Hustlers Review

Another review I read of Hustlers described it as “Goodfellas in a g-string,” and I cannot think of a better description than that. Hustlers is a crime movie that puts the focus on women. A group of dancers pull a scam on their odious clients, at least until a few of them can overcome the shame and tell the police what happened. It is one of the better movies to come out in the last few months and a good kick off for fall movies.

This is a true crime story of a group of strippers who stole tons of money from their clients. They did this by drugging them and stealing their credit cards. Constance Wu stars as Destiny, who comes under the wing of experienced dancer Ramona, played by Jennifer Lopez. Ramona teaches Destiny how to dance. Eventually, they split up, but after Destiny’s relationship fails and she tries to go back to dancing, they meet back up. The early part of the movie takes place before the financial collapse, the latter half after. The money just doesn’t flow like it did before. So Ramona assembles a crew for a new venture. They go to bars and find men and entice them to go to the strip club. But eventually that well runs dry. So then they hatch a new plan; drugging the men, bringing them to the club and robbing them blind.

Hustlers does a great job of playing with the audience’s sympathies. The first hour is all about getting you to sympathize with its main characters. You see the women’s struggles and their dreams. Those dreams might be somewhat ridiculous–I am not sure about Ramona’s clothing line of denim swimwear–but the movie never asks you to laugh at them. It also goes out of its way to portray the men who are coming into the club as absolute creeps. They are mostly wall street traders just before the stock market collapse. The movie gets you on board with them, and when their efforts turn criminal the movie makes it easy to follow their justifications. Then the movie pushes further and further. The marks become less odious, the women less justified. Then the movie pulls it back once it closes in on the ending.

The movie lives by the performances and relationships of its crew. Lopez is the standout as Ramona, a force of nature in the club, whose drive leads to the plan and whose foibles lead to their inevitable capture. Wu doesn’t appear quite as comfortable as Destiny; at first because that is the character, but later because her attitude is inconsistent. Other characters move in and out, with Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart rounding out the primary crew of scammers. Palmer in particular steals every scene she is in. The chemistry between Wu and Lopez drives the movie. At first it seems almost romantic, but the real nature of the connection becomes clear later. Destiny was abandoned by her mother at a young age and was raised by her grandmother. Ramona becomes like her surrogate mother. That fits with Ramona’s mother hen tendencies. But Destiny is not the only young dancer she has formed such a relationship with. Ramona’s refusal to cut any of them loose, no matter how untrustworthy they prove to be. Even at the end, Destiny still craves that connection with Ramona.

The other thread, that one that doesn’t quite work, is how this story is being told as a story to a reporter played by Julia Stiles. She is fine, but the storyline only seems to deflate the tension of the main story.

Hustlers is a delight. It is a crime story with a fresh perspective. It is a movie that takes characters that are usually treated as disposable and showing that they are people. It doesn’t quite land every note, but the whole package is a lot of fun.

****

Ready or Not

Ready or Not is not a subtle movie. At one point its protagonist flat out states a succinct version of the movie’s theme: “Fucking rich people.” That theme is on display pretty obviously throughout the movie. It is gory and funny and fun.

The movie opens with Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien) preparing for their wedding. The wedding is taking place on Alex’s family, the Le Domas’s, estate. Grace is an orphan, so while she is nervous, she is eager to be part of a family. The family is a little strange, but happy to have her is she is bringing Alex back, as he had been estranged for some years. After the wedding, Grace learns about a strange family tradition. On the wedding night, the person marrying into the family draws a card and they play a game. It is weird, but since the family made their fortune with board games, it is not that crazy. Unfortunately, Grace draws the hide and seek card. The family believes that they must hunt and kill any person who draws the hide and seek card. The rest of the movie is Grace attempting to evade her new in laws throughout their mansion.

The whole thing becomes a big class conflict. Along with the come from nothing Grace, there are a handful of household servants. The family are all third and fourth generation wealth. They are fortunately not especially talented or parcticed at murder. They are all awful in their own way. Alex’s older brother is a drunk, his wife is a gold digger. Their father is a fail-son patriarch. Their aunt is the bitter widow of the last time this game was played. The daughter is a drugged out wreck and her husband is callous and thoughtless. The hardest one to get a read on is Alex’ mother, Becky, played by Andie MacDowell. She is the only competent member of the family, but she seems somehow both reluctant and resolute.

They come after her with ancient weaponry that they don’t really have an idea how to use. Thanks to Alex’s working on Grace’s behalf, she manages to evade her captors. The movie does a great job of showing Grace’s bravery and determination, which is not undermined by the Le Domas’s incompetence. They have all the power, but no idea how to do anything. Most of Grace’s problems come from her run ins with the butler and the children.

While Grace is the only target of the hunt, there are significantly more casualties. As revealed by the trailers, the maids have a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is also gory. Grace gets quite injured; shot and cut and generally abused. A bullet hole through the hand is put to a some gruesome use.

The movie has more than gore and thrills going for it. It is also quite clever. The dialogue is pretty great and almost all of the jokes land. The disinterest or over-eagerness of various family members play off each other perfectly. The cast is excellent. Samara Weaving is a star, and MacDowell and Adam Brody are likewise terrific. It is definitely some B-movie fun, but as a bit of late summer fun it is hard to beat

****

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The best parts of the Fast & Furious franchise have always been the nonsense parts. That is why no one cared about the first couple of entries in the series; they were at least partly trying to be movies. The problem with the last couple of movies isn’t that there was too much nonsense, it was that too much of the nonsense wasn’t as fun as it should be. This was a much bigger problem with Fate of the Furious than Furious 7 (hey, rankings are fun, see the bottom of this post), but some unwieldiness has been creeping into the series since just after Fast & Furious 6. This spin-off is the most ludicrous film in the series yet, but thanks to its two stars and some fun sequences, it also manages to be one of the best in the series.

Two stars is kind of misleading, as this is really a movie with three. Yes, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters are named in the title, but Vanessa Kirby is just as integral to the film as the two of them and is a more than credible action star. But back to the named stars. This movie makes me fear for future F&F movies, as the two most charismatic performers in the series are now confined to their own spin-off. I am very on the record for my love of The Rock, and this movie plays hard into his best traits. I am also a big fan of Jason Statham. They are both playing essentially to type, but they are fun in their usual personas. The movie doesn’t quite sell their animosity to alliance as well as it could, but if you want me to not like a buddy spy movie starring The Rock and Jason Statham you are going to be disappointed. Last but not least is Idris Elba as the villain Brixton Lore, a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier.

The plot is pure nonsense, but really no more nonsensical than the average James Bond or Mission Impossible movie. There is a deadly virus, which for complicated reasons Kirby’s Hattie Shaw injects into herself to keep it away from Lore. Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw are dispatched to find her. Soon they do and the three of them have to go on the run from Lore. What sets it apart is just how ridiculous it lets itself be as they solve these problems. The Rock jumps from a high rise to chase villains repelling down. Statham drives a Lamborghini underneath two trucks. There are many other things that I really don’t want to spoil, from cameos to actions bits. Suffice to say, Hobbs & Shaw is stuff with amazing, fun, nonsensical stuff.

The dialogue, mostly, is the same kind of ridiculous fun. They try really hard for banter between Rock and Statham, but their hyper-masculine posturing has fun elements. It still manages to feel like a Fast & Furious movie. Cars play an outsized role in everything. It all comes down to family, though the movie seems to forget that Statham’s character had a brother.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is everything I’ve liked from the recent F&F movies. It is big, dumb, explosive fun. It is a tone that few other movies manage at all. Bring on Hobbs & Shaw 2.

9. 2 Fast 2 Furious

8. Fast & Furious

7. Fate of the Furious

6. Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift

5. The Fast & the Furious

4. Furious 7

3. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

2. Fast & Furious 6

1. Fast 5

Late Night

Late Night follows the general outline of a romantic comedy. The twist is that this pairing is not a romantic couple, but a boss and employee. Though the movie follows that familiar shape, they are not romantically linked at all. It works surprisingly well.

