June 2023 Roundup
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson // Starring Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Mahershala Ali, Luna Lauren Vélez, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Issa Rae, Karan Soni
Somehow it’s been FIVE years since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse burst onto our screens full of colour, style, energy, heart, and quality. Five years. Now comes the time of its sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, and it enters a genre that has found itself bogged down by multiple lackluster multiverse entries, a genre screaming for some stability, and, yes, quality. Thank the stars then that Across the Spider-Verse delivers all that and more in a movie that somehow matches and surpasses its superb predecessor. Here, Spidey/Miles Morales (Moore) is sent…across the multiverse in order to stop a threat that could potentially destroy its existence. Aided again by Spider-Woman/Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld) and a smorgasbord of Spideys, Miles quickly finds out that he must redefine what it is to be a hero in order to save the multiverse and those closest to him. Not content with resting on its successful laurels, with an explosion of heart and earnestness Across the Spider-Verse expands on the story and thrusts our central characters into genuine human and existential situations that deliver drama, tragedy, and more than a few laughs along the way. Of course, one of the talking points of Into the Spider-Verse was the delicious animation styles that were employed throughout, and Across the Spider-Verse continues in this vein with a constant barrage of shifting, scintillating styles that afford the movie such a unique and effective style - differing universes are presented in varying eye-catching and expressive ways that are simply nothing but damn impressive. It could be said that the visual onslaught could be bordering on overkill, and I would understand those complaints, but for me, I was blown away by the variation. Alongside the wonderfully crafted narrative, one that delivers more than a few gut punches along the way, is deftly delivered action - it would be easy for the combination of dazzling visuals and kinetic action to be overwhelming, but it is a testament to the directors and creative team that this isn’t the case, the pacing, and editing really allows the sequences to breathe when necessary and thunder along at other times to create some seriously good looking setpieces. Unsurprisingly, across the board (and Spider-Verse), the assembled voice cast bring their ‘A’ games, Moore and Steinfeld especially, though Isaac and Kaluuya both impress in their roles as Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Punk respectively. The standards have been raised in terms of voice acting, and, well, in all aspects here except maybe the music - the music choices are great, but I feel Into the Spider-Verse nailed this aspect more effectively. With easter eggs galore spread throughout and stunning animation to boot, it’s hard to decide where to look at times, but when the movie is this good, anywhere you look is fantastic. Across the Spider-Verse manages to top its predecessor narratively and technically whilst laying a strong claim to being possibly THE BEST comic book movie of all time.
20th Century Studios // Directed by Rob Savage // Starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, David Dastmalchian
The idea of a boogeyman is indelible to the fabric of horror, at least many of its subgenres, therefore a movie literally being titled The Boogeyman should come as no surprise (though, of course, it is not the first). Krueger, Myers, Candyman, Pennywise, Oogie Boogie…all classics of the genre, however, in Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman, the titular monster is mostly kept in the shadows in favour of a(nother) story focusing on family trauma and grief, albeit not entirely successfully. The Boogeyman asks the question, “Can you ever rid yourself of grief and sadness?” and in doing so, manages to create a mournful, sometimes bleak atmosphere to sit alongside the tension created by the looming dread caused by the presence of the monster itself. The Boogeyman is a solid, pretty safe entry into the genre, it doesn’t attempt to reinvent anything but it does the basics well, eschews some conventions whilst diving headfirst into others. It’s a movie that relies heavily on its lighting and sound design, both of which are impressively constructed, in order to further the tone but is light on depth and characterisation. The characters in the film, the Harper family, do suffer from a lack of real depth but the performances can’t be faulted. Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair deliver good performances as sisters Sadie and Sawyer respectively, and between them manage to conjure a decent chemistry, whilst Messina is fine as Will Harper, he just isn’t given anything of any note to do (the same could feasibly be said for Blair also) - but it’s Thatcher who leads the way as she has to ascertain how to destroy the boogeyman with help from her deceased mother. All of the aforementioned combine to create two very solid acts before the final act falls headfirst into cliche in such a frustrating manner, not dissimilar to 2022’s Smile - a movie that The Boogeyman shares many similarities with - however, here the finale feels that bit more contrived and unsatisfying. The movie itself is more conventional than Rob Savage’s previous offerings (the excellent Host and the…not excellent Dashcam) and his direction does allow the movie to be more than genre window dressing - as mentioned, the lighting and sound choices are strong but his scene direction provides some effective sequences to elevate the movie and add some required flourishes in an otherwise flat looking movie. Adapted from a Stephen King short, The Boogeyman manages to both succeed and frustrate in almost-equal measures as it struggles to coherently piece together a longform narrative, however, solid technical decisions, a great sense of atmospheric dread, and endearing performances from Thatcher and Blair allow this to shine brighter than maybe it would have in different circumstances.
