‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ Review: An Unnecessary Sequel That Exceeds Expectations

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Firstly, it needs to be said that this review has been written almost two weeks after I saw the film, and as such, is much shorter.

Following the surprising box-office success of Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic, Oscar-nominated, Sicario, Lionsgate quickly announced a sequel. The announcement was met with mixed reactions, as it did nothing but scream “money grab”. Expectations for the film dropped significantly when it was confirmed that neither Villeneuve or cinematographer Roger Deakins would return. Soon after it was announced that star Emily Blunt would not be reprising her role either, furthering damaging expectations for the sequel. Despite the fact that both Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin would be reprising their roles, anticipation for the sequel was rather low.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado continues the story of Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). After a terrorist attack, Graver recruits Alejandro for a mission to reignite a war between rival Cartels, of whom the US Department of Defense believes responsible for transporting the terrorists into the United States.

Villeneuve’s film was shockingly brutal and, thankfully, the same can be said for the sequel. The film sets its tone with a heartbreakingly realistic scene that deals with an issue that the world has become all too common with: suicide bombings. It’s a scene that doesn’t hold back and immediately establishes the themes and plot elements that drive the narrative. As the film goes on, it further pushes the boundaries in terms of its representation of governments. The first film established the corrupt and morally ambiguous decisions made by governments around the world on a daily basis. The sequel advances these representations of governments, who plot to turn the Cartels against each other by kidnapping the teenage daughter of a Cartel Kingpin and making it appear as though his rivals are the kidnappers. It’s an act that questions the audiences faith in their own government, whether they are American or not.

While the sequel is lacking the talents of Emily Blunt, it still has a strong female performer that truly stands out as a potential star: Isabela Moner. Playing the teenage daughter of a Cartel Kingpin, she is repeatedly required to go to extreme levels of emotional distress and she succeeds every time. Considering her co-stars involve both Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, it says a lot about her talent, that she manages to completely steal the show. Her character, Isabella Reyes, is a compelling standout. Right from her introduction, her character’s personality is established as a self-sufficient teen, however, upon meeting Alejandro, her vulnerable nature is revealed in a brilliant dynamic that bears similarities to the pairing of Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Laura (Dafne Keen) in Logan. While their dynamic is interesting, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t spend enough time developing their relationship.

The pairing of Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin was brilliant in the original film, with both cast members delivering outstanding performances. So its pleasing to see that the pair once again deliver fantastic performances. Granted, its nowhere near being career-defining performances, but both are still brilliant nonetheless.

One thing that sets the sequel apart from its predecessor is the increased focus on action. Sicario had a few shootouts and explosions, but they were extremely small in scale. Although the shootouts in Day of the Soldado are still smaller than the average film about Cartels, they remain thoroughly entertaining, regardless of their brief nature.

Additionally, much like the first film, Day of the Soldado is filled with suspense. This is largely due to the fact that the film has no clear protagonists or antagonists. Every single character, including Isabella Reyes, have dark sides to their characters, and this leads the audience to question the character’s motives and the morality of their actions. Day of the Soldado succeeds because it returns the audience to the dark corner of the world that the first film introduced and manages to perfectly recapture the panic-inducing tone of Villeneuve’s film. The soundtrack, composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, strikes the same eery tones of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original score, which adds another sinister level to the tense scenes throughout the film.

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Of course, Day of the Soldado definitely misses the presence of Villeneuve, (who is one of the best directors working today), and his frequent collaborator Roger Deakins (who is one of the best cinematographers working today). Although the directing and cinematography is done well, it often comes across as an attempt to copy the works of Villeneuve and Deakins. Another presence that the film does miss is Emily Blunt. She provided the emotional elements to the original film, and while Isabella Moner is exceptional in Day of the Soldado, Blunt’s charisma still seems frustratingly forgotten.

The script suffers from really poor pacing. Unlike Sicario‘s script, (which was nominated for several awards), Day of the Soldado‘s just feels somewhat incomplete. This is largely due to the film’s desperate desire to suddenly reach its conclusion. As the film approaches its final twenty minutes, all plotlines begin to wrap up instantly, with very little resolution. This proved to be the most frustrating aspect of my viewing experience. I wanted more of Isabella Reyes’ relationship with Alejandro, as there is nowhere near enough time spent focusing on their dynamic, which in the brief time that they spend together, was the most interesting aspect of the film. I wanted more resolution to the various character arcs introduced in the film. Unfortunately, the film employs a typical sequel bait ending, which fails to inspire confidence in the planned threequel. The sequel bait ending would not be as big an issue if the film didn’t rush to it. However, it does and it will leave the audience feeling unsatisfied as if they have only seen 3/4 of the film before it suddenly jumped to the final scene.

Furthermore, it needs to be said that the film is completely unnecessary. The overall plot does very little to advance the hanging plotlines of Sicario, and at times, is overly convoluted. This results in an irritating viewing experience, despite the fact that the film is still thoroughly entertaining. Throughout the film, the narrative frequently cuts back to a teenage boy, who has recently joined the Cartel smuggling operation. If done well, this could have been an interesting subplot, however, every single time the film cut back to him, I found myself annoyed and just waiting to get back to Alejandro and Isabella. The subplot is ultimately an unnecessary subplot in an unnecessary sequel. However, unlike the film as a whole, this particular subplot is far from entertaining.

