2019 Movie Catch-Up Part 1 | Reviews In Brief

2019 was a big year for movies, and was one where I saw myself going less and less to the theaters and relying more on streaming services like Netflix. 

It’s also been a year where I returned to review writing, albeit not every movie I saw warranted a full review. Thus, this is where this post comes in! Here is a little roundup of all the movies I saw that came out this year that I felt did’t warrant a full-length review: 

The Marvel Films

‘Captain Marvel’

“Captain Marvel” follows the very Green Lantern Corps-y Kree warrior named Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), who is a human and who does not remember her past. The Kree are at war with the Skrulls, which are green, goblin like aliens that can shapeshift. Her fight with the Skrulls takes her to Earth, where she meets S.H.I.E.L.D.  agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the first of which teams up with her as she uncovers a conspiracy among the Kree that involves her past life on Earth. 

“Captain Marvel”‘s biggest criticism among the general public is that it’s the most generic Marvel film we’ve seen in a while, being that it is an origin story for a hero who doesn’t really stand out among Marvel’s more unique heroes. However, the film has several interesting elements, from the Kree missions at the beginning of the film that play out eerily similar to an episode of “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” (albeit without ring powers), to its amnesia subplot that makes you question what about Danvers’ past is real and what was artificially planted by the Kree, to its notable plot twist about the Skrulls that perhaps saves the whole movie from being painfully average. 

“Captain Marvel” gets a 6.5/10

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‘Avengers: Endgame’

‘Avengers: Endgame’ is a movie whose scope we may only see again when Marvel’s next three phases see their conclusion. The culmination of over 10 years of Marvel films, “Avengers: Endgame” has recently unseated James Cameron’s “Avatar” as the highest grossing film of all time. 

What is left to say about “Endgame”? It’s a huge ensemble movie focusing on undoing the ‘snap’ Josh Brolin’s Thanos did in the previous film that wiped out half of all life in the universe, after our heroes have had to deal with the consequences of their failure for five years. The majority of the film centers on a time heist to get all of the infinity stones back form the past, which will give them the power to bring back their fallen comrades. 

The film is a mess, but is the best product we could’ve hoped for given the sheer amount of elements the directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) had to juggle. Despite this, the film manages to be a fitting love letter and sendoff to an era of Marvel films, one that will be remembered for generations to come. 

“Avengers: Endgame” gets an 8/10

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‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” is one of the weirdest sequels I’ve ever seen, being not only a continuation of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Avengers: Endgame.” because of this, if future audiences wish to marathon Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films, I can see the experience between this film and its previous title being very jarring. 

This film takes place in the aftermath of what it calls ‘The Blip”, an event in which *spoilers* Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk brought back half of all life in the universe in “Avengers: Endgame,” though this did not undo the 5-year time jump in that film, and this film addresses it without letting it overshadow its own plot. 

This is a vacation adventure movie in which Holland’s Peter Parker goes to Europe to relax, but ends up getting caught up in some superhero business via Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, who is, of course, not what he seems. 

“Far From Home” is not as good as “Homecoming,” but still manages to get a few laughs. The best part of this film is its main plot involving master of illusions Mysterio, and its special effects, which take to task our own expectations with overbloated CGI sequences in comic book films. Of this year’s Marvel films, it’s better than “Captain Marvel,” but doesn’t have the emotional resonance or craftsmanship of “Endgame.” It’s somewhere in the middle of those two films in terms of quality.  

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” gets a 7/10

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Other Theatrical Releases

‘Us’

Jordan Peele’s second directorial outing focuses on a bizarre premise that underground, everyone has a doppelganger that in one way or another is tethered to their counterparts on the surface. When the doppelgangers begin to rise, armed with razor-sharp scissors, to kill their privileged counterparts, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her vacationing family find themselves in a fight for survival. 

The film is extremely well acted and directed, though the script seems to be lacking. The issue with “Us” is that the capabilities of the doppelgangers are so inconsistent that it’s hard to see them as legitimate threats. One moment, they have superhuman strength, the other they get comically hit buy a car. One moment they have free will, the next our main characters are able to control their actions like puppets. And this is a problem because without knowing how exactly people in the real world affect their “shadows” (the doppelgangers) it makes it impossible to understand our antagonists’ motivations and capabilities and therefore, how dangerous they are. 

“Us” could’ve benefited from a clearer script, but is elevated by superior execution on the part of Peele and his actors. Still, this only makes it a slightly above average film, but I connected with it more consistently and more deeply than the likes of “Captain Marvel,” which was the most average film I saw this year.

“Us” has great directing and great acting, but its premise could have been fleshed out more.

“Us” gets a 7/10

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‘Rocketman’

Last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” opened the floodgates to musician biopics that have to do very little to be successful, as “Rocketman” found out this year. Just shove a popular actor who looks like your musician, maybe someone like Taron Edgerton (he apparently looks like everyone, so much so some think he might be the next Wolverine), into your picture, have them lip sync (or if you are ever so bold, have them actually try to sing), that artist’s greatest hits, loosely connect those scenes with moments from the artist’s life that are just honest enough where you understand that that person has flaws but don’t go so far as to paint them as completely unlikable, and you’ve just made millions of dollars at the box office! 

