Malignant

Oh my goodness! What a bonkers movie! This movie is absolutely bananas. It is absolutely nuts, and I kind of love it for all its absurdities.

It was impossible to miss the ubiquitous trailers for this movie touting, “a new vision of terror from James Wan.” I wasn’t super excited to check this one out. I love horror, and I’m a fan of Wan’s work, but the trailers did nothing for me.

I checked out the first ten minutes on my laptop on HBO Max, and I was deeply disappointed. I thought it was terrible. So with trepidation I walked into the theater last night to watch it for real. I credit the theater experience with vastly improving those first ten minutes. What seemed hammy and overblown felt right at home in the theater.

So what is this movie? Well according to the trailers it is about a woman named Maddie who is haunted by a malevolent force from her past named Gabriel. She thinks he’s the devil. In the past he whispered evil things to her. As an adult he shows her the murders he commits. It’s directed by James Wan. The trailers want to make sure you know that he is behind it.

That’s everything I knew about the movie before I saw it. As such I was delightfully surprised by every twist and turn the movie unfolded. It was so much fun as the movie got steadily weirder and more off the wall or really off the ceiling. I struggle with movies like this. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I want to talk about how crazy it is. I’m going to include a spoiler section after the review proper to lay out just how wild this movie gets.

The movie is directed by James Wan. He directed the first two Conjuring and Insidious films. He’s pretty much responsible for the horror renaissance we’re seeing in my opinion. He’s a master at building tension and setting up a scare. He has a great eye for fear. He uses every tool in the box for this movie. Unsettling backstories, atmospheric lighting, a great setting, and a sudden jolting camera move to really drive the jump home.

He goes over board here. He is really playing with his tools here and seeing how far he can push things. There are more obvious jump scare setups here than in his previous work, but when they’re this well done it’s hard to begrudge a good jump.

The tone however feels very weird at times. The movie has an offbeat sense of humor that is employed at odd moments. I’m not always sure if what I’m laughing at is supposed to be funny. A great example of this is a scene with a very minor revelation that builds like a massive soap opera reveal moment then we cut away and never really address the fallout from that revelation. Is it supposed to be funny? Why the melodramatic buildup if it’s not big news to anybody?

The dialogue is terrible. It’s screenwriter 101 terrible. There’s clumsy exposition, big declarations, and just plain awkward character work. At one point a scientist shouts to another “it’s like he’s drinking electricity!” Like I just said, is it supposed to be funny? I don’t know, but it is.

What saved this movie is the strength of the direction and how wild and crazy the story gets. The plot really goes to some unbelievable places, and I was delighted. It was so much fun to see something so bonkers. I had a lot of fun with it in spite of its glaring flaws. And even now as I think about it’s flaws I find them charming rather than grating.

So is this my cup of tea? Yes! Will it be yours? That’s tough to say. Know that it’s ridiculous. See it in a theater. Watch it with friends. These will give you the best chance to enjoy this movie. B+

Okay, spoilers!!! If you’re going to watch this movie turn back now!

If you have seen it or don’t care to check it out, read on…

So the movie follows Maddie a woman whose life is haunted by a dark evil presence called Gabriel. After her husband bashes her head against a wall he’s killed by Gabriel. Maddie starts seeing Gabriel kill the doctors who tortured him years ago. Maddie reaches out to the police to report the murders. They uncover the truth Maddie has been haunted by Gabriel her whole life, but she blocked the memories.

Just then, one of Gabriel’s victims breaks free and falls through the ceiling if Maddie’s house right on top of the cops. what?! They arrest Maddie. Meanwhile Maddie’s sister finds the medical facility where Maddie was kept as a child. She finds the old vhs tapes of her treatment. Maddie had a twin brother who was a parasitic teratoma. They were essentially Siamese twins who shared one brain. Gabriel was a parasite who would whisper evil thoughts to her. They surgically removed most of Gabriel, but left a chunk of him in Maddie’s head. After her husband bashed her head against a wall he unleashed Gabriel.

