The REAL Problem with the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

The Star Wars franchise is in a bit of weird place right now.

While the enthusiasm was initially high for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and on its eve of release, The Last Jedi, that same enthusiasm has definitely waned since then. The dismal reception of Solo: A Star Wars story only solidified the notion that Star Wars is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis right now. The box office results for The Last Jedi, while definitely performed well, came nowhere near close to matching the 2 billion+ record The Force Awakens achieved. Still, regardless of box office success, The Last Jedi remains a divisive topic among fans.

I’m not really sure where Star Wars goes from here. I have high hopes for Episode IX, but I also have serious issues with J.J. Abrams, and thus concerns about how it will play out. I think Lucasfilm would have done well to simply not make Solo: A Star Wars story. It was a movie NO ONE asked for, and the box office demonstrated this. I’m more concerned with the current sequel trilogy, though. There’s much more at stake with the future of the franchise with this trilogy than the spin-off films. The Last Jedi has set Episode IX to be anyone’s guess, love it or hate it.

I have never analyzed a Star Wars film more than The Last Jedi. I want to understand fans’ criticisms, while reinforcing what makes it, in my mind – a spectacular film. I see the reasons why it upsets people – to a degree. That said, when I really begin to examine the objections fans raise about it, I’ve noticed an underlining issue that few people seem to be discussing. Namely, the handling of the original trilogy’s story and its connection to the current trilogy. In all of this time spent in analysis, I realize now that my main issues have more to do with the sequel trilogy’s foundations, rather than how these two entries are executed. Let me explain.

Return of the Jedi, the finale of the original trilogy, provided a sense of closure to the Skywalker saga and strongly implied that the Empire had been broken and would soon be completely defeated, while the balance of the Force had likewise been restored. However, both the old and new canon show that the Empire continues to fight for a number of years after the destruction of the second Death Star. But since we’re onto a new canon, let’s keep it simple and focus on this storyline. The much-maligned Aftermath series by Chuck Wendig helps fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, which is about a thirty-year gap. We don’t learn anything about characters like Snoke or understand exactly how Ben Solo turned to the dark side, but we do know what happened to the Empire, and the Rebellion.

Keep in mind, I’m not 100% certain about the timeline, but I remember the basic premise. The Empire continues to fight on, but they gradually lose star systems and its forces increasingly dwindle. The Emperor clearly had contingency plans prepared if his death ever occurred, but none of these seem to amount to anything significant. The New Republic takes form and continues to push the Empire back. The Imperial war machine continues to dwindle until it is forced to make a last stand at the battle of Jakku. It is here we witness the seemingly full destruction of the Empire’s forces, but this is clearly not the full story.

The Empire takes what resources it has and its remaining leadership and retreats into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, where it is reborn into the First Order. At some point, Snoke assumes command of this new regime. The First Order begins a massive buildup of technology and rebuilds its fleet, not to mention introducing all new types of weapons of mass destruction, like Starkiller Base. Despite having signed a full surrender that included the prohibition of such a military buildup, the First Order becomes even more powerful than the Empire ever was, thanks to its achievements in technological and military might. Reminds me a bit of what happened to Germany between WWI and WWII, now that I think about it.

Now, this is where I get confused and frustrated.

The New Republic becomes aware of the First Order at some point, although I’m not entirely sure when. They notice their presence and their military capabilities long before the destruction of the Hosnian system, which basically marks the supposed end of the New Republic (which begs the question – were five planets all the New Republic amounted to at the end of this period?)

I do not understand why the New Republic is stupid enough to let the First Order not only become this powerful but also allow them to strike first. Not only that, but the Resistance is basically the only faction that openly challenges the First Order, even though we all thought that the Republic could fight its own battles and would more easily handle a threat like the First Order on their own. And then we learn that the Resistance is funded by the New Republic?

If that’s the case, why did the Republic give the Resistance such a small array of weapons and ships? The Resistance is even more pathetic than the Rebellion ever was. Again I ask – why would anyone who had lived through the tyranny of the Empire ever allow them to come back in power? The Republic deserved to be destroyed in The Force Awakens because it was clearly being run by either morons or people all suffering from amnesia. Why would they let the First Order become this unstoppable when THEY KNOW THEY EXIST? This is why I felt NOTHING when the First Order wiped out five planets at once – because there was no context for what I was watching. Why should I care about the New Republic, when I know nothing about it except that it is apparently run by morons.

What we’re talking about here is basically all our heroes accomplished in the last trilogy amounted to nothing. The Empire was defeated, but it really wasn’t. The balance of the Force was restored, but it really wasn’t. The Jedi came back, but they really didn’t. The Emperor was defeated, but a cheap imitation replaced him quickly. Darth Vader turned to the light, but his freaking grandson doesn’t know this for some reason. Yeah, Kylo Ren – your grandpa destroyed the Emperor and redeemed himself. Obviously, Luke had to have told you this, right? Or your parents, maybe?

Look, folks I loved The Force Awakens, but what J.J. Abrams did is basically reset everything back to where it was at the beginning of the original trilogy. It’s basically the Empire vs. Rebels all over again, only this time – the heroes are even worse off than ever. You know why I appreciated The Last Jedi more than The Force Awakens? Because The Last Jedi actually made a good attempt at telling a cohesive story and providing some reason as to how things ended up where we are now. It didn’t bask in the glory of mystery and intrigue like The Force Awakens did. By the time the credits roll in The Force Awakens, we’ve watched what amounts to a big tease of a movie. Yes, it’s a good movie and I enjoy it to this day – but boy is it frustrating to think about when you stop and really consider what’s happened in thirty years of story.

One of my biggest complaints about the new trilogy is the lack of scale in its battles. Rogue One probably delivered one of the best space and land battles ever seen in Star Wars – far superior to anything we’ve seen in the new trilogy. The Prequels took this a step further, showcasing major set pieces for between the Clones and Droids. Sure, you may not have been as emotionally invested in them, but the scale was really impressive.

