Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

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wonder womanWarner Bros.
PG-13
2017

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

So, by now, if you’re reading this, you fall in one of three categories: 1) you’ve already watched Wonder Woman (perhaps multiple times), 2) you have yet to watch Wonder Woman, as you’re still iffy about the possible quality due to the track record of the previous DC movies in the past couple of years, or 3) you’re trying to find something to be angry about to satisfy your inner sense of political self-righteousness. I wish I could say I was joking about that last part.

Anyway, Wonder Woman. Officially the fourth movie in DC’s Extended Universe, this one had the stigma of needing to be not as bad as the previous films turned out to be. I say this as the general overall perception of the previous films; you might recall that I ended up liking Man Of Steel a bit more than most of all fandom did. Batman v. Superman was a hot mess, while Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but a far more entertaining hot mess. As such, by the time Wonder Woman rolled around, my expectations were rather low. All the movie had to do was not suck obnoxiously, and it would be the best DCEU movie of the bunch. And on that basic front, Wonder Woman succeeded. Boy howdy, did it succeed.

After a prologue scene where Diana Prince receives a special package from some guy named Bruce Wayne, we’re taken back to the Greek island of Themyscira, the home of warrior women called the Amazons, at a time when she was a precocious little tot who wanted so badly to be a warrior like everyone else, but her mother–Queen Hippolyta–would rather she pursue a more mundane existence, for her own good. Diana’s aunt, however, disagrees with the sentiment, and begins training the young girl in secret. In time, though, they are found out, which leads to…Diana getting even more training. And after a surprise hint as to Diana’s true nature, in comes the first male to visit Themyscira since ever, with WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashing into the coast. After Diana rescues him, the Germans soon invade, causing havoc and, after interrogating Trevor, Diana decides that Aries, the god of War is behind this World War (under the guise of German General Ludendorff), and sets off to kill him to bring peace to mankind. After a brief stint in London, Diana, Trevor and a motley crew travel to the front lines, where Diana wastes no time in invading No Man’s Land, takes out a machine gun nest, whups a bunch of Germans into submission, and punches a tower (the tower loses) to liberate a small Belgium village from the occupation it was under. However, General Ludendorff decides to wipe out the village the next day with a big ol’ Mustard Gas bomb, which pisses Diana off even further, and she goes off and manages to kill Ludendorff…only Ludendorff isn’t Aries. In a twist that everyone saw coming miles away, the real Aries shows up, he tries to explain that mankind isn’t under his spell, that mankind is capable of all sorts of atrocities by themselves, which clashes with Diana’s sense of altruism, which leads to a big fight with lots of damage and ‘splosions and stuff. Meanwhile, Trevor sacrifices himself to save London from being hit with a cargo plane full of Mustard Gas, Aries is defeated, and we flash back to current times where Diana decides that the power of love will blah blah blah, something-something I’m Wonder Woman now. The end.

It took them a few times in this shared universe of theirs, but DC has finally stumbled upon the formula for making a superhero movie feel like a genuine superhero movie. The tone and feel really brings back the sense of (no pun intended) wonder that Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie did, where you’re watching and manage to go beyond seeing some actor dressed as Wonder Woman, and believing it really is Wonder Woman. With maybe the exception of the CGI heavy boss fight at the end (yeah, it did feel like a video game cut scene), the two-and-a-half run time didn’t seem that long at all.

I went into Wonder Woman expecting it to fail, and wound up suddenly having hope for the other DC movies coming up after this. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you still haven’t seen Wonder Woman, go do so now while it’s still in theaters. Assuming you’re reading this while it still is.

Movie Review: POWER RANGERS

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power rangers movie posterLionsgate
2017
PG-13

“I’ve killed Rangers before.”

Five ordinary teens must become something extraordinary when they learn they learn that their small town of Angel Grove–and the world–is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, our heroes quickly discover they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so, they will have to overcome their real-life issues and before it’s too late, band together as the Power Rangers.

