Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far From Home

Avengers: Endgame now edges closer to stealing the highest grossing film of all time accolade from Avatar after 10 years; although it certainly brought multiple key story arcs within this beastly franchise to a close, even a film of such scale was certainly never going to finish it all for good. Not every film the MCU has offered has been an entertaining one, and the longer a series like this lasts, the harder it surely becomes to make new instalments consistently engaging. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows that those involved desire a strong future for the series and will certainly make the effort to achieve it.

A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming whilst also following on from plot elements developed in Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) inevitable desires for a regular life alongside his superhero duties challenged further as he finds himself recruited for yet another mission by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. An unfamiliar face in the form of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mysterio to the world, also joins the fray to helm the fight against a new wave of threats; conflict which soon leads to more unsettling truths.

Most will agree that the MCU has always been relatively flawless when it comes to casting, and Far From Home is another key example of this. Holland exemplifies further his acting talent considering the standards that have to be met with such a major comic book icon, with a performance as an innocent and naive teenager, a character explored with a surprising amount of depth, blending nicely with his more confident persona when donning the suit itself. Jake Gyllenhaal's efforts as one Quentin Beck stand out just as superbly; his character deftly combines humour, an intimidating presence, as well as a genuine emotional core, and his confident performance makes him one of the most memorable characters despite being having many acclaimed talents to rival.

Far From Home succeeds just as nicely on an aesthetic scale, living up to modern blockbuster expectations with ease but also going that little bit beyond with some stylish and unique visuals revolving primarily around the character of Mysterio once again. This twisted imagery adds a touch of innovation to some of its most prominent set pieces, and while not all of them boast this accolade, even those which end up a tad repetitive after a while are still largely exciting. The overall narrative itself is thankfully far from predictable due to smartly handled plot twists; it also cleverly integrates elements from previous MCU films without forced retconning becoming an issue. Indeed, while some supporting roles amongst the villainous crew are fairly forgettable, their integration is cleverly developed. With all this, Far From Home succeeds as another thoroughly entertaining entry to this enormous franchise, showing that it still has room to impress further despite the countless new standards that have been set since it began.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Movie Review - Toy Story 4

The announcement of a fourth Toy Story film would always earn a mixed reception; regardless of the general love for the franchise as a whole, many agreed 2010's Toy Story 3 perfectly wrapped up the story, leaving no room for more. But alas, nearly another decade later, those at Pixar have given us what many now believe to be the true final chapter to the beloved animated saga; and one that certainly does impress considering the limited potential for a further story, at least at first glance.

Sheriff Woody's (Tom Hanks) life takes a unique turn when he and the rest of the gang find themselves at a travelling carnival during a family road trip, joined by Forky (Tony Hale), an insecure spork crafted into a toy by their new owner Bonnie. When Forky's repeated attempts to dispose of himself leave him trapped and in need of rescue, Woody's efforts lead him on a journey that finds him reuniting with a long lost friend from his past; soon challenging his own decisions when it comes to the future ahead.

Considering once again how well Toy Story 3 acted as a conclusion the franchise, this fourth entry succeeds surprisingly well in terms of overall narrative heft, exemplifying the potential still to hand providing those involved know what they're doing. Whilst throwbacks to previous instalments are of course present, most notably the return of the beloved character Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the story remains focused on its own new path and never forcibly retreads the same ground as its predecessors; leaving elements concluded by Toy Story 3 behind and featuring some major plot developments of its own that justify it as its own conclusion to the series, albeit one that may not leave everyone entirely satisfied.

The story embraces this new path with some unique twists, but things aren't always as refined as one might hope; this is notable when it comes to the development of its primary characters. Bo Peep finds herself drastically different in every respect to her original cute and calm persona from the older films, though this actually makes her one of the most interesting characters in the film alongside Woody himself; the chemistry they consequently share also helps bolster their charm as the key protagonists. But when it comes to the many supporting roles, including our entire toy gang (Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Ham, you name it), they offer plenty of approachable humour but nothing else to make them as consistently interesting; quite a disappointment when these are the starring roles that launched the series. The newer cast of characters, including Forky, the obnoxious yet charming Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), or the easily agitated (and extremely funny) stuffed toy duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), end up much more memorable throughout and thus may leave you much more entertained in the long run.

