Okay, right off the bat I need to be clear; I know this is a highly fictionalized version of PT Barnum’s life and that it whitewashes more controversial and problematic parts of the tale. However, this is a review of the film, not a comparison with facts. Therefore I stress my enjoyment of the movie is not an endorsment of the real life Barnum.
So, yeah, I enjoyed this film. I went in slightly apprehensive as for some reason I thought it was a Baz Luhrman movie, but it’s actually directed by Michael Gracey who has Luhrman’s abilities with choreography and big sequences, without his more overblown excesses.
Hugh Jackman excels as Barnum, a poor boy desperate to succeed and win the posh girl he loves. He makes Barnum a likeable character, a showy individual who blags his way through life.
He sets up a museum of curiosities in New York and quickly assembles a cast of unique individuals.
The film paints the freak show in an empowering light, with Barnum giving the performers a family and a home and treating them fairly. It’s a leap from the real story and it feels a little bit of a cop out, but the performers do well. Keala Settle playing the Bearded Lady is the focal point for this, a woman blessed with a great singing voice who gains confidence through her role in Barnum’s show.
The problems arise when Barnum becomes obsessed with respectability and showing up his dismissive inlaws. The chip on his shoulder is understandable, and it adds conflict. Caught up in his first highbrow success, the singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) he places himself in a financial danger and drives a wedge between himself and those close to him.
He ignores the show, treats the performers as though he is ashamed of them and his marriage to Charity, fantastically played by Michelle Williams, is shaken.
Williams is solid throughout, in a quieter, more fragile role who attempts to curb Barnum’s excesses and get him to appreciate his life, to let go of his deep rooted grievances and merely enjoy the happy life he has built. She serves as the balance to him and her singing is on point, it’s not a showy role compared to others but it is a solid performance.
Jackman carries the weight brilliantly, his Barnum a charming individual with relatable, understandable flaws. Even as he becomes selfish and foolish he keeps audiences onside and pulls back from utter scoundrel territory.
It helps that Jackman is phenomenal in the song and dance numbers, especially a strong opening number and several big duets with Williams.
The songs are fantastic throughout and the direction creates many outstanding set pieces. The strongest are Settle’s defiant “This Is Me” and a heartfelt duet between Zac Efron and Zendaya, “Rewrite the Stars” is lush, romantic and beautiful filmmaking.
The Efron and Zendaya subplot which sees his upper class man join as Barnum’s apprentice and fall for the trapeze artist is well played, if slightly rushed. It feels as though one or two scenes more might have fleshed out the romance more, but both performers do their jobs well.
It’s especially good to see Efron back to exuding his early charm and talents, having been in a few dumb comedies. He may be second fiddle to Jackman, but he showcases charisma which proves he could and should be one of the leading men of his generation.
In fact, the cast is universally good and the effect is a fantastic musical which charmed me. Big, daring and striking this mixes old school musicals with modern tech and effects.
The subject matter, despite the efforts to clean it up and give it an empowering spin, can’t eliminate the exploitation entirely and the appearance of circus animals was for me a jolt out of my disbelief. But taken as a musical and a work of fiction it succeeded in impressing and entertaining me.
Fun and well made, but probably won’t bear up to much scrutiny or factual analysis.
Verdict: An enjoyable and beautifully crafted musical, if one checks reality at the door and just goes with it. Jackman and Efron are standouts in a cast who are all on form. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early challenger for my film of the year.
Disney and Pixar knock this one out of the park creating a beautiful, gorgeous world to tell a charming and affecting story of family, music and remembrance.
Set in Mexico and based around the Day of the Dead festivities this is probably Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out and one which takes a place with the very best the studio has produced.
The Rivera family have effectively banned music after an ancestor left to become a singer, never returning and meaning his wife had to work, creating a successful shoe making business. However, young boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is loves music and has adopted local musical legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) as his hero.
He wants to take part in a talent show but is forbidden by his grandmother, who insists he spends Day of the Dead with his family. As they set out the pictures of dead ancestors and relatives, the photo of his great-great-grandmother is dropped. The broken frame reveals that the photo has been folded. Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, the runaway musician, who’s face has been torn from the picture is revealed to be holding Ernesto’s famous guitar.
Miguel takes this as a sign, and argues that he his honouring his family’s traditions, but his grandmother smashes his guitar. Angry, Miguel storms out, announcing he doesn’t want to be part of the family. Desperate to find a guitar to compete he breaks into De La Cruz’s crypt and steals the car.
It is at this point the movie really kicks in, with the already charming and likeable film embracing the supernatural and introducing the ghostly ancestors who have come across to the land of the living to visit their family. The art here is great with the ghostly figures styled after sugar skulls and their skeletal figures retaining unique characteristics for each person.
Miguel can see them because having been cursed for stealing from the dead. He must break the curse by sunrise, by obtaining the blessing of a family member, however, his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) only offers a blessing with the condition that he never plays music. The rest of the family refuse to go against the matriarch and so Miguel decides to find De La Cruz.
Miguel travels through the city of the dead, a vibrant, strange world with his only guide Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a scruffy, trickster who tries to trick his way across to the living. But nobody has put up a photo of him so he can not cross. He claims to know Ernesto and agrees to help Miguel on the condition that he takes his photo so he can cross once more and see his daughter one last time before she forgets him.
When the dead are forgotten they vanish forever, and Hector’s daughter is the only one who remembers him.
Can Miguel break the curse? Will his hero Ernesto help him? And will Hector get to see his daughter again?
This film is simply gloruous. The artwork is beautiful and the colourful, sprawling city of the dead and it’s residents are extremely well done.
The characters are fantastic too, with Miguel a charming, likeable hero. He has humour and courage, and it’s through his eyes we experience the wonderful world he enters.
Similarly, the swaggering De La Cruz and scruffy Hector are both engaging and interesting characters and their story unfolds nicely. One of the revelations is easy to see coming, but there are a few twists in the tale.
As Miguel tries to break the curse he comes to understand the importancr of family and how much they mean to him. It also serves as a powerful reminder of respecting our past and appreciating how it shapes us.
The film has raw emotional power, not just in the melancholic nature of the city of the dead but in the handling of Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who is losing her memory and in confused moments still waiting for her father to return.
Sod it, I have to give a spoiler here, but to be fair, most grown up viewers will guess it during the movie.
Hector is Coco’s father, and he did know Ernesto, in fact he wrote many of his songs. Ernesto’s bombastic signature tune “Remember Me” is actually based on a quieter, more low key song Hector wrote and sang to his daughter.
The scene where Miguel returns home and sings this to her, reviving the long dormant memory is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and reduced WoM and me to tears.
The moving scene, which captures all of the film’s themes is wonderful and caps the movie beautifully.
Loaded with charm, gorgeous to look at and profoundly moving, this one will be hard to beat in 2018.
Verdict: An utter delight. Some plot developments are easy to see coming, but it doesn’t rob the film of it’s ability to move you. A fun, emotional and beautiful film. 9.5.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! There are a few spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the film you might not want to read on. If you do, well, it’s on your own head.
This is one of the trickiest reviews I’ve ever written. Normally when I come out of a movie I have strong feelings one way or another, but the latest in the Star Wars series left me somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it’s a movie that a second viewing will clear up for me, but that will have to wait, this is my initial reaction.
The action picks up pretty soon after the events of The Force Awakens. After decimating the Republic’s forces the First Order is in ascendancy, hunting down the resistance and wiping them out. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads an escape attempt during which pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) disobeys her orders, while he succeeds in destroying a major enemy ship, it comes at a heavy cost, with many ships lost.
They escape through hyperspace, but somehow are followed. Poe is demoted and Leia criticises his gung ho, glory hunting ways. Low on fuel the fleet is pursued by the First Order. New commanding officer Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) keeps the ships out of range but the enemy is still on their heels, and Holdo refuses to elaborate on her plan to Poe.
Meanwhile, Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) has tracked down Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) so that she can train her in the force and that he will return with her to inspire the resistance. However, she finds that the former hero is incredibly reluctant, jaded and embittered. Can she win him round?
She also discovers that she has somehow formed a connection with her nemesis, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Skywalker’s nephew and a strong, dark Jedi. She senses reluctance and remorse and begins to wonder if she can lead him back to the light.
Back at the fleet, Rey’s friend, and former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) realises that Rey will return to the fleet and be killed. He decides to escape with the beacon Rey will home in on, however, he is stopped by Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), an idealistic rebel who’s sister died during Poe’s raid. She is disgusted by his cowardice, but then both work out how the First Order tracked them and how to escape. This does mean they need to get aboard and hack an enemy ship. In need of a codebreaker they work with Poe to slip away from the fleet and return with the man they need in the few short hours the fleet has before they run out of fuel and are sitting ducks. When they return the system will only be down for mere minutes, meaning the fleet must jump to hyperspace immediately.
Can Rey learn the ways of the Force? Will Luke change his mind and leave his self imposed exile? Are Finn and Rose going to be able to disable the tracker in time? And how will Poe ensure that the fleet is ready to make a tight escape?
Here’s the thing, this movie is very good fun and there are parts that work remarkably well, however, there are other parts that fall flat and it lacks that certain something to rank it with the truly great movies.
One thing that works is that the script is loaded with humour and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, and some fast, clever dialogue. Similarly director Rian Johnson (Looper) handles the action side of things with aplomb and the space battles are magnificent and gripping. There’s also a multi character lightsabre battle which is pretty ace.
So, if I was amused and thrilled in places why am I not raving about this movie? Well, for starters, the film squanders its ticking clock aspect. Finn and Rose supposedly only have 12 hours but their story feels baggy in places and lacks the urgency and tension which should come easily. It also feels like they have to do quite a lot in that time, and the inclusion of a lazy coincidence is too easy.
