Category Archives: Reviews

“DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Multiverse of Mediocrity.

Let this be a lesson to anyone working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: if you’re going to come out with a sequel to one of the strangest heroes in your universe, maybe don’t wait six years to release it. Because at that point, not only do you run the risk of it becoming obsolete — you also threaten to have the whole thing crumble under the weight of its own expectations.

Enter Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. In the span between its two movies, the MCU has debuted 18 new heroes, released six new TV shows, concluded the Avengers saga, and even released an entirely new Spider-Man trilogy to top it all off. So much has happened in the MCU that has affected so much already that it’s hard to release any sequel and have it stand alone as part of its own story. One might even argue that you can’t.

Sure enough, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness fails in this sequelitis litmus test, a messy, sloppy film that is all over the place and trying to do way too much all at once. To properly understand this movie, not only have you needed to watch Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, and Endgame, but also “WandaVision,” “Loki,Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even a few Fox-owned movie properties on top of all that. This is a film with the buildup of an Avengers movie and the payoff of a botched “What If…?” episode.

After he wiped the world’s memory of Spider-Man’s true identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to adjust to a world with neither Avengers nor Infinity Stones. But just as he begins to experience some sense of normalcy, he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is being chased by monsters through several dimensions. Now determined to help this young girl, Doctor Strange enlists in the help Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to defend her from the monsters of the multiverse.

Before I say anything else, I want to get one thing right out of the way: it was wonderful to see Sam Raimi return to the director’s chair. While most known for creating one of the best superhero movies ever with the likes of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, his filmography has taken him everywhere under the sun, from deeply disturbing horror movies like Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell to wildly entertaining B-movie blockbusters like Darkman and Army Of Darkness. But with his last feature-length film coming out in 2013 with Oz The Great And Powerful, it’s been nine years since Sam Raimi’s last movie, 13 years since his last horror movie, and 15 years since his last superhero movie. One has to wonder how his directing chops have held up despite being away for such a long time?

The good news is that Sam Raimi’s still got it. More importantly, he still carries his own unique signature that Marvel thankfully allowed him to carry over into one of their most popular franchises. Combining the campiness of his Spider-Man movies with the horrifying imagery of Evil Dead, Sam Raimi creates a dark and disturbing world with Multiverse Of Madness that feels cursed just by the look and feel of it. There were quite a few times where his imagery was so bold, bloody, and grotesque that it actually made me squirm in my seat. There were several moments where characters were getting straight-up dismembered, contorting into twisted, uncomfortable shapes, and even horrifically burned alive.

I was genuinely surprised that Marvel allowed Sam Raimi to go as far as he did with the violence, and even more surprised that this movie didn’t get an R rating. But Raimi teeters the line just enough to where the film never crosses the line of being over-the-top or gory, though I can’t help but wonder how different the film might have felt if Raimi was allowed to go even further.

I also really like the film’s visual creativity, especially in scenes where Strange is traveling through the multiverse. There was one really trippy sequence where Strange is falling through multiple realities, from the prehistoric era to an evergreen paradise to even an animated world flooded with watercolors. The whole sequence was so surreal and outlandish that I felt like I was on acid while watching it. If someone did happen to wander into the theater while under the influence, I pray for their sanity because it might be broken by the time this movie is over.

That said, some of the movie’s visuals don’t work quite as well, and you especially notice it with a lot of the film’s newer characters. America Chavez’s dimensional portals are one instance where they look like firework sprites coming from your laptop’s screensaver. One character in the mid-credits scene is so shiny and pristine that she looks like a scrapped character from Eternals. And one villain has a third eye appearing on his forehead that looks so photoshopped that I couldn’t help but laugh while looking at it.

However, the worst sequence hands-down comes from one fight scene where two sorcerers are casting spells at each other using… musical notes. I’m not even kidding. They literally lift musical notes off of a page of sheet music and cast them at each other like a game of darts. I remind you, this is coming from a franchise that was once a major contender for visual effects at the Academy Awards. And here, they’re just throwing in a fight scene so silly and cartoonish that it feels like it’s a deleted scene from Disney’s Fantasia.

But I can forgive inconsistent visuals. What I can’t forgive is poor writing, and this is unfortunately where the film falters the most. Not only does Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness have one of the worst screenplays out of the entire MCU: I would argue it is the worst screenplay, bar none. Dead serious.

Sure, there are other screenplays that are childish, silly, stupid, half-baked, or even underdeveloped. Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Eternals are the immediate ones that come to mind. But even at their most basic levels, those movies demonstrate at least some understanding of their characters and what motivates them. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness completely misunderstands the heart and souls of its characters, and it makes their actions in the film all the more unbelievable.

Imagine following Tom Holland throughout his six-movie arc, falling in love with his charm, his wit, his sense of humor, his intelligence, and his unwavering commitment to doing the right thing. Then all of a sudden in his seventh movie, he throws all of that out the window and starts going on a violent rampage across the city where he starts viciously murdering people in the most gruesome ways possible. That isn’t just a gross manipulation of his character: it’s a straight-up betrayal of his character, and it does a great disservice to him and the arc he’s built up over the course of the entire franchise.

There are multiple characters that are betrayed in a similar fashion in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. And it would be one thing if these were alternate versions of these characters in another universe. But they aren’t: they’re the original characters in the original MCU. That makes their mischaracterizations all the more worse, and it ruins the experience for anyone who has been passionately following their journeys for quite some time.

Oddly enough, there is another multiversal film in cinemas right now titled Everything Everywhere All At Once. Go and see it. Not only does it utilize its bizarre concept to its maximum potential, but it’s also one of the most creative and unique narratives to come out of cinemas in the past several years. The only way Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness even comes close to that potential is in another universe.

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“SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A blue speedster, a two-tailed fox, and a hot-tempered knucklehead. 

There’s a general rule to film criticism, and that is to always remain objective. No matter what talent, studio, or subject matter is associated with your film, it’s the film critic’s job to separate all of that from the film and focus on the story it’s trying to tell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an original idea or an adaptation of a 1990s video game. The quality is clear in either circumstance, and it’s the critic’s job to delineate what does and doesn’t work with the film they’re writing about. 

