Sicario 2: Soldado

2018, Uncategorized

Dir: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Elijah Rodriguez

Sicario came out of nowhere and announced two blistering new talents. Denis Villeneuve, the director who went on to make Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and Taylor Sheridan, the actor turned screen writer who has since penned Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Villeneuve doesn’t return for this sequel, too busy with a new version of Dune, but Sheridan is once again behind the script. Also returning are stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Sicario wasn’t a film that I thought required a sequel, but nonetheless I was excited to see where Sheridan would take us next, and to spend some more time with these morally complex characters.

Sicario 2: Soldado starts with a terrorist attack. Perpetrated on US soil by 4 extremists. When it turns out that the first attacker to be identified had made his way to the US via the Mexico border, smuggled in by the drug cartel, the US government classifies the cartels as a terrorist organisation, changing the rules of engagement. The US bring in Josh Brolin, a black ops operative. His job is to start a war between the cartels, getting them to destroy each other, using the same techniques he used in Iraq. To do this he will need his Mexican Sicario, or hitman, played by Benicio Del Toro.

The film sets out its stall early on. Opening with a shot of helicopters patrolling the border in complete darkness, with only flashes of light revealing what’s happening on the ground. It works as a metaphor for how the film uses truth, and for our characters souls, operating in morally bankrupt spaces, only now and again finding the way to do what is right. Sicario 2 was always going to have to justify itself as a sequel, if it isn’t as good as the first one than what is the point of it? Yet here we are. It’s not as good as the first film, but it does expand upon it, and still feels like a worthy sequel. Smartly, Sheridan has shifted his tough world view away from the war on drugs, and onto the war on terrror. Using a new theme to again cynically explore the relationship between the US and Mexico.

If Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario represented the loss of innocence, here it’s about finding a slice of redemption. Brolin and Del Toro do terrific work as characters who have committed despicable acts, who are faced with decisions between morals and survival. Brolin may be the man of the moment right now, but Del Toro is the real heartbeat of this movie. His darkly, tragic hit-man is given just the right amount of soul by Sheridan. The film might not live up to Villeneuve’s direction, but Sheridan marks himself out here as the natural successor to Cormac McCarthy. The film may not hit quite as hard as the original, but it is still an emotionally charged, tense piece of cinema.

That’s not to say that Stefan Sollima, the incoming director, does poorly. He mounts set pieces incredibly well, whilst I enjoyed the way the action moved from a detached view during the opening terrorist attack to a more immediate feel during the climax. The villain of the piece is handled well too. In another story the Cartel leader would be a moustache twirling villain, here he isn’t even shown. In fact, nothing he does effects the plot of the film at all, what we are left with is characters in a tragic situation, where they start to become the villains. There is no good and bad here, just people stuck in a continuous cycle to survive.

It may lack some of the verve and bite of the original Sicario, but make no mistake, this is a worthy sequel. Brolin and Del Toro both do fantastic work, but the real star here is Sheridan, who continues his fantastic writing streak, in a film which marks him out as the next Cormac McCarthy.

7/10

Deadpool 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgård, Rob Delaney, Lewis Tan, Eddie Marsan, Shioli Kutsuna, Karan Soni, and Stefan Kapicic.

Deadpool was something of a surprise hit when it came out in 2016. The foul mouthed comic book hero was an unknown entity, and the film was considered a risk by the studio. It took a campaign from star Ryan Reynolds, and some leaked test footage to convince Fox to green light the movie, of course with a limited budget, and even more limited access to the x-men franchise of which Deadpool is closely associated with. Now, the merc with the mouth is back. Original director Tim Miller is gone, creative differences were cited, and is replaced with one half of the John Wick team, David Leitch. Deadpool 2 is also released with a different weight of expectation , the first one was an unprecedented hit, and Deadpool is now more eagerly anticipated than actual X-Men movies.

