The Tomorrow War

Release: Friday, July 2, 2021 (Amazon Prime)

👀 Amazon Prime

Written by: Zach Dean

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Chris Pratt; Sam Richardson; Yvonne Strahovski; Betty Gilpin; J.K. Simmons; Edwin Hodge

 

 

***/*****

The creatures at the center of Chris McKay’s fast-moving and action-packed sci-fi blockbuster are microcosmic of the overall experience of The Tomorrow War. You can’t take your eyes off them despite how familiar they are, an amalgam of iconic elements and concepts from bigger, more famous genre titles of years past.

It’s not looking good for us humble humans in the year 2051. The global population reduced to something in the hundreds of thousands, we’re well on our way to losing the war against the Whitespikes, a race of vicious creatures who look like some hybrid between H.R. Giger’s beloved Xenomorphs and the chaotic Mimics from Edge of Tomorrow (2014). In a last ditch effort, future people are time-traveling back to our reality to recruit citizens into the war effort because we regular Joes are literally the last line of defense. May as well cancel the sunrise at this point.

The gregarious Chris Pratt is our ticket in to experiencing this future hellscape for ourselves, charged with leading a platoon on what essentially amounts to a suicide mission into a world overrun with beasts that move with alarming agility and aggression and have this nasty tendency to shoot spikes from tentacled appendages. Pratt again proves to be a supportable hero though this time he disconnects more from his goofball persona to slip into the fatigues of career-depressed Dan Forester, a retired Green Beret now itching to retire from the grind of teaching high school biology to disinterested students.

Too ‘average’ to fit in at the Army Research Lab, Dan is handed (more like strong-armed into) an opportunity to fulfill a destiny, if not also risk his sanity. His number gets called and despite the protestations of his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin — redeemed) whose experience as a therapist for returning survivors gives her a good idea of the best case scenario, he’s quickly on board for a one-week tour of duty in which the survival rate hovers at a miserable 30%. Those who do survive get beamed back to the present day from wherever they happen to be at the time. While a pre-jump exchange feels shortchanged between Dan and his estranged father James (a beefed-up J.K. Simmons), whose methods of dealing with his own PTSD have never sat right with his son, leaving behind his bright daughter Muri (a wonderful Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is the tear-jerking moment Zach Dean’s pedestrian screenplay flubs the most.

This brief snapshot of an average family life discarded with, we plunge headlong into the film proper, to the part everyone is anticipating. Blasting through the most hurried boot camp you’ve ever seen — mostly a loading platform where we pick up fellow goofball Sam Richardson as the nervous chatterbox Charlie and a dead-serious Edwin Hodge as Dorian, a jaded warrior on his third tour — we’re soon dumped unceremoniously onto the terrifying field, a visually stunning combo of war-ravaged metropolis, oceanic fortress and gorgeous locales both tropical and tundral. The future-world sets are the film’s best assets, a series of battlegrounds rendered both foreign and familiar and across which we rip on a death-defying mission to find the almighty toxin that can bring down these bastards once and for all.

In reaching for Interstellar-levels of wisdom director Chris McKay, in his first live-action feature film, misses the mark with only broad gestures toward its themes of redemption and familial sacrifice. After barely surviving Miami Beach and awakening in a military compound in the Dominican Republic Dan is brought face-to-face with a challenge greater than the physical ordeal. Australian actor Yvonne Strahovski ironically puts in the most emotional performance as the hardened Colonel Forester, who gives her trusted soldier plenty to think about à la Matthew McConaughey as his lonely little self slipped, preposterously, toward the singularity-cum-bookshelf.

Yes, almost by definition even the best sci fi are inherently ridiculous. Unfortunately The Tomorrow War lacks the emotional gravity and force of personality that can distract from overthinking. This is a blockbuster designed to keep your eyes busy and your analytical mind at bay. The film editors are key, masterfully sowing together the three major movements into one kinetic, fast-moving machine whose biggest malfunction is being forgettable pablum.

The Tomorrow War is likable, lively but ultimately shallow. However you could do a lot worse for an unwitting hero and for a piece of home entertainment. As yet another casualty of the COVID disruption, this two-hour wow-fest is found exclusively on Amazon Prime and is bound to rattle walls with its unrelenting energy.

“I’m court marshaling you for your Thanos-related antics. You really could have cost us, buddy.”

Moral of the Story: The living room may not be the ideal environment in which to take in a movie of such size and scale — The Tomorrow War is Amazon’s biggest film purchase ever, priced at an eye-popping $200 mil — but the convenience factor makes this derivative sci-fi yarn more attractive. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 138 mins. 

Quoted: “If there’s one thing that the world needs right now, it’s scientists. We cannot stop innovating. That’s how you solve a problem.” 

Check out the (really long) Final Trailer from Amazon Prime here!

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Release: Friday, May 31, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Zach Shields; Michael Dougherty 

Directed by: Michael Dougherty 

The sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) is undeniably a different beast, dispensing with its predecessor’s drip-fed action and methodical pacing for more direct, adrenaline-spiking payoff. Edwards had his chance to thrill us and apparently he botched it so in steps Michael Dougherty, the dude who gave us the anti-Santa horror-comedy Krampus. He offers himself up to fans as a most humbled servant, giving the world’s most famous kaiju a few new friends to hang out with, effectively creating a much bigger spectacle that puts primal, brutal showdowns front-and-center.

King of the Monsters may not make any move bolder than killing off its presumed main characters within the first fifteen minutes, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have big things in store. Over the course of an indulgent two-and-a-half hours Dougherty sends us on a visually spectacular journey from the plush greens of the Yunnan rainforest to the blinding white of the Antarctic Circle, establishing the monstrous battles for supremacy against a backdrop of environmental apocalypse and human hubris — precisely the kind of thematic posturing you’d expect from a movie about a creature born of the nuclear age.

From an action standpoint King of the Monsters absolutely lives up to its title, presenting a series of city-leveling confrontations as an epic territorial dispute wherein we lowly humans are caught on both sides of an ideological divide: Do we attempt to force our hand or do we let Mother Nature run her course? The film features several of the classic Toho creations and captures them using all the bells and whistles of breathtaking modern CGI. Behold the luminescent beauty and grace of Mothra as she unfurls her wings; the screaming intensity of the volcanic-born predator Rodan; the sickening size and freaky three-headedness of “Monster Zero” (King Ghidorah, if you prefer) — the latter serving as the film’s primary villain and fulfilling his classic role as arch-nemesis of Godzilla.

