2019 Summer Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Peter Parker (Tom Holland) joins Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to save the world in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the final film of Phase Three in the MCU. (Source: Thrillist)

The friendly-neighborhood superhero has been a staple in popular culture for years. According to a graph in 2016, Spider-Man has made $1.6 billion in global retail sales (yes, more than The Avengers, Batman, and Superman combined). He has appeared on toys, lunchboxes, cereal boxes, candy wrappers, video games, television shows, and, of course, movies. After being famously played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, British actor Tom Holland swung into action to make his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War

With everyone’s expectations went through the roof, he went onto appear in his standalone film, the surprisingly terrific Spider-Man: Homecoming, which contained amusing elements to ‘80s-nostalgia. With it paying tribute to John Hughes, Spider-Man: Far From Home pays tribute to the National Lampoon’s Vacation films. It’s a pitch-perfect film set in a post-Avengers: Endgame era.

Peter Parker (Holland) struggles to get back to his normal life; trying to ace his classes as a high school student by day and fight criminals as Spider-Man by night. He is excited to go on his trip to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) among other students, because it will give him a chance to tell MJ (Zendaya) on how he truly feels about her. Great power comes great responsibility when Peter witnesses one of four monsters, known as The Elementals (that make up of earth, fire, air, and water), wreak havoc through Venice. Illusionist Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes into save Peter and his friends. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) assign Peter to help Mysterio take down The Elementals once and for all.

Yes, there are plenty of thrilling action set pieces, particularly one set at a festival in Prague in which he tries to save Ned and his girlfriend Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys). However, the movie shines bright when Peter interacts with his peers, getting into trouble (at times) in humorous ways, or when he is stricken with grief. Holland plays a more angsty Peter, yet, he still manages to bring enough charm and awkwardness to the table. Whenever he gets upset, we feel his pain. Whenever he swings into action, we cheer. 

He leads a gifted supporting cast. From knowing him in the Spider-Man 2 video game, it’s exciting to see Mysterio (or Quentin Beck) makes his first on-screen appearance. Gyllenhaal couldn’t be more perfect for the role! If Tony Stark was a father figure to Peter, Beck is viewed as the “cool uncle”, as director John Watts describes him. He and Holland have some great chemistry. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, who has a bigger role than in the previous entries in the MCU, and provides some good laughs, especially when he flirts with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Batalon’s Ned still has perfect comedic-timing and Zendaya’s MJ is as dark as she is engaging.

After the heart-breaking finales of both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, it’s about time Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers give some of what made Homecoming great; a light-hearted, energetic, hilarious, and visually dazzling sequel with plenty of dark, emotional moments and pleasant surprises sprinkled throughout. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a much-needed light-hearted escapism after Endgame. Although I wanted more, it’s just as fun as Homecoming. It ends with plenty of room for Spider-Man and what is yet to come in Phase Four.

9/10

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Movie Review: Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) suits up in Marvel’s Captain Marvel. (Source: Radio Times)

Last year was one helluva year for the MCU. Black Panther was history in the making upon its release. It became the highest-grossing film in the series as well as the highest-grossing film to feature a mostly African-American cast and directed by an African-American filmmaker. Not only that, it became the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture Oscar (but lost to the timely and old-fashioned Green Book). With Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp both ending on cliffhangers, audiences wait in anticipation on what will happen to our superheroes.

Captain Marvel comes into save the day. But first, here’s another film about the origins of the superhero.

Vers (Brie Larson) lives on the planet Hala, and is part of an alien race known as Kree. Suffering from dreams of another life on Earth as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, she is caught in the middle of a war between her race and the Skrulls, who have shapeshifting abilities. Her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) wants Vers to control her emotions carefully. When her pod crash lands inside a Blockbuster video store in Los Angeles in 1995, she joins forces with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to end the alien war before it’s too late.

