The Films of Jon M. Chu
Step Up 2: The Streets & Step Up 3
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Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 7/16)
It's probably not a stretch to note that G.I. Joe: Retaliation improves considerably over its 2009 predecessor, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as the original film was a typically overblown and frenetic summer blockbuster that contained few wholeheartedly compelling attributes. This sequel, which follows Dwayne Johnson's Roadblock as he and other Joes attempt to prevent a nuclear armageddon, pares down both the narrative and number of characters to an appreciatively comprehensible degree, while filmmaker Jon M. Chu does an effective job of infusing several of the movie's action sequences with a palpably exciting (and refreshingly coherent) feel. (This is especially true of a thrilling interlude in which the heroes fight a horde of ninjas atop a snowy mountain range.) It's worth noting, however, that Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's screenplay does, especially in the first hour, concern itself a little too thoroughly with needless, time-wasting elements, with the best and most egregious example virtually everything involving Byung-hun Lee's Storm Shadow and the character's tragic past. (Johnson, on the other hand, is continuously captivating, while Jonathan Pryce delivers a scene-stealing turn as both the President of the United States and a vicious, megalomaniacal villain.) The relatively short running time of 110 minutes ensures that G.I. Joe: Retaliation doesn't feel as bloated or poorly-paced as most films of this ilk, and it is, in the end, clear that the movie fares much, much better than one had any right to expect.
Justin Bieber's Believe
Jem and the Holograms
Now You See Me 2 (June 6/16)
A mild improvement over its underwhelming predecessor, Now You See Me 2 follows the four horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg's Daniel, Woody Harrelson's Merritt, Dave Franco's Jack, and, taking over for Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan's Lula) as they're forced to pull off a seemingly impossible heist by a tech genius (Daniel Radcliffe's Walter). Filmmaker Jon M. Chu does an excellent job of initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, as Now You See Me 2's first half boasts a series of better-than-anticipated interludes and set-pieces that perpetuate the impressively watchable atmosphere. (There is, for example, an absolutely enthralling scene in which the protagonists must work together to sneak an item past several security guards.) And although scripter Ed Solomon has peppered the narrative with bursts of welcome humor and unexpected twists, Now You See Me 2's palpably overlong running time (129 minutes!) ensures that the movie's midsection is as erratic and uneven as one could possibly envision - with the start-and-stop momentum perpetuated by an ongoing inclusion of needless (and somewhat incompetent) action sequences (eg an unexciting, time-wasting pursuit and fight through several back alleys). It's clear, too, that the protracted climactic stretch ensures that Now You See Me 2 ends on a seriously underwhelming note, and, like the original, it's ultimately impossible to walk away from the picture without wishing there had been more of an emphasis on actual magic.
Crazy Rich Asians (October 1/18)
Based on the book by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians follows Constance Wu's Rachel Chu as she and her boyfriend (Henry Golding's Nick Young) travel to Singapore to attend a friend's wedding - with the narrative detailing Rachel's culture shock in the face of Nick's exceedingly wealthy family and their opulent lifestyle. Filmmaker Jon M. Chu has infused Crazy Rich Asians with an affable and mostly entertaining sensibility that's heightened by the stirring work of its various performers, with, especially, Wu and Golding's charismatic work as the likeable protagonists providing the viewer an effective entry point into Kwan's exceedingly excessive universe (ie the movie is otherwise mostly dominated by larger-than-life caricatures, including Awkwafina's Peik Lin and Ken Jeong's Wye Mun). It's fairly apparent, then, that the picture is at its best when focused on Rachel and Nick's exploits, as Chu, working from Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim's screenplay, sporadically does delve a little too deeply into the superficial world of the movie's periphery figures (although, to be fair, this is an issue that was much more problematic in the bloated source material). The movie benefits, as well, from an ongoing emphasis on low-key, heartfelt moments (eg Rachel has an emotional conversation with her mother), and it's clear, too, that the various romcom-specific elements fare just as well as one might've hoped - which ensures, ultimately, that Crazy Rich Asians generally comes off as a delightful romantic comedy trapped within the confines of a bloated, hit-and-miss prestige production.