Game of Thrones – Season eight review

Spoilers for eight seasons of television.

A lot of people didn’t like season seven of Game of Thrones. I was not one of them. For many the sped-up pace and seemingly too fast travel made everything feel less realistic, and because quite a few plot-lines were streamlined and wrapped up it felt to many like the show was rushing. I however defended this choice. To me it was simply the ramping up of pace that the penultimate season needed. I could forgive cutting out journeys and other unnecessary scenes in order to focus on the important stuff. In retrospect, I should probably have spotted the warning signs; the willingness to rush to plot points. But season seven was giving me so many moments I had longed for: Daenerys meeting Jon Snow, Dragons in battle for the first time, the Dothraki fighting in an open field, Jon Snow as king in the north. Having so many brilliant scenes completely won over my inner fanboy.

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Don’t mistake me, I still think that season seven was a good series of television. It has flaws, but they are outweighed, at least to me by the fantastic production. However, if I had looked a little harder I might have seen a bad trend in the writing. A tendency towards sacrificing logic and set up in order to surprise the audience, or make sure characters headed a certain way. I was more than happy not to notice when the writers were making great scenes that pleased me as a fan, but now that those flaws have come home to roost, I’m forced to admit that the problems with the final season of Game of Thrones come from the last few seasons just as much.

Season eight has been baffling to watch. I was looking forward to it, honestly more than Avengers Endgame, as I am a much bigger fan of fantasy than comic books. I was confident that the writers would have some brilliant last-minute plot to throw at us before the conclusion. And as creators David Benioff & Dan Weiss had met with G.R.R Martin to discuss the ending, I was sure it would at least be broadly satisfying, even if there might be differences. Things started off very well. The first two episodes Winterfell and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms were fantastic pieces of television, artfully reintroducing us to the predicament of all these characters after the long hiatus. They gave each character a lot of good interactions with one another that developed many of them in interesting ways. There were some really good moments in the build up to the assault from the White Walkers, romances coming together after years, reunions and emotional conclusions to long time characters arcs. There was also some great set up for Jon Snow in particular, finally revealing to him his true parentage, something fans have been waiting for ever since it was little more than a theory.

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And then, The Long Night happened. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. It was a very exciting battle, but with a sudden and overly simple ending. The fact that Arya came out of nowhere to stab the Night King should have felt amazing, but the show simply hadn’t earned it. The fact that they introduced the idea that the entire army of the dead could be killed by destroying the leader was something I worried about last season when it was brought up. They found this out by killing a white walker general, which killed the wights around him. At the time I hoped this was a red herring because writing in a fail-safe where all the enemy forces are destroyed by killing the leader is a tired cliché at this point. It felt really anticlimactic after so many seasons of build-up, not to mention that this happens halfway through the season. It also robbed Jon Snow of anything to do for the entire season. He mostly just stood around while other people drove the plot on.

So, I ended the third episode slightly nervous about what could be in the finale, if the main antagonist had been destroyed three episodes early. It turns out, not much happened. Cersei barely put up a fight, and many of the characters we know and love are given lame endings. Daenerys turns evil, which was always set up as a possibility, but struck me as a poor move, especially as it basically just repeats what happened with her father. Jon doesn’t become king, but kills Dany and re-joins the Nights Watch, essentially meaning that his whole story ends up nowhere. It also renders the big twist of his parentage basically meaningless, not to mention the slightly sexist trope of a women going mad with power and a man being forced to kill her. Bran becomes king, which is even cheaper when you consider that he did nothing for the last two seasons of the show. Some of the characters end the show in a positive way, Sansa becomes queen in the north, Arya goes west to explore, and Tyrion becomes Hand of the King yet again. But for me, after the battle at Winterfell, everything that happened next felt like a let-down. Nothing felt momentous or important, I felt like I was just wading through the rest of the show to get some closure that never came.

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The finale was not the worst piece of TV I have ever watched. There are shows that jump the shark far worse than Game of Thrones. Dexter is almost unrecognisable after season four. But for a show which has received such acclaim to finish with such a lacklustre finale is a shame. There was so much potential in the show, much more potential plot to use and yet it felt like the writers were rushing all the way through the final season. They tried to subvert everyone’s expectations at every turn, but didn’t stop to think if that would make a compelling story. Not everything has to be unpredictable. Sometimes people want to see a show end how they expect, as long as it is satisfying. Game of Thrones managed neither. There were so many elements set up and foreshadowed in earlier seasons that don’t pay off now, and it makes me wonder what the point of them all was. Not all foreshadowing needs to turn out true, but if none of it does, why was it even there?

At the end of the day, this show was still an amazing ride, and one that I’m glad I followed from start to finish. But I won’t be able to summon the same level of enthusiasm for it again, sadly. The final season of Game of Thrones is like watching a chef cook a fantastic smelling meal, adding vibrant ingredients one by one while you look on with anticipation, only to realise once you finally eat it that a lot of them don’t go together, it tastes quite bland and the chef wasn’t actually following a recipe at all.

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Endgame – Review

A broad strokes finale that achieves a satisfactory ending, but no way near the experience of Infinity War.

Vague Spoilers ahead.

I was nervous about Endgame. Endings are very hard to do in a satisfactory way, especially when concluding multiple stories in the same film. I was very worried about how all of the plot threads dangling in the MCU after Antman and the Wasp and Infinity War would be tied up. After having seen it I can happily say that Endgame manages to wrap things up nicely, and I would say that overall I very much enjoyed my experience. However, this film did not measure up to Infinity War, which is quite a shame.

