Baby Driver Review

Using popular songs in films can be effective in helping to set the scene and reflect the characters’ personalities, but it’s a trope that’s easy to mess up. Done wrong, it can feel like a substitute for creativity and even turn the film into a glorified big-screen music video (see Sucker Punch for an example). An example of this done right can be found in recent release Baby Driver, which writer/director Edgar Wright even described as being “kind of like a musical”.

The titular driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) was involved in a car accident as a child, which causes a permanent ring throughout his ears. In order to drown out this ringing, he always makes sure to listen to music as he acts as getaway driver for a group of criminals. When he’s listening to a song, the audience listen to it as well; the song gets fainter when he takes one earplug off and stops when both earplugs are removed.

He even listens to the music during the more intense moments of the movie, and the action on screen matches up with the beats of the songs, creating some unique and enjoyable setpieces. This is definitely a film where the music enhances the experience, and even lets us know a bit about our Baby too, as the opening credits see him dancing down the streets mouthing to a song.

There’s plenty of impressive action, including a scene rather reminiscent of this year’s Free Fire, but this is an Edgar Wright film, so there’s plenty of comedy as well. Highlights include a scene where the criminals wear Michael Myers masks, and a quote from, of all things, Monsters Inc.

Baby Driver is a fun and fast-paced films, one that knows how to grab your attention and immerse you in its world. And it’s got good music too.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Review

There was plenty to like about Captain America: Civil War, but one of the biggest highlights was Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-Man, even though his role was a small one. Loveably dorky and awkward was he, and it made several viewers want to see him in his own movie. And here we have it.

Spider-Man has been battling street-level crime using the suit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)  gave him, but wishes for a greater challenge. That arrives when he comes across a group of bank-robbers using high-tech weapons supplied to them by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Assisted by his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter attempts to put an end to Toomes’ operation, even though it might mean Stark losing trust in him.

The film begins with scenes from Civil War, and Stark does play a significant role. He does not, however, dominate the film, and enough is explained that those who haven’t watched previous MCU movies could follow. It’s certainly refreshing to watch after Amazing Spider-Man 2, which seemed only to exist to set up regular movies. There’s no origin shown this time (though mentioned) but this does have all the elements of a good Spider-man film; not only do we have Peter chasing down villains, we have him dealing with teenage angst.

Tom Holland is once again perfectly cast as Spider-Man, making him likeable, funny and sympathetic; possibly the best on-screen Spider-Man yet. The film’s second most memorable performance comes from Michael Keaton, who may not have been as fun as DeFoe’s Green Goblin but is certainly a threatening villain, made even more so by the human elements of his character. A lot is happening in this movie, yet it never feels overpacked or overlong.

2017 has certainly proved itself to be a good year for superhero flicks. Spider-Man: Homecoming is not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or as engaging as Wonder Woman, but is still a tonne of fun.

 

Wonder Woman Review

I enjoyed Batman v Superman, but I had to admit at times it did seem like a big fat trailer for DC’s later films. In one way, it did its job; one of the highlights of the film was Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, which made one want to see her star in her own film. Lo and behold, we now have that film, and it’s a pretty damn good one too.

Wonder Woman was born Princess Diana and raised on the idyllic isle of Themyscira, where she trained in combat against her mother’s wishes. One day, a pilot called Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near Themyscira; he’s fighting in World War I, which Diana believes is the fault of the evil God of War Ares. She joins Steve in his voyage to London to aid in the war and hopefully defeat Ares, and she not only learns about the world outside her island, but some secrets about herself as well.

The film may begin with Diana getting a delivery from Bruce Wayne, but you don’t need to have seen the previous DC films to enjoy this one. The connection to a larger universe is more a bonus here, as this is very much a stand-alone film; an appropriate big-screen debut for the character (if you don’t count her appearances in the Lego movies).

Indeed it is a film worth seeing on the big screen, for it’s certainly the most visually impressive DCEU film so far. Earlier films in the series have been mocked for their murkiness but here murkiness actually works in this film’s favour, creating a contrast between grimy London and majestically-realised Themyscira, and highlighting the horrors of war Diana encounters.

Once again Gal Gadot shines as Wonder Woman, realising a character who is both tough and naïve, and gets some good interactions with Chris Pine. Another good performance comes from secondary villain Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) who I would have liked to see more of, and the main villain, not to spoil anything, is effectively threatening.

Wonder Woman has fantastic visuals and great performances, makes its runtime whizz by, and actually makes viewers curious about what else this universe has to offer.

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.

Doctor Strange Review

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A common argument about why Marvel’s movies are generally better than DC’s is that Marvel is less afraid to explore the more surreal side of comic books. Man of Steel was too moody and trying too hard to be realistic, but Marvel made a fun little movie where characters included a tree man and a talking raccoon. Now we have Marvel’s latest movie, Doctor Strange, where magic and warped Inception-esque cities abound, and it works pretty well.

The titular doctor, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is involved in a car accident that leaves him unable to use his hands. When he learns of an ancient order that apparently healed a paraplegic, Strange goes to find that order and learn magic under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange becomes skilled in the magical arts, and uses what he learns to battle the evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen),who wants to bring forth the demon Dormammu.

The best thing about Doctor Strange is definitely its visuals; it’s a film that deserves to be seen in IMAX. Just the scene where Strange first meets the ancient one, and is taken through a metaphysical journey where his hands grow hands is worth the price of admission alone. The Marvel universe is meant to be a weird and wonderful place and now that it has sorcery at its disposal, it has a lot of fun with it.

