“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

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“Split”

Well, I can say I’m looking forward to whatever M. Night Shyamalan does next… For the first time since middle school.

“Split” opens with a mysterious man named Kevin (James McAvoy) abducting three teenagers, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula). They wake up in a mysterious basement and learn that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, possessing 23 personalities. Meanwhile, Kevin’s therapist (Betty Buckley) suspects Kevin of hiding something sinister.

Shyamalan has fallen on hard times between the polarizing “The Village,” self-indulgent “Lady in the Water,” plain stupid “The Happening,” and flops “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” I missed “The Visit,” but “Split” is a return to form.

Shyamalan has a few of his usual flaws, like the quirky side characters, exposition-fueled monologues, and overly intelligent kids, but he makes it work. The quirks tie to the characters’ back stories, the exposition is fascinating and authentic, and the intelligent kids defy the usual dumb horror kids.

Shyamalan goes down some dark paths, exploring trauma, sexual abuse, and even cannibalism, but none of it is done for shock value. This is a character study of Kevin and Casey. They are both victims and understand each other. Casey not only learns how to trick Kevin through his personalities, but she learns what makes him tick, tying to her past.

I was worried about “Split” because I thought it would be an insensitive stereotypical depiction of mental illness, but it’s surprisingly sensitive. Each personality is a guard for Kevin, but only three of Kevin’s personalities are villainous. The rest want to help him and we can’t help but root for Kevin at times.

McAvoy brings his A-game as Kevin, Dennis, Barry, Miss Patricia, Hedwig, and The Beast. I know it’s a January horror movie, but this is a performance that should be considered for awards. For an egomaniac director such as Shyamalan, this isn’t his movie at all. It’s McAvoy’s.

Plot twist? Oh, yes. But you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Grade: A-

“X-Men: Apocalypse”

I chuckled at a semi-meta quote in “X-Men: Apocalypse;” when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) exits “Return of the Jedi,” she utters, “At least we can all agree the third installment is the weakest.” Because “Apocalypse” is the weakest of the new “X-Men” trilogy.

“Apocalypse” takes place ten years after “Days of Future Past,” and Professor X (James McAvoy) has turned his house into the Mutant Academy. Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has settled down, whereas Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a mutant anti-hero, rescuing troubled mutants and starting new lives for them.

The trio are of course brought together when a god-like mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) surfaces and recruits mutants for world domination. This brings us to an introduction to a young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as well as a reunion with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Havoc (Lucas Till), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

It’s safe to say that while “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the weakest one of the new trilogy and very mediocre, it’s not the worst of the franchise (that goes to “The Last Stand”). The first half suffers from the most problems.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The first half of the film is all buildup and exposition, but it lacks focus and steady pacing to keep it interesting in most of the segments. Magneto’s story is by far the most interesting, as we understand why he’s reverted back to his old ways. The second half feels much like “Days of Future Past,” and I mean that in a good way.

Quicksilver once again has a visually impressive and fun sequence, stealing the show from everyone; this scene even tops his scene in “Days of Future Past.” For those who saw the trailer and caught a glimpse of Wolverine’s scene,  that sequence tops his mansion fight in “X2.” There are also some innovative and surreal sequences reminiscent of “Inception” that take place inside Professor X’s head, which is funny because those sequences were originally supposed to be in “First Class.”

Acting wise, the main cast does a great job as usual. I was impressed with Turner and Sheridan’s portrayal of Jean Grey and Cyclops as the angsty young lovers who stand by each other. Sadly, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Apocalypse and the character’s development were disappointing.

Apocalypse is a less entertaining version of Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” These two have the same goal: recruit a group of followers, destroy the world while making their followers believe they’re saving it, and find a new body? It’s the same motivation as Ultron! Isaac also lacks charisma in this performance, and it’s sad because this is Poe Dameron from “Star Wars.”

Another small nitpick I had was that “First Class” was a spy movie and “Days of Future Past” was a time travel movie, so both had very thick plots and broad ideas; however, “Apocalypse” is simply a disaster movie, so there isn’t as much imagination as there could have been. Yet I was still entertained because of the cast and a few memorable sequences. Kudos for that!

Grade: B