King of the Monsters inherits its predecessor’s human problem but that component of the story is slightly more involving this time around, even if the characterization is again pretty generic. But let’s be reasonable here, it’s nothing if not par the summer blockbuster course and it’s certainly not pre-2000 Godzilla, where Roland Emmerich had us all on pins and needles wondering whether anyone would actually pronounce Matthew Broderick’s character’s name correctly. An ecoterrorist named Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) despairs at the overpopulation crisis and humanity’s wanton disregard for their environment and so endeavors to return the planet to a “more natural” state. On a collision course with his special brand of crazy are the Russells, a science-minded family who have helped the secretive government agency Monarch develop technology used to measure the activity of the many known “titans” across the globe, technology Mr. Jonah seeks for his own nefarious agenda.

Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown may only be 15 years old but in her big-screen début she stands out among her more experienced co-stars, particularly a tired-looking Kyle Chandler and an uncharacteristically unconvincing Vera Farmiga who play her parents now separated after the loss of their younger child. At least their anti-kaiju stance advances the modern narrative in a way that’s believable. They are remnants of a world that didn’t quite know how to negotiate a 390-foot-tall, upright-walking reptile who also spits nuclear radiation. A world that didn’t really understand what his relationship was to us, what his purpose was.

Brown’s Madison convincingly bridges those eras. She doesn’t share her parents’ hatred for the big guy. Her compassion proves an evolution of understanding. With her mother held hostage physically and ideologically by Mr. Jonah she emerges as one of the few voices of reason in a world gone mad. Well it’s her and Ken Watanabe, who reprises his role as Monarch scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. As one of the elite few Japanese actors who got to take part in these big American event films, it’s about damn time he gets more of a say in these matters, his arc not only emotionally resonant but vital to the story.

King of the Monsters is an old-school-feeling, globetrotting smashing adventure that prioritizes big time fun over mood and pathos — kinda the opposite of Godzilla of five years ago. Not that that movie wasn’t entertaining, of course. I miss the discipline Edwards showed in building up to that incredible, vertical-panning shot that gave us our first good look at the main star. I miss that raw power of adrenaline. The sequel, however, offers its own excitement. The action is revved up to more crowd-pleasing levels, while the sheer amount of effort poured into the creature design and indeed the fights justifies the price of admission, whether that’s the sound engineers edging Godzilla’s roar closer to the original 1954 sound, or Dougherty urging his visual effects team, led by Guillaume Rocheron, to really imbue the creatures with their innate animal-like behaviors and physical traits — Ghidorah memorable for not just having three heads but those heads each moving independently like cobras waiting to strike.

King Ghidorah, and indeed King of the Monsters overall, makes a fairly strong case for bigger (and more) being better. It left me eagerly awaiting what comes next and in my opinion that’s what a good movie, a good second chapter, should do.

“Count your blessings. Your lines are better than mine.”

Recommendation: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, don’t be a nunce like me and miss the end credits! (Is this movie still even playing theatrically?) 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “Goodbye, old friend.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Wandering Earth

Release: Monday, May 6, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Gong Ge’er; Junce Ye; Yan Dongxu; Yang Zhixue; Frant Gwo

Directed by: Frant Gwo

Describing The Wandering Earth as an ambitious movie is an understatement. That’s like saying Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad had cult followings. The sheer scale and spectacle on display make the likes of Michael Bay and Peter Jackson look like film school students operating on shoestring budgets.

The movie presents a doomsday scenario to end all doomsday scenarios. In the year 2061 we face annihilation as our Sun is dying and will within a century swell to encompass Earth’s orbit and within 300 years the entire solar system. In order for us — or what’s left of us — to survive we need to find a new galactic home. We’ve targeted the Alpha Centauri system as our destination. Building a bunch of space-worthy life rafts is neither practical nor egalitarian — who knows whether the darned things would survive the 2,500-year odyssey, and at $30 million a ticket that basically ensures only the Jeff Bezos of the world would be able to go.

So get this: We’re going to push the entire rock out of harm’s way using thousands of fusion-powered thrusters clamped on to the Earth’s surface. Each one the size of a city, they require an incredible amount of human ingenuity (and cooperation) to work properly. (There’s the operative phrase in movies like this — you just know something will go wrong with them at just the worst time.) We’ll use Jupiter as a slingshot to get us out of the solar system and a leading space station manned by a few brave scientists/engineers who defer to a computer that’s cribbed right from a certain Stanley Kubrick film to guide us through the cosmic dark. If all goes according to plan we should avoid getting sucked in by the giant planet’s strong gravitational field and dying a very gaseous death.

Yikes.

When it comes to the human side of the equation, The Wandering Earth is much less ambitious. Admittedly, human drama isn’t the reason this Chinese blockbuster has become a global sensation. But it would be nice if there were compelling characters to further bolster this awesome visual spectacle. I suppose therein lies the difference between American and Chinese filmmaking — The Wandering Earth certainly emphasizes collective over individual triumph. That’s compelling in its own way. But then half of the running time is devoted to the rebellious — downright reckless and seriously contrived — actions of a resentful Liu Qi (Chuxiao Qu) and his less-resentful but just-as-thrill-seeking adopted sister Han Duoduo (Jin Mai Jaho) as they become thrust into a last-ditch attempt to restart the planetary thrusters after sustaining heavy damage due to an unforeseen gravitational spike near Jupiter. A promise made and then broken by their father (played by famed martial arts actor/director Jing Wu) sets the stage for an attempt at intimacy but that simply gets lost in all the catastrophic disaster set pieces.

Just as the story finds humanity in a major transitional period, The Wandering Earth finds director Frant Gwo undergoing a major one himself. Prior to filming China’s first “full-scale interstellar spectacular” he had only two feature film credits to his name — neither of which hinted towards his next project being anything like this. In an industry largely built upon plush historical/martial arts epics there was understandably some reticence toward forging a new frontier. There was such little faith in Gwo’s ability to deliver that actors not only sacrificed paychecks but personally invested in the film to ensure the show would go on and became real-life saviors for the film. Wu, for example, was never intended to be a lead; he initially agreed to be in only one scene but the film needed star power and so Gwo rewrote the script, tailoring it to a father-son dynamic that, at least in theory, forms the emotional core of the movie.

The Wandering Earth, since its release back in February, has gone on to become the second-highest grossing non-English film ever made, earning $700 million in China alone. Netflix picked up the rights to distribute and well, here we are, navigating perilously between episodes of cataclysmic destruction, each one of them enough to wipe us all out on their own. The challenges that face Liu Qi and co. alone make 2012 look like a quaint little indie movie.

