1. Far smarter and more clever than we had any reason to expect.
2. It's the best kind of sequel: the one that's similar enough to the original to offer some level of comfort (i.e. innocuous game actually creates genuine peril to its players and creates a hostage situation - finish the game or else), yet innovative enough to offer something entirely new (i.e. rather than game elements invading the real world as they did in 1995 original, here our heroes are sucked into the fictional game world). As they say in Hollywood, it's the same but different.
3. The script crackles with humor and some nice Breakfast Club-style moments of awkward teenagers learning to connect and be better people.
4. But the movie also delivers a textbook string of big, fun action set pieces that parallels the escalating levels in a video game.
5. The cast is top-notch, with extra credit to Jack Black. He probably gets the most mileage out of his part as a vain teen girl stuck in a 40-year-old man's pudgy body. But Kevin Hart also does his usual foul-mouthed exasperated shtick, which is a lot of fun if you like his shtick. And we do.
6. We remember well rolling our eyes when Universal Pictures foisted The Scorpion King on moviegoers way back in 2002. We had zero interest in seeing that spin-off of the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise or witnessing first-hand the studio's seemingly misguided attempt to turn The Rock into a movie star whether we wanted him or not. Boy we were wrong. The Rock, now sensibly known as Dwayne Johnson, sure seems to be the real deal. He's often one of the best things in his movies.
7. Sly Easter egg reference to the original movie and Robin Williams' character.
8. Strong, satisfying ending. Thank you, Colin Hanks.
9. We wouldn't want to hear those distant jungle drums either.
10. As a parent accompanying two Little Fries - a five-year-old and an eight-year-old - we didn't appreciate the erection joke. We laughed, yes. But we didn't like it. Yeah yeah, we know the movie was rated PG-13.
11. Way better than we thought it would be. Fun and exuberant.
1. This big, sweeping musical often plays like a spinoff of Baz Luhrmann's 2001 masterpiece Moulin Rogue in the way it blends lush period art design with a slick contemporary look and modern-sounding songs.
2. It also remakes the sleazy scoundrel PT Barnum into a heroic entrepreneur, which can get a little uncomfortable if you stop to think about it.
3. To the filmmakers' credit, they do give Barnum a pretty significant flaw: a selfish desire to gain the approval of old money society at any cost, even if it means straining his marriage, risking all of his money, or even turning his back on friends and colleagues. So we suppose it's not a complete hagiography.
4. We do wonder why the movie got made. Exactly whose passion project was this? Who was determined to make a musical about Barnum?
5. Rebecca Ferguson has our attention now. Striking.
6. In addition to being a musical, the movie also gives a big role to Barnum's freak show "oddities." The bearded lady has a solo, people.
7. So, all in all, it's a pretty weird movie. Not to say we didn't find it entertaining and rousing. It's just... odd. Note also that the TV spots make no mention of the songs or the oddities. It's like they knew better than to show the "real" movie.
8. There's no denying the considerable charisma of star Hugh Jackman.
9. But the movie's two best scenes feature song-and-dance bits with Zac Efron (a fun two-handed number with Jackman and Efron at a bar, then a grandly choreographed acrobat sequence with Efron's love interest Zendaya).
10. Poor Michele Williams is underused, here asked to do little more than glow winsomely.
11. Engaging despite the overall strangeness of the story.