Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The latest installment of the little movie series that could is good, though not as great as the last one. (Rogue Nation was something special.)

In this one, Ethan (Tom Cruise) has to stop someone from blowing up some nuclear bombs at a water source that impacts over a billion people. So, that’s pretty dramatic. He’s got Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) in his crew, and before too long, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up. The new, and unwelcome, addition to the team is August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative there to make sure things don’t go sideways. I kind of enjoyed Walker’s blase attitude toward violence, and his eye-rolling reactions to some of the IMF’s most treasured toys, like their impersonation masks.

There’s all the action you would expect, with car, motorcycle and helicopter chases. And, of course, Ethan running. You got to have some Ethan running scenes. The big stunt in this one was Ethan jumping out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Which Tom Cruise really did. It’s impressive in theory, but doesn’t carry the same visual impact of him hanging onto the side of a plane in flight. (Another reason Rogue Nation was special.)

Also, and this is a nitpick, the HALO drop was filmed at sunset, but the story has the characters making the jump at 11:30 pm to interrupt a midnight rendezvous. That bugged me.

So, this is a good film, but certainly not the best of the series.

I’m going to dip into spoilers for this next bit, so be warned.

The other thing I found interesting about Fallout was how it felt like a Greatest Hits compilation. Let’s run it down:

Mission: Impossible — Ethan impersonates someone to get a meeting with an arms dealer (who is played by an actress named Vanessa) and he has a weird May-December flirtation with her. (Fun fact. Tom Cruise is just as much older than Vanessa Kirby as he is younger than Vanessa Redgrave.)

Mission: Impossible II — The bad guy is an agent who Ethan dislikes because he’s more interested in killing than he is in spying.

Mission: Impossible III — Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is in danger in the third act. Also, one of the bad guys is impersonated by a good guy.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — After Ethan claims he’s not the bad guy, the IMF Secretary believes him, and then is quickly killed. Also, the bad guy wants to set off nukes to bring about peace. Somehow.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — The head of the CIA starts the film thinking that Ethan Hunt is a reckless fool, but is turned around by the end. Also, Ethan has a battle of wits with Ilsa because she won’t reveal her mission to him – until the second act, anyway.

Did I miss any?

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X-Men: The Last Stand

I was going through some files on my computer, and I found this review I wrote some time ago. It was out of date when I wrote it, so it’s not significantly less relevant now. So, here you go…

 

Was TLS the best X-Men film? No. It falls short of X-Men and X2… but it’s miles better than either of the first two Wolverine films. Let’s just get that out of the way first.

So what, exactly, is so very wrong about TLS? I recently watched all three film of that trilogy inside of a week, and I have come to the conclusion that the fan-boys are just angry about what they perceive as a disservice to the source material.

I never read an X-Men comic book, and I don’t plan to. The genre of superhero comics is great fodder for Hollywood, but I don’t think anyone is fool enough to think they should serve as treatments for films. They are inspirations for, hopefully, the more grounded, more consistent, more realistic tales that you put on celluloid. (Or, you know, the digital version of celluloid.)

So my experience with the X-Men characters and their universe, when I saw TLS, was entirely bound up in the first two films by Bryan Singer. TLS was the capper to a trilogy, and the assumption is always that, when you finish up the trilogy, all bets are off. You can (spoiler alert!) kill Darth Vader, you can destroy the One Ring, you can even have Batman and Catwoman hook up.

There were a lot of those moments in TLS, moments that seemed to “break the rules”. But let’s review them and see if any of them are truly egregious in the story universe created by the Singer films:

The Death of Cyclops — I don’t know about you, but Cyclops is just barely above Storm as The Most Boring X-Man. His power is doofy, and the only drama he provides is that his limp romance with Jean is kind of (but not really) threatened by Wolverine. When “The Phoenix” kills him you not only create a tragic moment for Jean, you relieve us from sitting through any more scenes with such a useless character.

