by Philip Price
It has been 13 years since Disney and Pixar released their fifth feature length film together in “Finding Nemo,” a movie about a timid clownfish who set out across the ocean to try and find his son. With that film, Disney and Pixar achieved the worldwide domination that the “Toy Story” franchise thus far had suggested and that “Monsters Inc.” had more or less solidified two years earlier. With “Finding Nemo” the animation studio proved once and for all they were no fluke and that their originals could be just as compelling and inventive as their sequels. So now, 13 years later, we finally have a sequel to one of the Pixar films that both could have remained a stellar single film while also (along with “The Incredibles”) being one of the Pixar films that audiences longed for a sequel to and would have much preferred over another ‘Cars’ movie. Has the moment passed though? Even “Toy Story 3” came in under the 13 year mark, but it has now legitimately been a full generation (or two) since “Finding Nemo” debuted in thetaers. Of course, the answer is no as through the power of DVD's, blu-ray's and the ever-improving home theater experience children and viewers who were once children who now have their own children will continue to watch their favorite Disney and Pixar films no matter how much time passes. I will certainly show my child the magic of “Finding Nemo” once she's emotionally ready for those first 10 minutes, but the point is to say that it was never going to be too late for “Finding Dory” and more than anything most audiences will be happy to know it's finally here. And so, with that said and with all of that to live up to, how is the actual film? In short, it is perfectly capable. It is extremely sweet and cute in all the right ways. The flashbacks to Dory as a baby with her parents (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) teaching her how to cope with her short term memory loss will absolutely make a puddle out of any viewer with a heart. “Finding Dory” also succeeds in not being a carbon copy of the original and offers a fair amount of new characters that are also fun, sweet and cute. As the film draws to its close though, it becomes clear ‘Dory’ will pack none of the emotional heft that many of the best Pixar films do. While there are certainly moments of great weight and substance in Dory's quest to locate where she came from the overall arc of the film never latches onto a specific idea or theme in a way that through the film’s execution comes to feel profound. Instead, “Finding Dory” is a fun, beautifully animated diversion and sometimes that is just good enough.
Taking place a year after the events of the first film the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang (again voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is now living happily with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) as well as helping out Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson) with the schools of fish in which Nemo is now happily a part of. One day, Mr. Ray decides to take his young group of sea creatures on a field trip to see his relatives as they make their way back home on their yearly migration. Seeing the barrage of stingray's rush by and accidentally getting swept up in their current triggers something in Dory's typically forgetful brain as she begins to remember bits and pieces of her past, most of it surrounding the location of her parents, Jenny and Charlie. And so, the moment Dory is able to even catch a glimpse of a memory she, without thinking, becomes determined to try and track down and find her long lost parents. This may sound familiar as embarking on an adventure across the ocean to try and locate the whereabouts of a few other fish is more or less the same plight Marlin and Dory faced in the original, but there are enough differentiators along the way and plenty of new characters that it never feels we are travelling down the same aquatic road. Instead, with the help of Crush the sea turtle (voiced by director Andrew Stanton) Dory, Marlin and Nemo make their way to their first clue fairly quickly. Winding up just outside the Marine Life Institute they are warmly welcomed by the voice of Sigourney Weaver who, in a great little running joke, clearly has a contract with the Institute to narrate the guest's activities and welcome them warmly. Without knowing it and with a nod to reasons why we shouldn't pollute our oceans Dory is picked up by workers from the institute and taken to the quarantine building. Through the power of Weaver's vocal direction and the help of some especially territorial sea lions (voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West) Marlin and Nemo discover where Dory has been taken and that her parents may very well be in captivity inside the institute. Meanwhile, on the inside, Dory makes friends with a cranky septopus named Hank (Ed O'Neill) who agrees to help her escape in exchange for a tag that will send him to Cleveland. Little does Dory know the more she explores the Marine Life Institute the more she'll begin to remember.
“Finding Dory” really uses this conservatory of diverse ocean species to its advantage both in how it allows the story to unfold while introducing us to a number of new characters and interesting obstacles. First, there is the way in which Stanton and fellow writers Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson are able to take what is essentially the same story from the first film and change it up just enough so that viewers will feel as if they're getting more of what they loved while also being treated to something new and fresh. On top of that they weave into the narrative little asides on Dory's part that come to be explained and thus more meaningful in organic enough ways that it feels smart-it feels as if there is real circumstance and basic logic to what is occurring which is, surprisingly enough, sometimes hard to find in the movies. By allowing the plot and Dory to connect the dots between the bits and pieces Dory recalls from her past and how they relate to her current environment while propelling that plot forward is rather ingenious and makes for a wholly satisfying experience when it comes to the adventure these familiar characters are embarking upon. And then there is how the film takes advantage of its new setting in order to introduce a whole cast of new characters into play that will also undoubtedly connect to Dory's past both in ways we might hope and might not imagine. The main attraction in this new set of characters is the aforementioned Hank who comes to the aid of Dory for his own intents and purposes, but naturally, as we all have, eventually warms up to the forgetful fish and becomes more of an ally than an accomplice only in on the adventure for selfish reasons. Hank is a stubborn septopus who enjoys the solitary life a tank provides, but has been exposed to children far too long and is now on the verge of being set free from the institute and back into the ocean where he'd rather not interact with other sea creatures. Naturally, Hank comes to learn a few things about the real meaning of family as he helps Dory try and locate hers. Also in the mix is Dory's childhood friend named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) a whale shark who is nearsighted and therefore not a very graceful swimmer. Destiny may be the reason Dory can speak whale, but with the help of her beluga whale neighbor, Bailey (Ty Burrell), she is also the first real sign of hope that Dory may indeed be headed in the right direction. It would also be a shame not to mention the third sea lion Gerald (Torbin Xan Bullock) who absolutely steals the single scene he appears in and who elicited one of the biggest laughs I've had in the theater in a long time.
