ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Heroes Don’t Get Any Bigger

Director
Peyton Reed

Starring
Paul Rudd
Evangeline Lilly
Hannah John-Kamen
Michael Douglas



Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang [Rudd] is nearing the end of his two year house arrest. In that time he has had no contact with Dr Hank Pym [Douglas] or his daughter Hope Van Dyne [Lilly] but when relaxing in the bath, a mere two days away from freedom, Scott has a vision of Hope’s supposedly deceased mother, Janet Van Dyne [Michelle Pfeiffer]. Freaked out, Scott contacts Dr Pym and we learn that this dream was no coincidence as Hope and Hank had been working on a quantum tunnel in an attempt to locate and retrieve Janet. But as wanted criminals, the scientists have been working with the nefarious Sonny Burch [Walton Goggins] and have got the attention of a mysterious quantum-shifting figure, known only as the ghost [John-Kamen].

When Ant-Man was released I was thoroughly disappointed. Avengers: Age Of Ultron had been a bit of a bust and the turbulent behind-the-scenes shift of directors left a strange chimera film with trails and remnants of Edgar Wright’s tropes and Reed’s direction. The final product was serviceable but I didn’t share the lauding that most critics and audiences were spouting. Subsequently, I was rather looking forward to an Ant-Man sequel, a chance to create something from the ground-up with a clear voice and, hopefully, a strong central female performance. Alas I only got one of those. One of the biggest problems this film encounters is the generally piss-poor, infantile, simplistic and flat comedy. From throw-away lines or setups to running magic jokes, nothing landed hard enough for me to laugh at and wholly enjoy. That isn’t to say it wasn’t entirely without humour, it simply failed to produce anything that I hadn’t seen before. On top of that there was a distinct lack of emotional resonance. Over the last decade, Marvel have wheeled out some pretty hefty emotional moments and connections between characters and while Ant-Man And The Wasp has the opportunity to, it rarely delivers. I will admit that the connection between Rudd and his daughter and the purveying theme of daughters and their screw-up dads is interesting but it’s nowhere near as gut-wrenching as something like the connection between Stark and Parker.

Sticking with performances for a second, I will absolutely defend everyone involved. Rudd tries his hardest and Lilly is wonderful but the script is so painfully cliché with abysmal dialogue, leading to stunted deliveries. From the completely mediocre jokes to the text-book “I thought I’d lost you” sentiments, nothing in this film feels fresh, realistic or relatable and while that may sound a bit harsh or stupid, you need some sort of grounding when the entire basis of the story is the fantastical. This film also drags Marvel back into the pit of questionable villains – which is a shame after the marvellous complexity of the last two. Ava Starr/Ghost is a decent enough sympathetic villain, even if she is never really fleshed out but Sonny is terrible and continues the weird trend of Goggins being fantastic on TV but getting terrible roles on film. And then there’s Woo (played by the genuinely funny Police Academy film.

Getting back to Ava for a second, the character highlights some of the film’s technical issues. While the ghost effect looked pleasing and felt like a simple layering technique harking back to silent movie techniques, the action was largely uninspired. Say what you will about the first Ant-Man film, at least it was creative. Here we have fights that suffer from rushed, fast-paced editing (which somehow seemed to be cut better in the trailer), far too many ropey floating-head CGI moments and shrinking/enlarging tech that fails to create anything of note. I mean, when a 2018 blockbuster is giving you flashbacks to 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded but never rising above it, something has to be going wrong. Having said all that, Christophe Beck’s score is magnificent, making great and sometimes playful use of the motif (something Marvel struggles with) while delivering something constantly fitting and appropriate. Additionally, the de-aging effects are remarkable, Marvel have been doing a stellar job with this innovative technology.. although I wasn’t as convinced by the de-aged Hope. That was a joke. Sorry. It was either that or a DC facial hair removal gag.

As with 2015’s Ant-Man, it came off the back of the high-stakes, ultra-scale Age Of Ultron and with its standalone, unique story, endeared a lot of people to it. Then Lang reappeared in Civil War and the character was cemented as a great asset to have others interact with, offering some fantastic levity and visuals. This sequel should have built on that momentum, giving audiences an opportunity for a light emotional lift after the dour close of Avengers: Infinity War. But it wasn’t. Missing is the outlandish comedic treatment of Thor: Ragnarok and the character/world building of Black Panther, in favour of some weirdly delivered dad jokes, call-backs and importance placed upon the quantum realm that still feels like a complete mystery. In truth, this whole corner of the MCU feels like an arc on Spider-Man: Homecoming – and that was amusing but this is ridiculous. All we see is an enlarged ant playing the drums in Scott’s absence – the scene takes place in the trailer! At this stage we have to ask, what’s the point? I know Marvel are expected to generate two sequences but that was an absolutely pointless piss-take and to have already shown it in not only the theatrical trailer but earlier in the film from a different angle emphasises its absurdity.

Notable Characters:
**huge spoilers**
So I haven’t mentioned Michelle Pfeiffer, despite the fact she appears on the poster. On one hand, I really enjoyed Pfeiffer’s performance and on the other, it generated so many logistical questions that go completely unanswered. After Dr Pym enters the quantum realm, he discovers his not-dead wife and brings her back. She has been living down there for thirty years. Somehow. A single line of dialogue about the curative powers of the realm itself leading to a sort of evolution is all we get to explain how she has survived in this mostly barren plane of existence.. with perfect make-up. But to dissolve the tension between our heroes and the adversarial Ghost character, is to stretch out her hands and say, “I can feel your pain” before curing her. That. Right there. Is Sybok from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Nobody understands her frankly magic powers (almost as if the constant magic talk is merely foreshadowing) and I’m sure they’ll be explored later but for a film that spends so much time doing so little, you’d think they would have been able to etch out some time to even loosely cover it.

Highlighted Quote:
“Do you guys just put the word quantum in front of everything?”

In A Few Words:
“I went into this film with reasonable expectations and hope for something semi-decent, what I got was disappointingly sub-par but it’s still worth mentioning that at their worst, Marvel films are still better than the standard superhero cinematic fare”

Total Score:

2/5

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Some Missions Are Not A Choice

Director
Christopher McQuarrie

Starring
Tom Cruise
Henry Cavill
Ving Rhames
Simon Pegg
Rebecca Ferguson
Sean Harris



Continuing from the events in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, IMF agent Ethan Hunt [Cruise] receives his next mission: to secure three plutonium cores before they hit the black market. Pairing with his colleagues Benji [Pegg] and Luther [Rhames], Hunt’s mission goes badly and while his director trusts him, the CIA does not. Subsequently, Hunt’s team is assigned the kill-happy Agent Walker [Cavill] to ensure the plutonium is recovered at any cost. When the price of the black market deal turns out to be freeing a prisoner Hunt helped capture, the arrival of former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust [Ferguson] and evidence that one of the anarchists is a rogue agent, things become significantly less straightforward.

As this incredibly unusual collection of semi-discordant films progress, I can see the genuine benefits and pros to this franchise; especially in an age where CGI dominates the screen. Seeing real life stunt work, there is an element of peril and suspense which is sort of lost and neglected by most big budget releases. With each passing instalment, the franchise evolves and presents a different style of action espionage to suit different audiences, this can produce a hit-and-miss body of work but it also ensures the films themselves avoid too many tick-box tropes and reinvention through recasting – James Bond, I’m looking at you. A major shift that was introduced in Ghost Protocol was the continuation of story. There had been certain components that had been brought over (specifically Ving Rhames as Luther) but the fourth film brought back a handful of characters and started a storyline which would effectively unfold with each passing release. Now we have a welcome sense of legacy and investment with the characters, rather than just a new team of expendables every single time; a good example of this is the new character of the elusive White Widow, who is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s character from the first film.

Staying with the cast for a second, we need to talk about Tom Cruise. This series is Cruise’s playground and while it is a completely indulgent excuse to show-off, it plays to his strengths and it is genuinely hard to fault him in this role. He gets to emote, appear clever and charming, perform his own ridiculous stunts, look confused, scream, be funny and run. It’s everything he wants and in a strange way, it’s everything we seem to want too. It’s a role that has shifted with his priorities and subsequently, could never really be portrayed by anyone else. The returning cast all perform admirably within the confines of their type and Henry Cavill really stands out with a great performance largely because the script utilises his best skills as an imposing, menacing villain.
The dialogue edges closer and closer to eye-rollingly dumb, littered with trailer lines that we frequently see forced into films but I feel this is a bit of a blockbuster occupational hazard and pleasingly does not happen too often.

With Rogue Nation, I didn’t take issue with McQuarrie’s ability so much as I didn’t care for the lacklustre script. Thankfully this feature feels closer to Ghost Protocol – I would argue the best Mission: Impossible film – and gives us the twists and set-pieces that we both enjoy and have come to expect. Furthermore it displays thrilling direction, editing and sound design, which feel like call-backs of the 90s, as we have become more reliant on post-production fixes and fewer in-cam techniques. The bombastic routines are also helped along by an urgent score that cleverly works with the iconic series motif but for all its positives, Lorne Balfe can’t escape his Zimmer trappings and it never truly feels completely unique or innovative.

While the film thinks it contains clever plot twists, all it eventually does is produce a series of bluffs and fake-outs, highlighting a scenario before jumping out of the shadows shouting, “Only kidding!” I appreciate this is a literal staple of the franchise and a trope that few other series can get away with but after a while the magic-trick wears thin and a great deal of investment and suspension of disbelief is lost. There’s an old adage that no one is questioning if someone like James Bond will get out of a trap, it’s how he gets himself out of it. This conceit is the same here and I am more than willing to participate in the charade but when you are expected to question everything, you believe nothing and either confusion sets in or immersion is lost. Admittedly, the Mission: Impossible series (outside of the first instalment) does a decent job of avoiding the former but the latter is something that happens time and time again.

In truth, this is an instalment that will thrill and greatly please fans of the franchise and once again makes Tom Cruise look especially good. The more he works on these films he will either end up killing himself or continue to sup from the fountain of youth long enough for people to say, “How is he 80!? He just punched a lion in the face before outrunning it!” But interestingly, there is such a wealth of production work and cinematic thrills that those who aren’t fans may enjoy it too; and that is an extremely impressive feat.


Release Date:
27th July 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers throughout**
When you start analysing the formula of scripts and film, you quickly understand the patterns; you would think that would extend to audiences but it rarely conscionably does. Subsequently, if a shot hangs for a couple of seconds longer than necessary it’s either a foreshadowing element or product placement. When these shots go nowhere, they are incredibly frustrated loose ends but even if they are addressed, they can give away too much. Case in point, during a bathroom fight in a club, we have a very clear shot of the target’s phone being smashed. A few scenes later, long before anyone’s identities and loyalties are openly called into question, Walker hands over a mint phone claiming it belonged to the target and has evidence incriminating Hunt. Right away I saw how the rest of the film would unfold, the magic was lost and the mystery ruined. I mean, there are carefully placed clues and there are obvious signposts; this, painfully, was the latter.

Notable Characters:
I’ve always felt there is something wonderfully menacing about Sean Harris and as an unhinged, nothing-to-lose psychopath who feels he is a higher force than the terrorist title he has been labelled with is genuinely fun and disturbing to watch.

Highlighted Quote:
“That’s not anarchy, that’s revenge”

In A Few Words:
“Genuinely entertaining high-octane action thriller ”

Total Score:

4/5

INCREDIBLES 2

Back To Work

Director
Brad Bird

Starring
Craig T Nelson
Holly Hunter
Sarah Vowell
Huck Milner



Set immediately after the events of 2004’s The Incredibles, we follow the Parr family (Bob [Nelson] Helen [Hunter] Violet [Vowell] Dash [Milner] and Jack-Jack) as they combat nefarious villain, the Underminer. Despite their best efforts, the bank robber gets away with the money and the family are arrested. With superhero acts still illegal, they are chastised and sent to stay in a motel. Witnessing the battle, tycoon Winston Deavor [Bob Odenkirk] asks fellow hero Frozone [Samuel L Jackson] to reach out and liaise with the Parrs on his behalf. Helen and Bob, realising they have a limited window to find a job in the private sector, agree to meet Winston. All three learn that Winston is an avid fan of heroes, as was his father and wants to change public perception in order to make them legal once more. In order to do this, Winston introduces his sister, Evelyn [Catherine Keener] who can rig tiny cameras into the suits to show the public the good work that is done. Bob immediately assumes he will be the frontrunner for this campaign but the Deavors believe that Helen’s Elastigirl persona would be the ideal re-introductory opportunity; leaving Bob to look after the children – something he has little solo experience with.

If we are being perfectly honest with ourselves, I think it would be fair to say that Pixar’s track record with sequels (outside of Toy Story) is not exactly great. On the one hand they have created some of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful original stories, only to have their follow-ups feel lacklustre or straight-up awful (looking at you Cars 2). Incredibles 2 picks up exactly where the last film left off and that, for me, is the first problem. The definition of a good sequel should be a justified continuation of a story or character’s journey that warrants telling but also forges new ground. I would have assumed a time-skip to age the characters with the audience, showing us Helen and Bob dealing with being grandparents, would be great fodder but I can appreciate that doing so would mean a lot of world-building and altering the visual style to fit the new decade; which could have hurt the film. Having said all that, the biggest issue with this continuation is the effective character arc reset. By the close of the first film, Violet is more confident, Dash has learned some restraint and Bob and Helen have a stronger, more communicative relationship. But in order to create conflict for this film, Bob goes back to hiding things from his wife, Helen takes on Bob’s role from the first film and the kids effectively revert back to how they were, albeit with a higher focus on Jack-Jack. And that’s not to say these aren’t pleasing performances because they’re really great, it’s just a shame.

One thing that is abundantly clear is the progression of the technology over the last 14 years. While the character designs remain unaltered, the level of detail is gorgeous. On top of that the cinematography and lighting are stunning, creating static images that silhouette and glow beautifully. Up until printing this review, I wanted to list my favourite scene as Bob and Helen sitting next to the motel pool, just for the glow of the under-lit water and the luminescent neon signs. It’s also really satisfying to see the return of the masterful pairing of high-octane action scenes with a captivating, nostalgic score. In this way, Michael Giacchino reminds us why he is such a formidable force in the world of cinematic music, destined to go down as one of the absolute greats.

But when you move away from the technical marvel and sit down to analyse the story and themes throughout, a few noticeable cracks begin to form. When this film was first advertised, I rolled my eyes at the prospect of telling a story about a father having to look after his children. I worried that it would feel poorly timed and would pull central focus. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and we ended up with a charming tale of a father trying to get to know his kids (rather than control them), analysing the shift from the archetypal and antiquated “male household role” to a more progressive and modern mindset. But the truly wonderful thing is that this is a subplot, the main driving story is Helen’s mission. Having said that, I would argue that Bob doesn’t learn very much because he still gets what he wants in the end but we’ll step over that for now. In addition to the subtle but welcome gender politics questions there are also some very bold issues about following the law even if the law is wrong, the idea of accountability and oversight of the judicial process and the existence of superheroes keeping mankind weak and sedate (the Lex Luthor argument). It’s very apparent that these conversations seem geared towards adults more than kids but their presence in this film is far from negative, as it means younger audiences aren’t being talked down to and being surreptitiously presented with powerful core values regarding authority and power.

**major spoilers at the end of the paragrpah**
In order to address the flaws, we must first address the production. Incredibles 2 was initially slated for a 2019 release but after work on Toy Story 4 fell behind, the dates were switched and this film was brought forward, meaning an entire year’s worth of development was lost. While what we’ve ended up is fantastic, I can’t help but feel a degree of refining and gestation could have ironed out any present issues. Issues such as the fact that this film is disappointingly predictable; from the story to the character progression, I was not at all surprised by any of the developments. On top of that, a lot of the story was too much of a retread of the first one with a role reversal for Bob and Helen. But before we get dragged into the “how original can a superhero story be” argument, I’ll just quickly touch on the villain. What exactly is Evelyn’s plan? At the start of the film, superheroes are already illegal and while the return of these supers has caused a modicum of public interest, the general message from politicians and the media is that any likelihood or rescinding this is slim to non-existent. Why work with her brother to make legitimise legal superhero activity only to make them illegal again? Again, the argument for replacing a locked door for an improved locked door is fine but this film never really gets around to it, so what we end up with is a solid motivation but flawed logical planning; which is unfortunate.

As stated at the start of this review, I genuinely feel this is one of Pixar’s better follow-ups but that’s really not saying much. Incredibles 2 is a fun, exhilarating and entertaining ride but cannot exceed or truly compete with its predecessor. With the amount of open-ended threads and a few underdeveloped elements, I wouldn’t be surprised if an Incredibles 3 was on the table, whether it will take another fourteen years to produce, remains to be seen.


Release Date:
13th July 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
In a film that deals with so many lofty subjects about justice and responsibility, it’s a genuine welcome treat to see that simple comedy has not been neglected. Nowhere is that more prevalent than Jack-Jack’s backyard fight with the racoon, while discovering many of his newly formed superpowers. It’s silly, pretty, inventive, extremely well designed from a sound point of view and very funny.

Notable Characters:
My highlighted character is Frozone but not for the reasons one might assume. Frozone was a criminally underused cameo role in the first film and even more so in this feature. The only thing I can tell you about the character is that he looks, sounds and acts like Samuel L Jackson, has ice powers and has an off-screen wife who gets a line or two of dialogue per film for comedic effect. The only thing Incredibles 2 adds to that is that he has a theme song. In a film that could have branched out with the supports more, this was very disappointing.

Highlighted Quote:
“Politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right. Makes them nervous”

In A Few Words:
“An absolutely fantastic follow-up to one of Pixar’s finest works mired only by a handful of frustrating failings”

Total Score:

4/5

OCEAN’S 8

Every Con Has Its Pros

Director
Gary Ross

Starring
Sandra Bullock
Cate Blanchett
Anne Hathaway
Helena Bonham Carter
Mindy Kaling
Awkwafina
Sarah Paulson
Rihanna



The film opens by introducing us to Debbie Ocean [Bullock], the younger sister of notorious conman Danny Ocean (lead character in the 2001 remake Ocean’s Eleven). Having spent five years in prison, she has finally been released and is ready to pull off an extremely ambitious jewellery heist but she figures it will only require a seven person team and a starting capital of $20,000. Debbie recruits long-time partner Lou [Blanchett] to help run the mechanics of the scam, including conscripting individuals with a very particular set of skills. It is then revealed that Ocean’s plan went from a bank heist to multiple bank heists before settling on something extremely challenging: convincing Cartier to release a one hundred and fifty million dollar diamond necklace to be worn by actress Daphne Kluger [Hathaway] at the star-studded New York Met gala.. then steal it.

One of the first things that stands out about this release is the visual separation from the first trilogy. Soderbergh’s films were very slick but very of their time, with deep saturation and high contrast throughout – as much of the early 2000s tended to be with the rise of digital filmmaking. Ocean’s 8 moves away from this and pays simple homage to heist films of the 60s and 70s with tracking pans and zooms that have long fallen out of fashion. This helps not only forge a new identity for this release but also offers a pleasingly simple associative aesthetic. This is accentuated by Daniel Pemberton’s score which bleeds contemporary elements with the bouncing jazzy rhythms of features like The Thomas Crown Affair and The Pink Panther.

While the cast from the first gelled really well and were a formidable ensemble of the time, I would posit that the group gathered here are superior, owing to the fact they are fewer in number, meaning less small-bit tertiary characters to juggle and there isn’t a single weak component among the group. Now, that will be contested but I genuinely feel that everyone’s strengths are largely capitalised on and the streamlining of the assembled team means more of a connection for the audience and less time is taken establishing the characters abilities and skills. The group can be easily broken down into two separate tiers: the veteran actors and the younger wave. On the one hand we have Sandra Bullock being smooth, confident and in control and while that works, I feel her exceptional comic timing is often neglected (but that’s hardly something that needs to be present in every release), there’s also Cate Blanchett who seems to be having more fun than should be allowed, getting away with it devilishly well, Sarah Paulson as the somewhat cautious “I’m out of this life” character that appears in all these releases but proves she is more than capable and Helena Bonham Carter who should be irritating but comes off as a genuinely endearing part of the group. On the other end of the scale we have Awkwafina bringing a youthful energy and cynicism, complimented by a similar dismissive attitude from Rihanna’s character, Mindy Kaling gives a confident performance highlighting her character’s knowledge and expertise and while Anne Hathaway’s performance is initially hyper to the point of cliché, it pivots nicely and rounds out rather well by the film’s close. There are a few subtle legacy cameos that genuinely play out nicely but the less than subtle celebrity cameos ranged from interesting to painfully obvious and, for lack of a better word, cloying.

For a lot of audience members and critics, a sticking point will be the story – entirely centring on its simplicity. For some this will be a neat, slick jaunt that focuses as much on the characters as it does the sleight of hand, while others will find it too simplistic and devoid of complexity. Personally, I am of the former and while I will happily acknowledge the film somewhat suffers from being a touch straightforward and not exactly doing anything new, it is a simple proof of concept, greatly executed with solid twists and decent bread-crumbing while being conscious of new grounded technology. The only problem is that Ocean’s 8 is lacking an element of crescendo and suspense; Bullock’s character feels so in charge and we trust her so implicitly, that at no point is there much in the way of peril or concern that the plan will not be a roaring success. This may sound like a minor point but for me, it’s the film’s biggest flaw. Having said that, any supposed criticisms present here could quite easily be placed at the feet of 2001’s Ocean’s 11, so it could be said that this is merely par for the course and a hazard of sticking to the original formula so succinctly.

Overall, Ocean’s 8 is a smart, funny, entertaining release and, if one can suspend expectations of intricacy and innovation, it embodies everything this kind of blockbuster should be.


Release Date:
22nd June 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**paragraph full of spoilers**
A heavy amount of the third act rides on an insurance investigator, played by James Corden, dismissing the truth for results; and I take issue with that. After the necklace is revealed to be missing, John Frazier, an independent investigator is assigned to the case and seems aware of the Ocean family’s criminal history, having direct dealings with them in the past. As the film is winding down, we are left wondering if and how they will get away with the fencing of the diamonds. Regrettably, Corden’s part of the story wraps things up a little too quickly and conveniently, with the character himself stating that he doesn’t care about who is responsible, as long as he can get the necklace back. In a film that is genuinely pleasing, this is a particular convenient bugbear that resolves itself far too neatly and jeopardises the suspension of disbelief.

Notable Characters:
As stated earlier, I was truly impressed by the entire ensemble and believe the chemistry between them worked favourably. Having said that, Cate Blanchett really stood out as this film’s forerunner; slick, cool, in charge, playful, stunning wardrobe, she is the embodiment of everything these films aspire to and more. But in truth, is anyone surprised by that?

Highlighted Quote:
“A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored and for once I want to be ignored”

In A Few Words:
“A simple competent heist film that entertains effortlessly and easily proves itself the best Oceans sequel”

Total Score:

4/5

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

The Park Is Gone

Director
JA Bayona

Starring
Bryce Dallas Howard
Chris Pratt
Rafe Spall
Isabella Sermon



The story opens three years after the events in Jurassic World, the park is wild and largely reclaimed by nature but opportunists and poachers continue to scavenge from the site in the hopes of getting a jump-start on the bio-technology. Claire Dearing [Howard] is now running a protection group, hoping to save the dinosaurs on the island from a second extinction event as the dormant volcano on Isla Nublar has become active. John Lockwood (portrayed by James Cromwell), the former partner of John Hammond, has put his subordinate Eli Mills [Spall] in charge of a rescue operation to preserve as many species as they can. As the dinosaurs are all chipped, they require Claire’s handprint login to track them, more than that, they have their eye on the only surviving velociraptor and Claire enlists Owen Grady [Pratt] to help but their relationship is strained and Mills’ motives aren’t all that they appear.

Before I go any further, I would like to highlight a quote from The Lost World: Jurassic Park: “Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again” “No, you’re making all new ones.” This, to me, embodies the core problem with everything that followed Jurassic Park; I genuinely don’t believe any of the four sequels have come close to the original and no matter how often they try and rework the formula, the positive elements crumble under the weight of colossally disappointing or flat-out terrible ones. A lot of the issues here can be attributed to most contemporary blockbusters which prioritise moments over logic and narrative reasoning; usually for marketing purposes. But this leaves us with pleasing developments that work rather well amongst the connective dross that loosely strings them together. Things like the image used in the above poster, the actual moment in the film is remarkably stupid and everything surrounding it defies logic; from Owen meeting up with Claire and Franklin (played as a walking cliché by Justice Smith) despite the size of the island, to discovering the gyrosphere, to the fact that said gyrosphere is avoided by a stampede despite the surrounding environment being demolished, then we have a dinosaur circling the orb trying to eat Owen but then the T-Rex appears to kill the other carnivore only to then run away! It’s all nauseating nonsense reminiscent of that painful dinosaur stampede in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. What does any of this do other than provide a heightened tickbox set-piece? It certainly doesn’t generate suspense as the threat feels phony – and while I always fall back on the James Bond argument (the conceit that it’s not if Bond will get out of peril, it’s how), the lack of coherent progression disconnects the audience from a sense of earned urgency.

On top of that, we have to put up with so many stupid decisions from both the human and dinosaur contingent. People being arrogant and dumb I can understand. A trained hunter who steps into a cage after an animal passes out, assuming it’s completely tranq’d is entering more into a territory of such disbelief that the usual suspension isn’t sufficient. But it still gets a pass because I can maintain that humans can be clouded by their own motivational drives. What I can’t understand is a film that breaks the logic or rules that it establishes. If a science fiction or fantasy film introduces a status quo fact, it cannot then simply ignore it for plot convenience; in this case I am talking about animal inconsistency and the extreme overuse of dino ex machina. Throughout these films we have been told about the patterns of these animals, that they move in herds, that alpha specimens can have influences over others, that they are communicating and breeding, that they are capable of extraordinary acts, etc. And yet whenever we witness these creatures loosed, they conform to stupid human logic. The indoraptor, a refined hybrid that should constitute as a spoiler but it’s in every trailer, is whatever the scene needs it to be at that time: a silent apex predator that can smell prey from a mile away before relentlessly tracking and pursuing it or a moronic beast that is extraordinarily clumsy and can be outrun by a child. It’s lazy writing and has given rise to the “a dinosaur will run in and save the day” cliché which is posing as homage to the closing scene from the first film. This trope has been exploited so much that any time the situation looks dire, I fully expect a T-Rex to silently enter from screen left and bite the problem. Stuck in a lift? No way out and a fire has started in the control panel? *Chomp* T-Rex eats the problem. The two people a character has been crushing on are meeting for the first time and the semi-cute-meet “how do we all know each other” puts him/her in an awkward positon? *Roar* T-Rex creates a distraction and the lead gets to avoid confronting this problem until later in the third act.

What is interesting is that if you scratch away the blockbustery studio mandated components, you are left with a very simple, minimalised story presenting a basic question about the consequences of the advancement of technology – which is very indicative of Michael Crichton’s work. But as stated, this factor is so buried under the mountainous action quota that it becomes a fleeting, scantly revisited set of interesting thought experiments: the ecological philosophy behind saving animals that we manufactured, the concept of government involvement on a private island, the moral culpability and responsibility of those involved, the grey-area difference between exploiting animals for experiments and war over captivity and entertainment, the lengths of meddling with death and resurrection but I’ll expand on all of that later. The truth is, these kinds of issues are usually better left as open-ended conversation starters, like The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror because following something like this to its conclusion will change the face of the established world so much that it will alter the relatability of the grounded world around it. In other words, if you introduce a fantastical element and state that it has been normalised for decades, you cannot say the world will completely mirror our own and while that’s a great launchpad for stories it can quickly deviate to the absurd; for an example, see Independence Day: Resurgence.

Another element that strongly links this feature with the original – and one that Jurassic World didn’t use as well – is the welcome return of extensive animatronic puppetry. It feels like we are finally getting back to a point where computer generated imagery and practical effects can work in harmony, complimenting each other, rather than in direct competition and the film succeeds greatly because of it. There are also fascinating behind the scenes practical technics, such as an outdoor rollercoaster track which was built for the gyrosphere descent over a cliff-edge, generating a genuine reaction of both fear and gravity on the body. But as much as I love the ingenuity and creativity of this kind of filmmaking, it’s brutalised and all but lost in fast-paced editing and a frankly absurd sequence devoid of consequence. And that’s why I’ve rated this film the way I have; so many technical aspects are working exceptionally well, the cinematography is great, Michael Giacchino’s score gives us enough new material to evolve the familiar themes, the practical and digital effects are genuinely impressive, make-up, costumes, set design, all of them are performing at peak levels but the story fails them every single time. If I was rating on story alone, this film would be a travesty but the amount of work that has gone into its execution is truly praiseworthy.

The prospect of a zoo-like environment failing is a terrifying and relatable prospect and one which illustrates man’s arrogance when it comes to controlling environments. Zoos, circuses, theme parks, things we create for our amusement at the expense of something wild is a playground for What If fiction and while this film follows the same lines it is somehow less rewarding and stretches into fantasy territory. As stated earlier, I believe this is a problem with the nature of Michael Crichton’s work and why the only sequels and follow-ups he produced were at the pressure and behest of others rather than from a creative desire to further a story. And yet it’s not impossible, the “where do you go from here” is not out of our reach and to prove that, one need only look to the Planet Of The Apes prequels. The major difference there is that the story gave us a very emotionally relatable core along with ground-breaking motion capture techniques, to the degree that we were vested in the non-human story more than the one we would traditionally empathise with. But Jurassic Park isn’t those films, it’s always billed as a monster movie and as much as they push this “Blue is the chosen one” storyline, it’s not sticking because through both the performance and circumstance, I simply don’t buy the connection.

At the end of the day, Fallen Kingdom is another instalment in a long line of mediocre continuations that brings very little to the series but the way this one ends gives me the impression that we will get something very new next time – whether that will be positive or not, remains to be seen.


Release Date:
8th June 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**extreme spoilers throughout this whole section**
The film closes pretty much back where it started, with the moral quandary of do these creatures deserve a chance to live again or have the repeated incidents highlighted that this is simply a bad idea which needs to be stopped at all costs. Having spent the majority of the film weighing the options, Claire makes the decision to not save the dinosaurs and in a rather traumatic gas chamber sequence, we have a Toy Story 3 fake-out, leading audiences to believe that they may witness something surprisingly adult in this relatively light action fare. And in that moment, the doors open and the dinosaurs are unleashed on California. With a town in running distance, several species of herbivore and carnivore are let loose on a completely unprepared environment and populace. As the camera pans, we reveal Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie [Sermon] has activated the door, explaining that these animals deserve the chance to live. And my face immediately contorted into some twisted mesh of disgust and outrage and my internal monologue screamed, “What the fuck!? You made the wrong choice kid! Who.. who the fuck put the child in charge!?” If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you know the movie’s big twist, that Lockwood’s granddaughter is in fact a clone of Lockwood’s deceased daughter, which understandably caused a rift between Hammond and Lockwood. This is a development that I have such contention with. On the one hand, it’s a fascinating and natural evolution of where this technology could and would progress to but on the other it steps away from the simplicity of “park goes offline, animals get out” but doesn’t give it enough time to really develop into anything rewarding enough. Maisie’s justification for her action is to compare the dinosaur’s right to exist with that of her own; again, another HUGE moral quandary that this film has done so little to explore. But it’s all irrelevant, Maisie pressing the button is symbolic of a franchise that has never really worked outside of the first and should be left to die but the kids have voted and regardless of consequence, they have demanded more.

Notable Characters:
There isn’t one human character I have liked in these last two Jurassic Park films. Say what you will about The Lost World and Jurassic Park III at least they had Goldblum or Neill entertaining us with their expertise and cantankerous observations. What do we get? Owen fucking Grady. Pratt’s character continues to be the worst in the entire Jurassic Park franchise – yeah, I’m including Paul Bowman and Amanda Kirby in that. A lot of larger than life personalities have made their mark on this series and sometimes their absurdity can elevate the film. But Grady is a mess, he is consistently selfish yet superheroic in his actions, not to mention the fact he’s practically immortal. Without meaning to sound ridiculous, he is a representation of how America sees itself, a lone hero fighting against the odds for a little peace and quiet; you know, a real conservative wet-dream. But at no point does the character or the film really acknowledge that this charming yet outdated cowboy archetype is the villain. Owen trains the raptors but refuses to accept responsibility that his work could/would be imitated by others, his interactions with other humans devolves to that of a thuggish child and his plot-armour driven “I don’t know what I’m doing but this will work out” attitude puts everyone at risk but never fails so nothing is learned. And this isn’t the case of another Peter Quill because that individual experienced genuine arrested development and culture shock through displacement, this is an ex-military individual who works with animals but displays the tendencies of someone who simply doesn’t live in the real world. And when you have a film that is filled with genetically resurrected dinosaurs, you need lots of real world to make the Jurassic bit work.

Highlighted Quote:
“Change is like death, you don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing at the gates”

In A Few Words:
“As with every other Jurassic Park sequel, there are lots of interesting questions asked but all of them take a back-seat to some fairly uninspired action sequences”

Total Score:

2/5

SOLO

A Star Wars Story

Director
Ron Howard

Starring
Alden Ehrenreich
Donald Glover
Joonas Suotamo
Emilia Clarke
Woody Harrelson
Paul Bettany



Set years before the events of Star Wars, we are introduced to a young impoverished Han [Ehrenreich], making his way on the Imperial controlled planet Corellia with his girlfriend and accomplice, Qi’ra [Clarke]. Han manages to escape but Qi’ra is trapped and as she is dragged away, Han vows to return and save her. To avoid being caught, Han takes on the new surname of Solo and enlists with the Empire. Years later, caught up in a siege on an alien world, Solo meets a group of thieves, led by the charming but dastardly Tobias Beckett [Harrelson], and bargains his way on to their latest heist with the help of a newly-liberated slave, Chewbacca [Suotamo].

Before we crack on with this review, we need to cover a bit of history. In addition to the central saga of Star Wars films, Disney announced they were going to be releasing anthology stories that explored established characters and introduced all new characters, planets and factions. Thus far, we have had Rogue One which was a big success but recently it has been revealed how much of a nightmare the production was – which came across through the plot-holes, heavy reshoots and trailers littered with footage that never appeared in the film. But Solo goes back further as George Lucas was working on the idea for this film before he sold the Star Wars property to Disney; which makes a lot of sense considering Lucas’ obsession with connecting a vast universe to a handful of individuals. Directors Lord and Miller were put in charge of the project but heavily argued they were making an improv-heavy straight comedy, leading to them being effectively fired six months into the shoot. This resulted in Ron Howard being brought in to reshoot a good 70% of the film with an established cast and script. You may be asking the relevance of all this but it is important because for everything that went wrong behind the scenes on this film, it’s a genuine testament to everyone involved that a) the movie was completed and b) it came out as decently as it did. Problems and conflicts of this nature cause ruptures that bleed into the film itself and doom it to failure before it’s even released, add a mixed-bag tone and the hand of Lucas (who, may have birthed this universe but is the culprit of some of its most hideous mistakes) and it could quite easily be an utter travesty but what they have salvaged here is extremely agreeable.

Unlike something along the lines of Blade Runner 2049, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull or even The Force Awakens, Solo has the frankly impossible task of replicating through recasting; less a handoff and more a comparative piece which rarely sits well with audiences and their myriad preconceptions. To my mind, the most recent example of a successfully duplicated property counterpart is actually Star Trek and for the most part Solo performs admirably. Admittedly, of the new cast members, the highest levels of scrutiny will be reserved for Ehrenreich and Glover. Although it didn’t come over brilliantly in the marketing material, Ehrenreich conveys the necessary confidence and swagger that Harrison Ford brings to almost every role but the iconic sardonic cynicism (verging on bored apathy) is absent. I can understand the logic for this, as a bitter older man is hardly born bitter, but there was a fear that this would fail to generate the familiarity audiences have with the character. Thankfully, Ehrenreich performs commendably and with enough charm to bring a new side to the character – in the same way that Ewan McGregor did in the prequels. Purists will never be satisfied but for an impossible task, he’s come out in a strong place. Then we have Donald Glover as Lando, the role famously performed by Billy Dee Williams. Glover is not only the obvious casting choice, he is the reason I wanted to see this film. The man does such a wonderful job of bringing the smooth, charismatic and self-assured pirate to life and my only complaint is that his role was so small. I may not have cared for a Solo spin-off (because how much story is left to tell?) but a Lando film charting the story of pirate to captain of industry to military general, starring Glover? I would be first in line.

**quite a few spoilers toward the end of this paragraph**
For all the positives, this film is far from devoid of faults. Any feature picked up midway by a new creative will cause an immediate clash of directing styles and is going to feel a little jumbled no matter the talent involved. Subsequently, there is a lot of fallout that never gets properly resolved, from small things like the excessive use of conversational transitions (where a conversation starts in one place and is finished in the next scene in an entirely new location) to a subplot about droid rights which is interesting but is also weirdly – and somewhat dismissively – executed. The most apparent example of this unsettling air of unevenness is in the supporting characterisation; specifically Dryden Vos and Enfys Nest. While I would highlight both as really solid performances and interesting characters, their existence feels like the product of adjustment and course correction. Firstly we have Paul Bettany, who plays the gangster villain Vos well, but his threat level degrades quickly to the point of irrelevance. It has been mentioned that the original actor was intended to be brought to life as a motion-capture alien-humanoid but scheduling conflicts led to the entire part being rewritten and Bettany being brought on board. For an example of what I mean, Vos is described as a formidable force who will hunt you to the end of the universe for crossing him but not only is he outfoxed by a simple deception, his supposedly vast army is merely a dozen easily tricked subordinates. Speaking of which, both Beckett and Vos have an adversary in the form of marauders led by the heavily armoured Enfys Nest. Now, I know the Enfys Nest identity reveal was supposed to be “but you’re just a kid” but because of Star Wars lore and the importance placed on bloody parents and siblings, I was expecting something bigger and more connected; that this is Phasma’s mother or something stupid. Admittedly the disconnected nature of Jyn Erso in Rogue One should have taught audiences not to expect these threads of association but Star Wars fans can’t help but draw patterns and links where there are none. And while I could have left that as it was, as the seeds of something yet to come, the film then dismisses that entire mindset with the BIG reveal (the one that was pushed throughout with coy mentions of “you know who I work for” and “there are more dangerous people in this galaxy than Dryden Vos” etc) which couldn’t be more connected to the expanded universe and will be such a huge talking point for fans.

While several creative changes may have shifted during production, one that would have been past the point of no return is the production design. The amount of work, effort and money that goes in to getting things like costume and casting sorted is a very difficult train to derail but in fairness, the level of detail and design that has gone into the world building/expansion is extremely positive and praiseworthy. Nothing on this film feels rushed or cheap, every frame is flowing with intrigue and oddities – as all Star Wars films should. On top of that, everything is shot beautifully and Bradford Young has done a wondrous job created a dark, murky side of space largely unseen in the main saga. And, as with the casting, John Powell has the extremely unenviable task of making his mark on the Star Wars brand and what we are given with the musical score is perfectly fitting, the John Williams recycling is to be expected but the Marauders theme was particularly pleasing.

I said in my review for The Last Jedi that these indulgence pieces are for anyone who wants to savour nostalgia over progress (not an attack, just an observation) and would a story about Han Solo’s younger years appease, assuage or entertain them? In truth, I don’t know the answer. I feel there are probably too many unanswered questions, a wall of irritating sequel secrets and future developments have been erected but who knows how, when or if they will be addressed and the overall narrative could be described as predictable, formulaic and straight-forward with a tick-box of character components based on peripheral props and throwaway lines three 40 year old films. And yet it works. There are things that mainstream audiences may find uninteresting or convoluted (in terms of delving into the expanded universe) and there will be contradictions, alterations and inclusions that will irk hardcore Star Wars fans. To my mind, this film achieves the insurmountable by taking an extremely well-known character and producing a fun space pirating romp in spite of all the production dramas but the problem with all prequels is that they remove the veil of mystery and quantify the sum parts, leaving us with answers that can feel unfulfilling, like an explorer completing a map and realising there is no more unknown left to discover.


Release Date:
25th May 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the main exciting set-pieces chocked with visual flare and high-stakes adventure is the Kessel Run; a maelstrom of space storms surrounding several resource-rich planets. Navigation of this particular sector of space is extremely difficult due to the multiple hyperspace jumps that need to be precisely co-ordinated, or face obliteration at the mercy of the unknown. On paper this is great science fiction stuff paired with classic high-seas adventure writing. And yet, the reason I am highlighting it, is the obsession of making things fit. Almost every single aspect of the expanded universe stems from a small handful of lines uttered in the original films and one of those is Han’s claim to Luke Skywalker that the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” When it was pointed out years later that this is in fact erroneous, fans made it work, concocting a workaround which define the Kessel Run as an example of Han’s expertise as a pilot, rather than his speed. Admittedly, it strengthens the character but also causes the bite of the original statement to feel a touch lacklustre.. and all because George Lucas didn’t understand a parsec measures distance not time. The knock on effect of such a simple screenwriting action in the late 1970s is truly astonishing.

Notable Characters:
In a strange way, the only returning member of the principal cast is Suotamo as Chewbacca – as he worked with his counterpart Peter Mayhew on the most recent Star Wars films. Not only does he perform admirably on his own in this outing, we experience more of a connection between Han and Chewie than han and Qi’ra; something I should be miffed about but ultimately works because that’s the relationship we know and wanted to see more of.

Highlighted Quote:
“You just lost the canon.. and I really hurt my thumbs”

In A Few Words:
“A rather impressive feat considering the production difficulties and while it is fairly tame and vanilla, it adds enough to the Star Wars universe to warrant its own existence”

Total Score:

3/5

DEADPOOL 2

From The Studio That Killed Wolverine

Director
David Leitch

Starring
Ryan Reynolds
Josh Brolin
Julian Dennison
Zazie Beetz
Morena Baccarin



Following the events of Deadpool, Wade Wilson [Reynolds] has taken several high profile international contracts, executing various elements of the criminal underworld. One particular druglord locks himself in a panic room and, having escaped his fate, pays a visit to Wade’s home. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just jump ahead with the story. Finally convinced to join the X-Men, Deadpool’s first mission involves an out-of-control young mutant named Russell [Dennison], who is threatening to burn down the orphanage he resides in and everyone in charge of it. We later learn that Cable [Brolin], a powerful mutant from the future, has travelled back in time in an attempt to kill Russell before he can become a force for evil in the coming years. In order to stop this from happening, Deadpool must unite a team of unlikely heroes, including Domino [Beetz], a woman whose superpower is being incredibly lucky.

Throughout this review, several highlighted points will feel like they are circling the same all-encompassing flaw within this film: repetition. As odd as this may sound, considering it was a commercial and critical success, Shrek 2 suffered in the same way when it embodied the very thing it was lampooning. The trouble is that something created as a means to poke fun at a huge franchise or genre pieces will eventually perpetrate the same weaknesses it initially spurned in other releases; like an independent coffee shop growing to become a successful chain – the product is the same but you can’t take the moral ground of being different when you eventually operate in the same manner. Now, I will openly admit, this is a bit of an exaggeration for Deadpool 2. It is, for all intents and purposes, a very fun, enjoyable and well-crafted film but there are simply far too many call-backs and when it does something new or bold, it works beautifully but when it lazily plays it safe, the whole thing falls flat. The degree and frequency to which audiences will tolerate or even notice this, will vary.

Stepping away from the negative for a second, Deadpool 2 manages to do something quite impressive by providing genuine emotional heft among the sea of sophomoric jokes. The majority of this stems from the new characters and the performances given and by grounding the story to something personal and contained, rather than escalating to tackle some global threat. Characters like Russell and Cable are extremely well suited to be paired with someone like Deadpool. On the one hand, you have a foul-mouthed, hot-headed child looking for both revenge and somewhere to belong. While one wouldn’t immediately assign the moniker of mentor to a character like Deadpool, Russell’s presence and influence certainly has a somewhat maturing effect on the lead and the role seems almost custom-built for Dennison after his performance in Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Cable is also a classic pairing for Wade, as he was in the comics, due to his sneering, no-nonsense veneer and complete deadpan straightness to Deadpool’s hyperactive eccentricity. With Brolin so recently performing exceptionally as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Cable feels a little basic and undemanding but equally, this character in this particular capacity is meant to be much more straightforward and simplistic. As for the other new cast, I will come back to them later.

**spoilers**
Despite greatly enjoying the new additions to the cast, the film doesn’t really know what to do with its established characters. Sure, they all make an appearance and have a few solid moments but they are mostly shifted to the side-line. Frankly, with an ensemble sequel, this is to be somewhat expected and I wouldn’t have drawn such significant attention to it, if it weren’t for Vanessa. In my synopsis, I side-stepped a rather large development: Vanessa is killed before the opening credits. I am horribly conflicted by this because on one hand, I appreciate that there was little else to do with her character arc and their relationship presents an issue for the story in its current state (see every superhero’s significant other.. ever), I will also acknowledge the emotional and motivational push that it generates for Wade. However, we have a phrase for that and it is “woman in the fridge.” Every effort seems to be made to make Vanessa’s death both meaningful and justifiable and Baccarin continues to perform commendably but for a film that calls out other films for these kinds of developments, it’s a sloppy move and one that I can irritatingly understand but did not enjoy.

Much like the first film, Deadpool 2 is a really impressive technical achievement with so much being achieved with arguably limited resources (compared to other blockbusters). In truth, I could take a jab at the CGI being ropey at times but for the most part it is handled decently, so we’ll overlook that. Leitch’s direction is perfectly fine and the choice to keep the story grounded and gritty serves both the character and this spin-off series very well but it never elevates or presents us with anything truly standout. Finally we have the sound design, which works extremely well but is marred by Tyler Bates’ extremely temperate score. I’ve noticed that Bates turns up and either produces something memorable and impressive or completely forgettable and compared to Junkie XL’s Michael Jackson inspired tones, this offering doesn’t feel as noteworthy. Having said that, the facetious choral music used during the third act fight scene outside the orphanage was extremely amusing and lambasted the genre’s musical tropes brilliantly.

Much like the nitpicking of MCU features, it’s easy to forget that this film shouldn’t exist and what we’re seeing is really down to a handful of dogged individuals fighting for a subversive property they truly believe in. As such, I hold this feature to high standards, things that could be overlooked or dismissed are magnified because they have already proven themselves capable of producing something better. If I’m not making my hyperbolic point clearly, a half-decent DCEU film feels like a spectacular victory whereas a Marvel film that stumbles even a little, feels like a potentially devastating **. Neither is true and yet we are often left with this impression thanks to what came before. This whole thing rides on the shoulders and charisma of Ryan Reynolds and that man continues to carry this whole thing magnificently and yet a parallel can be drawn bet ween the film itself and the Deadpool rap remix during the end credits: it’s effectively the same thing and Deadpool fans will love it regardless but for those of us who want this sub-genre of self-aware critical scolding to continue elevating and challenging the industry standards, it’s playing it a little too safe, holding a few too many punches and indulging in a few too many hypocritical tropes. I still appreciate everything this film does, I just wanted it to be better.


Release Date:
18th May 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
During the last wave of trailers, we were told that the team X-Force would be a major factor, with several recognisable cast names. Pretty much everything surrounding X-Force was wonderful. From the interview process, to the inclusion of regular-guy Peter but most importantly the fact that all bar Domino and Deadpool are killed off because of Deadpool’s incompetence and arrogance. It’s a brilliant move and the exact kind of thing one would expect and hope for from this release. I genuinely didn’t care for killing off Vanessa but introducing a handful of powerful mutants and taking them out a few minutes later was brilliant. Annoyingly, one of the better jokes was completely ruined. One of the recruits is an invisible individual named Vanisher. For a while you’re not sure if he’s real or not but then there’s a parachute flying by itself and we realise he is indeed part of the team. As he dies we get a glimpse of who the character is and he audience are both shocked and elated that it’s none other than Brad Pitt. At least, that would be the case if it weren’t for the terrible CGI, silent reaction and quick edit away from it, leaving audiences both confused and not entirely sure if they saw some random guy or indeed Brad Pitt. I’m all for blink and you’ll miss it cameos (Alan Tudyk has one, as do the rest of the young X-Men cast) but if you can’t savour the inclusion then you have to wonder what was the point?

Notable Characters:
**more spoilers**
Zazie Beetz is marvellous as Domino, her powers are a wonderful partnering for Deadpool, as the various lucky developments leave her as invincible as Wilson himself. Able to hold her own with the merc with a mouth and a genuine on-screen force to be reckoned with, I would love to see her return in a more pronounced capacity; which I can easily see future films doing. I was also impressed with the arguable main villain. While in prison, Russell befriends the “biggest guy in the icebox” and we are left wondering which character it will be. When it is eventually revealed that the character in question is in fact Juggernaut, I was very pleased; giving audiences a better iteration than the laughable Vinnie Jones in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Highlighted Quote:
“Listen to the pain, it’s both history teacher and fortune teller”

In A Few Words:
“I feel this will be a divisive release but for the most part it will please fans of both the first film and the source material”

Total Score:

3/5

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Directors
Anthony Russo
Joe Russo

Starring
Chris Evans
Robert Downey Jr
Chris Hemsworth
Josh Brolin



After several cameos and teaser appearances, Thanos [Brolin] has finally enacted his grand plan to unite the mighty, universe altering, infinity stones, attach them to his gauntlet and restore balance to the universe by wiping out half of its populace. As the stones have been housed in various locations throughout the established Marvel plane, his dark quest means he will have to go through the Guardians Of The Galaxy, the Avengers and all their allies along the way. At its heart, this movie is actually comprised of a handful of simple set pieces and immense character jostling but the weight behind the legacy of the back catalogue of films is present and elevates the whole. And this is something that a lot of imitators have never been able to replicate: momentum. Like a train hurtling at increasing speeds, the longer it’s on its track, the more power and built up energy it accumulates, giving it more of an overwhelming appearance. Sticking with that analogy for a second, a train thundering through a station at high speeds is pretty impressive but one that doesn’t slow down and flies past with tonnes of haulage, rattling the nearby structures is a fearsome spectacle. And that’s very much what this feature is, more spectacle and experience than conventional narrative; which is both the best and worst aspect of its existence.

As with every review I pen, this will be more of a post-viewing analysis than a spoiler free tease; this is to ensure that I can justify, in detail, where a film succeeds or fails. Naturally, this film has been heavily marketed to ensure its secrets are kept but this review will cover a lot of content, so if you haven’t already seen this movie, for God’s sake stop reading. With that cautionary statement out of the way, I can say that this is a spectacularly bold release. As the film ended and the audience sat waiting for the single post-credit sequence, we watched the names plainly displayed on screen like an in memoriam segment. And once that final snippet was served up, everyone slowly filed out of the cinema in shock, reeling from the film’s funereal close. Again, no matter how good or bad the film was, the climax was extraordinarily bold.

Speaking of merits and faults, let’s get the biggest defects out of the way. Marvel has always had an issue with their scores and aside from a few standout pieces and themes, the majority has been disappointing, lacklustre or forgettable. Having created the Avengers theme – one of the more distinctly memorable and pleasing – Alan Silvestri returns but despite the vast library of character-related themes to play with, we have ended up with an acceptable score that regrettably lacks a lot of presence. Naturally it’s perfectly serviceable but after a while retreats from the fore to simply become big background brass and string elements that do little to spur on the emotional resonance. Another huge point of contention is the CGI. For the most part, it’s spectacular and thoroughly enjoyable but there were a few shots of snarling alien beasts, Thanos in his armour and floating heads on CGI bodies that didn’t work as well as they could and if these cracks are showing on the day of release, they will definitely age horribly. And that’s about it, the rest of the film follows some truly astoundingly competent direction and I fear that amidst all the forums of possible future developments and the specific fates of certain characters, not enough credit will be awarded to several background factors that have been working perfectly throughout these films; things like set design, costume, hair and make-up, cinematography, editing, all working harmoniously in the shadows.

Looking over the marketing for this release, a great deal of this film’s grand appeal was recreating and escalating something that was first successfully done in Avengers – crossover. Obviously I’m not stating this is the first franchise crossover but it is the payoff after literally a decade of world-building. Despite a few stumbles and course corrections, Marvel has never really fallen flat on its face and at this stage, no one else is coming close to the kind of industry spearheading that they are pioneering. Subsequently, it feels like they are trying to burn the engine out and simply run as hard and as fast as they can to see where the audience’s limit is but in doing so have created something that probably cannot be replicated. And I would posit this returning loyalty and desperation for “what comes next” is largely thanks to the characters themselves. Marvel has such an arsenal of characters and each of them have been portrayed in a way that will suit different audience demographics, meaning a crossover as intense as this will draw in every Marvel fan. And yet this film, in spite of the giant game of superhero bingo, doesn’t have a great deal of contained arcs. I say contained specifically because while certain character arcs are practically non-existent, their actions and stories in the previous standalone instalments serve as foundation for the conclusions presented here. To give an example, take Bruce Banner [Mark Ruffalo]. For too many boring legal and rights reasons, we won’t be getting a Hulk film any time soon and as such Marvel only has Banner’s appearances in other features to further his story. Interestingly, his actions in Thor Ragnarok and this film feel like the first two parts of a three act journey which will conclude in the next release. This is also visually interesting for viewers, as we don’t just see the Hulk smashing things (although there’s a fair amount of that at the start) and puts Banner in a position to take part in a fight in a unique and pleasing way. There is also the surprise appearance by the spectre of Johann “Red Skull” Schmidt, which I thoroughly enjoyed as part of a legacy closure, some seven years in the making but it generated so many questions that I doubt would have satisfying conclusions. Could this set up a return of the character? It’s unknown at this point and I think his presence was more a cameo for shock value purposes rather than a launching pad for something bigger or more detailed. And then we have Peter Dinklage as Eitri, the Dwarf King and master of a galactic weapons forge. Much like Red Skull, the role is a very small incidental one but something about it felt extraordinarily off. It’s very hard to quantify primarily because it’s such a weird performance. I totally get the casting but of all the ridiculous things these films have thrown at me, this one took me out of the film entirely and I stepped into the shoes of someone who doesn’t care about this franchise at all, muttering to myself, “this is stupid.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel is somehow aware of this because every time you get too close to realising it’s all nonsense, they undercut with humour and you’re back and under their mighty spell once more.

As stated previously, this film is more spectacle than story but it still manages to come out surprisingly well balanced. I have no doubt that because of the tone there will be several comparisons to things like The Empire Strikes Back but in truth, I feel the more accurate comparison would be The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, specifically, the third instalment. So much ground work has been laid and finally every character is brought together for one mighty, fatigue-inducing battle.. and yet somehow it works magnificently as a pairing of beloved characters and monumental developments. Throughout, there is a very clear impression of desperation, that this is the last battle which has genuine stakes and it is very rare for a film – even one bisected like this – to follow through with the implications. After all, the film was advertised on the threat that Thanos could wipe out half of the universe’s populace with the snap of his fingers, to not see such an act would rob the audience of something momentous but the fact they followed through was still surprising; but then, that’s what happened in the comics. Before I get onto the bulk of my thoughts about the film’s ending, I need to address something that has come up a lot recently: the concept of the half film. Several adaptations of hefty novels have, for creative or fiscal reasons, chosen to split the story into two separate features. This partition often ruins the natural flow and we end up with one entire feature of setup and one of pay-off but neither having that necessary balance. With these Marvel films emulating the on-going serial aspect of the source material, the never-ending story aspect kind of works in its favour and while this movie is most certainly a part one, the presence of a cliff-hanger does not make something half a movie. I will openly admit that there is no real story, just a series of bombastic events, yet Infinity War still retains its three act structure. In truth, if you shift the perspective and make Thanos the lead character, then the film has a complete arc and happy finale because of the victory attained.

As much as the ending is a temporary state, it is still a powerful one. To take a franchise of familiar faces and extremely well-known actors and almost dismissively remove them from existence is something that takes an exceptional amount of confidence and bravado. Up until this point, death in the MCU has never been felt thanks to reversals, resurrections, lack of development/connection (looking at you Quicksilver) and plot armour so to deal such a devastating blow, I wouldn’t be surprised if many audience members will feel simply unprepared. And I’m all too familiar with comic lore, I know that the bulk of the post-click deaths will be reversed but it genuinely doesn’t matter if these things are unwritten because, much like The Last Jedi, they are real in this moment and what is presented as real for the characters is presented as real for us. Now we will have another year of theories, speculation and discussion which is, at its heart, word of mouth marketing, generating twelve months of hype and expectation that ensure ticket sales and interest long before the elusive title of this follow-up are even released. Ultimately, these films were made for the internet age, they know people trawl through trailers, combing for details so they purposefully subvert the promotional material to both retain their secrets and sell you on the concept rather than the content. Things like Thor’s bloody eye in the Ragnarok trailer, the Hulk running with the group in the main pre-trailer title card charge, Spider-Man in the background of the Star Lord/Iron Man planning rather than Doctor Strange, just little amendments that either stem from reshoots or an active attempt to keep things secret. But if I was pressed, I would say I genuinely appreciate these tactics. With both the Star Wars and Marvel universes, Disney have taken to revealing so precious little, knowing that the rabid and obsessive fanbase will do all the marketing for them with minimal prompting. The only things they need to confirm are a handful of characters (mostly in new outfits), a tantalising tone, a title and a release date. That’s it. I mean, I went into this film with no idea how it would turn out and I left it with no idea what is coming next and that is so very, very exciting.


Release Date:
27th April 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
In the absence of much of a story, this is a film of moments. Among the countless quips and cool fight sequences there is seemingly something for everyone. Even at two and a half hours, screen time is so limited but a marvellous job has been done giving almost everyone both something to do and awarding them with a standout moment. Rather than pinpointing one, I would say it is a great exercise in highlighting the sort of Marvel fan/critic you are. With so much going on, the thing that stands out to you would more than likely dictate the kind of character and values you support or the kind of film you wanted to see. Admittedly, that is an incredibly broad statement but one that I believe fits.

Notable Characters:
Thanos. How could it be anyone else? After six years of setup and escalating promotion, which amounted to doing very little, we finally get an insight into the man pulling all the strings. I was genuinely anxious, fearful of a crushing anti-climax but Thanos is such a detailed and layered character, full of conflict and motivational drive that you can’t help but be taken in by it all. More than that, the performance is so painfully brilliant that at times, you are taken in by his twisted logic. This is truly the best kind of bad guy, the one who feels he is right in his actions and starts to coerce you into thinking the same thing. From a screenwriting angle, through Brolin’s performance and the extremely impressive visual effects work, he is a collaborative triumph. Thanos is a being addressing a very real problem with the worst possible solution; truly both a story and creation to represent our socio-political times.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’m not looking for forgiveness and I’m way past asking for permission”

In A Few Words:
“A triumphant release marred only by the smallest of complaints but Marvel are pushing further out into unchartered waters yet somehow thriving”

Total Score:

4/5

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER

Meari To Majo No Hana [メアリと魔女の花]

Director
Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Starring
Hana Sugisaki
Ryunosuke Kamiki
Yuki Amami
Fumiyo Kohinata



Set in the English countryside, young Mary Smith [Sugisaki] has moved in with her great Aunt Charlotte. Bored by her simple surroundings, Mary finds herself wondering the woods, having followed a pair of cats named Tib and Gib. Deep in the forest she comes across a small blue flower. Back at home she learns that the flower is called “fly by night” and is very rare; she also learns that the two cats belong to a precocious young boy in the village named Peter [Kamiki]. Unbeknownst to Mary, the picking of the flower generates a dense mist and again, she follows the cat into the woods, finding an old broomstick covered in vines. When the bud of the flower bursts in her hand, she absorbs the fluid and is imbued with magical powers and immediately transported to the fantastical Endor College, overseen by Headmistress Madam Mumblechook [Amami] and the outlandish Doctor Dee [Kohinata]. But with the college’s number one rule being “trespassers will be transformed” will she be discovered and suffer the consequences?

Separate from the merits of the film itself, Mary And The Witch’s Flower’s biggest point of note will be the fact it is the first film in Studio Ponoc’s future catalogue. With Ponoc being an offshoot of Studio Ghibli, avoiding any comparison between the two studios is nigh on impossible. I have no doubt that over the coming years Ponoc will forge its own identity but everything from the stylistic design and the music to the animators and chosen story, feels like a Ghibli release; and with so many veteran Ghibli creatives working on this release, the presence of this very recognisable aesthetic is hardly surprising. Having said that, this feature feels similar to Tales From Earthsea, Arrietty and When Marnie Was There in that it’s a very high quality feature but doesn’t feel as good as Ghibli’s upper tier releases. Yet I remain hopeful that standing will improve as soon as they release an original property rather than an adaptation.

Like all hand-drawn animation, in this age of cheap, plasticy computer generated imagery, there is a distinct nostalgia-infused beauty to the visuals. Admittedly, cinema magnifies flaws and quite a few scenes were presented with some rushed or elementary animation but even at its weakest moments, the craft involved feels imbued with more care and attention to detail than most mainstream releases. As with something like Porco Rosso or The Wind Rises, there is a dreamlike quality to the setting, a mixture of reality and expectation. Which isn’t exactly surprising given that producer Yoshiaki Nishimura stated the artists visited rural England for research but were encouraged to draw from what they remembered rather than direct references like photos, that way they would capture the personality and impression of the place. Adding to this dreamlike quality is the fantastic score, by Takatsugu Muramatsu, with its plinky elements and impressive use of a dulcimer to give an otherworldly ambience. Equally, the sound design is wonderful and immersive, creating atmospheric realm of magic and intrigue.

Before I get on to discussing the performances, I should highlight that I will be expressly referring to the original language recording. Having only sampled the dub version, it sounds over-boiled and grating, so I can only imagine it had a detrimental impact. In terms of delivery, personality and character, there isn’t a single weak component present; each main character is eccentric enough to be recognisable without slipping into over-the-top absurdity. And yet, in its simplicity, there is a slight hollowness to Mary and her adventure. Specifically that she doesn’t seem to have changed much at all; so much so that the final shot of the film could quite easily have been dubbed with a triumphant, “I learned.. NOTHING! Yay!” It’s not that Mary is a bad character, she merely lacks fleshing out in terms of consequence and proactivity. In fact, I would go further and say the films lacks dimensionality all over but I think that may be more the fault of the source material than this particular interpretation. On top of that, it would be easy enough to draw a comparison between Mary And The Witch’s Flower and something like Alice In Wonderland – a similarly dreamlike fantasy that doesn’t explore the lasting fallout of its bizarre adventure.

Aside from the main character, the supports hint at an interesting universe but only scratch the surface. In the most obvious example, Endor College is really only gleaned but additionally, there are so many random subplots that are alluded to but go nowhere. The film opens on a pending funeral for the town’s mayor. There doesn’t seem to be any significance or connection to the story and other than a line or two of dialogue and someone dressed in black, it bears no relevance to the story. We also have a lot of fog surrounding Peter’s mother. He seems highly motivated to return home to take care of her, even saying he would want magical powers and to grow older in order to take care of her but, again, no explanation as to why. There’s also the functionality of the school during and after the oversight of Doctor Dee and Madam Mumblechook, we see there are other teachers but anything peripheral to Mary’s actions are non-existent, to the degree that if I was to discover the other pupils at the school were an illusion, it would be entirely plausible.

While it may not be the most engaging or praiseworthy example of an animated adventure, it succeeds where other huge family targeted blockbusters fail. We are given a passionate female lead, the story never talks down to children, there are zero burp or fart jokes that feel the need to crop up for a cheap laugh and the narrative is clear and easy to follow. All in all, Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a perfectly commendable release but like a lot of things released in early 2018, with the talent involved, they were capable of much more.


Release Date:
4th May 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
In one scene, we experience a semblance of humanising for the villains and suddenly the antagonist themes fell into doubt. As the story progresses, we learn that the flower that Mary discovered was stolen from the college decades ago and both Doctor Dee and Madam Mumblechook have been experimenting on animals. Obviously this is typical bad guy stuff and we immediately want to see them bested. But when it comes to experimenting on humans, we learn that their end goal is to further magical studies and gift everyone with magical powers. Suddenly their motives are seemingly quite noble, trying to establish a state of equality. I appreciate the methods are questionable but it’s a curious turn. Equally, in other fictional representations, magic is usually depicted as a natural source of power and one in harmony with nature. While there are elements of that present here, there seems to be a distinct presence of balance and the idea that the expansion (or abuse) of magic being in direct violation with nature – a theme usually reserved for the advancement of technology and industry over rustic living.

Notable Characters:
The first faculty member that Mary encounters is an anthropomorphic fox named Flanagan (voiced by Jiro Sato) who used to teach broomstick flying but is currently in charge of the grounds. Flanagan is as one dimensional as a lot of the story and other characters but remains a comic relief and welcome personality all the same; even if he was a bit of an oblivious, constantly occurring ex machina.

Highlighted Quote:
“You never know what kids are up to”

In A Few Words:
“A delightfully presented if simplistic fantasy story”

Total Score:

3/5

A QUIET PLACE

If They Hear You, They Hunt You

Director
John Krasinksi

Starring
Millicent Simmonds
Emily Blunt
John Krasinksi
Noah Jupe



Set three months after a cataclysmic event, we learn in the opening prologue that the Earth has been overrun by creatures that are drawn to moderately loud sounds, which have gone on to wipe out the majority of the population. After the opening establishing events, we skip forward a year and a half and follow the daily existence of Lee [Krasinksi], Evelyn [Blunt], Regan [Simmonds] and Marcus Abbott [Jupe]; a family surviving in this dangerous environment. Part of the reason they have lasted this long is the strict rules they live by – completely overhauling their way of life to avoid making excessive noise – and the fact that Regan herself is deaf, meaning the family are able to communicate with sign language. Despite their resourcefulness, they will be put to the test as Evelyn is heavily pregnant and a crying baby would put all of their lives in danger.

Anyone who regularly frequents this site will see a distinct pattern surrounding reviews for horror titles; specifically that there don’t tend to be many. That’s because I don’t enjoy horror. There are some genuinely standout titles that greatly appeal to me but genre’s formulaic nature and excessive use of loud jump scares make them lazy, painful affairs to endure. Having said that, there has been a bit of a new-wave presenting itself within the genre, films that tend to ebb away from cheap scare tactics and excessive schlocky violence, favouring smart tense premises and endearing and likable characters. That’s why films like The Witch, Get Out, 10 Cloverfield Lane and It Follows do well with a certain crowd but are then torn down for not “being real horrors” when, in actuality, they refrain from conforming to the regular tropes and draw a heavier emphasis on the central premise, story and character design. And A Quiet Place is a perfect addition to these titles, with a very simple but instantly recognisable premise that taps into a fundamentally animalistic fear of helplessness and no longer being the top of the food chain. On top of that, we have the absolutely wonderful world building and production design; from the sets to all the rituals and routines which have been methodically thought out and help outline an adjusted dystopian world not to dissimilar to our own.

In addition to all the pleasing visual and thematic elements, this film really shines when it comes to sound. And this is one of those films that doesn’t simply use one gimmick but employs a variety of methods and inventive fixes to really immerse you and create a terrifying environment. Cinematically speaking, we are often treated to the most powerful speakers and sound systems which mask the general bustle and noise of a collected audience but when you are forced to sit in the near-silence of this film, you become more aware of yourself and those around you. That creates another level of discomfort above and beyond what is present in the film itself and that is why this is exceptional horror; the kind that burrows into your mind and unwrites the logic that tells you that you are safe and this is a work of fiction. Of course, that isn’t meant to be a slight against the use of sound, as it is frankly masterful. The way we experience the world through Regan’s eyes/ears, the unseen threat just off-screen, the concept of one natural sound outweighing another (e.g. screaming into a waterfall) and Marco Beltrami’s perfect, incredibly unsettling score – all of these components create a unique world that perpetuates an unease that runs from start to finish.

All of these technical components are of course moot if the acting is sub-par. Thankfully, the family presented carry this film magnificently and although one could argue so little actually happens, the fear on their faces sells so much and generates a sustained tension and a perfectly paced experience. When listing my cast, it occurred to me that I really wasn’t sure who the main character is. I can almost certainly rule out Marcus, just because of screen-time but between Regan, Evelyn and Lee, there is a jostling for which will be the most proactive individual and subsequently this highlights a few interesting things about the cast. For those who don’t know, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are married, so what we have here is a real couple dynamic (especially as these actors have two children together); on top of that, Millicent Simmonds is, for lack of a better phrase, actually deaf which brings an obvious realism to the performance. And yet one could argue these things are not requisite to making a good film, that just because an on-screen couple are together in real-life, doesn’t mean they will be able to escape performing. The difference is experience and relatability. In terms of writing and direction, Krasinski has brought a lot of very personal emotionality that plays on the mind of a parent. I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to empathise and assume what it would be like but there is a priceless insight which is utilised. Equally, with Simmonds, having someone who experiences the world differently, offers the opportunity to incorporate developments into the film that maximise the concept of what it is like to live without sound. Coupled with a strong story and amazing production, phenomenal performances are what tip this over the edge into truly great cinema. The only flaws I can find are elements of mimicry and familiarity with other suspenseful releases and a couple of gender presentation issues that don’t get fully addressed but outside of that, it’s a completely relentless, emotional, simple piece that is extremely enjoyable and wholly commendable.


Release Date:
6th April 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the early examples of the exquisite sound design is during one of the progressive moves forward, leaping the events ahead and opening with Regan sleeping on a sandy floor. Either in her dreams or a stylistic choice, we hear the sounds of nature and are given the impression she is laying calmly on a beach. It’s only when she abruptly wakes and the dull hum that signals her “point of view” as a deaf person replaces the familiar sounds. The moment itself is so simple but it is a sublime example of the messages, situations and perspectives that cinema can convey.

Notable Characters:
I really have to commend Krasinksi, partly because he has done an astounding job acting but also because his direction is spot-on. More so than that, he made one particular casting choice that really pleased me. Too often film and television rely on able-bodied actors to play individuals with disabilities and it shuts out an entire group of people who can bring so much to that performance from a perspective point alone. And while this may sound like hyperbole, it is, in essence, not far off men playing women on stage during the 1600s or white people in black-face. I don’t doubt someone could have given a credible performance in the role of Regan but having someone who can accurately draw on things that someone who is imitating that existence may not have considered, should be championed as often as possible. And I really shouldn’t be saying things like that in this day and age, it should be the norm.

Highlighted Quote:
“Who are we if we can’t protect them? Who are we?”

In A Few Words:
“A fantastically tense and marvellously acted feature from start to finish”

Total Score:

5/5