“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Review

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Well, this was a long time coming, but I finally got to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Before I start the review, I want to mention that I haven’t liked a Spider-Man movie since Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” I mostly hated the third movie and only bothered to watch “The Amazing Spider-Man” once (it was okay). So, I went into this movie with high hopes. Did it live up to my expectations? Let’s dive in and find out.

The plot kicks off during Peter’s stint in “Captain America: Civil War” and follows up with him two months later. Now under the supervision of Tony Stark’s pal Happy, Peter eagerly awaits another Avengers mission while solving mundane problems in New York City and dealing with high school. But when a new threat shows up in the form of Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, who’s selling off weapons made from Chitauri tech, Peter takes it upon himself to stop him no matter what. Will he succeed and become a superhero worthy of the Avengers?

I really enjoyed this movie. The fact that the plot coincided around “Civil War” was a nice touch and it was a simple story to get into. I’m so glad they avoided doing yet another Spider-Man origin story in favor of just giving us an adventure. That said, I did have issues with the high school segments. They felt a bit cliched and tended to drag the movie for me. This also applies to Peter’s “romance” subplot, but thankfully it wasn’t too overdone and was put aside to focus on Peter growing into his superhero role. I also found it a little hard to believe that the Vulture and his crew of contractors were able to craft weapons from alien tech. It just seemed bizarre that these seemingly average guys were able to quickly understand and utilize this stuff.

I absolutely loved the performances here as well. Tom Holland continues to impress me as Peter and I adore how dorky this version is. He feels like the Peter I’ve been wanting to see for a while. Him being younger here makes his eager attitude and overconfidence not too obnoxious, and his Spider-Man was fun to watch. I also found myself liking his friend/sidekick Ned as the movie went on. I was slightly annoyed by him at first, but his role as Peter’s confidant quickly grew on me. And I just have to mention how good Michael Keaton was as the Vulture. He found the right balance between acting as an intimidating criminal and your average Joe. I liked how relatable he felt, though I didn’t feel quite as much sympathy for him as I did for Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Plus, compared to the laughable outfit from the comics, his costume here was awesome and almost frightening.

Since I’ve made a point to avoid late trailers for Marvel movies, I was a little worried about how often Tony Stark would appear in “Homecoming.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Downey Jr. and Tony is my favorite Avenger, but I was afraid he might overshadow Tom’s performance. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and I felt they involved him just enough. The fact that he was in a fatherly, mentor role just made it all the better and his scenes with Peter were some of my favorites. I was still perfectly fine with him having made Peter’s suit and once it’s potential is unlocked, it made the already fun action scenes even better.

Overall, aside from my complaints about the plot, I thought “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was really good. I haven’t seen “Spider-Man 2” in years, but I feel this movie is close if not on par to it for me. Both movies have interesting villains, with one being a tad more sympathetic (Doc Ock) and the other being a bit more relatable (Vulture). Both show two Peters on opposite ends of the scale, with one having more experience (Tobey) and the other still learning the ropes (Tom). Finally, both are part of an ongoing story, with “Spider-Man 2” being the second in a trilogy and “Homecoming” being part of the MCU. Ultimately, “Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man film I’ve seen since “Spider-Man 2,” and I can’t wait to see future MCU adventures with this Spider-Man.

“Moana” Review (Spoiler-Free!)

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I finally saw “Moana” for the first time yesterday. Aside from “Doctor Strange,” it was something I’d been looking forward to seeing before the year’s end. So, did I enjoy it? Well, long story short, yes. Oh, and before I forget, there is a short before this movie. I won’t go into it, but I will say that while I’ve enjoyed other shorts more (either from Disney or Pixar), it has a message that I feel kids AND adults should take to heart. Now, with that, let’s get into the nitty gritty without going into spoiler territory.

The story of “Moana” is basically a chosen one adventure. Moana is the daughter of an island chieftain who refuses to allow anyone to sail past the reef because it’s too dangerous. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she was little and, despite preparing to take on responsibilities as the new chief, still longs to sail outside the island. But she gets her chance when it’s discovered that her island is slowly wasting away. Now she must set out to find the demi-god known as Maui to help her restore her homeland. Will she succeed or is it too big of task for her to handle?

