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Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

“Let Me Give You Some Advice. Assume Everyone Will Betray You And You Will Never Be Disappointed…”

Within the space of just one blockbusting cinematic month, audiences across the globe have been joyously rewarded with big release after big release, with Infinity War and Deadpool 2 both hotly anticipated franchise follow ups which have seemingly succeeded to staggering degrees in terms of both their critical appeal and eye-watering box office figures, particular in regards to the former which has managed to cement its’ place quite rightly into the top five highest grossing films of all time. Another week therefore brings with it yet another Disney backed big budget extravaganza in the form of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off in the ever expanding space opera franchise after 2016’s Rogue One and a movie which explores the early undertakings of Alden Ehrenreich’s (Hail, Caesar!) young, cocky and confident take on the titular space pilot. With high-profile production issues, including the firing of original director’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 and 22 Jump Street fame after “creative differences” and mumbling’s regarding Ehrenreich’s on-set acting ability, a strange rumour if ever there was one considering his superb performance in Hail, Caesar!, Solo seemed doomed to fail from the outset, and with fan expectation an all-time low for a cinematic release with the Star Wars branding after mixed responses to its’ fundamental existence, does Solo manage to fend off its’ many steely-eyed critics?

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the film does exactly just that, swapping the melancholic and controversially bold tones of Rogue One and The Last Jedi respectively for a more conventional science fiction romp, one stuffed full of exhilarating action set pieces, interesting new characters and a youth-infused charm thanks to the steady handed nature of its’ well-formed cast who have gripped tightly the chance to step into the shoes of iconic franchise personas. With Ron Howard taking over directorial duties halfway through the filming process and capturing a reported seventy percent of the finished article on his own say, for a man whose back catalogue varies from greatness (Rush, Frost/Nixon) to outright blandness (Inferno, In The Heart of the Sea), the “steady handed” approach of Howard’s film-making abilities isn’t exactly the first name to spring to mind when attempting to rebuild a reportedly sunken ship, but credit of course should be handed when its’ due and whilst its’ hard to gauge perhaps Howard’s stamp on the final product, Solo is undeniably well made and makes up for its’ somewhat straightforward hero narrative by having the most fun possible with its’ strong points, akin to say the more low-key Marvel releases such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange which play to a sense of familiarity but succeed due to the commitment showed by all involved.

With Ehrenreich easing into the inexperienced, swaggering nature of a hopeful Han Solo, the film begins by presenting the central relationship between Solo and Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) Qi’ra, a fellow low-born survivor who like Han himself, will do anything to survive the perilous world of slavers, gangsters and thieves which the film resides in. With Solo’s journey resulting in introductions to Woody Harrelson’s (Three Billboards) father figure, Tobias Beckett, Paul Bettany’s (Infinity War) scar-ridden criminal, Dryden Voss, and of course, Donald Glover’s (The Martian) charming interpretation of Lando Calrissian, the range of bright, fascinating characters allows the limited amount of time spent on deep, meaningful characterisation to be somewhat overlooked, with Howard at times more interested in a rapid, relentless editing pace which moves from one well designed planet to the the next without ever really having the chance to breathe. Whilst the relationship between Qi’ra and Solo is somewhat generic and functional, the real bromance of the piece is of course between Solo and Chewbacca, the furry, murderous Wookie who is as charming and fundamentally likeable as ever, and with the interactions between the cast effective and wickedly humorous, the Disney stamp which has made most of the entries in the MCU so great is vividly on show to see. With it meant to be the undisputed train wreck of the year, Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out to be anything but, a splendidly ludicrous popcorn fest which ties into the franchise’s space opera mantra with ease, a movie which will hopefully appease the fans left cold by The Last Jedi and one which proves that when in doubt, get the right guys in to get the job done.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Captain America: Civil War

“You’ve Operated With Unlimited Power and No Supervision. That’s Something The World Can No Longer Tolerate…”

Being in a time of comic-movie mayhem, where every year there seems to be more and more live-action superhero goodness, or blandness in the case of Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, the third in the Captain America saga within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, could be forgiven as being just another piece of the everlasting jigsaw, an attempt perhaps to grab the cash while they can before the riskier projects come to fruition, particularly with the ambiguous Doctor Strange on the horizon, yet with a character list that basically includes almost everyone and anyone associated with the MCU, Civil War was an interesting case of whether one, it could be as poorly executed as BvS, a film with similar parallels in terms of plot and overarching themes, and two, whether the extensive cast list would endanger the film into becoming overtly baggy and long-winded. What a joy it was then to witness the best superhero movie of the year so far, with Civil War only continuing the promise of the Russo Brothers’ work on The Winter Soldier, with it being a marvellous thrill ride from start to finish, if not being as crisp and spellbinding as the previous entry on first glance.