Lastly, the film completely and utterly wastes two extremely talented actors: Matthew Modine and Shea Whigham. Modine is reduced to the typical government official, appearing in just two scenes. He does what he can with the role but given his limited screen time, is just another example of wasted talent. However, there remains a chance that he could return in the threequel, where he should be given a more significant role. As for Shea Whigham, he is given the most injustice by Day of the Soldado. Limited to just one scene, Shea Whigham (who I believe to be one of the most underrated actors around) has once again been trapped in a meaningless role, which will only further convince Hollywood that he should only ever be cast in minor roles. Unless a miracle happens, Shea Whigham is destined to join the list of incredibly talented actors who struggle to get any major roles after their television shows have ended.

In the end, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an unnecessary but mostly satisfying follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s film.

Rating: 7.0/10

 

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ Review: The Worst One Yet?

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

The Jurassic franchise is currently in a situation that many franchises experience at their fifth entry. Those in charge need to ask themselves a question: “What must we do now to keep the franchise fresh and the audience interested?” The Fast and Furious franchise brought the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson onboard and he turned the series into a Goliath at the box office. Die Hard decided to introduce John McClane’s son, played by Jai Courtney, as an agent of the CIA, and the results were the exact opposite. Franchises nowadays need to take risks to stay relevant, and unsurprisingly, this wields mixed results. The Jurassic franchise decided to take its major risk in the fourth entry, Jurassic World, by introducing the concept of hybrid dinosaurs. The idea is interesting as well as being a bit absurd, but what made it successful is that the film acknowledges this. The characters repeatedly make jokes about having to constantly add more ‘wow-factor’ to please the customers, which is, of course, a reference to the film industry having to constantly evolve to keep up with its ever-changing audience. Although I had my issues with Jurassic World (basically anything to do with Vincent D’Onofrio’s character), I liked it for what it was: a studio film desperate to reignite the love for a franchise that hadn’t released a film in 14 years. So as someone who liked Jurassic World and as someone who has always had a fondness for the franchise, I was optimistic about the sequel to Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 film.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes place three years after the events of Jurassic World. The park has since been abandoned, however, after the discovery that the volcano on the island is preparing to erupt, a team return to Isla Nublar to save as many dinosaurs as they can.

Firstly, the best aspect of the film is the chemistry between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as Owen Grady and Claire Dearing respectively. The pair has a great onscreen relationship that is a pure joy to watch. Fallen Kingdom advances their relationship by adding drama to their dynamic as the pair have both dated and separated since the events of Jurassic World. As a result, there is a fun romantic and sexual tension between the pair that adds plenty of humour to a rather darker entry into the Jurassic franchise. The relationship is believable largely due to the charismatic performances of both Pratt and Howard. It is hard to picture the film being as enjoyable to watch with other actors in the roles.

In the lead-up to release, director J.A Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) emphasised that the film was heavily influenced by the horror genre, a genre that Bayona has experience in with his Spanish language film The Orphanage (Originally titled, El Orfanato). The film has some exceptional horror imagery, clearly inspired by the classics of the genre, that are utilised superbly by Bayona who crafts some genuinely terrifying scares. The horror aspect of the film is most prominent during the second half of the film, once the narrative takes the action away from Isla Nublar and into the confines of a mansion. Once inside the mansion, the film has clear parallels to classic haunted house films, easily making it the scariest Jurassic film yet.

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Traditionally, children have been the most irritating aspects of the films, however, that is not the case with Fallen Kingdom. The film features a genuinely compelling subplot revolving around Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), the grand-daughter of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), former partner of Jurassic Park founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Maisie is an entertaining character to watch, who doesn’t irritate even once. However, there is a twist involving Maisie which I have very mixed feelings on. Its something that some fans will love and others will absolutely hate. Regardless, newcomer Isabella Sermon has a bright future ahead if she so chooses to continue her acting career as she not only holds her own against Hollywood A-listers but actually outshines them repeatedly.

A criticism that many had about Jurassic World was the inconsistent visual effects. Thankfully, the visual effects in Fallen Kingdom are consistently impressive. Some may argue that the practical effects from the original film still hold up exceptionally well, which they do, but the CGI in Fallen Kingdom is so good that you often forget you’re watching computer created creatures.

Nowadays, Michael Giacchino appears to be Hollywood’s “go-to-guy” for memorable, high-quality scores. His work perfectly feels at home in the franchise, echoing the darker tone that director J.A Bayona was going for. His score may not be as memorable as the one he composed for Jurassic World but it does the great John Williams proud.

During the marketing, the standout moment used to build hype for the film was the volcanic eruption sequence. The time the film spends on Isla Nublar is disappointingly brief, however, remains the most entertaining part. As the narrative returns the characters to Isla Nublar, the film manages to emphasise a sense of nostalgia, not just for the previous film, but also the original 1993 Spielberg-directed classic. The eruption sequence is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, with the reunion between Owen and his velociraptor friend Blue being a highlight of the film. Fallen Kingdom has a serious underlying message about animal rights, and it’s given serious attention during the events on Isla Nublar, as the volcano erupts, the characters are forced to watch helplessly as many Dinosaurs meet their tragic end. It is easily one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire franchise, and the film is visually stunning during the sequence. Although the film has several standout moments, none are as memorable as the volcanic eruption sequence. It is simply a fantastic piece of thrilling entertainment. However, it does have flaws which I’ll get in to later.

A final positive is Daniella Pineda’s character, Zia Rodriguez. Sarcastic and sassy, she is one of only two interesting new human characters to grace the screen in Fallen Kingdom. She doesn’t have that much to do, but whenever she appears on-screen, she is a delight to watch.

