Jumanji: The Next Level


Viewed – 10 November 2021 Netflix

This sequel to the ‘reboot’ of the classic Robin Williams fantasy, has the same cast of high school now twenty-something misfits who find themselves returning to the mystical video game world. Choosing to return that is only after one of them decides to go back of their own free will.

A rather weak set up this time gives the previous movie’s concept of unlikely personalities trapped in the bodies of their video game avatars, that being The Rock, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart … a slight twist by swapping characters around and also throwing in Danny DeVito and Danny Glover. Meaning it’s occasionally a bit confusing who’s who. Thankfully banter between all the characters is consistently engaging and funny.

Plot-wise the quest within the game is nonsensical, and is just an excuse for several set pieces including an ostrich stampede and an elaborate sequence involving suspended bridges. However the real-world backdrop that includes a touching subplot between two old friends almost makes up for this. As a sequel it adds nothing to the first movie, failing to build on the mysticism of the game and its origins. For fans of the first movie – give this a watch. It’s still a lot of fun but very little else.

Verdict: Good

Free Guy


Viewed – 05 October 2021 Disney+

Ryan Reynolds is quickly becoming my go-to actor for decent comedy these days, especially following his two hilarious turns as Deadpool. This latest outing has him as video game character ‘Guy’ who leads his life blissfully unaware he’s inside a game. However when a female character catches his eye, causing him to break free from his programming, he stumbles upon a programmers quest to uncover some stolen code hidden with the game world.

This vibrant and immediately enthralling concept really captures the wacky style of game worlds like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto, whilst at the same time blending the concept of Ready Player One with The Truman Show. Reynolds is perfect as the loveable ‘Guy’ and is aided by a great pairing with Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, as the real-world programmer and gamer who’s avatar in the game world is a gun wielding badass. Every second there’s something new to spot, references to music, games and pop-culture and although it may not be consistently funny, mostly down to a deliberate over-the-top approach, for me it’s was still a joy to sit through and take in.

Taika Waititi’s main villain does grate quickly and despite him being a character in the real world, his performance is very video-gamey. It is also a tad too sugar-coated as it ends, but these are small gripes in what is otherwise a genuinely fun time. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Black Widow


Viewed – 10 July 2021 Disney+

I think few could argue that Scarlett Johansson is a real movie star and has proven herself more than capable in many types of roles. However many will know her as one part of Marvel’s Avengers alongside the likes of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. However unlike those characters, Scarlett’s Black Widow hadn’t until now got her stand alone origin story. This finds Natasha Romanova / Black Widow being hunted down by the shady organisation that turned her into an assassin, leading her to explore her own past and confront the broken relationships she thought she’d left behind.

Scarlett Fever…

Midsommar’s Florence Pugh plays Yelena, the estranged sister of Black Widow and it has to be said steals the show with her personality and sarcasm, and the banter that occurs not only between the two females but also with David Harbour’s Red Guardian proves this movie’s best aspect. Add to this some decent action, with a stand-out prison break sequence, and this was ticking my boxes.

Unfortunately the plot wasn’t very engaging with what was happening and why not pulling me in. Also Ray Winstone’s villain was rather forgettable. Although the mysterious henchman ‘Task Master’ was much more interesting. Yet as an origin story, this failed to delve into the character of Black Widow, only showing glimpses of her training or much of her upbringing. As a Marvel movie however, this still delivers the necessary spectacle, slick action and fun moments – but overall felt a bit under-developed with occasionally lazy writing. For fans of the MCU this is worth seeing, but adds so little to the whole narrative it’s far from essential.

Verdict: Good

A Quiet Place Part II


Viewed – 23 June 2021 Cinema

A Quiet Place was certainly one of my favourite movies of the year it came out. A clever twist on the alien invasion movie, with a focus on a single family rather than mankind’s fight against an overwhelming threat. It gave the movie a lot of heart, with a stand out performance from Emily Blunt. This sequel again focus’s on Blunt, whilst also exploring how the invasion began.

Sshh…

The ticking time bomb concept of a pregnant Blunt and the prospect of a baby (that cries) was what helped build much of the nerve-shredding tension of the first movie. This unfortunately feels devoid of much of that tension other than the having to keep silent aspect. Thankfully this at least lead to some effective sequences (including one hell of a jump scare early on) and along with the movie’s excellent use of sound (and silence) I still found myself on edge. However, apart from a couple of plot developments, overall this failed to build on what was learnt in the first movie, leading to an ending that sets up a third entry where everything I hoped for in this instalment will likely be left for that movie. Frustrating.

Thankfully the cast is decent. Peaky Blinders’ Cillian Murphy steals the show from main star Blunt (who bizarrely doesn’t get to do much), and along with Millicent Simmonds as the deaf daughter, prove to be the main draw of this sequel. Creature design is also freaky but lacks variety, and we don’t really learn much new about them. Direction throughout is tense and quite atmospheric, and overall I enjoyed this enough … but couldn’t shake the feeling it was simply more of the same, yet not as good.

Verdict: Good

Raya and the Last Dragon


Viewed – 05 June 2021 Disney+

I’ve always enjoyed animation and few can argue that Disney (and Pixar) still lead the industry when it comes to animated movies. This latest offering tells the story of Raya, a young girl who grows up amidst fantastical tales of dragons who saved the world from an evil force that once turned people into stone. However their actions also lead to their mysterious disappearance, and when warring factions cause a sacred crystal to get damaged, the evil force returns to reclaim the land. Raya then takes it upon herself to seek out the fabled ‘last dragon’ in hope of banishing the evil for good.

You got a friend in me…

With a Far Eastern theme, similar to Mulan, this gorgeous looking, mystical fantasy adventure had it all. An engaging story, fun characters and some great action with a strong influence from Chinese cinema hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Raya (voiced by The Last Jedi’s Lisa Marie Tran), at first seems typical Disney Princess, yet develops into a fleshed-out and likeable lead, aided well by a bunch of quirky characters, including a mischievous baby, a lovable warrior from a rival clan … and especially Sifu as the Last Dragon, who proves this movies shining beacon.

It may not re-write the rule book when it comes to this kind of thing, and it’s themes of trusting / believing in one another are cliched … but done particularly well here, especially towards the end where I must admit it got me quite emotional. Another slam-dunk then for Disney, and possibly one of my favourites in a while from the house of mouse.

Verdict: Essential