The Mummy: Movie Man Jackson

Power isn’t given. It’s taken. In ancient Egypt resides Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). She has power, but she desires more, and goes about attaining it in a sinister way. She comes close to doing so, but is thwarted at the last moment, mummified into a tomb for her transgressions, and cast out of the ancient land.

Fast forward to present day Mesopotamia, aka Iraq, where soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and accomplice Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are looking for the next big score to sell to the black market. After surviving a battle, they come across the massive tomb of Ahmanet. Unwittingly, Nick releases her back into this world, and as a result, becomes a target for the resurrected princess who looks to complete the sacrifice she was unable to thousands of years ago.

Peace and love and universes, man. That’s what it feels like in 2017, with Marvel leading the way, DC playing aggressive catch-up, while Warner Bros (on a vastly smaller scale despite ironically featuring two of the biggest monsters in the world) and Universal feeling like they’ve got the IP to launch their own interconnected offerings. Just in case one didn’t know, Universal wants to make sure it’s known that The Mummy is the launching pad of the “Dark Universe” by saying so before The Mummy even begins in Universal font. It’s a bit much. But the end feeling walking out of The Mummy is that of a competent, yet somewhat disposable, summer blockbuster.

The Mummy 2017 serves as director Alex Kurtzman’s (People Like Us) first big-budget feature. He’s got a little bit of a difficult task in not only reestablishing a major monster character, but a larger universe. He mostly succeeds in this, at least in the first two-thirds. Though getting off to a bit of a rough start with some overlong story exposition (more of a writing fault than anything), Kurtzman generally settles into a directorial groove, with the highlights being some thrillingly fun action sequences peppered throughout adjoined by a solid score from the popular Brian Tyler. There’s been better CGI in summer blockbusters, but what’s found here gets the job done. One caveat: Stay away from the 3D offering, as it does little to nothing to enhance the overall presentation.

Surprisingly, the movie handles its juggling of a singular world along with introducing bigger matters fairly well. But, by the end, The Mummy bookends itself with more obvious exposition and promises of “a world of gods and monsters,” just in case it wasn’t known already. A simple mid-credits scene may have worked just as efficiently. Any attempts at emotional or intellectual investment fails to register much of a pulse, such as an inorganic, hot-shotted romance that seems to be exist only because the two leads are good-looking. Humor is hit and miss—sometimes a really big hit—but other times undercutting what intensity may be there.

There aren’t many legitimate mega movie stars that exist nowadays, but Tom Cruise still serves as one of them. He’s playing a role that many people could play in Nick Morton, but Cruise still brings some excitement if only because he’s Tom Cruise, running and delivering comedic lines like only he can. However, he’s got the same problem that Jake Johnson (takes a while to realize anytime ‘Nick’ is said in The Mummy, they’re not referring to Jake), has in this movie: They’re playing themselves, which I don’t think The Mummy is going for. Johnson’s character in particular, though occasionally funny, would fit better in a different production, like a Halloween episode of New Girl or something.

Little can be said for the person Annabelle Wallis stars as. Initially appearing to be an interesting, do-it-herself character, her character is ultimately revealed to a basic damsel archetype with no chemistry had with Cruise. Two standout performances come from Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella. The trailers have done a great at hiding who exactly is Crowe, and the reveal as to how he fits into this upcoming world may be the best aspect of The Mummy. It’s excellent casting and perhaps the biggest reason to get excited about this future universe and a few age-old monsters. Boutella’s been knocking it out of the park recently in Kingsman and Star Trek: Beyond; this role doesn’t allow her to be as physical as those, but her presence is notable.

 

There’s absolutely nothing new or overly impressive hiding in the tomb of The Mummy. But for a 110 minute feature in the heat of the blockbuster season, there are worse fates than being a middling big-budget film made for eating popcorn during and not thinking much about afterwards.

C+

Photo credits go to flickeringmyth.com, impawards.com, indiewire.com, and cheatsheet.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword-Movie Man Jackson

Hear ye, hear ye. Born in a brothel, the streets of Londinium has become home for young Arthur. The streets have molded him into a tough, confident, yet still honest individual who does the right thing more than not. Now older, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) gets by as a Robin Hood-esque character of sorts, providing for his hometown what they need and dispensing justice where applicable.

