Directed By: Joe & Anthony Russo
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Note: Considering how highly-anticipated this movie is, I've done my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, more so than any review I've done in the past, hence why I don't get too in-depth with specifics.
After nearly two and a half hours of eliciting cheers, applause, gasps, and cries of horror from a packed theater, Avengers: Infinity War ended in stunned, shell-shocked silence. The decade-long culmination of a journey that began back in 2008, Infinity War feels just as much a definitive end of an era as it does the beginning of something entirely brand new. In the grand scheme of things, the events and consequences that occur in it will be further explored in next year's fourth Avengers film, a fact that may leave some unfulfilled knowing that they have to wait a year for the second half of this tale to arrive, but on a smaller scale, Infinity War is a complete, satisfying story all its own if you're willing to approach it a little differently.
It brings together a decade's worth of plot threads and characters together, from the usual roster of Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy to separate players like Doctor Strange and Black Panther to a slew of other major and minor supporting faces who have popped up over the years, and does so with incredible ease. Many of these characters have never interacted on screen together, and much of the fun in this film stems from seeing certain personalities come together for the first time, like how the egos of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) clash or how two damaged characters like Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) form an unlikely bond. Despite its huge cast, Infinity War gives everyone a moment to shine, however regulated to the background some longtime characters are forced to be, and the wealth of new combinations that allow for characters to spend time out of their comfort zone in the company of others they know nothing about provides for an experience that feels entirely fresh.
That said, for all the heroes that show up throughout the film, Infinity War isn't their movie. Sure, Avengers may be in the title, and a handful of characters get to go through their own arcs, which is particularly great for characters like Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany's Vision, and Zoe Saldana's Gamora, all of whom finally get to take the spotlight in ways heretofore unseen, but at the end of the day, what Infinity War is for most of them is simply an event, the result of which is something that they - like us - will have to deal with next year. Instead, the one character whose film this truly is is the big bad at its core, Josh Brolin's imposing Thanos, a villain who has been on the periphery of the MCU ever since making his first appearance halfway through the end credits of The Avengers. For all the heroes, the threat of Thanos is a storm they're attempting to weather and quell before it gets any worse, but for Thanos, Infinity War is an experience, and that's how directors Joe and Anthony Russo, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and everyone else involved wisely frame the film.
If you're somehow at a loss right now - "Who is Thanos? Why are the Avengers and the Guardians crossing paths? What's going on?" you may be asking - here's a quick recap: Thanos, the most powerful being in the universe, believes in the idea of balance. After seeing his home planet destroyed due to overpopulation that decimated his world's finite resources, Thanos dedicated himself to “saving” others across space from the same fate, wiping out a clean fifty percent of populations at random so that worlds could have new starts and become paradises, one in which children would no longer starve and where cultures could flourish. In seeking to balance out the universe, his eyes have also been set on collecting the Infinity Stones, six items of power - five of which have been introduced in past films - that, when brought together, could give Thanos dominion over aspects of time, space, reality, and more, and the strength to merely snap his fingers and wipe out half the universe.
Directed By: Ron Underwood
Release Date: January 19, 1990
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Finn Carter, Reba McEntire
Where do I begin in talking about Tremors, the 1990 horror-comedy movie about giant, subterranean worm monsters called graboids terrorizing the quiet, barely-populated town of Perfection, Nevada? For starters, it's a movie that I've seen countless times throughout my life, and I have fond memories of many evenings watching it on the USA Network or The Sci-Fi Channel, spellbound by its goofy charm in a way that has ensured that it'll always have a special place in my heart. Yet for nearly three decades, I'd never had the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, surrounded by other people; that is, until last week.
Now, before I get into both that experience and the movie proper, I have to acknowledge something straight out of the gate, which is the fact that Tremors, despite being almost thirty years old, launched an entire franchise that is still going to this day. In 1996, it received its first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, a direct-to-video film that I've seen just as many, if not more, times than its predecessor. It's an underrated and underappreciated gem, one that I'll hopefully cover on here one day, and the one-two punch of Tremors and Tremors 2 in the '90s ultimately gave way to Tremors 3: Back to Perfection in 2001, the short-lived Tremors: The Series in 2003, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins in 2004, and Tremors 5: Bloodlines in 2015. And that's still not the end of it, as another sequel, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, is arriving later this year, while a second TV series is being developed with Kevin Bacon set to lead, the actor returning to the franchise for the first time since appearing in the original film.
It is, quite simply, stunning that the Tremors franchise has lasted this long, and though the subsequent films that followed Tremors 2 stumbled in quality, in my opinion, they've mostly gotten by purely on their charm, taking the original film's cue in being self-aware enough to not take the goofy premise at their core too seriously. I say all of this because it is important to note that outside of the first film, the Tremors franchise has been relegated entirely to the small screen, and when I had the opportunity to finally see Tremors on the big screen last week, I was pleasantly surprised that the house was nearly packed, with an audience turnout that was evenly balanced across all ages. Before the film even began, I was able to hear an elderly couple talking about how they had seen the film back when it had first been released, a woman my age excitedly telling her partner how she, like me, had grown up watching the Tremors movies on TV, and a father convincing his young children that they were going to have a blast.
And throughout the course of the film, it was easy to see just how deeply Tremors has resonated with the people who came out to see it for the hundredth time and how effective it still is for people experiencing it for their first, as every well-placed joke had everyone laughing, every clever reveal garnered an audible "Oh, no!" from several people, and every big, crowd-pleasing moment, like the show-stopping rec room scene or the moment when we learn whether graboids can fly or not, earned applause.
Directed By: Roar Uthaug
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Daniel Wu
Nearly 22 years have gone by since the world was first introduced to Lara Croft in the video game Tomb Raider, and the British archaeologist - then gaming's female answer to Indiana Jones - has long since become a gaming icon, backed by a legacy of ups and downs that have led to where we are today, with the arrival of Roar Uthaug's Tomb Raider. The new film takes its inspiration from 2013's critically-acclaimed Tomb Raider, a game that served to wipe the slate clean of two decades' worth of franchise baggage in order to give Lara – and fans – a fresh start in an origin story that showcased a young, inexperienced version of the character discovering who she's destined to become.
The script for Uthaug's film, delivered by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, follows a similar path, with Alicia Vikander stepping into Lara's boots, her characterization far from the gun-toting, globe-trotting superheroine that Lara had been for years following her introduction (and how she was presented the first time Hollywood attempted to bring Lara to the big screen with Angelina Jolie's two outings in 2001 and 2003.) In this interpretation of the character, Lara Croft lives a life getting by as a bike courier several years on from the disappearance of her father, Richard Croft, but after events unfold that lead to her discovering a clue as to where her father may be, she finds herself traveling to Hong Kong.
From there, she hooks up with a ship captain named Lu Ren, played by Daniel Wu, whose father also went missing with Richard when the two men set sail into the Devil's Sea, a dangerous expanse of ocean home to the island of Yamatai. It is there that Richard believed he would find the tomb of Himiko, a queen who may or may not have had supernatural powers, and for the sake of answers about whether or not their fathers are alive, the two head off together to find Yamatai.
Now, before I go any further, I have to make a quick comparison to the 2013 game that the film attempts to emulate. That game picks up with Lara and a roster of allies already aboard a similar ship, and it's not long before Lara is stranded on an island and thrust into action. Understandably, the film attempts to turn back the clock a bit in an effort to relay Lara's story chronologically without having to heavily rely upon flashbacks in its own narrative to explain how and why she’s on a ship, but in doing so, the film stumbles right out of the gate with languid, almost interminable pacing, its first act and a chunk of its second weighted down so heavily by needless moments like an extended bike chase sequence that feel more like wheel-spinning than necessity. We're shown important things about Lara's character, like the fact that she practices fighting - something that comes into play later in the film - but it's couched in filler that slows everything to a crawl on its way to get to where the game picks up, wasting nearly half the film before the ball gets rolling.
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: March 29, 2018
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance
The year is 2045. Five years have passed since the death of James Halliday, the man responsible for the creation of OASIS, a virtual reality world designed for everyone in the real world to escape to, take part in, and become anyone and anything they want to be. Since Halliday's death, a number of players have been chasing an Easter egg at the heart of a game he designed requiring players to obtain three keys hidden somewhere within the OASIS, among them being the young Wade Watts (Tyler Sheridan), known in the OASIS as Parzival, a mysterious female player known as Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of a shady organization called IOI, the ultimate prize for finding the Easter egg being granted complete control of the OASIS. When Watts becomes the first person to find a key, the race is on to follow the clues hidden in Halliday's past and across the pop culture he was obsessed with to keep the OASIS from falling into IOI's hands.
On the surface, Ready Player One seems like a film designed for someone like me. It references a staggering amount of films, television shows, games, and so on from the '80s, '90s, and beyond from beginning to end that have been a part of my life, proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve, and it's directed by none other than the man responsible for a lot of those very influences, Steven Spielberg, my favorite director of all time. In fact, it's easy to argue that no other director could've been able to tackle a project like this in the first place, as Spielberg's decades-long status and pull in Hollywood undoubtedly played a hand in getting the rights cleared from all the various studios and so on to give us a movie that features the chestburster from Alien emerging from a Mortal Kombat character's chest and the DeLorean from Back to the Future racing around a battlefield as the Iron Giant fights Mechagodzilla.
Unfortunately, though, there's a spark missing. Unlike, say, the Harry Potter films or The Dark Tower that I've reviewed before, I haven't read the book by Ernest Cline that Ready Player One is based on, so I won't be analyzing how his novel and its adaptation compare, but I would hope that the novel has more meat on its bones than this. Despite Spielberg being in the saddle, Ready Player One feels as though it was made by someone with a love of the era he reigned in trying to make a Spielberg movie but missing the mark, as odd a thing that may be to say.
Spielberg has always excelled, in my opinion, at making the characters that populate his films in the action/adventure realm relatable, and that's something that has made most of them timeless and worth revisiting again and again as a result. We enjoy the man versus nature element of Jaws, the serial pulp of the Indiana Jones series, or how life finds a way in Jurassic Park, but those films have earned their staying power because spending time with characters like Chief Brody, Hooper, Quint, Indy, and Ian Malcolm is akin to revisiting old friends. And that's not to mention the type of inner wonder Spielberg has had an uncanny ability to tap into that bridges the gap between childlike innocence and the realities of adulthood and all that we forget when we grow up that gives films like E.T., A.I., or even the underrated Hook big, beating hearts. Say what you will about Spielberg's sentimentality, but no one else delivers it with such tangible sincerity, which is why Spielberg's works and the characters that reside in them have resonated with so many people for decades.
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