Triple Scoop Review: Doctor Sleep, Underwater, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Doctor Sleep

Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

Let’s get this out of the way for anyone who doesn’t already know: I’m not a huge fan of The Shining. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Kubrick’s work in general: I tend to like the cinematography and not much else.) Many adaptational changes annoyed me, especially as I saw the film soon after reading the novel. Admittedly, that was all roughly 15-20 years ago now, so I might feel differently if I were to ever try it again. Point is, unlike many horror fans, I didn’t come into this weird hybrid of a sequel with much in the way of expectations, high or low. It was pretty easy to judge Doctor Sleep as its own thing. And fortunately for me, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Unlike The Shining, which is straight-up horror, Doctor Sleep has more of a dark fantasy vibe. Like, there are creepy moments, absolutely (I fucking loved it when Abra turned the tables on Rose), but the overall flavor of scare is different, kinda like the transition between the quiet, claustrophobic horror of Alien to the action-fueled horror of Aliens. It seems like a natural progression, but I can also see how fans of the original might have been disappointed. What’s really impressive, though, is how much I enjoyed this film, despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Horror movies, especially, have to work hard to earn that length without losing tension or momentum, and Doctor Sleep does a pretty good job with that: there are problems in the third act–which we’ll get to shortly–but overall, the slow, steady pace of the film works well for me.

The cast is great, especially Kyliegh Curran (who’s absolutely fantastic as Abra) and Rebecca Ferguson (who makes for a pretty iconic villain, one who I’d like to cosplay immediately.) Ewan McGregor does solid work as grown-up/fucked up Danny Torrance, and I like pretty much the entire supporting cast: Carl Lumbly is a stellar choice as Dick Hallorann, Cliff Curtis is instantly likable as Billy, and Zahn McClarnon is an excellent right-hand man/second banana bad guy. All of McClarnon and Ferguson’s interactions are pretty great; in fact, the whole villainous family dynamic is awesome and makes these guys much more compelling as antagonists.

Unfortunately, that third act is where things start to falter, which is frustrating because most of the problems here could easily be solved by just not returning to the Overlook. Physically, that is; half the Final Battle takes place in Danny’s head, anyway, so why not just make the entire thing one big mental showdown? We could still get all those iconic references and flashbacks without Danny and Abra literally driving to Colorado for no goddamn reason. (There is a reason: Danny is convinced that they can’t beat Rose on their own, but that’s sorta nonsense because at this point, their batting average against her is pretty goddamn phenomenal.) This would also eliminate the awkward sense of Abra just chilling alone in the car for ten minutes, while Danny has an emotional catharsis inside the hotel with his dad. Like, I genuinely enjoy that scene, but also . . . maybe don’t leave the kid alone outside when a monster is literally hunting you down?

Random Notes:

1. Actually, maybe we could scale back just a bit on those iconic references? Cause I do want them, but also, it feels like Mike Flanagan is vomiting The Shining at you for the last 20 minutes? Like, hey, here are the twins, here is the blood, here is the bartender, the axe, the door, the boiler room, etc., etc., etc. Give me these moments, but not one for every goddam minute, please. Space them out or whittle them down.

2. Snakebite Andi might be the most Stephen King name I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life. I really liked Emily Alyn Lind in the role, though, since I forgot to mention her before. Also, MR. HOMN!

3. I wish Rose the Hat’s hat was, like, more important? Especially after the grocery store scene, I kind of expected something else. Still, I’m never gonna complain too hard about fashionable millinery. I will complain about Danny hitting rock bottom, however, because I definitely interpreted that scene as “baby starved to death after Danny left him alone with his dead mom,” which . . . yeah, didn’t sit well with me. Apparently, though, there are multiple different interpretations of what actually happened to Mom and Baby? Still. If you’re trying for a redemptive story, IDK, I think everyone should be real clear on exactly what your MC is being redeemed for. Especially if it’s dark ass shit like that.

4. Now that I’ve read the differences between book and movie, holy shit, I’m kinda glad I never read this. The 9/11 subplot? The “we’re related” nonsense? What the actual fuck?

5. I’m just gonna say it: “steam” is a little hard to take seriously.

6. Finally, there is a RWBY poster in Abra’s room. I haven’t watched that show in years, but still, I found this small detail surprising and delightful.

Underwater

Year: 2020
Director: William Eubank
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: VERY MUCH SO
Grade: Strawberry

This was fun enough, but it also could’ve been better. Some scenes are successfully creepy and tense: whenever our characters are crawling through Way Too Tiny Shit, for example, or when poor Mamoudou Athie fucking implodes. (I was disappointed by this; I really thought he was going to last longer.) Most of the cast is pretty great, although I’d probably recast and rewrite Paul (TJ Miller). Still, I’m here for Kristen Stewart’s whole aesthetic, am happy that Smith survived, was amused by last minute Cthulhu, and really enjoyed that Jessica Henwick was our surprise Final Girl. Holy shit, that’s two Western horror movies now with Eastern-Asian women who live. 2020, this is actually something I like about you.

So, that’s the good. As far as the bad, well. The voiceover shit completely fails, like, I honestly have no idea what it’s even doing in this movie? The beginning is especially weird because the first few minutes have this strange, in medias res quality to them that makes the whole scene kinda feel like a dream. It doesn’t fit at all; in fact, I seriously wondered if they were trying to set up some kind of unreliable narrator here. But the rest of the movie is a pretty straightforward action-horror movie (with just a bit of a Lovecraftian twist).

Not all the action scenes work for me, either, because some of them are so muddy it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to whom. Like, I get it: Underwater is underwater. Chaos, poor visibility, all that. Still, when a monster drags two characters away, I wanna be able to tell who they are. I might’ve been more inclined to forgive this if these scenes were strictly from Norah’s POV, as she sadly loses her glasses early in the film and presumably can’t see for shit; unfortunately, that’s not really how they play. Which is a bummer, actually: if I ever lost my glasses in any kind of horror movie scenario, like, it would very much impact my day and/or likelihood of survival. It might’ve been kind of neat, seeing Norah actually dealing with this during the film.