The Death of Professor X — Well, since he’s the Old Counselor, he kind of has to die. (See Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore.) But, since he’s a comic book character, they can use some crazy logic to bring him back to life. (See Gandalf.) And, if you watch the series carefully, you notice that the Professor is always taken out of commission before the third act. (By a sabotaged Cerebro in the first film, by kidnapping in the second.) So “killing” him (and mining that death for drama) is totally in keeping with the genre, and with the series.

Mystique Loses Her Powers — You can’t have a cure weapon without someone getting cured. The stakes have to be made plain. And having it be Magneto’s main squeeze, and then having him dis her? That’s what you want. You want your bad guy acting like a douche, but in a way that totally fits with his world view.

Rogue Loses Her Powers — This one really seems to set people off. Rogue was, apparently, supposed to become some sort of super bad-ass, stealing people’s powers right and left. But it was never actually made clear (or even indicated) in the first two films that if she sucked a mutant completely dry (i.e. dead) that she’d get the powers permanently. So why get all annoyed when something that wouldn’t necessarily ever really happen didn’t happen? Her arc was an important one to dramatize: the mutant who was actually happy there was a cure. Her power sucked (literally!) and she gets to have her happy ending without it. I thought that was a nice capper to her storyline. (Personally, I’m way more annoyed that her part was cut from Days of Future Past.)

Magneto Loses His Powers — This was a great third act surprise, and a fitting comeuppance for a guy who was so quick to dismiss Mystique early on. This was, of course, completely invalidated by a sly scene at the end, but at least we got a few moments of drama.

Wolverine Kills Jean — Not that I’ve ever heard anyone complain about this one. For all I know, this was exactly how it played out in the comics. But it was a strange and heartbreaking moment when this poor sap is forced to skewer his true love so that she doesn’t, I don’t know, rip the planet in half or something. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and it surprised the part of me that kept expecting Jean to “snap out of it”. It was a great ending.

Now, was TLS perfect. Oh, certainly not. The ridiculous goth treatments of the “bad” mutants? That guy who throws secreted spikes? The deaging effects in the opening scene? The strange parallel story about Angel that is literally its own five minute movie stuck inside a larger film? None of that worked. But none of that was annoying enough to really detract from what worked. Beast worked. Kitty worked. Storm’s hair worked (finally). The scene between Jean, Charles and Erik culminating in Charles getting vaporized? That really worked. It was amazing.

So, in conclusion, the fan-boys are wrong, I’m right.

MCU Villains

I’m far from the first to bang on this particular gong, but I’ve had a chance now to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, and since I’ve seen every other MCU film at least twice, so I feel like it’s time to do a ranking of the films’ villains.

I don’t subscribe to the common wisdom that the MCU has a “villain problem”. But there is definitely a differentiation of quality out there. So, let us begin at the bottom:

20) Yellowjacket; Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) — This is an exceedingly pointless villain. I feel like there was some shifting of the story, so his descent into madness was supposed to have been caused by his cut-rate shrinking tech, even though he doesn’t use it until the very end of the film. Messy.

19) Kaecillius; Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange) — “I am evil. I want evil to win.” Yeah, I guess he’s supposed desire “peace”. Whatever. He’s just there.

18) Ghost; Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) — She gets surprisingly little screen time, but since she’s pretty boring, that’s okay. At least we get a rare villain who survives the film.

17) Ronan the Accuser; Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) — The only scene of his that was interesting was watching his incredulity when Star-Lord started dancing at the end.

16) Malekith; Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World) — Most people put him at the bottom. I’ll give him a little credit for having an audacious plan: he want’s to turn off all light in the entire universe. I mean, come on. That’s…dark, I guess.

15) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (Thor) — Yes, he will be back, and yes, he will be better. But in this one he is a whiny a-hole. A charming one, though.

14) Iron Monger; Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) — A late-in-the-film villain reveal saps some of the power of this one. And it was somewhat random for him to just start fighting Tony with his own suit at the end.

