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

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

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

Passengers (2016)

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‘There’s a reason they woke up early’, so the tagline for this movie goes, as it turns out it’s not a very interesting or even great one. The only great thing the film has going for it is the fun chemistry between its leads and a superbly glossy style for the ship where the action takes place.

Avalon; a spaceship, is travelling to Homestead II, a planet for people to live on. The course will take 90 years but suddenly passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes from his hibernation pod and finds himself alone. Preston’s only company is a barman android named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Later down the line, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is awoken and with Jim they try to solve the ship’s mystery whilst also falling for each other.

For the positives of this movie, the spaceship has a cool and incredibly sleek design. It’s clear the makers of the film have taken time to think about how certain rooms and items should appear. Avalon is a rotating craft and on the inside, modern technology is advanced with rooms aboard boasting entertainment to rival cruise liners. The connection between Jim and Aurora grows nicely and is believable consistently as they spend more time together. Gravity falls, machines fail and threat does come into play for moments which is good to see but that doesn’t outweigh the rubbish plot.

It’s a shame the story increases in it’s ridiculousness because for the portions of the movie where Pratt is by himself the movie is strong. It of course never reaches that amazing solitary ‘Moon’ vibe of Rockwell/Jones but it gets close and has a neat cold vibe about it as we see him struggle. Sadly as the sci-fi dwindles and the romance takes over it feels like ‘Titanic’ in space, also plot points that create dramatic changes are executed in the most expositional way.

Not only these moments annoyed me in how the writers got the story to move forwards but there were no twists which I expected and the actual thing that caused early rising from hibernation was nowhere near a revelation as it could…should have been. That could have been a clever and possibly dark idea played with but they never tread down that path, even ‘Wall-E’ is a darker comment on society than this is.

Chris Pratt is engaging and manages to submerge his usual Pratt shtick as the cabin-fever sets in. Jennifer Lawrence is a glowing presence as she steps into the story and breaks down with suitable emotion upon realising why she’s there. Together as a couple of love struck space travellers they work well and a spark is clear. Michael Sheen plays a near emotionless character to convincing standards with ever present glossy eyes and almost creepy smile adding to his role.

This film gets more dumb as it continues and makes you forget the nice intense moments that it started with. Aside from a captivating pairing of actors this is a creepily played out love story that doesn’t know how to stop.

5.5/10

 

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

 

Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan returns after his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy duties, with probably the grandest big screen event release this year. It might be a slight pushy to compare it as this movie calendar’s ‘Gravity’ but it certainly fits in that realm. Stunning sci-fi, outstanding performances and the long dark quiet of space to shock you into awe. At nearly three hours long, it can certainly be said that this is an epic tale, there are moments that lull or stretch scientific imagination a tad far but it’s great to see something so bold be conveyed on the screen it deserves to live on.

Living in a bleak and dusty future is widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children Tom and Murph (Timothee Chalamet & Mackenzie Foy). Crops are dying and the only profession left to aspire to is being a farmer to try and save humanity. Though after stumbling on a secret building Cooper realises to try and help Earth he must leave it. A wormhole has opened up leading to the chance of interstellar travel and the hope to find a planet habitable for the world’s population.

That’s as far as I can really go in terms of detail, that’s the bare bones without spoiling more of the inner workings of the plot and the science backdrop. Sufficed to say, on the whole this script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan is filled with gorgeous sci-fi material, it’s very intelligent in places too and can definitely be classed as one of the cleverer blockbusters to be released in a long while. Saying that, some of the terminology may lose audiences and non fans of sci-fi may not enjoy the film. It also loses itself in places just because the movie length is long, moments yawn out too much and one significant twist to do with dimensions feels drawn out and glossed over in reasoning of how. There’s know how there but it will 100% lose quite a lot of people.

As with all of Nolan’s recent films, you can go in expecting glorious spectacle. The landscapes they discover are beautiful and worrying. The feel of the craft spinning or just floating in space leaves you watching with a powerful sense of wonder. After quite a non-impactful opening set up of character and location, the true art of Nolan’s mastery is revealed up in the inky magic of space. Icy sheets, wave ridden worlds and rippled wormhole delights truly engage you, the IMAX is the best way of seeing these images. The 70mm photography is majestic and though it probably looks alright on a standard screen, IMAX is Nolan’s area, picture and sound quality are amplified to perfection and truly immerse you into this crisp new solar system.

In keeping with the sound, Hans Zimmer conjures up a brilliant score to accompany the visuals of this film. Striking out with more tense ridden dramatic sounds that pile on pressure and suspense in relation to docking on a ship or lovingly crafting more slowed down eerily filled blurs of guitar and strings that encapsulate the amazement yet hollow scariness of space. There’s no ‘Inception’-esque big drums to shudder the seats, the more relaxed score works better than that, lovingly contributing to this brave new world.

All performances are unshakable in this film. Matthew and McConaissance are still in great flow with his leading role sticking more in the calm side of things yet he excels in his grand moments of teary scenes and panicked uncertainty. A scene featuring Matthew McConaughey will no doubt bring some audience members to tears as it nearly did with me, it’s a stunningly real scene, no CGI or sweeping visuals needed. Family and love thrive throughout and he truly shows that in this scene. Anne Hathaway gets more in touch with emotions of the human heart and her interactions with McConaughey are greatly acted, she’s a counter balance to Cooper’s sturdier relaxed manner yet she has moments to shine in realising where they should go. Michael Caine is the man to explain integral parts of the plot, as he so often does and throughout this film he expands on the broken mentality of scientific exploration, becoming even more fragile and weary than his Alfred was in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Other cast members play just as important roles in the film, Mackenzie Foy is an actress with superb emotional weight and one performer to keep an eye on. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain get differing moments to tell their stories but both are solid actors and Chastain really shines. This isn’t even mentioning the splendour of Jon Lithgow, David Gyasi and some humourous work from robot voices Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart. A magnificent cast to match the magnificence of the film’s visual dazzle and one nicely masked guest spot works fantastically in the story and wow moment.

A very thought provoking drama that serves as a love story more than the clearly obvious science fiction setting. Family, togetherness and instincts of the heart keep cropping up and they make this film more than an average space journey. Even if some of the story tries going places it maybe shouldn’t have and can sometimes feel slightly stuffed with bewildering talk, the majority of Christopher Nolan’s directing feat works rather than not.

‘Interstellar’ will probably only be hugely loved by Nolan or sci-fi fans but I think others can and will like or appreciate that the daring aspects of the adventure are worth it and it scratches ever so near to being a flat out masterpiece.

8/10