Category Archives: Movie Review

My Best and Worst Films of 2019

First of my annual end of year posts – my thoughts on the films that have come out this year. I should note I haven’t seen as many as I’d hoped – Shazam and Toy Story 4 being the main omissions – but here’s my take on the rest of the years best – and worst – offerings in cinema.

No Major Spoilers. Some minor ones.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: If this was just any old Star Wars film, both me and other reviewers may have been kinder to it. In many ways it suffered because of bad decisions Disney made during Force Awakens production (i.e. not setting out a clear plan of where the series was going or focusing on innovation and decent world-building). As a result this overstuffed mess tries to do far too much in 2h 30, with leads to the first hour being a confusing garble of ideas and set-up likely to leave its audience with whiplash, so quickly does it jump from scene to scene and planet to planet. It jettisons most of what Last Jedi accomplished and will doubtless annoy most fans of that film (particularly its needless marginalisation of Rose and its dull revelations/retcons of Snoke and Rey’s origins). The score by John Williams is surprisingly lacklustre, and while several of the new and returning characters shine, none get the kind of screen time they deserve. The film emerges with some credit for Leia and Kylo Ren’s arcs, but ultimately fails on too many levels. Too generic by far, it plays out like a limp rehash of Episode VI, with boring fetch-quest taking up much of the first half, silly death fake outs punctuating the second and a conclusion which is a insult to both any audience goers with intelligence and the character and gravitas of Emperor Palpatine, who’s return goes unexplained. As the end of a trilogy and something meant to cap off the entire Skywalker Saga, this needed to be good. It isn’t even close. Come back George, all is forgiven… even the prequels had far more cohesion, imagination and spectacle than this mess.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Spiderman: Far from Home: The seconding most disappointing film of the year, Far from Home has echoes of Iron Man 3 – i.e. good first half, misguided plot twist, terrible second half. Like the Mandarin twist, Mysterio’s predictable (to literally anyone who knows 1 thing about the character) mid-film revelation derails things and they never recover. Some things are positive – Jon Favreau is at his best here as Happy, Peter and MJ’s relationship is nicely done and Ned’s romance with Betty is hilarious. But the problems are far more numerous – first off, you should never make the villain’s real plot less interesting than their fake plan the heroes expect to deal with. Samuel L. Jackson puts in one of the worst performances of his career here, but that’s due to how badly the script writes Nick Fury. The main problem is this film completely misses what Spiderman should be about – he isn’t an Avenger, he’s his own hero protecting his own city, who works with the Avengers when needed to stop cataclysmic threats. He’s certainly not Tony Stark mark 2, so please stop trying to make him so. Great final scene though – its about time that a certain character returned to the Spiderman films – and what a way to do it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Zombieland 2: Double Tap: On a more positive note, Zombieland 2 was a fun, amusing follow-up to its predecessor. The cast, including Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and — are as good as ever, and the interplay between them is once again, the core of the movie. The best jokes involve Columbus’ new love interest Zoey Deutch, the categories of zombies (ranging from fast, smart killing machines to the dumb, virtually harmless Homers) and various hilarious zombie kill methods – most memorably involving a monster truck. Not as good as its predecessor, some jokes don’t land and the finale isn’t as memorable, but still a good effort and something you’ll enjoy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

How to train your Dragon: The Hidden World: The only animated film I’ve seen in cinema this year, The Hidden World capped off a very consistent trilogy of HTTYD movies. All have been entertaining, heartfelt and lovingly designed, and while they aren’t a patch on stuff like the Incredibles or Toy Story, they’re very enjoyable. The story of this one is less dark than film 2 and feels like a good way to end things. Given how other, far more important, films have shown how easy it is to muck up the third film in a trilogy, The Hidden World should be commended for providing a satisfying conclusion to Hiccup and Toothless’ story. It’s probably my favourite of the three.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Captain Marvel: Samuel L. Jackson gets his best role in an MCU film here – as a digitally de-aged version of him plays sidekick/guide to Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel – one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Her powers make for some great action sequences, Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is a superb supporting character and the story is one of Marvel’s better origin stories (only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are better). The humour is on point throughout, with some laugh out loud moments, mainly involving Nick Fury and the Flerkin. There’s a good soundtrack and a touching tribute to Stan Lee too. The only drawbacks are some 2 dimensional alien characters, lack of development for lead Carol Danvers and predictable plot lines. Its a very fun Marvel film, but isn’t quite up there with their best.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Avengers Endgame: Now this is how you conclude a saga. Avengers Endgame gives its characters room to breath and commits a lot of screen time to its set pieces and key events, and comes out all the better for it. The special effects, direction and acting come together to form an epic conclusion to the third phase of the MCU, and gives central characters like Iron Man and Captain America fitting ends to their arcs. There’s lashings of humour but its far more restrained than normal, to the films credit (though a few crap jokes – i.e. America’s ass – probably should have been cut). It succeeds in its quieter moments, such as Cap’s regret over a missed life with Peggy or Tony spending some time with his father. It has a few flaws – Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack and Thanos reduced screentime among them – but frankly who cares – the film nails its final act and produces one of the best onscreen battles in cinematic history – its up there with Pelennor Fields in Lord of the Rings. Any other year, this might have topped my list… but not this year…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Joker: Joker has to come out on top. With interesting themes, an intelligent, focused script, no CGI or effects to distract you, its a full-blooded character exploration of one of the most interesting DC comics characters, as you’ve never seen him before. With a heavy, almost oppressively intense soundtrack and masterful direction by Todd Philips, everything comes together to form one of the best films I can remember in a long time – if not one you’ll what to watch too frequently – its too damn draining. While there’s sterling work from the likes of Robert de Niro and Zazie Beetz in the supporting cast, the film hinges on its lead: Joaquin Phoenix. If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this then its a serious miscarriage of justice. The man owns and inhabits the role in a way even Heath Ledger didn’t, and is possibly the only live action portrayal that can hold a candle to Ledger’s take on the character. To say too much would spoil it, but this film will have you gripped, horrified and delighted throughout its entire runtime. Its that good. Even the spectacle infused Avengers Endgame isn’t on this level of film making – if anyone wants to argue that film is a medium of art… Joker is exhibit A. You may not like it, it may not be your kind of film – but you need to see it and decide for yourself.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

