by Philip Price
Since his death over 20 years ago Tupac Shakur has become something of a prophet in his legacy; a deity of the rap world in which the mythology only continues to grow-building a perception and persona of a man who held some secret as to how our society operated and why when, and this is the most valuable thing the new biopic “All Eyez on Me” offers, it seems the alarmingly young Shakur was still very much trying to figure out who he was never mind the bigger questions the culture he was raised in implied for his future and the future state of our world. All of that to say director Benny Boom and his team of three rather novice screenwriters had a lot to overcome to deliver a final product that was not only satisfying, but relevant in terms of adding something substantial to the conversation around the life and times of Shakur. There has been a barrage of material released since the artist's untimely death in September of 1996, but “All Eyez on Me” would mark the first narrative feature and arguably the one with the best odds of reaching the widest audience. With this weight and presumed pressure of responsibility on his shoulders Boom has delivered what is a by the numbers biopic for what was very clearly an individual who couldn't have operated by the numbers if he wanted to. Shakur was a man who seemingly had a constant conflict of conscience going on within him-attempting to balance the obligation he felt he had as an orator for the black community while simultaneously looking to solve such societal issues in the moment which oftentimes resulted in compulsive acts of violence and/or spouting things from his mouth that he didn't consider before saying them in front of a rolling camera. And while “All Eyez on Me” and its look-alike lead in newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. does in fact attempt to delve into this clash of consciousness Shakur constantly dealt with it's never able to transcend the tropes of the music biography enough to allow the audience to understand what cultivated and motivated these feelings. Sure, we see flashbacks galore and are privy to relationships in Shakur's life many might not be aware of that inherently give new light to this persona that has been crafted by the media and his constituents since his death, but none of it to such an extent we feel we're inside the mind of Tupac thus restricting us from feeling like we've seen the real story of the man's life.
Biographies are a tough nut to crack though, and even more so when many of the factors of your subject's life are rather well-known. In the case of Shakur many of his fans who will flock to this movie know very well the main beats of his upbringing-his mother, Afeni (Danai Guira), was a Black Panther who served prison time while pregnant with her son and served as her own lawyer during her trial and won. Many know Shakur went to a performing arts high school in Baltimore where he met Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) though I wasn't aware of how close of friends the two were or the feelings Shakur apparently had for the young actress. Most will have fun being reminded that Shakur got his start in the rap game thanks to Shock G (Chris Clarke) and Digital Underground, that Shakur broke out as an actor in 1992's “Juice” before getting signed by Interscope records. Of course, while there are many accomplishments Boom recounts in his film there are plenty of things that aren't so glamorous and interestingly enough, Boom uses one such aspect-Shakur's incarceration for a sexual assault charge-as a framing device of sorts. We initially meet Shakur in 1995 where an unnamed journalist (Hill Harper) sets up the retrospective he is about to take Shakur (and the audience) through. We get the obligatory flashbacks and the stories that came before the fame and we of course get a glimpse inside the inner-workings of Shakur's life once he did become a force to be reckoned with, but one thing “All Eyez on Me” never seems to do is show us how much of an actual impact the rapper is having on society. Sure, we see the old news clips of civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker uttering her immortal observation: "There are three things wrong with gangster rap: It is obscene, It is obscene, It is obscene," but we never get a sense of Shakur's ever-evolving relationship with the community he sincerely believed he was an ambassador for. While Shakur was obviously very much a speaker for those who might not have had much of a voice prior and infused many of his songs with poetic qualities while offering his philosophy and critiques of unjust society we don't see how this relationship would come to position Shakur on the pedestal he now sits atop of.
Furthermore, the criminal sin of “All Eyez on Me” is not that it lacks in fleshing out the relationship between Shakur and the public or even that it fails to dig deeper into the crucial relationship between Guira's Afeni and her son, but rather it is the lack of any development around Shakur and his love of the music he was creating that strikes the most startling note. It should be said that “All Eyez on Me” is certainly not the first musical biopic to put the music on the backburner, but it seems especially offensive here given it was essentially Shakur's lifeline to how he wanted to shape his reputation as well as his legacy. Like other films of the same ilk much of the focus is paid to the public turmoil said celebrity famously experienced or is re-directed into a love story of some sort that, while crucial to the fabric of who this person was, doesn't always explain what gave them the creative insights and/or intuition to create whatever has made them worthy of now having a major motion picture made about their life. We saw this in last year's crushingly disappointing Hank Williams biopic, “I Saw the Light.” Of course, much of how factors influence or inspire artistic endeavors will vary from person to person and in such cases as something like “Walk the Line” the love story is critical to the arc that Johnny Cash's life took. If one wants to see how to properly balance as well as emphasize the role that music plays in the mind of a pioneer in the music industry as well as give a thorough account of that person's life please see the highly underrated and underseen “Get On Up” and/or “Love & Mercy” as both are truly exemplary. In terms of hip-hop biopics though, the bar has been set rather high as both with “Notorious” featuring Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls who reprises that role here in “All Eyez on Me” and of course 2015's spectacular “Straight Outta Compton” were engrossing portraits of not just the artists at the center of those respective film, but how they became who they were due to the time in history in which they found their fame. Both films could document both why music came to play such a critical role in the lives of their subjects as well as how that music effected the world and the response to that music that shaped the perception of who people thought these men were as opposed to who they were with that void giving the movies an "in" to a fascinating exploration of these psyches. Shakur's lyrics and determination to be as real with audiences as he could be represented more than what a scene of his mother visiting him in prison and segueing into "Dear Mama," ultimately conveys. It is this lack of insight that ultimately dooms “All Eyez on Me” to a cliff notes version of Shakur's life rather than a film that picks one of the many fascinating aspects about its subject and illuminates that aspect further.
That isn't to say everything about the film is a failure for, despite the shortcomings and some rather shoddy production values and cheap editing techniques, there are things here and there that redeem the hope the film might turn in to something noteworthy. Of course, the big story going into the film was how much Shipp Jr. resembled the late Shakur and it's true-the guy likely couldn't look any more like the actual 2Pac if he tried, but was this inexperienced actor going to be able to capture the energy, the tenacity of the real Shakur? This was my biggest personal concern for the project as it seemed Boom and his producers, namely L.T. Hutton, had cast actors that certainly looked the part and were great for sizzle reels and trailers, but who might not necessarily be able to deliver on the legacy of the people they were taking on. The endorsement of Woolard was comforting, but we all knew his presence would be minimal here and that the weight of the picture would naturally fall on the shoulders of Shipp Jr. And so, how does he do? It was concerning early in the film as it jumps from one decade to the next-establishing Shakur's younger years with younger actors and only giving Shipp Jr. a line here or there to transition to another flashback, but once the film settles into itself and finds its footing in the dynamics between Shakur and the women in his life the actor hits an ease that allows a similar charisma to come to light. The scenes detailing Shakur's early relationship with Pinkett as well as his serious relationship with Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh), daughter of Quincy Jones, who would become his fiancée and partner at the time of his death in September of 1996, are scenes that hint at what might have been had Boom and his screenwriters chosen to investigate some of these lesser known aspects of the hard cord, thug life representative that, despite being pegged as a certain type of black man, was very much an individual who was still figuring things out as much as he was talking like he knew everything there was to know. Simply by watching interviews with the real Shakur one can pick up on the fact he was smart enough to know how he came off and how he presented himself while being conscience of the fact of why he wanted to portray himself in such a way, but while Shipp Jr. does an earnest job of bringing Shakur back to life (his body language in the performance pieces are spot-on even though he's lip-syncing over actual Pac tracks) the movie he is in fails him in the way it never finds a solid foundation on which to present a new picture of Tupac, but instead only rehashes every headline ever written about the rapper. By no means a bad film, “All Eyez on Me” is instead a mostly competent, but uninspired one about a human being who was anything but.
by Philip Price
Twenty minutes into the fifth Michael Bay directed ‘Transformers’ film, this one subtitled ‘The Last Knight,’ Optimus Prime comes face to face with a robot God named Quintessa (as voiced by Gemma Chan) if that gives one any indication as to how insane these movies have truly become. No? Not good enough? How about the fact Anthony Hopkins' character (or the fact Anthony Hopkins is in a ‘Transformers’ movie) has a Transformer butler that the film acknowledges is more or less a rip-off of C-3PO? Not far enough? Let's go ahead and make the robot butler a sociopath of sorts, shall we? Point being, there is no seeming cohesion between any parts of the many layers that make up ‘The Last Knight’ as well as most of its predecessors. Personally, I walk into a new ‘Transformers’ film with the expectation of being bombarded by sound, image, and story and am more or less pleased if I can walk away saying I understood the main point of the plot and was, at the very least, entertained. Of course, without such expectations one could view these things as complete messes, as mind-numbing fun, or fall somewhere in between where it's easy to recognize the idiocy of the picture, but acknowledge the merit in big, colorful, summer blockbuster filmmaking. Many will make jokes, but Bay is one of the more unique directors working today by virtue of the fact he consistently operates on such a scale that it's almost inconceivable he could craft something that wasn't inherently bloated; every aspect of his process and his product has to be big and this latest endeavor is no different. While ‘Age of Extinction’ felt like something of a breaking point in terms of the director going so far into his wheelhouse that he couldn't possibly possess any more tricks we are still here three years later and Bay, along with returning cast members Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, and Stanley Tucci, have somehow managed to at least match if not best their previous Bayhem effort. ‘The Last Knight’ is scattered, plot-heavy, overly complicated, and generally non-sensical to the point of genuine hilarity, but there is still a craft to it all and the fact Bay can somehow orchestrate these massive characters, set-pieces, and story into something resembling a movie while at the same time maintaining a visual aesthetic that is bar none one of the best you'll see on the big screen today is truly impressive and deserves at least a little bit of credit.
