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
They say that part of the journey is the end. And so, here we are folks. Eleven years in the making. Twenty-one films in the lead-up. And half a universe to save. Honestly, there are plenty of ways one can describe the epic concluding chapter that is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame (2019). Astonishing. Heart-breaking. Mind-boggling. Emotional. A masterful moment in cinematic history. All of these are true. And yet none of them feel quite right. Because for fans of the series – the ones who cheered with glee as Tony Stark announced he was Iron Man back in 2008, and who felt their hearts sink as Steve Rogers dropped his shield almost a decade later – there aren’t really words to sum up a film like this. I mean, what do you say about a movie that is the perfect end to an era? So, sitting down to write this review, it’s hard not to feel a little like I’m delivering a eulogy at a close friend’s funeral (and don’t kid yourselves here people, you better prepare for this film like it is one). Because like most of us tasked with the impossible job of compiling something so grand into nothing more than a few snapshots and anecdotes, I’ll always be left wondering whether it will be enough. Or if there’s simply no way to describe how a series of fictional characters can become our family, and their story, ultimately, break our hearts.
It must be said, therefore, that there’s no playing by the rules when it comes to this critique. Those expecting a juicy, spoiler-filled breakdown will be sorely disappointed. You see, part of what makes Avengers: Endgame (2019) so powerful and moving, is going into it as blind as possible. Directing duo, Joe and Anthony Russo, have worked painstakingly hard to achieve this – releasing notes calling on fans not to ruin it for others and composing the trend-worthy hashtag #dontspoiltheendgame to nail the point home. But perhaps the biggest argument comes from the studio itself, with the behemoth having ensured that ninety per cent of the footage used in the marketing material and trailers is from just the first half-hour of the film. They want the surprises to fall thick and fast. And they want it to hurt when they do. So, all you can do is buckle in for the ride and try and stay content in the knowledge that it will be worth it in the end. Three-thousand times over.
Not that it will be a short trip, mind you, with the final cut of the film coming in at just over three hours. It’s a doozy, for sure, but one that manages to pace itself rather well. Unlike its predecessor – Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – this picture works off the theory of thirds, with the first hour delving into the aftermath of the decimation and the toll it takes on those left behind, the second focusing on formulating a plan to reverse it, and the last, and arguably best portion, seeing the team enact their strategy in one final blockbuster brawl. Unsurprisingly, time travel plays a significant role in this master design. However, its best not to look to deeply at it, lest you unravel the many plot-holes that abound. Simply enjoy it for the plot device it is, and the hilarious Back To The Future (1985) references it inspires.
Character-wise, there’s no denying this is the original six’s story, and it’s wonderfully fitting to see them finally come full-circle. Hawkeye, who has been MIA since Captain America: Civil War (2016), is at last given his dues as an integral member of the team, while his secret-spy counterpart and best-friend Black Widow is on top form, crushing fans hearts in even her smallest, peanut-butter-sandwich-eating moments. In contrast, Bruce Banner manages to somewhat reconcile his dual personality, as Thor (and his new look) delightfully settles into his niche as the comic relief. But who would the Avengers be without their leader, Captain America, and their founding father, Iron Man? So, if it’s anyone’s film, it’s theirs. The two play wonderfully off each other, as they have in every other outing, bringing truckloads of heart, humour and humanity to the piece. Sure, it’s a delight to see Captain Marvel in full heroic swing, and Ant-Man laying down quips left, right and centre. But you’ll never quite get another dynamic, like these six have shared, again.
As for the spectacle of the film, it’s hard to knock it, especially as the rousing final act begins. But there’s nothing really new about explosions and battles, regardless of their scale and ferocity. The true mark of Avengers: Endgame (2019) therefore is in reminding us that a hero isn’t made by defeating bad-guys, but from being willing to lose everything in the process. Captain America can say he can ‘do this all day’, but if he really did, there’d never be any stakes to fight for, right? And Iron Man can be a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, but what use are all those titles if he doesn’t do something good with them? Aren’t all heroes, somewhat human? And isn’t that the thing that connects them to us? The reason we keep coming back, time and time again? Not the action. And not the spectacle. Even if it the latter includes the most badass scene of women running into a blazing field to support each other, that’s ever been put to camera.
