Director Chris McKay shows audiences exactly where a famous caped crusader gets those wonderful toys in the whimsical mini-fig laden animated feature The LEGO Batman Movie (B). A spinoff of 2014’s similarly hilarious The LEGO Movie, this new movie’s creators prove the novelty behind these films is not a one-brick pony. Will Arnett successfully voices a braggadocio Dark Knight and enriches the legend with a story about the hero’s solitude and emerging pangs for a community of his own. Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Rosario Dawson as the new police commissioner of Gotham City and especially Michael Cera as Robin help create a lively surrogate gang of foils and family. The humor is nonstop with anarchic delights as McKay and his team plunder both the DC and Warner Brothers canons for an endless parade of cameos ranging from Martian Manhunter to Stripe Gremlin. Like a Richard Scarry book come to life with Wonder Woman twirling her lasso in one corner of the frame while Zan, Jayna and Gleek do a conga line, there’s more visual feast on the screen than can be absorbed. The film’s builders demonstrate an uncanny knowledge of the superhero films preceding this one and even pull from a Superman universe plot line to propel the narrative. There’s enough action, comedy and heart to please the palettes of all who attend; and although it’s hard to top the novelty of the first film made of bricks, these pegs have legs. SaveSaveSave
Benedict Cumberbatch casts one helluva spell as an intellectual, cerebral superhero with the ability to shape-shift his surroundings in Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange (B), a mostly engaging entry into the Marvel multiverse. The title character is an arrogant surgeon who gets his comeuppance in a crushing car accident and subsequently turns to mystical arts in an effort to heal. Cumberbatch is an unlikely protagonist, but he’s witty, literate and believable in a world in which the supernatural stakes mount mightily. Like Tony Stark/Ironman, his smarminess and smarts with science help his journey take flight. Derrickson cribs from Christopher Nolan a bit too much with secret societies of Asian warriors and Inception style city bending, but the overall vibe is cunning and imaginative. If anything the pace could have been picked up in Kundun style monastery sequences. The effects of hopping out of one’s body make for some giddy multitasking fight sequences, and the hero’s CGI cape should win best supporting costume. Tilda Swinton commands her every mesmerizing sequence as a trippy bald sorceress in a mustard-colored frock. Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor don’t get much to do as an ER doctor and fellow warrior, respectively; and Mads Mikkelsen is menacing as a baddie who looks like he just finished a bender at the discotheque. But it’s really the casting of the central role that’s the coup de grace of this time and space oddity.
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (C) does a good job introducing and humanizing an ensemble of D.C. Universe villains. Each gets his or her own visual fact file, akin to a baseball card or Pokemon pop-up stats, which is a helpful entree into some potential future adventures. Alas the story in this origin film, a mission in which the antagonists are temporarily released from prison to defeat a witchy villain, is rather perfunctory. And dimly lit. Will Smith is solid as deadly hitman Deadshot, and Margot Robbie is a delight as Harley Quinn, the coquettish one liner-dropping former psychiatrist girlfriend of The Joker (Jared Leto, in a small bit). Viola Davis is also notable as the badass government official who gets the gang together. The effects are only ok. The jukebox of rock songs on the soundtrack are recycled from better sequences in better films. And there’s little in the save the world storyline that hasn’t been done better before. The spare moments of inspiration and flourish simply make viewers wish there were more of them. All in all, the sum of some pretty interesting parts is a bit underwhelming.
See! Gee! Aye! There’s lots of razzle dazzle effects on view in Bryan Singer’s pre-fab spectacle X-Men: Apocalypse (C), but there’s very little of interest in terms of character or story. In what seems to be an endless multiyear slog of filmed origins, this installment introduces us to the beginnings of Cyclops and Storm. What next, Kitty Pride: How I Got My Stripes, Parts 1-3? The plot of this sluggish sixth entry hangs loosely on the earth-cleanding machinations of a resurrected Egyptian mutant played by Oscar Isaac pancaked under blue makeup and poor writing. The film is all over the map: when Evan Peters gets to freeze time as Quicksilver, it’s exhilarating; but when director Singer stretches time for an endless showdown involving Michael Fassbender’s Magneto extracting metal from the soil for a full reel, it’s just tedious. Jennifer Lawrence gets the most screen time, almost by default. Yay, paycheck! The lack of clear focus or central protagonist doesn’t give you much to root for. It’s the kind of water-treading CGI throwaway that neither embarrasses not delights. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it’s a rather tepid start to the summer movie season.
