Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Jurassic World (2015) – Movie Review

jurasic world

You may have heard some critics champion Jurassic World as “The best Jurassic Park sequel”, some fans declare that it “brought them back to their childhood”, and others who may have made the absurd claim, “It’s better than the original”. Don’t believe the hype. Jurassic World is nowhere close to the best Jurassic Park sequel (Spielberg’s own, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, will always have that title). It is not going to bring you back to your childhood, and it doesn’t hold a candle to what Steven Spielberg and crew accomplished with the original Jurassic Park. In a time of dark and self-serious blockbusters such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, Jurassic World is a refreshingly light adventure flick, but let’s not pretend this is anything groundbreaking. The fourth Jurassic Park movie remembers to have fun with its premise, but Spielberg’s magic touch is still sorely missed.

Jurassic World is the latest film in the Jurassic Park franchise in name only. Call it a sequel, reboot, or re-quel, the fact remains, this is not the same world created by author Michael Crichton and made real by Spielberg and company in 1993. All the major characters from the first three films are gone. Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, Ian Malcolm, and the rest of the interesting, likable, and developed characters of the earlier movies are replaced with broad archetypes and superfluous supporting characters. With respect to our new kid characters and Vincent D’Onofrio’s bone-headed military grunt, the only two characters worth noting in Jurassic World are Owen, a rugged dino-expert played by bona fide movie star Chris Pratt, and Claire, an uptight scientist played by Bryce Dallas-Howard. They are both likable in doses, and the script doesn’t subject us to too much of their dopey bantering. Still, Jurassic World is a movie less concerned with characters than it is with celebrity personalities. Owen and Claire are not interesting, but Pratt and Dallas-Howard bring a lot of star power. For JW’s brand of disposable summer adventuring, that may be enough.

There’s a neat little hook to the story of Jurassic World. After a re-branding of sorts, John Hammond’s dream is finally realized and Jurassic Park is somehow opened and fully operating. However, the public begins to lose interest in seeing the same old dinosaurs, prompting the scientists of Jurassic World to create an all-new hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex. Well, you guessed it, that dinosaur escapes. Okay, so that’s a clever solution to the classic Jurassic Park sequel dilemma, “How does this stuff keep happening?”, but that plot line takes all of twenty minutes to peter out. The rest of the film is a chase picture, and a simple one at that. The few subplots are banal. Be it, two brothers who come to Jurassic World to spend time with their aunt, or a ridiculous thing about a plan to weaponize velociraptors (The latter of those subplots is one of the most embarrassingly stupid ideas I’ve seen in a movie in years), Jurassic World doesn’t have much to get invested in besides big scary monsters running after people.

I do enjoy certain aspects of the film. The care that went into designing the look of the theme park is a great deal higher than the care that went into the story or the filmmaking. Jurassic World is a living, breathing place, and its filled with all kinds of minor details that help sell the illusion. The triceratops petting zoo, the hamster ball ride, the souvenir shops, and scores of other theme park related details are touches that I was grateful made it into the film. There are more than a few nice moments where you get to enjoy the park as it was “intended”. It’s a shame then that by the end of the film, any fleeting sense of wonder that you might have felt is replaced with Call of Duty-esque sensory bombardment.

Once the Indominus Rex gets out, and all Hell breaks loose, director Colin Trevorrow’s filmmaking falls apart. Jurassic World is an impressive technical feat. The action is staged well, and the special effects and production designs are incredibly polished. It all looks like a million bucks (or 150 million to be exact), and it’s all very fun, but when it comes to the meat of the movie, it’s foolish to think that Jurassic World is anything more than Transformers with dinosaurs. In Jurassic Park and The Lost World, Steven Spielberg infused his action scenes with tension and drama. There was a certain kind of visual poetry to the way he filmed the T-Rex attack in the first movie or the raptors in the grass scene from the Lost World. The action scenes of the first two movies were exhilarating without showing everything. They were subtle and scary and they exploded at just the right moments. Jurassic World’s action scenes are loud, chaotic and devoid of any technique. Trevorrow throws the kitchen sink into every shot. The Indominus Rex chomps up machine gun toting mercenaries left and right, pterodactyls dart all over the screen pecking and biting everything in sight. and big, lumbering CGI beasts fight each other and destroy every last peanut brittle building around them. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of mind-numbing chaos that can be loads of fun to watch while you’re there but leaves no lasting impact.

