Balanced Web-Spinner – Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Following up the successful first collaboration between Columbia/Sony and Marvel (Spider-Man: Homecoming), the cosmic hugeness of Avengers: Endgame  and the culmination of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe always promised to be a tricky task, but returning director Jon Watts and returning scriptwriters Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers have managed a pretty balanced movie that nicely answers all those demands.

Set eight months after half of humanity was restored to existence in Avengers: Endgame (now referred to as The Blip), the film wastes no time showing us some of the ramifications of this but also throws us headlong into a plot which, by necessity, has to stretch out more broadly than Homecoming’s friendly neighbourhood feel.

Terrifying giant creatures, Elementals, have seemingly crossed over into our world from another reality and, while attempting to enjoy a summer class vacation through Europe and engage with a blossoming relationship with MJ, Peter Parker is pulled into battling these monsters by a heroic newcomer, soon named Mysterio.

With Tony Stark no longer around, Mysterio becomes a mentor figure to Peter, but all is not quite as it first appears and events soon spiral out of our young hero’s control – both in and out of his webby mask.

Jake Gyllenhall’s Quentin Beck (a.k.a. Mysterio) works well against Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, in an arc which nicely defines Peter coming to terms with loss, while underlining his constant struggles with responsibility from a fresh angle. And while the resolution of this arc might be one of the film’s weaker moments, there is still a great deal to savour.

In terms of character development, the high-point of the film is undoubtedly Peter and MJ’s romance. Zendaya’s MJ is a real treat; snarky, goofy and vulnerable, and I could happily watch an entire movie of her and Holland just playing off against each other.

Holland is, it almost goes without saying, a pretty much perfect Peter Parker, beautifully playing the push and pull the character feels between his heroic responsibilities and his teenage life, continuing to make him highly relatable.

The actions sequences are excellent, the climax in the centre of London is one of the best Spider-man set pieces since Spider-Man 2’s train battle ( I saw the film in 3D, which really enhanced this sequence), and the film balances action, drama and (a great deal of) humour deftly, giving it a distinct feel while still integrating it firmly into the MCU.

It’s a superb summer movie, and a lot of fun (often mischievously so), even if a certain amount of Homecoming’s down to earth charm has been sacrificed.

Do make sure you stay through the end credits, as one of the two stings brings not only a wonderful cameo (particularly for long-time Spider-Man movie fans) but a pretty seismic cliffhanger for Spider-Man’s status quo.

The best thing about the film is that it makes you want to spend more time caught up in Spider-Man’s web and in the company of these characters, so bring on Spider-Man: Home From Home, Home Run, Home Sweet Home, or even Don’t Try This At Home

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For The Love Of Godzilla – King Of The Monsters Review

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There has been a great deal of bad press surrounding Godzilla – King of the Monsters. Ignore it. If you’re a Godzilla fan, ignore it more vehemently.

In 2014, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros unleashed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla into cinemas, to good box office and mixed reviews. Time seems to have revealed it very much as a love it or hate it affair – I fall squarely into the former camp (despite acknowledging some big issues with it).

Now comes Michael Dougherty (director of Trick ‘R’ Treat) with his sequel (and third film in Legendary’s Monsterverse, after Kong – Skull Island), and what an awesome movie he brings with him.

Unashamedly, unabashedly pulpy fun, Dougherty throws just about everything he can into the demented plot-line: secret underground bases, mad scientists, aliens, lost undersea civilizations, and moves things along at such a breathless pace that you have to submit to the gleeful, everything AND the kitchen sink approach. And that’s even before we get to the monsters!

And you’d better believe we get monsters – Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah (all beautifully adapted from their Japanese movie origins) and a whole slew of new beasties. Plus, the title star himself, the King of the Monsters (with a fabulous and hilarious reveal as to why we should grant him that title).

And if you’re looking for monster battles, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Toho’s Kaiju do massive battle with each other in a number of locales, from the Antarctic to Boston, and Dougherty and co. present them with the enthusiasm of someone who has all the toys to play with.

