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

Zack Snyder’s Justice League


Viewed – 29 May 2021 Blu-ray

This doesn’t happen very often, does it? A movie getting pretty much re-released that isn’t simply a director’s cut but in fact almost an entirely different movie. I feel I was one of the few that enjoyed the original 2018 version of Justice League, and while I could see the flaws, overall it still did its job. So sitting down to this much expanded, 4 hour version was both exciting and a bit intimidating.

Avengers assem… oh, wait.

The story has a megalomaniac villain called Steppenwolf who is searching for three ancient cubes that once brought together will transform our world, destroying all life in the process. So on learning this Bruce Wayne / Batman rushes to form a team of super-powered heroes in hope of stopping Steppenwolf in his tracks.

Zack Snyder, for some reason delivers this version of JL in 4:3 aspect ratio, and despite black bars either side of the screen, after a while I stopped noticing them. His style is so striking here, and with a muted colour pallet compared to the garish tones of JL 2018, this immediately felt more serious and epic. Much of the humour has been toned down, although The Flash’s wise-cracks remain intact. Also, with so much more time there’s far more emphasis on character, especially that of Cyborg, and at times this can feel very much his story, given the most interesting character ark. Superman’s status of being dead and his eventual resurrection is also packed with emotion. The villain’s motives are also better explained, with the addition of one character this time around filling a Palpetine type role to Steppenwolf’s Vader.

The movie may be over 4 hours long but with how it is split into six parts, and spread over two Blu-rays (I watched it over two nights) it didn’t feel bloated or padded and in fact zipped along at a decent pace with several great action scenes. It never gets as powerful as say, Avengers: Endgame, its central plot feels cliched and Steppenwolf isn’t all that interesting. There’s also some unnecessary sequel-bating here and there, with scenes involving Martian Manhunter and even Jared Leto’s Joker needing to be left on the cutting room floor …. but overall this was still an improved, highly entertaining, visually stunning and satisfying experience.

Verdict: Recommended

The Mitchells Vs The Machines


Viewed – 15 May 2021 Netflix

A girl who dreams of making it in the film making industry, one day gets her wish when she is accepted to film school. However on the same day as she leaves to begin her new life, a megalomaniacal A.I. called ‘Pal’ decides to start a robot invasion after her creator chooses to discard her for a more advanced version. Think of it as if Apple’s Siri turned evil and suddenly wanted to rid the earth of mankind. Gulp.

“Mom, Dad … we’re mankind’s only hope!”

From the creative geniuses that brought us the acclaimed Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse, this is an energetic and highly entertaining experience, that blends family drama with a robot apocalypse action movie. Katie, our lead is a plucky, technology-obsessed, typical modern teenager and is reflective of the world we find ourselves in, where anyone with a bit of imagination can create movies and animation, on their phones or laptops. The animation style, like Spider-Man is sort of 2D art brought to life in 3D, is jam packed with ideas and detail and looks gorgeous. Occasionally I think it gets a bit over the top, with things popping up on screen to emphasis and over-emphasis moments … but mostly it works.

Although these kind of movies are not meant to be realistic, sometimes the action gets so crazy any hint of plausibility is thrown out of the window. Thankfully, a genuinely touching father and daughter sub-plot gives this its emotional crutch to rest all of the chaos upon. I get a feeling, being delivered as a Netflix original this could be over-looked, which is a shame because this has plenty of great moments, looks stunning, has real meaning and above all else is a ton of fun. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended