M3gan review

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast : Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronnie Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Stephane Garneau-Monten
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 102 min
Opens : 4 January 2022
Rating : PG13

What are three things with immense potential for creepiness? Dolls, kids and technology. M3gan might not be the first film to fuse the three, but it might be the first to fuse the three and go viral for a dance its titular character does while in the middle of a killing spree, and that’s worth something.

Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant roboticist, works for the toy company Funki. Funki manufactures the Furby-like Purpetual Pets, but Gemma and her team are developing a secret project: a hyper-realistic robotic doll named the Model 3 Generative Android (Amie Donald, Jenna Davis), or M3gan for short. When Gemma’s sister Ava (Kira Josephson) and her brother-in-law Ryan (Arlo Green) die in a car accident, Gemma becomes the guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Gemma introduces M3gan, still in the prototype stage, to Cady, and they soon bond. However, M3gan becomes unpredictable, displaying sinister tendencies. With Gemma’s boss David (Ronnie Chieng) about to unveil M3gan to the world, Gemma realises she might have created a monster.

M3gan is supremely entertaining. From its first moments, the movie demonstrates that it knows what it is. Director Gerard Johnstone, working from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, has a handle on the tone at all times. M3gan sees producers Jason Blum and James Wan, both veterans of the horror genre, putting together a crowd-pleaser and a half. Wan also gets a “story by” credit. M3gan’s trailer prompted some to fear it might be unintentionally funny in the way some horror movies are, but when M3gan is funny, it’s intentional. When M3gan is unsettling, it’s intentional too. And M3gan even succeeds at being genuinely emotional at times. The audience at this reviewer’s screening lapped it all up, laughing and screaming unreservedly. The movie’s PG13 rating means it isn’t aiming for outright gory terror, but it does manage to be effectively unnerving at times. The rest of the time, it’s a roller coaster in the best way. The movie has such an anarchic sense of fun to it and it never lets up, even in its quieter moments.

Crucially, both Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are playing it completely straight, and they give genuinely affecting performances. Williams is convincing as a career-driven woman who is not necessarily cut out to be a guardian, and as such hands the parenting off to a third party. Meanwhile, McGraw feels like an actual kid and not a precocious movie kid, and the moments of conflict between Gemma and Cady, some engineered by M3gan, are uncomfortable to watch. Ronnie Chieng is also a hoot as Gemma’s boss, an arrogant tech bro. The movie’s observations about the dangers of becoming overly reliant on technology, and the false promises and hype of the tech industry, are not especially new, but they work in the context of the story.

M3gan is very formulaic and owes a lot to everything from Child’s Play to Annabelle to the Terminator series. It wears all its influences on its sleeve. There may not be enough here that’s truly original, and horror aficionados looking for something genuinely scary will likely not find it here, but it’s very good at being the thing it’s trying to be: an entertaining time.

Key to M3gan working is its titular character, who became an internet sensation from the moment the first trailer dropped. The character is realised by way of a physical performance by dancer/stunt performer Amie Donald (who was just 11 at the time of filming), the voice of Jenna Davis, and animatronic effects by Wētā Workshop. This comes together to create a character who’s funny, scary and always watchable. Donald’s physicality is impressive, selling M3gan’s uncanny, inhuman quality. Davis’ overly chipper, children’s TV presenter-esque vocal performances effortlessly slides into something more menacing. Meanwhile, the costume design by Daniel Cruden, which Empire Magazine calls “yassified Victorian chambermaid”, adds to the characters distinctiveness. Her old-fashioned dress sense is deliberately at odds with the cutting-edge tech that comprises her.

Summary: M3gan is much more than that one clip of the character dancing in the middle of killing people in an office hallway. The movie is a finely calibrated entertainment machine. It’s funny at times and unsettling at others, and the tonal balance on display is masterful. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw give genuinely affecting performances, playing things completely straight. Meanwhile, a combination of physical performer Amie Donald, voice actress Jenna Davis and animatronic effects bring the title character to vivid life. M3gan is far from particularly original, but it is, if one will pardon the cliché, more than the sum of its parts.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Halloween Ends review

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast : Jamie Lee Curtis, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, Will Patton, Kyle Richards, Michele Dawson, Michael O’Leary, Keraun Harris
Genre: Horror
Run Time : 111 min
Opens : 13 October 2022
Rating : M18

After this, it’s over – so say the producers of Halloween Ends. Cross their heart and hope to die. There are bound to be more Halloween movies in some shape or fashion, but this movie is meant to be a definitive end to the decades-spanning story of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle). For real, this time.

It is four years after the events of Halloween Kills. Michael Myers went on a rampage through the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, and then vanished. In the time since the last Michael Myers incident, a collective paranoia has continued to build. Laurie is writing her memoirs, ready to put everything behind her and finally find closure. She is living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who works at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital as a nurse. Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) is a young man who works for his father at an automobile scrapyard. He was linked to a tragic incident, but after having his name cleared, he continues to be picked on and met with suspicion by various Haddonfield residents. After Laurie introduces Corey to Allyson, the two begin a relationship, but darkness lurks around the corner as Michael resurfaces, leading up to the fabled final confrontation between Laurie and her tormentor.

After spending most of Halloween Kills lying in a hospital bed, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is back with a vengeance in Halloween Ends, and Curtis has an abiding affection for the character and still cares a great deal about Laurie, a role she first played in 1978 and which marked the beginning of her film career (she had TV roles before Halloween). The interactions between Laurie and her granddaughter are mostly affectionate but also tinged with tension, and Andi Matichak gets many chances to shine. There are several tense moments brutal kills, including one cartoonishly gruesome murder that gore-hounds will dig. However, Halloween Ends does very much want to be a character piece – albeit not quite in the way one might expect. It is also nice to see Kyle Richards and Will Patton return, even if their characters are not especially instrumental to the plot.

