Category Archives: Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Every actor has brought something different to the role of Spider-Man/Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker but never completely convinced me as Spider-Man – apart from his brief turn to the dark side in Spider-Man 3. Andrew Garfield was immensely likeable as both but wasn’t really a great fit for Peter Parker – he has too much natural charm to play a socially awkward geek. Tom Holland was impressive in his brief civil war appearance, but Homecoming gives us a proper look at his take on both sides of the role. As Peter, he’s more believable in the role than Garfield and less wet than Maguire, while as Spider-Man he’s an improvement on Maguire but not quite as loveably cheeky as Garfield.

The script is nothing revolutionary, with a very familiar coming-of-age style plotline, but the dialogue is decent and downright hilarious in places. They’ve prevented this being too similar to previous entries – Harry Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson are nowhere to be seen, Peter has a love interest who isn’t Gwen or MJ and we (thankfully) don’t have to see Peter’s origin story or Uncle Ben’s death for a third bloody time. The direction is generally good, although the final fight between Spiderman and Vulture isn’t all that well shot. The soundtrack isn’t all that memorable. Its the tone of the thing where the film succeeds – the interplay between the cast is very good. Downey Jr. steals all the scenes he’s in (predictably) but is used sparingly enough that he doesn’t overshadow proceedings.

The one aspect the film nails completely is humour. Peter’s friends Ned and Michelle get most of the best lines, while Peter’s youthful ineptitude often raises a few laughs. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil anything – but its funnier than Guardians Vol. 2 was, so you should definitely go check it out for yourself.

In ways, this film feels like what an Iron Man 4 might have looked like. Between Tony’s significant role in events, Peter’s AI in his suit, a more ordinary villain whose interested in profit than world domination and appearances from Stark’s bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) and partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Given how much I don’t like the Iron Man trilogy (the villains were bland, Paltrow terrible and Favreau dull – Downey Jr. was the only good thing in them) I was surprised how little of an issue for me this was. But for several reasons Homecoming was considerably better than the Iron Man films; the support cast was better, the script was much more humorous, and the villain was considerably better acted. On that note…

Adrian Toombes/Vulture is a more grounded villain than we’ve seen in a long time. He doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy the Avengers – he simply wants to do right by his men and his family and give them comfortable lives. He also has something of a personal code – on two separate occasions in the film he spares/defends Spider-Man despite their rivalry because he has reasons to be personally grateful to him. He’s still a villain, but he’s a relatable one, and his hatred of the 1% like Stark and governments who prop them up probably struck a cord with some of the audience. That said, in other hands, he might not be all that memorable, but Michael Keaton brings a certain gravitas to the role, and while he isn’t spectacular, he has a certain understated intensity that works wonders. His henchmen are less memorable, though their alien weaponry allowed for some cool fights with Spider-Man, particularly his clashes with Shocker.

I liked how they chose Vulture and Shocker for the villains in this film – Spider Man has a huge rogues gallery (only Batman has a better one) but we’ve not seen that many of them in the 5 previous ones, so it was nice to see a different two here. The first post-credit scene also hints at the villain for the sequel, who will be another character we haven’t seen on screen before. Speaking of post-credit scenes, the second one is Marvel massively trolling the audience (kind of a more tongue in cheek version of Deadpool’s ‘why are you guys still here’). So its not exactly an essential one if you can’t be bothered waiting through the credits.

Overall I’d say this was one of the best Spider-Man films. Its funny, entertaining and well-acted, but isn’t perfect – the direction could be better, its a bit clichéd and predictable in places and Jon Favreau’s Happy is a complete waste of space. Still a very, very fun superhero movie though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Marvel really has been full of surprises this year hasn’t it? I wasn’t expecting Guardians Vol. 2 to have the stronger storyline than Spider-Man or Spider-Man to be funnier than Guardians. Not only that but both films have had strong villains, and its been a long time since two Marvel films in a row have achieved that. Hope Thor: Ragnarok can keep the momentum going!

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and Kurt Russell.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS! (I mean it’s been out for a month guys, you really should have seen it by now)

I honestly think I prefer the Guardians to the Avengers as an ensemble. No avengers film has ever serviced all its characters well in the same film (Hawkeye is badly sidelined in the first one, Thor in the Second). Guardians films never have to waste time setting up  future standalone films, and the relationships and banter between them always feels natural. Vol. 2 splits the Guardians team up for much of the middle of the film, yet the individuals and double-acts are still as compelling as when they unite as a whole team at the start and end of the movie.

Chris Pratt is arguably the biggest rising star in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) right now – he’s headlined Jurassic World and Passengers in between films and is certainly a more memorable lead actor than say, Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth (i’ll grant its a given that none of them get close to Robert Downey Jr., but that almost goes without saying at this point). While Vol. 2 retains the ensemble feel from the first film, Pratt gets a greater share of the limelight, and proves he can handle the emotional stuff just as well as the comedy. Baby Groot is adorable, but to be honest I felt like they could have done more with him in this film (i.e. in the first film Groot was undoubtedly my favourite of the Guardians, this time around it was probably Quill with Drax a close second). The film does do a good job of fleshing out Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan) who were arguably two of the least well-utilized (and least interesting) characters in the first film. Nebula in particular is a far more sympathetic character, and Gillan flexes her acting muscles far more this time around. Michael Rooker’s Yondu, another supporting player from the 1st film, also really comes into his own here and his comradery with Rocket is one of the strong points in the middle part of the film. Newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is a sweet and welcome addition and gets plenty of amusing banter with Drax, who like last time gets most of the best lines. But the film’s real strength comes from Kurt Russell’s Ego, a celestial (a living planet with a human form of himself) and Quill’s father.

Ego is the best villain Marvel has given us since Loki. He’s better than Ultron, Zemo, Yellowjacket and Winter Soldier (the only ones other than Loki to leave a good impression). Kurt Russell kills it with his sweet, manipulative and largely convincing act as Quill’s remorseful dad, and then excels at portraying Ego’s true superiority complex and universe conquering delusions. CRUCIALLY, Marvel finally give this villain enough screen time to have a real impact, something which hamstrung Lee Pace’s Ronan (as it has with so many other MCU villains) in the last Guardians adventure. The final fight between him and Quill is quite possibly the best hero/villain fight in the MCU (only the hilarious Ant-man/Yellowjacket battle or Captain America/Winter Soldier confrontations spring to mind as equally memorable). Ego also allows Chris Pratt to show different sides to Quill, as his barely contained rage at Ego’s murder of his mother takes the film to a far darker place than most Marvel movies ever reach.

All this is very welcome, because the early part of the film (particularly the first half hour) feels like a less interesting re-tread of the first films antics and jokes, while not offering anything particularly new. The soundtrack is still good, but isn’t quite the knockout Vol. 1’s was, while not all of the jokes in the first hour land as well as they could have. Nevertheless the special effects seem to have got an upgrade since the first film (which still looked bloody good!) and now everything looks even more awesome than before (something helped by the fact that James Gunn is one of the better directors working for Marvel atm). The plot is a great deal more involving than the ‘infinity stone’ quest in its predecessor ever was, and the film manages to set the stage for a third entry without dragging this instalment of the series down with endless set-up (looking at you, Dawn of Justice). To summarise, some things are an improvement, some are a slight step back, and thus Vol. 2 comes out about equal to its predecessor.

The five (FIVE!) mid and post credits scenes are generally an absolute hoot, the two highlights hinting at a major comic-book character’s arrival in guardians 3 (Adam Warlock if I had to guess) and a comedy cut-away showing a teenage Groot with some serious attitude. Pity about the Stan Lee cameo. That guy needs to fuck off and stop shoehorning himself into films which really have no time for him (the one here is especially jarring).

Overall a terrific second half and a formidable villain overcomes an uninspired first half to deliver a good, if imperfect Marvel movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Coming Soon: My review of Wonder Woman, a film that signals a welcome return to form for DC…

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge starring Johnny Depp, Kaya Scodelario, Brenton Thwaites, Javier Bardem, Kevin R McNally and Geoffrey Rush

Minor Spoilers follow, but if you’ve seen the trailers you know all of them already.

When I heard they were making a fifth film in the series I reacted with wearied resignation. After an entertaining but massively bloated third film and a convoluted, disappointing fourth film the series looked dead in the water. But after seeing the trailer, I decided to give it a chance. And while this entry sails in familiar waters, it steadies the ship sufficiently well that the series may not be dead just yet.

Johnny Depp is no longer the reliable star (on or off camera) who can guarantee a film’s success. After being the core part of a trinity of main characters in the first three films, he was indisputably the focus of the fourth film, which suffered greatly for it. Jack Sparrow serves as great light relief and fodder for ludicrous actions scenes, but after so much screen-time in previous adventures isn’t someone you want as the focus of the film anymore. There aren’t enough places left to take the character for him to stay interesting, which On Stranger Tides proved. Fortunately, Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales if you’re in the US) is more of an ensemble film, which arguably is what the series has to be going forward. Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner is arguably the main character, while Kaya Scodelario steals the show for large stretches as Carina, while Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa gets his best material since the first film. This leaves Depp to keep his focus on portraying the amiable rogue of a pirate that we all loved in the earlier films, and his performance is certainly a step up from On Stranger Tides. Even better, most of the supporting cast from the other films, such as Gibbs, Will, Elizabeth, Marty, Scrum, Mullroy and Murtogg all return (though it is a slight shame Pintel and Ragetti, who were so great in the first 3 films, are still absent) and help lend a sense of continuity to proceedings.

On the other hand, Javier Bardem is a mixed bag of a villain. Captain Salazar is arguably the least interesting main villain the series has given us (not a major criticism given that Barbossa, Davy Jones and Blackbeard were all so well done) and is the kind of villain we see a lot in Marvel films; well-acted, menacing but ultimately forgettable. His dialogue can’t also be pretty hard to understand at times, a problem we haven’t seen in cinema since Bane in TDKR. His ghost crew, while well animated, aren’t as threatening as the crew of the Dutchman or the Black Pearl in previous entries, though at least they are better than the Mermaids and Zombies of On Stranger Tides (by now you’ll have realised how much I don’t like that film).

The action scenes are ludicrous and over the top, but the film cheerfully embraces this and makes them work (the sequence where Jack’s crew accidentally steal an entire bank is memorable while a botched execution with Jack stuck on a revolving guillotine is downright hilarious). The humour mostly works, through it can be a touch too crude and juvenile in places. The action sequences are generally well-directed and engaging, but the lack of a proper ship-to-ship naval battle is a bit disappointing, and the final confrontation between Jack and Salazar is one of the weakest fight scenes in the series. Generally though, the whole thing flows an awful lot better than its immediate predecessor and the whole less-is-more and back-to-basics approaches do it a lot of favours. It’s not up there with the highlights of the series, but it moves back in the right direction.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (major spoilers follow, so stop reading now if you haven’t watched the film yet).

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The twist with the identity of Carina’s father was hardly a revolutionary idea or an unpredictable one, but Geoffrey Rush’s endearing performance coupled with Carina’s ‘my name is Barbossa’ character moment makes it work. Barbossa’s heroic sacrifice to save her and kill Salazar is a fitting send-off for his character, and one that gives the film a much-needed strong ending after it looked in serious danger of flagging during its second half. Rush will be sorely missed in any future films, but hopefully Carina Barbossa can more than make up for that. Besides, as the post-credits scene indicates, we may have another familiar face returning in any sixth film…

Lest we forget, Pirates of the Caribbean started the whole post-credits trend which Marvel and DC have now adopted. Until the post-credits scene, it looked like this was, very much, the final entry in the series. But surely it can’t be now? You don’t hint at the return of a previous villain this strongly unless you actually intend to follow through in film 6. If Davy Jones is coming back, I won’t complain (Bill Nighy nailed the role) but it better be worth it. The series could very easily end here; so if it comes back for more, it needs to be good enough to deserve it.

Overall, Salazar’s Revenge gives us an entertaining but imperfect return to the Pirates films of old, with a promising new cast, some welcome cameos, a slightly forgettable villain and a sombre exit for one long-serving character.

Logan Review

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant.

First half of review will be spoiler free, second half includes MAJOR spoilers, I’ve included a warning at the start of that section.

There’s so many superhero films at the moment its hard for any to stand out from the crowd. One of the exceptions last year was Deadpool, because despite not being a perfect film, it offered something different to the no-stakes popcorn cinema of Xmen/Avengers and the gritty relentless drama of Dawn of Justice (and whatever shit Suicide Squad was trying to be). Even though Captain America: Civil War was a better film, Deadpool seemed to have a greater impact simply through being something new in terms of tone and style. Logan is this year’s example of a superhero film which doesn’t conform to the stereotype. Unlike Deadpool however, Logan backs up its unique tone with a compelling story and a script lacking any particular superhero tropes (Deadpool hilariously poked fun at them, but still had the same Hero gets girl, stupid Stan Lee cameo and defeats bad guy storyline we’ve seen a million times. Logan doesn’t).

Logan gives us the Wolverine we’ve wanted for a long time but seldom got – badass yet vulnerable, heroic yet flawed and violent as hell. The action sequences in this film are the finest I’ve seen in a superhero film – Marvel or DC! Even the lauded Batman-Bane fights in Dark Knight Rises can’t capture the raw brutality of what we see in Logan. The direction is standout, and makes you wonder how much James Mangold was held back by studio execs in his previous entry in the series, The Wolverine (the one set in Japan released back in 2013), because his work here is absolutely sublime. The soundtrack from Marco Beltrami is unorthodox (carrying a strong western vibe like the rest of the film) but fits the film pretty damn well and lends an extra intensity to the action scenes.

The acting, as usual with X-Men films, is top notch, with Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and newcomer Dafne Keen, playing a young mutant called Laura/X-23, (a child-actress who is on Maisie Williams’ level – that’s how good she is!) all giving class and at times raw performances. Stewart is particularly excellent, as he plays an older Xavier who isn’t quite all there any more, and is tortured by the increasing lack of control he has over his body and his powers. Stephen Merchant is good support as Caliban, one of the few other mutants who makes an appearance, while Boyd Holbrook and the ever superb Richard E Grant make the most of their villainous roles, who while not exactly classic foes, are exactly what the film needs them to be, reminding me somewhat of Alexander Pierce from The Winter Soldier (i.e. compelling human villains who actually get enough screentime/personality to make the audience care about them, even if they lack powers).

Overall, this film gets pretty much everything right, and my one gripe with it can’t be mentioned in the spoiler-free section – so for those who haven’t seen it yet I’ll say this – this isn’t just the best X-men film or Marvel film, but it is only the 4th ever superhero film I’d give 5/5 to. It’s up there with Dark Knight Trilogy. But it is far more emotionally charged than any of those films – one sequence in particular is up there with the worst parts of game of Thrones in terms of producing an emotional reaction (we’re talking Hold the Door and Red Wedding levels of upset here). Its also bold in a way the Avengers series has never shown itself willing to be. So go see it!

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING!!!!! DO NOT READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FILM ALREADY!!!!!

The films setting is interesting, in a 2029 where mutants are becoming rarer (and near extinct) and Xavier is heavily implied to have killed many surviving X-men accidently during his ‘Westchester incident’. I thought it was a bit odd we didn’t get any flashbacks to this disastrous episode of his, but I suspect they wanted to keep the film at a reasonable running time. Laura/X-23 is also a great addition to the x-men universe – not sure if she’ll be back, but she certainly added a freshness to proceedings. Speaking of freshness – who else was pleasantly surprised to see a superhero film with no love interests? Far too often they seem to through ones in for the hell of it – but Logan is the first I can remember to not bother with one at all (even Jean Grey wasn’t mentioned, which came as something of a surprise given how essential they’ve always made her to Logan’s emotional state).

On another note, I thought the Wolverine clone made for a worthy adversary, if a not so subtle hint that Logan is usually his own worst enemy, and the fight scenes between the two were suitably visceral, as was the clone’s death by adamantium bullet. (How glad is everyone they didn’t edit this to get it a 12 rating?!) My one problem with the film was Xavier’s death – it felt sad, but was a bit underwhelming (though not as pointless as his previous death scene in The Last Stand) – Logan’s reaction to it was spot on, but the scene itself wasn’t as gut-wrenching as it should have been – even Caliban’s death felt more impactful.

On the other hand, Logan’s death was done perfectly, with Laura’s reaction in particular making most of the audience (in the cinema I was in anyway) cry (including me – I’d argue you have to be stone cold/slightly inhuman to watch that scene and not get emotional). After this and Rogue One, I’m glad films are starting to take risks with their endings and not just play it safe (looking at you CIVIL WAR!!!!!) – endings where heroes die shouldn’t be the norm, but they need to happen occasionally for audiences to believe there’s any kind of stakes in the franchise – and as Logan proves, they make for pretty compelling viewing when done right.

If this, at it appears, is the last time we see Jackman or Stewart in these roles which they’ve played for 17 years, then they’ve both left on a high. I still wouldn’t mind Jackman’s Wolverine showing up in a Deadpool film though.

Rating: 5 out of 5! It joins Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel (haters can fuck off) as the only superhero films I love enough to give a perfect rating to.

Will any of the other superhero films this year come close to matching this? Guardians 2 is my tip for best of the rest, but I don’t think any of them (Marvel or DC) are matching this – but I’d love to be proved wrong – and if I am, its gonna be a hell of a year!

Lastly, for any PlayStation gamers reading this – were any of you struck by how similar parts of this film were to the Last of Us? (For those who don’t know the Last of Us is a fantastic survival game set post Zombie apocalypse, whose main characters are a gruff tough as nails old guy called Joel and a young badass girl named Ellie – seeing any similarities yet?) For me, the emotional plotline, the brutality and the setting all gave off very strong Last of Us vibes, and Logan may be the closest thing we ever end up getting to a film adaptation!

 

 

My Top 10 film moments of 2016

I’ve missed a few of the major films this year (notably Arrival slipped by me) so instead of doing a top 5 films I’ve instead decided to pick out my favourite moments from films this year, as even the weaker blockbusters like Dawn of Justice had their moments. Enjoy.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One, Major Spoilers for Batman vs Superman.

10. Jacob and Queenie (Fantastic Beasts) While Newt and Tina were the lifeblood of the film, Jacob and Queenie stole every scene they were in and were undoubtedly its soul, and their pairing was both sweet and believable. Jacob’s smile at the end when Queenie strolls into his bakery and seemingly restores his memory is the icing on the cake for arguably two of the best characters JK Rowling has given us. They better be back in the sequels!

9. Wolverine’s Cameo (X:Men Apocalypse) The X-men series is always accused of over-using Wolverine, and somewhat ironically, his best two appearances have now been cameos (him telling Xavier and Magneto to fuck off in First Class and here, where Wolverine’s psychopathic rampage through Stryker’s bunker reminds us of just how badass/terrifying/awesome the character is). Hugh Jackman now is so intrinsically associated with the character I doubt anyone else will be able to play him for a good 20 years (and they shouldn’t, hopefully next year’s Logan is a worthy send-off to both the character and the actor). Anyway, while Apocalypse was a very fun movie, this was the sequence that will stick in my mind the most.

8.Doomsday battle (Dawn of Justice) Doomsday may have had a completely different origin from the comics, but his threat level was actually genuinely impressive for a superhero film in 2016 (he wasn’t easily beaten in 5 mins in a final confrontation – looking at you Enchantress in Suicide Squad and Kaecilius in Doctor Strange!!!) as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman team up to stop him and barely survive… and Superman doesn’t. We all know he’ll be back in some form for Justice League but his heroic sacrifice, backed by Hans Zimmer’s haunting ‘This is My World’ still made this a very emotional moment. Also nice to see a superhero film where not every hero makes it out alive (basically EVERY MARVEL FILM EVER apart from X-men), bold move DC, bold move. Even if the first half of the film was a total mess, you did nail the ending.

7. Inside the Case (Fantastic Beasts) The beasts were appropriately the centrepiece of the film, from the cheeky niffler to the amorous Erumpent to the magnificent Thunderbird, with those and many others stunningly showcased in the heartwarming sequence where Next shows Jacob around the inside of his travelling case where he keeps the animals for their own protection. A very sweet interlude in this loveable film.

6.Vader Returns and Kicks Ass (Rogue One) After the tremendous battle of Scarif sequence, Rogue One could have easily ended as the Death Star opened fire. But it didn’t, instead giving us the best scene with Darth Vader since ‘No, I am your father’. Vader’s first scene in the film where he threatens Krennic was tense/awesome in its own right, but the second is full-on terrifying as Vader is unleashed on a group of rebels and scythes through them with brutal ease. It might be the best 40 seconds of cinema in 2016, hell maybe ever. If it wasn’t so short a scene it would have been much higher up the list, but still, damn that that was awesome!

5. The Fight in the Cistern (Inferno) Inferno may have been a relatively weak film, but was saved by its riveting climax as a betrayed Langdon allies with the WHO to try and stop a viral breakout in a cistern in Istanbul. Hans Zimmer’s superb track ‘Cistern’ really makes this a heart-stopper and the divergence from the book really leaves you with no clue how it will play out as Langdon and co fight with Zobrist’s extremists. Hell of an action scene.

4. Everything K2 does (Rogue One) K2 was easily the best character in Rogue One (not that that was easy or anything) and made the film sassier and more hilarious that I’d have ever expected it would be. His constant deadpan humour and the brutal way he took down imperial soldiers were the icing on the cake in one of the best films of the year.

3. Airport Battle (Captain America: Civil War) Civil War was the best superhero film of the year, and its highlight was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man in a deserted airport, which was both highly amusing and seriously cool. Spidey and Ant-Man arguably stole the show, but every character got a chance to shine even if, as usual with Marvel, there weren’t really any lives at stake here. Still, this was a high point of an excellent film – shame they bottled out on giving it a memorable ending afterwards, but still, perfect popcorn cinema here.

2. Batman takes down Superman (Dawn of Justice) Despite the controversial way the fight ended with the whole ‘Martha’ scene, the fight itself between the two giants of the DC universe was the high point of the film. Batman uses a state of the art battlesuit and some Kryptonite gas-grenades to not only pose a genuine threat to superman, but after a titanic struggle, actually beats him. The whole ‘Man VS God’ thing the film was going for paid off beautifully here, even if the film as a whole still has a wealth of problems, this scene alone was worth it.

1. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One) Wow. Now that is how you do a finale! The battle between the Rebels and the Empire had everything: awesome visuals, high stakes, tension and good direction. An epic way to cap off the first Star Wars spin-off film and without doubt the best sequence in film this year. Well done Gareth Edwards, Felicity Jones et al, this was simply amazing!

I’ve seen a fair few films that don’t have appearances here (Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Doctor Strange etc.) but I couldn’t think of any stand-out moments in those films – they are entertaining throughout, but there aren’t any moments of greatness. Suicide Squad was too poor to merit a place here, and I haven’t seen many other films this year, so there may be some omissions.

My Film Awards 2016:

Best Film: Rogue One
Best Director: Gareth Edwards (Rogue One)
Best Script: Captain America Civil War
Best Special Effects: Doctor Strange
Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Inferno/Rogue One)
Best Actor: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
Best Voice Actor: Alan Tudyk (Rogue One)
Worst Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Actress: Holly Hunter (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Script: Suicide Squad
Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)
Worst Soundtrack: Suicide Squad
Worst Film: Suicide Squad (noticing a pattern here? Well done DC…)

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and James Earl Jones.

The first half of this is spoiler-free (the only facts mentioned are bits included in the 3 main trailers – and the trailers gave very little away). I’ve included a massive spoiler warning at the halfway point. So first up, the basics.

The force is strong with this one.

Its far superior to episodes 1 and 2. Its better than Return of the Jedi or Force Awakens. It either surpasses or matches 3-5 depending on what order you tend to place them in. Its that good. However – whether you enjoy it as much as I did is dependent on 1 major factor – that you can see past the fact this isn’t a normal Star Wars film.

To explain: there’s no opening crawl (only the ‘in a galaxy far, far away tagline’).You get location descriptions telling you what planet you’re on. John Williams isn’t composing (and very little of his themes are part of the score). There’s about 2 minutes of lightsabre action in the whole thing. The main villain isn’t a Sith Lord. Its missing or barely utilising a lot of the main Star Wars tropes. This may sound like heresy to Star Wars nerds. Indeed it might jar you a bit in the first half of the film. But in the second half you won’t care because you’ll be having far too much fun. The last hour in particular is as good as anything the series has ever given us.

The acting is stellar throughout, with Felicity Jones delivering a Daisy Ridley worthy powerhouse of a performance as lead character Jyn Erso. (Star Wars is getting a great track record with female action heroes – well, ignoring Natalie Portman anyway!) The other rebels in the Rogue One team are all memorable, with Luna’s morally conflicted Cassian, Ahmed’s nervous defector Bodhi and Jiang Wen’s badass mercenary Baze making a believable band of rebels. However its Donnie Yen’s spiritual warrior and Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed imperial droid K2 who will really stick in your memory. K2 May even be the best robotic character Star Wars has ever given us (yes even including R2 and BB8). He’s certainly the funniest. The humour in general is one of the film’s main strengths. Its VERY sassy in places, with a mixture of deadpan humour and physical comedy from K2 the icing on the cake. You will not have laughed this much during a Star Wars film before (except maybe at the awful dialogue and effects in the prequels. Fortunately the CGI in this is exceptional and barring one or two clunky speeches, the dialogue’s not bad either).

The supporting cast are just as stellar as the main, with Ben Mendelsohn’s ambitious, power hungry, imperial officer Krennic being one of the most memorable non-Sith villains in the series (he certainly puts General Hux from Force Awakens to shame, and is a far better-developed character than say, Dooku or Grievous). Mads Mikkelsen is good as always as Jyn’s father, despite his lack of screentime. The returning characters from Revenge of the Sith and a New Hope were also nice to see (lots more on them later).

As for the production itself, director Gareth Edwards deserves a lot of credit, the film looks amazing from start to finish, the action set pieces and battle scenes in particular standing out – the final battle on Scarif is awe-inspiring. The set design and CGI blend nicely in a way the first two prequels failed to achieve – we’re talking Revenge of the Sith level visuals with Force Awakens level realism – its more than a winning combination. The script is also, very, very good, giving us the right mix of ‘more of the same but something new’ than Force Awakens lost by playing it too safe. Its all self-contained as well, there’s no mysteries that won’t be explained till a future film to annoy you (again, looking at you Force Awakens!). The one thing that doesn’t quite work is Michael Giacchino’s score. The soundtrack itself would be very good for another sci-fi or action film, but underuses John Williams existing themes more than it probably should have, and in the first half in particular, this may vex you. It is a very good score, but not really a star wars one.

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING!

Now onto specifics.

Let’s start with Vader. First off – that base was on Mustafar?!!? Talk about feels! His two scenes in the film were both awesome uses of the character – he hasn’t been that intimidating since Episode V! The scene with him at the end in particular… that is how lightsabre combat should be done! There was only two minutes of it but god it rocked!

That said – Vader wasn’t the only returning bad guy who stole the film. Grand Moff Tarkin, appearing for the first time since New Hope, lent a real sense of menace to proceedings (and will doubtless make you look at his character in Episode IV with total loathing). All the more surprising given his actor, Peter Cushing, has been dead for twenty years. Instead his likeness is CGI implanted over Guy Henry’s performance, and while this could have been a disastrous gimmick, it actually looks pretty decent and really adds another level to proceedings and gives Krennic’s character an equal to face off with. It really elevates Tarkin from a one-shot character to one of the series’ signature villains.

Giving Bail Organa a cameo was a nice touch even if he didn’t do much – this film is the perfect way to tie Revenge of the Sith and New Hope together, and touches like that add to the experience. There’s some pretty famous faces on the rebel council too (Barristan Selmy from Thrones and Anderson from Sherlock! Too many fandom crossovers!) The CGI-Leia may not have looked as good as Tarkin, but giving her the final word seemed appropriate.

Now the ending. In an era where every bloody Marvel film refuses to take any risks with character deaths *COUGH * CIVIL WAR! *COUGH* and Doctor Who showrunners repeatedly wimp out of killing off companions (Moffat and Davies!!!) the bleakness of the ending was all the more shocking, even surpassing Revenge of the Sith’s second half for emotional distress. I expected that not everyone would make it, but I didn’t expect that even Jyn and Cassian would die as well (there goes my theory about Rey’s parentage. Bugger.) Arguably though, the film is much stronger for it and I doubt you’ll forget the final scenes anytime soon (even Krennic staring up at the Death Star had a tragic feel to it). The whole ‘sacrifice for the greater good’ and ‘hope against impossible odds’ themes are proper Star Wars, and this film had both of those in spades, and the ending combines both to create something truly special. Well done scriptwriters, you aced it!

Overall, like Revenge of the Sith, it has its problems but for the most part I don’t give a damn. Yes, some of the dialogue is clunky and the music doesn’t fit all that well, but at the end of it, the humour, charm, top-notch acting and phenomenal action scenes are what this will be remembered for. That and its bleak ending. Not perfect, but pretty close.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – A flawed masterpiece.

I think this may be my second favourite Star Wars film. As good as New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are, I’ve only gotten this level of excitement from Revenge of the Sith. Only the fact its not a true Star Wars film keeps it below that.

Wow Episode 8… now you have a REALLY tough act to follow. May the Force be with You.

Final thought: this is what Suicide Squad should have fucking felt like. The two films have equally praiseworthy ensembles and are part of a much bigger film universe, but Rogue One aces the humour, good script, exciting set-pieces and interesting plotline where Suicide Squad failed repeatedly. Someone please make sure David Ayer watches this before he makes the Suicide Squad sequel!

