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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

DIRECTOR: Jon Watts

CAST: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Cobie Smulders, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei

REVIEW:

Coming on the heels of The Avengers: Endgame (it arrives with the other film still in theaters), Spider-Man: Far From Home (the third MCU installment of the year) serves as both epilogue and new jumping-off point, while also giving Tom Holland the chance to swing back into theaters in his second solo outing. To the second point, Far From Home is half of a tedious high school comedy and half of a worthy Spider-Man adventure. The first half leans hard into the weakest elements of 2017’s Homecoming, but the second half surpasses it.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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Rocketman (2019)

DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher

CAST: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard

REVIEW:

Is someone in Hollywood trying to build a ’70s rock star cinematic universe? Close on the heels of last year’s Oscar-winning (albeit somewhat overrated) Bohemian Rhapsody, now comes Rocketman, covering one of the few ’70s-’80s musical icons who rivaled or surpassed Freddie Mercury for over-the-top flamboyance: Elton John. Director Dexter Fletcher, who took over finishing up Bohemian Rhapsody in place of a fired Bryan Singer but gets full creative control here, takes a different approach, styling Rocketman as a musical fantasy rather than a strictly conventional biopic. And of course, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman will take some nostalgic fans of the featured artist down memory lane.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

DIRECTOR: Michael Dougherty

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, Thomas Middleditch, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson, Aisha Hinds, David Strathairn

REVIEW:

I desperately wanted to love this movie. As a child of Godzilla movies, with virtually the entire film series and various action figures of Godzilla and friends (and enemies) in my possession, and as a fan of Gareth Edwards’ lukewarmly-received 2014 film (though I acknowledge it has issues), I followed along with the marketing with hype and attention. Lukewarm-to-negative critical reviews gave me pause, but I’d never really expected a Godzilla movie to be critically-acclaimed. To many critics, these movies are just too inherently silly, and at least outside of his native Japan, Godzilla is really more of a cult following. On the one hand, King of the Monsters does feel pretty much like an old-school Godzilla movie (with all the good and bad that that implies). Alas, it hasn’t gone above and beyond, content to follow in the same basic formula of virtually every other Godzilla movie, giant monsters smacking each other around and levelling buildings, sandwiched in between a ridiculous convoluted plot that primarily exists as a flimsy skeleton to string the monster mashes together and populated by goofy and/or one-dimensional humans scurrying around with inane “drama”. Balancing big monster action with human drama is a tricky act, and Hollywood hasn’t figured it out yet.

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Aladdin (2019)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Numan Acar, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

Hasn’t the novelty worn off yet for Disney throwing a lot of money around on scene-by-scene live-action regurgitations of its own animated classics? Probably not, at least until Jon Favreau’s upcoming The Lion King (probably the most anticipated of them all), but Guy Ritchie’s remake of the 1992 animated musical Aladdin has done nothing to increase my enthusiasm for this latest fad. Everything that was true of Bill Condon’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast is equally true here, if not more so, a rote and uninspired retread of a previous movie that can be revisited on DVD any time its fans desire that offers nothing except the “novelty” of seeing it underwhelmingly reenacted in live-action (and losing most of its pizzazz along the way). Unfortunately, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Disney’s string of cannibalized remakes are almost guaranteed to continue to be a reliably profitable, if terminally lazy, cynical, and creatively bankrupt enterprise. This rehash might boast live action, Will Smith, and expensive sets, costuming, and CGI, but it’s missing the magic.