It’s a lot to process — or, you know, not process. State-sponsored messaging aside, it’s totally down to the individual as to whether you can take this puree of nonsensical, approximated science and unearned sentimentality at face value — “hey, it’s all in the name of good old-fashioned, goofy fun” — or whether the absurd physics required to save us again (and once again) are just a bridge too far.

Asking me? I appreciated the lack of Aerosmith, at the very least. The Wandering Earth presents a dire situation in a way that’s easy to watch with your jaw slacked and brain on autopilot. At points it becomes surprisingly dark. And boy does the thing look gorgeous. Despite the computer rendering essentially subbing as Characters they help you invest in the visual spectacle. Yet The Wandering Earth, just for the simple fact someone conceived of this, earns a spot on my shelf of guilty-pleasure, geek-tastic sci fi blow-outs. It slides in well above the likes of Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow while never coming close to competing with more intellectually-stimulating adventures like Interstellar and Sunshine.

Catching a red-eye.

Recommendation: A classic example of popcorn-destroying, mindless entertainment that feels like a Hollywood production but one without an American hero in sight. Filled with as many impressive visual effects as plot holes, The Wandering Earth should entertain sci fi fans in search of their next epic space adventure — one they can consume right in their laps (or via their cushy little home theater set-ups). Spoken mostly in Mandarin with English subtitles. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

War for the Planet of the Apes

Release: Friday, July 14, 2017

→Theater

Written by: Mark Bomback; Matt Reeves

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Maurice: “Ooo! Oo!!!!”

Me: “Yeah buddy, I hate war too.”

We all know how Caesar feels about it. Poor Caesar. If he had his way, we wouldn’t even be here. War for the Planet of the Apes basically details everything the alpha male, the very first ape to experience increased intelligence, has been wanting to avoid. And how.

Of course Caesar doesn’t get his way even when he really should, after all he’s endured. After all those demonstrations of mercy and stoicism. Alas, here we are, locked into a brutal and bitter conflict that will, almost assuredly, see the fall of one species and the survival of the other, the odds of reconciliation at an all-time low. With the imminent threat posed by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson, scary good) who is hell-bent on wiping out the apes once and for all, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and a few loyal ape-padres must launch a final attack that will determine the fate of the entire planet.

War for the Planet of the Apes finds director Matt Reeves (who took over from Rupert Wyatt in 2014 with his ominous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) pushing the pathos of the franchise to even greater depths. He’s saved the most visceral depiction of an epic ideological struggle for last. Admittedly, it’s a fairly misleading title, as ‘war’ isn’t so much an indicator of scale, but rather a reference to a certain mentality. The film opens with a harrowing battle sequence, concludes in explosive fashion and tosses a few other moments of intense confrontation into the mix but the overall tone asserts the psychological unraveling and the perversion of logic associated with war.

To that end, we must witness the continued suffering of Caesar when he takes it upon himself to track down the vengeful, rogue colonel, who turns out to be every bit his intellectual equal and, further to Caesar’s dismay, has a devastating backstory of his very own. He’s the ideal dramatic foil. He has reasons to be angry. Harrelson actually goes for livid, chillingly reminding you how good he is at playing nasty, but he never overplays his hand.

Though he is adamant he must go the journey alone, Caesar is nonetheless joined by a trio of his most trusted allies. The Bornean orangutang Maurice (Karin Konoval) insists he will need his moral support. For muscle, he’s flanked by the gloriously large lowland gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and his adoptive brother Rocket (Terry Notary) — a common chimp, yes, but also a tenacious fighter. But Maurice is valuable in another way besides being team cheerleader. He’s a voice of reason, proving his shrewd judge of character can come in handy at some fairly critical moments.

Others join. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape is a welcomed though fairly obvious nod to Serkis’ groundbreaking mo-cap as the troubled tag-a-long and ultimately ill-fated Sméagol/Gollum. Fortunately Bad Ape is more than simple fan service. He’s a sorrowful simian who’s been on his own for “long time. Very long time.” On top of adding a splash of humor to proceedings, his perspective proves invaluable and offers clarity to the intellectual evolution of Caesar himself, who sits before him, quietly impressed by a member of his own species having learned to speak English. It’s a profound moment that perfectly encapsulates how far we have come since 2011.

It might surprise some to find it all coming down to an act of retribution. But if you recall, a simple misunderstanding by zoo security is what set this whole saga off in the first place. Instead of bogging itself down in philosophizing and extrapolation, Reeves’ direction comes across as more quietly observational — the cameras remain objective and unflinching as people die and apes are savagely tortured. The writing has consistently shied away from overcomplicating things. And Harrelson’s painful revelation confirms the ironic nature of this whole confusing cycle. We “created” the intelligent ape, now they are minimizing us. It’s kind of tragic. Well, depending on how you’ve come to view these movies.

Recommendation: Powerful, provocative and emotionally resonant. The third and final iteration in the rebooted Apes franchise sends audiences off on a thrilling high, and brings long-time fans back full-circle. Combined with ever-improving special effects and the committed work of motion-capture performer Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely the most mature and most well-made film in the post-Charlton Heston era. Sure it’s a little predictable, but it’s predictable in a very surprising way. And that totally does make sense when you see the movie. 

Rated: hard PG-13

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “My God, you are impressive. Smart as hell. You’re stronger than we are. But you’re taking this all much too personally. So emotional!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Passengers

passengers-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Spaihts

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Morten Tyldum is a Norwegian director who has been on the fast-track to success ever since bursting on to the world stage in 2011 with his critically acclaimed Headhunters, an action thriller based upon a novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø and featuring a Scandinavian cast. He’s never looked back since. From there he made a movie based upon the life and achievements of British mathematician Alan Turing, the 2014 Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game in which Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed the father of what we recognize today as artificial intelligence. Two years later Tyldum finds himself collaborating with two of the world’s most box office-friendly stars in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence on a romantic/science fiction adventure called Passengers.

With each subsequent venture behind the camera, Tyldum has increasingly found himself surrounded by luxuries filmmakers the world over could only dream of one day having for themselves, if only just for one project. He has a knack for attracting big names and turning profits. There’s little doubt Tyldum has been privileged — so much so that it’s difficult to gauge how deserving he is of his status. His big-budget blueprints are going to endure, despite them lacking personality or any sense of novelty, unlike something produced by the likes of, say, Christopher Nolan, a household name who routinely challenges his audiences to, god forbid, use their brains while rummaging through buckets of popcorn. By comparison, Tyldum’s meteoric rise feels less justified.