Also, the character work needs, well, work. Norah (Stewart) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) both lost someone–the same someone–prior to the events of this movie, but for some reason, they barely have any interactions throughout to build their dynamic and/or lay in the groundwork for this reveal. More space, too, could’ve been given to the Captain and Norah’s relationship, or to Smith and Emily’s. Instead, we spend too much time with TJ Miller, who’s supposed to be the funny, weird guy, and generally lands harder on the latter than the former. (Although I will admit to laughing when he fake-volunteers Emily (Henwick) to investigate something, all, “This is your moment.” That shit was funny.)

Random Notes:

1. I love that Emily saves Norah, and Norah saves Emily, and they both save Smith together. Also, kinda love that Norah punches Emily in the face. Not because she deserves it, but because it’s a good “who will sacrifice themselves for the other” moment.

2. I’m considerably less impressed by how the women have to get way more naked than the dudes. Except TJ Miller, of course, but this is purposefully meant to be comedic, rather than sexy, presumably because he’s fatter than anyone else in the cast. #RAGE

3. The hands-down funniest thing about this movie: Paul carries around this stuffed bunny, right, like, he cradles it, strokes it, makes sure it’s okay as he’s going through dangerous, water-logged parts of the station, etc. He is 100% acting like it’s a real bunny, and I was seriously wondering if we were gonna get some kinda high-pressure nervous syndrome/space dementia subplot shit going on, especially because of all the Alice in Wonderland references. But apparently, there actually was a real bunny while filming, until the director got a stuffed one instead because of safety concerns. Only for whatever reason, he never bothered telling Miller that the stuffed rabbit wasn’t a stand-in. So, dude acted like the rabbit was real because he thought it would be post-production. I can’t begin to tell you how much this all delights me.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Year: 2017
Director: Issa López
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Mild
Grade: Chocolate

I’ve been meaning to watch this Mexican dark fantasy film for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally did, because it’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, I probably could’ve picked a better week for it, like, if you need an escapist upper, uh, this isn’t it. (I literally held my breath when two of the kids walked up to a police car, and was utterly relieved when the cops just took off without killing them.) The violence here isn’t particularly gratuitous; in fact, it’s not a very gory film at all. But children do die, and die violently, on screen. Best to know that going in.

All of the kids are fantastic, especially Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López). I’m amazed that none of them had any prior acting experience because they’re all so good in this movie. One of the things that works best about Tigers Are Not Afraid: the quiet, funny moments when the kids are just hanging out: play-acting some American Idol shit in an abandoned building, telling ghost stories about this dude who eats kids with his pepperoni, etc. And while I can be hit or miss on stories that walk the line between “literal magic” and “is it, though?” I think the ambiguity serves this dark fairy tale well. Which probably isn’t so surprising, as it’s definitely a Monkey’s Paw kind of story.

I honestly don’t have many criticisms with this one. There are a few moments with this stuffed tiger that I found sorta hard to take seriously, but . . . yeah, that might kind of be it. While I’d hoped for a few specific things that didn’t end up happening, the actual ending itself fits the story well and isn’t wholly, needlessly bleak. And since I am, for once, trying not to spoil too much here, let me leave you with a vague list of some other things I really enjoyed:

The trails of blood
The goodbye scene
Morro is adorbs
The chalk
When the bodies are found

Also, the movie was both written and directed by a woman. YES!!!! I’m always excited to see more horror crafted by women!

“Isn’t This Fun? It’s Like a Sleepover.”

Birds of Prey (and The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) apparently underperformed at the box office last weekend–although, also kind of not, like, maybe we could wait half a second before pronouncing it DOA and throwing its corpse to the wolves, thanks? (ETA: Don’t even get me started on the rebranding. I’m flat out ignoring that nonsense.)

Since I did actually see Birds of Prey last Friday, though, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? Because it’s an awful lot of fun, and I really hope more people go out to see it. If Charlie’s Angels meets Deadpool with a side of, IDK, Smokin’ Aces sounds intriguing to you–or if you liked Margot Robbie and the cotton candy sparkle of Suicide Squad but hated the inconsistent tone, the incoherent storyline, the muddy action scenes, the Joker, and basically everything else about that film–well, this one might be worth checking out.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Ghost Story, The Wailing, and The Purge: Anarchy

Ghost Story

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

So, I like parts of this. I can’t really judge it as an adaptation because while I’ve technically read the novel, that was roughly 15-20 years ago, and I remember very little about it now. I knew a bunch of old dudes (AKA, the Chowder Society) liked to meet up and tell ghost stories. I knew spooky supernatural shit would happen. And I remembered that I was disappointed by the novel’s resolution, though for the life of me, I can’t recall what troubled me about it. But that’s about it.

I enjoy the movie’s setup: an elegant old school horror society, a secret coming back to haunt them, a second generation drawn into the mystery, etc. (Although I think it would’ve been way more awesome to see the wives get involved in the investigation, too.) I like the revelation that Eva was still alive when she went into the water–frankly, these geriatric assholes deserve to die–and I enjoy how the film’s conclusion cuts between Ghost Eva menacing a helpless Don and Ricky finally revealing Eva’s rotting corpse. It’s also just neat to see these cinematic legends here, like, Fred Astaire in a horror movie! How cool is that?

Still, on the whole, Ghost Story isn’t my favorite. A lot of that’s due to writing and poor adaptational choices: the idea of ghost servants, for instance, is interesting on the surface, but Gregory and Fenny Bates have little actual purpose in this story. Fenny murdering Sears is an especially big letdown, and hey, whatever happened to this feral child, anyway? There are a number of logic leaps that annoy me, too, like when Don decides his fiancee isn’t “real,” despite the fact that all evidence at this point indicates a mentally ill woman with, like, a thyroid condition to explain her occasionally low body temperature. I mean, come on, Alma had a job! Other people saw her! I get that she literally ghosted him and all, but nothing that Don’s experienced thus far should make him think “ghost” yet. I also have no idea why Eva is so desperate to marry either Don or David, like, at first I assumed she needed someone to physically take her across the Milburn threshhold, but that’s clearly not the case, so, yeah, IDK. Also, what triggers the haunt to begin now? Don gives us some offhand bullshit about how decades of the Chowder Society’s ghost stories has given Eva/Alma’s spirit power or something, but man, they don’t sell that at all.

