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Spider-Man: Far From Home

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As the dust settles on Avengers: Endgame, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes a breath, one final film rounds out the critical and financial juggernaut that has been Phase Three. This could have been a risky move, as Endgame was a wonderfully-executed finale and it’s always a good idea to leave the audience wanting more. Happily, however, Spider-Man: Far From Home makes a convincing case for its own existence and is a delightful adventure to boot.

Spider-Man: Far From Home takes place in the aftermath of Endgame and the world is a much-changed place. In the film’s hilarious early scenes, we see the effects of half the population vanishing and then reappearing five years later in an event now known as “the blip”. In particular, we focus on how this has changed life for the students of The Midtown School of Science and Technology, the school of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland). After the breezy introduction, Peter is relieved to go on a school trip to Europe, where he wants to hang with his bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) and finally admit his feelings to MJ (Zendaya). Of course, Peter’s life rarely runs smoothly, and his plans swiftly come unstuck in Venice when the sinking city is attacked by a Water Elemental. Spidey must leap to the rescue, also coming across Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a handsome super-powered stranger who claims to be from an alternate earth. Is Quentin all he claims to be, or is there a deeper mystery to be explored?

Far From Home continues Spider-Man: Homecoming’s light and snappy tone, but manages to raise the emotional stakes in ways that feel authentic and rarely twee. It’s a testament to the quality of the acting, particularly Holland and Zendaya, that the film’s teen drama is as compelling as the superhero action. Jake Gyllenhaal is delightful here too, and director Jon Watts does excellent work realising Mysterio’s shenanigans in original, visually exciting ways. And while the villain’s motivation is never quite as compelling as Michael Keaton’s Vulture from Homecoming, arguably the MCU’s most nuanced baddie, it’s thematically consistent with a cinematic universe in a period of change.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a breezy romp that positively drips with crowd-pleasing charm. It manages to illustrate the changes in the MCU, deliver an engaging superhero story and sketch out a credible teen drama in just a little over two hours and contains two of the best post credit sequences to date. If you’re in the mood for a light adventure with loads of chuckles and heart, Far From Home should be your next travel destination.

 
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Avengers: Endgame

comic bok, Marvel, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

When the credits roll on the just-over-three-hours Avengers: Endgame, one can’t help but be struck by what a staggering achievement this film represents. This is the 22nd (!) Marvel movie in eleven years, and yet somehow Endgame delivers a satisfying, emotional and unexpectedly thoughtful conclusion to a series of films that began in 2008 with an unlikely little flick about a comic book character no one particularly cared about, Iron Man. We say “conclusion” because even though the Marvel films continue – hell, Spider-Man: Far from Home drops in just a few months – the events of Endgame fundamentally change the Marvel Cinematic Universe in profound ways.

The story of Avengers: Endgame picks up after the bleak, soul-crushing ending of Avengers: Infinity War. You know, when Thanos (Josh Brolin) clicked his fingers and disintegrated 50% of life in the universe, including many of our favourite Marvel characters. Well, as you can imagine, everyone’s pretty gutted about the whole affair, particularly Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) ie: the original Avengers lineup from 2012. Naturally Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t going to take their most recent staggering defeat lying down, but how do you solve a problem like Thanos?

After the seemingly endless battle scenes of Infinity War, Endgame spends much of its runtime on more personal journeys. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a shitload of brightly-coloured superheroes bashing the crap out of baddies, but it’s more focused and intimate, somehow. The stakes here are universe-saving, yes, but the way they’re expressed feels more nuanced, with genuine moments of honest pathos. This is a celebration of what has occurred thus far in the MCU, and a love letter to the fans, but also a farewell, and those are always bittersweet.

Performance wise everyone’s at the top of their game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans delivering particularly strong performances. Jeremy Renner is finally given something to do, with a surprising arc, and Chris Hemsworth showcases a slightly more comedic side to Thor, continuing the fine work from Thor: Ragnarok. The only dud note is Mark Ruffalo who does what he can with a rather muddled subplot that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, which is a pity because his Hulk has always been a series highlight.

Avengers: Endgame is epic in the truest sense of the word, spanning across space and time, both in story and reality. This movie is three hours long, and though it never really slackens the pace it may test the bladders and patience of those who are still bemused by the staggering success of the MCU. But then, if you’re in that rather joyless demographic, Endgame was never going to be the film for you. This is a delicious platter of delights designed specifically for the fans, that only very occasionally begins to feel like fan service.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame manages to run the gamut of emotions, from existential dread to giddy joy, offering a messy but utterly compelling denouement to a fascinating, and successful, experiment in longform cinematic storytelling. It’s bold, gutsy and profoundly moving and if you find yourself ugly crying through the final 30 minutes, know that you’re not alone.

