Wednesday 24 July 2019

Movie Review - The Lion King (2019)

Disney's live action updates of many of their greatest animated hits continues, this time with The Lion King: arguably their most renowned animated classic in the eyes of many. An enormous success upon release in 1994, The Lion King's global earnings now sit extremely close to the $1 billion mark, making it one of the highest grossing animated films even 25 years on, and easily the highest earning among the traditionally animated. So with all this fame and success surrounding it, one would expect a live action remake to be handled with extensive care; sadly, this is not quite the case.

The core story, influenced largely by Shakespeare's Hamlet, matches the original without any major changes. Following the murder of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his sadistic uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), young lion Simba (Donald Glover) finds himself exiled from his kingdom and left in despair, though soon learns he must follow his destiny and take his rightful place as leader of the Pride Lands before all falls into ruin.

The narrative doesn't need to adopt any significant changes to be good, but when many scenes have near identical shots and dialogue to those in the original, the lack of originality is extremely apparent, leaving us with a film that essentially feels like a discount alternative with a different aesthetic. While the visuals themselves are a major achievement in photorealism, beautifully rendered throughout, such a strong focus on realism leaves no room for any unique style or charm, making many of the story's most iconic moments tragically dull and uninteresting. Consequently, the characters find themselves as little more than well rendered animals with moving mouths; a real shame considering Disney did a great job making similarly realistic animals in 2016's remake of The Jungle Book full of personality for the most part.

The work from this largely decent cast also fails to meet expectations, with the efforts of Donald Glover and Beyoncé (a strange choice...) leaving their respective protagonists hugely forgettable; such criticism applies even more so to James Earl Jones' lifeless performance, making his initially welcome return an unwanted one without a doubt. Perhaps the only real praise can be aimed toward Ejiofor as a suitably sadistic (if slightly cliché) Scar, as well as Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as an admittedly funny Timon and Pumbaa, but they just aren't able to carry the weight of all this alone. Those in love with the original's musical achievements should also be prepared for mixed results; while it's good to see not every song being a complete rehash, they still can't help but feel painfully inferior to the originals.

This update of Disney's animated classic has its perks, especially when it comes to the technical side of things, but still finds itself as little more than an uninspired and lazily structured retelling. Disney's ongoing string of live action updates are still met with significantly polarised opinions, and considering The Lion King remains my favourite film of all time, this poor and disappointing remake is definitely a deep and personal loss.

Wise old mandrill Rafiki is also one of the most loveable characters in the original, and sadly one of the most, if not the most, forgettable characters this time round. For shame.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far From Home

Avengers: Endgame now edges closer to stealing the highest grossing film of all time accolade from Avatar after 10 years; although it certainly brought multiple key story arcs within this beastly franchise to a close, even a film of such scale was certainly never going to finish it all for good. Not every film the MCU has offered has been an entertaining one, and the longer a series like this lasts, the harder it surely becomes to make new instalments consistently engaging. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows that those involved desire a strong future for the series and will certainly make the effort to achieve it.

A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming whilst also following on from plot elements developed in Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) inevitable desires for a regular life alongside his superhero duties challenged further as he finds himself recruited for yet another mission by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. An unfamiliar face in the form of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mysterio to the world, also joins the fray to helm the fight against a new wave of threats; conflict which soon leads to more unsettling truths.

Most will agree that the MCU has always been relatively flawless when it comes to casting, and Far From Home is another key example of this. Holland exemplifies further his acting talent considering the standards that have to be met with such a major comic book icon, with a performance as an innocent and naive teenager, a character explored with a surprising amount of depth, blending nicely with his more confident persona when donning the suit itself. Jake Gyllenhaal's efforts as one Quentin Beck stand out just as superbly; his character deftly combines humour, an intimidating presence, as well as a genuine emotional core, and his confident performance makes him one of the most memorable characters despite being having many acclaimed talents to rival.

Far From Home succeeds just as nicely on an aesthetic scale, living up to modern blockbuster expectations with ease but also going that little bit beyond with some stylish and unique visuals revolving primarily around the character of Mysterio once again. This twisted imagery adds a touch of innovation to some of its most prominent set pieces, and while not all of them boast this accolade, even those which end up a tad repetitive after a while are still largely exciting. The overall narrative itself is thankfully far from predictable due to smartly handled plot twists; it also cleverly integrates elements from previous MCU films without forced retconning becoming an issue. Indeed, while some supporting roles amongst the villainous crew are fairly forgettable, their integration is cleverly developed. With all this, Far From Home succeeds as another thoroughly entertaining entry to this enormous franchise, showing that it still has room to impress further despite the countless new standards that have been set since it began.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Movie Review - Toy Story 4

The announcement of a fourth Toy Story film would always earn a mixed reception; regardless of the general love for the franchise as a whole, many agreed 2010's Toy Story 3 perfectly wrapped up the story, leaving no room for more. But alas, nearly another decade later, those at Pixar have given us what many now believe to be the true final chapter to the beloved animated saga; and one that certainly does impress considering the limited potential for a further story, at least at first glance.

Sheriff Woody's (Tom Hanks) life takes a unique turn when he and the rest of the gang find themselves at a travelling carnival during a family road trip, joined by Forky (Tony Hale), an insecure spork crafted into a toy by their new owner Bonnie. When Forky's repeated attempts to dispose of himself leave him trapped and in need of rescue, Woody's efforts lead him on a journey that finds him reuniting with a long lost friend from his past; soon challenging his own decisions when it comes to the future ahead.

Considering once again how well Toy Story 3 acted as a conclusion the franchise, this fourth entry succeeds surprisingly well in terms of overall narrative heft, exemplifying the potential still to hand providing those involved know what they're doing. Whilst throwbacks to previous instalments are of course present, most notably the return of the beloved character Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the story remains focused on its own new path and never forcibly retreads the same ground as its predecessors; leaving elements concluded by Toy Story 3 behind and featuring some major plot developments of its own that justify it as its own conclusion to the series, albeit one that may not leave everyone entirely satisfied.

The story embraces this new path with some unique twists, but things aren't always as refined as one might hope; this is notable when it comes to the development of its primary characters. Bo Peep finds herself drastically different in every respect to her original cute and calm persona from the older films, though this actually makes her one of the most interesting characters in the film alongside Woody himself; the chemistry they consequently share also helps bolster their charm as the key protagonists. But when it comes to the many supporting roles, including our entire toy gang (Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Ham, you name it), they offer plenty of approachable humour but nothing else to make them as consistently interesting; quite a disappointment when these are the starring roles that launched the series. The newer cast of characters, including Forky, the obnoxious yet charming Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), or the easily agitated (and extremely funny) stuffed toy duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), end up much more memorable throughout and thus may leave you much more entertained in the long run.

Toy Story 4 is without a doubt a prime example of how much computer animation has developed since its inception. Simply comparing a frame of this to the admittedly somewhat dated visuals of the original film, and even the still refined ones of its 1999 sequel, proves it is an art form that has prospered significantly. It is certainly one of Pixar's best looking films, beautifully rendered and animated throughout, and further brought to life through superb voice acting from its talented cast of old favourites and brilliant newcomers. When rivalling the standards set by its predecessors, this fourth entry perhaps ranks as the weakest entry, and is certainly not quite the emotional tear jerker I was expecting, but it still remains another fine piece of work from one of the film industry's best animation studios that more than justifies its own existence.