IT Chapter Two Review (No Spoilers)

Just like Harley Quinn in the ‘Birds of Prey‘ teaser, we should all be so “f*cking over clowns” too but we need them, don’t we? With Pennywise and the Joker, psychotic clowns are going to be giving the box office a much-needed boost.

After defeating IT, the ‘Losers’ all go their separate ways, with most of them leaving Derry and starting their own lives. 27 years later, however, IT returns which necessitates the return of the gang too. As a massive fan of the first IT and the actual 1000+ sprawling novel, I was excited about the sequel. The studio definitely assembled a star-studded cast (with the likes of James Mcavoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, etc.) and the predecessor was delightfully entertaining.

Positives

In terms of performances, the actors all deliver. Mcavoy (Bill) and Chastain (Beverly)  bring their usual A-game, carrying a lot of the film’s emotionally-charged sequences. For Bill, it’s a ‘storyline’ with a random kid who he encounters a couple of times that truly allows the actor to flex his acting muscles. You absolutely buy his frustration and anger and Mcavoy truly excels there. The other adult Losers’ actors – James Ransone (a still-hypochondriacal Eddie), Jay Ryan (a more muscular Ben), Isaiah Mustafa (Mike), and Andy Bean (Stanely) are all great as well and are definitely prime for more roles in the future. But, I really have to echo what most people are saying “Bill Hader steals the movie.” Not only is he easily the funniest character (Richie) in the film, but also one of the most sympathetic. Even though he’s still as foul-mouthed as ever, we learn that his tendency to be puerile is more of a facade he wears to not reveal his true feelings. I can’t really delve more into that because of spoilers…

Richie and Eddie’s back-and-forth is particularly engaging and absolutely fun to watch. The cast has excellent chemistry and when they are allowed to interact with each other, you really feel a sense of camaraderie. My favorite scene in the movie is the Chinese restaurant scene where the adults reunite for the first time and try to remember their past. Of course, Pennywise is up to his usual devilish antics and ruins the reunion but, that scene perfectly captures the chemistry. Their personalities and charming back-and-forth are played extremely well and it’s clear that the cast had a lot of fun too.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros & New Line Cinema

Albeit a poor decision to show the titular character in broad daylight and not given enough screentime, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is still pretty terrifying. There are 2 wonderful Pennywise-related additions in the movie (not in the book) that were f*kn awesome – a scene with a young girl underneath the bleachers at a baseball game and the ‘Hall of Mirrors.’ Not only is the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ scene extremely thrilling, but also effective because Bill sees Georgie in the aforementioned kid and doesn’t want the same fate to befall him.

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The cinematography, the production and the hybrid of CGI/practical effects are all pretty solid. But by far, the most surprising aspect of the film is its abundance of humor (sometimes to a fault). IT Chapter Two is dam funny, which is probably not what most viewers expected. There is also a pretty meta-throughline about Bill’s character (who is a writer) sucking at writing a proper ending, which is a common complaint of Stephen King’s book endings.

Negatives

Even though the first IT had a great balance of humor and scares, the sequel goes a little overboard with the humor, which often ends up undercutting the emotional sequences. In addition, we don’t learn much about adults (aside from the obligatory scenes in the beginning). It would’ve been great to actually spend more time with them before they are thrust to this world again. The child actors also return and even though they were great in the first one, their additions take away screentime from their adult counterparts.

Also, the whole point of the second part of the IT story is that the adults reunite to take down IT. Unfortunately, the entire second act is the Losers being separated and finding ‘totems’ or relics from their childhood for a sacrifice, which would have been okay if the ritual ended up being (at least a little) effective. It doesn’t, so you’re left with almost an hour of the movie being pointless. Think Finn and Rose’s storyline in Star Wars: The Last Jedi… This is also where the movie drags a little and could have truncated a portion of the runtime (which is almost as long as Avengers: Endgame). Each character (sans characters like an adult Mike) is allocated 5-10 minutes and some of their nostalgic moments just aren’t that interesting.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros & New Line Cinema

Speaking of, Mike is the only loser that stayed back after defeating IT and vividly remembers IT and the adventures they had. However, he once again gets the short end of the stick, in terms of character development, and we don’t learn much about him. He exists as an exposition-dumping machine and doesn’t have much of a personality. Returning characters like Henry Bowers, the switchblade-wielding bully, has absolutely no purpose being in the movie. He doesn’t affect the story much, if at all, and simply ends up taking precious screentime away from other characters.

