Movie Review 19: Bright

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The trailer for Bright came on before Star Wars… And despite the massive ‘Netflix’ logo that normally turns me off completely, I was actually thoroughly impressed. The visuals caught me right away, and the idea of orcs and guns was one that, I gotta admit, appealed to me greatly. Unfortunately, I got home to discover that it wasn’t going to come out until the 22nd of December, granted only about a week away but still too long for me to wait. Basically, I don’t know if there was just something about it, but I was itching to see this movie.

Following officer Ward (Will Smith) and his orc partner, Jakoby, Bright injects fantasy creatures into a sprawling LA, set some decades in the future. A magical war swept the Earth two thousand years ago, and a mysterious figure called the Dark Lord rose and was eventually defeated by the nine armies. Now, a powerful artifact has been discovered which could bring about his return, and it’s up to Ward and Jakoby, with the help from an elven sorceress, to find it and destroy it. That probably doesn’t sound too interesting to the majority of people, but it’s really quite good.

The Good:

One thing that sprung to mind immediately from the moment Bright started was something my girlfriend says all the time when we’re watching movies. “I don’t like this,” she tells me, “You can tell it’s a script.” With Bright, I find the exact opposite to be true. Will Smith is a highlight, of course, with his Deadshot-esque quips (directed by David Ayer of Suicide Squad fame, after all), but the others characters talk like normal people, too. It’s incredibly refreshing and is most likely because a movie like this, which goes straight to TV/Netflix but has still had some semblance of a budget behind it, doesn’t have to fill the expectations created by the silver screen in terms of dialogue. But that doesn’t mean it’s worse. It means that, free of the confines of cinema, TV writers have full reign, and actually write better scripts overall. What sounds better, truly? Sherlock Holmes, or Avengers? If you think it’s the blandly barked orders and cliche catchphrases of the latter, I pity you. Bright’s script is one of the best things going for it.

Now, I’m a sucker for already-established lore, like that of the Star Wars universe, and my other favourite thing about Bright is the mythology behind the story. Mythology which, in the film’s setting, has existed for thousands of years, so is already deeply ingrained in the characters’ thoughts, actions and psyches. Meanwhile, in Lord of the Rings and the like, the many races and locations and creatures and weapons and blah blah bloody blah are without fail explained in massive exposition dumps. “This is Bluddagud, the sword that slew Infil whom slew Underfil whom begat Grundil,” and so on so forth. Don’t make me laugh. Just hand the sword slowly and carefully to the hero (so I know it’s an important or sacred object just from the way you’re handling it), maybe tell me its name in a hushed whisper (so I know you’re scared or intimidated by it) and then have the hero react accordingly (so I know, simply from their actions, that this weapon must have a huge reputation). I want a universe where characters can just reference things around them like they’ve been living amongst them for years, which, if we’re suspending our disbelief as one must when watching movies… they have! Think about it. In a film of your life, would you buy a coffee with a friend and, as you pay the barista, turn to them and explain the strange metal discs in your hand? No. As a writer, when you spoon-feed the audience information, they know you think they’re too stupid to figure things out by themselves. When a police car drives past a checkpoint and there’s a fricking centaur in body armour with an assault rifle, I know that this is clearly a normal thing in this society. This is the way things should be done, and it’s the way things are done in Bright.

There are also some very cool visual and musical cues that brought tears to my eyes, especially at the finale, where the score that has been teased for the duration of the film builds to a proper climax. Just an aside.

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“Croc? Wrong movie, man, come on! No, I’m not Deadshot, I’m Ward this time. Look, it’s complicated.”

To be Improved: 

Tikka? Chicken Tikka? I couldn’t really tell her name from the way they were saying it, the problem when you never see fantastical names written down, but she’s this nimble elf blondie who’s stolen a magic wand and she’s really damn annoying. She’s basically a walking ex machina, for one thing, able to steal handcuff keys in the heat of the moment, while being shot at, may I add, but on top of that she cringes at every slight noise and is generally just a bundle of nerves. Her acting, towards the end, though, actually gets incredibly good. The elves in general are all a bit of a let-down, considering they’re some of the coolest-looking in the film. The main villainess can take down a whole SWAT team single-handedly, with one knife, but is somehow bested by Will Smith literally wearing a tracksuit. She then comes back to life, an even more annoying result, and her henchman is a ripoff Hitman complete with suit and bald head, and:

There is also plot thread with a Magic Task Force, led by a blue-haired elf, following the heroes along with the police, the human street gangs, the orc street gangs and the creepy Elf death squad, which just gets lost as the protagonists have so many people after them that it seems unlikely they’d be able to even turn a corner without bumping into one of their pursuers. Finally, there is a very cheesy moment (if a little touching, come on, I’m not made of stone) where a character emerges who knows one of the protagonists but is inexplicably the one person tasked with killing them. When said character then leaves and the protagonist is actually killed, I thought this criticism was going to have to be put in my ‘The Good’ section for having the balls to actually stiff a hero. But then, the character is brought back to life a second later! Disappointment to pleasant surprise and back again. If anything I can at least say it kept me on my toes.

