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.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

© Netflix and Lionsgate

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery  – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista

Director:  Rian Johnson

Synopsis: A group of friends are invited to a private island to take part in some murder mystery games, among the guest list is renowned detective Benoit Blanc…

Review: With its all-star cast and stark social commentary, Rian Johnson’s 2019 murder mystery Knives Out was the beginning of a renaissance for the murder mystery genre. Alongside a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Johnson’s screenplay, it ensured  Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, with his “Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl”(as one character so memorably put it), ensured Monseur Blanc was another addition to the memorable detectives have graced our screens over the years. So it came as no surprise when Netflix sanctioned a $469m deal for the rights to two future sequels featuring everyone’s favourite Southern sleuth. Having set such high standards, does this sequel prove Johnson can match those with yet another all-star cast? The answer, is an emphatic, yes.

Set on a remote Greek island, a tech billionaire (Norton) has invited a group of people closest to him for a weekend of murder mystery-themed shenanigans. They include a fashion designer (Hudson), her assistant (Henwick), a politician (Hahn), a scientist (Odom Jr), a YouTuber/vlogger (Bautista) and his girlfriend (Cline), and a businesswoman (Monae). Yet, also along for the ride is, mysteriously, Monsieur Blanc, whose detective skills may well be called upon once more once the murder-mystery festivities have got underway.

Given the film’s trailers gave very little away, it would be remiss not to extend the same courtesy, so the name of the game will be to be as cryptic as possible from here on out. As with this film’s predecessor, the less you know going into the sequel the betterthe better. Benoit Blanc’s first mystery was far more than just your average run-of-the-mill whodunnit. It had a lot to say about privilege, class and politics while weaving a wonderfully clever murder mystery narrative into the story. So, it is immensely satisfying to see Johnson has lost none of his sharpness as he once again crafts a brilliantly witty and equally sharp screenplay keeps the audience very much on their toes. It maintains the wonderful humour of its predecessor (though sadly there are no hilarious monologues about doughnuts) whilst also retaining some very topical social commentary that makes this franchise stand out from the crowd amidst the resurgence in popularity of the murder mystery.

It seems a near impossible feat to have a more star-studded cast this time around when you look at the jam-packed A-list cast Johnson assembled for the first mystery, yet Glass Onion sure gives its predecessor a run for its money. Of course, the one constant throughout both these movies is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, and he is once again, a sheer joy to watch. Given for years, he embodied the sometimes cold and detached persona of James Bond, to see Craig throw himself back into Blanc’s shoes is wonderfully refreshing, and he is clearly once again having a blast working with Johnson’s writing. The same is also applicable to each and every member of the rest of the cast. It would be rude to go into specifics as to who shines the brightest, as this runs the risk of giving away the marvellous mystery Johnson has crafted. However, each and every one of them gets their moment to shine as the layers of this new murder mystery and what connects this group of friends are peeled back with glorious results.

What this new mystery definitely has in its favour is its exotic location, trading a Boston mansion for a luxurious Greek private island, which is captured so beautifully through Steve Yedlin’s cinematography. Equally, Rick Henrichs’ production design, particularly when it comes to the titular glass onion, is flawless. While it might disappoint some that there are no iconic sweaters this time around, costume designer Jenny Eagan more than makes up for the lack of unique knitwear, giving numerous characters plenty of colourful outfits which will surely be as memorable as those aforementioned sweaters.

But, through all it all, everything comes back to the genius of Rian Johnson. It is so wonderful to see a director who feels thoroughly at home with this genre be given carte blanche to realise his vision for this franchise, especially when the results are this good. While we can be thankful there will be at least one more case to be solved. However, given the quality of the first two entries, there are likely going to be very few complaints if Johnson continues to use his little grey cells to craft more entries in this franchise for many more years to come.

It might have seemed an impossible task to match Benoit Blanc’s first case. Yet, with its equally impressive all-star cast and an impeccably sharp and hilarious script, the master of the modern murder mystery strikes again.


Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Dune (2021)

© Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

Dune  – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….

Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.

In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.

Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.

At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.

Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.

Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.

To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.

It was said to be unfilmable. Yet with a superb cast, incredible world-building and a sweeping and enthralling narrative, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished something truly special, and we’re only halfway through the story.