Captain Marvel – Movie Review

Captain Marvel takes a while to get going, but once she finds her stride, it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride.

Captain-Marvel-movie

Captain Marvel is the 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also marks a parting of ways with the origin story template Marvel had been using Phase One. Rather than telling how Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) got her powers, the movie lets the audience piece together Captain Marvel’s origin story through flashbacks, against the backdrop of an intergalactic Kree-Skrull war. Carol Danvers is living amongst the Krees in an alien world at the start of the movie. A series of incidents lead her to Earth (Planet C53) where she runs into a digitally de-aged Nick Fury. Brie Larson’s chemistry and easy comradery with Samuel Jackson is a big highlight in the movie.

Ben Mendelsohn can add his portrayal of Talos, a Skrull warrior, to his interesting resume that includes Rogue One and Ready Player One. There are no doppelganger villains like in most MCU origin movies (Iron Man vs Iron Monger, Black Panther vs Killmonger, Ant-Man vs Yellow Jacket). Jude Law makes his bow in the MCU, donning Kree colors, as Carol’s haughty mentor. However, the true star of the movie is Goose, Carol’s cat who steals every scene she’s in.

The MCU is now so rooted in contemporary pop culture that Marvel can take liberties in cramming as many easter eggs as they want. I watched the movie only a week after release and the movie theatre wasn’t exactly what you would call sophisticated. So, it came as a surprise when the crowd was able to appreciate even obscure references to the larger MCU. While Carols’s quips didn’t always garner the amount of laughter Tony Stark would take for granted, it will be interesting to see how she fits in the Avengers team. If what we have seen so far is any indication, it is going to be amazing. The post-credit sequence was just pure comicbook fun!

The hype had been relentless for Captain Marvel, ever since excited fans saw Nick Fury page Carol Danvers at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. It was never going to be easy and the movie could have easily floundered under the weight of so much expectation. Admittedly, the first hour is a bit flat, making it seem like a filler episode before the big Avengers finale, bringing to mind Eleven’s unnecessary visit to Chicago in season 2 of Stranger Things. But the movie picks up from the second act, and it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride as it sets up Avengers: End Game perfectly.

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Alita: Battle Angel – Movie Review

Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga that works better than most other live-action anime films.

Alita

Alita: Battle Angel, based on acclaimed manga series Gunnm, has a standard dystopian premise. A cyborg (Alita) is discovered at a scrap yard by a kindly doctor, who brings her back to life. Alita awakes with no memory of who or what she is. As she is given the tour of Iron World, we are also introduced to a dystopian world that we have seen so many times. It is ruled by a bunch of oppressive overlords who live in a utopian floating city. I can think of Elysium, Hunger Games, and Red Rising off the top of my head that fit this profile.

The world building is solid, if not spectacular. But as befitting a movie James Cameron was closely associated with, we are treated to some truly spectacular shots. Director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for some of the most inventive action sequences in recent times. Watching Alita pirouetting into a battle stance before scything conventional bad guys with an iconic blade was pure comicbook bliss. Rosa Salazar, who plays the role of the eponymous Alita, gives a phenomenal performance, complimented nicely by a star cast that includes Christopher Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Jenniffer Connelly.

While I haven’t read the source material myself, I felt the movie had crammed in a lot of content that sometimes seemed superfluous. Over the course of the movie, Alita comes to grips with a new world, becomes a bounty hunter, falls in love, competes in Motorball, a deadly cyborg sport with seemingly random rules, and fights a LOT of bad guys (and girls), but unfortunately doesn’t have time to dig deeper into her past. The Motorball arc, which initially held promise, was surprisingly sidelined towards the end. The romance arc was tiresome and unoriginal. There was a scene where she quite literally offers her heart. I would have been a lot more interested in learning more about Zalem and Alita’s mysterious past.

Despite the awesome, but thoroughly flagrant buildup for a sequel, the ending felt a bit abrupt. Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga. While it may have fallen short of such a lofty goal, it delivers a rollerblades-powered thrill ride through some eye-popping cyberpunk spectacle. And, I have to admit that I am really intrigued for the second installation, particularly after the big reveal at the end, courtesy of a surprising and gratifying cameo.

Aquaman – Movie Review

The stunning visuals keep you invested before the movie gets bogged down amidst a tempest of CGI action.

Aquaman-Poster-cropped

With the DCEU sinking deeper and deeper, the onus was on James Wan’s Aquaman to keep it afloat. The movie does start on a promising note with some eye-popping spectacle. After a lengthy prologue laced with exposition, the action kicks in when Aquaman torpedoes into a submarine. Some of the action sequences are decidedly corny and Bollywood-ish, but it’s still fun watching the beefed-up Jason Momoa kick some ass.