Now this is a heist! Anthony and Joe Russo ostensibly entered the picture with the directing gig for a third Captain America film, but they have actually stolen the show by helming the third, most ambitious Avengers movie. Their Captain America: Civil War (A) is full of delightful surprises, spending its first hour tracing geopolitical machinations and espionage as the embattled heroes contemplate a global accords to put self-controls on their unbridled power. The film explores the consequences of compromise, the bounds of brotherhood and the limits of vengeance in what crescendos to some of the most artful fight choreography and breakneck stunt work to have been committed to screen in a major superhero film. To both Marvel stalwarts and casual fans alike, there is ample accessibility into the multilayered narrative. There are also enough great actors stuffed into the epic to populate an Altman film or a ’70s disaster ensemble. Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Macke are among the most impressive veterans; and Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman add to the embarrassment of riches as an amusing Spider-Man and noble Black Panther, respectively, who become embroiled in the splinter cells of the saga. The movie is very entertaining when it goes full fan-boy: I really liked the enthusiasm Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) embodies in meeting Chris Evans’ Captain America. If there’s any complaint, it’s the blandness of Evans’ snoozy character across the equivalent of two trilogies (Did I miss Captain America: The Summer Siesta?). The cap’n may be the wrong guy to match wits with the wry hybrid who is half Tony Stark/half Iron Man. But everything comes together so well: I nearly expected a full-cast singalong to an Aimee Mann song. Overall, there’s a natural elegance and specificity to each heroes’ personal powers as they jigsaw their way into the nooks and crannies of their physical and emotional brinkmanship. By the time they’ve been battered and bewildered by the events of the Russo Brothers’ deft spectacle, they will convince you that preserving unswerving power for good is worth the fight. It’s a comic book caper on the surface with rousing rumbles, but its grace and gravitas run more than spandex deep.
Zack Synder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (C) is schizophrenic in virtually every way, from its title that purports to be both an unexpected showdown as well as a Justice League origin story to keeping up with each of its title characters and their respective alter egos. I swear you’d need a 3-D modeling kit to diagram this plot; and for comic book fans already accustomed to a multiverse of known rules, the film complicates the landscape even further and not always in good ways. The first hour is rather compelling as we see ways earthlings are grappling with its Kryptonian savior, resulting in intercontinental espionage, congressional hearings and noirish double crosses. It gets complicated though when Alexander Luthor, played with relish by Jesse Eisenberg, hatches a way to kill Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) that somehow involves Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) using Kryptonite to level the playing field and fight to the death as mere mortals. All of this is made even more vexing by it not being entirely clear why Batman is near masochistically intent on destroying a super guy who he may have one or two passing disagreements with. And, oh yeah, there’s a Kryptonian villain plus Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to introduce, the latter with guitar riffs that sound composed by Bill & Ted. It’s not a complete folly, but there’s a bit more blistering bombast than any film should contain. So many aspects actually work that it’s a shame it just gets overstuffed. The production values, the always reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane and some of the set-pieces are first rate. Alas Affleck and his hybrid butler/inventor (Jeremy Irons, collecting a paycheck), seem lost at sea. Which reminds me, where did Aquaman go? You’ll ultimately be exhausted as this buffet often has explosive consequences. Although much of the movie is lively and engaging, beware whatever they’re smoking in Snyder’s basement.
Wielding a war arsenal ranging from zingers to Zambonis, comfortable going commando for confrontations and partial to the musical stylings of Wham! to set the mood, the titular hero of Tim Miller’s Deadpool (A-) leapfrogs most recent films in the comic book genre in terms of both action and comedy in a single bound. Ryan Reynolds offers a career re-defining role breathing fleet-footed life into a wry, wisecracking mercenary that leaves Han Solo, Iron Man and Wolverine in the collective dust. His vulgar and animated antics are sensational. Morena Baccarin gives him a run for his money as his idiosyncratic lady love, and Ed Skrein is fantastic as the diabolical villain. The protagonist’s deal with the devil when facing a terminal cancer diagnosis sets the stage for a very different pathway into motivations ranging from romance to revenge that give the proceedings amped-up resonance. From the self-referential opening credits to musical montages that are note-perfect (you won’t soon forget the “Calendar Girl” sequence), Miller and the crackling writing team fashion a hipster antihero who is brash and brilliant. It’s a dark, profane, bloody and bonkers great time at the movies.
Note about Deadpool in theatres:
Whether it’s a high speed car chase or shoot-out, Dolby Atmos® puts the movie audience in the center of the action. Dolby Cinemas are only available in select markets, but they are the best places to see, feel and hear a truly immersive experience. Here is a link to all available Dolby Cinemas: https://www.amctheatres.com/amc-prime. For our Atlanta readers, the closest Dolby Cinemas location is AMC Prime North Point Mall 12 – Alpharetta, Georgia.
Like a pest at a picnic, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man (C-) is all over the place and quite irritating. Paul Rudd provides his cat burglar turned miniaturized superhero with about as little charisma as possible and certainly none of his trademark comedy. He and love interest Evangeline Lilly, villain Corey Stoll and physicist impresario Michael Douglas could power a Polar Express with their glassy-eyed lack of expression. Only Michael Peña shines in a comic role as a heist henchman with a penchant for telling thrilling backstories. While the special effects are adequate (shrinking hero on a neon disco floor was a nice look), this is definitely storytelling on a small scale with CGI ant armies displaying about as much charm as crowd sequences at a George Lucas pod race. Most elements of the film are simply average. Capable of bringing out the superpower of snooze, this is a lesser entry in the Marvel universe if ever there was one.
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Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (C) assembles all of the superheroes from the original hit but little of the wit for a flimsy follow-up. Lumbering, uninspired and overlong, the film now carries the burden of having to extend the franchise that’s now in spinoffs, on TV and cross-platform. It all seems like a perfunctory business exercise; attempts to elevate the excitement and the scale of the fight sequences just become lugubrious. Without a clear protagonist and with a metal villain whose intentions beyond destruction are unclear, the film limps to its inevitable box office triumph. One sequence with the heroes all trying to hoist Thor’s hammer captures the potential charm of this many greats in one comic movie; the rest is forced.
Returning to the director’s chair he occupied for the franchise’s first two installments, Bryan Singer brings little new inspiration to X-Men Days of Future Past (C-), a tedious time travel installment in which the veteran ensemble of mutant superheroes sends Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine back to the ’70’s to help his First Class colleagues of younger selves avert a robot war started by Peter Dinklage. After filmgoers have enjoyed better warped reality executions in Inception, more fun with period detail in American Hustle and more all-around humor and adventure in The Avengers, this fifth (or seventh, depending on how you count) outing of this Marvel menagerie just seems like too little too late. It’s especially disappointing coming off a reboot prequel and an origin story (thanks Matthew Vaughn and James Mangold) that held together more effectively. Jackman phones it in, and Jennifer Lawrence gets nary enough screen time to develop her status as a character playing both sides of warring mutant factions. Most series regulars are reduced to extended cameos (Halle Barry may or may not have been computer generated). James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, given amazing characters in their past outing, are merely at the service of set pieces here. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is a singular highlight with one hilarious montage of time-lapsed highjinks. There is missed opportunity with the waning days of the Vietnam War and the age of Watergate to have had something more to say here about the need for heroes. Instead the series simply needs to be rescued back from Singer’s lugubrious and poorly plotted return.
Director Mark Webb is in fine command of the energy, acting, humor, gravitas, story and effects for the entertaining summer comic book movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (B). Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone lend their considerable charms to the leading roles in a sequel that is part romance as the central duo tries to balance a flirty relationship and the distraction of constant superheroics, part mystery as Peter Parker delves deeper into the events surrounding his parents’ disappearance and part action movie as Jamie Foxx becomes Electro with a plot that threatens to seap great power (and responsibility) from the island of Manhattan. Although Webb could be accused of cramming a bit much into this installment, the actors give heart and earnestness to their performances, and it all seems well grounded in NYC and among real people trying to grow up and wrestle with the consequences of genetic experiments gone awry. A final act surprise or two lay the sacs for some sinister villainy to come. This new Spidey series swings along dandily; it shoots and scores.
Director James Mangold channels his inner adamantium to create a steely summer adventure with The Wolverine (B+). This Tokyo-set saga features Hugh Jackman in top form and grounded story and stunts that deliver the goods. This actioner features some nice action alchemy for fans eager to see this character soldier on.