Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Here it is. After 10 years in the making; Marvel’s Cinematic Universe releases this superhero epic which is breathtaking, breezy but it also packs an Infinity Gauntlet sized punch to the feels.

The Avengers are still not on speaking terms, with the aftermath of ‘Civil War’ leaving them on separate sides. The Guardians of the Galaxy are unaware of these Earth mishaps but may soon collide with new faces, as the troubling fact that Thanos is out to collect all 6 Infinity Stones becomes a dangerously possible outcome.

What works so well, is that producer Kevin Feige has masterfully woven a web of comic book heroes that have built and built to this grandiose moment. Feige, with directors from a previous 18 Marvel movies and returning directing duo for this one; the Russo Brothers, have ensured that the characters are fully realised for audiences to have taken them into their hearts. This is what makes ‘Infinity War’ that much more of a slam to the chest in what is definitely the most unexpected narrative to come from the MCU.

Seeing characters who have never shared screen time up until now, is a blistering joy to behold and they sparkle with humour or provide needed poignancy. There’s an undeniable giddiness to be had in finally seeing a huge ensemble come together in their own way and crossing over the space set Guardians crew, with the Earth dwelling Avengers team is a fantastically grin-inducing sight to last for the ages.

I must admit, that at first the plot in the initial 20-40 minutes was sort of a slow burn, even with an opening scene that throws us a dramatic curve-ball. Unlike a fair few of the Marvel outings though, this is a film that gets better and better as it goes along, which means by the end of a 2 and a half hour run-time, I was left with mouth aghast, mind reeling and a buzz shaking all over as now we have to impatiently wait for the follow up next year.

What I loved above all else, was the fact that this film kept going directions I never expected it to. The uncertainty of Earth and the fate of the hero’s was spellbinding and gifted this stonking blockbuster a great grounded touch and a eye widening darkness as Thanos’ terrifying reign escalates. The stakes are 1000% sky-rocketed and it says a lot when the end credits have no loud, colourful graphics, just a plain black screen and white text, keeping on course with the emotional weight, as questions tumble around in your head for what could happen in Part 2.

There are some dodgy uses of CGI that distract from powerful moments, an almost Mark Ruffalo floating head in his suit is just one example. No spoilers, but a well known TV series actor rocks up and their character/scene is unintentionally funny, it feels off and I don’t know why. These are honestly the only weaknesses I can find in a film that serves its fans well and definitely has its best villain yet.

I’d be here a long time if I commented on the infinity list of actors that star in the movie but I have to say things about; Robert Downey Jr who is as effortlessly cock-sure, charming and suave as ever but with a developed sense of fear and protective care as the movie amps up. Tom Holland with a souped up suit slings pop culture references and Spidey mannerisms perfectly and provides a true gut-wrenching emotional moment. Scarlett Johansson is bad-ass as ever and sells the loyal Black Widow stance but is underused as is Sebastian Stan who doesn’t really get a chance to take action. Dave Bautista carries on his Drax mantle of the comedy act, with Chris Pratt sharing mirrored showmanship and arrogance to rival Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth. The Australian actor’s turn as the God of Thunder is one of his best yet, still strolling on the zany comedy from ‘Ragnarok’ but convincingly fusing anger, revenge and sadness to the character of Thor. Zoe Saldana gets Gamora more fleshed out which is a nice thing and makes you watch how great she is in playing the character. Unarguably the entire feature is devoured by Josh Brolin who’s front and centre, giving Thanos a fearsome voice but it’s his work with motion capture that sees this big baddie come to life, with tricks, evils and gravitas.

I can say with confidence, that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ will go down in history as a film marvel and it deserves to claim the inevitable box office crown. There’s spectacular action, cracking zingers, continuous uneasiness of expectation being thrown to the wayside and an emotional core that even Dr. Strange couldn’t magic away.

8.5/10

 

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The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Dropped like something out of the sky; here comes a game-changer in terms of movie marketing and distribution, but that aside is this a good ‘Cloverfield’ movie?

Set in our future and aboard the Cloverfield Station are a crew from various countries who are hoping to perfect a particle accelerator; which could solve the energy crisis on Earth. As their mission finally catches a break, it seems not everything is good. The team become stranded, meanwhile life back on Earth isn’t looking safe and sound either.

