Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales

Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions

Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Rated PG-13
My Rating: ****/5

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is the latest installment of the long-running film series, based on the Disneyland ride of the same name. While the film may not be the best entry in the series, it is a marked improvement over the previous sequels and a film that hews closer in style and tone to 2003's "The Curse of the Black Pearl."

The film follows Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) in search of the trident of Poseidon, an artifact that will grant whoever possesses it control of the seas; as he tries to reverse his bad fortune and clashes with an old adversary known as Captain Salazar (Bardem). He is also joined by a young woman known as Carina Smyth (Scodelario) and a young man known as Henry Turner (Thwaites); the latter being the son of Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann-Turner (Knightley), who appear in brief cameos. As they're pursued by Captain Hector Barbossa (Rush) and the British Navy, the film provides a solid piece of fun escapism in the vein of the Disneyland ride over its 153-minute runtime.

While the film does have a large amount of silly escapades in that time, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg make solid use of the film's $230 million budget as their first major blockbuster attempt (the duo were previously known for smaller independent films). The opening action scene of the film involves a bank robbery that results in the bank being physically stolen from its foundation and hauled across town before Jack even tries to steal the vault's contents! Salazar and his crew of undead pirates also feature nightmarish designs full of wispy hair and decaying faces and bodies that would not be out of place in a potential live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime and manga series "One Piece." The final battle over Poseidon's trident is a sight to behold in a cave full of rubies that glitter like the night sky.

That said, the film is not without flaws. The series is starting to show its age over the 14 years it's been around, not helped by some cartoonish British Naval officers and awkward dialogue about the film's setting. In many ways, lines about likening science to witchcraft don't seem as amusing as they did in the past. Still, the film does manage to be a solid follow-up even if it doesn't reach the heights of the first film. Johnny Depp's swaggering as Jack Sparrow still proves to be a fun antidote to the more polished cutthroats of previous pirate films. The cast also manages great performances for an admittedly ludicrous story (watch for a cameo from Paul McCartney as a whimsical bard as Jack escapes from prison).

Even though what lies ahead for the series is uncertain, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" does make a solid finale for the series as well as leave room for a sixth film should Disney and Depp desire to make one. It benefits from a style and tone in line with the original 2003 film and provides a dose of summer fun in the same vein as the theme park ride that inspired it. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Courtesy: Marvel/Sony

Starring Tom Holland, Maria Tomei, Zendaya, Donald Glover and Michael Keaton with Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau and Gwenyth Paltrow
Directed by John Watts
Rated PG-13
My Rating: *****/5

"Spider-Man Homecoming" is this year's second entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; and marks the character's official entry into the series thanks to an agreement with Marvel and Sony. While the series has come a long way since the first of the Sam Raimi films in 2002, the film is an ideal way to recover from the disappointment of 2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" and a perfect introduction to the character after the events of "Captain America: Civil War."

The film follows Peter Parker (Holland) as he tries to balance his responsibilities as Spider-Man with his life in high school. While Holland is now 20 as of this writing, he was a teenager at the time of production; and presents the world through the eyes of Spider-Man as both an idealistic youngster and a conflicted individual that feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. Holland's performance manages to combine the best elements of both the previous actors to wear the mask, mixing the nerdy insecurities of Tobey Macguire with the hip sentiments of Andrew Garfield. The film is notably also the first one to not address his origin story, which allows viewers to enter the wall-crawler's world on their own terms and leave room for it to be explored in the planned sequel in 2019.

Spidey also clashes with not only enemies such as the Vulture (Keaton), but also the pressures of living up to the example of Tony Stark (Downey Jr.). While Stark is a mentor that doesn't want Peter to make the same mistakes he did, the Vulture is a notable standout as a villain. While Marvel's other villains have often been accused of being unremarkable, Keaton's portrayal as the Vulture contrasts superpowered threats like Loki as well as corrupt businessmen such as Obadiah Stane perfectly. As a working-class threat that bemoans that the cowboy idols of his youth have been replaced by the Avengers (mirroring many sentiments that liken superhero films to westerns of the past), he builds his own suit and weapons from the remains of previous Marvel films' final battles. While Peter uses his background for good, the Vulture uses it for evil. Keaton's performance not only echoes the gleeful madness he brought to Tim Burton's "Batman" films, but also his highly-acclaimed role in 2014's "Birdman."

