Saturday, 16 March 2019

Captain Marvel (Movie Review)

For those of you wondering why I am only just posting this review, this is due to the fact that the release of Captain Marvel in Nigeria was delayed by a week because of last week's gubernatorial elections. An annoying development for sure, considering that we'd all been waiting for it since that post-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War last year. Thankfully, the excitement surrounding the movie had not been dampened by the delay, with the movie itself proving to be worth the extra wait.

Set in the mid-90s, the movie stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, the US Air Force pilot that would become what is being billed as Earth's mightiest avenger. When the film opens, she is part of the Starforce, an elite squad of soldiers fighting for the Kree Empire in their war against the Skrulls, a rival alien race. She has no memory of her Earth origin, or the origin of her special abilities, but she is trained to control them by her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). During a mission to rescue a Kree spy on a Skrull base, she is captured by the Skrulls and taken aboard one of their spaceships.

Her memories are probed by the Skrull leader, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who is hoping to find information about the whereabouts of a device called the light-speed engine. She manages to break free of her refrains during his probing, and she uses an escape pod that crash lands on Earth, where she meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). She struggles to bring both men up to speed on the war between the Kree and the Skrulls, but it doesn't take long before they are all swept up in the throes of that war.

Going into Captain Marvel, there were three main questions I felt the movie needed to address: who is Captain Marvel? Where has she been through all the global threats the Avengers have been fighting over the years? And is she powerful enough to stop Thanos? The movie doesn't only give satisfactory answers to all three questions, it also poses several questions of its own, some of which can only be answered in a post-Avengers: Endgame sequel. As a standalone movie, it delivers all the action, spectacle and laughs that fans have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), even though it never quite reaches the heights of some of its finer offerings, or even attempts to, which is okay.

It was always going to be tricky introducing another superhero origin story this late into the overall Infinity Gauntlet story arc, but Captain Marvel fits so nicely into the already-established MCU that it is little wonder why her movie hadn't been released sooner, alongside Phase One origin stories like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. The film even has a simple style and tone more in line with the films of that phase. But what it lacks in comparison to some of the more stylized movies of later phases it more than makes up for in the sheer promise of her forthcoming appearance in Avengers: Endgame next month.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (Movie Review)

As readers of this blog might have already gleaned, I have a really strong affinity for works of science fiction, being a writer of such works myself. And Battle Angel Alita, or Gunnm as it is known in Japan, was a cyberpunk manga series that came to my attention when a review of one of my books had pointed out similarities between the two. I was immediately intrigued by its existence, but never managed to get my hands on it to see for myself, until now. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the comic book series.

Set in a far future following an interplanetary war known as The Fall, it tells the story of a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) whose working remains are found in a scrapyard by a scientist named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). She is rebuilt and wakes up with no memory of her past life, not even a name. Dubbed Alita by Dr. Ido, she approaches everything in her new home of Iron City with a childlike wonder. But traces of her mysterious past start to show when she and the doctor are attacked one night, discovering she is trained in an ancient form of martial arts called Panzer Kunst.

Deducing that such encounters might help trigger memories of her past, Alita seeks to become a Hunter-Warrior, a registered bounty hunter that hunts down wanted cyborgs for the government. She also takes an interest in the gladiatorial Motorball, against Dr. Ido's wishes, after she is introduced to the sport by Hugo (Keenan Johnson), a boy she befriends and develops feelings for. But it doesn't take long before her activities are brought to the attention of Vector (Mahershala Ali), a shady businessman who trades in cyborg parts, and his mysterious benefactor, a scientist named Nova (Edward Norton).

The first aspect of Alita: Battle Angel that strikes you is how gorgeous the visuals look. For a movie that seemed to be stuck in development hell for close to two decades, the finished product is remarkable indeed. The film was written and produced by James Cameron, who was originally slated to direct but had to pass directing duties over to Robert Rodriguez due to his work on Avatar and its long-awaited sequels. Neither man is a stranger when it comes to making visually-striking movies, so its beautiful blend of live-action and CGI should come as no surprise.

Much like last year's Ready Player One, the movie also boasts of some excellent world-building, although I guess we have the source material to thank for that. I haven't read any of the comics, or seen its anime adaptations, so I can't comment on how well it has been translated to the big screen. But what has made it over into the movie is very much intriguing stuff, even though it sometimes felt like the movie was barely scratching the surface of all its source material has to offer.

