PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man

It started as a whisper. A growing chorus of violins with bows scuttling across strings, met swiftly by a rising percussive patter. A sound more evocative of a spider on its web composer Danny Elfman could have hardly produced, and Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy owes much of its swinging and soaring personality to his musical accompaniment. Before 2002, Raimi was a director renowned by audiences of horror and thriller cinema, but entirely untested in summer blockbusters. For superhero cinema, it was a time where ‘angst’ was studio gospel, with everything from The Shadow (1994) and Steel (1997) to Spawn (1997) and Blade (1998) trying (and failing) to usurp the throne of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Needless to say, things needed a shake-up, and suddenly Raimi’s childhood-borne passion for Marvel Comics’ figurehead web-slinger almost single-handedly propelled him into the driver’s seat of one of the most anticipated superhero cinematic debuts in history. $140m budget. $822m at the box office. a trilogy quickly set in stone. People talk about how much of a gamble Iron Man (2008) was with its then-notorious star, a similarly untested director and a second-tier superhero. They forget that trailblazing has been Spider-Man’s territory for far longer.

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High school outcast Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) knows only three things: science, Flash Thompson’s bullying, and his unrequited love for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). When he is bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter finds himself imbued with phenomenal abilities, but his initial efforts to profit off them results in tragic loss, and the hard-learned lesson that with great power comes great responsibility. Becoming the superhero ‘Spider-Man’, Peter vows to protect the people of New York from harm, a crusade which the ruthless and powerful Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) quickly puts to the test.

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It’s easy to forget amidst all the memorable cartoonish-ness of the Raimi films – awestruck citizens, every second of J.K. Simmons, a climax featuring New Yorkers helping ol’ webhead by throwing things at Goblin – that in many ways Spider-Man qualifies as fundamentally angst-ridden. Heartache, tragedy, impossible decisions, the weight of the world suddenly bearing down on Peter’s shoulders, it would have been very easy for this film to have slipped into a maelstrom of moping and mourning. What sets the film apart from its contemporaries is how although it honours a due amount of introspection, it never forgets Spidey’s all-important sense of fun. Peter Parker may be a troubled teen, but once the mask is on he’s a high-flying, wall-crawling wonder.

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Like all truly great origin stories, the film excels in capturing not only his transition from one to the other, but in how he finds himself having to actively balance both identities. Take his first webswing: his Uncle Ben freshly murdered by a common criminal, Peter is emboldened through donning his mask to give chase to the killer, but jumping off a rooftop web-in-hand is still a moment where the film allows a pause for Peter to fully realize his literal leap of faith. When Spider-Man saves Mary Jane from a gang of thugs – prompting the now-iconic upside-down kiss – his face isn’t just half-covered for practical reasons. He is truly equal-parts Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and it’s by sticking to this fine balance that the film demonstrates its deep understanding for the material. It’s also the exact reason for how Spider-Man breaks the ‘angst-y’ obsession of its day, fostering a union between euphoria and intensity.

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Spider-Man’s neighbourhood in the Marvel Universe has always been especially rich material thanks to its pantheon of characters, and this film pays a fitting tribute to this quality through its cast. Dunst, though in action largely just a damsel, is nonetheless a distinctive presence, as is James Franco’s beleaguered best friend to Peter; Harry Osborn. Rosemary Harris makes for a relentlessly endearing Aunt May, even if she is saddled with much of the film’s philosophical exposition, and what time Peter has with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) nevertheless boasts a strong chemistry amounting to a tangible sense of loss.

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But like all great superhero features, ultimately the film is a tug-of-war between Maguire and Dafoe. Dafoe’s Goblin may be as over the top as his glider-riding wardrobe, but every second of him is a treat, and Raimi’s horror background shines through especially in the film’s antagonist-centric moments. And whilst Maguire may have since gone down in comic-book movie history as ‘the crying Spidey’, he’s simply conveying the earnestness of Raimi’s interpretation of this mythos. There’s no mistaking his inner turmoil, nor the extent to which his physical mask provides an emotional one. Peter Parker is just a good kid thrust into an unpredictable life, and Maguire brings it all home.

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By today’s standards, Spider-Man may not be an especially innovative entry into the genre beyond its special effects, but there’s more than enough packed into its runtime to make for a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive experience fifteen years later. ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, and the film makes sure its audience understands this to the letter.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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Baby Driver

Having lost his parents in a childhood car crash, which also left him with permanent tinnitus, ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort) uses a host of self-compiled music playlists as a coping mechanism, which simultaneously amplifies his focus and reflexes at the wheel. Strong-armed by kingpin criminal ‘Doc’ (Kevin Spacey) into his crew, Baby proves himself an unbeatable getaway driver, but every heist makes escaping his work only harder. With the arrival into his life of diner waitress Debora (Lily James) however, Baby resolves to navigate the most dangerous road of his life: the road to a happily-ever-after.