My film awards 2019:

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Best Actress: Scarlet Johannson (Avengers: Endgame)

Best Supporting Actor: Robert de Niro (Joker)

Best Supporting Actress: Zoey Deutch (Zombieland 2)

Best Director: Todd Phillips (Joker)

Best Script: Joker

Best Soundtrack: Joker

Best Special Effects: Avenger Endgame

And the less deserving..

Worst Actor: Oscar Isaac (The Rise of Skywalker)

Worst Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson (Spiderman Far from Home)

Worst Director: JJ Abrams (The Rise of Skywalker)

Worst Script: The Rise of Skywalker

Worst Soundtrack: The Rise of Skywalker (even John Williams didn’t bring his best)

There you have it, my view on some of the year’s biggest releases. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that’s the good thing about cinema – there’s something for everyone.

Next Up: My Top Video Games of 2019

 

The Rise of Skywalker Review

As I always do for reviews of films that have just come out, the first half will be spoiler-free and i’ll insert a warning before the spoiler-filled second half so fans who haven’t seen the film yet can back out.

Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid.

The Rise of Skywalker had an AWFUL lot to do. It had to provide a satisfying conclusion to the Sequel trilogy, tie up a multitude of loose ends and character arcs and act as a fitting finale to the entire 9 movie saga. An additional challenge was to try and reunite a fanbase deeply divided by Force Awakens and Last Jedi.

For those who don’t know, I like both of them, despite their flaws – though I suspect after this, I may look back on Force Awakens a lot less fondly, because a lot of the problems here stem from how little set up and world-building Abrams managed in Force Awakens.

Anyway, sad to say, Rise of Skywalker ultimately fails to meet its objectives – it doesn’t even get close to being something the fanbase can reunite over. The fact that its critical review score is actually LOWER than Phantom Menace’s was a bad sign, and while I don’t always agree with critics, here my only issue with them is that they arguably didn’t go far enough.

First, the positives, because the film itself isn’t all bad. The way it handles the late Carrie Fisher’s role as Leia is commendable and gives the character a fitting send-off, if not one as grand as was probably planned. Billy Dee Williams shines in his limited role as Lando, perhaps even giving his best performance in the role. Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell make for superb additions to the cast as a First Order General and one of Poe’s smuggling comrades respectively. Kylo Ren’s arc is well done, even if it may not have been exactly what you expected (or indeed wanted) done with the character. The Kylo/Rey connection established in Last Jedi is very well used here, and one of the few ways that Abrams adds to the previous film rather than detracting from it. John Boyega, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley all do well with what they are given.

Other than that… um, well the opening crawl sets things up well… C3PO is less annoying than usual… John Williams score is okay if a bit bland…Ian McDiarmid clearly relishes his return as the Emperor (that isn’t a spoiler – its in the damn opening crawl). Okay, sod it, I just ran out of positives.

The film has a litany of problems. For starters, it needs to be about an hour longer. It tries to cram WAAAAYYYY too much in. We cut from scene to scene and planet to planet so rapidly in the first half it legitimately gave me a headache. Moments that could have worked with more time to take them in or would have been tenser with a slower pace simply fall flat. Think of the classic scenes in Star Wars history – Han and Luke rescuing Leia from the Detention block, the X-Wing assault on the Death Star, Luke’s duel with Vader on Bespin, the Speeder Chase on Endor, Darth Maul fighting Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Order 66, Anakin vs. Obi-Wan, the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One…. all of them take time to build up to a crescendo. All have a good amount of screen time and are centrepieces or conclusions to their films. By comparison, the first third of Rise of Skywalker is rushed, confusing and frankly, poorly edited. Good special effects are meaningless when the action sequences chop and change and last all of two minutes before the scene changes to another plot strand.

