“I’m Dealing With The Future Of The Planet. I’m The Necessary Shock To The System. I Am Human Evolutionary Change…”
After a rather petulant, if supposed, high-profile, on-set fall out, the hotly reported, rather extended and overly silly “feud” between the muscle-headed duo of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel results in the release of Hobbs and Shaw this week, a similarly stupid, bloated and mind-numbingly dull spin-off from the jaw-droppingly successful Fast and Furious franchise, a blockbuster series which staggeringly continues to make shed loads of money even when the quality chops and changes more often than the leader of the Conservative party. Whilst the Furious franchise has become less about fast cars and more about fuel-injected explosions over the course of nearly two decades, Hobbs and Shaw is the first to overtly discount any notion of similarity from the set up of the series’ first couple of movies and fall more into the bracket of full-on, high-octane, science fiction oriented action, one which sees The Rock and Jason Statham pretty much play themselves as they happily accept bundles of cash in order to reprise the titular roles of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw respectively in order to prevent a catastrophic, world-ending, overly cliched bad thing from occurring. Whilst I am all for silly, hot-headed nonsense from time to time, Hobbs and Shaw is the type of action movie which is so painfully sterile and cheap, you long for the craftsmanship of 1990’s era Michael Bay to come in and at least churn out a decent level of enjoyment, but with excess for the sake of excess and an annoying scent of self-congratulating sprayed upon it, the Furious franchise’s first spin-off makes you long for the return of Vin Diesel.
Let’s start with the stars of the movie themselves. Take The Rock for instance, a dramatically effective action superstar with enormous physicality to boot who when placed in semi-decent, B-movie esque action romps in the ilk of Skyscraper can be thoroughly enjoyable to observe, but for too long now seems to be continually placed in simply awful works of cinema including the likes of San Andreas, Rampage and Jumanji, all of which unsurprisingly then proceed to take millions upon millions of dollars resulting in the cycle of bang-average movies continuing forevermore. In the case of Hobbs and Shaw, the addition of the always likeable Statham and Idris Elba should indeed be a trio made in heaven, but thanks to a quite awful screenplay, one full of genre-literate cliches and dodgy accents, eclectic editing which literally made me cheer inside once a shot held still for more than thirty seconds, and digital effects which take you completely out of the action due to their sheer cheap and tacky sensibility, Hobbs and Shaw is a real cause for concern regarding the way in which summer blockbusters seem to be heading, particularly when you look at the other examples this year alone in the ilk of Godzilla and Men in Black, but with the movie guaranteed to be a box office marvel as it provides certain types of audiences with enough to keep them coming, I for one can only speak the truth, and in the case of Hobbs and Shaw, it really is quite crap.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You’re Bonnie’s Toy. You Are Going To Help Create Happy Memories That Will Last For The Rest Of Her Life…”
Come the end of Toy Story 3 back in 2010, it’s fair to say that a huge majority of both film critics and fans alike seemed to all be in universal agreement that the story of Woody and Buzz had been wrapped up rather beautifully, concluding a trilogy of award-winning animation movies which would forever be regarded as Disney Pixar’s very own pièce de résistance and a particular franchise that would never be topped. When the first whispers of a further sequel arose therefore, a wave of pandemonium and panic justifiably surfaced across social media, with the same critics and fans jaw-dropped at the idea that such a beloved trilogy could potentially be tarnished for what seemed to exist for no other reason than that of a quick cash-grab, and whilst many may head into Toy Story 4 carrying a suitcase worth of trepidation, what a huge relief it is to report that Disney Pixar’s latest is a heartwarming, hilarious and sometimes beautiful animated delight, a third sequel which mixes the return of all of the franchise favourite characters with interesting new inclusions alongside a central narrative which although does feel overly familiar for a series spanning twenty years plus, will undoubtedly work for both children and adults alike.
