Review: Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe, and Natalie Portman

Review: Do I really need to preface this review with my love for the MCU? I know that I usually start my reviews off with a little bit of a preamble as to where I’m coming from, but it really feels unnessecary here. After all, there have been 28 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before this, and I have enjoyed, if not loved, all of them. Everyone who is even remotely aware of my movie taste should know that I am a fan of the franchise. I also quite like Taika Waititi, so it’s not really a matter of whether or not I liked this movie. It’s more how much did I like it. And, unsurprisingly, the answer is quite a bit.

Ok, so what I’m about to say might sound a bit contradictory to my intro and maybe a tad blasphemous, but I promise it’s all out of love still. Despite my love for both Taika Waititi and Thor, Ragnarok has never really been my favorite MCU movie. While I do really enjoy it for what it is, I never thought it took itself seriously enough. It’s one of the few movies in the franchise that I can admit gets a tad too quipy at times. I mean… I still would probably rank it in the top fourth or so movies I’ve ever seen. However, the lack of emotional depth keeps it distanced from the highs of say Endgame and Infinity War. I’m only bringing it up because I honestly think Love and Thunder takes itself much more seriously. I went into it expecting another straight comedy and ended up getting pretty emotional. There are a couple of sequences in here that explore what it means to be a hero and dig deep into the characters’ psyches. While I never actually cried, I got a lot closer than I did during even the most emotional sequences of Ragnarok. And, perhaps most impressively, I think Waititi did so without sacrificing any of his quirky sense of humor. Personally, I think we’re just watching him grow as a director. Before Ragnarok, he was best known for What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Both are terrific movies, but definitely firmly in the comedy camp. Between these, he did Jojo Rabbit, which while lighthearted and fun covered a much more serious topic in the Holocaust. It’s honestly the perfect balance between emotional and downright hilarious. Now, am I saying that Love and Thunder is as good? No. But, I think it shows that he’s grown quite a bit as a filmmaker between the third and fourth Thor movies.

Likewise, I think this movie has some of the coolest action sequences in the entire MCU. They all just had such kinetic energy that was so much fun to watch. Between the two Thors, Valkyrie, and Korg’s unique fighting skills, there was always something exciting to concentrate on. On top of that, the way Waititi chose to film them was immensely visually appealing. I won’t get into detail since I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were two sequences in particular that I think will forever stand out among the sea of MCU fight scenes. In the first, they’re all fighting creatures who bleed gold. Apparently, that was enough to make both the censors and Disney willing to go with it because that really really gave Waititi the chance to get graphic. There is more bloodshed in this single scene than in the entire Deadpool franchise combined. You just don’t notice because it’s not the blood we’re used to seeing. But, the gold also makes it visually stunning with one shot in particular of Valkyrie basking in the glory of battle forever now etched in my mind. The second sequence is all over the trailers, but still equally impressive. They go to a world that almost completely lacks color except for the glow from their weapons. What follows is an extremely well-choreographed, visually interesting, emotional, desperate battle that was quite frankly brilliant. Personally, I think it would’ve been cooler to integrate some more of The Island of Silence into it and have the fight be dialogue-free as well, but that’s less of a criticism than a suggestion. Overall, I was extremely happy with all of the action in this movie, especially those two sequences.

And, of course, I can’t in good faith write up a review for Thor: Love and Thunder without praising the amazing cast. Everyone knows by now how great Chris Hemsworth is at playing Thor, but it’s still worth mentioning. Likewise, Tessa Thompson is so effortlessly cool as Valkyrie. I love what she brings to that character. However, I mostly want to talk about the two “new” scene stealers. I say “new” because technically Natalie Portman is an MCU veteran, having joined the franchise when Hemsworth did back in 2011. However, this is definitely a fresh take on Jane Foster. Through circumstances that the trailers have left quiet so I will too, she now has taken up the identity of the Mighty Thor and, holy crap, does Portman shine in this role. She’s just got so much charisma that it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of her. Plus, she brings a level of freshness, inexperience, and naivety that I feel the franchise hasn’t had since it introduced Spider-Man more than half a decade ago. And, speaking of things this franchise desperately needed, Christian Bale is absolutely terrifying as Gor, the God Butcher. No joke, he might be the scariest villain in the history of comic book movies. He’s got all of the unpredictability of Joker, but with the intensity of Patrick Bateman behind him. There is one scene where he’s interacting with children that felt like a scene out of It, not a Thor movie. And that’s just one scene in a whole movie of being absolutely bone-chilling. I know Christian Bale will always be remembered as Batman, but, honestly, this performance is as good, if not better. Easily one of my Top 3 MCU villains of all time.

As I’ve said, I really enjoyed Love and Thunder. I thought it was an excellent way to spend two hours. However, I do think it feels like it was spinning its wheels a few times. Towards the end of the movie, I couldn’t help but think “that’s it? Really?” It’s weird to say in a movie where the villain literally was murdering gods, but this felt extremely low stakes. Like, if this movie hadn’t happened, I don’t know that the universe or even the character of Thor would be that different. In a saga that’s constantly about character development and/or setting up the next big adventure, this one felt a bit adrift. It’s not like it didn’t have a story to tell. It definitely did. It just felt like it was missing that forward momentum. Not every movie needs to be a universe-shattering, Infinity War-style event, but it should at least rock the main character’s world. And I, personally, don’t feel like this one did.

Overall though, Thor: Love and Thunder was an absolute delight. I loved so much about this movie that the stakes feeling moderately low wasn’t that big of a deal. After all, it was another MCU movie that delivered on fun characters, amazing action scenes, and a healthy amount of laughs. What more could I want? As far as I’m concerned, this makes 29/29 for delivering on that promise.

