Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Jai Courtney (Divergent), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Director: Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World)

Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) & Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry)

Runtime: 2 hours 6 minutes

Release Date: 1 July (US), 2 July (UK)

Remember when Terminator meant nothing but excellence? Well, maybe I don’t because I wasn’t alive when either of the first two films came out, but at one point Terminator meant something more. The Terminator was a groundbreaking film in 1984, launching the career of James Cameron and solidifying Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as a cinema icon forever, whilst Terminator 2: Judgement Day upped the ante spectacularly to create one of the best sequels ever made and one of the few that arguably surpass the original. But then Cameron left the franchise having said everything he needed to say and it all went downhill. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a serviceable action film but was essentially a less inventive remake of the second film, and Terminator Salvation was an admirable attempt at shaking up the formula that ultimately fell apart due to sloppy execution. Now the franchise is once again trying to resurrect itself with the unfortunately titled Terminator Genisys (becoz pour leeteraci iz kewl) and they’re pulling a JJ Abrams’ Star Trek-style reboot to do it. Should we be glad that the T-800’s promise to be back has been fulfilled, or should this franchise have said “hasta la vista, baby” a long time ago?

Though positioning itself as a soft reboot, Genisys relies too heavily on franchise lore to be immediately accessible to complete novices, so either do your homework or prepare to be lost. But for fans of the franchise, the first act of the film is an entertaining trip down memory lane as the story begins by showing events only mentioned in the first film before proceeding to accurately recreate moments from the first film shot-for-shot, making that moment when it segues into new territory that much more impactful. However, as promising as those first 45 minutes or so are, Genisys quickly buckles under its own ambitions. The plot begins to take some less interesting turns, playing with the mythology in less interesting ways, and tangles around with the timeline so much that you swear that massive holes of logic are starting to be created; it doesn’t necessarily break the rules of the franchise, but it does bend them to the point of instability. The film becomes less focused on narrative and more about jumping from one ridiculous action piece to the next, and in doing so becomes so overblown that it loses a lot of the Terminator essence it was so accurately tapping into beforehand. It becomes far too sleek and bombastic, forgetting about the simplicity and grit of the original Cameron movies in favour of giant explosions and visual effects; even the effects-heavy T2 kept itself far more grounded. This complete loss of the point of the franchise is confirmed in the film’s final moments, which eschews the series’ usually bittersweet endings in favour of a bright and happy conclusion devoid of foreboding or tension. Yes, Terminator has always had an optimistic message about overcoming what seems inevitable, but it never forgot that danger is always on the horizon. Genisys, meanwhile, ends in a way so rosy that it’s even harder to imagine how they plan to continue (which they already are apparently) than any of the previous films’ straw-grasping attempts. It’s so disheartening to see a film that has so much potential and briefly fulfils it before chucking it all away in favour of mindless action.

Through both the good and bad moments of Terminator Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger remains a bright spot of joy throughout. His portrayal of this film’s T-800 is familiar but unique, retaining the previous versions’ key characteristics but with new quirks added from this character’s age and experience. There is a genuine paternal connection between him and Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, and his deadpan delivery of comic relief is constantly priceless. Clarke’s Sarah is also well done, emulating Linda Hamilton’s performance but making it her own; she’s not exactly the same but, considering her radically different back-story and upbringing, she doesn’t have to be. Jason Clarke (no relation to Emilia) does the best job he can as this film’s John Connor, but he’s given very little to work with and his character arc feels abrupt and ill-explained. J.K. Simmons is as great as always, but he feels spectacularly underutilised in a subplot that ends up going absolutely nowhere. Similar sentiments can be made about Dayo Okeniyi’s Danny Dyson, who’s set up and then almost immediately forgotten about despite his key role in the creation of the film’s villain/MacGuffin, and Matt Smith in a key but thankless role that in no way demands an actor of his stature. But the real downside on the acting front is Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese. Not only is Courtney as bland as ever, he utterly fails to capture even an ounce of the character so memorably played by Micheal Biehn that he ultimately feels like a totally different person. His chemistry with Emilia Clarke is completely non-existent, so much so that I was convinced they were going to take a left-turn and not have them become a couple. His lacklustre performance ultimately sinks the film a great deal, as he is the main driving force behind the plot and the source of the film’s attempts at sentimentality.

As mentioned before, the film does a fantastic job of recreating scenes from the first Terminator by accurately mimicking the cinematography and editing of that film. Even the new scenes in the first act keep this general aesthetic, giving the film that authentic Terminator feel. But, again as mentioned before, the film then completely drops it and goes full modern blockbuster: quick cuts, fast and fancy cinematography, a shiny colour palette, and an overreliance on VFX over practical stunts. It goes from having a borrowed but nicely retro style to looking like every other action film on the market, and something as iconic as Terminator shouldn’t look like anything other than itself. The effects themselves aren’t even that impressive, looking barely improved from T2’s decades-old technology, whilst Lorne Balfe’s score does a decent job updating Brad Fiedel’s classic themes but the original compositions are ultimately forgettable.

Terminator Genisys starts off strong but then completely shoots itself in the foot by the halfway point by forgetting about what it’s meant to be. The film’s first act remains a nostalgic treat for long-time fans of the franchise and Schwarzenegger is as great as ever, but the convoluted narrative and focus on explosive action over clever storytelling ruins what had the potential to be a return to form for the long-suffering franchise. There is clearly love for the material present in Genisys, but it never fully grasps what makes the franchise tick. As much as we think of Terminator for its action, quotes and overall pop culture impact, there is far much more to it than that. Terminator is more than just disposable popcorn entertainment. Like how a T-800 is a complex machine disguised as a human, The Terminator and T2 are smart observations on humanity’s self-destructive nature that sends a hopeful but pragmatic message about the future disguised as mindless popcorn entertainment. Terminator Genisys, however, is the same on the inside as it is on the outside, and that’s a damn shame.

FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10

Another year, another Edinburgh Internationa Film Festival. This year, I saw over twice as many as I did last time, and now I’m going to review them all for you. OK, here we go…(takes huge, huge breath)


Amy

Release: 3 July (US, UK)

Fascinating and heartbreaking look into the career of Amy Winehouse by the makers of Senna. Fantastic use of archive footage and voiceover interview to weave a tragic tale of fame, drugs and music. A bit overlong maybe, but definitely a fascinating watch regardless of your interest in subject matter. 8/10

The Marriage of Reason & Squalor

Release: 11 June (UK, as TV series), TBC (US)

A bizarre and confusing piece of surrealist comedy that’s so impenetrable that I couldn’t tell if it was self-aware about it’s insanity or not. All you need to know is that the main character is called Chlamydia and it features Rhys Ifans with a giant prosthetic head growth and a nasty combover. If that sounds like’s it’s your bag, then go ahead. It’s just not mine. 3/10

She’s Funny That Way

Release: 26 June (UK), 14 August (US)