So, after a few months of whisperings and internet talk about a new feature in the ‘Cloverfield’ series, we’re finally greeted with this big surprise release. It was due last year and then apparently again for an April 2018 cinematic date under the name ‘God Particle’ from Paramount Pictures, but as the sporting spectacle of the Super Bowl reached it’s halftime parade of expensive ads and new trailers, a teaser for this very movie was shown. Not long after the game itself the film was up on Netflix for all (subscribers) to see.

This I must admit is a bold move to make and pretty special to keep something under wraps. Having a $45 million movie on your hands and to maintain its secrecy and avoid the usual over hype of many trailers and TV spots is a fantastic achievement, if not one that disappoints me slightly because it’s final destination means it can’t be seen on the big screen. It’s a great film visually and the sci-fi element is explored quite well through the vacuum of space and a sleek revolving spaceship but Paramount mustn’t have had high expectations to forgo a cinema roll-out and leave Netflix to pick up the rights. This can be felt in a film that seems to have grown out of control to fit within the ‘Cloverfield’ universe.

It’s a mildly slow-burner of a science fiction to watch, there’s neat moments of burrowing unease as things start to go wrong; as they always do in these kinds of films. The back and forth between space and Earth feels like the parts where they re-wrote to segue in the movie monster tie-in and general spots do feel like a scrambled mess to keep that storytelling building.

Saying this, the dynamic of the crew is good and the moments of error, confusion and danger aboard the spacecraft are entertaining. I wouldn’t say exciting or wholly dramatic but they work well and keep the film going along nicely too. The main interest for me was in the construct of the shifting paradox and the problems arising from there, which is explored with both thrills and humour but not as deep as perhaps it may have delved. I feel one reason the film isn’t as successful as it could be is down to the distracting technique of its release and expecting the ‘Cloverfield’ monster/arc to keep rearing up.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ was one of my favourite films from 2016 because it tied in the monster series nicely and felt like a creepily separate thriller at the same time. This is still a good film but nowhere near as great. It’s a film that perhaps, thanks to its many delays and streaming resting place, feels more like a somewhat enjoyable online flick but not a dazzling or suspenseful one.

5.5/10

 

Tomorrowland (2015)

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Flying high with impacting visions of future, this Disney movie based on zones in their theme parks shows oncoming days as both magnificent and dangerous. This is perhaps its strongest asset in amongst a movie that is rather average to tell the truth. The story jolts up and down, it goes on more than a fraction too long and it ends in complete dissatisfaction.

Words from Frank Walker (George Clooney) lead us into the narrative as we hear his grumbled take on the world before a more chipper Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) tells her story. Both Frank and Casey are open minded souls who share similarities in getting the chance to see a place called Tomorrowland. It’s here that they realise how their skills could affect the countdown for Earth.

The film is visually gorgeous, from the simple tool of a nifty pin badge we warp back and forth into the future. The concept could have perhaps benefited from being honed a little more, it’s grandest day out is when seeing the exploration of this objects power as Casey tries to navigate a corn field whilst still actually being at home. After that, this neat idea is dropped which is annoying. Tomorrowland does sparkle and gleam and will echo as most childhood visions of what the future would appear like and this film clearly looks like a lot of computer time and money went into it.

Brad Bird from Pixar days tackles only his second live action feature and does mostly well in a fun and spritley film that screams Disney giddiness for the ages. It’s not explosive or groundbreaking but it’s got heart and his direction sees the escapist dramas of Casey and Frank done in a tense yet harmless manner which is perfectly fine. It just starts looking less interesting by the time we get into the last third and along with the drifting script you almost forget how stunning this movie once was.

Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen come together as a trio writing team but perhaps like Fluffy, three heads are not better than one as the initial rocketing magic of the script sours by the time the movie ends. As stated the visual concept begins drooping but so does the writing too and the payoff for this film’s running threat of world doom is weak. Also the conclusion of the monitor/screens/worldwide danger thread is slightly baffling that it needs to be thought about how they come to work on the happy solution, so children of 12 and under wouldn’t grasp the more techno-babble of this film at all. There’s nothing largely comedic in the writing either which I was hoping for in what could easily have had laugh worthy aspects, burps stand out as the only thing that made the audience giggle. I must say though, that one of the finer qualities is the idea of society going down the drain, this plot point is close to the bone and sticks out as a worryingly real notion for a 12A movie and I do like that troubling view on our future.

