Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Far from Home – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smoulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Following on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker is preparing to go on a school trip with his friends around Europe. However, in a world that will never be the same again, a new threat is lurking in the form of the mysterious Elementals…

Review: After twenty-two films and an utterly incredible journey, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminated in Avengers: Endgame, a film that has changed the MCU forever more. However, even after all that drama and heartbreak, the MCU is not slowing down. Previously, after their flagship Avengers ensemble showdowns, Marvel turned to the smallest hero in their roster, namely Ant-Man. Now though,  it’s up to everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to pick up the pieces in the wake of the earth-shattering events of that climatic battle with the Mad Titan Thanos.

In the months since that intense battle, Peter is in an extremely tough spot, having lost his friend and mentor Tony Stark. On top of that he is trying to balance school life with his superhero web-slinging duties. With an upcoming school trip to Europe, Peter hopes that will take his mind off things and allow him to live a normal life. However, whilst he is off seeing the sights of Europe and trying to tell his crush MJ (Zendaya) how he really feels about her, a terrifying new threat emerges in the form of the Elementals. Whilst simultaneously, a mysterious new force in the form of Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) emerges, who claims to be from an alternate dimension.

“Karen, activate stealth mode….”

This is his fifth outing as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and Tom Holland proves once again that this is the perfect role for him, as he turns in another excellent performance . He’s got the bravado that a hero should have, but he’s still a lovable, if slightly awkward, dork. Though she had a relatively minor role in Homecoming, Zendaya’s MJ has a lot more screen time, given that she is now the subject of Peter’s affections, and the duo have solid chemistry. Similarly, the bromance between Peter and Ned is as strong as ever. Indeed, all of the class from Angourie Rice’s Betty to Tony Revelori’s Flash Thompson, have a lot more to do, likewise for the ever-reliable Happy Hogan.

Given how many Spider-Man films that have graced the big screen, it’s clear that director Jon Watts is aiming to broaden the horizons of Spider-Man. We have almost never seen him venture outside of the Big Apple, so to see him spin his webs around the globe is an extremely refreshing change. As these ominous Elementals threaten to wreak havoc on our world, which is where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio comes into the picture. Mysterio by name, mysterious by nature as on first glance he seems like the kind of hero to fill the void that was left by Tony Stark, but that is just scratching the surface. When you get an actor of Gyllenhaal’s talents, it can only be a positive, and Gyllenhaal excels in this very intriguing role.

The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, carries over the John Hughes esque high school comedy vibe from Homecoming, and the jokes remain witty and hilarious. With each movie that Marvel has made since they were able to incorporate him into the MCU, they have taken the character in directions that haven’t been attempted before, especially with a truly mind-bending, and awesome, third act. In a post Iron Man/Captain America MCU, Marvel will need heroes to step to fill that void as we move into Phase 4, and in everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you have a hero who is more than capable of taking on that mantle.

Closing out Phase Three of the MCU, Far From Home is another fast paced, entertaining, globe trotting adventure that cements Tom Holland’s status as the best live action Spider-Man we’ve had to date.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Avengers: Infinity War – Film Review

Cast: Spoilers!!

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Synopsis: Thanos, the Mad Titan, is seeking possession of the Infinity Stones that would give him unrivalled power, and it’s up to the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop him as the fate of the Universe hangs in the balance…

This review will have no spoilers…

Review: Ten years in the making, with eighteen previous entries in this incredible cinematic universe that we have watched grow over the past ten years. It has been quite the fun and enjoyable ride, but this is what it has all been building towards. After all the work that was put in to establish this world and its characters in the previous decade of Marvel goodness, it would be fair to say the weight of expectation on this film was enormous. Therefore, one must give kudos to the Russo brothers, who return to the directors chairs of the MCU for the third time, and complete their hat-trick in spectacular style.

The plot, without straying into spoiler territory, focuses on the maniacal Thanos and his quest to obtain the infinity stones with the help of some underling servants known as the Black Order, to wreak unprecedented destruction on the universe, which understandably captures the attention of just about every MCU hero we have met thus far. Given the sheer number of heroes we have met thus far, there was understandable concern from certain quarters as to would they be able to balance the story with so many larger than life heroes? Well as they proved with Civil War, the Russos and returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, do just that.

Each hero that we meet is given their chance to shine and there’s no one that feels out of place. They are all relevant pieces in this battle, and as such , everyone has ample screen time in this battle that simply put, has unprecedented stakes for all of our heroes. Yet despite these threatening stakes, as Marvel so often does, the film is peppered with plenty of humorous moments. But these never negate the moments of drama or danger that these heroes find themselves up against, as you feel that no one, no matter how big or how long they have been a part of the MCU, is in very serious peril.