TL;DR: Thor: Love and Thunder is another great entry into the MCU canon, bringing a healthy dose of Taika Waititi’s humor and some of the franchise’s coolest action scenes to date.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Elvis

Elvis (2022)

Director: Baz Luhrman

Writers: Baz Luhrman, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner

Starring: Austin Butler and Tom Hanks‘

Review: Music biopics are all the rage right now. After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, studios are just pumping these suckers out. Everyone who’s anyone is getting one. From Aretha Franklin to Motley Crue getting their time in the spotlight. So, of course, it was time for Elvis to get involved. But, does his biopic live up to the King of Rock’s reputation or is it worse than a peanut butter and banana sandwich? Well, the answer is somewhere in between, as there were parts that I really, really enjoyed and some that left me completely flabbergasted.

Let’s start off with the good, shall we? Austin Butler absolutely smashes it as Elvis Presley. His mannerisms. His looks. His voice. All of it was spot on. So much so that before the credits roll it switches to a real taping of actual Elvis and it took me a second to realize they’d made the switch. He just embodied the role in ways I don’t know that I’ve seen in a biopic, especially recently. And he brought a ton of realism and heartbreak to a character that’s easy to see as larger than life. I’ve heard a lot of these stories before, but I never really made the connection that there was an actual person behind them. Butler made it easy with his excellent performance, which will probably forever change the way I look at one of the most influential people of all-time.

Second, the visuals are fantastic. If you’ve seen any of Luhrman’s work, you know that he’s a very flashy director. And, of course, that style naturally fits Elvis Presley’s life story. I mean… just look at the guy. Glitz and glimmer were kind of his thing. But, this also leads to some really interesting storytelling decisions. In a sea of boring, static biopics, it’s great to see one take so many stylistic risks. For example, instead of just showing us the front page of the newspaper like we’ve seen a thousand times before, Luhrman chose to film what the photograph would’ve been of with the rest of the paper as a frame. It really helps bring the history to life. Plus, it really, really sells the 1950s-1970s Rock and Roll scene with the “you had to be there” feel to it. And don’t even get me started on how pretty it makes Las Vegas look. Overall, it just makes the whole movie feel worth it, instead of just another retelling of the same old “rags to riches to rags” musician story we’ve heard before.

Like I said though, I don’t think I can completely recommend this movie though. For one, Tom Hanks’ character just does not work here. I’m not sure what, exactly feels so off but it’s definitely something. Maybe it’s the accent he put on or the fifteen pounds of prosthetics. Or the fact that we’re simply not used to seeing Hanks play a villainous character like this. But, if I had to pick my least favorite part, it would be making him the narrator of the entire story. Or, at least, how they portrayed that. Instead of just having him voiceover the flashbacks or do the thing where an old version is telling the story from a chair, they have him hallucinating in a nightmarish, overly CGI casino. Mixed with flashes of his face and rapid cuts to Elvis’ childhood. It all just looks/feels very fake and over dramatic. Plus, it’s honestly extremely discomforting and reminds me of the scenes of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort infiltrating Harry’s mind. And, I definitely feel bad for Tom Hanks. There’s no way any of that could’ve worked and he did his best.

Lastly, this movie has the most intense pacing issues I’ve ever seen. The first half is an absolute blur with the average scene lasting less than five minutes. I was almost afraid to blink in the fear that I’d miss something important. I very often say that it sometimes feels like “based on a true story” movies are just recapping Wikipedia pages and you could get the same experience out of reading those. But, in this case, even the fastest reader wouldn’t be able to skim Presley’s important life events quicker than the first half of this movie. You barely get an opportunity to feel emotion before it’s on to the next thing. I’ve never seen a character’s rise and fall presented so rapidly. Luckily, it does slow down at the end. So, to me, it feels obvious that those final years are the ones Luhrman really wanted to concentrate on. And, it’s a good spot to spend a lot of time, because those years are as fascinating as they are heartbreaking. But, I wonder if it was worth the Sparknotes version of the rest of his life. Either skip to the end where you clearly wanted the focus to be or even out the pacing a bit. Because, as it is, this movie is wildly disorienting.

Overall, I do think the good things in Elvis outweigh the bad. Especially since the movie captures the feel of the rockstar so well. I just wish it’d flowed a little better. As it stands, it feels like Tom Hanks is the main character, briefly recapping us on the early half of Elvis’ life to get to where he’s more important. But, considering he’s not very good and Austin Butler is fantastic, I wish it had been a wee bit more traditional by having us just follow Elvis’ story. Either that or just focus on the latter half where the movie obviously wants to be anyway. Oh well, I applaud them for taking risks. Because it definitely didn’t feel like just another run of the mill biopic, which is definitely great since Elvis was far from run of the mill.

TL;DR: Pacing issues and a rare bad Tom Hanks role keep Elvis from ever being the must-see Austin Butler‘s performance and the unique visuals deserve.

Score: 6.5 (Watchable)

Review: Lightyear

Lightyear (2022)

Director: Angus MacLane

Writers: Jason Headley, Angus MacLane, , and Matthew Aldrich

Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, and Isiah Whitlock Jr

Review: “In 1995, a boy named Andy got a toy based off of his favorite movie. This is that movie.” Not only has that been the crux of the advertising campaign for Lightyear, it’s literally the first thing you see on screen as you sit down to watch it. Disney/Pixar wants you to know with 100% certainty that this is not a reboot and/or remake of anything you’ve seen thus far. It’s a movie that exists within that universe. So, if you’re going into it with negative pre-conceived notions based on your love of Toy Story, leave those at the door. Imagine you are watching a movie that Andy has told you repeatedly is his favorite and I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

Because here’s the thing. Andy’s got good taste. This is a really fun science fiction movie. It’s got a terrific original story that sometimes feels like Star Wars or Star Trek, but just as often goes into Interstellar or 2001 territory. And, it’s not afraid to get philosophical, often contemplating what’s the point of rescuing someone when they’re happy with the mistakes that have been made and what it means to be a hero. But, Lightyear also features really cool, fun, and visually interesting science-fiction battles that would definitely place it among a child’s favorite flicks. It’s beautifully animated too, especially the scenes where Buzz is flying solo through space. A couple of those scenes would make Kubrick drool.

