Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Justice League (Movie Review)

The most eagerly anticipated entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is finally here. And after four movies (and not nearly enough backstory between them), comic book fans and moviegoers in general get to witness the superhero team up meant to rival Marvel's The Avengers. So how does it measure up to Marvel's beloved franchise? Read on to find out as I try to answer just that in my non-spoilerific take on the movie.

Justice League is set about a year after the events of Batman v Superman. Superman has been gone for all that time, while Batman has been busy trying to assemble a team of metahumans to staved off the threat he foresaw in a vision from the previous movie. And just like clockwork, it isn't long into the movie before that threat manifests in the form of Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons. Their mission, it seems, is to bring forth some sort of apocalypse, which involves the joining together of three ancient artefacts known as Mother Boxes. Sounds familiar?

The movie does what it can to introduce the members of the Justice League within its two hour runtime, but once again, the franchise's greatest shortcoming is not allowing for enough room to explore the arcs and backstories of these individual characters, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman most especially. There is also that palpable sense that the directors (Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon) had made a concentrated effort to lighten the tone of the film, making the shift jarring in places, but it works for the most part.

I have to admit that I went into Justice League with lowered expectations, after the huge disappointment I suffered after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. And all through its overdone, cartoony CGI, and hard-to-follow action sequences, I kept asking myself one question: was it any good? The answer to that question is a reassuring yes. I mean, this is the moment every DC fanboy has been waiting for. And while the film isn't without its fair share of flaws, it is still a general step in the right direction and a hopeful indicator of things to come.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (Movie Review)

Up until now, the Thor movies haven't exactly been seen as one of the finer entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the last one generally considered as a low point for the MCU. Well, all that changes with Thor: Ragnarok, the third entry in the franchise. The new movie benefits from a lighter, comedic tone first introduced in the Team Thor short films that preceded it, even as it pushes the overall narrative forward ahead of next year's Avengers: Infinity War.

Set two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the movie opens with an imprisoned Thor (Chris Hemsworth) engaged in a battle of wits with the fire demon Surtur, who is determined to bring about the titular Ragnarok, the prophesied end of Asgard and all things as we know it. He manages to defeat the demon, and returns home only to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Loki reveals that he'd placed his father under a spell, and left him in a since-demolished nursing home on Earth. And with the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), they locate him somewhere in Norway.

But all isn't well with the former ruler of Asgard, who reveals that he is dying, and that his death would undo the seal that has kept their sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death imprisoned for so long. He passes away and Hela returns to reclaim her rightful place on the throne of Asgard, defeating Thor and sending him to the planet Sakaar, where he is once again imprisoned and forced to fight as a gladiator for the entertainment of its people and their grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). It is there that he reunites with his fellow Avenger, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the reigning champion, and he tries to convince him to help, to hilariously comedic results.

Thor: Ragnarok does for the Thor franchise the same thing Captain America: Winter Soldier did for Captain America; it takes the franchise in a bold, new direction. It was no doubt the most fun I've had in an MCU movie till date, surpassing even the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in sheer number of gags and creative use of licensed music. Director Taika Waititi has proven that the success of his well-received Team Thor short films was no mere fluke. Here's hoping that he gets another stab at the franchise, before Thor hangs up his cape and (what's left of his) hammer for good.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (Movie Review)

The original Blade Runner is often referred to as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. And for good reason too. It remains one of the most visually-stunning films of its era, and it also helped cement Ridley Scott's position as one of the best directors of the genre. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film explored themes such as mortality and existential crisis, and posed several questions that are still debated till this very day.

As the title suggests, the sequel is set 30 years after the events of the 1982 classic. Replicants - human-like robots manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation - are no longer relegated to the off-world colonies. They have in fact become a vital part of mankind's survival in the polluted Earth of the future, made possible by Niander Wallace's (Jared Leto) perfection of their ability to obey their human creators. K (Ryan Gosling) is one such replicant, a Nexus-8 that works for the LAPD as one of the eponymous Blade Runners, police officers who retire (read: kill) replicants for a living.

The film opens with K on a mission to track down a fellow replicant (Dave Bautista), albeit one of the older, non-compliant models. But his investigation leads him to a discovery that further blurs the line between humans and replicants. There are those that would love to stifle this discovery for fear of creating a replicant uprising, namely K's boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). And those who would like to harness the discovery for their own personal gain or profit. K is caught in the middle of that struggle, even as he starts to question the essence of his very being.

