The Angry Birds Movie

Genre: Animation

Directors: Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis

Screenplay: Jon Vitti, from a story by Mikko Polla, Mikael Hed, John Cohen

Voice Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Sean Penn, Titus Burgess, Kate McKinnon, Ike Barinholtz, Hannibal Buress, Billy Eichner, Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, Blake Shelton

Running Length: 97 minutes

Synopsis:  In The Angry Birds Movie, we finally find out why the birds are so angry. The movie takes us to an island populated entirely by happy, flightless birds – or almost entirely. In this paradise, Red (Jason Sudeikis), a bird with a temper problem, speedy Chuck (Josh Gad), and the volatile Bomb (Danny McBride) have always been outsiders. But when the island is visited by mysterious green piggies, it’s up to these unlikely outcasts to figure out what the pigs are up to.

Review: I could never have envisioned that a game like Angry Birds would be able to evolve into a somewhat engaging movie, but here we are with that exact result. While it’s not pushing any envelope or boundary in any meaningful way, The Angry Birds Movie is a pleasant enough distraction, certainly more suited for the younger audiences but not entirely without value for older audience members. It is obvious that the Angry Birds game and brand is past its prime, but the bright, colorful animation and a “leave no pun behind” script filled to the brim with terrible groaners (wordplay is something I personally always appreciate in any film) translates to quite an enjoyable if mindless cinematic experience.

The Angry Birds Movie features quite a number of A-listers in its voice cast, and everyone does a decent job at it, including an… interesting performance by Sean Penn consisting mostly of menacing grunts and odd noises. Narratively, the movie starts out pretty strong with its introduction of the various inhabitants on Bird Island, but loses steam rather quickly and has virtually flatlined by the time the pigs show up on the island. Fortunately, there’s a relatively interesting diversion where a number of birds go in search for the Mighty Eagle, which gives the proceedings a much needed boost in the film’s second half.

The movie also does a decent job in translating the gameplay mechanics into elements in the film, and the final reel’s mayhem and destruction truly mirror what goes on in the game. This is more than can be said of many videogame adaptations. Coupled with the manic script by The Simpsons alum Jon Vitti, and it’s certainly not difficult to find the movie an amusing one regardless of whether one is familiar with the Angry Birds franchise. It probably wouldn’t be enough to spawn a sequel (and in all honesty it shouldn’t), and offers no deep viewer experience akin to Inside Out and its Pixar alums, but it’s actually one of the more decent videogame adaptations I have seen in years.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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X-Men: Apocalypse

Genre: Action

Director: Bryan Singer

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Luca Till, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy, Lana Condor, Zelko Ivanek, Anthony Koneehny

Running Length: 143 minutes

Synopsis:  Since the dawn of civilization, he was worshipped as a god. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant from Marvel’s X-Men universe, amassed the powers of many other mutants, becoming immortal and invincible. Upon awakening after thousands of years, he is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to cleanse mankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) with the help of Professor X (James McAvoy) must lead a team of young X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save mankind from complete destruction.

Review: The good news is that X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst superhero movie released this year (Batman v Superman is a very tough act to upstage, after all). The bad news is that after the superlative First Class and Days of Future Past, the entire X-Men franchise seems to have taken a huge step backwards with Apocalypse. Even the collective thespian prowess of Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence and franchise newcomer Sophie Turner cannot combat a movie that is overstuffed with inconsequential characters and subplots, as well as one of the least menacing arch-villains in recent memory.

It does start off well enough, and the opening sequence set in the Nile Valley in 3600BC introducing Apocalypse holds good promise. However, once the film segues into 1983, the script starts to make questionable advances – Apocalypse is supposed to be immensely powerful, but ends up spending almost all of his screen time behaving like a blue Nick Fury (there are a LOT of blue characters in this movie, by the way) and convincing mutants to join his cause as his horsemen. While three of the mutants he recruits are of highly questionable use (sorry, fans of Angel, Psylocke and Storm), Apocalypse does manage to get Magneto on his side as well, but the recruitment sequence involving Auschwitz borders on the tacky. Apocalypse is such a generic villain that he poses no menace whatsoever, and even his scheme for total global annihilation feels underwhelming.

X-Men: Apocalypse runs a (nowadays) relatively standard 2-plus hours, but due to the bevy of characters being introduced and the number of subplots, the film feels very scattershot, often jumping from one plot to another before they have time to sink in. This also deprives a bunch of very good actors from doing much, though not for lack of trying (congratulations to James McAvoy for emoting well in an almost incessant chain of extreme closeups). Of the newcomers, the only actor of note is Sophie “Sansa Stark” Turner, who does a decent job of giving depth to Jean Grey in her limited screen time, and would be the one to look out for in the inevitable sequel.

What truly does X-Men: Apocalypse in is the lack of any newness to its proceedings. Everything feels been there, done that, and even one of the best sequences in Days of Future Past – the Quicksilver slow-mo musical number – is given a rehash here, and proves that lightning does not strike twice. The second time round, this Quicksilver musical number feels uninspired and perfunctory, mirroring much of the remainder of the movie. In one sequence, a bunch of X-Men exit a Return of the Jedi screening, throwing a barely veiled dig at both the “old” X-Men trilogy as well as the Star Wars franchise of how the third film is always the worst, but what Singer and team does not realise is that X-Men: Apocalypse falls to the same curse, and is a shocking low point for the franchise despite everyone’s best intentions.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

 

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Captain America: Civil War

Genre: Action

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl

Running Length: 146 minutes

Synopsis:  Captain America: Civil War finds Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps – one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

Review:  It’s not surprising, given their track record, that Marvel has managed to hit yet another Marvel Cinematic Universe movie out of the park. This may sound repetitive, but Captain America: Civil War is possibly the best movie from the MCU so far – not only does it present an absorbing, complex and intellectual storyline, it is chock-full of impressive action set-pieces and even finds time to flesh out both old and new Marvel characters. This is the superhero movie that Batman v Superman wanted to be but failed terribly trying.

Although this is presented as the third Captain America movie, the number of superheroes involved in the story is as plentiful as a “proper” Avengers film. Apart from the rather obvious omissions of Thor and the Hulk, Civil War features almost all the Avengers, and introduces audiences to Black Panther and Spider-man (who makes a pretty triumphant, scene-stealing return to Disney after his stint in Sony Pictures). Impressively, scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also wrote first two Captain America movies) managed to flesh many of these superheroes out to be more than the sum of their superpowers, despite an already narratively dense film.

Refreshingly, Civil War is not all grim and dour like in Batman v Superman, and yet the film grapples with heavy subject matter with far greater aplomb than the clunky incoherence that populated BvS. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have applied their experience in TV comedies to the Marvel films they have directed, and the same is evident here – there are many moments of levity to be found amidst the seriousness, though never distractingly so. There is also some really great action sequences to be found here, including an excellent scene at the airport where the two opposing factions of the Avengers finally clash, and their superpowers being pitted against each other in very interesting and unexpected ways.

Civil War is the first salvo in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of the very few criticisms that can be leveled at the movie is that it feels slightly incomplete as a standalone movie, and ends in a really abrupt manner. This is to be expected given the way the MCU is being structured now, with each movie being a cog in the wheel of a larger movement, but it is particularly apparent in Civil War that many plot lines are being laid in the film and aren’t fully realized by the time the credits roll, since the audience isn’t expected to watch this movie in isolation. While the uneven nature of Batman v Superman has called to question the viability of DC’s cinematic universe and roster of upcoming films, Civil War has merely reaffirmed that Marvel is at the top of the cinematic game, and even if the proceedings feel a little predictable at times, the film is a highly enjoyable opener to the next five years’ worth of the MCU.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

P.S. Like all Marvel movies, don’t miss the two post-credit sequences, although they aren’t particularly essential viewing.

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