Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

© Marvel Studios, Sony and Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home   – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J. B. Smoove, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: After his identity is revealed to the world, Peter Parker asks for the help of Doctor Strange in a desperate attempt to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man…

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

Review: Back in 2019, when Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame to the world, it was the crowning and unprecedented achievement of a decade-long cinematic adventure. Unlike anything that had ever been accomplished before in cinematic history it broke box office records, and – for a time – held the title of the highest-grossing film of all time. After the conclusion of that thrilling journey, Marvel would have been forgiven for spending five or so years to take stock of what they’ve achieved. The pandemic might have forced them to wait a bit, but this year Marvel have gone full steam ahead with the continuation of their Cinematic Universe. Phase 4 is beginning to take shape, and now, perhaps the biggest film of this phase thus far, and certainly the biggest since Endgame, has arrived.

Set immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man’s identity has, thanks to Quentin Beck/Mysterio been revealed to the world. Consequently, Peter’s whole life has been turned upside down. With his identity now a known fact, it’s having an adverse impact on the lives of his family and friends as well. Desperate for help, he turns to Doctor Strange and asks him to cast a spell that makes the world forget his secret identity. However, when Peter attempts to tamper with the spell, it goes horribly wrong and unleashes the Multiverse, as hinted at in Disney+’s Loki. The Multiverse is something that they know, as Strange puts it, “frighteningly little about.” The corrupted spell causes strange visitors and foes from different universes to arrive in our world, and it’s up to Peter to stop them and send them back to their own realities.

After two MCU Spider-Man films that very much dealt with the impact that Tony Stark/Iron Man had on Peter Parker and his early career as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, this concluding chapter is a welcome departure from that. With Iron Man having passed on, it’s left Peter Parker with no choice but to grow up, stand on his own two feet and wrestle with the fallout from his identity being revealed. Though that’s all with the help of a certain magic Sorcerer, who thankfully is not predictably stepping up to the mentor void left by Iron Man. Tom Holland has proven himself to be a fan favourite in this role with his numerous appearances across the MCU, but it’s here which he gives his absolute best performance. Being the hero that he is, there’s a lot resting on his shoulders, to save the world and to also protect those he cares about from being harmed by his mistakes.

Having seen a previous, and beautifully animated, Spider-Man film brilliantly using the concept of a Multiverse; screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers had the unenviable task of adapting the Multiverse into this iteration of the character. They also had to make this third MCU Spider-Man film live up to the lofty expectations that fans had hoisted upon the film from its announcement. Depending on what you have seen in the build-up to the film, it may or may not live up to those expectations. The first act is a little rough to start off with, but once we get to the tampered spell, and the opening up of the multiverse the film finds its feet. Previous Spidey films have often been left to rue their mistakes when one too many villains get dragged into the picture, and the plot as a result gets severely messy. Thankfully, lightning doesn’t strike twice – or perhaps thrice – here as director Jon Watts is able to weave all these threads into a satisfying narrative that never feels as bloated as a Russian rhinoceros.

It would be easy to see this film as nothing more than just an enormous helping of fan service. While it is most certainly true in that regard, it does definitely have its moments that will undoubtedly please long-time fans of this character. However, it doesn’t negate what matters most to the character of Peter Parker, and the core values that the revered hero stands for. The character is one that has been a favourite for generations of comic book fans and thanks to our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Phase 4 of the MCU has now opened the multiverse good and proper, and the possibilities that brings are plentiful and very very fantastic.

Juggling a lot of different plot webs has proven to be a stumbling block before, but with a career-best performance from Holland and an excellent cast of supporting characters, this Spider-Man threequel triumphantly swings its way to success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Encanto (2021)

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

Encanto – Film Review

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama

Directors: Byron Howard and Jared Bush

Synopsis: In an enchanted house in the hills of Colombia, live the Madrigal family, all of whom have magical gifts that help them give back to the community.

Review: Back in 1937, a certain company called Walt Disney Productions unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the world. It was a truly historic and monumental achievement and one that would change the course of animation filmmaking forever. Though when celebrating their extraordinary accomplishment, probably not even Walt himself could have quite imagined the legacy that the film would leave. Indeed, over eighty years after that historic first film was released, the studio that bears his name would still be at the top of their game in terms of releasing top-quality animated films. Not only that, but they would be celebrating the release of their 60th animated feature film and a very magical one at that.

Set in the hills of Colombia, the Madrigal family live in an enchanted house that they call the Casita. Through incredible magic, each descendant of the family is granted an extraordinary gift. The Madrigal family, via their magical gifts, give back to the vibrant community that has built up over the years since the Casita was built. Though there’s one member of the family who doesn’t have a gift of any kind, and that is Mirabel (Beatriz). Due to her lack of a magical gift, Mirabel is convinced that she’s not as special as the rest of her family. However, when an incident threatens to erase the magic of the Casita, the task falls to Mirabel to establish what’s going on and to save the magic before it is too late.