So, what haven’t we mentioned yet? The humans in this monstrous toybox. The performers (including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, and Zhang Ziyi) give their all, and play with just the right amount of tongue in cheek, but character arcs take a firm third place to plot and action. But who cares when the action is this much fun!?

And for long-time Godzilla fans there are a ton of extra treats, Easter eggs and references both sly and unsubtle, to a treasure trove of past Godzilla movies, none of which I intend to spoil here (but do stay all the way through the titles for a lovely touch just before the obligatory post-credits scene). It’s already widely known that composer Bear McCreary has used some classic Toho monster themes, and those are the icing on the Kaiju Eiga cake.

In fact, the further you progress into this film, the more it becomes clear how much of a Godzilla and Kaiju fan Dougherty must be, his love for Japan’s biggest export shines through every frame. The whole thing has the feel of some of Toho’s maddest entries for Godzilla, with the same freewheeling approach as films such as 1972’s Godzilla vs Gigan or 1973’s Godzilla vs Megalon.

Godzilla – King of the Monsters is quite obviously Dougherty and co.’s love letter to all things Godzilla, a gift from Godzilla fans to Godzilla fans.

 

Captain Marvel: Further. Higher. Faster. Mostly.

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On the surface Captain Marvel might be one of the more straightforward of Marvel Studios’ films, but there’s some intriguing stuff at play underneath.

Carol Danvers has been around in the comic books since 1968, though it wasn’t until 1977 that the character adopted her first superheroic alter-ego, that of Ms. Marvel, taking on the legacy mantle of Captain Marvel (after a previous, separate character sharing that name) in 2012.

So while Danvers and the Captain haven’t been around as long as or share the general public awareness as Wonder Woman, the character has paid her dues.

Mention of Wonder Woman here is interesting, as while DC and Warner Bros made her gender a prominent part of the character’s journey in 2017’s film, here Marvel almost wilfully subvert expectations of such considerations to take a more subtle route in unleashing their first female-fronted franchise.

When alien Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) goes on a mission against the shape-shifting Skrull race with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (played by welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jude Law), which quickly not only goes pear-shaped but also sees Vers begun to unlock a sequence of events which will lead her to unravel a series of recurring nightmare flashbacks.

Ver’s journey leads her to Earth in 1995, and encounters with (amazingly CGI de-aged) younger versions of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and revelations which will change both her life and the future of Marvel history.

That the film presents all this as an unfolding mystery is one of the stronger points of the standard origin story, and as per usual this is entertainment of the highest caliber from Marvel: superb casting (including a star-making turn from Larson, who rises above some deficiencies in the script to make a hugely appealing central character and another fantastic turn from Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the Skrull, who is obviously having a blast), snappy dialogue and fun action sequences. But it’s somewhat disappointing to report that despite all this, Captain Marvel still feels like one of the studio’s more workmanlike (excuse the gender conflation here) efforts.

While it’s highly admirable (and enjoyable) that it’s never even really made an issue that Vers and Marvel are presented as the equal (and indeed, superior) to any males in her orbit, making the film rather an important step in its own way, it’s a shame that some of this is presented in a less than inspired manner. I found the direction by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to be lacking a certain vision, and it’s the first Marvel film where I’ve actually felt the hand of a committee in the course of viewing.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the firing of James Gunn, who had been acting as a kind of creative guru to the studio until a small group of internet nazis dug up some poor taste jokes Gunn had made on Twitter and used those to successfully blackmail Disney into letting him go, had some kind of reverb effect on Marvel (and Captain Marvel). There are choices made in the film which feel distinctly Gunn-ian (is that a thing? It is now), but executed without his very particular flair.

A perfect example of this is the decision to play out a third act fight scene, between Marvel and some of the bad guys, with No Doubt’s Just A Girl playing over the soundtrack. Given the possibility of this particular song to comment on the action, this might seem like a good idea, but on reflection I found myself wondering what the song really had to do with I was seeing onscreen. In hindsight it feels like a choice that Gunn might have considered then rejected as being simply too on the nose.

