Avengers: Endgame (2019) – A Good but Deeply Flawed Film

New Avengers: Endgame Poster Reveals the New Team | Collider

        “Avengers: Endgame” is a good but really flawed movie. This is a film that had so many working parts, part of me is surprised it even worked at all. While another part of me really wishes it had focused on cleaning up the plot holes and story issues. Would I recommend this film? If you’ve come this far it is a nice way to finish on “The Avengers” story, even if it doesn’t all work. That is really the best review I can give you on it. It is at times really good but the holes it creates within it’s own lore are problems I think will be discussed long after Disney Plus and other “MCU” related content has sought to answer them.

The film was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley.

The story follows our heroes as they seek to live with what happened after Thanos’s snap at the end of “Infinity War.” They are left trying to deal until Ant-Man arrives, offering them a potential solution for bringing back all those they lost in the snap.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Five Year Jump – I love that our heroes can’t just fix what happened easily. Right after the film we have the wait until Captain Marvel arrives, and than the survivors all go to Thanos in the Garden and kill him, but they can’t change what he did as he used the Infinity Stones to destroy the Infinity Stones. After that our heroes change, Thor goes into a dark depression, Black Widow becomes leader of the Avengers, Iron Man starts a family with Pepper Pots and they have a daughter, Bruce Banner become Professor Hulk, Captain America takes care of the survivors in their grief and Hawkeye becomes a vigilante named Rhonin. The others take care of their countries or are investigating strange occurrences around the universe. This time jump was smart in that showed that the events of “Infinity War” forever changed our characters, and for them there is no going back.

The Personal Moments – There are a lot of personal moments that stand out in “Endgame.” The moments largely come out of the time travel that is done when the Avengers are collecting the Infinity Stones scattered throughout time. We have Black Widow recruit Hawkeye in the lead-up and see how deep their friendship is, Tony talks to his dad Howard about being a Dad, Thor talks to his Mom who was killed in “Thor: The Dark Word,” and Thor and Rocket have a touching moment talking about loss and tragedy. These were the personal moments I loved in the film.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Ant-Man is the funniest part of the film and is also the emotional heart too as he is the one who realizes time travel might be the way for them to get the Infinity Stones and bring back those lost in the snap. He has some great jokes and his coming out of the Quantam Realm is powerful too as the world population has been halved so there has been a social breakdown since he’s been gone. When he discovers his daughter survived, it is one of the happiest moments in the film. You get why he’s willing to risk everything to bring back all those who were lost.

Bruce Banner / Hulk – Hulk after the five year jump is a character who has finally found balance and is easily the wisest out of all the Avengers. I wanted to know more about his life before the five year jump but the time we get with him helping with the plan is awesome. He has a sense of humor and because he has the Hulk body he needs help picking up smaller things. One of his big acts is to bring back those who were lost in the Snap, as he knows he is one of the few who can wield the Gauntlet without dying. I also like that this balanced Hulk came about because Hulk  and Bruce both lost to Thanos in “Infinity War.” Neither one could defeat him alone but together they were able to save everyone.

Thor – Thor is a broken character in this film. He’s lost his parents, his brother, his best friend and half his people to Thanos so after the five year jump he is a loner, gamer and drunk in New Asgard letting Valkyrie lead while he tries to escape from his failure. What helps him heal are his conversations with Rocket and when they visit the Asgard of the past to get the Aether (which is one of the “Infinity Stones” out of Jane Foster. Talking to his mother in past helps him deal with her lost that he’d experienced and Rocket helps him focus so that he later ready to fight Thanos once more. What all of this help him realize is that he isn’t fit to rule and has never done that. He’s always been the adventurer to joins the returned “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Nebula – This is going to get a little confusing as there are 2 Nebulas in this film. The one I’m referring to is the one who was around after the five year jump and isn’t the one still serving Thanos that future Nebula kills (and isn’t canceled out somehow) in the film. This Nebula changes past Gamora and causes past Gamora to turn against Thanos in the final battle. Karen Gilllian truly owns this role and I can’t wait to see what they do with her in the future.