Amusing but flawed throwback comedy caper from Last Picture Show and Paper Moon director Peter Bogdonavich. Some strong lead performances from Imogen Poots and Owen Wilson sweeten the deal, but the plot is heavily reliant on coincidence and is perhaps too old-fashioned for its own good. Fantastic cameo at the end though. 6.5/10

Narcopolis

Release: TBC

Interesting concept gone bad from poor execution in this sci-fi thriller. The pacing is drab, the plot incredibly predictable (including all the huge “twist” moments), and the whole production has an amateurish veneer despite the presence of the legendary Jonathan Pryce. 4/10

Sunshine Superman

Release: 22 May (US), TBC (UK)

Fascinating and heartfelt documentary about the origins of BASE-jumping. Has a strong Man on Wire feel to it with its strong emotional ties, and the archive jumping footage is a wonder to behold. 8/10

The Road Within

Release: 17 April (US), TBC (UK)

Fun and uplifting road trip comedy about young people with disorders. A little clichéd and overdramatic at points, but features some great performances from Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Robert Patrick. 7/10

Make Up Room

Release: TBC

Interesting concept for a bottle film about a Japanese porn shoot that is ultimately undermined by a lack of conflict. Some of the characters and situations are amusing, but there is little tension and any semblances of discord are quickly resolved or forgotten about. Also, for a film about the porn industry, it’s surprisingly tame for the most part. Watch either Boogie Nights or Lovelace instead. 5/10

The Messenger

Release: TBC

Robert Sheehan’s second film at this year’s fest, and unfortunately this Sixth Sense-like supernatural thriller is the far weaker of the two. The performances across the board are acceptable at best, the production values are almost non-existent, and the plot is a meandering mess that drags painfully through the paper thin premise and then ends just when it starts to get interesting. 3/10

Uncanny

Release: TBC

Effectively an American indie version of Ex Machina, this sci-fi flick makes up for its minimal production values through a smart and witty script and excellent performances from Mark Webber, Lucy Griffiths and David Clayton Rogers. Though the aforementioned Alex Garland film is superior, that shouldn’t stop you from giving this twisted look into artificial intelligence a go. 8.5/10

The Legend of Barney Thompson

Release: 24 July (UK), TBC (US)

This year’s Opening Night Gala is the directorial debut of The Full Monty and Once Upon a Time star Robert Carlyle, this Glasgow-set dark comedy about a barber-turned-accidental serial killer is a consistently amusing romp. Ably supported by a strong cast including Ray Winstone and a nearly unrecognisable Emma Thompson, there is certainly some directorial skill in Carlyle’s bones. 7.5/10

Franny

Release: TBC

Richard Gere takes a darker turn in this dramedy about a philanthropist trying to deal with his crushing guilt. Gere himself sells the film as he flits from warm and generous to depressed and desperate, and Theo James surprisingly turns in a decent performance for once. Dakota Fanning feels a little underutilised though. 7/10

Inside Out

Release: 19 June (US), 24 July (UK)

I already did a full review on this one (which you can read here), but here in short: Pixar is back on it’s A game and I couldn’t be happier! 10/10

Turbo Kid

Release: 28 August (US), TBC (UK)

Simultaneously cute and disgusting, this 80s throwback picture is a fun amalgam of Mad Max and BMX Bandits that features power armour, dismemberment, cheesy dialogue, a synth soundtrack and Michael Ironside as the villain. What more could you want? 8/10

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

Release: TBC

Fascinating look into the trials and tribulations of Britain’s most successful comic imprint featuring a great deal of contribution from talents like John Wagner, Neil Gaiman and Dave Gibbons. Especially fun when they rip into the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie for a bit. 7/10

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Release: 7 August (US, UK)

Humorous and insightful dramedy about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl. With a fantastic lead performance by Bel Powley and supporting turns from Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgaard, Diary of a Teenage Girl is a coming of age tale that delivers a strong message about sexual identity for both the young and those who remember being young. 8/10

The Incident

Release: TBC

A dull and limp excuse of a drama, The Incident barely has enough plot to cover a short film and yet meanders on for a whole 90 minutes, and what plot is there is incredibly mundane and borders on first-world problems. Achingly slow pacing, bland performances and a perplexing lack of direction, this is one incident you should definitely avoid. 1/10

The Incident

Chuck Norris vs. Communism

Release: TBC

An inspiring and thrilling documentary about censorship during Communist-run Romania, Chuck Norris vs. Communism shines a light on a little known part of history and illuminates how the power of cinema can inspire a nation, even if it is just a silly Chuck Norris movie. With great use of interviews and recreations, any lover of cinema really should give this one a watch. 9/10

The Overnight

Release: 19 June (US), 26 June (UK)

Proudly crude and hilarious whilst doing so, The Overnight is a night of debauchery that will make you cringe yet unable to turn away. With go-hard-or-go-home performances from Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman, this comedy is certainly not for the prudes but should be a heck of a time for everyone else. 8/10

Misery Loves Comedy

Release: 14 April (US, internet), TBC (UK)

Whilst certainly an interesting subject for discussion and a lot of great talent is involved, Kevin Pollack’s documentary about the source of a comedian’s soul ultimately takes too long to answer its own question by meandering into other subjects. That and some of the talent involved just aren’t that funny (I’m looking at you, Nick Swardson). 6/10

Bereave

Release: TBC

An interesting though ultimately unfocused look at love and life at old age, Bereave is mainly so watchable thanks to fantastic lead performances from Malcolm McDowell and Jane Seymour. Seriously, this might be the most McDowell has given a sh*t in years. Take what you can get whilst you can before he falls back into dreck again. 6/10

Brand New-U

Release: TBC

A boring, repetitive and confusing sci-fi thriller, Brand New-U seems more concerned with showing you pretty images than telling a cohesive narrative. The director seems to be trying to go for an arsty detached look at sci-fi in the vein of 2001, but this effort lacks character, emotional investment, and pretty much everything needed to make a worthwhile film. 1.5/10

Welcome to Me

Release: 1 May (US), TBC (UK)

Kristen Wiig’s turn as a mentally disturbed woman who wins the lottery and uses her money to fund her own talk show is a darkly funny satire of the television industry. Wiig’s deranged but sympathetic performance carries a lot of the film’s weight effortlessly, but a star studded supporting cast including the likes of Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley and Joan Cusack certainly don’t hurt. 8/10

Swung

Release: TBC

This film about swinging and other alternative sexual avenues mainly falters from a indecisive tone. It seems to start as a comedy but then gradually gets more serious and depraved until there’s nothing really to laugh at. Similarly, the plot feels unfocused with various threads unresolved and the moods of our main characters flit on a dime between scenes. The aforementioned The Overnight tackles this subject with better humour and depth. 4/10

Swung

Hector

Release: TBC

I usually find stories about the homeless to be condescending and flat, but this drama starring the wonderful Peter Mullan definitely doesn’t fall into that trap. Following his journey from Scotland to London to reach a homeless shelter for Christmas, Mullan’s heartfelt performance holds together the somewhat episodic narrative to create something certainly worthwhile. 7/10

