Saturday, 8 July 2017

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Review

Spider-Man is finally within the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Sony's latest attempt at building a universe around the character failed 3 years ago. Fans were thrilled with the news and the character's appearance in 2016's 'Captain America: Civil War' was a highlight for many. However, with this being the third different incarnation of the character in 15 years, many are still skeptical about this edition. If 'Homecoming' is anything to go by, we may be on our way to having the best representation of the web-slinger on screen.

After his encounter with the Avengers, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns home but is still looking to make an impact on the world and catch the eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Peter now has to combine responsibilities - as a superhero and also going to school at the same time - as he wants to be more than a friendly neighbourhood hero. The emergence of a supervillain The Vulture (Michael Keaton) will put Peter's abilities to the test as he looks to prove himself worthy.

A large criticism that the superhero genre as a whole has garnered recently is a feeling that they all feel the exact same. It must be said, though, that 2017 has looked to change this, with each superhero film being different from one another- 'Logan' as a road trip/drama, 'Guardians 2' as another space comedy. 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is no different here as it takes the superhero genre to where it hasn't really been before - high school. 

The latest edition of everyone's favourite web-slinger sees him as a 15-year-old going through the challenges that life is throwing at him in what seems like the closest thing to a John Hughes superhero film that we'll ever see. 'Homecoming' provides a unique superhero story that does double duty as a coming of age story, as our protagonist matures and deals with the normalities of high school. Director Tom Watts looks to create a realistic, modern look at high school life, with no over the top jock bullies and snobby popular girls. This film shows that it's inspired by previous works from Hughes but creates its own modern feeling, adapting to the times whilst maintaining some of the usual tropes. 

As known with coming of age films, interesting characters is a must. Otherwise, you simply don't care about what they are going through. Luckily for 'Homecoming', the main character is a beloved hero whose stories have spanned decades. However, the film doesn't just rely on this to get the character by as Peter Parker is made to be relatable, interesting and entertaining, leading to you wanting to see more of him. The biggest task faced was trying to create the perfect Spider-Man, something that many believe hasn't been represented on screen. Tobey Maguire is thought to have been great as the geeky Peter Parker but didn't excel as the witty Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield had a similar fate, just with the roles reversed with him suiting the cocky, quick-wittedness of Spider-Man. Tom Holland handles the awkward geeky side of Peter Parker very well, seeming shy, unconfident and fairly awkward during his day to day life. As Spider-Man, he is a completely different person - witty, full of confidence and charisma. The Peter Parker/Spider-Man combo has never been handled equally as well. Holland succeeds in both aspects, more so than his predecessors. Due to this, no matter how nostalgic the previous actors make you feel, Tom Holland is undoubtedly the best representation of Spider-Man ever seen on the big screen.

Peter's high school experience brings us some new interesting and fun characters to the series as well. Jacob Batalon provides comic relief as Peter's best friend Ned, who is even geekier and awkward leading to some outbursts that are hilarious. Batalon is great as he himself has to deal with knowing that his best friend is a famous hero and has to try his best to not let it slip. Eugene 'Flash' Thompson returns in the form of Tony Revolori who is a much different version of the character, being much more of an arrogant, vocal bully rather than one that's athletically inclined. Revolori does well as not a completely serious bully, acting immature with silly insults and actions to make others look bad. There is plenty of comeuppance for Thompson in what is the most attention the character has ever been given in any film before. However, it is Zendaya who seems to steal the show as Michelle Jones, a tribute to MJ from previous Spider-Man comics and films. Michelle is clearly inspired by Ally Sheedy's Allison Reynolds from 'The Breakfast Club'. The character is a loner who spends most of the time by herself and doesn't really seem to fit in with others. She is clever, quick witted, weird and incredibly cool. Zendaya steals every scene that she is in, with her cleverness and humour providing many great moments. Michelle has one of the coolest personalities in film this year and will have you wanting to see more of her in the future.

'Homecoming' is still undoubtedly very much so an MCU film, with the superhero part still being the main focus. We get to skip the origin story of Spider-Man and jump straight into the character dealing with his new responsibilities. Here we get the rare chance to see superheroes handle smaller situations, as the masked man stops car thieves and helps give people directions. Due to this, he feels human and like every other person. We rarely see the superheroes doing tasks that aren't just normal helpful tasks. We do of course get the bigger scale action throughout the story as Spider-Man looks to find larger opportunities to prove himself.