Tony Stark / Iron Man – This is really Tony’s story as after the five year jump he has a family and is raising a daughter with Pepper Pots and it is for them that he comes back to try and bring back all those lost during the snap. From here his arc is making peace with his eventual death as he does everything right, makes peace with Captain America and moves forward having all of them make a promise that they won’t erase what was built in the last five years. He’s the most responsible person in this entire story in regards to Time Travel, and he never loses sight of getting all the Infinity Stones to stop Thanos. His death is powerful too as he uses his snap to turn Thanos and his forces to dust as what was done to his friends before. This causes his death which is how the film is ended.

The Cons:

The Premise – Time travel plots are tough to do right and this one in refusing to lay down rules ends up leaving some very big plot holes with what it tries to do to bring everyone back and to have a character live out his life in the past. I really would have preferred a fight for the Infinity Stones against Thanos and that be the core plan but that is left early when Thanos gets killed off shortly after the snap but they learn he destroyed the Stones leaving Time Travel as really the only option. This was the first way they wrote themselves into a hole, and for me the problems are big enough that cons give me a lot of dislike for this film.

Lack of Thanos Kills -They find a way to bring back Thanos as with time travel past Thanos somehow learns about their plans from hacking future Nebula’s tech. This leads to him somehow pulling his forces to the present the Avengers are in. Well he shows up and he destroys the Avengers Compound. He reveals his full army and forces and says he’ll destroy Earth…and doesn’t kill a single person. For how dangerous he was in “Infinity War,” in this film he is just weak. I hated this. Tt took away from the sacrifices because based on how it was filmed it looked like the Avengers and their Allies would destroy him and his army anyway without anyone dying.

Time Travel Plot Holes – The best thing I can do here is just list them. The excuse I keep hearing is “Alternate Timelines” but what does that mean in regards to the state of the Universe and the fact that the Ancient One tells Hulk that removing the Infinity Stones from their proper place in time will lead to a worse timeline. Time for the plot holes.: Loki escapes with the Tesseract in the timeline of “The Avengers” movie now, Past Thanos was killed but that didn’t erase Future Thanos, Past Gamora is in the future which maybe erases Prime Gamora in the Soul Stone? or a different Soul Stone? Captain America delivers all the Infinity Stones back to where they belonged but stuck around to grow old as Agent Carter’s husband meaning at one point maybe 3 Captain Americas existed at once. As well as others. It is a mess and no emotional core can change how much this bothered me.

Captain America’s Ending – I’m coming back to this because this was the thing that annoyed me the most. At one point it looks as if they’ve set up Captain America’s death as the first death of Past Thanos. This would have been perfect as with the survivors returning his death could inspire everyone and no one else, or just Iron Man dying is more forgivable narratively. Instead he lives as an old man knowing that 2 Captain America’s were running around at one point and than proceeded to let Hydra rise again and countless other evils that happened over the course of the series that he couldn’t do because he was frozen in the ice. I hated this so much. In the end the writer’s gave us Captain America fanservice versus what the man we saw in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would do. This was a character who had duty and the protection of others above all else, and he got rid of it all to be selfish. The only thing I liked was Falcon becoming the new Captain America.

This is a film that I’d recommend to those who have come this far and want to see where the main Avengers end up. There are so many stories to tell in this Universe and I’m curious to see where they lead, though with the writing plot holes I also worry that we’ll see a decrease in quality come with it. An emotional core can only get a film so far. Your plot devices need to work properly and your characters have to make sense. In the end Captain America didn’t work for me and the Time Travel plot kept it from being great. I would have rather had the five year jump and them fight Thanos in the present and force Prime Thanos to rethink his original agenda after they get a hold of an Infinity Stone so Thanos can’t just snap again to fix things. Prime Thanos was compelling and Past Thanos is just nothing. He has a lot of faceless minions and ends up being more of an Ultron, which he wasn’t in “Infinity War.” So, check this film out if you have come this far. I really worry what will come out of the MCU after this. I worry this film may have created more problems than it solved.

 

Final Score: 8 / 10 Initially it was a higher score but the problems have bothered me more than the things I like, the longer I’ve thought about the film. It is solidly good, but the flaws keep it from greatness.