One particular incident puts Arthur in the path of King Vortigern (Jude Law), who has ascended to the throne via treacherous means. Knowing of Arthur’s royal lineage (unbeknownst to Arthur, he’s the son of the deceased king Uther (Eric Bana)), Vortigern looks to exterminate him. Wanting no part of this, Arthur so wishes to go back to his normal life, but he who has the strength to draw the fabled sword Excalibur from the stone must use it, and topple Vortigern once and for all.

Unless you’re The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, medieval/Middle Age/mythology movies and productions have a tough go at drawing audiences to the theaters, at least here in America. From a critical perspective, they might as well be poison in most cases now (see Seventh Son, Clash of the Titans, Warcraft), with people often making up their minds as to the actual quality of them and refusing to be wavered in thinking anything different. Most aren’t great, but every now and then the genre is fresh enough to deliver some legitimate fun. Enter the latest telling of King Arthur. By no means amazing, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ends up being, all in all, an energetic summer movie.

Holding the directorial sword in King Arthur rebooted is Guy Ritche. Ritchie is an individual who brings a noticeable imprint to any movie he does, and that doesn’t really change here. Expect a whizzing, hyperactive camera to intercut whenever characters deliver exposition, or give context to (what is supposed to be) pertinent information. It isn’t nearly as funny as Ritchie thinks it is. This style doesn’t 100% work in the movie, but does keep the energy up, and sort of makes up for a story that can feel stretched at times, especially in the latter third before the climax.

 

However, from an action perspective, Ritchie’s style does work in the world that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is composed of. The 180 pans, stop-start shots, and the like just goes well with all of the magic and supernatural elements. Save for some questionable CGI near the end that stands out in a negative way, there’s a real sense of “epicness” that Guy brings to the proceedings in various scenes. But, the real MVP of Legend of the Sword may be composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs), who creates a standout score that goes against sonic genre type and truly elevates the film.

Only two characters really receive proper attention and development in this King Arthur fable. Of course, one is the titular character portrayed by Charlie Hunnam. Arthur is a little more grittier and less proper in this retelling, and Hunnan is the perfect fit, providing physicality yet everyman likability to make a character worth rooting for. His opposition is played by Jude Law, clearing having a good time while getting some scenes to showcase his range and flesh out his despicable king.

As the supporting cast goes, the enigmatic Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) is the most intriguing individual; there’s a lot of potential with her if future movies come to fruition. Unfortunately, most who make up the fabled knights of the roundtable come off as generic spacefillers, even Djimon Hounsou. At least he’s not playing a secondary antagonist like he’s been doing as of late (Furious 7, Seventh Son, The Legend of Tarzan).

After the financial performance of King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, it may be long time until the sword is removed from the stone again. Though far from perfect, it’s a shame. I for one, wouldn’t mind seeing another Excalibur stab taken at expanding this tale.

B-

Photo credits go to liveforfilm.com, blastr.com, and warnerbros.co.uk.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Power Rangers: Movie Man Jackson

Sorry, Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts. You got outbid by Krispy Kreme to be featured prominently. In the sleepy city of Angel Grove resides five average high school teenagers. Quarterback jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), popular gymnast Kimberly (Naomi Scott), geeky Billy (RJ Cyler), bad boy Zack (Ludi Lin), and outcast Trini (Becky G) are simply dealing with everyday ups and downs of growing up at Angel Grove High.

That all changes rather quickly, once these five find colored Power Coins. Or rather, the Power Coins have found them, and imbued them with amazing physical powers. Holding these power coins makes them the Power Rangers, and the world needs them now more than ever, for an old threat named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is after Earth Zeo crystal. This crystal has the power to wipe out the world. They’ve been chosen, but in order to defeat Rita, this fivesome has to come together as a unit to do so.

