SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

SHAZAM!

Cert 12A Stars 4

Magic and monsters cause mayhem in this terrific crowd pleasing superhero romp which doubles as a body swap comedy

This confident seventh instalment in the increasingly lighthearted, bright and colourful, DC Extended Universe, takes place in same world as the recent billion dollar success, Aquaman, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the king of Atlantis to turn up.

Billy is a teenage orphan who while searching for his mother, finds himself endowed with extraordinary powers and unlooked for responsibility.

Following an encounter with a wizard, whenever Billy says the magic word, ‘Shazam’, he’s magically transformed into an adult superhero, with strength, speed and the ability to shoot electric bolts from his fingertips.

Asher Angel is fresh faced and likeable as 14 year old Billy, with an exuberantly gleeful and goofy Zachary Levi, as his super-powered alter ego.

The script owes a lot to Tom Hanks’ 1988 comedy, Big, and pays homage to it during a fight in a department store, while the films energy has the wide-eyed excitable tone of 1980’s kid caper, The Goonies.

As Billy learns to control his powers, the warm family dynamic of his diverse foster family provides an strong emotional grounding. It’s here we meet Faithe Herman, as Billy’s new sister, a delightful pocket-sized scene stealer who’ll win your heart with her charm and humour.

Packed with jokes, this is funnier than Deadpool and has more laughs than Kick Ass, plus it’s also much kinder and far more appropriate for a family audience.

Brit actor Mark Strong played the bad guy in Kick Ass, and appears here as a super-villain who’s hunting Shazam to steal his powers, and is involved in all the flashy CGI action such as magic realms, scary demons, and mid-air fights.

Yet Shazam!’s greatest strength is knowing superheroes were created as a wish fulfilment fantasy for lonely adolescents, and is all the more enjoyable for putting them centre stage.

BLACK PANTHER

Cert 12A 134mins Stars 4

Marvel studios aren’t pussyfooting around with this big beast superhero adventure.

First seen in 2015’s Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman returns as Prince T’Challa A.K.A. Black Panther.

Back in his African homeland of Wakanda to inherit his father’s throne, T’Challa’s enhanced physical abilities and meteorite-powered suit are of little use against a political coup.

Full of trademark humour this is a typically action packed blockbuster. What separates this from its comic book stablemates is its sweeping multi-generational family saga played out on gorgeous plains of Africa.

Bright bold colours dominate the African influenced design, the soundtrack is tribal and local languages are used, all combining to create an environment unique in the Marvel universe.

Providing African American cast and crew a major Hollywood movie as a stage to strut their stuff is a huge roar for equality and demonstrates the extraordinary depth of talent available.

Among the cast are Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker, plus Brit nominated Daniel Kaluuya appears in a key role. Though it’s young Letitia Wright who steals the film.

Ryan Coogler previously directed 2015’s excellent Rocky sequel, Creed. Michael B. Jordan had the starring role there and brings his muscular swagger here as the villainous Killmonger.

Similarly to the Amazons of Wonder Woman, the women are warriors, but also scientists, and are frequently funnier than the men.

There are witty riffs on Disney’s Lion King. While an early interlude in a South Korean featuring a casino and a car chase cheekily presents T’Challa as a James Bond figure, which is sure to wind up the 007 purists.

And it politically unambiguous with Wakanda being a progressive vision of Africa, wealthy, independent, strong and united.

Unlike the recent reboot of Spider-man who had Robert Downey. Jnr’s mega popular Iron Man popping by to boost audience figures, Black Panther has to go it alone.

But this cool cat more than earns his stripes.

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Cert 12A 120mins Stars 4

Wonder Woman whips the boys into heroes in this epic and action packed comic book spectacular.

Fresh from her own blockbuster success, the Amazonian Princess joins Ben Affleck’s Batman in recruiting The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman to save the world.

Despited differing degrees of reluctance, they don’t stand a chance under the onslaught of Gal Gadot’s charm offensive. As  the lasso of truth-wielding Wonder Woman, the actress is the team’s most valuable player with Ezra Miller running her a close second, as The Flash.

This superior final part to Henry Cavill’s Superman trilogy follows on from last year’s overlong and doom laden Batman Versus Superman, which saw the death of the Man of Steel.

As the world mourns and turns to hopeless violence, a large horned monster descends at the head of an army of flying man-sized insectoid warriors.

