‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Review

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Director: Bryan Singer

Writers: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Olivia Munn, Alexandra Shipp, Ben Hardy, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, and Lana Condor

Synopsis: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credits scene.*

 

This year has been a great year for comic book/superhero films. All of them different in their own way, and all of them will have their fans and detractors, but the mistake that everyone should avoid making is trying to compare the films in how each handled their subject matter, characters and plot. Is it completely wrong to do so? Probably not. But like I said, all the comic book/superhero films are done in their own way. Saying that, I hate that I’m making the comparison, but for the sake of making a point I guess, X-Men: Apocalypse, like Captain America: Civil War is a culmination of the last two X-Men films (First Class and Days of Future Past). What does that all mean? Well let’s find out.

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The film starts with what could be called the origin of Apocalypse (Isaac), set in the Nile Valley in 3600 BCE. However, something happens that seals him inside a pyramid until, of course, 1983, when he is set free. Seeing what the world has become, he sets out to find his followers, The Horsemen. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) has opened his school with Hank (Hoult) as one of the professors. He also deals with new students like Jean Grey (Turner), who is afraid of her powers, and new student Scott Summers (Sheridan), who has just discovered his powers at the expense of a bully and bathroom stall. Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) is now seen as a public figure amongst humans and mutants, thanks to the events of Days of Future Past.

Finally, Magneto has moved on with this life and has a family, but with Apocalypse now awakened and finding his new Horsemen, Magneto gets dragged back into the world he thought he left behind. What follows is this new group of X-Men trying to stop Apocalypse from building a “better” world.

Like I, begrudgingly, mentioned earlier, one of the things X-Men: Apocalypse shares with Captain America: Civil War is that it is a culmination of the films before it. A good chunk of the film is built up from the events of First Class and Days of Future Past, so Apocalypse does feel like a true sequel to both films and a film you will appreciate more if you’ve seen both films, and know you’re previous X-Men movies history. There are some nice callbacks to the previous films and several subtle nods that fans can appreciate sprinkled throughout.

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The film itself is held together by the cast. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to prove that they are worthy successors to Patrick Stewart’s beloved Professor X and Ian McKellan’s Magneto. Fassbender has the better arc of the two at the beginning of the film, but gets a bit lost in the shuffle by the third act. Nicholas Hoult’s Hank/Beast is more of a background character this time around and Jennifer Lawrence does the best she can with what she’s given, but does take more a leader role by the end of the film that makes sense and isn’t shoehorned in. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver has, once again, a standout sequence and his own arc, that gives him more to do this time around, but it doesn’t go anywhere – at least in this movie, maybe?

The new cast holds their own against the veteran cast, and gives us a great hope for future X-Men films with this cast – at least for me. Tye Sheridan gives off a good vibe as Cyclops, while Sophie Turner gets some of the meatier material as Jean Grey. However, one of the big highlights is Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler, which we are introduced to in a mutant fight club along with pre-Horseman Angel (Hardy). Lana Condor has a brief appearance as Jubliee, but doesn’t go anywhere really.

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As for the rest of the Horsemen, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm is the first one introduced and the most interesting out of the three since she has her own story before she becomes a Horseman. Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is just a bit disappointing, only in that she doesn’t have too much going on before hand and it feels like she joins just for the hell of it. One of the good things is that he’s actually in the movie, and she’s one of the few that actually wears her comic book outfit.

When it comes to Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, Isaac owns it. Obviously, when images of him came out, Ivan Ooze was getting thrown around – which I hated – but seeing the costume in action and Isaac actually playing the character is great. One of the different between Apocalypse and other villains we’ve seen in the films is that Apocalypse doesn’t see himself as a mutant. He comes from a different time and sees himself as a God. That’s why he doesn’t care about anything or anyone that stands in his way, which is what makes him, arguably, the dangerous person the X-Men have dealt with to this point. And since the film is called Apocalypse, he does cause a lot of destruction.

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X-Men: Apocalypse does have some flaws. Some emotional beats could, and at one point should, have been stretched out. Like I previously stated, some characters aren’t completely developed, which is one of the missteps that every ensemble film does, so you really can’t hold that against the film. Even some return characters like Lucas Till’s Alex Summers/Havok, Rose Byrne’s Moira Mactaggert and Josh Helman’s William Stryker which have their moments but are put on the backburner to develop the newer characters. Not a knock on the film, and something that is completely understandable, but still a bummer.