It might seem unfair to be laying the film with a “what would James Gunn have done?” vibe, but it’s impossible to separate a studio film like this from the events that surrounded its creation.

But don’t let these caveats put you off from seeing Captain Marvel (in 3D if you can, and if you have a cinema that knows how to project the format properly – because the post-converted 3D is really superb), as even Marvel’s most simply efficient is the equal of or better than many other studios’ efforts.

You’ll definitely have a good time (and if you’re a Stan Lee fan, like me, the film may even make you cry in its opening seconds, as I did), and without a doubt it’s a strong introduction to a character who is tipped to become an important lynchpin in Marvel’s future movies (not least of which in next month’s much-anticipated Avengers: Endgame).

And to answer a question I know many of you have (without spoiling anything) Thanos should be very, very worried right now.

Captain Marvel definitely goes further, higher, faster, to use both the character’s and the film’s tag-line, but could have gone even higher, even further and even faster.

The Other Side Of The Wind Will Take Away Your Breath

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“Jake is just making it up as he goes along.” – Max
“He’s done it before…” Billy.

In The Other Side of the Wind, this exchange is said as a criticism of Welles’ character, but of course the truth is that all stories are made up as they go along.

With The Other Side of the Wind, the final film from legendary director Orson Welles, now streaming on Netflix, we actually get two final Welles films for the price of one: the main narrative, which tells the story of the last night in the life of a legendary film director and a screening of his final film, and the footage of that film –  the film within a film, a study of sex and desire. The parallels are obvious enough to be written in neon.

Welles’ rise to fame hardly needs repeating, and his crushing rejection by Hollywood on productions such as The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil is still a bitter pill to swallow.

In 1970, after years spent working in exile in Europe, Welles returned  to Hollywood and gradually put together the pieces to make his next movie. Pieces is the operative word, as The Other Side of the Wind would be made like a jigsaw, finding money to film here and there, shooting when and where he could, the only man with a true sense of the story leading a rag-tag team of acolyte filmmakers who would work themselves to the bone to realise his vision, for six long years.

Funding to complete it fell apart, not least because of the Iranian revolution, as one of the producers was the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, who saw his assets seized, including the existing footage of this film. If Welles had a history of using smoke and mirrors to represent his life and career, this was one moment even he might not have been able to conjure up.

Sadly, Welles would never complete an edit of The Other Side of the Wind, and the film seeped into legend as one of cinema’s great lost productions.

Thankfully, the film was finished in 2018 after a high-profile crowdfunding campaign and a hefty influx of cash from Netflix, by a team including Frank Marshall, producer of countless blockbusters including Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose early Hollywood career saw him working as a production assistant for Welles (he can also be seen in this movie, as part of the documentary camera crew, following Welles’ alter ego, Jake Hannaford, as played by John Houston). The team completed the film using an existing rough cut and Welles’ copious notes to get as close as possible to Welles’ intentions

The completed film has a lot to say: it is, of course, also about the passing of the Hollywood old guard to the new Hollywood, as visualised perfectly in Peter Biskind’s book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and represented  here by Peter Bogdanovich, clearly flagged up in the scene between his Brooks Otterlake and Tonio Selwart, as The Baron, and in Otterlake’s relationship with Hannaford, and how that passing of the torch is reflected in their friendship and the betrayal of that friendship (which also comments on Bogdanovich and his real-life relationship with Welles).

The Other Side of the Wind is seeped in the very DNA of Hollywood, drenched in the process of filmmaking, in the selfish, obsessive nature of the creative drive (and therefore of the creators), and as much about film itself as anything else, reflected even in the nature of its completion.

While it’s self-referential, autobiographical and, yes, masturbatory, The Other Side of the Wind is also fascinating and frustrating (the array of underdeveloped characters flag up the film’s fractured development), while its very presence is a cause for celebration. The film’s content and form are as much of their time as they are as fresh as anything to grace a screen this year – the film within a film is ravishing and vivid, astonishingly sexy and unlike anything else Welles created (the sex scene in the car is beyond breathtaking). Full of Welles’ trademark sly humour and questing, experimental nature, it’s as far from the work of an ageing talent as it’s possible to be, and instead reinforces Welles’ genius.

