Starring: Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Sebastian Stan (Black Swan), Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), Chadwick Boseman (42), Paul Bettany (A Knight’s Tale), Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla), Don Cheadle (Miles Ahead), Paul Rudd (Role Models), William Hurt (A History of Violence), Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Tom Holland (The Impossible)

Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Pain & Gain)

Runtime: 2 hours 27 minutes

Release Date: April 29 (UK), May 6 (US)

With Batman v Superman proving unsatisfactory to many audience members craving to see their favourite heroes beat the crap out of each other, all eyes are now on Marvel Studios to see if they can accomplish what DC fumbled. But the two films have more than just duelling super-egos in common: both are crammed with characters from across their respective universes, both are establishing groundwork for the immediate future, both take inspiration from classic stories from the source material, and both are really, really long. But whilst Dawn of Justice strained under the weight of its ambitions, barely making it to the finish line in one piece, Captain America: Civil War balances all of its moving parts effortlessly to craft what could easily be the MCU’s grandest adventure yet.

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Those expecting a beat-for-beat adaptation of Mark Millar’s original Civil War storyline are going to be disappointed, but given the state of the Marvel Universe right now and the company’s lack of key comic book characters that was never going to happen. Instead, the film lifts key elements whilst mostly telling its own story, and in the process has turned what was originally just an excuse to force heroes into conflict into a legitimately gripping war of ethics. Whilst this is still Cap’s story and his views are generally portrayed as the correct ones, the film does a good job of justifying the other point-of-view; nobody feels drastically out of character like some did in the comics. The story has a grand scope as it hops around the world and brings in so many characters old and new, but unlike the competition it never feels disorienting or poorly developed. Even with its many disparate parts, every piece is under control and everything important is kept in the foreground. It’s this kind of thoughtful design that makes the film’s epic runtime breeze by, and even though certain characters do have smaller parts they never feel short-changed. There is never a moment where a scene was cut too short or moment was left to drag; everything is in perfect order. It is, however, not without fault. The film does blow its wad in the scale department a little too early, following what’s easily the most fantastic fight sequence in superhero movie history with an admittedly more emotional but less impressive final battle, and the film’s big third-act reveal feels a little too telegraphed and is mainly just there to reinforce conflict. But the film does have a strong open ending, leaving the universe in an uncertain state of flux much like The Winter Soldier did, but again it never feels like they’re forcefully teasing future movies.

Every other character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes an appearance in this movie, so covering everyone is just going to be redundant. Long story short, every returning player is as good as ever and all are given just the right amount of screen time to shine. The tempestuous relationship between Chris Evans’ Cap and Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man takes centre stage here, and what began in The Avengers as playful bickering has evolved into a true conflict of ideals. But even within all their clashing, they never forget that they’re usually allies and they both understand and even somewhat respect the other’s point of view; again, their motivations never feel skewed just to force hostility. But within all of that are also great little character moments for the other recurring characters; it’s great to see the Ant-Man geek out over meeting The Avengers, Falcon and Winter Solider exchange barbs about leg room in a car, or the burgeoning relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch. It’s also fun to see William Hurt return as “Thunderbolt” Ross, finally connecting The Incredible Hulk back into the overarching story in a meaningful way (now we just need Abomination and Leader to become relevant again).

But even with all that, audiences are sure to be talking all about the movie’s fantastic introductions to Black Panther and Spider-Man. Chadwick Boseman makes for an excellent Panther, balancing the character’s honour and pride with a lust for vengeance, turning what could have easily been yet another piece of Marvel cross-promotion into a key piece of the film’s thematic conflict. Tom Holland’s performance as the third cinematic web slinger finally embraces the character’s potential on screen, creating a Spider-Man that is optimistic and the butt of many jokes but one who can still stand toe-to-toe with these powerhouses of the universe. Holland’s screen time may be brief and it could be argued his story is superfluous to the plot, but everything about his scenes is executed flawlessly and I can’t wait to see him take centre stage in his own movie next summer. If there is a weak link in the cast, it’s Daniel Bruhl as the villainous mastermind Zemo. Bruhl puts in a strong performance as the character, but the film doesn’t do a great job of explaining his motives, giving only the vaguest of hints before dumping it all on us right before the end. He’s like a living embodiment of forced conflict; everything he does accomplishes nothing but getting characters to the point of hostility. That all results in some absolutely amazing fights, but it’s still an obvious ploy nonetheless.

On a spectacle level, Civil War blows all of the other MCU movies out of the water. Every action sequence in this movie is absolutely on-point and, given that the second unit directors are the guys who brought you John Wick, that should be no surprise. It really feels like the filmmakers explored every possible way these characters could utilize their powers in combat and took advantage of that, creating for some truly outstanding mash-ups that are as imaginatively conceived as they are choreographed. The camerawork and editing is fast and frenetic, but never in a way that obscures the action. Instead, it amplifies the intensity of the conflict, making every blow impactful and awe-inspiring. The visual effects aren’t always completely convincing, but because of how light and fantastical the film looks it manages to get away with it. What they lack in believability they more than make up for in ingenuity, crafting incredible moments that could have only been accomplished digitally.

Captain America: Civil War delivers on all its promises to be a fantastic ride and then some, proving that complex superhero movies packed with story threads and characters can be made if done with care. It improves on its source material by making the conflict feel more natural and with better parallels to real-world issues, rather than falling prey to petty squabbles that go against previous character development. It’s a near flawless piece of blockbuster entertainment, one that probably won’t convert anyone uninterested in the franchise so far, but for all us True Believers invested in this universe it’s an absolute treat. All I can now ask is this: how the hell is Infinity War going to top it?

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray (Ghostbusters), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), Idris Elba (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can)

Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Writer: Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li)

Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

Release Date: 15 April (US, UK)

Disney has had so many animated classics in their rich history, and though The Jungle Book may not be one of their strongest, it does remain one of the most iconic mainly thanks to the wonderful songs written by the great Sherman Brothers. Of all the films in their library to adapt to live-action, it’s an odd choice considering the majority of the cast is made up of non-human characters, but Disney has made a bold choice and with it put their technical mastery to the test. The result is a thoroughly entertaining film full of visual wonder, and one that may even surpass the original that inspired it.