Mainstream filmmaking at its most indistinguishable is the best way I know how to describe his oeuvre, and Passengers all but confirms the director has no intention of suppressing the urge to pander to the masses, especially when it is to the tune of $130 million in global receipts in less than three weeks. His new film is essentially Titanic set in space, but with a moral twist (or is that, a twisted sense of morality?) — the only element that differentiates this interstellar adventure from a plethora of other doomed-vessel melodramas. Tyldum’s latest posits that people need people, that we have not been created to exist alone. It’s a theme well worth exploring, but once again I found the same generic, unexciting direction that robbed The Imitation Game of its potential similarly blunting the cutting edges of Passengers‘ would-be high-brow narrative. What could have been thought-provoking is instead estimated as “something audiences should really go for.”

The story is about a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston (Pratt) who wakes up 30 years into a 120-year voyage between Earth and a colonial planet in a distant galaxy. He is among the 5,000 passengers board the starship Avalon, blissfully sleeping away the years until they reach Homestead II, along with another some 200 crew members. A computer glitch causes Jim to awaken from suspended animation and when he realizes what has happened he sets about trying to solve the problem rationally rather than panicking or wallowing in despair, with the faintest aroma of Ridley Scott’s The Martian arising in the opening stanza. A year passes and Jim is unsuccessful in getting back to sleep, although he strikes up a “friendship” with a cyborg bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Unable to share an authentic human relationship with Arthur, Jim starts to slip into the despair he has spent a long time trying to avoid.

That is until he comes across a pod containing an Aurora Lane (Lawrence), whom he learns about via a digital portfolio explaining her background as a writer in New York City. He even becomes familiar with her personality from his investigations. He visits her pod frequently, reading about her and imagining what it would be like to have someone else to share in what will in all likelihood be the remainder of his life on board the Avalon. He struggles mightily with the decision to wake her up, which would necessarily and similarly doom her to a premature death.

The morality play is made fascinating because of the star power Tyldum has been afforded. The leads prove why they are paid what they’re paid as they breathe life into a robotic screenplay. The establishing first third sets the stakes high and Pratt makes it easy for us to buy that Jim really doesn’t want to use his engineering prowess to effectively murder a fellow passenger. And it’s kind of a brave new world watching Pratt embody a character who ultimately isn’t very likable. Lawrence isn’t at her best as Aurora, yet it’s something of a miracle she turns a snobby, self-aggrandizing writer who values prestige over anything else into a person we end up wanting to actually succeed. But for my money, the underrated Michael Sheen makes the most compelling argument for what makes us human, playing the part of some futuristic vision of The Overlook Hotel barkeep in whom a steadily unraveling Jack Torrence frequently confided. Arthur hasn’t been wired to keep secrets. He doesn’t know how to lie or judge. The android offers a contrast that imbues Passengers with the humanity its poorly written flesh-and-blood characters, or at least Jim’s troubling actions, do not.

Unfortunately it’s those sorts of stereotypes and broad statements that could come to define Tyldum as the most recent example of a foreign director making one too many compromises. Six films deep into a directorial career with only a third of them being English-language features, he’s already ‘gone Hollywood.’ He has no distinctive voice. No masterful, inventive way of presenting his Big Movies’ Big Themes. Nor does he frame his stories in ways we have never experienced before. Passengers only gets weaker and more familiar as it plods onward to a thoroughly disappointing action-packed finale, when the Avalon’s technical malfunctions become more frequent and more serious and as Jim and Aurora put aside their differences in order to work to find a solution together.

The destination, such as it is, is so underwhelming (and so expected) it begs the question as to whether the film needed to dive into the morality play at all. Aurora stays mad at Jim for a long time, perhaps even an appropriate amount of time, but the film seems to equate a broken tether with a broken heart. The denouement is not only lazy, it’s disingenuous. It made me long for the pure innocence and the schmaltz of Jack and Rose’s forbidden love. The melodramatics are as damaging to the intellectual constitution of the story as the asteroid is to the ship’s computers and reactors.

Debating the merits of the finale is pointless really because it’s clear Tyldum isn’t in this for the art of storytelling. The Avalon is one of the more visually pleasing spacecraft we’ve seen in some time and the thick ribbons of stars across a canvas of black has rarely looked so beautiful and yet so terrifying. I could write love letters to Passengers‘ production design. There’s a sleekness that cannot be overlooked, that only a film built on this kind of money can provide. The more cynical side of me, the part that enjoys thinking while watching, can’t help but feel Tyldum is making a bid for becoming the most Hollywood-friendly foreign-born director in history. Honestly, that’s not the worst thing in the world. There’s nothing amoral about making a lot of money doing something you love.

Recommendation: I think it says something that the most interesting ‘character’ in the film is the spaceship Avalon. The luxury space liner is a thing of beauty. Passengers is a senses-stimulating film, aggressively so when it comes to the visual elements. It’s a gorgeously rendered production, but it lacks the soul and conviction needed to carry the weight the story deserves. And while I’m not as upset about the implications of the way Jim’s actions are basically excused by film’s end as others have been, I understand where the anger is coming from. This is like Titanic set in space, with Rose suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and instead of Jack being a swell fella, he’s actually a selfish jerk. If you just read that one line and that’s all you knew about the film, then Passengers sounds pretty interesting. And maybe it will be to those who have a stronger tolerance for formulaic blockbusters.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “A drowning man will always try to drag you down with him.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Star Trek: Beyond

'Star Trek - Beyond' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 22, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Simon Pegg; Doug Jung

Directed by: Justin Lin

If this is the movie in which we go where no man has gone before, why does it feel like we’ve been here already?

Star Trek: Beyond, a beautifully crafted feel-good blockbuster, the third such film in a post-modern interpretation of the world’s second most popular star-themed science fiction property, is undeniably an impressive visual spectacle and a lot of fun to boot, but if it had any interest in remaining a topic of discussion amidst all the excited chatter about the year’s two other significant event pictures — Suicide Squad this August and Rogue One (ya know, that Star Wars spinoff thing) in December — it needed to do more than just rely on old-fashioned cast-and-crew camaraderie. Despite a solid 120 minutes of action and intergalactic intrepidity, each aspect strong enough to elevate a lesser narrative on their own, the new adventures we’re sent along in Beyond just aren’t enough to send the film into another dimension of greatness.