Emma Thompson stars a Katherine Newberry, the long-time star of a late night talk show who the new studio head is forcing out of her role. She doesn’t make a great first impression, she seems very complacent and a little disinterested in her show. She has never even met most of the writers that work for the show. When it is brought to her attention that she has no women writing for her show, she instructs her producer to hire a woman writer to fill a newly opened vacancy. Mindy Kaling plays Molly, the new writer who gets that job. She is a recent blue collar worker who aspires to be a comedian and idolizes Katherine.

There are struggles. Molly struggles with her new job, getting to know the ins and outs of her profession and dealing with a lack of respect from her coworkers. Katherine, newly reinvigorated about keeping her job, struggles to understand a new generation. Soon it becomes clear that Molly, who is a fan of Katherine’s older, more successful material, is one of the best at helping Katherine connect with the audience she is seeking without coming off as condescending.

It really does mostly follow a rom-com structure. They meet and initially clash. Then they learn how well they work together. Then there is a third act separation, where they both try to get along without each other before the big reunion near the end. It is a platonic rom-com. The structure works surprisingly well, largely thanks to the performances of Kaling and Thompson. Thompson seems like a real late night host in her cadence and comfort on stage. She is also believable demanding and slightly out of touch. Kaling is terrific as the peppy and generally upbeat newcomer who, for the most part, refuses to let the vagaries of the job get her down.

It really succeeds by making its two lead roles fully realized people, even if no one else it. Katherine has a history, a husband who is succumbing to an incurable disease and some indiscretions. Molly is a little naive but not stupid. She is inexperienced, but she is also hardworking. She refuses to be talked down to, but does not refuse to learn. The understanding between the two of them feels natural. I also like that the change that Katherine has to go through is not changing who she is, but simply doing better of showing who she is, a skill she seems to have lost through her struggles with her husband and his disease, and just simply growing old. It isn’t that she needs to dumb down her show, as the first instict is, but to more clearly communicate its goals.

Late Night is also a comedy that at least seems to have something to say. It isn’t deep or profound, but there is a message here about sex and age and class. It doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with a message (which can be a very good thing, see Sorry to Bother You), but it is undeniably there. The movie is just a solid, refreshing bit of summer fun.

****

Godzilla King of the Monsters

I learned in the last couple weeks that more people than I realized didn’t like the 2014 Godzilla. I liked it then and I still like it now. People complained about how little actual Godzilla action we got in that movie, but the amount matched up well with a lot of old Godzilla movies and what we did get was amazing. I heard the same complaint about not enough of the monsters leveled at Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which is how I know that some people will never be satisfied. There are flaws with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but not enough of the monsters is not one of them. As a longtime fan of Godzilla, I loved it. Instead of trying to make Godzilla serious or scientific, the movie is just an old style Godzilla movie with a ludicrous budget behind it. It is big, dumb and loud and I loved every second of it.

Getting the bad out of the way first; nothing any of the people do in this movie makes much sense or is interesting at all. It is a lot of overqualified actors spouting nonsense and giving the viewer a lens through which to watch a handful of giant monsters duke it out. Secret government organization Monarch is fighting against the military’s desire to destroy Godzilla and the other monsters that have been found. This threat is taken very seriously despite the fact that in 65 years of Godzilla movies militaries have killed exactly 0 Godzillas. Meanwhile, Charles Dance and his group of eco-terrorists want to wake the monsters and basically destroy humanity. Caught in the middle is a family consisting of Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, who have a device that can kind of control the monsters. Sally Hawkins is there, so are O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Bradley Whitford. The human who matters is Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa, who reveres Godzilla and seems to have some understanding of how the newly named Titans work.