 
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Captain Marvel

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Of all the Marvel “Phase Three” movies, Captain Marvel seemed the most worrisome. Hitting screens with an uncharacteristic lack of fanfare, on the back of a series of middling trailers, the concern has been “will this one be a dud?” Add to that screeching incel choir gibbering madly from various dark and sticky corners of the internet, and it seemed poor old Carol Danvers had the odds stacked against her. Happily, like Ms. Danvers, Captain Marvel excels when the going gets tough.

Captain Marvel tells the triumphant tale of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a member of an elite Kree military unit called Starforce. Carol appears human, and even has sporadic human memories, but isn’t sure how much to trust them. She and the rest of Starforce, led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), are busy protecting the Kree empire from the evil Skrulls, an insidious group of shapeshifting aliens. During a rescue mission they fall afoul of an ambush led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the most nefarious and Aussie Skrull alive. Without wishing to spoil anything, let’s just say the narrative takes a few twists and turns and we end up on the “shithole” planet called Earth in the grungetastic year, 1995.

Captain Marvel, more than any other MCU flick in recent memory, is chockers with plot twists, feints and surprising reveals, so we’ll tread carefully. Needless to say, the action on earth features a younger, two eyed, Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), a mystery to unravel Carol’s former life, including bestie Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). This is where the film really begins to shine, with Larson able to show off some of her Academy Award winning acting chops. Carol’s snarky, glib banter with Fury juxtaposes beautifully with the genuine, rueful closeness she feels with Maria, offering surprisingly moving moments of pathos. However, it is homegrown Ben Mendelsohn who absolutely owns this film, speaking in his genuine Australian accent and bringing so much to a villain role that could have played as a shallow caricature.

The direction from the two-person team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Mississippi Grind) is initially a little more understated than previous entries, particularly in the film’s comparatively clumsy first act, but soon finds its footing once some of the plot reveals land. Plus the pair absolutely nail the more emotional beats, avoiding the schmaltz factor that can occasionally creep into these flicks.

Ultimately, Captain Marvel is an excellent addition to the Marvel canon, giving us a breath of hopeful fresh air before whatever occurs in Avengers: Endgame next month. The performances are stellar, the action – particularly in the third act – is spectacular, and charming banter meshes perfectly with more nuanced dramatic beats. Young Nick Fury is some of Jackson’s best work in years, Space Mendo is an actual revelation and Brie Larson proves herself a capable, admirable superhero who will hopefully curb stomp Thanos into a puddle of purple goo.

Captain Marvel is two hours of hopeful, colourful, space opera-ry comic book escapism, with a pumping ’90s soundtrack and, perhaps most importantly, an awesome ginger cat called Goose.

 
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Venom

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Created in the mid ‘80s and becoming inexplicably popular in the ‘90s, the Venom comic book character looks like an over designed toothy scribble without much personality beyond “really big mouth” and “likes breaking/eating things”. So, in a weird way having a terrible film based on a terrible character is somewhat fitting? Sadly, that doesn’t make schlepping your way through 112 long, tedious minutes any more enjoyable.

Venom tells the tale of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist/vlogger/sexy mumbling man who manages to blow up his life with Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) after executing a bone-headed plan to publicly expose the shonky shenanigans of Elon Musk-like evil genius, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This leads, in a slow, roundabout way (that we won’t spoil, but it’s very stupid indeed) to Eddie becoming a host to an alien parasite that chats a lot, possesses super powers and has a penchant for biting off human heads. That last sentence probably makes Venom sound like dumb fun. Don’t be fooled, a couple of moderately entertaining moments aside the flick is a dud, making bafflingly poor decisions at almost every turn.

For a start the three main actors – Hardy, Williams, Ahmed – all deliver the worst performances of their respective careers. None of them will be ruined by this turkey, thankfully, but holy crap what a difference a decent script and a canny director make! Ahmed in particular appears to be drowning in a sea of godawful dialogue and staggeringly inept character work. The visual effects are okay but they’re in service of a character, Venom himself, who seems to change motivation and mood for no reason at all, leading to a climax with an almost identical foe that you might be able to make out if you squint really hard. Of course, by the time this flick reaches its third act you’ll just be glad it’s over, as all but the most masochistic audience members will have checked out over an hour before.

Venom is a bad film, poorly plotted, shockingly acted with nary but a couple of visually interesting moments to lift you from the oily black swamp of boredom. It’s not hard to see what director Ruben Fleischer was going for here, and once or twice snatches of the film that could have been shine through, but ultimately this is a jaw-dropping misfire and feels like a product of a time when comic book adaptations were notoriously bad like Spawn (1997). And hell, at least Spawn had an awesome soundtrack, the only appropriate musical accompaniment to Venom is the scornful, mocking laughter of an irritated audience.