And unfortunately, the writing isn’t my only problem here. While most of the acting is fine (Alice Krige is enjoyable as Eva, and I like all the old men, especially John Houseman as The Asshole Friend), I find Craig Wasson as Don very hard to take seriously. Some of the scares are pretty laughable, and sure, 1981, but man, David’s death scene is ridiculous. (Points, I guess, for the surprising full-frontal shot? Sadly, Alice Krige has to be naked about 78 more times, so let’s not pretend this is equal opportunity nudity here.) The pacing is off. The score doesn’t fit the film at all. It’s just kind of a hot mess.

The film did provide some generation gap amusement, though. These fancy old fuckers are whining that men will soon only wear ties to wedding and funerals; meanwhile, Mekaela and I were completely baffled by Edward’s reaction to his son’s appearance. Dude basically says, “Don, you look like a hooligan!” And we’re like ” . . . uh, he’s wearing a sweater?”

The Wailing

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: YES
Grade: Chocolate

I didn’t know a lot about The Wailing before watching it. I knew it was critically beloved. I knew there was a mystery element of some kind. And I knew it was long, like, not quite It: Chapter 2 long, but pretty close. Good news, though: I really enjoyed this one! It’s lengthy, yes, but I was quickly engaged in the story, and while the pace is slow, it’s also steady, never dragging unnecessarily or crashing to a halt at the halfway point. I enjoy the blend of mystery and horror; even the comedy works for me, which I find interesting because similar comedy didn’t work for me at all in The Host. The acting here is great, too; Kwak Do-Won gives a strong, multi-layered performance as our protagonist, and I really enjoy Kim Hwan-Hee as his possessed daughter: she has some amazing facial expressions.

Until that final act, where both Old Japanese Dude and Mysterious Woman seem shady AF, I was pretty confident that Old Japanese Dude wasn’t the bad guy because a) I was getting shades of “mob justice dooms us all” themes almost right away, and b) I had Mysterious Woman near-immediately pegged as a ghost, and I was all, Oh, no, she’s totally leading these guys into killing the one dude trying to help. But then Mysterious Woman insists she’s been protecting them, and I’m like, Well, shit. Now I don’t know WHAT the fuck to think. This part of the film was spectacularly well done. Also, like Jon Snow, I clearly know fuck-all since I was so obviously wrong about literally everything.

I am still trying to decide how I feel about a few things. I find myself wanting to know more about how that trap works: how does Jong-Goo returning home ruin it, exactly? Is it comparable to breaking a line of salt? Much more importantly, what would’ve happened if he had waited? How would it have stopped Hyo-Jin from killing everyone? I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the shaman yet, either; his secret villainy does seem a bit convenient to me, but to be fair, dude absolutely does come off as shifty throughout; he just seems more like a potential scam artist than, IDK, Devil’s helper? Maybe that’s the problem I’m having, the fact that I don’t really know the shaman’s relationship to the demon. It makes his villainous turn feel a bit out-of-nowhere, although I’m not certain that it actually is: an exorcist getting rich while working with his supposed enemy does, of course, make a certain grim capitalist sense.

It’s difficult. Sometimes, we need more than one viewing to fully appreciate a story’s layered complexity, not to mention that as long as we tell stories, we’ll almost certainly argue about how much information needs to be revealed in order to make a story successful versus being lazy, a cheat, or weak. And, of course, we can’t overlook the cultural component, either: as an American, I’m an outsider looking in here, and that obviously influences my perception of the film. One notable example: basically every character in this movie uses a slur to refer to the Old Japanese Dude, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a factor into how quickly I latched onto the “mob justice” narrative. But it’s also important for me to remember that America and Japan have a very different history than Korea and Japan. Also important: my knowledge of Korean mythology and folklore is extremely limited, which means that exposition I might consider necessary (like the nature of that trap, or the upper body/lower body symbolism of stolen items) is information that Korean audiences might not require at all. It’s not that my ignorance makes me a bad person or anything, but expecting a foreign film to stop their story just to give global audiences Folklore 101 is probably an ethnocentric dick move.

I will say, however, that no matter how much I learn, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied by the police officer who, I guess, is too horrified to point out the pictures/stolen items he discovered while they’re at the Old Japanese Dude’s cabin. And then Jong-Goo doesn’t even come back until the next day, and he’s upset because the guy burned all the incriminating evidence? Of course he did, you worthless sonofabitch. I mean, I genuinely do feel bad for this guy, but also? Nope. All the nope.

The Purge: Anarchy

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

Believe it or not–and by now, you probably will–this is actually the first time I’ve seen any of the Purge films. What surprised me here is the genre itself: this has elements of horror, I suppose, but mostly, Anarchy just feels like an action movie, especially when we get to the Most Dangerous Game portion of the evening: the Sergeant kicks rich people ass, while our other survivors twiddle their thumbs for 15 minutes. I’ll admit, it’s not my favorite section of the movie: the Sergeant just isn’t interesting enough to dominate this much screen time. He’s so one-note, it’s not even funny; I genuinely don’t know why we waited the whole movie to confirm that, yep, he’s out here to murder the man who killed his son. Surely everyone understood this within the first 15 minutes? Surely?

Despite the lack of horror, I think this universe is pretty fun. Outlandish, sure, but I’ve said it before: I’ll take most wacky premises, so long as they’re given upfront. And it’s fun, contemplating what you’d do during the Purge: I can tell you what I sure as shit wouldn’t do, though, and that’s go to the grocery store the evening before, like, you assholes, you’ve had a year to plan for this. (The wife grew on me, and I liked that she stayed with the rebels. The whiny ass husband did not grow on me, and I clapped when he died.) But yeah, there’s a lot in this universe to play with, and I really find myself wanting to know more about how things specifically work. Like, I know emergency services are out for the evening, but what about long-term/gravely ill patients who can’t be discharged? Are they just left to die, or are there, like, secret underground hospitals somewhere? (I would 100% be up for a crossover between The Purge and Hotel Artemis, BTW.) Conventional horror movie wisdom insists the former, but personal experience and anecdotal evidence from real life natural disasters suggest otherwise. I kinda want to see sequels where specific communities (rather than individual families and/or random strangers) work together to survive the night. I’m also wildly interested in the story about the morning-after clean-up crew. You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious: I would watch the shit out of that movie.

