I’ve had a chance to catch up on some movies lately, so here’s four mini-reviews of what I’ve been watching. Starting in reverse order of how much I enjoyed them.
Army of the Dead: I love a good heist film. It seemed reasonable to me that tossing in a bunch of zombies while revisiting the rough outline of Ocean’s 11 would be a novel idea. Instead, it’s a poorly written paint-by-numbers pile of action nonsense, led by an actor so wooden he makes Keeanu Reeves seem emotionally moving. The best part of this trash was the first ten minutes and watching Vegas fall to the zombie hordes while a swing band version of Viva Las Vegas plays over the montage. Come for Tig as the one liner issuing helicopter pilot, but you won’t find any other reason to stay.
Red Notice: Another heist film. In this one, Ryan Reynolds stars as Ryan Reynolds phoning in a competent imitation of Ryan Reynolds, while Dwayne “I No Longer Move My Eyebrows” Johnson does his slightly less competent version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with his usual sort of well-known charm. This had a few fun moments, probably, but Ryan needs to really think about how he’s over-saturating the market with his brand of snarky one liner humor, with nothing to differentiate his characters from one movie from the next. Free Guy at least had him playing a much nicer version of his snarky self and I enjoyed it. This over-the-top, action oriented, double crossing criminals movie really didn’t do anything for me. Skip it.
Army of Thieves: Yet ANOTHER heist films (I like heist films, what can I say). I guess this was a prequel to Army of the Dead? They took one of the least interesting characters, the safe cracker named Sebastian, a strange and annoying little German man, and filled us in on his back story. There was some lovely, LOVELY shots of CGI generated safes and their internal mechanisms that gave this a sort of steam punk vibe I enjoyed, and I did love the rich back story of the man who built four safes in homage to Wagner’s ring cycle. But, ultimately, Sebastian is terribly annoying and squeaky and just grates on me too much to think the woman who recruited him would ever fall for him. Plus (spoiler!) he dies in the above mentioned piece of dross, so that relationship is over apparently. Plus, plus, when is FOUR thieves an “army?” That’s barely a bridge game. Ultimately, this film didn’t really work at all and was only marginally better than the zombie film it presaged.
Shang-chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Other than a few too many times where the story stopped cold and gave us exposition to fill in blanks, this was a wonderful film and filled a gap the Marvel movie juggernaut didn’t even know it had. Oh, well, it sort of knew and had previously tried to fill it with Iron Fist, but we all saw how badly that went. Finn Jones was terrible, the fights horrible, and that whole franchise sank like an iron… um… fist?
This was the film Iron Fist should have been. The martial arts and wire work was stellar, and the CGI often went in a more colorful direction. For example, there was an early fight scene between the main characters mother and father (before they knew each other) that MIGHT have slowed things down, but instead gave us one hell of a beautiful visual, and was amazingly well choreographed. Seriously, I want to find that place and live there, it was gorgeous.
The story followed some of the usual super hero, chosen one beats and nothing turned out to be really surprising in the end, but it suffered not at all from that. Simi Lui turned in an excellent performance, full of engaging moments. His co-stars were equally wonderful, and I loved the character of Katy, played with delightful enthusiasm by Awkwafina. Of course, the always perfect Michelle Yeoh is here as his auntie. And, by taking its lead from Chinese culture, surrounding the main lead with a cast of competent and wonderful women who help drive the story with their own arcs, enchanting us with beautiful visuals and soaring fight scenes, and bringing us a sinuous water dragon that I absolutely adored, Shang-chi elevated itself from the usual super hero film we’ve grown used to and presented us with something new, and a new hero to admire and cheer for. Because face it… who DOESN’T love a hero who, after saving the world, goes karaoking with his best friend and Wong?
Shang-chi gets 9 out of 10 Reynolds wraps. Only some exposition really slows down this otherwise fun, colorful addition to the Marvel universe.