Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge Review

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, aiding young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) in finding the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which can break any curse that haunts the seven seas, including a curse put on Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) Henry’s father and Jack’s old acquaintance. Accompanied by astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), Jack and Henry search for the trident while being hunted by the undead Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who has a bone to pick with Jack.

As with earlier instalments of the franchise, the best element of Salazar’s Revenge is Captain Jack Sparrow, who gets the best lines and scenes (though sometimes it may remind one of his Mad Hatter). A highlight is his introduction in the film: the safe of a new bank is being opened, and whereas most other pirate movies would have had the safe to be revealed to be completely empty, out of it comes a drunken Jack Sparrow, and there’s even a woman there with him. He’s robbing the bank, and he and his crew literally rob the bank itself by pulling it off its foundations and sending it through the town.

That’s one moment in the movie where going all-out with it works. There are other times, however, where there just seems to be spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Salazar’s ship is indeed a ghost ship, but I don’t think it really needed to be turned into a wooden centipede (something that reminded me of the robot from Wild Wild West) nor did the figurehead need to come to life. This film is supposed to be a blockbuster action film with big setpieces, but those felt unnecessary.

It certainly doesn’t help that Salazar is not that notable an antagonist – not as good a villain as Bardem’s Skyfall character – nor is Henry that interesting, so the film is more or less carried by Sparrow. There is still some fun to be had here, and it does make two hours fly by, but viewers are unlikely to remember it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

May include spoilers

What a wonderful surprise Guardians of the Galaxy was! Though prior to the film’s release Rocket Raccoon and Groot were nowhere near as big as Spider-man or the Hulk, it was still massively entertaining and humourous. It showed that the Marvel Universe wasn’t afraid to embrace the sillier aspects of its source material, and now, every grim and gritty product from DC like Batman v Superman and Gotham is met with “Why be so serious? Marvel had a movie with a talking racoon!” (which makes it odd that the new Marvel Studios opening is somewhat reminiscent of the opening credits of 1989’s Batman).

Sure enough, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 maintains a lot of the cheeky humour of the original. The very intro of the film involves a miniature Groot (Vin Diesel) dancing while his friends battle a hideous tentacle monster in the background, we get another cameo of none other than Howard the Duck, and of course, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) gets several good lines and interactions with his teammates; a highlight is when he gets into an argument with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and threatens to leave a turd – not necessarily his, either – in Quill’s bed.

The characters say and do funny things, but they are characters we care about as well. Despite Rocket’s sarcasm, Drax’s inappropriate comments and little Groot’s naivete, there is still the sense that this group need each other, and it still does make you care that Peter lost his mother. The main villain is also more interesting than most in the Marvel canon, not to spoil anything.

The film also looks very visually appealing, with characters like Rocket and Groot looking like they belong with the human characters. Some of the alien designs are nothing really that interesting but a planet they spend a good amount time on is beautifully realised. There’s also one hilarious visual where characters’ faces warp and bend when they’re going through portals.

It may not be as good as the first, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still enjoyable enough to make you smile when the credits promise “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return”.

Beauty and the Beast Review

Spoilers may follow

One interesting thing to note about Disney’s 2017 remake of their Beauty and the Beast is how it addresses the issues people noted about its 1991 predecessor. Everyone has joked and commented on how when the Beast was cursed for his selfish ways, his servants were cursed as well although it was only the Beast who did wrong. That gets a surprisingly dark explanation when it’s revealed the Beast (Dan Stevens) as a child was abused by his father and the servants did nothing about it. We’ve also joked about how the witch is the real villain of the film for apparently cursing an eleven year old, yet here the Beast was an adult when he was cursed, and even laughed at the witch (Hattie Morahan) for wanting shelter, which does make it a little more difficult to feel sorry for him.

That said, though, this film doesn’t feel as unnecessary as some thought it would be, and is actually fairly enjoyable. It’s worth watching for the visuals alone, with the castle looking suitable foreboding yet intriguing and some interesting ways to redesign the furniture; Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) has eyes and teeth made of theatre curtains and Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) is not only a talking candelabra, but what looks a candelabra-human hybrid. Everyone’s favourite songs from the original are back and are staged and sung very well, especially the “Gaston” number. There are a couple of new songs in there, but they aren’t that hummable.

