“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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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (2018, 12A)

Is ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ a Han-tastic adventure, or a space-filled flop?

Set between Episodes 3 and 4 of the main Star Wars continuity, ‘Solo’ follows the fan-favourite character (played by Aldan Ehrenreich) when he’s still a young thief, searching for a way off his home planet Corellia, and to fulfil his dreams as a pilot, with his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). But, when things don’t go to plan, Han Solo ends up as a part of a criminal plot, tied up with outlaw Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and giant Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suoatamo). It’s then a mission for Han to complete the crime, escape with his cut and live his dream-life, all while avoiding upsetting the murderous gangster, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

The first Star Wars spin-off from two years ago, ‘Rogue One’, has split opinions on its merits compared to other films in the franchise, but I’m a big fan. Because of this, I wasn’t so pessimistic in my expectations for ‘Solo’ as other fans, but after the rather disappointing ‘Episode VIII – The Last Jedi’ at the end of last year, I was somewhat dubious going in to ‘Solo’. Well, I can safely say that ‘Solo’ is a very fun and enjoyable movie, and didn’t leave me feel disappointed coming out of the cinema. That being said, I did have a few gripes with the movie…

I’ll start with the positives though — namely the performances. I think Ehrenreich captures the spirit of a young Han Solo perfectly, as does Donald Glover as a young Lando Calarissian. With Han, there’s still the suave charm and arrogance of the older Solo in the original films, but with a slight naivety brought from never experiencing the hardening life that older Solo has. It’s captured extremely well. There’s also some really excellent CGI and visual effects in this film — save the fully CG-animated stormtrooper riding a speeder-bike at the beginning. It looks as bad as you imagine.

I’m also a fan of the general plot of the film for the most part, the narrative focusing on a single heist that Han takes on rather than an ‘end-of-the-universe, everyone’s-going-to-die’ plot that we’ve grown used to and immune to by now. Also, it wouldn’t really make sense if Han Solo had already saved the galaxy before meeting Luke Skywalker etc. However, the film does take a little while to get going, and the beginning felt somewhat rushed to me.

Now to the parts of the film that I’m not so keen on, namely the aforementioned beginning. As I said, it feels rushed and choppy, and some of the dialogue feels a bit corny for the first twenty minutes. It’s also in the beginning that we’re introduced to Han’s love interest, Qi’ra, and I never really ended up buying into their relationship, or her as a character. There’s a lot of loose threads with her, and I’m all for enigmatic characters etc., but for a film that’s soul purpose is to explain in entirety where a character came from, they never explain where Qi’ra came from. She’s introduced after an exhilarating speeder-chase with a passionate kiss to Han and… that’s it. She just is. Also, I’ve never thought of Han Solo having a love-of-his-life before Princess Leia, and I felt it somewhat undermined their relationship in the original films.

The film took a little while to get going for me, as though the beginning felt rushed, nothing really happened. However, when it did get going, I must say the action sequences in ‘Solo’ were excellently put together and gripping.

Overall, ‘Solo’ was a fun action-adventure with some great visuals and performances, but let down by a somewhat rushed beginning and an underdeveloped, unneeded (in my opinion) love-interest, meaning it gets an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10

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‘Sherlock Gnomes’ (2018, U)

Is ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ an awesome animation, or a backyard-based blunder?

After 2011’s ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’, the couple (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) are about to take over from their parents’ as leaders of the garden, when disaster strikes and their friends and family in the garden all disappear! Realising their case is part of a bigger mystery, the two join forces with the famous detective Sherlock Gnomes (voiced by Johnny Depp) and his assistant, Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But will the team be able to locate their friends and bring their kidnapper to justice before it’s too late?

I think it’s safe to say that ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ is the wackiest example of an adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character, for obvious reasons. Despite this, he sticks pretty clearly to the classic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a cold, logical and sometimes impersonal detective, though whereas most adaptions have tried to give the character some form of redemption arc (say, for instance, the outstanding BBC series, “Sherlock”), Sherlock Gnomes only becomes slightly less irritable after he’s been entirely proved wrong — perhaps not a great role-model for the young audience this film is aimed at, especially seen as he receives high praise from other characters when he’s at peak-arrogance and cold-hearted ness. He’s voiced well by Johnny Depp, as are the other characters by the star-studded cast.