Hector

The Wolfpack

Release:  TBC

Fantastic documentary about the most sheltered group of children you can imagine and how movies inspired their lives. Equally disturbing, funny and heart-warming, there’s no movie quite like The Wolfpack out there. It has to be seen to be believed. 9/10

Scottish Mussel

Release: TBC

Generic Romantic Comedy #137 with a Scottish twist. Predictable down to the tiniest plot detail, actress Talulah Riley’s directorial debut at least has its heart in the right place. On a side note, Morgan Watkins’ American accent is so bad that I was convinced it would turn out he was faking it the whole time, but that unfortunatly did not happen. 5/10

Scottish Mussel

Cop Car

Release: 7 August (US), TBC (UK)

Two kids steal the wrong cop car in this Kevin Bacon-starring comedy-thriller. Infused with a youthful energy and a Coen Brothers-esque wit, Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson’s performances are uniformly excellent and believable in their childlike musing; they’re a bit stupid, but not much more so than the average kid. Kevin Bacon is equally funny and terrifying as the cop on their tail, and Shea Whigham’s brief but memorable role fits that description too. Director Jon Watts has recently been chosen to direct the new Spider-Man film and, with this film as evidence, I’d say the wall crawler is in strong hands. 9/10

Fresno

Release: TBC

Occasionally funny but tonally confused caper comedy. Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne have great chemistry and are believable as sisters, plus a great supporting cast including Aubrey Plaza, Ron Livingston and Fred Arminsen, but the plot is thin and meanders about with several dark subjects like murder and theft treated far too lightly. 6/10

Fresno

You’re Ugly Too

Release: 24 July (Ireland), TBC (US, UK)

Aiden Gillen delivers a strong leading performance as a recently released felon forced to take care of his niece in this Irish drama. Gillen’s repartee with the young Lauren Kinsella is charming, holding interest through the film’s slower moments and the somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. 6.5/10

Iona

Release: TBC

This year’s Closing Gala features Ruth Negga as a mother who runs away with her son to the Scottish isle of Iona to escape a violent tragedy. Negga’s lead performance is strong, but the film’s deliberately slow pacing and dour tone make the film a hard sit and the resulting drama feels stilted and stretched too thin. 5/10

Iona

Black Mountain Poets

Release: TBC

Quirky British comedy about mistaken identity, sisterhood and poetry. Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells’ chemistry holds the film tightly together and there are some truly funny moments (Lowe reading a Tesco receipt like a poem is particularly hilarious in its awkwardness), but some shoddy filmmaking (like obvious cuts in the middle of the same shot) does dampen the fun. 7/10

Dope

Release: 19 June (US), 4 September (UK)

A hilarious and thoughtful coming of age tale about identity, Dope tells a story from a truly unique perspective whilst dealing with familiar tropes in fresh ways. Shameik Moore’s lead performance is a revelation that reveals a potentially bright future, whilst Rick Famuyiwa’s vibrant direction and sharp writing keeps the movie rolling at an energetic pace. Truly a film whose title accurately describes its title (in the positive use of the word). 8.5/10

Sleeping With Other People

Release: 11 September (US), TBC (UK)

Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie’s fantastic lead performances keep alive this otherwise fairly familiar romantic comedy set-up. There are certainly some clichés subverted and a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but the general tone tells you how this is going to end up. Certainly a fun watch, but not a must see. 7/10

Maggie

Release: 8 May (US), 24 July (UK)

Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a surprisingly restrained and heartfelt performance in this zombie-infused drama about a father slowly losing his daughter to the undead disease. The connection between him and Abigail Breslin is often very touching and the drama of Breslin’s humanity slowly deteriorating is genuinely sad, but the plot is thinly spread and the pacing drags too often. Might have worked better as a short film. 6.5/10

Starring: Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Phyllis Smith (The Office), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Lewis Black (Hannah and Her Sisters), Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane (Man of Steel), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks)

Directors: Pete Docter (Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen

Writers: Meg LaFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter

Runtime: 1 hour 34 minutes

Release Date: 19 June (US), 24 July (UK)

It’s kind of hard to believe, but the last really great Pixar movie was Toy Story 3. That was five years ago. In the meantime, we got the unnecessary cash grab Cars 2, the decent but highly underwhelming Brave, and the fun but not very ambitious Monsters University. Combine that with the behind the scenes trouble on their long-delayed The Good Dinosaur, and all has not seemed well at the house that gave us Toy Story. Some have even begun to wonder if Pixar has lost their magic touch. But fear not, dear readers. Pixar has not lost any of their talent, and Inside Out is very convincing proof that these minds still have a few ideas to share.

The concept of diving inside the human mind isn’t an entirely new concept, with prior examples including the sitcom Herman’s Head or the Beano strip “The Numskulls”. However, Inside Out’s take on the concept is all its own and the film’s vision of the mind is full of wonderful concepts that play with memories, emotions, personality, dreams and much more. The story is very traditionally Pixar in regards to tone and heart, but it’s a formula that still works beautifully in their hands and Inside Out may be their most emotionally arresting film since Up; there are multiple opportunities for you to cry, and you will take them. It’s a story that I’d rather leave for you to discover, but I will say that this may also be Pixar’s most adult film to date. Not in the sense that it’s dark or unsuitable for children, just that not only does it deal with far more abstract concepts than most kids’ films, but because I think a more mature audience will actually get a bigger emotional kick out of it than kids will. Children will certainly relate to a lot of what is going on in Riley’s (Dias) head, as the film taps into a lot of relatable childhood experiences, but the adults in the audience will see it from a different perspective: one of nostalgia and reflection. It’s this small but important divide that really makes Inside Out not only a film for all ages, but will certainly make it a film where, years from now, kids who see it today will look back as adults and be able to enjoy the film on a far deeper level.

I don’t think you could have gotten more perfect casting than the actors chosen to represent these five emotions if you tried. Amy Poehler’s Joy is an engrossingly bouncy presence that literally lights up the environment, imbuing the character with such a beaming personality that borders on aggravating. She’s like that friend you have who is overly optimistic even in the worse situations. That can either be encouraging or drive you insane, and Poehler’s performance balances that line expertly. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Phyllis Smith’s Sadness is a hilariously melancholic character thanks to her terrifically deadpan delivery, crafting a character that could be best summed up as her character from The Office mixed with Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These two get most of the story’s focus, and their naturally conflicting outlooks create for both great comedy and (fittingly enough) emotional drama. Lewis Black’s Anger is definitely the most quotable character, his bursts of fiery rage filled with frustrated observations, whilst Bill Hader’s Fear is a delightfully nervous wreck. Mindy Kaling’s Disgust definitely gets the short shrift of the bunch, but she gets just enough to avoid being completely useless, whilst Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as the parents are smaller parts but are key to some of the films best comedic and heartfelt scenes. Last but certainly not least, Kaitlyn Dias does a tremendous job as Riley herself, flipping naturally between emotions as they swap control without any of it feeling jarring or unnatural; you could cut out all of the story going on in her head, and her performance would feel just as complete.

