Men in Black: International Movie Review

You won’t need one of those neuralyzer doohickeys to forget Men in Black: International, which extends the rust developed from part two of the franchise on. Will Smith has moved on from this series to dealing with aliens in Netflix pics and being the man in blue in Disney remakes. Tommy Lee Jones has retired as well. So the Marvel Cinematic duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok don the sunglasses in this reboot. Their chemistry was better with the MCU team and that movie had a funnier alien in the guise of Jeff Goldblum.

Hemsworth is the hunky Agent H, top operative at the U.K. MiB branch run by Liam Neeson’s High T. Thompson is essentially a fangirl of the super secretive force who’s been aware of their existence since childhood. She recruits herself to the suit and is assigned by Emma Thompson’s Agent O (reprising her Men in Black 3 part) to travel overseas and partner with her Thor. The plot involves stopping a nasty species that goes by the Hive. One of the baddies is an arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson that had an inter species love affair with H. Some of the other villains are kept secret for most of the running time, though you’ll see it coming from a galactic mile away. And there’s Kumail Nanjiani voicing the CG creation Pawny. He gets in a few mildly amusing lines.

F. Gary Gray has taken over directorial duties from Barry Sonnenfeld and he doesn’t have to top a high bar of its predecessors. 1997’s original was a fun summer blockbuster melding science fiction and comedy with genuine chemistry from the two leads. I struggle to recall anything about the first sequel. #3 was a slight improvement if only for Josh Brolin’s uncanny impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones.

I doubt many have much of an affinity for this franchise beyond what came 22 years ago. And while International does indeed trot the globe from Paris to London and Morocco and New York to Italy, it mostly feels flat.

** (out of four)

Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

Taika Waititi is a tightrope walker when it comes to the execution of Jojo Rabbit, the kind of picture that few directors might be permitted to make. It helps when you’re coming off Thor: Ragnarok, the best received of that sub franchise in the MCU. This is a tale of atrocities and those involved in it. And it’s handled with a primarily light tone that eventually doesn’t shy away from the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The premise, based on a novel from Christine Leunens, sounds high concept in description. A boy with an imaginary friend that happens to be Adolf Hitler. That sentence could provide a visceral reaction for many and it’s up to Waititi to justify it. He does so in large measure.

The boy is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old Hitler youth living with his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) in the waning days of World War II. All he really knows is the propaganda of his nation’s leaders and he’s part of the Nazi youth camps. They’re taught by an alcoholic Captain (Sam Rockwell) and a no nonsense Fräulein (Rebel Wilson). Jojo reveres Hitler so much that he acts as his imaginary companion. Waititi pulls double duty as the monstrous Chancellor and plays him as a total nincompoop. Yet like most fictitious companions (even if they’re based on evil real life figures), Jojo’s Hitler serves to reinforce his misguided feelings toward the Jewish people. Also because he’s lonely.

When he discovers that his mom is sheltering young Jewish Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) upstairs, his adolescent worldview is shattered. The witless Hitler doesn’t know what to make of it. Therefore Jojo struggles with how to handle this until his humanity starts to shine through.

To call this movie is a delicate balance is an understatement. There are satirical tones, but there’s a lot more heart. Anyone expecting a Mel Brooks style Producers exercise should look elsewhere. The humor is abundant for the first two acts especially, but always imbued with a level of pathos that comes into sharper focus as it goes on.

Jojo Rabbit is mostly an inventive case study in showing one child learning not to hate. It could fall apart without the casting of Davis. He’s rarely off screen and his performance is fantastic. Not fantastic for a child actor. Fantastic. Not many youngsters could pull off the range of emotions he has to go through and he nails it. McKenzie, in many ways, has an equally challenging role as Elsa navigates teaching Jojo not to fear her. The humanity of her character and the actress playing her convinces us and him. As you might imagine, Waititi has a tricky part as well. He’s got some of the best lines and reactions of all in his campy take. The more recognizable actors are all first-rate. In one of the most powerful scenes not involving Jojo, Johansson has a heart to heart about adulthood with Elsa (on the cusp of entering that status). And speaking of highlights, Jojo’s actual best friend Yorki, played by Archie Yates, is a scene stealer.