There doesn’t seem to be quite as much excitement surrounding Halloween Ends as one would expect, especially compared to the hype leading up to the 2018 Halloween film. It is likely that the lacklustre Halloween Kills dulled that interest, such that what should be a hotly anticipated clash of titans is instead met with a shrug. Perhaps a key factor is that Michael Myers’ ludicrous nigh-imperviousness, especially without a supernatural explanation as in earlier instalments of the franchise, borders on the laughable. If a man can survive what would have killed a regular person 50 times over, the stakes feel oddly diminished. Michael Myers is Superman – it’s always been that way, but the 2018 film was pitched as being a grounded back-to-basics approach, but especially after surviving the ending of that film and all of Halloween Kills, the prospect of Michael Myers actually, finally dying just doesn’t have the kick that it should.

The promotional materials lean heavily on the inevitable final confrontation between Laurie and Michael, but when it does come, it can’t help but feel anticlimactic. Weirdly enough, the movie doesn’t seem primarily interested in Laurie and Michael Myers – we won’t say the exact figure, but it takes a surprising amount of time before Michael Myers shows up proper, excluding archival footage from previous films. Perhaps this is a bit refreshing considering how repetitive slasher movies can be in general, but it can also feel like long-time fans have been sold a somewhat misleading bill of goods.

The character who gets the most attention is a new one: Corey Cunningham, played by Rohan Campbell, who is probably best known for playing Frank Hardy in the 2020 Hardy Boys TV series. The Corey character is compelling, equal parts sympathetic and suspicious, and Campbell does a fine job with the character. However, the relationship between Corey and Allyson feels rushed, and the crucial role he plays in a movie that should ostensibly focus squarely on Laurie is a bit puzzling. There is an attempt to link Corey’s plot to what has been set up in the previous two movies, but it is only fitfully successful.

Summary: Halloween Ends is being sold on the long-awaited final confrontation between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. It is good to see Jamie Lee Curtis back in fighting form, after the Laurie character spent most of the previous movie down for the count, but Halloween Ends doesn’t seem particularly interested in either Laurie or Michael Myers. Instead, new character Corey Cunningham, played by Rohan Campbell, gets a disproportionate amount of focus. There are engaging character beats and several gruesome kills, but as the finale to a trilogy that began with much promise as a whole-hearted throwback to the original 1978 movie, Halloween Ends is far from wholly satisfying.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Don’t Worry Darling review

Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast : Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine, Timothy Simons, Dita Von Teese
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 122 min
Opens : 22 September 2022
Rating : M18

It’s the buzziest film of the year. You’ve read the breathless headlines. You’ve seen the memes. You might have even seen the edited video in which Harry Styles appears to toss a goat into Chris Pine’s lap. But what’s left when you strip away all the hullabaloo?

It is the 1950s. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are a married couple living in the company town of Victory, California. Jack works for the Victory Corporation, headed by the charismatic and enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine), who is married to Shelley (Gemma Chan). He is forbidden from discussing his top-secret job with his wife. Each morning, the men get in their cars and drive across the desert to the company’s headquarters, where they go about their top-secret work. The women, including Alice and her best friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde), live a leisurely existence, shopping, lounging around the pool and taking dance classes. However, Alice begins noticing that something is amiss after fellow resident Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins acting erratically. She is convinced that there is more to Victory than meets the eye, as she becomes increasingly disturbed.

This is director Olivia Wilde’s second feature film after Booksmart and it is a different beast from that coming-of-age comedy-drama. Don’t Worry Darling is ambitious and sees Wilde play with some intriguing components, even if they might not all go together well. The design elements of the film are eye-catching, and the sunny locations are unique, in a time when a lot of movies look a little muddy. Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, an oft-collaborator of Darren Aronofsky, does excellent work here. There are times when the film does feel Aronofsky-esque.

Don’t Worry Darling features yet another compulsively watchable Florence Pugh performance. It makes sense that she was cast off the strength of her performance in Midsommar, in which she also played a protagonist caught in outwardly idyllic but ultimately sinister surroundings. She fully deserves to be one of the most sought-after young actresses of the moment, and in Pugh’s hands, Alice is very easy to root for. It’s not necessarily the most layered or interesting role, even though the film sets her up as being a complex character, but Pugh does quite a bit with it.

Chris Pine is clearly enjoying himself as a cult leader-esque figure, charming yet undeniably sinister.

It takes quite a while to get there, but the movie’s final act is propulsive and entertaining, even if it isn’t a fully satisfying pay-off for the set-up.

Don’t Worry Darling is often awkward and inelegant, altogether too obvious when its dread should be creeping up on the audience, rather than bonking them over the head. It seems caught between arthouse aspirations and a pulpier, more visceral, throwback B-movie side. The movie also feels considerably longer than its 122 minutes, and it seems to spend a lot of time attempting to establish that Alice senses something is wrong, without really offering much in the way of subtle clues or carefully timed moments to throw the audience off. Once the big reveal happens, it’s hard not to question the mechanics of everything, and audiences might be a bit too busy parsing the logic (or lack thereof) to engage with the movie.

Harry Styles is miscast. His performance brings to mind one of Stephen King’s criticisms of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining: the Jack Torrance character is supposed to start off as an ordinary family man and gradually unravel, but Jack Nicholson already seems deranged at the start of the film. It’s not quite the same thing, but Harry Styles has trouble playing unassuming, and seems to be simultaneously attempting to suppress his modern-day Britpop eccentricity, while also remembering that it is part of his brand.

I alluded to it up top, and it would be impossible to discuss Don’t Worry Darling without mentioning the inordinate amount of drama and controversy surrounding its production. From Wilde firing Shia LaBeouf, to being served divorce papers while presenting the film at CinemaCon, to the on-set relationship between Wilde and Styles, to the alleged rift between Wilde and Pugh, to LaBeouf saying he quit instead of being fired, to Styles allegedly spitting on Pine at the Venice International Film Festival, it’s been a lot. It is difficult to separate all this from the movie itself, and it may have influenced some critics who have been exceedingly harsh on Don’t Worry Darling.

