Review: Wonder Woman

Review: Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins gives DC’s cinematic universe its best outing yet in a movie that is wonderful all the way up to its final act.

Diana is a hero brought up in a society of Amazonian women, who are trained to fight to defend their world. When a pilot flies through the barrier to her world she discovers the horrors of war, specifically World War One. She decides to leave her home in order to fight to end this great conflict and bring peace to both the pilot’s world and her own.

Diana herself is the biggest and best part of this film and Gal Gadot deserves huge praise for the way she handles the character. She captures a sense of childlike wonder discovering the joys of a new world, whilst also portraying shock and dread at the horrors of World War One. It’s a dichotomy that in lesser hands could look muddled and inconsistent. But Gadot balances these fantastically, creating a character who is experienced and immature all at the same time.

She’s made even more important by the way she interacts with the world around her: she’s willing to stand up for her beliefs no matter her opposition and she’s also not afraid to stand at the front of the battlefield. As a result the respect she earns from her fighting peers, both male and female feels totally earned, and we the audience, are right there with them, rallying behind Wonder Woman as she leads the charge in larger and larger military victories. The film manages to tell a horrific story of World War one through the focused lens of this woman’s journey and for this it deserves major praise.

The supporting cast also deserve major kudos for the work, Chris Pine in particular is charismatic enough that Diana (and the audience, by extension) develop a natural and well cultivated connection with his character Steve Trevor. But he’s always just charismatic enough to make it clear that he is playing a supporting role despite his huge amount of screen time. This is helped in no uncertain terms by Jenkins’s clear directorial focus on Diana and her journey. The only problem member of the supporting cast is Etta Candy, who often feels like a character used for comedy relief and little more.  In a way it’s good that Diana has a comedy foil, rather than being that foil herself (and lesser films would have taken this much lazier approach to the “fish out of water” character study). But Diana doesn’t feel like she needs any comedy to establish how powerfully progressive she is, and so as a result Etta comes across as more of a wasted opportunity than a meaningful addition to the supporting cast.

The biggest letdown of the film is, by far, the third act where this brilliant focus on character development is switched out for heavy action sequences that undermine the tight story in favour of more traditional, bombastic DC fare. It’s a huge shame because it occurs at what could have easily been the high point of the film, with setting, characters and plot points all converging  together only to be undermined by the awful pacing and tone of DC’s trademark “final boss battle” style of format.

This is even more of a letdown when you consider how different the first two acts of this film for a DC movie. It’s packed full of beautiful cinematography and the World War One setting really matches DC’s more muted, moody use of colour. The music is also much more vibrant than usual, gone are the over the top ‘BWAM’ sounds of a typical DC fight-fest, traded off instead here for a genuinely tight orchestral soundtrack. That is, of course, all except that tedious guitar riff which turns up on a number of occasions, each time more grating and silly than the last.

Wonder Woman is, for the most part, a film defined by Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s triumphs. It does a brilliant job of taking a character and building them a deep and meaningful backstory, whilst also leaving more than enough room to have them grow in the future. Unfortunately, it’s kept just shy of greatness thanks to the silly final conflict and the twists and turns it takes in logic, pacing and tone in order to get there. Wonder Woman has very much set the bar by which the next few DC movies must be measured. It’s just a shame that it’s the cinematic universe that feels like it’s holding this film, and this character, back from something more.

Wonder Woman Scored: 7.3/10

This review was edited by Joanna Hollins, for more of her work click here: Joanna Hollins.


Review: Mindhorn.

Review: Mindhorn.

Beta Papa

Washed up actor Richard Thorncroft sees a golden opportunity for a career boost when he’s called in to assist a murder investigation with a suspect obsessed with Mindhorn, a character he played in a 70’s cop show.  It’s a clever premise although it must be said it’s not the most original in its genre and even less so amongst its peers. Although the production does stand out somewhat because of its 70’s style. Time has clearly been taken to study and replicate dated police shows, this is in many ways, a love letter to Midsomer Murders and John Nettles whom the film makes reference to so often.

One of the most obvious ways that this 70’s style comes through is in the visuals. Locations, costumes, props and framing are often designed to feel retro, with one of the main locations: the police station, being a perfect example.  Whilst it can clearly be seen that this is director Sean Foley’s intention it can feel as though it lacks a little polish here and there, which makes out of date sets look even less appealing. Mindhorn often looks like a TV show that has hit the silver screen and it’s clear that the budget has not allowed a final layer of polish that is often needed.

It makes you wonder whether other areas of the film were hampered by the small budget as well, there are a few notable moments where scenes feel curtailed or where one doesn’t flow in to the next, as though there was something more to add here but it never made the final cut. There’s also times where a scene builds up to a seemingly risqué punch line only for it to not come. For the most part the Humour lands well (and the third act deserves special praise, as it’s laughs come fast and funny) but it leaves you wondering whether there’s a funnier draft of this script that, for one reason or another, had to be left on the cutting room floor.

In terms of the film’s peers the obvious comparison is Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, as whilst the minutia and details of both films differ, the initial premise is very similar. Mindhorn, however, often can’t get away with the selfish antics that make partridge so funny, as he lacks Partridge’s bumbling charisma. The other main difference is that Mindhorn feels as though it lacks the focus of Alpha Papa. Where Partridge’s hostage situation focuses on a tight set of locations and characters Mindhorn seems to expand in ever more twists and turns as it goes. It’s third act is absolutely its strongest and it’s not hard to follow, by any means, but it’s many converging paths make it hard to really care about a number of the motivations or tensions at play in the later stages

Mindhorn is a film with a good number of laughs, a good cast (not to mention some stunning guest appearances) and a fine core story. But by its conclusion you’ll be left feeling that  somewhere there exists a slightly better version of this film which is more focused, more polished, better paced and a little sharper. As a result it’s hard to give Mindhorn a glowing recommendation, especially considering the calibre of its peers.

Mindhorn scored: 6.2/10

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2.

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2.

James Gunn’s sophomore Marvel film is an out and out sequel which turns up the volume on almost every aspect of the original film, though occasionally to the sequel’s detriment.

Guardians 2’s story is best dissected as two parts of the same whole, The action plot and the emotional plot.  The former side of the story is consistently enjoyable, with imaginative designs for weaponry and space ships making the set piece scenes visually engaging from start to finish. But the Latter is more inconsistent, it attempts to add great depth to almost every character on screen but it suffers from some massive pacing issues. This is furthered hampered by the fact that many of its core tensions and motivations are massively clichéd, which feels lazy and lacklustre in this, a franchise so known for its surprising nature.

The even bigger problem here is that both sides of the core narrative feel disconnected from each other. Where one reaches a high point the other is often at a low, or nowhere to be seen. Guardians 2 feels more like a collection of important scenes than a film that organically flows from one essential aspect to the next. The third act is by far the strongest part of the film, but with the first and second act being so tonally mismatched it serves merely as a functional pay off, to an equally functional build up.

A vital part of the film’s plot is it characters and most of the titular heroes benefit greatly from another entry in their franchise. We delve more in to their back story and get more of an understanding of their internal conflicts, though some benefit more than others.  Gamora and Nebula, for example, whose sisterly issues are cleverly explored,  leading to an aggressive, but eventually meaningful, dynamic between the two. Whereas Peter Quill’s, to put it lightly, daddy issues often feel lost under the weight of their own twists and turns.

The film’s construction is equal parts hit and miss. The music used in the film is excellent, as expected. Though some songs hit harder than others, leaving those others  (mostly in the film’s second act) to feel a bit more filler-y this time around. Visually the film is notable for its vibrant use of colour, as rainbows saturate vital scenes throughout the film. This visual story telling often strengthens the best moments of the narrative. But where colour is a strength of the film it’s also a weakness, as an overuse of CGI creates a sense of disconnect between the action on screen and the back drop against which it happens.

Disconnected is in fact the best way to describe Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, it has two story lines that rarely come together to be anything better than functional, it’s got characters that both benefit from and struggle with their own development, whilst the team as a whole seems to make little progress. It’s got visuals that are as stunning and vibrant as they are fake and off putting. Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is a film made up of very good parts, which don’t come together to elevate it to another level. Despite these issues, it’s a fun watch, if little more. It won’t stay with you in any meaningful way and you certainly won’t need to give it much thought. It fits Marvel perfectly in that it’s fun but it doesn’t have much more to offer.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2 Scored:  7.0/10

Review: Logan

Review: Logan

James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in one of the most Brutal, gut wrenching and bravely directed films to ever come from the Superhero genre.

Hugh Jackman returns for the final time, for a film that see’s him struggling to protect those around him from evil forces and an impending sense of mortality. It’s a story which takes the X=Man you know, and forces him to face up to a very human struggle and as a result of this the emotional weight that it carries is heavy, genuine and very tragic.

All of this is made even more painful because at the centre of it is Laura. Laura is a young girl who falls in to the care of Logan thanks to her extremely dedicated mother. She’s a vulnerable, damaged soul, who is aggressive and incredibly violent as a result of her past. She’s simultaneously an extremely emotive character and a stone cold badass. Dafne Keen deserves major respect for her creation of this character. It’s very rare that a movie leans successfully on an actor of her age, never mind an actor of her age who is given so little dialogue. More often than not Laura is saying nothing, mostly because she doesn’t need to.

