“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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“Pacific Rim: Uprising”

Go, go Power Ra–… I mean Go, go Gypsy Avenger! That sounds right, yes?

Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, Jake Pantecost (John Boyega playing the son of Idris Elba’s character in Pacific Rim) re-enlists in the Jaeger program to train a new group of young pilots. He reconnects with his estranged best friend Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and the two find themselves thrown into a new war with a mysterious group of rogue Jaegers. But why?

Uprising follows its predecessor’s formula – an underdog pilot joins the Jaeger program and ends up in a rivalry, there’s a motivational speech before a big battle, underdog saves the day, and there’s a setup for another movie. Good news is Uprising has some new tricks up its sleeve, despite being formulaic. It’s also goofy fun.

Uprising expands its world building. We learn in the first act that people enjoy living in abandon mansions, there’s a trade system, and Jake trades for his preferred goods (he trades a Ferrari for a sriracha supply). We also learn the Kaiju have telepathic powers, making them even more formidable. In terms of character arcs and narrative, Uprising is almost the same movie as Independence Day: Resurgence. I forgave the similarities because Uprising tries new things.

The movie takes risky moves with notable characters Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day). I won’t get into details, but I applauded the writers for once again taking the franchise into a new direction. Director Steven S. DeKnight might not be on Del Toro’s level in terms of flare and action sequences, but he still does a competent job with the Jaeger and Kaiju sequences.

I loved Pacific Rim, but it took itself too seriously. Uprising improves by acknowledging its own silliness. Boyega and Eastwood’s buddy cop banter, along with Day’s over-the-top performance add to the movie’s charm. I was reluctant going into the sequel, but I would be okay with a third, fourth, and even a fifth Pacific Rim.

Grade: B

“The Cloverfield Paradox”

“Paradox” is a well-suited pronoun for The Cloverfield Paradox, considering it doesn’t answer the questions it was supposed to.

Like in Lost in Space and Danny Boyle’s great Sunshine, Earth is suffering an energy crisis, prompting a space odyssey. Like in Sunshine, GravityMoon, and Life, the crew members are grieving, withdrawn, and headstrong. We have an astronaut who lost her kids (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a scientist who prefers being in space over Earth (Daniel Brühl), and a noble captain with a military background (David Oyelowo). There’s also the wisecracker (Chris O’Dowd), an astronaut who loses his mind (Aksel Hennie), and a caricature (the talented and underused Zhang Ziyi).

Like in Event Horizon, the crew travels into another dimension, then the crew turns on each other, the ship becomes possessed, and a giant monster attacks Earth. None of this is explained other than they went into an alternate dimension.

I admire the Cloverfield franchise because we don’t have many anthological film franchises and the previous entries were unique. Cloverfield combined the found footage and giant monster genres, resulting in a thrilling experience. 10 Cloverfield Lane established the film’s anthological style by acting as a psychological horror film set in the same universe (it’s the best of the trilogy). Paradox tries to establish a chronology to no avail.

SPOILERS OF PREVIOUS FILMS AHEAD!

Cloverfield was set in 2008 and revolves around a monster attack. 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t clear on when it’s set, but an alien invasion occurs. There were also small references in 10 Cloverfield Lane implying they’re in the same universe. Paradox has some small connections such as featuring a minor character from 10 Cloverfield Lane and featuring the Cloverfield monster.

However, if the film takes place in 2028, why is this monster attack happening without any reference to Cloverfield? This is due to a bad move on the studio’s part – turning a movie last minute in to the newest Cloverfield movie.

Paradox was originally titled God’s Particle and had no mention of Cloverfield until J.J. Abrams purchased the film and ordered rewrites and re-shoots to fit in the Cloverfield universe. Given that Paradox was already riddled with cliches and lazy writing, it wouldn’t have been any better, but it would have at least been more contained.

Because of the studio interference and setbacks, Paradox is overstuffed with too many ideas, conflicting tones, and cliched characters. I would have liked to know why a character’s severed arm came to life and how the ship became possessed rather than focus on a monster attack that was better executed in the first Cloverfield film.

In terms of film making, Paradox is amateur. It’s dimly lit with no color scheme, we have characters tell us what we’re seeing as it’s happening, and we even get a cheesy opening credits sequence that belongs in a 1990’s sci-fi channel show. Well, at least the cast tries.

I’m worried about genre films at this point; Netflix bought Paradox since Paramount had a packed schedule this year and studios are already selling films to Netflix for “similar reasons.” Do they really have packed schedules, or are they turning Netflix into the dumpster diver?

Grade: D- (only because the cast tries).

“Blade Runner: 2049”

I’ve now seen Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated film, Blade Runner: 2049 twice. That alone should tell you how I feel about the film.

Thirty years after Deckard (Harrison Ford) fled with Rachael (Sean Young), we’re introduced to a new blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling). K’s tasked uncovers a certain secret that’s connected to him and Deckard, and threatens what remains of order. That’s all you need to know.

Blade Runner: 2049 was my most anticipated film of 2017 and it lives up to the hype. This is a mesmerizing film that maintains its predecessor’s tone and aesthetics while acting as a stand alone film. It’s currently my favorite film of 2017.

A lot has changed between 2019 and 2049 in the Blade Runner universe. Replicants have evolved, computers have evolved, and the world is now overpopulated and decayed. LA isn’t just rainy; it’s snowy, foggy, and smoggy. There isn’t a single shot of sunshine, yet the film is still stunning.

