Arguably one of the greatest parts of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is its rather tongue-in-cheek opening scene. The humorous prologue sees Eleanor Young, her sister-in-law Felicity and their two children Nick and Astrid, arrive sopping wet at a London hotel hoping to check into one of its more prestigious suites, only to be turned away. It’s a crucial moment that forms the foundation of the movie, establishing Michelle Yeoh’s character as a fierce woman not to be trifled with, after she winds up calling her husband and, much to the chagrin of the staff, ensuring he buys the hotel. It’s sharp, witty and cleverly-played, but is also somewhat of a social commentary by director Jon Chu, about the way Asian representation on the big screen has played out for years. Casual racism is a prevalent part of our society, so it’s pleasing when the situation is flipped on its head.
Based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) follows Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu who’s been dating her boyfriend Nick Young for just over a year. Everything seems to be going well until she and her beau jet off to his home country of Singapore to attend the upcoming nuptials of his best friend. It’s then she learns Nick actually comes from an uber-wealthy ‘old-money’ sort of family, with a matriarch that’s hell bent on making sure Rachel doesn’t end up a part of it. It’s certainly not an original premise, the idea of a working-class woman from New York ending up with a proverbial prince from a far-away land. Neither is having his parents disapprove. In fact, almost every aspect of the storyline, from the wild bachelor party to the literal glow-up in her best friend’s bedroom, seems to have been recycled from rom-coms of the past. Including the overblown if not spectacularly-set ending. But where Crazy Rich Asians (2018) differs is in how it gets there. It’s about sacrifice, and as they say early in the film – playing to win instead of playing not to lose.
The cinematography is gorgeous and, in a way, serves as metaphor for the film itself. Flashy and fashionable, but at the same time underpinned by heart and soul. Take the exquisite and endearing set piece of the central wedding, where guests are seated between reeds, the bride enters through flowing water and fireflies, and the soft melodic sounds of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ envelop the whole room. There’s never been a more glorious wedding march moment in the history of cinema. And yet, it’s not the supposed $40 million price tag that makes it great. It’s the short-but-sweet ‘I love you’s’ that are passed between our protagonist’s lips while it’s happening. Gold and opulence continually come second to the smaller moments, whether that be a family making hundreds of dumplings together with a method passed down through the generations, or two women bonding as they bury a dead fish. Wealth doesn’t buy happiness here, and the camera consistently reminds us of it, even when the dialogue doesn’t.
As far as the acting goes, Constance Wu shines as the story’s leading lady Rachel Chu, playing her as both equal parts glamourous and down-to-earth. Not only is her performance refreshing for everyone that’s had enough of seeing blonde, breasty girl-next-door types plastered across theatre screens, but she brings an honesty and unpretentiousness to the tired rags-to-riches archetype. Main-man Henry Golding, meanwhile, provides a wonderful turn in what is hard to believe is his first feature film. The English-Malaysian model is dashing as the Bachelor-esque Nick Young, delivering just the right amount of charm and wit to make audiences swoon. Yeoh brings a brutality to the Tiger mom role of Eleanor, with her unpredictability one of the highlights of the piece. But the scene stealers among the cast are the comedic duo of Awkwafina and Nico Santos, with the former’s college friend Peik Lin Goh the main source of laughs, from her Ellen hair to ‘walk of shame’ car clothes. While the latter is the self-declared ‘rainbow sheep’ of the family, whose flounces and flourishes are a priceless addition to what could have been a run-of-the-mill movie.
At lot has been said about the film’s desire to showcase that minority-led films can be just as good as the mainstream blockbusters starring straight, white men and women. And quite frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I mean, statistics from just two years ago show that around only one per cent of lead roles went to Asian actors and actresses. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t mention how the movie is the first Western-produced, Asian-led film since Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and The Joy Luck Club (1993). It’s incomprehensible that films like these are still outliers. Especially when there are hundreds of thousands of people with the same background, ethnicity or skin-colour who should rightfully be able to see people like them on theatre screens. And it’s just not right to say it’s a money thing. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) has raked in more than $130 million at the box office and Black Panther (2018) ended up with a $1.3 billion run. Representation matters, plain and simple.
For me, the best bit about Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is the decision by the film’s creators to pass on a lucrative deal with Netflix. Not only were they reportedly offered a trilogy of movies and artistic licence but were practically guaranteed seven-figure contracts. And still they chose to go with a studio willing to give the film widespread cinematic distribution. They chose the integrity of the audience over their own personal gains. They chose to sacrifice things for themselves so that people around the world would be able to see Asian characters in a place they have every right to be seen in. Like Rachel, throwing away the winning tile in the movies climactic third-act Mah-jong game, they proved that you don’t always have to win to prove you’re the best. Sometimes it’s better to rise above.
Rating: 4 Asian Ellens out of 5
13 Reasons Why: Season Two Review - The truth is neither happy nor hopeful, but a dose of much-needed reality
***This review contains spoilers***
In last year’s final episode of Netflix’s controversial hit show 13 Reasons Why (2017), protagonist Clay Jensen remarked to his guidance counsellor Mr Porter that; ‘It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other’. A powerful and moving line at the time, the words spoke volumes about our attitude as a society. About the changes we need to make and the people we needed to become. But the show ended and time passed, leaving people to forgot the message. So much so, that when the much-hyped second season was rolled out Friday by the streaming giant, it appears to have disappeared completely. Settling in to marathon the 13-episode arc, what became apparent almost straight away was that everyone connected to Hannah’s story, and the horrendous acts perpetrated by those at Liberty High, also seem to have forgotten these words. Instead, drinking, drugs, guns and court cases, are just he start of more horrendous things to come. So, what exactly happened to the getting better?
Well, that’s kind of the point when it comes to telling this story. Because delivering #JusticeforHannah and for the other girls who ‘begged to be raped’, or showing that when you do the right thing evil is defeated, isn’t that easy. Simple truths and effortless wins are, quite frankly, not the society we live in. In case you hadn’t noticed, ours is the one where women must fight to be heard and not victimised. Where students are taught to barricade themselves in classrooms and are unsafe in their own school. Where people die from drug overdoses and it’s no more than a regular, nightly headline. It’s an endless fight. And it’s incredibly refreshing to find a series like 13 Reasons Why (2017), which is unafraid to shy away from the truth, however unpleasant it may be. Frustrating, complex and upsetting, the show’s second season is more realistic than the last, and maybe that’s why it is so easy to hate it at first. I know I did. Because when does it change? When do things start getting better? When does the underdog finally get to win? Well, for me, I think it is when we realise, as Mrs Baker states in this season's finale, that: ‘There are always more reasons why we should fight, then why we shouldn’t.’
