Review of “Destroyer”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) has a great number of regrets, starting with an undercover operation she worked with an FBI agent named Chris (Sebastian Stan). Seventeen years earlier, she and Chris infiltrated a gang of bank robbers led by the charismatic Silas (Toby Kebbell) just as they are preparing a big job that could net them millions of dollars. In the present, Det. Bell arrives at the scene of a murder being worked by city detectives. They tell her it’s out of her jurisdiction, but she checks out the body and sees three oval tattoos on the victims’ neck and hundred-dollar bills stained with purple dye scattered around the body. Erin knows something about the case, but she’s not sharing the information with her colleagues. Erin’s memories about her time with the gang, with Chris, with Silas, with Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany) and the decisions at the time that have ruled her life since come flooding back as she considers what her next move must be.

“Destroyer” is a dark, dark movie. It doesn’t waste time with characters that are either black or white and focuses on all the varying shades of grey, most of the on the darker end, that make up the inhabitants of Los Angeles populating this universe. It’s a film that plays with perceptions, time and morality and is anchored by a breathtaking performance from Nicole Kidman who at times is unrecognizable. The glamourous Kidman disappears under layers of grime and time to become the title character in “Destroyer.”

Kidman’s performance is what makes “Destroyer” a great film as there are some issues with the characters and the plot. While no character, besides Erin, has a huge amount of screen time, Toby Kebbell’s Silas is a ghost that haunts scenes despite not being seen. Silas is shown in flashbacks as a messianic figure, able to control his followers and make them do things against their better judgement. I would have liked to see more of Silas, but at the same time, I don’t think the character would have worked as the all-knowing, all-seeing villain he is portrayed to be if he appeared in bigger chunks of the film. Silas comes off as a Manson-type leader, able to get his crew to take stupid chances and punishing anyone that lies to or betrays him, but we never see his tactics, only his long dark hair, penetrating stare and too calm demeanor. Silas instills loyalty and fear in his crew, even nearly two decades after they last saw each other. Why? The movie never answers that question.

The non-linear narrative also distracts from the storytelling. The film jumps back and forth in time so much, the only way you can tell what part of the story you are in is by what Kidman’s Erin looks like. The past has her looking recognizable, while the present shows Erin as if she’s been sandblasted. While we get all the details about the story in these scenes, it makes it difficult to keep up and easy to miss important plot points. An event late in the film makes all this jumping around make more sense and provides something of an “ah-ha” moment. Still, all the time jumps create some confusion.

“Destroyer” is rated R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use. There are a couple of beatings shown with blood coming from facial injuries along with one beating causing vomit. There are also some bullet wounds shown in a couple of shootings. A game of Russian Roulette is shown as well. A powder is shown being snorted. There is an uncomfortable sex scene that involves no nudity but is just gross. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Nicole Kidman turns “Destroyer” from a standard, dark crime drama into an event. Her performance is both painful and mesmerizing as a cop haunted by a past she can’t live with and a future she doesn’t care about. Every bad decision is etched on her face and her efforts to make things as right as she can are likely to fail. It is a story of greed and envy, and the road to Hell and redemption. I can’t say you’ll love “Destroyer,” but I bet you won’t be able to forget it.

“Destroyer” gets five stars.

This week, I’ll be reviewing Liam Neeson in “Cold Pursuit” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week are:

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—

The Prodigy—

What Men Want—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Kid Who Would Be King”

Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are the targets of bullies in their school. Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) target the younger and smaller kids, stealing their money and punching them. Alex stands up to them and is facing expulsion for tackling Lance. Alex and his single mom Mary (Denise Gough) have been going it alone since Alex’s dad left. Mary tells Alex he was fighting his demons and couldn’t be around them. Running from Lance and Kaye after school, Alex hides in a construction site of a building being demolished. There he finds a sword stuck in a partially demolished column and pulls it out. He shows it to Bedders and they put the writing on the hilt into Google translate, discovering it says “Sword of Arthur.” Believing it is the legendary sword Excalibur, Alex hides it in his closet, so his mother doesn’t take it away. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned deep in the earth centuries earlier, is aware the sword has been found and begins gathering her strength to return to a world that is lost in darkness, despair and anger. The wizard Merlin (as a young man, Angus Imrie/as an old man, Patrick Stewart) has also felt the discovery of Excalibur and has returned through a portal located at Stonehenge. He pretends to be a student at Alex’s school to keep an eye on him. When Merlin discovers there are only four days to a total solar eclipse, he announces to everyone that Morgana and her army of undead skeleton soldiers will return to take over Britain and the world and that Alex is the Once and Future King. Soon, Alex, Bedders and the reluctant Lance and Kaye begin an adventure to fight off evil and save the world.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the ultimate fantasy kid’s movie. The hero is a child of meager means, not physically imposing, with few friends and missing his absent father. His best friend is a fat kid that is afraid of everything and doesn’t like breaking rules. The other kids on the quest are his enemies that he reluctantly takes on as allies so they can see the threat they face. There’s also a loopy wizard that changes into an owl when he sneezes and can’t be out after dark as it weakens him. It’s up to Alex, the kid with no leg up in life, to save the world whether he wants to or not. It stretches credibility and runs on a bit too long, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” deserves your patronage and loyalty.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is the son of motion-capture king and actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, Caesar in “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s film of the same name and as the Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in the MCU. He comes from a very active acting family and young Serkis clearly has inherited the performance gene. Serkis is an emotive young actor, his performance coming as much from his facial expressions as from his voice. Alex is dealing with a great deal of pain and loss and Serkis shows that without it being too melancholy or melodramatic. Serkis is a natural performer and is relatable to the target audience of children while not being annoying to the adults that brought them. It is a pleasing performance that works well within the insanity of the story.

The rest of the cast is great with Dean Chaumoo as a standout as Bedders. The insecure child constantly questioning whether what they are doing is the right thing borders on being annoying, but the story is guiding us down that path, leading to a confrontation between the two best friends that reshapes their relationship. It’s a simple and wide-eyed performance that is the only credit on his IMDb page. I thought he probably had done live theater in Britain, but a Google search of his name only turns up a page from King’s College School in Wimbledon announcing his getting the part with no reference to any other acting. If this is his first ever role, he should be congratulated for giving such a good performance.

Another great performance is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He’s all enthusiasm and energy as the wizard that gets younger as he ages (Patrick Stewart appears a few times as an elderly version of Merlin). Merlin is the comic relief of the film. His wild hand gestures as he’s performing a spell seem like an opportunity for anyone wanting to stop him to punch him in the face. No one does as that would bring an unwelcome bit of reality to the story. Since the movie is about knights and demons and wizards and sorceresses, no one wants the real world to interfere. Imrie is a joy when he’s on screen. His apparent love for the role (possibly acting in general) shines through the screen and he adds just a little bit of extra spark to a film that is already filled with energy.

While is said no one wants reality to interfere with the film, sadly my middle-aged brain wouldn’t let some things go. For instance, when Morgana sends her evil undead soldiers to attack the kids at night, only the people Alex has knighted can see them and the rest of the people in the world disappear, leaving all their possessions where they were, including their cars. A scene in the film finds the kids fighting the undead knights using a car then, when the last one is beaten, all the people return, including the people in the car the kids were using. It’s a reality-bending bit of world building that ignores the real-world consequences. The film does that a great deal, including for Alex to succeed, he must kill Morgana. That’s a heavy burden to put on a kid who isn’t old enough to drive. The children of Alex’s school must battle the undead army. No consideration is given to if any of them will be hurt or killed. It’s a minor issue I have with the film, but it feels like something that could have added a bit of depth to what is otherwise a light kids adventure story.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. The kids battle the undead army, trees that come to life, underground roots and a couple of fire-breathing dragons. Lance and Kaye are shown bullying Alex and Bedders on a couple of occasions. The reality of an absentee father and the reasons for his being gone are briefly explored. Foul language is mild and very scattered.

The movie takes its time in guiding Alex and his knights through their adventure. The missing dad is revisited one time too many and the consequences of abandonment are hammered into the audience unabated. We get it! Stay and raise you kids! Otherwise, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a fun and lighthearted romp that children will love, and their parents will find entertaining enough. It’s silly and funny with likable characters and a good message. And remember: Always follow the chivalric code! It will see you through life and serve you well.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” gets five stars.