Toy Story 4 is without a doubt a prime example of how much computer animation has developed since its inception. Simply comparing a frame of this to the admittedly somewhat dated visuals of the original film, and even the still refined ones of its 1999 sequel, proves it is an art form that has prospered significantly. It is certainly one of Pixar's best looking films, beautifully rendered and animated throughout, and further brought to life through superb voice acting from its talented cast of old favourites and brilliant newcomers. When rivalling the standards set by its predecessors, this fourth entry perhaps ranks as the weakest entry, and is certainly not quite the emotional tear jerker I was expecting, but it still remains another fine piece of work from one of the film industry's best animation studios that more than justifies its own existence.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Movie Review - Aladdin (2019)

Arguably one of the most controversial Disney adaptations from the moment marketing began, Aladdin treads on thin ice simply because the animated original is one of the studios most treasured classics; and one crucial contributor to this is of course the late Robin Williams' iconic performance as the Genie, now one of Disney's most memorable characters. But what was initially hatred from audiences now seems to have become widespread praise, and this certainly doesn't go undeserved.

After rescuing and befriending Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) within the bustling, frequently dangerous streets of Agrabah, the penniless street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) soon attempts to win her over through the assistance of the scheming Royal Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who initiates a plan for Aladdin to retrieve a magical lamp within the mysterious Cave of Wonders in return for untold riches and royalty. When Aladdin eventually finds the lamp in his own hands, he discovers what lies within: an all powerful Genie (Will Smith), whose ability to grant Aladdin three wishes further progresses his own endeavours to seek Prince Jasmine's hand as he originally aspired.

What's tricky with these live action Disney adaptations is simply retelling the story. Changes are essential to surprise audiences a second time, but too many changes can end up disowning the source material everyone has loved for many years. Aladdin thankfully retells the classic tale in a unique and engaging way, keeping the core premise identical with the same loveable characters (and some new ones to boot), but largely changing the overall structure, and so you'll never feel like you're watching a replica of the original. The musical numbers also have the same impact; the original's most iconic songs are present, but all updated with a fresh modern twist, down to genre influences and even smart alterations of the lyrics themselves. There's also some new songs mixed in, and while they sometimes feel a bit segue amongst the scenarios occurring around them, they remain well performed and suitably memorable.

Will Smith's performance as the Genie deserves praise simply for his unique take on the character, which is never a forced attempt to mimic the comedic charm Robin Williams boasted. Indeed, Smith's effort in the role, while equally zany, fast paced, and funny, is more casual and down to Earth, not referencing pop culture in the same hilarious way, but with his comedic charm instead stemming a lot more from strong, witty dialogue, all delivered with perfect timing, as well as the awkward yet charming chemistry between himself and Aladdin, who also finds himself perfectly performed by a suitably cast Mena Massoud. The cast in general is relatively solid; Naomi Scott plays Jasmine well enough, even if the character is somewhat forgettable this time round, and the same goes for Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, whose casting also stirred up much controversy. He's better than the trailers made him out to be, unique in his own way instead of a lazy replica, but he's also not quite as memorable at the end of the day, and arguably rather bland in scenes that demand more emotion.

Visually, Aladdin certainly delivers any expectations reasonable audiences would have, adding its own surprisingly dark twists and so making scenes that were perhaps more comedic in the original now quite intimidating but still equally stylistic. The CGI effects used to craft key characters including Abu, Carpet, and, of course, the Genie himself are all fantastic through and through; the motion capture technology to turn Smith into a blue magical being is surprisingly effective, and whilst many were reluctant upon seeing it debut in the initial trailers, it's certainly nothing to remain hostile towards. At the end of the day, Aladdin is what a good live action Disney adaptation should be: loyal to the classic premise, yet still adding in its own fresh ideas to take audiences on a new adventure in a whole new world. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Movie Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The next stage of the MonsterVerse arrives not just as a sequel to 2014's Godzilla but also as its own ensemble, seeing numerous beasts from Toho's own legacy and beyond duking it out for supremacy across the entire Earth itself. Such a premise has plenty of potential to bring genuine thrills and excitement to the big screen, but while King of the Monsters succeeds on an aesthetic level, its story and pacing ultimately might not leave both newcomers or even diehard fans truly compelled.

Following Godzilla's battle against the MUTO creatures during 2014, man kickstarts an organization known as Monarch to study similarly large and powerful creatures that dominated the Earth in ancient history; referring to them to as "Titans". Years onward, many powerful beings are discovered and soon awakened; most notably the lethal King Ghidorah, a foe humanity soon stands feeble against, and one who brings the eponymous monster out of hiding once more for a battle deciding their own dominance as well as the very fate of the world around them.

It of course goes without saying that King of the Monsters is a visual treat from start to finish, both stylishly filmed and boasting some refined modern special effects. It's just a shame you won't find a truly rewarding amount of monster action throughout this two hour adventure, with the pacing and overall balance of the story shunting even Godzilla itself to one side for strangely long periods of time without much mention of it whatsoever; so much so that I myself occasionally forgot all about it, as well as several other monsters that were supposedly important to the story. While the villainous King Ghidorah definitely deserves praise as an intimidating villain, other Toho classics Mothra and Rodan end up with roles disappointingly short.

This mediocre story does admittedly build up to an admittedly superb climax filled with all the visual thrills one would expect, but the majority of the film simply lacks this level of quality. When it comes to the human characters and the drama around them, despite solid performances from a decent cast, there's also some inconsistent development and strange motivations, ultimately rendering a fair amount of them uninteresting and even somewhat annoying. Throughout the majority of the film I found myself largely bored and frustrated by the brief flashes of monster action that came and went without much flare, and only truly compelled once again when it came to the gripping final battle. Films like this of course need to have more depth than monsters fighting endlessly, but the attempts at such depth here just aren't consistently engaging; many felt the same with the 2014 film, but I still enjoyed that one a whole lot more.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Movie Review - Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Live action movie adaptations of video games have never been the best idea, history has taught us well; it seems agreed at this stage that the forever iconic Sonic the Hedgehog's upcoming adaptation could be yet another rich example of this, despite the studio's admittedly impressive efforts to ensure a positive outcome following some atrocious initial feedback. But, amongst all this, one surprising result has come from Hollywood's bizarre efforts to turn these video game worlds into overly complex live action narratives; one widely praised as possibly the very best effort to date, in the form of Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

Inspired by the titanic franchise that I'm sure almost every soul on Earth has at least heard of, but more specifically a spinoff game for the Nintendo 3DS released last year, Detective Pikachu follows former Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) on a search for his missing father, police detective Harry Goodman; a man presumed deceased by many but who Tim believes is still out there somewhere. On his travels, he soon befriends an incredibly intelligent Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that only he can understand, also learning that he too has a connection with Harry and seeks to find him just as Tim as does.

Arguably the most difficult task when making a film like this is of course bringing the colourful and vibrant designs of the numerous titular critters we're all so used to seeing in 2D artwork, old school sprites, or simple 3D in game models into a live action world, maintaining their core designs whilst making them fit in with the world around them. For the most part, Detective Pikachu does an excellent job of this. Our eponymous hero, performed superbly by Ryan Reynolds, maintains the core look of a classic character without feeling at all conspicuous in this live action setting. This praise can be applied to most of the other Pokémon seen throughout; perhaps there are a few times where the CGI awkwardly stands out, which usually just comes down to the design of the Pokémon itself, but for the most part everything has been exceptionally handled on an aesthetic level. Such credit the film's many set pieces also deserve; some are admittedly rather noisy and do drag a little, but they largely deliver an entertaining and exciting ride.

In terms of story, Detective Pikachu does its best to provide some interesting twists and turns to keep audiences hooked and to avoid being too predictable as it goes on. Perhaps the key flaw with its narrative simply comes down to many events occurring simply because they do; a lot of key plot elements don't always make perfect sense and feel extremely forced. A film like this doesn't need to be insanely complex with its narrative, though certain contrivances can make things feel a bit rushed; several key characters don't always feel as interesting as one would hope they'd be. For the most part, it's relatively engaging and fun, and certainly bolstered by a strong cast who deliver solid performances; key praise in this respect certainly goes to Smith and Reynolds as the leading heroes. Fans of the franchise, and perhaps even those unfamiliar with it, should find much to enjoy here, even if the end result perhaps could've once again been polished a bit more when it comes to the story and supporting characters.