Review: Marvel’s Iron Fist (Season One)

iron fist headeradam review

Marvel’s Iron Fist (Season One).

Netflix and Marvel have been dominating lately with their direct-to-streaming superhero outings, with four relatively great seasons, including DaredevilJessica Jones, and Luke Cage. People may not have loved all of them but the consensus is that they’re pretty great, most notably for including some of the best Marvel villains to date. Is the latest Iron Fist able to follow up that streak? Or has Marvel had its first misstep?

The gist.

We meet Danny Rand (Finn Jones) as he comes back to New York after spending 15 years in a mysterious city called Kun-Lun, where he’s been training in martial arts. He discovers that his family business is now being run by his childhood friends Ward and Joy (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup). Their father (Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham) is believed to be dead but you find out very soon that he’s not. Danny isn’t welcome back and must find allies, including the martial arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and the former nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, who has appeared in all of these series so far). Beyond the business drama, it’s soon discovered that an ancient sect of ninjas called the Hand are making moves in New York, led by the mysterious Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho, who appeared already in Daredevil).

What works?

When you hear that this story is a superpowered martial artist, you expect great combat and luckily we get quite a bit of it, though it’s very delayed in the season. It takes about four episodes for Rand to have his first major fight sequence. Once they start happening though, there are plenty of fights to enjoy, though the fight choreography isn’t always stellar.

The biggest surprise for me was Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick. She was an absolute badass and she provided that thrill and action while we waited for Danny Rand to do something. And she held her own, providing a very cool heroine throughout the series. She is likely going to become the fan favorite following this.

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I think it’s hard to judge this series because we’ve had so many stellar shows already. Daredevil set the bar incredibly high so I find myself criticizing this show maybe more harshly than I would if it were something else. It’s got decent acting across the board and some great locations, but most areas of this show feel inferior to the other series that we’ve seen.

What doesn’t work?

This show’s biggest problem is not unique to this show but maybe more prominent here. We have 13 episodes but we spend so much time with secondary and even tertiary characters that we don’t care about. In Daredevil, we had to watch Karen Page become a newspaper writer. In Jessica Jones, we had this weird subplot of the support group for Kilgrave’s victims and the annoying neighbors. Here, we are dragged down by the Meachums, Danny’s childhood friends. They are occasionally his villains in the show but even when they’re not, they’re still a focus. I was not interested in them at all, so significant side stories felt like a waste of precious screentime.

The Meachums also have waves of attempted redemption but it’s incredibly hard to empathize when the show blatantly makes you hate them in the first episode. Rand says that the brother Ward used to stuff him in refrigerators and kick him in the groin and generally torture him. Way overdramatic stuff. And then just episodes later we have to somewhat empathize with this character? No no no. Poor call. This doesn’t spoil much because their intentions waver, so don’t worry.

The show’s pacing in general is very slow, especially the first six or seven episodes, which is half of the series. We’ll get a blast of action and then an entire episode of legal and business jargon about these trade deals and stuff that we don’t care about. I wouldn’t be surprised if casual viewers stopped watching after one or two episodes, there is very little to hook you. The second half picks up a bit, in both story and action, but it’s a little too late to save face by then.

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You can also tell that this story here was confined by their budget. There are things they talk about that we should have seen via flashback. There are major characters that are only hinted at because it’d be too expensive to create them via computer effects. At one point, they travel to China for an episode but China suspiciously looks just like New York. This show’s budget hurt its quality, a lot.

Now we have a few villains that aren’t the Meachums. It was even said in an interview by the creators that Iron Fist has more villains than any other Netflix Marvel show so far. Sounds cool right? Unfortunately these villains are forgettable overall. We get several waves of new bad guys and several that arrive for only one episode but they’re incredibly one-dimensional and not interesting. Nothing like Kingpin or Kilgrave or Cottonmouth here.

