Sunday 7 January 2024

Movie Review - The Super Mario Bros. Movie

As I've said many times before, and as most people certainly know, video games and movies don't often blend well; adaptations of even remarkably acclaimed games have led to the birth of some of the worst films ever made, with the original Super Mario Bros. film from 1993 being a notable example. It's clear the zany premise of Mario's universe wasn't apt for grim a live action setting, and so the next attempt at bringing him to the big screen is a colourfully animated affair; the end result is undeniably superior to the aforementioned atrocity from 30 years ago, but that's not saying an awful lot at the end of the day.

The story begins with our iconic protagonists Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) and their attempts to kickstart their own plumbing business within New York City, but things take an unexpected turn when one of their jobs results in them being transported to the magical Mushroom Kingdom, governed by the elegant Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and under threat from the evil Koopa king Bowser (Jack Black), who also captures Luigi and locks him away as one of his many prisoners. Mario consequently finds himself on a mission to save his brother and put an end to Bowser's attempts to seize the kingdom as well as Peach's hand in marriage.

Pratt's casting was of course met with controversy, but in the end he actually does a decent job; let's face it, while Charles Martinet has always pronounced some of Mario's most iconic phrases with an equally iconic voice, it's a voice that works better in small doses, and probably not one you'd want to hear speaking lengthy lines of dialogue across a 90 minute film. Pratt brings Mario to life with a fitting accented voice which occasionally shifts to a higher pitch to resemble Martinet's iconic voice for certain iconic lines; while such moments are slightly crude, they're also fairly amusing. When it comes to the rest of the cast, Charlie Day does a decent job as Luigi, though it's a shame to see the character largely shunted aside for the majority of the film as naught but a cowardly hostage, and Jack Black is not bad as Bowser; however, I didn't find him to be as remarkable as most claimed, though it seems neither he or the majority of the supporting cast had overly rich material to work with due to the film's mediocre script.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie's perks only really stem from its aesthetics and humour; when it comes to storytelling and characters, there's a lot to be desired. Mario himself isn't too memorable and Luigi barely turns up, but the biggest offenders are perhaps Peach and Bowser, with the former merely being a cringeworthy attempt to tick all the feminist protocol boxes: sarcastic and overly badass, whose mighty skills put the men around her to shame. Certainly nothing wrong with trying to flesh out her character a little more, but the writer's attempts at providing her with some backstory come and go with no impact, making her once again just crude role model for insecure young girls. As for Bowser, he's simply there to make endless jokes about how much he loves Peach, and has no threatening appeal whatsoever despite Jack Black's best efforts. When it comes to the likes of Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), they merely adopt a number of generic, overly silly and tired character clichés and consequently feel like parodies of their original selves that most will barely remember.

This isn't a bad film at the end of the day; it once again offers a number of amusing jokes (though also an excessive overuse of slow motion ones), some solid vocal performances, a decent soundtrack and clever references to the video games that inspired it, but such qualities will only garner the interest of younger viewers or Mario diehards. When it comes to people outside of this demographic, there's not much to really keep them hooked, and as the film goes on it ultimately becomes more and more boring and predictable. In the end I thought Sonic did a better job with his movie debut; it was no masterpiece, but certainly a lot funnier and more engaging than this amusing yet repetitive adventure.

Friday 6 May 2022

Movie Review - The Batman

This latest live action depiction of the renowned caped crusader follows his extraction from DC's failed attempt at crafting a shared universe of their own, and now paves the way for a new series focusing purely on Batman as well as the many allies and enemies unique to his comic book saga. This time round, Robert Pattinson takes on the titular role, delivering a fitting, powerful portrayal within a narrative much darker than we've ever seen before, even when compared to Nolan's acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy.

Though The Batman is a reboot, it decides to branch away from merely being yet another origin story, instead dropping us into a world where Bruce Wayne has already spent two years battling crime and corruption within Gotham City, and interweaving necessary backstory into the main plot in a simple yet effective manner. The end result is a tale that readily establishes the origins of Batman and focuses on the development of his skills as a fighter and a detective lurking in the shadows, with his key opponent this time round being a menacing, sadistic serial killer simply calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano).

