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REVIEW: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is living life to its fullest by killing a load of bad guys and being in love with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). But when time traveller Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives with one aim – kill young mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) – Deadpool must bring together a superpowered team to stop him.

Deadpool 2 is the anticipated sequel of the surprise hit of 2016, and this sequel is just as fun, outrageous and violent as the first film. There’s a bigger scope (and budget) here and for the most part it pulls it off. The special effects do get a little ropey towards the end of the film, it’s almost as if they filmmakers had bigger aspirations than their budget, but the action sequences and fights are still well-shot and exciting. The surprising thing about Deadpool 2 is that it has a lot of heart and, for the most part, knows when to have those serious moments.

The new characters in this film are great. While it takes a while for Cable to make his entrance (and once he does he goes away again for a little while) he is captivating every time he’s on screen. He’s a total, almost unstoppable badass and his interactions with Deadpool are great. The fight sequence in a prison is brutal.

Probably the stand-out new character in Deadpool 2 is Domino (Zazie Beetz). Her superpower is being lucky and the sequences that show off that power are incredible. It’s not just herself who is lucky, her luck affects things around her so watching her fight is so much fun.

It’s the interactions between Deadpool and all these new, and old, characters that stand out to me. While the first film was great, it was naturally solely focused on Deadpool, but this time having him surrounded by a team leads to many great character moments that are often hilarious. This is still very much Deadpool’s film, he’s just got some great back up.

Deadpool 2 is most definitely still a comedy and there’s jokes and fourth-wall breaks flying almost constantly. Personal my favourite jokes are the self-referential ones to the X-Men films and superhero films and characters in general – there’s a Hawkeye-related one-liner that I found myself laughing at very loudly even though Hawkeye is my favourite Marvel character.

Deadpool 2 is bigger than the first film, and possibly even better (though it’s been a while since I’ve seen it). It’s funny, action-packed and introduces some great characters that I’d love to see more of. I’m planning to get my hands on as many comics featuring Domino as possible. Oh, and there’s a couple of mid-credits scenes too that are brilliant so make sure you stick around for them! 4/5.

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REVIEW: Tomb Raider (2018)

When Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) goes in search of what happened to her father (Dominic West), who’s been missing (presumed dead) for seven years, she ends up on a mysterious island run by mercenaries led by Vogel (Walton Goggins).

Tomb Raider is the latest adaptation of the video game series of the same name. I’ve not played any of the Tomb Raider games since the late 1990s but from my understanding, this film is an adaptation of the rebooted video game franchise, wherein it’s more dark and gritty and grounded in reality.

We meet Lara Croft in this film as she’s striving to be independent and won’t except her father’s death. She’s a normal young woman (though admittedly one who is fitter than most) so seeing her be pushed to her emotional and physical limits as she struggles to discover the truth is great. Lara is capable but she’s also hurting, Vikander plays her complexities brilliantly. Throughout the film you could tell Vikander was doing the majority of her stunts and fights, adding to the excitement.

Once Lara arrives on the island the pace of the film slows down a bit, relying more on the intrigue of what Vogel’s looking for than fast-paced action. That’s not to say there aren’t any action sequences on the island. The sequence with the rusty plane is tense and thrilling, with Lara herself referring to the fact that everything seems to keep getting worse for her. This, amongst other reasons, makes Lara a character you root for.

The thing in the tomb that Vogel and his employer are looking for is a bit on the far-fetched but all the boobytraps are a joy to watch unfold. Also, Vogel’s motivations aren’t that clear and he and his men aren’t fleshed-out villains. There could’ve been any bad guy really, as this was Lara’s, and Vikander’s, movie and time to shine.

While it almost feels strange to hope for a franchise in this day and age, I really hope Tomb Raider is the start of a franchise. Alicia Vikander was a great Lara Croft and as Tomb Raider is Lara’s origin story, it would be great to see Vikander’s Lara go on a proper adventure of her own choosing. 4/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.

REVIEW: Sky High (2005)

Son of superhero parents, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start Sky High – a school for kids with superpowers. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any yet and fitting into high school has never been tougher.

When Will and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) don’t fit the typical superhero mould, they get relegated to sidekicks which are generally seen as the losers of the school. This is where you get your typical high school dynamic of the popular kids vs the unpopular kids, and you’re introduced Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the Bad Boy who has hidden depths. There’s a lot of fun scenes with characters using their different powers, whether that’s in fights or in training and seeing all the powers and technology like ray guns together can be entertaining.

Sky High blends a lot of typical high school movie clichés with superhero ones and they work well together to make a fun film. At some points it’s as if Sky High knows it’s almost a spoof of both the teen comedy genre and the superhero one. Characters wear clothes in colours that relate to their powers or to people they’re associated with, and there’s a great gag with the popular yet mean cheerleader squad.

