“Wonder Woman” Review

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Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis
Plot: Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when a pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.

DC has had a very troubled time lately. After their Superhero mash up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received a very mixed response and Suicide Squad received an even worse one, it seemed DC’s cinematic universe was in trouble before it had even begun. Thankfully, like a miracle, help has arrived in the form of Wonder Woman. A common criticism of the current wave of superhero films is certainly the lack of female led ones. So a lot of pressure was on Wonder Woman. Not only did it have to save audience hopes for the DCEU, but also prove to a sexist film industry that female led superhero films directed by women were viable investments.

So it’s with great happiness I say that Wonder Woman is not just the best film in the DCEU by a long shot, but it’s also one of the best superhero movies of recent years. If not of all time.

Patty Jenkins brings a beautiful, inspiring and thrilling picture to the screen. Jenkins, who had previously been attached to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel before dropping out, proves herself to be a perfect fit for the superhero genre. Jenkins manages action spectacle with ease and yet also brings an earnestness to the picture, framing everything from the action to the quieter more emotional scenes. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of World War 1. While working within the constraints of a film that has to be suitable for families, Jenkins manages to showcase the horrors of the First World War, never sugar coating it. Seeing the war from the eyes of an outsider, really manages to make a comment on the human race. Diana is unable to believe we’d all be killing each other with weapons such as mustard gas of our own accord. She decides that humanity must be under the influence of an evil villain with great power and it’s the moments when she has to face that humans sometimes do just want to hurt others for no reason that are some of the film’s best.

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This is helped along by Gal Gadot. Gadot is one of the best castings in the superhero movie genre. Gadot’s performance is wonderful, no pun intended. Delivering the heroine’s action brilliantly and yet also capturing her heart perfectly, it’s hard to imagine another actress doing as good a job as Gadot in the role. Gadot’s performance is the heart of the film, playing the character with an earnestness that makes her inseparable from the character. Much like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, this is truly one of the perfect superhero castings. It’s difficult to describe just how brilliant Gadot is as the character. Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in such a way that she’s truly inseparable from the character on the comic book page. Gadot has defined the character on screen so well that I don’t envy whoever will have to play the character in the inevitable reboot in 30 years or so, although I would be open to Gadot playing the character as long as she possibly can.

Gadot shares wonderful chemistry with her co-star Chris Pine. Much of the movie rests on the two, and they pull it off perfectly. The performance here might be one of Pine’s best in his career with him delivering a very passionate and humorous performance. Steve Trevor would not be as charismatic or as fun with someone else in the role. But Pine also delivers the quieter and more emotional parts of the character very well, delivering some very touching scenes with dignity.

The cast is rounded out by excellent performances, with David Thewlis, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya being particular stand outs of the movie’s supporting cast. Thewlis gives a great performance for his limited screen time, while Huston and Anaya impress as the villains with Anaya giving a surprisingly complex performance as Doctor Poison. While Poison may not be the film’s main antagonist, Anaya manages to give the character a degree of complexity that makes me want to see more of the character. Maybe DC should cancel one of those many Batman spin-offs and make a Doctor Poison movie if the character doesn’t return in Wonder Woman 2?

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Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Wonder Woman is how utterly hopeful it is. Despite being set in perhaps one of the darkest periods in our history, the film somehow manages to find love and hope in the darkness. Diana is a brilliant heroine, one that audiences of all ages can look up to. Seeing her journey from a young woman eager for glory to a hero for all to aspire to is magnificent to see on screen. Wonder Woman manages to deliver a more hopeful and inspirational tone than Man of Steel and similar to Captain America: The First Avenger, the film gives us a truly inspirational hero who manages to shine a hopeful light during a dark moment in history.

A lot has to be said about how well made the film is. Visually, the film is a showcase. The mouth waters thinking of the film’s UHD release. The film features a lot of incredibly striking images which, along with some great editing, makes Wonder Woman a visual feast for the eyes. With her Lasso whipping away, shining brightly, the action scenes are truly beautiful to watch. An epic final battle on an exploding airfield has to be seen to be believed.

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Wonder Woman is also incredibly funny. While previous DC movies were criticised for either their lack of humour or trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman manages to find a perfect balance. The film is genuinely funny, with jokes working on multiple viewings and helped along with excellent comedic timing from the cast. Lucy Davis is a particular comedic standout as Etta Candy, getting most of the film’s biggest laughs. Gal Gadot however shines once again with excellent comedic timing and the two bounce off each other brilliantly. Once Chris Pine is added to the mix, things become even better. While the film isn’t a joke fest, it’s great to see DC no longer being afraid to actually have fun in their movies.

It’s hard to describe exactly how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman. So much so that I’m struggling to write this review. I loved the film, yet I just can’t place my finger on what exactly it was that made me love it so much. Was it Gadot’s performance? Was it an excellent script? Was it Patty Jenkins’s directing? Or was it some magical mix of the three? I’d hasten to wager that the reason the film turned out so well was simply because it was all the right elements coming together in exactly the right way to create what can only be described as an inspiring and thrilling film that restores hope for DC on film and, hopefully, paves the way for more films like it to come.

9.5/10

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Doctor Who S10E08 “The Lie of the Land” Review

p054dhlkWell that was underwhelming.

Despite this Monk trilogy having got off to a flying start, the three part storyline ended with a whimper rather than a bang and left more questions than it did answers. Despite a promising start, The Lie of the Land quickly petered out into a cliché filled climax that managed to wrap up the storyline without actually resolving anything at all. And in a very unsatisfying way at that.

For the Monks, the villains of this three part tale, are still just as mysterious as they were back in Extremis (still the best episode of this trilogy). We have no idea who they are, what their goals are, why they chose Earth and what exactly they were trying to accomplish apart from the fact they have invaded multiple planets before. Infuriatingly, The Lie of the Land did not take any time at all to explain who the Monks actually are leaving them the most vague and ill-defined Doctor Who villains of recent memory. While it’s possible the Monks could return later in the series, a common fan theory is that the Monks are Cybermen without their armour, it’s still poor form to not even attempt to define exactly who the villains of the last three episodes even are. We had a much firmer grasp of the Silence at the end of their debut story despite there still being a lot of unanswered questions there. Not even attempting to answer a single question about the Monks makes this storyline seem almost pointless and certainly not worth devoting three entire episodes to a villain that is going to end up being just a vague threat rather than a developed villain. This may be forgivable if the Monks make a reappearance in the Series 10 finale, but as it stands they’re a wonderful concept for and beautifully designed villain, but are ultimately vague and forgettable antagonists.

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Now this could have been forgiven if The Lie of the Land had delivered elsewhere. Sad to say then that the episode was utterly unimaginative and dull despite getting off to a great start. The opening few scenes seeing Bill navigate a world where the Monks have seemingly been in control forever, despite only being there a few months, were excellent. A sort of dystopia, a world where people welcome their oppression with open arms. The episode seemed to be making a political point about the current rise of fascism in the world, despite us all having evidence that never turns out well. Indeed, scenes where the public cheered the Monks executing those who would question them certainly calls to mind people cheering on Donald Trump wanting to throw political rival Hilary Clinton in prison and people celebrating the Daily Mail’s headline proclaiming British Judges ensuring the Brexit process is done legally to be “enemies of the people”. The attempts to quieten any dissatisfaction also called to mind Donald Trump’s attempts to dismiss anyone who criticises him as “fake news” or liars. In fact, the Monks broadcasting “fake history” seemed to even be a comment on “fake news”, that despite those in power decrying those who oppose them as “fake news”, they are the biggest makers of it in the first place.

