Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Number 17 in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and after two vaguely entertaining but wildly average Thor outings, I wasn’t entirely driven to see this third Asgardian centred feature but upon seeing the trailer and learning of Taika Waititi’s involvement I swiftly changed my mind.

With this comic book movie, we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) unsuccessful in his Infinity Stones quest and he returns to Asgard. Unluckily for him and the planets’ people, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) reveals that a power seeking goddess of death named Hela (Cate Blanchett) will arrive imminently to take over the throne of Asgard. Thor needs to stop her but first has to overcome imprisonment on a trash filled planet where green Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now thrives.

The tone of this ‘Thor’ adventure is vastly different to the previous two, at times his riffing and the comedic style feels misplaced because the muscled God isn’t someone we’ve been used to seeing cracking wise. Yet the film overcomes this and becomes the funniest Marvel flick behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’. By now, I and I’d imagine plenty of others are growing tired of that MCU one liner shtick but ‘Thor 3’ is more than this, the humour is dry and unexpected.

Having Kiwi born Waititi on board was a stroke of genius. I love love both ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and that zany kind of style/comedy is evident once more. He also almost steals the show voicing a silicon/rock based creature called Korg. The dialogue he comes out with are brilliant. Waititi doesn’t just focus on making this film a fun fest though, in fact it comes with the usual CGI action but some dark moments too.

These darker notes are in the threat of the pristine marvellous Asgard, deaths of some characters and the possibility of a super powerful thunder god failing. They do just enough to balance out the wacky flavour running throughout; what with Jeff Goldblum’s stellar campy Grandmaster, the work-mate jokes of Hulk and Thor and the Loki/Thor relationship too.

Hela as a character may be one of the strongest villains yet, which is something the Marvel franchise have struggled to get right for pretty much every film. She’s powerful, dynamic and has a root to the Asgardian lore that gives her character motive enough to buy into her evil fuelled plans. In an almost Guardians way, this bright space set movie has plenty of out there characters and they team up to create a cosmic delight.

Musically speaking, this score screams of synth and ‘Stranger Things’ like sounds. It once again makes the whole space set vibe feel more prominent. On top of this there’s a fantastic use of a Led Zeppelin song that punches through the speakers with awesome power, accompanied by stunning slow motion visuals and graphic novel looking battle poses.

Chris Hemsworth is on point, adding more to his mythological based hero in the way of great comedy timing and yes he can still wield a hammer like a pro and punch monstrous swarms like the best of ’em. Tom Hiddleston inhabits the sneaky mischief maker like only he can once again, though I still feel like I’d rather he take a back seat in the Thor films. Cate Blanchett is a dominant presence, her spiky headdress accentuating her sharp features and cold stares. Karl Urban plays Skurge and gets some funny moments early on, but he has a path to go on and Urban portrays this journey well. Tessa Thompson is bad ass and holds her own against the might of Thor. She’s someone I look forward to seeing again in the MCU. Oh yeah, enjoy some sweet cameos in a Shakespearean-esque play on Asgard!

This stunningly out there film may not completely break the mould or formula for the Marvel world but it’s damn good fun, damn entertaining and packed with visual flair, comedic gold and enough action adventure to be a feast for the eyes.

8/10

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

The Jungle Book (2016)

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It’s coming up to 50 years since the House of Mouse’s classic animation from Rudyard Kipling’s books. From the start onwards this movie is stunning, captivating and enjoyable for all, an unexpected treat when it comes to remakes.

Left in the jungle, man cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) was taken in by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who passed him to a pack of wolves who then raised him as their own. Years later at an infrequent truce, tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) vows to break the pact to hunt and kill Mowgli, so Bagheera and later arrival of friendly bear Baloo (Bill Murray) try to help the boy reach a human camp to be safe.

Jon Favreau manages to take the source material of Kipling’s works and the 1967 original and put his own spin on the action. The jungle is presented in a lush yet openly treacherous place which never really came across in the animation. Here, we feel on edge as Mowgli tries traversing the trees and all forms of life that come into his path. It’s a fun yet admittedly dark take on the story that Favreau makes successful, he brings threat, enjoyment and power to proceedings in the tale of one boy and his love for the wild.

It’s a movie that looks absolutely incredible, the landscape of the jungle and outer lands are detailed to perfection, every creature from elephants to little birds is created so well that you’d swear that only real life performer Sethi is actually interacting with the animals. For a blue moon occasion I can say that the CGI effects aren’t distracting and totally enhance the film, every image is beautiful and you get swept up as if swinging through the jungle too.

