Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

The MCU continues unrelenting, with it, Marvel open their arms and welcome into the fold a name that faces few equals: Spider-Man. Despite two solid showing as Andrew Garfield’s Amazing variant, Sony decided if you can’t beat them, sell back some rights and take a cut of the profits.

For Marvel’s part, they decided the best way to keep those profits high was to not deviate from what has worked before. This doesn’t mean a rehash of former Spider-Man movies. Oh no, not at all. It means shoehorning Peter Parker into the MCU by stripping away his uniqueness.

This is where two opinions on this latest film will tail off from one another.

If you love all things MCU, then you won’t mind this alternative direction for Spidey. If you hold Spider-Man dear to your heart, brace yourself for an onscreen character assassination.

This isn’t the Spider-Man many grew up with. There’s no driving motive behind his foray into fighting crime. He isn’t burdened by loss in the family. He isn’t crooning over Mary Jane (she’s here, hiding in plain sight, but for now, he half-fancies a girl called Liz). There’s no such thing as a Spidey Sense and his best mate isn’t going to become the Green Goblin.

So, what do we have instead?

A boy that was bitten by a spider (he briefly tells his buddy this, no origin drama to deal with) who can walk on walls and ceilings. That’s it. The Spider-Man suit is actually a Tony Stark design, complete with visual/audio guidance.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned Spider-Man into Iron Man Jr.

Such is the simplicity – and deceit of the true nature of the character – the plot and film remains decidedly average. Generic set plays on peril, and a villain – played by the excellent but left with little to explore, Michael Keaton – whose integrity and overall threat is undermined by Iron Man existing in this world.

There is hope Keaton can reprise his role as Vulture in later films, and the way he was a property salvager working on the post-Avengers New York debris, able to come across alien tech but put out of business by Stark and the authorities, is the sort of loose tie-in the film benefits from.

However, the overbearing MCU connections even kill this element.

There are good interactions between Jacob Batalon’s turn as a Ned and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. The identity of Spider-Man is accidently revealed to Parker’s geeky best pal, adding a fresh element but this should be the unseen cement in the movie, not a standout plus.

This could be the moment Marvel jumps the shark on the big screen. From the Captain America school videos during classes to the Stark created Spider-Man. It’s too cheesy, too much comic book for the screen. And not the best sort of comic book. It’s the dated, outmoded variant most haven’t lifted from a shelf in years.

Marvel are either on a collision course with creativity or cleverly tapping into a dumbed down audience. Either way, it makes for a very average Homecoming for the character that should be the jewel in Marvel’s crown.

5/10

(P.S. Don’t stay to the final end credits scene, it’s a lame joke and offers no insight or progression to future MCU stories.)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

It’s time for another addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, thankfully, we get served a film that still feels fresh when the monotony of the rest of the market pounds relentlessly forward. This is highlighted from the start, with – probably – the best opening credits sequence ever seen in any film. Ever.

The Guardians are well established now, and fighting a massive pink beast fishy thing. But that’s all going on in the background while Baby Groot is dancing away to ELO. It’s immediate relief that the humour from the first film remains, it’s just the scope that is getting upscaled.

The main cast all return, even Vin Diesel to “voice” Groot. This time they actually feel like a better fit. We see them on the run after Rocket (the Racoon Bradley Cooper) steals from the Sovereign race moments after receiving applaud for completing a mission.

These folks feel at first, like a novelty cameo before the real story starts. Just a planet of gold skinned and haired, genetically engineered perfectionists. As it happens, they are involved throughout as they seek to avenge the stolen batteries and make an example of the Guardians.

As with all films of this nature, we have subplots on the go. Rocket’s is how he pushes people away when he feels them getting too close. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have the “unspoken thing” going on. Best described by Quill (Star-Lord) as Sam and Diane in Cheers. Gamora reminds Peter, she doesn’t know what Cheers is.

Gamora also has sisterly love going on with Nebula (Karen Gillan, not ginger, now shaved and blue). She was the prize from the Sovereign race and prisoner-turn-accomplice.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. See, the Guardians do the classic team-up movie trick of running separate missions. After badly crash landing on a planet, where Drax (Dave Bautista) is dragged behind the ship like a water-skier gone wrong, hitting every tree in sight at speed, resembling Wile E. Coyote (suspend that disbelief or the film ends at this point), the group are visited by Ego.