What makes the film so great I hear you ask? Firstly, It’s cool. I mean ridiculously cool. A fanboy’s dream indeed featuring bad-ass coolness throughout. Acting? Superb and on point, particularly from Downey Jr, Evans and a stand-out newcomer Chadwick Boseman as the rip-roaring vigilante Black Panther whose brief back-story element leaves the standalone movie to do the hard work and for Civil War to show how brilliant he may become in the future. Action? Breathtaking, with the Russo’s having a clear and dedicated vision of attempting to make the fight scenes as realistic as possible with choreography that could make the creators of The Raid weep in joy. I mean seriously, both Captain America and The Winter Soldier in this were just rock solid to a laughable extreme that at times I just sat and gasped at the speed to which the action scenes took place. Clearly, someone at Marvel HQ had been watching Daredevil and thought, yeah, this is the direction we need to go. What a decision it is, with the ground-based fights making the last two Captain America’s arguably being the best in the series so far.

Although rather ironically, Civil War does feature plot lines remarkably similar to BvS, the connections between the two films stop there. This is how you make a superhero movie Mr. Snyder, this is true, full-blooded entertainment. Although slightly too long in places and the almost inevitable fact that some characters just some rather shoehorned in for the sake of it, particularly that of Paul Rudd’s Ant Man and Martin Freeman’s character, endanger the film in becoming not quite as good as The Winter Soldier, the film’s saving grace belongs to it’s final twist, one that was not given away so easy and one which created the real civil war between our two leads at the conclusion of the film after the comical, if rather splendid, battle between our two teams within the confines of a empty airfield. Captain America: Civil War does what it needs to do and does it superbly. Richly entertaining and breathtaking in places, the Russo Brothers have my complete and utter backing for the behemoth of a project which is Infinity War. Good luck to you gents, my faith is completely in you. And oh yeah, wasn’t Spider-man cool?

Overall Score: 8/10

Duo Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Dan’s Review

It’s that money-making, mind-blowing, blockbuster time everyone and with the simply unbelievable performance of Furious 7 over the course of the past few weeks, where I believe it is now into the top ten of highest-grossing films EVER (Seriously?), it is time for Avengers: Age of Ultron to firmly push it, and many others in the top ten, out of its place. In terms of the money-making side of movies this year, one of the conundrums of 2015 is what will take more; Avengers or Star Wars?  After watching the latest addition to the MCU however, I think the one true question is whether they will match each other in terms of quality. After returning from the midnight showing on Thursday morning, slightly knackered but still rolling on, I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars has a lot to live up to. Avengers: Age of Ultron is pretty fab.

The real winning formula of the first Avengers movie was that each and every character got their own decent share of screen time, and although Downey Jr. and Hiddleston as Iron Man and Loki respectively, were the stand out performers, not one of the actors and actresses in such a huge ensemble cast felt left out in any way. Fortunately for Age of Ultron, this formula is pretty much adhered to, even with the inclusion of a bunch of new characters, where, sloppy Russian accents aside, Olson and Taylor-Johnson as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are a fantastic addition to the MCU, whilst Bettany’s portrayal of The Vision was a wonder to behold, although there should have been a rain-check on that cape. No capes. Top marks for best newcomer however has to go to big baddie Ultron, magnificently voiced by James Spader, who walks away with the award for best CGI robot-thing in a MCU film so far, not only due to the stark realism of the characters’ presence on screen, but because Ultron felt like a proper character, someone who you could believe in, and someone you felt afraid to the bone of, something of which is rare in a lot of CGI characters.

With the first Avengers being one of the standout pictures in the MCU, Age of Ultron kind of needed to change direction, if only slightly, in order to sway away from the dreadful curse of being only “more of the same”, and the way in which Whedon and co. have decided to do this is to make Age of Ultron a much darker film than the first. Yes, the banter between the team is still rife as ever, but the darkness stemmed from Ultron himself, who came off as a much more cold and malevolent presence than I ever thought Loki was, as brilliant as he is as the bad guy of Asgard, to the whole sterialisation story of Black Widow, which was pretty damn depressing to say the least. In the case of Age of Ultron, the step into the dark-side worked and the threat of impending doom was always there, particularly in the final battle, cemented with the death of one of the supposed key characters of the Avengers, which although was teased throughout the film, had a sickening, yet cleverly finessed, twist to cap it all off.

