Strange World (2022): No Awe, No Wonder, Just Boredom.

“Strange World” is directed by Don Hall and co-directed by Qui Nguyen. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Spider-Man: Far from Home), Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story), Jaboukie Young-White (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Only Murders in the Building), Gabrielle Union (America’s Got Talent, Think Like a Man), and Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Kung Fu Panda). This film follows the Clades, a family who must overcome each other’s differences in order to successfully navigate themselves in a space off the map.

Thus far, animation has not been perfect this year. The only real highlight in regard to 2022 animation for me would have to be “Turning Red,” which I watched back in March and enjoyed immensely. In fact, my favorite animation I watched that came out this year is one that technically came out last year, specifically “Belle,” as it released in Japan in July 2021. That movie was so nice that I had to post about it twice. Therefore, I was hoping that “Strange World” could join the ranks of “Turning Red,” or surpass it, and give the genre a boost. “The Bad Guys” was okay. “Lightyear” was fun but it is no “Toy Story.” “Luck” was not perfect. Let’s not even talk about “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” I wanted something that could potentially be a medium-defining movie. We had a couple of those last year with “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” the recently mentioned “Belle,” and Disney’s own “Raya and the Last Dragon.” The good news for those movies, depending on how you slice it, is if they wanted to remain superior, then this is a good day for them. “Strange World” is a movie that should have dazzled me. Unfortunately, I was bored.

Now let me be clear, for the people who ask why I do not like this movie, please note that this has nothing to do with a certain character having feelings for another specific character. If you are looking for another review where the writer disses on the movie because it is “woke,” go someplace else, arrogant scumbags. Scene Before is not the place for that. That said, it is time to talk about why “Strange World” is one of the most underwhelming and snore-inducing animations of the decade.

However, before we get there, I do want to drop some positives. Because the movie does have its moments. The first act, while not flawless, introduces the characters at a quick pace and provides some fascinating setup for what is to come. There is a particular event towards the end of the movie that caught me off guard, but in a good way. The opening song, while short, is kind of a banger. Oddly enough, this does not go for that traditional Disney movie soundtrack extravaganza where every other scene becomes a musical all of a sudden. There is no equivalent to Let It Go in “Strange World.” If you are seeking a musical, look elsewhere. If you are instead seeking a mediocre adventure in unfamiliar territory, look no further.

When your movie is called “Strange World,” that should be code to make a world that looked kooky and fun. However, I had my arms crossed for a good portion of the runtime. “Strange World” had scenes that looked like an escape from reality, but it is not just a matter of how the movie looks, but how it feels. Despite being taken on an adventure to somewhere unfamiliar, I never felt immersed into this world. Part of the reason is because this movie feels like it spends more time building its vast environments as opposed to the characters who are surrounded by said environments. Sure, we get moments where we get to know the characters, but it sometimes comes off as the bare minimum. In addition, the characters themselves are annoying.

Now the characters, for the most part, are well voiced. Dennis Quaid and Lucy Liu are particular standouts as Jaeger Clade (top right) and Callisto Mal (top left) respectively. The voice performances serve their purpose and are in no way problematic. However, I was annoyed by a character that should have been a lovable sidekick, Splat.

I found out that nobody voices Splat (right), so the voice actors are safe in this instance. However, the sounds that Splat makes, while somewhat appropriate, are honestly more headache-inducing than trying to find a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday. I can say this is based on true events. Both as someone who just wanted cheap Blu-rays the other day, and as someone who wanted to have a good time watching “Strange World,” but failed miserably.

Like most animated fare, there is a lesson intertwined that the crew perhaps aspire to deliver towards the children watching the movie. As an adult, I took away a particular lesson that sounded halfway decent. But at the same time, the lesson made for an atrocious story. It is predictable, dull, and worst of all, the three main characters all made me roll my eyes. Whether it was cheap dialogue, selfish motives, or overembellishing what could easily be shown instead of told. There are scenes where the main characters argue, and it had dialogue that should have been compelling, it should have gotten me invested in the scene and where things could go from here. All it did was made me put my hand on my head, begging for the movie to move along.

I watched “Strange World” in a theater that had some people. It was nowhere near its total capacity, but there were some families and kids. Despite the various attempts at comedy in “Strange World,” no one uttered a sound. I could barely hear children chuckling. For all I knew, the children at this screening had a good time. But when your family movie fails to get the family to emote, that is a problem. Although when the movie was over, people did clap. So there is that.

Watching and/or reviewing a Disney movie sometimes has its complexities. Because Disney is not just movies. That is just a small aspect of how they entertain the masses. What goes into their movies often factors into their merchandising, their parks, and so on. While “Strange World” is not a good movie, it was the kind of movie that despite its failed attempts to immerse me, made me think there could be a chance that this would make for a decent theme park ride. I can imagine this universe as a motion simulator in Disney World because it is so otherworldly. Kind of like some of Disney’s other rides such as Star Tours or Pirates of the Caribbean, it feels like going somewhere else. It does not feel like Florida. It does not feel like California. You’re either in space or some vast environment far from home. Unfortunately, I am not reviewing a theme park ride. I am reviewing a story. And despite one or two okay scenes, there was not enough to make me root for the characters or care about what was going on. As a story, this is dull. This is forgettable. This is uninteresting. I wanted it to end. Thankfully the movie not that long, but despite time flying by, I was not having fun.

In the end, “Strange World” is a bit of a letdown. I did not think this movie looked like the next big thing, but it also looked fun. Disney movies, even ones that are lower tier, seem to have glimmers of fun on a consistent basis. When I fail to walk out of a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, with a smile on my face, that is not a good sign. Let me just put it this way. I had more fun with another Disney film, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and that is despite the film saying goodbye to a major character (in addition to the actor who plays him) and having a few downer scenes. “Strange World” occasionally made me angry because it looked fun, but it did not feel fun. There is a difference between designing something pretty, and doing something with it that is interesting. This movie felt like a first date with the most attractive woman alive, only to find out she has zero personality whatsoever. “Strange World” is a waste of time and I am going to give it a 3/10.

“Strange World” is now playing in theatres everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you liked this review, check out some of my other ones! If you want to see more animated movie reviews, check out the review I did for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” If you want to see more family movie reviews, check out my thoughts on the brand new Netflix film, “Slumberland.” I am planning on seeing a movie this weekend, I am not sure which one specifically, so as to whether “Violent Night” or “Spoiler Alert” is going to be my next review is a total mystery. You will have to find out for yourselves. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Strange World?” What did you think about it? Or, what is an animation that you saw recently that disappointed you? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Menu (2022): Phenomenally Mouthwatering and Jaw-Dropping

“The Menu” is directed by Mark Mylod (Succession, Game of Thrones) and stars Ralph Fiennes (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma., The Queen’s Gambit), Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, Mad Max: Fury Road), Hong Chau (Downsizing, Big Little Lies), Janet McTeer (Jessica Jones, Ozark), Judith Light (Who’s the Boss?, Dallas), and John Leguizamo (Super Mario Bros., Ice Age). This film follows a young couple, who are just two of the many people who partake in an expensive outing at Hawthorne, where food meets art. What is supposed to be an extravagant dining experience turns into a night of mayhem where the tension never ends.

If I had a dollar for how many times I ended up seeing a trailer for “The Menu” during a screening at the theater, I could probably at minimum, pay to see this movie at matinee price when it came out. Although I did not mind seeing this movie advertised a whole ton. Because it had a lot of things going for it. You have a stacked cast including Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy. The concept, while it reminded me of other stories, came off as one of the more original ideas of 2022, and it looked like an okay mix of comedy and scares, kind of like one of my favorite movies of the past five years, “Ready or Not.” At the same time though, while the trailers do show a bit in regard to what the movie’s about, one of the first positives I can give to the movie, in addition to the marketing, is that despite being hammered with the trailers, there were plenty of surprises to be had. I had the privilege of getting to see this film with a big crowd the day before public release, and I had no regrets going.

Ladies and gentlemen, I can easily say “The Menu” is one of my favorite movies of the year. And in a year that has been chock full of fantastic horror, this may be my favorite film in its genre. More than “Smile.” More than “Barbarian.” I reviewed both of those movies about a month ago, and I said the exact same thing when talking about those. If there is any genre that I think is the clear winner this year in regards to film, horror takes the cake. Much like cake, “The Menu” is a deliciously attractive and satisfying time.

“The Menu” cements why I go to the movies. This movie is dark, twisted, yet fun. I had the time of my life laughing and gagging with a couple hundred other people.

Speaking of communal events, this movie showcases a group of people who are supposedly loaded with money. One of the best parts about this movie is that even though Hawthorne is full of… let’s just say snobby guests, the snobby characters never managed to once get on my nerves. In fact, seeing of some of these people on screen for whatever length of time they happened to be on provided for decent entertainment. Even though this movie has characters who went to an Ivy League school without financial troubles and business partners for example, all of them were fun to watch.

This movie jokes about the rich, the food service industry, and how artists endlessly strive to be perfect. With an endless spree of gags on these topics among others, this leads to brilliant exchanges and side-splitting moments. I cannot think of a movie this year, even in the pure comedy genre like “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” that is as funny as “The Menu.” I cannot remember the last time I have gone to a movie and laughed so hard that after seconds of chuckling, I felt a particular numbness running through my body for a split second. If I got any dizzier, I would have arguably needed a medical professional. This happened more than once during my experience.

All of the characters in “The Menu” serve their purpose and bring something to the table. While this movie’s batch of supporting characters are exactly what they are, minor, their respective actors all do a great job. Everyone from Judith Light as Anne, Janet McTeer as Lillian, and Rob Yang as Bryce delivered performances that arguably satisfied my cravings. One of my favorite members of the supporting cast however is John Leguizamo, who plays a Movie Star (Yes, that is the character’s credited name). Without giving much detail, we get some hints of his history as an actor that allow for some of the movie’s most entertaining and laugh-inducing moments.

