‘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

 

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Throwback Review: The One That Made Everyone Cry

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Guardians of the Galaxy was successful beyond anything even Marvel head Kevin Feige imagined.What director, James Gunn, accomplished with the film was outstanding and thus, Feige immediately ensured that Gunn would return for the sequel. Anticipation for the sequel was sky-high, with many fearing that it would not be able to live up to expectations.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who finally meets his father but realises that he may be hiding something.

What made the first film such a hit was that it fully embraced the wacky nature of the characters and put an emphasis on fun. Naturally, the sequel continues this style whilst also telling a more mature story. Right from the opening scene, featuring a brilliant tracking shot of Baby Groot dancing to Mr. Blue Sky as the rest of the Guardians take on an impressive GCI creature. This sequence, whilst thoroughly entertaining, has been criticised for being too self-indulgent, apparently desperate to better the iconic dancing Groot mid-credits scene from the first film. However, the sequence works perfectly to reinforce the tone that the audience can expect whilst also firmly establishing the Guardians’ personalities as they each react differently to the situation at hand.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has superb visuals that truly showcase the sense of epic grandeur that the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) presents. The film is stunningly beautiful and features several of my favourite shots within the MCU. The characters of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) look exceptional, although nowhere near the magnificent quality of the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy.

The cast remains the most entertaining ensemble of the MCU. Chris Pratt continues to prove that Gunn and Marvel landed the perfect actor to portray their charming hero, despite the initial fan concerns over Pratt’s casting back in 2013. Pratt has fantastic chemistry with Zoe Saldana, as the relationship between Quill and Gamora resembles something out of a sitcom, with Cheers getting a great reference itself. Dave Bautista was the surprise package of the first film, crafting the character of Drax to be a complex but lovable family man overwrought with anger. His delivery of comedic lines proved to be very effective and, therefore, he is promoted to the primary source of comedy in Vol. 2. The rest of the cast all get moments to shine, however, the real standout of Vol. 2 is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker’s role in the first film was disappointingly small but regardless the character proved to be a fan favourite and as a result, James Gunn gifted Rooker with a much more significant role in the sequel. Yondu is very much the heart and soul of Vol. 2, serving as the emotional core of the film. Rooker’s performance in Vol. 2 remains one of the standout performances among the supporting players of the MCU. Another character that receives a more significant role is Kraglin played by James Gunn’s brother, Sean (who also does the motion capture for Rocket). In the first film, Kraglin was nothing more than Yondu’s sidekick, however, the sequel further explores their relationship, showcasing that whilst Yondu is Peter’s surrogate father, Kraglin and Yondu are like brothers.

Among the newer cast, there are two standout performances from Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Kurt Russel as Ego. Mantis’ interactions with Drax are utilised as the primary source of comic relief, and Klementieff blends in with the rest of the Guardians with ease. The casting of Kurt Russel as Ego, brought cries of joy for almost everyone, regardless of whether or not they were fans of the comics. He is easily one of the best villains of the MCU, largely thanks to Russel’s fun performance. The revelation that Ego is Peter’s father should have been saved for the film, but unfortunately, Marvel revealed this during Russel’s casting announcement.

A common criticism of the MCU is that deaths seemingly never stuck. There was always a loophole that allowed the character to be resurrected. It happened with Coulson (Clark Cregg). It happened with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). It happened with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). It has happened so often that death has lost all emotional impact…or so we thought. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has without a doubt the most heartbreaking death in the MCU, even if that’s not saying much. The death of Yondu brings a real sense of poignancy to a film that constantly feels like a film where the characters are never really in any danger. It’s a deeply emotional end for a brilliant character and Michael Rooker is a presence that the MCU will really miss, provided he stays dead of course.

Romance is another factor where the MCU is often considered to be failing at. However, the relationship between Quill and Gamora continues to be a tender, often beautiful romance that remains unique as, despite being two films in, the pair are yet to act on their feelings. Their relationship feels real because both films take the time to explore their characters and let the relationship blossom naturally, instead of forcing the duo together and expecting the audience to believe in their relationship.

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That being said, the film has a major issue with its secondary villains: the Sovereign. They are simply, too cheesy and despite the wacky nature of the film, feel totally out-of-place in Vol. 2. They offer nothing to the overall plot and instead end up being a distraction more than anything. This wouldn’t be a major problem if the film didn’t feature them as much as it does.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is extremely limited in its scope. It makes sense that this decision was made, considering the personal nature of the film, however, the overall structure of the film feels wrong. The pacing is all over the place and often makes it hard to be invested in the overall narrative.

The first film managed to not only top box office sales, but also the music sales thanks to its incredible soundtrack. Unfortunately, while the soundtrack of Vol. 2 is good, it is totally unmemorable compared to the first’s. Some of the songs feel a little on the nose in terms of their placement in the film.

In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an extremely fun but an ultimately subpar sequel that despite offering interesting new characters, is a little too self-indulgent, with many of its standout moments feeling like sequences out of a “greatest hits” showreel.

Rating: 7.7/10

‘Doctor Strange’ Throwback Review: The One That Really Wastes It’s Talented Cast

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

Prior to release, out of all the characters in Marvel comics, very few were as popular as Doctor Strange, that still had not received their own film. As the years have gone by, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continued to evolve, with the introduction of the cosmos in Guardians of the Galaxy and the introduction of magic with Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a renowned surgeon who, after a brutal car accident, is left unable to operate. Desperate to regain the use of his hands, he travels to Nepal to learn the mystic arts, where he becomes entangled in a fight to save the universe.

Firstly, the films boasts arguably the most stunning visual effects in the MCU. The scenes featuring the astral plane and the alternate dimensions are well crafted, with the opening sequence, in particular, looking extraordinary. The action that takes place within the astral plane and alternate dimensions are inventive and director Scott Derrickson proves himself more than capable of helming exciting action sequences despite his background largely revolving around the horror genre.

Another aspect of the film that succeeds with is its humour. Although it follows Marvel’s typical approach to comedy, it is arguably more successful than the majority of other MCU films as none of the jokes fall flat, something which happens frequently when watching other MCU films. What is really surprising, is that the best of the comedy on offer revolves around the Cloak of Levitation and its interactions with Strange.

There are four standout performances in Doctor Strange that elevate the film, adding a real sense of humanity to the film. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as the Ancient One. She steals the show, remaining the most interesting character in the film. There was some controversy of white-washing with her casting, as the character in the comics is traditionally, of Asian descent. Fortunately, Swinton’s performance as the sorcerer has been considered good enough, by comic book fans, to ignore the issues around her casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Mordo, a complex man who, by the end of the film, begins his journey towards a darker path. His performance is, like the character, complex and I cannot wait to see what Marvel do with the character in the future. The Benedict duo (Cumberbatch and Wong) also fit in perfectly within the MCU, with Cumberbatch’s Strange seemingly destined to be the next leader of the MCU, similar to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. That being said, Cumberbatch’s attempt at an American accent leaves a lot to be desired.

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Doctor Strange, like the majority of MCU films, has a serious villain problem. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is about as forgettable a villain as you can get. He offers nothing to set himself apart from other MCU villains which have themselves been labelled forgettable such as Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Malakith (Christopher Eccleston). There really is nothing to say about him other than he is incredibly forgettable, and was a complete waste of Mads Mikkelsen’s talents and time.

Most MCU films, with the exception of a couple (The Incredible Hulk and Thor), have third acts that are, at the very least, entertaining. The same cannot be said for Doctor Strange. The third act is quite frankly, terrible. Strange creates a time loop and essentially holds Kaeciliu’s boss, Dormammu, hostage until he agrees to simply pack up and go away. It was a good idea from the writers to try something different with the third act, however, it simply did not work and ends up being anti-climatic.

Lastly, the major problem with Doctor Strange is that it totally wastes its talented cast. Despite having the talents of Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt, none of them are given anything of significance to do. McAdams is stuck being a nurse that helps Strange out and although it is implied that there is history between her and Strange, it is never expanded on and therefore, her character feels entirely unnecessary. As for Stuhlbarg, it is disgraceful that an actor of his calibre is nothing more than the butt of jokes from Strange. The only acceptable excuse for casting Stuhlbarg in the role is that Stuhlbarg himself refused a major role in the film. I’m still not sure why Derrickson even bothered casting Stuhlbarg as his character remains one of the most insignificant not just in Doctor Strange, but in the entire MCU. The same could be said for Benjamin Bratt’s character, who ends up being nothing more than an exposition machine.

In the end, Doctor Strange is a fun but ultimately forgettable entry in the MCU. Propelled by stunning visuals, the film serves as a fine introduction to magic within the MCU but leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: 6.7/10