Starring: Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games), Steve Zahn (Out of Sight), Amiah Miller (Lights Out)

Director: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)

Writers: Mark Bomback (The Wolverine) & Matt Reeves

Runtime: 2 hours 20 minutes

Release Date: 11 July (UK), 14 July (US)

I don’t think anyone would have thought even ten years ago that one of the best hard sci-fi series in recent history would be a series of prequels to Planet of the Apes, but both Rise and Dawn brought great character introspection and socio-political commentary to the summer blockbuster to make something truly special. Now we have reached the third instalment, at which point franchises usually tremble if not outright collapse. Dawn set in motion what promised to be an all-out war and, whilst War for the Planet of the Apes’ title may be somewhat misleading, the film itself is anything but a letdown.

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Resuming the story two years after the events of Dawn, War continues on the themes of the ape vs. human conflict established by its predecessor and takes it in new directions. What’s most surprising about the film is that it isn’t the grand action spectacle the marketing has made it out to be. The film is bookended by some great action sequences, but a solid chunk of the film is mostly character-focused. That may be a disappointment to some, but this franchise was never about the action to begin with. It’s about the motivations and politics behind it, and War develops those ideas in tragic but inevitable ways; if you’ve seen the 1968 film, you know this can’t all end well. But even without action, the threat never falls too far away and the story is expertly paced to allow for respites of character development amongst the action beats. What the film should be most applauded for is its masterful use of visual storytelling. There are long stretches where not a word is spoken, with the third act being almost completely bereft of dialogue, but the story is communicated so well through the apes’ body language and the composition of the filmmaking that nothing should go over your head. By the film’s conclusion, War feels like a well-earned conclusion to a trilogy. The door is certainly left open for more, but the story that started in Rise feels definitively ended here.

Does it even need to be said that Andy Serkis gives a great performance? He was already the pinnacle of performance capture acting when the series began, and his portrayal of Caesar has only continued to evolve into arguably the most nuanced character of his career. Caesar has grown darker with each instalment as his optimism for the future of his people and the humans has dwindled, and here he is nearly pushed over the edge. But even at his most dire moment, Caesar always remains sympathetic and you root for him throughout. Sometimes those noble qualities are pushed a little too far with some on the nose biblical allegories, but it never becomes so cloying that you lose empathy for him. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Woody Harrelson’s haunting portrayal of The Colonel. He’s a man who comes across as extremely villainous on the surface, which is only exacerbated by the correlations the film makes between his warmongering followers and certain contemporary radical groups, but there’s humanity to his character. In a fantastic scene between him and Caesar, you quickly understand what this man has been through and why he commits the horrible acts he does. It’s a frightening performance, but one that makes you feel sorry for him up until the end. Serkis and Harrelson ultimately own the film, but the supporting players all do their jobs well, especially Caesar’s fellow mo-cap apes. Steve Zahn is a surprising bit of fun as Bad Ape, bringing comic relief to a morose film without ever breaking the tone, and Amiah Miller is a revelation as the mute young girl Nova.

The ever-evolving technology of visual effects has not only allowed us to take more and more of the restrictions of our cinematic imagination away, but it makes them even more realistic too. The effects in Rise were already near perfect, and now in War you’ll never even question their believability. These CG characters often get right up to the lens and there’s never a moment where their skin, their hair or even their eyes looks anything but genuine. This is even further impressive given the wide variety of environments they find themselves in; the way their bodies react to rain or snow is practically photo-realistic. But even beyond the impeccable effects work, the technical expertise here is all-around fantastic. The cinematography captures the bleak majesty of this slowly dying world, the designs of everything ape and human feels distinctive and summarizes their characters perfectly, and Michael Giacchino’s score is suitably grand and verbose.

War for the Planet of the Apes stands as quite possibly the best entry in the Caesar series, but also as one of the best conclusions to a trilogy in recent memory. It puts a cap on the themes that have driven this story since the beginning whilst also taking them to original places. It’s a film that doesn’t necessarily deliver on what you expect from of a summer blockbuster, but what it does give you is of far greater substance and entertainment that most of its peers would even attempt. This franchise will probably find a way to continue, but when it does I’m excited to see what new path it can forge for itself.