There’s so much more to the story than I’m telling, but a lot of it is set up as exposition at the beginning. From there, it becomes more about the adventure Moana gets to go on and how she interacts with Maui once they meet. I’ll just say it now: I enjoyed every character in this movie but Moana and Maui were the shining stars. Even though Maui starts off as kind of a pompous jerk, he grows on you. He reminded me in shades of Genie from “Aladdin” for having a bombastic personality at the start and throwing in some godlike power usage during his introduction song (more on those later). He doesn’t throw in nearly as many pop culture references, but the couple that were there were a little cringeworthy. However, he still gets some serious moments and backstory that set him apart as well, and I adored his shape-shifting powers. Props to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for an overall solid job.

But I have to give bigger props to Auli’i Cravalho for being the voice AND singing voice for Moana. This is her first film and I felt she did an incredible job. She sounded like a pro and I really hope this opens some doors for her. Moana herself is extremely likable, much like the female leads in recent Disney films, and her steadfast attitude made her compelling to watch. The movie even pokes fun at her having a couple animal sidekicks like so many others, though I was surprised that the one I wasn’t expecting ended up joining her on her journey. Despite that, it got some chuckles from me.

I loved the world they built here as well. I don’t know hardly anything about Polynesian culture and mythology, but I was fully invested in what this movie presented. The tropical setting is always something I’ve loved, and the various threats the movie presents were feasts for the eyes. Honestly, I think Disney has stepped up their game in the 3D animation department with this one. There’s also additional animation that was definitely welcomed and surprisingly fluid. I hope they use the techniques presented here in future films.

As is typical for Disney, the songs are a lot of fun. I’m not sure how memorable they’ll end up being, given the styles they’re in, but I found myself liking each one of them. My favorites ended up being the more bombastic ones like Moana’s song, “How Far I’ll Go” and a few Polynesian-influenced tracks as well. Maui’s introduction song, “You’re Welcome” was fun and I have to give kudos to The Rock for doing an admirable job at singing it. The only song I was kinda iffy on was essentially a villain’s song, though there are arguably more than one of those in the film. It was still a fun song, but it didn’t resonate with me as much because the character it’s attached to is kinda minor in the grand scheme of things.

If I had to pick any major gripe I had with the movie, it’s that the basic plot points it hits are cliched and predictable. You can see at certain moments where the story’s going, even though the story concept is executed well enough (aka by having some poignant emotional moments). It’s just odd after coming off of “Frozen,” where they at least tried to subvert some of the usual Disney tropes. The movie also felt pretty fast paced, which made the adventure aspect of it seem kinda short in relation to the rest of the story.

Despite those gripes, “Moana” was definitely entertaining and worth watching. Moana as a character is easily one of my favorites in recent memory, and I liked that the story was both an physical and emotional journey for her and Maui. I’ve always had an affinity for Disney movies that break the mold (*cough*Lilo & Stitch*cough*), so I was glad to see “Moana” move away from the princess angle in favor of an adventure film .While it has its flaws, I would still highly recommend this to kids and adults alike.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” Review

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Of the more modern animation studios out there, I’ve considered Laika one of the strangest. Unlike kids films made by Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky and any number of other companies, Laika’s films often seem to fall into the cult classic status. That’s no more apparent than with their latest film, “Kubo and the Two Strings.” It didn’t perform well at the box office, but it’s gotten a lot of praise from audiences and critics alike. So, what did I think of it? Let’s dive in.

The plot involves a one-eyed boy named Kubo, who lives with his mother outside of a small Japanese village. Kubo is constantly warned by his mother not to stay out late, but he ends up staying out for a spiritual festival and is attacked by his mother’s cruel, witch-like sisters. Kubo is whisked away to safety soon after and put into the care of a monkey named…Monkey, and the two go on a quest to find a magical set of armor that will protect Kubo from both his aunts and wicked grandfather, who wants Kubo’s remaining eye. Along the way, the pair meet up with a man-turned-beetle known only as Beetle who joins them. Will this ragtag group be able to find the armor and keep Kubo out of harm’s way, or will his story end before they have the chance?

