Doctor Strange (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 115 mins

‘Doctor Strange’ is the second of two offerings this year in the ever-expanding yet lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is an origin story of the titular character who learns the mystic arts in Kamar-Taj in Nepal under the tutelage of the Ancient One after a car accident that destroys the use of his hand and ends his career as an esteemed neurosurgeon. The film is directed by horror director Scott Derrickson who I really like (other than 2009’s abysmal remake, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’) and he has repeatedly stated how much of a fan he is of the material. His horror films have generally received a pretty mixed reception (‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ and ‘Deliver Us From Evil’) but ‘Sinister’ received good reviews and is one of the best horror films of the decade so far. Along with a strong director, the film also has perhaps one of the best casts assembled for a comic-book film ever with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the titular character and being supported by Chiwetel Ejiofor,  Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton.  The film would seem like it should be in pretty safe hands with the circumstances considered and especially as this is the last of six comic book offerings this year, it would be nice if the genre went out on a bang for this year.

‘Doctor Strange’ is a delight from start to finish – it is thoroughly entertaining, extremely well-paced and has perhaps the best visual effects that I have seen in a film for a while. The film is bolstered by its excellent cast who are all wonderful and Scott Derrickson is a clear fit for the material –  you can really tell the passion that has gone into this film behind the camera. It’s a lot more stripped down than this Summer’s ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ which was effectively an ‘Avengers 2.5’ team-up and by having less characters to juggle around, it really means the film can get a chance to breathe and develop these characters.

The performances are what really drive the film along and Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character is wonderful, he’s very arrogant and snarky and will make for a great match when he hopefully meets Robert Downey Jr’s ‘Iron Man’ in the upcoming two-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. Tilda Swinton is very nuanced as the Ancient One, Doctor Strange’s mentor and Chiwetel Ejiofor makes for a conflicted Baron Mordor who we will hopefully see be further developed in future films. Rachel McAdams’ love interest is a little underdeveloped but she’s a good match for the material and Benedict Wong handles a lot of the comic relief as Wong who protects many of the relics housed in Kamar-Taj. Mads Mikkelsen makes for a strong villain who is a good match to Strange but it’s a bit of a shame that he isn’t in the film a little more to flesh out his character especially as Mikkelsen being the very talented actor that he is. Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt are both good here too but their roles are very small unfortunately.

The narrative, although a little familiar, works as we are introduced to this world and these characters and although a lot of superhero films often result in an action-packed and derivative third act, ‘Doctor Strange’ has a lot of fun in its action sequences and the film is never a chore to watch. It’s paced pretty much perfectly, slightly under the 2 hour mark and although it would be nice if we had a few more scenes with Mikkelsen, Stuhlbarg and Bratt as mentioned to fully flesh out their characters, the film feels far less than its run time as it is just so entertaining. Derrickson is able to balance the real world and magic very well and this film could have very easily gone straight over the heads of most audiences if he had chosen a story to do with more of the wackier elements of this comic book hero, it’s a pretty safe story that does manage to deviate so it never feels overly familiar although it can’t quite shake off the origin story cliche as it does fall into a few traps here and there.

The visuals in this film are absolutely stunning and the best visuals ever in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. There have been a lot of complaints that the film’s visual aesthetic mirrors that of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ which I would say does bear a couple of similarities in a few sequences but this is a completely different film and there are many scenes where the characters explore different dimensions and worlds that have its own signature aesthetic. This is a film to definitely see in IMAX 3D if possible.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far and crafts a very memorable theme for the characters and is equally as wacky and distant as the material – only Giacchino would think to use a harpsichord! The cinematography by Ben Davis is very assured and the film looks fantastic – this is a career-best for him thus far.

Overall, ‘Doctor Strange’ is a great success that is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish and is one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast are wonderful here and Derrickson’s direction is very assured My only concern with the film is that going forward, the ability to incorporate this new world of magic and mysticism into the other Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises could be a difficult one to pull off. It’s already been confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch will reprise the role of Doctor Strange in the upcoming two-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ so here’s hoping he can seamlessly mesh in with the current line-up of superheroes that inhibit this world. For now though, Derrickson has done a very good job here and it will be interesting to see where this world gets taken in a sequel now that the origin story has happened.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Girl On The Train (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Alison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 112 mins

‘The Girl On The Train’ is the adaptation of the novel of the same name penned by Paula Hawkins that was released last year and held the top spot of the Uk Hardback Book Chart for 20 weeks, breaking records. Rightfully so, it’s a cracking book and it’s extremely well-written and develops its characters really well. Less than 2 years later, a film adaptation has already been made and has a star-studded cast comprising of Emily Blunt, who has always seemed like a perfect fit for Rachel, an alcoholic individual who has divorced from her husband, Tom, after he cheated on her and now has a child with his new wife, Anna. Rachel has lost her job and rides the trains all day to try and find something to do and in the mean time idolises a young couple, Megan and Scott, who she passes by on the train every single day. However, when Megan disappears and Rachel was on the scene and blacked out, a deep mystery and investigation into her disappearance ensues and the narrative is filled with twists and turns. I must say in the run-up to the film’s release, I was a little apprehensive as the film has changed location to America which is a bit of a shame as the book is quintessentially British and I would have loved to have seen this narrative take place in Oxfordshire as opposed to the luxurious houses that these characters now live in and it now taking place in New York City. I also have some reservations on some of the film’s cast, in particular Rebecca Ferguson as Anna and Luke Evans as Scott, both decent actors in their own right but I just can’t see them playing these multi-dimensional, conflicted characters. Finally,  the choice of director Tate Taylor is an unnatural fit to the material but that said, he is very respectable and generally reliable. Many comparisons have been made to the Gillian Flynn novel and the subsequent 2014 film adaptation of ‘Gone Girl’ which was a brilliant film and was directed by David Fincher, an auteur in his own right and judging from the trailers, it seems as if Taylor has tried to emulate Fincher’s style but Tate Taylor is certainly by no means in the same league as David Fincher. So does the film manage to stand out on its own and offer a faithful, thrilling adaptation of the novel or it this just a cheap knock-off off an exemplary novel?