Once the backstory is laid out, the movie largely plays out like a video game, with action sequences interjected by plot lines resembling cutscenes. The second act is very much like a chapter from Unchartered, with Arthur and Mera embarking on a quest across the Sahara Desert to find a long-lost trident. It’s a long arduous journey fraught with National Treasure-style puzzles, murderous goons, and English-speaking sea monsters.

While Arthur and Mera are busy playing Unchartered, Arthur’s half-brother and principal antagonist, King Orm has a parallel quest of his own. Before he can declare war on the surface dwellers, he needs to unite the various tribes. The movie skips back and forth, and by the time Orm has reached the last tribe and Aquaman has fought his way out for the umpteenth time, you find your interest finally start to sag. When the last 30 minutes becomes one huge CGI extravaganza of more battles, you stop caring about who is fighting whom.

In comparison with the other DCEU movies, Aquaman takes a rather respectable second position behind Wonder Woman. Aquaman continues the trend of DCEU movies moving away from the Zack Snyder template of dark and brooding superhero movies. While my earlier beef with DC was that it had tried to cram in as many superheroes (and supervillains) into team-up movies without any aforethought, the issue here is that there is barely any hint that Aquaman is part of the Justice League, let alone a part of a much larger extended universe.

The stunning visuals and the charismatic leads do enough to keep you invested in the movie until the final act before it gets bogged down amidst a tempest of CGI action. In the end, Aquaman ends up being so trippy that it trips over itself.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Movie Review

Into the Spider-Verse is the closest you get to experiencing a comicbook on the big screen.

Spider Verse

For a character that’s been beaten to death with several reboots, video games adaptations and countless media tie-ins, this is a refreshingly new take. We are finally introduced to Miles Morales (long overdue!) and Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir, SP//dr (Peni Parker), and Spider-Ham (er…Peter Porker) for good measure. Like the MCU, Spider-Verse thrives when it brings characters together. The camaraderie between the “spider-people” works great. I particularly liked the relationship between Miles and Peter B. Parker, which brought to mind Tony Stark mentoring a young Peter in the MCU.

From the Spider-Man rogues gallery, we see the Kingpin, Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Scorpion, and Prowler. The principal antagonist Wilson Fisk is a mountain of a man, but it’s hard not to visualize Vincent D’Onofrio instead. The movie follows the Kingpin’s attempts to open a multi-dimensional portal in New York. Despite the busy narrative involving several characters, the web never gets tangled, as we swing across a gripping, albeit cartoonish storyline.

After the chaotic Venom movie, Sony has reinvented itself to deliver the most original superhero movie since Deadpool. The film captures the essence of Spider-Man and delivers the most dazzling and inventive visuals of the year as if it were ripped straight from the pages of a comic book. There are quite a few easter eggs to savor across the movie, including meta references and throwbacks to other adaptions of the beloved character.

The movie’s parting message that “anyone can be behind the mask” is complimented nicely with an awesome quote from Stan Lee (see below). After a cacophony of colors in the graffiti-themed end credits, we take a trip down memory lane for one of the most ingenious post-credit scenes ever – the origin of the “Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man” meme. With a dazzling visual palette, Into the Spider-Verse is the closest you get to experiencing a comicbook on the big screen.

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – Stan Lee

Ralph Breaks the Internet – Movie Review

Ralph Breaks the Internet is an upgrade to the already impressive Wreck-It Ralph.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2

Ralph and Vanellope have been best friends for 6 years now. But when the very existence of Sugar Rush (Vanellope’s arcade racing game) is threatened, the pair has to embark on a rollercoaster journey across the internet to buy a spare part on eBay. The movie whirs past in a blur of great visuals depicting familiar tech giants like Google, Instagram, and Snapchat. The movie’s contemporary commentary on social media and online culture is both funnier and works better than the first part’s exploration of arcade games. We are introduced to some interesting net denizens like the autocorrecting KnowsMore (a la Google Search) and the chief algorithm for YouTubeBuzzTube. This is easily the most imaginative and thought-provoking world since Zootopia and Inside Out.

The story unravels around the conflicting dreams of its lead characters. While Vanellope is smitten with the GTA-ish Slaughter Race game, in which Gal Gadot seems to have reprised her role from the Fast and Furious franchise, Ralph wants his normal life back. One of the many highlights in the movie was the squad of Disney princesses parodying themselves, while another was a chilling reminder of the internet’s toxicity.