 

Here’s the predictable part where I tell about my fond memories of Power Rangers growing up as a 90’s kid. As my parents can attest, my sister and I did like (wouldn’t say love) the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, up through Turbo. Aged 3-5 during the original air, I can’t remember every detail, but remember the show being good fun. Reboots/re-imaginings get enough grief as is, most of it well-deserved.

But anyone who says the Power Rangers are sacred and should never be redone is wrong. Makes perfect sense to reintroduce them to the world, to some, their first time seeing. And so, 2017’s version of the Power Rangers has enough for old fans to enjoy, but actually is more concerned in charting its own path, which it does relatively well.

Director Dean Israelite takes inspiration from his prior film in 2015’s Project Almanac in what ends up actually working. Throw in a dash of Chronicle and a pinch of The Breakfast Club and you have what makes up the first two-thirds of this film, certainly not original but very functional. The enjoyment of 2017’s Power Rangers will likely be directly correlated to how much one is invested in these five characters before they finally don the iconic suits. Make no mistake about it, it’s a surprisingly slow burn to the stuff that seemed to comprise most of the 2nd trailer.

And surprisingly, it’s actually the best part about the movie. Sure, there’s some lame dialogue here and some odd tonal inconsistencies there, but all in all, the characters are pretty endearing, and it pays homage to the original in the sense that the original could be goofy and corny quite often. The five who make up this iteration of Rangers are competent on the acting front, even good more often than not, with the scene-stealer being RJ Cyler as the quirky but most pure personality Billy Cranston.

Though he’s the Blue Ranger and not the official leader, he’s just as much of a leader as Red Ranger Jason is, played by Dacre Montgomery. Females Naomi Scott and Becky G bring attitude. If there were one slight weak link in the five, it’s Ludi Lin as the brash Black Ranger, not necessarily due to anything he does, but the character tests the nerves for a while. The presence/voices of Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston add a lot to Alpha 5 and Zordon. All, even Alpha 5, come off as somewhat grounded in reality, except for the villainous Elizabeth Banks. Her turn as Rita Repulsa initially starts out interesting (and frightening), though by the end veers into the dark recesses of Campyville.

When it comes to action and direction, Power Rangers 2017 is merely okay. A good amount of the scenes feel like they were shot in the dark for no real reason, and the camera in two main chase scenes is all over the place. Israeilite’s camera work/editing feels akin to a video game with great graphics (the suits and overall design are a major plus), yet inconsistent framerate. The action in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never all-out frenetic, but neither plodding (like it can be here), either. With that said, some moments do deliver and are fun to look at.

The Power Rangers are back for a new generation. Six movies seems like a aye-yi-yi-yi-yi stretch, but the first installment sets things off on the right foot.

B-

Photo credits go to morphinlegacy.com, screenrant.com, and comicbook.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com. 

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Kong: Skull Island: Movie Man Jackson

The king stay the king. In 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the United States is beginning to pull all of its assets out of it. While this is going on, a small government organization known as Monarch makes a pitch to its higher ups about exploring an uncharted territory known as Skull Island. Monarch’s leaders William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have their reasons for wanting to go, but all they’ll say is that this is for geological purposes.

Going to a place no one has traversed before means Monarch is going to need an expedition squad. Led by former British military operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unit, Monarch is able to make their way unto the island and conduct research. Immediately, King Kong himself appears, defending his home from these intruders. Little do these people know, Kong is actually protecting them, for what lies on the island is just as dangerous—if not more so—than Kong is.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in Hollywood’s case, hoping to make money. Having a shared universe is all the rage now, starting with Marvel’s first stab at it almost a decade ago and now Warner Bros’ attempts with the DC Extended Universe and a “MonsterVerse.” Why a universe needs to exist for what only looks like two main characters in King Kong and Godzilla, I’ll never know, but we have it. Kong: Skull Island is here, and…it’s a passable, relatively entertaining, blockbuster.

Even though the two share a genre and now a universe, in many ways, Skull Island is the inverse of the Godzilla we saw in 2014. That monster movie was so methodical in its approach, it almost wasn’t a monster movie, and it chose to hide its star well into the runtime, which divided some people. For those looking for mayhem immediately, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers on that front quickly.