This principle is applied to the films visual story telling as well. The film is shot beuatifully, with light being treated as necessity rather than used to excess.  The movie’s cinematography is grounded in the old western classics. Light is always treated perfectly whether it’s harsh, soft or nonexistent it’s whatever is needed in that frame, nothing more, nothing less. The film is beautifully presented despite the content being so difficult to view.

But Dafne Keen is just one member of a truly stellar collection. something that gives serious weight to Logan’s  distressing tone is the cast, their connection to these characters and their dedication to their roles. Patrick Stewart is utterly haunting in his final portrayal of Charles Xavier but Hugh Jackman steals the show, going above and beyond as Logan. His Physical dedication to the character is second to none. His raw on screen talent makes it impossible to avoid the pain of Logan’s later years and the path the story takes him down. Emotionally, mentally and physically Jackman goes to prove how perfect his casting was 18 years ago.

But of all the incredible parts of this movie the most important, by far, is it’s story. Logan is, at it’s core a very human story in a very inhumane world. Right from the beginning the film does an amazing job of establishing a time line for it’s world and the franchise that has came before it, giving an entire back story in smart, well placed moments of visual story telling or dialogue. Thus setting the stage for a seriously painful finale, whilst satisfying those who have been here from the beginning all at once.

It’s these perfect moments of tiny attention to detail that make Logan stay with you for a long time after you leave the screening. The story which is presented at face value can be a lot to take in all at once, especially with emotions running as high as they are, but the film manages to have an answer for all your questions, and a pay off for every build up. It’s a testament to James Mangold’s truly stunning craftsmanship that Logan manages to be so believable and powerful, despite it being such a different direction for a beloved Character. Calling this movie brave is one hell of an understatement.

As I was leaving the screen I was asked if I enjoyed Logan. No. You don’t enjoy Logan, you survive it, step away from it and reflect back on what you have watched. Logan is a dark, heavy, brutal, death march of a film crafted of beautiful visuals, violent sounds and an attention to detail rarely seen in this kind of movie. it’s fair to say that it transcends the super hero label in a number of ways. James Mangold deserves a huge amount of kudos for stepping out and taking this beloved franchise in such a bold brave direction and pulling it off with this much Flair, precession and emotional weight.

Logan Scored: 9.7/10

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Lego returns to the big screen, but this time with a superhero caper featuring everyone’s favourite caped crusader.

The Lego Batman Movie is a film predicated on a criticism that has been leveled at the caped crusader many times. Here is a person who lives an entirely unhealthy life, he embraces his solitude, shunning those around him and get’s his kicks beating up mentally challenged thugs. Yet he manages to be a hero rather than the alternative. But when his self imposed isolation goes from being a strength to a weakness Batman has to learn how to let other people help him.

It takes this idea and does it serious justice because it’s as hilarious as it is action packed, it’s an excellent film made up of equally good heroic and comedy parts. The film’s humour is a perfect balance of many different forms of comedy. It’s made up of equal parts:  meta-humour, 4th wall breaking, toilet humour, physical humour, sharp wit and visual gags. Almost every kind of comedy is here and it’s all paced and balanced well enough that almost every joke lands perfectly no single sense of humour becomes overwhelming or stale. This is family friendly humour at its best and it’s a good thing too otherwise the story of the film may seem a bit more basic.

But something that is definitely not basic is the films attention to super hero detail. Action is fast, explosive and eye catching, but never difficult to follow. The film’s vibrant colour palette helps the action to really pop on screen. But nowadays super hero movies are more than just costumes and fighting, they’re about world building, and it turns out Lego knows how to do that too. This film does a better job of building a believable shared universe than any of DC’s recent outings in to the cinema. Some of this is down to the suspension of disbelief that comes with the Lego label, but it’s mostly down to the excellent integration of characters in to the story.

It’s not only the action that’s vivid throughout the film, the movie’s music and visuals are utterly joyous as well. Lego Batman’s sound track is full of metal-y pop punk, with grating guitars integrating clever, funny musical nods to previous entrances in the franchise. The visuals too are on point, Lego’s stop motion-like style of animation is still unique but what’s impressive about The Lego Batman Movie is how it manages to make a believable “Gotham City” without losing it’s Lego Sensibilities.

The Lego Batman Movie is absolutely brilliant, it’s funny, well written, fantastically acted, beautiful and a joy for the ears. Every member of the audience will have a fun time, whether you’re going as a family, a bat-fan, a Lego fan or just looking for a good comedy. The film doesn’t break any new ground and you won’t be quoting from it in the same way as it’s predecessor, but it’s stunning none the less and easily the best DC movie released in the last few years.

The Lego Batman Movie Scored: 9.1/10.

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Danny Boyle once again shows how poignant a film he can make at the helm of the Trainspotting sequel.