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Shazam! (2019): A Beautiful Tale on What it Means to Have Family

New Shazam Poster Reminds You the Movie Is Fun | Collider

    “Shazam!” is easily the best film so far in the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m speaking as someone who thought “Wonder Woman” was great and enjoyed “Aquaman” and “Man of Steel.” This film is better than all of those and is the most fun I’ve had in a DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m glad they got this win. “Shazam!” captures what makes super heroes and comics books so enjoyable and fun in the first place. This is a film that never stops being fun. For non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth seeing for that reason alone. This film is comedic, dark, adventurous and explores the concept of a family better than so many films that say that is their theme. Not only that, the film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg with screenplay by Henry Gayden and produced by Peter Safran.

The story follows foster boy Billy Batson as he is given to the last foster family who will give him a chance, as he has ran away from all those prior. Left with the choice as he searches for his missing mother other threats are plot and act as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is empowered by an evil and only the wizard Shazam can empower someone pure of heart who can stop him in his quest of destruction.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Finally the DCCU works. This film calls upon classic “Shazam!” villains who were part of his universe before Faucet Comics were bought out by DC and when he was Captain Marvel. The villain is Dr. Sivana who is a classic foe who DC brought into their universe. As someone who loves the rich lore of comics this was a movie that hit me on so many levels. There is more related to the lore that I’ll get into later in the review, but this is a world that doesn’t need the rest of the DC universe to be good but enriches it by existing.

The Action and Cinematography – The action is visceral, colorful and feels like it has been pulled from the pages of a comic. It isn’t the same beautiful the way “Spider-Verse” did it with it’s animation (blending anime, modern, noir, etc.) but it does it using the dark and light in the character’s abilities and where they choose to shoot the fights. For example, the final fight takes place in a carnival. This use of the dark and light contrast makes the fight sequences stand out and when they happen (because when they happen they matter) it adds to the narrative and is a brilliant use of storytelling.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are what makes this movie work in this end. I would have rated this movie as at least very good if all I had to go on where performances and the character relationships, and this film delivers on those in spades. The relationships are a big reason I want to go back as I think I’ll notice more in the rewatch as far as how the characters see one another and what that means in the finale.

Billy Batson – Billy Batson / Shazam / Captain Marvel is the main character, who as the foster kid is seeking his mother. He is a kid who only looks out for himself and tells his foster family as much. He does grow more attached to them over the course of the film, which is part of his essential arc. When he becomes the Champion empowered by Wizard we see Billy’s arc go from selfish kid seeking his mother to hero who has found his true family. Both Zachary Levi as Shazam and Asher Angel as Billy give so much depth to the role.

Freddy – Freddy is one of Billy’s foster siblings and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s also a huge comic book nerd and becomes Billy’s mentor on how to become a hero when he becomes the Champion / Shazam. At first they are both really selfish but Freddy figures out the bigger picture first and calls out Billy for how he has become a selfish bully with his abilities. Freddy does have his arc payoff though, but I’m not revealing what that is, since it is one of the best parts of the film.

Shazam Family – Billy’s adopted family becomes the Shazam Family at the end to fight the Seven Deadly Sins and it is awesome! Each of them is a hero as strong as Billy and together they face off against the Sins. How it happens is fascinating too as it Billy realizing that he needs to open his heart to find his true power and it is in sharing power, not taking it (like Dr. Sivana) where true power lies. Each of the family members has distinct personalities contrasted by their grown up identity and I can’t wait to see them further. I won’t describe more as the seeing their story payoff is one of the best parts of the film.

Dr. Sivana – Dr. Sivana was one of the people chosen by the wizard a long time ago to be the hero but failed because of the temptations from the Demons who are the Seven Deadly Sins. From that point on he seeks out the Sins and frees them before seeking out the hero who he envies for having the great power that is only capable of defeating him. We see why he is this way too as he comes from an abusive family and power was the only thing his dad and brother ever respected. What innocence and pure of heart that he needed to be the Champion was stamped out a long time ago.

Mr. Mind – This is a classic villain for the Fawcett comics who DC brought back when they revamped the character. He is this caterpillar looking worm who is a genius. He meets up with Dr. Sivana in prison and tells him there are more ways to power than simply magic. It is a great set-up for future films as Mr. Mind is a villain unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Marvel or DC.