So Gabriel literally breaks open her skull, pushes his own gross face out enough to see and controls her body in order to kill his victims. This means that for the rest of the movie Maddie runs around backwards killing people in reverse. It’s so freaking bizarre!!! I’ve never seen anything like this movie before! It’s so strange and amazing! I had an absolute hoot with this absurd premise. I loved it.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

This martial arts super hero spectacle is a lot of fun and surprisingly effective at times while being overly stuffed in other moments.

The plot is full to bursting with ideas and storylines. There are a ton of characters and worlds to explore. The best parts of the film involve Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, his best friend Katy, played by Awkwafina, and his father Xu Wenwu, played by Tony Leung. His father uses ten magic rings to run a massive and ancient criminal empire. He trained Shang to be the greatest fighter in the world. Shang escaped his father and found a normal life, but his peace is shattered by a group of assassins sent by his father.

From there it gets rather silly and overstuffed with magic realms and ancient evils and so many side characters. I really enjoyed the characters and the worlds explored are really interesting, but I feel our lead gets a little lost. It felt to me that Shang-Chi was part of an ensemble rather than the lead of his own movie.

That said this movie is really fun. Honestly I had a great time with this movie. There’s a thrilling Kung fu fight on a bus that is really well choreographed and shot in a fun way.

They balance the drama of the family dynamics with the fun comedy quips really nicely. The movie takes turns with the humor and the drama instead of awkwardly mashing them together like in some other films. This is helped by some great dramatic work by Tony Leung and some fantastic comic moments from Awkwafina. There’s another comedic character whose presence is kind of a surprise. I’m sure the spoilers are out, but if you don’t know who shows up it’s a delightful moment when they arrive.

The action scenes felt very different to me than usual Marvel action. They are very grounded in choreography rather than cgi. Now I’m sure cgi was used to enhance the moments, but the early fights have a tactile kinetic quality that was a lot of fun to see.

My favorite moments are the quiet character moments. Shang and Katy talking about his mom. The movie has a big cgi showdown that is elevated by the pauses in fighting that Tony Leung and Simu Liu have. Tony Leung’s entire backstory is fascinating to see and the way he plays it is impeccable as ever. There’s also a really fun and relatable scene in a bar between Shang, Katy and their much more successful friends. These are the moments that really make the movie for me.

This movie was a really fun ride. I had a great time with it, and I think you will too. Its not so heavy into the Marvel universe that it won’t be accessible to those uninitiated in the MCU. It’s a really fun action adventure fantasy. It’s worth your time.

It’s my cup of tea. B+

Candyman (2021)

A movie with a lot on its mind, this strong horror film combines social commentary and slow burn suspense to incredible effect.

This is a kind of sequel to the 1992 horror film of the same name. This is one of the most interesting sequels I’ve seen because although it hits all the notes of a sequel it never feels like a sequel. It tells its own story and has its own intentions.

The story follows a struggling painter named Anthony, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. He and his girlfriend a successful art curator, played by Teyonah Paris, have just moved into a new apartment that was built on top of the bulldozed remains the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Cabrini-Green was a famous low income housing area that started with the best of intentions but due to lack of funding, aggressive policing, and rampant poverty lead to a crime infested area that was eventually shut down and destroyed. Only to be rebuilt as high rises for the well off.

This is a horror film that is as much about gentrification as it is about scaring the pants off it’s audience. The horror and social commentary come together really neatly in the form of Candyman. In the film, Candyman is an urban legend. If you say his name five times in the mirror, he’ll appear behind you and kill you. It’s a spooky game teenagers play during slumber parties. Or maybe it’s more…. Yeah it’s more. That question was central to the original film. This movie takes the idea of Candyman and expands on him tying him into the violence and the memory of that violence committed in a contain neighborhood.

This is Nia De Costa’s second film and her first horror. She nails it. She employs my favorite horror tactic. She fills every frame with something to notice and be afraid of. For instance some morons play the game and after saying Candyman five times a figure can be seen lurking in every mirror and reflective surface in the room. Sometimes it’s just the corner of the frame. Sometimes you don’t notice it until he moves. I love that kind of thing.

