“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

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“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

Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 2 Retrospective

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler) and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

The Long Game by Russell T Davies

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From left to right: Adam (Bruno Langley), The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) investigate the dark secrets of Satellite 5. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive in the year 200,000 aboard Satellite Five; the hub of all news in the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But something isn’t right. Humanity’s development has fallen behind. Someone, or something, is purposefully keeping back Mankind’s evolution. As the Doctor and Rose attempt to discover why, Adam succumbs to the temptations that the far future offers.

The Long Game is one of those episodes that’s fine while you’re watching it but is otherwise completely forgettable. Which isn’t to say The Long Game is bad, it just suffers from being sandwiched between two of the best episodes of Series 1. There’s some great ideas presented in The Long Game, but the episode never really lingers on any of them enough to give them the proper time they deserve. A political commentary on how much the news shapes and manipulates the people is an excellent choice, but sadly it never gets enough time to breathe. It’s a great concept for a Doctor Who episode, but it’s not done justice here.

Adam’s fall into temptation meanwhile is also rushed. While it’s effective, the episode is pretty brutal in its treatment of Adam being very quick to brush him off as selfish and utterly unredeemable. While the episode makes a good point, not everyone is cut out to travel in the TARDIS, the episode never quite makes us connect with Adam; as the temptation is something a lot of us would fall into. A nice touch however is the Doctor seemingly offering Adam a second chance, by asking him to come clean, making the Doctor and Rose not entirely unsympathetic.

Simon Pegg is a delight as the Editor, bringing to life what would otherwise be a rather one note villain. It’s a shame that Pegg was cast in this episode, as his acting talents are wasted playing a one-off villain, especially one that plays second fiddle to a CGI beastie that does nothing but growl and roar.

Russell T Davies’s script is fine functionally and the episode is at the very least entertaining. However I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something that just didn’t quite click with The Long Game. Did it try to do too much? Was its CGI antagonist just not threatening enough? Is it the fact the episode is mainly set up for the two part finale, thus not allowing it to carve out an identity of its own? Whatever it was, it makes The Long Game leave a sour taste in the mouth and emerge as the weakest episode of Series 1.

5/10

Father’s Day by Paul Cornell

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The Doctor attempts to save Rose from a Reaper. Copyright: BBC

Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time to the day her father died, allowing her to meet the man she never met and be with him at his death. However, Rose changes her mind and instead saves her father’s life creating a massive paradox and a wound in time. As monstrous creatures known as Reapers arrive to sterilise the wound; by devouring everyone and everything, the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. Can the Doctor and Rose save the world and her father?

Father’s Day is just a fantastic episode. The first episode of the New Series to really focus on the consequences and temptations of time travel, after touching on them with Adam in the previous episode, Father’s Day is perhaps the most emotionally touching episode of the entire series. Who wouldn’t go back and spend just a few more minutes with a dearly departed loved one if they had a time machine? Rose’s motives are incredibly sympathetic in this episode and it’s the scenes following her decision to save her father, where Rose discovers that her father doesn’t quite live up to the one she created in her mind, that emerge as some of the best of the episode. Rose’s anger upon learning her Dad may have had an affair is wonderful to see, with this episode perhaps having Billie Piper’s strongest performance of the series. Guest star Shaun Dingwall, playing Rose’s father Pete, puts in a brilliant performance as well and it’s the scenes with the two of them together that really make this episode shine. The two are completely believable as father and daughter and Cornell crafts some wonderful dialogue for the two. The episode is worth watching for these two alone.

The Reapers are an amazing creation; utterly chilling and threatening, they are one of the more ingenious Doctor Who monsters. It’s a shame they haven’t been revisited because they are great antagonists, despite being apparently mindless beasts. This episode has to be commended for its high body count; possibly one of the largest in a single episode as the Reapers apparently devour everyone on Earth. While this is reversed at the end of the episode, it is still a terrifying thought when one thinks of these creatures swooping in and eating everyone in sight.

Father’s Day also excels in dealing with the consequences of time travel and teaching Rose, and the audience, a valuable lesson; time can’t be changed on a whim. The death of Rose’s father is apparently a fixed point in time; because his death defines Rose’s life. He has to die so Rose can become the woman she is. It’s nice for a Doctor Who episode to deal with a matter like this; that sometimes bad things have to happen so something good can happen.

Father’s Day is an excellent episode and in any other series would be the standout episode. As it is, Father’s Day emerges as one of the best episodes of the series, but not quite the best. But only because the competition is incredibly fierce.

10/10

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat

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The Doctor and Rose encounter Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) Copyright: BBC

Following a crashing object through time and space, the Doctor and Rose arrive in 1941; the height of the Blitz. Encountering the Rogue Time Agent Jack Harkness, the Doctor and Rose discover that the streets of London are under threat by not just Nazi bombs. For a young boy in a gas mask prowls the streets, asking for his mummy…

Steven Moffat, who would go on to write more episodes of Doctor Who than any other writer before him, makes his Doctor Who debut with an utterly terrifying but beautiful story. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances perfectly encapsulates everything that is so great about Moffat’s writing. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s exciting yet it’s also incredibly heart-warming and emotional. I’ve long stood by the opinion that Moffat is one of the best writers to ever write for the show and this story is complete proof of that.