Overall: 6.5/10

After enjoying the trailer immensely and seeing the potential in a film like this, I was worried that Bright wasn’t going to be anything special. But I think, for the most part, I was proved wrong. The socio-political commentary on race is a little heavy-handed, especially given the nature of the setting (where orc ghettoisation has clearly just represents African-American ghettoisation) but perhaps it’s exactly the sort of thing we need in today’s world. Granted, it probably won’t change the world. Ratings for Bright have been anything but. In my opinion? The message is there. And it’s wrapped up in what is, honestly, a well-written, Suicide-Squad aesthetic, brilliantly-acted, sometimes cheesy but more often visually and narratively impressive and innovative, movie. And you can’t take any of that stuff away from it.

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Movie Review 18: Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi

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*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

Yesterday, the two year wait for VIII finally came to an end. Taking my seat in the cinema, I suddenly felt sick. Very sick. The lights went down and my stomach was churning. But this was not a winter vomiting bug, or something I’d eaten. This was raw, untamed excitement.

Last Jedi picks up (almost) immediately where Abrams left off in The Force Awakens, over seven hundred days ago. Luke has been found. The First Order, after obliterating the Republic with the Starkiller weapon, now approaches ready to snuff out the last spark of hope in the galaxy: The Resistance. Finn lies in stasis, injured from the final battle with Kylo Ren. Will the light rise again to face the darkness that rises to meet it, or is this truly the end of the Jedi order for good? I DON’T KNOW LET ME WATCH THE DAMN FILM ALREADY I’VE WAITED TWO YEARS.

*BEFORE WE BEGIN, LET ME REITERATE: HEAVY SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. TWICE.*

The Good:

Once the opening scene got past a particularly long and drawn out joke about being put on hold, holy space balls was it insane. I remember sitting there and my only thought, after two years of incredibly anxious waiting, was this: My god. Rian Johnson has done it.

Seeing the spiralling X-Wing engage its boost drive and take on the mighty First Order Dreadnought, I was just bouncing in my seat, I really was. The visuals are somehow even more crisp and clean than they were in Force Awakens. Although I really think that Abrams bridged the gap between the almost entirely practical Original Trilogy and this, the half-and-half Sequel Trilogy, Rian Johnson really knocked it out of the park with this. It’s pure, gorgeous, laser-pulsing sci-fi in all its glory, and to see The Last Jedi is to see the franchise at its peak. It’s as simple as that, and I’m going to just get that out of my system now.

In short, everything has been fixed since Force Awakens. Despite the fact that it goes in some odd directions at times, as we’ll see in the ‘To be Improved’ section, the story finally feels like it has a proper focus now. Some burning questions have been answered, others… Not so much, again, as we’ll see below. Phasma got a gorgeous chrome-plated send-off, awash with pink and blue neon, after doing nothing in the first film. The Praetorian guards are absolutely beast and engaged in one of the most tense, exciting and visually awe-inspiring lightsaber battles in the franchise, in my opinion. The force was finally properly explained, after all these years, putting a forty-year-long debate to rest. We saw Luke’s green lightsaber. YODA’S BACK, BABY.

So much goes on and the visuals, sound design, effects, plot choices, tension, score, characters, settings, EVERYTHING is wonderful. Well. Perhaps not absolutely everything.

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‘Heeeeere’s Phasma!’

To be Improved:

Little disclaimer, one I’ve said before in many of my reviews. When a piece of work, be it film, book, or game, is as incredible as this, the list of things wrong with it may seem numerous but that’s only because anything less than amazing sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s simply a blessing and a curse that comes with things that turn out to be really really enjoyable. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

There were two types of moments in this film that I didn’t appreciate, both of which caused me to turn to my girlfriend and tell her I was very upset, and she often agreed. The first type is the unnecessarily injected moments of humour that simply do not add to the film in any way. Some of these are alright and bring a different and fresh sort of spark to the story, like Leia telling C3PO to “Wipe that nervous look off your face”. Others, like Luke squeezing the teat of some odd pink space-walrus that giggles as it sprays milk into the bottle, made my stomach flip over. “Oh, fuck,” I thought. “Rian Johnson has done to Star Wars what James Gunn did to Guardians of the Galaxy with the sequel”. If you’ve read my review of GotG2, you’ll understand why this feeling was the most unfortunate one that could have possibly surfaced during a trip to see a film from my favourite franchise of all time. But, luckily, thank the maker, these moments are very few and far between. Just enough to add something funny for the common denominator, I guess, but I’m still upset that they weren’t left on the cutting room floor.

The second type of moment is a lot more challenging, for it comes in the form of actual plot threads that don’t do anything for the wider narrative, or are otherwise just confusing and misleading. Case in point: I know we all should have seen it coming, but are Rey’s parents really just… nobody? That seems like a massive kick in the balls to anyone who waited two years to find out some sort of answer, and I can tell you, I was one of those people. Another of these moments was when Snoke was killed by Kylo. Though the entire proceeding fight scene was glorious and brought tears to my eyes with the refrain from John Williams’ Force Theme, throughout all of it all I could think was “Oh god, who’s going to be the big bad of the franchise now that the Emperor Palpatine knockoff is dead?”. I guess only time will tell, but for now it looks like Star Wars IX is going to be left with a very whiny teenage darksider as its primary antagonist, which does not bode well. The next of these moments is what I like to call Chekhov’s X-Wing. Chekhov’s gun is the controversial literary principal that everything that is shown (or at least focused on) in a narrative must then be utilised later in the story. The example given is if, in the second chapter, a person walks into a room and notices the shotgun hanging on the wall, that shotgun must be used by the final chapter or it should not be included in the first place. Case in point: A dramatic shot of Luke’s X-Wing, sitting underwater just offshore. It was just such a disappointment to remember that shot once the credits started to roll, and to know that it was never returned to. But perhaps the weirdest scene of them all is when Princess Leia is shot out into space, only to pull herself back to the ship using the force. Just… WHAT? I’m pretty sure even Luke wouldn’t be able to do that! It’s horribly CGI-ed, the imagery is disturbing, Leia has never had the force in all its strength until this moment, where it comes very suddenly, and above all it’s probably single-handedly the worst thing about the film. That and the rage-inducingly prolonged sequence in the casino, where Finn and Rose ride these weird horse things through town destroying cars and buildings for what seems like a good ten minutes. On top of that, the film finishes with, in my opinion, an appalling final shot, with a slave child looking up to the stars and holding his broom like a lightsaber. It was just a really disjointed, tacked-on sequence that could have been left until the next film, or at the very most stuck somewhere other than right on the tail-end of this one.

