“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

“IT” Review

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“Time to float!”. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) prepares to lunge. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Plot: When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård), whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. 

IT is the film adaptation of author Stephen King’s 1,138 page 1986 novel, helmed by Andy Muschietti, director of 2013’s Mama. IT had already been adapted to great success in a two-part 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry in the title role. While the miniseries itself doesn’t hold up and is spotty in quality at best (with Curry being the miniseries’ only redeeming feature), it holds a fond place in the hearts of those who grew up watching it giving Muschietti’s new take on the story big shoes to fill.

Instead of condensing King’s lengthy tome to one movie, IT (titled as IT: Chapter One in the movie itself) decides to only focus on the segments of the story portraying the Loser’s Club’s encounters with IT as children, with the adult segment of the story being saved for the sequel due in 2019 (however Muschietti has made it clear he intends to release a four to five hour director’s cut merging both films into one). This works in the film’s favour. Not only is the childhood segment the strongest part of the original novel, it allows the film to remain more focused instead of jumping around between multiple time periods.

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Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) encounters “IT”, otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The film also brings the events of the story forward from 1958 to 1988. While this allows IT: Chapter Two to be set in the present, it also manages to serve the movie brilliantly. By having the movie set in the late 80’s, it manages to make the movie a love letter to Hollywood around that time; with the film ending up as a wonderful mix of The Goonies, Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. In effect, IT becomes a genre throwback to the coming of age adventure movie and the supernatural horror movie. And it’s a mix that works. Muschietti manages to blend the two genres deftly and manages to create a truly unique horror picture with the end result; an excellent coming of age picture that just so happens to also be a film about a child-eating monster disguised as a clown.

IT strikes gold however with its cast. The seven children who make up the Loser’s Club are all wonderful young actors who will have a long future ahead of them is they chose to stay in the business. Each of them delivers a fantastic performance. The standout of the group however is Sophia Lillis as Beverly. Lillis, looking eerily like a young Jessica Chastain (potential casting for IT: Chapter Two maybe?), delivers perhaps the most rounded and strongest performance of the film. Beverly is perhaps the character that faces the most emotional strife during the film (apart from Bill). With an emotionally abusive (and implied to be sexually abusive) father at home, along with vicious rumours being spread about her by girls from school, Beverly has a lot to deal with without Pennywise coming into play. Lillis manages to make Beverly a truly engaging character, managing to make Beverly the most sympathetic and identifiable member of the Losers. Lillis’s performance shows she has great talent and will have a long and promising career ahead of her.

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Beverly (Sophia Lillis) hides from her tormentors. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures. 

Also a young actor of note is Jaeden Lieberher as Bill. As with Lillis with Beverly, Lieberher has the more meaty material to work with out of the other kids. Bill spends most of the movie searching for his younger brother, Georgie (kidnapped by Pennywise in the movie’s opening scene) and being in denial of the fact it’s incredibly likely Georgie is already dead. Lieberher deals with this material incredibly well, showing a lot of talent. It’s not easy to carry a film at 14, but Lieberher handles it with ease, showcasing himself to be an actor of talent.

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Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) hunts for the missing Georgie. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures. 

The rest of the Loser’s Club are made up of fine young actors, even if none of them quite get the amount of material and range that Lillis and Lieberher get. All of them deliver great performances and manage to round out the supporting cast incredibly well. Of particular note is Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame who plays Richie. Wolfhard shows fantastic comedic timing and delivers most of the best lines in the film, with nearly all of them being incredibly hilarious. As for the rest of the group, everyone gets at least a few moments to shine with only Chosen Jacobs getting the short straw as Mike. After a few scenes near the start, Mike is absent until near the end of the second act which makes it difficult for Mike to make much of an impression, enough to make you wonder if several scenes with Mike were left on the cutting room floor. But despite this all of the kids do a fantastic job and you can’t help but wish there was a bit more time spent with them; perhaps this could be incentive for Warner Bros to invest in an extended cut of Chapter One, prior to the merged cut?