There are a shocking amount of people I recognize here, mostly in very small roles. I knew Justina Machado would be in this, and mourned her character’s death accordingly. Michael K. Williams was a delightful surprise, as was John Beasley, Edwin Hodge, and Lakeith Stanfield. (I specifically liked Stanfield because his character was just a morally bankrupt kidnapper-for-hire. Like, why aren’t there more thieves running around? Why is it only bloody murder and attempted rape here?)

A few final thoughts:

A. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul were absolutely fine in this movie, but I immediately started daydreaming about a fanfic crossover where Penelope and Elena Alvarez from One Day at a Time replaced their characters. I’m now trying to come up with a semi-likable Unhappy Married Couple and a Mournful Badass who’s more interesting than Sergeant.

B. I kinda enjoy that the Sergeant’s mercy is what saves him in the end, but I hated Big Daddy’s whole “we can’t have heroes” speech, like, dudes, come on. Even for me, this is too on the nose.

C. I find it very difficult to hear “purge” as a verb and not think of vomiting, which means I had trouble taking it seriously whenever a character, ominously holding a gun, would say something like, “I’m here to purge,” or whatever.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Skeleton Twins, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Nah, unless you really don’t wanna know who plays Jack
Grade: Chocolate

I haven’t watched Jumpin’ Jack Flash in years, but I grew up on this movie–I grew up on a whole bunch of Whoopi Goldberg films, actually; she was probably my favorite actress as a kid–and I’m stoked to see this one holds up really well. Not everything holds up, like, there are one or two jokes best left in the 80’s and, of course, Marty (Stephen Collins) is super likable until you remember that the actor playing him admitted to sexually abusing minors in 2014.

The movie, though, is pretty great, and I adore Terry (Goldberg), our foul-mouthed, hopeless romantic, total nerd of a protagonist. (If you’re going to argue with me about the nerd thing, you’re wrong: she’s a computer geek, talks to herself, dresses kind of goofy, has toys all over desk, etc. NERDS UNITE FTW.) And Whoopi Goldberg is great in the role: she’s sharp, funny, and somehow manages to make all the many scenes of reading Jack’s messages out loud actually seem natural. The genre blend of romantic-spy-comedy works really well for me, and I just love a lot of little things about this movie: all the dialogue, the Rolling Stones appreciation, the set design of Terry’s apartment–I need that giant toothbrush–etc. I like a lot of the supporting players, too: I particularly get a kick out of Peter Michael Goetz as Mr. Page, not to mention that this was the first movie I knew either Garry Marshall or Carol Kane from. (Kane’s line delivery of she’s unwrapping the STROLLER is often, and poorly, imitated in this house.)

Plus, Jumpin’ Jack Flash has gotta be Hollywood’s very first internet romance, right? Like, this movie was made in 1986. It’s so ahead of its time! (Although I will admit that, as a child, I was very disappointed with how Jack looked when he finally showed up. Apologies to Jonathan Pryce, but deeply shallow 7-or-so-year-old Carlie was like, “That guy? That guy is Jack?” It was like watching the Beast transform into his inferior human self with his inferior human voice all over again. At least Jack’s voice didn’t completely change.)

The Skeleton Twins

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Vanilla

I’ve been wanting to try out more of Bill Hader stuff’s since watching It, Chapter 2, so naturally I had to a) binge the first season of Barry last week, and b) check out The Skeleton Twins, a dysfunctional family comedy-drama about estranged siblings. I have kind of a soft spot for both sibling stories and dysfunctional family shit, though I’m often not enthused about how said stories turn out, the former because it so often boils down to “opposite siblings are opposite” and the latter because they’re so often focused on unhappy marriages, like, I could easily go ten years without another boring marital affair subplot.

The Skeleton Twins definitely does have some marital affair shit going on, but for the most part, I liked this movie. I’ll admit, I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing from it, but I’m hard-pressed to say what, exactly, just that there’s a certain amount of predictability to all the emotional beats of the story, so I always felt like I knew exactly where it was going. Still, the acting is great all-around: both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig give strong performances, and Luke Wilson is just spectacularly well cast. There are also several scenes I really enjoyed (this lip-syncing one is obviously a highlight), and I did become very invested in Milo and Maggie’s relationship, like, I’m really rooting for them to work it out and save each other. And sure, while the siblings initially come across as “the responsible one vs. the irresponsible one,” it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this isn’t really the case, and I liked that.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Strawberry

This is okay, but it’s definitely my last favorite of the John Wick series thus far. On the plus side, all the fight scenes are a lot of fun, obviously–John kills people in creative new ways, like with books or horses! And I like some of our recent additions to the cast: Asia Kate Dillon has got such a cool aesthetic here, and besides which, I’m forever a sucker for the administrative side of the assassin business. (See also my absolute obsession with the tattooed switchboard operators. Jesus Christ, I love them so much. I want a TV show with them so badly.) I also enjoy Mark Dacascos as our slightly psychopathic assassin, mostly because he so often plays a very solemn or dignified character–Double Dragon very much excepted–where here it’s more like “I’m a fan!” and “we could’ve been pals if only I didn’t have to kill you!” I could do without the whole “we’re the same, you and I” stuff, but otherwise, I liked him.

Still, I think Parabellum has some structural issues. Not much about Casablanca works for me, I’m afraid: Halle Berry’s whole section feels like an awkwardly inserted backdoor pilot, which I’d probably be more willing to forgive if I liked her better in the role. Unfortunately, I never really bought Sophia’s whole angry, tough girl thing, anymore than I did in X2 when Storm very suddenly became super angry and super American. And to be clear, I was 140% into all of her fight scenes, like, Berry does a great job with them, and her dogs are obviously the goddamn best, but the scenes with actual dialogue? Yeah, I didn’t love them. Jerome Flynn and Saïd Taghmaoui also felt unnecessary, especially and unfortunately Taghmaoui, who I’ve enjoyed in various small roles over the years, but this one is just . . . meh. Not poorly acted or anything; I just didn’t care about this whole “man who sits above the table” thing. And all John’s wandering through the desert like Jesus just felt . . . silly, and surprisingly, not the good kind of silly.