She sets the tone right off the bat with the opening credits. I normally find opening credits to be something to fast forward through on my way to the movie. These are awesome. They are set to a haunting soundscape of music and elementally frightening sounds. And they are made up of shots of Chicago buildings and landmarks disappearing into a cloudy foggy sky, but shot in the most unnerving way. It might give you vertigo.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is great. Teyonnah Parris is fantastic. Colman Domingo is always wonderful and here he’s particularly effective.

There’s so much to like here, but it does feel uneven. I think there’s too much going on in the way of themes De Costa is trying to carry. Some elements don’t fit evenly and some moments seem to fall through. There’s also a couple of horror moments that are shockingly effective in the moment, but don’t serve the narrative as strongly as I think they could. My final complaint is that the ending feels abrupt. The more I think about it the more it works, but I think it might be disappointing to some viewers.

It’s creepy, unsettling, and gruesome. It really worked for me. It’s s strong film from De Costa, and one I’ll add to my annual Halloween viewing.

It’s my cup of tea A-

Army of the Dead

There’s more color in this poster than in the entire movie.

This movie has a good opening, and a strong first act. But it gets worse the longer it goes on, and it goes on for a long time. By then end I was just so glad it was finally over.

The movie is the latest big budget Netflix offering. Written, directed, produced, and shot by Zack Snyder fresh off his justice League Snyder Cut a movie so long it might still be playing for all we know. Snyder is a fan of excess in his movies and this particular movie is pure excess. There is too much of everything in this movie and it just wears me down.

In the film a military convoy carrying patient zero crashes outside Las Vegas leading to a zombie outbreak and the entire city being quarantined and cut off. After a few years, the president decides to nuke the city eradicating the threat. Before the big one drops however, Mr. Tanaka played by the great Hiroyuki Sanada assembled a team to enter Vegas and break into a massive vault containing hundreds of millions of dollars. It turns out Scott Ward, played by the mountain of a man Dave Bautista, is just the man for the job. He assembles his team of zombie killing thieves to infiltrate the city, break into the vault, and steal the millions.

It could be a classic genre mashup. A heist movie in a zombie film. For the first half of the movie, there is a lot of fun to be had. The opening montage feels satirical in its slow motion excess. There’s a claustrophobic scene of real tension as our thieves must walk through a dark hotel kitchen full of hibernating zombies that could wake up at any moment. It has a great “assembling the team” sequence that culminates in an awesome scene for Tig Notaro. She plays a pilot so bored with her life that flying a helicopter through a city full of zombies sounds like a great time.

From there it’s just a slog of problems. It starts for me with the cinematography. This is an ugly movie. It’s hard to look at. Snyder employs extremely shallow depth of field and soft focus throughout. This means that most scenes are out of focus and blurry. I don’t think there’s a single scene in this movie that is in clear sharp focus. The color palette is all muted grayish khaki. So everything looks like a white tshirt that got thrown in the wash with a load of brown clothes. I spent the first half checking my glasses to make sure they weren’t smudged and the second half thinking I was going blind.

My other big issue is how mean the movie is. It is needlessly cruel to a lot of its characters. Women get harassed and assaulted. A man is tortured by zombies. A main character gets beaten half to death. A man is mauled for about ten minutes by a zombie tiger. The cruelty in itself isn’t the problem. Watching a villain get his comeuppance can be satisfying. The problem is how long we have to linger on the pain and torment being endured. A main character is beaten senselessly for an extended period of time. The man mauled by a tiger is shown in horrendous detail. We get out noses rubbed in his pain. It’s not fun or entertaining or horrifying. It’s just unpleasant.

There’s one good scene that gets spoiled by the filmmaking. It involves Scott trying to reconnect with his daughter Kate played by Ella Purnell. It’s an interesting scene, and the writing adds layers to both characters. The problem is the editing rhythm is so wrong that instead of building the relationship it undercuts the revelations and emotional impact. It could have been a home run of a scene, but it just left me frustrated.