The best thing that can be said about Fast-and-Furious director Justin Lin wrestling control of the captain’s chair from previous helmer J.J. Abrams is that he was at least willing to conform somewhat to the rules and pre-established formula. More crucially, he manages to avoid inflecting the wrong intonations, such as those found in a universe in which car enthusiasts with criminal records end up doing favors for government officials unwilling to get their own hands dirty. This franchise’s sense of identity is also not lost in the hands of writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, an impressive feat considering how often the former is writing out of his comfort zone — though let’s not kid ourselves, these new Star Trek films aren’t exactly the stuff of bonafide sci-fi drama — and how little experience the latter has in writing for the screen, particularly at the blockbuster level.

In Beyond events accumulate in a way that proves to be, so far anyway, the ultimate test of the moral, emotional and psychological fibers of the crew and leadership of the mighty USS Enterprise. It also poses yet another challenge to the structural integrity of that very ship, subjecting the iconic vessel to one hell of a spectacular crash sequence that is sure to remain on everyone’s minds come the end of the year. Halfway into a five-year exploratory mission, James Kirk (Chris Pine) has grown restless and jaded with his captainship. He’s thinking there could be other ways in which he can distinguish himself from his father, the great George S. Kirk.

When they dock for supplies and some much needed rest at a nearby hub called Yorktown — a floating city protected from the vacuum of space by a transparent spherical shield — Kirk seeks the counsel of Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) as well as a promotion to Vice Admiral. It is here that Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) receives some life-changing (and potentially mission-altering) news of his own. Their uncertain futures become inextricably linked, leaving us to question whether one could survive, much less function, without the other. It’s entirely too easy to answer that.

Fortunately the considerably more intense, more tangible crux of Beyond does a lot of the heavy lifting. Beyond has a great big baddie in Idris Elba‘s menacing warlord Krall, on the hunt for some macguffin he needs to fire a weapon large enough to pose a serious threat to the continued existence of the Federation. After the Enterprise encounters and rescues a lone alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) who claims her ship has been stranded and needs help getting back, the crew are ambushed by a swarm of vessels that all but dismantles the Enterprise in one of the year’s most compelling attack sequences. There’s little you can do to prepare for these 15 minutes of pure drama. Even more impressive than the sheer scale and graceful movements of Krall’s battalion is the fact that the moment never disintegrates into a pixel party. State-of-the-art graphics rendering, the polished gem of a massive collaborative effort, makes you feel as though you’re swimming through stars and nebulae. (I didn’t see the film in 3D and now regret that decision.)

In the aftermath the crew find themselves disoriented and spread throughout the thick jungle of a nearby planet that they jettisoned to in their cute little individual escape pods. Not all of Kirk’s crew have remained out of Krall’s clutches, however, and the majority of what turns out to be a protracted second act finds the splinter groups trying desperately to reunite. Admittedly, the set-up allows us to become privy to a few conversations between characters we otherwise might never get, particularly between Spock, whose sense of humor is improving, and Karl Urban’s sardonic Bones.

Elsewhere, an isolated Scotty (Simon Pegg) encounters the mysterious Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Boutella, covered in a striking combination of starkly colored make-up, instantly bolsters an already strong cast. As a warrior with a lot of pain and loss in her recent past following her own encounter with Krall, Scotty thinks she will be integral in helping the crew not only reunite but escape the planet. Despite her vows to never go near the prison camp Krall has established on this planet, Jaylah finds herself with no choice but to be brave, soon carving out her own role in the fight back against Krall’s plans to wipe out the Federation.

One thing that’s certainly surprising is how difficult it is to watch the film without thinking of the untimely passing of young Anton Yelchin, who has for three films enthusiastically embraced the spirited, brilliant Russian ensign Pavel Chekov, a character that in the long run is fairly minor. He has a significant role to fill here though and there’s no denying the tragic circumstances of his demise change the way we interact with him whenever he is on screen. We don’t so much watch him continue to build upon an innately likable persona as we do savor the opportunity.

Of course there’s more to cherish than the stereotype-shattering Russian who enjoys Scotch as opposed to vodka. In spite of itself Lin’s epic space saga often finds the time to thrill on ambitious new levels while paying tribute to the legacy that precedes it. If it can find ways to eliminate some of its more annoying habits like recycling boring clichés and hackneyed storytelling devices, then I see no reason why this franchise can’t live long and prosper.

Anton Yelchin and Chris Pine in 'Star Trek - Beyond'

Recommendation: Not the most inspired event film ever but it gets the job done and in style. Star Trek: Beyond works hard to deliver the fan service and in so doing tends to become something that will be harder to fall completely in love with for anyone who completely misses the significance of the unearthing of the USS Franklin. It is the beneficiary of some exemplary computer graphics technology and the action setpieces are universally thrilling, especially the final battle. If we’re to judge each of these entries based on that alone, this may be the best yet. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “This is where it begins, Captain. This is where the frontier pushes back!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Independence Day: Resurgence

'Independence Day - Resurgence' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 24, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Roland Emmerich; Nicolas Wright; James A. Woods; Dean Devlin; James Vanderbilt

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Nothing brings a tear to my eye faster than knowing that Earth’s mantle is going to be safe, at least until the next ill-advised blockbuster sequel. I really felt more for the core of the planet than I did for the core group of humans at the heart of this underwhelming summer spectacle.

You might get away with arguing that Independence Day: Resurgence is simply more of the same, and that’s everything the film needed to be. And I get some of that. While we don’t have Will Smith back (too expensive), we see many favorites return: Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch as the Levinsons; Bill Pullman as the former President; Vivica A. Fox (the exotic dancer mom, remember?); and a particularly odd scientist is back, too (thanks trailers, for spoiling that one). More of the same though, in this case, just means more: more CGI, more indecipherable chaos, more gimmickry that tries to evoke the past (see Patrick St. Esprit’s stand-in for James Rebhorn’s Secretary of Defense Albert Nimziki).

For a fleeting few minutes, Resurgence shows its mettle: the invasion of Earth is, once again, astonishingly cool. And eerie. And the tagline for once fits: “we had 20 years to prepare; so did they,” only “they” in this case refers to the wizards responsible for all those nifty visual effects. The hellfire that lights up our skies somehow looks even more ominous this time around; watch as landmarks the world over are uprooted like twigs and repositioned miles away. We don’t get the chess game that resulted in gigantic fireballs engulfing major cities but we do get one hell of a Mother Ship, which, in a particularly memorable shot, is shown clamping down on at least a quarter of the planet like a massive leech. They apparently have an interest in the molten core of Earth, which they’ll drain for energy. Obviously that’s not good news for us.

