Sunday, May 27, 2018

Howard’s End: “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is Star Wars Lite but Fun Otherwise

We all know where Han Solo ends up, but where did he come from? Some people want to know and others could care less. But Disney is giving us his story and it’s probably as good a film that could have come from such a concept. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a film no one asked for but it exists anyways and it works. The cast is well realized and it looks and feels like the other Star Wars films. It’s a fun, light adventure that will satisfy fans anxiously awaiting Episode IX.

I always wonder what could have been with directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord initially at the helm, but Disney didn’t see eye to eye and they were replaced by the extremely vanilla Ron Howard. Howard is a fine director though he hardly takes many risks and offers little in the way of visual wonder (though I’ve been particularly impressed with some of his recent offerings like “Rush”). Howard is the safe choice and “Solo” certainly is safe movie. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it won’t win any new fans. You pretty much know what you’re getting and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The film, taking place in the years between Episode III and Episode IV, the film follows a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) a smuggler who works in and around the criminal underworld. He’s a tad more optimistic than his older self (we know that because he says things like “I’ve got a GOOD feeling about this”). Emilia Clarke, making her way through nerdy properties (ie Game of Thrones, Terminator), appears as Han’s love interest Qi’ra. After an event that leads to her capture, Solo trains with the Imperial army and eventually leads a daring heist that involves a highly sought after fuel called Coaxium. Woody Harrelson shows up as Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett, and we meet familiar faces along the way including Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Paul Bettany is fine as the film’s villainous crime lord Dryden Vos.

Howard directs the film with an assured hand. The action scenes are well-shot and suspenseful. The actors are fantastic in their roles. The visual effects work and the cinematography from Bradford Young (“Arrival”) has an appropriately dark and grungy look. John Powell’s score, which uses lots of John Williams cues, is fantastic and uplifting. The film functions, much like “Rogue One,” as a fun heist film. It’s obvious the film was made for fans even if they never really wanted it.

I get what Disney is trying to do. They could potentially have a million Star Wars-related films made. They just need to make the really great ones. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a completely fine movie. I just really want to see a great one.  GRADE: B

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Cable Guy: The Hilariously Irreverent “Deadpool 2” is Another Marvelous Meta Romp

It seems like only yesterday I was complaining about “superhero fatigue.” Actually it was about 7 years ago when I wrote this in my “Captain America: The First Avenger” review: “I myself have found myself going through superhero fatigue.” What the hell was I thinking? That was way back when these comic book adaptations were sort of by the numbers and the MCU was still in its infancy. “The Dark Knight” and "Iron Man" were considered the epitome of comic book quality but they really just set the stage for what was to come. It’s now 2018 and not only are comic book films released nearly every other week, we finally have a sequel to the delightfully derisive “Deadpool.” While it certainly wasn’t the first graphically violent but comedic, kids-shouldn’t-be-watching-this, subversive super hero flick (there was “Kick-Ass” and “Super” to name a few but they weren't entirely successful) it was finally the first one released by a major studio to not take itself so seriously. “Deadpool” was somewhat of a surprise hit and I’m glad to report that “Deadpool 2” is arguably even funnier and meta-ier with so many funny gags and pop culture references you’ll either be giddy or completely sick of it by the end. I was giddy.

“Deadpool 2” ups the ante in terms of literally everything. More characters. More fun. More jokes. More violence. And so many great song choices. No seriously, this thing has an amazing soundtrack. Don’t even look up the soundtrack album before you see the film, you’ll want to be surprised (I’ll just describe it as super fabulous). And let’s just say there’s an Oscar-worthy original song performed by a popular French Canadian superstar. Enough hints.

Does anyone really care about the plot of “Deadpool 2?” I couldn’t really piece anything together from the trailers but there is actually a story unfolding here. Wade Wilson (easily Ryan Reynolds’ most iconic role), if you remember from the first film, is now a super-healing mutant covered with scars from head to toe. His alter ego is the wise-cracking, mercenary Deadpool and he’s living it up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin); but after a series of unfortunate events, Wade ends up at the X-Men’s mansion and back with old frenemies Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Eventually he forms a team with a gender neutral name (X-Force) which involves some of the films biggest laughs and cleverest bits (including standout turns from Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, and Rob Delaney). Meanwhile, a time-traveling cybernetic soldier shows up, no not that one; his name is Cable (played by Thanos himself Josh Brolin) and he wants to assassinate a teenage mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison). Wait, is this a Terminator film or what?

Ok enough plot stuff. This movie is just hilarious. The script is as meta as ever thanks to writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who also worked wonders on the first film) with Reynolds getting a credit this time around. I can’t even count the number of ingenious references. There’s everything from “The Passion of the Christ” to “Frozen.” And the film has a really fun time making fun of itself, and Reynolds himself, and the fact that we’re watching a comic book film. There are plenty of fun cameos too good to spoil here as well. Did I mention the soundtrack full of gay hits (seriously; Dolly, Cher, etc)?

I expected “Deadpool 2” to be great. But I didn’t expect it to be this great. A sequel is almost never as good as the first film because most sequels by their nature lack the element of surprise. But the filmmakers have improved upon the fantastic first film in so many great ways. The film feels fresh, has dramatic weight, and earns every fun twist and turn in the plot. The actors really sell the material and it feels like they’re having as much fun as the audience. The film is well-paced and offers plenty of fun action thanks to new to the franchise director David Leitch. 2018 is turning out to be a great year for superheroes. And no fatigue in sight.  GRADE: A-