Falling somewhere between a confessional and a documentary, the film has now become inseparable from its myth, and perhaps cannot be fairly judged on its own terms. But we’re still judging Welles by many of the myths he created around himself, so this seems perfectly apt for the director’s final work, as a comment on both the man, his life and his body of work.

“Almost every kind of story is a lie… except this time”.

Welles once said that on camera, in F for Fake. That’s also a lie, particularly when it comes to The Other Side of the Wind.

Fragile Creatures: The Beauty And Pain of The Rider

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Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama, The Rider, starts out with a young man in pain, recovering, as we later see, from injuries sustained during a rodeo.

The following ninety minutes or so explore that pain further: not just the physical injuries, but the mental scars inflicted on someone whose dreams are taken from them and crushed, when he finds his body will no longer allow him to do the thing he loves most.

Shot with a cast of non-professionals (Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, and Cat Clifford) who play versions of themselves in an almost documentary style, and with a magnificent eye for beauty (several shots made me literally gasp), Zhao’s film is intimate, harrowing and painful, but also majestic, and sweeping.

Zhao keeps the camera tight on Jandreau for much of the film, and the young, non-actor gives an astonishing performance, with a minimal amount of dialogue we share his joy and pain, as the recovery he appears to make is short-lived. This world of horse trainers and rodeo riders is fragile and fraught with physical peril, but Jandreau’s character, Brady, desperately wants to stay in the saddle.

The film feels like a mixture between a later period Springsteen song and an early period Terrence Malick film (before he became TERRENCE MALICK and disappeared off into the edit suite to cut yet another interminable version of Tree of Life). Malick could benefit from watching The Rider, for while this film could stand to lose a few minutes, even with the extra fat Zhao never loses sight of the cinematic story she’s trying to tell.

So much of The Rider is ambiguous: should we admire Brady as he puts himself through another agonising experience just to keep riding? Should we sympathise when he takes on a stultifying job to make ends meet, or pity him for giving up what he loves? Zhao smartly doesn’t provide pat answers, but allows the complexities of Brady’s path to carry us through.

The Rider is a quiet, purposeful and powerful movie, shot with a true cinematic poetry, whether out on the plains or in a run-down trailer. With her second movie, Zhao has established herself as an exciting voice in cinema.

Hereditary: New, Old-Fashioned Scares

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I’ve seen many reviews stating that Hereditary is a “new kind of horror”, and similar nonsense. In fact, there’s very little new about Ari Aster’s film, but that doesn’t mean that what he does with it won’t creep the living daylights out of you.

Rather, what Aster and co. do is not wholly rely on what have become the standard, tired tricks of a great deal of modern horror: the jump scare of something appearing in frame, or a door slamming, the sudden burst of sound and music. Instead, we are treated to long moments of dread and unease, surrounded by a film which takes its time exploring the emotions of its central characters and wrapping it all in the universal pain of grief – in particular, how we often don’t deal with it. Only once we’re pulled in by all this does Hereditary blow up with reanimated corpses and family members crawling across the ceiling.

And then, of course, it gives us that much talked about ending, which will really test whether or not the film has you in its hooks.

Hereditary begins quietly, pulling a little Stanley Kubrick Overlook maze trick from The Shining with a model house, but doesn’t do so frivolously: it’s a great unsettling moment, revealing one of the movie’s first pieces of disturbing symbolism, teasing us that there’s something not quite right about this family home. More of the film’s themes are immediately set out as we follow the family preparing for a funeral, for the mother of Toni Collette’s Annie.

Soon enough, both Annie and her two children, Peter and Charlie, are sensing things around the house and at school, and we see the family, rounded off by Gabriel Byrnes’ father, Steve, resolutely not coming to grips with not only this death but also events that have occurred in their lives previously.