I’ll start with the things I enjoyed most. The acting was top notch from everyone in the film, with Robert Downey Jr getting a few moments that were downright haunting. For example, once he arrives back on earth, broken from his fight with Thanos and losing Peter Parker, Tony launches into a tirade at Steve Rodgers, lashing out in his pain. It’s a hard moment to watch as this character we all love loses himself to despair. The acting across the board is well done and suitably dramatic. My only caveat would be that at a certain funeral, none of the characters appear to be nearly as sad as they should be considering.

The action is decent and the battle near the end has enough great moments to make it memorable, including the four-way fight between the original Avengers and Thanos. The costume design is varied and strikes a good balance between campy and functional. And on a more personal and subjective note, I appreciated all the moments that catered directly to fans, such as when Captain America finally wielded Thor’s hammer. Yes, these moments were pandering and obvious, but after over a decade of films, I think that it was inevitable. You can’t conclude that much plot without crafting call-backs and winks to the fans. I am also a bit of a sucker for those moments.

Now we come to the stuff that frustrated me. None of these things were enough to make me hate the film or think it wasn’t fun, but they did temper my enthusiasm a little and left me a bit less interested in the MCU going forward. First of all, the pacing is wonky. One of the best things about Infinity War was just how tight it was as a film. No scene felt unnecessary to me, and all the important moments of the story felt weighty, but not too long or bloated. Group battle scenes didn’t drag on; they were all paced just right. The story went along at a decent speed, but nothing was rushed. The problem with Endgame is that the five-year time jump and time heist take way too much of the film up. Did we really need to travel to four different parts of history? Who honestly wanted a lengthy flashback to Thor the Dark World, arguably the worst marvel film? And these scenes can be entertaining but since we all can guess the outcome, that they will get the gems back to their time for the climax, then it begins to feel bloated. There are one or two great scenes, such as when Tony meets his father and finally gets closure at his death, but they come at the expense of other moments later on. The film didn’t need to be three hours. It could have been two and a half, and still included most of the important parts. Many scenes carry on minutes more than they need to and this just all adds up.

Speaking of the time jump at the beginning, it cheapened the character development for me. It’s always tricky jumping forward in time for a story. Normally I think it works best when starting a new story in the same universe, rather than halfway through an ongoing one. It leaves us wondering how the following films will work, now that they are all set in the future, and it skips important character growth. For Tony, it means that he goes from a complete breakdown to having a young child and living happily in a few minutes. it is tonally jarring and undermines what has come before. Not to mention that in between the jump he appears to have completely forgiven Steve Rodgers for lying to him about Bucky, something that absolutely should have been included. It robs the audience of potential catharsis as they make up off screen.

This also affects Thor and Hulk. Before the time skip, Banner is struggling to balance his Hulk persona and himself. He had just spent two years as the Hulk, before suddenly Hulk refused to come out during Infinity War. This was very interesting and could have led to a lot of fun interactions between the two personalities as they struggle to live together. All of that is gone. Now Banner is the only personality and he lives in the Hulk form. This comes out of nowhere and just doesn’t feel earned or set up. It feels cheap. Thor gains weight and becomes depressed, although his transformation feels less cheap, as his story is not quite finished yet.

The story suffers from the introduction of time travel. The problem is that time travel never makes sense, even in the best films, and so it’s injection into the story opens up a ton of plot holes. How does Captain America return to his own timeline, then come back without using the suit to jump? In general, the conclusion of the characters arcs feels satisfying as it wraps stuff up, but doesn’t excel. Tony gets a great send off, but Black Widow’s departure feels a little arbitrary and not very well executed, especially considering that she is one of the first Avengers.

The music and direction are fine. It is a visually appealing film though not to the same degree as Infinity War. A couple of moments in the final battle come close but again, the pacing means that the shots become very similar as we spend too much time in one place. The MCU has a lot of good musical leitmotifs that I feel they do not use nearly enough. The whole film feels just slightly like an obligation to be honest. Many of the scenes feel less meaningful than what has come before. But none of this is a deal breaker. I have watched far worse films and as hard as it is to conclude a story like the avengers, I think the Russo brothers gave it a fair shot. It would have been impossible to deliver the same subversive ending as Infinity War, although I think with better pacing this would be much closer in quality to that film. In the end, this is a film that I was happy to see, and I may see it again someday. It is a fitting conclusion, however clumsy it might be in places.

Captain Marvel – Review

Captain Marvel is pretty good. I could probably leave the review with that statement. It sums up mostly how I feel about the film. It has a good cast, a serviceable plot and some great action scenes. Brie Larson is playful and fun, yet serious when needed. Sam Jackson is a riot. playing a very different Nick Fury to the one we are familiar with. The colour and style are great fun, and there is even a cute cat.

The best part of the film by far is the part where Fury and Carol Danvers team up to hunt down the Skrulls together and find out parts of Danvers backstory. The two have good chemistry as a duo and Jackson has a lot of fun playing a younger and less battle worn fury, with more jokes and a much more relaxed attitude. The CGI used to make Jackson look 20 years younger is superb, and in fact, it might be the first time I have seen that effect look convincing rather than uncanny. The film starts a little slowly as most of the parts in the Kree home world are a little dull, but as soon as the film gets to Earth, the story picks up and maintains a decent pace until the end. The main weakness of the film is its surprise villain, (spoilers) Jude Law’s character Yon-Rogg.

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He is set up as Danvers’ mentor but turns out to have been behind her capture. His character felt very lacking to me. He spends much of the film telling Danvers to control her emotions which felt incredibly on the nose and lacking in subtlety. The most redeeming part of him as a villain is the way he is dealt with at the end. After beating her in hand to hand fights during their training together, he challenges Danvers to face him without her photon powers and see which one of them could win. Carol pulls an Indiana Jones and simply shoots him with a photon blast, because why the hell wouldn’t you? This was great character moment, and probably my favourite in the entire film, however it is a little anticlimactic after all we’ve been through. But this is really a nit-pick. While it has its weaknesses and I would still consider something like Wonderwoman a much better film, I had a lot of fun watching it, and that’s all I generally expect from Marvel films. Why am I reviewing it then? Truth be told I have an ulterior motive.

