Review of “Firestarter”

Eleven-year-old Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is the apple of her parents’ eyes. Her father Andy (Zac Efron) and her mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) met in college. Both were subjects of experiments in ESP and telekinesis. They were also given an experimental drug from a secret defense company called DSI. It enhanced their abilities and allowed them to pass it on to their Charlie. Charlie can generate and transmit high levels of heat and fire without burning herself. The McGee family stays low key and off the grid as possible to avoid DSI from finding them and continuing experiments on Charlie or worse, turning her into a weapon. When Charlie loses control at school one day, the director of DSI, Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) sends a DSI’s “fixer,” John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) to capture the family, or at least Charlie, and bring them back to the facility. Rainbird kills Vicky and eventually runs down Andy and Charlie, but Charlie gets away. Left on her own, Charlie begins to hone her abilities and plans to free her father and exact revenge on everyone involved in killing her mother.

Stephen King’s 1980 novel “Firestarter” was first adapted for the screen in 1984 starring David Keith as Andy, Drew Barrymore as Charlie, Heather Locklear as Vicky, and, for some reason, George C. Scott as the Native American Rainbird. A TV miniseries about a grown-up Charlie cast the English actor Malcolm McDowell as Rainbird. At least in this version, a Native American actor was cast as a Native American. Sadly, that’s about the only thing that was done correctly as this version of “Firestarter” is a dull slog.

Having watched the film in a theater (you can also stream it on Peacock), I was surprised about how dead it looks. A movie about a pyrokinetic girl and her psychically gifted parents should pop off the screen and fill the audience with wonder. Pop and wonder are missing from this adaption of King’s eighth published book.

A few scenes have some energy to them. When we see Andy use his abilities as a “life coach” helping people quit smoking, the sound of him popping his neck as he performs what he calls a “push” is startling. He enters people’s minds and rearranges their thoughts to make them do what he wants. Afterwards, Andy’s eyes bleed and we see his “gift” takes a physical toll. It’s an intriguing idea that is reduced to a sideshow carnival act by a script that feels like it’s in a hurry to get somewhere without knowing where to go. The first time we see Charlie shoot fire by blowing up a school restroom suggests some real fireworks to come. However, only a few times is what the child does impressive. One expression of her power comes at the expense of a cat that scratches her. It gives Andy the chance to explain that her powers can kill innocent people, even if she doesn’t mean to. However, the scene comes off as a cold and cruel example of what she can do as the cat isn’t killed with the first blast. It is suffering until Charlie finishes the job at her father’s direction. I know the cat they show burned is animatronic and didn’t feel a thing, but this scene was unnecessary given what had come before.

If you enjoy gore in your sci-fi/horror movies, “Firestarter” has a fair bit of it. The burned flesh effects are very gross and look realistic. There are at least three scenes featuring the victims of Charlie’s powers. All other fire effects are done on bigger scales with buildings burning or blowing up. Even this doesn’t manage to instill any excitement as it is just fire for fire’s sake. There’s no meaning attached to most of the big effects. They look to have been added to use up the gasoline and propane budget.

“Firestarter” is rated R for violent content. There are several shootings that lead to death or painful injury. Some of the shootings are head shots. We see the aftermath of Charlie’s abilities on several people. Some show blistered and oozing skin while others are blackened corpses. The most troubling for me was the cat. Foul language is scattered but consists mostly of the f-word.

Since the success of “IT: Chapter 1,” several of Stephen King’s novels and stories are getting TV or big screen treatments. Bryan Fuller is working on a new version of “Christine,” and “Salem’s Lot” along with a “Pet Semetary” prequel are in various stages of development. I’m hopeful for these and any other projects working to bring King’s stories to the big or small screen. I’m also hopeful they are better than this lackluster version of “Firestarter.” If you want to see a better attempt at the story, watch the 1984 film or read the book and let the images dance around in your head. While it isn’t unwatchable, the new “Firestarter” ever takes alight.

“Firestarter” gets two stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Grief can be debilitating. When my parents died less than 11 months apart, I tried to bury my feelings deep inside. I thought it would make it easier to deal with their loss if I chose to ignore the pain and remembered them as the invincible beings they were in the prime of their lives, not the sick and frail mortals they became. Unfortunately, grief is an emotion that always collects its bounty. I would lash out in anger at my coworkers for minor issues that weren’t worth the effort. I found everyday life to be unbearable at times. It wasn’t fair that everyone was going on like nothing happened and I was suffering this unimaginable and seemingly targeted loss of the two people who had been there all my life. Looking back, that mindset feels very immature and selfish. Most people will lose a close loved one eventually. None of us lives forever, including our parents. Neither were perfect, but they were my mom and dad, and that was good enough for me. I saw a professional, explained how I was feeling and got what I needed to balance my moods. I highly recommend contacting a mental health professional if you feel like your life is something you just get through. That got heavier than I meant it to. I said all that to say this, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a comic book movie that looks at grief and the extremes someone might go to trying to minimize it. Even if it means taking another’s life and possibly destroying the multiverse.

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is having a dream about a young woman being chased by a fiery demon through a weird other dimension. After attending the wedding of his former romantic partner Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). he sees this woman, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), being attacked by what looks like a giant octopus. With help from Wong (Benedict Wong), the two sorcerers defeat the creature. They learn America can open doorways to other dimensions but cannot control when it happens. Strong emotions like fear are frequently the trigger. Strange is told by America, his dream wasn’t a dream. She and another universe’s Doctor Strange were being chased by that demon as they tried to get the Book of Vishanti, a spell book that gives a sorcerer exactly what he needs to defeat an enemy. Wong realizes America is being chased by a powerful wielder of magic. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help protecting America and her power. Wanda reveals she’s the one trying to gain America’s power so she can go to another universe and be with her two boys, Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne), from the grief-induced fantasy world she created. Unable to defeat Wanda in her form as Scarlett Witch, America accidentally transports herself and Strange to Earth-838 where they hope to get help defeating Wanda from Strange’s old frenemy, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Sorcerer Supreme in this alternate universe.

