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REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

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.

REVIEW: Black Adam (2022)

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.

REVIEW: Deep Rising (1998)

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.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

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.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

After escaping the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly becomes the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol.

From the outset Mockingjay – Part 1 looks distinctly different from the previous two film. After the lush greens of the first arena and the bright sun, sand, and water of the second, life in District 13 is tinged in grey. It suits the setting as so much is set underground though certainly some of the night/dark scenes could’ve been lit a bit better.

Here we have a Katniss who is full of guilt and regret for leaving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind and it’s only when she has President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13, pledge to rescue Peeta and the other victors captured by the Capitol that she agrees to be the Mockingjay – the symbol of hope and rebellion for the people.

Cutting the final book in a YA book to movie adaptation series became the norm after the success of both Harry Potter and Twilight so it was little to no surprise that The Hunger Games went down the same route. This does mean that Mockingjay – Part 1 has far less action than the previous films as now not only are Katniss and Peeta no longer in the arena battling to the death, but instead it focuses more on Katniss’s state of mind as the conflict between the Districts and the Capitol grows. That’s not to say there aren’t any “action sequences” – Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) get caught up in a Capitol bombing – but they are few and far between and instead the tension and drama is more character focused.

A key part of the Hunger Games has always been how well the tributes can make themselves likeable and appealing to sponsors as that’ll help them survive. This take on the PR and propaganda machine takes a different turn in Mockingjay – Part 1. Former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plans to help the rebels by filming a load of propaganda films of Katniss to inspire the rebellion. It’s a pity Katniss works best when she’s not following a script. Just as District 13 are using Katniss in their propaganda, the Capitol is using Peeta and though the two of them are barely together during the film you can see how Katniss’s love for him (whatever kind of love that is) is still strong.

One of my favourite sequences in this whole series is in in this film. It’s a moment where Katniss sits by a lake with her film crew and sings a song called “The Hanging Tree” which is taken up and echoed by the mockingjay birds in the woods. That song is then used for one of Plutarch’s films and then a rallying cry for the people as they take a stand against the Capitol. The score by James Newton Howard is especially effective in this sequence too.

Nothing highlights the criticisms this series has on media/entertainment and how we consume it (both in the films and the books but especially in the books) than the fact that there were multiple upbeat techno versions of “The Hanging Tree” made and released. Using a song about a murdered man, a song with themes of freedom, death and martyrdom, as an upbeat song just feels very strange and wrong. I remember hearing one of the remixes when I was driving and doing a doubletake when I registered why the lyrics sounded so familiar but the beat did not.

Mockingjay – Part 1 lays a lot of the groundwork for the battle ahead and different character dynamics are given room to breathe like Katniss and Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Katniss and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) which continues to be one of my favourite and the most interesting relationships in this series. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) become targets of the Capitol as unrest rises in the Districts of Panem. Then when the Quarter Quell is announced, they plus twenty-two other former victors, are forced to return to the arena.

Catching Fire is honestly perfect. It’s one of the best sequels ever and best book to film adaptations. It does exactly what you want from a sequel (even one that’s a bit of a rehash of the original), it builds on the character work done before, increases the stakes and tension, and it leaves you wanting more. Just like when I reread the book, I was amazed that half the film happens before Katniss and Peeta arrive in the arena and you’re never wishing it would hurry up and get to that point. The pacing is truly excellent as the civil unrest throughout Panem in the first half of the film is like an ever-increasing boiling pot of tension, threatening to explode at any moment. Meanwhile the latter half in the arena is tense and exciting as there’s a whole load of new creatures and elements ready to kill Katniss and her potential allies.

Hutcherson’s Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale are still kind of pushed to the side and like the first film, any thoughts on focussing on a love triangle are soon forgotten as Katniss does what she can to keep herself and those she loves safe. Because that’s the thing throughout the books/films, it’s clear that Katniss does care for both of them but she’s never allowed herself to think of a future where a happily ever after was possible.

The cast is expanded with a whole host of new – or rather former – tributes. Having the competitors being former victors adds an extra edge to this Hunger Games and there’s alliances and friendships that Katniss and Peeta are unaware of. Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna (Jena Malone), Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer) are some of the major players but with everyone having their own agenda it’s hard for Katniss to know who to trust.