Such is the problem with the movie as a whole. Jurassic World is big, bright, and fun, with lots of action and good special effects. It pleases crowds. But as with most big budget crowd pleasers, it comes with dull characters, brain dead plotting and booming CGI overload. Jurassic World left me with the same empty feeling I got after seeing Jurassic Park 3. Both movies are serviceable summer romps, full of dino-action and great visual effects, but there is simply a noticeable dip in the quality of the production. Jurassic World successfully mines from the franchise name a good B-caliber FX spectacular. For dumb summer fun, it works just fine. But there was a time when Jurassic Park aspired to more than dumb summer fun. Steven Spielberg’s first two movies had class. They grappled with ideas, they were intelligent, they showcased real filmmaking, and they were genuinely thrilling. Jurassic World is colorful and fun, but let’s be clear, when it’s all said and done, nothing beats Spielberg.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – Movie Review

When a sequel is released following in the footsteps of a popular and well-loved movie the bar is set high by any and all going to see it. Expectations are high and if the follow up doesn’t equal that of the first film it could result in the end of a series or low box office figures. Termed the “sophomore slump” more than one second film has fallen prey to this occurring.

I’ve loved all of the Marvel Universe films (and Netflix series) to date, more so than any that DC has released where only WONDER WOMAN has succeeded. I enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY immensely, a perfect combination of action, comic book love, special effects and humor. When the sequel, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 came out I was there the first week to see it. I left disappointed feeling it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. So I was anxious for it to come out on disc so I could watch it again and see it through different eyes, eyes not filled with expectations of the previous film. I’m glad I did.

The movie starts in the distant past as Peter Quill’s mother Meredith rides down the road in an open topped convertible singing “Brandy” as her handsome young beau (Kurt Russell) drives. They end up in a woods where he shows her something he has planted in the ground and both convey their love for one another. Fast forward to outer space.

The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereign to protect their all-important batteries from a marauding inter-dimensional monster. As it arrives the battle begins as does my favorite part of the film. Baby Groot hooks up a sound system to play music, something Peter aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) enjoys. With the tune “Mr. Blue Sky” blaring from the speakers baby Groot dances across the battlefield oblivious to the raging fight taking place around him. If it doesn’t make your heart dance with joy to see him you have no heart.

The team is victorious and get their reward – Nebula (Karen Gillan) Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister. Peter warns them to be cautious as the Sovereign are an easily offended group which of course results in Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) cracking wise at their expense. Heading out into space they are then attacked by the Sovereign, looking for the batteries stolen by Rocket which he failed to mention. As things appear to be at their worst another spaceship shows up with a man on top who obliterates the remaining Sovereign ships.

Crash landing and beginning repairs that same spaceship lands and out walks a man known as Ego who informs Peter that he is his father. Here before him is the man he’s been searching for all these years. A man who has been searching for Peter as well. While Rocket and Groot remain behind to fix the ship, with Nebula still a prisoner, the rest go with Ego to his planet at the far edge of the galaxy. But what is it that he really wants? This will become the problem all face eventually.

As this unfolds we also find out what has become of Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s once father figure and the man who was tracking him down in the first film. We learn that his particular group of Ravagers were exiled because of his taking Peter years ago. At his lowest he is approached by the Sovereign to find the Guardians and retrieve their batteries.

Two themes run throughout this film. The first is that of family and fathers in particular. The Guardians are more than just a rag tag group of adventurers. Each has lost something or someone in their past and they have bonded together as a family in their time together. And each father figure has some flaw that makes them not the father they could have been but all attempt to redeem themselves for the most part save one. This presents a much deeper film than one would expect from a comic based movie.

The movie entertains on all levels from the stunning special effects visuals to the story telling itself. The acting is amazing when you consider that beneath the bluster and wise cracking heroics on display is that search for answers to familial matters. This includes not just fathers but sisters as well with Nebula and Gamora trying to find their own answers. In addition to that there are some belly busting funny moments as well, nearly all involving Drax (Dave Batista) who does a fantastic job with them.