Warner Bros. // Directed by Andy Muschietti // Starring Ezra Miller, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú, Kiersey Clemons, Antje Traue, Michael Keaton
Between Black Adam and The Flash, nearly eighty years have passed since their respective announcements and eventual releases. What they also have in common is they represent the end of the DCEU as we know it ahead of the change in the hierarchy of power at the top. So, alongside the raging controversies surrounding its star Ezra Miller and the knowledge that this is the end of the line in terms of this DC universe, could The Flash overcome the external factors and produce a dazzling sendoff? Almost, but not entirely. As another superhero movie (or…movie) utilising the multiverse and time travel gimmick, The Flash immediately felt like a reheated dish, though the means of getting to the cosmic side of the story are at least plausible within the confines of this story - a story that revolves around Barry Allen (Miller) going back in time to alter events in order to save his parents from their current-day fates. In doing so, the butterfly effect swoops into action and Barry finds that he has altered the future while ending up in a very different universe to his own. Now, the elephant in the room - Ezra Miller. It has to be said that it wasn’t a particularly comfortable journey watching them on screen given all of their proven misdemeanors and the various allegations surrounding them, however, Miller’s performance is the highlight of the movie. Their dual roles provide a wealth of humour and emotion and confirm the very real fact that whilst they have been responsible for the entirety of the negative press surrounding the movie, they are also the one to keep it afloat on screen. My belief was that Michael Keaton’s return as Batman would overshadow everything, though this proved not to be the case. Keaton is great here, eating up his dialogue and action with glee, but his introduction is later in the movie and does not take away from the core narrative that belongs to Barry - the same goes for Sasha Calle’s badass Supergirl (though I wish we had more screen time with her). Despite not implementing all of the characters satisfyingly, as is the case with most tentpole movies nowadays, The Flash is too long. Its near two-and-a-half-hour runtime begins to feel stretched as the final act rears its head and is only saved by an emotional finale that bookends the movie delightfully. The third act goes hard with cameos and multiverse mayhem and this may prove to be too much for some, I didn’t mind it as much other than the nagging feeling that none of it felt important or as if it mattered. What I did mind was some of the god-awful CGI, and, I’m sorry Mr. Muschietti, you can keep your idea that the abysmal graphics were intentional - they were simply bad. Not all of them, granted, but in major moments, some of the visuals looked unfinished. $200m budget visuals, damn. Therein lies the problem with The Flash, its inconsistencies. The performances are generally strong and affable, the humour was solid, and the majority of the story was fine, but when things fell flat, they fell flat with a resounding thud. Is this the perfect ending for the DCEU before its James Gunn-led reset? No, but it could have been (and has been) much worse. The Flash is certainly fun, packed with some great action and surprising emotion, it's just erratic in its consistency…and those visuals…damn.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures // Directed by James Mangold // Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, John Rhys-Davies, Antonio Banderas
One of Hollywood’s greatest heroes returns for one last hurrah - Indiana Jones is back. Make that two heroes because, of course, Harrison Ford is back too. Following a protracted production, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth and final movie in the saga, is finally here and with a new director in tow to boot with James Mangold stepping in for franchise stalwart Steven Spielberg. Fifteen years after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull received a lukewarm reception, Dial of Destiny had the task of revitalising a classic franchise whilst simultaneously providing a satisfying ending…a task I did not