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Director Edgar Wright is a name that deserves instant recognition far beyond the confines of the regular film-going community, or at least UK general audiences. He’s delivered one of the most consistently high-quality film trilogies in recent history, the triptych that is Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End (long live the comradery of Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). His madcap foray into comic-book filmmaking with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, whilst not a box office behemoth, was a critical hit and the curator of a cult following all its own. Chances are, if you didn’t know his name, you’ll have seen his stuff, and once you’ve seen his stuff you’ll understand one thing above all: Edgar Wright is a director made for car chase films. Everything from his sense of rhythm and unique visual style to his offbeat humour and penchant for ensembles of crazy characters is just begging for four wheels (a case can be made for even just two), the smell of burning rubber and the sound of a stereo blasting at full volume. Baby Driver may mark his first real swerve into this genre, but after more than twenty years of grooming his vision for it, Wright proves himself to be an instantly seasoned pro at the wheel.

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Baby Driver is a joyride in every sense of the word. From chases that are tantamount to duels-on-wheels, to shootouts dancing to the beat of the film’s relentlessly punchy soundtrack, to Baby’s romance with Debora that’s knowingly, lovingly and refreshingly evocative of a James Dean classic. The definition of controlled chaos, careening from action to action, flowing from rock anthem to jazz beat like a vintage record album, and a near-constant delight to the senses. It’s colourful. It’s dynamic. It’s a thrill-ride that keeps picking up speed to a third-act that is Wright doing what he does best: unleashing all-out mayhem in all its glory, and sidestepping expectations to create a relentless guessing game of action and suspense. Does it all make complete sense? Not perfectly, no. Are there maybe one or two little convenient plot contrivances? Sure. There’s even a couple of times where characters’ personalities do a bit of a U-turn accordingly. It lacks focus, certainly, mostly out of trying to be perhaps too many things simultaneously (as again is Wright’s thing). A lyric-less La La Land on wheels. An old-school Guy Ritchie-esque crime caper. But is it fun, though? It’s 0 – 60mph in 3 seconds, aviator-sporting, ‘eat my dust’, summer of ‘69 roadtrip playlist fun.

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Elgort’s performance is effortlessly charismatic as Baby, and how quickly James’ sweet-hearted Debora falls for him feels even more natural because of it. ‘Not a motormouth, are ya?’, she teases early in their courtship, but his mouth is pretty much the only thing about Baby that isn’t brimming with palpable horsepower. Like the best set of wheels, the real volume comes from the body, and despite a cast that includes the likes of Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, Elgort’s is the supremely magnetic performance. This isn’t to say that Wright hasn’t done a fine custom-job with his supporting cast by any means. Spacey is in comfortable territory as the criminal mastermind, injecting his now-signature Frank Underwood demeanour with a minor dose of paternal indulgence. Foxx owns his wildcard status as ‘Bats’, ironically oftentimes rivalling Elgort’s screen presence just like Bats’ adversarial dynamic with Baby, and Hamm’s turn as the gang’s part-playboy, part-killing machine ‘Buddy’ is yet another reminder of the Batman that might have been. But despite these venerable veterans, the film belongs to Elgort and James, the latter of whom continues to shine in every scene of her every role. Like Elgort, she may be somewhat thinly written dialogue-wise here, and the story has little for her to do beyond the classic ‘city girl waiting on the phone and wanting an escape’, but that doesn’t stop James from filling her with personality and charm to match her James Dean-esque heartthrob.

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With a soundtrack that could make Guardians of the Galaxy feel like a karaoke party, Wright’s genre-mashing M/O and a host of standout performances, Baby Driver is a solid graduation ceremony that marks its director stepping out of his niche background into centrepiece Hollywood filmmaking, all without sacrificing his truly unique style and visual flair.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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Transformers: The Last Knight

They came for the All-Spark. They came for the Sun Harvester. They launched an invasion from the moon. They fought for The Seed. Time and time again the Transformers have come to Earth, their history secretly intertwined with that of humanity. But the relentlessness of their visits hides a deeper secret, one that now draws the wrath of the alien sorceress Quintessa – a creator of the Transformers – and the Autobot warrior enslaved to her will: Optimus Prime. Fugitive inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Oxford professor Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) and eccentric historian Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) must solve the Arthurian mystery of Earth’s importance, if they hope to save it.