That’s just the beginning of the weirdness in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” It is a film that runs, including credits, just over two hours, but contains enough ideas and concepts to fill at least two movies. Director Sam Raimi, who came in when original director Scott Derrickson left due to creative differences, is no stranger to genre filmmaking. His “Evil Dead” films were low-budget gems, and his “Spider-Man” trilogy starring Tobey Maguire is credited with kicking off the bonanza of comic book films were in now. Raimi understands the need for spectacle and flash in genre films. Perhaps that gets in the way of storytelling in this film, along with numerous cameos and fan service, but the movie does deliver on thrills and pulls together various aspects of Marvel’s TV and cinematic properties. In other words, fans will love it, while critics will thumb their noses at “more of the same.”

The film is visually striking in all aspects. The special effects dazzle as well as confuse at times. The visualization of passing through numerous universes as is seen early in the film may bend one’s mind as we see a universe that is 2D animated, looks like a cubist painting, and is entirely underwater, among others. The concept of an infinite multiverse, where anything can and does happen, is the realm of quantum and theoretical physics. There is math to support the hypothesis, but there’s likely no way we’ll ever know in our lifetimes. That’s why imaginative filmmakers like Raimi show us what they might be like in the context of superheroes.

The numerous CGI battles in the film can get tedious. The audience knows Scarlett Witch will win until the film’s final showdown, but we must get there somehow. Fortunately, there is always something in these fights that makes them marginally interesting. We are introduced to the Illuminati, a kind of board of directors for the multiverse. The fight involving them is fun if predictable. There are cameos and dream casting that is done in this scene. I personally enjoyed seeing the return of some actors and the introduction of others. I’m not sure any of the Illuminati will be back for any future installments, so this may have to satisfy all those wanting appearances from characters introduced in other Marvel TV projects and the wishful thinking of the internet.

The performances from the main cast are strong and never disappoint. Benedict Cumberbatch is suave and cool as always. His easy style is a perfect fit for Doctor Strange. While he was a big part of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” I hope he gets more solo films as is teased in the mid-credits scene (there is a short post-credits scene that pays off a joke). Benedict Wong’s Wong is the perfect foil for Cumberbatch’s Strange. While their characters are frequently at odds, their chemistry, friendship and mutual respect is never in question. Wong deserves a bigger role, perhaps a solo film of his own, in the MCU. The addition of Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez is a breath of fresh air. As we get deeper into Phase Five of the MCU, we’re going to need the introduction of new characters, and Ms. Gomez fits right in with our established heroes. Her character is just mastering her powers, but her abilities could make for a powerful addition to Marvel’s stable of female and POC heroes.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language. We see a version of Doctor Strange killed by a monster. A giant octopus-like creature is killed when its eyeball is pulled out with an improvised spear. A dead character is revived, and we see how decay has destroyed part of its body. Various evil spirits attack characters. Several heroes are killed in various graphic ways during one fight scene. Foul language is scattered and mild.

There is so much going on in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” nothing gets the attention it needs to be fully fleshed out. However, what we do see and learn about the high strangeness of Marvel’s multiverse does open the door for all kinds of story and character offshoots. There are multiverses where Loki rules Midgard, Ultron wiped out humanity and Thanos’ snap wasn’t undone. We may get peaks at those other realities and the brave varieties of other heroes trying to save what little remains or undo the damage that’s been done. This more thorough introduction to the multiverse kicks the door wide open for more stories, more villains and more heroes. The possibilities are infinite.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” gets four stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) are immigrants running a failing laundromat and facing an IRS audit performed by the very picky Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis) while also coming to grips with their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) dating a woman named Becky (Tallie Medel). Adding to the pressure, Evelyn’s father, referred to by the Chinese word for “grandfather”, Gong Gong (James Hong), is visiting. On the elevator ride to the audit, Waymond begins acting odd. He writes down instructions for Evelyn to follow that make no sense and tells her he’s not her husband but a person from another reality and she’s the only person that can save the multiverse from a growing threat called Jobu Tupaki. Evelyn thinks Waymond has gone insane, but a series of events leads her to believe his crazy story and she begins fighting to preserve all realities across the multiverse.

It makes even less sense when you see “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The film requires a great deal of patience on the part of the viewer, but you will be rewarded with a witty, imaginative, entertaining thrill ride…up to a point.

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Stephanie Hsu all turn in amazing performances, making the insanity of hopping from one reality to another, with a new set of skills depending on the need at the time, into a coherent story with relatable characters, complicated relationships, and understandable situations. It would be like putting three distinct kinds of cake into a blender, mixing them up, then picking out only the bits from one of the cakes. It is at times a mess and not always worth the effort, but it leads to something delicious if you have the time.

The film makers don’t seem to know how to bring all the chaos to an end. There is an actual fake ending that looks like credits are rolling, but the actors names are their character names. We are seeing a different reality where Evelyn is a famous actor in martial arts films. Characters die, but only in one reality, so we aren’t sure if this is a real ending or not. The film runs out of steam and begins crafting endings for the various realities we’ve visited. There are dozens of realities visited in the movie and soon it’s difficult to keep track of one from another.

When we finally, FINALLY reach a conclusion after two-plus hours of mayhem, it feels as if the writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, billed as Daniels, aren’t sure what to do. We get a squishy, feel-good, kumbaya ending that feels wrong. If Jobu Tupaki is this malevolent evil looking to annihilate all reality, it seems like a firm hug and an “I love you” shouldn’t be enough to solve the problem. Maybe I’m too cynical and want all my finales to feel earned and justified. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” takes the easy way to a happy conclusion, not a satisfying one.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is rated R for some violence, sexual material and language. There is numerous fights throughout the film. There is very little gore. The sexual material is the use of two cylindrical items in a bizarre way. Foul language is scattered, but the “F-word” is used a couple of times.