Let me try to explain my history with the 90s phenomenon that is the Power Rangers franchise: as I would mention in the podcast the Exalted Geeks and I would record after watching this reboot of sorts, I was 19 when the original iteration of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers hit the Fox affiliate in my neck of the woods. Even though I was still religiously watching shows like Animaniacs and the most excellent Batman The Animated Series, the Power Rangers didn’t seem all up my ally. Then, while staying at a friend’s house, I was made to watch an episode of the show, to which I remember thinking, “Wow, this is terrible…when’s the next episode?” It was a combination of a bad soap opera and Voltron. On the one hand, I knew it was horrible, but I couldn’t stop watching. Soon I found myself catching every episode; well, up until the middle of the Turbo version of the show. That’s when I decided this was too much camp for even myself to care about. And that really does say a lot.

Anyway, all this to lead up to the fact that I watched this recent reboot of the Power Rangers in movie form. Since the big thing now is to reboot everything from everyone’s childhood, it was inevitable. With the Power Rangers, while I was very much familiar with the source material, I didn’t have as close a personal connection as I would have been had I been a child when the show came out. As such, I can’t really complain that Hollywood is destroying my childhood, or whatever. Which is why I kind of lean more toward the “it was all right, I enjoyed it” side of the split reaction this movie is having.

Power Rangers, the movie itself, is what it is, and that is an action movie with “teens” and a strong sci-fi bent and giant robots fighting giant monsters and stuff. Sure, the tone is quite a bit darker, and the teens suffer from the put-upon angst that every teen and young adult seems to have in movies nowadays. But, I do find that better than the goody-goody do-gooders of the television show. And here, Zordon isn’t the all-wise, all-knowing head inside a giant terrarium; he’s more of a cranky jerk trapped inside a wall of a space ship. And Rita Repulsa was originally the Green Ranger before she turned on her Rangers, which was lead by Zordon, who was a Red Ranger, and not a space witch that was trapped in a dumpster on the moon. But…I like that angle. It works here, I think.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my points of contention. Like, for instance, the over-abundance of Krispy Kreme product placements. I mean, it was to the point where it was part of the dialog and factored into the search for the MacGuffin Crystals. There’s a scene where, while the Rangers are busy tussling with the giant monster outside, we cut to a shot of Rita sitting down to try out a couple of donuts inside the Krispy Kreme. I haven’t seen this level of blatant shoehorning of product placement like this since the Mountain Dew soda machine turned into a robot in the first Transformers movie.

Overall, though, I did enjoy the movie for what it was. It didn’t try to be a carbon copy of the source material, yet didn’t crap all over it as well, unlike certain recent movies involving giant transforming robots or mutated reptile martial arts enthusiasts. The story was good, the cast had some good chemistry between them, and had just the right amount of cheese to keep the whole “grim n’ gritty” in check. Yeah, if you’re a fan of the series, go ahead and check it out. Results may vary.

Movie Review: The LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

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lego-batman-movieWarner Bros.
2017
PG

“Wait a minute. Bruce Wayne is Batman…’s roommate?”

There are big changes brewing in Gotham, but if Batman wants to save the city from the Joker’s hostile takeover, he may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. Maybe his superhero sidekick Robin and loyal butler Alfred can show him a thing or two.

Admittedly, 2014’s The Lego Movie was probably one of the more unexpected hit movies based on a toy property to come out that didn’t have giant robots turning into vehicles or Michael Bay’s name attached to it. I still haven’t watched The Lego Movie as of this writing, mind you; that’s mostly due to my disdain of the nigh-ubiquitous “Everything Is Awesome” theme song that certain chipper types at work seem to utilize as their own personal theme music. I’m sure I’ll get over myself and get around to watching it eventually. Not as of yet, though.

Anyway, reportedly the most popular side character in that movie was Batman, which lead to the spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie. There was no doubt in my head that I was going to see this movie. I remember sitting in the theater a year prior, waiting for the exorcise in overstuffed mediocrity that was Batman V. Superman, and watching the teaser for The Lego Batman Movie, then leaning over to one of the Exalted Geeks in attendance and saying, “Why aren’t we watching this movie?” The Lego Batman Movie, even then, looked to be the superior Batman movie to, not only the one that we ended up watching that day, but to pretty much every other Batman movie that has come before.