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You know what’s both hilarious and depressing at the same time? Even Rotten Tomatoes, the Internet’s film review aggregator, has thrown its hands up in resignation at this one. “The Last Knight is pretty much what you’d expect from the fifth instalment of the Transformers franchise”. Because honestly, that’s it. That’s the latest edition of Michael Bay’s bot-battling, bolt-bashing, flatulently-explosive, bullet-haemorrhaging sci-fi disaster porn. That’s two-and-a-half hours and $217 million spent. On the big-screen equivalent of someone jingling keys in front of your face whilst a squad of wind-up monkeys continuously bash their symbols together in a circle around you, and the shipping forecast plays on the radio in the background. And we’re just resigned to it now, clearly. We accept this constitutes ‘fun, dumb cinema’ today. Never mind the fact that once upon a time, ‘fun, dumb cinema’ meant a genuinely good time at the movies and a healthy suspension of disbelief. Never mind however sensationally silly blockbusters got, you still got a real sense of the passion and effort their creators put into them. Jurassic Park. Independence Day. Even Bay’s own Armageddon! They were the real deal. This…this doesn’t even qualify as dumb. This is a lobotomy. This is brain death. An empty husk of a blockbuster practically begging for the franchise to be put out of a now utterly joyless existence.

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Sitting through just ten minutes of The Last Knight proves to be something of a memory test, in that you can’t ever remember exactly how things happening onscreen transpired based on scenes that preceded them, and even when you try to focus you find yourself piecing together visuals, beats and plot devices that are so tenuously linked that it’s like trying to recreate M.C. Escher’s ‘Crazy Stairs’ by just drawing zig-zags. A Suicide Squad-esque unveiling of Megatron’s evil Decepticon crew? He’s Megatron, he leads the entire Decepticon army. Why does he need a crew, and if they’re in human prison then they clearly aren’t the A-Team. An orphan ‘street smart’ girl who just sticks around Mark Wahlberg for the first half hour, then doesn’t, then reappears at the climax to…give a motivational talk to her pet robot? Even an entire storyline about Merlin’s bloodline and a secret society is just a flimsy rehash of The Da Vinci Code. And who in their right mind would look at a Transformers film and think “you know what this need? A little Dan Brown”. And what makes it all worse is how none of these things are done with even the faintest sense of effort and consideration. They just happen. Anything that isn’t an explosion is there to just pad out the runtime. And speaking of padding…

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Mark Wahlberg. Can he act? Does he act? In general, this is a debate in and of itself. Here, it’s a resounding no on both counts. His Cade is a nonentity. A walking, talking commercial for protein bars, tight shirts, and talking smack. Energetically dislikeable, thin-skinned, there simply is no reason why he needs to be in this film at all. Everything important that requires a human face ultimately ties into Haddock’s professor, who unsurprisingly is given little room to showcase her credentials beyond a sharp tongue which the ‘script’ rarely rises to meet. You’ll be scratching your head over how one ‘retort’ to Cade’s quips was supposed to show her as challenging and headstrong when her words are literally “would you rather I take this dress of?” Even the great Sir Anthony Hopkins, the latest in the franchise’s tradition of revered actors paid exorbitant sums to be exposition machines, is reduced to an eleven year-old’s caricature of an old English fellow ‘down with the kidz’, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson) joins him at the bottom of that barrel of cringe as Sir Burton’s sociopathic Transformer butler. Imagine ITV’s Vicious if either Derek Jacobi or Ian Mackellan was a robot. Clearly, the writers did.

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This franchise has never pretended to be anything high-brow, or even somewhat cerebral. Transformers has always been the province of kids and pre-teens, action figure battles royale. The first film did a somewhat decent job of just being that. Simple, stupid, silly spectacle. Every sequel from then to now may have brought the franchise ever-closer to rock bottom, but each one still had at least something that amounted to a highlight. John Turturro. Stanley Tucci. Steve Jablonsky’s score. Dark of the Moon actually getting a little dark. Transformers 5 has all these… and amounts to nothing. It’s a film that doesn’t so much give up the ghost as laugh at you for thinking there was ever a soul to begin with. This isn’t the Transformers of kids and their action figures. This is the Transformers of the Saturday morning commercial break. It just wants to sell. Your entertainment be damned. And the fact that it’s stopped trying to be otherwise deserves a huge loss of whatever respect was still going for it.

