’t necessarily need to have all of the answers to the questions they raise, but The Circle comes off like a film that doesn’t even know what questions its asking.

FINAL GRADE: D