Okay:

The Foster Parents – The Foster Parents are kind but kind of generic. We get glimpses of their past but never in relation to their kids, only in relation to one another. They both grew up in the Foster system so I’m not saying it is a negative but them opening up to any of their foster kids about their past would have added a layer of depth the story wasn’t able to do. Not entirely a con but definitely the weakest part of the film.

This is a great film. Shazam is such a fun hero and I can’t wait to see how Mr. Mind and Shazam and his foster family are used in later films. In both there is so much potential there to be explored. This was also a film that doesn’t need an expanded universe to work. Billy’s relationship to his foster family and his biological mother give this film more than enough heart to make this film wholly great on it’s own merits. If you are looking for a film that has a deeper point while still managing to be a hilarious comedy, you will probably love this film as much as I did. It is definitely one of my favorite films.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Captain Marvel (2019): A Compelling World and Greater Point

     “Captain Marvel” is a film that is draped in controversy. The more I’ve read about it the more I don’t understand it. Brie Larsen talked about diversity in media (https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/brie-larson-calls-more-diversity-film-criticism-following-usc-study-n88314), which is a pretty basic moral good. Having more perspectives at the table is a positive. There has been a reaction to this that has been pretty toxic, all one has to do is look up Brie Larsen and youtube to see just how bad it became. That is all I’m going to say on this as I came for the story and further exploration of Marvel Cosmic, which this film delivered on. Without going into details, I’m all the more pumped for “Avengers: Endgame.”

     The film was directed by Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck who also wrote the screenplay along with Geneva Roberston-Dworet.

The story follows Vers (Brie Larsen) a Kree Warrior who can’t remember her past but is pulled towards it when she is captured by the Kree’s shape-shifting enemies known as the Skrull. Their infiltration of her mind points her to memories of Earth and when she escapes to while Skrull forces arrive as well, seeking what she knows. From here she must work with Fury to discover her past and the truth of who she is.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Marvel Cosmic Universe – This is a movie that has a lot of lore on both the Kree and Skrull. This is Marvel Cosmic in the same way “Thor” films sometimes too and “Guardians of the Galaxy” always has. This film fits comfortably in those and is definitely better than the first 2 “Thor Films,” though for me the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films keep getting better with each rewatch, so it definitely isn’t that level. In this film you learn about the Supreme Intelligence who rules the Kree (in this film appearing as what person matters most to the individual interacting with it). This was my main reason for coming since as a sci. fi. nerd I love a well developed Cosmic Universe, which the MCU have done a good job of doing.

Fury – Samuel L. Jackson is Agent Fury in this and ends up being Vers’s partner as they seek her past. He starts out antagonistic as he’s had no experience with aliens and it is the events that happen in this film that shape his more cynical world view of the Fury we meet later. In this we see him before he became cynical and I appreciated how warm he was. This was a man who had fought as special forces in countless wars but had found a way to live. I hope we see him get more development in later films as this film still leaves so much open in regards to what he was doing before the first “Iron Man” and what he was doing before this film.

Goose – Goose is Mar-Vell’s Flerken, an alien cat capable of consuming anything. Goose is awesome and when our heroes are facing down enemy forces at the end, Goose eats them, saving both Fury and the refugees they are helping. Fury ends up keeping the Flerken too even though it takes out his eye over the course of the movie. I would not mind seeing this cat again, especially if it is taking out enemy soldiers once more.

