Strange World review

Director: Don Hall, Qui Nguyen
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu
Genre: Action/Adventure/Family
Run Time : 101 min
Opens : 24 November 2022
Rating : NC16

The family that explores together, stays together – but as with every family, this one doesn’t quite get along all the time. Disney’s 61st animated feature film takes audiences to the centre of the earth alongside the Clades, in an homage to the pulp adventure comics of yore.

Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a farmer in the land of Avalonia. Nobody has been able to cross the mountains that border Avalonia, and years ago, Searcher’s famed explorer father Jaeger (Dennis Quaid) vanished while attempting to do just that. As a boy, Searcher discovered a power-generating plant called Pando, which he now cultivates. When Pando plants across Avalonia start dying, threatening the land’s power source, Avalonia’s president and former member of Jaeger’s expedition team Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) calls upon Searcher to help solve the problem. Searcher’s son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), who seems more apt to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps than in his father’s, stows away on the ship, and Searcher’s pilot wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) joins the expedition too. The crew journeys deep below the surface of Avalonia, discovering a bizarre realm populated with unearthly creatures as they attempt to solve the Pando crisis.

Strange World is an earnest, sweet movie made by people who clearly have a great affection for classic adventure stories, with Journey to the Centre of the Earth and King Kong as two of the main reference points. There is an inventiveness to the Jules Verne-esque world-building and the characters are generally loveable. There are times when the movie is reminiscent of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, also a Disney animated movie inspired by pulp adventure tales. There’s also a big three-legged dog named Legend and putting a big dog in anything is wont to skew this reviewer’s opinion towards it.

Strange World wears its good-heartedness on its sleeve, and in addition to being an adventure story, it is very interested in a topic which Disney has covered in a few of their recent animated films: generational trauma. There is a worthwhile if not especially novel message about the expectations we place on our children and the importance of letting them find their own path. Much has been made of the character Ethan’s sexuality, but that is something that feels organic in the movie and doesn’t feel shoehorned in, and whenever it’s mentioned, it is done so very sweetly. The movie also touches on the relationship between man and nature, and the value of living harmoniously with nature. It might be too late for us here on earth, but it isn’t for the residents of Avalonia.

Unfortunately, there’s a palpable struggle between the adventure and family drama elements of Strange World. It seems to almost get there, but it never becomes wholly satisfying and thrilling in the way the stories it’s trying to evoke do. There are action scenes and moments of peril, but weirdly enough, the stakes never feel especially high, even though a big reveal towards the end does establish them as being astronomical. While Strange World is more adventure-driven than most Disney animated films, it still feels overly familiar. For example, the gelatinous comic relief character Splat is essentially a blue Flubber, with shades of Morph from Treasure Planet. When the characters bicker and argue, it is reminiscent of a real family, but it also feels like a distraction from the fantastical action. The movie is by no means boring, but it does feel longer than its 101 minutes.

Strange World has a solid voice cast. Jake Gyllenhaal is the sensitive, somewhat anxious Searcher, lending the character sincerity and a degree of insecurity. Dennis Quaid does a big, boisterous cartoon voice as the stereotypically masculine Jaeger, while Jaboukie Young-White is laid-back and endearing as Ethan. Gabrielle Union and Lucy Liu round out a voice cast that is not the starriest one in recent memory, but each of the actors makes sense in their roles.

Summary: Strange World is a loving ode to classic adventure stories, while also tackling a subject that Disney has become quite fond of lately: generational trauma. There are times when Strange World struggles to balance its pulp adventure side and its family drama side, but the overall good-naturedness of the production smooths that over. While sci-fi adventure is territory that Disney animation doesn’t often venture into, Strange World does have a comforting familiarity to it. It might not be an immediate hit, but perhaps like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, it is destined for cult status.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review

Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast : Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Martin Freeman
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 161 min
Opens : 10 November 2022
Rating : PG13

2018’s Black Panther is one of the highlights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It garnered commercial and critical success, including winning three Oscars, the first MCU movie to do so. All eyes were on director Ryan Coogler to see where Black Panther 2 would take the hero. After a tragic turn of events in real life, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever takes unexpected turns of its own, further exploring the world of Wakanda and beyond.