Deadpool 2 follows on where the first movie left off. Wade Wilson is now living happily with his long term girlfriend Vanessa, whilst also being a successful gun for hire, only going after the bad guys. Soon tragedy hits, and Deadpool finds himself in a depressive slump. He finds new purpose though when he meets Julian Dennison’s troubled teen, mutant Russell. Deadpool sets about trying to connect with, and help Russell, even if that means standing up to Josh Brolin’s time travelling, half cyborg assassin, Cable. Who is hell bent on killing Russell for a future wrong.

If you liked Deadpool, you’re going to love Deadpool 2. It’s laugh out loud funny throughout. Continuing the meta commentary of the first, Ryan Reynolds is allowed to skewer comic book movies, pop culture, the movie industry, and his own career. There are also great moments of physical and visual comedy. One beat, which showcases Wade Wilson’s regenerative powers, is a particular stand out. The introduction of the X-Force too, which involves some skydiving in high winds is also hilarious, showcasing that it isn’t just Ryan Reynolds commentary that makes Deadpool so funny. Deadpool 2 is as funny, if not funnier, than its predecessor, it also ups the action stakes too.

The bigger budget for the sequel is, thankfully, evident on screen. The film certainly looks a lot better than the first one, if some of the CGI is still under par. Director David Leitch brings new ideas to the action sequences. This isn’t to say that Deadpool now fights like John Wick, he still retains his own style of fighting, and Leitch adds an inventiveness to the way he uses his powers. Broken limbs and spare body parts are incorporated into the fights. The big action sequences look better too, being a sequel they are much bigger, but Leitch nails them. It’s not just the action that’s expanded, the cast have too. In all, the new cast members are well incorporated, although they are still only using d-list X-Men. Zazie Beetz is the most impressive, with new character Domino, and Rob Delaney all but steals the show as Peter, an ordinary civilian who joins X-Force just because he saw the ad and thought it looked like fun. There are also some blink and you’ll miss them cameos, which are a great laugh.

I couldn’t help but leave feeling slightly disappointed. I have to admit I felt this way with the first one. The plot is much more complex than the first film, which does add more emotional resonance, but at the end of the day it’s just used as the line to hang the jokes on. It’s a hard balance with Deadpool jokes, they have to be relevant enough to comment on what’s happening today, but at the same time this makes the whole film more disposable. In five years time jokes about Logan and the DCEU will be outdated, and the references that are a bit more aged seem a little weird, there’s an extended monologue about Interview With A Vampire, which whilst funny, is only going to connect with certain cinema goers. It would have also been nice to see them reflect current issues in the movie industry more. There’s a whole line of commentary about women in film, and how the industry treats them, which could have been used, but Deadpool never goes there. It’s especially jarring when you have TJ Miller in a main role, who is dealing with historic accusations, and some behaviour problems which have led him to be cut from future Deadpool movies. Josh Brolin was a great Cable, but the character was severely underused, both in terms of action, and jokes, which may have been the biggest disappointment.

I had a good time watching Deadpool 2. It’s at least as good as the first film, if not slightly better in the action department. There’s a disposability to these movies though, that can leave them feeling slightly shallow. It has a punk rock feel to things, but this is now a studio tentpole, and that means certain things are off the table, and things are played a little safe.

7/10

 

Avengers: Infinity War

2018, Uncategorized

*I have tried my best to avoid spoilers In is review, but would recommend seeing the film first before reading if you want to go in knowing nothing*

Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Benedict Wong, Anthony Mackie, Karen Gillan, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, and Pom Klementief.

Well, this is it. The beginning of the end. It’s a journey that started 10 years ago with Iron Man, and has since grown into the box office behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve seen Earth’s mightiest heroes team up in Avengers, we’ve been to space for some cosmic adventures in Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor, and most recently we’ve been invited into the amazing world of Wakanda in Black Panther. Here, they all combine to take on their biggest foe to date, Thanos. The big bad that has been drip fed through the whole series. We know that we still have Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Captain Marvel to come before Avengers 4 brings phase three of the MCU to a close, but this feels monumental nonetheless. Going into the movie it felt like the stakes had never been higher, as there was a real sense that anything could happen. We had entered the end game.

Infinity War follows Thanos. An 8ft, ripped, purple alien born on Titan. Thanos is hell bent on balancing the universe. To him, this means invading planets and killing half of the population residing on them. His ultimate goal is to kill half the universe, and to do this he needs to collect together the infinity stones. 6 stones from the beginning of the universe which when united together give the holder unlimited power. Two of these Infinity stones are on Earth. One is the time stone which is in the possession of a Doctor Strange, and the other is the mind stone which is nestled in Vision’s forehead. Thanos sends his most trusted minions to Earth to retrieve these two stones, whilst he sets out in the universe to find the others. Standing in Thanos’ way are the Avengers, last seen fighting each other in Captain America: Civil War, the Guardians of The Galaxy, Spider-man, Doctor Strange, and the people of Wakanda.

The scale of this movie is huge. It’s ambition is unmatched in the modern day blockbuster. Just looking at the cast list alone is enough to make the jaw drop. Fittingly the Russo brothers decided to film Infinity War entirely on IMAX cameras, and I was lucky enough to see it on an IMAX screen. It truly is mesmerising. Thanos looks huge on screen, and the size adds an extra bit of weight to the action unfolding in front of you. This is event cinema, and considering we get about three MCU movies a year, that is quite a feat. For the film to work, the stakes had to feel real, and for the stakes to feel real the audience had to believe in Thanos. We’ve seen glimpses of him before in Post-credit scenes and GOTG, but these fleeting appearances never gave across the sense that this was a villain to be reckoned with, so it was a bold move when writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely declared that he was to be the main character for Infinity War, even bolder considering that he is entirely CGI. The character is so richly written though, and Josh Brolin plays him so brilliantly, he easily owns the movie. From the opening sequence he is imbued with a sense of weight and gravitas which has previously been lacking, setting up the darkest MCU movie thus far.

Infinity War could have ended up as a complete mess, or just a collection of five minute scenes that give each character their due, but doesn’t hold together as a film. The fact that the fine balance has been expertly walked between story and character is testament to the skills of both the writers and directors. It’s a far from simple plot, with many strands, but it all works, and every character is given their moment to shine. The character interaction is spot on too. It’s rumoured that James Gunn came on to write all the dialogue for the Guardians, and if that’s true, it’s a smart decision and works fantastically. These characters feel like the characters you know and love from their separate movies, and finds joy in watching them interact. If this is the darkest MCU movie, it still remains laugh out loud funny. It’s smart as well that the original avengers get their own little teams to lead, without spoiling it, Thor, Cap, and Iron Man are mostly kept separate, each leading their own story thread. It means that we aren’t watching a rerun of what’s come before, they are mostly with characters they’ve not met before which keeps it fresh. Best is watching Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, trying to macho it up against Thor.

If this is the biggest MCU movie in terms of characters, it’s all the biggest I terms of spectacle. The action is stunning. It’s worth the extra to see it in IMAX, or the biggest screen you can find. The Russo’s continue to manage to make the action dynamic, funny, and ingenious whilst including some great character beats. They get the escalation right too, for a film which breaks into fights almost every 20 minutes, by the time you get to the climatic battle, it still feels big, and manages to hit the emotional beats hard. I felt like the climax of Black Panther was a little underwhelming, and it seems they may have been holding it back a little for the climax of this film. If the film does go in directions that you don’t always expect, and it’s a long watch, it is also completely satisfying. I walked out of the screening numb, I’m going to have to see it again just to completely absorb it.

Infinity War delivers in spades. If this is part one of the end. I can’t wait for Part Two. There are so many ways in which this film could have been rubbish, but it’s just not. If you don’t like previous MCU movies this isn’t for you, if you like the MCU you’re going to love it. There are more spoilerific discussions to come, but for now, it’s a towering achievement. I loved it.

10/10