The Doctor actively helping the Monks was also a great touch, following on from the implication they’d brainwashed him when restoring his sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World. The Doctor’s broadcasts were eerily similar to broadcasts seen in 1984 and The Hunger Games, promising all is well and feeding the populace lies to keep them placated and under control. A common tactic by many fascist regimes is to use the media to make the public love them so that was a nice touch. All this promised what looked set to be a killer of an episode. What a shame then it was all undone less than 20 minutes into the episode. Perhaps BBC has a mandate against the Doctor being evil for an extended period of time? Maybe they think there won’t be as many action figure sales…

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The scene where Bill and Nardole confronted the “evil” Doctor was the best of the episode however. Pearl Mackie delivered perhaps her best performance yet as Bill, with a very passionate and emotion filled performance as Bill had to face the “reality” that her closest friend had betrayed her. Capaldi also matched her by playing the Doctor colder and harsher than he has done before. The acting between these two was magnificent and the scene kept building and building until the emotion climaxed in Bill shooting the Doctor, causing him to regenerate.

And then it was all a lie. In perhaps the biggest tease in Doctor Who history, the Doctor revealed it was all a trick just to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed by the Monks. The bullets were blanked and the Doctor was faking his regeneration. Which does call into question why the Doctor would fake his regeneration since Bill has no idea what regeneration is…

While sure, the Doctor was never going to regenerate midway through the series (we know for a fact Capaldi won’t be leaving the show until the Christmas Special), but it does call into question exactly what the point of the “evil Doctor” and the fake regeneration actually was… APART from having something to put in the trailers. The Doctor’s trickery doesn’t even place a strain on his and Bill’s friendship. Previous trickery by the Twelfth Doctor put massive strain on his friendship with Clara which took most of Series 8 to repair. Instead Bill just takes it. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with the Doctor deceiving her in such an emotionally manipulative way.

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Now, I love Toby Whithouse as a writer. Being Human is one of my favourite TV shows and three of Whithouse’s prior Doctor Who scripts; School Reunion, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy are three of my favourite episodes of the show. But the writing is where The Lie of the Land fell apart. Every fault with the episode can be traced back to the script. From the Monks being ill-defined antagonists, the “evil Doctor” plotline being pointless and having no consequences in the Doctor and Bill’s relationship to other things not quite working; one of the soldiers having their “truth audio” cut out and turn against the Doctor seemed to only happen to set up a Nardole joke. There are rumours Steven Moffat didn’t do any rewrites on this episode due to personal reasons, but I’d be incredibly surprised if Whithouse needed heavy rewrites on his scripts. So perhaps the fault lies in the story itself. Perhaps the Monk storyline just wasn’t strong enough to support three full episodes? Maybe splitting the story across three writers led to a lack of focus? The latter would certainly explain why the abilities of the Monks is so inconsistent across the three episodes and why its conclusion felt so familiar. The Doctor and his companions hijacking the airwaves to inspire humanity into driving an occupying alien species off the planet. Sound familiar? I’ll take your Silence as an agreement.

Speaking of the episode’s conclusion, I have nothing against Bill’s love for her mother saving the day. It’s heart-warming and would be a perfect moment for Bill’s character… if again this wasn’t something we had seen before in Doctor Who. Which seems to be the ultimate problem with The Lie of the Land, everything it does well was done better by episodes before it and everything it doesn’t do well was also done better by other episodes before it. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite gel together, leaving the episode an uncomfortable mess.

The episode scored points however by featuring the return of Missy, however brief as it may have been. Michelle Gomez was on fire this episode, proving once again why she is certainly the best Master since Roger Delgado. Perhaps the episode could have benefitted from a little more Missy, especially since Extremis implied the Doctor was actually going to release her from the Vault to seek her aid. Since Michelle Gomez has implied she may not return to play the Master once Capaldi and Moffat leave, it seems a shame the show isn’t taking full advantage of her when it can. As it stands, the scene with Missy might just be the episode’s second best scene (following the Bill/Doctor faceoff).

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The Lie of the Land was an underwhelming conclusion that started out so well. Extremis was clearly the peak of this three part trilogy, enough to make me wonder if it would have been better served as a standalone episode so it could be enjoyed in the future by not being attached to The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land. Instead, Extremis will be forever shacked to these two underwhelming episodes leaving a trilogy that probably showcased exactly why other people probably shouldn’t play with Steven Moffat’s toys once he departs, since he seems to be the only one to make magic out of them. The Lie of the Land wastes a truly unique Doctor Who villain in a messy and uncoordinated plot that has too many Doctor Who clichés and pointless plot threads for it to truly standout.

4/10

Trivia and Speculation:

The Doctor shows images from invasion attempts by the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels that the Monks stopped. Of the clips used, only one is actually on Earth – the clip of the Weeping Angels from Blink. The clips of the Daleks and Cybermen are pulled from Into The Dalek and Nightmare in Silver, episodes that did not take place on Earth.

Missy is seen with a piano: the same piano she was playing at the end of Knock Knock.

If Missy is committed to becoming good and this isn’t a trick, could the finale in fact be Missy working with the Doctor to stop her prior incarnation that is John Simm’s Master?

“Power Rangers” – Review

 Directed by: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Plot: Five teenagers, all outcasts and misfits, find five mysterious coins blessing them with superhuman powers. Drawn to a crashed alien ship, they are told by the mysterious Zordon (Cranston) that they are the next generation of Power Rangers; mighty warriors destined to protect the universe. The unlikely heroes must master their new powers and abilities fast however as evil sorceress Rita Repulsa (Banks) has awakened from a 65 million years long slumber seeking a mystical artefact of ultimate destruction and the Power Rangers are the only ones who can stop her.

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If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely heard of the Power Rangers. You’ve possibly even been of the generation who would wake up religiously every Saturday morning to catch their latest exploits. The franchise has been a constant series of changes ever since with the license changing hands from studio to studio, the show undergoing various retools and reboots (24 seasons covering 20 different themes) and being a constant of children’s entertainment ever since. With the franchise fast approaching its 25th Anniversary, it seems only fitting that the series should try and make the leap to the big screen. While this wouldn’t be the super powered team’s first foray into big budget blockbuster territory, it is the first attempt to make the franchise appeal to a wider and more conventional blockbuster audience.  This latest incarnation of the Rangers then attempts  a “back to basics” approach by returning to the basic set-up and characters of the original series. The result is an above average experience.

Which isn’t to say Power Rangers is inherently a bad film, quite the opposite; the film knows what it wants to achieve and does it well. However the film just sticks a little too close to formula for it to truly standout. The film plays incredibly close to the “superhero origin movie” textbook, making the film feel incredibly familiar to most audiences; hitting all the same beats we expect such movies to take including a CGI filled prologue complete with expository dialogue of Sci-Fi nonsense. Like I Am Number Four before it, the film suffers due to its story being done before (and better) by many films before it.

The film does attempt to differentiate itself by focusing on developing each of the Rangers as characters and them bonding as a team rather than super heroics. And this works. Mostly. The characters do grow and become closer as a result, yet other characters are sacrificed in favour of more focus on specific members of the team. Zack and Trini for example receive less development than the other three Rangers making them feel very underdeveloped as a result.

But that said, the character work on the other three Rangers works quite well. Kimberly for instance works as a nice subversion of the typical “mean cheerleader” stereotype; she does something mean without thinking and upon seeing the damage it did regrets it bitterly. It makes a nice change to typical morals when the moral of Kimberly’s story is “You did a bad thing, but that doesn’t make you a bad person”.

The casting for the movie works pretty well, the five leads play their parts with enthusiasm (even if one or two of them look a bit too old to be playing teenagers). The real star of the film however is Elizabeth Banks as villain Rita Repulsa. Banks is clearly having the time of her life playing the villain and hams it up with every opportunity. Her character is incredibly entertaining every time she’s on screen, enough so that you kind of start rooting for Rita to win instead of the Rangers, who feel a little bland in comparison.

Bryan Cranston is decent as giant floating head Zordon, but really doesn’t have much to do apart from being an exposition device. Bill Hader meanwhile gets a few good laughs in as the Ranger’s robotic ally Alpha 5.