And, of course, it’s got a killer cast of characters. Throughout the movie, I grew attached to each and every one of them. We get pretty much an entire backstory for the Hawthorne family that made my heart swoon. I cannot believe people would shun this movie over this character arc. The whole family was delightful and I’d almost be down for a movie just about them. Then, there’s Mo and Darby, who could’ve easily just been comic relief but brought a ton of heart. Of course, there’s Sox, who I expect to see a lot of merchandise for in the future. After all, he’s an adorable robot cat with a bit of an anxiety disorder. That’s practically pandering to us Disney adults. Then, of course, there’s the star of the show: Buzz Lightyear. And, as a Toy Story fan for my entire life I don’t say this lightly, this is the most I’ve ever liked Buzz Lightyear. This version of him is so likable and charming, it’s no wonder a toy based on this character would be Andy’s favorite. I absolutely adored getting to know the “real Buzz Lightyear.” Because though in may ways this is our first time meeting this character, he also feels intimately familiar. There are so many little personality quirks, actions, and sayings that are reminiscent of our one of our favorite toy buddies. It feels kind of like visiting a friend’s dad and really getting to know how they became the person they did. It’s fascinating and I loved getting to know a character we’ve known for thirty years that much better.

So, it’s obvious that I can see why this would’ve been Andy’s favorite movie growing up. But, unfortunately, it does have to be judged by our standards too. And, for Pixar, that’s an awfully high bar to surpass. Basically, what I’m saying is “does this meet the Pixar standard?” and that’s always a tough question to answer. I know a lot of people are claiming that this doesn’t live up to the Toy Story name and I definitely agree. Those are four fantastic movies with 1 and 3 being two of my favorites of all-time. And, of course, Pixar has produced other animated classics that are classics in their own right. This does not even belong in the same conversation. Because, other than one sequence reminiscent of Up, it lacks a lot of the raw emotion this studio is known to wring out of you. But, do I think every movie should be held to those standards? Absolutely not. And, like I said, this is a fantastic science fiction movie. I think it holds up on its own. If it were any other studio, people would be head over heels praising it. So, does it live up to the Pixar standards? Probably not. Is it still a fantastic piece of sci-fi adventure movie-making? Absolutely.

There also is one “twist” that I can’t really get into that kinda, sorta rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, I can’t say that it ruined anything for me because we’ve only seen the franchise from the outside, looking in. But, it does change the way you look at certain characters and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m also not sure the twist entirely made sense in the scope of the story, but I also could just be dumb and too blindsided to really understand the logic. It’s something I’ll have to judge more fairly on a rewatch. Either way, not a huge blow, but it did affect my feelings towards this movie negatively so I thought it was worth bringing up.

But, overall, I really enjoyed Lightyear. I think it served its purpose quite nicely. It’s a fun, original, science fiction movie that feels like it would compel a child to base his whole personality around it for a few years. Plus, it served as a really interesting deep-dive into the origins of one of my favorite Disney characters, ultimately making me feel more connected to him than ever. I’d say that’s a pretty big win. Now, do a Woody’s Roundup movie next, please.

TL;DR: Lightyear was Andy’s favorite movie growing up and the kid has good taste, because this movie is a fun, original, and visually pleasing science-fiction adventure flick that enriches the Toy Story universe in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Score: 7.5/10 (Really Good)

Review: Jurassic World: Dominion

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writers: Emily Carmichael, Colin Trevorrow, and Derek Connolly

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neil, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy, and Campbell Scott

Review: Oh, the Jurassic Park franchise. How I wish you were only one movie. To semi-quote the first movie, “Your finance team was so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The first movie was perfection. Absolutely all around a blockbuster work of art. There is not a single dull or cringeworthy moment in that entire movie. I’ve watched it dozens of times at this point and it still holds my interest as if I’m watching it for the first time. Every other movie since then has gotten drastically worse. And, honestly, Dominion might be the lowest point yet. It’s definitely the one that has made me most angry. So, let’s pour one out for the franchise and get on with the complaining.

Ok, let’s start off with my biggest complaint of all. This is, without a doubt, an action franchise now. And that kinda sucks. The charm of the original (and, honestly, the original trilogy) was seeing normal people running away from dinosaurs. You could see yourself in the shoes of these characters. It was terrifying because it felt real. That changed back in 2015 when they added Chris Pratt to the equation. He was a badass. He wasn’t afraid of the dinos because he’d worked with them. And, for a while, it didn’t throw off the groove too much because there were still mostly normal people around him. Well, that doesn’t feel like it’s the case anymore. Because, now, it feels like everyone is a superhero. They’re all constantly doing stunts out of the Jason Bourne or Bond movies dodging these dinosaurs. It’s hard to feel any sense of dread when you know that these people can (somehow) outrun a velociraptor on foot! That and/or just wrestle them, with little more than a knife as support. I try my hardest to be courteous to those around me at the theater. I almost never make an audible sound. But, there was one moment in this movie that made me loudly say “are you fucking kidding me?” Out loud. For everyone around to hear. I couldn’t help it. It was a reflex to the stupidity I was seeing on screen. And, don’t even get me started on how cartoony all of the new characters in this movie were. Especially the villains. They didn’t feel like real people. Just caricatures. God. How far this franchise has fallen. It’s been a joke for years, but they might as well crossover with the Fast & Furious franchise at this point because I think they may have them out-dumbed.

