“Deadpool 2”

If Ryan Reynolds decides to play Deadpool for the rest of his career, I’m totally okay with that. Deadpool 2 is a sequel that tops its predecessor.

Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool (Reynolds) is now an international assassin. When he changes careers and briefly joins the X-Men, he meets a troubled mutant teen named Russell Collins (Julian Dennison from the great Hunt for the Wilderpeople). He takes a liking to the angsty kid and becomes obligated to protect him from the time traveling assassin Cable (Josh Brolin). But Cable has justifiable reasons for wanting to kill the kid.

For a sequel that changed directors and its entire crew, Deadpool 2 is an improvement in nearly every way. The action is bloodier and more kinetic, the meta jokes and pop culture references are edgier and more subtle, and the songs are better suited. Just when I got tired of hearing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” in action movies, Deadpool 2 has me wanting more of that song.

John Wick and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch (credited as “One of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick”) understands the source material and knows when to get crazy with the action. His trademark single take choreography is present, but he gets delightfully frenetic in certain sequences, including one spectacular highway truck chase.

The movie gets darker and more dramatic by exploring Deadpool’s suicidal tendencies and Russell’s outsider attitude, but it still has heart. After all, Deadpool himself calls this movie a family movie (which, it weirdly is). That’s what I love about these movies – they improve upon the source material by humanizing their titular character.

Reynolds once again is delightfully vulgar, ruthless, and unhinged as Deadpool. I’m not sure if it’s the script or Reynolds, but Reynolds makes you root for a character that’s despicable. Brolin is a great foil as Cable. He’s not as compelling as he was in this year’s Infinity War, but he delivers plenty of dry humor and arm-breaking moments. Zazie Beetz also scores some great moments as the lucky mutant, Domino, who’s a member of Deadpool’s X-Force team.

Deadpool 2 may come off drawn out and a tad uneven to some and offensive to others, but it continues Reynold’s A-game streak. The question is will we get Deadpool 3 or x-Force next?

Grade: A

 

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“Avengers: Infinity War”

Hey, everyone! Sorry about being absent for the past month. I needed time to redesign my site and settle some personal things. I managed to see a bunch of movies during April that I’ll mention later in my half-time report. For now, let’s talk about Avengers: Infinity War!

Intergalactic baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) is ready to collect the Infinity Stones. He and his henchmen travel through the galaxy, destroying everything in their path. Meanwhile, our heroes are all split in odd pairings to stop Thanos.

We have Thor (Chris Hemsworth) paired with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) on one planet, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) on another, the remaining Guardians of the Galaxy in space, and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain America (Chris Evans) leading the rest of the Avengers to defend Earth. Each story has a purpose, but going into it further would lead to spoilers.

For a 159-minute movie that has over twenty-three heroes and one villain, Infinity War doesn’t lose balance. It’s focuses more on certain heroes (primarily Thor, Stark, Strange, and the Guardians) than others, but Infinity War isn’t a superhero movie; it’s a supervillain movie.

Josh Brolin has the most screen time and is a tour-de-force as the menacing purple giant. Thanos’s mission is insane, but he justifies his insanity with his tragic backstory. Thanos is reminiscent of Darth Vader in the sense he wants to be the hero, but acts in a villainous manner.

Thanos’s journey in the film leads us to some beautiful planets, nightmarish scenarios, and surprisingly brutal moments of violence. His scenes make Infinity War an uncompromising sci-fi epic that has more in common with Empire Strikes Back and Conan the Barbarian than Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies.

We also get plenty of great character moments from our other heroes. It’s fun to watch Stark and Strange bicker, Thor and Rocket form a bromance, and heartbreaking to watch Vision (Paul Bettany) and Starlord (Chris Pratt) choose between love and sacrifice. I could have used some more Captain America moments, but we’ll get more in the next film.

The Russo Brothers (who also directed Winter Soldier and Civil War) waste no time with Infinity War. We’re thrown right into the story in the first scene and have no time for a bathroom break. They do well exploring most of their characters, but it seems that the MCU doesn’t know what to do with The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo is great as Banner, but every movie changes the story of Hulk’s anger, resulting in some annoying plot holes. Maybe these will get sorted in the next movie or his own solo movie.

Avengers: Infinity War is a standout MCU film. Between it’s grim opening and jaw-dropping conclusion, I’m looking forward to what the MCU has in store for us next year.

Grade: A-

 

“Black Panther”

As excited as I am for Infinity War in May, I have a feeling it’s not going to top Black Panther. This is the best MCU film since Civil War.

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is crowned king of Wakanda a week after his father’s death in Civil War. He then faces moral dilemmas when a radical terrorist named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) appears and challenges T’Challa for the throne.

Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (the great Creed) delivers an incredible MCU installment with Black Panther. Instead of focusing on gadgets, fight scenes, origin stories, or leading up to another MCU movie, Coogler focuses on the world building and politics of Wakanda.

Wakanda is a majestic city with advanced technology and vibrant costumes. The political system is progressive yet libertarian, considering Wakanda’s leaders want to remain separate from the rest of the world. Killmonger’s authoritarian ideal clashing with T’Challa’s libertarian views add a refreshingly subtle political depth.

Boseman and Jordan both deliver charismatic and multi-layered performances. Boseman portrays T’Challa as the confident good guy who becomes disillusioned when he learns dark secrets about Wakanda while Jordan plays Killmonger as a vengeful-yet-sympathetic villain. When they clash, it’s a battle of pride, anger, legacy, and honor.

The supporting cast also has dynamic characters with Danai Guira (The Walking Dead) as T’Challa’s fiercely loyal bodyguard Okoye who puts Wakanda before friendships, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as T’Challa’s disillusioned best friend, and Letitia Wright (Black Mirror) as T’Challa’s genius younger sister Shuri. Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman also reprise their roles from previous MCU films as terrorist Ulysses Klaue and Agent Ross respectively in fun supporting roles.

Coogler once again directs a spectacular character driven action film. As much as I loved his one-shot casino fight and the brutal hand-to-hand combat scenes where T’Challa defends his throne, I was more intrigued with his visual storytelling. The scenes with T’Challa and Killmonger having visions of their past and the afterlife heighten their ambitions and their flaws. They’re both equally capable of being either good or bad men, so when they come face-to-face, it’s hard to pick a side.

I’m a big comic book fan, but I put film criticism first. Black Panther is one of the few MCU movies I consider flawless. It’s heartfelt, realized, kinetic, and inspiring.

Grade: A+

“Justice League”

The DCEU is like a kid riding a bike; they crash on the first couple of rides, but slowly get better with practice. They’ve improved with Justice League.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) learn of a new CG-villain named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who plots world domination. Their solution – recruit Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) and resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) from the dead to help them stop the new baddy.

I’m a fan of comic book movies, but I also have a love-hate relationship with Zack Snyder. I love his earlier work (Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen particularly), but his DCEU films are huge misfires. Thankfully, Justice League is an improvement. It’s a B-superhero movie that’s just lighthearted fun. I admire that Snyder and Joss Whedon (who did extensive rewrites and post-production work) treated Justice League as a lighthearted superhero flick.

There are a few occasional dark moments with the best being a brooding opening credits sequence. It uses a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” to show how hopeless the world has become without Superman. Part from that, Justice League relies on one-liners and witty banter to make the movie fun. Even Batman makes jokes, which is shocking!

The cast has great chemistry and each actor does their character justice. Mamoa plays Aquaman as a debauched rockstar, Miller plays The Flash as an antisocial nerd, and Fisher portrays Cyborg as a man torn between his humanity and robotics.

Affleck and Gadot are once again great as Batman and Wonder Woman; they both sell their characters’ conflicts and opposing views of battling Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf is where the movie suffers. There’s no substance or originality with Steppenwolf and even with the underrated Hinds playing him, I wasn’t sold. Then again, does anyone ever watch a superhero ensemble movie for the villain?

The plot is a standard save-the-world formula we’ve seen done a thousand times. However, the final act is worth the ticket admission alone, thanks to Snyder and Whedon’s portrayal of Superman. He’s not recklessly destroying cities or brooding; he’s smiling and saving villages from destruction.

The DCEU sounds like it’s on its last leg, but I’m willing to keep going back since the movies are getting better.

Grade: B

 

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Given how the kinetic and talented Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) directed Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it’s no wonder he doesn’t like doing sequels.

Set a year after Eggsy (Taron Egerton) thwarted the apocalypse in The Secret Service, a new diabolical villain named Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) surfaces with a plot to legalize drugs. Poppy destroys the Kingsman headquarters and kills several agents, forcing Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) to partner with the Statesman, their American counterpart. They also find Harry (Colin Firth) alive, who joins them on their mission.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was one of my most anticipated movies since I was a big fan of its predecessor and Vaughn stayed committed to the sequel. While The Golden Circle has its moments, Vaughn still commits the biggest sequel sin: he tries too hard to top the first one. The Secret Service is a thrilling spy movie tribute that was an even balance of hardcore violence, political satire, and heart. The Golden Circle has some of its predecessor’s heart and satirical elements, but disappointingly focuses on violence and juvenile humor.

The action is undeniably impressive in The Golden Circle and Vaughn wastes no time throwing us in the middle of it. The opening car chase/fist fight in Eggsy’s cab is a fun, frenetic action sequence; the climactic gun fight at Poppy’s headquarters is a gadget-filled fact-paced spectacle reminiscent of the infamous church scene in The Secret Service (not as good, though).

