Star Wars: Episode IX


Viewed – 23 December 2019 Cinema

The Rise Of Skywalker

If this wasn’t my most anticipated movie of the year, I don’t know what was. I struggled with the last entry, The Last Jedi a movie that with subsequent viewings has gone up in my appreciation but remains highly uneven. This final movie though and the conclusion of the Skywalker saga brings forth the return of a long suspected dead enemy … The Emperor! With a new threat to the galaxy, Rey and her friends intend to seek out and destroy him once and for all, whilst conflicted Kylo Ren intends to turn to him for guidance as the new supreme leader of the First Order.

I’ll admit this storyline comes a little out of nowhere and is a blatant attempt to steady the ship following some of Rian Johnson’s ill-conceived plot twists in Last Jedi … but the return of Ian McDiarmid‘s Emperor Palpetine was welcome and the ageing actor nails the necessary maniacal menace. The immediacy of the threat propelled the action from the off as we’re treated to some great battle sequences, mixed with solid character moments that showcase the chemistry this new cast still has. The psychic bond between Daisy Ridley‘s Rey and Adam Driver‘s Kylo-Ren turns out to be the big focus and is further explored and the movie used it in several creative ways. It proves the best aspect and is surrounded by many highly entertaining scenes including a plot thread involving C3P0 losing his memory and some (thankfully) well-timed humour as well as a perfect tone that took me right back to how it felt seeing Star Wars as a kid.

If I had to nitpick it would be the obviously forced Emperor plot, and the first act overly frantic. And like all Star Wars movies it has some silly bits, and there’s a couple of jarring character moments (General Hux!?!). Yet in the grand scheme of things it’s so damn enjoyable, such gripes can be forgiven. As a story that has spanned over 40 years, this felt like a fitting conclusion and ticked many of my boxes. There was a lot riding on this final movie and the conclusion of such a long running saga. There’s not a great deal here that makes this trilogy a story that had to be told other than to reintroduce Star Wars to a new generation and make up for the failings of the prequel trilogy. Yet with highly memorable characters, some great moments (and some questionable ones) I feel this has still been a worthwhile endeavour for the filmmakers and as a fan I am overall satisfied with what they achieved.

Verdict: 4 /5

Spider-Man: Far From Home


Viewed – 12 November 2019. Online rental

In the wake of the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is on a school trip in Europe when a series of elemental beasts begin to attack various cities. When a hero from another dimension appears to battle them, Parker feels obliged to offer his help, aided by new tech left to him by the (spoiler) late Tony Stark.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the last few Spider-Man movies but do think Holland is perfectly cast. This time around he teams up with Jake Gylkenhaal‘s Mysterio, who proves a very interesting character even if an actor of his calibre is hardly ‘stretched’. Samuel L Jackson‘s Nick Fury is also a welcome return after his absence from other movies. The story is generally teen angst complicated by an inconvenient new threat, and the shadow of Tony Stark / Iron-Man looms once again which for me spoilt the last movie. However here at least Spidy gets to do his own thing and we are treated to some great set-pieces with some very imaginative moments revolving around Mysterio’s illusion powers.

At the end of the day this hardly breaks the mould for a Spider-Man or Marvel movie and lacks the depth of a Captain America or Avengers – but when it’s all this entertaining … does that really matter? Not ‘amazing’ then, but still the best Spidy outing in quite a while.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Terminator: Dark Fate


Viewed – 30 October 2019. Cinema

I genuinely don’t think there’s ever been a truly bad Terminator movie. I’m also happy to say that whilst this doesn’t break the mould, it doesn’t ruin that tradition either. A bad-ass female resistance soldier travels back in time from a ‘war against the machines’ future to protect a young Mexican woman who is the target of a new Terminator that may just be the deadliest yet. Lucky for them there is help from Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton).

James Cameron, producer and series creator has said this is the true follow up to T2 and ignores the other sequels. It certainly feels closer to his vision than any other and the inclusion of Hamilton’s Sarah Conner cannot be underestimated. However as it turns out she’s mostly here to link movies, and a jarring plot twist early on basically makes her involvement pointless. Natalia Reyes as Dani, the Terminator’s target is a little bland also. The saving grace then, ironically is Mackenzie Davis as Grace, the cybernetically-enhanced resistance soldier who proves this movie’s most compelling aspect.

Action is decent, the CGI impressive (if at times over done) and the pace relentless (occasionally to the movie’s detriment) but this concept has always been exciting and it’s no different here. Arnie turns up after a while and proves a real scene-stealer. Yet unlike the masterpiece that was T2 there’s little wow-factor here, and the sense of a franchise finally being milked dry. But for seasoned fans like myself, this still entertained.

Verdict: 3 /5

Men In Black: International


Viewed – 29 October 2019 online-rental

I wasn’t expecting much from this but as a casual fan of the other movies (although I never got around to seeing the second movie), I suppose a desire for easy watching fun and the usual reliability of Chris Hemswoeth grabbed my attention.

This follows the story of a woman (Thor Ragarok’s Tessa Thompson) who following an alien encounter as a child has always dreamed of joining the top secret organisation that turned up that fateful night but didn’t do the mind-zap thing on her like they did to her parents. As an adult she gets her chance and is quickly recruited and given a job to join the London division headed by Liam Neeson. There she is quickly partnered with Chris Hemsworth’s cocky, reckless agent ‘H’ and stumbles on a new threat to the planet.

The story is weak here, something involving a powerful weapon, and is mostly an excuse for a fun if very predictable caper with some entertaining banter between Hensworth & Thompson. Although the twist this time around to reverse the roles and offer up plenty of female empowerment, sadly leaves Hemsworth (and generally any male) as merely joke-fodder or targets of female chauvinism. Oh, hasn’t equality come a long way?

That being said, action set-pieces are decent, production values high and it’s still fun. It just lacks anything beyond the points made above to warrant its existence following a fairly complete and finished trilogy. The failure to even mention Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones’ characters also seems a strange oversight. For die-hard fans only.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

X-Men: Dark Phoenix


Viewed – 18 October 2019 online-rental

I’ve always enjoyed the X-Men movies but in recent years they seemed to have fallen out of favour with the critics. I stood alone it seems in my liking of Apocalypse and I think going by the reaction to this latest offering, I remain in a minority on this one also.

With mutants more accepted into society and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) able to continue running his school for gifted children … all seems well. That is until a fairly routine mission to rescue some astronauts goes bad and Jean Gray (Sophie Turner) gets caught in a blast that drastically increases her powers to an uncontrollable level.

This might not have the epic scale of say, Days of Futures Past and with the focus (mostly) on a single character, some of the series’ most memorable characters are sidelined (especially Jennifer Lawrence‘s Mystique / Raven). However with decent turns from McAvoy and the always dependable Michael Fassbender as Magneto as well as Sophie Turner delivering an occasionally menacing Jean Gray – I still found myself absorbed. There is some terrific action too (particularly the train sequence) and the effects work throughout is great.

There’s just something missing. It lacks the drama and depth of previous movies and Jessica Chastain‘s villain is woefully under written. Turner despite best intentions just can’t carry the movie either. She was wooden in Game of Thrones and isn’t that much better here. So, a lesser X-Men movie but if you’re a fan as I am there’s still much to enjoy.

Verdict: 3 /5