adventure

REVIEW: Maleficent (2014)

Vengeful fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) curses an infant princess to succumb to a sleep-like death when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday, but as time passes she starts to think Aurora (Elle Fanning) might be the one person who could restore peace between two troubled lands.

As the sequel to Maleficent is released this month, I decided to rewatch the first film for the first time since I saw it in the cinema five years ago. In that time, I’d forgotten a lot about it, but I think I ended up enjoying it more than I remembered.

Maleficent is a darker take on an already fairly dark tale. It gives a reason for Maleficent to be spiteful and angry at King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and her anger and pain is definitely justified. The opening act of Maleficent shows how she was when she was younger and trusting, and how she grew to become the protector of the magical land. It’s when she’s betrayed in the cruellest of ways that she becomes the villain that we know.

There’s silly child-friendly humour courtesy of the three fairies that take care of Aurora (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) and those moments often feel somewhat out of place compared to the darker tone of the rest of the film. Still it’s all about balance and those moments do make things a little lighter, especially compared to scenes with King Stefan who is getting pushed to the edge over his desire to kill Maleficent for what she’s done. Copley does madness very well and in Maleficent that’s no exception.

Angelina Jolie is brilliant as Maleficent. She’s charming and her presence – thanks in part to such an intimidating costume – commands every scene she’s in. Her chemistry with Sam Riley, who plays Diaval the raven when he’s in his human form, is an unexpected delight, as they bicker like an old married couple. How Maleficent slowly begins to like Aurora and feels conflicted over her affection and her past actions is believable too, thanks to Jolie’s performance.

The pacing is a little off at times, with something’s being rushed and the ending of Maleficent is perhaps a bit too neat for a film that’s about the story’s villain but the spectacle and performances make an interesting take on such a well-known story. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora (Isabela Moner) is a teenage explorer who’s more at home in the jungle more than high school. But when her parents (played by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) go missing while searching for a lost city, Dora and her new friends go on an adventure to rescue them.

As a more grown up adaptation of the Dora the Explorer TV show, Dora and the Lost City of Gold finds itself as a good kids’ adventure film. There are plenty of references to the TV show like an inventive animated sequence and Dora’s love of singing when doing a mundane task. Then there’s when 6-year-old Dora turns to the camera and asks, “Can you say delicioso?” to the confusion of her parents as they look to see who she’s talking to and saying she’ll grow out of it. These kinds of moments are tongue-in-cheek but can feel a little awkward. Though, having characters question some of the weirdness, like a fox wearing a mask, makes most of the references work.

Isabela Moner is great as Dora as she gives a performance that’s both charming and moving. She’s full of energy and enthusiasm but she also gives Dora a little awkwardness as she finds it difficult to be anything but herself in high school when being unabashedly yourself is seen as a source of embarrassment for most people.

Dora is like a teenage Latina Indiana Jones and it works. There’s so many of the usual adventure puzzles and clichés like quicksand and booby traps but having a teenage girl at the forefront, working things out and having the adventure is wonderful. Her teenage friends all each have their moment of figuring things out and contributing to the adventure as well. Sammy (Madeleine Madden) is super smart while Randy (Nicholas Coombe) is into his games and knows all about jungle puzzles. That’s not to say they don’t have their fears and anxieties over being lost in the jungle, but it’s great seeing how they all become friends and learn to work together.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a fun adventure film that’s not afraid of its origins and affectionately skews the conventions of the TV show. It’s funny and charming and an easy, inoffensive watch for children and adults alike, even if you have only the most basic knowledge of the TV show it’s adapted from. 3/5.

REVIEW: Aladdin (2019)

When kind-hearted street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) discovers a magic lamp, he befriends the Genie (Will Smith) inside and gets the chance to make a better life for himself and impress the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). But the Sultan’s trusted yet power-hungry adviser Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) will do anything to get his hands on the lamp.