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10

Starring: Tom Holland (The Impossible), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Jon Favreau (Swingers), Zendaya (Shake It Up!), Donald Glover (Atlanta), Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Director: Jon Watts (Cop Car)

Writers: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses) and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford (Cop Car) and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (The LEGO Batman Movie)

Runtime: 2 hours 13 minutes

Release Date: 5 July (UK), 7 July (US)

We are now on our third Spider-Man in fifteen years and, after seeing the character interpreted in now seven different movies, it’s hard not to compare the various incarnations. Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films still stand as some of the best superhero movies ever made and helped to define the genre as we know it today, and not even the hot mess that is Spider-Man 3 can dampen that. I’m one of the few people that still appreciates The Amazing Spider-Man series for what it is, but it’s hard to deny those films suffered not just because of studio mandates but because they had such a hard act to follow. Spider-Man is a timeless and incredibly versatile character who has adapted to the times before and will continue to do so, but even in the hands of Marvel how can you define your interpretation as the most definitive when it’s been done so many times before? Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t ultimately fully overcome that trap, but it still succeeds in ways none of the previous adaptations have managed.

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Picking up not long after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming functions as somewhat of an origin story for Spider-Man without diving into familiar territory. Instead of retreading the well-worn Uncle Ben story yet again, the film instead focuses on Peter Parker coming to terms with his place as a ground-level superhero and as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It often feels like too much of a meta-narrative to Spidey’s own relationship with Marvel Studios through the years, but it functions well as a story that introduces us to this character in a fresh way without having to tread on familiar territory. Where Homecoming mainly succeeds is presenting a grounded and timely portrayal of Spider-Man’s world that gives it a fresh twist. The influence of John Hughes movies and other 80’s teen classics is clear throughout the film, resulting in what is probably the funniest Spider-Man movie to date, and makes Peter feel more like a teenager than any previous version has. The story itself has the right amount of stakes and twists; not too overblown to feel out of Spidey’s wheelhouse, but not so simple that it fails to live up to the spectacle of the MCU so far. Where the film falters however is the culmination of a larger problem with Marvel’s films have had for a while: they constantly undercut their sincerity with humour. Homecoming mines some great gags out of typical superhero situations, but they often come at the cost of ruining genuine moments of poignancy. Whereas Raimi’s movies embraced the melodramatic pathos of the character without irony, here it often seems like the movie feels too hip to allow an emotion to sink in without cracking a joke about it first. Doing that a little is perfectly healthy, but after a while it’s hard to take certain moments seriously when the movie itself won’t at others. But overcoming that, the film is still a blockbuster ride with a sweet touch of indie flavour, and hardcore Spidey fans should be satisfied by the plethora of Easter eggs and shout-outs sprinkled in intelligently throughout.

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both delivered different but totally valid and well constructed takes on Spider-Man in their respective films, and Tom Holland more than makes the role his own. His cameo in Civil War blossoms here into the most enthusiastic and endearing take on the character yet, filling him with a boyish sense of optimism and naivety. It’s hard not to feel for this kid who so buoyantly jumps into situations he’s unprepared for with such confidence, which makes it so frustrating and yet rewarding as he constantly fails. In terms of capturing the essence of the character from the comics, Holland has nailed it and he deserves to carry this mantle for as long as he can. His young supporting cast of lovable high school miscreants perfectly compliment Peter on his journey. Jacob Batalon makes for an excellent clingy but loyal best friend as Ned, Zendaya constantly steals the show with her brief screen time as Michelle, and Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson captures the essence of the character whilst perfectly updating him for the modern day; no jock stereotypes here.

On the adult side, Michael Keaton’s Vulture is easily the best Spidey villain since Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. He doesn’t quite have that iconic look or presence, but the character’s motivation feels not only relatable but incredibly relevant as a working stiff trying to prove he’s as capable as the fat cats; after seeing so many wealthy and elitist supervillains in recent years, it’s great to see one who’s just trying to make a living but has gone too far. There are a few other side villains like Shocker and Tinkerer amongst others that maybe don’t get as much time to shine as I would have liked, but it ultimately works. They are clearly supporting players to Keaton, and the story leaves plenty open for their roles to be expanded in the future. Marisa Tomei makes for a very different interpretation on Aunt May but again is a change of pace that feels necessary for the times, and any chance to see more out of Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan is a pleasure worth indulging in; he is the true unsung hero of the MCU. Robert Downey Jr. is thankfully used sparingly in the film, entering in just when the plot needs him to act as Peter’s aloof mentor. This is not the Spider-Man/Iron Man team-up movie some of the marketing may have made you believe. This is a Spider-Man movie simply set in a universe where Iron Man happens to exist.