An interesting aspect of the film is how Peter has to deal with this new suit that he has been given. As a young man with newly acquired powers, he is rather rash and even flashy when using them meaning he has to mature and use them responsibly. However, as he grows with the suit and realises its potential, he loses track of this and puts himself and others in further harm. There is a real character development through this as Peter realises how influential his actions really are and what can happen. The use of Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau as mentors for Peter really help this progress as well, as they stand in as sort of father figures, making restraints that Peter disobeys whilst looking out for his best interests. Downey Jr and Favreau's roles are minimal but effective nonetheless.

With these superhero movies, it always seems as if the film is about some person trying to destroy the entire world. 'Homecoming' is a lot more of a smaller story, dealing with a supervillain thief rather than someone determined on world domination. This again is a great change as it isn't the same story yet again, allowing the story to feel fresh and different from the others. This is what makes 'Homecoming' such a success, it feels fresh in a time where there are many superhero films. A difference in sub-genre, story elements, and fresh new characters really give this film life.

 In saying this, though, the main faults do come from the usual problems that the MCU as a whole has. Michael Keaton gives a good performance as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture but the problem is that he is severely underdeveloped. We see how he gains this equipment but there is a severe change in his psyche that makes him more of a supervillain. This lacked much character progression and just seemed to be a rushed effort to turn Toomes from a workman to suddenly an evil villain. The score as well is not very memorable and is weak despite including the animated series theme song early on. The film's runtime comes in at 133 minutes which does feel a bit too long. A good fifteen minutes could probably be cut as there is enough in the two hours to satisfy the audience.

The screenplay credits six people and usually, when there are multiple people working together on one script, it can cause problems. With different ideas and personalities, it could even destroy a film's chances of succeeding. However, with 'Homecoming', the script is actually very solid, combining the high school life of Peter with the action-packed life of Spider-Man. The script also delivers a lot of laughs as the usual MCU humour is turned up a notch. We get to see Spider-Man in his best form due to this as he is quippy during his fight scenes. But the film as a whole is incredibly funny through its whole runtime, with side characters doing their bit equally to provide some great comedic moments. The great Stan Lee is also involved in this with his latest and one of his most funny cameos yet.

'Spider-Man: Homecoming' combines elements of a high school, coming of age film and an action, superhero movie incredibly well. It has great characters, humour and action that will satisfy fans of the genre. In a year of great superhero films, 'Homecoming' does stand out, offering something that feels fresh and isn't a carbon copy of everything else. This is a highly enjoyable, fun film that fans of the MCU and of the character, in general, will surely enjoy.

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing the film or not. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

'Okja' Review

'Okja' was selected to be screened at the illustrious Cannes festival and as the screening started, it was met with boos from the crowd. This was due to the film being made from Netflix and an opinion was formed that the streaming service was killing cinema. However, once it had finished, it received a standing ovation, showing that Netflix is only helping the current state of cinema by providing a truly great film.

In 2007,  the Mirando cooperation set up a competition where 26 super pigs were sent to 26 different farmers all over the world. These pigs were to be farmed for 10 years before the winner was announced in New York. Mija (Seo-Hyeon Ahn) lives with her grandfather who has one of these pigs named Okja and she has grown up with the creature, growing to love and care for her. Once the 10 years have been completed, Mirando returns to collect Okja to the despair of Mija. Once Okja is taken away, an animal activist group reveal the true intentions of the company and with Mija, they look to rescue Okja and stop the Mirando cooperation from their evil doings.

The kerfuffle surrounding the film being released by Netflix is nothing but embarrassing. As film lovers, we should welcome all platforms that make original and quality content. That's exactly what they have done with their emotional latest project, 'Okja'.