Even if none of that had happened, it would already be intriguing that Wilde had decided to attach herself to a screenplay written by Shane and Carey Van Dyke, whose credits separately and together include the ‘mockbusters’ Transmorphers: Fall of Man, The Day the Earth Stopped, Titanic II and Paranormal Entity. Booksmart co-writer Katie Silberman rewrote the Van Dyke brothers’ script.

Summary: It’s difficult to separate Don’t Worry Darling from the flurry of behind-the-scenes controversy, but the movie itself is not quite the disaster that the general critical consensus is making it out to be. It could stand to be defter and more elegant, and perhaps it could have arrived at its exciting final act quite a bit faster, but Don’t Worry Darling has a pulpy quality to it and is sometimes entertaining. Florence Pugh does a remarkable amount of heavy lifting, almost enough to compensate for Harry Styles being miscast. It will be remembered more for the surrounding controversy than on its own merits, but there are things to recommend.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

DC League of Super-Pets review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jared Stern
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Keanu Reeves, Marc Maron, Olivia Wilde, Ben Schwartz, Thomas Middleditch, Jameela Jamil, Jemaine Clement, John Early, Daveed Diggs, Dascha Polanco, Keith David, Alfred Molina, Lena Headey
Genre: Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 106 min
Opens : 1 September 2022
Rating : PG13

It is apt that the acronym of “Warner Animation Group” is WAG, the thing dogs do with their tails, given that DC League of Super-Pets is fronted by two dogs. These and the other animals of the DC Universe take the spotlight in this animated comedy.

Krypto the Super-dog (Dwayne Johnson) is the lifelong companion of Kal-el/Clark Kent/Superman (John Krasinski), having accompanied the superhero from the planet Krypton to earth when they were both young. Krypto and Clark are inseparable, but Krypto begins to grow jealous of Clark’s girlfriend Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), to whom he is planning to propose. Meanwhile, the denizens of an animal shelter, including Boxer dog Ace (Kevin Hart), hairless guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon), potbellied pig PB (Vanessa Bayer), red-eared terrapin Merton (Natasha Lyonne) and red squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) are exposed to an otherworldly material, gaining superpowers. Lulu was formerly a test subject of the supervillain Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), and has her sights set on world domination. Ace, PB, Merton and Chip meet Krypto, eventually forming an alliance when Lulu’s machinations endanger the Justice League.

DC League of Super-Pets is clearly made by people with an affection for the comic book source material. It’s frequently funny, surprisingly warm and emotional, and filled with easter eggs and references that are a lot of fun to identify. Feature animation must strike a balance between appealing kids but not making adults feel like they’re being subjecting to torture, and this movie mostly finds that balance. The “jokes for the adults” are a little more sophisticated than one might expect, including a reference to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and a line about how billionaires tend to be fixated on rockets. Director and co-writer Jared Stern and co-writer John Whittington previously worked on The LEGO Batman Movie, and there are some similarities in the tone and sense of humour here. The movie is fun to look at, with the design of Metropolis drawing inspiration from the art deco illustrations of J.C. Leyendecker. The character designs also nod to the storied history of DC animation, from the Superfriends cartoon to the DC Animated Universe of the 90s and 2000s.

Unfortunately, the movie is sometimes prone to the smugness associated with the height of the Dreamworks Animation era, even if it never gets quite annoying as the worst moments in those movies. There are the requisite bodily function jokes, though not quite as many as the trailers indicate. There is also a bit of a struggle between the comedy and action modes, such that the superhero set pieces are not especially memorable. The movie’s ensemble cast of both animal and human characters means the focus is sometimes spread a little too thin. The movie is also often somewhat derivative of the two Secret Life of Pets movies, in which Kevin Hart had a voice role, and it is likely that DC League of Super-Pets wouldn’t have been greenlit without the success of those movies.

This is a movie that is co-produced by and starring Dwayne Johnson, so there is the valid fear that it might be a vanity project. However, Johnson’s voice suits the heroic Krypto well, and Kevin Hart is a good foil as Ace, coming off as less annoying than he does in many of his live-action roles.

A number of talented comedians fill out the voice cast, with Vanessa Bayer’s fangirl PB and Natasha Lyonne’s doddering Merton being especially likeable. Keith David, a familiar voice to animation fans, makes a vocal cameo as Dog-El, Krypton’s father. Apart from PB and Lulu, all the main animal characters are based on existing DC Comics characters.

The casting of the Justice League members is mostly inspired, with Keanu Reeves’ Batman being especially amusing. It doesn’t sound like anyone is slumming it, as can sometimes happen with big-name actors cast in animated movies.  

Summary: For those understandably worried about the future of DC movies, DC League of Super-Pets is an endearing and well-made distraction from those thoughts. Sure, there are plenty of cute animal antics, but also lots of jokes aimed at accompanying adults and DC fans. Dwayne Johnson leads a lively, smartly selected voice cast. Stick around for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Batman review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast : Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Colin Farrell
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 176 min
Opens : 3 March 2022
Rating : PG13

In 1979, a young man named Michael E. Uslan purchased the film rights to the DC Comics character Batman. It seemed like nobody wanted to make a Batman movie, and it took him ten years for that film to come to fruition. Today, it feels like we get a new Batman movie with some regularity. With every new iteration comes a new take, defenders and detractors; a new actor in the cowl audiences must warm to or despise. That time has come again.

It is Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) second year on the streets of Gotham City as the masked vigilante called the Batman. A serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts leaving cryptic notes addressed to Batman at the scene of his crimes. While most of the Gotham City Police Department is suspicious of Batman, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) views him as a trusted ally. The Riddler’s clues lead to the Iceberg Lounge, a nightspot operated by Oz Cobblepot/The Penguin (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man of powerful mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who works at the Iceberg Lounge as a waitress, wants to get to the bottom of her roommate and friend Annika’s (Hana Hrzic) disappearance, believing the Penguin and Falcone to be involved. Following the Riddler’s trail of bodies and clues, Batman unravels a far-reaching conspiracy that implicates those closest to him.

