We’re back and catching up with some of this summer’s big, would-be, blockbusters and we’re deep into franchise territory (when aren’t we?). Two of Hollywood’s biggest franchises come to an end (maybe) while one is paving the way for its largest installment yet. Let’s talk toys, monsters, and mutants.
Toy Story 4
Did we need a sequel to Toy Story? Not really. Then we got Toy Story 2 and the answer became: Yes, yes we do. Then Toy Story 3 came along. Can they really pull it off again? And then that emotional wallop of an ending happened. It was perfect. Now a fourth one?! Why are they ruining it?! After the credits rolled on #4, my initial thought was: if they keep making them like this, do as many as you want. The biggest obstacle this movie faced was justifying its own existence, and boy does it succeed. What has been exceptional about the Toy Story films is how each installment further expands its world in profound and emotionally complex ways and this fourth (and perhaps final) entry is no different.
The animation is absolutely gorgeous, the voice performances are exceptional with plenty of notable newcomers like Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael Key, and Jordan Peele. It is an absolute blast of a movie from start to finish, and perhaps the funniest movie Pixar has ever made. But really what sets this apart from the pack is how multi-layered the storytelling is. Humans play a much bigger role in the story and it allows the movie to explore childhood in a way it hasn’t done before while Woody faces an existential crisis concerning his place in the world. It’s pretty bold storytelling for a kids movie, but if you grew up with these movies for the past 24 years (wow!) then it speaks to you on a deeper level that will make you a weepy mess in all the best ways. Is it the best of all the Toy Story films? Maybe. It’s certainly one of the best Pixar films. Grade: A+
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was a refreshing return form for the titular monster after his previous American iteration that was the 1998 disaster. Though skillfully made, the movie did feel a bit disappointing in its lack of kaiju monster action. This 2019 follow-up, now fully entrenched in a larger monster movie universe with King Kong, dives head-first into the action. While there’s certainly a lot more action, and while at times it’s pretty spectacular, it can be tough to follow as most scenes are drenched in dark and stormy environments. While the cast is filled with a who’s who of prestige TV drama actors (Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobbie Brown, Charles Dance, Bradley Whitford…), the human characters thankfully take a more backseat role. Unfortunately the movie just doesn’t grab you like it should, but it is a fun time at the cinema, though you’ll likely forget most of it upon leaving the theater. Grade: B-
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Where did we go wrong here? It’s hard to figure out. After X-Men: The Last Stand left a bad taste in most fans’ mouths with the way it bungled the Dark Phoenix storyline (one of the most iconic in all of comics), there was some hope they would get it right this time. However, after the credits rolled on this, The Last Stand doesn’t look so bad. At least they’re having fun in that movie. Dark Phoenix on the other hand is dreary, bleak, and seems to want to be over as soon as it starts. It’s not aggressively bad like X-Men: Apocalypse was, it’s just rather inert. There’s some good character drama at work here, but the story surrounding it isn’t that exciting, has little momentum, and most of the cast seems ready to move on, which is a shame because Sophie Turner does deserve a fair amount of praise for her performance. Even given the cosmic nature of its storytelling, the movie still feels really small scale compared to other entries which you’d think would be refreshing but instead comes off as sleepy. It does have a pretty good Hans Zimmer score though, which stands out against the bland soundtracks of most superhero movies these days. Zimmer though, can’t save Phoenix. Grade: D