Category Archives: Movie Review

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.

 

 

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller,  Johnny Depp and Jude Law.

Warning: Minor Spoilers.

The first fantastic beasts film was a charming, entertaining spin-off that, a few duff side-plots aside, was up there with most of the Potter films in terms of quality. It’s likeable lead quartet of Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie were worthy replacements for Harry, Ron and Hermione, even if Graves/Grindelwald didn’t match up to Voldemort as an antagonist. The cute, loveable magical creatures made up for the dull New York setting and the stupid second salemers subplot. The film’s simplicity, by and large, played in its favour.

The second film always had a few more hurdles to negotiate. Would fans like Jude Law’s take on the young Dumbledore? Would Johnny Depp’s performance put fan discontent at his casting as Grindelwald to rest? Would Rowling tell an inventive story without getting too bogged down in laying the groundwork for film 3 (and potentially films 4 and 5?). Well the casting fears proved unfounded. The script problems reviewers have been mentioning are, unfortunately, evident throughout. There’s too many characters and subplots competing for screentime, which leaves the main quartet a little hard done by, particularly Tina (who is split from Newt thanks to a needless plot contrivance) and Queenie, whose character arc comes a bit out of nowhere and leads to a rather unconvincing twist. On the plus side, Newt and Jacob’s double act is just as heart-warming and funny as it was in the previous film, and both get a decent amount of screentime. Another bonus is the switch of setting from New York to Paris and London – America just isn’t a natural fit for Potter and Paris definitely felt like a more ‘magical’ place for the story to take place.

The film does definitely benefit from having closer ties to Hogwarts and the existing Potter mythos than its predecessor. The flashbacks to Newt and Leta’s time at Hogwarts are some of the best parts of the film, while Jude Law is so perfect for the role of Dumbledore. His performance is the highlight of the film – seeing Dumbledore actually teach was great too – Law gives just the right balance of encouraging, mischievous mentor and regretful, sombre figure who’s still coming to terms with his past. Matching him, somewhat surprisingly, is Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald. Depp’s fallen a long way in the past few years – he’s had more misses than hits in the films he’s done and his personal life has come under intense scrutiny and alienated a sizeable part of his fanbase. All of which makes it all the more surprising that he’s one of the best things in this film. Grindelwald feels a lot more layered and real than Voldemort ever did. While Voldemort was always supposed to be a manifestation of pure evil, Grindelwald is the more real, familiar kind of monster who sees everything he does as right, regardless of the cost. He has a very much ‘ends justify the means’ rationale in this film, and is a lot subtler than Voldemort in the way he tries to win followers to his cause. Depp plays him perfectly, which I never thought I’d say – there’s a lot of charisma, underpinned by malevolence bubbling away underneath the surface  – and most crucially, he feels like a real match for Dumbledore, both in power and intellect. Much like Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot in Batman vs Superman, he’s nowhere near as miscast as everyone feared.

Unfortunately, the rest of the new characters struggle to have much of an impact, mainly because there’s just too many of them. Zoe Kravitz gives a good turn as Leta Lestrange, but she’s the exception. Newt’s brother Theseus and newcomer Nagini get bugger all to do throughout, Grindelwald’s followers are all one-note characters with minimal screentime, and none of the ministry figures are as memorably characterised as the likes of Fudge and Umbridge were. Arguably this is a result of Rowling trying to cram too much set-up into this film – everyone’s so busy jockeying for screentime that it’s inevitable some of them get pushed to the sides and largely forgotten. The fantastic beasts themselves don’t fare much better – the Niffler gets plenty of laughs, but there’s only really 3 others on display and they’re more window dressing that essential to the plot this time. Credence’s plot arc takes up a lot of the runtime, and while Ezra Miller plays him well, its still hard to be overly invested in him, and his whole ‘real family’ plotline wasn’t set up well enough in film one to merit so much emphasis here. As for the final twist… we’ll wait and see. It smacks of Rowling re-writing her own mythos, but it could work depending on what they do with it in the next one.

