Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by James Gunn
It shouldn’t have taken us this long to get here as the last Guardians movie came out in 2017, but with James Gunn’s erroneous firing and the subsequent pandemic (one that’s still going on by the way), we’re rather lucky to have gotten this film at all. Oh sure, we would have gotten some sort of Guardians movie either way as Disney has invested a lot in this franchise, but to have everything fall back into place after all the shakeups seems almost too good to be true. With such a big story behind the camera, however, it does put added pressure on James Gunn and crew to deliver a proper capstone to this series which is easier said than done. Can they give us one last fantastic ride with the beloved Guardians, or was all the drama behind the scenes ultimately for a mediocre conclusion? Let’s find out!!
A lot has happened since Thanos snapped have the world and The Avengers snapped them all back, but The Guardians of the Galaxy are trucking along as best they can. Their new base of operations is thriving with a community of what I can only assume are outcasts and bounty hunters, and they’ve had at least one confirmed concert by Kevin Bacon. Still, Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) is still struggling after the loss and confusing return of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), and the rest of the Guardians have to pick up the slack with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) taking charge. Not exactly a perfect situation but one that they are dealing with, at least until Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) bursts in, kicks everyone’s butt, and nearly kills Rocket before getting booted back into outer space. With Rocket in critical condition, Peter along with Nebula, Mantis, Drax, and Groot (Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel) have to uncover Rocket’s past and his unique biology if they have any hopes of healing him, and in order to do this they will need the help of the Ravagers who have recruited Gamora in the time since she arrived to this dimension during the events of Endgame. It won’t be easy however as Rocket’s creator, The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), gets wind that Rocket has been found and is hell-bent on taking what he believes to be his and will destroy anything in his path to get it. Can the Guardians outwit this evil scientist and work together as a team, even with the awkwardness between Peter and Gamora? What role did the High Evolutionary play in Rocket’s past, and what could that mean for this final adventure? Oh hey, is it finally a Guardians movie that doesn’t focus on Peter? Sounds like a nice change of pace to me!
With the window between theatrical and streaming collapsing as movies are coming hitting the home market mere weeks after their run in theaters, it’s getting a little too easy for me to just forget about something and return to it when it’s most convenient for me. Before, there was a window where missing it in theaters meant you couldn’t see it in any form for months, but now I can just hold out for a bit and see it when it’s still kinda relevant with the added bonus of being able to fold laundry when I do so. I’ll definitely try to get better about this, especially with so many big releases that need attention soon, but for now, let’s have some fun looking at three recent movies that were on your TV before you knew it!
John Wick: Chapter 4
John Wick: Chapter 4 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Chad Stahelski
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is finally striking back against The High Table to take back his freedom, but with every life he takes, he incurs a greater debt that his friends and associates are forced to pay back. With his friend Shimazu (Hiroyuk Sanada) targeted and his other friend Caine (Donnie Yen) called in to take him out, John is forced to spill even more blood and find ways to work the system to his favor as yet another member of The High Table (Bill Skarsgård) has him in his sights. Will John ever get the peace he desires, or will his quest for vengeance be his ultimate undoing?
