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

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.

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Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Malcolm & Marie (2021)

Image is property of Netflix

Malcolm & Marie  – Film Review

Cast: Zendaya and John David Washington

Director: Sam Levinson

Synopsis: Following the premiere of his film, a filmmaker and his girlfriend talk about their relationship, their careers, and the life they share together…

Review: The power of film and its ability to creating lasting impressions on us all is something that has perhaps come into sharp focus by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For as long as our cinemas have remained closed, there’s been a desire for all of us who love this art form to be reminded of just why we adore this art form. Irrespective of whether someone works in the industry, or if they are a critic, or just someone who has a passion for watching films, there’s no getting away from one simple fact. Namely, everyone will have their own unique experience about said film, which can in turn influence their opinion on any particular film. The power of film and its ability to leave a lasting impression on not just the viewer but on the creators themselves, which can in turn influence their own relationships, is a powerful and resonating sentiment that beats at the heart of this latest film from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

Malcolm (Washington) is a filmmaker who’s just had his film premiere, to much critical acclaim. After a successful evening in the spotlight in the company of his actors, film critics and other people in the industry, accompanied by his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), the couple come home to celebrate. However, throughout the course of the evening, something has been gnawing away at Marie and having kept it to her herself throughout the course of the evening, she cannot stay silent about it any more. Over the course of what is meant to be a celebratory night, a discussion about the evening’s events descend into a heated argument between the two of them, and the sparks begin to fly as they squabble about numerous topics from films, filmmaking, to film criticism, all framed from the perspective of where they are in their lives at this moment in time, and the state of their relationship.

With production of the film having taken place in the summer of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the film’s production was all understandably, fairly minimal. However, this does not prevent writer/director Levinson from crafting a very compelling piece of filmmaking, which is in many ways an autobiographical look at Levinson’s own journey through Hollywood. With it all taking place in one luxurious house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the stripped back setting and production values could have been a hindrance, since the film is relying on the strength of the screenplay/dialogue, and the performances of the two cast members, and Levinson’s direction. The screenplay has a lot to say about the industry, and while it does have some interesting observations to make, there’s an heir of self-indulgency when it comes to certain aspects. thanks to the performances of his actors, and the gorgeous black and white cinematography from Marcell Rév is gorgeous to look at.

As they are the only actors in the film, everything is on the shoulders of both Zendaya and John David Washington to make the film work. Given the immense talents of both actors, it is no surprise that both give absolutely electric performances. The chemistry that they share leaps off the screen, and the range of emotions that shines through in both their performances is extraordinary. It’s clear that these two people do love each other, yet despite that love, there’s something boiling away inside both of them that is seemingly holding them back. Yet despite that, each time these two actors engage in a verbal bout of topics like the film industry, critics and reviewers, and how society engages with these industries, you just cannot take your eyes off the screen as these two trade verbal blows, putting each other through an intense emotional wringer.

The film is almost guaranteed to ruffle some feathers from those who work in the industry, and especially for those in the film critic circles. Similarly, the self-indulgent nature of his script, and the obvious nods to Levinson’s own career, may well put some people off. While both these actors are some of the finest of their generation, as well as usually being likeable presences on screen, the same cannot be said for their characters here. There is an heir of sympathy for Marie, and some of the plight that her character has endured, but even with that in mind, it is difficult to imagine wanting to have people like this in your personal/professional life. Yet that doesn’t prevent either actor from giving a tour-de-force performance in a film that is going to generate lots of discussion in the industry in the coming months.

A fascinating character study analysing plenty of deeply personal subjects, while not everything hits its mark, the exceptional performances of John David Washington and Zendaya make Malcolm & Marie an absorbing, if a little too indulgent, piece of film-making.

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.