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Alan and Jim might have taken it a little bit too seriously when everyone told them red was their colour.

Overall: 8/10

Not ten, I hear you ask in shock? Well… No, not really! Despite this being one of the best films in the franchise, and (after just a single viewing, mind you) definitely up there in the second place spot below Empire and above Rogue One, The Last Jedi had a lot of frustrating things about it. All the moments that were fabricated purely for the sake of it or because they looked ‘cool’ or ‘funny’ or because they hurried the story along really detracted from the scenes that were pure genius. Luckily, the film plays out a lot like Blade Runner 2049 in the sense that all the scenes are so sort of separated into separate threads of consciousness rather than one long story that when they’re put together as a whole film, it doesn’t really matter if some fall down while others are elevated. To cut to the chase, though: Rian Johnson has done it. And the wait? It was more worth it than my seventeen-year-old self could have possibly imagined.

Game Review 8: Fallout – New Vegas

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My experience with Fallout: New Vegas is a very strange one. After purchasing it several years ago when a friend told me it was the best in the series by far, I struggled to get past even the opening segment. There was just too much to understand, too many things to do, and far too many options when it came to how to do them. I got past the opening about ten times, returning to the game every few months vowing that this time would be the time I saw it through to the end. And about a month ago, that finally happened.

America, following obliteration in a nuclear war centuries previous, is controlled by a number of factions, including but not limited to the New California Republic (assholes who attack you on sight en masse for no reason if you’re even the slightest bit disliked by them), Caesar’s Legion (assholes who are all but impervious to damage and seem to attack you on sight no matter what), the Brotherhood of Steel (assholes in massive power armour with massive weapons and laser turrets who will not attack unless fired upon but are impossible to kill when you are eventually forced to do so anyway, regardless of whether or not you want to) and many more. Sensing a theme here? Everyone hates everyone. Deal with it. Or don’t. You could just go and kill giant ants all day. It doesn’t really matter what you do at all.

The Good:

Despite my frustration at this game, my negative feelings towards it mainly stem from the feeling that I had my trust betrayed. I put thirty hours into New Vegas over a period of just a few weeks, and before it all turned sour (as we shall see in the below section) I actually got really into the story, the factions, the various bonds you can make and break at will, the wasteland and its inhabitants, and above all the feel of it. Post-Apoc has a special place in my heart after enjoying the Hunger Games as a kid, and going through this grittier version was a treat while it lasted. After being incredibly cautious for, I don’t know, TEN HOURS of the game, I finally gained enough strength to start sort of feeling powerful enough to take on stronger enemies. Sure, every quarter of an hour something would come out of nowhere and kick my ass, but you get good at avoiding certain areas in the wasteland. The dialogue and overall story is impressive, and I actually found myself really getting into which faction I was going to root for. However, once you get to the end of the game, despite being given the ability to peacefully resolve any situation if you have a high enough speech skill, you are forced to really knuckle down and go all in with a specific faction. This leads to everyone else in the wasteland attacking you, and when they’re the types of people described in the intro to this review, I would personally much rather take the diplomatic approach. Unfortunately, the game locks you out of going down this route after a certain point.

To be Improved:

Above all, I think despite its moments of genius, the entire system is fundamentally broken. I always had a hard time killing enemies, seemingly missing all my shots despite the target standing still and the crosshair being exactly on them, but towards the end it just became more and more apparent that armour is useless and enemies are all but impervious to most damage. I was lured into a false sense of security by an area full of robots who went down in two hits from my new plasma rifle, but when fighting actual humans it seems they get an invulnerability boost or something. By the endgame, despite being five levels away from the maximum, my gear and strength had stagnated about five levels back, and the willingness of the game to let you do what you want means that save for looking stuff up online I was completely misguided and lost for large portions of the narrative. It was impossible to find guns better than the ones I was using, yet anytime I bumped into four or more enemies they destroyed me with basic rifles, even when I was wearing the heavy power armour I’d spent so long trying to achieve. After ten attempts, I decided to stick everything on Very Easy and just rampage through the final battle, because I felt that I’d done all the work leading up to it and more, but for no payoff whatsoever. In fact, this happened at various points in the game, where you’re left fighting for your life despite the game convincing you, up until that point, that you were powerful enough to deal with whatever the threat was. It seems there’s a massive divide in the playerbase when it comes to New Vegas. Half of the people who grapple with it, myself included, find it simply too hard to play despite their skills or how long they’ve been playing videogames, and become frustrated. The other half apparently breeze through the Very Hard difficulty and desire something even more challenging. How truthful both parties are being is unprovable, but it’s an odd thing to happen outside of rage games like Super Meat Boy that do actually require hours of practice to get good at them. Either way, my experience is dramatic spikes in difficulty and a total breakdown of the games mechanics by the time the story comes to an end.

