Neither Silent, Nor Deadly

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a blatant disregard for everything the silent ninja stands for. After the unexpected success of Bumblebee, a Snake Eyes prequel didn’t sound like a bad idea from Hasbro. He is the most popular G.I. Joe character after all. The problem is the franchise never having a strong foundation. However bad they may be, at least Transformers is relatively consistent. G.I. Joe only has 2 loosely connected live-action movies. Rather than follow a mysterious badass silent ninja with a cool black outfit, this Snake Eyes gladly shows his face, won’t shut up, and only wears his iconic suit for 24 seconds at the very end. Only true G.I. Joe fans will understand how wrong that is. It’s one of many reasons I think the movie bombed. The Pandemic notwithstanding.

Snake Eyes answers so many questions that nobody asked. His name came from a pair of dice, he learned to fight in a Japanese ninja clan, and no explanation is given for any of his other defining traits. Even though Ray Park was a perfectly capable martial artist, Henry Golding was probably cast to keep the cast mostly Asian. Most cast members are also martial artists. Even though director Robert Schwentke settles for intense shaky cam action. Making all ninja fights feel generic no matter who performs them. Snake Eyes is kind of a jerk with no personality seeking revenge for his father. G.I. Joe and Cobra Command practically come out of nowhere with only a handful of members present.

Storm Shadow is equally misused with Andrew Koji looking like a complete pushover named Tommy. He’s the heir to the Arashikage clan who’s more friend than foe. Until he randomly calls himself Storm Shadow at the very end. Baroness is a lot better with the appropriately foreign Úrsula Corberó in the part. A red haired Samara Weaving is also perfect as Scarlett, but she feels just as wasted in such a small part. Way more attention is given to original female ninja/love interest Akiko. Raid star Iko Uwais and 300 star Peter Mensah are present as Hard Master and Blind Master respectively, but their tests feel basic. Snakes Eyes must take a bowl of water, have a vision, and survive a pit of giant CGI snakes. The latter test embraces the supernatural element of the toy franchise. Yet a forgettable villain stealing a magical explosive jewel still comes out of nowhere. By the time Snake Eyes gains his ninja suit, I honestly felt nothing for what that meant. Snake Eyes is a reboot, a spin-off, and an origin story that nobody asked for.

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes gears up

The Chase Continues

French Connection II kept the train going a little longer. After the success of The Godfather Part II, a sequel to Best Picture winner The French Connection seemed like a good idea. Even though I never heard of it beforehand. It’s a strong follow up, but it does take away from the ambiguity of the first film’s ending. New York police officer Popeye Doyle never caught his French assailant Alain Charnier.

French Connection II continues the chase and gives Gene Hackman more time to shine in his Oscar winning role. Directing reigns were handed over to John Frankenheimer, while Roy Schneider was too busy making Jaws. Popeye is now all by himself in Marseille, France. He deals with the language barrier, has trouble ordering drinks, fails to pick up French women, and can’t carry a gun. All while attempting to work with the French police department in order to catch his Frog.

Fernando Rey is the only other returning cast member. Charnier is still a sophisticated drug trafficker who proves increasingly difficult to catch. The pacing is a lot slower with more time dedicated to Popeye being forced into a heroin addiction. It’s only after he gets clean that Popeye becomes the violent cop in desperate pursuit again. The sequel ends with a decent chase from the streets to a rail bus. Popeye loses Charnier once more on a yacht, but I knew they wouldn’t end another movie without a resolution. French Connection II offers closure to an already perfect crime thriller.

French Connection II

Popeye Doyle gives chase

Preceded by: The French Connection

Missing the Train

The French Connection changed the rules in Hollywood. Considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, The French Connection feels realistic with documentary style filmmaking, flawed protagonists, and a real life drug smuggling case at the center. Based on a 1969 book about two police detectives involved in the titular case. Before The Exorcist, Superman, or Jaws, director William Friedkin and stars Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider hit the mean streets of New York. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is an iconic police officer distinguished by his pork pie hat. Even his entrance dressed as Santa Claus is iconic.

Popeye Doyle isn’t exactly a crooked cop, but he does drink, sleep around, disobey orders, and show many racist tendencies. Seeing him shakedown a bar full of narcotics is when I knew he meant business. Popeyes actually got its name from Doyle. Although he faced stiff competition, Hackman was the best casting choice. Just as good is Schneider as his more cautious partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo. Together they perform stakeouts in order to track a drug smuggling ring with a French connection. I don’t always understand police procedurals, but I gathered that it was all about stopping the flow of heroin into the U.S. Alain Charnier is a dapper French criminal with multiple hitmen under his thumb.

