12 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review


Now, look. It'd be easy for me to sit here and shit all over Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, because it's just that kind of movie. Big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy is rarely a combination that results in critical success thanks to how easy it is to feel superior to the movie in question, and the dozens of articles written only to tear down Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in the most verbose, scathing way possible bear that out. But as entertaining as those articles are to read, director Luc Besson's latest is a film that while certainly not for everyone seemed to operating on my exact wavelength throughout - and try as I might, this big, bold, colourful, earnest and downright goofy film is one that I simply can't force myself to be cynical about. If enjoying Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is wrong, then buddy, I don't want to be right.

After a great little montage takes us from the modern day to the 28th Century, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows special agents Valerian and Laureline as they keep the peace on Alpha, the space-borne city that the ISS has morphed into over the best part of a millennium. It's inhabited by hundreds and hundreds of different alien species, all there to share their knowledge and expertise with the rest of the universe - but after Valerian receives a strange vision of a dying planet and the leaders of Alpha are attacked at a summit held to discuss a radiation leak at Alpha's center, Valerian and Laureline are forced to go off the grid in order to figure out what exactly is going on.

3 August 2017

Dunkirk review


Christopher Nolan is often accused of being an emotionless director, and while it's a criticism I've only ever half agreed with in the past, Dunkirk certainly doesn't provide much of a counter-argument. It's a movie he's been wanting to make for the last 25 years, one he deliberately put on the back-burner until he felt that he had enough experience directing blockbusters to do it justice - so why is it that Nolan's pet passion project a quarter of a century in the making feels so... well, passionless?

To be perfectly clear, it's not that Dunkirk is ever anything less than finely tuned and impeccably crafted, it's that there's simply not much more to it than that. By weaving through three overlapping time-frames that each follow a different part of the evacuation - land, sea and air - Nolan is able to ensure that the pace never dips for even a moment while also giving Dunkirk the ability to explore three very different types of action, and it is this variation that allows Dunkirk to remain spectacular throughout. It is, in effect, a roller-coaster, and as such its entertainment value comes far more from the up and downs along the way than than it does actually reaching its destination.

25 July 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes review


I can't help but feel that in ten years time, we're going to look back at the Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot trilogy and be amazed. Both Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offer smart, complex, emotionally engaging science fiction for adults on a blockbuster budget - frankly, it's a minor miracle that they even exist in a time when studios seem more risk averse than ever, never mind that they've somehow avoided the kind of interference that has hindered so many movies of late. It's that which has marked this franchise out as something truly different since the beginning, and War for the Planet of the Apes takes that to the next level by delivering not just one of the best, most satisfying conclusions to a trilogy I've ever seen, but also a genuinely brilliant and artistically uninhibited piece of cinema that is quite unlike any other big budget film you're likely to see this year.

Set a couple of years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar and his clan at war with a military faction that are obsessively hunting them. After a peace offering from Caesar to the Colonel leading the faction backfires, Caesar orders his clan out of the woods and across a desert in order to ensure their safety - but motivated by revenge, he chooses to enter the heart of darkness in order to find and kill the Colonel himself.

13 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming review


Between the love still held for Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and the damage done to the brand by Marc Webb's abortive Amazing Spider-Man rebooted franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming was always going to find itself in something of a difficult position, culturally. Even ignoring how unlikely it was to live up to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a film that's still arguably a genre high-point over a decade after release, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tasked with offering a fresh take on a character already well-established in pop culture while also delivering on the promise of finally seeing Peter Parker exist as part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe - maybe more than any other MCU film to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is burdened by some heavy expectations, to the point where it would have been far too easy for it to end up disappointing.

Fortunately, that simply isn't the case. It may not reach the dramatic or emotional heights of Spider-Man 2, but by giving us a Peter Parker who looks and acts like a genuine teenager, avoiding any hint of an origin story and maybe most importantly delivering hard on the comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to avoid retreading the same ground as previous films without leaning too heavily on its links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, in short, exactly what it needed to be, and the result is a film that's simply delightful.

30 June 2017

Baby Driver review


As far as elevator pitches go, "a car chase movie where the action is synced to its soundtrack" is a pretty great one, especially when it's coming from none other than Edgar Wright himself. As the man behind the brilliant Cornetto Trilogy and the still under-rated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it's clear that Wright is maybe the most inventive and original writer/director working today, and with a pitch that great I was sure that as with his previous films, his latest would be another film I'd love dearly - so why is it that Baby Driver left me cold?

It's something I've been pondering since leaving the cinema, and ultimately I think it comes down to a question of individual taste rather than objective quality. Baby Driver is just as tightly-crafted as any of Wright's previous movies, utilising his almost trademark fast-paced editing style in combination with a non-stop soundtrack and some neat choreography to create something that feels totally unique, stylistically - unfortunately, it's all in service of characters and a story that I simply couldn't force myself care about, and all the style in the world can't make up for that.

