Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

A welcome breath of fresh air after Avengers: Infinity WarAnt-Man and the Wasp succeeds in some areas, disappoints in others, but is hilarious and remains great due to having the most relatable hero of the Marvel bunch.

After Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is coming to the end of a couple of years of house arrest, and is estranged from scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily). Thrown back into the world of quantum realms and flying ants, Lang juggles his daughter, criminal status, new career and helping Hank and Hope (aka the Wasp) find wife/mother Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

I’ve frontloaded that synopsis with mention of Ant-Man as opposed to the Wasp – this is supposed to be a bigger deal, Marvel’s first superheroine. Unfortunately, not that much development is given to flesh out Hope, compared to how much Lang gets, and that imbalance is a disappointment, though director Peyton Reed (and a team of writers including Rudd) appear to have tried to spin too many plates.

To be honest, the reason for this is probably that the film feels incredibly quick! It doesn’t drag and is great fun, frothy and not too deep, meaning most characters have small chances to make an impression. While not as anarchically amusing as the last, it’s still hilarious, particularly the return of Scott’s reformed criminal crew and Lang’s everyman reacting to the absurd.

The film is written quite well in that for once antagonists are less black and white as in other Marvel films (perhaps a growing trend given Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War). Characters also don’t necessarily end up where you expect , and the core of the story is men and their daughters, extending out into families (whether extended, surrogate, estranged or reunited).

This all makes for a more chummy, fun and child friendly Marvel movie, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it doesn’t get dark, or that jokes are aimed younger – there are some laugh out loud scenes, particularly involving Michael Pena’s Luis (one of the standouts of the original film). The story doesn’t go exactly where you expect toward the end (in some senses), taking a unique premise (Lang under house arrest) and cleverly syncing back to this. If there’s a quibble beyond underserved characters, it’s that the ending feels too rushed and neat, and the film could have had more time to breathe.

Perhaps I’m being a bit needy after Infinity War – to follow that film’s epic, operatic scale and feel is incredibly unfair! In regards to that, as with every Marvel film STAY AFTER THE FILM HAS FINISHED – your mileage may vary on staying until the bitter end (a scene more amusing than plot relevant), but make sure you stay about three minutes after. Trust me!antman-wasp-poster-1105842

The visual sensibilities around shrinking and expanding are again played for effective laughs, with ingenious effects work melding with stunts for maximum amusement. Marvel absolutely astounds again with de-aging Douglas, Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne, and I’m wondering when an entire film might star an older actor de-aged in this universe. It’s honestly quite unbelievable, and a little unnerving!

Elsewhere, the stellar effects work is in the quantum realm, evoking memories of the madness of Doctor Strange. Musically, Christophe Beck’s theme sticks in the mind thanks to a funky, zany feel, and feels a bit different to Marvel’s other scores (it reflects the fun and the inanity of Lang, and his bumbling attempts at being a hero and a dad).

If you don’t like Paul Rudd, there’s something wrong with you! He perfectly balances Lang’s fish out of water, normal bloke in the midst of superheroics with a very caring, emotional aspect, and being very capable with comedy his scenes are naturally some of the funniest. With a role in the final Avengers film, I look forward to seeing him mix with the whole group.

Lily is underserved despite her character being in the title, but still gets way more to do than in the previous film. I wish there was a little more to her story beyond being defined by the search for her mum, but the actress is comedically adept, has good chemistry with Rudd, and ought to have more opportunities to shine in future!

Michael Douglas continues to set Hank Pym apart from the other science geniuses of the MCU (I would kill for scenes with him, Stark, Banner, Strange or Shuri), by virtue of being a grumpy, arrogant and disdainful old bastard. He maintains a twinkle in his eye, gives as good as he gets in the comedy scenes, and gets to act a little more here too – given what his character experiences, future films could be interesting.

Michael Pena shines as motormouth Luis, often the funniest character in any scene and in one particular part, involving an interrogation, bringing the house down. Laurence Fishburne takes his foot off the overacting gas as Pym’s old colleague, drawing him somewhere between a kindly, helpful older genius and a man regretting choices made.

