Valerian, Got Style, Needed Substance

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planet is based off Valérian and Laureline, the long running French Sci-Fi comic series, that ran from 1967 to 2010. Director Luc Besson has been a fan of this franchise since his youth, and has long dreamed to bring the characters alive on the big screen. In a summer full of remakes and reboots, Valerian at least offers audiences something original. Will it be a breath of fresh air?

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a Major within the Alpha space station. An enormous structure which has built up exponentially, since its early years as the International Space Station. Alpha is now a sprawling galactic community containing thousands of alien races and over a million different languages. Valerian is tasked to keep the peace and well-being of the citizens, along with his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevinge). It’s soon revealed there is an imminent threat building up within the core of the colony and our heroes will need to find out what’s causing it & prevent the downfall off Alpha.

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Cara Delevingne stars in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS Photo courtesy of STX Films and Europacorp

It’s always a gamble using source material that the general public are unaware off.  But Guardians of the Galaxy has proved if you do it right, it can work like a dream. Unfortunately, Valerian simply lacks any charm or charisma that made Guardians a huge hit. This is down to the two leads, who are vastly unlikable, nor do you really care about their journey. Neither DeHaan or Delavigne have the personality or gravitas to carry a franchise like this on their own. There is no real character growth, and their arcs are no cause for any interest. Considering the budget on this film, near $200m, the highest ever for a French movie, it’s a curious decision for the movie to cast these two to headline the film.

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Off the bat in Guardians, the audience immediately adore Starlord following the opening credits! Here, even after 2 hours, you still don’t care! We never get any background into the heroes, how long were they in the force for? What about their backstory? How long have they been a couple for? Their romance is put front and center of the movie, when it should have been a secondary plot. Why should we care about their relationship, when we hardly know who they are! Both characters have pretty much equal screen time, so it is a curious decision to remove Laureline from the movie’s title.

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While the leads may not be the most enthralling, Besson has created a visually stunning movie. It’s clear to see how much The Fifth Element, which he also directed, had an influence here! It’s obvious to see that he was a big fan of the comics, and he does his best to recreate the vibe of something he is a huge fan of.  From the bustling metropolis of Alpha, to the paradise beaches of Planet Mul, the movie is overflowing with gorgeous visuals. The entire Pearl’s species were a nice distraction from the grim space urban jungle the rest of the film is set in.  A lot of effort has been put in to make the comics come to life, and for that, praise has to go to the director. The scene involving Valerian breaking through walls and traversing several different landscapes of Alpha while in pursuit is a riveting scene. The movie has several concepts that could have been explored in more detail. Such as the alternate dimension that seems to exist, the vast collection of aliens and locations we could explore. But the film does not stray too far for its comfort zone. If there is a second film, they have so much to work with!

But we never see more of this fascinating world; instead we have to sit through a bickering couple and various side quests.

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The film suffers from random detours, which seem to solely exist to add to the films runtime. If its not randomly chasing a psychic jellyfish. It’s having to obtain a disguise to break into enemy territory. (When being a government official should be enough!). Though this is how we meet the most interesting character by far, Bubbles, the shape shifter played by Rihanna! In 10 minutes, her character gives us more reason to care about her story than our leading duo. The movie dropped the ball by not giving that character more screen time, rather than a side character. Ethan Hawke also has a blast as the ridiculously extravagant owner of one of the strip clubs Valerian finds himself in. The villain of the piece is Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), his actions are made clear early on, so it’s no surprise when the film reveals his history. His isn’t a truly evil person, more someone who sticks strictly to his military code. His revelation is not as shocking as they could have made it, and the final reveal is very underwhelming.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planet is not a bad movie, if you love Sci-Fi, then you should consider giving this a watch. The film does offer something original, so you have to give it credit for that. That said, the film never reaches its full potential, with the miscast heroes, the lack of character development and a plot that drags on for way too long, it fades away into a generic but beautiful summer release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caesar Reigns in Planet of The Apes

This summer has been pretty low-key in regards to well acclaimed blockbusters, can War for the Planet of the Apes (let’s just call it War from here on!) succeed where films such as The Mummy, Transformers & Baywatch stumbled?

War is the final chapter of the newly rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, which started with Rise in 2011 and Dawn in 2014, both movies were well received by both fans and critics, so hopes were high for War.

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The final chapter sees our main protagonist, Caesar (Andy Serkis) once again lead his colony of apes, as they look to escape to terrains new, and save his people (apes!) from the ruthless clutches of Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  With the help of his close allies, Caesar puts it all on the line, to once and for all,  put an end to the plight his colonyface.

War is an enthralling adventure, and it’s a movie you can enjoy as a standalone, without having much knowledge of the prior 2 movies. I haven’t had the chance to watch either Rise or Dawn, and did worry things may not make much sense! But the movie does a great job in dropping in details of prior movies without breaking the flow of the movie, there were reference to prior characters and events, but even as someone watching without knowing the lore, you can still piece it all together.  Not seeing the other two will not affect your enjoyment in any huge way.