Blade Runner 2049 is quite possibly the most visually impressive movie I have seen till date. Director Denis Villenueve carries over some of the impressive work he'd put into Sicario and Arrival, and marries it with the world first brought to life by Ridley Scott 35 years ago. Everything about this film drips with visual polish, from the way he plays with lights and shadows to create tension where there should otherwise be none, to the way almost every shot is framed and filled with breathtaking detail.

All that said, Blade Runner 2049 is not for everyone. The movie carries over the deliberate pacing from the previous film, a decision that no doubt resulted in its almost three-hour runtime. It also favors introspection and deep thought over explosions and shoot outs. More than half the people in the cinema where I saw it walked out in disappointment as a result. If only they'd taken the requisite five minutes to find out what the film was about beforehand.

But if you're the kind of person that likes the movies you see to leave a lasting impression, then Blade Runner 2049 comes highly recommended. It is a visual triumph that expands on the premise of the 1982 classic, and elevates itself to the realm of art.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Movie Review)

If 2015 could be considered a good year for spy movies, then perhaps 2017 is a good year for sequels, with the likes of John Wick, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes, Bladerunner and even Trainspotting all getting eagerly-awaited follow ups. But of all the sequels that were in the horizon at the start of the year, the one I was most excited for (save for Star Wars: The Last Jedi of course) was Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the follow up to one of 2015's most wildly original showings.

The film is set a year after the events of the first film, with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) having settled into his role as the new Galahad. But his world is rocked when the Kingsman are all but wiped out by a devastating attack by The Golden Circle, a drug cartel that is led by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a woman obsessed with 1950s American culture. This forces the surviving members to seek the help of their American counterparts, the Statesmen, a spy organization masking as a distillery whose members include Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and their leader, Champagne (Jeff Bridges).

Going into Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I already knew that director Mathew Vaughn had to achieve the difficult task of delivering the action set pieces fans had come to expect from the first film. And for the most part, the film succeeds, culminatinig in a final act that is arguably just as wild as the church scene from the first film. It's a shame the same couldn't be said about character development. This is one area where I think the movie fell short, even as it tries (and fails) to imbue its characters with some measure of emotional depth.

Channing Tatum was underused and even outright missing for the better part of the movie, with his character's inclusion serving more as set up for the inevitable sequel than anything else. It doesn't help that the whole thing felt overlong, with a run-time of almost two hours and thirty minutes. Perhaps the film could have benefited from tighter editing, but in its present state, it plays more like a string of disjointed setpieces, with very little character development in-between.

All that said, I would still recommend Kingsman: The Golden Circle to fans of the original, or to fans of spy movies, over-the-top action and stylized fights scenes in general. And with a sequel all but guaranteed at this point, here's hoping that the next installment manages to bring some much-needed character moments into the mix.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Movie Review)

Tom Holland's Spider-Man follows up his Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) debut in last year's Captain America: Civil War with Spider-Man: Homecoming, the 16th movie in the MCU. One of the smartest moves the folks at Disney did with their reboot of the franchise is their decision to not make it a superhero origin story. So having been spared from watching Uncle Ben die a third time, we instead get to watch the young Peter Parker face his greatest challenge yet, high school.

The movie takes place two months after the events of Civil War, with the titular hero getting restless from fighting nothing but small time criminals. Things become less mundane when those criminals begin arming themselves with alien-technology-based weapons. He eventually traces the source of those weapons to the villainous arms dealer, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a man that has an axe to grind with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) for putting his salvage company out of operation.

On the other end of the spectrum is the day-to-day stresses of life in high school. Peter and best friend Ned are stuck at the bottom of the social ladder, being the nerds that they are. But Peter develops a crush for Liz, a senior who also happens to have a deep admiration for Spider-Man. He wrestles with the idea of telling her he is Spider-Man, even as he also struggles to strike a balance between school and the Stark internship (a code term for his Spider-Man duties). He manages to ask her to the forthcoming homecoming dance, except things do not go as planned as his two worlds collide.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun, vibrant take on the popular superhero franchise. It is arguably the best Spider-Man movie till date, even though my rose-colored glasses still lead me to bestow that honor upon 2004's Spider-Man 2. Much like Ant-Man before it, the stakes here are on a much smaller scale. The movie works as both a superhero flick and a high-school comedy. The film boasts one of the better, more complex villains in the MCU thus far, and Michael Keaton does an admirable job of portraying that complexity.