13) Hela; Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok) — She’s all slithery menace, but not much personality. She didn’t have a plan so much as a desire for chaos. And she was kind of laughably overpowered.

12) Ultron; James Spader (Avengers: Age of Ultron) — He’s the only AI on the list, so there’s no physical performance. It’s all in the voice and in the plan. And it’s a crazy plan. I’ll give him that.

11) Killmonger; Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) — I’m bucking the trend here. Most people think he’s top-tier. I didn’t find him particularly menacing. He was overshadowed by Ulysses Klaue for much of the film, and his “black power” ideology was maybe a little too on the nose in the current political climate.

10) Aldrich Killian; Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) — We know from a One Shot that Killian was not actually “The Mandarin”. Which is fine. His fire-breathing army was pretty cool, and he was a great foil for Tony.

9) Abomination; Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk) — I think people dismiss this one too quickly. I enjoyed Emil Blonsky as a soldier, and also as a guy who desired Hulk-like power a little too much.

8) Ego; Kurt Russell (The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) — This is a film where the reveal of the villain later in the story works, partly because he’s so instantly mysterious. And he’s clearly the most evil villain on the list: he impregnated thousands of aliens and then killed all (but one) of his kids. That deserves points for insanity alone.

7) Whiplash; Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2) — This villain underscores, for the first time, that Tony’s dad wasn’t a saint. And he’s the best Tony Stark foil. His fate is tied to his dad, and he creates his initial suit from scratch, just like Tony did in the first film.

6) Alexander Pierce; Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) — It’s arguable that the villain of this film is really Bucky, but I choose to put the mantle on Pierce. There’s no redemption for him. He’s Hydra until the end. And it’s really enjoyable to watch him lose.

5) Vulture; Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) — This is one of the villains who is better than the film he’s in. He’s relatable though still merciless. And the reveal that he is whatshername’s father is ridiculous…and awesome. Kudos for not killing him at the end, MCU.

4) Thanos; Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War) — Now we’re in the rarified atmosphere of villains who are all pretty great. I put Thanos down at number 4 because he’s a CG character, and is therefore at an emotional remove. That he’s so impactful anyway is the amazing part.

3) Helmut Zemo; Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War) — I love the fact that there’s a guy on this list who has no super powers, no money, no connections, no family heritage, nothing. All he has is smarts, patience and rage. And what he does with that is astounding.

2) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) — It was a difficult call, who to put in which of the top two spots. Loki is the glue that holds The Avengers together. Every character has a notable moment with him on screen, and they are all the better for it. I think up until this film, the MCU still felt like a lucky streak. Afterward, it started to feel like it was all inevitable.

1) Red Skull; Hugo Weaving (Captain America: The First Avenger) — He’s the ur-villain of the series, historically speaking. He started Hydra (other subplots from the TV show notwithstanding). He introduces us to the Infinity Stones. And he may be the best example of an MCU villain as a dark mirror of the hero. He’s a joy to watch in every scene in this film.

Terminator Timelines

I’ve seen some evidence of movement on a new Terminator film, bringing back Linda Hamilton as the once-central character Sarah Connor, the mother of the savior of mankind. Some people want this new movie to erase everything after Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I find this annoying. I don’t like uncomfortable parts of a movie series to be erased from the canon. I want them to be embraced, and hopefully given added value with additional context. And, come on, this is a series about time travel. You can reboot in-universe. (See Star Trek.)

So I hope this new movie carves itself a place in the mythology, all of the mythology.

But can it? Are the five extant films even logically self-consistent? (I’m going to ignore the TV show, largely because I barely watched it.)

The other thing about most time travel movies is that they present alterations to the timeline as if history is a chalkboard and the past is simply erased and rewritten. I find that approach more appealing than the “it’s all alternate history” explanation, which tends to remove a lot of the stakes. It doesn’t matter if this version of the character dies, since there’s another version over there in that timeline.