And it must be said that while I emphatically do not come these movies looking for realism, like . . . come on, there is a limit to how many times a dude can be thrown through a wall of glass without bleeding out before I’m like really? REALLY? I quickly lost count, but I wanna say John got kicked or thrown through, like, 13 different panes of glass in about fifteen minutes, and dude, that boy be dead. That boy is an ex-parrot. And I don’t care if he’s the Baba Yaga or not; if this motherfucker doesn’t have Wolverine’s healing abilities, he’s stick-a-fork-in-me done. It’s not just all the glass, either, although admittedly, that’s probably the most in-your-face absurdity; during this movie, John also gets a) hit by two cars, one right after the other, b) stabbed in the shoulder (where the blade nicks the artery, but a quick five-minute stitch-up with no blood transfusions, and he’s fine), and finally c) shot off a fucking roof–and like, I’m not talking some one-level grocery here. This is a four story building, and this motherfucker bounces off a metal fire escape on the way down. John Wick is basically just a broken meat sack of goo at this point, or should be.

Generally, I enjoy how this movie sets up for the next, but man, if John Wick, Chapter 4 doesn’t reveal his secret origin story as a metahuman or literal creature of the night, well, my friends, we’ve shot past light speed straight into ludicrous speed.

“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

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Triple Scoop Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time, Kong: Skull Island, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Wrinkle In Time

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Vanilla

I absolutely fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time when I was eleven, but it’s not a particularly easy story to adapt. Like, it’s a SFF children’s book from the early 1960’s that’s heavy on the Christianity, complicated mathematics, weird aliens, and Love; it’s peculiar, is what I’m getting at, and when it comes to kids movies, I feel like Hollywood is often afraid of any real peculiarity. The 2003 TV film adaptation is particularly generic, just utterly lifeless. Ava DuVernay’s 2018 film is, thankfully, a billion times better than that, but I do think it has some issues. Pacing, for one (Charles Wallace’s possession goes far too fast for my liking), but more importantly, I find the movie both visually and tonally disjointed, almost like two different adaptations being sewn together. Neither is bad, exactly, but together, I don’t think they work nearly as well as they could.

For instance, at several points, A Wrinkle in Time does look and sound like what I’d expect from a more generic fantasy film aimed at kids. Some of the dialogue is very on the nose, particularly in regards to love–although considering the source material, that’s not exactly surprising. (This is very much a Power of Love story.) Some of the CGI isn’t great, particularly when Mrs. Whatsit turns into a giant flying leaf-thing, and that whole filler flying sequence with the kids? I don’t know, it feels very . . . expected? Obligatory? I wasn’t crazy about the scene where Meg and Calvin run from the tornado-earthquake thing, either, although I do love that Meg’s the one who figures out how to survive. Also, Mrs. Which’s makeup and especially eyebrows strike me as comical, but, like, not in a good way? (Admittedly, that could just be personal taste, and happily, I have nothing but positive things to say about Mrs. Who’s hair and costumes. They are delightful.)

The thing is, I was okay with most of that because this is a kids movie, and it’s supposed to appeal to them, not my cranky ass old self–but then there are these gorgeous scenes that feel much more sophisticated, like when Meg uses Mrs. Who’s glasses to find her way to the invisible staircase or when Meg finally successfully tessers home. It’s not that these scenes are inappropriate for a kids movie, far from it. But they definitely feel like they belong in a different one: there are these incredibly compelling moments, both visually and narratively, but they feel extremely disconnected when compared to scenes like Kids Whee Around Whilst Atop Lousy CGI Creature.

I do think many of the modern updates and source material deviations work quite well. Updating Mrs. Who’s Big Book of Quotations to include Hamilton is a particularly inspired choice. (And pretty cool for me, personally, as I’d literally just seen the play for the very first time that night.) I miss Aunt Beast, of course, but I completely understand the exclusion of Sandy and Dennys. It’s also pretty great that the Murrays are a multiracial family, and that Meg–brilliant and angry and caring and insecure–is a very fully realized protagonist whose ethnicity is always a part of her characterization but never the only defining factor. I love watching her progress from someone who doesn’t like herself to someone who can acknowledge her strengths and flaws, who can stand up and say she’s worthy of love. My personal favorite microcosm of this is watching Meg finally accept a compliment about her hair. It’s a wonderfully empowering moment, and if I think that as an adult white woman, I can’t imagine how much it might mean to a young black girl.

Storm Reid is excellent in the role: the scene where she first reunites with Chris Pine–also excellent–is particularly well done. I enjoy Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, too, although 11-Year-Old Carlie is a bit disappointed with how Mrs. Whatsit’s attitude towards Meg has become so disapproving that it borders on adversarial, like, no, she’s nice; she’s a self-sacrificing, exploded star! (This is exactly the sort of thing I mean about Hollywood eliminating weirdness.) Thematically, though, the switch-up definitely works for this particular adaptation, even if it gets a bit repetitive for my tastes.

All in all, I like A Wrinkle in Time and suspect I would’ve loved it as a kid, which is obviously the most important thing. I just can’t shake the feeling that overall, it’s a B movie which easily, easily could have been an A.

Kong: Skull Island

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

So, this was okay. I might’ve liked it more if I had some nostalgia to pull from, but I didn’t grow up watching any of the King Kong movies. As is, I think this one has a great cast and a strong start but a much weaker second half.

What delighted me about Skull Island is that, initially, it almost felt like a heist movie. You know, it had that whole “let’s get the crew together” segment where we’re introduced to all our main players–and a surprising number of them really felt like characters who could easily serve as protagonists. Like, Corey Hawkins is not just the lead scientist but also our introduction to the main story. Tom Hiddleston is the smooth, ex-military tracker extraordinaire. (And, you know. Tom Hiddleston.) Brie Larson is, well, the Girl (she’s a photojournalist and spunky!), while Toby Kebbel is easily the most well-drawn of the good guy soldiers, the only one who doesn’t feel like a red shirt waiting to happen. It’s fun because it really gives you a sense of “oh shit, who’s gonna make it out of this alive,” which doesn’t always happen with action movies.

And some of the action itself is pretty great. The scene where King Kong just starts killing the shit out of the helicopters left and right is crazy fun. There’s a lot of amusing dialogue, mostly from those soldiers I mentioned, and even the blatant implausibility of this island is kinda delightful. Like, an absolutely ludicrous storm-shield? Sure, why not?