With any animated film that is produced by the House of Mouse, it is a formality that the film’s animation is going to be flawless. After the previous 59 films, one would suspect that they have seen the best animation that the studio has to offer. Yet, with each new film that has its stamp, they continue to surprise and delight in equal measure. In the same way that Raya and the Last Dragon represented a landmark moment for representation for Southeastern Asian communities, Encanto does that, and more for the country of Colombia. The Colombian community is vibrant and colourful, and it’s clear that the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to honour this culture on screen. Furthermore, the magic that brings the Casita to life, and the breath-taking magical gifts of the Madrigal family are vibrant and leap off the screen.

Each member of the family has their own unique gift, whether it’s Luisa with her extraordinary strength, Isabela with her ability to make flowers appear at will, or Antonio’s ability to talk to animals. It would therefore be easy for the protagonist Mirabel to be, as she is the only family member sans magical powers, to be unmemorable. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While she might be perceived as weird and different by the rest of her family, what Mirabel lacks in magical ability, she makes up for in her courageousness and bravery. She’s determined to be the one to save the magic of the Encanto and to save her family, and Stephanie Beatriz’s voice performance imbues her with the personality of a role model that anyone, especially those who hail from Latin America, can aspire to be.

2021 has already been quite the year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. First, there was the big-screen adaptation of his hit musical In the Heights, next came his directorial debut. Finally, to round out his phenomenal year, he reunites with Disney for another match made in heaven collaboration. Having worked to great effect with the Mouse House with the music and lyrics for Moana, Miranda is once again back on songwriting duty for this unique celebration of Colombian culture. The songs have the unique Lin-Manuel Miranda signature to them, hence making them all extremely catchy and enjoyable to listen to.

However, given the plethora of soaring and memorable ballads that have been heard in previous films, akin to Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana or a “Let it Go” from Frozen, there’s nothing that soars to quite the extent that those aforementioned songs do. The film’s narrative is definitely one you’ll have seen from previous Disney films, but the sheer quality of the craft of the animators, and the loving depiction of Colombian culture, ensures that Disney hits this creative landmark in beautiful style.

Filled with dazzling and vibrant animation, the narrative beats may be somewhat familiar, but even after 60 films down, the House of Mouse still has that magical touch.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

House of Gucci (2021)

© MGM, Bron Creative and Scott Free Productions

House of Gucci – Film Review

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the family behind the iconic fashion brand, and their bitter power struggle as to who will have control over the company…

Review: When it comes to the world of fashion, there are several names that immediately leap to mind that everyone will know as the most iconic names in fashion. Names such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Versace, and Fendi to name but a few. When it comes to these fashion houses, there’s likely to be a fascinating backstory as to how they came to be the iconic labels that they are today. This is most certainly applicable to that of the brand Gucci, which as of 2021, is estimated to be worth around $15billion dollars. With his second film of the year, Ridley Scott tackles that fascinating backstory of the Gucci brand, and the family behind the business, with decidedly mixed results.

Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), who works for her father’s business, meets Maurizio (Driver) at a party. As they strike up a conversation and get to know each other, their romance blossoms. However, it isn’t until Patrizia learns about Maurizio’s status as the heir to one of the biggest names in fashion, that changes everything. Maurizio and Patrizia marry but Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Irons) doesn’t take kindly to Patrizia, as he deduces that Patrizia doesn’t love Maurizio for who he is as a person, but is solely after Maurizio’s money. But Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Pacino) welcomes Patrizia into the family and takes them under his wing. As Patrizia’s influence grows, a bitter power struggle ensues as to who will ultimately take control of the brand, which will have dire consequences.

Adapted from the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed, by Sara Gay Forden, the title gives you an accurate indication of the shenanigans that are about to go down. A film that depicts all of the above, in the hands of a director with the calibre and experience of Ridley Scott had so much potential. Factor in an extremely talented cast, filled with Oscar nominees and winners, and yet the film falls well short of living up to that potential.  As Patrizia and Maurizio meet and fall in love, it starts off fairly strongly, as the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Driver sizzles. Following on from her breakout performance in A Star Is Bornthis role gives Gaga a chance to really flex her acting chops. To her credit, she easily gives the best performance in the whole film, which is no mean feat given the calibre of the actors around her.

As she marries Maurizio, she begins to exert her influence over the Gucci brand, whilst making moves to consolidate her power and influence on the Gucci brand. The film could (and perhaps should given the director) have soared from here, but instead, it is where the film really loses its way and never recovers. With all the scheming and backstabbing that goes on as individuals duel for controlling stake in the Gucci brand, like a Game of Thrones-style thriller, but instead of swords, dragons, and a battle for a throne, you have a battle for who will gain control over billions of dollars and dominion of high-end fashion. These moments have the odd spark that provides some entertainment, but they are not nearly enough to sustain the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

The screenplay from Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna seems to be two films that have been mixed into one. It flirts between wanting to be that serious crime drama and a much less serious film, with the camp factor dialled up to the maximum. This is an opportune moment to mention the enigma that is Jared Leto. Unrecognisable under a substantial amount of make-up as Paolo Gucci, his performance is mystifying, to say the least. With an accent that is so over-the-top and exaggerated, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was auditioning for a role in a new Mario video game. These moments of campy soap opera-like drama, and all of their over-the-topness are so out of place here, they undercut the very serious crime drama that the film could and probably should have focused on. While Leto is by far and away, the worst offender with the accents, the rest of the cast are not much better. The poor accents are also not helpful when trying to convey the serious nature of the crime drama that that aspect of the film is trying to tell.