The episode’s scares are truly terrifying. The lone child in a gasmask calling for his mummy remains one of Doctor Who’s most memorable, and most terrifying, creations; still striking fear into the hearts of children across the world. It’s such an atmospheric idea. Moffat has always had an eye for creating terrifying Doctor Who villains, and the Empty Child is up there with the best of them.

This episode also introduces us to Captain Jack Harkness; an iconic figure in the Doctor Who universe. At once Barrowman is a blast on screen, fitting easily into the TARDIS team. It’s a shame that this is the only time Moffat wrote for Jack, as Moffat’s dialogue and Barrowman’s acting goes hand in hand.

For that’s another thing about this story, despite its scares it’s also incredibly funny, with a throwaway gag of the Doctor destroying a weapons factory and planting a banana grove in its place is a favourite of mine. Moffat has a unique talent to make Doctor Who both terrifying and hilarious at the same time and its here that it really shines. From one minute the Doctor and co can be running for their life and the next they can be laughing and joking. Moffat’s trademark risqué humour is also at full force here; including the surprising joke of a married man sleeping with a local butcher for extra rations.

This story is also incredibly heart-warming, with the late game twist that the story is of a young mother in wartime Britain, it makes the conclusion incredibly beautiful; especially as it allows the Doctor to have a victory this series that he rarely has: to win without anyone dying. For as the Doctor says; “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once! Everybody lives!”

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances is an excellent story and perhaps one of Doctor Who’s first true masterpieces in the modern era.

10/10

Boom Town by Russell T Davies

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Margaret Blaine/Slitheen (Annette Badland) details her plan to Rose. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack arrive in present day Cardiff and reunite with Mickey. They soon make a shocking discovery; Margaret Blaine, the last of the Slitheen, has survived. Quickly capturing her, the team plan to take her back to her home planet. Upon the reveal that she will be executed as soon as she arrives, tensions begin to rise in the TARDIS. Rose and Mickey’s relationship is put to its ultimate test while the Doctor is forced to consider if he can really be judge, jury and executioner.

Boom Town may seem like a passable episode on the surface and may not be an award winner, but it emerges as one of my favourite episodes of the series. While it may just be a filler comedy episode at first glance, the episode contains some excellent character development.

Rose and Mickey’s relationship is placed in full focus, with the strain her travelling with the Doctor puts on them being brought to attention. As Mickey and Rose start out having a pleasant enough evening only for the night to quickly dissolve into a mess is a little saddening to see; proving once and for all that as long as the Doctor is around, Rose and Mickey will never work. As Rose is unable to stop talking about the Doctor and Mickey admits he’s been seeing someone else, Billie Piper and Noel Clarke perfectly portray a young couple breaking down.

Christopher Eccleston is also excellent in this episode, as the Doctor is forced to confront a foe he’s willing to escort to her death. The dinner scene between the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen is the best scene of the episode, ranging from being utterly hilarious (as Margaret attempts to kill the Doctor multiple times) to emotional and touching as Margaret pleads for her life. This is one of the many episodes in Series 1 where the Doctor is forced to confront what sort of man the Time War made him into; and try and decide if that’s the sort of man he wants to be. Christopher Eccleston and guest star Annette Badland do a fantastic job in this episode and emerge as the highlights.

Another thing to be mentioned is how hilarious Boom Town is. I’d go down and say that this is probably one of Russell T Davies’s funniest scripts for the show. There are laughs galore; the entire sequence where Margaret attempts to escape from the Doctor manages to make me laugh every time.

Boom Town may not be a fantastic episode, but it’s still a great one. Funny and filled with some very funny moments, it’s a must watch for Series 1. Especially seeing as it’s the perfect breather before the finale.

8/10

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor confronts the Daleks. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack find themselves kidnapped and forced to compete in high stakes reality TV shows where the only rule is win; or die. As the Doctor attempts to unravel exactly what’s going on, an old enemy stirs in the shadows, manipulating events from afar. Earth faces total annihilation, Jack prepares to fight off the threat and the Doctor prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice while Rose faces her destiny. Whatever happens, this is the end and not everyone will make it out alive.

The series 1 finale is a masterpiece plain and simple. Starting off with a brilliant loving parody to Britain’s obsession with reality TV shows; seeing the Doctor trapped in the Big Brother house, Rose on the Weakest Link and Jack on What Not To Wear is excellent stuff and absolutely hilarious. At least until the games turn killer.

The Doctor and Rose are separated throughout most of the two parter, which works in the story’s favour. The Doctor meanwhile is partnered up with Lynda for most of the first part with Lynda filling the part of companion very well. Keeping the Doctor and Rose apart is an excellent choice as it makes their reunion all the better.