The problem with ‘more-of-the-same‘ in this case is that familiarity déjà vu creeps in much too soon. Resurgence will never be appreciated on its own merits, but rather how far the apple (spacecraft?) did or did not fall from the tree (outer space?). Comparisons may be unfair, but they become less so when a director decides that humanity once again needs to come together like all the colors of the rainbow to fend off another alien invasion. Talk about some shit luck. It took everything we had in the ’90s to stand our ground, to establish Earth as the only planet that really matters in the universe. And here we are again, shaken by the scary thought that maybe it just ain’t so.

At least Emmerich, with his team of writers, has the sense to try and cover for the mistake made in setting up an almost identical invasion — no small thanks to the overly familiar shot selection — by setting the mood much more pessimistic. President Lanford (Sela Ward) seems to be a symbol of hope and unity at the start but she’s soon overshadowed by former President Whitmore’s moroseness. “There’s no way we’ll win this time.” Not with that attitude you won’t. Poor ol’ Prez; he’s been haunted ever since by the last encounter and now can’t really go out in public. So his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), who happens to be a fine Air Force pilot herself, dedicates much of her time looking after him. But that benevolence only runs as deep as the script; soon enough not even Monroe is capable of making us believe she’s the President’s daughter.

The plan of attack, drawn up by General Adams (William Fichtner), is shades of grey different from the international united front we launched last time. We’re going after the Queen this time instead of a rogue ship stationed just outside our atmosphere. The goal is to distract this supremely large otherworldly being (no, seriously, think kaiju large) from obtaining a spherical orb/macguffin that ties in to some larger intergalactic story, one that, cosmetically, feels ripped straight out of Men in Black but in concept fits better into Star Wars mythology. (Oh, there’s a cool cross-over idea: Men in Black 4: Star Wars Independence Day.)

Returning characters are given the juicier parts. Unfortunately, few of them share any significant screen time together. Giving those with more experience more prominent roles is an age-old practice that just means we get to spend more time with Goldblum’s David, which is far from a bad thing. Now a revered, distinctive member of the human race, even his dad trusts him more. And no one is telling his David to shut up. In Resurgence a larger spotlight also falls upon the personnel working inside Area 51. The base, once-upon-a-time a secret and mythical location, has since been designated as Earth’s Space Defense Headquarters. And of course President Whitmore has a few wrongs to right, so he jumps back into an aircraft to do his civic duty. On a less welcomed note, Liam Hemsworth replaces Captain Hiller’s sidekick Captain Jimmy Wilder with little enthusiasm; while Jessie T. Usher plays Hiller’s son all grown up. There’s some sort of alpha-male struggle between the two but it’s added in, also digitally, just to give the actors some lines to read. Very little of what they say to each other actually matters.

In fairness it wasn’t scintillating dialogue that defined the classic that came before — yes I’m calling it a classic — but rather an overt but not misplaced sense of American pride. After all, it was the product of American filmmakers and events took place on and around the Fourth of July. In Resurgence, though, the fire just isn’t there. There’s no Whitmore rallying cry. There are only mutterings from a jaded man who can’t seem to believe all of this is happening again.

It’s all numbing special effects stuff that impresses upon us how far technology has come in the last couple of decades. It’s less of a championing of the human spirit as it is a competition to see who has the bigger laser, the bigger home base, the smarter individual beings. Resurgence is pretty brainless. It’s certainly redundant. But I guess there’s no denying the visual grandeur, or the scope of Emmerich’s ambitions, even if all that adds up to is proof that there’s nothing bigger than the greed consuming Hollywood studios who think blockbuster sequels will save us all.

Recommendation: Independence Day: Resurgence is yet another of those sequels that few earthlings asked for. (I certainly didn’t want it.) The ridiculousness of it all threatens Michael Bay, which is to say the film tries to upstage the competition with brute force via CGI saturation. Too bad it forgets that a) humans will always remember their first alien invasion and b) they will always want Will Smith back. In ID4: 2 spectacle trumps all. Even if that means screwing up the alien mythology. Will there be more? Of course there will be. You can take that all the way to the bank, provided it’s still there. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “They’re not screaming. They’re celebrating.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

X-Men: Apocalypse

'X Men - Apocalypse' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 27, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Singer; Simon Kinberg; Michael Dougherty; Dan Harris

Directed by: Bryan Singer

In the midst of Magneto’s metal-throwing rampage, a burning hot ember of emotion buried deep underneath the rapidly cooling coals of X-Men: Apocalypse, I glance over to find my friend fast asleep, head buried into his shoulder and a small puddle of drool starting to form. All I could do was smile, really. It was the perfect summation of everything I was feeling on the inside throughout much of Bryan Singer’s fourth go-around as the helmer of this most consistently inconsistent of superhero film franchises.

For about an hour I couldn’t come to terms with the disparity in quality between Singer’s previous installment and his latest; how is it possible to be so enthralled by one entry and bored to tears with the next? Seeing as though I wasn’t someone put off by the tweaks made to X-Men history in Days of Future Past, I then had the troubling thought that I was still better off than the purists, those who had a lot more invested in these adaptations.

Apocalypse is, if nothing else, a perfectly good waste of Oscar Isaac’s talents. As the titular super-villain En Sabah Nur, Isaac couldn’t look more disinterested. Was part of the plan caking the man in make-up to the point where his disgust over the poor (and I mean really poor) script would be concealed? If it was, that plan failed. In the early going Nur rises from the dead in modern (well, 1983) Egypt after being entombed under tons of rubble resulting from a last-second violent uprising that occurred during an attempt to transfer his consciousness into another mortal body. He quickly learns of how modern society has come to be and is profoundly disturbed by it. Like Tony Stark’s ultimate fuck-up, the Ultron program, Nur/Apocalypse is big on the cleansing of mankind but very slight when it comes to personality. (It’s a little painful to be comparing an Oscar-caliber actor’s charisma here to that of a robot, but here we are.)

Nur’s extinction-level plans simply boil down to nostalgia for them good ole days. With a perpetual scowl set upon his seasick-looking face, he sets about bestowing untold amounts of power upon already powerful, albeit vulnerable, mutants the world over, enticing them to join him in his effort to restore world order. His recruits include the likes of Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp); Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy); Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn); and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). While each character’s alter egos manage to jump off the page from a visual standpoint, no one other than Magneto is given anything to do. Even their action scenes register as perfunctory.