Calm down, fanboys and fangirls. You know I’m right. Just hear me out. But first, the rundown (also, there may be spoilers ahead, so be ye warned):

The fun begins with Batman villain The Joker, along with pretty much all of Batman’s rogue gallery (and then some) attempting to hijack a plane carrying stupid amounts of explosives, when he’s once again foiled by The Batman…only to have his heart broken when Batman informs Joker that he doesn’t consider him his greatest nemesis. This prompts the Joker to begin planning his greatest revenge against the Dark Knight…by surrendering himself and the rest of the rogues to the newly appointed Commissioner Barbara Gordon, thereby rendering Batman’s crime fighting services superfluous. Bruce Wayne, while attending a charity event, inadvertently adopts Dick Grayson, then hatches a plan to sneak into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to steal the Phantom Zone projector with plans to put Joker in the most inescapable jail in existence. Of course, this is just playing into the Joker’s hands, as his master plan is to break out all of the ultimate baddies that were stuck in the Phantom Zone previously to take over Gotham. Can Batman get over his need to be on his own to fight the evil that has taken over Gotham? Will he allow himself to be part of a family again? Is it possible to reference every single aspect of Batman history without coming off as pandering and ham-fisted?

As many have already indicated, The Batman Lego Movie was a highly enjoyable animated action comedy that not only works well as a satire of the various bits of media that Batman has appeared in since Detective Comics No. Something-or-other, but somehow gets to the very heart of who the character of Batman is much better than the other movies ever did. And that is, deep down, Batman doesn’t want to suffer the pain of losing the people he loves, so he keeps everyone at a distance. Until he comes across a situation in which he has to drop those emotional shields of his and let others inside to work together. As a family, if you will.

Character deconstruction aside, The Lego Batman movie should be watched by everyone, not only the fans of the Batman movies, or the first Lego Movie, but everyone. The writing, the animated action, the imagination that went behind this, everything gels together so well that you almost have to take in a second showing just to get all the things you may have missed before. And believe me, if you want to go just to geek out on the Batman, this movie is jammed to the cowl with various references and Easter eggs to geek upon. Even I was impressed at how obscure some of the villains included were.

I need to reel myself in, lest I spend more time geeking out about this movie. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen The Lego Batman Movie by now, you need to go see it while it’s still out in the theaters.

Movie Review: THOR The Dark World

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movie-review_-thor-dark-worldMarvel / Disney
2013
PG-13

“If you even THINK about betraying him…”
“You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.”

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

As mentioned in the previous Thor movie review, I waited a bit after it was released onto DVD to get around to watching the movie due to the usual reasons I didn’t go see it in the theater, then after watching it found that I enjoyed it far mor than I thought I would. So, with that thought in mind, you would be forgiven if you thought that I then went out and watched the sequel, Thor: The Dark World opening weekend. You would be wrong, actually. I also waited until this was at least available for streaming on NetFlix or on DVD before I got around to watching The Dark World as well.

This time, though, it was for a far different reason than mere ambivalence, a reason I’m not going to go into detail here. Needless to say, I did have it on the list of movies to get around to watching; I just was only able to do so after it was out of the theaters and on that round, flat disc of plastic that only plays in that movie watchin’ device that replaced my old Beta Max the week prior. In related rants, I just got around to replacing my tried and true waxed cylinder player with one of those new-fangled reel-to-reel contraptions you young people insist on using all the time.

Anyway, Thor: The Dark World is, befitting of its subtitle, is a rather dark entry into the Thor movie series, and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe all together. It begins with a flashback to a battle between the father of Odin and a Dark Elf that’s played by a nigh-unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston (between this and Guardians Of The Galaxy, I’m beginning to think that the Marvel Universe likes to take Doctor Who alumni and make them all but unrecognizable), which ends up with the Dark Elf leader and his minions going into suspended animation and Odin’s daddy hiding away the movie’s McGuffin. Fast forward a number of centuries, and the Nine Realms are beginning to converge again, which results in playing with physics like a drunken kitten. It also reawakens the Dark Elf, who tries to go after the McGuffin to plunge all of the realms into darkness (or something like that). Only, it seems the McGuffin has inadvertently bonded with the Odinson’s love interest. The Odinson being Thor, in case you’re not up on your Norse mythology, here. So, now it’s up to Thor and his band of friends and his brother Loki to try and take down this rather ambitious Ninth Docto…er, Dark Elf before all of reality is brought down to mood lighting.