The French Connection is best known for its exciting chase scenes. Popeye pursuing Charnier in a subway is tense, but it’s a later car chase that really steals the show. Popeye in a civilian car pursuing a sniper on a train concludes with an exhausted Doyle shooting the assailant in the back. His almost obsessive need to catch the criminal ends on a suitably ambiguous note where the chase never truly ends. The French Connection is a Best Picture winner I knew I had to prioritize. No matter how many cop movies I’ve seen. It also won Best Director, Actor, Screenplay, Film Editing, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, and Sound. The French Connection marked a welcomed shift towards realism at the Academy Awards.

The French Connection

Popeye Doyle waves

Followed by: French Connection II

Don’t Have a Good Day, Have a Great Day

Free Guy isn’t a good movie, it’s a great movie. Although I think it is very Deadpool light. Free Guy is also like Ready Player One with a dash of The Matrix, a drop of The LEGO Movie, and a touch of The Truman Show. It’s no secret that Ryan Reynolds practically plays himself nowadays. Although the concept of a self aware NPC in an open-world video game sounded cool, the marketing screamed PG-13 Deadpool. There were several jokes made about Disney since Fox developed the movie under the uncomfortable 20th Century Studios banner. Further delays included Deadpool & Korg crossovers and a muscular Ryan Reynolds interview.

It wasn’t until Free Guy finally hit theaters that I couldn’t help but have fun with the surprisingly heartfelt premise. Guy is just your average mild mannered bank teller who loves coffee, his Buddy played by Lil Rel, and “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. Until he suddenly goes off-script and becomes the hero Free City deserves. Free City is an unmistakable combination of Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite. The movie’s video game appreciation is made clear with several cameos from real life YouTube and Twitch gamers. The heart comes from Guy falling in love with the sexy badass Molotov Girl. Killing Eve star Jodie Comer very convincingly plays both her British avatar and American player Millie.

Millie and her estranged co-creator Keys, played by a nerdier Joe Keery, have an unexpected impact on the game. Real world villain Antwan threatens to unplug the game if Guy isn’t deleted. This of course isn’t the first time Reynolds and Taika Waititi worked together (*cough* Green Lantern). There’s a nice sense of community when Guy fights to save his world’s existence. Although Free Guy isn’t without faults. It’s not Deadpool, but some jokes feel overly crude, PC, of blasphemous for my taste. Not to mention how profane it is without F bombs. The movie takes far better advantage of surprise celebrity cameos and unexpected references to Disney owned properties. The action is intense, but I expect nothing less from an entertaining shoot ’em up. Free Guy makes every concept work to its advantage.

Free Guy

Guy and Molotov Girl work together

Keep the Peace

Beverly Hills Cop III isn’t a total rehash like Beverly Hills Cop II, but none of its changes worked out. The unnecessary third installment took 7 years to make, yet it still ended up being the worst film in the trilogy. With a pitiful 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, Beverly Hills Cop III was torn apart by everyone including Eddie Murphy. The only awards attention it got were Razzies. Although John Landis directed two successful Eddie Murphy comedies, the problem mostly lies with the latter. For some reason Detective Axel Foley is so serious that he isn’t even funny anymore.

He once again moves from Detroit to Beverly Hills in order to track his police chief’s killer. Though the actual setting isn’t funny either. Turns out setting an R rated action flick in an amusement park is as ridiculous as it sounds. I say R rated, but Beverly Hills Cop III is a 90’s movie that could’ve easily been PG-13. Apart from language and over-the-top violence, there’s no nudity or drug use. Wonder World is a standard Disney World stand-in ran by a counterfeit operation led by John Saxton. The latest female lead also works at the park. This time Judge Reinhold is the only returning character as a promoted Billy Rosewood.

Reinhold actually began The Santa Clause trilogy the same year he finished the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy. Taggart is replaced by Héctor Elizondo and Bogomil is never mentioned. The only other returning character is the eccentric Serge from the first movie in an overlong bit about superweapons. Foley uses one of the weapons and ends up in several silly situations. He’s forced to wear an elephant costume and scale an amusement park ride. There are celebrity cameos, but they’re all filmmakers that no average person would recognize (except for maybe George Lucas). Until they make a IV, Beverly Hills Cop III is weak way to end Axel Foley’s career.