Kong smashes. Kong pounds his chest. Kong causes massive collateral damage. Simply put, Kong does what one expects him to do, and he does it well, he’s rendered well, and it looks well. The fictional island serves as a good playground to showcase Kong, despite its lack of verticality. Not all of it looks stunning; some of the monsters Kong does battle with look a tad cheap, and a massive set piece hazed in green fog gets a little wonky, but as a whole, Kong: Skull Island features solid cinematography.

The script, penned by Nightcrawler writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, is another story. No, it’s not deplorable, but it’s hard to tell if they wanted the story to be more than it is. Which isn’t much. On one side of the prism, Kong: Skull Island aims low, simply providing a vehicle in which a 30-something foot tall behemoth can wreck things, people, and other large creatures, with some mostly poor attempts at humor thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are moments where it feels like this movie is aspiring to be in the vein of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc., and it doesn’t possess those movies’ narrative/character impact.

Many of the characters that land on Skull Island are rather bland, which is surprising for a cast that features such big names in Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson, along with up and comer Corey Hawkins. Not to mention other fairly notable names such as John Ortiz, Toby Kebbel, and Shea Whigham who end up being fodder or take space. Three characters that stand out a little are Samuel L. Jackson (refreshingly not in complete SLJ mode until arguably the end), John C. Reilly (great backstory), and Jason Mitchell, mostly due to his charisma. Unfortunately, the glut of characters featured gives Skull Island a feeling of overstuffedness. Just five or six less could have given more attention to the ones that mattered.

As it stands though, Kong: Skull Island does its part in laying a nice base foundation for The Eighth Wonder of the World, placing him on a collision course with The King of the Monsters.

C+

Photo credits go to birthmoviesdeath.com, toofab.com, and movieweb.com

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Movie Man Jackson

legobatman2

Shamone!  In Gotham City, of course, resides Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Will Arnett). As he’s done for the past 78 or so years, the Caped Crusader defends his city from all of its evil-doers, most notably The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Despite always “beating” Joker and the rest of Gotham’s criminal denizens, Batman has never fully eradicated, or lessened the city’s crime.

Perhaps it’s because he always works alone. When new police commissioner Barbara Gordon proposes a plan to reduce crime that involves Batman working with the community, he balks. But as The Joker crafts a plan to unleash all of Gotham’s worst at once (and command R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from Batman, The Dark Knight may have to learn how to work together with a team to save the day again.

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Deadpool for a PG-crowd? Not entirely, but The Lego Batman Movie does share some of the same self-referential tone that last year’s movie possessed, not taking itself too seriously and making light of comic book conventions, often to hilarious levels. Heck, it even features fourth-wall breaking beginning and end credit sequences. Overall, it’s a whimsical and all-ages pleasing type of watch.

Lego Batman not only captures all ages, but almost all fans who fall on every notch on the spectrum as it pertains to comic book enjoyment. Sure, the understanding of some jokes and visual shots here and there may lend themselves better to those who are immaculate in their Batman lore, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a Batman fan to have a good time with this movie. The jokes fly fast, sometimes too fast to completely digest and take appreciation in, but that also means that little time goes by without someone laughing in the audience, lest yourself.

batgirl

From a story perspective, The LEGO Batman Movie comes off as the inverse of the movie that preceded it. If The LEGO Movie was ultimately about embracing individuality in a philosophical way, LEGO Batman Movie addresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration using Batman’s immense backstory to often amusing effect. Not a particularly fresh story, but few mainstream animation movies really are. The story gets the job done, but feels like it was written around jokes for a large portion of it. For the first and final acts, Batman’s full foray into Lego Land rarely bogs down, but a fairly significant portion in the middle of the movie does.

Still, the film is a visual treat to look at, even during slow periods. It actually is a notch under the impressiveness that was 2014’s LEGO Movie, if only because the color palette is a little darker (duh) and we’ve now seen it before. But consistency is important, and Chris McKay, animation co-director of the previous film, makes sure that the stop-motion continues to look fluid.

