The New Mutants (2020)

I was very intrigued by this when I saw the first trailer. A horror movie set in the X-Men universe? That’s hella original, comic book movies are usually action comedies, so the idea of one stepping away from that to create something truly original is exciting. Plus, it’s got Anya Taylor-Joy, who is suitably creepy and usually gives great performances, and would be perfect for this.

That was back in 2017. It’s 2020 now (in case you hadn’t noticed), and has a film that’s been delayed as long as this one ever come out and been thought of as good? Those kind of delays are usually a bad sign, especially with a release as quiet as this one, I know there’s a pandemic, but I have not seen ANY publicity for this at all lately. Maybe one day a film will break that curse, and all the delays will be worth it, but not this film.

It’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a mess, I was going to blame the reshoots, but they didn’t actually get done. The core film just isn’t that good. I don’t know if it is the case but it feels unfinished, some of the CGI is embarrassing for a film with a budget like this. The script is, well it’s kind of bad. The bit about “you have two bears inside you” I think is meant to be deep and meaningful (and lead into the big bad), but it’s SO unsubtly done (they mention the narrative of it at least 3 times in the film, two of which are voice overs) that it comes off as slightly condescending towards the audience. It might as well have a flashing light saying “This is symbolism. DO YOU GET IT?” That’s not the most frustrating thing though. Now I know for a fact everybody in this film can, and have, given great performances. I know they’re incredibly talented performers. So with that in mind I have to say this: what the hell was up with the accents in this movie? It’s like everybody thought they were still in rehearsal and they were trying to figure out who their characters were.

Some of the characters are just as inconsistent. With their personalities changing from one scene to the next in an incredibly frustrating manner. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character in particular seems like two characters in one, the writers never quite sure how to make her character work, should they make her a sweet teen who has suffered hardship? A badass warrior who cares about her fellow mutants, or a massive racist bully? In the end they can’t decide, so make her all three, depending on what the plot needs.

On the plus side, the central romance REALLY works. You can tell this because there were moments where the two characters are just sitting next to each other, and you can feel the sexual tension between them. It’s hard to explain how, but it’s definitely there. So when it does happen you’re not thinking “oh God, another romance. how trite. Yeah it’s the first openly gay one in an x-men film (to my knowledge) but still dull”. You want it to happen so you’re glad when it does.

So overall, a film that didn’t have reshoots, but probably should have. And you have no idea how frustrating it is that this is probably the last film I’ll see in cinema in 2020. Just about sums the year up. It’s just disappointing, they had a chance to do something different and exciting, instead it’s so pedestrian I want to run it over with my car.

Artemis Fowl (2020)

I was REALLY looking forward to this. I LOVE the books, they’re fun, unique, and have a great plot running throughout the whole series. Sure, it made some missteps (one character in particular was set up to be a major part, and then just ignored for the rest of the series). Part of my love for the series comes from the complex characters. Artemis himself starts off the series as the antagonist, he’s essentially a child sociopath. If he was an adult he’d be a Bond villain: calm, calculating, and incredibly vicious, willing to do anything to achieve his goals (the series starts with him shooting and kidnapping a fairy, being the first person in millennia to do so). Which is why I was deeply concerned by the casting call, which described him as:

“warm hearted and with a great sense of humour; he has fun in whatever situation he is in and loves life”

It then got worse with the casting of Judi Dench as Commander Root, gender-swapping the character. Now I know how that sounds: “bloody SJW’s ruining everything, James Bond has to be a straight white male who’s hair colour, body, and personality keeps changing”. But it’s not that, it’s that it ruins one of the core dynamics of the book. In the book, Holly Short (who, incidentally has “nut-brown” skin in the book, yet is very white in the film) is notable for being the first female captain, and her relationship with Root is based on that, as he has to be harder on her than everybody else because if she fails, people will use it as a justification for keeping women away from the position forever, she has to be perfect, and he has to make sure she is. With Root also being a woman, that dynamic and backstory is gone.

Also gone, is Butler. I mean, he’s in the film, but it’s not the same character as in the book. Firstly, he’s black, not eurasian (and in the books his family have served the Fowl’s for generations, and having a black family serve a rich white family for generations is……unfortunate). Also in the books he is highly secretive of his real name, only mentioning it when he’s about to die, he insists on being referred to as “Butler”. In this, it’s the opposite, he insists on going by his first name. This is a confusing change, it adds nothing to the story, so I can’t get the justification for changing it. It seems like it was just changed for the sake of changing it. He also does a little spin for no reason, and everybody who reads the books knows how he detests that, he specifically mentions it.

So aside from being a TERRIBLE adaptation, is it a good film on it’s own merits? Lol, no. The plot is incredibly dull (and I’m still not entirely sure what the thing they’re searching for actually does outside of “driving the plot”), the characters are dull, the performances, well I feel if I said how I felt it would verge on bullying.

I detest this film for what it was, for what it wasn’t, and for what it could have been. I saw it for free on disney+, and still feel cheated. This could have been something great, instead it’s just an example of how bad Disney are at their job sometimes.