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When I went to see this with a friend, we missed the regular 2D screening and so I had to see it in 4DX. That involves sitting in a cinema with movable vibrating seats and air spraying into your face. It has smells and flashing lights, and of course, 3D. I avoided 4DX for a long time. Mostly this was because I don’t really value 3D, it always feels like a gimmick and adds little to a movie experience for me. But I was still curious as to whether or not 4DX improves immersion. It could be like VR, and I could have felt transported to the world of the film. Maybe moving in your seat during action and feeling the explosion blasted through air would add to the experience?

So, I caved, and paid a few extra quid to see it in 4DX with my friend. My hidden motive in this review is to comment on the 4DX experience I had, and how it impacted on the film. To start with, I don’t recommend paying extra for it. While it didn’t completely ruin the film for me, I think I certainly would’ve had more fun without all the distractions the effects caused. Far from immersion, the feeling of being thrust around in your seat during action makes it almost impossible to pay attention to what is going on, which meant that parts of the action passed me by. The seat vibrated at odd moments, not just when someone was hit or fell. Often when the music used bass notes it would vibrate as well, which felt very strange. The air spray just annoyed me, it made me feel cold and it seemed to go off just too late to actually feel as though it was part of the film.

There were upsides of course. The few moments when Captain Marvel or other characters fly were vastly more fun as the seat moved to simulate us flying alongside them, which was something you can only get at 4DX. The 3D wasn’t too intrusive, although I did still get a small headache from it. And the smells of the sea were very nice, and I was very grateful they didn’t use any less pleasant scents. But those few positives weren’t nearly enough to justify the extra cost to me. The whole experience was very interesting but it was one I don’t think I’d want to go through again. For me 4DX was not worth it, and I think I’ll need to watch Captain Marvel one more time to really enjoy all those action sequences I missed the first time. In summary, Captain Marvel was good fun, but see it in regular 2D.

Alita: Battle Angel – Review

I have to be honest, I wasn’t excited to see Alita: Battle Angel. My apathy to this film started from the moment I saw the first trailer. It looked like a very interesting idea, with a lot of potential, but I couldn’t help but notice that none of the dialogue grabbed me. Not one of the characters stood out as memorable. I finally saw it this week, and unfortunately, it seems on this occasion that first impressions were pretty much spot on. I am not saying that this film isn’t good, it’s no way near bad, but it isn’t fantastic either. It is just fine. And that’s part of my problem with it.

One of the things that can make or break a film is character and dialogue. Sometimes I forgive films with minimal budget and/or lacklustre visuals simply because it has engaging characters and a good script. For example, I love the show Buffy the Vampire slayer in spite of frequent budget constraints making the effects look dated and cheesy. Why? Because of the characters. Joss Whedon is brilliant at creating scripts with very relatable, frustratingly human characters. I grow to love almost every character he has written and as such, I love the show despite its flaws. However, a film can have incredible visuals and top-notch action, but if the characters don’t feel fleshed out to me, I’m just not going to care what happens to them. Sadly, this is the case for Alita.

Alita is brought to life with a lot of vulnerability and innocence by Rosa Salazar, but she is given little to work with. The weird big eyes she is given in post make it hard to empathise with her, especially because no other characters have them. I realise this was adapted from a traditional Japanese anime, in which all the characters have huge eyes, but then why don’t all the characters have this? The eyes are distracting, but beyond that we know nothing about Alita as a character. We see her do a lot of stuff, and we know she’s impulsive and good at fighting. But what else? Other than a generic sense of justice she doesn’t particularly stand out. But then none of the others do. Christoph Waltz seems fatherly one moment and sinister the next, but at least he has a little personality. Keean Johnson doesn’t even manage to make Hugo, Alita’s love interest, seem like a real person at all. The extent of his character is that he wants to improve his station in life, and he likes Alita, for no obvious reason. Even the villains, played by great actors like Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connolly, barely get enough screen time, and have no depth to them.

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The problem is that the script seems to have had so many potentially humanising moments cut down or left out altogether. The dialogue is so matter of fact and blatant that it becomes funny at the wrong moments. Alita calls people evil and declares that she must fight evil, with a straight face. Potentially interesting conversations last a few seconds at most, like when Alita asks Doctor Ido if humans can love Cyborgs, to which he simply says “Yes”. Most of the dialogue just feels very generic and I struggle to remember any of it, even though I watched the film yesterday at time of writing. This lack of compelling conversations and too fast pacing means that I never feel I have enough time to get know or even particularly like any of the characters, so when any of them die, the moment feels empty. I don’t care what happens to any of them, because the film won’t let me.

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I think the film suffers from trying to create broad appeal. Anime typically has a very specific style, and watering that down with so much generic dialogue makes for a weak experience overall. Robert Rodriquez is great at creating stylistic films, and the Spy Kids films have shown that he can make very distinct characters, but I just felt a little disappointed this time. Don’t get me wrong, he remains great at memorable action, Alita’s fighting style is certainly unique, and there is a lot of fun in watching a small cute looking cyborg destroy a bunch of big and tough ones, but it just isn’t enough for me to care about what’s going on, and I want to care.

The visuals are incredibly impressive, although like Ready Player One, it’s over-reliance on CGI to create background and characters gets a little annoying. Computer generated imagery can be breath-taking, but using it for both background art and most of the characters smacks of complacency. It would’ve felt more impactful if the characters were only partly animated, and used actual physical costumes. But like I say, the visuals are good. The action is also fun. It was surprisingly visceral and gory, considering that this is a PG-13 film, but it was a welcome surprise. Personally, I think they could have gone further and made this R-rated, or at least a 15, then it could have really taken advantage of the brutal setting. But that’s really just a nit-pick.

