How Do You Solve a Problem Like Alita?

If James Cameron is to be believed, the technology that he pioneered to create Avatar was so that he could make Alita: Battle Angel, based off the popular manga (Japanese comic) series Gunm (Alita: Battle Angel is its subtitle). However, Avatar got too big, and now the 800 sequels that he is writing and directing are taking up all his time, so he handed the job over to Robert Rodriguez. Who I will say did a commendable job, but the movie has its flaws.

Alita: Battle Angel is about a young cyborg (Rosa Salazar) that is pulled out of a trash heap by an old scientist/doctor named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). She doesn’t know who she is, or why she knows how to fight so well, but she is determined to find out, and maybe kick a little cyborg butt along the way.

Apparently, Rodriguez needed to comb through 600 pages of Cameron’s notes to turn Alita in to a shoot-able script. It suffers from being chopped down. There is a forgettable and pointless boyfriend (Keean Johnson), and it doesn’t have a complete story arc. The movie establishes Alita in the world and then gives her an objective. Then it ends. Fans have said this movie is true to the source material, and that makes sense, establishing the world, the characters, and the rules are usually what volume one of any comic books series is for, but I don’t think it works well for a movie.

Those two issues aside, the rest of the movie is pretty good. The cast is fantastic. I mean it has Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, and Jennifer Connelly. It also has whatever a Keean Johnson is, but it makes up for that with a Casper Van Dien. Rosa Salazar as the star is more than able to hold her own with all that talent, and it looks like she will have a bright future, but the real star of a James Cameron movie is always the effects, and Alita: Battle Angel has them in spades.

Everywhere you look there is something cool to see in Alita. It is full of awesome moments, and I am sure that it will end up in a lot of Blu-Ray collections so people can show off the advanced features of their TVs. It does fall in to uncanny valley at times, but it is mostly able suspend your disbelief.

Alita: Battle Angel is a fine opening movie to a series, but the problem is that we have no idea if Alita 2 is going to happen. It was an expensive movie to make, and its returns have so far been the minimum to show a profit. Plus, Disney is in the process of gobbling up Fox, so Alita might end up back on the trash heap. Its best hope is that James Cameron wants it to happen, and James Cameron usually gets what he wants. As it stands by itself, it is a passible action movie, with great special effects. I had fun, but don’t expect Alita to be a game changer.

Shmee Furthers His Dragon Training!

It has been five years since How to Train Your Dragon 2 came out, and The Hidden World has the impossible task of wrapping up the trilogy. Something it manages to do quite well. As a sequel it should be no surprise that it doesn’t stand on its own, so you will want to revisit the first two movies before watching this one, but like the first two movies, The Hidden World has a lot of heart, and it is able to do a lot with kids riding around on the backs of dragons.

In How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World we find Hiccup (Jay Baruchel {who is the exact same age as me}) and his crew saving dragons from trappers who mistreat their dragons and use them for dark deeds, but he has been too successful in his protection of the dragons, and Berk is now overrun with wonderous beasts. He decides to start an adventure for The Hidden Word were dragons and the people of Berk can live in peace apart from the rest of population.

I might be skipping over a few things in that plot setup, but it is for the best. The Hidden World continues ageing up the characters with Hiccup and the gang now in their early to mid twenties. What is impressive about this series is how they are always able to work on real issues involved with growing up. Like how love and loss are intertwined, and that sometimes friends have different paths they need to take. It all manages to hit you right in the feels.

Another thing the How to Train Your Dragon movies are known for is how amazing they look, and The Hidden World can be jaw dropping. While the people are still cartoony, the world itself can be photorealistic at times, and the animators consulted with cinematography wizard Roger Deakins on how to set up a lot of their shots. How The Hidden World uses its ‘camera’ is amazing. I hope more cinematographers get in to the animation game, because it really helps.

There is not a lot I can say about the cast. I mean it is the same cast, and they are still good, so no issues to report. F. Murray Abraham plays a fun villain, even though I find his motivation to be the weakest part of the story, but that is not on the actor.

I hope they do end the How to Train Your Dragon franchise with The Hidden World. Its ending puts the perfect bow on this series. The How to Train Your Dragon movies had no right being as good as they are, and I have no problems recommending The Hidden World to fans of the previous movies. If you have not seen the first two, do not start here, and it can be a little scary for little kids, but those two cautions aside, it is a great movie for the whole family.

