One of the things I enjoy the most about writing movie reviews is learning new things. For instance, did you know Guy Ritchie was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award (Razzie) for worst director? And if you were guessing for which movie, it was not for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but some random movie called Swept Away starring his then-wife Madonna? Yeah, that Madonna. See? It’s fun learning new things. I also learned that Ritchie’s latest film, Wrath of Man, is a step down from his previous film, The Gentlemen.
(SPOILER ALERT, but if you watch the film, you’ll have it figured out well before the halfway point.)
Wrath of Man continues Ritchie’s streak of movies featuring nobody you should be rooting for. Bad guys vs. really bad guys, where the bad guys are sophisticated and well-spoken and the really bad guys stuck their noses into the business of the bad guys and also don’t dress well. Wrath of Man opens with an armored car robbery, shot from a very interesting perspective. For much of the scene, we cannot see the driver of the armored car, but we can hear him talking to his partner, who we can see, in the passenger seat. This immediately grabbed my attention, seeming to be a setup for a reveal later in the film. Who is the driver? When are we going to hear his voice again? Is he going to part…oh, there he is; nevermind. Guess he probably isn’t important. This will become the recurring theme of this film – disappointment.
The Ritchie movies I enjoy are the ones that are clever. Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Gentlemen. I do not enjoy the ones where Ritchie thinks he is being clever, but is wrong. Wrath of Man is basically John Wick, but if the killer had a believable reason for a murder spree, not a stolen car and strange puppy. Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) is hired as a new guard at an armored truck company. A few days into the job, his partner is taken hostage and the thieves demand the money in truck. Hill goes half Wick on the thieves, killing each with a single headshot, but without all the fancy choreography. In the debriefing with the chief (Eddie Marsan), a couple of lawyers question why Hill is so awesome, and Hill mumbles some of that famous Statham cockney that requires the viewer to turn on closed-captioning. Then, we see Andy Garcia on the phone with the two lawyers, also mumbling some famous Garcia, um, cockney? Whatever it is, he’s nearly as unintelligible as Statham and I quickly forgot that those men existed.
At this point, Ritchie tries to get clever, but fails. The film jumps ahead three months to the next attempted robbery, this time foiled by Hill defying tear gas and scaring off the bandits with a look. I am not making that up – he takes the cloth off his face he was using to thwart the gas and the thieves hightail it out of there. Then, the film jumps backward five months to show us why Hill joined the armored car company, giving us a different perspective of the robbery that opened the film. Unfortunately, it further cemented the fact that the driver was not an important person with a cool back story, just the catalyst for Hill’s revenge.
Once all of the players are revealed, we still have forty-five minutes left of foregone conclusion. Namely, the completion of Hill’s revenge. You’ll be disappointed in how that conclusion plays out, straining your suspension of disbelief to the point where your eyebrow almost flies off your forehead. Even more disappointing is the lack of quick wit that usually fills out Ritchie screenplays. In its place is a bunch of stilted dialogue and cringe-worthy homophobic jokes that would have been out of place even in an 80’s action flick. One character’s name is literally Boy Sweat. I rest my case.
Wrath of Man is nowhere near Razzie level, but it is a decidedly mediocre movie. If you are looking for a heist movie with a whole lot of shooting and killing, it fits the bill. An hour later, you will have a tough time remembering all but one character’s name and who you were supposed to be rooting for. Normally, it’s the guys with the great lines, but this time it’s the guy who kills and has nothing clever to say after. A lot like Ritchie this time around.Rating: Ask for six dollars back and hope Ritchie’s next film is more Sherlock Holmes and less this.
I’m struggling, friends. On one hand, I asked for big, dumb blockbusters to come back. On the other hand, not like this. You don’t need me to tell you that Mortal Kombat is a shit movie catering to the dumbest common denominator. That was a given; it’s right there in the title. Combat is spelled with a C. Spelling it with a K is a 60 point I.Q. reduction.
And for the record, my generation is the target audience. I was thirteen years old when the original game hit arcades and it was awesome for one reason – all the blood. Finish him! Rip his spine out! Look at the fountain of blood spew from his neck! Give me another quarter! That’s not a movie, that’s an adolescent who hasn’t found his dad’s Playboys yet.
Therein lies the fatal flaw in remaking this movie in 2021. The original movie was successful back in 1995 because we were still just sixteen years old, games still hadn’t embraced the blood and gore like Mortal Kombat, and skinny kids playing video games weren’t exactly fighting off all the ladies. Now, we’re in our early forties, blood and gore in video games stopped being impressive two decades ago, and we have families now, so you know we finally put down the joystick, if you know what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie has plenty of other flaws. Once you get past the discussion of “who is this even for?” you get to the discussion of how nearly every movie adapted from a video game has been hot garbage. And nowhere is that more true than for games that are nothing more than one-on-one fights. Yes, that original game had what can technically be referred to as a plot, but, no it really didn’t. The movie takes that plot and gives it all the fleshing it out it rightly deserves, which is to say none whatsoever.