We’ve yet to really see an exciting battle in the new trilogy. Sure, the Millenium Falcon gets its moments, but these are short-lived, and it’s just one ship. The Resistance takes out a Dreadnought but loses its ENTIRE BOMBING FLEET in the process. It’s full of these moments of wins and losses for both sides, but at the end of the day, the battles between the Resistance and the First Order are underwhelming. The Resistance is embarrassingly small at the end of The Last Jedi, and unless a significant period of time takes place so they can build up forces, we’re just going to see the same heroes overcome against all odds like they always do. The smart and exciting thing to do would be to make the Resistance capable of going toe-to-toe with the First Order, and no – I do not mean they need their own Death Star. They need a fleet. They need an army.

I’m just saying, folks. This new trilogy is definitely great, but somewhere in the middle of all of this, I keep thinking, why? Why just start from where we were thirty years ago? There are so many more interesting directions they could have taken this new trilogy, but they decided to just remake old concepts. What this does is essentially reduces significantly the events of Return of the Jedi, making them amount to almost nothing.

People are largely upset at Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi, but I say it’s J.J. Abrams’ fault for where we are. He is responsible for laying such a pathetic foundation for the sequel trilogy. The premise is just weak and makes you care very little about the state of the galaxy. It’s almost like they were afraid of exposition in movies. Because The Force Awakens has almost NONE.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t really know where we go from here. Star Wars is in a bit of weird place because of the corner they’ve painted themselves into with the current state of the sequel trilogy. There’s still potential, but Abrams is a man of habit in his storytelling methods. If I’m right, we’ll see a pretty predictable, and ultimately uninspired ending to this saga. The thought of this crushes me to my core. I want to see Star Wars deliver the magic I know it can. It just needs to try some new things for a change.

Mr. Abrams, I wish you well on your efforts in making Episode IX, but for the love of Star Wars – stop repeating the same mistakes you keep making. Be bold and up the scale for a change. You have the talent – use it. Heck, I’d be ok with Episode X being a reality if it means we get a better finale for the Skywalker saga. I’m just tired of seeing the heroes being the minority and the bad guys having all the power in the galaxy at their disposal.

I’ve seen that story before. I want something new.

 

 

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The MCU: The Gift That Keeps Giving

When I was a kid, I never could have imagined seeing something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t read many comic books. My only real knowledge of comics was from the Archie series, which is a wholly different kind of comic book series, of course. Turns out, you don’t have to be a big comic book fan to enjoy a comic book movie. Movies can stand on their own merit, even if they deviate from the original material. Comic-book fans may take issue with this, but I’m a movie fan before anything else, so quality and originality matter to me most. On that note, if the films strictly followed the comics – it would be an incredibly predictable franchise, wouldn’t it? That’s no fun.

With the debut of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk in 2008, my interest was piqued for what lay ahead. To be honest, the greatness of The Dark Knight largely overshadowed the introduction of the MCU in 2008, but after I was able to watch the first MCU movies again, I appreciated their efforts all the more, especially Iron Man. It wasn’t until The Avengers, though, that I realized the MCU had true potential for greatness. I think most of us would agree with this because frankly, the MCU would have been a vain effort if The Avengers didn’t work. But it did. In fact, it worked beautifully. It’s still one of my favorite films of all time, and easily rewatchable. It was a pioneer in the superhero genre, for all intents and purposes. Not only that, but it proved that the MCU had legs to stand on for the future.

The Avengers demonstrated that a shared cinematic universe could allow for so much potential, and keep fans coming back consistently. Since it began, despite a few significant letdowns (Thor: Dark World, Age of Ultron), the MCU continued to release an increasingly stellar roster of films and characters to enjoy. While perhaps lacking at times in the variety of storytelling and plot structure, most films in the franchise have been consistently good. In fact, I’d argue that with each release, Marvel only continues to improve in its craft.

Though each entry has its share of weaknesses, the characters have kept me coming back. I’m thoroughly invested in characters like Thor, who has lost so much in his recent films and yet, grown tremendously at the same time. His third outing in Ragnarok was a great effort to reboot his character, giving us a fresh reason to be invested in him. And with the events of Infinity War, I’m even more determined to see how his story plays out. With his climactic moment facing off against Thanos, Thor will have to deal with the catastrophic fallout of his tragic choice to seek vengeance instead of ensuring victory.

Captain America, played wonderfully by Chris Evans, has been a long-time fan favorite and cornerstone of the MCU.  Though his initial outing in The First Avenger wasn’t as memorable as the two sequels, Steve Rogers has had the most consistently good trilogy in the MCU to date.  His refusal to compromise his values, even in the face of betrayal from friends demonstrates the depth of integrity Rogers possesses. He’s faced foes who outmatched him physically but often managed to defeat them nonetheless, overcoming what would otherwise be certain defeat.

In many ways, Steve Rogers is the epitome of a true servant leader, often risking his own life for others. In his first outing, he courageously gives his life to save thousands and then risks everything to save his best friend, not just once, but two times in the Winter Soldier and Civil War.  I will admit, his romantic subplots never achieve the depth he deserves, but there’s still room in the MCU for this to be remedied. As silly as this sounds, I find myself admiring this fictitious character for his values and his strength and physique. I want to be more like him, and for a grown man, that’s a weird thing to say (to some people, at least).  And while Iron Man is often viewed as the heart of the MCU, I think the case could be made that Captain America is equally deserving of this title.

Captain America is likewise a great example of how to build up a character that audiences can truly invest in, in large part to the writing and consistently good performance by Chris Evans. Rogers has been in at least six MCU films as either a leading or supporting character, with a few notable cameos in other films, not to mention the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, where he will most certainly be a lead character this time around. His character has a true legacy, and he will not be easily replaced in his role once the character is either retired or tragically killed off. In fact, I’m rather hoping no one will take up the mantle of Captain America because Evan’s portrayal has been so good, it seems almost unjust to simply have someone else take up the mantle.