It’s surprising to hear this movie receiving a mixed reception compared to the previous entries. Yes, it might have the familiar tropes of superhero origin stories of the past. And yes, it’s far from the best and the worst in the series. But–writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half-Nelson, Mississippi Grind) manage to bring in the fun and poignancy into this empowering tale of the means of being human.

Larson electrifies as the titular hero, whose superpowers include super-strength, endurance, stamina, and throwing fireballs with her fists. She has trouble remembering where she came from. Then, she reunites with her old friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), a single mother to 11-year-old Monica (Akira Akbar); looking through old pictures of herself trying to fit the pieces of the puzzles (in one emotional scene). As Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) tells her, “We don’t fight wars, we end them.”

The first act is sluggish than its predecessors. Once Danvers lands on Earth, the pace starts to pick up with its references to ‘90s nostalgia, witty dialogue, dazzling effects, and almost wall-to-wall action. Jackson’s Nick Fury provides plenty of good laughs, especially when he shows his soft side when he encounters a cat named Goose. The rest of the cast is fine although forgettable. Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is still a good time early in the year. Bring on, Avengers: Endgame!

8/10

Movie Review: Glass

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Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), Kevin (James McAvoy), and David (Bruce Willis) are checking into a mental institution in Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s conclusion to his Eastrail 177 trilogy. (Source: The Atlantic)

In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan made a movie where it used the superhero genre with a twist. While a modest hit in theaters, Unbreakable became one of the greatest cult classics of all-time. Filled with originality, subtle performances by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as David and Elijah, two individuals who discuss a comic-book theory after David survives from a tragic train crash without breaking any bones, and Shyamalan’s clever writing and directing approach by having a comic-book feel to every shot (e.g. the greens and purples during the characters’ arcs).

After years of mishaps, Shyamalan returns to form with Split, an unnerving psychological thriller about the effects of dissociative identity disorder. James McAvoy’s wonderful performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, inspired by the real-life DID patient Billy Milligan, will send chills down one’s spine. These three people would eventually meet each other for the first time in a third movie.

Enter Glass, a movie with every intention to become a satisfying finale to one of the best trilogies in existence. Unfortunately, this is half-true.

After the events of Split, security guard David Dunn (Willis) works at a security firm in Philadelphia. Taking the alias The Overseer, he uses his supernatural abilities to see crimes people have committed by bumping into them. He learns from his now-adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) that Kevin (McAvoy) is holding a group of cheerleaders hostage in an abandoned factory. After an intense fight, they are sent to the same psychiatric hospital that wheelchair-bound Elijah Price (Jackson), who has Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta (a rare disease in which his bone breaks really easily), has been staying at for years. While under the supervision of doctor Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) specializes in patients who believe to be superheroes (which sounds far-fetched beyond repair. There is something about her motivation that makes it somewhat captivating), all hell begins to break loose,

While not a complete disaster, it’s great to see Shyamalan return to his familiar roots after the surprise of Split. Jackson and Willis aren’t given much to do, but they do have their shining moments. However, McAvoy steals the spotlight once again as Kevin. While Split showed only nine of his 24 personalities, this movie shows 20 of them. Just like before, some of his personalities–particularly Hedwig–can be funny in an unnerving way. I swear, one of his personalities almost reminded me of Nic Cage. There is also more backstory surrounding him and other characters.

Along with his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, he uses a lot of clever film techniques (ranging from POV to its flashbacks). I love the shot where Elijah escapes in his wheelchair while a fight ensues in the background. The first two acts are gripping enough. It reunites the characters we know and love. It’s also surprising to see the return of some supporting characters from the previous entries, like Kevin’s former hostage Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard). There is a lot of patience given as the three characters start to evolve and learn about Elijah’s theory about the existence of superheroes, in which Glass does a great job exploring deeper into. There are plenty of twists throughout the film, in which Shyamalan is known for, which is part of the problem.