There is a tournament that many of the humans don’t know exists, but they are a part of, and they have to fight against monsters from another realm in order to prevent a wizard from taking over Earth. Is that a bad thing? Don’t know. Why are certain people chosen? Random reasons. Are there other realms? Maybe in the next movie. Are any of the characters developed beyond their single magical power that is featured in the video game? LOL.
Once you get past the, ahem, plot, you notice that the movie is just a series of lurches between surprisingly dull fight scenes and really, really bad acting. The original movie at least crammed itself into a tournament format and didn’t take itself seriously. It knew it was a based on a video game and leaned into that. This new version thinks it is a real boy. The opening scene features a family in rustic, 17th century Japan getting murdered by an evil ninja with ice powers (Sub-Zero), with just an infant surviving in hiding. Four hundred years later, we meet Cole Young, descendant of the family and MMA whipping boy. He is just trying to eke out a living and support his wife and daughter when Sub-Zero comes back to finish the job. Next thing we know, there are fighters everywhere, a training montage, words about prophecies and tournaments, and poorly filmed and choreographed fight scenes featuring absurd finishing moves that somehow manage to not know they are absurd. You had one job, movie.
Considering we just got Godzilla vs. Kong, the awfulness of Mortal Kombat stands out even more. Godzilla vs. Kong knows exactly what it is and delivers – giant lizard punches giant ape. It too has some really stupid story trying to rationalize why they are fighting, but the fights themselves are excellent to watch and make you forget the things said five minutes earlier. Mortal Kombat’s fights are like watching a puppy die, but if the puppy’s head is cut off and bowels ripped out. And just to add insult to injury, the special effects during the fight scenes are terrible. Seriously movie, you had one job.
Like I said, I asked for this. Not specifically this – I still have standards. Just because new movies are being released in a slow trickle doesn’t mean I still won’t skewer sewage posing as film. The good news is Mortal Kombat is another HBO Max movie, so rather than waste two hours watching the film, you’re better off picking up your joystick. If you know what I mean.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and kiss your family, especially if you made them sit through the movie with you.
I hate Lord of the Flies. I hate the book, I hate the 1963 film adaptation, and I hate the 1990 film adaptation. If I had known Voyagers was Lord of the Flies in space, I might not have wanted to watch Voyagers. They got me by hiding it behind sci-fi and by hiding the actual plot of the movie so nobody would recognize it for what it really is. The synopsis on IMDb is simply “A crew of astronauts on a multi-generational mission descend into paranoia and madness, not knowing what is real or not.” That is decidedly not Lord of the Flies and is an extremely misleading description of Voyagers. Especially the part about astronauts. The “astronauts” (and those quotation marks are as sarcastic as I can make them) are literally a bunch of children. See, that is why I hate Lord of the Flies.
The premise of the movie is the Earth is dying, so a massive ship is filled with supplies and children and fired toward a newly discovered habitable planet with the hopes that the children will continue on with the human race. Why children? Because the trip will take eighty-six years. Yeah, no, but why children? Because they have been genetically engineered to be the best of the best of the best and their babies will be even better. Sure, fine, but, seriously – If there are only children on board, who is flying the ship or maintaining the ship or delivering all the babies that these children are going to have mid-flight? On an eighty-six year flight, even the children are going to die, so why doesn’t the mission start with adults raising the children? I got nothing. You are right; that is really dumb.
To be fair, there is one adult on the ship, Richard (Colin Farrell). I am pretty sure Richard is a psychologist, but he also might be a mechanical engineer. Or a botanist. Or a pilot. Actually, I’m not sure what his profession is, but I am sure that he was not originally supposed to be on the ship. He literally begs the mission commander to let him go along because he has nothing on Earth to stay for (dead family), says he will never miss things on Earth, and feels like a parent to the thirty kids being sent on the ship. So, yeah, they really were going to send a bunch of children into space. But don’t worry, they took some classes on Earth where they move hexagons on a touch screen, so it’ll be totally fine. They’ll definitely know how to deliver and raise their own children.
Another ingenious decision by the mission planners was to secretly inject a drug into the kids’ water that removes their will to challenge or question anything. Or have emotions. Or want to have sex. You read that right. Super kids bred specifically for this mission, raised in isolation with only each other and Richard, and given non-stop education to get them ready for the most difficult mission ever, were still not trusted to make good decisions by the same adults that ruined the Earth. Again, what is Richard’s job?
