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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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

“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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Plot: Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favourite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.

At a pivotal moment just before the start of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s third act, Nebula (Gillan) snarks to the group “All you do is shout at each other. You’re not friends.” To which Drax (Bautista) responds “No. We’re not friends. We’re family.”

For that is the central theme of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Family. It’s a theme that’s interwoven into most aspects of the film, its plot and the characters. From Peter’s (Pratt) relationship with his father Ego (Russell), to his relationship with Yondu (Rooker) who raised him, to Gamora’s (Saldana) relationship with her sister Nebula, to the strange bond Drax forms with Mantis (Klementieff) to the team’s bonds with each other and more, it’s a central feature of the narrative. The theme forms the emotional core of the film. It’s an opinion I’ve long stood by that the best stories can always be traced back to one identifiable theme and it holds true here. By sticking to the theme of “family”, Writer/Director James Gunn crafts an excellent tale where all the required emotional beats hit perfectly.

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Gunn takes the decision to have the characters drive the story of the film rather the plot. This is a brave decision and one that works in the film’s favour. By devoting more time to the characters, it allows the emotional connection we’ve already formed with them in the previous film to deepen, allowing us to become invested not because we want to know what happens in the story but because we want to know what happens to the characters. Gunn takes the decision to split the Guardians up for much of the film’s runtime which, like in The Empire Strikes Back, allows the characters to grow and runs less chance of them being “lost in the mix” as it were. For, if anything, this is a character piece above all.

This leads to some excellent character work in the film. Everyone; Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot (Diesel), Rocket (Cooper, Yondu, Nebula etc. all get a chance to shine. Gunn clearly knows and loves these characters well, as no one feels short shafted at any time. If the first film was about the forming of the team, this film is about why the team works so well together.

Of particular note is the character dynamic between Quill, Ego and Yondu. In terms of the family theme, “nature vs nurture” comes into play here with Quill being forced to choose between his father and the man who raised him. Or, as the film puts it, his father and his “Daddy”. In several scenes throughout the film it’s portrayed clearly that even though Ego may be Peter’s father, Peter is Yondu’s son. It’s this dynamic that forms the emotional centre of the film and is ultimately it’s most powerful.

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The film is also incredibly funny. It may in fact be the funniest MCU film yet. Which makes the film an unusual thing. It’s a deep, emotional character study and also a fun, laugh out loud action-comedy. In short it’s everything Suicide Squad wishes it was. I joke, I joke. A little. The humour in the film is brilliant. It would take the hardest of hearts to not at least crack a smile during the film at some point. But the humour doesn’t detract from the emotional moments. In fact, it probably makes them hit harder.

Special mention has to be made to perhaps the film’s best character; that being Baby Groot. Not only is he utterly adorable, the pint sized version of the talking tree is also a scene stealer of the best variety with him getting most of the film’s best laughs. A sequence in which, due to Groot being a baby and not quite understanding, Yondu and Rocket grow increasingly exasperated as Groot fails again and again to bring them an item they need left me in stitches.

Visually, the film is utterly beautiful. James Gunn has implored fans to try and see the film on IMAX or Dolby Vision screens and you can see why; the film just looks fantastic. There’s excellent use of colour throughout. It may be cliché to say, but the film’s visuals really need to be seen to be believed. If Star Wars: The Last Jedi doesn’t get there first, I’d say the film is easily a lock for the best visual effects Academy Award. With James Gunn reportedly requesting Disney to release the film on the Ultra-HD Blu-Ray format, hopefully that comes to pass so the film can receive its Dolby Vision/HDR grade on home release allowing the film to look even better than it already will.

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The film’s cast are also a standout. The actors have clearly grown into their roles and as soon as the film starts, it feels like they’ve never been away. Pratt, upon whom most of the film relies on, is a standout delivering a wonderful performance. Michael Rooker also leaves a great impression as Yondu, taking every chance to make more of the extended screen time he gets in this film. I could be here all day listing every member of the cast and talking about how great they are, but I’ll limit down and simply say everyone was great. The entire cast was clearly having a ball making the film and it shows. This is probably one of the strongest ensemble casts in the MCU so far and hopefully here’s to many more films with this cast. New addition Kurt Russell does an excellent job as Ego, while Elizabeth Debicki, despite her limited screen time, makes a good impression as Ayesha who will hopefully be returning for future installments.

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Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a blast. It’s fun, it’s witty, surprisingly touching and emotional. While it may not be as fresh or as unique as the first film, it is every bit as fun and entertaining. Its stronger emotional centre helps the film rise beyond its predecessor in those respects. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an enthralling epic that will leave you laughing, crying and eager for more.

9/10

 

“Ghost in the Shell” – Review

Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano
Plot: In the far future where the lines between human and machine are blurred, a terrorist attack leaves “Major” (Johansson) near death. With her brain transplanted into an advanced robotic body and no memory of her life before the attack, she joins an anti-terror unit known as Section 9. When a feared cyber-terrorist known as Kuze (Pitt) emerges leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, Major and her closest ally Batou (Asbæk) attempt to track him down. But the search will lead Major to question her past and her very existence.

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Perhaps the best way to start this review is by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, the casting of a white actress as a traditionally Japanese character is a problematic situation. Yes, it doesn’t help already struggling Asian actresses in Hollywood. But Mamoru Oshii, director of the original Anime Ghost in the Shell (which this film is a remake/reboot of) was very vocally supportive of the casting. For this reason, I’m not going to let it impact my thoughts on the film. That over with, let’s carry on.

If there’s a prize for most beautiful film of 2017, Ghost in the Shell might walk away with it. While it has stiff competition from Beauty and the Beast, the film is visually striking. The world Rupert Sanders has created on screen looks amazing. Like Blade Runner, this isn’t a shiny and clean version of the future. This is a dark, grimy, neon filled version of the future. This feels like a world where humans have enhanced themselves so much that the lines between human and machine are blurred. This grimy feel extends across the entire film and its characters, with Major being the only character who’s “clean and perfect” making Major’s feeling of isolation all the more apparent.

The beautiful visuals extend to the cinematography. The film is beautifully shot using slow motion to great effect. An opening scene with Major busting an attempted terrorist attack might just be the year’s best shot action sequence, and it’s only April. Similar to Sander’s previous film Snow White and the Huntsman, the film is gorgeous.

The film’s storytelling meanwhile is not as strong. While the story it tells is a decent one, the twists and turns are telegraphed and obvious. By the midway point you’ll have guessed how the rest of the movie will go. While this isn’t a major issue and the film is still enjoyable, it’s just a shame that it’s incredibly predictable. Now this may be an issue of many other films ripping off the original Ghost in the Shell over the years, but there’s no reason why this reboot couldn’t have tried to tell a slightly different story that we don’t expect; isn’t that the point of this wave of reboots and remakes? To give us whole new stories with familiar characters and settings? Regardless, the film tells it’s story well which is all it needs to do I suppose.

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The film’s cast does pretty well. Johansson impresses by giving an emotionally detached performance to mirror Major’s detachment from the world. While this is a performance that can easily be read as Johansson giving a poor performance, it is in fact one that’s perfect for the character. Johansson opens the character up in more intimate moments showing this was a choice of her performance rather than her “not caring” or “being bored”. The rest of the cast does a great job too. Takeshi Kitano stands out as one of the film’s best aspects, delivering a great performance despite his lines being entirely in Japanese while the rest of the cast speak English (it must be difficult to get the emotional beats of a performance right when everyone else is speaking a different language to you).

But despite its amazing visuals and great cast, there’s the overwhelming feeling of familiarity about the film. Like you’ve seen it before. It’s just a shame that a film like this which is so beautiful visually is so utterly pedestrian in almost every other aspect. Which isn’t to say Ghost is a bad film, it’s a pretty enjoyable one, it’s just that the film feels too familiar for it to truly stand out. It’s oddly ironic that Ghost in the Shell’s biggest failing is the “ghost” of every other major Sci-Fi/Action-Adventure movie from the past few decades. The film doesn’t deserve to be the Box Office flop it’s become; but likewise it doesn’t deserve to be a billion dollar grossing epic. The film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t awful. Perhaps one lesson to be learned here is that there’s no space for mediocrity; which is ironic for a film about humanity trying to continually perfect itself.

Despite all this, Ghost in the Shell is a good way to pass two hours. It’s ultimately a fun, enjoyable film. It’s very much a typical Hollywood Sci-Fi Action film. A very “paint by numbers” experience that’s worth experiencing for its incredible visuals and decently told, if overly familiar, story rather than anything of substance. It’s ironic then that a movie about a robotic character questioning their humanity should only have its perfection be only skin deep; beautiful to look act but only cold pre-programmed machinery on the inside.

6.5/10

“Power Rangers” – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10