Director Matt Reeves has a proven track record, having most recently helmed Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes. Reeves demonstrates a mastery of tone, presiding over a take on Batman that is dark, rich and layered, like a decadent, particularly vengeful chocolate cake. Building on a storied legacy in the comics and on screen, The Batman is a smart adaptation, keeping what works and whittling away what doesn’t. With cinematography by Greig Fraser and production design by James Chinlund, Reeves’ Gotham City is one that neither feels too much like a theme park or like it exists on a soundstage, nor is it just Pittsburgh. Michael Giacchino’s Batman theme might sound simple, but its relentless drive effectively puts audiences in the headspace of this version of the character. The Batman hits the sweet spot, getting so many things right when it is dangerously easy to get a lot wrong. More than just a sensory feast, The Batman boasts an intricate, compelling story with a tantalising mystery at its core.

As is often the case in Batman movies, Batman himself is far from the most interesting part, although there is a strong effort made to get into the character’s head. The film might also alienate audiences looking for typical blockbuster thrills, because it is not action or spectacle-driven, even though there are well-crafted action sequences in it. If one already has Bat-fatigue, The Batman might not be the cure, despite this version of Bruce Wayne often looking like the lead singer of The Cure. There are also some who will mourn the version that could have been, a solo Batman film starring Ben Affleck and featuring Deathstroke as the main villain. This is great, but that could have been worthwhile too.

Robert Pattinson’s casting was met with considerable scepticism, in addition to scorn from those unable to disassociate him with Twilight (exposing their own fragility in the process). Pattinson acquits himself well as a brooding, tormented Batman, in the early days of working through his considerable pain. Haunted and intense, this is a Batman who only ever has dark (k)nights of the soul. He is also a detective, a side of the character the movies have largely overlooked. Pattinson’s reclusive, sullen Bruce Wayne is far from the billionaire playboy façade the character traditionally dons, but he could come out of his shell yet.

Zoë Kravitz is a spectacular Catwoman, coming the closest to how this reviewer pictures the character. She effortlessly essays Selina Kyle’s intelligence and knack for survival, and completely owns the screen whenever she appears. It’s only natural that the cat burglar should steal the entire movie.

For those whose only impression of the Riddler is Jim Carrey (or maybe Frank Gorshin too), Paul Dano’s terrifying portrayal will be something alien. However, this is another way in which the film is smart about the way it adapts the material. While basing the Riddler on the Zodiac Killer could come off as unnecessarily edgy, it works within the context of the story. The riddles themselves are also a great deal of fun, the movie getting a lot of mileage out of puzzles with multiple solutions.

Jeffrey Wright is a steadfast, dependable Jim Gordon. One of the most satisfying elements of the film is the partnership between Batman and Gordon and the way they work as a team.

Colin Farrell may seem like completely oddball casting as the Penguin, but Farrell once again proves that he is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. The prosthetic makeup frees him from those constraints. The Penguin is not the focal point of the movie, but this gives the effect that many comic books do, of a villain who could pop up as the main threat in another story and who plays a strictly supporting role here.

This film does not dedicate a great deal of time to the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Andy Serkis), but there are moments when we glimpse just how important Alfred is to Bruce and vice versa.

One of the risks Reeves takes is telling a Year Two story: this is not strictly an origin story, but neither does it feature an established Batman surrounded by a fully-formed milieu and supporting cast. The main points of reference appear to be Batman: Year One, Batman: Earth One and Batman: The Long Halloween. The iconography hasn’t yet arrived at the place audiences are familiar with – Reeves is promising that eventually, the Batsuit, the Batmobile and various other elements will reach a place where they are more strongly recognisable, but as it stands, the rough-hewn nature of the iconography does work for the story.

Summary: It’s a little funny how this tale about a Batman in his second year is such a fully formed film. Carefully designed and constructed, intelligently written and beautifully acted, The Batman will likely win over scores of doubters. Director Matt Reeves demonstrates an innate understanding of what works about the character, crafting a story that has a satisfying conclusion but also hints at exciting things to come. Robert Pattinson is a haunted, intense Batman while Zoë Kravitz probably captures the essence of the Catwoman character better than any actress before her. Many might have been asking: do we really need another Batman movie? This movie is almost three hours long, and I only wanted more.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Uncharted review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Taylor Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 116 min
Opens : 17 February 2022
Rating : PG

Since the release of Naughty Dog’s videogame Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, there has been talk of a movie adaptation. A movie was officially announced in 2008, and 14 years and three further games (plus one spin-off game) later, adventurer Nathan Drake finally makes his big screen debut.

Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a bartender living in New York. Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a treasure hunter, recruits Nathan for an ambitious job. Sully had worked with Nathan’s long-lost brother Sam, and Nathan agrees to join Sully in hopes of tracking Sam down. They are after the treasure hidden by the crew of the Magellan expedition 500 years ago, said to be worth $5 billion. Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), descended from the wealthy family who bankrolled the Magellan expedition, believes the treasure is rightfully his. With the help of fellow treasure hunter Chloe Frazer (Sophia Taylor Ali), Nathan and Sully must beat Moncada and his dangerous henchwoman Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) to the prize.

This reviewer loves a good adventure movie, and while Uncharted might not offer anything genre aficionados haven’t seen before, it’s still an entertaining time. Holland might not be who fans pictured as playing Nathan Drake, but is always likeable, earnest and displays ever-impressive physicality. Director Ruben Fleischer, whose credits include Zombieland and Venom, keeps things moving at a good clip. There are enough twists and turns along the way as our heroes solve puzzles and avoid getting double-crossed. It’s very much “get the thing that leads to the thing, take a detour, then find another thing that will lead you to the final thing”. There are action set-pieces that are mostly serviceable, up until the delightfully ludicrous final sequence featuring ships doing…what ships don’t normally do. An adventure movie would be nothing without some globe-trotting, which Uncharted features a reasonable amount of. The movie was shot mostly in Germany and in various locations in Spain, including Barcelona and Costa Brava, the latter doubling for a resort in the Philippines.

