Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2023)

© DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish – Film Review

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Anthony Mendez

Directors: Joel Crawford and Januel Mercado

Synopsis:  Discovering he has gone through eight of his nine lives, Puss in Boots discovers a possibility to restore all of his lives through a magical wishing star…

Review: With his signature boots, hat and sword, it is easy to see why the cunning (and cute when he wants to be) feline warrior known as Puss in Boots captured the attention of everyone when he first appeared in Shrek 2 back in 2004. While he cropped up again in later sequels, the first sequel featuring everyone’s grumpy but lovable ogre remained the jewel in the crown for the franchise based in a land far far away. While he later appeared in his own 2011 spin-off which came and went without seemingly too much fanfare, this sequel has come along to put the Shrek franchise back on the map with the best film in the franchise since the first Shrekquel.

Puss In Boots (Banderas) is living his best lives as a fearless warrior who craves adventure, which leads to an enthralling encounter between Puss and a gargantuan monster/mountain hybrid, all within the film’s opening first act. While he succeeds in his fight against the creature, it comes at a cost. Upon waking up, he finds out that he has used up eight of his nine lives and is urged to put his swashbuckling adventure days behind him for good. However, Puss learns of the existence of a magical wishing star which could replenish his lives, but Puss soon discovers he is being hunted by a terrifying hooded wolf (Moura), the physical manifestation of death itself, and must evade him at all costs before he has a chance to get his lives back.

In a franchise which at its peak was a clever and hilarious look at our perception of fairytales, Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow’s screenplay leans into the fairytale world with the magical wishing star, as well as the use of some high profile characters from well-known fables as side characters, most notably Goldilocks (Pugh) and the Three Bears (Winstone, Colman and Kayo). However, it expertly combines this fairytale backdrop with a Western heavy vibe as Puss, a feline version of Clint Eastwood’s antihero from The Man With No Name trilogy in many respects, must battle an assortment of creatures big and small in his quest to avoid a permanent encounter with death. Banderas has always felt perfect for this role and he is once again perfect as there’s an array of emotions Puss goes through over the course of this enthralling adventure, which must see Puss reluctantly work with a past flame in Kitty Softpaws (Hayek Pinault), who is not happy with Puss, to say the least.

It makes for a fascinating dynamic between these two as they go on their adventure, aided by adorable therapy dog Perro (Guillen). Alongside them, Wagner Moura’s performance as the physical incarnation of death feels particularly chilling and foreboding. The best family movies are the ones which combine elements which will delight younger audiences while giving older members thought-provoking and mature themes. With its explorations of mortality, and the anxiety which can come along with that, it adds so much emotional weight to the story. Ever since the release of Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse, the bar for producing ground-breaking animation has been raised massively. The combination of the fairytale setting, as well as the Western vibe, gives the animators the opportunity to tinker with varying styles of animation. Whether it’s the glint in a character’s eye, an exhilarating action scene, the visualisation of the titular wishing star or another form of magic artefact, the visuals remain dazzlingly impressive throughout.

It is a shame the Big Bad Wolf/Death’s appearances in the film are fleeting because he is such a commanding, ominous presence, it makes the film’s main villain Jack Horner (Mulaney) seem a bit superfluous in comparison. Horner is a bit one note in terms of him being just straight-up evil and cruel with barely any nuance to him, it makes you wish the film had used more of the former and less of the latter. Nevertheless, while many had assumed the Shrek franchise was consigned to the books where one would read about all those fairytales it parodied, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish serves as a reminder that, like its titular hero seeking to replenish his nine lives, there could be plenty more life, and magic, left in the franchise in a land not too far from Far Far Away.