Quality: 0/5

Entertainment: 0/5

Final Score: 0/5

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The Mummy

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier-of-fortune (as in, spends more time looting treasure in Iraq than fighting insurgents), until he accidentally uncovers the prison-tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and frees her undead soul. Cursed as her ‘Chosen’, Nick’s only hope of both personal and global salvation lies with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the resources of her enigmatic employer – Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

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Look, there’s an elephant in the room here. In fact, it’s not an elephant in a room at all, but a bull in a china shop. It’s this incessant, ham-fisted agenda that every major film studio is attempting these days to have its own Avengers moment. All of Hollywood wants to replicate that superhero ‘shared universe’ formula, and we can’t exactly blame them. The Avengers was a phenomenal feat in film history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the most successful film franchise of all time. The story so far with other studios, however, is not so rosy. An aborted Spider-Man movie-verse at Sony. Warner Bros has taken four films to finally have a knockout on its hands with a DC universe, whilst at the same time half-heartedly setting up a Godzilla/King Kong crossover. Now, Universal Studios wades into these waters with plans for its own ‘Monsters Cinematic Universe’ (or ‘Dark Universe), drawing upon its back-catalogue of iconic movie monsters (think Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). Isn’t all this focusing too much, however, on a studio’s long-term plans and neglecting the film itself? Absolutely. Now if only someone had told the filmmakers that!

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An awkward mashup of the classic Hammer Horror, the adventurous spirit of the 90s Brendan Fraser blockbusters, AND laying the groundwork for some kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman ensemble film, The Mummy is a mess. Forget the atmosphere and psychological chills that made 1932 a classic. It’s all about the jump-scares now, and the film doesn’t even make much effort to set these up properly half the time, whilst its sense of humour is no less sporadic and hit-and-miss. Ahmanet herself and all her demonic doings amount to little more than an Egyptian-themed retooling of your average Pirates of the Caribbean curse, despite Boutella’s indisputably committed performance that makes you kind of wish she had played Enchantress instead of Cara Delevigne in last year’s Suicide Squad (it wouldn’t have saved it, but it might have sprinkled something a little finer).

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Tom Cruise seems to simply be on an ego trip, an excuse to show him going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters instead of his usual fare of criminals, secret agents and terrorists. Either that, or this entire film is his audition tape for Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted film adaptation (please don’t). Crowe as the infamously dual-sided doctor, whilst himself underwhelming, nevertheless strangely provides for perhaps the film’s more interesting ingredients. So much so that it begs the thought that this ‘Dark Universe’ might actually have the most potential (outside of the superhero market).

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Say what you will of the Fraser films, they were at least proudly silly adventure stories with dashes of horror and a relentless commitment to fun at the cinema. Cruise offers a lacking alternative, fundamentally indecisive about its own nature, which ultimately leaves next-to-no impression at all.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 2.5/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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Wonder Woman

Diana, princess of the Amazons – a race of immortal warrior women created to protect humanity by Zeus himself – has trained her whole life to become the greatest fighter of her people. When US pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on the shores of Themyscira in 1918, the hidden island paradise of the Amazons, she learns of the Great War that has been raging across the world and sets out to bring an end to the fighting the only way she knows how: by destroying the god of war himself, Ares.

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It’s easy to just describe Wonder Woman as a midpoint between Captain America: The First Avenger, for its period setting, and the mythological roots and sprinkled fish-out-of-water humour of Thor. A fair enough description, if all you’re really looking at are the aesthetics. Wonder Woman, taken in its entirety, is perhaps one of the most unique and awe-inspiring films to have ever come out of the comic book genre. Rarely has a film of its kind demonstrated such an unyielding commitment to substantiating the hero’s journey, and such defiantly patient storytelling in a bazaar of relentlessly quick-fire, breakneck-speed blockbusters. This is a film that breaks the spell of cinematic bloodlust and craving for carnage that has beset this genre for so long (not that Wonder Woman is without its exceptional action set-pieces), and brings the focus back down to earth, to a person who just wants to help people however possible. Director Patty Jenkins has hit it out of the park.

