Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – Worth it for the Monsters

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   “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of monster films and this film does the monsters very well. Some of the human characters are a bit weakly written but the overall themes of the movie never change. I enjoyed this more than both of the other American Godzilla films (1998 and 2014). It doesn’t touch the original “Godzilla” though in quality. That film is one of my favorites to this day and I’ll be surprised if lightning strikes that again for any monster film. For non-spoiler thoughts it is worth checking out for how the monsters or Titans as they are called in this, are handled. So much personality is given to each creature and they really are the stars of the film.

The film was directed by Michael Dougherty and who co-wrote the film with Zach Shields.

The story follows the scientific organization Monarch as they seek to stop a terrorist organization lead by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) from releasing King Ghidorah and the Titans upon the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – Whenever the monsters it fight it is some of the best action on the screen. Whether it is Rodan taking out Monarch’s ships while facing Ghidorah and the last few fights of Godzilla against Ghidorah are simply beautiful. Cities are destroyed and we see just how entrancing these Titans (as they are called) are.

The Soundtrack -Bear McCreary is one of my favorite composers and he did a fantastic job here. Each monster has their own theme that captures the true epic scale of each of the Titans. He also captures a sense of forboding that permeates the soundtrack and plays into the themes of destruction and balance that give the film it’s strength.

Alan Jonah – Charles Dance is an amazing actor and this film is a great example of this. We never get his personal reasons for wanting to destroy the world but he still manages to give empathy even as he is wreaking destruction everywhere around him with the releasing of the Titans. He survives the film so I hope we get more of his backstory as I enjoyed the scenes he was in.

Dr. Serizawa – Ken Watanabe has always been one of the strongest characters in this Franchise. He is a scientist obsessed with the Titans and hoping that they can bring balance to the world. Here is sacrifices his own life to bring Godzilla back to life after humanity nearly kills Godzilla with an oxygen bomb. It is a touching scene and it completes his arc beautifully as he’s always been rooting for Godzilla and been right about Godzilla overall being a Titan protector rather than a destroyer.

The Monsters – The monsters are the best part of this film. They are given so much personality and their dynamics with one another are powerful. We have Ghidorah who has three heads, each with a different personality, you have Rodan who is aggressive but values staying alive that it will submit after a fight and you have the guardianesque Mothra who seeks to protect Godzilla and the planet even at the expense of it’s own life. Rodan was my favorite and I’m glad he survives the film. Watching them fight is leading me back to the Toho films post the original “Godzilla” and I can’t wait to review them later.

Balance versus Destruction – The main theme of the film is that between balance and destruction. Balance comes through union of humanity with the Titans which in this case is through Mothra and Godzilla while destruction is alien King Ghidorah who wants to destroy all life on Earth. This is expressed in our characters such as Madison, Mark and Monarch who seek to keep the balance and help Godzilla against Ghidorah and destruction is through Alan Jonah and his organization who bring death wherever they go. This illustration is beautiful and I loved how the people mirrored the monsters they represented.

Okay:

The Russells – The Russell family is really where we see a lot of the core themes of balance versus destruction. Emma is part of Jonah’s group and causing destruction until the end she embraces balance that her daughter and husband were following in seeking to protect and save Godzilla. The arc itself is alright but I felt the Russells were the weakest human characters. They at least got arcs though. Mark forgives Godzilla for killing their son in the last film and his actions along with their daughter Madison help Godzilla eventually defeat Ghidorah…along with Emma’s final sacrifice in her distracting of Ghidorah from going for the killing blow.

The Cons:

When the Action is Hidden – There are a few action sequences where the action is hidden and it is annoying. When Ghidorah is first released in Antarctica so much of the fight against Godzilla is hidden by snow and darkness. This was a major problem in “Godzilla” 2014 and I’m glad it isn’t as bad here, but it is still present.

