Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons
Director: Sam Raimi
Synopsis: When a high school student called Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider like powers, he becomes a super hero and adopts the identity of Spider-Man and fights crime in New York City.
Review: If you ask someone to name a popular superhero, chances are good that one of the ones they will mention would be that of the wall crawling superhero, otherwise known as Spider-Man. Right from his inception in 1962, to today, he has become a very popular character, and is indeed a fan favourite for many. The late 70s/early 80s saw a number of made-for-TV movies bring him to life, but after a two decade absence, he was finally brought to the big screen in 2002, and he certainly made an almighty impression.
Charting his origin story, we meet Peter Parker, a nerd in every sense of the word who happens to live next door to the girl who he has an immense crush on, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst). Whilst on a school trip Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which coincidentally gives him spider-like powers and enhanced strength and speed. Emboldened by his new abilities, he goes on a quest to win MJ’s heart, but this quest leads to the callous murder of someone very close to him (you know who!) and this prompts him to become the titular hero and protect the Big Apple.
Whenever you make a superhero film, it’s of paramount importance that you make the hero likeable and someone the audience can root for, and Tobey Maguire as Parker does just that. He’s a bit of a dork, but he’s a lovable dork, and when he becomes the wall-crawling hero, he really bosses it and gives a terrific dual performance. as Peter’s two best friends Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are excellent as Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, even if they were a little old to be playing high school students. On the flip side Willem Dafoe is also tremendous as Harry’s father Norman, and much like Maguire, also gives an excellent dual performance as the villainous Green Goblin, and yes, the great J.K Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, is one of the best casting choices for a comic book movie, ever.
Having been a fan of the comic book, Sam Raimi was brought on to helm the project and he certainly does a terrific job. With experienced screenwriter David Koepp, the story is told in a very entertaining way. It’s humorous when it wants to be so and when it wants to be dark, it manages to completely flip that humorous tone on its head, and does so very successfully. There are more than a few scenes that really REALLY push the boundaries of its 12 rating. The action is directed masterfully too, when Spidey and the Goblin are throwing punches, or spinning webs, it’s really gripping to watch, and their final battle, is dark, psychological, mesmerising entertainment.
Though there are a few things such Goblin’s suit that can be a little bit irksome (we can see your mouth move mate!) Furthermore, certain sections of dialogue, particularly the scenes with MJ and Peter, are perhaps a little bit too cheesy. Overall, the journey to bring a live action iteration of the character to the big screen paid off enormously, and perhaps it paved the way for the dominance of superhero films that started towards the later half of the 2000s and continued well into the 2010s. With Danny Elfman’s majestic score to boot, the immortal words of Uncle Ben certainly ring true, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and with the power that was placed in Raimi’s hands, he undoubtedly delivered the goods.
Delightful blockbuster entertainment at its best with a likeable protagonist, a menacing and deeply troubled antagonist and brilliantly weaved action sequences.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Synopsis: An Ancient Egyptian Princess is awoken from eternal damnation and seeks to bring terror onto our world and has set her sights on Nick Morton (Cruise).
Review: It certainly seems fair to say that right now, a considerable amount of major studios are pouring a lot of time, effort and considerable sums of money into building shared cinematic universes of popular characters. Yet it’s all well and good conceiving these ideas, but it’s vital that the foundations of the universe are done, and done well enough so that it won’t all apart several films down the line. When it’s done well (see the Marvel Cinematic Universe) it is delightful but when things have gone a little pear shaped, it can be troublesome to steer things back on course. For Universal, this reboot marks the launch of their Dark Universe, but in terms of laying those solid foundations to build upon, they’ve come up just a little bit short.
The film is set primarily in good old Britannia, but occasionally blasts back a thousand years or so to Egypt focusing on Princess Ahmanet. A woman who has consumed herself with jealousy and rage, and as a consequence, is locked away to spend eternity being mummified. Except when Cruise’s Morton stumbles upon a very ancient grave which sets off the chain of events leading to Ahmanet being freed from her damnation and now she’s on the hunt for someone, to help her rule the world (because what else do bad guys and gals really want to do besides that?) For writers as talented as Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp, it is quite a surprise that their combined efforts result in such a lacklustre script that features really insipid dialogue, and a plot about as generic as they come. What’s more, some of the line delivery is nothing short of atrocious.