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Now on to the negatives, and there are so many that I won’t get into every single one here. Firstly, in typical Jurassic fashion, the humans are idiots. However, Fallen Kingdom takes this tradition and amplifies it to frankly absurd levels. Characters act in ways that no sane person ever would, and it becomes such a frustrating viewing experience that I was repeatedly hoping for characters to be devoured. The script, written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, is really poor, and at times, laughable. There is literally a moment where Claire performs a blood transfusion on a T-Rex because she attended a blood drive once. Somehow, that gives her the knowledge to carry out the transfusion on a prehistoric animal. It’s so mind-numbingly stupid.

Although I had mixed feelings regarding the introduction of hybrid dinosaurs in Jurassic World, the Indominus Rex was a terrifying presence throughout the film. The same cannot be said for the hybrid creation in Fallen Kingdom, the Indoraptor. That could be because it doesn’t actually appear until halfway through the film. However, when it finally does show up, it pales in comparison with the Indominus Rex. It’s repeatedly labelled as the “most dangerous creature to ever walk the Earth” but the film fails to justify this labelling. The Indominus Rex was capable of camouflage and out-smarting humans, meanwhile, the Indoraptor simply looks scary.

Returning to the flaws I had with the volcano sequence, it like the vast majority of the script, is mind-numbingly stupid. I was worried about the sequence, after watching the trailer, where we saw Owen trying to outrun a pyroclastic flow. As it turns out, he does, and I burst out laughing while watching it unfold. Prior to that scene, Owen faces further danger from lava, whilst partly paralysed. He does a little dance on the ground and escapes from it. Once again, I burst out laughing. It’s a desperate attempt at humour but ends up being too funny for its own good, and totally compromises the darker tone that Bayona was aiming for.

The Jurassic films have had serious problems with its human characters since the original film. As such, the audience tends to care more about the dinosaurs than they do about the humans. One of the highlights of the previous Jurassic films were the highly entertaining and over-the-top human deaths, emphasising how little the audience care about the humans. Unfortunately, there are actually surprisingly few human deaths in the film, and therefore, Fallen Kingdom lacks one of the main draws of the franchise. Furthering the topic of poor characters, two new additions portrayed by Rafe Spall and Toby Jones come across as nothing more than cartoon corporate villains. They would be more suited in a Nickelodeon cartoon than in a Hollywood blockbuster. Additionally, whilst Pratt’s character Owen is a lot of fun, Fallen Kingdom turns him into a full-blown superhero. At several points in the film, he seemingly takes on an entire squadron of soldiers single-handedly. Owen was set up as a badass in Jurassic World, but Fallen Kingdom turns him into a full-blown superhero and it is as unbelievable as him outrunning a pyroclastic flow.

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Out of all the details that built hype for Fallen Kingdom, none were as significant as the news that franchise veteran Jeff Goldblum would be reprising his role as Dr Ian Malcolm. Granted, very few people expected him to have a major role, but very few will expect him to have as small a role as he ends up with. Considering the fact that Goldblum has been a significant factor of Fallen Kingdom‘s press events, it is so heartbreakingly disappointing that he has what is essentially a one-minute cameo, that both opens and closes the film. Stan Lee tends to get more screentime in his Marvel cameos, than what Jeff Goldblum has with his “supporting role”. Out of all the disappointments with Fallen Kingdom, this was the most devastating.

Another new character that steals the show for all the wrong reasons is Franklin, portrayed by Justice Smith. Easily the most insufferable character in the film, he spends every second of his screentime whining and telling everyone how scared he is. He becomes such a nuisance that you are actually hoping that despite not being a villain, he suffers a horrific death. He may not be the most annoying character in the franchise, (that is still Téa Leoni’s Amanda Kirby from Jurassic Park III), but he is definitely a close runner-up.

Lastly, the ending is Jurassic Park III all over again. The ending of Jurassic Park III is so despised that Jurassic World opted to ignore it completely. So I was blindsided by the decision to end Fallen Kingdom in such a similar way that it did nothing but infuriate me. If the introduction of hybrid dinosaurs wasn’t a good enough clue that the Jurassic franchise is officially out of ideas, then the ending definitely is. Also, there is a post-credits scene but it is absolutely worthless. All it does is reinforce the ending. The credits last roughly six or seven minutes, and then a twenty-second clip occurs which adds nothing new to the film. I just recommend that you wait for the film to be released on Blu-ray then you can fast forward to it. It really is that worthless.

In the end, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fun but ultimately forgettable entry which adds nothing new to the franchise. It instead chooses to rely on the “greatest hits” of the previous films, and unfortunately, the nostalgia only does so much. It may not be the worst film in the franchise, but it is certainly the dumbest.

Rating: 6.0/10

 

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review: A Prequel That Fails To Justify Its Existence

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Following the mixed reception to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, there was a lot riding on Solo succeeding, not only at the box office but with the fans as well. The Last Jedi was considered by many to be not only the worst Star Wars film of the Disney era but the worst film in the entire franchise. I personally liked it. It was by no means a perfect film. It had many flaws, most notably the over-reliance on, what some have coined: “Marvel humour”. The film did succeed in enhancing my excitement for the future of Star Wars, although it did nothing to improve my excitement for the next entry in the blockbuster franchise. Solo is a film that no-one was asking for, that no-one wanted and a film that appeared to be nothing more than a quick cash grab. It didn’t help that the film went through a hellish production, with original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie), being fired from the project with weeks left of the original filming schedule. This announcement shocked the world and fueled countless rumours regarding their firing. The most persistent rumour was that the duo was taking far too many risks with the film for Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy’s liking. Anticipation for the film was seriously damaged by the duo’s firing, as many, including myself, were mainly intrigued by Solo due to the prospect of Lord & Miller directing. Ultimately, Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush) was swiftly brought on to the project, reshooting almost the entire film in the process. Howard’s hiring was rather uninspired, and it emphasised that Lucasfilm were unwilling to take any risks with Solo.

The film seemed to have everything going against it right from the start, with the minimal fan excitement to its initial announcement, to Lord & Miller’s firing, to the worrying rumour that Disney was so disappointed by star Alden Ehrenreich’s performance, that they hired an acting coach. The marketing did little to inspire confidence in the man initially deemed worthy to play everyone’s favourite scruffy-looking nerf herder. Thankfully, Alden Ehrenreich proves himself to be more than capable of taking on the role made famous by Harrison Ford 41 years ago. He oozes both arrogance and charm, whilst also bringing a sense of naivety to the character which is something we have never seen before. Yes, he is no Harrison Ford, however, he is a perfectly capable replacement and has managed to further prove that the fans are not always right. Solo also showcased the first-ever meeting between the iconic duo of Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Their initial interaction is both clever and entertaining, and the development of their bond was handled well.

Although the marketing failed to inspire confidence with Alden Ehrenreich, it certainly succeeded with Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. The general consensus was that Glover was perfectly cast. He doesn’t steal the show as many predicted but he does steal almost every scene he is in. The film does a great job of further exploring the character, and Donald Glover has fantastic chemistry with Ehrenreich, which makes the developing friendship of Han and Lando all the more believable. Prior to the film’s release, rumours began swirling that Lucasfilm was already considering giving Lando his own spin-off film, and if the positive responses to Glover’s portrayal of the cape-wearing smuggler continue, it’s hard to see Lucasfilm passing on the idea.

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Traditionally, the droids were always my least favourite part of Star Wars. Granted, I did love R2 (who doesn’t?!) but they always felt a little shoehorned in, and some (C-3PO) are just downright annoying. However, with the new era of Star Wars, that has all changed. The Force Awakens introduced the world to BB-8 and he stole everyone’s hearts. Rogue One introduced K2-SO (Alan Tudyk) and he was the standout character of the entire film. Solo introduces L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s droid companion (and object of his affection!). Sarcastic and, quite frankly, hilarious, L3-37 is the franchises first major female droid and despite the fact that she is made up of wires and metal, she is arguably the character that brings the most emotion and humanity to the film. The character won’t be as well-remembered as the loveable BB-8 or the rude K2-SO, but she should be.

As you’d expect from a Star Wars film, there are plenty of stunning action set pieces to enjoy. Ron Howard crafts thoroughly entertaining action scenes that despite being smaller in scale than the other films, are no less impressive. The highlight is easily the long-awaited Kessel run which shows why Han Solo is considered to be one of the best pilots in the galaxy. Naturally, as the Kessel run is set entirely in space, it should come as no surprise that the set-piece was heavily reliant on visual effects, something which Star Wars is famous for excelling at and it does so with Solo.

The Star Wars franchise is considered to be one of the most expansive fictional universes ever created with 41 years of history. So it continues to amaze me, how well the franchise continues to grow. Some of the planets, such as Han’s homeworld of Corellia, have been a part of the Star Wars universe for decades, although none have ever been seen on the screen before, big or small. Solo does an excellent job of introducing audiences to new worlds that feel perfectly at home in the Star Wars franchise. It is incredibly interesting to explore the influence that the Galactic Empire has in the farther reaches of space. I also appreciated that although the film is set during the period of the Empire, it doesn’t focus on them. This is a heist film and the Empire are merely background extras in the narrative.

Star Wars has a history of iconic musical scores, predominantly from the living legend, John Williams. However, with the standalone films, Lucasfilm is giving other talented composers a chance to craft their own scores that will forever be associated with the galaxy far, far away. Michael Giacchino scored Rogue One in just two weeks, and it is astonishing that it’s as good as it is. For Solo, however, John Powell was given much more time and it shows, as he has created what is easily the best Star Wars score within the Disney era. Bringing a real sense of epic grandeur to a rather small-scale film. His score continues the franchises’ legacy of brilliant music that will be remembered forever.

A final positive is that the film does have some genuinely magnificent surprises. There were several moments where something happened that I had not expected and yet totally loved. However, the biggest surprise is something that fans of the prequel trilogy will surely love and had my jaw on the floor, and I’m not going to lie, I got a little teary-eyed.

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That being said, this film has a LOT of problems. Firstly, the lighting is absolutely terrible. The film is so dark that it is often a real challenge to watch. The opening ten minutes of the film really suffers from poor lighting as it was almost impossible to actually see what was happening. I found myself questioning whether the cinema’s projector wasn’t working, however, as the film went on, it became clear that there was nothing wrong with the projector, but the film. I was not the only one to think this, others came out, complaining that they struggled to see the events of the film unfold.

