‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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.

 

 

‘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.

 

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!