With a different director at the helm once again, Pixar Animation Studios stalwart, Josh Cooley, is gleefully offered the top job, taking the directing mantle away from the likes of John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich, after his work on recent animated works including Inside Out and Up, and with a script from a whole army of screenwriters, including Lasseter himself, Toy Story 4 primarily picks off where its’ predecessor ended, with Woody (Tom Hanks) and co. now being cared for by young Bonnie, the playful daughter of the parents living next door to Woody’s previous owner, Andy, and with Woody now being resigned to a limited amount of playtime, Bonnie soon finds herself a new best friend in the figure of Forky (Tony Hale) a makeshift, DIY hybrid of trash and toy whose lust for freedom results in Woody and the gang attempting to rescue him and bring him back to the loving arms of his creator. With more comedic punches than so-called contemporary comedies, an array of interesting new characters including Keanu Reeves’ (John Wick) Duke Caboom, and simply stunning animation, Toy Story 4 is indeed Disney Pixar at their most charming, and whilst the overall plot does seem slightly run-of-the-mill and franchise built, Cooley’s movie benefits from a tonal sensibility that only the best Disney movies can do, with it the type of movie which within the space of just over ninety minutes makes you smile, laugh and cry all at the same time. Oh, and I loved the massive nod to The Shining.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We’ve Been Compromised, With Every Citizen At This Planet At Risk. Trust No One…”
With the catalogue of blockbusters appearing on the big screen post-Avengers: Endgame so far this year not exactly managing to hit the same levels of excellence in any way shape or form whatsoever, with the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and X-Men: Dark Phoenix failing to win over both critics and the box office alike, one of Hollywood’s most rusty cinematic franchises is strangely brought back to life in the form of Men in Black: International in a last-ditch attempt to save the day for cinema chains across the world. With the original Men in Black from 1997 still too darn entertaining to be regarded as a guilty pleasure, with a typically sarcastic Tommy Lee Jones and a Will Smith in full-on Fresh Prince-era brilliance resulting in a cinematic partnership for the ages, the subsequent sequel and threequel failed to ignite similar levels of excellence, resulting in sheer bemusement when rumours of a fourth entry was on the way, and with the latest chapter this time being directed by F. Gary Gray, whose work on the excellent, Straight Outta Compton, has somewhat been overshadowed after the not-so excellent, The Fate of the Furious, it’s fair to say that International isn’t the most anticipated movie of the year thus far.
With the usual acting suspects dropped in favour of Thor and Valkyrie themselves, it’s fair to say that the likeable pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (Avengers: Endgame) is one of the only good things about International, a lifeless, run-of-the-mill, cash-grab which sees Thompson as Molly Wright, a wide-eyed, alien-obsessed dreamer whose experience of the titular darkly attired agents as a young child results in her soon joining up herself and working alongside Hemsworth’s suitably cocky and annoyingly charming, Henry, in order to, you guessed it, save the world against an alien threat known as the hive. With cringe-inducing dialogue, poor storytelling and an over-reliance on forgettable special effects, Gray’s movie prefers the art of nonsensical explosions over a decent plot and whilst the inclusion of Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) as the voice of a clingy, cutesy egg-shaped alien adds a much needed level of comedic spice, International is annoyingly both a gigantic waste of time and talent, adding itself rather nicely to the collection of half-baked summer blockbusters thus far. Neurolyse me now.
Overall Score: 4/10
“The Mind Is A Fragile Thing. It Takes Only The Slightest To Tip In The Wrong Direction…”
With Avengers: Endgame showing forevermore how to successfully handle a blockbuster, superhero franchise which not only pretty much exceeded the expectations of obsessive fans across the globe, myself included, but ticked the boxes many times over in both the critical and financial categories, here we are no more than a month and a half later with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, 20th Century Fox’s own “endgame” which brings to a messy conclusion, the entire X-Men franchise which began all the way back at the start of the century with a movie which in retrospect, could be argued as being the kickstarter for the comic-heavy filmic universe we find ourselves in today. With the X-Men cinematic universe being handled with less delicacy as the MCU, it’s fair to say that Dark Phoenix arrives with little hype or expectation, a concluding chapter that screams with half volume a fond farewell to the alternative universe of our familiar mutated characters first introduced in X-Men: First Class, revived excellently in the franchise best, Days of Future Past, and once again in the not-so great but still watchable, Apocalypse, and with the movie attempting to revive the titular and very well regarded “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the original comics which was somewhat soiled in the franchise low, X-Men: The Last Stand, the final chapter in Fox’s almost twenty year franchise is indeed a solid, by-the-numbers superhero blockbuster, but that’s pretty much it.
