Wonder Woman Review

It’s always hard to write about movies I love. There’s a feeling that my opinion won’t be taken seriously or will be regarded as hyperbole. And for a movie I really love it can feel like throwing pearls before swine. Obviously that isn’t the case as you, my readers, are amazing and know me well enough that I do not rubber stamp movies or give any franchise a pass. When I say I love a movie it is because it is deserved.

All that said- I LOVE Wonder Woman. And it’s not just because it’s the best DCEU film. And it’s not because it is the first decent female led superhero movie (although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little meaningful to me). It’s because it spoke to me on an emotional level and entertained me in every way I can think of.

You could make the case that Wonder Woman follows a traditional origin story formula and I would agree with you but much like Moana it executes that formula so well. In both films, I deeply care about the characters and their journey.However, as much as I love Moana, Wonder Woman is even better. I just loved it so much.

The story is pretty simple and comes right from the comic books. Wonder Woman is Diana who is raised on the island of Themyscira among the all-female Amazons. She is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and was created out of clay by her mother and Zeus. One day a soldier named Steve Trevor lands on their beach and Diana decides to become involved in World War 1 and try to save the people. Updating the conflict from World War 2 to World War 1 was very smart as the senselessness of World War 1 is far more obvious. Plus, you have the horrors of nerve gas and trench warfare in World War 1 to put as a backdrop.

I won’t tell you any more so you can experience it yourself but the key to this film working is Diana and Steve. Gal Gadot is effervescent, innocent and wonderful as Wonder Woman and Chris Pine is perfect as Steve. The two have incredible chemistry, and I really cared about them and their stories. This is not a film that empowers women at the expense of men. They are both needed and valued and their love is what is powerful. All love is powerful.

The journey Wonder Woman goes on puts it above most other superhero movies I’ve seen. She learns about not only the cost of war but the ease at which humans excuse that cost as nothing. I cried a lot both times when watching the film because I found her realization of human evil to be incredibly moving.

A lot of people criticize some superhero movies for having a lack of stakes. Not the case here. No spoilers but there is a price to pay for fighting evil and here it couldn’t be more devastating. And the resolution is far from tidy but more of a momentary breath and pause before we know mankind will succumb again to the worst in their nature.

You see the true villain in Wonder Woman is war itself and the corruptible nature of mankind that so often embraces it. Some have said Wonder Woman feels like a Marvel movie instead of a DC movie. Never mind the many DC movies that were far sillier than this (cough Green Lantern cough) but I think they are missing the point. Previous DCEU films like Batman v Superman are built on a traditional masculine energy and style of filmmaking. With Wonder Woman we get something entirely different. There is more of a traditional feminine energy to it. It is about emotions and relationships and that is why it is so moving. Even when it gets bombastic it does so because of despair and love.

That’s not to say Wonder Woman isn’t fun. It does have comedic moments to lighten the mood and those work as well. There’s also great action that will satisfy the action gurus of your group but again what was special to me is the emotional journey of a woman facing the horrors of war.

I really only have 2 tiny nitpicks with Wonder Woman. The accents on Themyscira are a little cheesy. I understand why they did it to match Gadot’s Israeli accent but it doesn’t quite work. They also use a slow motion effect in the action scenes a little bit too much. There is a villain reveal that could have been handled better but since the true villain was war itself I did not care. Aside from that, I thought Wonder Woman was spectacular.

I won’t give a ranking just yet but it is definitely one of my favorite superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Congrats to Patty Jenkins and everyone involved for finally giving me a blockbuster I actually cared about!  Thank you!

And thank you for giving little girls the superhero they should have had a long time ago

Overall Grade- A

For parents there is some war violence that might be concerning and some nudity/sensuality.

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Power Rangers Movie Review

Last year seemed to be the year of going to super hero movies with high expectations and leaving feeling frustrated. Well, today I had the opposite experience. I went into the new Power Rangers movie with low expectations (secret to happiness in life!) and walked out having had a pretty good time. It’s not a perfect movie by any means but on the whole I was entertained by it.

I should state going into this review I have never watched an episode of the Power Rangers shows. My younger siblings got into it but it was well past my time of enjoying them. So I have no nostalgia for or bias against the film and can only judge what I see on screen (something I try to do anyway). I did try and watch the 1995 Power Rangers Movie last week and fell asleep because it was so boring. I don’t know what hard-core fans will think of this film.  They will either be super hard on it or really love it, but I can only speak for myself.

First off, the casting takes Power Rangers a long way. The 5 fairly unknown leads all do a good job and have a nice chemistry together. I particularly liked RJ Cyler who you might know from Me Earl and the Dying Girl. He plays Billy who becomes the blue ranger and is “on the spectrum” of autism and he makes this work. I think a lot of kids on the spectrum will get a kick out of seeing someone like him as a superhero. Also, Becky G as Trini, the yellow ranger, is good and is a lesbian without making a bit hullabaloo about it.

Also is it just me or does Dacre Montgomery, the red ranger, look exactly like Zac Efron? He was fine, and I liked Naomi Scott and Ludi Lin as the remaining pink and black rangers. They were all good.

The first half of the movie plays like Chronicle, and I think that’s when the movie is at its strongest. The second half starts to have more problems as we start to meet our villain and have more of the conflict but it never turned me off too much.

Elizabeth Banks plays Rita Repulsa and she’s pretty over-the-top and surprisingly violent for a children’s film (it earns its PG-13). She wasn’t the worst villain I’ve ever seen but she kind of reminded me a little bit of Enchantress from Suicide Squad which is never a good thing.

Like Enchantress, she creates a Gods of Egypt-like sphincter who stomps around and destroys stuff. It was pretty bland, but I think kids will have fun with this type of action. I didn’t like that there is very little hand to hand combat. It’s mostly in transformer-like machines and bots. It’s hard to feel tension when CGI creatures are fighting each other.

You also don’t see them morph into the rangers until well into the movie, so that may be a disappointment to some fans. I liked them much better as humans so it didn’t bother me.

Bryan Cranston appears as their mentor Zordon and has a lot of fun with the role and I enjoyed Bill Hader as a robot named Alpha 5.

There is also the most blatant product placement I’ve ever seen. It’s not just in background shots or billboards. No, Krispy Kreme Donuts feature heavily into the actual plot of the movie!

So, there are some negatives. It’s not a masterpiece but I walked away having a pretty good time. It has an engaging and diverse cast. It doesn’t overstay its welcome like the Transformers movies and it keeps the fan service from being distracting. If kids can handle the violence I think they will like it and it should start up a nice little franchise for Lionsgate.

Overall Grade- B-

Ant-Man Review

antman9Back in 2011 I swore off superhero movies for good.  I had seen the terrible Green Lantern movie and I was done.  They were stupid, moronic, boring, self-important junk and I didn’t want to see another one again.  So, if you had told me then I would be giving a positive review of a movie called Ant-Man I would have said you were insane.  Yet here I am giving such a review for Marvel’s new movie Ant-Man. Nice job Kevin Feige and Marvel.  With Ant-Man you have an entertaining time at the movies.  It’s as simple as that.

Part of what makes Ant-Man work is they have assembled an incredibly charismatic and likable cast.  I’ve been a huge Paul Rudd fan for years going all the way back to Clueless (and totally have a crush on him). He plays Scott Lang a thief who is recruited to be the next Ant-Man.  As always he is a complete charmer in the role.

antman6Scott is trained in the Ant-Man ways by Hank Pym played by Michael Douglas who looks like he is having a blast in a Marvel movie.

antman4Another actor I always love is Corey Stoll who plays the villain Yellowjacket and has a swagger that is magnetic on screen.

antman7 antman5Finally there are 3 friends of Scott from prison that are a riot- TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian.  Michael Pena is especially funny in his part as the Latino crook who knows art and wine.

antman8Ant-man reminded me a lot of Sam Riami’s Spiderman and maybe a little bit of the original Ironman.  It feels light and fun and superhero movies have gotten so overly serious of late.  And yet it isn’t stupid like a Batman and Robin or Green Lantern.

There is a fair amount of humor and pretty much the entire plot of the movie is centered around Michael Douglas’ house so it feels very small (forgive the pun) in its scope.  It is not like an Avengers movie where the entire earth could be destroyed by the rising of a city.  This is a single building with one technology and one madman trying to control it. In truth it is a heist movie.

The training montages are a little ‘seen it all before’ but I liked the way they filmed the interactions with the ants and the CG looked very good in those scenes.  Except for a CG rat which made me shout in the middle of the theater it caught me off guard!

antman3Evangeline Lilly plays Hank’s daughter and I’m sorry but I do not think she is a very good actress.  She was terrible in the Hobbit movies and she isn’t very good here.  Just a bore and no chemistry between her and Rudd at all.

I could see how some might say this is a light weight superhero movie and in a way it is but I had so much fun with it.  Like I said it is funny and for the most part has actors who can pull it off.

It also doesn’t get too mired in the MCU (which I kind of like those clues to the broader universe but I know others hate it).  There is one cameo that is very well done and a few name drops but not distracting at all.

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014If you thought Jurassic World was fun I can’t imagine you not enjoying Ant-Man.  In my mind it is much better silly entertainment.  It’s not deep or profound or going to make you think about life.  Ant-Man is just an enjoyable superhero movie with laughs, a good cast and some decent action set pieces I’ve never quite seen before.

I also liked that Bobby Cannavale plays the new love interest of Scott’s ex and for once he is actually a good guy.  It’s such a cliche for the new guy to be a total jerk (I’m talking to you San Andreas!).

The entire family can go to Ant-Man.  There is nothing offensive or off putting in it aside from a few very mild fighting.

There’s not that much to say about Ant-Man except this is the kind of movie I can have fun with.  It does everything I need it to do and doesn’t distract me with big plotholes, annoying characters or a meandering script.  I really enjoyed it.

Overall Grade- A-

My Favorite Superhero Movies

Hey guys!

Now that I’ve been thoroughly depressed by the Oscars let’s talk about movies that will never get a live action Oscar- superhero movies.  I have actually not been a huge superhero movie fan.  In fact, in 2011 I wrote a post on my other blog called ‘Thumbs Down to Summer Movies’.  I had recently seen Green Lantern and it was the tipping point. Here’s what I said

“It’s at this point I must make a confession- I don’t like super hero movies.   It’s hard to explain why but I have never liked them. With the exception of Harry Potter, I can’t think of a super hero/fantasy franchise I’m  a fan of (I’m a marginal fan of Lord of the Rings).  I also like the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they have been sullied by mediocre follow-ups in recent years.

Despite all the special effects I find most super hero movies boring and I don’t like 3D”

So, yes  I had sworn off superhero movies and all their progeny but then Avengers happened and I smiled at these likable fun characters with witty dialogue. And we got 2014 and I saw Captain America 2 which was actually a spy movie, Xmen Days of Future Past which is actually a time travel story, Guardians of the Galaxy which is actually a space opera, and Big Hero 6 which is a movie about loss and grief in the guise of a superhero movie.

It was then I had a revelation ‘I like superhero movies when they aren’t superhero movies’.  Ding, ding, ding! Fortunately for me Hollywood has figured this out and aside from the odious Man of Steel and the cluttered Amazing Spiderman 2 they have had a remarkable track record of late to the point where I’m actually looking forward to superhero movies now (although highly skeptical about Batman v Superman but we will see).  Marvel at least has made me a believer.

I feel like I also have to give a caveat that I am actually not a big Dark Knight fan.  It’s super well made and acted but it was just too violent for me and I found it cynical, dark and Batman is such a bore.  I wanted him to lose the whole way through.  You can all hate me now but it’s really how I felt….

So with all that what are my favorite superhero movies?  Here goes.

superman10. Superman- Christopher Reeves is so charming as Superman and he makes an ok Clark Kent.  It doesn’t get bogged down in exposition but is light and fun with great music and decent if hokey special effects. Gene Hackman is good as Lex Luther . Superman is kind of a boring superhero because he’s so perfect but this film finds the balance of embracing the silly while not being too silly (aka Superman 3 and 4…).  We also don’t get too much of the Savior metaphors like we do with Man of Steel or Superman Returns that take themselves way too seriously.

batman mask9. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Yep friends this is my favorite Batman movie.  Maybe that won’t be a surprise because I love animation but I honestly think this is the best movie depiction of Batman.  He’s not just a bore but he gets jealous, frustrated, happy, a mixture of emotions.  Kevin Conroy is great as Batman and perhaps it is only in animation that you can pull off the mixture of Bruce Wayne and Batman because you can draw whatever you want it to be where an actor may just be better at one side than the other (same problem so far with Peter Parker).  Mark Hamil is wonderful as Joker. It’s a well written script with a bit of a mystery involved but it isn’t too grim or violent. Now I just wonder when the heck it will come out on blu-ray!

rocketeer-reboot8. The Rocketeer- A movie too often forgotten but a very sweet homage to 40’s action movies. It stars Billy Campbell as a stuntman who finds a rocketpack that was designed by Howard Hughes.  Jennifer Connely plays his girlfriend and the rest of the cast is stellar with Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton as our Nazi bad guy, Terry O’Quin and more.  I defy you to not be charmed by it.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Poster7. X-men: Days of Future Past- Of the big franchises Xmen has always been my favorite.  Even when I had sworn off the genre I still kind of liked the X-men movies.  Maybe partly because they are the only franchise to pull of interesting female characters and they almost always deal with something thoughtful and complex without getting mean spirited and who doesn’t like Hugh Jackman?  I think the recent X-men Days of Future Past is the best of the 7 (including the Wolverine movies) to have come out.  It has it all- amazing ensemble (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassender, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McEvoy I could go on. Almost every member of the cast has an Oscar nomination or win. Not bad for a superhero movie).

But its also the Inception of Superhero movies.  The time travel element creates layers of a puzzle to figure out and Quicksilver is an amazing villain with special effects.  It’s great!

spider-man-26. Spider-man 2- For my money it is the only good Spider-man movie that has come out so far.  The others have good elements but this is the only one that fires on all four cylinders. The special effects still hold up, the large set pieces like the train fight is gripping, Tobey McGuire is charming enough to get me to ignore Kirsten Dunst and James Franco and him have good rivalry. But really the reason the movie is special is Dr Octopus who is such a great, engaging villain. He has really positive motivations through a lot of the movie but he has no self control . It makes him very interesting and fun to watch.

capt 25. Captain America 2: Winter Soldier- A great superhero movie because it’s not really a superhero movie.  It’s a spy flick like Mission Impossible with an amazing villain for Winter Soldier, great action fight sequences, a car crash sequence which felt so real, Robert Redford is great (that’s the quality of actors we are getting now!).  The Nick Furry twist was very clever and it is so well paced.  It never lost my interest or got boring.  They build the case with very minimal exposition typically housed within a trip to the museum or some other outing so it doesn’t feel like exposition.  Captain America is likable and Chris Evans keeps the character innocent like a man from the 40s might be while still being tough.

BigHero6Team4. Big Hero 6- I just got Big Hero 6 on blu-ray and watched it and loved it all over again.  It is a superhero movie with real heart.  I loved the connection of the two brothers through Baymax.  It reminds us that those we love never really leave us because the love continues on.  I also loved the diversity of the Big Hero 6 and I thought the motivation of the villain was really clever and surprised me.  Also Sanfransokyo was gorgeously drawn and a fun new setting.  Overall a huge win for Disney.

guardians of the galaxy3. Guardians of the Galaxy- Don’t worry this is my last from last year. Guardians has everything I want in my superhero movie.  It is a likable band of misfits that are gathered together to fight a bad guy. I love the friendship between Groot and Rocket.  Chris Pratt is great as Starlord.  It’s fun, keeps you guessing and has the best soundtrack I’ve heard in years. It really reminded me a lot of Star Wars with a much weaker villain, and that’s really its only mark against it.  I think they actually picked the wrong villain.  Nebula is much more complex than Ronan.  Still I loved it!

incredibles2. Incredibles- Even when I had sworn off Superhero movies I still loved The Incredibles.  What’s so great about this movie is it includes so many of my favorite genres all in one.  It’s a family movie with a stay at home Mom and her 3 kids who all have their struggles, it’s a movie about work and how when we aren’t doing what we are made to do we aren’t happy, and its gorgeous animation.  Every choice they made works.  The villain is very scary with a believable and brief backstory.  Edna is hilarious (no capes!), and the ending is  perfect with everyone learning just the right lesson.  Also love Samuel L Jackson as Frozone! It’s actually the first movie I saw when I came home from my 20 month mission for my church and it was a great choice to get reintroduced to cinema.

avengers1. Avengers- This actually came out when I was in my ‘I hate superhero movies’ phase but it was the biggest movie ever so of course I ended up seeing it and to my surprise I loved it.  What I liked most is it didn’t take itself too seriously.  It was fun without being stupid. I hadn’t seen most of the precursor films leading up to Avengers except Ironman but I don’t think you need to enjoy the movie.  Joss Whedon is such a great writer creating likable characters that we can root for and a team dynamic that is unpredictable.

I like that the destruction isn’t too bad and its not really trying to teach us anything.  Just give us a team we can root behind and see them seriously challenged by a formidable villain in Loki, who I love.  Tom Hiddleston is my favorite performance in the movie.  He has motivation behind what he is doing and he never gets mean or too violent like the Joker can.  He’s probably my favorite comic book villain, maybe because he doesn’t really see himself as a villain.  In the end the script is well written and funny with good action.  That’s enough to get 1 on my list.

So there you go!  What do you think of my list? I know all of you would put the Dark Knight so maybe give me some other one’s besides Dark Knight you would have included?  I’d love to hear.

What are the worst superhero movies?  Well, I haven’t seen all of the worst but I’d probably say (does Howard the Duck count as superhero movie? If so than he’d be 1):

1. Catwoman

2. Batman and Robin

3. Superman 4

4. Green Lantern

5. Man of Steel