David Yates’ direction isn’t as assured as usual this time round. Given he’s helmed the past 5 Potter films, this is both surprising and rather disappointing. While the visuals are generally stunning, there’s WAY too much cutting during the action scenes (the opening escape sequence is one of the worst shot chase sequences I can remember) and while the effects are good, it’s nothing special until the finale, which finally gives us something memorable as Grindelwald proves just how powerful he really is (seriously, it bests anything Voldemort did on screen). James Newton Howard’s soundtrack is more sombre and foreboding this time round. While its probably not as memorable as the first films, it suits this film well. There’s only a couple of tracks I might consider buying though.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining film which benefits from closer ties to Hogwarts and Dumbledore than its predecessor, but is let down by messy plotting and haphazard direction. The cast work well together, and Johnny Depp and Jude Law are fine additions, but it suffers from trying to cram in too many plotlines and too much set-up (in some ways it reminds me of Amazing Spider-Man 2). The Final act and the Hogwarts flashbacks are great, but we’ll have to wait for film 3 to really get a sense of how all the twists and turns are going to play out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I may do reviews of a few more films before the years out (I’ve just rented Solo: A Star Wars Story and I may go and see Mortal Engines in cinema soon).

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Hannah Jon-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas.

Minor Spoilers Only. But this is Ant-Man – you’re here to be entertained, not to be surprised by the plot!

The first Ant-Man was a surprise highlight of Marvel’s Phase Two. It was the least known and one of the least financially successful Marvel films, but its unique blend of humour, zany powers and Paul Rudd’s sublime turn as likeable lead Scott Lang meant it was very well received by critics (noticeably better than Age of Ultron, which came out the same year). It’s also my favourite Marvel film for a variety of reasons, as it succeeds on virtually every level (its funny, the story’s good, the characters are likeable and the fight scenes are actually memorable). So I had high hopes for the sequel.

The good news: not only is it great fun, but it surpasses Black Panther and Infinity War.

Ant-Man and the Wasp has perhaps the lowest stakes of any Marvel film – there’s no world or universe ending threat here. The main villain is simply trying to survive at any cost, and the secondary villain is a glorified thief/gangster who’s merely after Pym’s technology for its value. While this does mean neither villain is particularly memorable, it’s a very smart direction for the film to take, as any antagonists and their plan were going to be anticlimactic after Thanos’ Infinity Snap, so telling a small scale, more personal story is a wise choice. Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is set before Infinity War, not after, so don’t expect any fallout from that film here.

That’s not to say the film lacks ambition. The set pieces are very high quality (an extended car chase is arguably the highlight) and the sequences in the quantum realm are memorably rendered. Ghost’s phase-shifting abilities coupled with Ant-Man and Wasps size-changing antics make for some very inventive fight scenes. There’s none of the shaky CGI that blighted Black Panther’s third act either. The simple plot allows for a much-more character-driven entry in the franchise, and Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are easily the best pair of leads in the MCU (maybe only matched by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana), so you won’t complain. The acting in general is of a high standard, and its nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in a superhero film after her winning turn as Catwoman in the Tim Burton Batman films.

There aren’t really any massive drawbacks here. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but it serves its purpose well enough (like every bloody Marvel film score except Guardians). Hannah Jon-Kamen’s Ghost is well acted and somewhat sympathetic, even if her impact is lessened by a lack of real menace or screentime. Her fights with Ant-Man and Wasp are engaging though, and her powers are something we haven’t really seen before, so I’ll give Ghost some points for that and being one of the few female villains in Superhero films. Some of the dialogue feels a bit by the numbers and could be funnier, but the visual gags and the big jokes all land, so I’ll not criticise. Like the first Ant-Man, it takes 40 minutes to really get going, but once it hits its stride, its consistently great fun.

As to whether it beats the first movie… I’m unsure – the effects are better, but the villain is a bit weaker. The script and the acting are pretty much equal, and both films have great (and hilarious) action scenes. Overall, I think the jokes worked slightly better in the first one, so I wouldn’t put this above the original, but its still easily in the MCU’s top 3 or 4 films.

Overall Ant-Man and the Wasp is a funny, charming, touching film that brings a refreshing levity after the bombastic, shocking epicness of Infinity War. Not every punchline lands, but its still easily the best Marvel film since Civil War.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh, and without going into spoilers, stay for the mid-credits scene. Its gonna have an impact on Avengers 4. Equally, the 2nd is not really worth staying for – just catch it on youtube in a couple of months.

If you’d told me in 2012 that the four best Marvel movies would be 2 Captain America sequels and 2 Ant-Man films I would have laughed. What a thing hindsight is eh? Marvel’s sheer variety of offerings is what makes success stories like this possible. I hope audiences turn out for this one. It really deserves more recognition that its predecessor got.

Final thought: can we get the guy who directed this to take over Guardians of the Galaxy 3? He might be the only person who could replace Gunn and still deliver a great film.