The story picks up months after Hannah’s death and the subsequent fall-out from her tapes, with the first half of the season focusing largely on the students testifying in court. Despite having their words twisted against them, plenty of the crew, including Courtney, Tyler and Ryan, reveal their side to the story and, at times, even boldly stick up for their former classmate. Others like Marcus and Bryce continue to lie to protect themselves and their shiny reputations and futures. Midway in the plot begins to shift though, as Zach takes the stand and reveals details about a tryst he had with Hannah the summer before her death. His truth paints her in a different light, and is the first big instance where Clay and we the audience understand that our ideals of people are not always who they are. It’s a confusing mess, not least because it messes with the timeline. But because the writers try so hard to remind us that Hannah’s tapes were not the full story, they end up changing what made the first season so impressive - unspooling our idea of Hannah in the same way the defendant’s lawyer twists the blame back on her in court. Hannah’s truth is as important as the others, but all we are left with is a tarnished reputation and a smothered voice. Even more, as Hannah’s story unwinds, so does Clay’s opinion of her. And when the boy who loved her can’t even believe her, how are we supposed too?
What this season does deliver though is monsters and they are lurking in every corner. Wisely, it is left up to us to decide who they are. Because for all the obvious rapists and thugs, there’s plenty more people who let the situation get to the extremes it did. From the mother who knew her son did horrible things to the father who just doesn’t care. Or the coach who turns a blind eye and is more concerned with wins than the safety of students at the school. Every character has their flaws. And so too does the story, with an in-cohesive plot creating little flow, unlike the constant terror of season one. Additionally it is frustrating to watch characters make the same mistakes over and over again with little moral gain. What’s clear is that with no novel to work off, the writers seem lost in a cacophony of themes rather than actions. And like Skye making pasta with Clay’s dad - sometimes the pieces just fail to stick. Season two just isn’t as good as the original, in almost every way possible. Mostly, because it’s hard to justify its existence. And a bit because Hannah is still in every breath of the series. But that’s the point – we don’t want to look deeper, as hard as it is to do.
And what of the fears from professionals and critics who claimed the show was ‘dangerous’ because of its on-screen depiction of violent and traumatic events, including sexual assault and suicide? Well, those people will likely be just as angry this time around, with issues from drug addiction to gun violence integral parts to the narrative. If anything this season, where no glorification of suicide takes place, could be considered more dangerous than the last. Because for every rape victim trying not to be silences, there is a voice telling them no matter what ‘proper’ or ‘legal’ recourse they seek, ultimately society will fail them. I mean, one teen who raped at least three women is given little more than a slap on the wrist and a probationary stint from the courts. While the school, which overlooked the needs of its students and failed to provide sufficient protocols, fired the one person who was ready to generate meaningful change. And what’s so scary is that this actually happens in society. And if the kids watching this think that is the future waiting for them, they may there's no hope left.
But if this season has proven anything to me, it is that despite its flaws, it is important to put what’s uncomfortable on screen. And if people want to call me irresponsible for thinking Hannah’s suicide scene in season one is not only important, but crucial to effecting change, then so be it. Because our society has become afraid of our flaws and imperfections and it is literally killing people. We put others down to prop ourselves up. We pretend we don’t see problems so we don’t have to deal with them. We think making mistakes makes us weak. No other show has been criticised as heavily for simply telling the truth. And that’s because the truth hurts. People do commit suicide. Others take guns and walk into schools. And some die alone, needles in their arms and choking on their own vomit. And if we don’t talk about it, how the hell are we supposed to change it? It is brave and bold to do the right thing, and sadly, most of the time no-one has your back. But this show tells us that there is always someone that does. And we will keep fighting until everyone will. We won’t be passive. We won’t accept that this is just the way it is. As one 14-year-old Australian girl, who was bullied and harassed at school and tragically took her own life this year once wrote: ‘Speak, even if your voice shakes’.
If this story has raised issues for you, or you feel like you require crisis information and resources, please visit 13reasonswhy.info for help.
Rating: 4 Polaroids out of 5
Deadpool 2 Review - Ready your chimichangas and dubstep because you're in for a rollicking round two
After unleashing the first R-Rated anti-hero picture to rave reviews and an unexpectedly large box-office, the idea of a sequel to Deadpool (2016) was less of a question and more of an obvious answer. Because while it would undoubtedly be a cash-grab for the studio, it would also satiate fans of what has come to be a rather unique genre. DC is dark, the MCU is friendly fun, and the X-Men are somewhere between. But until two years ago we were yet to see a foul-mouthed caped crusader ready and willing to push the boundaries in the name of comedy and action. And thank God they did, because audiences were delivered a rip-roaring time and some of the best meta fourth-wall breaks on film. But could a second coming really live up to the hype and the grandeur of the original? Well, for the most part yes, taking down as many other superhero movies and their clichés as it can in the process.
Where part one was billed as a violent, irreverent and unexpectedly romantic comedy, Deadpool 2 (2018) instead serves itself up as a ‘family’ film. Provided your idea of a Friday night kid-flick includes characters dropping the c-bomb, action sequences with severed body parts and multiple, tragic on-screen deaths. To be fair, it’s quite heart-warming too, as our anti-hero Wade Wilson is forced to come to terms with a personal tragedy. After wallowing in self-pity (and indulging in some of the coke he had previously hidden around Blind Al’s place), the Merc with the Mouth is hoping to get out of the game, and life, completely. Cue everyone’s favourite silver giant Colossus, waiting in the wings to convince our protagonist he could be a useful (trainee) member of the X-Men. And when a young mutant with pyrotechnic abilities gets a bit out of control it’s the perfect opportunity for Deadpool to try his hand being a good guy. As you’d expect things don’t quite go to plan, with Josh Brolin’s Cable entering the scene and the rest of the narrative including jail-breaks, truck-convoy chases and even a bit of time travel.
