Everything Everywhere All at Once

I had fairly high expectations going into this movie, and yet I wasn’t disappointed. I think what (pleasantly) surprised me the most was how culturally relevant it is to the Chinese American experience. I mean, yeah, I knew it was about a Chinese family just from the trailer, but it is a very Chinese movie. About 30-40% of the dialogue is all Chinese, after all, and the themes about generational approval are painfully relatable. My wife (who is Chinese) possibly enjoyed this movie more than I did, and she’s not usually one for violence or wacky humor. What’s magical about Everything Everywhere All at Once, though, is that the violence and wackiness all serve a purpose. Yes, there are many “LOL, random” moments, but they come with a payoff later in the movie and/or juxtapose the deeper feelings the characters are having.

I like to describe this movie as a family drama disguised as a sci-fi, multiverse action flick. The first half of the movie is very action heavy with some great fight choreography that takes full advantage of its multiverse gimmick. The rules of said multiverse are really fun to watch unfold, even going into the second half of the movie when the action slows down considerably. I guess that’s my only complaint with the movie; the more drama-heavy second half goes on for a little too long. It’s a satisfying conclusion to everything that has happened before, but it does requiring sitting through three different monologues from three different characters. Still, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time and, according to my wife, a much better example of Hollywood/Asian representation than Crazy Rich Asians was.

Happily

I knew nothing about this moving going in, other than it had a stellar cast. With names like Joel McHale, Al Madrigal, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Stephen Root, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Morales, and Charlyne Yi, how could this not be funny? Well, turns out it’s not much of a comedy but rather a sci-fi-ish thriller that just happens to star comedic actors. And that’s fine, too. There are some fun twists in the story that will keep you guessing as to what’s really going on. I liked the initial setup of the two leads “murdering” Stephen Root’s character only to later realize that Root might have just been part of a harmless prank. This creates a nice mystery where they aren’t sure which friend is responsible for the prank and if it was a prank at all. Unfortunately, it’s revealed too soon that Root is still alive, so you already know something supernatural is at play when the movie isn’t even halfway over yet.

Happily still has other twists up its sleeve, though, like when someone went ahead and injected Joel McHale with the serum that Root was trying to “prank” them with even after the group had agreed to wait to get it tested. Because this movie ultimately has so little substance, though, it takes two minutes from the moment we see the injection scar on McHale to when he opens the briefcase and sees the empty syringe. Yes, it’s that kind of plodding movie. Happily only has a few good twists and not enough content to connect them together. But it’s the final “twist” that ruins it all, if you can even call it a twist. We never learn who Root is or what his motives are. He makes the characters sit in a circle and admit to their relationship problems, then everyone goes home. It’s so anticlimactic, especially since we don’t know most of these characters well enough to care.

The Tomorrow War

The concept of this movie is pretty interesting. I like the idea of needing to go back in time to recruit soldiers since the current/future population has been mostly wiped out. Of course, this brings with it your usual time travel issues that don’t hold up to scrutiny. At least they had the foresight to only recruit people who would be dead in thirty years, anyway, to avoid creating a time paradox. Again, the “future war” aspect of it has a lot of potential, so it’s really weird that they destroy the time travel device halfway through the movie. It basically feels like a second movie at that point (doubly so given the overlong runtime). Needless to say, the latter half of the movie is not as good, doing little to differentiate itself from other alien invasion blockbusters.

The first half of the movie isn’t perfect, either, but more on that in a moment. First, I want to at least say that you do get thrust into the action pretty soon. There’s a lot of initial intensity to draw you in. The aliens are also pretty scary, though the CG effects sometimes don’t look great. The movie has a strange, oversaturated color palette, which might have been their way of easing the alien effects into the real world. It’s also a bit disappointing that the movie sets up a ragtag team of heroes played by actors like Sam Richardson and Mary Lynn Rajskub only to abandon/kill off a lot of them in favor of a “father and daughter do science” storyline. Once that starts to play out, The Tomorrow War loses momentum that it never manages to recover.