Tension builds, and Aster, along with editors Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston and committed performances by the cast, allow their film all the time it needs to do so, as we are gradually introduced to wilder events beyond the confines of the house and the family, before one of the truly great shock moments of cinema leads us into a more heightened third act, letting the story fully off the leash in the last fifteen minutes or so. One or two of the final scares and revelations almost threaten to derail the careful build, but by the time they come we’ve been engulfed enough by the family’s deterioration not to stop us from enjoying their obvious pleasures.

It’s difficult to discuss the final five minutes without veering into spoiler territory, but suffice to say the various breadcrumbs laid throughout the previous two hours are brought together in a truly off-kilter way, with an ending which reminded me both of Rosemary’s Baby and of Robert Egger’s modern classic, The Witch, being both truly horrific (as you understand the fates of two of the central characters) and utterly bizarre.

Hereditary allows a few howlers through which occasionally threaten its entry to the hallowed halls of classics such as the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Haunting: clunky lines of dialogue here and there (“Dad, it’s the cemetery,” “About what?”), the discovery of a book (“Guide to Spiritualism”) which might as well be labelled “plot device”, and some irritatingly, The Deadly Bees level superimposed flies (yes, I’m being nit-picky, but these elements stand out like sore thumbs in an otherwise classy affair like this).

But despite these caveats, Hereditary works like a dark charm because it picks at a sore scab and works at it: grief is something most of us struggle with, and while we may not conjure up dead loved ones in an effort to deal with that grief – or at least, I presume we don’t – we are given time to empathise with the very real and raw emotions experienced by the film’s family, and the unravelling of that family as a result of their inability to deal with their pain. And that’s true horror, after all, even with the addition of a meddling witch’s coven.

To return to my original point, Hereditary might not actually offer us something new, but it does what it does to a mostly masterful level, where the simple sound of a vocal clicking is made scary, and follows the lead of John Carpenter’s Halloween by using the frame to create unease.

And if you’re unfortunate enough to have dealt with death and the ensuing emotions we’re left with, it will resonate long after a dozen pump-up-the-volume, jump scare Paranormal Nun horror movies have faded into one another.

This Is The End – Avengers: Infinity War * spoiler free review

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The Marvel films have always struggled with villains, it’s a frequently heard complaint that few villains beyond Loki and, arguably, Erik Killmonger, have left too much of an impression. So let’s get this right out there – not only was Thanos worth waiting for, but he instantly ranks at the top of the hall of infamy.

There was concern that the Mad Titan would be a let down, that he couldn’t possibly live up to the almost ten-year build which has led us to this point. But the combination of a wonderfully layered performance from Josh Brolin and superlative animation effects work brings Jim Starlin’s deranged creation to full, terrifying life in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

This feat is even more impressive in a film which (as I’m sure you know from the hype) brings together all the expected characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and perhaps even some unexpected ones).

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) do a splendid job of pulling together an increasingly active number of franchises, giving most characters a neat arc and/or several great moments, though there are exceptions, inevitable even with a two-hour forty minute running time, and a certain amount of shorthand is definitely at play. That they manage this without spending an hour on exposition is a minor miracle, and a testament to deft storytelling (and the good will engendered by eighteen previous films).

There’s an undeniable frisson of excitement (especially for a Marvel geek like me) to see new combinations of characters, having Spider-Man and Doctor Strange interact left me with the biggest grin on my face, but the filmmakers know they need more than just a Marvel Team-Up to make a satisfying film.

There are real stakes here, literally the fate of the universe (or half of it… you’ll see…) hangs in the balance, with a number of different strands occurring in different locations on different worlds, and the action feels all the more vital because Marvel have taken the time to build these worlds and make us care for the characters. And it’s no spoiler to say your emotions will really be put through the wringer – I wept a solitary, manly tear on more than one occasion.

But don’t think the threat of the universe coming to an end or talk of tears means it’s all doom and gloom: this is a thrill-a-minute adventure that hits the ground running and barely lets up on the action, but as usual it’s mixed in with some fabulous and funny character interplay – Thor with Peter Quill and Doctor Strange with Tony Stark bring unexpected delights.