Yes the film does have faults. The whole MCU cross-ins and cross-overs, mixed with interwoven stories and plot points would obviously be confusing to the lay movie watcher who just happens to have not seen any of the previous installments and decides to watch Age of Ultron, but my question to that person would be, why watch it without seeing at least the first Avengers previously anyhow? Even as a keen follower of the MCU (not the comics however), even I at times tend to get lost and confused regarding what Infinity Stone is what, who is where etc. etc. so the level of confusion for someone oblivious to the stories previous is going to pretty high. The film also had an awful knack or rushing certain plot points, with it sometimes just resorting to another jumping, action, blowing up scene, which is always good fun, but seemed a bit too much at certain points. I mean, don’t even get me started on what Thor did at the pond thing. I have no clue whatsoever. My usual moan of runtime however, cannot be adhered to this time, with the film’s 140 minute runtime surprisingly flying past, something of which hasn’t happened since last years’ Interstellar. 

So in conclusion, yes, the film does have flaws, but the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives, with a stellar cast being put to great use to continue the fun of the MCU which doesn’t seem to be in danger of crippling anytime soon. Is it better than the first? On first watch, probably not, but the beauty of a blockbuster is that there are a ridiculous amounts of chances to watch it again (I think it is showing 30 times a day in my local multiplex) and a second watch is something of which I am looking forward to already. Age of Ultron is a solid and spectacular farewell to the directorial duties of Joss Whedon too, who has supplied the Marvel fans with two of the finest superhero films of all time. Farewell Mr. Whedon. Its’ been emotional,

Overall Score: 8/10

Josh’s Review

Once again I’m back to feeling half my age, hyped up for the new Marvels’ Avengers: Age of Ultron movie where the cinema staff obviously did not want to calm me down when handing me a free action figure with my coke! But I digress, the film was amazing and was all I could want from an Avengers film, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a few disappointments.  (SPOILER WARNING)

Let’s start with the first scene with the Avengers going against a Hydra base. I would have liked a bit of context on how all of the Avengers assembled (LOL), for example, at the end of Iron Man 3, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Tony Stark blow up all of his Iron Suits? Yet here he is flying around! Don’t get me wrong, I love Iron Man but just a bit of context would have been nice, unless I missed something.

Now, I don’t know if any of my fellow reviewers here on Black Ribbon watch Marvels Agents Of Shield, but it was awesome seeing Dr List and Strucker, the Hydra Villains at the beginning, which have been seen in the TV show and now appear on the big screen. Having Dr List introduce Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch fitted well with the back story of Agents of Shield, with Hydra kidnapping people with powers.

The interactions, mainly the wit, between the characters were in my opinion top class. The cinema audience laughed at the characters’ banter and gasped at the shock of the Vision handing Thor his hammer which made the film all that more enjoyable to watch. I did enjoy seeing some back story into Hawkeye and Black Widow which was well deserved and did lead me to anticipate one of their deaths but was gladly mistaken. I would have liked some more scenes with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch where although you get a brief description of them telling Ultron about their past, it felt like there was very limited dialogue between them and the Avengers which I would have much  preferred to see.

In terms of the fighting choreography, being an Avengers film I think we all expected some amazing action and I was not the slightest bit disappointed. All of the fights seemed original, well- paced and made full advantage of the surroundings. The combos between the characters were clever, however I would have liked if they mixed up the combination of characters. I lost count the number of times Thor did a combo attack with Captain America.

To me what makes a good action film is a good villain. In the case of Ultron, he is good and has character, despite being a robot. With an understandable motive and evil plan however I was slightly let down. In the trailers he seemed more malicious, giving off an evil Pinocchio vibe giving that awesome line “There are no strings on me” where just thinking about it gets me hyped up! However, in the movie he just felt less impressive but this could be due to him being out-shined by the Vision. I would have liked to see Ultron kill an Avenger with his hands or at least a bit more close quarters rather than random shootings with a helicopter. Sure he cuts off Klaw’s arm but who cares about Klaw? Hardly jaw dropping stuff!

Like every Marvel film there is always a teaser at the end of the credits and this time we see Thanos pulling out the Infinity Gauntlet saying “I will just do it myself”; F*!& yeah! This small clip has got me psyched up like a bat out of hell! I can’t even imagine the amount of carnage which is going to occur, however I am slightly worried about the new Avengers they showed at the end (War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Falcon) as they hardly seem like replacements for their predecessors but maybe I read that entire scene wrong.

I know I have listed many negative points throughout the review but believe me when I say this; I loved it and I’m very much tempted to go watch the film again which for me never happens. I loved seeing the character interaction between the huge roster of heroes with all of them getting a fair amount of screen time whilst the action scenes were creative and fast paced whilst showing constant humour, and all of this is setting up for another huge film in the future with Thanos. I’m sure most of you will go see this film regardless, however for those on the fence, go see this film!

Overall Score: 8/10