Britt Robertson has that exciting young presence and plays the gifted Casey with enough spirit to keep you on her side. She’s an actress with a few other films and TV appearances but this biggie may put her on more radars. George Clooney does as Clooney always does but a later shot of him with old time gal pal is emotional. Hugh Laurie is the brainy villain and plays Nix with a terrifyingly real purpose, his stance on letting humanity die and avoiding their ruin is mildly justified for how bad the world is but of course it’s dark and Laurie’s almost unbothered expressions sells the evil at a perfect level. Raffey Cassidy is a delightful presence as posh robotic Athena. In my eyes she steals the show from under Robertson.

Tomorrowland has the necessary moral of dreaming big and not giving up hope running through its grand scope of whizzing CGI delight, there may sometimes be too much but it’s plenty to keep younger audience goers entertained. It does have a joyous feel and an ambitious idea but this is a sci-fi stumble.

5.5/10

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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From the minds of the Wachowskis comes another magnificent and appetising visual spectacle, but aside from the look the film offers, their story leaves something more satisfying to be desired. Though going into this film on seeing the trailer at least, I knew what to expect and if you want a dazzling entertaining movie with little to no plot sense then see this.

On Earth lives cleaner Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who is in fact royalty to planets born long before our own planet. Squabbling Abrasax siblings led by Balem (Eddie Redmayne) want Jupiter, to stop her potential of ruling the world and so he can harvest humans to keep youthful. Lycan and splice warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) turns up and uses his kick-ass ways to try and help Jones realise who she is and stop Balem too.

The story itself scripted by the Wachowskis isn’t exactly outstanding or coherent. There’s too much going on, back-stories, lots of characters and pepperings of motives and interests. If they had whittled the overblown plot to the bare essentials of Jupiter coming to realise her worth and helping overthrow the villains with Caine, then the film could have honed in on that more interesting and necessary story. It’s to be expected, I guess from Lana and Andy Wachowski, who have an admirable knack for creating vast worlds and ideas, evident in ‘The Matrix’ trilogy and their telling of ‘Cloud Atlas’ but sometimes less is more and sadly they don’t stick to that here.

Odd features of the plot work in favour of the stunning visuals but once looking past their glamorous appearance you wonder why they’re even there. A house covered in bees is one prime example that feels like a stretched tool to see the royal aura Jupiter possesses. The plot pure and simply is a tale of identity and realising potential in the face of greed and an evil thirst for consumption, but getting to that theme is a battle amongst all the stuff thrown at us.

Visual supervisor Dan Glass heads a hugely creditable team of CGI cronies that help craft a breathtaking series of worlds and locations. Shooting from flowery sceneries to high flying space fights twinkling with stars and filled with glossy ships gives the movie a great shine and in fact it holds the same impressive sci-fi scope of ‘Interstellar’ just without that intellect and reserve. Monstrous lizards, alien races and warping space crafts all add suitable science fiction treats to the eye and it’s an enjoyable romp to watch the effects unfold.

There are some funny moments to be had in the nonchalant way Jupiter comments on seeing things, the clunky dialogue (unintentional I know, but it adds to the fun) and in particular a scene featuring a nervous bureaucratic robot attempting to file Jupiter as queen and land her the deserved entitlement. The quickly edited sequence is stuffed with weird creatures and rules to follow and offices to wait at. The whole thing was actually masterfully carried out and feels like the comedic touch of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’.

Channing Tatum is a silly and over the top werewolf human hybrid that skates through the sky like an Olympian Star Trek extra. There’s no stretch to any acting ability to play his role and in fact none of the actors need much push to play the characters but at least Tatum sells the goofily drawn protective Caine. Mila Kunis comes back after a personal break and lands herself in a fun role, emotion not really needed as she retorts and makes witty remarks about things. Her impressive deep eyes and likability help you want Jupiter to succeed but the space filled operatic vibe this story goes for doesn’t give her much scope to play with. Eddie Redmayne goes from universe professor to universe grabber as he turns acting onto the panto setting and softly hums his way through the vamperic role. Douglas Booth has more of the film to eat up in his soft faced nice boy act with a dangerous edge of sinister distrust. Sean Bean is Sean Bean though I won’t say if Bean gets his usual screen death.

Switch your brains to standby and marvel at the bold and huge scaled world created but don’t expect anything more than an entertaining messy sci-fi.

6/10