As alluded to above, Uncharted mostly echoes other iconic adventure movies. The Uncharted games were reminiscent of the Tomb Raider games, that were reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films, that were in turn reminiscent of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and King’s Solomon’s Mines. With the caveat that “originally” is often a meaningless metric, Uncharted can sometimes feel like a facsimile of a facsimile. The digital visual effects work is sometimes unconvincing, especially during the more outlandish set-pieces.

Mark Wahlberg can often have an annoying screen presence, as is the case here. He feels very little like the Sully character did in the games, coming off as more twitchy than gruff but warm. Antonio Banderas’ Moncada is set up to be a formidable villain, but the movie wastes the character’s potential. The movie also sometimes feels a little disjointed, like small chunks have been edited out. Several scenes featured in the trailers don’t appear in the finished film, but this is par for the course for many blockbusters.

There were many iterations of an Uncharted movie before arriving at this point, with filmmakers including David O. Russell, Neil Burger, Shawn Levy and Dan Trachtenberg all attached at different points. The movie is an origin story for Nathan Drake, and takes elements from several of the games, notably the backstory involving the long-lost brother, introduced in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The central set-piece in which Nathan hangs out the back of a cargo plane is taken from Uncharted 3.

While Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg might not look much like Nathan and Sully as fans of the games know them, they are passable physical matches for the younger versions of the characters shown in flashbacks in Uncharted 3. The intention is for this to kick-start a franchise, and for Holland and Wahlberg to eventually catch up to the ages of the characters as shown in most of the games. Interestingly, Sophia Taylor Ali as Chloe is probably the closest match to the character from the source material.

Summary: After over a decade in development, Uncharted is somewhat underwhelming given the build-up, but also far from the disaster that many video game movies before it have been. While long-time fans of the game might be disappointed at the movie’s deviations from the source material, this works as an entry point for wider audiences unfamiliar with the games. Mark Wahlberg is annoying, but Tom Holland is a likeable Nathan, and he could conceivably grow into the more roguish version of the character we see in the games. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s fast-paced and fun. It’s just a bit of a shame that a video game series known for being cinematic is finally adapted into a film that doesn’t make much of an impact.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Nightmare Alley (2021) review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast : Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, Holt McCallany, David Strathairn
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Run Time : 150 min
Opens : 13 January 2022 (Exclusive to Cathay Cineplexes)
Rating : M18

All of Guillermo del Toro’s feature films have included elements of horror or fantasy. One could be forgiven for thinking Nightmare Alley is the same, but it is not. This adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name, which was earlier adapted into a 1947 film starring Tyrone Power, is a neo-noir psychological thriller.

Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joins a travelling circus as a carny, doing odd jobs and studying how the various performers’ tricks work. Stan learns mentalism from Zeena Kurmbein (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn), who perform a psychic act. In the meantime, he falls in love with Molly (Rooney Mara), whose act involves her pretending to be electrocuted. Stan is horrified at the way the carnival boss Clem (Willem Dafoe) treats the “geeks,” alcoholic, drug-addicted bums who bite the heads off chickens for paying spectators. Stan and Molly eventually leave the circus, establishing their own act. Psychologist Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) attempts to expose Stan’s act, and he gradually falls under her spell, a nguishing Molly. As Lilith draws on Stan’s skillset to stage an elaborate and deadly con, one question arises: is Stan innocent, or a willing co-conspirator?

Del Toro is known for being an atmospheric filmmaker, and Nightmare Alley is brimming with atmosphere. Gorgeously shot and designed, it evokes the feeling of noir movies in an affectionate, layered way. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen plays deftly with light and shadow, as the movie takes viewers from the grimy carny world to the gleam of Chicago high society. While Nightmare Alley is a marked departure from the kind of movies del Toro is known for, many of his trademarks are still present, and is reminiscent of Crimson Peak in many respects. The allure of the movie is that while it takes place in the real world, it feels as if the tendrils of the supernatural are creeping along the edges. Nightmare Alley is moody and deliberately depressing in a way that is somewhat surprising given the warmth present in many of del Toros’ other movies, but also fits the source material.

For all its atmosphere, Nightmare Alley is often challenging to engage with emotionally. It’s two movies: the first one at the circus with the carnies, the second in Chicago high society with the femme fatale psychologist. The movie is 150 minutes long, and while the set-up at the circus is necessary, perhaps it doesn’t require over an hour. Indeed, Cate Blanchett, who is second billed, makes her first appearance over a third of the way into the movie. Stan is maybe the first protagonist of this type in del Toro’s filmography: someone who is charming, but whom we are meant to suspect. It’s a far cry from the loveable but misunderstood monsters who often appear in the director’s movies. Suffice it to say, this is no The Shape of Water. Granted, it’s not a bad thing that del Toro isn’t repeating himself, but Nightmare Alley is sometimes straight-up nasty by design, which can be off-putting. Del Toro is sometimes criticised for relying too heavily on references to existing films and other media, and in Nightmare Alley, he is operating in full-on noir mode. Audiences who recognise the style and are registering all the little flourishes might find themselves held at arm’s length from the story.

Del Toro is a filmmaker whom actors often enthusiastically say they want to work with, so it is no surprise that the cast is stacked. Bradley Cooper is alternately sympathetic and slimy, playing a con artist who will make audiences wonder how much of what he’s up to is strictly for survival. This is a role that Leonardo DiCaprio was initially attached to, which makes sense. It starts out restrained, before becoming flashier.

Rooney Mara turns in a quietly sad, endearing performance as an innocent drawn into Stan’s web, while Cate Blanchett plays a textbook femme fatale with a knowing wink. Everywhere else one looks, there are character actors of a high calibre, including many who have collaborated with del Toro before. Willem Dafoe as an unscrupulous carny boss and Richard Jenkins as the wealthy mark of a con are the highlights.