While the film has no shortage of colorful action scenes and impressive special effects, director John Watts has also taken great care to make the person behind the mask every bit as important as recreating comic book thrills on the big screen. The film is heavily influenced by John Hughes teen films such as "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and can easily pass for a high school production with a budget of $175 million. The film is filled with a strong supporting cast of not only returning MCU alumni such as Jon Favreau as "Happy" Hogan and Gwenyth Paltrow as Virginia "Pepper" Potts, but newcomers such as the singer/actress Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. It also sets up future films in a way that doesn't distract from the narrative, with villains such as the Scorpion being teased for future films as well as making a solid breather before next year's "Avengers: Infinity War" (watch for a series of educational videos from Chris Evans as Captain America scattered through the film).

With the film having outperformed the Andrew Garfield films critically (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and commercially ($278 million in the US and $633 million worldwide as of this writing, expected to climb higher still), "Spider-Man Homecoming" suggests a bright future for the long-running superhero franchise. Michael Giacchino's score includes snippets of the memetic 1967 cartoon; and the film is a deft blend of snarky lines and colorful special effects with engaging stories and sympathetic characters. While the planned sequel as well as Sony's own plans for spinoffs may be in the air at this time, it's easily the best film in the series since "Spider-Man 2" in 2004; and has a lot to offer as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man reboot.

Movie Review: Transformers- The Last Knight

Courtesy: Paramount/Hasbro

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Isabelle Moner, Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, with John Turturro, Stanely Tucci and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by Michael Bay
Rated PG-13
My Rating: ****/5

"Transformers: The Last Knight" is the latest installment of the live-action adaptation of the animated TV series and Hasbro toyline of the same name. While the film may not be the best installment in the 10-year-old series, it is arguably the most insane installment that Michael Bay has directed since 2009's "Revenge of the Fallen."

This time, the story involves the Transformers having been involved in events such as the legend of King Arthur and WWII. The opening battle in medieval times features a Merlin portrayed by a drunken Stanley Tucci and enough explosive action to rival the madness of Guy Ritchie's "King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword."

In the present day, Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is helping keep watch over the orphaned young girl Izabella (Moner) and her companion Squeaks, who resembles an urban version of BB-8 that turns into a small scooter. He also discovers an enchanted talisman that leads him on a globetrotting journey across South Dakota, London and Stonehenge to unlock the secrets of their history with Sir Edmond Burton (Hopkins) and Oxford Professor Vivian Wembley (Haddock). At the same time, Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) searching for his creators has left him under the influence of Quintessa (voice of Gemma Chan), corrupting him into the evil "Nemesis Prime" as Megatron (voice of Frank Welker) tries to strike a deal with corrupt government agents to unleash a new threat of Decepticon soldiers and an ancient evil within the Earth's core.

If the previous paragraphs read like total nonsense, you'd be right. Much like the previous installment, "Age of Extinction," this film has settled into its comfort zone of chaotically fast-paced, effects-driven storytelling; and those who go to the films at this point know exactly what they're getting into. Bay has never really practiced the same craft with machines as James Cameron did in the first two "Terminator" films, to the point where seven editors were credited in trying to condense an apocalyptic threat into 149 minutes of screentime. In many ways, it's analogous to a child dumping all his Transformers out of his toy box and knocking them together while shouting at the top of his lungs. This may be the end result if that child grew up and was given a camera and a record $217 million budget to work with. Even though the product placement may not be as transparent as previous films, it still makes a big case for how closely filmmaking and product positioning have gotten. Bumblebee, who has a planned spinoff slated for next year, is once again being sold in every from from a $5 figurine to a $30,000 Chevrolet Camaro.

Even though the film has hit new lows critically and commercially, the diversion still proves to be another cog in the machine Paramount and Hasbro have built over the past decade. While Michael Bay intends to move on after this film, as does Mark Wahlberg; the film is the first of many planned installments in Hasbro's answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are 14 films planned for the future, including a crossover with the GI Joe series. While not an outright flop, the film's box office take does leave room to wonder about how viable it might be ($128 million in the US and $569 million worldwide as of this writing). 

Amid all the flurry of characters such as Hot Rod (voice of a French-accented Omar Sy), a motorcycling Decepticon known as Mohawk (voice of a foul-mouthed Reno Wilson) and Cogman (voice of Jim Carter, doing his best impression of C3P0), "Transformers: The Last Knight" is easily the symbol of explosive "Bayhem"and studio excess 10 years running. When promoting the film, Anthony Hopkins, in the face of all the negative reviews (15% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing) referred to Bay as a "genius." In his own way, he's right. There are few directors who can get an actor as distinguished as Hopkins to talk about Transformer knights without even a hint of irony. Whatever lies ahead, maybe it's for the best that this is Bay's last film for the series. Whether there will be a franchise reboot or Hasbro gives the OK to the new venture of films, it's clear that this film is a totally bonkers and merchandise-driven adventure with lore that may very well be more than meets the eye.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Backlog from Earlier this year.