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The original Jungle Book film, and Rudyard Kipling’s original stories too, never had much of a cohesive narrative; they were essentially just fun short stories connected by an overarching thread. From a modern perspective, this approach feels too loose and so this new version ties together the original’s disparate pieces into a more cohesive narrative. Most of what you remember is still there, but now it all feels like it serves a greater story that is also enriched by expanding upon its mythology. There’s a better sense of history to this world, the characters have firmer personalities and motivations, and the themes feel more pronounced and modern. It still respects everything that made its forbearer so memorable, but everything changed in this version feels like a necessary one. It’s certainly got a darker and more grounded tone than the original, so much younger viewers should be warned, but never in a way that feels out of place. The film’s main goal remains being to entertain, and from the opening to the closing credits that both pay wonderful tribute to the classic film in nostalgic ways, it succeeds in that goal.

Child actors have always been a difficulty with filmmaking, with the balance between too childish and too adult being one many never master. In Neel Sethi, Jon Favreau not only has the perfect Mowgli but one that never feels out of place in this fantastic world. The young star always has a sense of wonder in his face, but never does it feel forced or misplaced; he genuinely looks invested in this land that does not exist. Acting against nothing is something most adult actors struggle with, but Sethi’s enthusiasm will make you believe he’s really interacting with these animals, but he also manages to convey the stubbornness and the determination the character requires. Without him the whole film would surely fall apart, and that’s a lot of weight to place on a child’s shoulders. Luckily, Sethi has a wonderful supporting cast to accompany him as the now-iconic cast of creatures. Bill Murray is inspired casting as the hedonistic Baloo, injecting the character with much of his affable personality but also a surprising sense of pathos; he’s far more than just a fun-loving bear in this version. Ben Kingsley portrays Bagheera as the stern father figure he’s always been, but with more focus put on the relationship between him and Mowgli that bond feels even stronger here. That sense of familial connection can equally be felt in Mowgli’s connection with his wolf mother Raksha (Nyong’o), who’s given much more of a presence here than in the animated film. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan is the easily the most terrifying the character has ever been, strengthened not only by Elba’s roaring vocals but also by a stronger sense of motivation and principle behind his hunt for Mowgli. Scarlett Johansson lacks screen time as the manipulative snake Kaa, but her seductive tones give the character much more menace in her brief appearance. And then there’s Christopher Walken as King Louie. He sings in the movie. Twice. That’s something that’s either going to put you off or make you love the film even more. For me, it was the latter.

From a quick glance, one could easily presume this film must have been shot in a real jungle and that only the animals are CGI. You’d be wrong though because, with the exception of Mowgli and the few other human characters, everything in this movie was filmed on green screen sets at a soundstage in California. With that knowledge, the film’s breathtaking visuals are even more astounding to take in. Combined with Bill Pope’s vibrant cinematography and the excellent production design that combines familiar elements of the animated film with more realistic texture, I don’t there’s been a more technically complicated film accomplished so masterfully since Avatar; that’s a high bar to clear. There is practically never a moment where you feel like this world isn’t real, even as the animals begin to speak; everything else feels so genuine that it’s a thought that’ll quickly pass your mind. The film also makes strong use of the original’s classic score and songs, retaining the jazzy feel of those compositions whilst also repurposing them into John Debney’s rousing score in a way that feels perfectly natural.

To say this new version of The Jungle Book is a success would be an understatement. Beyond just being a fun film with a strong story and memorable characters, it has pushed the boundaries of modern filmmaking technology even further and opens the doors further for even more imaginative uses of the craft. However, though the visual effects are astounding and is ultimately what makes everything else work, all of the effects are in service to the story and not the other way around; a sentiment so often forgotten in this modern film landscape. Disney’s live action reimaginings have only improved with every effort, and I can only wonder how this film with impact their plans for future efforts. I’m looking at you, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Starring: Michael Shannon (Man of Steel), Joel Edgerton (The Gift), Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent), Sam Shepard (Cold in July)

Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols (Mud)

Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes

Release Date: 18 March (US), 8 April (UK)

It’s rare to see an indie film tackle genre subject matter, but it’s something I welcome wholeheartedly. Some would use obstacles like budget and audience as an excuse not to try, but if you have an big idea that fits within a small scope, why not go for it? It brings a different, more honest perspective to high concept ideas, creating a more intimate experience that the majority of Hollywood blockbusters would be too scared to do. Midnight Special certainly accomplishes all of that and, though it perhaps retains a little too much of its indie roots, certainly serves as a great example of what can be done with a little money and a big imagination.

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I’ll say this up front: if you like everything in a movie to be explained up front, Midnight Special is going to frustrate you. It jumps immediately into the story with absolutely no context, instead revealing details about the world and its characters through natural dialogue as it moves along. It makes the first act incredibly hard to follow, but it’s intriguing from the off and the way questions are answered does ultimately feel a lot better than getting some giant exposition dump up front. From there, the movie moves at a consistent if somewhat lagging pace, keeping the momentum up and upping the tension at suitable moments, but there are certain spots where the story does drag. At nearly two hours, the film could have easily been trimmed down a little to give it less weight. But what’s ultimately going to divide the audience is the film’s ending, which I’m sure will leave many viewers unsatisfied but others debating its meaning. It’s certainly a vague and ambiguous ending but on purposely so, putting us in the exact same shoes as our main characters and leaving it up to us to comprehend what just happened. It trusts the audience to think for themselves and interpret what’s going on rather than spoon-feeding us the easy answer, and I appreciate it when a film has the guts to do that. In other words, Midnight Special throws all of its complex ideas regarding faith, science and the nature of reality at us and then asks us, “What do you think?” Not even Christopher Nolan movies make us do that much legwork.

As a director, Jeff Nichols has always done a great job of getting strong naturalistic performances out of his actors and, in many ways, it’s even more important to do that in a film that involves fantastical elements; if the actors on screen don’t believe what they’re experiencing, we can’t either. Nichols keeps up that record in Midnight Special, and at the forefront of that is his inseparable partner-in-crime Michael Shannon, who delivers a fantastic lead performance as desperate father Roy. He’s a very forlorn character willing to go to absurd lengths, perhaps even criminal ones, but it’s all because he loves his son and wants to protect him from all the pain he’s been through. At his side is a very understated Joel Edgerton as Lucas, who we don’t learn a huge amount about but through Edgerton’s performance we see a lot of wounds and experience. Kirsten Dunst also gives a very down-to-earth performance as Shannon’s estranged wife Sarah, bringing a sense of damage and anguish rarely seen in her other roles. Adam Driver is wonderful as perplexed NSA agent Sevier, doing his best to keep up with a situation that grows increasingly bizarre and bringing some much needed humour to the film, and though his screen time is short Sam Shepard is as magnetic as ever as suspicious cult leader Calvin Meyer. But in the end, it’s Jaeden Lieberher as the messianic child Alton Meyer who ultimately steals the show. Lieberher balances that fine line between odd and believable, managing to feel like a real kid whilst also managing to sell that he’s something more. It’s a performance that could have easily been too saccharine or too robotic, but here it just clicks and it’s ultimately what makes the movie work.

