Descending Further Into Quality

Descendants 2

 

Robbie K here with a little change up.  Instead of hitting the silver screen with this review, I analyze the latest Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) to premier tonight.  Our film focus tonight, the sequel to Disney’s latest merchandise extravaganza Descendants.  If you don’t know what this series is about, it focuses on the offspring of the Disney villains and their quest to find themselves amidst a plethora of chaotic assignments.  Like many DCOMs, legendary director Kenny Ortega returns to bring you music and kid-friendly drama that keeps breathing life into Disney Channel.  Tonight, the sequel is back to keep the momentum going and try to retain some quality back to the cable network.

 

LIKES:

 

Villain Kids:  In most movies, the story is only as good as the antagonists to fight and in this case Uma (China Anne McClain) is an improvement over last movie’s band of baddies.  Descendants one tried to reinstate the classic baddies, with subpar casting and actors who semi looked the part. The direction of the movie though put the kids in the forefront and the villains in the back, resulting in rather boring/cheesy performances.  With the kids being the focus, the new villain of Uma gets the focus and development needed, and her malicious planning are nice qualities.  Her second in command Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty) is the enforcer who has some mad skills to bring to the table and actually does something to up the ante in a rather calm series.  With kids at the focus, the doors open wide for more adventure at hand.

 

The Message:  DCOM movies are all about teaching a lesson, and Descendants 2 keeps that time honored magic alive.  Where Descendants was all about not being your parents and marking your own path, the sequel focuses on finding yourself as the main theme.  A good lesson we can all use a refresher on that only loses a little power by the preachy delivery.  Of course, there are other minor plots to help teach a few more subjects on friendship, courage, confidence, and knowing when a rule needs to have a new spin. All good messages for young ones to get bombarded with, and an applause at Disney doing it right.

 

The Story:  The first movie did a nice job introducing all the relationships of the world while embedding it in plots of doing villains’ bidding, but also battling yourself when morals conflict. Yet the story was very simple and lacked the kick that it needed to be fully entertaining.  Descendants 2 was a step up, building on those relationships and using them to tell a new story that involved exploring more of the isle.  The added “suspense” was again a step in the right direction, and the increased urgency only brought more suspense to the mix. 

 

The Songs:  By far my favorite component was the soundtrack.  After seeing Descendants a thousand times over the last two years, I made my list and found only a couple of songs I found timeless.  In this installment, the five out of six tracks will most likely be coming to my Ipod.  The dance numbers were much better for me and they fit very well into the theme of the movie instead of just being jammed in at random intervals ( see Evil Like Me and Ridiculous).  The new soundtrack has edge and really kicks up the beat.  Nice improvements guys.

Acting:  One thing I must give props to though, is the acting.  Descendants cast is super talented and each brings a dynamic energy to the movie that really sparks magic into the DCOM world.  Dove Cameron steals the show with her fantastic ability to direct a character and mold it into a believable performance.  She also brings singing and dancing to the mix that mirrors the emotions present in her character. Cameron Boyce as Carlos has the energy and moves to impress, even more this time with the dance numbers.  Sofia Carson is brains, beauty, and passion with focus on her singing coming out in this movie.  Sofia’s dramatic air somehow brings the group together and keeps the extreme personalities grounded.  Booboo Stewart as Jay has more lines in this movie, and brings that action packed, stunt oriented edge the movie continues to need.  Just maximize his talents more please.  Finally Mitchell Hope does a nice job as King Ben, reprising his well to the full effect and refining it to meet the needs of the scene.  The cast’s chemistry is impressive and Ortega’s guidance keeps things strong, selling the relationships that this movie depends on.  

Dislikes:

 

Dropped plot elements: If you haven’t followed the animated shorts and accompanying books, then this won’t affect you.  However, the super fanbase will note other characters missing from Auradon’s halls.  Many characters are absent in this film, and even those from the first film have been reduced to back burner secondary appearances with little involvement in the main plot.  Audrey, Jane, even Doug are not nearly as involved, most likely to give the newbies more screen time.  Unfortunately…

New elements lacking:  Outside of Uma and maybe Harry, many of the new characters are also reduced to smaller roles than I anticipated.  Newcomers Dizzy (Anna Cathcart) and Gil (Dylan Playfair) have been the highlights of the recent advertising campaign, but sadly don’t do much in this film.  In addition, many of the dramatic buildups, foreshadowing, and magic are actually played less than I originally thought.  Guess dancing and sword fighting are more important than complete plots.  One warning I have for future installments is to not grow so big to drop other characters, or face the threat of devouring yourself by inconsistencies.

Rushed Plot:  Descendants holds a lot of potential to be an epic tale, and that first book by De La Cruz was an epic introduction filled with that potential.  The movies unfortunately have lost that balance and go for the rather rushed conclusions that make many DCOMs lacking.  Number 2 did not improve on this element, but worsened as they tried to shove too many plots into the short run-time.  Much of the conflict is dropped quickly, the tasks and trials are rapidly completed, and new elements are haphazardly dropped without any buildup or heat.  I know they are shooting for time constraints, but with something this big… you can take your time and go a little longer.  Younger audiences won’t care about this, but older ones like me would appreciate a little more dramatic play ups.  In addition, don’t set up potential plots and drop them like a bad habit (see Chad Charming subplot).  That incomplete presentation is a little disappointing with legendary directors in the mix.

 

Anticlimatic ending:  I know, this is a movie geared for younger generations, we can’t have too violent of a fight.  The sword fight did a decent job of bringing the appropriate action especially the tangle between Harry and Jay (Booboo Stewart).  However, another struggle at the end showed off some semi-decent computer work in a very…bland manner.  I can’t reveal much more, but an epic tangle could have come in that wasn’t so…abruptly stopped.  Kids watch lion King, Aladdin, and Incredibles, they can handle more than G rated punches.  Add some “fire” to the mix, or throw in some close calls to mix things up and actually bring fear to the mix.

 

The Verdict:

 

Overall, Descendants 2 stepped its game up on many levels with their villains, story, and songs.  Yet it still succumbs to the modern spin on DCOMs to go for musical gimmicks and diluted themes that while entertaining are not the only sustenance of the film.  Descendants 2 story has room for improvement in regards to integrating its characters more, and could take a lesson from the books in regards to adding some suspense to the film.  Still, it is one of the better DCOMs I have seen in a long time, and certainly the more impressive sequel to grace the small screen.  With a little more work and some other feedback from you fans… Descendants 3 (which I feel will come) can be even more exciting. 

 

My scores:

 

Family/Musical/Adventure/Fantasy: 8.0

Movie Overall:  6.0

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Mum’s the Word: 60s story with 2000s Style

Mummy

 

Monster movies, an epic genre that at one time scared the pants off many before you know… things got out of hand with modern cinema. Legendary creatures like the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein filled the theater with actors decorated in epic make-up with often beautiful costars to face their “terror.” The stories they told remain timeless, but sadly the graphics are a little outdated for most modern movie-goers… until now.  This evening my buddy and I hit the theaters for a retelling of a classic tale in hopes of sparking a new trend to get us hooked on and make money.  As you can read, my review is on the Mummy tonight starring Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, and Sofia Boutella. Will it be a success, or are we cursed to another mediocre film?  Let’s find out.

 

LIKES:

 

True Monster Movie:  Where most creature films have been turned into gore-tastic bouts of killing, the Mummy returns to the roots of monster movie story telling.  A creature starts to rise to power and it is up to the group to uncover the mystery of how to stop it.  The Mummy focuses on the story telling dynamic, bringing character development, background information, and a dynamic tale that revives the classic genre. Even better is how the movie focuses on the story of this film, instead of building up for an inevitable sequel, something that is rare given the franchise aspect of Hollywood.  The result is a stronger story that is a little more captivating.

 

Comedic relief: Much like the 2000 series, this rendition brings some comedic magic to the desolate desert scenery.  The writing in particular is funny, with well-timed quips that range from simplistic insults and banter to clever puns that are more precious than the treasure under the sand.  Cruise and Wallis work well together with a chemistry that feels like rivals/love interests, and each delivers their humor in their own style that works. However, I laughed the hardest at Jake Johnson whose energetic and erratic style is reminiscent of a giant man child trying to face the curse.  The dynamic style keeps the laughs coming, but doesn’t get overused as we often see.

 

Impressive graphics/action:  While the Mummy certainly takes the story of the 1960’s monster franchise, its graphic presentation is clearly that of the more modern series. Nostalgia runs thick at the various curses our female monster throws including swarming birds, flesh contorting strikes, and yes, face in perilous sand.  The old tricks have never looked better and the technological feats are beautifully integrated into a smooth performance that is somewhat exciting. And speaking of the excitement, the action of the Mummy provides a faster pace than the classics, moving at breakneck speed and loaded with spectacular pyrotechnics.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Out of Place Components: The Mummy does well on the story aspect, but there are parts that felt out of place.  Certain qualities of the film curtail to setting up for the next movie of the franchise (yes, Universal is planning to revive the classics).  These moments are a change of pace (good), but divert a little too much from the path into the cheesy, overdramatic styles that we sometimes see.  I’ll agree that they are impressive displays of technology, but this just proves that not everything has to be covered in movies (hence sequels).

 

Action:  I said the action kept the pace fast and the movie engaging, but the action still has some improvement for me to get the seal of approval from me.  It’s a lot of running, praise to Cruise’s fitness level. Unlike the predecessors in 2000, this Mummy as fewer bouts of gunplay or combat, much of the time the cast dropping their guns to run some more.  They tried to throw some brawls in the mix, but that didn’t work to well for me. I missed the dynamic sequences and thrills they brought, but hey it’s the first film of a long line and there is sure to be more stunts in the future…maybe.

 

Rushed tactics: The heading is tough, but there are some rushed components to this film that needed some fine tuning.  In many proceeding films, it takes time for the bandaged monstrosity to rise to power, requiring gradual offing of characters in suspenseful sequences.  This version was a little short sighted, reduced to a monotonous ploy that lacked little more than repetitive spasms of poor extras.  Many may like the spin on this movie, but this (among other ploys) felt a little underdeveloped and soon became stale to watch.

 

 

The VERDICT:

 

The Mummy is certainly not the movie I was expecting, and on many levels this is good.  While not the wild thrill ride from the 2000s, this spin brings the modern technology to the classic story, giving it a unique feel that was refreshing to see.  With comedic relief, decent acting, and impressive visuals, it has a number of qualities beckoning for a trip to theater. Yet, there are some editing limitations that need tightening up to make it flow better and the action component needed some sprucing up to further expand on the thrills.  All in all, a solid start to upcoming monster franchise, but there is work to be done in the future.

 

Action/Adventure/Fantasy:  8.0

Movie Overall: 6.5