When the daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu) return to Earth with plans to destroy the world of humans, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his adult superhero alter ego (Zachary Levi), must bring his superhero family together to save the world.
The first Shazam! film was an unexpected delight and while Shazam! Fury of the Gods doesn’t reach the heights of the original, it’s still a pretty fun sequel that builds on the themes of family that was so essential to the first one. That being said, I would’ve like Asher Angel to have more screentime with his on-screen siblings, as adult Billy aka Zachary Levi, definitely had the most screentime with the siblings, both the kid-versions and the superhero-versions. The first film had such a great balance between the superhero and the kid stuff but in Fury of the Gods it was definitely more skewed towards the superhero stuff. Which kind of makes sense but it was to an extent where you sometimes for got that this superhero was a teenager – especially as teenage Billy was a lot calmer and more thoughtful than superhero Billy who sometimes veered off into being almost Deadpool-esque with the abundance on one-liners and acting more like comic relief than a hero with responsibilities. (more…)
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is living the highlife; he has a loving family and while he’s retired from boxing he’s still in that world as a gym owner and boxing promoter. When his childhood best friend Damien Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a boxing prodigy, re-enters Adonis’s life after a long stint in prison, he’s eager to prove he deserves a shot in the ring – no matter who might stand in his way.
Creed III takes place seven years after the events of Creed II and the film does such a good job at showing that passage of time and how the characters lives have changed. Donnie has retired though is still heavily involved with the boxing world and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has been winning awards for her music and while Donnie is shaping up-and-coming young boxers, she’s writing and producing new musical talent. Their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) is deaf and it was so good to see how her parents and grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) were fluent in sign language and how their home was fully accessible for her too, such as having lights flash when the doorbell rang. Obviously, any loving parent should be eager to learn new things in order to communicate with their child, but it was so nice seeing this kind of family which you don’t tend to see in a big mainstream film. (more…)
Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the champion and has everything going for him in his life with his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) by his side. When Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Donnie’s father in the ring, steps onto the scene, Donnie has the fight of his life on his hands.
There’s something about the films in this franchise that brings out performances one wouldn’t expect from its aging action stars. Stallone is still great here, like he often was throughout the series, but it’s Lundgren that impressed me this time. You don’t get to spend a lot of time with the Drago’s but it gives you enough to see what the relationship between this father and son is like. Almost naturally Viktor is full of hate thanks to the environment he grew up in but seeing how he and his father clash as Ivan pushes him in order to reclaim the family honour is interesting and the other side of the coin compared to Rocky and Donnie’s relationship.
The parallel of Rocky training in the snow for his fight against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV with Donnie training in the desert for his fight against Viktor Drago is exquisite. Sure, like Creed was a twist on the first Rocky, Creed II has similar beats to a few other Rocky films, but that doesn’t mean Creed II isn’t a really enjoyable time. The desert training montage is one of the series best and the music choices there, and throughout the film to be honest, are brilliant.
In Creed, Stallone was kind of the scene stealer but in Creed II it is most definitely Michael B. Jordan’s film. Donnie goes through a lot of physical and emotional turmoil and the way Jordan captures that, especially some of the internal battles he’s going through, is excellent. Donnie and Bianca’s relationship is wonderful and it’s so nice to see the romantic couple still together and stronger than ever in the sequel. Thompson and Jordan have great chemistry and adding a baby into their family dynamic adds a whole new set of responsibilities and pressures on Donnie’s shoulders.
Creed II is a worthy sequel as it has all the emotional beats you’d expect from this franchise plus the fights are exciting and here you really feel the punches. Thanks to the sound design, when there’s serious injuries like broken ribs you can hear them happen and the performances makes these fights feel a lot more real and dangerous. Creed II is a great continuation of the Rocky and Apollo legacy but I’m looking forward to seeing how Donnie and this franchise can step out of their shadow with Creed III. 4/5.
After a terrible storm forces commercial airline pilot captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) to land, he has to fight to save his crew and passengers after realising they’ve landed on an island run by militia.
Plane is a proper 90s throwback action movie that does a simple premise well and has a lot of fun while doing it. A film being called a “90s throwback” may be deemed an insult but honestly with Plane it’s a compliment. It’s a solid action film done well with a great couple of lead characters.