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is the kind of movie that makes you want to throw objectivity right out the window, the kind that makes you want to paint your face blue, put on your hedgehog ears, and throw your popcorn in excitement as your favorite speedster zooms through the theater. I must be honest, dear reader: I have no idea whether Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is, objectively speaking, good, bad, or brilliant. And more to the point, I don’t care. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is a pure joy to experience, and observing it too closely defeats the purpose of watching a movie like this. 

Taking place after the first movie which, surprisingly, was the last box office hit we got before theaters shut down in 2020, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 picks up right where the last movie left off with everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog Sonic (Ben Schwartz) living with the Wachowskis in Green Hills, Montana. After being banished to a Mushroom Planet in the last movie, Doctor Eggman (Jim Carrey) returns to Earth with a new ally, a red echidna named Knuckles (Idris Elba) who has an ax to grind against Sonic. But Eggman isn’t the only one with a new friend: a two-tailed fox named Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) has also shown up to help Sonic fend off his new foes. Now equipped with an ancient map and the discovery of a powerful artifact called the Master Emerald, Sonic and Tails must team up to get to the Master Emerald before Eggman and Knuckles do. 

Does this plot sound a little insane? Maybe, but some films benefit from a little insanity every once in a while. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is definitely one of those movies. While the first movie was an enjoyable and adorable little introduction to the blue speedster, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 ups the ante by a thousand and asks fans to buckle up for the ride. It isn’t just that it’s more action-packed: it’s more everything. From the laughs to the drama to the excitement to the intrigue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is just more of what makes Sonic The Hedgehog, well, Sonic The Hedgehog. For casual fans whose surface-level knowledge is limited to knowing that Sonic’s fur is blue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is simply just more of what the first movie gave us. For longtime fans who have grown up with the franchise ever since his Sega Genesis days, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gives dedicated fans everything they’ve ever wanted in a Sonic movie. 

Oh I make no exaggeration when I say I was geeking out while watching this film. Nearly everything worked, from Sonic’s quick-witted comebacks to Tails’ ingenuity and invention to Knuckles’ hard-headedness and fisticuff-fueled rage. A few years ago, a movie about a talking hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and an overly-grumpy echidna might sound like a stupid idea to some studio execs. But thanks to the first movie’s success, Paramount saw how fans turned out for it, shrugged their shoulders, and said “Screw it, go for the nerdy nostalgia on this one Jeff!”  

That was the best call the studio could have made for this movie, and director Jeff Fowler really leans in to these characters and what makes them so beloved in fans’ eyes. Here is a movie that, on every level, just gets why Sonic is adored by fans and succeeds in replicating that for the big screen. It isn’t just the fact that the creative team understands the in-game inspirations: it’s that they know the most essential foundations for these characters and leans into them all the way. Other recent video game adaptations like Uncharted or “Halo” misunderstand what made these franchises popular and adapts the wrong parts for their live-action outings. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 does not have that problem. In fact, one might argue that it perhaps relies too much on its source material. But if this movie’s biggest problem is being too faithful, then boy oh boy, is that a great problem to have.

My main gripe with this film is the same one I had with its predecessor, and that is the humans. They’re boring, they’re dumb, and they serve no purpose beyond adding some padding to the cast list. Thankfully most of the movie sidesteps the humans and focuses on the animals and their conflict with the robot mad scientist, but then the second act really focuses in on this stupid marriage subplot that dragged on for way too long and added nothing to the main story. I don’t know if the studio had some clause saying the humans needed a specific amount of screen time or if they thought a film couldn’t function without a more human presence, but either way it doesn’t work. Natasha Rothwell’s character in particular was the worst character in the first movie, and here she has a whole side arc dedicated to her that neither works nor is relevant for the movie she’s in. 

Ultimately, my deep love for these characters and this franchise comes into direct conflict with my objectivity and my duty to appropriately critique this film. As a mere critic, I objectively believe this film is a fun time regardless of whether you’re a casual or a dedicated fan, and it’s definitely a shoo-in for families looking to distract their kids for an afternoon. But as a longtime fan who has followed this series ever since I was a child, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gave me everything I ever wanted to see in a Sonic movie. So which inner voice do I listen to? Do I listen to the angel blue hedgehog on one shoulder, or the devilish film critic on the other?

Screw it. Objectivity or not, part of a film critic’s job is to also know what they like or don’t like: and I love this movie. Even with the forced human sideplots and gags, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 delivers on the action, the adventure, the humor, and the heart that has made this high-speed hedgehog so beloved in the first place.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is without a doubt the best video game movie ever released, and I am saying that with a straight face. Maybe that doesn’t mean much in a subgenre where there are more failures than there are successes, but hey, I’m celebrating the moment regardless. This is a year that has seen space marines, super soldiers, assassins, aliens, and treasure hunters take over the big screen, yet somehow the movie about a talking blue hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and red-hot echidna is the one that has taken off running. I hope it never slows down.

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“TURNING RED” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A young girl transitioning into red panda-hood. 

Puberty is a strange phenomenon to experience. When a caterpillar is born, it doesn’t imagine a life beyond its slimy little six-legged existence. But as it crystallizes and forms into a cocoon, its body begins to change, transform, and blossom into something new. It might have felt confusing, unnatural, maybe even a little frightening for that caterpillar at times. But when it emerges, it is something more fierce, beautiful, and free than it ever was before, and it is all the better because of it.

Turning Red portrays those same sensations and emotions of puberty through the eyes of a 13-year-old Chinese girl named Mei (Rosalie Chiang). Like all other teenage girls, Mei leads a very busy life. She’s a straight-A student who solves puzzles and mathematic equations just for fun. She has a group of girlfriends that love to fawn over high school boys and pop stars. And she has a strict and overprotective mother named Ming (Sandra Oh), who she works with after school in her family temple.

Her life stays relatively normal until one morning, she wakes up to discover that she has changed into a red panda. As her parents discover her transformation, she learns that her red panda form appears anytime she feels an intense emotion. Now faced with a solution to her red panda problem, Mei has to decide if she wants to get rid of her red panda forever or live with her new furry form for the rest of her life.