The answer lies somewhere in between and I have to say I am somewhat conflicted on my judgements on ‘The Girl On The Train’. On the one hand, it is very faithful to the novel and always fairly entertaining (but never gripping) and features a couple of great performances, both Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett who manage to just about hold the film together. On the other hand, it is lazily directed and scripted, features some pretty awful performances, has numerous goofs despite being a fairly big film, develops most of its characters pretty poorly and the cinematography isn’t particularly refined. It is a middling adaptation of a great novel – an always watchable film but crushingly disappointing in parts.

What made the novel really work was its carefully constructed and developed characters and how that has translated onto the screen with the performances is as mentioned, a mixed bag. Both Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett are wonderful here – Emily Blunt in particular was in my opinion, always a great pick for Rachel and despite being pregnant during filming, portrays a convincing alcoholic and is a character of multiple layers. Although Bennett’s character, Megan is fairly one-dimensional, she also is brilliant here and is both slimy and seductive and makes an interesting juxtaposition to Blunt’s Rachel. The final unreliable narrator in the novel, Anna, is portrayed here by Rebecca Ferguson and my initial reservations were correct as she is downright unwatchable here – she is not convincing at all and for goodness sake, if you’re going to be in a film, dedicate yourself to it and don’t wear a terrible wig! Ferguson is one-note, has no chemistry with any of the film’s characters and feels aggressively out of place in the film. I also had reservations on Luke Evans’ casting as Scott and initially Jared Leto was supposed to play this role before he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and although Evans is still not a perfect match, his performance is serviceable. Justin Theroux also is serviceable as Tom and Édgar Ramírez just plays himself as Dr Kamal Abdic which is fine. Allison Janney also gives a very poor performance as the detective in charge of the investigation in an expanded role from the novel and there is a scene where I kid you not, interrogates Rachel in a toilet which is extremely unprofessional and really threw me out momentarily from the film and made me question what I had just seen.

Another big problem the film has is its poor script and lazy direction. The script, penned by Erin Cressida Wilson who was responsible for the atrocity that was ‘Men, Women and Children’, doesn’t gel together and is quite clichéd and overbearing. I mentioned that Tate Taylor was an awkward fit to this material and this has resulted to be the case. At times, it seems he is channeling David Fincher’s seductive, heavily stylised direction of ‘Gone Girl’ and at other times, it does feel like his own work and does have a couple of flashes back to his previous work. It just all feels a bit sloppy and doesn’t feel like he has put his own stamp on the material. The film is never gripping or particularly intelligent and it’s quite short as well for what is quite a meaty book in terms of narrative – the beginning is a bit of a slog and the final reveal comes way too early. Also as a director, surely you check over your film before releasing it – there are numerous goofs here that are blindingly obvious and threw me out of the film.

Danny Elfman’s score is quite interesting and feels very uncharacteristic of him – if I hadn’t have known beforehand he had scored it and I was asked to have a guess, he wouldn’t be someone who comes to mind. The cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, someone who is normally pretty good, is quite tacky here and the film has quite a cheap look to it in places.

Now although this review may seem rather damning of the film, ‘The Girl On The Train’ is always watchable and I was never bored by it and Blunt and Bennett really do help to carry the film. For a film that has this many issues to it, it is testament to these two actresses performances and the strength of Hawkins’ novel. But this film should have been so much more – it should have been more thoughtfully casted, it needs a better crew and script. These are all issues, particularly the script, that should have been noticed early on but somehow the script got given the ok and it has resulted in a middling adaptation. Although this will almost certainly never happen, wouldn’t it be great if there was a more carefully constructed remake with a different director more suited to the material, a stronger scriptwriter. Keep Blunt, Bennett and even Ramirez but then pick out a better cast for the rest of the characters. That is something I would really like to see and would supplement Paula Hawkins’ gripping novel rather than this mixed bag. Overall, by no means a bad film but not a particularly memorable one either with a whole host of issues.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

War On Everyone (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones, Paul Reiser, David Wilmot, Malcolm Barrett
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 97 mins

‘War On Everyone’ is the third directorial effort from writer-director John Michael McDonagh, of whom I really respect as both ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ were very strong films. Both of those films worked because they had extremely clever scripts, explored many different themes that question audience’s ideas and both had a winning performance from Brendan Gleeson, ‘Calvary’, in my opinion being a career-best performance. Here McDonagh ditches Gleeson as this is his first film set in America, in this case Alberqueque. ‘War On Everyone’ is a black comedy detailing two corrupt policemen played by Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård who blackmail people and twist evidence to their advantage and constantly get suspended from the force. However, things take a dark turn when they try to intimidate a rather important individual. Although Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård aren’t really a match for the heights of Brendan Gleeson, Peña is always very solid in whatever he is in but Skarsgård always is quite bland so it’s very important for them to have a good script to work with to be a good match and based on McDonagh’s normally exceptional scripts, this shouldn’t be too much to ask for.  To me, ‘War On Everyone’ looks like John Michael McDonagh’s response to his even better brother, Martin McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’ – a similarly offbeat comedy that tried to propel him to an American audience. Although I have great respect for ‘Seven Psychopaths’, it didn’t particularly do much to Martin McDonagh’s career so here’s hoping that ‘War on Everyone’ is able to be the film it needs to be to elevate John Michael McDonagh’s career.

