Aladdin Review

It seems that Disney won’t rest until every single animated film in their library has been remade as a live-action feature, no matter how unorthodox it might be. Beauty and the Beast made sense, as while the original film had talking candelabras and teapots, there was still a mystical gothic atmosphere to it and regal visuals that one could imagine carrying over to live action. Dumbo made less sense, as the original film focussed on talking animals and surreal slapstick, and that resulted in a generic bore.

Aladdin is another unusual choice for the live-action treatment. True, the original story has had several live-action films, productions and pantomimes, but this is specifically a remake of the Disney Aladdin, one of the company’s most fast-paced and cartoony films. The 2019 remake tones down a few of the wackier elements of the original, so now we have an Iago that talks less and a stationary Cave of Wonders. This not only makes it feel like something is missing to those who grew up with the original, but makes the cartoonish elements that did remain – like Abu and the Magic Carpet’s anthropomorphism and especially the Genie (Will Smith) in his blue form – feel out of place, which can be distracting.

That said, Aladdin strangely makes the transition to live-action better than the two aforementionded movies. There are less clumsy efforts to explain away the plot holes of the animated predecessor and while it does follow the basic plot of the original, it does feel like its own film with its own feel. Will Smith had some big shoes to fill as the Genie, played previously by the late Robin Williams, but Smith is fun to watch in the role and gets some genuinely humorous lines, rarely repeating jokes from the original. Smith puts his own different-yet-familiar spin on the character. It is a shame, then, that he looks so artificial as a blue spirit (especially since most of the visuals, especially the Magic Carpet, look natural and impressive).

It should hardly be a surprise that 2019’s Aladdin is not as good as its 1992 counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watch, if only out of curiosity’s sake.


Detective Pikachu Review

Detective Pikachu is a movie that intrigues even from the title. While one would expect a live-action Pokemon movie to be a story of a trainer trying to “catch ‘em all”, here we have the closest thing to a film adaptation of The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, with a bit of Zootropolis sprinkled in. In a city where humans and Pokemon live together, 21-year-old Tim (Justice Smith) is looking for the whole story of his father’s death, and is assisted by his father’s Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who only he could understand. It sounds like the type of joke you’d expect to see on The Critic, but this is an actual movie in actual theaters. What’s more, it works.

Even when the novelty of such an unusual plot for a Pokemon movie wears off, the film still delivers a solid story. Justice Smith plays a very likeable and sympathetic character and while Ryan Reynolds is nowhere near as funny as he was in Deadpool, he is still fun to watch and listen to here. The mystery they find themselves unravelling takes advantage of its bizarre world and the creatures that inhabit it, taking some surprising twists and turns along the way.

The real treat in this movie, however, is seeing the weird and wonderful creatures from the games brought into the real world, and when the Pokemon look great, they really look great, with highlights being a ferocious Charizard, a stressed-out Psyduck and Detective Pikachu himself. It is somewhat distracting how, when Pikachu is interrogating Mr. Mime, the two Pokemon look like they came from different movies, but for the most part, this is a film that will reward long-time Pokemon fans and knows that a lot of the audience will be those who played the games and watched the cartoon as kids.

Avengers: Endgame Review

So what can be said about Avengers: Endgame, while keeping the spoilers to a minimum? Well, if I could sum it up in one word, it would be “satisfying”. It brings the Thanos arc to a fitting and enjoyable conclusion, the characters and their interactions are as engaging and humorous as ever and the ending is sure to make fans of this franchise feel good.

I would go into more detail, but I feel that if I did, I would be repeating myself. I said that Infinity War was like a “Greatest Hits” compilation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that’s all the more fitting a description for Endgame, and not only because of the time-travel aspect either. A lot of what I said about Infinity War could be said about Endgame, though Endgame does do a better job at juggling its many, many characters due to its longer runtime (though, since it’s less his movie this time round, Thanos has returned to being a generic world-ending antagonist).

That doesn’t mean Endgame doesn’t have any surprises though. Once again, this movie is best viewed going in blind, as it does do some truly interesting and amusing things with the technology and worlds of this universe.

What also makes Endgame worth a watch? Well, there’s the fact that it’s just so much fun. It’s a three-hour flick, but it never feels like it drags on, and this is an universe one would want to spend as much time in as possible. The film moves at a zippy pace, yet it still feels each element was given the right amount of time it needs.

Sadly, Avengers: Endgame isn’t the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (that honour still goes to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) but it’s still a jolly good thrill ride and is, of course, a satisfying experience.

Dumbo Review

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We’ve been getting several live-action remakes of classic Disney cartoons now, and I suppose one draw to them is the novelty of seeing favourite childhood characters as they might look if they existed in our world. Some of these look better than others (the movie hasn’t even been released yet and the internet has made every joke it can about how the Genie looks in the live-action Aladdin) but Dumbo, as in the character himself, has made one of the more successful transitions to the live-action world. He is absolutely adorable, looking like a soft toy made flesh, and doesn’t look too out-of-place among the humans he befriends. It’s not hard to sympathise with him as he’s separated from his mother, or when he’s forced to be a clown; you can’t deny those puppy-dog eyes. The rest of the visuals work wonders – the world looks fantastical enough to be home to a flying elephant but not too artificial.

Were that the rest of the movie as good as the visuals (good visuals but dull story is quite a hallmark of Tim Burton’s recent work, isn’t it?). The main story (expanded to be twice as long as the original movie and certainly feeling like it) feels like a Direct-to-TV movie given big-screen treatment.

It’s part of a genre one would have thought Monster Trucks had killed. A generic “kids-befriend-unusual-animal” flick with everything you’d expect from such an entry. There was no real villain in the original Dumbo (though a computer game claims the Ringmaster was) but here we have Michael Keaton as a stock villainous mogul who wishes to exploit both Dumbo and Dumbo’s mother, and there isn’t really anything interesting or new to his character. You’ve seen this character before in other movies where a kid helps their animal friend get home, and here it is again.

Dumbo focuses more on its human characters than it does its pachyderm title character, which wouldn’t be so bad if the humans, or the film itself, were at all interesting. Dumbo the character is a cute and sympathetic creation, but Dumbo the film overstays its welcome.

Captain Marvel Review

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Avengers: Endgame hits theaters at the end of April, but for those who can’t wait that long for more Marvel, we have, well, Captain Marvel (and the title character is set to play a big role in Endgame, too).

Another new character added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and thus we get another origin story movie. Those are getting a bit tiresome now (strange how refreshing 1989’s Batman feels these days given it had its hero’s origin given only a brief flashback in the middle of the film), but thankfully, the origin of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is kept interesting by not portraying it in chronological order, but by having the character slowly pick up its pieces as the film goes on.

It’s a film where nothing is as it seems, and that’s appropriate for a film heavily featuring the Skrulls. The Skrulls have been such a prominent presence in Marvel comics that it’s somewhat surprising it took a decade for them to make a significant appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they are well-portrayed here. Upon first seeing them I feared we would be seeing a return to the dull and plain antagonists of Marvel flicks past (they even resemble the elves of Thor: Dark World) but they proved one of then film’s most intriguing aspects (we do see the return of one of this universe’s more forgettable baddies though).

The film has plenty of interesting elements and good interactions between the characters, but it does feel a little slow and long. Thankfully, the final confrontation between good and evil is fast-paced and fun, with the ending perfectly wrapping up the film while leaving the door open for more stories involving these characters. Larson and Samuel L Jackson are both fantastic in their respective roles, but the best character…well, I don’t want to spoil anything.

And of course, special kudos towards the tribute to Stan Lee at the beginning.

Captain Marvel is hardly the best Marvel film out there, but there’s a lot to like, and the title character is one you’d want to see again.

Happy Death Day 2 U Review

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If the third film in this series isn’t going to be called Squashed Bananas and Stew, I’m going to be very disappointed.

The original Happy Death Day had a pretty novel idea; the Groundhog Day plot is nothing new, but Happy Death Day kept it interesting by combining it with a murder mystery, where student Tree (Jessica Rothe) is murdered by a masked killer on her birthday, and then relives that same birthday, each death creating a new loop until she solves the case. So too is this the plot of the sequel.

Yes, Happy Death Day 2 U does commit one of the most annoying sins of a sequel: repeating the story of the first because it worked the first time. It also commits a terrible sin of horror movie sequels and explains the bizarre events of the first film. That said, this explanation does add a little wrinkle to the film’s plot that makes it worth a watch.

The film not only pays tribute to Groundhog Day, but has a little of It’s A Wonderful Life too, where Tree is teleported into another dimension and though her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is with another woman, Tree is overjoyed to see her mother still alive, which leads to some effectively emotional scenes. Not only does Tree have another mystery to solve, she must also make the difficult decision whether to stay in this new dimension or return to her own.

That plot is pulled off extremely well, mostly thanks to Rothe’s acting. One really feels Tree’s confusion and frustration. That, combined with some excellent jokes and interactions mean that, while Happy Death Day 2 U may feel somewhat repetitive, it is still worth a watch.

Escape Room Review

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Well, Sony last year released a Venom movie without Spider-man. This year, they released a Riddler movie without Batman.

I joke, but when watching Escape Room, one will spend most of the runtime thinking about how similar it is to other movies. Saw is an obvious choice for comparison, but you might also find similarities to The Game, the creepypasta No-End House and even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory given how we have flawed characters tour a bizarre building with rooms and traps catered specifically to them.

That said, sometimes clichés are overused for a reason, and Escape Room does keep one’s interest by creating some interestingly surreal rooms for the characters to solve. Indeed, the main reason to keep watching is to see what twisted backdrop for the puzzles will be coming next. It really does give the sense that the characters have entered a new world without going into overtly supernatural territory.

This rooms would probably be more interesting if the characters trying to escape were. Other than student Zoey (Taylor Russell), I couldn’t really bring myself to care about any of the characters, despite their backstories. A lot of the movie is them conversing and arguing over what the right solution is, and you’d probably have more fun watching someone play a video game. When the mastermind is revealed, it, again, is really nothing you haven’t seen before with characters like Edward Nigma. Escape Room is a decent film, but nothing that hasn’t been done better.