Nominal villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is quite unique, but again not as fleshed out as she should have been. However, the choices made for the character throughout are more nuanced, and the British actress does well in snippets to portray anguish and a simmering steely fury. Walton Goggin’s stereotypical but welcome turn as a dapper, malevolent southern gent of a criminal broker provides the film with an unexpected third wheel to the heroes and villains.

Randall Park’s hapless, quirky FBI agent provides more laughs, essentially childminding Lang at home, while Pfeiffer has very little time to make an impact, but ought to down the line. Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie is great in scenes that show Lang’s love for his daughter and how important she remains to him (despite the heroics), while T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian only add to Pena’s zaniness as the other ex cons.

It could have been better, but it’s still a great laugh, and Ant-Man and the Wasp does a great job of reminding us not all is doom and gloom in Marvel land (at least until next May…)

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Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

An absolutely stunning action masterclass, Mission: Impossible – Fallout will likely be the best film of the summer, and one of the best this year – an all out assault, and a reminder of how fantastically thrilling action films can be.

Following Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) learns that the terrorist syndicate led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) have teamed with mysterious criminal ‘John Lark’ to steal plutonium for three nuclear bombs. Juggling personal concerns, CIA babysitter August Walker (Henry Cavill) and the differing interests of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt and crew aim to save the day… again.

This starts with a bang, and after some clever twists and turns takes on a very Mad Max: Fury Road feel – it’s a relentless, ever more tense and concussive couple of hours that fly past. Director and writer Christopher McQuarrie is at the peak of his powers with a script and a filmmaking style that do all but punch you in the face as the film gets more propulsive.

McQuarrie seems to have – more so than most action directors, and earlier directors in this series (bar J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird) – understood perfectly what Mission: Impossible is: impossible odds and spectacular action through the prism of the spy world.

What distinguishes the series – and what always has – is its connection to the original US show, adherence to nearly unbelievable gadgets and more backstabbing and twists than a Conservative government. McQuarrie takes these elements, adds the everpresent, evergreen Tom Cruise, mixes in a double measure of action and shakes it up into a powerful spy film cocktail.

Having written and directed Rogue Nation, McQuarrie is also well placed to handle the human side (both the fun group dynamic, and conflicts with authority and the enemy), making dialogue scenes zing. He also strongly utilises the acting abilities of those he works with, but the utterly insane action is key to his success.

I would give McQuarrie a Bond film or any action franchise based entirely on his work here, as the action and stunts are simply amazing. This is largely down to Cruise being a complete nutter and electing to do all stunts himself, with each film escalating that personal threat (on his say so)!

Quite frankly, some of the stunts are remarkable, not least a huge chase across Paris that reminded me of a similar scene in The Bourne Identity, but much more clearly shot and expertly edited. It’s quite obviously Cruise who weaves through traffic at high speed on a bike, crashes vans into trucks and legs it from police.

Later on, another huge scene in London does the same on foot, and I haven’t even mentioned the jaw dropping, aerial stunts that bookend the film, let alone an excellently shot and bone breaking brawl in a nightclub toilet!

To be honest, it is unbelievable – honestly – how few special effects are used. With so many films turning to CGI for its lack of risk, action as a genre has suffered (bar those I’ve made a point of highlighting like Fury Road and the John Wick movies). This feels like a moment: Hollywood can continue down the effects path, or take a step back and see how much more engaging these set pieces are, when we recognise the people fighting, flying, driving or shooting.

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A lot of McQuarrie’s direction reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s distinct action staging in The Dark Knight. What strikes you is that this elevating, continuing madness keeps outdoing itself, so by the end you are agape at watching THE Tom Cruise piloting a helicopter through mountain valleys. For an action junkie like me, this left a huge smile on my face, and I left the cinema unable to stop grinning at the lunacy I’d seen.

McQuarrie’s work with editor Eddie Hamilton offers sharp, crisp and bombastic techniques to make action and dramatic scenes hit home, while cinematographer Rob Hardy makes the various locations feel epic and impressive, from sunny Parisian streets and stormy evenings to the damp and forboding London skyline, through to the stunning vistas of New Zealand (standing in for Kashmir).

The music is another strong element, Lorne Balfe’s Zimmeresque electronic, thudding score chopping and changing the famous theme for more impact, some moments memorably distinct as they reorganise and reshuffle for added suspense. His quieter, personal work for Hunt is also quite affecting, backgrounding our first look into his personal world since Abrams’ third film.

