2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART THREE: WONDER WOMAN TO THE LAST JEDI

Hold it! This is the final part of my 2017 reviewathon, which will conclude with my Top 5 Best and Worst films of the year. It’s very exciting, but seeing that will be no fun if you haven’t read Part One and Part Two first. If you’re going to waste your time reading a mediocre blog, then you might as well do it right.

WONDER WOMAN, 01/06/2017

wonder woman

Wonder Woman is everything you could possibly want from a superhero film, and then some. Gal Gadot is a revelation, giving a heroic, spirited performance that really drives the film. The plot is riveting too, with a convincing and respectful World War 1 setting that lends it an emotional weight and resonance that other films in the genre can only dream of.

It is a film rich with character development and rife with powerful moments, that superbly straddles the line between gritty realism and flashy comic book action. Critics have given its final showdown flack for being a CGI-heavy light show, but they don’t seem to understand that visual spectacle is a big part of superhero comics, and the ultimate battle in Wonder Woman is dazzling.

Say what you want about the DC Extended Universe, but Wonder Woman royally kicked every other spandex-clad butt out there, becoming the new gold standard of the superhero movie world.

THE RED TURTLE, 04/06/2017

Michaël Dudok de Wit’s feature-length debut is a gorgeous, wordless animated fable about a man who washes up on a desert island. After scouting out his surroundings and picking up a few essential survival skills, the man builds a raft to sail away from his paradisiacal prison, but every escape attempt is thwarted by a mysterious red turtle.

From here the story takes on a magical, dreamlike quality, and though inexplicable events occur, the beautiful hand-drawn animation and soaring musical score swept me up in an experience that ultimately brought me to tears.

The Red Turtle’s wondrous ambiguity provides much to discuss, and I have read a number of complex theories online about what the film could mean in regards to man’s relationship with nature. While these are valid points, I think the actuality is much simpler. It’s not a film about nature, it’s a film about life. My life, and yours.

No one asks to be born; we are thrown from the sea of nothingness onto the islands of our lives, harsh environments where challenges and hardships are plenty. As much as we may want to escape from our islands, we can’t. We must adapt, and learn to live by their rules. We learn, we grow, and we find beauty and meaning in the most unlikely of places.

The Red Turtle is the simplest and most truthful story a film can tell, because it is the story. Our story. This is one everyone should watch.

THE MUMMY, 13/06/2017

the mummy

Oh dear.

There’s not much to be said about The Mummy that hasn’t already been said a million times over. The true horror of the film, of course, is its laughably blatant attempts to launch a franchise – the so-called ‘Dark Universe’, the prospects of which have promptly disappeared down the toilet with the remains of its titular mummy.

There’s a smattering of dumb gratification to be had from The Mummy’s suitably Tom Cruisey Tom Cruise action, but everything else leaves a tomb-load to be desired. The script is dogshit (“he’s a monster now”), every character is either rubbish or entirely pointless and the plot is riddled with problems. For example, if releasing the Mummy was such a terrible idea, why did those who buried it leave a convenient mechanism with which to retrieve it? Just bury it in cement or something.

The film also has a terrible representation of archaeology. Real life archaeology is all about context; artefacts are recorded ‘in situ’ because we can learn a lot from their surroundings (to put it simply). It’s a painstaking process. The Mummy‘s idea of archaeology is picking up an ancient sarcophagus with a helicopter and swinging it about a lot, no doubt damaging its contents and denying at least three students an interesting topic for their thesis. I mean, I suppose there were guns going off and stuff, but really.

If I have one good thing to say about The Mummy, it’s that I actually quite liked Russell Crowe in it. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one with this opinion; everyone else says he was dreadful, but dodgy accent aside I thought his character was pretty cool. To be honest, I was probably just grasping for something, anything to enjoy amongst the spools of mummy-bandage toilet paper this film unrolls into your lap.

Even Brendan Fraser would not be able to save this decaying corpse. Save your money, and donate it to the British Museum instead.

TRANSFORMERS; THE LAST KNIGHT, 23/06/2017

If you’ve read my blog before, you might know that I hold Transformers: Age of Extinction in unusually high regard. It’s not high art, but it’s much better than the previous three films in the franchise, and I have an absolute blast every time I watch it. Alongside the claim that ‘Michael Bay is actually a good director’, it’s a position I have stood by through various forms of abuse, but no amount of shaming will convince me that TF4 is a bad film.