As per the standard of most cinematic franchises, Dark Phoenix ultimately works or doesn’t work depending on how much you personally bring to it, and whilst I do not hold Fox’s own superhero franchise with anywhere near as much regard as I do with the MCU, I can claim to bear a slight relationship with the film’s central characters, with the likes of McAvoy (Filth), Fassbender (Shame) and Jennifer Lawrence (mother!) each returning in their respective roles, yet where the movie ultimately fails is in its’ approach to both the sloppy introduction of new characters, particularly Jessica Chastain’s (Zero Dark Thirty) criminally underdeveloped leading villain, and the wider universe, with timelines now completely out of whack and the effect of the predecessing movies having less of an impact when watching in retrospect. With sloppy dialogue and a highly predictable plot, Dark Phoenix is ultimately saved by the Phoenix herself, with Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame giving the best big screen performance of her career so far, outshining her elder Hollywood colleagues who in all honesty, seem to be waiting for the franchise to end in order to collect their well earned bonuses, and whilst a film which starts with a car crash is somewhat begging for certain similarities to be made, Dark Phoenix is by no means the worst superhero movie in the world, it just happens to be one of the more forgettable. See ya, X-Men…
Overall Score: 6/10
“Our World Is Changing. The Mass Extinction We Feared Has Already Begun. And We Are The Cause. We Are The Infection…”
With Gareth Edwards having the chance to bring the infamous sight of cinema’s most versatile monster to the big screen once again in 2014’s visually stunning, Godzilla, Legendary Entertainment’s so called “MonsterVerse” was thus born in an attempt to choke audiences and critics alike with yet another extended universe. With the so-so success of Kong: Skull Island back in 2017, this week sees Godzilla: King of the Monsters be released, acting as the second chapter in the fire-breathing legend’s repertoire before taking on Mr. Kong himself in Godzilla vs. Kong next year. With Edwards choosing not to return for a second outing, the directing mantle is instead handed to Michael Dougherty (Krampus) who along with an endless digital effects and explosives budget, has the absolute pleasure to work with an absolute top-notch, A-list cast, with the likes of the returning Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins) joined by the ever-reliable presence of Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea) for a movie which in all honesty, completely wastes the army of talent involved as it pummels you to death with endless carnage, ear-grating dialogue and a central story which rivals Geostorm for having the stupidest screenplay of the past five years or so.
Whilst it may be slightly highbrow to head into a Godzilla movie wanting something much more than just two plus hours of entire cities being dismantled by gargantuan, irresponsible titans, the fact remains that Edwards’ own interpretation of Godzilla was first and foremost primarily interested in its’ characters, with his movie essentially a family drama which just happened to include world destroying monsters, and whilst Dougherty’s movie seems to have similar desires, woeful characterisation and exposition heavy dialogue means that in terms of an empathetic level, his movie is completely lifeless and unengaging come the forty minute mark when the army of superb acting talent is left behind in favour of endless and ridiculously overblown set pieces. With the likes of Farmiga, Chandler and the now heavily typecast, Charles Dance, all wasted, with the latter essentially playing a high-tech version of Tywin Lannister, the only two redeeming features of the piece is rising star, Millie Bobby Brown, of Stranger Things fame, who with her extended level of screen time undoubtedly gives the best performance of the lot, and of course, the monsters themselves, with the titular ‘Zilla, the three headed Ghidorah and the beautiful Mothra all actually incredibly well designed, resulting in a couple of epic shots which deserve to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. Whilst King of the Monsters doesn’t hit the sordid lows of Roland Emmerich’s version, Dougherty’s vision is a messy, palm-inducing two hundred million dollar B-movie which should be a guilty pleasure but instead, is immediately forgettable.
Overall Score: 4/10
“A Fourteen Million Dollar Bounty On His Head, And Everyone In The City Wants A Piece Of It? I’d Say The Odds Are About Even…”
Beginning life in 2015 as a self-assured, no holds barred, overly knowing B-movie, John Wick not only felt comfortable in bringing back well executed, genre influenced action to a Westernised audience who had been bored to tears with the same old generic blockbusters, but also a surprising cult hit which reasserted Keanu Reeves as the cinematic hero we all deserve after locating the action appeal labelled upon him during the 1990’s which then somewhat vanished come the turn of the twentieth century. Wooing audiences and critics alike with his return in John Wick: Chapter Two, a second installment which expanded both the universe and the loire of Wick’s rather unhinged world, the suit wearing dog lover takes centre stage once again in Parabellum, a suitably exhausting and over-the-top maniacal second sequel which picks up in a true Quantum of Solace style fashion by arriving directly after the conclusion of its’ predecessor, in which Wick’s decision to murder Santino D’Antonio, the antagonist of Chapter Two and a leading member of the sprawling and ethically shady, high table, on the grounds of the Continental Hotel results in him quickly becoming excommunicado from all privileges previously offered alongside a sweet fourteen million dollar bounty being placed on his shaggy-dog haired head, resulting in every hitman from across the globe suddenly hoping to catch the man of little words in their sights in order to claim such an illustrious prize.
Helmed once again by stuntman turned director, Chad Stahelski, Parabellum takes no time whatsoever in laying down its’ cards with a screenplay which expects its’ audience to already be well up to speed with proceedings involving Reeves’ Wick, and whilst there is a slight offering of exposition regarding the position such a character finds himself in, I clocked my watch at just over seven minutes before the film got to the sort of set piece every one heading into a John Wick movie expects from the get-go. Whether it be library books, an assortment of decorative knives or throwing axes, the opening segment of Parabellum turns the carnage and action up to eleven and never really slows down, and even when the movie attempts to expand Wick’s ambiguous childhood and background by introducing the likes of Anjelica Huston (The Witches) and Halle Berry (X-Men: Days of Future Past) in supporting roles, the primary goal of the movie is undeniably to exhaust an audience expecting oodles of superbly orchestrated madness, and whilst I thought the likes of The Raid 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road could never be matched in terms of sheer cinematic outlandishness so soon, Stahelski’s movie gleefully squeezes into such a pedigree level of action movie. With memorable scene after memorable scene, including one stand out section involving attack dogs which will leave you speechless as you attempt to work out how on earth such impracticalities were captured on film, Parabellum has somehow managed to make a beloved franchise even better and with Reeves seemingly not slowing down anytime soon as he hits his mid fifties, I’m up for as many Wick movies as time can allow.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Have They Heard Her Crying? Have They Felt The Sting Of Her Tears? They Will, And She Will Come For Them…”
Winning the award for most unpronounceable title of the year so far, The Conjuring universe returns once again to the big screen like a distressed, lost puppy eager for ticket sales with The Curse of La Llorona, a ridiculously silly and scare-free cinematic cliche which attempts to build on the Mexican folklore of the same name. Produced by franchise stalwart, James Wan, and directed by American filmmaker, Michael Chaves, in his big screen debut after a succession of short films, La Llorona sees the usually reliable Linda Cardellini (Green Book) as Mexican-born social care worker, Anna, who after investigating the disappearance of a past client’s two young children, falls under the murderous spell of the titular “weeping woman”, a CGI heavy, poorly designed spectre who soon takes a liking to her two young children still reeling from the death of their father. Whilst audiences and critics alike are now totally clued up in regards to what to expect from a franchise as unreliable and uninspiring as the one in which La Llorona sits, one has to take some form of nostalgia by remembering just how darn good both The Conjuring and The Conjuring Two actually were, but with the likes of Annabelle and The Nun clearly showing how such a series may have stretched a point slightly too far, Chaves’ debut unsurprisingly nestles nicely with the latter as it fails to ignite any sense of intrigue whatsoever.
