Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: The Year in Reviews

Got my annual "best of year" countdown on the way, but meanwhile here's an overview of the movies I did full reviews on during calendar year 2017, with a little blurb from each. Another big year for me, with more reviews than ever before. (This doesn't include retro or archival reviews, of which there were also a few.) Catch them all after the jump!

"...repeatedly hamstrung by its episodic nature, jerking from inciting incident to inciting incident without a clear through-line and leaving the whole thing undernourished. As a result, there's a start-stop jitteriness to the narrative that prevents it from building up any steam."
xXx: Return of Xander Cage 
"...it's hard to figure out which audience this picture is even aimed at, exactly. I doubt the folks who made the original '02 flick a moderate hit are holding much nostalgic attachment to the property, and I also don't think kids today are particularly interested in seeing fifty-year-old Vin Diesel skateboarding down a mountain, or being told again and again how desirable he is by women half his age."
The Great Wall
"As directed by [Zhang] Yimou, the film is skillfully assembled and has some nice eye-popping moments to justify the use of 3D. The Great Wall is a movie I absolutely would have eaten up as a ten-year old, and that's not a ding on it. It's a big, wide-open, international production of the kind we get far too little of these days."
Logan

"Logan manages the unique task of transcending its comic book roots without ever being dismissive of them. By the time the credits begin to roll, the realization begins to sink in that not only does this mark the close of Jackman’s (and Stewart’s -- he’s been Professor X longer than he was Captain Jean-Luc Picard!) tenures in their respective roles, but it’s also an elegy of sorts for the entire X-Men series up to this point."
Kong: Skull Island
"This is a movie that's smart enough to know when to be silly. It's the kind of movie where a monster can conveniently hack up a guy’s dog tags so the other characters can know he’s been eaten. While there are some attempts at social commentary...Skull Island mostly plays like a larger-budgeted monster picture of the kind that populated weekend afternoons on TV in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is exactly as it should be."
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
"I'm not sure how well it'll play to an audience that doesn't have at least some familiarity with the prior incarnation, but that's probably not a particularly large constituency. We watch this for the known, not the new."
The Fate of the Furious
"The Fate of the Furious is neither as gonzo revelatory as Fast Five, nor as sadly consequential as Furious 7. It does keep the engine idling on the brand for another few years, but things are starting to get a little tired, like maybe we’ve gone a bridge too furious."
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
"What makes this second Guardians work is largely the same stuff that made the first Guardians work. While it’s possessed of a scale that clearly evinces the confidence in its standing as a big budget follow-up to a mega-hit, it still retains the spritely sense of fun that made the earlier effort connect with audiences."
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
"The whole thing plays as perfunctory precisely when it should be poignant, relying on audience familiarity with the general contours of this story to paper over huge chasms in the plot. This is made doubly frustrating by the fact that the Arthur legend is so iconic and so epic -- the archetypal hero in the “Hero’s Journey” -- that every effort to update it and make it feel more “modern” just emphasizes how much they didn’t need to change"
Alien: Covenant
"The titular creature has long since lost the visceral terror of its initial appearance. Its past is no more interesting than its future, and what this latest entry makes clear is that even in the hands of the man who first brought it to the screen, there's nothing left for the Alien franchise to say."
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
"This is a series that pretty much began to collapse under the weight of its own accumulated mythology one film in, and everything since then is just a deeper dive into that singularity."
Wonder Woman
"Wonder Woman is undeniably the strongest entry in the ever-expanding DC Extended Universe. While I don’t know that it reaches the heights of the very best superhero pictures ever made, it’s the solid debut that one of DC Comics' crown jewels richly deserves, and a solid win that Warner Bros. desperately needs."
The Mummy (2017)
"Is it a horror flick like the original? An adventure yarn like the first remake? A little of both? Neither? You'll get an entirely different answer depending on which part of the film you happen to be watching."
Transformers: The Last Knight
"Like its predecessors, it's an endurance-testing 2.5 hours, and like its predecessors it manages to feel twice that length. By now my routine with these Transformers sequels is to spend around a third of the time trying to figure out what the heck is going, another third realizing I don't even care what's going on, and finally just waiting for the thing to finally, finally end."
Spider-Man: Homecoming
 "I don't know all the ins-and-outs of the deal, but I'm glad it happened. This is the sixth Spidey flick in fifteen years, but it feels as fresh and revelatory as the first one in '02."
War for the Planet of the Apes
"Should they continue on from here, there are 2000 years of story time available before we ever need worry about retreading Charlton Heston crumpled in front of a half-buried Statue of Liberty, but should they choose not to, War for the Planet of the Apes closes at a place that feels entirely true to its roots while being fulfilling in its own right."
Dunkirk
"This is warfare at its most elemental. I'd have to go back to 1998 and The Thin Red Line to think of a war picture that affected me as much."
The Dark Tower
"...positions itself as both sequel and reboot to the books (longtime fans will understand this, I’m told), while also serving as a launching pad of sorts into a whole new series that I find difficult to believe will ever actualize."
IT: Chapter One
"...this initial chapter draws you in, establishes the universe, and gives us a handful of compelling characters with interesting quirks while setting up a lot of questions that still need answers."
American Assassin
"At its core it's an ugly film that glorifies cruelty while trafficking in stereotypes that were tired even back in 1999 ...And perhaps worst of all, it's so thuddingly, achingly predictable that you can pretty much map out the various plot turns based on how far into the runtime we are."
Star Trek: Discovery
"I’m a Star Trek fan practically from the cradle, so maybe I’m just an easy mark, but the effects are suitably impressive, the characters and premise are compelling, and a clear effort has gone into producing something new and different that still upholds the spirit of hope and optimism the entire franchise embodies."
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
"As with last time, the story construction is such that you can call out most of the big plot turns pretty far in advance, so a lot of it is a waiting game as what you know is going to happen plays out. That's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, if the unfolding film is enough to keep you watching, and it is that."
American Made
"With its predictable rise-fall arc, American Made follows the broad outlines of a tale that feels as familiar as the medium itself. But it spins its tale in a way that feels new and interesting, and with something relevant to say. [Tom] Cruise is able to make us like an irredeemable character without ever putting us on his side or making us complicit in his wrongdoing."
Blade Runner 2049
"Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 luxuriates in creating fantastic, panoramic vistas of impeccable cinematic beauty (thanks in no small measure to cinematographer Roger Deakins), and if it feels a little bit familiar, that's less a fault of the movie itself than the fact that the original has cast such a long shadow stylistically" 
Thor: Ragnarok
"With Ragnarok, the filmmakers feel unchained by the need to establish the parameters of the world -- if you’re this many flicks deep, it's a safe bet you've already done the homework -- and thus focus on making the film as much of a romp as they can."
Justice League
"It took less than a minute for Justice League to win me over, but more importantly, it never once lost me after that. And believe me, I'm as surprised about that as you given how viscerally negative a reaction I had to Batman v. Superman eighteen long months ago."
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
"Though Episode 8 devotes plenty of time to its remaining legacy characters, it does feel like the torch has truly been passed. More than merely a continuation, The Last Jedi is in many ways an ending to the Star Wars we've known."

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