envy. The movie begins in 1949 with a de-aged Ford obtaining a valuable artifact from the Nazis - yes, we get plenty of Nazis being beaten - before jumping forward to 1969 where the narrative remains (well…). On the verge of retirement, Indy is called back into action after his goddaughter Helena (Bridge) reenters his life to complete her father Basil’s (Jones) life work, a work that revolved around the artifact plundered 25 years prior. Former Nazi-turned-NASA member Jurgen Voller (Mikkelsen) has more than a vested interest in the artifact also and will stop at nothing to retrieve it and utilise its ultimate power. Spoiler-free synopsis complete! Indiana Jones has endured for decades due to its pulpy nature, swashbuckling tone, affable characters, and fallible hero, there’s a DNA that runs through the saga, and, if tapped into, you’re pretty much guaranteed a solid action-adventure movie at worst. Dial of Destiny ensures the presence of all of the above, whilst eschewing some of the campiness of its predecessor, but it is by no means flawless. It could be argued that the movie lacks the heart that we have been so accustomed to with Indy films, maybe even lacking a definitive spark, but it has plenty of charm mainly thanks to Ford and the ever-entertaining Phoebe-Waller Bridge. This time around, Indy is battling another new enemy - age. He is aware of his own mortality, and is a man dealing with sadness and grief given the events that took place between movies, though the movie doesn’t become overly mawkish or allow itself to get bogged down so much by this aspect - but it’s there. If anyone can bring weathered gravitas to an aging hero, it’s Harrison Ford who clearly wants to retire his character on the highest note possible. Waller-Bridge brings more of a kinetic energy to proceedings with her quicksmart quips and the two bounce off of each other well. Additionally, Mads Mikkelsen brings a delicious patient menace to the role of Dr. Voller, the villain of the piece - his qualities and presence provide a strong antagonist for our embittered warrior. Dial of Destiny also brings plenty of solid action sequences, ranging from electric (the opening act is classic Indy) to just OK, which aid the pacing overall, though there were a few noticeable lulls in between the action that highlighted the overly-long runtime. Literally utilising planes, trains, and automobiles - horses, tuk-tuks, and boats too - Mangold did his utmost to keep things moving towards the huge third act, an act that may prove to be a bridge too far for some…it goes there. Visually, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was derided for its overuse of poor CGI, and Dial of Destiny clearly acknowledges this with a more grounded look - there is CGI, of course, it just feels less egregious this time around despite a near-$300m budget. How much of the budget went on de-aging Ford (and Mikkelsen) for the opening 20+ minutes is unknown, it was probably a fair chunk but it was money well spent as the vast majority of the de-aging looks great, and we’re talking about an active character, not one that simply stands and talks to hide any tech deficiencies. The tech and scenes provide a wonderful bridge from classic Indy to contemporary movies, and there are plenty of narrative threads that are tied up here (maybe even all of the saga's major strands) to allow Dial of Destiny to take its place alongside its contemporaries. It was always going to be an uphill task to overhaul the saga's strongest efforts, and Dial of Destiny cannot boast to be the best of the bunch, but it's an honest affair that delivers more than a handful of classic Indy moments, and real emotion that comes to a head by the time the movie reaches its satisfying denouement. Dial of Destiny is not a perfect movie, not by a longshot, and I’d be very willing to bet it will prove divisive for a number of reasons - some valid, some cringy - but, for the most part, Mangold stuck the landing for a story that has spanned four decades. It’s been a few years, but the mileage is still there. Now, though, is the right time to hang up the fedora for good. Thank you Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford for the adventures.
Thanks to Disney Studios UK and Lucasfilm for the advance screening access.