Now I actually did catch this one when it was still in theaters, but it wasn’t easy for me to come up with the right words for it back then. Perhaps the reason why is that the John Wick franchise has been a bit of a bugbear for me as I appreciate what it’s doing and how well it executes its vision but simply cannot get past the narrative which got worse with subsequent sequels. That issue, thankfully, has been mitigated here as the script does a lot to work around its more obnoxious conceits, though we still haven’t quite made it back to the first film as far as being a great movie instead of just an action-packed one; hence why I’m just now getting around to it. The lack of agency for our main character has been addressed as he has a clear goal he’s striving for instead of getting dragged around by contrivances, but with that freedom comes the expectation to have an actual character again and sadly he’s just not as interesting as he was in the first one; something that others have noticed as well as his word count in this final entry was a joke when it first came out. Thankfully the film’s solution is to introduce a lot of fun and interesting characters to pick up the slack, though it didn’t escape my notice that a lot of their plot threads are left dangling as Lionsgate is clearly interested in milking this franchise for years to come. Donnie Yen turns in a terrific performance and is frankly the star of this movie as far as I’m concerned as he has all the pathos that John should while kicking all sorts of butt in the many action scenes that he participates in. He’s easily the best character the franchise has come up with and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lionsgate is already begging him to be the lead in the next few of these movies. My personal favorite addition, however, is Scott Adkins who shows up doing a phenomenal riff on LeCheffe from Casino Royale. The guy is one of our best underrated-action-stars and he proves to be a natural comedian in a role that could have simply been a joke but is genuinely engaging, and his fight with John ends up being my favorite action scene in the movie. All of this is well and good, but a problem the films still haven’t addressed yet is the length as they’ve been creeping up past two hours since the second one and this one just goes on and on. No matter how good the action scenes are in this, and they are very good, it’s hard to sustain enthusiasm for as long as this movie expects you to. I know I’m a bit of a sourpuss when it comes to this series and I admit that a lot of my antipathy is specific to my taste in storytelling, but for what it’s worth this manages to be a high note for the sequels even if it still can’t quite recapture the magic of that first film.
Evil Dead Rise and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Lee Cronin
Not to toot my own horn but I’m of the last generation to actually rent movies from video stores, and while I never had a cool indie place to find obscure classics, my local Blockbuster had a decent collection that included the first Evil Dead movie. Needless to say that taking it home without any understanding of what I was getting myself into turned out to be a formative experience and I’ve had a soft spot for the franchise ever since. Still, we’re over forty years removed from that first movie, and with sequels, remakes, video games, and even that TV show from a few years ago, it’s fair to say that you’ll need to do something quite different to crawl out from under the shadow of the original trilogy. Can this latest take on the material hope to fill those massive shoes, or has it long since run its course, and are we left with the undead facsimile of what we once loved? Let’s find out!!
Unlike the previous films which kept the action to either a cabin in the woods or a medieval kingdom, our story begins in the city of Los Angeles where Beth (Lily Sullivan) visits her sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three kids, Danny, Bridget, and Kassie (Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and Nell Fisher) who are trying to make ends meet despite being kicked out of their apartment building in the coming days. Fortune seems to favor this family however as an earthquake hits that rips open a secret bank vault beneath the building and Danny goes in to find a mysterious old book and some old records that they may be able to sell for a few bucks. I mean if he had a chance to get it on eBay I’m sure he’d make a mint given how obsessive Evil Dead fans are, but sadly the book has other plans as the record contains the ancient incantation to summon the Deadites which finds a nice comfy home in Ellie and starts making things awkward for everyone. Can this family survive the night and escape the clutches of this rampaging Deadite? Does the book contain any clues on how to stop this, and are there chapters within it that we’ve never seen before? Is anyone else a little perplexed at how much of a downer this seems like? I don’t know; maybe there was a reason these movies were more about Ash than the lore?
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Tabletop RPGs and I; we just don’t get along. I guess I just grew up with video games that integrated the mechanics of RPGs in a way that didn’t require math or looking up obscure text in a dictionary-sized player’s manual, and the few experiences I’ve had with them were rocky at best. Still, there’s no denying that Dungeons & Dragons is second only to Tolkien as far as influence in the fantasy genre, and while the last attempt at a film adaptation didn’t fare too well, there are enough unique ideas and creative settings for a truly great movie to base itself around. Does this latest attempt at bringing the tabletop game to life leave us with an exemplar of the genre or was this campaign doomed from the start? Let’s find out!!
