Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.

 

Let’s talk everyone’s favorite Wizarding World Film, The Crimes of Grindelwald…wait, people don’t like this one? Well, we’re still going to talk about it.

It’s 1927, and the evil and radical wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sherlock Gnomes) has escaped custody while being transferred to Europe to be tried for his many villainous crimes. Some time after, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables, The Aeronauts), unable to get past his international travel ban, is tasked by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sherlock Gnomes: A Game of Shadows) to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Justice League), who is shockingly still alive, and save him from the grips of Grindelwald. Lots of other stuff happens too.

This movie’s biggest problem is that is has no real discernible plot by the end of it. Yes, it all comes down to the search for Credence, but there’s too much other stuff happening in this film to keep focus on the main plot. It just gets lost in all that. I’ve seen the film several times and even I have trouble relaying the plot to people who ask about it. There are all these elements in the film that seemingly have no impact on the central plot…yet. Granted, this is a film that may be a lot better when seen in context of the entire series once it’s finished, but it shouldn’t have to be. Each of the Harry Potter films and even the first Fantastic Beasts have been able to stand on their own in some capacity, so even though a lot of individual elements of the movie work, it doesn’t fit together all that well.

The Crimes of Grindelwald has some truly great elements, though. For example, the returning cast is incredible. I love Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, and he’s great here. I wish we had more time with the main four together again because Katherine Waterston is great here, as is both Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol as Jacob and Queenie.

I also was so surprised by Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. I was initially hesitant to see Depp enter the Wizarding World, but I think what we get from him as a villain here is interesting and exciting, but again, I just wanted more. His interactions with his followers and enemies, and specifically in the films finale, are so powerful.

There are some cool creature designs and magical elements to the film, but as with everything else in this movie, there just aren’t enough of these elements in a bloated film. Too much stuff jammed into not enough movie.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mess of a movie, but there are still things I really liked in the movie. The ideas are there, but J.K. Rowling was not capably able to make a film that works on its own as well as part of a larger story. So many pieces of this movie could have worked in a stronger shell of a film. The extended cut fixes some of the problems, but not enough to completely save the movie. They need to fix the franchise with a simpler follow-up with the next film, and they need to focus on the few things that worked here.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, click here.

 

[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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 Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

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

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

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

[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

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