Black Panther (2018)

black panther poster

Superhero movies. Dumb and overdone, right? And yet, I’m growing increasingly convinced that it’s through these ‘silly’ movies that we’re seeing a shift in all sorts of cultural norms. Wonder Woman gave us our first female-led superhero movie, and now Black Panther is the first set in Africa, with an overwhelmingly black cast. Both show us (futuristic ideals based on) cultures not usually put on the big screen in movies like this, and both are massively better for it. Oh, and Black Panther is just a really very good blockbuster!

Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to be crowned King of Wakanda. Any opponent who might step forward is less of a challenge than the pressures to review Wakanda’s self-protectionist policy of hiding itself and its vastly superior technology away, disguised as a stereotypical third world farming culture. Is it time to show a better face to the world? And what if parts of that world are intent on breaking in?

One of the criticisms of Marvel movies has been the relatively weak villains and/or their motivations. This bucks that massively: the bad guys are nuanced, and not entirely wrong. The good guys sometimes do bad things. Choosing between a good leader and policies you believe in isn’t black and white (no pun intended). There’s actually a ton to come away and think about after you enjoy the battle rhino’s charge!!

BP balances well interpersonal and familial tensions with the expected OTT ass-kicking expected from a movie like this. The sci-fi elements are a ‘wow’, the cinematography is lush, and there’s enough snippets of humour that a movie like this needs. If I had any complaints it’s possibly over some of the accents, and a slight ‘hmm’ over the idea that a futuristic society is still doing challenge-by-combat – but hey, the Dora Milaje (female bodyguard squad) is utterly, utterly badass! 🙂

I sort of regret giving Wonder Woman as high a mark as I did – it’s culturally important, and blew me away for reasons other than a rather so-so storyline. BP on the other hand, has both: it’s culturally important AND well made AND a lot of fun. But hey: there’s plenty room for both, and here’s to all sorts of diversity showing up in future superhero – and other! – movies!

Released: 13th February 2018
Viewed: 21st February 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

jumanji poster

This sequel to Jumanji (1995) shakes things up a bit: the game itself takes the dismissive “who plays board games anymore?” to heart and evolves into a video game. And instead of releasing its dangers into the world, this time it’s going to suck its unwitting players into the heart of the jungle itself. And, perhaps my favourite alteration, once inside the game the four teenage leads are transformed into their character avatars, meaning we get The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan playing ‘teenagers’ trapped in very different bodies.

The laughs are mainly around this body-swap idea, with the scrawny geek now a muscle-bound fighting machine, the self-absorbed selfie queen finding herself now a tubby, middle-aged man (as shown in trailers), etc etc. There’s a hefty dollop of self-discovery to be had along the way, of course, as our team face myriad dangers and amusing video game tropes, like the NPCs with limited dialogue capabilities.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, especially as I hadn’t been a big fan of the original. Losing the younger cast helped a lot, for me, and the adult actors are all pretty spot on. Even Kevin Hart, who annoyed me greatly in his last collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Central Intelligence (2016), fits really well.

It’s far from perfect – oh, what is?! – but I was pleasantly surprised and found this to be amusing and fun. Recommended for a Sunday afternoon, or when you need a daft pick-me-up.

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 17th February 2018
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

The Death Cure (2018)

death cure poster

The story that began with The Maze Runner (2014) reaches its conclusion with the delayed (after an on-set accident) final part of the trilogy. Can Thomas finally escape from WCKD’s attentions? Can a cure for the deadly Flare virus be found before the whole world is turned into zombies? Can I remember much of anything about the previous movies, or in fact the books they are based on?

To be honest, I went to see this for lack of better options, and an excuse to try out the new 4DX screen at my local cinema – that’s the one where the seats throw you about, air puffs at your ears every time a bullet is shot, and the occasional weird scent is wafted at you. Hmm. Okay, it did add a certain something to the whole experience, but striping away that novelty, the film underneath was just a bit… so-so.

I was desperately unimpressed with the middle installment of the trilogy, The Scorch Trials (2015), so there was no way I was going to rewatch it for the plot reminder – although I possibly could have done with it. Still, there’s not vast amounts that you can’t pick up – Brenda must have been bitten at some point, for instance, and Minho captured. Thus we begin with a reasonably action-packed rescue scene. Get used to it: the original movie was about escape, the second all about running away from various things, and now we have the rescuing everyone repeatedly.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great, either, although it is an improvement on the previous film. The acting is reasonable, it’s been made well enough and has some interesting and effective visuals. Ultimately, though, I think the story underneath just isn’t as strong as it thinks it is.