Homecoming fits into the MCU aesthetic whilst forging enough of its own identity in the process. Its worn city street environments and comforting high school hallways feel like a far cry from the fantastic vistas the larger-scale Marvel movies have spoiled us on, but it’s all the film needs to convey the comparatively-grounded story it seeks to tell. Whilst the action might not be as instantly iconic as some moments from the Raimi movies for example, the filmmakers have certainly found new situations to test Spidey’s abilities in. Seeing him swing through the skyscrapers of Manhattan is something we’re all used to, but how is Spider-Man expected to negotiate environments like a suburb or a plane? The film finds clever and often humorous answers to those questions. On a music level, Michael Giacchino delivers a lively and uplifting score worthy of the character though, much like anyone who has attempted a Superman score after John Williams, topping Danny Elfman’s work is a tough mountain to climb. The movie also makes some great use out of pop music both contemporary and retro, giving it that youthful and anarchic edge that a teenage superhero needs. That and any movie that features A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song” immediately wins a piece of my heart.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is ultimately a success in bringing the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in appropriate fashion, but it is neither the best Spider-Man movie nor a particularly landmark title in the MCU thus far. It gives the character the fun and carefree attitude he’s needed for years, but in grounding him so much from the larger Avengers action it robs him of his sincerity. Spider-Man is an upbeat and youthful character, yes, but he’s also one saddled with a lot of tragedy and internal conflict. Homecoming gives us some of that, but not enough to balance out the fun. With everything said, Spider-Man is at least clearly in a safe place now, and there’s ample opportunity for this take on the character to flourish and perhaps even spawn the best movie this character will ever have. Only time and continued friendly relations between Sony and Marvel will tell.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Starring: Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Lily James (Cinderella), Eiza Gonzalez (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jamie Foxx (Collateral)

Writer/Director: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz)

Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes

Release Date: 28 June (US, UK)

Though massive commercial success still eludes him, Edgar Wright still remains many a cinephile’s choice for favourite working director. He has a unique and instantly recognisable style, and yet he always brings something new to the table with each film. He finds comedy in the smallest details and spectacle in the most mundane of places, and every frame of film he makes is packed with a passion for cinema. Baby Driver marks as somewhat of a departure from Wright’s usual style, but it is still undeniably a film that could have only come from his mind. Bringing his sensibilities to the classic car chase movie is a match made in heaven, making Baby Driver a summer ride you won’t want to miss.

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First things first, it should be made clear that Baby Driver isn’t a comedy in the traditional Wright sense. It’s still packed with humour and funnier than most straight-up comedies this year, but the movie balances that with a lot of other genres. It’s an action movie, a crime thriller and a romance story all in one, blended seamlessly together to craft a movie made from familiar parts but assembled in a unique way. It borrows a lot of elements and iconography from car chase classics like The French Connection, Bullit and The Blues Brothers, but the story itself feels wholly unique. Every time you think it’s going to take the trodden path, it finds a new way to follow it if not outright avoid it. However, as well as it remixes the classics, it doesn’t quite add something inherently new to the genre or Edgar Wright’s filmography; they just compliment their respective trappings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you’ve grown tired of Quentin Tarantino’s shtick then you might find this more troublesome. Also, the ending feels a little abrupt. The action peaks a little too early and then it feels like the film is building up to something bigger, but it ultimately goes in a totally different direction. It feels intentional as another of Wright’s genre subversions, but original or not it still feels like the audience is being undercut.

Among Wright’s many other talents, he knows how to assemble a good cast and get remarkable performances out of unlikely actors. Similarly to Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Ansel Elgort’s pretty boy YA image is successfully utilised in a unique way as the titular Baby, moulding him into a millennial combination of Ryan O’Neal and James Dean. Elgort doesn’t say much but he gets across a lot through physicality, which works especially well in all of the physical comedy bits sprinkled into the action sequences; he’s essentially Ryan Gosling from Drive, but cute instead of disturbing. A lot of the comedy is mined from Baby’s interactions with the varyingly insane cast of criminals he has to work with, and all of them are entertaining in their own wat. Kevin Spacey makes for the perfect crime ring boss as Doc, being mysterious and conniving but with a subtle soft spot, which makes every interaction he has with Baby packed with uncertainty. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez make for a delightfully deranged couple as Buddy & Darling, and Jamie Foxx constantly steals the show as the appropriately nicknamed Bats. The only cast member close to being weak is Lily James as Debora. She makes for a sweet love interest and does share some good chemistry with Elgort, but it takes her a little too long to get caught up in the action; until the third act, she could just be a Sexy Lamp and it wouldn’t make much difference.

