Men in Black: International (2019)

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There hasn’t been a ‘Men in Black’ movie since 2012 and now they’ve returned to protect us from the scum of the universe; though will you nod your head that the black suits are comin’ back or is it a film tailor-made for regret?

Hotshot Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) is paired up with newbie Agent M (Tessa Thompson), who managed to get on board with the MIB after many years of research and dedication. Their easy mission to sweet-talk an alien winds up becoming a deadly quest across the planet to prevent shape-shifting creatures called The Hive from causing massive devastation.

Honestly, this is an extremely forgettable flick, one which easily could have been breezy and fun but it is not. You’d think that the person/people in charge of coming up with the idea of casting Thompson and Hemsworth together again, after their sparkling team-up in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ were onto a winner, but you would be mistaken. The zany edge boldly demonstrated in the most recent Thor outing is not repeated and is sorely missed, in fact however believable their squabbling double act is, it is never sizzling enough to warrant a new entry in the MIB franchise.

The script department is lacking of anything funny, there’s middling titbits of comedy but on the whole it is absent. Not even the few dabs of action can propel this movie to entertaining levels, the music video background of director F. Gary Gray is felt quite a lot, in the sense that it doesn’t feel like a big globe-trotting science fiction action, a lot of the time the gloss is there but it all looks pristine like Hemsworth and co. have stepped into what they think is a perfume commercial on set.

Few laughs aren’t the only thing to expect, you can also rely on a massively predictable, extremely run of the mill plot which does very little to hold court. The change up of bringing a woman on board and seeing the suited squad go international are not enough to inject much interest after the first 15 minutes.

The visuals are so-so, most of the alien tech or the space creatures themselves are cartoonish and fill up the background like a mad zoo and things like the shrimp characters or Frank the pug are shoe-horned in for cheap nostalgia. Picking up on the teeny-weeny positives; the high quality sheen and slick style of the organisation are present, the suits and shades are fresh, some cool car weapon modifications and a short lived bike chase in Marrakesh are all moments which stop the movie being an all out flop.

Summer blockbuster season so far isn’t doing well, they’re running on a trend of being boring, uninspired or cheaply iffy. So, after ‘Dark Phoenix’‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ and to some degree, ‘Aladdin’, chalk this latest as yet another inclusion in the 2019 miss list.

5/10

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Captain Marvel (2019)

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This superhero blockbuster marks the 21st entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first female-led hero to come from the studio. It is also something fans have come to expect as an electrifying set-up to ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and they’d be right, as this film is a blast and introduces a bold new figure to surely help out the remaining heroes come next month.

Kree solider Vers (Brie Larson) mentored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) has continual flashes of a life she cannot remember. After a mission to rescue a fellow solider from the shape-shifting Skrulls, she crash lands on Earth and runs into pre-eye patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together they hope to stop the Skrulls from invading this planet and along the way Vers aka Carol begins learning who she is and what power she has.

There is no doubt that Captain Marvel is now the most powerful character in the comic book movie franchise and though it does sometimes feel like a watch merely serving as a stepping stone to April’s mammoth ‘Infinity War’ follow up, this is a film that nicely deals with the might of women and Carol’s journey is a complicated one which leads us to face great moments of confusion, vulnerability and surging strength.

In terms of how the film sounds and looks, well we get the backdrop of a 90’s era so a soundtrack shuffles from the likes of Des’ree to Nirvana which is swell. Ben Davis’ cinematography is a gorgeous treat also because the audience get to flit from the sci-fi whizz of space to the 1995 grunge of our home turf. A late on dog-fight has stunning shots and brings a ‘Star Wars’ visual to the home-bound action.

‘Captain Marvel’ may not blow everyone away but the studio finally rising to the table, offering us a gutsy female hero and hiring a female director and composer for the first time are waves in the right direction and this is a movie that’ll no doubt inspire a lot of hopeful women and little girls to see that not all heroes are men. The core strength does emanate from the progress of the title character so it is a shame the movie doesn’t fully feel like it has its own identity. The space set antics and fight styles do borrow a tone most obviously associated with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Nicole Perlman; writer behind that movie, being one voice behind the story is a factor to that. The echoes to this flashy sci-fi 2014 flick don’t harm the film, they just make it feel less its own product.

The Skrull element which utilises on a treacherous back and forth play of ideas marks the film as a fun and intriguing watch due to the doubt we, Carol and Nick share in not knowing who to trust at all times. The shape-shifting is used well and does tinge the whole film with a sort of political yet lively drama to who could be who.