Hello everyone. It's been a while since I've posted here, so I thought I would give you some of my backlog from earlier this year, with articles that I wrote for my community college's newspaper, "The Commuter." The links are as follows:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 Review:

Pokémon The Series: Sun and Moon Review:

Alien Covenant Review:

Star Wars Battlefront (2015) Review:

Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) Preview:

Wonder Woman Review

I also have other material planned for the near future, and I will bring you anything else as I get it. That will be all for now.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Summer Movie Preview 2017

The summer of 2016 had many big hits at the box office. Now, the upcoming summer movie season this year looks to have another big wave of new films and continuing hits vying to be the next billion-dollar hit. In this preview, many of these will be highlighted. Some look to be spectacular, others look decidedly less impressive, while more still are up in the air.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)

Courtesy: Marvel

The sequel to the original surprise hit of summer 2014, this follow up by director James Gunn is expected to open to double the numbers the original did. With a story that’s vital to the plot of “Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018, it looks to be another stellar entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Alien: Covenant (May 19)

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

This latest entry in the long-running “Alien” franchise, is the third film in the series to be directed by Ridley Scott after the original 1979 film and the 2012 prequel “Prometheus.” With a host of frightening imagery and freaky visuals, the film should greatly expand on the mythology of the revered science fiction series and thrill both existing and new fans when it opens.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26)

Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions

Despite the previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels meeting with mixed reception among critics and fans, they made massive amounts of money at the box office. This film seems closer in tone to the original “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,” and sees Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) clashing with an old adversary known as Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) as he tries to track down an ancient artifact that will grant him control of the seas. With
a record $320 million budget behind the film, the latest entry in this adaptation of the Disneyland ride looks to be the most thrilling “Pirates of the Caribbean” yet.

Wonder Woman (June 2)

Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

Even amid highly polarizing critical reception, the films in the DC Extended Universe have made huge amounts of money. This adaptation of the revered DC Comics superheroine should easily build on the success of her portrayal in last year’s “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” If all else fails, it’s hard to imagine the film being worse than the infamous live-action “Catwoman.”

Despicable Me 3 (June 30)

Courtesy: Illumination Entertainment

Seven years have passed since the first “Despicable Me” was released in theaters. Since then, Illumination Entertainment has emerged as an animation studio that is an up-and-coming rival to the likes of Disney and Pixar. In this third entry in the “Despicable Me” series, the film will see Gru (voice of Steve Carell) team with his estranged brother Dru (also voiced by Steve Carell) to combat 1980s-styled supervillain Balthazar Bratt (voice of “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker). With lots of colorful animation and humor that can appeal to both children and adults alike, the film could easily add to the growing successes of the house that the Minions built.

Spider-Man Homecoming (July 7)

Courtesy: Marvel/Sony

Following the massive success of last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” this film will mark the official entry of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film will follow Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as he tries to balance the pressures of high school life with the responsibility of being Spider-Man. On top of that, he clashes with supervillains such as the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and tries to win the heart of Mary Jane Watson (Zendaya). With the direction of Tom Watts and a supporting role from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the film should easily be a welcome new take on the wall-crawler after the disappointing reception to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in 2014.

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox
This film will follow up on the massive critical and commercial success of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011 and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” in 2014. After the events of the latter film, the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis) will lead the apes into battle against the remnants of humanity; led by a vicious colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Featuring insightful social commentary that was a key part of the original films from the 1960s and highly realistic effects from WETA Digital (“Avatar,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), director Matt Reeves should definitely deliver a satisfying conclusion to this new take on the revered science fiction saga.

Dunkirk (July 21)

Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures/Syncopy

Since the breakout hit of the film “Memento,” director Christopher Nolan has been able to make a myriad of great films in a wide range of genres. With this film, he will deliver a retelling of “Operation Dynamo” during World War II. Featuring frequent collaborating actors such as Cilian Murphy and Tom Hardy as well as acclaimed figures such as Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh, Nolan’s talents as a filmmaker should easily grant the conflict the scope and scale it demands.

