Current Mini Reviews

It’s time for another edition of my Current Mini Reviews where I give shortened reviews of recently released films. If you are new to the site you are going to think I’m a super big grumpy pants because I didn’t like any of the movies being covered. Sometimes that’s the way the movie Gods see fit to provide, and it’s a good thing because it makes me grateful for the great films! So here goes:

The Sun is Also a Star

First up is The Sun is Also a Star. This is a romantic YA drama based on the book by Nicola Yoon. I actually read the book and enjoyed it. I thought both Natasha and Daniel were well developed and interesting characters and that helped me care about the instalove gimmick. Unfortunately as you can see in my youtube review the movie did not work. The director used too many gimmicks with spinning cameras and heavy-handed narration that got in the way of the characters. Without their development the romance felt very corny. The two leads are pretty people but the script didn’t work for me.

Frown Worthy

3.5 out of 10

A Dog’s Journey

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Don’t worry this is not a sequel to A Dog’s Way Home, which came out in January, and I gave a marginal recommendation to. No, this is a sequel to the 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose, which I didn’t enjoy, but this manages to be even worse. This is a PG family film, and we get multiple dog deaths, human deaths, parental abuse, alcoholism, a toxic teenage relationship, car crashes and cancer. Good grief! The only thing I liked about the movie aside from the cute doggies was the relationship between Kathryn Prescott and Henry Lau. I’d watch them in another movie- maybe a light-hearted romantic comedy and not this massive downer…It makes Old Yeller look like a laugh-fest.

Frown Worthy

2 out of 10

The Dead Don’t Die-

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Last year I loved the delightful indie zombie Christmas musical Anna and the Apocalypse. It was creative, funny and sweet. It even made Best Films of 2018. So when I saw a trailer for The Dead Don’t Die I got very excited. The trailer was hilarious, and I love the cast. My hope was it was going to be a Wes Anderson meets Zombieland film. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. The Dead Don’t Die was an unfunny, self-indulgent, frustrating experience. The cast is woefully wasted, and they strain for the few laughs the script offers. The metaphors are also rammed in to the ground by narrators and characters breaking the 4th wall. It is my first film from director Jim Jarmusch but the critics at Cannes and other places don’t seem to be enjoying it either, so it appears to be a just a big miss. It’s frustrating because it had so much potential and it all falls flat.

Frown Worthy

3.5 out of 10

Wine Country

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In recent years Hollywood has produced several popular comedic films starring and geared towards women. Whether it is the Bad Moms movies, Girl’s Trip or Bridesmaids these films have an audience. Unfortunately the successes for that audience are few and far between. In the latest from Netflix, Wine Country, a lot of funny women are brought together for little to no laughs. It boggles my mind that so many talented people like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and more could all get together and produce so few jokes. It felt like an R rated version of a sitcom episode stretched into nearly 2 hours. I also am so tired of the trope that women doing raunchy or outlandish things is inherently more funny than when a man does the same things. It’s so lazy and that’s how I would describe Wine Country. Buyer beware!

Frown Worthy

2 out of 10

So there you have it. 4 pretty terrible films all in the same month! I bet you’re not so jealous of my job now! If you get to see any of these movies let me know what you think. Thanks

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‘Aladdin’ 2019 Review

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If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.

Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.

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I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.

The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.

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Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.

Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.

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My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.

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I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:

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Overall Grade 5 out of 10

If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:

Blind Spot 41: ‘Brief Encounter’

I always like to have a little bit of variety on this Blind Spot project and this month we are going back to 1945 and taking a look at the romantic drama Brief Encounter.

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Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter tells a simple story of 2 strangers that meet in a train station ‘refreshment room’ and become fascinated with each other. Then they meet several more times until a relationship develops. Unfortunately with them both being married they cannot pursue their love so it is doomed to remain unrequited.

