Spider-Man: Far From Home Review - It's time to take a much needed vacation as things swing back to fun in the MCU
If Avengers: Endgame (2019) was a stab to the collective Marvel fandom’s heart, then Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is the glimmer of hope that’s been left in its wake. With the world still reeling from a chaotic five-year time jump and the death of billionaire tech wiz Tony Stark, the question on everybody’s lips going into the final film of phase three is just what are the consequences of a post-snap, post-Thanos world? Well, if the first of two post-credits scenes are anything to go by, the phrase ‘go big or go home’ pretty much covers it. An action-packed sequel that not only stands on its own two feet, but as one of the best web slinging entries to date, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) delivers answers in droves, albeit not necessarily the ones viewers may want. Full of fantastical CGI sequences, dizzying displays of destruction and just enough angsty teenage romance to make things interesting without diverging into cliché, it’s hard not to like Spidey’s sophomore outing. Especially when the heart of the film falls so hard on identity, and a very modern, renewed take on what it means to be a hero. Even dead, their legacy lives on.
As the title suggests, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) takes place abroad, with Peter Parker and his class thrust into danger after heading off on a science trip across Europe (not that we ever see the students engaging in anything chemistry, biology or physics related though – think itineraries full of art museums and trips to the opera instead). Picking up eight months after the cataclysmic events of the third snap and everyone’s eventual return, it sees Peter, having lost his mentor and to a lesser extent his way, trying to take a break from the superhero game to go off gallivanting around Italy and Paris. Par for the course with our friendly webslinger though, things soon take a turn for the deadly, as ‘elemental’ beasts start popping up in the canals of Venice and the streets of Prague. And so, in comes Nick Fury to hijack Peter’s vacation and task him and his parallel-world ally, Mysterio, with stopping the creatures from destroying civilisation as we know it. Everything ends up culminating in a stylish showdown on London’s Tower Bridge, but not before bodies are bruised, twists are turned topsy turvy and many a quotable quip exchanged.
Pitched as the ‘official’ conclusion to Marvel’s mighty Infinity War Saga, it’s not until the first post-credit’s scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) that the reason for this truly becomes evident. Until then, it’s hard to argue that the aftermath of ‘the blip’ (note: the snap, the decimation, the dusting etc.) couldn’t have simply been dealt with in the first instalment of the studio’s new era. Tony’s death, the search for a new Iron Man, and the world’s acclimatisation to the influx of other-worldly friends and foes are all pivotal themes, yes, but after the high-tension of Avengers: Endgame (2019), it almost feels somewhat of a letdown to have this be the final moments of such a sweeping and epic series. That is, until the story takes a gut-punching left turn in its final moments, reminding us just how far the comic-book giants are willing to go with their cinematic universe. And while it sets up big changes and plenty of drama for the next ten years of MCU madness, one can’t help wonder that no matter how good it is, Endgame will always overshadow it.
As far as familiar faces go, majority of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s (2017) ensemble cast return for part two – with an explanation about any niggling concerns regarding their failure to have aged given in a fun student made video. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is his usual quirky and cute self, despite the weight of the world being on his shoulders, and his interactions with Zendaya’s MJ only seem to get better as time goes on. However, this does lead to a lack of really funny double act moments with Jacob Batalon’s best-bud character Ned, the pair’s friendship instead replaced in part by their respective romantic infatuations. As for the supporting roles, Angourie Rice’s Betty Brant plays the soppy, saccharine girlfriend, with great aplomb, and Tony Revolori is as entertaining as ever as Flash Thompson. But it’s Martin Starr’s Mr. Harrington as the group’s teacher that brings the real laughs. Because for every continued annoying mention of witches his fellow instructor – J.B. Smoove’s Mr. Dell – gives, the former provides real moments of heart-warming humour. From trying to take a selfie, to declaring ‘thank God you’re not dead’ upon seeing Peter, he’s the neurotic, overbearing educator we’ve all had at least once in our lives.
Meanwhile Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is finally given a meatier part in the sequel, with her own hilarious quasi-romantic relationship with Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan established. Bringing back Tony’s quick-witted chauffeur might seem a little on the nose to some fans, but there’s something wonderful about having someone from the MCU’s very first instalment there at its concluding one. Especially as he was the director that started it all. Joining the old crew are a few new faces too, with Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly cast as the enigmatic Quentin Beck / Mysterio, a hero who quite literally swoops in to save the day, but one that might hold more in common with his comic-book counterpart than the trailers wholesome image suggests. He relishes the role, spending the first half as a stand-in mentor and the second gleefully peeling back the many layers to his character. Lastly, rounding things out, Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders are also onboard as everyone’s favourite super-spy duo Nick Fury and Maria Hill, although you’ll want to stay for the second post-credits scene to see the true impact of their presence.