Though its generous budget affords it some slightly fancier sets and some solid CGI for certain key moments, Midnight Special is still an indie film at heart and it certainly feels like one in its technical execution for the most part. The cinematography has that warm grainy feel many films of its ilk naturally have, helping to keep the visuals grounded in reality even when it goes into sci-fi territory. The visual effects are impressive whenever they’re called for, with Alton’s light emissions having a very unique visual look and one that blends flawlessly with the naturalistic tone. David Wingo’s score also helps greatly to amplify the film’s mood, evoking the work of John Carpenter in how it builds and trails suspense.

Midnight Special certainly isn’t a movie for everyone, but if from the trailer it seems like your bag then you’re going to at least appreciate it. It’s certainly a perspective on science fiction that could have only come from Jeff Nichols, blending his usual penchant for pragmatic drama with fantastic speculative concepts without ever feeling like they’re two separate things. It’s a vague movie and often frustratingly so, but in the hours since seeing it I’ve been constantly debating in my head what it all means, and only the truly good movies will keep you doing that. If nothing else, I hope Midnight Special serves as a great example to indie filmmakers to take their sensibilities and carry them over into the world of genre fiction; it’s a fantastic world that could use some more quirky and unique voices.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), Rob Brydon (Cinderella)

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules) and Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II)

Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes

Release Date: 4 April (UK), 22 April (US)

Hey, who here remembers Snow White and the Huntsman? Anyone? No? Well, Universal Pictures remembers it and apparently it made enough money to warrant another one, so here we are! Now all jokes aside, I actually liked Snow White and the Huntsman in several ways. I think it’s an absolutely gorgeous movie thanks to its cinematography, production and costume design, visual effects, and score. Those elements were so good that it was easier for me to excuse the thinly developed story and characters, but there were some hidden depths to the screenplay and they at least hired talented actors to play these roles. But even if that movie was excellent all around, waiting four years to capitalize on it and doing so without both your original star and director (which makes sense if you remember celeb gossip in 2012) would still feel like a perplexing move. And now that I’ve actually watched The Huntsman: Winter’s War, I can confirm it is truly as pointless a movie as it sounds.

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Now Winter’s War has been marketing itself as a prequel to the first film, but in reality it only is one for the first fifteen minutes; the on-screen card after which might as well just say “seven years later, after the first movie happened…” Now having to write around not having Kristen Stewart shouldn’t be too tricky. With the right imaginative mind, there is ample opportunity to expand the universe of the first film and tell a new story that doesn’t have to heavily rely on what came before. But Winter’s War makes the bad decision to heavily rely on the first film for its plot, in the process creating some serious problems. Snow White never appears in person outside of stock footage and the back of an obvious stand-in but she’s constantly referred to as if she’s a main character, and the backstories of Eric (Hemsworth) and Ravenna (Theron) have been expanded upon in ways that contradict what we were told in the first movie. But even ignoring those inconsistencies, the story and writing in this film is plain lazy and uninteresting. 90% of the dialogue is pure exposition, the pacing is achingly slow, the first act is plagued by constant narration explaining the obvious, the entire climax takes place in one room, and the film’s message is so tired and simplistic that TV shows targeted at toddlers wouldn’t use it. It really does feel like no effort was put into constructing this movie, and that sentiment unfortunately also extends to the film’s cast.

Chris Hemsworth is a naturally charming actor and that does come through in his second turn as Eric, but despite this supposedly being his movie he’s given pretty much no character development. We learn all about how he became The Huntsman, we learn about the relationship with his wife (Chastain) hinted at in the first movie and how that made him bitter, but he still remains an utterly bland presence in the story; all he does is walk in, make some wry comment, and then hit people with an axe. At least he’s actually in the movie for its majority, as Charlize Theron only clocks in about ten minutes of total screen time despite being the main antagonist, and her acting completely lacks the intensity of her over-the-top but compelling performance in the original. The only other returning players are Sam Claflin in what amounts to a cameo, and Nick Frost dragging along three new dwarf characters pointlessly along because they couldn’t get any of the others back. Now getting Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain in your movie should add a great deal of life to it, but neither of them are given much to work with. The motivation of Blunt’s Ice Queen can pretty much be summed up as “I hate love and I kill anyone who feels it”, which is a dumb enough motive on it’s own but it also means she spends most of the movie acting like an emotionless popsicle. The movie also never makes up its mind as to whether we should fear or sympathise with her, and that fact it takes her the entire movie to figure out a shocking twist that should be obvious to anyone watching the movie doesn’t exactly speak well of the character’s intelligence. Chastain, meanwhile, struggles through a Scottish accent that she forgets she has with every other word whilst being stuck with the character template of Generic Female Bad-Ass Scorned By Love, lacking any romantic chemistry with Hemsworth and with no effort to really explain why they’re in love beyond “they looked at each other a lot as kids”.

Snow White and the Huntsman had a real grit to its visual style, with lots of fog looming through dark forests and dirt plastered across its cast and locations. This movie, in contrast, feels far too bright and clean, and in the process it makes all the artifice incredibly obvious. The sets look incredibly fake at points, as if you could lean on a wall and push it over to reveal it was simply painted wood, and the costumes have gone from beautiful and intricately detailed to gaudy and overdesigned. James Newton Howard’s score even feels tired, right down to the fact parts of it are taken straight from his score to the first film; not reorchestrated elements of themes, literally copied and pasted. You’d think at least the visual effects would be decent, given the film is directed by a former visual effects supervisor (which is never, ever a good sign), but they would look outdated even in 2012 when the first film came out. Pretty much nothing in this movie made me believe in this world, and of all the things a fantasy film should do that’s easily the most important.

