[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

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Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field

Screenplay: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

142 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

After the okay-ish 2012 release of The Amazing Spider-Man, I was uncertain if the franchise had the staying power after essentially remaking the original Spider-Man. Now, with this year’s sequel, is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 further proof? Find out now.

And, I should point out, Spoilers be warned for any and all plot points of previous films. I won’t ruin this one though, so feel free to read on.

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Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go), still suffering from his failure to save Captain Stacy, is forced to juggle his role as Peter with his role as Spider-Man when new villain Electro (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Annie) rises to power, literally. Peter’s problems only get greater as old friends and new enemies appear, all seemingly linked to the death of Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) and his father’s connection to Oscorp. His relationship with the captain’s daughter Gwen (Emma Stone, The Help, Birdman) has progressed to a point where he must constantly fear for her safety. Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle, Life After Beth), an childhood friend of Peter’s shows up, wanting to cure a disease, but to do that, he needs too much from Spider-Man. Peter is further tested when his relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field, Forrest Gump, Lincoln) is strained by his hunt for the truth in his lineage.

This film dramatically improves on many of the faults and worries I had from the previous picture, while still having issues with pacing and tone. From a visual perspective, after 5 theatrical Spider-Man films, this one has a lot of nice work going on for us to watch. The camera knows when it has to focus and when it has to move. The effects are, in a word, stunning. I love the costumes here as well. For the fact that there are a lot of villains in this movie, each one, from the new to the recognizable, is an awesome costume which breathes life (or new life, in the case of one) into the characters. Garfield’s performance has improved as well. He isn’t as confused about where his character needs to be, emotionally, in each scene. Fresh faces Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti (Sideways, River of Fundament) as Alexsei Sytsevich, a russian gangster, provide something fun to play with. Foxx’s performance only kicks in as he becomes Electro, but when it does, he takes off.

I have to say this, the real win of this film is the mystery surrounding the deaths of Peter’s parents. This is something that we didn’t really have in the previous series, so it is a point that we as viewers didn’t feel like we had to compare.

The music choices surrounding Electro were interesting. Webb cast a musical group specifically for Foxx’s character, called the Magnificent Six. This works at times and fails as others. See what I meant by tone issues.

The ending is where this tonal confusion really gets notable. I won’t play with any reveals for you, but strictly speaking, things get much more serious than they have the entire film previously. So many important plot points jammed in there, and it just didn’t work.

Now, the open-ended set up for sequels worked fine, setting us up for a little Spider-Man Cinematic Universe feeling, and that excites me.

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I need to day that this film definitely isn’t the Spider-Man 2 we have seen before, and it isn’t as good as we deserved, but it is a ton of fun and a big step up from its immediate predecessor. Remember that, and enjoy yourself.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Did you feel the electricity or was this a short circuit? Let me know!

 

For my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, click here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Chris Zylka

Screenplay: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.

 

I feel like I should describe the film I’m about to review, but to streamline and simplify the process by just having you watch Spider-Man. This film is little more than a carbon copy, subbing one villain in for another and one love interest in for another. I should point out that this is mostly a well-made movie, but the pacing issues really drag it down given the fact that we had seen all of this before.

The Amazing Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go), a loser but a smart one at that. The only thing he seems to want in life is Gwen Stacy (perfectly casted with Emma Stone, The Help, Birdman). That, and to discover the truth behind his parents’ death. Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill, The Five-Year Engagement) is the man who may hold some truth, but he is a bit too preoccupied with becoming a monstrous half-man/half-lizard hybrid.

The Amazing Spider-Man

There is a lot of sameness to this film. Peter becomes Spider-Man. He fights the monster and tries to save those around him from certain doom. This plot is kind of boring for a regular superhero film at this point, but the fact that this is the second time it has been shown on film makes it all the more painful. If this first 90 minutes had been more brushed over, we could be enjoying ourselves a lot more, but this movie just drags. The subplot mystery surrounding Peter’s parents does help, but not enough.

I personally thought Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Spidey was less likable than I would’ve hoped for. Now Emma Stone was pretty likable. She was some damn perfect casting, as with her father, played by Denis Leary (Two if by Sea, Draft Day).

Then you have Curt Connors, a character who was merely cameos in previous Spider-Man films, and here he is in all the glory. And he is friggin’ creepy as The Lizard. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) and Sally Field (Forrest Gump, Lincoln) are Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and give us solid performances given the unsolid scripting.

Now, from a cinematography standpoint, Marc Webb’s film has some very nice touches. The new costume for the masked hero is actually pretty nice looking. The ending was pretty awesome. I like that they are taking a page from Marvel to end on a note that not all is finished here. So the film does have some great moments, given that it is the same movie.

Now, I’m going to just state something. I hate comparing reboots and remakes to their predecessors. I don’t think it is fair as we have already had too much time to fall in love with the originals. It doesn’t offer up a fair fight, but then again, maybe that is the reason that we shouldn’t have remakes. It makes a good argument, but at the same time, I feel like some remakes are pretty damn perfect (John Carpenter’s The Thing and Peter Jackson’s King Kong to name a few). The problem with not comparing The Amazing Spider-Man to Spider-Man is that both films are so close in both exact plotting and timing that it is difficult not to. If you make a film right, it doesn’t have to be up for comparison. I never find myself comparing Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to Tim Burton’s original Batman because both films have difficult tones and aim for different ideas.

So, when I come to a topic of comparison from a music perspective, I don’t want to compare the fun and upbeat feeling of Sam Raimi’s trilogy to the ominous toning of Marc Webb’s film. But I do, and the difference and preference keep me to the original.

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Now, this film was originally scripted as Spider-Man 4, and I don’t understand the reason to reboot. All the best parts of this film would’ve been made better by continuing the previous film. We already introduced Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, so even planting Emma Stone in would’ve done fine enough. Curt Conners was already a character, so his introduction would’ve reduced the strained runtime. The mysetery around Peter’s parents would’ve injected some serious intrigue into the series. Even the open-ended finale would’ve translated perfectly. It just felt like a monetary decision (and it was) to push the reboot button, and we can tell.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of The Amazing Spider-Man? Did this tale need retelling or where you experiencing deja vu?

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