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There’s been a definite attempt to “Transformersify” the franchise (given a shout out within the movie with a certain yellow Camaro making an appearance). This is a definite shame as, well, we already have Transformers (with four more movies planned at least in that franchise) so we don’t need another. This attempt not only extends to explosions galore and, at times, unintelligible action; but to the comedy as well. In the sense that the crude humour that pervades the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (another franchise that tried to be like Transformers) films is present here. One of the first jokes in the film involves a character saying he milked a cow, only to be told to his horror that it was a male cow. Another joke later in the film sees Zordon ask the Rangers if they have morphed before, Zack jokes that he has but “only in the shower”. While these jokes are funny in the moment, it’s only afterwards that you wonder if they actually have a place in a Power Rangers movie of all places. That said however, some of the film’s comedy is brilliant; in the most ludicrous way of product placement I’ve ever seen, the mystical artefact Rita desires is buried under a “Krispy Kreme” restaurant which leads to all forms of hilarity, circling from funny to ridiculous right back to funny again.

Despite its issues however, the film is ultimately quite fun. With Lionsgate planning five sequels, here’s hoping the issues in the first film can be fixed in the sequels.

Power Rangers is not quite the disaster many anticipated. But neither is it the perfect throwback to childhood many may want it to be. Instead it’s a perfectly above average superhero flick, struggling to stand out from the crowd and sticking too close to established formula to be anything more than a very entertaining, if ultimately lacking experience ending in a climax that my inner child couldn’t help but love.

7/10

The Cloverfield Paradox: The JJ Abrams Mystery Box

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The story of the Cloverfield (2008) franchise is one that film academics will be studying for years to come, with its now regular habit of dropping sequels with little warning or promotion and quickly building a franchise. The series is now three films in and while J.J. Abrams has peeled back a few layers of mystery, there’s still a lot of questions that require answers. Dropping The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) on Netflix with next to no warning and a fourth film, currently titled Overlord (2018), due for release in October, Abrams clearly has no intentions of stopping the franchise just yet. The Cloverfield Paradox attempts to connect all the films by explaining the events of The Cloverfield Paradox have had a ripple effect across multiple dimensions, causing some to clash and create catastrophes. Which is an efficient enough explanation. But yet it leaves something to be desired. This is a problem, I believe, that can be traced back to J.J. Abrams and his “mystery box” formula.

Now, I have nothing against Abrams. He’s an excellent director and storyteller. But Abrams has shown an obsession with the “mystery box”, which at times comes to the detriment of the story. Abrams, during his TED talk in 2007, explains his Mystery Box formula as this:

“The thing is that it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.”

This idea posits itself throughout most of Abrams’s work from the intense mystery and secrecy that surrounds all three Cloverfield films so far, to the needlessly mysterious identity of “John Harrison” (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and even the mystery of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Abrams is certainly correct in that constructing these mysteries has led to infinite possibilities. Just browse any Star Wars related forum prior to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) for intense speculation on who Rey’s parents are, with candidates for possible parents including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and even Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). With the answer to Rey’s parentage being set during production on The Force Awakens, the mystery constructed by Abrams is finally answered in The Last Jedi by Rian Johnson with: 

Kylo Ren: Do you know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You’ve just hidden it away. Say it.

Rey:  They were nobody.

Kylo Ren: They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing. You are nothing. But not to me.

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

 

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While personally I feel this revelation helps strengthen Rey’s character, it did come across as slightly underwhelming to several fans especially after two years of the mystery being built up. While Abrams tried to set fans up for this by stressing that neither of Rey’s parents appeared in The Force Awakens, it didn’t stop the mystery from growing. Abrams can’t be blamed for this surely, but the vagueness of Rey’s origins in The Force Awakens set many fans up for the reveal that Rey’s parentage was a significant revelation. Perhaps, with Abrams having foreknowledge of where Rian Johnson was taking the character, there could have been a little more foreshadowing in The Force Awakens to alleviate this. In the film itself, the only possible foreshadowing is this exchange; 

Rey: I have to get back to Jakku.

Maz: Han told me. Dear child. I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back. But… there’s someone who still could.

Rey: Luke.

Maz: The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Perhaps this could be more a fault of the recent revelation that the current Star Wars trilogy had no predefined story, with each director being allowed to create their own story mirroring how George Lucas, as much as he’d like fans and the general public to believe the opposite, created most of the Original Trilogy’s narrative on the fly. But yet, Rian Johnson’s script for The Last Jedi was completed as early as November 2015 with Johnson having had multiple meetings with Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm story team months before starting work on the script so Abrams must have had some inkling of where the story was headed during production on The Force Awakens.

Was Rian Johnson cleverly subverting fan expectations? Or was the mystery created around Rey’s origins completely unnecessary?

Moving on from a surprising reveal, to one that isn’t that surprising at all. Much of the marketing for Star Trek Into Darkness focused on the villain John Harrison, who was being set up as a formidable opponent for the crew of the Enterprise. And, as Abrams repeatedly stressed in interviews building up to release, Harrison was not a redo of iconic Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh. And, for the first half of the film, this seemed to be the case. Until at least, this moment occurs during Harrison’s first proper confrontation with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto):

Kirk: I looked up John Harrison. Until a year ago, he didn’t exist.

Harrison: John Harrison was a fiction created the moment I was awoken by your Admiral Marcus to help him advance his cause. A smokescreen to conceal my true identity. My name is Khan.

  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

 

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A brilliant use of marketing to disguise a shocking plot twist? Or a manipulative deception of the audience? The general consensus is still very divided. Many felt that the plot twist of Khan’s reveal was so incredibly obvious that trying to hide it was a complete waste of time and effort. This seems to be the sentiment shared by Paramount; Cumberbatch’s character was referred to only as Khan during the marketing for the film’s home release with no mention of John Harrison and the film’s end credits only credit Cumberbatch as Khan. So, was the John Harrison twist just an attempt to give fans a surprise and thus ignoring the fact that the Star Trek fan base had already discerned that Khan would be in the film from an analysis of the film’s marketing? The famous shot from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) where Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) press their hands together, separated by glass just before one of them commits a heroic sacrifice was recreated in Into Darkness and was even used in the trailers. Add in the presence of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) and any Star Trek fan worth their salt would have made the logical conclusion that Khan would be involved.

The reveal itself also plays incredibly strangely in the film. The name Khan means nothing to Kirk and Spock, making the emphasis placed on it strange. It’s a reveal designed to work only for the audience and those who have passing knowledge of the franchise lore at best. It’s a reveal that sees the story take strange leaps to support it. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) makes Khan hide behind the name “John Harrison” for reasons that don’t make any sense. No one knows who Khan is in this version of the Star Trek timeline, so to hide his identity makes no sense at all. The important reveal in this scene is that Marcus has been manipulating the crew of the Enterprise into almost committing a hostile act against the Klingons, with Marcus hoping to use the Enterprise’s destruction due to Klingon retaliation as the spark to start a war. It is only the crew’s determination to do what is morally right (arrest Harrison and bring him to Earth for trial rather than just blow him up as Marcus ordered) that saved them from this fate. But yet this reveal is totally overshadowed in the film itself by the reveal that John Harrison is Khan, a reveal that I reiterate means nothing to the characters in the film. And this is the only major failing in an otherwise competently made and very enjoyable sequel. Abrams concocting a mystery around John Harrison’s identity adds little to the film and ultimately detracts from its story.

It all comes to a head with The Cloverfield Paradox, a film that attempts to explain all the mystery behind the Cloverfield franchise. The answer, as presented in the film, is due to the Shepard device on board Cloverfield station overloading, it has caused a ripple effect across multiple dimensions that has led to all the sci-fi and supernatural dangers we have seen (and will see) occurring as these dimensions collide and become unstable. It’s not a narratively satisfying answer, especially since this answer is never actually clearly defined in the film itself apart from a brief news interview at the start. The explanation that all the Cloverfield films are occurring in separate dimensions feels like a very simple way of explaining the Cloverfield franchise is an anthology franchise and each film will have little relation to ones preceding or following it. While this does mean future Cloverfield films can, theoretically, get away without explaining the origin of that movie’s threat, thus removing any limitations on what possible threats can be, it also feels like a way of quickly tying off the loose ends in the Cloverfield franchise. The origins of “Clover”, the monster that attacked New York in Cloverfield? Different dimension. The alien race that has invaded Earth in 10 Cloverfield Lane? Different dimension.