The way the first part of the story builds up the dread of something unseen in the shadows is excellent. If their presence hadn’t already been spoiled by the trailer at the end of Boom Town, the reveal that the Daleks are the masterminds would have been utterly mind-blowing. This leads to the strongest scene of the two parter; the cliffhanger to part 1 which I’m just going to leave here.

If Bad Wolf is fantastic, then Parting of the Ways is even more so. A remarkable thing is just how hopeless this finale feels. The Daleks have the upper hand, there’s very little hope for the Doctor and his friends to survive. The closest thing to a victory achieved for most of this episode is the Doctor sending Rose home in order to save her. This leads to one of the most heart-breaking scenes of the episode, as Rose desperately begs the TARDIS to take her home and a recording of the Doctor, beautifully played by Eccleston, implores Rose that the best way to honour his memory is to live a fantastic life. It’s such a wonderful scene.

This is followed by the sheer brutality of the Dalek’s assault on the Game Station, with pretty much the entire supporting cast being killed by them; including Jack. This is intercut with the Doctor conversing with the Dalek Emperor, who has gone mad and has proclaimed himself the god of all Daleks for bringing the Daleks back from extinction. This scenes are some of the best of the episode, as the Dalek Emperor questions the Doctor’s morality, questioning that if he is god the “bringer of life”, then perhaps that makes the Doctor the devil. This is followed by one of the most powerful moments in the entire series as the Dalek Emperor dares the Doctor to activate the Delta Wave (which will kill not just the Daleks but all humans on Earth); asking him to decide if he’s a coward or killer. The Doctor, after a few moments agonising over the decision, decides not to activate the wave and says “Coward. Always”. This is a defining moment for the Doctor’s character; not only is this the moment the Doctor finally decides what kind of man he wants to be in the wake of the Time War, but the moment that settles once and for all that the Doctor absolutely couldn’t have destroyed Gallifrey. It’s just not in his character, which inadvertently sets up the reveal he didn’t in The Day of the Doctor.

What follows is pure brilliance as Rose, finding the hidden message in the Bad Wolf meme, absorbs the heart of the TARDIS and returns; using the power of the vortex to destroy the Emperor and the Daleks and to resurrect Jack. However this power is beginning to kill Rose, so the Doctor absorbs the energy from her and the two take off in the TARDIS.

Eccleston then delivers a fantastic performance for his closing moments, as he says farewell to Rose (and the show) in an incredibly touching scene before he regenerates.

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is an utter masterpiece. It’s utterly flawless and is one of the pinnacles of what Doctor Who can achieve in the modern era.

10/10

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 2 Average Score:  8.6/10

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The Doctor in the TARDIS. Copyright: BBC

And it is with the conclusion of Series 1 that we bid farewell to Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. During this rewatch I gained a newfound love for Eccleston’s Doctor. Truly undervalued, Eccleston was utterly fantastic in the role and it’s a shame that we never got more episodes with him. Eccleston and Piper’s chemistry was fantastic and it’s a shame this wonderful TARDIS team only got one series to shine. Here’s hoping for lots of Big Finish with the two in the future.

Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 1 Retrospective

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The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Copyright: BBC

With a long wait until Christmas when incumbent Doctor Peter Capaldi will depart and new Doctor Jodie Whittaker will debut, I thought it high time to revisit the past of Doctor Who, with a rewatch of the new series starting with Series 1 (or Series 27 if you’re getting technical); starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

The first half of Series 1 gets off to a very strong start. Showrunner Russell T Davies writes four of these six episodes so without further ado let’s get underway.

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

 Rose by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose hunt for the Nestene’s lair. Copyright: BBC

Staying late at work one night, shop worker Rose Tyler is attacked by living plastic dummies and rescued by a mysterious man called the Doctor. As Rose continues to bump into the Doctor and his continuing battles against the living plastic, she attempts to find out more about him but is soon sucked into the Doctor’s dangerous world and finds an adventure she will never forget.

Rose had a massive task to fulfil. Not only did the episode mark the return of the series to screens for the first time in 16 years (9 years if you count the movie starring Paul McGann), but it also had to appeal to classic series watchers and to people who had never seen Doctor Who before. In this manner it succeeds, in various levels. Which isn’t to say Rose is bad in any form, it’s just not exactly a very good way of selling exactly what the show excels at. But that said, Rose is still a very strong start to the series. Much like many companion introduction episodes, the Doctor himself appears in a reduced capacity in this episode; being kept mostly off-screen until the back half of the episode. Billie Piper however shows strong acting talent and is able to carry the episode herself until the Doctor steps in to take over. We aren’t given much chance to get to know Eccleston’s Doctor in this episode; with lines indicating that he has only recently regenerated allowing us to see the Ninth Doctor at the beginning of his life; oddly not showing the “regeneration sickness” his later incarnations would show (which usually amounts to a great deal of confusion as the Doctor’s mind adjusts to his new body). Eccleston manages to make an impression though and he and Piper share a wonderful chemistry that is a joy to watch on screen.