This is probably something no self-respecting film critic has ever said, but I had high hopes for Transformers: The Last Knight. Its release happened to coincide with my holiday to the USA, so I thought I’d go all out and see it in IMAX at the TCL Theater in Hollywood. 3-gallon drink in hand, and with a packed audience of jolly Californians, I experienced Mikey B’s latest epic in the loudest and smashiest way possible. It’s possible that my circumstances positively influenced my judgement, but I had a whale of a time. It doesn’t reach the high bar set by TF4 (yes, you read that arrangement of words correctly), but it’s still a fun romp in its own way.

Transformers 5 is a strange film. I think it might be the only film in which you can see a robot butler kick a fish to death, which is, of course, a plus. The Transformers films have always been a bit silly, but with The Last Knight it seems that Bay decided to amp the silly to the extent that it’s properly batshit mad. Characters hurtle around the world doing and saying silly things, with the highlight being Welsh treasure Anthony Hopkins, whose presence in a Transformers movie is baffling to say the least. The silly antics of Hopkins and his aforementioned butler had me in stitches on multiple occasions.

It’s difficult to put into words just how silly it is, but let me say that in its opening scene, Stanley Tucci plays Merlin, who is given a wizard staff by a transformer and proceeds to help King Arthur win a battle with the aid of flying robotic dragons. What does this have to do with the rest of the movie? You know, I can’t remember. But who cares? (Well, critics apparently…)

It doesn’t have a coherent narrative, but that’s never been the strong point of the series anyway. In terms of pure entertainment value, I loved The Last Knight. It’s thrilling and funny and the whole audience genuinely loved it. There were even two guys watching it wearing matching Michael Bay t-shirts. Make of that what you will, I guess.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, 09/07/2017

spider-man

I have had a troubled relationship with Marvel Studios’ movies in the past, so it comes as a relief that I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming – an actual, proper superhero movie (none of that Civil Bore rubbish), with an actual good villain to boot! What is the world coming to?

Tom Holland is perfectly cast as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and I mean note-perfect. He plays the awkward school kid fantastically and with great humour, and is equally confident in the heroic training pants of the wise-cracking web-slinger.

Facing off with Spidey this time is Michael Keaton’s Vulture, who is probably the best antagonist in the series since Loki’s debut (Marvel’s villainous track record is, for want of a better word, lacking). Vulture is a strong and nasty baddie who the film still manages to make somewhat sympathetic, and I really loved the rather restrained way that the final conflict is resolved.

Unlike the rest of the Avengers, who seem content with smashing aliens, robots, terrorists and/or each other, Homecoming’s Spidey is, in my eyes, a real superhero: a selfless person with the desire to help those in need, no matter the personal risk. He’s a grounded hero, despite his web-swinging antics, more concerned with taking down street criminals than extraterrestrial armies. One moment at the end, concerning a decision about a costume, served as a subtly moving epilogue that represented everything I love about superheroes.

Then, one look at Spider-Man in the Infinity War trailer indicates they’ve fucked it, ruining the moment completely. Slow clap, Marvel. Slow clap.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, 19/07/2017

Who would have thought that a Planet of the Apes reboot would become one of the greatest and most consistent trilogies of the modern era? Well, it did, and this third instalment is a cracker, not least because it continues to ride on the hairy back of the impeccable Andy Serkis.

Employing performance capture technology to a breathtaking degree, Serkis is so believable and captivating as the ape leader Caesar that he deserves an Oscar nod. The range of the actor’s talent beggars belief. This final piece of Caesar’s story takes him to some seriously dark places, and is a fitting, thought-provoking conclusion for a character we have followed from birth.

Spiced up with a sprinkling of comedy from the loveable, huggable ‘Bad Ape’, War for the Planet of the Apes is a bleak and affecting war movie that just happens to have talking simians in it. Unfortunately however, it doesn’t answer the most important question. How can a horse bear the weight of a 160 kg gorilla?

DUNKIRK, 27/07/2017

dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is less a film and more an experience – or perhaps I should say ‘ordeal’.