Unfortunately, ‘War On Everyone’ is the definite worst of John Michael McDonagh’s three directorial efforts – it’s thinly plotted, poorly edited, suffers in its casting and ends up being rather conventional in places. Even though from about 20 minutes in it was quite apparent that this wasn’t going to be great, the film is still entertaining enough and benefits from McDonagh’s black humour that is peppered into the film. There are some individual sequences that really work on their own and McDonagh still poses some thoughtful questions to the viewer but the film never really gels together and feels very disjointed. I think part of this is McDonagh wanting this to be a 70’s buddy cop film throwback which the film does feel like one with its many swipe transitions but the flipside to this is that the film inevitably feels rather trashy which I never got the feeling whilst watching both ‘The Guard’ or ‘Calvary’.

Although Brendan Gleeson is sorely missed in its casting, Michael Peña is very solid in the main role as expected and is able to carry the film along but Alexander Skarsgård is also as expected, very bland and is a big problem for this film as this means that there is a lack of chemistry between the two leads which the film needs to be successful in to make us care for the characters. Whilst the script does give both actors several great moments, if one actor is severely lacking, the film isn’t going to work and this is not the first time Skarsgård has ruined a film and looking to the future, probably won’t be the last. Of the supporting cast, Theo James as the main villain gives a very middling performance and is too young and immature for the role – I have a feeling that this part was originally written for an older actor as he seemed very out of place. Conversely, Caleb Landry Jones as the henchman is a bit of an oddball and looks like he’s having a lot of fun in the role. Tessa Thompson as the love interest is just fine, nothing to write home about though. However along with Peña, McDonagh-regular David Wilmot and Malcom Barrett are both wonderful and are sophisticated but philosophically flawed characters which is what McDonagh normally excels in so at least the cast isn’t all bad.

The story is also one of the film’s biggest problems – it does almost nothing to stand itself apart from any other films of this genre other than include some of McDonagh’s signature black humour. The plot is paper thin and the film jumps across awkwardly from location to location and there isn’t a great deal of character development which is alarming as McDonagh normally excels in creating memorable characters and exploring their lives. The thin story then leads to the poor editing as there are many scenes that are too long and go nowhere or are too short and the awkward location jumping (you’ll recognise this instantly when you see it) really defies belief. Of course with any film as a medium, one must suspend belief for a few hours but there is a sequence mid-way through the film that although is played for laughs, really threw me out of the film for a bit.

Now although this review may seem as if the film is bad, it isn’t. There are a couple of sequences which deal with subjects of ethnicity and religion which in typical McDonagh fashion are quite funny and I never once got bored of the film even though I consciously knew as the film went on that this wasn’t going to be the best.

Although ‘War On Everyone’ isn’t particularly great and is a disappointment considering how good a director John Michael McDonagh is. But it’s still a good-enough disappointment that is always fairly entertaining and does have a couple of good performances and is fairly funny sometimes. However this is not the film that perhaps McDonagh envisaged as I can pretty confidently say that this will not get him particularly well recognised in America and even though his brother’s film, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ wasn’t particularly successful in America either, quality-wise it is leaps-and-bounds above this. Now hopefully for the audience, this means that John Michael McDonagh actually completes his trilogy that started with ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ with ‘The Lame Shall Enter First’ which should hopefully see him re-team with Brendan Gleeson as a paraplegic ex-policeman. That sounds like it could be another knockout and a return to form for this accomplished director! But back to this film, I wouldn’t rush to go and see it but if it turns up on television, it’s worth a watch as it’s entertaining enough.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Sausage Party (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon
Starring: (voices of) Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 89 mins

‘Sausage Party’ is an adult-animated comedy produced by and starring Seth Rogen and a whole host of his usual collaborators including Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill and Edward Norton to name a few and looks set to be another film to add to the wealth of stellar animated features that have been released this year. Ever since the first trailer was released, it has looked very promising and original –  it is essentially a parody of a Pixar animation film with added strong language and sex and drugs to push the film up to the 15  boundary. The film follows the journey of Frank, a sausage, voiced by Rogen who goes on a journey trying to discover what the meaning of life is and tries to stop his friends from going to ‘The Great Beyond’ where they believe that humans will care for them but this is far from the truth. The whole idea of food being anthropomorphic is not too dissimilar from Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ for example but how this film stands out is its appeal to an adult audience by adding in adult themes.

‘Sausage Party’ has always had an excellent premise and the trailers have indicated that this has the potential to be a very, very funny and wild affair.  The actual film itself is very different to the one that was marketed. It’s still absurdly funny in places but surprisingly poses some intelligent, philosophical ideas and has some emotional heft. However it’s a wildly uneven film that doesn’t feel like it’s quite gelled together (its pacing is all over the place) and it is rather silly in places, as one would expect. It cannot be stressed enough that this is not a film that children could watch at all – this is adults only and it’s cemented itself right at the upper limit of what constitutes a 15 rating. Seriously do not take your kids for this one!

The film has multiple standout scenes that are wildly funny especially in the film’s final act that this film will definitely be remembered for – I don’t want to give too many spoilers but they do leave out some very funny scenes out of the trailers. It’s also rather intelligent – Rogen’s characterisations of different characters in food form is both very clever but also hilarious and there are many questions posed regarding religion and philosophical ideas that mean the film isn’t just a straight-up comedy and actually has something to say. However, Rogen’s answers to these questions are rather controversial and this film will alienate and offend certain audiences.