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By far the most fantastic aspect of the movie is the motion capture, it is frankly stunning. This series has done wonders in giving actors in motion capture the recognition they deserve. Andy Serkis has been widely praised for his performances in the Apes movies, and rightly so. It cannot be easy to act in total green screen, while moving and acting in the ways an ape would.  If you have the time, do go and look at the behind the scenes footage, to see how much work is put into motion capture! It’s also the sheer detail of the apes that is amazing. There are several close ups throughout the movie that flaunt how much attention to detail was put it, especially with Maurice. The snowy settings up in the mountains really do provide a gorgeous backdrop the the film. It really is a great to look at.

Caesar’s story arc is one of revenge, which seems him go on a mission to take down the sinister Colonel, but he is joined by a group of his closest allies. Maurice (Karin Konoval), the Orangutan, who is Caesars top adviser, and one of the more heart warming characters in a somber movie.  Luca (Micael Adamthwaite) the Gorilla, and Rocket (Terry Notary) the Chimpanzee lend the muscle, as they also join our hero on his mission. Along the way, they meet a mute girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), who a reluctant Caesar brings along, due to the protestations of Maurice. They also meet Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the token comic relief, and a  runaway chimp who suffered after his time imprisoned at a Zoo.  Bad Ape could have gone awry,  but his fragile mentality was a good method to make him say what he does in these grim situations.

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War is an emotional ride, as several characters meet their demise, and director Matt Reeves manages to make us care and feel the struggle of a group on non human characters, which alone could have been hard to do. While there are huge epic set pieces in the film, at it’s heart, it’s a sober tale of war and suffering. You believe any one of our characters could meet their end at any moment.

The plot is rather straightforward to follow,  it’s nothing groundbreaking. But it’s the tone and execution of the film that makes it wonderful to watch. Be it the sheer panic of the battle scenes, the desperation of the prison camps or the grit shown by Caeser in the face of torture and oppression. The story weaves it all in one engrossing adventure. Be prepared to be reading loads of subtitles though, apart from Caesar, Bad Ape and the humans, the rest interact in their own language. So if you are not a fan of subtitles, you have been warned!

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Woody Harrelson does fine as our antagonist, the film gives us a reason to hate him, and his treatment of the imprisoned apes are barbaric. But, he just feels slightly rushed through. His character did not appear in any prior movies, so feels pretty dispensable. Is this guy really the one who the 3 movies lead up to?  You would think the final part of trilogy would have the long standing enemy at its core. Also, his grand plan really made no sense. Which was to build a frankly useless wall! Yes he was evil, but not really the smartest of villains,  I would have preferred a far more calculating villain, to match the astute Caesar.

The running time of almost 2:30 hours is vastly inflated. The film could have been told in a much shorter amount of time, and you do feel like it is dragging on as the film approaches its finale.

War deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving, and it provides a suitable ending to the trilogy. You really root for our heroes to succeed,  and want to rally behind them. You really grow to despise the Army, and that ticks all the boxes even at the very basic levels of story telling. The action and battle scenes are intense, and surprisingly violent! Combined with the gorgeous visuals , War is one of the films of this Summer! Apes Together Strong…….

 

 

 

Spidey Spins A Web of Laughs

One of the surprises in Captain America: Civil War last year was the addition of Spiderman in the superhero melee, following the character being lost in the corporate purgatory between Sony and Marvel. Fans were finally treated to seeing the webslinger make his long awaited debut in the MCU, and now, we have his first solo MCU outing, Spiderman: Homecoming.

Spiderman has seen several reincarnations within the last decade or so! So comparisons will be made, will it live up to the charming Sam Raimi trilogy (well first two anyway, the less said about 3!) or will Homecoming be more like the divisive Amazing reboots of the early 2010’s?

As the title suggests, Homecoming is set during high school, and the run up to homecoming dance (spoiler alert!). There is no origin story in this film, which is great, every Spidey fan knows about that, and it would be wasted time. We really don’t need to see Uncle Ben die for a third time! The film picks up pretty much right after his antics in Civil War (with his own personal videos from his travels to Germany!), we follow Peter Parker, as he gets to grasp with his entire new found suit and his social struggles at home & school.

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Homecoming thankfully is another fine notch in the ever-growing MCU repertoire. Homecoming gives the audience a plucky young Peter to root for, supported by a mentoring Tony Stark (and Happy Hogan!), and for the first time in a long while, a villain which feels fleshed out and threatening. This makes a nice change from the villains who are bad because……….they are bad.