That being said, at least it is carried by Boyega and Tran, who have easy chemistry and entertain as the duo. Boyega’s Finn is probably the standout hero of the new films, more fallible than Rey and less self assured than Poe, he’s a regular guy who fights his own fears and tries to do the right thing.
It would be easy to dismiss Rose as a cute, adorable character, and that is a facet, but beneath her cheeriness is a determination and dedication to the cause. I loved her interactions with Finn and how their relationship develops.
I’ve heard some people don’t like the character, but for me she was great.
What didn’t work for me was the Rey-Kylo Ren stuff? While the Luke Skywalker part works, and the jaded Jedi is a solid performance from Hamill, Rey is remarkably dull here.
The bond with Kylo Ren feels rushed and they grow very close very quickly. Also, she seems kinda dumb in her willingness to believe the latest version of a story she’s told- Luke tells her about Kylo, then Kylo contradicts, then Luke clarifies and each time she accepts this latest one as being completely true.
And she rushes off to help Kylo in a move which is clearly a mistake.
But the other aspect that meant it didn’t work for me is that Kylo Ren is a weak character. He mopes about like an emo teenager and when one character dismisses him saying “you’re no Vader. You’re just a child in a mask” it feels a bit too close to the truth. If he is conflicted it’s hard to tell from a lifeless performance by Driver and I don’t really care. He killed Han Solo, redemption isn’t on the table for me.
Later developments in this story feel rushed and as if the writer is taking shortcuts, and it’s only thanks to a final battle and the return of Luke Skywalker that salvage it from being a bit of a dud.
I should write about the third plot strand with Poe and Holdo, but this has flaws too. Clealry this is supposed to be a story of Poe learning that not everything can be solved by fighting and that he doesn’t always know best but it’s undermined by the fact that his irritation with Holdo is entirely understandable. When asked about her plan she is vague and it feels daft that his decision not to blindly follow orders on limited information is supposed to appear rash and foolish. Surely it shows good sense and free thinking?
Anyway, the whole film is a bit of a mess and a frustrating watch. The promise of a cracking movie was there but too much seemed rushed or underdeveloped. Perhaps the burden of fitting the story into 3 movies is what led to this movie. It feels like they tried to cram in too much.
It does provide a good exit for Hamill as Skywalker and he impresses. Similarly Carrie Fisher is great as Leia and it’s cool that we get a glimpse of how strong with the force she is. Her death was sad enough, but there now feels like there’s unfinished business and that Leia will be deprived the ending that was originally intended. Hopefully, however they can do her justice and the dedication screen hit me hard.
It feels that the first of the new films was a farewell to Han, this to Luke and one guesses the third would have been Leia’s film.
Apologies for the review, I know it doesn’t flow well, a side effect of it being written in several parts and me stilk trying to work out how I feel about it.
Verdict: A mixed bag and a frustrating experience, with the sense of missed opportunities and unrealised potential. Some of it works brilliantly, but there are far too many misses. Decent and fun, but underwhelming. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I saw this back while we were in Florida but I just haven’t got round to writing a review until now.
Ever since I got into comics as a teen one of the Marvel characters I’ve always loved has been Thor, the hammer swinging God of Thunder. He was different to the other heroes and I loved the fantasy vibe and that his dialogue was in a different font. Of course, with the winged helmet and style of talking I knew bringing him to the big screen was risky, but the MCU delivered and Chris Hemsworth has been great.
But while the first Thor movie was an entertaining origin story, the sequel was one of Marvel’s weaker efforts. Still fun, but a bit meh.
With Thor missing from Civil War I was keen to see where he was and this the third outing didn’t disappoint.
As arguably the strongest Avenger, this movie works because they strip Thor of several of his allies and weapons, force him into a role of greater responsibility and have him face off against a dangerous foe who appears too strong for him to defeat.
Our hero is cast adrift in a strange world, broken and grieving. Kudos here to Hemsworth who captures this sense of loss and struggle with subtle pain, while still carrying himself with a swagger which appears to be a mask. In short order he learns of his evil, destructive sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, loses his father and in his first showdown with Hela is easily beaten, his mystical hammer Mjolnir destroyed.
Despite this Thor is deternined to return to Asgard to protect his people and stop Hela. It’s this that makes him a hero along with the way he adopts the role of Adgardian leader depite his self doubts.
The movie is fast paced and despite the high stakes there is plenty of humour. Pairing Thor with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki works well, with their differing views leading to confluct and the actors have great chemistry together. Similarly characters lile Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Skurge, played by Karl Urban, have comedic moments, but there is enough shade beneath.
The cast is uniformly good, with Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett impressing as newcomers. And Mark Ruffalo continues to impress as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and his interactions with Thor, in both forms are wonderful.
Criticisms of it as lightweight or too comedic didn’t hold water with me. While it is consistently funny, Hela is a legitimate threat and the stakes feel real. Yes, a few deaths are swept aside a tad too easily for me, but I felt it married the darkness and light well.