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Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and he, with cinematographer Robert Krasker, do a stunning job crafting this film. The black and white photography is beautiful with great use of shadows and light. You feel an intimacy with the couple like you are somehow eavesdropping on their conversations instead of watching a movie. It kind of reminded me of the Before Sunrise movies in that regard. I think it also helps that we don’t have traditional movie stars in the lead roles but more ordinary looking humans. It makes their connection feel more grounded and real.

If you are worried this is a movie that justifies cheating, it doesn’t. In fact, the ending with Laura and her husband is actually quite touching. It’s just a moment between two people and that’s it. If it was made today it would probably be tawdry and tasteless but here it strikes just the right note.

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My only flaw with Brief Encounter is it is perhaps too brief. They go from strangers bumping into each other to declaring their undying love very quickly. In that sense, it feels a little hard to believe. We understand why Laura is tempted by a new and exciting love but are not entirely sure why this love with Alec fits that bill. I wish there were a few more scenes where we got to know both of them more and could understand their connection better.

That said, I definitely recommend checking out Brief Encounter. It is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel which is a service I highly recommend. They not only have great films but tons of special features on most of the films.

(Also David Lean is such an incredible director. It’s hard to believe the person who made this also directed Lawrence of Arabia!)

Overall Grade

7 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Poms’ Review

One of the interesting trends of the last few years is Hollywood taking notice of an older demographic of filmgoer. It makes sense with senior citizen discounts and other programs that older men and women are going to the movies more each year. When I go to my local theater there are a number of older patrons who I see regularly and who seem to attend the movies almost daily.

With this audience it only stands to reason films are going to be made that particularly appeal to them. Whether it is comedies (Marigold Hotel movies, The Intern, Hello My Name is Doris, Book Club) or dramas (I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Mule, Beginners), every year we get a handful of movies about senior citizens and the contributions they make. The latest entry in this genre is called Poms and it is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag

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The best parts of Poms are the sweet parts. Diane Keaton plays a woman named Martha who with little to no family moves to Georgia to live out her final days of cancer at a plush retirement community. While there she decides to fulfill her teenage dream of becoming a cheerleader with the help of a bunch of her new friends (Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, and more). These ladies have lovely chemistry and seeing them work together definitely pulled at the heartstrings (my Grandma just recently passed so it was close to home). I particularly loved Jacki Weaver who I think always elevates anything she is in. The ladies also have some sweet moments with 2 teenagers who agree to help the cause (Charlie Tahan and Alisha Boe).

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The problem with Poms is most of the humor felt very sitcomy. It felt like a used Golden Girls script stretched out into a feature film. The ‘old women can have sex’ jokes got old very fast and some of the humor was flat out weird- like an implication Rhea Perlman murders her abusive husband to be on the team or a badly handled subplot with Phyllis Somerville’s abusive and controlling son that was awkward. I also got really sick of Celia Weston’s antics as a Southern Belle maiden overseeing everything at the community. There might as well have been a laugh track behind some of these bits they were so sitcomy.

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All that said, if you are looking for something to do with your Mother and Grandmother for Mother’s Day you could do worse than Poms. It’s harmless but probably best to be seen at home as a rental.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy (Barely)

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

I think like most people when I first heard of a live action Detective Pikachu movie I rolled my eyes. As an animation fan it can be very irritating when it seems like the great answer to updating a property is to abandon animation and make it live action (Disney I’m talking to you!). In addition most of the live action/animated hybrids have been terrible. With the exception of Paddington, it is usually a terrible idea to have a cg creature in the human world. Naturally we were all concerned and then the trailers came out and to my surprise the film looked pretty good. Ryan Reynolds looked funny and the world building with the pokemons looked adorable, so I went into seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu with pretty high expectations. Unfortunately I ended up with very mixed feelings on the film. It’s not a total loss but it could have been so much better!

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It’s movies like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu that make the binary system of rottentomatoes difficult because it does have many positives. First of all, the world-building is really strong. It kind of reminded me of Zootopia in the way the world was full of creatures and captured that crime-noir feel while still being kid-appropriate.

The design of all the pokémon was creative and adorable and will no doubt delight fans of the franchise (I have seen 2 Pokémon movies but would not consider myself a fan).

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Ryan Reynolds is great as the voice of Pikachu and Justice Smith does a serviceable job as our orphan looking into the strange death of his father. There is also a really nice heart to the film, and while inconsistent I did laugh a few times.

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The problem with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu lies with the script. At only 104 minutes it feels much longer and there are stretches where nothing seems to be happening but bland action and reveals that don’t amount to much story-wise. The mystery isn’t set up well because the villain is obvious from the start and the clues aren’t interesting to put together. Again to use Zootopia as an example, I was way more invested in the clues and mystery of that film than in Detective Pikachu.

It’s always hard for me to know what kids will like but I suspect a lot of them will get fidgety especially during the middle section of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. I know both my friend and I were struggling a little bit to stay invested. I’ve seen it many times before where the team behind a movie gets so caught up in world-building they forget to craft a script worthy of that world. Such is the case here. (There is some action such as fighting and a car crash depicted multiple times that might scare very little kids but nothing too bad content-wise).

But it’s not a disaster by any means. I would recommend seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu at a discount theater if you have one in your community. It’s got enough fun moments to justify a watch but I just wish the mystery had been handled better. Perhaps if they make a sequel they can improve upon that aspect? I’d definitely be interested in them taking another swing at it!

Smile Worthy (Just barely)

✮✮.5 out of 5

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‘UglyDolls’ Review

Before I start my review I wanted to give a shameless plug for my new patreon account! If you enjoy what I do hear on the blog please consider supporting me for as little as $2 a month. We have benefits set up and would be beyond grateful for the support. Thank you in advance https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

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Now let’s get into reviewing the latest animated film UglyDolls. Looking like a mixture of Boss Baby and Trolls (both films I wasn’t in love with) I went into the screening of UglyDolls more than a little bit nervous. However, I should have noticed it is made by Kelly Asbury, a director I find to be very underrated. I particularly thought his Smurfs the Lost Village got way more hate than it deserved (still has some of the most beautiful CG animated backgrounds in recent memory).

Now I have seen the film and am delighted to say I enjoyed it. Of course it has its flaws but overall I liked UglyDolls. It tells the story of a world where dolls are made in a factory and chosen for a special kid to own. The dolls that don’t fit the correct specifications are rejected and sent to Uglyville, which is where we find our heroine: the plucky Moxy (Kelly Clarkson). She is dying to get out of Uglyville and find her special friend but nobody has ever left the town before and they don’t feel restless like Moxy.

Of course, this is a story arc we’ve seen many times before but Clarkson does a good job with the vocals and her character isn’t pushy like the lead troll in Trolls; Nor was she aggressive and angry like in The Angry Birds Movie. She’s pretty happy doing her own thing and if people follow that’s their choice.

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Eventually Moxy ends up at the Institute of Perfection where normal dolls (not stuffed dolls like Moxy) are being trained to take on the gauntlet that proves they are ready for the human world. There is our wannabe Trump copycat leading the Institute named Lou. With his dictatorial attitude and fear of outsiders he can be a little grating but is a serviceable villain.

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What makes Ugly Dolls work is the infectious songs (All original songs except one song in the middle that is randomly a cover). They have good singers performing and the staging was energetic and joyful. Animated musicals like Strange Magic can be tough to pull off but this one worked for me.

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I also thought the overall message of acceptance and tolerance was really sweet and Moxy as a character was likable and fun to spend time with. The animation had a tactile quality to it I enjoyed and overall it will entertain and enrich particularly small children.

There are moments with Lou where things get a little too mean for very small kids and the world-building is kind of strange. Humans are present but I was a little unclear how the gauntlet worked and how long these dolls had been there waiting to be delivered to a child. Also why didn’t the UglyDolls go to be with other stuffed dolls not have human-like dolls in the same factory area. It was a little confusing.

However, that is definitely over-thinking it. UglyDolls has a sweet message with some catchy tunes and appealing animation. If you go see it with your kids they will really enjoy it and you’ll have an ok time as well. It’s a sweet, fun little movie worth checking out

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

Blind Spot 40: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’

It seemed appropriate during the month of an epic comicbook movie release I should finally watch one of the most popular entries from the genre I have yet to have seen for my blind spot series: Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

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Released in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a graphic novel called Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It tells the story of a dopey 22 year old kid named Scott (Michael Cera) who enters a video game world when he plays with his band the Sex Bob-Omb. He goes through many women, but he in particular loves a multi-haired girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to be with her he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes in the video game using music and sometimes a little action.

For the most part I enjoyed watching this film. It is very well cast with a crop of young talent that would go places including Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. The visual effects and style of the film is unique and continually surprised me. It both feels like you are inside a video game and a comicbook at the same time. scott pilgrim5I also thought Scott Pilgrim vs the World was pretty funny. The big set up jokes like Brandon Routh having super vegan powers really paid off and made me laugh. I also really liked Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate. He was very funny.

What I didn’t like as much is Scott is kind of the worst. He’s selfish, inconsiderate and doesn’t respect women. He goes through them like candy and yet they all seem more than willing to put up with such nonsense. The main excuse the movie seemed to give is he is lovable and nerdy but that’s not a very good excuse. I got the feeling we were supposed to judge Ramona for having so many ex-boyfriends when we saw Scott go through multiple girlfriends in just a few days!

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All that said, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a pretty fun movie. The soundtrack is great and it has a ton of fresh energy to it. If you are tired of the same old story it’s definitely worth a try. I think I prefer it to the other Edgar Wright film I’ve seen Baby Driver.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(This is my 40th Blind Spot pick! What a fun series it has proven to be!)

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Current Mini Reviews

Believe it or not there are other movies out in theaters besides Avengers: Endgame. I have already reviewed Missing Link and Breakthrough on this blog but I thought I would give you my quick reviews of 5 other films that might be worth your time to check out:

Penguin Highway

First up the anime film Penguin Highway. Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida this creative and original science fiction mystery will delight audiences of all ages and shouldn’t be missed. It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Stranger Things with a young boy investigating the strange appearance of penguins in his town.

The relationship between the boy and a woman who comes along with the penguins is a little strange but if you like unpredictable, fresh storytelling you’ll love this film

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Penguins

I will eventually do a full review of Disneynature’s latest film Penguins for my Disneynature series on this blog but until then you should definitely check it out. The penguins are so cute especially our lead penguin Steve who is perpetually behind all the other penguins. It’s so cute!

Ed Helms does a good job as the narrator and kids will love seeing this little penguin romance. Some of the music cues were a little much for me but that’s a minor flaw in a very adorable nature film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Perfect Date

Netflix continues in its attempt to take over the romantic comedy world particularly for teenagers with The Perfect Date. Noah Centineo is super charming, and I’d be in love with him if I was 16. That’s really who this movie is made for, teenagers who want to swoon over Noah Centineo. There’s nothing wrong with that but the script needed work.

He’s charming but the story is so strained and there is no chemistry between him and either of the leading ladies. It also feels like a cheap copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without any of that movies emotional heft. If you’re not a 16 year old I’d say pass.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Okko’s Inn

Penguin Highway isn’t the only new anime we’ve gotten this month. We’ve also gotten the sweet ghost story Okko’s Inn. Based on a series of mangas, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a little girl who goes to live with her Grandma at an Inn after her parents die. She soon learns the Inn is inhabited by a series of mischievous ghosts who want to get her into trouble.

Okko’s Inn feels very episodic and is definitely made for very small children. Adults may find it a little cloying but its heart was in the right place so I enjoyed it. If you want to talk to your kids about grief and how to set goals (Okko decides to become a junior Innkeeper) than this would be a fun one to show them.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Long Shot

About 30 minutes into the new romantic comedy Long Shot I was groaning pretty loudly inside. The characters were annoying me and it seemed like the most tired of tropes to have the gorgeous blonde bombshell fall for the schlep who can’t seem to understand you don’t wear a hideous windbreaker to a swanky party. Ugh.

BUT…then something happened and it started to win me over. I think the key point is when they actually start a relationship is where it begins to work. The build up I was irritated but the actual balance of a liberal writer dating the secretary of state started to entertain me. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron have decent enough chemistry but it’s the script that makes it all work. The commentary on feminism, work, politics and dating feels believable and is very funny. I particularly thought the ending in all its romcom glory is earned.

O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend stole the show. Hilarious.

This is an R rated film with lots of language and some sexuality so be forewarned.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

‘Avengers: Endgame’ Review

While I have not loved every entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (see my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review), I have loved the franchise as a cinematic endeavor and when others have grown weary of it I have been one of its biggest champions. I unabashedly love the tone of the universe and its emphasis on heroes who fight for all that is good and right in the world.

I also know that endings matter and a rotten ending to a 22 movie arc would be a serious bummer. This knowledge and my less than pumped response to Infinity War had me full of nerves going into the epic final chapter of the Avengers saga that is Avengers: Endgame. Could they pull it off? Could they end this mammoth undertaking of 22 movies in a satisfactorily way?

Well, I’m delighted to tell you that they did end it well. In fact, it may be my favorite MCU film to date! I LOVED Avengers: Endgame!

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There are two aspects that make Avengers: Endgame so strong. First and most importantly, the story takes care of our characters. I felt satisfied in every arc. Unlike say The Last Jedi or How I Met Your Mother where I felt great disappointment at the treatment of our characters, Marvel gave them arcs that felt earned and treated them with respect. There were things I was sure would annoy me after the carnage of Infinity War but it worked. In particular our original six of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk and Thor were given stories that felt authentic for the characters and gave the closure I needed.

I don’t think it is over-stating to say there is time travel element to the story. This allowed viewers to remember the fun we’ve had along the way but also gave the characters moments of retrospection on how far they had come and the choices they’ve made. Plus, it’s just fun. Time travel stories are a blast! I know some call this fan service but with each reveal my grin got bigger and wider. It was fantastic!

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Another strength of Avengers: Endgame is the pacing. I know that might sound nuts in a 3 hour movie but I found the film clipped right along. Infinity War dragged in its repetitive action where this was constantly changing who we are following and what type of situation they are facing. I was a little nervous going into the film that Captain Marvel would be over-used but she’s not. All the side characters are given their moments and then we move back to focusing on our main 5, which was brilliant.

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I am sure some people will talk about plotholes but so is the nature of time travel stories. I kind of treat this like watching Doctor Who. Sure the Doctor messes with the space time continuum in each episode but for the most part we let this go in the favor of who he saves and what the overall narrative needs to be. It will be fun to pick apart the many little moments of the film but the story won’t be any less effective by any imperfections I might uncover.

Those looking for big spectacle entertainment may find the first hour of Avengers: Endgame to be a little lacking, but I loved it! If you are one of those people, wait until the third act when the film delivers big time on spectacle! There were moments I had my mouth completely agape and a theater full of critics couldn’t help but cheer! It was infectious to see the ultimate heroes defeating the tar out of the villain Thanos!

In the end, Avengers: Endgame had it all. It was funny, moving, epic and everything else you could want. It is big spectacle entertainment topping off a cinematic achievement that many have attempted to mimic and failed. What the MCU has done is phenomenal, and I’m so happy they ended it well.

It is the perfect ending to our story.

Go see it! It’s great!

9.5/10

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