Tom Holland is excellent as Peter, as well as Tobey Maguire & Andrew Garfield were, they were both well into their 20s when playing the role. So it always felt a bit awkward seeing them play high schoolers. Holland is 21, so looks far more convincing as a young teen, and has the acting chops to pull it off too. The appearance of Ironman has been well publicized in this film, and Robert Downey Jr. is as always awesome in the scenes that he has. I was a bit worried beforehand that the film may have too much Ironman in it, taking away Spidey’s time to shine, but luckily it’s not overdone. The moments that he does appear, are pretty much already revealed in the trailers, which is a shame.

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The real stars of the supporting cast are Ned (Jacob Batalon), Parker’s best friend, the enthusiastic best man, who is more than happy to just be involved with Spiderman and be ‘the guy in the chair’, and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), the long standing right hand man of Tony Stark (his been there since the very start!) who has to reluctantly be the chaperone of the eager Parker. Both are always a welcoming presence to any scene they are in.

Michael Keaton as The Vulture is superb as a character, you understand his motivations for his actions, and he isn’t simply a maniacal villain. He is conflicted by his actions, but well aware he has to do it for personal reasons. He also has wonderfully intense scene with Peter in the final act, which was great to watch! It also has a nice tie in to the events following Avengers Assemble.

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The film is downright hilarious. Peter’s interactions with Ned & Happy always bring a few laughs. The fact the new Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is attractive is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the film.  Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Peter’s rival at school, who was the type cast cocky jock, is now more of a smug rich kid. His smugness while annoying, works well at gaining sympathy for Parker, while also having a chuckle on both their behalves!  Michelle (Zandaya), one of Peter’s reclusive and enigmatic classmates randomly pops up every now and again, to drop a sarcastic one liner, which could have been cheesy, but actually fits in rather well. There’s also an appearance from actor/rapper/funny guy Donald Glover, fans of his work will revel in his cameo! Peter also has some witty exchanges with his suits AI, who he names Karen. One of the jokes the film makes at itself is regarding what happens when there aren’t any high rises for Spidey to swing between? Well, he just has to run on foot!

The movie has it’s fair share of action set pieces. with the highlight being the ferry scene. This does though feel like a very poor imitation of the train scene in Spiderman 2, and just doesn’t feel as momentous. The scenes in the Washington Monument may be a little less chaotic, but feels far more fresh and original.

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What did let the film down for me was the frankly generic final showdown. It becomes somewhat of a CGI mess, involving a chaotic battle outside a plane, then a flaming beach. It feels somewhat numbing and just too much is happening to really take it in properly. It doesn’t help the scenes take place at night! The main love interest Liz (Laura Harrier), is also particularly bland, her only characteristic is being one of the popular girls at school and a plot device. Another bugbear in the run up to this movie was the sheer amount of material released in the trailers and other clips in the run up. I was already aware of several key scenes. A franchise like Spiderman doesn’t need to release so much material to get the anticipation up, just a personal annoyance, but that’s more to do with the marketing and studios, and not the movie itself!

Homecoming spins a web of fun, and if you’re a fan of the hero, or just enjoy an enjoyable superhero film, will love the characters, cast and humour.  Personally, I still believe Spiderman 2 is still the most best movie out of the collection, but Homecoming does a stellar job is reintroducing the character and getting him entwined in the Avengers saga! Though I still can’t forgive Marvel for that horrendous Homecoming poster with near every character thrown onto it! :/

 

 

“Kubo and the Two Strings” Review

It’s very rare nowadays to see a top notch animation that is not made by Disney Pixar or Dreamworks. But Laika, whose previous works include the intriguingly dark Coraline, has released their latest stop motion animation, which could give films like Zootropolis a run for its money come Oscar season!

‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is Director Travis Knight’s directorial debut, and he does not disappoint. KATTS follows the journey of a young boy named Kubo who sets off on a mystical adventure in order to defeat the evil Moon King who is pursuing him. In his journey he is joined by the aptly named Monkey (the no-nonsense, toughmaxresdefault talker) & Beetle (the comic relief!) in his quest to retrieve the 3 pieces of the magic armour, the key in defeating the main antagonist.

It’s the animation that steals the show, the use of stop motion animation gives the film a unique charm that you simply cannot recreate using standalone CGI.The scenes featuring the origami models are the most impressive, considering the detail that is put into it. The cast behind the characters is stellar.  Featuring huge names such as Charlize Theron, Matthewkubo-and-the-two-strings-beetle1 MaConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes & George Takei. All of whom bring the characters to life. Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones fame does a fine job with the title character.

The film itself does get rather dark at times, especially in the scenes featuring the evil sisters. Who stalk the hero throughout the film, and it has some rather violent fight scenes, so its not all bright colours and one-liners!

The film isn’t perfect though, the ending seems rushed and slightly out of place. The resolution with the villain doesn’t feel satisfying, and the original backstory is left rather vague at times. This doesn’t take much away from the film though. Kubo has to be one of the most visually stunning films of the year, and hopefully it will get some recognition for all the hard work put into creating this!

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