And, speaking of dumb, do you remember the human cloning subplot of the last movie? Well, I hope you liked it. Because they double down on it in Dominion. Oh yeah. I thought maybe they’d have her in it, but stray away from talking about her origin. Nope. It’s a main focus of the movie. Oh, but don’t worry. They actually do explain the situation more thoroughly. And it gets 1000% worse. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it’s legitimately terrible. There are moments in this movie that feel like they are taken from a SyFy original movie. The worst part though is that they don’t ever really explain how anything ACTUALLY WORKS. Remember Mr. DNA from the original and how simple he made the cloning technology sound. How, even though it was outlandish, it felt realistic because they explained it to you so thoroughly. This throws even more bonkers shit at you and just expects you to believe it. This franchise apparently has left the realm of science fiction and fully embraced a more fantasy/action narrative and I am not here for it.

Now, let’s talk about the original cast. A big part of the marketing was that Sam Neil, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum were back. This, obviously, was just to play on our nostalgia because I can not think of a logical in-universe reason for these characters to be here. They don’t have these characters do anything that any other character couldn’t have done. There’s nothing that takes advantage of their skill sets or, even, their strengths as actors. It feels almost like it’s exclusively for ticket sales. Like, they saw Star Wars, Spider-Man, Scream, and all of the other requels bringing make established characters and some executive said “Back up a pile of money to Jeff Goldblum’s house. Who cares if it makes sense story-wise? My wallet needs him there.” I must admit. It worked on me. I was very excited to see these people back on screen together. But, honestly, in practice, it didn’t feel nearly as special as I was expecting.

While I didn’t like Jurassic World: Dominion, at all really. I do understand why some people might. Especially those unfamiliar with the franchise. After all, it wasn’t lacking in spectacle. However, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. New dinosaur that’s the “apex” predator terrorizing our humans until a final climatic battle with the original T-Rex? Check. Vehicle hanging off a cliff with killer animals all around. Check. Evil corporation that seems like they have the dinosaurs’ best interests at heart but will secretly turn out to be greedy bastards? Check. Flying dinos terrorizing aircraft? Yep. Saw that in Jurassic Park III. There were so many moments of deja vu. I understand that you could call these homages or call-backs but it felt more like “been there, done that” than anything else. If you thought The Force Awakens played it too safe, it’s got nothing on Dominion. It’s like Colin Trevorrow couldn’t decide what he wanted to do for this last entry, so he spent half the runtime remaking iconic scenes from the previous movies. I get why that wouldn’t be the worst thing for some, but to me it just felt safe and boring. After all, we’ve seen all of that stuff. Show us something new. Like the ice sequence! That was actually pretty cool if I’m being honest. Or Claire hiding under the water. That was neat too. But, honestly, there wasn’t nearly enough cool and/or new sequences to balance out the old and/or boring ones.

Overall, I cannot recommend Jurassic World: Dominion, as I kinda sorta hated it. Are there fun moments? Certainly. I listed a couple above. And, I’ll admit that a lot of the jokes actually had me laughing out loud. But, it’s just such a stupid movie. Nothing makes sense. Nothing feels fresh. And, honestly, it’s not even a tenth of the quality the franchise started off at. My friends asked me as we were leaving the theater if I thought this was the worst one. I honestly don’t know. Fallen Kingdom was pretty freaking stupid too. But, this is up there. If anyone were to ever ask me about getting into this series, I’d suggest the first one and maaaaybe the first World. And that’s it. Nothing else is worth watching. Sure. There are a couple of cool moments, but it’s not worth it to suffer through the rest of the movies. It’s just a shame. Because I really, really, really love that first movie. And I’d love to see more dinosaur movies of that quality. The franchise just hasn’t delivered though. And, Dominion is probably the furthest away from that original goal yet.

TL;DR: When at it’s best, Jurassic World: Dominion feels very “been there, done that” and, at it’s worst, feels like an infuriatingly dumb, low quality, action movie.

Score: 3/10 (Awful)

Review: Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writers: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig, and Justin Marks

Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer

Review: Holy shit. I was not expecting to like this movie as much as I did. To be honest, I only like the original Top Gun. It’s definitely not one of my favorite movies of all-time. But, I respect it for the over-the-top, fun 80s movie that it is. So, I was never really sold on the idea of a sequel. It seemed less like an essential movie and more like a way to inflate Tom Cruise’s ego even more. That and, of course, fill the executives’ pocketbooks. But, boy, was I wrong. Because Top Gun: Maverick is a blast and potentially one of the best movies of the year.

It’s hard to know where to start with a movie like this. Normally, I immediately jump to my biggest takeaway of the movie. You know, the thing that you answer when someone asks how it was. “Oh, it was good. The performances were fantastic.” But, in this case, there is just so much good stuff here that it’s hard to pick a favorite.

But, seeing as this is Top Gun, I guess I’d better start at the air sequences. And, good god, these are some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen on screen. First of all, the fact that they filmed inside actual fighter jets means everything to me. In this age of digital effects, it would’ve been so easy to just slap these actors in a room of green screens and go from there. But, nope. Actual fighter jets. I don’t know if it was Tom Cruise’s insistence to do real stunt work or if the studio actually made the right decision for once, but it works so well. Everything feels incredibly real and tense. There are actually times when this felt more like a documentary than a movie. I was on the edge of my seat actually worried for the characters in this movie. And, the sequences were so well shot that you never were confused as to who was doing what, where. Everything was perfectly laid out in front of you. All of that with super intense, rapid fight sequences? Yes please. It doesn’t hurt that they billed this mission as practically impossible. And, just when you thought they’ve shown you everything they possibly could, they’d inevitably ramp the action back up to 11 every time. Seriously, every time these characters were in the air, my jaw was on the ground. Easily some of the best action sequences in the history of cinema with the last half-hour or so being the new standard for aerial battles.

But, honestly, the stuff on the ground might’ve been just as impressive. I was here for the drama in this movie. And, man, did it bring it. Because as much as this movie is about high-flying spectacles, it’s equally about Maverick coming to terms with his past mistakes and putting them behind him to become a better man. Most notably, this involves reconciling with Goose’s son, Rooster. Rooster’s mad at Maverick not only because of his father’s death but also because Mav pulled his papers towards the beginning of his career. Maverick didn’t want Rooster making the same “mistakes” he and Goose made. But, when the military forces them to work together, they’ve got to overcome their differences. It’s a very interesting kinda estranged father-figure/son dynamic that leads to brilliant moments of really high drama, both on the ground and in the air.

But, that’s not even the half of it. We’ve also got Maverick trying to win back over a past lover that he screwed over when he was younger. Plus, we get a really emotionally moment with Val Kilmer’s Iceman. In all of the “requels” we’ve gotten in past years, this might be the best way to bring back a legacy character we’ve seen yet. His scenes were both heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time. And definitely one of the many moments that’ll stick with me when I think back on this movie. In these moments when Maverick is dealing with people his own age, especially, is when we see Tom Cruise’s acting really come into play. You can constantly see the regret and the anguish over his past actions. But, also, the twinkle in his eyes when he sees Jennifer Connelly’s character. I honestly think this might be one of Cruise’s best performances of his career. I hope he gets some recognition for it. Because he’d definitely deserve it.

So, basically, almost nothing but praise for Top Gun: Maverick so far. However, I do have to point something out that felt weird to me. This is the vaguest I’ve ever seen any movie be about who exactly the bad guy is. I mean… we get nothing. The planes are blank. The fighters where completely generic uniforms. And, everyone refers to them simply as “the enemy.” Did this really affect the movie all that much? No. But, it did constantly remind me that this is a multi-million dollar film that’s being made to profit around the world. It honestly is the only thing that made this feel less real. I understand that they have to pander to a lot of the markets we would see as “the enemy” too, but it just felt cheap. Like, they couldn’t even make up a rogue, generic, non-offensive, group of terrorists that everyone could root against. Someone like, I don’t know, Spectre or whoever the bad guys are in Cruise’s own Mission: Impossible franchise. Just saying. Not a big complaint, but one that did hurt in my suspension of disbelief a bit.

Overall though, I am a huge fan of Top Gun: Maverick. I am seriously overwhelmed with how much I enjoyed this movie. There is not a doubt in my mind that this is waaaaay better than the original and, potentially, one of the best militray themed movies of all-time. The flying sequences are just so freaking good. And, with the drama being just as high, yeah, I’m going to definitely recommend this one. Definitely see it in theaters too! Take your dad I’m sure he’ll like it. Actually, I might just see if my dad wants to go see this. Because I’d definitely sit through it again. Hold on. Let me go call my dad real quick.

TL;DR: Top Gun: Maverick, with amazing aerial sequences and some high drama, is not only better than the original but one of the best military themed movies of all-time.

Score: 9/10 (Amazing)

Review: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Writers: Dan Gregor and Doug Mand

Starring: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, JK Simmons, and KiKi Layne

Review: In my childhood, I was without a doubt a Disney kid. (I know, shocker!) Though short-lived compared to its more popular affiliate channel, there was a stretch of time where the family television often stopped on Toon Disney. So, of course, I feel a deep connection to the Rescue Rangers. Unfortunately, that didn’t really translate to much excitement for this movie. I had extremely mixed feelings going in. It looked like a fun Roger Rabbit-style adventure, but I was so turned off by the different takes on the characters that I just couldn’t quite get on board. After seeing it, I can now say that, while those thoughts do still linger, this movie more than won me over. I, like so many others, ended up having a really good time with this. It’s an absolute delight of a movie.

First of all, while this isn’t a direct adaptation of the cartoon, it does capture the spirit of Rescue Rangers quite well. We’ve got our two lovable leads and their argumentative nature. They end up involved in a wacky adventure. In this case, Monterey Jack has been kidnapped. This leads to a lot of detective work and fun action scenes. And, they end up saving the day despite never quite doing it in the traditional manner. Along the way, there are lovable side characters and an amazing theme song. It’s all there. And, actually, I think they did a great job at bringing the individuality of Chip and Dale to life. This is the first time I feel they’ve really had distinct personalities. Whenever I see them, I’m usually distracted by trying to tell which is which. (I’ve got a little trick similar to PEMDAS I do every time.) But, that was not a problem here. They had completely different, easily identifiable personalities. Now, I will admit that the different outfits, nose colors, animation styles, and voices helped, but I think, for the first time, I would be able to name who said what by dialogue alone. Their personalities were that distinct.

But, to be entirely honest, the Rescue Rangers were only responsible for maybe 35% of my viewing enjoyment. The rest came from the brilliant wide array of background gags and cameos. As a Disney (and really animation in general) fan, I was in heaven trying to spot as many references as I could. There were so many that I think I could watch this ten times and still not catch everything. Every single one sparked joy in my heart from the obvious stuff like dejected Sonic to a background poster of a pimped-out Dobby. Not to mention the “always useful when doing a reboot” meta-humor about Hollywood running out of ideas. It helps the medicine go down when you go into these things with a wink and a nod. And, again, if you scan the background, you’ll find a couple of really solid jokes centered around bad movie pitches. I know it’s an easy comparison, but this really is the 21st century’s Roger Rabbit. It’s packed with plenty of nostalgic cameos but has just enough sass to make it not feel quite like “member berries” to quote one of the many franchises making an appearance here.