And before you condemn me for taking this stance, remember I’m a movie fan first and foremost. I am not so concerned with all the possibilities the comics provide, because comic book storylines do not necessarily translate well to the screen, nor do some of their characters. From a cinematic universe standpoint, it would be difficult to replace his role with anyone who could do it justice. I’m not convinced Bucky or Sam Wilson could actually do the job, and I’m not sure I want them to. Or worst-case scenario, replacing Chris Evans with another actor simply for the purpose of keeping his character around. That would be a travesty. To this day I still harp on the recasting of Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner with Mark Ruffalo. To his credit, he does a fine job, but I’m more about continuity. This is why you’ll never find me invested in a show like Dr. Who.

The MCU is generally a bit more character-focused than it is plot-focused, although this trend is beginning to change as the latest phase of films occur. Avenger: Infinity War changed everything, and not just because of the huge death toll at its end. The scope of weaving together this many storylines and characters is a massive undertaking, and the fact that Marvel has managed to release so many quality films is no less than astounding. There have been a few weak points, of course. Some of these films have felt like more filler than anything else, but they’re all generally good. Many of them are consistently great, though. The plot is more and more becoming a central focus, which helps with building long-lasting worlds for films to explore. Everything from the Quantum Realm in the Ant-Man films to the mysterious and beautiful lands of Wakanda, to the many worlds witnessed in Infinity War – all of this serves to combine great settings and plot with excellent characters that we can continue to invest in.

One of the consistent strengths of the MCU is its admirable efforts to avoid things becoming stale. With the consistent introductions of new characters, and with the culmination of great execution in the Thanos confrontation finally coming to pass, the MCU is always one step ahead of the curve. And of course, they should be. You can’t achieve this kind of success in a film franchise without a good sense of self-awareness. Marvel knows its weaknesses, and they seem to be keen on actually addressing them. The Thor franchise was largely considered to be the weakest in the MCU, for example, until Ragnarok released late last year. Thor was very much reinvented and propelled the character from what some considered as mediocrity to becoming one of the MCU’s most compelling characters. This trend continued in this year’s Infinity War, where we witness Thor endure some of his worst losses yet.

In the same vein, Iron Man/Tony Stark has continued to mature substantially through his roles in Age of UltronCivil War and short but sweet appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming. In his initial outings, Tony Stark was difficult to empathize with, his overly confident and arrogant demeanor often overshadowing his good qualities. Despite being portrayed essentially as an antagonist in Civil War, Stark’s perspective was understandable. His greatest fears realized in both the Avengers and Age of Ultron, Stark has tried everything he can to protect the Earth from threats beyond, and witnessing the devastation left behind from his good intentions, he took the humble position of subjecting himself to higher authorities – a considerable contrast from his anti-authoritarian attitude in previous films. In Infinity War, Stark is finally faced with a foe beyond his ability to match. Despite reaching what would seem to be the pinnacle of his technology, it is still not nearly enough to stop Thanos. Nearly losing his own life in the battle, Stark tragically witnesses the death of his allies, and his most trusted apprentice, Spider-Man at the hands of Thanos. Parker’s death is even more tragic when you consider Tony’s words in Homecoming, where he explicitly stated he would blame himself if Parker was ever put in mortal danger. Now in the upcoming Endgame, one can only imagine how awful Stark must feel in the aftermath of the Decimation, and how one could possibly pick up the pieces from here.

The lackluster villain issue seems to have been mostly solved for now, with the inclusion of characters like Hela, and the most especially, Erik Killmonger and Thanos, the mad Titan himself. There have been a few other notable exceptions, but most never come across as genuinely threatening. Loki has changed too many sides and lost easily in all-out brawls against the likes of Thor and Hulk for him to be considered a true villain, but he’s definitely been the MCU favorite until 2018 released Black Panther and Infinity War. Ultron should have been a terrifying villain, but for whatever stupid reason, they made him a joke-machine, who never really poses a true threat in a brawl, nor do his endless drones that are dispatched all too easily by the Avengers. Even Hawkeye managed to kill them with his bow and arrow because, reasons I assume.

Thanos changed everything for the MCU, and not a moment too soon. If the Russo brothers had not gone in the direction they did, I’m certain Infinity War would have been far less impressive. Until its release, I honestly did not think Thanos even looked all that intimidating. The character model and VFX work done before Infinity War always looked lackluster to me. In contrast, the Thanos we see in Infinity War looks incredible and raises the bar significantly for CG villains. And by brilliantly casting Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan in both voice and motion capture roles, the Russos made Thanos far more believable as a villain. Not only that but essentially casting Thanos as the protagonist was a bold move that paid off beautifully. While Thanos’ methods are obviously unrelatable, his motives are certainly more easily accepted. His uncompromising view and relentless pursuit of his goals make for a compelling story, even when you actually consider how absurd his plan actually is.

2019 should deliver a solid trio of MCU films, the latter of which will launch the MCU into a completely new direction. Captain Marvel will see the introduction of our first female-led MCU film, and not a moment too soon. Hopefully, they will do the character justice and not make the entire film a political statement like some suspect. I’m genuinely excited to see what Carol Danvers will bring to the roster, and how her story ties into Endgame. It has been stated that she’s the most powerful hero seen in the MCU to date, which is an exciting prospect, to say the least.

Of course, like most fans, we expect Avengers: Endgame to be the pinnacle of the MCU, wrapping up ten years’ worth of films, while paving the way for the next phases. After witnessing the catastrophic events of the Decimation, our heroes will be more pressed than ever to take down the Mad Titan and somehow bring back their lost friends and family. I’m hoping Endgame will still deliver lasting consequences and won’t completely undo what we saw in Infinity War.