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The only interesting idea here, and one that feels lifted from the video game Bioshock Infinite (2013), is the idea that no matter what happens there will be constants in each dimension; the Tagrauto company will be involved somehow, there’ll be aliens, there’s a girl, there’s a well-stocked survival hatch etc.

While Abrams has removed significant narrative restraints from the Cloverfield franchise, he’s also chosen the easiest and narratively unsatisfying answer for the mystery he has been building since 2007. The implications in Cloverfield’s online marketing that “Clover” is only a baby and has been here for centuries come to naught for instance.

But yet, can I really fault Abrams for his obsession with mystery when it has led to so much success? The original Cloverfield grossed $170.8 million at the worldwide box office, more than six times it’s $25 million budget, on a marketing campaign based entirely on the mystery of what the film actually was. The teaser trailer famously debuted with no title attached, sparking a huge online discussion over what the movie was. Abrams would repeat this later with the second instalment 10 Cloverfield Lane being able to gross $110.2 million on a $15 million budget despite the film’s existence only being revealed less than two months before it’s cinema debut. Super 8 (2011) would also have a similar performance. Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed over $2 billion at the box office despite its marketing not giving anything about the plot away with the film’s marketing riding the mystery of “Where is Luke Skywalker?”.  The “mystery box” approach has led to Abrams having repeated box office and critical success, despite his answers often never being as narratively satisfying as the marketing would suggest. Maybe Overlord will be able to expand on these ideas and help provide a more narratively satisfying conclusion to the Cloverfield mystery, even if not one to the franchise itself. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. Perhaps Abrams has recognised an important storytelling factor, that the ending matters less than the journey to it. Whatever the case, Abrams and his mystery box are here to stay and their impact on cinema, positive or negative, cannot be overstated.

Best of 2017

It’s time to celebrate the best of 2017! The best movies, the best tv shows, the best games and the best performances. To qualify, it must have been released in the UK between January 1st and December 31st 2017. So let’s go.

Best Film – La La Land

Runners up

  • The Greatest Showman
  • Dunkirk
  • Logan
  • Get Out

Damien Chazelle’s musical romance won over hearts across the world and it’s hard not to see why. It’s a triumph of filmmaking that is light years ahead of everything else. Catchy music, wonderful acting and gorgeous cinematography help elevate an already extraordinary film to the highest levels.

Best Cult Film – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners up

  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Alien: Covenant
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Blade Runner 2049

Rian Johnson’s instalment in the Star Wars saga was thrilling, shocking and everything I wanted and more. It was the perfect tribute to both Carrie Fisher’s legacy and 40 years of the franchise.

Best Actor – Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman

Runners up

  • Ryan Gosling as Sebastian in La La Land
  • Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z
  • Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge
  • Daniel Kaluuya as Chris in Get Out

While the film may be historically inaccurate, Hugh Jackman delivered a fantastic performance that blew away the competition in a year in which he had already blown it away in Logan.

Best Actress – Emma Stone as Mia in La La Land

Runners up

  • Michelle Williams as Charity Barnum in The Greatest Showman
  • Jessica Chastain as Elizabeth Sloane in Miss Sloane
  • Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson in Hidden Figures
  • Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole in Their Finest

Emma Stone’s performance was magical. She fully deserved her Oscar win here.

Best Actor in a Cult Film – Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners up

  • Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Andy Serkis and VFX Team as Ceaser in War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Michael Fassbender as Walter/David in Alien: Covenant
  • Ryan Gosling as “K” in Blade Runner 2049

Mark Hamill’s reprisal of Luke Skywalker was something that had to be seen to be believed. Hamill’s performance was a show stopper.

Best Actress in a Cult Film – Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman

Runners up

  • Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh in IT
  • Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast

Gal Gadot was perfect casting as Wonder Woman and she blew everyone away by delivering a fantastic performance and emerging as the best performance in the DCEU to date.

Best Supporting Actor – Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier in Logan

  • Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard in Their Finest
  • Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle in The Greatest Showman
  • Liam Neeson and VFX Team as The Monster in A Monster Calls
  • Hugo Weaving as Tom Doss in Hacksaw Ridge

Patrick Stewart delivering an emotional and tear jerking performance as Xavier in his final time playing the X-Men mentor.

Best Supporting Actress – Sigourney Weaver as Grandma in A Monster Calls

  • Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn in Hidden Figures
  • Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman
  • Catherine Keener as Missy Armitage in Get Out
  • Viola Davis as Rose Maxson in Fences

Sigourney Weaver delivered a beautiful performance as a grandmother trying to control an out of control grandson as her own daughter was dying.

Best Supporting Actor in a Cult Film – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners up

  • Chris Pine as Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman
  • Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Woody Harrelson as The Colonel in War for the Planet of the Apes

Adam Driver delivered an excellent performance as the conflicted villain, making Kylo one of the most enthrallingStar Wars characters.

Best Supporting Actress in a Cult Film – Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners up

  • Cate Blanchett as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Zendaya as Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Ana de Armas as Joi in Blade Runner 2049
  • Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia before her untimely passing was also her best.

Best Director – Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Runners up

  • James Mangold for Logan
  • Jordan Peele for Get Out
  • Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
  • Michael Gracey for The Greatest Showman

Damien Chazelle brought his big screen musical to the screen with style and elegance in an utterly gorgeous and well made feature.

Best Director on a Cult Film – Rian Johnson for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners up

  • Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049
  • Matt Reeves for War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok
  • Ridley Scott for Alien: Covenant

Rian Johnson’s first entry in the Star Wars universe felt like he’d been there the whole time, yet felt fresh and unique at the same time in what was perhaps one of the best Star Wars films yet.

Best Original Score – Star Wars: The Last Jedi by John Williams

Runners up

  • Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken
  • La La Land by Justin Hurwitz
  • Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer
  • War for the Planet of the Apes by Michael Giacchino

John Williams delivered yet another fantastic Star Wars Score that emerges as the best of the year.

Best Original Song – “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman

Runners up

  • “Evermore” from Beauty and the Beast
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land
  • “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman
  • “Guardians Inferno” from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

This is Me was such a infectiously enjoyable song that it’s still on repeat in my head.

Best TV Series – American Gods

Runners up

  • Game of Thrones
  • Doctor Who
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Sherlock

American Gods blasted onto screens with a stellar first season that left me begging for more.

Best TV Episode – Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls

Runners up

  • Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall
  • American Gods: Git Gon
  • Once Upon A Time: The Song in Your Heart
  • Sherlock: The Final Problem

The Doctor Falls was an epic finale to an epic series and could easily have been a satisfying final ever episode of Doctor Who.

Best TV Actor – Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in Doctor Who

Runners up

  • Kit Harington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
  • Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon in American Gods
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
  • Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Peter Capaldi’s Final season as the Doctor was one to remember thanks to a fantastic performance by the celebrated actor.

Best TV Actress – Emily Browning as Laura Moon and Essie MacGowan in American Gods

Runners up

  • Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones
  • Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts in Doctor Who
  • Lena Heady as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
  • Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time

Emily Browning was fantastic as both the undead wife of Shadow and an Irish con-Woman

Best Supporting TV Actor – Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday in American Gods

Runners up

  • Matt Lucas as Nardole in Doctor Who
  • Aiden Gillen as Littlefinger in Game of Thrones
  • Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock

Ian McShane stole the show as the mysterious Mr Wednesday in the fantasy drama.

Best Supporting TV Actress – Michelle Gomez as Missy in Doctor Who

Runners up

  • Sian Brooke as Eurus Holmes in Sherlock
  • Lana Parrilla as Regina Mills/Roni in Once Upon a Time
  • Gillian Anderson as Medea in American Gods
  • Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones

Michelle Gomez was delightfully evil as Missy and was the perfect antagonist for Peter Capaldi.

Best Video Game – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Runner up:

  • Prey
  • The Evil Within 2
  • Injustice 2
  • Crash Bandioot: The N. Sane Trilogy

The relaunch of Resident Evil did the unthinkable. It was great, but most importantly it was scary.