Beginning in familiar horror movie fashion by attempting to rationalise the decision behind the main antagonist’s desire for death, La Llorona soons falls into the trap of offering up cliche after cliche as the primary threat is harnessed through endless jump scares, a tactic of which doesn’t exactly pay off as such well versed genre tropes come across as neither surprising or in any way scary, resulting in heavy sighs every time the sound system in the cinema gets a good old test run as we are mistreated to cranked up violins or the endless wailing of our titular ghostie. With the film falling into the Sinister trap by showing way too much way too soon in regards to the evil at the heart of the drama come the hour mark, the film also soon loses all sense of originality completely, resorting to repetitive, dull and thoroughly uninteresting set pieces which all seem to be designed in order to justify the ninety minute runtime, but with no sense of threat or dread at all as it plays towards a very middling and family friendly conclusion, the scariest part of The Curse of La Llorona is that such a film was actually made in the first place.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Oh, My God. Everything Is Different. This Time It’s Coming After All Of Us…”
Whilst it is never surprising within the contemporary world of cinema to see sequels, prequels and spin-offs when any feature ticks the financial boxes by surpassing box office expectations, it’s fair to say that no one really expected a sequel to 2017’s, Happy Death Day, the highly entertaining, knowingly camp, Blumhouse slasher flick featuring a starring lead performance from Jessica Rothe as Tree who, just for recap purposes, becomes stuck in a Groundhog Day influenced death loop as she is followed and subsequently murdered countless times by a creepy, baby-face masked killer on the campus of her flashy, up-market college. But with the dollar signs stamped on a very well-worn narrative which took almost thirty times its’ production budget across the globe, here we go again with Happy Death Day 2 U, the rather awkwardly titled follow up which sees Rothe once again face battle with continued death as she attempts to save not only herself, but her newly formed and overly geeky acquaintances, from an endless cycle of murderous rampaging. Whilst it comes at no surprise that Death Day part two knowingly treads over highly familiar and already well-worn ground, the cheesy demeanor and likable sensibility the film evokes results in a sequel which fails to be classed as anything resembling memorable, but is undoubtedly a moderately enjoyable B-movie flick nonetheless.
With the original taking large leafs out of the book of Scream and every other slasher flick both before and after, Happy Death Day 2 U chooses to revert to an almost different genre entirely, where amidst the numerous expected murderous set pieces is an underlying narrative which seems to fit more into the science fiction genre rather than horror. With characters outright asking each other whether they have seen Back to Future in one particular scene, the nods to the notion of time travel results in a more interesting sequel than one might have expected, with the brave choice of reverting the assumed genre actually quite rewarding as we move from one outrageous set piece to the next in a sequel which easily could have been called Happy Death Day: Into the Murderverse. With storytelling plot holes saved by the good graces of some flashy editing, the epileptic tone not entirely sitting comfortably in one particular zone, and an overriding sense that maybe one film may have been more than enough, Death Day is of course flaky and overly flawed, but a movie which on the other hand surprisingly never becomes dull or dis-interesting, largely thanks to an assortment of likable characters and a continual hit rate of laugh out loud comedic one-liners and slapstick arrangements, but with a post-credits scene which hints at even more chapters to come, Happy Death Day 2 U is indeed throwaway fun, but that’s all it is.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Emmet, You’ve Gotta Stop Pretending Everything Is Awesome. It Isn’t…”
When it comes to 2014’s The Lego Movie, it is fair to say in retrospect that everything and everyone involved with such a movie was indeed particularly awesome, with my own personal view at the time of its’ initial release verging more on the side of caution when contemplating a feature length movie based upon those tiny multi coloured blocks that really hurt your feet when accidentally stepped upon. With the movie blossoming from the much welcome mix of critical and financial success therefore, including the added impotence of journeys into the realm of equally successful spin-offs, including the ridiculously entertaining, The Lego Batman Movie, which remains my personal of the series so far, here we are again with The Lego Movie 2, the inevitable animated sequel which sees Phil Lord and Christopher Miller drop from directorial duties as they boast both a production role and a screenplay for Trolls and Shrek Forever After director, Mike Mitchell, to work around. With the first film famously featuring a central twist in which we see that the lives of our yellow faced friends are actually being controlled by the hands of Will Ferrell and his playful son, The Lego Movie 2 takes matters a step forward as we see the young sister of the family now being allowed to play with the seemingly endless pool of Lego, resulting in Chris Pratt’s (Avengers: Infinity War) Emmett being heart and centre of a series of utmost destruction which turns his world into a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max inspired war zone.