I can actually pinpoint the moment where the movie lost me. It involves spoilers so beware. Skip this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled. The first friend Scott recruits is Maria, played by Ana de la Reguera. After helping Scott assemble the team, she pretty much disappears from the movie until about an hour and a half into the runtime when she randomly pulls Scott aside. She expresses her frustration about him ignoring her. She implies that they had a relationship and that she still wants him. Scott is receptive to her advances. Then the zombies break in and snap her neck. Her bloody spinal column juts out grotesquely from her neck. Then the shooting starts and doesn’t stop for the next hour. They do this kind of thing for the rest of the movie. They give each character a moment then immediately kill them. They get to be a hero then die. It doesn’t matter how stupid the moment is or how little it has to do with their character. They get a moment then are destroyed in increasingly horrible ways. If I’m going to spend two and a half hours with these characters I want more than lip service and a slow mo bloody destruction. It feels cheap and nihilistic. Nothing matters. Everyone is basically already dead.

I can deal with cruelty. I can sit through an excessive runtime. Ugly cinematography sucks but I can put up with it. What I can’t tolerate is when characters are disregarded. There is no value placed on telling a story with these characters. They’re just used as vessels for violent destruction.

I know this movie will work really well for some people. I know the nihilism, the excess, the endless cruelty and zombie headshots will be exactly what some people are looking for. If that’s you, then this is your movie. It’s in theaters and streaming on Netflix. If this doesn’t sound like your movie skip it. you won’t regret skipping it.

Not my cup of tea. C

Those Who Wish me Dead

This thriller gets an A+ for execution and a C for theme amounting to a masterpiece of execution without much else.

The film follows a boy named Connor played by Finn Little who goes on the run with his father after two ruthlessly efficient assassins come after him. Once he gets to Montana he encounters a Sheriff’s deputy played by the always excellent Jon Bernthal, and a smoke jumper played by Angelina Jolie. Young Connor must contend with assassins, lightning storms, and a massive forest fire in order to… talk to the media about what his dad uncovered. It’s a lackluster goal considering the extreme peril he’s put in throughout the film.

Before I get too lost in the weeds of my issues with the film. I need to offer up some praise. This movie is well deserving of a lot of praise. Starting with the writer director Taylor Sheridan.

Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters working today. His scripts are powerful, efficient, and speak volumes while saying few words. His characters behave in believable ways and make realistic decisions in the situations he concocts for them. He is a great writer, and growing into a good director. This is his second feature behind the camera. His mastery of tone and his ability to work with actors is on full display here.

Those performances come from some great actors. I love Jon Bernthal. He does great work here as a cop in over his head. Finn Little captures the trauma of a kid dealing with forces far bigger than himself. Nicolas Hoult and Aden Gillen are equally terrifying and relatable as cold blooded killers who are also brothers. They clearly care deeply about each other while killing everyone in their path. Angelina Jolie is fine. I’ve never been a fan of hers, and here she is fine. She’s solid. Sometimes I like her in movies. Sometimes I find her performance distracting. I think she’s good here. Not great not bad.

My real issue with the film is the ending. It’s not what happened at the end it’s why. There was no satisfying meaning or theme behind the conclusion.

The story is macguffin driven. A macguffin was defined by Alfred Hitchcock as the thing which everyone in the movie cares about very much. It is the driving force behind the action on screen. Here the macguffin is the information that Connors dad uncovered, but the movie never tells us what he uncovered or whom he uncovered it about. Connor’s goal is to get the information out to the world, but we don’t know what good of any that will do. On a literal level we don’t really know what the movie is about.

On a thematic level we don’t really know what it’s about either. The movie doesn’t draw a thematic line through its macguffin. You could say it’s about exposing corruption, but it’s unclear if that’s what Connors secret is. It could be about revealing evil institutions, but no evil institutions are revealed. If we ditch the macguffin and look at each character the main theme seems to be survival. But the movie doesn’t say much about survival. Some people live others don’t. There isn’t much rhyme or reason as to why. If that’s what they’re trying to say “life’s tough, sometimes people die” then that’s not enough for me.

I’m left disappointed. I have a feeling of being let down after watching the movie. With a production this good, and execution this strong I wish it had a better story. As it is it is a week made movie that feels hollow.

Maybe you’ll get more out of it thematically than I did. I can recommend so much if this movie, but for me it didn’t quite make it across the finish line. If you want to check it out, it is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

It’s half a cup of tea. B

Spontaneous

Very dark comedy combines with a heart felt coming of age drama to incredible effect in this surprise and explosive movie.

A boring math class in an average high school. Senior Mara, played by Katherine Langford, drops her pencil on the floor. She leans over to pick it up. In that moment the girl sitting in front of her explodes. She just goes pop spraying the entire classroom in blood. Mara sits up back to find her entire world changed.

One by one the kids in this one math class inexplicably go pop throughout the film. Mara and her best friend Tess, played by Hayley Law use humor to deal with the stress and trauma of never knowing who could be next. Mara falls for the cute Dylan, played by Charlie Plummer and their very sweet relationship makes up the best escape from the exploding kids surrounding them.

The movie is surprising. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but it really won me over with its mix of sweet and sardonic. From the first kid exploding to the way Mara and Dylan’s relationship unfolds, to the various coping mechanisms Mara uses the film consistently surprised me. It found some wiggle room within the traditional three act structure and created a really fun and thought provoking ride.

I really loved the way the teenagers are written. They are messy. They can be smug and too self assured. They maintain a feeling of invincibility in the face of certain death. It really captures the teenage experience.

The dark as night humor really worked for me too. The sight gag of gallons of blood spraying all over a classroom was really funny to me. And the razor sharp dialogue and asides from Mara and her friends ring genuine laughs out of a horribly macabre set up.

The film was written and directed by first time director Brian Duffield. He brings a playfulness and inventiveness to the story. The characters have overlapping voice overs and often turn to the camera to directly address the audience in order to fill out the story. It’s a lot of fun to see someone having fun with the medium.

This movie really worked for me. It pulled me in and kept me there. It doesn’t reveal deep truths about life and the world, but it has a lot more on its mind than gross out dark humor. It takes the implications of its premise seriously and tells a really compelling story with its high concept.

It’s streaming on Amazon prime. I just happened to stumble across it last night, and I hope you do too. It’s my cup of tea. A-

Unhinged

An all in performance from Russell Crowe helps make this thriller a little less generic, but it can’t save the film entirely.

Rachel is a harried mother dealing with a contentious divorce, a failing business, and a teenage son she’s struggling to raise. On top of all that she has to deal with rush hour traffic. While dealing with the traffic she has a verbal altercation with an unstable man who takes things way too far.

Rachel is played by Caren Pistorious. She turns in a solid performance although she looks way too young to be the mother of a 15 year old. The real star here Russell Crowe as the unnamed maniac man who viciously attacks Rachel’s family in retaliation for her rudeness on the road. Crowe is doing the most acting here. He’s either wearing a fat suit or he packed on an unhealthy and unnecessary amount of weight. He has false teeth. He’s doing a crazy person accent. He has wild eyed face contorting fits of rage. It’s so much acting. Whenever he’s on screen I’m totally entertained.

When Crowe isn’t on screen the movie is only okay. It’s predictable in its plotting. You pretty much what story bears will play out sheen. It’s action is shot pretty generically. There’s a car chase that can’t decide if it wants to put you in the drivers seat or film the action in an objective birds eye point of view. It doesn’t dive into any of its characters settling for surface level characterization. We never find out too much about Rachel’s husband or how she feels about him. There’s lip service paid to Crowe’s psychosis that’s he’s a troubled man, but no real character study is done here.

That said it’s an easy movie to watch. It has a little action. It has likable actors. There are couple of surprises. In the end all is put to right. It’s like comfort food or a bowl of cereal. Is it nutritious? Not particularly. Is it fun? Does it go down easy? You bet.

My biggest issue with the film is how it tries to turn its story into something more than it is. At its heart it is a grungy b-movie about a psycho terrorizing a woman and her family, but the movie true to force a ham handed message about road rage and societal frustrations onto its paper thin premise. Don’t try to force a message. You made a pretty good thriller. Don’t try to make it important.

This isn’t a bad action thriller. I had a pretty good time with it. I think you might too if you decide to check it out. It came out last year during the height of the pandemic and dared us all to see it in theaters. I’m glad I waited until it started streaming on Amazon prime this week. Check it out. You could do a lot worse.

It’s my cup of tea. It’s a solid B

Thunder Force

This movie was terrible. It’s poorly conceived and executed. It has a big cast of talented people who are wasted. Somehow inspire of its lack of quality, it has a few moments I genuinely enjoyed.

The movie has squanders an interesting set up through incompetence. A world in which cosmic rays bombard the earth and only sociopaths were given powers. Cool premise. Now let’s ignore it for the rest of the movie. These super powered people are called miscreants which sounds like an elderly person in an old episode of Dragnet complaining about kids these days. Octavia Spencer’s parents were killed by miscreants, and she vowed to discover a way to give good people superpowers to combat the miscreant menace. Unfortunately, her bumbling best friend Melissa McCarthy causes whacky antics along the way.

Where to begin with this films problems? How about the fact that I don’t believe a single moment of this movie. I don’t believe in the world because they never spend time establishing it. I don’t believe Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy are friend. They act like total strangers with zero history or connection. If I found out that these two were never on set together and were simply cgi’d to appear together I’d believe it. No chemistry. I don’t believe the super powers. Mediocre effects and a lack of actor commitment just kills the super powers. I don’t believe a moment of this movie.

This all should be laid at the directors feet. Ben Falcone is a bad director. He doesn’t stage or photograph action well. He doesn’t have a good sense for building comedic moments on camera. There’s a scene where Melissa McCarthy uses her super strength to throw a bus at an escaping miscreant. She lifts it, prepares her throw, and launches it against the constant pleading of Octavia Spencer. Then we cut away. We don’t get a punchline. They cut out the moment the bus crashes. They don’t show the bus miss it’s target. We don’t have a funny reaction shot of McCarthy or Spencer. The scene just ends. It’s like unintentional anti-comedy.

I will give the movie its due. I laughed out loud a couple of times. I’m going to spoil a couple of details so beware. Jason Bateman is in this movie. I didn’t know that! It was such a delightful surprise when he showed up. He plays a miscreant who is part crab! He has giant crab arms. They’re actually convincing prosthetics. He and McCarthy have a bizarre musical interlude in the style of a cheesy 80’s music video. It is weird and inspired and hilarious. I’m smiling as I think about it. Whenever Bateman gets scared he walks sideways and clicks his pincers. It’s amazing.

There’s also an amusing scene wherein the villain kills a henchman and then they talk about how they always liked him and what a good worker he was. It’s a nice little commentary of the villain killing his henchman trope. But these moments are examples of the performers rising above the limitations of the material and the director.

If you love the performers you might find something to enjoy here. Otherwise it just feels like watching a weird Disney Channel original movie about superheroes. I don’t recommend it in spite of the genuine laughs it got out of me. There’s infinitely better movies to spend your time on this weekend.

If you really want to see crab Jason Bateman, Thunder Force us currently streaming on Netflix.

D not my cup of tea.

Concrete Cowboy

I loved this movie. It has fascinating characters. It’s set in a really unique world that I never knew existed. It tells a classic narrative with some nice twists. I really fell for this one.

This story might feel familiar, a troubled teen named Cole, played by Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, gets into a fight at school. This prompts his single mother who has finally had enough to send him to live with his estranged father in Philadelphia. This is Harp, played by the ever-stellar Idris Elba. Cole is shocked to find a horse living in Harp’s living room. Harp is part of a community of black cowboys who live in urban Philadelphia.

This is a real community of urban cowboys called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. They’re part of a century long tradition of riding and caring for horses in urban Philadelphia. They teach horsemanship and encourage positive outlets for youth in the community. It’s a rough group who lives a messy lifestyle that butts up against the gentrification of the neighborhood.