Why screenwriter Ken Nolan as well and his co-writing team of Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, who have apparently also been tapped for the solo Bumblebee movie as well as ‘Transformers’ seven and eight, thought it wise to incorporate so many plot elements into a movie that should be about good space robots fighting bad space robots is beyond me, but they did and in what may be one of the more fascinating elements about this insanity-driven project audiences will try and crack how what they're seeing on screen ties into the plot they know exists, but likely don't fully comprehend. Within the first half hour of the film we've been taken through the Dark Ages where we learn Merlin's (Tucci) staff was given to him by ancient Transformers and is coincidentally the only thing that can bring life back to Cybertron, into the present dystopian future where we again meet Wahlberg's Cade Yeager who is now humbly rescuing Autobots from a military division called TRF that is hunting down all Transformers, and on to Oxford University where we're introduced to professor/historian/archeologist Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) and Hopkins' Sir Edmund Burton as we begin to understand that all of these individuals must come together if they're going to stop Quintessa from brainwashing Optimus Prime into "Nemesis Prime" for her purposes of recovering Merlin's staff and destroying our world so that Cybertron can once again thrive. This is all without mentioning the fact Yeager is a fugitive from the government now and inadvertently recruits a young, orphaned girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner) who is meant to appeal to the younger crowds to his scrap yard that is now run by an inexperienced Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael) who is present for comic relief. While setting up the new dynamic between Yeager and his crew the movie also jumps to Turturro's Agent Simmons who is now residing in Cuba as he feeds information to Burton, to Duhamel's Colonel Lennox who is infiltrating the TRF for military purposes, and to a random NASA engineer played by Tony Hale who spills exposition as to why there are suddenly six horns rising from different locations on the earth and why those horns might indicate we only have three days until Cybertron arrives. Needless to say, there is much, much more to ‘The Last Knight’ that you probably wouldn't guess might be a part of a ‘Transformers’ movie in a million years, but that you'll get anyway. Submarine battles, anyone?
Strangely enough, the hero of ‘The Last Knight’ in Wahlberg's Yeager is key to the subtitle of the film because he possesses the qualities of a knight which include bravery, courtesy, and honor while also maintaining a mentality of someone who believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds and that good must ultimately prevail over evil. One might say Yeager is an optimist, especially considering his and the planet's current predicament, but this is all the more telling as it implies the kind of attitude one needs to possess if they're going to walk into ‘The Last Knight’ with any kind of hope that there will be redeeming qualities to be found. Again, strangely enough, I think there are a few besides the obvious fact that Bay is a gifted visual director and the fact the movie looks breathtaking. I mean, seriously, this thing looks as epic and fantastic as anyone wanting a purely visual feast could hope for. Bay loves to shoot against lush green backgrounds and does so time and time again here-with large portions of the film taking place in the U.K. and around the White Cliffs of Dover-and it's magnificent. With that in mind, we'll move forward with other promising aspects of ‘The Last Knight’ that were able to fill that "entertain me" quota I'm looking for when it comes to a movie-going experience such as this. There is a more brazen sense to the overall tone of this installment and while it's been a while since I've seen or re-visited any of the previous films it feels this sense of unabashed glee in the face of destruction is even more prevalent this time around. Hopkins especially is having a blast as he ferociously keeps up with the otherwise sporadic pacing. As for Wahlberg, you have to give credit to the guy for selling every ounce of this with everything he can. Wahlberg's All-American bravado is a good fit for this franchise too-much better than the squeamish whimsy of LaBeouf which is fine on its own terms or in a project where it fits, but after that initial film his presence felt all too forced. One scene in particular where Wahlberg flies through the air holding onto nothing more than a drone-like object is maybe the simplest stunt in the film, but dammit if it doesn't look the coolest. There are also portions of the backstory in ‘The Last Knight’ that are kind of cheesily cool such as the round table of the King Arthur lore coming from Cybertron or the ‘Suicide Squad’-style introduction of Megatron's gang of goons that is so shameless it's almost out of place among what is mostly earnest insanity the rest of the time. I can even appreciate how the film attempts to be bold by actually cutting Optimus Prime from large portions of itself in exchange for a more eclectic cast of actual Transformers, but in the end these occasional blips of inspiration aren't enough to balance out the brutal badness of the overall experience.
So, let's talk about the detriments to the film then. It's easy enough to say the overwrought spectacle over substance of the ‘Transformers’ series makes them next to incomprehensible, but what specifically garners each film this reputation time and time again? In the case of ‘The Last Knight’ it is more apparent than ever that Bay still crafts his films as if he were a teenage boy. This perspective is infused into nearly every scene whether it be in the way every character likes to throw around cuss words as if they're the most bad ass person on the planet along with the tone and pacing resembling that of something a 13-year-old with ADHD might splice together. Whether it be a simple scene of two characters exchanging dialogue or a bananas action piece the camera feels impulsive, the editing hyperactive, and even the score sounds as if Bay was too impatient for composer Steve Jablonsky to finish writing original music and instead chunked in some derivative Hans Zimmer pieces that sound just generic enough to pass for big-budget orchestral music. Worst of all, and this is true of teenage boys as well, is the film doesn't realize how immature it actually is. Bay's script for this film might have given his female lead bigger brains than her male counterpart as well as actual things to do, plot points to actively participate in, and character details that flesh out, ya know-a character, but Bay can't help but to shoot Haddock in the most objective way possible. This may or may not have something to do with the reason Moner’s character barely registers despite the fact she was a centerpiece for one of the film’s many trailers. Being younger than any of Bay’s previous female leads it’s as if he doesn’t know how to shoot a female without attempting to be provocative and given Moner is only 16 it seems all thought it best to limit her screen time to only enough that her character is established and can take over the series under a presumed new director in the next installment. That she’s here at all though is one of the many issues with the script for if it knew how to condense itself and cut out the fat that has plagued these things to a noticeable level since ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ then we might be having a different discussion about this latest ‘Transformers’ movie. As it is though, ‘The Last Knight’ is more of the same from Bay. In all seriousness, I could have likely copied and pasted my review for any of the previous ‘Transformers’ movies here and you wouldn’t have known the difference because that is what Bay is doing and has been doing for almost a decade now. It’s the same grand spectacle, the same convoluted plotting, and the same hollow feeling that remains as Peter Cullen bids us farewell while simultaneously telling us he’ll see us in a few years for another world-destroying adventure.
by Philip Price
In my 2015 review of “Krisha,” Trey Edwards Shults feature writing and directing debut, I opened by saying the film, “has a lot of interesting ideas going for it, but one begins to doubt its ability to bring them all together as it races toward its final minutes and seriously begs the question of what exactly everything is building to.” In many ways (and maybe unsurprisingly), one could say the same thing about his follow-up,” It Comes at Night.” Strangely enough, the dynamics and questions pondered in that initial feature prove to be more interesting and compelling than what feels like an extension of many of those same themes in this new film. In short, “It Comes at Night” serves up the leftovers from “Krisha” in that the ideas here still should deal with family, the potential toxicity of family, and dealing with the inherent connections we’re all born into while questioning how loyal we must remain when things get worse for wear. Of course, all of this is conveyed in what is meant to be taken as a post-apocalyptic setting where tensions are already high and relationships already strained. Things are heightened; this isn’t simply a familial drama about an argument that arises between two opposing members, but more “It Comes at Night” writes a metaphor for how to handle the small, awkward moments we all encounter when we’re a part of something bigger. It’s a film about figuring out which fights are worth picking and which are worth leaving alone with the outlier of such risks being the fact one of these calls could come back to bite you. This is all fertile ground to dig into especially when taken through the guise of the horror genre, but unfortunately Shults still doesn’t seem to have as strong a grasp on communicating his themes as he does in crafting them. The kid is already a master of atmosphere as some of his film’s strongest qualities come from Brian McOmber’s intense score and Drew Daniels haunting cinematography as they capture the otherwise quaint scenario Shults has set-up, but where “It Comes at Night” succeeds in building atmosphere and placing conversation-starters on the tip of its audiences' tongues it fails to actually engage that audience in the moment. To this effect, “It Comes at Night” is one of those films that is fascinating to contemplate and discuss moments after experiencing it, but during that experience it couldn’t feel more tedious.
To reiterate in some sense, “It Comes at Night” is also one of those films that wants you to think it's smart even if it’s not going to provide solid reasoning as to why you should think that. In the case of this film that means that while we are given little more to go off other than the fact that a family of three including father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their seventeen-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are holed up in a house in the woods trying to evade whatever sickness is obviously spreading through the cities we are expected to take away more than these basics. We're meant to see pain. We're meant to elicit the loneliness. The thing is, Shults leaves his story so open-ended in almost every facet that each individual viewer’s interpretations of the events could be so wildly different that it almost forces me to draw the conclusion that what Shults is talking about is nothing at all. That he, by making the viewers do most of the heavy lifting, has done very little himself. Is that really the intent of the writer/director? Probably not as I would imagine someone who sets out to make a feature film on a shoestring budget with his family serving primarily as the cast and their home as the single location at the age of 25 isn’t exactly someone you’d label lazy, but while this leads me to believe there is real ambition and vision contained within the red door so prominently featured in “It Comes at Night” it also leads me to believe that this director and his film couldn’t crack how to funnel these topics they wanted to talk about down into a meaningful and moving piece of filmmaking. It is abundantly clear that Shults draws much of his inspiration from family turmoil and the interesting ways in which such invisible bonds bind us together, but come the final 15 minutes of the film it ultimately seems that only small morsels of what Shults had fed us up to that point even tend to matter. In turn, Shults and his collaborators stage what is easily the most intense of the sequences to be featured in the film as it culminates in actions that are meant to be gripping, but are instead rather irritating due to the fact they feel unearned.
Coming out of the film it was next to impossible to not feel torn over the ambition versus the execution. And yet, while it is easy to acknowledge the craft, care, and maybe most importantly-the confidence-that it takes to deliver as restrained a picture as “It Comes at Night,” there is an inevitably empty feeling left by the film itself. The dread and tension of the unknown are certainly kept at a high, but they are outweighed by that irritating confusion and lack of any real investment in this group of people. There is such a thing as giving an audience too little despite the fact you think you’re giving them a lot to chew on and this is the line Shults is going to have to learn to more evenly walk as he develops as an auteur. This also isn't to come down on the film completely as its intentions are certainly notable and taken into consideration when evaluating the film. And the lack of investment in the character's is no fault of the actors necessarily as Edgerton, Ejogo, and Harrison Jr. do their best with the material given-I especially found Edgerton and Harrison Jr.'s showings to be measured in the way Shults might have imagined them to be when he penned the screenplay-while the introduction of Will (Christopher Abbot), his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) into the fold create opportunities for new dynamics to be established and for much of the films drama to be drawn from. While the focus remains largely on Harrison Jr.'s Travis and his conflicted feelings about how his father runs the family domain, a budding lust for the attractive Kim, as well as realizing he could certainly end up alone with only his dog, Stanley, and any future spawn of Will and Kim it is the limited interactions between the people on screen that leave the biggest impressions as well as elicit the most questions. We come to wonder what it is all worth; if the price we must pay is worth surviving one more day? There are lingering questions even after the credits have long since disappeared from the screen, introspective ones even, and yet as I sat and considered what Shults was attempting to say, what statement he might think he was making, or what audience members were supposed to take away from such an exercise I couldn't help but be assured by such potential while being simultaneously let down by the capacity to capitalize on that potential. This is one to be further assessed once it sinks in and earns a second viewing.
by Philip Price
One might imagine that Alex Kurtzman, a Hollywood writer often relied upon for studio mandated filmmaking, would have learned a thing or two from watching those he’s written for in the past. Be it J.J. Abrams, Marc Webb, or hell, even Michael Bay. Any one of these directors might have shown glimpses of how to stylize, tap into emotion, or leave a unique impression on a certain popular property, but none of this seems to have left an impression on Kurtzman. One might imagine it would, but it seems that if you did you might have more of an imagination than Kurtzman period as his big blockbuster directorial debut is nothing short of a generic action adventure. To his credit, Kurtzman did write and direct the 2012 dramedy “People Like Us” which wasn’t terrible, but that you probably also don’t remember. Point being, while Universal is now attempting to get in on the cinematic world building game Marvel pioneered and Warner Bros. is following suit on they might have tried to do so by kicking off such an attempt with someone who displayed the opposite qualities of their endeavor meaning a leader rather than listener and obedient follower Kurtzman seems to be. While Kurtzman is at the helm of this mammoth monster movie the direction is not the weakest aspect of this drab blockbuster; that would be the screenplay. As one of six credited writers on the project, Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet (“Rachel Getting Married”) seemingly outlined the story before Universal brought in the likes of Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”) to juice up the script, but they weren’t done yet, no, as Dylan Kussman (an actor of bit parts in lots of big movies who seems to have made the right friends) along with Christopher McQuarrie (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”) and David Koepp AKA the OG Alex Kurtzman were brought in to add to the screenplay and presumably help map out where exactly this “Dark Universe” might lead. Well, if “The Mummy” is in fact how Universal is going to kick-off this supposed series of films (it was originally intended to be 2014’s “Dracula Untold,” but we all see how that turned out) audiences would be led to believe this is going to be a tone-deaf and unoriginal endeavor leading me to believe there might not be much of an audience at all.
“The Mummy” begins by introducing us to a conspicuous Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) whose team has discovered catacombs under the streets of London containing that might hold an artifact that is key to piecing together a centuries old myth that Egypt wiped a princess from the history books. We are immediately taken back to this time via Jekyll’s exposition, which Crowe delivers as best he can, and meet Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who is the first in line to replace her father until his new, young wife gives birth to a child-a boy-automatically usurping Ahmanet’s destiny. Determined to reclaim her rightful place and take back the throne Ahmanet makes a deal with the God of Death, Set, who promises her as much in exchange for a human form that he might inhabit. Setting up that Ahmanet is ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to obtain power we watch as she kills her entire family and prepares a sacrifice, but is stopped just before she can do so. As punishment for her actions, Ahmanet is mummified and buried alive in a tomb 1000 miles away from Egypt in Mesopotamia which is present day Iraq. Present day Iraq brings us into the modern day where we are then introduced (yes, we’re still on introductions) to Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) who are soldiers who moonlight as black-market dealers that search out and sometimes steal antiquities in hopes of turning a pretty penny. When they accidentally open Pandora’s Box and essentially set free Ahmanet they become privy to the fact there is a continuum of these gods and monsters and that Princess Ahmanet is only one of many. Cruise’s Nick comes to this realization due to the fact he seemingly had a one night stand with archeologist (maybe? I’m not even sure what her actual title was) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and is now in love with her and she reluctantly with him, so naturally they must fight to keep one another alive. Why might this ancient mummy lady be after Nick you ask? Well, Nick was the one who set her free you see, and so now he is the chosen one. Nick is now the object of affection for which Ahmanet will sacrifice so that Set may have his earthly shell. Luckily, Jenny is employed by a certain doctor who might be able to help Nick, but given what we know about Mr. Jekyll’s personality things are obviously going to get a little complicated.
The chief issue with “The Mummy” though (besides the script), is the fact it doesn’t feel like a "mummy" movie. Rather, the tone is all over the place as Kurtzman seems to initially take on the idea of playing into our modern expectations of a Tom Cruise picture (action scene in the desert with big explosions) before rescinding that decision and going for a darker tone and matching aesthetic that is paired with some genuinely curious choices about placement of humor. This lack of any through line of tone or even a sense of an idea as to what they wanted this to be is lost between the shifts of Cruise and Wallis running away from these zombified ghouls that Ahmanet creates once she is brought back and Cruise having a discussion with a presumed dead Jake Johnson in a woman’s bathroom in a bar in London. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated Cruise’s comedic chops, and at least the bit in the bathroom is somewhat inspired if not slightly derivative, but it feels so out of place in whatever the rest of this movie is trying to be that it just doesn’t work. And the key word here is trying. While at one point it would seem, Kurtzman was very much hoping to tell a contained story it is that studio mandated mentality he’s always adhered to that brings around the other point where they are doing endless world-building and no doubt setting things up for future installments that none of it comes together in a cohesive manner. Kurtzman is trying to find a balance between the two and that is fine, appreciated even, and while the movie fails to be satisfying on its own terms the factor that most represents a true attempt at balance is one of the few things that works for the better in this new take on an old tale. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Crowe’s turn as the well-intentioned Dr. Jekyll and the devious Mr. Hyde. In this role of Jekyll/Hyde Crowe can camp it up quite a bit which is fun to watch, but more than this the character itself serves as the medium between the world as we know it and this one on the brink of being consumed by these gods and monsters. As one might surmise, Crowe is only allowed a brief amount of time on screen by comparison which is a shame considering the time this thing dedicates to the unnecessary love story that is meant to serve as the crux that serves Cruise’s Nick when it comes deciding whether he himself is a hero or a villain. It also doesn't help that Wallis simply fits the bill of leading lady without providing any of the charisma typically required of such.
In earnest, I wanted to like “The Mummy” and I think Kurtzman and his team wanted to make a fun, popcorn movie audiences could enjoy, but while the film has a few things going for it here and there it ultimately feels so unoriginal, uninventive, and uninspired it’s hard to muster any kind of reaction at all. Cruise, for all his effort and energy, is seemingly the last thing on this movies mind. Again, it’s easy to appreciate the film for not sticking Cruise with another “smartest/slickest person in the room” character a la Ethan Hunt, but more this gets back to the essence of what made Cruise a star in the first place: a rascal of sorts who bucks against the system to get the girl and learn a lesson of selflessness in the process. Though “The Mummy” doesn’t feel like a "mummy" movie nor does it necessarily feel like a Cruise movie it somehow still plays into Cruise’s best and most appealing qualities. With that said, this is called “The Mummy” and yet we hardly scratch the surface of what Boutella, a talented actress with a genuine presence as was glimpsed in “Kingsman” and “Star Trek Beyond,” might have done with such a role. Though we see the origins of Ahmanet as well as the power she wields in the present we are never delivered a fully, fleshed-out character (irony accepted) with sincere motivations or interesting complexities. This mummy is not a misunderstood monster or a tragic figure in any sense, but more she is a one-dimensional archetype who craves power and who will go to whatever lengths necessary to obtain it. Had the film figured out the heart of its movie was in fact its titular creation rather than trying to shoehorn in a movie star and make him the main character for future installments and committed to the horror genre rather than that of romantic/thriller/comedy we might have been onto something a little more interesting if not more intriguing than the conveyor belt of a product we’ve now been saddled with. Everything down to Brian Tyler’s forgettable score give “The Mummy” this vibe that we've seen and heard it all before. The dialogue provides sad excuses for banter, the special effects look cheap when everything about Egyptian lore should at least look magnificent, and the plot is obvious and rather dumb all of which could have been improved with more focus on the moment and less minds looking toward the future. But hey, that airplane sequence you’ve heard Cruise selling on his marketing tour is legitimately exhilarating, so that counts for something, right? Surely, but it’s not near enough to make “The Mummy” memorable.
by Philip Price
“Wonder Woman” is quality popcorn entertainment with ambition. It is not the exception to the rule and it certainly has its issues, namely with pacing and its generic and derivative climactic battle, but much of this is easy to forgive due to that ambition; due to the fact, it is earnestly trying to be more than it must be. It has been a rather long time coming, but the day is finally here that we have a big screen, feature-length version of Diana Prince’s origin story. Director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) has crafted a magnificently mounted piece of filmmaking that feels as grand and majestic as a ‘Wonder Woman’ movie should. It also doesn’t hurt that the casting of our titular heroine couldn’t feel more right and kudos to Zack Snyder for trusting his instincts on such a decision despite the initial backlash the casting and costume of Gal Gadot received. As Prince, Gadot is endearing from the moment we see her desire to uphold the legacy of her people. This initial gracing comes as she trains for an ever-impending battle that threatens to destroy her hidden island of Themyscira and the fellow Amazons that live there with her. Though unfamiliar with the comic books or even the seventies TV show starring Lynda Carter I’ve always assigned Wonder Woman to be this kind of beacon of purity in the super hero universe. Besides this though, I wasn’t sure what, as a hero, she stood for or what her motivations were or what her history entailed that might have made her so driven to defend the world from the bad guys. Turns out, Wonder Woman is a God the same way Hercules was. Maybe even more so; is Hippolyta (played here by Connie Nielsen) more God-like than Alcmene? I have to imagine so. While Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” provides enough of the backstory and origin details to answer many questions that might pop up throughout what is most impressive about this latest DC Extended Universe film is that it keeps to the virtues of that character throughout in the way people fondly remember. Jenkins and scribe Allan Heinberg have actively kept Wonder Woman’s optimism and slight naivety intact while placing her in a world and time that is tangible and rather terrible, not to mention under-represented on film. Such is a testament to how well “Wonder Woman” finds the right avenues to take in order to balance the many ambitions it hopes to accomplish. Even if some of these aspirations don’t quite reach the heights as successfully as was hoped for it is that balance that is key as there is so much to admire and enjoy about “Wonder Woman” that it not only remains memorable, but affecting.
While the film begins by re-introducing us to a modern-day Diana Prince who now works at The Louvre managing what looks to be a department hell bent on locating artifacts from if not the location of Themyscira it quickly flashes back to Diana’s childhood thanks to a message from none other than Bruce Wayne himself. While Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader remains off screen the connective tissue to the DCEU films is stated right off the top. The package contains the original photo that was found in “Batman V. Superman” leading to several questions for both Batman and the audience as to where exactly this mysterious woman originated. Well, if you’ve been waiting for such answers for over a year at this point-you’ll be relieved to know “Wonder Woman” is essentially a guide to everything you could have ever hoped for in what was largely the only point of agreement around ‘Dawn of Justice.’ Beginning with Diana as a young girl who is forced to look on as her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), who happens to be the greatest warrior among her people, trains fellow Amazons to be warriors she longs to join them. Diana has been shielded by her mother though, and is not allowed to participate. Hippolyta reinforces the fact Diana is different and that she doesn't want her trained, but why such a decision has been made is kept vague. Hippolyta tells the young Diana that she is her most prized possession and that, after Zeus saved the Amazons from the wrath of man and particularly his son, Ares, she prayed for him to bring her a daughter. Diana is told she was sculpted out of clay and brought to life by the King of the Gods (so, ya know, no pressure). As Diana grows older her desire to defy her mother naturally grows as well and while she convinces Antiope to train her in secret it seems even Antiope is taken by surprise when Diana does in fact surpass her as the greatest warrior on the island. It is only as Diana comes into her own that she witnesses a plane crash landing just off the coast of Themyscira. The only person aboard turns out to be Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a British spy who has stolen a coveted notebook from Dr. Maru AKA Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) and her superior officer, the despicable General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who Steve tells Diana and the rest of her people have started the war to end all wars. Naturally, this prompts our hero to leave her home and seek out her destiny.
Heinberg certainly follows guidelines that have been laid out for him in the past to craft an origin story worthy of Wonder Woman's first feature-length appearance, but Jenkins with her ability to balance so many facets of so many factors transitions from each of the many different things “Wonder Woman” is with seamless ease. Beginning on Themyscira as some type of weird sci-fi flick and then switching gears to not only become a war film, but a romantic drama of sorts as well as a fish out of water comedy only to then culminate in something that brings these strands together to make some sort of sense is rather impressive. It's a tall order and one we've seen attempted countless times before, but somehow much of what is thrown at the wall here sticks and even better-it doesn't feel like Warner Bros. or the DCEU were simply throwing things at the wall and hoping for the best, but instead “Wonder Woman” is the first film sans maybe “Man of Steel” in this newly minted cinematic universe that feels like the product of a single group of artists. Sure, Snyder and Jason Fuchs contributed ideas to the story, but ultimately this is a film that is the product of a single screenwriter and a director who clearly had a certain vision rather than that of the WB board room. Within as much, Jenkins can use such archetypes of the genre to her advantage by implementing and building themes and ideas that give the plot more substance than that of just another super hero story that takes us from one expected beat to the next. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman herself, is both very confident in her ability to fight and defend-she never questions her instincts and is never afraid to speak her mind-while at the same time coming into a world and a war that she knows very little about and understands even less of. While Gadot's performance does a lot of the heavy lifting to convey the right measure of such confidence and such innocence it is the film that deftly handles the reality it must bring to the forefront of its heroine's mind by way of the fact all men, all humans in fact, are neither all good or all bad, but complicated, complex, beings whose promise is not measured by their mistakes, but by their hope and effort to be better. That Jenkins can bring actual ideas and convictions through as big and loud a film as “Wonder Woman” is quite the accomplishment and while, again, these aren't new ideas by any means the film lends them a certain pedigree and serves them as a reminder of how powerful sincerity can be.
As hard as it is to support the tropes of old fashioned comic book movies with satisfying ideas and character arcs what seemingly proves to be even more challenging in many of these films is that of getting those tropes right. The action, the love interest, the villains-they're easy to relegate to the back burner because they're givens of the genre, but Jenkins at least attempts in many of these aspects to have them accentuate the type of super hero story she is telling. It is in the action that “Wonder Woman” most closely resembles her DCEU counterparts, but while the film enlists the slow-motion techniques perfected by Snyder a decade ago it is Gadot and the style with which Jenkins captures the physicality of her performance that allows these action sequences to stand out in a way that gives birth to some rather monumental moments. Chief among the three major action scenes that take place is the one in the middle of the film where we see Gadot's Wonder Woman rise out of the trenches revealing herself in full Wonder Woman regalia for the first time, it is the culmination of an hour’s worth of character and momentum building that earns this moment of the first big screen female super hero being the only one capable of walking through "No Man’s Land." Furthermore, though the climactic battle is very much in the vein of what we saw in ‘Dawn of Justice’ the way in which the antagonist is handled, the way in which the villain is more represented as this kind of entity of evil throughout the film rather than it being pinned down to a certain bad guy's plan for the sake of an archetypal bad guy is kind of inspiring. Don't get me wrong, the film must have a big third act CGI-fest because it is a comic book movie and those are just the way these things go, but while the stakes don't feel as grand or as heroic in this final battle as some of the earlier ones do we still very much care about the outcome because we are more than invested in these characters. And we're invested in these characters largely due to the fact both Gadot and Pine are giving pitch perfect performances for the movie and roles they're filling-making the several tones “Wonder Woman” must juggle feel like the film is never juggling anything at all. Even more appreciated is the fact the film never condescends to men while still empowering women. Steve Trevor is very much the love interest, but he's not a damsel in distress. More, he is the support Wonder Woman needs as she comes into our world and Pine's performance remains as much even as he acts heroically in his own regard; both carving out a path of genuine sympathy and a surprising, but strong sense of satisfaction by the time the credits roll. Wonder Woman is a smart, strong, and charming character and thankfully her first feature film shares those qualities.
by Philip Price
For a film about an unforgettable romance the worst crime “Everything, Everything” commits is not exactly searing itself into the minds of viewers as such. “Everything, Everything” is a fine enough teen love story, but it is also a very slight love story-never allowing us to become invested in the characters or passionate enough about their plight as it seems we should. Moreover, the film does this to itself as it very well could have allowed more time and dedicated more of that time to developing why our two leads do indeed fall head over heels for another. Alas, at only 96 minutes “Everything, Everything” only has so much space to divulge the complexities of our greatest of virtues. That isn't to say the film doesn't make good use of the time it does spend on our star-crossed lovers, but only that we get to the inevitable rather abruptly (which might otherwise be admired) leaving the remainder of the film and the risks these characters take for one another seem all the more drastic and irresponsible which is the last thing you want when your movie positions the kids as the heroes who are smarter than the adults that surround them. The point being, as with everything, ones reaction to “Everything, Everything” will largely depend on the stage of life that viewer is currently experiencing when taking it in. Being a young parent, but someone who still feels at least slightly in touch with youth/popular culture “Everything, Everything” played with my sympathies toward the conundrum our characters face while at the same time appreciating that were this to actually occur in the real world the parents would be more rational and the stakes nowhere near as dire. Young love wants to feel a little dangerous though, a little forbidden, and slightly scary-it is what gives it that rush of excitement and uncertainty; it is what makes it all that more memorable in hindsight and it is in these details, in the minutiae of such times, that “Everything, Everything” actually finds its success. Director Stella Maghie and the screenplay from J. Mills Goodloe (“Age of Adaline”) that was of course adapted from the New York Times Bestseller by Nicola Yoon doesn't so much let her film stand on the shoulders of grand gestures or dramatic speeches, but more in the small, precise details of what makes love worth living for when you're young and want nothing more than to feel indestructible. This focus on precise over big moments allows much of the underdevelopment and lack of any real arc to (mostly) be forgiven come the end of the movie. Still, you won't remember much of it the next day.
Madeline "Maddy" Whittier suffers from a rare condition called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), meaning her antibodies are not able to properly fight off infection. She has spent the majority of her life and all that she can remember about that life inside the house her doctor of a mother (Anika Noni Rose) has made into a fortress of cleanliness. With all the latest technology and necessary adornments Maddy could essentially want for nothing and go on living a risk-free life, but of course-life happens. The only people allowed inside the house besides Maddy and her mother is Maddy's nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and her daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). It is when new neighbors move in next door that hormones begin to rage and thus we witness Maddy rush into something as serious as her first serious relationship simply because she is desperate for something real, something palpable. Such a desire comes in the form of Olly (Nick Robinson), a self-proclaimed loser of sorts who likes to wear black (very much in contrast to Maddy's consistent all-white aesthetic) and appreciates a person with a few good vices. Things begin innocently enough as Olly is rightfully curious about the pretty girl next door who doesn't come outside and whose mom refuses Bundt cake because it didn't come from her immaculate kitchen. Olly begins by making distant meet-cute gestures from his bedroom window which is luckily just across from Maddy's. After a few days he writes his number on his window and the two begin texting. They learn what they can about one another and rather quickly decide they like one another. The flirting continues which only increases the need for each party to get more out of the other. Texting from each other's bedrooms gets old quickly; it's not good enough. Maddy guilt's Carla into allowing Olly to visit where they're still not allowed to touch, but will of course only increase that desire tenfold. Things escalate as one might expect, but despite knowing the relationship at the heart of the story will most certainly go the predictable way of a movie what we don't know is what way the fate of Maddy will go. Is Olly truly setting himself up for heartbreak or is there more to the narrative than meets the eye?
As these things go, “Everything, Everything” is right down the middle in terms of ambition and execution. Everything here is done in competent fashion, but in a pleasant twist there are certain aspects that highlight the continually evolving way in which texting and social media are presented on screen that are intriguing on their own. These spontaneous bursts of inspiration paired with both Robinson and Stenberg's dedication to the material and making it work give the film the fresh, lightweight feeling it incessantly possesses. It is in these inspired moments that “Everything, Everything” is made more endearing as they are unexpected, but undoubtedly appreciated. Maghie certainly has a vision for the material she's been given and isn't content to simply sit by and let what could have easily directed itself be done in such a manner. The first instance of this comes after Maddy and Olly begin texting one another. Rather than having her two actors stare longingly at one another through glass Maghie allows them to come together at an old fashioned diner, in a booth-not dissimilar from the model Maddy has been working on as part of her homeschool curriculum. Maghie then proceeds to shoot the remainder of the conversation in this environment as if the two are not only talking face to face, but also in a dream-like state. The set is very much a diner, but it is surreal. There are still phone tones going off in the background when each character begins to speak signaling this is still only a text conversation, but to remove that barrier and convey the state of minds these two individuals must feel like they're in when talking to one another despite the obvious hurdle is what makes a viewer sit up and smile. Further down the road, Maghie again uses a technique much like Marc Webb did in “(500) Days of Summer” in the expectation vs. reality scene where, the second time Maddy and Olly meet face to face, the subtext of the dialogue the two are speaking to one another shows up at the bottom of the screen as if interpretations of what is actually coming out of their mouths. It's nothing that is necessarily revolutionary, but it was pre-meditated and that is visible in the performances; lending what might have been an otherwise routine scene of dialogue that aforementioned fresh, lightweight feeling.
Adding to this tone the film carries throughout is the distinct sense of innocence it all possesses. For as old as Maddy is and as fast as things seemingly move this is still the first time Maddy is feeling many of these emotions, much less creating the opportunity for herself to experience them. Most importantly, while older audience members may condemn Maddy and Olly for being foolish in their young love, we like who these two are as people and despite what could easily be seen as faults or shortcomings-we want what is best for them. Maddy likes “The Little Prince” - it reminds her that, "Love is Everything. Everything." while Olly is more of a Lord of the Flies guy that needs no reminding that he can have a poor outlook on life. Given his home situation though, this is to be understood especially as Olly is in his most formative years. Maddy presents the aura of an angel whereas Olly plays to his belief in the bleak, but neither are as clean cut in their categorizations as they'd have you believe and in the romance that evolves between the two of them they seem to genuinely find the secret to love and life in one another-balance. As for the adults, none of them are fleshed out enough to matter much, but we spend the most time with Maddy's mom as Rose's Pauline is at one time written and played as a more complex character than would typically be written in such a role while at the tail end of the film resorted to such a plot device that it's hard for her to register as little more than as much. In our first real encounter with Pauline, Rose plays her as a surprisingly understanding figure than what we inherently anticipate to be a tyrannical, condescending parent. Ultimately though, she must uphold the law she has put in force and though her motivations are understandable and selfish to a degree that even teens in the audience might be able to fairly comprehend the perspective of living and actually being alive never comes across as valuable enough to justify consideration. All things considered, Pauline would have to have known the events depicted in “Everything, Everything” would happen eventually and that she would need to be prepared for as much. Such complications might seem slight prior to viewing the film, but afterwards such a detail is a sore thumb in the way of how the film chooses to resolve itself. The resolution isn't necessarily unexpected, but it certainly doesn't fall in line with the tone or romanticism that seemed so effortlessly expressed until it was forced to roll the credits; maybe if more time had been taken to flesh it out a more organic resolution might have presented itself. Maybe, maybe.
by Philip Price
If “Snatched” is what you expect it to be is that necessarily a good thing? Probably not, but if it's better than you expected does that make it a good movie or, just, not a terrible one? It's a tough line to walk and an even more difficult one to decipher, but at the end of the day it can't help but to feel as if Snatched, overall, is more of a missed opportunity than a success by the standards of its genre tropes. Missed opportunity due to the fact that not only was it written by a single screenwriter in Katie Dippold ( “Ghostbusters”) and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), but that it also stars one of the world's most popular stand-up comedians (like it or not) while being able to pull 71-year old Goldie Hawn out of a 15 year semi-retirement. If one is able to rope in a comedic legend like Hawn for your project one might imagine that individual or team would utilize her and her talents to their greatest effect, but in “Snatched” it seems Levine and everyone around him were afraid to ask Hawn to do anything too uncomfortable and instead kept her tasks in as safe and as easy a box as possible. This only stands to resort the movie to Hawn playing an overly-cautious mother figure while Amy Schumer is the irresponsible, narcissist of a daughter that exemplifies every negative stereotype one could come up with about millennials and then throws them into a hostage situation where balance in the two competing personalities is supposed to be found. Alas, that is what the movie goes for, but none of it ever feels natural or authentic, but rather very much like a movie. Everything about “Snatched” is very movie-like and while that isn't always a bad thing, especially when as much is intentional, this technique only bodes well for “Snatched” part of the time and most of that time is when the film is actually being funny. In short, when the film owns up to its promise and delivers on the capabilities of its talented cast and creative teams, but more often than not “Snatched” feels like a given of a movie where, after it was decided Schumer and Hawn would play a bickering mother/daughter pair, the rest was left up to that chemistry to make the ship sail successfully. Schumer and Hawn more anchor the film than anything though; holding the antics steady despite the fact the ship itself hasn't been that well-constructed.
Schumer, who is 35, plays Emily Middleton who, at the beginning of the film, is working at a trendy clothing department store, but finds more time for shopping for herself and telling customers her own troubles than assisting them in their own needs. She is quickly fired and then subsequently dumped by her boyfriend Michael (Randall Park) whose band is beginning to take off and who doesn't want Emily holding him back. The split is only made more painful by the fact Emily and Michael were supposed to be taking a non-refundable vacation to Ecuador together and now Emily must quickly find a replacement partner. In one of the few genuine and effortlessly funny moments in the film featuring the leads Emily solicits friends and acquaintances on social media to come on vacation with her, but finds no takers. In something of a slump she updates her relationship status which is seen by her mother, Hawn's Linda, at her picturesque suburbia home outside the city where she begins commenting on the change of status completely unaware that what she is saying is public and available for everyone the two of them are friends with to read. Linda begs her daughter to come see her in the wake of her sadness which Emily begrudgingly agrees to. Once back in the comfort of her childhood home, along with her agoraphobic brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), Emily finds a photo album of her mother in her younger days that stirs something in her giving her the idea to invite the reluctant Linda on the trip. As these things go, Linda agrees but only because it seems the only way she might actually spend time with her daughter. Once in Ecuador Emily goes her way of reckless abandon, of drinking with strange men, and sun bathing without sun block. Her mother warns her, as do fellow travelers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), of the potential dangers, but Emily doesn't listen-even when a smooth talking, adventure-seeking charmer like James (Tom Bateman) comes on to her at the bar and suggests he take Emily and her mother for a drive to the most scenic spots in the area. Emily essentially forces her mother along for the ride where they are kidnapped by the likes of Morgado (Oscar Jaenada) whose objective isn't ever clear, but that we can surmise isn't overly pleasant which, of course, then forces Linda and Emily to put aside their differences and work together.
See, and while there is plenty to complain about “Snatched” isn't necessarily a bad movie as much as it is an average one-a generic one. It offers characters and character arcs that we've seen countless times before and sometimes executes them in ways that are humorous enough to sustain the film while other times making connections from scene to scene that have zero natural progression in them at all. What is somewhat awkward about reviewing “Snatched” is very much the same type of awkwardness that came up when discussing last summer's “Ghostbusters” as both films are intended to be these empowering pieces of female independence that demonstrate women are equal to men and can do and deserve the same type of recognition and reward as their male counterparts which is all well and good and I have no issue with except for the fact that Barinholtz and Bashir Salahuddin as a State Department official have 15 minutes worth of a subplot that is funnier than the entirety of the rest of the movie. This aligns with “Ghostbusters” in that, despite the fact Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are hilariously funny women, Chris Hemsworth clearly stole that show. The back and forth between Barinholtz and Salahuddin, who is very much the MVP of this movie, is laugh out loud stuff and it all comes back to the fact it feels effortless. Both of these supporting characters are very much defined by a single trait and that trait-no doubt ingrained in the screenplay-informs everything else about the character and the decisions they ultimately make. The movie is supposed to be about Schumer's Emily maturing and coming to certain realizations about how flawed her personality and outlook are on life, but whereas Schumer's character abruptly changes from one scene to the next (there are hints, sure, but it's still a fairly jolting tonal shift in the middle of the film) Barinholtz's Jeffrey actually progresses from a scared and rather naive adult who has been overly sheltered due to his mother's cautious ways (which were seemingly brought on by an unexpected divorce that the movie brings up once and then never mentions again) to someone who forced himself to face his fears and not only go outside, but to be resilient in his effort to save his mother and sister. It doesn't hurt that the main hurdle he has to deal with is Salahuddin's Morgan Russell who’s no nonsense, rule-following mentality gives way to killer line deliveries and a character we feel like we know the moment Salahuddin opens his mouth. Content and story matter just as much as natural chemistry for one needs a strong facility in which to build the other.
That last paragraph would seemingly mean to bring down a lot of the weaker aspects of “Snatched” down upon Dippold who, as the sole credited screenwriter, should and shouldn't bear the weight of the responsibility. Given the current climate of Hollywood where studios and producers find it necessary to stick a team of writers on any one given project it is something of a rarity to see a big(ger) budget summer offering (and a comedy at that) come from a single source. That Dippold isn't able to provide a more sound structure for her charismatic stars to stand on is disappointing in that there are certainly moments in “Snatched” that seem to aspire to be about something more, not to mention funnier. Still, the script is unable to follow through on either of these aspects makes many of the films shortcomings Dippold's cross to bear. For example, there is a scene in which Morgado threatens Linda and Emily and expresses his anger and disgust with Americans who can come to these large, extravagant resorts for vacation while just outside the gates people are living in poverty. Interesting motivation, right? Unfortunately, beyond this single line of dialogue nothing is made of his plan for vengeance other than being a typical foreign bad guy and clear threat to the white protagonists. Even Jeffrey and Morgan's whole previously discussed subplot somewhat hints at the expected privilege of Americans in that we want to be free to travel and see the world, but the moment anything goes sideways we expect the government to put forth all necessary resources to aid us. While such notions are touched upon and ever so slightly lampooned none of it ever goes anywhere or is utilized to make some bigger, more substantial statement. Not that all comedies have to be striving for satire or more cutting/darker forms of the art, but nonetheless comedy is meant to be funny and “Snatched” just isn't consistently funny enough to forgive all the opportunities it misses with such a cast and creative team behind it. Also, it probably doesn't help that besides Barinholtz and Salahuddin the next best performance is that of Christopher Meloni, who is the only person that actually seems to understand he's in a movie that is very much of the world of movies. Granted, he's playing a guy who is playing the role of an explorer as defined by what he's seen in the movies, but the point is it is a glimpse such as this-true cleverness-that make trying to be funny worth striving for because we all know being genuinely funny is genuinely hard. It is only after Meloni that we have Sykes being Sykes and Cusack turning in a non-speaking performance that garners a few laughs whenever she's given the opportunity to be on screen, but while Schumer and Hawn keep this thing afloat off the backs of their most basic charms it is almost criminal how much their talents are wasted here.
by Philip Price
I like Guy Ritchie, I like his style, and I enjoy his approach to storytelling. The writer/director understands the unique ways in which one can convey something as simple as a montage and how such interpretive change can alter the reception and/or investment of an audience in something as simple as a montage. If you've seen any of Ritchie's s previous films, such as “Snatch,” “RocknRolla” or either of the two Robert Downey Jr. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, then you'll certainly recognize the marks of the director in his latest film; another re-telling of the King Arthur story. It was inevitable the legend of Arthur and his knights of the roundtable would eventually get their own gritty re-boot, but when it was announced Ritchie would be the one bringing said gritty reboot to the big screen the trend all of a sudden didn't feel so tired. Too bad we spoke too soon for despite the fact Ritchie gets a director, co-writer, and producer credit on this $175 million flick-it reeks of studio intervention and countless pacing issues due to as much. Before we get too far into this though, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn't an outright train wreck and has some rather inspired and interesting moments whether that be in character and set design, some of the performances, or of course the notable editing and inventive storytelling. Still, at the end of the day, this is a film whose parts are greater than its (overlong) summation and unfortunately that leaves a rather forgettable taste. Bland. Bland is the word I'm looking for. And while one might have advised Ritchie and the gang against rebooting a brand name no one seemed to be particularly interested in (the last incarnation of King Arthur came just over a decade ago and only delivered $200 million worldwide) there was always that hope Ritchie might put enough of a directorial stamp on the material that this new version might come to be more than justified. There are hints of Ritchie's British blue collar mentality and sense of humor that pop up throughout that hint at what could have been, a medieval ‘Lock, Stock’ if you will, but more often than not “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” becomes a bloated, CGI-fest that is more hollow spectacle than engaging character drama.
Whether you're familiar with the tale of King Arthur or not Ritchie's version of the events are fairly simple to follow. Ritchie's screenplay, which he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Lionel Wigram as well as Joby Harold, begins by showing us the betrayal of King Uther (Eric Bana) by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Vortigern sacrifices his wife to an Ursula-like sea snake in order to manifest some supernatural power that allows him to best even Uther and his precious Excalibur. This confrontation naturally takes place as Uther is setting his wife and only son out to sea so that at least their lives might be spared, but even if one isn't familiar with the legend of Arthur I imagine they'll be able to derive how things play out from this point. Arthur survives, his mother-not so much. Arthur slips away as his father battles his uncle to the death washing ashore not too far down the line in a village where he is raised in a brothel and told he is the spawn of a prostitute. Ritchie speeds us through the adolescence of the young Arthur, displaying with his kinetic editing techniques how the young man becomes a well-versed player in the streets of Londinium (the settlement established on the current site of London via AD 43), a keeper of the finances at the brothel, and a sort of protector of the women that work there. Point being: Arthur (now played by Charlie Hunnam) grows into a wise and compassionate young man that cares deeply for his friends and associates and will do what need be to protect them. Meanwhile, ole Vortigern is ruling over Camelot as if it was his birthright and has been forced to seek out the surviving bloodline of his brother as Uther's son is the only one who might pull this mysterious sword from this mysterious stone that has appeared just outside his castle. Through a series of events Arthur is captured and forced to try his hand at removing the sword and I think it's safe to say we all know he's quite successful when it comes to this particular task. Is the movie itself as successful at doing what it sets out to do? Again, not so much. The remainder of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” hits the beats of Arthur resisting his journey, being shown the miserable future he will give way to by resisting that journey, which then forces him to embrace his journey and ultimately his destiny as king. The predictability isn't what relegates this to mediocrity though as the hero's journey can still be compelling, interesting, and certainly entertaining if told with skill and vision, but what skill and vision Ritchie possesses has been reduced to CGI rubble here.
Much of what is detrimental to ‘Legend of the Sword’ are the easy targets one might have picked out when viewing the trailers for the film. Sure, there is a lot of overdone CGI. Yes, the tone is weird because at one point it's this seemingly grand blockbuster and other times it's a street-level gangster tale. Does the world in which this takes place openly accept magic? Absolutely. Does it ever reveal the face of Merlin and welcome such a facet so as to show such a desire to explore that facet further? Negative. There are highlights between these bleak conventions, but none of them are enough to rescue the film from the doldrums of mediocrity. For instance, I was hoping, given Ritchie's slightly tongue in cheek approach to his films, that his version of ‘King Arthur’ might embrace the mysticism that is now one with this time period in popular culture, but without fully leaning into it. That the supernatural elements would play a part, but that the main cast of characters would still be fully aware of how outlandish and weird it is that such capabilities actually exist. Rather than sticking with the attitudes Arthur and his friends appear to have early on in the film, like when they recount a story of their encounter with a group of Vikings to a high ranking Blackleg AKA Vortigern's army of minions, Arthur and his crew accept without question the existence of such magic at the appearance of a Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Not to be accused of being dismissive, I can acknowledge that some attempts at humor are made when Hunnam's Arthur first comes face to face with the Mage, but this is different as he still has no trouble accepting the fact such an individual might exist. To bring out Arthur's resistance or at least his condescension towards what Vortigern has so willingly given himself over to might have been a more interesting arc than that of Arthur trying to resist the sword and Vortigern doing whatever it takes to remain in power despite the fact we have no real idea why he craves such power. Unfortunately, the screenplay cares little about making us feel anything for any of these characters with only the "wow" factor of how we got from point A to point B seeming to matter. There is hardly any kind of character development attempted in the film as it is depends on the charisma of the talent involved to relay the reasons we should feel any type of sympathy or hate towards these people. By the time the credits roll we know everything is in place for an actual ‘King Arthur’ movie, but that's only because the movie tells us so-we don't actually care and certainly aren't invested enough to come back for what this movie was supposed to be.
So what is left? What might breathe life into this stagnant summer blockbuster other than that of a unique directorial touch that was extinguished just as quickly by the studio that hired him? Well, I really enjoyed Daniel Pemberton's score and how it made up as much as it could for some of the more drastic lags in the narrative. It introduces a texture to the film that, without it, would almost give the film fully over to what anyone with a budget this size and talent this good could produce. Pemberton's score is especially effective when Ritchie is given free rein to do what he does best and it is in these sections of ultra-stylized storytelling that ‘Legend of the Sword’ is at its best because it stands apart. Throughout the entirety of the picture my thoughts couldn't help but to be distracted by the thought of Ritchie adapting the King Arthur story to a modern day English setting and finding something to say in the themes and ideas the story raises rather than simply rehashing the same old, same old with nothing new to add to the conversation. Hell, it would have cost a lot less too. Even if Ritchie really wanted to keep in line with the medieval setting he could have applied those aforementioned trademarks to an original story that takes place during the period without having to necessarily re-tell a story that has already been told countless times before. Whatever the drive might have been there were certainly other, more interesting avenues the director could have chosen to quench his major studio/medieval epic thirst. That said, Hunnam is a strong presence here and would make a fine protagonist in a Ritchie gangster drama with his cocky swagger no matter his social status. Law is dependable enough as the foil despite the fact we never really buy the guys actions due to a lack of any development at all, but the performance is serviceable and you can see Law is giving it what he can. The same is true of the supporting players in Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Neil Maskell, but they are given so little to work with that they don't stand to be very memorable. Worse, we aren't emotionally invested in their plights even when the movie tries to use them to such an advantage. Did there need to be another ‘King Arthur’ movie? No, and given what Ritchie has brought us we have what is maybe worse than having a truly terrible one-an indifferent one.
by Philip Price
As a human male who wasn't born until 1987, the year after James Cameron's seven-year-later sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece debuted, I was never overly inclined to invest much of my adolescence in Xenomophs or the lore of the talented Ms. Ripley. As someone who would unknowingly be lumped in with the millennial generation I didn't grow up with a fondness for those original films and thus they never became a critical part of the cultural landscape for me until much later in life. It might even be difficult for viewers with older tastes and dated perspectives to understand how such a film as restrained and measured as Alien might play for today's ADD audiences, but despite the fact I didn't end up seeing Scott's original film until a college scriptwriting class doesn't mean I didn't understand the how and why of its effectiveness. Still, because of the life experiences that shaped who I was up until the point when I saw “Prometheus” in the summer of 2012 I didn't mind that it felt completely different from what Scott had established as his “Alien” universe in the past. Like with music and most things in life if something works and people crave more of it the artist must find a way to strike a balance between what has come before while also reinventing themselves so as not to repeat the same old shtick repeatedly. While many complained about “Prometheus” for being too heady and not so reliant on thrills or action Scott, along with screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper, have seemingly course corrected for the sake of the fans with “Alien: Covenant” as the film meshes what “Prometheus” started and what fans seemingly wanted in a new “Alien” movie. That isn't to say it all melds seamlessly or that “Covenant” is all the better for attempting to strike such a balance, but rather that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. As an individual who has no vested interest in continuing the “Alien” franchise as it once was, but who dug the hell out of “Prometheus,” I was slightly disappointed the more philosophical aspects of the film were traded in for more formulaic action beats and scares, but while “Covenant” may be a safer movie than “Prometheus” as well as a less effective film than “Alien” it is still very much an entertaining one that does enough good to earn its place among the ranks of a series that seems to be more well regarded out of nostalgia and a couple strong entries than a consistent quality in the films overall.
‘Covenant’ begins by taking us back to before the events of Prometheus as Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) introduces himself, for the first time, to his own creation. We are of course talking about Michael Fassbender's humanoid robot, David. In “Prometheus,” David accompanied Weyland on the mission headed by Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) to find out the secret of mankind's creation in hopes of prolonging Mr. Weyland's life for as long as possible. Still, it seems that all the while Weyland spent looking for his creator David was rather disappointed in his. David, the robot, yearns for his own meaning in life and through the events of “Prometheus” and now ‘Covenant’ we come to find out that he's decided what his rightful place in the cosmos is and, well, it's a tad egotistical if we're being honest. But how do we come to meet David once again if the last we saw of him and Dr. Shaw in “Prometheus” was the two of them leaving the moon LV-223 in search of the engineer's home planet? That is where the Covenant vessel and its crew come into play. It is approximately 2104, a decade after the events of “Prometheus” and 18 years prior to the events of Alien, and the Covenant ship carries over two thousand life forms and frozen embryos who hope to establish a new colony on a distant planet-they're truly pioneers.
Among the ship's crew is the more recent and robot-like version of David known as Walter (also Fassbender) as well as Oram (Billy Crudup) a man of faith who must assume the mantle of captain after the catastrophic events that open the film start the ball rolling on detouring the Covenant. Biologist and Oram's wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo) is also among the crew. Second in command is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), then we have pilots Tennessee (an inspired Danny McBride) and his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz) as well as fellow pilots and lovers Upworth (Callie Hernandez) and Ricks (Jussie Smollett). Lope (Demian Bichir) and a handful of other individuals bring up the rear as the muscle, explorers, and fellow scientists, but they essentially exist to be picked off one by one in no certain order. It is after the Covenant is hit by a power surge of some sort and the crew are forced to be woken up during their journey (which still has seven years to go until they reach their destination) that they receive a transmission causing them to divert to a planet they previously had no knowledge of which, obviously, nothing good can come from.
One of the many reasons I'm a fan of the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is the fact they are so committed to their timeline and their continuity while building onto the mythology of the franchise with each new installment and with “Prometheus” and now ‘Covenant’ the “Alien” franchise is very much doing the same. On top of this, I'm generally a fan/fascinated by good science fiction, world-building, and interpretations/debates concerning where we came from and/or what our existence really means. In short, I'm a sucker for everything Scott and his screenwriters are putting together with this prequel trilogy. Some, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that most of the people that feel this way were born in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, might see Alien and it's sequels as nothing more than contained stories with a badass protagonist that view the Xenomorphs as nothing more than an alien life form who come from the depths of space and if you want/need to know nothing more than that-fine, don't watch these new movies, but for those who find such ponderings and big ideas fascinating enough to unpack-let us have this. Let Ridley Scott have it. He could very well be making Alien and Aliens knock-offs with replica Ripley's (which is kind of what the last act of ‘Covenant’ turns in to) all over the place that do nothing to push the story further or to more interesting places, with nothing to enhance the mythology of what we witnessed in Scott's first “Alien” film, but instead “Prometheus” and most ‘Covenant’ do just this. If ‘Covenant’ manages to have one thing over its predecessor it is that it handles the balance of such large ideas and entertainment value more efficiently while still failing to garner audience interest in many of the human characters sans the android as Fassbender's dual performance as both Walter and David is the heart of the film. Ironic, considering neither of them have a heart of their own.
Much like its predecessor though, “Alien: Covenant” is visually stunning as our troupe of scientists and colonists explore a new planet, a garden of Eden of sorts, that is at once breathtaking for its natural elements and lush greens while also revealing itself to be the home of what looks to have been (slight spoilers) an ancient civilization. This reveal is appropriately shocking as it adds a whole other layer to the mystery of what the crew of the Covenant have stumbled upon, while affirming for fans of “Prometheus” that this film has in fact taken into consideration many of the questions that film left unanswered. This aspect is also only revealed due to the intelligent inclusion of David who now serves as the most devious and horrific part of the “Alien” franchise. Logan and Harper's screenplay serves as something of a bridge between the conversation around Darwinism versus Creationism and more how the two might be able to coexist that “Prometheus” began and the event of Scott's 1979 film. Yes, the Xenomorphs make their first full on appearance in some time, but ‘Covenant’ is hardly about the face huggers and chest exploders, but rather how their existence is a byproduct of the need for power; a need that has come about out of disappointment in one's own creators. David must reign over something himself, something better than even he is and much more advanced than the humans who created him. “Alien: Covenant” outlines the consequences of such curiosity and inevitable disappointment. It's a smart film that fulfills Scott's craving to take on more weighty material while at the same time operating within the universe that allows him to make such big budget sci-if horror films currently. ‘Covenant’ may not be as much my cup of tea as “Prometheus” was, but with the events that unfold here and the direction the next prequel is seemingly set to take-I'm excited to see where we go next.
by Philip Price
With the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” I went (or at least wanted to go) into the film with little to no expectations. Of course, with ‘Vol. 2’ it would be next to impossible to do the same unless one had skipped the first which, of course, would then only mean it would be next to impossible to fully understand or better yet, appreciate, what this second film has to offer. And so, despite having some expectation for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” there wasn't much beyond suspecting that writer/director James Gunn might hand pick a new list of late ‘70s/early ‘80s hits to set something of a remixed version of the original's events to while pushing whatever story points the Marvel overlords needed pushed forward. If this sequel teaches us anything though (and it does try to teach if not at least say something significant) it's that sometimes expectations aren't detrimental to the overall effect a piece of art can have. That's right-I'm calling a Marvel movie, and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” specifically, a piece of art as well as stating that it surpasses all expectations. I'm saying this loud and clear because I feel like it would be easy to think otherwise about the rather unconventional super hero movie that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” actually is. It seems it might be easy to be disappointed in the sequel because it doesn't exactly fit into the conventions we've become conditioned to expect. How does ‘Guardians 2’ buck this trend that Marvel has so perfectly perfected as of late? Well, the first thing it changes is that of setting up a convenient villain in the form of another Thanos crony looking for world domination (Gunn literally thought bigger this time, going for galactic domination) while also giving our heroes a real and emotional investment in the plight of the antagonist. Sure, the film opens with the guardians on a for hire mission that sees them doing battle with a large CGI monster for the purposes of getting paid handsomely by a race of snobby and rather pretentious Goldfinger/Goldmember lookalikes, but this is essentially only a framing device and reason to usher Michael Rooker's Yondu back into the fray. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is instead mostly about the relationships between the members of the titular team and developing those dynamics in exchange for progressing the overall Marvel arc. Where Vol. 2 really exceeds though, is in balancing the exploration of these relationships with that of still telling an effective story, the guardians story, and there's just something special about a ginormous, big-budget, special-effects extravaganza that feels this personal. Also, Baby Groot.
So yeah, the film opens with a good ole fashioned CGI-fest that gives way to one of the better title sequences you'll likely see in theaters this year. From here, though, the film takes something of an unexpected turn when the reveal of Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father comes in the first fifteen minutes rather than prolonging the inevitable and thus forcing the guardians to split up. With the arrival of Ego (Kurt Russell) and what is more or less his personal secretary in Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who desire to whisk Quill away Gunn makes the gutsy move of splitting up the winning chemistry of the fab five giving the necessary relationships breathing room while allowing what new relationships are set-up to be justified by the narrative. As was hinted at in the first film and teased in the trailers for ‘Vol. 2’ much of what makes up this sequel's runtime is the meeting, bonding, and discovering of the father/son relationship that Ego and Peter never had prior. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) accompany their fearless leader back to Ego's home planet while Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper with Sean Gunn providing the on-set acting) and baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) stay behind to repair their ship that has crash landed while also keeping an eye on their prisoner, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who still has it in her mind to kill her sister. Leave it up to Rocket to steal some of what they were supposed to be protecting from the race of golden-bodied perfectionists known as The Sovereign and their leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki), who in turn recruits none other than Yondu and his gang that includes Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Taserface (Chris Sullivan) to chase down the guardians, kill them, and return to The Sovereign what rightfully belongs to them. With such pieces in place Gunn has allowed his film to be of the world in which it exists both in terms of the MCU as well as that of the universe established in the first film. The guardians are still very much a rag tag group of heroes who rely on their own strengths and quirks to guide them through the tough spots they face together, but while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” could very much have been another series of scenes where the team chases down a MacGuffin it instead establishes each of its various scenarios in order to better get to know its characters while simultaneously using said scenarios to build to something that will profoundly affect the dynamic of that team moving forward.
Point blank: we grow to care a lot more about these characters due to the fact Gunn isn't afraid of breaking them out of their comfort zone. Like I said, this sequel could have very easily followed the mantra of "bigger is better" and more or less derived itself from its predecessor, but while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” also opens with a flashback to the eighties, the rest of the film carries a very different tone. Whereas the first film delivered the obligatory origins of the team and how they each came to know one another, this second film in the series has each of the guardians not just fleshing out their relationships with one another, but more evaluating their own lives and how they came to be at this point in those respective lives. Right out of the gate we see that while Rocket and Groot are still very close Rocket is no longer able to depend on his companion in the same ways he was previously. Quill and Rocket are constantly at one another's throats; fighting to prove they're worthy of the titles they wish others would bestow upon them. Quill is also dealing with that "unspoken thing" between him and Gamora while mostly trying to digest the fact his father has finally found him and has some surprising news concerning his lineage. As far as Gamora is concerned, there is no "unspoken thing" between her and Star Lord, though we all know there is. Still, props to Gunn and his screenplay once more for not simply resorting to romance in order to keep Gamora's storyline active, but instead delving into her past with Nebula for slices of insight that cut to the core of the character and provide genuine understanding of how these two sisters came to despise one another to the point they can't help but to want to kill one another, but are never able to actually bring themselves to do so. Furthermore, it is through Ego and Yondu that the film offers its best cases of turning expectations on their head as neither operate on the wholly good or bad side of things, but more in a definite gray area on the morality scale leading the audience to not simply dismiss them as one thing or another, but be surprised by who they place first-themselves or the ones they love. This brings about the above referenced "something more" that Gunn was reaching for as one could easily deduce the director is making a plea for the quality of the time we have rather than the length of time we're given, but more it is that Gunn and his film take the time flesh out this point with its own relationships rather than state it without leading by example.
Without delving too much into spoiler territory this theme that is explored is largely due to the nature of the villain and the fact his quest for domination comes not only with eloquently stated justifications, but actions that are filled with tough choices we know this antagonist had to make. Still, that he makes/has made the ones he does we know where his priorities lie and how they differ from that of the guardians given what they learn about one another and discover about themselves in this installment. The entirety of the cast is all kinds of charismatic and none of that is lost in the transition to this sequel where we are treated to more introspective performances all around rather than just re-treads of what we saw in the initial film. Pratt's Star Lord is truly struggling with who to believe and which perspective to trust when it comes to his father and the camaraderie he has always yearned for while Gamora can't help but to feel something more nefarious is going on. Saldana and Gillan may very well come to be one of the more underappreciated aspects of the film due only to the fact it's the most familiar, but at the same time it is the revelations of how Nebula became more machine than woman and how Gamora treated her in order to escape such mental torture that give the audience pause to just how understandable Nebula's motivations are when it isn't she who must answer for a lack of mercy. Even Bautista's Drax, who along with Groot is largely enjoyable and liked for a single personality trait, is given the opportunity to develop a new friendship with Mantis that not only allows for organic plot momentum, but for Bautista to share different shades of his very literal alien life form that prove to be equally as funny as the aura he developed in the first. Bautista could have very easily resorted to making Drax little more than the guy who laughs at everything and makes the obvious joke here and there, but instead of taking that easy route Gunn gives Drax a new, innocent personality to play against and the combination is rather fantastic. It doesn't hurt that Klementieff is pretty great too. The real MVP though? Rooker's Yondu. Not only does this somewhat underdeveloped player from the original completely find redemption here, but he becomes the heart of the theme Gunn is exploring with what is easily the best and most memorable line in the film. Gunn's visual style and soundtrack picks are once again both interesting and more revealing than they might suggest on first glance. Of course, any movie that sets its opening credits to an ELO song is already a winner in my book, but that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” only continues to thrill, surprise, make us laugh, and make us think only reiterates what a wonderful, intimate treat of a summer blockbuster this really is.