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The Loser’s Club. From left to right: Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Bill, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Beverly, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Richie (Finn Wolfhard). Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

But of course, the reason everyone wants to see this movie is for IT itself; Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård takes the role of the murderous clown and manages to do an excellent job. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a completely different beast to Tim Curry’s. Portraying the character as more ravenous, more beastly (Pennywise even drools hungrily when talking with Georgie) and ultimately feels more inhuman. Skarsgård doesn’t feel like a man dressed as a clown, he feels like an inhuman monster which is perfect for an interdimensional shape shifter (however IT’s origins are only implied in this movie, presumably being saved for the sequel). There’s just something eerily off-putting about Pennywise and Skarsgård’s movements and performance help create a horror villain that is truly unsettling. A moment where Pennywise uncurls himself from inside a fridge is truly disturbing to watch, especially since only minimal CGI was used meaning that most of it is actually Skarsgård. Pennywise isn’t just creepy though, he also has some humour to him which makes him even more unsettling. I’d rather not describe Pennywise’s sense of humour, if only to preserve some of the film’s more surprising and unsettling moments, but safe to say it’s as twisted as the character itself. Skarsgård is truly unhinged in the role, with this being one of those rare villain performances where the actor is completely unrecognisable. If Skarsgård’s Pennywise is better than Tim Curry’s is down to personal taste. In my opinion, Skarsgård’s is superior due to being more unsettling and closer to Pennywise as he was in the original novel along with a truly unhinged performance by Skarsgård but Curry’s Pennywise was also great. It ultimately depends on what you expect from the character, but for my tastes, Skarsgård’s won out and I can’t wait to see more of him.

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Pennywise on the prowl. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

IT is an absolutely gorgeous film to watch. Muschietti clearly has a wonderful directorial eye and it’s showcased magnificently here. The film just comes alive on the screen. From beautiful shots of the town of Derry, to dark and enveloping sewer tunnels, the film has a great vision and look. Muschietti really knows how to direct a horror film. Sets come alive with his directing, Pennywise’s presence envelops the film even when he isn’t present. From darkness and shadows giving the impression he could be anywhere along with the general feeling that something is watching and waiting. Indeed, the only times this feeling isn’t there are when the Losers are together and having fun, but even then there’s a hint of menace; as the kids play in a river, you’re just waiting for something to reach up and grab them. It’s also remarkable how unsettling even the people who aren’t Pennywise feel, with authority figures all feeling unnatural or, to some, worse than Pennywise. It’s this, along with the directing, that aid an air of dread to the entire film; making us really feel that there’s no one these kids can turn to.

What should be mentioned is how surprisingly funny the film is. While the film isn’t exactly a comedy, there’s plenty of humour scattered throughout. But none of it ever feels unnatural, in fact it goes hand in hand with the scares. It really manages to capture the spirit of King’s novel.

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“You’ll float too.” Pennywise stalks his next victim. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

But what’s a horror film without its scares? Well I’m glad to report that IT is incredibly scary. Muschietti manages to deliver the scares in a big way, using a mixture of traditional jump scares with more unique moments; playing with audiences expectations as well as managing not to overuse Pennywise, only using him when it’s called for. An excellent touch is how Muschietti drags out the tension; you know the scare is coming, but you’re not quite sure when, or what, is actually going to occur. As a balloon slowly drifts towards one soon to be victim of Pennywise, you’re on edge, waiting. The film’s opening, which shows Pennywise luring in and making off with Georgie, is incredibly disturbing to watch. We the audience know what Pennywise is going to do. What makes this scene so impactful is how he does it and indeed, how much the film is actually able to do in this sequence. It’s impactful, shocking, scary and memorable and really sets the tone for the entire film. But the film’s scariest moment has to come from the projector scene. As the Losers examine slides of old Derry maps, the projector gets a life of its own and images of Pennywise begin to appear. What follows is an incredibly tense sequence of waiting as the film plays with your expectations as what you expect to occur doesn’t quite occur in the way you expect, leading to the film’s most terrifying moment.  That said however, a few too many of the film’s jump scares seem to rely on Pennywise running at the camera and screaming which can get old after a while. Regardless though, IT is a terrifyingly scary experience.

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Pennywise lurks in the darkness. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Another are where IT excels is its score. Benjamin Wallfisch takes scoring duties here and does a magnificent job. Alongside the more traditional Insidious-esque score for the scary parts, Wallfisch delivers an almost John Williams style score for some parts of the score. This is also blended with perhaps the creepiest version of “Oranges and Lemons” you’ll ever hear, serving as Pennywise’s theme. All together this creates an excellent soundtrack, emerging as one of the more memorable in the horror genre in quite a while. With many identifiable themes at play, I hope Wallfisch is able to return for the sequel to further develop them.

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Pennywise advances on the Losers. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures.

IT is a stellar adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Muschietti has managed to craft a stellar horror film that manages to be true to the spirit of King’s text while putting his own identifiable spin on it. Bolstered by excellent performances from its child cast and an utterly unhinged performance by Bill Skarsgård along with fantastic visuals, some truly chilling scares and some surprisingly hilarious humour; IT is a must see horror film that emerges as not just the best horror of 2017, but perhaps the best horror film in years. Utterly terrifying, this film needs to be seen.

9/10

Game of Thrones S07E07 “The Dragon and the Wolf” Review

 

 

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) confronts Jon (Kit Harington) over his rash decision. Copyright: HBO.

Game of Thrones concludes its seventh and penultimate season with an absolute beast of a season finale that leaves us a lot to unpack.

The main plot thread of this episode was the parlay between Jon, Daenerys and Cersei (with their respective allies and advisors gathered around). The main goal of this parlay, was Jon and Daenerys hoping to convince Cersei to agree to a ceasefire; allowing Jon and Daenerys to deal with the White Walker threat without worrying about Cersei and her army. This parlay was one of the best parts of the episode, simply because it was the first time most of the show’s cast have been in the same scene together. Not only is it the first time Daenerys has shared a scene with Cersei, Qyburn, Brienne, Euron etc. but it’s the first time Jon has been in the same scene as Cersei and Jaime since the pilot episode.

It’s hard to describe exactly how tense this scene was to begin with. Cersei not showing up at first made me slightly worried that it was another trap similar to when Cersei blew up the Sept back in Season 6. Thankfully this was not the case and we were treated to some wonderful interactions between the show’s entire main cast – bar the crew at Winterfell and the Wall.

Cersei and Daenerys not so subtly giving each other the stink eye, Cersei giving Brienne the stink eye, Cersei giving pretty much everyone the stink eye, all of it was glorious. What made this work so well however was when Sandor unleashed the Wight. Seeing Cersei absolutely crap her pants was completely worth it. Cersei thankfully did not try to dismiss it all as a trick, and agreed that the White Walkers had to be dealt with. This was a surprising bit of rationality for the character, but it was quickly ended when Cersei refused to continue negotiations when she learned Jon had bent the knee to Daenerys.

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Cersei (Lena Heady) schemes to wipe out all her enemies. Copyright: HBO.

This led Tyrion having to brave being alone in a room with the woman who hates his guts and has tried to kill him several times. The show has always thrived when it puts two of its best actors together and alone in the same scene. And this was one of those scenes. Lena Heady and Peter Dinklage were amazing in this scene. What’s interesting is the show’s decision to cut away from this scene, leaving exactly what terms Tyrion and Cersei agreed on a mystery. Whatever it was, it seems that Jon and Daenerys’s romance is going to throw a stone in all of Tyrion’s plans. Did Tyrion try and arrange a marriage between Cersei and Jon? Did Tyrion promise that Cersei’s child would rule after Daenerys, since Tyrion seemed to be urging Daenerys to name an heir in the last episode? Whatever it is, it probably isn’t going to end well.

Cersei and Tyrion then returned to the negotiations and Cersei promised to send her armies north to help fight the White Walkers. But this was all a ploy, as Cersei later revealed to Jaime that she had no intention of doing so. She instead planned for the White Walkers and Daenerys/Jon to wipe each other out, so Cersei can then mop up what’s left with the Golden Company. Jaime was horrified, pointing out the massive flaw in her plan; that the winner of the battle in the North will march south and kill them and they will be unstoppable. Cersei was set in her madness however and this led to Jaime to finalise his path to redemption; by abandoning Cersei for good. It seems the popular fan theory that Jaime will be the Valonquar (the little brother prophesised to kill Cersei in the books) is looking more true. And, in a turning point, as Jaime headed north to Winterfell, snow began to fall and cover King’s Landing. Winter has finally come.