Suffice to say, despite the glory it has been receiving online from critics and fans alike, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is not quite the knock-out it could have been. The first half is pinned down in emotion dialogues and poor pacing. And there’s a hint of sadness when you realise, you’re watching the first Marvel movie without a beloved cameo from Stan Lee. But once the second half kicks into gear, it’s a wicked and mind-bending ride. One that lightens the mood from all the darkness we’ve been subject too lately, both on screen and off. It’s a box office blockbuster to enjoy with friends. A little escape from reality. Some might even call it… a vacation.
Rating: 4 Jet-Setting Locations out of 5
As soon as the MCU’s famed opening banner hits the screen, it’s easy to tell that Captain Marvel (2019) is an important film. It would be naive to say this feeling comes simply from the movie being the megalith’s first female-led flick. Or because its protagonist is widely considered to be the billion-dollar franchise’s most powerful character. No, it’s more than that. Because despite the labels, expectations and agendas at play behind the scenes here, there’s one thing Marvel couldn’t predict about this blockbuster. And that is the legacy this picture upholds, innately though that may be, as the studio’s first film shown following the passing of comic-book creator Stan Lee. It is important because of all the features that could have found themselves in this position, it wound up being this one. A movie about a young woman who gets knocked down, time and time again, and refuses to give up. A woman who’s resolve is to go higher, further and faster. A woman who represents exactly what Mr Lee’s motto Excelsior means – upward and onward to greater glory.
That being said, a lot of what Captain Marvel (2019) delivers isn’t exactly original. Plot-wise we have a soldier sacrificing themselves. An underdog obtaining special powers. A superhero losing their memory. And a classic good-guy, bad-guy twist dominating the entirety of act three. Repetition is an unfortunate by-product of comic books (Carol Danvers has been appearing in issues since the 1960s, after all) but that doesn’t mean cinemagoers are willing to accept the same thing. I mean, there’s a reason Rotten Tomatoes makes it’s living off what’s considered “fresh”. Furthermore, it’s hard to get past the fact that the entire first half of the film meanders through unnecessary exposition and chase scenes, all-the-while stumbling over what little humour it does bother delivering. However, when the movie finally does takes off in part three, boy does it fly. There’s explosions and quick-witted quips aplenty, giving the filmmakers some sort of attempt at redemption before the credits roll. And in a praise-worthy move that is rarely seen in blockbuster’s these days, there’s no love story being shoved down audiences’ throats. Not even a hint of one.
It also needs to be noted that while Marvel are great at taking chances with their properties and filmmakers, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), it is painful to see them turn down an opportunity to make this – such a prominent piece in their portfolio – less than the kick-ass, all-female-driven production it could have been. Yes, the writer’s team is largely made up of women. And yes, Anna Boden is one half of the team in the director’s chair. But part of what made DC’s first female film, Wonder Woman (2017), so exquisitely good was that it was helmed solely by Patty Jenkins. There’s power in a decision like that, whether you admit it or not. And, perhaps if Marvel had stuck with a single director their latest offering would have wound up less disjointed too, with everything from its humour to its timing always coming across just a little off. Because while its script may be dotted with Easter eggs for the fans, there’s little fun to be had from it.
As for the casting, Brie Larson’s selection has been a contentious one ever since the early days of production, with concerns she lacks the emotional depth needed to make Danvers superhero sympathetic. And despite her Academy Award-winning talent it’s a fair assessment, with the actress struggling throughout the film’s first hour before finally finding her footing just the curtain’s about to fall. It’s telling, though, that Marvel don’t seem too concerned about her ability to carry the Avengers films moving forward, with the studio going so far as to provide their own tongue-in-cheek reference to those who asked why she was “not smiling” enough, in a sardonic moment at around the thirty-minute mark. As for the others, Samuel L. Jackson gives a dynamic performance as a young Nick Fury, but after nine appearances in the role you’d expect nothing less. And Ben Mendelsohn is equally as fantastic in his part as antagonist Talos, providing one of the best additions to the series in years. There’s great humanity and humour to be found under his colossal make-up and costuming. As far as scene-stealer’s go though, there’s no passing Goose, a cat whose powers extend well-beyond simply being the cutest of the cast members.