All of these new characters and all of the obstacles in the world can't make “Finding Dory” a cut above the rest though, and so this highly-anticipated sequel falls more in line with the caliber of “The Good Dinosaur” than its predecessor. The cause for this is not simply the fact “Finding Dory” has nothing of real significance or importance to say, but more that it doesn't use its premise to say something that would merit such nouns. Rather, the movie exists on a field that is of the colorful and fun variety with little going on below the surface. There are no larger themes at play, there is no small facet of life audience members might relate to on a singular level, but understand relates to a wide range of audience members so as to create a feeling of unity and understanding among a mass amount of people. Of course, not all entertainment necessarily has to serve this purpose, but can be nothing more than entertainment and nothing more. It is simply the high bar Pixar has set for itself that we come to their films with the expectation that not only will we get beautifully rendered animation and consistent laughs, but that we might pick up on aspects of ourselves that we didn't recognize before. That we might learn a few lessons that may have needed to be learned or were worth repeating, but for a movie about the creatures of the deep blue sea “Finding Dory” doesn't care to go very deep itself. Sure, it has a few heartfelt moments about how family can be more than flesh and blood given Nemo and Marlin are separated from the titular blue tang less than half way through the film and don't dare to give up on her, but while these moments pull the necessary strings they tend to leave very little impact. Much like last year's superior, but equally frustrating “Inside Out” Pixar has become reliant on the literal journey of their main characters to serve as the backbone of the story. My qualm with “Inside Out” was that it didn't take advantage of the stellar premise and ideas it had going in, but instead made it more about two characters facing obstacle after obstacle in order to get back home. Whereas “Inside Out” layered in reasoning and insight into its journey, as well as some insanely creative stuff happening within the obstacles along the way “Finding Dory” feels more by the numbers and more as if it positions obstacles so as to extend the running time rather than serving any real purpose. That doesn't make “Finding Dory” a bad movie - it is fun, diverting entertainment that is easy to enjoy, but when you come from a family tree that has produced some stellar specimens more is going to be expected of you than being good enough.
Me Before You
by Philip Price
If you're buying a ticket to “Me Before You” you know what you're getting yourself into. The movie itself, based on the novel by Jojo Moyes (who also penned the screenplay) and directed by first time feature director Thea Sharrock, knows what it is and has no qualms with embracing the tropes of the romantic drama genre. Its ultimate goal is to have tears flowing from your eyes as you leave the theater and if you are indeed buying a ticket to “Me Before You” and subsequently crying as the credits roll you are probably happy with said purchase. That is what audiences are looking for from a movie like this and for the most part, “Me Before You” delivers. What isn't necessarily expected from such a film, but that “Me Before You” tends to deliver in spades, is an endearing quality of humanity. It isn't anything new to find a relative nature to the characters at the core of the conflict in movies such as this, but with our two leads here Moyes smartly adds another layer to their relationship that takes it beyond being non-traditional and not just based on if issues of the heart will keep them together or draw them apart. Rather, this caveat elevates the story to one that forces us to contemplate the courage needed to redirect a life that has been thrown completely off course. That may sound slightly dramatic in itself given the tone this film initially takes on is quite affable, but when it comes down to it-when the relationship has been developed and the tears inevitably shed there is left a large amount of respect for “Me Before You” for not only embracing the recurring archetypes of its genre, but for daring to try to improve upon them. Whether this be through the act of stronger characterization in our female lead than typically seen, the sometimes downright dislikable nature of the male lead or the generally high quality of acting on display-there is something pedigreed and understated about the final product that allows skeptical audiences to appreciate its willingness to improve upon acknowledged tropes while pleasing the target audience in a way they may not have known to be possible before. All in all, “Me Before You” is a tearjerker that earns that title through improving on and adding to the familiar while still hitting every box on the genre checklist.
We are introduced to the beaming Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) as she tends to customers at The Buttered Bun tea shop before her facial expression changes as her boss hands her a months' worth of pay and the news he's shutting down the shop. This is bad news for Louisa, affectionately called Lou by those who love her, as her job at the tea shop has been helping her struggling mom and dad stay afloat. The Clark gang, consisting of Grandad (Alan Breck) father Bernard (Brendan Coyle), mother Josie (Samantha Spiro), and younger sister Treena (Jenna Coleman) who has a child of her own, is living paycheck to paycheck and the loss of Lou's job hits them all hard. And so, it is with great pressure that Lou walks into an interview at the Traynor estate with hopes of securing a position to provide care and companionship for a disabled man. Walking into the interview Lou doesn't know that the disabled man is the son of the woman with whom she is speaking. Camilla Traynor (Janet McTeer) and her husband Stephen (Charles Dance) live in a wealthy world where the castle on the hill is owned by them, but since a motorcycle accident left their son paralyzed and living as a quadriplegic for the past two years they've been unable to spend any amount of money on anything that might bring him happiness. It is in something of a desperate attempt that Camilla is looking for someone like Louisa who might bring some kind of joy to her son. Upon first meeting the intelligent and also very wealthy Will (Sam Claflin) it is apparent this is a very angry man. Though Mrs. Traynor's intentions are understandable the likelihood of such a plan working seem slim in the beginning as Will treats Lou as he does everyone else: with a certain amount of contempt and disregard. Of course, as both Will and the audience come to know Louisa both can't help but to be charmed by her outlandish wardrobe and sparkling personality. Adding a burst of color to his monochromatic world, the unavoidable happens when Will and Louisa begin to develop an affection for one another that simultaneously brings both an untapped pleasure as well as further complications to both of their lives.
Though it can be said that “Me Before You” is a co-lead situation with Clarke and Claflin leading a surprisingly strong ensemble cast this is clearly Clarke's film. From the outset we watch as the events of the film play out from her character’s perspective so that it is maybe more sad without being as depressing were we to see things through Will's eyes. This brings about the fine line that not only Claflin and Clarke have to walk with their performances, but that Moyes had to navigate in her novel and screenplay as well as Sharrock did in pinpointing just the right tone. Overall, the film is more consistently funny than I expected given the subject matter, but this is largely to deter the character of Will from his grim reality as much as it is the audience. It is only in small intercessions that we are brought back down to earth in order to remind us that despite the effervescent glow Lou brings to both Will's life and the screen-that it can only ever be temporary. As Lou, Clarke makes an indelible (if you haven't already seen her in “Game of Thrones,” which I haven't) impression as the bubbly, but sadly stalled young woman of 26 that has a steady boyfriend, but no ambitions of getting married or leaving the small, sleepy town where she has resided her entire life. These insecurities and limited experiences lend well to the dynamic that is created between she and Will as he was a well-traveled, adventurous, and successful businessman (of course, he had every advantage possible at his fingertips) before his accident. Clarke brings her expressive eyebrows and warm smile to Louisa in a way that allows such features to cover-up the fact she isn't actually experiencing life in a way that will render it any meaning in retrospect. The catch here is that Will has-he used those aforementioned advantages to live a life full of grand experiences, but that he can't take such advantages anymore leads to certain realizations on his part. He comes to see how much he took for granted prior to meeting Louisa with her presence suddenly allowing him to live out this drive and sense of excitement through her-as someone who could have never thought to expound their energies in the same way Will once did. As Will, Claflin has the difficult task of playing a man who is miserable and often rude while having to also become charming enough that we root for he and Louisa to complement one another in the way that he might actually take an interest in his own future if he's allowed to become an integral part of hers.