All the cast are on fine form and it leaves the characters in an interesting place going forward. It’s also good for the MCU as a whole because Thor is peefectly placed to link three aspects of the universe- the magic of Doctor Strange, the superheroics of the Avengers and the intergalactic adventures of the Guardians.
A great blockbuster that shakes up the world of a major character, and advances their character. Easily Thor’s best outing so far and one of the MCU’s best films.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a gem of a movie which married the fun excess of old spy movies with OTT violence and foul language. Can they pull off the same trick twice?
Well, the answer is almost.
This second adventure finds Eggsy AKA Galahad (Taron Egerton) still in action as an agent of Kingsman, a private spy agency. But when he’s attacked by a familiar face, it appears the agency is in the sights of a resourceful and ruthless foe. A foe who quickly takes out the agency, leaving Eggsy the only survivor other than tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong).
Following their “doomsday protocol” the two discover a bottle of bourbon branded Statesman and travel to Kentucky to investigate. There they find their American equivalent, posing as an alcoholic manufacturer. After a brief run in with Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), they realise they are on the same side and unite.
Their common enemy is Poppy (Julianne Moore), head of a global drug cartel and robotics genius. She has poisoned all of her drugs with a lethal disease, and promises the cure if all drugs are legalized, allowing her to enjoy her success and come out of hiding.
Unfortunately the US President (Bruce Greenwood) has no qualms about letting all the drug users die as it will mean he is remembered as the President who won the war on drugs and Poppy will be blamed.
Affected by the virus are Eggsy’s girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), Tequila and the President’s chief of staff, who objects to his plan but is sent away.
Eggsy investigates with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who survived being shot in the first film but temporarily lost his memory and is not yet back to his best.
Can Eggsy stop Poppy’s scheme? How much can he trust Statesman or Harry? Will he find the antidote in time?
First things first, here’s what works- the action sequences retain the gloriously gory and overblown touches of the original, and while it lacks anything as madly brilliant as the original’s “Freebird” sequence there are some great scraps here. There’s also a nice little gag that plays on one of the first film’s major scenes.
The returning cast are all on form, with Egerton being allowed to let Eggsy’s chavvy enthusiasm to pop up at times. Firth is excellent again especially as he has to play both the badass Harry and the softer, damaged version who can’t remember who he is.
Mark Strong is good in everything he does and here he gets more to do as Merlin.
I also liked that they kept the Princess from the first movie as the love interest, and this relationship, while fleeting in terms of screen time is handled well enough. Also good that they brought back Edward Holcroft’s obnoxious toff Charlie as Poppy’s cybernetically enhanced goon as it added to his vendetta against Eggsy.
The newcomers are decent, although Tatum plays less of a role than trailers suggest. Pascal’s swaggering cowboy Whiskey is pretty badass and as their boss Champagne, Jeff Bridges is his usual charming self. The surprise was Halle Berry who is better here than I’ve seen her in a while.
Julianne Moore is clearly enjoying her campy, flamboyant villain turn but it’s less fun for the audience and it can’t match Samuel L. Jackson in the first flick. She’s not bad, and quite fun, but her reasons are flimsy.
But Poppy’s plan is pretty smart and the twist of having a callous President was smart.
There are a few flaws, some characters from the first film are written out rather cheaply and there is a sense of it sticking to formula. But the formula does work and it delivers plenty of laughs and fun along the way.
There’s also quite a nice extended cameo from Elton John playing himself, Poppy’s hostage and keying up “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to soundtrack a shoot out.
In fact the music throughout is playful and clever.
I really enjoyed it but MWF and I both felt this is probably where we should leave Eggsy as a third outing might stretch it too far.
Verdict: It can’t match the first movie but this is still a fun, frantic romp. OTT in the best way and with its tongue firmly in cheek this kept me entertained throughout. 7.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
See this film now.
From the opening scene where a handful of British soldiers make their way through deserted streets as Nazi propaganda about their being surrounded flutters down until the end this is a thoroughly gripping movie. I wouldn’t necessarily say entertaining as it left my nerves in shreds.
Christopher Nolan in the directing chair films it magnificently, and there are some amazing shots, particularly our first sight of the vast beach where the British soldiers have lined up, looking pathetically vulnerable stood out in the open.
The movie shuffles the time sequence, but while the first threw me the shifts are handled well and it’s easy to keep track of where everyone is. The film follows several characters throughout the day.
Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead is one of the soldiers we see at the beginning. And we follow his attempts to get off the beach. Posing as a stretcher bearer, hiding on the pier and at one point soaking himself to appear as one of the men from a sunken vessel, Tommy is determined to get home and there is a desperation to his actions which feels all too understandable.
Tommy meets other soldiers along the way including Alex (Harry Styles) and we see their attempts to survive against the odds.
At the end of the pier is navy Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and army Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) are the men trying to sort out the evacuation. The pier can only take one boat at a time and the beach is too shallow for larger boats. With 400,000 men on the beach and Winston Churchill aiming for 30,000 to be evacuated they face a tough choice. Their only hope is the small boats requisitioned by the government to help the evacuation.