The retro-stylings of the film are something critics have also been hotly debating and interestingly on this issue it’s harder to come down on one side or the other. Marvel pitched the movie as a nineties-centric piece and it’s certainly that, with pointed references to the horrendously slow systems of Windows 95 computers and the dead artform that was VHS. But it almost feels like we’re always on the periphery of what that era was. There’s dribs-and-drabs of pop culture littered throughout, from mentions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) to classic grunge fashion (leather and plaid anyone…) But there’s not a lot of emphasis on other, bigger issues, like woman taking their first-steps forward in male-centric fields. And don’t even get me started on the lack of slang from that time (where’s the hey dude’s and the that’s so fly’s?) Fans can take solace in the musical choices, however, because there’s plenty of top nineties tracks to go around. Nirvana’s Come As You Are makes its mark, as does a well-timed dose of Just A Girl from No Doubt.
While it may be a boring production for the first 60 minutes and a busy one for the second, it would be amiss to label Captain Marvel (2019) flat or a failure. It’s simply a superhero film that is a little off kilter. Unlike the origin flicks that have come before, the filmmakers are beginning to be wary of showing us all the insecurities and personal problems of our protagonists, less they give away too much for future instalments. And while we would love to know more about why Carol hated her father or what the full extent of her powers are, this is not and never was going to be the film for those questions. Instead, this picture is the one designed to tell girls to believe in themselves. To remind them it’s okay to stop looking for approval. To push themselves onwards and upwards to greater glory, regardless of the damn naysayers. And we think Stan would be proud.
Rating: 3.5 Gooses out of 5
Glass Review - M. Night Shyamalan shatters his superhero universe by trying to bring out the good in all of us
There’s no arguing that superhero films are practically a dime-a-dozen these days. Whether it be the ever-increasing instalments from the sweeping Marvel Cinematic universe, DC’s attempts to forge-ahead with their own dramatically dark cosmos, or Fox’s sometimes lacklustre yet sometimes hilarious offerings. We certainly aren’t short of flicks that tread the same, familiar ground of awesome action sequences and climactic CGI battles. But every now and then though we get an offering like Glass (2019). A film that delves a little deeper into the genre. Behind the lens of good versus evil and right versus wrong. A movie that questions how the genre itself came to be born. And one that asks us to consider whether we’re all heroes, albeit in our own stories.
The conclusion of a trilogy that began with Unbreakable (2000) and was tenuously held together by Split (2016), M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass (2019) picks up right where its predecessor left off – with Kevin Wendell Crumb and his personalities, including The Beast – on the run. This time four young girls have gone missing, and it’s up to David Dunn, aided by his now grown-up son Joseph, to save the day - the former guard having thrown off the reluctance of his younger years and turned full-blown vigilante. After a showdown in an old factory the pair wind-up in a psychiatric facility, where the mysterious Doctor Ellie Staple tries to convince them, as well as fellow patient Elijah Price, that their ‘powers’ are no more than easily-explained trauma, illness or delusion. But this is Shyamalan, so expect things to get weird and twisty before the credits start rolling.
To a degree the movie is somewhat worthy of the praise enamoured fans have been bestowing upon it. However, it is clearly not without its flaws. For starters it tends to drag. While the first and last quarters of the film gallop along in a wave of adrenaline and tension, popping between personalities in the fun and chaotic way Split (2016) did, the entire middle section seems to pay unnecessary homage to the stylings of Unbreakable (2000). There are never-ending long, pensive looks from Bruce Willis, piles of pointless dialogue telling us things we can clearly already see, and too much time spent keeping the character’s separated instead of using the incredible talents of its A-list ensemble. Honestly, if Shyamalan’s point was to make us, the audience, feel like we too were trapped in the psych ward, then he certainly made it. Because after spending more than two-hours waiting for a goddamn pay-off, by the time it comes around we’re too tired to really care.
Stylistically it’s a knock-out though. We’re back to the straightforward yet stylish colour co-ordination of characters. Green for David Dunn’s Overseer, yellow for The Beast and purple for Mr Glass. Even the homes, workplaces and supporting characters imbue the same tones throughout, emphasising that everything, through to the finest of details, has been carefully considered and planned. Similarly, unlike Marvel and DC’s offerings, when the heroes and villains flex and fight here, it’s impossible to tell which moments are CGI and which are simple practical effects. It’s seamless and points to why, even after so many flops, Shyamalan is still going strong. After all, this is a man who managed to convince two of the biggest competing studios in Hollywood – Disney and Universal – to bring their separate properties of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2000) together.
The glue that holds the film together though isn’t Shyamalan, but rather the impressive and outstanding work of James McAvoy. Pushing the boundaries even further on his Dissociative Identity Disorder character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, the Scot presents us with 20 different personalities this time round, each with distinct voices, movements, facial expressions and backstories. It would be a lot for any actor, but he pulls it off with aplomb, providing majority of the film’s light-hearted, tension-breaking moments. He is backed by a solid cast too, including veterans Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. While the former is his same surly self, the latter is disappointingly utilised, barely uttering a line or a facial twitch for first half the film. What is nice though, is to see the return of three prominent supporting characters and how their relationships have evolved in respect to the ‘main three’. Spencer Treat Clark’s Joseph has developed an endearing and often times comedic connection with his father, while Charlayne Woodard still brings the same sympathy and strength to Elijah’s mother. Anya Taylor Joy too brings much needed emotion in connecting with The Beast. The only one to truly falter is Sarah Paulson’s doctor, thanks to a limited backstory and mountains of meandering dialogue.
So, is Glass (2019) a great film? No. Not by a long shot. Frankly, it feels somewhat akin to the literal train wreck that opened the trilogy. But, just like that moment, it is also hard to look away. Because we want answers. We want twists. And we want to hope that superhero movies can be thought-provoking pieces as well as CGI smash-ups. And while Glass (2019) probably isn’t the one to provide it, if the closing moments are anything to go by though, it certainly sets to the scene for such future endeavours. Because sometimes the villain is good. Sometimes the monster is a protector. And sometimes the hero is the inspiration for someone to believe in themselves.
Rating: 2.5 Head Tilts out of 5
Ant-Man And The Wasp Review - Marvel's tiniest heroes pack a punch in this struggling scientific sequel
There’s a line in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster where leading man Scott Lang states, ‘Do you just add the word quantum in front of everything?’ It’s a tongue-in-cheek moment, of course, because that’s basically what watching Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) feels like to those among us who don’t possess fancy science degrees. Following up his quirky MCU debut – full of miniaturised men, giant ants and a physics-for-dummies approach – was always going to be tricky for director Peyton Reed. I mean, his sequel is the first one fans have been delivered following the apocalyptic events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But instead of delivering another character-driven heist film full of heart, this time around we are given two-hours of technical jargon about quantum tunnels, tardigrades and molecular displacement. And while it’s never quite enough to dissuade a viewer from watching, it’s hard to argue that it’s the sort of movie the MCU needs right now.
Set in a post Captain America: Civil War (2016) but pre-Avengers: Infinity War (2018) world, Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) follows our pint-sized hero and his former friends Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym, as the trio attempt to bring back a long-lost family member from the quantum realm. Scott is just days away from the end of a two-year house arrest, imposed for his violation of the Sokovia Accords, when he receives a strange message from Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet van Dyne. Reconnecting with his former associates he finds out that despite her disappearance into the quantum realm 30 years ago, there may be a way to bring Janet back – thanks to the invention of a quantum tunnel. After powering the device up, the team hope to use Scott’s connection to find Janet’s coordinates and mount a rescue mission. But with their revolutionary work highly sought-after, there are plenty of people ready to sabotage our protagonist’s efforts, including a phasing woman known only as ‘ghost’, and a black-market technology dealer. And with the FBI keeping tabs on him, Scott is forced to make the hard decision whether to help his friends or protect his new life.
Having stolen the show in his previous MCU outing, Paul Rudd seems to relish his return here, effortlessly stepping between the comedy, action and familial drama inherent to his character. Meanwhile, Evangeline Lily is finally given a meatier role, transforming into not just ‘the wasp’, but Marvel’s first co-billed leading lady. She is as tough and smart as the boys (sometimes more so) and it’s empowering to see that it is her emotional storyline that holds the picture together. The heroes are joined by veteran actor Michael Douglas, who provides a somewhat softer grumpy old man performance for the sequel, as well as a more grown-up Abby Ryder Fortson, melting hearts once again as the adorable and precocious Cassie Lang. But as with Ant-Man’s first outing it is Michael Pena’s Luis that steals the show with a hilarious expansion on his ‘storytelling scenes’ lending some much needed charm and charisma to the film. Similarly, Tip T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian return as the fellow ‘Ex-Con’ workers Dave and Kurt, with the latter’s Baba Yaga moments a true masterpiece despite their fleeting nature.