Voiced by Ciaran Hinds, Steppenwolf is intent on seizing ancient three cuboid power sources with which he plans to destroy the Earth.

Picking up speed after a clunky opening, there’s a reduction in the series’ grim bombastic mood and overrides it with plenty of optimism and a greater sense of fun. There’s a change on emphasis from tortured martyrdom to a more crowd pleasing and uplifting tone.

Despite production difficulties a consistent vision has been adhered to throughout the three films. Characters have developed and matured, ideas of duty and sacrifice have been explored, and it goes out with a bang.

Always visually spectacular, the dark palette of previous films is punched up with colour, while John Williams’ famous original 1978 Superman score is sampled. It sends tingles down the spine, and signals a new dawn for truth and justice.

In this determinedly inclusive adventure unity is urged at every opportunity, however Wonder Woman is the star of the show and very much remains in a league of her own.

 

THOR: RAGNAROK

Cert 12A 130mins Stars 3

Gods and monsters battle for interstellar supremacy in the latest Marvel superhero adventure.

It’s a rainbow coloured bridge connecting the Earth-bound adventures of Marvel’s Avengers, to the sci-fi comedy of their Guardians of the Galaxy movies. 

Chris Hemsworth has previously played Thor endearingly dimBut here the Norse God of Thunder is disappointingly transformed into a generic action hero. He’s shorn of his blonde locks, is relieved of his trademark magic hammer and is noticeably more clever than before.

Thor continues his established rivalry with The Incredible Hulk, with the pair forced into gladiatorial combat an alien planet.

It’s ruled by Jeff Goldblum’s gangster, meanwhile Cate Blanchett sports goth fetish chic as the goddess of death, and Tom Hiddleston reprises his role as Thor’s half-brother Loki.

There’s are a stream of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, infantile bickering and a juvenile delight in swearing.

Marvel fans will love the endless in-jokes and there’s sufficient CGI action to keep casual viewers reasonably entertained.

 

 

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Cert 12A 149mins Stars 5

Earth’s mightiest superheroes return in the most thrilling, destructive and daring adventure of the Marvel franchise.

It’s a full-throttle galaxy-shattering epic which is guaranteed to leave fans slack-jawed by the time the lights come up on the 19th adventure in the series.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America are joined by Thor, Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more, in a desperate bid to save the universe.

Josh Brolin brings a sense of honour and purpose to his gravel-voiced menace in the role of Thanos, the giant alien villain who believes he is the good guy.

Thanos is determined to save the universe from over-population by culling exactly one half of its inhabitants. And if he obtains all six Infinity stones, he will have the power to do so at the snap of his fingers.

And one of the stones is attached to the forehead of Paul Bettany’s hero, Vision, making this a very personal fight for the Avengers, especially for his love interest, Elizabeth’s Olsens’ Scarlet Witch.

As we blast from across the universe in a series of dazzlingly executed fights, humour is key to making us care what happens.

From Spider-Man’s wisecracking, to the verbal spats between Iron-Man and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange, smart visual gags and self-aware references, the script is stuffed with jokes.

It’s purpose is to distract us from from where the story is heading, especially as the eye-opening beginning establishes not everybody is going to survive.

I didn’t imagine it would be possible to shock us to this degree, or Marvel were capable of topping their barnstorming Avenger’s Assemble in 2012. But this is their biggest, boldest and most breathtaking film to date.

The repercussions to the Marvel Connected Universe will be felt long after the sequel lands next year. I cannot wait.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS

Cert U 89mins Stars 4

Your kids will wet themselves with laughter at this wildly imaginative animated superhero movie that rivals The Lego Batman Movie for non stop fun.

It’s based on the brilliant and hugely successful children’s books, and is powered by buckets of goofy charm and gallons of potty jokes.

George and Harold are prank loving best friends at primary school, who hypnotise their over-authoritarian headmaster into believing he is their home made hero, Captain Underpants.

Meanwhile new science teacher Professor Poopypants has a nefarious plan to rid the world of laughter.

There’s a tangible sense of friendship between the pupils which carries the film through a breathless parade of gags, musical numbers, heists, battles, romance and toxic school dinners.

Throughout it all is an emphasis on kids’ love of drawing, writing, music and general creativity and the importance of education and educators.

With more pee pee jokes than you can shake a stick at, you should watch this at your earliest convenience.