With Emmett attempting to remain as the same old, happy-go-lucky everyman amidst a wasteland of negativity, he is soon called into action after Elizabeth Banks’ (Power Rangers) Lucy is kidnapped alongside a group of fellow heroes in order to satisfy the ambiguous wishes of Tiffany Haddish’s (Night School) Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, the shape-shifting ruler of the wonderfully named, Systar System. Sounds bonkers right? And The Lego Movie 2 is just that, a bizarre but highly comical animated adventure which successfully manages to balance the right amount of cinematic appeal to both older and younger audiences, with the colourful, playfulness of the visuals and the smirk-inducing slapstick guaranteed to keep the children in the audience entertained, whilst the array of constantly smart and well-timed comedic gags and slight, off-hand knowing film geek references, including digs at particular film franchises and comic book heroes, are worked effectively into the narrative in order to make the more mature audience member giggle with glee. Whilst the film does struggle to contain the steady hit-rate of comedy throughout its’ slightly misjudged one hundred minute runtime, a weakness which also affects the pacing of the piece, particularly around the halfway mark, The Lego Movie 2 is a worthy successor to a movie which I can admit to being wrong about first time around, albeit one which fails to land the same kind of punches The Lego Batman Movie managed to do. Maybe more Batman next time. You can never have too much Batman.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Am Who I Am Today Because Of You…”
Whilst it may be slightly harsh walking into a concluding chapter of a franchise after failing to see the previous two entries, my own personal admission as a failure of film criticism due to somehow missing the critically acclaimed opening chapter’s before heading into How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was aptly fixed with a quick Wikipedia search and a clear confirmation that dragons had indeed been trained effectively and that there really wasn’t that much to catch up on. Directed and written once again by Canadian filmmaker, Dean DeBlois, whose continued service throughout the franchise has indeed placed him in good stead in the land of DreamWorks animation, The Hidden World reunites the merry band of heroic and dragon loving Vikings as they continue their fight in attempting to rescue as many captured flying beasts as humanly possible from the grasps of the insidious and cold hearted dragon hunters. Led by the good natured figure of Hiccup and his dedicated flying follower, Toothless, the loss of his father in the previous installment still fleetingly haunts the young leader, resulting him in remembering the myth of “The Hidden World”, a utopian world for dragon kind which Hiccup attempts to locate in order to not only save his own race, but his ever expanding race of flying friends who continue to overpopulate his land.
For someone entering the movie with only a faint knowledge of the characters and the overarching set up from the past two installments, it is undoubtedly to The Hidden World’s credit that even with only ten minutes into the action, the characterisation of each of the primary players within the narrative is very much easy to establish, and whilst the pacing does take a good while to fully get going into second year, there is a clear commitment from the filmmakers that the movie is very much a solidified end point to the franchise, with a central screenplay which pretty much relies on a whole lot of filler, albeit interesting filler, before getting to the inevitable conclusion. Whilst there are elements of weariness throughout the one hundred minute runtime, the simply gorgeous animation means that when you do become slightly disconnected from the narrative, the design of the movie is so staggeringly wonderful that you take the time instead to inspect every single frame of the picture and oggle at its’ technical brilliance, with shots of soaring horizons, spectacular armies upon both land and sea, and of course, the sight of hundred upon hundreds of dragons taking to the skies really magnificent to behold. With an array of superb voice acting talent, with F. Murray Abraham (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Grimmel the Grisly the standout performance, and a final act which even made this cold hearted cinephile wipe away a flu induced tear, The Hidden World may not be as amazing as it might have been with the added involvement I may have got from a complete dedication to the series, but it is indeed a movie which has more than enough to sustain an interest for both children and adults as it rounds off in a rather pleasant manner indeed.