Cruise has shown his talents across many decades as an actor and as a man who really commits himself to the stunts he performs, but here his performance is just as generic as you can get. He tries to come off as this roguish badass that, to be fair, he has done throughout the Mission:Impossible series. Except under the direction of debut director Alex Kurtzman, it simply doesn’t work. Russell Crowe is again another fine actor, but much like Cruise, there’s just nothing to get excited about in terms of his performance, likewise for Annabelle Wallis’s character whose dialogue with Cruise is extremely cringy and gives an extremely wooden performance.
Having risen to prominence in films such as Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond, Boutella is by far and away the film’s leading light (or should that be darkness?) Though she isn’t helped by the film’s weak script she does her damn best to put some meat on the bones of her character, but they are threadbare and it’s just a mighty disappointment given the talent of the actress to not make her more of a compelling, and menacing presence, given that the script and the tone of the movie is all over the place.
There are some exhilarating, well filmed action scenes, packed with decent CGI, and accompanied by a fine score from Brian Tyler. There are plenty of shots of shots of Cruise running. which let’s be honest is is to be expected whenever he appears on screen, given that it has literally become a meme! It’s a shame then that these scenes are just not enough to prevent the film from being a complete mishmash that is trying so hard to get its Universe off the ground. It focuses so much on this, and as a consequence large forgets to be an entertaining movie by itself, and that is a monstrous disappointment.
With a real potpourri of mismatched tones, some very exposition heavy dialogue, and a collection of bland and uninteresting characters, the Dark Universe is off to an extremely uninspiring start.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy
Director: Michael Bay
Synopsis: When a Transformer ship crashes on the Moon back in the height of the Cold War, triggering the Space Race, it possesses technology that could prove pivotal to the fates of both humanity and the Transformers themselves
Review: When you launch a live action franchise that is based off a hugely popular toy series, it’s almost a certainty that you will get people into the cinemas to see said films and the studio will make a nice juicy profit from these movies. However, you still have to make a good film that will ensure audiences keep coming on back once you decide to make sequels right?
Well not always as it happens, because even if you have one fun enough popcorn flick, but then that’s followed up with to put it mildly, a really disappointing follow-up, it creates the dilemma as to whether the audiences will return for a third film, under the same creative team as the previous two? Well yes as it turns out cos Hollywood does like to make those sequels, and the popularity of the Transformers franchise certainly compelled people back to the cinema, and thankfully this time director Michael Bay listened somewhat to the complaints that people had with Revenge of the Fallen, but not all of them.
In the wake of the previous movie Sam, now with new squeeze Carly (Huntington-Whiteley) is looking for fulfilment after having saved the world twice from the Decepticons, but of course those dastardly Decepticons are by no means willing to wave the white flag in their mission to conquer Earth yet, with their plot hinging around the Transformer ship that crashes onto our Moon carrying in it the former leader of the Autobots Sentinel Prime (Nimoy) and a transformer technology that if the Decepticons get their hands on it, is bad news for humanity as you would expect, and Earth becomes Transformers Bayhem once again.
For a franchise that has Transformers in the title, you would like to see a lot more focus on the bots rather than the humans, but for around the first hour, we see Sam struggle in a pretty tedious job rather than see Autobots and Decepticons laying it down, and it’s all just not very interesting, even with a good highway chase thrown in there. However, after Sam learns of a sinister plot that involves the aforementioned Transformer ship that crashed on the Moon, and its subsequent ramifications, the film does begin to pick up the pace a lot. Yet the journey getting there is not exactly enjoyable as you feel like there are some scenes that could have been left on the editing room floor.
It’s when we reach the third act and the city of Chicago has endured a bit of damage that the film really hits its brightest spots and its Autobots v Decepticons Round 3. Bay certainly likes to film his actions scenes with a lot of explosions and here he does so once more. Visually Michael Bay does make some impressive fight scenes and while they are fun to watch, there is not enough substance in them to justify the rather long running time.
The film doesn’t really boast much in the way of top notch acting talent too unfortunately. LaBeouf was watchable for the first film but here his appeal has just fizzled away, Huntington-Whiteley, while being much better than her predecessor isn’t exactly giving an award worthy calibre performance, McDormand as the new Government MVP and Patrick Demspey as the primary antagonist do offer some great performances, but it is the best of a bad bunch. It is a shame that there can be a truly great Transformers movie in there somewhere, and the first film was almighty close to achieving that, but with subsequent films, Bay did not build upon what he had achieved the first time around, and while the end product this time around is not awful, it is a mishmash of robotic mayhem thrown in with some inane human drama.