Although The Last Jedi has come under serious criticism from fans, the one thing that most people agree on is that the film was unpredictable. That is not the case with Solo. Apart from the MASSIVE surprise that features in the film, the primary narrative is one that audiences have seen time and time again. It is so blatantly obvious that Lucasfilm wanted to play it safe with Solo as the film repeatedly shies away from taking any risks whatsoever with its script. The predictable nature of the film is epitomised by the characters of  Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) who follow the typical mentor and love interest clichés that Hollywood has been using for decades and as a result of this, their arcs are obvious as soon as they appear on the screen.

The film is seriously held back by its opening act. It simply takes far too long to get going and spends far too much time establishing character arcs that are never going to be concluded, at least on the screen that is. It’s irritating that a film with a 135-minute runtime can feel so incomplete. Solo has a real pacing issue as the opening act is far too slow, whilst the final act is far too quick. It’s as if writers Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote, The Empire Strikes Back) and his son Johnathan Kasdan, realised that they had spent too much time with the opening act and so they just ended the film abruptly. The film rushes towards its conclusion, leaving the audience largely unsatisfied.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Solo is that it frequently underutilises its most interesting characters. One of the standout characters was Rio (Jon Favreau), an entirely CG created character, who was actually the funniest character in the entire film. From the moment he appeared on-screen, I was intrigued. Therefore, I was frustrated with his character’s minimal screentime. Another interesting character that was completely sidelined for the majority of the film was Val (Thandie Newton). Her character was a bit of an enigma in the marketing, with a mere three shots of the character from two full trailers. This, of course, led to prevalent rumours circulating around her character’s role in the film, with some believing that she may be the main villain of the film. As it turns out, the reason she barely appeared in the marketing, is because she is barely in the film. Another frustrating example of Disney hiring great actors for tiny roles. Then there’s the villain, Enfys Nest, who was the other main enigma from the marketing. The character is barely worth mentioning as they bring nothing to the film. Nothing whatsoever.

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Solo is a film that is guilty of relying on nostalgia. It tries so hard to evoke the emotions of the audiences that grew up with the original trilogy through its aesthetic look and tone. One of the major surprises that I mentioned is a prime example of Solo relying too much on nostalgia, with the only difference being that it is an attempt to evoke nostalgia for the prequel trilogy. Granted it worked wonders for me but it will almost definitely do nothing but frustrate the older generations who have nothing but contentment for the prequels.

I was feeling let down right from the start of the film. Traditionally Star Wars films have an opening title crawl, supported by John Williams’ spectacular fanfare. However, Kathleen Kennedy has repeatedly stated that the standalone films would not have these, as supported by Rogue One‘s lack of fanfare and opening crawl. This has left many fans disappointed but not me. I actually appreciated that Lucasfilm was trying to make the standalone films unique. So I was annoyed when Solo begins with what is essentially a title crawl. Instead of STAR WARS being plastered across the stars followed by three paragraphs, the events of the film are explained in three paragraphs, in the same font format as “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. It feels like a cheap tactic to have an opening crawl. I wanted the film to show me the story not tell it, but considering how poorly the film is lit, it’s probably a good thing they explained the film to me as I would have seriously struggled to follow what was happening.

Arguably the greatest crime that Solo commits is that it does absolutely nothing for the Star Wars franchise. It doesn’t push the franchise forward in exciting new directions like The Last Jedi did. It doesn’t significantly deepen the characters of Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. It simply has them take part in exciting action scenes, firing blasters and flying the Millennium Falcon. It truly is an unnecessary addition to the Star Wars franchise that fails to justify its existence.

Lastly, this is more of a nitpick but the film actually chooses to show why Han Solo is called Han Solo! If there was an interesting reason for it, that developed the character further then it wouldn’t feel so out of place. However, it does. It is thrown into the script as casually as a Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel film.

In the end, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a forgettable entry into the Star Wars franchise. The film not only fails to add anything significant to the character of Han Solo, but it fails to justify its existence as anything more than a cash grab. Not as bad as The Phantom Menace and definitely not as bad as Attack of the Clones, however, the film is of a lower quality than all of the other entries in the franchise, and marks a real low point for the Disney era of Star Wars.

Rating: 6.2/10

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ moves to August because of the World Cup!?

This is just going to be an extremely short post (it’s basically a rant) based on the news that just angered millions of Brits.

So despite the love that the world has for Marvel right now, following the release of the highly acclaimed Avengers: Infinity War, it seems that the love is not mutual on Marvel’s part, as they just announced that the next film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would be releasing in the UK later than expected, a whole month later. Originally scheduled to be released on the July 6th, the sequel to Ant-Man will now be released here in the UK on August 3rd, whilst for the majority of the world, it remains July 6th.

It’s bad enough that the film has been pushed so far back from the rest of the world, but what makes it frankly insulting is the reason behind this move: the FIFA World Cup. Hosted every four years, the greatest sporting event in history returns, this time in Russia, as 32 national sides compete for the greatest trophy in the entire sport of football. It is so popular that Marvel is afraid that the entire population will be so captivated by the month-long event, that no-one will go out to see their film. Now I love football as much as the next guy but considering Scotland didn’t even qualify, and watching England get humiliated will only last about a week, as they’ll be knocked out in the group stages, I have no personal interest in the tournament. You’d think that Marvel would want to capitalise on the World Cup by advertising it during matches, to grab the attention of fans, who would perhaps go see the film once the match has ended. Apparently not.