You know those direct-to-DVD sequels to big movies you sometimes find on Netflix? The ones that are usually only tangentially related to the original and purely feel like a cash grab? The Huntsman: Winter’s War feels like one of those with a bigger budget and a theatrical release, but with the same amount of effort thrown in regardless. I wouldn’t say this movie is worthy of contempt, as it at least didn’t offend me or anything, but it’s still pointless nonsense that lacks any reasonable excuse to exist. And this is coming from someone who actually liked the first movie. I think that alone should confirm its quality.

FINAL VERDICT: 3/10

Starring: Ben Affleck (The Town), Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Amy Adams (Enchanted), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Diane Lane (Hollywoodland), Jeremy Irons (Die Hard with a Vengeance), Holly Hunter (The Incredibles), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6)

Director: Zack Snyder (Watchmen)

Writers: Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins)

Runtime: 2 hours 33 minutes

Release Date: 25 March (US, UK)

Seeing Batman and Superman together on the big screen was a childhood dream of mine, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in that line of thought. Warner Bros and DC have tried many times over the years to fulfil that dream, but it seems every time they attempted it always fell apart. But now, what was merely a hypothetical scenario to comic book geeks the world over is now a motion picture playing at a cinema near you. These two titans of popular culture are here to face off against each other. The hype could not be any more ferocious. An entire franchise’s future rests on the success of this one movie. Does it ultimately satisfy? Well…I guess it depends who you are.

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In terms of raw entertainment value, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does try to give you as much as possible. Not only pitting the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight against each other, but also throwing Wonder Woman into the mix and setting the stage for a slew of DC Universe pictures, you cannot say this film is lacking for content. If anything, there is way, way too much going on. On a structural level the movie is an absolute nightmare, with the first two acts wildly jumping between half a dozen loosely connected narratives with no clear through line or perspective. The pacing is so haphazard that nothing is lingered on for long enough to properly invest in these characters, and the worst part of it is that so much of it is superfluous. There’s a whole subplot involving African terrorists and Russian mercenaries that’s only there to give something for Lois Lane to do in the first half, there are several dream sequences that are visually interesting but poorly integrated into the narrative, the film pretty much pulls its brakes in the middle of the third act in order to tease Justice League, and did we really need to see Batman’s origin story again? However, within the sloppiness of the story’s design can be found some really awesome stuff. The film does try to address the controversial elements of Man of Steel, diving more into the moral quandary a figure like Superman would cause in our world, and how it explores that from Batman’s perspective retroactively makes its predecessor’s ending mean something. The film’s third act does ultimately pay off and delivers exactly what is promised in the film’s title, making up for the unfocused beginning with a series of spectacular action sequences that don’t overstay their welcome the way Man of Steel’s did. Whilst it does end on somewhat of an uneven note, the promises this universe offers for exploration remain intriguing, and now that they’ve gotten all of this setup out the way, perhaps they can focus on telling a more coherent narrative next time.

What ultimately gives Dawn of Justice more life is its excellent cast, who manage to overcome the film’s narrative shortcomings to deliver all around strong performances. Remember three years ago when the Internet was infested with Ben Affleck haters after his casting? Well, they’re going to eat their words when they see his interpretation of Batman, because in a few scenes he quickly ranks up there as one of the best. He’s certainly the most brutal and intimidating Dark Knight ever put to screen, but never to a level where it seems grossly out of character like, say, Michael Keaton’s interpretation was at times, and he sells the physicality of the character far better than Christian Bale ever did. Whether you end up liking the movie or not, it’s hard not to get excited about this being the Batman we get for the next few years. Superman gets some much needed character development this time around as he further explores how his actions affect the world, and Henry Cavill has certainly honed his interpretation of Kal-El from Man of Steel into a strong centrepiece figure in this evolving universe. He and Affleck maybe don’t get as much screen time together as I would have liked, but in those moments they have strong chemistry whether butting heads or working side by side. Jeremy Irons also makes for a fantastic Alfred, nailing the sardonic sense of humour so often missing from other interpretations of the character, complimenting Affleck’s brooding determination excellently. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was another figure of much debate upon her casting, but like Affleck she also defies expectations and finally brings the Amazonian warrior to life in a respectful and kick-ass way; her screen time is limited, but what’s there is wonderful and I’m even more excited to see how her standalone movie fares next year. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor will certainly be the most divisive character, and I ultimately thought he was a bit of a mixed bag. Eisenberg’s performance was an interesting if wildly different interpretation of the character, playing him like a volatile mix of Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump and Max Landis, but ultimately it’s the script that scuppers him. The movie just fails to give Luthor a concrete motivation for his actions, instead having Eisenberg flit from collected tactician to fanatical eccentric (and don’t say “because he’s crazy” is his motivation). Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy and Tao Okamoto are frankly wasted in their parts that are built up as important but are ultimately negligible by the halfway mark, whilst returning cast members like Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane are as strong as they were in Man of Steel but lack the screen time and story importance to truly shine.

Zack Snyder’s vision of the DC universe draws from many different sources, but mainly from works like “The Dark Knight Returns” and the New 52. It’s a grim looking film with muted colours and harsh lighting, but it does certainly capture the look of a comic book better than most DC adaptations to this date. The cinematography is far more controlled and fluid than it was in Man of Steel, which thankfully makes the action sequences more comprehensible. Speaking of which, the fight choreography is visually spectacular and captures the heightened sense of reality found in comic books better than most. The standout is a warehouse fight between Batman and an army of goons, which clearly draws influence from the fight mechanics of the Arkham video games to create a flowing and visceral thug beat down. Hans Zimmer teams up with Junkie XL for the film’s score, adding onto the already excellent Man of Steel pieces with some more modern accentuations; Wonder Woman’s theme “Is She With You?” is especially fist pump-worthy. The film’s editing, unfortunately, further adds to the structural clutter of the movie, as very rarely does one scene naturally segue into the next; pretty much every other scene ends with a cut to black. The visual effects are a little overly stylized and, like many of Snyder’s other works, it’s a little unclear whether the unreal aesthetic is intentional in order to highlight the artifice of the movie or not.