Elsewhere, mutants both new and old are . . . doing something. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is professing at the school where he professes things, teaching students to learn how to accept being gifted with powers; Magneto, prior to being wooed by the job offer from the False God, is eking out a quieter existence in Poland following the disastrous events in Washington D.C.; Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is continent-hopping as a mercenary-for-hire, rescuing fellow mutants from their current miseries all while denying her heroism. The false modesty is soooo Katniss Everdeen Gwyneth Paltrow. And we are reacquainted with sidekickers like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Jean Gray/Phoenix (Sophie Turner); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodie Smit-McPhee).

Aside from the dismal performance from Isaac, one that reminded me more than once of the kind of collapse Eddie Redmayne had in Jupiter Ascending last year, Apocalypse suffers from a total lack of enthusiasm in reintroducing its sprawling cast. The characters themselves, of course, are universally welcomed back, yet their presences aren’t so much felt as they are foisted upon audiences expecting an epic action spectacular. (More on that in a little bit.) It was during these protracted intros where my mind started to really wander, where my head started sitting heavy in the palm of my hand. ‘Why is this girl in front of me constantly reaching out towards the screen? Like, does she know someone in this thing or something?’ ‘Is she having spasms?’ ‘Do I need to call a doctor?’ Thoughts no one should be having during a film that features so many likable and unique characters, a film steeped in mythology now 15 years in the cinematic making, I was totally having, and constantly. It was as if Charles Xavier had somehow gained access to my cerebral cortex. Leave my cerebral cortex alone, Charles.

There is actually a defense against critics blasting Apocalypse for lacking originality in its ambitions to out-epic the competition. Sometimes a ‘back-to-basics’ approach can be rewarding. You can simplify the thrust of the narrative to the ultimate in superhero standoffs, wherein all roads to the end of days run through mutants brave enough to face up to Nur and his four horsemen. Unfortunately in this case there is such a lackadaisical attitude in bringing back the characters to face their toughest test. This is in some ways one of the most personal outings for the X-Men yet, but this latest installment feels cold and detached. Much of that can be traced to Isaac’s prominence, though the build-up to the climactic fight is just as off-putting.

Look no further than said capstone battle. Hasn’t Singer learned anything from the Bay’s and the Emmerich’s? Threat of annihilation by virtue of large-scale, pixelated destruction isn’t really a threat at all. In fairness, Singer tries to make up for some of the transgressions by ripping himself off and including another über-slow-mo sequence that shows off the greatness that is Quicksilver. That’s gotta count for something in the way of originality, right?

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Recommendation: If we’re talking hierarchy of awesomeness, X-Men: Apocalypse is a tier or two down from Singer’s previous output, Days of Future Past because it doesn’t express the same level of enthusiasm nor does the story work as cohesively as the ones that have come before it. The clichés are much harder to escape here as are the cheesy one-liners and there’s a sense of franchise fatigue. A poor performance from Oscar Isaac doesn’t help matters either. Still, there’s enough here to say I’m willing to see where the franchise goes from here. I’m also liking how the past is catching up to “the present.” It’s an interesting way to build a full and complete picture of the X-Men universe. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted: “Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day, they’ll come for you? And your children?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cinemablend.com

Captain America: Civil War

'Captain America - Civil War' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 6, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Christopher Markus; Stephen McFeely

Directed by: Anthony & Joe Russo

Standing in a line of about 200 rabid fans an hour before the screening I was asked by a woman in line — a hot mom actually — if this was the line for the Avengers movie. I really wanted to tell her, “No, this is for Captain America,” but who am I kidding, this is totally an Avengers movie. And so I was like, “Yeah,” and she was like, “Cool,” and then we both just went back to our lives.

That Captain America: Civil War is closer in spirit to one of those ultra-blockbusters is actually good news for me as I’ve never really stood behind Captain America. The Boy Scout/super-soldier kind of ruffles my feathers for some reason, and that’s through no fault of Chris Evans either. Nevertheless there I was, middle of a mob on a Saturday afternoon, the manufactured product of a month-long brainwashing program designed to win my allegiance toward either Team Steve or Team Tony.

Civil War is a film whose emotional upshot takes an eternity to eventuate, but when it does it’s actually well worth the two-and-a-half-hour sit. Steve and his embattled friend Bucky, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) are at the heart of a complex moral, emotional and psychological battle that divides the Avengers — all but Hulk and Thor, of course, who are off galavanting elsewhere — straight down the middle when they are asked to sign the Sokovia Accords, a peacekeeping effort drawn up by the United Nations in response to the concerns of a growing population that thinks the Avengers are doing more harm than good.

After yet another disaster, this time in Wakanda at the hands of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, who has completely given up on trying to sound Russian at this point), in steps Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) to give everyone a choice: either agree to the sanctions, to be potentially overruled in any given situation if it is deemed necessary . . . or retire from the superhero biz.

And then everyone seems to get really mad. Needless to say, the stakes are high this time, higher than they were when Loki was trying to divide and conquer from within all those movies ago, if you can believe it . . . (wasn’t it pretty much doomsday then, too?) One side argues for their continued autonomy while the other, surprisingly spearheaded by a guilt-ridden Tony, believes having a watchdog might help prevent future awkward encounters with any living relatives of people he has inadvertently killed.

Thanks to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, two writers keen to redress familiar characters under this new guise of bitterness, distrust and uncertainty, there are equally compelling reasons to join either camp. In fact as Civil War progresses it gets ever more entrenched in the complexities of this ideological conflict. The appearance of a cold German militant named Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the one behind an earlier attack on the UN that claims the life of Wakanda King T’Chaka, father of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), inspires Steve to ignore new-age protocol as he attempts to stop Zemo from unleashing a secret arsenal of other Winter Soldiers being kept in cryogenic stasis at a Hydra facility in Siberia.

Civil War, like Tony and Steve, has a lot on its plate, but it wisely (and creatively) spreads the workload across its many players. Even if Downey Jr. takes this opportunity to effect a more somber version of his character than we’re used to seeing, that famous acerbic wit is never lost with the integration of Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and Tom Holland’s amazingly acne-free Peter Parker/Spider Man. Black Panther digs his claws in with menacing presence and a lot of righteous anger. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye returns as do Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Paul Bettany as the visionary . . . Vision.

Even though giving each their time to shine means taking some away from Evans, extended interactions between less famous figures are more than welcome and give these individuals purpose within the context of the cinematic retelling of their own journeys. Bettany is perhaps the highlight, his loyalty to protecting the lone Maximoff twin from destruction following her actions in Wakanda offering a miniaturized version of the conundrum facing Iron Man and Captain America. And then there’s Black Panther’s determination to take out the one responsible for his father’s death.