I really wanted to love “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as it has an unusual premise and features Michelle Yeoh, an actor deserving of much more fame and recognition than she has received over her long career. Real critics universally love it, and we all suggest you see it. However, I think it could be tightened up by about 20 minutes and the ultimate ending could be better. It deserves your money and eyeballs but be prepared to leave the theater wondering if it couldn’t be improved.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” gets 3.5 stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Morbius”

Problem children can make a family’s life a living nightmare. Fortunately, my brother, sister and I were no more or less troublesome than average. A kid that lived next door to me was, however, a different story. While my sister was driving me home one early evening after a day out, we passed a very large car coming in the opposite direction. It nearly hit us, but we hugged the shoulder and the rocky hill it was cut from and avoided a collision. The other car overcorrected and drove down the embankment on the other side and rolled over. We both recognized the car as belonging to our next-door neighbor. We stopped to check if anyone was hurt and discovered the driver and occupant of the car was our neighbor’s son and his friend. They were both a year younger than I and not old enough to drive. The neighbor’s son was at the wheel as it was his parent’s car. Neither boy was injured, but I’m sure they would have preferred a stay in the hospital compared to punishment coming from their parents. The neighbor kid continued getting into scrapes with the law for drinking underage, possession of weed and other offenses. I believe he eventually straightened out, but I’m not 100-percent sure as we’ve been out of contact for decades now. The point is, no matter how hard we try to point others in the right direction, there will be people, even in our own family, that choose a different, more difficult path. Perhaps the makers of the Sony/Marvel film “Morbius” didn’t try to follow a tortuous path to getting the film made and released (and the pandemic didn’t help), but they have given us a long gestating, and utterly average, superhero origin film.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) has a rare incurable blood disorder that requires three transfusions a day to keep him alive. He’s weak and only walks with canes. He’s working at Horizon labs, treating other patients with his condition and doing research trying to find a cure. He also developed a blood substitute used during emergencies and on the battlefield, for which Michael is awarded the Nobel Prize. His colleague, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Ajorna) discovers Michael has captured dozens of vampire bats and is trying to splice a specific section of their DNA into his own to cure his disease. He gets funding from long-time friend and fellow blood disorder sufferer Lucien (Matt Smith), whom Michael has called Milo since the two were in the same hospital as boys. Michael and Martine conduct experiments in international waters on a massive cargo ship. The experiments prove successful, but Michael has an unquenchable thirst for blood and kills the crew of mercenaries on the ship, leaving Martine alive. FBI agents Simon Stroud and Alberto Rodriguez (Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal) investigate the deaths and want to find Michael. Michael sneaks into his lab where Lucien/Milo visits. Milo steals a vial of the cure and injects himself, enjoying the feeling of power his newfound vampire-like abilities gives him, but killing a nurse closely connected to Michael. Milo wants to enjoy his powers and kills indiscriminately. Michael feels like it’s his duty to stop his former friend, now mortal enemy.

I am unsure where to begin talking about “Morbius” many shortcomings, so let’s start with the story. It is very unfocused. While we get the usual trappings of a character getting their powers, the way it’s presented is scattered to the point where a scene that’s in the trailer and has been for a couple of years that also appears in the movie doesn’t look like it fits anywhere in the narrative. I had to read the Wikipedia page of the film to figure out what part the scene in South America with the vampire bats meant to the plot.

There’s also no clear motivation for either the villain or the hero. Is Milo going to just live a hedonistic life of drinking blood and partying with supermodels? While Morbius wants to stop Milo from feeding on all of New York City, what does Morbius plan on doing with his powers afterward? There’s talk of the doctor killing himself with a potion concocted in a makeshift lab, but that gets tossed out the window never mentioned. What is the point of this character? This movie doesn’t know.

In the comics, Morbius begins life as a Spider-Man villain and then morphs into an anti-hero. Comics can reboot and retcon characters whenever they like to fit the needs of a changing market as the cost of producing a new comic book is relatively low. Movies have a much bigger problem as they only come out after years of preproduction/production/postproduction and millions of dollars in costs. The character of Morbius must be locked in and have a foreseeable path of sequels and team up films (as the two mid-credits scenes appear to tease), but we don’t know what kind of character he is by the end of the film. He fights the bad guy but only for a very specific reason. Where does he go from here?

Finally, let’s discuss the special effects. When Morbius uses his powers to travel, he is followed by color trails that match what he’s wearing. He sometimes can “poof” from one location to another. When it’s just him, it looks pretty good. However, when he’s battling an enemy, it all becomes a blurry mess. The action is slowed down to a crawl at times to give us a clearer picture of what the character or characters are doing, but otherwise, it’s just a guess. The finale felt truncated and uninspiring, in part because a colony of bats is used to hide lackluster action and CGI. For a film that was postponed so many times it is odd no one thought to use the time to clean up the digital effects.

“Morbius” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, and brief strong language. I’m not sure “intense” is the correct word for the violence in the film. We see Morbius and Milo attacking people numerous times. Blood is minimal, but you can hear squishing sounds implying there is a great deal of it. A character is slashed across the abdomen, but we only see blood stains on his shirt. Smaller children may find Morbius’ and Milo’s vampire face frightening. Foul language is mild and scattered.

While I liked Andrew Garfield’s two Spider-Man films (not as much as Tobey Maguire’s), there is considerable talk on the internet that Sony hasn’t made a great superhero film since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” While it’s all subjective, I can’t disagree. The “Venom” films have been commercial successes but critical failures (again, I enjoyed both). All three of Tom Holland’s solo Spider-Man films have basically been Disney/Marvel movies and they have all been great. Perhaps Sony and Disney can work out a similar deal as they have for Spider-Man and Marvel characters appearing in each studio’s films, but also mostly be made by Disney. Morbius could be an interesting addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (#MCU), but in Sony’s standalone Spider-Verse, he’s an anemic shadow of what could be.

“Morbius” gets two stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “The Batman”

Parents are the multi-headed beasts of all our lives.  When we are young, for most of us, they are our protectors and heroes.  Then for many, they become our antagonist when we enter our teenage and young adult years.  Then, when we are adults out of the house, some of us learn two things about the folks:  They were fallible humans doing the best they could, and they are pretty good people.  I know many grew up in awful, abusive environments with selfish, toxic parents who could not care less about raising their kids.  Fortunately, I was raised by two relatively normal people.  Each had their faults and shortcomings, but overall, they were good people.  My mom was a sweetheart and my security blanket growing up.  Dad could be gruff and didn’t understand having a son that preferred watching TV to helping him work on a car engine.  As they got older, their roles reversed, with my mom being more critical of my weight and career choices and dad being far more laid back about everything.  Neither deserved the way the end of their lives turned out.  Dad developed Alzheimer’s and slowly drifted away over seven years, becoming more and more of something that resembled a zombie than a man who could pull out, repair and install a car engine.  Mom was his primary caretaker all through that battle.  Then, shortly after he passed, her colon cancer returned in her liver.  She died less than a year after dad.  Neither were powerful figures in our community, and nothing has come out in the 20 years since their deaths to show there were anything buy a husband, wife and parents trying to keep a roof over their heads and their kids warm, fed and educated.  Things are a bit more complicated for a certain billionaire orphan in the gritty, crime-filled city of Gotham in “The Batman.”

Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) in his disguise as the Batman has been patrolling the streets of Gotham City for two years.  Criminals and citizens alike know the bat symbol shining on the city’s ever-present clouds means the vigilante could be anywhere, prowling in the shadows looking for criminals to beat up.  Gotham City Police Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) involves Batman in some of his investigations, much to the chagrin of his superiors.  When Gotham City Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is murdered by an enigmatic killer calling himself Riddler (Paul Dano), Gordon brings Batman to the crime scene, angering Police Commissioner Pete Savage (Alex Ferns), but the killer left Batman a card containing a riddle and an encoded answer.  Batman solves the riddle and knows the coded answer may be the key to a larger cypher of the killer.  More of Gotham City’s elite become victims of the Riddler and they all may be connected to the city’s crime gangs and the drug trade.  Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a waitress at the Iceberg Lounge, run by a criminal nicknamed Penguin (Colin Farrell), catches Batman’s eye as she works.  He follows her to her apartment and watches as she comforts a distraught young woman.  Batman recognizes her as a woman seen in photographs with Mayor Mitchell who appears to be beat up and bleeding.  Catching her during a break-in, Batman and Selina form an uneasy partnership, trying to get to the bottom of the connection of Riddler’s victims and how all of Gotham’s secrets could rip the city apart.

“The Batman” was almost a very different movie.  It was originally conceived as a part of the Zack Snyder DC Extended Universe (DCEU) that included “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.”  Ben Affleck would continue in his role as Batman.  He would also write and direct.  As the “Snyderverse” began to implode after the colossal failure of “Justice League” as redesigned by Joss Whedon, the whole idea of a connected DC movie universe began to fall apart.  The successes of “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam” and “Aquaman” as stand-alone films with sequel potential, and Affleck deciding to give up being Batman, meant Warner Bros. could create profitable franchise movies that didn’t need to follow the model set by Disney and Marvel with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Affleck left the film as both director and star, and director Matt Reeves was brought in to remold the story in a new image, focusing on a younger Batman trying to figure out how best he can protect the people of Gotham.  It was more focused on the detective side of the character with limited big action set pieces. 

The casting of Robert Pattinson was met with a great deal of internet skepticism, including from myself.  How could the sparkly vampire actor pull off a gritty, violent, broken creature like Batman.  The collective internet owes Mr. Pattinson an apology as his portrayal is everything we didn’t know we wanted from the Dark Knight.  The broken, gaunt appearance of Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is something even the best comic book writer and artist would have difficulty creating on the page.  This Batman is a hollow shell, filled with rage and taking it out on the criminals of Gotham’s dark, rain-soaked streets. 

Pattinson’s first appearance in the suit is the oft-seen fight between Batman and some thugs in clown face paint.  He beats down the lead punk and says, “I’m vengeance.”  They then surround him and, while he eventually wins, he takes some punches that leave the final outcome in doubt.  This Batman isn’t the seasoned martial artist and fight tactician we normally see.  He’s also not in a close and loving relationship with Alfred, played by Andy Serkis.  They are frequently at odds, with Bruce saying, “You’re not my father” as one point.  This Bruce Wayne is angry, somewhat spoiled, and certain he can fight crime his way, without anyone’s guidance.

Much of Pattinson’s performance is in the script by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig, who approach this Batman as a work in progress.  He’s still dealing with the loss of his parents after 20 years and has ignored everything else in life except his need to punish villains.  This is the Batman hinted at in other portrayals by Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, but Pattinson, via Reeves and Craig’s script, puts the pain on his face in every frame.

The performances of the main and supporting cast are remarkable.  Colin Farrell, buried under prosthetics and a fat suit, is unrecognizable as Penguin.  Even his voice appears to have a costume as his Irish accent is nowhere to be found.  Zoe Kravitz also plays pain well as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.  Her sad backstory is its own subplot.  Pattinson and Kravitz have a sizzling chemistry that needs more exploration.  Jeffrey Wright is a fun Jim Gordon.  He knows he’s breaking all the rules letting Batman into crime scenes, but if it gets the job done, he doesn’t care.  His character will feature in a spinoff show about GCPD on HBOMax.  Paul Dano’s Riddler is a wonderous creation.  He’s clearly insane, brilliant and, like Batman, broken, but in a different, evil way.  Dano plays these off-kilter characters so well I wonder about his sanity.

“The Batman” is rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material.  There are numerous fights, beatings and killings but most are bloodless.  Batman is shot several times with guns and a shotgun, but his suit is bulletproof.  There’s an R-rated film bubbling just under the surface.  A drug called “drops” that are dripped in the eyes is shown being used.  Alcohol is also shown being consumed.  The suggestive material features Batman watching Selina changing into her cat suit.  She is shown in her underwear.  Foul language is scattered and mostly mild, but there is one use of the “F-word.”

The story is a bit convoluted with the crimes all leading to a massive action scene that left me thinking about our current political situation and misinformation on the internet.  I promise, that will make more sense after you see it.  By the end, I was satisfied all the loose ends had been wrapped up with the film leaving a bread crumb or two about a possible villain for the sequel.  If this is the first of a trilogy of Batman films, I feel certain the Dark Knight is in good shape to continue as a flawed beacon of justice that drives a badass car.  He just needs a few more of those wonderful toys.

“The Batman” gets five bat-shaped stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Spoiler Free Review of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Secrets have a life of their own. That life usually resides in the mind of the secret keeper. It gets a bit more complicated if that secret can affect the lives of others. If you knew a friend was cheating on their partner and you chose to cover for them when asked, now that secret could damage the lives of three people. More if the cheater in question has children. Even secrets that are totally your own can have long tentacles that wrap around other people’s lives. If you’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or whatever, your secret could damage, ruin and destroy the lives of those around you and total strangers. The bigger the secret, the more carnage it can create. Imagine being Peter Parker and your secret is you’re Spider-Man. That secret has been spread all over the world and your Aunt May, your girlfriend MJ, your best friend Ned and others are being hounded by the press and curiosity seekers relentlessly. You’d do anything to make that harassment end…anything!

Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity as Spider-Man has just been blown by dying declaration video from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) run on J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) TheDailyBugle.net. Now, Peter, MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are all being hauled into interrogation rooms and questioned by the Department of Damage Control. Even Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) may be charged with crimes as Stark Industries technology was used in the attack on London. With helicopters and onlookers constantly trying to get a peek at Peter and his friends, the publicity causes MIT to reject all three of their applications. Desperate to undo the damage, Peter goes to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), asking him to cast a spell that will make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. As Strange casts the spell, Peter asks if MJ can still know his secret, then Ned, and finally Aunt May. The changes in the spell cause it to run out of control, shattering the boundaries between the multiverses. Strange contains the spell and orders Peter to leave, his secret still out in the world. While going to meet with an MIT official about MJ and Ned’s applications, Peter is interrupted by an attack from Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). When Octavius traps Peter and rips his mask off, he sees it’s not the Spider-Man he knows. Norman Osborn, aka Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), then appears, but Peter and Octavius are transported to a dungeon under the Sanctum Santorum. Dr. Strange has captured Octavius and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) in his form as the Lizard. Both are villains of Spider-Man, but from alternate universes. Dr. Strange equips Peter with a gauntlet that will transport the other multiverse villains, Goblin, Max Dillon, aka Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Flint Marko, aka Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) to the dungeon and hold them until Strange can send them back where they belong.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a reboot of sorts for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s similar to the effect “Captain America: Civil War” had on the series as it shifts the dynamic of so many characters in the aftermath. While we only have two Avengers present in “…No Way Home,” the far-reaching consequences will be felt throughout the MCU. In that way, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is important within the structure of its shared universe. But it is also important for the character, as by the end of the film (no spoilers), Peter has a fresh start and is facing a future that is uncertain and uncharted (no pun about Holland’s upcoming videogame-inspired film intended). It’s also a very exciting and emotional film.

Tom Holland was the perfect choice to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I know he hasn’t found much success outside of his MCU character, but that’s more a reflection of the material he’s given, not his talent. Holland embodies all the character’s various personalities. From the wisecracking webhead to the polite and deferential high schooler, Holland makes the audience believe he is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I’m excited to see where Holland and the filmmakers take this character in the future as the multiverse opens enormous possibilities.

The rest of the cast is flawless, with special kudos going to Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe. Both reprise their Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy roles 17 and 19 years later respectively. Dafoe is especially unhinged as the split personality of Green Goblin. His face undergoes changes when the evil persona takes over that are legitimately frightening. Jamie Foxx takes command as the de facto leader of the five alternate universe villains. He’s commanding and charismatic as Max Dillon, while also easily being knocked off his pedestal of self-importance. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church are mostly voice cast as their characters are entirely CG. Still, they do a fine job of conveying their megalomania and angry fear respectively.

The story of “…No Way Home” is fairly simple as Peter wants everyone to forget he’s Spider-Man. When he messes up the spell, he feels it’s his responsibility to correct the mistake. At every turn, Peter’s efforts to fix things blow up in his face, creating more damage he feels obligated to fix until Peter…gives up. It sounds more dire than it is, but it’s a learning experience for the character. He can’t fix everything simply because he’s Spider-Man. There are things out of his control, and he must learn to fix what he can and let everything else go. It’s a hard lesson that comes with enormous personal cost. While none of us is a superhero with a secret identity, it’s a lesson we must all learn for ourselves.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. The suggestive comments happen early and are so mild and nearly drowned out by overlapping dialog they would be easy to miss. There are some very intense fight scenes, especially at the end between Green Goblin and Peter. Minor facial injuries are shown. One character’s death is especially painful to watch. Peter loses control and nearly kills a villain. There is also a stabbing that isn’t shown but can be heard. Foul language is scattered and mild.

The emotional depth of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is surprising for a comic book movie. There were moments I was deeply moved nearly to the point of tears. It also is a film that is frequently funny as well as genuinely thrilling at times. While the finale is jammed with sometimes confusing CGI action, and it doesn’t help that one of the villains can create sandstorms causing the images to look muddy, along with a rush to tie up loose ends, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” may rank close to “Spider-Man 2” as one of the best comic book movies of all time. It certainly didn’t feel like it’s runtime of almost two and a half hours (and you will need to sit through all of it to see a mid-credits scene featuring Eddie Brock/Venom and an end-credits scene that’s a teaser for “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”). Any film that can make me ignore a full bladder is quite the achievement.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” gets five stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “No Time to Die”

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are enjoying their lives together after Bond has left MI6. While visiting the grave of Vesper Lynd, a bomb destroys her tomb and a group of assassins, led by a killer with a bionic eye named Primo (Dali Benssalah), attack the couple in Bond’s bulletproof and well-armored car. A call from Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who is in an ultra-high security prison, suggests Swan is the reason for the attack. Bond leaves Swann as he no longer trusts her. Five years later, Bond is in the Bahamas, still retired, when he’s approached by CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and another agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) about Russian biochemist Dr. Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) who was recently abducted by from a secret lab in London. While Leiter and Ash want his help, newly minted 007 Nomi (Lashana Lynch) wants Bond to stay out of it. Obruchev was working on a strain of virus that could be targeted to a specific person’s DNA, making it a nearly perfect weapon for political assassination. The virus research is an off-the-books project overseen by MI6 head Gareth Mallory, aka M (Ralph Fiennes). Obruchev is now able to modify it to kill not only a specific person, but anyone related to the target. Recent DNA database hacks suggest someone is building a worldwide hit list. Swann is a psychotherapist that works with MI6 in questioning Blofeld. She is approached by someone from her past, Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who is scarred, visibly and emotionally, is looking for her help and not giving her much choice.

Daniel Craig is my “James Bond.” I’ve seen Connery, Moore and the rest, but Craig is the only one I’ve seen all his Bond performances in a theater. I like that Craig looks like he’s been in a fight as well as looking like he’s lost a few. Connery and the rest all looked too soft to be tested, bitter, world-weary secret agents. Craig looks like he’s been through some difficult stuff and has paid the price for his loyalty to her majesty’s secret service. I have also enjoyed the emotional thread that’s run through all of Craig’s Bond films starting with “Casino Royale.” The death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) was the kind of devastating loss only seen once in the history of the franchise, “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service” from 1969. While Bond’s reaction to the loss is a minor plot point in the next film, it is quickly forgotten as the story of “Diamonds are Forever” moves on. Craig’s Bond has been dealing with Vesper’s loss for most of his outings. It’s the only time a series of Bond films have been this connected. That connection has been both a strength and a weakness of the last five films.