The real draw are the monsters, and those are great. King of the Monsters loosely follows the outline of Ghidorah: The Three Headed monster, one of my favorite Godzilla movies. It keeps the same four main monsters from that movie. You have Godzilla and Ghidorah, of course, but there are also the other two monsters featured in that movie: Rodan and Mothra. Mothra is a Godzilla staple, Rodan was one in the 1960s. I would hesitate to say that any of the four have been reimagined for this movie, though I do have things to say about some changes to Mothra, but they have been updated. Something that this movie, the previous one and Kong: Skull Island have all done well is give each monster personality. They aren’t just big CGI nothings, they are characters. Godzilla acts the same here as he did in the 2014 movie. He is a brute; he fights mean. Instead of being more dinosaur-like, in these movies he reminds me of a kind of scaly bear. With Ghidorah they did an excellent job of making each of his three heads somewhat distinct. They all act a little different from the others. Ghidorah is cruel and sadistic. While Godzilla fights mean, Ghidorah is simply mean on his own. Rodan is probably the least distinct of the big four, but he has his own air of petty cruelty. Rodan is kind of a classic bully. He appears to get pleasure out of taking down the tiny fighter jets flying around; he’s not destroying them because they attacked him, but because they can. Rodan also crumples like a wet bag when faced with a challenge. The monster that got the most significant update is Mothra. Mothra still does the life cycle, starting as a worm like larva before cocooning and then hatching into a giant moth. Here, though, Mothra is not just a moth, she is also kind of a wasp or hornet. Mothra is also the only monster that appears to be benevolent to humanity.

The monsters fight. And they are great fights. Godzilla and Ghirodah go three rounds, and Mothra and Rodan get in there for some serious action as well. The only part where the movie struggles with this is that three of the four monsters can fly, with only Godzilla stuck on the ground. While this is used against him, it does make for the occasional unevenness in the fight scenes. I loved all of the fights. It delivered everything I wanted from them.

I haven’t really described anything that could be called plot, because there really isn’t anything worth describing. The most interesting part of the actual story is when King of the Monsters subverts the original Godzilla. In that movie, a Dr. Serizawa develops an oxygen destroyer that kills Godzilla. In this movie, Dr. Serizawa fights to save Godzilla, eventually helping him recover from an oxygen destroyer. While his sacrifice is complete nonsense, it is interesting how here he gives his life to save Godzilla rather than destroy him.

The movie left me numbed, but euphoric. It was thrilling and exhausting. I can see the inanity of the plot turning some people off, but it is exactly the big budget Godzilla movie that I have always wanted.

****

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

I am a fan of Pokemon. I’ve played the games since Red and Blue were first released and while I don’t obsess over them, I can point to evidence that I have played nearly every mainline release in the series. While knowledge of or nostalgia for Pokemon is certain to greatly enhance a person’s enjoyment of Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, I think is works without much affection for its base series.

Knowledge of the details of the Pokemon world and knowledge of the close to one thousand little creatures that inhabit it are a definite plus for watching this movie. It does some work in explaining how things work, but there are significant chunks of background stuff that are helpful to a viewer. Like the opening scene with the Cubone. Tim, the protagonist, makes a comment about its bone helmet while trying to catch it. The movie never really explains what Pokemon fans already know, that a Cubone wears the skull of its dead mother as a helmet. That is the kind of information a player would find in their pokedex or the cartoon would explain. This movie doesn’t have time to explain all of the series’ accompanying nonsense; it just assumes the player is familiar. For the most part this works; most pokemon are pretty self-explanatory. The big dragon with fire on its tail breaths fire, the toads with big flower bulbs on their backs have plant abilities. When the movie needs the player to know a stranger fact, like the fact that psyduck’s have trouble controlling their psychic powers under stress, it tells the viewer. Most of the incidental stuff is just there to be spotted by fans, and the movie does a great job of filling the frame with incidental stuff.

The cast is a nice mix of relative newcomers and some favorites. I loved seeing Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe as secondary characters. Justice Smith is a rising star, who has been enjoyable in largely enjoyable misfires like The Get Down and Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. The star is Ryan Reynolds, who lends his voice to Pikachu, doing a PG version of his Deadpool schtick. It mostly works.

One part of the movie that unreservedly shines is its effects. I was not crazy about the realistic Pokemon renders in the trailers, but pretty quickly in the movie I not only got used to them, I became pretty impressed with how good they looked. It isn’t easy to turn fanciful, cartoonish monsters into realistic creatures, but they did it. Pikachu in particular is a success, with him appearing wonderfully real, furry and expressive.

Detective Pikachu plays out like a Blade Runner for babies; it is a child’s first noir story. And while it can’t quite bring the mystery home in a truly satisfactory way, it mostly works. Tim is a lapsed Pokemon fanatic who is called to Ryme City to settle affairs after the apparent death of his estranged father. His father was an ace detective who disappeared on a case. At first, Tim has no interest in picking up where his father left off, he just wants to deal with his dad’s stuff and get back to his insurance job. That changes when he finds his dad’s Pikachu, who for some reason can talk. This Pikachu considers himself a great detective, but he has amnesia so he doesn’t remember what happened to Tim’s dad. The two of them team up to solve Tim’s dad’s last case.

The way the mystery plays out is where it is most apparent that this is a movie for kids. I pretty much sorted out all of the characters immediately and what their roles would be. There are a couple of bonkers twists near the end that I couldn’t predict, but the general roles of every character was pretty much immediately apparent to any savvy viewer. It is a simple mystery, but a largely satisfying one up until the near the end.

That is the movie in a nutshell; deceptively simple and largely satisfying. All of the Pokemon nonsense might be hard to grasp for the uninitiated, but the parts needed to understand the film are simple.

****

Long Shot

Long Shot is a solid romantic comedy with a political bent. It does not do anything that has not been seen before in the genre, but it is a well acted and well written, making it more than worth a watch. The movie stars Charlize Theron as a Secretary of State gearing up for a presidential run while trying to win support for a big environmental treaty. Seth Rogen is a recently unemployed journalist who is hired to punch up some of Theron’s speeches. During the trip, they kindle a romance.

As with most romcoms, Long Shot’s appeal comes down to its two leads and the chemistry between them. Here, Long Shot soars. Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen work surprisingly well together. Yes, it is that old schlubby guy with a beautiful woman dynamic, but it works here. It works because Rogen as Fred is genuinely charming. He is opinionated and a goof, but he also clearly shows what he cares about. Theron is similar as Charlotte, a genuine and likeable politician. You can see why she’s popular and why Fred has been in love with her for so long. They work together thanks largely to Fred’s mostly unselfish infatuation with Charlotte. He clearly has a crush on her from the start. He is also smart and funny enough to show to win her over. It really helps that Charlize Theron is always amazing. She seems perfect in nearly every role, and this is no different. This is her movie. Fred gets sucked into her orbit, but it is all about Charlotte’s journey and Theron sells that journey.

It also has some pretty great supporting players, from June Diane Raphael as Charlotte’s chief of staff to O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Fred’s best friend, to Bob Odenkirk as an actor turned incompetent president because the American electorate is a bunch of brain dead knobs who will fall for any stupid mother fucker no matter how obvious corrupt and shitty he is. It is a fun cast to spend time with.

The big conflict between them also works. Fred refuses to compromise, about almost anything. Charlotte perhaps compromises too much. They are both somewhat right, and the movie does a good job of showing how they each learn from the other. Fred becomes a little less strident, which had isolated and hurt is ability to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, Charlotte realizes, or at least finally finds the point, where compromise has given everything away and it is no longer worth it. Added to this is the optics of what dating Fred would do for Charlotte’s optics. Charlotte’s struggles also get into to the compromises that women in positions of power have to make that men don’t even consider. The movie could beat you over the head with that point, and while it isn’t subtle it mostly just lets it come out organically in the story.

The movie mostly gets along on the charm of its cast and some fun, snappy dialogue. It leaves the believability that is often a hallmark of the romcom. These are not normal people, they are extraordinary people. How well their struggles translate to relatable is up for debate. The movie largely works anyway just on charm. It is an easy, pleasant time in the theater. Long Shot is slight, but delightful.

****

Avengers Endgame

This is a hard movie to review.  I get why people love it, but it was such an uneven experience for me that I ended up walking out of the theater somehow completely satisfied and a little disappointed.  For more than two hours of Avengers Endgame’s runtime it is easily the best Avengers movie.  It is focused and narratively coherent, while also having a real solid theme and doing great character stuff.  It is everything I could want from superhero movie.  Then the finale hits, and none of the payoff lands.

Endgame is a movie about loss and grief and how people handle it.  The surviving Avengers all deal with it in a different way.  Natasha throws herself into her work, Tony retreats to his family, Steve pushes himself to help others through it, etc.  Thor, who lost more than anyone between Infinity War and Ragnarok, kind of gives up completely.  The movie lets each character process things in their own way and spends time digging into how and why they have reacted the way they did.  It is some of the best character stuff in any of the Marvel movies, let alone the always overstuffed Avengers movies.

I also loved the middle section of this movie.  The time heist was great.  They chose some really interesting scenes to revisit.  Sure, going back to The Avengers was a no brainer; I may personally believe it has aged poorly, but that was when the MCU went from a handful of decent to good movies to a full on phenomenon.  Likewise, jumping back to the start of the original Guardians of the Galaxy makes sense because that is when the movies first really left Earth.  The third drop in for the time heist is the most interesting choice, with Thor and Rocket stopping in during Thor: The Dark World.  While not all the movies have been equal in terms of how important they are to the overarching story of the MCU, the two that have been the most comprehensively ignored since their releases are The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World.  Endgame manages to pull more pathos out of that movie than was in it to begin with.  The time heist overall manages to be both a lot of fun, and really dig down into the core of most of it characters.  Especially the original Avengers, excluding the Hulk.  Tony gets to hash things out with his dad, Cap gets another look at the life he lost, and Thor gets a few precious moments with a world he has lost.  Then there is the big scene between Nat and Clint, which works for both characters, even if I think it doesn’t get quite get to where it wants to.

All is going well until the big climactic moment.  It is a big moment that brings in nearly every superhero to appear in one of these movies.  However, unlike the sprawling battle from Infinity War, this battle didn’t work at all for me.  The geography of the battle makes no sense, its objectives make no sense, there is no flow or feel.  It is just twenty or so minutes of largely pointless violence.  Getting to see some cool hero shots doesn’t really fix anything.  It takes a movie that had fun and entertaining and just lands with a big, deflating thud.

At least the wrap up after the fight scene was suitably emotional and well done.  This movie is definitely an end, and it clears the deck for movies to come.  Movies that, for the first time in like a half decade, we don’t know are coming.  Outside of a few obvious ones, at least.

Someone else, I’m sorry I don’t remember who for attribution, noted that these last two Avengers movies work as a strange pair of inverted expectations.  Infinity War was largely a downbeat, mournful adventure. Endgame, on the other hand, is sparkling light-footed meditation on loss.  The start of this movie is a fitting coda to its predecessor, the middle section is as much fun as any Avengers movie has been, but that ending lets it all down.  I know that is not a popular position to take, but while I applaud the ambition and scope of that last fight, it also worked to disconnect me from a movie that I had been largely in sync with until that point.  The point where when the final climax hits, I felt nothing at what was objectively a very cool line.  This is also a movie that, the longer I think about it, the less I like it.  There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of strange choices.  Still, it is a fitting and entertaining end to more than a decade of good movies.

****

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

This is the first great movie of 2019. I think. After more than a week to think about, that is what I am going with. While there are certainly twists and turns in this thriller, it is a rather simple movie. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a perfect example of the movie just doing the thing. Contrast this with the recently released Serenity, an island noir that refuses to just be a noir, to admittedly hilarious results. Sparrow Creek is just a small, condensed mystery thriller. It just does that, with no special shifts in genre or concept mid-movie. And it all works well.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is about a militia group. They meet at their warehouse headquarters after hearing police reports of a shooting at a police funeral. The seven men quickly determine, based on some missing gear and a missing assault rifle, that one of the seven of them was the shooter. They decide to find out who did and turn that person in to the police in order to keep them from taking the whole group down. So ex-cop Gannon starts to investigate the other men in the group. He quickly narrows it down to young loner Keating or he standoffish Morris. Meanwhile, militia leader begins to suspect Noah, who has some kind of connection to Gannon and lied to the others upon arriving. Tensions rise as Gannon and Ford struggle over how to find out who is responsible. Meanwhile, reports on the police scanner suggest that other militia’s like theirs have risen up across the nation to fight back against the corrupt police, making the group wonder is they really want to turn in the culprit.

The movie is rather simple in form; it is essentially a kind of locked room mystery. But it is playing a bigger game. Gannon, played by James Badge Dale, is very effective at his job, but he is more worried about finding a scapegoat than actually getting to the truth. He is not exactly a reliable narrator. You can’t really trust him; he joined this militia same as these other disaffected criminals. But he is the center of the film. Each of the other characters, in a cast made up entirely of familiar faces if not familiar names, is broken in a slightly different way. Each one is an outcast. You never really sympathize with them, their goals and beliefs are abhorrent, but you can almost understand how they got there.

Without spoiling any of the narrative twists, things eventually come to a boil as most of the characters secrets are revealed. The conclusion ties everything together in a way that makes sense, but also keeps the viewer guessing right until the end. That ending, if I am interpreting things correctly, may not be as palatable as what came before, but it is still something. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek does not do anything truly new or revolutionary, it merely executes an old fashioned thriller at a very high level.

****

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a perfectly good animated superhero movie. What is odd is that in my bubble of movie reception, that feels like a intentional contrarianism. I have seen this movie lauded as the best superhero movie ever made, animated or otherwise. I can’t join in that high praise. It is good, very good even. But there must be something I am missing that transforms this very good film into some sort of unforgettable experience that others seem to be seeing.

Into the Spider-Verse is about Miles Morales, a young kid who is bitten by a radioactive spider, just like Peter Parker was. After some events involving the Kingpin, several other Spider-Man villains, and an attempt to breach into other realities, Miles must team with a middle-aged Spider-Man to stop all of reality for shattering.

The visuals are amazing. Into the Spider-Verse does a magnificent job of portraying a comic book animated, taking more from the coloring than the panels and borders. The inhabitants of the various realities all have their own animation style, each is done with loving care. However, the combination of of the coloring and the movie’s use of focus make it more than a little distracting; as though I was watching a 3D movie without the glasses on. Most people do not seem to share my complaints, so it likely won’t bother most people.

The movie also shows a great love and understanding of Spider-Man. It introduces various versions of the character, and plays with the various elements of the character’s origins. Each of the origin retains the central message of “with great power must also come great responsibility.” Miles’s origin is along the same lines. There are certainly differences, for starters his parents are still alive. But by the time it reaches its conclusion, Miles has reached the same place a Peter. The various Spider-people are a lot of fun. Outside of the run down Peter who reluctantly works as Miles mentor, there is the confident and assured Gwen Stacy, who isn’t completely new like Miles or as beaten as Peter. Then there are the three more wild variations. The black and white Spider-Man Noir, the anime inspired Peni Parker and the looney tunes-esque Peter Porker, an anthropomorphic pig.

Into the Spider-Verse is fun. It is an origin story, but there is a lot more going on. However, that a lot more going on is where it kind of leaves me cold. Miles story almost gets enough time to develop, as does Peter’s, but every other character is underserved. Gwen gets a couple of scenes, but nothing resembling an arc. A few of the villains have vague motivations, but that is it. The other Spider-people are just there for flavor. Which is fine, but then the movie tries to get you to care about their struggles near the end and it just falls flat. Still, this are minor problems in what is largely a very good movie.

Maybe my problem is that I just don’t care all that much about Spider-Man. I had similar problems with Spider-Man Homecoming. I like Spider-Man just fine, but he is far from a favorite. Just like this movie; I like it just fine, but that’s about it.

****