‘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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‘Darkest Hour’ (2018, PG)

Is this Winston Churchill biopic a cinematic victory, or a wartime disaster?

As the Nazis wage war on the Allies, Britain finds itself on the back foot against the powerful German forces, and a new, strong leader is called for to lead the nation against its foe — Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). But within days of taking the job as Prime Minister, Churchill is thrown into a turbulent and trialling conflict: negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and the Nazis, or continue to fight and stand firm with the ideals of the country. And with the Allied forces pushed into Dunkirk, surrounded by the fearsome Nazis, Churchill must rally the people in even its darkest hour.

There’s been a recent surge in biopics about world-changing figures recently, with one of my favourite films even being one — Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s 2015 drama ‘Steve Jobs‘, about the co-founder of Apple. There was even a film about Winston Churchill, simply titled ‘Churchill’ with Brian Cox in the lead, that came out less than a year ago, though not to as compelling reviews as Gary Oldman’s attempt at portraying the war hero.

Because that really is the main draw of this film — Gary Oldman’s superb performance. He produces the lines with such vigour and passion its impossible not to become immersed and believe that this really is Winston Churchill on the screen before you. Coupled with some absolutely excellent prosthetics, that make Oldman almost unrecognisable and gain a lot of attention from director Joe Wright’s use of close-ups, the character is complete.

The film is entirely comprised of dialogue and speeches; there are no gun-slinging, bomb-exploding, aeroplane-flying wartime action sequences in this script (for that, I recommend Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Dunkirk‘). This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and so the film may seem to drag a little in parts for some, however the conversations are engaging and all the cast — especially Oldman, as mentioned — keep you on the edge of your seat and the tension high as your watching. The tension is also helped along by the score of this film, something I think has been overlooked in a lot of reviews but that I found compelling and good at pushing the narrative forward.]

There was also some really excellent cinematography and camera work in this film, hats-off to Joe Wright again for that. One gripe I did have with the film was that there were quite a few clichés in the plot that usually go with characters of power such as Churchill — he’s a bit self-obsessed until he meets a mass of his people and has his eyes opened to the world and of course mellows. However, for the most part the writing was good, and I especially liked the humour in ‘Darkest Hour’ — its was actually funny! Despite the low age-rating, ‘Darkest Hour’ isn’t a children’s film, and so there’s no slapstick, cheesy crude jokes forced into the script for mass audience-appeal. Instead, the jokes were subtle yet got everyone laughing (probably more so than in any comedy I’ve watched at the cinema!) and flowed with the narrative, didn’t feel forced and — most importantly — didn’t detach from the drama and poignancy of the main focus of the plot.

Overall, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a very strong biopic of Winston Churchill, with excellent acting and an engaging plot, albeit littered with clichés. For that, this film deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017, PG)

Is ‘The Greatest Showman’ a spectacular circus-flick or a show-off shamble?

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is an aspiring entrepreneur, yet stuck in his mundane job as a clerk. Fuelled by his dreams from his youth with his wife, Charity (Michelle Barnum), he sets up a museum of curiosities — which soon evolves into the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.

I watched the trailer to this film many times (not by choice, but because it was broadcast before every film I’ve watched in the last couple of months) and every time I did I thought the same thing: “hang on, wasn’t P.T. Barnum a money-grabbing opportunistic fraud rather than a humanitarian who believed in freedom and equality for all?” With the trailer seeming to portray him as the latter, I wasn’t entirely confident going into the cinema. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film did express that Barnum was a fraud and after money, though still in a way that made the character likeable and Hugh Jackman’s excellent performance added to this effect.

The effects in this film were superb, especially the cosmetics that were used to transform some of the actors in this film into their characters. All the actors’ performances were very good and convincing — as was their singing (if, indeed, it was the actors singing!). I didn’t realise going in that this film is a bit of a musical extravaganza full of upbeat and catchy songs all about feeling good about yourself and that it’s okay to be different — the whole moral of the film. These pieces are all excellently choreographed and really a joy to watch.

I think the easiest comparison to make with this film is ‘La La Land‘, from earlier this year, which is also a bit of a musical extravaganza. The downfall of ‘The Greatest Showman’ in comparison to ‘La La Land’ is definitely its plot — whereas ‘La La Land”s plot is upbeat, yet still emotional and powerful, ‘The Greatest Showman’ is riddled with clichés and is quite basic in its story. Take, for instance, the sub-plot of the love between Zac Efron’s character, a young man from the upper-class still stuck with his stereotypes handed down from his parents, and Zendaya’s character, an outcast trapezist who joins Barnum’s show. They share less than twenty words in one scene, then in the next they’re falling in love — a typical ‘person learns to overcome their stereotypes and preconceptions for love’ story-arc. Perhaps I’m just looking to deep into this – besides, you’re probably not going to go to see ‘The Greatest Showman’ for a groundbreaking plot!