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Despite all I have said, I don’t mean to imply that this film is worthless. It is entertaining and visually fun, and not too long. It had a lot of good production design, and the world it creates is interesting. But for me, it was kept from being truly engaging by the mediocre dialogue and lacklustre characterisation. I realise a lot of these complaints come from the script, and that really is what drags the film down for me. There is a lot to enjoy here, and if you can look past the script’s failings, you’ll have fun, but sadly for me, I couldn’t. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I’ll probably forget it very quickly.

Aquaman: The Most Fun DC Film

Aquaman is actually pretty good…

I wasn’t excited to see Aquaman. Having avoided DC films outside of Wonderwoman since I was burned by Batman VS Superman, I was worried that they would never do away with the bad decisions hanging over from Zack Snyder’s films. However, I was incredibly surprised to find that Aquaman is actually an extremely fun film. It won’t win any Oscars of course, and it isn’t going to change the way you think about film, but it’s a damn entertaining romp. Directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, this is a film I could just sit back and relax in.

For the record, I am not saying this is a mindless film, although there are certain people making that argument. I don’t think this is a particular dumb or shallow experience, although of course, it is primarily here to entertain. But for me, this film represents another step in the right direction for DC. One of the things I loved about Wonderwoman was that it played to the strengths of the DC brand. One of the key things I love about DC comics is that it is about beings of immense power, god-like figures dealing with human problems. DC is at it’s best when the character’s have to deal with their immense power and responsibility and rise to the occasion. Wonderwoman tries to save people and defeat the god of war throughout her film. Meanwhile in Man of Steel Superman is unthinking enough to move a fight out of a populated area to prevent civilian deaths. In the same way, Aquaman is not about Arthur Curry the human dealing with the human world, and James Wan isn’t interested in trying to copy the dark knight tone that has been hanging off the DCU since it started. Instead he took inspiration from the comics and made an epic adventure about a prince struggling against his cruel brother to become the rightful king. As a fantasy nerd, that appeals to me a lot.

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Anyway, looking at the acting, one can argue that it lacks subtlety. Most of the performances are hammy, though earnest. Patrick Wilson is having the time of his life as the younger brother with a chip on his shoulder. His version of Ocean Master has a lot of insecurities that get the better of him. But I enjoy the style. Something all of these actors do is make the scenes feel fun. The acting for me suits the tone of the film. It wouldn’t make sense to make the drama incredibly intense, and the acting all subdued and grounded. That’s how you get tonally inconsistent films like Man of Steel. It wouldn’t work in a story with sentient fish and giant sea monsters. To make this story, I think you need your tongue firmly in your cheek. They cast Dolph Lundgren for goodness sake, they know what they were going for.

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Jason Momoa is great to watch. His version of Arthur Curry is a reluctant hero, but one that enjoys the adventure. He isn’t dour, even as he holds resentment against the Atlanteans for supposedly killing his mother. His angst comes out as a rebellious playful attitude and Momoa has enough charisma to pull it off. He has enough gravitas, and knows which moments to play as serious, but also portrays this character as a fun-lover, which is something DC has been sorely missing. Amber Heard is also great as Mera. She plays a strong willed and dangerous character that puts her duty to her people above her own. She and Momoa have decent chemistry and she injects a level of steadfast determination that helps Arthur to start to strive more in his own journey.

 

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But the acting isn’t the highlight for me, it is the visuals. The story and acting on their own would have made a slightly above average film. The pacing is fine and the writers managed to deftly juggle two different villains, which makes for a first in superhero films. But the visuals were smashing. Obviously, there is a lot of CGI, after all, you can’t film underwater the whole time. But the effect is pulled off very well, and the colour and costuming are vibrant and just the right level of silly. The shots are often very beautiful and there are so many moments in the film that I would have been happy to print and put on my wall as posters. Some seemed to come straight out of the comics.

James Wan knows how to direct a fun film and he focuses on giving us many cool action scenes that are a lot more creative than the standard punching that makes up so much of other superhero films. Characters fight with water, characters fight using tridents; they even manage to make the fish telepathy cool, such as when Aquaman literally controls a giant sea monster from deep in the earth. We have an epic underwater battle, and final duel between the protagonist and antagonist. Yes, I know that is a cliche, but it’s such an enjoyable one, that I don’t mind. We have fights in the rooftops of an Italian town, and a gladiatorial battle in an ancient underwater arena. The variety of action goes a long way to prevent it getting boring. There are so many things in this film to keep you entertained.

Coming back to what I said earlier. This film isn’t perfect. It has problems, such as a tendency to phone in some of the dramatic moments, like Arthur’s parents being separated, and while I do like Heard and Momoa’s chemistry, their romance feels rushed. At the end of the day you could say that this film is a bit of a mess. But if it is, it’s a fun, gloriously silly mess. It’s simultaneously epic, campy, fun, light-hearted and visually stunning. It might not be an Oscar worthy film, but I had a great time watching it, and for DC, that is an achievement all on its own.

Killer Queen

Apologies for the temporary hiatus. I haven’t been able to see any new films in a while, but I finally got around to watching Bohemian Rhapsody last night, and I have quite a bit to say about it.

I heard a while ago that they were planning a Freddie Mercury biopic and thought it would make an interesting story. At the time Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame was slated to play the legend himself, but I think that wouldn’t have been as good. Rami Malek does a terrific job capturing the depth and flamboyance of Mercury in equal parts. Besides, Cohen is a comedian, and might not have had the acting chops to deal with the more serious moments.

This film is very good. As simple as that sounds, I think it sums things up perfectly. It isn’t a masterpiece, it has flaws, yet it certainly isn’t mediocre. For me it was overall a very fun time. The direction from Bryan Singer was fast paced and energetic, never letting moments get too long or slow. There are several montages in the film which use superb editing to convey the passage of time, although sometimes the transitions used felt almost too silly, like one of the over the top dance transitions from Austin Powers.

Otherwise, the direction was tight and well-paced, and most of the time Singer seems content to allow the story of Queen and Mercury to drive the film. This is probably the best approach to making a biopic, letting the style be dictated by the people the film is based on, rather than trying to stamp your own vision onto it and misrepresenting the people involved.

The acting is really special. Rami Malek manages to play Mercury with all his witty bravado and campy swagger, yet also conveys vulnerability and insecurity all through his eyes. After a while, it doesn’t matter that he isn’t very similar looking to Mercury; he becomes him. As for the rest of the band, they all do a smashing job too. Ben Hardy as a slightly brash Roger Taylor is funny and charismatic, even if he does look a little too young for the second half of the film set ten years later. Gwilym Lee is a dead ringer for Brian May, in fact he fits the role so well, I’m not sure they didn’t actually just clone May and use him instead. His voice, cadence and mannerisms match the guitarist to the tee. Finally, Joseph Mazzello plays John Deacon, a more subdued and down to earth personality. He portrays him as very much the groups voice of reason and the first to try and defuse the many arguments the band inevitably have, although he gets some very funny lines as well.

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So, all four of the actors playing the members of the band absolutely nail their performances. For me, that was already all I could have asked for, but the rest of the cast deliver top notch acting as well. Lucy Boyton played Mercury’s fiancé turned close friend Mary with much heart and a good deal of sadness that was very moving. Allen Leech did a fantastic job making Paul Prenter, a somewhat maligned figure in the bands history, seem a more three dimensional and nuanced character, even with some of the terrible things he did. Mike Myers has a pretty funny cameo as a music producer. In summary, none of the cast let the film down.

Story wise, I’m admittedly not an expert on the history of Queen. I’ve seen a documentary on the life of Freddie Mercury, but that’s about it. As far as I can tell, the film takes a few liberties with the timeline of when certain things happened, and some events that took longer are condensed into single scenes in order to fit the run-time. For the most part though, it feels faithful to the events that happened and with two of the original band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, producing the film it can’t have gone too wrong. It is a very engaging story, covering Mercury joining the band when they were only playing at pubs, all the way to their famous performance at Live Aid. It would have been hard to make the story of Queen boring even if they tried, but the script could’ve still failed if they focused too much on certain parts to the exclusion of others.

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I feel that writers Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan have managed to give a broad stroke cover of most of the important aspects of Freddie Mercury, although I would’ve liked a little more screen time for the other band members. I have heard criticism that this film glosses over Mercury’s homosexual relationships and focuses too much on his relationship with Mary. However, as I hadn’t even known that Mary existed before watching it, I felt it was important to include her. She was an integral part of his life, and I personally didn’t feel that they glossed over anything in Mercury’s life. Indeed, some of the more gripping scenes in the film are about him coming to terms with his sexuality and his identity. If I had any criticism of my own it would be that I could’ve done with a scene or two covering at least part of his childhood, to get a fuller picture of his life.

I would review the music, but to be fair, it is all Queen’s songs, and so they are pretty much all fantastic. The placement of the songs over the top of key moments was mostly appropriate, although it would’ve been good for a few more scenes with silence to let the characters breathe. The recreation of Live Aid does go on a little too long as well in my opinion, going through full versions of several of Queen’s line-up, which drags, especially when they keep cutting back to people watching it on TV. But other than the that the music choice is excellent, and the only complaints I have are really just glorified nit-picks. This film is a really good watch, especially for those with a keen interest in rock history. It gives a very unfiltered and honest portrayal of the life of Queen and especially Mercury, and it is funny, exciting, and at times, heart wrenching. It’s a film I came away feeling very affected by, and if you see it, you might just feel the same way.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Fallout… a title that can’t deliver.

I have a soft spot for the Mission: Impossible franchise. They’re ridiculous, overblown excuses for Tom Cruise to do extreme stunts, sure, but they’re always a lot of fun. I love the fact that each film has a director with a radically different style, leading to action films that feel very distinct from each other, even with the same characters and plot. Tom Cruise is always game for more and more insanely dangerous stunts, which means that even if the plot can be a little uninteresting at times, we can always look forward to some breath-taking action. All in all, while I wouldn’t call these films my all-time favourites, I enjoy each movie that comes out quite a bit. With that said, this is probably the least I’ve enjoyed a Mission Impossible film in a long time.

Let me explain. I did like this movie, in fact I’d say I had an above average amount of fun with it, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the end of it. While it has a lot of creative action scenes, it has several major flaws which I couldn’t quite ignore. Firstly, the film has a desire to become an emotional, dramatic experience. There are many scenes dedicated to the guilt Ethan Hunt feels for how he has changed his ex-wife’s life and how he affects the people around him. His ex-wife returns at the climax of the film to lend the final scenes extra stakes, and she and Luther have an emotional moment whilst defusing an actual nuclear bomb. There are so many tense scenes in which Hunt’s close friends are threatened with death. Ving Rhames’ character is held at gunpoint, Simon Pegg’s Benji is almost hanged. But what makes these attempts fail to land for me is that they don’t matter. The film loves half measures. Ethan Hunt is framed as a rogue agent, but then almost immediately exonerated. Benji and Luther are both saved at the last second, and the only character to die is Alec Baldwin’s. Baldwin is a good actor, but he had so little to do in the last movie that his development in this film feels as though it only exists to make his death impactful, and so for me it just failed to feel sad at all.