Everything you’ve read so far is explained within the first five-ish minutes. Once the ship is launched, the movie skips ahead ten years into the mission, when the kids are now late teenagers-ish. Their age is really unclear, which is going to lead to some really awkward scenes. It doesn’t take long for these exceptionally smart (and really bored) kids to discover they are being drugged. And being teenagers, the movie decides to treat them as dipshits rather than the brilliant minds we were shown ninety seconds earlier. Two of them, Chris (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead), decide to stop drinking the water and convince a few others of the same. Soon, Zac and the others are acting like immature little shitheads, and Zac goes from innocent to would-be rapist in two seconds flat.
This being Lord of the Flies, the one adult can’t be around for very long. Once Richard is out of the proverbial picture, the kids are on their own and with teenage hormones running the show. You guessed it – awkward. When they aren’t fucking or wrestling, they’re laying around in their underwear not maintaining the ship. This is the level of contempt director/producer/writer Neil Burger has for teenagers (or Millennials), even when they are his own characters initially developed as near-perfect creations. Okay, Boomer.
By the time I realized what I was watching, it was too late to turn back and there was still a lot of movie left. Suffice it to say, I was not enjoying myself. One of my biggest pet movie peeves is asshole teenagers for the sake of being asshole teenagers. What is worse about this one is they were set up as exceptionally good people who would absolutely understand the stakes. Instead, they whine about probably dying on the trip so why should they bother doing anything? And that goes on for almost the entire freaking movie. The only thing that kept me going was trying to identify what represented the conch and waiting for Piggy to die. And I never did figure out what that damned conch was. Did I mention how much I hate this fucking story? Now it’s trying to ruin science fiction.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back. Even my English teacher (retired) father-in-law hated the story enough that he showed The Goonies to his students rather than subject them to Lord of the Flies (I am not making that up).
This movie is what I have been missing for the past year. Big, loud, dumb blockbusters that promise one thing. Prior to this, Wonder Woman 84 was supposed to be that movie, except not the dumb part. Of course, WW84 turned out to just be dumb. Then, WandaVision was released on Disney+ and filled that blockbuster void. Well, for seven episodes at least. The last two episodes were blah followed by are you fucking kidding me? But that’s another story. Now, we get Godzilla vs. Kong, the epitome of big, loud, and dumb. A giant lizard fights a giant ape. If it was anything but big, loud, and dumb, I would be annoyed.
In all seriousness, I was a little annoyed for approximately forty minutes, or, the amount of time it took for Godzilla and King Kong to actually fight. I understand that they had to do some plot development and introduce some characters and…nope, I can’t even finish that sentence. This is the fourth movie in Legendary’s and Warner Brothers’ so-called MonsterVerse. We really don’t need more than five, maybe ten minutes of intro before they start fighting. And it was not just me. My eight-year old son kept asking when something was going to happen. Yes, I was egging him on, but he wanted to see the monsters fight much more than I did.
And why were they going to fight? Much like Batman v Superman, their reason for fighting has to be wildly contrived. Even in movies about superheroes or movies featuring gigantic monsters living in Hollow Earth. Yeah, I forgot about that stupidity as well. Why do the screenwriters feel the need to explain why we never saw the giant monsters before? It’s just, well, dumb. Only three people give a shit and this movie had five writers. You do the math. But I digress. My point is that previous films portrayed both Godzilla and King Kong as heroes saving humanity. So, why are they fighting again?
Because alphas just gotta alpha. In other words, there can be only one Highlander. As Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) helpfully explains to Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), “there can be only one alpha titan.” This is her reasoning for refusing to allow King Kong off of Skull Island, as if that was somehow an option and as if Godzilla has a Twitter account labeled #allalphasmustdie #aftermoviethree. According to Dr. Andrews, if Kong ever left the island, Godzilla would immediately detect and kill Kong. Say what now? Are you suggesting the cloud that surrounded Skull Island was some sort of magical barrier that blocks Godzilla’s alpha radar? And, even if that were true, doesn’t Godzilla only attack bad alphas? You know we saw Mothra in the last movie not get attacked by Godzilla, right?
Here is where the real contrivance comes in. The film starts with Godzilla attacking an Apex research center. Everyone is flabbergasted and Godzilla is immediately labeled an enemy of the state. Keep in mind, this is despite everyone plainly knowing that Godzilla only shows up to destroy existential threats to humanity. I told you – dumb. Anyway, the CEO of Apex (Demian Bichir) convinces Dr. Lind to go convince Dr. Andrews to convince King Kong to go to Antarctica and show them how to reach Hollow Earth, otherwise known as the mystical world at the center of the Earth invented by Jules Vern. Wow, it sounds even dumber when I say it out loud.