Like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to end up being a highly divisive film. What it gets right is pretty equally matched with what it gets wrong, and ultimately it’s going to be up to you to decide what you liked and didn’t like. I can only offer you my opinion, and mine is overall in the positive. It delivers an exciting event movie experience, the kind of movie designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible and to be enjoyed purely from an entertainment perspective, and if you can do that there’s plenty of fun to be had. But the true film critic in me cannot deny the movie has some serious flaws that come dangerously close to sabotaging the whole enterprise. The amount of story threads and sequel baiting done here often puts The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to shame, throwing everything at the screen at once rather than neatly organising its smorgasbord of ideas in a more cohesive manner. In spite of these problems, it does at least lay a stable foundation to build more stories upon, and hopefully this summer’s Suicide Squad can inject some much-needed personality back into the mix.

FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World), John Goodman (Argo), John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg (Portal: No Escape)

Writers: Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Runtime: 1 hour 47 minutes

Release Date: 11 March (US), 18 March (UK)

Well, this came out of nowhere. There have been rumblings about a sequel to Cloverfield for years, but nothing firm ever seemed in place despite the found footage monster movie’s success. This can mainly be attributed to its key players (director Matt Reeves, writer Drew Goddard, and producer JJ Abrams) having all moved onto much bigger projects since. But then in January, a cryptic trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane pops up online and suddenly announces it’s going to be in cinemas in two months; Abrams is certainly known for his elusive marketing and secrecy, but this was one for the record books. What is this film? What’s it even about? How is it connected to Cloverfield? Well, I won’t say because this review is spoiler free, but I will say the answers may not satisfy you.

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Talking about the plot of 10 Cloverfield Lane is tricky without revealing all of its secrets, and that’s especially annoying because that’s really where the film’s main problems lie. From a basic storytelling perspective, the film’s first act is excellent in creating a tense atmosphere that constantly keeps you on your toes. There were definitely moments where I had no idea where the story might go, and the film even does a good job of quickly debunking the easy answers early on. It’s not airtight, as typical Abrams quirks are present from the start, such as some clunky expository dialogue. You know, the kind where supporting characters speak in vague terms to seem mysterious, and so the protagonist constantly has to ask for clarification, thereby not-so-subtly providing the audience with important information? Yeah, that’s a writing crutch that needs to die. But despite this, the film keeps at a good pace and gradually ramps up the mystery, culminating in an exciting jump into a third act…and then the reveal happens. I won’t say what exactly goes down, but it’s clichéd, underdeveloped and ultimately unsatisfying. After doing so well to circumnavigate the obvious and really leave open the possibilities to something new or insane, the final ten minutes come off as slapdash and just leaves you with a whole new set of questions to the ones you had when the movie started. Again, I can’t say much without spoiling the whole thing, but I will say this: if the movie weren’t called 10 Cloverfield Lane, the ending would have been less obvious.

When creating a bottle film with a small cast of characters, it’s important that your minimal cast are not only good on their own but can bounce off each other effortlessly. The trio of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. do just that in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Winstead’s Michelle makes for an interesting set of eyes to view the story through, arriving in this situation with her own set of baggage that only hints at an elaborate back-story. She achieves a strong balance between anxious captive and resourceful fighter, being just capable enough for her actions to be believable in this situation. By the end she perhaps suddenly becomes a little too proficient at things she’s never done before, but Winstead is at least sure to give Michelle a sense of humour about the situation. John Gallagher Jr. makes for an interesting addition to the threesome, acting as more of the everyman in this situation caught between two opposing views and struggling to decide where his allegiance lies. He too certainly has his depths, but they aren’t explored in as much detail. But in all honesty, John Goodman steals this movie from his first moments on screen. It’s a wonderfully unsettling performance that constantly leaves you feeling uneasy about what he might do next. There’s a lot of subtlety to his performance, hinting at hidden characterisation through simple things like cadence and body language, and he ultimately gains as much sympathy from the audience as he does fear.

Director Dan Trachtenberg has mainly worked in commercials and online video before his debut here (if you haven’t already, check out his awesome Portal fan film), so he’s used to working with limited resources. Probably thanks to that, he’s managed to create a visually interesting movie despite being limited to one location for most of the running time. There’s nothing too flashy on a production level until the film’s third act, but through simple things like camera movement and lighting he establishes a clear mood and style for the film. He also makes excellent use of visual storytelling in his direction, with very sparse dialogue in the film’s bookends and relying instead on character emotion and action to convey the story. The tension is further heightened by Bear McCreary’s excellent score, which feels suitably sombre or exciting for whatever the scene calls for.

There’s a lot of great things I can say about 10 Cloverfield Lane, but even if brief a problematic ending can spoil an otherwise good film. The first two thirds of the film are incredibly well directed and Goodman’s performance is one of his best in perhaps a decade, but I can’t help but feel that there was more to be said before the credits rolled. This is a constant problem with JJ Abrams’ obsession with mystery box storytelling: the anticipation almost always overshadows the payoff. If the film didn’t call so much attention to how secretive it is, it might have gotten away with the ending because we wouldn’t have been trying to figure it out so hard. If you really want to know the answers, I certainly don’t think seeing is a waste of time. Just be sure to lighten your expectations and don’t overthink every plot turn, or you’ll only end up setting yourself up for a letdown. If nothing else, I hope this film gives Dan Trachtenberg more directing opportunities, because he’s clearly a talented guy and has certainly worked hard to even make it this far.

FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10

Starring: Jack Black (School of Rock), Bryan Cranston (Godzilla), Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Angelina Jolie (Wanted), James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), Seth Rogen (The Interview), David Cross (Arrested Development), Lucy Liu (Kill Bill), Jackie Chan (Rush Hour)

Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) & Alessandro Carloni

Writers: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger (Monsters vs. Aliens)

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Release Date: 29 January (US), 11 March (UK)

Kung Fu Panda is not a name that inspires confidence upon first utterance but, like Po himself, it’s a film that quickly proves it’s far better than any reasonable expectation. Mixing comedy and action with Eastern influences in animation, choreography and philosophy, it’s a movie that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining and gets better with every subsequent viewing. Its sequel was an even bigger triumph, upping the ante in every conceivable way whilst also adding greater emotional heft to the story. It also left on somewhat of a cliffhanger and now, nearly five years later, the answers have finally arrived in the form of Kung Fu Panda 3.