With only one new wide release, I’ll also possibly check out some new arthouse films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

In Like Flynn—

Miss Bala—

Stan and Ollie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Glass”

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) runs a home security company by day and patrols the streets of Philadelphia by night stopping or avenging crimes. The blurry images of David in his poncho have earned him the media nickname of The Overseer. David, with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 distinct personalities, who has kidnapped four cheerleaders. One of Kevin’s personalities is a violent killer called The Beast. Joseph is able to narrow down the search area and David actually bumps into Kevin, getting a psychic image of the girls in an abandoned factory. David frees the cheerleaders and fights with Kevin as The Beast. After they fall out of a window, the two are apprehended by police and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). David and Kevin are taken to a mental hospital where they are held along with Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the man responsible for the train crash of which David was the only survivor nearly 20 years ago and who wants to be called Mr. Glass. Dr. Staple tells the three she specializes in treating people with a particular kind of mental disorder: Those that consider themselves superheroes. She connects physical and emotional trauma from their lives to their delusion of being extraordinary. David and Kevin are held in rooms that can weaken them. David’s room is equipped with high-pressure nozzles spraying him with water while Kevin’s room is fitted with strobe lights that force another personality to take over should he become the aggressive Beast. Elijah is kept under constant sedation. Dr. Staple has three days to examine and treat them. If she cannot convince the trio of their averageness, they may never leave the hospital.

Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan apparently had a plan back in 2000 when “Unbreakable” was released to continue the story of David Dunn and Mr. Glass. Other projects and a downturn in the quality and box office of his films put that plan on hold until “Split” came out in 2017. The success of that film brings us to the team-up flick “Glass” which completes what has been dubbed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Sadly, Shyamalan had too much time to ponder how the story should go and couldn’t make up his mind, so it went in several different directions leading to an unsatisfying mush.

“Glass” starts out with great potential. The battle between David Dunn’s reluctant hero and Kevin Crumb’s damaged villain seems like a brilliant premise for a movie. Even when the pair plus Mr. Glass get locked up together, the setting for a battle of brains and brawn feels more complete and intriguing. Dr. Staple’s inclusion muddies the waters a bit and the choices made by David and Kevin to play along (David could break his chains and Kevin could simply close his eyes) are odd since their existence and reality are being challenged. When we get to the finale, that’s when things really start to implode.

Prior to that, there’s a practical matter that really screams out for discussion: The mental hospital where our three protagonists are held is the most poorly run institution on the planet. Apparently, the place empties out of doctors and staff after 5 pm leaving one orderly to work overnight. Elijah meanders around the building with no trouble. He and Kevin walk out practically unnoticed. David also strolls through the building looking for his rain poncho with no interference. This was a catastrophe begging to happen, and it does.

That said, the ending of “Glass” is kept in the confines of the grounds of the hospital. While the plan is to create chaos at another location (which is made clear on a couple of occasions), Shyamalan stays firmly rooted just outside the mental institution, staging what is likely one of the choppiest and most disjointed fight scenes in movie history. Dunn is supposed to be this incredibly strong man, impressing his young son with how much weight he can lift in “Unbreakable,” but never actually punches Kevin when he’s in Beast mode. By the same token, the Beast never punches David. They spend most of their fights throwing each other around and trying to strangle each other. Some of the fights are shot in POV so there is a distracting amount of movement. It becomes disorienting trying to focus on what’s happening when the entire world you can see is shaking like a paint mixing machine. There are also long pauses for explanations and revelations about past story items. While one is the ubiquitous “Shyamalan Twist,” it brings what little excitement generated from the action to a halt.

There is a second twist to “Glass” that comes out of nowhere and it feels like a bad idea that no one could talk Shyamalan out of. I shan’t get into it here, so I don’t spoil it, but it builds a whole added layer into the mythology that seems unnecessary and so out of left field as to be a last-minute thought. I can’t say much more than that, but it seems like Shyamalan has thoughts of continuing the story of superheroes among us.

The film also sputters to a stop. It seems to be over a couple of times, then there’s another five to 10 minutes. This is another reason why the second twist feels like an end-of-the-writing-process inclusion. Shyamalan felt like another tag scene needed to be added. Then another and another, so the last-minute addition was complete. From my end, it’s a lot of images that don’t add anything to what’s come before.