As for the story itself, it is the typical superhero fare: character gets powers, learns how to use them, and there’s the big evil portal to the big evil dimension that we’ve seen in this year’s Ninja Turtles and Suicide Squad. Thankfully, it is kept entertaining and engaging by Cumberbatch’s performance. True, it does seem similar to his Sherlock, but it’s an interesting setting for a Sherlock-esque character to be in. Though Strange’s co-workers find him arrogant, he’s still a character the viewer enjoys spending time with.

Mads Mikkelsen has done a brilliant job playing Hannibal Lecter in the Hannibal TV series, and he does a good job with the villain of this film, even if the character himself isn’t really anything special. Swinton’s performance and character are more interesting, and has some good interactions with Cumberbatch.

Doctor Strange is another enjoyable entry into the Marvel canon, and one especially worth seeing in 3D.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Review

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May include spoilers

With a lot of Batman-related media of recent years being dark and serious in tone with a dark and serious Batman – the Chris Nolan movies, the Arkham games, Batman v Superman – it’s easy to forget the Dark Knight has seen brighter adaptations. Let’s face it, the 1966 Batman TV series is campy, but it’s still hilarious and enjoyable to watch even today. Therefore, an animated movie based on the show, with Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their respective roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman, is more than welcome in this day and age, something to give us a break from the brooding Batman.

Joker (Jeff Bergman), Penguin (William Salvers), Riddler (Wally Wingert, reprising the role from the aforementioned Arkham games) and Catwoman reunite to seize a ray gun capable of duplicating anything, and Batman and Robin, as usual, have to stop them. There’s just one thing complicating matters – Catwoman has given Batman a serum that turns him evil, and using the ray, the now-criminal Batman uses clones of himself to take over Gotham City. This leaves Robin no choice but to team up with Catwoman in hopes of curing his old partner.

All the hallmarks of the 60’s TV show are here; Batman lectures Robin on the dangers of jaywalking, they scale the wall of a building, deathtraps and battles with onomatopoeia galore. It pays homage to other Batman media as well; not only is the intro a slew of classic comic covers with the movie’s versions of the characters, but the brainwashed Batman is a cute poke at the darker renditions of the character, even quoting the 1989 Batman movie and The Dark Knight Returns. Catwoman also makes fun of the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, but these pokes never feel mean-spirited. This is not asking to replace the more serious Batman but rather to co-exist with him.

What also makes the movie a joy to watch is its visuals; the animation is smooth and vibrant and the characters look pretty close to how they looked on the show (though Commissioner Gordon looks more like he does in the comics than he did on the show). It’s bright and colourful and eye-catching with even some nice details in the background, like the outfit Batman wore in his very first comics appearance in the Batcave. The final battle atop a blimp boasts some exquisite lighting. The voice acting is also top-notch, with West being as hilariously over-serious as he was in the live-action show, and is an utter hoot to listen to while evil. Ward and Newmar are great and Bergman, Salvers and Wingert do good impressions of Romero, Meredith and Gorshin.

It isn’t on the level of say, The Dark Knight, but it isn’t meant to be. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a tonne of fun with plenty of laughs and should be extremely enjoyable for Batman fans young and old. Hopefully the upcoming sequel will be as entertaining, but how can it not, when it has William Shatner playing Two-Face?

Hardcore Henry Review

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A title like Hardcore Henry could go either way; it could either be a fun, self-aware action romp or something trying too hard to be a fun, self-aware action romp. And then there is the fact that the entire film is shot in the first person. When the eponymous character awakes to see his “we can rebuild him” robotic transformation, the audience sees it through his eyes. It sounds like a gimmick that could work for a short film or a single episode of a TV series, but not enough to carry a 90 minute movie. It sounds akin to the novel written in the second person How Not to Write A Novel described; it sounds interesting at first, but quickly loses its novelty.

Actually, a more fitting analogy for Hardcore Henry is that it’s pretty much a big-screen video game. The first-person character runs down corridors, escapes explosions and mows down several nameless mooks. Sadly, at times, it feels too much and too little like a video game at the same time; you’re either bemoaning the lack of plot and character or wishing you had a controller and for the cutscenes to end. First-person works for video games because it complements the fact that the main character is being controlled by the player, but no such control exists for Hardcore Henry.

That is not to say that the film isn’t entertaining. In fact, a few of the scenes are made better through the first-person perspective, including a rather surreal song-and-dance number. It really does feel like the people behind this movie had fun making it, and there are plenty of fast-paced action and chase sequences and some well-done comic relief to momentarily stop the film and its gimmick from getting too creaky.

Hardcore Henry will work best for those who really just in the mood for some fast-paced action and nothing more, as the story and characterisation in the film are lacking. The closest thing to a leading lady is Estelle (Haley Bennett), who fixes up Henry in the beginning. She feels too generic, even when a twist about her arises, and so does the villain, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). The most entertaining character is Henry’s aid Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who is actually several different characters in a sense. Henry is a cyborg, and Akan’s plan is to build an army of them, yet it never feels like these cyborgs are adequately explored. It’s unlikely one would watch a film called Hardcore Henry for a deep plot, but still.

Hardcore Henry is what its title promised along with a gimmick that works most of the time, but little more. It’s diverting and entertaining enough, but hardly something you’ll remember.