Beverly Hills Cop III

Axel Foley in Rosewood’s office

Preceded by: Beverly Hills Cop II

Shakedown

Beverly Hills Cop II is the same old case it was before. The unexpected popularity of Beverly Hills Cop nearly led to a TV series, but a sequel made more sense. So Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and pretty much everyone else returned. The only major change was the director. Top Gun director Tony Scott’s style can be seen in the orange mood setting L.A. sunsets. Although most people (including Eddie Murphy) thought Beverly Hills Cop II was mediocre, it was still a relative success. Despite the R rating, Beverly Hills Cop II is actually the first film to win the Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie. The 80’s were a weird time.

It’s only Oscar nomination was for the catchy Bob Seger song “Shakedown.” The iconic “Axel F” theme still plays non-stop throughout the movie. Beverly Hills Cop II sees Detective Axel Foley back in Detroit with a new suit and Ferrari. He ditches both to help his friends back in Beverly Hills. Foley is the same fast-talking, story fabricating cop he was before, but almost none of his jokes landed for me. It was enough just to see him play off his fellow buddy cops. After the friendly Lieutenant Bogomil is shot, Foley works with Rosewood & Taggart to solve a new case. Both officers are given a lot more attention.

Taggart talks about his messy love life and Rosewood is shown to have several unusual habits. Bogomil’s daughter is the latest female lead who helps out. The new case is a series of robberies dubbed the “Alphabet Crimes.” They’re headed by 80’s mainstay Brigitte Nielsen. Several celebrity cameos include Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Rock, and Hugh Hefner in an out of nowhere Playboy Mansion scene. Of course there’s another strip club scene, another car chase involving a cement mixer, and another more explosive climactic shootout. Beverly Hills Cop II is still a mostly entertaining bust.

Beverly Hills Cop II

Axel Foley presents his badge

Preceded by: Beverly Hills Cop & Followed by: Beverly Hills Cop III

Axel F

Beverly Hills Cop solidified Eddie Murphy’s A-list status. 48 Hrs. may have been his big break, but Beverly Hills Cop is really the success he needed. Yet both buddy cop movies couldn’t be more different. Beverly Hills Cop is a major pop culture presence that became the highest grossing movie of 1984. Which is really saying something considering how big the year was. It was even nominated for several major awards. Winning the People’s Choice Award for Best Motion Picture and the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album. For the longest time I never knew the iconic “Axel F” theme came from Beverly Hills Cop.

Mostly because it took me so long to see the movie. My expectations were high and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not as laugh out loud hilarious as I was expecting, but this is witty action hero Eddie Murphy. The foul mouthed, street smart, loose cannon role of Axel Foley was originally meant for either Mickey Rourke or Sylvester Stallone. Stallone wanted a serious action film, but Murphy and the director Martin Brest lightened the mood. You can tell by Murphy’s fast talking improvisation and signature goofy laugh. The R rating was kept in tact with all the drugs, profanity, bloody shootouts, and impromptu strip club visits that made the 80’s great.

After a botched undercover mission, Detroit Detective Axel Foley uses his vacation time to investigate the murder of his friend Mikey. So he becomes a fish out of water to the straightlaced Beverly Hills cops. Although labeled a buddy cop flick, Foley has multiple allies. There’s his beautiful childhood friend Jenny, understanding police Lieutenant Bogomil, uptight Sergeant Taggart, and clueless Detective Rosewood. Judge Reinhold is the closest thing to an official co-star. On his own, Foley gets pushed around, thrown out a window, and uncovers a cocaine operation led by his friend’s killer Victor Maitland. Beverly Hills Cop strikes the right balance between humor and thrills.

Beverly Hills Cop

Axel Foley approves

Followed by: Beverly Hills Cop II

The Boys Are Back in Town

Another 48 Hrs. is exactly what the title suggests. I never even heard of the sequel for a long time. Although the director returns, Another 48 Hrs. feels like it came out too late. Between 1982 and 1990, Eddie Murphy was a big star more than worthy of top-billing. Nick Nolte was no slouch either, but neither needed to follow up their concept driven buddy cop movie. Another 48 Hrs. never mentions a time limit, yet the movie feels almost exactly the same.

Jack Cates is softened up, but he’s still the mean cop dealing with a criminal case. This time he’s the one who might go to jail after a botched manslaughter incident. Reggie Hammond is still in jail despite previously having 6 months on his sentence. As expected, Jack and Reggie are right back to fighting each other. Murphy and Nolte still have a unique chemistry, but it’s wasted on a barely funny script.