In the opening of this review, I mentioned a few of the reservations I had before my viewing experience. And, while it mostly won me over, I still struggled with them enough to hurt my overall viewing experience. First of all, the voices took an extremely long time for me to get over. I love John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, but the sound of their voices coming out of these two iconic characters triggered my fight or flight response. It just didn’t feel right. Like if Mickey Mouse showed up voiced by Pete Davidson. It’s weird. I don’t like it. And, ultimately, it’s what made this movie never completely register as a Chip and Dale movie for me. It’s just hard for me to buy that these are the same characters when their voices are so different from the iconic high-pitched squeaks that I’m used to. Also, I understand that it’s different in this movie’s universe, but Chip and Dale aren’t just from Rescue Rangers. They were iconic characters decades before and decades after that particular show. Would I listen to an argument that it was their peak? Sure. But, to paint them as some kind of fifteen minutes of fame actors rubbed me the wrong way. Again, how am I supposed to see these guys two of the most famous cartoon characters of all time when the movie doesn’t even see them that way. That being said, it’s entirely possible that this is just a me problem. No one else will have any issues with the portrayal. In fact, I hope it is. Because, otherwise, I thought this movie was great. I hope people love it for what it is. It deserves that much. But, for me, this was a huge hurdle to overcome and definitely hurt the final score.

Overall, I did enjoy Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers a lot. I think it’s a fun reboot and a movie I could definitely see myself revisiting. I loved this take on the characters, even though it was hard to buy them as THEE Chip and Dale. I think it’s a fantastic adventure flick that everyone will love. And I really, really loved the background jokes and cameos. I had a blast constantly scanning for more Easter eggs and each one made me happier than the last. All of this adds up to an easy recommendation for me. Definitely check this one out on Disney+. I think you’re going to like it.

TL;DR: Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a really well-written, clever family comedy packed so full of cameos and background jokes that it’s almost guaranteed to win even the most skeptical viewer over.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Firestarter

Firestarter (2022)

Director: Keith Thomas

Writer: Scott Teems

Starring: Zac Enron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, and Gloria Reuben

Review: Remember like three years ago when Stephen King adaptations were the hot trend of the moment? Movies like It and Doctor Sleep were surfing that wave that Stranger Things inspired a few years before then. Well, I guess Blumhouse wanted some of that action. Only it’s three years too late. And they forgot to hire literally anyone remotely talented.

Honestly, Firestarter might be the most passionless movie I’ve ever seen. It feels like no one really had an idea for what to do with this. Nothing feels inspired. It’s just like they looked at Stephen King’s bibliography and was like “what’s left? Oh, Firestarter. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those” and that’s where the thoughts stopped. Seriously, there is nothing to take away from this movie. The dialogue is bland. The acting is god awful. There’s no interesting choices in the directing. It’s just dull and safe every step of the way.

Seriously, I went the entire movie without feeling any emotion. Do you know how hard that is to pull off? Especially in a movie about a child discovering that she has deadly powers. That’s like my jam. I grew up on X-Men. Stranger Things is one of my favorite shows of all-time. When you put a child into what essentially counts as a horror themed superhero origin story, it’s almost guaranteeing that I’ll eat it up. But, apparently not if you butcher it as badly as these film makers did. I was just bored out of my mind the entire time. I knew exactly how long the runtime was and how much time my showing had left, because I could not keep my eyes off of the clock the entire time. For a movie that clocks in at about 90 minutes, it sure feels like an eternity. I’ve seen a lot of bad movies at the theater lately, but it’s been a while since I’ve found one quite this boring.

So, yeah, I don’t recommend you see Firestarter. If you’re at all interested, I’d go back and watch the original first. Now, I can’t endorse that one either. I’ve never seen it and I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about it, but it’s gotta be better than this shitshow. I have to imagine those filmmakers at least cared about what they were putting on screen. Everyone involved in this version should be ashamed of themselves.

(Side note: I think I owe New Mutants an apology, because that looks like a masterpiece compared to this dribble.)

TL;DR: Firestarter is a contender for least inspired movie of the year and is borderline unwatchable.

Score: 1/10 (Unbearable)

Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Director: Sam Raimi

Writer: Michael Waldron

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams

Review: So, truthfully, I almost don’t want to write this review up. Because I could honestly go on for hours and hours about this movie. And, while I do want to do that, it’s best that the viewer goes in almost completely cold. Basically, I’m afraid that I’m going to spoil something, especially since the trailers have been so good at hiding what this movie is about and the spoilers start flowing about 10 minutes in. So, this is going to be very short, very vague, and very surface level. Ok? Ok. Maybe I’ll post a spoiler-filled version later this week. We’ll see. But, for now, fear not.

Speaking of fear, this is without a doubt a Sam Raimi movie through and through. I’m inclined to call it the ultimate Sam Raimi movie. Because, being a superhero movie, it obviously plays very close to his Spider-Man trilogy, but it throws in a huge amount of horror and dark comedy that feels right in line with the Evil Dead trilogy. This makes for a completely different viewing experience than anything else in this universe. If you’ve gotten bored of the MCU formula, don’t worry because I think this is exactly what you’re looking for. Not only is it the scariest movie in the franchise (by far) but it’s also the most stylistically interesting. There are quite a few scenes in this movie that visually stray quite far from the MCU (and honestly superhero) formula. Honestly, a lot of the framing feels like frames from a 1980s comic. Which, obviously, is perfect for this. And, like I said, it’s definitely got that element of horror to it as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people complained that their kids will have to skip this one. Because it may tiptoe over the line of “too scary” more than once. Honestly though, I loved it. Anything to stop the MCU from feeling stale 28 movies deep. Not to mention, if any character is going to be adapted into horror, it’s Doctor Strange. I hope Raimi returns for any potential sequels.