Stealing the show before as a side character, Will Arnett and Batman return as the feature character this go around, with an actual arc. Arnett gives stellar delivery at all times, never missing a beat. This is important, because the rest of the cast isn’t all consistent. Zach Galifianakis isn’t a bad Joker, and Ellie Kemper is memorable in a bit part. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as Alfred. But some of the other important characters in Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) are a little disappointing. Feels like a missed opportunity to have some notable star power powering the vocals of the other key characters.

robinbatman

Why so serious? The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t. Mostly fast-paced, light, and committed to its source material, The LEGO Batman Movie may lack in substance, but not in style.

B-

Photo credits go to geektyrant.com, gameinformer.com, and moviepilot.com

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage: Movie Man Jackson

xandercage

If Letty can come back from the dead, so can Xander. Previously thought to be dead, former government agent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) lives life as an off-the-grid, Robin Hood-esque character of sorts. His old handler, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), is still heading the xXx program, recruiting individuals with enough extreme to combat threats America doesn’t even know exist.

Her latest threat is a device known as Pandora’s Box. It’s a tool that controls orbiting satellites and uses them as projectiles, and its already caused the deaths of many. The people who have control of said device are no match for normal suit agents. As such, Xander is located and pulled out of his self-imposed exile by CIA government handler Jane Marke (Toni Collette). This isn’t a one man job, however, and Cage is joined by deadeye sniper Adele (Ruby Rose), infiltrator Nicks (Kris Wu), and wheelman Tennyson (Rory McCann). Their objective? Take it back, all while figuring out if there’s more to the objective than what is given.

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If Vin Diesel can revive one action franchise in The Fast and the Furious, why not try his luck and go after another, right? About 12 years have passed since an xXx installment, almost 15 if one discounts the State of the Union sequel without Diesel. So, the world gets xXx’d again with the Return of Xander Cage, which ends up playing out like a poor man’s (read: sometimes very poor man’s) Furious/Marvel/superhero movie.

Despite being firmly in the “movies you turn your brain off for” category, Return of Xander Cage is a little odd. On one hand, director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) and producer/obvious lead Vin Diesel seem to be all-in on aiming low and merely achieving competency in some aspects of the movie. This is fine. The story is relatively competent for an action, with a predictable twist rooted around the race for the MacGuffan. Occasional call backs to the original xXx work OK, such as Xander ordering his favorite drink or needing his obnoxious-looking fur coat.

augustus

On the other hand, Xander Cage’s return carries with it an inflated sense of ego, importance, and worth. Caruso and Diesel are awfully concerned with letting people know that Xander is THE MAN! He can do it all, extreme in the streets and in the sheets, bedding about 8 women (five at once!) in the span of roughly 20 minutes of runtime. Kind of hilarious, sure, but also annoying. It wasn’t so bad in 2002 because it was easy to believe, but unfortunately, Diesel’s Cage’s age, which is never touched upon or alluded to in the film as to how long he’s been gone. hurts him here. He does look more ridiculous and less “cool” than he was before. He should be relaxing in Bora Bora somewhere with a hot wife, not trying to prove how extreme he is with people he has a least a decade on.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a mixed bag when it comes to the one thing it should hang its hat on: Action. Every now and then, good set pieces are present, but much of it is hard to follow, whether motorbikes on water or standard hand-to-hand combat. $85 million isn’t all that high for an action budget, but, one would think it would buy better CGI. The film’s two biggest moments suffer from beliveability, not from a “That couldn’t happen” sense, but a “That doesn’t look like it’s happening” sense. Ears should be prepped for an onslaught of EDM/techno music. I liked some of it because I don’t mind the genre, but it can be kind of nauseating after a while.

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One of my concerns going into this movie was the “Torettofication” of Vin Diesel’s Xander. What is Torettofication? When a character Vin Diesel plays in a non Fast and Furious movie begins to feel a lot like Dom Toretto. Diesel doesn’t quite reach that level here, but, the energy and hit/miss humor that he possessed in the 2002 version is absent. It’s not Dom, but by the end it becomes tougher to distinguish between the two characters. He is joined, à la Toretto, by a crew, some shining brighter than others.