Another thing time travel stories love to do is create an unmotivated causal loop. (Chuck Berry learned how to rock from Marty McFly, who learned how to rock from Chuck Berry.) This kind of construction is cute and kind of mind-bendy, but it feels like a cheat.

With all of that in mind, can all five Terminator films be analyzed as a series of rewritten futures without the use of causal loops? Why yes, yes they can. Strap in. I’ll be describing six different timelines.

Timeline A

In 1984, Sarah Connor, a simple waitress living a simple life, meets a guy, gets pregnant, has the kid alone and names him John. At some point before 1997, someone invents Skynet. In 1997 Skynet becomes self-aware and tries to kill humanity. In the ensuing human resistance, John Connor becomes a key figure and comes to the attention of Skynet. Just before Skynet’s final defeat, it invents time travel and sends a T-800 terminator to 1984 to kill Sarah based on the best information it has about her whereabouts. John defeats Skynet, captures the time displacement device and learns about the plot to kill his mom. He enlists Kyle Reese to travel to 1984 to save her. [Note: Kyle’s flashbacks in The Terminator are from this timeline.]

Timeline B

In 1984, Sarah Connor is menaced by the T-800 and saved by Kyle Reese. She learns about her son’s destiny. But now Kyle is John’s dad. This is a completely different John from Timeline A, but his upbringing ensures that he will fulfill the destiny that Sarah assigns him. [These are the events of The Terminator.]

Afterwards, Cyberdyne gets the remains of the T-800 and Miles Dyson uses them to reverse engineer Skynet. Judgement Day occurs as in Timeline A. [It isn’t too similar. The date of Judgement Day isn’t given with much precision in the first film. In T2, the date is given very specifically, but that is a reference to Timeline B. The date for Judgement Day in Timeline A could be different.]

The new John follows his destiny in the resistance. Skynet now has enough information from history to understand that this is a new iteration, so it decides to double-down on the time-travelling-assassin plan, and sends two terminators into the past, to 1984 and 1994. When John captures the device, he sees the records of these transits, and so sends two protectors into the past.

Timeline C

The events of this timeline are identical to Timeline B until 1994, when the T-1000 and the fatherly T-800 arrive. Miles Dyson ensures that Cyberdyne will never create Skynet. [These are the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.] Enough of Dyson’s work remains that Robert Brewster develops a new Skynet, but on a delayed time-frame. This version of Skynet isn’t ready until 2004, but Judgement Day comes anyway. This John is once again instrumental in the resistance. Skynet, with more history to review, decides to triple-down on its plan, and sends three bad terminators into the past: to 1984, 1994, and 2004. John finds the records, and sends three protectors, this time adding a dickish T-800 to the mix for the 2004 trip.

Timeline D

As before, all events are identical until 2004, when the T-X and the dickish T-800 arrive from the future. Despite his best efforts, John cannot avoid Judgement Day, and we get to see it happen in the movie. [These are the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.]

This version of Skynet has even more information, knowing that not only is John Connor important, but also Kyle Reese. [It’s not clear from Terminator: Salvation if Skynet understands that Kyle is John’s father, but that’s not important. All that is important is that Kyle is important to John. That could be explained by John’s own fascination with the man, since he knows he’s his father. Skynet may simply have learned of John’s search for Kyle.]

Skynet tries a new method of attack, sending a terminator/human hybrid to infiltrate the resistance in the form of Marcus Wright. This backfires. [These are the events of Terminator: Salvation.]

John is, as before, successful in defeating Skynet.

For some reason, which is unclear, Skynet decides to reset the table and finish out this iteration by sending only one terminator to 1984 to kill Sarah. (More on this decision later.) John sends Kyle to 1984 to save her.

Timeline E

This iteration is identical to Timeline B. The only appearances from the future are the T-800 and Kyle Reese in 1984. After Judgement Day, a young Kyle Reese is saved from terminators by John Connor.