But Skull Island heavily starts falling apart for me as soon as John C. Reilly comes into the picture. Which bums me out because I like Reilly in plenty of things, but the choice here to play this traumatized WWII pilot who’s been stuck on this island for almost 30 years as “hilariously loopy” is, IMO, a pretty poor one. Another poor choice is killing the Japanese pilot offscreen so that only the white dude gets to speak Japanese and wield a katana. Like, come on, dudes. It doesn’t help that the indigenous, non-white people who live on this island don’t talk, like, at all; instead, it’s Reilly’s character who provides all the exposition, which a) not great, and b) is way too lengthy. All the time we spend on this guy is time I’d rather be spending on the other less frustrating characters.

Because that’s my other big problem here: after such a promising start, most of the cast is stuck with almost nothing to do. Killing off Toby Kebbel so early could work–like, shit, I expected him to make it to the third act, at least–but then Corey Hawkins completely fades away into the background, leaving us with only Hiddleston and Larson as our protagonists, and they are Nilla Wafer bland, like, the script just gives them nothing. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s turn to the Ahab Dark Side is . . . fine, I guess, but what could’ve been a good-if-expected arc ends up so damn cheesy, particularly considering the many, many slow-mo shots of his Vengeance Eyes.

A few more random notes:

A. Seriously, the slow-mo in this movie is ridiculous. I outright laughed when I definitely wasn’t supposed to.

B. A lot of this music is my jam, but man, this is a soundtrack that really, really wants you to remember this movie is set in the 1970’s. Honestly, I think the only surprise here is that Edwin Starr’s “War” doesn’t pop up.

C. Brie Larson’s character may be a walking Nilla Wafer with a camera, but boy, does she have some of the best reaction faces while King Kong is murdering all the helicopters. Side note: you can always tell if a helicopter will explode upon crashing based on which cast members are sitting inside it.

D. Finally, one positive thing I will say about Skull Island is that a few characters live who I definitely thought were toast. Three of the soldiers (the young guy, the funny guy, and Pillboi from The Good Place) all make it, as well as Corey Hawkins and the Asian biologist/only other woman on the expedition. (It’s a pretty minor win, though, considering how little she actually does in this movie.) Shea Whigham, sadly, does not, because I don’t think he’s ever survived anything I’ve seen him in. (His death is especially sad here, since he goes for a self-sacrifice moment that 100% fails to work.) And Marc Evan Jackson–also from The Good Place–was clearly doomed for death the moment he expressed his shock that famous photojournalist Mason Weaver was, gasp, a woman–but even he managed to surprise me by just how ludicrously dumb his death was, like, rather than go with Tom Hiddleston’s group trying to get off the island, he instead goes with the soldiers who are planning to directly confront King Kong. Like, what? What? WHAT?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Chocolate

Yes, I have finally watched Into the Spider-Verse, and loved it, thank God. I did not want to be the asshole writing about what a letdown it was. ItSV is funny and clever and moving without ever being cloying. It was pretty awesome to finally get a Spider-Man movie not starring Peter Parker, and of course, we got several Spider-Man iterations here: Gwen Stacey is fun, and Peter B. Parker and Spider-Man Noir just crack me up. (Spider-Ham is amusing, too, in a cracktastic, “wow, you really went there” sort of way.) But Miles Morales, especially, just makes for a great lead, not to mention it’s pretty cool to hear him speak Spanish while just going about his day. With the exception of Xhosa in Black Panther, I feel like it’s rare to hear superheroes on the big screen speak anything other than English. Fictional alien languages, sure, but the second most commonly spoken language in this country? Not so much.

My only real problem with this movie is the barrage of tubby jokes at Peter B. Parker’s expense. I don’t know that it bothers me as much as Fat Thor in Endgame, but I’m honestly not sure why: the basic joke, after all (a hero gains a bunch of weight after his life goes to shit, and everyone cracks wise about it for the next two hours), is pretty much the same. Is it because this is a cartoon, a medium where I’ve just become numb to the rampant fat phobia? Is it because I didn’t see this in theater with a bunch of strangers chuckling around me while I tried to melt into my chair? Or am I simply giving Into the Spider-Verse a little more leeway because I just like the film more? One way or another, though, I was disappointed with this aspect of the film.

Other than that, I really loved this movie. The animation, of course, is just outstanding, imaginative and innovative and so, so colorful. And there were all these little moments I really enjoyed, like the scene where Miles gets ready to jump off a high-rise, then abruptly runs downstairs and finds a much shorter building to practice from? That shit cracked me up. I thought the scene where Miles’s Dad talks to him through his bedroom door was well-done, too, not to mention all the various “get up” moments. And, of course, the whole soundtrack, up to and very much including “Spidey-Bells (A Hero’s Lament).”

It is my favorite. Chris Pine is kinda my favorite. I have listened to this song, like, A LOT.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Escape Room, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and As Above, So Below

Escape Room

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

I think my love of a) actual escape rooms and b) movies where strangers are trapped together and trying to figure out what’s going on, how they’re connected, how to get out alive, etc. is well documented by this point. So it’s no surprise Mek and I were on the verge of renting Escape Room when I actually received it as a gift. (Fun fact: Amazon hid the package so well that I didn’t find it until almost a week later, and only then because the sender–Infamous Tom–mentioned it offhand.)

Much as I’m drawn to these sorts of movies, they’re usually much more miss than hit, which is why I’m pleased to say that, overall, Escape Room is a hit for me. None of the actors are phoning it in, and I was especially excited to see both Deborah Ann Woll and Tyler Labine. The movie has quite a lot of energy: it’s fun, a bit ridiculous, hits all my claustrophobia boxes, etc. I like a lot of the dialogue, too, like, even the Asshole (there’s always at least one) is pretty enjoyable. I spent the majority of the movie rooting for almost everybody to survive, which makes for a welcome change. I have said it before and will keep saying it until I die: horror and mystery are almost always more interesting when likable–or at least funnier–characters are involved. Investment is higher, so tension and stakes are higher, too.