“Glass” is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language. There are numerous times when a person is thrown against the wall by either David or Kevin. One woman is hit by a table thrown by Kevin and we find out later she had broken bones from it. One person gets their throat slashed but the only blood we see is in the aftermath and not as much as there would be. We see another person crushed by Kevin. Kevin also bites and rips off flesh from a person, but we only see blood around his mouth. There are suggestions of the kind of abuse young Kevin suffered but we don’t see it directly. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Despite all the issues I have with “Glass,” I enjoyed watching the film. I’ve seen both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” so finding out the two films existed in the same universe and the story would be concluded in “Glass” was an interesting concept. The movie has so much potential and gets off to a good start; however, once the doctor with the oddly specific specialty is added and the seemingly last-minute added layer of mythology is exposed, “Glass” becomes a muddled mess of half-thought-out ideas that’s been too long in the creation process. I wanted to love it, but “Glass” broke me.

“Glass” gets three stars out of five.

This week, kids training to save the world and a fisherman’s past comes back to haunt him open in theaters. I’ll see one of the following:

The Kid Who Would Be King—

Serenity—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Escape Room”

Six diverse people are invited to try out a new escape room.  Anyone that successfully solves the puzzles and gets out of the rooms will win $10,000.  Those invited are Zoey (Taylor Russell), a brilliant but introverted college student, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a former soldier, Mike (Tyler Labine), a truck driver, Ben (Logan Miller) a grocery store clerk, Danny (Nik Dodani), a gamer and escape room groupie, and Jason (Jay Ellis), a high-powered investment broker.  These six people are faced with rooms that are trying to kill them and they must work together despite their differences.  As they struggle, they discover they are connected by tragedy.

“Escape Room” follows the formula of many low-budget horror films:  Collect a mostly no-name cast, tell a decent story, establish a hero (or heroes) and set up a sequel.  It has worked for the Blumhouse factory for their horror franchises “Insidious” and “The Purge.”  “Escape Room” does a pretty good job of introducing us to a largely unknown cast, plopping them in the middle of a deadly set of puzzle rooms they must escape from before the boobytraps are sprung that will kill them, establishing a hero from the diverse group and creating a mystery as to why they were chosen.  It is a simple but entertaining film.

It’s simple because the whole concept of “Escape Room” is to whittle the six characters down to one or two.  How that is done is the complicated part and the part that stretches credibility to the absolute max.  The puzzles are nearly impossible to figure out.  An average person in one of the rooms wouldn’t have a chance of escape.  Finding a key that’s part of a prop or a mini safe hidden in an upside-down room or figuring out the code word for a padlock based on one individual’s past feels like it is asking a lot for an audience to believe.  Some of the puzzles requires one particular person to survive from one room to the next.  What if that person doesn’t make it out of the previous room?  Is the next room changed to give the others a chance or is everyone else screwed?  That question is left up in the air, but it troubled me as the film went on.

There is also the question of who is behind all the traps and puzzles in the escape room.  As it turns out, the film falls back on the all-knowing, all-seeing, nameless, faceless corporation.  I won’t give any more away, but it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in films like “Hostel.”  A powerful group that uses average people for their amusement.  I suppose given the political climate this might resonate with audiences, but it’s been done many times before and it struck me as a little old.

“Escape Room” works because of the ensemble cast.  No one is a standout, but no one is a weak link either.  Taylor Russell is the introverted but brilliant Zoey.  This caterpillar must be reborn as a butterfly in order for the film to succeed.  Zoey actually is transformed into a lion as she goes full action hero.  I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, but Zoey is a large reason why the film has a marginally happy ending.  Russell makes the turn from delicate flower to raging bull believable because of the logic she applies.  Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but Zoey is the true hero of “Escape Room.”

The rest of the cast plays their parts well with Logan Miller as the brooding Ben and Jay Ellis as the rich and quietly dangerous Jason as the more interesting characters.  We are given plenty of reason to dislike both of them, yet we root for them all the same.  Jason is pragmatic while Ben is emotional.  They are like fire and water, but still they compliment each other and bring their own unique strengths to the solving of the puzzles.  If this pair manages to escape, they would make a formidable pairing to go after those responsible for trying to kill them.  I’m not saying they do, but I am saying it might make for a cool sequel.

“Escape Room” is rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.  Each room is designed to kill the players.  There is fire, freezing cold, falling, poison gas, being crushed and your fellow player.  One room has a substance that causes hallucinations, leading the players to fight each other.  I don’t recall what the suggestive material was, so it couldn’t have been too suggestive.  Foul language is scattered.