So… does this all work? Mostly yes. I also can’t deny that Rabbit never quite reaches the emotional impact that it’s trying to land. The concept doesn’t block that possibility. It’s more that the tonal shifts can be somewhat jarring in a couple of cases. It’s practically unavoidable. I never doubted that Waititi’s heart is in the right place and he’s assembled a superb cast to provide numerous laughs and a lot of warmth. Most importantly, it’s told through a child’s eyes who doesn’t recognize his idols are as false as can be until those eyes are opened.

*** (out of four )

Oscar Watch: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is undoubtedly one of Toronto’s most eagerly awaited screenings and it held its unveiling last night. The latest from writer/director Taika Waititi (who hit the big time with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok), Jojo is a comedy that involves a child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler. The child is played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis while the filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Other costars include Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson.

It’s tough to gauge if this odd concoction will work based on the trailer. Early critical reaction is all over the map. Some love it while others seem quite turned off with claims that its unique tone never comes together. The result is shown in the current Rotten Tomatoes rating – 55%.

Most films with that score wouldn’t be in the conversation for a Best Picture nod. This could be an exception as those who like it really like it. I still think it’s probably an on the bubble candidate, but let’s see how it plays out.

The two actors getting the most praise appears to be youngsters Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Waititi and Johansson were looked at as possibilities for the supporting races. Not so much anymore in my view (Scarlett can take comfort in that she’s appears in for Marriage Story). And Waititi could still land an Adapted Screenplay nod.

Bottom line: Jojo Rabbit looks polarizing enough to keep it away from the big dance, but ardent supporters could change that dynamic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Men in Black: International Box Office Prediction

The Men in Black are back onscreen for the first time in seven years, but they look a lot different this time around. Subtitled International, this is a sequel/reboot of the franchise that ruled the summer 22 years ago. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are nowhere to be found. Instead it’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the lead roles with F. Gary Gray taking over directorial duties from Barry Sonnenfeld. The supporting cast includes Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall, Liam Neeson, and Emma Thompson (reprising her role from 2012’s MIB3).

Despite its two stars being part of this season’s behemoth Avengers: Endgame, audiences might be skeptical to revisit a two decade old series that they identified with Smith (currently headlining the hit Aladdin). Comparing the opening grosses of the MIB trilogy that preceded it is tricky. All three opened over holiday weekends with the first two over July 4th and the third over Memorial Day weekend. Their traditional Friday to Sunday grosses were consistent in the low to mid 50s. When factoring in the extra holiday additions, parts one and two got into the 80s with #3 nearing $70 million. It’s worth mentioning that each entry earned less domestically overall than the previous one.

Men in Black: International, holiday or no holiday, looks bound for the lowest premiere yet in the franchise. I’ll say low 30s.

Men in Black: International opening weekend prediction: $30.7 million

For my Shaft prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/06/shaft-box-office-prediction/

For my Late Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/09/__trashed/

For my The Dead Don’t Die prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/09/the-dead-dont-die-box-office-prediction/

Ranking The MCU

**(09/18/19): Updated with all MCU movies ranked through Spider-Man: Far From Home

As of today with AntMan and the Wasp, I’ve now seen all 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe titles that began just over a decade ago with Iron Man. That seemed like a nice round number to do my initial rankings of them. I will plan to update the list as time goes on, beginning next spring with Captain Marvel.

I’ve seen some of them more than others and my opinion for certain ones have risen and fallen over time. For instance, Captain America: Civil War has grown in my appreciation of it. On a lesser scale, my disappointment for Avengers: Age of Ultron has dissipated a bit. And while I’m still in the minority for believing The Dark World is a little better than the original Thor, it’s not too good and has lost some luster in my view.