King T’challa has died of an illness, leaving his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) distraught. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) continues to guide her daughter as she leads the people of Wakanda. Having opened itself up to the world, the nation is vulnerable to those who wish to exploit its precious natural resource, the metal Vibranium. An expedition in search of Vibranium in the Atlantic Ocean provokes K’uk’ulkan/Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the ruler of the underwater kingdom of Talokan. Former Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) must return to work alongside General Okoye (Danai Gurira) as Namor threatens to attack Wakanda. Caught in the middle of it all is a brilliant young scientist named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), whose role in developing a Vibranium detection device has made her a target of Namor. Still shaken by her brother’s death, Shuri is faced with taking on the mantle of the Black Panther in a time of great instability.

Some have decried various MCU movies for being a little too silly, and for having humorous moments undermine dramatic stakes. That is not a problem here. Wakanda Forever is a sombre, sincere and respectful affair; the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman infusing the film with a dignified sadness. This is a movie about grief, and responsibility in the face of said grief. It’s a movie about the decisions we make when we are affected by tragedy, and the consequences of making decisions in that state. Coogler continues to be a force to be reckoned with behind the camera, and there is the sense that this is the story he wanted to tell, and not something producers meddled extensively with. Wakanda Forever’s greatest strength is the movie’s balance of character interiority and expansive world-building, without sacrificing one for the other.

Wakanda Forever’s heaviness means it is not exactly the most exuberant, entertaining comic book movie, but it isn’t trying to be that either. Perhaps it could do with a few more cheer-worthy moments, something the first movie did not lack for, but it generally wears its seriousness well. The movie is long, and suffers the most when we are focusing on CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), who shares many scenes with a character introduced in one of the Disney+ TV series. While perhaps necessary to emphasise the wider impact of the goings-on in Wakanda, this feels like distracting set-up for future, non-Black Panther related MCU projects.

The absence of Chadwick Boseman is something the movie leans into instead of avoiding. Letitia Wright is truly magnificent in a role that asks a lot of her. Shuri is pushed to the forefront as she struggles with a disdain for ancient traditions and a lack of faith in spiritual beliefs, spurred by her brother’s untimely passing. We are used to seeing Shuri being playful and intelligent, but here she is broken and understandably prone to rage. Wright plays all this without losing sight of what made the character so endearing to begin with. Bassett is also undeniable here, and her scenes with Wright are some of the movie’s most emotional.

The movie introduces Namor into the MCU. Much like his DC Comics counterpart Aquaman, there are aspects of the character that are unavoidably silly: he has pointy ears, winged ankles, and wears green trunks. The movie reimagines Namor and the civilisation he hails from, taking inspiration from Mesoamerican mythology. Some design aspects remain a little goofy, but the movie’s world-building is impressive, and Tenoch Huerta is a commanding screen presence as a complicated character, someone who is antagonistic towards our heroes but is always sympathetic. Namor’s entry into the MCU is something that fans have long been waiting for, and while this incarnation might not fit what everyone was imagining, the movie makes a good case for the changes to the source material and integrates Namor into the wider Black Panther story well.

Summary: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie with true gravity, more so than many recent MCU films. The movies in the franchise are sometimes in danger of feeling inconsequential, but Wakanda Forever feels like a movie that matters. The real-life death of Chadwick Boseman is handled in a respectful and dignified way, leading to a movie that has a certain heaviness and seriousness to it. The fantastical elements and world-building are balanced with an emotional honesty. Shuri gets a fantastic character arc and Letitia Wright plays her with strength and nuance. This is not the exuberant fun some audiences might be expecting from the MCU, but Wakanda Forever wears its seriousness well and is still an expansive and spectacular adventure. There is one mid-credits scene.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Black Adam review

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan, Mohammed Amer, Viola Davis
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 125 min
Opens : 20 October 2022
Rating : PG13

Dwayne Johnson became officially linked to the role of Black Adam in 2007. 15 years later, he finally dons the black suit emblazoned with the yellow lightning bolt. But is the Rock the saviour that DC Films are desperately looking for?

Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) was a warrior slave from the fictional kingdom of Kahndaq, a civillisation that arose alongside ancient Egypt. Adam was granted the powers of the gods but misused these powers for vengeance. As punishment, Adam was imprisoned. Almost 5000 years later, Teth-Adam, now Black Adam, is released when university professor and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) finds his tomb. Adrianna sees Black Adam as a figure who could rally the citizens of Kahndaq to fight against Intergang, the militaristic corporation currently occupying Kahndaq. Black Adam continues what he feels is his justified crusade, leaving destruction in his wake. Rising to oppose Adam is the Justice Society, a team of superheroes comprising Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). Adam must form an uneasy alliance with the Justice Society to defeat an even bigger, more diabolical threat.

Black Adam isn’t afraid to feel like a comic book, and it also has a good amount of Saturday morning cartoon energy – albeit with quite a bit more brutality to it. Dwayne Johnson does a fine job balancing both his own finely-honed celebrity persona with the Black Adam character from the pages of Fawcett, then DC, comics. The movie is rated PG13, but Black Adam’s violent streak is largely preserved.

Long-time DC Comics fans will enjoy seeing mildly-to-relatively obscure comic book characters on the big screen, though iterations of said characters have appeared on TV in Smallville and in the Arrowverse. For the most part, the film is tonally assured, neither too crushingly serious nor too flippant. Sometimes comic book movies seem preoccupied with trying not to come off as too silly, something which has plagued earlier entries in the DC Extended Universe. In Black Adam, superheroes pile into a high-tech jet and set off to save the day, as they do in the comics, and nobody really bats an eyelid.  

Black Adam is being promoted as a tentpole event movie when it doesn’t really feel like one. It’s not a small movie by any stretch, but it does feel restricted. For all the movie’s world-building, it aspires to a scope and scale that it ultimately doesn’t possess. Its plot beats are straightforward to a fault, while it also struggles with feeling slightly bloated because of all its characters, none of whom the general moviegoer would already be familiar with. There is a reliance on exposition, and it feels like certain things were glued together in reshoots. There is unfortunately a dullness to the visuals, because everything takes place in dusty environs. While there is an effort made to make Kahndaq look like a real place, there are instances when it feels like we are on a studio backlot. The action sequences start blending into each other after a while. The movie’s villain is also far from compelling, and it ends as all these movies must end, with our heroes fighting a thing made of CGI.

This is as much a Justice Society movie as it is a Black Adam film. Aldis Hodge is a charismatic and appropriately stubborn presence as Carter Hall/Hawkman, the leader of the team. Both Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell are endearing as the younger members. Pierce Brosnan is the movie’s MVP as Doctor Fate, and this reviewer would love to see him headline a Doctor Fate spinoff film. He has gravitas to spare and is taking it all quite seriously. Besides, he looks very dashing in full silver fox mode. Unfortunately, it is difficult to connect to the characters given the very limited time we get to know them. The movie completely sidesteps Hawkman’s complicated backstory, which involves him being an archaeologist who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince.

It seems like Warner Bros executives are hoping that Dwayne Johnson’s star power will help rescue DC Films. Things have never been particularly smooth going for this franchise, and anyone who follows movie news will be aware of baffling developments like the decision to never release an almost-completed film. You will find many helpful infographics online explaining how each DC Extended Universe movie connects to the other. Black Adam is not an A-lister and it’s clear that Johnson does have affection for the character, elevating the character with his own celebrity status. However, the Black Adam movie feels like it should occupy a corner of the DC universe and not be at the centre of it, and it feels like it is being pushed into that spot because other plans have fallen through.

Summary: Black Adam won’t blow anyone away, but it is a largely enjoyable comic book adventure movie. It’s not ashamed of its somewhat sillier elements, but also the brutality and angst befitting its protagonist. For something that has been in development for a long time, it feels half-baked – maybe three-quarters-baked, if you’re being charitable. Dwayne Johnson is a suitably imposing, brutal Black Adam, but the movie’s secret weapon is a dashing and quietly haunted Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate. Black Adam sometimes feels a little overstuffed and too formulaic, but it never loses sight of that crucial comic book sensibility, thus remaining entertaining all the way through. Stick around for a mid-credits screen that would have a very nice surprise if it weren’t spoiled to the point of being a part of the marketing.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Thor: Love and Thunder review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Taika Waititi
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Jaimie Alexander, Russell Crowe
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 119 min
Opens : 7 July 2022
Rating : TBA

Over the past several years, Taika Waititi has become one of the most dominant creative forces in Hollywood. Between winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, his involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars franchises, and the cult TV series What We Do in the Shadows and Our Flag Means Death, Waititi has a lot going on. Following the success of Thor: Ragnarok, which arguably launched him into the Hollywood big leagues, Waititi is back for the fourth solo Thor movie.

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) travels across the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy but is feeling empty and unfulfilled. He and Korg (Taika Waititi) return to earth, where New Asgard, under the rule of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), is in danger. Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a vengeful alien who has sworn to slay every god, has his sights set on Thor. To Thor’s surprise, he finds his beloved hammer Mjolnir, destroyed by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, now re-formed. Its wielder: his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who has taken on the mantle of Mighty Thor. As Thor adjusts to this development, our heroes must defeat Gorr before the gods stand no more. Their journey takes them to Omnipotence City, home of various gods including Zeus (Russell Crowe) himself.

The discourse surrounding the MCU has gotten rather tiresome, and it usually loops back around to the movies being formulaic and feeling anonymous and prefabricated. That isn’t much of a problem here. Just as with Ragnarok, Waititi’s stamp is all over Love and Thunder. There’s plenty of personality and dynamism to the proceedings, and nary a sense of going through the motions. The movie has an ambitious scale but is focused on Thor’s character development, and links back to earlier movies in the series without leaving audiences feeling too lost. The story adapts the Jason Aaron run of the Thor comics, which introduces many memorable ideas and character arcs, including Jane becoming Thor and the villain Gorr the God Butcher. Waititi is working with strong source material, a game cast and endlessly inventive, eye-catching design. The movie plays with colour in fun ways, including having the Shadow Realm where Gorr calls home be rendered in black and white.

A major issue that this reviewer had with Thor: Ragnarok was that while it was ostensibly a buddy comedy, it was also a story about the destruction of Asgard and Thor experienced great loss over the course of the film. The overtly comedic tone undermined the more dramatic moments of the story. That problem is slightly less pronounced here, but still present. The Jane and Gorr arcs are both dark and do seem at odds with the overall light tone of the movie. There is also a lot of ground to cover, especially with Jane’s transformation into Mighty Thor, such that what played out over a significant amount of time in the comics feels compressed into this movie. Thor: Love and Thunder has many moving parts, and while the character arcs do work and many emotional beats do land, it still often feels somewhat flippant. The screenplay, written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, attempts to navigate a somewhat dense mythology and isn’t always successful.

It can be argued that Thor: Ragnarok was the first time Chris Hemsworth seemed truly comfortable in the role of Thor, despite appearing in four prior MCU films as the character. Love and Thunder sees him continue taking the approach of equal parts goofy and heroic, and while Thor is a big loveable lunkhead on the outside, Hemsworth also sells the feeling of loss and a yearning for fulfilment that is key to the character’s arc.

It seemed like Natalie Portman was out of the MCU for good, but Waititi convinced her to return as Jane Foster. This is the most she has gotten to do in one of these movies by far, and like the other actors involved, Portman actually seems to be having a good time. It’s just a bit of a shame that, as mentioned above, the circumstances leading to Jane becoming Mighty Thor feel rushed.

Christian Bale isn’t an actor one typically imagines enjoying himself on the set and having fun with the roles he plays, but he does seem to relish the villainous part. There are moments when the character is sympathetic, and others when he’s cackling and deliciously evil. Unfortunately, a bit like with Cate Blanchett’s Hela in Ragnarok, Gorr never feels truly, legitimately terrifying. This could be because the comedy elsewhere in the film undercuts the grave stakes.

Russell Crowe steals the show as Zeus. At first, it seems like just a lark, but the character has more to do beyond being a comic relief figure, and there is an unexpected degree of drama to the scene in which he appears.