Marvel has done a tremendous job of creating hype for its films, and though we are a staggering twenty films in this new universe, I’m as invested as ever. By now, I’m emotionally invested pretty much all of these characters and desperately want to see them onscreen together again. The interaction of these characters onscreen together is just too juicy to pass up, and it often pays off with hilarious results. Endgame should deliver even more of this, now that characters like Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Carol Danvers are being thrown into the mix. By all accounts, the MCU keeps rewarding its loyal fanbase with more and more reasons to keep loving the franchise, with no stop in sight. In this way, the MCU has become a glorious achievement in cinema history, essentially becoming a gift for fans that keeps giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Movies I’m Dying To See in 2019

2018 has seen a number of solid releases, but it’s not been without a few missteps along the way. Avengers: Infinity War made box office history while managing to deliver one of the most compelling and exciting blockbusters in history, but other top-tier franchises like Star Wars failed to deliver. With only a few months left in 2018, I’m already looking ahead to the gargantuan lineup awaiting us in 2019. With that in mind, here are my top 5 movies to look forward to in 2019:

5. Glass

M. Night Shyamalan returned to his glorious roots in 2016’s Split, while revealing in a final scene that the film took place in a shared universe with another film he also made – Unbreakable. Glass will see the return of three main characters from these two movies, namely, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass, Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, and James McAvoy as, well, er, you’ve seen Split, right? Putting the three of these characters together for what appears to be a major showdown brewing appears to be the premise for Glass (though I wonder how Mr. Glass could be a true threat in his condition). The trailer looks solid, and I can’t wait to see a genuine sequel to an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Release Date: Jan 2019

4. Captain Marvel

Hard as it is to believe, Captain Marvel will be the MCU’s first female-led superhero film in the franchise. Obviously, Ant-Man and the Wasp did co-feature a female character, but I think most audiences felt like Evangeline Lilly’s character was more limited than we were promised. And besides, hers was a shared lead. Brie Larson will portray the powerful cosmic superhero, along with Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and many other familiar faces from the MCU. Marvel Producer Kevin Feige has stated that Captain Marvel is the MCU’s “most powerful hero.” Her powers from the comics are supposed to be pretty awesome, and with Thanos having effectively crippled the universe with the “Snappening,” you can bet our heroes are going to need all the help they can get. I’m hoping Marvel will truly deliver in this film. Some of their best films have been in the past two years, and it would be a shame to deliver a sub-par introduction to our beloved new hero.

Release Date: March 2019

3. Godzilla: King of The Monsters

2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island introduced a new shared cinematic universe (as though we didn’t have enough of those already). Still, both films delivered on quality (if but a bit underwhelming at times). Godzilla would have been better if the lead character was more interesting, and Godzilla’s screentime wasn’t so limited. It was almost mean of how often the director would cut away when he appeared like he just enjoyed teasing us. While Kong and Godzilla won’t share a screen just yet, King of the Monsters is rumored to set up their inevitable duel. Meanwhile, Godzilla will have his hands full in this truly epic sequel that will feature some of his fiercest foes. Vera Farmiga, Mille Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler and Ken Watanabe take lead in this highly anticipated sequel. The trailer alone is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and the visual effects look to deliver far beyond anything we’ve seen on such a scale before. Needless to say, this movie looks truly awesome. Long live the king, indeed.

Release Date: May 2019

2. Star Wars: Episode IX

I cannot believe this film is not number one on my list, seeing as I’m actually a bigger Star Wars fan than of most any other franchise. The only reason it’s number two is simply that I’m not sure I trust J.J. Abrams as much as I’d like to. He is a very talented writer and director, and The Force Awakens is as solid a Star Wars film as you can get. That said, as I’ve mentioned before, he is NOTORIOUS for failing to properly conclude his story concepts. He’s great at delivering intrigue and sucking you into his world, but most of the time – he doesn’t complete his own story. The Force Awakens simply introduced too many questions and played it far too safe, keeping it from the greatness it could have been. With The Last Jedi taking distinctly different direction from its previous entry, it’s very hard to say where we’ll end up this time around. Episode IX has to somehow develop its characters further, conclude a three-trilogy story about the Skywalkers, and answer many of the questions that have been posed across several films now. The cast is huge, the budget is huge, and the stakes are, well – mostly high. By the end of The Last Jedi, we’re told the war between the First Order and the Resistance has just started, but there’s not much Resistance left to fight. I don’t know. I’m super excited for this movie, but I want it to really wow me this time. I want some dang lightsaber duels that make sense, some truly epic battles, and please, please, please Mr. Abrams – do not retcon Rey’s parentage or destroy the delicious chemistry between her and Kylo Ren. These were some of The Last Jedi’s best elements – so don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Release Date: December 2019

1. Avengers 4

Avengers: Infinity War was more than a movie. It was an event. It’s one of the most gargantuan films I’ve ever seen, and what’s more amazing – it’s really good. I don’t know how they did it, but Marvel pulled it off. Infinity War delivers on almost every front, and my only complaint was that I really just wanted more. Josh Brolin as Thanos is just an amazing thing to watch. Not only is he one of the best-looking CG characters ever seen onscreen, he’s single-handedly the best villain in the MCU to date (sorry, Killmonger, you were good, but Thanos is a whole other level). Robert Downey Jr. delivers one of his best performances as Tony Stark/Iron Man to date, as does Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Heck, there’s not a single performance I disliked in this movie. Captain America’s lack of presence is still hard to swallow (especially with that epic beard), but I already know he’s going to have a leading role in this upcoming sequel. With that unbelievably gut-wrenching conclusion, audiences like myself are still reeling from the seemingly countless losses. Even if some are temporary, it’s still hard to see so many beloved characters die. The villain won, plain and simple, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But his victory will make the Avenger’s sweet vengeance all the more satisfying to watch. Now that we know this kind of film can be done with such quality, fans like myself are clamoring for the epic conclusion next summer. Make no mistake, this is the defining film to watch in 2019, even above Star Wars: Episode IX. I’m hoping I’ll be wrong and that they’re equally epic and deliver beyond my expectations, but I’m approaching Episode IX with some caution.

Release Date: May 2019

Honorable mentions: 

Wonder Woman 1984 

IT 2

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Lego Movie 2

Terminator Untitled Sequel

Men In Black Spinoff

Dark Phoenix

 

 

Why Plot Holes Don’t Matter As Much As You Think

The other day I watched this video on YouTube titled, “Shut Up About Plot Holes” regarding the increasingly critical nature of moviegoers in the past decades. Like this commenter mentioned, I too recognize that all too often, we as moviegoers attempt to critique every little detail in movies. We nitpick to the point where it’s become almost a science in its own right.  We overanalyze movies to death. To be fair, sometimes it is out of fan service, but the majority of opinion today is expressed in the negative. The notion is perpetuated constantly that films are often bursting at the seam with these supposed plot holes. When did it become so hard to simply enjoy a movie for what it is?