Jennifer Lawrence really is fantastic throughout all these films and she’s the backbone to this franchise. The final shot of Catching Fire though is outstanding though. It’s a close up of her Lawrence’s face as Katniss goes through all five stages of grief before staring straight into the camera with a look of fiery determination in her eyes.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is truly an excellent film and is pretty much the gold standard for a YA book to movie adaptation. It’s exciting, heartfelt, and tackles big themes like cruelty and dictatorship in an engaging way. 5/5.

REVIEW: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to her hometown to reconnect with her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) and to try and prove that the pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation have been poisoning the people of Raccoon City for years.

I have never played any of the Resident Evil games and I watched all the Milla Jovovich Resident Evil films for the first time back in 2017 (I was going to say it was a few years ago but then it turned out to be five! What is time? etc) so going into Welcome to Raccoon City I didn’t really have any preconceptions of what this film and its characters should be.

I think that was perhaps a blessing and a curse. A blessing as I can’t get mad at any changes the film may have made from the games but also a curse as I feel like I learnt so little about these characters, their personalities or the various relationship dynamics, that I couldn’t really care about them. The way character names were dropped it felt like the filmmakers were relying on viewers to already have knowledge of the characters and story from the games and didn’t really do any proper world or character-building to make you care if you were someone going into this film blind.

Everything about Welcome to Raccoon City is pretty generic but there are a few moments that are generally stylistically interesting. Most of them come from when Chris is under attack by these diseased and zombie-like people. Often the only light source is the flash from his gun or from a flickering lighter and then it becomes a point of view shot with his lighter held out in front of him and the creatures getting closer every time the flame goes out.

The dialogue is kind of awful and the cast does the best with what they’re given. Kaya Scodelario’s Claire is a highlight but that does mean that whenever the film is away from her it starts to drag again. The middle chunk of the film when the action gets going is pretty decent but it feels like it takes too much time to get to that point and then the ending is very rushed.

Overall Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City manages to be a frustrating endeavour. There’s few scares and what level of threat is there is diminished when you realise you don’t care about any of the characters chances of survival. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games (2012)

After revisiting the books for the first time in about a decade it was time to revisit the films – many of which I probably haven’t seen since they were first released.

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games – a fight to the death on live TV until only one victor remains standing. When her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) as she and her male counterpart, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives.

From the outset it’s clear the difference between the Capitol and the Districts aka the haves and the have-nots. The Hunger Games opens with two men with brightly coloured hair and vibrant clothes talking about the Games and then cuts to District 12 where a woman screams and everything is bleak and grey.

Even before we get into the arena, the camera work is shaky and frantic. While it works in the arena, encompassing the fear and the adrenalin as the tributes fight to survive and quickly moving away from children’s bloody bodies allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps, in Katniss’s day to day life it feels jarring. I’m not one to feel queasy due to shaky cam, especially not when watching a film on my laptop, but some of the sequences in District 12 did make me feel funny and my eyes hurt due to the camera work.

Some of the most interesting moments in The Hunger Games comes from things we’d never have seen in the book as it was all from Katniss’s point of view. In the film, you get to see the Gamemakers, the people pulling the strings behind the scenes on their holographic screens as they set traps for the young competitors. Again, it goes to show that for people in the Capitol this is just entertainment or just a job but for the tributes it’s the worst time of their life.

I feel like there will be more to comment on performance-wise as the films progress but the likes of Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Toby Jones looking like their having a whale of a time. They all play citizens of the Capitol and are used to lives of luxury but Banks manages to ensure that Effie comes across as well-meaning if a bit insensitive as she’s never not on Katniss and Peeta’s side.

Jennifer Lawrence is really does a fantastic job at Katniss. She’s not the most expressive or potentially even likeable character as she’s had to have so much responsibility from a young age but Lawrence makes it work, showing the girl behind Katniss’s stoicism and the moments when she truly lets her emotions out, often when she’s with her sister or Rue (Amandla Stenberg), you truly feel what she’s going through.

Overall, The Hunger Games is a solid, though sometimes a little slow, adaptation and with stellar performances bringing to life such interesting characters it sets the franchise off on a good foot. 4/5.