Palm Springs (2020)

I went into this pretty blind. I knew it existed, I knew Andy Samberg was in it, and I knew the poster. The first minute or so were pretty much as I expected: he wakes up and has sex (attempts to) with his partner the morning of a wedding.

Then it gets weird. He seems a little too bored, a little too like he knows exactly what is going to happen at all times. There’s a reason for that, he’s in a Groundhog Day situation and has lived this day multiple times. The good thing about this is the film drops just enough hints that if you’re paying attention you can figure it out before it’s revealed. Before the reveal it is kind of a standard romcom, and then he gets shot by someone who hates him because he caused him to go through the loop too.

So yeah, the opening section sets in stone the notion that this is not a typical romcom. It has far more jokes about suicide than the typical romcom (well, the typical romcom not written by me, at least). It also has a much darker undertone than it appears. He brings up how he behaves knowing nothing has consequences, bringing up the fact that it doesn’t matter if other people don’t remember, you do. So if you do something awful, you will be haunted by it. As he says

“Being a source of terror is not fun and it’s not fulfilling, I know from experience”

That one line gives us so much potential backstory to that character. It hints that he went through a stage where he killed people, where he viciously tortured those who annoyed him (and considering he knows his girlfriend is cheating on him, that gives us some VERY dark possibilities). I love that it hints at that backstory, but never shows us. It gives us the impression that the characters have lives outside of this film, these characters and this world seem real (except the random dinosaurs).

This film does so much right, the performances are all spot on, and overloaded with unsaid character motivations and beliefs. Everybody is on top form, it doesn’t have as many comedian cameos as you think it would. Truth be told I only remember recognising three of the cast members, but even the “unknowns” do their job incredibly well, all meshing together to form a cohesive unit. I firmly believe this may be one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a long time, not a single weak link.

Now the downsides: visually it doesn’t really do much. There is some impressive stunt work in it, but the location itself never feels as paradisiacal as you feel it could. I don’t know whether it’s set design, or directing, but the location itself doesn’t “pop” as much as you feel it should. Also I feel the music could be better, I can’t remember a single song from this film, and considering it’s a summer-based horror-comedy that’s a disappointment. Also some of the montages aren’t quite fun enough. There are some moments where they’re genuinely sweet and funny, but then there are others where they just feel kind of standard. Overall though, well worth a watch. If you have a hulu account (or have a friend with one), it’s on there so you should definitely check it out on there.

The Lovebirds (2020)

Earlier this year I reviewed Fantasy Island, and in that review I said “the”,which was probably the only word I used in the review which wasn’t insulting it. It’s time to admit there was something good from that film, before it I had the trailer for this. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t know about it, which would be a shame.

I mean, it’s also a shame that this film got put on netflix, it would have been nice to see this in the cinema (and I get the feeling I’ll be saying that A LOT this year), as I feel it deserves that.

It’s not the best film in the world, but it is pretty solid with nothing to truly hate about it. The characters are well-written and all their decisions make sense, even when they are stupid decisions they have a certain logic to them.

The core of this film is the central relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae (while we’re on the subject; how refreshing is it to see a film like this being lead by two non-white performers and not have that being their defining character trait?). This film does the smartest thing I’ve seen in a while in how it shows their relationship, it shows them first meeting and awkwardly flirting, and then cuts to years later when the relationship is in turmoil. The fact we see them happy means that we are invested in their relationship as we know what they can be together, otherwise we’d just be sitting there screaming “FFS just end it”, but because we know how happy they can be, we want them to work it out, and you need that. Trust me, you do need that, because the break-up scenes hit HARD. Much much harder than you’d expect a film like this to. You genuinely feel like both characters are a single comment away from a complete breakdown. Whether it’s criticising their work on documentaries “documentaries are reality shows that nobody watches”, or their personality types. When they argue, they aim low, and it’s painful to see (in a good way).

Now onto the actual story, about them attempting to uncover the truth behind a stranger getting in their car (who they think is a cop) and running someone over, repeatedly, to incredibly uncomfortable silence. Since it’s in their car, and they get found by two hipsters (one of whom takes a photo of the body, called it) who call the police “I’d like to report a murder or whatever”. They assume they’re going to be blamed for the murder, so run away and try to solve it themselves, all the while arguing. It’s not exactly the most original plot, but it is a lot of fun to watch. It does become original at the end though where the police say that they were never suspects, the original murder was caught on camera (obviously), and they just wanted to speak to them as they were witnesses. I like when films twist the common tropes like that, it was also done well in Keanu where the main characters were arrested because despite being innocent of murder, they still broke a lot of laws trying to clear their name.

So should you see this? Well it’s on netflix so you really should. The director’s previous film was The Big Sick, and whilst it’s nowhere near as good as that, it is still worth a watch.

Tenet (2020)

I’ve seen quite a few films since the cinemas reopened, some good, some very very bad, but this is the first “cinema” film. The first film where I felt it needed to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated.