From start to finish, Blade Runner: 2049 is eye candy. I was mesmerized between the aerial shots of K driving through the neon skyscrapers and the shots of him walking through dark hallways and smoggy landscapes. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, Fargo) once again proves he’s the master of cinematography.

This isn’t a style over substance film by any means. Much like Ridley Scott’s masterful predecessor, Villeneuve’s sequel maintains the philosophical themes and ambiguous questions about life, death, and humanity. It also raises new ones about memory, miracles, evolution, and survival. 2049 isn’t at all a rehash of the first film.

2049 is 2 hours and 43 minutes long (roughly 44 minutes longer than the original) and is an epic in scale and tone. If you saw Villeneuve’s previous works Sicario and Prisoners, you know he has a knack for violent quick bursts of action. 2049 has enough to satisfy action lovers.

Everyone in the cast is perfect. Gosling delivers another cool, expressionistic performance as a troubled antihero. Ford portrays Deckard as a traumatized battle-torn veteran with grace. Robin Wright adds some humanity to her cold character Detective Joshi; she’s K’s superior and acts as a caring maternal figure. Even Jared Leto has a few golden moments as a god complex-ridden replicant manufacturer, Niander Wallace. Of all the performances, Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv, Wallace’s replicant enforcer who wants to prove she’s the superior replicant.

Blade Runner was an acquired taste and 2049 isn’t any different. If you want an artistic epic that’s restrained in action but grandiose in themes, 2049 is for you. Villeneuve once again proves he’s one of the best working filmmakers to date.

Grade: A+

“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+

“War for the Planet of the Apes”

It’s time the Academy takes motion-capture work seriously because Andy Serkis is incredible in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” His performance throughout the three recent “Apes” films is an expressive and dynamic piece of work.

Two years after Caesar (Serkis) defeated Koba (Toby Kebbel) and prepared for war against humans, Caesar’s battling The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a genocidal military leader hellbent on exterminating apes. Their recent battle results in significant losses for Caesar, leading him on a quest for vengeance. However, his loyal followers Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary) grow concerned as Caesar grows increasingly merciless.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is an epic, brutal, and amazing installment of the franchise. Between the Vietnam War-inspired opening battle, Western-style cinematography, and some thought-provoking moments about evolution and devolution, this is a rare brainy blockbuster.

If you haven’t seen “Rise” or “Dawn,” you should definitely watch those before “War.” This is a trilogy that follows the evolution of a complex protagonist. Caesar has come a long way from a naive being that can only communicate in sign language. He can now communicate in full sentences and is aware of the world’s harsh realities. The humans on the other hand, are another story.

The Colonel is a mad leader that we’ve seen before in film and in history. Think a mixture of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”) and Hitler. Harrelson’s performance is insane-yet-restrained, which is enough to overcome the character’s cliches. The final showdown between he and Caesar is an unconventional one that suits both characters.

The underrated Steve Zahn also has a great supporting performance as Bad Ape, a cowardly ape drifter who aids Caesar. He adds much-needed humor to the film without imposing on its dark tone. The film occasionally focuses on Bad Ape being an unlikely hero and Maurice fathering a young mute orphan, which add heart to the film.

As much as I loved “War,” I was disappointed in its black-and-white approach on good and evil. In “Dawn,” we had good apes and humans, and bad apes and humans. This made “Dawn” morally complex since all characters were relatable. “War” goes back to the “Rise” roots with its good apes and bad humans mentality, which made the characters’ arcs simple.

Director Matt Reeves proved himself to be a visionary filmmaker with “Dawn” and “War,” showing he can make a spectacle with brains. Let’s see how he does with his Batman movies.

Grade: A-

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

I am Groot… I am Groot…  I am impressed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It’s the first MCU sequel done right since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

After completing another successful mission, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) meet the enigmatic Ego (Kurt Russell). He helps the group and reveals himself to be Peter’s dad, shocking the group.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) return to settle their scores, Peter and Gamora must deal with their feelings, Rocket Raccoon comes to terms with who he is, and Baby Groot dances adorably.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” maintains its predecessor’s energy, colorful effects, kinetic action sequences, and killer soundtrack. It takes the humor and character moments up a few notches, resulting in a surprisingly hilarious and emotional sequel. If “Vol. 1” is “A New Hope,” then “Vol. 2” is “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Without getting too much into the plot, the Guardians split into two groups where alliances form, betrayals occur, and revelations are revealed. Quill spends a portion of the movie torn between family and his destiny; it’s bittersweet and sometimes heartbreaking.

“Vol. 2” is fun, though! Don’t let my description fool you. The standout sequences are a delightful opening credits sequence, a space ship battle that’s an obvious nod to the arcade gaming era, and any scene involving Yondu (Rooker kills it).

The cast is once again great with their chemistry and comedic timing; they’re even better in their dramatic moments. Kurt Russell’s performance is a little too exposition-heavy, but his charm and charisma make it acceptable.

I could have done without Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord. He literally has two minutes of screen time, angrily delivers exposition about Yondu, and leaves until the end. For a hyped character, I expected more for Sly to do.

The MCU has a bad history with sequels, but “Vol. 2” proves you don’t have to one-up all elements for a sequel; it’s okay to slow down and expand on the characters’ back story. You don’t see that in a superhero film often, which is admirable.

Grade: A-