Gerard Butler is probably a bit underappreciated for what he can do in an action film because he’s been playing this kind of charismatic but tough guy for years now but that doesn’t mean what he does isn’t good. Butler is allowed to be Scottish in Plane and naturally one of the first things his character does is be insulted someone thought he was English. Butler’s captain is just a good buy, he’s a reassuring presence for his crew and passengers and he is good at his job. Shoutout to his co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) who is also pretty great and the two of the make a good team. Not going to lie, Dele is the kind of nice secondary character that you fear for because he’s so likeable and not a big name so could potentially be expendable.
Butler also makes a good team with Mike Colter’s Louis Gaspare, a prisoner who was being transported on the plane. The two characters compliment each other well and become reluctant allies as Gaspare is more of a military-mind and a planer while Torrance wants to go in all guns blazing to save his passengers.
The bad guys as a group are pretty intimidating and there is a lot of blood spilt when they are around but there isn’t really a memorable villain leading them. In Plane the gunshots and stabbings are visceral and the sound effects on some of the killings do make you wince.
Overall Plane is a really good time. It’s a simple action film that’s very enjoyable with a group of leading characters that are easy to like and feel for. 4/5.
After a young girl is taken from her village by the British Governor (Ray Stevenson) at the whim of his wife, the village’s protector, Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), sets out to find her and bring her home. As the Governor’s life is deemed to be threatened, loyal and almost unstoppable police officer Raju (Ram Charan Teja) is put on the case to find and stop this protector.
In some ways I don’t want to say much about RRR because it’s a feel that defies explanation and it’s all the better for it. Considering I’d heard nothing but good things about RRR on social media, I didn’t really know what it was about (besides being anti-British/colonial rule and having bonkers set pieces) so everything was a wonderful surprise and I want everyone to be able to experience this film like that.
RRR is a three-hour historical epic but it’s one of those rare long films where not a single minute is wasted and I never found myself bored or thinking that the story was dragging. RRR is also a musical, an action film, a drama, and a romance and all those elements come together so well and sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a three-hour film that was so fun, engaging and thrilling.
The action and set pieces really are astounding. Every big moment would be a standout in any film but this one has like seven of them – it truly is impressive. What makes the set pieces so good is that they’re all grounded in the characters. It makes the drama and stakes more tangible as well as just being highly entertaining.
Really though, the thing I loved most about RRR is the two main characters and their friendship. RRR is truly one of those power-of-friendship kind of movies and the tension of knowing that Bheem and Raju are on opposite sides but have so much in common is so good. The actors are fantastic and their chemistry is excellent and their friendship, and everything it goes through over the course of them film is just the best.
RRR really is something special and is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s fun and bombastic and at the same time has a really important story about Britain and India’s past and the harm that the British did and the strength it took to fight back against it. 5/5.
When a team of mercenaries, led by a man with the codename Scrooge (John Leguizamo), take a wealthy family hostage with plans to steal the fortune from their vault, they encounter unexpected resistance from Santa Claus (David Harbour) who was making his rounds when the family mansion came under attack.
Violent Night is kind of exactly what you’d expect and it does what it sets out to do and does it well. A Santa who’s disillusioned by Christmas and how children just seem to want money or video games, gets caught up in a home invasion and fights to take down the bad guys and save the family – some members of which you wouldn’t necessarily mind if they didn’t make it out of this situation alive.
Violent Night does the feuding/dysfunctional family thing really well. The majority of the family members are self-absorbed and bordering on narcissistic and the saving grace is young Trudy (Leah Brady) and her mother Linda (Alexis Louder). It’s Trudy’s connection to Santa that brings a surprisingly emotional heart to the film as she’s the only one who still believes in him and her being so nice and caring starts to make him believe in the good of others again.
The Father Christmas lore in Violent Night is pretty cool. His naughty or nice list and his sack full of presents are both inventive and how he gets up and down a chimney is especially cool. While Violent Night is obviously a Santa takes down bad guys film, it’s nice to see that the charm or magic of Father Christmas isn’t lost.
David Harbour is great as a jaded Santa who starts taking down bad guys almost by accident. The fight sequences are well-shot, innovative and fun, and the violence is pretty bloody and gory at times too. Definitely the kind of stuff that makes you grimace even when you’re also laughing at the mercenaries misfortunes. The action and comedy balance well and there’s some wonderfully dark Christmas-related puns.
With brutal fights, some fun booby traps, and the fact that throughout all the carnage Violent Night still manages to retain the general spirit of Christmas, it could well go on to become a Christmas cult classic as it executes its simple premise well. 3/5.