Sky High’s not too different to the norm but it’s different enough with the elements it pulls from both genres and the entire cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun – Kurt Russell especially. Sky High is a fun-family film, it’s got comedy, drama and superhero shenanigans, definitely a fluffy easy-watch kind of film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther (2018)

Still reeling after his father’s death, T’Challa (Chadwicke Boseman) returns to the secretive country of Wakanda to take up the mantle of King. Soon his judgement and resolve are tested when old enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) resurfaces and brings with him a perhaps even deadly foe – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Black Panther is a lot of firsts – first film in the MCU with a black superhero as the titular character, first film in the MCU not directed by a white guy, and first big budget superhero film in general that brings this many talented black actors into a place in our world that’s never been colonised nor had any outside influence throughout its history.

Wakanda is a vivid and fleshed-out country – so much so it’s like it’s its own character. The buildings, the vehicles, the technology and the clothes are all a mixture of the future and the traditional. Merging the real and the imaginary helps make Wakanda feel like a real, lived-in place and overall special effects in Black Panther are incredibly well-done. Subsequently when there are those moments where the CGI isn’t to the same level as the rest of the film, it’s more jarring which is unfortunate. Wakanda is a place that has been left to thrive by the rest of the world and thanks to its many scientists and inventors, including T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is a character who steals just about every scene she’s in with her humour and relatability. She and T’Challa feel like proper siblings, and with their mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) are a strong family unit.

In some ways Black Panther feels like more of an ensemble film because there are so many great, fleshed-out characters surrounding T’Challa. There’s Okoye (Danai Guria) the head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all female security force, who is such a badass, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) a spy for Wakanda, and M’Baku (Winston Duke) leader of the Jabari Tribe who is a surprisingly layered character. Every single one of them have their moments to shine but T’Challa is rarely upstaged thanks to Boseman’s stoic yet compelling performance as a man trying to be both a king and a superhero. Killmonger is a great villain and a worthy adversary for T’Challa. He’s a fascinating villain because while it’s clear he’s the bad guy, the way he states his reasoning makes you get where he’s coming from. His actions are in no way condonable but the reasons for his actions are understandable.

The pacing in Black Panther is a little uneven at times. There is a lot to set up in showing Wakanda and introducing this society and its people which is great and very enjoyable, but there’s something’s that could either have had more detail or have been briefer and have still gotten across the same information.

Black Panther is a great film. It’s exciting and surprisingly funny – it perfectly balances the humour, which is mostly character-driven, and its serious moments. Black Panther covers a lot of genres, it’s political, it’s like an espionage thriller in some ways, it’s about family and legacy, as well as being an action-packed superhero movie. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth with plans to enslave humanity, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to bring together a team of volatile people, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who have the potential to be heroes.

The Avengers is a payoff for forward planning and investing in your characters. It’s hard to believe it now but The Avengers was a bit of a risky move. Yes, there were five films setting up these characters and all previous films were generally well-received and made a lot of money, but that was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a good movie that could balance its large cast of characters, each with their own extensive backstory and big personalities. Luckily, The Avengers managed to do just that.

The Avengers has spectacular set pieces with each action or fight sequence almost better than the last. There is a lot of conflict in this film, whether it’s the heroes against the villains or even the heroes amongst themselves. These are larger than life characters and they do clash, but that makes the moments when they come together as a team all that more satisfying.

The Avengers could have very easily been the Tony Stark Show thanks to him not only being a character we’ve seen the most but also because of Downey Jr’s natural charisma. However, thanks to a clever script that’s not the case. Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, secondary characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) even get a moment of badassery. The script also allows time for these characters to grow while still having a firm understanding each of their motivations.

One of the highest compliments I can give The Avengers is that it feels like a comic book brought to life. The witty one-liners characters have, the way the script drops titbits of characters history or motivations with ease, and how vibrant and exciting it is. There’s a tracking shot, in the final battle, that’s almost lifted from the pages of a comic book with the way the camera moves from one character to another as they fight as a unit.

The Avengers is great because no matter the number of explosions and fights, it never forgets the characters humanity. There’s a real threat from Loki’s actions, as well as from the fact both the heroes and the audience are not sure they can trust Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Avengers is fast-paced, thrilling and funny. Seeing these characters together on screen is a joy, especially as the whole cast give great performances and all have brilliant chemistry with one another. It is one of the best superhero films, and Marvel Studios should be admired for successfully creating a cinematic universe, that so many other studios have been attempting to emulate ever since. 5/5.