With this in mind, I think that ‘The Greatest Showman’ deserves seven-out-of-ten for its excellent dance routines and visual effects, as well as strong performances from the entire cast.

7/10.

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017, 12A)

Is ‘The Last Jedi’ a stellar sequel or a worthless washout?

After the events of 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is coming to terms with her powers and seeking the help and training of Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Meanwhile, the Resistance, led by Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), are trying to escape the evil clutches of the oppressive First Order, in search of hope in the dark times.

I’m a big Star Wars fan. A really big Star Wars fan. So I had high hopes going into ‘The Last Jedi’. Was I disappointed? Unfortunately, at least somewhat, yes….

I’ll start with the good parts of this film — the visuals are absolutely spectacular. The mixture of both practical and CGI is seamless, and the film completely immerses you as you watch it. Some scenes shown in the trailer look especially amazing on the big screen, especially the action sequences.

Then, of course, there’s the score — arguably one of the most powerful in movie history, the classic Star Wars melody, mixed with yet more stunning pieces from John Williams, to really drive the narrative forward. In key moments the score succeeds in doing one thing that the plot itself could not — build some drama!

Yes, in my opinion, ‘The Last Jedi’ is a lot of build up culminating in not really much. I don’t want to give too much away (this section is spoiler-free) but there’s a few different sub-plots going on in the narrative and some of them do feel rather unnecessary, especially when they have no pay off at all. There’s also one scene that sticks in my head, that’s a good fifteen minutes or so long, that really had no use at all in the plot. In fact, the entire sub-plot it was within could’ve been removed. Suffice to say, then, that the Star Wars record-holding two-and-a-half-hour run-time could easily have been cut.

 

WARNING! THE BELOW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ‘STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI’. CONTINUE AT READERS’ DISCRETION

 

Right, here I can really get into it.

There’s a lot of small things in this film that I felt were so poorly executed they were almost on par with the let-down that was the plot. For instance, when Leia is blown out of her ship at the beginning, and then she uses the force to take herself back to her ship. I can live with that, in fact I like that idea, but what I don’t like is what, essentially, looks like Carrie Fisher pulled on a zip-wire across a starry-night background with her hand outstretched. The movement felt wrong, especially where the rest of the visuals are stunning. Also, the film is so packed full of terrible jokes and gags that it does at some points feel like a parody which, seen as ‘The Last Jedi’ is supposed to “rhyme” (George Lucas’ words) with ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, one of the darkest Star Wars films, didn’t sit right with me.

Then there’s the matter of the lightsaber fights which — and people can ramble on about character arcs and emotional plots all they want — is the real draw of the Star Wars films — and there isn’t even one. Not a proper one, anyway. There’s a fight-scen where Rey and Kylo-Ren team up to take down some of Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) guards after he dies (that’s right — that ominous, all-powerful, mysterious being from ‘The Force Awakens’ is killed in this sequel, and we are none the wiser to who he was, what his motivations were etc.) and that’s not too bad — it’s probably the best scene in this film! — as it has some really excellent choreography and enjoyable combat, but that isn’t the classic, Jedi vs. Sith duel I was hoping for.

Then there’s the matter of Rey’s parentage, which we were promised in ‘The Last Jedi’ when it was first announced. And this is one thing I did like and is perhaps the only decision in the plot of this film that I fully agree with and was a real shock (I know this is the spoiler section, but I can’t tell you everything!).

 

 

I think the best way to sum up this film is with the reported words of Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker: “I at one point had to say to Rian [Rian Johnson, director], ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.’”

You did your best, Mark, but even that wasn’t good enough for this film to earn more than a six-out-of-ten.

6/10.

 

 

‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ (2017, 12A)

Does ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ deserve to be swinging at the top of the trees, or is it another rubbish reboot?

After landing in detention, four teenagers discover an old computer-game that immerses them in a way no other game can: they are literally drawn into the experience, and embody the characters they choose when they first start. What follows is an action-packed adventure to get the stolen gem protecting the jungle of Jumanji back to the giant Jaguar statue that watches over the trees, and lift a curse that has haunted the area, full of laughs along the way.

I wasn’t sure how great ‘Jumanji’ was going to be going in, whether it would be a rip-roaring laugh the whole way or another mediocre film with okay visuals, cringe-worthy jokes that makes an okay amount at the box office. I was pleasantly surprised — it was actually quite good!

The visuals are, especially, spectacular, and the CGI of the jungle and animals is very convincing. I felt the acting was especially good, of all the main cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan.Their portrayal of the characters within the avatars was very convincing and enjoyable to watch.

The plot of the film was riddled with clichés, but I felt this was more on purpose than any other reasons, reflecting the plots of video-games and other films based on video-games. The villain, then, was weak to say the least, but again, that wasn’t a point — it’s a comedy! And it definitely was funny; there were some real laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the film that got everyone in the audience giggling.