One of these is the small pleasure yacht owned by Mark Rylance’s Dawson, who along with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their hand George (Barry Keoghan). They head for France but en route find a shell shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy, the sole survivor of a U Boat attack who is understandably shaken by the experience and urges them to turn around for home.
Above them they watch as a three man Spitfire squad attempt to defend the beach and retreating ships from the Luftwaffe. Farrier (Tom Hardy) does his best but with a damaged fuel gauge has no idea how long he can stay in the fight.
The action then cuts between the different characters as their paths cross, events seen from different perspectives.
The whole movie is almost unbearably tense, from Farrier having to try and work out how much fuel he has left before he heads for home to the soldiers on the pier who can do little more than wait and hope the next German bomb doesn’t have their name on. The feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped, even on the vast, wind swept beach is palpable throughout. The isolation of the men, even with home seemingly so close, is frustrating for the men and the audience, and a reminder of how close to Britain the land war got.
Most terrifying is the fact that even off the beach safety isn’t guaranteed. Scenes of men trapped in small, confined spaces rapidly filling with water are genuinely terrifying.
Several points during the film I found myself gripping the arm rests of the Odeon seats, or MWF’s arm. And in violation of the Wittertainment Code of Conduct I caught myself muttering “No” at several moments.
When the small boats finally arrive, and the relief and joy of the soldiers explodes I found myself openly crying. It was a combination of the relief and reaction of the men, and the respect for this real, genuine act of heroism by ordinary people.
For a war film the refreshing thing here is the lack of big showy heroics. For many there is only a fight for survival and some questionable acts along the way. But there are heroes.
Tom Hardy, even with his face covered with a mask manages to convey Farrier’s inner conflict. He must decide whether to stay longer to help even if it means he might not be able to fly home.
Kenneth Branagh’s naval officer exudes a quiet decency and heroism, a dedication to his job and duty to get the men to safety. Even im the face of danger he manages to keep his cool and even jokes with his army colleague over the other’s lack of sea knowledge.
But possibly the greatest hero here is Dawson played by Mark Rylance with simple nobility. Not only does he set out to help others but there is compassion in the way he handles Murphy’s shattered survivor.
When George asks if the soldier is a coward due to his behaviour Dawson replies that he is “not himself” before adding “he may never be himself again”. It’s a small moment that acknowledges the mental effects of war and hints at Dawson’s own experiences prior to this.
This is an exceedingly well crafted war film with a cast which does great across the board, from old hands like Rylance and Branagh to the newcomers Styles and Whitehead. The dialogue, while sparse for much of the film, provides brief insigjt into the characters and the tense, relentless pace means that you’re locked in from start to finish.
It manages to capture the big and small moments, while shying away from being overly sentimental or gung ho. The tone is handled well throughout and I was genuinely moved by the film.
Verdict: An instant classic, Nolan delivers a masterpiece of war cinema. The ensemble cast do their jobs brilliantly across the board and the action sequences are amazing. 10/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.
Tobey Maguire was a good Peter Parker. Andrew Garfield was a good Spider-Man. Tom Holland is the guy who nails both halves of the character.
For starters, Holland looks closer to an awkward teenager and is just wonderfully charming as he stumbles and bumbles his way through his teenage life. This charm and awkwardness transfers across when he dons the mask, the body language still capturing the gawky youth and attempts to be cool. Also the voice work captures the enthusiastic way Spidey goes into action.
This movie gets one of the things I loved about the character of Spider-Man. He enjoyed being a hero. Sure, there was drama and tension, but when he got up there swinging, he was having a ball. The same is true for large parts of this film, Spider-Man throws himself into crime fighting, even for minor offences with boundless enthusiasm. Even when things get tough there’s still a sense that he wants to be a hero, and that he likes being in the tights. It messes with his day-to-day life, but there’s no stopping him, and there’s no brooding.
There is frustration, having helped out in Civil War Peter hopes to become an Avenger and work closely with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), but finds himself sidelined. Stark tells him to stay close to the ground, and that he’s not ready.
Some criticised the movie for including Stark, but I like it. It makes sense that after recruiting Peter he would keep tabs on him, and Tony’s attempts to mentor him show how the character continues to evolve from the playboy at the start of the first Iron Man movie. RDJ is excellent as ever, and his affection and concern for Peter is pitched just right. There’s a sense that he respects Peter despite his youth and sees his potential to be great, evidenced when he tells Peter that he wants the young hero to be better than him.
Eager to prove himself Peter decides to go it alone aftee discovering someone is selling hi-tech weapons. This leads him against Adrian Toomes AKA the Vulture (Michael Keaton), who turned to crime having been thrown off the salvage contract after the events of The Avengers leaving him in financial difficulties. He and his crew use the alien tech they grabbed to make weapons and to steal more, leading them to cross paths with Spidey, who persists after Iron Man warns him off.