There’s also a distinct feel here of the beginning of a changing of the guard – the first ten years of Marvel movies has seen a very definite roster of characters and Infinity War shows us that the company’s willingness to shake things up is part of what makes them so successful, and which lends even more weight to the story, of course. Even the obligatory post-credit scene nods in that direction (it’s a nod that literally made me whoop in the cinema).

Is there a downside to all this? I suspect that a casual filmgoer would be rather lost but y’know in that case, get with the Marvel game like the rest of the population, I guess.

Avengers: Infinity War is a huge, and hugely exciting, comic book, sci-fi epic that really sees the gutsy long-game approach taken by Marvel pay off, giving us the Empire Strikes Back of their bold, long form narrative, and finally giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe its own Darth Vader, a cosmic villain with a welcome emotional core.

And really, so as not to wander into the spoiler zone, that’s about all I can say, except that this is the huge Marvel adventure we’ve been waiting for.

This is the end*… but bring on May 3, 2019 and Avengers 4 as soon as possible please, I only have so many fingernails left to chew through.

*Speaking of the end, you KNOW to stay right through to the very end of the credits, right…!?

“This Is Not Going To Go… The Way You Think!” – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler Free Review)

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“This is not going to go… the way you think!”

Luke Skywalker’s ominous words, highlighted in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, could easily stand as the film’s throughline.

The overwhelming message of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that families are complicated and move in unexpected directions. It also has a lot to say about being screwed up by our fathers.

Overwhelming also accurately describes what I felt about the film at the end of its two and a half hour journey. It’s somewhat overlong but it features some astonishing action sequences, is one of the visually richest Star Wars films and contains what might be my single favourite moment from the entire franchise.

In many ways, The Last Jedi mirrors both the darkness and structure of the Original Trilogy’s middle film, The Empire Strikes Back, but writer and director Rian Johnson is smart enough to take off into some truly wild new directions during the final third.

Picking up right where The Force Awakens left us, this new installment hits the ground running and the pace barely lets up. The expanding group of characters, old and new are pretty successfully juggled so that everyone is given satisfying arcs, this particularly benefits Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron, and Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill as Leia and Luke. Daisy Ridley continues to command the screen, especially in her dealings with Adam Driver, their interactions are electric.

John Boyega gets to play off new-to-the-franchise Kelly Marie Tran – both of who are great value but unfortunately shuffled into the film’s weakest thread – a trip to a casino world that’s given a decent barbed comment on the social structure of the Star Wars galaxy but feels rather unnecessary, structurally, and also, dare I say it, feels rather like an outtake from the dreaded Prequels. Indeed, this thread also manages to waste the always welcome presence of Benecio Del Toro.

While Johnson’s generosity to give everyone breathing room is commendable it does also see The Last Jedi surrender some of Empire’s structural elegance in favour of a more scattershot approach that leaves the film feeling a little overstuffed.

Still, this is a film with more on its mind than just rehashing the franchise for a new generation or showing off special effects. The relationship dynamics established are nicely developed, and not all in ways you might be expecting, Johnson keeps things surprising, and manages that to the very last frames. The Last Jedi is drenched in darkness but garnished with light and hope.

The consequences of familial actions, in particular those of fathers, is a deep running vein through the film, but it also suggests that family finds its own shape and can be forged in new ways.

Alongside all the drama Johnson gives us breathless action and some of the most gorgeous filmmaking and visuals of the series, using the colour red to particularly strong effect. An opening space battle and a dizzying lightsabre battle are among the highlights.

There are lots of callbacks (visually and thematically) to both Empire and Return of the Jedi, and a beautiful closing moment for one character which returns us right to the heart of Star Wars (Episode IV). To say any more would involve spoilers, but suffice to say there are some big emotional pay-offs.

As I mentioned before, The Last Jedi also features a sequence, possibly my favourite of the franchise, so balls-out audacious that it more than makes up for any deficiencies the film might have. You’ll know it when it arrives, a moment so glorious and exciting it will leave you very happy that Johnson is forging the future of Star Wars with his upcoming new trilogy.

