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.