When it comes to its extensive filmography, Pixar is no stranger to telling stories about adolescence and growing up. Its most recent feature, Luca, was a literal fish-out-of-water story about a pair of sea monsters learning to feel comfortable with who they are, while Inside Out touched on the complexities of emotions and how all of them are equally relevant. Heck, the entire message surrounding the Toy Story series is all about growing up and how your childhood forms you into the person you become. So Pixar is not in unfamiliar or uncharted territory with Turning Red. In fact, one could argue that much of their success came from this very same subject and focus.

The biggest difference between all of those films and Turning Red, however, lies in its viewpoint. Most of the aforementioned films focused on childhood and adolescence through a general lens where both boys and girls could empathize and relate to it. Turning Red focuses specifically on the female perspective, and that makes it so, so unique in a sea of animated movies. It’s not often where you experience a movie where the main character is a 13-year-old girl, and even fewer where she’s struggling with issues revolving around puberty, growing up, and watching her body change in front of herself.

I also like how the movie touches on Mei’s complex relationship with her mother and her desire to constantly please her. Turning Red’s director, Domee Shi, is no stranger to developing intimate narratives surrounding children and their parents. Her Academy Award-winning short film, Bao, was a sweet and intimate little gem about a mother and her dumpling-shaped son, and Turning Red adopts many of the same emotional beats as that film did.

But again, the biggest differences lie in the emphasis on the female angle. In Bao, Domee focused on the strained relationship between a mother and her estranged son. Turning Red is about two generations of women going through the same issues and both offering a unique take on those issues. Like all wise parents, Ming offers a wealth of experience for Mei, a firsthand knowledge of what she is going through and how to get through it. Mei, however, offers a different viewpoint that the red panda isn’t a rabid beast or a monster to be tamed, but rather a part of herself that can be embraced instead of feared. Both perspectives are equally valid, but what I love is that the movie doesn’t provide a clear-cut right or wrong answer on the red panda dilemma and how Mei and Ming should respond to it. It only provides the right answer for them as individuals, and those answers are very different from each other.

Yet, the most touching part about all of this is that the red panda doesn’t affect Mei or Ming’s relationship with each other. Their paths may be different, but that doesn’t mean their love or feelings towards one another has to change. I find it incredibly moving that the film’s most powerful scene doesn’t involve red pandas or larger-than-life Chinese folklore, but instead simply revolves around a mother and her daughter sharing their life experiences with one another. They are, after all, both women. If anybody can understand what they have gone through, it’s themselves.

Turning Red is one of those rare little gems that challenges you not just as a viewer or as a movie fan, but as a person and as a constantly growing and evolving human being. Good movies keep audiences merely entertained or engaged throughout their run time, but genuinely great movies inspire new stories, emotions, characters, experiences, and thought-provoking ideas that stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. Turning Red does just that in a vibrant, colorful, and eye-popping anime art style that makes you want to get up, shake your tail feathers, and let out your inner red panda in a loud and triumphant roar.

Turning Red isn’t just a fun time at the movies: it’s a moving and monumental coming-of-age story that inspires growth, challenges your perspective, and transforms you into something bigger and better: just like its furry red heroine.

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“The Batman” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A gothic Gotham and dark knight.

In the genre of comic book movies, few characters have been done and redone as many times as Batman has. In the past 10 years, we have seen five different iterations of the caped crusader on the big screen. This year alone, we’re going to see three different big-screen Batmans, two of which will be in live-action. In this day and age, the greatest challenge that comes with the dark knight is redoing and rebooting the character over and over again and making him feel different every time. 

Thankfully, Matt Reeves’ The Batman achieves this in spades, reintroducing the world’s greatest detective not as this mythical entity criminals fear late at night, but as one man at his wits ending fighting one city and the entirety of its corruption. Never before has Batman felt so grounded in a film. Yes, that even includes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. 

Taking place two years after he first donned the cowl, The Batman follows Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) at the start of his crime-fighting career as he hunts down Gotham’s worst. But as he begins to strike fear and vengeance into Gotham’s heart, a new serial killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) enters the fray, claiming responsibility for a string of murders happening throughout the city. Now determined to track down this killer, the Batman scours the criminal underworld looking for clues connecting him to Gotham’s newest criminal mastermind.

One of the most essential elements of any big-screen Batman adaptation is how the city of Gotham is portrayed. In Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Gotham is portrayed like a bleak slum reminiscent of a graveyard, shrouded in shades of charcoal and dark blue. In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Gotham mimics the look and feel of a modern-day Chicago. And in Batman V. Superman, Gotham is… apparently across the bay from Metropolis. But we don’t need to talk about that film.

So how does Matt Reeves handle his iteration of Gotham city? Pretty amazingly, actually. In fact, The Batman has quite possibly the best realization of Gotham yet. While previous films have shown Gotham as a dreadful, decrepit city that desperately needed saving, The Batman illustrates Gotham as a swamp of greed, crime, and corruption, sharing more in common with a diseased leper than a highly populated metropolitan city. In previous films, there was a glimmer of hope that Gotham could change and be saved. The Batman illustrates Gotham as a truly desolate, hopeless place that we honestly question if it’s even worth saving. In many ways, Gotham is a character in and of itself, and it really informs why Bruce constantly feels the need to suit up at night as the Batman.

But it isn’t just Gotham city that Matt Reeves nails so well here: its also the dark, eerie, unsettling tone that persists throughout the whole film. The opening sequence alone brilliantly sets the stage, with Robert Pattinson delivering a haunting voiceover about being a predator on the hunt at night while criminals cower in fear as they see the Bat Signal light up the sky. Most other Batman films have great introductions to their characters, but The Batman is the first to show the full scope of it and how everyone in this world reacts and responds to a prowler stalking the city late at night. It sets the tone so, so wonderfully. Out of all of the films that have been previously released, The Batman feels the most atmospheric and stays with you long after you’ve left the theater.