“Escape Room” wants to be a franchise or at least a trilogy.  I’m not sure how they can squeeze three movies or more out of this concept.  The end of the film sets up a sequel that makes sense; however, anything after that will be stretching this idea very, very thin.  That would likely lead to diminishing box office and, eventually, a reboot.  That’s the way these things seem to go; but that’s looking way down the road.  For right now, “Escape Room” is a pretty good thriller that makes for a nice distraction in what is a dreary winter.

“Escape Room” gets four stars out of five.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “The Upside” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week:

A Dog’s Way Home—

Replicas—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in movies, TV and streaming, available wherever you get podcasts.  Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Holmes and Watson”

Detective Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and his loyal assistant Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly) has just proven in court the man the police believe is the evil Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) is actually an imposter, setting him free and infuriating London police Inspector Lestrade (Rob Brydon). At a birthday party planned by Watson for Holmes and hosted by Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) at Buckingham Place, a body is discovered in a giant birthday cake. With the body is a note threatening the life of the Queen and to rewrite history. Performing the autopsy on the body is American doctor Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her companion Millie (Lauren Lapkus). Watson immediately falls in love with Hart while Holmes becomes infatuated with Millie. Clues from the body take Holmes and Watson on a twisted journey that leads Holmes to believe someone very close to him may be the leader of the plot and a killer, but who?

I am a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. I have read several of the stories and highly recommend a British television adaption starring Jeremy Brett in the title role. While the films starring Robert Downey, Jr. were entertaining action films, I didn’t consider them a true adaption of Doyle’s stories. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray the pair in a recent BBC series. There are other adaptions dating back to the beginning of film and stage plays prior to that. Now, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly take on the mantle of the great detective duo and, between the script and their portrayal, show they are not up to the task.

“Holmes and Watson” is a bad movie in so many ways, but I’ll only cover the most glaring examples. First, the movie isn’t funny. There are plenty of very talented people on screen with decades of comedy experience both in America and in the UK. Ferrell, Reilly, Rob Brydon, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan and many more in the movie have been in some classic and groundbreaking comedy during their careers. In “Holmes and Watson,” the cast is hamstrung by an unfunny script. There are a few laughs scattered about but not nearly enough to fill the 90-minute running time. Much of the dialog feels riffed. The sloppy editing sometimes shows the actor saying another line but there is no audio of the line. There is then a quick edit to another camera angle. This implies there were various bits of dialog and storylines that were left on the cutting room floor. Considering what shows up on screen, it’s difficult to believe this was the best of the footage shot.

The movie also can’t decide whether Holmes is a genius or a lucky moron, so he is shown as both. There are moments where Holmes is doing the mental math in his head to calculate whether his next move with be successful. Apparently, the character is smart enough to figure out angles and speeds necessary, so his plans will succeed. When things don’t go as planned, Holmes shifts from genius to moron and freezes in place. Ferrell drifts dangerously close to what I thought of him early in his film career: A little of him goes a long way. Playing one of the title characters means Ferrell is in nearly every shot and his portrayal of Holmes wears thin very quickly.

Then there are the little things. For instance, I thought I saw some familiar characters in the backgrounds of various scenes. Nothing is ever done with these characters, so I put them out of my mind. Only when I printed off the list of actors did I learn these background characters where who I thought they were: Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud. They are never referenced, and nothing is ever done with them. I guess there were scenes including them in brief cameos, but they got cut from the final edit, yet there they are, loitering in the background. It’s clear the film makers probably shot enough alternate takes to cut together three or four movies. Since these were considered the best of the bunch, I hope we never get an alternate cut using all the stuff these didn’t use.

The physical comedy is so also unfunny. People get hit in the face, back of the head, beaten with a chair, a croquet mallet and more. Horse poop (hopefully fake) gets smeared all over Watson as a “disguise.” One character acts like a cat. A swarm of bees attacks, driving a character to jump out a window. As seen in the trailer, Queen Victoria gets hit in the face with an old-style camera. None of it generates more than a giggle, if that. It’s been a long time since the Three Stooges and physical comedy has progressed, except in “Holmes and Watson.”

“Holmes and Watson” is rated PG-13 for drug references, crude sexual material, language and some violence. Aside from the various bits of violence I described earlier, there is a knife thrown that hits a character in the side. There is also the implication that the body inside the cake is stabbed as Holmes and Watson use a sword to cut it. The sexual material is exclusively about masturbation. Holmes and Watson use cocaine. While we don’t see its use, we do see the effects. Foul language is scattered and mild, but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

With all the very funny people, and Will Ferrell, involved in making this movie, it should have been funnier, and it should have made more sense. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is plenty to parody about Sherlock Holmes, from his drug use to his encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything. Why writer and director Etan Cohen chose to not focus on anything in particular is a mystery worthy of the master detective.