The reality is that just because a movie appears to have a “plot hole”, doesn’t mean it actually is one. We throw around the term “plot hole” a lot, but it isn’t always appropriate. But the very fact that movies are wrongly critiqued for these supposed inconsistencies is indicative of an audience less interested in simply enjoying a movie for what it is and more interested in finding flaws in someone else’s creative work. We are a nation of opinions, no matter how absurd and they may be or how unrealistic our expectations may be. We like to straighten out one another.

Need some evidence? Simply turn on Fox News, CNN or any of the other major media outlets. All they do day in and day out is critique other people’s words and actions from the political to the entertainment arenas. There’s very little done in the way of actual reporting. It’s commentary after commentary. Obviously, this is not always the case. It is the tendency, though and this has become more obvious in recent years. I can’t even watch these networks anymore because of their obvious bias and complete disregard for basic journalism. It’s become something more akin to entertainment rather than news.

Take the popular channel, CinemaSins on YouTube, for example. This is a channel I found initially amusing years ago when the videos were much shorter. Whats-his-name (the narrator) was also far less obnoxious back then, on a side note. This fellow critiques popular movies for their plot holes and general weaknesses, and does so in a sarcastic and humorous tone. Except that he tears down entire movies for reasons that make absolutely no sense. His conclusions are often flat-out wrong, missing some very obvious answers the movie itself provides.

For a time, I found these videos entertaining and often agreed with him. But as his videos became much lengthier critiques and far more numerous, often trashing a particularly good film for non-existent issues, I found myself increasingly disinterested in watching. This pattern of tearing down perfectly good movies for the most absurd reasons comes across to me as lazy and entitled. It doesn’t make for good analysis – it makes the commentator sound disingenuous and unappreciative of simple entertainment.

Really – when someone actually takes the time to break down the supposed plot holes of a kids movie like Inside Out, I have to shake my head in disgust. The very fact that a grown man would waste his breath over a kids movie in this regard shows that they’ve 100% missed the point, which is to say – it’s a freaking kids’ movie. It’s not meant to possess perfect logic. It’s a kids movie! (Did I already say, it’s a kids movie?) It is meant to entertain – not to meet our subjective expectations of an airtight plot.

On the flip side, channels like History Buffs demonstrate a more reasonable justification for analyzing movies. Namely, they pose – did the movie accurately portray its content in comparison to the real historical account? It is quite entertaining to listen to Nick Hodges critique films in this fashion because everyone knows that Hollywood is often guilty of ignoring even downright basic historical facts for the sake of making the film more dramatic or pervasive. The key difference between CinemaSins and History Buffs is the latter has an actual purpose in critiquing a film, as historical films can have a tremendous influence on moviegoers and should rightfully be held to higher standards of consistency. CinemaSins simply criticizes because this one guy likes the world to think he’s a better writer than all of Hollywood, or that we actually enjoy his sarcasm as much as he thinks we do.

I’m not saying movies shouldn’t follow logic. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make sense. I am saying, however, that we have seemingly lost a simple ability to enjoy most films for what they are – entertainment. Movies can stir us, inspire us, and impact us in powerful ways, certainly. Ultimately, most movies serve a simple purpose of making a profit by entertaining its audiences. We are all too often so consumed with making movies fit our very subjective and often unrealistic expectations. We forget these movies, as great as they can be, are still made by fallible people.

One of my favorite movies of 2017 was Thor: Ragnarok. It’s one of the best MCU films to date, totally reinventing the character of Thor and adding much-needed color to the series. I have very few issues with it, and even though I recognize a few flaws, it’s just too much fun to let these minor quips steal the spotlight. Probably the biggest issue is how Thor is somehow still tased by Valkerie by that little device, effectively stopping him in his tracks…yet, Thor can generate lightning from his fingertips? Doesn’t make much sense, I know. A minor issue, like I said. But even if you don’t like Marvel movies, it’s still incredibly fun to watch. There’s a ton of great action scenes, great new characters, and the comedic shift in tone helps the series feel fresh for a change. If I wanted to analyze it to death, I could – but I won’t. It’s a great movie that deserves its due. Simple as that.

When we stop superimposing our own rules of how a movie should be, it allows us to enjoy it for what it is. I know it’s impossible not to critique a movie – we all do it. But there comes a point when we should simply let entertainment do its job. Let movies make you laugh, cry, and grin in delight as they serve their primary goal. Otherwise, why are we even watching these things anymore?

In the words of a wise man once said, “Are you not entertained?!”

That is the goal, isn’t it?

 

 

 

3 Issues With Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War is a crowning achievement in filmmaking for a myriad of reasons. The sheer scale of the film and its ensemble is something to be admired, but what’s really incredible is simply how well it works. While not every character gets to shine as we’d like, the teams work well together onscreen, creating some of the most memorable scenes in the MCU to date.

Infinity War more than met my expectations and delivered not only one of the greatest villains in cinematic history, but also featured one of the best cliffhangers in a film I’ve ever seen. It sets up Avengers 4 superbly, leaving us left alone to guess and theorize until we’re blue in the face. Meanwhile, in just a few days I’ll finally grab a copy of it when it hits Blu-Ray release Tuesday and hopefully, that will be enough to tide me over. Needless to say, 2019 cannot come soon enough.

I take very few issues with Infinity War, but there are just a few minor complaints I’m willing to share. I want to re-emphasize just how much I love this movie. It’s simply amazing. But no movie is perfect, of course. That said, here’s a few of my nitpicks:

Thor’s Replacement Eye

Thor: Ragnarok is still one of my favorite MCU films to date. It reinvents an increasingly irrelevant Thor and introduces a number of great new characters, all while setting up well for Infinity War. One of my favorite elements of Ragnarok was Thor’s new look, especially the rockin’ eye patch that favors his father, Odin. The battle scar was a great reminder of a Thor that has seen countless battles and lost so much, even part of himself.