I also really like the ultra-realism that Matt Reeves aims for when adapting this big-screen Batman. While most Batman films feel implausible or far-fetched at one point or another, The Batman always feels completely realistic, sometimes nearly to its detriment. Instead of having countless bat gadgets and weapons at his disposal, this Batman carries only one bat-blade and a grappling gun, and that limits how much he’s able to do alone as one man. Instead of having a heavily-armored vehicle like the Tumbler or the Batwing, the Batmobile instead feels like a suped-up muscle car, yet equally capable in its speed and destruction. And instead of being able to fly with his cape, here he has to literally suit up in a flight suit just to be able to glide through the air. More than any other Batman film, The Batman feels the most like it could actually happen. That gives it a level of authenticity and believability that few Batman films have, and even fewer superhero films on top of that.

The cast is exceptional in every way imaginable. Zoe Kravitz brings us the best version of Catwoman to date, playing her not like a whiskers-twirling supervillain, but as a morally-conflicted cat burglar who sees the world through the shades of gray that she grew up in. Colin Farrell is straight-up unrecognizable as the Penguin, playing him as this cartoonish wannabe mob boss that wants to be taken more seriously than he actually is. And without giving too much away, Paul Dano’s Riddler serves as the perfect foil to Pattinson’s Batman, offering a chilling, disturbed performance of a twisted man who wants vengeance from the city that wronged him. I honestly think Dano’s Riddler might be my favorite supervillain performance in a Batman film. That is, after Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

This begs the question of how well does Robert Pattinson do in playing the caped crusader? Well, he’s a mixed bag. On one hand, his performance as Batman alone is mesmerizing and powerful, beautifully illustrating a man tortured and haunted by his demons and who is guided by his grief and trauma. His sheer presence inspires fear and tension, and that is exactly what you need in an actor to play Batman. His voice is also the darkest and most grim Batman voice in the past 10 years. I’d even go so far as to say his voice is my favorite out of all the Batman actors. It’s definitely an improvement over Christian Bale’s growly snarls and Ben Affleck’s garbled autotune.

In terms of playing Batman, Pattinson’s portrayal is perfect — maybe even the best on-screen Batman we’ve ever gotten. The problem is, he isn’t expected to just play Batman: he’s also expected to play Bruce Wayne, and this is where Pattinson’s performance begins to falter. While Pattinson’s Batman is dark, intimidating, and brooding, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is… the exact same. There’s no indication that he is the billionaire playboy that the press loves to flaunt on their front pages, or that he’s even capable of playing that part. While at night Pattinson is great at playing the shrouded predator that makes criminals shake in their boots, his performance as Bruce Wayne is the exact same and offers zero nuance beyond his scowls and eye-piercing glares.

Sure, you could make the argument that this is Bruce early on in his crime-fighting career and that he just doesn’t know how to delineate between his public and his private personas. But that implies that this version of Bruce is not smart enough, or at least aware enough, to know that he may need a public persona to fend off wavering eyes. I don’t buy that for a second. This is a guy who can solve riddles, find far-reaching clues, and piece together mind-boggling mysteries like a master detective, and he doesn’t even have the self-awareness to think “Hey, maybe I should B.S. the public so nobody suspects I’m secretly a vigilante?” Give me a break. There’s even a moment in the film where Bruce fears that somebody quietly suspects that he may be Batman. I mean, duh. What else do you think all of that eye shadow is for? A Panic! At The Disco concert?

All in all, The Batman is a bold and brilliant retelling of the dark knight, even if it falters with some creative decisions here or there. I find it fascinating that nine years after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy ended, The Batman doesn’t feel tired, redundant, or exhausted in its execution. Instead, it feels fresh, exciting, and deeply challenging to the caped crusader and his mythos. Yet, the biggest surprise I found with the film wasn’t how dark, how bleak, how hopeless Gotham really felt. The biggest surprise was after leaving Gotham when the movie was over, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to go back.

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“THE POWER OF THE DOG” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Netflix

Putting the dog down.

There’s a metaphor hiding behind the mountains of The Power Of The Dog. Some people can see a dog hiding within the curves, crevices, and shadows of the canyonside. Others can only see the mountain. Regardless of whether or not you can see the dog, it doesn’t change the fact that two people are just staring aimlessly at a mountain like madmen, searching for something that might not even be there.

Ironically enough, this plot point is the perfect metaphor for The Power Of The Dog itself. Like the old west, The Power Of The Dog possesses a lot of beauty, a lot of darkness, and a lot of danger burrowing beneath the sands of Montana. Just like the countryside, there’s a lot to appreciate with the sheer scale and scenery that we witness here. But stick around for too long, and it’ll eventually swallow you whole. That’s pretty much what happens with The Power Of The Dog: the main characters stare at the mountains for far too long, looking for deeper meaning in a place where there is none.

Based on a 1967 western novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog follows two rancher brothers as they toil day and night taking care of their cattle and farm. The elder brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is still mourning the loss of his mentor, Henry Bronco. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries a widow named Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and adopts her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil is a sordid, distrusting person who thinks Rose is only after George’s money. Rose is still grieving her former husband’s demise while battling an alcohol addiction. Things simmer like a soft boil until the tensions rise to the point of no return for the Burbank household.

Well, “tension” may not be the right word to use here. More like melodramatically prolonged stares and pauses that are so drawn out and overbearing that it makes after-school detention seem more interesting. When The Power Of The Dog opens up, it promises a dark, complex narrative filled with depth and deception — one where long-hidden secrets remained buried until one curious teenager brings them to light. This film… is not that. What we get instead is a long, dull, boring, flavorless experience that’s so bland and uninteresting that it makes unsalted crackers look exciting.

Oh sure, the film is perfectly functional. From a purely technical standpoint, I have no grievances with the film whatsoever. The costuming and production design is accurate and on-point to the era the film is portraying. The cinematography by Ari Wegner is lush and vivid and evokes a sense of loneliness and isolation. And while it is simple and bare-bones, the acoustic score by Jonny Greenwood carries on with an uneasy progression, with its strings plucking in an agitated manner as if Phil Burbank were playing them himself.