IP Man himself Donnie Yen is rather good, and he outshines Diesel by such a wide margin, to the extent that I wondered if xXx would have been better if this was more of Diesel passing the torch to Yen and co-starring instead of starring. Ruby Rose isn’t bad; she’s got a look that’ll carry her well in specific action roles. The wild card is Nina Dobrev, playing the role of M more or less as Becky. Many who decide to watch will find her annoying; yours truly actually found her enjoyable and the most amusing thing about the movie that is actually intentional. The rest of Xander’s crew is extremely forgettable, and/or written to be complete idiots, especially Tennyson and Nicks. Toni Collette’s just picking up a check.

Return of Xander Cage brings the world back into the Xander Zone. Though the ending teases more future mayhem that Xander and company will have to extinguish, let someone else get the girl and look dope while doing it.

C-

Photo credits go to phase9.tv, cinemablend.com, and comingsoon.net.

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xXx: Movie Man Jackson

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It takes a mercenary to take down a group of ’em. After losing multiple agents in a quest to bring down the mysterious “Anarchy 99” Russian solider gang, the National Security Agency is grasping for straws. Who can successfully infiltrate the organization, one widely believed to be contributing to the production of a biological weapon?

NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) believes that a new approach has to be taken. He turns to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), extreme sports aficionado and viral superstar with some dirt on him. Reluctant as he his to serve authority, his record will be expunged if he complies. Dubbed xXx, he’s the new breed of secret agent the government needs for this type of mission.

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It’s important to remember now that when looking at xXx in 2017, the movie was originally released almost 15 years ago, so pretty much a lifetime. It was a very different time then for a bevvy of reasons, but one being the popularity of extreme sports and thrill-seeking mindsets. Sure, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (still the best movie about “extreme-ness”) falls into the grouping, but came before the rise. In the span of about five years from 1998-2003, the world got movies such as the Disney classic Brink!, Extreme Ops, the Rollerball remake, The Fast and the Furious, and Biker Boyz, to name a few. After TFatF, xXx is probably the most famous feature of that subgenre, a slightly barely above mediocre actioner.

From the opening scene, xXx is quick to remind the audience this isn’t a mission 007 could handle, as an individual who bears a resemblance to Bond is immediately snuffed out by the baddies and dealt with in a somewhat amusing fashion, all while metal band Rammstein is performing in the background. But this is still a film inspired by Ian Fleming, plot beats and all. Where the good and great Bonds beat this film by a substantial margin are the writing of its characters, and some of the small yet important minautae. Honestly, xXx‘s script isn’t horrid, but it certainly isn’t as cool or as funny as it thinks it is, and probably takes itself a little too seriously than it needs to. Half of the time, a line of dialogue hits, but the other half of the time, Cage’s one-liners are pretty forgettable.

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Even many years later, xXx stands as one of Vin Diesel’s more energetic roles. No, that doesn’t mean he’s putting on an acting tour-de-force, but it does mean that his role of Xander Cage has much more pop than some of his other more famous characters. Vin has no problem looking convincing as an action hero—in spite of an extremely hilarious fur coat—pulling off many of his own stunts throughout. Cameos by legendary athletes such as Tony Hawk and Mat Hoffman help sell the idea of Xander as extreme.

The rest of the cast is just OK. Samuel L. plays this one rather straight on the Samuel L sliding scale of memorability, essentially the M to Cage’s Bond with the random funny quip. As the villain, Marton Csokas is the stereotypical Eastern European baddie, nothing more or less, doing what is asked of him with a little hilarity thrown in for good measure. Out of the four main characters, Asia Argento is kind of a dud, her love chemistry with Diesel nonexistent. Seriously, the kissing between the two characters is a little awkward.

But xXx gets by as a fun watch because of its action proficiency. Fast and Furious collaborators Rob Cohen (director) and Neal H. Moritz (producer) join forces again. It may not be saying much considering his directorial catalog, but this could be Cohen’s finest hour as a director. Many of the action scenes are shot smoothly, cuts relatively minimal. Additionally, being shot in locations of Prague and Bora Bora help some of the set-pieces stand out more. The only odd looking one takes place on a snow-capped mountain, CGI looking extremely dated.