I was terrified watching Dunkirk, more so than any horror film. From the very start Nolan throws us onto the beaches with the soldiers, and we immediately share their confusion and panic. Accompanied by Our Lord and Saviour Hans Zimmer’s brilliantly incessant soundtrack, which appears to continuously build and rise for the duration of the film*, Dunkirk is a seat-grippingly tense, non-stop tour of this landmark event that gets into your very bones.

Its stunning direction and cinematography makes for an incredibly immersive experience, and it couldn’t be more so if it had 3D glasses and squirted you in the face with water. I felt every gunshot and explosion, anxiously anticipating the next with a level of fear I rarely get while watching films. When it finally ticked to a close I had to take a moment to catch my breath, feeling like I had genuinely been through hell and survived.

With yet another masterpiece under his belt, Nolan continues to be an inhumanly good director, and Michael Caine isn’t even in this one. It does however feature the acting debut of one Harry Styles, who I must say does a mighty fine job. Who knew?

*Hans Zimmer’s ingenious technique is explained in this excellent video.

BLADE RUNNER 2049, 28/10/2017

blade runner

There is a shot relatively early on in Blade Runner 2049 where a flying car soars past a monolithic dam, water thundering from it, before zooming off against the backdrop of a vast, futuristic Los Angeles. Also floating above the city is the film’s exquisite synth score, and the combination of vista and sound made me well up a little. Coming from Arrival director Denis Villeneuve, 2049 is predictably magnificent.

I don’t want to talk about the plot here, but I can safely say that this is as perfect a sequel to the Blade Runner than we could have hoped to get. It further explores the themes and questions raised in the original, while leaving the most important ones ambiguous. Harrison Ford delivers one of his best performances yet as returning character Rick Deckard, and Ryan Gosling cements himself as one of my favourite actors in his role as the replicant-hunting blade runner K.

We also get to see new aspects of Blade Runner’s society, one of the most notable being its depiction of AI companionship in the form of Joi, K’s virtual girlfriend. Some reviewers have commented negatively about Joi in terms of the film’s gender politics, but I think this is almost an insult to the complexities and implications of her character. We’re never quite sure whether she does indeed have a ‘living’ personality, or if her actions are solely in servitude to K, and a particular moment concerning her is one of the film’s most severe emotional gut-punches.

Blade Runner 2049 leaves us in the best position. Its ideas are so abundant and world so expansive that I would love to return for another sequel, but I would also be happy for it to be left as a two-part story that retains the allure of mystery. Is Deckard a replicant? We should never know. Ridley Scott thinks he knows, but he can fuck off.

IT, 12/11/2017

Though mired a tad by an over-reliance on CGI and a couple of poorly-executed early monster reveals, It is a fantastic chiller, as fun as it is creepy.

More so than a traditional horror, It feels like a kids’ adventure film for grownups. I loved the playful and realistic relationship between the young cast, which facilitated many charming and wickedly funny moments, especially from the foul-mouthed Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard).

Don’t let the kids fool you into thinking this is The Goonies, mind. It is shockingly gruesome when it needs to be, right from the start when a child’s arm is savaged off by the fangs of the infamous Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Speaking of Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård is mirthfully menacing as the film’s shapeshifting antagonist, creating an atmosphere of spine-chilling dread every time he is on screen and giving us some properly cruel jump scares.

With the story set to return 30 years on, I can’t wait to take a trip down the drain again and see what nightmares are waiting there. After all, we all float.

JUSTICE LEAGUE, 26/11/2017

justice

Justice League was a fun film that I enjoyed immensely, and that is precisely why I am disappointed. Essentially the final part of a trilogy that began with Man of Steel and continued with Batman v SupermanJustice League contains little of the depth of its predecessors.

I know my love for those films goes firmly against the grain, but MoS and BvS were films that meant something, having a sense of philosophical wisdom about them (whether or not you think they were successful in that regard is your own call). As Disney and Marvel pumped out safe crowd-pleasers, DC were taking risks, dividing the viewership but giving those on board something to treasure. Justice League is exciting, spectacular and a great ride, but that’s all it is. The worst thing about it is that it almost squanders the return of the trilogy’s central character, which considering the buildup over the last two films should have been more triumphant and sincere than it was.

Then there’s the problem of the editing. Whether or not there is indeed a ‘Zack Snyder cut’ somewhere is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that bringing Joss Whedon onto the project at such a late stage made the film a bit of a jumbled mess, CGI lip and all. If reports are to be trusted a considerable amount of footage was cut, and it certainly shows. Character development suffers, particularly in the case of Aquaman, and it’s possible the more serious stuff that would have rounded off Snyder’s trilogy was dropped altogether.

I can’t be too mad about Justice League because I did really like it. As much as I enjoyed the sombre, reflective quality of MoS and BvS, the lighter tone here served the characters well, and it was frequently very funny. Many moments had me positively beaming, such as the amazing chase with the Amazons of Themyscira and the delightful final shot, which made me want to punch the air with joy. It’s a good film, but it could have been so much more. Please don’t die, DCEU. I believe in you.

THOR: RAGNAROK, 03/12/2017

In Japan, Thor: Ragnarok is inexplicably called Mighty Thor: Battle Royale. This fact is not really relevant to anything I have to say, but it is quite funny, as is the film itself. From Taika Waititi, director of the chuckle-inducing hits What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the third Thor adventure is the funniest and most minute by minute entertaining Marvel Studios film to date.

As if straight out of the colourful pages I used to adore so much during my Thor phase, Ragnarok is a wacky and adrenaline-fuelled quest across a galaxy filled to the brim with zany characters and exotic locales, and accompanied by the crunchy beats of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. In essence, it’s a better Guardians of the Galaxy film than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was.

Battle Royale’s story is pretty average fantasy fare and there’s few standout moments to linger in the memory, but bang-for-your-buck it’s one of the best times you can have watching a film, not to mention it has the best ensemble cast in superhero cinema. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is underused, but you do get to see him jam out on a synthesiser. What’s not to like?

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, 15/12/07

star wars

Oh boy, here’s the big one. Surely no film has prompted such debate as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Every possible opinion has no doubt been already expressed elsewhere, either more eloquently or intentionally/unintentionally comedic than I ever could, so I’m going to keep my thoughts (relatively) brief. I loved The Last Jedi.

After watching it twice I have come to the conclusion that director Rian Johnson is a very clever man, and a brave one too as he clearly knew how divisive this was going to be. It sets out to defy everything we’ve come to expect from Star Wars, breaking all the tropes of the genre and leading the franchise in some surprising new directions. Internet whingers are mad because it didn’t follow their own personal fan theories, and refused to answer questions that they believed were important, but here’s the thing – these questions are not important.

No longer is Star Wars about a Chosen One destined to save the galaxy, or a dastardly overlord intent on destroying it. Its heroes and villains don’t slot neatly into those classifications, being flawed and conflicted with futures that could lead in any direction. It is a film in which even a legend from a bygone era is refreshingly human, not some mythical all-good saint, and even a nobody with a strong heart can walk the path to greatness.

Worlds apart from the feel-good nostalgia of The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi is a film about failure, which is experienced in some form by every major character. It’s basically two-and-a-half hours of the good guys getting the shit kicked out of them, and I really admire that. With our protagonists at their lowest, the stage is set for a trilogy finale of unprecedented majesty as they learn from their mistakes and rid the galaxy of evil once and for all – or, not.

Just as people thought they knew Star WarsThe Last Jedi has given the franchise a shake-up that it will be feeling for years to come. Anything could happen, no one is safe, and I am very, very excited.

And so, after nearly 40 reviews of varying quality, we have reached the end of this odyssey, and it is time for me to rank my Top 5 Best and Worst films of the year. I’m sure if I had seen more than five films in the last five months these lists would look a little different, but what the heck. Each one of these films deserves to be there, and no one cares what I think anyway. So here we go!

The Top 5 Best Films of 2017

1. La La Land
2. The Age of Shadows
3. Dunkirk
4. The Red Turtle
5. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions (yes, really)

The Top 5 Worst Films of 2017

1. Baywatch
2. The Mummy
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
4. A Silent Voice
5. Assassin’s Creed

That’s all for now. I can’t promise this blog will come back to life like Tom Cruise at the end of The Mummy (spoiler), but I can thank you – yes, you – for reading this. I put a lot of hours into this stuff, and the fact that even one person would read it and maybe take something away from it is all the justification I need. I’d send you a medal or something, but the postage from Japan would be too expensive. It’s the thought that counts though, right?

And thus endeth the Word of Tom.

red turtle

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s