Doctor Who “Twice Upon a Time” Review

p05q8mdpAnd so, we have come to the end of two eras. Peter Capaldi departs the role of the Doctor after four years in the role and writer Steven Moffat departs the role of showrunner after seven years. Following the monumental triumph of the two parter World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls, this year’s Christmas Special had to be truly, well, special to live up to it and provide a satisfying conclusion to both the Capaldi and Moffat eras of Doctor Who.

In a unique twist, there isn’t an identifiable “antagonist” within Twice Upon a Time. This makes it stand out from every other regeneration story. Instead it gives us another hour with the Twelfth Doctor, managing to end his era with a bow and a sense of hope. And I feel this is possibly the best decision that could have been made; the Doctor has already fought his final battle in The Doctor Falls and really, what was going to top two Masters and an army of Cybermen?

Instead, the special saw the Doctor encountering his first incarnation (played brilliantly by David Bradley) and attempting to solve the mystery of why a WW1 Captain ended up so far from the battlefield and of Testimony; a mysterious group that harvests the memories of the dead to allow the living to commune with them. This was a rather small-scale adventure that was more focused on the Doctors learning to accept change and that your memories make you who you are; not your body.

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This message was imparted by one of the Testimony using the form of Bill, trying to explain that even though she may not have technically been Bill (Bill is still travelling with Heather through time and space), she still was debatably Bill as Bill’s memories are the sum of who she is . This tied into the regeneration incredibly well, for as the Doctors began to realise, it didn’t matter if they changed; the next Doctors would still have all their memories and would still be the Doctor. While each Doctor may be slightly different, they still are the same person acting on the same memories.

However, this led to a slight lack of urgency within the episode. With no immediate threat or ticking clock of any kind, it meant the special was slightly oddly paced. But yet, this didn’t negatively impact it. As I said before, this episode didn’t need a threat or urgency.

For this was an episode about performances.

Peter Capaldi delivered one final show stopping performance as the Doctor, reaffirming one last time why he is without a doubt one of the finest actors to ever take the role. Capaldi’s Doctor was a tour de force for the accomplished actor and this episode was no different. Capaldi brought the Doctor to life, delivering a Doctor who was both brand new and instantly familiar at the same time. Capaldi is a massive fan of the show, so to learn he had a hand in the writing of his regeneration speech comes as no surprise. The speech was masterful and a wonderful showcase of Capaldi’s range as an actor. Peter Capaldi was a wonderful addition to the show and he will be sorely missed.

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The episode marked the return of the First Doctor (last properly seen in 1983’s The Five Doctors played by Richard Hurndall) this time played by David Bradley. Bradley doesn’t try to do a William Hartnell impression however, which was probably the wisest decision he could have made as an actor. Bradley chooses to focus on getting the character of the First Doctor right through his performance, this in turn lets Hartnell begin to slip through. After the initial few scenes, the issue of Bradley not being Hartnell vanishes. Instead, only the First Doctor is on display and Bradley plays the character brilliantly. However, Moffat makes the decision to narrow down the First Doctor to a few traits. While this is common practice for multi-Doctor episodes, it does mean that the character development the First Doctor had throughout his tenure is undone in order to present a First Doctor that most remember – the grouchy old man with 60’s attitudes and sensibilities. While this leads to a lot of the episode’s funniest moments, it is a little bit of a misrepresentation of the Doctor’s first incarnation.

Pearl Mackie returns as Bill for, presumably, her final time on the show. Mackie is once again fantastic as the character and all that can be said is that she remains instantly loveable and delivers more of what we all loved in Series 10. It’s also wonderful to see the Doctor and Bill have “one last ride” so to speak. Capaldi and Mackie have fantastic chemistry and it’s great to see them get to bounce off each other one last time. Perhaps the only sadness is that this isn’t really Bill. While Testimony makes the continued assentation that with all of Bill’s memories their duplicate is Bill, we the audience know that Bill is still alive and travelling the universe with Heather. So, the Doctor’s moral problem of “is this Bill or not” has a definitive answer – it’s not. But it kind of is, but it really isn’t.

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Mark Gatiss shines in the guest role of Captain Lethbridge-Stewart, the Grandfather of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Gatiss does a fine job, delivering an excellent performance with rather limited screen time. As opposed to his previous three roles on Doctor Who, Gatiss delivers a more restrained performance here that manages to lend the character a sense of dignity and elegance that might not have worked with another actor. Gatiss showcases his great range as an actor and why he’s a treasured Doctor Who talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Twice Upon a Time is marvellously directed by Rachel Talalay, her seventh episode on the show. Talalay is an excellent director for Who, her style instantly at home with the show. Talalay manages to bring the Twelfth Doctor’s final hour to life with some truly beautiful shots and editing. If Chris Chibnall does not invite Talalay back to direct in the future, then he’s missed a trick.

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With rumours circulating about his departure, it seems fitting that the score for this episode would be a “best of” of Murray Gold’s twelve years on the show with Twice Upon a Time’s score revisiting some of Murray’s most iconic themes such as Doomsday, I am the Doctor, A Good Man, The Doctor’s Theme, Clara’s Theme and of course, the regeneration music being a reprise of the epic Breaking the Wall from Heaven Sent. If the rumours about Gold’s departure are true (his not introducing a theme for the 13th Doctor in the closing moments and instead reusing old music seems to indicate so), he will be a treasured talent from Doctor Who which will be sorely missed.

And as for this being Steven Moffat’s final script on the show, it certainly wasn’t his best. And that’s fine. It was fun, it was witty, it hit all the right beats and I enjoyed it. Moffat had clearly intended The Doctor Falls to be his final episode on the show and, as an extended epilogue to that story, it works. It flows beautifully from that story and ends the Twelfth Doctor’s story on an uplifting note rather than a downbeat one, giving Twelve one last victory before his regeneration – even if it was just something as simple as saving one man’s life. As mentioned before, the regeneration itself was beautifully written. Almost written as a set of instructions of Chibnall’s take on the show, the speech was the Doctor asserting what sort of character the Doctor should always be; never cruel, never cowardly, never hateful and always full of love and kindness. While this may not be the final episode Moffat intended, it was a good one. As a goodbye from Moffat, it is as Danny Pink described his and Clara’s last goodbye in Last Christmas; “This is bonus. This is extra.” And extra Steven Moffat is never anything to turn your nose up at.

But enough about the old. What about the new? Well in her first moments on screen, Jodie Whittaker was filled with joy and wonder and breathed new life into those closing seconds. While we have a long wait until we can form a proper opinion, I am loving what I’m seeing of Jodie’s Doctor so far and I cannot wait for her to kick things off properly come Autumn.

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Twice Upon a Time may not have been the best Christmas special, but it was certainly one of the most magical. Sharply written, brilliantly directed, masterfully scored and beautifully acted; Twice Upon a Time was as fond a farewell to both Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat than you could ask for. As an epilogue to the Steven Moffat era, it was perfect. As the running theme in Moffat’s Christmas specials goes; Every Christmas is last Christmas. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be happy.

8.5/10

 

 

 

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Review

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Billie Lourd, Anthony Daniels
Plot: Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance, under the leadership of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), prepares to do battle with the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

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Daisy Ridley as Rey. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

“This isn’t going to go the way you think!” shouts Luke Skywalker (Hamill) at Rey (Ridley) during a tense moment. This line of dialogue could almost be directed at the audience themselves, for The Last Jedi is certainly not the film many expected. Instead, writer/director Rian Johnson seems to show a specific inclination to not take the Star Wars story in the direction fans expected in perhaps the most surprising entry in the saga yet.

Taking the Empire Strikes Back approach, the heroes are split up for much of the film; with Rey, Luke, Chewbacca (Mayhew) and R2 on Ahch-To where we left them, Finn (Boyega), new character Rose (Tran) and BB-8 on a critical mission for the Resistance while Leia (Fisher), Poe (Isaac) and 3PO (Daniels) lead the fight against the First Order.  This works as it allows each group to receive significantly more development than they did when everyone was all together as in The Force Awakens. It also allows the film to develop a nice pacing throughout.

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Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

By far the strongest of these three segments is Rey’s Jedi training with Luke on Ahch-To. The master/apprentice dynamic between Luke and Rey is perhaps the most interesting seen in the saga so far, with Luke being perhaps the most reluctant teacher in the saga’s history, and certainly the snarkiest. Hamill slides easily back into the role of Skywalker and delivers a fantastic performance that quickly makes him the true star of the film; even though he has tense competition for the role from Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Hamill plays the aged Jedi Master with a weariness that feels fittingly true for the character; as if all the losses Luke has suffered over his life have finally caught up with him. Luke has lost all hope and has resigned himself to exile telling a hopeful Rey; “What do you expect? Me to defeat the entire First Order on my own with a laser sword?”. This creates a rather compelling narrative thrust for the first part of the film; Luke is the galaxy’s last hope, but if he has lost hope what chance is there? Rey trying her best to restore Luke’s hope, while he resentfully teaches her to control her growing powers, are the source of many of the film’s strongest moments.

Daisy Ridley, quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest rising stars, does an utterly stellar job as Rey. Sharing the screen with Mark Hamill and managing to almost steal the film from him is no small feat. Ridley shows even more of that irresistible likeability she showcased in The Force Awakens, making Rey one of the most endearing protagonists of the year. Ridley manages to make us care deeply for Rey. We feel sorrow for her failures. We feel elation for her successes. We fear for her when she’s in danger. As this trilogy has been described as Rey’s story, Daisy Ridley proves she is perfect casting by delivering an utterly spellbinding performance.

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Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Leia and Poe’s segment of the film is entertaining enough and offers some excellent moments, especially when Poe’s more head-on approach to fighting the First Order clashes with Leia and Admiral Holdo’s (Dern) more pragmatic approaches. This is a slow build and one that sees the Resistance pushed to their darkest hour. Oscar Isaac is once again dashingly enchanting as the Resistance pilot but is able to deliver some complexity to the character; with the film making Poe (and the audience) question if he is the right kind of soldier for this kind of war. The late Carrie Fisher meanwhile delivers a fantastic performance as Leia, with her performance here being a fitting farewell for the character and the actress; even if it feels like the film may be indulging a little too much in the uncertainty of what will become of Leia after Fisher’s death, moments which are of course unintentional due to having been filmed months before Fisher passed away. Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd does a fine job in a supporting role as Lieutenant Connix. Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo is an entertaining, if underdeveloped character. I can’t help but feel several scenes with Dern’s character were relegated to the cutting room floor, but that said, Dern gives a good performance and as a supporting character her underdevelopment is somewhat of a non-issue.

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Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

The third of these segments then, concerning Finn, Rose and BB-8 going on a mission, is perhaps the weakest. Which isn’t to say it isn’t good, it just doesn’t hold up to the quality of the other segments especially with a sequence on a casino planet culminating in an overlong chase sequence feeling like an attempt by Johnson to stretch out the film’s runtime and could easily have been trimmed down by a few minutes. As Finn and Rose’s mission is meant to be time critical, it really does feel they take one diversion and setback too many; almost as if to bring the arbitrary time limit closer to add a sense of urgency. But I can’t fault this too harshly because, as I said, it’s still good fun. Benicio Del Toro is good fun as DJ hacker who joins Finn and Rose on their mission. While DJ’s role in the film is limited, he’s enjoyable whenever he’s on screen and certainly feels like a character we probably haven’t seen the last of. Boyega once again plays Finn with a good sense of fun, being able to inject a little more heroism into the character and managing to make Finn’s character growth feel amazingly brilliant; making us believe Finn has grown from a man who has stopped running away from things and now runs to them. Kelly Marie Tran does a brilliant job as Rose, managing to make what could have been a forgettable side character feel like an essential part of the main cast. Out of The Last Jedi’s new characters, Rose is the one I enjoyed the most and certainly the one I look forward to seeing more of in the third film.

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Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Adam Driver delivers a tour de force performance as Kylo Ren. As with every other character, we get to see a bit more complexity with Ren this time around and Driver handles this perfectly. After murdering his father Han Solo in the previous film, Kylo is torn and the deed is clearly eating away at him on the inside. Driver manages to make every piece of conflict Ren is feeling clear and perfect. During scenes shared with another major character, Driver shows brilliant natural chemistry and manage to invest audiences in a friendship (of sorts) that might not necessarily be something audiences would have expected to be invested in. It’s a testament then to the amazing casting in the film that it’s a very close race between Hamill, Ridley and Driver as the best actor in the film.

Andy Serkis is having the time of his life as Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious leader of the First Order. While Serkis doesn’t get to do too much with the character (much about Snoke is still left unanswered for now) he manages to make a much more lasting impression than he did in the last film. Snoke’s role in The Last Jedi is only brief, but it’s significant and Serkis manages to bring some much needed life to the antagonist. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma on the other hand don’t get as much to do, but offer some memorable moments.

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Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Juggling all these different characters and plotlines is where any other movie would fall apart, yet Rian Johnson manages to do it masterfully. All the storylines converge towards the end of the second act in a surprising and thrilling way. Despite this being Johnson’s first Star Wars film, he manages to craft something utterly unique yet also feels like it belongs in the universe. It’s strange in a way. The Last Jedi is totally unlike any Star Wars film to date, but yet is perhaps one of the most Star Wars-like films in the entire franchise. It’s old and new at the same time. Familiar and utterly brand new. If this is the intent for Star Wars going forward then I’m fully behind it.

Johnson also manages to add a sense of mystery and magic back to the Force itself, making it more in line with what we learn in the Original Trilogy rather than the Prequels. Fans will be relieved to learn that Midichlorians are never mentioned.

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Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Visually the film is gorgeous, with amazing cinematography throughout showing off the beautiful sets and framing all the on-screen action perfectly. If Blade Runner 2049 didn’t exist, I’d argue this was the most beautiful looking Sci-Fi movie of 2017. All of this is peppered with some fantastic action sequences throughout the film with the climatic battle on the mining planet of Crait being one of the best in the franchise along with a tense duel between two of our leads and Snoke’s personal guard. All of this is accompanied by a fantastic score from John Williams who develops many of the themes introduced in The Force Awakens, along with some familiar ones from the Original Trilogy, to create a fantastic listening experience both in and out of the film.

Now, onto the big issue. This is going to be a controversial film. If you’ve made any sort of theory about The Last Jedi in the last two years, prepare to throw it away. When I said Luke’s line of “This isn’t going to go the way you think!” could almost be directed at the audience, I wasn’t lying. Johnson manages to do the unthinkable and make a completely surprising Star Wars movie that goes in directions that were impossible to see coming. Certain decisions are made that some fans may balk at, but I found these decisions, upon reflection, to be the right decisions for the story and the characters. By the end of The last Jedi, the direction Lucasfilm intends to take this trilogy is clear. It may not be the direction many expected, but it’s a direction I feel is the right one.

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Copyright: Lucasfilm.

It’s hard to describe how narratively and emotionally engaging The Last Jedi is. I found myself on the edge of my seat, glued to the screen, reacting to every twist and turn. In essence, I was hooked from start to finish. The Last Jedi is everything you could want from a Star Wars film and a sequel in general. It enhances and improves on it’s predecessor, it takes the story in a new and refreshing direction, it develops the characters and is ultimately a more entertaining chapter overall. Peter Jackson once said that the middle film in a trilogy is the most difficult to get right. Thankfully The Last Jedi does not fall prey to this. Setting the stage for a big and grand conclusion, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a must see adventure that will surely go on to be remembered as one of the boldest, and possibly one of the best, sequels of all time in not just the perfect tribute to forty years of Star Wars, but to the dearly departed Carrie Fisher as well.

9.5/10

“Justice League” Review

img01Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds
Plot: After his heroic sacrifice, the world mourns the loss of Superman (Cavill). Crime begins to run rampant as mysterious monsters prey on the fearful. Knowing an attack of epic proportions is coming, Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) gather a team of super-powered individuals to combat the coming threat. The threat comes in the form of Steppenwolf (Hinds), an all-powerful being from another world. As Steppenwolf searches for powerful artefacts that will allow him to end the world, Batman fears that his new team might not be enough to save it. They need help, but more importantly, they need hope.

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Note: Mild spoilers follow in this review; but one of them was so obvious that I don’t think it even qualifies as a spoiler

It takes a special kind of talent (or lack of talent) to mess up a film that should be so easy to get right like Justice League. But yet, the team at DC managed to do just that.

Justice League is not a good film. That much is easy to explain. Despite starting incredibly well with an opening title sequence set to Sigrid’s Everybody Knows showing how the world has changed in the wake of Superman’s death, Justice League drops the ball incredibly quickly. The film starts incredibly rough, with the film jumping from scene to scene without any real rhyme, reason or sense of continuity. Scenes feel cut short, never feeling like they actually end. It feels like there’s someone with a stopwatch standing just off camera shouting “Too long! Next scene!” at different intervals. The film rushes to its next “big” moment with little thought for character or story. At first, I thought this was just going to be a rough opening half hour and the film would find its stride, but this was not to be. This is how the film is from beginning to end. I can’t recall ever seeing a film that was ever this desperate to reach its own credits as quickly as this one.

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While many may blame this on the studio mandated two hour running time, the problem can in fact be traced back to Zack Snyder’s own storytelling style. Snyder has always prioritised “moments” over storytelling and character. Justice League is then the ultimate version of this approach to filmmaking. The film is so concerned with reaching the next moment, that the story and characters get left behind. This problem was present in Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and it’s also present here. Ultimately all of the problems with Justice League can be traced back to this approach Zack Snyder takes to filmmaking.

A major casualty of this is the film’s villain; Steppenwolf (Hinds). Perhaps the worst comic book movie villain seen in a while, Steppenwolf is poorly written and poorly presented. Not least because Steppenwolf is a purely CGI creation who doesn’t blend very well with the live-action elements. Steppenwolf barely has any screen time yet we are supposed to accept he’s the most dangerous threat the DC Universe has ever seen. DC Films have had a problem with their antagonists so far and Steppenwolf is the worst of the bunch. Yes, even worse than Suicide Squad’s poor excuse of a villain in Enchantress. Hinds tries his best in a purely voice role (with some facial motion capture) but it never quite comes together. Steppenwolf’s dialogue is mostly generic dialogue we’ve heard every clichéd supervillain spout before. While Ares from Wonder Woman was also guilty of the same, he had the benefit of a rather excellent performance from David Thewlis who shared excellent chemistry on screen with Gal Gadot when threatening her. When a similar scene occurs in Justice League, there’s no sense of menace or threat. It’s hard to feel threatened when what looks like a reject from a Lord of the Rings video game spouts such plainly clichéd dialogue. Moments where Steppenwolf should be a threat fall painfully flat such as a scene when Steppenwolf growls at Wonder Woman, “You have the blood of the Old Gods in you! The Old Gods died!”. There’s no sense of threat or menace during this moment. When we’ve already been treated to some great villains in comic book movies this year such as Kurt Russell as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Michael Keaton as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, there’s no excuse for delivering a villain as clichéd and unmemorable as this.

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Moving onto our heroes, more problems begin to emerge.

Ben Affleck seems utterly bored and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else and doing anything else. As Batman is meant to be our protagonist, this is a big problem. With rumours circulating throughout the year that Affleck was on the verge of quitting the DCEU, his performance here leads credence to those rumours. Has Affleck grown bored of playing the Caped Crusader after just one film? Did the negative reception to Batman v Superman burn him out that badly? Regardless, Affleck’s almost entirely disinterested performance does not lend the film any favours. How are we supposed to care about a Batman who is played by an actor that doesn’t seem to care?

On the other end of the scale however is Henry Cavill as Superman. While his role in this film is relatively brief for obvious reasons, Cavill is finally allowed to smile and embrace the charm and wonder of the character for the first time in the franchise. Superman finally feels like Superman. So, it’s baffling that the character is barely in the film. It quickly becomes clear that Superman’s death in Batman v Superman was not meant to fulfil any specific role in the story and was instead simply orchestrated for the shock value of killing the iconic character (another one of Snyder’s “moments”). If Cavill had been allowed to portray the character in this way from the very beginning, we’d be looking at a very different, and likely much better, Justice League. Instead one of its best aspects, a proper Superman at last, becomes a strike against it. Simply because he’s not utilised as much as he should be.

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Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is once again the shining star. Gadot was clearly born to play the part and utterly smashes it for a third time. It’s a shame Gadot is caught up in such a disappointing film. Hopefully Wonder Woman 2’s 2019 release date won’t feel too far away.

As for the rest of the League, herein lies the rub. None of them ae given enough time to properly develop. Ezra Miller’s Flash is just a wisecrack machine. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is presented as a typical “Surfer bro” who is just angry at everyone all the time while Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is about as interesting as watching paint dry. None of this is a fault of the actors. They all do a fine job with what they have. All of this can be traced back to the editing and writing of the film. In an ideal world, the movie would slow down and let us get to know these characters just a little bit more rather than the briefest of development they are given. This may ultimately have been the problem with rushing the DCEU; by not giving any of these characters their own movies, we don’t have reason to care and a crossover ensemble movie with at least eleven principal characters just isn’t the place to introduce and develop new characters. Or at least in a movie that runs towards its climax faster than the Flash himself.

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The action meanwhile struggles to be entertaining. This is nothing to do with how the movie is shot, as Snyder certainly knows how to frame a scene. But while the cinematography looks fine, its ultimately all for naught as it all manages to be incredibly bland and uninteresting to watch. Snyder, again, prioritises moments within these action sequences but forgets to make the action itself interesting. As the heroes run around fighting Steppenwolf’s armies in a big kerfuffle of CGI, the one thought that kept running through my mind was “this action scene should not be this uninteresting”. But that’s ultimately what extends to all the action in the film. It’s bland. It’s slathered in CGI. And it’s ultimately incredibly dull to watch.

The sound in the movie is also worth criticising. Sound effects are mixed too loudly, making action scenes not just difficult on the eyes but on the ears as well. Sound mixing is all over the place; dialogue is at times hard to hear and big triumphant moments in the score are lost in the mix. The hyped return of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme for instance is almost lost as explosions and booms bury the score in the mix, making a heroic moment for Batman lose its impact.

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As for the story, the comparisons to the plot of Avengers Assemble are hard to miss; a villain from another world searches the Earth for a cube shaped McGuffin to unleash his army and destroy the world if a team of superheroes can’t stop him. Narratively, the film tries to hit the exact same beats; the first act assembling the team while the villain goes around collecting items necessary for their plan then a second act sees the heroes divided on a key issue before they all come together for an epic battle. But the film doesn’t seem to quite land them in the same way. It’s as if Snyder and writer Chris Terrio didn’t quite understand the magic that made Avengers Assemble work, eventually bringing on Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon to write new scenes (and eventually direct the reshoots in Zack’s absence) to do it for them… and failing. Narratively the film is a mess. There’s no emotional connection to events that occur, several key story elements are left unexplained, the heroes act like complete idiots when the plot demands they must do and so on. Justice League is the type of film where a convenience is created to move the story along to the next beat, instead of letting the story flow and develop naturally. There are many moments in the film where something narratively convenient will happen to advance the so-called plot. A moment in the second act where the heroes leave a key item abandoned in a car park where Steppenwolf can conveniently steal it left me scratching my head in confusion. When Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, is part of the team, these types of heroic blunders are inexcusable.