The actors also do a really good job with the roles they are given and are convincing in their portrayals of an unnerved family losing its sense of tranquility. Kirsten Dunst has a mesmerizing return to form after leaving the film industry for four years, playing a tortured, anguished character who is torn by her motherhood, her alcoholism, and her trauma she’s experienced since moving in with the Burbanks. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays an equally layered character with several shades, feeling warm and inviting in one beat and cold and calculating in another. And Benedict Cumberbatch masterfully plays the meanest bastard you’ve ever met, a man who will inflict great suffering on a family without hesitation but whose actions are contextualized through a great tragedy he experienced. Individually these characters are very interesting, and the cast realizes all of these roles to the best of their abilities.

The problem is the story they’re in is just not there. On paper, there’s an intricate and layered narrative hiding deep beneath The Power of the Dog’s muddy surface. But in execution, there’s no story at all — only characters that meander aimlessly from one point to another without any rhyme or reason, without any point or purpose, really without any sense of direction or destination. It isn’t merely the fact that The Power of the Dog is difficult to read. Quite the contrary — it is impossible to read. There is so much sleight of hand, so much implication, and so much interpretation that is required to understand this film that you would need to read the script while watching just to be able to follow what is even going on.

I say all this knowing that interpretation in and of itself is not a bad thing. Several films released from the past few years have required audiences to do the heavy lifting and were uniquely rewarding in their own way, whether it was Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman and The Revenant. Even David Lowery’s recent The Green Knight, which I still profess was an extremely polarizing film, at least had an intriguing point and a purpose that the film was driving toward. The Power of the Dog doesn’t even have that. It drops its 304-page novel right onto audiences’ backs, shrugs its shoulders, says “make of that whatever you will” and then leaves. That’s not good filmmaking. That isn’t even storytelling. That’s a cinematic Rorschach test it’s forcing audiences to take without even doing the decency of providing them with a clear picture.

This is why the mountains are the perfect metaphor for the public’s reaction to The Power of the Dog. Some will see the point that The Power of the Dog is trying to make and fall in love with it. Others won’t see anything at all and will be flabbergasted as to how so many people can be drooling all over it. So, which is it? Is there a dog or isn’t there? I have a better question: who cares?

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“SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Into the Spider-verse.

About halfway through Spider-Man: No Way Home’s runtime, one of the movie’s newest multiversal villains looks out at the new world he’s stumbled onto and says “Look at all the possibilities.” I feel like right now we’re on the cusp of a whole new universe of our own, imagining all of the possibilities for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler as he plunges ahead into new and unexpected adventures. No matter what your expectations are, Spider-Man: No Way Home absolutely lives up to every bit of the hype surrounding it. The fact that you can say that even when our expectations were insanely high to begin with is more impressive than anything I can share in this review.

After that shocking twist ending in Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity has been revealed thanks to Mysterio’s manipulation. Now the whole world knows he’s Spider-Man, and Peter isn’t the only one facing the consequences. So too is his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei).

Feeling guilty for how he caused ripple effects throughout the lives of the people he loves most, Peter turns to the sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) asking him if he can use his magic to make it so the whole world forgets that he’s Spider-Man. He does, but it comes at a cost: now villains have poured in from other Spider-universes looking to kill Peter Parker. There’s the sinister Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). There’s the menacing Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). There’s the rage-filled Electro (Jamie Foxx), the elusive Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the slithering Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Now Peter has to team up with his friends to round up these villains and send them back to their universes before they destroy his.

I’m going to start by saying this review will be very brief and very spoiler-free, because this film is best experienced knowing as little as possible about it, and I don’t want to compromise the surprises for my fellow spider-fans out there. Because of this, my review will seem very vague and very nondescript. Don’t worry, I’ll be publishing a spoiler-filled review later on.

For now, all you need to know about Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it is a masterpiece. You absolutely should go and watch it. Not only does Spider-Man: No Way Home do justice to Peter Parker’s arc that has been building up ever since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War — it’s also a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. One of the things that makes Spider-Man such an endearing character is the fact that his greatest superpower isn’t his webs, his wall-crawling or his spider-sense: it’s his heart and his unwavering will to do the right thing even when it’s the hardest road you can take.

A lot of that is in large part thanks to Tom Holland, who gives his most passionate and emotional performance as Spider-Man to date. A lot of fans (myself included) questioned at the beginning how much Tom Holland stacked up against fellow Spider-Man veterans Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, especially when his earlier movies traded out a lot of the dramatic moments for jokes and quippy one-liners. No Way Home shows him at his most challenged and vulnerable, and Tom Holland naysayers are very quickly proven wrong with his acting chops here. Not only is this Tom’s most dramatic, daring, and darkest portrayal of Spider-Man yet: it is also his rawest and most human. Not since Spider-Man 2 has a Spider-Man performance felt so natural and real, and that’s the best compliment I can give to Tom Holland regarding No Way Home.

But it isn’t just Tom Holland who is at his best: director Jon Watts also delivers the best Spider-Man story in the MCU yet with this sprawling cinematic crossover. It isn’t just the fact that he’s bringing in the villains from pre-existing Spider-Man properties: it’s that he’s using them in interesting and engaging ways while staying true to their original characters. In a recent panel, Alfred Molina mentions that what makes these villains so interesting is that they aren’t just some mustache-twirling charlatans, but they carry a depth and complexion as real people who have been changed by unspeakable tragedies and accidents in their lives. That made them so interesting in their initial cinematic appearances, and that makes them just as interesting here because Jon Watts paid them the attention they deserved. They aren’t just dropped into the plot here for cheap fan service: their appearance in this story feels earned and they have a point and a purpose for this crossover with the MCU’s Spider-Man.

Look, I can only go so far without talking about spoilers, so I am going to end the review here. All I can say is this: if you are a Spider-Man fan, Spider-Man: No Way Home will not disappoint you. Not only is the action fresh, fast-paced, and exciting, but the characters’ presence in this sprawling story makes it feel gripping and engaging at the same time. To think that five years ago, we questioned how Tom Holland would not only fit into the MCU, but into the constantly expanding Spider-Man mythos overall. No Way Home gives us our answer, and the payoff is so, so satisfying. What else can I say? The possibilities are quite literally endless.

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“DUNE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Fear is the mind-killer.

There are a few movies that come once in a generation where they don’t feel just like cinema, but rather as raw, immersive experiences that feel equally epic in their scope of storytelling as they do in their visceral visual presentation. Star Wars in the 1980s is one such example. Jurassic Park in the 90s is another. Lord Of The Rings in the 2000s. The Avengers movies in the 2010s. Now here comes the newest science-fiction epic in Dune, and if it isn’t destined to become the next decade-defining blockbuster, it definitely feels like it should be.

Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune takes place in the far distant future where different houses fight for control over different planets in the galaxy. One of the most sought-after planets is the desert world of Arrakis, which carries an element known as spice that allows for interstellar travel, making it the most valuable asset in the universe. The House of Atreides is gifted the planet of Arrakis to harvest the spice for the good of all the houses, but in the process, they get caught up in a violent conflict between the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis, and the Harkonnen, a vicious race of savages that seek the power of the spice only for themselves. Now trapped on the world of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) needs to find a way to adapt to the harsh environment surrounding him and harness the desert power of Arrakis.

When I heard that Denis Villeneuve was remaking Frank Herbert’s classic tale of “Dune,” I nearly fell out of my seat. For those of you that are unaware of it, “Dune” has been hailed as one of the most important science-fiction novels of all time, right alongside the likes of “Anthem”, “Ender’s Game,” and “1984.” To see a large-scale adaptation of one of the most essential books ever written would have any reader giggling in their seats, where I admittedly found myself not too long ago.

Yet despite Denis’s cinematic prowess, I found myself a little hesitant to accept a live-action “Dune” remake. For one thing, “Dune” had been visually adapted twice before, once in David Lynch’s 1984 film and once in Frank Herbert’s TV show in 2000. Neither one really reached the fascination or intrigue that the book inspired and were really kind of silly and gimmicky in retrospect, although I do find their amateurish quality slightly endearing. For another thing, “Dune” had been largely considered an unadaptable story, with its dense lore amounting to a massive 412 pages.

Granted, it wasn’t the first book to be considered “unadaptable.” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” was largely considered unadaptable, as was Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” Yet, both were made into magnificent movies by Ang Lee and Zack Snyder. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sure thing. Indeed, it means that whoever does end up tackling the project has a massive, massive challenge ahead of them, one that may mean breaking up the book’s plot into multiple movies.

Thank God that Denis Villeneuve was a brave and competent enough filmmaker to take it on, because he fulfills every bit of the book’s lofty expectations and then some. The first thing you notice with Dune is how immersive it is: visually striking, audibly haunting, and emotionally stirring. The very first line of dialogue you hear in the movie isn’t even human: it’s Harkonnen, and its rich, deep voice eerily echoes the words “Dreams are messages from the deep.”

Immediately after that, we’re swept into an engrossing display of Arrakis: its beauty, its danger, its dry, devastating heat, the invaluable spice, and the people willing to fight and kill and die over it. What follows from there is an engrossing and absorbing experience that completely and fully immerses you in its characters, lore, and setting in a rare display of intrigue, excitement, and fascination.

I’m not just talking about merely watching the movie play out on screen. Sure, you see the vast landscape, the colossal spaceships, the endless void of space and its planets, the massive explosions that blow up on battlefields and mining sites. But the film is so much more than merely seeing the images on screen: you experience them. You feel the sun rays beating down on you, the dryness in the air as the desert sands of Arakkis parch your mouth, the wind from the space thrusters blowing against you, and the heat from explosions radiating off of your body as the shockwave blows you off of your feet.

See, in a rare marriage of visual and audio mastery, Dune drops you in the middle of Arakkis and forces you to feel the loneliness and isolation of its characters. Movies have a bad habit of superficially showing you what characters are going through instead of engrossing you in the moment of what they’re experiencing. Dune places you right alongside House Atreides and forces you to try and survive the dangers of the desert alongside them. Not since Avatar has a movie immersed you so vividly into its lore and setting.

The production of the film is a technical marvel, from Greg Fraser’s vast and expansive cinematography to Joe Walker’s expert editing to the eerie and striking visuals to the mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. Even the all-star cast is masterful in their roles, with Timothee Chalamet shining the most as a fallen prince torn between two different destinies.

Dune is a rare example of a perfect picture. Yes, a perfect picture. I literally would not change a single thing about it. Some viewers may not appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s trademark slow-burn style of storytelling, but that’s because of their personal preferences as movie watchers, not Denis’ craft or ability as a filmmaker. To think that years ago, we questioned how he would handle his first science-fiction picture with Arrival, then how he would revive Ridley Scott’s long-cherished franchise with Blade Runner 2049. Now he has made Dune, and its legacy will surpass both of those pictures. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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“NO TIME TO DIE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Nicola Dove | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Goodbye, James Bond.

We live in an age where closure is beginning to become the norm in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The Dark Knight Rises. Logan. War For The Planet Of The Apes. The Rise of Skywalker. Avengers: Endgame. These movies prove that you can have a definitive end to our heroes’ journeys, and not only will audiences be fine with it, but they quite possibly might love it. That’s because when you take away the lights, the cameras, and the special effects, these larger-than-life heroes are not the immortal cinematic icons they’re portrayed as on-screen. They’re people, and their story deserves an appropriate ending just like anybody else does.

In No Time To Die, Daniel Craig experiences his own ending in his final portrayal of James Bond, a role he’s inhabited so seamlessly ever since his debut in Casino Royale in 2006. In No Time To Die, Bond goes into retirement after defeating Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and saving his lover Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) in Spectre. But like any other 007 movie, James Bond is once again pulled into the spy world when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) asks him for a favor. Now facing yet another potentially world-ending threat, James Bond needs to suit up one last time to defeat a nefarious new foe named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Watching No Time To Die was a particularly meaningful experience for me, not just because it signifies the end to an amazing era of James Bond, but also because this was one of the first movies on the chopping block when the COVID-19 pandemic came to our doorstep last year. After delay after delay after delay, it almost seemed like this movie was never going to get released. To finally watch it now after all this time feels like the world is finally turning a corner on this blasted pandemic, though I do kind of find it funny that the big threat in No Time To Die is, ironically enough, a virus.