Brie Larson is a great Carol Danvers; she has whip smart assurance in her Kree scenes wonderfully equalled by her literal crash to reality as she tries understanding her past. Larson is a Marvel-lous actor who knows how to blend subtleties into the broader parts of playing a big screen saviour. The comedic asides, her general wry looks or smirks and the heart fuelled moments especially felt in the scenes with her and pilot Maria, are emphasised greatly thanks to the glowing shooting star might of her performance. Also, to get the gift of a Fury and Coulson before the Avengers days is lovely. The de-ageing process can often be an uncanny thing to look upon but gladly it isn’t long at all until you accept the two eyed younger looking Jackson as normal. The buddy relationship between him and Larson flares through the screen with great warmth and adds a perfect lightness to the story.

Sure the film is slightly slow to kick off and the Marvel Guidebook to Making Origin Stories is pretty much followed to the letter but the nostalgia and the central performances do make ‘Captain Marvel’ a crackling, soaring entry to the MCU.

7.5/10

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

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Whilst he still thinks the world is eagerly awaiting more ‘Avatar’ movies, James Cameron has produced and scripted this epic action environment based off a manga series. Robert Rodriguez is the director  and together you can feel both these guys’ influences soaking into the film.

A broken cyborg with an intact brain is found by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) in a junkyard pile, he christens her Alita (Rosa Salazar) and develops a new body for her to inhabit. As Alita learns about the world she starts trying to work out who she is and where she come from with the help of Hugo (Keean Johnson), but life won’t be so easy as everyone is out to kill her, led by the supposed orders of businessman Vector (Mahershala Ali).

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ spent a lot of time in development/production misery because of Cameron’s work on the sequels to the Na’vi world. Thankfully Rodriguez came on hand to get the product launched because though it often has just a smidge too much going on, it is a blast of enjoyable cyberpunk entertainment. The narrative may try and tackle too much and in terms of Alita’s progression, you only really grasp who she may be too late in the film as they strive for a follow-up but it’s a well realised dystopia and there’s a lot to catch and please the eye.

On the most part the graphic design is second to none, you can see that time was put into producing new effects especially for this movie and the appearance of the Battle Angel. The folk at Framestore, DNEG and Weta Digital have crafted a sprawling, bold world but have also honed in by showcasing wonderful minute details in the working of Alita’s reactions, drawn from both computer work and Salazar’s expressive performance. Every now and then there are some iffy cyborg-hybrid shots in battle but it is a mostly solid example of visual effects to terrifically build up a whole city and all its residents.

Alita as a character is engaging to watch and obviously her massive dinner plate eyes cannot help but draw you into her learning curve and training process. She is a formidable heroine apt with fighting styles and prone to get stuck into dangerous situations. The story keeps the pace at an agreeable speed never lulling and always making sure that Alita is no CGI damsel in distress, in fact along the way she subverts stereotypical saviour imagery and is a character I’m sure people would like to see again.

Along the way the story does feel bloated as it hopes to incorporate a whole load of plot points and it is no surprise that Cameron had to have his 186 page script whittled down, a lot of it still feels like it’s squeezing to find place in the movie. Aside from the less than focused narrative and a couple of laughable moments, this is an energetic buzz of action and silly fun and the set pieces are glorious; the best example being in the Motor Ball sequence which is a rip-roaring ride of crunches, sparks and skating carnage which you cannot help but revel in.

As a final product, ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ could have done with a bit more refining but it has bundles of entertaining qualities and programmed with it is heart too, so much so that she takes it out and offers it up.

7/10

The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10

The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Just when you thought it was safe to think Young Adult tales of togetherness, political angst and romance were over, this film powers up and hits the big screen. ‘The Darkest Minds’ does little to feel any fresher than what we’ve seen countless times before and the script is muddled and tiresome.

A lethal disease has taken the lives of 90% of children under 18; the ones that survived developed powers from telekinesis to more dangerous enhancements. 16 year old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is trying to hide the fact she possesses one of the more extreme powers and goes on the run with three other super-teens to try and find a place where everyone is equal and safe from children’s camps.

Of course this film proudly screams it’s producing credits of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Stranger Things’, pretending this will be a film of similar genre and calibre and it definitely misses the latter desire. There are clear echoes of the hit Netflix show and in turn ‘E.T’ here; with the group of kids walking deserted train tracks, evading vehicles on empty streets with their powers and trying to stick together against the violent motives held by government figures but none of the acting, dialogue or visuals are as exciting or tensely dramatic as in ST or E.T.