Emma Watson, better known as Hermione in Harry Potter, is well-cast as Belle, honouring the original character while adding her own touch, and Dan Stevens manages to balance scariness and sympathy as the Beast. Luke Evans is a fine Gaston, but not as bombastically and enjoyably egotistical as the original character in the 1991 film. The best performance comes from Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, who gets a few amusing scenes.

Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to erase the original from memory, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watch.

Kong: Skull Island Review

Kong: Skull Island certainly lives up to its title. There’s no skyscraper-climbing in this Kong, as most of the action takes place on the titular isle (which, indeed, does have a lot of skulls). What’s more, it actually does feel worthy of the name Kong, and it doesn’t feel like the King has been needlessly shoved into an original story that needed his star power, as it were.

An expedition into Skull Island organised by Bill Randa (John Goodman) also includes military Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). What’s more, the island has some very nasty surprises in store for the expedition, from giant insects to gigantic versions of the Jersey Devil from The Wolf Among Us called “skullwalkers” or “those lizard things”.

Who calls them those names? Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), who has been stranded on this island for nearly thirty years, and knows every dangerous nook and cranny like the back of his hand. He is definitely the most likeable of the human characters, and Reilly seems to be having a blast with this eccentric character, bringing a lot of the film’s humour. The other human characters aren’t as interesting; Hiddleston’s performance is fine and somewhat reminiscent of his turn in The Night Manager, but nothing really memorable about his character.

This is a King Kong movie, however, and King Kong is presented how he should be. He not only looks good, but still exhibits the elements of humanity that endured audiences to him decades ago. He is not truly a monster, but a protector against them. Speaking of which, this is pretty much a big fat B-Movie where the human characters are stalked by monsters like a more extreme version of The Grey, and the monsters here look fantastic with interesting designs. Not only do the skullwalkers look threatening, but there’s also a nice upgraded stick insect.

If you’re in the mood for a fun time at the cinema with big beasties, be sure to catch Kong.

Logan Review

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Spoilers may follow

There have been tonnes of superhero movies coming our way recently, but they’ve at least shown some variety in tone, stories and characters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought us political dramas (Captain America), heist films (Ant-Man) and of course, a film with a talking racoon and a tree-man. Say what you will about Suicide Squad, at least it tried to be distinct from Batman v Superman despite taking place in the same universe. Logan isn’t exactly what you’d expect a superhero film to be like, but that’s what makes it so special.

Logan is intended to be the final appearance of Hugh Jackman in the iconic role of Wolverine, and it is such a fitting end. Here we find an aged Logan in the year 2029, in hiding and taking care of Professor X (Patrick Stewart, fine in the role as usual). Adventure, as it is, comes calling again when Logan is asked to take a young girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) to a place called “Eden” where she can be safe. There is, of course, more to Laura than meets the eye, and she and Wolverine are pursued by the sinister “Reavers”.

We’ve all joked about how overexposed and overused Wolverine is, but here, he is a character one really wants to see more of, one who makes two hours and a half fly by. Jackman believably plays a character who’s seen a lot and been through a lot, and yet still grows throughout the movie. He has several conversations and interactions with Professor X and Laura and all of them are well-performed.

Wolverine may be the main focus of this film, but the other characters are also played exceedingly well. As mentioned before, Patrick Stewart turns in another exceptional performance as Professor X, even adding small touches of levity here and there. Laura has very few lines in the film, but Keen still creates an intriguing and likable character.

Logan is not exactly a kid-friendly film (even though it does acknowledge that children do indeed love Wolverine). The first sentence in the film contains the F-Bomb, and there’s plenty of blood, impaling and decapitations. Despite its tone being the polar opposite of that of Deadpool, they are at the same level when it comes to profanity and violence. The profanity and violence, however, don’t feel too gratuitous; they emphasise the horror of the situation, and the state of the title character. The film doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard like a lot of post-The Dark Knight comic flicks, the darkness seems to come naturally.