There were complaints about the level of violence in The Secret Service, but I personally felt the gore was used sparingly and had greater impact; the film still focused on interrogation, covert ops, and surveillance with action thrown in the middle. The Golden Circle uses violence nonstop and there’s almost no spy sequences, save for one that’s a prolonged, offensive rape joke.

It’s great seeing Firth back as Harry; he’s once again a fun, competent action hero. Watching Harry struggle with coordination made his sequences exciting to watch. Egerton is once again likable as the underdog Eggsy. Some viewers will hate that the film focuses on his relationship, but I felt it was refreshing since Eggsy was growing up.

Like Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, Julianne Moore is a great blend of scary and funny as Poppy. Her plot to control drug distribution is a sharp political commentary on the War on Drugs.

I could have done without most of the Statesman characters. Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum play the American agents, but they’re only on screen for a few minutes each. If you saw the trailers, you saw all of their scenes. On the other hand, the great Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martel from Game of Thrones) is a blast as rogue Statesman, Whiskey.

The Golden Circle excels when it focuses on the Kingsman and their character arcs. Had Vaughn just focused on Harry and Eggsy and kept the new characters and their screen time to a minimum, The Golden Circle could have been as good as its predecessor.

Grade: C+

“Atomic Blonde”

If any movie hasn’t already claimed action sequence of the year, I think David Leitch’s (“John Wick,” the upcoming “Deadpool” sequel) spy thriller “Atomic Blonde” will. A six-minute-long shot featuring a barbaric fist fight, shootout, and car chase has to be worthy, right?

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is called to Berlin to obtain a mysterious list. Like most spy movies, this list contains information on undercover agents. She has a buddy cop dynamic with a debauched rock star-like operative, David Percival (James McAvoy) and the two race against time to find the list.

“Atomic Blonde” excels in genre splicing. It has the wide frames, slow pace, and convoluted narrative you’d find in a spy thriller, as well as the neon visuals, brutal violence, and cynical anti-hero found in Neo-Noir. Leitch is somewhat unrestrained in his direction, but “Atomic Blonde” is a blast regardless.

The neon visuals suit the film well due to its setting. “Atomic Blonde” takes place near the end of the Cold War during the collapse of the Berlin Wall, so there’s a strong 80’s aesthetic. Each song is used appropriately (New Order’s “Blue Monday” and George Michael’s “Father Figure”) and we get a brief history lesson on East Berlin. We don’t often see Berlin Wall-related movies, so it’s a refreshing change of setting.

Theron and McAvoy  both deliver fun-yet-committed performances. Between Theron’s stuntwork, dialect, English accent, and expressive moments of silence, she’s the perfect action heroine. Between McAvoy’s charisma, line delivery, and sense of humor, he steals nearly every scene from Theron.

I mentioned “Atomic Blonde” is convoluted and I’m not kidding. By the end, my friend and I were both struggling to figure out the twist ending. Does a spy movie with a cliched list plot need to be this difficult? As I’ve said in past reviews, a confusing ending is enough to warrant a sequel. “Atomic Blonde” is based on a comic book, so it’s bound to happen.

Grade: B

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

I’m pretty sure after watching Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” that Dane DeHaan is the 2010’s Keanu Reeves. But no one can replace Keanu Reeves!

Set in the distant future, the International Space Station has evolved into an extraordinary intergalactic city called Alpha. It’s home to millions of species and called the city of a thousand planets. When secret agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) are called to Alpha, they uncover a secret that puts Alpha and a mysterious species in grave danger.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the closest we’ll get to a “Fifth Element” sequel since both are quirky sci-fi adventures. Besson is once again kinetic, imaginative, and ambitious; unfortunately, “Thousand Planets” is more on par with the Wachowskis’ 2015 failure, “Jupiter Ascending.”

For a film about space-and-time-traveling agents that encounter various alien species and criminals, Besson’s content focusing on Valerian and Laureline’s awkward romance. It’s not cute, charming, or funny; it’s plain irritating. We spend more time watching Valerian propose to Laureline than we do learning about their agency or their characters.

DeHaan and Delevinge are both miscast in their respective roles. DeHaan spends the movie practicing his best Keanu Reeves impression while Delevinge delivers every line with little-to-no enthusiasm. Their chemistry is nonexistent. Furthermore, the movie is based on a comic called “Valerian and Laureline.” Why is it Laureline is hardly involved in the action and is constantly a damsel-in-distress?

Besson has some innovative sequences, including one that blends “TRON”-style visuals into a 1st-person POV shootout. “Valerian” is a dumb practice of style-over-substance with meta references to Besson’s previous films (keep your ear open for a “Taken” reference). I admire Besson’s ambition, but he should focus on storytelling that isn’t overstuffed with sexism and exposition.

Grade: D+