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Movie Review: ‘American Assassin’ Misses the Mark

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American Assassin Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he opening scene of American Assassin is one too familiar in action-thrillers. The hunky Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend at the beach while filming it for all the world to see. She says yes, a surrounding crowd claps and he goes to the outdoor bar to grab her a drink.

You don’t have to be a genius to know something horrible is going to happen to this girl. I was prepared to watch her die in slow motion. I was not, however, prepared for that death to be part of a gruesome attack on the beach by gun-toting Muslim terrorists. That’s not fair. How can I laugh at the cliche and expected death when it comes slathered in blood, bullets and innocent people being gunned down ruthlessly?

American Assassin Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Dylan O’Brien is out for revenge in ‘American Assassin.’

A major flaw with a thriller such as this is that it takes a cue from current events more than it should. It’s bad enough that the beach massacre reminds me of the many Muslim terror attacks with its gruesome and graphic violence, but it’s even worse to follow that up with a terrorist recruitment video, complete with rock music and footage of what looks like real deaths in the Middle East. This is where American Assassin lost me. Unless there is some meditation on how inhumane all this hatred and war has made the world, I’m not interested in the film’s central plot of revenge and nukes. Those silly and overused writing devices don’t deserve such reality.

The film seems to be on a mission to make its world as ugly, cynical and mean-spirited as possible. When we catch up with Mitch 18 months later, he’s overcome with fury to avenge his fiancee. He works out at a gym to strengthen himself, but he’s too aggressive with his trainers and is kicked out. He throws knives in his apartment, angering the landlord. He’s also trying to infiltrate a Muslim terrorist group so he can join them and then kill their leader. The CIA doesn’t like that, but he still leads the organization to a terrorist so they figure they could maybe use him. After all, they’ve run tests on him and they’re off the charts. I’m assuming these tests included how muscular he looks with his shirt off and how good he looks holding a gun.

American Assassin Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Michael Keaton in the generic action poster.

He is trained to be an operative by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a Cold War veteran that only teaches the best of the best CIA agents. Hurley’s training program is entirely combat oriented. He teaches knife-killing techniques by handing a knife to Mitch, instructing him to kill his instructor. He’ll awaken his troops with a gun fired wildly into the air, asking why nobody was on watch and declaring everyone now dead. They’ll later play a virtual reality simulation of shooting terrorists out of a crowd, a sharp electric charge coursing through their bodies if they get shot before they shoot first. I’m seeing an awful lot of combat here and not a whole lot of secrecy. I dunno, something about working for the CIA makes me think these guys should know more than where to stick a knife and who to shoot.

Mitch and Hurley, as well as some other operatives to act as terrorist fodder, are on a mission in Rome to stop some terrorists from making a nuke. Hurley tells Mitch an important aspect of the job is not to make it personal. Of course, the mission will become personal and Mitch will disobey orders to chase after leads. Hurley will also let the mission get personal when his former student has gone rogue. Even the supporting Turkish agent of Annika (Shiva Negar) also has a personal dog in this fight.

Related: Movie Review: ‘It’ Floats with Fear and (Horror) Fun

By Hurley’s logic, these are the worst CIA operatives for the job. Don’t pull that building character nonsense on me to justify their stupidity. There is no character here. Not when our leads are constantly talking about the mission, condescendingly arguing with each other or growling in expletives at the terrorists. There’s a scene where Keaton eats off the ear of a terrorist holding him hostage, smiling with blood on his teeth and snarling like a dog. This is just one of many opportune times to showcase him as a deeply flawed man with severe psychological problems. But, no, he’s just a quirky old coot.

Read more for the rest of the American Assassin movie review:

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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