“Holmes and Watson” gets 1 star.

There’s only one new film opening this week. I’ll see and review the following:

Escape Room—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in movies, TV and streaming, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Aquaman”

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the product of two worlds: Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, on the run from a loveless arranged marriage, and Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), the keeper of a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast. Tom finds Atlanna injured on the rocky shore during a storm, brings her in and tends her wounds. The two fall in love and produce a son, Arthur. The King of Atlantis sends troops to bring Atlanna back, but she defeats them in battle. To keep Tom and Arthur safe, Atlanna decides to return to Atlantis. Arthur shows the ability to communicate with fish. He can also fly through water. Atlanna’s advisor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) meets with Arthur and trains him in the ways of Atlanteans including battle tactics and how to use his unique abilities. Now an adult, Arthur, known in the media as Aquaman, intervenes in an attempt to take over a Russian nuclear sub by a group of high-tech pirates led by David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen, II) and his father Jesse (Michael Beach). During the fight, Arthur injures Jesse who is then trapped by a torpedo that has fallen from its rack. David begs Arthur to help free his father, but he refuses and Jesse dies. David vows revenge on Arthur. Meanwhile, Atlantean King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is Arthur’s half-brother, is plotting with King Nereus (Dolph Londgren) of the Xebel tribe, to wage war on the surface world by uniting the remaining seven kingdoms of the sea, taking the title Ocean Master, and attacking with their combined forces. Nereus’ daughter Mera (Amber Heard) finds Arthur and encourages him to come to Atlantis and challenge Orm for the throne and prevent the war. Arthur isn’t interested in being a king, but changes his mind when Orm, using Atlantean technology, causes huge tsunami all around the world, wreaking massive damage and nearly killing Tom. Vulko tells Arthur and Mera about the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. The magical weapon will give Arthur the power to defeat Orm and unite the kingdoms of the seas. Orm has given David Kane Atlantean weapons that Kane modifies into a suit and takes the name Black Manta. Orm sends troops and Black Manta to kill Mera and Arthur to stop them from finding Atlan’s Trident.

One of the biggest complaints about the recent superhero films from DC is they are dour, overly serious and dark. None of those criticisms can possibly be levied at “Aquaman” from director James Wan. The sixth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is bright, colorful, funny and filled with enough action sequences to keep fans happy. It is everything “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” weren’t.

The story of “Aquaman” is overly stuffed with secondary but connected plot lines. There is his missing mother, the creation of Black Manta, Orm’s plot with Nereus, Orm gathering support from the other kingdoms, the search for Atlan’s trident and a couple of more that would be spoilers. This bloats the running time to nearly two and a half hours. While there is more than enough to occupy your attention, it causes the film to feel scattershot and disjointed. With so many bits of story to service and characters to get on screen, “Aquaman” is constantly moving, never taking the time to let a moment breathe. While this makes the long run time feel somewhat shorter (still, plan your fluids), it also makes for a film that jumps from event to event and action scene to action scene, lessening the importance of each.

That said, “Aquaman” is quite the thrill ride. There are some amazing action scenes where Jason Momoa and Amber Heard (and/or their stunt/CGI doubles) get thrown around like rag dolls. There’s a foot chase scene with Mera across the rooftops of Sicily while Black Manta and Arthur battle it out in various locations. The choreography of these scenes, as well as the editing of the two together, is a masterclass for future filmmakers in how it should be done. The opening action scene on board a submarine is equally impressive for its use of the confined space. Arthur bangs bad guys off the walls and throws them down the halls. This scene also gives us an idea of Arthur’s powers as he is shot with a gun with no apparent effect and hit with an RPG that merely stuns him. He rips metal doors off and uses them as shields and weapons. All this after raising the sub up from the depths all by himself. Aquaman is a powerful hero with abilities in the water similar to Superman’s in the air.

He also can talk to fish. This often is mentioned as a joke since Aquaman is considered by some to be a secondary character in the DC universe. While it is an important part of his abilities, it isn’t the most important aspect of the character. Clearly, he’s gone through several changes in the various reboots of the comics character and aside from some cartoons like Super Friends, there wasn’t much done with Aquaman outside the pages of comic books. Now, with DC looking to emulate the movie success of Marvel, Aquaman has got to be toughened up to be considered on the same level as Superman and Batman. Casting Jason Momoa in the role was the first step in turning Aquaman into an A-list superhero.