The Kree-Skrull War – The main conflict is the Kree-Skrull War. This is war where we don’t know who started it (it implies it was probably the Kree) and now has become a one-sided war. The Skrull have largely gone into hiding with only their strong forces taking on the best of the Kree, which leads to their capture of Vers and where we learn however long the war has been going on, what the Kree are doing has become unjust. They have been doing extermination lead by Ronin by this point in the conflict and it is Mar-Vell who is trying to rescue them and help them find a new world before she is taken out by Kree special forces lead by Yon-Rogg. It is only Carol Danvers (Vers true name) who stops the Kree from getting the super-engine she’s crafted from the Tesseract energy and from here Danvers becomes the hammer of the Kree against the Skrull. By the end of the film Carol Danvers, having come into her full power once more returns to face Kree leadership to end the war and help the Skrull’s find a new home safe from the Kree. Where this war is in the modern timeline is up in the air but there is so much history in this film that I found it all fascinating. Kree distrust of the Skrull’s is so great that on their homeworld they have announcements of days since the last Skrull attack and everyone asks questions of each other to make sure they are Skrull infiltrators. The main leaders in the conflict are Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) who leads the refugee Skrull and leads Skrull Intelligence and the Great Intelligence of the Kree whose commanders are Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Vers / Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel – Brie Larsen does a great job as Captain Marvel. She doesn’t know who she is so what she can do is limited at first, but once she arrives on Earth and starts putting her past together she really comes into her own. This is a character dealing with being brainwashed and gaslit by the Kree and her freeing herself from that, and in turn freeing the Skrull refugees who the Kree hunt is a powerful story. Throughout the story her commander Yon-Rogg is telling her not to feel and to repress herself, while his people repress her abilities. It is toxic and we see how her abusive father was the same way. Throughout the movie is her dealing with this, as she discovers the truth of what was done to her and from that what she chooses to fight and to stand-up for herself and others.

Talos – This is my favorite Ben Mendelsohn character. Talos leads Skrull Intelligence based off what we see in the beginning as he was the one responsible for planning the trap that captures Vers. We see that his aims are noble though. He is tired of the war and just wants to protect the Skrull refugees and his family. Seeing this reveal as he goes from enemy to friend is powerful and I’m glad he survives the film. This is a character I’d like to see again as he is morally complicated which gives so much potential for what he may choose to do in the future. I also think he is only one of the Skrull leaders and I want to see his relationship to the others.

The Themes – The main themes of the film are those of gaslighting, feminism and the plight of the refugee. Gaslighting is explored in what the Kree are doing to Vers (having her suppress her power, emotion, etc.) and it is only after she stops, fights it and accepts her own power that she flies and is able to defeat the enemy forces. Feminism is a theme in that women fighting for equality is a huge part of the film. Both Carol Danvers and her friend are pilots and the only ones in their unit besides the Scientist on the base. This is also shown in the gender swap of Mar-Vell who is played by Annette Bening. This fit the theme as much of Kree leadership is male as well and Mar-Vell’s push against it mirrors Carol Danvers’s later fight against the Kree. The final theme is the plight of the refugee as in the end Mar-Vell was trying to invent a super engine in order to help the Skrull refugees she was protecting on her secret base. The refugees aren’t the soldiers and we see the vulnerable people who are affected by wars.

Okay:

The Kree Team – Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is the most compelling member of the team, sadly we don’t get to know the others all that much. Their dynamic with Vers is good in the beginning. I couldn’t really describe who they are to you beyond Korath’s distrust of Vers. I wish we’d gotten more time with them, ideally not in conflict so we can see their dynamic and how they work as a team.

Cameos – Coulsen makes a cameo, Ronan makes a cameo and Korath is on the Kree Team. This was another time where I wish we’d gotten more time with them. These are all intriguing characters but they aren’t given the time to be developed like they deserved.

The Cons:

Amnesia Story – Rather than amnesia I wish Carol being lied to had been primary story. We see how her memory was played with where a Skrull is put in the place of Yon-Rogg killing Mar-Vell but that is all that really pays off at the end. If there had been a running theme of the lying and her still knowing bits of her history we would have had the chance to know her more as a character. She could have been pushing against the Kree and their ways more, knowing she was being lied to. I wanted to see her make more choices as Carol and as Vers. Amnesia stories are hard to tell and this was one time where it did hurt the story. I wanted to know Carol but I felt the only time I truly did was when she came into her own at the end. She was the character with a mission, which was fine but I wanted more. Still a great character but an origin story mixed with an amnesia story is a hard thing for any writer to pull off.

What are Captain Marvel’s Limits aka the Superman Problem – Captain Marvel is destroying Kree Cruisers at the end. She is so incredibly powerful that no one around her has the chance to even injure her. This was empowering but it also leads me to the Superman problem. Why do we need the Avengers if Captain Marvel is powerful enough to solve the problem on her own? This is something the Justice League constantly runs into by having a character as powerful as Superman on the team. Kevin Feige said they’ll be dealing with this in “Endgame,” so I’m curious about what the solution will be.

