2 ½ (out of 4)
The relentless zaniness of Teen Titans Go! is its greatest ally and biggest detriment. As such I didn’t expect much less than frenzied, moderately clever mayhem from a theatrical iteration of Cartoon Network’s popular reworking of their former bread and butter.
The original Teen Titans program happily married serial comic book storytelling with anime-inspired animation in the most delightful show a tween could ask for. Despite the fact that the newer, more crudely drawn Titans – although the upcoming live action version should be at least twice as offensive – are aimed at a decidedly younger audience, these infantile renderings retain some level of their individual charm, albeit with minimal sincerity.
My gripes with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies aren’t any different than the problems I have with the show itself. Robin is an insecure egomaniac, Raven is uncharacteristically chummy and Beast Boy’s new voicing is its own special breed of irritating. But even with very cost efficient animation, the film provides waves of amusement across a sizable spectrum from Dreamworks-tier fart jokes to pleasantly wily exercises of its openly meta premise. The sequence in which the Titans time travel to disrupt famous superhero origin stories is a genuinely funny detour. In the film's wisest move, there's room to finally give Nicolas Cage an excuse to play Superman in some manner by allowing him to contribute to the voice cast.
Both the show and the film are capable of erratic creativity and outlandish stupidity. If Teen Titans Go! To the Movies didn't reverently poke fun at the current superhero climate more often than the equally meta Deadpool 2 did earlier this summer, then this slight kids flick definitely should have debuted on the idiot box.
3 ½ (out of 4)
How is Cruise still grasping at blockbuster greatness 22 years after he began producing his own movies? How much of his determination to deliver authentic spectacle is driven by the eagerness to give an audience a rush and how much is dictated by his ego needing a good scratch?
Regardless of any explanation, I defy you to point out a major movie star more willing to lay his body on the line for your moviegoing satisfaction. The Mission: Impossible series has legitimized itself many times over as the action spy brand of the current decade, especially after Brad Bird scraped the genre's highest highs in 2011 with Ghost Protocol. 2015's Rogue Nation proved an admirable follow-up and director Christopher McQuarrie, the first filmmaker to return as commander of another Mission, amplifies all of his respectable accomplishments in that fifth film.
The first act of Fallout is literally everything you could want from Cruise, action movies and mainstream entertainment. First, the opening sting is a helluva twist, deliberately teasing the darkest film yet before neatly pulling the rug out as if to say, "Had ya fooled, didn't we? You know we got your summer escapism covered." The stunt work in the halo jump is gripping. The following segment outdoes Bourne at hand-to-hand combat with a series-best fight sequence just before officially outclassing Bond in an atmospheric speakeasy set-piece featuring Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, the lovely offspring of arms dealer Max from the original 1996 film.
The second act is all plot, chases and twists. There may be one gotcha moment too many but the tension in the extensive midsection becomes delectably palpable at multiple moments, oddly earned by the tasteful use of dream sequences. And while Mission: Impossible flicks usually peter out by act three, the helicopter-based climax condenses the usual convoluted plot down to a basic ticking clock scenario, coalescing in the most impressive finale the franchise has known. In terms of pure action pageantry, Fallout is copiously stuffed with brand-defining highlight moments. Even though it's the truest sequel to date, this movie could easily be enjoyed without any previous M:I knowledge despite bearing connections to each of its five predecessors in story and homage.
McQuarrie shakes things up as much as possible for those expecting the customary shift in auteurs – which has included Brian De Palma, John Woo and J. J. Abrams – while embellishing classic tropes of both the franchise and spy fare by pushing them to their extremes. Lorne Balfe, right hand man to Hans Zimmer, would make his mentor blush with his stormy, thunderous score and Rob Hardy's muted, supple cinematography is a sensible tonal deviation from Robert Elswit's clean precision. It's all a tireless effort to keep the series aging like the finest wine or like Cruise himself, who at 56 still sells Ethan Hunt's unequivocal gravity. McQuarrie implements serious stakes and an epic runtime and still is able to savor the fun, thrills and gadgetry Mission is known for.