So, how do you do a film like this justice then? Pay dutiful homage to the hundreds of moving parts that went into it, while simultaneously safeguarding a ‘spoiler free’ experience for others? Honestly, no reviewer will. Because, quite simply, Avengers: Endgame (2019) is more than just a bunch of actors reciting lines as CGI battles blast across screens. It is an event. An experience. A feeling. One that rises from deep within and makes you wonder how you’ve never seen it before. All the eloquence in the world can’t explain that. It can’t describe why when we talk of the film’s fallen character’s we’ll call them our brothers in arms. Or why when we speak of its villain, he will be our mutual enemy. It can’t explain why the blood, sweat and tears that were poured into this franchise don’t seem to just belong to the cast and crew. And why the years of anticipation weren’t simply designed to bring in billions at the box office. It’s the long-goodbye you wish you didn’t have to say. But are so damn happy you got.
Rating: 6 Original Avengers out of 6
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
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)
Avengers: Infinity War Review - It's all about the end in Marvel's most ambitious and affecting film yet
Ten years. Eighteen films. Billions of dollars at the box office. And it’s all been leading to this – the megalithic Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – a.k.a. rumble in the jungle (universe style). My god were we unprepared. What started as an idea – a bid for global domination of superhero films – has finally come full circle, with Marvel Studios bringing together their best and brightest for one cataclysmic showdown. And whether you call it a gamble, an obsession, or just downright crazy, at the end of the day it’s a damn masterpiece. Something well, well worth the wait. Back for their third outing, the dynamic directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo have, in the simplest terms, become the heroes they’ve put on screen – people pushed to their limits, heartbroken and ready to lose everything. And boy, in hindsight, how we wish we could go back to simpler times, when the problems were little more than a Chitauri invasion and homicidal robots.
It’s hard to provide an overview of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that would do it justice, especially when so much of what makes it great is being able to go in it with as little information (and spoilers) as possible. But I’ll give it a shot. Picking up in the aftermath of Thanos vs. The Asgardians, just moments into the blockbuster we are finally given our first proper glimpse into the power and brutality of the MCU’s biggest baddie. The stakes have never been higher, the dread in full force. And once the ball starts rolling there’s barely a chance to breathe, as the Russo brothers toss us back and forth between multiple storylines and planets (Earth, Knowhere, Titan, to name just a few). On home turf, The Black Order (i.e. Thanos’ supervillain entourage, including Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, Corvus Glaive and Midnight Proxima) are on a mission to secure the time and mind stones, leading to the slow - but sure - reunion of our favourite outcast Avengers. Meanwhile, out in space the Guardians and their new-found refugee Thor, are tasked with tracking down the purple antagonist and forging a weapon to destroy him. When everything fails to go to plan though (as these things often do), we’re left with not just an all-out confrontation, but a biblical and unforgiving final act.
With approximately (I say that because it’s difficult to keep track) 38 characters to fit into one film, it’s tough to imagine a picture where no-one is overlooked. But despite the cramped roll-call, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) succeeds where few films have before – carefully crafting a chance for everyone to shine. And the actors jump at the chance, bringing A-game performances full of energy, charisma and laugh-out-loud one-liners. The key, perhaps, is splitting the group into smaller factions, with their stories maintaining the picture’s frenetic pace and drive. It’s such a steady crew though that stand-outs are few and far between. Some would point to Thor, who follows on from a rollicking third outing by stepping up to the plate with both muscle and might. While others may favour Iron Man, who has upgraded to some of the coolest tech since the Hulkbuster suit and shared it with his Spidey-protégé. Eager to match wits with Downey Junior, Doctor Strange is as sarcastic as ever too, while in a pleasant change of pace Bruce Banner finally gets a foot over his green alter ego, who hilariously spends most of the film refusing to come out and play.