On second viewing, without preconceived ideas in mind, I loved this movie. It might not be equal to the first but it is very close. The concepts that run through this film strike at the heart which is never a bad thing when handled well. Here it is handled exceptionally well. This is a movie to be added to any and all collections and watched more than once.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Movie Review

You might expect a movie studio at the top of its game to play it safe rather than strike out in new, bizarre directions. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any other studio giving the greenlight to Guardians Of The Galaxy – a huge blockbuster movie based on a title unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t a comics aficionado, starring a relatively unknown actor playing a character most people have never heard of. And yet, Marvel scores once again with its willingness to head off the beaten track. GUARDIANS is a fun, fizzy delight, even as it mines some surprising depths of emotion from its ragtag group of anti-heroes.

Peter Quill (Pratt) – a human abducted from Earth as a child – has grown up into an intergalactic thief who has no idea what he’s getting into when he takes possession of a mysterious Orb. Little does he know that Ronan (Pace) – a genocidal Kree radical – will do just about anything to get his hands on said Orb, including sending alien assassin Gamora (Saldana) after it. Gamora, as it turns out, has an agenda of her own. Trapped in an intergalactic prison (long story), Peter and Gamora are forced into an uneasy alliance with three other misfits: a brainy, sarcastic raccoon-like creature named Rocket (voiced by Cooper), a giant tree by the name of Groot (Diesel), and the vengeance-minded Drax The Destroyer (Bautista).

The truth is that there’s almost too much going on in GUARDIANS. Not only do we meet a host of characters we’ve never met before, on a raft of new planets teeming with brightly coloured life and detail, we’re also introduced to several plot lines all stuffed somewhat awkwardly into the film. We have Ronan’s planet-destroying aspirations, which are somehow bound up with the evil plans of Thanos – that creepy purple- skinned dude who popped up at the end of The Avengers. Peter’s kidnappers turned surrogate ‘family’ are also on the trail of the Orb, turning up at moments both enormously convenient and inconvenient to the plot. It all makes sense in the end, but until it all clicks into place, it can make for a rushed, unsettling experience.

But, despite its occasionally unwieldy script, GUARDIANS triumphs because of the gang of scruffy losers (a term that will take on a different, more heartfelt meaning during the film) at its heart. Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script, clearly feels a strong affinity for each one of these outcasts, all of whom are easily outlaws in some (if not all) parts of the solar system, each one battling – at least initially – to save his or her own skin rather than to save the world. It’s fascinating to watch the five members of this unlikely group slowly banter, bicker and batter their way into becoming a team.

Most joyfully of all, Gunn never loses sight of the prickly, selfish side of his characters. He gives them plenty of rich, emotional moments – whether it’s Peter and Gamora bonding over the loss of their parents, or Rocket’s ability to read a whole range of meaning into Groot’s extremely limited vocabulary (‘I am Groot’) – but never allows the film to descend into dangerously sentimental territory.

In fact, Gunn pumps up proceedings with a healthy, hearty dose of humour. Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have always been more tongue-in-cheek than the likes of the considerably more dour Dark Knight franchise, but GUARDIANS is a heady trip of a different order. It practically delights in bursts of odd, subversive comedy, and actually dares to punctuate its most epic face-off with a sly homage to, of all things, Footloose.

Pratt – so winning in TV’s Parks And Recreation – holds the emotional core of the film together. He exudes an easy, rakish charm that makes Peter both dashingly arrogant and achingly vulnerable. He’s matched very well by Saldana, who is clearly delighting in the opportunity to play the world-weary, no-nonsense Gamora – bred into a killer, born a fighter. The rest of the cast does justice, too, to the film’s cheerful swing from drama to comedy and back again: Bautista brings unexpected pathos to Drax’s occasionally comical determination to avenge his family against Ronan, while Cooper sounds completely unlike himself – in a very good way – as a creature who hides a world of hurt beneath his mouthy exterior. Even Diesel manages to find a great deal of depth in a CGI character who only communicates via the same languid burst of three words.