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There is very a much a formula to a Kung Fu Panda story: Po is tasked with a challenge he internally struggles to combat, a threat rises that requires he complete that task, through spirituality and determination he overcomes his barrier, and then defeats the bad guy with his new-found enlightenment. The third instalment follows that structure to the letter and it is a little predictable at this point, but each film differentiates itself by teaching a different message through that narrative. The first film was about discovering hidden potential, the second about harnessing emotion, and the third is about finding identity and bettering others through their strengths rather than yours. Yes, it’s still mainly a film for kids with lots of silly jokes and cute characters, but there are deeper themes underneath for the older audience to appreciate. Though the story is pretty familiar by now, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a very appropriate capper to the trilogy with callbacks to the first two films that wrap up all the loose ends and bring newfound clarity to the series as a whole. I don’t believe it was planned like this from the start, but it’s been done in an elegant and seamless way that helps bring firm closure to the saga. I wouldn’t say there’s no chance of there ever being another film, but if this is the last we ever see of Po and The Furious Five, it’d be an appropriate note to go out on.

Jack Black may not have the greatest range, but in this type of role he excels. Po remains a lovable and endearing character even still, and it’s amazing that the series has managed to keep him so without diminishing all of the character development he’s gone through in the series; I think the key is that he’s goofy and affable, but never idiotic or tiresome. The film is mostly focused on his newfound relationship with his biological father Li (Cranston), which puts a strain on his adoptive father Mr. Ping (Hong), and the threesome bounce off each other incredibly well. Hong is as great as ever in this role, injecting the energetic earnestness he’s always brought to these movies, and it’s great to see how he deals with having to finally support Po rather than simply coddle him. Cranston gets a chance to stretch his comedy chops again after a series of dramatic roles, and he’s excellent at playing the laidback man-child you’d expect Po’s father to be. That’s not to say Cranston is all fun, as he does bring plenty of dramatic weight to the role when called for, and if the series continues I hope he’ll stay a major part of it. J.K. Simmons’ villain is perhaps the least interesting of the series’ antagonists thus far compared to Ian McShane and Gary Oldman, but he does make for a visually interesting foe and Simmons does milk all the humour that can be found in a legendary villain that no one in the story even remembers. Master Shifu (Hoffman) and The Furious Five (Jolie, Rogen, Cross, Liu, Chan) take mostly a backseat in the story this time around, but many of them do have their moments and all of their performers provide excellent voice work as usual.

The Kung Fu Panda films have always drawn as much influence from Eastern cinema as they have Western, and that is indeed also true of this third instalment. The energetic action choreography the series is known for is as much of a spectacle to watch as it’s always been, mixing in some more mystical elements to shake up the formula and further add to the insanity. The animation is crisp and beautifully flowing, whether gripped within a fight or simply admiring the scenery. Like Kung Fu Panda 2 did, the film also makes excellent use of 2D animation reminiscent of Chinese art that further adds to the cultural authenticity. Hans Zimmer’s music blends east and west beautifully into an action-packed score, and Dreamworks once again take full advantage of the capabilities of 3D to make it worth that extra few bucks for the experience.

Whilst I ultimately preferred its immediate predecessor, Kung Fu Panda 3 is still a more than worthy sequel that remembers everything that worked before. It doesn’t quite have the originality of the first film or the boldness of the second, but it still has heart where it counts and serves as a perfect wrap-up if this is to be the final instalment. Dreamworks’ output can be spotty in terms of quality, but when they get it right they really get it right and I can only hope that they can cap off their How to Train Your Dragon franchise with as much panache.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Starring: Josh Brolin (True Grit), George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven), Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine), Tilda Swinton (Constantine), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Writers/Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

Release Date: 5 February (US), 4 March (UK)

The Coen Brothers have shown they can handle a multitude of genres, often balancing several at the same time. Their films can be simultaneously gruesome and humorous, injecting their trademark wit and deadpan timing into even the most serious of situations. With its setting of classic 1950s Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! gives them the opportunity to play with genre more than ever, but by giving them so many toys to play with they never get the chance to pick a favourite.

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The behind the scenes world of cinema in this era is fascinating and has served as the backdrop of many great films from LA Confidential to Hollywoodland, and with this movie it’s clear the Coens are lovers of the period too. The film certainly captures the madcap nature of this industry back then, touching on many of the topics of the day like sex scandals and the influence of communism, but it also embodies its setting in its presentation and tone. It certainly feels like a movie that could have been made in the period itself, and it takes every opportunity to explore every type of film made in the era. Whether it’s gargantuan historical epics, cheesy westerns or fabulous musicals, there is a bit of everything to be found in Hail, Caesar! Where the film falters, however, is in meshing all of these ideas together into a cohesive whole. The story flits between different storylines with often only the thinnest of links and little to no development (some plots are even resolved off-screen!), concepts and questions are brought up only to be offhandedly answered or quickly forgotten, and characters disappear for long stretches or sometimes never even return. The Coen Brothers have never been ones to be mindful of traditional structure or narrative, which has worked to great effect for them in films like The Big Lebowski, but here it not only feels needed but also thematically appropriate. If this is meant to be a satirical look at 1950s Hollywood through the lens of a 1950s Hollywood film, why not give it a traditional overarching plot? It would make it even more period authentic and further accentuate many of the film’s themes.

As always, The Coen Brothers have assembled a fantastic all-star cast to populate their film, but like the story most of them get lost in the shuffle. Josh Brolin is the main lead as real-life Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix, and though he does a perfectly fine job with the material he isn’t given much room to stretch. He’s constantly concerned about his hectic job and how it’s affecting his family, but we don’t get any insight into his personal life beyond one brief scene, and the decision he makes about his career at the end is completely without conflict. The real scene-stealers of the film are George Clooney as the clueless and easily persuaded Baird Whitlock, and Alden Ehrenreich as the befuddled western star Hobie Doyle. Clooney is excellent at playing the self-absorbed actor who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, using his pretty boy charm to be humorous rather than enchanting. Ehrenreich shines in every scene he gets, his thick Southern drawl combined with his sweet but simpleton dialogue creating a fantastically amusing character; his scene with Ralph Fiennes as his fed-up director is easily the film’s comedy highlight. The rest of the cast, unfortunately, feel like mere flashes in the pan with many barely even getting one scene. There’s certainly some interesting characters amongst the bunch, like Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly-esque musical star or Tilda Swinton in a dual role as competing journalists, but they only have the most tangential relation to the main plot. I could go on listing the recognisable names in this movie (Christopher Lambert, Alison Pill, David Krumholtz and Frances McDormand to name a few), but so many of them are in the film so little you could miss them in a brief bathroom break and lose nothing. Heck, Jonah Hill is heavily featured in all the marketing, and yet he has only one brief scene with about four lines of dialogue! I know that’s hardly the movie’s fault, but the expansive cast just adds to the clutter of content that is this movie.

