Category Archives: Movie Review

Avengers: Infinity War Review

Starring Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Chris Hemsworth. (I’m not listing all of them or we’d be here all day).

Warning: Full Spoilers. Only read if you’ve already watched the film or don’t care about spoilers.

Infinity War had a LOT of expectation riding on it. How could it not? It’s the centrepiece of Marvel’s ‘phase 3′. It’s made by the Russo Brothers, who produced Winter Soldier and Civil War, two of the best Marvel films to date. It has the largest cast of any superhero film to date. It finally, FINALLY had a villain who might just be an opponent deserving of the Avengers’ attention. It’s predictably braking all sorts of box office records. But does it live up to the hype? Answer: mostly.

Is it a fun, really entertaining film? Yes.

Is Thanos a great villain? Hell yes!

Will it surprise you in any way? I doubt it.

Is it the best ever Marvel film? No.

Let me go into a bit more detail. The film looks great, and the vast number of different locations, some new (like Titan, Thanos’ homeworld), some familiar (like Knowhere from Guardians 1), are all brilliantly created and all have a suitably different feel from each other. It is really nice to see a superhero film that only spends 10 minutes in New York, not the whole bloody runtime. The direction is pretty flawless, and the fight scenes are all very well choreographed (a refreshing change, as the fight scenes in Spider-man and to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther were not particularly great). The script is full of witty lines and seems to know when to dial down the humour (though there’s still a few too many quips mid-fight scene) and the plot is straightforward enough that you can probably follow it as long as you’ve seen at least half the previous avengers films. The only letdown on the production side is the soundtrack, but that’s what happens when you hire Alan Silvestri. Given the number of good composers Marvel has used for its 19 films, why they picked him is beyond me. The score is very generic, and not remotely memorable. It serves its purpose during the action scenes, but does nothing to heighten the tension and really fails to hammer home the impact of the various death scenes or the ending sequence.

Superhero team-ups always get a LOT of mileage from seeing the various heroes or hero groups interact. Seeing Iron Man, Thor and Cap meet up and lock horns for the first time was one of the best things about the original Avengers, and its the same story here, as the two factions from civil war regroup and meet Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. Watching Star-Lord and Tony Stark bicker or Thor bonding with Rocket Raccoon was fantastic, as was seeing the developing relationships between Quill and Gamora and Vision and Scarlet Witch. Not all the characters got a huge chance to shine (mostly the ones who survived the ending, which is understandable as you’d expect them to have a large role in Avengers 4) but it was very nice to see some of the supporting characters come to the fore. War Machine and Falcon had some particularly epic fight scenes, while Beneditch Cumberbatch was stealing every scene he was in as Doctor Strange (who came off much better here, interacting with others, than he did in his own movie) helped by some spectacular magical moves done by him and Wong.

So the fun’s still there. Let’s move on to Thanos and the Black Order. The problem both previous avengers films (and most marvel films in general) have had is that the villains haven’t been that engaging, and the heroes have all too often found themselves facing easily defeatable CGI armies (let’s be honest, the Chitauri sucked and Ultron’s minions were weak as hell). This film finally broke the mold. Thanos’ minions actually provided some genuine challenge to the Avengers (though predictably still couldn’t kill any of them). That said, Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (none of which are referred to by name) were suitably menacing and physically imposing enough to provide a challenge that the avengers needed before Thanos shows up.

Moving on to Thanos himself, Josh Brolin gives a powerhouse of a performance to establish Thanos as one of the all-time great supervillains of cinema. Thanos is mutli-faceted, layered and has the depth that so many Marvel villains have lacked. He isn’t entirely unsympathetic either, despite the devastation he causes in this film, and his motives are actually well explained and understandable, which was always my biggest worry about him. He needed a better reason than lust-for-power or petty vengeance, which have been done to death at this point, and the writers delivered. The infinity stones gave him some pretty cool abilities too, which helped the fight scenes immeasurably. Thanos beating down Hulk and holding his own against entire groups of heroes at a time really helped establish him as a credible, juggernaut of a threat. The visible increase in his power with each additional infinity stone was equally well done. It was particularly nice to see his relationship with Gamora fully explored, which gave Brolin and Saldana some great material to work with. While Guardians had delved into this to an extent, it helps explain the edge Gamora’s character had at the beginning and gives Thanos some extra depth as a character.

