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.

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“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

“Dunkirk” Review

maxresdefaultDirected by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Plot: Trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk with their backs to the sea, thousands of British and Allied troops face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.

In a summer dominated by superheroes, giant robots, minions and pirates, it’s rather surprising to say that the summer’s strongest picture (and perhaps the strongest picture of the year so far) is Dunkirk.

Based on the real events from 1940, Dunkirk is a beast of a film; showcasing not just the heroic evacuation, but the terrifying horrors of the war itself. Splitting itself into three chapters told non-linearly, Dunkirk focuses on three parts of the famous evacuation; The Mole focusing on the land, The Sea focusing on the boats coming to help and The Air focusing on the RAF with each chapter following a different group of characters. This is an excellent approach, as it allows the film to cover the widest range of the story it’s telling with three very different groups of characters; a small group of British soldiers desperately trying to survive, a Mariner, his son and his son’s friend sailing a small boat to aid in the evacuation and two RAF pilots desperately trying to hold off the German bombers to give the evacuation time. For this reason, no character really emerges as the main character of the film. This is truly an ensemble piece.

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Perhaps the easiest way to describe Dunkirk is that it’s three interconnecting short films presented non-linearly. Those expecting a more conventional narrative may be disappointed.

Time plays a very big role within the film itself, from the ticking clock that is ever present within the film’s soundtrack, signifying how little time there is to evacuate, to Farrier (Hardy) using time to estimate how much fuel he has left in his plane after his fuel gauge is damaged all the way to the film telling us how much time each chapter covers (The Mole covering a week, The Sea covering a day and The Air covering an hour). This in turn creates a massive sense of urgency within the film; relentless pacing really makes the audience uneasy and anxious at all times, with moments that should feel safe instead leaving us fearing the next inevitable strike by the Germans.

By far the strongest of the film’s three chapters however is The Sea; which very easily could have been its own film. The Sea is carried by strong performances by Mark Rylance as a Mariner trying to aid the evacuation and Cillian Murphy as a rescued shell-shocked soldier desperate not to go back to Dunkirk, at any cost. The Sea is a fantastic piece of filmmaking in its own right and will likely go on to be one of the most memorable parts of the film for most audiences.

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The Mole meanwhile is relentless in its showcasing of the horrors of war. Following three soldiers; Tommy (Whitehead), Alex (Styles) and the mute Gibson (Barnard) desperately trying to find a way out of Dunkirk and back to England as soon as possible, The Mole almost feels like a horror movie at times. The German forces, ever present, are never actually seen instead only identified as sudden gunshots and flying bombers. This makes the Germans feel like an almost supernatural force, constantly hunting the trio. The Mole is bolstered by some of the film’s most tense sequences and some wonderful performances from young actors Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard. Barnard in particular impresses due to having no lines of dialogue. Styles also impresses with a strong performance, perhaps indicating he could have a big career outside the music industry. Whitehead is also great and manages to carry The Mole very well as a very easy to root for protagonist.

The Air is home to most of the film’s action sequences, namely highflying (and lowflying) dogfights above the beaches of Dunkirk. Mostly carried by two actors; Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden, this story is the shortest of the three but is home to some of the more memorable moments. The dogfights have to be seen to be believed and are utterly thrilling to watch. If you can, definitely seek out a large format screen to watch the movie in, either IMAX or Dolby Cinema, as these sequences are worth watching on the biggest screen possible. Hardy and Lowden do excellently enough and Hardy in particular stands out very well, delivering a great performance despite nearly all of his scenes being confined to a small cockpit.

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One of the more surprising things about Dunkirk is how it doesn’t glorify the events taking place. Unlike other war movies which are often more sentimental and patriotic, Dunkirk never shies away from just how horrifying the events were. For there is no denying the events at Dunkirk were a disaster. And that is perhaps a more fitting genre for the movie. It’s not a war movie. It’s a disaster movie that just happens to focus on a disaster that occurred during wartime. While this does not mean the movie doesn’t have its patriotic moments, which it does, the movie just chooses to focus more on the horror, disaster and tragedy of Dunkirk than anything else. Which works just right for the movie.

On a technical level, Dunkirk is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Nolan has gone on record saying that the film used as little CGI as possible and it shows. This is a grand scale production the likes of which is rarely seen today. The film is awe inspiring to see and helped along by actually filming at the locations where the events happened. The cinematography, costumes, props, everything looks so real and raw that it’s almost difficult to tell yourself “It’s just a movie” at times. Helped along by Nolan choosing to film on 70mm film and IMAX cameras, as well as a Dolby Vision pass (which sadly can currently only be seen in select cinemas capable of displaying it until the film’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray release) all of which makes Dunkirk a visual feast for the eyes.

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Dunkirk’s sound mix is also fantastic. Despite Director Christopher Nolan showing an aversion to sound mixes higher than 5.1 (meaning Dunkirk has no 7.1 or Dolby Atmos mix as is typical for most movies nowadays), Dunkirk still sounds amazing. Bullets suddenly spring out of nowhere, bombers and spitfires fly overhead, explosions are heard all around. There’s no doubt about it, this is Nolan’s best sounding movie.

There are many words I could use to describe Dunkirk, but I think only one encapsulates everything I could say about the film; masterpiece. Dunkirk is a feat of filmmaking and easily one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, perhaps even better than The Dark Knight. Nolan has proven himself a master of filmmaking once again and one of the best living directors working today. Dunkirk is a relentless, raw, horrific and pulse-racing experience; one that will thrill, shock and grip audiences worldwide. Dunkirk is not just the greatest film of the summer, but the greatest film of 2017 so far – and it is unlikely to be topped.

10/10

“Transformers: The Last Knight” Review

transformers__the_last_knight_wallpaper_by_the_dark_mamba_995-dbbaftjDirected by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Santiago Cabera, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Ca
rmichael, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Gemma Chan
With the voice talents of: Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, Frank Welker as Megatron, Erik Aadahl as Bumblebee, John Goodman as Hound, Ken Watanabe as Drift, Jim Carter as Cogman, Steve Buscemi as Daytrader, Omar Sy as Hot Rod, John DiMaggio as Crosshairs, Tom Kenny as Wheelie
Plot: Optimus Prime has disappeared. Autobots and Decepticons alike are being hunted down. The Autobots and their human friend Cade (Wahlberg) find a mysterious talisman that holds the key to the location of a powerful artefact. Hunted by Megatron, Cade and the Autobots must place their trust in Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), guardian of the secret history of Transformers and in Oxford Professor Vivian (Haddock). As the evil sorceress Quintessa (Chan), with a brainwashed Optimus in her control, approaches intending to destroy Earth; the race is on to find the artefact, which is the Autobots and humanity’s only hope of saving the planet they call home.

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I’ll put it this way. If you’re not on the Transformers bandwagon yet, Transformers: The Last Knight is incredibly unlikely to convert you. Despite being the first film from Paramount’s Transformers Writers Room (a team of writers plotting out the next few movies in the series), The Last Knight fails to offer anything significantly new, which makes it a very hard movie to review. So much of the movie feels so familiar that it struggles to find its own identity. But that said, I did enjoy it. Now, does that mean I would say Transformers: The Last Knight is a good film? Probably not. Would I watch it again? Yes I would. Despite the film’s inherent problems, there are things to enjoy here. Does The Last Knight heavily signal that Michael Bay should move on from the franchise to allow the series to find a new voice and carve out a new identity? Yes. Definitely. But does that mean Transformers: The Last Knight is the cinematic abortion other critics have made it out to be? Well that answer is a little more complicated.

It’s very easy to focus on what’s bad about The Last Knight. It’s a Frankenstein of a film at times; with characters and plot elements dipping in and out of the story and being forgotten about every time they’re off screen. Iconic characters such as Optimus Prime and Megatron are largely forgotten about for most of the film’s runtime; Optimus himself disappears after a few short scenes in the first act and doesn’t appear again until the start of the third act (which is about an hour or more of the character being off-screen). In fact, this happens with other characters at an alarming rate. The heavily marketed Isabelle (Moner) likewise disappears for most of the film, as do the rest of the Autobots. To say the film is called Transformers, the only Transformers who emerge with a significant role in the film are Bumblebee and new character Cogman. And this is perhaps the largest problem with The Last Knight, one that has been steadily growing worse as the series has gone on; the Transformers themselves are being reduced to side characters in their own franchise, despite the fact that the Transformers themselves are much more interesting characters than the humans the film focuses on so much.

