comic book movies

REVIEW: The Kitchen (2019)

When their gangster husbands are sent to prison, their wives continue to operate their rackets and under their hand the business thrives.

The production design, hair and costuming firmly places The Kitchen in the time it’s set; late 1970s Hell Kitchen, New York. The violence is often bloody and shocking, and events seem to happen very quickly, there are a few montages complimented by an iconic song from the era. It would’ve been nice if some plot points could’ve had more time to evolve but on the whole the twists and turns work.

The three leads in The Kitchen are all great and while these characters are (for the most part) all working towards the same goal, they each have their own take on the situation and different strengths and weaknesses. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) is a stay at home mother and is the one with the family connections to the Irish Mob. She’s the most level-headed but also the most compassionate which can lead to her downfall. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) has always felt like the outsider and never accepted by the family, leading her to want more money and power than the family could ever dream of. Claire (Elisabeth Moss) has been beaten by her husband and refuses to be the victim anymore.

The support network these three women have for one another is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean they always see eye on how to run this business. The Kitchen does a great job at handling the core theme of “women in a man’s world” and how they can be as ruthless and as smart as their male counterparts, but also have different ideas on how to take on the same challenge.

McCarthy is the standout. When she has a dramatic role, she can sink her teeth into she can really bring out a brilliant performance. Kathy is often seen as the more mumsy of the three, but McCarthy does a great job at showing that inner steel and determination as she becomes more comfortable with the power and status she wields.

The Kitchen is engaging, surprising and has a trio of lead performances that really pull you into the story. It’s great to see a gangster movie with the women at front and centre. 4/5.

REVIEW: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

After splitting up from the Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is pulled into the hunt for street thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) by crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) where she crosses paths with club singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).

First of all, the rather long title of Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is misleading. This film really should be called Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey because it’s Harley’s movie first, and a Birds of Prey introduction second. So, adjust your expectations over who is more likely to get the most screen time here.

On to the film itself. Birds of Prey is a lot of fun. It does take a while to find its groove and that’s down to the multiple flashbacks that often grind the flow of the film to a halt, especially towards the beginning when you just want to follow these characters who all seem so interesting. Birds of Prey is a story told from Harley Quinn’s point of view, she narrates the story and interrupts herself now and then when she realises she’s skipped a bit. The narrative is often as chaotic and fractured as Harley’s mind which is equal parts interesting and jarring.

The start of Birds of Prey is more of a character study of Harley. She and the Joker have broken up and she’s struggling to get over him and find her who she is when she’s not tied to him. With all the gangsters, criminals and cops out to get her now she’s no longer under the Joker’s protection, Harley must think quick on her feet. It turns out that Harley isn’t as defenceless and as in need of protection as a lot of people think, of if she does need or want help, it’s not going to be from the men who seek to control her. Margot Robbie’s Harley has so many layers and insecurities and strengths and it’s refreshing to see a character like her work through the pain of a breakup and find an inner resolve.

The five main female characters cross each other’s paths in different combinations throughout the film which is great as you get to see different aspects of their personality depending on who they’re with. But it’s in the final act when they finally all come together to take down the bad guys that the film really clicks. It’s an absolute joy to watch them all fight side by side, have banter in between punches and generally compliment and encourage each other at any chance they get.

The fight choreography is brilliant as each character’s fighting style suits their character and no woman fights the same. Harley’s incorporates gymnastic elements, Huntress’s is clean and precise after so many years relentlessly training, while Renee’s is more like a bruiser, throwing punches and is far from elegant. The fight sequences are also fun and innovative with the soundtrack (which is full of absolute tunes) complimenting the action on screen.

While there’s a lot of bad guys for the leading ladies to overcome, the main threat to them all is Roma Sionis. He is volatile, menacing and dramatic. He’s the sort of character you never quite know what he’s going to do next and McGregor gives a great performance. Sionis’ right hand man is Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) and their relationship comes across as queer coded and there’s often shifts in power dynamics between the two of them which is as fascinating as it is unnerving.