The nature of this story is such ripe material for a compelling piece of storytelling. Even though parts of the film dragged on, given the timescale of the story, a mini-series could have been the better avenue to bring this story to audiences. Ridley Scott’s status as a legend of Hollywood is assured, but having said that even with a director of Scott’s experience, the complete mismatch of tones is a baffling style choice and one that ultimately sinks the film. Consistency when it comes to his directorial output has been a recurring problem for Scott. In a year when the veteran director has provided audiences with an extremely compelling and timely drama, it is disappointing that he couldn’t have made it two for two.

With no expense spared for the production design or costumes, Lady Gaga gives it everything she has as Patrizia Reggiani. However, the tonal mismatch of the story, and some of the acting, proves to be the film’s undoing. Style over substance, quite literally.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Eternals (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Eternals  – Film Review

Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: A group of immortal beings, known as the Eternals, are sent to planet Earth to protect humanity from an evil race of aliens known as the Deviants…

Review: When you have created an all-encompassing cinematic universe that has spanned over a decade and 25 films, making cinematic history along the way. There does come a point for Marvel Studios, where they will need to think about, where do they go from here? When you’ve created a universe that has conquered all before it, how do you reinvent the wheel and keep things fresh and interesting for audiences to maintain interest in the universe going forward? Well, the answer seems to be, hire the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Director, and introduce a brand new crop of characters.

7000 years ago, a group of all-powerful beings known as the Celestials, created a powerful race of beings called the Eternals and sent them to Earth to protect humanity from their Celestial’s evil counterparts, known as the Deviants. For millennia, the Eternals have been watching from the sidelines, protecting humanity from any Deviant attacks. As they watch from the sidelines, some begin to develop a fondness for humanity. Yet, they have been under strict instructions to not interfere in any human conflict, unless the Deviants are involved. This all changes when an event known as The Emergence threatens to bring about unprecedented destruction, the Eternals must unite to prevent humanity’s destruction.

From the opening crawl, akin to something out of Star Wars, this film is in every sense, a brand new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What they accomplished with the first three Phases of their Universe is undeniably incredible and nothing can take that away from them. However, that era of Marvel has come to a close, and with this film, this feels like they are in many senses, starting fresh. All franchises that go on for any length of time will inevitably develop a formula. While that formula has served the MCU so successfully over the years, there was a need to step away from it. To its credit, Eternals tries extremely hard to deviate from that, with varying degrees of success.

Fresh from her Oscar triumphs With Nomadland, a film that shined a light on a group of people who are cut adrift from society, whilst touching on themes of finding a belonging. Chloé Zhao’s Oscar winner touched on themes of individuals who have found themselves cut adrift from society, roaming from place to place, without somewhere to call home. This is a theme that feels very much relevant to the Eternals. They watch humanity from afar, intervening only when they must. The first two acts of the film where the Eternals are battling with this dilemma of interfering or not when it comes to human conflicts is compelling because, like most things in our lives, there is a difference of opinion amongst these incredibly powerful beings.

What Eternals brings to the table is an extremely rich and diverse cast, filled with extremely talented actors. The most memorable of these are Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. Sersi is very much the leader of the Eternals and Chan’s performance is easily the most memorable. For Thena, there’s a fascinating internal struggle that she’s battling with, and it makes for an intriguing relationship between her and the rest of the Eternals as she battles to control that. On top of which, the film doesn’t shy away from diversity. There’s a landmark moment for LGBT representation, the very first ever sex scene, and the MCU’s very first superhero with a disability in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari as both the actor and the character are deaf.

Unfortunately, because there are so many new characters that are appearing on screen together for the first time, developing all of them is a near enough impossible task to fit into a two-and-a-half-hour film, even for a director as talented as Zhao is. Some characters have barely any depth or personality. As such, it gives the audience little reason to care about them, as there is no emotional connection that has been built up over many years of different MCU films. Plus, as different as the film tries to be from all the previous MCU films that came before it, some familiar MCU tropes are present. Credit where credit is due for the screenplay’s ambition and scope. However, you cannot help but wonder if, had these characters been introduced via a TV show, it might have been better suited to give all these brand new characters sufficient time to make an impact.

Chloe Zhao works magic by bringing the humanity to these incredibly powerful beings. However, while it is to be commended, the ambition of introducing so many new characters in one go prevents the film from truly soaring.