The conclusion, unfortunately, is easily the weakest part of this movie, which doesn’t come as a surprise; these kinds of movies almost always fall down at the finish line. Escape Room does a minor variation on a very common ending, and it’s . . . fine . . . but I’d really like to see something new here. Still, I had a pretty great time watching this one, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys these kinds of cheesy fun thrillers.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch, sorta
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

I had zero interest in this movie when it came out. I’d never watched the original TV show, and the only thing I’d seen Henry Cavill in was Immortals, which I was very unimpressed by. Also, the reviews I’d seen were wildly underwhelming. So, I was surprised when I caught most of this on TV and found it unexpectedly charming–though, admittedly, I’d been on working on various things at the time and was only half paying attention.

Curious to see if I’d like the movie while actually paying proper attention to it, Mek and I rented The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and for the most part, I thought it was pretty fun. The story’s sorta whatever, like, I kinda checked out on the actual mission details pretty early on. But I thought both Cavill and Armie Hammer were kinda delightful and had great chemistry with one another. Hammer is weirdly endearing as this super strong Russian spy with fashion Opinions and an extremely short fuse; meanwhile, Cavill is playing the smooth-talking, ladies man, James Bond type at, like, 140%, and it’s hilarious. The whole movie is basically a parody played straight, which I enjoy, and I can’t help but wonder if the film’s poor reception had anything to do with critics taking it more seriously than was actually intended.

I do have some disappointments with the film: one or two lines didn’t land for me, like, I could go the rest of my life without someone’s mental health being blamed even in part on a mom who slept around. Jared Harris is wasted in this movie, and for some reason, I never truly warmed up to Gaby (Alicia Vikander), like, she was fine, but I really wanted to enjoy her character as much as the boys, and I just didn’t. OTOH, Elizabeth Debicki is all villainous and fun, and Hugh Grant is enjoyably British and snarky. That lucky bastard; he’s one of the very few actors in this movie who actually got to use his natural accent–which reminds me. Do . . . do British people think Americans pronounce the word “Nazi” as “NAT-zee?” Admittedly, my homeland is made up of about 87 billion different accents, but the only time I’ve heard that particularly pronunciation was when I watched Brad Pitt in Inglourious Bastards. Both Harris and Cavill did this, though, and it was very strange.

Overall, I enjoyed The Man From U.N.C.L.E., probably enough that I would’ve watched the sequel that Ritchie set up and never got, and certainly enough that I checked out Archive to see if there were any Solo/Illya fics. (There are! A fair few of them, in fact!) It’s a decent B movie, if you enjoy spy action-comedies, stylish Guy Ritchie movies, and/or attractive, antagonistic men forced to work with one another under perilous conditions. I mean, really. Who doesn’t like that?

As Above, So Below

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Strawberry

So, this is basically Tomb Raider: The Horror Movie, or maybe Lara Croft: Get Me The Fuck Outta Dante’s Inferno. The first 2/3, I think, are pretty well-done: decent setup, claustrophobic as fuck–though, admittedly, I’m particularly susceptible to that kind of thing, like, no, thank you, I don’t do caves; that shit is for people who wanna die. There’s one scene in particular where Benji (Edwin Hodge) gets stuck and understandably freaks out, and man. That shit got me.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite as satisfied with the third act, and maybe that’s because I can be a literal, meat-and-potatoes kind of girl when it comes to storytelling, or maybe it’s just because, not having actually read Dante’s Inferno, I missed some of the more significant symbolism. Still, for my money, stories about atonement work a lot better when you actually spend some time on the sins your characters are atoning for. Which isn’t to say I needed the movie to stop so each person could have a five-minute monologue about their tragic backstory. It is, however, to say that when your characters start getting picked off by their own personal ghosts of Christmas past whilst traversing through literal Hell, I would like to know at least a little about those ghosts, or else what’s the point?

Like, Papillon works okay: we know he’s a kinda shady dude and he’s got the ominous burn scar on his hand, so maybe we don’t need to know the exact details of how he was involved with Dead Dude in Burning Car. But I shouldn’t have to go to IMDb trivia to get a vague theory about why Ominous Lady (with a baby, apparently, though I must have missed that) pushed Nice Enough Benji to his sudden doom. And Souxie’s death doesn’t work for me at all, considering she’s just abruptly murdered by Papillion’s dead friend. Like, wouldn’t such a death make much more sense for him? Moreover, the scene where Scarlett, George, and Zed confess their sins before taking their very literal leap of faith feels hurried and lacks emotional resonance–particularly on Zed’s part–because one, the whole third act feels a bit rushed, honestly, and two, the only confession that’s given any actual space is Scarlett’s. I feel all of this would play a lot better if each character was given an opportunity to confess their wrongdoing, and it’s only those who can’t admit it (like Papillon) who are brutally murdered as punishment.

Props to Zed for making it, though. I really didn’t think that guy had a–oh, goddamn it, yes, a literal chance in Hell. Happy for George, too, just cause I like him. (Though I still think the whole “shit, I grabbed the wrong Philosopher’s Stone” bit is more than a little silly. For me, at least, it doesn’t add much to the actual story.)

“I Love You 3,000.”

For a while now, I’ve been trying to maximize my time and minimize my excessive word counts with my Triple Scoop Reviews; today, however, we’re going back to the old standard because Avengers: Endgame is kinda the end of an era here, and I feel like it deserves its own space.

Or, in other words, I’ve got a few things to say, and while some of it’s really positive, some of it’s really not.

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MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

We’re closing in now: only two films left to discuss in this Mission: Impossible Mega Re-Watch! (Well, until 2021, anyway, which is when M:I – 7 is currently scheduled to release.) First up is Rogue Nation, a movie notable for many fine qualities, but none more important than its introduction of Ilsa Faust.

Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really

It’s been roughly four years since I first saw this movie, and–much like with Ghost Protocol–my feelings about it are largely unchanged, except that I like it even more than I did on first blush. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have one or two minor grievances: Luther and Brandt tracking down Ethan by concentrating their search on Ilsa, who they know Ethan implicitly trusts because of the way he sketched her, continues to be bullshit, like, this is just ridiculously, ludicrously dumb. The fact that Ethan and Benji survive this one car accident is equally ludicrous, although admittedly, it’s also pretty standard action movie fare. And it’s true that Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is essentially just a gussied up Moriarty, but I’m mostly okay with it because his clear agenda and mildly creepy line deliveries still make him easily one of the best villains this franchise has ever had. Obviously, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but still, Lane works for me–at least in this particular movie.