In the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must lead the people of Wakanda as they fight to protect their home from outside forces – whether that’s member states of the UN, or the nation of Talokan in the deep depths of the ocean led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Wakanda Forever without talking about the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the affect this had on the film. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler incorporated Boseman’s passing into the film and needless to say in the first five minutes I was already getting emotional. This makes Wakanda Forever an almost unique grieving experience. All the characters who knew T’Challa are mourning his passing, and so are the actors playing them, and so are you as you watch this film. It’s easy to imagine that in some of the big emotional scenes, the actors used their grief for their friend and co-worker to fuel their characters grief.
There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever with new characters and a new civilisation with a lot of backstory introduced and some aspects were more interesting than others. Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross is back and while his character is somewhat integral to moving the plot forward to begin with, it does kind of feel like the film grinds to a halt every time it leaves Wakanda to see what he’s up to in America. Wakanda Forever is close to three hours long and it’s moments like this that makes you feel the runtime.
The whole cast is incredible but Bassett, Huerta and Letitia Wright are truly standouts. Angela Bassett gives a couple of powerful and emotional monologues and the fact that one is almost soft with her contained rage while the other has her pain over flowing just shows how talented she always has been. Plus, the first happens in the UN in front of a majority white audience while the latter happens in the throne room in Wakanda, infront of the other tribal leaders and her people – once again showing how these characters have to be uniquely aware of their race and power even when they’re from one of the most technologically advanced countries in thise universe.
Namor is such an interesting villain – though really he is more of an antihero – and Huerta is just so compelling that your eyes never leave him whenever he’s on screen. His Namor is principled and loyal but on the flipside, he can be very intimidating and, like the first sequence where the people of Talokan attack, almost frightening. Letitia Wright’s Shuri goes through a lot in this film but she’s truly the emotional centre of Wakanda Forever. She’s trying to combine her love and knowledge of science with the realisation that it wasn’t enough to save her brother and if that’s the case how can she protect her people? Her inner turmoil is fascinating and Wright is phenomenal – pretty much every time I felt myself get teary eyed, it was due to her performance.
One of the many things I really appreciated in Wakanda Forever was that it let emotion and drama sit with you. There are jokes or humorous moments in the film – mostly from Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is still an excellent scene-stealer – but they’re used in a way to ease some tension rather than becoming an almost parody of the MCU joke machine as seen in some other MCU movies recently aka Thor: Love and Thunder.
Black Panther won Oscars for Music, Costume, and Production Design and those same Oscar winners are back for Wakanda Forever and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got awards consideration again. Ludwig Göransson’s score has echoes of familiar themes but also plays on the unknown with Talokan, and both Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler make both Wakanda and Talokan feel so alive with their costumes and set design and when it comes to Wakanda, adds to the history and culture we already know. Both Wakanda and Talokan feel so vast and real because of the costumes, sets and props especially as they’ve incorporated African and Indigenous cultures into it all.
Overall Wakanda Forever is a story about grief. How grief is hard and messy and people deal with it in different ways and some ignore grief until it almost consumes them. It still has its action and the Dora Milaje led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) is still awesome and it’s a thrill seeing so many complex and powerful women on screen, working together. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is definitely my favourite MCU film released this year. 4/5.
Nearly 5,000 years after he was given the powers of the gods Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is freed from his earthly tomb, to find his home country of Kahndaq is now besieged by mercenaries, so he sets about unleashing his unique form of justice on the modern world.
The best thing Black Adam has going for it is Dwayne Johnson. He does make an imposing villain/anti-hero and it is kind of fun seeing him be so ruthless with a bunch of bad guys without then second guessing it. It’s clear from the outset that the people who have invaded this country are not good people and deserve anything that is coming to them.
Naturally Black Adam needs some superpowered good guys to go up against and that’s where the Justice Society of America (JSA) comes in. Like all the superpowered characters in this film, I knew nothing about the JSA and I still know little about them and how the Justice Society works as this film gives very little backstory or characterisation to any of them. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is the new guy, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) has pretty cool and colourful wind powers, Hawkman’s (Aldis Hodge) main thing is saying “heroes don’t kill people” over and over again, and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is just the best and steals just about every scene he’s in – even when he’s going toe to toe with Black Adam.
Everyone gives fine to good performances and the JSA team are all generally likeable and have decent charisma but it was hard to really care about them all. Also naturally, as Black Adam couldn’t be an out and out villain, there was always going to be something that would unite him and the JSA as they fight some other big bad. It’s a superhero movie cliché and unfortunately in this instance, the random new baddie wasn’t particularly interesting either.