Summary: Taika Waititi carries over the exuberant goofiness and visual dynamism of Thor: Ragnarok into Love and Thunder. Its 80s rock sensibility and largely amiable tone is hard to resist. However, the comedic components do often undermine the more dramatic and emotional moments, especially in a film that, as bright and silly as it is, does also deal with some fairly dark thematic material. Those who loved Waititi’s approach in Ragnarok are likely to also enjoy this movie, but for anyone who perceived that film to be tonally imbalanced, Love and Thunder has many of the same issues. And of course, stick around for a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Morbius review

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast : Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 105 min
Opens : 31 March 2022
Rating : PG13

The Low-Down: 1998 saw the release of Blade, a movie some credit with beginning the modern era of comic book movies. In a deleted scene from that film, the villain Michael Morbius made a cameo appearance, hinting at the possibility of a significant role in the sequel. This never materialised. 24 years later, Morbius makes his actual big screen debut.

Dr Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant haematologist who suffers from a rare genetic blood disorder. He has spent his entire life in search of a cure and has invented artificial blood along the way. Milo (Matt Smith), Morbius’ surrogate brother, also suffers from the same affliction. They were raised by Nicholas (Jared Harris), who runs a facility for patients suffering from rare diseases. Morbius’ latest attempt at a cure involves splicing bat DNA into his own genes, resulting in a form of vampirism. Alongside his colleague Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius must find a solution before he ends up killing even more people than he already has.

Morbius is a straightforward origin story that is easy to follow and isn’t as bloated as many other comic book movies. There are a few glimmers of style, and some sequences are moderately exciting. Jared Leto is also not nearly annoying as he could have been and has been in other roles. At least one actor seems to be having fun, and others provide dependable support. That’s about it, as far as positives go.

The movie might not be an unwatchable train wreck, but it is dull. For all the talk in the promotional materials about how Morbius is “one of the most compelling and conflicted characters in Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters,” there’s just not very much to him and the other characters in the film. It’s a bog-standard Jekyll and Hyde-style scenario, with very few links to the wider Marvel universe. The most significant piece connecting this to the other movies was already spoiled in the trailer. Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless have written ho-hum fantasy action movies Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, as well as the disastrous Gods of Egypt, so it’s not exactly a surprise that Morbius doesn’t have the strongest screenplay.

Furthermore, there’s not a lot about this that is visually distinct, and the action sequences involving slow-motion and streaks of vapour representing Morbius’ echolocation powers often look laughably artificial. None of the set pieces are especially memorable. Not unlike Venom and to a greater extent its sequel Let There Be Carnage, Morbius is also hamstrung by a PG13 rating, meaning this is a vampire movie that can only show very limited amounts of blood. The film’s ultimate villain is also patently underwhelming.

Morbius is ostensibly the third film in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. This is a universe that is not directly linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but after the Multiverse-fracturing events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, characters could cross over. Apparently, there is a Spider-Man swinging about somewhere out there in this universe, though it remains to be seen if it is a Spider-Man we’ve already met in a previous movie. Venom was an unlikely box office success despite being a movie about a Spider-Man villain that completely omitted Spider-Man himself. It is unlikely that Morbius will achieve similar success, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Kraven the Hunter and the two other films in this universe set to be released in 2023.

Summary: Morbius is a mediocre comic book movie that is formulaic and dull. Jared Leto gives a perfectly serviceable performance, but the titular character is intended to be mysterious and conflicted when what we get instead feels like a sanitised Jekyll and Hyde story. Most of the supporting characters are created for the film instead of being drawn from the Marvel comics source material, making it feel like there isn’t a substantial link between this and the other movies in the franchise. Especially after the triumph of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Morbius feels like Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has one hand tied behind its back. Stay for two mid-credits scenes that very awkwardly attempt to tie this movie in with the larger franchise.

RATING: 2 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

The King’s Man review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Genre: Action/Adventure/Historical
Run Time : 131 min
Opens : 30 December 2021
Rating : NC16

The King’s Man is one of those movies that, thanks to the pandemic, feels like it’s been coming out forever – on top of release date shifts even before the pandemic. Now, we can finally learn the origins of the covert organisation at the heart of the Kingsman film series, loosely based on the graphic novel The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

It is just before the First World War, as chaos is brewing across the globe. Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), the Duke of Oxford, is a former soldier who has renounced a life of violence. His teenage son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) yearns for adventure and wants to enlist in the army, against his father’s wishes. Nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) and valet Shola (Djimon Hounsou), employees of the Oxford household, are secretly assisting the Duke in an intelligence collection operation. In the shadows, a mastermind known only as the Shepherd is manipulating world events. His agents have proximity to power, including priest Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), con artist and self-proclaimed clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl), industrialist Alfred DuPont (Todd Boyce) and spy/exotic dancer Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner). The Duke must race against the clock to prevent the Shepherd from plunging the world into irreparable chaos, as the seeds of the Kingsman spy agency are planted.

Big-budget period action-adventure movies with an alternate history bent are rare offerings, and The King’s Man plays in a sandbox that not many other tentpole franchise films play in. The closest analogue might be the first Wonder Woman movie, which was also set during WWI. Matthew Vaughn is nothing if not stylish. It’s hard not to be awed by flashy, show-off camera moves, like a shot that travels through the ocean, through the torpedo tube of a German submarine, and into the submarine’s control room.

For all the faults of the earlier Kingsman movies, and especially the second, Vaughn brought plenty of panache to the proceedings, which carries over here. While there’s nothing here that is as striking as the fight in the church in the first Kingsman movie, there are several wonderfully choreographed action scenes, including a swordfight with Rasputin in which the mad monk busts out some impressive acrobatic moves. The production design by Darren Gilford and costume design by Michele Clapton contribute to the specific mood of the movie – Vaughn isn’t aiming for total historical accuracy, but there’s also an attempt to sell the period and the settings.

The King’s Man wants to be a rip-snorting, swashbuckling adventure, but it also wants to be genuinely emotional and dramatic. This is a movie with obviously, intentionally goofy elements, including Tom Hollander in triple roles as cousins King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II (credited as Tom Hollander3). This is also a movie in which characters deal with crushing grief, one that tries to make a larger statement about the futility of war and the fallacious narrative of it being glorious to die in service of one’s country.

The movie is sometimes unable to support this pendulum swing between tones. For all of The King’s Man’s undeniable weirdness – there’s a scene in which one character licks another’s leg, in the middle of an attempted poisoning via Bakewell tart – there still is a predictability to the proceedings. The reveal of the big bad, for example, is far from surprising, and even if it was intended to be that obvious, is ultimately underwhelming. The movie also feels a little longer than its 131-minute runtime, given that there’s a lot to set up and a lot of real-life history to condense and fictionalise.

The first Kingsman movie’s greatest asset was arguably Colin Firth in an action-oriented role while also banking on his screen persona as a charming gentleman. Ralph Fiennes performs a similar function in this movie and does so with aplomb. He is an arresting screen presence and acquits himself impressively in the physical department, stunt doubles and digital trickery notwithstanding. Harris Dickinson is somewhat bland as Conrad, but the focus remains squarely on Fiennes’ Duke of Oxford. Both Arterton and Hounsou are delightful presences, but their characters are thinly drawn.

Rhys Ifans has a grand time playing Rasputin – after all, there’s no ceiling for “over the top” with a historical figure as outlandish and despicable as Rasputin was. It’s just a shame that Rasputin is not the ultimate villain, despite the trailers making it seem as such, and he is not in the movie for as long as this reviewer would have liked.

Summary: This prequel to the Kingsman movies is better than the bloated and unfocused second instalment, taking the franchise to an interesting place with its emphasis on historical fiction. Ralph Fiennes is also the ideal leading man for this story. However, for all of director Matthew Vaughn’s style, he struggles with maintaining tonal consistency, such that the movie is sometimes enjoyably goofy, and other times wants to be very serious. Ultimately, the movie’s weirdness makes it stand out amongst the comic book movie landscape and does show the potential of action-adventure movies rooted in historical fiction. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Matrix Resurrections review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Lana Wachowski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Ricci
Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 148 min
Opens : 22 December 2021
Rating : PG13

In 1999, already a watershed year for Hollywood cinema, The Matrix changed the game. The film’s directors, the Wachowskis, vastly expanded the world of the Matrix with two theatrically released sequels in 2003, alongside an anthology of anime short films, a video game and various other media. While the two sequels received a far less enthusiastic reception than the first film, it was clear that the appetite for more Matrix was there. 18 years after Neo and Trinity were last seen on the big screen, we’re plugging back in.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a video game designer living in San Francisco. Coping with mental health issues, he sees a therapist known as the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him pills. At a coffee shop called Simulatte, Thomas sees a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), whom he finds oddly familiar. It turns out that the world Thomas and Tiffany live in is a simulation called the Matrix, and that Thomas’ true identity is that of Neo. Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who bears a tattoo of a white rabbit, attempts to break Thomas out of the Matrix. At the end of The Matrix Revolutions, both Neo and Trinity – the true form of Tiffany – apparently died, but it seems like they are still alive. Now travelling with a new crew captained by Bugs, Neo must make sense of his reality as he seeks to rescue Trinity, as powerful forces stand in the way.

For anyone who feared The Matrix Resurrections would be a by-the-numbers retread or just a lazy nostalgia-fest (we’ve gotten several of those to varying degrees of laziness this past year), fear not: it’s weird. It’s the kind of weird which another film without the brand name association wouldn’t be able to pull off. While Lilly Wachowski opted not to co-direct this film because of personal issues and general exhaustion, Lana takes audiences back into the labyrinthian mythology of the series. It’s a joy to see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return, and to parse why some things remain the same and why others are different. There are several entertaining action sequences, even if nothing quite matches the inventiveness of the first film, and there was obviously a lot of thought put into how the franchise would continue, even if it doesn’t come together cohesively. It is ultimately rewarding especially for audiences who re-evaluated the Matrix sequels and came around on them.

When we say it doesn’t come together cohesively, we mean it. It’s fun to rewatch the original Matrix and realise how quaint, straightforward and easy to follow the narrative is compared to in the sequels. The Matrix Resurrections is confusing in such a way that some audiences will be intrigued and invested, and others will opt to tap out. At 148 minutes long, the movie is relatively light on action. There still is action, but there’s just much more exposition and world-building than there are set-pieces. The action is also shot and edited poorly and is often difficult to follow. Most of the movie unfolds in close-ups, so there aren’t quite enough opportunities to take a step back and take everything in. The new characters, apart from the possible exception of Bugs, receive little characterisation and mostly function to ferry Neo from place to place. Both the Smith and Morpheus characters return in some fashion, but are portrayed by different actors, thus sacrificing some of what made those characters so iconic. There’s probably a version of this that makes perfect sense, but it is not the version that made it to the screen.

One thing that’s fun is that this is a movie about the nature of franchise continuations. Thomas Anderson is forced to develop a new game in a series, after he thought that he had finished telling the story he had wanted to tell. Perhaps this reflects how Lilly referred to a potential Matrix sequel as “a particularly repelling idea in these times” during a 2015 interview. The Wachowskis’ work has always been marked by a certain earnestness and dorkiness, which Resurrections still has plenty of. However, there is at least a twinge of cynicism here. One line about the game studio’s parent company elicited especially raucous laughter. There is a post-credits scene, but a completely inconsequential one that almost feels like commentary on the trend of post-credits scenes. Resurrections is the most fun when it gets meta, but audiences will differ on whether this feels like astute commentary or if it takes one out of it.

Summary: The cultural footprint of the Matrix means that there’s a lot to play with, and there are far worse ways to revisit the franchise than The Matrix Resurrections. The movie’s relationship with its predecessors is fascinating, coming from both a place of deep affection for the series and a profound frustration with the state of Hollywood franchise filmmaking. This is far from wholly satisfying, but it’s weird and wild enough to justify its existence.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters: Afterlife review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast : McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 124 min
Opens : 18 November
Rating : PG13

When it comes to long-dormant franchises, there’s usually one of two approaches to take: either a remake/reboot, or what’s come to be known as a ‘legacy sequel’. Both approaches have their risks, but fans generally seem more amenable to legacy sequels. These usually involve a new set of characters who have some connection to the characters of the original movie, with at least some of the older characters showing up in a supporting capacity. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the latest example.

Single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) move to a rural town in Summerville, Oklahoma, after Callie’s father dies. He had come to be known as the ‘dirt farmer’ by locals and was apparently conducting strange experiments out of fear of a coming apocalypse. Phoebe has a keen interest in science and discovers artifacts in the basement of her grandfather’s house. Together with her classmate Podcast (Logan Kim) and summer school teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd), Phoebe uncovers the mystery of her grandfather’s experiments. Meanwhile, Trevor discovers an old Cadillac ambulance in the garage. Phoebe, Podcast, Mr Grooberson, Trevor and Trevor’s colleague/crush Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) eventually discover a conspiracy involving Ivo Shandor, the founder of Summerville, and come face to face with the apocalypse that Callie’s father was trying to prevent.

In an age of often-bloated franchise blockbusters, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is almost refreshingly low-key. Its relatively modest scale is a double-edged sword, as we’ll get to in a bit, but for the most part, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is surprisingly charming. With its rural setting, main characters who are kids, light comedy and supernatural/sci-fi adventure elements, this movie is very reminiscent of Amblin’s heyday. It’s no coincidence that Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard is in this, since Ghostbusters: Afterlife is mostly operating in that same mode. Much as director/co-writer Jason Reitman is paying tribute to his father Ivan, who directed and co-wrote the original film, this is also a Spielberg homage. Much of the humour in the original Ghostbusters came via Bill Murray’s smug, glib performance as Peter Venkman. The tone here seems a lot more earnest and sincere, more wide-eyed and less cynical.

One of the major pitfalls of legacy sequels is that they can devolve into a collapsing pile of Easter Eggs. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is mostly judicious with the fan-service, and most references to events of the first film make sense within the plot. However, there also is a lot of “look, there’s that thing that you like!” Ghostbusters: Afterlife can often feel too reverential, which is understandable given that it’s literally directed by the original filmmaker’s son. There’s meant to be a sense of awe around what this movie has in store for die-hard fans, most evident in how the identity of Callie’s father is apparently some huge secret, when everyone had already figured it out from the first trailer. It takes Ghostbusters: Afterlife almost an hour before the non-mystery is ‘solved’ and the grandfather’s name is confirmed aloud. As is common in legacy sequels, the characters come off more as links to the franchise’s past than as actual characters. This emphasis on ‘respect’ seems to primarily be a reaction to the 2016 reboot, to which there was an outsized, vitriolic ‘culture war’ backlash. That reverential fear sometimes holds Ghostbusters: Afterlife back, and it’s consequentially afraid to cut loose and be too funny, when the original film was primarily a comedy.

There’s also the matter of Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s status as an ‘event movie’. It wants to mostly be small and intimate, but also feels the pressure to provide big action set-pieces, and by the conclusion, turns into something akin to the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The younger Reitman infamously stated in 2007 that he did not want to make a Ghostbusters film, saying “Ghostbusters is iconic, but it’s my dad’s, and I don’t think I can touch that,” adding “It would be the most boring Ghostbusters movie of all time. There would be no ghost busting.” A lot can change in 14 years and Ghostbusters: Afterlife does have ghost busting in it, but there is slight conflict between the big-budget spectacle and the character drama.

One of the movie’s greatest strengths is its approach to the special/visual effects. The terror dogs are mostly executed with animatronic effects when they’re standing still, that then switches to CGI when they’re moving. The look of the proton streams is unmistakably 80s, evoking classic optical effects while not looking too dated. The Muncher ghost, this movie’s riff on Slimer, also looks sufficiently tactile, almost like he’s made of play-doh. The movie will often have something digital happen, then a practical explosion or spark as the pay-off, which works great. The effect that feels the most out of place is the ‘mini-pufts’, tiny Stay-Puft Marshmallow men who are completely digital and sometimes feel a bit synthetic compared to the other effects.

Summary: Often charming and amiable, Ghostbusters: Afterlife stands out amongst the landscape of big-budget franchise blockbusters by being a more intimate, lower-key affair. There is plenty here for long-time fans to latch on to, and while that means the movie is often in danger of becoming just an Easter Egg hunt, it also reflects the richness of the Ghostbusters mythology. Yes, there’s a lot of “here’s that thing that you like!” but it’s also offset by a genuine earnestness and sincerity. The mix of practical and digital effects to evoke the look of an 80s movie while not feeling too dated also largely works. Stay back for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 3.5 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