I really liked this film and I hope that we see a sequel or at least see more of the Kree an Skrull, as so many stories have been born out of their relationship to our heroes. I also want to see more Captain Marvel. I wanted more time with her having all her memories as the amnesia story was definitely the weakest part of the film. This was a film that is a solid origin story that further expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Cosmic. If you have liked the other MCU films, chances are you will really like this too. I’m really curious to see where they take Carol Danvers from here.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019): A Film With no Likable Characters

Velvet Buzzsaw Cast & Character Guide | ScreenRant

     There aren’t many great “Netflix” films and this film continues that. I like that we are getting all these new original and oftentimes experimental films but so often these films have characters that are completely unlikable or a plot reveal that just isn’t scary or says anything. All these cons are things that “Velvet Buzzsaw” suffers from. This is a film that had so much potential (premise of haunted artwork is just cool) but it is a film that I would not recommend. The premise and initial tension are the only things holding this film up.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy.

The story follows art critic Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose lover Josephina (Zawe Ashton) discovers many paintings from her deceased neighbor Vetril Dease. When she steals them and the exhibit picks them up strange things begin happening around the Studio which leads to Morf investigating as his life begins to fall apart.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of haunted paintings is really neat. What if the images could come to life and get you? It is a creepy concept because art is everywhere and in this instance all it takes is the paint spreading for the horror to travel to other things that would be in an art studio giving haunted abstract art or bringing speaking robots to life. This concept done right could easily become a favorite horror film for me, this is not that film.

The Tension – The tension is one of the few good things that works in this film. Weird things happen and people start dying leading to it continuing to build. The problem is by the time the final comes around it doesn’t matter how good the tension is because none of the characters matter. They are all terrible people so you have no reason to hope they survive the scenes that build up to deaths.

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are why this movie sucks. The premise works, the tension works but the characters are awful and even if they were wrote that way, they should at least be directed to be sympathetic. By the end of the film I hated all of them and because of it I didn’t care what happened to them so the basic horror premise became meaningless. If you have a cast full of characters and them dying is what is raising the stakes, than you have to be given a reason to care about said characters. Not a single one of these characters were sympathetic. They were all selfish and back stabbing and those who could have been sympathetic never got properly developed.

I really can’t recommend this film. I’m picky with what horror movies I watch and this film is a great example of why. I need to care about characters or else jump scares and tension building means absolutely nothing. Again, I didn’t hate this film as the concept and the tension were done well, but a story with no compelling characters is a story I will never recommend to anyone. This is a Netflix original film that really isn’t worth your time. Like many Netflix films I wish there was more to say, but it is hard to do so when the film itself says and means nothing.

Final Score: 4 / 10

 

Glass (2019): A Film That Almost Worked

Glass Poster Ahead Of Comic-Con | Cosmic Book News

      “Unbreakable” was the film that put Shyamalan on the map for me. I was not a fan of “Split.” I thought it was a passable horror film that of preyed off people who did suffer from multi-personality and making them villains (which is sadly a common trope of horror of making “The Other” the enemy). It is part of the “Unbreakable Trilogy” and as far as non-spoiler thoughts, “Glass” is the weakest part of the Trilogy. I’d choose flawed “Split” for at least knowing what it was. This film doesn’t know what it wants to be. At times it wasn’t to be a psychological thriller, other times it wants to be a super hero film. Because it can’t settle I feel like it muddles whatever message it was trying to say, which is a big reason this film will never be more than passable entertainment.

The film was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan who was also one of the producers.

The story picks up after “Split” with Kevin / “The Horde” (James McAvoy) capturing a few cheerleaders as as David Dunn “The Overseer” (Bruce Willis) seeks out his location in order to rescue them. In the end they are captured and put in an asylum under Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson). Here they find Elijah / Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a member of the asylum and must face the reality of what they are while people connected to them seek answers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – This is a beautiful looking movie. Even though it is Blumhouse Studios the use of colors here to represent the different characters look amazing. Mr. Glass with dark purples, Kevin with yellow clothing and the ever present green whenever David Dunn is the “Overseer” or thinking of embracing the roles. This is handled best in Mr. Glass’s plan to free them all and reveal heroes to the world as the color contrasts bring scenes to life during the escape.

What is Real? – The basic premise is pretty good and I wish it had focused on this and not given us an answer. In the asylum we are given plenty of examples of how our main characters aren’t supernatural in any way. Being very strong does not make one Superman and being very smart does not make one Lex Luthor. As Dr. Staple breaks down the barriers of defense our characters have put on their beliefs it gives us some really good slow tension. I wish this had been the film as the ending could still happen without the ending we got, which says “Superheroes are real.” In this way it could have stuck to landing as a more psychological piece.

The Main Characters – The main 3 who the story is built around are the best parts of the film. Seeing Mr. Glass manipulating everything, David Dunn being conflicted over his identity and the many personalities in Kevin / The Horde. They are what keep this movie from sucking and I wish we’d gotten more time with them and didn’t have the minor characters at all.

David Dunn / The Overseer – Bruce Willis is back and we finally get to see some development on who he’s become post “Unbreakable.” In this he has embraced his role as vigilante and is the reason that Kevin and him get captured as it his action that leads to the rescue of the captured cheerleaders but also the arrival of the Police who capture the two of them. He spends the most time questioning his role and nearly decides not to take action at the end because he believes he isn’t a hero. In the end he comes through to begin rescuing people from The Horde, only to be taken down by Dr. Staple’s organization with the other 2.

Kevin / The Horde – The Horde are a wonderfully creepy villain and Kevin being the child who lead to them coming about when he reacted to abuse from his Mother is fascinating. This is explored more in the story as we see the Horde exists to protect the core personality and within the different personalities there isn’t always consensus, which makes the Dr. Staple conversations fascinating. In my opinion he never stops being a villain even though Shyamalan tries his best to give an undeserved redemption story via one of his victims helping Kevin come out (only for Kevin to be killed shortly after in the final fight).

Elijah Price / Mr. Glass – Mr. Glass is only in the movie interacting with people for a short amount of time, and the movie could have used so much more of him. He’s the most interesting out of all of our characters and seeing his mind in action is easily the best part of the film. I wanted more of that. We get a flashback of when his bones break when he was younger, but we don’t get scenes of him as the super villain or him realizing that that is what he wants to become. Him questioning being a “Super” would have been the most profound as well, as he as the strongest believer in the concept dating all the way back to “Unbreakable.”

The Cons:

The Minor Characters – Casey, the surviving victim of the Horde is now drawn to him and feels connected to him because she was abused by her Uncle. Mr. Glass’s Mom is around but seems to be just there to witness things and David Dunn’s son believes his dad is a super hero. The characters when they have anything interesting are awful in how they seem to glorify abuse via Casey and Kevin’s connection (The movie never admits and calls out that Kevin is a serial killer who eats people) and David Dunn’s son has no personality. In the end they reveal the videos of heroes existing, which just struck me as stupid. We follow these characters but none of them work for different reasons. I would have preferred they not be in it all and us left with just with “The Supers.”

Glorifying Abuse – This ties into Kevin being a serial killer never being called out. Again, Casey cares about the serial killer who killed her friends because Kevin was abused to be that way and we learn recently that she’d been abused by her Uncle. This ends up feeling like a tactic glorifying of abuse as in the end Kevin finds human connection with Casey and she ignores all the people he has killed. I’m not sure what point Shyamalan was trying to make with their relationship but it really hurt the story.

The Final Reveals – There are multiple reveals, none of which I felt work. One is that the asylum is a place suppressing that super heroes exist and the other reveal is that the train that killed David Dunn’s wife also killed Kevin’s dad. I hated that reveal so much, it was bad storytelling and there was zero reason for it happen beyond giving The Horde a reason to turn against Mr. Glass, when that didn’t matter because they were all going to be killed by Dr. Staple’s organization anyway. In the end the reveals canceled out any point the story might have had.