“Rocketman” brands itself as a musical biopic, and if you’re here for a musical clip show, great. You’ll get that with great execution. But the film lacks substance, and its musical angle feels more like a gimmick that makes up for lazy writing than something that actually elevates the film. “Bohemian Rhapsody” works well because there is proper time to develop its lead as a fully-fleshed out character who grows and changes with us, who doesn’t start out great but gets there through hard work and determination. “Rocketman” has some of that, but it isn’t enough and it doesn’t sit still enough for anything to properly resonate with the audience. As much as I do admit the musical numbers are well-executed, they aren’t integrated into the film in a natural way and come off mostly as disposable distractions than necessary pieces of the story of one of the greatest musicians of all time, Elton John. 

“Rocketman” gets a 5/10

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‘Dark Phoenix’

This film isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be, but it is unnecessary, unwanted, inconsistent and at times, embarrassing. With the “Game of Thrones” finale tanking in addition to this film (“Dark Phoenix” might’ve lost over $100 million at the box office), this is clearly not the year for the film’s lead, Jean Grey and “Game of Thrones” actress Sophie Turner. 

“Dark Phoenix” is a remake of “X-Men: The Last Stand” but with aliens, and despite its bloated budget, it goes small-scale with most of its sequences. While it is nice to see the “X-Men: First Class” cast one last time, they aren’t given a whole lot to work with. While I love James McAvoy’s Professor X and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, they are the most out of place, with their characters being contradictory and nonsensical at times for the sake of the plot. 

The only thing “Dark Phoenix” has going for it was it didn’t have an overbloated, noisy and CGI-heavy third act every other comic book movie feels the need to have, but that in of itself doesn’t make it a good or worthy movie. “Dark Phoenix” has the era of the Fox X-Men movies go out with a whimper rather than a bang, which is a shame, especially because they had a perfectly good send-off point with 2017’s “Logan.”

“Dark Phoenix” gets a 3.5/10

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‘Toy Story 4’

There wasn’t a whole lot of places to take the Toy Story franchise after “Toy Story 3”, which gained a reputation for making grown men cry in theaters. In fact, it seems like there was exactly one story to take series lead, toy Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks), and that is one similar to retirement and the challenges of getting older and less useful. 

The film follows Woody and company who, despite finding another owner at the end of the previous film — a little girl named Bonny (Madeleine McGraw) who initially took a liking to him, his best friend space ranger toy Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the previous cast of toys — finds himself cast out and neglected. Woody spends most of his days forgotten in a closet, collecting dust. 

For the first time, Woody has to deal with the fact that there is no solution to his being sidelined. He is just done as a toy, at least in the way he’s used to. He tries to fill his life with meaning by rescuing Bonny’s new favorite toy, Forky (Tony Hale), but ultimately realizes that it’s time to move on, and find a new home where he is appreciated. 

“Toy Story 4” is by far the best movie I’ve seen all year, and I might write a column later about its mature, thoughtful themes. If you’re looking for a direct retread of ground this franchise has already covered, this film won’t do it for you, but where it does go proves that this old franchise still had one last trick up its sleeve.

Toy Story 4″ gets a 9/10

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‘Shaft’

“Shaft” is a really funny movie. Unfortunately, most critics don’t like comedies this year, hence why this Tim Story-directed comedic thriller has a 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, I’m not most critics, and I found the film to be a fun romp that kept me entertained all the way through. 

The film focuses on three generations of Shaft men, though predominantly on the dynamic between private investigator John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) and his son, JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) as they find themselves working on a case together involving JJ’s friend Karim (Avan Jogia) that unveils a much larger conspiracy. 

The film is surely dated, but that’s what makes it stand out and is where most of its charm shines through. John Shaft is portrayed as a kind of fish out of water in late 2010s New York, as he is still living in the 80s mentally and will not change his ways (though this does not affect his effectiveness as a private investigator). His son is a millennial who has a computer job at the FBI, and is the straight man for the film, oftentimes reacting to his father’s bizarre behavior for our enjoyment.

“Shaft” is not high art and it never aims to be. The only way you can’t enjoy this film, in my opinion, is if you don’t fundamentally understand what “Shaft” is and always has been and expect it to be something it’s not. With that being said, it has a unique identity and spirit modern films are sorely lacking. 

“Shaft” gets a 7/10

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‘Stuber’

“Stuber” is another comedy film whose negative reviews I just don’t understand unless you’re presuming that this type of film is supposed to be high art. Genre films must be reviewed within the context of their own genre, else your review is worthless to readers who want to know if a film is a good for what it is. 

And “Stuber” is great for what it is, albeit it can be a bit juvenile. But it works. The film pairs a grizzled cop who just underwent eye surgery (Dave Bautista) with a straight man Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) who is pining after his best friend and business partner Becca (Betty Gilpin). Bautista’s character is tracking down the killer of his ex partner (Karen Gillan) and uses Stu as his personal driver while he works the case, much to Stu’s dismay, who is looking to comfort Becca after a nasty breakup. 

“Stuber” is such an absurd comedy, filled with both physical and verbal humor that lands, and I loved it. It’s not high art by any means, and its script is very basic and there is no deeper meaning to be found in its narrative, but it kept me laughing the whole way through, which is exactly what I look for in this type of film.

“Stuber” gets a 6.8/10

Part 2 will conclude my 2019 Movie Catch Up with the remainder of the theatrical releases I saw as well as any of this year’s Netflix films I saw.

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