Wolverine doesn’t go out with a bang, but it feels appropriate that he doesn’t. The final battle is satisfying but not spectacular, fitting for the grizzled Wolverine. This is supposed to be his final story, and it feels it. Tribute is even paid to the history of the Wolverine character itself through the actual appearance of an X-Men comic book factoring into the plot, which is done much better than one would expect it to. With all that, Logan is definitely the finale the character deserves.

The Lego Batman Movie Review

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Spoilers may follow

When I saw Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, I was glad to see a recent Batman movie that wasn’t afraid to embrace the silliness of a man going out to fight crime in a bat costume or poke a little fun at the darker iterations of the character. Well, The Lego Batman Movie is another such movie, only more so.

The Batman here (Will Arnett) may be a vicious, violent loner, but he also plays rock music when battling his foes, and watches Jerry Maguire in his spare time. He may prefer to work alone, but then he accidentally adopts a young orphan Richard Grayson (Michael Cera) who idolises both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants Batman to work closer with the Gotham PD. As much as Batman hates it, teamwork is necessary to defeat the evil plans of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

Okay, so the story of a grumpy buzzkill learning the importance of friends isn’t exactly breaking new ground when it comes to animated features (nor even Lego Batman; the Lego Batman 2 game had a similar lesson for Batman to learn). It even comes off a bit like a reverse Despicable Me, given at one point Batman uses his newly-adopted ward to seize a ray gun for him. And let’s face it, given the amount of characters and vehicles that appear in this movie, they might as well have slapped a “Now available at all good toy stores” sticker onto every one of them.

However, none of that matters. It’s a big fat toy ad, but it’s a fun big fat toy ad.

There’s a true love of Batman and his world on display here – pretty much all the live-action Batman movies get Lego recreations in a montage, Joker’s previous plans are said to include two boats and a parade float, and Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Harvey Dent as Two-Face here (though he sadly doesn’t appear much). The world and characters may be made of Lego, but the film is very visually impressive and has some nice character designs; my favourite design is that of the Joker, with his skull-patterned tie and waistcoat and razor-sharp teeth. Robin could have easily been annoying, but he manages to be funny and likeable, and this film probably has one of the best versions of Alfred and Batgirl in Batman media.

Kids will love the humour and action setpieces, especially the Joker’s big plan, which I won’t spoil here. I’ll just say it perfectly captures what a child thinks when playing with his toys. There’s also a lot of adults to like here too, from the nods to previous Batman adaptations to the enjoyable voice acting. It’s the perfect film for little and big kids alike.

Split Review

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May contain spoilers

Movies which have as its “monster” someone criminally insane is far from a new idea. It was in fact utilised by one of the first horror movies, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it has been a hallmark of Batman stories for decades. Such a thing has even been a source of controversy, given that studies show mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

Now we have Split, where James McAvoy plays Kevin, an antagonist with several personalities. Sometimes he calls himself “Hedwig” and has the mentality of a little boy. Sometimes he’s a woman named Patricia. And then there’s the most fierce and dangerous personality of them all, known simply as “The Beast”.  Kevin has kidnapped three girls specifically to sate The Beast’s hunger.

The film is worth seeing for McAvoy alone, and it is rather impressive how he can make each personality distinct and make every one of them seem unnerving. Though he is reminiscent of Red Dragon’s Francis Dolarhyde – he has an alternate personality that’s a monster and has a background involving domestic abuse – he still feels like his own character. At one point, he, in his Hedwig persona, kisses one of the kidnapped girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and then says ‘You might get pregnant’; a quote that’s humorous and sinister at the same time. Casey is the most prominent of the three girls, the final girl if you will, and Taylor-Joy, a newcomer who has nonetheless done good performances in The Witch and Morgan, creates another good performance here.

The movie is also appropriately tense and eerie, making you genuinely worry about the girls and their fate. The opening titles have a sort of Hitchcock feel to them and chases down a rusty corridor which involve hiding in a locker reminded me of the game Outlast. The film knows how to keep you watching through its entire runtime and its ending…well, let’s just say I didn’t see it coming.

Split is not only frightening but fun to watch, especially McAvoy and the characters he plays.