The filmmakers also feel a need to shove a lot of material from the book and oftentimes, it feels as if not enough time is spent to let us marinate on what just transpired. I contend that this film could have benefitted from splitting into 2 movies, which would have given us more time to flesh out the pre-Derry adult Losers and explore the mythology behind Pennywise.

Finally, the big climactic moment ends up feeling extremely anti-climactic and I was left scratching my head “that’s how they defeat IT?”

Rating – Mild Recommendation

Albeit filled with strong performances and hilarious one-liners, IT Chapter Two is a bit of a disappointment. 2017 IT was so good that when compared to the original, the sequel was always going to be a bit of a let-down. Regardless, the movie has good scares and is an entertaining watch.

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All the Marvel Studios Disney+ shows announced

After the recent San Diego Comic-Con and D-23, it’s abundantly clear that Disney is pulling no punches when it comes to their streaming service – Disney+. The service launches on November 12 and will have original Star Wars and Marvel Studios TV series, and all the content that Disney owns/ now owns with Fox acquisition.

In terms of all the Marvel shows announced, here is the list –

Falcon & Winter Soldier (Fall 2020) – The show takes place after the events of Endgame and SPOILER ALERT for Endgame, old man Steve gives the Cap shield/ ‘mantle’ of Captain America to Sam. The main villain of the series is Zemo, who was the antagonist in Captain America: Civil War. Sharon Carter (Agent 13) will once again return to presumably succor Sam and Bucky on their next adventure.

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

WandaVision (Spring 2021) – At D23, Kevin Feige described this series as “half Marvel movie” and “half 60’s sitcom.” It’s entirely possible that Scarlet Witch uses her reality-warping abilities to ‘create’ this world where Vision was still alive and they actually shared life together. Of course, as you may remember from Avengers: Infinity War, Vision was killed (twice). Apparently, the events of the show lead directly into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will see Scarlet Witch team-up alongside the Sorceror Supreme.

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Loki (Spring 2021) – It seems as if the fan-favorite character Loki will never truly stay dead. This is the Loki, that escaped with the Tesseract in the 2012 time-travel scene in Endgame. Not much is known about the show other than the fact that Loki will jump around in time and “pop up throughout human history as [an] unlikely influencer on historical events.”

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Marvel’s What-If (Summer 2021) – This is going to be the first ANIMATED Marvel Studios project, with 23 episodes in a season (one episode for every MCU movie). All the MCU actors will return to the voice of their animated counterparts. As the title suggests, this series will explore alternate versions of the characters and stories. For example, in episode 1, ‘What if’ Peggy Carter got the superhero serum as opposed to Steve Rogers. You get the idea…

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Hawkeye (Fall 2021) – Not much is known about this particular series but according to reports, this show will largely be about Clint Barton training and passing the mantle of Hawkeye to a character named Kate Bishop.

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The other shows Marvel has announced for their parent company’s streaming service includes – Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight.

Note, the ‘cooling-off period‘ for the Netflix characters (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and The Punisher) is 2 years. Meaning, we could very well see some of them having their own series and/or guest-starring in other people’s shows. For example, we could see Matt Murdock (Daredevil) in She-Hulk, since Jennifer Walters is also a lawyer.

Anyways, these are all the shows Marvel has announced. I am most intrigued by the WandaVision show but in terms of my sheer anticipation, it’s easily Falcon & Winter Soldier!

Ready or Not Review (No Spoilers)

With kids going back to schools and PG-13 fueled summer movies now in the rearview mirror, this is a time when studios generally release their R-rated, more mature content.