Pretty much everything else I have to say is overwhelmingly positive: the action scenes–from the great fight sequences to the various heists and car chases–are all spectacular. I’m definitely a sucker for everything during the Sydney Opera House Mission. The humor continues to work well: Rogue Nation nails that comedy and team camaraderie from the very first scene and only builds on it throughout the film. I especially love the scene where Benji tells Ethan he won’t be left behind. In general, I continue to adore Benji, considering he essentially plays the damsel in distress here, right down to being menaced by some unnecessary, up-close villain leering.

Still, it’s really Ilsa Faust who makes this movie for me. She’s just such a great, complex heroine: badass, funny, has her own agenda. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she saves Ethan’s ass no less than three time in this movie. And I love that while there’s a certain amount of romantic/sexual tension between the two, Rogue Nation never wastes time getting them together or dropping the L bomb–not because I hate romance, but because you know it would’ve been rushed as hell and deeply unconvincing in this tightly plotted film. By delaying said romance until later installments, Rogue Nation actually provides a much better foundation for Ilsa and Ethan’s love story.

As great as Ilsa is, though, the best, most ridiculous line in this whole movie still goes to Alec Baldwin, who calls Ethan Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny,” a description I’m still very seriously considering putting on my business cards. People. It is sublime. There will never be a funnier, more perfect moment in this franchise than this.

Of course, considering that Ilsa repeatedly saves Ethan’s life in Rogue Nation, perhaps Alec Baldwin is actually describing the wrong spy here.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
3. Mission: Impossible
4. Mission: Impossible III
5. Mission: Impossible II

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Hm. It seems we’ve officially hit the point in this Mega Rewatch where I review movies I’ve actually already reviewed, albeit seven years ago. I first saw Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in theater, mostly on a whim; it also happens to be the movie that got me back into the M:I franchise.

It’s been some time since I’ve watched this one all the way through, but having just reread my original review of the film, I can tell you that, nearly a decade later, my opinions about Ghost Protocol are largely unchanged.

Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how much there is to really spoil.

While John Woo and Mission: Impossible II are technically responsible for turning an espionage thriller into an action fest franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series that’s actually a good action movie. There are things I’d change here, of course: our bad guy, Hendricks, is such an underdeveloped villain that he actually makes Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III look faintly interesting by comparison. None of this is the late Michael Nyqvist’s fault, BTW; he’s given so little dialogue and screen time to work with that he never really had a chance of developing the character. I see a faint glimmer of Old School Bond Villain, maybe–certain line deliveries, the whole white suit–but it’s barely more than a vague impression. I’ve given Marvel a lot of shit over the years for their lackluster villains, but I think Mission: Impossible might be the franchise to beat for utterly lame bad guys.

Also lame: the twist that Hendricks is posing as his own right-hand man because seriously. Why? The Kremlin blowing up remains something of a CGI eyesore in what is otherwise a fantastically shot film. And while Paula Patton is fine in the role, Agent Jane Carter is very much the One Girl on the Team. She’s not terrible, but she does make me yearn for Ilsa Faust. That being said, I’d love to see all the Left Behind Ladies of the M:I Franchise make cameos in future films. I mean, I know that won’t happen, but it’d be cool to watch, like, Paula Patton and Maggie Q heading off for some mission at the beginning of M:I – 7. Or for Thandie Newton to show up and steal something and otherwise be a badass who doesn’t die.

Shifting gears to talk about what does work: well, quite a lot, actually. The action scenes in this movie are on point, especially everything that happens in Dubai. Watching Ethan step out of the billionth story window with nothing but his (soon-to-be malfunctioning) Grippy Gloves still makes me tense, which I think is impressive. I enjoy the fight scenes, too, particularly between a) Avenging Jane vs Lady Assassin, and b) Beat Up Ethan vs Beat Up Hendricks. More than anything, though, I really appreciate the easy humor that’s prevalent throughout this whole film: Sidorov’s face when he finds Ethan stranded outside on the hospital ledge. Ethan being taunted by the Malfunctioning Grippy Glove. Brandt’s total anxiety about jumping into a computer array. Luther mocking Ethan for actually saying “mission accomplished” out loud. And, of course, almost every thing Benji says or does.

A boring villain is always disappointing, sure, but to me, the combination of standout action scenes and laugh-out-loud humor more than make up for any lame bad guy.

Finally, a few asides:

1. Yay! The flash-forward opening credits are back!

2. Holy shit, I totally forgot how Ghost Protocol just brushes past Benji getting prison guards murdered. Like, I know we don’t technically see this one dude get killed, but . . . for real, dude gets killed.

3. Speaking of people who should be dead: Ethan goes legs first through a glass window, gets full on hit by a car, AND nosedives a car into, like, a 100-foot drop. Hendricks, too, should’ve died a good 30-minutes before he actually does; instead, he just walks off a car crash that would’ve broken his body into a billion pieces.

4. Now that I’ve seen Mission: Impossible – III, I’m even happier that Julia didn’t get killed in between movies, because while she only had one awesome sauce scene in that film, I absolutely hate that goddamn “axe the woman while no one’s looking” plot device. This will come up again in my eventual Fallout review, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how this franchise handles Julia and Ethan’s relationship over the space of four movies.

5. Ghost Protocol is obviously a hilarious title, but a more accurate one would still be Mission: Impossible – TECH FAIL. Or maybe Mission: Impossible – Fuck! Even In the Future, Nothing Works. (It could be the near-future. You don’t know.)

6. Up till now, it’s been incredibly easy to rank the M:I movies . . . but here I have a decision to make between this film and the original Mission: Impossible. Both are pretty solid movies in their own right, but they’re also going for wildly different tones, making it harder to pit them against one another, Ghost Protocol is definitely the movie I’m more likely to rewatch, but Mission: Impossible is almost certainly the more ambitious of the two. Both have their standout moments and amazing characters, just like both have their disappointing characters and obvious weaknesses.

I’m still not 100% about this, but for now, at least, I’ve made a decision.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission: Impossible III
4. Mission: Impossible II