Although edgy like the first movie, the R rating isn’t as exploited. The criminals to catch aren’t that different either. One of the bikers is the brother of Ganz and the mystery man behind it is named Iceman. The case is overly complex with too many players crossing Jack and Reggie’s path. Some of the confusion is likely thanks to the sequel being trimmed down to reach the hour and a half length of the first 48 Hrs. It’s quick, but that’s even more reason why Another 48 Hrs. doesn’t leave an impression.

Another 48 Hrs.

Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond on the job

Preceded by: 48 Hrs.

The Cop and the Convict

48 Hrs. popularized the buddy cop genre. It also gave us Eddie Murphy in his breakout feature film debut. He was already making a name for himself on Saturday Night Live, but 48 Hrs. really turned him into a star. The idea for a 48 hour buddy cop movie is as old as the 70’s. Although it could’ve starred Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy are just as good. Nolte gets top billing since this is basically his movie until Murphy shows up.

48 Hrs. centers on deadly criminals loose in San Francisco. A very young James Remar is Albert Ganz and Sonny Landham plays his first of two Native Americans named Billy. Nolte is the mean cop Jack Cates with the traditional strained home life and hot-headed boss. Annette O’Toole plays his angry girlfriend Elaine. The first act is pretty serious with R rated shoot-outs and traditional 80’s nudity. It only gets funny when Jack recruits black convict Reggie Hammond.

As a former accomplice of Ganz, Reggie is the only person who can track him down on a 48 hour prison leave. It’s not always a laugh riot, but Murphy really proves his star power. Reggie messes with country boys in a bar and desperately wants to have sex. Jack and Reggie are polar opposites with unexpected chemistry that only the 80’s could pull off. Jack seems racist, but they really become good friends after they fight things out. He even lets Reggie have a gun to help when his money becomes part of the crime. 48 Hrs. works thanks to the commitment of its leading men.

48 Hrs.

Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond on the job

Followed by: Another 48 Hrs.

Beam Me Up Scotty

Star Trek Beyond is a strong way to end the possible final frontier of the USS Enterprise. Making the “Kelvin” timeline trilogy the only part of the Star Trek franchise that was ever consistently good. After Into Darkness, I assumed the series would continue to follow the pattern of each installment by rebooting every plot thread. It made sense for The Wrath of Khan, but it really would’ve been derivative to recreate everything. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin were all on board to return, but J. J. Abrams chose Star Wars over Star Trek. Many directors were considered until they ended up with the unlikely choice of Fast & Furious franchise director Justin Lin.

I grew nervous when the first trailer showed nothing but action set to the Beastie Boys with Kirk performing motorcycle stunts while being energized. It looked more like Fast & Furious in space, but Beyond ended up being one of the most genuine Star Trek movies in a long time. Being a Trekkie herself, the movie was enough for my brother and I to convince our mother to see it with us. Simon Pegg worked on the script in order to ensure a return to the lighthearted exploration that the franchise was built on. Paramount was still nervous when they requested a Star Trek movie that wasn’t too nerdy. Beyond will definitely please Trekkies, but it was still a financial disappoint that audiences unfairly ignored…

19. Star Trek Beyond

Captain Kirk and Scotty formulate a plan with Jaylah

Star Trek Beyond is notable for several reasons. Lack of J. J. Abrams meant an Enterprise bridge almost completely free of lens flares. Despite Lin breaking his Fast & Furious streak to direct a Star Trek film, his fresh direction ended up being exactly what the franchise needed. Though I’m not sure what his experience is with the original series. Beyond was sadly the first Star Trek voyage released after Leonard Nimoy’s passing. More tragic was Anton Yelchin dying only a month before the movie’s release at the young age of 27. Beyond is dedicated to both the old and the new actors who helped make Star Trek what it is today.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 99129.5: Beyond refers to the historic 5 year mission from the original series. Making this the first reboot not set anywhere near Earth. The crew of the Enterprise finally voyage to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations. However, boldly going where no one has gone before is starting to get a little episodic for Captain James T. Kirk. Scotty even references the giant green hand from the episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Their latest mission sees Kirk attempt to gift a relic to the hilariously diminutive Teenaxi race. When transported off the planet, Kirk enters a Captain’s log that brings the audience up to warp speed. Jim & Bones drink over his upcoming birthday and the captain reflects on becoming older than his father. He considers leaving Starfleet to become vice admiral. Kirk discusses the position while on shore leave in the enormous starbase Yorktown. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the high ranking officer Commodore Paris.