But for all their efforts, this isn’t really our heroes’ film, instead playing like an origin tale to Thanos’ crusade. Part logically-driven dictator and part towering destructive force, the purple monster is driven by the desire to rid the universe of half its inhabitants. To him, it’s a simple equation of resources, like a parent choosing between having one child whose belly was always full, and two who were always half-hungry. Mad, undoubtedly, but a plan entrenched in warped humanitarian ideals and his own twisted sense of a saviour-complex. Big and brash, Thanos is the adversary we’ve been waiting for, providing the first real challenge the universe has come up against. It’s hard not to feel every swipe, blast and pummel from his gargantuan form, and behind the mask, Josh Brolin appears to relish the motion-capture role, bringing swagger and relentless authority every time a stone is acquired, or a hero ousted.
While the characters are fully fleshed out, answers seem to be something less nuanced in the MCU. And for those of you wondering about the film’s two biggest mysteries you may be left feeling a little deflated. See, it’s hard not to class them among the worst parts of the film. Number one is the absence of our favourite, quippy bird-man, Hawkeye, (as well as the lovable Ant-Man) whose MIA statuses are answered with little more than a throwaway line. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially given Clint’s loyalty, and even more so when you remember we will have to wait months for any true hints. Meanwhile, although the secret of the missing soul stone’s location is finally disclosed in the film’s bold two-and-a-half-hour run-time, it will likely leave few fans appeased. The big reveal feels lacklustre and rushed, relying heavily on emotion that hasn’t had the time to build.
But the greatest dilemma is in splitting such a movie in two, with the overhanging arc here feeling a lot like a guillotine over our heads. You’ve never seen a cliff-hanger like this, and probably never left a theatre in quite so dismal a mood. But while it’s a staggering blow to the gut (especially with a full year to wait until the next instalment), there’s an incredible power in how Marvel can take an unfinished story and still make it poignant and profound. In how they have crafted a cherished and adored universe over the course of more than a decade, to simply blow the hell out of it. The tag-line that no-one is safe is painfully accurate, and the studio has gone to great lengths to make sure we know it. So, what does this mean for the future of our intrepid caped crusaders? Well, maybe if you’ve been looking for hints like I have, it may lie in Doctor Strange’s words and the notion that time will tell.
Rating: 5 Infinity Stones out of 6
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
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
Fifty Shades Darker Review - A grey sequel that proves only slightly more pleasurable than its first film
When Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) first hit screens on Valentine’s Day two years ago, the trailers told audiences to expect a sleek, sexy, edgy and eyebrow-raising look into the world of BDSM. Naturally, it was none of those things. While the film went on to earn millions worldwide, critically it was deemed a disaster, hobbling away with a C+ CinemaScore and a dismal 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This time around those trading their hard-earned cash for a ticket to the sequel have no excuse for the film they are delivered. Swapping directors and again promising a stylish and saucy take on what was originally Twilight (2008) fanfiction, Fifty Shades Darker (2017), is at best a blunt, unfeeling and oddly unsexy attempt at a big budget blockbuster. At worst, however, it is a complete mockery of what real relationships should be. See, while there is no doubt this instalment is more elegant and engaging than its predecessor, it is hard to shake the notion that the film just isn’t about experimenting in the world of BDSM anymore. But instead about the role of a man in controlling a woman.
We pick up just a few days after Ana and Christian awkwardly parted ways with their laughable and cringeworthy elevator goodbye. Since then Miss Steele has managed to establish herself as the personal assistant of Seattle Independent Publishing’s editor Jack Hyde, while Mr Grey has been wallowing in self-pity, keen to reignite whatever ‘passion’ the duo had to begin with. Following Ana to her friend Jose’s art exhibition, Christian begs her to give him a second chance and invites her to dinner. Ana, the strong, independent woman she is, agrees to the date if only ‘because she is hungry’, and the further into the movie we go the clearer it is her appetite is for something a little more salacious than a simple salad. So, she reluctantly agrees to pick up where they left off provided Christian renege the rules and punishments and soon the two are back in a routine and revelling in their newfound ‘vanilla’ relationship. Vomit spew. The baseless plot doesn’t end there though, with the pair’s rekindled romance threatened by two former flames. Leila (Bella Heathcoate), the sub-turned-suicidal-stalker and Elena (Kim Basinger), the dom-turned-jealous-cougar. And that’s all before Ana’s boss gets his creep on, a helicopter crashes and a proposal gets announced. Not even daytime soapies could write a story this stereotypical.