There seems to be a live-action remake of Disney’s classic animated features every few months and the trend doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon. While it’s hard to forget about the original animated Disney film when watching or reviewing the new version, I will try to keep the comparisons to the minimum and judge this version of Aladdin on its own merit. Really, with all the Disney remakes heading our way, I think that’s the best way consume these films.

Guy Ritchie is an unusual choice of director for a Disney musical when he’s best known for the Sherlock Holmes films and stylised action films. Some of the musical numbers lack energy with the camera moving a lot in amongst all the characters dancing, instead having a lot of wide shots. You can see exactly what’s happening, but it’s the songs rather than the action on screen that pulls you in.

That being said, when Jasmine gets to shine with new song “Speechless” the simple camera movements allow you to really feel the emotion behind Scott’s performance. Jasmine is a well-rounded character as even though her father has kept her sheltered in the palace for years, she’s keen to learn about her people and be a good ruler. She’s headstrong and confident and Scott is brilliant as Jasmine.

The whole cast are pretty great. Massoud is a charming Aladdin and has chemistry with both Scott and Smith making those trio of characters and their relationships feel so real. Will Smith is good as the Gennie and he’s very funny at times, but he never tries to imitate what Robin Williams did in the animation.

Aladdin is a lot of fun. The cast are charming, and the final act is thrilling. Aladdin is the best kind of remake, it follows the same plot beats, but adds some new moments and gives some characters more to do, making it its own thing. There’s magic and spectacle and fights and romance and, almost surprisingly, it all works. 4/5.

REVEW: Robin Hood: The Rebellion (2018)

When Maid Marian (Marie Everett) is captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham (James Oliver Wheatley), Robin Hood (Ben Freeman) leads Will Scarlett (James G. Nunn) and Little John (Jamie Kenna) into battle to rescue her.

There are so many different takes on the Robin Hood story, and this one is not going to be remembered – fondly or otherwise. Robin Hood: The Rebellion is largely set across one day as Marian is captured and Robin infiltrates the Sheriff’s castle and attempts to rescue her. Being set in such a short space of time, the film relies on the title cards to explain what has been happening to the people of Nottingham, and also through so much expository dialogue that it becomes almost a chore to listen to the characters talk.

One of the main elements of the Robin Hood story that makes it something people enjoy to revisit, is the characters and their relationships. However, in this tale the characters have little to no characterisation and there is no chemistry between any of the cast members. Whether that’s Everett’s Marian and Freeman’s Robin who are supposed to be in love, or Freeman’s Robin and Nunn’s Will Scarlett who are said to be best friends in the opening titles but there’s not sense of any kind of relationship between them. John’s defining characteristic is that he complains all the time, and at least he got a gimmick as Will Scarlett barely has any lines or is unable to make an impression. There are a few quips courtesy of Robin Hood but they don’t work as they happen so rarely in an otherwise sober film that they feel out of place.

On the whole, the acting is as wooden as the trees in Sherwood Forest and those who are able to ham it up, like the Sherriff or his cousin Guy of Gisborne (James Groom), come across desperate and the performances don’t work in the film they’ve been given.

Robin Hood: The Rebellion is dull and uninspired. The sword fights are not at all exciting and the dialogue and plot are tedious as the same things happen again and again and characters have the same conversations again and again. 1/5.

REVIEW: Bumblebee (2018)

On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, and tries to keep him out of the hands of the US military.

I’ll be honest, the first Michael Bay Transformers film is one of my go to comfort films and I really enjoy it. The rest of the films in the series are varying degrees of quality to say the least and I was very apathetic about The Last Knight. But I’m happy to say Bumblebee is like a breath of fresh air compared to the latter Bay films.

Bumblebee’s plot is so much simpler compared to some of its predecessors, and that allows the story to build on the characters and their relationships naturally. There are two Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) searching for Bumblebee who enlist the US military to help them search for them. The main guy in the army you follow is Agent Burns (John Cena), he’s very much a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy but weirdly, probably due to Cena’s charisma, the way he delivers jokes is more entertaining and almost more believable than the tough guy persona.

Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful as Charlie. She’s a bit of a loner and she’s even an outsider in her own family as she doesn’t feel like she fits in any more. Charlie is smart and caring and her relationship with Bumblebee is wonderful.

Bumblebee is charming and does a brilliant job of combining heart with spectacle. Like the previous Transformers films, there’s still battles between Autobots and Decepticons but this time the characters on both sides are seriously stripped back leaving those who are present more room to grow. When there are fights between robots, they’re easy to follow and entertaining.

It’s perhaps a bit on the nose with the 80’s inspired soundtrack, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The music is like a comforting hug and that, along with a story about a kid and an otherworldly creature, makes Bumblebee feel familiar and heart-warming. There are similarities to be made between Bumblebee and E.T. and The Iron Giant, both in terms of the plot but also because at its core is a wonderful friendship between a young person and a powerful creature.

Bumblebee is such a fun and lovely film, with so much heart and humour, that it feels almost old-fashioned in the best possible way. 4/5.

REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is of two worlds. Half-human and half-Atlantean he’s the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis but has grown up on land. When his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) threatens to destroy the surface world, Arthur must become the king and hero he’s meant to be, so that neither world is destroyed.

The film does spend some time setting everything up, introducing new characters, their relationships and the world of Atlantis. The film opens with Arthur’s parents, lighthouse keeper Tom (Temuera Morrison) and Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), meeting and falling in love. Their relationship is one that’s very easy to get attached to very quickly, and somewhat unfortunately, Morrison and Kidman have more chemistry than Momoa and Amber Heard who plays Mera.

Once the story actually gets going, Aquaman is good fun. Momoa is a charismatic lead and as the plot develops you see that Arthur isn’t just brawn but is also a sensitive and kind guy. There is a lot going on in Aquaman. There’s the political intrigue and Orm’s desire to attack the land-dwellers, but there’s also a quest for a mystical item, and another foe for Arthur in the shape of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Black Manta’s character introduction is impactful, but then he becomes a character that’s there to pop up and inconvenience Arthur and kickstart an action sequence.

Aquaman is visually spectacular. The whole underwater world is so beautiful and colourful, and Atlantis feels like its own technologically advanced society, completely different to what we know. The scenes underwater are action-packed and exciting, though it’s almost easy to get overwhelmed by all the computer-generated creations.

Aquaman may be a bit overlong and overstuffed, but it is completely bonkers and a lot of fun. It’s pure escapism with it’s kingdom under the sea, feuding royalty and political intrigue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

After their universes collide, Miles Morales meets Peter Parker and a whole lot of other spider-people. As Miles starts to get to grips with his spider-powers, they all must work together in order to get home to their own universes.

When the first trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out, I found it a bit disconcerting as the animation seemed to be so different to the animation style I’m used to seeing in Disney and Pixar films. I stand corrected though as the animation style is stunning and it works perfectly for the story. The animation is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. All the colours are so vibrant, they pop from the screen and make the films New York setting come alive in a totally different way. The blend of animation styles is wonderful, especially how each character from a different universe looked so unique. The whole film feels like a visual comic book with the way there’s words on the screen to emphasise a sound, and there’s moments where the screen is split up into comic panels.

But don’t think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is style over substance, its story and characters are just as brilliant as its animation. Miles is a great character. He’s a realistic teenager with parents he sometimes finds annoying, struggling to fit in at a new school, and then he has superpowers to deal with. For a film with so many characters, and a lot of things happening, it never loses the focus on Miles. Miles is the heart and soul of this film, he’s the audience’s stand-in but he’s still a fully fleshed-out character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is funny, touching, and exciting. It is action-packed and fast-paced, there’s always something happening whether it’s family drama or a big fight sequence, but it also has so much heart.

I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s one of my favourite films of the year, and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s a stunning film that made me tear up multiple times and for different reasons. There’s a lot of references to different Spider-Man films which is a lot of fun. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film that knows how to poke fun at its comic book roots while still making a believable world full of heroes and villains. Oh, and make sure you stay till the very end of the credits! 5/5.