Justin Marks writes a dramatic screenplay that utilises on most of what we know but with some changes that keep things suspenseful and surprising. For a PG certificate, both the visuals and narrative of this movie are darker than you’d think and thankfully so because it speaks the truth of what a dangerous land the jungle is. Shere Khan gets written more screen time and is deliciously evil and the wolves also have more to do in a bigger idea of what makes a man and who Mowgli is. As if reading a book itself, this film’s story leafs effortlessly through the pages, hypnotizing you like Kaa from beginning to end.

Of course one of the challenges with this movie was going to be tackling the well loved songs, or at least two tracks from the 60’s animation that are memorable and both are done in a great way feeding on a trip down memory lane whilst still being different enough to slot nicely into this re-imagining. They are both slightly spoken/sung but with a jazzy feel and upbeat vibe they do wonders and don’t feel out of place. John Debney’s score itself is almost exhilarating, the percussion and energetic opening of Mowgli running hooks you in and further music provides the necessary thrills and spills on this journey.

Nothing is ever annoying in this film, which I feared when seeing the first trailer. Where past re-tellings have had buffoonish humour or things for kids to laugh at, this provides lighter moments but never in a way to feel pandering for the younger ones watching. The closest to annoyance are some mice that repeat words like the ‘Finding Nemo’ gulls but even that is kept low and works for their characteristic. In fact Baloo is genuinely funny, a porcupine is comedic and the rule of three in comedy works well as creatures come to comment on Baloo using Mowgli to obtain honey.

Honestly, the only slight negative I can think of is that in some cases the vocal work sounds as if from a studio and not manipulated enough to blend in with the jungle but that’s it, truly, two sentences sums up the weaker side of this film.

Bill Murray almost steals the spotlight of the film, providing a great cuddly lazy quality to his turn as loyal and chilled out Baloo, he sings the classic tune with gusto and makes you fall in love with a bear, move over Paddington. Idris Elba is the only vocal talent that stops Murray running away with the honey pot, his roars of delivery are booming and believable and he makes Shere Khan more threatening than he’s been before, both with his voice and the crazily great detail of the tiger, this is a Disney villain that will dazzle for ages. Ben Kingsley sounds wise and yet grumpy as Bagheera should and he works well as the teacher of the piece. Lupita Nyong’o brings a delicate and caring softness voicing mama wolf Raksha, it’s a shame that Nyong’o isn’t physically in more, after mo-cap ‘Star Wars’ and this she deserves to showcase her raw ’12 Years a Slave’ talent again. Scarlett Johansson is entrancing as the sleep inducing squeeze of Kaa, her role bringing a calmer threat to things and also adding a well narrated back-story for Mowgli. Christopher Walken makes King Louie a looming gangster ape, his obsession with man’s red flower becomes a worrying trend and Walken voices the massive character with flair and gets a cowbell reference too. Neel Sethi plays off non-existent mammals extremely well and looks very much like Mowgli plus he’s got the inquisitive side of a child down to an art.

It’s so rare to have a remake that outclasses the original and honestly I think this movie may have done it. It’s a step up for the live action side of Disney and lands with great spirit, excitement and an undeniable run of effects breaking that ground once more. A film with the bare necessities and then some.

8/10

 

Zootropolis (2016)

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Fluffy and fun, this is seriously one of the best animations from Disney I have seen. The story is captivating and more politically charged than you may expect from a cartoon about anthropomorphic animals. There’s plenty of laughs for both adults and children and it just looks so loved by the detail in every shot.

In the countryside lives Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an enthusiastic rabbit who always wants to follow her dreams, which happen to be becoming the first cop on the force in busy Zootropolis. There she gets slung to the job of parking warden by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) but thankfully it lets her meet cunning fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who may just be able to help with the more alarming spate of disappearances in the city.

Disney have crafted such a rich animation with this movie, it looks absolutely incredible. It’s a very beautiful film, with lots of colour, texture and detail to draw you into this urban landscape of upright walking mammals. It’s 100% a film that warrants repeated viewing, to enjoy the fast paced fun of the story but more so to try and keep up with all the brilliant visual puns that litter the backdrop of mostly every scene. From billboards to pirate DVDs, this film is stuffed full of gags that enrich the environment of this animal world.

Jared Bush and Phil Johnston pen a wonderful screenplay that has enough heart and fun for the kids, but also clever comedy and darker subtext for the grown ups watching. Of course the message about trying and never giving up is nothing original but somehow here with all the additional writing about stereotyping animals for attacks and subjecting them to exclusion is extremely relevant to the worrying topic of what’s happening in the world right now. It’s a political angle that I never expected but gladly accepted because it makes this movie feel so much more necessary and thoughtful than prior Disney films.

Michael Giacchino provides the music, making you feel safe in his capable hands. I mean after a collection of credits such as ‘Inside Out’, ‘Super 8’ and ‘Up’ you know the score is going to be impressive, and it is exactly that. It bounces like Hopps does and it buzzes with intrigue as the mystery of the case begins counting down. On top of this is Shakira’s inclusion as a popstar Gazelle who provides an infuriating ear-worm of a song that may just rival the similarly catchy ‘Let it Go’.

Ginnifer Goodwin makes Judy Hopps come alive with bouncy enthusiasm as she tries to make it in the metropolis. So when she becomes more upset and generally droopy in the ear, her vocal performance makes that contrast more noticeable and you feel for the character. Jason Bateman is great as Nick Wilde, giving him that hustler edge but all the time you know there’s something under the fuzzy orange surface, to make him more human if you will. Idris Elba is booming and fierce as the chief of police, Tommy Chong lands in one of the weirdest yet funniest scenes as clear stoner Yax the yak. Nate Torrence is also a star of the show as an obese cheetah full of camp and admiration for Gazelle and her music.

This is such a magnificent film that serves importantly to children about the message of difference and how to treat that, it’s also funny, clever, well written, paced and animated making it one of the finer Disney releases I’ve seen. Ever.

8.5/10

The Gunman (2015)

The-Gunman-posterIf you’re looking for something dynamic, then look elsewhere as this is not exactly the most heart-pounding action film and frankly look elsewhere for an action film in general. ‘The Gunman’ certainly lives up to its title with weapons and shots aplenty but apart from that it fails to spice up or be a grand entry into the hall of past-40 male heroic movies.

After an assassination mission is executed by Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he’s forced to leave and eight years later this past event catches up with him leading Terrier to work out who is trying to pick him off. With old friends and an ex-flame in the mix Jim finds himself killing again to survive.

The film does come with that ‘Taken’ flavour and that is in large part to the directing style of Pierre Morel. It cannot be denied that he knows how to capture his ageing masculine stars tackling hit-men and super soldiers. The flair in executions and bloody offings is multiple and entertaining enough to watch if you’re especially into that sort of thing, but after three Taken’s and three Expendables, the daddy (or granddaddy) danger man routine is feeling worn out.

It’s pretty clear that in both directing and writing terms, this movie is attempting to carve Sean Penn out as a new muscular action figure, the bulging physique of the lead star becomes more of an odd distraction in the grand scheme of things, why on earth is he so buff for being a sniping gunman, I guess Penn is showing off perhaps!? Keeping with the writing side of things, the story fails to be overly exciting or fresh, it sticks to a standard set of tropes and throwing in this attempt at political DRC work doesn’t come across as dramatic and deep as it tries to be.

Put honestly, I think this film tries too hard to be more than one thing, Terrier gets diagnosis news that adds to the mix of loves, traumas, trusts and mistrusts, explosions and shadowing threats. A lot of these things are all predictable anyway and the plot doesn’t waver from what you’d expect and piling a dollop of cheese on top of blandness, the end plays out like a Nicholas Sparks moment.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, a couple of set pieces are done really well. The Barcelona house sequence begins with suspense and betrayal and is filled with smoke, bullets and running about. The near end scene at a bull fighting show kind of echoes that James Bond vibe of secretive talking, public meetings/deals and bloody but silly deaths as someone takes a bull by the horns.

Sean Penn takes front and centre and is good as the brute force Liam Neeson role, wrinkled foreheads and shaky looks doing the emotional work when he’s not aiming or firing a weapon. Ray Winstone is the classic Cockney geezer in a meaty role as companion and assistance to Jim. Jasmine Trinca is little more than the usual damsel in distress sadly as she looks like an actress that could have brought more to the table. Mark Rylance brings that assured televisual authoritative presence to his role as Cox. Idris Elba, well apart from somehow surviving with dignity through a bench routine and stretched analogy about tree-houses, he has a minimal character to do much with. Javier Bardem triumphs as the best performer. The domineering unnerving swagger he switches on is tense and brilliant, it’s like the part of his ‘Skyfall’ routine, sleazy but somehow inviting.

This feature is just a mediocre escape, watchable but it feels long and unconvincing, a slight few high points are soured majorly by samey attempts at gritty action, a dull lead character and bad script work.

5/10