‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ (2018, PG)

Is “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” a spider-y success or a comic book catastrophe?

Set in an alternate Universe to the one we are used to, “Into the Spider-Verse” follows Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) after he is bitten by a mysterious radioactive spider, and realises he has developed the same super-powers as the web-slinging vigilante that protects him and the rest of New York — Spider-Man! But, things soon take a turn for the worst when a plot to create a rift in the space-time continuum is discovered, which could cause multiple Universes to collapse in on each other and merge with dangerous consequences. These dimensional disturbances, however, have unforeseen consequences when Miles discovers he is not the only Spider-Man in the multiverse — in fact, every Universe seems to have one!

“Into the Spider-Verse” is an animated film, coming from a studio who’s previous works include the critically slammed “The Emoji Movie” and the very average “The Smurfs” film series — don’t let this put you off. This film is almost a piece of art, it’s so beautiful to watch; the colours are magnificent, the cinematography fantastic, and it’s all pushed forward by a powerful combination of score and soundtrack. I feel that you could take almost any of the frames from this film and hang it on a wall as a painting. Animated films have their origins in the hand-drawn cartoons and comics of old, and “Spider-Verse” taps into this by incorporating features of the classic comic-book panel into this motion-picture — giant “KABOOM”s when punches are thrown, thought and speech bubbles with each character, even the iconic caption boxes to describe time passing and character’s intentions. In a landscape of boring and simplistic 3D animations, this hark back to more traditional methods is delightfully refreshing and engaging.

The pitfall that most of these modern animations fall into, I think, is being too targeted at children — the characters lack depth, the narratives lack meaning, and the script is just a string of crude jokes loosely linked together. “Spider-Verse” bucks this trend completely; it’s less a kid’s film and more a film that is suitable for children, though frankly I think most adults would get more enjoyment from it, especially those who are fans of comic-book heroes such as Miles Morales and Spider-Man. The humour in this film was fantastic, subtle but enough to make all of the audience laugh out loud, and “Spider-Verse” is a masterful showcase of silent comedy — things only have to be shown, not told. The characters as well have real depth and are developed well enough for the narrative to progress smoothly, and there are some real emotional moments between them throughout the film. They are also voiced to perfection by the excellent cast of actors — my favourite had to be Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, though his part was relatively small his lines were delivered in a way that could be both hilarious and poignant. The story of “Spider-Verse” is also complex enough to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, but not overly complicated to lose focus and get bored. It was paced to perfection, and though it did feel at parts some events took much less screen-time than they could have, it didn’t ever detract from the story and in fact just helped to keep the narrative going and not get bogged down in less exciting areas.

Overall there isn’t much to fault with “Into the Spider-Verse”, so I won’t! It is a superb example of original animation, and shows that filmmaking truly is an art. It is a must-Watch for hard-core comic book fans and casual viewers alike, and thus deserves a ten-out-of-ten.

10/10.

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“Creed II” (2018, 12A)

Is this boxing sequel a box office knock-out, or will it leave you feeling like you’ve had a punch in the gut?

After making his name as a formidable boxer during the events of 2015’s “Creed”, Adondis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) continues to honour the legacy of his father, Apollo Creed, while trying to carve his own path away from the shadow of the past. But, when the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) — the man who killed Apollo in the ring — challenges Adondis to a fight, he must risk history repeating itself and put everything on the line, and face the menacing Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

2015’s “Creed” was a fantastic and fitting continuation of the “Rocky” saga, and its sequel continues this trend. The expert cast from the first film all return, including Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone. Jordan is still the stand-out, and he captures the emotional turmoil of Adondis Creed’s story so perfectly, that by the climactic ending scenes I couldn’t help but empathise with the intense emotions portrayed on screen. Tessa Thompson is also outstanding as Bianca, Adondis’ partner, and it was their natural chemistry that I felt made the first film. Though some of the scripting at the beginning of “Creed II” somewhat limited this, their performances still shone through, and by the end all woes were forgotten. Even the newcomers to the cast, playing the ‘villains’ Ivan and Viktor Drago, were excellent, capturing the raw and intense emotion both characters held, but also managing to make me feel a pang of guilt and sorrow for the two men at the end of the film — Munteanu and Lungruden especially balance the act of making a compelling and threatening villain, yet at the same time one who the audience can feel sorry for. Then, of course, there’s Sylvester Stallone, returning as Rocky Balboa, revered former World Boxing Champion and Adondis Creed’s mentor. Though his role is somewhat diminished in this sequel — signifying Creed’s quest to make his own legacy without the help of the past — Rocky is nonetheless a key player, and Stallone captures the tired yet determined character perfectly.

The plot of “Creed II” is somewhat predictable in places, yet this is not a film to be seen if you’re expecting complex and twisting narratives. The beginning may seem a little rushed but for me I didn’t mind it as it meant the main bulk of the story could kick in as soon as possible. This sequel did have quite a few nods to its predecessor, such as locations visited and camera shots used, yet in that latter part I felt this film lacked some of the creativity the first brought — Ryan Coogler, who expertly directed 2015’s “Creed”, utilised some really original camera work, especially the long, one-take, swirling shots used to capture some of the boxing bouts. “Creed II”s director, Steve Caple Jr., opts for some more traditional filming techniques, though sometimes I did wish his shots were a little more intimate to fully capture the raw emotion the actors portrayed.

Of course, the defining feature of the “Creed” films are the action, and “Creed II” does not disappoint. Each punch is hard and loud, and the film does not shy away from showing some of the brutal injuries that can be sustained from boxing. The sound design used to emphasise the power behind each hit, the excellent make-up to highlight the pain inflicted with each shot, all works together to form some gripping scenes. The driving force of these fights, however, is the awe-inspiring score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, merged seamlessly with the range of specially commissioned songs from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams. The powerful lyrics and orchestral crescendos made my hairs stand on end, and when the iconic Rocky theme plays at the climax of the film, albeit only briefly, a shiver went down my spine. All this culminated in a cinematic experience not to be missed, displaying this violent art in a way that’s both beautiful and brutal.

Overall, “Creed II” is a strong sequel and had a tough act to follow, and though the loss of arguably one of the best directors working now at the helm led to this film losing some of the artistry of its predecessor, it still packs a punch emotionally and with its action. For that, it deserves a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10.

https://youtu.be/u22BXhMu4tI

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“First Man” (2018, 12A)

Is “First Man” an out-of-this-world biopic or an Apollo mission atrocity?

“First Man” is the true story of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), the first man to walk on the Moon, and follows him from his beginnings as a NASA test pilot right through to his lunar landing in 1969. It’s an intimate, personal story of the man behind the helmet, focussing on his life at home and his work at NASA, and his famously modest and quiet personality.

“First Man” is the third major picture from director Damien Chazelle, and his previous 2 films — 2014’s “Whiplash” and 2016’s “La La Land” — are amongst my favourites of all time. I was understandably excited, then, when I heard Chazelle’s latest film would be a biopic of a hero of mine, Neil Armstrong, but also apprehensive; “Whiplash” and “La La Land” were both completely original scripts, with fast-paced narratives featuring emotive and intense characters, all fuelled by jazz music. How did Chazelle cope then, adapting a story known to almost all, about a calm and level-headed astronaut, visiting a place where you can’t even hear a breath, let alone jazz music!

I must say, if you’re someone who suffers from motion sickness, this film probably isn’t for you — all the shots in the film gives the appearance of being handheld, and this affect is brought to the maximum when the film cuts to scenes inside the cockpit. The opening is a brilliant example of this as it follows Armstrong on a test flight in the early 60s. At points, it’s almost impossible to work out what’s occurring on screen as the camera shakes with the movement of the plane, and the lighting is subtle and constantly moving, only adding to the intensity and drama of the scenes. Chazelle also utilises a technique he used a lot to good effect in “Whiplash”, focussing on the details of sets to convey the story, such as an altimeter clicking up and down, or an attitude indicator rolling from side-to-side. This, coupled with the shaking camera and also shots almost from the perspective of Armstrong himself, really immerses the viewer in the scene and I couldn’t help but hold my breath in some scenes on-board.

The intimacy of these scenes are only added to by Ryan Gosling’s strong performance as Armstrong. He does well to capture the subtlety of the astronaut’s character, his quiet, subdued and somewhat stern personality, but also there are moments of real emotion in his performance. It was Claire Foy’s performance as Janet Armstrong that was really powerful, though, and she really emphasised the fear but pride felt by the astronauts’ wives back home.

This film does have some problems, however, namely it’s third act. The final set-piece, depicting the climactic launch of the Saturn V rocket that took Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas), featured some pretty below-par CGI, and for a film that has been without music for the majority of the run-time, it is only for this scene that a generic score is introduced and it almost disconnects the audience, especially after the intense, near-silent scenes in the cockpit before.

Overall, “First Man” is an intimate story about a man whom many know little about, featuring some really excellent scenes within the cockpit. It’s stripped back storytelling at it’s best, and so earns a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10

https://youtu.be/w4GtJB5WAlQ

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“King Of Thieves” (2018, 15)

Is this based-on-a-true-story, star-studded heist movie a diamond in the rough or does it not make the cut?