Daniel Craig gets a rousing story for his final outing as Bond. There is giant action set pieces, beautiful but deadly women, twisted villains and the fate of world hanging in the balance. It’s everything one expects in a Bond movie, but I could have done with a little less.

Every chase scene is split into two sections with high-speed action then lower velocity, more personal battles. The stunts are spectacular, and many appear to have been done practically, but there comes a point when I, as the viewer, would like to get back to the story. “No Time to Die” is in no hurry to do that.

While the story isn’t complicated, the screenwriters parse out information over the length of the film until you don’t see the ultimate plan until near the end. If the plot were more interesting, I might have not minded the water torture approach to storytelling. However, “No Time to Die” is a standard “madman looking to destroy civilization” tale the Bond films have done before. Aside from tailoring the virus to specific DNA, nothing in “No Time to Die” is that new or spectacular.

Still, the spectacular locations, massive stunts and action scenes make “No Time to Die” a mostly enjoyable ride that ends the tenure of Daniel Craig. With a running time of 163 minutes, the film tests the patience of its audience. It feels overstuffed, like the filmmakers are giving Craig as much screen time as possible to say goodbye to Bond. Whatever the reason, “No Time to Die” has a problem of abundance and needed another pass by an editor.

“No Time to Die” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material. Bond is involved in numerous fist and gun fights resulting in the deaths of numerous henchmen. There’s a scene where a ballroom full of people are bleeding from their eyes and dying on the spot. Many, many car crashes leading to inevitable injury and death. A person’s fake eyeball pops out. Foul language is scattered but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

Daniel Craig is now done with Bond. There were indications in the past he found playing the agent tedious and was sick of the role. However, there is a video online of Craig speaking to the crew on his last day of filming where he appears very emotional about being done with 007. Perhaps his complaints were more about fatigue in the moment. Whatever the reason, Bond will move on to a new actor. He might be a return to the pretty boys of Moore and Brosnan, but I hope another tough-looking chap that looks to have taken a punch or two is brought into the role. Fans will complain, just like they did with Craig (Bond isn’t blonde or blue eyed), but if the right choice is made, they will quickly forget their issues. I will miss Daniel Craig as Bond. I wish he had gotten a better farewell.

“No Time to Die” gets 3.5 stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

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Review of “Encanto”

Family was the focus of my opening last week and it will be this week. There is a family in South Carolina that’s been in the news lately. I’m not going to get into specifics, but they come from a long line of powerful lawyers that have run a particular county for nearly a century. Recently, this family has come under scrutiny for unethical practices and drug abuse. There are also at least four deaths in recent years perhaps tied to the family. These people have been viewed as blessed and a pillar of the community, but under the surface, cracks have been getting bigger and bigger for years. The family in Disney’s “Encanto” is viewed by its community as gifted, strong, and stable, but under the surface, the cracks are beginning to form.

The Madrigal family started with tragedy. Running from bandits raiding their village in Colombia, Alma Madrigal (voiced by Maria Cecilla Botero), her triplet babies and her husband Pedro, are crossing a river with other residents when the bandits catch up. Pedro pleads for everyone’s life but is killed. Alma, clutching her three children, is so overcome with grief, the candle she uses to light her way becomes enchanted, raising mountains between the villagers and bandits. The candle also produces a magical house for Alma and her children called Casita. As Alma’s family grows with her grandchildren, each child is given a gift by the candle when they turn 5 or 6. They approach a glowing door and touch the doorknob. It is then they are imbued with a gift, or ability. Isabela (voiced by Diane Guerrero) can produce flowers out if thin air. Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow) possesses superhuman strength. All of Alma’s children and grandchildren have their unique gift…except Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz). When she touched the doorknob, the glow faded away and the door disappeared. The night her nephew Antonio (voiced by Ravi-Cabot Conyers) receives the gift of communicating with animals, Mirabel sees cracks forming in the walls of their magical house and the enchanted candle’s flame dimming. The magic is fading and taking everyone’s gift with it. Mirabel makes it her mission to discover a reason for the weakening magic and find a way to stop it to protect her family.

“Encanto” is the kind of family friendly animated film that Disney has done best for decades. From “Snow White” to “Cinderella” to “Bambi,” Disney has known how to turn family drama into family entertainment. “Encanto” may be more sophisticated animation and diverse in its representation, but the formula is unchanged: Introduce a family unit (traditional or otherwise), present an obstacle or danger, and a solution uncovered by a family member, usually the least likely one, while learning a lesson. Along the way, we hear very festive and uplifting songs about the Madrigal family, enjoy some laughs as we watch family members use their gifts and learn how they use their abilities to benefit the villagers that live around the magical house. It isn’t groundbreaking storytelling, but “Encanto’s” heart, humor and enthusiasm make this familiar story a joy to watch.

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote all the original songs in the movie. His gift of lyrical playfulness is on full display. Most songs lay out the feelings and fears of the character, even those they are too afraid to express. Some songs are joyous exclamations of living in the magical Madrigal family. They focus on the love each member has for each other (sometimes hiding the petty jealousy or envy of another’s gift), and how they share that love and their gifts with the surrounding village. Even the songs that appear dark in their subject, “Surface Pressure” sung by the strong Luisa and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” sung by most of the cast, feel happy and sometimes goofy in their expressions of fear and doubt. Miranda has a knack for taking serious subjects and making them more palatable and toe tappable.

The film is a bright canvas of vibrant colors. While not overwhelming, “Encanto” fills the eye with dazzling images of lush flowers and murals painted on the walls. There is the house, or casita, itself, made of tiles and what appears to be adobe walls with planters spilling over with greenery. The house is alive, sometimes speaking in squeaks of shutters opening and closing or tiles tapping on the floor. There is color and movement everywhere in casita. It is a house filled with both magic and love.

Despite all the color, joy, and peppy tunes, “Encanto” has an underlying tension exposed slowly. From the first cracks in the walls that magically disappear to the fate of casita, “Encanto” shows us how the family that appears perfect from the outside can have tensions and shortcomings on the inside. To explain more would be to spoil the story. I’ll let you discover that on your own either in theaters or when “Encanto” begins streaming on Disney+ in late December. I would suggest in theaters as the spectacle of “Encanto” is best experienced on the biggest screen. I saw it in 3D but 2D would look just as amazing if you don’t want to spend the extra money.

“Encanto” is rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril. We see the flashback of Mirabel’s grandfather facing the bandits a couple of times. His death is suggested, not shown. There are also scenes where the family members are put in brief danger by events near the end of the film. Mirabel’s hand is cut by a fallen roof tile. There is no foul language.

“Encanto,” like all great animated films, made me teary eyed near the end. I wasn’t a full-on heap of blubbering mess like the end of “Toy Story 3,” but still emotional. “Encanto” isn’t groundbreaking or especially unique in the way it tells its story, the way it looks or the characters it uses. However, the film treads the well-worn path of human weakness and redemption in a bright, colorful and engaging way. Also, I find myself oddly attracted to Luisa Madrigal. Don’t yuck my yum.

“Encanto” gets five stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Have you ever had a family member that was difficult to be around? I had one that I won’t name despite her being dead for nearly a decade. She never had children but didn’t mind telling everyone how to raise theirs. No place was as nice or as well run or as friendly as the city she and her husband lived in. Once she got a computer, I and other family members would receive emails about conspiracy theories and spam we needed to forward so Microsoft could test their email platform and for our help, Bill Gates would pay each of us $5.00! I explained to her several times these were fake and a quick Google search would verify that. Of course, a quick Google search will also show you millions of other conspiracy theories and, to borrow a phrase, fake news. I kept my contact with this relative to a minimum for this and other reasons, and feel bad about that as she died alone, far from any family. For me, keeping a distance from toxic relatives is the best for my mental health. Separating from family is a big part of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” but it’s for the good of the extended family and the world.

Callie (Carrie Coon) is a struggling single mother in a big city. She has two children, Trevor and Phoebe (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace), and very little money. Evicted from their apartment, the family moves to the recently vacated home of Callie’s absent father who recently died. The farm in the middle of nowhere in Summerville, Oklahoma, is run down and littered with junk cars and dilapidated out buildings. Trevor finds a job at a local diner in order to get close to one of the waitstaff, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), while Phoebe is starting a summer school science class. Phoebe makes a friend with a kid nicknamed Podcast (Logan Kim) and is taught, loosely speaking, by Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). Exploring the house, Phoebe finds an underground laboratory belonging to her grandfather. She is also being guided by the spirit of her dead grandfather, Dr. Egon Spengler, a Ghostbuster. Summerville is plagued by earthquakes despite not being near a fault line or volcano. Egon moved to this town for a reason, bringing much of his ghostbusting equipment with him. But his departure fractured the team. Is there a chance a new generation of Ghostbusters can defend Summerville and the rest of the world from a possible phantom apocalypse?

Director and co-writer Jason Reitman was walking a fine line by resurrecting the Ecto-1, proton packs and ghost traps for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” One need only look at the all-female 2016 “Ghostbusters,” directed and co-written by Paul Feig. The hate for that film began a year before it was released, fueled by misogyny and Internet troll angst over someone messing with the sacred cow of 1984’s original. The 2016 film had its issues (I enjoyed it) but didn’t deserve the hate it received. Jason Reitman has the benefit of being the son of 1984’s “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman. He also understands what the crowd for this film wants is a loving, if slavish, tribute to the original characters and story of the first film. Jason Reitman delivers for the fans.

Much like the story of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” rehashes the events of “A New Hope,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” reaches back to the original film for the most of its story. That isn’t a problem for me as it’s not revealed right off the bat. Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan take the time to introduce our new crew of reluctant Ghostbusters as they acclimate to their new surroundings. Expecting to be bored to death, Trevor and Phoebe quickly make friends. The younger Phoebe appears to be on the spectrum as she talks about not expressing her emotions on the outside and is encouraged by her mother to try being more outgoing to make friends. This works with the quirky Podcast who makes a podcast that has only one subscription and, according to the young man, really finds its voice in episode 46. The characters are a collection of misfits and outcasts that eventually makes a team and a family of their own, much like the original crew did almost 40 years earlier.

Some of the critics are slamming the film for being a shameless appeal to our need for comfort and familiarity, mining the goodwill of the original two films. While it’s not the most original movie to be released this year, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is like a warm blanket, wrapping the audience familiar with the originals in all the good feelings of those films while giving us a new set of characters to know and love.

Stealing most of the scenes he’s in, Logan Kim’s Podcast is a delight. He’s written far more smartly than his youth deserves, and I didn’t care. He’s a breath of fresh air in what could have been a dull and morose coming of age story with some ghosts and demons thrown in.

I also enjoyed Mckenna Grace as the smart and awkward Phoebe. Her fearless pursuit of knowledge and willingness to fight for her beliefs is a rare example of a strong, young female role model. Phoebe doesn’t need weapons or martial arts to express her strength. Her mind is her best weapon, and she wields it to protect her family. It’s a sweet and powerful performance.

Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are both great. Coon plays Callie as bitter towards her absentee father and her lot in life but loving toward her children. She can be biting and sarcastic but quickly warms when her kids are involved. Paul Rudd is very Paul Rudd; sweet, charming, goofy and funny. It’s not going to win him an acting Oscar, but Rudd is very watchable in the film.

The effects are a combination of practical and computer generated, and they all look great. They are designed to look like the original movies, and it adds to the feeling of nostalgia. The music is also reminiscent of the first films, with many of the themes from Elmer Bernstein’s original score and Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” theme song used. Many aspects of the film are designed to remind you of the originals. It might be manipulative, but I found it entertaining.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references. This isn’t a Blumhouse film, so there’s not much scary about the spirits, demons and monsters shown in the film. They are only frightening by implication. The suggestive references are very mild. There is some scattered mild foul language.

There are a few things I found puzzling about “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Phoebe understands the workings of a proton pack despite only discovering it seconds earlier. Gary tinkers with opening a sealed ghost trap despite knowing all about the Ghostbuster’s adventures in New York City in 1984 and knowing there’s probably something evil inside it. Everyone seems far to calm about the weirdness going on in Summerville despite the sudden appearance of ghosts and demons. I could go on, but this falls into the category of me thinking too much about stuff. I know this film isn’t perfect, but I found it entertaining. It makes a strong play for fans of the original films while setting up a possible continuation of the franchise. In that regard, the film has a mid-credits and a post-credits scene. One is pure fan service, while the second suggests there’s more to come. Only time, and the box office, will tell if there’s still life in the spirits of the dead, and if bustin’ still makes you feel good.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” gets four stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Eternals”

Jobs are hard. Some are physically draining, like digging ditches and building houses. Others are intellectually difficult like high level mathematics and accounting. Still others are emotionally taxing like counseling those going through tragic circumstances such as abuse. Then there are jobs you just hate doing. Back in my grocery store days, I would ask to work Sundays as it was time and a half. However, when you opened the store on Sundays, you cleaned the ashes out of the incinerator we used to dispose of empty stock boxes. It was a dirty, hot, and probably dangerous job as the fine particles of ash filled the air. The still hot ashes were dragged with a long metal tool that looked like an extended garden hoe into a large iron tray. When the tray was full, it was dragged to the loading dock where it would cool and be dumped into the dumpster by someone else. It was an awful job, but it was necessary so the incinerator could be used to dispose of more boxes later. Also, I was being paid time and a half to do it and back in the late 1970’s, that was about $4.00 an hour. I was rolling in the dough…also a great deal of cardboard box ash. I say all that to lead into my review of Marvel’s “Eternals,” a film about a group of super beings that must carry out a job they later find they don’t want to do.

The Celestial Arishem created 10 super beings called Eternals to protect humanity from a race of monsters called Deviants. Each Eternal has specific abilities: Their leader Ajak (Selma Hayek) can heal injuries and is also the conduit between the Eternals and Arishem. Ikaris (Richard Madden) can fly, has super strength, and emits cosmic energy beams from his eyes. Sersi (Gemma Chan) can change inanimate matter from one form to another. Thena (Angelina Jolie) is a mighty warrior, producing cosmic energy weapons and shields. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) fires cosmic energy blasts from his hands. Sprite (Lia McHugh) can project realistic illusions of anything. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is the group’s engineer, able to invent and construct whatever is needed, and he maintains their starship Domo. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) possesses super speed. She is also deaf, but can feel the vibrations in the air, allowing her to understand speech. Druig (Barry Keoghan) can control and manipulate minds. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) possesses immense strength he augments with cosmic energy projections around his hands. The Eternals have been on Earth 7000 years, fighting the Deviants, however, they are not allowed to interfere in the affairs of humanity. Over 500 years ago, the last Deviant was killed and Ajak sent the Eternals into the world to live their own lives as they wait for Arishem to call them back to their home world of Olympia. In current times, the Deviants have returned and gained abilities like the Eternals. It’s time to travel around the world, find all the members and fight the Deviants once again.

Eternals were first introduced in Marvel comics in 1976. Their backstory is deep and complicated with civil wars and factions living on Uranus and Saturn’s moon Titan. It’s a history that would be impossible to translate into a movie that made any sense and wasn’t 12 hours long. Director and writer Chloe Zhao, along with a writing team, tries to condense and simplify the character’s history into something manageable in “Eternals.” She almost succeeds.

This unwieldy group of characters gets parred down by a few as the story goes on, but the history and backstory just keep coming. Sometimes we go all the way back to the first time Eternals come to Earth 7000 years ago. We make visits to 1500 years ago, 500 years ago and six days ago. There is also an exposition dump that clarifies what the movie is about. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a major revelation for our heroes. One would think knowing exactly what the goal is would focus the story, however we get more flashbacks, more exposition, and more character introductions. It’s like Zhao and the writers wanted to tell us more gossip about these people, even things we didn’t need to know. I’m not sure it was necessary to show two characters having sex (I think a first for a MCU movie) for us to understand they were committed to and love each other.

Perhaps Zhao, winner of the Oscar for Best Director for her devastating “Nomadland,” wasn’t the best choice for a comic book movie. Her sensibilities are more to smaller character stories than to spectacle and wonder. “Nomadland” follows one woman’s journey, navigating the wilderness of America living alone in her camper/van and dealing with the loss of her husband. It is a poignant and beautiful movie that shows the inequity of capitalism in an age of business consolidation, leaving loyal and dedicated workers in the dust. It destroyed me in a way that didn’t come out until my wife and I were discussing it on our podcast, Comedy Tragedy Marriage. It could not be more different from a MCU movie.

Am I arguing that indie and smaller movie directors shouldn’t be given a chance to helm superhero flicks? Of course not. I am saying that Zhao might not have been the right choice for this one. While “Eternals” is competently made, looks amazing and delivers what we expect from a MCU film, it also bogs down at times in ways we don’t expect from MCU films. It sometimes feels like the film (and the audience) is swimming in molasses. There are bits of excitement scattered about, but we must first slog through the muck.

The actors do the best they can with what they’re given. Selma Hayek and Angelina Jolie are woefully underused. Gemma Chan and Richard Madden make an attractive, believable, but dull romantic pair. Kit Harrington plays a human suitor of Chan’s Sersi, but he’s only in the film’s early and late scenes. I enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff and Brian Tyree Henry in their roles. Each character is given something resembling a personality but not enough time for it to be fully on display. Ridloff plays the first hearing impaired hero and Henry is the first openly gay hero in the MCU. Each deserved more time in a film that wastes a decent amount of it on attempts at grandeur that come up short.

“Eternals” is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality. There’s the usual superhero on villain violence as every other MCU movie. The villains in this case are mostly creatures that look like dinosaurs or mutated lions. We see Sersi and Ikaris having sex. It is from the waist up and there are no naughty bits on display. Language is mild and scattered along with a middle finger.

I don’t hate “Eternals.” It might sound like it, but I don’t. With a cast this big and story this sprawling, I wish a more seasoned superhero director had been given the reigns. Zhao is a fantastic director and might have been a better fit for a solo hero introduction movie with a more manageable story. As it is, “Eternals” is too much of just about everything.

“Eternals” gets three stars out of five.

Note: There is a mid- and post-credits scene that hints at what might be next for “Eternals” and a new character. Stick around to the very end to see both.

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