reviews

When Disney purchased LucasFilm – and with it, the Star Wars universe – from George Lucas, it was clear their plans didn’t just include a new trilogy (it did), but franchise building and expansion through spin-offs, prequels, TV shows (animated so far, live-action in the near future), novels, and comic books. It was, however briefly, an exciting time for longtime Star Wars fans, but Disney, guided by the corporate conservatism that puts a premium on low-risk, high-reward decision making over originality, creativity, and imagination, led first to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a wholly unnecessary, semi-satisfying prequel that explored the how, if not the why, a small group of rebels stole the Death Star’s plans from the fearsome Empire, and now, after the high-profile departure of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) and their almost immediate replacement by Oscar winning, hit-hunting Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13), Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Han Solo post-Revenge of the Sith and pre-A New Hope origin story we didn’t know we wanted or needed. Spoiler alert: Need or want aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers everything we’ve come to love about the Star Wars universe: action, character, humor, and spectacle. (more…)

Releasing a second- or third-tier superhero flick, especially an ultra-violent, superhero comedy over the Valentine’s Day weekend seemed like a joke in and of itself, a joke financed to the tune of $60 million (modest for superhero flicks, a significant chunk of change for anything else), but that’s exactly the gamble 20th-Century Fox decided to take two years ago with the R-rated, Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool. More than $780 million dollars later and Fox’s gamble didn’t look a gamble at all. It looked like a low-risk, high-reward perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable decision. A sequel – the first of many presumably – was inevitable (movie studios are for-profit corporations after all), but with Reynolds, here taking a co-writing credit in addition to slipping back into Deadpool’s red-and-black spandex outfit, and some smart, clever lifts from Deadpool’s extensive comic-book history, the result, Deadpool 2: When Deadpool Met Cable (And Fell into a Mutual Admiration Society), gives fans more of the same (as expected), but also gives the same fans far more (definitely unexpected). (more…)

After ten years, 18 movies, 30,000 visual effects (someone actually counted), and multi-billion-dollar grosses the envy of every Hollywood movie studio (except Disney, of course), the Marvel brand of superhero storytelling has never been stronger or more popular with mainstream moviegoers. The 19th – and far from last – entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Anthony and Joe Russo-directed Avengers: Infinity War, delivers everything moviegoers have come to expect, sometimes even love about Marvel: layered superhero characters, screen-splitting, epic-scaled action, and a cannily calibrated mix of drama and comedy, usually with the fate of the world, the galaxy, and sometimes even the universe at stake. It’s practically impossible to get bigger, more meaningful stakes wise than the known universe (unless we bring the multiverse into the discussion, but that’s for another time and place). Be prepared: Avengers: Infinity War may be the darkest, most downbeat, least emotionally gratifying entry in the entire MCU canon. The stakes feel real, the threats to our favorite superheroes even realer.

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With Disney making major bank off the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the better part of a decade, it was inevitable other movie studios would try to do the same. Universal tried to kickstart their so-called “Dark Universe” with The Mummy just two months ago (they failed). Just as moviegoers have begun to lose interest, Paramount hopes to turn the Transformers series into a shared universe. (Get ready for Bumblebee to have his own standalone movie next year.) Warner Bros. looked like they were best situated to match Marvel superhero for superhero, but stumbled repeatedly over the last few years, finally righting the figurative ship earlier this summer with Wonder Woman. But what’s better than one cinematic universe? Two, of course. Which brings us to Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the prequel/spin-off of what’s being called the “Conjuring Universe.” Here’s the thing: If Annabelle: Creation, a modestly budgeted, period-set, old-school supernatural flick directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), is any indication, Warner Bros. just might succeed and at a fraction of the comic-book/superhero price.

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Over forty years and eight sprawling novels, the Man in Black fled across worlds and the gunslinger followed. They chased from comic books (a prequel series), an animated TV show (in an alternate universe), and now, finally, there’s a big-screen, big-budget adaptation of The Dark Tower that was more than a decade in the making. Less an adaptation proper of Stephen King‘s series than a continuation that begs, borrows, and lifts ideas, concepts, and characters into a hyper-condensed running time (all of 95 minutes, including credits), The Dark Tower won’t (and shouldn’t) win any converts to King’s self-described multiverse-spanning magnum opus (including a planned TV series) or thrill longtime fans who’ll rightly feel cheated by The Dark Tower’s failure to convey the wonder and awe, the scale and spectacle, of King’s work.

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If we, in fact, live in the darkest timeline, we’d be faced with not one, not two, but maybe three or four sequels to Tim Burton’s ill-conceived, poorly-received Planet of the Apes remake. But 20th Century Fox – or rather the executives who ran Fox 16 years ago – decided against continuing the series and went for a new, fresh start that took the better part of a decade to realize.  But when Rise of the Planet of the Apes arrived in multiplexes seven years ago, it was not just the exception to the Hollywood rule (all remakes are bad, all reboots are questionable, at best), but it was truly exceptional too. (more…)

Throw An American Werewolf in London, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lifeforce, the ’99 Mummy remake, and Dawn of the Dead: Zack Snyder Edition, into a figurative blender. Subtract everything you love about those movies and the misshapen, shambling, stitched-together mess that results would look a lot like Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, Universal’s desperate attempt to kickstart their own interconnected cinematic universe to rival Marvel or DC and their multi-billion dollar grosses. Without any superheroes of their own, Universal did what any major studio with Fast & Furious money would do: They dug deep into their century-old back catalog and came up with the so-called “Dark Universe,” a shared universe starring Universal’s “famous monsters.” If the stillborn The Mummy is any indication, though, the “Dark Universe” has failure written all over it. And Tom “Mr. 120%” Cruise isn’t to blame, at least not completely. A badly underwritten script pieced together from the work of six credited writers deserves most of the blame. (more…)

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has had it’s share of stumbles, stumbles, and faceplants over the last few years, the result of Warner Bros.’ rush to cash in on the whole shared superhero universe thing Marvel/Disney started almost a decade ago with Iron Man. Back then, Warner Bros.’ was content letting Christopher Nolan complete his critically and commercially acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, but once The Dark Knight Rises came and went in 2012, it was back to square one cinematic universe wise, a universe that kicked off with the divisive, if unfairly maligned Man of Steel in 2013 and continued with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice just last year (the less said about Suicide Squad, the better). For all of its literal and figurative darkness, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice featured Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) long awaited big-screen debut. Any doubts about both Wonder Woman as a standalone character or Gadot’s performance disappeared almost immediately, making Wonder Woman’s solo film probably the most anticipated superhero film of 2017. (more…)

When we last saw Supergirl/Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El/Girl of Steel (Melissa Benoist), in Season 2’s penultimate episode, “Resist,” she was on the wrong end of a super punch from none other than Superman/Kal-El (Tyler Hoechlin). Under Rhea’s (Teri Hatcher) control (no) thanks to silver Krpytonite (if you didn’t know silver Kryptonite existed, you’re not alone), Superman doesn’t see Supergirl; he sees his greatest, all-time foe, General Zod (Mark Gibbon). After a mutually semi-destructive pounding aboard Rhea’s flagship, Supergirl and Superman find themselves back in National City, kicking, punching, and throwing each other around a water fountain. Somehow, Supergirl gets the better of her more famous cousin, knocking the noxious effects of silver Kryptonite with one, final super punch. It’s called Supergirl and not Superman, after all.  (more…)

When we last left Supergirl/Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) and Friends, they were faced with the arrival of a Daxamite invasion fleet, the result of a Stargate-inspired portal created by Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). The Daxamite queen, Rhea (Teri Hatcher), took full advantage of Lena’s weak point – the lack of a loving maternal figure in her life – to convince an unwitting Lena that the portal she was building with the Luthor family’s money was for the public good (a matter transporter). Before she could do anything about her betrayal, however, Lena found herself aboard the Daxamite mothership, with Rhea at her bedside. Rhea’s plan (or part of it)? Marry off her reluctant son and Supergirl’s boyfriend, Mon-El (Chris Wood) to Lena, uniting (New) Daxam and Earth. Their half-human/half-Daxamite offspring would rule Earth (or something). (more…)