Overall…

This is a bummer but Iron Fist doesn’t really succeed. If you’re invested in these shows, you should watch because we get a few cool cameos and this story will likely be vital for the upcoming The Defenders. As a whole though, this feels very familiar but forgettable. The villains are underserved, including the Meachums which are given tons of screentime but totally detract from the show. The fight sequences are sometimes great, but surprisingly rare. I’d say this show is fairly average but that puts it at the bottom of the rankings of Marvel’s Netflix outings so far.

Rating 3 star

 

 

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Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast.

This movie has an incredible hype, combining people’s love of the classic Beauty and the Beast cartoon and their love of Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson. I don’t know if it’s even possible for this movie to surpass the original but I guess we’ll see!

The gist.

In a small French town, we meet the “odd girl” Belle (Emma Watson), who seems to only be odd because she likes to read books. She lives a quiet life with her widower father (Kevin Kline) until her father ends up getting captured by a mysterious beast-like man (Dan Stevens) in a decrepit mansion. Long story short, Belle ends up at the mansion instead, which is full of talking objects (with voices like Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and more). We also have the hometown hero Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad).

What works?

This is a fine adaptation, not super disappointing, but one that you kind of wonder… Why did they make this?

There is an incredible cast here and a few really stand out. First off, the duo of Luke Evans and Josh Gad is perfect, adding some levity to the movie when things tend to slow down. Their huge musical number aptly titled “Gaston” is a blast. The other duo that keeps this film afloat is Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor as animated artifacts Cogsworth and Lumiere. They are delightful.

I also want to give kudos to the set design, which usually doesn’t draw my attention. Here, the mansion comes alive. There are immaculate details in everything. The visual effects, aside from one huge component of the movie, also work seamlessly. Characters like Lumiere and Cogsworth look great.

The music is hit or miss, but some of it is great. Like I said earlier, “Gaston” is great, as is “Be Our Guest.” I also got goosebumps during the first “Belle” sequence in the town. Some great stuff, but not consistently great.

What doesn’t work?

I’m going to break some hearts here.

This movie is inferior to the original, even without the nostalgia factor. It’s hard to quantify it, but the movie lacked heart for me. There would be moments that I wanted to feel it but instead I was left rather unaffected. This unfortunately falls mostly on our two leads. Emma Watson delivers a performance here that is surprisingly bland. Moments of extravagance, such as the chaos of “Be Our Guest” are met by a smirk from her, absolutely lifeless.

Part of this lack of engagement and chemistry falls on the Beast. I have a few problems with this character but most of it comes down to the visual effects. He looks absolutely fake, not even comparable with other characters brought to life through performance capture. He also doesn’t have any weight to him. For a lumbering brute, he dances and walks and jumps without a sense of that weight. When he is doing chaotic action scenes, his character stands out like a sore thumb. It just isn’t polished and could be a major reason that you don’t really believe the chemistry between Belle and the Beast.

I also praised some of the music here, but the other half is bland as well, especially some new music created for this version. There’s a song sung by the Beast, which sounds electronic because of the effects they add to Stevens’ voice and then autotuning his voice to make it sound decent. Just doesn’t work, at all.

Overall…

This movie is fine but ultimately lacks the heart of the original. You’ll have a fun time and there are some great moments and interesting characters, but the Beast and his poor visual effects make his interactions feel lifeless and hinder Emma Watson’s chemistry with him as well. A 3 out of 5 isn’t bad remember, but this movie is nothing stellar either.

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(Review) Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island.

The last King Kong movie we got was Peter Jackson’s in 2005 so it was inevitable that we’d get a new reboot soon. This one is a prequel to what we know of Kong already, plus it’s in the same universe as the last Godzilla movie from 2014. Does this movie roar? Or whimper?

The gist.

It’s the 1970s and the Vietnam War rages on. A conspiracy theorist (John Goodman) and his assistant (Corey Hawkins) manage to get a military escort to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. They recruit an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer (Brie Larson) to help navigate this mysterious island. While there, they encounter a World War 2 soldier who has managed to survive (John C. Reilly). Samuel L. Jackson plays the commanding officer of a troop of soldiers who quickly aim to take down the king of this island, a giant ape named Kong.

What works?

This movie is all about spectacle and it delivers plenty of it.

Let’s start with the monsters, the real stars of this movie. Kong steals every scene he’s in, naturally, and has a perfect balance of powerful warrior and also empathetic protector. He’s not the only monster though, as our human characters encounter giant spiders, squids, insects, wildebeests, and even an ancient evil affectionately called “skull crawlers.” The design for all of these creatures is great, managing to twist our expectations and create some really interesting monsters. The visual effects are also pretty great, most of the time, with these monsters really popping off the screen.

So when we’re watching monsters fighting each other, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

I don’t blame the cast for the one dimensional characters. There aren’t any bad performances, just a general lack of depth. Surprisingly, the character given the most to do is John C. Reilly’s grizzled survivor, who gets a backstory and a satisfying resolution. Everyone else is not treated with the same courtesy.

If you catch Kong: Skull Island, stay after all the credits.

What doesn’t work?

Unfortunately, when the spectacle slows down, there’s not much here.

We have incredible talent here, some of the best of the best right now, and it’s all wasted. The priority is a cool movie and cool moments and cool visuals, not character. So when Tom Hiddleston’s character grabs a machete and turns into some sort of samurai, you have to just go with it. Brie Larson, who won an OSCAR FOR BEST ACTRESS, has only one character trait in this movie and that is that she takes pictures. Everything revolves around her taking these pictures, we never learn anything else about her. And that’s true across the board, everyone is one dimensional and flat.

Now the movie as a whole… Here’s the thing. One of my favorite movies is Jurassic Park. And this movie is exactly Jurassic Park. Structurally it’s nearly identical. I don’t want to spoil Kong for anyone but once you’ve seen it, I’d love to talk about how this is almost a shot for shot copycat. Samuel L. Jackson even says “Hold onto your butts” in this movie, which is his catchphrase from Jurassic Park. Now, to be fair, they did take moments from the second and third Jurassic Park movies as well, including when a monster eats technology that is then used to track it (in JP3, a cell phone with a distinctive ring).

So what does that mean? It all feels familiar, like a copy of something you love. I don’t mind when good ideas are borrowed and evolve and are made better, but here… it’s just copied. When our obnoxious bureaucrat is finally killed by monsters, it just reminds you of poor lawyer Gennaro getting plucked off the toilet by a T. Rex.

With a plot that feels copy and pasted and characters that are absolutely flat, the score for this movie drops dramatically.

Overall…

So here’s the thing. This movie is cool. Vibrant colors, interesting monsters, plenty of action. Popcorn fun at the movies. But is it good? No. The characters are flat and uninteresting and the story is predictable and sometimes seems to be downright plagiarizing other well-known movies. If you can stomach that, you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s not great but it’s watchable for sure.

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Review: Logan

logan-headeradam reviewLogan.

Hugh Jackman has been playing the character of Wolverine for 17 years, appearing in some form in every X-Men movie ever made (sometimes a cameo or even a picture, in the case of Deadpool). This is supposedly Hugh Jackman’s last appearance as this character, so the stakes are high and the hype is even higher.

The gist.

It’s the year 2029, so the not-far future and we follow an older Logan (Hugh Jackman) who is trying to stay off the radar. There are references that mutants have basically ceased to exist so he keeps his powers hidden, though the slow burn of what happened to them all takes some time. We discover that Logan is taking care of an elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) alongside another mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who appeared briefly in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Things start to go sideways when a mysterious girl arrives on the scene (Dafne Keen) that seems to be a new mutant, so Xavier, Caliban, and Logan must protect her on a voyage to supposed safety. Following them is the nefarious mercenary Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his band of armed killers.

The movie is rated R for intense violence and profanity and is directed by James Mangold, who also directed The Wolverine.

logan-1What works?

Logan is likely one of the best X-Men movies we’ve seen. While some movies veer towards the comic book nature of these movies, this one steers away, giving us a brutal and realistic look at what this world would be like. From the opening moments, it’s a violent movie, showing us a savage Wolverine that we’ve never really seen.