A good way to describe Ready or Not is – ‘Get Out’ meets ‘Hide and Seek’ meets ‘Game Night.’ After just getting married to Alex, one of the sons of the very affluent family, Grace learns that Alex’s big family have a very weird tradition – playing a board-game the night of the wedding. At first, Grace playfully goes along with it, till she learns of the sinister and nefarious intent of her in-laws. Apparently, the great-grandfather’s avarice for riches and fame led him to make a Faustian deal and now, the family believes that if they don’t kill the bride, they’ll die.

Before I go further in detail on my review, I want to point something out. Ready or Not is one of Fox Searchlight’s final movies and if you want more (original) movies like this, please go watch it. Disney, the new owner of Fox, is considering dismantling Fox Searchlight and all the Fox projects and plan on continuing their efforts on reboots/remakes/sequels (ie. The Lion King).

Positives

Samara Weaving absolutely steals all the scenes she’s in and it’s abundantly evident that she’s having a blast playing this character. Right off the bat, we learn that she’s lived in a foster home for her whole life and she really wants to please her fastidious in-laws. Her desire to have a family is all but enough for us to root for her.

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Aside from the protagonist, the other most complex character is her brother-in-law. He’s actually conflicted about killing Grace, which definitely helps make him (a bit more) sympathetic than the other family members.

This movie is fairly well-shot, with a solid amount of laughs and gore. As a satire, it (mostly) works. The movie explores the lengths the rich will go to keep their excess wealth, which is one of the contention points among the Democratic party. In one of the film’s memorable scenes, Grace’s cocaine-addicted sister-in-law accidentally shoots a maid, to which some of the family members reply, “She was my favorite.” This indifference and the perceived lack of value in human life is definitely something the film excels at exploring.

Negatives

From the trailers, one might be forgiven for assuming that the movie ends up being a revenge flick, with Grace hunting down the rich. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t as much revenge (no, I am not bloodthirsty) and the formula wears off pretty quick. What I mean by that is, there is a repetitive story beat – Grace is “found” and she has to escape. That is played ad nauseum. Despite a short runtime (1:34), some sequences are unnecessarily long and add to a boring feeling. This is also an extremely predictable film, which is too bad considering it easily could have subverted our expectations in the final act.

Some of the performances are extremely campy and the relationship drama between Alex and his mom is contrived and simply exists to move the plot forward.

Rating – Mild Recommendation

Overall, Ready or Not is (mostly) an enjoyable flick, with a terrific lead. While the gore might be enough to turn some viewers away, I contend it was necessary for the movie’s ultimate message “F*cking rich people!”

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TV – The Boys Season 1 Review (No Spoilers)

The Boys, based on a graphic novel, is a satirical take about a group of ordinary people trying to take down a group of corrupt, selfish, perverted superheroes (called The Seven) and Vought, the company behind these supers. The core superheroes are (‘less black-and-white’) versions of DC’s Justice League members like Homelander (Superman), Queen Maeve (Wonder Woman), The Deep (Aquaman), A-train (Flash), and Black Noir (Batman-ish). The newest Amazon Prime series is an R-rated series, filled with graphic violence, nudity, etc.

The show has come at a very interesting time. In a pop-culture that is defined with the superhero films and TV shows, The Boys is a deconstruction of the superhero genre, albeit with a morally ambiguous and a cynical touch. The show explores the corporatization and monetization of superheroes (movies, TV, merchandise, box office), something we especially see in our own world today. In addition, the use of advertising and marketing to maintain a public image and potentially cover up some major gaffes are explored in detail.

Positives

One of the show’s strengths is in its casting and performances. Karl Urban (Dredd, Thor: Ragnarok) is absolutely fantastic as Billy Butcher, a foul-mouthed, CIA-esque man with a mysterious past, who hates the superheroes, especially Homelander. Urban brings his signature charm to the role but is clearly not afraid to get his hands dirty. Speaking of Homelander, played brilliantly by Anthony Starr, the character is exactly the kind of Superman that Bruce Wayne feared in Batman v Superman. He’s more concerned with his public image than saving lives and Starr is able to so quickly switch from being a boy-scout to downright terrifying when he’s on and off-camera. Unlike his DC counterpart’s known weakness with kryptonite, Homelander’s biggest ‘weakness’ is his relationship, oftentimes intimate, with his boss and mother-like-figure in Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue). She’s the company VP and is willing to use any means to have her way.

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The ‘heart’ of this series is the characters and the relationship between Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Annie (Erin Moriarty), also known as Starlight and one of the Seven members. Right off the bat, Hughie loses someone very close to him, thanks to A-train’s recklessness, and Hughie decides to team-up with Billy and his cohort to enact revenge against the supers. However, what keeps him from becoming like Billy is his burgeoning romance with Annie. Speaking of, Annie grew up wanting to be one of The Seven and saving lives but soon realizes that the public image is more important for them than actual super-heroing. She’s also sexually assaulted in the first episode and threatened numerous times. By the end of the season, she truly finds herself and it’s dam empowering.

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Hughie and Annie in The Boys, Amazon Prime

What I especially love about the show is that no one is purely good or bad, maybe except Starlight (who’s genuinely interested in saving lives). Every character has done something terrible, sometimes with the best intentions, which makes them more multi-dimensional characters. The Boys also has its comedic moments, albeit a little macabre for some, and excels at forming the bond between the Boys themselves. This hilarious scene below is definitely very reminiscent of Mr. Incredible using Jack-Jack’s laser eyes.

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Negatives

Certain storylines, especially the one with The Deep, are simply not that interesting compared to the other ones and just ended up feeling like a drag. Besides, The Deep is the one that sexually assaults Starlight right after they meet, which makes it hard for the viewers to connect with him.

Characters like Queen Maeve and Black Noir end up getting very little screen-time this season, which is quite unfortunate considering they’re more interesting than some of their other team-mates.

Rating – Absolutely Recommendation

In a world inundated with superhero-related content (and I love them, don’t get me wrong), The Boys is a fresh change of pace in the genre and is filled with hilarious, provocative moments. I loved the first season of the show and am excited for the second outing!

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Review (No Spoilers)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the first spin-off film in the highly-octane-driven action series. This time, the breakout characters from the last couple of Furious films, DSS agent Hobbs (played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and a villain-turned-anti-hero Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham) are given their own solo adventure.

Umm, do I really have to explain the plot? Fine… A biomechanically-enhanced soldier is in pursuit of Agent Hattie Shaw, played by Vanessa Kirby, who stole ‘Snowflake,’ a virus that liquefies internal organs. Mission Impossible 2, anyone? Eventually, Deckard Shaw (Hattie’s brother) and Hobbs have to put aside their “animosity” for each other to save Hattie and the world. Trust me, the plot doesn’t matter.

It’s hard to review a movie like this as this is a ‘Fast & Furious’ movie. At this point, you already know the kind of movie you’re going to get – lots of (insane) action, the word ‘family’ thrown in every other sentence, with very little consideration for the plot and characters. If you have been on board and have had fun since Fast 5, you’ll enjoy this movie too, as I did.

Positives

This movie completely excels at letting the titular characters go at it with each other. The two are constantly throwing insults at each other and it’s extremely fun to watch. The dialogue feels authentic to these larger-than-life characters and it’s evident that The Rock and Jason Statham are also having fun. The dynamic duo has excellent chemistry/banter and the filmmakers make sure to accentuate that over the other aspects of the film. Their (juvenile and puerile) humor is actually funny and reminded me a lot of the Kevin Hart-The Rock collabs. Speaking of, The Rock is especially great in scenes with his daughter. That helps humanize him and make him vulnerable, something most of his films are unable to do.

Vanessa Kirby, one of the breakout stars in Mission Impossible: Fallout, is absolutely wonderful and is able to hold her own against Statham and the Rock. Yes, she’s used as a plot device but she’s also able to escape numerous times and given kick-ass fight scenes. I can’t wait to see more of her in the future.