Based on the true story of the Hatton Garden robbery of Easter 2015, “King of Thieves” follows a group of veteran, over-sixty burglars headed by Brian Reader (Michael Caine), who break into the highly secure Hatton Garden jewel vaults and make-away with an extraordinary amount as a final farewell to their life of crime. But, when the lure of money and greed takes hold, the band of robbers (headed by a cast including Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay and Jim Broadbent) soon turn on each other, and their masterplan begins to unravel, with dangerous consequences…

When news of the Hatton Garden robbery first broke back in 2015, people were already predicting it’s silver-screen adaptation, and this is the second time the astonishing narrative has been adapted after last year’s “The Hatton Garden Job”. The advantage that “King of Thieves” has over it’s counterpart, then, is its outstanding cast of British veteran actors, none more famous then Michael Caine, who is excellent in one of the lead roles. Jim Broadbent also does a great job of capturing the character of Terry Perkins, one of the real-life burglars, and giving a slightly unsettling performance at times. That is one thing this film does well: it doesn’t do too much to try and “de-villainise” the main characters and the film always reminds us through some often witty but also cruel dialogue between the characters that these aren’t pleasant people.

Though branded as a heist movie, the actual heist in “King of Thieves” doesn’t really take up much of the run-time and occurs pretty early on in the plot. It’s also a little lacking in drama and adrenaline-pumping action, but is probably much more accurate to what really took place, which I prefer for a film like this. My only issue, though, is that the plan for the heist — and other plot points of the film — weren’t clearly shown to the audience, and though I’d rather not have an awkward, forced scene where a character explains a plan to the group for the sake of the viewer as is common in most heist films, it was at times a little tricky to full grasp what was going on.

Overall, “King of Thieves” is a well-acted, exciting heist movie, that does well to tell the latest “too-good-to-be-fiction” to come from the world of real-life crime, and deserves a solid seven-out-of-ten.

7/10.

https://youtu.be/AkQHNgeg–Q

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“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018, PG)

Is “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” a super-trouper sequel, or does it leave you calling S.O.S?

Set five years after 2008’s musical hit “Mamma Mia!”, “Here We Go Again” tells the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she discovers what life was like for her mother, Donna (Lily James/ Meryl Streep),  before she became an overworked hotel owner, and how she lived and enjoyed her life with the young Sam (Jeremy Irvine/Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), all to the soundtrack of some of ABBA’s greatest hits.

If the first ‘Mamma Mia!” film isn’t your cup-of-tea, then I doubt you’re going to enjoy this one. However, that’s not to say that “Here We Go Again” is just a re-run of the original — there are some key differences to this sequel that really set it apart from its predecessor and make it even more enjoyable to watch.

I think the best thing about “Here We Go Again” has to be the cinematography — perhaps not what you’d expect from a feel-good musical film, but it has to be said. The composition of the shots, use of colour, and especially the transitions from scene to scene (especially when the film cuts from present to past) show that there must’ve been a creative eye behind the camera on this film, one who was keen to make this more than just a mash of ABBA tunes. The choreography of the dancing in the musical scenes was also superb, and though some of the actors’ and actresses’ singing could be better, the songs were all enjoyable and fitted with the plot very well — even if they weren’t ABBA’s biggest hits for the most part, though some of the fan favourites from the first film were repeated in this one.

My biggest gripe with the film, really, was its plot inconsistencies across from the first film, such as dates that really didn’t add up, and some bigger things to do with the characters’ personalities as a whole. However, if you take the plot an film at face-value, and don’t overthink it too much as I do, it’s reasonable, if a little jumpy at times as it cuts from present to past. I found this was mainly at the beginning, though, and by about thirty minutes in the cuts across time all felt natural and made for, as aforementioned, some really creative camera work to transition across.

I felt most of the actors gave good performances, especially those who had leading roles, though I do feel that the writer’s did seem to create completely different characters for the younger versions of Sam, Bill and Harry than what we’re told they were like in the first film. There is, though, one performance from the film that stands out as being a little lacklustre, and that’s from Cher — her character is briefly shown in the trailer, and (without giving too much away) that’s about all you see of her in the film, along with a bit of an underwhelming rendition of one of the more well-known songs that feature in “Here We Go Again”. Her character didn’t add anything to the movie, and neither did her performance.

Overall, though, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is a fun, well-produced musical with some strong performances and excellently choreographed dance pieces. It’s also shot exceptionally well, and for the most part does well with cutting back-and-forth across time. It does have quite a few plot inconsistencies and does miss-out on featuring most of the more prominent ABBA songs, but is an enjoyable movie to watch and so deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

 

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“Incredibles 2” (2018, PG)

Is “Incredibles 2” an awesome animated sequel, or a superhero-family-flop?

Picking up straight after the events of 2004’s “The Incredibles”, this long-awaited sequel follows Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and the rest of the Incredible family as they embark on a mission to bring superheroes out from hiding and revoke the law banning their existence. But as Elastigirl continues her crime-fighting life, Mr. Incredible is left to look after their super-powered children, and is finding domestic life a challenge.