[The reason for me adding this diversion is that the situation that led to John meeting Kyle in Terminator: Salvation differed greatly from Kyle’s flashback in Terminator: Genisys. For both versions to be “real”, they have to be in different timelines, hence Skynet must have reset the table. There is more evidence below.]

Before its final defeat, Skynet creates a human-seeming mole to insert into the resistance forces after they capture the time displacement device. Skynet sends the T-800 to 1984. John captures the facility and prepares to send Kyle to save Sarah. [We can infer that in this Timeline Skynet did not send anything to 1994 or 2004, since the resistance person says the device was used only once. Since John is not surprised by this information, that’s what happened in his history. Hence we know how Timeline D ended. This is more evidence for the “resetting the table” explanation.]

While in transport, Kyle sees the mole capture John. This moment gives Kyle the ability to remember not only his original Timeline E memories, but also his Timeline F memories. (This is admittedly kind of silly.)

After Kyle departs, Skynet sends an unspecified terminator model to 1974 to kill young Sarah, and it sends a second terminator (a Korean T-1000) to 1984 to help kill adult Sarah and Kyle. Some unknown actor sends a curmudgeonly T-800 to 1974 to save Sarah. Skynet also converts John into a more effective human/terminator hybrid and sends him back to 2014 to reboot the Skynet project in a different way. [This could be considered an insurance policy. If the changes to the timeline cause by the 1974 terminator made Skynet not appear in 1997 (or 2004) on schedule, John would ensure it could happen at a later point in history.]

Timeline F

Now everything is in flux. Sarah’s parents are killed in 1974, and she’s saved from a terminator by curmudgeonly T-800. In 1984, Kyle, another T-800 and Korean T-1000 all arrive, and there is much mayhem, leading to the destruction of both “bad” terminators. Sarah and Kyle are transported to 2017 by curmudgeonly T-800.

In 2017, Kyle and Sarah, along with now aged curmudgeonly T-800, determine that Skynet has changed form in this timeline into a multi-platform operating system called Genisys. During their attempt to stop it, they are confronted by Evil John. Even more mayhem leads to Genisys being defeated and curmudgeonly T-800 being upgraded with T-1000 technology.

Why did Skynet reset the table at the end of Timeline D?

As I said, this isn’t clear. But one potential explanation ties to the two worst films in the franchise, and maybe gives them a little more resonance. In Terminator: Salvation, Skynet tries to create a human/terminator hybrid and it fails. The human wins out over the machine. Perhaps at the end of Timeline D, it tried its plan of capturing and altering John, but the process failed because of his transplanted heart. This meant that if Skynet wanted to specifically use John as its savior, it would need a pristine copy of him. Thus it reset the table.

How does Skynet learn from iteration to iteration of the timeline?

That could be explained by the internet. As events occur in the world, there are references–news reports, police reports, etc.–that could persist until after Judgement Day. Skynet could glean at least a little new information from these sources in every iteration, thus giving it the motivation to alter its plans each time.

Conclusion

Was this analysis worth the brain power to make it work? I don’t know, but I enjoy this film series, even the lesser quality ones. I like the idea that they are really of a piece, and not simply various riffs on a single theme.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It seems like no one loves this movie. And no one hates it. In fact, I can’t even seem to find any consistency on what people love and hate about it. Simply talking to my brother, the things he found annoying and the things I found annoying were almost completely disjoint sets.

Weird.

But let’s break this down. Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a street urchin in the misbegotten neighborhoods of Corellia, a ship-building world that’s mostly controlled by the Empire. His girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and he have a plan to get off this planet and build a new life for themselves. That doesn’t work and everything Han does from that point seems to be in service of getting back together with Qi’ra.

There are some odd tangents, but the meat of the story is a series of heists to get some sort of magic fuel for a gang leader, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Coming along for the ride are a cape-wearing card hussler (Donald Glover), a cheeky robot (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a world-weary smuggler (Woody Harrelson) and his wife (Thandie Newton). Also, some aliens.

There are a few laughs, and some exciting sequences, but I left the theatre feeling like I hadn’t really seen anything. I liked the characters in theory, and I thought the story was okay, but the whole was definitely less than the sum of it’s mildly disjointed parts.

That’s my “if this wasn’t a Star Wars movie” review.

To to the “this is a Star Wars movie” side of the review justice, I’ll have to veer into what could be considered spoiler territory. Now I know everyone who is a Star Wars fan has long since made up their mind if they’re going to see this. Nothing I say will change anyone’s mind. But if you’re just a casual movie-goer, you might enjoy the spectacle, or you might find it all kind of pointless.

On to the spoilers…

The things I liked about the film were some of the bits that fleshed out aspects of the things we’ve already seen. I liked the fact that Han’s on-the-nose last name isn’t a coincidence. I liked the fact that Han’s friendship with Chewbacca was forged in a life-or-death — and yet still hilarious — situation. I liked Qi’ra’s line: “That is a lot of capes.” These feel like pretty much organic explorations of Han’s backstory.

What I found more trying were the lengths they went to “correct” the flaws in the original films. The explanation for why Billy Dee Williams didn’t pronounce Han’s name correctly was a little too cute. The origin of Han’s desire to “shoot first” is pure fan-boy service. And I suppose it was inevitable that they were going to retcon the “12 parsecs” line from A New Hope by making clear that Han’s achievement in the Kessel Run was a short cut, and had nothing to do with time.

(Side note: I understand that in the original screen play for Star Wars, the line was meant to be gibberish from an overeager Han, and Obi-Wan was supposed to respond to it as such. Which would have been such a better result over all.)

The film was filled with these little tidbits, most of which I didn’t care about one way or another. What did Chewbacca do the first time he played that little hologram board game? Where did Han get his blaster? What were Lando’s thoughts on mining colonies before he managed Bespin? Who first suggested the Han take a job with Jabba the Hutt?

Some of the fan service I liked. Some I didn’t. But I could forgive it all if the story was more interesting. The war sequence when Han was actually in the Empire were rushed and pointless. The heists weren’t sufficiently heisty. And the final confrontation had way too many reversals.

Let’s look at Qi’ra. To the uninitiated, she’s a romantic interest for Han. But we know he’ll have forgotten about her by the time he meets Obi-Wan and Luke on Tatooine. Which means she’s certain to die a heroically redemptive death at the end of the next film. (Assuming of course there is a next film.)

The only backstory piece that I found intriguing and unexpected was the fate of L3-37. She dies to save her fellow droids, but then her brain is downloaded into the Millenium Falcon. This makes for some interesting reinterpretation of the previous films. At least once, the Falcon deployed it’s gun to shoot stormtroopers when it was not clear anyone had told it too. On more than one occasion, the ship wouldn’t work and responded to an admonishing blow. Were these moments of seeming “life” from the Falcon manifestations of L3-37’s latent personality? Maybe. That alone makes me want to revisit the original trilogy.

I’ll finish by slotting Solo into my ranking of the extant Star Wars films. (Minus the animated one, which I never saw.)

  1. The Force Awakens
  2. A New Hope
  3. Attack of the Clones
  4. Return of the Jedi/The Empire Strikes Back (tie)
  5. The Last Jedi
  6. Solo
  7. Rogue One
  8. The Phantom Menace
  9. Revenge of the Sith

Avengers: Infinity War

I don’t know if there’s a film I can think of for which my hopes were quite as high as this one. Maybe Jurassic Park (which, while a good film, was nonetheless a disappointment, because that novel was amazing). Maybe Ghostbusters 2, which was a bigger disappointment.

But this one was weighted down with so much sheer backstory. There were 18 MCU films before this one. And not one of them sucked. (Really. They’re all good. It’s just that there are a few which aren’t very good.)

It’s still early, so I won’t be doing anything spoilery with this review, so read on with no fear.

No surprise, this is a good film. I think it’s a great one. It’s funny and exciting and amazing to look at. There are even some deeper themes that are worth digging into. Themes about responsibility and sacrifice. I won’t discuss that further, for spoiler’s sake.

But the real worry about this film wasn’t if Tony Stark’s one-liners would be funny. The real worry was if it would topple from being so heavy with characters that deserve their own story lines. Remember how we were worried about the first Avengers film? There were four heroes! (Plus Nick Fury and Black Widow.) Well, that worked like gangbusters, except that poor Hawkeye was without agency for 80% of the film. Then Civil War came along, and it was even crazier. It had (by my count) 13 characters from previous films, plus it introduced us to even more. I can’t say that film really expanded my knowledge of, say, Falcon. But no one was sidelined. Everyone had, at the very least, a moment or two.

Now what are we looking at? There are 35 characters in this film we’ve seen in previous films. 35. That’s just nuts. And every one of them gets at the very least a moment. Some get fewer than others. Black Widow and Captain America probably get the least to do among the major players. And Thor is off in his own little movie for most of the runtime. Black Panther doesn’t get to do too much either. But, for all that, some of the characters really shine. Watching Doctor Strange facing off with Tony Stark was cinema gold. Then throwing Star-Lord into the mix? What did I ever do to deserve such riches?

This wouldn’t be a complete review if I didn’t mention Thanos. He doesn’t have the nastiness of Red Skull, or the charisma of Loki, but as Marvel villains go, he’s definitely up there. He’s menacing. He had me tense and worried in the opening scene. That feeling didn’t let up throughout the film. For something this funny and action-packed, it really played like a thriller for me, because I knew that anything Thanos got was something I didn’t want him to have.

True to my word, I won’t discuss the ending. But it’s a doozy.

Tomb Raider

I’m going to say it. This may be the best video game film ever.

Now, that might be considered damning with faint praise. It’s not like there have been any masterpieces in this genre. The best example I can think of is Resident Evil which was a lark and good enough to generate a slew of sequels of varying (but always lower) quality.

Tomb Raider feels less like an exceptional video game movie, and more like a serviceable (if slightly cheesy) action thriller. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have some of the video game pretensions. I’ll get to those.

Viewers of the lame Angelina Jolie films from a few years ago will see very few familiar things in this film. For example, they hired someone who can do a British accent. (Alicia Vikander is actually Swedish, but you can’t tell from this performance.) For another thing, this is a true origin story. This Lara Croft hasn’t raided a tomb in her life. More interestingly, she has refused to accept that her father is dead, so she won’t take any of his money. She’s living on the streets, delivering food on her bike. I immediately like her better because she’s not flaunting ridiculous wealth.

Soon enough she get a clue that sends her on a quest to find out what happened to her dad all those years ago. (We see said dad in a variety of flashbacks, played by Dominic West.) She meets a Chinese boat captain who we almost care about, who helps her get to a mysterious island near Japan.

The most interesting performance in the film is — get this — Walton Goggins. If you’ve never heard of this guy, you’re probably not alone. He’s best known for his roles on The Shield and Justified. You might have caught him in The Hateful Eight. Anyway, he was hired years ago to go to this island and find the film’s macguffin, and he’s trapped, unable to return to his own family until the deed is done. I liked this angle, of a man who has been twisted by his exile to do evil deeds in service of reuniting with his family. At least he wasn’t motivated by lust or greed, so that’s different.

There are a handful of moments that do feel like you’re back in the video game. Things Lara has to climb across, or jump onto. I definitely felt that if I was playing the game, it would have taken me a few tries to get those right. And one crane (or drone?) camera shot following her as she runs through the jungle was delightfully nostalgic for me, and thankfully, not overdone.

The finale is kind of a weak retread of some of the stuff we saw in the Indiana Jones films. (I won’t spoil any of the details here.) Not to say it isn’t exciting. It’s just not super-original.

Is this high art? Nope. But it’s a great example of what it is, and puts another solid performance onto Vikander’s resume.