Detroit (August 4)

Courtesy: Annapurna

In light of many challenges we are facing in the present, a good way to gain perspective on them is to examine how similar ones played out in the past. This film from director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) is a historical drama about the Detroit riots of 1967. Featuring a compelling story set in a turbulent time and a cast that features promising young actors such as John Boyega and Anthony Mackie, the film will be a great way to look at the parallels of the issues we face now from the perspective of the past.


The Mummy (June 9)

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

The latest re-imagining of the Universal Horror character of the same name, the film will be taking different route from the campy version with Brendan Fraser as the lead and will instead be going a darker route with Tom Cruise in the lead role. While this could open up a new way of looking at this series, it is also the second attempt to create a shared “cinematic universe” around the Universal Horror franchise after the critical and commercial failure of “Dracula Untold.” Many fans are also skeptical of the darker and edgier take on a franchise that has often been associated with lighthearted cheesiness. Still, the prospect still makes it a film to keep an eye on.

Cars 3 (June 16)

Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

Even though the first “Cars” film had a decent reception in 2006, its sequel in 2011 became the first and so far only Pixar film to be roundly panned by critics (39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and remains highly polarizing among fans of the studio. In this film, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) must reclaim his title after he begins losing steam to a new generation of race cars. The first teaser also depicts a presumably darker story, showing a shockingly brutal crash and a more realistic color palette. Regardless of how well it’s received, it should still do fairly well at the box office as well as sell a large amount of model car tie-ins.

Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23)

Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/Hasbro

The latest film in the live-action adaptation of Hasbro’s “Transformers” cartoons and action figures sees not only the return of previous actors such as Josh Duhamel and John Tuturro alongside Mark Wahlberg, but also newcomers both human and machine alike. While the series’ critical response has been synonymous with summer movie fluff for 10 years; they have made billions of dollars at the box office and in toy sales alike. As Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) looks for his creator and clashes with a reborn Megatron (voice of James Spader), Hasbro potentially wants to make this film one of 14 future sequels as well as their own equivalent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including a crossover with the “GI Joe” series), even with Michael Bay wanting to leave the series after this film. Even if the story may pale in comparison to a typical Marvel Studios film, it should prove a harmless enough diversion and vessel for youth and nerd product positioning all the same.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21)

Courtesy: STX/Europacorp

Director Luc Besson will direct this adaptation of the landmark graphic novel of the same name. Featuring a host of eye-popping special effects and young leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevinge, it looks to be another promising science fiction film a year full of them. The question is, given the rocky track record of distributors STX/Europacorp, a massive budget of $220 million (the same amount as Marvel’s “The Avengers”) and how the IP is not the most well-known among the public; how will the film perform? Will it be a surprise hit that becomes the next “Star Wars” or the latest misfire after “John Carter?” Only time will tell.

Atomic Blonde (July 28)

Courtesy: Focus Features

Fresh off the successes of "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Fate of the Furious," this Cold War-era thriller should be another great role for Charlize Theron. While it remains to be seen how the film will do against a myriad of competition, the value of the female movie dollar is the strongest it has been in years. The film could be a big surprise hit among a potentially-record breaking summer.


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12)

Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures

Guy Ritchie offers his take on the legend of King Arthur, which is one of many film adaptations of the basis for many fictional mythologies. However, the film seems to be a mess of Ritchie’s previous filmography and an attempt to apply the model of “300” to the Arthurian legend. Opening in between “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Alien: Covenant,” this $175 million fantasy-action film seems to be an afterthought to Warner Bros., after the company has shifted its primary focus to the DC Extended Universe, Lego and “Harry Potter” series and should be treated like one in return.
Update: This film has opened at a dismal $15.3 million, losing out to the second weekend of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" at $65.3 million and the Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn comedy "Snatched" at $19.5 million. The film now currently stands to lose at least $100-$150 million and should cause Warner Bros. to focus their energy further on Lego, Harry Potter and the DC Extended Universe. The film was originally intended to be the first of six planned installments, which now seems highly unlikely in light of this failure.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (May 19)

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

An adaptation of the children’s book of the same name by Jeff Kinney, this fourth go-round of the film series sees Greg Heffley go through a series of misadventures during a family road trip. However, many critics and fans of the series have reacted negatively to the new cast and gags that seem be retreads of better comedies such as “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” In the face of the online advertising being flooded with dislikes on Fox’s YouTube channel, the studio has largely downplayed the film in favor of “Alien: Covenant” the same day. You can do worse for family films, but you can also do far better.
Update: The film has been a critical and commercial disappointment with even the modest expectations that it had set for it. It has opened at #6 at the box office, making just $7.1 million against a $22 million budget; and has received largely negative reviews, earning 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film was originally intended as a soft reboot, it seems unlikely that the film will be able to rise much higher with competition incoming. The film has been widely lambasted as the cinematic equivalent of a flat tire, paling in comparison to better comedies such as "National Lampoon's Vacation."