But it’s the pacing that ultimately mars the film – it’s just all over the place until it manages to click in the pace for the final third. The first two thirds though are all over the place and the film ranges from being extremely funny to rather long conversations on life and religion. Now whilst these aspects are separately suitable, the film is very haphazardly edited together and whilst you would expect the fact that the film is only 89 minutes, a relatively short run time where you would expect the film is fairly short, sharp and to the point, the film can surprisingly be a bit of a slog in places. This shouldn’t be the case and this is down to the fact that the film just sometimes does not come together.

Aside from all the film’s controversy and pacing issues, the voice cast here are absolutely stunning with the standouts being Seth Rogen, Bill Hader and Edward Norton with Hader being the standout of them all. Hader voices multiple characters in the film and I didn’t recognise him until seeing his name in the credits which is testament to his voice work – he is so talented and not just in this film, he has lent his voice to many different characters in different films over the past couple of years and this film continues this trend. Rogen and Norton are also great here, as expected and this is a totally different character for Norton than what he has played before, here playing a Jewish Woody Allen-esque bagel. Although the film doesn’t have that much character development, the characters do bear some emotional connection with the audience and it is heartbreaking to see how the characters are treated once they leave the store and borrows many codes and conventions from Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ for example which the film riffs.

The music in this film by Alan Menken and Christopher Lennertz is also rather fitting and the musical number that the food start their day singing across the store is well-scripted and orchestrated and has laughs-galore.

‘Sausage Party’ isn’t exactly the film that was promised in the film’s marketing as it is very intelligent in places and poses some interesting ideas and questions surrounding the themes of religion and life for example but the film suffers in its pacing. It’s disjointed and narratively a little jumbled but luckily a strong ending manage to save the film and pick it up on its feet. This film is perhaps most important in proving that there is an audience for an adult animated film and whilst perhaps the film may not be remembered as well for what it is, it has opened new possibilities in cinema which is very exciting. Still, ‘Sausage Party’ is an interesting film and surprises with its intelligence but it’s just not funny enough and haphazardly paced.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Suicide Squad (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, David Harbour
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)

‘Suicide Squad’ is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and is the third film in the DCEU. Although the comic book genre continues to become more convoluted, ‘Suicide Squad’ looks to breathe new life as this time, the film is from the villain’s perspective. In the director’s chair is David Ayer, who is a perfectly suitable director and has done some very good work in the past, particularly with 2014’s ‘Fury’ and the film has comprised a brilliant cast featuring Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn to name a few, but most interestingly, Jared Leto as the Joker who is under a lot of pressure following Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win for his performance in Christopher Nolan’s, ‘The Dark Knight’.  After ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ received rather negative reviews earlier on this year (I quite liked it), ‘Suicide Squad’ underwent reshoots to try to add more humour to the film due to the very serious tone that ‘Batman v Superman’ had. This is not the first time and most certainly not the last time a film undergoes a reshoot process and just by having reshoots, it doesn’t automatically mean that the film is doomed.  In good cases, we have ‘World War Z’ for example which reshot its entire ending but reshoots can also notoriously go horrifically wrong as was the case with 2015’s ‘Fantastic Four’. However despite being one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and after all the promises made by DC to the fans that ‘Suicide Squad’ would right the wrongs that ‘Batman v Superman’ has caused, the film opened to negative reviews, again, with many citing the reshoots ruining the film and the film that David Ayer originally set out to make had drastically changed.

‘Suicide Squad’ is unfortunately, a disappointment compared to the promise of the trailers that have preceded the film for the past year and half. It is quite noticeable that this film has been tampered with by the studio – the film often feels like a music video in its editing and the whole film feels incredibly disjointed and its humour feels very forced at times. The story is virtually non-existent – it is paper thin and the characters are solely put first. Now whilst this all may seem very negative, there are large portions of the film that David Ayer seems to have made that are left in the film and there are some outstanding sequences buried in this middling adaptation and Ayer does well in developing the characters enough for audiences to care about them and warrant a sequel. The cast assembled here have clearly put in a lot of effort into their roles and the performances clearly pay off. However, ‘Suicide Squad’ is ultimately nowhere near good enough as it should have been and is further evidence of a director’s vision being compromised by the studio.

The story is one of the main reasons why the film cannot hold up – there is absolutely no narrative here and instead Ayer chooses to focus on the characters. After setting up these characters, they literally spend the second hour walking through the streets and fighting enemies and it dawned on me half-way through that virtually nothing of importance was happening. What also aggressively holds the film down is the choice of villain, which I won’t spoil, but surely when a big-budget film is being made by a big corporate company it must have clicked that this wasn’t the right choice. The famous saying states that a film is only as good as its villain and whilst in this case, due to the strong characters it is better than that, the film’s villain severely lets the film down.

The film’s tone also has a lot of problems due to the studio’s tampering with the film. There are many sequences where you can tell that this is what Ayer originally shot and these sequences are generally outstanding with his signature gritty, violent and character-driven scenes. If you watch the trailers in the order that they were released, it’s very noticeable that there is a clear shift between the first trailer which promises an adaptation of these characters in a David Ayer film and the subsequent trailers that promise a more humorous, pop song-driven film bearing similarities to Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, a similarly oddball film within their brand. What is in the finished product is an awkward mix between the two and whilst at times, it works, ultimately the film that David Ayer made is the film that should have been released into cinemas and would probably have been a film still with narrative issues, but a film that would have been better received.