Michael Keaton’s performance and the changes to Vulture’s backstory are fantastic and make what I’ve always viewed as a lacklustre villain more interesting. Not only does his origin tie in with the rest of the MCU and show the fallout of previous events, it makes him a more relatable and believable character. All his crime is driven by his need to provide for his family, and Keaton captures a sense of a man driven to extremes to keep his head above water. Not that he isn’t great at the basic villain stuff, with him giving the character an intimidating steeliness which as the film continues to impress and increase. Not an utter villain, but with a ruthlessness that makes him a decent threat.
The plot unfolds at a cracking pace, the film fizzing along so that the action and laughs flow constantly, but with enough character stuff to mean you genuinely care, largely due to Holland’s work.
While there are some MCU similarities this film has its own tone, being closer in tone to a teen comedy at times, just with superheroics thrown in, there’s a nod to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and that’s kind of the vibe here. It helps that the dialogue is genuinely funny and some of Peter’s schoolmates are wonderful.
Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is a scene stealing character, a geeky fanboy who is overjoyed at discovering his best friend is a superhero and who pesters Peter with questions. It’s a charming and funny performance, and Ned provides a lot of humour as well as providing Peter with a confidante.
Also worth mentions are Jon Favreau returning as Happy Hogan, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and a delightful performance from Zendaya as Michelle, Peter’s sarcastic, offbeat classmate.
The whole movie clicked for me, managing to balance peril and humour. It felt like the closest to the Spider-Man from the books and fits well with the MCU by adding a slightly smaller scale. Peter is the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and the bigger more cosmic threats can be left to the other characters.
I was won over by Holland in his brief appearance in Civil War and this builds on this. For me this is up there with the best of the MCU movies and I hope Sony continue their deal with Marvel because this is how to do Spidey.
Verdict: An entertaining ride from start to finish this has bags of charm and action. Simply magnificent. Holland IS the character. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
So far the DC extended universe (DCEU) has been playing catch up with Marvel who have built up their shared universe since 2008’s Iron Man. It’s easy to see why DC want to get in on the same kind of thing but unfortunately it’s all felt rather rushed. The first film worked on it’s own, but Man of Steel still had some flaws and the follow up, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was hit and miss, and saw Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman thrown in the mix in a way which seemed a bit rushed. The less said about Suicide Squad the better.
So, having already met Wonder Woman what we have here is a flashback, an origin movie which takes us back to the First World War. Not that the war has had any impact on Themyscria, the idyllic, hidden island of the Amazons. Here, Princess Diana learns of the Amazons’ purpose, to guide mankind to peace and oppose the corrupting force of Ares, the God of War.
Diana wants to learn to fight, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) opposes this, as Ares is seemingly defeated and she has fears that Diana’s training and increasing strength will draw the attention of the war god if he is still out there. But Diana’s aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) is more cautious and secretly trains her niece, who becomes a skilled fighter but appears to have odd powers and enhanced strength.
After years of isolation the first man visits the island as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in the sea off the island attempting to flee with stolen plans of a new deadly German weapon. Diana rescues him but the Germans arrive and there is a short battle which leaves all the Germans and a few of the Amazons dead. Steve is taken prisoner and bound with the lasso of truth reveals his misssion, Diana believing that the villainous General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares in an attempt to continue the war.
In defiance of her mother’s wishes, Diana steals the godkiller sword and she leaves with Steve to the world of man. There they deliver the plans and are forbidden to attack Ludendorff as it may damage the delicate armistice talks.
Diana is outraged when Steve agrees not to get involved, accusing him of lying to her, but he reveals he plans a secret mission, gathering old allies and receiving assistance from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a politician attempting to sort out a peace but determined not to lose more lives or allow Ludendorff to find a weapon to extend the war.
Can Diana stop Ludendorff? Is he actually Ares? What will she think of man’s world and is she ready for the horrors of the front?
This movie’s major strength is Gadot, who not only looks the part as a strong warrior woman but who also captures the character’s journey very well. She excels in the action sequences and shows Diana’s steely determination throughout, while also doing well with the script’s more humourous aspects. She also shows Diana’s confusion and wonder at the things she encounters and the “fish out of water” vibe works well.
As Diana progresses she becomes disillusioned with mankind and the war, and the film is clever in avoiding merely blaming Ares for mankind’s conflict. When Ares faces Diana he talks about how the darkness was inside man and he just guides them to better weapons, hoping to destroy them and have the world return to the paradise it once was.
The war is hell aspect of the film is decent and a good angle, but the handling is poor. The horrors of war are shown in an oddly bloodless way, and while there are hints that both sides do wrong this does paint the Germans as the bad guys in a way which simplifies the complex reasons for WWI and the fact that neither side really held a moral highground.