Where does one start with this film. Well, first-off let’s discuss the sheer-volume of questionable clichés that pop up in the two-hour runtime. We’ve got wine-tossing, face-slapping, masquerade-ball attending, a helicopter crash and not one, but two crazy stalkers. Most cliché of all though is the notion that Anastasia is a self-sufficient woman who ‘don’t need no man’. For all her feigned-independence she lasts about three minutes before she goes crawling back to Christian, who proves to be just as domineering, controlling and manipulative as he was before. To him, Anastasia is a possession and one he must own, whether that be her image, her time, her company, her job, or her sexuality. Similarly, the duo’s relationship in this film once again presents the idea that one partner must change for it to work. Where Anastasia had to challenge her notions of a ‘normal’ relationship in the first film, here Christian must give up his sadistic ways to keep the girl.
As for the script, they may have abandoned their ‘fifty shades of fucked up’ train-wreck that closed out the first film, but they clearly haven’t learnt from it. Instead the filmmakers use a myriad of corny and ridiculous scenes to justify their own ends. Say, like the time Ana wows an editor’s meeting by stating they should simply turn to online authors. A bit like the one who wrote this rubbish to begin with. You can’t really discredit scriptwriter Niall Leonard for trying there, especially when he is in fact the husband of the book’s author E.L. James. But even the worst of films can be worth the ticket price provided the script is somewhat decent. Sadly, that is where Leonard fails. Too caught up in pandering to his wife’s original content, the movie becomes a cyclical bore. Stalker here, Ana fed-up with Christian’s domineering there, sex scene and then kiss and make-up. Rinse and repeat. Not only does this add nothing to the ‘kinky’ genre they are trying so hard to establish, but it adds little to the cinematic world in general. Even the sex scenes don’t sell the film, framed in the same way, nearly shot-for-shot. Breasts, bare skin and ‘sex eyes’ don’t seem to be enough to keep people interested anymore.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. At least this time around the leads have both relaxed enough into their roles to develop some sort of chemistry. While Johnston continues to give it her all in that charming and naïve ‘girl next door’ way, Dornan continues to play Grey as somewhat of a brick wall. Expressionless yet chiselled, he is around only for his good-looks. And appreciate them the female viewers will, as he saunters around shirtless for half the film almost entirely for no reason. But just like the way Johnston’s Anastasia is pitched as the better half of the duo, so too is the actor better than this film and even she seems to be staring off into the void at times. It may have got her the career-boost she desperately wanted, but some things just aren’t worth selling your soul for. New additions Basinger and Heathcote are criminally underused too, appearing on screen for five-minutes apiece like they are simply literary tools thrown in to give the film some edge. It’s as if the filmmakers (or maybe more accurately the scriptwriter) didn’t know what to do with them once they had conjured them there. When Rita Ora almost becomes the best bit of a film, something has clearly gone tragically wrong.
There is no doubt that Fifty Shades Darker has tried hard to distance itself from its former film. And in some ways it even succeeds, playing into its cringeworthy sadism instead of running from it. But BDSM, at least according to the readily available literature on the subject, seems to be the trust between two people to take chances and experiment. And while this film does that with its audience, it forgets the fundamental rule that you ask whether everyone is okay at the end. Because for all the goofy fun and popcorn escapism we are delivered, the novelty of such love has certainly worn off. And we’re definitely going to need some wine before we can be Fifty Shades Freed.
Rating: 2 Seductive Stares out of 5
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