Overall: 6/10

The game itself is an enjoyable and engaging one. About halfway through I had a great few days where I had found the perfect balance of challenging to the point where you truly felt you’d achieved something when you completed a quest, but not to the point where it was frustrating and you couldn’t get anything done. But as the game went on, it rapidly became a steep uphill climb against the damage modifiers, meaning that after trying to get each individual ending I realised that I was just running at a brick wall. My shots felt like they were ricocheting off enemies rather than taking out bits of them, and all of their shots seemed to be piercing even my power armour like it was a tin can. Above all, though it is commendable that the developers managed to create such a sprawling world with so many options for dialogue and quests and ways to do things and little intricate subplots, the end result is a mishmash and is, ultimately, just as I originally found when I first purchased the game: simply too complicated.

Review 23: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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So, I guess I haven’t finished a book in a while, despite the fact that I’ve had time to see plenty of films. But that’s what happens when you go to university for a few weeks then withdraw, and films are only two hours while a book takes a lot longer to get through. Either way, I thought it best to get back into the swing of things by reading something shorter, and the 150 or so pages of All Systems Red seemed like the best place to start (especially seeing as I’m considering possibly tackling Dune next, goodness me).

Following the crew of PreservationAux, a mission to a distant planet goes awry when they discover a conspiracy bigger than anything even their elusive sponsor, known only as ‘The Company’, is willing to ignore. With the help of their SecUnit, which unbeknownst to the crew has become self-aware and calls itself Murderbot, they must get to the bottom of the sinister GrayCris organisation before it’s too late.

The Good:

One of my favourites aspects of the novel is this: The ambiguity of the level of technology utilised in the narrative does the opposite of the complexity of universe-building seen in books like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, but to great effect. By this I mean we don’t need to know how advanced civilisation is by this point, because by demonstrating the technology the author gives us just enough information to allow us to determine the scope of the setting. It’s very tasteful, in short, and doesn’t require further explanation because the story is driven by the characters rather than the world around them, in a way. The characters themselves are very well thought-out, and each one has a distinct personality. You can really picture what they look like just based on the way they act, an admirable achievement on Wells’ part. Naturally with the exception of the Murderbot, the primary protagonist, who is on the cover, which is a great shame in my opinion, as more than enough written description is given for the reader, especially one as into sci-fi as I am, to picture it easily. On that note, however, the description itself is very minimalistic in parts, and this is but one factor contributing to why the book is so short, though it works to great effect because it means you visualise it all in your head instead of being told what to picture. Like I said, the story itself isn’t the driving force here, but the interactions between the characters. But I shall continue this in the below section, right about…

To be Improved:

…Now. Although the plot is a mystery of sorts, with lots of strange occurrences eventually leading up to some minor reveals, it all happens too quickly for the tension to really be allowed to build, and there’s lots of running away then going back to where you were but this time with a plan then running away again because it goes wrong but now you know a little bit more than before and ugh! It just gets tedious after a while rather than atmospheric. In terms of specific story elements, there is an all-encompassing company in control of most of the goings-on in the book, which is only referred to as… Well, ‘the Company’. But the problem is that around two thirds of the way through the author refers to said Company’s competitors, shattering the mystery and making me wonder why such a subtle name was chosen if the original so-called Company is not the only one in existence. The author also falls into the trap of writing in a style where yes, if you’re the one who came up with the story, you’ll understand what’s going on, but as the reader these moments sort of go over your head. Moments like the fact that the good guys’ expedition to the planet is called ‘Preservation’, and that’s somehow supposed to obviously signify that the leader of the expedition herself is the political entity controlling it, as opposed to an outside influence like it normally is. Make sense? No, I didn’t think so either. It’s little things like this peppered throughout the novel that sort of attach a weight to the story every time they crop up, ever so slowly dragging it down until you get to the end.

Overall: 5/10

A short and sweet read, ASR whisks you away for a brief outing on a hostile alien planet. I really enjoyed the more toned down yet still atmospheric horror undertones once the conflict really got going. Because I’m a nervous wreck when it comes to anything more than mildly scary (see my Alien review), reading something that went easy on the fear factor but still added elements of scariness constituted major tension in my timid mind, so it worked out really well. Not a spectacular story by any stretch, but certainly an enjoyable one. Besides, even though I didn’t adore it one can plough through Wells’ novella in such little time that I’m definitely going to be picking up the sequel (or prequel?), if for nothing except to see how this tale wraps up.

Movie Review 17: Thor Ragnarok

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As soon as I saw the trailer, I was excited for Thor Ragnarok for two reasons. One, instead of being a normal action film like regular superhero movies, it was a sci-fi. And two, it had a kickass neo-80s vibe to its soundtrack. Two of my favourite things in one? Sign me up! Though after the shambles that was, oh I don’t know, every other film I saw this year save for Blade Runner, I once again lowered my expectations. That strategy actually worked this time round, because the god of thunder far exceeded them.

In short, Thor’s sister Hela, Goddess of Death and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, no big deal or anything, has returned. She seeks to bring about Ragnarok (imaginative title for the film, then) the end of everything. That’s a pretty vague description for the apocalypse but it’s all bad news either way, and it’s up to our unlikely band of heroes to stop the evil Hela once and for all. Classic good versus evil stuff, fairly standard.