Cruise might have two more movies in him if he's up to it but his supporting cast will likely never be stronger. Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin and Sean Harris all develop the parts they played so well in Rogue Nation while newbies Kirby, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett keep things energized whenever present. The schtick of Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames is wearing thin – you don't need two computer guys – but the former's comic relief is always integral while the latter should have been permanently seated on the sidelines two installments ago.
As a fan of Cruise and the Mission: Impossible films in general, I could sing the praises of Fallout all day. Every one of these films is very stupid when you break them down by logic but that joyless exercise is left to sheltered YouTube snobs. These films (even II in its own parodic way) are lavishly, emphatically entertaining. Maybe it's just my male adolescence talking, but what summer crowds crave from this genre is practical exhibitionism through substantial, awe-inspiring action, all based in espionage, mystery and a relatively plausible reality. Fallout is that and the whole damn kitchen.
Such overwhelming grandiosity may leave you nostalgic for the noir-soaked prudence of the original film but Fallout at the very least rivals, if not surpasses, the best of this set-piece laden spy franchise.
3 (out of 4)
Boots Riley's auspicious debut has been stirring up conversation since it debuted at Sundance earlier this year and no doubt Sorry to Bother You merits its spot on the lips of acolytes of indie filmmaking for numerous reasons.
Much to the credit of Riley – communist and former rapper/hip hop producer of his music collective The Coup – the messages entrenched in his first film function as an exhaustive rant on the current orientation of cultural consumption, the pressing problems of capitalism, the façade of corporate America and the mechanics of racial adaptation. But it's almost as if, knowing that his scathing lampoon would need the comic beats of mainstream flicks in order to appeal to a wider audience, Boots sacrificed substantiating his many theses in order to awkwardly pause for a few laughs.
It's disappointing because appealing to the whims of commercial interest is the exact slippery slope the film goes to great lengths to illustrate. Riley's own carefully constructed themes and ingenious satire throughout Sorry to Bother You is unnecessarily hampered for the sake of satisfying the most feeble-minded moviegoers. Despite these frustrating blemishes, the film is faultlessly entertaining and fortified with inspired cinematic showmanship. Sorry to Bother You is so audacious and unapologetic that its own abundance of ambition is absolutely admirable.
The idea of our African-American main characters accessing their white voice to excel at telemarketing – a gimmick that utilizes the timbres of Patton Oswalt and David Cross extremely well – leads down a narrative path that recalls the subversive racial and social critiques within Get Out. Except in this case the horror elements that crop up in Sorry to Bother You confine the film into a stubborn quirkiness, weakening the otherwise potent wokeness. But then again there's nothing too subtle about the film's strange cautionary tale – it really wouldn't make sense to underplay the film's near-future dystopian sci-fi sociopolitical commentary. The Dirty Projectors' sonic contributions assist in elevating and complimenting the film's bizarre premise and jocular tone.
Lakeith Stanfield made excellent supporting turns in Short Term 12 and the aforementioned Jordan Peele debut, and he remains an extraordinarily likable performer now as the unlikely protagonist Cash Green. Tessa Thompson is unfortunately typecast as the artistic girlfriend just as she was in Creed. Armie Hammer’s caricature of cocaine-snorting CEO scumbag Steve Lift, however, is something to behold and the sequence involving Cash's experience at Lift's surreal Eyes Wide Shut-inspired house party is loaded with delightfully absurdist moments. I may have been hearing crickets during the most painfully obvious jokes but Riley had me dying at the smartest satirical stabs.
1 ½ (out of 4)
Unlike the everyman thrills of Die Hard or the classic disaster movie elements of The Towering Inferno, Skyscraper seems convinced it isn't a dumb action movie at heart. For that fact alone, and particularly as an obvious rip-off of better dumb movies, it's even more disposable.
