Category Archives: Movie Review

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.

 

 

 

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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.

Incredibles 2 Review

Starring Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Brad Bird and Samuel L. Jackson

Spoiler-free review.

The original Incredibles still stands as one of the best animated films of all time – not to mention one of the best superhero films of all time. Aside from Logan and the Dark Knight Trilogy, there isn’t a lot I’d place above The Incredibles in the Superhero pecking order. All of which begs the question: how on earth can the sequel live up to it?

Answer: it doesn’t try to. Incredibles 2 focuses on doing its own thing, and there aren’t too many callbacks to the first film, despite the sequel picking up from where the first left off. It’s probably the right call, as this film will work whether you saw the original or not. That said, most of what made the first film great is still here. The cast is virtually the same (Dash’s voice actor has changed, but you honestly won’t notice), Brad Bird is in control of the production yet again, and Michael Giacchino does another fine job with the soundtrack (I still prefer the first’s score but this one has its moments and is more memorable than any music you’d hear in a Marvel film).

The humour is strong throughout, with very few dud jokes and plenty of moments that both kids and adults will enjoy. See Despicable Me franchise – you don’t have to dumb things down to make kids laugh. This is undoubtedly a smart film – there’s virtually no infantile or toilet humour to be found, and even when it does resort to it, it still works well. The film’s best comedy comes from Jack-Jack’s wide variety of powers and Edna Mode’s yet again hilarious cameos, though some of Violet’s moments are up their too.The script is pretty tight as well – there’s no pacing issues and things never get bogged down in exposition, with the balance between set-pieces and character moments feeling about right.

As for the acting, the film is well served by giving Holly Hunter (Elastigirl) the lead this time round, as it gives her character different material to work with and proves she’s every bit as cool as Mr. Incredible. Bob and the kids still get their fair share of the action though, and Samuel L. Jackson makes the most of his role as Frozone. I’ll be honest, there aren’t many better superhero ensembles out there, and the new characters slot into their roles nicely.

The one way this film betters the original is, unsurprisingly, the animation, which is amazing by comparison, but that’s what you’d expect 15 years later. Hell, the animation is a hell of a lot more convincing than the CGI in Black Panther was! Humans in particular are much more convincingly animated, and you can tell the production team had great confidence in the animation by how ambitious the various action scenes are.

The only place the film falls down is its story, which can’t match the original, and its villains, who are good, but aren’t as memorable as Syndrome. It’s not that the plot is dull, its just not as compelling as the original’s, though given how good the humour and action are, I doubt anyone will care much. Screenslaver makes for an interesting villain (indeed, they’re better written than most Marvel or DC villains from the past 5 years, excepting Thanos) but lacks the flamboyance of Syndrome and suffers slightly by comparison. The Underminer leaves a good impression but isn’t on screen for very long – perhaps he’ll return in a possible third film?

Overall, Incredibles 2 is a fun, well-animated romp which will leave you entertained. Just don’t expect it to match the original. But then again, how could it?

Rating: 4 out of 5 – it matches Infinity War!

My next review will be Orange is the New Black season 6, followed by Assassin’s Creed Origins sometime after.

Avengers: Infinity War Review

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

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

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

Is it a fun, really entertaining film? Yes.

Is Thanos a great villain? Hell yes!

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

Is it the best ever Marvel film? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5

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

 

 

Black Panther Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

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

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

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

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