Christopher McQuarrie directs this film as though he wants it to be two things at once, and so it doesn’t quite fit either.  It is trying to be both a serious dramatic thriller, and a ridiculous action experience in which Ethan Hunt learns how to fly a helicopter in seconds, and survives three separate vehicle crashes. On the one hand he fills it with scenes in which Hunt struggles with his guilt, yet refuses to properly resolve this. His ex-wife is brought back, but unlike in Mission: Impossible 3 where there were consequences for him involving her in his life, she survives and nothing bad happens to her at all. I am not saying that this film needed to kill anyone off, or have any of the characters suffer, far from it. I loved Mission: Impossible 4 and that film is quite light hearted. But the tone of Mission: Impossible Fallout doesn’t fit the content. Even the title, Fallout implies some deep and serious ramifications for Ethan Hunts actions. But there is no fallout, just a little smoke. Hunt saves the world just in time and everything is fine yet again. That would work if this film was aiming for a more tongue in cheek tone, but unfortunate it ends up feeling like a cop out. I also could have used a lot more of Simon Pegg, who feels criminally underused. There aren’t many good lines or moments for Pegg to exercise his comedy chops, and that is what his character is for. Without them he feels a little pointless. Most of the other cast feel as though they are trying, but owing to the lack of real stakes, it all feels as though they really want you to take everything seriously, even though the plot is ridiculous, and none of the characters are in any real danger. The title writes a cheque that the movie can’t cash.

Like I said at the start, none of this makes the film bad. It is entertaining, fast paced and a full of fun action. I admire Tom Cruise for insisting on doing so many of his own stunts, and the visuals are great fun. Henry Caville, while not particularly nuanced has at least mastered the evil glare, and he’s a relatively fun villain. What isn’t so fun is the amount of time the film spends pretending he isn’t bad. Hollywood, it isn’t a twist if we all see it coming, the guy with the moustache and the thousand yard stare, as well as a fondness for killing is probably not a good guy. Who would’ve guessed? Apart from this, I can honestly say I enjoyed this far less than I thought I would. I wasn’t looking for things to dislike, or trying to find flaws, in fact I was in a forgiving mood, but I can’t look past the amount of flaws dragging this film down. It could’ve been a much better, more cohesive movie, with a steady tone, but instead it straddles a weird line between serious spy thriller and overblown action flick, without once fully committing to either. Oh and a minor point before I finish, this film needs to chill with it’s soundtrack. I swear every scene was drowning in heavy music, trying to spell out how we should be feeling, making all subtlety fly away quickly.

All in all, this a mixed bag of a film. It has plenty of fun moments, but as an overall product, it is a bit of a mess. It has solid acting, but nothing special. I would say that this is a fine film to watch on TV, or pick up in a shop for a couple of quid, but otherwise I wouldn’t bother. If you really enjoy Mission: Impossible as a franchise, this probably won’t be your favourite, but I doubt you’ll hate it either. I just hope that the next director Tom Cruise gets for the seventh film will breath new life into this series, because it needs it.

Antman and the Wasp: Decent yet Forgettable…

I am probably very late to review this film if you’re reading this from the USA, where the movie has been out for months. However, in the UK we only recently got this film, and so because it is the only new movie I have seen in the last month, I’m reviewing it. Not that I have nothing to say about it, after all, I’m a fan of the superhero genre, although I am starting to finally feel that apathy that has been arising from a lot of movie-goers. It can be hard to be excited about the genre these days, as we are so spoiled for choice and that can lead to the market being dominated by big superhero blockbusters. Some films, like Infinity War, rise above it and manage to be fresh new takes that breathe new life into the genre. Antman and the Wasp is not one of them.

Let me begin by saying that I did not hate this film. It is for the most part competently directed and I was never terribly bored watching it. It keeps up a good pace, better than the first Antman, which dragged at times. The characters and story are more memorable than the previous film too, which helped me forget a little of the wasted opportunity of Edgar Wright’s Antman. The cast mostly deliver strong performances, and the size shifting powers feel even better integrated into the action than in Civil War.

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The visuals have been upgraded from the last movie, meaning that a lot more of the film uses contrasting size shots, which is something only the train fight scene from Antman managed to pull off. At the end of the day, it’s a film that knows what it is; a palette cleanser from the dour ending of Infinity War. A light-hearted romp with likeable actors and smaller stakes. Those are the film’s strengths. But in a bizarre way they are also its weaknesses.

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The film never excels. There were no moments that stood out to me as incredible or exceptional. I realise it’s not a requirement that every film has outstanding moments and there is nothing wrong with popcorn movies. However, the shadow of Edgar Wright looms large even over the sequel. Peyton Reed clearly knows what he is doing. He understands these characters and knows how to direct them. But it feels as though this is just a job to him. I never feel any passion behind the movie.

I actually liked the film a lot more after having just seen it. Now, a week later, it has faded quickly from my memory and I find myself a lot less keen on it. It leaves no impression. The actors do well, and there are several scenes which did make me laugh, such as when Paul Rudd portrays Michelle Pfeiffer reuniting with her husband and daughter using his body. It was very well acted and emotional yet humorous at the same time, which is tricky to pull off. There just weren’t enough scenes like this.

The movie felt in retrospect like it was on autopilot. Set up the hero’s situation, reintroduce the characters from the previous film, set up the villain, conflict, resolution etc, rinse repeat. There was not really any spark for me. Don’t misunderstand me; I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a complete waste of time but at the end of the day it hasn’t resonated with me and it’s hard to defend a movie like this to someone with superhero fatigue. Almost everything in it is something we’ve seen already in other Marvel movies. It improves on the previous film in almost every way, but the previous film was painfully average. As a result, the sequel is elevated to simply decent.

