Monday, 29 April 2019

Movie Review - Avengers: Endgame

With a remarkable and previously unheard of $1.2 billion worldwide global debut, this year's Avengers: Endgame proves once again just how popular the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become since its inception with Iron Man back in 2008. Countless new box office records are set as soon as the film is welcomed into cinemas and many more are certainly on the way; it's clear this finale to the largest franchise in the history of film is making a huge impact across the world at a brisk pace. Does this insane net profit reflect on genuine quality? Most would say so, and I'm one of them.

Endgame of course won't bring the truck sized franchise that is the MCU to a permanent conclusion; instead, it acts as a finale to the primary storyline focusing on the Avengers since they gradually began to assemble over a decade ago now. Carrying on from Infinity War, those who survived the destruction Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally unleashed after gathering the six Infinity Stones must unite to restore balance to the ruined world; whilst simply moving on may seem the easy path to peace for some, the long term damage still remains, and it's clear in the end that action must be taken to bring true justice.

Avengers: Endgame does essentially need to bring forth a time travel plot of sorts in order to advance its story; most may have speculated such a thing considering how Infinity War ended with Thanos achieving his goals and defeating the Avengers in quite a sinister manner. The way it conveys this plot is thankfully creatively executed, linking back to storylines established in previous MCU films and building upon the mythology in a manner that doesn't feel too contrived. What follows with this is a gripping ensemble adventure as the most iconic heroes in Marvel's history tackle a number of unique challenges that cleverly link back to previous MCU films in the process; it's clear a lot of thought was put into establishing this as a true finale to this phase of the franchise.

Endgame's runtime is amusingly a topic of much discussion; at 181 minutes, it's easily the longest Marvel film to date and one of the longest superhero films ever, and even brings forth numerous recommendations from fans of the most ideal moments to rush to the loo if necessary. Yeah. Regardless, this runtime for the most part works without too much sluggish pacing; perhaps it's the first hour that hosts some of the film's weaker moments, such as repetitive humour which in turn leads to some awkward tonal shifts. Whilst it's great that Endgame never goes down an overly depressing and dark route in terms of its overall tone, perhaps there's times where said goofy (though to be fair very funny) humour doesn't quite know when to step aside; a common issue with many MCU films I've noticed to be honest.

The outstanding cast give it their all and of course deliver superb results as is expected; Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, the lot, and especially of course Josh Brolin as Thanos, arguably one of the best villains in Marvel history, once again spectacularly brought to life on screen via outstanding motion capture effects. It goes without saying that Endgame is a visual marvel (sorry) throughout; I'd be here all day listing individual visual praises, so all that has to be said is that it's as aesthetically resplendent as one would expect and more, and when these rich visuals, superb performances, as well as an exceptional score by Alan Silvestri are blended together during the film's many set pieces, they themselves become some of the best you'll ever see in a modern action film. As a whole, with all these aforementioned praises, it's certainly fair to say Endgame is one of the MCU's strongest instalments, and a fine conclusion to another of its epic storylines.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Movie Review - Dumbo

Yet another of Disney's many live action remakes arrives in the form of Dumbo, though this time round we have a finished product that differs in many ways from its animated counterpart; consequently, one might want to consider it a new story partially inspired by Disney's 1940 classic. In Tim Burton's newest production, you won't find any mice specialising in one to one coaching, storks delivering newborn baby elephants, and certainly not any racially offensive singing crows smoking enormous cigars. Instead, we have story of a financially struggling circus and a family living and working within it enduring their own hard times, all taking place following the first World War.

Of course, our eponymous elephant is indeed in here somewhere. Colin Farrell stars as Holt Farrier, an amputated war veteran and widower. The travelling circus he works within and returns to following army service is also home to his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins); the circus itself finds itself in a state of financial decline, but following the birth of a newborn elephant with strangely oversized ears, takes an interesting turn that nobody involved could have anticipated.

The cast also features the likes of Danny DeVito as circus owner Max Medici, Michael Keaton as the greedy Vandevere, owner of an amusement park who eventually strikes his own business deal with Medici, and Eva Green as Colette Marchant, a charming and experienced trapeze artist employed by Vandevere; this entire cast performs brilliantly, primarily Keaton in his sly yet funny villainous role, though on the other hand it is a shame DeVito is somewhat underused given his inevitable comedic charm. The effects used to bring Dumbo himself to life are as refined as one would expect from a modern blockbuster, particularly one in the hands of Disney, and he finds himself blended seamlessly into the live action world around him. The actors themselves of course deserve praise when it comes to their interactions with Dumbo, bringing forth some heartfelt and similarly funny scenes, well executed considering the character wasn't there to start with, as well as praise toward their performances within the film's several entertaining set pieces.

Dumbo does find itself somewhat flawed when it comes to its storyline, which of course, as previously said, was stirred up dramatically from the animated original to be more fitting for a live action premise and of course to justify a longer run time. But even with this new material, the near two hour length is still a bit much, making the film somewhat repetitive as it goes on and occasionally quite boring as we near the middle. Dumbo as a character is fairly entertaining to watch, certainly funny and the centre of some touching moments once again, but in general isn't overall memorable and regrettably has moments of being slightly annoying; when it comes to repetitive moments, Dumbo's fear of flying is definitely something to mention. This is all in all an entertaining film for the most part, appealing for older and younger audiences, and of course boasting some superb visuals, but it's also a film that needed to focus a bit more on streamlining its narrative into something a bit more focused and much less samey.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Movie Review - Captain Marvel

The forever lucrative MCU introduces its newest character in the form of Captain Marvel; certainly recognizable in comic book history, but perhaps not so much amongst general audiences. Regardless, the latter trait hasn't stopped the film from becoming yet another box office giant for Disney; though one that's been a mixed bag for many when it comes to overall quality, and to be fair for arguably justifiable reasons.

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Vers, a member of the Starforce alliance within the Kree Empire, itself stationed on the planet Hala. Though persistently trained to master her strength and superpowers by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers repeatedly suffers from recurring, unexplained nightmares, as well as amnesia when it comes to her own mysterious past. This past begins to unfold and her powers themselves put to the test when she finds herself stranded on Earth, soon teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight off the shapeshifting Skrulls, the primary enemies of the Kree Empire itself who seek Vers and her knowledge for their own seemingly sinister gain.

Captain Marvel essentially takes us back to the beginning of this series; while of course Captain America's antics within the Second World War were a fair few years prior, this story establishes some key inspirations for the beginning of the Avenger initiative itself, influenced majorly of course by Nick Fury's starring role. It does thankfully have its own narrative depth, to an extent at least, and any outside backstory it does establish, from little touches to certain characters to crucial narrative elements, are nicely done for the most part. But as for the film's own central plot, it is regrettable that things don't always work as well, for it admittedly lacks focus; the characters themselves, outside of Vers and Fury, also lack any real development, which can often lead to many of their key motivations becoming somewhat unclear and poorly conveyed.

Such flaws are most noticeable towards the end of the film when certain twists come into play; it's hard to elaborate on them without spoiling, but while the climax of the story does have good intentions with some of its plot twists, they're just not exceptionally handled. The cast itself is as superb as any Marvel film, with Larson and most definitely Jackson standing out nicely in their central performances, but while much of the supporting talent including Jude Law and certainly Ben Mendelsohn did their best with what they had, their roles ultimately came up a tad short due to forgettable characters; wasted potential at the end of the day. When it comes to action, the film's many vivid and fast paced set pieces forever dazzle, though perhaps lack a bit of tension when you eventually come to realize the evident invincibility of our main hero as she effortlessly slaughters all the moronic baddies without much strain or effort. This doesn't make said set pieces boring in any way, but maybe a little repetitive after a while.

Captain Marvel is definitely funny; but it's occasionally guilty of daft, unwanted, and occasionally irritating gags during scenes that really don't demand them. It has moments of well executed and genuine drama, but this obsession with humour can result in some dramatic tonal shifts; it's a shame this emerges during the climax at times, disrupting some tense and potentially heartfelt moments. Perhaps I do make this film sound pretty poor, but it's a decent superhero experience for the most part. Fun, with great talent on board, and many noble ideas within the overall narrative; its key flaw is just how it doesn't execute many of these ideas in the best possible ways.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Movie Review 200 - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

My 200th movie review since 2011!

What's arguably Dreamworks Animation's most acclaimed series from a critical standpoint now comes to a conclusion with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; a story following on one year from the events of its predecessor where the dragon riders of Berk, lead by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), continue to search, fight for, and free dragons across the seas. Inevitable collateral damage from such a large scale quest eventually expands it into another; one to seek out the mythical Hidden World, a place of harmony and secrecy, where dragons can forever be safe from the persistent hatred of mankind.

The Hidden World is beautifully animated; that's the standard praise that one always starts with. Such technical prowess is to be expected from modern day Dreamworks, and with a refined art style to support this technical splendour, the final on screen visuals deliver without fault. Accompanying this is of course another rich score from the acclaimed John Powell; one that fluently combines rich new compositions alongside superb throwbacks to recognisable themes established throughout the series.

There's really no flaws with The Hidden World on an aesthetic level; when it comes to storytelling, things are also fairly solid. Considering this is the conclusion to the trilogy, the film certainly succeeds in delivering a satisfying ending to the overall narrative; not a generic happy ending, nor one that's overly depressing in an attempt to be original and excessively complex. In fact, it's a unique blend of both, strange as that may sound, and further bolstered by the fact that it's far from predictable. It's a conclusion that's heartfelt and well executed, and one that clearly had some decent thought put into it.

But what's a shame is the emotional integrity of the ending isn't consistent throughout the overall narrative. Moments when the film really demands a more serious tone are occasionally shunted aside in favour of somewhat juvenile humour and repetitive jokes, which renders some potentially powerful moments incredibly unsatisfying and certain supporting characters rather irritating. This is a funny script, but it's a shame it favoured this occasionally silly approach during moments where it could've been a lot deeper and potentially darker; this is especially apparent during some of its set pieces and climactic scenarios. The set pieces on offer are still exciting and fun, and of course still need their fair share of humour, but there are times when such humour is once again a tad overbaked.

Arguably The Hidden World's most impressive traits, aside from its aforementioned aesthetic achievements and well executed ending, lie within these relatively exciting (if occasionally somewhat forgettable) action sequences, the impressive lead vocal performances, primarily Baruchel reprising his role as Hiccup, as well as an element to its narrative featuring the lead dragon Toothless developing a charming relationship with another dragon of his kind; one we find is crucial to later parts of the story. Our key antagonist, dragon hunter Grimmel, is a fairly bland villain with little backstory and cliché motives, but he has a few exciting moments and is brought to life by a solid performance by F. Murray Abraham. For the most part, The Hidden World is a fun animated finale to a great series, just one that's weakened by some bland (and occasionally annoying) supporting characters and jarring tonal shifts.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Movie Review - The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The original Lego Movie was a surprisingly unique animated hit that surprised critics and audiences alike back in 2014; not a cinematic attempt to milk the beyond renowned construction toys in a cheap and uninspired manner but one using their appeal to its advantage to tell a surprisingly well thought out narrative with a solid blend of heart and humour. A sequel was thus more than welcome, while I won't claim to be as won over as many, it certainly remains once again a decent mixture of familiar themes and family friendly laughs. 

Five years following the events of the first film, the world of Bricksburg has been left a post apocalyptic wasteland following the attacks of Duplo invaders, caused by confrontation over the real world Lego set between siblings Finn (Jason Sand) and Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). Ultimately, these attacks leads to the abduction of multiple Bricksburg citizens, including Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett), forcing rookie Master Builder Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) on a quest to rescue them from the Duplo army before it's too late.

If you've seen glimpses of any of the movies within this franchise thus far, then you'll know it goes without saying this main sequel is a winner in the visual department without question; not only beautifully rendered, but also adopting a charming style of animation that's reminiscent to stop motion, which of course truly works for the central premise. The animated world of Lego is also blended with the occasional intervention of live action scenarios which depict their influence on the world itself; a clever a concept just as it was in the original, though one that does admittedly get a bit too excessive and farfetched this time round, primarily as we reach the film's climax.

Speaking of the climax, that in general is where the story itself loses some traction, developing clever twists just as the original film did but then using some strange contrivances in order to make these twists come to fruition; the initial revelations have their impact, but the eventual explanations behind them leaves them rather bizarre. The story as a whole is fairly entertaining, overcoming many of its weaker traits thanks to its consistently witty and approachable humour, charming cast of characters, and the refined vocal performances used to bring said characters to life, namely the efforts Chris Pratt as our key protagonist Emmett, and especially Tiffany Haddish as new antagonist Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi. Ultimately, The Lego Movie 2 is funny and heartfelt, but while its narrative has lots of potential, the execution doesn't quite feel as inspired as it potentially could be; ultimately, many audiences won't be bothered by this, but it ended up leaving me a tad bored and bemused at sporadic moments.