As Dr. Andrews predicted, the moment Kong leaves the island (somehow manacled to a giant barge), Godzilla makes a beeline for them. And, without further ado – ado being thirty to thirty-five minutes – Godzilla and Kong fight. And it was glorious. A year, everybody. That’s how long we’ve gone without something like this. Several minutes of Godzilla destroying aircraft carriers and battleships and King Kong jumping from ship to ship like a giant Frogger and the two of them smashing into each other and fire-breath and elbow drops and chest pounding and RAWWWRRRRRR!!!!!! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
Did more happen in this movie? I think so, but I was savoring the near-death match so much that I barely cared what was happening between then and the next hopefully-death match. Something about an evil corporation and the girl from Stranger Things (Millie Bobby Brown) being able to practically waltz into a high security facility with her friend and a conspiracy theorist in tow. My attention refocused when they finally revealed the real villain that Godzilla and Kong would inevitably team up against after fighting each other again. And, again, glorious. I was just so happy. Everything I had missed for a year was there – big, loud, and, especially, dumb.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back for those three reasons.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon and Netflix were making attempts to cut into the theater business with direct-release original movies on their streaming services. For the most part, those films consisted of two types of movies – award bait and toilet residue. Trying to compete with the medium and large budget theater releases was going very poorly for them. Then, Covid struck, theaters closed, and nearly all of those larger-budget movies were delayed. Suddenly, Amazon and Netflix were primed to make a real dent in the theater business model of movies. At the same time, other nascent streaming services went from the fringes to the spotlight, practically overnight. Apple, Hulu, and especially Disney were handed audiences desperate for new films. While it’s too early to predict how the different services will fare in this new model, it’s clear that the model is undergoing a fundamental change.
I have always believed that the only movies worth seeing in the theaters are comedies, horror flicks, and big, loud blockbusters. The first two genres are purely for audience reasons; they are much more fun to watch as a group than to watch alone. Laughter and scares are contagious. Doing either of those along with a hundred other people makes you feel like you are part of the group; that you are in on the experience. And, of course, blockbusters. Unless your name is Bezos or Gates, you do not have a home theater that can hold a candle to a real theater in the tech department. You want that giant picture and sound. You need that giant picture and sound. Michael Bay will make sure you get what you paid for.
Which is where a movie like Greyhound comes in. Greyhound is a World War II movie that immerses us in the harrowing journey of a convoy of supply ships trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean without being sunk by German submarines. Greyhound is the call sign of the U.S. Navy destroyer tasked with escorting and protecting the convoy (along with a Canadian corvette, Polish destroyer, and British destroyer). Captain Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) commands Greyhound and the entire convoy. Like some recent WWII films (Fury, Dunkirk, Midway), the sole purpose of the movie is to put the viewer into the experience, in this case the bridge of a destroyer, with no fluff (looking at you Pearl Harbor). This is a movie meant to be seen on a sixty-foot screen and heard by astronauts on the space station.
The entire film takes place on the Greyhound, with occasional shots of other convoy ships, explosions, and submarines, always from the vantage point of the Greyhound. It is a beautifully shot film, capturing the dreariness of the North Atlantic, the horrors of naval warfare, and the tension of the crew wondering if the next attack will be their last. Tom Hanks is fantastic as Captain Krause, a commander on his first mission during the war. Krause is constantly on edge, calculating his next move, pondering his next order, always hoping not to make that fatal mistake that dooms them all. In fact, he is so anxious he barely sleeps or eats for the three days of the journey where they have no air cover and are constantly harassed and attacked by the Germans.
And the sound is as good as the visuals. Unlike many action flicks, most of the battle scenes dispense with the music to allow the audience to hear the sounds of the ship, the sounds of the ocean, and the sounds of battle. From the window wipers on the bridge to the ping of the radar to the groaning of steel straining against the waves, everything we hear maintains and even raises the tension throughout the film. When Krause winces at his bloody feet, we feel it with him. When the men suffer losses, we suffer with them.
Or, we would have if Greyhound was a movie we watched in theaters rather than from our couches, streaming exclusively on Apple TV Plus. While still an excellent movie to watch anywhere, much is lost in the downsizing to a TV measured in inches and a sound system that Marty McFly would scoff at.
The question now is will this be the new normal when we finally get past Covid? That is still several months away, giving people plenty of time to get accustomed to watching new movies from the convenience of their living rooms. Gigantic blockbusters are not going to go away, but are studios going to continue spending north of $200 million on a Godzilla shrunken down to size? And what about those comedies and horror movies that rely on the collective live experience and word-of-mouth popularity? Most importantly, who wants to subscribe to eighteen different streaming services, just to make sure they have access to all the new movies? I can live in a world where Amazon, Netflix, and Apple TV augment the movie industry, but not one where they are the movie industry.
Rating: While I try to figure out how to tweak my rating system for a theater-less world, pretend you did see this movie in theaters and don’t ask for any money back.