Cruise clearly knows that what audiences want to see is him suffering, and his remarkable commitment saw him put his body on the line again (during the London sequence, you can see where he broke his ankle as he hits a building when jumping!).

It’s in more human, quieter scenes that Cruise the actor reappears, the film’s subtitle reflecting on the potential for everyone Hunt cares about to get hurt – everything is threatening to collapse on him figuratively and literally.

His more dramatic scenes remind us that he was known for being an actor rather than an action hero, showcasing more emotional and darker sides he really should engage with more. This franchise, to be Frank wouldn’t work without Cruise.

Cavill has at last built on the promise of the (not too shabby) Man from UNCLE, and shown he can tackle comedy, drama and action. Walker is described as a hammer to Hunt’s scalpel, and Cavill is absolutely no slouch in action scenes – you might describe him as an absolute unit – though faring much better dramatically than as the Man of Steel.

Harris, a very intense British actor given international recognition through these films, picks up his ice cold depiction of Lane – a more bookish Bond gone rogue – and is disturbing, particularly in a couple of monologues. He’s able to get across an almost dead eyed, malevolent air in short scenes, and has given the series its best villain bar Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa is the true counterpart to Hunt, and the actress is more than capable in the action stakes, and equally capable dramatically. I particularly liked the way she showed conflict between cold, professional duty and a growing concern for others she’s come to care for.

Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg have become quite the double act, but have much fewer laughs this time around (Pegg is still the comic relief). Rhames surprises with a couple of really heartfelt scenes, blasting through that air of cool he always seems to have, while Alec Baldwin’s smaller input sees him still quippy as the stern but accommodating head of IMF.

Finally, Angela Bassett brings a bit of welcome (you might say M-like) feminine steel to a CIA boss role, while young Brit Vanessa Kirby makes an impression as a femme fatale broker and manipulator, an interesting and strange role that could and should recur.

If you call yourself any sort of spy film or action thriller fan, you owe it to yourself to see this. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to… put aside any quibbles about Cruise the weirdo, and enjoy watching Cruise the insane stuntman throw himself in harm’s way – appreciate an action classic before it leaves the big screen!

Review: The Incredibles 2

The Incredibles 2 is great fun for all ages, reinforcing Pixar’s strengths when it comes to making what are ostensibly children’s films that adults can enjoy.

Picking up where the first film left off, the family of superheroes save the day but are punished by the authorities, until billionaire Winston (Bob Odenkirk) offers Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) a chance to re-enter the world of superheroics and stop a sinister supervillain. Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) meanwhile becomes a stay at home dad, juggling teenage angst, tricky maths homework and a baby more powerful than the rest of the family put together.

What I enjoyed about the first film was that it never pandered down to kids, and was a sparkily animated and fun superhero romp crossed with a spy film. This time around, it feels like a family comedy plus a superhero film mixed with a conspiracy whodunnit, and it’s remarkable that it manages to balance these elements so well.

Director and writer Brad Bird returns after filling the same roles in the original, and after a brief sojourn into live action with the excellent Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. His handle on action and comedy is clear to see even through the special effects, while quieter, talkier scenes maintain your attention.

This series started around the time superhero films were gearing up (pre Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan Batman films), and from the start was clearly doing something quite different. Having started before the trend and picking up during it, Bird and Pixar make the movie more about the characters and the family than the superheroics, almost backgrounded here.

I particularly enjoyed the role reversal of the two leads, with its emphasis on mocking the traditional family roles, and on the importance of parents and partners sharing the load. Add this familial complexity to the struggles of the kids (from the mundane teen romance to the insane growing pains of the baby), and you get the sense that future films would only build on the strong central aspect of interesting characters – what Pixar does best.

Even though there’s been a 14 year gap, it doesn’t seem like it at all – everything bombs on! What is apparent is the improvement in special effects, with everything that much more impressively rendered. The characters have been updated too, but each still looks quirky and cartoony (even those in the background), so there’s no photorealism. A balance is struck between this exaggerated representation of the humans with the very sharply rendered settings and physical effects, which make the world feel real.download

The film’s writing and humour deftly balances amusing kids and keeping adults interested (particularly in the travails of the family’s youngest, Jack Jack, who presents the horrors of a baby with unlimited powers). But these scenes are so cleverly, wittily done that you can’t help but laugh – there’s no sense of pandering to one age group here.

Going back to visuals, these at times meet with more adult themes at play. The first movie was quite stark (references to suicide and the deaths of other heroes), and this does feel tamer, except perhaps Elastgirl’s investigation of the Gotham style villain, which takes on a Batman like gothic, creepy mystery feel in a couple of scenes.

To be frank, the villain is interesting but not very threatening, though given their endgame, I guess that was the point, while the mundane issues that the two older children face (teen romance and maths homework) – while making for some amusing hapless dad scenes – mean that the kids have little to do and are overshadowed by the larger than life madness of their baby brother.

Michael Giacchino provides another rip-roaring soundtrack by resurrecting his great 50s style score from the original. All brass and drums, it fits very well with the retro futurist feel and look of the city and world the family lives in. The voice actors are impressive, many returning from the original, with Craig T Nelson as Mr Incredible and Holly Hunter as Elastigirl bringing strong, distinctive voices that seem to fit perfectly with the character animations.

This speaks to the strength of their work and that of the animators to sync it all up, Nelson excellent as the perma tired struggling dad and Hunter as the mum loving her freedom crime fighting. Samuel L Jackson also returns as Frozone – it’s so noticeably him that it does detract from the character a bit, but who doesn’t always appreciate hearing his exasperated, shouty tones!

Bob Odenkirk’s Winston is a character that unnervingly almost looks like its performer, again a great feat of animation – this is intelligent casting however that cleverly utilises Odenkirk’s chirpy, chatty role as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as the eager, supportive billionaire champion of heroes.

The surprise package was actress Catherine Keener as Winston’s sister Evelyn, the older performer disappearing quite effectively into a younger role with some quite impressive voice acting – her character forming a sisterly bond with Elastigirl over being overshadowed by men in another of the film’s more knowingly adult aimed scenes. And Bird returns to voice the fashionista costume designer Edna Mode, the director clearly having great fun voicing the diminutive diva again.

I seem to have a good record with Pixar films to review (this is only the second of two)! The Incredibles 2 is well worth your time if you know you like Pixar and you want to see a different angle on superheroes.

Review: Hereditary

The resurgence of horror at the flicks continues with the quite frankly unique and very mental Hereditary, a horror film that feels fresh in its focus on character as well as a commitment to an increasingly insane plot.

Miniatures artist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) starts to move on after the death of her overbearing mother, while her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) struggles to deal with the event. After an increasing number of odd and shocking events, both they and father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) along with son Peter (Alex Wolff) become ever more wrapped up in psychological disturbances, puncturing Annie’s strong willpower.

For this to be the product of first time director Ari Aster (who also wrote the script) is quite remarkable. His vision for this film, and the balance between an everpresent and creeping, thrumming tension and completely batshit shocks, is stronger than most experienced directors can manage. It’s likely that his ability to write the movie and then depict what he wanted has probably played a large part in this success too.

That tension I mentioned almost reverberates throughout, meaning you can’t get comfortable, and this feeling is only exacerbated when the film throws carefully planned shocks at you. I don’t mean jump scares, but shocks and developments that astound the viewer – one in particular, and the scenes that followed it, had me almost laughing in shock! There’s more of a sense of total uncertainty, only emboldened by the eerie and powerful performances Aster gets out of a committed cast.

His audacious decisions for the characters and the ways in which they believably behave in such mental circumstances emboldens how he visually puts it together. Annie’s job as a creator of miniature landscapes, so benign an artform, is unsettlingly shown merging real life and models and opening up avenues of theory about what is happening to the family, and in making even the mundane disturbing he unsettles you further.

A note of caution though: your mileage may vary on how you feel this film turns out. The shock I referred to is like a “sliding doors” moment, in that beyond that the movie takes some huge swings (particularly in the last 15 minutes) and might not be what people expected or wanted it all to be. I however thought it was brilliant and harked back to other movies of a similar ilk (and conclusion) from decades past, and Hereditary pays homage to some of these in quite grisly fashion.

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Technically the film is quite accomplished, with the main source of the thrumming tension quite literally an electronic hum bubbling away. This and other music from Colin Stetson does a great job of supporting the movie’s visual feasts lit by Pawel Pogorzelki, with the family home a dark, wooden sprawl that becomes steadily more foreboding.

Instantaneous cuts between night and day, the glow of fire or bright light against wood and the piercing blaze of spotlights on models all end up appearing incredibly sinister in context, and while Pogorzelki’s cinematography illuminates the scares, Stetson’s atypical horror soundtrack doesn’t often adhere to expectations on the same note. In fact, it’s quite understated, which somehow adds to the unnatural feeling the film creates, while the use of silence (thought not to be topped after A Quiet Place) is very clever too.

The lead performance from Toni Collette is an utter barnstormer, the Australian actress living every emotion possible and (I can’t believe I’m saying this for a horror movie) strongly portrays the mental degradation of an intense mother, wife and daughter amid the crises that seem to pile upon her.

Collette is particularly good when events start to blur the line between real and imagined, or fantasy, and her switches from sympathetic sadness to incandescent rage were more frightening than some of the scares! She effortlessly sweeps back into horror (she was in The Sixth Sense) and gives the genre one of its best performances, I think it’s fair to say.

Gabriel Byrne, another surprise entrant to horror films, grants his understated and calm ‘straight man’ role as Steve a slightly defeated, crumpled air, with this man just wanting his family to be able to live a normal life. His air of realism and disdain eventually begins to crumble, the actor sweeping in with some of that rage and anger he’s become known for.

Both performers for the couple’s children are remarkable as well, Alex Wolff adding texture to incredulous reactions to all going on around him, portraying burning grief in some sympathetic scenes before becoming wrapped up in the insanity to come. It’s Milly Shapiro as the couple’s daughter Charlie however who truly stands out.

Her strikingly distinctive features are used to unnerving effect, and the young actress manages to be genuinely disturbing in her mannerisms and actions – you won’t hear a tongue click in the same way again. The most notable member of the largely ignored remainder is Ann Dowd, playing against type (she is Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale) as a sympathetic, caring new friend for Annie who has secrets of her own.

What’s clear to me, despite not being too “scared” of Hereditary, is that it’s not only strange and unique, but a very different way to approach a horror movie. It twists genre expectations to excellent effect, and makes use of some excellent performances to add an air of sophistication to its tension and latter insanity. Horror movies are finally growing up!

The Wills 2018

Probably the last picture of me in Hollywood, outside the famous Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard

Unbelievably here we are another year later, and unfortunately the number of films I’ve seen this past 12 months dropped from last year (there were some big gaps between cinema trips at times, because life invariably gets in the way). That’s not to say it’s not worth doing this list, because I know people have looked at these articles more than some of the reviews!

Hopefully next year I’ll have seen more or around the same amount – writing the reviews is a bit more stretched now with less time or ability to get them together (in the case of Deadpool 2, it was actually a month after I’d seen it that I got the review up and ready).

There were some stinkers, but also a few I think I could easily elevate to my top 10 of all time. Talk about extremes! I make no apologies for the number one film, even though it means that for each year I’ve done this, the same director is at the top…

One last thing – this year more than any other, please don’t regard something as being abysmal because it’s further down the list – there was a fine line between the truly bad and the OK movies. So once again I’ve split this films up into sub categories that explain my thoughts.

Without further ado…

The first four are what I would term a mixture between “who thought this was a good idea” and diminished expectations. In essence, in a few cases, these were real disappointments, specifically those of the sequel or franchise variety…

25. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets so much potential but just too much weirdness and a boring main character dooms this sci fi madness

24. Solo: A Star Wars Story – the first major misstep for Disney’s new movies, this was a film that didn’t need to be made and squanders the good things about it

23. Deadpool 2what a disappointment! Nowhere near as funny as the first and falling into the traps it should be taking the piss out of

22. Sicario 2: Soldado – an unnecessary sequel to an amazing movie, this completely disregards what made the original great and tries to force a franchise out of it

I like to think of this group as the “nearly” bunch. As you’ll see when you read the reviews, I enjoyed them all (though quite a few had issues I needed to address). A few of these are distinctly Oscar baiting films, a few action bonanzas (one of each by Spielberg, for god’s sake), while the others are memorable for what they achieved or stood for, be it empathetic CGI animals, a truly hilarious studio comedy or a teen gay romance.

21. Murder On The Orient Express – if I hadn’t have known “whodunnit”, I’d probably have enjoyed this more – as it is, it’s at least got some character and held my interest!

20. The Post – it’s not Spielberg’s finest hour but it’s a brilliant ode to journalism with some incredibly timely links to issues in modern day America (plus some unconventional Hanks and Streep acting)

19. Darkest Hour – the Gary Oldman Oscar bait movie, I enjoyed this for his transformative performance (even if other elements aren’t as strong in the end)

18. Love, Simon – a really pleasant surprise and (despite its middling elements), it’s a mainstream teen film about homosexuality that is remarkable for being unremarkable

17. Ready Player One – two Spielberg films in one year! This is a popcorn light, nerd heavy visual feast of references and geekiness that I enjoyed despite its surprisingly weak characterisation

16. Lady Bird – a really different and entertaining coming of age story that feels more honest, with two powerhouse performances from Saiorse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf

15. War for the Planet of the Apes – what a capper to the Andy Serkis motion capture trilogy, with the actor once again showing how performance can show through effects and create empathy

14. Game Night – a studio comedy that is actually hilarious! A rogue’s gallery of comedic talent combine for a madcap, often hilarious farce around the game night trend

These are the films that deserve a great deal of praise for being particularly memorable, hilarious or thought provoking. While not in my view the very best I saw all year, they are well and truly worth your time, a real mixture of fantasy, horror, superheroes, action and sci-fi along with a particularly hard hitting, Oscar hoovering drama.

13. Itthe first half of a two parter, this excellently adapts one of Stephen King’s most sinister tales with style and menace, with an unhinged performance from Bill Skarsgard

12. Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – while I still prefer The Force Awakens, this is a brave and fresh boost the Skywalker saga needed, with writer and director Rian Johnson making a real mark on Star Wars

11. Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marvel absolutely nails the prodigal webhead, effortlessly slotting him into the MCU with some great laughs and Tom Holland’s quippy, impassioned performance the best yet

10. Atomic Blonde – an 80s set action thriller, from a John Wick director and starring Charlize Theron? This is a brilliant slice of B-movie action crunch shot through with neon and a fiercely feminist drive

9. Thor Ragnarok – unhinged Kiwi comedy meets Norse alien gods. No other way to describe the best Thor, with Taika Waititi injecting a tired mini franchise with zaniness and style

8. A Quiet Place – a very clever, high concept horror that works an absolute treat, only bettered by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s excellent and intense performances

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – it won a fair few Oscars and you can see why – a searingly biting commentary on justice and broken people, with Frances McDormand at her best

6. The Shape of Water – this shouldn’t have worked but it does! 60s romance fantasy horror drama – all beautifully made and presented by Guillermo del Toro and an exceedingly good cast

This final five: for one reason or another, they truly felt like amazing cinema experiences. While their impact (in one or two cases) is dulled a little on Blu Ray, the craftsmanship and ingenuity behind the cameras (and a deft script or lack of none) combined perfectly with everything onscreen for me for some unforgettable experiences at the cinema, and a series of films I will likely rewatch (or defend to anyone) again and again!

5. Baby Driver – years down the line people will still be enjoying Edgar Wright’s first US film – an ode to music, movies and action that feels utterly unique

4. Dunkirk – absolute sensory overload, Christopher Nolan’s WW2 epic batters and blasts you while simultaneously doing more to envision the hellish nature of war than most war movies

3. Black Panther – a true cinematic trailblazer and a seriously accomplished blockbuster with interesting themes and a sympathetic, complex villain – and it’s a Marvel superhero film!

2. Avengers: Infinity War – somehow the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins its conclusion with the impossible – bringing all its heroes together effortlessly, giving us a fascinating and engaging nemesis, and a stunning conclusion. Let’s see if its sequel in 2019 can stick the landing

1. Blade Runner 2049 – yes it’s Denis Villeneuve. Yes it’s science fiction. But from the first few seconds of my cinematic experience until the conclusion, no film since Sicario has forced itself into my favourites until 2049. From its aesthetic to its plot, its main character through to the stunning soundtrack – this is one of my all time cinematic classics.

Review: Sicario 2: Soldado

Another in a chain of recent disappointments for me at the cinema (I hope this trend ends soon), Sicario 2 is the sequel nobody really needed. There’s promise and potential but it never quite reaches it.

After a terrorist attack is linked to drug cartels, the US government secretly hires amoral Black ops agents Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to gain some revenge in Mexico. Things go wrong and the two are forced to face difficult decisions.

Straight off the bat, I didn’t really think this film would be as good as the original, and to be honest it would have needed something special to be. I was prepared to be wrong, but as it is, it’s nowhere near as good because it lacks that film’s nihilistic, bleak and intense tone and feel.

New director Stefano Sollima faces an impossible act following Denis Villeneuve, and while his mastery of a couple of action scenes and the brutal, grim opening is assured, the film (thanks to plot and character choices) never sustains dread, tension or indeed brutality that the original always had round the corner.

This is all the more surprising because writer Taylor Sheridan was responsible for the first film, and it’s a shame that the story (which has promising elements) misses that bite. His work there alongside Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johann Johnson created a world believably close to ours but shaded by a pallour or sort of gaping darkness.

While the central thrust is uncomfortably timely given recent US developments, this interesting basis for a sequel is undermined by the two main characters changing fundamentally between films. And this is largely a consequence of removing Emily Blunt’s moral compass – it is now divided between Graver and Gillick, removing the very thing that made them interesting in the original: that they were amoral and prepared to do anything to get results.

Sheridan and Sollima also fall short with a couple of Hollywood style plot turns that contradict what the original attempted. The conclusion blatantly setting up sequels or a franchise is a demoralising development, though this being a sequel I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I mentioned the important work of the cinematography and music – the former in the original gave the film a stunningly visceral sheen, but here Dariusz Wolski’s work unfortunately makes scenes feel cheap and doesn’t make the most of the stunning settings.

In turn, the music by Hildur Guðnadottir is unfortunately not a patch on original from the sadly departed Johann Johansson. His passing means that this score has to work to try and make something similar yet different, but it doesn’t work – and blatant reuse of his thudding theme at the end just reinforces this movie’s inferiority to its predecessor.

Josh Brolin seems to be in every review I write recently, but as expressed above, despite early promise that we would get the wise cracking, flip flop wearing sociopath of the first film, everything good about the character feels walked back (it’s not his fault, it’s the story). Brolin was great in the original because he was at turns a snarky slob and a brutal shark, and removing Blunt forces him to care too much, and form 50 percent of a conscience with del Toro.

The other lead suffers the same fate obviously – much of what made him so enigmatic and interesting is reversed in the name of drama. Del Toro’s grim, moody silences and chilling amorality, as well as his stilted delivery and unsettling demeanour, are ground down and polished off to again make him appear more sympathetic.

Smaller main roles include two younger actors with varying levels of success. Manuel Garcia-Rolfo dolefully plays an impassive kid who is supposed to represent the corruption of youth by the cartels – but he just slides into what appears to be poor acting. He doesn’t have enough to do, and as such his story is not as engaging until it criss crosses the rest. Even then, he’s not good enough to justify such a large role.

Conversely, Isabela Moner gives the film the feminine perspective and stronger acting Blunt’s absence removed. In perhaps the only impressive performance, the young actress is not only very accomplished and composed, but manages to convey shades of entitled fury, passion and sheer, primal terror, and must have gone through the wringer making this film. She’s one to watch for sure.

Other cameo performances include Jeffrey Donovan’s comedy third man in the Brolin-Del Toro partnership, a wry jokey figure in the first who doesn’t really need to be here, offering nothing but another through line to the first film.

A couple of cameos notable only for casting see Matthew Modine grimace through a few tiny scenes as the secretary of justice, utilising his steely grin and demeanour but otherwise providing a famous face for a tiny role. Catherine Keener’s government connection role is more of the same – hardly needed in the scheme of things, and merely putting a face to the government but with nothing else to do.

I really wanted this film to be great, and had been reassured by some reviews claiming it was on a par with the original. Unfortunately it failed to live up to my expectations – it could have been better (the underlying plot being particularly resonant with current affairs as mentioned). A real shame!