What I cannot fault Hail, Caesar! for, however, is its presentation. As mentioned beforehand, the movie emulates the look and feel of 1950s Hollywood cinema whether focusing on the making of a picture or not. Roger Deakins’ cinematography masterfully captures that magical look seen in so many films of the era in both camerawork and lighting, all filmed in classic 35mm. The sets and costumes are all period perfect, gushing with lavish design and gloriously saturated colours, and the choreography on the film’s two dance sequences feels ripped right out of a masterpiece of the time. Carter Burwell’s score feels pitch perfect for the film’s style and tone, and what little visual effects work there may be blends seamlessly into the movie’s otherwise beautifully archaic appearance.

As much praise as they deservedly get, The Coen Brothers don’t always hit it out of the park and Hail, Caesar! probably won’t become a classic like many of their other films; I’m sure it’ll build a loyal fanbase, but I doubt it’s going to become anyone’s favourite. It certainly has a lot of interesting ideas, but it has far too many for its own good, resulting in an periodically intriguing but overall muddled experience. It’s certainly worth a watch for anyone with a passion for its subject matter, and Alden Ehrenreich’s performance is more than worth your time (seriously, he’s one of the best and most underutilised actors of his generation), but it’s nothing you need to rush out and see. Hopefully whatever Joel and Ethan have cooked up for us next will be a little more satisfying.

FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time), Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Bonnie Hunt (Cars), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Alan Tudyk (Frozen)

Directors: Byron Howard (Tangled) & Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph)

Writers: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph)

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Release Date: 4 March (US), 25 March (UK)

All great children’s films have a strong message behind them, but rarely do they say anything particularly revolutionary. It’s usually just slight variations on ‘be yourself’, ‘follow your dreams’, and ‘don’t let others get you down’. Don’t get me wrong, there are some films for kids that have stronger, more subversive messages than that, but there are many more that don’t even try. Even Disney doesn’t always bother with an interesting moral, relying more on formula and heart to win audiences over than making them think. Frozen kind of changed their mindset on that, creating a perfect balance between traditional fairy tale magic and modernist perspectives on gender roles, and with Zootropolis (or Zootopia for any Americans that might be reading this) they’ve gone out of their way to make something equally conscious of our evolving world.

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From the outset, Zootropolis doesn’t seem like a particularly original film. Anthropomorphic animals living in a human-style city is a long established idea, the buddy cop formula has been overdone to the point of monotony, and what seems like the initial message (an optimistic small-town girl proving she can stand up with the big city folk) prepared me for something acceptable but not astounding. The film’s first half is very cute and certainly does a lot of inventive things with the richly detailed world it’s created, fashioning a lot of imaginative scenarios and gags about the animal kingdom without completely relying on stereotypes. But from a story perspective, it’s just a simple detective caper with plot elements we’ve seen as far back as the days of film noir. However, by the film’s halfway point, it’s quite clear all of the familiarity was on purpose to set up what the movie is really about. What begins as a very kid-friendly buddy comedy seamlessly morphs into a social commentary about racial profiling that uses the tropes of cop movies and kids’ movies alike to subtly get across its message. It’s a feat that’s completely going to go over children’s heads, but for the adults in the audience it’ll be something they can appreciate and assure them that their kids have actually learnt something from the experience. That doesn’t mean the film completely eschews formula from there, as the second half does still heavily rely on familiar plot beats and smart audience members will probably see the final villain reveal coming, but it uses them for power and emphasis rather than being lazy. By the story’s conclusion, Zootropolis completely destroys any preconceptions you may have had going into it by delivering a far richer film experience than anyone could suspect.

The buddy pairing of the by-the-book cop and the sleazy hustler they’re stuck with has been around since the genre began, and with the team of Judy Hopps (Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Bateman) they don’t stray too far from the established formula. Ginnifer Goodwin has pretty much mastered the art of playing unbelievably nice people, and for the role of Hopps that brand of ‘gosh-darn’ wholesomeness works perfectly with the go-getter nature of the character. On the other hand, Jason Bateman’s performance as Wilde is a great change of pace for the actor, who’s excellent at playing the roughneck con man but rarely ever gets the chance to do so; he’s mostly been stuck playing variations on Michael Bluth for the past ten years. The two do compliment each other well as complete opposites, but the characters ultimately work not because of their clashing personalities or lifestyles. It’s because they both have inner prejudices of each other, and over the course of the film they learn to overcome those; again, a great example of how the film takes your expectations and flips them. However, the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t quite get as much subversive treatment. Idris Elba as the typical angry police captain comes off as way too harsh, mainly just to make Hopps’ situation more crushing and time-sensitive, and he never gets any sort of notable comeuppance for this behaviour. J.K. Simmons feels a bit wasted as the city mayor, disappearing for large chunks of the movie despite being often talked about, and though the marketing made a big deal about Shakira being in the movie she only has one real scene; she’s basically just there to plug the soundtrack. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bright spots in smaller roles, with Jenny Slate as the clumsy and put-upon mayoral assistant Bellwether being an often amusing presence, and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister’s brief appearance works as a hysterical disparity between character and voice.

When you usually see animals acting like people, all they do is throw clothes on them and have them walk on their hind legs. Zootropolis goes beyond that and creates a world that feels far more viable for these various creatures to co-exist in. It remembers variables between these different species like size, body temperature and habitat, in turn making for a film with a wide variety of environments to explore, and they take every advantage of this they can through inventive production design. The animation quality is Disney perfection as expected, with rich detail in textures and fluid character movement. The sheer amount of varying characters on screen at once, all with unique details like varying speed and posture, further adds to the engrossing vibrancy of this world. Michael Giacchino’s score isn’t quite as memorable as many of his other works but it does help propel the film’s action, and Shakira’s theme song for the movie “Try Anything” is an enjoyable if clichéd pop song that fits the story’s message.