19 June 2017

The Mummy review


Opening with a good 10 minutes or so of extended flashbacks and unengaging, blandly narrated exposition, The Mummy is a film that starts off badly and only goes downhill from there. That's probably not going to come as too much of a shock thanks to the laughably unimpressive trailers and the critical mauling that it's already received, but that doesn't make it any less true - The Mummy fails at pretty much everything that it attempts, whether that be simply entertaining its audience for 110 minutes or getting us excited about future films in what Universal were hoping would become a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque shared franchise. This is the studio's second attempt to revitalise their old Universal Monsters properties after Dracula Untold failed to set the world on fire three years ago, but already I think it's pretty safe to say that The Mummy's Dark Universe won't fare any better - it certainly doesn't deserve to, that's for sure.

The Mummy follows Tom Cruise's Nick Morton, a soldier/treasure hunter in modern day Iraq who accidentally unearths the tomb/prison of Ahmanet, a Princess who was kept hidden from history after selling her soul to the Egyptian god Set and attempting to give him a physical form. After freeing herself from her sarcophagus by causing the plane she's being transported in to crash, Ahmanet resumes her efforts to give Set a physical body, and decides that Nick is the perfect vessel for that.

6 June 2017

Wonder Woman review


There's a lot riding on Wonder Woman, the latest DC superhero film from Warner Bros, and not just because it's the first female led, female directed superhero film of the modern era. The previous three films in the DC Extended Universe have all underwhelmed to various degrees, either critically, financially, or both - all eyes are on Wonder Woman to prove that there is value to be found in this franchise yet, and while obviously imperfect at times, I'm pleased to say that it manages to do just that. It's taken far longer than it should have, but the DCEU has finally delivered a film that is genuinely worth seeing, flaws and all.

Told as an extended flashback framed around the photograph she was trying to reclaim in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman sees Diana Prince getting involved in the First World War after learning of its existence when American spy/pilot Steve Trevor crashes his plane into the sea surrounding her home, the island of Themyscira. Concluding that only Ares, the God of War, could be behind this madness, Diana travels to London and later the Front with Steve to kill Ares and put an end to the war once and for all.

27 May 2017

Colossal review


Colossal might have been advertised as a quirky, high concept indie comedy, but that's really not an accurate representation of it at all. It's funny at times, sure, but maybe not in the way that trailers would indicate, and comedy certainly isn't where the focus of Colossal lies. Instead, it's part relationship drama, part "emotionally stunted adult returns to their home town" film and, bizarrely, part monster movie, all of which is used to mediate on self-destructive behaviour and abusive relationships in a surprisingly earnest and sobering way.

Yes, it's an odd film. But importantly, it's also a very good one.

We follow Gloria, an alcoholic party girl who moves back to her home town following a bad break-up in New York. Living out of any empty house that her parents used to rent out, she soon runs into an old school-friend who offers her a job at his bar - but after a night of heavy drinking, Gloria begins to suspect that she might be in control of a gigantic, Kaiju-esque monster that, since she moved back home, has been periodically rampaging through Seoul, South Korea.

20 May 2017

Alien: Covenant review


To say that Ridley Scott's Prometheus didn't receive the warmest of receptions upon release would be something of an understatement - to this day it's considered to be a punchline amongst franchise fans, a reputation that has clearly influenced the development of its quasi-sequel to a large degree. Alien: Covenant is a film that feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a feature length piece of franchise course correction, and how much that works for you is likely going to depend on how much you like Prometheus - but as a newfound fan of Prometheus following a recent rewatch, I can't help but be conflicted by a film that while well-intentioned, seems all too happy to throw its predecessor under the proverbial bus.

Set a handful of years after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they travel through space on their way to a planet they are tasked with colonising. Awoken early from hypersleep by a neutrino shockwave that damages the ship, they stumble upon a nearby planet that would be even more suitable for colonisation than their current destination, and send a group down to investigate. It should probably go without saying that things go badly for the crew.

4 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review


After just under a decade of consistently producing some of the best blockbuster entertainment each year, you can be pretty sure that you're in for a good time if you go to see a movie with the Marvel Studios title card in front of it, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - the fifteenth(!) film in the ever expanding franchise experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe - offers no exception to that. Fans of the first film are going to find a lot to enjoy here, and while this review may come across as very critical at times, it's important to take that alongside the knowledge that despite being noticeably more flawed than its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still an entertaining, engaging film in its own right, and one that I personally enjoyed very much.

The comparisons that you might have seen made between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back are apt, and not just thanks to this films status as a space opera sequel. It too makes the decision to split up its core characters for much of the film's running time, allowing it to tackle its two main threads at once - one following Peter Quill and some of the Guardians as they meet Peter's biological father for the first time, and the other following Yondu Udonta and the rest of the Guardians as he re-examines his life (and his relationship with Peter) following a chance encounter with an old ally.