2019 Summer Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

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The Avengers fight against time in Avengers: Endgame. (Source: IMDb)

It has been more than ten years since Iron Man released in theaters. A movie that marked the introduction to a franchise that would eventually span across 23 movies. Ranging from truly great movies to cinematic disappointments, the franchise introduced so many characters that everyone has either grown to love or love to hate. Even seeing the core superheroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk, teaming up in 2012’s The Avengers was a movie buff’s dream come true. Everyone has known their origins and how they evolve in modern society. The latest entry, Avengers: Endgame, marks the end of an era.

The movie leaves off after the heartbreaking finale of Avengers: Infinity War, where the powerful demigod Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe with the snap of his fingers. The remaining Avengers, which include Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), must find a way to bring their allies back. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns after spending five years in the “quantum realm”. He figures out a way to travel back in time. The Avengers reassemble to undo Thano’s actions once and for all.

[This is only the set-up. If I go on about the plot, it would give away too many plot points.]

Anthony and Joe Russo return to the director’s chair for an epic for the ages. Written with enough razor-sharp wit and poignancy by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, there is so much going on that the three-hour runtime goes by like a breeze. It’s easily the most depressing film in the MCU (I admit, this is one of the few movies where I did get misty-eyed), since it follows the superheroes dealing with trauma after Infinity War. They all have one more chance to set everything right before it’s too late in some thrilling action set pieces.

The movie features the biggest cast in any blockbuster in the last twenty years. Every single one of them all have their shining moments. The ones who stand out are Downey Jr., Evans, Hemsworth, Renner, and Johansson. At this point, all of the characters write themselves.

I can’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion than Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, though. The MCU is far from over. Peter Parker is making his return this summer in Spider-Man: Far from Home. There are upcoming television spin-off series centering on Loki and Hawkeye among others (not to mention Disney owning 20th Century Fox). There’s plenty more to come for this seemingly endless franchise.

10/10

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2017 Summer Movie Review: Wind River

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Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is on the hunt in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. (Source: Slash Film)

Taylor Sheridan has crafted two of the best screenplays so far this decade with Sicario and Hell or High Water. He perfectly blends graphic violence with humanity set in a social and economic climate—for instance, the War on Drugs of Sicario and the economic crisis of Texas in Hell or High Water. Sheridan’s latest, Wind River, is his directorial debut and brings forth what made his two previous films so brilliant. This time, set in the most remote area of the United States. So remote even the officials do not have the statistics of how many Native American people have gone missing.

In Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is assigned to hunt for predators who kill livestock. One day, while out in the snowy wilderness, he stumbles upon the corpse of an eighteen-year-old Native American girl named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Along with FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), Lambert is assigned to investigate the presumed murder of the girl, whose father (Gil Birmingham) is stricken with grief about his loss.

Filmed in and around Park City, Utah (the home of Sundance Film Festival), this movie is as realistic as it is devastating. Sheridan puts it to miraculous use with his great screenplay and direction, hauntingly beautiful visuals, and violence so sudden it’s effective. The characters feel like real people.

Renner’s Lambert almost resembles the tropes of a classic Western hero. He’s a caring father who is dealing with a rough past. He knows every area of the snowy Wyoming Mountains (not to mention a keen eye when it comes to hunting game). The scenes he has with the girl’s father (superb performance by Birmingham) are some of the finest moments I’ve seen this year at the movies. Olsen’s Banner, in contrast, is a rookie coming from Las Vegas. She arrives on the scene without bringing any winter clothes. But—she ends up being in charge of the investigation with Lambert. These two stars are at the top of their game here.

Once the violence comes into the picture, it makes the audience jump out of their skin. With its slow burn, the movie leads up to one satisfying payoff. I’m hoping Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay will be a tie-in for an Oscar nomination. This is one of the year’s best films.

4/4

Movie Review: Arrival

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Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) sees something in the distance in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. (Source: Seattle Times)

After making two of the best films of the decade—Prisoners and Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve transitions to the realm of science fiction. It’s the kind of science fiction that doesn’t rely on action sequences, but rather on words and ideas.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguistics professor whose lecture is interrupted by news coverage of twelve alien pods hovering in different locations around the world. She is accepted by Colonel GT Weber (Forest Whitaker) to go to a site in Montana where one of the pods is located. As the leader of a group of including theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise tries everything to communicate with the aliens. The closer she gets to solve the mystery, the closer the other nations are to a war.

Like with his two previous films, Villeneuve gives the power of what filmmaking is all about. Something that shakes us to the very core. Something that is realistic. Something that can be discussed about for years. While it can be compared to other sci-fi movies such as Signs or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Arrival is more than just your usual alien invasion flick. It asks questions such as: Who and what are these beings? Why are they here? Do they pose as a threat to humanity, or otherwise?

What’s part of the film’s brilliance is it’s entirely grounded in the realm of the need to communicate. Thanks to a miraculous screenplay by Eric Heisserer, it makes the audience try to solve the puzzle for themselves, while, thanks to the Villeneuve’s smooth direction, absorbing them into the mystery and the majestic beauty of Bradford Young’s cinematography provided by Johann Johannsson’s angelic score. While it doesn’t move at a fast pace, it takes its time to develop questions and makes us wonder the outcome.

