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

The Lego Batman Movie

Stop what you’re doing. Whatever it is, it’s not important. Block out your baby’s cries, they’re just being dramatic. That phone call to your mum, forget about it. You can tweet an emoji at her later or something. Most important of all, stop watching your newsfeeds filled with nothing but a filthy rich and overpowered egomaniac man-child with anger management issues and zero sense of responsibility…and go see a film about a filthy rich and overpowered egomaniac man-child with anger management issues and at least SOME sense of responsibility. And a way cooler headpiece. Best decision you’ll make this week, period.

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Let’s be honest, no one expected 2014’s The Lego Movie to be anything remotely like the juggernaut it turned out to be. Near-universal critical acclaim, a box office gross almost four times its budget, it even caused an actual Lego shortage that year! Seriously, Google it. But amongst all the colours and craziness of its cast of characters, it was one distinctly black-and-yellow personality who stole the show: Batman. Now he’s back with a spin-off film all his own, because who else could carry a budding Lego Cinematic Universe to the next level? Besides, it’s not like his live-action gigs have been turning out so well.

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The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. Master Builder. It’s a hardcore hero’s life for Batman (Will Arnett) as he defends Gotham City from its relentlessly villainous hoards. His home life, however, needs work, and to that end his butler/surrogate father figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) insists he take responsibility for raising wide-eyed orphan adoptee Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Between that, the efforts of new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) to make him a team player, and the threat of an almighty villainous plot by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), Bruce Wayne may have to make the ultimate sacrifice: his solo career.

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With any surprise hit, there’s always the same attitude sequence: the mania stage, and then the ‘lightning never strikes twice’ stage. Even when something comes so completely out of left field and blows everyone away, something that says anything is possible, as The Lego Movie did, we still tend to revert to a more sceptical view. Maybe that’s just the general ‘sequel fatigue’ of modern times, maybe we’re all just negative people but in any case, this is a film that determinedly defies disappointment. Think Lego Batman’s impact was best served by his ‘in moderation’ cameo role? Lego Batman will take your entire hour-forty-five-minute experience and you’ll be grateful for it! Arnett’s career seems to have been deliberately cultivated for this role, considering his work on Arrested Development and Bojack Horseman. Long-time Batman fans will never recognize any voice-actor better than Kevin Conroy for the role, but for who this Batman is and the context of the character in general pop culture today, Arnett more than earns his cowl. The rest of the film’s vocal talent only adds to the film’s strengths, with Cera the obvious choice for Robin (in the best way), a pitch-perfect turn from Fiennes as Alfred, and a solid Joker from Galifianakis (though again, no one can top the legendary Mark Hamill’s Clown Prince). Special mentions must include Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, returning as Superman and Green Lantern from The Lego Movie, Eddie Izzard’s wicked wand-waver (no spoilers here), and Doug Benson’s hilarious impression of Tom Hardy as Bane. Oh, and Siri. Siri’s the Batcomputer in this. Good job Siri.

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It may seem ridiculous to say, but when you think about it, The Lego Movie had it easy. All it had to be was a good film that didn’t seem like a feature-length commercial. The Lego Batman Movie had to be a good film on its own, a good follow-up Lego film, AND a good Batman film. Struggling as the character might be amidst Warner Bros’ current DC Cinematic Universe efforts, Batman continues to enjoy just as iconic a cultural status as Superman, and with more consistently demonstrable success on film and TV. Like Lego Batman himself says, “DC…The House that Batman Built”. Director Chris McKay, here making his feature debut, is clearly an adoring fan and it’s his clear prioritising of both the mythologies and contexts of Batman that elevates the film from generic and cynical spin-off territory to sincere, robust cinema.  By caricaturising the classic comic book dynamics, from Bruce Wayne’s maniacal inwardness, to Batman and Robin’s mentor-protégé setup, to even the Joker’s twisted infatuation with his arch-nemesis, the ultimate Batman experience is delivered in full. Even come the third act, when things venture more towards The Lego Movie’s unencumbered and frenzied way of doing things where a lesser film would probably lose its focus, the Bat-Signal shines through. The climax does suffer somewhat from clumsy execution, awkwardly flipping between scenes of emotional reconciliation and all-out action and chaos the stuff of any child’s (or inner child’s) dreams, making it harder for the audience to connect with either, but such stumbles are easily forgivable for a first-time director whose triumphs so clearly eclipse his missteps. Better that the experience be a consistent B than an A in parts and a C in others. Even better when it’s a B+.

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Part-celebration of all-things Batman throughout his 75+ year history, part joyously anarchic action-adventure in the true spirit of the 2014 hit, The Lego Batman Movie is a worthy addition to a franchise that looks set to be Warner Bros’ true golden goose, and a tremendous work of self-deprecation, retro (and intro)-spection, and relentless fun.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score 4.5/5

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