This is Hugh Jackman’s best performance, probably ever. After 17 years, he has perfected this character and is able to convey so much without saying it. A lot of mysteries aren’t answered here, especially in regards to the larger X-Men continuity, but you don’t need those answers. This is a Logan-centric movie and he gets the film that he deserves.

His supporting cast is also fantastic, highlighted by newcomer Dafne Keen as the young mutant Laura. She says very little but her eyes say everything. Or her claws do. Her juxtaposition to Wolverine is incredible, two people connected on very different ends of their lives. I’m glad this cast is small, able to give these characters plenty of quiet moments just to themselves.

In terms of action, this movie has plenty, though there’s only so many ways Wolverine can kill someone. The ebb and flow of the movie is perfect, slowing down just enough to let you breathe before diving into more urgency.

I didn’t expect this movie to have as much heart as it did. There are some huge moments, which is where Jackman and Keen shine. This is an emotional movie and a fitting conclusion to Wolverine’s story. It’s much much more than a superhero movie but overall a fantastic film.

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What didn’t work?

I have very few problems with this movie. Its structure becomes a little predictable and repetitive, though always enjoyable. The color palette is also relatively muted, meaning there’s hardly ever color or anything vivid to look at. It’s all pretty much browns and blacks. I get it though, it’s intentional.

Overall…

This is a fantastic movie and is a fitting conclusion to Jackman’s time as Wolverine. It is incredibly graphic and dark but if you want to see what the years have done to our hero, this movie does exactly that. Jackman delivers the best performance of his career, complemented by exceptional performances by Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen. This movie smartly zooms in from the other X-Men movies and focuses on one character instead of a team, allowing us the time to get some incredible character moments. Logan is superb and special and not one to be missed, even if you’re not typically a fan. This movie will make you one.

Rating 5 star

If you’ve already seen Logan, check out my discussion including spoilers!

 

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Review: The Great Wall

great-wall-headeradam review

The Great Wall is surrounded by controversy, most notably for casting Matt Damon as the hero in a movie taking place entirely in ancient China. The director Yimou Zhang came out in defense of this pick, saying that the entire premise is that Damon’s character is an outsider and this wasn’t taking away from a role intended for an Asian actor. This is also China’s most expensive film, clocking in at $150 million to make. This movie will undoubtedly make that much back in global cinemas, even if it doesn’t do well in the United States. We’ve seen that phenomenon before, such as flops like Warcraft that are likely going to get sequels because of overseas profits. This movie also features a primarily Chinese cast and crew, though the focus on Damon is indeed initially troubling.

But let’s zoom out and look beyond the controversy. Is this movie even good?

The gist.

Our lead William (Damon) and his buddy Tovar (Game of Thrones and Narcos star Pedro Pascal) are bad guys. They’re thieves and mercenaries, on a quest to find and steal “black powder” to sell to the highest bidder. They end up at the Great Wall, where the black powder resides, but their arrival happens to coincide with a giant attack on the wall from an evil reptile swarm called the taotie. These two foreigners prove themselves useful in combat, earning the trust of one of their commanders (Tian Jing). We also meet another European foreigner who has been held captive at the Wall for over 25 years (Willem Dafoe).

What worked?

This movie isn’t horrible. After the trailers, I thought it would be.

Let’s start with the action, which is a (pun intended) double-edged sword. On paper, these incredible action sequences are thought-out and creative. We see moments here that combine action from Chinese martial arts films with siege warfare like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, this entire movie feeling like the attack on Helm’s Deep. There are creative and interesting methods used in war here, making me nod my head in appreciation throughout. The downside is that these moments aren’t executed that well. There are cuts everywhere, meaning that any impact of these action moments is robbed from you. Great plan, horrible execution.

Visually the movie is fairly interesting as well. The Chinese army featured here is divided up into colorful ranks, where the blue armored warriors repel down the wall with spears, while the red armored warriors use bows to take out the reptiles from a distance. It’s colorful, though not necessarily functional. The creatures look decent, better than I anticipated, though nothing extraordinary. Maybe my expectations were so low that even passable visual effects impressed me.

The Great Wall

What didn’t work?