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Justice League is a mess; a collection of Zack Snyder moments strung together by a paper-thin plot and incredibly poor character work as well as perhaps the worst villain ever seen in a major superhero film. If more films like this are on the cards, then DC need to seriously rethink their superhero universe. There’s a moment in the film where Batman quips that his working as part of a team “may be temporary”, and honestly, I feel that might be for the best. It takes a special kind of incompetence to make a bad Justice League movie and it’s here in spades. Justice League is not the superhero crossover we need, nor the one we deserve. It’s sort of like that person you’ll always give another chance to impress you, but instantly regret as they only find new, bigger ways of disappointing you.

 

3/10

“Thor: Ragnarok” Review

Directed by: Takia Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Hopkins
Plot: Imprisoned, the almighty Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk (Ruffalo), his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilisation. 

mv5bmty1nda1mjc3mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntexmjgwndi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a big year. After two massive successes with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the franchise surely couldn’t hit a home run and have three great films in one year? Yet that’s exactly what it did. Thor: Ragnarok is big, bold and thrilling, emerging as one of the franchise’s best.

For the third Thor film, Marvel could have played things incredibly safe with a fairly atypical superhero entry. Yet, they went for the risky choice. Hiring Taika Waititi, known more for quirky comedies than action movies, was a risk that paid off. For Thor: Ragnarok is not just the best Thor film, but one of the best in the Marvel Universe. The film takes a drastic tone change for the franchise, opting for a big action-packed space comedy rather than fantasy. And yet, this stylistic change works. From an opening sequence where Thor fights the forces of Surtur to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, things instantly feel fresh and unique. If Marvel has been trying to refine their “formula”, then Thor: Ragnarok is the ultimate refinement. There’s little that doesn’t work within the film.

Much of this is due to director Taika Waititi. Waititi brings his own unique style to the film, giving it a unique style and flavour not found within other superhero films. The quirky comedy and the embracing of the inherent silliness of the entire thing was perhaps the best decision that could have been made in regard to this film. Waititi gets that watching a guy in long hair wave around a magic hammer is, ultimately, a very silly idea, so he has fun with it. And this leads to some of the best comedy ever seen within the Marvel Universe.

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But yet this added comedy does not stop the film from having an impact. In fact, this comedic tone helps the darker and more emotional beats of the film hit even harder than usual. In fact, it’s just surprising exactly how much this film is able to get away with. People have been crying out for superhero movies to have more consequences and they don’t get much bigger than this. The emotional beats hit harder than they ever have before. In fact, in terms of emotional impact, some of the moments here have greater impact than Captain America: Civil War.

All of this is helped along by an absolutely stellar cast. Chris Hemsworth has shown before that he has strong comedic chops both in the MCU and out of it and here he gets to run wild with them. Out of Hemsworth’s five appearances in the Marvel Universe so far, this is by far his best. Much like the film itself, Hemsworth shines with the comedy but really excels with the emotional beats. Hemsworth’s Thor manages to really come into his own here.

Likewise, Tom Hiddleston shines as Loki once again being a scene stealer. Hiddleston has always been a fan favourite and here he absolutely proves his worth yet again, giving Loki a depth and dimensionality that most other characters in superhero films lack. Hiddleston also provides some of the film’s most memorable comedic beats showcasing brilliant comedic timing.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Hulk is at his most complex here, with Ruffalo and producer Kevin Feige explaining this film is the first of three telling a new story for the Hulk (with the other two being the two upcoming Avengers sequels) and this works across well. While Hulk’s character arc is not resolved within this film, it doesn’t need to be. Seeing Banner awaken from two years of being the Hulk and worrying that transforming into the Hulk again will be a permanent transformation leads to some excellent character moments with Banner. Ruffalo handles these moments excellently as well as delivering some hilarious dialogue. Ruffalo’s Hulk is also on fine form with the character being able to speak properly now leading to some excellent moments. Hulk is also the source of some of the film’s best humour with one hilarious moment being an unexpected call-back to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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But the real dazzlers of the cast are the new additions. Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie; a drunk, washed up Asgardian warrior in self-imposed exile. Thompson manages to instantly fit in with the group of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Ruffalo and carves out a place of her own within the film. Thompson’s Valkyrie is one of the highlights of the film in humour, action and character with Valkyrie having one of the more defined character arcs in the film. Thompson is a blast on screen and I hope she sticks around for future Thor sequels as she’s quickly become an essential part of the series, being a more than adequate replacement for Natalie Portman; who did not return for this film.

Jeff Goldblum meanwhile manages to steal every scene he’s in as the Grandmaster. Goldblum is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and it quickly becomes very infectious with the film brightening up every time he’s on screen. He is certainly one of the more unusual Marvel villains but is certainly one of the most memorable and one I certainly hope to see return in future films.

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And then we have Cate Blanchett as Hela. Blanchett does a fantastic job with what she’s given, managing to make Hela an effective and memorable antagonist. The only problem is that Blanchett is not given enough time to really play with the character. The decision to have most of the middle act set away from Asgard creates the problem of Hela being sat around doing nothing for much of this time. Indeed, the film has to create a narrative convenience just to delay Hela’s plans until the third act, with a key item needed for her plot conveniently going missing at the end of the first act. But despite this, Hela still manages to make an impact. An early scene of Hela invading Asgard and being able to take out its warriors all by herself is a thrilling scene to watch and Blanchett is clearly having a blast in the role. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have enough screen time to truly become an iconic villain.

The film is helped along by some truly stunning visuals. If an award was made for the most visually stunning superhero film, Thor: Ragnarok would win it. A true visual feast for the eyes with amazing CGI and excellent cinematography and art direction. The film also benefits from a fantastic score by Mark Mothersbaugh, which even manages to revisit Patrick Doyle’s brilliant theme from the first film.

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To summarise; Thor: Ragnarok is not just a fantastic entry in the Marvel Universe, it’s also perhaps one of the strongest superhero films in recent years and one of the best blockbusters of the year. Marvel have struck gold and delivered the biggest, best and most thrilling Thor film yet. “What are you the god of again?” Hela asks Thor during a key moment. The God of all superhero movies would be a suitable answer.

9.5/10

“Hellboy” Reboot pictures emerge and why I’m excited

The first pictures from the upcoming Hellboy reboot have emerged showing actor David Harbour in costume as the title character and it looks fantastic.

Another Hellboy movie has been a long time coming. After Hellboy II: The Golden Army underperformed at the box office, it seemed that the future of the Hellboy franchise was in jeopardy. And indeed, Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy III quickly entered development hell. And as time went on it seemed the movie would never get made. Del Toro was always too busy. No one wanted to invest. So it came as no surprise that the project was quietly cancelled.

But what did come as a surprise was the announcement of a reboot.

With Neil Marshall in the director’s chair, the Hellboy reboot sees David Harbour of Stranger Things fame take over from Ron Perlman and also casts Ian McShane playing Hellboy’s adopted father Professor Broom and Milla Jovovich as the villain; the Blood Queen.

I was a huge fan of Del Toro’s first two Hellboy movies and have grown to love the character outside the movies via the comics. But my excitement for the movie also stems from a wider, more general perspective.

Hollywood is in a rut right now. There is no denying. Disney rules the day and while every studio may have the odd Wonder Woman or Jurassic World, no one else can seem to find a foothold. And the big problem here is that every major movie is beginning to look the same or just aren’t good.

For instance, the latest The Mummy reboot aped Marvel’s style so much that it forgot to find its own voice along the way, making it an ultimately lifeless venture. Warcraft struggled to figure out who it was for. Batman v Superman massively misunderstood why it’s two title characters are so appealing.

A Hellboy reboot, if done right, could provide the kick that Hollywood needs. It’s a great character and comic to adapt and it’s a weird property. But that’s good. With everyone else beginning to look so bland and lifeless, maybe Hollywood needs a little bit of weird. Something different. The huge success of IT should prove that audiences are craving something a little different and Hellboy could deliver on that.

If the movie doesn’t try to “Marvelise” itself and can forge out its own identity, it could be a massive success.

It has a talented director at the helm, a great cast, the support and writing talents of the characters creator Mike Mingola and has every reason to succeed.

Add in that Harbour looks perfect as the character and Hellboy has quickly shot up my list of most anticipated films of 2018. I just hope it’s able to deliver on the promise.