Also, it’s hard to say that war is bad when the film delights in the Amazons’ fighting. The battle on the beach between Amazons and Germans is filled with slow motion, which is overused throughout. The Amazons’ skills are presented as cool and admirable, but it’s still basically war. And it feels odd that we get a sombre moment of a dying Amazon as though this is some great tragedy, when they have literally just killed half a dozen soldiers with arrows. It feels fumbled and half done.
That being said, the action sequences are, slow mo aside, quite well done, especially a sequence where Diana charges across no man’s land under heavy fire to save civilians. It’s a solid sequence and visually striking.
But in a way the problem here is that Diana is too strong, too powerful. There are only one and a half characters who can really go toe-to-toe with her and aside from these fights the rest of the battles feel one sided and lacking peril. It’s a similar issue that DC face with Superman, their heroes being too pumped up and often without decent foes.
But for the most part the movie works, landing more hits than misses and entertaining throughout. It’s definitely the funniest of the DCEU movies and a good background for the charcter, even if it doesn’t move anything forward. In fact it adds more questions, like what the hell has Diana been doing between 1918 and throwing down in BvS: DoJ?
Special mention should also go to Chris Pine who does good work here. He shares good chemistry with Gadot, and his Steve Trevor is a likeable character. Heroic without being too clean cut, Steve is a good counterpoint to Diana. Both see the horrors but Diana’s fresh eyes make her willing to deviate from their mission in a way his more jaded view is less inclined to do. And he acknowledges that people can be bad, whereas it takes a while for Diana to dismiss the idea that it is all down to Ares.
I’m definitely interested in seeing more of the character and it bodes well for the DCEU going forward as this is definitely the strongest entry since Man of Steel and left me excited for Justice League.
Verdict: Has it’s flaws but generally works quite well. Gadot is good as the lead and the script manages a decent balance in tone. Stumbles in places but manages to stride out with pride. 7.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I wasn’t happy to be going to see this yesterday because I really wanted to see Wonder Woman but MWF was in the mood for a comedy, and as she was paying she got the final say. Now, I love The Rock and have been impressed by Zac Efron over the years, but I didn’t like the look of this movie. It looked, well, dumb.
And it was. But in the best way.
Carrying a lot of the weight is Dwayne Johnson, taking over from the Hoff as Mitch Buchanan, head of the lifeguards. His easy, charming on screen presence anchors the film and he shows off some decent comedy chops, although this won’t surprise anyone who remembers his skill on the mic at the WWE.
In Efron he has a good partner, with Efron’s selfish, stupid jock clashing with no nonsense Mitch from the jump. Efron’s character, a disgraced Olympic swimmer is at times the audience’s perspective, wondering what a drug smuggling ring has to do with their role as lifeguards. This plot and it’s ridiculousness is played for laughs and this is a solid action comedy.
The action is overblown and well staged, with a particularly entertaining fight between Johnson and a goon taking place in a child’s bedroom, various toys being used as weapons.
There are a few pops at the old show, but it seems affectionate ribbing, highlighting the far fetched stories and stylistic choices. Pamela Anderson’s replacement as CJ Parker, Kelly Rohrbach is shot in slow mo repeatedly, which other characters comment on and it’s nice that when Pam shows up for her (disappointingly brief) cameo she appears in super slow mo.
The jokes come at a quick and steady pace, mixing slapstick, gross out and some decent one liners. It’s not a classic but entertaining enough and similar in tone to the Jump Street flicks.
Kudos should be paid to the supporting cast who all handle their roles well and get the tone right. A special stand out is Jon Bass who plays nerdy Ronnie, hopefully smitten with CJ. He steals a couple of scenes and is extremely funny.
It also means that David Hasselhoff has two entertaining movies under his belt this year, which is pretty surprising. And awesome. Although it does mean this has a confused relationship with the show. Two Mitch Buchanans? Two CJs? Huh?
Verdict: Johnson and Efron are charismatic leads and work well as a duo. Incredibly daft but amusing enough. Keeps the laughs coming. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Disclaimer: I have tried but there are a few spoilers ahead, so be warned.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a surprising gem of a movie, with James Gunn bringing a smaller, more obscure Marvel team to the big screen and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos. It’s among my favourites of the Marvel movies and so this follow up arrives with additional pressure the first didn’t.
Luckily it never allows this pressure to effect it’s performance and while a couple of gags are revisited, this strikes out into fresh territory.
Having saved the universe Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovered his father was not of Earth. This mystery continues to bug him, but he pushes it awau as he leads the Guardians. We find them defeating a gigantic space beast to the backing of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, the action largely in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the child reincarnation of the team’s living tree, dances about happily.
The team has been hired to stop the monster by the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Sovereign, a gold skinned race have bred their people to be the best they can be, and so view their citizens as too precious to risk. Their fee is the handover of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) villainous adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who they plan to hand over to the Nova Corps.
All goes well and they leave. Aboard the ship Peter apologises to Gamora for having flirted with Ayesha, but she brushes this off. Drax (Dave Bautista) advises Peter that he has no chance with Gamora and should instead find someone “pathetic” like he is. Shortly after the Sovereign chase them as on their way out the gruff, gun toting raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole valuable and powerful batteries from them.