You shouldn’t see this movie, at least not in theaters. It’ll be streaming on Netflix in a few months, don’t worry.

It all starts with Matt Damon. I’m not sure why he decided to do this movie because he seems disinterested in the whole thing. He also has a strange accent that sounds almost like a midwest United States accent but he’s supposed to be from some unnamed European country. It’s stilted and awkward.

About Damon’s character, there is quite a bit of “white savior” issues here, reminding me mostly of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Even though there are literally thousands of incredibly well-trained warriors, he is somehow able to show them all up and even at one point gets a round of applause from the army’s top commanders. I groaned. He shares the spotlight with several other badasses but it still feels like this fine-tuned army should have had this whole thing under control.

This brings up some plotholes and inconsistencies. There are moments later in the film in which the Wall utilizes deadly weapons and techniques that are super effective, though they don’t use these methods during the deadliest siege attack, which is the first attack featured in the film. They are scared for their lives, yet don’t use their strongest weapons? I understand the movie wanting to save some surprises, but it absolutely took me out of the film.

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The biggest problem with the movie is that it misses opportunities and front loads the action. In the opening scene, we get literally thousands of these reptiles crawling the walls in an absolutely bonkers action scene. We don’t really get that again. Yes, there are a few more attacks, but they’re not like this. And, hopefully not to spoil anything, the climax is essentially a “Wait, what?” moment that takes place not at the Wall, after all of this preparation. After the opening scene, it’s all downhill.

Part of the reason it’s downhill is that the movie focuses on a weird romance subplot that is completely unneeded and unsatisfying. This movie’s strength is not its characters, it’s the beautiful blend of monster movie and martial arts film. The movie unfortunately forgets that.

Overall…

On paper, this movie had a chance. An entire army of well-trained soldiers, with a dose of martial arts cinematography, taking on a massive horde of reptile monsters. Unfortunately, the movie focuses on a stilted performance by Matt Damon and the action throughout the film is increasingly disappointing, shot in a “quick cut” style that removes any feeling of actual impact. While the movie isn’t terrible, I can’t recommend it.

Rating 2 star

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Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

lego-batman-headeradam review

The LEGO Batman Movie.

A few years ago, the original The LEGO Movie really surprised us. It didn’t seem like a 90-minute commercial but instead had a life and heart to it that was unexpected. In that movie, we were introduced to Batman, played by Will Arnett, who now gets his own film. Would this movie be able to capture the essence of the first film yet also have an identity unto itself?

The gist.

Batman (Arnett) is saving the day as usual when he comes across the Joker (Zach Galifianakis). The Joker wants to be Batman’s archenemy but Batman is fairly lukewarm about it, triggering Joker to find a huge and elaborate way to destroy Gotham City and prove once and for all that he’s Batman’s greatest threat. During this, Batman accidentally adopts a child (Michael Cera) and a new Police Commissioner takes over (Rosario Dawson). With the help of his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Batman must find a way to navigate these threats, as well as dealing with his real greatest enemy: letting someone else into his life.

What works?

Like The LEGO Movie before it, this movie manages to have a heart to it. This movie might actually understand Batman and Bruce Wayne better than many of the live action adaptations have. While it’s humorous in its execution (such as “One is the loneliest number…” playing while he’s introspective), this movie actually explains some of Batman’s flaws and struggles perfectly. His relationship with Robin (Cera) is both hilarious and touching. This might be one of the best Batman films we’ve ever seen.

If you’re a fan of Batman, you’ll love this. This movie is full of references for you, inside jokes about past movies and comic book arcs (and even other superhero movies). This can be a problem though, as some of these jokes are really deep cuts that the average viewer won’t understand. So if you’re a casual fan, expect there to be barrage after barrage of jokes that don’t always hit for you.

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Visually this movie is very striking as well, genius in how some of these moments include the LEGO mythology. It’s beautiful for the most part, though sometimes there’s too much going on that it can make your brain hurt. Things are being simultaneously destroyed and made at the same time, all during an action chase scene. It can be a little cluttered onscreen.