Pixar really knows how to make a colourful and memorable world, and Inside Out is no exception. The way such intangible concepts have been realised as locations, characters and props into a believable environment is a marvel unto itself. Sure, some of the concepts are a little more obvious (the train of thought is a literal train, for instance), but others are so fascinatingly accomplished and the way all these different parts of the mind work together and sometimes clash with each other is truly inspiring stuff. The visual design is fantastic too, with all the different characters feeling distinct and easily recognisable, and the colour pallet difference between the mind and the real world helps distinguish these two environments. The quality of the animation here is yet another step up for Pixar, with such fine detail in textures and fluid movement creating a wonderfully vibrant and engaging picture, whilst Michael Giacchino once again knocks it out of the park with a beautifully diverse and energetic score that expertly accentuates the unfolding story.

Inside Out is not only Pixar’s best film in years, but may also end up being among their finest ever. It’s a film that ticks every box a great animated film needs to: an engaging story, rich characters, imaginative world, emotional depth and, most importantly, timelessness. It’s a film that will make you feel every emotion at one point or another (or perhaps all at once), and one that I’m sure generations of families will return to again and again just like all of Pixar’s other classics.

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!

P.S.: The preceding short film Lava is also an absolute joy. Won’t say much more, but it’ll give you a strong emotional connection with the most unlikely of things.

Starring: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help), Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3), Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer), Omar Sy (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Jake Johnson (Let’s Be Cops), Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire)

Director: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)

Writers: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed) & Colin Trevorrow

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Release Date: 11 June (UK), 12 June (US)

For kids of my generation, Jurassic Park still stands as one of the Holy Grail films of our childhood. It made dinosaurs cool again, it’s immensely quotable, and the story and effects still stand up to this day. It’s a pity then that The Lost World and Jurassic Park III never lived up to the original’s standards; even as a kid, I found them lacklustre. A fourth film has been bandied about ever since the third instalment, but now 22 years after the original (wow, that makes me feel old) they’ve finally delivered on that promise with Jurassic World.

Picking up in real time since the first film (and sidestepping any acknowledgment of the others, so don’t worry), the park is now fully operational and packed full of tourists ready to become dino-chow. This is such a strong idea for a sequel that you almost wonder why they never did it before, as it majorly raises the stakes of the story by adding a much greater potential body count. This sequel is also much bigger on action, with far more elaborate chases and dinosaur battles that border on insane by the film’s intense climax. It’s well paced, full of solid action and comedy bits, plenty of fun references to the original film and, most importantly, retains the heart of the original film that the sequels often lacked. However, there are unfortunately a fair few problems. Firstly, the whole “fully-operational park” idea feels undercut when, other than one particularly cool bit involving pterodactyls, the story never takes too much advantage of this and instead remains focused on a small set of characters again. Not that I was asking for a Roland Emmerich-style cast of thousands film, but it’s hard to ignore considering that the place is packed with all these innocent lives and yet we still spend most of the time just following a handful of people through the jungle again. But even with that narrow focus, the story feels a little cluttered, especially considering the film never really decides who the film belongs to: Owen (Pratt), Claire (Howard) or Zach and Gray (Robinson and Simpkins). This results in the narrative being thinly spread and some subplots that don’t end up going anywhere, like Zach and Grey’s parents’ divorce or Zach’s girlfriend for example. But the story’s main problem is that it deals with a lot of clichéd themes and ideas, some held over from the previous films (risking lives in the name of money, “some things should be left to nature”) and others new here but still tired in films generally (government/military wanting to weaponise feral creatures). Ultimately, the film doesn’t have anything new to say about the series on a thematic level that hasn’t already been hammered into our head, instead relying on the same “science is cool but also dangerous” message as all the others, and after such a long wait it’s disappointing that the franchise hasn’t matured on this level more.

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt showed that he had potential as a leading man and he affirms that with his role in Jurassic World. Sure, it’d be nice to see him play something other than a wisecracking, womanising manchild in the body of a badass, but he’s just too darn good at it to not take advantage. Bryce Dallas Howard’s role is a little clichéd at first as the “workaholic who thinks of everything unemotionally and ignores family for work”, but she does evolve over the film into a tougher character and her chemistry with Pratt is strong (if a little sporadic). The rest of the cast doesn’t stand out as much, though I found this was more down to writing than acting. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are pretty good as Howard’s nephews, but the film doesn’t give them enough to do and their relationship with each other, Howard and their parents is a bit undercooked. Vincent D’Onofrio is always great and he gives it his all, but he’s stuck with the old “military man obsessed with exploiting tragedy for his own benefit” routine and he ends up feeling like a walking cliché, whilst Omar Sy and Jake Johnson get their fun moments but are ultimately pretty disposable.

On a technical level, Jurassic World perfectly captures the feel of the Spielberg original. Whilst a lot sleeker than its forbearer, the fingerprints of Jurassic Park are clear in the film’s aesthetic design. The cinematography is vivid and engrossing, picking up intensity in the action sequences with some impressive long takes that enlarge the experience. Michael Giacchino does a great job of picking up John Williams’ themes and making them his own, crafting a score that is both familiar but different, and the sound design on all the dinosaurs is as imposing as ever. Whilst there are some uses of animatronics here and there, Jurassic World definitely relies far more on CGI than the original. Luckily, technology is now up the task of doing things like extended close-ups on dinosaurs and the effect is ultimately pretty seamless, though some more practicality may have upped the nostalgia factor.

Jurassic World is ultimately a fun summer blockbuster ride and certainly a far more worthy successor to Jurassic Park than the other sequels, but still pales in comparison to the original. The core idea of the movie is great and it’s backed up by strong performances by Pratt and Howard along with some good action beats and a nice handful of nostalgia, but the somewhat unfocused narrative and hackneyed themes do dampen the fun. However, whilst certainly not as good as the original, it’s also good to bear in mind that it’s a different film; what makes it different doesn’t necessarily make it worse, it just makes it its own movie. Colin Trevorrow’s passion for the material certainly comes through and I continue to be interested in his career, but compared to his debut feature (the criminally underseen Safety Not Guaranteed) it’s a step up in scale but a step back in originality. There’s certainly a lot to like in it and a less discerning audience can probably get over a lot of its problems, but it’s just something to bear in mind. Let’s just hope it’s not another twenty years before they take another stab at the property.

FINAL VERDICT: 7/10

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Fast and Furious 7), Carla Gugino (Spy Kids), Alexandra Daddario (True Detective), Ioan Gruffudd (Forever), Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones), Paul Giamatti (Sideways)

Director: Brady Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island)

Writer: Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel)

Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes

Release Date: 28 May (UK), 29 May (US)

Disaster movies are a bit of a conundrum. They present devastation on massive scales, events where the world we know is destroyed in the most jaw-dropping of ways, but rarely do we care about the people inside these disasters; it becomes all about the spectacle rather than character. It’s a problem that’s plagued the genre since its inception, and that same exact problem is why San Andreas, as much as it tries and as large as it is, can’t muster anything more than a mildly above average response.

