by Philip Price
The best kinds of thrillers and horror films don’t have to rely on the big bad antagonist that is chasing our heroes around for actual scares, but rather they build up the tension and expel the terror through the situations they create given the circumstances no doubt involve a big bad killer or evil spirit chasing our heroes. Over the past two years we’ve received two very different, but startlingly effective shark movies that utilize this technique well and fortunately “47 Meters Down” is one of those with last summer’s “The Shallows” being the other. To go one step further, I’d say “47 Meters Down” is the better of the two. At a lean 89 minutes writer/director Johannes Roberts doesn’t waste time setting things up, getting into the action, and most importantly-he doesn’t muffle that action or story with supplemental material. Instead, he executes his and the characters primary objective as successfully as one could hope today and he does so by keeping things simple. Within five minutes of the film beginning we know why our two lead characters, sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), are vacationing together, we understand the dynamic that has existed between them in the past, and we quickly come to note their motivations for seeking out the thrills that inevitably lead them to their unfortunate predicament deep within the ocean. There is no messing around, there is hardly even any submerging us in the environment that is the coast of Spain because this isn’t the environment Roberts wants us to get comfortable with-in fact, he doesn’t want us to get comfortable at all. This brings us back around to the opening sentence which comes up only to say that the sharks are the least of Lisa and Kate’s worries here. Both Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera are well-versed in utilizing the natural horrors that come with being plunged nearly 155 feet into the ocean waters and it is in such a scenario that “47 Meters Down” continues to build upon the number of hurdles our characters must face if there is any chance of survival; only reminding us of the sharks when we think we can’t handle another thing hurting those chances of survival. In short, it’s kind of brilliant.
Brilliant may be over-selling it a bit, sure, but in terms of a movie setting out to do something specific and accomplishing exactly that – “47 Meters Down” kind of nails it. That said, it’s obviously not an exceptional piece of cinema or any such thing, but it’s solid B-movie fun and I dug almost every decision it made from the beginning. For starters, how much effort and creativity you put into your title screen counts for a lot with me and it’s clear Roberts appreciates the style of it all and so from that first moment on I knew I was getting into something that was at least very aware of the kind of movie it was and desired to be. Furthermore, after being introduced to our characters and giving us what the, admittedly amateur and rather terrible, reasons are for their motivations Roberts makes his intent with this feature clear by his choice in soundtrack being a generic mainstream rock record that could have come from any number of bands in the late-90’s or early 2000’s to the general aesthetic he and cinematographer Mark Silk enlist to capture the potentially skeezy operation being run by Matthew Modine’s Captain Taylor and the two fellas Lisa and Kate meet in their search for escapism. The boat is dingy, but the people are pretty. The same is true of the locations in that they are naturally gorgeous, but are shot in such a way we see the cracks, the crevices, the rust, and the time worn elements that give us pause to just how often this boat is used (or not) or how often these waters are traveled (or not). Given a heads up about the thrills Taylor can offer (as well as the discount, considering he’s a friend) it would seem Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura) are up to no good and, without going too far into spoilers, Roberts is intent to keep that suspicion going even after Louis and Benjamin take the dive themselves followed by the submersion of Lisa and Kate. While we may want to believe one thing or suspect as much because the movie does this thing to make us think certain hunches might in fact or not in fact be true the trick is we never know and I’m certainly not going to ruin anything here. This is the trick throughout as well as every time we think the more adventurous and spontaneous Kate might have a leg up on their escape something else happens that knocks them back into hopelessness. Most notable is a sequence where Lisa is asked to swim out over a ridge to retrieve a flashlight and the moment Lisa swims out over that open water I’ll be damned if I wasn’t holding my breath as well.
Being consistent with what could be considered a thin premise is key. As my screening reached its half hour mark my question became how the movie would be able to sustain itself even with its short runtime, but as soon as such questions began to populate my brain the film was sure to answer them by paying off complications and little bits of information it had fed us earlier. There is of course talk of how much air Kate and Lisa have left in their tanks, but beyond that they can’t just exit the cage and swim back to the surface as not only could a shark come from anywhere at any moment, but also at that depth a quick ascension would cause the nitrogen in their tanks to create nitrogen bubbles in their brain which would kill them. To avoid such a sneakily gruesome fate the sisters would have to swim to the surface at a slow pace to allow the nitrogen to decompress, but having to stop in five minute increments isn’t exactly ideal when the boat hovering above you has intentionally been working to attract hungry sharks. The point being, the film naturally and intelligently continues to up the stakes and that is what matters most in a movie like this-that the audience first buys into the scenario which is where “47 Meters Down” is a little flimsy, but is general enough that we buy into it without too much hesitation, with the setbacks continuing to be credible enough that they don’t feel forced in a way that they’re only present to extend the plot to feature length. This would seem to be a movie like the film’s biggest obstacle, but one of the best surprises coming out of this film was that it glides over as much in an effortless fashion. To reiterate this point, I always tend to judge a scary movie or thriller by how bad it makes me want to yell at the characters on screen due to their lack of good decision-making skills which can be fun, but mostly the verdict comes down as frustrating. In “47 Meters Down” it is clear both Lisa and Kate are competent and intelligent adults that fall into these unfortunate circumstances due only to the fact they wanted to do something exciting and spontaneous. Encouraging and reassuring to the viewer is the fact Lisa and Claire each try everything you would want them to do with only the fact most of such efforts fail making said experiences more frightening.
And so, this brings around to the necessary discussion of how Moore and Holt do in conveying these emotions while having little else to play off besides each other and the dimly lit depths of the ocean. While the set-up, which includes Moore’s Lisa being upset and feeling like a failure because her boyfriend broke up with her for being too boring, is executed in a somewhat laughable fashion Moore is enough of a pro to know how far to push the somewhat pathetic nature her character displays to the background. On the other side of things, Holt’s Kate is the exact opposite as someone who has never settled down, but is the type who it seems likely was on a different vacation with a different friend the week before because she’s great at meeting people, making friends, and having a good time, but terrible at sustaining any type of stability in her life. These characteristics are reiterated through the way each of them interact with the guys they meet, but more so in how quick Kate agrees to the idea of going down in a shark cage and how hesitant and concerned Lisa is about every factor surrounding the situation. Both Moore and Holt give compelling performances though as we're totally invested in their plight and, more impressively, remain that way until the end. Even if the script leads us to believe in one instance that it gives the inherently timid sister more reason to think her outlook on life was more appropriate than her sister who would presumably be viewed as being punished for her more optimistic and open view on life thus scaring her into an existence of fear and seclusion. While I'm not sure “47 Meters Down” is the type of film that necessarily wants to make its audience think about anything or even considers an idea to craft its main narrative around there is a sliver of a moral that tells the audience member not to do something just to prove you're someone else to someone else. This would no doubt be the path Roberts would take were he questioned about the reasoning's behind his character's motivations and personalities-that we must ultimately embrace our fears and that despite the fact they'll test us they'll eventually make us stronger-it would seem the actual lesson is the conservative, homely sister was right and we should all remain as guarded as possible. People don't go to movies like this for life lessons though, and thankfully “47 Meters Down” doesn't make a point to dwell on its half-baked ideas, but rather on the climactic moments it earns and the brutality that is served up in the final moments paving the way for a surprising, tragic, but satisfying close to a surprisingly satisfying experience.
by Philip Price
I could not have been less excited about the prospect of a third ‘Cars’ movie. Most would say it is fair to classify this now trilogy as the weakest link in the ever-growing Pixar brand, but I don't bring this up to quickly cut down the third installment in this franchise that has borne nothing more than extended or unnecessary narratives, but rather to commend it for stepping up its game with what is likely the last chapter largely featuring Lightning McQueen if not the beginning of a new generation of ‘Cars’ films as “Cars 3” actively attempts to correct much of what has dragged these films down to sub-par Pixar levels from the beginning. In 2006, an idea such as a world filled with talking vehicles and a story that paid homage to the racing world, where it'd been, and where it might be going was an inspired enough one especially considering the combination of Disney and Pixar had yet to fail to meet if not surpass expectations. There seemed so much energy and so much enthusiasm for this first endeavor and while, having re-watched that first film recently, “Cars” is certainly a fine enough experience it didn't transcend the genre of animated movies in the way many of its predecessors had. Rather, “Cars” was more along the lines of an animated movie made strictly for the kiddos rather than one that had the ability to both appeal to the children in the crowd as well as emotionally resonate with their parents. That isn't to say it didn't try, but it is in the same kind of middle area where the purpose is present yet the payoff doesn't totally work that we find “Cars 3.” Many will agree “Cars 2” was a total misstep and deviated from what at least made the first film charming and even if the ‘Cars’ movies didn't make them buttloads of cash via merchandising it would seem Pixar might be intent on course correcting for the sake of artistic credibility as “Cars 3” makes a genuine attempt to steer this franchise back into the arms of what inspired it in the first place-the good ole open road. While we are 11 years down the road from the first “Cars” in the future the dynamic will be rather jarring as the original “Cars” and “Cars 3” more or less bookend the career of McQueen; chronicling both how he learned to be the racer he always aspired to be as well as helping him cope with the passing of time, the passing of the baton, and understanding there might be more to life than crossing the finish line first.
We are re-introduced to Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen in the midst of yet another racing season where McQueen is having the time of his life competing with friends and fellow racers all while engaging in healthy competition. In essence, there couldn't be a better time to be McQueen as he's hit his stride, found his happy place, and is reveling in it-that is, until he and his peers are blindsided by the likes of newcomer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) who is part of a new generation of racers that come with advanced technology giving them the ability to reach blazingly-fast speeds. McQueen quickly sees the tide turning as those friends and fellow racers he once lovingly competed with begin to retire or are replaced with younger, sleeker models that are leaving the legendary McQueen in the dust time and time again. Pushed out of the sport he loves, McQueen finishes the season in a questionable state-a blaze, but by no means a blaze of glory. In what is the wreck that has been the staple of all of the promotional spots for the film McQueen is sent into the off-season in a disheartening state with the question of if he'll ever race again looming large. Does he attempt to train harder in hopes of getting faster and competing with this new line of automobiles or does he accept his stage of life and go out with what of his legacy is still intact? After retiring back to Radiator Springs to collect his thoughts we come to see McQueen grappling with some rather existential questions considering this is a film about anthropomorphic cars and other such vehicles. Still, with the help of his longtime friends Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and Sally (Bonnie Hunt) McQueen decides to get back up on the horse (or whatever motor vehicle stands in for this animal in this world) and approach his training from a different angle in hopes of being able to compete at the new level now required. To do this McQueen's previous sponsor's, the Rust-eze brothers, sell their company to a wealthy super fan named Sterling (Nathan Fillion) who takes McQueen under his care, turns him over to his number one trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), and gives him one last chance to prove his worth or prove that his racing career really has run its (last) course.
Right out the gate, “Cars 3” feels more interesting and more intriguing than its predecessors and that is largely due to the fact it seems to be a more assured film than either of those previous installments. It has a confidence about it that owns the fact this is a weird world of sorts and that there could be countless questions and holes in how these cars did in fact come to be anthropomorphic, but “Cars 3” kind of pushes all of that to the side and simply embraces the world for what it is and uses it to serve as this metaphor for the workings of human society and the nature of those who exist within it. Not to get too heady, the movie certainly doesn’t, but it was rather refreshing to see Lightning McQueen and his crew tackle a more complex transition in life through a certain, somewhat specific perspective that a children’s animated movie wouldn’t normally tackle. Of course, children’s animated movies likely haven’t covered such territory largely because it isn’t very identifiable to that target demographic, but “Cars 3” lets us know very early on that it’s taking on something a little more mature if not exactly something that is out of Pixar’s wheelhouse. In doing this, director Brian Fee (who is making his directorial debut) let's those in the audience who are mature enough to crave more than colorful cars racing back and forth know that there will be something more to grasp onto. As someone who fell asleep while trying to re-watch the two previous films before catching up with this one in theater's I found a striking and immediate difference in the fact I was automatically engaged in this new plight of McQueen's and curious as to how the movie might allow him to handle it. Of course, what has always been the detriment to the ‘Cars’ universe is the fact it is hard to make one's self care about or invest in the emotions of an automobile. One could say it's similar to how we might be sympathetic to the situations of a Terminator or other A.I., but by virtue of the fact these are humanoid cars-things that can be repaired and replaced in a somewhat inconsequential manner-it remains more difficult to draw that line between the cars and ourselves than it does their circumstances and our own. So, how does “Cars 3” handle this obstacle? In its earnest attitude. Seriously, “Cars 3” is trying its damnedest and it's that quality-that yearning to impress that shines through this time around making McQueen and the host of new characters that join him in this outing at least worth noting.
Speaking to the characters and those that provide a beating heart within the parts that make it up, Wilson is doing his thing in the way that he is present, but never invested enough to come up with anything fresh to add to that of his leading car. One might could glean something in the actor's voice that indicates he understands the transition his character is facing as he too is trying to navigate the waters of a career that once found it easy to play the bro or laid-back best friend, but who is now finding it more and more difficult to nail down such work. More interesting is the dynamic the film builds between McQueen and Ramirez as it isn't necessarily a friendship we see coming, but proves to be a fruitful one despite the clear fact of what Disney and Pixar are actually doing. Through Alonzo's energetic performance Ramirez comes to be a sense of comic relief and understanding. Never does it feel as if Alonzo is trying too hard to be humorous in the way Larry the Cable Guy's Mater does and it's evident the creators were keen to edge Mater out of the spotlight a bit after he wore out his welcome in the second film. That said, Mater still gets a few jokes in here and there as does most of the rather stellar voice cast they've assembled that also includes the likes of Lea DeLaria as a monster school bus named Miss Fritter, Kerry Washington as a racing analyst named Natalie Certain, and Chris Cooper filling in the Paul Newman role as Doc Hudson's friend and mentor, Smokey. Speaking of ol' Smokey, it is when the film takes both the high stakes and the accompanying pressure away from its two main characters and forces them into a kind of seclusion to find themselves and get them back to their roots-remind them of what made them fall in love with racing in the first place-that the movie kind of finds itself too. The movie always had its seemingly good intentions on its side and that certainly counts for something, but it is in the sequence where we see McQueen meet some of his own heroes (the way Ramirez sees McQueen) in the form of Louise Nash (Margo Martindale), Darrell Cartrip (Darrell Waltrip) and River Scott (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) that we see him realize there is a path for racers past their prime and this resonates something resembling shades of real heart rather than an overlong commercial. “Cars 3” is still too long and some sections drag while others do in fact feel like extended pitches as to why your kids will want certain toys, but Fee and his team also make sure to give the film a sliver of sincerity and when combined with some of the genuine fun and flawless animation it's not so hard to take the good with the bad.
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.