Thankfully, the movie also serves as setup for potential sequels (for better or worse) should it prove successful enough to warrant making one. So here's hoping that it doesn't go the way of Mortal Engines and that it finds a large enough audience.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Movie Review)

In 2014, The Lego Movie introduced moviegoers to the Master Builders of Bricksburg (not to mention the insanely catchy theme song, Everything is Awesome). Since then, we've had two other movies in the Lego Movie franchise, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, both of which were released to varying degrees of success, but neither one quite reaching the high bar set by the first one. The Lego Movie 2 therefore marks an attempt by the filmmakers to serve up more of the eye-catching visuals and side-splitting comedy that made the first movie so great in the first place.

It's been 5 years since Bricksburg was invaded by aliens from the Systar System, turning the once beautiful metropolis into a post-apocalyptic shell of its former self. It's citizen have since adjusted to life in Apocalypseburg as it is now known, except Emmet (Chris Pratt) of course, who is still holding on to the steadfast belief that "everything is awesome." He is forced to come to terms with the harsh times though when his friends and girlfriend, Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), are kidnapped and taken to the Systar System by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz).

Using his Master Builder skills, Emmet builds a spaceship and embarks on a rescue mission. Except he doesn't get too far into his journey before he requires some rescuing of his own, which comes by the hands of Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), a "galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer." Meanwhile, Lucy and the other Master Builders are brought before the shape-shifting ruler of the Systar System, Queen Watevra Wa'nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who reveals her plans to unite their two kingdoms, which includes brainwashing them with the aptly-named Catchy Song.

The Lego Movie 2 is everything you'd expect in a sequel to a beloved animated film. It doubles down on the humor and overall silliness of the first film, while also introducing more characters and musical numbers. The animation is also as vibrant and eye-catching as it has ever been, successfully creating the illusion that it was achieved using stop-motion techniques. That said, it was always going to be tough to recapture the same level of fun and childish wonder that made the first film so great, since its sense of novelty is already lost at this point.

Much like the original, events in the sequel are driven by an overarching narrative, which results in even more live-action scenes sprinkled throughout the movie (a decision that had resulted in the first film failing to be considered for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature category). Except here the overarching narrative is not as deep or touching as the one featured in the first film. We do get to see fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph though, who plays the wife to Will Ferrel's The Man Upstairs.

To summarize, if you happened to love and embrace the wackiness of the first Lego Movie, chances are you'd like this one as well. But if you didn't enjoy the first one or you've locked up your inner child and threw away the key ages ago, then there is nothing new here that would win you over.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World (Movie Review)

The dragon riders of Berk are back in the third and final installment of the How to Train your Dragon film series, The Hidden World. It's been 9 years since the first movie first graced the big screen in 2010, and as expected, the quality of the visuals have received a massive overhaul since then, breathing new life into the characters and the world they inhabit. But perhaps even more impressive is just how much those characters have grown and evolved over the course of the narrative.

After becoming chief of Berk at the end of the previous movie, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) continues to fight for his vision of a world where humans and dragons can live in harmony. He does this with the aid of his friends by freeing those dragons being held prisoner by trappers, and bringing them back to his village. Except this results in their village becoming overrun by dragons. It also causes the aggrieved trappers to hire the infamous dragon hunter, Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham).

As if the pressures of keeping his overcrowded village in order were not enough, Hiccup must also deal with the expectation that he take his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferara), as his bride. And he is not the only one being troubled by matters of the heart, as his dragon, Toothless, takes a liking to a female Night Fury. Now it is up to Hiccup to show him how to win her heart, even as he struggles to keep his people safe by seeking out a new home for them in The Hidden World, a dragon utopia his father (Gerald Bulter) had been obsessed with finding.

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, even though it never quite reaches the emotional highs of the previous one. I tried not to get teary eyed at the ending, but dear Lord, did I fail. There were so many callbacks to the previous films, which makes you realize just how much these characters have come into their own. This is ultimately a movie about letting go of the things we love, as hard as that might seem, and embracing the uncertainty that such a future might bring.

Now this is how you end a film trilogy, unlike that recent movie whose name I would not be mentioning here. To do that would be an insult to the quality of this one. As such, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World joins the ranks of Toy Story 3 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as one of the most emotionally satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in recent memory.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Glass (Movie Review)

Few directors have recorded as many hits and misses in the past two decades as M. Night Shyamalan. And of all his successes, Unbreakable remains my favorite one, a unique take on the superhero origin story which came at a time when such movies were not considered mainstream or commercially viable. He'd won over critics and moviegoers alike with its surprise followup, Split, a psychological thriller released 17 years later. The movie was so successful that many considered it a return to form, so of course, we all anticipated the arrival of the final film in the trilogy, Glass.