Our fantasy hero for this epic tale is the bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) who has been locked up for several years after a regrettable crime and wishes for nothing more than to pay his debt to society and reunite with his daughter (Chloe Coleman)! Well at least that’s the story he wants you to believe when in actuality he’s a thief who got himself and his partner Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) locked up after a botched robbery, and instead of paying his debt to society he’s just gonna break himself and Holga out of there to reunite with his daughter who has been under the care of another member of their crew who managed to escape. Said escapee is Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) who I’m sure you are shocked to learn maybe had something to do with those two getting caught in the first place, and while he has been taking care of Edgin’s daughter, he’s also been cavorting with a red wizard (Daisy Head) and, worst of all, has gone into politics to become the Lord of Neverwinter! With Forge intent on keeping his power and the red wizard Sofina looking to advance her own agenda, Edgin and Holga are forced to go on the run and find a way to stop them; most likely by pulling off a heist because that’s what they’re good at. To help with this task they recruit another former associate, the young wizard Simon (Justice Smith), as well as a tiefling druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis) who has her own reasons for wanting to bring down the current Neverwinter administration. Along the way, they’ll find themselves in perilous situations, fighting red wizard minions, and facing tough emotional conflicts; quipping their way through it all because this crew is on the chaotic side of the alignment and are at least a little flexible on the good and evil axis. Can a band of such disparate misfits hope to pull off this heist against a stronger and more ambitious foe? What lessons must be learned for them to come together as a team and fight for the greater good? Can they maybe fight for the neutral good or semi-good? I mean being a hero doesn’t pay the bills, right?
Shazam! Fury of the Gods and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by David F Sandberg
The announcement of James Gunn taking over the DCEU has certainly put this and a few of their other recent projects in an awkward position. Sure, there are questions of continuity and whatnot which I’m sure will be hashed out eventually, but these are projects that were built from the ground up under a regime that is no longer in charge, and it’s still a huge question mark as to how much Gunn is willing to carry over from the years that can be charitably called misguided. Still, the future is a concern for another day and the first Shazam movie was definitely a bright spot in the DCEU’s darkest days and perhaps it’s better suited than most to make the leap from old DCEU to Gunn’s DCEU. Does this movie prove that this is a viable character and film series going forward, or will this be a depressing reminder as to why they handed it over to Gunn in the first place? Let’s find out!!
A few years after the events of the first film, we find Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his family (Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Grace Caroline Currey, and Faithe Herman) are still protecting Philadelphia from whatever crimes and random disaster befalls their city using their Shazam powers that turn them into super hunky adult superheroes (Zachary Levi, Ross Butler, DJ Cotrona, and Megan Good). Still, the one thing their powers cannot overcome is the ceaseless march of time and Billy is already seventeen which means he’s going to age out of the foster system soon and doesn’t know what to do with his life if he’s no longer with his family who will also one day go their separate ways. Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) in particular seems ready to fly the coop and start a solo act with his superhero persona (Adam Brody), but when he gets caught up in a plot by three Gods (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler) who steal his powers and want to do… something nefarious, Billy and the rest must find a way to save him and stop these Gods before Philly is destroyed. Will Freddy find a way to be heroic even without the superpowers gifted to him? Will Billy be able to stop these Gods and come to terms with growing up and moving forward with his life? Will the other Shazam heroes also find something to do in this movie, or are they just kinda there for emotional support?
The Super Mario Bros. Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Aaron Horvath & Michael Jelenic
I’m not sure how clear I’ve been about this in the past, but this is kind of a big deal for me because I’ve been a Mario fan for as long as I’ve known that video games existed. To this day I lean towards Nintendo consoles, and while I haven’t finished Odyssey quite yet, I’ve at least finished all the primary 3D console games of which this adaptation is taking a lot of its inspiration. Needless to say that I will have far more thoughts on this than I should have, and in order to express them all I’m going back to my classic overlong format just in case you were all getting far too used to my newer snappier style. Given the decades of hype and speculation around the idea of a proper Mario movie, is there any hope of Illumination rising to the challenge and delivering the best video game movie ever made, or do we need to lower our expectations to something a little more reasonable given the studio’s particular brand of middle-of-the-road family entertainment? Let’s find out!!
Mario and Luigi (Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) are two Brooklyn plumbers who have just started their own business and are ready to make it big! Sadly the duo doesn’t have much luck as shenanigans abound, and a flood in the city leads them to some magical green pipes that transport them to the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom. Well, at least Mario gets sent there while Luigi gets sent to The Dark Lands and winds up as a prisoner of King Bowser (Jack Black) who is the big bad around here and is looking to take over the kingdom by dethroning Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). With Mario looking to save his brother and Peach needing some muscle for her upcoming war with Bowser, the two strike a bargain to help each other as they head to the Jungle Kingdom to enlist the help of the Kongs. Will Peach and Mario be able to save the kingdom and Luigi from Bowser’s terrifying machinations? Can Mario learn the ins and outs of this world and become its greatest champion like John Carter and Flash Gordon before him? What’s really driving this Koopa tyrant in his quest to take over the world, and does he sing a song about it?
Scream VI and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
The Scream franchise is certainly a unique presence in horror with a few solid entries under its belt and a premise that frankly hasn’t been replicated well by anyone else. The blending of slasher tropes with whodunit elements feels like one of the most obvious premises imaginable, right up there with using Superheroes as the basis of big summer blockbusters, and yet nothing has really tried to put their own spin on it outside of arguably the Saw movies which itself ran out of steam the same way Scream did after the third one. The reboot series of films which started with four has had some interesting takes on the formula and a few good ideas to keep the series relevant, but can they keep that momentum going long enough to round out the trilogy, or will it crash and burn as spectacular as Scream 3 did? Let’s find out!!
After the events of the last movie, the survivors have decided not to stay in Woodsboro and instead move to New York City for a change of scenery. After all, it’s not like slasher villains have a history of making New York City the one other place they go to kill people, right? Sure enough, another Ghostface Killer makes themselves known and it’s up to Sam and Tara (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) to find out who is donning the outfit this time and to keep their friend group from becoming mincemeat. This includes Mindy and Chad from the last movie (Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding) as well as newcomers Quinn, Ethan, and Anika (Liana Liberato, Jack Champion, and Devyn Nekoda) who could all be the new killer because that’s how these things usually work out. Oh, and of course, Gail Weathers shows up again (Courteney Cox) because this is a Scream movie and we can’t have one without at least one of the original survivors. Will Sam and Tara survive yet another serial killer that’s hot on their heels, and in doing so resolve the tension that’s been building between them since the last time this happened? Who could the killer be this time, and what new rules of horror movies need to be explored in order to stay one step ahead of Ghostface? What exciting new ways of murdering are available to Ghostface now that he’s in the big city? Maybe he can stab someone in an overpriced apartment instead of an oversized suburban home!
Creed III and all the images you see in this review are owned by MGM Pictures
Directed by Michael B Jordan
Who would have expected that we’d get two movies back to back starring Jonathan Majors, and even more unlikely that there are a lot of similarities between the two? Perhaps it’ll be worth probing into those odd connections later, but for now, we’re here to talk about the latest entry in the Creed franchise and the directorial debut of its star, Michael B Jordan! He’s got some big shoes to fill; not only with this being the latest entry in the venerable Rocky series but also coming in after Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr left their own marks on the franchise. Is it a worthy successor to everything that came before it, or is the Creed franchise destined to repeat the mistakes that the Rocky movies made once they got a few sequels in? Let’s find out!!
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is on top of the world as the boxing champ and has decided to retire while he still can, so instead of preparing for yet another fight he’s training an up-and-coming talent (José Benavidez Jr) with the help of Little Duke (Wood Harris) and the only thing that could get in their way is… I don’t know, perhaps a part of Creed’s past coming back to haunt him. Then again, what are the chances of that, am I right? Oh, wait, it looks like an old friend of his just got out of jail and is throwing more than a few subtle hints that he wants a shot at the title. Yes, the blast from the past turns out to be a guy named Damien (Jonathan Majors) who seems cool at first as Creed’s longtime friend who’s ready to turn his life around, but he ultimately lives up to the name and before long he ends up on top of the boxing world under very dubious circumstances. Creed having to confront his past brings up some very mixed feelings that start to affect his relationship with his wife and daughter (Tessa Thompson and Mila Davis-Kent) and when it comes down to it, does he have what it takes to set Damien straight and stop a monster that he has inadvertently created? Will his family be able to follow him on his path to redemption, or are the wounds of the past too deep for them to heal? Sure, this guy beat Drago Jr, but I don’t know; maybe Kang the Conqueror is just a hair outside of his league?
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Peyton Reed
Hey, it may take me a minute but I usually get around to what I say I’m gonna do, and in this case, that’s reviewing the latest Marvel movie which, if I wait much longer, won’t be the latest Marvel movie. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ant-Man films which have intentionally scaled things down to a more human level which has given us some of the best characters in the Marvel canon. This latest film however seems to be more than just another wacky heist adventure and is serving as the stepping stone for what will be the main thrust of the MCU narrative going into Phase Five which seems like an odd choice for such a breezy series. Do the wider scope and heavier conflicts elevate the series to a new level of greatness, or have we lost something while paving the way to the next Avengers film? Let’s find out!!
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has it pretty good, all things considered! He’s the most recognizable Avenger that’s both not dead and not emotionally crushed by the events of Endgame, he’s got a book coming out that’s getting all sorts of attention, and he even has a loving family to go home to each night; his wife Hope (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and even his in-laws Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer). Okay, so they seem to be working on their own thing and Scott is feeling more and more distant from them, especially since Cassie spent the Snap becoming a science genius and is not as entertained by up-close magic as she used to be, but that’s all small stuff which Scott isn’t about to sweat over! That is until one of Cassie’s experiments with the Quantum Realm ends up sucking the whole family down to a hereto unknown world of infinite possibilities at a microscopic scale and they all have to find a way back out. This isn’t as easy as it would seem however as the Quantum Realm is no longer just a vaguely defined world of microbes and far-out imagery; it’s a thriving society full of itty-bitty people and creatures who are all under the authoritarian thumb of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) and the appearance of the Ant-Family along with their powerful Pym Particle technology may be just what he needs to expand his kingdom. Will our heroes be able to escape from the clutches of Kang’s army, including his top warrior MODOK, without giving Kang the tools he needs to escape? With Janet having spent so much time in the Quantum Realm before being rescued in the last movie, is it possible she knows more about what’s going on here than she’s been letting on? Seriously, I know he’s actually a hero at heart and can prove himself in dire circumstances, but what exactly is Ant-Man gonna do to a guy who calls himself The Conqueror? Get really small and pull his nose hairs!?
And so with the good must also come the not-so-good. Yes, it is time once again to look at some movies that just didn’t quite hit the mark and I think 2022 had a pretty decent crop of movies that needed some improvement. We’re still coming out of the Pandemic, by which I mean most everyone is completely ignoring the ongoing Pandemic, and so a lot of films got caught in the lurch which might have been a contributing factor in these films not living up to their potential, though whether there’s a reasonable excuse or not, it’s still worth pointing out what was done poorly and how they could have been just a little bit better! Let’s get started!!
Crimes of the Future
While I’ve always felt that this yearly list is not just a Worst of the Year list in disguise, it’s still probably worth stretching my conception of what can be talked about here which is why I’m including a movie I actually genuinely liked but cannot deny is heavily flawed. David Cronenberg’s bizarre snapshot into the lives of pretentious body-horror art snobs is a unique take on his contribution to filmmaking, though knowing if it’s sincere, a send-up, or his deepest dreads brought to life is a question I don’t feel qualified to answer; at least not until he hires me to be his therapist. There are definitely the bones of a great movie in here and I can appreciate a lot of what he’s trying to say, but it feels like they just didn’t finish filming it and had to cobble it all together in the editing room. Perhaps the issue is that it’s trying to be in two worlds as it wants to be a meditative and immersive look into a disturbing future that in some ways reflects our own culture while at the same time weaving a narrative of rebellion, political maneuvering, and the curious motives our of enigmatic protagonist. The former ends up being undercut by too many scenes of exposition and narrative maintenance while the latter feels underdeveloped and missing some very important story beats despite the exposition trying to fill in the gaps. Perhaps a rewatch will clarify more of the narrative which would in turn provide the structure and momentum to carry us through the gaps between its more bizarre moments, but even with it feeling like an incomplete work it still ends up being an utterly unique beast that’s far more interesting than something more straightforward and less imaginative.