Overall, then, ‘Jumanji’ is a strong comedy with a great cast and performances, as well as some epic visuals. It’s plot is basic but entertaining, and so the film deserves a seven-out-of-ten.

7/10.

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!

‘Justice League’ (2017, 12A)

Is ‘Justice League’ a film in a league of its own, or does it barely do the DC franchise justice?

Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) at the end of ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ last year, the world has returned to its darker state, and is going to become even darker under the threat of the evil Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and his plan to invade Earth with his army of evil para-demons and turn the planet into the hellish land of his birth. Only Batman (Ben Affleck) and his team of heroes, Flash (Ezra Miller), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) have a chance of stopping the mighty Steppenwolf, and saving the Earth, in the name of their fallen hero, Superman.

Going into ‘Justice League’, I’d heard some quite negative reviews of the film, so didn’t have the best of hopes. However, I was pleasantly surprised; it’s not that bad! And also, by far, the best film to be part of the new DC Extended Universe, consisting so far of 2013’s ‘Man of Steel’, 2016’s ‘Batman V Superman’ and ‘Suicide Squad’, 2017’s ‘Wonder Woman’ and now ‘Justice League’.

I’ll start with the negative aspects of this film, and there’s quite a big one — the villain. Steppenwolf has no character at all, his motivation is purely that he is a “creature of chaos” and his entire plot and plan could’ve been lifted from one of thousands of action movies to come out in the last decade. It’s hard not to compare Warner Bros. and DC’s efforts of a superhero movie franchise to that of Disney and Marvel, with this year’s ‘Justice League’ being most like 2012’s ‘Avengers Assemble’, and the villain in ‘Avengers’, Loki, is far superior as a character than Steppenwolf with his motivation, charisma and actual interactions with the characters making the Marvel character much more interesting to watch.

The rest of the plot isn’t totally unique either; it’s a pretty standard ‘villain has army, army tries to destroy the world, team of heroes fight them and save the day’ story, but it’s executed quite well. My biggest gripe with previous DC films is their style-over-substance, as director Zak Snyder favours his epic cinematography over an engaging and sensical plot, which is the case in his films ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman V Superman’. However, I’m glad to say that Snyder didn’t write the script for ‘Justice League’ and that that duty went to Joss Whedon, the man behind the two Marvel ‘Avengers’ films, and ‘Justice League’ is all the better for it. However, Snyder still stayed on as director, which was good because his style of shooting did add something to this film, especially in my favourite scenes where the Flash displays his power and the scenes become very slow-motion as he moves extremely quickly.

That leads me onto the visual effects in this film, all of which were brilliant. The CGI was fantastic, as to be expected in a film of this calibre, and the underwater scenes with Aquaman were done really well. I also felt that the casting was done really well for all the characters; I liked Momoa’s different take on Aquaman, and I felt that Ezra Miller did a great performance as Barry Allen and his alter-ego the Flash. I wasn’t too keen on the fact that some characters were just shoe-horned in for, what seemed like, just making the numbers up and adding some big names to the credits such as ‘JK Simmons’ and ‘Amber Heard’.

However, overall ‘Justice League’ was a fun film with a pretty standard plot but some excellent cinematography and visual effects, as well as a very strong cast and selection of characters. For me, it deserves an eight-out-of-ten.

8/10.

 

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‘Paddington 2’ (2017, PG)

Is ‘Paddington 2’ a paw-fect animated movie, or does it bear-ly make the cut?

After the events of 2014’s ‘Paddington’, the Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is settled into his new home in London, along with the Brown family. One day, on a trip to Mr. Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, Paddington discovers a pop-up book that would make a perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. But, when the book is stolen beneath Paddington’s nose, and he is arrested as the main suspect, the Browns must embark on a ‘whodunnit’ mystery to discover the true thief and save Paddington Bear.

‘Paddington 2’ is one of those rare sequels that still holds up against it’s predecessor. It’s also one of those even rarer films that are aimed at children and can be funny for everyone. Much like it’s predecessor, ‘Paddington 2’ is quite comical and doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet still has a strong enough plot to be worth watching. The plot is pretty standard, but is executed in such a way and with such well-acted characters that it never seems boring or dull. As mentioned, the cast all give outstanding performances and by the end of the film you really do empathise with the characters.

And then, of course, there’s Paddington himself. Ben Wishaw does an excellent job in voicing him, and I really must commend the VFX in this film; CGI Paddington never looked out of place and the cast all interacted with the non-existent bear so well and so convincingly, that I really did become engrossed in the story.

There isn’t much I can fault with ‘Paddington 2’ at all: it’s funny, well-acted, with brilliant visual effects. Its plot may not be the most ground-breaking and original, but I still feel that this film deserves a nine-out-of-ten.

9/10

 

If you like what you read here, please say so in the comments below. Don’t forget, if you’d like me to review any film or TV Show in particular, just click the button at the top of the screen labelled ‘Film and TV Show Requests’. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @screencritic either. Happy watching!