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During a fight late in the movie, Megatron tells Optimus “We were brothers once!” continuing on from the reveal the two were brothers in the first movie. However, this dynamic has never been explored in the movies and indeed, this is the first time it’s been mentioned since the reveal in the first film. Wouldn’t exploring that dynamic between Optimus and Megatron, two brothers who are opposite sides of the same coin, be a much more interesting relationship to explore than Cade and his daughter, who doesn’t even appear on screen due to Nicola Peltz not returning for more than a voice cameo? It’s not even an issue of the voice actors not being good enough, Peter Cullen and Frank Welker have been the official voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron for over 30 years.  It’s confusing that a more interesting storyline is being continually pushed to the side. Since Paramount is actively searching for a new director for Transformers 6, it might be worth them finding a director who actually wants to make the Transformers characters in their own movies rather than the set dressing they are for most of The Last Knight.

The film also squanders its potential. The film’s most interesting element; the secret history of Transformers on Earth, is glossed over. The idea that the Transformers have been shaping human history since the Dark Ages is a fascinating one and flashback sequences of Autobots fighting alongside King Arthur and his knights and fighting the Nazis in World War 2 is incredibly imaginative stuff. It’s just a shame it amounts to less than 5 minutes of the movie and ultimately doesn’t have much bearing on the plot apart from the origins of the film’s McGuffin and a running joke involving a Transformer disguised as a pocket watch that apparently killed Hitler. A lot of thought went into the movie lore, so it’s a damn shame not to explore it. A WW2 set prequel with Bumblebee fighting Nazis is so much more interesting than yet another sequel.

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Another plotline that is squandered is the heavily marketed “Nemesis Prime” storyline. With Optimus having very little screen time, it’s hard for the storyline to take any effect. More scenes of Quintessa slowly brainwashing Prime would have gone to good lengths to resolve this, but instead Optimus is apparently instantly brainwashed and doesn’t appear again until he arrives on Earth as “Nemesis Prime” at the start of the third act. While the heavily marketed fight between Nemesis Prime and Bumblebee is excellent, being one of the more entertaining sequences in the film, there’s no doubt that the emotional attachment required for this scene is missing due to the film limiting Prime’s screentime and not allowing Bumblebee to show any character development at all. And after this, we are left no time to dwell on events because the Autobots quickly charge off to fight Quintessa for another lengthy action scene with no time for the characters or the audience to have a moment to breathe.

I am wondering if Transformers: The Last Knight would have been better served being divided into two films; one dealing with the Nemesis Prime arc and the search for the artefact (Transformers: Nemesis perhaps?) and another dealing with the rest of the Quintessa storyline. Doing this would have perhaps helped the film feel a lot less cramped than it does and allowed the valuable time for the characters and story to breathe.

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As for the human characters, they’re a mixed bag. Wahlberg’s Cade is very much the same as he was in the preceding film and shows no change of development across the film making it very hard for audiences to invest in him as a protagonist. Haddock’s Vivian however is much stronger and there are times where I wished the film was more focused on her instead of Cade; Vivian has more personality and plot relevance. While the film makes great leaps and excuses to keep Cade around, Vivian is always naturally part of proceedings. Despite a few moments where Vivian is reduced to nothing more than her looks (when he meets her Cade calls her “British stripper lady” due to her dress), Vivian does manage to emerge as one of the strongest characters in the film.

As for the heavily marketed Isabella, she doesn’t actually do much apart from be an audience viewpoint character for the first act. After that she vanishes from the film for most of the second and third acts, which raises the question as to why she was even included. While the character shows promise, despite being an obvious knock off of Star Wars’s Rey, it’s confusing that a human character that’s barely in the film was heavily marketed – and indeed heavily marketed as a feminist character. It’s strange then that Michael Bay’s attempts at a feminist character would be quickly abandoned and side-lined for most of the film. Perhaps Isabella was a very late addition to the story, meant to set up a larger role in future sequels and spin-offs?

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The real star of the show though is Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins has a blast in the role and emerges as the film’s funniest character, again making you wonder why the film isn’t about him instead of Cade. Hopkins gets the biggest laughs in the film; from giving police cars and Decepticons the finger during a high speed car chase, to telling Cade and others to “shut up” (including the British Prime Minister) to casually apologising to a poor museum clerk as Cade and Vivian jump over the barriers to reach a submarine of great importance, “Young people today. They just really like submarines”. Hopkins has so much fun in the role that I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t the best thing in it.

Other actors from previous Transformers films make a return, but their role is so minimal or has so little impact it’s barely worth mentioning them. Josh Duhamel returns as Lennox, but despite having a lot of screen time doesn’t actually do anything of importance. John Turturro returns as Agent Simmons and despite being heavily hyped only appears in two short scenes (bizarrely featuring two Autobots trying their best to get him to play football with them) making his return feel slightly pointless but worth it for a shouting match with Hopkins’s character that is hilarious. Stanley Tucci however is wasted in only one scene. While Tucci is excellent in the film, he does not reprise his character from the previous film instead playing Merlin in the prologue. Tucci is hilarious in the role but I couldn’t help but wish he had a larger role making Transformers: The Last Knight the second film this year to waste Tucci in a mostly secondary role after Beauty and the Beast.

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Gemma Chan is decent as villainess Quintessa but never actually gets enough time to play around with the character. After a few scenes in the first act, the character vanishes until the third act when she simply stands around spouting vaguely threatening sci-fi nonsense leading her to be the most underdeveloped antagonist in the series so far and feeling almost like an afterthought.

The action scenes, as ever, remain enjoyable, if incredibly exhaustive. Bay doesn’t seem to know when to call cut, leading the action scenes to drag on. And on. And on. And on.  Eventually it gets to the point where the action stops being entertaining and you become slightly aware how much all these explosions are extending the films already bloated runtime. With each action sequence feeling the need to “outdo” the last, it almost tricks you into thinking the film is nearly finished with some sequences only for the film to go on for another half hour. With perhaps a stricter hand in the editing suite, the action sequences could have been something special. That said however, a climatic action sequence in a zero gravity situation was surprisingly inventive.

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The real star of the films however remains Steve Jablonsky’s scores and his score for The Last Knight is no exception. Perhaps his finest score for the series yet, Jablonsky reprises old themes (including the main theme for the films not heard since the second movie) and creates several new great ones; all of it culminating in the beautiful track We Have To Go, which deserves a listen.

The special effects are gorgeous however. The Transformers are beautifully designed, even obsessively so. Lots of detail is worked into these characters along with attempts at making each character distinct and memorable; to the point where a Suicide Squad-esque run through of Megatron’s team of Decepticons seems included purely to show off all the different character designs.

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Transformers: The Last Knight is exactly what it sets out to be; another entry in the series. No more. No less. For this reason alone, I can’t really fault it. It achieves exactly what it wanted to be. On a filmmaking level it falters. The film is too long, has too many underdeveloped ideas and characters, suffers from having too much going on for one film (to the point where characters just vanish from the film for periods of time) and seems to continually misunderstand exactly why people want Transformers movies, namely for Transformers. But the film does have some great action sequences, some great ideas (even if they aren’t developed) and sets a good framework for the series going forward (without Michael Bay). With Transformers 6 and 7 planned as well as various prequels and spin-offs, The Last Knight is certainly not the last Transformers film, but it certainly heralds the last Michael Bay Transformers film. The Last Knight hammers home how outdated and out of touch some of Bay’s thoughts and ideas are. While Bay may claim his films are for “teenage boys”, there’s no denying teenage boys have much better choices today. In a world where Marvel dominates with high quality film after high quality film, making films just for teenage boys won’t cut it. Transformers needs to… well transform and prove there’s more than meets the eye to this franchise. As it is, The Last Knight is a passable entry in the franchise, one that will entertain fans and those who have enjoyed previous entries. However, with slightly sexist attitudes to some female characters, an underdeveloped plot and characters and not offering anything really different from previous entries, anyone looking for anything more may want to look elsewhere.

4/10

“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