Men in Black: International (2019)

MiB international poster

On the night that she meets a cute little alien, Molly (Tessa Thompson) also witnesses her parents being ‘neuralised’ – a fate she avoids, leading to a life obsessed with little green men and Men in Black. Determined to join their ranks, it’s no spoiler to say that she eventually manages to infiltrate and is given a chance to prove herself.

Not a reboot at all, this is rather a sequel of sorts to the Will Smith trilogy without said Fresh Prince. Instead, we travel to the London office and another star MiB: Agent H, played in full Thor-like mode by Chris Hemsworth (who is sadly not quite as funny as he thinks, at least not here). His laid-back charmer of a character, more interested in partying it up with the aliens, is juxtaposed well against the studious new Agent M.

And it seems that not all is well in the MiB ranks. Missions go wrong, colleagues are suspicious and hostile, and strange new aliens stalk the planet.

I was very surprised to see the shade thrown on this movie on IMDb. It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of daft fun. I didn’t miss Smith and Jones, rather liking Hemsworth and Thompson – the latter sitting far better here than in Ragnarok, where I didn’t warm to her interpretation at all. Nor am I impressed with any of the ‘Mary Sue’ comments thrown at her Agent M: this is a smart, driven woman, who shows intelligence AND flaws, and is often out of her depth.

The story isn’t all that strong, but the effects are top notch, and over all it was a nicely mindless bit of enjoyable entertainment. I’d watch it again, or a sequel…?!

Released: 14th June 2019
Viewed: 16th June 2019
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

dark phoenix poster

It’s been almost a decade (movie time) since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the mutants appear to be in a new phase of peace and understanding. Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has set up a sort of hippy commune for those who, like him, want to get away from the world, while Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) X-Men have new matching uniforms, a hotline to/from the President, and are ‘winning hearts and minds’ with risky rescue missions.

It’s interesting to see the trend of every other X-Men movie bucked, with the human world seemingly accepting of the super-powered. But to juxtapose that, we see increasing tensions within the group. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in particular is questioning Xavier’s MO, turning into quite the mother hen for the gang while he seems more obsessed with opinions.

When Charles pushes the group to risk themselves to save an astronaut, the ‘solar flare’ that obviously isn’t ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The already powerful psychic and telekinetic power she possesses is turned up way past 11, and the results are devastating.

So… the last outing for the newest group to play the X-Men, and we’re back with the story that got butchered at the end of the last lot’s run. Surely to goodness the filmmakers have lots of lessons learned?!

Ah… not so much. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline is handled a bit better, yes, but overall the movie is just a bit too meh. The rift between Xavier and the others, the need to prove themselves again and again versus a wish to just live – all is touched on, but not really brought to much. Peace turns to rage in a heartbeat, not without reason, but just without the backdrop to wholly care.

Worst element is probably the new alien threat, led by Jessica Chastain, egging Jean Grey to embrace her worst side. I feel like we’ve missed a movie, or at least a huge chuck of backstory, as they just appear and do stuff to further the plot. And worse is the whole “They aren’t mutants” – urm, pretty sure they’d be lumped in with the rest, rather than humankind instantly recognising alien v mutant. Hmm.

Everything (except Mystique’s makeup, for some reason?) looks pretty cool, it’s not a bad movie, but to be honest it was just a bit disappointingly meh, story-wise. Not the triumphant bow-out that anyone would have wished for, by any means.

Released: 5th June 2019
Viewed: 15th June 2019
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Rocketman (2019)

rocketman poster

I’m not particularly a fan of Elton John, so this might not have been the most obvious choice of movies for me. Indeed, if you are a fan then the movie experience probably held a lot less surprise, but I got to learn about Reggie Dwight the child prodigy (able to play something on the piano when he’s literally just heard it – wow! And, so jealous!), the problems behind the rise to super stardom, and the unexpected marriage…!

The basic story isn’t too dissimilar to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), with humble beginnings leading to stardom set against a host of personal problems. However, the rest is very different. Rocketman takes a more fantastical approach, with moments of outright musical – as in, big spontaneous song and dance routines in the street – as well as dream-like moments that conjure some of the drugged-out highs (and lows). It also has a huge plus in that Elton John is still alive and was quite happy to have a ‘warts and all’ approach. “I’ve been a c*** since 1974” he/the character says at one point, and the movie doesn’t try to shy away from showing some of that. Drugs, sex addiction, shopping binges, bulimia – the movie makes the musicality and professional success seem oh so easy, but everything else very much not.

Large praise has to go to Taron Egerton in the lead role. Amazingly, he’s doing his own singing – and he isn’t half bad at all! He also manages to do enough to convey an impression of Elton without focusing too much on that to the detriment of the acting. All in all, he absolutely makes this movie work.

There’s not much else to say. The music is excellent, the story involving, and the approach intriguing. Fan of the man or not so much, this is a really great movie biopic. Recommended.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 7th June 2019
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Aladdin (2019)

aladdin poster

I’m far from convinced about this plan to turn all the Disney cartoons into live-action movies. Beauty and the Beast (2017) sort of summed things up for me: not as good as the original, why did you bother? I ran screaming at the thought of sitting through Dumbo (2019), and the trailer for Lion King (2019) looks like a car crash, quite frankly. And yet, Aladdin (1992) is one of my favs from the House of Mouse, and so triumph or disaster, I was curious to see what they had done to it.

So, you know the story. Street rat and petty thief falls for the princess and winds up being used as a pawn by the evil vizier. But, instead of handing over the magic lamp he’s been tasked to steal, Aladdin ends up with a genie granting him three wishes. Can he improve his life, win the princess, yadda yadda yadda?

There are a few minor deviations in this new version. Princess Jasmine gets a new song and a 21st Century update, now trying to convince her father that a girl can be a ruler, not just a wife. I approve! It also felt very well done, imo, quite organically woven into the script and not just a tacked-on moment of ‘girl power’ (I’m looking at you, Endgame!).

The other big change that hits you the most is the loss of the wonderful Robin Williams as the genie. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to step into those shoes – but then, if it was going to be anyone, Will Smith makes a lot of sense. He’s been derided quite harshly for the role, but – perhaps going in with such low expectations – I actually think he manages pretty well. Still, it’s a little jarring mixing the genie we know with the Fresh Prince persona slipping through, and then a sweet if odd choice of adding in a crush on the princess’s handmaiden. Hmm.

Otherwise, it feels like the aim was to match the cartoon as closely as possible, and this might have been a flaw. The rooftop chase parkour looks like CGI not gone entirely right, and a few other scenes too end up looking cartoonish – and not in a good way, often running at a slightly odd speed or just looking juddery.

So… I dunno. It wasn’t awful, even while it wasn’t great. I was entertained enough but would rather watch the original. On the other hand, it was far more successful than e.g. B&tB, and more than I expected. I’m glad I quenched my curiosity, I’m mildly impressed that they translated as much of the animation as they did, and if nothing else, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali are fab songs – and Will Smith does them well.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 8th June 2019
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6.5/10

Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much 😉

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Endgame poster

So… here we are. Twenty-two movies over eleven years, and one way or another we are in the Endgame. The Infinity Saga ends here.

Last year’s Infinity War ended on something of a cliffhanger, and we pick up with the aftermath of those devastating events. The 3-hour run time allows the story to flow at a less than break-neck event, such as the previous movie, which is essential for this finale. As well as tying up the plot lines, we need to have an emotional connection with all of these characters, and to watch their emotional journeys – and that takes a little time.

As well as finding out what happens, and how, what I loved about this was the way it pays homage to all 11 years that have gone before. There are so many little nods back to the characters’ previous top moments, without becoming overly saccharine or just about patting themselves (ie the filmmakers) on the back. Sure, a few characters could have done with a little more screen time, but overall the fierce pride and joy at the whole series is brought to the screen.

IW was dark, and this is also pretty bleak at times especially – and appropriately – as it opens, but there is a large amount of humour sprinkled throughout. America’s ass might be my favourite… (or at least the least spoilery one!)! 😉 Given how joyful the series has been, it makes a lot of sense to remind everyone of the humour, especially as the series’ tone has darkened, plot-wise.

There’s not a lot to talk about while avoiding any spoilers at all, but I do think it’s worth going in ‘blind’. There are so many bits – major and very minor – that work perfectly for not seeing them coming. Indeed, the whole movie managed to be less predictable than I might have assumed, which is quite a feat after 21 movies of build up. Are there flaws – logically, in particular? Sure, but the action is high, the fan-nods are amazing, and overall it’s so, so easy to just let the imperfections go in favour of just how well they’ve pulled the nigh-on impossible together.

Is it perfect? No. But as a culmination of over a decade of genre-busting success, I don’t think they could have wrapped up this first chapter any better, with any more love to or from the fans on both sides of the camera. And so, my first 10/10 movie review on sheer satisfaction factor.

Released: 25th April 2019
Viewed: 25th April 2019 (in a Captain America t-shirt, natch ;))
Running time: 181 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 10/10 – no, it’s not ‘perfect’, but near as dammit and can’t imagine they could have done much better!

Hellboy (2019)

hellboy poster

When the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), first tried to usher in an Age of Monsters, it was King Arthur (yes, that King Arthur, as the voice over tells us!) and Merlin who stopped her. Unable to end her unnatural life, they settle for dismembering her and sending the caskets of her pieces (arms, head, etc) to be buried at the four corners of the world.

Rescued as a spawnling at the end of World War II and raised by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), Hellboy (David Harbour) is about to have his ‘teenage’ angst moment, wondering why he helps the humans kill the ‘monsters’, when he himself is so obviously part of the latter group. And of course, a sorcerous little voices isn’t shy of pushing that thought into his head…

This is a reboot of the Hellboy series, following two films starring Ron Perlman in the titular role. He was so good, even if the movies were a bit mixed, it was a tricky prospect thinking of anyone else stepping into those boots. In fact, I’d say David Harbour (previously the sheriff in Stranger Things) is one of the best things about this adaptation, capturing the look, the snark, the entire attitude.

Alas, reviews were not promising going in to this – but it does help having low expectations. It’s not actually bad, just a bit overly-busy and slightly odd in tone. It is, however, very comic-book-esque, which fits rather well with the source. I think that sways how people find the whole thing.

Still, it was far from perfect. It loses points from me because it rehashes the story I’ve already seen. I was going to say the fantasy-leanings were a bit fresher, but no, we’ve had faeries and goblins and that kind of thing in both of the previous attempts. Ho-hum.

Harbour was good, but the rest of the cast did very little for me except hurt my ears with atrocious, plummy and fake English accents. Why?! Although of course it’s tough not to like Ian McShane being very himself. His voice-over at the beginning is a high point, detailing daft fantasy things with a lot of swearing and a very non-fantastically sensibility (“They were call the dark ages for a f-‘ing good reason”).

Ah yes, the swearing. This is a 15 and they do seem to be going to town on the blood splatter and cursing to try and make the most of it. There were a few points that did make me wonder just how awful you’d have to get for an 18 rating.

So… yeah, and no. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch. I was plenty entertained. But I couldn’t say it was a good movie, or even the best they could have made. Disappointing? A little. But no regrets on having seen it.

Released: 11th April 2019
Viewed: 14th April 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10