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The action is one of the film’s highlights, which is to be expected from the director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, and a co-director of John Wick. There are many memorable action sequences, especially the London-headquarter scene. Does it make much sense? Hell no. There is not a shred of verisimilitude in this film. Albeit highly trained, these are regular human beings who fall from skyscrapers and hold helicopters without getting hurt. They’re superheroes!! But the thing is, the filmmakers fully embrace the silliness of the premise and the franchise and are content with delivering quality entertainment. On a side-note, there are some surprising cameos in the film and they are absolutely hilarious!

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Lastly, the family undertones are more endearing in Hobbs & Shaw than they have been in most of the films in the franchise. Rather than saying the word ‘family,’ show us that. In this one, the scenes between the Shaw siblings and the Rock with his daughter and estranged family add some heart to the film.

Negatives

Let me just get the usual stuff out of the way – nonsensical plot, a lot of conveniences (especially during the third act battle), plot armor, (a lot of action) for the sake of having action, invulnerable human characters, a generic baddie, gravity/physics-defying moments, etc. In other words, it’s a Fast & Furious movie. What’d you expect? Shakespeare? These will definitely annoy some but if you’re like me and know what to expect from a movie like this, the outlandish scenes will be fun.

That being said, Hobbs & Shaw is 2 hours and 16 minutes long, which is far from the run-time than it needs. Because of the lack of a proper narrative, the movie feels a little disjointed and sluggish at some points. In addition, certain storylines are introduced and are completely ignored, which begs the question as to why they were brought up in the first place.

Rating – Solid Recommendation

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is exactly the gonzo, high-octane, summer blockbuster we need right now. It’s an unapologetically goofy, over-the-top film, with great chemistry between the eponymous leads.

PS – There are 3 after-credit scenes, so stay through the entire film!!

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Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood Review (No Spoilers)

The 9th and presumably the penultimate film from the writer-director Quentin Tarantino, One Upon A Time in Hollywood, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and a plethora of other big actors.

The movie follows Rick Dalton, a fading action star, and Cliff Booth, Rick’s stuntman/driver/best friend. The two, especially the former, are trying to adjust to the rapidly-changing 1960’s entertainment landscape. On the other hand, the movie also heavily features a young Sharon Tate, one of the real-life victims of the horrific Manson family murders, who is ebullient with the endless opportunities in Los Angeles.

Positives

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have excellent chemistry and both deliver terrific performances. Right off the bat, one can tell that Rick and Cliff have been best friends for a long time and have a trust/respect for each other. Leo’s scenes with a precocious little girl are scene-stealing and help humanize his character. But, it’s his scene after a big screw-up in a trailer that made his character all the more sympathetic and relatable. Rather than bottling it in, Rick absolutely vents his anger/embarrassment on himself, something we’ve all done in our lives. Even though Leo’s Rick is the main character, Brad Pitt absolutely steals the movie, with his Inglorious Basterds-Esque Lt. Aldo Raine impression. Unlike Rick’s more lavish residence, Cliff lives in a trailer but is seemingly content with his life.

Even though Once Upon A Time struggles with its narrative (more on that later), it absolutely succeeds with the comedy. This is a hilarious film, with some of the year’s funniest moments. The “Bruce Lee” v Cliff Booth fight scene is easily the funniest, gut-wrenching laughter scene this whole year. In addition, dialogue such as “Anybody accidentally kills anybody in a fight, they go to jail. It’s called manslaughter” or “Anybody order fried sauerkraut! Ha, you Nazi bastards!” is hilarious and once again remind us just how good Tarantino is with his screenplays. Even though the ending is arguably more self-indulgent, as Tarantino inserts his signature blood and gore, it is extremely satisfying and fun to watch.

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The production design, editing, and cinematography are all deliberate and stellar. Speaking of the production design, I felt as if I was actually living in the 1960s and Tarantino really takes time in showcasing that particular setting.

Negatives

Like many Tarantino films, this movie doesn’t appear to have much of a plot and this is especially guilty of it. Even though the synopsis suggests that Leo’s character, Rick Dalton, is a fading star, the movie doesn’t really explore that. Instead, Tarantino is more concerned with dedicating huge chunks of time to his characters doing random things, without any sort of a throughline. Once Upon A Time is extremely unfocused and doesn’t really have much of a narrative.

Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate was arguably the most difficult character to include in the movie. After all, Tate was brutally murdered by Manson’s followers and depicting such a violent, macabre scene might have turned off many viewers. As a result, Tarantino decides to have Tate in the movie, without necessarily having anything for her character to do. Tate is just present and has scenes that have no impact whatsoever to the “story.” Tarantino could easily have cut 15-25 minutes of the film.

Without going into spoilers, Tarantino does subvert expectations, especially revolving the real-life incidents. If you liked the Hitler sequences in Inglorious Basterds, you’ll get a kick out of this one too.

Rating – Absolute Recommendation

Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is an entertaining film, with terrific performances from Leo and Pitt, who also have great chemistry. Their friendship arguably makes this movie this fun to watch. Where this movie suffers, unfortunately, is with its narrative and non-existent character arcs. Still, it’s a dam good watch!

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The Lion King 2019 Review (No Spoilers?…)

With Dumbo and Aladdin in the same calendar year already, it is clear that Disney is doubling down on their live-action remakes. This time, it’s arguably Disney’s most beloved animated film, the Lion King. Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and The Jungle Book, once again helms the latest Disney remake.

FYI, this is an animated film and if it does get nominated for ‘Best Animated Film’ at the Academy Awards, don’t be shocked. There is nothing “live-action” in this incarnation of the Lion King and everything is CGI, including the landscape.

Positives

Does it really have to be said? The visual effects are absolutely revolutionary and not just the actual animals themselves but also the scenery. This is a gorgeous film to look at, with excellent production design, cinematography, filmmaking, etc. I mean, just look at the images below. This is photo-realism taken to the max level. These aren’t real animals trained to behave a certain way but fully computer-generated!! Absolutely astonishing and game-changing! This movie is definitely deserving of any, and all, visual effect accolades.

Despite the terrific color palette, this movie felt dull until Timon and Pumbaa show up. The fan-favorites, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, are absolutely terrific and have excellent chemistry. They add a much-needed jolt of energy to this lifeless film and their banter is absolutely fun to watch. If only, they had more to do…

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James Earl Jones is once again excellent as Mufasa. His commanding presence permeates all the scenes he’s in. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose name I still need to copy-paste from Google, is surprisingly good as Scar and is just the right amount of menacing and conniving. The hyenas, who were portrayed as idiots and a big joke in the 1994 animated version, are far more realized and terrifying in this new one.

Negatives

The biggest problem of the remake is that it’s extremely unnecessary. It’s essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the beloved 1994 animated film with very little additions, which is why I am extremely disappointed by it. There is absolutely zero narrative changes and is arguably the least-risky remake Disney has produced so far. I know some people will be pleased to learn that Disney didn’t tinker with the existing source material but for me, doing something a little different and potentially failing is more appealing than not taking any creative risks at all.

Speaking of the characters, most of them still don’t have much to do. The adult versions of Simba and Nala, voiced by Donald Glover and Beyoncé respectively, are given far less-screentime and don’t seem to have the level of emotion they should. It’s probably a little sacrilegious to say but here I go – Nala was a pretty under-developed character in the original film too. By adding Beyoncé, I was really hoping for more characterization for Nala but alas, we don’t get more. This is especially disconcerting considering Naomi Scott’s Jasmine in the Aladdin remake had a much better, more progressive arc than her animated counterpart.

The degree of verisimilitude to create the most realistic-looking animals is also one of the problems as the creatures don’t emote much and are far less expressive than their ‘animated’ counterparts. This is an issue the Jungle Book didn’t have. Even though the animals looked pretty realistic, they also had an ‘animated’ feel to them. The Lion King goes all-in for the utmost-realism but suffers a little, as a result.

Rating – Not A Recommendation

I can’t help but echo what I’ve been hearing from most critics. It is a “soulless” remake that has nothing original to offer. Aside from the stellar visuals and charming friendship/banter between Timon and Pumbaa, the 2019 Lion King is just another corporate-produced retelling of a beloved film that simply exists as a cash-grab.