Captain Underpants (June 2)

Courtesy: Dreamworks Animation Studios

Last, and definitely least is this animated adaptation the children’s book series of the same name by Dav Pilkey. While it may have served to be an acceptable film if came out when the books were at their peak in popularity, in an age where Dreamworks has broken their usual mold with the “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon” films; it lacks a lot of the narrative depth that its superhero film competitors are being lauded for (the film opens the same day as “Wonder Woman”). In an age after “Zootopia” and “The Lego Batman Movie,” a movie like “Captain Underpants” just doesn’t have the same appeal as it would in the age of the first two “Shrek” films. If you’re looking for a Dreamworks film that has a funny and action-packed take on the superhero genre, just rewatch “Megamind.”
Update: The film has opened below expectations, taking in just $23.8 million and ranking second behind "Wonder Woman" at $103.2 million. While Dreamworks will save some face as the film was budgeted at a modest $38 million, the studio has been effectively caught with their pants down amid competition from both DC and Marvel. Even though the film was marketed as the title character's "First Epic Movie," depending on how it does, it may very be his only one.

Even with the state the world is in, this summer should have plenty of films to get into. If you’re still unsure about the slate of films coming up, just repeat to yourself, “it’s just a show, I should really just relax!”

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ghost in the Shell remake a box office bomb

Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han and Takeshi "Beat" Kitano
Directed by Rupert Sanders (based on the graphic novel by Masamune Shirow)

After many years of development, the live-action remake of "Ghost in the Shell" has been released in theaters. Ever since it was announced, the film had been mired in controversy for everything from the casting to the liberties taken with the original film from director Mamoru Oshii and the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. 

One of the biggest wonders was how the film would perform at the box office amid the backlash from online commentators, and its seems the skepticism many had toward the project was justified. The film has opened at #3 with a meager $18.6 million against a reported $110 million budget. The results are below expectations, with the film losing out to the animated family comedy "The Boss Baby" at $50.1 million and the third weekend of the live-action remake of "Beauty and the Beast" at $45.4 million.

The film has also received a lukewarm reception among critics and audiences, with the film sitting at a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing, less than half the 95% rating the original 1995 film received. The most common consensus has seen many praise the visuals and special effects but criticize the liberties taken with the original source material. 

Among fans of the original anime and manga, the liberties taken with the story have been panned as dull and uninvolving at best and downright insulting. In particular, several articles such as one on Nerds of Color lambasted the film for trying to justify the controversial decisions about the casting (said article contains spoilers for the film, so read at your own risk).

Even though the film was originally meant to be the first in a planned franchise, the prospect of further installments now seems unlikely barring some sort of miracle from international earnings.

While the original anime and manga will still be influential over the coming years, the live-action "Ghost in the Shell" will join infamous bombs such as "Dragonball Evolution" as key examples of how not to remake a beloved film. Despite the best efforts of the cast, crew and even Oshii's endorsement; the parties involved failed to realize on a fundamental level that the biggest mistake one can make is trying to please everyone.

With more competition on the way, the live-action remake of "Ghost in the Shell" is on track to lose over $60-$85 million and add to the growing list of box office flops that Paramount has had over the past year. Above all, the failure of this remake of "Ghost in the Shell" will also make the prospect of further live-action remakes of beloved anime and manga (such as the Netflix adaptation of "Death Note" later this year) much more uneasy. In many ways, the remake has become the very thing people that love the original were worried about: a black-market PG-13 knockoff of a genre-defining R-rated classic. It's akin to trying to sell the fans a velvet painting of Elvis Presley and telling them it's the Mona Lisa. Its "ghost" has been hijacked by people who didn't understand what made the original source material so beloved and planted into the "shell" of a film with all the nuance of one of the live-action "Transformers" films. It feels like a play-by-play of elements from the original mixed with "Blade Runner" by way of "The Matrix" trilogy. In an attempt to bring the film to a wider audience, the live-action "Ghost in the Shell" has become another bomb of a Hollywood anime adaptation; losing in Americanization what its Japanese source material did so right.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Power Rangers (2017) Review
Courtesy: Lionsgate/Saban Capital Group

Starring Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G and Ludi Lin with Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader and Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Dean Israelite (Based on characters created by Haim Saban and Toei Company Limited)
 Rated PG-13
My Rating: ****/5

After 20 years of being absent from theater screens, a reboot of the "Power Rangers" franchise has arrived. It is the third film adaptation of the hit TV series after "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie" in 1995 and "Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie" in 1997. While the film may not be in the same league as other recent superhero blockbusters, it serves as a strong update to the series that combines realistic effects-driven action with a self-aware rendition of the ludicrous nature of the concept.