Amid the ‘lazy-writing’ of what is a largely predictive plotline, we are also introduced to the looming X-Force, a bunch of new characters tipped to take over from Deadpool in Sony’s superhero future. Just hold off on getting too attached though, it is still Deadpool’s movie and I wasn’t joking – the body count here is huge. Among the standouts is Domino, whose abilities revolve around being lucky. Think Final Destination (2000) style stuff but in a good way – like a handy get out of death free card. Everyone’s average dad Peter, who became a fan favourite from his appearance in the trailers, also gets his moment to shine despite having no superpowers whatsoever, proving that Deadpool 2 (2018) really does just play by its own rules. Oh, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead is as awesome as ever, generating atomic blasts and finding her first love. As is the wildly imaginative and glorious soundtrack including Celine Dion, Cher and Dolly Parton.
The humour is strong with the sequel, tapping into the meta and finding fresh ways to reinvent what made the first film so entertaining. But don’t be fooled – writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds know their niche and play hard to it. It’s a shame too, because despite the sarcastic comedy and laugh-out-loud lines littered throughout, it constantly feels like they are playing it safe (the one exception being an early scene that sets the tone for the flick). Deadpool 2 (2018) is still a superhero showdown and one that perhaps requires more homework than all the others combined, with quips about parents named Martha and mutant related cameos that only those with a litany of prior knowledge could get. Then again, like the MCU, audiences know going in that this isn’t a standalone piece, so brush up or suck it up. Creating depth past the jokes is something the film strangely succeeds in too though, placing the emphasis on heart as much as humour. Overwhelmed by grief, Deadpool is no mere one-directional character, and neither are his foes and friends.
Reynolds, in a role he was clearly born to play, relishes his return to the title character, zinging one-liners left, right and centre. But under the suit there is a vulnerability that’s a step-up from the last film, with the audience never truly certain of his intentions. Meanwhile, scene-stealers Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams, who play Dopinder and Blind Al respectively, are given meatier roles here, gloriously holding their own against ‘God’s perfect idiot’. The same goes for new additions Zazie Beetz as lucky-lady Domino and Julian Dennison as Russell a.k.a. Firefist, who add flair and fun to the controlled chaos. As for Cable himself, Brolin appears much more relaxed and energised here than his recent turn as Thanos in Marvel’s other cinematic universe, something the Merc with a Mouth is happy to remind us of. And thankfully he is given a deeper backstory (or perhaps, just a more redeemable one), not quite villain or hero, but sitting comfortably in the middle alongside Deadpool. It’s a relief to see characters that aren’t perfect and are just happy to be along for the ride, however cliched it can get at times.
Like all good superhero films though, you must wait until the end for the most important moments. And here, that also mean the funniest, with the after-credits scenes tackling Reynolds own history of bad decisions – ala Green Lantern (2011) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). And for a film featuring the most outrageous Basic Instinct (1992) reference ever that’s saying something. Ultimately, if you are up for an entertaining, self-aware, comical and yet excruciatingly violent movie then you will probably walk away with a smile on your face. If not, you need to ask yourself why you are watching this film in the first place? As for future instalments, there’s certainly plenty of potential and more than a little ‘foreshadowing’ going on to make us think Deadpool: The Franchise may never really die, just like it’s hero.
Rating: 4 moments out of 5 (to be a superhero)
A Quiet Place Review - Silence is survival in this emotional film about human fragility and the power of sound
It is crazy to think just how many times a day we make sound. When we do the dishes or make our beds. As we walk across hard-wood floors or turn a key in a car. Slurping and crunching as we eat. Even tossing and turning in our sleep. Every time we move. Every breathe we take. Every word spoken. Now imagine those actions, from the tiniest cough to the loudest clang, meant that you could be torn to shreds in a matter of moments. It’s enough to make you catch your breath, right? Sit up a little straighter, eyes wider, more alert? Well, that is the beautifully simplistic premise behind John Krasinski’s new horror/thriller A Quiet Place (2018). The tagline little more than ‘If they hear you, they can hunt you’. And it’s about as disturbing as you might think, with The Office (2005 – 2013) alum masterfully directing, starring-in and even co-writing the script to this unsettling and menacing take on a creature feature.
The film’s premise is easy to follow, throwing us into a world where blind, armoured creatures with super-hearing skills have taken over, leaving humans to survive only by their silence. We follow the Abbott family, including Lee (John Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (the actor/director’s real-life partner Emily Blunt), as well as their three children, who communicate using sign language and are ultra-vigilant of ever making a noise lest they be killed. If it were an easy feat though the film wouldn’t amount to much of a horror piece, so mere minutes in we are left with the tragic consequences of an all-too-easy sound slip-up. But the real-kicker comes as we jump forward in time and find Evelyn not only pregnant, but due in a matter of days. It’s a confronting premise, bringing a baby into such a constrained and unforgiving world, not only because of their innate noisiness and unpredictability, but for the ethics of the bleak future that awaits it. And there-in lies the heart of the film - a family uncompromising in their desire to survive no matter the losses that may await them.
In a film with less than 50 lines of dialogue (give or take), sound obviously plays a key role, drawing us into the Abbott’s world and putting us on edge with every click, chirp or buzz. It’s a colossal undertaking and the editing team use every trick in their book to make the lack of noise and dialogue an intense and involving show. There’s not a moment to be bored or a yawn to be stifled during the slick 90-minute run-time. Never have I heard an audience so silent and still, as if their own sounds or breaths could cause harm. Beyond that, A Quiet Place (2018) is imbued with layer upon layer of depth, the audience at times also granted the chance to experience the desolate world through the ears of child Regan (played with complexity and maturity by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), whose hearing impairment opens up a whole new terror to think about. Every detail has been carefully crafted to create suspense and foreshadow events to come, from a stationary blue truck to rockets, and even light globes strung across the cornfield. And while it’s fair to say that not everything about this new world is easily explained away (imagine trying to remain quiet with an oncoming sneeze or grumbling stomach), those behind the camera have done their best within the film’s limited scope.
Visually the film also excels, with Krasinski turning to close-ups to deliver the emotional impact of the situation where words can’t. We see the Abbott’s fear as we hear it, and long, long before the pointy teeth of the monsters ever arrive. The actors respond phenomenally too, as they cycle through their various emotions. Blunt provides a powerhouse performance and is in perfect form as the unit’s grieving-but-determined mother, while Krasinski imbues great sadness as the devoted patriarch. But equally important are the performances of the children, including a terrified Noah Jupe as son Marcus and brilliant turn from Simmonds as the young daughter longing for independence. Each shot has a soft glow hanging over it, as if imitating dusk, which strips the scenes back as our characters are. But in this dying world there is also profound elegance to be found - you just need listen to the wind whispering through the golden cornfields or the water whipping over the rocks at a waterfall to see there is beauty, even amongst the bad.
The true hero here though is Krasinski, who shines with just his third stab at directing a feature film. Keen not to play by the rules of classic horror, instead he uses what made his second picture – the dramatic comedy piece The Hollars (2016) - so successful, by making us care innately about the characters and the gravity of the situation befalling them. If your heart doesn’t hurt from the sacrifices made here, then maybe you aren’t watching properly. Too often horror is associated with little more than masks, sharks, slashing and screams. But its fundamentally more frightening to have to contemplate death before experiencing it. And to face an enemy you can’t comprehend and whose weakness is just as mysterious. Krasinski taps into that fear with ease, giving hints to the monsters’ appearance before the big reveal, and leaving no more than a few meagre newspaper clippings as clues to where the beasts came from or why they are there. If he has learnt anything from horror films of the past, it is that the denial of information can sometimes be much more powerful than anything we ever see on screen.
What sets A Quiet Place apart from those genre pieces that have come before, is the shear humanity of our survivors. A girl who believes she neither has nor deserves her father’s love. The heartbreak of a mother who wishes she could take one moment back. The fear of a boy who is forced to contemplate the macabre realities of death daily. And a father, who would do anything to protect those he loves. There is more heart here than most dramas. And more stress than any action piece could provide. You’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time the closing credits start to roll. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel like there’s still a lot to be said in the silence.
Rating: 4.5 Quiet Krasinski's out of 5
It is a rare thing for a Marvel origin movie to be a resounding success. I mean, out of our introductions to current titular superheroes Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Ant-Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and even the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) very few have left audiences both impassioned and awe-inspired. You see, it’s a hard combination to create, at least the first time around, with the studio usually more interested in carefully crafting the characters for their star-studded team-up flicks. Perhaps this is why Black Panther (2018) works so well, with director Ryan Coogler spending less time introducing us to his restrained and dignified main man following his launch in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and instead focusing his energy and expertise into bringing one of Marvel’s most beautiful realms to life. Here, he breathes life into a myth, building a groovy world worthy of the big screen and the landmark acclaim it is gaining.
We start in the aftermath of King T’Chaka’s death, as royal heir T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his technologically advanced homeland to take up the mantle of its monarch. Following a primordial challenge from the land’s four other tribes, the Prince emerges as Wakanda’s rightful leader and warrior. But just days into his reign he is forced to bring the nation’s greatest villain Ulysses Klaue to justice – a feat his father was unable to achieve for more than 30 years. It’s no wonder then that blood and betrayal run deep in the movie as it shifts to South Korea for its stylish and slick second half. Here our protagonist, his protector Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his feisty ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) take on their foes in a polished casino-heist style scene. No Marvel movie would be complete though without an all-out car race, this time sweeping through neon-streaked streets and providing the perfect opportunity for the Prince’s tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) to shine. But it’s mercenary Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who takes centre stage come part three, putting a dampener on the ruler’s plans by challenging his right to sit upon the throne and causing the series second civil war to break out.
Visually the film is stunning. Gorgeous cosmic colours swirl through ancestral worlds and bleed into the gorgeous country of Wakanda. There’s a similar vibe in the music too, with an original soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar combining wild drumbeats with flourishes of frenetic hip-hop. It makes you want to get up and move, pulling viewers into the film and transforming them into more than just oblivious observers. Part of what makes the film great though is how seamlessly it blends the traditions of old with the technology of new. This is a country that exists with the greatest advancements in life - from hover trains to metal-balls that can save people’s spines - yet continues to conduct ritual bloodfights for its governance. Culture is important and no matter how far its people may progress, the sanctity of their customs and their desire to prove you can have it all sets them apart.
The star-studded cast are a step-above, but one wouldn’t expect any less from those who have mastered funk legends, slayed zombies and won Oscars. Boseman brings a serene presence to his King, funnier than we have seen him before, but still duty and honour bound. He is the wise leader, forced to understand how failure is crucial to making a great leader. In opposition, Jordan brings a reckless, snarky-ness to his scarred villain Killmonger. Yet despite his flaws, he is one of the most well-rounded and empathetic antagonists the Marvel universe has produced - his unwillingness to give-up on his beliefs demanding credit. Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker and Winston Duke all provide solid support in roles that could easily have been extended, but it is hard not to see how it is their actress counterparts that really make a mark in the film’s two-hour run.
Women are incredibly powerful in Coogler’s world, with their representation here among the best in Marvel’s history. While T’Challa may serve as King and hero, females form the brunt of those closest to him. His mother Queen Ramonda is a guiding force in who he becomes. His sister Princess Shuri provides the smarts behind his advantage over foes. And former flame and spirited badass Nakia is not afraid to challenge and push to be a better person. Then there is the King’s guard – the Dora Milaje - an all-female group of shaven-haired warrior women led by General Okoye. Little girls have long waited for Marvel to get their act together and give them someone more than just Black Widow and Scarlet Witch to aspire to, and here Coogler cocks his head and says screw waiting until Captain Marvel (2019). You want to be a cool scientist? Then study hard and do it. You want to be an activist and stand up for what you believe in? Make people hear your voice. You want to be someone other than the damsel-in-distress? No-one is stopping you. Not anymore.
Above all, race is the most crucial element here, there’s no denying it. Never before has there been a superhero movie with such a triumphant African-American cast, directed by an African-American visionary and with a budget this big to throw around. And Coogler makes it clear from the get-go that identity is at the heart of his blockbuster, whether that be a hesitant son trying to live up to his father’s name or a beefed-up outcast hitting back at the home he was never invited into. Our movie-maestro has been commenting on these themes for a while now, from his incredible introduction Fruitvale Station (2013) to his powerful follow-up Creed (2015). But everything about Black Panther (2018) makes it feel like he has simply been gearing up for an ultimate chance to comment on the politics that so deeply divide us. So, it’s no surprise he is keen to finish on a note of unity rather than division. It’s a representation that will make generations sit up and pay attention. And maybe one day, we’ll realise that difference isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to embrace.
Rating: 4 Wakandan Warriors out of 5
Thor: Ragnarok Review - Brash, bold and downright hilarious, this time the God of Thunder is finally a champion
It’s funny, but when Marvel first started on the giant conglomerate that is their cinematic universe, people were eager to jump aboard the train. Good film after great film kept falling in our laps, from Iron Man (2008) to The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). And then the sequels, dark and juicy, just like Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), each providing yet more opportunities to be blown away. But the whole time, one of the quintessential characters of that universe – the mighty Thor - was resigned to little more than a muscle-man stereotype: a guy who talked funny, liked to hit things and was frankly just a little bit dim. Well, it’s so, so, nice to say that has finally changed. Okay, mostly. He does still talk funny and look hot. But in the God of Thunder’s third outing, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) we patient fans are finally introduced to the comic gold we’ve been waiting for. All wrapped up in a fresh, fun and fancy-free bow. Not quite bottled lightning, but pretty damn close. This threequel is a disorienting, dream-like feast. It’s a god damn rebel without a cause. And frankly it’s about damn time.
Ragnarok kicks things up a notch from previous Marvel-verse movies in both style and scale. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have to spend half the film explaining things or carefully crafting back stories. Or perhaps it’s because under Taika Waititi’s control a linear plot gives way to pure, unadulterated fun. But regardless, the film zips along at breakneck pace, bouncing between planets, puns and incredible cameos. It picks up with Thor in a precarious position as he learns of Asgaard’s end of days. Not long after he’s back on his shiny home world discovering his mischievous ‘adopted’ brother Loki is not just alive and well, but has being playing dress-up in his absence. From there the Marvel machine takes hold, as the mythical Hela arrives on the scene plotting – yawn – yet another global annihilation. We get it, okay. But really isn't there a better superhero movie schtick yet? Thankfully, Waititi holds his ground, giving us a reunion between Avenger’s outcasts Thor and Hulk to bring back the human element and take what could otherwise be a banal series of scenes into full-on Gladiator territory. Without spoiling things too much, the remainder of the movie comfortably settles into a cross between psychedelic roller-coaster ride and hilarious buddy-movie flick, as the ‘Revengers’ do battle for heart and home.
Third time round Hemsworth finally gets the chance to flex his comedic chops, whether that be in his joyous interactions with the Hulk or screaming like a little girl when confronted with The Grandmaster. But he also manages to bring a depth and brevity to the role that hadn’t existed before. Thor has grown up a lot since his introduction and there’s plenty of visual reminders too. From shaved locks, to his bond with his brother, and even his trandsformation when having to deal with the destruction of his beloved Mjolnir. Odin’s son is finally living up to his name, in more ways than one. In comparison, everyone’s favourite bad boy villain Loki has had a somewhat slower maturity, creating monuments in his honour after being left to his own devices. It’s clear Hiddleston still relishes the role, part Shakespearean part slapstick and a whole lot of mischievous charisma. It’s no wonder he’s won fans the world over. Hulk meanwhile is sassier than ever, speaking his mind rather than just smashing things aimlessly (although a lot of that happens too). If any of the repeat players fall flat, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ wise leader, who seems like he’s sleepwalking his way to a paycheck rather than handing out sage advice.
The newcomers provide plenty of energy to keep things going though, with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie both an original and badass addition. Declared the first bisexual character in the Marvel universe, that seems to be the last thing on her mind, with the warrior-woman spending most of her screen time drinking, throwing sarcastic comments her co-stars way and giving off a strong ‘don’t fuck with me vibe’. What more could you ask for in an individual, right? Then there’s Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who is a throwback to the eighties if I ever saw one. Not only does he own a spaceship specifically used for orgies, but he also wears blue eyeliner and uses so much hair product global warming should be a problem on his planet. It’s safe to say he’s almost more Goldblum than Goldblum is, and that man played Ian freaking Malcolm. Meanwhile, Karl Urban’s Skurge is much like you’d expect, taking on the traditional villain’s assistant role while maintaining some ‘redeemable’ characteristics. Best of all is Waititi’s own motion capture creature, Korg, a stone alien whose kiwi tongue and soft spoken logic has been sorely lacking from these blockbuster affairs.
When it comes to cinematography it’s a cacophony of colour here, dragging us out of the cold shadows of Captain America: Civil War (2016). But visual aspects play little part in determining the best scene in the film, because while most woman will likely judge it as the moment they can swoon over Hemsworth’s *cough* it’s-probably-in-his-contract *cough* shirtless scene, the hands down standout is Loki’s Tony-Award winning theatrical production. To say anymore would be to spoil the best moment of your year. But suffice to say, the cameos are everything. So what about the worst element then? Well, that must go to the overused, overblown and seriously-can-we-just-do-away-with-this-trope-now plot for Hela to try and take over the universe. Frankly it is really hard to care when Thanos’ master plan is lurking just around the corner. With Infinity War (2018) looming large, the stakes here just can't ever be big enough, meaning we remain almost ambivalent to the villainess (who clearly took her goth phase too seriously). Even the devastating finale piece, full of astounding visual effects, falls somewhat flat as a result.
Coming in as a relatively small-scale director, it’s incredibly empowering to see Taika Waititi bringing his trademark charm, wit and down-to-earth fun to this piece. Unlike the James Gunn’s and the Jon Watts of the Marvel-verse (who have done incredible work, don’t get me wrong), Waititi stands just slightly above the crowd. Because while he brings the same genuine heart and humour like those before him, he also brings a breakaway from the formulaic style Marvel is renowned for delivering. He smashes the idea that the tone, characters and secrets must be carefully formulated because Marvel are watching. He knows but just doesn’t care. Because Waititi is the revolution maker (in both the literal and figurative sense), finding a compromise that fits everyone. It’s an eye for an eye after all.
Rating: 4 Shirtless Hemsworth's out of 5
Clowns have never scared me. Unnerved, sure. Weirded out, wouldn’t you be. But terrified? Not so much. After all, they’re little more than a person dressed in a suit, designed to entertain and thrill you. Right? But then came the news that Warner Bros had decided to bring their crazed-killer-clown adaptation IT (1990) into the 21st century. And with it came a series of creepy (and allegedly unrelated) sightings of such creatures across the world. And suddenly clowns stopped representing a fun night out at the circus or rodeo and instead became psychotic killers lurking in bushes. Perhaps after Stephen King’s original novel they always had been. What is interesting though, is that the studio’s remake could have so easily played into this melodrama and cliché. That clowns are evil and that’s all there is to them. But these red-nosed, white-faced, devilishly-smiling creatures aren’t the only thing to fear and IT (2017) wisely knows it. Sometimes, what makes us most afraid, is fear itself.
