Directed By: Lars Klevberg
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill
Seeing the toll an unwanted move has taken on her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) gets him a special surprise for his impending birthday: Buddi, the Kaslan Corporation's advanced learning doll. Armed with an AI that can interact with all of Kaslan's devices, from self-driving cars to your home's thermometers, Buddi dolls imprint on their owner and become their best, most loyal pal, the seemingly perfect companion for a young boy whose closest friend is his cell phone.
Unfortunately for Andy, a situation involving a disgruntled employee at one of Kaslan's production facilities has left this specific Buddi – who names himself Chucky, of course – without its inhibitors on, something that allows for the AI to learn and behave in ways it shouldn't. Watching his best bud Andy get hurt by the family cat or get yelled at by Karen's boyfriend Shane (David Lewis) or seeing how much of a blast Andy and friends the boy does eventually make have watching gory horror movies, for instance, all shape Chucky's view of the world and his relationship with Andy, who he wants to make happy whatever the cost, and it doesn't take long before he's solving Andy's problems with murder.
Stripping away the serial killer possession aspect that has defined Chucky for over thirty years gives this big reboot of the Child's Play franchise a chance to branch out on its own. With a screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg, this new spin on Chucky is freed from the baggage of the past, which may alienate loyalists – something I'll touch on in a little bit – though ends up surprisingly refreshing as a result. The case could be made that the world didn't need a new Chucky, but Child's Play overcomes that, giving us a film that's better than it has any right to be.
There's a self-awareness that courses through the film's veins about what it is, a movie about a killer doll, and how part of the fun of these types of movies is often laughing about how grown adults manage to get killed by a two-foot-tall hunk of plastic. The original Child's Play played its concept mostly straight, which worked at the time because it felt like a relatively new spin in the slasher genre, and while the sequels that followed ranged in quality, a simple fact remained: Once the toy is out of the box, it's hard to make it scary again. The original films became less about the horror of a kid's doll hiding in plain sight between murders and more about Chucky's personality, and understandably so, as original actor Brad Dourif is a massive reason why Chucky became – and has remained – such an icon.
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson
After witnessing a pair of mysterious, black suit-wearing men wipe the memories of her parents following their encounter with an alien creature when she was a child, Molly (Tessa Thompson) has made it her life's goal to track down the organization the two agents worked for. Armed with the confirmation that we're not alone in the universe, her relentless quest to prove the agency's existence finally pays off two decades later when she discovers the location of their New York City headquarters, run by Agent O (Emma Thompson), who decides to recruit the young woman to the Men in Black on a probationary basis based on her tenacity.
Molly – rebranded as Agent M – is immediately shipped off to the London branch of the agency, which is overseen by High T (Liam Neeson), where she quickly wrangles her way into tagging along with the branch's rockstar agent, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), on an assignment to protect an alien from a larger, dangerous entity known as the Hive, a collective that can assimilate and assume the identities of whoever it gets its hands on. When things inevitably fall apart, Agents M and H find themselves on a globe-trotting adventure as they work to uncover the mystery around two dangerous alien twins, a devastatingly powerful superweapon they're in pursuit of, and the possibility of a mole behind everything within the very agency they work for.
Let me start off by saying that I love the original Men in Black. I really, really do. It's a fantastic sci-fi story peppered with comedy, but presented in a grimy, gross package that benefits from playing the whole thing straight. It's a film that's aged extremely well. In contrast, Men in Black II spun all that around, often feeling like a straight comedy peppered with sci-fi elements, a decision that actively works against it even if the chemistry between its two leads, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, remains its true saving grace. Then there's Men in Black 3, which arrived in 2012, a decade after the second film, and had no right being as good as it was; imperfect, sure, but thoroughly entertaining, surprisingly affecting in its final act, and a pretty solid sendoff for Smith and Jones which managed to balance the sci-fi and comedy better than II even if it didn't fully live up to the original film.
So here we are seven years on, the arrival of Men in Black: International marking the series' return to the big screen without its original leads, the film instead banking on the chemistry that Hemsworth and Thompson had in 2017's Thor: Ragnarok to make up for Smith and Jones sitting this one out. If you were expecting a straight up sequel to the original films, though, lower your expectations a bit. A painting of Agents J and K depicting the finale of the first film serves as a nod to their existence, the worm guys and Frank the pug appear – despite what the marketing would have you believe – collectively for about thirty seconds, and Agent O, the only human character to resurface from the trilogy, features in only three scenes.