Rocket and Peter argue about who is the better pilot and their struggle for control damages the ship. Luckily, the remote controlled pursuers are destroyed by a mysterious figure who arrives astride his own ship. The Guardians escape but crash land, their ship severely damaged.
Ayesha’s next move is to recruit Yondu (Michael Rooker), the alien who abducted Peter as a child to capture the Guardians. We learn that some of the crew think Yondu is going soft and that his team of Ravagers are outsiders to the other clans, with his old friend Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who says he is an exile because he broke the code, and traded in children.
The Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who is Peter’s father and a Celestial, beings with great power who live for millions of years. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and the musclebound Drax to teach Peter more of his past.
Rocket and Baby Groot remain to fix the ship and keep an eye on Nebula. Unfortunately, the Ravagers arrive. Yondu announces he has no intention of handing over the Guardians, as there is more money to be made from taking the batteries and selling them on. The crew view this as proof he is too soft on Peter, and they mutiny. Nebula, released by Baby Groot, intervenes and Yondu and Rocket are imprisoned.
Nebula heads after Gamora for revenge, and Yondu and Rocket learn they will be sold to former enemies. Yondu is also not happy to learn that Peter has gone to Ego’s home world.
Ego’s planet is an idyll where he lives almost alone aside from Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who he treats almost as a pet and who has no social skills due to being alone for so long. Ego reveals he is the planet and that Peter shares his ability to create things, and Ego wants to teach him about his powers and his purpose.
Gamora, however, is suspicious which causes friction between her and Peter. After an argument she storms off alone where Nebula attacks, they fight and then discover something Ego has hidden from them.
Can they trust Ego? Can Yondu and Rocket escape? Will the Sovereign ever stop hunting them?
I loved this movie, which captures the same vibe of the original, with solid action sequences, likeable characters and a funny, clever script. The plot hooks you in because early on the characters win you over, particularly Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, who’s cocky swagger is still in place but mention of his father in an early scene obviously hits close to home. It’s a great performance with Pratt managing to make the character cool despite his buffoonery and the fact that he often trips himself up.
The rest of the Guardians are solid throughout, and it’s a nice touch bringing Nebula back as her relationship with Gamora is fleshed out slightly. Also, the “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora develops nicely, and a lot is gained by underplaying it.
A lot of the publicity for the movie has focused on Baby Groot, and it’s easy to see why as he is straight up adorable and centre stage for some of the funniest moments of the film.
For me, however, the film’s strongest asset is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker is consistently dependable on screen (Cliffhanger, Mallrats, The Replacement Killers, The Walking Dead, Tombstone), and has far more to do this time round, which is good as he impressed me in the original. Here we learn more of Yondu’s past and it adds to the character, as does the development of his relationship with Star-Lord and Ego. The plot that sees him in exile from the other Ravagers gives him a certain vulnerability, and he’s brought low early on.
His comeback is impressive and one of the strongest parts of the film, and the sequence where he and Rocket escape, and he gets revenge on the crew who mutinied is a masterpiece, one of the most visually impressive, inventive and darkly funny action sequences I’ve seen in years, and worth the ticket price alone. And his “magic arrow” weapon is just badass.
Rooker’s softening of the character doesn’t mean that Yondu loses anything, and in fact, the character’s slow acceptance of his softer side coincides with the film’s major theme, which is about creating our own families. Yondu and Star-Lord’s father and son vibe, is well handled and Yondu is thereby placed opposite Ego, who slowly reveals a more sinister, cynical nature.
Ego is brilliantly played by the legendary Kurt Russell, who brings an easy charm to his early scenes. His laidback, jokey manner is similar to Star-Lord’s character and their bonding over the music Peter’s late mother loved is gentle and sweet.
Of course, all is not as it seems. Having won over Peter, his facade slips and the invented history he has created is shown to have been romanticised, but the film holds back one more revelation which delivers a gut punch to Peter and the audience, and serves as the turning point for the film.
The action, set on strange new worlds is glorious, the fights have energy and verve, with moments of humour dotted between the blows. The visuals are striking, and there are some nice nods to other Marvel worlds throughout.
But more than just looking great and keeping the laughs flowing, this movie has a strong emotional core. Ego’s shocking statement leaves the audience reeling, but come the end of the movie the other characters and how they work together has you emotionally invested, and breaks your heart. I’m not ashamed to say that during a sequence soundtracked by Cat Stevens I found myself welling up.
Thanos, the villain Marvel have been hyping since the first Avengers movie still lurks in the background, but this serves less as a movie to move the MCU forward, and more a film to move the characters forward. The films pulls the team closer together and the promise at the end that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” is one I’m very happy about.
A strong contender for the best Marvel film yet, and current frontrunner for film of the year.
Verdict: Builds well on the first movie, adding more to the characters and their relationships. It’s entertaining from start to finish, with superb action, humour and a decent plot. An utter gem. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.