Based on King’s work, and given the seal of approval from the author himself, the movie follows a rag-tag group of teens as they investigate a spate of mysterious disappearances in their sleepy Maine town. A year after Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie vanishes while out playing, he and his ‘Loser Club’ friends start witnessing haunting visions. From blood-soaked bathrooms to pus-filled lepers, each play on the children’s worst fears. And soon they start culminating in the appearance of Pennywise, a malevolent clown (Bill Skarsgard). Not your average circus performer, this monster is determined to wreak havoc, using a red balloon, well-timed music and a set of nasty teeth to do the job. Scared, yet determined to get to the bottom of it, the team start connecting the dots the adults refuse to see, leading them deep into Derry’s history and sewer systems to find the heart of the beast itself.
Part horror, part coming-of-age tale, the film dances around both for most of its two-hour runtime. But director Andy Muschietti has a steady hand and throws us just enough of both to keep us intrigued. A close-up of Pennywise’s face here, a dramatic build-up there and just enough gore sprinkled between the moments of childhood innocence. His biggest success though is making us care for the seven-strong main cast, each getting almost enough screen-time and bonding moments to make them individuals. Even if Stan is reduced to little more than the Jewish boy preparing for his Bat Mitzvah and Ben is represented as the formulaic new kid who spends his time in the library. The child actors show talent and wisdom beyond their years though, led by an impressive performance from Jaeden Lieberher. But two standouts work hard to upstage him, in Finn Wolfhard’s foul-mouthed, comic-relief character Ritchie, and the dazzlingly-innocent yet terrifically tomboyish performance of Sophia Lillis’ Beverley.
And while killer-clowns sound like the most cliched of all horror tropes, IT’s fiendish villain is a breath of fresh air. Skarsgard delivers a phenomenal and all-encompassing turn, so deeply and richly conceived it’s hard to see any humanity in the character at all. It’s not Tim Curry’s iconic version, I’ll give you that, but it’s a scintillating vision nonetheless. Sadly, it is let down by Muschietti, who spends too much time establishing the character rather than delving into the film’s darker fear – that parents are the true fiends. He hints at it when we see abusive fathers controlling their daughters or pushing their sons to breaking point, but it is never at the forefront. And its such a let down, because fear is a contagion that is made worse when we can’t explain or confront it. And for all the dread, uncertainty and mystical forces Pennywise conjures up, he can be overcome. Trusted adults exploiting their power and pretending the terror isn’t real, is a whole lot harder to beat.
The movie’s strongest element therefore, is its focus on the theme of fear. For starters, each child’s horror is hinted at long before it is used against them. For Beverley, coming into womanhood and having her first period, blood plays a big part in her terror. While Eddie, raised by a mother in constant fear of his health, the thing that frightens him is sickness. Mike, the outcast unable to deal with death, is forced to relive such a demise time and time again, just as Stanley, who has no tangible female figure in his life, is unable to get past a creepy portrait of a woman hanging in his father’s office. And then there is Bill, plagued by his brother’s disappearance and unable to let him go. But the most frightening part of what Pennywise represents is the fear of the unknown. A killer clown that appears from nowhere, doesn’t discriminate and most importantly – is never named. Fear of fear itself is what drives the film forward and keeps us glued to our seats. Because if we can’t understand it, how can we hope to beat it?
With King’s mammoth novel spanning more than 27 years and more than 1,000 pages, the question of splitting the film was, for once, a legitimate no-brainer. Unlike Twilight (2008), The Hunger Games (2012) or The Hobbit films (2012 – 2014), in this case making two films from one book will finally prove not just a box office hit, but also one the critics can’t slam. Provided it has the same level of fun and friendship delivered in act one. Because who doesn’t like watching a group of misfit kids throw rocks at bullies while an eighties soundtrack blares behind them.?Or see them whack the crap out of a clown using metal poles, baseball bats and chains? It just ups the ante when they become adults. The only thing I’m hoping for is that the giant spider from the novel doesn't make its way into the antagonist’s manifestations second time round. Because that would truly be terrifying.
Rating: 4 Red Balloons out of 5
Spider-Man: Homecoming Review - Peter Parker finds his feet and some fun as he swings into the Marvel universe
I’m going to get it out there right now. Transparency is important after all. I have never been a fan of Spider-Man. Yes, when I first fell into the land of superheroes and comics, I guess you could say I was indifferent to the idea of a guy in tights swinging across New York City and taking up the name of an insect that thousands of people around the world fear. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that spiders in Australia aren’t something to be proud of – they're gigantic, pains in the ass, which scare the crap out of you by their size and deadliness. Or perhaps it stems from the god-awful original movies starring Tobey Maguire, you know – the ones where he dances and you find yourself staring into a void you feel you’ll never get out of. But when Sony and Marvel announced they had got their act together to share rights to the character, something started to change. I found myself following the film’s updates and poring over its recent developments. I was there championing Tom Holland on behind a computer screen when he was announced on the shortlist, and I was there scrunching my face up in trepidation when they announced Jon Watts as the director. And somehow, along the way and without my knowledge, I had become a fan of the character. And can I just say, after watching this film, I am really glad I did.
Despite having one of the most convoluted posters in recent history, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s (2017) plot – mercifully – is far easier to follow. After his scene-stealing introduction in Captain America: Civil War (2016), 15-year-old Peter Parker is back in Queens and hankering for some action. Unfortunately for him, Team Stark is just as eager to keep the training wheels on – quite literally at times – suggesting he instead remain a “friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man”. You know, the kind that steers old ladies in the right direction and foils dastardly bike thieves, all before enjoying a well-deserved churro. But what would a Spider-Man movie be without a little action right? So, it’s not long before Peter's Spidey-senses start tingling and he lands right in the middle of some Vulture-sized trouble. After being laid-off his job collecting alien-tech in the aftermath of the battle of New York, the bird in question – Mr Adrien Toombes – has decided to take things into his own hands. Stealing and refurbishing powerful weapons he then sells them on to the highest buyer in back alleys and bushes. But when Peter gets in the way of his ability to do that – and thus provide for his family – great power and great responsibility is the last thing on everyone’s minds.
Now, if there is one fault to Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe, it is their reliance on the age-old formula of a troubled protagonist who can too easily prove himself the hero. Life is hard, and pretty crappy at times, so most people escaping to the cinema want to see their hero’s struggle a bit before they come out on top. Refreshingly, that is where Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds, as Holland’s incarnation falls flat on his face just as many times as he triumphs. This time around he’s the dorky kid who must run across a golf course because there’s nowhere to shoot his webbing. He’s the guy who swings in to save the day but doesn’t quite know how to announce his presence to the villains. And he’s the guy that reduces a ferry to scrap metal instead of saving the day. He’s relatable and – God bless him – so very redeemable. Just like the audiences sitting in darkened theatres, he gets scared occasionally.