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The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper (voice)

REVIEW:

This is it. After eleven years and twenty-two movies, the long-awaited “endgame” that came to a head in last year’s The Avengers: Infinity War comes to a conclusion, and with it so too does at least the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and has since blown up into an interconnected universe more sprawling and ambitious than has ever been mounted before. It’s also no secret—and has not been for quite some time—that the appropriately-titled Endgame is the swan song for at least some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, including some of its biggest mainstays, a fact its fans have made their peace with long before setting foot in the theater. The MCU will go on, to be sure (this isn’t even the last MCU installment of the year), but it will not go on for everyone. Like the sign-off of the original cast of Star Trek, it’s the end of an era. Endgame fulfills its mission. The two-part climax of this first phase of the MCU is brought to a (mostly) satisfactory conclusion, but the movie’s real strength is serving as a well-crafted love letter both to the entire MCU up to this point and to the fans who’ve come along on every step of the journey.

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The Best of Enemies (2019)

DIRECTOR: Robin Bissell

CAST: Sam Rockwell, Taraji P. Henson, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, Bruce McGill

REVIEW:

Quick on the heels of recent Best Picture winner Green Book comes yet another one of those standard-issue, well-intentioned 1960s “based on a true story” race relations dramas that are all the rage these days. Given the current political climate, a movie about a die-hard racist and an equally aggressive black activist getting past their enmity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even more so than Green Book (an enjoyable, inoffensive little movie which was not, in my opinion, Oscar material), The Best of Enemies is standard issue and a little trite and does nothing to distinguish itself from all the other movies covering similar subject matter in recent years. It’s easily lumped in with the likes of The Help, Hidden Figures (also starring Taraji P. Henson), and Green Book, and doesn’t linger in the memory.

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Shazam! (2019)

DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg

CAST: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Djimon Hounsou

REVIEW:

With Shazam, the DC Expanded Universe plays about as far as possible from the dour dreariness of Batman v Superman. Shazam has its share of more conventional superhero action, but it’s not a straight entry; it’s far more family-friendly than the likes of Deadpool but exists in a somewhat similarly self-parodying vein (though even Shazam is not as openly satirical). The result is an effective mix of superheroics and spoofing thereof, and Shazam‘s status as a minor league player among the comic book superheroes who’ve been brought to the screen (no one expects it to compete against The Avengers: Endgame, but it’s not trying to) doesn’t stop it from being one of the fresher and more entertaining entries to crop up lately, especially from within the troubled DCEU. Were this MCU, it’d be a middle-of-the-road offering, but it’s the most unreservedly enjoyable entry to emerge from the DCEU thus far, and while it’s not a 100% straight comedy, it offers more laughs than some that ostensibly are.

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Dumbo (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

REVIEW:

Dumbo began life as a children’s story published in 1939, written by the husband-and-wife duo of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. In 1941, Walt Disney, looking for something that could be slapped together quickly and cheaply to shove out into theaters to help offset mounting costs of his expensive flop Fantasia, bought the rights and the Dumbo animated film debuted in theaters, running a slim 64-minutes. While remembered fondly, it was arguably the most simplistic and juvenile of the Disney animated features of the time, so while this remake (of sorts) is the latest in Disney’s line-up of live-action recreations of its animated classics (following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast and soon to include Jon Favreau’s The Lion King and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin), the brevity of the source material required Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger to do a lot of padding. The result, as one might expect from a padded-out reimagining of a simplistic and juvenile cartoon, is a middling affair that contains enough special effects and lively sequences to entertain children but whose generic and uninspired narrative has less to offer for their parents. Adults accompanying their children may be sufficiently engaged to not be suffering in silence for their children’s sake (which alone bumps Dumbo up above some other theatrical options for family movie night), but adults attending alone may be less enthralled.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

CAST: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

REVIEW:

Captain Marvel, the first but far from last Marvel installment of 2019, doesn’t ascend to MCU top-tier, but it escapes the purely perfunctory mediocrity that some may have expected from a superhero origin story that’s primarily being squeezed in before she serves as the deus ex machina she’s clearly being set up as for next month’s The Avengers: Endgame. A 1990s setting and sci-fi angle (shades of Guardians of the Galaxy, including a familiar character or two) lends a fresher feel that’s sorely needed in such an over-saturated comic book movie landscape.

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