The Good:

Directed by Taika Waititi, who also helmed The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film I really should go back and review on this site, for once a Marvel film has finally managed to make me laugh out loud. Some of the jokes in the first half are just there for the sake of it, but despite obviously unnecessarily interrupting the action sequences because they’re there for the kids, they’re in no way immature. Finally, I mean god-damn I’d had it up to here with jokes about farts and sex (not at the same time), here’s looking at you, Transformers and GotG 2. But yeah, if you’ve seen Waititi’s 2016 classic then you’ll know that he has a bloody good sense of humour. That said, the New Zealand accent he threw in for the comedic relief Korg (“What’s up, name’s Korg, just a big walking rock but there’s nothing to be afraid of, unless you’re made of scissors – there’s a rock-paper-scissors joke for ya”) does help a lot. So the humour, for the most part, if a little juvenile, is there. What else? Well, I’ve already mentioned the soundtrack. Along with the screaming vocals of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, the pounding synths to go along with the appropriately Star Wars trench run-esque spaceship battles were superb. In fact, the whole sort of neon and laser aesthetic is one that I really appreciated, and I’d agree with the many critics calling it the “boldest Marvel film yet”. It certainly is that. Story-wise, honestly, you can’t really praise or criticise anything because it’s legitimately all the same at this point, save for a few clever little bits. Besides, there’s so much to look at with this one as we switch between the sweeping clifftop fields of Norway, sprawling cityscapes of Chicago, sparkling cities and rolling junk-hills of Sakaar, and the glistening gold glory of Asgard. On top of that, there was a particularly beautiful cut where the camera zooms into a view out a window at the stars against the blackness of space, and the stars become lights moving past Thor as he travels forward on a conveyor belt. I know this is a very specific, split-second point to focus on. But in fact, it was such a good shot that it sort of diminished the merit of the rest of the film, and unfortunately reminded me of Enchantress turning June Moon’s hand over in Suicide Squad:

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It reminded me of it because we all know that the film turned out to be nowhere near the standard of that clever piece of imagery. However, I’m pleasantly surprised to be able to say that with Thor that is very nearly not the case; it almost manages to match the ingenuity of its brief highlight. Particularly, at least for cosmetic standards, the sequence where we get almost a full minute of slow motion as ranks of gold-plated Valkyries ride gleaming white Pegasuses (Pegasi? Pega… you know what I mean) against Hela before she was exiled, is plain gorgeous. It’s just a scene that, with the synth music, is very epic, and I grinned all the way through it. There are a few moments like this, and they really carry the film because just as it threatens to be getting a little stale visually, a giant dragon will chase Thor through the rainbow space-bridge back to Asgard.

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“Does my apocalypse look big in this?”

To be Improved:

Let’s start with what stood out most: Blanchett and Ruffalo’s acting. She’s speaking like she’s trying very hard to put on a British accent, which she is, and it shows; and he’s changed the way he normally talks when playing Bruce Banner and is instead using this weird high-pitched panicky Bronx lilt that’s just grating and really doesn’t fit with his character. I know he’s supposed to be timid, but he’s not a quivering mess. In fact, quite the contrary: he’s got seven PHDs, as he’s so eager to point out during the film. On the subject of Hulk, he’s useless now, if I’m being honest. I don’t know why they’ve switched up the character so much, but he looks super weird and sounds nothing like he used to, and none of the rage is there. During Ragnarok he just walks around and, if anything, gets beaten up more than anyone else! Ridiculous. Speaking of characters looking different, the tattoos on the Valkyrie’s face (good lord, I for the life of me can’t remember her name, I don’t think she was even given one! Scrapper 421, I think? What kind of a name for a main protagonist is that?) disappear halfway through the final act. Yes, she goes through a wardrobe change and dons her Valkyrie gear, but that shouldn’t change permanent inking of the skin, right? Right? But it doesn’t stop there. There’s a very jarring moment when Thor confronts Hela and she becomes this weird fake CGI Blanchett that’s all airbrushed and shiny, or at least that’s what it seems to be. As far as I can tell it’s actually the genuine Blanchett reading the lines, so it isn’t even fake and definitely shouldn’t fall into uncanny valley territory. But it does. It makes it look like the actress dropped out of filming early so they had to make a CGI version of her for the last few scenes, and it’s all very odd. Furthermore, Hela’s right hand man is an Asgardian recruited during her takeover of the city, and he’s called… Scourge. So my problem here is Scourge being called Scourge (that’s just… somehow just too much for me, because he’s a good guy before Hela recruits him, so, what, you’re telling me no one suspected a guy called Scourge?!) along with the fact that he has dual M16 assault rifles on Asgard for no discernible reason (if this is his signature weapon from the comics I do apologise, but come on, I know enough about the comics that I recognised Korg and Miek from the Planet Hulk arc, I can’t be expected to know absolutely every little detail). Fenris Wolf is tragically wasted, and I was hoping for a more brutal, ‘King Kong breaking open the jaws of a T-rex’ style death seeing as Hulk was the one fighting him, but we’ve already discussed how useless he’s become as a character. And while we’re talking about Hulk, I guess we’re not finding out if Banner is coming back, so that’s… I don’t know, I guess 2018 will have to tell us with Infinity War Part 1. Weird disjointed cliffhanger if you ask me, and a weird rehash of what they did with Age of Ultron.

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“Legolas, how’s it go- Oh wait, it’s just Thor. No, he’s cut some silly design into his hair, I though it was ears, I- Look, just forget it.”

