The Lego Movie Collapse

This was a weekend where The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was expected to easily nab the #1 spot at the box office. That mission was accomplished, but it did so with much less money than any prognosticator figured. The sequel to the 2014 original took in $34 million and that was about $20 million less than expected. I had a feeling it would under perform and forecasted a $48 million debut. However, I never figured a mid 30s premiere.

For some context, the first Lego experience five years ago made $69 million out of the gate and eventually earned $257 million domestically. In 2017, first franchise spin-off The Lego Batman Movie debuted to $53 million ($175 million total). The first sign of trouble came a few months later when The Lego Ninjago Movie came in far under estimates with $20 million in its opening weekend and a lowly $59 million stateside. Yet some attributed the poor Ninjago performance to its limited niche audience.

The Second Part marked a hopeful return to form for Warner Bros considering it was a direct sequel to a picture that made over $250 million. There is no doubt that the number produced this weekend could block future plans for the series. Its best hope ahead could be the President’s Day weekend as the studio hopes it will have a small decline. Any way you cut it, though, part two will seriously come in under its predecessor. We now have two Lego Movie collapses in a row and it will be interesting to see how Warner handles it.

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)

Avengers: Infinity War Box Office Prediction

It may feel like winter in many parts of the country even though it’s spring, but next weekend is essentially the start of the summer box office in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War invades theaters. This is the 19th picture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man and the third installment of the Avengers franchise that kicked off in 2012 (an untitled fourth installment is out next summer).

After 10 years of these superheroes populating our screens in one form or another, Infinity War is the picture that brings them all together. That means we have the Avengers we’re used to seeing together: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve got a whole lot of company this time around, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Josh Brolin is main villain Thanos. Other actors from the MCU returning include Gwyneth Paltrow, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio del Toro, Cobie Smulders, Angela Bassett, Tessa Thompson, and Jon Favreau. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed 2016’s Captain America: Civil War) are behind the camera. Whew…

The gathering of the entire MCU is one impressive selling point and there’s been developments that have even increased the anticipation for Infinity‘s release. Last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was well-received, as were Guardians and Thor sequels. Yet perhaps more than anything else, this February’s Black Panther turned into a phenomenon – becoming the third highest grossing domestic earner of all time.

Projections have steadily increased in the past few weeks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Infinity War could have the largest stateside opening of all time. In order to do so, it would need to surpass the $247 million achieved by 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To accomplish the 2nd biggest debut, it would need to exceed the $220 million of last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will almost certainly achieve the record for an MCU premiere, which is currently held by the original Avengers at $207 million.

I believe this will pass Jedi and rather easily. Getting to the Awakens number is doable, but I’ll project it falls a bit under that milestone.

Avengers: Infinity War opening weekend prediction: $240.2 million

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Box Office Prediction

Nearly four years ago, Tom Cruise had a decent performer in the form of Jack Reacher, based on a series of thriller novels by Lee Child. The pic opened to $15 million over the Christmas holiday in 2012 and eventually took in a solid $80 million.

Still, that gross was not enough to figure a sequel was automatically warranted. Yet here we are with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which re-teams Cruise with his Last Samurai director Edward Zwick and costars Cobie Smulders. The director of the its predecessor, Christopher McQuarrie, moved onto make the fifth Mission: Impossible and will reportedly do the sixth.

Whether this earns enough to see a third installment is questionable. Of Cruise’s last five pictures that he’s headlined, Reacher is actually the lowest grosser. The sequel will almost surely make more in its opening weekend, but it’s not exactly a fair comparison. Movies released over the Xmas weekend almost always open lower than they would over a typical weekend and develop longer legs in subsequent winter frames. So while the debut should be larger, I’m not sure it reaches $80M domestic in the long run.

I don’t see this getting much higher than mid 20s or much lower than $20M. My prediction essentially splits the difference.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back opening weekend prediction: $23.9 million

For my Ouija: Origin of Evil prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/ouija-origin-of-evil-box-office-prediction/

For my Keeping Up with the Joneses prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/keeping-up-with-the-joneses-box-office-prediction/

For my Boo! A Madea Halloween prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/12/boo-a-madea-halloween-box-office-prediction/

Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron moves the Marvel Cinematic Universe onwards while answering the questions we’ve been pondering for years. How is the romantic relationship going between Hulk and Black Widow? What’s going on with Hawkeye’s wife and children out on their family farm?

Wait, what?

These two out of nowhere subplots are emblematic of a pervasive problem with the sequel to the 2012 mega blockbuster. When Joss Whedon made the original three years ago, it was hard to imagine him combining Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye into a cohesive and satisfactory experience. Did he ever though and it resulted in one of the greatest superhero tales to reach the screen. With Ultron, many of the fears that were assuaged the first time are present. Here, the struggle is real and Whedon can’t manage to recapture the magic the second time around.