I wouldn’t consider this a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen the last trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, then maybe avoid this part. Wolverine does make an appearance in the film, and while it was awesome to watch him literally claw-up Stryker’s men. It did feel a little forced. I had no problem seeing Jackman in this especially knowing that this is one of his last performances as the character, but the scene felt like a way to lead into potentially Wolverine 3, and make us the audience know that Wolverine is a lot more dangerous, potentially, in this new timeline that was created thanks to Days of Future Past. It also adds a little more depth to the end-credits scene. Also, the scene pushes the boundary of PG-13 rating that could get fans excited for Wolverine 3, if they go the rumored R-rating.

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All in all, X-Men: Apocalypse is another good edition to the X-Men franchise. It’s fun, has great humor, and entertaining. Is it the best one? Well, that’s up to you, but the cast is once again solid. There are some real highlights and standout sequences, but the film does have some missteps that don’t hurt it, but are noticeable. If you’re an X-Men fan, you’ll get a kick out of the callbacks and nods.

X-Men: Apocalypse

4 out of 5

‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ Review

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Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, & Evan Goldberg

Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Dave Franco, Beanie Feldstein, Carla Gallo, Selena Gomez and Lisa Kudrow

Synopsis: After a sorority moves in next door, which is even more debaucherous than the fraternity before it, Mac and Kelly have to ask for help from their former enemy, Teddy.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Comedy sequels are always hard. Most of them don’t work or only semi-work because they try to replicate the charm or what made them special the first time around. Very rarely comedy sequels work, and thankfully Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn’t full too much into those pitfalls too much and is actually a different film with some nice callbacks and different-ish story from the first film.

The film follows Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) as they bought a new house for their growing family, and are now in escrow on their old home. They have thirty days to make sure nothing spooks the new buyers, but turns out that new college students Shelby (Moretz), Beth (Clemons) and Nora (Feldstein), start a new sorority because they want to make their own sorority to break away from the Greek system. The problem is that they move into the house next door where the fraternity once lived. Mac and Kelly, scared that they could lose the buyers and the new house, try to find a way to get the sorority to either not party for thirty days, or once again, make them go away. Problem with that is these three are very headstrong and are all about sisterhood and empowerment. Then there is Teddy (Efron) who comes back into the fray.

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Like I said, comedy sequels tend not to work too well, and while Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising does follow some beat-for-beat moments from the first film, it thankfully tries and succeeds – for the most part – to be different and be a better movie. Comedy is subjective, but the sequel is still, maybe even more, raunchy than the first and has a probably more gross-out moment than the first one. Some jokes had made laughing out loud in the theater with everyone else, and while some jokes fall flat or just completely miss, there is a nice wave of jokes that are streamlined throughout the film.

The returning cast of Rogen, Byrne, and Efron are great and feels like they have better chemistry this time around than the first. Chloe Grace Moretz takes the Efron-role from the first one as Shelby, the leader of our new rebel group. Shelby wants to join a sorority but turns it down when she realizes that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties in their houses, only frats can (which is apparently a real thing). Moretz is fine as the new leader along with her fellow friends and new sisters Beanie Feldstein and one of standouts in Dope, Kiersey Clemons.

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The film does have some social commentary and a theme that runs throughout the film that is centered around the new three female characters, and while the theme is acceptable and reasonable, it’s a bit too heavy handed for me by the end. They poke fun at it here and there, which leads to great jokes, but even though I like the message, I wasn’t all for it.

All in all, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a worthwhile sequel that has some great laughs and run-on jokes that keep you invested in the film and characters. While the themes and social commentary are a bit heavy-handed for me personally, it doesn’t take away the enjoyment of the film as a whole. The case is fantastic together and there is no slow part of the film. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn’t the perfect comedy sequel, but it’s one of the better ones out there.

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

3.5 out of 5

‘Spy’ Review

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Dir: Paul Feig

Writer(s): Paul Feig

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Serafinowicz, Nargis Kakhri, Morena Baccarin and Allison Janney

Synopsis: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Ever since Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has been almost the go to woman for big comedy movies. While they weren’t meet with a lot of acclaim like Bridesmaids, McCarthy still tried to do the best she can. Here with Spy, like The Heat, she reunites with writer/director Paul Feig and brings McCarthy back to form and makes her a great, strong, and funny character as oppose to a character that sometimes relies on being dumb or fat jokes. Feig and McCarthy’s Spy is going back to their roots and it is a fun ride.

 

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Spy follows Susan Cooper (McCarthy), a desk-bound CIA agent who assists one of the CIA’s top agents, Bradley Fine (Law). However, when a mission reveals that the top field agents’ identities have been compromised Deputy Director Elaine Crocker (Janney) has no choice but to send an agent that is completely unknown, Susan of course volunteers because she wants to prove herself. The objective is to get close to the daughter of an arms dealer, Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) to get a nuclear bomb off the market before someone buys it. Of course, not everyone thinks Cooper is capable, especially the other top super spy in the agency, Rick Ford (Statham), who thinks sending in Cooper is the worst idea possible and that she’s going to blow the mission.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, McCarthy isn’t playing a dumb character here, her character Susan Cooper is extremely capable of handling herself, yes the movie pokes fun a bit, especially in her covers, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that she is a good agent and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. That being said, this is McCarthy’s movie. She carries the movie on her shoulders and never shows a sign of giving that up. She shoots out witty one-liners left and right and has no problem pulling punches either. I was surprised that McCarthy could carry herself in action sequences. Easily, one of the highlight action sequences is a kitchen brawl (more on that in minute).

 

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Of course, a great lead always has a great supporting, and Spy is filled with them. Jason Statham easily stands out. Statham’s Rick Ford is the pretty cliché tough guy agent that thinks he’s the best, but is a bit too intense, but it’s fun to see Statham in the role because it’s a lot of fun to see him in it. Miranda Hart is equally great as Susan’s analyst’s friend and has a buddy-cop dynamic with McCarthy’s Cooper, but also carries a lot of heart, even though she’s rather goofy (in a good way). Rose Byrne looks like she is enjoying the entitled posh-like villain and the same goes for Jude Law, who is essentially playing a James Bond-like persona. Peter Serafinowicz’s Aldo is another to look out for too.

 

I give huge credit to Paul Feig, because holy crap did he handle the action sequences great. I don’t like to limit directors or actors to their genre, but finding out that Feig is a huge fan of the action films and spy movies, it completely makes sense when you watch the movie. Spy is filled with great homage’s to the spy genre, but also makes fun of it which is really great and funny to watch.

 

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The action in the movie is pretty solid. I mentioned the kitchen brawl between Susan and Lia (Nargis Fakhri) is easily a highlight. The scene is funny, brutal and kinetic. I didn’t really suspect a fight scene like that being in a comedy movie. It’s a spoof either, it is a real deal fight scene and both ladies don’t hold back. Another highlight is a chase scene that involves Susan chasing down a car in a scooter which is pretty impressive. If Feig ever wanted to do another action comedy, let him do it because he can certainly put it together really well. (Note: Yes, I know he did The Heat which had some action, but nothing compared to Spy.)

 

All in all, Spy stumbles only slightly but for the most part is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It’s equal part spy action movie and comedy, dare I say the better of the action comedies of late. Feig and McCarthy are a great team and the supporting cast makes the film even better. This is not your typical Melissa McCarthy movie, so go watch it and give it a chance.

 

Spy

4.5 out of 5

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‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Review

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Dir: Shawn Levy

Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz and Jane Fonda

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

Based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper of the same name, This Is Where I Leave You follows the Altman family; after the father passes away mother Hillary (Fonda) tells her kids Judd (Bateman), Wendy (Fey), Paul (Stoll), and Philip (Driver) that his dying wish was to have his family “sit shiva” (a Jewish tradition, although the characters are Jewish) for seven days to mourn his death. But, turns out the family have their own dramas and being locked up together isn’t the ideal situation.

 

The movie starts out with Judd, who finds out that his wife Quinn (Spencer) has been cheating on him with his boss (Shepard) for a year. It’s after this that he finds out his father has died and goes back to his old home. There we meet his sister Wendy, a mother of two and the only girl, the oldest and serious brother Paul, and the youngest favorite/wild child Philip.

 

It is a pretty impressive cast and surprisingly they all have their moment to shine. Bateman’s Judd is the lead in the movie and it really isn’t until the middle of the movie where we get to see, possibly, the real side of him (obviously I don’t want to spoil it), and like almost every Bateman character, he’s funny and quick-witted – which isn’t a bad thing. He also has amazing chemistry with Tina Fey and make a very believable brother-sister duo. Fey also gives a really strong dramatic performance, which was nice to see considering she’s mostly known for her comedic chops, and she does have some great comedic jokes her as well, but it’s her dramatic performance that really stands out.

 

Stoll does his best as usual and despite a small sub-plot with his wife Alice (Hahn), he’s probably the least interesting of the siblings. Adam Driver will probably be a highlight for many as the youngest and playboy-y character of Philip. Driver does have some great comedic timing and manages to bring something different, although not a lot, to the cliché character. Jane Fonda as the Altman mother drops some wisdom on her children and tries to keep her family in line, all with some new boobs too.

 

The rest of the cast holds their own in their small roles, considering the movie is focused on the Altman cast. Rose Byrne plays Penny, she’s a bit of an odd-ball but not in the traditional sense and Byrne holds her own against Bateman. Timothy Olyphant plays Horry, who was Wendy’s former boyfriend and suffers from being a bit mentally impaired. Connie Britton plays Philip’s older girlfriend who wonders if she’s making the right choice, Dax Shepard plays his character the way you would think, Abigail Spencer does very little in her role but does have a moment. Ben Schwartz also pops up as the family rabbi and has some great moments, with a great nickname.

 

I will admit that the movie has a lot going on. So some of the arcs in the movie fall a bit flat compared to others but overall they bleed pretty well together. Director Shawn Levy does know how to make the real standout moments pop when necessary and when the emotional beats need to be made, Levy doesn’t hold back. There might be moments where he gets a little heavy handed but it is a movie about mourning a love one and dealing with a difficult family.

 

All in all, This Is Where I Leave You has it all; humor, love, anger, and tears. It’s a nice look that a dysfunctional family under one roof, that may or may not be like your family.

 

 

This Is Where I Leave You

4 out of 5

‘Neighbors’ Review

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Dir: Nicholas Stoller

Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Ike Barinholtz, and Lisa Kudrow

Synopsis: A couple with a newborn baby face unexpected difficulties after they are forced to live next to a fraternity house

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Even though Neighbors is filled with some great jokes, the movie is about growing up without losing your identity.  Here, the movie does try to find the balance between the responsibilities of an adult without losing our young, joyful selves. Luckily, the movie manages to find the humor in this struggle.
Rogen plays Mac Radner, who lives in suburbia with his wife Kelly (Bryne) and new-born baby.  They’re good parents who love their baby, but they miss the days where they could party all night.  When the Delta Psi fraternity moves in next door, the couple is torn.  They don’t want to be the grouchy old people, but they also don’t want to be up all night.  Mac and Kelly go over to make a peace offering with the frat’s President, Teddy (Efron), and at first things seem like they’ll be okay.  They party with them and even looks like they are going to become friends. But, when the partying becomes too much to handle, Mac and Kelly try to get the frat kicked out, which results in an escalating prank war.
It’s was fun to watch Mac and Kelly playing the crotchety neighbors without ever coming off that way.  Instead, their actions make them feel, sort of, younger.  To their credit, they try to take responsible actions like calling the police and meeting with the dean of the school (Lisa Kudrow), but neither one helps.  This forces Mac and Kelly to get creative in how they’re going to get rid of Delta Psi. Even better, Mac and Kelly are not a bickering couple trying to find a way to reignite the spark in their marriage. The beginning of the movie should paint that picture pretty well. They just don’t want to become “those people” who would take the joy out of youth.

 

Rogen and Bryne are perfect at balancing between responsible parents and aging partiers.  The two have wonderful chemistry, and for Rogen, it’s almost strange to see him playing a “real” parent rather than the unprepared one.  His youthful spirit is still in play, and is why the character works.  As for Bryne, she stays on the same level as Rogen and maybe even excels. She has her own moments that shine and might be a highlight for some viewers.

 

On the other side you have the frat.  Rather than making them out to be monsters or juveniles, they’re just college kids. Even though the frat may be partying all night and making life miserable for a young family, they’re not the “villains.”  They’re oddly sympathetic as they depend on their brotherhood, especially Teddy and his vice president, Pete (Franco).