Although I cannot forget about the two leads, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult. These characters, as we learn early on, are a couple. We see from the beginning that of the two, Tyler (Hoult) is the one who is clearly more invested in the dining experience whereas Margot (Taylor-Joy) is more or less just coming along for the ride. Many of Tyler’s lines are him either trying to get Margot to “blend in” or showcasing his worship for the establishment and its head chef. I thought having a character like one of Tyler’s personality made for added tension in a movie that already had plenty of thrills and chills. Margot, who was more than unfamiliar with Hawthorne, was likely in for some culture shock. And that was only the start of her journey.

Anya Taylor-Joy is not only great in “The Menu,” but it is the kind of great that makes me think she is easily in the conversation to become the next “it” actor of her generation. Not only is she mega-talented as she has shown from one role to the next, but she always manages to choose interesting projects. Even ones I do not particularly like such as Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” at least has some notable quirks. As much as the cast of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has me weary because of how many big stars are onboard instead of professional voiceover artists (although Jack Black seems to be perfectly cast), Anya Taylor-Joy’s presence gives me hope because of her current resume. “The Menu” is another solid addition to her ongoing list of wins. This movie involves a multitude of characters at once, but if this story belongs to anyone, it is Anya Taylor-Joy’s character of Margot. Therefore, I am delighted, although not surprised, that she killed it in this movie.

Again, the trailers for “The Menu” made it look like another “Ready or Not.” This makes sense given the film’s success and it also being under the Searchlight Pictures library. If I had to give a proper description to “The Menu” for those who have not seen it, I would describe “The Menu” as “Ready or Not” meets “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” You have an eccentric genius who is often the elephant in the room. There is a group of people who all gather to experience a literal food fantasy. And much like “Ready or Not,” the main character is a young woman who is different from everybody else despite attempts to fit in. Much like both movies, there is plenty of comedy (and horror if you count the tunnel scene in “Willy Wonka”) to take in. The film is a must see, especially with a big crowd in a theater. While this probably will not make “Wakanda Forever” bank, this film is worth watching and supporting. It is a definite must see.

In the end, “The Menu” is a phenomenal moviegoing experience and a hysterical ride from start to finish. The cast is great, the mix of horror and comedy is perfectly balanced, and overall, this is also well done from a technical standpoint. A lot of the food, even though it did not look like the first thing I would put in my mouth if I saw it in person, had an Insta-worthy feel to it. The shots and sets look as clean as can be. Some of the editing, without going into specifics, is perfectly timed with how the script plays out. I can only name one particular problem I have with this movie, but I am not going to go into it as it would dive into spoiler territory. This movie is only days old and I want the people reading this who have not seen this movie to go in as blind as they can. That said, “The Menu” is yet another win for Searchlight Pictures. You may remember I recently reviewed “The Banshees of Inisherin,” another Searchlight production. That is a movie I honored with high marks. I think “The Menu” is on the same level. Therefore, this is another win for Searchlight, and as far as I can see, moviegoing audiences. I am going to give “The Menu” a 9/10.

“The Menu” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you like this review, please check out some of my other ones! For example, if you want to see more comedy reviews, check out my thoughts on “Ticket to Paradise,” the recent romcom starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. If you are looking for more horror, go ahead and read my thoughts on “Halloween Ends,” the conclusion to the David Gordon Green series of “Halloween” flicks. Also, coming soon, I will be sharing my thoughts on “The Fabelmans.” That review should be posted later this week. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Menu?” What did you think about it? Or, what is the hardest you laughed at a movie this year? For me, while “The Menu” comes close, the definitive answer might be “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The shocks I experienced during that movie are on another level. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Two Thumbs Up, with All Fingers Intact

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and stars Colin Farrell (The Batman, Voyagers), Brendan Gleeson (The Tragedy of MacBeth, Assassin’s Creed), Kerry Condon (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Better Call Saul), and Barry Keoghan (Eternals, Dunkirk) in a film where Pádraic Súilleabháin and Colm Doherty, two men connected through lifelong friendship, face individual consequences through ending said bond.

I did not see a ton of marketing for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” but I have been interested in the film since last month, when I started hearing about its many positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is currently holding a 98% critic score. Thus far, this is higher than McDonagh’s previous outings like “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths,” both of which also starred Colin Farrell. It is not surprising to see the actor come back to work alongside a director he has become close with. But it would help if the script he was given is strong. Thankfully, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a script that belongs on the cover of a health magazine. This is one of my favorite movies of the year and another win for Colin Farrell just after he killed it in this year’s “The Batman.”

The concept of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” specifically the dissolving of a lifelong friendship, is intriguing. This is especially true considering that it is the backbone of its story. The ending of a relationship comes off more like side consequence a protagonist goes through somewhere past the halfway point in numerous stories. It is the classic case of taking a protagonist and having them fall to their lowest point. Only that is not the case with “The Banshees of Inisherin,” because as we see, the protagonist, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) in this case, makes such a big deal out of it that the point practically flies over his head. It is like going to a restaurant, ordering a small pizza, being told that they do not have the ingredients to make pizza, but then going ahead and asking for a large pizza.

Despite this movie being a tale of loss in more ways than one, it is surprisingly funny. There are a number of great lines from multiple characters. Early on in the movie we get one of Colm’s few reasons why he does not find his friendship with Pádraic stable and he references the time Pádraic was talking about what he found in his donkey’s fecal matter. Colm may be onto something, except Pádraic was not talking about that. Pádraic says he was talking about his pony’s fecal matter, which as he puts it, shows how little Colm was listening. One particular confession scene past the halfway mark is also comedic gold. Little things like those make this movie worth the price of admission.

There is more to this simple concept than meets the eye. Because if this movie were about two former friends with differing perspectives as to where their relationship should go, it is possible that the story could get boring fast. Instead, the movie adds a complexity to the breakup that only makes things harder for the individual who declared the friendship was over. For each time Pádraic bothers Colm, he cuts off one of his fingers. Because that is what normal human beings do. This brings stakes to a fairly minimalistic and intimate story that already happens to succeed as both a drama and a comedy. For one thing, nobody wants to lose their fingers. Another thing to consider, nobody wants to see a chopped finger. Therefore, this is a tough situation on both sides. How realistic is Colm’s finger-cutting situation? Hard to say. Plus if I had to give my biggest problem with this movie, why did Colm actually go through with this?

Let’s put it this way. One of the reasons why Colm cut Pádraic from his life is to focus on interests like playing the violin. Last time I checked, unless you live in that hot dog finger universe in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” you might want your fingers for playing musical instruments such as the violin. Sure, this eventually brings a particularly compelling scene during the second half of the movie where Colm utilizes said instrument, but as far as getting the point across to Pádraic, I would imagine the point may have been just as clear had he cut off his toes. It would have been just as gross, and arguably less painful on Colm’s end depending on how you slice it.

..Ignore that last statement, no pun intended, let’s move on.

That said, the movie delivers a fantastic story with the use of chopped fingers so I can forgive this based on how well executed everything happens to be.

One of the great things about “The Banshees of Inisherin” is that even though the protagonist in this case is the one who is dumped, I see both sides in regards to the feelings of the dumper and the dumpee. Pádraic may consider Colm to be an important part of his life, but Colm equally as much shows reasons why he must cut Pádraic from his life. A good movie can get you to root for the protagonist to the end, but there is also a saying that a story is only as good as its villain. While Colm is not a villain, he definitely is not the hero. Given the story and circumstances, Colm is a fantastic antithesis to Pádraic. Yes, Colm has his various reasons why he does not want to be friends with Pádraic, but as the movie reveals, he wants to drift away to focus on certain interests. It reminds me of the scene in “Whiplash” where Andrew dumps his love interest to focus on drumming, except in this case that moment is expanded into a whole movie. It is one’s basic drive to follow their passion, and to do that, they have to trim out certain people from their life.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” reminded me of “The Lighthouse” if the main characters were SpongeBob SquarePants and Squidward Tentacles. In this case, Pádraic is SpongeBob. He is a hyperactive, larger than life individual who always seems to be in the moment. Colm on the other hand, is Squidward. He seems to want more out of life than what he has, and much like Squidward, he is musically talented. While this film has a higher count of locations and characters than “The Lighthouse,” I cannot recall a time I have seen two men descend into madness like the main duo in that film. The chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is some of the finest I have watched in recent memory. This should not be surprising given how the two previously worked together as the stars of another Martin McDonagh movie, “In Bruges.” Never would I have expected to enjoy two people who have such a disconnect spending an abundance of screen time together. Safe to say, I can put a finger as to why “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a great movie.

In the end, while I have seen movies where the main story pulls itself forward by the two main characters not always bonding with each other, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is one of the best stories I have seen in regards to such endless disconnection. It made me happy, sad, and everything in between. “The Banshees of Inisherin” goes to show that sometimes the simplest stories are the most effective. The film is also beautifully shot and has some of the most gorgeous-looking locations of any movie to come out in 2022. Awards season, during which this movie may be a talking point, is getting into swing. And speaking of swings, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a home run, and a 9/10.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the Netflix feature “Slumberland.” I went to a recent press screening for the all new movie which is playing in California, but also set to release on the Netflix platform on November 18th. Stay tuned for my thoughts. Also, once I am done with that review, I will be talking about another Searchlight Pictures production, “The Menu.” Almost every movie I have gone to recently, I saw the trailer for this film. Whether the spree of marketing paid off, is a question that will be answered in the review. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Banshees of Inisherin?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a movie that you are looking forward to that you think could be a talking point during the current awards season? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022): Marvel’s Phase 4 Ends with a Fine, But Not Perfect, Sequel

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is directed by Ryan Coogler, who also directed the previous “Black Panther” installment. This film stars Letitia Wright (Sing 2, Black Mirror), Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 12 Years a Slave), Danai Gurira (Treme, The Walking Dead), Winston Duke (Us, Person of Interest), Florence Kasumba (Wonder Woman, The Lion King) Dominique Thorne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Judas and the Black Messiah), Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You, Chewing Gum), Tenoch Huerta (Mozart in the Jungle, Narcos: Mexico), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Sherlock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Onward), and Angela Basset (Akeelah and the Bee, Soul). This film is the sequel to “Black Panther” and follows Wakanda as its people attempt to defend their home from the king of Talokan, Namor.

