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.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Cert 12A 133mins Stars 4

Marvel’s most popular superhero swings to ever greater heights in this wildly entertaining reboot.

Despite being the sixth Spider-Man film since 2002 and featuring yet another actor under the mask, this exuberant blast of summer fun is the best ever Spider-Man film.

Winningly confident, exciting and funny, it’s a web of wisecracks, stunts, and special effects, and is strung together by the gleeful performance of Brit actor, Tom Holland. 

Having developed super powers by being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker is a high school nerd by day and Spider-Man at night. He fearlessly confronts criminals yet is intimidated by the father of his date to the Homecoming prom.

Meanwhile Michael Keaton has a lot of fun as a super villain called The Vulture, much more than the actor ever did as Tim Burton’s Batman, back in – gulp – 1989.

The bad guy flies a set of mechanical wings created from the remnants of the alien attack on Earth seen in Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble, back in 2012.

The script is faithful to the spirit of the comic but never slavish in attention to detail and gives a contemporary take on the character. It’s all the better for being happy to introduce key characters late on, or dispense with them entirely.

The tone owes a huge amount to the giddy vitality of the 1980’s teen films of John Hughes, most notably Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which is clearly referenced.

 

Sony have long owned the Spider-Man film rights but not the rights to other heroes in the Marvel universe. This co-production with Marvel Studios is a ‘Homecoming’ for Spider-Man as it allows him to become integrated into the adventures of other Marvel heroes such as Captain America and Iron Man.

This gives the web slinger a much needed fresh set of legs, and that of course is a whole lot of legs.

THE MUMMY (2017)

Cert 15 110mins Stars 1

This big budget action adventure lumbers into cinemas and begs to be put out of its torment. Long before it ended, so did I.

Though the world is threatened when an ancient terror is unleashed, a directorial dead hand can’t muster a sense of fun, danger, mystery or suspense.

It’s only brought to a semblance of life by the spark of Brit actress Annabelle Wallis and the dogged determination of Tom Cruise.

He stars as Nick Morton, an impish US soldier and blackmarketeer who is cursed when he opens a tomb in the Iraqi desert.

To save himself he must reunite a ceremonial dagger with a jewel discovered in a London grave.

He’s accompanied by a shouty, face slapping Egyptologist called Jenny, played by Wallis.

They stagger through a script which exhumes the dead bits of better movies and wraps them up in murky CGI.

Aeroplane and underwater stunts are airlifted in from Cruise’s last Mission Impossible film. And scenes from An American Werewolf in London are humourlessly reanimated.

Meanwhile a resurrected Egyptian mummy wants the knife to rule the world, or something.

Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella spends her time either chained in rags or parading across the desert in the style of a 1980’s Turkish Delight advert.

This stumbling mess is intended to be a franchise starter for Universal Studio’s Dark Universe. It’s a series of connected films rebooting classic movie monsters such as the Wolfman.

So our heroes also encounter Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, lurking in a lair of Bond villain extravagance.

Years of good living hang heavy on the 53 year old Crowe and he makes the 54 year old Cruise seem even more remarkably well preserved.

Next year we’ll have a new version of The Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp has been announced as the Invisible Man.

After this dull horror show, that’s a truly terrifying prospect.

WONDER WOMAN

Cert 12A 140mins Stars 4

A super powered supermodel breaks the hero mould in this thrilling, involving and funny action spectacular.

Glamazon Israeli actress Gal Gadot is undeniably kick ass as the Amazon warrior princess. And she impresses in quieter scenes as her civilian alter ego Diana Prince. In these she’s an endearing mix of Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman and Christopher Reeves’ Clarke Kent.

Gadot benefits enormously by being paired with Chris Pine as ace spy and airman, Steve Trevor. Best known as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Pine’s gift for romantic comedy is astutely deployed in a hand holding role to aid the less experienced actress.

Leaving her home of Paradise Island to fight on the Belgian front, Wonder Woman seeks to kill the legendary Aries. Diana holds the ancient greek god of war responsible for the mass carnage and believes he’s taken the form of Danny Huston’s German general, Ludendorff.

There is hope and optimism as the old fashioned values of sacrifice, courage and duty are dressed up in state of art CGI.

A long way from the daft TV series starring Lynda Carter, this Wonder Woman is strong, smart and sexy. As one character says of her ‘I’m both frightened and aroused’.