So we have a great, well developed, villain with actual depth. So why doesn’t this film work perfectly? Because of the way the MCU works. There’s little to no point killing characters we know have to return for Guardians 3 or the Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Spider-Man sequels. Notice how every character who dies in the final sequence is one almost certain to be resurrected in the sequel. That makes it kind of hard to feel anything about the film’s cliffhanger. Aside from Vision, Loki and Heimdall, I doubt anyone who died in this film will stay dead. If say, Stark, Thor or Cap had disintegrated i’d feel a lot more sad and concerned (because their contracts are all up after Avengers 4 so there’s no gurantees they’d be back). Equally, you can’t really have the MCU carry on as normal with half the universe wiped out – humour based flicks like Ant-Man, Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok won’t really work with that as a backdrop. So it seems nigh inevitable this movies ending will be completely undone in the sequel, which, to me anyway, makes it feel a lot less impactful.

Another problem the film has is it’s predictability. All the major deaths are signposted well in advance or were generally predictable (i.e. Heimdall’s an expendable character, Loki’s run his course, Vision has an Infinity Stone in his head etc.). That said, Gamora and Vision’s deaths were pretty impactful, mainly because of the performances of Saldana, Brolin, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen. The largest problem, however, is that Thanos’ victory seems inevitable throughout (both because of the way the film plays out and the fact we know there’s a directly linked sequel). The fact no avengers die during the battles in New York or Wakanda just signposts the fact that things are going to go very, VERY wrong at the end, which undermines any uncertainty the audience may have had about how things are going to play out. The Wakanda battle does work better than the equivalent ones in New York or Sokovia, mainly because the CGI is more convincing and the fight scenes are larger and better choreographed, but it was stretching the limits of believability that no main cast members fell during it due to the sheer amount of chaos.

Overall, the cast are great, the fight scenes are the best Marvel’s had in a long time and Thanos is a marvellous villain. But the whole thing’s undermined by a lack of predictability – the Red Skull cameo is a nice touch but its the only time the film surprised me. Alan Silvestri’s rather generic soundtrack really isn’t up to much either. Why they picked him over Tyler Bates (Guardians) or Brian Tyler (Thor) is beyond me. I’d still say its the best of the three Avengers films – its got more gravitas than Age of Ultron and the plot and script are more interesting than Avengers Assemble. But it falls short of Marvel’s best efforts, and is a very good film rather than the great one I hoped it would be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

P.S. for anyone wondering about the significance of the post-credit scene, Nick Fury’s S.O.S. is supposedly being sent to Captain Marvel, the star of one of the two marvel films before Avengers 4, suggesting that she might have a large role in saving the Avengers and Guardians.

 

 

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Black Panther Review

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis

Warning: Contains Spoilers (it’s been out two months so why not)

It’s difficult for superhero films to stand-out at the moment. There’s an average of 6/7 of them a year currently, and while my enthusiasm remains high for Infinity War, the showpiece of Marvel’s phase 3, I’m getting slightly fatigued by all the others. After the twin disappointments of Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok, which both wasted a lot of potential, I was hoping the generally positive reaction to Black Panther was justified.

It was. It’s entertaining and stands out from the crowd. But it’s far from the classic some people have made it out to be. First off, the good stuff. Chadwick Boseman gives other sublime, confident performance as T’Challa (he’s definitely a character with enough potential to lead the Avengers once Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans bow out as Iron Man and Captain America). The other cast members are equally good: Letitia Wright is a stand-out as T’Challa’s adorably kick-ass younger sister, while Martin Freeman makes the most of his expanded role as Everett Ross, one of only two white characters to have a significant role in this role. It is refreshing to have a superhero film NOT set in America, and the African setting and the majority-Black ensemble cast give this film a unique feel. It is definitely ground-breaking for a superhero film, and Wakanda’s culture and technological superiority is well-conveyed without the film getting too bogged down in world-building or info-dumps.

Unfortunately, it all never feels quite real. Between the overly CGI Wakandan city and the fact all of the main characters are tribal leaders rather than ordinary-people, you can’t quite fully immerse yourself in the setting. It also kind of lessens T’Challa’s turmoil about the film’s central issue (should Wakanda keep itself hidden away or try and help those in need) that we never see what ordinary Wakandans think about the issue. T’Challa’s decision at the end of the film never really seems in doubt, so there’s no real tension anywhere. This, arguably, is the film’s biggest weakness: its predictability. Oh look, no one dies here except the villains and the hero’s mentor. Where have we seen that before… Honestly, for 17 films out of 17, Marvel has utterly failed to EVER make me think a significant character might actually be in jeopardy (okay, the Infinity War trailers confirmed at least 3 of the main cast survive, but even supporting character’s like Ross and the tribal leaders are never really under much threat).  Other typical Marvel clichés are rife here: the good guys are saved by a convenient change of heart late on that EVERYONE could see coming! T’Challa’s fake death halfway through is irritating through its sheer pointlessness (we know he isn’t actually dead so why hide him off screen for 20 minutes?). Ulysses Klaw is ANOTHER weak marvel villain (not helped by Andy Serkis, who for the first time that I can ever remember isn’t an asset to the film, mainly because his OTT arms dealer feels like a caricature rather than a genuine character). Although Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger is much better as the other villain, the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with him. Yes, his backstory is sympathetic and he gets more screentime than most Marvel villains, but he’s still no Ego or Loki.

Back on the positive side of things, the production is nevertheless strong. The dialogue is never clunky or convoluted and the film isn’t hamstrung by an over-emphasis on humour like Thor: Ragnarok was. The action scenes are generally better directed than they were in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ragnarok (a car chase in South Korea and a ritual combat atop a waterfall being the standout set-pieces), even if the final battle isn’t as emotionally charged or thrilling as you might hope. The music fits the film well even if it isn’t particularly memorable. The film looks great for the most part (the sequences where T’Challa communes with his dead father on the ancestral plain are visually stunning). Ultimately, your enjoyment of this film is probably down to how sick you are of repetitiveness in Marvel films. What we get here is good, but we’ve seen too much of it before, which like Doctor Strange in 2016 limits the score I can give it.

Overall, Black Panther is an entertaining, well-acted film that breaks plenty of ground, but one that remains hamstrung by the traditional Marvel clichés. There’s a lot of potential for future adventures in Wakanda, but this one doesn’t quite hit the heights it could have. It’s a step up from Thor: Ragnarok though, which bodes well for infinity war.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ll do a couple more Marvel related updates in the run-up to Infinity War – which hopefully will be the perfect knockout hit we all want it to be. But there really needs to be some genuine fucking consequences in that film, or my interest in the MCU will be permanently broken, no matter how entertaining it is.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran and Andy Serkis

First half is spoiler-free, spoilers after the warning half-way through.

I liked Force Awakens. But I didn’t love it. While a funny, entertaining and well acted entry in the franchise, it played things far too safe and was far too similar to A New Hope. It also left far too many questions unanswered, leaving The Last Jedi with the difficult balancing act of providing answers, setting up Episode IX and still providing a good enough story to be a hit with audiences. Fortunately, Rian Johnson seems to posses a far greater understanding of what makes Star Wars great than J.J. Abrams, and delivers a touching, epic film that, while somewhat reverential to the original trilogy, is still focused on telling an original, engaging story and not just rehashing the franchises greatest hits (like the second half of Force Awakens). It stands well on its own merits and also serves as a fitting middle segment of this sequel trilogy. As for the lingering questions from Force Awakens: it explains Rey’s origin and the reasons for Luke’s disappearance well enough, while Snoke’s backstory remains frustratingly obscure, as does the First Order’s rise to power between Episodes 6 and 7.

The film itself isn’t perfect (its slightly longer than necessary and the dialogue can feel a bit forced and clunky in places) but overall is a resounding success. Even the Porgs aren’t that annoying (they aren’t up there with Ewoks or Gungans anyway). New cast members Kelly Marie Tran (playing Rose, a young resistance fighter who gets entangled in Finn’s storyline) and Laura Dern (Leia’s second in command) slot into their roles with ease, while the regulars all give accomplished turns. Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley bounce off each other well, while Adam Driver and Carrie Fisher keep the other plotlines engaing. General Hux (Gleeson), Snoke (Serkis) and Poe Dameron (Isaac) all get a welcome amount of extra screen time which helps flesh out their characters far more than in Force Awakens, although Gwendoline Christie is still rather wasted as the underused Captain Phasma.

The production team have performed equally well. Rian Johnson’ direction helps return a sense of wonder to proceedings, and he handles the action squences remarkably well, particularly the opening space battle and the various bits of lightsaber action. John Williams’ musical score is an improvement on his lacklustre effort for Force Awakens, and although its still below his best work for the series it serves well enough throughout. The film’s plotline is refreshingly well-crafted, even if the script could have used a bit of polishing to cut some of the corny dialogue (and perhaps losing 5-10 minutes would have helped the film feel tighter).

Overall Last Jedi delivers on giving us an engaging story without just re-treading old ground. It’s a touch too long and the dialogue can be a bit clunky, but some brilliant action pieces, surprise twists and good performances from the cast help it to surpass Force Awakens and leave the stage set perfectly for Episode IX. Hopefully J.J. Abrams can improve upon his previous effort and give us a fitting finale to the current trilogy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

So, onto the specific plot points. We’ll probably never know who Snoke was now, but given how long the film already was, I can understand why they didn’t bother fleshing out his backstory. It would only have worked well if Luke had been present for the reveal anyway, given that no other character had met Sidious or might have heard of Darth Plageius (the only two good Snoke theories). Either of them revealing themselves to Rey alone would have just fallen flat. Snoke just being an evil guy who rebuilt imperial forces into the first order isn’t exactly a satisfying answer to who he is, but I think the fanbase may have simply overthought it. This does make it more of a pity we never got any flashbacks to how the First Order formed, which might have fleshed Snoke out a bit. Fortunately, Andy Serkis’ performance still made Snoke a memorable foe, making the surprise twist of Kylo Ren turning on him all the more effective. Having Snoke and Ren both still in play in Episode IX might have led to Abrams crafting something too close to Return of the Jedi anyway, so only having Ren and Hux left on the villains side should provide a different dynamic. Phasma’s death was less impactful, mainly because she’s done bugger all so far, though her fight with Finn was pretty decent.

Speaking of fight scenes, Rey and Ren fighting Snoke’s bodyguards was pretty epic (nice to see Imperial bodyguards actually doing something for once – Sidious’ men looked cool but never sprung into action once). Johnson did a good job of teasing one of them turning to the light or dark side, but I’m not surprised he didn’t follow through on it. Kylo taunting Rey about her ordinary parentage was an effective enough way to reveal that Rey ISN’T a Kenobi or a Skywalker or the daughter or Sidious or Snoke (the later theories night have worked but, in the end, Rey not being born someone important with a famous family seems more appropriate than forcing a connection with Luke, Leia or Obi-Wan. I was mildly surprised they gave Finn another love interest in the form of Rose, but as someone who never entirely brought into Finn and Rey i’d be quite happy if Finn did end up with Rose, as Boyega and Kelli Marie Tran have good chemistry with each other. Rian Johnson did a good job of making Finn’s death feel like a genuine possibility in the final sequence, but this is Star Wars, not Game of Thrones, so I wasn’t surprised by the Rose-ex-Machina rescue. Admittedly Rose and Finn’s trip to the casino was probably where the film’s runtime could have been cut down easily, but the two made an interesting enough pairing that it was still an enjoyable part of the film.

One thing that really pleased me in the film was how the force was dealt with. Too often in the prequels the Jedi merely felt like skilled warriors rather than powerful wielders of ancient power, but here Luke, Snoke, Rey, Kylo and Leia all used it in interesting ways. It was nice to see Leia finally use some force ability other than telepathically sensing Luke or Han, while Rey and Kylo’s psychic connection was a neat trick to allow dialogue between the two of them. It was a slight pity we never got to see Luke square off with Snoke, given that Snoke seemed potentially even stronger than the Emperor ever was, while Luke’s force projection ability provided a neat final twist.

To sum up, it wasn’t perfect, but the combination of surprises, quality acting and diverting action sequences place this above Force Awakens in the Star Wars saga. It may not be the series’ absolute best, but it’s still top 4 or 5 as far as I’m concerned.

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!

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!