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Petyr Baelish AKA “Littlefinger” (Aidan Gillen) schemes his last. Copyright: HBO.

Meanwhile in Winterfell, Littlefinger continued his ploy to turn Sansa and Arya against each other by telling Sansa to imagine Arya’s worst motives for doing the things she’s done. Sansa seemed to be buying Littlefinger’s logic and called Arya to the great hall, seemingly putting her on trial. Sansa however then revealed that she’d seen through Littlefinger’s scheme and had put him on trial instead. Aidan Gillen has always been a talented member of the cast and he acted his ass off here showing Littlefinger as he truly is; a coward determined to save his own skin above all. Littlefinger was never going to last much longer, so for him to go out by vastly underestimating how much control he had was a fitting way for the character to go. And his death managed to bring Arya and Sansa closer together, so it was a win-win. It was also nice to see Sansa putting Bran’s skills to use at last.

Speaking of Bran, he and Sam managed to drop the (second) biggest shock of the episode; that Jon Snow is not Jon Snow. Bran and Sam, combining their knowledge, learned that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were married in secret and Jon Snow is not Rhaegar’s bastard but his trueborn son; Aegon Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne. This throws a spanner in the works certainly, if Jon is the heir to the throne, how does this leave him and Daenerys? Will the two marry and rule together? Or will the knowledge they’re related change everything?

And of course, this episode saw the culmination of this season’s biggest budding relationship. That’s right, Jon Snow (or Aegon?) and Daenerys finally got together. The two have been slowly falling in love across the entire season and to end the season on them finally consummating that love made a lot of sense. But this romance has a lot of potential to cause trouble over the final season so it will be interesting to see it develop. I oddly find myself rooting for the two to stay together, perhaps because the two have excellent chemistry and also because the two have endured so much that I want them to have a bit of happiness.

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Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) grows concerned over his sister’s growing madness. Copyright HBO. 

Director Jeremy Podewsa did a fantastic job on this episode, with The Dragon and the Wolf being perhaps one of the best directed episodes of the season. Ramin Djawadi however is the true standout of this episode, doing a fantastic job with the score. Tracks like Truth, No One Walks Away From Me/Winter Is Here and Army of the Dead were fantastic and are still stuck in my head. Djawadi has always been a major part of the show and he was just as good here with the themes of Jon, Daenerys, Cersei and the White Walkers all getting new variations and improvements; with No One Walks Away From Me, playing as Jaime abandons Cersei, mixing both Cersei’s “mad queen” theme and the Lannister theme while Army of the Dead, played in the final scene, mixing all variations of the White Walker theme into one glorious suite.

And speaking of that final scene – wow. All I can say. Wow. We’ve been waiting seven seasons for the White Walkers to reach the Wall, and they did so with style. Riding on the back of the undead Viserion, the Night King destroyed Eastwatch and burst a massive breach in the Wall large enough for his army to cross. It was horrifying and strangely beautiful, featuring some of the best special effects work the show has ever seen. With the White Walkers crossing into Westeros, it’s certainly the sign that the story has reached its end. Now literally anything happen.

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Astride the undead Viserion, the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) destroys the Wall. Copyright HBO.

The Dragon and the Wolf perhaps emerged as one of the show’s best season finales. I was gripped throughout and was an absolute magnificent close to an amazing season. With only six episodes left, I can only hope the show can keep to this high standard for the rest of its run. 

10/10

“Annabelle: Creation” Review

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Linda (Lulu Wilson) clutches onto the demonic doll Annabelle. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Plot: Twelve years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.

The Conjuring Universe continues to grow, with its latest entry; Annabelle: Creation. The prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation provides another take on the origins of the malevolent doll; this time with Lights Out director David F. Sandberg at the helm, taking over from John R. Leonetti.

Annabelle: Creation suffers in the story department from having to work around established mythology. The revelation in 2014’s Annabelle that the doll itself is not possessed but is in fact just a conduit for a demon has to be stuck with. This leads to the movie’s second half not being as strong story wise as it’s first, due to the film having to move elements around in order to have things in place for the first film. Perhaps this is the problem that the shared universe trend will continue to suffer from; it makes it incredibly difficult to make good standalone films. Annabelle: Creation suffers from it’s attachment to the previous film. Perhaps it would have been easier for WB to drop the first Annabelle from the continuity? But for the most part, the plot is fairly well done. There’s not much that hasn’t been seen or done before in other horror films but the film handles these elements well and tells a finely crafted tale for the most part, apart from the afore-mentioned issues. Either way, it means Annabelle: Creation struggles to wrap up it’s excellent plot for the sake of setting up the original film.

