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.

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.