Escape Room (2019)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani

Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.

 

An Escape Room that tries to actually kill you is quite the high concept for a horror movie. How is plays out onscreen is another thing altogether.

Zoey (Taylor Russell, Before I Fall, TV’s Lost in Space) needs to put herself out there more. She is closed off, nervous, and lacks confidence. So when her professor challenges her to do something outside her comfort zone over the school break and a mysterious invite shows up to her dorm for an escape room, she takes the opportunity, but she and the other members of the escape room quickly learn that this is not a normal game, and they are in true danger. The group must work together to pass all the tests of the escape room and hopefully escape…with their lives.

Escape Room was so much more fun than I expected it to be. I felt like the film would be missing a certain amount of style just from what I’ve seen in other films with a similar concept. That being said, each room has a style and theme to it and most of them are really fun to participate in. I was not in a crowded theater but I found myself joining in with the other people in the theater to guess how to solve each puzzle. It was a great experience.

The story’s biggest faults are in the structure. The first scene of the film, set in the escape room, uses misdirection quite poorly. Then, it flashes back to earlier events and the story goes fine from there for the most part. The finale, though, gets very clunky. Getting to see more about the makers of the escape room didn’t really work, and then the film goes on too long trying to build a mythology. The last scene just flat-out didn’t work.

The characters are fun to connect to, even though many of them are archetypes of characters we would see in a horror film. They are enjoyable to watch as people get picked off but they aren’t extremely well-put together for the film. Zoey is the girl that is super-shy. Ben (Logan Miller, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Love, Simon) is the weird awkward guy. Jason (Jay Ellis, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., TV’s Insecure) is the rich douchebag who is just out for himself. Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll, Silver Lake, TV’s True Blood) is the pretty and tough ex-military woman. Everyone has their archetype, the most interesting being Danny (Nik Dodani, Alex Strangelove, TV’s Atypical), a guy who has been in escape rooms before and is kind of the expert, but even he is the nerd of the group.

Escape Room is a flawed but extremely enjoyable time at the movies. I’m happy to hear that a sequel is on the way because I believe this has the makings of a franchise. They need to fix the mythology or throw it out altogether and just focus on the rooms and character development. This is a popcorn thrill ride at the core and so much fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key, click here.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse is proof that the internet will freak out about anything. When footage first debuted of Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) in costume as the villain En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse, everyone started losing their minds over the look of the mutant, comparing him to Ivan Ooze of The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Movie fame. In the finished product, he looks and feels fine. The internet went crazy over nothing. They should have been worried about other problems that the film would actually have…

It’s been ten years since X-Men: Days of Future Past, and now, in 1983, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Wanted, Victor Frankenstein) has been running his school for gifted youngsters smoothly for years. With the assistance of Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kill Your Friends), Charles has taken in countless young mutants like the brilliantly gifted Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, TV’s Game of Thrones, Barely Lethal). But when an ancient evil, En Sabah Nur (Isaac), rises in Egypt and threatens to cleanse the Earth and rebuild a better one, the young students of the school must band together to protect themselves and the world from total annihilation.

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Let’s start with what really works in Apocalypse. Once again, McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, Prometheus) play perfect foils to each other as Xavier and Erik Lensherr, respectively. It is Fassbender that truly shines as the sins of his past come back to haunt him and he is forced to confront his anger over the loss of his parents once and for all. I also really liked Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. I think when seen in context, he does what he can with what he has to mold his performance. That isn’t to say that the villain is great, but that Isaac capably plays to what he can. I also liked the reemergence of Jean Grey, Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan, Mud, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

I, of course, have to call out the incredible one-upmanship from the previous film in the form of another terrific Quiksilver sequence featuring Evan Peters. This time around, the soundtrack updates and the effects come flying into the 1980s for an absolutely fascinating and fun action scene that steals the whole movie.

Since the shared universe hit a reboot with Days of Future Past, it’ll be interesting to see how certain events play out. Apocalypse hit on a few squandered moments from earlier in the franchise in a fairly stylish way, paying homage to the original comic books. It doesn’t always succeed in its attempt to right the wrongs, as the film creates a convoluted mess of some of the renewed elements. For example, it makes no mention of the ending to DOFP where we discover that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Joy) is mimicking Stryker. Then, we get a new version of several characters who are strikingly different ages than they were in the previous timeline. Granted, this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it only seeks to the concerning question of whether this franchise has learned from its mistakes.

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Then there’s the big conundrum of setting this film in the 1980s. In doing so, I didn’t feel a lot of tension for the Earth-shattering destruction as I was fully aware that we saw present day at the end of DOFP and in this year’s Deadpool, both of which exist in the new timeline. Again, small complaints perhaps, but bothersome nonetheless.

But what I really didn’t like about the film was that in creating a new unique villain, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Jack the Giant Slayer) didn’t really give us one worth fearing. I mentioned earlier that I liked Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur, but he is given virtually no character building other than dialogue in the film. Singer removed the space entity treatment of the character to focus on the religious connotations, but he ended up creating a flat villain to place the burden of the film on. I would have liked to have known what Apocalypse was capable of. He mostly just threw stuff around the screen and created lovely debris tornados. His horseman are further treated with no imagination. Magneto and perhaps Storm are the only one pitched with any realy interest. Angel and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, Magic Mike, Zoolander 2) were virtually wasted, Munn being perfectly miscast and her character extremely mishandled. If Psylocke was meant to usher in an X-Force film down the line, I’m more than a little concerned.

I won’t even really go into detail on the dismal work of Jennifer Lawrence because I feel like so many others have already mentioned her lack of trying. It appears like Lawrence is having blockbuster fatigue after finishing The Hunger Games last year. She spends no time in her costume, presumably from something in her contract, which ultimately leaves Mystique in a rather uninteresting situation.

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There’s a throwaway reference in the film when the young mutants are exiting a showing of Return of the Jedi. They remark how the second film is often the best and the third is often the worst. It is seen as a reference to the disappointing reviews from critics and viewers of X-Men: The Last Stand back in 2006, a film Singer left to pursue Superman Returns. It seems like a bad idea to put a joke like that in a film that is essentially the final piece of a trilogy started with First Class and DOFP, especially when considering that next year the Wolverine trilogy is also coming to an end. Apocalypse clearly proves the joke to be true here, and fans can only hope that the minds behind this uneven franchise can learn and right the ship in time for Hugh Jackman’s last outing in the series in next year’s Wolverine 3.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen X-Men: Apocalypse? What did you think? And we have seen four of the six big superhero releases of the year (the other three being Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Captain America: Civil War). Which one is your favorite? Let me know!

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

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