As the film starts, it is fairly lighthearted. The wonderful Tilda Swinton starts it off by explaining the origin and concept of the competition for these pigs in an informative but also light-hearted way. After this, we get to see the sweetness of the creature as we are introduced to both Okja and Mija, with the pair spending their time exploring the woods and catching fish together. Okja is made to seem like a normal dog, just massively oversized with her tendencies whilst playing, sleeping and eating. These scenes of the two together really help build the relationship between the two, making you care for both of them which is helped by a scene where Okja saves Mija from death. Apart from this, the tone is kept rather fun as it develops its two main characters and the relationship early on.

That being said, the tone does change quite dramatically once Okja is to be taken back to the Mirando company. We see the heartbreak that Mija goes through once she realises what has happened to her best friend and she immediately fights with her grandfather and sets off to be reunited with Okja. This really helps solidify Mija who is played wonderfully by South Korean actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn as she is shown to be a strong and independent character despite being at such a young age. The threats to Okja are made even more clear with the introduction of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front), a group of animal activists who want to free Okja from the Mirando's grasps. The group unveils new knowledge about the Mirando's intentions, adding more drama and need for them to hurry in their quest. The film goes through many twists and turns, each with plenty of drama and emotion to keep you thoroughly engaged in the story.

The Mirando company by their motives do sound quite generic, their own personal greed powers them to do whatever they want to reach fame and wealth. However, that may be true, in this situation it works perfectly well. The evil co-operation Mirando look to use this super pig competition as an elaborate cover up what they are doing behind the scenes. Due to the kind of business that they look to use Okja and the other pigs for, it does draw them some easy heat as nobody is a fan of animals being treated unfairly. However, the film uses the business very well, using gruesome imagery to leave an effective mark on the viewer. If a cliche is done well, then it isn't a problem and that is the case in 'Okja'.

One of the film's key strengths is how well written the characters, their motivations and actions are. The protagonists Mija and Okja are made out to be completely innocent making you feel and care for them being stuck in such a horrible situation. The villains, portrayed by Swinton and Gyllenhaal are used well, being charismatic and interesting yet still making you dislike and root against them. But it is the ALF who have handled arguably the best. They are technically the heroes but they aren't perfect. The members of the group the complete good guys who do everything fair. In fact, there are many conflicting situations that make you question their morals to an extent. This happens none more so than in a scene involving Steven Yeun where he betrays the trust of many others. The good intentions are there, but the actions they take aren't always in the same bracket. 'Okja' creates one of the most interesting dynamics I've seen which helps bring a true harsh feeling of reality to the film. An added bonus is that the characters are all given distinctive looks that help them stand out and be even more memorable. Tilda Swinton has one of the most distinctive looks with a strange combo of braces and white hair. The ALF are given slick looks with small differences such as Paul Dano's slick suit look and Lily Collins' bright red hair. These characters are memorable and cool and may possibly be your new favourite characters.

That feeling of reality is also which makes it very emotional for the viewer. You can imagine these events taking place in real life, with there being many people to do what they can to make themselves look great when behind the scenes, there are much worse things going on. The finale is truly heartbreaking as we see the large production of these super pigs. The ending brings one of the most emotional and sad moments of the year, with the great use of CGI playing a key role in this. If you are a meat eater, you will definitely feel a bit guilty for being so after watching this film.

There are some clear weaknesses though and very surprisingly, it is from one of the more famous cast members. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the eccentric TV show host and face of the Mirando company  Dr. Johnny Wilcox who at first seems like quite a quirky villain. However, this schtick starts to become quite annoying at times and felt quite out of place in a film that was dealing with a serious storyline. Although Tilda Swinton's character had moments of humour, it was mainly through quick wit or remarks she made. Gyllenhaal seemed to be too cartoony which seemed like the wrong way to take the character. Another weak point comes again from the humour as the film relies on fart and poop jokes quite early on. These don't work too well yet are repeated and feel really out of place throughout the runtime.

Bong Joon-ho made a name for himself in the Western world with 'Snowpiercer' and he has only built on that with 'Okja'. This is a tremendously well-crafted story, filled with great performances, humour, and emotion. This is the kind of film people should be seeing as it will strike you on all levels, delivering high, enjoyable, entertaining moments as well as those that will have you fighting back the tears. There are great characters, the CGI is used very well and most importantly, the film has heart. This is one of the year's best films so far and is one that many should definitely seek out.

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'Okja'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on watching this film or not. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor