Review Roundup - Annual Thing

2018 CATCH UP - PART TWO

I guess it's time to talk about the last few big movies of the year. Looking back it seems like I already did Solo and Black Panther, which is odd because I can barely remember them. I guess it's just been a really long year. I have the same problem with some of the next few releases; did they really come out that recently? Maybe my brain just isn't able to separate out all this stuff properly these days. So, there are a couple more flashy blockbusters to cover before I return to the weird and super violent films in the third and final part of this end of year wrap. But first let's talk about weird animated dog movies.


Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs certainly has the best cast of the year, although of course it's all voice acting. Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, F. Murray Abraham; the gang's all here. Even by the director's usual standards this is a wildly eclectic ensemble. But as a film overall I guess I'd have to say this is one that I respect more than I enjoyed outright. Maybe it's because the whole thing feels so sterile visually or that the emotions behind so many of the characters are lessened when the designs are so inexpressive. It's an odd feeling, since it's amazingly well crafted and the staging of the action and the framing of the story is so well done. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox there's a kind if disconnect between the kooky antics and all the meticulous design work.

There is still plenty to enjoy as the story about cat and dog lovers clashing in ancient Japan crosses over into a near future world. There's a weird dystopian atmosphere as the outbreak of a canine flu causes all dogs in the country to be exiled to 'Trash Island' and efforts to find a cure are mysteriously hindered by shadowy figures. Later there's even a bunch of science fiction ideas added such as robotic dog replacements and secret weapons hidden inside false teeth. There are also teenage activists and hackers involved as the wacky conspiracy unravels. Certain inclusions will be a treat for fans of Japanese art or poetry, others will be sure to make Godzilla fans smile.

There are some attempts at a minor romantic subplot and the idea of government corruption being caused by people that prefer cats is eccentric enough to work. At the core though this is simply a tale of one boy and his quest to find his pet after it was thrown out of the mainland. This is the main appeal of the film as Atari (Koyu Rankin) and his new four legged friends (including Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray) set out on an adventure to find his lost dog. But overall it does tend to suffer from the problem that some of Wes Anderson's films usually include to some degree, where the characters are a bit stiff and their relationships come across as rather cold. I guess when they're subsequently portrayed with models and maquettes this sort of doll-house feeling reaches it's peak. It's likeable... but I can't get totally invested.

3/5


Speaking of films that feel weirdly disconnected, Ant-Man and the Wasp has all the same problems as the original Ant-Man but now with more filler. The jokes are still hit and miss, and the action feels like an expensive spectacle that isn't filmed in the same style as the rest of the story. It's all just so very inconsequential. However without the basic superhero origin structure things start to become unstuck. It doesn't help that the humour seems to be just people talking a lot instead of any actual jokes. Characters running their mouths isn't funny if there's no punchline. It's kind of fun in parts and there are a few good lines, but ultimately this comes off as a film lacking whatever good parts Edgar Wright left the first time around.

Part of the problem is the pacing in a story that could have been boiled down to an opening montage rather than being a whole film. The plot about rescuing Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm is a great idea, but it takes too long to get there and they don't really do anything with it. The rest of the movie feels like a series of B-plots as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) pretends to be under house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Personally I found him to be more effective in that film as part of the team (although the same could be said of Black Panther). The storylines involving evil businessman Sonny (Walton Goggins) and the immediate threat Ghost, of a villain who can shift between realms (Hannah John-Kamen) never really feel like a proper focus for the characters.

It's all kind of choppy despite some fun sequences involving shrinking and growing various objects and vehicles. But there's no longer any real novelty from seeing this sort of action, it's just a retread of the first movie without the fun of that final table top battle. Elsewhere the quantum reality scenes are nice but could be interchangeable with anything from Doctor Strange, and there's never any real exploration of this world. I'm not expecting them to go full Fantastic Voyage but that would be something to see even just as a third act; an adventure under the microscope. In the end this is just like Thor: The Dark World, it's not exactly bad but it's never a worthwhile use of what is possible.

2/5


Lastly I just want to mention Deadpool 2 in the what-could-have-been stakes. The original film was always in danger of becoming the thing that it was parodying, the superhero origin. They kind of staved off this problem until that climactic battle but at least it was still mostly fun until the CGI rubble started to pile up. However this time around it's almost immediately the thing they were trying to make fun of... complete with sudden tragedy forcing the hero into reckless behaviour and a whole child in peril subplot. They even have that whole time travel cliché about someone realising they shouldn't just try and kill people to save the future.

I guess in a way the bigger budget is to blame. The first film took so long to be made and was stalled for years in development hell. It was leaner and it felt darker. Now they have less to worry about and it's more colourful, more spectacular... and more boring. There is of course more action and there are a lot of fun sequences from the opening action beats to the big X-Force team up gag. These are the best moments; quick and snappy. The rest unfortunately devolves into a lot of mindless visual effects driven action. A big prison escape and a chase involving a convoy of vehicles feel like ideas left over from any number of mid-tier science fiction movies, and it's lacking the sort of bite I was expecting.

The central plot thread involves Cable (Josh Brolin) coming back from a future in which fire powered mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) has turned bad and caused him a lot of misery. But even the time travelling gimmick is only used for an end credits gag reel in which Deadpool hops around causing havoc. The rest is just a dull by the numbers action adventure in which he has to find a reason to live while proving to Cable that young Russell isn't evil at heart but is a victim of childhood abuse. None of these worn out tropes are played for laughs, which is pretty astounding giving the central conceit of the title character. For a film that could have gone anywhere and basically done whatever it wanted this is safer and more mundane in ways that really don't work for me.

2/5

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