(These reviews are spoiler-free.)
Spider-Man: Far From Home
After 11 years of buildup beginning with 2008's "Iron Man", the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to a narrative head with April's "Avengers: Endgame", a film so popular that it's neck-and-neck with "Avatar" atop the all-time box office chart. It brought the central arcs of a consistently entertaining franchise to a satisfying close of sorts.
Of course, with endless comics to mine from and its recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and thus even more characters to add to the series, Disney has to keep the MCU machine running by moving on to a new era, an era that starts with the new Spider-Man flick.
Tom Holland, once again a perfect embodiment of the MCU's Peter Parker, travels to Europe with his classmates, where he plans on telling his crush, played by Zendaya, but high-stakes superhero action involving Jake Gyllenhaal's Mysterio keeps getting in the way.
Like 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming", this film is directed and co-written by Jon Watts, who shows his growth as a big-budget filmmaker with this project. Once again, though, his script and focus is what steals the show, opting to center the film around awkward teenagers whose normal lives keep being interrupted by the inexplicable and, like all good stories with the character, how difficult it is for Peter to juggle the responsibility of his powers and his desire to be a normal teenager.
Like "Homecoming", the film shines the most when it's a coming-of-age comedy with CGI-heavy action sequences sidelined. While some moments are impressive, most of the action in "Far From Home" is typical non-Avengers MCU fare.
"Far From Home" shows that there are still interesting stories to tell in the series, even with Iron Man, Captain America and Thanos out of the picture. The film truly becomes a great Spider-Man movie during the second half, making for an entertaining but not groundbreaking experience.
Last year, writer-director Ari Aster broke onto the cinematic scene with his feature length debut, "Hereditary." The A24 horror flick about a family's descent into madness that's affected by nefarious outside sources was met with critical praise and made more money than any other film the studio had ever made.
I was a massive fan of "Hereditary" and consider it a modern horror classic. It's an unnerving, unflinching and uncompromising look at grief that's boosted by its style, score and excellent acting performances from Toni Collette and co.
His sophomore film, "Midsommar", is about a dysfunctional couple's trip with friends to Sweden for a festival at a rural compound that only happens once every 90 years, only to find themselves in the midst of a pagan cult.
Like in "Hereditary", the cinematography and score are immaculate. Most of the movie takes place in broad daylight, allowing "Midsommar" to be a vibrant technicolor wonder to the senses. With the dark forces at play and the amount of drugs present, the film embodies a bad trip in obvious ways.
Also, much like Collette was the heart of his first film, Florence Pugh is incredible, delivering a horror movie performance so good, she's guaranteed to not be nominated for an Oscar.
There are some interesting themes at play, too, mainly the toxic relationship at the core of the story. It's not an abusive relationship, but it's the kind of relationship where neither are happy but neither have a justified reason to leave. The harder they try to make it work while surrounded by a cult, the worse things get.
However, the main problem with the movie is that it's largely style over substance. While "Hereditary" was wild and unpredictable on top of shocking, "Midsommar" features an engrossing sense of flare but with a predictable story that takes an unnecessary 140 minutes to tell. This is basically "a couple trying to make their terrible relationship work get put in The Wicker Man."
Are there shocking moments in this film? Absolutely. It is sometimes violent and brutal. But the film is short on narrative surprises if you've seen any movies about weird cults.
The set design and costume design also deserve considerable praise. "Midsommar" is far from a sophomore slump. It further shows that Aster is a filmmaker of considerable talent with creative visions. If you've enjoyed any of A24's horror films, such as "Hereditary", "Under The Skin", "The Witch" or "It Comes At Night", you'll find plenty in Aster's newest work to enjoy.
But it's a bumpy ride at times that's way too long, and it's certainly not for everyone.