The movie is unfortunately bogged down by a final act that is rife with melodrama and over-the-top action sequences. Despite these minor hurdles, the intended emotional effect is felt when the end credits roll. The movie, as you’d expect, is awash with pop culture references and deserves a re-watch if only for easter egg spotting. Disney doesn’t let go to waste such an organic opportunity for product placement, and parades a plethora of its top brands, including Marvel and Star Wars. The ‘I am Groot’ sequence was particularly hilarious and had me in splits.

Ralph Breaks the Internet enters Toy Story territory by virtue of the sequel being better than an already impressive original, but falls marginally short of Toy Story’s lofty standards with a slightly melodramatic and action-laden final act.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Movie Review

The Crimes of Grindelwald has enough magic to keep Pottermores satisfied, but only just.

Crimes

The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will always be a memorable movie for me, not because it was a particularly great film (it wasn’t), but because it was my first IMAX experience. The Crimes of Grindelwald surpasses its predecessor and has enough magic to keep Pottermores satisfied, but only just.

The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up from the last movie, with Johnny Depp’s eponymous Grindelwald chained up at the US. He is unleashed into Europe after a thrilling, rain-soaked prison break, orchestrated by some good old Polyjuice Potion. Johnny Depp is brilliant and captivating as the creepy Grindelwald, while Jude Law is a welcome addition to an already impressive cast. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt continues to be the charming, sensitive hero you want to root for.

Newt’s relationship with Tina and his awkward flirtations are delightful and provide a welcome respite, unlike Jacob and Queenie’s sequences which plod along aimlessly. Queenie has no reason being in the movie other than the fact that her legilimens prowess potentially has some significant role to play in the later movies. It is unfortunate we see very less of Jacob’s famous “reactions”. There is a telling new addition in Leta Lestrange, who has an interesting backstory. But most of the movie revolves around different factions of people with vested interests in Credence Barebones, who happens to be the only living entity capable of killing Albus Dumbledore.

The dense plot takes its time to unravel, with a particularly ponderous first half, as we are made to wait an awfully long while for the main characters to apparate to Paris, for the final act. At one point, a kid seated behind me at the multiplex started to pester his mom, “When will they fight?”. He was finally placated when Newt summons the Zouwu, a beast of Chinese origin to fight the Matagots, a beast from French folklore in one of the movie’s many big-budget action extravaganzas. (While these mythos are spot on, it wouldn’t have hurt to have done some research on Nagini.) It was after this particular sequence that the movie finally finds its stride leading to a riveting finale at the Pere Lachaise cemetery.

The biggest question to which both the audience (and the characters themselves) seek answers to is finally revealed at the end, but it feels we are still viewing through a keyhole and there is more to it. I am more inclined to an online theory doing the rounds that [character A] is not the [relationship-type 1] of [character B], but the [relationship-type 2] of [character C], where [character B] and [character C] are [relationship-type 1].

The Fantastic Beasts saga is increasingly resembling the Hobbit trilogy. While providing a great opportunity for us to keep revisiting the magical worlds that we grew to love so much, it is painfully aware that WB is scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep audience milling. The plot would have worked much better if it was packaged in one movie rather than a bloated series spanning several movies.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Movie Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story offers more than enough to keep fans satisfied.

Solo-Star-Wars-Poster

Solo: A Star Wars Story has quite a few enjoyable moments and sequences, a handful of surprising twists and revelations and a bevy of great performances. For most of the movie, Solo plays out like an action heist with largely forgettable fast and furious action sequences. But like Rogue One before it, Solo fills in a lot of gaps in the Star Wars series. How does Han win the Milennium Falcon from Lando? How does he have a wookie as a co-pilot? What is the Kessel Run (made in less than 12 parsecs) that he brags about? We get answers to all these questions and get to see the Millennium Falcon in all its glory. In short, there is more than enough to keep fans satisfied.

Alden Ehrenreich does a very commendable job of donning the iconic role of Han Solo. While the comradery between Han and Chewie works great, there is no spark in the relationship between Han and Qi’ira. It’s tricky to flesh out characters when the audience knows what happens next in the larger scheme of things, but Ron Howard does a good job keeping us invested in the motley bunch of characters.

For a prequel-sequel of sorts, Solo does a great job wrapping things up. It ties back brilliantly with Rogue One and the larger universe by “giving life to a rebellion”. There is also an extremely gratifying cameo for longtime fans to savor at the end.