Bonus Round – Trailer Turmoil:

Ah, yes. Now we come to my main issue with Ragnarok, and it’s not even one that’s to do with the actual film, hence the separate section. It’s going to be quite a long ranty one, so if you don’t feel like reading it feel free to skip to the final verdict, as this section won’t effect my rating of the movie. That said, it’s an issue I’m rather passionate about so I’d appreciate if you stuck around. I’ve started boycotting trailers for films I’m excited for, because, as we’ve all probably realised, these days they just completely spoil the plot. When I go and see Last Jedi in December, for instance, as SOON as I see snow, I know that Imperial Walkers are going to appear at some point. It doesn’t matter that I “don’t know when they’re going to arrive”; it ruins the whole scene if, as soon as it starts, I know what the main spectacle is, so it renders any and all build-up moot. So, that’s why I don’t watch trailers anymore, and I only saw the one for Ragnarok because it came out on YouTube way before I decided to avoid the damn things. With Rogue One, there were issues with the various cuts of the finished movie so, annoying though it was, I can understand why there were some shots in the trailer that were just plain not in the final product. With Thor, however, I fear an even more worrying trend has been started. Or, in fact, not even just started, but carried on. After seeing Force Awakens back in 2015 (man, time flies when you’re waiting for Star Wars sequels), when I went back and watched the trailer I swear they’ve slightly edited some split-second shots so that when you see them in the movie they’re different to the way they were initially. I might be wrong, and even if I’m right the changes are subtle enough that they probably only did it because us eagle-eyed viewers scrutinise every detail of trailers so much these days that we’re likely to spot Obi-Wan Kenobi standing on the bridge of the Star Destroyer that’s taking off in orbit if the producers don’t edit him out. With Thor, on the other hand, they were anything but subtle. They’ve straight up rejigged shots so that they don’t spoil massive moments of the storyline. A standout one is when Thor lands on the bridge to Asgard, lightning coursing through his body. In the trailer, he’s mostly unscathed, but in the film, he’s got a bloody eye missing! There were a few more shots like this, were a massive thing had simply been wiped using VFX, and while some may argue that this is kindness on the producers’ part because it means we don’t get spoilers. “Antlerflax”, I hear you cry, “You said you didn’t want spoilers, and now they’ve taken them out for your benefit, you’re still complaining! What will make you happy?”. I’ll tell you what will make me happy. If filmmakers stop blatantly corrupting the concept of the trailer. They’re just moving further and further away from what they should be, and spoiling more and more of the movies we’re excited for, and now they’re actually bastardising shots from the films themselves just so they can show them a month before you see it on the big screen. If it’s that important, here’s an idea… Don’t even bother showing it in the damn trailer! I tell you, it’s a huge issue, and it’s becoming a larger and larger problem with every new blockbuster that’s released. Trailers have release dates now, for goodness sake. Isn’t it time to stop?

Overall: 5/10

As superhero movies go, this is certainly one of the more enjoyable, though it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to judge these as I get older due to the target demographic being… Well, what I was when I was twelve, which was nearly ten years ago. Despite how far-removed I am from being able to truly appreciate thrill-ride candy-coloured action movies, Thor Ragnarok’s soundtrack, action scenes, little injections of actually laugh-out-loud humour (take notes, everyone else working for the studio) and, honestly, just the sheer fun of it, mean that I agree with what the big reviewers, Empire and the Guardian alike, are saying: It truly is Marvel’s bravest and boldest film to date.

Movie Review 16: Blade Runner 2049

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*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

I muted my expectations for Blade Runner: 2049. I was dreading leaving the cinema disappointed, and have been looking forward to this film since the first rumours of a sequel to the original emerged, so kept my hopes low for once. However, there was of course a large part of me that couldn’t help but get butterflies when the lights dropped.

Deckard (Harrison Ford) has gone into hiding after the events of 2019, culminating in Roy Batty’s death and Deckard and Rachel’s escape to the fallout zone in the North. Thirty years in the future, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with hunting the missing Blade Runner down, but learns an even darker secret along the way.

The Good:

Not in probably my whole life have I seen a film that has so stunned me with how good it is. The overwhelming feeling that washed over me as I was lost in the pink neon glare and growling basslines of 2049 was relief. Relief that finally a blockbuster wasn’t pandering to the classic brain-dead Hollywood audience, relief that a writer-director team hadn’t cracked under the pressure and dumbed down the plot in favour of flashy set pieces and cheap gags, relief that for once a classic had been captured so perfectly and expertly, respecting the series’ roots while simultaneously moving forward in a new and innovative direction. Relief that yes indeed, this is Blade Runner.In this vein, the plot twist is that the plot twist you expected isn’t the plot twist, and I can’t come up with a single example of a film which has done this so well. From the first few scenes, me and my girlfriend were sure that K would turn out to be Rachel and Deckard’s kid, but in reality it’s a very minor character that I don’t think anyone would have expected despite what they may say once they know the truth. This is what plots should be like, and it just makes cash-grabbers like Marvel (okay, I understand they’re aimed at kids, but there are plenty of adult fans out there) and especially DC look even more like trash. On top of that, it’s paced so, so well. The fact that scenes can last for minutes at a time with no dialogue, only subtle sound effects or sweeping musical motifs, and are not interrupted by someone making a joke (see every other film review I’ve written this year) is sheer beauty, and so much more satisfying. Case in point: My girlfriend has fallen asleep every single time we’ve been to the cinema together, save for Moana, and she stayed awake for the whole three hours of Blade Runner 2049. Why, you ask? Because it’s so mentally stimulating, and it doesn’t need giant robots and explosions to achieve that. Although, delightfully, there’s no shortage of the latter.