Aquaman is as much Momoa as he is from the pages of the comic books. Both the actor and the character in the film like to have a good time with friends and family. Both enjoy a drink or 10. Both are gregarious (perhaps Aquaman less so) and enjoy laughing. Momoa is probably the best choice to play the king of the sea and he’s clearly enjoying his time in the role. He and Amber Heard have a chemistry that jumps off the screen. Even when they are just getting to know one another, and their relationship is more adversarial, there is an undeniable connection between the two. They are a team along the lines of Lois and Clark, and Bruce and Alfred. Separately, they are formidable, but together, they are unstoppable. It is a team-up I hope to see again on the big screen.

To say the design of “Aquaman” is eye-catching is an understatement. The cities at the bottom of the sea glow with a light like that of the deep-water fish you see in documentaries. The look of the advanced technology, the vehicles and the infrastructure of Atlantis and the other kingdoms is extraordinary. The sleek hydro-dynamic designs of the various subs mimic that of sea life like manta rays and dolphins. It is a world unlike any we’ve seen before, but it all makes sense.

The characters float in their underwater world in a believable way. Their images are slightly warped by the currents in the water and their hair moves in a way that is both realistic and extremely convenient as it never gets in their faces. While some of the digital de-ageing of some characters in flashback scenes is obvious, overall the digital effects throughout the film are excellent.

“Aquaman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. We see the aftermath of the pirates massacring the crew of the sub. We see a couple of characters stabbed or impaled. Despite the killings there is very little blood. We also see characters hit be energy weapons and blown hundreds of feet. There is also violence against and between underwater monsters created for the movie. Foul language is scattered and mild.

DC doesn’t have the best track record for their movies since the beginning of the DCEU with “Man of Steel.” Their only critical and financial success has been “Wonder Woman,” while “Suicide Squad” made money despite being roasted by film critics. “Aquaman” is likely to be a success on both fronts as it has been a huge moneymaker in China where it was released two weeks before opening in North America. With good reviews and the probability of a successful box office run, “Aquaman” may join the rarified air of a critically liked and financially successful movie for Warner Bros. and DC. Perhaps those in charge will be willing to take chances on their superpowered characters, give directors the freedom to experiment and take chances in presenting them in a new medium. I hope “Aquaman” signals a change in the fortunes of DC’s slate of superhero movies. It would be nice if they could give Marvel a run for their money. After all, a high tide raises all boats.

“Aquaman” gets five stars.

This holiday week has two new releases. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Holmes and Watson—

Vice—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a high school kid starting in a new honors boarding school in his Brooklyn neighborhood. His father is Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), a cop, and his mother is Rio Morales (voiced by Lauren Luna Velez), a nurse. They want the best for their son, but Miles would rather go back to his public high school. His uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) is on the outs with Jefferson, but Miles looks up to him. Aaron supports Miles’ artistic talents and takes him to an abandoned subway tunnel where he can paint a graffiti mural on a blank wall. While down there, a genetically modified spider from a nearby lab bites Miles, beginning his transformation into Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber), is in that lab attempting to fire up a particle collider and Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) is trying to stop him. While looking for his Uncle Aaron, Miles stumbles into the fight between Spider-Man, Green Goblin (voiced by Jorma Toccone), Scorpion (voiced by Joaquin Cosio) and other of Fisk’s henchmen. Spider-Man senses Miles has powers as well and saves Miles when he nearly falls to his death. Spider-Man has a flash drive he needs to insert into a panel at the top of the collider to shut it down but never gets the chance before the device is turned on. The collider creates rifts in the fabric of reality, pulling several Spider-people from other realities. The collider explodes, injuring Spider-Man. He gives Miles the flash drive and tells him stopping Fisk from restarting the collider is the only thing that will save all of reality. Miles runs away, and Fisk kills Spider-Man. Miles visits Peter Parker’s grave, wondering what he’s going to do as he doesn’t know how to be Spider-Man. That’s when alternate universe Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) approaches Miles. This Parker is a little chubby and older than the Spider-Man Miles knows. He figures out the only way he can get back to his reality is to take the flash drive and turn the collider back on, but Miles needs to destroy the collider to fulfill his promise to his Spider-Man. Parker is reluctant but sees potential in Miles and agrees to train him. When a raid on Fisk’s laboratory goes wrong, Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) shows up to help. Then Peter, Miles and Gwen meet Spider-Man from the 1930’s (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) from a future Tokyo where she operates a robot powered by a radioactive spider, and Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), a talking pig named Peter Porker. Together they team up to face off against Fisk and his henchmen. If they don’t get back to their respective realities, they will painfully die.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is probably the ultimate Spider-Man movie. Since it’s animation, anything can happen, and it does in this film. It takes versions of Spider-Man that have only been seen in comics and video games and brings them all together for an adventure that’s as much about growing up and finding your way in the world as it is about learning to use and control your newly acquired powers and stopping the bad guy’s evil plan.