The villains are far less impressive however, with Randall Park’s FBI Agent Jimmy Woo largely providing little more than a chuckle here and there, and Walter Goggins’ Sonny Burch unmemorable, annoying and unnecessary. The true depth comes in relative unknown Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava, a.k.a. Ghost. Desperate for a way to make her pain stop, she has real drive but remains human enough to know there are lines you cannot cross. She’s redeemable in her quest, if not a little misguided, but in a film chock-a-block full of characters, even she gets a little lost in the mix. One character that doesn’t though is the city of San Francisco, with its presence permeating throughout the movie. One chase sequence craftily utilises the city’s most famous street, while another shows the murderous nature of the seagulls from Fisherman’s Wharf. And who could forget how cool it is to see an 85-foot man swimming through the bay and emerging near a ferry in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sadly, there’s a tonal shift of sorts from our last outing, with the movie leaning more towards the ‘lacklustre’ than the ‘inspiring’. You see, what made Ant-Man (2015) such a great Saturday night flick was that it built itself up as a comedy crime caper. The heist elements were fun, as were the brilliantly crafted action sequences, including the now iconic train scene, full of tiny crashes and a giant Thomas the Tank Engine. The joy was in the juxtaposition of the miniaturised world and the normal, not simply the dazzle of special effects. And perhaps that’s why Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) feels so flat. The action is great, with Hot Wheels cars zooming down streets and a giant Hello Kitty Pez being flung through the air. But there’s fewer cuts to remind us of the extraordinary difference in statures. And for all the fun it delivers, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the scale and scope is simply lacking.
At its heart Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) is a solid sequel, providing plenty of laughs, action and gorgeous CGI effects. But having to follow on from the events of Marvel’s previous summer blockbuster outing, which broke new ground and plenty of hearts thanks to its cut-throat mentality, means it just does not rise to the MCU’s high standards. It’s a shame too, because it’s easy to see how well-received the film could have been prior to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But in a post Thanos-snap world, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t explosive, ground-breaking or 2019’s as-yet-untitled resolution. And while the mid-credits scene sets up the potential importance of the quantum realm for the upcoming instalment, the film itself is little more than a two-hour distraction while fans eagerly await new information.
Rating: 3.5 Drumming Ants out of 5
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review - Extinction might have been better than this fun but formulaic sequel
Twenty-five years ago, everyone’s favourite chaotician Dr Ian Malcolm pointed out that the scientists who helped found Jurassic Park ‘were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should’. It’s an ironic sentiment really, because it seems like it’s the one thing everyone at Universal studios failed to consider themselves before greedily opting to issue four more sequels. You see, while Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original is largely considered a cinematic classic, almost all of the follow-up films have left somewhat of a sour taste in fans' mouths. Firstly, there was The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which while engaging was little more than frivolous fun. Then came Jurassic Park III (2001), a critical and commercial flop that included second-rate CGI and one of the most annoying ringtones ever put to screen. And what about 2015’s Jurassic World? Which was hailed a reinvention of the genre 20 years later but delivered… well… an almost scene-for-scene retelling of the original. And so, we come to the latest offering, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), a film that serves as an entertaining ride, but once again, does little more than rehash the tried and true methods of old. Honestly, why does no-one ever listen to Malcolm?
Picking up three years after the crew’s dismal second attempt at a theme park, this time around we are brought news that Isla Nublar and its dino-inhabitants are about to go boom, thanks to a giant volcano (which, let’s be honest, was never so much as alluded to in any of the previous films). With a potential second extinction looming, one of John Hammond’s old colleagues, Mr Lockwood (who again, we haven’t really heard of until this point,) puts his hand up to fund a daring rescue effort to save nearly a dozen species. Recruiting Claire and Owen, under the guise of saving their old friend Blue, the velociraptor, it’s not long before everyone is back on the island and double crosses are springing left, right and centre. Oh, but they said they were going to save the dinosaurs and move them to a new sanctuary? They couldn’t possibly be scheming to sell them to the highest bidder as weapons or game animals, right? Well, those naive thoughts are from the days when the Jurassic series was innocent and pure. So once again it is up to our protagonists to thwart the evil wrongdoers, as a fantastic volcanic explosion, a newly modified monster and a third act set in a creepy mansion in the woods, rounds out the movie and provides about every cliché the action genre affords.