To say that No Time To Die is a bold undertaking of the James Bond mythos is a severe understatement. It isn’t merely another entry in the James Bond franchise. Like Casino Royale and Skyfall, No Time To Die introduces the character to new and unusual circumstances, circumstances Bond would never have been caught dead in the original Ian Fleming novels. What makes Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond so interesting is that he’s less of a caricature and more of a character. He isn’t a generic movie spy that is used to channel toxic male fantasies of drinking vodka martinis, hooking up with beautiful women and killing bad guys. In many ways, he is an incredibly pained and tragic character, one whose endless cycle of violence and espionage almost seemed predestined to him.

It’s rare for James Bond to be vulnerable, or indeed, even to appear weak in front of not just the movie’s villains and supporting characters, but also in front of the audience. But all of the best movies feature vulnerable moments for the character. In Casino Royale, it was when Bond was getting tortured by Le Chiffre or when he failed to save his first love. In Skyfall, it was when Bond was struggling with post-traumatic stress or when he failed to save M. In No Time To Die, he once again finds himself in a place of vulnerability and weakness in an arc that has been set up ever since the first movie. And like all of the great Craig Bond movies that came before, he fails to save a life that’s very important to him, though I won’t spoil by saying who.

Of course, all of the quintessential Bond elements are prevalent in No Time To Die. The high-stakes and adrenaline-pumping action. The tight and quick editing and the over-the-top and insane shootout and chase scenes. The amazing and mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. The haunting yet angelic single by Billie Eilish. And of course, Daniel Craig’s amazing performance, brilliantly contrasted with Rami Malek’s ice-chilling presence as the movie’s villain. All of the elements that made previous Bond movies thrive are just as evident here as they’ve ever been before.

Yet the incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a changing world. Indeed, how he reacts to MI6 keeping up its operations despite his retirement, how new double-Os enter the picture and accomplish the same things that he does, really how people in his life move on without him when he’s no longer in the picture. It all makes him feel so, so obsolete, and that’s what I love so much about this movie: it forces James Bond to evaluate who he is when he isn’t 007. Is he more man than mercenary? Or is he just another number?

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga (“True Detective,” Beasts of No Nation) has accomplished a rare feat with No Time To Die — he made James Bond fallible and brought him down to our level, a man haunted by his own demons and whose insecurities drive him to make ruinous, self-destructive choices. While some people may be frustrated how the movie deconstructs the larger-than-life myth of James Bond, I for one love that we’re taking away the license to kill and looking at how the man behind it tries to live his life without it. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, yet by the time the end credits rolled, all I could think about was how James Bond lived.

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“CASINO ROYALE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

A new Bond for a new age.

With over 40 years of cinema behind him, James Bond is one of the oldest — and most timeless — action heroes to persevere throughout film history. Why don’t we know more about him? We know all about Dr. Jones and his early crusades that led to him becoming Indiana Jones. We all know the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, the tragic beginnings of Batman, and Luke Skywalker’s parentage that literally spans the galaxy. But for some reason despite 20 films dedicated to his name, James Bond is a character whose history has always eluded us. Why is that?

I think it’s for several reasons. One may be because it adds to his mystery and intrigue, and keeping his backstory in the dark maybe contributes to the elusiveness of his character. Another may be to allow for multiple interpretations of James Bond. Since we’ve had six actors play the part now, it makes sense to keep his story loose and flexible to allow for overlapping storylines and not convolute different films’ timelines. But the most rational explanation may be that his backstory simply doesn’t matter. James Bond exists in the here and now: in the mission, the objective, the target, the drink, the beautiful women, the pleasures of the instant because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Whatever the case may be, Casino Royale is the newest reboot of MI6’s favorite secret agent. It is also arguably the most raw and personal James Bond film to date, something I never expected to say about any James Bond movie ever.

In this modern retelling of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale introduces a younger, less robust Bond in Daniel Craig, shortly before he even achieves his double-0 status. All of the usual James Bond elements are here. The fast-paced and exciting action. The high-stakes shoot-em-outs and intensive fight choreography. The sleek vehicles, weapons, and spy gadgets. The over-the-top chase sequences that take you over streets, bridges, buildings, hallways, and skyscrapers. The drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Eva Green. The chilling and unsettling villain in Mads Mikkelsen. The twists, the turns, the conspiracies that drive the plot forward. Everything that makes James Bond James Bond is in here and dialed up to pristine shaken-not-stirred detail.

But it’s not the usual Bond elements that impress me: what really impresses me with Casino Royale is the ruggedness, the roughness, the gritty realism that makes this film move and breathe with the authenticity of a top-secret SIS mission report. There are so many nuances to the film that you learn to appreciate and value that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll start with the film’s star Daniel Craig, who carries his part with the confidence and collectiveness of a Sean Connery and with the dispassion and coldness of Timothy Dalton. In previous films, James Bond has been portrayed with the suave coolness of a master infiltrator — a man who knows how to get out of every slippery situation, regardless of whether they’re in a secret base or a woman’s chambers. Here, the younger, more inexperienced James Bond is prone to more mistakes and is a lot less calm under pressure. That makes him surprisingly more vulnerable and the action feel a lot more immediate and real.

When he finishes making his first kill, his hand quivers and he breathes sporadically as he processes what he has done. When he makes a startling realization, his eyes pop and he spurs into action, knowing that something horrible will happen if he does not stop a particular outcome from happening. When someone close to him feels a particular pain that he’s familiar with, you feel his empathy as he consoles them and processes their grief with them. When he’s captured and being tortured, he doesn’t experience it like a hardened agent who fears nothing, but as a rookie experiencing this for the first time and is very, very afraid, even if he refuses to break. That level of emotion is a rare quality in a James Bond performance, and it will easily be Craig’s greatest asset the more he establishes his own 007 identity going forward.

But Craig is only half the puzzle. The other half comes in the film’s clever and crafty screenplay, which combines the typical Bond troupes delivered by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with the style and swagger of a real-world espionage thriller from Academy Award-winning writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). In previous Bond movies, the screenplay may have been given second focus to over-the-top gizmos, gadgets, and camp so silly and obnoxious that it would have made Adam West blush. Not here. In Casino Royale, the larger-than-life spy movie spectacle is traded out for a dense and layered plot that perfectly establishes James Bond and his beginnings as a double-0. Oh, and the dialogue is so sweet and snappy and so perfectly understands James Bond. One of my favorite lines is where Bond comments how the love interest isn’t his type. “Smart?” she asks. He responds “Single.”