Mark Renton returns, after 20 years, to his hometown at a pivotal time in his life in order to reconnect with some old friends whilst simultaneously tapping in to a sense of nostalgia he has long since left behind. But the friends he returns to have their own agendas and quickly they become entangled in each other’s drug addled, criminal web. However, as much as the film is about these four characters, it’s also about something far larger and arguably far more important. T2 spends a lot of it’s time reflecting on the struggles of an older generation, and their constant attempts to stay in touch with and relevant to a world that is quickly leaving them behind.

One of the many ways the film does this is by further exploring the difficult upbringings that brought Renton and his peers to where they are now, but it does this whilst villainising the choices they make. Every character strikes a perfect balance in various shades of grey; they’re criminals and bastards yet incredibly endearing at the same time. It’s clear that they are trying to do the best for those around them, but we watch as they tumble further in to the addictions which have already consumed them.

The film tells this story of addiction as much through its composition as it does its script. It’s visual presentation is  deliberately inconsistent, where one frame is Dutch angled and shaky the next might be aggressively cut but floaty at the same time. It’s obvious that the visuals are a reflection of the sporadic personalities being portrayed. The cinematography is another example of the films incredible sense of balance as each scene is often a juxtaposition to the last, for example day time is often seen as pastel and washed out where midnight is lively and vibrant. It’s a struggle between the natural and the artificial, the healthy and addiction.

Music plays as vital a role in this film as the visuals do and Boyle further demonstrates his care and love for a good soundtrack. From start to finish a wide variety of licensed tracks move and blend smoothly in to one and other, perfectly highlighting the mood of a scene or a character.  What’s exceptional about the soundtrack of the film is that it only overwhelms a scene or a mood when Boyle clearly intends it to, despite the intensity of the music used. It’s a further example of Trainspotting’s exceptional sense of balance, of Boyle demonstrating the running sense of Dichotomy in far more than just the film’s script.

T2 Trainspotting is a film released at the perfect time, a consideration of nature versus nurture from the perspective of a criminal drug addict. The film’s entire construction is used to make the audience consider the characters, their generation and their story. At times it’s an overwhelming feast for the senses, but only when it needs to be. Trainspotting is a perfect example of a film constructed with balance and, whilst it’s not perfect, it’s likely to stay with its audiences long after the credits role.

T2 Trainspotting scored: 9.2/10

Review: Assassin’s Creed.

Review: Assassin’s Creed.

First time director Justin Kurzel does a good job of building on the DNA of the video game franchise, but loses the makings of a good film along the way.

Justin Kurzel has done his research, this is clear right from the beginning of Assassin’s Creed, it can be seen in everything from the opening, to scene to the composition of shots, to the design of costumes and props and all the tiny little details that litter the film from beginning to end. This is perhaps the strongest part of Assassin’s Creed’s construction: the attention it pays to the source materal and the inventive ways it adapts that source material to the screen.

But whilst this film does a good job of bringing characteristics of the game to the screen the big thing that feels lacking here is a new, and, more importantly, a good story. Assassin’s Creed attempts to tell a story in one movie that was previously told in 2-3 games. The problem here is that vital parts of the story don’t get the development they deserve and as a result conflicts, tensions and relationships don’t feel fully formed. This leads to the main story of the film being bloated and too shallow all at the same time. It’s clear that there is a much deeper story to be told here (think The Da Vinci Code crossed with The Matrix) but the narrative on offer is forgettable at best.

Visually the film is inconsistent. On one hand it looks beautifully similar to an Assassin’s Creed game, the film manages to capture the white, sterile environments of the Abstergo Corporation, the tiny lines of detail on props and costumes and even the blocky, float-y modern architecture from the games portrayal of the present. But at the same time the film is incredibly dark, far more dark than it needs to be. It’s as if the film was shot beautifully but on the wrong camera settings, so the audience is left watching a film where the art direction and production design are fantastic, but the actual watching of it is underwhelming.

For the most part Assassin’s Creed is unimpressive, it’s visuals are well made but often feel washed out or bland, it’s story line, save for the small touches of fan service, is unimpressive. the acting on show is mostly fine but there’s little in the script for the cast to work with (Cotillard is bland as a vehicle for a corporation and Fassbender is either spitting out dialogue or grunting.) But the film deserves some major praise for taking risks in it’s adaptation of the source material. Things like the films Animus have clearly been given care and attention in being brought to the screen and a major chunk of the films dialogue is delivered with subtitles. Whilst these risks advance a mostly boring plot Kurzel deserves praise for putting a level of effort and risk in to a film of this size.

Ultimately Assassin’s Creed is a film for Assassin’s Creed fans, if you like the franchise you won’t need introducing to it and you’ll be able to appreciate the deeper level of story telling and film making taking place here. Unfortunately that won’t make the paper thin story any better or any less shallow by the time the credits role, but it might make it a more enjoyable few hours none the less.

Assassin’s Creed scored: 6.7/10