In terms of voice talent, this movie has an incredible comedic cast, led by Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Zach Galifianakis. Cera and Galifianakis especially give surprising performances here, better than most of their stuff in recent years. Arnett is great as the lead but that’s to be expected. There are also tons of guest voices that you’d never recognize but the IMDb listing is spectacular.

What doesn’t work?

Only a few criticisms.

Firstly, it’s somewhat reliant on your knowledge of the Batman history and lore. Villains show up and they say a line that was a funny catchphrase from the 1989 Batman film, stuff like that. It’s sometimes very deep and a lot might go over your head.

Secondly, the movie surprisingly includes a lot of characters from outside the DC world, similar to how The LEGO Movie incorporated tons of characters. This is fun but I think I would have preferred to see more of Batman’s actual rogue gallery as opposed to bringing in villains from other movies.

Lastly, the visuals can be a little hectic at times and it doesn’t seem as clean as the first film. It seems muddy most of the time, if that makes sense.

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Overall…

If you’re a fan of Batman, you’ll likely love this movie. It’s chock full of references and jokes tailored specifically for you. You will probably give this a 5/5. But as a film for everyone, there are only a few criticisms that just slightly lessen the impact. Everyone will enjoy the humor, the heart, and the incredible voice talent that brings this all to life. Don’t hesitate, give this one a look ASAP.

Rating 4 star

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Review: Fifty Shades Darker

fifty-shades-darker-headeradam reviewFifty Shades Darker.

I guess somebody has to review this movie, right?

The gist.

In the first Fifty Shades of Grey, we meet Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) who falls for billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). He has a few unique needs and desires, so the entire first film was him teaching her the ways of dominance and submission, using punishment as a way to arouse. She didn’t like this and bounced. So this movie opens with Christian wanting to give up that lifestyle if it means keeping her. We then meet some new supporting characters that test their love for each other, including Anastasia’s predatory new boss (Eric Johnson), the woman responsible for Christian’s desires (Kim Basinger), and a mysterious ex-lover from his past (Bella Heathcote).

What works?

Let me start with this. I am clearly not the target demographic for movies like this. So take my opinion lightly.

This movie is really only good for one thing. Fantasy escapism. It’s like a movie equivalent of a bad soap opera, one that you just want to mindlessly take in and experience a few shock and awe twists and turns. It’s fantasy in the way that it portrays our two main characters. An average, somewhat boring, girl who manages to gain the attention of a handsome billionaire with a dark troubled past. She not only gets money but also fame and even a dream job, without trying for any of it. It’s absolute fantasy and in that regard, absolutely succeeds.

What doesn’t work?

Here are my critiques of this as a film.

First off, it’s relatively boring. Nothing substantial happens and whenever something starts to progress, there’s an extended sex sequence with horrible music. It reminded me of Suicide Squad in this regard, though not sex. It felt like disjointed music videos. At one point, they’re on a sailing boat for five minutes. Nothing happens. It’s slow and uneventful.

In terms of the script, it’s lazy. At one moment, there’s a helicopter sequence that is so jarring and ultimately unnecessary, that you feel like no one gave this script a second read. This series began as fan-fiction for Twilight and it absolutely still feels that way. The dialogue is cheesy and not at all realistic and the events of the story only serve to shock and manipulate your emotions, though not at all subtly.

The movie is also boring to look at. Set in a dreary Seattle, it doesn’t take advantage of any color of the Pacific Northwest, instead entirely gray and black. “But the title!” you scream at me through your computer. That doesn’t mean the movie should be boring to look at. The only color in the movie was the red of his sex room and the green trees during that weird helicopter sequence. It’s boring to look at.

fifty-shades-darker-2Overall…

As a movie, this is horrible. Its only function is escapism but it doesn’t even do that well. I can appreciate sappy romances and tearjerkers for what they are but this movie doesn’t even try. It’s a fantasy and if that’s what you want, you’ll find it here. I suspect most of you already know if you’d like this movie or not, so I don’t even know why you’re here. Maybe just to hear me trash this movie? It’s not good but that doesn’t mean some of you won’t like it. You know yourself better than I do.

Rating 1 Star

 

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