San Andreas often feels like a throwback to the disaster movies of the 1990s like Volcano or Armageddon (which in themselves were throwbacks to the disaster movies of the 1970s like The Towering Inferno and, oddly enough, Earthquake). In that sense, the movie can be enjoyed on the same level as those previous works: mindless popcorn entertainment with loud noises and spectacular special effects. The level of carnage on display here could place San Andreas among the most destruction-heavy films in film history; just when you think it can’t top itself, the film finds a way to get that much more ridiculous. However, in the decades since this genre began, no one has seemed to be able to come up with a different story for a disaster movie. This is where San Andreas mainly stumbles: as spectacular as the set pieces are, the plot connecting them is bland and clichéd. Tropes like the estranged wife, the jerky new boyfriend, a tragic back-story involving the loss of a family member, the scientist who saw it all coming, and countless others litter the film and are all played straight with no attempt to subvert or change them. This makes the plot beats incredibly easy to predict and removes a lot of the tension, which is especially bad when our characters are in a constant state of extreme peril. The sheer spectacle of the film and its intense but brisk pace do help keep the story moving forward, and I can’t say I was ever bored, but in the end the banality of the script is too much even with the audacious amounts of desolation erupting on screen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dwayne Johnson isn’t the greatest of actors, but he’s got more charm than almost all of them. The role of Ray Gaines doesn’t have too much meat on the page, but Johnson injects enough of his own personality into the role to remain a likeable lead. However, that same charisma does backfire on him occasionally, as I found it hard to believe he was a sad and tormented figure trying to get over the loss of his youngest daughter when he’s constantly cracking wry one-liners. Carla Gugino doesn’t add much to the proceedings as Johnson’s ex-wife; other than one moment at the end, she doesn’t do anything major to effect the plot and is essentially just a tenuous tag-along for the ride; you could replace her with a lamp and it wouldn’t change much. On the other hand, Alexandra Daddario’s Blake is self-sufficient, proactive, and is constantly willing to make sacrifices for others; sure, she does need saving herself a few times and most of her skills come down to “my dad taught me about this”, but it’s nice to see a damsel who fights distress rather than succumb to it whilst waiting for rescue. Hugo Johnstone-Burt (or, as I shall refer to him from now on, Baby Hugh Grant) and Art Parkinson could easily have been annoying side characters too, but they also get their moments to shine and Parkinson especially has several cute moments of comic relief sprinkled throughout. Ioan Gruffudd gets the real short end of the stick as the typical asshole boyfriend character, especially since the early scenes painted him with more sympathy that suggested he may avoid this stereotype, but eventually they take the lazy route and then don’t do much with him afterwards; at least he gets a satisfying comeuppance. Paul Giamatti plays the Jeff Goldblum-esque scientist role, but he ultimately feels superfluous other than to add some expository mumbo-jumbo to set up the next evolution of the destruction. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable other than some odd cameos: Arrow’s Colton Haynes shows up during the opening sequence before being promptly forgotten about, and then Kylie Minogue shows up for about a minute before being promptly booted out; seriously, why was she even in this movie?

As I’ve said, San Andreas is clearly a film where all effort has gone into showing the disaster itself, and on this level it doesn’t disappoint. The visual effects aren’t jaw dropping, but they are certainly convincing enough to suck you into the near-constant obliteration of buildings and streets. It’s not all just watching people hide under tables and jump over cracks: there’s a helicopter rescue in a canyon, several narrow escapes through collapsing buildings, aerial crashes, parachuting and even a massive tidal wave to mix up the action. All of it is filmed and edited simply but coherently; there is a fair bit of shaky-cam to augment the earthquakes, but it never becomes a crutch to cover up bad filmmaking. The sound design is just as vital to the experience as the visuals are here, with thunderous crashes and booms layered on top of the annihilation, and the film’s score is unremarkable but serviceable in keeping the action pumping.

San Andreas is entertaining on a simplest of levels but doesn’t make much effort beyond that. There is certainly fun to be had watching California get wrecked on a scale that even Roland Emmerich would blush at but, much like the state itself, it’s built on unstable ground that could crack at any moment. The pure size of it may make it just barely worth seeing in a theatre, but only if you don’t have access to a halfway decent TV and sound system. It’s more of a Saturday night, stay-in-and-eat-pizza type of movie, and even then you might end up watching one of its many contemporaries instead and not notice the difference.

FINAL VERDICT: 6/10

Starring: Melissa McCarthy (The Heat), Jason Statham (Crank), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Miranda Hart (Miranda), Allison Janney (Juno), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine), Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes)

Writer/Director: Paul Feig (Bridesmaids)

Runtime: 2 hours

Release Date: 5 June (US, UK)

I have very mixed feelings about Melissa McCarthy. Sometimes she can be hilarious (Bridesmaids), other times she’s simply tolerable (The Heat), but a lot of the time she’s painfully obnoxious (Identity Thief). Considering a scattershot track record like that, it’s hard for me to go into a movie like Spy with any preconceived notions; it could honestly go either way. Thankfully, Spy goes the right way and delivers a safe but still hilarious action-comedy ride.

Spoofs of the James Bond formula have been around as long as the franchise itself, and from its globe-trotting plot to its opening title sequence, Spy makes no bones about the field it is playing in. The story is pretty generic all around and, save for one well-played plot twist, is also incredibly predictable. But telling a thrilling narrative is clearly not Spy’s main goal. Its goal is to make you laugh, and on that level it succeeds admirably. The plot is mainly an excuse to throw Susan Cooper (McCarthy) into 007-style situations and see what happens, and though some more original narrative ideas could have spiced things up, what they have is perfectly serviceable. The humour is hardly ever insightful or deep, but the laughs come consistently hard and fast, keeping a smile on your face throughout and making the somewhat bloated two-hour runtime fly by.

A big reason why I don’t always like Melissa McCarthy is because the characters she usually plays are loud, brash and don’t know when to shut up. Gratefully, this isn’t the case with Susan Cooper, who’s more sensitive and insecure than her usual characters. She’s clearly a genuinely nice person, and her fits of rage and abuse feel more like a reaction to the situation she’s in rather than a core part of her personality. Instead of her usual abrasive shtick, McCarthy feels a lot more restrained here and that’s for the better, making those moments where she does burst into a flurry of insults that much funnier. Backing her up is a strong supporting cast of actors both comedic and dramatic, and all of them are more than up to the task. Rose Byrne balances threatening and funny very well as main villain Raina, with her condescending comments on McCarthy’s character and a running gag where she forgets people’s names being highlights. Like McCarthy, Miranda Hart sometimes feels like she’s relying on her usual persona but the movie uses her just enough before she gets grading. Jude Law gets the chance he never got to play a 007-style character and he works perfectly in his small but pivotal role, whilst Peter Serafinowicz’s Aldo is amusing if a little one-note at times. The real standout, however, is Jason Statham’s Rick Ford. Playing an exaggerated version of his usual action star image, Statham steals every scene he’s in with his terrifically deadpan performance that turns him from one of the toughest actors of our age into a guaranteed hilarious punchline. He unfortunately feels underutilised, as he drops out of the movie on several occasions (between this and Fast and Furious 7, Statham’s been doing that a lot lately), but that only makes those times when he is on screen that much more golden.