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell

Warning: Spoilers!

I went into this with reasonably low expectations (it felt like another needless Hollywood cash grab, like splitting the Hobbit into 3, and I wasn’t that enthralled by the trailers). My main point of reservation was basing a Harry Potter spin-off around a character only briefly referenced in the books, in a setting that surely wouldn’t match the lustre and wonder of Hogwarts. There seemed far more obvious candidates for a spin-off than Newt Scamander (looking back at James, Lupin and Sirius’ time at Hogwarts for instance). All things considered though, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

Eddie Redmayne’s winning performance as  Newt makes for a lead character you never hesitate to root for, with his clumsy and socially awkward, yet wise and caring personality in some ways reminding me of Matt Smith’s Doctor. The other leads are also brought to life well, Katherine Watson’s downtrodden auror Tina instantly wins your sympathy, while her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is a talented legitimens who is both adorable, funny and immensely likeable. However, surprisingly, its the muggle (or No-Maj) Jacob Kowalski who along with Newt is the heart and soul of this film – he’s extremely funny and charming and his friendship with Newt is perfectly portrayed. Indeed, the humour is probably the best thing about the movie – its easily the wittiest thing JK Rowling has written. Dan Fogler’s comic timing in particular, is perfect, and the adorable Niffler steals the show at every opportunity. The magical creatures in general are a high point of the movie, all are memorable and Newt’s love for them shines through beautifully.

It doesn’t all work, the second Salemers subplot doesn’t really go anywhere (Samantha Morton’s character seems especially pointless – unlike the Dursleys, her hatred of magic is never satisfactorily explained nor is her performance particularly memorable). The casting in general, while good with the four leads, lacks the magic touch that made the Harry Potter ensemble so special. Colin Farrell as Graves really lacks the sense of menace that a Voldemort, Bellatrix or Umbridge brought to the role of lead villain. Johnny Depp may only be on screen for 1 minute as Grindelwald, but he doesn’t look or feel like a natural choice for the role, and most of the supporting American No-maj characters in particular seem very, very bland.

One thing that does excel is James Newton Howard’s score, which is easily up there with Nicholas Hooper and John Williams’ work for Harry Potter (far surpassing Alexandre Desplat’s). The visuals are equally amazing, the various magical creatures all looking believable and outlandish at the same time, while the magic is still as enrapturing as ever. The only thing that doesn’t really excite you is the New York backdrop – it’s just no comparison to Hogwarts and is so overused in movies and TV at the moment that as a setting it feels a bit of an unoriginal choice. Nevertheless, I don’t mind it being set in America, as giving us a view of a new part of the wizarding world was interesting and the 1920’s time period was memorable by itself.

I know some people who didn’t like this because its too different from Harry Potter, and yes, that is true, but it has great potential as a series regardless, and Rowling hasn’t lost her touch at writing an engaging story. In short, the humour, charismatic leads, adorable creatures, stunning magic and the sheer charm of the thing are more than enough reason to give this film a chance and judge the spin-off series on its own merits.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall a charming, funny and often magical return to the Harry Potter universe, even if the acting isn’t as stellar as the original series in places and the American setting doesn’t quite have the special feeling you got from Hogwarts. Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler are a classic odd couple double act, and I sincerely hope Kowalski, Queenie and Tina return in the sequel.

As promised in my look back at the Harry Potter films, here’s my view of what happens if I had to place the books/films in order, including Fantastic Beasts in the film list:

Books:

1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Half-Blood Prince
3. Goblet of Fire
4. Deathly Hallows
5. Chamber of Secrets
6. Philosopher’s Stone
7. Order of the Phoenix

Films

1. Deathly Hallows Part 2
2. Goblet of Fire
3. Order of the Phoenix
4. Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
6. Half-Blood Prince
7. Chamber of Secrets
8. Philosopher’s Stone
9. Deathly Hallows Part 1

As you can see, apart from the first two entries, the films adaptations shift my perspective a lot! Overall I must say I slightly prefer the films in all cases bar two (Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince – which I love so much no film version was going to match them), while Fantastic Beasts sits comfortably mid-table.

I’ll be on a temporary break from reviews for two weeks due to university coursework, but I’ll be back around the 17th with my review of Star Wars: Rogue One!