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But maybe that’s enough. Although I didn’t get much out of it, it hasn’t failed at what it set out to achieve. I may talk on about how the story is very predictable and the film hasn’t much to offer that’s new, but that isn’t really this film’s goal. Not every Marvel movie has to be deeply emotional or breath-taking. Sometimes they can be simple pleasures. I may not have enjoyed this film that much, but I did enjoy it. I watched it and laughed and had fun. The film seems constructed for this reaction. It’s a pleasant film that doesn’t rock the boat, and although there is an abundance of movies like it, I can’t bring myself to be too critical. At the end of the day, with the current fraught political climate, and the dark ending of Infinity War, there is nothing wrong with people wanting a simple entertaining film to provide some escapism. Although if that is why you watch this, I suggest leaving before the post credits scene.

Incredibles 2: thirteen years too late…

One of the perks of my new job at a cinema is that now, I get to see movies for free. So, I have made immediate use of this new benefit to catch up on lost time. I haven’t been out to see a newly released film in quite a while, so it was odd finishing my shift and heading inside the screen to be on the other end. The film I chose is one I have been meaning to see for a few weeks. In the USA Incredibles 2 has been out for some time, but owing to the world cup, we Brits have waited for a long time to get our hands on it. Now that I have seen it, I’m glad I hadn’t been buying into the hype surrounding the film.

I want to preface this review by stating that I did enjoy Incredibles 2; I thought it was fairly funny and entertaining. However as a sequel 13 years in the making to one of Pixar’s greatest films, it does fall a little short. It like the previous film, was written and directed by Brad Bird, who has directed many films I’ve loved over the years, such as Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. Bird is a stellar director, both in his comedic style and his flair for flamboyant action, but in this case, I can’t help but think he phoned it in a bit. Before I go on, I must say that to talk about my problems with this film, I am going to have to spoil it quite a lot, so if you still have yet to see this movie, skip to the last paragraph where I will summarise my feelings.

Incredibles 2 is fine, except when you consider that it is really just The Incredibles again. The family are struggling under a system where Supers are illegal, until a mysterious group arrives to offer one of the parents a chance to be a hero again, while the other stays at home to look after the kids, before they all come together at the climax to fight the big bad. The plot is more or less the same, except that some of the roles are reversed. Now Bob stays at home with the kids while Helen pursues a mysterious villain as Elastigirl. I thought that more interesting things could have been done with the role reversal, but Bird opts for the tired trope of the dad who can’t keep up with taking care of his kids full time, but refuses help out of pride. The films seems to forget that the whole of the previous movie was already about the characters coming together to fight crime as a family, so it just resets everyone. This means that the cliffhanger with the Underminer is resolved with Dash and Violet getting told to look after Jack-Jack and keep out of the way, and afterwards, the Parrs go back to being a regular family. This misses what was exciting about a sequel to The Incredibles in the first place. After I saw the movie as a kid, I remember thinking how cool it was to finally see the whole family come together to fight, and how great a sequel would be if it spent more time with this, maybe took place a few years later once the kids were older. But no. Instead the rest of the family spends two thirds of the film in a house, doing not much of importance to the main plot at all.

The whole time Elastigirl was saving runaway trains and facing off against the villain, I kept thinking how much better it would be if the whole family were taking part in this. Speaking of villains, I regret to say that the reveal in this film is not a patch on Syndrome from the first movie. Screenslaver is a hypnotist trying to discredit heroes in order to keep them illegal forever, believing they make humans weak and dependant. This is yet another concept that could have been great if given more time, but unfortunately it ends up just feeling very perfunctory. I think too much time is spent on the amusing but ultimately pointless antics of the rest of the family, especially Jack-Jack. His scenes are adorable and funny, but come at the expense of time that could have been spent developing the villain, giving her more screen time and therefore more presence.

Elastigirl ends up working for a brother and sister who are campaigning to bring supers back legally, Winston and Evelyn Devour. The two are interesting characters and polar opposites personality wise, but when Evelyn is revealed as the Screenslaver, it falls a little flat. Syndrome was such an engaging and intimidating presence because he had a large personality to match the supers, as well as a deep personal connection to the protagonist. Evelyn, outside of a few conversations with Helen, just can’t have the same impact. She sums it up perfectly herself when Helen calls her out for her betrayal: “You don’t even know me.” Outside of some rushed backstory about her dead parents, her motivation comes across as arbitrary, based on nothing more than cynicism with the populations complacency. So when she has a short monologue to Helen about the problems with Supers, we as an audience just don’t care enough, as she hasn’t been tied to Helen closely enough for their struggle to feel intense. She also is a quiet, subtlety sarcastic character, which works fine for a bit part, but doesn’t engage the viewer as a main antagonist.

Coming back to the rest of the family, Mr Incredible sits most of the film out as an exhausted stay at home dad, which is fine, but it has been done before, many times in other films. The only thing that keeps it from being completely stale is the introduction of Jack-Jack’s many powers, which leads to some great comedy scenes. Violet has to spend the film overcoming boy trouble, as the guy she was going on a date with has his mind erased, meaning she has to win him back all over again. Although she doesn’t struggle with confidence in this film, so I can’t say she is repeating her arc from the original, she doesn’t really go through a new one this time around. Apart from taking control at the climax to save her parents, she has little to do most of the way through. One could almost say that her crush losing his memory, forcing her to win him back is a metaphor for the sequel rehashing so much from the original. Dash is relegated to a side character, simply delivering a few funny lines here and there. Frozone is underused as well. Edna at least, has a fantastic scene and I wouldn’t change anything about her part. She works best in small doses anyway. The film simply spends too long on mundane things that the audience won’t really care about, and the action really only gets going in the last act of the film. The climax involves the family working again as a superhero team to save a boat full of people, but it just wasn’t enough for me at that stage. I thought that this scene should have been the opening for the film. The previous movie’s climax was a battle between the family and an unstoppable robot that has killed many supers, and was unleashing devastation on a whole city. A boat nearly crashing doesn’t have quite the same impact after that.

To summarise, I enjoyed this film, having kept my expectations low, but I couldn’t help but think of all the ways it could have been so much better. If the villain had been more fleshed out and interesting, if the family had spent more time as a crime fighting unit, and if the story had skipped ahead a few years to let the characters change a little, it would have been a much more rewarding and unique experience. As the sequel stands right now, it’s a perfectly fine remake of the original film, but that wasn’t what we were all waiting thirteen years for. I don’t think for a second that this film took thirteen years to write. I don’t think it took two years to write. This a half-baked follow up, and it’s a real shame because I have seen Brad Bird’s other movies so I know he can do so much better, but I just don’t think his heart was really in it. Oh well, at least I saw it for free.

My Favourite film…

Talking about a common icebreaker…

I have real difficulty responding when asked the question, “What is your favourite film?” There are so many ways to answer this question; Do I talk about the film I personally enjoy most? Or the one I objectively think is the best made of all time (in which case I might have to list ten). Or do you want to know about a film I recently saw which is temporarily my favourite thing ever, because I’m still in the honeymoon phase? As a film student, I get asked this a lot, and at risk of seeming predictable, I almost always end up replying that my all-time personal favourite movie is Lord of the Rings.

I know what you’ll be thinking, that is a trilogy not a single film. Although this is true, the three films tell a single story start to finish, and can be taken as acts one two and three, and if I’m honest, I have never been able to pick a favourite of the three anyway. Sometimes I prefer The Two Towers, other times The Fellowship of The Ring. So rather than break my own heart, I count each of the three films as one cohesive experience and so I’m going to talk about them as a single film. This is normally the part where I would warn you about spoilers but seeing as this film series is about fifteen years old at this point, I think you’ve only yourself to blame if you haven’t seen it yet.

Growing up these films have been very important to me. My Dad used to read the books when he was younger, and so my sisters and I got introduced to it at an early age. The books by J.R.R. Tolkien are a great read, although challenging to young children. When I was about eight or nine, I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and from then on, I watched the films regularly. My parents bought the extended versions that included documentaries about the making of the films, which were as long as the actual movies themselves, and from watching these I learned a lot about film-making. You could say that these films are what got me into film in the first place and so I owe an awful lot to them. I am certainly not going to attempt to be one hundred percent objective in this review, after all these are childhood favourites, but the films do definitely have a lot of laudable features, regardless of opinion.

The films are a testament to dedication. One thing that really comes across when watching the behind the scenes features is just how close all the production staff were, and how long and hard all of them worked in order to achieve the quality seen in the final films. A good example of this is two guys who made all of the chain mail for the films by linking rings, working on each of them piece by piece. By the end of the shoot they had worn out the finger prints on the tips of their thumbs and forefingers. Peter Jackson joked that they could now live out a successful life of crime. All of the departments, from costume to digital animation (and Weta Workshop) worked almost tirelessly for three years, excluding pickups to bring all these films together. They used many practical effects, including miniatures that were so large they ended up being dubbed big-atures. As a child, watching these features showed me just how much work and time had to go into making movies, and gave me a profound respect for the dedication showed by movie crews.

The actors are also very well cast. Peter Jackson knew what he was doing when he brought in such talented people as Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen, they all bring such depth and humanity to their roles, and in watching the documentary, it was a pleasure to learn how much Viggo Mortensen put into his performance. To hear how he broke his toe kicking a helmet, and used it to improve his acting was hilarious, but also admirable.

His courtesy and friendliness on set is often stated by other members of the cast, and it’s a relief to know that your favourite actors are actually nice people for a change! I got a real sense that these people were for three years, a family, working together and living in the same place for a long time. It made me wish I could have been a part of it in some way.

Translating such a classic book into a movie can be a risky move, with so many beloved characters and story-lines potentially lost, but LOTR was, in my opinion, expertly adapted into screenplay format by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. . While I don’t agree with everything they left out or moved around, I can’t deny that the pacing for the overall story is much stronger in the film trilogy than in the book. Furthermore, the film still feels true to the tone and themes of the books, and so most of the changes and cuts do not bother me in any strong way.

Visually, the film is a treat. The action is riveting and well-choreographed, the shots are varied and often quite experimental, even if Jackson did overuse the wide angle close-up in Fellowship. Most of all the incredible costume design by Weta Workshop really gives the films a unique look that fantasy films have been failing to copy ever since. The blend of real world historical inspirations and creative designs leads to props and costumes that look mystical, and yet practical at the same time. Many of the props designed, such as the Elven boats used at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring, actually could be used. The set design went above and beyond, a scale model of Helm’s Deep was really build in a quarry and many of the locations were actually built on in order to create the unique settings in the films, such as Rivendale. In particular, one of my favourite locations was Edoras, capital of Rohan. The city was built for real on the summit of Mount Sunday, which is a striking hill that lies on a flat plain behind great mountains. New Zealand has a treasure trove of fantastic locations, but this is my personal favourite. The place is breathtaking even in photos, but the best part is that the city is designed around a Saxon style. The halls are thatched and wooden and everything was really built on the hill. The crew had to preserve countless plants in greenhouses for months whilst the exterior shots were filmed there – yet another display of the dedication that went into keeping the locations as realistic as possible, when they could have just built an indoor set and used a green screen.

These films are amazing to watch, there is so much to enjoy; adventure, action, drama, romance and poetry – the list goes on. As a child I never got bored of acting out scenes from them with my friends. But watching the behind the scenes features brings a whole new level to the films. Once you understand exactly how much hard work and passion went into every scene, you can appreciate these films on a whole other level, and I hope this explains why for me personally, the Lord of the Rings trilogy are my all-time favourite films.