Frankly, it’s frustrating to see the same formulaic dilemmas appear yet again, in a film that could arguably have been a break from tradition. We’ve got a new genetically-engineered dinosaur that – wait for it – causes huge problems for our main cast. Then there’s the ethics of whether man has the right to play God by saving or creating dinosaurs. We’ve got the geneticist who is willing to produce the monsters but needs some time to develop them. And let’s not forget the dangers of bringing the once extinct animals onto the mainland, let alone including a Tyrannosaurus Rex among them. Or what about having a child hide from the beasts in a small space that requires them to pull down a vertical hatch? Add in a dose of an underdog velociraptor saving the day from the bigger, badder foe, as well as characters such as the cute grandchild, hacker, and games keeper who takes trophies from his hunt, and I think we have pretty much covered every movie, right? Honestly, did the writers actually discuss the script? Because it's almost painful to see the studio repeat the mistakes of their past.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its redeeming moments though, with the first half a relatively-convincing adventure flick, full of volcanoes and the same goofy and cute Claire and Owen dynamic we have come to know and love. Touching ‘documentary style’ footage of the former raptor keeper bonding with a young Blue will also warm even the coldest of reptilian hearts. And then there is the series most heart-breaking moment, as a lone brachiosaur tries valiantly to escape the oncoming explosion. Amidst the chaos and confusion of the scene there is a profound sense of sadness, as director J.A. Bayona pays homage to fans of the original, before finally letting the series break free of its island constraints. But for all the social commentary and moving moments (a particularly noteworthy ‘nasty women’ comment springs to mind), there is just as many aspects that drag us back. In particular, a sloppy scene that presents the idea of cloning something other than a dinosaur, before relegating it to little more than the next logical step in genetics. Since when were dinosaurs (real, live, freaking dinosaurs) not enough for these films?
For the most part the acting is also solid, with Chris Pratt delivering the same charismatic turn as most of his post Parks and Recreation (2009 - 2015) roles. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a good run too, sans the high heels this time, while Rafe Spall and Toby Jones join the show as the stereotypical villains (what is it with Brits being devious?). Sadly, both deliver very little substance for their efforts. Justice Smith is by far the best of the new crop though, pitched as the comic relief, and is backed up by the tough-but-somewhat-forgettable Daniella Pineda. As for the child role (C’mon, what is a Jurassic movie without a kid? Am I right?), stepping into those shoes is actress Isabella Sermon, as the granddaughter of James Cromwell’s mysterious Mr Lockwood. She’s got the cutes, the accent and the attitude to stand alone and has made a decent mark in her first on-screen appearance. But for a film heralding the return of Dr Malcolm himself, it is downright criminal the lack of screen time Jeff Goldblum is given. Surely there was more he could do than sit in a courtroom, right? That’s like, I don’t know, having Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe award winning actress Laura Dern phone-in her role… oh wait…
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), is that it’s legacy was one of enthralling, terrifying and awe-inspiring spectacle. Of moments of pure dread and once-extinct creatures that screamed to life. Elements that have slowly been sucked away by the franchise’s numerous chapters. Five instalments in and it’s hard to see how the series does little more than make us feel like we’ve been stomped all over. Going extinct might actually have been the answers to our problem. But, if there’s one shining light in the darkness it comes in the film’s closing moments, which while setting audiences up for yet another offering (a 2021 release has already been nailed down), finally suggests we could be given a fresh road to go down.
Rating: 2 Fed-Up Malcolms 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
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
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
At the heart of Sony Pictures latest piece Passengers (2016) there is a major moral dilemma that demands to be debated. So much so, after attending a screening my friend and I argued relentlessly, having taken vastly different approaches to analyzing the film in those tired and intellectually-hazy moments after the credits roll. While I viewed the ethical conundrum as understandable, even somewhat inevitable, my friend was quick to profess that no matter the circumstances, such actions are inexcusable. While we stubbornly butted heads for the next half-hour before ‘agreeing to disagree’, such heated discussion shows just how Passengers has stolen its way to something more than ordinary. No great film for sure, but it is an important one if only for the fact it challenges people to make their own decision on such morally ambiguous problems. Beware though, spoilers abound henceforth.
We begin our filmic journey aboard the Starship Avalon, a spacecraft transporting 5000 souls in suspended animation on a 120-year journey to the new world of Homestead II. Despite promises from the global conglomerate operating the expedition that it is fail-safe and the passengers will awake just three months before they should reach their destination, during a meteor storm one pod malfunctions and mechanic Jim Preston finds himself alone onboard, with 90 years still to go. Denied access to the crew’s quarters and unable to find a fix to reset his pod, Jim’s loneliness begins to get the better of him. With his only company that of robotic bartender Arthur, after a year of unsuccessful attempts to fix his situation he reaches the end of his tether and drunkenly decides to launch himself from the ship sans helmet. Backing out at the last minute, Preston stumbles, quite literally, across the gorgeous, golden-locked and very much asleep Aurora Lane. Cyber-stalking her through the computer’s database, Preston begins to fall for the proverbial sleeping beauty and in one of the year’s biggest filmic quandaries, decides to wake her up. Oblivious to the truth behind Preston’s actions, which have doomed her to live out her life on the ship as well, Aurora begins to grow closer to the engineer, while he tries unsuccessfully to bury the guilt of his staggeringly selfish decision. But when a slip of the tongue brings the façade down just as the ships systems begin malfunctioning, the two must put aside their differences to protect everyone else onboard.