It’s clear that Disney and Abrams had no idea what they wanted the final chapter to look like when they made Force Awakens or let Rian Johnson take over for Last Jedi. Nothing in the first two really set the stage for this one – leaving the film to fall over itself trying to retroactively fit everything together. The frantic rush to set this film up in the first hour is terrible cinema (particularly as the plot is driven by little more than a fetch quest – yeah, and not a memorable one either). Compared to say, Avengers Infinity War, which had far more to do in its first hour but managed it far better, Rise of Skywalker’s efforts in its opening hour are uninspired, convoluted and show up the weakness of the rest of the trilogy. We finally get answers to some key questions, but the answers either aren’t satisfying or are delivering in such an underwhelming way they might as well not have bothered. If you are in the part of the fanbase who like Last Jedi, i’ll warn you, you’re in for a rough ride – the film either ignores or overwrites a lot of what it brought to the table.

The second act is far better than the first, granted, but your enjoyment of this film will hinge entirely on its third act as Rey and the Resistance confront the First Order and Palpatine in a massively against the odds final battle. Sound familiar? Yeah it should – its a half-baked version of Return of the Jedi’s finale, involving characters you care much less about than Han, Luke, Leia and Vader, and features some very uninspired twists and generally lacks imagination. The climatic spaceship battle is very disappointing – even Phantom Menace’s assault on the droid control ship is better devised. But ultimately, whether you approve of the choices the film makes about Rey, Kylo and the Emperor’s plotlines will probably be the key factor in whether you like it or, like me, consider it to be a massive disappointment.

Overall the film has decent acting, good special effects and is entertaining enough in places, particularly its middle act. If you’re a mainstream cinemagoer only in it for entertainment value, you may like it. But if you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan or like the films you watch to have some semblance of intelligence? Brace yourself.

Rating: 2 out of 5. The last film I rated this lowly was Suicide Squad. I’ll just let that sink in.

I could go on, but everything else I want to say requires spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, bail out now!!

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!

First up, how many wasted characters have we had this trilogy? Captain Phasma was criminally underused, Benicio del Toro’s conman DJ goes unmentioned here, Hux has to be the least interesting character in the whole franchise (despite having two more films than Darth Maul got – I mean somethings wrong there), Rose gets sidelined unfairly (good job JJ, you basically let the trolls win) and the film introduces so many new characters, you suspect mainly to augment Disney’s toy sales, that none of them get the chance to make a lasting impression, which is a shame, because Zori, Jannah and General Pryde are all quite good characters, and had they been introduced in films 1 or 2 in this trilogy, they could have added a lot to it.

Lando and The Emperor at least get some screentime, but only about 5 or 10 mins each respectively. Instead most of the journey is spent with the leading trio and Kylo Ren, but the problem is, they lack the memorable nature of the original leads or even Obi Wan, Padme and Anakin in the prequels. Its not John Boyega’s fault, he gets nothing to work with here. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver do well, but are arguably the only two characters who are well served by the script. The biggest failing is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron – the guy was originally designed to only be in the first 30 minutes of force awakens, and it shows. His history is poorly expanded upon and attempts to portray him as a han-esque rogue or leia-esque leader have never been merited by the material he’s got. Ultimately, I think Isaac may have been miscast, he’s a fine actor but has never seemed a natural fit (except when acting opposite BB8 or blowing stuff up in an X-Wing, then and only then has Poe worked as a character).

But, character problems aside, this film creates so many problems for the wider Star Wars universe. If Rey and Kylo’s force healing abilities are so strong, how come Obi-Wan couldn’t save Qui-Gon in Phantom Menace? Why couldn’t Anakin use it to save Padme in Revenge of the Sith, rather than selling his soul to the Emperor in panic? Why couldn’t Luke revive Vader? If Force Healing is a Jedi ability, it really should’ve been used before now – it makes no sense for far more well-trained Jedi to be unaware of it.

More unforgiveably, the film gives no explanation for Palpatine’s survival. All those theories about whether he was a clone, a force ghost or got resurrected – a complete waste of time. Just like all the speculation about how the White Walkers would be defeated in game of thrones – the actual answer is far less interesting than the ones the fans came up with in their imaginations and knowledge of the lore.

Also, Snoke was just some generic evil force user Palpatine created? That really isn’t satisfying. Rey being a Palpatine DOES make sense, but it would have hit far harder if Snoke had told her that last movie – Kylo doing so here was very undramatic. Other questions raised by Force Awakens go completely unanswered. How did Maz get Luke’s old lightsaber? No. How did the First Order become so powerful compared to the Republic? No. Why did C3PO have a random red arm in Force Awakens? No. Put all this disappointment and rubbish world-building together and you can see why i’m annoyed.

Had Rian Johnson or JJ. Abrams done the whole trilogy themselves, it might have been more coherent. But Abrams has proved yet again, just like with Star Trek, he utterly lacks creativity and while his films are always entertaining, they consistently lack depth. Say what you like about the prequels, at least they were well structured and built to a clear conclusion. Lucas’s vision is sorely missed here. The Star Wars Legends novels created a convincing, vibrant and believable universe post-Return of the Jedi. Disney hasn’t.

Some ideas here are good ones – Luke training Leia but her giving up to avoid her destiny is interesting, but needed some build-up or foreshadowing that it never got. Kylo’s turn to the light is done well, but like everything else in the film, its rushed and his about turn is far less convincing than say, Vader’s.