But the true star of the show is of course Tom Holland, who never ceases to amaze with his childlike wonder, much like he'd done in Civil War. Disney have proven once again that they've got that Midas touch. And if like me you'd been worried by the relatively short time span between when the Sony/Disney deal was announced and this movie's release, allow me to put those fears to rest; the finished product doesn't feel rushed or slapped together in any way. What we have instead is another solid entry in the MCU.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Wonder Woman (Movie Review)

From the moment I saw the teaser trailer for Wonder Woman last year, I could tell that the DC Extended Universe was about to receive a much-needed win. This was after they'd released a string of superhero tentpoles that were largely panned by critics, and divisive among fans. Regarded as the most anticipated movie this summer, Wonder Woman proves that a more traditional approach to superhero filmmaking can still result in something that ultimately transcend the conventions of the genre.

Set during the events of World War I, the movie provides the requisite backstory we'd expected after Wonder Woman's appearance in Batman v. Superman. As such, the entire film is presented as an extended flashback triggered by the same photo of her she'd been trying to retrieve in that movie. We are introduced to Diana (Gal Gadot) as a child living on the island paradise of Themyscira, where she and her fellow Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus, are shielded from the world of man.

Eager to become an Amazonian warrior herself, Diana begins her training in secret, through the help of her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). This was against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who'd told Diana the story of how the god of war, Ares, had defied his father, Zeus, killing the other gods and leading mankind down a path of war and destruction. Zeus had ultimately defeated Ares, and with the last of his strength, left the Amazons in care of a weapon capable of killing a god, should Ares return someday.

Things are set into motion when a fully-grown Diana rescues an American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), from a plane that crashes near her island. He'd been shot down and is closely pursued by a ship of German soldiers, bringing their fight to the shores of the Amazonian island. The Amazons intercept the invading army, defeating the Germans, but not without suffering some loses. Steve is interrogated thereafter, and under the influence of the Lasso of Truth, reveals that he'd been a spy in the German army, where he'd stolen information that could help end the ongoing war.

Convinced that the war is an act of Ares himself, Diana decides to leave her island with Steve in a bid to find and defeat the god of war, defying her mother's wishes once again. They arrive at London, where she struggles to blend in and conform to the rules of a male-dominated world. But it isn't until she is taken to the trenches of No man's land does she witness firsthand the full horrors of war. And it is there that she starts to embrace the possibility of a greater calling.

Wonder Woman is a fine example of a superhero origin story done right. Rather than just settle for being yet another eye candy extravaganza full of explosions and skimpy costumes, the movie attempts to do something impactful with its source material, and succeeds. The fact that it is beautifully shot also helps, its colorful palette and tone standing in stark contrast with the greys of the previous films in the DCEU. Hopefully some of that color and warmth spill over into the forthcoming Justice League movie.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)

In 2012, Ridley Scott made his return to science fiction with the Alien prequel, Prometheus, a film that somehow managed to leave viewers with more questions than answers. Alien: Covenant is the inevitable sequel that attempts to answer some of those questions, a task it manages surprisingly well, even though it leaves us with its own set of questions to mull over until the next installment.

In Alien: Covenant, the crew of the titular spaceship is woken up from cryogenic sleep by their resident android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), after their ship sustains some damage during their deep-space mission. They were en route to Origae-6, a habitable planet to which they were transporting the 2,000 colonists aboard their vessel, 16 of which were killed during the accident, along with their captain (James Franco).

This leaves the first mate (Billy Crudup) in charge of their mission, a man of faith who is forced to make a hard decision when their ship intercepts a transmission from a nearby planet. Ignoring the protests of their terraforming expert and dead captain's wife (Katherine Waterson), he leads his crew to the strange planet where it seemed they'd have an even better environment for their colonization mission. But what they find there instead is a world harboring some very disturbing secrets and lifeforms.

If any of that sounds familiar, it's because Alien: Covenant adheres strictly to the formula set by the first film in the series, Alien. This is both a good and a bad thing as Ridley Scott attempts to bring the events of Prometheus closer to the 1979 classic. We get to learn the ultimate fates of the two survivors from the previous film, while we also gain some insight into the origin of the titular aliens in the series, the xenomorphs.

Half the fun is watching the xenomorphs pick off the hapless crew members in increasingly creative and gory ways. And unlike the recent movie release, Life, which was accused of being derivative while exploring a similar premise to the films in the Alien series, Alien: Covenant is consistently thrilling and beautiful to behold, even though we've admittedly seen some variation of all it has to offer before.