Anthony Pantalone, Editor
Header Image Credit: “John Wick: Chapter 4” via Lionsgate
For both blockbuster franchises and casual filmgoers, March and February were big months at the cinema. Major studios released new installments of franchises like Marvel—with the newest Ant-Man film—and the Creed films. American audiences somewhat rejected superhero franchises in the past few months as both “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantummania” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” failed to drum up momentum at the box office. Superhero fatigue has slowly become apparent while other franchise films—“Creed III”, “Scream VI” and “John Wick: Chapter 4”—have done remarkably well domestically.
“John Wick: Chapter 4”
This movie has everything a viewer could want— “Lawrence of Arabia” references, Buster Keaton-level stunt comedy, and Laurence Fishburne delightfully overacting. The “John Wick” franchise is one of the only action series in the United States that remains exciting after each installment—mostly due to the incredible action and stunt work in these films. In a world where “The Gray Man” cost over two hundred million and was the worst thing an action movie could be—bland and boring—the “John Wick” films represent the opposite side of that spectrum. Each new entry in this story keeps raising the bar in terms of what these movies can realistically accomplish. Instead of huge CGI set pieces, its bigger budget is spent on large gorgeous sets and incredible practical stunts—along with some of the best lighting you could ever expect out of a major action franchise. This franchise has continuously felt like John Wick’s own personal Inferno into which he has been pulled deeper and deeper with each film, and “Chapter Four” finally offers a path out of hell. The three-hour runtime depicts this agonizing blood-soaked journey out of hell and into the light and does not waste a single minute doing so.
“Creed III” is Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut and offers a strong third entry into this Rocky spin-off. While reception for “Creed II” had been just lukewarm or somewhat positive, critical consensus remarked that “III” has revitalized this franchise. I would thus agree with that consensus. Jordan is good once again in this lead role he has portrayed since 2015. It is a shame that Jonathan Majors’ recent arrest will mar enjoyment of this film moving forward, because Michael B. Jordan’s skill as a new director is fully on display. The fights feel exciting in a different way than any previous Rocky or Creed movie. Jordan also tries to convey an important message about toxic masculinity and how people can process their childhood traumas in healthy or unhealthy ways. One major disappointment though is that Sylvester Stallone—who had a falling out with producer Irwin Winkler—is sorely missed.
“Cocaine Bear” offers an incredible premise—in which a black bear ingests cocaine and subsequently goes on a rampage—and a decidedly mixed execution. This movie wants to be funny, but not too funny. This movie wants to feel scary and gory, but not too scary. It feels woefully overproduced and watered down. The end result makes it appear that “Cocaine Bear” does not really know what it even wants to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a slasher film? It fails to simultaneously be both. Not even Ray Liotta—may he rest in peace—or the kid from “The Florida Project” can elevate it into a great film.
“Knock at the Cabin”
M. Night Shyamalan is a divisive screenwriter to say the least. Some people love a number of his films. Other people hate all his movies. As a member of the former, I felt excitement for “Knock at the Cabin”. Shyamalan—known for his infamous twists—somehow still subverts the expectations of his audience with this film. While the dialogue is too on-the-nose and feels wonky at times, “Knock at the Cabin” features one of Shyamalan’s stronger screenplays—a story about the personal tragedies of the apocalypse. The writer-director fails to trust his audience later in the film, but that fault does not detract from overall enjoyment of the story itself. One major highlight was Dave Bautista’s performance as this action star and former wrestler was able to show off his dramatic acting chops. Bautista has recently made an attempt to prove himself as a serious dramatic actor by taking on challenging roles and working with prolific filmmakers like Shyamalan, Denis Villenueve, and Rian Johnson. He achieves this feat with his performance as “Leonard”—a mild-mannered stranger who has experienced horrific visions of the apocalypse and must force a family to make an impossible sacrifice to save the world. A final point is that no filmmaker working today loves Philadelphia, and his love of the City of Brotherly Love should be appreciated more.