The pic dives headfirst into Avengers action in Eastern Europe with our protagonists obtaining Loki’s old scepter and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) discovering its artificial intelligence capabilities. This results in the creation of Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a robotic monster hell bent on ending the world… you know, like all MCU villains. We’re also introduced to Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), characters played by different actors in last year’s in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Incidentally, Quicksilver was used much more effectively in the latter.

Of course, we have most of the Marvel crew back. Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, who’s turned into one of the more interesting characters even though her aforementioned romance with Dr. Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) seems to be a forced concoction to earn them more screen time. Same goes for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who isn’t one of the more interesting players and his previously unseen family history doesn’t help. And there’s Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’s Captain America, both coming off sequels that improved upon their predecessors. Not the case here. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon appear in more limited fashion. The girlfriends of Iron Man and Thor (Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman, respectively) are missing.

Where Ultron serviceably succeeds is its action sequences, including a humdinger battle between Hulk and Iron Man. The Marvel team obviously know how to make these glorious battle sequences and they acquit themselves fine here, though nothing matches the brilliance of the 2012 edition’s breathtaking climactic sequence. The issues I had are several and not just the needless subplots. Ultron is not an especially compelling villain. Many of the humorous quips fall flatter than normal. Even Downey Jr. (truly an example of the perfect actor in the perfect role) isn’t as fun this time around.

In a way, I found Age of Ultron comparable to the third Hunger Games entry, Mockingjay – Part 1. It’s necessary to view it so we can move on to the rest. With the MCU, that includes two more Avengers pics and forthcoming Thor and Captain America threequels. Ultron is “must see” viewing for that reason and that reason alone. Yet I hope what comes next elevates beyond the material we are given this time.

**1/2 (out of four)

Avengers: Age of Ultron Box Office Prediction

The 2015 Summer Movie Season kicks off in grand fashion as Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts and looks to Hulk smash records. The mystery surrounding how it performs in its opening is centered on one question: will it have the biggest domestic debut in movie history? In order to do so, it’ll need to top the record currently held by its 2012 predecessor. That magic number is $207.4 million.

All the favorites are back, including director Joss Whedon with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, and more returning. Newbies include James Spader voicing the title character villain and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. There are two more Avengers features already planned for 2018 and 2019. While a number of reviews say it doesn’t quite match the original, its 80% Rotten Tomatoes rating is solid.

There is little doubt that Ultron is highly primed to become summer’s largest grosser. Whether or not it reaches the $623M eventual mark of The Avengers remains to be seen (that’s good for the 3rd biggest hit ever behind Avatar and Titanic).

Some prognosticators are estimating it may not quite reach the heights of 2012 in its opening. The floor would seem to be in the $180M range, which would be just fine but still $25M under the first. While that’s certainly possible, I do believe Ultron will debut with around the same number of its predecessor… and a bit higher. That means I’m predicting Ultron will set a new benchmark in the category of all-time record openings and Disney and Marvel will be popping the champagne corks come next weekend.

Avengers: Age of Ultron opening weekend prediction: $212.7 million

Delivery Man Movie Review

Ken Scott’s Delivery Man allows its star Vince Vaughn to take on a more dramatic role that downplays his witty and sardonic sense of humor and pours on the pathos. The results aren’t too impressive and the screenplay gives Vaughn some scattershot and often mediocre material to work with.

A remake of Scott’s own 2011 Canadian feature Starbuck, David (Vaughn) is an aimless meat truck driver with financial woes who finds out he’s expecting his first child with his girlfriend, played by an underutilized Cobie Smulders. Well… about that “first” child…

It turns out our title character donated to a sperm clinic on a very regular basis in the early 90s under the alias Starbuck. And his efforts produced an astonishing 533 children, many of whom file a lawsuit to find out who their daddy is. David is torn with this revelation and it leads him to seek out his spawn while attempting to maintain his true identity from them. He develops relationships with them and their characters often check off the movie cliché boxes. The drug addicted girl trying to go straight. The struggling actor. The musician. Then there’s Viggo the vegetarian (Adam Chanler-Berat), who learns who David truly is and hangs around for a few scenes to annoy his dad, as well as the audience. And there’s also the handicapped son, creating a subplot that feels a tad too manipulative for comfort.

A puffy, pre-Star-Lord Chris Pratt is afforded some good moments as David’s in over his head attorney friend who represents him in a counter suit to secure his anonymity. In many ways, Man rises and falls with Vaughn. There are scarce comedic moments and Vaughn greatly downplays the quick paced and irony drenched persona we’ve come to anticipate from him. At times, he seems to be trying a little too hard to play against type and his performance comes off a bit listless.

Delivery Man doesn’t succeed enough in exploring David’s newfound connection to these strangers who he happens to father and the script tries too hard to pull our heartstrings. As the hundreds of Starbuck kids want to establish their connection with him, my connection to the proceedings as a viewer was much like Vaughn’s performance – too muted.

** (out of four)