Released: 26th January 2018
Viewed: 27th January 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Bright (2017)

bright poster

Imagine if The Lord of the Rings wasn’t fantasy, but actual history. Fast forward hundreds of years to the present day, and perhaps the first orc has joined the LA police department. He’d be facing terrible racism, of course, not to mention a great deal of suspicion as to where his loyalties lie: with the law, or to the Clan. And of course, orcs sided with the Dark Lord all those centuries ago, so it’s not like you can trust any of them. Not like the elves – they’re the best of the best, beautiful and rich and of course running the show. Us humans? Just somewhere in the middle, trying to keep the pest fairies out of the bird feeders.

In this reality, the law must deal with fanatics who want to resurrect the Dark Lord, and generally keep an eye on problems with magic. And what could be more dangerous than a magic wand – a ‘nuclear bomb that grants wishes’? So when one of those turns up it’s not long before everyone – law, gangs, humans, elves and orcs – all want to get their hands on it.

Bright is an intriguing concept – high fantasy meets gritty police action – not particularly well executed overall, but actually turned out watchable enough. Will Smith is the big draw, of course, but he’s doing his bruised and damaged persona which is a lot less fun than his other character. Joel Edgerton is unrecognisable under the orc makeup, and to be honest the slow-witted character is just a bit too dim not to be a touch annoying, I felt. Elves get a bad rap, of course, but Noomi Rapace and Edgar Ramirez look great in their pointy ears.

Plot-wise, this is whip thin: everyone chasing and killing for that magic wand. The action pace tries to distract from that, and the special effects are pretty good, but without a character I actually liked (oy, the elf girl is annoyingly drippy!) there just wasn’t enough here to take ‘oddly intriguing’ into ‘liked’.

Of course, the big ‘thing’ about this movie is that it was released on Netflix, not in the cinema – smart move! Apparently it attracted an impressive 11 million curious viewers in its opening weekend, pretty much guaranteeing a sequel. And while I wasn’t exactly impressed with Bright, the fact that it will arrive on my TV without additional cost or effort means I’ll probably watch it – just, hope they can improve a bit on the plot and characters, tbh!

Released: 22nd December 2017
Viewed: 23rd December 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

Justice League (2017)

Justice League cover

Following on from events in Batman vs Superman, which itself requires you to have seen Man of Steel to make much sense, Justice League is DC’s attempt to ‘do an Avengers‘. I was left feeling a bit: poor old DC – always late to the party, and never quite hitting the mark.

In fairness, this is possibly the second best of the recent DC output (Wonder Woman, of course, taking the top spot!) – but, it’s hard not to add ‘not that that’s saying much’. MoS was far too downbeat, BvS was just a bit muddled, and Suicide Squad, while a lot of fun, was 90% intro with very little in the way of real story.

One of the main problems here is that half the cast are new characters – unlike Avengers, where we’d already had all of the solo movies and introductions out of the way. Origin movies are prone to being a bit ‘meh’, so having to deal with three ‘new’ characters here – Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg – does nothing great for the plot or the more established trio of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

I really liked Ezra Miller in the Flash role here. He’s got an endearing awkwardness that really adds to the humour of the piece. Cyborg was the opposite: he’s all dark and moody and not a character I knew anything about going in to help with finding him likeable. And as for Aquaman – aka Arthur Curry, seriously?! – well, unless you count the eye-candy of Jason Momoa taking his shirt off (zero complaints on that! 😉 ) then the character is just a bit pointless here. He does get one of the funniest lines, right enough, but still…

Then, of course, there’s the slight mismatch of two big directors having worked on this. I’m not as sure it’s as bad as some folk have suggested – the ‘everyone gets two intros’ wasn’t quite so obvious – but it can’t have helped.

On the plus side, there’s a lot more humour here that DC usually manages – I’m thinking that’d be the Joss Whedon influence – and those moments absolutely lift the movie from dull to at least a bit of fun. However, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for a very dull villain, rather meh plotline, and overall just nothing that packs enough of a punch.

I don’t regret seeing this – it’s not that awful – but in terms of hope for the DC Extended Universe, it just didn’t deliver anywhere near enough. Thank Asgardians there isn’t too long to wait for Infinity War! o_O

Released: 17th November 2017
Viewed: 6th December 2017
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Geostorm (2017)

geostorm poster

Geostorm starts with the kind of cutesy, hopeful voice over that instantly made me fear I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. Truth is, I avoided this movie for most of its release run, expecting awfulness. I’m pleased to report it was far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen – but, still in no way shape or form a good movie! Knowing that, relax and enjoy the spectacle.