What anchors the film and allows it to ultimately be worthwhile is the cast, who most seem to have really delved into their characters and have created interesting and engaging interpretations of these beloved characters. Will Smith is excellent here and although his characters is never as bad as he should be (he makes a good-hearted villain a lot of the time),  he is good fun and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. Margot Robbie also stands out and really makes the character of Harley Quinn her own, as does Viola Davis who makes an icy and calculative Amanda Waller. Surprisingly normally poison for a film, Jai Courtney is actually really good here as Captain Boomerang and Ike Barinholtz also gives a career best performance and interacts with the cast very well. Although Jared Leto’s Joker has been scrutinised for not having enough screen time, where he is in the film is excellent but this is a very different interpretation of the Joker than what has been on-screen before and his performance has received mixed reviews. Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje are unfortunately underused but what is here is promising from them and hopefully their characters will be developed in a sequel. Of the cast who don’t gel, Joel Kinnaman’s performance is sometimes great but sometimes he feels out of place in the film and his character never really gels but it’s Cara Delevingne who surprise, surprise, gives a dreadful performance – please everyone stop giving her roles in film, she cannot act!

The music plays a big part in this film and unfortunately, the constant use of predictable, cliched pop songs used in the film aggressively detract from the film and do not compliment the film well – it’s a major problem and one that I hope will be addressed in a sequel. This was such a big issue in the film and this is displayed by the fact that by the first ten minutes are up, the film has already been through five songs. Conversely, the score by Steven Price is wonderful and is exactly why he was always a good choice for this film. The cinematography by David Ayer-regular, Roman Vasyanov is great and there are some creative shots in this film that are stunning.

It’s a real shame that ‘Suicide Squad’ isn’t exactly the pick-me-up that the DCEU needed after the mixed reviews of ‘Man of Steel’ and the negative reviews for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. However, the important lesson to be learned here is when a film is tampered with to this extent by a studio, you know you’re in trouble and this isn’t the first time that this has happened. Look at last year’s ‘Fantastic Four’ for example – a film that similarly got reshot and re-edited by the studio however the key difference is how the director’s have reacted to this – Josh Trank famously trashed his own film but David Ayer seems to be supporting the studio which I would suspect would be because he wants to return for a sequel and also wouldn’t want to harm his career. However, an individual that has been vocal about this film is Jared Leto, who has warned viewers that there is a lot of footage missing (which you can tell from the trailers) and that he was duped into taking the role. I just hope that this hasn’t cost him this role in future DCEU films as he is excellent here and he has the potential to continue this excellence perhaps in a solo Batman outing. Although ‘Suicide Squad’ has a number of problems in its paper-thin plot, villain, muddled tone and its incorporation of pop music, the performances and character development mean that this film is ultimately worthwhile and there are some outstanding sequences in it, but the film is never as good as it should have been and I hope this is the last time a studio try and compromise a director’s vision – sadly with the way the film industry is, I suspect there will be many more films that will suffer this same problem.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Finding Dory (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: (voices of) Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Certificate: U
Run Time: 103 mins

‘Finding Dory’ is the long-awaited sequel to 2003’s masterpiece that was ‘Finding Nemo’ that resonated with critics and audiences alike and is generally ranked as one of Pixar’s best films. Pixar have been under fire for concentrating on sequels and not focusing on original films as much, which is displayed by their track record for sequels. Other than the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy, Pixar sequels haven’t been as strong critically compared to their original films, but due to brand recognition have earned a lot of money at the box office. Now I personally liked ‘Cars 2’ and ‘Monsters University’ very much and didn’t find there to be a dip in quality, instead finding them both to be charming films but I can understand the argument and why people might be a little trepidatious. Returning to direct this film is Andrew Stanton who had hoped to break free of the animation genre but was responsible for the box-office bomb that was ‘John Carter’ so he is back to doing what he does best. Most of the original voice cast return but this time, Dory, voiced once again by Ellen DeGeneres, takes centre stage and this film is about her trying to reunite with her parents in conjunction with Marlin and Nemo. It’s taken 13 years for this film to come to fruition so here’s hoping it was all worth it.

‘Finding Dory’ is  an endlessly entertaining sequel that is peppered with clever humour and it’s also a rather poignant film that explores some very thought-provoking themes. It’s not quite as good as ‘Finding Nemo’, but it doesn’t simply retread the same narrative again instead choosing to tackle some different themes. The animation, in true Pixar fashion, is stunning and the film manages to successfully introduce and develop new characters that I am sure audiences will come to love.

In pure Pixar fashion, ‘Finding Dory’ tests the emotions very early on in the film and the first 5 minutes of the film which details Dory’s childhood is beautifully realised and captivating – I was almost on the verge of shedding tears. It tackles the themes of family and disability head-on and it is wonderful to see Dory’s character develop as she grows in confidence so that she can live and interact with others despite suffering with short-term memory loss. There are many other outstanding sequences throughout the film and the rest of the story takes place in the Marine Life Institute where Dory meets like-minded individuals who also have their own difficulties, a short-sighted whale shark named Destiny and a beluga whale named Bailey who following a concussion has temporarily lost the ability to echolocate. Originally, the film was to be set in a Sea World-like location but after Pixar executives watched a documentary called ‘Blackfish’ which details the dangers of keeping orca whales in captivity, they decided to revise the ending which is why the film got delayed and last year’s, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ took this film’s slot so that the film could be reworked. This would have been a controversial choice should they have wished to have proceeded with the original story and whilst that could have been more emotional, Pixar have opted for the crowd-pleaser option so not to stir any controversy.