The Comedy – The comedy is bad. The jokes are cringy and I wish they’d avoided humor all together. The only scene I kind of laughed at is when Alan Jonah is trying to help Madison relax after his men have slaughtered a bunch of people and she flips him off. The rest felt like them trying to shove in jokes when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This was a film that I enjoyed. The monsters and themes are well executed and the only things that really bring down the film is the fact that some human characters could have been developed better in regards to their motivation. This film should have stayed away from comedy as well and I hate how studios get around showing action by covering it in snow or mist. Here it doesn’t happen a lot but the times it does hurt the great action we do see. If you are a fan of monster films or any of the “Godzilla” films I’d say it is worth your time. It is definitely the best of the American Godzilla films and I hope more of the monsters we see get explored further.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good monster film.

The monsters in this film made me want to check out their originals from the Toho films, which will definitely be reviews in the future as out of all the Toho films I’ve only seen and reviewed the original “Godzilla.”

 

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Missing Link (2019): Amazing Animation Can’t Save This Story

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     “Missing Link” is a film that could have been so much more. One thing Laika Studios is quite good at doing is taking a novel concept and going deeper with it. We see this with “Kubo and the Two Strings” which takes your basic adventure story and makes it about working through grief and exploring familial bonds. This story is bland. The strongest part of the film are Zoe Saldaña’s performance as Adelina Fortnight and Hugh Jackman as Sir Lionel Frost. The problem is they are fully inhabiting tropes that they never grow beyond. This was sad as this story deserved so much better.

The film was directed and written by Chris Butler.

The film follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who wants to join the “Society of Great Men,” who believes he finally has a chance to join the order when he receives a letter from the United States and meets Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) the Sasquatch. The leader of the “Society of Great Men” Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) sends a hunter (Timothy Olaphant) to stop him as Frost must call upon a former friend Adelina (Zoe Saldaña) to get Mr. Link back to his ancestors the Yeti, in the North.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Laika is a master of stop-motion animation. “Missing Link” continues that same quality. The levels of detail they put into the forest set, the Yeti Temple and the ship is just spectacular. This is Laika once again showing why they are famous for their animation.

Sir Lionel Frost – Sir Lionel is the only character with a real character arc. He goes from a sociopath who uses people for his own glory, to one who considers his friends family. We see this in how he cares for Adelina and Mr. Link/Susan and though it takes work for him to gain empathy, in the end he finally does. Hugh Jackman does a fantastic job in the role. He plays the stuffy English man stereotype but the film at least lets him grow beyond it. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast and the boxes they are put into.

Adelina Fortnight – Zoe Saldaña’s character is good in that she grows beyond the death of her husband and becomes her own adventurer. The problem is the stereotype the film has given her. She is still one of the best characters in the film but she is the angry latina which is a problematic trope and I wish Laika had been better. I liked her character but that trope kept her from becoming more three-dimensional because she was playing a problematic trope that hurt what character had been formed.

The Yeti Elder – Emma Thompson does a great job as the leader of the Yeti’s in the Yeti Elder. They are a closed off community who imprison Lionel, Adelina and Mr. Link dubbing him a redneck and not one of them. She does a great job of showing why the warriors follow her and also the closed off nature of what her people have become. They are portrayed as a warrior civilization with her as the head with survival above all else. Which given their isolation, I can see but there was no nuance. The Yeti Elder showed as much. She was just as close minded as the English villain just not a sexist imperialist.

Okay:

The Villains – Lord Piggot-Dunceby is simply a sexist pig consumed by ego (he has a great design at least as he is the largest human in the film) while the hunter is just a western style cowboy who never feels threatening. The characters are one dimensional and they serve their purpose within the narrative but that is about it. I’m glad Stephen Fry at least hammed up Lord Piggot-Dunceby or he would have been a bore. So much more could have been to critique the British Empire and the era but Butler was really lazy in trying to delve deeply into any of these characters or ideas.

The Cons:

Mr Link/Susan – Zach Galifianakis was the wrong person for this role. Mr. Link needed to be played by more than a comedian as so much of what he says are meant to be jokes said by a comedian. This was a disservice for the literal mindset and childlike nature of Mr. Link. This is a character who doesn’t really grow. He eventually finds family in Adelina and Sir Lionel but that isn’t through his choice, it is through theirs. Throughout the story he is always rejected and a more nuanced actor and script could have made that mean something.

Colonial Tropes – The problematic colonialist tropes that stood out where how native cultures were treated as props. They were just there to get Sir Lionel to his next location and discovery was always seen as new. The power of the British Empire is never questioned even as the film tries to be progressive.

I didn’t like this film but I didn’t hate it either. This film was enjoyable and fine. I would also only recommend for people who are fans of Laika like myself and who want to keep the studio going. I don’t want stop-motion animation to become a thing of the past, and Laika Studios is still one of the best at it. I do wish this film had managed to stand more for something and hadn’t been problematic, but for a forgettable fun film, it was serviceable.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Toy Story 4 (2019): A Powerful Exploration of Purpose and Relationship

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    “Toy Story 4” was a great film that I didn’t think was probable. This was a series that had ended pretty definitively at the end of “Toy Story 3” so I wasn’t sure what else they were going to do. I’m happy to say I was surprised. This is a film that is powerful and explores identity, mortality, purpose. The main cast are the heart of the show and at this point it is easily one of my favorite films of the year. If you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this one out.

The film was directed by Josh Cooley and written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton.

The story follows Woody and his friends on a road trip after Bonnie has created a new toy name Forky who believes himself to be trash. Woody mentors him but soon finds himself questioning what he’s known when he runs into Bo Peep who is a now a living the life of a “lost toy.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – Pixar does such a great job building off each of their latest films. This is simply a stunningly animated movie that has more realistic looking people, the detail of fur on animals and tons of different surfaces that make-up the many toys. I hope Pixar continues to thrive and brings us more of this amazing art. Every few films introduce something new worth exploring. After this my wife and I went to the Pixar exhibit and got to see the science behind it first hand. If it is ever in your area, check it out.

The Characters – The strongest part of most Pixar films are the characters. This film is no exception. The support characters have the least to do so it is hard to call their story good but it is still fun. This film is truly about the new characters, Bo Peep and Woody.

Gabby Gabby – Gabby Gabby is the antagonist of the film. She is a doll who wants to be loved but thinks because her voice box is broken she will never be loved. Because of this she kidnaps Forky to get Woody’s voicebox. They clash through the film with her eventually winning in her aims to get the voice box, only to be tossed aside. She is is a complex antagonist in that you can see where her drive is coming from and that she doesn’t destroy others the way Stinky Pete, Sid or Lotso does in the original Trilogy. She comes around to love and respect Woody because of what he does for her and becomes friends with Forky. Christina Hendricks gives so much depth to this role and she is easily the best antagonist in any “Toy Story” film, and that is because she shows that there is more a broken toy can become. Her final act is leaving Woody and Bo to care for a lost girl at the carnival.

Bo Peep – Bo is a toy who has found independence in the lost toy life and is loving it. She spends her time helping other toys found enjoyement from being played and though she misses her toy family from before she lives what she has become. She has a role beyond being there for a kid and it is in this role that Woody is given the choice for his own future.

Forky – Forky is the toy Bonnie creates when she is alone at Kindergarten. It is a powerful moment and Forky is born with an existential crisis. For much of the film he is trying to return to the trash, since that was what he was made from. Woody is the one who convinces him that he has a purpose to live (as well as Gabby Gabby) and from here he accepts his place as Bonnie’s favorite toy. The process is devastating and his arc is like a newborn learning to think and reason. We’ve never witnessed the birth of sentience in a toy until this film within the “Toy Story Franchise.”

Woody – Woody’s arc this film is learning to find purpose beyond devotion to a kid. The beginning of this is when Bonnie no longer cares to play with him, which kicks things off and ends with the finding of Bo Peep and joining her with the carnival, knowing that there they can help other toys find kids. His arc is a gut punch though as it is after Buzz comes back to rescue him that he says good-bye and passes on his sheriff star to Jessie who had become the Sheriff for Bonnie when she played. It was neat and a great releasing of his ego on Woody’s part. Tom Hanks once again adds so many layers to this wonderful character.

Identity and Purpose – The main theme running through the story is that of identity and purpose. What this is for most toy’s is the devotion of a kid. This is what helps make Forky no longer seek death and is what drives Woody through the story up to this point. It isn’t until he meets Po that he sees that she is bringing joy to those who are lost or don’t have toys. Woody finds purpose in this and in his love for her. It is powerful and over the course of the film is set up really well. We get the flashback of when she leaves, Woody being left in the closet and the birth of Forky who Woody than mentors. This exploration of identity and purpose is really the core of the story and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Support Characters – The support characters are alright. Woody’s friends get some good comedy, but we never see them grow. Buzz, who has the most screen time among them is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. The same goes for Jessie. She is still the same Jessie the film began with as she was always a leader. Key and Peele play a comedic duo Ducky and Bunny. There are others as well who work on a comedic level, but it is hard to call what they have arcs. For this reason the supporting cast is only okay.

This is a film I highly recommend. I can’t wait to go back and watch the original “Toy Story Trilogy” again and see just how far Pixar has come in their animation and really storytelling too. If you are a fan of the other films, chances are you won’t be disappointed by this one. So far it is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Pixar creates and the future stories they tell.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019): A Worthy Adaptation of the Comic

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This was a solid adaptation of the comic. The comic is better, but this was DC Animation showing that they know what to do with their stories. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman teaming up is such a camp concept and I have so much joy over the fact that the concept works. Comics are so supposed to be creative and think outside of the box and the comic and film both do this.

The film was directed by Jake Castoreno and written by Marly Halpern-Graser.

The story follows Batman as he investigates mysterious robberies of Wayne Industries Technology by mutant beings. Batman than investigates congruently with Batgirl and Robin to unravel the mystery.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is quite enjoyable. We get some good face-offs with characters and who they team up with. For example at one point we have Michelangelo loving Mr. Freeze while Damian is more serious, Batgirl and Donatello team up and Leonardo and Batman. We also get to see Batman face off against Shredder a few times and the team against Joker and Harley Quinn. This was easily the thing that kept me drawn into the movie the most and I’m glad the action meant something.

The World – This is the multi-verse world where the Shredder and his Foot Clan are in Gotham stealing technology and where Batman where Batgirl as Barbara Gordon and a Damian Robin are Batman’s team. It is a fascinating place to explore as from the team-up you expect a more grittier era but the world is balanced because there exist mutant turtles hunting down an evil ninja clan. Gotham and the world of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” work really together and I think that is due to both having gritty initial roots but having so much camp and crazy exist as well. This whole idea wouldn’t exist without being open to possibilities.

The Turtles – The Turtles are great and aren’t overused. Donatello forms a friendship with Batgirl, Raphael forms a friendship with Robin and a respect for Batman and Michelangelo grows into a greater hero with Batman’s help. The dynamic between them is classic with Raphael wanting to go rogue and I do love this version of Donatello, which plays up his smarts. Michelangelo even has moments of heroism and is the key to the story, which is rare in most “TMNT” stories I’ve watched.

Batman and Team – Troy Baker does an excellent job voicing both Batman and the Joker in this. He’s voiced the Joker before in “Arkham Origins” and this film really shows just how much range he has. The Batman is the perspective we first see and in a way they drive the story as the action largely takes place in Gotham.

The Ooze and Gotham – The Ooze is used after Ra’s al Ghul and Shredder team up and the inmates of Arkham Asylum are transformed into animal forms. We have Baine as a Jaguar, Mr. Freeze as a Polar Bear, Scarecrow as a crow, Harley as a Hyena (Voiced by the amazing Tara Strong!) and the Joker as a Cobra. In the comics there are more rogues transformed (also honorable mentions to Two-Face as Two-Faced cat and Poison Ivy as a Venus Fly Trap) but the core fights are the ones mentioned first. The ooze drives the story (as it is what turned the turtles into mutants) and at one point Batman is changed into a mutant bat that is against all things. It is only Michelangelo who saves him with the cure. This whole sequence was solid action and I liked that Batman needed help and also the fact it was the most underrated Ninja Turtle helped. Michelangelo saves Batman after he is transformed. It was a moment you rarely see in most Turtle films as Mikey is usually there only for comedic relief. Also major props to Troy Baker for voicing both Batman and the Joker beautifully.

Shredder – Shredder is really the guy in charge this time around. Ra’s al Ghul does ally with him and uses infecting the inmates of Gotham as a distraction but Shredder double crosses him and admits he plans to invade this universe and conquer it with his Foot Clan. He never stops being a threat and Batman is fought to a draw with him quite a few times before he is finally beat. The cool thing is his story doesn’t end there as the Ooze mixed with Joker Venom infects him and he transforms into Joker Shredder setting up a sequel. Giving they did this it better payoff.

Okay:

The Animation – The animation flows but you can also see how it is working with a budget. The comic has a level of detail that this animated feature simply does not have. It isn’t bad animation but the simplification hurts when the turtles are on screen as they feel less realized than the detail that was put into any human character on screen. Again, it wasn’t bad but I cannot put it as a pro.

Ra’s al Ghul – Ra’s al Ghul is not as compelling as the Shredder in this. The biggest reason is he is introduced late and we never have any worthy face-offs with Batman. In the first volume of the comic was far more compelling and essential. I like him facing off against Michelangelo but he never becomes a great villain. If anything he would have fit sticking around to fight in Arkham Asylum as it would have made him facing off against Damian and Batman mean more and give more power to Shredder’s inevitable betrayal.

The Cons:

Not A Complete Story – Volume 1 of “Batman vs. TMNT” was a complete story that did not need a sequel. This one is setting up a sequel, which is cool but I’ve seen enough shows and films crash and burn to know how arrogant that is. I loved that Shredder transformed but I hate the assumption that there will be a sequel when that is never a given.

If you like DC Animation, of which I am a fan this is a film well worth your time. It isn’t as great as the comic which I’d argue is a near perfect adaptation of the premise. This is film with decent animation and action with a compelling overall story. It i is overall faithful to the original comic while focusing in on the core fights. Initially this did annoy me but I like how it lead to the bonds forming between Batgirl, Robin and the Turtles. This is also an acquired taste. For me it was solidly good cause I like both of these universes, but for others it might be a bit more out of the bag. Regardless this film was so much fun.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid adaptation that could have been great.

Us (2019): Deconstructing Class and Race

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    “Us” is a great film that feels like an extended episode of a show. The premise is a lot of fun and it is worth seeing for Lupita Nyong’o alone as she portrays two very different characters. This story I would have rated higher if her family had been explored more or the family friends had been likable. There are also a lot of plot holes which makes this film a great idea, which is the biggest reason it is rated so high. It needed more the plot holes filled in. This film lacks the subtly of “Get Out,” which keeps it from being scored higher for me. It is still worth checking out though.

The film was written and directed by Jordan Peele.

The story follows Adelaide and her family in their summer home in Santa Cruz when their doppelgangers attack and hold them hostage.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Michael Abels soundtrack is haunting. He does a great job of tying in the alien with the familiar. This is especially so after the family takes home and the use of “I Got 5 On It” throughout the film. This use of music is the greatest example of why this is a film rather than an episode of a show.

The Tension – Tension is handled really well in this film. We start out with a flashback and unknown factor builds the story from there. This was the first “Home Invasion” horror I’ve seen beyond “Halloween.” This film does a good job building tension and it truly works as a thriller, though it did not scare me. So as a horror it could have worked better but it worked wonders as thriller.

Lupita Nyong’o – Lupita Nyong’o carries this film. As Adelaide she is someone who was once captive and is now free and just wants to be comfortable. It is when Red, the person above she trapped below who upsets things with the Tethered revolution that she truly sees what reality is. This is her awakening as her “friends” are more worried about appearances and class and reflect her selfishness while Red just wants to free the Tethered. In the end she kills Red but her lie and false reality are broken as her son Jason witnesses what she did and Red’s confession.

The Family – Adelaide and her family are certainly a pro of the film. I think what would have made them work better is more interactions with others. Adelaide is the only character who feels fully fleshed out. The family mostly works as a reaction to their Tethered duplicates. Gabe is someone who finds his strength when he’s overpowered, Zora sees the big picture and uses that in regards to her environment. She wins by getting out of the house.  The youngest, Jason is the one who sees the cost of what happened in all the deaths and knows his mother is a Tethered too. His mask he wears through the film comes off when he sees the truth of her past.

Exploring Race and Class Through Symbolism – Most of the explorations of race and class come through the symbolism in the story. We see this in the fact that Red once came from above and the first thing she did was rebel. We see it her designing the suits of the Tethered like prison uniforms and the Prison Industrial Complex that primarily uses African-Americans as prison labor. We see it in how Adelaide has forgotten and become part of the rich and that she only really wakes up after destroying herself (Red). There are so many ideas here that give the movie power and move it from good to great. The biggest disadvantage here is I wanted more. “Get Out” was a much better film because it fully explored the ideas and characters presented.

The Cons:

The Reasons for the Tethered – The Tethered are a government project made to control those on Earth. We never get an explanation beyond that and that reason also doesn’t make all that much sense given we are never shown them doing that prior. How do they control those above ground? Who were they before Red? There are so many questions that remain unanswered, which helps the story and symbolism. The meaning is largely symbolism and this was a chance to get beyond that. The Tethered and their relationship to those above are the biggest reason this story isn’t rated higher. It needed more exploration to truly work.

The Family Friends – Elisabeth Moss, her husband and their daughters are lame. They were unlikable from the beginning (vain, materialistic, egotistical) so them being killed by their Tethereds meant nothing. This was the wrong way to go as we need more to build up the family…and this family does not.

I thought this film was a solidly great thriller that could have been more if it developed the characters and story. At the end of the day I only felt that I knew Adelaide and Red and for a family trapped the family has to be more than ideas…the friends have to be more than ideas. In the end concept over character is what kept it from being rated higher. Still worth checking out for any of fan of Jordan Peele. He did a great job, I just wanted more.

Final Score: 9 / 10

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – Strong Villain With a Promise for the Next Phase

   “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a really good film. It is easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film of 2019. Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal have great chemistry together as Spider-Man and Mysterio and there are some really great twists. This film also has two great after-credits scenes and some of the best action in any of the films in the MCU. If you are a fan of the MCU or this version of Spider-Man from “Homecoming,” I strongly recommend you check it out. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

The film was directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

The story takes place after “Endgame” and involves Peter and his class taking a trip to Europe. While there Elementals attack and Nick Fury commissions Peter Parker as they work with Mysterio to take on the Elemental threat.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – This film has better action than  “Homecoming” though “Homecoming” has a better emotional core in regards to Parker’s friends. This is a movie that fully embraces the action and that is both a pro and  a con and for me the pro won out. We see giant monsters facing off against Spider-Man and Mysterio using Venice or Prague as the places where the battle is taking place. The action has consequences and you get why Peter chooses the choices he does. You see how Spider-Man is usually fighting losing battles and it is only through his mind and cleverness that he pulls a win out of potential losses.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – S.H.I.E.L.D. is screwed after the “Blip” (the 5 year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame”). Fury admits he doesn’t know the state of the world and that most of the heroes are gone, which lets Mysterio step and Spider-Man being forced to step-up. I love the how they are still a threat and undercover but also are secret agents acting with limited information, which ends up paying off later.

The Blip – “The Blip” is the five  year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame” and here it is recognized and played for laughs sorrows. It is played for laughs as in a band concert has people pop in on the same day and cause chaos and sorrow in that Aunt May and Spider-Man are raising money for the homeless blipped. The fact that half the population was gone for five years has consequences and Spider-Man knows that better than anyone.

Mysterio – Gyllenhaal carries so much of this film as Quentin Beck / Mysterio. He relates to Peter enough to give up his gift and we see him willing to risk it and all and even win when he loses. Mysterio was the engineer who invented the holograms that Tony Stark used for therapy in “Civil War.” Out of resentment of Tony naming his technology B.A.R.F. he finds others who were wronged by Tony in the past and together they create Mysterio. He is such a fun threat and you can see why he is angry and that he does want to be a hero, even though his way of going about it is villainous. He is easily one of the best Spider-Man live action film villains. His final revenge is brilliant, which is a pro I list later.

Spider-Man / Tom Holland – Tom Holland is amazing as Spider-Man. In this we see the core “With great power comes great responsibility” when Tony Stark gives him the A.I. E.D.I.T.H. The Network controls drones and satellites all over the world and is used through a pair of glasses. At one point Peter nearly gets his classmates killed and after he gives Mysterio E.D.I.T.H. When he finally realizes his mistakes and goes to face Mysterio he is nearly broken and it is only through working with Happy that he is able to finally defeat Mysterio. The lesser plot is his crush on MJ. They do end up together but it is one of the weaker parts of the film.

The End Credits Reveals – There are 2 end-credits scenes and both are great. The first involves a deep fake video from Mysterio’s organization that has Mysterio reveal to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and that he was responsible for the drones and that Mysterio was trying to stop him. This was made even more powerful by J.K. Simmons being back as J. Jonah Jamison who in the MCU is an Alex Jones reporter type. It is such a great scene. Simmons owns this role and the MCU was smart to pull him into their version of the character.

The second film reveals that Nick Fury and Anita Hill were Talos and a Skrull the entire time. He calls Nick Fury and it is revealed that Fury is with the Skrulls in space. Both endings give so much possibilities for the next phase in the MCU. It also explains why S.H.I.E.L.D. had limited information. They were aliens who didn’t know the modern Earth after “The Blip.” The first after-credits scene is stronger but I loved them both.

 

Okay: MJ – Zendaya is a great actress but her character doesn’t do much in this beyond being a love interest. She finds out who Spider-Man is over the course of the school trip and her and Peter end up together. Overall her character is okay in this, which is a shame as she was great in “Homecoming.” They should not have put MJ in the “Love Interest” box. I wish that there had been potential for romance but Peter’s responsibility pulling him back from that, given Mysterio’s plans and what happens after.

Aunt May and Happy – This is an awkward romance that is also mostly played for laughs due to how it makes Peter feel. It wasn’t bad but it was screen-time that could have gone to developing MJ as a character, more about life after “the blip” or more Mysterio time. It wasn’t bad but it could have been cut.

The Cons:

The Teachers – The Teachers are played for jokes and really lame. I wish they weren’t so much at the front of the film. Their humor is awkward and they cause a clash of tones with how serious the main Mysterio plot is. The jokes at times are sitcom level bad and we aren’t given a reason to care about either. The rival had better development for me and he was still a con.

The Rival Brad – Peter has a rival in this film, his name is Brad and he is weak. He takes away from MJ’s development and feels tacked on. We at least get some recognition of “The Blip” where it sounds like he was Freshman before and now he is a Senior but it is only briefly touched upon. If they plan to make him a venom, that might work but only as finding his own self worth. Brad only exists as an outcropping of Peter’s insecurities which doesn’t develop MJ. The character was pretty forgettable and I would have traded his role for more screen-time for Peter’s friends or Mysterio and his organization.

This is a film that could have been great. You have a compelling villain, romance and Peter Parker growing but it having consequences. So why do I not see this film higher? This was easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film but that doesn’t give it a pass. This isn’t “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Infinity War.” I really like this version of Peter Parker and what the MCU has done with him. He isn’t in personal stakes like Morales and his Uncle but the personal wishes versus responsibility are still key. Mysterio lets him give up responsibility and he pays the price for it at the end. That is is quintessential Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I really enjoyed this film and I think any Spider-Man fan will enjoy it immensely. This is a film that Holland and Gyllenhaal could have carried on their own.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – On Growing Up and Letting Go

      “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a really good film. It isn’t as good as the first 2 films, but this is a solid end to the franchise. If you’ve come this far I’d say it is worth finishing. The ending is one of the most heart touching things you’ll see this year and the animation and action are the best this series has ever been. Also I am biased in that I am glad this is the ending.  A trilogy is a a great way to end any series and when you go beyond that it is easy for studios to mess up.

The film was directed, produced and written by Dean DeBlois, with Brad Lewis being the other producer.

The story involves Hiccup and his dragon-riders continuing to rescue dragons and bringing them to Berk. This leads to overcrowding leading Hiccup to call upon his dad’s dream of finding the “Hidden World” where dragons and humans can live and peace. All doesn’t go according to plan when an old dragon hunter enters the scene. Grimmel who hunted the Night Fury to near extinction. With the warlords at his back he brings war to Hiccup and Berk.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is great. Grimmel (the main baddy) and his Deathgrippers (venom-fire spitting dragons) cause some great action sequences when they are escaping, capturing dragons or fighting against Hiccup. Visually the action sequences are a lot of fun. The fact that Hiccup and his main crew now use dragon armor and Hiccup has a burning swords adds to the visual appeal of it all.

The Animation – The animation is the best it is has ever been. It must have been difficult to animate the Hidden World when they finally reach it. There are such a variety of dragons and mirage of colors that it simply draws you in. Same goes for when Hiccup moves the Vikings to find a new land. The sheer amount of characters and creatures in motion is seamless, as well as the reveal of the new forest island they choose to call home. This is a movie animated on an epic scale and it loves it up to that. Every scene has so much detail to it, while still focusing in on the characters who drive the action.

Astrid and Hiccup – This is the core relationship that drives the series. Astrid and Hiccup are the heroes of the film. Astrid is the one who sees the big picture and sees the people, while everything Hiccup does is to protect the dragons. It is a wonderful dynamic and we see how they compliment one another. Hiccup is the idealist while Astrid is much more down to earth. I do wish Astrid had got more development as so much of her development is tied to Hiccup as chief, but it still shows they are partners. This is really them growing as leaders and in regards to Hiccup, him accepting that the dragons should be free and not domesticated.

Toothless and the Light Fury – This relationship is a relationship between two cats. Like Astrid and Hiccup they compliment one another as the Light Fury shows Toothless that he can lead all dragons and be their guardian. The Light Fury is also being used to her getting revenge is a mini-arc that I appreciated, as well as her coming to trust humans when she saves Hiccup after he frees Toothless from Grimmel’s control. This relationship was adorable and was just as core as the main relationship that drove the film.

The Ending – The ending is a reunion of friends. Astrid and Hiccup take their kids to the Hidden World where the dragons are living and meet the Light Fury and Toothless’s babies. It is really sweet and for any fan of the series you will feel. This gave the series a sense of finality too, which “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t give in the same way. This was smart and if the studio does go greedy, they’ll have to be really smart to give this trilogy a worthy epilogue.

Okay:

Grimmel the Grisley – F. Murray Abraham is good at giving us a threatening feeling character in Grimmel. His introduction is killing a dragon without reacting and escaping Burk, even with it being full of dragons. He also has the Light Fury that he uses to bait Toothless, which is clever. Traps are his game and they could have been used so much more. He has a trap that nearly works that should have killed at least one of the characters (Hiccup’s dad was killed last film, raise the stakes). But in the end it doesn’t work. This doesn’t help as from here on in he never feels like a threat. Our heroes beat him without their dragons after Grimmel takes control of them when he captures Toothless, and though we are given good visuals it is nothing more. He needed to truly hurt our heroes or have a real personal reason we saw to want to end all dragons. We don’t get either, which makes him the weakest enemy in the Trilogy. Still a decent villain but he deserved so much more lore and development.

The Cons:

The Villain Warlords – There are 4 warlords who clearly have different looking armor so should have had differing personalities and goals, but they don’t. Instead we have 4 people who hate Berk, want to kill dragons but not use them in anyway we ever see (resources, etc.) and are all just stupid fighters. The only thing that sets them apart is their armor sets and the fact that 3 are men and 1 is a woman. This isn’t good. They should have been in a more adversarial relationship against Grimmel (or split between them in loyalties) or at least have different expressed goals at what they’d do with the killed dragons. They served no purpose beyond paying Grimmel to take on Berk. David Tennant voiced one of the warlords, and I couldn’t even tell. He’s one of my favorite actors so it was such a horrible use of such great talent.

If you’ve come this far, you deserve to finish. The film itself is solidly good with a great ending and it does give a bit more lore. Where it fails is in the minor characters, which is a shame is that is the only thing keeping the film from greatness. I wanted more time with Hiccup’s mom Valka and his Uncle, or any of the Warlords. They deserved better development. I would still recommend to any who love the series and great animation. This film knows that this is the end and it goes all in on the operatic fights and the core relationships. This is a film that knows how to say good-bye.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10