Where Wright’s filmmaking chops really come into play is in all the technical execution and, whilst Baby Driver is easily the most grounded in reality of all of his movies, his style is still clearly all over it. The car chases in this film are spectacular, executed in a way unseen since the 1970s heyday of the genre. The practical stuntwork all around is superb, and that goes for both vehicle stunts and on-foot. One of the best action sequences in the film is an on-foot chase between Baby and the police, which is accomplished with a lot of long, sweeping takes. Bill Pope’s cinematography in general is fantastic across the board and, combined with some of the slickest editing in a Wright movie ever, makes for a flawless visual experience. Equally as beautiful is the film’s soundtrack, which is an eclectic mix of genres and eras that creates a perfect soundscape for the movie that would make even Star-Lord blush. Every scene is practically timed to the music down to the tiniest movements, which only enhances the energy of every moment; much like on Scott Pilgrim, Wright uses the techniques of musicals to great effect without ever fully turning the film into a musical itself. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to any of these songs ever again without linking them to their respective scenes in this movie.

Baby Driver is maybe not Edgar Wright’s finest work, but it does show he has more up his sleeve than comedies about manchildren learning to grow up through the tropes of a genre picture. The balancing of tone and genre here is so deftly handled that it feels unequivocally Wright whilst still feeling apart from his previous work, and no amount of ridiculous Fast & Furious car stunts could ever match the tangible, foot-tapping energy the chases here pull off. However, I do worry that eventually Wright is going to run out of tricks. There’s only so many times you can pull the “here’s my quirky take on this genre that mixes elements of all my favourite movies” bit, but I do have a sincere belief that he will find something that can mix up his own formula instead of constantly falling back on using his to mix up others’ work.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon), Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs), Josh Duhamel (Life as We Know It), Laura Haddock (Guardians of the Galaxy), Isabela Moner (Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life), Jerrod Carmichael (Bad Neighbours)

Director: Michael Bay (Pain & Gain)

Writers: Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (Iron Man) and Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down)

Runtime: 2 hours 29 minutes

Release Date: 21 June (US), 22 June (UK)

What is there even left to say about the Transformers franchise at this point? Every flaw that could be pointed out has been highlighted again and again for ten years now. I could pretty much just copy and paste my review of Age of Extinction here and it would still be a generally accurate summary of The Last Knight. I can’t even say I had any optimism going into this one, and for that I can say I at least wasn’t as surprised by how bad it is. I was just bored, exhausted, and in awe of how such a film can even be made in the current cinema landscape.

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Five films in, and they still somehow can’t come up with a new plot for a Transformers film. Once again, there’s some artefact from Cybertron hidden on Earth that the Decepticons want to use to destroy the world and only the humans and Autobots can stop them. There is nothing new here at all, and what the film thinks are new twists are just wholesale ripped off from the previous films. The movie may be the shortest and have the fastest pace of all the films since the first, but that’s mainly because it has the shortest attention span of all of them. The aborted hodgepodge of a plot races from scene to scene like an eight-year-old on a sugar high, blurting out exposition and throwing around action sequences without ever once stopping to realize nothing it is saying or doing makes any sense. If I were to describe exactly what happened in this movie to you without a shred of irony, I would sound like a delusional, conspiracy-believing mental patient. The humour may be less insensitive than usual but it’s still embarrassing to sit through, and though the product placement isn’t as torrential as before it’s still plainly obvious when it’s there. The film lacks any cohesive flow or an emotional core to latch onto, once again being nothing but two and a half hours of nothing but mindless spectacle. It boggles the mind that after this long, these films still can’t even follow the basics of narrative storytelling; you know, the kinds of things most stories have without even having to think about.

Mark Wahlberg’s performance in Age of Extinction was laughable, but at least it had this frantic sense of energy to it. Here, he just looks absolutely bored the entire time and doesn’t share an iota of chemistry with the rest of the cast; I can’t believe I’m pining for the days when he was shouting insults at his daughter’s boyfriend. Laura Haddock is probably the most respectable female lead the franchise has had, but that doesn’t mean she’s a particularly well-written character or that Bay doesn’t objectify her at every opportunity; even her comebacks to sexist remarks come off as kind of sexist. Isabela Moner is a decent new addition but the film pretty much forgets about her after spending the first act setting her up, then constantly strains to find ways to keep her relevant when the easy solution would be just to cut her character; the same sentiments go to Jerrod Carmichael. Josh Duhamel and John Turturro return from the original trilogy but both are pretty thankless roles, whilst Stanley Tucci is back but playing a completely different character. Why? Was there supposed to be some kind of connection between his character here and in the last movie? And then there’s Anthony Hopkins, who has somehow found a way to embarrass himself more than any other of his paycheck performances. The film is almost worth seeing just to behold how certifiable disturbed his performance is. You have not witnessed a career sh*t its own pants like this until you see Hopkins say, without any sarcasm, “That’s one bitchin’ ride!”