But Peter is also the sort of guy who knows how wrong it is to bring out his suit just to impress a girl at a party. Who understands how important it is to surround yourself with friends who truly care – trust me when I say, everyone needs a “guy in the chair”. And it’s this morality that is interwoven not just into Holland’s take on the character, but into the very fabric of the film. It’s there every time his AI assistant Karen – voiced by the wonderful new addition Jennifer Connelly – asks whether he would like to turn on ‘instant kill’. Or every time he realises that just because Aunt May is a strong independent women doesn’t mean she worries any less. That being said, the movie also finds a good balance by laying on the laughs. Whether it’s Peter’s disillusioned teachers or his lack of patience at being locked in a room. Maybe he can learn a thing or two from his Avenging idols after all…
Casting for this film was a great accomplishment by Marvel. Holland is hands down the best pick, and he’s been proving it ever since his masterful turn in The Impossible (2012). Then there’s Peter’s best friend Ned, to which Jacob Batalon brings perfect comedic timing. In just his second feature film he is already garnering fans and making you wonder where his star will reach. For all the mentions of Zendaya in the film’s marketing her character Michelle is downplayed heavily, but a casual reference come the films end ensures she will be back in future instalments and hopefully with a meatier role. Villain-wise Michael Keaton is cutting and interesting in his portrayal of Vulture, while Tony Revolori adds nuance to school bully Flash. Then there are the familiar faces, with Robert Downey Jr – slash – Iron Man (let’s face it they’re practically the same person now) phoning it in for most of the movie – believe me when I say that actually adds something to the piece though. Stan Lee gets a good run too, as does a mystery cameo, which will bring a smile to your face and have you digging through the DVD’s special features to see more.
One of the most interesting dynamics I enjoyed about Spider-Man: Homecoming is how heavily it leaned on the idea of Peter becoming the next Tony Stark. Not like Doctor Strange (2016), which delivered a blow-by-blow recreation of Iron Man’s first solo outing (i.e. Rich and entitled bad boy gets injured, learns heroic ways and returns to save the day). But more in a passing of the torch sort of way. He’s there to save Peter when he gets in over his head and to lecture him into realising he shouldn’t want to be ‘like him’ but be a ‘better him’. There is even the Artificial Intelligence who provides him snarky comments and helpful support. Above all though, there is the closing moments of the film, which while not as grand as Tony’s ‘I am Iron Man’ speech, certainly bring up something reminiscent. Not everyone may know Peter Parker’s secret-identity, but the wonderful thing about the Marvel Universe is that it really makes it a family affair.
Rating: 4 Spidey-Jumps out of 5
When Marvel first set about building their budding universe with Robert Downey Jr’s spectacularly sarcastic and snarky Iron Man back in 2008, they left their fellow competitors DC in their dust. And while Christopher Nolan delivered a gritty gamble with his Batman trilogy, Zack Snyder’s subsequent Superman attempts and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016) proved no match for the mighty Disney megalith that is, quite frankly, taking over the filmic world. But it feels rather ironic now that DC’s big comeuppance to their foes is their first female-centric piece, directed by the talented Patty Jenkins. It’s funny, because while Marvel have huffed and puffed and blown every straw house down in their way, they themselves have still yet to deliver a standalone female-led film. And even more humorous, because their competitor’s instalment will be a damn hard one to beat.
Beginning on Themyscira - the home of the sword-wielding, horseback-riding Amazonian warrior woman - we are first introduced to Wonder Woman’s (2017) titular protagonist by way of Lilly Aspell’s eight-year-old version. Running away from school to spy upon the women training in combat, the intrepid young lady’s eagerness to fight and learn touchingly represents all the young girls who will gain more in life for having seen such a gender-defying film. And as Diana grows she battles hard, proving herself as Emily Carey’s pre-teen before transforming into Gal Gadot’s wide-eyed and glorious incarnation. But everything changes on the island when Chris Pine’s World War I pilot Steve Trevor crash lands, bringing the German enemy with him. With her head filled of stories of Greek Gods content on wreaking havoc, she defies her mother Hippolyta and seeks to leave with her new ‘above-average’ friend in search of Ares. All the while unbeknownst of her true status or power. Adjusting to life in England and on the Western Front, she then goes about proving – backed by a kickass score – that fighting injustice is more than simply slugging people in a super suit. It’s sacrifice and love, themes we women are all too familiar with. No wonder the film’s garnering critical acclaim.
A solid and scintillating dose of feminine power has, arguably, been a long time coming. From Halle Berry’s cringeworthy Catwoman (2004) to Jennifer Garner’s laughable Elektra (2005), girls have so far had little to look up to on the silver screen. Even Marvel’s Black Widow and Scarlet Witch have been relegated to side-acts. Thankfully Gadot’s Diana delivers, standing up to men not only by shoving her sword through them, but also declaring them cowards when they choose to sit safely at home and have others do their dirty work. Unafraid, unabashed and unassuming, she doesn’t hesitate to put men in their place, telling Trevor how the male sex is necessary for procreation, but not so much for pleasure. But perhaps the best moment of patriarchy-defiance, comes from a naked Chris Pine emerging from a steaming hot pool. Seemingly assured that the Amazonian fighter is looking at his unclothed frame, his is surprised to find she instead is far more interested in his wristwatch. For all you women out there - such subtle gender reversals are splendidly littered throughout.
As far as acting goes, Gal Gadot owns the role thanks to her beauty, poise and wildness. It says something for her that despite her obvious good looks and charming manner, she manages to deliver incredible emotion and humour, even when commenting on how ‘honourable’ an ice-cream can be. The mark of a true actor is to turn the smallest of scenes into a masterpiece, and Gadot does that with ease. She should be proud that little girls (and boys) will want to emulate her for years to come. As side-support goes, Pine provides his trademark affable comedy and gutso. And along with his rag-tag team of Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer, Ewen Bremner’s Charlie and Eugene Brave Rock’s the Chief, the boys help stand Diana in good company. The villains’ meanwhile lash on slopping’s of cliché, reminiscent of the Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). And while the script is largely tepid and lacklustre, the special effects help take it to the next level. Awash with graceful kinetic movements and ALL. THE. SLOW. MOTION, it’s just as beautiful to watch as its main star.
