“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Is the Worst Kind of Sequel – One that Knows it Doesn’t Have to Try

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result of “getting the band back together” when the band broke up six months ago and everyone still hates each other so they just re-mix a few songs and release a “Greatest Hits” album. Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service was a sleeper hit when it was released in February of 2015. The film struck the perfect tone, balancing irreverence and absurdity with the clichés of the action spy genre, all the while telling a legitimately interesting story. As a critical darling, once the film broke even financially it was all but assured that a sequel would be made. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result – a film as derivative and unimaginative as its predecessor was refreshing.

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“Blade Runner 2049” is a Spellbinding Sci-Fi Sequel

The moments of Blade Runner 2049 pass by too quickly, lost in the next gorgeous shot, meticulous special effect, or confounding mystery. Fluorescent advertisements reflect off of murky puddles at the street level, while the higher classes enjoy the seemingly infinite refraction of a glorious light off of crystalline indoor pools. It’s evident immediately: the world of Blade Runner 2049 is complex, dark, and fascinating – a finely-crafted melding of science fiction and noir filmmaking.

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“John Wick: Chapter 2” Honors the Original and Extends Its Aesthetic to New Heights

The sequel to the wildly surprising gun-fu action flick John Wick picks up right where the original left off, both in terms of plot and aesthetic.  The signature stylistic elements of the original are all here:  extensive worldbuilding, lengthy camera shots, and heavily-choreographed fight scenes more reliant on stunt work than on CGI.  The sequel extends these elements, but also has some unique ideas as well.  The locations where John Wick fights are far more varied in the sequel, and which not only makes the background more colorful and interesting, but indicates John Wick’s own personal struggle in the film.  John Wick: Chapter 2 is a thoroughly successful continuation of the series, remaining true to the magic of the original, and expanding upon it in intelligent ways.

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“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a Mess of Callbacks, Confusion, and Ret-Cons

Like a burp only vaguely reminds of the “flavor” of the Coors Light that you just shot-gunned, Independence Day:  Resurgence is a hollow echo of its overly-popular predecessor.   The plot of this sequel was seemingly generated by five screenwriters throwing darts at a board composed of better science fiction films and filling in the blanks with shoe-horned references to the original, at least when they aren’t ret-conning exposition into the original that was never there.  Though not quite as offensive as last summer’s moronic ‘90s nostalgia capitalization called Terminator: Genisys, Independence Day:  Resurgence is arguably more of a horrible mess and embarrassment.

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“Finding Dory” Advances the Original with a Harmony between Story and Structure

The latest film from Pixar, Finding Dory, is a sequel to one of the studio’s most-beloved early films, and one of the first with a true pathos, Finding Nemo.  The original often ranks among Pixar’s best, and one of the big reasons was the character of Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.  The filmmakers thought that this character (who suffers from short-term memory loss) was a good one, so they chose her to headline her own film.  Ancillary characters don’t always make great focal points, so there were a lot of people worried about this one, but it was all unwarranted.  Finding Dory  is very good, introduces a number of interesting and distinct characters,  and further develops the themes of family, friendship, and belonging of the original.  It acts as a wonderful companion piece to the original on account of the fantastic union of story structure, plot, and themes – all hallmarks of Pixar.

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“X-Men: Apocalypse” Dooms Itself by Mismanaging Villain

For the third time this summer, it is time to watch a superhero flick where some characters fight other characters for poorly-developed reasons.  In this specific case, it’s the X-Men universe and the film is X-Men:  Apocalypse, named after the all-power and ancient villain of the film.  The eponymous character is central to not only the plot and theme of the film, but ultimately its problems as well.  On a fundamental level, this film fails because it could not appropriately handle the character of Apocalypse, and you can almost feel it buckling under the weight of this Frankenstein’s Monster.  There are lesser problems as well, including some poorly-used characters and a mismanaged tonal consistency, but you can trace nearly every negative back to the big-bad.  Thus, despite introducing intriguing new versions of beloved characters, this is a poor end to the new X-Men trilogy.

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“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” Has a Long Title and is Also Terrible

Don’t let’s try to pretend that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have ever been the patron saints of verisimilitude.  Even in their original medium of the comics of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, there is a tongue-in-cheek flavor that is comfortable with the idea of anthropomorphized turtles who study the art of ninjitsu.  But, there’s a distinction between embracing absurdity for stylistic purposes and simply abandoning logic when telling your story, and the second TNMT film, Out of the Shadows, is embarrassingly guilty of the latter.  There are still moments that you can kick up your feet and enjoy some of the teenagers’ interactions and feats, but most of the time watching the latest Turtles is spent scoffing, laughing, and quizzically squinting at the screen in a vain attempt to understand why.

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Building a High-Horror Franchise through Characters: “The Conjuring 2”

The Conjuring was one of the most impressive horror films to emerge from Hollywood in the last decade, so James Wan’s follow-up to the 2013 hit has been widely anticipated.  In a turn that restores a modicum of faith in mankind, the sequel is an overwhelming success.  Ed and Lorraine Warren return with another paranormal investigation, this one based on their most-documented case:  The Enfield poltergeist. As before, the pair and their relationship form the kernel of a masterful supernatural high-horror film.  The Conjuring 2 will delight and terrify genre fans and whichever casual movie-goers have the courage to buy a ticket and peer through their fingers.

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Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Overwhelms With Wasted Opportunity

Batman v Superman plods along with the pacing of a courtroom, which may be why it is named like a civil suit between our two heroes.  Given the manufactured fighting between the two, there may have been more believable drama had Batman decided to sue the Man of Steel for destruction of property.  Instead, we are left with the standard flaws that always seem to accompany the direction of Zack Snyder:  bizarre use of music, rushed and unearned plotting, and action sequences that, while reasonably entertaining, strain comprehension.  It is altogether a shame, because the eponymous characters are iconic and beloved – and well portrayed in this film.  There simply isn’t anything terribly interesting for them to do.

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