Of course Thor: The Dark World was far more awesome than it should have been. If I remember correctly, this installment wasn’t supposed to have Loki in it, for whatever reason. I think we can all agree it was a good idea to end up having him part of the story. Chris Helmsworth and Tom Hiddleston play off each other so well, I couldn’t imagine not having him part of the movie.

Thor: The Dark World–aside from being one of a handful of other movies that were released that year having the word “Dark” in the title–is a dark movie, or at least darker than the first Thor movie. What really stands out here is the development of most of the characters, including both Thor and Loki. Especially Loki, as we see much more depth to him rather than that he’s evil and mischievous. He really loved his mother, it seems. Also, spoilers: Thor and Loki’s mom dies. I figure it’s been long enough. Of course, the effects and the action are top notch, along with the general story itself being rather epic in its fantasy-by-way-of-SCIENCE! style. It’s because of this movie, I feel it’s high time for a properly made He-Man and the Masters of the Universe movie. Let’s get on this, people. But, I digress.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World was a very good movie. It certainly entertained me more than it was supposed to, and is yet another example of Marvel Studios knocking so many out of the park, I hope the momentum doesn’t trip up too bad.

Movie Review: THOR

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movie-review_-thorDisney
2011
PG-1312

“How’d you get inside that cloud?”
“Also, how could you eat an entire box of Pop-Tarts and still be this hungry?”

The world has many heroes…but only one is a god. When the arrogant warrior Thor is banished to Earth from his homeworld of Asgard, he must fight to reclaim his lost powers. Pursued by an invasion force sent to destroy him, the fallen God of Thunder must rise to the battle and learn what it takes to become a true hero.

Thor was one of the Marvel Universe movies that I opted not to catch when it was playing at the theaters intentionally. This was mainly due to lack of interest in the actual comic book title it was based on. I was more of a spandex and capes kinda fanboy, and not really into the whole Norse mythology that was mixed into the genre that Thor represented. So, when the 4th movie in the Marvel Universe series was released, I passed on paying to see it in the theaters, and decided that, if I was to one day watch it, I would wait until the DVD is available, or it was streaming on some movie streaming site, or whatnot. If I decided to watch it. It was a pretty big “if”, there.

As it usually turns out in situations like this, I did eventually get bored enough to check out Thor on a streaming basis, and watched it one weekend afternoon while digesting whatever it was I ingested for lunch that day. And I have to admit, I actually enjoyed the movie far more than I thought I would.

The Thor live action movie is a good example of being executed in a way that made me enjoy it despite not really being into the source material. The story is good and engaging, the characters are introduced and fleshed out well, the dialogue was top-notch, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki both manage to pull off their respective characters without coming off as a hokey Renaissance Fair player. Thor is essentially a fish out of water movie, only with Asguardian mythos.

Do I regret not having watched Thor on the big screen? Eh, maybe a few special effects scenes, like the Rainbow Bridge, or that fight between Thor and the Destroyer in the Nevada town. Otherwise, though, I did enjoy Thor, as I mentioned, much more than I thought I would.

Movie Review: IRON MAN 3

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Iron-Man-3-IMAX-posterMarvel / Disney
2013
PG-13

“Is that all you’ve got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner?”
“Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography.”

Marvel’s Iron Man 3 pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enmy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his metle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to surviv by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Iron Man 3 is cited as one of the worst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. When compared to the other movies…well, I may not be smart enough to see it. I would have to watch them all again just to get a good grasp of the assessment. Which, really, sounds like a pleasant thing to do, come to think of it. Anyway, I don’t see why so many people don’t like Iron Man 3. When compared to other general action movies, Iron Man 3 is pretty good, really. Then again, I enjoyed the second Iron Man 2 when everyone else seemed to think it was a warmed-over rehash of the first one, so what do I know?