If anything, GUARDIANS is let down by a trio of not particularly threatening villains. Pace snarls and spits in heavy make-up, but can’t quite rustle up much in the way of nuance or genuine menace. Ronan is a one-note madman, with so little in the way of backstory that he automatically becomes less interesting. Thanos, too, now voiced and performed in motion-capture by Brolin, doesn’t get much to do beyond lounge on his space throne. Only Gillan’s cyborg Nebula manages a smidgen of complexity; even then, she struggles to be half as fascinating as her conflicted “sister”, Gamora.

Before the film was even released in cinemas, Marvel announced that a sequel would be coming in 2017. It’s a no-brainer as to why. The film is smart, funny and quite wonderful on its own merits. But, even more crucially, GUARDIANS is a gamble that pays off handsomely for Marvel. It opens up the MCU in, quite literally, all directions. Don’t be surprised if you see our more earth-bound heroes heading into space sooner rather than later. The film also adds a new cast of lovable rogues to the MCU’s roster of characters: a gang who, one might say, are actually all the more heroic for being people who would ordinarily be running in the opposite direction from any galaxy-guarding duties. Frankly, we can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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The LEGO Movie (2014) – Movie Review

‘The Lego Movie’ is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and stars Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson and many more.

This film follows Emmet, an ordinary guy who lives his life completely by the book (or “by the instructions”, if you will). This all changes when he becomes the center of an ancient prophecy that claims he is destined to save the world and become a ‘Master Builder’.

The first thing I’d like to point out is just how much attention is payed to detail in this film, I mean everything looks and feels magnificent. The creators obviously had a clear vision of how they wanted things to come together and I think everything came together brilliantly, this astonishing land of plastic bricks made me want to believe it was real.

Almost every character in this film is lovable in their own way and they’re brought to life by the near flawless cast that was assembled, every actor’s voice fits their respective character perfectly, especially Will Ferrell as President Business and Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop, who, in my opinion, gave the strongest performances of the whole cast.

The humour in this film is spot on, pulling off the task of being funny for all ages without being completely stupid. Animated movies should be an exquisite blend of funny dialogue and visual humour and thankfully, ‘The Lego Movie’ is just that. The plot is solid for the first two acts, but the third act contains a touching twist that will make you realise that this story is actually completely different than what you first thought it was and honestly, it’s a twist that pays off greatly and adds some much needed emotional depth to the film. (Let’s be honest, Emmet and Wildstyle falling for each other was a tacky plot device to add a slight element of romance to the film and we all know it.)

I have practically nothing but good things to say about ‘The Lego Movie’. It’s a charming, witty, visually stunning film that proves you can make awesome movies out of just about anything, even Lego blocks. The characters are the most enjoyable bunch that I have watched in recent years and the overall message that it sends to audience members is a great one.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Her (2013) – Movie Review

Artificial Intelligence is accumulating, sorting and organizing vast amounts of information. It can now diagnose and prescribe treatments for disease better and faster than any physician. Eventually it could give a lecture on world history and sociology, as these are a combination of information and logical organization.

What they will never be able to do is experience laughter, joy, depression or love. All of these are are part of the emotional system that is based on satisfaction of physical urges and fear of injury and death. In this respect your pet gerbil is closer than Watson to the 1000 power, as any animal has evolved only by the urge to survive, which means pleasure in sex and fear of death and all that brings this closer such as isolation, rejection, all the stuff that provides the vicissitudes of life.

Software will certainly be able to simulate all of these emotions, and perhaps do a reasonably good job of it. And this is the genius of “her” that I found it worthwhile, although flawed in many ways, only by viewing Samantha as how Theodore imagined her to be. He took what we all could see as an imitation emotional connection as the real thing, and what we were viewing in the film was what he heard out of his desperation. For a brief period, after his ex wife told him just this, his delusion was fractured, and the film took on a realistic bent that could have been a better denouement.

Instead it ended with some silly mystical pablum about all of the OSes heading for anther dimension. For me this was enjoyable, and even stimulating, but we live in a world where truth is both stranger and more exciting than fiction. It’s a shame that the writers didn’t do more actual research and serious writing on this meaningful subject.

6 out of 10 stars

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