Finally (because i’m near 2000 words and don’t want this to turn into a dissertation – although I could probably go on that long) the last act just doesn’t work for me. Ben Solo survives a fatal fall then dies for no clear reason. The spaceship battle is mediocre – we know the reinforcements will save the day, and the scene carries little conviction – its hardly an epic helms deep or knights of the vale type rescue. Palpatine’s motives change with the wind – its hard to know if he was just manipulating Rey and Kylo the whole time and lucked out or merely took advantage of an unseen opportunity. But the biggest problem is how the Emperor is beaten. One thing I’ve said ever since I knew he was returning was that Rey and Ben couldn’t beat him, even together. Only one person in the entire Star Wars canon (Mace Windu) has beaten the Emperor in a straight fight. Even Yoda could only manage a draw. The whole idea of Rey being the vessel for all the Jedi’s power is ludicrous – had she summoned the force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, Anakin, Qui-Gon, Leia and Mace etc., and the group of them combined powers to defeat the Emperor, that might have worked. Her just blasting him away with his own lightning? That sucks and is lazy writing. The Emperor deserved better.

So there you are. I’m sure some of you will vehemently disagree with all this. Good for you. But for me, there’s no doubt – this is the worst Star Wars film ever made.

In the words of Yoda:

Failed, Disney has. A clusterfuck, this is.

 

Joker Review

Spoiler-free review

Starring Joaquin Phoenix

Joker is unlike anything you’ll have seen in a long time. Calling it a superhero movie is wrong on a lot of levels. Comic-book movie is closer, but again, not accurate. Joker is a kind of in depth character study that’s more commonly found in thrillers and is as far from a blockbuster action epic as you can get. There’s no quipping, no CGI, no bland heroes, no forgettable villains and no weak cop-outs or last minute resets. After 10+ years of the MCU’s good but frustratingly formulaic schtick and frequent blunders by DC and Fox, Joker is fucking refreshing. Actions have consequences here, the characters are human and believable and the final act contains no world ending threat, lame showdown or stupid CGI vortex in the sky.

Long-story short: this feels like an apology for Suicide Squad.

Suicide Squad is the worst Superhero film of the past decade and represents DC’s biggest misstep in its failed (and now rehashed) cinematic universe. Jared Leto’s Joker is still an embarrassment to fans of the character worldwide. There’s a lot of ways Joker can be portrayed, but Leto’s vision of a drug-lord in clown make-up isn’t one of them. No wonder he won’t be in Birds of Prey. By contrast, Phoenix’s Joker is up there with Ledger’s (The Dark Knight) and Hamill’s (Animated Series, Arkham Games) as the best of the bunch. Even the negative reviews of Joker (of which there are some, by woefully misguided reviewers who clearly lack the intelligence or attention span to appreciate it) give credit to Phoenix – he really commits to the character, and if he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, it will be a tragedy rather than a comedy.

Joker is set in the 1980’s, when Bruce Wayne was just a young kid and Thomas and Martha Wayne were still alive and kicking. The Wayne’s and Alfred are the only connections to the Batman universe – don’t expect cameos from Gordon or Harvey Dent or anything, this film remains utterly focused on its lead. Seeing Joker without Batman is a refreshing change and proves the character is compelling (and terrifying) enough to work on his own. Joker’s story ties into the Wayne family’s in ways that are both surprising and plausible here, and would make me very curious to see how a sequel with Batman would go. Not that Joker necessarily needs one. Phoenix nailed it, and his vision doesn’t need revisiting or tampering with unless the script and story is worthy of it.

The most striking thing about this film, which effectively is a origin story for Joker, is how unnervingly plausible it is. Arthur Fleck (Joker’s original name) initially comes across as a troubled, unhappy man who society has failed, who is stuck in a thankless job, with a non-existent social life and a dream he will likely never fulfil. You will feel some sympathy for him for at least the first hour of the film. Then, the film pulls the rug out from under you and shows just how deeply disturbed Fleck really is. He becomes increasingly violent, unpredictable and maniacal as the film goes on – in short, everything the Joker has always been – the second half will cull any sympathy you have for him, and don’t listen to some reviewers – it doesn’t glorify him in any way. His origin takes inspirational from some versions found in the comics, but its very much its own thing here. The problem with some Joker interpretations is that however compelling they are, the character never feels real. This one is terrifyingly possible, as is the broken, crumbling society that unwitting gives birth to him. This is as bleak as Gotham has ever looked onscreen, but its issues (wealth divides, corrupt elites, thuggish louts picking on the weak) feel relatable.

Looking at the other aspects of the film, it has very few, if any, flaws. The direction is superb throughout, and combined with the loud, abrasive, at times oppressive seeming soundtrack makes this tense and in places downright uncomfortable viewing – which is exactly how a film about the Joker should feel. The supporting cast are limited in screen time but all perform to a very high standard, particularly Robert de Niro as a talk show host who Arthur is a fan of. The movie can feel a bit slow in the first 40 minutes, but slow-burners have a habit of building to a satisfying (or in this case, disturbing) crescendo, and you will be on edge for the entire second-half of the film.