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There’s also the fact that not every Brit likes or even cares about football. People who would much rather sit down in a cinema, watching their favourite characters on the big screen, are being forced to wait a full month longer than the entire world (except China probably). This also brings up the fact that in today’s society, through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, information is shared instantaneously, meaning that we will have to try to do the imaginable: survive a full month without being spoiled. It’s incredibly likely that fans will be spoiled sometime between the worldwide and UK releases, which could quite possibly kill much anticipation for the film. As a result of it, fewer people will feel the need to part with their hard-earned cash to go see a film which they know every single thing about.

It’s safe to say that the decision to delay Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s UK release by a full month, is not only insulting to UK fans of the MCU but a decision that could greatly backfire on the studio in terms of their financial gain, as well as their reputation here in the UK.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Review: There Was An Idea…

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Quite possibly the most ambitious film ever created, Avengers: Infinity War had expectations that were seemingly insurmountable. A film which, ten years ago, audiences never expected to see. Following the glowing receptions to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, it’s no surprise that Marvel trusted the Russo brothers to helm the film, replacing the departing Joss Whedon.

Avengers: Infinity War tells the story of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) quest to wipe out half of the universe. However, he finds himself challenged by those that refuse to bow down and accept their fate.

The film has a story of gargantuan nature. This should come as no surprise considering that there are 18 films prior to Infinity War that in some way or another, set up this film. The film feels epic in scope as Thanos genuinely presents a threat to the entire universe. Similar to other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War tells a story that spans the entire franchise, meaning that the narrative takes the characters to places already familiar to audiences whilst also introducing new locales. Despite already being 18 films in, the MCU continues to expand and the worldbuilding in Infinity War is as good as it has ever been.

There was a lot of excitement and nervousness with the sheer number of major characters that were going to appear in the film. Although the film can feel overpopulated at times, seeing the characters interact, some for the first time, is a sight to behold. There is an especially hilarious interaction between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). It’s not a major interaction that affects the plot in any significant way, however, it does a brilliant job of establishing the character dynamics and sets the stage for what ends up being a side-splitting running gag. Although the cast is overfilled, and some characters have bare minimum roles, everyone gets a chance to have their own individual standout moment. Out of all the heroes, the Guardians are easily the highlights, with a smart sense of humour and surprisingly, act as the core of the emotional weight in the film. Nonetheless, although this film is called Avengers: Infinity War, this is Thanos’ film. He is the main character and an extraordinary one at that. Right from the opening five minutes, he makes his presences known as a real and terrifying threat to the universe in a tense opening scene. What makes Thanos an extraordinary character is that his motivations are rational. His plan to wipe out half of the universe actually makes sense. Not only that but he too has a great deal of emotional baggage that sets him apart from the majority of other MCU villains, and cinematic comic book villains in general. I was particularly worried about the fact that he is a completely CGI creation. We’ve seen villains like this in the past that look terrible (*cough* Doomsday in Batman v Superman *cough*). Thankfully, he looks amazing, as he should for a film with a budget somewhere between $300-400 million and Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the ‘Mad Titan’, in a role he was seemingly born to play.

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Another concern that many fans had was regarding the humour and just how much would feature in the film. The Russo brothers adopted the same approach that they made towards Civil War, with humour that is mostly subtle (except with the Guardians) and not overshadowing the gravitas of the situation at hand. There are times, when the jokes do feel totally out-of-place, considering the events that unfold throughout the film. However, for the most part, Avengers: Infinity War successfully continues the grand tradition of Marvel comedy, whilst also focusing on the dramatic, emotional aspects of the narrative.

There are several new additions to the MCU in Infinity War, but none make such an impression as the Black Order. It’s very rare for secondary villains to make much of an impression on the audience but Thanos’ children, the Black Order, especially Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) do just that. Creepy and powerful, Ebony Maw has such an intimidating presence that I’m a little disappointed that he wasn’t the main villain in another film. The rest of the Black Order are more mixed, although impressive in design, they offer little more than punching bags for the heroes. That being said, they are involved in a particularly excellent action sequence set in Edinburgh which actually serves as their main introduction. I just need to say how bizarre it is seeing several of the Avengers running around Waverley Station considering I’m there almost every week. The Black Order was a good addition although it’s just unfortunate that they weren’t used more and that the most interesting of them all had the least screentime.

The MCU has been very much a mixed bag in terms of visual effects, with The Avengers often looking like an expensive TV production. That is not a problem that Infinity War faces as the visual effects are among the best of the MCU, with its CGI creations including the characters Thanos and the Black Order, and exceptional fully CG locations. There are a couple of moments, most notably during the battle of Wakanda, that has been heavily featured in the trailers, where the CGI is very noticeable. However, these moments are minuscule and do not distract from the brilliance of the rest of the visual effects.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a real sense of emotional weight to the film. By the end, you really do feel that nothing will ever be the same for the characters or the universe. We have spent, in some cases, a decade with these characters on our screens and whenever a beloved character is in pearl, the audience feel the dread hit them like a hurricane as there is a real sense of danger in the film thanks to the fantastic opening five minutes. As the film played out, I found myself becoming emotionally invested in Thanos, as he is so expertly written to be a complex, thought-provoking character.

One thing that the film excels at is surprises. There are so many surprises in this film which of course I won’t spoil. I will say one surprise, in particular, made me jump in my seat with excitement and left my jaw on the floor.

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As expected, having seen The Winter Soldier and Civil War, the Russo brothers craft more enthralling action set pieces. There are several great moments of action spread throughout the entire film but none are as epic or impressive as the final thirty minutes. It’s so frustrating trying to write about it without spoiling it so I’m just going to say that the final thirty minutes alone are worth going to see Infinity War for. I’m also just going to say that the ending is the greatest ending to a comic book film ever. Quite simply incredible.