Storywise, I can also say that this is incredibly strong. Without giving away spoilers, I’ll just say that it feels like culmination of a lot of events we’ve seen over the past couple of MCU entries. It deals with aftermath of the first Doctor Strange, Endgame, WandaVision. Loki, No Way Home, and What If and the fallout that follows such tragic, life-altering events. If you are a fan of the franchise, this definitely is a worthy payoff to some of the stories they’ve set up. It’s an incredibly emotional story with real heart and a ton of twists and turns I can guarantee you won’t see coming. Ok. I’ve got to stop here unfortunately. I can’t think of anything else plotwise to share without getting spoilery.

The rest you already know, because they’ve been true for dozens of movies now. It’s a lot of fun. There are very cool action scenes. Some of which, again, are unlike anything we’ve seen in this universe so far. There’s one especially that’s so cool and so original that it’ll stick with me forever. Lots of humor, both of the Raimi and typical MCU kind. And, of course, the performances are fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch continues to be one of the absolute rockstars of the MCU. He’s brings such dignity to Strange, while also showing a vulnerable side. Xochitl Gomez is a delightful new addition as America Chavez. It’s insane how quickly the MCU can make you fall in love with new characters. I cannot wait to see more of her in the future. (Young Avengers! Please!) And, then, there’s Elizabeth Olsen. I love the character of Wanda so much. And, honestly, this might be the best performance of the entire franchise. Just. Perfect. In. Every. Way. (If you haven’t seen WandaVision, ABSOLUTELY DO THAT before seeing this.) Basically, even though its all very different, it still delivers you that sweet sweet Marvel Cinematic Universe fix.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely LOVED Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I wish I could talk about it more. It’s such a beautiful, badass, emotional tale. It’s absolutely nothing like I thought it would be, yet every bit what I needed. Go see it. Preferably now, while you still know almost nothing. And then come talk to me about it. Because I cannot wait to converse about this movie.

TL;DR: Featuring Sam Raimi’s distinct style, amazing story, and some of the franchise’s best performances, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is truly one of Marvel’s strongest entries yet.

Score: 9/10 (Amazing)

Review: The Survivor

The Survivor (2022)

Director: Barry Levinson

Writer: Justine Juel Gillmer

Starring: Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Billy Magnussen, Peter Sarsgard, John Leguizamo, and Danny DeVito

Review: Ok. Let’s be real. This probably isn’t “the big movie” of the week. After all, Memory is actually hitting theaters, while this is clearly a made-for-tv movie, dozens of which premiere on HBO a year only to be mostly forgotten. But I honestly didn’t have it in me to watch yet another Liam Neeson action movie and this one had an interesting plot so here we are. The Survivor.

And, as I expected, the plot is by far this movies strongest element. Telling the true story of a man who survived his time in a concentration camp by becoming a boxer for the Nazis entertainment, where they’d kill the loser, and all of the guilt that came with that made for a fascinating tale. It’s a story unlike anything I’ve heard and that’s really refreshing for the WWII genre. And, it led to really intense moral pondering. Is he a bad man for doing what he had to in order to survive? Is he a traitor to his people for (essentially) killing in the name of the Nazis? And, what kind of effect does that sort of decision making have on a person? It’s all truly fascinating stuff. Plus, the cast was absolutely amazing. Ben Foster crushed it. Both as a man fighting for his life and the one looking back on it with regret. Krieps absolutely broke my heart as the woman who loved him. And, Billy Magnussen gives a standout, vile performance as the Nazi who forced our character into this situation. So, yeah, definitely a lot of good stuff here.

However, I was not a fan of how the story was presented. We start the movie with the middle aged version of our character. Then, flash back to his post WWII boxing days. Then, again, often flashback to his time at the concentration camp. So, essentially there are many times when we are in a flashback of a flashback of a flashback. And, I full-hearted think that telling this story out of chronological order was a mistake. I don’t know if they did it to spread out the “interesting” stuff or if they thought it made the story more emotionally impactful, but I think it was a big determinant to the flow of the story. I think just a straight telling of this story would’ve worked much better. And, I have full confidence that the emotion of the later portions of his life are interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention. The way its edited now makes the story feel longer and less impactful. Which, again, is a bummer because this story can and should pack a wallop.

Overall, I did enjoy The Survivor. I think the story is worth experiencing and unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Plus, like I said, the cast does an amazing job. I just think the flow of the story is thrown off by the way its told, making the experience feel longer and slower than it otherwise would. However, if you’re intrigued by the story, I’d definitely say give this one a shot.

TL;DR: The plot alone, featuring a story unlike any other I’ve heard from its era, makes The Survivor a movie worth checking out, even if I don’t 100% agree with the way the writer chose to tell it.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Wait, Sony, who the hell is El Muerto?

Oh come on, now!

Last night, as I was winding down yet another hours-long session of LEGO Star Wars, I decided to glance at some social media. What greeted me was headline after headline announcing that Bad Bunny would be playing Spider-Man character El Muerto in Sony’s upcoming standalone movie. And my honest first reaction was “wait, who the hell is El Muerto?”