Dolittle

Dolittle felt a lot like an animated kids movie, and not in a good way. The pacing, humor, and characters might as well have been drawn up by Illumination in Despicable Me 4: Let’s Go to the Zoo. Dolittle is 70% animated, anyway, featuring a cast of Minions-like computer-generated animals. The animals are by far the worst thing about the movie. They look terrible, for starters. Every time an animal jumped, it looked weightless and cheap. And the animals never shut up. They’re constantly bickering and screaming and spouting one-liners in a poor attempt to entertain you by sheer overload. What’s even more annoying is that none of the voices match the characters. This is celebrity voice casting gone amok. Selena Gomez, John Cena, and Rami Malek should have sat this one out.

This really leaves Robert Downey Jr. to carry the bulk of the movie. I love Downey as much as anyone else, but he’s not good in this. Part of the problem is that he’s doing an accent that makes it hard to understand anything he’s saying. It reminded me of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, where incoherent mumbling was often used in place of being genuinely quirky and eccentric. The other problem is that we don’t have any reason to care about Dolittle as a person. He’s immediately thrust into an adventure where he basically plays the conductor in a noisy orchestra. The journey takes him to some interesting places, but the challenges they face are so effortlessly overcome that there’s no tension. Instead, you get fart jokes and screaming squirrels. God, there’s so much screaming…

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers Endgame

I usually find trailers pretty annoying in how much they give away, and it would particularly suck to have that happen to a movie 11 years in the making, so I appreciate the Endgame marketing withholding what it did. Not that there’s a lot that can be spoiled here (but if that matters to you, navigate away from this website immediately). I mean, we kinda knew the snap would have to be undone and that certain characters would be “retiring” one way or another. What was pleasantly surprising were other character beats like a fat, self-loathing Thor or a Bruce Banner who’s finally at peace with his alter-ego. Just about everything with Thor and Hulk was fun and elevated this to a much more lighthearted film than Infinity War.

I also had no idea where the story was gonna go and didn’t think it was going to do time travel as heavily as it did. Time travel stories are always interesting but super susceptible to plot holes, depending on the rules that they establish. Endgame clearly specified that changing the past doesn’t change the future. Instead, it creates a new, alternate timeline. And I was onboard with that for most of the movie. But then we get a scene at the end with Captain America that breaks from the movie’s rules and starts to make less and less sense the more I read other viewers’ theories. Honestly, they could have just dropped the scene altogether. That and seeing Peter Parker nonchalantly return to school in a post-snap world raises more questions than the sentimentality was worth.

There’s actually a great story there that, unfortunately, we didn’t get to see about how the world deals with 50% of everybody disappearing and then, five years later, how they again deal with the same 50% coming back. That’s a whole movie on its own, and obviously Endgame doesn’t have time to explore that and give the Avengers their due. This is all about paying tribute to the handful of original MCU heroes. Newer characters don’t get much screen time. But there’s still payoff for having watched all of their movies. Yes, all of them. Even friggin’ Ant-Man 2 and Thor 2. This was a really interesting movie experience to be a part of, thinking back to all of the build-up and smaller crossovers along the way. But I hope this means we can take a break now and go back to standalone flicks for a while.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is a great example of the damage a trailer can do. I feel like I was robbed of the main enjoyment you could potentially get from this movie, because the trailer gave everything away. Going in, we already know Carol grew up on Earth, and we already know she’s gonna go Super Saiyan near the end and destroy a bunch of spaceships. What’s left to be surprised by? It would have been cool to actually watch an “alien” slowly discover she isn’t so alien, after all. And while that could have still played out in interesting ways even with trailer foreknowledge, it just… doesn’t here.

Carol is a bland character through and through. The only personality she has is the occasional and mandatory Marvel quip. Outside of that, she’s Super Serious and as straight-faced as they come. Each new revelation about her past on Earth doesn’t faze her much and feels like a poor attempt to humanize her in place of an actual character arc. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a solemn hero, but said hero needs a good supporting cast to play off of if that’s their angle. When Carol teams up with Nick Fury, the story does get better, but the two aren’t always together, and their banter often feels very forced.

Overall, Nick Fury is probably the best thing about Captain Marvel. Seeing a younger, more optimistic Samuel L Jackson was pretty fun. I’m not sure the movie benefited from being set in the 90s, though. The period music never worked, mostly because Carol felt so disconnected from all things Earth. And the other 80s and 90s references—Blockbuster, pinball machines, tin lunchboxes—were too on-the-nose. It’s like the creators were told to use Guardians of the Galaxy as inspiration but only watched it half-awake and didn’t take notes on why those elements worked there. Because they sure don’t work here.