Side note: The subversion of the classic “shaken, not stirred” line is also worthy runner-up.

All of these elements are masterfully brought together by director Martin Campbell, who returns to the director’s chair after bringing us Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the character in GoldenEye 10 years ago. Whatever your opinions of the previous entries in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale breathes new life and fresh blood into this everlasting series. The action choreography is so fast, brutal, and impactful that it leaves you dizzy while watching it. David Arnold’s mesmerizing score is so exciting and enthralling, with the snazzy horns and emotional orchestra throwing you back to the classic days of James Bond. And the editing by Stuart Baird is so smart, gradual, and all-encompassing that it allows you to follow all of the threads that are unraveling while never losing track of everything that’s going on. I find it fascinating that one of the most engaging scenes in the entire movie isn’t a fight or a chase scene, but rather a card game between Bond and the movie’s villain. That’s because the film’s astronomically high stakes are set up very well, and you know what will happen if Bond pulls a bad hand.

It’s hard to say which is the best Bond movie, or even who is the best Bond actor, because of how many stories, movies, and portrayals are out there of the double-0 agent. But even amongst the sea of James Bond retellings and reinterpretations, Casino Royale stands out, as does its star. That’s because they both understand that James Bond is more than a gun, a bullet, a bow tie, a license to kill. James Bond is an action. He’s a statement. He’s a man that will do what needs to be done even when the world is collapsing all around him. That’s why when he says his name is James Bond at the end of the movie, we believe him.

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“VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

One dysfunctional symbiotic family.

The best part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the mid-credits scene. That’s not a good sign for a movie when the best part of it literally happens after the movie is over. Venom: Let There Be Carnage promised to be a revival of the symbiotic superhero: a darker, grittier, edgier telling that got to the roots of what makes the lethal protector tick. Oh, will comic book fans be so, so disappointed. 

In this sequel to the 2018 Spider-Man spinoff, Venom: Let There Be Carnage follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he adjusts to his double life as a carnivorous superhero and a journalist trying to revive his career. The key to reigniting his career is Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who has left behind a trail of bodies, and thankfully with a wig much more convincing than in his post-credits scene in the first movie. Eventually through a convoluted sequence of events, Cletus ends up with his own red-blooded symbiote he nicknames “Carnage.” Now Eddie and Venom have to once again unite to defeat this symbiotic serial killer and save the Earth… again. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage shares the same strengths as its predecessor, specifically Venom himself. Scripting, directing, and storytelling aside, Eddie and Venom were among the best characters in the first movie, and their odd, offbeat chemistry still works perfectly in tandem with each other. That makes sense considering they’re both portrayed by Hardy himself. Still, it isn’t easy to create a connection with, well, yourself, and Hardy embodies both roles masterfully here. Whether he’s Eddie Brock investigating a story or Venom is starving for human brains, he captures the essence of both characters very, very well. When they are together, Eddie and Venom are easily the funniest, craziest, most entertaining parts of the movie. 

I say “when they’re together,” because for some reason, Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel thought it would be a good idea to split Eddie and Venom up for half the movie. I have no idea why they thought this. After all, Eddie and Venom are perfect as a chaotically dysfunctional pair, not as two different entities going through their own separate melodramatic identity crises by themselves. In the limited time they are together, Eddie and Venom perfectly play off of each other’s manic, wild energy, snapping at each other like two alpha wolves fighting for control. When they are apart, they couldn’t be more pathetic, with Eddie whining about his failed marriage and Venom… dancing at Rave parties? What? 

Side Note: As an alien who is very sensitive to sound, it is very weird that 1) Venom doesn’t feel threatened by attending a concert where stereo speakers are blaring all around him, and 2) That neither did director Andy Serkis, who lets Venom carry on with his monologuing despite the fact that he should be a pile of goo thanks to all of the loud sounds surrounding him. 

What about Venom’s antagonist, Carnage? How was he done in the movie? Well, he’s a mixed bag. On one hand, when the Carnage symbiote is out, Carnage is a vicious force to be reckoned with, tearing up prison gates, destroying cars and helicopters, and biting the heads off of police officers like they’re Tootsie Pops. All of this makes Carnage a fierce, formidable character, and eons more intimidating than Riot was in the previous movie. 

But when he’s just Cletus, he has these winey, mopey monologues about how he wasn’t loved enough as a kid and that’s why he kills people today. Wah-freaking-wah. Other Marvel characters like the Hulk, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi have also had similarly traumatic childhoods and didn’t use it as an excuse to eat people. The fact that the script attempts to connect Eddie and Cletus together and treat them like they’re the same person is actually the most gross and manipulative part of it all. Sorry, but Venom is nothing at all like Carnage. Venom eats criminals only to survive. Carnage would kill a kid just because he thought it was funny. They’re not at all the same, and the fact that the script tries to paint it like they are shows how little it understands both characters. 

The rest of the movie plays out pretty much like the first one did. Eddie gets down on his luck, gets possessed (or repossessed) by Venom, learns to accept himself (again), and then gets into another gooey fight with the monstrous villain that’s too incomprehensible to follow at the end of the movie. Whatever you think of these movies, Venom: Let There Be Carnage embodies the same strengths and most of the weaknesses as its predecessor. When Eddie and Venom are the focus, the movie is at its strongest. When the focus is shifted to the supporting characters, we care nothing about their half-hearted performances or the weak sauce writing they’re provided with. 

But somehow it’s only getting worse. While the first movie was a passable, if not mildly disappointing, introduction to Venom, its mishaps can at least be forgiven because it was trying to re-establish his identity after a very underwhelming appearance in Spider-Man 3. Now here comes Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a movie which has now had at least two opportunities to learn from its mistakes and just doubles down on them harder. Pray that Venom’s next big-screen appearance does more justice to the character than his previous two outings have. And for whatever it’s worth, I’m not referring to Venom 3

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