So… in 2019 (that voiceover helpfully informs us), the scale of destruction caused by global warming-related extreme weather is such that all the nations of Earth band together to do something about it. Enter the highly unlikely casting of Gerry Butler as a top scientist, who leads a team in creating ‘Dutch Boy’ (after the tale of the one who stuck his finger in a… urm… dam, and saved the town from flooding), a system of satellites that can interfere in weather patterns before they become catastrophic. Of course no one would ever attempt to use that kind of power for evil, right?! o_O

What follows is every disaster movie trope you’ve ever seen before, plus every someone-high-up-is-behind-the-sabotage ‘thriller’, and a pretty cringeworthy rehash of every estranged-family-thrown-back-together stuff. Overly bright teenage offspring are on hand to give ‘meaning’ to saving the planet (!) and to sob pitifully for your heart string tugging needs. Cute animals are imperiled by tornados! Lots of scantily-clad beach people are frozen to icicles!!!

If I’m not being clear, this is daftness turned up to, oooh, about eight and a half? If, however, you manage to actually see any of the movie between bouts of eye-rolling, then the visual candy is quite nice. I did love the new and improved ISS – space geek that I am – and the balance tipped in favour of ‘space stuff’ over too much CGI natural disaster footage.

To say there’s absolutely nothing original about this is putting it mildly. If I had paid for the experience, I might be feeling ripped off. However, a quiet afternoon’s excuse for leaving my brain switched off, it really wasn’t as dreadful as I feared – which is about as high praise as I can manage. Still, in terms of meeting expectations, it was into the positive. Go figure!

Released: 20th October 2017
Viewed: 9th November 2017
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor Ragnarok poster

There’s a growing concern with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that you have to have seen all of them – and that’s 16 movies before this point, and let’s not even talk about the TV shows o_O But, fear not, as Ragnarok opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) giving you the only few points you really need to know: that he’s a bit of a big deal on Midgard these days, having saved the planet a few times… 😀

The tongue in cheek humour starts at the beginning and does not let up through the entire movie. It’s easily the funniest thing the comic book craze has spat out through the last decade, and just an utter joy to chuckle my way through. Tonally (and in colour palette) this is a lot closer to Guardians of the Galaxy (with a bit of Lord of the Rings thrown in) than either of the two previous Thor/Dark World movies or even the recent MCU e.g. Civil War, and I for one think that’s a good thing – certainly, it beats the po-faced DC efforts hands down.

Quick recap: during Age of Ultron Thor started having visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied end of Asgard and death of the gods. He was thus absent from Civil War, as was Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), last seen in his Hulk form flying off in a quinjet in an attempt to avoid causing more damage around himself.

From the trailers, we know that the two are going to met again in a Roman-esque arena fight presided over by the hugely OTT Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) – who happens to be the brother of the Collector character (Benicio del Toro) from Guardians, providing another link between the two halves of the MCU.

Meanwhile, Asgard’s inhabitants are under threat from their new would-be ruler, Hela Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett, looking stunning, btw!), who is less concerned about having subjects to rule than she is about being worshipped. I have since read a few less than great comments about the character, but I thought she was great: very sarcastic and irreverent, in keeping with the tone of the rest of the movie, and Blanchett is clearly loving camping it up to the nines. Conversely, I was less impressed than other reviewers with the Valkyrie character, who I thought could/should have been a little more physically imposing, or as with the Amazonians in Wonder Woman, given a little more presence by being cast older?

While these two plot lines are hurtling towards a collision, buried beneath the thick layer of gags is a surprising amount of heart to the movie. While it’s unlikely to have you in tears (come on – it can’t just have been me with Guardians 2!!), there are a few beats that give a little substance to characters we’ve been following through quite a number of years now.

Overall, then, this is a wild and fun ride, with a more satisfying plot and character arc than the previous installment, although you might have to look past the froth to see it. I realise that I’m about to give this a higher rating than Blade Runner 2049. Is it a ‘better’ film? No, it’s not really – but as a cinema viewing experience, it was a bit more satisfying and while I’d like to see both again, it’s this one that makes me really smile at the thought 🙂

As usual, there are 2 mid/post credit scenes, the first teasing the next Avengers movie, and the latter with the Grandmaster.

Released: 24th October 2017
Viewed: 24th October 2017
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – just, so much fun!