Visually stunning, with a layered and emotionally resonant story at its core, this latest venture into the world of fairytales and talking animals with everyone’s favourite feline warrior will leave audiences purring with delight. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

© Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova, Sylvester Stallone

Director: James Gunn

Synopsis: The Guardians of the Galaxy are put in a perilous predicament when their base, and one of their own, comes under attack…

Review: It seemed unthinkable back in 2014 that a film based on a very obscure comic which featured a sentient racoon and a talking tree could have been such a runaway success and brought a new dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aided by a banging soundtrack, perfectly well-drawn characters, who developed a strong sense of camaraderie, along with humour and heart, this is precisely what James Gunn brought to the table when the first Guardians of the Galaxy film blasted its way into cinemas. A sequel was inevitable, which had its moments but fell short of lifting up to the lofty heights set by its predecessor. Following on from their team-up with Earth’s mightiest heroes, a holiday special, and amid a rocky road to the big screen following the initial firing, and subsequent rehiring of Gunn, everyone’s favourite team of rag-tag team lovable outlaws-turned-heroes are back for one last emotional adventure.

The Guardians, Star-Lord (Pratt), Drax (Bautista), Nebula (Gillan), Mantis (Klementieff), Rocket (Cooper) and Groot (Diesel),  have established their base on Knowhere and are enjoying a rare moment of peace after their years of saving the galaxy from an assortment of creatures, from a living planet to the Mad Titan Thanos. Star-Lord (Pratt), in particular, is still reeling from the loss of his lover Gamora after Thanos sacrificed her and is spending a lot of his time drowning his sorrows. Their brief respite from galaxy-saving is halted when their base comes under attack from a terrifying new threat, putting the lives of specific members in immediate peril. Forced to regroup and assess the new threat they face, the Guardians set out on a deeply personal quest (which sees them cross paths with alternate-timeline Gamora)  to find out who is targetting them and neutralise them before they bring about the ending of the team as we know it.

Right from the moment we first met them as an out-of-sorts bunch of criminals who became the galaxy’s defenders, there has been an ever-present strong sense of camaraderie between this unlikely team of eccentric beings from all over the galaxy, a togetherness arguably stronger than any other team-up in the MCU to date. They were united by a common bond of being looked down on by the galaxy for one reason or another, which drew them closer together and made them a family, just not one related by blood. Having gone off to work with DC to give their equivalent to the Guardians some CPR, while his situation with Marvel was up in the air,  Gunn’s screenplay continues to build on the strength of the togetherness and bonds that this team have built over the years, especially for a mission where the stakes are just as high when compared to the previous two films, but for a very different reason this time around.  No spoilers to be found here, but while Vol. 2 explored Star Lord’s origins at length, this time around, as Gunn himself admitted, the key motivation for coming back to conclude the trilogy was to finish telling Rocket’s story.

The examination of this origin story, and the deeply personal nature of the ensuing mission, make it the most personal film for the team, and by extension for Gunn himself. A recurring theme which has been recurring throughout the franchise is the idea that everyone deserves a second chance, and Gunn emphatically drives this point home here. There’s lots of emotion at stake here, not just for the Guardians who are fighting to save one of their own but are coming up against by far their most compelling antagonist yet in the High Evolutionary, portrayed terrifyingly by Chukwudi Iwuji. To say this guy has an ego, (no, not that one) would be an extreme understatement. He is obsessed with creating essentially a utopia, to the extent in which he will stop at nothing with experimentation and Rocket is the key to all of his plans. The film goes into detail with the backstory of how Rocket came to be the lovable and awesome badass that he is, which isn’t afraid to explore some thought-provoking and heavy themes, and also really packs an emotional punch.  Every character gets their moment to shine, but make no mistake, this movie belongs to Rocket.

The film is a little rough around the edges in places and could have maybe benefitted from a little bit of fine-tuning to trim down its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. However, given the status of this concluding chapter was up in the air for so long and there were real question marks as to whether Gunn would get to close out this chapter, those can be forgiven, especially when the characters have established this deep bond, not only as a team but with the audience themselves. Gunn’s attention now turns to DC to oversee the revamp of its own cinematic universe, but this franchise has always been his baby. Therefore, after nine years since we first (fooled around) and fell in love with these characters, the impact they have had on the MCU is immeasurable and  it is immensely satisfying to see Gunn close this chapter of the galaxy’s favourite bunch of a-holes in mighty fine style.

Easily the most personal story in the trilogy, Vol. 3 combines the humour, action and establishing a deeply felt unity and togetherness like no other Marvel team-up.  A fittingly awesome and emotional send-off for the galaxy’s favourite collection of misfits-turned-heroes.