Throwing up nothing that you haven’t seen before, but considerably improving on what its predecessor gave us with some impressive visuals and action, that are weighed down by indifferent acting and a shaky script.
We all know the stories of the “Rebel scum” in a galaxy far, far away, but what of the achievements and accomplishments of the Imperial Officers of the Empire? The bad guys we love to hate! Who were the officers who fought those insurgents, maintained order to the galaxy through fear and helped stabilise the first Galactic Empire? It would have been impossible for Emperor Palpatine and Lord Vader alone to maintain control and security, and I don’t think you would see the Sith undertaking any of the admin work! Prepare the single reactor ignition… You may fire when ready!
5. Colonel Yularen
Blink while watching the first meeting of the high ranking Imperial personnel aboard the first Death Star in A New Hope and you will miss him. The old man of experience (donning a crisp white tunic) began his Star Wars story as an unnamed background character that first got his name through a customisable card game! Wulff Yularen has since been handed a rich backstory.
Beginning as an admiral in the Republic Navy, he served gallantly in the Clone Wars, commanding a Cruiser while serving General Anakin Skywalker. A man who respects command and an admirer of bravery and public duty, Yularen became Colonel of the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) at the rise of the Empire, exposing instances of sedition in the Imperial Senate and later identifying and rooting out rebel spies. One adventure (season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels) had him on board the Chimaera with a blue-faced, red-eyed Chiss, exposing the rebel spy known as “Fulcrum”, Agent Kallus.
His presence was demanded on the Death Star to allay concerns of the station’s security because those pesky Rogue One Rebels stole the battle station’s technical plans. Colonel Wulff Yularen perished on board the Death Star on its destruction at the Battle of Yavin.
4.Grand General Tagge
General Cassio Tagge, General and Chief of the Imperial Army, was the only Imperial that took the threat posed by the Rebels seriously, following the theft of the Death Star plans. How right he was! In A New Hope, during the joint chiefs meeting, Tagge’s concerns about the Rebels building support in the Imperial Senate were dismissed heavily by Admiral Motti (who was thereafter choked out by Darth Vader who found “his lack of faith disturbing”). Tagge was not aboard the Death Star upon its destruction (as he was investigating Princess Leia’s false claims of a Rebel base on Dantooine) and was later praised for his foresight by the Emperor himself. He was promoted to Grand General and placed in charge of the Imperial military, charged with the Imperial’s expansion of the Outer Rim.
After the Battle of Yavin, due to the increasing disappointment the Emperor had in Vader, the part-man, part-machine was placed under Tagge’s command. Tagge was an effective and methodical analyst who was very critical of “Tarkin’s Folly” (the Death Star). He pondered on the amount of Super Star Destroyers the Empire could have built instead. Frightening thought! Commander of the Annihilator,Tagge’s power and authority grew, but so did his overconfidence. Holding the well-known Imperial trait, his arrogance blinded his belief that he could wield Vader as his own personal attack dog. How wrong he was after being so right! Vader ultimately killed Tagge the second after he was demoted following an attempted coup.
3. Director Krennic
Cunning. Ambitious. Unpredictable. Volatile. Devoid of compassion, mercy and regard for innocent lives. A working-class man who rose through Imperial ranks thanks to his ruthlessness to earn respect, his determination to make a name for himself and his born-given talent of being a master manipulator. Orson Krennic, Director of the Advanced Weapons Research division of the Imperial militarily and think-tank behind the might of the Death Star, ultimately fell under his own arrogance and obsessions. He was also the only man in the Empire who insisted on wearing a white cape!
After rising to the fore within the Republic Corps of Engineers, following his education within the exclusive Galactic Republic’s Future Program (where he met Galen Erso, the man behind the exhaust port), Krennic manipulated Galen into advancing the research on weaponising kyber crystals for the Death Star’s energy weapon. Working beyond his command, Krennic single-handedly orchestrated the creation of the battle station, utilising smugglers across the galaxy to supply the precious resources, turning them over to the Empire once finished. He was well-known for possessing memorable sarcastic tones: “Oh, look! Here’s Lyra. Back from the dead. It’s a miracle” when Lyra Erso appears with a blaster after Galen had said she died, and “Are we blind?!” following explosions across Scarif.