Amy Adams’ Louise is so compassionate and persevered that she can do anything to connect with the aliens rather than start a fight with them (I’ll be glad if she gets some Oscar recognition for this movie). Providing enough wit and charisma from Renner and Whitaker, they are also the heart and soul of this devastatingly powerful film.

Arrival is what Interstellar should have been. A rich, thought-provoking, mind-bending experience that has absolutely no time for any B.S. One of the year’s best!

4/4

2015 Summer Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) rides a motorcycle again in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) rides a motorcycle again in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

In 1996, an action hero has been introduced. His name is Ethan Hunt. An agent working for the IMF (Impossible Mission Force); going on one impossible mission after the next. Each mission has been fun despite hitting a few bumps in the road. In Mission: Impossible, he’s a slick, sophisticated agent. Hunt gives a different side in Mission: Impossible II as more of a James Bond playboy. Then he goes back to being the cool agent as he ever was. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, he takes part of the most impossible mission of his career.

There is an international threat called the Syndicate. A network of highly skilled operatives setting terrorist attacks who intend to take down the IMF. Meanwhile, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) stands in front of the judge to disband the IMF. Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team – old pal Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – join forces with agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who may or may not be on Syndicate’s side. Their mission – which they accept – is to take down the Syndicate.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, writer of Edge of Tomorrow) provides enough laughs, action, thrills, and exposition into this incredibly ambitious flick. Like before, the movie shows how hard the mission is with things going wrong in the process.

Cruise embraces the action movie role. If you thought Tom Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was insane, he does plenty more death-defying stunts in Rogue Nation. At one point, Hunt is hanging on the side of cargo plane (which took eight takes). The next point he is swimming underwater – in a quiet and terrifying sequence – without an oxygen tank. He and Dunn drive through Casablanca from motorcyclists. With surprises along the way, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation puts you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Pitch-perfect summer movie entertainment!

4/4

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climbs the tallest building in the world in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol". Yes, Tom Cruise did his own stunts.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climbs the tallest building in the world in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”. Yes, Tom Cruise did his own stunts.

Brad Bird, known for his work for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, gives an impressive live-action debut with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. He literally brings the series to a whole new level.

After escaping from a Moscow prison, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) joins his new team of IMF agents – field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) – to stop Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), a Swedish nuclear activist. They enter the Kremlin. Hunt and Dunn hide behind a projector in a hallway to find the archives of Hendricks. Halfway through the mission, a bomb destroys the Kremlin. Hunt is accused of the attack. The President initiates “Ghost Protocol”, which allows the IMF to be disavowed. In order to clear their name, they must track down Hendricks to prevent him from starting a nuclear war.

Out of all of the movies, Ghost Protocol is easily the funniest, the most exciting, and the most entertaining. The scenes in which Hunt climbs the Burj Khalifa (“Your line’s not long enough!” “No shit!”) and chases Hendricks through a sandstorm are action-movie gold. It’s insane how Tom Cruise can do what no other actor can do: performing stunts. Throughout the series, Cruise performed most, if not, all of his own stunts. He’s probably the best action hero. His chemistry with his teammates are excellent, especially with Simon Pegg who have some really funny parts together. The characters have some great back-stories.

This movie actually proves how impossible the mission can be. For instance, when Hunt wears a special type of gloves that can stick to any surface. When the light shines blue, it sticks (Blue = Glue; Red = Dead). His gloves start to malfunction. It makes the scene all the more suspenseful. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is, in my opinion, the best of the series.

4/4

2015 Summer Movie Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Avengers are back to spring into action in

The Avengers are back to spring into action in “Age of Ultron”

The Avengers was a movie buff’s dream come true. It brought all of the superheroes that were introduced in the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, to team up in one gigantic battle for humanity. The movie had everything a superhero movie should be: hilarious, action-packed, and miraculously entertaining. Phase two hit plenty of bumps in the road (Thor: The Dark World), but it was nice to see how each member has hold up after that battle in New York City. The Avengers are back in the highly anticipated sequel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, to give us more of the fun as well as some emotion. And prepares the audience what has yet to come in phase three.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) create Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence who would protect humanity. Things go awry when Ultron becomes dangerous plans to take over the world (much better dealt with here than in Chappie). Stark and Banner, along with Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), spring into action again.

Without spoiling too much, Joss Whedon hits it out of the park with sensational action (especially a visually dazzling and hilarious stand-off between Iron Man and the Hulk), witty-as-hell dialogue, and beautiful cinematography. The movie had more laughs than most mainstream comedies today. It’s refreshing to see Hawkeye more as a character. However, it isn’t a perfect movie. Whedon introduces new characters, like the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Even though they are well in-depth characters, I think I prefer Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. I would like to see more of the subplot with Ultron planning to take over the world. Despite that, I had an absolute blast!

Some day, I would like to see a crossover between The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Who’s with me?

3.5/4