The film opens with the Unbreakable David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who has since taken to fighting small-time criminals as The Overseer with the aid of his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Having learnt about the actions of The Horde (James McAvoy) at the end of Split, David takes systematic walks through the city streets in the hope of coming in contact with anyone that might lead to finding him. The two superhumans eventually meet, but their showdown is cut short when both are captured by the authorities.

They are subsequently taken to a mental institution, where they meet Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychologist that believes people like them are merely suffering from severe cases of delusion. It is her intention to treat both men, along with her long-time patient, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book collector whose rare bone disorder had earned him the nickname, Mr. Glass. But unbeknownst to her, Elijah has been harboring plans of his own, and it involves her two newest patients.

I tried to go into Glass with an open mind, I really did. But nothing in this world could have saved the film from its head-scratching and very much convoluted finale. In his attempt to blindside audiences with one of his signature plot twists, Mr. Shyamalan has managed to undo much of the groundwork that had been laid by the two previous movies, and their associated brilliance. None of which is helped by the fact that none of it adds up, at least not within the context of the current film.

This is not to say it was anything as bad as Superman uttering the name, Martha, in the middle of a fight. Far from it. But the bait and switch nature of the twist makes it a poor choice, however you choose to look at it. Still, for all of its shortcomings, Glass remains a refreshingly different take on the superhero genre. The movie had its moments, and fans of Unbreakable would appreciate its adherence to that film's style and vision. It's just a shame that it couldn't have ended on a better note.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Lionheart (Movie Review)

Remember that one time I took a trip down the rabbit hole by reviewing a certain much-talked-about Nollywood movie? Well, I figured it was about time I paid Nollywood another visit by tearing apart critiquing another one of its productions. And what better candidate than Lionheart, a movie that made the news when it became the first Nigerian film to be acquired by the online streaming service, Netflix. So of course, I wanted to know what might have prompted the acquisition, plus I was curious to see just how far our productions have come in the past two years.

Lionheart marks the directorial debut of veteran Nollywood actress, Genevieve Nnaji. She also co-writes and stars as the lead, Adaeze, daughter of the CEO of the titular company. Headed by Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie), Lionheart Transport is one of the largest transportation companies in Nigeria. But its prospects for the future are put in danger when its CEO suffers a near-fatal heart attack, forcing him to step down. Rather than appoint his more-than-capable daughter as acting CEO, he instead appoints his somewhat-eccentric brother, Chief Godswill (Nkem Owoh).

As if things were not bad enough, Adaeze also learns that her father had left the company with some very substantial debts in his bid to try and secure a very lucrative government contract. She has just 30 days to repay the loans or risk losing everything her father had worked for. Now, she and her uncle must set aside their differences and work together to raise the money, even while the entire company is under threat of acquisition by the CEO of a rival company, Igwe Pascal (Kanayo O. Kanayo).

If Lionheart is representative of the current state of our Nollywood productions, then I have to admit they've been some marked improvements since 2016. At least it was nice to see a Nigerian film that seemed to get the basics right. The production values were definitely there. The editors made sure the story flowed in a fairly logical way. The cinematographers made sure we saw what we needed to see at all times. The sound mixers ensured we could hear what was being said, not what some guy in the sound department felt were the trendiest Nigerian songs, playing several decibels too loud.

For a first time director, Genevieve Nnaji did a somewhat decent job behind the camera, which only goes to show how shoddy a job our other directors have been doing. She was also more than adequate in front of the camera, with her years of acting experience on full display. The acting was generally okay across the board, with Pete Edochie being the obvious standout, although there were more than a few supporting actors that sounded like their lines were being read by a digital assistant.

All that said, my main criticism stems from the way the film had been marketed to audiences. I'd taken one look at the movie's poster and I'd expected it to be a soaring drama. A soaring drama it was not, and what I'd gotten instead was closer to what you'd call a comedy, except it didn't have that many jokes and the few it had were not that funny. Maybe it is just the way that all Nigerian movies are made, forever hanging somewhere between being over dramatic and trying not to take itself too seriously.

Having watched the movie, I confess that I am none the wiser as to why Netflix had decided to add it to their streaming service. Perhaps it was nothing more than a business decision, an attempt to tap into our head-scratchingly lucrative home video market. The film did have a distinctly home video-like quality to it, albeit one with high production values. It was definitely better than some of their more recent acquisitions, including the internet meme generator, Bird Box. But then again, what isn't?