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big Spider-Man fan. He’s my favorite character of all-time. I’ve read hundreds of his comics, watched hours of media about him, played through several video games, and, even, have read non-fiction books about his history and impact on pop culture. If you gave me the chance, I could rattle off dozens of characters related to just his side of the Marvel universe. And, while Sony’s been announcing some pretty obscure characters to their universe lately, I at least knew all of their names and a general gist of what they’re about. There was no way Sony would ever dive so deep into the lore that they’d pick a headlining character I’d never heard of, right? Wrong.

Before last night, I did not know there was a Marvel character named El Muerto. The fact that he’s getting a movie completely blindsided me. So, after (probably over) reacting, I gave him a quick google and was hit by a second wave of shock. The man was only in TWO ISSUES of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, 16 years ago! Talk about obscure! Man, and people thought Guardians of the Galaxy was pulled out of nowhere? At least those characters had been around for decades and had an acclaimed 25 issue run as a team. Heck, El Muerto makes Morbius look like a top-tier character. I know Sony’s been desperate lately, but, this(!), this is a stretch. I don’t know who in their right mind picked El Muerto to be the next “big” Marvel thing. What were they thinking?

Then, it hit me. I could very easily figure out what they were thinking. I could do some investigative work myself. I could do a El Muerto “deep dive” and see if there’s anything worth adapting. So, that’s just what I did. And it took me all of twenty minutes. And I am now an El Muerto expert. Here’s what I found.

El Muerto is not even the most interesting part of his arc.

As I said, I dove into this two issue arc expecting El Muerto to be my main takeaway. He was not. Instead, I was drawn into the drama of this mid-2000s Spider-Man run I’ve never read before. This story in particular starts with the Jameson family being held at gunpoint. When things start getting particularly intense, J. Jonah tells his son John to “do his thing” and “reveal his secret.” Initially, I thought he was referring to John Jameson’s history of becoming the campy 80s villain Man-Wolf (Sony, calm down), but I soon learned, no, he thought his son was Spider-Man. Which is honestly ridiculous. Because, one, Spider-Man fought Man-Wolf on several occasions. He’s a Spider-Man villain after all. And, perhaps more importantly, in one of Spider-Man’s first adventures, he SAVED John Jameson when his space shuttle was about to crash. IN FRONT OF J JONAH JAMESON. Which is why the publisher hates Spider-Man. He feels like Spidey stole his son’s moment. It’s completely baffling.

AND THEN we get this cliffhanger…

While out on a date (with Jarvis no less), Aunt May sees Uncle Ben just casually out walking the streets. Now, I’m sure there’s some kind of explanation. I’m not going to look into it any further though. That’s not the point. The point is that even in his only TWO ISSUES El Muerto is barely worth mentioning.

But, what is El Muerto’s story?

I’m about to hit you with some intense comic book bullshit. You ready? Juan-Carlos Estrada Sanchez is part of a long family line of Lucha libre characters named El Muerto. The name and mask, which gives it’s wearer super strength, have been passed down to generation after generation. I’m guessing that’s because his family made a deal with El Dorado, essentially a wrestling god. I don’t know. It’s never quite explained. What is explained is that, as a child, he was supposed to prove that he was ready for the mask by fighting El Dorado. He chickened out and said he didn’t want it, which angered El Dorado who tried to kill him. Juan-Carlos’ father intervened and was killed. El Dorado then gave Juan-Carlos ten years to train. After those ten years, he had to fight a true “champion of the people.” If he lost that fight, El Dorado would come back and kill him. For whatever reason, Juan-Carlos, now going by El Muerto, chose Spider-Man. Again, without explanation. And… he lost.

So, El Dorado (that’s him in the pic) comes back to kill El Muerto. Of course, Spider-Man and El Muerto fend him off. Everyone lives happily ever after. And, that’s it. That’s all we know about El Muerto. No follow-up story. Nothing about whether he ended up taking on the legacy. No crime fighting. No more Spider-Man battles. Nothing. He just fought Spider-Man once and then teamed up with him once. End of story. For 16 years this character just sat hidden deep within the archives until Sony decided to dust him off for whatever ungodly reason. (They own the rights to everything Spider-Man and go with this?)

The Movie

At the end of the day, El Muerto’s comic book history doesn’t really matter all that much. It really comes down to “can someone make a good movie out of this?” and I’m surprisingly going with yes. Because, honestly, the idea of a boxing match where somebody’s life is on the line is fascinating, especially if, like Spider-Man, the other party isn’t aware of the stakes. I think you just run with that central concept and drop almost everything else. Maybe throw in the dark magic deal, but definitely don’t do El Dorado like he appears in the comics. A loose adaptation that isn’t really a superhero movie, more of a horror-themed sports flick? I think it could work. Maybe not as high art, but it sounds like the best movie in the “SSU” so far.

Now, do I have any faith in Sony executing that concept? No. None whatsoever. He’s going to be another anti-hero who fights crime until he eventually joins the Sinister Six to take down Spider-Man. And I’m going to hate it. Mark my words.

(Plus, man, I don’t know. Seems like Bad Bunny doesn’t have a whole lot of acting experience yet.)

But, even if this movie sucks, I’m glad I took this journey. It let me dive into a part of the Spider-Verse I never had. It was interesting to see subplots and villains I probably would’ve never read about otherwise. And, the challenge of turning a Z-list character into a decent movie was actually kind of fun. I’m still not excited for this movie, but at least I got something out of it.

Sony, give me a call if you liked this pitch…

But, really, make a Miles Morales movie! Spider-Man 2099! Spider-Ham! Black Cat! Do that Aunt May movie that was leaked before! Literally all of it makes more sense than the wrestler with the poorly defined backstory and two issue arc!