Without giving anything away, the last act, while exciting, feels a little too busy. It comes off as being preposterous and pedestrian, even by Shyamalan’s standards. It leaves people scratching their heads once the credits start to roll. Despite the disappointing final act, Glass is still gripping as it is fascinating. I’m more than glad these movies exist.

7.5/10

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

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Kong is still king in the latest entry in the MonsterVerse. (Source: IMDb)

It’s been over eighty years since “The Eighth Wonder of the World” made his first appearance. In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, no one had ever seen a movie as ambitious as King Kong. Created through stop-motion effects (by special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien) and giant models, this giant ape became one of the first memorable movie monsters. The classic is still loved by generations of film buffs and filmmakers.

Kong travelled to Japan to fight monsters including Godzilla until settling in America to prove he’s the king. This aspired two remakes featuring Kong. The silly yet decent 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production saw him fall for our female protagonist on the island, but the big difference is he fights on top of the World Trade Center rather than the Empire State Building in both the original and the 2005 remake. The overlong yet marvelous 2005 version, directed by Peter Jackson, became a dream come true for the filmmaker. The 1933 original is what inspired him to make movies in the first place. If the world didn’t have Peter Jackson, we wouldn’t have another movie featuring King Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts marks the return for the monster in Kong: Skull Island. This reboots screams the 1970s. The Vietnam War. The Nixon administration. The Peace Corps. Creedence Clearwater Revival. And, most importantly, it pays tribute to Apocalypse Now.

The year is 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires a diverse team of experts including British Special Forces Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to map out Skull Island. Once they arrive, they encounter various creatures as well as Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on the island since the end of World War II. He is the perfect guy to ask about the island as a whole. As the team help each other off the island, they encounter the king himself.

As someone who enjoys monster movies, I couldn’t imagine if there would ever be a franchise featuring two of the most memorable monsters in cinema: King Kong and Godzilla. After seeing the 2014 version of Godzilla, I got the feeling of anxiety about the fact of another movie universe. With the MonsterVerse being a thing, it’s an awesome feeling to see a wonderful monster grace the silver screen once again in this day and age. The creatures in Kong: Skull Island easily overshadow the human characters. It’s not to say they are all forgettable.

The movie proves Hiddleston needs to be the next James Bond; he’s got the charisma and the badass fight choreography to pull it all off. Fresh from winning an Oscar for her performance in Room, Brie Larson is becoming one of the best actresses of this generation. She provides the bravery in her role as the photojournalist pushing the gender boundaries of the time. John C. Reilly steals every scene he’s in providing just enough laughs to even out the visually stunning and heart-pumping action.

The 2014 version of Godzilla and the 2005 version of King Kong both follow the roots of Jaws, where it takes an awfully long time to know the main characters before seeing the monster that the audience has been anticipating to see. With Kong: Skull Island, it doesn’t take long at all. The audience is introduced to the team and they are put on a wild ride. Once Kong makes him introduction, he is the biggest ape of them all—ranging about 100 feet tall. He’s aggressive yet defensive about his territory.

While the first act can be a bit rushed and some of the dialogue can be cheesy, there is enough visual beauty to feast the eyes. I can’t wait for Kong and Godzilla go at it in 2020.

3/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan

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Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) go out to rescue Jane in David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan.

When someone brings up Tarzan, you might think of the original book by Edgar Rice Burroughs from 1900s. Maybe you have seen the films starring Johnny Weissmuller from the 1930s with his famous cry, or—for millennials; myself included—have grown up with the 1999 Disney animated film with Phil Collins providing the soundtrack.

David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) brings back the familiar face in The Legend of Tarzan. It’s not just an origin story. Compared to other versions, it follows closely to Burroughs’ source material. Yates puts some serious effort into this grand adventure for a modern audience, but it left me wanting more.

Years after living in the African jungles for most of his life, John Clayton III, or Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) leaves his gorilla family behind to live in a gorgeous estate in England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). When they enter the Congo once again, they encounter Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who works under King Leopold of Belgium. He comes up with a scheme to capture John and Jane to exchange for diamonds. With the help from George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), John swings into action to save his wife from Rom.