However, his downfall begun and ended with his grand rival, Grand Moff Tarkin. Krennic cunningly sprung a long-fought battle on Tarkin in the Salient system while he advanced Project Celestial Powerbehind his back to gain more favour with the Emperor. It therefore came as a shock to him, following the successful test on Jedha City, that Tarkin now claimed responsibility of the Death Star: “We stand here amidst MY achievement! NOT yours!“. Director Krennic was summoned to Vader’s castle on Mustafar in Rogue One. Obsessed with retaining control, he used this as a last-ditch attempt to manipulate Vader into organising an audience with the Emperor so as to recognise his achievements, despite his great fear of the mysterious Dark Lord. Even after being choked by the Force, knowing that he was still in charge of the Death Star’s operations brought a beaming smile to his face. He met his end (choking on his own aspirations!) at the Battle of Scarif, where Tarkin deployed the Death Star to eliminate the Empire base before the plans were extracted by the Rogue One Rebels. Krennic was ultimately killed by his obsession; somewhat poetic! I guess you now know why there was an empty chair at the joint chief meeting in A New Hope.
2. Grand Admiral Thrawn
His name is Mitth’raw’nuruodo. Who? More commonly known as Grand Admiral Thrawn (the blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss who made his debut in season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels), ultimate commander of the Chimaera. He was the only alien within the Empire’s chain of command that was exclusively made up of humans. He is THE master of strategy, tactics and war through the deconstruction of his enemies’ art. Art?! Thrawn’s obsession was based on the notion that in order to truly defeat one’s enemy, one must be mindful of the importance of understanding an enemy’s culture, art and philosophy, allowing him to delve into the psyche of the people he wished to destroy. Being a brilliant military strategist earned him countless victories over smugglers, spies, pirates and that pesky Rebellion. Because of his successes in utterly wiping out his opponents, Thrawn was not known to the rebellion at large, something he used to his advantage: “I will start my operations […] and pull the rebels apart piece by piece. They will be the architects of their own destruction”.
To gain access to the Empire, Thrawn faked his exile and bamboozled Stormtroopers into taking him before the Emperor (although his true purpose was to deduce the Empire’s potential might as an ally in combating the impending doom emanating from the Unknown Regions –theorised to be the threat of Snoke!). Thrawn’s ingenuity and tactical prowess caught the attention of the Emperor as well as his knowledge of the Unknown Regions (a dangerous and unchartered area of space where the Emperor believed to be the location of secret discoveries of the dark side). Thrawn’s knowledge was in part used to travel there, where the Empire’s remnants re-organised into the First Order.
His calm and collected demeanour, as well as his suave and sophisticated mannerisms masked his ambition and ruthlessness: “I do not require glory, only results for the Emperor”. The obsession with total annihilation of his enemies makes him very dangerous and his ultimate future is yet to be determined (season 4 of Star Wars: Rebels will map that out). But, where he has efficient and effective tactical precision, brilliant military prowess and considerable skill in hand-to-hand combat in the bucket loads, he has a great gap: political astuteness (believing it not to necessary in his attempt of perfecting the art of war). He therefore lost out on #1 to someone who had the entire package…
1. Grand Moff Tarkin
The measuring stick for all Imperial Officers to follow. The poster boy! The perfect blend of ambition, ruthlessness, tactical and military prowess and arrogance which allowed him to shape his legacy within the Galactic Empire. Born into a wealthy family on Eriadu, Wilhuff Tarkin from the age of 11 was sent on his own into the untamed Carrion Plateau at months at a time to hone his predatory skills. To Tarkin, respect, discipline and obedience were of the utmost importance, and he learnt that everything could be taken away from him in a blink of an eye, even if he had spent a lifetime trying to obtain it. Life to Tarkin was a constant struggle for survival.
As a young man, his devotion to service and loyalty meant that he (on the advice of his mentor, Naboo politician Sheev Palpatine) pursued a path in both law enforcement and government. During the Clone Wars, he served as a Republic Captain under Jedi Master Even Piell. He was captured by Separatists after the Battle of Murkhana and taken to Lola Sayu, home to the impenetrable prison known as the Citadel (designed to hold renegade Jedi), only to be rescued by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Ashoka Tano. Tarkin was always sceptical about the Jedi fronting the Republic forces: “I find their tactics ineffective. The Jedi Code prevents them from going far enough to achieve victory, to do whatever it takes to win”.
At the birth of the Empire, Tarkin was one of its strongest supporters and helped consolidate control through the use of ruthless tactics, overseeing mass arrests and executions. Tarkin was elevated to Grand Moff (the Empire’s first) and became regional Governor of the Outer Rim after uncovering a conspiracy involving political dissidents in a “Route 66”-like team-up with Darth Vader. As Grand Moff, he did not tolerate failure and often had ineffectual officers executed. He also became one of the only people to have correctly deduced the identity of Vader.