Though the destination is important and certainly key to the overall themes and ideas Moyes was looking to discuss with her book and by adapting her own novel for the screen it is largely the journey that develops these motifs in a way that allows for the destination to resonate in expected ways, but on unexpected levels. Sharrock documents the developing feelings between our two central characters with expected montages set to Ed Sheeran while paralleling the fantastical with the underlying fact that Will seeks to end his own life and the discussions and ramifications that have to eventually be had and dealt with because of that. It is this aspect that lends the two characters to be as introspective with themselves as they are outward about the feelings they have for one another. By painting this picture of these individuals dealing with such circumstances there comes to be something more eloquent and honest about the relationship at the heart of the film when it could have just as easily been portrayed as a plot point to garner more tears. Both Moyes in her writing and Sharrock in her bringing of these words to the screen is able to capture the humanity in the situation and the difficult, but truthful pill that must be swallowed in order for the film to hold fast to those honest and eloquent descriptors. It would be easy to call the film formulaic as it does heed many of the same beats as any number of love stories that have ever been put to screen, but that it also cares to provoke stinging emotions such as reducing a man who once held all the power over his life he could imagine to that of whether to continue living or not certainly adds a fair amount of weight to your proceedings. Neither Moyce nor Sharrock wallow in this decision though, but rather leave it looming with the hope that Lou's presence might be enough to cause Will hesitance. Whether you know the ending or not it is accomplished in a way that doesn't feel as if it's being done for nothing, but that there is very much a redemptive quality to it-an atonement of sorts that allows one to retain a sense of pride and power over their life and the other a chance to live theirs.
Love & Friendship
by Philip Price
From the outset of director Whit Stillman's Jane Austen adaptation, “Love & Friendship,” it is apparent that this is unlike any Austen adaptation one has seen before and probably unlike any film one has seen set in the Georgian era as well. Joel Coen has said, and the sentiment has been repeated and discussed many times, that directing is more or less about managing tone and it is in this aspect that Stillman more than excels here by giving this distinguished era in British history a tinge of the sardonic. The Georgian era is most prominent for the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and how such changes brought about more tension between the social classes. “Love & Friendship” more or less capitalizes on such anxiety by putting our protagonist in a transitional stage between losing a wealthy husband and finding another suitor who might allow her to live out the rest of her days in comfort. This protagonist is the titular character of Austen's 1871 novella, Lady Susan, who has a duplicitous personality and a keen understanding of man's nature that makes such a transition all the more entertaining. And this is kind of the crux that allows for Stillman's latest venture to stand out in the way that it does as not only is it unlike any film one has ever seen set in this era or a similar one, but that it deals in its subject matter not as a “Pride & Prejudice” adaptation would, but rather with a tone that is sometimes screwy and a little eccentric, but always hilarious and maybe even more importantly-frequently impulsive. It can't help but to seem that films set during a time period such as this are met with preconceived notions that carry negative connotations by today's younger audiences, but “Downton Abbey” (though I haven't seen a single episode) has seemingly bucked that trend to a certain degree and it only seems Stillman has pushed these notions even further by creating a film of Victorian-like structure and style that resonates a certain freshness one would never expect from such material. I cannot emphasize enough how simply delightful “Love & Friendship” is if not for how surprisingly fun it is, but for the career best performance delivered by Kate Beckinsale.
Set specifically is 1790 (four years before it is believed Austen actually penned the novella) the story follows the beautiful, but widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) as she seeks a new husband for herself and one for rather reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan comes to stay at the estate of her in-laws, brother to her late husband Charles (Justin Edwards) and his wealthy wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell), as she plans to wait out some colorful rumors circulating through polite society about her many dalliances, most specifically with the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin). While there, she begins something of a relationship with Catherine's younger, handsome brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). As the DeCourcy family name is well-known and well-respected throughout much of London and its surrounding country estates Lady Susan sees the opportunity as a fine one, especially considering Reginald's young age-only one of the ways in which Lady Susan subverts the standards of the romantic novels produced during this time period. Of course, these among other factors are the reasons Reginald is smitten with her and he and Catherine's parents, Sir Reginald DeCourcy (James Fleet) and Lady DeCourcy (Jemma Redgrave), despise the thought of Lady Susan courting much less wedding their son. While at Charles and Catherine's "decidedly boring" estate known as Churchill Lady Susan runs into more obstacles than anticipated when Frederica runs away from school and is returned to her mother's care in the midst of this transition from widow to seasoned gold digger. Frederica is set to be married to the very wealthy but very simple Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) despite the fact she doesn't love him. When Sir James also shows up at Churchill things are only complicated further, pushing the necessary schemes of Lady Susan to another level as well as pushing the truth of her intentions that much closer to being exposed.
If one has seen or read any story taking place in a similar time period as this than one is privy to the elegant and exquisite way in which everyone speaks, but it is the facet of such derisive and, to sound extremely British, cheeky sentiments being conveyed in such exquisite language that makes what some would consider boring based solely on the poster so damn appealing. Though it becomes clear through the way supporting characters speak of her that Lady Susan is known for being deceitful and more an "ornament to society," based on her beauty than any kind of contributing individual it seems she is actually much worse than people give her credit for. As stated prior, Lady Susan is a complete subversion of what was expected from the typical heroine in 19th century literature. Not only are many of her suitors significantly younger and not only is she searching out the best possible candidate for a new husband while maintaining a relationship with a married man, but believe it or not she is as intelligent as she is beautiful, she is witty beyond measure, and is a complete manipulator and schemer operating on immoral and rather shameless terms. While the polite society of the time dictates that such selfish and "indecent" truths be kept to one's self the story gets around as much by pairing Lady Susan with the like-minded Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny). Alicia is an American who is in a loveless marriage with the agreeable Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry). Lady Susan confides in Alicia and Alicia finds delight in hearing of and making suggestions for Lady Susan's manipulative plans. More than the undermining of such character tropes though, “Love & Friendship” specifically is elevated by the performance of Beckinsale as its central character. As Lady Susan, Beckinsale possesses a charm and a comedic timing that we haven't seen before or haven't seen in some time. With her legacy up to this point firmly planted in the silly, but sometimes watchable Underworld movies helmed by her husband Len Wiseman the actress has officially become much more than that with her turn here. To hear Beckinsale so skillfully spout opinions on "facts being horrid things," or how, "having children is our fondest wish yet they become our cutest critics," is refreshing in a way that can't necessarily be described.
Though Beckinsale and her Lady Susan are undoubtedly the stars of the show there is plenty more to love about Stillman's sense of biting humor and the way in which he expresses that necessary tone to make such material all the more unique and intriguing. From the opening moments in which Stillman chooses to present us with the somewhat complicated roster of characters and how they each intertwine there is a clear style that is defined through which he remains consistent. Stillman conveys this tone further by keeping the shots very static and dry so as to seemingly match the humor. Very rarely do we see any movement early in the film and yet, as the tensions rise within the context of the story, so does the movement of the camera to that of tracking, obviously planned shots that deliver the audience a better sense of confusion and giddy enthusiasm. This only adds to the perfect pacing of the piece that is complimented by a swift and decisive 90-minute runtime. This temperament of course matches many of the characters well due to the fact the large disposition of the time was to operate more on logic than the impulses that make life and, not coincidentally, this film so exciting. And then there are those supporting characters that are so very delicious as to almost steal the show. We get to know, shortly, in the beginning a Mrs. Cross (Kelly Campbell) who is more or less a maid to Lady Susan despite the fact she has no money and whom Lady Susan declares that because they are friends it would be "offensive to exchange wages". In the process of Mrs. Cross fulfilling her duties to Lady Susan she is forced to listen to Susan's blunt complaints and more or less re-states each of her points in hysterically dry fashion. A real highlight. Still, the real show-stopper is Bennett who, as the dense Sir James, steals not one, not two, but three scenes that have him demonstrating a penchant for delivering pure comedic bliss whether the topic be agriculture or the Ten Commandments. His timing is perfection and I can't wait to see what more he is offered after this break-out as he is truly phenomenal. Fittingly, the conclusion of the narrative comes to rely on the characters of Lady Susan and Sir James and a dynamic we know cannot continue forever, but is a fitting commentary on a society that would prefer to be polite than aware and the two people who rather perfectly encapsulate either end of that spectrum.
by Philip Price
From the opening cityscape shot of New York City accompanied by Steve Jablonsky's pulsing score new director Dave Green establishes a fresh, but familiar tone with this sequel to 2014's "surprisingly" successful reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle live action series. With Michael Bay producing, a hired hand director, and a string of production issues it is something of a wonder that first film came off as well as it did. In more or less accomplishing what it intended to be for the audience it intended to target “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” qualified as a success. And if that opinion is to be shared it is also highly likely one would agree with the fact this sequel, subtitled ‘Out of the Shadows,’ is even more successful in its end goals as the story is more coherent, the characters more in tune with their distinctive personalities, and the whole affair in general being a lot more fun. That isn't to say “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a great film as it certainly has no aspirations to be groundbreaking and seems to only hope to fall in line with the rules rather than to be an exception, but in doing little more than fully embracing its source material in the most cartoony and goofy of ways it gets so many things right it parlays itself into a pleasantly entertaining time at the movies. It would be easy to pick apart a film such as this for the gaps in logic, the idea that Megan Fox's April O'Neil could so easily break into as high profile a lab as Dr. Baxter Stockman's (Tyler Perry), or that Hollywood should be ashamed of itself for wasting the talent of actors like Laura Linney in this type of disposable entertainment, but what would be the point? ‘TMNT’ has been around long enough at this point that there is some respect due to the series for being as endearing as it has continued to be. The fact that it centers around four genetically mutated reptiles who listen to a giant rat and have a sexy news reporter and a guy with a hockey mask on their team is easy ammo if one cares to criticize such openly ridiculous material, but that Green and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec choose to embrace such absurdities rather than attempt to play them down (ahem...”Fantastic Four”) makes it easier for the audience to do the same.
When we last left the Turtles, comprised of leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek pulling double duty this time around as they've ditched Johnny Knoxville's voice work), the brain Donatello (Jeremy Howard), the attitude Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and the party dude in Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), they were just coming together and better figuring out their team dynamic in order to take down the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune last time, Brian Tee this time). In the wake of these events the Turtles have made a pact with former cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) that he be the face of the savior of the city while they, the Turtles, hide in the wings. Within the opening sequence it becomes clear each of the four turtles are getting more and more restless in their having to operate at night and not be able to receive the credit due to them. These internal struggles are all pushed to the side when Shredder is being transported from his high security prison to what we can only assume is an even higher security prison and the aforementioned Dr. Stockman as well as Shredder's henchmen, The Footclan, attempt to set the Sensei free from his chains. Enter police officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) who is escorting the infamous villain from one point to another and add in the likes of common criminals Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly) and one has the formula for a rather outstanding opening chase sequence that puts all of these players effectively in place. Furthermore, this escape plan opens the audience up to the fact Perry's mad scientist character has been included because he's found a piece of the evil Krang's (voice of Brad Garrett) teleportation device that has fallen through a portal to earth. When Shredder comes into contact with the brain-like organism that resides within the torso of a large, mechanical body and is informed of Krang's plan to dominate the earth with his Technodrome (a powerful battle fortress) the two fall in league with one another as Shredder pledges to help Krang dominate our planet as long as Krang agrees to help him get rid of the Turtles. Cue the theme song (or "Spirit in the Sky") as we're off and running as the film mixes in this basic world domination plot with actual character development between the brothers and enough action to keep our human cast active to the point they don't feel wasted.
People found much to complain about with the first film in this re-booted series due largely to the design of the characters (which I like) and the seeming attempt to ground the characters in a more realistic tone (I guess?), but they must have been watching a different movie as the Jonathan Liebesman directed film I experienced was an experiment of sorts that tried its best to incorporate the look and feel of what super hero movies have become today while still recognizing the more outlandish qualities of the source material. The biggest downfall of the first film was that, while it felt the responsibility of having to re-introduce all of the core characters, it never felt as if it was fully immersed or invested in this world it was trying to build. With Green's sequel it feels as if we've officially been welcomed into the New York City where these subterranean turtles move through the shadows and hide out in the jumbotron to watch the Knicks play ball while they eat some pizza. Green, who loves his dutch tilt, gives us small touches throughout the film both in terms of fan service, small character moments, and in something as seemingly simple, but absolutely critical as keeping the pacing at an energetic enough level that the film never becomes bogged down in the details of the story. It is critical to accept that this is a story where we're going to see the likes of Megan Fox dress in ridiculous disguises and have Tyler Perry create an intentionally dorky laugh so as to play up the camp element of these situations and if you're okay with that-you'll likely be happy with what Out of the Shadows has to offer. As a child of the nineties, as someone who grew up with the animated Turtles series there is certainly the chance a haze of nostalgia clouds my judgment, but having had such a consistently and genuinely fun time throughout this unexpectedly good sequel it has made the faults and generally silly nature of what is happening on screen seem minor. At the script level Appelbaum and Nemec have really dug into further developing the individual personalities of the Turtles and integrating those dynamics into the story naturally. That Michelanelo is given plenty of room to shine here is also a plus. On a filmmaking level Green allows for moments to breathe such as when he shows us Mikey stepping back to chuckle at the extent of Raph's badassery in a way that gives this Turtles fan flashbacks to what made these characters so appealing in the first place.
While there has clearly been a kind of fresh, clean slate approach to this sequel as a number of lessons were obviously learned on the first film the biggest leg up this sequel has on its predecessor (besides the fact it fully immerses us in this outlandish reality) is that it is a better structured movie. There is a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end with large action set pieces occurring every half hour or so in order to keep that aforementioned pacing in check and never allowing the nearly two-hour film to drag. Speaking of the action sequences, each is accomplished in a fluent and clear way from how the Turtles take their tricked out garbage truck and attempt to dismantle the hijacking of Shredder's convoy to the hand to hand combat that takes place between the Turtles and the Footclan at police headquarters where our heroes in a half shell come face to face with humans outside of April and Casey for the first time and onto a skydiving sequence that begins as a comedy sketch, transitions into a large piece of fan service as we finally get to see Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo face off against classic foes Bebop and Rocksteady for the first time on the big screen, before finally being dropped into an exotic location that allows for the animation of the Turtles to truly have a moment to bask in the glory of just how far technology has come before they are washed down a gorgeously rendered waterfall. This, of course, all leading to the final battle between the Turtles and Krang where they must stop the Technodrome from being completed in earth's dimension. This last act would be slightly underwhelming were it only focused on the titular heroes facing Krang, but that there are segments of April and Vernon on a mission to destroy the machine allowing Krang's battle station through the portal as well as Casey Jones roller-blading his way through Bebop and Rocksteady before eventually grabbing a hockey stick (no lie, more Casey Jones would have been a plus) allows for the climactic final battle to feel just big enough to justify the price of 3D ticket. One could easily pick this thing apart and if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, go ahead and complain, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is so unabashedly fun I'd have to imagine there's more going wrong in your life than just a bad ‘TMNT’ movie if you find this playful piece of entertainment disappointing.
by Philip Price
There is a definitive climactic feel to everything about the latest venture from The Lonely Island, as if a culmination of everything the trio has been working toward since "Lazy Sunday" debuted over 10 years ago. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer have always had a knack for writing these catchy, hilarious spoofs of trending musical styles by taking timely and/or brutally honest perspectives and applying them to legit beats created by credible producers. The trick is they convey their sometimes cutting commentary and other times all out ridiculousness with the mentality of the pop culture machine in that it all feels superfluous and can be enjoyed for its surface level pleasures, but if one cares to look-there is more there. The Lonely Island have applied that same approach and ideology to their latest feature film project as this is very much a mockumentary that is lampooning the trend of pop stars producing their own "behind the scenes" documentaries in order to both appeal further to their established fan base while hopefully converting a few of the uninitiated as well. Out of the big, sprawling narrative we call life the managing teams around the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction have crafted three-act narratives around their phenomenon's in order to give some sense of structure to lives that likely have very little of it. The Lonely Island have taken the idea of this type of branding and selling and picked out every aspect in which they can make fun of thus creating the perfect vessel of sorts for them to both create their own music and release it simultaneously while adding the all-important visual element to those songs in the form of a feature film. As a longtime fan of The Lonely Island and pretty much all they stand for “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” feels like that aforementioned culmination due to the fact this format provides the perfect stage for the type of comedy and social commentary The Lonely Island has always been good at, but have now been afforded the chance to do so on a much bigger scale. Are there issues with the film as a whole? Sure, a few, but to pick out the minor quibbles would be to detract from how much fun it is to watch this deconstruction of not only the music industry, but pop culture in general and the near perfect execution with which it pulls off the task it sets out to accomplish.
As a cross between Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake the subject of this documentary is Conner Friel AKA Conner4Real (Samberg) who was once one-third of the popular boy band/rap group The Style Boyz that consisted of childhood friends Owen (Taccone), and Lawrence (Schaffer) before he broke out on his own. In some ways, this trajectory is similar to The Lonely Island as well given the group was primed for success before Samberg became front and center on the ‘SNL’ stage. It is once Conner takes the stage as a solo act that the similarities to Bieber really begin to kick in-from the extravagantly calculated coolness of his wardrobe to the haircut and pace and register in which he speaks-it all seems to be done in a manner to convey a certain type of attitude so that he might be perceived in a very specific light. The documentary begins on the eve of Conner releasing his second solo album, “Connquest,” with his large team of supporters and errand boys prepping for the accompanying tour that is expected to do huge business following his breakout solo record. As we're informed by Conner's manager, Harry (Tim Meadows), the popstar has 32 people on his payroll including his publicist (Sarah Silverman), a roadie (Bill Hader), a few lackey's to keep him company (James Buckley and Amechi Okocha), and a handful of others who are assigned absurd roles that are probably based more in reality than some would care to admit. As for Conner's former bandmates, Owen is now the DJ on Conner's tour as his role is growing ever smaller as is his presence when Conner decides to put a huge robot helmet on him to emulate the likes of EDM artists given their current popularity. Lawrence, on the other hand, has openly hated Conner since he departed the Style Boyz and took full credit for writing an iconic verse that Lawrence claims to have come up with. While the Style Boyz drift further and further apart Conner is having to deal with the fact his latest album is tanking both critically and commercially. Not even a marketing tie-in with house hold appliances can save the record with help in the form of up and coming rapper Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd) who is brought in to help sell concert tickets only further forcing Conner to face certain realities. All of this leading to a sort of existential crisis for Conner that will ultimately lend him some perspective and set him on a fresh track where he's able to discover himself and his true purpose.