Summary: An atmospheric, dark tale, Nightmare Alley is largely bereft of the warmth which lurks beneath the surface of many Guillermo del Toro movies. Stepping outside his comfort zone of supernatural horror and sci-fi, Nightmare Alley is a stylistic exercise in the noir genre. Unfortunately, the overlong movie often feels inert up until the very end, despite the best efforts of a talented cast. This is an intriguing but frustrating effort from the auteur, indicating interesting things to come, but straying from what has worked in his earlier films.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Eternals review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Chloé Zhao
Cast : Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 152 min
Opens : 4 November
Rating : M18

It depends on how you count them, but it’s estimated that Marvel Comics’ collection of characters numbers over 7000. There’s no fear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) might run out of characters, but there’s no guarantee that audiences will respond equally to every character that’s introduced. Hoping for a repeat of the reaction to the Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU introduces a new set of cosmic characters with Eternals.

7000 years ago, Arishem (David Kaye) of the Celestials sent a team of seemingly immortal warriors known as the Eternals on a mission to earth. The Eternals comprise Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Druig (Barry Keoghan). Each member of the team possesses different powers, which they use to battle the Deviants, a monstrous, hostile alien species which has attacked earth. The Eternals thought they had defeated the last of the Deviants 500 years ago, but the monsters rear their heads yet again. Having lived apart for centuries, the Eternals must reunite to face the threat, but along the way, they will also learn of a far-reaching, possibly world-ending conspiracy that they are unwittingly a part of.

This writer gravitates towards stories with chronological scope. The idea of beings who live forever grappling with the blessing and curse of immortality is something inherently compelling, and Eternals explores this with a fair amount of nuance. It’s a story about gods learning to become men, and it delves into the messiness of humanity in a way one might not expect from an MCU movie. There is a sweeping scale to the film, which deliberately doesn’t feel like it was entirely shot against greenscreen on a soundstage. Director Chloé Zhao has a knack for capturing vast landscapes, and location filming on the Spanish Canary Islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote and various places in England lend the movie a tactility that these big, visual effects-driven spectacle movies sometimes lack. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the fall of Tenochtitlan, there’s an impressive if sometimes overwhelming breadth to the proceedings.

While the sprawling 156-minute runtime might feel intimidating and while the movie does suffer from some pacing issues, it also means there’s a lot of space for the characters to just interact with each other. It doesn’t feel like a breathless race from set-piece to set-piece, which might be what some filmgoers want, but the movie feels comfortable being what it is. There is a warmth here which offsets the coldness often associated with sci-fi. Like other indie/prestige filmmakers who have entered the MCU fold before her, it feels like Zhao was rendered ample production/technical support by the Marvel Studios machine, but also got to put just enough of her own stamp on the movie.

As with any space opera, Eternals is unwieldy, perhaps past the amount which is unavoidable for the subgenre. There are lots of proper nouns, and reams of exposition to get through. For certain viewers, this might feel like the point where they want to tap out of the MCU. It’s not the most flattering comparison, but it sometimes feels like a more restrained, serious-minded Jupiter Ascending. It seems like comic book readers might be better equipped to go along for the ride, and indeed, comics writers and artists are generally responding better to this film than mainstream critics. There’s a lot going on, and not all of it makes sense, and the degree to which one is willing to surrender to the movie will vary.

While Eternals is sometimes visually impressive thanks to its practical locations, there are times when it looks a bit dour. The Eternals were created by legendary comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby, but the signature dynamic Kirby visual sensibility is largely lacking from the film (the MCU movie that most reflects this aesthetic is Thor: Ragnarok). The character designs feel somewhat uninspired, and the Deviants just do not look good, coming off as disposable CGI alien beasts. Director Zhao’s interest doesn’t seem to lie in the action set-pieces, so they sometimes feel perfunctory, even though they can also be exciting. As if there weren’t already enough plot and characters to deal with, the movie also adds Kit Harington as Dane Whitman, who Marvel readers will know as the Black Knight. There’s a certain amount of teasing coming attractions that we’re used to from these movies by now, but Eternals doesn’t seem to support that in addition to everything else.

The main cast consists of ten characters, which seems too many by half. Even then, this is an eclectic cast. While several may not get enough time to shine, the interplay between them is where the heart of the movie lies, and Zhao seems insistent on giving the characters humanity. Gemma Chan is first billed, but Sersi isn’t the most interesting character of the bunch, as often happens with the leads in ensembles. Still, she brings undeniable elegance to bear. Richard Madden looks the part of a Superman type, while Kumail Nanjiani has charisma to spare as the superhero-turned-Bollywood star (with Harish Patel stealing the show as Kingo’s loyal manager/valet Karun). Lia McHugh’s Sprite feels she is cursed to live forever in the physical form of a child, which is a fascinating and tragic notion.

Whenever Angelina Jolie shows up on screen, one is wont to go “now there’s a movie star”. It’s been said that these days, it’s franchises like the MCU that are the movie stars, so it’s always nice to see a bona fide movie star in an MCU entry. Much has been made of the movie’s representation, with it featuring a gay character in Phastos and the first deaf superhero played by a deaf actor in Makkari. Imbuing godlike characters with human traits to make them relatable is something that has been done since the beginning of storytelling, so while some might be bothered by this and react with hostility to it, this reviewer never found any of it feeling forced.