I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the plot or the exact journey that Arthur Fleck goes on to become the Joker – this is something you want to experience for yourself – not be told in advance. I can’t promise this will be your favourite version of Joker – for me Phoenix ties with Ledger and Hamill at the top of the pile – but its definitely one who will leave an impression. I also can’t promise you will like this film – but I can say that you should definitely watch it and find out for yourself – because there has never been a comic-book movie quite like this before!

Overall Joker is a dark, tense, compelling study of one of DC’s most iconic villains. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerhouse of a performance and a terrifyingly realistic version of Joker that does the character justice. Its not your standard comic-book movie – but that’s a good thing in my book.

It is however, a film only DC could make. Marvel doesn’t have the balls to do something like this, but DC has a record of taking big risks with its films – this time it has paid off.

I was going to give it 4.5/5, but just because I’m so impressed by the risks they took with this and how well Phoenix nails the character…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Joker is the best movie DC have made in a long time.

Get your arse to a cinema and watch it!

Warning: you will be emotionally drained after. But its totally worth it.

Avengers Endgame Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johanson, Karen Gillian, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana and Robert Downey Jr. (i’m not listing the whole cast, it’ll take forever).

Warning: Major Spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame! But then again, you’ve all seen them by now.

Infinity War was my favourite of the three avengers films, primarily because Thanos was the first Marvel villain to seriously impress me, but also because of the sheer entertainment factor of seeing all these disparate characters and groups interacting with each other (in many cases for the first time). However, I couldn’t give it more than 4/5 because of a couple of big flaws in its third act – namely the mishandled ending and the pointless Wakanda battle. Up until that point the only minus had been Alan Silvestri’s lacklustre soundtrack, but a familiar grievance I have with Marvel then reared its unwelcome head once more: no believable stakes. The battle on Titan between the Guardians, Spiderman, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Thanos was immense because there was real tension involved – Thanos was clearly more powerful than them, and it always felt like the heroes were at their limits fighting him – and predictably, they all lost after Star-lord’s stupid blunder. Wakanda on the other hand, was back to the worst of marvels previous efforts: too much quipping mid-battle, no main character deaths despite ridiculous odds and a CGI army of forgettable villains who don’t make any significant impact. Only when Thanos finally shows did it have any real tension.

He wins, and then the snap happened. This could (and should) have been one of the best cliffhangers in movie history. Two things utterly scuppered its effectiveness: first, the lack of music/shit music when it finally came in. Compare the snap, which should have been one of the most devastating events in any superhero movie, to Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice, or Wolverine’s in Logan. It doesn’t work anywhere near as well, because the music, which always adds to the emotion of such deaths, isn’t there or isn’t effective. If you cried at the snap I’d be a bit confused, whereas if you cried at deaths in DC films or X-Men films, I wouldn’t, because Hans Zimmer and John Ottman know what they’re bloody doing. They always consolidate big moments with heartwrenching soundtracks, and their films are always better for it. That said, you don’t necessarily need music to make character deaths impactful/emotional, there is one other way: shock value. Infinity War bungled that as well, because the lack of significant character deaths in Wakanda or Titan, along with the bad choices the heroes had made throughout the film, made it inevitable (and bloody obvious) that Thanos would win. Hence the snap is no surprise. The best cliffhangers are always the ones you don’t see coming, and if you didn’t see that coming, you weren’t paying enough attention. The fact that everyone who was snapped was guaranteed to be in a future movie also kinda undermined the whole thing. Only Vision’s death had meaning, because you suspected he couldn’t be resurrected as easily.

So we come to Avengers Endgame. I really hoped it would avoid the (few, but significant) mistakes that Infinity War made. And believe it or not… it did.

The humour is noticeably dialled down here – there’s far less of the annoying mid-battle quipping, and what humour there is far better than usual (fat-thor threatening an online troll in a video game has to be an unexpected highlight). There’s plenty of fan-service, but seeing as this is the culmination of 11 YEARS of build up, its entirely justified. You won’t get the full experience here unless you’ve seen every single MCU film before it (okay, except the Incredible Hulk). Seeing Thor talk with his dead mother or Stark have a heart to heart with his oblivious father tugged at the heartstrings for long term fans, and rightly so. The film also delivers on several things we’ve waited years to see (a final battle with every single surviving hero and Captain America lifting Thor’s Hammer!!!). It also doesn’t completely undo the events of its predecessor, which was my main concern. Heimdall and Vision stay dead, Gamora is resurrected but only the younger, harder, less likeable version of her. Loki is ‘probably’ still dead in this timeline, despite escaping with the Tesseract in 2012.

The direction and special effects, like in Infinity War, are flawless. The final battle is amazing in terms of scope and a feast for the eyes the whole way through. The segment on Vormir alone shows how far Marvel’s ability to create convincing alien worlds has come. The acting is again, top notch, particularly from Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd and Robert Downey Jr., who do much of the emotional heavy lifting here. Renner in particular gets better material than he’s had as Hawkeye in the entire series so far, while Hemsworth’s arc as Thor is becoming one of the best character development arcs I’ve seen in a superhero series on screen. Johanson also takes the lead for the first half of the film and excels at it, which leaves me very optimistic that she’ll ace the upcoming Black Widow movie. But ultimately, the movie belongs to Downey Jr., who has in many ways been the heart and soul of the main Avengers films since the first one, which makes his (inevitable) sacrifice here all the more hard hitting.