Yates brings his magnificent vision that made his final two Harry Potter films such an epic conclusion. The panoramic shots of Africa (featuring realistic computer-generated animals) give the feeling that the audience is in for quite an adventure. While the movie is visually stunning, most of its narrative takes itself way too seriously; not to mention Tarzan’s origins feeling a bit rushed.

With Skarsgård leading a solid cast with his massive physique and warm emotion, they aren’t put in a lot of depth. Waltz’s portrayal of Rom is nothing but your stereotypical villain. Robbie’s Jane is more independent than in the other versions. As real-life George Washington Williams, Jackson provides the film’s wit and energy that most of the film lacks. Nevertheless, thanks to its nifty visuals, heart-pounding action, and sheer beauty, The Legend of Tarzan is a good attempt bringing the rope-swinging hero back to the silver screen.

2.5/4

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Colin Firth brings his British swagger in Matthew Vaughn's "Kingsman: The Secret Service"

Colin Firth brings his British swagger in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a head of an elite spy organization called “Kingsman”. After one of his agents gets killed in one of the missions, he sees a lot of potential in Eggsy (Taran Egerton), a London street kid who has no job and spends most of his time at a pub and getting into trouble with the law. He recruits him as one of the possible replacement agents. Eggsy undergoes in dangerous training. Meanwhile, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire with a lisp who cannot stand the sight of blood, plans a mass genocide by selling SIM cards, so when people buy them, they’ll get a signal which causes them to become violent. Hart and Eggsy spring into action to save the world.

Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) makes a fun satire on British spy movies, particularly James Bond. You got the heroes and villains in suits, amusing puns and one-liners, and an awesome variety of gadgets. Although it can be too far-fetched and mean-spirited, there is a lot to enjoy. It’s great to see three of the best British actors – Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine – as the leads. Firth, in particular, can do no wrong. Not to mention performing most of his stunts during the film’s most amazing fight sequences. Jackson plays one of the best villains in recent years. If anyone doesn’t take this movie seriously, especially with the scene involving a fight at a hate church, I guarantee they will have a great time.

3/4

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Marvel's First Avenger comes back to face against the Winter Soldier

Marvel’s First Avenger comes back to face against the Winter Soldier

I am not a comic book reader, but I am quite a comic book movie aficionado. Either if they are based on the DC or Marvel Comics, I would become invested in the superhero’s motivations; how the characters got their powers and knowing what it means to become a true hero in our society. Captain America is one of the more fascinating of all of the superheroes I have seen. He’s right up there with Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, and Iron Man–to name a few.

The new movie featuring the iconic hero, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more than just another Marvel superhero movie. It is, on its own terms, a political thriller featuring enough action, twists, turns, and laughs to rank it among the best of Marvel’s movies, which are The Avengers and Iron Man.

Providing a more complex story than its predecessor from 2011, the movie opens up with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) living a quiet life in Washington, D.C. Because he has been struggling to fit into our society after being frozen for 70 years, he decides to catch up on all the pop culture he missed out on since the 1940s. When S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes threatened by an assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) coming into our nation’s capital, Rogers suits up, once again, as Captain America, teams up with Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to solve the mystery.

Chris Evans brings a lot more depth into his role of Steve Rogers/Captain America. You can tell how much he has gone through over the years. Although he still has the charm and confidence, he realizes how powerful his abilities are. Becoming  skilled in parkour, martial arts, running, and boxing, he could probably set plenty of records in the Olympic Games.

Samuel L. Jackson proves how awesome he truly is as Nick Fury in one of the movie’s biggest action sequence. Scarlett Johansson is always great as Black Widow; I think it’s time for a Black Widow movie. Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, the senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., makes a fantastic antagonist in one marvelous film.

4/4