If you couldn’t tell, the plot sounds weird and almost nonsensical. Trust me, it makes way more sense once you’re thrown into the movie’s mystical setting. I do think that it’s a big change from Laika’s previous films, where you were eased in pretty quickly with more modern settings. Magic plays a huge part here, and while it’s jarring at first, I found this world interesting once I got the hang of it. The magic ties into Kubo’s companions with Monkey being a reanimated charm and Beetle being cursed, but my favorite aspect was Kubo’s use of magic to animate and utilize origami. It sounds bizarre, and it definitely is, but it ends up fitting incredibly well in this fantasy world. The plot in a nutshell is more of a standard “group on a quest” thing, and there are some cliches that pop up because of that, but it’s also a bit of an emotional experience. There’s an emphasis on memories, and the theme of stories, while sometimes heavy-handed, does give some good lessons for kids (though this movie might be intense for some).

The main characters were fine and had their charms. Kubo is a kid who often has had to act like an adult, in that his mother often loses her memory (they show how this occurs in the opening scene) and he sometimes has to take care of her. But even though he’s put into a hero role by the end, the movie does allow him to act like a regular kid at times, especially around his companions. Speaking of, while Beetle sometimes annoyed me with his attempts at jokes, I did appreciate that he brought some levity to the movie overall. And Monkey had this dry wit about her that got a few chuckles out of me. Both of these characters get some more emotional moments later on, but I won’t go into them due to spoilers. If there’s any character I have to complain about, it’s the aunts and grandfather. The grandfather fares slightly better as he’s the big confrontation, though I still can’t decide if I like how he was “taken care of” by the end. The aunts are creepy, with their witch-like appearances and constant floating, but my gripe with them is how their dialogue came off. Most of it ended up feeling like exposition and I was waiting impatiently for them to be taken down.

Besides those characters, a couple other nitpick-y gripes I had were with the visuals and humor. Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie is very pretty and arguably has the best animation of any Laika film to date. But this one comes down to character models, and like with the other Laika films, there were some I wasn’t fond of. Thankfully, the ones that mattered aka the main characters were fine by me, and the fantastical setting allowed for some pretty cool monsters as well. The humor, also like other Laika films, was hit and miss for me. As I mentioned earlier, while I liked Monkey’s bouts of dry wit/sarcasm and a few other random lines and moments throughout the movie, I wasn’t keen on Beetle’s style of humor. It was like a mix of a pinch of modern slang, plus the occasional goofiness that comes from having a more comedic sidekick, PLUS at least one instance of “explaining the joke.” Thankfully, his character came around for me more when he was acting less like comedy fodder, but it’s possible that Matthew McConaughey in general just didn’t click with me.

All that said, I liked “Kubo and the Two Strings.” While I think I still prefer “ParaNorman” more, I’d easily put this movie over “Coraline” and definitely “The Boxtrolls.” I mentioned the boost in animation earlier, but I also want to make note of this movie being possibly the darkest film Laika’s made yet. While the other movies have often been praised for not shying away from more adult subjects, this one has a heavy emphasis on death and has a few intense scenes. It might not be very suitable for younger kids, which may have played a part in its box office performance. For me, this movie’s fantasy and magical elements are what drew me in the most, and the journey and characters are what kept me watching until the end. If you’ve enjoyed any one of Laika’s previous films, you might just enjoy “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

“The Good Dinosaur” Review

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I’ve been an avid fan of Pixar since “Toy Story” and have made the point to see each and every one of their movies at some point. While I, like many people, think the bulk of their work has been outstanding, there have been a few bumps in the road. I’ve found stuff like “Cars”, “Monsters University” and “Brave” to be very average at best, and also agree with most that “Cars 2” has been Pixar’s worst film so far. With an amazing release earlier this year in the form of “Inside Out,” I was a bit wary going into “The Good Dinosaur” thanks to hearing about its troubled production and lackluster reception. Did I find it to be all that bad? Well, let’s take a look at the plot and find out.