That’s the one thing that always surprises me about these films — the cast! There’s big Hollywood stars such as James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejifor, British national treasures like Maggie Smith and Julie Walters and even Ozzy Osbourne thrown into the mix! How all these stars are pulled together for what is, essentially, a generic animated kids film, I do not know.

As a children’s film, then, it’s bound to have some humour which in some places is funny and in others fall flat. I liked some of the nods and references to the original stories, but that’s going to go over the heads of all the target audience. Most of the humour is a little crude, and I’ve seen some parents online saying it’s too rude for their kids etc. Personally, it’s rated U, so if the powers-that-be at the BBFC have said it’s acceptable for all, then I agree.

Overall, ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ is a fun animation for the whole family to see. The titular character can be rather irritating and some of the jokes fall flat, but I think it’s deserving of a six-out-of-ten.

6/10.

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‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (2018, 12A)

Spoiler-Free

After ten years of building their cinematic universe, is Marvel’s latest blockbuster an infinitely war-some movie, or a comic-book calamity?

The culmination of 18 films, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ brings together the Marvel superheroes we’ve grown to love over the past decade, and to face their most dangerous foe yet. The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a mission to balance the universe, by destroying half of it, and to that he requires six celestial gems from the very beginning of time — the Infinity Stones. Only the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, featuring the likes of old fan favourites Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), as well as new-comers such as King T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and the Guardians Of the Galaxy. But will their combined power be enough to protect the stones, and stop Thanos from wiping out half the universe?

This film is, I think it’s safe to say, the most anticipated movie of this year and probably the last couple years; the only film I felt almost as much excitement for was ‘Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens’, which was the first ‘Star Wars’ film for 10 years, back in 2015. But I don’t think even that had quite the hype’ that ‘Infinity War’ has gained in the build-up to its release. So was it deserved? Does this film meet all the high standards fans are expecting? Well, YES.

Let’s start with the characters — how did the script do balancing around 70 characters in a cohesive plot? I think very well, though there is a definite difference in screen-time between some of the leads and there is a noticeable difference in how often some characters appear and how much effect they have on the plot. The character that had — perhaps surprisingly — the most screen-time out of all the cast was the villain, Thanos. It’s become a bit of a running joke that Marvel movie villains aren’t always the most memorable, save maybe for re-occurring villain-turned-hero Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thanos, however, turns this trope right on its head, and I would say he’s up there as one of if not the greatest superhero villain of all-time — at least on par with Heath Ledger’s the Joker in 2008’s classic ‘The Dark Knight’. Josh Brolin plays the role excellently, and the character is one of the few villains where you might say to yourself “actually, he’s got a point”. He’s also one of the first in a Marvel film where the heroes are really in peril, and it doesn’t seem as though it’s a sure-win for the protagonists, they’re in peril. Suffice to say, Thanos has jumped up to be one of my favourite Marvel characters.

‘Infinity War’ is action-packed from the beginning, and all the fight scenes are spectacularly choreographed and put together. The visuals as well are superb, especially the CGI work throughout. I must say, there was some slightly dodgy CGI animation toward the beginning, and also some obvious green-screen in small parts, but these are all nitpicks in what is an absolutely mesmerising visual experience.

I really like the story in the film, and the script did a great job juggling all the characters on their separate quests, as mentioned. Overall the film has quite a dark tone, so some of the Marvel trademark humour feels a little out of place at points, however it serves a purpose in the overall script. I also want to mention that this probably has the most radically different story of any Marvel movie, and is completely unpredictable and full of twists and turns. It’s joy to watch and see the events unfold before you, each step beautiful for the eyes and, in some places, torture for the heart.

Overall, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is an absolutely fantastic superhero film, jam-packed with characters, action, twists and turns, and a fitting climax to 18 films and ten years of build-up. A deserved ten-out-of-ten.

10/10.

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‘Ready Player One’ (2018, 12A)

Is ‘Ready Player One’ a reference-filled romp or a pop-culture push-over?

In the year 2045, the world has become a harsh place, changed by countless disasters and atrocities. The only way people can escape their horrible realities is by entering the OASIS, a virtual reality universe in which humanity now spends their lives, and can be and do whatever they want. But, when the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies, he entrusts his fortune to whoever can find three keys hidden inside the virtual universe, as well as total control of the OASIS. With life-changing amounts of money up for grabs, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his friends embark on an adventure to find the keys, and stop the OASIS from getting into the corporate hands of the ruthless businessman, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelhson).

‘Ready Player One’ is the latest film to come from the Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg, and he has delivered in spectacular fashion. It’s features what has to be some of the best CGI I’ve seen in recent films, and even the animated sequences that occur inside the OASIS (which make up approximately two-thirds of the film) are immersive and feel real. Toward the beginning of the film there’s a fast-paced car race, as partly featured in the trailers, and that really gets the adrenaline pumping when viewed on the big screen.

The cast all give good performances, in both the live-action sequences and the motion-capture animation. The mo-cap reminded me somewhat of Spielberg’s 2011 animation ‘The Adventures of Tintin’, which also had very good action for an animated feature. For me, the stand-out member of the cast was Mark Rylance, who played the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. His character was enjoyable to watch, and the way his eccentric character is portrayed made all the pop-culture references within the OASIS all the more believable — if a virtual reality universe in which all of humanity lives can ever be ‘believable’.

It’s those pop-culture references that really are the appeal of the film, and when I heard about a blockbuster that was going to feature the likes of the DeLorean from ‘Back To The Future’, the Iron Giant and King Kong, I was both excited and worried — was this going to end up as references forced in to look good in trailers, but end up just being cringe-worthy? In the end, I was wrong — everything in the OASIS feels as though it should be there, and seeing the DeLorean drift through New York has got to be one of the best scenes in a film this year.

Overall, ‘Ready Player One’ is a fun, sci-fi adventure, with a seamless blend of live-action and animation. It has some good action sequences and a strong cast, plus none of the references and nods feels forced, so for that, I think it deserves eight-out-of-ten.

8/10

 

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‘Black Panther’ (2018, 12A)

Is ‘Black Panther’ a claw-some superhero blockbuster or a bit of a panth-failure?

After the events of Captain America: Civil War‘, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his home nation of Wakanda — a country with technology and equipment that far surpasses any other, hidden behind the guise of a third-world state deep inside Africa. But after he becomes king, T’Challa sees that Wakanda’s privacy and isolation is under threat, and he must protect his nation’s borders by becoming the Wakandan warrior and defender: the Black Panther.

We first saw Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther back in ‘Civil War’, and then his character and performance left me with a lasting impression — his weaponry and armour, made from advanced technology and futuristic materials, merged with his traditional and tribal panther imagery, is a symbol of his entire country, these futuristic technologies merged with ancient traditions seamlessly. This was the perfect backdrop for a film tackling some pretty big political subjects, but hidden within an excellent action-packed superhero plot.

As to be expected with Marvel films now, the visuals were superb throughout ‘Black Panther’, especially the CGI and other visual effects. What really brings this film alive though is the excellent performances from all the cast, as their chemistry and charisma is all there, especially in the lead, Chadwick Boseman. I think probably my only gripe is we didn’t get to see much of the main villain, played by Michael B. Jordan, though what we did see was portrayed excellently.

The action in this film is very good — though I’m in two minds as to whether there was enough or not. Part of me wishes for a bit more of a hard-hitting, ‘The Dark Knight‘-esque plot with lots of martial arts fist-fights, but then on the other hand I feel that we needed a lot of the expositional parts of the story included in the film to explain what was going on, and I never felt bored or as if the film was dragging on. However, the action-scenes in ‘Black Panther’ are exceptional, especially those when we get to see the Black Panther in his full, expertly-trained fighter glory.

The plot of ‘Black Panther’ is nothing special — it’s solid, and does well to introduce the character of Black Panther and his life in Wakanda, though at some points it is a little predictable.

Overall, ‘Black Panther’ is a strong addition to the Marvel universe, featuring some good action and characters. For that, it deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

 

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