Something that the film treats as a Big Reveal and a plot twist, is diminished as it’s in the trailer and it’s not even a subtle thing. If you’ve seen the first trailer, the trailer below in fact, you may be like me watching this film, just waiting for something seemingly obvious to be spelt out, but that thing is only so obvious when you’ve seen the trailer. It’s poor marketing on the studios part as any dramatic heft is lost.
I did like what Black Adam had to say about Western (super) powers not being interesting in the strife of a Middle Eastern country such as Kahndaq, until they have their own powerful guardian and then they are seen as a threat. That kind of on the nose but different (for a superhero movie) political commentary was unexpected but welcome.
Black Adam is neither particularly good nor particularly bad. If I was a kid, I’d probably have a great time with this as it reminded me a bit of those “middle tier” superhero movies like Fantastic Four (2005), it has a lot action set pieces and bombastic fights while also not being very memorable. Some of the CGI is a bit dodgy and trying to stuff so many new and somewhat obscure characters into a two-hour movie means that characterisation is left by the wayside. 3/5.
John Finnegan (Treat Williams) is the captain of a speedy little boat who’s been hired by armed mercenaries to take them to a luxury cruise liner in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean where they can loot it and hold the passengers to ransom. Things don’t go to plan however as when they arrive the ship is almost deserted and it’s clear that someone, or something, has already ransacked the place.
Deep Rising is written and directed by Stephen Sommers, director of The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) – two of my favourite films – and Odd Thomas (2013) which I also have a soft spot for. So, while I am a self-confessed wuss, I thought I could handle this film and while it certainly has a higher rating than the other films mentioned, and utilises that with the blood and guts spurting everywhere, Deep Rising is also a really fun and satisfying action/disaster/horror movie.
Deep Rising is one of those fun 90s moves where you can go “It’s them!” a lot. The mercenaries are led by Wes Studi and also feature Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Trevor Goddard and Clifton Powell. Famke Janssen’s thief Trillian is the sole female character in this small group of survivors and she’s pretty great. Easily likeable and Trillian has her own illegal skills which helps her when she’s in a jam.
Deep Rising does a great job of building tension, especially as what’s attacked the ship isn’t seen fully until over halfway through the film. Being economical with the special effects means you instead have something pulling characters off screen, banging on doors and walls, and the sense that something is in the water, stalking everyone. It plays with expectations too as there’s a number of times when you’re waiting for the jump scare and the film makes you wait longer than you think it will, still managing to make the seemingly obvious scare a surprise.
Overall Deep Rising is a decent creature feature and has some very satisfying kills of some horrible characters. Look, we all enjoy it when the bastard gets their comeuppance. Also, there should be more films with jet ski chase sequences. 3/5.
Teamed with a group of her closest friends – including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) goes off on a mission with the unit from District 13 as they risk their lives to stage an assassination attempt on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who has become increasingly obsessed with destroying her.
While Katniss and her team have to take part in guerrilla-style warfare, the themes that have been prevalent throughout this series are still there. Katniss’s march through the boobytrapped Capitol is like she’s back in the Arena and both President Snow and President Coin (Julianne Moore) are doing their best to manipulate the situation and Katniss to their advantage.
Josh Hutcherson deserves a shout out for his performance in Mockingjay – Part 2. Naturally Jennifer Lawrence is still fantastic and she is really the glue holding this franchise together, but in this film, Hutcherson gets to do more than just be in love with Katniss and be a way for her to show her softer side. Peeta has been tortured and had his mind manipulated while being captured by the Capitol and as he slowly starts to break out of the confusion of not being able to trust his own mind, Hutcherson’s performance is often both impressive and heart-breaking.
Katniss and her team’s mission is tense and exciting as boobytraps of any kind can spring up out of nowhere and when Peeta joins the team he’s a wildcard that gives Katniss extra stress. There’s a couple of moments of levity at the beginning of Mockingjay – Part 2, mostly down to Finnick and Annie (Stef Dawson), but really it is almost relentless grim as it doesn’t shy away from the realities of war and Katniss has to face losing the ones she cares about in a way she hasn’t before.
Sure, an argument can be made that Mockingjay should’ve been one film (like many last books in YA series film adaptations) but it really is a solid end to a series of films that have always been somewhere between good and fantastic. I think The Hunger Games films are some of the best adaptations of YA books and is truly the high point of an influx of dystopian media we had a decade ago. Mockingjay – Part 2 is an impressive and satisfying end as it pulls together all the themes and characters the series has been dealing with. 4/5.