No, no, no, not Kanye West, but Kurt Russell, a god claiming to be Quill’s dad. So, leaving Rocket behind with a tied-up Nebula and Baby Groot in order to carry out repairs, Drax, Gamora and Quill head to Ego’s home planet.

As they dash off, Yondu’s Ravagers arrive to capture Rocket. They’ve been hired by the Soveriegn to find the Guardians. But that all goes bad when the Ravagers rebel and Yondu himself loses his men and his freedom. Seems some thought he always protected Peter back when he worked with them, and still gets favouritism.

On Ego’s world, his empath helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), shares a closeness with Drax and starts to drop the hints that Ego might not be an entirely good god.

This is where the generic, overly simplistic plot is showed up for what it is. Kurt Russell as Ego is great at playing the larger-than-life, slightly untrustworthy father figure Peter craves. His explanation of how he started as a consciousness millions of years ago and created a world before deciding to walk as a man is grand without being grotesque.

The problem is, it all starts to feel very two-dimensional. The movie only holds together at this point because of Zoe Saldana’s performance. She gives the picture its heart and direction. Without her, it would have been a bland mess. And with a film with so much neon, that would have been a neat trick.

Gamora Vol 2

The values of family, companionship, are the main drive. It should also be noted, that Marvel deserve some credit for allowing this part of the MCU to remain largely untouched by the main series. The Guardians still feel special and protected from the oversaturation of the superhero market.

Weak plot aside, by the movie’s end – and long closing credits with multiple scenes – just as you can’t deny Baby Groot is cute, you can’t help but feel a warmth inside. It’s a feel-good factor movie, that shouldn’t be able to trade with so little substance – but does. Maybe we’re all suckers for classic songs, 80s references, and cameos of digitally restored David Hasselhoffs?

7/10

Baby Groot

Logan (2017) – Review

If Get Out sold us short on the trailers, then Logan reset the balance. We know it’s Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, and the arrival of young girl in the said trailers indicates X-23 is likely to be brought into the X-Men cinematic universe. It’s also clear we’re heading for a serious drama, less superhero feast. Knowing all this doesn’t detract from what we’re given.

Many are saying we should thank Deadpool for Wolverine getting – at last – an adult movie. Let’s face it, his previous two solo outings were subpar. And that’s being nice about it. The studio told director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman to make the film they wanted. Why don’t studios just do this all the time?

We find an aged Wolverine in a future where mutants are a distant memory. The disappearance of those with special abilities is explained clearly. Richard E. Grant’s Zander Rice has developed the vaccine earlier X-Men films fought against. He describes getting rid of them no different than curing Polio outbreaks.

The aging of Wolverine is a little less clear. We’re led to believe that perhaps it is the adamantium slowly poisoning the body, acting as a cancer. This just doesn’t wash with me. Sorry. But he’s had it long enough to dispel that theory. However, we have excused the fact his adamantium magically reappeared at the end of Days of Future Past so we can just accept the idea he’s not in the best of shape.

Neither is Professor X. He’s being kept locked away in a metal container, on lots of meds, to protect the world from his brain. See, it’s a massive problem if your head is classed as a weapon of mass destruction but you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Logan’s joint carer for Charles Xavier is Stephen Merchant’s Caliban.

Quick segue here, so Tómas Lemarquis played Caliban in the very average X-Men: Apocalypse. The two versions in no way can be married up. It’s effectively a different character with the same ability (they’re trackers, in Logan, Caliban is captured and used to track the escaping Wolverine(s) and Professor X). It raises the question: Is Logan really canon?

It feels like a set-up for a continuation or a spin-off but could remain standalone. The future of mutants is preserved because Zander Rice has been attempting to weaponize strands of DNA with powers. Hence the arrival of the excellent Dafne Keen as Laura, or X-23, or future Wolverine.