For all of the cons that I mentioned, this film could have still worked if it had known what it wanted to be. We spend so much time in the asylum that I wanted that to be the truth. The truth is that they weren’t “Supers” and there isn’t a conspiracy. That could have been a good psychological thriller. Or, don’t have the asylum at all, just give us the heroes facing off against one another as the ending was really strong and worked as that type of film. Be a psychological thriller that makes you question reality or be a super hero film with elements of reality more akin to “The Dark Knight” or “Super.” It is in this that the opening and the escape are the strongest parts of the film, but the lack of focus and the very obvious cons kept it from being good.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Lower than the other 2 in the Trilogy because at least those films knew what they were trying to be.

When the Train Stops (2019): A Wonderful Film About Empathy and Redemption Found

Michael Forest, John de Lancie, Vic Mignogna, Rekha Sharma, and Darren Jacobs in When the Train Stops (2019)

        First, this is my first short film that I’ve reviewed on the blog. Second, I want to put my biases up front. This was a film I saw through Indiegogo by being a donator as I was interested in a signed poster from the cast as Rekha Sharma, John De Lancie and Vic Mignogna are three of my favorite actors in Sci. Fi. They are also all a part of “Star Trek Continues” which I take as a spiritual successor to “Star Trek: The Original Series” at this point. So, with all that out of the way, I thought this film was solidly good and wished it had been more than a short film as many of my cons related to the film relate to the wider world I wanted to know better. This is still a film I highly recommend. I plan to watch in the future because it was such an enjoyable film.

“When the Train Stops” was directed by James Kerwin written by Bernadette Hale and produced by Lisa Hansell.

The story follows convict Clive (Darren Jacobs) as he runs from the cops, running from a crime he believes he didn’t commit. The story picks up with the latest escape and his time in Police Headquarters before an old Marshall (Michael Forest) shows up to bring him back to prison.

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and mysterious. It brings a beauty that fits the mystery that police feel when they catch Clive and everything is light in the Police Station and also plays into the story feeling very dreamlike. How much of this in Clive’s head? “The Twilight Zone” inspiration is definitely strong in the opening and closing and the cinematography beautifully captures that.

The Soundtrack – Rekha Sharma was behind the soundtrack and it is haunting. I knew she could act but the music and cinematography add a layer to the film that wouldn’t be there without the music in play behind the scenes. There is tension and mystery and what she does with the music is masterful. For example the music moves between the tension of a forest at night in how we kick off the film to the quiet of the police station waiting for the Marshall to the heart felt revelations on the Train between Clive and the Marshall. The music elevates the dialogue, and as someone who doesn’t seek out short films, this one had me hooked.

The Support Characters – This is a film where I’d say the strongest parts are the supporting cast and I’m saying this in that their performances were so strong I wanted more story. Vic is the Sheriff who captures Clive but he clearly mistrusts the Marshall (I had so many questions from it as his performance sells how uncomfortable he is), Rekha Sharma was the Chief Deputy Karen and she is the first to show Clive mercy and reach out to him as a person. I wanted to know where her empathy came from given the Sheriff’s and rest of the force’s hostility towards Clive. What did she see? The Marshall is great too, but giving his story away would be spoilers. So I’ll just say he was great in his role and it is worth watching partially due to him and partially due to John De Lancie who plays his brother.

Okay:

The Lead – Darren Jacobs does a good job in what he is given and he shares a lot of his backstory, but it is hard for me to rate the performance as good given that beyond survival I didn’t get his motivation for escaping prison all the times prior. He is someone who says he was framed and is innocent and we see his innocence but we needed more reasons to question. His anger is only directed at his father and we needed more there for why it looked like was a lifer. This was where a longer film would have helped the story immensely.

This is film I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan to the actors listed above in my initial reasons for watching, any fan of surrealistic fiction and stories like “The Twilight Zone” and those who want to support a film that I hope might be adapted into a full length film some day. I enjoyed this film a lot. The performances are good and besides needing more reasons to question the motivations of the lead, I wanted this entire world expanded and explored more. This is well worth your time and I’m looking forward to my next rewatch.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10.

Here is a link if you want to watch or donate.:

https://www.whenthetrainstops.com/

 

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10