From Supergirl to Catwoman female superhero films have been terrible. After fifteen super successful films starring various masked heroes, Marvel have no plans to make one.

This is despite their having the globally popular actress Scarlett Johansson playing a more significant character, the Black Widow, and even giving Ant-Man his own movie.

Meanwhile lead by the anguished Henry Cavill as Superman, the DC comics film adaptations have been overly long, dark and dull.

Director Patty Jenkins blows all this away with a fabulous mix of epic fantasy, wartime romance and screwball comedy.

Easily the best DC superhero film since Christian Bale hung up his Batman cowl, this woman is a downright wonder.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL 2

Cert 12A 135mins Stars 4

Brace yourself for cinematic hyper-speed as Marvel’s bickering band of galactic outlaws return in another loony tunes outer-space adventure.

Once again the inadvertent heroes have to save the universe, this time from a celestial being who wants to recreate  all life in his own image. 

The Guardian’s first adventure in 2014 was a £600 million box office supernova, and this one is bigger, brighter and funnier.

Although it is set in the same universe as Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk and the rest of Marvel’s team, there are only fleeting references to it. This gives it a stronger identity than most of their comic book adaptations.

Chris Pratt is the nominal star but is comprehensively outshone by pretty much all of the crowded cast.

He plays the super cocky half human halfwit Star-Lord, the leader of the pack. Sharing considerable screen time with the charismatic Kurt Russell, Pratt wilts in the heat of the veteran’s screen presence.

But even the scene stealing Russell can’t compete with the Baby Groot, an adorably cute animated stick creature, voiced by Vin Diesel. 

The laid back freewheeling groove disguises a remarkably smooth and accomplished ride, of dazzling sophisticated design, and an eye bending sense of scale.

Space battles riff on 1970’s Atari video games and are set to another soundtrack of 1970’s pop hits. It’s a trippy experience in 3D.

With a multi-coloured cast engaged in cartoon action and a laboured emphasis on friendship and family, The Guardians are clearly racing with the Fast and Furious franchise juggernaut to be box office champ. 

Fully clothed, covered in paint and half robotic, Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana prove to its competitor, films don’t have to rely on upskirt shots to be sexy. 

Almost needy in it’s desire to entertain, this is a rocket-fuelled psychedelic roller coaster of cosmic fun.

POWER RANGERS (2017)

Cert 12A 123mins Stars

It’s mighty morphin’ time as the rainbow coalition of colour coded superheroes spring into action. This big budget reboot of the TV show is good surprisingly fun, in its empty headed way.

Five ordinary teens are rescued from high school detention hell when they are chosen by an ancient alien being to save the Earth.

A young attractive cast bring an earnest enthusiasm and commit themselves with a goofball energy. Their bonding sessions reference the 1980’s classic, The Breakfast Club, but with smartphones and a higher moral purpose.

They’re given special powers to battle a 65-million-year-old alien invader who is trying to steal the source of their powers. Rita Repulsa is looking good for her age, and is played by Elizabeth Banks with a gold swallowing demented glee.

Decent CGI bring to life robot dinosaurs and an army of rock monsters for a town-smashing finale. My 6 year old will probably love it.

LOGAN

Cert 15 137mins Stars 4

The gloves are off and the claws are out as Hugh Jackman makes an emotional last stand as the superhero, Wolverine.

True to the spirit of the Marvel comics the character was ripped from, this is a splatter fest of bone splitting, brain skewering violence. And it’s all the more fun for it.

Armed with super tough adamantium bones, retractable claws and an extraordinary healing ability, Wolverine was the breakout star of 2003’s first X-Men film.

Though Jackman hides his leading man looks behind a beard and glasses, there’s no disguising the big Aussie’s fierce physique. The big Aussie actor first played the role in 2003 and he remains imposing, even at forty eight years old.

Now years later, he and Professor Xavier are eking out a living in Mexico. Patrick Stewart brings all his Shakespearean expertise to bear as Wolverine’s surrogate father and wheelchair bound, former X-Men leader.

The third member of the group is Caliban, an albino mutant with the power to sniff out other mutants. Former Ricky Gervais sidekick, Stephen Merchant, gives an affecting performance in heavy makeup. 

A mute orphan of prodigious ability is landed in their care and they’re pursued by heavily armed corporate agents, aiming to terminate her. In a politicised subtext, the bad guys are militarised corporate agents, the good guys are fence-storming Mexicans.

