Now playing – ‘John Wick: Chapter 4,’ ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,’ ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

Cesar Soto, Staff Writer

After a strong start to the year with blockbuster films, Hollywood has not let up yet. With March coming to a close and April just beginning, here is a new collection of spoiler-free reviews for some of the most entertaining recently released films.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” 

Chad Stahelski directs the fourth installment in the “John Wick” franchise, which is remarkably the best of them all. Despite its nearly three-hour runtime, the film flies by with some of the most captivating action put to screen in years.

Keanu Reeves returns once again as the titular assassin, looking to finally earn his freedom from the body that oversees all global organized crime known as The High Table. Throughout his pursuit, he must confront people in his past — both friends and foes.

 A significant portion of the movie is dedicated to this story, but it has never been the key selling point of these films. At times, it is still difficult to become completely invested in this criminal underground — even after four films. However, the highlights of this movie are the incredible action sequences that rival those pulled off in genre staples like “Mad Max: Fury Road” or the “Mission: Impossible” films.

The fight scenes that take place in Osaka and Paris are exhilarating. The seamless camera movements and long takes enable the audience to feel the force of every brutal punch, kick and gunshot. One particular set piece puts the audience in a different point-of-view than others, it is the closest feeling to playing a video game you will ever experience in theaters.

However, the highlight of the film — and of the year so far — is a prolonged sequence taking place on a staircase. Throughout this extended time, audiences are kept on the edge of their seats as Reeves runs, climbs, fights and shoots his way up the stairs in unexpected ways.

Creating a film that is the fourth entry into an action series that still manages to be unpredictable and riveting is a feat on its own. With a franchise record of $73.5 million on its opening weekend and even spin-offs in the works, this series will only continue to gain momentum from here.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” 

Even for those who know nothing about the game, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is among the most entertaining movies of the year so far, creating a delightful sense of fantasy and adventure.

The film follows Chris Pine’s character, a member of a group of spies known as the Harpers, until his wife tragically passes due to the dangerous circumstances of his job. Then, discovering there may be a way to bring her back, he resorts to thieving ways, banding together an unlikely group of adventurers to execute the grandest heist of all.

Goldstein and Daley direct this as their follow-up to “Game Night” — one of the best comedies of the last five years — with the same amount of zip and energy as that film but on a much larger scale. That scale starts with its impressive ensemble consisting of Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Regé Jean-Page, Sophia Lillis and Hugh Grant. What makes them impressive is not only their talent as actors but their talent in finding wonderful chemistry together.

Their chemistry serves as the basis for much of the humor in this movie. A scene where the characters interact with corpses is the funniest scene of both the film and the year so far, with terrific editing and comedic timing by the actors. However, it is the unexpected heart that comes along with the humor that adds more depth and genuineness to this movie.

Without these character moments, the action throughout this film would feel empty and meaningless. Instead, it makes this fantastical action full of dungeons and dragons feel that much more exciting as a moviegoer.

The film follows conventional story beats, but the directing duo creates a rich world that appeals to both newcomers and veterans of the game. It has performed decently well at the box office so far, opening to $38.5 million, but with a large $150 million budget, its fate as a franchise is uncertain. To make it more of a certainty, give this movie a shot and roll the dice on it.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”

Nintendo has been attempting for a long time to make a successful film adaptation of their Mario franchise, featuring the most iconic video game character in history. It seems that teaming up with animation company Illumination was the key to finally finding that success. The studio behind the “Despicable Me” and “Sing” films have made their best film yet, bringing joy to audiences both young and old.

In contrast to the conventional Mario storyline of “Bowser kidnapping Peach, Mario having to rescue her,” this feature adaptation centers on the plumber brothers from Brooklyn — Mario and Luigi — who discover a wondrous pipe that transports them to new worlds. Mario finds himself in the Mushroom Kingdom while Luigi lands in the hands of the monstrous Bowser. With the help of new friends Toad and Princess Peach, he embarks on a quest to save both his brother and the kingdom.

To address the elephant in the room first, after many months of online criticism and memes, Chris Pratt’s voice role as Mario is actually quite fun. Having a Brooklyn accent rather than a rich Italian accent is explained in a clever joke early on in the film, and from there, he embodies the character well throughout the course of his journey.

The rest of the movie’s voice cast is stacked, with Charlie Day as Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach, Keegan Michael-Key as Toad and Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong. Nevertheless, the standout is Jack Black as Bowser, who is unrecognizable as the character for a large majority of the film. In moments where it is much easier to detect his voice, let us just say that they will certainly create viral internet moments.

It is a thin story in the grand scheme of things, but coming into a Mario movie expecting thematic depth is a rather unrealistic level of expectations. The animation is gorgeous, capturing the environments and character designs taken from several of the games. Fans will appreciate the many Easter eggs scattered throughout, with nods to specific games in the music, background details and the action scenes like the Rainbow Road sequence taken from Mario Kart.

The film has made $146.3 million in its three-day opening weekend — the highest of the year so far — and powered up to $204.6 million in its first five days. This success can be attributed to the filmmakers’ and animators’ genuine effort to make this film feel true to the spirit of the games and to capture the fans’ love for them that has lasted over decades.

When filmmakers care about telling beloved stories and bringing iconic characters to the big screen, it is no surprise that this year continues to boom with great movies. Whichever you decide to see out of these three films, you will be immersed, riveted and full of excitement when you take a trip to the theater.