But it’s not just the plot that’s expertly crafted. The neon glow of the Earth we came to love from the original Blade Runner is back in all its glory, with plenty of new environments to satiate our appetite for a deeper look into the setting. Sweeping birds-eye-views of glass-shrouded farmland, towering holographic billboards, rolling oceans, bombed out cities forming gargantuan deserts, these are all so breathtaking to look at and executed wonderfully. Pair this with the positively thunderous bass notes and electronic tones that are such a great callback to Vangelis’ original score that it hurts,  and you have some world-building to be proud of. Hats off.

Speaking of honouring the past while embracing the future, this film does all that and more. A moment where K asks Deckard if his dog is real and the veteran replies “I don’t know, ask him” perfectly respects the key themes of the book (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) that if you can create artificial life that’s so realistic you can’t tell the difference, what is the difference? Furthermore, there are just enough little nods to the first film (an audio snippet of Rachel and Deckard’s first conversation, the towering ziggurat of the evil corporation formerly known as Tyrell, and an interview with an aged Gaff, still making his little origami animals) to satisfy fans but not detract from a new audience’s enjoyment. That said, I would of course still highly recommend seeing the original before you watch 2049. There’s also a cheeky moment where Deckard runs for his signature Spinner, only for an incoming missile to completely obliterate it. Seconds later, a new and improved Spinner, sleek and glistening, flies in and lands. If this isn’t symbolism for doing away with the problems of the original in favour of the innovation of the sequel, I don’t know what is.

To be Improved:

Once more, a film with so few issues means unfortunately that those issues must be examined in depth. That’s just the way I like doing things, because imperfections in a masterpiece stick out like nobody’s business.

Let’s start with the villain. I feel bad for Jared Leto, because once again he has been cast as a character who has about as much screen time as he did in the trailers. We all know which character I’m talking about, and though he plays the sinister Niander Wallace well, he is genuinely in just two scenes, which mainly consist of him monologuing. What’s worse is that to add to how underdeveloped his character is, we are given what I shall be calling Chekhov’s Chips. Wallace’s assistant opens a case and selects one of six or so microchips, which she then inserts behind Wallace’s ear, allowing him to see (he is blind) through the use of small, black, hovering robo-pebbles. A cool concept, but what I’m left wondering is what the other five chips do. Why show us if it’s not going to be explained? It’s not even a subtle shot, but a relatively extreme close-up of the contents of the case. Either way, there’s a ‘P’ word I don’t use often when it comes to this sort of thing, but I’m going to have to say it: Blade Runner 2049 is a movie with a pointless antagonist, and it hurts the narrative.

On a technical aside, Rachel’s cameo, though studios are now getting incredibly close to nailing CGI humans, tipped unfortunately into uncanny valley territory. In fact, I’m sure the only reason the animation held up was because she barely moved save for her walk up to Deckard, during which she was mostly shrouded in shadow anyway.

But to get back to the subject of the overarching narrative, like the original loads of things are left to the imagination and single throwaway lines are used to cover up massive plotholes. After being saved from drowning, Deckards tells K “You should have let me die out there” to which K replies “I did”. A single exchange that in the moment is simply an interesting way to stop Deckard from being hunted, but because it’s just come after the climactic battle you forget that it solves a lot of other unanswered questions. Why Gosling doesn’t carry out his initial plan of killing Deckard, for instance, or why Wallace’s company will now immediately forget about a man they sought out for years. Someone online recently pointed out that the Blade Runner franchise has always favoured themes and imagery over a thorough plot, but in a film where (as discussed earlier) the twists in the story are so well thought through in some places, it’s such a shame that it falls down in others. For instance, a scene where Joi, K’s holographic girlfriend, sort of merges with a real prostitute so that K can properly make love to her given physical form, is impressive insofar as it’s visually interesting, but to me it lasts far too long and simply sets up the prostitute placing a tracker in K’s jacket (a move which will later be ignored and glossed over completely, because she doesn’t work for the villains at all). There are lots of moments like this and they create threads that seem only there to distract from, rather than convey, any useful information.

Overall: 8/10

All my other film ratings are to be ignored, and this is where I particularly find that the rating system falls down. I give films ratings out of ten based on the individual experience, not in comparison to other movies. Lots of this is aided by nostalgia, yes, like my 9.5 awarded to this year’s Ghost in the Shell, arguably a 6/10 if I unclouded my judgement. This is what I’ve tried very hard to do with Blade Runner: 2049.

To give the film a 9/10 would assume that it is near-perfection. As much as I wish it was, this is not the case. It’s incredible, visually, musically and narrative-wise, and there are so many amazing scenes, though as my girlfriend pointed out, the problem is that they only work as standalone moments, not a whole string of consciousness. The film plays more like a series of wonderful, mildly-interlinked shorts than a whole film. Sure, the nearly three hour runtime doesn’t get boring at all, because it’s paced so elegantly. What’s up for debate is how much is crammed into that runtime, and whether or not they pull it off. Honestly? Though I’m still on the fence, I’m leaning towards yes. Let’s give credit where credit is due: It says a lot about how great a film is that I firmly believe it is one of the best I’ve ever seen even with room for improvement… but sadly that also means that it isn’t perfect.

