Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Image is property of Disney Animation Studios

Raya and the Last Dragon – Film Review

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk

Directors: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Synopsis: In the ancient land that was once known as Kumandra, a warrior princess goes in search of what is believed to be the last dragon….

Review: Throughout the many decades of animated films to emerge from Walt Disney Animation Studios, stories of fairy tales and Princesses have been plentiful. It is after all, one of the many things that they do best. The early Disney Princess stories might have leaned into the more traditional aspects of fairytales and princesses. Yet, from the Renaissance years onwards, the studio’s Disney Princess outings have all had an element of striving to something that does not stick to the norm, and breaks substantial new ground in terms of story-telling and representation. With what is their 59th film, they’ve taken a massive step forward in terms of representation by creating for the very first time, a South-East Asian heroine.

Many centuries ago, in the land of Kumandra, humanity and dragons co-existed in harmony. However, when the land comes under attack from a vicious evil spirt known as the Druun, an all powerful artefact that repels the Druun is created to repel them forever. Flash forward to the present, and with the dragons now believed to be long gone, the people are now divided into five warring tribes, all seeking possession of this artefact. When the conflict boils over, and this deadly evil spirit returns, the burden falls on Raya’s shoulders to seek out the Last Dragon, before this evil spirit consumes the entire world as they know it.

It’s practicality a formality that whenever one comes to watch an animated film from the House of Mouse, that the animation is going to be the best that it could possibly be. It is to the immense credit of the animators, that not only is the animation absolute breath-taking to look at, but it seems to be somehow getting even better with each passing film. For each territory of this civilisation, there’s a considerable change in the terrain, and this shift provides numerous opportunities for the animators to explore the richness and the diversity of the terrain. Through their wonderful work, they do not disappoint as each territory enables the animators to demonstrate their animation wizardry, which helps to bring so much vividness and beauty to this world.

After having endured an absolutely ridiculous and completely undeserved amount of flak for her work in the Star Wars franchise, seeing Kelly Marie Tran given a leading role as a Disney Princess is just wonderful, and she absolutely crushes it with her performance as Raya. Through her excellent voice work, she imbues this character with a sense of courage, honour, and duty to her family and her people. While this may all be familiar beats for a Disney film, what Raya also has in her favour is that she is a fearless warrior who boasts excellent skills with a sword, which should ensure Raya adds her name to the ever growing list of fierce, strong and badass heroines that Disney films have produced.

Alongside her, Awkwafina, an actress who has been excelling in recent years, almost steals the show as the voice of the dragon Sisu. Being the last of her kind, there’s an understandable element of seriousness given how integral this character is to the film’s story. However, the film’s script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, allows Awkwafina to use her comedic talents to wonderful effect, and through the voice talents of both actresses, the characters form a deep bond that helps to drive the film forward. Furthermore, the cast is further enhanced with excellent contributions from the talents of Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk, one of the most adorable animal side characters this studio has ever created.

The film can sometimes get a bit bogged down by the sheer amount of lore and backstory that it tries to fill in its runtime. While there’s some familiarity with some of the story’s beats, the film packs plenty of heart and emotional weight. In many ways, Raya and The Last Dragon is a film that feels tailor made for these divisive and troubled times that the world has been living through for the last year or so. As a society that feels broken, bereft of trust and compassion for those around us, as we collectively struggle to deal with a crisis that has shaken society to its very core, leaving a heart-breaking amount of pain, and loss in its wake. In the year 2021, the world could learn a thing or two from a hero like Raya.

Bursting with gorgeous, colourful animation, and a ground-breaking Warrior Princess heroine, Raya and The Last Dragon is another House of Mouse gem that feels tailor-made for the times we’re living in.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hellboy (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment and Millennium Media

Hellboy – Film Review

Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church

Director: Neil Marshall

Synopsis: When an Ancient evil sorceress seeks to establish a dark and terrible dominion over humanity, the task of stopping her falls to the one and only Hellboy…

Review: Reboots are all the rage in Hollywood these days, but when any effort is made to reboot a franchise, it can be a very tricky minefield to negotiate. If done right, there’s potential to win an army of new fans to a franchise. On the other hand, when done badly, it serves as a painful reminder to why sometimes a reboot should never have come to fruition, and instead should have stayed in (development) hell where it belongs.

Having been previously brought to the screen on two occasions by Guillermo del Toro, the opportunity for the visionary director to complete his trilogy never materialised. As a result, we now have a new iteration of the half man, half demon, with David Harbour stepping into the horns, vacated by Ron Perlman. We find ourselves in present day with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) under the stewardship of Professor Bruttenholm (McShane) who, along with Hellboy find themselves in the middle of a supernatural war. The villainous Blood Queen (Jovovich) seeks to subject humanity to the darkness under her tyrannical rule, and of course, the task of stepping up and taking her down, falls to our Demon friend.

“Not even a gun this big can save this shitshow!”

By far and away, the saving (of sorts) grace of this film is David Harbour’s take on Hellboy. He tries his best, through all his red make-up, to be charismatic and humorous. It’s just a shame then than that the film surrounding him is just a complete catastrophe. From the get go, the screenplay is shambolic, with seemingly no thought whatsoever given to structuring it in a coherent manner. We’re introduced to this supernatural conflict, via some exposition of the quite vulgar variety. From there, the plot just zips along from scene to scene with no time to actually work out what is even happening and why. Furthermore, for the overwhelming majority of the dialogue, the delivery is completely atrocious. The writers seemed to have been playing a game of how many times can we say the word “fuck”, with no nuance, or any particular reason why. It becomes very tiresome very quickly, and this is all within the first act of the film!

Harbour’s performance is the best of a very bad bunch, which is frustrating because there are actors here who have proven themselves to be better than this diabolical material, but when the screenplay is this atrocious, that doesn’t help matters. For instance, Ian McShane has proven himself capable in franchises like John Wick, here you can just tell how much he is phoning it in, likewise for Milla Jovovich’s villain who’s as generic as they come, and there’s a monstrous villain with a Liverpudlian accent. It all just makes no sense whatsoever and defies logic how all of it got approved in the first place. Sasha Lane is another talented actor who has proven her talents in other projects. There is intrigue to her character, but when the execution is just so extremely sloppy across the board and there’s next to no development to these characters, you don’t give a salty shit whether they live or die.

There’s various different ways that violence in films can be accomplished, you can go for the aesthetic route (see the works of Quentin Tarantino) or you could do what the filmmakers here do and go horror film-esque gore, with copious amounts of blood and limbs getting severed left, right and centre. They seemingly making the decision to see just how many people they can kill in two hours and in the most gruesome fashions. It’s just gratuitous and serves no purpose to the advancement of the story, and neither does some of the abysmal CGI. Extremely choppy editing, and the action scenes are migraine inducing, which given Neil Marshall’s portfolio, including two masterfully directed episodes of Game of Thrones, leaves so much to be desired.

Everything about this film should serve as a strong reminder studios that if you’re going to take on a reboot, make sure that you do it right, because otherwise the world is going to be filled with more grotesque abominations like this. For fans of this character, there’s always del Toro’s films to fall back on, and based on this monstrosity, it’s a hell of shame that he was never given the chance to complete his trilogy.

 A dreadful, incoherent screenplay combined with ridiculously excessive violence, ensures that this reboot is a mess of satanic proportions that belongs in the deepest depths of cinematic Hell.