Whilst Paul Feig is clearly a good director of actors and knows how to wring a good verbal joke out, he could stand to put the same amount of effort into the visuals. Spy is certainly the most action-heavy of his films so far but, though the fight choreography is well-handled on both an action and a comedy level, the cinematography and editing feels a little flat during those same scenes. Other than some fun use of slow motion, the film lacks a strong visual identity; it has that same generic feel that a lot of comedies have these days and I’m getting kind of sick of it. Considering Feig’s next project is the Ghostbusters reboot, where design and style matters just as much as the jokes, I certainly think he could stand to get a bit more visually creative when it comes to his directing.

Spy is hardly a game changer for the spy comedy subgenre, but it’s a fun and amusing time nonetheless. If you’re a fan of McCarthy and Feig’s previous films, then you’re probably going to like this one too. It’s not quite in the same league as Bridesmaids, but I’d say it’s a lot better than The Heat. If you’re in the mood for a laugh, it’s certainly worth checking out for Jason Statham’s performance alone; he really is that good and it makes me want to see him do more comedies in the future.

FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10

Starring: Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride), George Clooney (The Descendants), Raffey Cassidy (Snow White and the Hunstman), Hugh Laurie (House)

Director: Brad Bird (The Incredibles)

Writers: Damon Lindelof (Prometheus) and Brad Bird

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Release Date: 22 May (US, UK)

It may be the popular thing to say, but it’s true: Brad Bird is kind of a genius. All of his movies so far have been nothing less than excellent, combining imagination, wit and heart in equal measure to make classic films that stand the test of time and will do for generations to come. After years of working in animation, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol served as a great testing ground for Bird in the world of live action, and now he’s ready to take on something a little more daring. Tomorrowland (slapped with the subtitle A World Beyond here in the UK for nonsense copyright reasons) has had a lot of build-up through Bird’s name value and an effectively conservative marketing campaign, so expectations are high; after all, Bird turned down Star Wars for this. Whilst I am glad to report that Tomorrowland does hold up Bird’s impeccable track record and you should most certainly go see it, it’s nigh impossible to live up to such lofty ambitions.

The story of Tomorrowland is a simple but imaginative story, one that evokes that magical sense of wonder found in the early works of Steven Spielberg. The plot does follow a lot of conventions (protagonist picked from obscurity and told they are the super-special saviour of the world, anyone?), but this familiarity plays into the retro feel of the movie and ultimately uses these devices to say something different and relevant. It’s a fun ride for sure full of interesting characters and creative set pieces, but Tomorrowland is mostly a film about ideas, and those ideas are definitely worth considering. Though it is a film inspired by the past and about the possibilities of the future, it is ultimately a film about our present, what’s wrong with it, and what we need to do to fix it. The film touches on the subjects of optimism vs. pessimism, the degradation of our world, and society’s growing disinterest in the possibilities of progress; having the dissolution of the NASA space program play into the plot is certainly no coincidence. It’s this honest but hopeful and determined look at our world that really makes Tomorrowland click, but I’d be lying if I said the film didn’t have problems. The main culprit is the film’s first ten minutes which, whilst helping set up the world and some key characters, does feel tacked on and sets a bad first impression; you could cut it out and work some of the more important details into the story later, and the film would be far better for it. Once the ball does get rolling on the main plot, the movie improves immensely but other issues do occasionally rear their heads. The dialogue can become very exposition-heavy during the quieter scenes, the pacing and structure feels a little off-balance at certain points, and though the withholding of certain information makes sense from the perspective of the audience in regards to creating mystery and suspense, in context you sometimes question why they’re holding back this important information other than “because the plot says so.”

Though the marketing would have you believe George Clooney is the star of this movie, Tomorrowland ultimately belongs to Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton. Acerbic and stubborn but full of positivity and with a passion for creativity, the character of Casey is a wonderfully charming and relatable protagonist and Robertson carries the character and the movie effortlessly; her performance is a joy from start to finish. The character of Frank Walker is essentially Clooney playing a broken version of himself: charming and witty, but with a tired, defeatist edge. Contrasted against Robertson’s unflinching optimism, this already makes for a fun on-screen combo. But throw Raffey Cassidy’s Athena into the mix also, and the fun only increases; I can’t say much without spoiling, but Cassidy’s performance is perfectly attuned and heartfelt, and her character is the source of some of the film’s best action and comedy. Hugh Laurie feels disappointingly underutilised as Nix (not counting the prologue, he’s not introduced until the third act), but he makes the most of his limited screen time, especially in a speech near the end that essentially sums up why the world is screwed. The rest of the cast is mostly inconsequential, but there are some worth mentioning; Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key have a lot of fun with their brief roles, whilst it’s also nice to see Looper’s Pierce Gangon is still getting some work.

In both The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Brad Bird proved he had a penchant for retro and that rings as true as ever in Tomorrowland. Everything about the sets, props and costumes feels ripped straight from the pages of a 1950s sci-fi comic strip, but all of it is done in a way without feeling cheesy or childish. There are a lot of fun ideas on display in regards to the sci-fi technology, creating for some inventive action beats that play around with these toys. A brief skirmish in a geek store is a particular highlight not just for action, but it’s also a visual and auditory delight thanks to all the Easter eggs thrown into the scene; be sure to keep a close eye on those store shelves. The cinematography is crisp and vivid with strong colours, bright lighting and clean camera operation, and Michael Giacchino’s score is uplifting and well attuned to the film’s buoyant disposition.

Tomorrowland is a really, really good movie, and for most movies that would be enough. But Tomorrowland is so close to perfection it can practically taste it, but it falls just short of becoming an instant masterpiece, and that’s enough to make it feel a little disappointing. The intriguing premise, the strong performances, the ingenious visuals and, most of all, the fascinating ideas about society and progress are all excellent, but it doesn’t quite hit it home the way a lot of Brad Bird’s other films have done so effortlessly. Whether it was studio interference or the script being taken out of the oven too early, Tomorrowland’s issues certainly seem fixable and I wish these kinks in the narrative had been ironed out before cameras started rolling. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a film most certainly worth seeing and it does nothing to dissuade my feelings about Bird’s reputation as a filmmaker, but it really is that damn close to being something extraordinary and doesn’t quite make it.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Starring: Tom Hardy (Locke), Charlize Theron (Monster), Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max), Zoe Kravitz (Divergent), Rosie Huntington-Whitely (Transformers: Dark of the Moon)

Director: George Miller (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Writers: George Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris

Runtime: 2 hours

Release Date: 14 May (UK), 15 May (US)

In what is possibly the biggest gap between instalments of a franchise, it’s been thirty years since Mad Max last rode across the wasteland in Beyond Thunderdome, but whilst original star Mel Gibson may now have retired the role, director of the original trilogy George Miller is still holding on at the grand age of 70. Miller has actually been planning Fury Road for over a decade now, with various false starts over the years and, even after getting the ball rolling (shooting began in 2012), some reshoots and a long post-production process have further delayed its release. But now Max is finally back, and goddamn was it bloody worth the wait. Mad Max: Fury Road has more of a premise than a cohesive narrative, and what’s there is mainly to set up a series of action sequences. On first examination, this seems like a really bad idea but, much like the ragged machines the people of the wasteland drive, it works beyond all reasonable expectations. Once the wheels literally get rolling and things start going boom, everything clicks into place and the patchwork nature of the story becomes incredibly cohesive and durable. The pacing is expertly handled, weaving from set piece to set piece with just enough breathing space in-between the carnage. Though dialogue is sparse, Fury Road’s flawless handling of visual storytelling gets across everything you need with just raw emotions and reactions; you don’t need to be told what’s happening is crazy, it’s plainly obvious. The film hits every note possible, creating a film that is thrilling, funny, thought provoking, and even heart wrenching. No joke, I was close to tears near the end of this film, and any film that manages that is clearly doing its job at maximum efficiency.

Though Gibson’s portrayal of Max will probably still be the de facto face of the character for generations to come, Tom Hardy’s interpretation certainly lives up to the legend. Much like his predecessor, Hardy’s Max is a man of few words and defines himself instead with his tough but fair attitude. His tragic back-story is only hinted at, the only real point where knowledge of the previous films may be helpful, but that only adds to the mystique of the character. But in many ways, the film doesn’t actually belong to Max himself. That honour falls to Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, and she knocks it out of the park. Furiosa’s past is equally vague and her dialogue clipped, but again we get more than enough just from Theron’s pitch-perfect performance. She commands the screen with nothing more than a determined glare and a badass prosthetic arm, and for stretches of the film you’ll forget that Max is even there…and that’s not a bad thing. Furiosa’s posse of runaway breeders (yes, that’s what they’re called in the movie) are just defined enough by distinct looks, personality and crazy names (one of them is called The Splendid Angharad. ‘Nuff said.), and the gang of gun-toting grannies they meet up with later are equally fun characters. In the midst of all the explosions and testosterone, Fury Road has a surprisingly strong feminist message. At its core, it’s a story about a group of women who are tired of being treated as objects and decide to fight back against their oppressors, and Max just happens to be along for the ride. Nicholas Hoult’s Nux adds a surprising amount of heart to the film, mainly because he goes through the biggest arc over the course of the story. Starting out as a devout worshipper of antagonist Immortan Joe (Keays-Bryne), his development from there is surprisingly touching and you’ll be rooting for the skull-faced nutter by the end. Immortan Joe himself is as ridiculous a villain as you’d expect from a Mad Max film; though not quite as memorable as the likes of Lord Humungous or Master Blaster, he is a vile and threatening foe with a cool look and an awesome voice, and that’s all you really need.

As mentioned before, most of the attention has been paid on the spectacle of the film and it’s a risk that pays off with interest. There is not a single frame in Fury Road that is dull, no matter the situation. When cars aren’t flipping and guns aren’t firing, there’s always something to look at: the beautifully pristine desert landscape, the intricacies of the production and costume design, the gorgeous use of colour, or even just an interesting camera move or angle. DOP John Seale’s work here is just phenomenal, a true gem in his already long and stellar career, and it certainly puts the camerawork on almost all blockbusters to shame. Along with the cinematography, the editing is excellently attuned, cutting to increase impact but also allowing shots to hold when needed, as well as great use of both slow motion and sped-up footage. The score by Junkie XL is a monster befitting of this movie, combining metal, rock, electronic and orchestral music to craft a soundscape that accentuates the action unfolding onscreen, rounding out this impeccably crafted piece of movie magic.

Mad Max: Fury Road is an adrenaline shot of filmmaking from start to finish. Its unorthodox approach to storytelling eschews traditional structure and pacing to craft a tale in a new and exciting way, relying on pure imagery to convey its bombastic narrative. The characters are drawn with broad but striking strokes, and you’ll be strongly connected to them despite most of them barely uttering a word. The action sequences are some of the best in recent cinema history, avoiding all the clichés and failures of the genre to create a rollercoaster experience both in terms of thrills and emotion. It’s like an insane 80’s B-movie, but one made with thought, effort, and enough of a budget to match its deranged aspirations. After it was all over, all I wanted to do was turn back around and experience it again. I cannot recommend this movie enough, so get out to your local cinema and support this movie with your hard-earned cash. It doesn’t just deserve your time. It demands it.

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!

Starring: Robert Downey Jr (The Judge), Chris Evans (Scott Pilgrim vs The World), Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla), Paul Bettany (Priest), James Spader (Secretary), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction)

Writer/Director: Joss Whedon (Serenity)

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Release Date: 23 April (UK), 1 May (US)

It’s hard to believe that the concept of an Avengers movie was absurd only a few years ago. Now, it’s a benchmark that all other Hollywood movies use as an example; everybody now wants their own shared universe franchise, but still nobody does it quite like Marvel. Topping the first movie is a daunting but certainly achievable task, especially now that the groundwork has been effectively laid, and so Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have reassembled to fight the good fight once more in Age of Ultron. Does it push the Marvel Cinematic Universe to new heights, or is it merely a placeholder as they bide time for their other plans?

Picking up right where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off, Avengers: Age of Ultron jumps right into the action and doesn’t let up from there. The film’s plot is a bit more complex and personal than the first Avengers film, giving all the main characters their own personal stakes and arcs in the narrative, but it’s still primarily an old-fashioned “stop the bad guy from the destroying the world” story. There’s definitely some interesting thoughts regarding the automating of world security and man’s own destructive nature possibly being our downfall, but it doesn’t go political with it the way The Winter Soldier did. The story’s pacing feels a little rushed in the first act, a symptom of starting the film mid-action sequence, and leaves an uneasy feeling like we’ve missed something; perhaps a slightly more relaxed opening to ease us back into this world would have felt a little less jarring. However, once Ultron (Spader) makes himself known and the plot gets fully rolling, the breakneck pace feels far more natural and makes that two-hour-plus runtime blow by real fast. Joss Whedon’s sharp writing skills are on top form here, with plenty of his classic witty banter but also some really strong character moments and a few really nice surprises. The film’s ending is also strong, setting up the future of the MCU neatly but without resorting to a “to be continued” style cliffhanger, and that future is looking as bright as always.

I think after so many films, you’re all pretty familiar with the quality of the acting amongst these heroes, and everyone is as reliable as you’d expect. Downey’s smugness, Evans’ optimism, Hemsworth’s theatricality and Johansson’s allure are all in check and provide plenty of great moments of drama and humour. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk gets some much needed screen time after disappearing since the last Avengers film, with his scenes with Johansson being among the film’s best emotional moments, whilst Jeremy Renner finally gets a chance to shine as Hawkeye after getting short shrift last time around. In terms of new faces, Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver and Olsen’s Scarlet Witch are welcome additions; their development at the start is limited, but what is there shines through and they fit in well with the rest of the cast. Paul Bettany’s Vision is similarly limited in screen time, but in very little time he leaves a strong impression and there’s certainly plenty of room for more in the future. But it’s James Spader as Ultron that is ultimately the real standout newcomer, effortlessly pulling off a villain that balances superiority and determination with empathy and wit. He’s far from a simple bad guy who wants to destroy the world because he can. He’s deluded, yes, but his actions come from an understandable place, and his personality is also a far cry from the typical “emotionless automaton who sees humanity as weak” character. He’s a fitting villain for The Avengers and easily among the best villains in the MCU so far.

As great as the first Avengers film was, its staging was a little flat at times in regards to cinematography and production design. In Age of Ultron, the ante has certainly been raised and this sequel’s technical presentation is far more impressive than its predecessor. The camerawork is far more engaging and frenetic this time around, and the film’s good mix of international locales also creates for a far more varied picture. The action sequences are also far more inventively choreographed, with characters interacting with each other more frequently in battle to create some wonderful little action beats; the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster sequence in particular is a standout scene that really shows off how far these fight scenes can go. The visual effects are very strong, especially in regards to Iron Man, Vision and Ultron, and Brian Tyler’s score does a good job of mixing themes from previous MCU films with new compositions.

I wouldn’t say Avengers: Age of Ultron tops the first film, but it certainly matches its quality, which still means it’s pretty damn fantastic. The story is fun and takes some interesting turns, the character interactions are wickedly funny and engaging, and the action scenes have been pumped up immensely for maximum popcorn entertainment. Whedon has certainly become more comfortable with blockbuster filmmaking since the first film, resulting in a far more fluid and visually engaging movie, but the first act’s impatience leaves a somewhat troubling first impression. Once past that initial stumble though, Age of Ultron delivers exactly what you want from a Marvel film and then some. We’ve still got a hectic summer movie season ahead of us, but the bar has certainly been set high already.

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Starring: Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy), Paul Walker (She’s All That), Jason Statham (Crank), Dwayne Johnson (Hercules), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Tyrese Gibson (Transformers), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Max Payne), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Djmoun Hounsou (Gladiator), Jordana Brewster (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), Kurt Russell (Escape from New York)

Director: James Wan (The Conjuring)

Writer: Chris Morgan (Wanted)

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Release Date: 3 April (US, UK)

As ridiculous as it is that we now have seven films in the Fast & Furious franchise, you can’t fault them considering they’ve actually been getting better. What began as basically a rip-off of Point Break with cars has now gone full bananas and turned into essentially Mission: Impossible with cars. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the series, as I only got into them around the time Fast Five came out, but this recent re-invention of the concept is certainly convincing me to become one. Fast & Furious 7 has had a tough production owing to the tragic passing of star Paul Walker but, with some extra tinkering and a whole load of insurance money, the film has finally hit the streets and its engine is roaring loader than ever.

If you’re actually trying to analyse Furious 7’s plot, you’ve immediately missed the point. The story is a flimsy hodgepodge, full of plot holes, questionable logic and a complete disregard for the laws of physics, but the movie moves so fast that you’re not given enough time to care about such matters. Much like Mission: Impossible, the plot is an excuse to visit some exotic locales and smash cars into them, and Furious 7 does that job in exceptional form. The action set pieces are just beyond ridiculous, to the point where me describing them would sound like a six-year-old on a sugar rush, but even in their lunacy you can’t deny that they’re being creative. I’ll leave the jaw dropping moments for you to discover, but cars are crashed, punches are thrown, public property is destroyed, and most of it is followed by so-bad-it’s-good one-liners. The film runs for nearly two and half hours, but if you’re enjoying yourself as much as I was, you will not notice your watch over the massive grin plastered over your face. That is, until, the film’s final moments. I won’t say much more but, even if you’ve never seen a Fast & Furious movie, it’s hard not to feel emotional about how they pay tribute to Paul Walker. It’s not a flawless send-off, as that could have only been done if Walker was alive to film it, but the heart is in the right place and the filmmakers have done the best job they can to honour the man’s legacy.

The franchise has assembled an incredibly diverse cast over the years, and Furious 7 is no exception. Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Walker’s Brian O’Connor haven’t changed much, but their chemistry remains strong and the franchise will certainly never be the same without Walker’s presence. Rodriguez, Ludacris and Tyrese aren’t much different either, but they fulfil their respective roles of the tough chick, the tech genius and the butt of all jokes as reliably as ever. Jordana Brewster and Dwayne Johnson are pushed to the sidelines for this outing, but in the latter’s brief screen time he leaves a hell of an impression; every moment Johnson has an opportunity to steal a scene, he will take it. Having Jason Statham as the new villain is about as awesome as you’d expect, kicking off the movie in the most nonchalantly badass way, but I wish he was in it more. He disappears for sizable stretches of the movie, before inevitably showing up out of nowhere in the middle of an action sequence like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3; he’s great when he’s around, but for the main bad guy he really should stick around more. In terms of other fresh blood, Nathalie Emmanuel adds some more diversity to the cast as hacker Ramsey, whilst the presence of Kurt Russell should certainly please fans of classic action flicks.

With Justin Lin’s departure from the series so he can go venture where no man has gone before, horror director James Wan takes the driver’s seat of the franchise and doesn’t miss a gearshift. For a director inexperienced with action movies, let alone one this massive, he’s acclimated to the genre tremendously. It never really feels like a James Wan film, but that would probably be inappropriate anyway. Fast & Furious has had a distinct flavour since its inception that simply grows rather than changes, and Furious 7 has all those same trappings. The name of the game here is bright colours, blisteringly fast editing, ear-piercing sound effects, a deluge of rap and electronica songs, and cinematography that will take any opportunity to show off the rims of an automobile or the posterior of a scantily clad woman. It’s not exactly refined or progressive, but it’s a style that works.

If judged with the mind of a serious person, Fast and Furious 7 is a shoddy, insane and downright idiotic film. But this film was not made for serious people. I know this is so often used as an excuse, but it is genuinely true here: if you go into this movie expecting it to be anything other than what it is, you’re the idiot. This is honestly the most fun I’ve had watching a movie so far this year (barring Kingsman, of course), and I say that with very little embarrassment. It’s an entertaining and carefree party of a movie from start to finish, screaming nonsense at the top of its voice and paying no attention to the obvious illogic in its thinking. If this is not your sort of movie, you probably already know that and should walk the other way. But if you’re in this movie for what it is, you are going to have so much fun.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10