I have always wondered what a “Black Panther” sequel could look like, especially given how successful the first film was. If you are Disney and/or Marvel Studios, there is no way you would just sit pretty after earning a billion dollars at the box office. Sure, you might pop a few bottles. But once you are done drinkin’, you must soon be back to grindin’. Although my wonder supposedly peaked towards the end of 2020. For one thing, the predecessor’s lead, Chadwick Boseman, passed away. This brought a gigantic question. What is going to happen to T’Challa?

On December 10, 2020, the world got its answer. During a Walt Disney Company Investor Day event, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that the character of T’Challa would not be recast and the sequel would explore other characters in Wakanda. While I am under the philosophy that actors can be replaced to a degree, I understand the tough decision that had to be made here. Boseman’s character was more than a guy who looked cool on screen, he was a symbol for the black community.

While there have been other black protagonists and superheroes on-screen, very few had the impact that Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther did over recent years. If you ask me, I liked the first “Black Panther,” but I did not love it. That said, I recognize there are plenty of people who do and I nevertheless celebrate how the film remains a symbol for a specific audience. I still remember where I was when Chadwick Boseman died, sitting in my room, browsing on my phone. While this may not be my first idea for a “Black Panther” installment, I like that the film went for an angle where art somewhat imitates life.

This movie dives into how the Wakandans live after the death of T’Challa. The execution of this is brilliantly realized and delivers certain segments of the movie that I consider to be phase 4 highlights. If I were to judge this movie simply as a tribute to Chadwick Boseman, I would give it two thumbs up. Unfortunately, there is also the rest of the movie. Some of which is solid, some of which is not.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is by no means a bad movie, but I think it comes down to the classic saying in regard to sequels. It goes bigger, but it does not make it better. It goes to new places, introduces new characters, but the execution is not as stellar as it could be. The first movie succeeded partially because of how it handled the character of T’Challa as a protagonist. As mentioned, he is not here for obvious reasons. Sadly, while the tribute to Chadwick Boseman delivered the feels, something was missing because T’Challa’s character was not replaced with another actor. What may have been missing is an escape. Because the first film at its core, even in its more dramatic moments, is fun. Kind of like the recent “Thor: Love and Thunder,” there are clashing tones that do not mix together all the time. This tries to be a traditional MCU movie with some of the flair of the original “Black Panther,” but falters because it unsuccessfully mixes this with a grieving process for T’Challa, and the actor who played him. This is not to say all of it did not work. Some happier moments worked. Some sadder moments worked. But I did not feel as happy or sad as this movie maybe wanted me to feel by the end of it.

It is time to talk about the villain, which in regards to MCU movies, are often considered a weakness. Thankfully, for the case of “Wakanda Forever,” Namor is serviceable. Although not perfect. While Namor had his moments, I think if you were to compare “Black Panther” and “Wakanda Forever” side by side, the first film clearly has the superior villain with Killmonger. His fleshing out was better, Michael B. Jordan gives a compelling performance, and I had a bit of an emotional attachment to him by the end of the film. Namor is threatening and there are some highlights with him on screen, but his motivation did not feel as prominent as it could have been. The best thing about Namor is how our heroes deal with him. There is a particular scene past the halfway mark into the film where from the heroes’ perspective, I got a sense of what they must have been thinking, what they were feeling. While 2018’s “Black Panther” did a good job at handling both the perspectives from the protagonist and antagonist, I think the former’s perspective was done better here than the latter’s.

A lot of Marvel movies, including good ones, often fail to deliver on the villain. I was not a huge fan of Ronan in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the movie nevertheless worked for me. But almost every time the film slips on the villain, I am still onboard when it comes to understanding and rooting for the hero. I feel like I am given enough justification to continue liking them, to keep cheering them on. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” while its villain is not a dumpster fire, is no exception to this rule. That said, when I say that I am siding with the protagonist in this case, the movie comes to a decision as to who “the protagonist” is, but much of it does not resemble a centered story. There are so many things going on in this movie that until the end, it almost feels like there is no main character. There is ultimately a main character, but at times, it feels like there is not. The movie feels overstuffed, which I hate to say, because I liked some of the concepts in it.

For me, the highlight of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is Angela Basset. I liked Angela Basset in the original “Black Panther,” but her portrayal of Ramonda in this sequel is an improvement over the original in every way. Part of it is because the script gives the character a reason to perhaps have a more prominent presence on screen, and when it comes to the Wakandan society grieving over the loss of their king, I often connected with her based on her position in said society, in addition to knowing that her child is gone. Going back to what I said about art imitating life, Basset’s performance, alongside others in this film, came off as more than the characters going through their own reality. At times, Basset seemed to channel herself in regard to her connection to Chadwick Boseman. I bought into Basset’s performance, and as sad as Boseman’s death is, it may have enhanced Basset’s ability to deliver an excellent screen presence, one that could potentially be a talking point this awards season.

This movie is 161 minutes. Just over two and a half hours. At moments, I felt the runtime. Some of the exposition, specifically in regards to Namor, went on for way too long and I almost tuned out. In addition to being a “Black Panther” film, “Wakanda Forever” also somewhat doubles as an ad for Disney+ with the addition of Riri Williams, also known as Ironheart. Other than that, another notable flaw, and maybe this is just the case of my theater, maybe not, the sound mix was not perfect. There were select lines of dialogue that were hard to make out. It is not “Tenet” bad, but as far as the MCU goes, this is probably the first time I can recall having a problem like this during one of the movies in this series. Then again, I just turned 23 a little more than a week ago, therefore this is a possibly a sign that my hearing could be slightly deteriorating. Do not grow up, it is a trap.

If I had to compare “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” to anything else right now, it would have to be, of all things, the television series “Impractical Jokers.” …Hear me out.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” much like the most recent iteration of “Impractical Jokers,” loses one of its core cast members, tries to reinvent itself while also keeping certain elements audiences are familiar with, and fails to recapture some of the magic of what made its previous material great, but through a situation that it cannot fault itself for. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a film that I would have been terrified to be a part of if I were a higher-up at Marvel. I know “Black Panther” is a popular IP and there is no question as to whether or not a sequel should be made. But my question from the beginning was how the heck the story could go on without the title character.

If you look back at films like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” you would notice in the posters and marketing that the subtitle is a tad bigger than the title itself. The same is true for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” One could argue this is coincidental, but I would contend there is a reason why “Black Panther” is tiny and “Wakanda Forever” is enormous. This film, while it is ultimately a “Black Panther” story, is ultimately about the Wakanda community. How they come together. How they deal with grief. How they engage in politics. There is no way this film would not have had “Black Panther” in its title. Because if it did not, it would probably lose money. Although at the end of the day, this is part of what I mean when I say the film is overstuffed. Again, there is almost barely a center character. If anything, Wakanda itself is debatably the central character.

Now that I have seen all of phase 4, one of the commonalities during some of phase 4’s stories is the concept of grief. If you ask me, despite being an example of art imitating life, I think “WandaVision” and weirdly enough, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” had better execution when it comes to grief. Maybe it is because of my connection to one specific character either during the story itself or in previous installments and how they end up dealing with it. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” dealing with grief was perhaps unavoidable because of a real life event. There are moments, especially towards the film’s end, where grief comes into play that continue to stick with me. But part of what made “WandaVision” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” more fulfilling is that I knew who to root for. Wanda and Peter Parker. Of course, “Wakanda Forever,” a movie where, again, Wakanda itself may as well be considered the central character, presents a scenario where an entire society is mourning. But because the movie had an overabundance of characters and things going on at times, it becomes less powerful for me.

Although if there is one thing “Wakanda Forever” does well despite its flaws, it would be consistency. “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the previous MCU film, was like a seesaw in terms of tone. At certain points, it is as goofy as can be. At others, it is wildly dramatic. There is almost no in between. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” again, like “Thor: Love and Thunder,” clashes in terms of tone, but it is probably the most somber MCU film to date while also having pinches of much needed fun in between. Much like many other Marvel movies, there are moments of levity, but the film itself is a consistent downer. From scene one, the movie does everything it can to remind its audience that not everything is happy go lucky in Wakanda. Much like “Wakanda Forever,” “Love and Thunder” made grief a paramount topic. The film however goes too extreme on both ends to the point where it fizzles the goldilocks zone. While “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is more depressing than the average MCU film, including other movies that have their downer moments like “Eternals” or “Avengers: Infinity War,” it is at least both steadily, not to mention believably, sad.

Although because this movie is sad, does not mean there are no ounces of joy to be had. In addition to the recently mentioned levity, which is noticeably not as prominent as say “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” I liked the chemistry between Shuri and Okoye. The action, during this film’s collection of sequences, is well-done and kept my attention throughout. There is even a segment where someone catapults into the air via fish. I do not remember if it was a dolphin or a whale. I would have to watch the movie again, but that caught me off guard. This has to be arguably the craziest cool sight I have witnessed in a comic book movie since that one scene in “Aquaman” where an octopus plays the drums.

With all this sadness though, some of you might ask, can you bring your family and children to this movie? After all, Marvel movies, in addition to being box office hits, are also traditionally fine options for large groups like families. Even for children despite the usual PG-13 rating. To answer the question, I would say yes. This may not be as fun as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Although there is nothing absolutely offensive, nothing overly gory, and despite the film’s serious nature, there is nothing in it that I would think would instantly turn off younger viewers or the parents trying to entertain said younger viewers.

Before we move on, without giving a ton of detail, there is a fantastic joke in the movie about MIT. You will know it when you hear it. It got a good laugh out of me, and I think many people reading this will react similarly.

In the end, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” while still a decent movie, is a step down from the original. It is the neither the best or worst film of phase 4. It is somewhere close to the middle. The film is ambitious, but cannot quite fill the massive void that Chadwick Boseman left. I admire that “Wakanda Forever” took the risk of killing off one of its core characters and making that a backbone as to where things go in the film. Unfortunately, it led to a movie of both hits and misses. Is the film worth watching? The answer would be yes. It has its flaws, but in a thumbs up/thumbs down world, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a thumbs up, not to mention a 7/10.

Well, that is the end of phase 4! If I have to be honest, while this is not my favorite phase in the MCU, I will give it credit. Unlike phases 1, 2, and 3, every movie that came out in phase 4, had some semblance of decency at minimum. In phase 1, I was not a fan of “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In phase 2, I did not like “Thor: The Dark World.” In phase 3, I disliked “Captain Marvel.” Phase 4’s movies, from “Black Widow” to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” were all entertaining, fun, and worth watching. They all had flaws, but they were also worth watching. I have no idea what phase 5 is going to be like, but I hope that like phase 4, the movies continue to be solid.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is now playing in theatres everywhere including premium formats like IMAX and Dolby Cinema. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the brand new Searchlight Pictures film “The Banshees of Inisherin.” I just watched the film this weekend, and while I look forward to reviewing just about every movie I see, I mean it with this one. I cannot wait to review “The Banshees of Inisherin,” I hope to drop it soon.

If you want to see more of my thoughts on phase 4 of the MCU, check out my reviews for “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Eternals,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Thor: Love and Thunder.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your thoughts on Marvel’s phase 4? What is your favorite movie or television show from the timeline? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

West Side Story (2021): Steven Spielberg Reinvents the Musical Genre Through This Compelling Adaptation

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the final installment of Steven Spielberg Month! You know what that means? It is time for shameless self-promotion! If you are interested in checking out more of my Steven Spielberg-related reviews for the month, this is your opportunity to read up on my thoughts regarding “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and “The Post.” With that out of the way, it is time to introduce the last review of the themed event. It is one of Spielberg’s most recent outings, “West Side Story.” I would have reviewed this film last year if I had the time to. Unfortunately, I could not make it happen. Although I am glad to finally be able to give myself an opportunity to release my thoughts on it, and for you to finally find them out. Ladies and gentlemen, here is my review of “West Side Story.”

“West Side Story” is directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Ready Player One) and is based on a 1957 play by Jerome Robbins. The film stars Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, and Rachel Zegler as Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with New York native Tony (Elgort). These two are caught in the middle of rivaling gangs, conflicting sides, and altering identities. While these two may be star-crossed, the turmoil beyond their relationship heats up.

I saw this movie on December 6th, 2021 during a free IMAX fan event screening in Boston. The screening took place days before the film’s wide release. This was my first time seeing anything related to “West Side Story.” Prior to rewatching this film for review purposes, not to mention after, I still have not watched the 1961 “West Side Story” adaptation, despite its acclaim. The film won ten Oscars, including Best Picture. In recent months, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” sort of followed in its footsteps. The 2021 remake won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in addition to earning other categorical nominations. One such nomination was Best Picture, which the film lost to “CODA,” which I have no problem with as that film was brilliant.

Having rewatched “West Side Story,” it honestly was more fun than it was the first time around. And that says something because that first viewing was a great time. Did I mention that my most recent watch of the film is not my second, but my third time? I went to go see the film in theaters twice, and both times it knocked my socks off. Therefore, it should be no surprise that I am handing the film this much praise.

I am so glad to finally get to talk about “West Side Story” after being busy during the tail end of 2021, partially because it is my favorite musical movie of that year. I had fun with “In the Heights” and I admired “Tick, Tick… BOOM!”, but “West Side Story” takes the cake as the most serotonin-emitting of these films. When I first heard about a remake for “West Side Story,” I had mixed thoughts, and slight indifference as I had not seen the original film. When you announce that you are about to remake something iconic or highly acclaimed as this, it begs the question as to how you can make something that is on par with what the prior material provided. Again, I did not see the 1961 movie, so I cannot compare and contrast these two films together. Although as a standalone movie, “West Side Story” 2021 is one of the most finely crafted creations of the decade thus far. The decade has only started, but if things continue to go in a certain direction, “West Side Story” could end up in my top 50, maybe even top 25 films of the 2020s by the time the ten year span ends.

The cast of “West Side Story” could not be better. Every actor is perfectly placed in their role, they feel at home, and they play their part to the best of their ability. Rachel Zegler is a goldmine of adorableness as Maria. Not only is Zegler a ridiculously talented singer, which is an ability that is somewhat expected in a film like this, but she is also unspeakably beautiful. Every time I glance at Zegler in this movie, I can sense that not only is Zegler happy to be in the movie, I can sense her character is always in the moment. Even during an occasional sense of hardship, every time I look at Rachel, I am, assumingly, as happy as her. She is always either upbeat or expressive, which for a musical, is an appropriate set of emotions. Part of the recently mentioned adorableness not only has to do with Rachel Zegler herself, her character, or her acting ability, but also the costume design.

The costumes in this film are designed by Paul Tazewell, who also designed costumes for the musical “Hamilton.” Tazewell’s designs feel straight out of the 1950s. To go along with the extravagant, larger than life feel of a story like this, some of the costumes feel attractively glitzy. Again, Zegler’s costumes, such as her white dress from the first act, are standouts. All the costumes from the dance in the gym are easy on the eyes. Another one of my favorites is Anita’s yellow outfit that she wears during the “America” scene. It goes well with the atmosphere and the time of day. Everything feels intricately planned.

Speaking of Ariana DeBose, she and Zegler pretty much tie for the greatest performance in the film. DeBose won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Anita, which is undoubtedly deserved. Everything from her physicality to her line delivery to her overall charisma makes for one of the best performances I have ever seen in musical film. The past couple times I watched “West Side Story,” every line out of DeBose’s mouth, even minor ones, made me smile. There is a saying about movies providing escapes for audiences. Anita in “West Side Story” is synonymous with such a philosophy. Every time she spoke, I instantly transported to another world. I am going to continuously debate as to whether Zegler or DeBose gave my favorite performance in the film, but as far as non-lead roles go, DeBose may have given the greatest of them all in 2021.

Despite having story in its name, the story of “West Side Story” is not the most original when you break it down. Not just because it is remaking a 1961 movie based on a 1957 play. If anything it is a spin on the “Romeo and Juliet” formula with different characters and dance fighting. If anything, this latest iteration of the musical is a fantastic spin, and even saying that is arguably an understatement. As I have said before, you can always supply a cliché story, or a story that has been done in the past. What matters is the execution. If you deliver something great with familiar elements, then job well done. This is exactly what Steven Spielberg did, I was on the edge of my seat during scenes that could have potentially come off as goofy. Dance fighting is a concept that to my surprise, successfully highlighted much of the tension between characters. Not only that, but the music used as a backdrop sounded great. It kept my attention.

This movie is shot by Janusz Kaminski, a brilliant cinematographer who has worked with Spielberg for years. The wides in this film are beautiful. The opening sequence is one of the most intriguing of the year based on the camera movements alone. The scope of the film would not be as massive if it were not for some of Kaminski’s long takes. One of my favorite shots of the film is when we get into the gymnasium and see everyone dancing. The camera swoops around the entire place non-stop until we arrive on our core characters like Anita, Bernardo, and Rachel. Looking back on it and what that one moment was able to capture, is jaw-dropping to say the least. Also, if you ever watch the scene, note the use of color. There is a sense of consistency between the colors of various outfits throughout the shot. It almost comes off like a painting. Again, credit goes to Paul Tazewell for how well he handled the film’s costume design.

Musicals, including this one, often thrive based on the spectacle. “West Side Story” has a ton of poppy moments where the cinematography and musical numbers keep my eyes on the screen. That is despite there being a sense of danger throughout the movie. “West Side Story,” at its core, centers around two star-crossed lovers. Although this film effectively encapsulates how their connection affects the people around them. The rivalry between the Jets and Sharks was already heading for trouble, but as soon as we see Rachel and Tony together for the first time, we also begin to see how various supporting characters handle this matter. Even though it should barely affect them on paper, it ends up resulting in increased calamity. As for said calamity, it made for a great movie.

If you ask me, based on everything I presented so far from the costumes to the shot selection to the editing to the acting, this is a sign that Steven Spielberg has brought together one of the greatest directorial efforts of his career. Or, as some might call it, just another Tuesday. “West Side Story” is apparently a part of Spielberg’s childhood, and it shows. The numbers are handled with grace, the characters are well realized, and the aesthetic of the film has a perfect blend between lighter and darker moments in addition to tones. There is no surprise that a sense of passion was present in every scene.

Aside from the cliché elements and familiar story treads, there are not many noticeable flaws with “West Side Story.” This might not be my favorite Steven Spielberg movie, but I cannot help but recognize how massively bonkers and fun this movie is. At the same time, it also successfully hits emotional beats. Performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose highlight this. One of my favorite elements of the film, as someone who watched it perhaps the way Spielberg intended, is that when the characters speak in Spanish, they do not provide subtitles to aid in regard to what they are saying. I have taken a screenwriting class in college, and one thing my professor noted is that dialogue does not always matter. Sure, movies can have great lines that enhance the experience. Whether they are funny, dramatic, or emotionally charging. Although what makes “West Side Story” great is its tendency to use Spanish, a language which I do not understand, without subtitles, and nevertheless compel me into the scenes in which such a language is spoken. Given select moments and the supposed attitudes of various audiences, this sounds like a big risk. As someone who dropped out of Spanish class in high school for Sociology, I have been moved by this choice and its execution.

Big risk, big reward.

One might as well make the conclusion that this is what the whole movie sounded like from the beginning. A big risk. Sure, when you have Steven Spielberg in the chair, he makes everything look easy. Sure, name recognition is definitely a selling point in modern media. The film did not do well at the box office for various reasons. COVID-19, competition with other movies, and controversy with Ansel Elgort are contributing factors. However, this film is now available to watch at home and if you ask me what movie in the musical genre you should watch nowadays, this is one of the first I can think at the top of my head. It is that good. I do not know if Spielberg will make another musical, but if he does, I wonder how the heck he could top this one.

In the end, “West Side Story” is one of the best musical films of this century. Why should I be surprised that this movie is as solid as it is? Steven Spielberg is at the helm. Then again, maybe I should be surprised. After his many previous monumental successes, Spielberg has yet to create a film in the musical genre. He has done a variety of genres prior to “West Side Story” like science fiction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), period pieces (Lincoln), adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark), war (Saving Private Ryan), drama (The Post), and you could even argue that “Jaws” would be considered a horror film. By today’s standards, it is not the most terrifying option on the table, but it has its eerie moments. The man has done everything, and yet he continues to pump out gold. For some filmmakers, this would be an achievement. But I cannot call it that for Spielberg after watching “West Side Story.” As far as Spielberg is concerned, his efforts have amounted to another day at the office. That is how effective of a filmmaker he continues to be. Spielberg could have ended his career at say “Jurassic Park” and have an endlessly celebrated library of films. But that is not the case. His adaptations of songs like “Somewhere,” “Cool,” and “America” have stayed in my memory for a long time, and will likely continue to do so. The look of the film is stunning, the shots are beautiful, and the cast is incredible. Again, I have yet to see the 1961 film, so I cannot confirm if this is better or worse, but I can hardly think of a single problem I have with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” So much so, that the film is worthy of a 10/10.

Musicals are not my genre, but this is a film that I liked the first time, adored the second time, and found myself eating up by the third time. I am floored by this film’s craft and how extravagantly immersive it is, even when watching it at home. I feel bad for skipping this review last year, but I am more than happy to have gotten my thoughts out by now. Although some of you reading this might not be that surprised that I liked the movie so much, because I ended up nominating it in a few categories during the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards. If you want to see what the film did or did not win, check out the post!

“West Side Story” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available to rent or buy on VOD. For those who have the services, it is also available to watch on Disney+ and HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! This is officially the end of Steven Spielberg Month! But this November, we will be seeing the latest addition to Spielberg’s neverending library. That my friends, is “The Fabelmans.” The film is loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood, and the trailer looks phenomenal. Between this and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” this awards season is likely going to have lots of talk about Hollywood’s self-indulgence. Whether such self-indulgence will be successfully utilized, is a question waiting to be answered.

Also, my next review is going to be for the all DC film “Black Adam.” Be sure to stay tuned for the nine-millionth superhero movie I will be reviewing in my blogging journey. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “West Side Story?” What did you think about it? Or, did you see the 1961 “West Side Story?” What did you think of that? How would you compare the two movies? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Barbarian (2022): The Best Horror Movie of 2022 So Far

“Barbarian” is directed by Zach Cregger, who you may know from playing Owen on the TBS comedy series “Wrecked.” This film stars Georgina Campbell (Murdered by My Boyfriend, Krypton), Bill Skarsgård (It, Deadpool 2), and Justin Long (Alvin and the Chipmunks, Live Free or Die Hard). This film follows a woman who books a stay at an Airbnb only to find another person already staying in the property. Despite the unexpected encounter, the two end up staying together only to discover the house is haunted.

I went into “Barbarian” doing something that I do not typically do when it comes to movies I see. Specifically, unless there was one playing at a screening and I do not remember, I went into “Barbarian” having seen no trailers. My earliest memory of this film was hearing about it from someone I follow on Twitter who saw the movie and had a good time. I checked out “Barbarian” for a couple reasons. First off, and least importantly, apparently there is going to be no physical media release, so I wanted to watch the film in a theater before it goes to streaming, and I inevitably forget about it. Streaming is temporary, physical media is forever. Second, I have heard nothing but good things about “Barbarian.” People I know who have seen it, liked it. The critics are eating it up too. “Barbarian” has a whopping 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I saw the movie, and the first thing I must say is that this is the best horror movie of 2022 so far. I am happy to say that because not only is this a great movie, but this shows how spectacular of a year the horror genre is having. I am happy for a lot of people working in horror right now. I hope everyone is proud of themselves. I just saw “Smile,” which was fantastic and I literally claimed a week or two ago to be my favorite horror film of the year. “The Black Phone” is really good and had plenty of creepy moments. Even though it is not pure horror, “Nope” was also quite entertaining. I also really liked “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” This movie surpasses all of them.

Before I continue my thoughts, I must state that this review is going to be vague. This is a movie that not only do I recommend, it is one that would recommend with providing as little detail as possible as to why it works so well. The trailer for this film, which I did see while doing this review, perfectly details my sentiments. Whoever worked on that trailer is a legend.

The best part of “Barbarian” is its simplicity. You start off by seeing two characters who immediately develop an inciting incident over who can stay at a house they are renting. This simple bump in the road causes them to get to know each other and deliver some of my favorite chemistry between a duo I have seen this year. In the first ten minutes, I found myself buying into every single one of these two’s interactions. Campbell shines as Tess and Skarsgård is perfectly cast as Keith. The two are great together. I also like how this movie is told from Tess’s perspective instead of Keith because in addition to all the traditional horror elements, there is also another sense of danger I did not initially think about, specifically stranger danger.

Now, if I, a straight white male, showed up at the door of the rental house and I saw Keith staying inside, I would be confused. But if I had nowhere to go, it was raining, I were low on money, and a bunch of hotels were booked, I might walk it off if we agree to spend the night together. Perhaps if neither of us were forced to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, there is a scene that stood out to me where Tess secretly takes a picture of Keith’s driver’s license. Little things like that reveal the creeps Tess is experiencing.

Some of this movie’s more tense moments are more or less linked to basic, everyday thoughts that runs through one’s mind if they are somewhere unfamiliar or far from home. I tried to get inside Tess’s head for a second. What is she thinking? She must have been asking questions such as… What if this guy drugs me? What if this guy is not what he says he is? How safe is this part of town? The key word here is tense, not scary. The scary shenanigans do not come until maybe a half hour into the movie. If you are looking for scares, they are there, and they are terrifying. You will get them eventually, and the wait is worth it.

This movie is 102 minutes long. As far as I am concerned, that is a perfect runtime. Pacing-wise, this movie could not be better. Despite the kind of short runtime, the pacing is not balls to the wall. It is not quite a slow burn either, at least to me, but everything that happens during the runtime feels either minimalistic or quiet. Even a simple conversation kept my attention, partially because of the conflict in every scene, even if it did not involve something horrifying.

Even when a movie of this sort is not good. I always enjoy a project that challenges its audience. “Barbarian” takes a big swing and it is undeniably a grand slam. I do think the climax is less entertaining than the first two acts. Not that I did not enjoy it, but if I had to name which part of the film I thought was the weakest, that would have to be the one. That said, everything that builds up to the climax from the relationship between Tess and Keith, to the scary shenanigans, to even simple interactions that could backfire, make the ride worth it.

I always make an effort when I show a movie to a family member or a friend to let them go in the way I often did. I want that individual to experience the movie firsthand as blind as a bat. Thankfully, this movie has a great trailer that I would not mind showing to someone who has not watched the movie. But this movie is a perfect encapsulation as to why I keep my mouth shut on all the details as to why I like certain movies when showing them to other people. Maybe if I show my friends “Barbarian” one day, they will disagree with me as to why I like this movie so much. But it does not change the fact in this solid year of horror, “Barbarian” is the genre’s biggest swing and mightiest payoff yet.

In the end, “Barbarian” is a fantastic movie that I would watch again some year on Halloween if given the chance. It is crazy, mind-boggling, yet simple. It is a movie that even though it belongs in the horror genre, can also qualify as a simple human drama. The cast is great, the script is phenomenal, and Zach Cregger’s direction is perfect. The movie’s final moments, while fun, are not as hypnotizing as its initial moments. Even so, this movie is, as I said, the best horror movie of 2022. I am going to give “Barbarian” an 8/10.

This movie is not coming to physical media and instead, only getting a Digital HD release for home viewing, which I think is a shame. This is a movie, if I bought it on Blu-ray, would probably go in my player every other October. Although if you have the chance to check out “Barbarian,” just do it.

“Barbarian” is now playing in theaters and will be available on Digital HD tomorrow, October 25th. The film will also soon be available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the all new romcom “Ticket to Paradise.” The film just hit theaters this weekend, I had the chance to see it with my family, and I will have my thoughts very soon. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Barbarian?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite horror movie of the year? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Amsterdam (2022): David O. Russell’s Latest Fast-Paced, Star-Filled, Forgettable Time

“Amsterdam” is directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and stars Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, Ford v. Ferrari), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya), John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Tenet), Chris Rock (Madagascar, Grown Ups), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit, Last Night in Soho), Zoe Saldaña (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy), Mike Myers (Shrek, Bohemian Rhapsody), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals), Timothy Olyphant (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Mandalorian), Andrea Riseborough (Bloodline, Battle of the Sexes), Taylor Swift (The Lorax, Cats), Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Red Sparrow), Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle, Selma), Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, The Little Things), and Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Meet the Parents). This film is mainly set in the 1930s, and centers around three people who are framed for murder. Together, this trio uncovers a plot that will change the course of history.

I have not seen all of David O. Russell’s films. I have seen “American Hustle,” which I was not a fan of. I have mostly forgotten it by now. I saw “Joy,” which I thought was cute. The acting was great, especially on Jennifer Lawrence’s part, but it was not my favorite movie of the year. I also saw “Silver Linings Playbook,” which, while not one of my favorite movies ever, is probably the best attempt at a feature Russell has ever given. I still have yet to see films like “Flirting with Disaster,” “Three Kings,” and “I Heart Huckabees.” I am mostly familiar with David O. Russell’s recent work. That said, he has built quite a name for himself as a filmmaker and it is no surprise that names like the ones listed happen to be working with him.