Oh yeah, and the Transformers are in this movie, I guess. Optimus Prime is barely even in it, with only a few scant scenes in the beginning before showing up in the climax, and that whole “Prime is now evil” thing all the marketing was about is resolved pretty quickly and conveniently. Bumblebee’s whole arc here is about getting his voice back (which is something he actually did at the end of the first movie which they then swept under the rug in the following sequels), and they reveal all this backstory for him to ostensibly set up his spin-off next year. The rest of the Autobots are pretty pointless, with the introduction of a fan favourite like Hot Rod being made a big deal of and then he never does anything again. The Decepticons don’t fair much better. Megatron is back to his old self with no explanation, as is Barricade, and all of the new minions are a bunch of gangsta stereotypes with literal gold chains and no personality. Hopkins has a sociopathic robot sidekick called Cogman who gets annoying really fast, and the main villain Quintessa is as vague an antagonist as her name is stupid: very.

Do I even need to explain Michael Bay’s directing aesthetic again? Everything’s pretty much business as usual. The cinematography is saturated to infinity and can’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds, the production design is overwrought and inconsistent, and the editing feels like a six-year-old playing with a pair of scissors did it in an afternoon. But adding to the usual sensory overload is a new visual quirk for Mr. Bay: constantly changing aspect ratios! Sections of the film were shot with IMAX cameras but, instead of just shooting a few select sequences in the formant and using normal cameras for the rest, the film frequently flits between three different aspect ratios, often in the middle of a scene; a simple conversation between two characters can have each character presented in a completely different shot ratio. It’s constantly distracting and makes no logical sense, and why they couldn’t just make a 2.35:1 version for regular theatres is baffling. When the only good technical aspect of the film I can think of is the few times Steve Jablonksy recycles music from the first movie made me ever so slightly nostalgic for 2007, there’s something seriously wrong.

Transformers: The Last Knight is a terrible movie, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. What gives it its unique badness is just how banally insane it is. No other movie would get away with being this idiotic, sophomoric and lewd, but we always just throw up our hands and say, “Well, that’s Michael Bay for you.” That’s not good enough. I am willing to play devil’s advocate and say that Bay is far from being an untalented hack. He clearly has a distinct visual style, as well as a strong understanding of film language, and his films have had a huge impact on many aspects of modern blockbuster production. But he has also constantly shown an indifference towards his audience and a willingness to put as little mental effort into his work because he makes money either way. No one else can get away with that kind of arrogance in this business without astounding critical acclaim to back it up. Bay has said this is his last film in the franchise, but he said that after the last two movies as well. If he really means it this time, that’s fantastic. This is an opportunity to make something decent that doesn’t have to be smart, but can at least not insult my senses; if Transformers movies were at least as good as the recent Fast& Furious movies, I’d be satisfied. But if Bay comes back once again for whatever reason, then all we can do is perpetually wait for the general public to finally get bored of him.

FINAL VERDICT: 2/10

Starring: Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher), Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle), Jake Johnson (Jurassic World), Courtney B. Vance (Office Christmas Party), Russell Crowe (Gladiator)

Director: Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us)

Writers: David Koepp (Spider-Man) and Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow) and Dylan Kussman (Burn)

Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes

Release Date: 9 June (US, UK)

Marvel Studios really set the groundwork for how to make a cinematic universe, but no one else has managed to step up to the plate to meaningfully challenge them. DC has only just managed to make a movie that’s genuinely great after uneven results, whilst Legendary’s Monsterverse is young but still shows plenty of potential, but no studio has tried harder and failed more miserably than Universal trying to resurrect their classic series of monster movies. Their confused remake of The Wolfman and the abysmal Dracula Untold were both quickly swept under the rug after failing, but now they’re gunning harder than ever. Officially dubbing the series “Dark Universe” with a fancy pre-titles logo and a slate of movies set with major talent lined up, you’d think Universal had a movie as solid as Iron Man on their hands to plan out this intricately this far in advance. But you would be wrong. So, so wrong. The Mummy is an absolute disaster of a start for a potential franchise; a train wreck of bad decisions that makes Batman v Superman look like The Avengers in comparison and casts serious doubt on this franchise continuing beyond this point.