While ‘Popstar’ is clearly in the vein of something like “This is Spinal Tap” it is also very much that film for the current generation. And like that film, while the characters and situations account for large portions of the humor, what is most important is the music. One of the few concerns going into this new Lonely Island movie was that their brand of outrageous pop parodies, while all well and good in bluntly making fun of pop music, wouldn't be able to translate to songs we'd actually hear on the radio. That is still an issue of sorts as Bieber would never put out a song about a girl with an Osama Bin Laden fetish, but that they make not only Conner, but all of the Style Boyz, rather dense allows for the idea they'd think songs about how the Mona Lisa actually sucks could be a hit. And while the songs aren't as sly or subtle as they maybe could have been they aren't disappointing either due solely to fact it is new Lonely Island music that is as good as their music ever has been. We understand the whole thing is a joke anyway and so the goofiness of the songs is taken not with a sense of how they would play in the real world, but are made funnier by how close they in fact do come to sounding like what we actually hear on top 40 radio today. If one has been paying attention to the marketing for this film the melodies and music of tracks like "Humble," will already sound familiar, but if not it is a real treat to discover these songs within the context of the film. Given the only song that wasn't released prior to the film's release is a Macklemore satire called "Equal Rights," that features P!nk and is as perfect a Lonely Island track as one can imagine, it is this sequence in particular that serves as the most gut-bustingly memorable in the entirety of the film. Personally, there were hopes for more moments such as this. There is plenty of music included to be sure, but the group never allows the songs to play out in full nor do they create new music videos for each of the singles Conner releases. As previously mentioned, these complaints are minimal for despite the story not giving us more of what are obviously very funny people doing very funny things (the film wouldn't have been hurt by more Maya Rudolph, Joan Cusack, or...Mariah Carey?), but the plus side is that directors Schaffer and Taccone keep things moving at such a break-neck speed (the movie is a mere 86-minutes) it's easy to forget about such aspects until after the ride has come to an end.
That the music succeeds is a big success and that The Lonely Island is able to get real people from within the music industry to more or less spoof themselves is a huge plus, but what makes ‘Popstar’ most successful is its ability to dial in on the small details of what makes this business work and how we, as consumers, feed off this stuff despite real, world-changing things going on. There isn't one strand in particular that stands out more than another, but that we get Imogen Poots as Conner's girlfriend of six months who he proposes to in order to change the media cycle around him after an embarrassing incident on stage, or Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia and Chelsea Peretti completely parodying TMZ in such over the top fashion it can only hope to be as nonsensical as the real thing is where the film finds its weight. The Lonely Island undoubtedly have a front row seat to this type of behavior and they have clearly been taking notes for years as their film is filled to the brim with slight nods and whole bits that play up the insanity of how some such irrational thoughts, ideas, and actions can eventually become accepted if enough people give it a seal of approval. These ideas and commentaries all come back around to a single observation though, and that is simply how self-involved we've become. If we don't share or post about what we're doing it's as if it didn't happen anymore and in this type of society where we have to constantly sell ourselves and play up the quality of our lives as opposed to those on our friends or followers list there grows an inherent need to discuss one's self more and more. See the number of selfies certain people post or the amount of stock some people place in the number of likes they receive on Instagram and it's not hard to see The Lonely Island isn't just making fun of Justin Bieber or the industry of pop music, but that they're trying to tell all of us a little something. We're just not as big a target as the Biebs. With that said, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is still very much a broad comedy that keeps the laughs coming and the entertainment value sky high. I hate to speak in hyperbole, but given we're halfway through the calendar year it doesn't feel ridiculous to say The Lonely Island have crafted the best and funniest comedy of the year so far and that this film should be thought of with a certain amount of esteem despite the fact it falls into the category of comedy. It accomplishes what it sets out to do in almost near perfect fashion. A task many of the Oscar hopefuls we'll see later this year won't be able to claim.
by Philip Price
For a movie wholly concentrated on time, time travel, and the essence of time it sure feels like this sequel to the 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” is a huge waste of it. Time that is. Of course, given that 2010 Tim Burton film made north of a billion dollars at the box office it was an inevitability that we'd be getting a sequel sooner or later, but it's still somewhat surprising it has come this late. Six years have passed, a handful of other live action adaptations of classic Disney animated films have been made and yet here we are, back in Wonderland. Having not read the Lewis Carroll stories on which these adventures of Alice have been based one has to imagine that to have made as big a cultural impact as they have they were more inventive and innovative than the film adaptations we're now receiving. To say that is to say that “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is no more interesting or compelling than its predecessor. It wasn't without hope that this viewer walked into this six year later sequel with optimism that new director James Bobin might bring something fresh and exciting to what otherwise felt like the jaded side of Tim Burton that was incarnated in his predecessor. Transforming the widely known Wonderland as perceived by the naiveté of a child Alice, Burton turned the fantasy world into Underland and gave us a darker film than expected. That was all well and good until the movie didn't really work, but Bobin has now come along to bring to life a brighter, more enticing time in the realm of Wonderland as our heroine must travel through space and time to try and save the dying of depression Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). This brings to mind the biggest undoing of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ in that its narrative drive simply isn't compelling enough to sustain its nearly two-hour runtime. It becomes repetitive and as if it is searching for disparate plot strands to try and pull together a complete story. Linda Woolverton, who has made a career out of writing Disney films (including “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”), adapted Carroll's story here and while there are certainly moments of inspired humor, a few nice character moments, and grand majestic visuals by way of Bobin and the special effects team, there is no substance to the product as a whole. It is a wonder how forgettable the film turns out to be.
When we are first re-introduced to Mia Wasikowska's Alice she has been sailing the world as the Captain of a ship who returns to London in 1875 only to find family issues dealing with her mother (Lindsay Duncan) and her previous fiancé, Hamish (Leo Bill), who are more or less taking the ship Alice's father left for her from her and offering her a desk job that will keep her far away from her sea adventures. It seems Alice has stayed away from dry land in an attempt to cope with her father's death, but at this news she once again retreats to her dream world of Wonderland after following the blue butterfly Absolem (voice of the late Alan Rickman) through a mirror. Upon arriving in Wonderland, Alice is dropped into the ever present tea time where it is discovered that the Hatter has more or less gone even madder. Considering this eccentricity is part of the character this shouldn't seem too odd or out of place, but Mirana (Anne Hathaway), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) and a whole cast of animated animals including Bayard the Bloodhound (voice of Timothy Spall), Thackery AKA the March Hare (voice of Paul Whitehouse), McTwisp (voice of Michael Sheen), and of course the Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry) all believe something more unusual has stricken Depp's Hatter. As it turns out, the Hatter thinks his once believed to be deceased family is actually still alive due to the fact he came across the first hat he ever made that he thought was lost in the fire that killed his family. That no one believes this could be an actual possibility, including Alice, sends the Hatter into a deep depression. Because Alice claims to be best of friends with the Hatter, though we were never privy to this relationship being formed or given reason as to how such a bond exists other than quick lines of dialogue assuring us of as much, she says she would do anything to help the Hatter and thus we are off and running. Once it is explained to Alice how she might rescue Hatter's long lost family by traveling back in time to save them she quickly recaps a checklist of things she must do in order to accomplish this task in which we are essentially given a list of the beats the movie will hit from that point out. The bad thing about this other than the fact that it is lazy writing is the fact that by this point in the feature we're already dreading having to watch this long checklist play out as it's clear what's in store is little more than a series of inconsequential events that will undoubtedly look appealing, but carry no soul.