When you have this many Academy Award-nominated or winning actors and actresses in your film, it builds promise. It builds interest. It reminded me of when I saw “The Circle” back in 2017. You had all these culturally relevant or critically acclaimed performers like Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt, and Bill Paxton. Given their resumes, I was excited to see what they could do. Unfortunately, their collaborative efforts could not escape them from this misfire. “Amsterdam,” while definitely more satisfying than “The Circle,” is in the same boat.

The best way I can describe “Amsterdam” is to say that the film is all over the place. There is a lot that goes down in just a span of two hours that I felt like I had to take some notes. The film is not wholly incompetent by any means, but it begs me to keep up with its quick pacing. I like quick pacing, but at times, the movie goes too quick. There are a lot of characters and interwoven storylines that there is a good chance that I will have forgotten a couple of them by the next couple weeks. I think this is a film that could warrant a second viewing, but I am not sure yet if it has the replay value. At times, the pacing of this movie reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen,” which I know some people like, but for whatever reason I just could not get into. One moment we’re here, one moment we’re there, and in the next my brain, which has escaped from my body, might as well have traveled to the end of the universe.

If there is any saving grace in “Amsterdam,” it would have to be Margot Robbie as Valerie Voze. I thought she had the best moments in the movie. I thought the casting matched the character and the way she was written and directed. This performance solidifies Robbie as one of my favorite actors working today. Her chemistry with Christian Bale and John David Washington is solid, and as much effort as those two put into their performances, Robbie feels like the clear winner here.

Speaking of Christian Bale, if you want me to be completely honest, I think he had a more memorable performance in “Thor: Love and Thunder” of all things. I am not saying that Christian Bale gave a terrible performance in “Amsterdam.” If anything, it was stellar. But I think when combining acting with overall characterization, Bale’s attempt at playing Gorr the God Butcher was somehow more convincing and compelling despite a movie like “Amsterdam” appearing to be more along the lines of Bale’s forte.

It is crystal clear that the story of “Amsterdam” is not the highlight of the movie. If you ask me, it had its moments. There was a specific moment that intrigued me at the beginning where our main characters find themselves in an unspeakable situation. Unfortunately, as soon as we dive away from that, the quality of the movie lessens.

If I had to look in advance at 2022 in film and predict any Best Ensemble nominees at the SAG Awards, “Amsterdam” would have been a contender based on name recognition. However, much like Garry Marshall’s unwatchable holiday-based movies like “New Year’s Eve” and “Mother’s Day,” the movie’s cast is the one glimmer of hope within what can simply be referred to as a hot mess. At least on paper. I never thought I would see the day where we have Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Robert De Niro in the same movie. I just hope when that unpredictable day came along, there was good script for them all to bring to the screen.

As for other positives, the movie is attractively colorful. Not quite as glitzy and glossy as say “Elvis,” which in some ways might happen to be a good thing if you ask me. However, the look of the film is sometimes easy on the eyes. In addition to having a stacked, recognizable cast, a lot of them are wearing stunning outfits, some look handsome or sexy. If this were a silent film, this might be okay depending on what you put for text. The sets at times look presentable, elaborate, and occasionally have a vintage feel to them.

There is a saying that looks are not everything, and this movie is exhibit A as to why that saying exists. Yes, some of my favorite actors are put in the forefront. Yes, some of the costumes and sets look dazzling. Yes, the movie has an occasional feeling of immersion. Although this cannot save the film itself from providing what could be one of the sloppiest stories of the decade, and that is despite this movie claiming “A LOT OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.” Just because a story is true, does not make it entertaining. You want to know a true story? I woke up today and wrote this review. Imagine if I tried to sell that as a movie. The distributor would probably go out of business!

Here is a fun fact. Christian Bale, who has worked with David O. Russell in the past, signed on to do “Amsterdam” before a script was written. I get the notion of wanting to work with a big name director. Especially one you supposedly have a decent relationship with. Heck, if I were an actor and I hear the name Christopher Nolan or Jordan Peele I automatically think “business partnership.” I hope while these two high-profile industry insiders were thinking about how great it would be to work with each other, they took a moment to think of the quality of what they were going to make. Because despite the quantity of big names, quality seems to be sacrificed when it comes to the final product of “Amsterdam.”

In the end, “Amsterdam” has occasional glimmers of enjoyment, with some extreme emphasis on the word “occasional.” The film has an okay start, but the film itself never finds a way to be as compelling or entertaining as its first ten or fifteen minutes. I liked “Silver Linings Playbook,” but I cannot say the same for “Amsterdam.” I am going to give the forgettable and dull “Amsterdam” a 4/10.

“Amsterdam” is now playing in theatres everywhere, tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have more coming! I will soon unveil my thoughts on a couple of horror movies I watched recently, specifically “Smile” and “Halloween Ends.” Also, if you want to see more reviews from me, check out my thoughts on “See How They Run.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Amsterdam?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a movie with a stacked cast whose script could not justify its star power? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

See How They Run (2022): An Admirably Staged Whodunnit with a Lesser Known, But Solid Cast

“See How They Run” is directed by Tom George (Defending the Guilty, This Country) and stars Sam Rockwell (Moon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, Little Women), Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong), Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre, The Affair), Reece Shearsmith (Spaced, The World’s End), Harris Dickinson (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The King’s Man), and David Oyelowo (Selma, Gringo). This film is set in 1950s London, where Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” which has become a popular play in the West End, is set to become a film. Unfortunately, when one crucial member of the film’s eventual production has been murdered, plans halt and it is now up to Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker to find out more about what happened.

While I have not watched a good amount of them, I do love a good murder mystery. In fact, my favorite television episode of all time, specifically And Then There Were Fewer from “Family Guy,” is a murder mystery.

“Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.” -Peter Griffin

Simply put, iconic.

In fact, one of my favorite movies of the past few years happens to be “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson. All the actors play their part well, especially Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas, and it was one of the funniest movies of its year. In fact, while both movies have notable differences, I got “Knives Out” vibes from watching “See How They Run,” partially because both have some association with Agatha Christie works. For “Knives Out,” Rian Johnson once went on to reference several of Agatha Christie’s tales as inspiration for his film. As far as “See How They Run” goes, the movie literally uses an Agatha Christie work as a significant part of its story. “The Mousetrap,” which started off as a play, and as this movie reveals, is going to be turned into a film adaptation. As far as play to movie adaptations go, this definitely sounds better than “Cats.”

“See How They Run” is neither the biggest, nor most recognizable movie out right now. Heck, even “Avatar,” a thirteen year old film, beat it at the box office over the past few weekends. But to be fair, “See How They Run” did not release in 3D. Although unlike some of the alternatives out right now such as “Don’t Worry Darling,” “See How They Run” is definitely worth watching.

When I say this movie is not the most recognizable, I mean it. I live in the United States, and there are few big stars in this movie I can pinpoint like Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, David Oyelowo, and Adrien Brody. And that’s if you can actually call some of these people “stars.” That said, much like the recently mentioned “Knives Out,” every actor in this movie fits their part and feels like they belong in their environment. I have no problem with the casting whatsoever. The same goes with the characters. Everyone brought their A-game and while it may not have as star-studded of an ensemble as say the recent Kenneth Branagh-directed “Death on the Nile,” I would argue that the performances in “See How They Run” are just as, if not more compelling when combined together.

My favorite performances in the film come from the two most prominent characters, Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker, played by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan respectively. Rockwell transforms into this experienced, determined detective who has some noticeable quirks. I cannot imagine anyone else playing his character. The same assessment would have to be given to Saoirse Ronan, who is not only great in the movie, but based on her resume in recent years, this is a different performance than I am used to seeing from her.

Obviously, Sam Rockwell has been acting for years, therefore he has had the opportunity here and there to diversify his performances. From the little that I have seen from Saoirse Ronan, specifically through her work with Greta Gerwig on “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” she has a knack for playing outspoken characters, and the character of Constable Stalker feels comparatively quiet. She is never shy, not necessarily nervous, but compared to her work as say Jo March in “Little Women,” Ronan plays a character who, based on what the story provides, is not the elephant in the room. Granted, Constable Stalker is not the main character of the film, therefore that also comes into play. Although she had some of my favorite moments in the movie. She had this recurring gag where she would often jump to conclusions that got an occasional laugh out of me.

My other hint of enormous praise of the film is the look of everything in it. Everything from the locations to the cinematography by Jamie Ramsay to the costumes by previous Jackoffs winner Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Last Night in Soho, Chernobyl). I felt like I was in the 1950s the entire time. I wanted to leave my world and enter this one. Kind of like last year’s “Last Night in Soho,” this movie sets up a spookily enchanting environment that is as beautiful as it is rugged. Being set in London is a wonderful coincidence if there ever was one.

This film packs a lot in its fairly short runtime. Unfortunately, I feel like I am not going to remember many of the supporting characters within the next month. I will likely remember Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker for their fabulous chemistry, but there are a good number of people that we meet by the film’s climax that I think I will disregard in comparison when talking about the movie to other people.

“See How They Run” may not be as smart or fun as say “Knives Out,” but it is worth a watch. The best way I can describe “See How They Run” to someone who hasn’t watched it is by referring to it as a Wes Anderson-style film if had some of the tones of “Knives Out.” I think both of those aspects could provide for a promising time. But this is no “Knives Out,” and if you want me to go by Wes Anderson terms, this is no “Rushmore.” Although if you are looking for something fun, something that could be an escape from reality, this is a quick, easy option. And I can honestly see myself watching it a second time if it ever comes around.

In the end, “See How They Run” is not my favorite movie of year, it is not the best murder mystery, but it is a quirky, delightful time. I do mean it when I say quirky. The movie even takes time to make fun of particular storytelling methods. A specific instance of this in particular had me dying. One character noted how cliché or predictable some murder mysteries are to some people, which I thought added for a nice touch for a story like this. I like the two main characters, they were played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan. The overall aesthetic of the film is pleasing. My flaws with “See How They Run” do not detract from the delight this film is. I think you should see it if given the chance. I am going to give “See How They Run” a 7/10.

“See How They Run” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you like this, you might want to stay tuned for another review I have coming up. Specifically, for the new movie “Amsterdam.” I had a chance to see it, perhaps unfortunately. Therefore, I will be talking about it soon! Also, stay tuned for tomorrow, because I will be unveiling my thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s classic film, “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial.” I am reviewing the film as part of an ongoing Steven Spielberg Month and in honor of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “The Fabelmans,” which is set to release November 11th. Stay tuned! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you watch “See How They Run?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite murder mystery? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva (2022): A Godly, Fantastically Computer Generated Spectacle of the Classic Hero’s Journey

“Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” is directed by Ayan Mukerji (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Wake Up Sid) and stars Amitabh Bachchan (Kaun Banega Crorepati, The Great Gatsby), Ranbir Kapoor (Rockstar, Barfi!), Alia Bhatt (2 States, Dear Zinidagi), Mouni Roy (Naagin, Lip Sing Battle), and Nagarjuna Akkineni (Annamayya, Ninne Pelladata). This is the first installment to what some intend to call the Astraverse. In this first installment, we follow the story of Shiva, a young man who has forever lived as an orphan. When one event leads to another, Shiva embarks on a journey against the forces of evil as he discovers who he truly is.

I am going to be real with you. 2022 has not been the greatest year for film so far. Sure, there have been good movies here and there like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Bullet Train” for instance. Unfortunately, I have rarely seen any films this year that have had a complete and total spark. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the exception, and a pretty big one at that. It is one of my new favorite movies simply because of how wonderfully bonkers it is. But 2022 is also a year that I have been diving more into films that are not from where I live. Particularly Japanese anime. I have watched films like “Only Yesterday,” “Summer Wars,” and “Your Name” for example.

These were not the first anime I have ever watched, but I can tell you a fun fact about “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva.” Aside from “Monsoon Wedding,” which I enjoyed, this is the first film from India that I have ever seen. Therefore, I do not have as much material to compare this film to from that country.

Although for the newcomers here, I will point out that this is being written by someone who lives in the United States. As I watched this film, there were a few big Hollywood movies that often came to mind during the runtime. If Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” “Star Wars,” and “Inception” got together to have a baby with “Romeo & Juliet,” then the result might be “Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva.” As for the result itself, I particularly enjoyed it.

On the surface, this movie does not break new ground in terms of plot, story, writing, any of that jazz. It is the classic hero’s journey intertwined with a love story. We have seen that been done before and in certain cases it has been done better. The screenplay is probably not going to win any major awards but it has a fun vibe throughout. But it does not take away from this movie’s overall effectiveness. Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is a likable hero. His love interest, Isha (Alia Bhatt), brings an admirable presence in addition to solid chemistry. These two are the foundation of the film, and if they did not work, this would just be a boring, cliché movie. But thankfully, I bought into their connection and I rooted for both of these two characters.

The biggest standout in “”Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” is the visual effects. This is probably the most visually stylized live-action movie I have seen in a long time. Some of the effects reminded me of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” because that film has the stylization of a fever dream. Think of the Katayanagi Twins sequence with the gorilla and dragons times five. At times, this movie reminded me of “Warcraft,” based on the popular video game of a similar name. While the film was not that memorable, it had tons of color, lots of CGI, but despite looking like a pure fantasy, I bought into all of it. This movie is partially based on Hindu myth, therefore I am not surprised that it looks the way it does. At times, the movie had a graphic novel feel to it, and it feels like this is almost Bollywood’s response to the success western cinema has been having with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, if you ask me, I think the visuals in this film look ten times better than most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe content we are getting today. It looks better than “Black Widow,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” if you want my two cents.

Star Studios produced this movie, which if you do not know, is currently owned by Disney. Therefore, the Mouse House is the distributor for this film. I do not think “Brahmāstra” will become a gigantic phenomenon in the United States, there is too much competition. Although if this film were to make “Avatar” money here by some miracle, there would probably be conversations in regard to installing a theme park ride for this movie at Disney World or something, because this film is worth seeing for the visual trip it provides. Again, the writing is not original, but some of the characters and their respective performers make it work. If “Top Gun: Maverick” is 2022’s marvel for practicality, then “”Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” is arguably 2022’s marvel for fantasy. I still think the former is the better movie because of how it handles its screenplay, but it does not change the fact that both are stunning to look at in their own rights.

The technical aspects of this movie is where everything comes together. In addition to the amazing visuals, the music in this film is fun to listen to. The singing bits had me entertained and occasionally tapping my feet. Singing is not the only standout, because the musical score by Tanuj Tiku is one of the best I have heard this year. It is everything you could want in an epic. If this movie is playing in a theater near you, I highly recommend you go see it there, because this is one of the most theatrically-suited experiences I have witnessed recently.

Now I talked about the writing in this film, and that would be my biggest problem. Again, it is a story that when broken down, feels repetitive. It feels ordinary. It does not mean I did not like the story overall, but it is rather unoriginal. Some of the dialogue is cheesy, there are some corny attempts at humor that did not quite get a laugh out of me, but these are little things in a journey that had my attention the entire time. Again, if I thought the characters were the second coming of Jack the Ripper, then I would be approaching this movie with a completely different attitude. Staying on the topic of writing though, when this movie ends, it left me wanting more. I genuinely am curious about what is next in this universe. It is suggested that this is going to be a trilogy, and I would like to see this trilogy come to fruition. Although I hope if this were to continue that the next movie has a comparatively less flawed screenplay and offers a reason for me to keep watching in addition to the pretty effects. You have my curiosity, now I ask that you have my attention.

In the end, “Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” is, and I make no exaggeration when I say this, 2022’s biggest visual feast. “Avatar: The Way of Water” could outdo it in terms of visual appeal, but I do not think there is another movie that is set to come out this year that is going to have the same amount of eye candy. Unfortunately, the reviews for “Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” are quite mixed. There are some people who like the movie, like me, but there are a lot of people who are pretty active in terms of why they do not like it. I kind of get it. Before I saw this film, I had no idea how many years it took to develop, but apparently it took a long time. The shooting process started in the late 2010s and photography ultimately finished a couple years after the COVID-19 pandemic started. If the writing and characters are a problem, I can see that. If you ask me, I found them likable. I found them charming. If I had any real problem with the characters, it would be that the antagonists were on the disposable side. They are still more fleshed out then some of what Marvel has provided over the years in various films, but nevertheless. I am going to give “Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” a 7/10.

On another note, even though my Indian cinema experience is rather lackluster, I actually recognized a couple faces in this film. Dimple Kapadia has a small role in the movie. For those who are Christopher Nolan fans, you may recognize her through her role in “Tenet” as Priya. I did not recognize him at first, but I was also surprised to see Amitabh Bachchan has a prominent place in the cast. As a game show nerd, I was delighted to remind myself that he hosted “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” which for those who are unaware, is the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.” See? I know some things!

“Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the brand new movie “Clerks III!” The film is now screening in theaters for a limited time and I got the chance to see the film during a recent Fathom Events screening. I will have my review coming very soon.

Also, I just want to remind everyone that I am nearing 600 posts on Scene Before, so I have something special planned coming soon. Every other hundredth post I usually document the current status of my Blu-ray collection, therefore, it should come as no surprise that post 600 will be yet another documentation of my Blu-ray collection. It has grown a lot over the years. New movies, old movies. Steelbooks, Digibooks. You name it. I will be shooting and editing the video soon, so be on the lookout! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “”Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva?” What did you think about it? I am absolutely curious. Am I the only one who likes this movie? This feels like “Welcome to Marwen” all over again. Or, which movie has the best CGI ever? For me, I would say Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is a crisp-looking movie that fully immersed me into its digital world. That could be a contender for me. Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022): Taika Waititi’s Second, and Slightly Less Worthy, Thor Outing

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is directed by Taika Waititi, who also directed the franchise’s previous installment, “Thor: Ragnarok.” This film stars Chris Hemsworth (Men in Black: International, Rush), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari, Batman Begins), Tessa Thompson (Men in Black: International, Annihilation), Jaimie Alexander (Nurse Jackie, Blindspot), Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe (Gladiator, Cinderella Man), and Natalie Portman (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, V For Vendetta). This is the fourth installment to the “Thor” franchise, the 29th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first instance where a character in said universe gets a fourth standalone movie. In this… THORth installment, Thor reunites with Jane Foster, who is now worthy. The two join forces with Valkyrie and Korg to defeat Gorr the God Butcher, a white being whose aspiration is literally in his namesake, the widespread elimination of all gods.

MCU phase 4 is like having a demanding girlfriend. You love her, but you also want to get away from her. Although when you think you are about to leave, you just keep coming back because you cannot see yourself attached to something else. I am not saying I hate the MCU right now. I thoroughly enjoy the MCU, but as I’ve said in my reviews for “Black Widow” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the whole universe, while still entertaining, is almost homework in disguise. When I was watching “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I had fun, but I felt like I was being tested on how much I remembered “WandaVision.” You could almost make an argument that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” tests your memory on seven different “Spider-Man” movies at once across three different universes. To be fair though, I am not of this demographic, but I would imagine the general audience would not need to watch all of those other shows and movies in order to understand what comes after. However, their experience would only be enhanced if they did.

There is a notable audience that tends to enjoy “Thor: Ragnarok.” I consider myself a fan of the film after a couple watches. It is not up there with the original “Thor,” but anything is better than “Thor: The Dark World.” If you liked “Thor: Ragnarok,” there is a solid chance you might find joy in “Thor: Love and Thunder.” This should not come as a surprise, as Taika Waititi helmed both pictures.