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Gal Gadot has now entrenched herself as the definitive Wonder Woman of our time. Her performance is nothing short of sensational, embodying not only every aspect of Diana’s personality but every step of her maturing process to a flawless degree. Diana is woman, and warrior, and both define her just as much as each other without compensation or compromise. Her relationships with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt/mentor General Antiope (Robin Wright) are especially integral in establishing this balance. Arguably more so than most origin stories, Wonder Woman lives or dies on the calibre of its star performer, and so this film truly belongs go Gadot. Chris Pine also is on standout form as the daring and honourable Steve Trevor, charismatic as ever but here imbued with a quiet, war-weary cynicism for his fellow man that clashes with his fundamental faith in humanity. If performance-wise the film belongs to Gadot, then character-wise the film almost belongs to Steve for precisely this conviction that provides the film’s fundamental lesson: that between love and war, there’s trust. (A think-piece by the Nerdist’s Alicia Lutes explores this more fully that’s well worth a read).

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What criticisms can be made of Wonder Woman are largely nit-picky: at times, the film can feel somewhat overly weighted-down, so determined to ‘get it right’ that it perhaps overspends time and energy on what really should be minor considerations, an overlong boat scene meant to establish Diana and Steve’s dynamic when alone for example. Also in that regard, perhaps too often dialogue veers into excessive explaining territory, rather than letting performances and actions speak for themselves (a pitfall of the film’s climax especially). The only shortcoming of the film’s spectacular action sequences (truly unleashing the power of Wonder Woman) is a mild overindulgence of slow-motion that can likely be blamed on Zack Snyder’s input, and a case can be made for somewhat subpar CGI in these instances. The greatest misstep of all? An attempt at sleight-of-hand with Ares’ earthly identity that falls short of a ‘twist’, but still delivers a memorable payoff.

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Context, so often, is everything. What we make of something depends almost always on not just the thing itself alone, but on ourselves at the point in time we experience it. The brightest, funniest, warmest film in the world cannot guarantee that someone watching it on a dark, terrible, cold day will laugh or smile. To say that Wonder Woman arrives with an abundance of context is to say the least. Stuttered, intensely divisive efforts to establish a shared cinematic universe of DC’s most iconic superheroes. An ongoing international wave of feminism, acting as both umbrella and lightning rod for a plethora of social issues, met with both enthusiastic support and evermore combative opposition.

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Should any of this remotely impact the Wonder Woman watching experience, when so many superhero origin films have come and gone in baggage-free luxury? Absolutely not. But like Diana herself discovers upon leaving Themyscira’s waters, the world is not what it should be. Nevertheless, she persists, and the result is a superhero film that earns its place in the league of Richard Donner’s Superman and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. From the moment Diana steps out into No Man’s Land, to a final shot that we can hope will serve as a rallying symbol for cinema of the future, Wonder Woman sheds all considerations of its context, and in doing so becomes timeless.

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Quality: 4.5/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4.5/5

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Dead Men Tell No Tales)

The tide has never turned so against Captain Jack (Johnny Depp). With no ship, a bare bones crew (the ‘a few men short’ kind, not the seabed-marching undead kind), and by his own unwitting actions are the infamous pirate-hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of wraiths released from their unearthly prison. His only hope lies with finding the fabled Trident of Poseidon, the source of ultimate power over the sea, a relic also sought after by not only horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), but the son of Jack’s old pirate comrade Will – Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites).

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Let’s parlay for a moment to get the question out that quite literally everyone is asking regarding this film: how on earth did we ever get from a theme park ride to a five-film franchise spawned by that ride? How is it possible for ten minutes of sitting in a boat watching animatronic figures firing cannons and drinking rum to fuel roughly eleven hours of cinema to date? Disney, you truly are the magic kingdom. Take that how you will, but with Pirates 5 it’s a reality the film constantly struggles to escape from. Like a broken compass or a sword without a wielder, there really is no purpose to its being, and yet what surprises most about the film is just how double-edged a sword it turns out to be. What makes for the largest crack in its hull is also, curiously, what keeps it afloat – its sense of resignation.

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Effectively a remix of Pirates 1 and 2, with occasional lashings of 3, Pirates 5 cherry-picks the strongest ingredients of its predecessors and blends them into a concoction which, whilst by no means surpassing or even equalling its ancestry, at least makes for a satisfying and memorable experience. Somewhat worryingly, it’s when the film tries to throw in something of entirely its own ingenuity that things get either weird or tedious. An irrelevant and random wedding ceremony. A pointless Paul McCartney cameo. Steering away from the series’ more melodramatic leanings and favouring a course of rapid-fire wit, the onus for carrying it all ends up resting once again with its characterisations, to varying effect.

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Depp’s Sparrow, who’s eccentricities belying a cunning and daring miscreant we all fell in love with, now seems to have been largely consumed by his own idiosyncrasies. From Han Solo to Jar Jar Binks, saved only by the occasional, faintly recognizable trace of former charismatic glory. Geoffrey Rush, conversely, is perhaps the franchise’s ultimate unsung hero for his relentlessly enthusiastic performances as Jack’s intermittent ally and enemy Hector Barbossa, and his presence here doesn’t disappoint for a second. Javier Bardem delivers a solid antagonist to the proceedings, but Salazar as a basic concept is so anchored to recycled Pirates villainy – half-Rush’s Barbossa debut, half-Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones – that he remains a shadow within the shadows of his precursors. Thwaites and Scodelario, almost shamelessly pushed on the audience as Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley 2.0, make for lacklustre companions. Scodelario’s Carina is at least a decent attempt at a more than two-dimensional character, but between the script’s faux feminism and a general overreliance on expository dialogue, both she and Henry tend to fade into the background amidst their fellow cast members.

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For all its flotsam and jetsam however, there’s no denying that Pirates 5 manages to capture something of an echo of what made the original such a success and so endearing to fans. It’s straightforward, visually impressive, decently paced with a series-high sense of humour and boasting several standout set-pieces, but above all there’s a certain heart to these seafaring tales that it at least pays honest tribute to. It’s been an oddity of the Pirates franchise from the very beginning: taking characters that aren’t necessarily all that interesting or substantial, and working just hard enough to make you feel a little something for them by the end. With the future of this franchise uncertain, Pirates 5 works as an adequate and fond farewell to the Caribbean and all its curses and cutthroats, like a short story or epilogue that revisits a familiar world and its inhabitants years later. At least, better it end like this than continue charting a course into undead franchise waters.

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Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 3/5

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Moonlight

Most of the time, films exist quite openly as simply a form of entertainment. We go along to the cinema, or download them onto TVs and other gadgetry, we sit down for a couple of hours, and go swimming in Imagination Land (albeit with the exception of documentaries. Even the truest of biopics about real-life figures and happenings rarely escapes that fundamentally ‘theatrical’ DNA. Actors have their big moments. Music swells. Symbolism abounds, with subtlety or otherwise. Act One, Act Two, Act Three, then show’s over. This isn’t criticism. Most films know exactly what they are, or at least what they’re trying to be: someone’s idea of a good story that others will enjoy and/or appreciate. Describing Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight as ‘entertainment’ is a disservice. The film is nothing less than a portal, a transporting experience, and an unfiltered exploration into the life of a young, black, gay man coming of age.

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‘Little’. ‘Chiron’. ‘Black’ (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, respectively). Over the course of his troubled upbringing in the ghettos of Miami, Florida, Chiron goes by each of these in his search for an identity he can understand. With his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) a drug addict, a young Chiron finds guidance in Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monáe), but the older he gets the more he realizes the terrible truth that knowing who you are isn’t something that can be told to you. It’s something you must discover for yourself.

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Moonlight is truly, unequivocally, a special film. No matter if the story had been autobiographical or a complete work of fiction (Jenkins adapts the film from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s 2003 semi-autobiographical stage-play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’), watching Moonlight isn’t so much like looking through a microscope into Chiron’s life as it is entering that microscope. Jenkins takes what could easily have been another in a long line of ‘culture studies’ of African American livelihoods in modern America, and instead delivers a soulful, sincere, immensely affecting snapshot of a life both far too real and far too nuanced for the silver screen to fully satisfy. We never completely know the person that is Chiron, because the questions of identity the film deals with are fundamentally too pervasive and profound to answer in general, let alone in two hours.

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What makes the film remarkable is how deeply we do come to understand him with how little we are given. Performances across the board fill even the simplest of glances and facial expressions with all the emotional weight and volume of grand monologues. Mahershala Ali and Naomi Watts steal their every scene, each a supremely powerful and vivid example of the vicious cycle of circumstance that is their livelihoods, and scenes of their collision electrify the film like a fireworks display. Musically, the film plays out mostly in silence, allowing only the most electrically charged of moments a few emotional chords. Minimalism is the name of the game here, and all of it takes the emotionality to maximum. Nothing is superfluous, nothing feels contrived, everything has a purpose and something to say.

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Watching Moonlight isn’t really like watching a film at all. It’s the experience of floating invisibly around the life and times of a vulnerable soul, as if you’re in the company of Dickens’ three spirits. It’s a film that fundamentally redefines romantic drama on the silver screen, a profound expression of the importance of self-acceptance and how deeply it contributes to the ability to love, and a much-needed spotlight on communities all too often overlooked by mass media storytelling.

Quality: 5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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