Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming (B+) marks the superhero’s seventh on-screen adventure (as played by Tom Holland, he most recently had a minor but memorable role in Captain America: Civil War) and his first standalone Marvel movie, with small bits by a quintet of actors popularized in other universe franchise series. Thankfully this third reboot of the series eschews the origin story, spider bites and uncle tragedy and simply lets Peter Parker be a regular high school kid with an extraordinary extracurricular life. Tom Holland is superb as the awkward arachnolescent, and the film’s best sequences show him fumble through the stickiness of growing up. Following other roles in the bird and bat family, Michael Keaton is strong as villain Vulture, a salvage purveyor turned arms trafficker who assembles Avengers scraps into fancy new weapons. Watts is inventive with the teen scenes and largely successful on the action front (disaster sequences at Washington Monument, aboard a Staten Island Ferry and at Coney Island are believable). The stakes seemed a bit smaller than the usual Marvel epic, but the characters reveal themselves nicely. Robert Downey, Jr. is fun as mentor/impresario Tony Stark, and Jacob Batalon is a delight as sidekick Ned. Effective storytelling and upbeat, compelling characters continue the Marvel winning streak.
Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot lasso a true kickstart to the summer movie season with grit and girlpower, spunk and splendor in the satisfying superhero movie Wonder Woman (B+). After an origin story prologue on Amazon island where warrior Diana grows up with a peacekeeping destiny and mentorship from Robin Wright, the narrative thrusts to Europe, where our heroine marshals a team of ragtag ruffians to infiltrate WWI enemies and attempt to thwart a bunch of baddies and their chemical weapons plot. Jenkins proves masterful in taking us to tentpole territory with a reverent tone, pulpy production values and motivated action. Gadot is a delight as a woman with singular purpose and a refreshing lack of irony. Chris Pine is superb as her foil, an American spy who answers her questions about the nuances of men’s modern warcraft and anatomy. Mostly, it’s old-fashioned adventure building on the spirit of the original Captain America or The Rocketeer, with moments of comedy in London a most enjoyable surprise. For thrills and good-natured fun, this is a high point for the otherwise murky D.C. comics cinematic universe and the antidote for and female-driven counterpoint to Michael Bay style phone-’em-in summer blockbuster machinations.
It’s an encore from a legend worthy of the bows and two-clawed applause. And although it may not quite justify its extended running time, James Mangold’s Logan (B+) is elegiac and electric, giving Hugh Jackman’s blade-limbed hero a fitting farewell. It’s the first superhero of the sandwich generation as Boomer Wolverine becomes dual caretaker for a senile Professor Xavier, gamely reprised by Patrick Stewart, and a pint-sized mutant played by Dafne Keen. The film is largely a chase movie from a Mexican border town upwards through the U.S. to a Canadian outpost called Eden. Set in a dystopian future, the film features X-Men comic books as clues to part of the story. There’s intriguing background mythology, high stakes action, graphic violence, exciting fight choreography and a badass villain played by Boyd Holbrook. The film absolutely delivers the goods for fans of the X-Men Movie franchise and of the Wolverine character in particular. In fact, it’s the dramatic high point for the series. Jackman is wonderful, and Mangold gives the film magnificent lived-in flourishes.
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.
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.