Speaking of, it has been no secret that the MCU has had some trouble with crafting compelling villains. With a few exceptions, many of them have been very bland and forgettable. Thankfully, that is not applicable with Thanos. It is hard to humanise a villain who wants to kill at will, but he is given the crucial depth that a good villain needs to get in order to make them memorable. Furthermore, they need to be given a presence that our heroes feel, and they certainly feel Thanos’s presence alright, the much needed villain to truly break the villain curse that has plagued so many MCU movies.

As they demonstrated with both of their previous MCU entries, the Russos are once again right on the top of their game when it comes to delivering the compelling action scenes that were used so effectively in their previous MCU films. There are plenty of these throw-downs scattered throughout the film, you really feel the scale of the events that are taking place within this world that we as an audience have grown with over these past ten years. It is some heavy stuff and with this latest entry, again without straying into spoiler territory, it is a film that will have a major impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we have known it.

With only a handful of films left in what has been the third phase of their cinematic universe, it is hard to not feel that all of this is all coming to a close. In a film like this, you need to just give the audience a complete and emotional sucker punch that leaves them reeling, and by the end of this movie, said sucker punch will have been delivered. Though there is still a second part in this story, and a few other films in Phase 3 to come, there is no escaping the fact that with this film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been shaken to its core.

It has all been building towards this, and it brought home the goods. So many heroes could have been problematic, but it is all weaved together tremendously well, and a truly memorable villain in Thanos sets things up perfectly for Avengers 4.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Having played his part during the Avengers’ Civil War, Peter Parker balances school with his superhero duties. When a new threat emerges in the shape of the villainous Vulture, Peter seeks to use this as a chance to prove himself…

Review: As a character and a superhero, Spider-Man has unquestionably enjoyed a lot of popularity ever since his first comic book came out. Indeed, it’s highly likely that many see him as one of their favourite superheros. Therefore it would surely seem to be an easy task to translate the friendly neighbourhood web crawler to the big screen to make a film that Spidey fans across the world can enjoy, but that is a task that has posed its challenges for Hollywood. One trilogy of his big screen adventures had two gems but then squandered it all with a messy third chapter. A reboot then followed, which produced two more pretty lacklustre outings, and consequently poor Spidey got a third reboot, which this time has thankfully got the character back on course.

Of course, this third reboot only came about after Sony and Marvel struck a deal which enabled Spidey to crop up in the MCU. His MCU foray began with a tremendous turn in last year’s Civil War, and now with both Sony and Marvel’s input, the webhead has a new adventure. As Peter battles with the mundane school life, he yearns for something more and despite his tutelage from Tony Stark, Stark does not believe Peter to be ready. All the while, a new threat is emerging in the shape of the Vulture, a man whose plans turn nasty after seeing something slip out of his hands, and of course he clashes with Peter.

Tom Holland remains excellent as both Peter and Spider-Man, carrying on from his sublime turn in Civil War. The previous films really didn’t for the most part capture Peter as a high school kid, and all of the problems that high school kids go through. Though it is kind of ironic for Keaton starring as a bird-esque villain given his Oscar nominated performance a few years ago in Birdman, he is by far one of the most refreshing villains the MCU has seen, given that the MCU has had some well documented problems in terms of nailing down a villain to match the calibre of say Loki. His character is fleshed out and though he’s not taking the title of the best MCU villain, he’s not the sort of disposable bad-guy that past MCU flicks have given us.

After directing 2015’s Cop Car, Jon Watts calls the shots here, and while some of the action scenes that he helms here are certainly very enjoyable to watch at times, there are moments where it does falter a little bit. It’s not exactly weaving any new webs but it does manage to be for the most part a lot of fun to watch. However, you never come close to feeling the anxiety or the tension of the situation in the ways that Raimi’s first two films in particular pulled off so spectacularly. The rest of the cast do a fine job and as you might expect RDJ is there to provide a considerable proportion of the laughs, a role he shares with Peter’s best mate in high school Ned (Jacob Batalon). Concerns that Iron Man’s appearance would be overbearing are thankfully wide of the mark, as he is used sparingly, but when he has screen time, it’s used to great effect.

After the lull that was the Amazing Spider-Man films, to see Spidey back on track will undoubtedly be pleasing to long time fans of the character be back in a really entertaining film that really explores his high school years in ways that perhaps hasn’t been seen before. Yet at the same time, offering nothing really new and or innovative in terms of what has come before it, both in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and indeed, previous Spider-Man movies.

A familiar premise and characters, but with a refreshingly interesting villain and some well filmed action scenes, but at the same time, not breaking any new ground.

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