The premise is a re-imagining of the original "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" series that ran from 1993 to 1995. In the Cenozoic era, an alien being known as Zordon was engaged in battle with the evil sorceress Rita Repulsa. During their final battle, Zordon used the last of his strength to hide the Power Coins from Rita and send them both into hibernation. In the present day city of Angel Grove, Rita awakens and seeks an ancient artifact known as the Zeo crystal to amplify her powers and destroy the world. So, it falls to Zordon and his robotic assistant Alpha 5 to recruit five young teenagers to take up the mantle of the Power Rangers and defend the world against Rita and her army of alien monsters.


While the story is familiar to those who are fans of the series, Dean Israelite's take on the the popular action show presents the plot and characters in a darker context. The red ranger, Jason is a former star athlete whose promising future was ruined by trouble with the law and a leg injury from a car accident. The blue ranger, Billy has to deal with losing his father as a child as well as the difficulties of being on the autism spectrum. The yellow ranger, Trini is an outcast with "girlfriend problems" and had to change schools more than once as a result. The black ranger, Zack has to deal with the absence of his father as well as take cake of his terminally ill mother. Even the normally happy-go-lucky pink ranger, Kimberly is bullied by other members of her social circle for her appearance. Still, this is one of many versions of the long-running franchise that never forgets its roots as a colorful action franchise; and balances its darker storyline and edgier characters with slick action and colorful special effects. Over the film's 124-minute run time, the Rangers learn to overcome their differences and master their powers in a snazzy relaunch of the series that borrows heavily but swiftly from other franchises such as "The Dark Knight Saga" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Boasting a reported $120 million budget, the film also manages to combine the admitted silliness of its source material (itself an adaptation of Japan's long-running "Super Sentai" series) with more than 20 years of advances in special effects since the first film adaptation of the series in 1995. While the Rangers' costumes may be more elaborate than the original spandex suits from the Japanese series "Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger," they still retain the kaleidoscope of colors from the TV show. Zordon and Alpha go from a head in a tube and a costumed actor to a CGI rendition of Bryan Cranston's face and a lanky Roomba with headlights that wouldn't be out of place in "Star Wars." Most of all, the climactic Megazord battle that takes up most of the film's final act combines the more over-the-top action of the live-action "Transformers" films with the more realistic battles of the Jaegers in "Pacific Rim."

Some flaws with the film include the fact that some of the attempts to "Nolanize" the story can get heavy-handed at times, and recall a controversial but popular fan film that was uploaded to YouTube in 2015 while this film was still in production. Also, the pacing can be a bit slow at points; and some of the more "adult" jokes are a bit shaky. A scene where Trini's parents want to test her urine after she explains her plight to them is understandable, but cringe-worthy. Even so, the film's darker and edgier rendition of its premise is balanced with plenty of sly gags toward the franchise's lineage and the idea of rebooting beloved children's properties with darker plots in general. Bill Hader's Alpha makes great use of the comedic talents Hader honed in other films as well as on "Saturday Night Live." Elizabeth Banks' Rita follows in the footsteps of Barbra Goodson as well as the late Machiko Soga; devouring everything in her path to accomplish her goals, ranging from the scenery to gold from a jewelry store to form the monster Goldar and even a fresh donut at Krispy Kreme before she tries to unearth the Zeo Crystal from under the floorboards of the shop. Overall, the film can be easily taken as the daydreams of a generation of Saturday morning TV viewers merged with an increasing obsession with '90s nostalgia (watch for cameos from original cast members Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank during the final battle between Goldar and the Megazord).

If the film is able to resonate with general audiences as much as Lionsgate and Saban hope, the film will be the first in a planned series. For now, though, this version of "Power Rangers" is a delightfully snazzy reboot that delivers on Dean Israelite's promise to make an adaptation that's "mature but playful" and "grounded but fun." It's a film that's "morphinomenal" in every sense of the word. May the power live on forever.