I’m not certain The Last Jedi is quite the masterpiece many have been proclaiming, it’s too inelegant for that, but it’s eager to please and will leave you exhausted as you emerge from the cinema. It’s a shot of pure Star Wars adrenaline.

Like family, The Last Jedi is messy and doesn’t go the way you think. Ultimately though, you can’t help but love it.

More Human Than… Blade Runner 2049

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Let’s get this out of the way first: Blade Runner 2049 has not resulted in the kind of film I feared it would be when I first heard that this belated sequel would happen and thought: “That has to be the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.”

Quite the opposite, in fact. Director Denis Villeneuve, screenwriters Hampton Fancher (also partly responsible for the original) & Michael Green, executive producer Ridley Scott and their crew have offered up one of the most powerful science fiction films of the new millennium. It’s been a long time, in fact, since we’ve been given a cinematic experience as pure as this.

Set 30 years after Scott’s classic, the sequel sees a mystery set in place when Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner retires a Replicant-in-hiding who has been guarding a secret which could change the course of the world forever.

From just that plot description it’s clear this is no mere retread of the first movie, which had a fairly contained hunter versus hunted narrative.

Villeneuve and company paint on a much broader canvas, and this time the questions seem to revolve around not what it is to be human, but what it is to be more than human. It has an utterly palpable mood of tense gloom, giving you the constant feeling that something big and awful is about to happen, but it does this by widening the scope of Scott’s world, which is quite an act to pull off.

The music (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, with plenty of nods to Vangelis) is bold and wonderful, the sound design by Theo Green and Mark Mangini is overwhelming and the cinematography by the cinematic god that is Roger Deakins is dazzling and beautiful, all of which work together to produce something that absolutely demands to be seen on the big screen. As big a screen as possible.

Gosling is great in the lead (as ‘K’), and while it’s a little difficult to go into depth on his role while avoiding spoilers, he finds just the right balance of what must have been a tricky character to get right. The rest of the cast is filled out by superb actors who know how to make the best of smaller roles, but the film really belongs to Gosling and, of course, Harrison Ford.

Ford returns as Blade Runner, Deckard, and I honestly can’t recall when I last saw him so fully engaged and fully immersed in a role. He is magnificent, Deakins’ camera loving every deep crag and crevice on his sandblasted face, and is a full-on the movie star of the old guard. I hope this is the beginning of a renaissance for the actor, because I’ve missed seeing him do great work onscreen.

There is a slight thorn in this rose, however. An unfortunate element that stands out is that the future as presented here is very much patriarchal: street-walkers roam in packs, artificial women are everywhere, as companions and toys for men, their sole aim to pleasure. And there’s a great deal of violence towards women (four female characters are brutally murdered). This troublesome theme pushes to the forefront of the story with Jared Leto’s Wallace, as he casually kills one of the synthetics his company has just given birth to. It’s a (deliberately) horrific scene, and I’m still trying to decide whether this is a deliberate part of the texturing, a barbed comment on misogyny in society and even if so, whether it was a necessary choice for the film. I’m not so sure.

I love the original with a vengeance, and while I’m glad they didn’t attempt to replicate (…sorry…) that film, what results is a somewhat colder effort than Scott’s remarkable and enduring tone poem, and only time will tell whether this will similarly work its way into my affections.

It’s rather like hearing  a new track by Led Zeppelin, riffing on one of your favourite Beatles songs, you know you’re getting something astonishing but you’re not sure if you’ll grow to love it.

However, against all the odds, Blade Runner 2049 is a towering achievement, a smart, powerful juggernaut of a movie which ultimately suggests something akin to hope for mankind. In an era of cookie cutter sequels that we’ve been given a sequel to a great movie that forges it’s own unique path is close to a miracle, which means that, much like the original, it’s a film which comments on its own premise (you’ll need to see the film to fully understand that).

Movies like this don’t come along too often and when they do we should celebrate them. Go to a cinema and experience it.