Endgame’s climatic battle packs a real punch and is full of tension. Even though the heroes have the edge this time round, Thanos still makes them really work for the victory. Seeing Thanos go toe-to-toe with Iron Man, Thor and Cap at once was epic, and him going one v. one with Captain Marvel was up there as well. Thanos was pushed to his limit this time, but fighting without a gauntlet or any stones, he still pushed everyone else beyond their limits. That cemented his place as Marvel’s all-time best villain. The CGI armies aren’t as annoying, because the Black Order and Thanos are there to pose an actual threat, and we don’t focus on the more one-sided larger battle. Plus, seeing the entire Marvelverse come together to fight Thanos… I don’t see how Marvel (or anyone else) can top that anytime soon.

Any minuses? Well I would’ve liked to see a bit more Thanos and a bit more Captain Marvel, but I understand why they were both sidelined in the middle of the film. Captain Marvel is like superman. She’s too OP – there’s no threat of the heroes losing fights with shield agents or past-timeline heroes with her around. As for Thanos, the film was already pushing 3 hours, so I can understand why he was kept in the background until the final showdown. I did feel he got better material in Infinity War though. However… I’m nitpicking. There’s no major flaws in this film and precious few minor ones. Even Silvestri’s soundtrack is an improvement on Infinity War (though someone like Zimmer would’ve still done a lot better).

Overall, Marvel delivers with a well-directed, fearsomely entertaining tour-de-force of a finale to their Phase Three. The actors are on top form, the action sequences are breathtaking, the plot accessible and the humour well-judged. I’d have preferred a bit more screentime for Thanos, but that’s a minor quibble, not a huge flaw. So now the question of what score to give it…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Endgame finally does the impossible: getting a Marvel movie a perfect score from me. It took a lot longer for the MCU than for DC or the X-Men films, but hey, I honestly wasn’t sure they were ever going to do it. I’m glad they proved me wrong.

It becomes only the fifth superhero film I’d give 5 stars to, after Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel and Logan. That’s a pretty exclusive club right there.

X-Men Dark Phoenix Review

Starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

Spoiler-free review!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The worst film of the original X-Men trilogy (Last Stand) also centred on the Phoenix storyline, but infamously mangled it but having it be the B-Plot to a boring ‘mutant cure’ storyline. Last Stand was pretty much a failure in most ways, as I said when I reviewed it a few years ago: it falls flat constantly, and while the ambition is there for the set pieces, the execution is not. Brett Ratner (the director) takes most of the blame for that travesty.

Dark Phoenix is an attempt to write Last Stand’s wrongs and finish off the new X-men series before Marvel comes in and takes over from Fox. Like Last Stand it has had pretty terrible reviews. But how justified are they?

Dark Phoenix was always going to have a problem being the first superhero film released after Avengers: Endgame – the two aren’t comparable in scale, budget or importance. Avengers was cresting the high point of a wave, whereas the X-Men series has been steadily diminishing (aside from 2017’s wonderful Logan) since Days of Future Past. Apocalypse was fun but overblown and thinly written, Deadpool 2 was an excessive mess with a few stand out scenes. Dark Phoenix isn’t as badly written as either of them, but its back to basics approach means it is less memorable.

Had this film come out 15, 10 or even 5 years ago, I doubt it would have been savaged as badly by critics. The superhero market is so saturated at the moment, that any film that fails to spark is probably going to get savaged by comparisons with better ones. It has plenty of plus points – its darker tone and smaller scale make it a much tighter, more accessible film than Apocalypse. The score by Hans Zimmer is predictably good. The direction and CGI look superb, with the mutants’ various powers all stunning depicted (Nightcrawler, Storm and Cyclops get their share of really cool action scenes this time, though Quicksilver is side-lined for much of the film).

But there are also plenty of downsides that prevent this from being a great or even ‘good’ superhero film. The fact that its a rehash of Last Stand means the plot is overly familiar and thus not that exciting (it may be a lot more faithful to the comics, but that will only please a small fraction of the audience). The trailers also gave too much away (again) and there aren’t really any unrevealed surprises to shock you. The cast all do their best with what they are given, but in most cases it doesn’t match up to the material that Xavier, Magneto, Beast or Raven got in previous films. There’s some scenes and character beats that shine through, but not enough. The dialogue is often to blame for this – its workable, but there’s a few real clangers in here that should not have got past the editing stage. Jessica Chastain’s villain is also one of the blandest in X-men history (not the actress’ fault – its such a thin role there’s nothing she could do with it – its down there with Malekith from Thor: The Dark World).

What still makes this film worth watching, however, is the action scenes. The set pieces are great: well directed, minimal quips or cuts, good CGI, small scale but engaging, they are the definite highlights. Sophie Turner also does a good job throughout as Jean Grey. It is unfortunate that they didn’t build Jean up more in Apocalypse, as for this film to work you really need to care about her character, but Turner does her best to portray both the Jean and Phoenix sides and just about pulls it off. The Phoenix side is probably where she’s stronger, but again I’d blame the script for any shortfalls.

Overall, Dark Phoenix is engaging, refreshingly straightforward and packs a few excellent action scenes (which can get quite violent – no way should this have been a 12A). But it ultimately wastes its great cast on a distinctly middling script, and between the trailers and the fact we’ve seen a lot of this arc before, there’s nothing to cover up the fact that its villains aren’t that impressive.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Better than Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine and Deadpool 2, but that’s about it. It’s just not on the level of First Class, Logan or Days of Future Past. It’s worth a watch if your a big X-men fan, but everyone else is probably better off waiting a few months till its on Amazon or Netflix.

Captain Marvel Review

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg and Jude Law

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Marvel has done a lot of origin stories by this point. Some have shone (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Ant-Man) and some have been solid fun but very by-the-numbers (Doctor Strange, Captain America) while some have been unique but rather overrated by critics (Black Panther, Iron Man). There’s only so many times you can tell the same kind of story before it gets dull – the best origin stories have always had something a little different to hook audiences (Thor had a standout villain in Loki, Guardians had a team dynamic we hadn’t seen before, Ant-man had a unique heist movie feel and some very cool powers to wow people with). Black Panther got plaudits for its fresh tone and groundbreaking diversity (which helped distract from the terrible CGI and lacklustre plot). Spider-man ducked the issue entirely by skipping over the origin story which audiences have already seen twice. Captain Marvel had two things to draw audiences in: introducing the most powerful hero in the MCU, and more importantly, introducing Marvel’s first standalone movie about a female superhero.

Now there’s two ways to make a statement about gender equality. One is to shout about it in a nauseatingly patronising way and make incredibly on-the-nose statements that only particularly fanatical feminists will nod their heads at (rather like we saw in Doctor Who series 11…). The other way is to simply show a female character who’s every bit as competent and engaging as her male counterparts and let her successes speak for themselves in a way the audience will find inspiring rather than jarring (which is what Wonder Woman did to great effect). Ignore the online trolls bashing this film, it opts for the later approach, and thus makes its point in a subtle yet entertaining way. Carol struggles with sexism and corrupt male authority figures a few times in the film, but as she so powerfully tells one of them ‘I have nothing to prove to you’. She simply dismisses them as the idiots they are rather than resorting to histrionics or a Jodie Whittaker-esque tirade of male-bashing abuse. Ultimately, this film may not make its point as overtly as say, Black Panther, but that’s only because its being far smarter in the way it does so.

Moving past that, the film itself is a good one. The direction and special effects are solid (no dumb CGI rhinos here) and the de-aged Samuel L. Jackson is flawless. The soundtrack (both in song choice and OST) is the best Marvel’s had since the Guardians (if not quite as good as Guardians). The second half is very funny in places and the action scenes are generally engaging (with a welcome lack of quipping for the most part). Brie Larson is an assured lead as Carol Danvers/Vers, while Samuel L. Jackson has a riot playing a more cheeky, non-serious version of Nick Fury. Lashana Lynch is a standout as Carol’s best friend, while Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is one of the most layered characters in any MCU film that I can remember.

There are a few drawbacks. Jude Law does a good job with what he’s given but the rest of the Kree are VERY 2D characters. There’s little character development for any of the main cast. The first segment of the film on alien worlds isn’t that engaging and its a relatively slow start. The dialogue isn’t always as funny as it thinks it is either – especially in the first hour. But overall, these issues won’t stop you having fun and are lesser problems that we’ve seen in other marvel films. And make sure you stay for the mid-credits scene.

There’s an obvious marker to compare this film to: Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is one of DC’s best films, and showed that a female superhero movie can be really, really good (which was a relief after several terrible efforts in the past such as Supergirl and Catwoman). Captain Marvel probably has a better plotline than Wonder Woman, and has more nuanced characters (particularly Talos), but lacks anything as epic as the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman. The two have different strengths everywhere – Captain Marvel is funnier, Wonder Woman gives its lead actress far more character development to work with. Captain Marvel starts very slowly, but has a better final showdown. Ultimately, there’s not much to separate them, and both are undoubtedly good films. I’d say Wonder Woman is slightly better overall, but more crucially, both films demonstrate that more female superhero films can only be a good thing.

Overall Captain Marvel is a fun entry to the MCU, if not a game-changing one. But the special effects are good, the main cast gel nicely together and it has some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Its the perfect light starter before the heavier main course of Avengers Endgame.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My next film review will probably be Shazam! (aka the other Captain Marvel!) followed soon after by Avengers Endgame.

But before any of that, there’s the small matter of Game of Thrones to look forward to…

Best and Worst Films of 2018

This is a run-through of all the films I have watched that were released this year – and a quick comment about each one, plus the rating I would give it. Films are ordered from worst to best. Needless to say, this isn’t a definitive list – there’s various films I haven’t seen this year (Aquaman, Venom, Into the Spider-verse etc.) but it includes all the ones I have managed to catch – either in cinemas or on Amazon/Netflix.

The Death of Stalin: I expected better from Armando Iannucci. I really can’t work out this film’s intended audience or why critics loved it so much. Its not funny enough to be a comedy, not cutting enough to be a satire and not believable enough to be historically accurate. The thing is wonderfully shot and well-directed, but ultimately that isn’t a big comfort. The cast by and large try their best, but Jeffrey Tambor is a total waste of space and the whole thing is just dull and uncomfortable.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: You know, after watching this, I’m glad Star Wars fired Colin Trevorrow. The film is pretty much your standard B-Movie: entertaining, but utterly ridiculous and so, SO STUPID in places. Still not the worst Jurassic Park Sequel (III will always be the series nadir – at least you’d hope so) but it came close. Its cast keep things watchable and the special effects are good, but the villains are way too cartoonish, the script laughable and the direction flat. Talk about a fall from grace.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Deadpool 2: Oh dear. I really wanted to like this one. In places, it’s up their with the first movie. Josh Brolin is great as cable and Zazie Beetz perfect if underused as Domino. But the rest of the cast are not on form – Firefist is a very forgettable villain, Morena Baccarin is wasted in a thankless and predictable role and TJ Miller is still the biggest waste of space in acting. It makes an effort to have a less predictable (if still cliched) plot than the first movie, but isn’t anywhere near as funny. The action sequences are better, but honestly, I’m not sure I’ll bother with the inevitable third film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Slaughterhouse Rulez: The latest Pegg/Frost film gives the duo less screen time than normal, but the young cast by and large make up for it, particularly the wonderful Asa Butterfield. The script isn’t their best, but its still involving and funnier than some of their previous efforts (looking at you World’s End) if nowhere near their best work (Paul and Hot Fuzz).

Rating: 3 out of 5

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Once it stops pandering to its intended audience with on-the-nose fan service, this actually becomes quite an involving heist/action film. The cast are good value and the direction and soundtrack work well, but ultimately, it’s all a bit too predictable and lightweight. Alden does the impossible in actually playing Han Solo in a way that feels plausible but not a parody of Harrison Ford. Donald Glover nails Lando (who really should have been the main star in a spin-off) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a nice role as a comedic, rebellious droid companion of Lando’s.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: An entertaining if convoluted film. The cast all perform well, but the variable direction and an overpacked script let things down a bit. Depp and Jude Law are the standouts as Grindelwald and Dumbledore, and the final act is worth waiting for. Not bad by any means, but not one of JK’s best either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Black Panther: A milestone for cinema, but a very overrated one. While the script was quite good, its execution could have been a lot better. With a forgettable soundtrack, predictable plotline and some of the worst CGI we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film, Black Panther was entertaining and thought-provoking, but nowhere near the classic some reviewers seem to have tried to frame it as.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tomb Raider: While this didn’t prove video game films are good, it did prove they aren’t universally terrible. Alicia Vikander is perfect in the role of Lara Croft, and the film is well-structed and shot beautifully. That said, the script isn’t the most original, and the dialogue could definitely be better in places. Still a pleasant surprise though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Avengers: Infinity War: Probably the most ambitious superhero film ever made, Infinity War is a bombastic crowd pleaser that mixes Marvel’s first truly great villain Thanos with tons of fan-service and excellent action sequences. Its still a Marvel film though, and pulls its punches too much and is hampered by very much being ‘part 1’ of 2, whatever the film’s title says.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Incredibles 2: It doesn’t match the original, but boy, they gave it a good go. Incredibles 2 features some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time, and is a very engaging, slick ride. Its humour is on-point throughout, and while the villain doesn’t match Syndrome, the films plot and script have few flaws. Very entertaining stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Top of the pile again? Ant-man remains the best and most undervalued of Marvel’s franchises, with this funny, heartfelt sequel. Like the original, it takes 45 minutes to really get going, but once it gets there, its utterly brilliant. Paul Rudd remains an extremely likeable lead, and Evangeline Lilly is ever bit his equal. The villains aren’t that memorable, but for once, I didn’t really care.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Overall, I think its fair to say this hasn’t been a classic year for cinema. Most films I’ve seen have been underwhelming or distinctly average. The rule of increasingly inferior sequels has definitely reared its head again (aside from the odd exception like Avengers and Ant-Man). Here’s hoping for better in 2019. To finish off, here’s my awards for the standout actors, actresses, soundtracks and direction from films this year.

My Film Awards 2018:

Best Actor: Josh Brolin (Thanos/Cable)

Best Actress: Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider)

Best Supporting Actor: Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez)

Best Supporting Actress: Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Best Animated Film: Incredibles 2

Best Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Best Script: Black Panther

Best Director: Ron Howard (Solo: A Star Wars Story)

Best Special Effects: Infinity War

Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)

Best Hero: Iron Man

Best Villain: Thanos

Worst Actor: Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

Worst Actress: Amber Heard (Aquaman) – I haven’t seen this yet, but given her performance in the trailer, it seems like a sure fire bet. Also – I couldn’t think of anyone in the films I have seen who deserves it.

Worst Supporting Actor: TJ Miller (Deadpool 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool 2)

Worst Film: The Death of Stalin

Worst Script: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Worst Director: David Leitch (Deadpool 2)

Worst Special Effects: Black Panther

Worst Soundtrack: Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Coming up next, my look at 2018’s TV highs and lows before I sign off the year with my take on the hit Video Games of 2018.