As the story unravels, and Logan tries to get Laura to her meeting place, we realise some of these children have been saved from the clinic. The displays of abilities are the only let-down of the movie. They are clearly working to a tight budget and it betrays the feel of the majority of the film. The legend of the X-Men has made it to comic book form, which Logan explains is overblown nonsense.

The idea the reality was grittier fits the grittiness we see for the first three quarters of the story.

The only other problem is the appearance of a younger, healthier Weapon X. The film didn’t need cheap parlour tricks to slow Logan down. But it does offer a mirror on his growing and real humanity. So perhaps it was a good move?

The catalyst and reason for Logan to open up to his feelings is, of course, Laura. She steals scenes without using words. As there ever been a child actor so expressive and effective? Not to mention kick-ass bad. She’s determined and also vulnerable, she needs Logan’s love.

Charles Xavier also prods the conscious of Jackman’s character. Here it is touching as we see two old friends, with years of history, care for one another. Logan looks after his body and protects his mind. Not just from destruction but the truth of some unknown atrocity Professor X is guilty of committing.

In return Charles reminds Logan he is good. He can be saved.

The tone of Logan is perfect and as the main X-Men franchise loses its spirit and becomes more and more the mindless blockbuster it once stood apart from, this is a reminder that the best comic book films are the ones with heart.

It is graphic in parts. The stall is set out in the first scene when Logan places his claws through the skulls of carjackers. But it is never played for the sake of shock. It’s a movie trying to be honest.

Patrick Stewart announced on The Graham Norton Show this would also be his last film connected to the X-Men universe. By the end, you can understand his reasoning. There’s nothing a future film maker will be able to offer that bests this complete picture.

It is a passing of the torch. In Dafne Keen’s hands, it’ll be carried safely.

9/10

Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Review

With the new Hollywood remake out in cinemas, it was inevitable the Manga original was going to get a revisit. Or for some, a first viewing. The new Ghost in the Shell is best-known – for the time being, at least – for being responsible for reigniting the whitewashing in American movies. The original was the attempt to penetrate the western mainstream. It failed. But was it fairly overlooked?

It’s interesting when you ask people about Manga. Some will mention Akira before tailing off. Many recognise the niche films as a mark of honour. A nineties cult that defined a new type of geek-cool. For our in-house WWE expert, Clive Balls, who spent time living in Japan, they are more than quirky, in many ways they already trump Hollywood.

To the man in the middle (me), they are somewhere in between. Atmospheric animation that delves into thought provoking issues. They’re certainly not cartoons. They are the Japanese graphic novel without the awkward ties to forties comics.

Ghost in the Shell was a film ahead of its time. It took on artificial intelligence long before the current Westworld revival. It deals with gender and strips away all preconceptions long before the world at large listened to LGBT rights. The makers envisioned large networks and interconnectivity while we were all accessing the internet with dial-up.

The story centres on Major (she’s the Scarlett Johannson character). An outwardly looking female but her nakedness that reveals the dream body is purely to activate camouflage. The strength she displays and all her drives are asexual. She is something else in a world where cyborgs are commonplace, each believing they possess a soul – the ghost in the shell.

A complex argument of what defines consciousness, the individual traits that are left behind, creating the person.

As revelations unravel, Major worries that her ghost could just be clever programming. This comes about when her unit, a government agency, realises a hacker is at work, it appears the corporation that makes government cyborgs has been infiltrated.

The Puppet Master, is the name the hacker goes by, and it sets Major up for a showdown. With it, a deep insight into her own existence.

To go into further detail will unravel the apex of the story. The main takeaway from Ghost in the Shell after all these years is that the mood and feel stands up to anything that has come since. Some hallmarks have been outright robbed in major Hollywood films. The way characters move during action scenes is now the way CGI enhanced stuntmen do combat.

The soundtrack could be where Manga borrowed ideas from western sci-fi, even when using traditional Japanese songs, in terms of tension building. But the pacing is a let-down. The philosophical statements are unlikely to be surpassed in the 2017 live action remake but the flow of the film has room for improvement.

To answer the question in the opening paragraph: Yes, originally it was overlooked when it should have been embraced rather than copied. But time has aged some of its parts and degraded the once four-star film.

6/10