Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures // Directed by Nia DaCosta // Starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
In 2019, the release of Captain Marvel was a huge success, and it paved the way for the strongest superhero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to enter the fray and defeat Thanos. However, the sequel, The Marvels, has faced its fair share of challenges, including lukewarm buzz, delays, strike action, and concerns about superhero movie fatigue. Some have even criticized the necessity of having to watch a selection of movies and series to fully understand the plot. Despite these challenges, The Marvels manages to be a fun and entertaining movie, combining solid action, humour, heart, and a standout performance from Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel. An early three-way action scene is a treat for the audience, providing a great balance of editing, choreography, and entertainment while also introducing the characters' powers and personalities, and, at times, The Marvels feels like a throwback to older MCU and comic book movies with its tone and structure. However, the tone and structure also contribute to the movie's weaker parts. There's a real power struggle between humour, stakes, whimsy, emotion, action, and storytelling that threatened to derail the movie at the halfway point. Though thankfully, the movie never falls far from the rails, it was still disappointing given how strong the first half of the movie was. Brie Larson is dependable in her role, but she and Teyonah Parris felt off-kilter somewhat, and not as dialled in as they have seemed in their previous outings. Maybe that is partly due to how exuberant and effervescent Vellani is as the third member of the team. Her undeniable charm and energy lifted the movie and ensured it remained above average throughout, as did the inclusion of her family (brought across from the Disney+ series) who ground the movie and provided genuine laughs. Zawe Ashton as the villainous Dar-Benn gave everything to chew the scenery each time she appeared, but, frustratingly, she was let down by poor depth and writing to become yet another disposable and forgettable MCU villain. The boss fight at the conclusion was also wildly underwhelming, though thankfully quite short. Thematically, The Marvels is thin and doesn’t particularly attempt to dive into its core messages, instead happy to say that they are there. While thematically uninteresting, The Marvels can at least boast about being one of the better-looking MCU movies in recent years - it’s vibrant and colourful with the majority of the visual effects hitting the mark (though some of the makeup was iffy, to say the least). The Marvels felt like its own movie rather than a connective piece of a huge puzzle, making it more of a standalone effort than recent outings. Overall, it was an entertaining romp lifted by the chemistry of its three leads - with a wonderful Vellani leading the way. It might not be top-tier, but it’s certainly enjoyable if you can ride the bumps in the road along the way.
Further discussion on the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast
TriStar Pictures // Directed by Eli Roth // Starring Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, Milo Manheim, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Nell Verlaque, Rick Hoffman, Gina Gershon
Eli Roth’s fictitious trailer for Thanksgiving from 2007’s Grindhouse has become a reality just in time for the harvest-fuelled holiday - which is perfect if you enjoy your blessings with a side of blood and guts, though that's not surprising considering it's Roth. The movie is a part-satire, mostly-slasher that takes place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the town where the English pilgrims settled centuries ago. Thanksgiving begins with an attack on the chaos that is Black Friday and a commentary on societal greed and consumerism, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a zombie movie. The braindead are merely the shoppers who queue, argue, and fight over discounted items, and they are truly terrible people. The overall tone for the narrative and motive for our Pilgrim-clothed killer are laid in these moments as the local hypermarket decides to open on Thanksgiving despite safety concerns, and it brings with it a wave of chaos, destruction, and death. These scenes are captured with a real sense of anarchy, but unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to that standard as Thanksgiving transitions to a standard slasher with a holiday seasoning at around the halfway point. Although Roth delivers the goods with gory kills and gnarly death sequences, it's not until the end that he embraces the silliness and self-awareness that the initial salvo promised. Sandwiched between the satire and the silliness is a classic slasher whodunit plot that is effective enough, but hampered by the thin characters (there were a few times where I had to recall what their names were), and whilst Thanksgiving pays clear homage to Scream, Halloween, and other genre staples, it lacks one of the key elements that those movies had - defined and memorable characters. Our killer here, dubbed John Carver/The Carver (a nod to the holiday’s origins), carries a solid design and is menacing enough, though, like Ghostface, can be interchangeable if further movies are greenlit. All that being said, Thanksgiving is a fun ride from start to finish, and though it maybe isn’t self-aware enough it certainly isn’t dour and depressing - Brandon Robert’s rowdy score keeps things ticking along and the dark humour is delicious at points. While this turkey may have been slightly undercooked, it was still a blast and a nice serving of B-movie fun.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Lionsgate // Directed by Francis Lawrence // Starring Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Viola Davis
The Hunger Games franchise is back with a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, set sixty-four years before the events of the original movie. This time, the story focuses on Coriolanus Snow (Blyth) and his relationship with Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler) - a tribute from District 12, whose charisma and personality lead to the Games being broadcast as event-television to draw in larger viewing numbers. The movie expands the dystopian world and nation of Panem, and while we may not see familiar faces like Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark, the film still manages to deliver a compelling story, exploring themes of humanity, power, and morality. The movie is directed by Francis Lawrence, who helmed the final three movies in the original series, and it fits nicely into the established tone of the universe, feeling fittingly more stripped back in certain areas, but no less heavy thematically. The question of what exactly the Hunger Games are is posited throughout the movie as the narrative hovers a lens over humanity, and we're given a proper chance to see Snow's (extremely) humble beginnings and the seeds of his Machiavellian and absolutist behavior and attitude. He wants the girl, he wants political power but knows he can’t have both, and thus, the seeds are sewn. Tom Blyth gives an excellent performance as Snow, portraying the character's charm and ambition while never attempting to paint him as a hero, and Rachel Zegler also shines as Lucy Gray Baird, bringing charisma and personality to her role - though I felt she lacked the power Lawrence brought to the arena scenes. The supporting cast is strong also, with standout performances from Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, and Jason Schwartzman. Fans of the original series of movies will appreciate the tie-ins to the earlier stories, and the surprising brutality remains intact as well. While it may not be brimming with blood and guts, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes still manages to pack a punch with its dark themes and on-screen violence. Clocking in at a heavyweight one-hundred-and-fifty-seven minutes, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has a lot of story to tell and generally does it well with only a few lulls along the way. To help alleviate the runtime, the narrative is segmented into chapters including a fairly bold final third that may catch some off-guard. Despite some of the songs and musical interludes sometimes feeling shoehorned in, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a strong addition to the Hunger Games franchise, laying the foundations for the original movies while standing alone as a well-told story - though the need to justify the existence of the story is a fair discussion to have, especially without further sequels currently lined up. If potential future stories can be as strong as this, however, count me in.
Columbia Pictures // Directed by Ridley Scott // Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim, Ben Miles, Rupert Everett
Napoleon Bonaparte is a genuine titan of history. His methods, behaviours, relationships, and being have been studied for centuries now and his exploits have been denounced and celebrated in equal measures. With Napoleon, Ridley Scott has brought the former Emperor of France to the big screen again and slathered it with the contemporary biopic treatment - including having a big-name star in the lead, sweeping cinematography, and cramming in as many major moments as possible with one eye on awards season. However, one key element is missing - Napoleon is not a good movie. There are flashes of a great movie throughout, but all of the combined parts add up to a mediocre offering that is, for the most part, tonally, technically and narratively excruciating. Scott certainly highlighted key moments in Napoleon’s life - he crammed in as many as possible to the point where the movie felt more like a box-ticking exercise that carried little resonance. The good? Vanessa Kirby is imperious as Empress Joséphine and Scott attacks the battle scenes with trademark relish and scope. Whilst historically embellished (rather than inaccurate in parts), the action portrays the horror, chaos, and bloodshed of the Napoleonic Wars well, with Scott not holding back on violence against humans or horses. Scott has said that his original vision of Napoleon ran four hours long - and this version will be available on Apple TV+ - and it is clear to anyone with eyes that the theatrical version is a butchered version of the extended edition. The editing is choppy and derails the narrative bafflingly at times, leaving the movie to feel like a rushed collection of poorly stitched sequences and skits. Speaking of skits, the humour? It will be an acquired taste. Napoleon is not a stoic, deep character study, instead, it feels more like a character assassination from Scott, riddled with muddy dialogue, ill-advised comic moments and stark, clothed sex scenes - the intentions behind these were obviously deliberate, but no less clunky. A handful of lines screamed, whimpered, or cried by Napoleon were humorous, but these were few and far between and still felt at odds with the shifting tones. As for the titular character, Napoleon just feels like Joaquin Phoenix in a hat. The lack of (any) French dialogue is one thing, but Phoenix adds little to the man and this feels less like a portrayal and more akin to cosplay at times. It isn’t that Phoenix’s performance is bad, it isn’t, but nothing about it screamed Bonaparte or much resembling him. The relationship between Napoleon and Joséphine acts as the framing device for the story, which is a clever idea, but not a lot is really said about their coupling other than it was clearly not a healthy one, there’s no particular insight afforded to it and it serves as a surface-level look behind the curtain. Rupert Everett's turn as Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was engaging, though, like most other characters not named Napoleon, his screentime was heavily limited. Scott may not care for those who expected historical accuracy, and I agree that not all biopics need to be a straight rundown of a Wikipedia article, but I did find myself wishing that the major players had been cast according to their native allegiance. Maybe that’s just me. Napoleon is a curious movie, whilst it is generally average or worse, I’m not sure what the point of it was. Scott seems to be deconstructing the idea of Napoleon, his character and his successes, which is completely fine but then posits him as a hero at other times - not just to the French but to everyone - one who could charm his troops effortlessly and ride into battle with them to glorious victory or failure (Napoleon did not ride into battle with his troops…). What could have been a towering biopic of one of history’s most enigmatic characters instead is a middling, unfunny, and confused romp that delivers few positives outside of Kirby’s standout performance.