Movie Review 15: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

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Cutting yourself shaving was a lot worse when trying to shave one’s eyebrows.

*AS USUAL, HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*

I’ve been at university for the past two weeks, how about that? After I’d moved in and met all my flatmates, one of the first things we decided to do before we even knew each other properly was to go to the cinema. I ruled out Stephen King’s IT immediately because, as we’ve learned from my Alien: Covenant review, I despise horror. That sort of only left one more thing we could conceivably see, and that film was Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

This is a direct sequel to the original film (Kingsman: Secret Service) from 2014. One of the recruits from the original agent programme has returned for revenge, working for an insidious drug lord, Poppy (how original), who runs a sinister organisation called the Golden Circle. She injects all her drugs, which are distributed worldwide, with a virus, and after the Kingsmen are all but wiped out they are are forced to activate the Doomsday Protocol and team up with their American cousins, the Statesmen (imaginative, I don’t think) to save the world.

The Good:

There was a lot to be said for the refreshing take on the spy movie offered by the original. The fast pacing, imaginative and multi-layered characters, if a little cliche in places, and overall aesthetic were enjoyable, it must be said. Unfortunately, as with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (*shudders*), this sequel takes all that was good with the first one and runs with it to the extent of over-saturation. But we’re not here to discuss the negatives, at least not yet, so let’s crack on with a few of the things which were actually interesting. There are some lovely scenes with puppies, which were enjoyable to look at. Some of the little nods to the movie’s form, like naming the two robotic guard dogs of a 70s-America recreational villain hideout ‘Benny’ and ‘Jet’. These little details are very clever, and the film is… Not that full of them, at all, and this is in fact the only example I can think of. Moving on, there is a very cool three second shot of a fighter jet called the ‘Silver Pony’ as it soars through the skies. We all know how much I adore the Transformers franchise, so I’m a sucker for moments of military tech glinting in the sunlight. There were also a few cool moments in action scenes which really flowed, like a suitcase folding out into a riot shield. Interesting, but less a silver lining and more a single pinprick of sunlight smothered by dogshit-brown clouds.

To be Improved:

There’s no easy way to do this, and I don’t particularly want a repeat of the huge paragraph of pessimism you had to read in the GotG 2 review, so I shall just list the negative points for easy access:

  • The constant whirling of the camera during fight scenes, which (though it has become the style of the Kingsman movies and is impressive because it is usually all one shot or at least looks like it) is nausea-inducing and looks CGI (translation: fake) as hell.
  • Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the constant ruining of epic moments for a little shot of humour (“That’s the only decent shit I’ve had in three weeks” springs to mind) is infuriating, and as soon as it started happening I knew I was going to hate the film.
  • It’s entirely and utterly predictable.
  • The characters are all uninspired and, for the most part, unlikeable. Besides, Channing Tatum’s ‘Tequila’ (his character was named after one of the liquors, I don’t even remember, give me a break) is put on ice, quite literally, when he is cryogenically frozen so we don’t even really get to know him, making him pointless.
  • The overuse of the song ‘Country Roads’ for almost every establishing shot is ridiculous, and my opinion was not helped by the friendly scouser sitting behind me and singing along every time it played.
  • There was just something dead about the action sequences. Perhaps it was the fact that, as mentioned above, it all looked FAKE AS HELL. But in all seriousness, the climactic fight ended at the same meat grinder that was already used to chop a person up at the beginning of the film, meaning there was no satisfaction whatsoever, and whenever a character entered a room you could tell what was going to happen simply because of what was around them. Eggsy holds a vial of antidote in front of him; it’s obviously going to get smashed. Benny (robotic dog) chases Harry into the salon where the Golden Circle members are given their solid gold tattoos; it’s obvious that molten gold and metal don’t mix. The list goes on, but I’ll spare you the pain.
  • Let’s not even talk about Elton John. His lines were almost as bad as Cogman, the ninja robot butler’s in Transformers: The Last Knight. But nothing could ever be quite as bad as “Move, bitch, get out of my way” in an aristocratic English accent, so Golden Circle earns a few points for… Not being the absolute worst, I guess? Whoopty-do.
  • The plot itself was so… dead-ended. It all came full circle (a golden one, perhaps?) but not in a way that the story was satisfyingly resolved. More in the way that it ended exactly where it started with nothing different than it was at the start. Except Eggsy’s now married to the princess he… did anal with at the end of the first film. Incredible, guys, really.
  • Scenes like the one where a tracker can only be placed on a female victim by putting it directly into her uhm… Well, you can guess, are vile. Look, I’m all for a bit of sexual banter (sort of, in the right context) but when you force me to watch a shot of a tracker implanting itself into literal uterus walls, you’ve done something wrong.

Overall: 2/10

In case those last few points didn’t give a single indication as to what I thought of this film, let me spell it out: it was utterly dire. Watching Golden Circle, I found myself in the same situation I’ve been in for what are now my last three cinema trips. That being the fact that I walk in, sit down incredibly excited to see what promises to be an amazing movie, and enjoy about ten minutes, but then find my expectations shattered by a throwaway line or moment that makes me cringe like (as I think I said in my Last Knight review) I’ve just torn a massive chunk out of a lemon. Cinema truly is dying, and I will now enter every film without watching the trailers and with little to no anticipation lest it be destroyed by computer-generated (as aforementioned: fake) action scenes, appalling plot choices and disgustingly awful writing.