In an alternate timeline, the fateful meteor meant to wipe out the dinosaurs instead bypasses Earth. This allows dinosaurs to flourish and even live during the age of man (specifically, Neanderthals). One day, an Apatosaurus named Arlo is separated from his family and teams up with a little Neanderthal boy known as Spot. The two head on a journey together to get Arlo home, soon becoming friends in the process. But their journey is fraught with many dangers, including other dinosaurs. Will Arlo be reunited with his family, or will the danger be too much for him to overcome?

This movie felt…messy. For starters, the writing lends no favors to either the plot or characters. Both are riddled with cliches and borrow elements from other Disney flicks like “The Lion King”, “Home on the Range” (I’ll get to that in a second), and “Homeward Bound.” The plot was your run-of-the-mill story that smashes together a moral about facing your fears with an “I must get home” journey. Because of this, I found it hard to get invested in much of what was going on. I DID end up liking the relationship that unfolds between Arlo and Spot and a couple emotional scenes worked for me, but again, it’s a plot that’s nothing new and in many cases has been done better. I also found it jarring how violent the movie could get at times. Sure, it’s set in a majorly “kill or be killed” time period, and Pixar has mentioned death and killing in other movies, but for some reason it bugged me here. Maybe it’s because it stood out so harshly against the other bland stuff going on, but I digress.

As for characters, I found myself only really caring a slight amount for Arlo and Spot. The others mainly exist to exposit to Arlo or serve as obstacles. The voice acting didn’t do much for me either, aside from a couple decent performances. As I said above, one of the movie’s “inspirations” seemed to be “Home on the Range”…at least, the western aspect of it. Yes, you heard me right. This journey/road trip movie has western themes strung though it as well. This means that a few of the characters are there mainly as western stereotypes, such as raptors acting like cow hustlers or T-Rexes sitting around sharing campfire stories. I just felt it was an extremely bizarre choice and only served to make the movie feel unfocused in what it wanted to be.

I even found that some of the animation bugged me. In some ways, this could be argued as Pixar’s best-looking movie to date. Much of that, for me at least, came from the incredibly detailed backgrounds and overall world they created. The scenes from the trailers with the fireflies looked amazing, and I even loved smaller things like the water effects. My problem with the animation was the character models. When I initially saw the trailers for the movie, I wasn’t very impressed with the style of the dinosaurs. I thought Spot looked fine (Pixar continues to improve on its human characters), but the dinosaurs always looked a little TOO cartoony to me. Having seen the movie in full, I still feel the same way. There’s even a weird, totally unnecessary scene where the animation changes a bit to make things look like a drugged-out hallucination that just didn’t mesh with me at all.

So, with all my complaints, is “The Good Dinosaur” a bad movie? Well… I can say I put it down there with “Cars 2” as being both forgettable AND something I don’t want to see again. My biggest issue is, like with “Cars 2,” that the bad outweighs the good. However, while I disliked “Cars 2” because of how much it annoyed me (though I did love that Michael Caine spy car), this movie felt like a Pixar low point for the opposite reason: I was bored by it. For having a run-time of an hour and 40 minutes, it felt a heck of a lot longer than that. Honestly, it’s a shame that I have to echo what many people have felt about it. I wanted to at least like this movie. As it stands, a couple decent moments and (mostly) pretty animation wasn’t enough to save it for me. Better luck next time, Pixar.

“San Andreas” Review (Spoiler-Free)

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My mom and I decided to take an impromptu trip to the movies today. Given how movie theaters up here are still aiming to bring in the post-supper crowd before summer hits, my mom and I had two options that fit our time frame: “Aloha”, a rom-com with Bradley Cooper, or “San Andreas”, a disaster flick with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Having known nothing about these movies until viewing their trailers today, I figured an action film was the more interesting option. And while I can’t say for sure if I’m right or wrong about that, I WILL say that this one’s…pretty much forgettable.

The plot goes like this: Dwayne is Ray, an LA firefighter who regularly rescues people via helicopter and such. Ray’s going through a divorce and is feeling estranged from his wife, Emma, and daughter, Blake. But when a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti discovers that California’s San Andreas fault line is starting to collapse, Ray is forced to jump into action to rescue Emma and later Blake before San Francisco falls.

