Monday 31 December 2018

Movie Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Having endured a somewhat clumsy cinematic history ranging from universal acclaim to widespread mockery, the forever iconic Spider-Man now finds himself in a new story split apart (to an extent) from all his live action adventures in the form of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, his first animated feature length flick, and surprisingly one that earns accolades of being one of the finest in the series yet.

As the title suggests, the story brings us into the Spider-Verse, where different incarnations of the titular hero find themselves brought into one shared dimension of New York surrounding Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenage student developing spider-esque superpowers which he struggles to control. The cause of these events links back to the villainous Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), and so leads to a quest to prevent him from causing further destruction and to help return those lost to their respective dimensions.

The different incarnations of each character are of course adapted from various comic book versions; the key Spider-Man most will be familiar with finds himself the main co-star, with Morales' story arc being the primary focus. The chemistry the two share is spot on, making them a delight to watch throughout, aided well of course by the superb vocal work from Moore and Jake Johnson. Spider-Man acts well as a teacher of sorts to Morales, who is thankfully given more depth than just a clumsy student; both find themselves co-operating in a suitably entertaining manner as they infiltrate enemy territory and enter all sorts of gripping set pieces, all of which balance the right amount of action, humour, and genuine thrills.

Several other versions of the character join the cast later in the film, perhaps ones that general fans won't be as familiar with; Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), SP//dr (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). Their roles within the overall story as co-stars don't end up being as entirely fleshed out as the primary Spider-Man, though if anything this works to the film's advantage; they find themselves entering the third act naturally rather than through any abrupt contrivances and the meat of the story doesn't end up juggling around too many characters than it might be able to handle. Whilst their vastly different characterisations can make for some awkward tonal shifts, they're for the most part a thoroughly likeable ensemble, all brought to life superbly by their respective performers.

It goes without saying that visually Into the Spider-Verse is incredibly impressive on a technical and artistic level, with a style that deftly blends that of traditional and 3D animation as well as a theme heavily inspired by comic book aesthetics, something the film uses well to convey certain basic plot points or simple visual gags. This visual style of course further adds to the quality of the superbly structured action sequences, and also captures the emotions of the characters themselves beautifully during the necessary tender moments. It's all this that makes Into the Spider-Verse a refined and well developed animated hit on many levels, and certainly one of the finest films within this iconic franchise. 

Friday 28 December 2018

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2018

Now after viewing all of my five most anticipated films of the year according to my original list, it's time to follow the tradition of discussing my final opinions on each of them in retrospect. Some have turned out to be rather different indeed...

#5 - Ralph Breaks the Internet

Very odd that I find my most anticipated film of the year now sat at the bottom of my new list; but alas, that is how the cookie crumbles. Ralph Breaks the Internet sadly ends up being naught but a mediocre disappointment compared to its predecessor, arguably one of my favourite modern Disney films, that just becomes more obsessed with parodying pop culture and the numerous franchises the house of mouse now owns than it does with constructing an interesting storyline. It has many of the positive traits from the original; the same talented cast, the same superb animation we expect from Disney, and it's not without some genuinely funny moments, I'll give it that. But the comedy too often becomes irritating more than it does amusing; the story itself is also average and dull, with cliché morals that are hurried in without much thought so that the the key focus can simply be, once again, obsessions with parodying all sorts of pop culture through the film's internet setting. The end result is once again a big letdown compared to the original.

#4 - Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

Facing competition with Disney's live action take on The Jungle Book throughout production, leading to numerous delays and issues with marketing, Andy Serkis' version of Kipling's classic tale was eventually dismissed from a theatrical release and instead premiered on Netflix just last month. Viewers fond of Disney's gargantuan 2016 success will find Mowlgi vastly different in tone and overall structure; the film explores the darker side to the source material, which I won't pretend to be extensively familiar with, but this has been an aspect of the film that perhaps isn't as well balanced as one may hope. Such an attempt at this style of tone makes way for some well executed emotionally stirring moments, but also some unnecessarily bloody and strangely creepy ones, generating some unwanted, unsettling vibes; this alongside the story generally being poorly structured makes things generally awkward to follow throughout. I was keen to see how it'd pan out compared to Disney's superb reimagining of their animated hit, and Mowgli's effects and vocal performances are certainly impressive in their own right, yet both them and the obsession with being "dark" seemed to be the key focus and little more.

#3 - The Incredibles 2

Oh dear...many people will want my head on a platter for my words on this acclaimed hit. The first Incredibles film is one of Pixar's many masterpieces, and a fun twist on the superhero genre for audiences of all ages to enjoy, but this sequel I sadly didn't get into as much, despite it being my second most anticipated of the year. Its truck sized box office takings and widespread acclaim would certainly suggest I'm with a tiny minority, and while I'm not claiming that the film is at all bad (more decent at best), it was just a shame to see it disappoint overall. My key grudges lie with how it handles the characters; we focus on Elastigirl this time round, who is certainly entertaining as a leading role, but the way the remainder of the family are left on the back burner for the most part (namely Mr. Incredible as some sort of comic relief babysitter) is a huge disappointment, and one that messes up the overall pacing and the plot itself when the main characters themselves don't feel as well connected. The general entertainment value fluctuated throughout for myself also; one minute I was engaged, the next a tad bored, all at an unsteady pattern. It's a decent animated flick, but given the standards it had to set, I certainly didn't find myself as won over as most were.