The animation style of the film is a mixture of computer graphics, comic book wording popping up in the frame, color splashes and random geometric shapes, and simpler animation reminiscent of Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons of the 1940’s and 1950’s. All these styles combine to create a unique and visually stunning movie that always has something interesting to look at.

For a moment, I thought I had walked into a 3D showing of the film as characters appeared to have halos around them or they were split. It is the filmmaker’s way of making sure you focus on the right character. The person speaking, or the one we should be paying attention to, is in focus, while any secondary characters are slightly blurry. It doesn’t happen in every scene as there are often multiple characters we should be focused on, but it does happen often enough that I noticed it.

The story of Miles, his interactions with the various Spider-powered people (and pig) that show up, his lack of confidence in himself and his abilities and the stress of being a kid with superpowers is all part of this hero’s journey. It is a well-told origin story that manages to juggle nearly a dozen characters in a way a live-action film couldn’t handle. Perhaps it’s the actor’s voices are what’s on display instead of their faces that makes the difference. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” was criticized for having too many villains. While “…Spider-Verse” actually has more bad guys taking an active role in the story, most of them are only henchmen we see for a couple of action scenes with the story focusing on three villainous characters. If you tried to have as many bad guys in a live-action film, you’d have egos flaring up over a lack of screen time. Here, some of the villains are only used to physically challenge our heroes and have very few lines. It’s a smart way to provide fan service, showing some of the better-known Spider-Man baddies while being able to focus on three primary villains. The same can be said for the Spider-Heroes as Miles, Peter and Gwen are the leads and Noir, Peni and Ham are used mostly for comic relief or as a diversion. It is a smart division of labor that allows for more characters and more for the fans to see and enjoy.

The voice performances are all great, but I must confess my favorite was John Mulaney. While Spider-Ham doesn’t get much screen time, Mulaney always delivers a strong line reading and a punchline delivered with the polish one would expect from a popular touring standup comic. I wouldn’t have minded getting more Spider-Ham in the film, but this wasn’t his story; however, spin-off films are being discussed at Sony Animation and my vote is for Peter Porker to get a movie, even direct to Blu-Ray or VOD, about his reality where animals talk and some have superpowers.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. While the death of Peter Parker isn’t shown, it is obvious what happens to him. There are several fight scenes with bizarre villains and the Spider-People. We also see Miles try out his spider powers and fail spectacularly with his falling from a great height. Miles is threatened with death from a bad guy, but the bad guy refuses to kill him and the bad guy is then shot by Wilson Fisk. In all the deaths we don’t see any blood. Foul language is limited to the use of the world “Hell.”

Stan Lee has a cameo in the film as the clerk at a costume shop where Miles buys a Spider-Man costume. His lines speak to loss, making it all the more touching since his death in November. There is also a tribute card in the credits to both Lee and Steve Ditko. Without these two visionaries, both of whom died this year, we wouldn’t have this amazing and thrilling cinematic world filled with flawed heroes given extraordinary gifts and the wonderous deeds they perform. This version of the web head (or heads) is a refreshing take on a character that has had too many reboots over the last several years. Perhaps the best way for Sony to continue to make money with Spider-Man is to keep him in the animated realm. As long as they keep making films as good as this one, I will keep giving them my money.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” gets five stars.

For my review of “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, click below:

The Mule

It’s a busy week at your local multiplex as the holiday releases are all hoping to capture your pocket jingle. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Opening Wednesday:
Mary Poppins Returns—

Opening Friday:
Aquaman—

Bumblebee—

Second Act—

Welcome to Marwen—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.