In Infinity War, when Rocket Racoon provides Thor with a new replacement eye, Thor tosses the old patch aside and soon seems back to normal. Rocket did make a comment that Thor needed to be 100% ready if he was going to fight Thanos again, so perhaps the eye was a necessary change.

Was it really necessary, though? Am I the only one who loved the eye patch? It just made Thor look that much more hardcore and battle-hardened. It was such an iconic moment in Ragnarok and felt a little cheap for them to remove it so quickly in its direct follow-up. His replacement eye didn’t make any sense to me, either. I know he’s supposed to be god-like, but is it that easy to swap out eyes? Whatever the case – I didn’t love this scene.

Hulk’s major defeat

The Directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, respectively were quoted as saying that Thanos’ power needed to be established early on in the film. It also needed to be conveyed just how powerful he was without the power of the Infinity Stones. So when Hulk leaps into the fight at Loki’s queue, audiences like myself expected a much more balanced fight. What we got was something reminiscent of how badly Bane defeated Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, which was also a very troubling scene in the same regard.

Hulk has been defeated before onscreen, of course, so this isn’t something new necessarily. But in most of those fights, Hulk at least faired longer than this beatdown, courtesy of Thanos. At the very least, I expected Hulk to get a few more jabs in before being taken down. Instead, Thanos completely overwhelms him and within seconds has him effectively knocked out. It just felt a bit unbalanced, even with the context from the writers and directors in mind.

The good news is, I think we can safely say the Hulk will have some form of vengeance in Avengers 4 next year. He is certainly powerful, but he’s relatively new to existence and Thanos’ superiority makes sense when you compare him. Still, for me, this scene is shocking to witness every time, with no exception. Hulk being knocked out that fast is simply mind-boggling.

Captain America’s reduced role.

While it’s understandable that it’s simply not possible to give every major character enough screen time like we’d probably prefer, Captain America’s role is severely limited this time around. His new look is so awesome, but we barely see the depth that normally accompanies his character. He interacts very little with Bucky, his best friend who’s finally become free of the brainwashing from Hydra. It has been said that he’s interacted with Bucky since Civil War, but it would have been nice to see some more evolution of their great friendship.

Captain America may not be as versatile a warrior as Iron Man or as powerful as Thor, but he certainly never steps down from a fight (in fact I’d say he could give Thor a run for his money). He’s given little chance to really show what he’s capable of against Thanos, except for an admirable last stand as Thanos picks off his team one by one. Even this moment is short-lived, though.

The saving grace in this situation, I think, is once again – Avengers 4. We can safely assume Captain will have a much larger role this time around. In fact, I suspect his character may see his end come next year. It’s his last contracted MCU film (that we know about), and Chris Evans has stated more than once how he’s ready to move on from the role. My guess is he will really get to shine in the next entry, along with our beloved original Avengers team (and possibly Ant-Man and Captain Marvel).

Ultimately, I suppose most of these complaints will be gone once Avengers 4 hits next year since it is essentially Part-II of this finale. While I don’t expect every single loose end to be tied up by the time the credits roll, I’m sure we will find it a worthy final chapter to this incredible saga of films, while giving way to a new generation of heroes and films to enjoy.

Mission Impossible: Fallout Review

The Mission Impossible franchise has long been a favorite of mine, each installment offering continuous thrills and exciting plots that keep you guessing at every turn. It’s a franchise that has somehow not only aged really well in its twenty years of existence but has actually managed to offer its best entry yet with Fallout, the sixth installment in the series.  That’s right – the best Mission Impossible movie is now the sixth film in its franchise. It’s the best in the series, without a doubt.

With the exception of the extremely cheesy second entry in the series, the Mission Impossible franchise has been consistently good time and time again. While some were more memorable than others depending on the plot, set piece, and characters, they have all offered tremendous entertainment. No doubt largely thanks to the admirable efforts of Tom Cruise. He has consistently proven that he will stop at nothing to deliver an authentic action film, even if it means putting himself in great danger. Say what you will about the man, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for his dedication to his craft. In many ways, he is directly responsible for keeping the franchise fresh and exciting.

Fallout not only raises the bar in its action sequences, but its cinematography, character development, and overall plot structure. Even the adrenaline-soaked score is more noticable this time around compared to previous entries. Director Christopher McQuarrie has a great eye for strong visuals and camera angles that really allow the viewer to appreciate the scale of the sequence. I’ve seen it twice now and I still cannot wrap my head around some of the shots this production team produced. It’s one of those action movies that inherently establishes itself as a trend-setter.

Tom Cruise once again brings the charasmatic hero Ethan Hunt to the big screen, holding nothing back like always. Cruise always knows how to portray Hunt in a way that keeps you rooting for him, both for his personal life and when he’s saving the world from terrorists and mad men. Without spoiling too much, there’s a scene early on where Hunt has to make a difficult decision, but his choice reflects one of the many things that makes his character great. This is a more vulnerable Hunt than we’ve seen before, though still unwaivering in his dedication to his mission.

Simon Pegg returns as the ever-capable and comedic relief Benji Dunn, an agent who has proven himself almost as resourceful in the field as he is behind a computer screen. He’s always a welcome addition to his cast, and his comedic quips never feel out of place. In fact, overall the humor of Fallout is never overbearing. It’s a nice balance and an improvement from many past action films that rely too heavily on humor over substance. Ving Rhames also returns as Luther Stickell, another support member of Hunt’s team who’s been with him since the original Mission Impossible. He brings a good balance of humor and helps the narrative bring some levity to an otherwise fast-paced, roller coaster of a plot.

Rebecca Ferguson also returns from Rogue Nation as Isla Faust, a British MI6 agent who had left the game but somehow finds her path crossed with Hunt once again. Ferguson proves to be a great addition to the already excellence ensemble. Her complicated relationship with Hunt and the rest of the cast serves as a great side-plot. I’m so glad she’s not been reduced playing as eye-candy like far too many films do today. She’s a force to be reckoned with, without a doubt.