So although there are a lot of positives with Infinity War, it is not a perfect film. The cast is far too big and there is far too much going on at the same time. The film tries to balance all of the storylines that unfold, repeatedly switching between them but as there are so many, it often means that by the time we return to certain ones, a reminder of what was happening is actually needed. It becomes a chore to remember everything that is happening and the characters that are involved. One particular storyline that I hated was Thor’s. He ventures off on his own task and every single time it cut back to his storyline, I internally groaned as it was vastly inferior to the other storylines. There was some confusion over whether or not Peter Dinklage was a part of the cast, however, his role was eventually confirmed by one of the posters. Again, I won’t spoil it, but he is involved with Thor’s storyline and it was a role that really could have been done by anyone.

Furthermore, as there are so many characters, it’s not surprising that there is very little character development for anyone other than Thanos. After all, this is his film and he does have the most screentime. The film is relentlessly paced (which is certainly not a bad thing), but it does often leave the characters in its wake. The film initially sets up potential developments, but more often than not, never follows through on them.

Lastly, although the battle of Wakanda is excellent, it is just the heroes fighting another CGI army. As a result of this, it is often videogame-esque in its design. It is blatantly apparent at times that the actors are punching at nothing, which is, of course, frustrating.

In the end, Avengers: Infinity War is a thoroughly entertaining, though not perfect film that succeeds despite all the odds against it.

(Also just a heads up. Stay until the very end as mirroring Iron Man, there is a post-credits scene that teases the future of the MCU)

Rating: 9.4/10

 

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Throwback Review: The One That’s Basically A Comedy

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

First off, it needs to be said, that as of writing this, I have just returned from seeing Avengers: Infinity War, and therefore, my thoughts are currently trying to decipher what I just saw, whilst also focus on writing this.

After the mixed receptions to Thor, and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, Marvel decided that a change was needed, and therefore, they hired Taika Watiti to direct the threequel, Thor: Ragnarok. Anyone familiar with his work on films such as What We Do in the Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, know that Watiti has a very distinct, humourous tone. His hiring drew ire from some fans, concerned that his style of filmmaking was unsuited for a Thor film, whilst others praised his appointment as bold and courageous on Marvel’s part. For me, I think there is a valid argument to be made that both were right.

Thor: Ragnarok continues the story of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who returns to Asgard, only to find his brother on the throne and his father missing. However, that proves to be the least of his concerns as the mysterious Hela (Cate Blanchett) arrives to claim the throne for herself.

Taika Watiti’s DNA is all over Thor: Ragnarok. The use of vibrant colours and excessive comedy is vintage Watiti. He clearly decided that the film needed to abandon its Shakespearean elements to focus on simply being a loud, hilariously fun adventure. This is where Ragnarok succeeds the most. It is ridiculously fun. No other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has put as much emphasis on fun as Ragnarok has, not even the Guardians of the Galaxy films. He handles the action elements well, with the sequences feeling like something straight out of an over-the-top 80’s action film, (possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger).

The cast is all brilliant and handles the change in tone with ease. Chris Hemsworth gives what is easily his greatest performance as the ‘God of Thunder’ in the MCU. It is obvious from watching his performance, and that of the entire cast, that everyone enjoyed the filming process. Mark Ruffalo also delivers a great dual performance as both Bruce Banner and the Hulk. However, its safe to say that the film is at its best when Ruffalo is the Hulk rather than Banner. As you’d expect, Tom Hiddleston has fantastic chemistry with Hemsworth, with the interactions between Thor and Loki remaining the highlights of the film. There are several new cast members that standout as scene stealers in a film with great performances all around. The first is director Taika Watiti, who did the motion capture and voice-work for Korg, and from the fan responses, it is clear that Korg is the fan favourite from Ragnarok. He perfectly reflects the overall tone of the film with his humourous, sarcastic nature and every scene he appears in is a joy to watch. The other standout newcomer is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. Badass, rude and with a devastating past, the character is the most interesting addition to the MCU in a while, and I can’t wait to see what Marvel does with the character in the future.

Hulk has never been better. Fans were shocked when it was revealed in the marketing that Hulk could talk in almost-full sentences, and were rightfully expecting many hilarious interactions between the big green monster and the God of Thunder. Thankfully, the film, with its emphasis on comedy and fun does not hold back in this regard. There is a real sense of a child-like innocence to Hulk, who throws tantrums and is chased around like a curious toddler throughout the film. As for the fight between Thor and Hulk, that the marketing was so reliant on, well it’s short but brilliant. Hopefully, we’ll get ‘Round 3’ in a future film.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film is hilarious. It is the funniest film in the MCU by miles, with every single joke landing with great effect. However, some have criticised that Ragnarok is too funny for its own good. Having rewatched the film several times, there is definitely an argument to be made for this. Considering that Ragnarok is an apocalyptic storyline, and the amount of death that occurs in the film, it’s disappointing that none of it feels important in the least. This is all down to the fact that the film barely goes two minutes without a joke that, despite landing well, still feels forced. Thor loses so much, including his friends but doesn’t even seem to care because he never stops cracking jokes. The film never takes a moment to linger on the ramifications of what happens. As the Asgardians watch Asgard be annihilated by Surtr (Clancy Brown), it should be a sombre moment, instead, it acts as the signal for more jokes. There are several supposedly major deaths in the film, but as a result of the film’s handling of them, the audience is left to question whether we were ever supposed to care about them. This is especially true for The Warriors Three: Fandrall (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). All three are eliminated in seconds and there is never any emotional reaction from anybody. Their deaths actually end up distracting, and it may have been better to completely remove the characters from the film.