Whereas previously the X-Men series had courted a family audience with a 12A certificate, this one flaunts its 15 age limit. Abandoning spandex and light hearted frolics, this is notably the grittiest, darkest and bloodiest offering in the often disappointing, nine film franchise.

20th Century Fox are clearly aiming for the mega box office of their X-Men spin-off and surprise smash, Deadpool, which also had a 15 certificate. However at £102 million, Logan is more than twice as expensive, so will have to work a lot harder to make as much money.

There’s no lack of money, effort or expertise on show. Ferocious fist fights litter the cross-country chase, and it ends with a drug fuelled rampage through a forest.

Pummelled by far more emotional and physical punches than previous episodes, I almost wish it wasn’t the last one. We’ll see.

 

 

AQUAMAN

Cert 12A 143mins Stars 3

The sixth instalment of the DC Extended Universe swims into cinemas on a high tide of stunning CGI and waves of superhero comic book action.

Last seen in 2017’s Justice League fighting alongside Batman and Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is a half-human outcast heir to the throne of the sunken city of Atlantis.

Wet behind the ears when it comes to acting but competent at the action stuff Momoa seems happy enough just to be headlining his own film after the disappointment of his 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake.

Aquaman lifts it’s cod-mythology directly from Arthurian legend, and sends its reluctant hero on a quest to find a magical weapon only the true king can yield, in order to prevent his half-brother from uniting the underwater kingdoms and waging war on humanity’s landlubbers.

Willem Dafoe is unforgivably wasted in a tiddler of a role as a Merlin-type mentor, while Amber Heard’s princess has borrowed Scarlett Johansson’s fighting moves and exists to patiently explain the plot. 

Treading water as her father is Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman brings her customary elegant professionalism in a minor role which is one of several nods to the work of the foremost sci-fi writer, Jules Verne.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is also poorly served as a not-so-super villain called Black Manta, his ruthless high-seas mercenary is a great example of how the film spends an unnecessary amount of time looking ahead to the next adventure.

I’ve a chequered history with the films of director, James Wan. I loved Saw, hated The Conjuring, and was entertained by Fast and Furious 7.

He has the music swell majestically to sweep us out of our seats, but it can’t give buoyancy to the comedy which is most kindly described as broad, but is mostly flat.

Surviving on a drip feed of romance, the wishy washy characters are thankfully drowned in a tsunami of Avatar-quality visuals which sees giant armoured sea creatures battle in an epic finale.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Cert PG 116mins Stars 5

Along comes a Spider-man as you’ve never seen him before in this deliriously entertaining animated spin on your friendly neighbourhood superhero.

Joyous, thrilling and inclusive, it’s a pulsating neon kaleidoscope of jokes, action and invention as several versions of Spider-man team up to save the fabric of the universe being torn apart by the infamous crime lord, Kingpin. 

However this is not the Peter Parker character familiar from the Marvel films and comics, but another version of the web-swinger, Afro-latino schoolboy Miles Morales, and exists independently of the mainstream Marvel Connected Universe of the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

Rapper and actor Shameik Moore gives a lovely grounded performance as the voice of schoolboy Miles, alongside an impressive cast which includes Oscar winners  Mahershala Ali and Nicolas Cage.

Miles is bitten in time honoured tradition by a radioactive spider but before he can learn to control to his great new powers, he’s given the great responsibility of saving the world from  the effects of a parallel dimensions machine.

Through this window to the multi-verse swing various Spider-types of different genders, styles and species which range from 1930’s noir, to Japanese manga and a sort of Porky Pig figure.

As well as providing a team dynamic and a lot of humour, this solves the problem of  Spidey otherwise having to talk to himself to explain the plot, and proves what a universal and flexible character Spider-man is.

Intent on villainy are a rogues gallery of familiar foes such as Green Goblin and Doc Ock, plus some super-menacing Spanish cyborg scorpion thing.  

It’s produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller who made 2014’s brilliant The LEGO Movie and they fill this with their fresh and infectious looney tunes-style energy and colour.

And while honouring its humble pulp comic origins they also capture the extraordinary optimism and dynamism of the character as well as offering a touching tribute to the creators, Steve Dikto and the recently departed, Stan Lee.

This reincarnation of their most popular superhero rivals the best of this years live-action superhero adventures, and is the most enjoyable Spider-man film yet.