Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Bandersnatch

It’s hard for me to talk about Bandersnatch without comparing it to an earlier, similar “choose your own adventure” film called Late Shift. What’s odd is that Late Shift was much more of a movie than Bandersnatch but seems to have found its home on gaming marketplaces. Bandersnatch, on the other hand, feels more like a video game but is delivered on a movie/TV streaming service. Yes, I get that the point was to blur the line between film and game. However, it’s easier to classify Bandersnatch as a game simply because you can “game over” very early on and have to rewind to try again.

I do like that beats are skipped when you’re re-watching scenes, and some of the dialogue even references the fact that you (and the characters) have been through this already. That’s actually the neatest thing about Bandersnatch, how it occasionally veers into meta territory and either subtly talks to you, the viewer, or has the main character grow paranoid that someone is making decisions for him. Unfortunately, and depending on which story paths you follow, this idea isn’t explored in any great detail. Despite having multiple possible endings, none of them feel very Black Mirror-ish.

Black Mirror has always been about the abuses of technology, but there’s really no tech in Bandersnatch. The tech is basically Netflix itself, which would have been cool had they pushed harder into breaking the fourth wall. But, again, not every story path goes there, and those that do still wrap up unsatisfactorily. Taken as a movie, Bandersnatch is simply about a boy who goes mad trying to develop the perfect video game. With the interactive element thrown in, I suppose you could feel that you drove Stefan insane. It’s just hard to appreciate that conclusion when your options either end the game too soon or let the madness play out to its own completion.

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians

Full disclosure, I’m a white dude married to a Chinese immigrant. A lot of things in this movie should have resonated with my wife, but halfway through, she leaned over to me and said, “I’m bored…” There just isn’t a lot going on in this movie, less so than your normal rom-com. The central conflict is that our main character’s boyfriend’s family is super rich while Rachel is only kinda rich. I mean, she’s a professor at NYU, so it’s not like she has it rough or anything. It’s hard to enjoy a movie where everyone’s lives are varying degrees of perfect. Even Rachel’s college roommate, who she later meets up with in Singapore, is really well-off. Just not crazy well-off like her boyfriend’s family.

With the first half of the movie being nothing more than watching rich, super rich, and kinda rich people meet, eat, and party, it’s admittedly not that entertaining unless you like food and designer porn. The class disparity needed to be a bigger issue and needed to be an issue much sooner in the movie. Yes, the mother-in-law eventually says she doesn’t want Rachel to marry her son, but that conflict is too slow to boil and too quickly resolved. If this was supposed to be a Cinderella-like story, we really needed more Cinderella and less Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

So my wife and I left the theater feeling somewhat conflicted. On one hand, we’re happy to support an Asian-centric Hollywood movie, but on the other hand, we don’t want to support the idea that that alone gives it a pass. Yes, the production values were there. Constance Wu was a delight in the lead role. And Awkwafina as the obligatory loud, zany friend was actually pretty funny and arguably the best thing about the movie. Even though Crazy Rich Asians subscribes to a lot of rom-com clichés, it at least does them well. Unfortunately, the story was pretty thin and “boring” overall. But if this marks a new trend in Hollywood diversity, then so be it.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World

I really did not pay enough attention to the marketing for this one. What little I did see suggested that the movie was going to revolve around trying to save the dinosaurs from a self-destructing island. In actuality, that plot point only takes up about 10 minutes. And, unfortunately, those 10 minutes were the best part of the movie. Trying to save a bunch of dangerous, wild animals from going extinct (again) with an active volcano in the background in itself would have been a great story to watch slowly unfold. So I was a little peeved when, in the most cliché of clichés, the military escorts quickly turned out to be the villains who were just there to tranquilize a few dinosaurs and ship them back home to auction off.

Thus, the rest of the movie—you know, the majority of it—takes place on a small, cramped boat and then in the small, cramped hallways of a mansion. What’s the point of even making a dinosaur movie if you’re just going to restrict your dinosaurs to chains, cages, and hallways? It felt like an intentional way to cut costs and manufacture suspense. Ooh, look, there’s a dinosaur in the girl’s poorly lit bedroom! Isn’t that scary?! Except said dinosaur is another GMO dino in the same vein as the Indominus Rex. Come on, people… we don’t go to Jurassic Park movies to see new monsters. We want to see the dinosaurs we memorized as kids come to life. Certainly not relegated to friggin’ chains and cages for 90% of the movie. Yeesh.

Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War

I had to let this one stew for several days before formulating an opinion. My initial reaction was more negative than positive, and not just because of the abrupt downer of an ending. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a lot of my gripes could be justified away. The unfortunately dumb decisions that drove the plot were still in-character, and while I still feel that Thanos could have been fleshed out more, we have enough information about him to fill in the blanks ourselves. I just wanted more “show, don’t tell” than what we got.

It’s understandable, though, considering how much ground Infinity War needed to cover. We’re rushed through Thanos collecting the infinity stones, which comes across as maybe a little too convenient for him. I feel like some of that could have been accomplished in prior movies. I know Infinity War is supposed to be able to stand on its own, but let’s not forget that the MCU has been building up to this for years now. Not every MCU movie was required viewing to understand what was going on here, but if you missed key entries like Civil War or Thor: Ragnarok, you’ll be thoroughly confused.

If you have been following the MCU, however, then the real fun of Infinity War is seeing all of these heroes finally come together. The interactions between them are great, and the mixed fight scenes are a visual treat. My only standing complaint, then, is that this was still a “Part 1,” and we already know more movies are planned for the MCU. While the ending may have been a shock, it’s only temporary as you realize everyone’s going to magically come back. The lingering question isn’t, “Can our heroes fix this?” but rather, “How are they going to fix it?” I guess it’s still exciting to see how that’s going to get resolved.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One

This is one of the few cases where I’ve read the book before watching the movie. I actually had high hopes that the movie would be better, though. The thing that bugged me about the book was that its 80s gimmick was so in your face. The story would frequently come to a screeching halt as the author gushed, “Did you catch that reference?!” I also thought it was strange that, in the book, they acted like nothing interesting happened in pop culture between 1990 and 2045. I don’t care how much the creator of the world’s most popular MMO liked 80s stuff, people are still going to want to make avatars of the characters they grew up with.

So that’s one thing the movie rectifies, although how many of us really know our generational Buckaroo Banzai, GoldenEye, and Overwatch trivia? Still, the fact that many of these references can sit in the background and live as fun, little Easter eggs helps alleviate that amalgamation. If anything, the movie wasn’t packed with enough nods to older games and movies, but I’m sure it was hard to get the license to every friggin’ thing ever invented. We do at least get to see a Gundam suit fight against Mechagodzilla while Halo marines scurry between their feet. If that doesn’t satisfy your weekly dose of pop culture, then I don’t know what will.

The VR world here is admittedly pretty fun to see in action. The original key challenges from the book have been rewritten to perform better on the big screen, and the action sequences don’t disappoint. It’s the real-world aspect of the movie that falls flat. We’re given little reason to care about the humans behind the avatars and no investment in their incredibly forced romance. All of the live-action scenes felt like… Oh, it’s a movie, so two people have to fall in love, and of course we have to have a car chase in there, and the villain has to be comically “bad,” and we can’t kill any of the humans to add some real stakes, because that wouldn’t be appropriate for the kids. Anyway, back to the VR stuff!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi

I liked The Force Awakens, though I wished it hadn’t followed the plot of A New Hope so closely. I was a little worried, then, that The Last Jedi would similarly mimic the main beats of The Empire Strikes Back. While there are definitely some nods to the Battle of Hoth, Yoda teaching Luke, and Vader’s “join me” speech, this does feel like a truer sequel than a remake. I’m conflicted if I would call it a “good” sequel, though. There’s a lot of time spent spinning its wheels. Most of the movie takes place in only two locations: Luke’s island and a rebel ship. And the people in both locations don’t really have much to do while they wait for the plot countdown.

To break up the feet-dragging, the movie does send Finn on a ridiculous side quest to find some hacker dude. It’s the most pointless and random adventure, though. This was when The Last Jedi started channeling the prequels, knowingly or not. In fact, the whole movie reminded me a little too much of Episodes 1-3. Gaudy set design, goofy animals, out-of-place humor, suddenly overpowered droids… Seriously, BB-8 was doing the kind of wacky shtick that R2 was doing in the prequels. I kinda… don’t like BB-8 anymore. Sadly, that’s true for most of the new characters. Finn, Poe, Snoke, and Phasma (again!) are pretty much wasted here.

I still don’t know how I feel about Rey, either. She’s too powerful, and I never feel like she’s in danger. She does start to develop a pretty interesting connection to Kylo Ren, though. I was really hoping they would have explored that more. Kylo is a deeply troubled character, and it’s so hard to tell (but in a good way) what side of the Force he’s on. But with Rey, it’s like they’re too scared to push her into the same gray area, so by the end, it’s back to the status quo of clearly good versus clearly evil. I was ready for the new Star Wars movies to start taking some real risks, but it seems like they played it safe again. Oh well, at least the action sequences were pretty cool!