But for all the sexist stereotypes the movie overcomes, there are still moments that are painfully overlooked. For starters Diana is seen complaining about why a corset would ‘keep your tummy tucked in,’ just minutes before she runs into battle in a strapless, form fitting metal combination. Breasts on show, hair in place, heavy eyeliner prominent. The ideals of beauty are hard to get around and even in the first, proper female standalone superhero flick they abound aplenty. Then there’s the continuity errors to deal with. Like, why if Diana can defeat the God of War during modern society’s first great conflict does she exist in a universe where World War II, The Korean, Vietnam and Iraq War’s, as well as the impending doom of Justice League probably occur? There’s gimmick too, tucked away in the script, which breeds cliché even within its most sentimental moments. For as great as the idea that love is of course the answer, it would have been a far greater third act climax to avoid the predictable and instead delve into man’s psyche as a broken and troubled race.
If there is one thing to be taken from the film though, it is the impact it will have on the wide-eyed children growing up in today’s fractious society. The one filled with terrorists and bloodshed. The one where men who choose not to believe the facts presented them. The one where everyone is still telling women they are not equal. Not really. Not when it comes to filmic representations, wage gaps and success in the workplace. The one that calls them to be stronger than they have ever been before therefore to make a difference. It’s wonder-ful that, finally, they have a role model to aspire to. Not because of her incredible fighting prowess. Not because of her good looks. But because she is a woman, who chooses not to ignore the pain and suffering in the world. A woman who makes the word ‘feminine,’ something to be proud of.
Rating: 4 X-Factors out of 5
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review - Where a twig saves the day and the Guardians finally find family
When Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) debuted three years ago it was Marvel’s biggest gamble to date. Assembling a rag-tag team of misfits may have worked for The Avengers (2012), but the studio had six solo films to get to that point. And convincing people that an anthropomorphic raccoon, green ninja woman, scarred alien, self-confessed ‘Star-Lord’ and sentient tree would make the ideal protagonists, was another thing entirely. But convince they did, as then relatively unknown director James Gunn wowed viewers and critics alike with his incredible style and outstanding eighties soundtrack. Offbeat, funny and fresh, the movie surprised all who watched it, resulting in almost universal praise. But it did leave a real dilemma. How does one follows up a film that good? How do you create a sequel that outdoes the best? Well, the simple answer is you don’t. Instead you focus on making a movie that is exciting, humorous and just damn cute. You focus on doing well, instead of constantly trying to one-up yourself. And that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) delivers.
The film follows a pretty straight-up storyline, whereby Peter finally discovers his origins and realises family doesn’t finish with blood. Since saving the galaxy the group have been settling into their role as protectors, with their latest venture taking them to the Sovereign’s home world to guard their batteries. But when one of the clan live up to their roguish background, golden ruler Ayesha sends her forces after them, driving the group to crash land on a foreign world. Saved by the mysterious Ego, Quill learns that the aptly-titled figure is his father and agrees to go to visit his planet alongside Drax and Gamora to discover more. Meanwhile, Yondu finds himself getting a bigger side-plot this time around, after being exiled by the ravaging community, caught up in a mutiny, and working with Rocket and Groot to try and right his wrongs. And then there comes the third act set piece, full of explosions, heart, cool cameos and enough guitar chords to keep fans happy.
But before delving into the nitty gritty technical elements, one thing I must do is take a moment to acknowledge the incredible opening sequence of the film. Without giving too much away, the equal parts cute and action-fuelled moment is perhaps the best introduction in Marvel filmic history. Not only does it give us the first look at the adorable Baby Groot and his fondness for dancing, but it proves why fight scenes become something else in Gunn’s hands. Slow-motion shots, sounds from Electric Light Orchestra and all filmed from the smallest team member’s point of view. It’s a lot, an overwhelming array of a scene that makes you wonder if your brain will be able to handle the next two hours. But it’s the kind of intense, colourful and enjoyable moment that makes Guardians stand apart from a crowd. And visually, the rest of the film delivers the same dynamic, as every tint and tone pops off the screen like a kaleidoscope of colour. Forget the stone wash of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), or the sombre hues of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Guardians is about the fun and what’s more fun than bringing things back to a classic comic book-style?
As far as the jokes go, for the most part they fall on Dave Bautista’s Drax and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, who channel the sarcasm and sass with ease. Pom Klementieff’s newcomer Mantis also steps in for support, with Gunn using her innocence as a fantastic front for humour. Sadly, while most of the jokes stick their landing a lot manage to mess up in the process. The toilet humour is strong in this sequel and will leave you wondering why the film felt it had to sink so low. Similarly, a long-running gag about a ravager named Taserface lasts a little too long and falls a little too flat for diehard fans. But the pop culture references are what have always won over viewers and there’s plenty to go around, from Knight Rider moments to mentions of Mary Poppins. And with young Groot learning his way in the new world, there’s just as many ‘awww’ instances as there our laugh out loud moments. Peter’s story may be the heart of the flick, but the young sapling’s is undoubtedly its spirit. I mean, come on, we’d pay the ticket price just to watch two hours of him sitting around, he’s that damn adorable.
Interestingly while Groot’s representation has been stepped up in this flick, perhaps the producers were leaning a little too hard on it. Because while Chris Pratt delivered one of the best Marvel representations in the first film, here he has been reduced to little more than a chess piece in a bigger game, torn between two fathers and two families. It’s every bit the cliché you think it is and leaves him faltering throughout a large part of the film. Thankfully he regains his star status by the final showdown, and it’s almost entirely thanks to Michael Rooker’s surprisingly earnest performance. If anyone deserves praise for the film, it is him. Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Karen Gillan all put on a solid show, while Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper again provide fantastic voiceover work. The real drawback though is Kurt Russell’s Ego. Perhaps the character brief was simply one-dimensional, or maybe he felt the need to draw too much on the stereotyped villains of old, but all it adds up to is the weakest link in the chain.
I expected a lot of things from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 going in. And perhaps that’s why I left a little less fulfilled and a lot more disappointed than I was after round one. But that’s my fault and not something I can lump on the film. Critics are, after all, known to become jaded every now and then. But there’s a lot of heart in the second instalment and its powerful focus on family is hard to ignore, especially as we make our way towards the Phase three climax that is Avengers: Infinity War (2018). The series is more personal, more poignant and more imperative than ever. So, it’s important to have some good old fashioned fun before we get there. Guardians style.
Rating: 4 Baby Groots out of 5
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