A major issue with the film is that despite being marketed as the main villain, Hela is barely in the film. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is the real villain of Thor: Ragnarok. I have been trying to figure out just what went through the heads of those in the writers’ room to actually think this was a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff Goldblum as much as the next guy. That being said, there is no acceptable excuse for the Grandmaster being in the film more than Hela. He imposes no threat to the characters, whilst Hela was beginning to shape up into a genuinely great villain. Cate Blanchett gives a good performance and it’s just frustrating that she is relegated to the sidelines for the majority of the film. Can you imagine if, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan (Lee Pace) was still the main villain, but The Collector (Benicio del Toro) had more screentime than Ronan? It’s a pretty ridiculous idea, and yet Thor: Ragnarok does this with the Grandmaster and Hela. If I had the opportunity to ask Taika Watiti one question, it would be: “Why on Earth was the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok more than Hela”. I’d love to get an answer to that because it is really boggling my mind.

The actual script is all over the place. The film spends mere minutes with Hela and the underused new character, Skurge (Karl Urban), before returning the focus to Thor for a significant amount of time, before returning to Hela briefly, seemingly picking up moments after the last time we saw her. It is so disjointed that I found myself getting worked up over the convoluted storytelling technique that Watiti chose to follow.

Unfortunately, Thor: Ragnarok falls victim to the mixed visual effects of the MCU. Granted, some shots are stunning, with the city of Sakaar looking especially spectacular. However, there are far too many effects, that despite the film being less than a year old, already look dated. The excessive green screen backgrounds are incredibly distracting and disappointing, considering the film’s $180 million budget. The film is too reliant on CGI which will make the film look pretty pathetic, from a visual standpoint, in years to come.

In the end, Thor: Ragnarok is an extremely fun, hilarious film in the MCU. The film could easily be considered as too unique with its overuse of comedy and disregard for the past, however, that does not stop it from being a complete blast.

Rating: 8.6/10

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Throwback Review: The One That Did Spidey Right

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the film that many fans dreamed of but were confident that they would never get. Why on Earth would Sony let a moneymaker like Spider-Man out of their hands? Well as it turns out they didn’t have to for the fans to finally see the web-slinger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland) return to his normal life following the events of Captain America: Civil War. After receiving a suit from Tony Stark, Peter becomes desperate to prove himself and finds himself in the crosshairs with the Vulture (Michael Keaton).

After making his introduction in Civil War, the general consensus appeared to agree that Tom Holland’s performance as Peter Parker was the best incarnation of the web-slinger ever to appear on the screen. He perfectly captured the enthusiastic nature of the character but also the more dramatic, emotional character moments. Despite his youthful age, Holland proves himself more than capable of leading a Hollywood blockbuster.

The rest of the cast is great, even though it is overloaded with talent. Jacob Batalon steals the show as Peter’s best friend, Ned. His childish enthusiasm after learning of Peter’s alter ego makes for a truly joyful viewing experience.  The romance between Peter and Liz (Laura Harrier) is sweet and feels natural, something which the majority of MCU romances don’t. There are also fun performances from the likes of Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, and a particularly hilarious cameo from Chris Evans as Captain America. However, although Zendaya delivers a great performance as Michelle (or MJ) she is ridiculously underused, even though she will clearly have a larger role in the sequel.

When it was confirmed that both Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau would be reprising their roles as Tony Stark and Happy Hogan, respectively, fans cheered like crazy. Seeing Iron Man interact with Spider-Man was something fans never thought they would see and yet they did. That being said, there were concerns that both, mostly Iron Man, would be overused, and the film would end up feeling like Iron Man 4. Thankfully, director Jon Watts keeps their roles to a bare minimum, allowing the characters to have great individual moments but never stealing the spotlight away from Peter Parker. After all, this is his story.

Marvel has always had a villain problem, but recently, with films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the villain problem is apparently becoming less of an issue. The Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton, is easily one of the strongest villains of the MCU. He is intimidating and the twist involving his family is still, after multiple viewings, shocking.

Jon Watts absolutely nailed the tone. Spider-Man: Homecoming echoes the classic John Hughes films of the 80s with its themes. There’s even a clip of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the film. The film just oozes fun, similar to how Guardians of the Galaxy embraces the fun nature of comic books.

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As I mentioned earlier, the cast is overloaded with talent. There are far too many cast members in the film. Abraham Attah, Angourie Rice, Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress,  Logan-Marshall Green, Martin Star, Michael Chernus, Michael Mando and Selenis Leyva all appear in minimal roles which could have been filled by anyone. It just ends up distracting seeing so many recognisable actors with roles which average out to around thirty seconds of screentime.

I am not going to go too in-depth about the continuity issue that Spider-Man: Homecoming has created for the MCU, but it is frustrating that something as major as a timeline error that contradicts every other MCU film failed to set alarm bells off among the executives at Marvel, especially Kevin Feige.

In the end, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic return home for the web-slinger. Tom Holland is easily the best incarnation of the iconic hero in a film which also boasts one of the best villains in the MCU.

Rating: 8.6/10