The characters, both old and new that ‘Finding Dory’ involves are wonderfully realised and developed and by the end of the film, these characters are and will most definitely amongst audiences, be associated with this material. The standout is Hank, an octopus who has lost a tentacle (who Dory refers to as a ‘septopus’) who Dory encounters in Quarantine early on in the film and he is voiced by Ed O’Neill who is endlessly charismatic and lovable and he steals the show. The combination of Idris Elba and Dominic West as two sea lions, Fluke and Rudder, are also given some great lines in the script and are easy to connect to. Elba has starred in 3 of the Top 5 highest grossing films of the year so far by Disney – this, ‘Zootopia’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ and is loosely connected to ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as he plays Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so perhaps he is a good luck charm for Disney? Regardless in the three films that he has been, he’s stolen the show in all of them which is testament to his ability to excel in voice roles. Of the old characters, Ellen DeGeneres, of course excels again this time in the titular role and Albert Brooks is also very strong as Marlin – it’s a shame he doesn’t act more often.

Thomas Newman’s score also manages to distinguish itself from ‘Finding Nemo’ which he also scored and here the score is much more subdued and it is one of the best works he has done recently.

Overall, ‘Finding Dory’ is an absolute delight from its start to finish and is another winner from Pixar. It’s refreshing to see a sequel that doesn’t rehash its predecessor and ‘Finding Dory’ manages to be a film that stands up in its own right. The character development is fantastic here and the film is suitably full of heart like the majority of Pixar’s films are. Hopefully, director Andrew Stanton will continue to find success in this genre as 3 out of his 4 films have been for Pixar and they’ve all been strong (Wall-E less so) but if he does try and have another crack at a live-action film, I would be happy to watch it as he still is able to handle characters and script very well – it’s just a shame that ‘John Carter’ turned out the way it did. But otherwise, ‘Finding Dory’ is another win for Pixar and Disney and is another exemplary animation film in a genre that keeps on going from strength to strength.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The short film that precedes ‘Finding Dory’, ‘Piper’ is also wonderful and it is some of the most realistic animation that I have ever seen and the attention to detail is sublime. It is a little thin on story compared to some other shorts that Pixar have done, but it’s still very impressive.

The BFG (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 117 mins

After doing well at the box office and landing six Academy Award nominations (of which it ultimately won one) with ‘Bridge of Spies’, Steven Spielberg returns in the director’s chair with an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel, ‘The BFG’. This is not the first time that Dahl’s novel has been translated onto the big screen – in 1989, Cosgrove Hall Animations (their only film) produced an animated version of this book which managed to capture the energy of the book and was delightful.  Spielberg has enlisted the help of Mark Rylance to play the titular character, who won an Oscar for his brilliant performance in last year’s ‘Bridge of Spies’ and this is the second of what appears to be many collaborations between the two talented individuals. This is also the final script to be written by Melissa Mathison, who most famously penned Spielberg’s ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’, who died late last year from cancer. This novel also has a particularly special place in my childhood as it was one of my favourite books that Roald Dahl wrote. So Spielberg has a lot of pressure here but if done right, this rendition of ‘The BFG’ could not only improve on the animated film but with live-action and the scope for some fantastic visual effects, audiences could be in for a treat.

‘The BFG’ is at times, utterly spellbinding and there are many outstanding sequences within the film that are truly spectacular to behold. It is also visually stunning and there are many visual moments in the film which had me in awe. Mark Rylance is also a perfect match as the titular character and is very faithful to Roald Dahl’s description. However, a highly problematic middle section of the film almost ruins this affair as does an equally problematic script by Melissa Mathieson which both unfortunately really knock the film down. That’s not to say the film is a failure but I am a little disappointed that the film is not a triumph as it should have been on paper.

The casting here is rather hit-and-miss. On the one hand, Mark Rylance’s performance as the titular character is, as mentioned, perfect and both Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader are very entertaining as the antagonistic giants, Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays the main protagonist, a young orphan named Sophie and although she is generally sound, Barnhill does struggle a little where the film warrants a little more emotion. It’s always good to see Penelope Wilton in a film and here as the Queen, she provides a lot of comic relief in her small role. However, Rebecca Hall, a normally very talented actress who has had some great roles in the past is completely miscast here as the Queen’s maid – Hall comes across as awkward and devoid of any emotion in her role.

Although the film is very true to Roald Dahl’s novel in many places, the story does change a little towards the end of the film which is rather disappointing as it’s not needed. The late Melissa Mathison’s script proves to be a detrimental issue for the overall film and I suspect that the finished product from what Spielberg has directed here is merely a draft. The script is really poor in parts, in particular in the middle act of the film with an overlong dream sequence that should have been stunning but is instead almost completely botched. Mathison is very faithful to Dahl’s dialogue but a lot of the script feels forced and disjointed and the film really suffers for it. There is also a lot of attempts at forced humour which completely backfires and at times, the film is aggressively unfunny. It would have been extremely beneficial if Spielberg had arranged a rewrite or editing of the script to iron out these problems but unfortunately this has not happened, almost certainly due to Spielberg’s faith in the late writer.

The visual effects are where the film really wow’s and the lands that have been created are simply stunning, especially inside The BFG’s cave. The attention to detail is outstanding not just in the world-building but with the giants. The appearance of Mark Rylance’s BFG is very faithful to Dahl’s novel as are the other giants – there is a sequence mid-way through the film where the other giants bully the BFG by throwing him around on a truck and visually, it’s a treat to behold. John William’s score is excellent here too – there are many memorable themes, in particular when The BFG whisks Sophie from the orphanage into Giant Country is a stunning sequence in terms of William’s score.