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Stacked against the best the spy genre has to offer, xXx doesn’t quite have the gadgets to compare. But, it does have just enough panache to get by, making the Xander Zone a passable diversion of time spent.

C+

Photo credits go to alchetron.com, cinemablend.com, impawards.com, and movie-roulette.com.

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Doctor Strange: Movie Man Jackson

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Screw Dr. James Andrews, I want what Stephen’s having. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned surgeon, one of the best, if not the best the world has to offer in his field. With his supreme skills come a massive ego, one that he has no problems wielding around his fellow doctors, such as on-again, off-again lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

One day, a vicious car accident leaves Stephen still alive but without functional usage of his moneymaking hands. Rehab doesn’t work, and Stephen is left to find alternate methods to recovery. Traveling East to Nepal, Strange goes in search of “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton), an all-powerful sorcerer who can make him better again. As Strange gets better, his mind and world open to dimensions unseen to many, and all of these dimensions aren’t friendly. He has two options: Go back to his old and pretty selfish life, or sacrifice his ego for the betterment and ultimate protection of the world.

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How much can really be done with an origins story? Not a ton, but the main goal of one should always be to lay a foundation for a new character, rather than to put said character on a conveyor belt to a shared universe. Doctor Strange and director Scott Derickson (Sinister) do their jobs, as Strange is certainly going to be a man that can add immense depth to the MCU.

There are three certainties in this world. Death, taxes, and Marvel Studios nailing its primary protagonist casting. Once again, the studio seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to getting the right person for the right role. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, and I can’t see anyone else playing this character aside from Edward Norton (probably the facial hair Norton possesses). Stephen Strange himself is an amalgamation of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, and a little bit of Thor with his cockiness. Not exactly the freshest of personalities, but Cumberbatch does elevate the standard material, and ends up making Strange an individual one wants to see more of in a solo movie.

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Elevating the material can be said for much of this superstar cast. Rachel McAdams is basically Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and any other love interest previously found in superhero films. But, her chemistry is real with Cumberbatch, and a scene in particular in the first 15 or so minutes is rather moving for a superhero film. In a way, she kind of drives home the character of Strange in this one scene, which is important because Derrickson does rush the life altering moment, as it just feels like it comes too soon.

As The Ancient One, Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange as a whole received some criticism for whitewashing an Asian character in the comics. Unfortunate it may be, if it is going to be done, do it with one of the more versatile thespians today, which Swinton absolutely is. As great as Cumberbatch is, Chiwetel Ejiofor may be the best character in the feature. Ejofor imbues his mentor character of Mordo with mysteriousness and a rigid sense of ethics. While not a villain in this installment, the next ones will surely set him up as such, and he has the potential to rival Loki as Marvel’s best baddie to date. For this initial outing however, Mads Mikkelsen is rather forgettable playing the antagonist. He’s essentially the Satan to Swinton’s God, rebelling and being cast out and now wanting to throw the world into chaos or whatever. He doesn’t do a bad job, but simply doesn’t stand out.

The Doctor Strange screenplay is functional, not great. Not a huge negative, just what one expects out of an origin story by hitting all of the beats without excelling in any area. If there were but one semi-major oddity, it would be that of the humor, for yours truly at least. A few bits are humorous, trademark Marvel humor. But most are rather forced, not necessarily the delivery but the actual content of the jokes.

Still, it’s hard to pay attention too much to them when the visuals are so captivating and the set pieces so unique. This is the one movie to splurge on and catch in the 3D format (thanks Tom). Doesn’t make up for some of the other shortcomings, but entertain it does in the first five minutes. In a way, this kind of feels like the movie Suicide Squad should have been, aesthetically all of its psychedelic colors and unconventionality.

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Doctor Strange is a pretty standard origins films, but with better performances and stellar visuals than most similar fare. To reword a popular Cameo song: He’s strange, and I like it.

B

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, heroichollywood.com, and thewrap.com.

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