Directed By: Simon Kinberg
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence
And so an era comes to a close, with Simon Kinberg's Dark Phoenix marking the end of the X-Men films as we've come to know them over the last twenty years now that the characters have come back home to Marvel Studios via Disney's acquisition of Fox. Since the release of Bryan Singer's original X-Men all the way back in 2000, the landscape of comic book movies has grown and evolved, the series itself continually trying to keep up with it. It's impossible to deny that the era of quality we live in now in terms of Marvel films – namely the Marvel Cinematic Universe – owes a lot of its existence to the success of that first film and its 2003 sequel, both of which played huge roles in proving the viability of comic book movies in a post-Batman & Robin era.
Despite its strong start, I don't think any film series has been such a rollercoaster ride in terms of quality as this has been over the last two decades. It gave birth to incredibly well-regarded films, like the Deadpool duology, X-Men: First Class, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Logan, the latter three of which are some of my favorite comic book movies period. And yet it also gave us middle of the road entries like The Wolverine and a few that are considered some of the worst comic book movies ever: X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and X-Men: Apocalypse.
It's unfortunate, then, that Dark Phoenix sends this franchise out on a middling note rather than a high one. It never quite reaches the atrocious lows of, say, X-Men Origins, but it never even comes close to the level of greatness of the franchise's best. In many ways, it feels like a relic, a film pushed out in order to keep the series relevant that instead feels a decade too late, especially when entries like Days of Future Past and Logan felt like better, more poignant conclusions to this franchise than Dark Phoenix could hope to be.
Before I go further, a recap: Nearly a decade after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, the world has come to tentatively accept the X-Men as heroes and mutantkind as deserving of a place in the world. When the famous Endeavour space shuttle launches in 1992, the X-Men are called in to help when something goes wrong, as the shuttle is damaged by a mysterious energy force. Though they manage to save the shuttle's crew, much to society's appreciation, it's nearly at the cost of the life of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who absorbs all of the energy, an act that boosts all of her mutant powers and reveals secrets that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) had attempted to suppress within her mind when she was a child.
Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Starring: Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and a Bunch of Humans
It's been about a week now since I've seen Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third entry in Legendary’s slowly-unfolding cinematic franchise known as the MonsterVerse, which began with 2014's Godzilla and continued with 2017's Kong: Skull Island. I've been thinking about the film over the course of the week, having been unable to write about it on release weekend, only to find myself in a rare situation wherein I’ve found myself struggling with what to say.
I'll admit, I've never been a huge Godzilla fan. I've seen a handful of the dozens of movies that have come out of Japan since 1954 as part of the big guy's legacy, and know enough about some of his fellow kaiju, like Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Mechagodzilla, that I'm not completely in the dark, but rather than an emotional attachment to Godzilla as a franchise, I have more of a mere appreciation for it by virtue of the character being a part of pop culture. It doesn't help that the first time Hollywood tried to tackle the character in 1998 with Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, the result was terrible, something I saw in theaters and – despite being part of the target audience as a nine-year-old boy – hated, and put enough of a sour taste in my mouth to avoid when they tried it again in 2014.
King of the Monsters is set five years after the first film, which saw Godzilla well and truly enter the public stage. Since that time, other monsters, which have come to be called Titans, have been discovered, monitored by the Monarch organization. Some, like King Kong, are active; others, like the winged Rodan, are simply in a long slumber. The world, however, is divided on their existence, with many wanting the Titans exterminated and others believing that humanity can co-exist peacefully with them – or, at least, tentatively friendly ones like Godzilla – because it's their planet and we just happen to live on it.
But as with all debates, there are radicals, in this case a team of eco-terrorists lead by Jonah (Charles Dance), who kidnap Monarch member Emma (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) as part of a plan to awaken all the sleeping Titans, set them loose on the Earth to battle one another, and cull humanity as punishment for its own neglect of the planet. One such Titan is Ghidorah, the worst of the worst, who is awakened and immediately sets out on a path of devastation and death, and soon the fate of the world is put on Godzilla's shoulders as the two Titans go head to head to see who truly is the King of the Monsters.
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