Chad Hodge’s screenplay becomes a messy shambles and seems to just repeat ideas, most likely explained better in the novel but to no climactic gain here. Conversations about factions of authorities like Tracers or League cohorts become more infuriating to listen to and Ruby just floats between running away and coming back again in what is a highly yawn inducing watch. Ruby’s powers also seem to develop and change depending on the plot needing a way out, the villain is introduced too late and is a weak adversary, it’s not even a surprising turn of events to counter balance the feeble storytelling.

Every now and then, there are some neat uses of effects; be it practical or computer generated. There’s also a short-lived but cool moment of entrapment set up in an abandoned mall. Aside from those examples and the talents of the lead female actor, this is one of those tween sci-fi dramas that thinks its premise is way more captivating and smart than it really is.

Stenberg is good I have to admit, it’s almost like she’s trying to keep her head above the water of this sinking, stinking ship and she just about manages to do so. Skylan Brooks is probably the only other performing highlight of this movie, playing the intelligent and cool Chubs. Liam, played by Harris Dickinson looks too old to be a romantic interest for Ruby and uses his forceful power to somehow make us believe these two are in love. The pairing is hugely jarring and there’s no chemistry to speak of. Lastly, Gwendoline Christie gets the Captain Phasma treatment, by being severely underused in a role that could have been more interesting and corrupt.

‘The Darkest Minds’ is boring and nothing we haven’t already seen, it even comes complete with ‘Hunger Games’ inspired hands-up-into-the-air-in-unison moment. The film seems to think they’re kicking off another YA franchise but all I can hope is that never happens.

3.5/10

 

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Almost 5 years after ‘Pacific Rim’, comes this monster follow up that sees a debut role for Steven S. DeKnight as feature film director. Gladly, Guillermo del Toro has producing credit and seems to have retained some neat apocalypse cancelling world-building in what is otherwise a silly yet joyous popcorn flick.

Ten years have shuttled by since the monstrous Kaiju breached the Pacific Ocean and destroyed many cities. Now, former Jaeger front-runner, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is taken out of his scavenging ways to train new cadets. A promising talent lies within Amara (Cailee Spaeny), but is she and the battle station ready for the troubling return of the Kaiju?

I haven’t actually seen the 2013 movie since it was released but I recall it being a tremendous blast on the IMAX screens and enjoyed the moments of del Toro handled monster-lore in between the beast vs robot carnage. This one definitely seems to have a tongue firmly stuck in its cheek with a movie that is more about the fun side of proceedings.

You really don’t need to go into this film remembering many aspects of the first feature, or in fact with your mind on at all, it’s a pre-summer blockbuster kind of film that is as subtle as having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick! If that’s your thing then you’re in for a great treat and I honestly have to say that I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of this film.

How the trainee cadets are ever ready to perfectly mind-meld for duty and fight the Kaiju is a thought to push away, as is the question about never once knowing Idris Elba had a son, oh and the countless helpful convenient plot points. But, this isn’t a film warranting script scrutiny, as said, this is one of these films that doesn’t try to be anything more than the big screen madness of its smashy smashy noise.

DeKnight takes over from Academy Award holder del Toro and you can unmistakably see his TV show – ‘Spartacus’ style. The robots beating the metal crap out of each other, the lighthearted asides, the frequent almost epic slow-mo shots all come from his Starz days, from a show I rather enjoyed to tell the truth and that gladiatorial experience has helped craft an enjoyable sci-fi combat movie.

Boyega excels in a fun role here, bursting almost to the seams with quips to counter any possible predicament. It’s a character with far more energy, engagement and sparkle than Finn from the recent Star Wars movies. Scott Eastwood doesn’t really do much in a supporting role that sees him bark orders at people and twinkle his ‘handsome’ eyes when necessary. Spaeny is a talented up and coming actor, her performance is refreshing, vulnerable and yet brashly confident which works well opposite Boyega. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day resume their characters from before, with the former doing well in a backseat science supervisor kinda way and the latter pulling typical Charlie Day shouting and vague comedy that feels wrong considering where his amped up role journeys.

I was never eagerly awaiting a sequel but now this one has arrived in cinemas I can’t say I dislike the fact it exists. It’s a rampaging delight of big and bold destruction and in the words of the late, great Eduard Khil: “Trololo” indeed, this is a damn fun film to feast upon.

6.5/10