Pattinson's casting was met with great hostility, and I myself certainly thought it was an odd choice for such a role; however, for the most part, his performance is one that nicely captures the core nature of the character. Pattinson's take on Batman is chilling and intimidating, thus nailing the persona that such a hero is known for, though his portrayal of Bruce Wayne doesn't do much to truly differentiate these two identities. The script itself inevitably burdens him with such limitations, so just don't expect to really see Bruce Wayne this time round. The darker Batman persona is what Pattinson adopts whether in costume or not, which can sometimes make his portrayal of Wayne himself a little bland and overly depressing. Zoë Kravitz also delivers a strong portrayal of Catwoman, while Paul Dano excels as the Riddler, making him an incredibly deranged, menacing villain who can be genuinely unsettling to watch.

The Batman is certainly a story aimed at an older target audience, thanks to a scary and eerie tone as well as some rather graphic fight scenes and intense set pieces; this is something that a large number of fans will appreciate given the similarly dark nature of many of the character's comic book depictions. The film's main flaw simply boils down to its near three hour runtime; there are multiple scenes that tend to drag on for a while which could've easily been condensed, and while it doesn't excessively jeopardise the story's overall strength and emotional weight, it will probably leave some viewers a little bored now and then. For the most part, however, this is an engaging watch and a strong superhero tale that breaks new ground with its overall vibe and intensity.

Friday 22 April 2022

Movie Review - Spider-Man: No Way Home

Now the highest grossing Spider-Man film and one of the most successful within the already truck sized moneymaking machine that is the MCU, No Way Home is undoubtedly among the franchise's most ambitious outings simply due to its acclaimed reunion of many famous faces known for appearing within previous cinematic outings involving the renowned hero. Such faces include former web heads Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as well as the likes of Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church and several others as our central antagonists. The end result is a somewhat overcrowded yet largely entertaining and exhilarating superhero flick that has a unique novelty, albeit one it doesn't take full advantage of.

No Way Home uses snazzy sci-fi magic to bring all these characters together, with the safety of MCU's Peter Parker (Tom Holland) put at major risk following a revelation of his identity to the world. In the interests of both himself and those he loves, Peter consults Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to rewrite time and make his identity a secret once more, though a flawed execution of this spell leads to the inadvertent mixing together of multiple alternate realities with largely disastrous results. Woops.

A key initial issue I have with this latest MCU offering is one I've felt has been a notable flaw with many MCU films to this day: an excessive focus on silly humour. Yes, a dark and gritty vibe only truly works for the heroes that demand it like Batman, but the first hour of this film is far too reliant on daft humour to the point where it reduces the ability to take certain things seriously, and ultimately becomes incredibly annoying incredibly quickly. It's funny, yes, but just doesn't know where to draw the line. The first half of the film also suffers from a fairly slow pace which leaves it quite boring and sluggish in the long run; thankfully, the second act picks up the pace very quickly and offers a handful of thoroughly entertaining set pieces as well as some genuinely touching and surprisingly dramatic moments.

While it's certainly great to see Holland fight alongside Maguire and Garfield, all three of whom deliver largely solid performances, a central flaw of the film's primary concept stems from its obsession with cramming so many villains into the mix. I occasionally kept forgetting some were actually present, not only due to the unnecessarily large lineup but also because many are shunted aside for lengthy periods of time; iffy development can also reduce them to an occasional laughing stock before our climactic end battle arrives. The actors portraying these villains do their best, but their character arcs aren't entirely satisfying; Molina's Doc Ock is nowhere near as intimidating as he was in Spider-Man 2, and while the Green Goblin has a great new look and is brought to life with another impressive effort from Willem Dafoe, his screentime is insultingly low. As for the others, they just come and go without much of an impact, which illustrates how their inclusion was fuelled more by a desire to add wow factor instead of narrative strength.

That said, this is a good film with an enticing second act once again, as well as an admittedly beautiful ending, but the aforementioned excessive silliness and a flawed execution of the overall concept leave quite a few things to be desired. Fans of the MCU won't be disappointed, as is already evident by the film's exceptional critical and fan reception, but for me it had nowhere near as much of an impact and is far from one of the best superhero films I've seen, let alone one of the best within the MCU itself. Do forgive me, MCU diehards.

Monday 4 October 2021

Movie Review - No Time to Die

Daniel Craig's time as the iconic James Bond comes to a closure with this year's No Time to Die, which sees the eponymous MI6 agent on a high stakes mission to combat the evil Spectre organisation once more, with their newest scheme exploiting the works of an abducted scientist and the development of a bioweapon that jeopardises the world as we know it.

Craig's final Bond outing is certainly the ambitious action thriller one would expect, with a number of gripping set pieces that demonstrate a major development in scope when compared to those that came before it. Intertwined with these thrilling sequences is a story that, while certainly not on par with the franchise's best efforts, is effectively laced with interesting twists, threatening foes, and an intensive atmosphere that only escalates as more revelations come to fruition.

No Time to Die potentially qualifies as one of the best 007 films to date when it comes to action, with its set pieces once again boasting a major sense of scope and scale, which is apt for a conclusion to such a significant stage of the franchise. The truck sized budget is certainly put to good use to craft lavish special effects, superb production design, and relentless (if sometimes awkwardly shot) fight sequences which are both brutal and ruthless; all these merits are most apparent within the film's climactic battle, which is easily one of the most intense scenes that the whole series, let alone the film itself, has to offer.

It's a shame that the story, while interesting and heartfelt, perhaps goes a bit overboard with its unpredictability, which can sometimes leave it without a firm sense of direction. This becomes evident when a number of seemingly important characters abruptly come and go with little aftermath, notably when it comes to the antagonists themselves; yes, they're suitably threatening and sinister, but the jarring disposal of them once they've served their duty with narrative exposure can leave them rather forgettable. It can thus be hard to tell who the film's primary villain truly is throughout the bulk of the story.

The performances for the most part meet all expectations, with Craig delivering another caustic portrayal of Bond and the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, and Léa Seydoux shining in their crucial supporting roles. Christoph Waltz and Rami Malek, among others, do their very best as our key villains, but once again find themselves burdened by roles with a lack of substance. This is most evident with Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, whose efforts are undermined by a blandly written character which just doesn't serve as a fitting adversary for Bond to combat in this otherwise ambitious finale. No Time to Die is also home to some excessive goofy humour, but all this aside, it still provides the thrills and genuine excitement we need from such a key stage of the series, making it a largely satisfying closing chapter to Craig's time as 007.

Sunday 19 September 2021

Movie Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel continue to expand on their shared universe with another acclaimed installment, this time based on a protagonist who may not be as familiar to general audiences. Said protagonist comes in the form Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), whose own origin new story begins with his father Xu Wenwu's (Tony Leung) discovery of the mystical Ten Rings thousands of years ago. The powers they gift him he ultimately uses to seek vengeance against those who murder his wife, and trains Shang-Chi as a pawn in this goal throughout his childhood. Chi eventually flees from his father and starts a new modern life in San Francisco, but his dark history makes its way back in good time.

Shang-Chi seldom does anything to build upon Marvel's traditional formula, with a lot of pop culture humour, thunderous set pieces, and fairly standard emotional sequences. This won't have a negative impact on many viewers, especially Marvel diehards, but a failure to develop this trademark formula will allow a lot of people to predict what may come of certain scenes; this makes little room for interesting twists and surprises, which to be honest its intriguing premise could've really benefited from. The only fresh aspect of this narrative is inevitably the new origin story, but the flow of said story is largely quite predictable.

A Marvel film is of course going to host a number of gripping action sequences, and Shang-Chi is no exception. Its set pieces boast some stylish fight choreography, and their scale expands dramatically as the film nears its conclusion. Some are slightly overlong and can ruin their own tone with forced, unwanted gags, but they still make for a thrilling experience that most fans will certainly enjoy. The film also fails to disappoint when it comes to the visual effects, which are beautifully crafted and seamlessly integrated, and so bolster these action sequences even further. Most of the film's cast also do a good job in their roles, primarily Simu Liu as our leading protagonist.

So while Shang-Chi has has all the usual positives one would expect from a Marvel film, its still conjoined with a number of disappointing flaws, and it honestly should've done a lot more with such a complex premise. Its attempts to inject an emotional vibe into this narrative largely feel like an afterthought, and can often be ruined once again by a forced integration of daft humour; this is especially apparent with Awkwafina's performance, which is overly reliant on unfunny silliness. It's a story with many charming moments, but it should've taken its interesting premise a lot more seriously.