Another noteworthy addition to the cast is Henry Cavill, who plays as August Walker, a CIA operative sent to aid Hunt in his next mission. Cavill is considerably taller and more muscular than Cruise, still retaining his physique from playing the iconic role of Superman in recent years, and it’s intended to be noticable. Early on in the film, Walker’s handler from the CIA compares her man to Hunt as a scapel versus a hammer (Walker of course being the hammer in this analogy). Walker is a shoot first, ask questions later kind of agent in stark contrast to Hunt’s more calculated and careful methods. On a side note, Cavill knows how to throw a punch onscreen – that much is obvious after seeing Fallout.

Last but not least, I really enjoyed Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow, a relative of a character from the earlier films. Everything down to her mannerisms and her voice is eerily similar to her predecessor, which suits her well. Kirby’s character serves as a nice nod to the original film, and she portrays the White Widow with an almost haunting elegance and confidence. Sometimes actors just know how to use their eyes in a downright captivating way, and Ms. Kirby apparently has this talent mastered. She would be well-cast in a thriller or any drama, for that matter.

Fallout is the most lengthy MI film to date, but somehow the pacing keeps it from ever becoming dull. And even when the action slows down, the characters are given more depth than in previous entries, which gives the movie ultimately more substance than you’re usually accustomed to in action movies. And while previous MI films offered some incredible set pieces, Fallout not only tops all of them, but does so consistently from beginning to end. These are sequences that will burn in your brain for many years, and rightfully so. This is how you make a stellar action film, ladies and gentlemen.

I must also mention how incredible the score is for Fallout. Lorne Balfe has become a recent favorite composer of mine, and this is easily one of his strongest productions yet. At times I noticed themes that reminded me of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s music from the Dark Knight trilogy, but this is not a fault of Balfe’s by any means. The powerful score is as much a part of the storytelling in Fallout as anything else, and in my mind, it serves the film well, adding great emphasis to the already excellent cinematography and stunt work. The score is so good that I find myself playing it on Spotify randomly throughout the day, like many great productions before it.

Fallout succeeds so well because it offers the very best of the Mission Impossible franchise we’ve seen yet, all while offering refreshing takes on our beloved characters, offering an engaging plot, and raising the bar in mind-blowing action sequences. When I really begin to analyze it, quite frankly it’s difficult for me to really find any significant faults. Fallout is the best of the best, proving how action movies can be done in an original way, without sacrificing story and character development. This is flat-out, a great movie that deserves your attention. It’s so good, I’m partially hoping they won’t even make anymore sequels. If this is the best they can do – I’m more than happy with that. Better to stop here while they’re ahead.  They’ve raised the bar so hight now, I can’t possibly imagine where to go from here.

Final Score: 9.3/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: Episode IX Wishlist

Though we’re still well over a year from the release of Episode IX, after reviewing The Last Jedi 6-7 times now, I’ve come to clear conclusions both where I stand with the franchise currently, as well as my hopes for the next and likely final chapter of this sequel trilogy. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall, The Last Jedi changed the course of this trilogy significantly. It’s really anyone’s guess now as to how Episode IX will play out. Sure, we can theorize till we’re blue in the face, but that proved to be a waste of time with TLJ. However, since J.J. Abrams is helming this next entry, it’s probably safe to say it’ll be more predictable than Rian Johnson’s efforts.

I’m not going to try and theorize because, quite frankly, I don’t trust my instincts in this area. I’m never right. Instead, I’m choosing to simply state my hopes for Episode IX. I like J.J. Abrams, but I have my doubts on his abilities to finish what he starts. He’s never concluded almost anything, with the exception of a few standalone films. Finishing a trilogy is a whole other beast entirely. Abrams is notorious for delivering intrigue and mystery, but he rarely concludes his stories in a satisfying manner. I’m hoping he’ll prove me wrong and make some bold choices while honoring the stories of the previous entries.

What follows in no particular order is my wishlist for Episode IX:

Go forward several years in the timeline. 

Episodes VII and VIII seem to take place within days of each other, if not sooner. This being the case, the significant changes taking place are harder to swallow. It all feels incredibly fast. I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t love the ridiculously fast-pacing of The Force Awakens, especially when it came to plot development. Entertaining, yes. Good plot structure? Not so much. That said, TLJ does so many things that border on a conclusion to the trilogy while maintaining a lot of the same pacing as TFA, we need a minute to catch our breath. Not to mention the loss of Carrie Fisher makes it all the more complicated in terms of handling her story from here on out. It would likely be disrespectful to even portray her onscreen at this point, except to conclude her character. Even then, the more tasteful choice is to find a way to let her character pass on off-screen, likely between the events of Episode VIII and IX.

A time jump would allow for the stakes to rise once again and add more depth to our characters. We could see Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose and Kylo Ren all having experienced more and grown in significant ways. You can only do so much character development in the short time Episodes VIII and IX have taken place. We simply need more time. It just doesn’t make sense for the trilogy to both start and end during such small periods of time.

More Kylo Ren and Rey interactions.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the sequel trilogy is the interactions between Rey and Kylo Ren, particularly in The Last Jedi. They blurred the line between friend and foe, even at times hinting at a possible romance. Kylo’s motivations became much more clear in these interactions, despite the horrid nature of his actions. We could find ourselves actually sympathizing with him as we learned how all parental figures have essentially failed him all his life. Rey found herself on the opposite of the spectrum, wanting only to find her place in the galaxy and know her true parentage. Sharing both contrasts and deep connections, their relationship became a focal point of the movie. Even in the finale, as it would seem their paths are once again in opposition to one another, we still see a sense of longing in Kylo’s eyes.