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Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the girls look on in horror as terrifying events unfold. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

Another problem with the film is that, due to the afore-mentioned tying in of elements from the first film, it means the film can’t really focus on what it does well. The demon that uses the doll is terrifying and manages to deliver some truly scary moments. An early moment where Janice attempts to escape it, only for the demon to slowly advance on her by seemingly devouring all the light around her and leaving her in complete darkness. This aspect of the creature is fantastic and is used to great effect in multiple sequences. But however, this leaves the doll itself to be somewhat sidelined. While this makes sense as the doll itself is not cursed, it’s a bit disappointing for it to be fairly unused after some effective early sequences.

Annabelle: Creation has a fairly decent cast. Most of the film falls on the shoulders of Talitha Bateman as Janice who does an excellent job. Carrying a film mostly on your own and Bateman does a fantastic job of it. She manages to brilliantly portray a terrified yoing girl who has no way of escape. In the latter half of the film however, Bateman takes more of a backseat and this is where the film struggles. There’s no clearly defined protagonist for the film to follow after this. Stephanie Sigman does a good job as Sister Charlotte, but is likewise taken out of action early in the film’s third act meaning she struggles to be a protagonist the audience can root for. Lulu Wilson then is left to carry the film in the last third but again, she spends it mostly off screen leaving it difficult for audiences to connect with her. This isn’t a fault of the ability of the actors, but more a fault of the editing during the climax.

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Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda encounter things that go bump in the night. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

The supporting cast meanwhile do fine jobs. Anthony LaPaglia does a fine job as Mr Mullins; perfectly capturing the tragedy of the character and being an incredibly likeable presence on screen. Miranda Otto as Mrs Mullins makes a great impression and manages to make the most of the incredibly limited screen time that the film gives her. Both of these actors manage to create incredibly complex characters and I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to see more of them than of the other characters.

The scares meanwhile are delivered brilliantly. Sandberg proved himself a master of horror with Lights Out, especially when it comes to playing with darkness. Sandberg manages to do the impossible and makes the audience scared of the dark once again. As the demon using Annabelle as a conduit loves the dark, it leaves a lot to the imagination as shadows can be hiding anything. With some scenes showing the demon emerging from pure darkness, it creates a lot of paranoia in any scene set at night. This is where the film works the best, be it Janice being slowly surrounded by approaching darkness, Linda firing a ball on a string into pure darkness or another character being trapped in a barn as the demon slowly turns out all the lights. It seems Sandberg took the best lessons from Lights Out and from the first Annabelle (namely the now infamous basement scene) to create some truly terrifying moments.

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Janice is cornered by the Demon. Copyright: Warner Bros.

For this is ultimately where Annabelle: Creation excels. It may have problems in terms of story and characters, but the film really manages to deliver when it comes to the scares which makes the film’s other flaws forgiveable. This is horror. Pure, refined and perfected. It’s very hard to describe just how scary Annabelle: Creation is. It’s something to be experienced for yourself.

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Mrs. Mullins (Miranda Otto) attempts to fend off the dark forces in her home. Copyright: Warner Bros. 

While it may not be as strong a film as The Conjuring and its sequel and certainly lacks a strong central protagonist like the first Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation is still another excellent entry in the Conjuring universe. It seems ironic that after Universal’s failed attempt at forcing a horror cinematic universe with The Mummy, that Warner Bros should stumble on one entirely by accident. By creating well-made and scary horror films, Warner Bros has made a horror universe I want to see more of and with a post-credits scene teasing The Nun, a film focused on the demonic nun Valak from The Conjuring 2, it seems plenty more are on the way. Sandberg has crafted a finely made horror film that may fall apart somewhat in character and story, but more than excels in the scares making these stumbles forgivable. Annabelle: Creation is certainly one of the year’s better horror films and is a must see. Just remember to sleep with the lights on afterwards.

