Saturday 15 June 2019

Movie Review - Aladdin (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Movie Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters

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

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

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

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