So we arrive at my listing of the 23 MCU titles thus far! Let the debating begin…

23. AntMan (2015)

22.  Iron Man 2 (2010)

21. Thor (2011)

20. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

19. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

18. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011

17. AntMan and the Wasp (2018)

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

15. Captain Marvel (2019)

 

14. SpiderMan: Far From Home (2019)

13. SpiderMan: Homecoming (2017)

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

10. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

8. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

7. Black Panther (2018)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

4. Iron Man (2008)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

1. The Avengers (2012

A Marvel Cinematic Universe Box Office History

As we await the potentially historic debut of Avengers: Infinity War this weekend, we also mark a decade of the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe that began in 2008 with Iron Man. Ten years later, Infinity is the 19th feature in a franchise that has grossed nearly $6 billion stateside and almost $15 billion worldwide. With Friday’s release of Infinity, I’m estimating it will have the second highest domestic debut of all time (behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/17/avengers-infinity-war-box-office-prediction/

My blog didn’t begin until the fall of 2012, shortly after the release of the first Avengers feature. That means I have done 12 opening weekend box office predictions for MCU releases prior to Infinity. I thought this might be a good time to take a trip down that lane on how I’ve done with their pictures of the past:

Iron Man 3 (2013)

My Prediction: $172.4 million

Opening: $174.1 million

I started off well with my prediction for Tony Stark’s third franchise entry, which had the benefit of coming right on the heels of The Avengers.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

My Prediction: $85.6 million

Opening: $85.7 million

My high mark in MCU estimates came here – only $100k off!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My Prediction: $86.3 million

Opening: $95 million

I underestimated Cap a bit here, but not too shabby.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

My Prediction: $74.6 million

Opening: $94.3 million

Yeah… the sizzling buzz for Guardians in summer 2014 caused anticipation to rise and rise. It’s hard to remember now, but this was actually considered a risk for Marvel at the time. The buzz exceeded my take by nearly $20 million bucks.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

My Prediction: $212.7 million

Opening: $191.2 million

The question with this first Avengers sequel is whether it would top the $207 million achieved by its 2012 predecessor. If so, it would have had the largest domestic opening at the time. I predicted it would and it fell short. Strangely enough, it would be Jurassic World one month later that would earn $208 million and set the debut record until The Force Awakens came along.

Ant-Man (2015)

My Prediction: $73.3 million

Opening: $57.2 million

I gave Paul Rudd and company too much credit here. The Ant-Man is the second lowest MCU debut (only The Incredible Hulk is below it at $55 million). Nevertheless a sequel is on its way this summer.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

My Prediction: $205.6 million

Opening: $179.1 million

My streak of going over on these predictions continues for the third feature…

Doctor Strange (2016)

My Prediction: $77.3 million

Opening: $85 million

A little low, but at least I got to within $10 million here.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

My Prediction: $166.4 million

Opening: $146.5 million

AND we’re back to going high…

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

My Prediction: $117.8 million

Opening: $117 million

After some whiffs, finally got back to solid estimating with Spidey’s well-received reiteration.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

My Prediction: $107.6 million

Opening: $122.7 million

Positive WOM pushed Thor’s third feature $15 million better than my projection.

Black Panther (2018)

My Prediction: $193.8 million

Opening: $202 million

This was an estimate that kept going up and up. I got pretty close, but still didn’t have it reaching the $200M+ plus number it achieved.

And there you have it! My checkered MCU history. We shall see how that $242.2 million take for Infinity War pans out soon enough…

12 Strong Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (01/18/18): I am revising my 12 Strong prediction from $17.9 million down to $13.9 million

Warner Bros is hoping to show a force of box office strength when 12 Strong debuts in theaters next Friday. Subtitled The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, the action drama recounts the true story of the first fighters sent overseas immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Marking the directorial debut of former war photojournalist Nicolai Fuglsig, the cast includes Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle.

Over the last few years, January has proven to be fertile ground for similarly themed pics. In 2014, Lone Survivor debuted to a terrific $37 million. Two years ago, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi took in a little over $19 million out of the gate, though it opened over the four-day MLK frame. The pinnacle of the genre (and openings for the month of January overall) was in 2015 when American Sniper astonished prognosticators with $107 million for its four-day MLK weekend premiere.

As you can see, it isn’t rare to see these true life war tales perform quite nicely with moviegoers. Hemsworth brings some star power and he’s just coming off the franchise best performance of his Thor series.

That said, expectations are certainly more in line with Benghazi and not Survivor and definitely not Sniper. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a debut slightly over $20 million, but I’ll estimate Strong takes in high teens for its start.

12 Strong opening weekend prediction: $13.9 million

For my Den of Thieves prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/01/10/den-of-thieves-box-office-prediction/