Visually, Passengers is a masterpiece, launching audiences into the wide expanse of space with a stunning display of control. From adrenaline infused anti-gravity moments, to solar fly-bys, beauty abounds even when the script slips up. One moment in particular is as excruciating to watch as it is impossible to look away from, with Lawrence experiencing a weightless dip in the onboard pool. Craftily choreographed and stunningly realized thanks to some CGI help, it will be a standout for years to come. Jon Spaihts script in comparison, does few favours to those onboard, laying down a foundation of clichés thick and fast. One can’t help but feel he has taken bits and pieces from every story out there, crafting a utopian world that is perfectly pristine while simultaneously infusing it with one of the oldest tales around – that of the famed Adam and Eve. So much does he struggle that he even employs a literal Garden of Eden to pick up the slack.
It is also hard to pin Passengers down to a simple genre, as it tediously flips back and forth between sci-fi, drama and action piece. While it handles the jump to explosions and fireballs with aplomb, it’s hard not to focus on how easily it also slips into suggestive stripper territory. With multiple sex scenes and plenty of naked torsos abounding, we bounce back to the tradition that a movie can’t make millions if it doesn’t display a little skin. It’s not a complaint per se, but if everyone is all too willing to call out the clichéd and cheesy romance between our leading lady and lad, then they should be just as quick to question their steamy screen appearances. Thankfully, the film never slows down enough for our minds to wander to this, as we yearn to know what pleasures the ship affords, what backstories will be brought to light and whether anyone else will awaken to help our plucky protagonists out.
Utilizing the world’s two top stars in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence is a smart move by director Morten Tyldum, and it pays off two-fold as they deliver impassioned and empathetic performances. Their chemistry is undeniable, quipping back and forth with genuine emotion, however even Pratt, the breakout hit he is, struggles to fully encompass the absolute weight of destroying someone’s life. Michael Sheen does far better with his supporting character Arthur, bringing charm, wit and warmth to what could otherwise have been a detached and distant role. Despite the script’s limitations, he packs the energetic punch we need, in an otherwise dreary monotony. Lawrence strips back her regular routine too, humanizing Aurora in the process and helping guide the film along at a good pace. Resourceful as everyone in the picture seems to be and despite the smile they consistently bring to the corner of your lips, it’s a shame that for the most part they appears to simply be along for the ride, rather than steering the ship home.
Of course, the main moral dilemma has already set many a critic’s tongue a-wagging, with labels such as ‘disturbing’ and ‘sinister’ thrown about. However, as foolish as it is to argue against such a stance, it is just as imprudent for society to ignore the deeper discourse it braves to travel. There are countless hard decisions we face every day and it’s important to discuss how we as individuals would choose to handle them. For starting the discussion, Passengers has already achieved the glory it warrants. Is taking someone’s freedom away ever right? Or is there such a thing as true love? Better yet, if you were faced with a lifetime of loneliness, would you have the willpower to say no? So the film’s biggest flaw falls not on its formulaic approach, or even it’s ‘big’ twist, but rather in its choice to fall back on blowing things up in Act III, an action that reeks of big budget studios trying to cash in. Released in the same month as the mega-movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), the film could easily have singled its self out as a strong and empowering exploration of the human condition rather than challenging the sci-fi realm. Instead, after all the bravado and beauty, it simply fades into the night sky, just like the Avalon.
Rating: 3 Unhelpful Computers out of 5
Let’s get one thing straight about Marvel’s latest superhero. It’s not Mister, it’s not Master, it’s Doctor. PhD and MD, at that. With such an arrogant statement there is more than a hint of Déjà vu about the studio’s latest caped crusader and his rather Stark-esque characteristics. So much so, in the coming months there is bound to be numerous similarities drawn between Doctor Strange (2016) and the studio’s first big hit Iron Man (2008). I mean, not only do we have a genius, millionaire, flirtatious, sort-of philanthropist, but Stephen Strange is also one to find his groove from pain and suffering, transformed from a self-centred coward, full of arrogance and ego, into a saviour. Thankfully, he also holds the same loveable and charming disposition to ensure audiences eat the film up. And that they should, with director Scott Derrickson weaving a magical and mind-bending work that makes a beautiful and important addition to the ongoing saga.