Beyond is another Star Trek character study that brings added depth to its crew. Kirk avoids telling Spock that he wants to make him captain of the Enterprise, but his logical Vulcan friend has a secret of his own. He learns that Spock Prime has died and he also wants to leave the Enterprise to carry on his work. It’s a moral dilemma that leads Uhura to break up with Spock, but keep the necklace he gave her. Scotty spends most of his time working on the ship, Chekov can be seen flirting, and Sulu is revealed to have a daughter and husband. Gene Roddenberry always wanted gay characters in Star Trek, but George Takei himself wasn’t impressed by the decision. The Enterprise is of course called to an uncharted nebula where they rescue an alien named Kalara. She tells Kirk the story of her crew crashed landing on Altamid and that she’s the only one who escaped.

They’re suddenly attacked by the original villain Krall. He’s a lizard-like alien who leads a swarm of bee-like ships to attack the Enterprise. Krall plans to obtain the relic from earlier called the Abronath. The crew does their best in defending the Enterprise, but Kirk ultimately orders everyone to abandon ship. At this point I’ve lost count of how many times the Enterprise has been destroyed. The crew is separated with each of them ending up with someone who can ensure they’ll make it off the planet. Some of their uniforms have been slightly altered to include flight jackets. Uhura, Sulu, and other members of the crew are taken prisoner by Krall. Idris Elba is hidden under an impressive amount of Oscar nominated makeup that was somehow beaten by Suicide Squad. Elba had a lot of exposure in 2016, so he does well as the latest Star Trek antagonist.

Krall tells Uhura that he’s counting on Captain Kirk’s arrival, though I was a little confused about what his villainous plan was specifically. He wants the Abronath to develop a bioweapon and apparently drains a person’s lifeforce to stay alive. Kirk, Chekov, and Kalara are together when they search the Enterprise wreckage for the Abronath. They quickly realize Kalara is a spy and Kirk somehow manages to ignite the engine of the Enterprise in order to kill Krall’s men and Kalara with them. Spock & Dr. McCoy are the most meaningful pairing due to their tumultuous history. When Spock is injured, McCoy operates on his green blooded frenemy in the most humorous way possible. They discuss logic and emotion when Spock mentions leaving, and you know he’s delirious when he ends up laughing.

Scotty is alone, but he’s quickly joined by the best addition to the sequel. Since Dr. Carol Marcus was left out, supermodel Sofia Boutella steps in as witty scavenger Jaylah. Boutella was already making a name for herself, and playing the all white alien was her best call. Jaylah survives using reflector technology, learned English from her home in the USS Franklin, and resents Kroll’s second-in-command Manas for killing her father. Scotty manages to find Kirk & Chekov in one of Jaylah’s traps and uses the Franklin to energize Spock & Bones. Although Krall manages to retrieve the Abronath hidden with a crewmember, Uhura is located when Spock uses her necklace as a tracking device. Kirk riding an antique motorcycle is used to distract Krall’s men and free the crew. Jaylah gets her revenge and is transported at the last minute.

Krall manages to escape as he plans to use the bioweapon to kill the inhabitants of Yorktown. The Enterprise crew manage to get the Franklin off the ground with Sulu piloting it to safety. SPOILER ALERT! Uhura discovers Krall is surprisingly long lost USS Franklin Captain Balthazar Edison. He prefered war over peace and grew to resent the Federation when they failed to locate his crew on Altamid. His alien appearance was the result of exposure to technology left on the planet. Scotty realizes the best way to disable Krall’s swarm of ships is with music. “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys was heard in Star Trek (2009), but now the archaic song is used in a creative climax leading the ship to Yorktown. Scotty somehow manages to transport Spock & McCoy onto one of the ships while Kirk gives chase to the mostly human Krall. They end up in the ventilation system in danger of being sucked into space. Krall is consumed by his own bioweapon and Kirk is saved at the last minute by Spock.

The ending is bittersweet with Spock deciding to stay after seeing a photo of Spock Prime with his crew from The Wrath of Khan. Kirk stays as well when he celebrates his birthday with his loyal crew. Jaylah is also enlisted into Starfleet as they look upon the reconstruction of the USS Enterprise. Having Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura speak the famous monologue is the perfect way to end the trilogy. Despite talk of a 4th film with Chris Hemsworth or one directed by the hyper-violent Quentin Tarantino, Star Trek hasn’t had any theatrical follow ups in over 5 years. The only thing keeping Trekkies busy are all the hit or miss shows made for streaming. If you want the classic feel of the landmark science fiction franchise, then Star Trek Beyond truly is the final frontier of the series. “Live long and prosper.” 🖖

20. Star Trek Beyond

Spock and McCoy mount an attack with Jaylah

Preceded by: Star Trek Into Darkness