This film has been awaited since the first one came out fourteen-years-ago, and so when it was first announced by Pixar in October 2015, there was much excitement and hype surrounding it. Has it lived up to it? For you to decide, but hopefully this review can help.

Right from the start, this is a Pixar film and so has all the beautiful animation, art and design that you’d expect from the minds behind “Toy Story”, “Cars” and, indeed, the first “Incredibles” movie. Unlike most Pixar animations, though, “Incredibles 2” is rather long, clocking-in at a 1-hour 58 run-time, around a third-longer than the usual 80-90 minute run-time you’d expect from an animated film aimed at children. However, the film never felt long or dragged as the plot was quick and packed with action, though at points did feel a little jumpy and some points and details seemed a little underdeveloped. “Incredibles 2” also featured a somewhat predictable twist in the plot,  but overall it was strong and entertaining.

As with all the best animated films, “Incredibles 2” raised some moral questions that apply in the real world also, namely about our modern obsession with screens and consuming entertainment through televisions and devices, rather than enjoying things such as conversation with family and friends. This point, however, was only touched on briefly and lightly, and was easily overshadowed by the rest of the narrative of the film, and I think if Pixar had wanted to leave more of a meaningful impact on their audience and successfully put this view across, they could have developed it further into the plot. Maybe they decided not to because they realised the irony of telling people to stop looking at screens when they are in a room dedicated to looking at a giant screen?

This film does have quite a few comedy moments, mainly from Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the super-powered baby of the Parr family. It’s there, and it is funny, but it’s not the main draw of this film — it’s really about the characters, those re-ocurring and also some new faces on the screen. Overall, they weren’t really that memorable, and seemed to me to only be there to fill the crowd-scenes and also sell some more toys in Disney stores. It was quite good to see the familiar faces of the Parr family, though I would say that the film doesn’t go out of its way to develop and progress most of these characters from their first appearance in the 2004 film. The one exception to this is Mr. Incredible, who’d I’d argue progressed a lot and has a clear arc throughout the story, even though Elastigirl is seen to be the protagonist of this sequel, changing from quite selfish and arrogant in some respects at the beginning of the film to being more understanding by the end.

Overall, “Incredibles 2” is a strong animated sequel with a good, if sometimes jumpy, plot, excellent animation and design and some real funny moments. For that, it earns a seven-out-of-ten.

7/10.

 

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‘Deadpool 2’ (2018, 15)

Is ‘Deadpool 2’ a dead-funny superhero-comedy, or is it a sub-par sequel?

After the events of 2016’s ‘Deadpool’, the titular anti-hero Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) has gone on a global mission to serve justice in his hilarious way. But, when disaster strikes, Wade’s life is turned on it’s head, and he realises he needs to protect a mutant teenager, Russell (Julian Dennison) from the ruthless time-travelling cyborg, Cable (Josh Brolin).

‘Deadpool 2’ is just like it’s predecessor, being full of it’s uncensored, uncaring comedy from beginning to end. However, I felt with the first ‘Deadpool’ that they hadn’t quite got the balance right for me of comedy to action, whereas this sequel definitely improved on that as it lent more toward the action-side of Deadpool’s character. There still were some real laugh-out-loud moments though, but if the first ‘Deadpool’ wasn’t your cup-of-tea, then the sequel probably won’t suit you either. Most of the jokes, though, were probably more tailored for comic and movie fans rather than general audiences, so though I was chuckling at quite a few of the one-liners, I could sense that a few people in the audience hadn’t understood the punchline.

The CGI and effects in ‘Deadpool 2’ was excellent for the most part, but there was one sequence that stands out as being a little underwhelming and badly animated. Despite this, it is for the most part a spectacular watch, though maybe not on the same level as something like Marvel’s two-month old epic ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘. The cast and performances are also spot-on in ‘Deadpool 2’, especially Ryan Reynolds in the lead, clearly enjoying his time as the character he fought so hard to bring to the big-screen. The new players, also, were very strong, including Zazie Beets as the sassy mutant Domino, who was my favourite of the new characters brought in.

The plot of Deadpool 2 was nothing groundbreaking, but nor should it be — ‘Deadpool 2’ wants to make you laugh, not make you think. That said, the film does feel a little aimless at the beginning as it cuts around through time, similar to the beginning of the first ‘Deadpool’. That’s a bit of a trend across most subjects with ‘Deadpool 2’: it’s similar to its predecessor, but with added characters. However, that’s all I and I think most people want out of this sequel, a fun, outlandish action-comedy.

Overall, ‘Deadpool 2’ is a strong, funny superhero romp, with uncensored laughs and good action throughout. It’s an improvement of its 2016 predecessor, and for that it deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10

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