The more redeeming qualities of this cobbled together series of events are the illustrious cast attempting to make things work as well as the genuinely good looking quality of the film and of course Danny Elfman's score. I can only remember the previous ‘Alice’ having a world that felt dark and dim for reasons having to do as much with tone as they did the rendering of the special effects. Here, like with ‘Jungle Book,’ the fully CG environments aren't so much distracting as they are convincing, but they're nowhere near as immersive largely due to the quality of the content taking place within them. That said, there truly are some staggeringly beautiful production designs brought to life though, namely around Sacha Baron Cohen's character of Time. For instance, when Time walks out onto a long bridge that seems to be hanging amidst a plethora of golden-colored clouds with tiny pocket watches hanging down around him as if ornaments on a beautifully decorated tree one can appreciate the impact of the image on a purely aesthetic level. The double edged sword of offering little more than surface-level beauty is the fact ‘Through the Looking Glass’ is only really worth seeing if you're seeing it on the biggest screen possible. At least then one can appreciate one of the few positive factors present in this sequel whereas the effect of the world Bobin has built is likely lost on the small screen. That the film offers nothing in the way of story for these visuals to support is what causes such passive feelings toward the film. Sure, it's pretty to look at from time to time, but with nothing to stimulate the mind or more importantly, the imagination, the beauty only does so much for so long. Given the film is so centered around this concept of time and brings up conflicting ideas of time being a friend to no one or that time is many things, but isn't necessarily our enemy-it felt safe to assume the film might speak to viewers on a more perceptive level, but there is nothing here to contemplate, nothing to discuss. Rather, Bobin and his team seem to have viewed the film as simply as Alice views that aforementioned checklist she must follow to fix the Hatter. If only Bobin's list had been one telling him how to create a more enlightening and, dare I say it, riskier version of this story that wasn't afraid of possible audience alienation we might have had something interesting, but as ‘Through the Looking Glass’ sits now it's hard to remember why we even care if the Hatter is mad or not.
As for the cast, most are only here to pop in for a scene or two, but while Hathaway is more or less relegated to twirling her hands and feeling remorseful Helena Bonham Carter once again steals the show as the Red Queen as she is the only person who seems to be having a good time (audience included). Depp is still playing his whimsical shtick that now feels like more of a default no matter how strikingly different the make-up job with the Hatter's lisp only seeming to have gotten worse since last time. While the Hatter's arc is the catalyst for this new film it feels relatively old in terms of it being the same arc Depp has played for Burton numerous times before. Wasikowska is doing her bidding as she clearly signed a multi-picture deal and is required to participate, but given what she's done since her breakout in the first Alice this material feels inferior. The big question going into ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was how Cohen might factor into this world and what type of impression he might make. While the marketing made Time out to be something of the big villain of the piece he is actually little more than a guy trying to do his job with our protagonist giving him trouble. In order for Alice to be able to travel through time she must break into Time's Victorian clock-esque headquarters and steal a device called the "chronosphere" and so Time is more of an obstacle than a thief or villain. Cohen plays the master of the past, present, and future with his expected wiry charm (that doesn't always land), but he is still able to pull off an initial devious facade that ends in a convincingly vulnerable state. Also of note is Time's second in command, Wilkins (voice of Matt Vogel), who is a machine with a mustache and steam-powered design who may be the most memorable new character as he contributes to one of the best ideas the movie has in terms of both design and concept (if you're not sure what I'm referring to-minutes and hours should help). In the end, if there is one theme to be pulled from the film it is that of attempting to understand varying perspectives rather than simply painting things in black and white. A subplot concerning Mirana and Iracebeth's (Bonham Carter) backstory that links to Mad Hatter's family reinforces this idea of misinterpreted perspectives as it attempts to paint the Queen of Hearts in a different light than we saw her in the first film. Given this quarrel between sisters all starts due to a few tart crumbs on the floor though, only makes the squabble feel as incidental to the film as this movie does to Disney's slate this year. Near the end of the film Alice is asked to please not come back to Wonderland and we can only hope she honors that request.
by Philip Price
At this point in the 16-year old ‘X-Men’ franchise the only thing the film that followed the ultimate team-up/culmination of 14 years of ‘X-Men’ movies had to be was a good next adventure. Going from the high that was ‘Days of Future Past’ featuring both old and new cast members with a time hopping plot that saw everything torn apart only to be put back together on a new timeline there was never going to be a way to compete, so why not just give audiences what they really wanted in a proper follow-up to ‘First Class’? Where the younger versions of the mutants we've all grown to love go on an adventure together and further solidify themselves as the X-Men? Maybe that would have been too easy. Maybe that would have been looked at as taking the road more traveled, but in following up the popular comics storyline of ‘Days of Future Past’ it was immediately obvious director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg thought they needed to do the same with the sequel and so they opted to adapt another popular storyline from the comics that included one of the ‘X-Men’ universe's biggest bads: Apocalypse. This was a fine idea in theory and certainly had fans of the series excited for a showdown between Professor X's mutant team and the very first mutant, but seeing as how Kinberg and Singer have chosen to execute that story on the big screen it feels less like a step in the right direction and more like a recycled collection of comic book movie clichés. The whole affair feels tired, rushed, and nowhere near as layered or nuanced as the two previous films that were all in all pretty stellar. That this latest trilogy of ‘X-Men’ films featuring the incredible core cast of Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy goes out on such a generic note is rather disappointing, but more than that it is frustrating. It is so abundantly clear not only how much talent this cast has that is being wasted, but also how much potential this film had to be a really solid super hero flick with the same story even, but conveyed in different and more interesting ways. Fans of the genre will always be indebted to the ‘X-Men’ films for jump starting the current domination of movies based on comic books, but while their counterparts at Marvel are flourishing it can't help but feel as if the X-Men are currently somewhat stunted.