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Up front, the biggest problem with The Mummy is that it has no idea what kind of movie it even wants to be. You’d think they’d try to evoke the feel of the classic Universal Monsters movies and make a moody, atmospheric horror film. No major studio is making big budget horror anymore, and with the right vision they could carve out a new market whilst still cashing in on the movie universe trend. But rarely does The Mummy ever try to genuinely scare or even unnerve. Most of the time, it feels like an unholy mixture of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, any of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and the worst superhero movies of the past ten years. The film’s story is insultingly simple and yet needlessly complicated, with the plot then essentially coming to a halt halfway through so they can set up their universe in the most tedious way possible. You thought Bruce Wayne finding a flash drive full of info on metahumans stupid and contrived? Wait till you see Russell Crowe drone on about his secret society of monster hunters for ten minutes! The film is essentially two hours of exposition, action sequences and incompetent brand management, and when the film isn’t frustrating you with how tedious and lifeless the whole enterprise is, you’ll just be bored.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but the man usually has decent taste in film choices. What convinced him to star in this tripe is completely lost on me, because not only is the material not good, but also his character is so incredibly indefinable that the movie never even properly explains his occupation. Cruise’s Nick Morton has no clearly definable personality, history or motivation beyond what other characters tell us about him, and what little character is there is just Cruise acting on auto-pilot. There’s all this talk about him being a rebel and that he has demons to get over, but Cruise himself never really has a chance to exhibit any of this. This feels like a role that was written for a typical Hollywood bland man like Sam Worthington or Jai Courtenay, but Cruise somehow manages to exhibit even less charisma than the finest performances of those actors’ entire careers. Annabelle Wallis fares little better as a totally superfluous and vague love interest who’s only real purpose is the blurt exposition at Cruise, whilst Jake Johnson is relegated to being annoying comic relief and then ripping off Griffin Dunne’s role in An American Werewolf in London; if this movie was made in the 90s, Rob Schneider would have played this character. The only actors who shine at all in this mess are Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Sofia Boutella as The Mummy herself. Boutella works because she actually seems to be trying, delivering a genuinely nuanced performance with very little screen time or dialogue, whilst Crowe eats up the scenery at every chance he gets; I’ll take hammy Crowe over boring Crowe any day.

The Mummy contains far more action than horror, but it never gets either element right. The action sequences are loud, relentless, poorly directed, driven mostly by CGI, and lacking in creativity. The one close-to-original stunt, the much touted zero gravity plane sequence, is staged and directed without any original flair and is over far too quickly to impact. When it comes to scares, all they can really muster are some lame jump scares or some mildly creepy imagery, failing to capture either the moody ambience of the classic monster movies or the unnerving terror of modern horror films. There is some cool design work here, like how The Mummy reforms herself or how her mindless minions gait around like all their limbs are broken, but none of it is particularly outstanding. Not even Brian Tyler’s score for the film can muster anything past generic.

If Marvel established the textbook way of how to start a cinematic universe, The Mummy should serve as the example of how not to. It can’t decide on a tone or a genre, it doesn’t set up any interesting characters, it doesn’t tell a coherent story, it fails to deliver any memorable action or horror sequences, and its attempts to build a world are basically reduced to talking about it instead of letting the universe naturally unfold. It feels less like a filmmaker trying to create a good movie they genuinely care about, and more like a studio attempting to copy a trend and slapping one of their established brands on it. If Universal are genuinely serious about using this as a springboard for a whole series of movies, they are about to make Warner Bros and DC look like prodigies.

FINAL VERDICT: 3/10

Starring: Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6), Chris Pine (Star Trek Beyond), Connie Nielsen (The Devil’s Advocate), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), Danny Huston (Children of Men), David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead)

Director: Patty Jenkins (Monster)

Writer: Allan Heinberg (The Catch)

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

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

Whilst I have yet to outright dislike any of the films in the DC Extended Universe so far, I will admit they have all had gaping flaws. Their characters lack charisma and development, their tones are grim and messy, and their stories have been convoluted and undercooked. But despite all this, I have remained optimistic because they do get enough right; their films have been visually fascinating, have a grandiose scale befitting of the god-like characters they present, and whilst their execution has been haphazard their goals have been mostly sound.