Waititi may be most responsible for Thor’s current success. If we did not have “Ragnarok,” his arc in followup “Avengers” titles “Infinity War” and “Endgame” may have slightly less meaning. But the best thing about his storytelling abilities is his tendency to perfectly balance light and darkness. I saw “Thor: Love and Thunder” with my dad. When we walked out of the theater, he affirmed, grinningly, that the movie had “something for everyone.” He may be right. After all, this film has comedy, action, drama, and even horror. Without going into specifics, Christian Bale is, on occasion, utterly terrifying as Gorr the God Butcher. The MCU is often criticized for its lackluster antagonists, and phase 4 is no exception to the rule with Taskmaster from “Black Widow” being a prime example of how movies are only as good as their villains. Gorr the God Butcher is not quite Thanos, and if we are judging “Thor” villains, I even think I have a softer spot for Hela in “Ragnarok.” But when you take a character like Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher and place him in a story where Zeus strips gods in public and threatens others by not allowing them to come to an orgy, it is an odd combination. But somehow they make it work.

Speaking of things that work, let’s talk about Chris Hemsworth as Thor. While it took awhile for me to warm up to Thor kind of being the butt of a joke sometimes, I have come to learn that Chris Hemsworth has tremendous comedic chops. Even when the script does him no favors like in “Ghostbusters” (2016), he still manages to give the performance his all. He will practically do anything to make the character of Thor come off as fun. It’s almost like what they are trying to do with Aquaman in the DCEU where he has a somewhat godly presence, but at the end of the day, you might want to flock to the bar with him. It is why I consider Party Thor to be one of the standout characters in the Disney+ series “What If…?”. At the same time though, this movie can be used as an example in regard to jokes going too far. And I do not mean offensive, I mean the joke tries too hard or it goes on longer than it should.

This movie has some weird, but also simultaneously hypnotizing comedy gags. Thor literally talks to his weapons. There’s even a love triangle between them. Not what I would have written but… Okay. Jane Foster spends a portion of the film trying to come up with an epic one-liner that was somewhat hit or miss. There are these goats in the film that feel less like an attempt at comedy and more so a homage to outdated Internet memes. Sure, when they were first introduced, I laughed. But as the movie went along, they became progressively less funny.

One of the biggest surprises in “Thor: Love and Thunder” prior to its release was the return of the recently mentioned Jane Foster. Natalie Portman is a great actress between her work in movies like “Black Swan” and “Annihilation.” Despite the shortcomings of the dialogue, she also did her best in the “Star Wars” prequels. Speaking of shortcomings, one of the flaws of the first two “Thor” films is that her character did not have a ton to do. I liked her better than Kat Dennings’s character, most specifically in “Thor: The Dark World,” but nevertheless. Mostly, she was almost just there to be the love interest, and that was the character’s biggest service to the story. This time, she is an equal to Thor, or Mighty Thor, as she calls herself. That is, if Thor really is the Thor he once was in say “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Avengers: Infinity War,” because he has evolved, slowly but surely, into one of the MCU’s goto gags in recent years. When he was not fighting in “Avengers: Endgame,” the movie focuses on him in a dad bod, playing “Fortnite,” and drinking heavily. That movie’s humor adds substance to its story, much like some of the jokes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.” It is weird to think how much this character has tonally evolved since 2011.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” has some good humor here and there, but I think of all the Marvel Studios films so far, this is the one I think feels the most kiddy out of them all. It is weird to say because the film has a butt shot of Chris Hemsworth and an ongoing orgy-related threat, but this was one of the first times I can remember watching an MCU film and having it feel this much like a Saturday morning cartoon. I am not saying I did not experience Saturday morning cartoon vibes in the MCU before. “Thor: Ragnarok,” the “Spider-Man” movies, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” are all great examples of this vibe. But in the case of those films, the Saturday morning cartoon vibe, minus say “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” was presented more effectively, perhaps more maturely.

While this fourth “Thor” movie flashes back to its predecessors and revisits multiple characters across various stories, I can say that a notable positive I can give to “Thor: Love and Thunder” is that it does not require any prerequisites. You can go into this movie not having seen a single “Thor,” “Avengers,” or MCU installment and have a good time. Yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy show up, but it is not like they are going to test you on the complexities of Groot’s language or something. This is a contained story from start to finish and while it may be referenced later in the MCU, it does not come off as a tale told by gatekeepers. Ultimately, “Thor: Love and Thunder” may be the most stupid fun movie the MCU has given us so far.

If have to be real though, despite this movie being stupid fun, it kind of comes with a caveat. Before “Thor: Ragnarok” came out, the “Thor” movies were comparatively serious. They had their jokey moments. The first film is a fish out of water story that lends itself to tons of humor, and it worked. The second movie had many comedy attempts, but I can only recall one or two that stuck the landing. With “Ragnarok” and now “Love and Thunder,” we have Taika Waititi’s zany touch. I was not particularly fond of the humor in “Ragnarok” when I first saw it, but after rewatching the film, I warmed up to it. Therefore, during this movie, I was looking forward to seeing what the attempts at humor could be. Compared to “Ragnarok,” they’re a bit flat. Once again, some work, but the ones that do not happen to stand out. The goats were funny the first time, but maybe not the fifth or sixth time.

When I think of “Ragnarok,” certain hysterical moments come to mind. “Get help” is one of the funniest gags in recent action movies. The chemistry between Thor and Banner, Hulked up or not, is worthy of my attention. Stan Lee’s cameo where he cuts Thor’s hair is not only crucial to the plot, but gutbusting. So, what does Taika have in mind for this movie? A rock n’ roll-infused opening action sequence where Thor, almost egomaniacally, saves the day. There’s literally a moment where he stops two vehicles from running into him by doing a split. The image is still in my mind. In the moment, I thought that split was hilarious. But it also makes me realize how dramatic of a shift these movies have taken over the years. The first two movies are mature, with the original almost successfully capturing Shakespearean drama vibes. “Thor: Ragnarok,” while still having maturity in it, contains many comedy gags that nearly conflict with some of the movie’s darker moments. The same can be said for “Love and Thunder,” but the comedy is a bigger star than before.

Note how I said bigger, not better. There’s a difference.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” reminds me of “The Fate of the Furious.” I say so because like “Love and Thunder,” I had fun with “The Fate of the Furious,” but there is a certain amount of absurdity in that film that feels more leveled up than say “Fast Five” which jumped the shark, but was comparatively believable. “Thor: Ragnarok” was a ridiculous fun time with great humor and some logic-defying, but still entertaining moments. As the saying in Hollywood goes, bigger is better. Or is it? Because if you liked “Thor: Ragnarok,” chances are that this movie has twice the silliness. While laughter is the best medicine, this movie shows that comedic overdoses may be possible.

Before we dive into the final verdict, I want to talk about the visual effects of “Thor: Love and Thunder.” I am not going to dive into the recent news regarding visual effects employees struggling to work for Marvel. That is another issue, perhaps for another time. But on the surface, most of the visual effects in this film matches the recently mentioned Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Everything is bright, colorful, vivid, and sometimes gargantuan. I do want to note though that there have been some concerns about Marvel’s visual effects as of late in movies like “Black Widow.” I think if you are in the general audience, you might not care. I will admit, it has been awhile since I have seen “Black Widow” to give a detailed comment. However, I remember some of the effects in that film are surprisingly inferior to say “Captain America: Civil War,” which came out five years before. “Thor: Love and Thunder,” for the most part, looks great. But as far as “Thor” movies go, it might be the worst looking one yet if you pinpoint select shots.

While I said I will not dive too deep into the struggles of working in visual effects, I think we are seeing a sign that the MCU is becoming too crowded and overstuffed with content. I am enjoying phase 4 of the MCU. I have yet to see a completely terrible film. One or two series were hit or miss, but others were good. “WandaVision” was a fantastic debut for the MCU on Disney+, and “Ms. Marvel” was also really charming. The MCU has so many shows and movies now that it also has so many deadlines to consider. This year we have already seen two shows that ran for six-episodes and a couple movies. That is a lot of work, and it is not over yet because “She-Hulk” quickly approaching to Disney+ and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is scheduled to hit theaters this fall. I had fun with “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but by the standards of the MCU, this is not as good as I would hope for. Although the MCU has its occasional off day with movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” I just hope this is a slight bump in the road. But the MCU also did not have this much content going on at once at those times. I know some would disagree, but I would happily sacrifice all the upcoming Disney+ shows if it meant we were going to get a few consistently great MCU movies. I am sure Marvel has a plan, but is it too big of a plan? I hope not. But my worry is that the further along we go down the MCU timeline, the more signs we will get that this whole conveyer belt will unveil itself. Let’s hope that this does not happen.

In the end, “Thor: Love and Thunder” was good, but it is also my least favorite film of MCU’s phase 4. While not the worst of the “Thor” films, “Love and Thunder” nevertheless fails on arguably the same mission in which “Ragnarok” succeeded. Sure, there were a couple laughs here and there, and as far as “summer blockbusters” go, you could do far worse. Just look at “Jurassic World: Dominion.” Although “Love and Thunder” has quite a few negatives that stand out significantly. Natalie Portman was badass enough that I might want to buy a Mighty Thor Hot Toy. But I just wish I could see more of her. I wish I could have seen more of Gorr the God Butcher. This is one of the shortest Marvel movies yet, which could be beneficial to your bladder, but that’s were the benefits stop. Overall, the film feels rushed. I heard they shot some extra footage that never made it into the film, and Taika Waititi does not want to make an alternate cut with said footage, but for all I know, that could give some much needed fleshing out to certain aspects of the story. I would never want to put pressure on a filmmaker into making something they do not want to make, but as a viewer, I would be intrigued to see some of what I originally couldn’t see in some fashion. Maybe as a Blu-ray bonus feature. I am going to give “Thor: Love and Thunder” a 6/10.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” is now playing in theaters including large formats like IMAX and Dolby Cinema. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed my review for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” then be on the lookout because I have more reviews coming soon! Stay tuned for my thoughts on “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” and “The Gray Man.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Thor: Love and Thunder?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite of the “Thor” movies? I’m a purist, I would have to go with the 2011 “Thor” directed by Kenneth Branagh. Leave your opinions down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!