Of all the phrases I thought I’d use to describe Zootropolis, I never thought “socially relevant” would be one of them. Far more than just a fun family film with cute animals, this is a movie that feels important in the climate we live in where prejudice pervades almost every aspect of our daily existence. It teaches kids that generalising a group based on a small number of radical exceptions is unacceptable, that people from certain backgrounds are capable of making their way in untraditional fields for them, and that we all sometimes make unintentional mistakes that could be seen as disrespectful to others. Those are some pretty deep themes for an animated Disney film, but for a company that lords over so much of our popular culture it’s momentous of them to make a statement like this. I haven’t seen a film that cuts so deep like this since The LEGO Movie, and I’m sure that certain media groups are going to have a field day of claiming Disney is trying to indoctrinate kids with some sort of “agenda”, but they’re exactly the kind of idiots this film is against. If you’re a parent, take your kids to see Zootropolis not just because they’ll have a good time. Take them because it might make them better people.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Starring: Ryan Reynolds (Buried), Morena Baccarin (Firefly), Ed Skrein (The Transporter Refueled), T.J. Miller (How to Train Your Dragon), Gina Carano (Haywire), Brianna Hildebrand

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Zombieland)

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Release Date: 10 February (UK), 12 February (US)

Deadpool has merely been a dream film for comic book fans for a long time; that movie that’s always been on the cusp of reality but always pulled away by fearful studio executives. After the treatment of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, demand for a standalone Deadpool movie was practically demanded as penance. And now, thanks to fan insistence plus a few strategic leaks of an early screenplay and test footage, that dream film is now playing in a theatre near you. After so much anticipation, partnered with possibly the best marketing campaign in Hollywood history, you’d think the final product wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype. Anyone who still says that after watching it is a jaded contrarian, because this movie delivers everything it promises and more.

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Yes, Deadpool is another superhero origin story, but I doubt you’ve ever seen one quite like this. Told through a fragmented structure a la Batman Begins, the story of how Wade Wilson became the Merc with a Mouth follows many tropes of the genre, but also breaks just about as many and makes fun of the others. It’s very self-aware of what it is doing, with direct call-outs to certain movies and the character of Colossus essentially serving as a metaphor for the traditional superhero movie. In terms of humour, the movie completely nails the fourth-wall breaking witticism of the comic books laced with copious amounts of innuendo. Is it a sense of humour that’s particularly biting or ingenious? No, but it’s not aspiring to be. The plot is mainly there as a platform for a series of ridiculous action sequences and some potty humour, but there is some substance underneath the style. If the movie were nothing but violence and sex gags, as much as that alone would have satiated fans, the film would have quickly become one-note. In a surprising twist, Deadpool is at its core a surprisingly touching romance story about staying with the one you love in spite of dire circumstances. It’s nothing that’s going to make you cry, but that ultimately invests you in the story far more than ironic quips about not being able to afford more X-Men cameos. This is a movie that delivers pure, adulterated entertainment (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron, but it’s intentional), tightly packing in a sh*tload of action and gags into a brisk run time that is never boring for a single frame. Oh, and like I even have to tell you, but STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS!

Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool. In his first five minutes of screen time in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he proved that before the movie got totally lazy and ruined him (don’t worry, it’s an issue firmly addressed here). Now getting to play the role unfiltered, Reynolds shines in what is his genuinely best performance to date. He belts out the one-liners like a champ and revels in every piece of awesomeness, but he’s also wonderful in the more serious moments (well, “serious for a Deadpool movie” moments). There’s an authentic horror when he sees what has become of him, a real fear when he can’t bear to show the woman he loves, and certified anger at the one who did it to him. They even make sure to give him his limits through a simple moral code; it’s one that only makes sense to him, but at least he has one. Again, this level of commitment is what sells the movie beyond its bizarre personality. Reynolds certainly ain’t getting Oscar consideration for this, but for a comic book fan this is the most accurate translation of a character since…well, actually, ever now that I think about it. Morena Baccarin makes for a perfect romantic foil for Wilson as the vivacious Vanessa, matching his quirks with her own for a very messed up but equally heartfelt romance. Her chemistry with Reynolds shoots off the screen and, though she does serve a damsel role in the climax, she’s no defenceless Mary Jane. Ed Skrein finally gets a decent role here as the villain Ajax who, though not an adversary for the ages, is an effective counterpoint to Deadpool’s personality and even quite funny in a deadpan way. T.J. Miller steals every scene he is in as the sardonic Weasel, blurting out kooky and nonsensical punch lines that will have you laughing every time, Gina Carano doesn’t get much dialogue but makes up for it through exemplary glowering, and Brianna Hildebrand is a revelation as the ever-apathetic X-Man-in-training Negasonic Teenage Warhead (yeah, if you couldn’t tell already, it’s that kind of movie).

When they promised that Deadpool would be R rated, fans were overjoyed and I think they’ll be more than satisfied by the carnage on display. Whilst not diabolical on a Takashi Miike level, there is certainly a good abundance of blood, dismemberment and colourful four-letter words. The action sequences are wonderfully photographed and creatively composed, completely avoiding lazy action movie choreography to create a vivid and totally awe-inspiring experience. The humour is even flavoured into the look of the film, with as many jokes in the background as there are in the dialogue (here’s a free hint: look closely at the pizza box). It’s hard to believe Tim Miller has never directed a feature film before, and he certainly deserves to do more considering the natural talent he’s displayed here. In a similar sense to Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool is also a movie defined by its eclectic soundtrack featuring a mix of rock, hip-hop and 80s cheese. Some are used for comedic effect, others for the sake of badassery, but they’re all fitting choices that are sure to making it to your iTunes playlist very soon. Combined with Junkie XL’s fantastic retro-inspired score, it’s a movie that’s as aurally pleasing as it is visually.

Is Deadpool a transcendent piece of filmmaking that epitomizes not only comic book movies but also the art form in general? F*ck no! But does it accomplish everything it sets out to do with exemplary form? Abso-f*cking-lutely, and that’s why it gets a perfect score. My cheeks are in literal pain right now because I was laughing so much in this movie, and whenever I wasn’t doing that I was grinning in awe. Deadpool is certainly a movie that doesn’t have mass-market appeal, but it perfectly appeals to the market it’s targeted at and that’s all you can ask for. This movie would have been perfectly satisfying if it has just been 90 minutes of jokes about giving Wolverine a blowjob, but it goes that extra mile by actually putting genuine heart and effort into the proceedings. Now it’s up to you, fanboys. Get out to your local cinema and support this movie with your cash. Don’t make this another Scott Pilgrim vs the World. If you simply go see this movie, we are going to get more of what we want and I think Hollywood would be a far more interesting place with more edgy, eccentric, batsh*t insane comic book movies.

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!