Birds of Prey is a bit shaky at times, but the characters and the action pull everything together. It’s a bright, psychedelic fairground of a film with paint bombs and glitter and it suits these characters perfectly. 4/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just wants to put aside being Spider-Man for a bit and have fun with his friends on a school trip across Europe. But when elemental creatures appear, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to Peter for help and introduces him to new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Spider-Man: Far from Home is so much fun, but it also manages to handle some emotional beats while adding a whole new dimension to the MCU. Following on from Endgame, Far from Home touches on some of the logistical issues that would come with half of the world’s population returning after five years. People’s homes have been sold to someone else, people’s younger siblings are now older than them, and naturally people have missed a good chunk of what’s happened with their friends and families while they’ve been gone.

It’s the emotional fallout though for Peter Parker that really adds to the pressure he’s feeling. He lost is father-figure and mentor and feels like he has huge shoes to fill while still wanting to live a normal life. A scene where Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) reminisce about Tony Stark and how they are, or are not, coping without him is a wonderful scene that highlights how Far from Home balances the fantastic with the personal.

Far from Home, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a teen high school comedy with all the good and bad things that can come with that. There are some cheesy jokes that don’t land or carry on too long, but then there’s also some hilarious moments as the young cast really do feel like a bunch of friends. MJ (Zendaya) has a larger role in this film as she’s sarcastic and funny but thoughtful as she tries to learn to let people be close to her. The teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) is a standout though and just about everything out of his mouth is hilarious.

Mysterio is an enigma and a character that is very difficult to talk about without going into spoiler territory. Gyllenhaal does a great job of playing the different layers of the character though, and midway through the film there’s a scene where he goes all out with a monologue and it’s magnificent.

The special effects are great too but there’s one sequence that will be talked about as a standout in the MCU for years as all of Peter Parker’s fears come to life. That whole sequence is awe-inspiring as it is so well put together and fits into both the story of the film and Peter’s emotional journey perfectly.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is funny, thrilling and spectacular. The first act isn’t as solid as the latter two as it retreads old ground seen in the previous Spider-Man film, but when the story shifts and certain things are revealed, it becomes something completely thrilling and innovative. Both post-credit scenes are some of the most important and game-changing in the MCU. Spider-Man: Far from Home is a satisfying end to Phase Three of the MCU, and where Phase Four is heading is anyone’s guess. 4/5.

REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

After the events of Avengers: Infinity War the universe is in chaos as half of all life has been wiped out. Those that are left behind struggle to move on and assemble once more to try and undo Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions and bring back those they’ve lost.

Avengers: Endgame is incredible. This film is so impressive in terms of plot, character and spectacle. There are so many surprises in Endgame. There’s twists and turns and what you could call fan service moments, but the way the film never manages to lose its way is admirable. It is three hours long, but you don’t notice that runtime at all. There are quieter moments in the film but that’s when it’s more character-focused and they are no less compelling than when these characters are trying to save the universe.

Compared to Infinity War which, while there were stakes it was also a lot more jovial film, Endgame is definitely more character focused. That’s not to say there isn’t action sequences or jokes or exciting moments, but after the events of Infinity War, the characters who survived are not who they once were. They have all experienced loss, they are all hurting, and they are all going through the various stages of grief – with some getting stuck on certain stages longer than others. The characters don’t just brush off what happened and that makes the catastrophic loss of life even more affecting.

The entire cast are amazing. The relationships these actors have made in real life, make the character relationships even more poignant and every character gets their moment in the spotlight. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets more screen time and character development compared to previous films, and Renner really gets to show not only what a great actor he is, but also what a layered character Clint Barton is. Captain America (Chris Evans) is more central to the story compared to Infinity War and Paul Rudd gets to show off his dramatic skills as Ant-Man while still never losing who that character is.

Avengers: Endgame is the finale to an eleven-year, twenty-two-movie saga. It’s the culmination of all the films that have come before it and it manages to pay homage to them while still being a satisfying conclusion – the third act really is indescribable and is unlike anything we’ve seen before in a film of this scale.

Really Avengers: Endgame does mark the end of an era. While the MCU will no doubt continue, Endgame is the finale to this story arc and what a finale it is. 5/5.