The episode itself has a rather simple plot, seeing the Doctor dealing with an attempted invasion by the Nestene Consciousness and Rose getting caught up in the middle of it. This is one of those episodes where it doesn’t really matter who the monster is; they’re here just to provide some form of threat for the Doctor and Rose to overcome and seal their friendship. But what shines through in this script is Russell T Davies’s absolute love for Doctor Who; the conspiracy theorist Clive is a loving nod to the fans, the TARDIS is treated with almost reverence within the script, the Doctor’s personality is like a “best of” of previous Doctors and the script is filled with small nods that fans can pick up on. While Rose may not be RTD’s strongest script, it’s one that serves its purposes well and is still very entertaining to watch; in spite of it being rather forgettable overall.

7/10

The End of the World by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose prepare to witness the Earth’s destruction. Copyright: BBC

For her first trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes Rose to a space platform in the far future where the rich and powerful have all gathered to witness the end of the world itself. But one of the guests has a killer ulterior motive and soon it’s a race against time to save everyone on board before they are all destroyed along with the Earth.

In what has now become Doctor Who tradition, The End of the World takes new companion Rose to the far future for one of her first trips in the TARDIS and confronting a dark truth about the human race; with no humans doing anything to stop the destruction of the Earth and the implication that none of them even care. The episode also sees Rose come face to face with an eventual future of the human race; while other humans have mingled with other species so to speak, the Lady Cassandra has resorted to surgery in order to keep herself “pure”; now being nothing more than “skin with lipstick” as Rose puts it nicely. The fears of “plastic surgery gone mad” are still very relevant today, so to see the show make its first major attempt at social commentary was nice to see.

This episode also saw the debut of some wonderful alien designs and concepts; most of which were never seen again after this episode. It would have been nice if some of these alien characters could have gone on to become recurring characters, but the team did a fantastic job with the costumes. Eccleston is again fantastic in the role, but the episode makes the poor choice of keeping the Doctor and Rose apart for most of the episode; when allowing the Doctor and Rose’s relationship to grow would have been a smarter move. The plot of the episode then isn’t exactly great. It’s functional, but it’s nothing really memorable; a very “safe” episode of Doctor Who. As the show was still trying to establish itself, this was perhaps a smart idea even if it makes the episode a little forgettable overall and really only memorable for a few specific moments. The episode’s guest cast fare a little better with Zoe Wannamaker being a delight as Cassandra while Yasmin Bannerman really impresses as Jabe of the Forest of Cheem. There’s also a handful of rather hilarious jokes; of note is Cassandra wheeling out a jukebox and proclaiming it to be an “IPod”. The End of the World is an entertaining enough second outing for Eccleston’s Doctor, but really isn’t one fans will find themselves revisiting all that often.

7/10

The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss

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The Gelth appear via a psychic link with Gwyneth (Eve Myles). Copyright: BBC

Arriving in 1869 Cardiff on Christmas, the Doctor and Rose encounter Charles Dickens. A nearby Undertakers though has a problem; the dead just won’t stay dead. With the help of Dickens and a young maid with a peculiar ability, the Doctor and Rose discover the cause of the “undead”. Can these mysterious beings be trusted?

The “unofficial Christmas Special”, The Unquiet Dead is not only the first Doctor Who script by Mark Gatiss nor the first script not written by Russell T Davies in the new series, but it’s also the New Series’ first attempt at a “celebrity historical” and a horror episode. A “celebrity historical” is a term used to describe when an episode focuses on the Doctor meeting an iconic figure from history, in this case Charles Dickens, played marvellously by Simon Callow. Callow’s Dickens is perhaps the highlight of the episode and delivers some of the episode’s best lines (“What the Shakespeare?!”). Incidentally, the episode started the trend of having a famous writer from history encounter what they were famous for writing; with Dickens encountering ghosts and, in later episodes, Shakespeare encountering witches (The Shakespeare Code) and Agatha Christie being involved in a murder mystery (The Unicorn and the Wasp).

This episode is a chilling experience to watch, perhaps the first truly scary episode of the show. The antagonists, the Gelth, are a macabre idea and truly one that could only have come from the mind of Mark Gatiss. This episode is incredibly dark and gothic, yet also has that tinge of humour that Gatiss is known for. The Unquiet Dead is a fantastic script and perhaps one of the best in this first batch of episodes. It’s also bolstered by a fantastic guest cast; with a pre-Torchwood Eve Myles being of particular note. The Unquiet Dead is an episode I often find myself drawn to watching and that is perhaps it’s an utterly unique episode; there hasn’t been an episode quite like it since.

8.5/10

Aliens of London/World War Three by Russell T Davies

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The Slitheen plot in Downing Street. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor takes Rose home to visit her mother, only for him to accidentally bring her home one year after she left where in the time since, Rose has been missing presumed dead. But that’s not all, an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames and with the Prime Minister nowhere to be found, an acting Prime Minister is named and the Earth’s greatest alien experts (along with the Doctor) are called in to help. But this is all a sinister trap and the Doctor must soon make a difficult choice.

The first two-parter in the new series also sees the debut of one of the most iconic new series monsters; the Slitheen. Despite it’s, at times, immature humour; there’s a well written script here in a (very) thinly veiled criticism of Tony Blair’s government with many high ranking government officials revealed to be Slitheen in disguise. While most may remember this story for “farting aliens”, there’s a bit more to it than that. This was the first story to really examine the effect on the people left behind when the Doctor takes his companion away. Specifically; we see Rose’s family and friends searching for her and suspecting she’s been murdered by her boyfriend Mickey, due to the Doctor getting the dates wrong and taking Rose home 12 months later and not 12 hours. Seeing the effect this has on Jackie is almost heart-breaking. Camille Coduri delivers a fantastic performance across this two parter, being able to make us laugh and cry at the drop of a hat.

This two parter is where Series 1 really begins to hit its stride; with the personalities and dynamic between the Doctor and Rose fully established; allowing Eccleston and Piper to fully let loose with the roles. Penelope Wilton does a fantastic job as Harriet Jones, with her emerging as one of the episode’s strongest points – an MP that actually wants to help people.

The reveal that most high ranking officials are actually giant green aliens in skinsuits is the stuff conspiracy theorists dream of and the Slitheen are certainly memorable antagonists, mainly because unlike other Doctor Who villains, the Slitheen just want to make a profit, not invade. Many may deride them for the running fart jokes, but considering Doctor Who is primarily a family show it has to be a little silly at times. Especially since it leads to one of Eccleston’s best lines in the entire show; “Do you mind not farting while I’m saving the world?” The Slitheen are a truly fantastic monster design, despite very obvious changes from the costume to the CGI version. This storyline is a particularly great one; the entire climax featuring the Doctor having to choose between Rose and the world is great stuff. I feel this two parter often gets forgotten or pushed to the wayside for its perceived immaturity, for even though the episode is littered with fart jokes galore it helps hide a rather great story focusing on first contact between humans and aliens; and makes us wonder how much we can actually trust that those in power aren’t just aliens in skinsuits wanting to sell the Earth off to the highest bidder (one wonders what fun RTD could have had with Theresa May’s government). The story also has a great heart, focusing on just what effects running off to see the universe has on the family you leave behind. Aliens of London/World War Three is highly recommended. Oh, and keep a look out for an early appearance by Torchwood character Toshiko Sato.

Aliens of London – 8/10
World War Three – 8.5/10

Dalek by Robert Shearman

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Rose encounters the “last” Dalek. Copyright: BBC

Answering a distress call, the Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground museum devoted to aliens and alien artefacts owned by billionaire Henry van Statten. As Rose forms a close bond with one of van Statten’s employees; young genius Adam, the Doctor discovers the source of the distress call. For deep within van Statten’s base lies his prize exhibit… one of the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies.

And here we are at last; the long-awaited new series debut of the Doctor’s most iconic foes. Dalek is a fantastic episode, easily one of the better episodes in Series 1 as a whole and the best in this first batch of episodes. This is the first episode to truly focus on the Time War and the sequence where the Doctor and the Dalek discuss being the only survivors (or so they thought at the time) of the Time War is a fantastic sequence. This episode features perhaps Eccleston’s finest performance as the Doctor, within this first half of the series anyway. The pain visible on the Doctor’s face as he discusses the Time Lords being all but gone is clear to see and Eccleston manages to convey a complex set of emotions all at once; regret, anger and sorrow.

But perhaps what this episode is best remembered for is the Dalek itself; and boy does it deliver. The Dalek is truly terrifying as it slowly makes its way through Van Statten’s base floor by floor killing everyone it encounters (over 200 people according to one character). This is one of the few times the Daleks have been utterly terrifying and it’s amazing. The episode brings the Doctor’s iconic foe back to life in the best way it could.

What’s most interesting is Rose and her interactions with the Dalek. With the Dalek having absorbed Rose’s DNA to restore itself, the Dalek finds itself changing and Rose begins to see parallels between the Doctor and the Dalek. And we the audience do too; for Rose not only healed the Doctor (metaphorically) but she also healed the Dalek.

Composer Murray Gold also debuts his iconic Dalek theme in this episode and it’s still just as bone chilling 12 years on. The episode’s guest cast is fine but not particularly memorable. Bruno Langley does fine as Adam and paves the way for a bigger role in the next episode. Nicholas Briggs meanwhile manages to bring the Dalek’s screechy voice to life and takes it to the next level, giving us a voice that will haunt nightmares for years to come.

All this would be lost without some truly fantastic directing by Joe Ahearne and a marvellous script by Robert Shearman (it’s a crime that he has yet to return to the show). Dalek is one of those Doctor Who episodes where everything comes together perfectly delivering an absolute masterpiece. Dalek is supreme. All hail Dalek.

10/10

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The Doctor and Rose. Copyright: BBC. 

This first crop of episodes are a great start to Series 1, with not one weak link amongst them. Russell T Davies did the impossible here; he brought Doctor Who back and make it sleeker and bigger than ever without losing the show’s magic touch and charm. The only real flaw in this bunch is the budget; CGI has not aged well and the mastering on the episodes has equally not aged well; the episodes just don’t look as shiny or sleek on flat screen 4K TVs – perhaps indicating BBC should consider a full remaster of the episodes in years to come. But aside from that, the show looks fantastic for its time and this run of episodes is a fantastic way to start the series. Check back next week for retrospectives on the next 7 episodes of Series 1! And check back weekly for new Doctor Who retrospectives all the way until Christmas.

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 1 Average Score: 8.1/10

“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

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Review

Directed by: Tom Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori
Plot: Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), with the help of his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture (Michael Keaton), emerges.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming has a perfectly apt title. Not only does the film prominently feature a Homecoming dance and Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) struggles to ask crush Liz Allan (Laura Harrier) to be his date, but in a meta sense the title refers to the Spider-Man movie franchise itself returning to Marvel (after Marvel sold the rights to Sony Pictures in the 90s) and thus Spider-Man now being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; as this film proves by prominently featuring Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). While Sony still retains control of the Spider-Man license (and will be making their own films using Spider-Man’s villains set outside the MCU), Marvel is now making Spider-Man films for Sony and will also be able to feature Spider-Man in other Marvel movies (with this version of Spider-Man having made his debut in last year’s Captain America: Civil War). Spider-Man: Homecoming is then a more significant Spider-Man film because of this; it’s not only another reboot but a statement – that Spider-Man is finally home.

If there’s one thing Spider-Man: Homecoming excels at, it’s capturing the soul of the character. Perhaps the most accurate version of the character to have appeared on screen, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is filled with humour, life and joy but also the trademark “Parker luck” and strive to do good that defines the character. Holland delivers a fantastic performance, truly bringing the character to life. Holland brilliantly captures Spider-Man’s relative inexperience, genuinely feeling like a teenager trying his best to do good but quickly getting out of his depth. Holland quickly emerges as the film’s best actor, and when you’re sharing the screen with Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr, that’s saying something. Holland has a long career ahead of him and I can’t wait to see how his Spider-Man develops.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming also shines with its plot. Taking the opposite approach of other superhero movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a rather small scale affair in the wider world of the Marvel Universe. Unlike Iron Man, Thor and Captain America who deal with potential world or universe ending threats in every instalment, Spider-Man instead deals with a rather small threat in comparison. And this works for the movie. Spider-Man shouldn’t be dealing with world ending threats alone at this stage in his career. Spider-Man dealing with a small threat gives the movie ample time to explore its central theme; Peter trying to decide what sort of person, and what sort of hero, he wants to be.

For Spider-Man: Homecoming is ultimately a coming of age movie. During production, director John Watts likened the movie to a John Hughes movie and that influence shows. Not only does the high school setting feel vibrant and alive, actually feeling like a school and not a set like in other Spider-Man movies, but the characters do to. Nearly every major character gets development and story beats that pay off. And not only that, but the John Hughes influences are everywhere (some characters even watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a blink and you’ll miss it moment). Moments of Peter hanging out with his friends mimics The Breakfast Club, moments of Peter running out of school for superhero hijinks mimic the afore mentioned Ferris Bueller. But despite its influences, the movie manages to find its own voice; framing a very well told and intimate teen coming of age movie within the trappings of a very well made Superhero action flick. Moments of Peter hanging out with his friends, having dinner with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and fretting over how to ask Liz out never feel out of place with the superhero action. All of it manages to form into one very well crafted narrative that even manages to take a few surprising twists and turns.

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But a superhero is nothing without its villain and Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers an excellent one in Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Keaton delivers an excellent performance as a man who doesn’t want to be evil, but will stop at nothing to achieve his goals no matter the cost. Watching Toomes slowly fall into evil is fascinating to see, as his dark side slowly but surely takes over. In an early moment, Toomes is horrified when he does kill someone (“I thought that was the anti-gravity gun” he says, almost speechless) yet later he has no qualms about killing anyone in his way. It’s an interesting character to watch unfold on screen and Keaton gives it his best, making the Vulture emerge as one of the MCU’s best developed villains in a very long while.

Robert Downey Jr is on fine form as Tony Stark, showing up briefly but memorably (he’s not in the film as much as trailers would imply). Despite this, he manages to be one of the film’s most memorable aspects. Rounding out the cast is great performances from Zendaya as Peter’s slightly odd friend Michelle, Marisa Tomei as Peter’s ever supportive Aunt May, Jacob Batalon as Peter’s geeky best friend Ned and Laura Harrier as Liz, the object of Peter’s affections. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel has assembled an excellent ensemble for this film and I can’t wait to see them all grow in further sequels.