Some people take issue with their interactions, but I personally found their chemistry to be the best parts of the movie. Hopefully, they won’t find themselves completely at odds with one another in Episode IX. I would like this new relationship at least continue to be explored. Rey may stand in the light, but she is by no means a Jedi. Her curiosity with the dark and its promises of fulfillment may still be a temptation in this next chapter. Suddenly making them clear enemies doesn’t make sense after what we’ve seen in TLJ.

Large-scale battles.

The Last Jedi displayed probably the largest battles we’ve seen in the sequel trilogy to date. Even still, the Resistance continues to shrink in size throughout the film, and by its finale, they’re reduced to a motley band of warriors taking refuge on the Millenium Falcon. Obviously, we expect to see more allies appear in Episode IX, but it looks like an even smaller operation than ever before. Even the Rebel Alliance seemed better suited for large-scale warfare than the Resistance.

One of the things I appreciated about the Prequels and Rogue One were the scale of the battles. Revenge of the Sith demonstrated this especially well, with the opening shot alone providing a great portrayal of the massive scope of the battle above Coruscant. While some complained that these battles lacked soul, featuring many nameless troopers on both sides that the audience cared little about, I found it all a great element to the films. Here’s hoping J.J. Abrams delivers on the scale of the film this time around, and not just in the size of the threat to our heroes.

Introduce The Knights of Ren

For whatever reason, we’re two-thirds completed with this new trilogy and we’ve yet to see the Knights of Ren that Kylo apparently commands. We know that they are likely comprised of some of the students from Luke’s academy when Kylo destroyed it and killed most of them. With the exception of the vision Rey sees in TFA, we don’t know almost anything about this group.

They need to be a major feature of Episode IX for there to be any genuine continuity here. Abrams has a bad habit of introducing a million plot points without resolving them, which is why I’m fine with most of Johnson’s decision to bypass many of them. However, this does leave Episode IX in a weird position with characters like the Knights of Ren. Some theorized they are the Praetorian Guards featured in TLJ, but I doubt this is the case because none of them wield lightsabers. They could serve as a great plot point in so many ways if they’re utilized properly Perhaps one of them could challenge Kylo’s power and try to overtake him or something.

Just use them, already, people!

More Force Ghosts.

Seeing the return of Yoda in The Last Jedi was one of my favorite parts, in no small part because of how great his scene actually was. Yoda summarized the film’s entire primary theme in one scene, once again showing Luke how he’s missed the point, and that’s ok. But one of the biggest questions that plagued The Force Awakens was Kylo’s obsession with his grandfather, even though Anakin was clearly redeemed in the end and transformed into a  Force Ghost. Why didn’t Anakin appear to correct his grandson?

On the other hand, Yoda’s appearance did bring into question the nature of Force Ghosts and their power. Apparently, to at least some degree, Force Ghosts can interact with the natural realm. With that in mind, what does this mean going forward? Will we see more Force Ghosts using actual powers? Or was that just to demonstrate Yoda’s apparently unique power? I’m curious as to where this fits. I expect to see Luke return as a Force Ghost almost assuredly. But what about anyone else? And to what degree?

A Proper Conclusion.

One of my primary concerns about Episode IX is its director, J.J. Abrams. Mr. Abrams has tremendous talent, but he also has one of the most obvious weaknesses of any director working today: He rarely concludes stories. Not only that, the handful of projects he’s completed on his own rarely concluded in a satisfactory manner. He’s generally very good at introducing new ideas, but completing the story is another matter.

Abrams left after season 2 of Alias and after only a few episodes of Lost. He directed the first two reboots of Star Trek, the latter of which was not his greatest effort. He’s produced many shows and films, but only directed a handful himself. He did helm Mission Impossible III, which was a great entry in the series, albeit tame compared to its sequels. He also wrote and directed  Super 8, which I believe ended up being a combination of script ideas. Super 8 was fine but never amounted to being more than a kind of homage to films like E.T. and Close Encounters of The Third Kind.

Most of his films are continuations or reboots or sequels. He’s rarely helmed a standalone project of a truly original idea or completed a trilogy. Finishing Episode IX will force Abrams to do what he’s rarely ever done before – finish a story arc. His obsession with mystery and intrigue serves him well for concepts, but it has also likewise hindered him from showing his ability to conclude a proper story.

For Episode IX to be as memorable and successful as both audiences and Lucasfilm alike desire, Mr. Abrams must deliver a satisfactory story conclusion. This is no time to go all Lost on us (as much as I love that show). A lot needs to happen, and he’s only got one more movie to do it. (On a side note, I would be fine to see an Episode X, as long as Episode IX does not end on a cliffhanger.) Either way, Episode IX doesn’t need to end on a cliffhanger. The cliff-hanger ending was one of the worst parts of The Force Awakens. It might as well have been left to Episode VIII to feature Luke at all. This movie needs to conclude and do it well. Make it memorable. Make it epic.

Take Risks.

I know I’ve already mentioned this from the beginning, but I cannot stress how important it is to make bold creative decisions. The primary issue with The Force Awakens is that it took almost no risks. And no, featuring a female lead is not a risk because audiences have loved female leads for decades. I’ve heard people use this to defend TFA and it does not work. That’s not risky. Nor is casting a black stormtrooper. These are great choices, yes but they’re not risks. Anyways, gender and race are not what I’m talking about.

Rian Johnson took risks in The Last Jedi. Were all of them good choices? Probably not. I doubt any of us want to remember Leia flying through space like Mary Poppins. But many risks paid off well, like killing off Snoke or writing Rey’s parentage as irrelevant to her significance. I loved these decisions because they challenged my expectations and my predictions, and most of them were executed beautifully. I’m still on the fence about Luke’s final scenes, but I still find them beautiful and tragic all at once, even if it’s not necessarily what I wanted to happen.

Abrams needs to stop obsessing remaking the past in his movies. The Force Awakens had great execution but little depth and little originality. That won’t be enough this time around. We need to see Star Wars grow and develop, and Rian Johnson did that in his own way successfully. Otherwise, Episode IX will go down as one of the most predictable and disappointing conclusions to a Star Wars trilogy.

Help us, Mr. Abrams. You’re our only hope. Give us the finale we know you can deliver.