REVIEW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a typical popular cheerleader, oblivious to the strange things happening in her town. That is until a strange man called Merrick (Donald Sutherland) enters her life and tells her she’s the chosen one and is destined to battle vampires.

Confession time, I have never watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think I was too young for it when it starting showing in the UK and the few bits I do remember catching on TV scared me as I have always been a wuss. Side note, I remember catching bits of Roswell around the same time and that also freaked me out. Anyway. Though I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer the show, I do know some of the basics thanks to pop culture osmosis, mainly character names, but I’m definitely aware of the show and the phenomenon it was.

So though I’ve never watched the show it was still a bit weird watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie as I’m so used to Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular character and a bunch of other faces/names that don’t appear in this film. There’s still a lot of familiar faces in this film though like Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Thomas Jane and even Ben Affleck is a high school basketball player which was very jarring.

I feel like for a film that has a runtime of less than 90 minutes, the pacing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is somehow simultaneously too fast and too slow. Relationships that you’re clearly supposed to care about like Buffy and Merrick aren’t given enough time to really feel anything for, and the constant back and forth Buffy goes through of being a vampire hunter and wanting to be a normal teenage girl is, while understandable not that interesting after a while. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written but Joss Whedon, who would go on to create the show, and there’s hints of the kind of humour he’s known for sprinkled throughout the film but the script is never funny enough, tight enough, or dramatic enough to make its big ideas work.

To be honest, it’s as if Whedon didn’t know what he wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be. Sometimes it’s a campy comedy, sometimes it tries to be horror movie, and then it’s also a coming-of-age story and a teen girl trying to find her own path – is it her “destiny” and everything Merrick says, or is it what her friends think she should be interested in? It veers wildly between each tone and none of them work together or separately.

Kristy Swanson is pretty good as Buffy; she’s got the physicality and a charm to her that eventually starts to shine through. Though I wish she and her friends weren’t the typical mean girls. Sure, Buffy goes through a character arc but it is hard to really root for her to begin with when she is so materialistic and is very much a dumb popular blonde stereotype.

Honestly, I think my favourite thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Pike (Luke Perry). It’s always fun having a guy as the damsel in distress type role and Pike was great at being a supportive friend to Buffy and just generally rolling with all the weirdness he encounters. He’s not useless but it’s also clear that Buffy is more skilled than him when it comes to fighting the undead which was good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a great film but I think it’s an interesting jumping off point for what became a hugely successful TV show. 2/5.

REVIEW: Prey (2022)

On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru (Amber Midthunder), a fierce and skilled Comanche tracker and wannabe hunter, discovers strange tracks in the forest. While some may think it’s a bear, she thinks it’s something else and as she tracks it, she encounters a highly evolved predator that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Prey is a Predator prequel and to say that films featuring the Predator creature have been a bit of a mixed bag over the years would be an understatement. Thankfully Prey, is firmly in the good category when it comes to this franchise. It’s a film that really goes back to the basics; small group of people, remote location, inventive kills, and a great lead.

For the first 30 minutes or so the focus is on Naru, her relationship with her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and how she’s a bit of an underdog and an outsider when it comes to her peers. Naru is a skilled tracker and is knowledgeable about medicine but what she wants is to be a hunter and respected by the other (male) hunters. Prey is a bit of a coming-of-age story in that aspect as Naru fights for respect and prestige as well as survival. It is a bit like any teen drama in that aspect but Amber Midthunder is so good and as the thrills and tension when Naru faces the Predator are there it’s easy to embrace that movie cliché.

It’s easy to like and empathise with Naru and she really goes through it as she fights to survive. She fails and struggles a lot but she learns something from every encounter she has with the Predator and learns to adapt.

Prey looks and sounds good too. The fact that it appears to have been shot on location makes everything feel more real (especially after a lot of more recent big action films never consistently looking quite right). While you don’t necessarily see all the kills in their bloody glory. the sound design is excellent and even if you don’t see blood or a brutalised body, you can easily imagine it thanks to the sounds of all the slicing, tearing, and impaling going on. The score by Sarah Schachner is great too and adds to the tension and the often-haunting atmosphere of the film.

Prey has great tension, a tight runtime, and an excellent lead making it a really engaging horror action film. Plus, it’s nice to watch an action film without a lot of humour that undercuts any dramatic or poignant moments. 4/5.