Taking place after the events of the first Avengers movie, we find Tony Stark suffering from something like PTSD, what with dying briefly due to being shot into a howling void in space and all. You don’t come back from something like that unscathed, I would think. He’s been building all kinds of Iron Man suits as part of his personal therapy in leu of sleeping, which is starting to take a toll on his family and friends, not to mention his professional life. Then, a blast from Tony’s past shows up, along with an international terrorist known only as The Mandarin, and next thing you know, his life is literally blown up, and he has to deal with things without his suits and only his wits and enginering genius to fight back. Also, Pepper Potts gets to kick a lot of butt in this one.

Again, I really don’t see the reason for the derision. Iron Man 3 was what all the other MCU movies are: a fun, engaging and well made comic book-based action movie. Of course, it was Ben Kingsley as “The Mandarin” that stole the show in the very few minutes he was onscreen, but the script was again a good one, I thought. Overall, I enjoyed Iron Man 3 on the same level as the other Iron Man movies, and that’s pretty good.

Movie Review: SUICIDE SQUAD

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suicide-squadWarner Bros.
2016
PG-13

“Huh? What was that? I should kill everyone and escape? Sorry. The voices. Ahaha, I’m kidding! Jeez! That’s not what they really said.”

Figuring they’re all expendable, a U. S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret mission. Now armed with government weapons, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and other despicable inmates must learn to work together. Dubbed Task Force X, the criminals unite to battle a mysterious and powerful entity, while the diabolical Joker launches an evil agenda of his own.

I have to say that, finding a way to start off this review is proving to be a challenging one. By now, everyone has known about this movie and its hiccups getting onto the big screen. The extra shoots ordered in the aftermath of the Batman V. Superman backlash. The predictions of failure long before it was even released, the criminally low rating on Rotten Tomatoes that created an outcry. Jared Leto’s shenanigans. All I knew was, this being a movie based on a comic book title that I really didn’t know much about, outside of the general concept of the DC Universe’s bad guys brought together by way of the government agency for covert missions, this was kind of an odd choice to add to the budding DC Cinematic Universe. Because, while the comics have their fan base, and from what I understand they’re rather good, Suicide Squad is not exactly the first thing that springs to mind when one mentions DC Comics. It may not even be the fifth thing. Or the tenth. Then again, no one was expecting Guardians Of The Galaxy to be any good, so what do I know?

And of course, it was mandatory watching with the Exalted Geeks the weekend it came out. We even recorded a podcast about it, right here. But as for my own gathered together and jotted down thoughts on the movie…

Of the three DC movies that have been released in this series, I would have to say I like Suicide Squad the best. I think it’s easy to understand why; by default, because of its wackier tone, this one was much more fun than Man Of Steel or Batman v. Superman. It’s still dark and gritty, but at least it wasn’t a two hour angst-y wank-fest to sit through.

That’s not to say that the movie was without its flaws. That’s a given. However, the character dynamic seemed to work much better, combined with the action and the story itself, the time didn’t seem to drag and I found myself enjoying how this was playing out. The actors associated with the characters were decent enough; Will Smith once again played Will Smith as Deadshot, essentially the DC analog of Marvel’s Bullseye, only cooler. I don’t know about everyone else (I try to stay away from the nerd whining on the internet as much as possible), but I actually enjoyed Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn; I found her character rather amusing yet chilling, as fitting for the love interest for the arguably greatest villain in the DC Universe. And Viola Davis was dead-on perfect as the equally chilling Amanda Waller. Gads, you do not want to cross her. Ever. As for the other characters…well, they were adorable, but were just kinda there.

As far as the story goes…it’s your standard covert ops action movie that features a science fiction bent and pretty impressive effects. It’s better than average, in that it entertained me enough to make me not notice it’s over two-hour run time. I do think, however, that the whole Joker subplot wasn’t really needed; for that matter, barring further portrayals in future DCU movies building on his character arc, I don’t think I’m going to think more than just a “meh” as to Jared Leto’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime.

Overall, while I think that DC/Warner Bros. has a long way to go to get their stable of heroes up to the quality of films that Marvel has been knocking out of the park, the end result of The Suicide Squad is definitely a step in the right direction. Worth a rental, at the very least.

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