FYI I will post a probably very long spoiler-filled review of Avengers: Endgame in the next week or so. I have a lots of thoughts and feelings to get out.

REVIEW: Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy (David Harbour) works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence a secret agency whose aim is to keep the human world safe from the supernatural. When ancient sorceress Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) plans to rise from the dead and wreak her revenge, Hellboy and his reluctant allies must do everything to stop her.

Hellboy is reboot/reimagining of the comic books and has nothing to do with the Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films in the early-mid 2000s. This film focusses more on the horror elements that come with Hellboy and there’s more bloody violence and swearing too. There are many different creatures, some have pretty interesting character designs, but unfortunately some of them suffer from bad CGI. Now bad CGI doesn’t make a movie bad, but when it’s there and the rest of the film in terms of story and characters aren’t so great, it’s definitely more noticeable.

There’s a lot going on in Hellboy and as it keeps jumping between characters and locations, it’s clear that the overall plot is far too convoluted. Characters seemed to get to different locations too quickly to be possible, and one way they get there is by having a character become unconscious and then wake up somewhere else. The editing is very messy as well. In action sequences and fight scenes it’s sometimes hard to follow and the editing is so quick that when there’s scenes of characters just standing and talking, you don’t get proper reaction shots to a joke (which means they don’t often land) or some big important piece of information.

As I mentioned there’s a lot of different things happening in Hellboy, with lots of different characters doing different things. Unfortunately, just because there’s a lot happening, it doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. It became rather boring watching these different fights because there’s not enough to make you care about the central characters. The dialogue is often at it’s most generic, and many scenes aren’t there to develop any of the characters personal arcs.

David Harbour made a good Hellboy, but the script he had to work with didn’t really give enough emotional depth to his fight to be good. Psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and special forces agent Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) are both fun characters and they and Hellboy bounce off one another really well when the script allows it.

Hellboy is messy and unfortunately rather dull. There were sparks of fun and interesting things with some of the characters but it’s not enough to make this film enjoyable or worth watching again. 2/5.

REVIEW: Shazam! (2019)

After being chosen by a wizard, foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) becomes an adult with superpowers whenever he says the word Shazam.

Shazam! is so much fun! It fully embraces the concept of a child who can suddenly be an adult with powers, because it’s still 14-year-old Billy even when he looks like a grown up. This means there’s a lot of joyful wish fulfilment but naturally, as he’s still a kid, he can use his powers irresponsibly or selfishly. The balance of Billy learning and maturing, while still being a kid at heart is done very well.

Zachary Levi is brilliant as adult Billy/Shazam. He’s got this enthusiastic and youthful charm that works with comedic moments and is very much a believable kid. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only person who knows about Billy’s powers and, because he loves superheroes so much, helps him figure out what his powers are. The way Freddy and Billy’s friendship grows is great and while it should look weird this kid hanging out with an adult in a cape, Levi’s performance makes you see past his appearance, so it seems like two friends the same age are hanging out.

The first half of Shazam! is mostly the antics Billy and Freddy get up to once they discover Billy’s powers, but when the action and fight sequences really kick in, they’re dynamic and well shot. Having a hero that’s not particularly heroic, at least to begin with, provides some very fun fights.

There are so many surprises to be found in Shazam! with the third act being something different to what you tend to see in these big superhero films and it’s all the better for it. There are lots of laugh out loud moments in Shazam! and cheer-worthy moments too, but there’s equally lots of sincere and heart-warming moments about family, friends and figuring out who you are and where you belong.

For being a film that’s very much geared towards kids and feels like a good, family-friendly film 95% of the time, there are some surprisingly dark moments. When bad guy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) gets his powers and seeks revenge on those who hurt him, it gets quiet dark and violent and there’s a character death that’s shockingly grim.

Besides from those darker tonal shifts, on the whole Shazam! is fun film with a lot of heart. The entire cast are great, the characters are realistic and relatable, and it’s just funny and charming. It’s a superhero film that’s full of childlike wonder and it’s just a very entertaining film. 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.