Overall, ‘The BFG’ has plenty of promise and there are many sequences that are utterly spellbinding in their execution and Mark Rylance owns the role as the titular character. However, Mathison’s highly problematic script and the film’s middle section, which is a real slog, really do weigh the film down which hinder the quality of the overall film. Spielberg’s vision improves on the 1989 animated film visually and there are some individual sequences that really work but in my opinion, the 1989 animated film is ultimately the better film as it is able to better encapsulate the magic of Roald Dahl’s flawless novel and is much better paced. But if you want to be wowed with top-class visual effects and a strong first and third act, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is a good one.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Legend Of Tarzan (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz, Jim Broadbent, Casper Crump, Simon Russell Beale
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 110 mins

‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is the latest effort to bring Edgar Rice Burrough’s iconic character to the big screen and this is director David Yates’ first theatrical film outside of the Harry Potter franchise of which he was responsible for the final four films. Tarzan has always been a problematic character to translate into film – recent attempts include Kellan Lutz’s 2013 motion capture performance and Casper Van Dien’s 1998 effort of which both recived very bad reviews. Yates is a fine choice for a director for this material – the Harry Potter films that he directed were atmospheric, heartfelt and had some terrific action sequences. The cast assembled here is also stellar comprising of Alexander Skarsgård as the titular character with Margot Robbie as Jane and rounded off by Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou and Christoph Waltz, the latter playing the villain. With a cast this good and a great team behind the camera, this has got to be a surefire hit, right?

‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is endlessly entertaining and frequently atmospheric, almost poetic in its assured direction by David Yates at times and the film’s strong cast allow this film to thrive. The film is very well-paced and the action sequences are exhilarating at times. Unfortunately, the film has not been received well by the critics as the film boasts a disappointing 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far, many citing it as an empty, hollow film which I can understand as this film is not without its flaws. Alexander Skarsgård does lack charisma as the titular character but excels in the action sequences but luckily this isn’t too much of a problem and the visual effects are a little ‘ropey’ at times. But these issues do not harm, what is generally a pretty good film, too much as its direction and entertaining storyline more than make up for it.

What allows ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ to be so entertaining is its talented cast who are able to transform what would otherwise be rather two-dimensional characters into characters that we care about and empathise with. Samuel L. Jackson, already having a fantastic year so far, is the standout yet again. He plays the historic George Washington Williams who persuades and accompanies Tarzan on his quest and he is given much of the comic relief in the script. Margot Robbie is also strong as Tarzan’s love interest, Jane, and she doesn’t resort to being a damsel-in-distress which is refreshing for a film in this genre. The main antagonist, Léon Rohm, played by Christoph Waltz is menacing and is a real threat to the protagonists. Although Waltz has his detractors who complain that he plays the same character over and over again, he does, but it does suit the material so I have no issue with this. Djimon Hounsou also is a worthy foe who is equally menacing and the film also has more of an extended cameo by veteran stage actor, Simon Russell Beale who also delivers a quality performance. As mentioned, Alexander Skarsgård is the weak link as the titular character as he does lack charisma and personality but it’s not too big of a problem as he isn’t given too many lines and he is great in the action sequences.

The film’s story doesn’t just recycle the traditional Tarzan story – this film is part prequel / origin story / sequel in terms of storyline to other films and this is a refreshing change for the material and allows Yates to a chance to breathe new life into the material. Yates is a great match for this material and there are numerous sequences that are near-perfect which he is able to conjure a very atmospheric tone and the film allows the audience to take a breath and take in this wonderful world that he has created. Rupert Gregson-William’s score is very fitting and there are some outstanding musical cues in the film, particular in the film’s opening.

However, the film is not without its flaws. The visual effects are rather lacking in places, surprisingly so considering the film had a $180 million budget and all of the Harry Potter films that Yates directed were visually stunning. In line with the critics, the film does feel empty and hollow at times as the film cannot quite rid itself of cliches at times and Skarsgård’s portrayal of Tarzan is rather wooden which doesn’t help when the main actor cannot match the rest of the cast. But the mixed reviews are very unfair as Yates has done an admirable job with the material and his strong direction allows the film to be very atmospheric at times.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ as I had initially been worried with the mixed reviews, but I found this film to be very entertaining with some strong action sequences complimented by assured direction by David Yates. It’s alarming how little faith Warner Brothers have in their product – they haven’t particularly pushed the film in its marketing and have kept rather quiet once the mixed reviews came in. If they had pushed the film more, we could even be getting a sequel as the film has performed well at the box office so far thanks to audiences and as the film is generally good quality, it’s a shame that it cannot be allowed to achieve its full potential.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Secret Life Of Pets (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney
Starring: (voices of) Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Steve Coogan, Albert Brooks
Certificate: U
Run Time: 90 mins

‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is the latest offering by Illumination Entertainment, most famous for the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise with the rest of their films (‘Hop’ and ‘The Lorax’) receiving middling reviews. This film sets to buck that trend and further establish a foothold in the animation industry for this production company. As the title suggests, this film is an imagining of what pets get up to when their owners leave them alone and this story draws many obvious parallels with Disney Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ only substituting toys for pets and these comparisons are going to be hard to shake off in the film’s reception. With such strong competition in the animation sector this year in the form of ‘Anomalisa’, ‘Zootropolis’ and ‘Finding Dory’, is there a place for ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ in a crowded year for it to shine?

‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is harmless fun that will appeal to both children and adults – it is almost always entertertaining and quite funny in places even if its pacing is uneven and the narrative plays it a little too safe and doesn’t particularly have any emotional arcs. It boasts a strong voice cast and the characters are well-developed with the standout being Kevin Hart’s villainous rabbit.Even though it is second-rate compared to Disney / Pixar’s standards and it’s not going to win any awards, this is simple, harmless entertainment – nothing more, nothing less.