Lego Movie 2 Is A Solidly Built Sequel

The Lego Movie was a surprise hit in 2014. Lord and Miller somehow managed to make a likable and moving film, while celebrating what makes Lego Bricks so much fun. The Lego Batman Movie continued the first movie’s success. Diving deep in to Batman lore while never taking itself too seriously. Then The Lego Ninjago Movie came out. The humor and creativity that the franchise was known for seemingly fell off a cliff. Thankfully, the magic is mostly back for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part takes place five years after first movie. The residents of Bricksburg have become hardened after years of repelling the invaders from planet Duplo. Except for Emmet, he is his happy self. His happy attitude grates on the people around him. One day a ship comes from the Systar System. It is not Duplo, but a more advanced ship, and it captures all Emmet’s friends. Can he become serious enough to save his friends, or will his happy go lucky attitude let them down?

If the first movie was about a son teaching his father to be creative again, you can probably guess what The Lego Movie 2 is about. It doesn’t really try and hide it, but there are also some other good lessons in this movie about trying to change people, or what growing up really means. It is very clever. It isn’t the breath of fresh air that The Lego Movie was five years ago, but it still compares favorably to first one and Lego Batman. I would say it is the third best of the franchise, and it is miles better than Lego Ninjago. A movie, based off the box-office data, that may have done irreparable harm to this franchise.

Most of the voice actors have reprised their roles and are still funny. Tiffany Haddish was a good addition as Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, and Margo Robbie who voices several roles does a good job as well. I don’t think there was one bad voiceover. With the success of Aquaman, I am guessing they are happy they got Jason Momoa to reprise his role for a couple of great gags.

The Lego Movie 2 is not as awesome as the first film, but it is a solid follow up. Not counting The Lego Ninjago Movie, it is impressive how good this franchise has been. If you liked the first movie, I am guessing you will like The Second Part as well. I enjoyed myself, and Little Miss Shmee thought it was great too.

Shmee Takes A Ride With Bumblebee!

The Transformers movies have a record that could be kindly described as ‘spotty’. Most would probably just say terrible. Finally sensing audience dissatisfaction, Paramount and the multitude of production companies providing financial input in to the franchise decided to do a soft reboot of the property focusing on one Transformer’s origin, Bumblebee. It turns out this was a good decision. Bumblebee is easily the best live action Transformers movie.

Bumblebee starts out on Cybertron. Showing the vicious war that causes the Autobots to flee their home world. Things do not go well for Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) when he lands on Earth. He is almost instantly hunted by Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), so he goes in to hiding as a VW Bug, and ends up the car of a teenage girl, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). You can guess where things go from there.

While this movie shares a lot in common with the first Transformers film, it never feels like a retread. The core relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee is sweet, and you get the feeling that they both really need each other. It also manages to make a lot of 80’s adventure movie callouts without feeling stale or cheap. It is Spielbergian without feeling like a knockoff.

I would like to applaud two people behind the cameras for Bumblebee: First, Travis Knight. Bumblebee is his first live action directing gig, and only his second turn as a director. With the first being Kubo and the Two Strings (he is usually a producer for stop motion). His attention to detail that he must have developed for stop motion really paid off with Bumblebee. The story and the special effects really came together well, and that only works if you know how they will all fit together in post-production. Second, Christina Hodson. This is her first major screenplay, and she got a solo writing credit, which is almost unheard of in these days of large writing rooms. Given all that, it was a great script, and I expect big things from her. I hope her next screenplay, DC’s Birds of Prey, is equally entertaining.

Of course, all that good work behind the scenes would have been for not if Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena didn’t pull off their roles, but thankfully they were great. Steinfeld is a believable as a mourning teenager, and she and Bumblebee are cute (not a word I ever thought I would use in a modern Transformers movie review) in their scenes together. John Cena was given the job to be an over the top 80’s villain, and he rolled around in it like catnip. He was clearly having fun. Obviously, the special effects team that brought Bumblebee to life deserves a ton of credit as well because he was the most lifelike Robot in Disguise yet and displayed a lot of emotion considering he can’t talk for most of the movie.

Bumblebee is not a life changing movie. It is simply a fun popcorn movie made in the style of an 80’s Spielberg film, and that is more than enough to recommend this movie. It is almost worth a watch to prove that Transformers movies don’t need to be three hours of teenager ogling and explosions. They can be just as good as any other movie out there. By now you must know that I liked this movie, and that I think you will like it too. I am eagerly awaiting its follow-up, Prime.

I Guess Spider-Man Is Fine, So Fine He Got Two New Trailers Today!

You know Tony Stark mourning the world? Forget that. Everything is fine. As a matter of fact here are not one but two trailers featuring the lost in space and snapped Spider-Man:

That is for the US, here is the one for International Audiences:

There are some slight differences, but the biggest change for me is that they censored the joke at the end for the international teaser. Not sure why. But hey, Mysterio looks cool. Anyway, I guess we don’t need to watch Endgame now because it all turns out alright for the characters we love. Though I am guessing we still do loose a couple.