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What is also an excellent touch is how funny the film is. Some people think comedy and superheroes shouldn’t mix, but considering Spider-Man is a superhero known for spouting jokes and wisecracks, it’s hard to see why Spider-Man: Homecoming shouldn’t be a funny film. I would be close to calling the film one of the funniest in the MCU with a lot of hilarious moments from an increasingly exasperated Spider-Man being berated by citizens to a sure to be iconic moment showing us exactly why Spider-Man couldn’t operate in a superhero in any other city outside of New York (which got the biggest laughs in the film).

The humour doesn’t detract from the darkness as well. For without a doubt this is the darkest Spider-Man film. Maybe not in terms of content directly, but on the topics it touches. There’s a moment in the film where Peter, incredibly out of his depth and in deadly danger, calls out desperately for someone, anyone, to help and it’s in this moment, helped by Holland’s performance, that it hits you. Spider-Man is just a teenager in this film. This is a 16 year old boy. It’s a powerful moment and perhaps one that will make those with younger relatives slightly uncomfortable.

The action also hits the right beats (no pun intended). The film’s fights scenes put Spider-Man’s abilities to their full use and offer some truly inventive and memorable action sequences. Spider-Man’s fighting style in the comics has bene perfectly translated to screen and Watts even manages to display some excellent inventiveness throughout.

While Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the best movie featuring Spider-Man (that honour still belongs to Spider-Man 2 and Captain America: Civil War), Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic reboot for the character, emerging as not just a great Spider-Man film, but a great film all around. Those on the fence about seeing Spider-Man rebooted yet again needn’t fear, Spider-Man’s homecoming to Marvel is a triumphant one and hopefully he’ll be around for a long time coming.

8/10

Doctor Who S10E12 “The Doctor Falls” Review

14983950848970One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. – The First Doctor, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, 1964

Well that was really something. Steven Moffat seemed to throw in everything and the kitchen sink for what was perhaps one of the most thrilling episodes of the series. Two Masters, lots and lots of Cybermen, epic action, regeneration AND the First Doctor? Say what you will about Moffat, at least he knows how to throw a party.

The Doctor Falls was one of the best series finales the show has ever done. Magical, tear jerking, funny and action packed. It delivered everything and was perhaps the most powerful episode of the series.

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The episode framed itself brilliantly around the concept of “denying change”. The Doctor, slowly regenerating, refuses to change. Bill has to struggle with her change into a Cyberman and her refusal to continue living as such. Missy was struggling with her slow change to good while the Master was adamantly against any such change. It was an interesting idea to build the episode around and it worked brilliantly; providing a satisfying ending to most of the character’s arcs. If this was to be the final ever episode of the show, if you remove the cliffhanger, it would have been perfect.

Missy’s character arc was particularly perfect. Missy’s main goal throughout most of her appearances over the last few years was to get her “best friend back”. In Series 8, she tried giving him an army of Cybermen as the means to right all wrongs in the universe for his birthday. In Series 9, she tried to bring the Doctor round to her way of thinking by trying to trick him into killing Clara. And finally in Series 10, when faced with death as the only other option Missy decided to try another way; to try the Doctor’s way of thinking even if it meant eternal imprisonment. During the series, Missy has slowly discovered empathy she never knew she had; such as crying when she remembered the names of all the people she’d killed. Like a true addict, Missy struggled with a return to her addiction. But that spark of good deep inside her worked its way and finally, Missy gave in. she endeavoured to return and help the Doctor only to be shot in the back by her previous incarnation. Missy died, without hope, without witness, without reward, having finally decided to try and live another way. And the Doctor will never know. Michelle Gomez has implied that if the Master is to return, she likely will not meaning this may be Missy’s final appearance. And if it is to be so, I can’t imagine a better way for Michelle Gomez to make her exit. Gomez has played the character perfectly, emerging as perhaps one of the finest actors to ever play the role. If this is the end, she will be sorely missed.

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As for Bill, it’s hard to judge as such. We still don’t know if this is actually Bill’s ending or not (as of writing, Pearl Mackie has not been confirmed for either the 2017 Christmas Special or Series 11). But if this was to be Bill’s ending, it’s a satisfactory one. We all know that Bill was never going to be killed off for good nor remain a Cyberman forever. There was always going to be a way for Bill to survive. And as it goes, this was a nice one. It brought the series full circle in a way and Bill going off on a journey to see the universe with Heather leaves things plenty open for Bill to return in the future. If this is Bill’s end however, then Pearl Mackie leaves with a triumphant performance delivering perhaps her best of the series tied with World Enough and Time. Pearl has been a joy to see on screen week on week and she has left very big shoes to fill for whoever takes her place.

John Simm meanwhile slipped back into the role of the Master with ease, like he’d never been gone. While Simm didn’t get too much to do in this episode (his role was to help further Missy’s character arc), he did leave a strong impression as one of the best parts of the episode. Simm was hilarious and managed to be one of the best things in each scene he was in. And when you share the screen with Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez, that’s no easy feat. And of course his chemistry with Michelle Gomez was delightful. Seeing two Masters on screen was fantastic and the two actors delivered perfectly. Is it wrong to ship someone with themselves? “Yes. Very” says Missy.

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Matt Lucas meanwhile was great as Nardole, even if he didn’t get too much to do which has been a very real issue this series. It raises the question as to why Nardole returned if he was going to be so underused and almost feel like an afterthought in ever script. It’s almost as if the decision to bring back Nardole was made every late in the writing process. While Nardole has been a joy on screen, I am a little disappointed that Nardole didn’t get much to do. However his farewell scene was incredibly touching.

But of course, the real star of the show was Peter Capaldi. Capaldi has always been magnificent in the role of the Doctor and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I were to say he’s the best actor in terms of talent to take the role. Capaldi has never, ever phoned an episode in and this one was no different. I’d even argue that this episode ties with Heaven Sent as Capaldi’s best performance. The Doctor as seen here was emotionally raw, internalising everything (“I love it when he’s Mr. Volcano” Missy quips) and trying his best to put on a brave face for Bill and Nardole. To see the Doctor slowly dying, but doing his best to save even just a few people was awe inspiring. The scene where the Doctor runs through the woods, blasting Cybermen to pieces and giving that epic line of dialogue “I am the Doctor! The original, you might say!” was perhaps one of the episode’s most memorable moments alongside the Doctor’s impassioned plea to the Masters to stay and help.

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All of this would not have been possible without a wonderful script from Steven Moffat. With this being his final finale, Moffat gave it his all and it emerged as one of his best. Snappy dialogue, incredibly touching drama and some really bold ideas really elevated The Doctor Falls. I hope Moffat releases the script for this episode online, because I bet it’s as amazing to read as it is to see on screen. While we have one more Moffat script to look forward to at Christmas, I for one am definitely going to miss his writing.

Rachel Talalay meanwhile was a fantastic director for this episode, delivering yet another brilliant episode. Talalay has proven herself to be a fantastic addition to the Who team over the last few years and with her directing the Christmas Special, I can only hope she’ll be sticking around for a long time to come.

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The Doctor Falls defied all the odds and emerged as an excellent finale to the series. Full of action, drama, humour and tears, it delivered everything I wanted and more. It’s hard to describe just how much I loved this episode, but for me at least, it’s an instant classic and a fitting finale for Moffat’s era on the show. Now when is it Christmas?

10/10

Trivia and Speculation

David Bradley portrays the First Doctor in this episode’s closing moments. Bradley previously portrayed William Hartnell in the 2013 Drama An Adventure in Space and Time, charting the early years of Doctor Who. Bradley had previously appeared in Doctor Who as the villainous Solomon in 2012’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (coincidently written by the next showrunner Chris Chibnall).

David Bradley is the third actor to portray the First Doctor in the show, following William Hartnell who departed the show in 1966’s The Tenth Planet as well as making a brief appearance in 1973’s The Three Doctors and Richard Hurndall who played the character in 1983’s The Five Doctors, made after Hartnell’s passing in 1975.

The First Doctor appears in person for the first time since The Five Doctors. While the First Doctor has appeared via archive footage since then, this is the first time he has appeared in the flesh in over 30 years!

There are several references to previous regeneration stories; the Master appears (Logopolis, Doctor Who The Movie, The End of Time), the Doctor fights the Cybermen (The Tenth Planet, The Time of the Doctor), He defends a small farming community from invaders (The Time of the Doctor), he hallucinates his past companions before he regenerates (The Caves of Androzani) and quotes the final lines of his tenth and eleventh incarnations before finally arriving in Antarctica just before the regeneration of his first incarnation.

The Doctor sees images of his past companions; Rose, Martha, Donna, Jack, Amy, Vastra, Jenny, River, Clara and Bill. This implies the Doctor’s memories of Clara have been restored.

Missy mentions that the Doctor has died by falling. The Fourth Doctor died while fighting the Master by falling from a tower in Logopolis.

Missy reveals that the reason she has no memories of the events of this story while she was the Harold Saxon Master is that her timeline is out of sync. This is the official reason used in Multi-Doctor episodes for why only the most recent Doctor will remember.

The Harold Saxon Master ties the Doctor up and pushes him around in a wheelchair. He has now done so in all three stories he’s appeared in; Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, The End of Time, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls.

Series 10 Rankings 

1. The Doctor Falls 10/10

2. World Enough and Time 10/10

3. Extremis 10/10

4. Oxygen 8.5/10

5. Thin Ice 8.5/10

6. The Eaters of Light 8.5/10

7. The Pilot 8/10

8. Smile 7.5/10

9. The Pyramid at the End of the World 6/10

10. The Empress of Mars 5/10

11. Knock Knock 5/10

12. The Lie of the Land 4/10

Series 10 Average Score: 7.6/10