What makes this film tick is undoubtedly the chemistry between the well-developed characters voiced by a strong cast. Louis C.K. as Max, a Jack Russell terrier who is the main protagonist is very charismatic and easily relatable and as an audience, we really feel his shock when he is forced to turn around his life to share his home with a new pet, Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Both actors have a wonderful chemistry together and although the narrative has its problems and of course, they undoubtedly befriend each other, their relationship still comes across as very natural and not coerced at all. Kevin Hart’s villain, a white rabbit is the standout here and although I have my reservations about Hart as an actor, here he is just downright excellent. I would be willing to even watch a spin-off if one were to be made that focussed on his character – he is that good! Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks also do a good job here in their small roles but are underused and the rest of the cast are solid, but not particularly memorable.

The story does play it a little safe here and it is rather conventional but the film still manages to be very entertaining. The ways in which these pets spend their days is very creative and the film is always well-intentioned. What the film lacks and why it cannot reach the lofty standards set by Disney and Pixar is it lacks a moral – there isn’t really any inspiration one can take from this film and implement this in real life. It lacks an emotional arc as well which all the best animation films have, the nearest being a sequence explaining the back story of Duke but this is glossed over too quickly for it to make a meaningful impact.

Visually, the animation is very convincing here in particular how New York has been imagined – it feels very life-like and there is a great attention to detail. Alexandre Desplat’s score is quite brash and choppy in places but there are some good sequences here where the score compliments the film very well – not one of his best scores but serviceable.

‘The Secret Life of Pets’ might not be one of the greatest animated films to grace our screens but it is a welcome retreat and despite its flaws, it is a well-intentioned film that is always entertaining. The characters are by far its biggest strength and they are all generally well-developed and this is complimented by the strong voice cast, most notably Kevin Hart’s evil rabbit steals the show. I suppose Illumination have achieved what they set out to do – start off another franchise which this does admirably well – no doubt we’ll be getting sequels to this and with a better story next time, I wouldn’t hesitate to watch these characters again.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Now You See Me 2 (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Henry Lloyd Hughes, David Warshofsky, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 129 mins

‘Now You See Me’ was a surprise hit in 2013 and ended up being very profitable grossing just over $350 million worldwide on a $75 million budget. Although reviews were decidedly mixed, audiences generally seemed to like it so enough for this film to warrant a sequel. I had some with the first film – it’s a light-hearted, silly but entertaining caper however it’s very haphazardly directed and isn’t particularly intelligent. ‘Now You See Me 2’ sees the original cast return with the exception of Melanie Laurent and Isla Fisher, the latter due to pregnancy and she is now replaced by a new female character played by Lizzy Caplan. Now alarm bells should have started ringing  at Lionsgate / Summit in terms of the crew – when you think of a good director to carry on a franchise that wasn’t particularly great to start with who could possibly improve on the first film and fix its problems, how on earth does Jon M. Chu come into the mix?! Chu is behind films such as ‘GI Joe: Retaliation’ and ‘Jem and the Holograms’ – both very negatively received and he is also behind a lot of the ‘Step Up’ films which perhaps could be the reason why he was employed based on the strength of their choreography but it is still a baffling choice.

‘Now You See Me 2’ has exactly the same problems as the first film but even more so –  its plot is preposterous and the film finds itself in a constant muddle as it overcomplicates itself. There are zero stakes for the protagonists as the viewer knows that everything will work out well for them in the end. Chu’s direction is as expected very sloppy and Peter Deming’s camera work is too choppy and grainy. The toothless action sequences are particularly badly handled and it’s very hard to make any sense of what is being portrayed on-screen. However this is not all to say that ‘Now You See Me 2’ is a ‘bad’ film – although completely unmemorable, there are a couple of sequences that are interesting and allow the film to temporarily come together and there are a couple of good performances from its cast.

The biggest problem with the film is undoubtedly its incomprehensible story that is so concerned with outdoing the first film’s story that the film falls head over heels and defies belief. This is particularly true with the film’s climax which is extremely stupid and uninspired – you’ll know it when you see it. For all the first film’s flaws, there was still a degree of ‘magic’ involved even though it turned into more of a Louis Leterrier action movie as it went along but here, any magic that the first film managed to conjure is totally bereft here. Unfortunately this is the result when studio executives get greedy and try to replicate the success of the first film.

In terms of the cast, the film bears a strong cast just as the first one did and this time, the Horseman are pitted against Walter Mabry, portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, who is the technology tycoon / illegitimate son of Arthur Tressler who Michael Caine plays. Radcliffe gives it his all and doesn’t do a bad job at all in a villain role. Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson return as the Horseman and all are great again although without going into spoiler territory, Harrelson’s character is badly meddled with in the storytelling department – you’ll know it when you see it. Lizzy Caplan unfortunately isn’t as talented an actress as Isla Fisher is and although there are some interesting feminist undertones the film attempts to develop, Caplan’s character resorts to a shouty and annoying one. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo, three exceptionally talented actors are always endlessly watchable but a real surprise in this film is Henry Lloyd-Hughes who has more of a cameo here does a great job with the material that he has been given.

Unfortunately, ‘Now You See Me 2’ is a film this Summer that is one to skip as it has exactly the same problems as is the original only even more so. These films are also part of a small genre where they are dwarfed by greats such as Christopher Nolan’s, ‘The Prestige’ and Neil Burger’s, ‘The Illusionist’ – two very interesting films, Nolan’s being a masterpiece that are much more subtle and more intelligent in their execution. How these films attempt to make their own mark is by being more of an action-caper film but both films, the sequel more so are both lazily handled and the creative talent behind the camera for both films leaves more to be desired. But ultimately, ‘Now You See Me 2’ is a very lazy film that has a preposterous storyline that although at the time may seem entertaining in parts is completely forgettable and it is time for this series to be left alone. Let’s face it, it was never very good in the first place.

⭐⭐ (Poor)