Set 10 years after the events of ‘Days of Future Past,’ “X-Men: Apocalypse” finds Charles Xavier (McAvoy) in a peaceful state as his school for gifted youngsters is up and running and he's found promising pupils in the likes of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as well as continued support from friend and colleague Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). The pre-opening credits sequence concerns itself with the origins of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and explains the fact that he not only once ruled the world as he saw fit, but that he transfers his consciousness from one body to the next (presumably a mutant body) so that he can live forever while also inheriting the powers of the mutant whose body he is inhabiting. Though the sequence is filled with an abundance of CGI given it takes place in ancient Egypt and some of the aesthetic choices feel a bit off or rather cheap in that they are clearly costumes not convincing enough to be taken at face value it at least does its job of setting up who this character is and how he comes to be silenced for thousands of years. Jump to 1983 and we are introduced to a young Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as he reaches peak emotional stress in his formidable years that brings out his mutation with full force. Taken by his brother Alex (Lucas Till) to Xavier's school we see Cyclops meet Jean Grey for the first time. Meanwhile, in the last decade Mystique (Lawrence) has become something of a national hero and savior figure for her fellow mutants whereas Magneto (Fassbender) has become just the opposite. While Mystique roams the globe searching for fellow mutants of extraordinary abilities, namely Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), for reasons we're not fully aware of Magneto has gone into seclusion in Poland where he works day in and day out at a steel plant and comes home to his wife (Carolina Bartczak) and daughter Nina (T.J. McGibbon) to live a quiet existence. CIA Agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) resurfaces from ‘First Class’ as she is still involved in the identifying of mutants which brings her to a cult in Egypt who are intent on resurrecting Apocalypse. When they inevitably do so is when things begin to get really hairy. Apocalypse rounds up his four horsemen including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy) before tragedy strikes Magneto easing him into his allegiance with the immortal, all-powerful mutant.
In the beginning, the amount of story “X-Men: Apocalypse” has to offer is both ambitious and exciting, but it becomes clear quite quickly that the film has no real desire to dig in to one certain aspect, idea, or theme that could come from any of its multiple storylines. Rather, the film seems to have this facade that it is attempting to make these huge strides in terms of character and story points, but in reality they are simply treading the same water they did in earlier ‘X-Men’ films giving the movie not only a lack of momentum, but a feeling of redundancy. Much of Isaac's dialogue as ‘Apocalypse’ feels redundant and this stems from him being the most typical of antagonists in that he wants to take over the world, destroy the human race, and blah blah blah...but there is no motivational factors here-there is nothing for us to root against and no sympathy to be elicited because there is no character development. The same can be said of other new characters with the familiar characters only feeling fleshed out because we've seen them in other movies. Psylocke may as well be a random hired gun for how much screen time and dialogue she gets, Angel hardly registers, and the four horseman storyline may as well be non-existent as there are no relationships formed or defined, but more it simply serves as an opposing force for the good guys to fight in the climactic battle. Josh Helman's William Stryker seems to only show up so that a certain adamantium-clawed mutant might show up reinforcing the idea that everything happening here is a means to justify an end we already know is coming. But in simply highlighting such moments there is no substance to the narrative as a whole. Worst of all is that the movie would have probably been better off without the titular villain in it at all. For all his intents and purposes, Apocalypse looks cartoony, is the blandest of bad guys, and is a complete trope in every action he decides to take. That they were able to get as talented and charismatic an actor as Isaac to play this part was incredibly promising, but that Singer doesn't seem to have allowed the actor to do something interesting with his performance and that Kinberg clearly supplied little to nothing for the actor on the page makes this use of Isaac a complete waste. Sure, he looks like a “Power Rangers” villain, but as there is nothing beyond his clunky looks to offer other than the mundane "world domination" scheme it makes the silliness of his appearance all the more embarrassing. All of this is to say that more than anything, ‘Apocalypse’ feels like two plus hours of fan service without any weight in between such moments to tie it all together or make audiences feel invested in these moments that fans of the series have been looking forward to seeing on the big screen for years.
It's difficult to discuss how depressing this film is as there are redeeming qualities as well, but these only make clearer the real potential this project had. To sum it up, there are two stand out portions of the film. The first deals with Magneto's arc and the insight provided by going back to the younger days of these men we came to know as seasoned friends and enemies all those years ago. To know that at one point Magneto attempted to live as Professor X would have wished him to is insightful on its own, but that the catalyst for him truly becoming the Magneto he will forever be is played so effectively and that Fassbender gives the material as much credence as he does allows for these scenes to resonate more than anything else in the film. Though the events do somewhat mirror that of other tragedies in Magneto's life I'll give Kinberg the benefit of the doubt in assuming he wrote things this way so as to reinforce both the sense and the amount of loss that Magneto has taken on and that he can only accept so much at the hands of homo sapiens before there is no turning back. It is in these moments alongside Fassbender's Magneto that we feel the authenticity and mostly serious tone of Singer's super hero films come through. What is largely distracting about Apocalypse is that it is the first Singer ‘X-Men’ movie that doesn't retain that aesthetic and tone. More than ever it feels like our players are on sets or green screens, cheapening the experience and discrediting what has come before. The other stand out sequence of the film deals with Evan Peters' Quicksilver as he once again is given a rather spectacular set piece in which to display his abilities. Matched with the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" this time around the technical achievement that this particular sequence displays is very clear and just as clever if not more fun than the one from ‘Days of Future Past,’ but given they do more or less repeat themselves here this one will undoubtedly go down as the less memorable of the two. And that kind of sums up the whole issue with the film in that Singer is repeating himself in sometimes fun, sometimes spectacular ways, but the fact is he's still repeating himself and if you can't find new ways in which to use these characters there is no point in telling the same story over and over again.
Ultimately, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an action movie that is a by the numbers excursion with moments of real inspiration and inventiveness that are outweighed by the corny and more conventional aspects of its story. In these types of films one at least hopes the action sequences might be worth the price of admission, but even in this area the film feels uninspired as the choreography comes off especially staged and inorganic to many of the characters while allowing the visual effects to take over to such an extent that the fact there is no emotional investment in the reasons why these characters are fighting one another is all the more apparent. And if the action isn't as great as it could be one can typically count on the performers to at least try and sell the material and for the most part, this rings true here still. Lawrence largely feels disconnected from the material and performs as if this was more an obligation than a passion, but McAvoy, Hoult, and the aforementioned Fassbender are still giving this material their all even when they too have recycled lines to throw back and forth at one another. The newcomers including Sheridan and Turner are fine enough, but the dialogue they have to exchange isn't exactly natural and is cringe-inducing at points. Smit-McPhee and Shipp are also all well and good in their roles as younger versions of mutants we've met previously, but they are given so little to do they hardly leave a big enough impression on which to judge them fairly. One can appreciate the attempts to tie character arcs and motivators back to ‘First Class,’ one can appreciate the presentation of Magneto in a light we haven't seen him before, and one can appreciate the ambition to go big or go home in making this not just another adventure, but taking place within an earth shattering, world ending set of circumstances, but in trying to do so much the film ends up leaving us with very little. An aimless excursion with familiar passengers whose films were once about something, but now feel like little more than the next summer super hero movie to come down the conveyor belt.