In a rush to compress its three acts into as little time as possible, the latest vehicle to honor Dwayne Johnson's still-scorching moment in the sun assumes that mere brevity will forgive the triteness of every component of its dialogue and plotting. The sheer schlock of Skyscraper comes without any wink or nods; each piece of stupid is played straight. If you know exactly what you’re getting into and don’t think for even a minute, I can imagine giving into the film's ever so modest pleasures. For most people though, I'd wager they would jump off this crazy train before the final act even starts.
For the moment or two that actually provide a suspenseful jolt, Skyscraper is teeming many times over with scenes that will have you snickering to yourself. The film’s inherent goofiness – rather jarring against the semi-sincere tone of the whole enterprise – only escalates as Skyscraper’s boilerplate story ratchets up. The film is beyond predictable with every cliché in the action movie template making a cameo. Still, this movie exists because of The Rock and he proves to be as intimidating as he's ever been even with a prosthetic leg, and just as lovable too.
Robert Elswit’s Oscar-winning touch in cinematography was vital in furthering the recent Mission: Impossible resurgence of Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, both of which highlighted tangible action and deep, vivid colors. The lucidity of his hand is lost in Skyscraper as all the half-assed visual effects surrounding our generic set of characters tarnish some creditable visual direction. When you have me fondly reminiscing over the much more palatable mediocrity of 2015's San Andreas, something's gone terribly awry.
2 ½ (out of 4)
When you churn out 20 interrelated superhero movies in 10 years ranging from mildly successful to insanely popular, you earn a reputation. Marvel is synonymous with reliably distracting entertainment and they're just as famous for minimizing risks and straddling the status quo. 2015’s Ant-Man was the MCU's biggest box office gamble in which they conservatively shelled out the smallest budget. Following the film's success, and especially with the series reaching a baffling crescendo in profits thanks to this year’s Black Panther and Avenger: Infinity War, I expected something a little more substantial from Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Not that this newest recess in the MCU doesn’t serve up its own fun-size wallop of minor superhero amusement. Just like the first Ant-flick was a welcome comedown after Age of Ultron, this sequel serves as easygoing levity on the heels of heaviness in the third Avengers. Ant-Man and the Wasp is mathematically fast-paced and buoyant at its best – Paul Rudd, Michael Peña and newcomer Jimmy Woo carry the film through even the most pandering instances with their instinctive comic chops. Abby Ryder Fortson as little Cassie also always puts an adorable face on the humanity of Scott Lang's character.
The biggest disappointment is the film's marketing which spoils just about each and every one of the film's memorable moments for the sake of a fun trailer – only some of the best bits of banter are theater exclusives. Save for Spider-Man: Homecoming and maybe the Guardians films, this is the most straightforward comedy we've seen from the series and for laughs alone Ant-Man and the Wasp is a good time even as hit and miss as it can be.
But with so much potential for inventive diversion from typical capeshit, the film is only so clever in finding cinematic uses for Pym's technology – there are so many cool sci-fi concepts at play but unfortunately nothing ever gets too weird or heady. How strange that Marvel's real risk-taking came from April's Avengers: Infinity War when there were two-dozen or so heroes to make room for. The individual, consequence-free additions to the MCU, like the superior one-offs Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok, are better the less they subscribe to formula.
While Evangeline Lilly's Wasp is everything Ant-Man isn’t (she can fly without a bug nearby and is actually trained for combat) she envelopes the action single-handedly, upstaging our lead at every turn. Lang's regulator malfunctions throughout the entire film, leaving little room for many superheroics from our title character. Lilly is an excellent foil for Rudd, romantic or otherwise, but she spends so much time suited up that the quest to rescue mama Pym (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm is superficial, convoluted and emotionally muffled, especially because it was a key aspect of the last film.
Besides a relatively strong villain for the series – Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is not only a neat character to watch but also well-motivated – Ant-Man and the Wasp is a decidedly mid-shelf Marvel film.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
and A Star Is Born
The Absolute State
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