#2 - Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin was at the bottom of my original list, but I think it being on there to begin with shows that I didn't really think out the list very well before writing it up in hindsight. That's not an insult aimed at this film in any way, but there's no real reason why I would've been truly hyped for it, and I even say in my original post that no trailers or posters were published at the time but that I was just curious to see how the filmed panned out. Hmmm...yeah, sure.

Regardless, the film still did interest me more and more as it neared release (when marketing material actually was published), and I was still keen to check it out. In the end it was another film I found decent at very best, for whilst it's definitely charming thanks to the efforts of Ewan McGregor in the lead role and of course the beloved Winnie the Pooh characters and the superb visual effects used to bring them to life, the story bringing them all together is relatively thin, and concludes with a fairly rushed climax that seems keen to get things over with as quick as possible. The relationships between McGregor and those around him, be they his cuddly cartoon friends or his depressing family, is not truly developed much; we're not expecting an Oscar winning drama, but this lack of development does result in a somewhat forgettable experience regardless. Overall, Christopher Robin is a decent and charming live action take on the Winnie the Pooh characters, one that I enjoyed when watching but wasn't dying to check out again when it was over.

#1 - Pacific Rim: Uprising

Pacific Rim: Uprising was fourth on my original list; it was a film I was keen to see despite not having much publicity or general hype surrounding it due to my liking for the original. The end result is far from a masterpiece, another come and go experience pretty much, but while its storytelling is forgettable and relies largely on clichés, the majority of the film finds itself bolstered by some superb action set pieces. Having tons of action isn't a perk that'll win audiences over in this day and age, as was evident by the film's mediocre box office takings, but fans of such stuff will find a decent amount of entertainment value in Uprising; and there's of course some fantastic visual effects to admire within each of the set pieces on offer. There's not much else to the film overall, for once again all this action is admittedly connected by a second rate storyline, but there's nothing truly bad about the finished product, just nothing truly incredible either. What we have as a result is an enjoyable action film, what it strives to be overall, though I can't deny that it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression.

Not many films this year really grabbed my attention at first glance, it has to be said. The coming twelve months look more enjoyable in the long run.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 14 December 2018

Movie Review - Ralph Breaks the Internet

The concept for the first Wreck-It Ralph film enticed me upon announcement; however, each of its trailers made me less and less and hopeful for the final outcome, for each one seemed to portray the film as something obsessed with abusing the video game setting and the dozens of potential references within it as a result. Amongst all this was generic modern music, endless pausing for a quick one liner, rinse and repeat; but once the final film was released, what we got was a well rounded story arc about a troubled protagonist, put together with a witty and charming script and superb handling of the various aforementioned references at its disposal.

A similar situation comes about with this less than faithful sequel, albeit much worse. Ralph Breaks the Internet, already losing points for its ridiculous title, repulsed me to say the least when I saw its various trailers that seemed to just milk the potential for god knows how many more references given its immense setting of the world wide web. The core story this time round features Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) venturing into the internet itself when WiFi arrives at the local arcade, their goal to seek out a replacement steering wheel for Vanellope's broken game through eBay before it's left defunct and thus disposed of.

A major issue I had with Wreck-It Ralph 2 (I can't stand typing that stupid title over and over) is how it obsesses over many pop culture traits, and while it's certainly amusing at times, this ongoing obsession can often obstruct from the story and characters. This is most common during the middle portion of the film, which is left unfocused, boring, and poorly structured, once again obsessed with milking these pop culture gags than advancing the narrative in a creative an engaging way; something the original did extremely well. Unlike the original, which cleverly integrated numerous video game references into the story within its fictional setting, Wreck-It Ralph 2 is largely full of settings that are essentially real websites and apps, leaving it really hard to take seriously half the time. It attempts to build upon the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope in an interesting way, but largely falls flat, awkwardly rushing through most of it at the last minute due to wasting most of its time on repetitive humour.

Even some of the film's inevitable "emotional" moments reference pop culture trends on the internet; not only do they feel very forced, but once again incredibly hard to take seriously. But in spite of all these faults, it's fair to say that this sequel isn't all bad; once again, whilst it certainly overdoes the humourous pop culture references, some of them are genuinely funny and well crafted. The lead vocal performances are also as solid as they were in the original, primarily Reilly as Ralph himself, who carries much of the film's key humour; likeable and fun, if sometimes a bit annoying, he finds himself undeniably one of the film's best traits. It's also impossible for Disney to create bad animation, as we all know by now; but all this sadly can't redeem many of Wreck-It Ralph 2's central flaws, which extend from much of it being largely dragged out and once again obsessed with parodying many modern internet trends (and even many Disney trends, including those ungodly annoying princesses) which in the end leaves us with a film that starts off appealing, has a decent finale, but otherwise fails to impress compared to the original.

Saturday 10 November 2018

Movie Review - The Grinch

Following their excessively modernized and mediocre adaptation of The Lorax back in 2012, Illumination Studios now return with their second Dr. Seuss adaptation in the form of one of his undeniably most renowned - The Grinch. Starring one Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Christmas hating recluse, our story once again sees his evergrowing bitterness towards the annual holiday and its widespread celebration within the town of Whoville eventually become too much for him to cope with, leading him to devise his own suitably sinister plan to steal it from them once and for all. Our story is helmed by the bizarre casting of musician Pharrel Williams; though his dialogue as narrator is charming and fitting to the Dr. Seuss rhythm of our story, his delivery ultimately isn't, perhaps not so much down to his actual effort but once again him being unsuitable for the role itself; a voice that just doesn't quite fit the tone. Something I had to get out of the way first...

In terms of its main aesthetic, The Grinch is similar to many other of Illumination's efforts; the studio is known for adopting a low budget scheme when it comes to their productions and whilst it doesn't make their films unappealing to the eye in any way, there isn't any notable visual element that stands out in them compared to the likes of Pixar or even Dreamworks. Perhaps at times it may even look a bit bland to those who obsess over such stuff, and while the film does a decent job of adopting an art style that's reasonably faithful to that of its premise, it's also hard to unsee the art direction of many other Illumination productions at times. Exploring multiple aesthetics isn't one of the studios strong points, even if this latest effort still remains a nicely animated one as a whole.

The Grinch as an experience may be more appealing to younger audiences, but that's not to say adults might not be won over by the film's charm and occasional witty slapstick. Cumberbatch delivers a superb vocal performance as the Grinch himself, capturing his grouchy and cunning personality which makes him a largely enjoyable watch from start to finish. You'll find yourself far more interested in him as a character than the supporting Whos, who (no pun intended) come in the form of Cindy Lou (Cameron Seeley), her loyal group of friends, as well as her overworked yet loving mother Donna Lou (Rashida Jones). There's good intentions to their supporting roles, with an attempt at some dramatic depth and occasionally amusing comedy, yet a lot of it ends up being fairly bland and uninteresting in the long run, largely relying on many tired clichés. The Grinch's development throughout isn't the most complex either, but still more interesting and entertaining, and still surprisingly heartwarming in areas despite its lack of overall consistency.

Perhaps one of the film's strongest moments is the Grinch devising his plan to steal Christmas itself; it's cleverly structured and thoroughly entertaining, leading to an equally enjoyable climax as he raids Whoville itself to complete his final dastardly scheme. There's ways the film of course differs from the book, inevitably to reach feature film length, and while it doesn't build much upon its original premise or wow audiences over with many of its new additions (the aforementioned supporting Whos, for example), this isn't a flaw that holds back the many enjoyable moments the story has to offer. In general, it's once again only the Grinch and his loyal dog Max that offer the key entertainment, not so much our forgettable supporting (and even occasionally annoying) Whos, but overall this latest adaptation remains a fun family experience with a decent balance of laughs and tender emotions.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Movie Review - Venom

With the rights to certain characters bouncing between Disney and Sony, Marvel at the movies is now all over the place in recent times; their biggest icon Spider-Man was finally handed over to the evergrowing MCU franchise under a mutual agreement following the abrupt end of his failing rebooted series, but now Sony intends to pursue its own similar shared universe with what rights it has left to try and reach similar success it seems. It all starts with Venom, a standalone antihero flick featuring one of Spidey's most recognizable foes, now starring in his own adventure which certainly hasn't won much acclaim in the eyes of most.

Starring Tom Hardy as washed up journalist Eddie Brock, Venom is essentially an origin story for the titular character in question, involving a number of symbiotic alien lifeforms brought back to Earth by humanity itself in an attempt to colonise other planets due to the apparent decline of our very own; such actions are influenced merely by greed and deranged ambition at the hands of inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). What follows on of course is Eddie himself inadvertently tying up with one of said symbiotes and evolving into the monstrous creature Venom itself. 

Whilst on paper Venom seems like it has a decent amount of story to add up to an entertaining superhero flick, story ends up being one of its biggest flaws; our introduction to Eddie himself is perhaps one of its most notable flaws as the script rushes through his initial development, including his failed relationship with Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) and the loss of his initially successful career. This isn't an emotionally stirring drama attempting to thrive at the next Academy Awards so one doesn't expect such scenes to drag on for hours, but audiences will largely fail to care one bit for anything that happens because of how the script chooses to gloss over it; this also leaves Brock's ex-girlfriend Anne as a character forgettable beyond all measure in the end.

What's more of a shame is this isn't rushed through quickly to make Venom's appearance pop up even sooner - Eddie's transformation into the beastly badass still takes quite a while, and even when the symbiote makes his way inside, we're mostly just treated to a number of clumsy fight sequences starring an extremely hungry and goofy Tom Hardy beating up laughably incompetent agents with stretchy, slimy limbs beyond his control. This all links to how Venom simply can't decide on its tone for the most part - unsure if it wants to be comical and silly, riddled with admittedly funny but rather unfitting jokes and slapstick, or quite the opposite, with mild horror in some surprisingly unsettling sequences that establish a much darker tone. It's these jarring tonal shifts that make the script seem like an unfinished mess at times, with the story largely feeling like it was put on the back burner to boot.

Venom isn't all bad. Tom Hardy's charms serve well, the action scenes do entertain now and then despite being overly noisy and somewhat repetitive, and the visual effects are as impressive as ever. It's just a shame the potential within this project is largely wasted; little thought and creativity is injected into it. There's some fun to be had, and audiences who don't look for such depth may be able to look beyond its many flaws, but the more it goes on the more it feels increasingly daft and dull, and a waste of a promising concept. It's even more of a shame Sony now wish to force their own shared universe out of all this.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Movie Review - Christopher Robin

Disney's live action revivals of their animated classics continue to be met with mixed results from many dedicated fans, as well as highly shifting financial outcomes. The likes of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book certainly make their mark on the industry with earnings hovering around the $1 billion mark, whereas the likes of this year's Christopher Robin, featuring characters from the beloved Winnie the Pooh films, in turn adapted by A. A. Milne's classic stories, certainly doesn't impress as much. With its global earnings not even at $100 million despite being in cinemas for quite some time in many places, it more closely sits alongside the disappointment of last year's Pete's Dragon - a more niché tale that sadly didn't have the larger target audience to win over.

Christopher Robin isn't exactly a direct live action remake of Disney's Winnie the Pooh animated efforts, as is obvious by even a brief glance at the poster in all honesty. What we have here is a tale featuring the eponymous childhood icon having to leaving his life within the Hundred Acre Wood behind, his friends there with it, upon departing for boarding school; soon enough he reaches adulthood, in the hands of Ewan McGregor, where a difficult balance between his work and family life ultimately lead to an ongoing struggle that sits out of his hands. It's here his childhood friends Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, the lot, all make their way back into his life, with him there to aid them and them there to aid him.

Pooh and his friends find themselves largely inspired by their original animated designs, brought into the live action world with a stuffed toy aesthetic which gives them a charming appearance that largely fits the film's visual style; though admittedly Pooh isn't as easy to engage with as the others at first, strutting about like a pale zombie, destroying all in his path and blathering on about honey until it really starts to get tiresome. Disney also bring new talent into the vocal cast, including Peter Capaldi as Rabbit and Toby Jones as Owl (both of whom you barely see sadly), though Jim Cummings returns as Pooh and Tigger once again; whilst his voice has always been a great one in recent times for said roles, the chance to refresh the characters for a live action portrayal (especially one sticking to its British routes) seems wasted in the end, and hearing the voices we all love from the jubilant animated films within the real world just feels a little unusual at times, forever talented as Cummings will be.

Perhaps this criticism is more aimed at Pooh than Tigger, for the latter's charm is much stronger considering his upbeat, colourful nature, despite some similarly destructive behaviour at times - such a criticism can apply to many of these characters to be fair. In terms of the films' overall story, there is an awkward pace it must be said, as the script struggles to balance the key elements of the protagonists focus on work and family as well as the sudden return of his childhood friends. There isn't an extensive focus on the characters Robin interacts with bar Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore in all honesty; even the bond with his sulky wife and daughter feels flat at times, and the climax itself also feels somewhat rushed, if briskly paced and admittedly fun. All these traits make Christopher Robin a charming if somewhat forgettable family film, one with some surprisingly strong themes, bolstered further by a solid (if occasionally tryhard) performance by Ewan McGregor and fantastic visual effects. It doesn't set any new remarkable standards for its genre, and to be honest drags significantly as we near the finale, but still goes to show how Disney is the master of helping to flourish the charm of childhood nostalgia.

Monday 6 August 2018

Movie Review - Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to thrive as the most successful in cinema history, now with its latest release as the sequel to 2015's Ant-Man. Paul Rudd returns to us once more in the lead role, this time alongside Evangeline Lilly as the secondary eponymous superhero Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, both of whom team up with van Dyne's father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in a plot to rescue her mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the mysterious Quantum Realm.

Ant-Man and the Wasp thankfully never tries to be too excessively dark or serious, instead giving us a laid back experience with some extremely funny moments portrayed well by a strong cast. In spite of this, it occasionally has an extreme obsession with such humour, trying a little too hard with mediocre results. The best examples appear with supporting character Luis (Michael Pena), an old friend of Scott Lang, who largely serves a comic relief but in the end is naught but an irritating supporting role trying too hard to make the audience laugh. Some may find him appealing, who knows, but I certainly found him more annoying than anything; Pena does his best, it's just most of the content he's given that makes him irritating to watch.

But that doesn't render the film bad throughout; Paul Rudd in the lead role does his best once more, delivering a witty and charming performance from start to finish, and our titular female hero Janet/The Wasp is helmed superbly by Michelle Pfeiffer and serves as an undoubtedly strong inspiration for badass female heroes in general. Both her and Ant-Man himself are involved in all manner of gripping set pieces that use the concept of size alterations to delivery genuine thrills but also genuine laughs, crafted through superb visual effects and thankfully never milking said size alteration concept too much - the film's climax is notably where said praise is most applicable. These lead roles are backed by a decent lineup of supporting performances, namely from Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne.

Our central antagonist lies in the hands of Hannah John-Kamen, portraying Ava Starr, a female version of Marvel's lesser known villain the Ghost. Deformed by her exposure to the Quantum Realm, Starr finds herself left with all manner of powers that allow her to phase in and out of existence, albeit at the cost of extensive pain and suffering on her end. Though her development is a bit mediocre and occasionally filled with contrivances, Ava Starr remains a fairly entertaining and intimidating villain portrayed well by John-Kamen, and one definitely contributing to well to many of the film's gripping set pieces. All this combined makes Ant-Man and the Wasp and entertaining if somewhat forgettable superhero flick, one for audiences of various demographics to enjoy.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible - Fallout

The Mission: Impossible series reached new heights back in 2011 with Ghost Protocol, climbing even further in 2015 with the equally renowned Rogue Nation; and now, should you believe it, even further with its latest installment, Fallout, where eternally badass IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with intercepting the sale of plutonium cores at the hands of The Apostles, a terrorist agency formed by the remains of The Syndicate, previously lead by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) before his capture two years prior.

To be considered a good MI film, there's one thing Fallout has to nail: set pieces. The franchise in general is known for being one of the best within the action genre, something bolstered significantly by Tom Cruise's love for performing his own crazy stunts and doing it so perfectly. Thankfully, Fallout does not disappoint; indeed, viewers are treated to a juicy lineup of exciting action sequences from beginning to end, alongside equally intense, fast paced fight sequences, which keep you on the edge of your seat as you near the more dramatic moments of the story. Inevitably, there are one or two brief moments where you may feel a set piece is slightly dragging, but this doesn't make them any less impressive in the long run.

But once again this isn't a mishmash of crazy action scenes with nothing constructive to link them together - Christopher McQuarrie has drafted another superb script to direct, developing an engaging story with a number of smart twists and turns as it progresses. All this is further brought to life by the superb efforts of a fantastic cast, from familiar faces Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, to of course Cruise himself, as well as an excellent performance by Henry Cavill as August Walker, a CIA assassin tasked with working alongside the IMF team following controversy from a failed mission. Cavill's talent and the character's strong development make it an interesting role within the film's brilliant narrative; there's certainly more to everything here than meets the eye, making it a compelling watch throughout.

There's very little I have to fault with MI series' latest installment - again, perhaps one or two set pieces may drag ever so slightly at times, and as we approach the climax the story may be a bit hellbent on throwing a tad too many twists at the audience, making it a tad confusing at times, thrilling as it all is in the end. It remains a cleverly structured and thoroughly enjoyable action flick that shows how the franchise really does stand on top within the genre, offering some of the most fast paced, intense set pieces fans could ever ask, brought to life with superb special effects and stuntwork. I seem to say this every time a new installment comes out - but I think perhaps Fallout now ranks as my favourite of the series, it must be said.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Movie Review - Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 is certainly one of the most anticipated animated films in recent times - it's been fourteen years since the original impressed us and left us dying for a follow up, and it's clear by this sequel's box office records that said hype has indeed been lived up to on a financial level. Critics are equally impressed - but is all this acclaim truly deserved? It seems most audiences would agree, but I find myself rather unsure, despite being both a huge fan of Pixar and of course the original film itself.

Incredibles 2 follows directly on from the original as the titular heroes fight off the villainous Underminer (John Ratzenberger), only to generate further controversy following all the destruction done in the process; however, they eventually find themselves approached Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), owner of DevTech, who seeks a way to restore superheroes' former glory amongst the general public. His schemes are initially helmed by Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), who ventures on a series of missions to demonstrate the unseen potential superheroes truly have once more, soon bringing her face to face with a mysterious new foe known simply as the Screenslaver.

The Incredibles stood out amongst the animated genre upon release for many reasons, though one such reason was its thoughtful story that blended together a lot of complex themes and ideas; so it's a shame this long awaited sequel doesn't really live up to that level of quality, and certainly not the immense expectations behind it. Perhaps the biggest issue is simply the structure of the story itself - Elastigirl is primarily the star of the show this time round, and while she certainly helms a lot of gripping and superbly choreographed set pieces, it's sad that the former greatness of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is long gone, with him now stuck in the role of an overworked babysitter, struggling to understand Dash's (Huck Milner) strangely complicated homework, Violet's (Sarah Vowell) teenage emotional turmoil, and of course the insanely repetitive chaos involving Jack-Jack's handful of newly developed powers.

As a result of these awkward jumps between Elastigirl's heroisms and Mr. Incredible's disastrous babysitting, the plot in general is just fairly shallow - with a dull villain and somewhat predictable plot twist as we approach the climax. On the flipside, the final fight itself is perhaps one of the films' best moments, blending the antics of all kinds of heroes into a creative climactic battle - I only wish this was a bit more regular, instead of having most heroes jammed into roles that are essentially borderline comic relief. Incredibles 2 is a decent film, boasting beautiful animation and a plethora of gripping set pieces, but it also just feels unfocused and excessively silly; too often I felt like I was watching some sort of parody of the genre, and not the near masterpiece almost everyone else believes it to be.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Movie Review - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The modern film industry is arguably infested with more sequels than ever before in recent years, particularly with the advent of evergrowing shared universes, which themselves are leading to the revival of many age old franchises that rank among the most treasured in cinema history. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a sequel that slots nicely into such a category - the truck sized earnings of 2015's Jurassic World made a sequel an irreversible decision from a business perspective, but while Universal's bank accounts will be looking good soon enough, it's a shame this level of positivity can't quite be applied when discussing the finished project itself.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, the volcanic activity within Isla Nublar begins to reemerge, placing the now freely roaming at dinosaurs at risk of extinction once more. Some won't let such tragedy unfold - dinosaur activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Navy veteran Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) join a team of fellow activists to rescue a number of species from Nublar before time runs out, though these actions ultimately leave them tangled in a scheme that brings to fruition another threat against them all.

Fallen Kingdom's biggest setback is that which has plagued almost every other sequel to the beloved 1993 classic - a story that holds little merit and is simply more of the same. Whilst Jurassic World had its interesting premise with John Hammond's original bizarre dream of a dinosaur infested theme park coming to fruition at last, there was little potential for a continuation outside of financial gain; Fallen Kingdom provides visual thrills and excitement within its very best moments, but said moments are dwindling in overall variety, and outside of them we have very little to be truly absorbed in. You'll find little has been done to stir things up - the plot is another generic blend of cardboard cutout villains motivated by naught but fancy profits, seriously miffed off dinosaurs causing a ruckus and killing a number of disposable extras, and of course the iconic idiocy and greed of man as the central cause of all this unwanted chaos to begin with.

Any attempted emotional depth largely feels forced and forgettable, and often quite sappy, with numerous tired clichés recycled within a script flooded with numerous contrivances. My bitter self emerges once more, but rest assured Fallen Kingdom isn't necessarily a bad film, per se; it's still entertaining for the most part, and offers a decent array of laughs and genuine thrills, once again brought to life through some stunning visual effects and well structured (if occasionally silly) action sequences, and of course all is portrayed well through a strong, well chosen cast. It's just a shame the filmmakers have made little effort to try and breathe any sort of new life into the age old series, instead settling for a flimsy narrative that recycles all these tired conventions. At this rate, it seems things have definitely run their course, hard as it is for studio executives to come to terms with.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Movie Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars sequels have got off to a pleasant start in terms of box office receipts, though some of its narrative directions have been left with mixed responses from some of the most dedicated fans; said trend doesn't change much for this year's Solo, another spinoff from the main series that explores the backstory of one Han Solo. I won't claim to know the Star Wars series and all of its expanded universe stuff inside out, but upon watching its latest blockbuster, I only had one response: why all the negativity from some?

Solo once again is an exploration of the iconic Han Solo's development and how he came to be the rebellious hero we all know and love. His character now finds itself in the hands of one Alden Ehrenreich, developing into the eventual bounty hunter we've all come to know in a mission to reunite with his lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) following a failed escape from the oppressive world of Corellia. His subsequent adventures bring him into partnership with the stern Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and of course the beloved yet short tempered Chewbacca, and soon enough on a mission against rising crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Of course with a film like this, the initial factor of much controversy is always going to be the recasting, should the new talent brought in be an acclaimed, hugely award winning superstar or not. Many reviews have left questionable feedback of Ehrenreich's effort in the role of Solo, but it seems quite a lot of said reviews leave such mixed responses and only seem to justify it with how his efforts can't match that of the beloved Harrison Ford. Such a mindset isn't a healthy (or fair) one; we can't endlessly compare our young Solo to the original to outline his overall quality, but once again it seems such a trait is inevitable with any recasting. Ehrenreich, at least in my eyes, does a fab job with his portrayal - he is still the same sly, skilful, and witty hero, one who always has a plan and works hard to pursue it. It's still largely the same Solo that we know well from the originals, yet of course more vulnerable given his younger and less experienced nature. All in all, Ehrenreich finds himself worthy "predecessor" to Harrison Ford, so to speak.

But it's not just Ehrenreich who performs well - in fact his efforts lead a generally superb cast all over. Woody Harrelson as our secondary protagonist Tobias Beckett is on a similar level of quality, and shares a perfect chemistry with Ehrenreich, as does his long term lover Qi'ra, despite her confusing characterization in latter parts of the narrative; and once again (without becoming too obsessive), one Joonas Suotamo dons the costume perfectly in his efforts as Chewbacca. Our villain once again lies in the form of Dryden Vos and the talents of Paul Bettany, and while he may not be the most memorable or thoroughly developed foe in film history, or hell even the history of this franchise, Bettany's efforts make him a threatening one whenever he's on screen for sure. One can also appreciate Donald Glover in his relatively minor role as Lando Calrissian, though he may come and go at bit awkwardly at times.

In traditional Star Wars fashion, Solo adopts a fantastic visual style, for the most part deftly blending fine costume work, animatronics, and CGI effects. Perhaps some of the fully animated characters can stick out a bit awkwardly when blended into scenes with animatronics or costumes, but it's not hard to say that the gargantuan budget is put to great use when it comes to all these aesthetics. Solo isn't free of any flaws; some of its story elements can feel a tad rushed when important, particularly as we approach the end, and others slightly dragged out - perhaps its 135 run time wasn't quite needed for some of the material included. What's more is whilst we're treated to a handful of superb set pieces, beautiful to admire in IMAX, maybe they can occur too often in rapid succession and drag out a tad when it feels they should be coming to a conclusion. But negativity aside, Solo remains a fun time at the movies, just as the original series always was, and all those involved have made a great effort without a doubt.

Friday 18 May 2018

Movie Review - Deadpool 2

An R rated film starring a Marvel hero who perhaps isn't the most well known among the general public - and yet 2016's Deadpool found itself one of the year's most successful films, and most of us will say such an accolade doesn't go undeserved. Helmed by Ryan Reynolds' charmingly foul performance as the titular antihero, its balance of well structured humour and epic set pieces arguably makes it one of the most original superhero films in recent times. A sequel was always inevitable considering the profitable potential, but thankfully it's more than just a quick cash grab.

The story involves the audience quite literally in a sense - a plot burdened by lazy writing (as Deadpool himself enjoys claiming) begins with the tragic death of Wilson's true love Vanessa and his befriending of rebellious mutant kid Russell (Julian Dennison) when thrown in the "Icebox" detainment unit - all this coincides with the rise of a new villain known as Cable (Josh Brolin), who journeys from the future to seek vengeance on those responsible for destroying his own.

Deadpool 2 adopts the same charms as its predecessor and in many ways improves upon them with even wittier, perfectly timed gags, from violent slapstick to a number of hilarious one liners - much of it certainly not for the faint of heart. But while its narrative isn't without fault, mainly due to its final act dragging a tad at times, there's a surprising amount of thought put into it in a way that makes this once again more than a tonnage of random giggles; many things may feel cliché, but the film embraces this in a perfect way to benefit its sense of humour without it feeling like a forced attempt to justify, well, lazy writing. 

This is all blended with the right amount of gripping action sequences which, humour aside, do offer their fair share of genuine thrills providing you're able to stomach some of the incredibly graphic violence. Perhaps the films' biggest perk is once again the central performance by Reynolds himself - the rebellious badass finds himself just as loveable as he was in the original, his bitter outlook on life and its consequential influence on his questionable acts of not quite heroism adding up to the majority of the film's biggest laughs. Perhaps the focus is largely pinned on him much more so than the many other supporting roles, but said supporting characters still mustn't go unnoticed - familiar faces like T.J. Miller and Leslie Uggams among many others support Reynolds in many of the funniest scenes, and Josh Brolin finds himself performing strongly (and hilariously) in another villainous Marvel role, despite his character feeling a little forgettable at times.

If my endless waffling hasn't made it apparent yet, Deadpool 2 is a hilarious and suitably action packed superhero flick, with a strong script brought to life through a superb cast and excellent visual effects. It's not for everyone, but after seeing the original's unexpected rise to immense fame, it seems to still click with many of us - and rightfully so.

Sunday 6 May 2018

Movie Review - Avengers: Infinity War

Another money making machine from Marvel arrives - Avengers: Infinity War has the iconic heroes face arguably their toughest foe yet, the power hungry Thanos (Josh Brolin), who seeks to acquire all the legendary Infinity Stones to gain control of reality itself. Dozens of previous MCU films have built up to this gargantuan story, evident when you see just how many heroes are blended together in comparison to the first film back in 2012. For those who may not even be the biggest fans of this ever expanding franchise, this certainly remains a superhero thrill ride worth checking out.

The MCU has been somewhat on and off for me in recent times - for every brilliant entry, there seems to be an equal amount of mediocre and sometimes downright awful ones. Sometimes I fear many more recent entries seek to do nothing other than to build up the story to these epic ensemble blockbusters. With this is mind, Infinity War thankfully doesn't feel like a forced blockbuster blending many iconic heroes together to simply turn a truck sized profit; while not without its faults, it's a largely well structured, thrilling adventure that, as has been said by many viewers and critics, never forgets the necessary depth and humanity required to make this more than a mishmash of chaotic battle scenes.

Infinity War is of course a film that prides itself on superb special effects, and said special effects are handled masterfully. Be it the incredible motion capture on the likes of Brolin as Thanos, or simply the lineup of stunning action sequences, it maintains the MCU's legacy of having some of the best visual thrills since Iron Man kicked things off over a decade ago now. Yes, some of its action scenes may drag at times, and perhaps become somewhat samey as we approach the conclusion, but it doesn't stop the from being enjoyable; and within them as we near the finale come a fair share of interesting twists and turns in the overall story, helping to keep us hooked even further.

The cast is also without a doubt one of the film's finest merits, many will agree. Our favourite MCU stars from previous hits are back, with a solid chemistry between one another that helps their interactions feel far less forced. It's Josh Brolin of course who stands out , at least in my eyes, not only due to the brilliant aforementioned motion capture effects but also his sinister yet emotionally stirring performance as one of the best villains in a superhero film to date. His talent thrives for sure, but such praise is also earned by the majority of the actors it can be said - ranging from beloved Downey, Jr. to more recent arrivals like Chadwick Boseman. I won't grossly defend every inevitable flaw - things do get a bit jumbled as we near the end, and there are flashes of excessive silliness at very awkward moments, but all in all Marvel brings us another exciting, largely well structured blockbuster. One can now only look forward to where the plot takes us next...

Sunday 15 April 2018

Movie Review - A Quiet Place

Horror is certainly one of the most difficult genres to tackle in this day and age - genuinely scaring the audience without spamming repetitive jump scares or creating inadvertent giggles is tricker than it sounds, and so many horror flicks in modern cinema are consequently met with mixed results. However, every so often a rare gem comes along, one absorbing, narratively compelling, and equally thrilling; one such gem has now arrived in the form of A Quiet Place, at the hands of acclaimed actor and now rising director Josh Krasinski.

A Quiet Place doesn't go into its narrative's backstory with extensive detail, which isn't perhaps hugely necessary but may yield mixed results for many; in 2020, humanity finds itself largely wiped out at the hands of a group of powerful monsters with remarkable hearing skills. The Abbott family finds themselves one of very few survivors in the wasteland around them, communicating through sign language and scavenging secretly for supplies to prevent detection from the creatures hunting them down.

Again, not a huge amount of backstory is explored, which will confuse and maybe frustrate some viewers, but in the end such unaddressed concepts don't prove too detrimental to the overall story. In fact, many other key factors are indeed explained through subtle methods, such as brief glances at newspaper headlines within the Abbott's home; a clever if sometimes incomplete method of storytelling. Such subtlety also helps the unsettling moments nicely prosper; A Quiet Place certainly earns its place within the horror genre, crafting a gripping atmosphere that'll keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and restricting the jump scares to moments that are genuinely freaky, not just a cheap barrage of loud noises.

What helps such a thrilling vibe prosper even more is of course the efforts of the cast themselves; Krasinski stars at the Abott father, Lee, alongside Emily Blunt as mother Evelyn, Noah Jupe as son Marcus, and Millicent Simmonds as daughter Regan. Their chemistry and development is strongly managed, bringing to life a number of heartwarming and equally heartbreaking moments as the story slowly unfolds. As for our main villains, their disturbing design and limited visibility for most of the story arguably benefits their intimidating presence, but they thankfully remain just as outright terrifying when seen up close on several occasions; it's this coupled with the overall pale and sombre visual design of the ruined Earth that makes all the scares occurring within it even more fitting and effective. Such traits all in all render A Quiet Place one of the best horror films modern cinema has seen in a long time without a doubt, and one any fan of the genre must check out as soon as they can.

Sunday 25 March 2018

Movie Review - Pacific Rim: Uprising

Hollywood loves sequels, but it seemed strange to many that Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim of all films earned itself a sequel five years after release, despite its extremely weak domestic earnings and fairly average global earnings of $409 million rendering it far from a commercial failure but not exactly record breaking considering its colossal budget. With its US opening weekend set to barely reach $30 million, it seems this year's Pacific Rim: Uprising will also be relying on international takings to being recouping its beastly costs. Reviews have also been less inspired than the original; is such mediocre reception deserved?

Set in 2030, a decade after the original, Uprising focuses on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of acclaimed war hero Stacker Pentecost, who earns a living selling Jaeger tech on the black market, which soon leads him to a hidden independently made Jaeger built at the hands of young orphan Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Both eventually find themselves captured by the authorities and escape prison with an alternative to join the Jaeger program itself, a familiar and unwanted sight for Jake, which finds itself thrown into action once again when a number of unexplained rogue Jaeger's begin to reek havoc, linking to even bigger threat that ignites the return of the menacing Kaiju monsters and their sinister goals for world domination.

Uprising of course isn't going to win any awards for its story - probably an obvious claim for those who've even yet to see it. However, what's interesting is the path the narrative takes as things get going, becoming more than a simple rehash of the first movie. There's a decent level of heart to it, and while its emotional moments are cliché for sure, the cast portray such moments with solid performances, notably Boyega and Spaeny in their lead roles, and the morals conveyed are relatively touching if somewhat uninspired. It's this that makes the story a decent skeleton to link each of the inevitably gripping action sequences, and while a number of contrivances and daft plot twists do certainly pop up out of the blue as we approach the climax, it's all still, again, just that bit more than a dull rehash of the first movie.

Of course action and visual effects is where Uprising does stand out in an impressive fashion. The Jaeger's pummelling each other in many epic bust ups, mercilessly trashing every environment that surrounds them, equates to some superb set pieces that naturally make for the film's best moments. Some may certainly feel dragged out, and perhaps a little repetitive, but if you come to see the film it's arguably these scenes you're here to focus on, and they surely won't disappoint most fans. It's all brought to life, as with the original, some remarkable visual effects; Jaeger's not only look fantastic, but are animated just as superbly - and of course, IMAX is definitely how the film was meant to be viewed, as may seem obvious. Its story may be second rate to many, but at least there's a fairly decent amount of effort put into it, and, as I've made quite clear by now, the set pieces we're treated to alone will make Uprising worth watching for fans of such stuff.