Summary: Eternals might not have the mass appeal of other MCU movies, but its millennia-spanning scope and cast of characters make it a worthwhile entry in the franchise. Some viewers may be feeling fatigued, while others will be excited at the bold, increasingly wilder directions that the MCU might be taking. Eternals is treading new territory for the franchise, prioritising character drama over action set-pieces in a way that might lose certain audiences. Still, there’s a lot in the movie that this reviewer finds appealing. For as much unwieldy sci-fi exposition as the movie has, it also possesses warmth and humanity. Stick around for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene and find a Marvel geek to explain them to you if you aren’t one yourself.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

No Time to Die review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast : Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ana de Armas, Rory Kinnear, Dali Benssalah, David Dencik, Billy Magnussen
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 163 min
Opens : 30 September
Rating : PG13

“James Bond will return” – these are the reassuring words at the end of the credits, promising moviegoers that further adventures await the cinematic superspy. The previous Bond movie Spectre was released in 2015, with the release of this film being delayed multiple times thanks to the pandemic. Finally opening in 2021, the six-year gap is tied with the interval between 1989’s License to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye for the series’ longest. The wait is over as the curtain comes down on Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007.

Over the course of the previous film Spectre, James Bond (Daniel Craig) fell in love with psychotherapist Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a deceased high-ranking member within the terrorist organisation Spectre. A now-retired Bond is pulled back into the fray by long-time ally, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). A secretive weapons program presided over by MI6 head M (Ralph Fiennes) has fallen into the wrong hands. Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a villain linked to Swann’s past, has employed scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) to further develop said weapon, codenamed Heracles. Alongside allies like quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw), newly minted 00 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and rookie CIA operative Paloma (Ana de Armas), Bond must prevent a global catastrophe as secrets from both his and Swann’s past are revealed.

There is a lot riding on No Time to Die. Anyone who has paid attention to the film’s production history knows it was a rocky road, replete with not just the repeated delays but also director replacements, on-set injuries and even an explosion at the studio. There is nary a sign of that turbulent production on the screen. No Time to Die is spectacular, a sturdy, finely crafted epic that seeks to deliver both what long-time fans have come to expect of the franchise, while also shaking things up. The screenplay is credited to long-time Bond scribes Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, but also director Cary Fukanaga and Killing Eve writer/Fleabag herself Phoebe Waller-Bridge, indicating a mix of the classic and the new. This is an attempt to wrap a standard Bond adventure in a larger arc, an attempt that mostly succeeds.

The film will no doubt prove divisive, perhaps with critics liking it more than audiences will, but this reviewer is impressed. The references to the almost-70-year-long cinematic history of James Bond are nicely scattered throughout the film instead of laid on too thick. For example, the villain’s lair nods to Dr No and You Only Live Twice in its design, while elsewhere, there are numerous references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. How the character, firmly a product of post-war Imperialist escapism, evolves with the times is always interesting to observe. Director Cary Fukunaga displays an understanding of the films’ appeal while also attempting to inject a level of gravitas and palpable emotion which the Daniel Craig-starring movies have already had more of compared to their forebears. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shoots the various international locales from Jamaica to Norway handsomely, while Hans Zimmer’s score enhances the scope of the film (if sometimes sounding like recycled bits of his work on the Dark Knight trilogy).

Clocking in at 163 minutes but feeling significantly shorter than that, there’s a lot going on here. There are things about this movie that will be talked about for a while to come, but in trying to serve up certain Bond elements that moviegoers will expect, No Time to Die does a good job, if not a remarkable one. We get an okay Bond villain, okay Bond girls, an okay lead henchman and an okay Bond theme (albeit one this reviewer still enjoys a lot more than “Writing’s on the Wall”, from Spectre). Perhaps Safin is a notch above “okay,” owing to Rami Malek’s genuinely creepy performance. Part of why the series needs reinventing is there are only so many permutations of these stock elements, No Time to Die seeming to prove this point while doing some reinvention of its own. However, the sheer overall impact of the movie elevates everything that’s “okay” to “good” and beyond. The reliance on continuity strengthens characters’ arcs, but also means that casual moviegoers might sometimes feel lost.  

The Bond series is interesting because in the mainline Eon Productions films, all the actors from Sean Connery through to Pierce Brosnan seemed to roughly be playing the same James Bond character, with certain supporting cast members carried over across multiple Bond actors. Casino Royale, Craig’s debut, was the first Bond film to explicitly be a reboot. This means that one can watch all five of Craig’s movies back-to-back and get a complete arc of a character who goes from rookie, to in his prime, to retirement. None of Craig’s predecessors really got a grand send-off in their final movie, so the closure provided in No Time to Die is strangely novel.

A constant topic that crops up around the Bond films is the treatment of the women in them. Bond women are often disposable conquests, sometimes Bond’s equals, but none ever stick around. This is the first time an actress has played the same leading lady in two Bond films. Madeleine Swann is often a damsel in a degree of distress, but also has plenty of layers to her, and it is her baggage and the secrets of her past that propel the plot of No Time to Die. Meanwhile, the kickass quotient is provided by Lashana Lynch’s Nomi and Ana de Armas’ Paloma – Bond must come to terms with being succeeded by someone quite different from him, and the interplay between the former and current 00 agents is entertaining.

Summary: A thrilling, intense and emotional conclusion to Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond, No Time to Die delivers everything fans expect from the franchise but also leaves the status quo shaken (and stirred). James Bond is a character whose relevancy is always being examined, and for better or worse, each Bond reflects the time in which their movies were made. No Time to Die is often exhilarating but also equally sombre. As the card at the end of the credits promises us, “James Bond will return,” but he will never be quite the same after this.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast : Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Tony Leung, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Ronny Chieng
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 132 min
Opens : 1 September
Rating : PG13

We are now into Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Post-Avengers: Endgame, it seemed like audiences would lose interest in the sprawling franchise, but while some have, there is still a lot to keep others invested. With TV series on Disney+ and many movies on the slate, the MCU is moving in various directions, one of those directions being the wuxia-inspired realm of Shang-Chi.

Shaun (Simu Liu) lives in San Francisco, working as a hotel valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Shaun hides a secret: he is actually Shang-Chi, the son of ruthless warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung). Armed with ancient artifacts called the Ten Rings, Wenwu has moved in the shadows for centuries. He had thought his endless need for conquest would come to an end after meeting Ying Li (Fala Chen) in the magical land of Ta Lo. Wenwu and Ying Li had two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). However, tragedy brought Wenwu back to the violence of his past. Now, Shang-Chi must confront what he has spent half his life running away from, as he and Katy get drawn into an epic battle involving criminal empires, magical creatures and lots and lots of martial arts.

It is perfectly understandable that many audiences were apprehensive of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. After all, it’s very easy to cynically view this as solely a bid for Asian moviegoers’ money and nothing more. Also, there have been many films aimed at appealing to both Asian and American audiences that have faceplanted embarrassingly, including The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Dragon Blade and The Great Wall.

Shang-Chi avoids practically all of those pitfalls.

This is an immersive, entertaining adventure that is largely bereft of the samey-samey feel which MCU movies can carry, and which plagued this year’s Black Widow to a certain extent. While there still is a reliance on the ‘chosen one’ origin story formula, Shang-Chi introduces myriad elements to the mix which we haven’t seen done quite like this before. Director Destin Daniel Cretton displays a healthy amount of reverence for classic wuxia movies. While purists will nitpick the action in this film, most of it is truly spectacular, choreographed beautifully and not shot with shaky-cam or hyper-edited to death. The late Brad Allan, who is the second unit director and supervising stunt coordinator on this film, was one of Australia’s top wushu athletes and a long-time member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team. There is every effort made to deliver beautiful action, and unlike in some MCU movies where it can feel like the action scenes are disjointed from the rest of the movie, everything flows well here. In addition to the martial arts-centric sequences, there’s an entertaining runaway bus setpiece that nods to 90s action films like Speed and The Rock.

While Simu Liu has a background as a stuntman and has trained in Taekwondo and Wing Chun, he sometimes feels like the least convincing fighter in the film. He has clearly worked very hard to learn and execute the choreography, but especially when compared to Arnold Sun, who plays Shang-Chi as a 14-year-old, it doesn’t fully feel like Shang-Chi has been training his entire life. Perhaps that can be explained away by how he has spent ten years in hiding.

A problem with many Marvel films and indeed many present-day action blockbusters is that the final action sequence is very heavily reliant upon CGI, and goes on for a bit too long, such that one is wont to tune out. Amusingly, the climactic battle revolves around closing a portal, something which the earlier Marvel movies have often been mocked for, but there is a bit of a twist put on it. Some may also roll their eyes at the “dead wife” motivation, but this reviewer feels it is a justified plot point here.

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Marvel Studios have typically been great at casting, and Shang-Chi is no exception. Simu Liu and Awkwafina are actors who might typically be relegated to playing sidekicks, and both step up to the leading roles very well. Liu has an earnestness to him and the early scenes of Shang-Chi and Katy hanging out make them seem like people whom we would want to be friends with.

Relative newcomer Meng’er Zhang displays excellent physicality and a convincing woundedness behind exterior strength as Xialing, who was always relegated to the sidelines while Wenwu focused on Shang-Chi. Zhang met her husband, action designer Yung Lee, on the set of the film. Florian Munteanu, who played Viktor Drago in Creed II, makes for an adequately intimidating henchman as Razorfist. Michelle Yeoh is elegant and has gravitas to spare, making a meal of some potentially unwieldy exposition. There’s also an appearance from an MCU character which is a great surprise if one doesn’t know they’re going to be in Shang-Chi.


Tony Leung is truly incredible. It was a valid concern that he would just be there for the sake of saying “we’ve got Tony Leung,” but the Wenwu part is a substantial one and is easily one of the greatest MCU villains yet, even though that is a low bar to clear. One of the big selling points of the film is that this is the venerable Hong Kong actor’s long-awaited Hollywood debut. Wenwu reminded this reviewer of Vincent D’onofrio’s Wilson Fisk in the Daredevil series: he does monstrous things, but we come to understand what made him this way. In his earliest comics appearances Shang-Chi was literally the son of Fu Manchu, and the movie addresses the outmoded orientalism inherent in the source material. The name “Wenwu” comes from the Chinese idiom 文武双全 (wén wǔ shuāng quán), roughly meaning “master of pen and sword,” reflecting how Wenwu is both an intellectual and physical force. Wenwu is a modified take on the Iron Man villain the Mandarin. The portrayal of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 proved to be controversial, and that is acknowledged here in a clever way.

Representation is a tricky thing, because no one piece of media can speak for a multitude of communities. There are many East Asian communities and indeed many Chinese communities around the world, and Shang-Chi can’t be expected to tell everyone’s story. However, there is an effort made here to infuse a certain amount of authenticity into the story and especially the dialogue. When the characters speak in Mandarin Chinese, which they do roughly 40% of the time, it doesn’t feel like it’s been fed into Google Translate. It’s fun hearing someone say “I’ve eaten more salt than you have rice,” an expression commonly used by the older Chinese people to admonish the younger generation, in a Hollywood movie.

This is a story about identity and belonging. Shang-Chi has always been Asian-American: in the earliest comics, his mother was a blonde American woman. Shang-Chi’s hero’s journey centres on finding out who he really is and reckoning with his father, who put him through arduous training and moulded him into an assassin, but who ostensibly loves him. The relationships in the film are very well defined, and the audience quickly understands the underlying nature of each of the relationships: the friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy, the estranged sibling relationship between Shang-Chi and Xialing, the parental relationship between Wenwu and Shang-Chi and so on.

Summary: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a spectacular adventure. Never feeling like it’s too tied down to the now-labyrinthian MCU mythology, there is something refreshing to this even as it evokes the feeling of classic wuxia films. Simu Liu proves himself to be a worthy superhero, Awkwafina is more than just the funny sidekick, and Tony Leung is just magnificent as one of the best Marvel villains yet. Far more than just token representation for the sake of it, Shang-Chi is one of the most successful instances of a big-budget movie designed to appeal to international audiences without feeling like mere hollow pandering. Stay behind for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene, but you should know this by now.  

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong