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.

Friday 9 July 2021

Movie Review - Luca

The core themes of Luca have certainly garnered the interest of many satisfied viewers, and such reception is arguably what most would expect from a motion picture crafted by one of this industry's leading animation studios. Pixar's newest feature tells the story of the titular sea monster (Jacob Tremblay) and his efforts in exploring the world above the ocean, which leads him to befriend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another young sea monster with the same aspirations that Luca himself has embraced and pursued over many years.

It's a story that's reasonably touching, but not quite as unpredictable as it may initially sound; while the core premise is certainly unique, it's hard to deny that the structure of the overall plot is fairly standard and formulaic. Charming visuals and passionate vocal performances from a talented cast help bring an appealing lineup of characters to life, but a lack depth (and a slightly bland protagonist) may leave them rather forgettable to some. It's by no means a bad narrative, primarily once again thanks to some surprisingly complex themes, but its overall structure perhaps just isn't as unique as such a strong and creative premise would demand.

A Pixar film released in 2021 obviously faces no risk of visual flaws, and Luca certainly delivers on the inevitably high expectations. It's brought to life with a colourful and lively aesthetic, and this appealing art direction is then superbly rendered and smoothly animated with excellent attention to detail. It meets all the standards one would expect from a high budget Pixar production, and is beautiful to look at from start to finish. There's really nothing one can fault with the film's overall aesthetic.

While the overall flow of Luca's story is indeed quite formulaic, it's still entertaining, with a fluent blend of humour and emotional warmth that allows it to effortlessly appeal to a family audience. Its heartfelt themes in regards to friendship and self acceptance, effectively conveyed in a reasonably subtle manner, help make it much more than just a piece of disposable, cliché entertainment. It's charming and inventive to an extent, but perhaps some work in the development of its characters and direction of the plot would've bolstered it that one step further and helped it rival more of Pixar's greatest efforts.