8/10

 

Game of Thrones S07E06 “Beyond The Wall” Review

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The Night King (Vladimir Furdik) prepares to make his move. Copyright: HBO

Game of Thrones took us Beyond the Wall for perhaps our most in depth, most intense and most frightening encounter with the White Walkers yet in an exciting episode that delivered plenty of action, story and character development.

The main plot thread of this week’s episode was Jon Snow’s brave band of warriors, consisting of Jorah Mormont, Tormund, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, Sandor Clegane and Gendry, on a mission to capture a live Wight in order to use it as evidence of the White Walker threat and convince Cersei to lend her aid.

And of course this plan falls to pieces very quickly. This led to a desperate fight for survival for Jon’s team while Gendry ran for help, with these sequences being some of the best of the episode. Sequences with the White Walkers have always been some of the best the show has to offer, possibly because it’s so very different from what the show usually does. Every time the Walkers show up, the characters are always on the back foot, always fighting just to escape. The Walker attack on Hardhome and the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave were excellent sequences and the White Walker attack here emerges as the best of them. They were utterly terrifying, standing and waiting for the ice to freeze so they could swarm Jon and co. I’d go on to say that this was perhaps the most terrifying the White Walkers have ever been, for this episode gave them another few qualities. Not only are they smart; clearly setting a trap for Jon but they’re also incredibly patient. And that’s a worrying quality for an enemy to have. This really sent the message that the Night King is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is he incredibly powerful, but he’s incredibly smart as well.

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Jon (Kit Harington) and the group make a desperate escape. Copyright: HBO

And then we move onto the biggest development of this episode. Daenerys arrives on her dragons to save Jon and friends only for the Night King to throw an ice spear and kill one of Daenerys’s Dragons; Viserion. A moment that was surprisingly shocking and emotional, it pulled at the heart strings seeing the Dragon viewers have seen grow up from hatchling to die an incredibly painful death. This act achieved several things. It gave Daenerys her first major defeat on the open field; Daenerys has won every battle she’s fought so far so for her to suffer such a crippling loss is a very humbling moment for the character. This is reflected later in the episode where after Jon bends the knee, Daenerys says “I hope I deserve it”, showing how incredibly humbled Daenerys has become after her loss no longer as sure of herself. The death of Viserion also gave the Night King his biggest advantage yet; a Wight Dragon to add to his army. Exactly what sort of powers a Wight Dragon will possess are currently unknown (will it still be able to breathe fire for instance), but one thing is certain; this tips the balance of the war for the dawn in the Night King’s favour.

One thing the episode did well in this portion was giving all of Jon’s team chances to interact with each other; allowing the audience to grow attached to them a little more especially with characters like Beric and Thoros who haven’t had as much screen time as the others. This made Thoros’s death more touching than it would have been otherwise and set the stage for audiences to fear for the character’s lives. The moment where Tormund was being dragged under the ice by Wights had me certain that the fan-favourite character was doomed. Thankfully Tormund lives to boast another day. A lot of the episode’s humour came from this segment as well, with Sandor’s perfectly timed utterance of “Fuck” upon realising the ice had frozen over making me laugh out loud as well as perfectly mirroring exactly how the audience felt at that moment.

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Arya (Maisie Williams) prepares to play “the game of faces”. Copyright: HBO

Back in Winterfell, we saw Littlefinger continue to play Arya and Sansa off each other and the two seemingly playing into his hands. Littlefinger, after allowing Arya to find a letter Sansa wrote to Robb while a hostage of the Lannisters back in Season 1, began to place seeds of doubt in Sansa’s mind; warning her that Brienne is sworn to serve both Stark daughters and could take Arya’s side if she and Sansa were to be at odds. This led Sansa to send Brienne and Podrick away from Winterfell, sending them to represent her interests at the parlay in King’s Landing, in order to remove them from being a possible obstacle in whatever intentions she has for Arya. Arya meanwhile continues to believe that Sansa intends to usurp Jon and become Queen of the North and the letter is proof, in her eyes, that Sansa’s loyalties are always with herself and not with her family; which would be a grave offence for the daughter of a Stark and a Tully – two family oriented houses (House Tully’s words are “Family, Duty, Honour” indicating the order of priorities for the family and Ned Stark once told his children “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives” indicating that the family needs to stick together).

This ended in a confrontation between Sansa and Arya, as Sansa discovered Arya’s collection of faces. Arya seemed to threaten Sansa, detailing how easy it would be for her to kill Sansa, take her face and become her. This greatly unnerved Sansa, but it was how Arya ended this conversation that interested me. After advancing on Sansa with the Valyrian dagger, Arya then flipped it around and gave it, handle first, to Sansa before turning her back on her and leaving the room. To me, this indicates something about the two. Was this Arya telling Sansa that she has no intentions of harming her and thus isn’t a threat? A simpler way of telling Sansa this instead of just saying it? “Words are wind” after all, so perhaps doing this is an easier way of making Sansa believe Arya means no harm to her. It could also indicate Arya showing she trusts Sansa for to someone like Arya, who has had several attempts on her life, giving someone a dagger and turning your back to them would require a great deal of trust. Perhaps this is Arya trying to tell Sansa that she trusts her and trusts that she’s doing what’s right?  Could this be an indication that the Stark sisters are going to outplay Littlefinger? That the pack of the Stark family will outlive the lone wolf that is Littlefinger?

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Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) advises Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Copyright: HBO

At Dragonstone, Tyrion confronted Daenerys over her reckless behaviour and her putting off the matter of naming an heir if she were to die. Daenerys was having none of it, arguing her behaviour was justified and that the matter of succession doesn’t matter until she’s queen. Both parties had a point here; while Tyrion was pushing for Daenerys to be more fair and lenient, Daenerys knows that doesn’t work after her time ruling Meereen. She also wasn’t discussing a matter of succession to perhaps not give Tyrion another potential ruler to abandon Daenerys for/organise a coup for. Perhaps Daenerys feels that even though she trusts Tyrion, she doesn’t want to give him a way to abandon her. She could even see this as Tyrion looking for a reason to abandon her, with Tyrion seemingly growing a little disenchanted with Daenerys over the past few episodes. Tyrion did rightfully call out that Jon and Daenerys had fallen in love however, so he may push Daenerys to marry Jon for the political benefits and perhaps also hoping Jon could balance out Daenerys’s more volatile personality traits. Either way, the Daenerys/Tyrion relationship is on rocky ground and is a bomb waiting to go off.

One of the more important developments in this episode however was Jon and Daenerys finally realising they had fallen in love. Daenerys standing vigil over the wounded Jon’s bedside, Jon clinging onto her hand, the long gazes held between them, all of it showed that these two characters have fallen deeply in love. Exactly how this relationship will pan out, especially when it’s revealed the two are related, remains to be seen but the relationship is one I’m rooting for especially as Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke share fantastic chemistry together. While the two have yet to actually come out and say they have fallen in love with the other, they both know it. The entire series seems to be pushing them to get together; the overall name of the franchise is “A Song of Ice and Fire” with Jon being Ice and Daenerys being Fire, Jorah seemed to give his approval for Jon and Daenerys to be together when he returned Longclaw to Jon, Davos and Tyrion have already noted that the two have feelings for each other. I look forward to seeing the two’s relationship developed over the remaining seven episodes.

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) realise their feelings for each other. Copyright: HBO

Beyond the Wall saw the return of Alan Taylor to the director’s chair of Game of Thrones. The director, who directed six episodes in the show’s first two seasons, moved onto the world of Hollywood blockbusters, directing Thor: The Dark World and Terminator: Genisys. Taylor seemed to bring some of that Hollywood sensibility back with him as Beyond the Wall was a gorgeous episode, filled with wonderful shots and amazing camerawork. Taylor’s expertise with CGI-filled blockbusters likely gave this episode the cinematic feel it needed. Beyond the Wall felt big, it was epic, it was exciting and it was thrilling. Hopefully Taylor returns for the show’s final season.

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Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) prepares to fight for the Dawn. Copyright: HBO.

Being almost movie-length at 71 minutes, Beyond the Wall emerged as another fantastic entry in what is shaping up to be Thrones’s strongest season yet. Big character developments, massive plot developments, thrilling and terrifying action sequences all made this episode fantastic viewing. If Beyond the Wall teases what’s in store for when the White Walkers finally make it past the Wall, then that moment can’t come soon enough.

10/10

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.