Whatever your opinion, a lot has been riding on the performance of Wonder Woman. Not only does it have the stigma of being a DCEU film, but female-led superhero films have been unanimously terrible in the past; their quality has had nothing to do with them being female-led, but it is a pestering statistic nonetheless. However, I am glad to say none of these supposed impairments have any affect on the final product. Wonder Woman is a triumph of a movie in many facets, and no matter your opinion on DC or the superhero genre in general you owe yourself the joy of witnessing it.

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In terms of the basic story elements of Wonder Woman, it doesn’t do anything astoundingly original. The film owes its most obvious inspiration to Superman in terms of structure and scale, but it also shares similarities with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger along with borrowed elements from non-superhero fare like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan and 300. But with these familiar pieces has been crafted a film greater than the sum of those parts, telling a story not only more than worthy of the character but also of our times.

Not since Richard Donner’s progenitor of the genre has a superhero film felt like a cinematic epic, telling a tale of morality and strife in very broad but also cleverly nuanced strokes. It is a film of tremendous length but of even greater pace and entertainment, balancing out its varying elements of drama, action and comedy with impeccable craft. But Wonder Woman’s greatest strength should come as a relief to those dismayed by DC in the past: it’s fun and hopeful. Sure, it has some intense moments of darkness, but it balances it out with an optimistic flair that carries you through those moments. If I have any faults with the story, I will say that the third act isn’t as spectacular as the first two, but that complaint feels pedantic in the face of everything the movie does peerlessly. When all is said and done, I doubt you will find a blockbuster more engaging than this during this summer movie season.

Gal Gadot was one of the brightest stars to emerge from Batman v Superman, but her appearance there was brief and doubt still loomed as to whether she could carry a movie on her own shoulders. After seeing her in action, I can say she not only carries the movie but she holds it up as strongly as the tanks she throws around in battle. Again to make the Superman comparison, Gadot plays the role of Diana with the same grace and authority as Christopher Reeve, embodying both the strength and sensitivity that makes Wonder Woman such an iconic character. Her optimism and naivety do often get the better of her but they are also the qualities that motivate her, and the journey she goes on in this film epitomises the advantages and disadvantages of that outlook. She ranks up their with the best protagonists of the genre, and I am eager to see where they take the character from here.

But in another move taken right out of the Donner playbook, Gadot’s supporting cast help elevate her and the movie even further. Chris Pine makes for an excellent Steve Trevor, delivering not only a charming and swaggering performance that Harrison Ford would approve of, but also serving as a wonderful counterpoint to Gadot. Not only do they effortlessly exchange banter and chemistry, Trevor’s realist outlook helps to both ground Diana but also creates conflict; one is determined that they can definitively end war, but the other knows it’s not that easy. Connie Nielsen is excellent as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, providing our hero with the grace and courage she needs, whilst Robin Wright’s Antiope gives her the physical strength to be a warrior.

Even the smaller side characters are fun and memorable, which is afforded to them by the talent playing them. Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock make for a colourful band of soldiers Diana and Steve embark on this quest with, and Lucy Davis provides some fun comedic relief as Etta Candy. If there are any faults on the character side, it is in the usual area for superhero films: the villains. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are fairly broad antagonists as General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison respectively, but deliciously so and in a way I think was intentional, whilst big bad Ares is satisfying once he finally shows his face but his screen time is imbalanced compared to the amount of build-up they give him.

After three DC films with muted palettes and dreary modern environments, it’s refreshing to see Wonder Woman embrace colour. The film’s first act in Themyscira is gorgeously realized on the scale of Thor’s Asgard with ancient architecture and luscious greens, whilst Wonder Woman’s stunning costume shines brightly against the murk and dirt of World War I battlefields. Speaking of battle, the action sequences here are incredibly well staged and choreographed. There is a lot of CGI and Zack Snyder-style slow motion involved, but at all seamlessly flows with the motion of combat filled with soon-to-be iconic moments. The score by Rupert Greggson-Williams is also phenomenal and filled with the bombast required of such an epic, incorporating the already iconic theme established for the character in Batman v Superman into much more classically heroic pieces of orchestral music.

Wonder Woman is not just the first great female-led superhero movie or the first great movie in the DC Extended Universe, but an astounding example of modern blockbuster filmmaking in general. Patty Jenkins and her crew have pulled off here a film that is both the quality all films in this franchise should aspire to and the benchmark for every superheroine flick in development right now. It understands its main character and their intrinsic philosophy better than many of its genuinely good peers, all buoyed by Gal Gadot’s star-making performance that all women who pick up this mantle in future interpretations will be judged by. It is not a film that is necessarily impactful because of what it does, but because of how it does it and who is doing it. So to those of you reading this who have been disillusioned by the DCEU or have little interest in the genre entirely, Wonder Woman is the film that may sway your opinion. Make this film the success it more than deserves to be and break every preconceived notion about women in blockbuster cinema in the process. It has been a long time coming…

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), Zac Efron (Bad Neighbours), Priyanka Chopra (Quantico), Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas), Kelly Rohrbach (The PET Squad Files), Ilfenesh Hadera (Chi-Raq), Jon Bass (Loving)

Director: Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses)

Writers: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (Freddy vs. Jason)

Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Release Date: 25 May (US), 29 May (UK)

Does anyone actually like Baywatch for any reason other than irony or TNA? It was a cheesy show that managed to stay on the air because it had scantily clad women running in slow motion in a pre-Internet age, and beyond that it didn’t have much going for it. But in spite of or perhaps even because of that, the series has managed to remain in the pop culture zeitgeist, and so a film adaptation was inevitable. Playing the entire thing as a joke was probably the best idea, nobody wants to see this material played straight, but there is such a thing is bad satire. Unfortunately, Baywatch is very much in the bad satire camp.

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The plot of an average episode of Baywatch was always something ridiculous and well out of the bounds of a lifeguard to handle, and the movie understands that. There are some prime targets to rip apart and satirize in a 21 Jump Street-style way, which is clearly what this movie is aiming for. However, the film version of Baywatch has nowhere near the amount of wit and ingenuity that film had. Whereas the Jump Street films took the clichés of the source material and twisted them to its own means, this film plays the generic plot completely straight and just has characters point out how nonsensical it is. The story is a textbook cop movie with obvious twists and very little unique assets, and its method of “satire” only highlights how trite the material is instead of making any actual jokes out of it.

When it’s not doing that, the gags are cringe-worthy and sophomoric on the level of a horny teenager and they stop the movie completely dead. For example, there is a five-minute sequence where a character gets their genitals trapped in a deckchair. It’s not funny, it goes on far too long, and nothing important to the plot even happens. The whole movie lacks any kind of logical flow, with the first act consisting of our “heroes” just trading jibes whilst occasionally cutting to the villain for no real reason other than establishing that there is a villain. By the time the film is over, it clearly thinks it has set up the next big comedy franchise, but no statement could be more false.

Dwayne Johnson is a man who seems to have an abundance of charisma and can overcome even the weakest material, but for the first time his charm has failed him. Johnson is clearly trying, but he and the rest of the cast fall victim to the exact same issue: none of the characters have any consistency in regards to function and intelligence. Johnson’s Mitch is supposed to be the charming leader who always knows best and saves the day, but whenever the plot comes into play he turns into a buffoon. Zac Efron’s Brody is always the one pointing out how ridiculous it is for lifeguards to be investigating a drug ring, but then he becomes reckless and idiotic whenever it wants to make Johnson look good. Even Alexandra Daddario as Summer, who for the most part is played as the logical straight woman, will go along with bad plans and play the fool for the sake of a gag.

Kelly Rohrbach’s role is pretty much just being the Pamela Anderson stand-in for Jon Bass’ Ronnie to ogle at, whilst Ilfenesh Hadera doesn’t even get a distinguishable personality. Bass’ role in the story is weak and poorly justified, and his relationship with Rohrbach has potential but they never do enough with it; they just sort of hang around awkwardly with each other until the third act just kind of resolves it out of nowhere. Priyanka Chopra as the villain Victoria Leeds is given nothing interesting to do and barely even any funny lines, with her only real purpose being to drag the paper-thin plot behind her. The only person who is consistently funny is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a frustrated cop that Johnson is always messing with, basically serving as an amalgam of Ice Cube and Nick Offerman’s roles in the Jump Street films, but they don’t do nearly enough with him. The film even wastes its cameos from original Baywatch stars, giving them a brief scene each and only one obvious gag when the gold material just sits there begging to be handled.

Baywatch could have been a genuinely funny send-up of a cheesy TV show and it is given every opportunity to do so if it simply tried, but it bails at every hurdle. It is ultimately a simple case of a comedy not being funny, mainly because it goes for the easy joke every time and can’t even do that right. The occasional funny line slips through (usually an ad-lib rather than any of the set piece gags) the performances are at least charismatic when they’re not inconsistent, and I wouldn’t say of the humour is awful or offensive, but none of that can save what should be a laugh-a-minute summer riot. I’d say skip the beach for now and wait for the next seasonal comedy to come around. You’ll probably be stepping into much safer waters than this.

FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/10