Saturday, May 5, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War, Rampage, Truth or Dare, Chappaquiddick Reviews

Avengers: Infinity War
Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo

NOTE: Minor spoilers ahead, so if you want to know nothing, you may want to skip this review!

The epic crossover movie to end all epic crossover movies, Avengers: Infinity War was inspired by one of the biggest crossover series in comics, 1991's The Infinity Gauntlet. Much like its source material, the film features dozens of Marvel characters, most set up in the preceding 18(!) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and brings them together to fight the hulking, purple-headed alien conqueror Thanos, who literally wants to kill half of all the beings in the universe in order to save resources (how eco-friendly of him!). He'll have the power to do it if he finds all the infinity stones for his gauntlet, so practically every single Marvel superhero - from Earth-bound characters like Iron Man, to the space-traversing Guardians of the Galaxy - must come together to stop Thanos and his minions from enacting his sinister plan. It's a total comic book story, for better or worse.

My biggest concern going into this movie was its massive cast. Although the directors Anthony and Joe Russo proved their ability to handle a large cast with Captain America: Civil War, Infinity War as a concept seemed outright ridiculous. Just look at the poster! That's not even a complete roster of characters, either! Just the fact that the Russo Brothers created a film that has a story that flows logically and connects all these characters from wildly different movies and tones without making a complete disaster is something of a minor miracle. However, just because the job was on an insanely massive scale that we've never seen before, doesn't automatically make it a good movie.

Avengers: Infinity War is too big for its own good. Although there is some fun to be had at watching certain characters interact for the first time (especially between Tony Stark and Dr. Strange, and Thor and the Guardians), the film almost feels like a series of post-credits scenes strung together. The heroes are relegated to side-character status, while Thanos takes center stage. The problem is that Thanos is a very militaristic CGI alien creature who keeps his emotions in check - making it very hard to connect to him on any kind of emotional level. The relationships here are incredibly simplistic, which completely deflates the high-stakes, universe-in-the-balance fight scenes toward the end of the film. If this movie works at all it's only because of our investment from the previous movies in the MCU.

I was also relatively disappointed in the action sequences. There isn't really a stand-out, "wow"-worthy action set piece like the airport sequence in Civil War, and I was really hoping this epic team-up would result in something a bit more dynamic than - spoilers - fighting an army of mindless alien creatures again. There are a few moments here and there where we see some of the potential of Thanos's gauntlet (including some interesting reality-bending powers that can turn objects into bubbles), but it's never clear what each "stone" means or does. It's just this vague, all-purpose McGuffin glove. 

Another thing that really irked me about Infinity War was that certain characters act insanely idiotic at times, especially considering what's at stake. I won't give away major spoilers, but I'll just say that Scarlet Witch, Starlord, Dr. Strange and Loki make decisions in this film that feel incredibly unheroic or out-of-character just for the convenience of the plot. Especially when it comes to romantic relationships, this movie asks us to believe that certain characters are so blinded by love that they could inadvertently jeopardize the universe, when these relationships were barely introduced or explored in previous films.

I am both extremely impressed by and underwhelmed by Avengers: Infinity War. Its existence is impressive enough, and the ending is definitely ballsy, but considering all the lead-ups and speculations and years' worth of anticipation, it's super-disappointing to leave the theater feeling pretty 'meh.' It lacks the intimate characterizations and fun, "breather" moments found in the best Marvel movies (I'm thinking of the "car" scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming, or the opening dance sequences of the Guardians flicks). Infinity War just doesn't have the same fun, re-watch value as many of the other MCU movies, and this culmination more than ever feels like some kind of business ploy to continue to build hype for future movies.

Final Verdict:

Dir. Brad Peyton

Video game adaptations almost never work. Why? Because most games were made to be played, not watched in a linear, film format. With a few exceptions - according to myself (e.g. Silent Hill, Resident Evil) - movies based on video games are usually an indicator of a studio reaching for the bottom of the barrel. Rampage is one such barrel-reach. 

Based on the classic 1986 arcade staple of the same name, the film takes its inspiration from a source that has no real plot, just three large creatures destroying buildings. That's not enough story to sustain an entire film, so director Brad Peyton also brought in The Rock as an ape-whisperer, whose only friend - a rare albino gorilla named George - inhales the particles from a chemical weapon that crashes down from space, causing him to grow to giant proportions, as well as a wolf and a crocodile. It's exactly as big, loud, and stupid as you expect.

I don't even know what else to say about this movie. You get exactly what you paid for: big, goofy action. The evil villains' plan in this movie is insanely idiotic and makes no sense - somehow they expect to make billions of dollars from creating uncontrollable giant monsters. Although it's somewhat violent, Rampage is a movie that caters to 10-12 year old boys. It features juvenile slapstick humor, big city destruction, huge snarling creatures, and a script that is so ADD that there is an entire group of characters introduced at the beginning of the film that is never seen again. But, again, this movie is critic proof: it isn't pretending to be Shakespeare, so if you are in the mood for a real popcorn-munching, mindless action movie, you could do worse!

Final Verdict:

Truth or Dare
Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Following their well-deserved Oscar nominations for Get Out, production studio Blumhouse Pictures' next horror outing was Truth or Dare. This high concept horror film is basically another Final Destination ripoff, only without the big crazy death scenes or, any sense whatsoever. Truth or Dare is a lazy, stupid, forgettable waste of life.

The film follows a group of college douchebags during their spring break in Mexico. Olivia (Lucy Hale) - the "cautious" friend - meets a friendly guy named Carter (Landon Liboiron) who invites her and her friends to the ruins of a church in the middle of nowhere. Once all there, he initiates a game of "Truth or Dare?", but little do they know that this game is some kind of demonic curse passed on from player to player, and those who refuse to play along are possessed and commit suicide.

This movie utterly fails on a number of levels. First and foremost, the "rules" of the game constantly change, making it confusing exactly what's at stake and when. Second, the possessed demonic face that the "Truth or Dare" spirit creates to spook the players looks incredibly goofy - at one point a character even points out it looks like a "Snapchat filter." And last but not least, it wouldn't be a bad horror movie without characters who are insufferable, moronic assholes.  It's so disappointing to consider this was the same studio that brought us Get Out, and even the conceptually-interesting Purge films. You couldn't dare to make me watch this again!

Final Verdict:

Dir. John Curran
Watch Trailer

Real-life scandals have made for some pretty great movies: All the President's Men, Quiz Show, and Spotlight all brought to light the ethical contradictions of their subjects. Chappaquiddick tells the infamous story of Senator Ted Kennedy's political scandal in 1969 and seems like perfect material for a dramatic movie. Late at night, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge, killing his passenger, the 28-year old political strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. Afraid that this scandal could hurt his chances at the presidency, Ted chose not to phone the police after the accident, leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories and speculations from the public.

The way John Curran's Chappaquiddick decides to handle this story and Ted as a character is to portray him as a sad little man who just can't please his father. The "final" Kennedy after the assassination of his brothers John and Robert, Ted had a lot of pressure on him from all sides to succeed. That's likely true, but I really resented how this film downplays the unjust death of a young woman and the crooked decisions made by Kennedy and his staffers to try and cover it all up. As Kennedy, Jason Clarke plays him as a kind of tortured soul instead of the narcissistic scumbag he was, pretending he's the victim in the situation.

Chappaquiddick lacks the political intrigue or fascinating insights and speculations about humanity that other "scandal" movies provide (like the brilliant Wolf of Wall Street, which did not try to valorize its horrible characters), and I wish this somewhat dull movie had the same conspiratorial energy of Oliver Stone's earlier films.

Final Verdict:

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