For all of the potential devastation that is implied Civil War isn’t a dour affair. It doesn’t dwell in misery, and it really could have. There’s a melancholy vibe here, but the Russo brothers seem comfortable conforming to Marvel’s standard of finding levity amidst dire circumstances, injecting humor into scenes that would otherwise trend DC-dark. (God forbid that ever happen.) A movie with ‘war’ in its title going the comedy route is a risky proposition, and though this isn’t devoid moments of weakness, the continued expansion of a world parallel to ours allows them to pass quickly. There’s so much going on that Civil War all but demands repeat viewings. Eight years into the game, that’s a very good thing for the MCU.

I wonder what the hot mom thought about all of it.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 1.03.32 AM

Recommendation: With the slightly-famous actors as comfortable as ever in their respective roles, Civil War benefits from the intersection of emotionally resonant performance and thoughtful, crafty storytelling. People like me — non-Captain fans — benefit greatly from the distraction of the other people around him fighting for what they believe is right for the future of the Avengers. A solid realization of a very complicated time, and the balance struck herein makes it one of my favorites of the entire MCU canon thus far.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking, or fantastic abilities they’d like to disclose, I’m open to suggestion.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.touchboyj-hero.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

Terminator Genisys

Release: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Laeta Kalogridis; Patrick Lussier

Directed by: Alan Taylor

He’s back . . . but is he better?

Of course the answer to that one is pretty easy. Arnie himself admits it, deflecting by describing himself as “old but not obsolete” in key moments where the action lulls and the characters just have to say something. Terminator Genisys is not nearly the disaster its predecessor was but doesn’t that feel more like a kick to the metallic groin than anything else? Alan Taylor’s follow-up is more complicated than any cyborg’s internal structure, it’s frenetically paced and pretty long but it does make good on reintroducing the franchise’s iconic T-800 in his (now-creaky) glory, as well as providing some unexpected comic relief that plays on both the franchise’s longevity and Genisys‘ conceptual convolution.

This film, as much as it likes to tout the return of Arnie, is primarily concerned with the prevention of Judgment Day, as John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the final charge against the machines amid the dire apocalyptic wasteland of the present-day established in Terminator Salvation. Seemingly having just watched X-Men: Days of Future Past, Connor believes humanity’s last hope is to send someone back in time to 1984 to kill Skynet before it becomes . . . you know, all corrupt and stuff. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers for the mission, desperate to meet up with Sarah Connor (Khaleesi Emilia Clarke) who will be instrumental in the preventative attack. Naturally, all does not go according to plan as a cyborg in the “present” makes it known that no matter what kind of effort humans will put forth, Skynet will come out on top.

Genisys spends much of its time weaving together parallel timelines, one in which Kyle Reese has existed and another that is completely foreign to him. Given the narrative structure, it’d be a great idea to refresh yourself on your history. I didn’t, and my head hurt because of it. While the mission itself is relatively straightforward — prevent Genisys, a Google-esque “app” capable of syncing more than just your nifty devices, from coming into being (a countdown clock helps in pinpointing our position relative to the dreaded ultimatum) — the execution requires real brainwork. Genisys, more simply put, is the physical means through which Skynet would eventually spread globally in computer servers.

In some senses it’s refreshing to be in the company of a blockbuster that makes you think but there are so many throwbacks to the original and T-2 that sighing and giving up halfway through becomes inevitable when one too many fight sequences occur between the real T-800 and his digitized forms, not to mention a T-1000 reminiscent of Robert Patrick’s shape-shifter. There’s a distinct Jurassic World insipidness about the way in which the film can’t break free from the pre-established, and yet new twists abound, the details of which I won’t reveal in order to keep some of the confusion sacred for those wanting to stay in the dark. Needless to say . . . well, actually it isn’t needless but I’ll say it anyway: Matt Smith plays a role in Genisys‘ major deception.

What’s most impressive about Alan Taylor’s revisitation of these hallowed grounds is his ability to skirt around the events of the third and fourth installments. While it does use Salvation‘s final rally against Skynet as a launch pad for its intricate time traveling plot, Genisys feels more inspired by James Cameron’s world building. We quickly leave the present behind (the year is 2017 — I think) and join forces with a younger but less brash Sarah Connor and an aging T-800 who is trying to blend in more with society, at least according to Sarah. In Genisys everyone’s favorite Terminator is wittier, talkier, more conscious of those around him. The essence of the character remains in tact though a mainstream appeal has certainly been foisted upon him. It’s a credit to Schwarzenegger that his identity isn’t lost in the shuffle; he is still very much a good reason to see this film.

More difficult to embrace is Jai Courtney’s blank-slate Kyle Reese who is reminiscent of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s soldier in Godzilla, for all intents and purposes an everyman slotted right in between two significant character arcs: Sarah’s relationship with the Terminator and with her son John, but ironically and unfortunately Courtney’s ill-equipped to carry the burden. His Reese won’t be any more, though probably not less, memorable than Anton Yelchin’s from 2009. And despite her best efforts Emilia Clarke doesn’t fare much better as the former-waitress-turned-gun-enthusiast. Together these steadily rising talents are meant to uphold Taylor’s vision of a world where humanity has its best chance of breaking Skynet’s brutal grip but they simply feel out of their depth in a story this large, especially when standing beside Schwarzenegger.

Of course, this is a franchise steeped in fascinating science fiction rather than award-winning performances. It’s getting old but it’s not quite obsolete. Not yet anyway. There’s plenty to enjoy for diehards. But with an emphasis on action and metal-on-metal showdowns it’ll prove challenging even for those viewers to juggle story and spectacle for two-plus hours. Taylor doesn’t have a good sense of pacing and seems far too eager to move on to the next set piece, which he’ll soon destroy for good measure. That becomes very problematic when dealing with timelines functioning in the present, past and future.

“Be quiet Arnie — Jai and I are trying to have chemistry.”

Recommendation: Alan Taylor manages to justify lengthening the Terminator saga, but barely. There’s a ton of narrative clutter in this film and it will leave a great many scratching their heads on their way out the door. But for simple pleasures, like seeing Arnie back in action, and crazy big explosions, the film delivers. There is a post-credits scene that nearly everyone in my screening missed out on by leaving too soon so be sure to stick around for that! 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve been waiting for you.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com