Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (FR, 2017)

Awesome name right, flippin' awesome. This attractively titled movie is based on the French comicbook series Valérian and Laureline. I've never heard of this comicbook series but apparently its one of the biggest Franco-Belgian titles around. There is also an animated series of this comic too, who'd of thought it.

I really liked the basic setup for this movie. Via flashbacks in the opening credits we are told the story of the International Space Station (ISS). It starts off historically accurate showcasing the station being placed into Earth's orbit, and then slowly over the years sections being added and different countries joining the crew. But as we progress further into the future things obviously become more fictional with the station growing larger and larger and eventually alien creatures greeting humans on-board in diplomatic, historical events. It gets to a point where ISS is so big it becomes a danger to Earth, so its moved off into deep space and renamed 'Alpha'. And thus we have the massive space city of a thousand planets (referring to all the alien species that live within the city).

This one concept is fantastic, love it. The rest of the films plot not so much. Essentially what we have is yet another Avatar-esque story surrounding a primitive race of aliens that have their home planet unceremoniously wiped out by nasty humans. It wasn't an intentional act mind you but whatever. These aliens infiltrate the massive Alpha city to assimilate human knowledge in order to build a new ship that can recreate their home world (I didn't understand this part). This also involved finding a couple mcguffins and some kidnapping hijinks, which in turn brings in our human protagonists, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to solve the case.

Right lets look at the best part of this movie, in fact its the only good thing in this movie. So Valerian and Laureline have been tasked with finding the 'Mül converter', a creature that can clone anything it eats, and it can apparently eat anything? This meant going to a vast open desert which is the location of an extra-dimensional market place, and tourist attraction. Within the extra-dimensional marketplace they must infiltrate an alien gangsters lair to steal said converter.

So basically what this means is, somewhere else in the universe (and in another dimension) there is this huge Tatooine-esque town and market. But the only way to reach or visit it is via special attire that allows the user to cross space and time in an instant. The user is basically a projected hologram in the distant extra-dimensional market place; whilst back in the desert the user walks around almost like they're using a virtual reality headset.



At the same time Valerian is able to use smaller versions of this technology in the form of a simple cube device. This allows him to simply put his hand into the cube which contains a portal of sorts. So on one side of the cube his hand is in the extra-dimensional market place, like a dismembered floating hand; whilst the rest of him is still in the desert in relative safety. It all sounds quite complex and its hard to explain in writing, but trust me its a fantastic bit of futuristic visual fantasy.

In short what we get for the first half of this movie (after a rather soppy beginning involving the primitive alien race) is a superb slice of science fiction that encapsulates amazing imagination, mind boggling futuristic technology, wonderfully designed alien beings, an atmospheric setting, and a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride. Admittedly its not all perfectly original as we've all seen sandy alien marketplaces before...ahem, but that's being picky.

But here lies the problem with this movie. After this mesmerising sequence of innovative action the entire movie literally falls to pieces, its crumbles under its own weight. For a start it won't have escaped your attention that the two protagonists are utterly terrible and miscast. Both DeHaan and Delevingne come across like emotionless robots with glazed over eyes. The duo don't gel together romantically or when the action kicks in. Its actually quite remarkable really, both come across like CGI characters devoid of any real human characteristics, its like they were both grown in a lab by Hollywood. DeHaan looks like a younger DiCaprio but with none of the talent; whilst Delevingne has one default facial expression she obviously learnt from her fashion modelling days.



These main character issues obviously affect other parts of the movie. Naturally you as the viewer don't care about either of them; you know neither will die anyway but you couldn't care a less because they're so robotic. When we are first introduced to both Valerian and Laureline, Valerian proposes to Laureline, but she says no. This is supposed to make us feel emotion for Valerian, but because they are both so zombie-like in performance and we know nothing about them, its falls completely flat. In the fantastic marketplace action sequence the duo actually infiltrate said marketplace with a team of other elite police officers. All these guys get killed...but who cares? Well clearly Valerian and Laureline don't, just another day at the office.

On space station Alpha during an important summit meeting to discuss the mysterious toxic zone at the centre of the station, the primitive aliens break in and kidnap Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen). This really made no sense because we are led to believe that technology is so advanced in this age that the sheer notion of anyone being able to sneak into an important area in the station and actually take out all the security...would be nigh on impossible. Yet the so called primitive race manage just this and kidnap the commander. They also managed to land their craft nearby, and no one detected this? The fact these primitive aliens also seem to be so very environmentally friendly, passive and perfect makes this political move even more unbelievable really. We're talking about half naked aliens covered in seashell jewellery here people.



This leads to a large chase sequence where Valerian suits up in some other super hi-tech suit thing which enables him to smash through any and all walls. This gives us a brilliant sequence showcasing all the various environments within Alpha. Problem is these different environments include underwater sections and areas which are clearly finely balanced for their alien inhabitants. But none of that matters because Valerian smashes through walls, seemingly obliterating balanced environments yet not causing any major catastrophes such as huge leaks from the underwater areas.

Things go from bad to worse as we are introduced to the three exposition aliens that try to simplify the plot for us when things get too ridiculous. There's an entire underwater sequence with a Captain Nemo type character that is completely pointless. There's the casting of Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer called Bubble (pretty awful CGI effects). Much like the Captain Nemo character Bubble is also pretty pointless and could have quite easily been removed. Obviously Besson wanted Rihanna in for the star power. Speaking of wanting star power, there's also Ethan Hawke as Bubble's pimp, again pointless. There are jellyfish type creatures that can read your brain and show you pretty much everything that's ever popped in there, including dreams and visions. Huge sea creatures live in sections of Alpha apparently. And there are also entire undiscovered civilisations within Alpha, that's how big it is.

There is so much I could write about this movie both good and bad. The reason being there is so much in-depth detail and world building in this movie, its quite an achievement really. Luc Besson has outdone himself here and easily bettered his other famous sci-fi 'The Fifth Element' in my opinion. Although I have no idea how accurate this is to the original source material. But the one huge sticky problem is...the movie just can't sustain itself and just collapses. It goes from being a reasonably intelligent, exciting and unique space opera into a formulaic, messy, incoherent, unoriginal snooze fest. Don't get me wrong, the movie looks incredible with its lavish other-worldly designs and vivid aliens, but talk about an anti-climax. So kudos for nearly everything, but maybe they should have focused the movie around that first marketplace location. Really wanted to love this but in the end I can't help but feel disappointed.

6.5/10

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)

Back in 2014 we got an animated movie based on the world famous building bricks for children, Lego. Now I'm willing to admit that when I first heard about this movie I scoffed at it and brushed it aside as a mere gimmick. I'm sure many folk did the same upon hearing the news of a Lego movie. But low and behold that movie turned out to be something special and did very well. Before we all knew what had hit us Lego movies were suddenly a thing, something big, something to anticipate.

Then in 2017 along came Lego Batman and once again, despite the first movies success I doubted it. I thought it was just gonna be a cheap spin-off, a tacky cash-in. Again I was wrong as Lego Batman kicked ass, although not as much ass as the original movie. And now we have the third Lego movie, the second of 2017! Should I have the same concern? Are they now pumping out too many Lego movies? What exactly is Ninjago anyway?

So what the flip is Lego Ninjago? Well basically its an old Lego ninja line from the late 90's which was somewhat based around feudal Japan. This line was simply spruced up with lots of new modern elements to appeal to modern kids. These elements included things like modern/futuristic technology, vehicles, actual characters etc...whilst retaining a mystical supernatural element at the same time. This was all wrapped around a kind of Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles type of vibe. A group of young crime fighters fighting evil with fantasy elements.

So what's the plot all about? Well its Power Rangers and...that's pretty much it. All these Lego folk live on an island apparently called Ninjago (Ninjago?). The evil Lord Garmadon constantly attacks the island because he wants to rule over it. Garmadon being a sort of supernatural samurai warrior type bloke. But Ninjago island has a counter to these attacks, an anonymous team of ninjas warriors that always mange to defeat Garmadon. This small team of ninjas is led by Lloyd Garmadon, son of Lord Garmadon. Everyone on Ninjago knows Lloyd is Garmadon's son and they hate him for it, but they don't know he's the leader of this special ninja defense force.



So one day Garmadon successfully takes control of Ninjago which forces Lloyd to use the secret ultimate weapon that is guarded by their Master Wu (Jackie Chan). The ultimate weapon that Master Wu said specifically not to use. So Lloyd uses it and brings forth a giant live action cat. Yes that's right, the evil force in this movie is actually a part CGI, part live action cat which then proceeds to destroy Ninjago island. Now they must all work together to stop this destruction. Can you sense the family angst and woe!

So firstly the cat, yep I hated that, truly. The finale in the original movie which exposes the Lego world to merely be a kids imagination was brave and I appreciated that, but I still didn't like it all that much. But this really turned me off, having an actual live action cat be the deadly force that is destroying the city. Twas like watching something outta South Park or Monty Python. It doesn't look tacky or anything, it just seemed like a lazy and shit idea. To top that the main (supposed) villain of Lord Garmadon is utterly pointless really. There's no point in this character at all except for some gags. There doesn't really seem to be any reason for him wanting to take over Ninjago, other than he just can. And his dastardly evil lair is a volcano island which sits virtually right next to Ninjago. Its almost like they're not even trying anymore.

I think the main issue with this movie is originality and lack of it. The young team of ninjas are obviously something of a send-up on things like the Power Rangers; but they're still just as corny and clearly trying to actually be them to appeal to that specific audience base. You still get all this naff stuff like their names 'ninja of ice', and having their own individual giant mechs, everything being colour-coded, and of course all the hokey martial arts tomfoolery that's just been done to death oh my God!!! There are just cliches upon cliches in here and I know its deliberate but that's not really an excuse because even that angle has been done to death. How many parodies of the same shit can you possibly do??



Of course the visuals are a treat with these Lego movies (or any animated movies these days). Part of the fun for someone of my age is seeing all the retro Lego pieces popping up. But ultimately the visuals are terrific, full of life and tiny details (I like how almost every part has the Lego stamp on it, or a part/piece code). I also have to give kudos to the imagination on display despite it all being unoriginal overall. They have both captured and ripped-off many genres very well, or however you wanna look at it. The only issue being (as with the other Lego movies), its very hard to watch action sequences because its so in your face and hectic. It just becomes a blur of colourful CGI flying about the place, kinda like the Transformers movies. I mainly refer to the large mechs here.

Yes there is a lot of humour in here, some of it childish naturally, some of it for folks of my age...appreciated. I admit to liking the little swipes at popular pop culture, the little parodies of other movies, the odd bit of crude toilet humour, and simply mocking genres. I liked how Garmadon explains his origins, being bitten by a snake that had in turn been bitten by a spider, hence his four arms. The team attempting to hide in the bamboo forest was a nice little giggle. And I also liked Garmadon's henchmen/women were all simply regular people but in different silly outfits eg. shark, octopus etc...Not sure why they were all ocean lifeform based but whatever. But there does come a point where you feel, like everything else, you've seen and heard it all before. There is only so much you can do before it just becomes mundane.

The Lego Batman flick had a shit-tonne of movie parodies and send-ups which was cool, but you can't keep just doing that. And this is the real problem with many movies these days. The Lego movie was an original concept that worked brilliantly at first, but they're milking the feck out of it and bottom line, its showing. These movies are now fast becoming a highlight reel of mini parody sketches, and nothing much else. That would be fine for freebies on You-Tube or whatever, but you can't keep doing movies like this. Bottom line all the cliches in the book were mocked, mocked good...again; but that in itself is still cliche. There's nothing new in this, time to move on.

6.5/10

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

























Holy spandex we're back with another Spider-Man movie. The Raimi movies came to a grinding halt after a well rounded start, and the Marc Webb movies (hehe Webb) never really got off the ground. So Marvel stepped in and secured a deal with Sony to gain back the rights of Spidey, sort of. We were then presented with yet another Spider-Man reboot but this time under the guidance of Marvel (along with Columbia, Amy Pascal and Sony).

The plot pretty much does exactly what anyone would expect it to do really. The only difference being this time they have skipped the whole origins part of the tale. We jump straight into the story with Parker already established as Spider-Man (something everyone knows because it follows on from 'Captain America: Civil War'). We do get the origins of this films villain, Adrian Toomes/Vulture, and we do get a lot more of Parker amongst his young high school buddies. But bottom line, Toomes is trying to scavenge Chitauri technology (from 'The Avengers') so he can build and sell advanced weapons. Toomes is essentially an arms dealer and Parker must stop him, the end.

So initially we are introduced to Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his men as they salvage Chituari technology. They are stopped and ordered to cease their work at once by the Department of Damage Control (a partnership of Tony Stark and the US government). This pisses off Toomes and he asks his men to stay with him so he can build a powerful suit...and make weapons illegally. Firstly this entails a large operation which I'm not too sure how Toomes manages to keep under wraps. Secondly, why would his men stick by his side knowing they are doing illegal shit? OK they need work, but illegal work? And they help Toomes build his all powerful Vulture suit...why?? Surely alarm bells should be ringing with these blue collar guys by now.



From here its back to school with Parker (Tom Holland) and his amazing bunch of diverse friends. Yep just like Star Trek this movie has taken the tokenistic route by literally representing every group of people with each character. Nothing wrong with that but it always tends to come across as a little too on the nose; a little bit too perfect looking. But anyway in this movie we have a young girl called Zendaya playing a spunky character called MJ who isn't the classic MJ we all know of. Yes for some reason the powers that be thought it would be cool to play with everyone's mind by making us think they race swapped MJ. But then they went and race swapped Flash Thompson for real so...hurray? Of course to blend in with present society this MJ is a kind of weird emo SJW type who refuses to go up the Washington Monument on a school field trip because she claims it was built by slaves...ugh!! Thing is no one actually knows for sure if said monument was constructed by slaves, so this line comes across sounding very smug and stupid.

The idea of updating Flash to a more nerdy looking, book smart, spoilt, wealthy rich kid was a nice idea but ultimately it just didn't work. Flash needs to have a bigger frame than Parker for this confrontation to work, visually at least. Although Tony Revolori did a fine job he just didn't come across as threatening in any way and the whole idea just fell flat. I realise they went for a more fun jokey angle but it just didn't work, for me anyway. I mean they could of at least cast a bigger person surely. Then again we have another character with the same name as the original comicbook character (Ned) but we aren't sure (yet) if its the same person. But seeing as this movies Ned is played by a rather large chap (Jacob Batalon), and in the comics Ned becomes the Hobgoblin, I'd say it isn't the same guy. Liz Allan, Parker's love interest has also been race swapped, oh and they also race swap Shocker within the movie for good measure.

As for Holland's portrayal of Parker/Spidey, is it the best version thus far? Yes I'd say so, but mainly because he is just about the correct age, and looks it. This has been the issue with previous Spidey movies, the fact that Parker/Spidey just looked too damn old and was also too damn moody. This time they have successfully captured the light-hearted, youthful, bubbly, optimistic side of Spider-Man; heck you could almost see speech bubbles popping up over his head every time he spoke. So yes overall Holland has the youthful looks, he genuinely looks fit and athletic (not overloaded with muscles), and his acting chops fit the bill perfectly. My only issue would be his suit which was way too over the top with Stark technology. Drop all that gadgetry and we're good.



But lets cut to the chase here, there was only one stand out element in this movie and that was Michael Keaton as Toomes. I'm gonna be brutally frank here, most of this movie was a wash, rinse and repeat scenario in my opinion. Yes Holland is the perfect Spidey and yes the visual are of course good. But the main action sequences were the same shit we've all seen before. Hero saves his friends from disaster. Hero saves a load of people from a big disaster, in this case stopping a ferry from splitting in two which was basically ridiculous in so many ways. Hero faces off against guy in super suit. Hero saves the day with more carnage at the end...yet no emergency services turn up? Usual Marvel hero quips throughout and Happy Hogan was an annoying asshole.

This movie was all about Keaton and his creepy yet grounded performance as the Vulture. Yeah OK the Vulture is essentially Doc Ock in this movie, its the same basic thing just replace tentacles with wings. But by Jove does Keaton nail this roll, its like he was born for comicbook roles. He goes from an average blue collar boss to a somewhat maniacal villain, and then to a loving father and family man, all in one fell swoop (no pun intended). The fact that Toomes own daughter starts dating Parker is obviously the highlight of the plot. The sequence where Toomes sniffs Parker out whilst driving him and Liz to their school prom was crackling. In fact this was probably the best sequence in the movie, although I found it odd that Toomes recognises that Parker saved his daughters life and vows to never forget that. Yet he then proceeds to threaten to kill Parker if he messes with his plans further. Errr...he saved your daughter remember? I guess he does Parker that favour by not revealing his identity later on.

So yeah, as I've already said. In general, overall, this movie didn't really do much for me simply because I've seen it all before now a shitzillion times. Not only in other comicbook flicks but in other Spider-Man flicks! I genuinely can't understand how so many people get so excited over a movie that is essentially the exact same thing as before, but with a different villain. You could literally swap Spider-Man and the Vulture out of this movie with any other comicbook characters and it would be the same spiel, the same beats. At this point wash, rinse and repeat is an understatement. Yet! The movie is saved by one man, and that man is Michael Keaton. Yes Holland is good but Keaton is better and without him this film would be completely forgettable. As it stands its not entirely forgettable, that is until the nex...oh too late.

6.5/10