Review: Deadpool 2

A real come down after the lunacy of the first film, Deadpool 2 loses some verve and edginess, and squanders its promise for cheaper jokes.

After the events of the first film, Wade ‘Deadpool’ Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) circles the globe flippantly slaughtering criminals, but after events hit home he bounces from becoming a potential X-Men through to defending angry and misunderstood young mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) from mysterious time traveller Cable (Josh Brolin).

I loved the first film, as it was unhinged and felt fresh and abrasive. The problem with this sequel is that it felt torn between trying to follow the original’s carefree madness with making it more of a standard superhero movie, by way of nearly becoming an X-Men one! That indecision to me was a real shame, because the first film balanced the former and latter well and mocked the tropes it falls into this time around.

Perhaps the main objection I had was that it just decided to go “super serial”, in the words of South Park, and this kills its momentum stone dead. Not to mention the humour pays the price, with this constant need to humanise Wade (who we already like!) sitting poorly with the gonzo comedy that Reynolds and co writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick throw at us.

For me, it was less of what Deadpool is or what we are expecting of him, and the first film had better balance between the humour and seriousness (not to mention sentimentality, which was skillfully undercut or emboldened with humour). Instead, here we have too many sombre pauses without jokes, and a plot development that I couldn’t believe this movie would use when you consider how much it’s been used in superhero (and other) action films – it’s something this film should be mocking!

On the subject of the humour, it never really hits the heights of the first movie, and what is engaging and potentially hilarious about proceedings here gets undercut by that resurgent seriousness. It felt more conventional at times, which is exactly why people enjoyed Deadpool – because it wasn’t.

deadpool-2-poster-final

The movie wishes it was half as bizarre as this poster suggests

New director David Leitch brings some of his John Wick and Atomic Blonde action oomph, but there didn’t honestly feel like enough action compared to those two. The film is quite cleverly made to look more expensive with some more exotic locations and glossy cinematography from Jonathan Sela, but after Tom Holkenborg’s Thriller-esque soundtrack for the first film, Tyler Bates’ forgettable score is a real disappointment. Some popular music choices are also a bit tired and unoriginal.

A lot of this general malaise I feel is reflected in my view of Ryan Reynolds’ performance – it’s like he’s been restrained this time around, with a way more dramatic performance than comedic. He also spends loads more time outside of the suit as Wade as opposed to giving into that general insanity when the mask is on – he’s still hilarious when he tries, but it’s not a patch on his anarchic performance in the first film.

Josh Brolin brings the grit and glower as Cable, the ultimate straight man to Deadpool’s clown, and though he’s obviously great with his steely grim demeanour (see nearly every other performance), he shows some real action aptitude and cracks a little towards the end to show he’s also capable in the humour stakes. If anything, seeing him let loose a little more might have been better!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison is misused as the young, angry mutant at the heart of the plot, his natural ability with comedy (like Reynolds) dampened down in the name of ever-so-serious themes. While we’re talking about people being misused, Morena Baccarin is woefully treated here, despite being a fun and spiky part of the first film as Wade’s girlfriend.

And on the subject of poor decisions, the continued casting of T.J. Miller despite the actor being exposed, quite frankly, as a seedy abusive piece of shit seems like a major misstep when they could have dropped him and made a great joke of the situation in the dark Deadpool style.

Elsewhere, one shining light is Zazie Beets as Domino, who feels like a breakout star as a mutant with the power of luck. This makes for some hilarious comedy scenes and some bizarre but cool action, and I look forward to seeing where a film with her, Deadpool and Cable might go in action and comedic terms.

Finally, the remainder of the X-Men from the first film make staggered appearances and minimal impact (almost reinforcing this idea of the film becoming an X-Men one by stealth). Some absolutely brilliant cameos (including a couple of particularly surprising ones throughout and at the end) are some of the film’s high points, particularly Rob Delaney’s extended cameo as the non powered Peter signing up for the hell of it, though the great Terry Crews’ comedic genius is wasted.

For me, as it’s probably clear by now, Deadpool 2 was a great disappointment compared to the first, falling into surprising traps that the character should and would mock. Let’s just hope down the line that the first film’s “who gives a shit” attitude makes a return.