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange begins with the talented and titular neurosurgeon proving his merit in the operating room, pulling bullets from brains as easily as he can recite the year obscure songs were released. On top of the world with an intellect matched only by his enormous ego, Strange is somewhat untouchable, charming his former flame and choosing only the cases that truly challenge him. That is until his life is up-ended, quite literally, when a horrendous car crash leaves his miracle-wielding hands torn up, bolted back together and with irreparable nerve damage. When Western medicine fails him, he takes the advice of a former physical therapy patient and heads to Nepal in search of the mysterious Kamar-Taj. From there things get mystical, as our protagonist is trained in everything from astral projection to gateway travel, thanks to a being known only as The Ancient One. When former sect student Kaecillius threatens reality with the dark realm of Dormammu though, it will take everything the newly transformed Strange has to turn time itself on its head.
It’s a different direction for the mad and masterful Marvel studios, venturing into worlds further afield than even those of James Gunn’s cosmic breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2012). Here, magic and sorcery reign supreme, as we tread the fine line between unquantifiable science and pure faith. Psychedelic just doesn’t quite do it justice, the visuals taking us to numerous other dimensions and realities and opening up fantastic future film possibilities. The Ancient One describes it as spending your whole life looking through a keyhole and then having that keyhole widen. What they should have said though is it is like looking through a keyhole only to have the door swing open. Like an optical orgy, the special effects denote an exceptional attention to detail, building towards the final climactic moments. Interestingly, the denouement, while cumbersome, plays out in complete contrast to the destruction fuelled nightmares of the rest of 2016’s superhero films. It is hard to say whether it was intentional or coincidence, but either way it is both refreshing and optimistic for the future of the genre.
With one Academy Award winner and three more nominees among the cast, it is safe to say the acting hits the mark. Cumberbatch is of course the charismatic standout, with his New York accent, slick style and penchant for dry humour. His take on the character is as effortless a Downey Junior’s was with Iron Man, as if the role had been written specifically for him. For all the cries of whitewashing, Tilda Swinton also delivers a profound and solid turn as the wise old teacher, while Mads Mikkelsen once again channels his inner Hannibal Lecter as the main antagonist. Rachel McAdams is a wonderful addition too, walking the line between stereotypical and strong female representations. A qualified doctor who is able to hold power over our central protagonist, majority of her scenes involve hilarious jump scares that ground the film in reality. However it is the cloak of levitation that steals the show from everyone, garnering the most laughs in the film’s two-hour run. An inanimate object in the comics designed to help Doctor Strange fly, it takes on a sentient life here, pummelling baddies and looking cool, calm and collected as it goes.
If there is one flaw about the film, it is that is suffers from the pains of future constraints. With Strange destined to appear in the upcoming Avengers films, he is never put in any true amount of peril and as such, is never tested to his limits. We are constantly left with the idea of more, but never the satisfaction of it. Bigger and better is the promise as we head into Phase 3 and in Marvel’s rush to get there the studio has forgotten to give it their all in their introductory pictures. Similarly weak is the lack of humour, which paints the picture of just how depressing bleak the screenplay must have been before the addition of Dan Harmon’s re-writes. The funny offbeat moments we are given have a way of twisting and pulling at the characters’ development, making the moments feel needy and desperate instead of smooth and slick. For all his trying, Cumberbatch is never quite as quippy as Stark is and after seeing him deliver in everything from Sherlock (2010) to The Imitation Game (2014) it’s safe to say it’s not thanks to his acting ability.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie though without some tie-ins to the greater shared universe, with names like the Avengers sprinkled about here and there and the classic cameo from Stan Lee hitting the mark if not blowing it out of the water excelsior style. There’s even a big nod to the Infinity Stone storyline, if only for a minute. For anything bigger though, viewers will have to wait until the post-credit scenes, once again teasing future instalments and reminding us that as much as we may love any one character, this is, in fact, a shared universe. The real question for the studio now though is exactly how they will get to their big Avenging moment, throwing together the old and the new and letting them hand off their respective batons. So open your mind to the film, surrender control and let the film shape a new reality around you. Because while not everything in Doctor Strange and the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe will make sense, then again, not everything has to.
Rating: 4 Mind-Bending Universes out of 5
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