After being suitably impressed with the successful demonstration of the destructive power of the Death Star as it devastated the Holy City of Jedha, Tarkin (with his chilling smirk) utilised his political astuteness and immediately assumed complete authority of the battle station, despite the boisterous protests of Director Krennic. He thereafter developed a simple and brutal philosophy: fear of the Death Star’s planet killing super-weapon would suppress all resistance to the Empire. Tarkin demonstrated his cold and calculating mannerisms by blowing up Alderaan to demonstrate its “full power”, despite learning the location of the Dantooine rebel base.
But, even with his brilliant military strategic mind and unparalleled devotion and ruthlessness to the Empire, Tarkin’s “Folly” ultimately blinded him: “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you over-estimate their chances!” Convinced of the battle station’s invulnerability until his end, Tarkin died on the Death Star, not solely because an unknown farm boy from the back water planet of Tatooine made the impossible shot, but because of his own arrogance.
So, after learning of the “heroics” of the most influential officers of the Empire, it is now over to you! Who is your favourite Imperial, and how would you rank them? Comment below! If you enjoyed reading this, please give the Facebook page a like and follow @ThrSilverScreen on Twitter.
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston
Director: Patty Jenkins
Synopsis: After an American pilot crashes near her home of Themyscira, and speaks of a deadly war gripping humanity, Amazonian Princess Diana decides to stand up and be counted, and bring an end to the war that threatens to devastate humanity.
Review: Right now, there can be little doubt that superhero/comic book films is a genre that is thriving at this moment in time. Yet despite this domination, one thing had always been missing from the genre particularly since its renaissance post 2008, and that is the remarkable lack of a female superhero driven flick. A film showing that a woman can be if she wants to be, an absolute badass who will absolutely not let any man dictate what she does or where she goes. It has been quite remarkable that it has taken this long, but better late than never, and one can hope that more will soon follow.
It would be fair to say that much was riding on this film to be a success, given that the DC Extended Universe has not enjoyed the best of starts. Man of Steel was received fairly warmly, but the same cannot be said for Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Though all had varying degrees of entertainment to them, it would be putting it mildly to say that there were a fair amount of naysayers for each of them. In turn, the DC Universe was struggling to get off the ground, but now that is about to change, thanks to our titular heroine. She had already graced our screens with her small but significant role in BVS (as well as being one of the film’s saving graces!) Now director Patty Jenkins goes back to show how she became the invincible warrior, a journey that takes her to our human world, and more specifically World War I.
Of course, she’s not alone in this fight, with love interest Steve Trevor (Pine) involved in a covert plot to retrieve some vital information, all the while Diana is thinking there are some sinister forces at work, leaving her eager to march into battle and defeat the evil that she believes is corrupting mankind. Continuing from where she left off Gadot is superb to watch in the role, she has the charisma and compassion that makes you want to root for her. Furthermore, when she’s being the absolute boss that we know she is in the heart of the First World War, it’s simply fantastic to watch. The studio had always wanted a female director and Jenkins proved herself to be the perfect choice, as the action scenes are directed faultlessly and are visually mesmerising to look at, aided superbly by the awesome score from Rupert Gregson-Williams.
As to be expected, the theme of female empowerment is strong throughout and Diana embodies that to a T (or should that be a W?) At a time when a woman’s place was inferior to that of a man, Diana is having none of that! The chemistry between the two is what drives the movie forward. Humour is something that has become synonymous with the MCU and there’s plenty of good humour to be found here too. The plot is fast paced and gripping almost all of the time, yet when the third act arrives, this is where it begins to falter a little bit. It chooses to go down a route that is not exactly anything that we haven’t seen before. You would like to see studios try and avoid this somewhat cliched storytelling, but at least there are villains that are not completely disposable, unlike some of the MCU villains.
After three attempts to get their Universe up and running, it was beginning to feel like time was running out for DC and this was last chance saloon for the DCEU to get going in order to stand a chance of facing up to the might of Marvel. While that is still a bit of a way off for the time being, it fell on Wonder Woman’s shoulders to deliver, and well she certainly delivered those goods, and in wonderful style too!
A truly wonderful origin story that delivers compelling characters, pulsating action sequences and a truly awesome lead performance from Gadot, the DCEU finally achieves a proper lift off.