 

Efron, who some probably still see as the guy who did the High School Musical movies and some romantic movie, delivers a pretty solid performance. It’s not just that Efron has decent comic timing; there’s also a sympathetic side to Teddy that’s essential.  If he’s just the good-looking, clever, smarmy frat-boy, then we lose interest in half the movie, well at least I would.  Neither side is “mean” even though they’re effectively trying to ruin the other’s life. As the movie progress, and near the end, you do feel for the guy.
Other standouts include Dave Franco’s Pete, who takes an interesting stance toward his sorority brothers, more partially Teddy. It’s one that, I honestly did not see coming but it was a nice and it’s refreshing to see it done in the movie. However, Franco does share his comedic moments. Chritopher Mintz-Plasse and Jerrod Carmichael also bring some laughs as frat-boys, while new comer Craig Roberts shines as a pledge who is simply referred to as Ass-Juice (that should tell you everything).

 

Director Nicholas Stoller, who has worked under Judd Apatow, realizes that more laughs don’t necessarily mean a better movie.  He’s found the in-between for raunchy humor (and I do mean raunchy) that runs through the movie but is streamlined in a way that leads the comedy and the relationships to be more effective.

 

All in all, Neighbors has a lot of laughs, some better than others, but also has a real message behind the movie which is something you probably wouldn’t suspect. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but you’ll have a good time with it.

 

 

Neighbors

4 out of 5

‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ Review

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Dir: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannel and Angus Sampson

Synopsis: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world

 

*Reviewer Note: If you have not seen Insidious, which I recommend you do, then you maybe shouldn’t read this. There will be things from the first movie that will coincide with Insidious: Chapter 2. So if you don’t want to be spoiled by either movie then go watch them first and come back*

 

Picking up right where the first movie left off, Insidious Chapter 2 finds the Lambert family reunited after Josh (Wilson) ventured into the Further to retrieve his son Dalton (Simpkins). However, the hauntings continue to occur, and Josh doesn’t seem to be quite himself anymore. Josh’s wife Renai (Byrne) starts to be haunted again and Josh’s mother Lorraine (Hershey) enlist the help of paranormal investigator Carl (Coulter) and ghost hunters Tucker (Sampson) and Specs (Whannell)

In the first Insidious, Wan and Whannell’s story was mostly centered around the Lambert family, as Josh and Renai focused on getting their son back. With the sequel there’s more of a mystery element, and the cast is split into two core groups for most of the film. One is Josh, Renai and their kids and the other is Lorraine, Carl, Tucker and Specs, who try to figure out why the Lamberts are still being haunted and if there is something else going on.

The nice thing about the sequel is that it doesn’t hold anything back. We know the family, the story (to some extent), and who the characters are. So James Wan doesn’t wait until the half way point of the movie to crank up the scares and doesn’t build the tension or atmosphere because it pretty much starts off right away, and more importantly it works. But it’s also not necessarily a sequel either per se. The movie, with the exceptions of flashbacks, is told right after the first movie. So the “mythology” is in tact. We don’t have a “six months later” text which is nice. They make no apologies in trying to obscure any of the events from the first movie, they revel in them.

This is one of the reasons why Insidious 2 is different from your average horror sequel, because you actually have to know something about the first film before you watch the second. However, one of the things I keep hearing is that the movie is a bit tonally different from the first and in a way I have to agree.  Tucker and Specs’ roles are expanded in this and continue to provide the comic relief and some people feel it as a “campy.” I don’t know if I’d go that far since they really only showed up in the last thirty minutes of the first movie so they have obviously have more to do this time around with their Ghostbuster-y gimmick.

Meanwhile, Wilson does a fine job of portraying the inner struggle between Josh and the after effect of going into The Further in the last movie. Byrne does a good job as Renai again but it almost feels like her screen time is shorter here. While Insidious 2’s marketing would have you believe that Byrne is the leading lady, it’s kind of feels like its Hershey who has more screen time, which isn’t really that bad.

All in all, Insidious: Chapter 2 is once again a pretty good haunted house movie. It’s scary and intriguing and even puts a fun spin on what we’ve already seen. I wouldn’t say it’s as scary as the first movie, again with the exception of a few scenes, but still worth checking out to see the conclusion of the Lambert family mystery.

 

Insidious: Chapter 2

4 out of 5