The first thing that went through my head, aside from how the first character we see onscreen is such an idiotic driver, was how much like Roland Emmerich’s films this seems like. It’s easily the most Emmerich film I’ve seen that isn’t directed by Emmerich. For starters, you get some splices here and there to get a sense of the carnage and death happening, mostly thanks to some decent acting once in a while, but the death toll never really hits home all that much. All of the characters come across cookie-cutter and a bit two dimensional, and some are barely seen before they’re unceremoniously killed off. I will give the director some credit, though, in that he contains his central cast to a minimal amount, making it easier to follow them and attempt to care (though again, cookie-cutter).

Most of the acting here ranges from okay to bad, with my personal good highlights being Dwayne and Paul’s performances. I felt like out of everyone they were trying the hardest, though I did also find myself actually enjoying the one kid character, Ollie, as well (I usually find child actors annoying). Carla Gugino had a good moment here or there, but most of the time I felt unattached to her character. But unfortunately, I just felt all of these talented actors (including poor Ioan Gruffudd – he can’t catch a break here) were wasted. It’s a shame, because I wanted to like these characters so much more.

The biggest sin is that the writing overall is just…bland. Not only does it create cookie-cutter characters, but the plot hits the usual disaster movie cliches (although it’s lessened slightly by focusing mainly on earthquakes) as well as standard “save so-and-so” cliches. It didn’t make it hard to watch or even overly boring, but I could easily predict where the plot was going (for what’s there) and how some scenes would play out. Again, though, some credit is due: I kept expecting certain characters to die and more often than not it didn’t happen. The director at least had the sense to not go death-crazy to try to keep us invested in their plight. There’s even a nice moment near the ending that depicts rescue teams piling into San Francisco, though it’s immediately made incredibly ham-fisted and cheesy by the ending itself.

So, if the plot, characters and cliches are all standard disaster fare, was there anything I took away from the movie that I liked aside from the occasional performance? Well… The biggest highlight of the movie is by far the effects. You almost feel at times that you’re at ground level and dealing with the quakes, and the destruction would easily make Emmerich proud. It looks gorgeous and the action scenes were easy to follow and kept the pace moving along well enough, which only seemed to slow down during a lot of the more talky scenes. My only issue on a technical level is the version we saw. In our theater, we experienced what’s called UltraAVX 3D, which is basically a theater with a huge screen, top-notch sound system, comfy-ish leather chairs, and of course 3D tech. While the screen lent to the disaster scenes and the sound as well, I hardly noticed any 3D. My mom even agreed with me that it was very lackluster. Don’t waste your money on the 3D if possible.

Overall, “San Andreas” was, like I said, a forgettable movie. It’s sad that a lot of that can be contributed to the cliche script and characters, especially when the action scenes were easily the most entertaining part. I feel hard-pressed to recommend it to the average movie-goer, but if you like dumb disaster films, this is slightly above the usual Emmerich fare. Go in for the destruction and that’s pretty much it.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” Review (Spoiler-Free!)

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With only a week left in my stay at my aunt’s house, I’ve finally seen the second “Avengers” movie. I plan to blog about the next Dresden title over the following week, but for now I had to talk about this one. Why? Aside from having blogged the first film, this was my most anticipated one of the summer blockbusters. As stated in the title, I’ll try to keep things spoiler-free for the sake of anyone who stumbles across this blog and still hasn’t seen it. First, though, let’s get into the basic premise.

After the events of an excursion to retrieve Loki’s scepter, Tony Stark gets caught up in creating the ultimate A.I., dubbed “Ultron”, to protect the world from powerful threats. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes self-aware and decides he must change the world by eliminating the Avengers with the help of the Inhumans known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Now the Avengers must stop Ultron before he causes untold damage to the world and to them as well.

As much as I’ve enjoyed every one of the Marvel films in some way (though “Iron Man 2” and “The Incredible Hulk” still rank the lowest for me), “The Avengers” is still my favorite of the bunch. I just loved the team dynamic of putting these characters I’d sat and watched in the same room and watching them band together. Loki was far more enjoyable for me than in even “Thor” and I loved the typical Joss Whedon snark throughout. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and the plot was pretty simplistic even for a Marvel film, but it was a fun romp. I went into “Age of Ultron” with the hope that I would be at least very entertained, and despite some issues, I did enjoy it.

With the sequel, I found myself enjoying a lot of the individual scenes more than the overall plot. That’s not to say that I found the plot bad (though I felt not much happened till about halfway through), but there were a lot of great character moments and action scenes (some not related to the plot) that I thought stood out more. The opening scene against Hydra, the action involving the Hulkbuster, the quiet moments between the Avengers themselves – all of these scenes were contributed to how much more of a team they are compared to their growing pains in “Avengers.” The action scenes did seem like a step up from the first movie and the snarky humor was intact, though I felt there was less of it this time. As usual, Stan Lee gets his traditional short-but-sweet Marvel cameo and it was a pretty good one. However, I found the film had some scenes that felt like they had no connection to any development from the preceding films, and because of it the film felt like it’d been noticeably cut down. Maybe that’s just my observation, but that’s how it came across to me. Luckily, the pacing for this 2 hour and 12 minute movie was good despite the slow build of the plot. I felt like it breezed by just by how much I was invested in all the action, and there’s plenty of it throughout.

As usual, the individual members get something to do here along with working as a team. A lot of focus is put on Tony as he’s the one to create Ultron and goes to great lengths to deal with the consequences of it. Thor, Cap and Hulk all get nice quiet moments to coincide with awesome action scenes, and thankfully Hawkeye actually gets some development and more to do here (though he’s still the least interesting of the group). Black Widow also gets a bit of development (along with an awesome light-up suit) and we learn more about her past at one point. I did know about the controversy surrounding Black Widow going in, but my biggest issue with her was the lack of continuity from her previous appearances (though one line of dialogue did make me cringe, not because of the controversy but because of how ham-fisted it was). She takes an interest in someone that didn’t seem to match up with any of her previous appearances (basically comes out of nowhere), but she at least still gets her fair share of the action. I was wishing she had more to do whenever an action scene wasn’t happening, though, and she does unfortunately get caught up in some stereotypical plot shenanigans during the climax.

This time around, we have two new characters, twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. If you’ve seen “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” you already know that another version of Quicksilver was present there. Personally, I preferred that actor’s portrayal over this one as his Quicksilver seemed to have more of a personality despite his limited role. I did, however, like the effects on this Quicksilver’s super-speed. Scarlet Witch mainly serves as a plot device, and while I liked how her powers were portrayed, the way they were utilized mostly ended up being a bit pointless. I felt that these characters may have had more scenes to further flesh them out, and I kinda hope they did because they sorely needed them. I wasn’t all that interested in what they were doing until the climax, and they were easily one of the biggest disappointments for me.

Thankfully, the villain, Ultron, was not a disappointment. As much as I love Loki and always will, Ultron was a great foe and James Spader did a fantastic job in the role. Ultron is equal parts an intelligent threat and sometimes humanized one, even capable of making the occasional snarky wisecrack. His “birth” was one of my favorite scenes in the first half hour of the film, let alone the entirety of it. I found myself anticipating another scene with him just because he was such a joy to watch. It was a blast watching the team go up against him and I loved how the final battle with him played out. Definitely one of the movie’s highlights, at least for me.

Overall, I feel like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was a fun watch, though opinions may be split on it. On one hand, it does a lot of things better than “Avengers,” but on the other hand there are many issues with it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s at least followed or enjoyed any of the Marvel films and especially the first Avengers film. For me, despite my personal gripes, I got the very fun-to-watch sequel I was hoping for. Give it a watch and decide for yourself if it was worth the wait.

“Gyakuten Saiban” (aka “Ace Attorney”) Movie Review

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I told myself and my fiance that I wasn’t planning on reviewing this, having now seen it twice within the past year or two. But given that I’ve finally been able to play through “Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor’s Path” thanks to the wonders of emulation, I’ve been in a huge “Ace Attorney” mood. I plan to review that game in the coming week or so, but I’m not sure when I’ll be finished with it. So, with that said, I’m gonna look at the Japanese-only, live-action “Ace Attorney” film.

For the uninitiated, the “Ace Attorney” series got its start as Game Boy Advance text-based games in Japan before being released to the DS worldwide. You play as Phoenix Wright, a defense attorney who must gather evidence to use in a courtroom setting to get that elusive “Not Guilty” verdict for his clients. I fell in love with the games from the first one, which I bought with my very first DS. The series has continued to be developed, sparking spin-off games (and a crossover with the “Professor Layton” series), various manga, Japanese stage shows and this film.

The film was released in 2012 and loosely follows the murder cases from the first game, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.” The first and third cases are very briefly shown to introduce Phoenix and his rival, Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, before using the basic ideas from the second and fourth cases to act as the main plot (sorry, fans of the DS version, no fifth case representation here). It boils down to this: Phoenix is forced to go up against Edgeworth when his mentor, Mia Fey, is killed for unknown reasons and her sister, Maya, is suspected of the crime. Phoenix must defend Maya, and he later must do the same for an unlikely person in a separate case. But are the cases truly separate, or could there be a dark secret behind both?

I find it hard to say for sure if someone who doesn’t know the source material would enjoy this film. Taken at its core as a courtroom drama, however, I think it makes for a fun romp. The story is slightly disjointed due to the case set-up, but I liked how close both featured cases were to the game (barring some changes that didn’t bug me other than one from Case 4 involving an elevator – don’t ask). The movie also tries to tie some things together that wasn’t present in the games, and for the format I thought it worked well. I also liked how they approached the courtroom setting. The movie combines a modern-ish setting with a futuristic courtroom set-up. Evidence is presented through scans and holograms, yet witnesses are still called to testify. It makes the film both visually interesting and also feel fresh in concept. In my case, I can’t help but judge it based on its inspiration, and I can say that while it has some problems, it’s easily one of the best video game adaptations I’ve ever seen (yes, I know that’s not saying much considering other films, but this one truly is).

Acting-wise, it’s very over the top, much like in the games. The actors all do a pretty admirable job trying to capture their characters. I especially like the ones for Phoenix and Edgeworth, who to this day are two of my favorite characters from the series. They play polar opposites well here, both in acting styles and personality, with Edgeworth being calm and seemingly unfeeling and Phoenix being very frantic and a little goofy. The only gripes I really had involved the characterizations of Maya, the Judge, Detective Dick Gumshoe, and Prosecutor Manfred von Karma. Maya is much more serious in this, and while it’s understandable given the tone and her involvement in the story, it would’ve been nice to see her more bubbly, fun-loving side here. The Judge is similar, in that he’s deadpan serious here, rather than having some “confused old man” moments that made him endearing (and sometimes irritating) in the games. And Gumshoe is much younger, more attractive and not remotely bumbling like his game counterpart. However, I DID like that they kept his professional bond with Edgeworth (though not fully explored) and his determination to get things done. As for Manfred von Karma, well… I’ll just say that he’s more likable in this and leave it at that. Needless to say, anyone who’s played the games are in for a surprise with him.

One thing that caught me off-guard was how fast-paced the editing was. Maybe it’s a regular thing in Japanese cinema, but I found it took some getting used to, mainly thanks to the jump cuts from one location to the next. For an over 2 hour movie, it flew by for the most part. There were times I wished they’d included a few extra details from the games, mainly to add to the story or at the very least the characters. You don’t get much time to make a connection with them if you aren’t already vaguely familiar with them. However, credit where credit is due: These guys did their research. What stuff from the games writing-wise is utilized well, there are a few orchestrated tracks from the game, and the film just looks AMAZING. They did their best to capture the locations, character appearances (well, almost, as some costumes have discrepancies), and overall feel from the games. They even made me feel sorry for a witness that, while written well in-game, majorly invoked sympathy in me here through some visual flashbacks. Ultimately, even though the colors were a bit muted at times and the tone was more realistic and gritty than the games, I like what they were going for.

Overall, if you like the video games or even just courtroom dramas, this isn’t a bad way to spend 2 hours of your time. While those who have played the games will find a few things to gripe about, what IS represented accurately is done with lots of attention to detail and makes this a pretty faithful adaption in that respect. Those who are going in blind may find it takes getting used to, and the pacing can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. But if you want an interesting take on the genre, I would still recommend at least giving it a watch.

I give “Gyakuten Saiban” aka “Ace Attorney” a solid 8/10.