Cole is faced with a choice between the hard, distant, and outwardly uncaring father and his hustler friend Smush played by Jharrel Jerome. Smush used to belong to the cowboys but left to make money any way he could. Cole is constantly pulled between the two worlds and struggles with the person he wants to become.

The movie walks the well trod story paths of the coming of age narrative, the father son reconnection story, and the western genre. The film contains some cliches of the genres, and normally I’d be annoyed by the inclusion of these cliches. However the movie gives those cliches a jolt. It mixes them all up in a blender and creates a wonderful smoothie out of its genres. One I enjoyed from start to finish.

The actors are stunning. I love the mix of real cowboys and professional actors. There are some moments that will stay with me forever because of their poignancy and authenticity. I got all choked up several times in this movie.

The world these characters inhabit is so interesting. I loved spending time with these characters in this place, and knowing that they are based on a real place made it all the more impactful.

It’s beautifully shot, and well directed with great acting and a compelling world. I loved it. Check it out. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. My cup of tea for sure. A

Godzilla vs Kong

Did you want massive monster fights? You got it along with a lot of dumb stuff that nobody asked for. Thankfully there’s enough spectacle, action, and surprisingly heart to make up for it.

This movie mashup is the latest installment in the “monsterverse” an attempt to duplicate Marvel superhero films success. It is the second sequel to 2014’s absolutely terrible Godzilla, and the first sequel to 2017’s Kong Skull Island. If you haven’t seen any of the other films in the series it will make the viewing experience uneven.

This film takes a lot of time reintroducing Kong. He’s been held in captivity. He’s alone and angry and mistrustful if the humans, except for a little girl named Jia played by Kaylee Hottle. They’re moments together are really wonderful and give the film much needed pathos.

Godzilla on the other hand is introduced here destroying a factory in darkness. He then disappears until he comes back to attack Kong. He really isn’t given a personality or story. He just destroys anything that could be a threat to him. He’s very one note and frankly boring compared to the compelling Kong. It doesn’t help that Kong is given a deeply expressive face with a rich emotional palette, and Godzilla’s face looks like a pile of rocks. No emotional connection is possible with Godzilla.

When these two meet however this movie starts to soar. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching a giant ape punch a giant lizard in the face while standing on top an aircraft carrier. It reminded me of being a kid and bashing action figures together. It’s visceral and silly and fun. The brawls and action are a ton of fun throughout. There’s a lot of creativity in the fighting, a good use of setting and props, and a great sense of epic scope that I loved.

The movie has the problem most big budget movies have these days. It’s two movies mashed together. Just commit to one story Hollywood good grief!

The better story follows along, Jia, and Jia’s adoptive mother played by the always wonderful Rebecca Hall. They are trying to find a new home for Kong. She has a bond with the big fella and the three of them learning to communicate and trust is a really nice story that plucked my heartstrings in just the right way.

The dumb crappy story follows two teenagers and a conspiracy theory podcaster as they fall back-asswards into a massive corporate conspiracy to eliminate monsters and put humans back on top. It’s full of awkward comedy that doesn’t land. Stupid characters that are just so annoying and idiotic plot developments that just make me mad when I think about them. They literally short circuit a doomsday weapon by pouring whisky on a keyboard. So so dumb.

While that dumbness is going on though we have this stellar sequence where Kong and his friends journey to the center of the earth and find an incredible world of visual wonder in which gravity goes all screwy and some really cool visuals play out. It’s a beautiful sequence that I loved. I’d watch the movie again for that sequence.

The film is directed by Adam Wingard who made one of my favorite Halloween movies, You’re Next, and the underrated gem The Guest. He handles the human drama and the spectacle wonderfully. Although he gives too much time to dumb subplots and his pacing feels way too fast. (The climactic battle feels too rushed for it to land for me.) but that aside he really gives this film what it needs to set it apart from the rest of its ilk.

It’s big. Its dumb. It’s fun. I enjoyed most of it, and I can ignore the stuff I hated. Its in theaters and streaming on HBO Max if you’re looking for a good dumb time at the movies. It’s half a cup of tea for me. B+