I feel Nolan is aiming his films squarely at cinema use now, which I really appreciate. I love how his films are ambitious and full of spectacle, with jaw-dropping practical effects (in this one he actually crashed a plane). On the downside I think his characters tend to feel a little flat. With the exception of the main characters, nobody in his films tend to stand out as particularly well written. That’s definitely also the case in this one, the main character is literally called The Protagonist. It’s weird as it’s got a lot of big actors in it, but they barely do anything. There are a lot of actors in this film who are not really needed. Michael Caine, for example, is in a single scene which could be cut entirely from the film and it wouldn’t effect the plot. It would effect the enjoyment of the film though as it would take away from the excessive runtime. It’s two and a half hours and you feel every moment.

Make no mistake, this is a BIG film, and you will be amazed, but you will also be slightly frustrated. Not so much at the plot which isn’t anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is, not so much at the complete lack of character development, and not even at the handwaving of the science integral to the plot (seriously they just say “don’t try to understand it), but you will be frustrated by the audio. It sounds like they’ve just made a song go backwards, I don’t know if they actually did that or not but that’s the definite intention they meant. Now in Inception they slowed down Non, je ne regrette rien until it was unrecognisable, and that worked. But melodies don’t always work backwards, they’re jarring and uncomfortable to listen to, so if you have your entire soundtrack be like that it’s just kind of annoying. Also, the sound mixing is atrocious so a lot of the time dialogue is impossible to understand. I wasn’t going to mention this at first as I thought there’s a chance it might have just been an issue with the cinema I saw it in, but then I saw other reviews mention it. So either every cinema in the country has got it wrong, or there is an actual problem. Supporting the “it’s an issue with the film, not the cinema” theory is a post from sound designer Richard King who has worked with Nolan on seven films (including this one). He said:

“He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience.”

Far be from me to criticise Nolan, but what the fuck is he thinking? I know they did something similar in The Wire, where they had characters use a lot of slang and didn’t explain it, so that people would have to pay attention to it. But that’s done realistically, people do speak in slang, and they don’t often understand it. Watching a film where they intentionally muffle the dialogue is not the same. If reality was like that then 50% of conversations would consist of the words “sorry, can you repeat that?” It doesn’t make you lean in to the film, if anything it frustrates you so you lean out. You don’t make a film entirely in shadows “so the audience has to really focus with their eyes and get drawn in”, no, you make shit that people can actually see (I understand darkness is an effective tool in film, I’m not talking about singular scenes and motives, I’m talking about in general).

None of that can compare to my biggest issue with the film: I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about the plot, I just did not care at all. I was completely passive when viewing it.

I get I may be one of the few people who didn’t love this film (and after the response to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I know my viewpoints don’t always match the general public), but I did like it. The performances were good, visually it was superb, it had a great concept, and the fight choreography was incredibly unique. The plot….I feel if I watched it a second time I’d notice lots of foreshadowing and realise how intelligent a lot of that is, I love when films do that. The only issue: I don’t particularly want to watch this film again. I don’t want to spend another 3 hours in a cinema, and I don’t want to watch this at home. It just…..it did absolutely nothing for me. I felt the same way about Interstellar to be honest, and Dunkirk. I sat there thinking “this is an absolute masterclass in film-making that I will never ever have the desire to watch again”.

Bloodshot (2020)

I was going to cough on the woman who lives next door the other day, then I remembered that the bible says you shouldn’t COVID your neighbours wife.

There it is, possibly the worst joke I will make all day, maybe. But what does it have to do with this film? Absolutely nothing. So was there any point in me making it? Not really. So why did I do it? I don’t exactly have a word count here, I just go until the review naturally stops. I do know, though, that I don’t want a review to just be a single paragraph as that will be a bit weird. But that might be all I can manage for this review so I have to pad it out somewhat. It’s a difficult review to write. Not for any personal or deeply emotional reason, I just can’t remember much about it. I can’t remember any of the characters names, much of the plot or sequences etc, it left absolutely no impression on me.

I think part of that is due to the advertising, it made it clear that the backstory about his wife being killed was a lie so that he would hunt down and kill people in revenge. This takes A LONG TIME to happen in the film, so for a large portion of the film you don’t pay attention because you know it’s fake. You know that what you’re watching doesn’t matter so you don’t care. A smarter thing to do would have been to either not have that in the advertising, or to change it so it happens much earlier in the film.

Don’t get me wrong, predictable can still be good if it’s done well. If it’s either stylish enough or funny enough so that the predictability doesn’t effect it too much. This doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have enough impressive action set pieces and the ones it does have don’t really work. The best example of this is a scene set in the aftermath of a truck carrying flour crashing. The flour causes the scene to look like snow. It’s being bathed in the light from a red flare so it looks kind of cool. There’s just one small problem: flares are fire, and flour is flammable (trust me on this). This would have been a cool moment if he set fire to the flour and used that, but nope, they just it for a cool visual, and sacrifice realism and logic to do so.

I would mention some of the background characters but with the exception of two characters nobody was given anything to do. There are 3 more enhanced individuals but the enhancements they have are not really given any focus so it’s easy to forget what they are (I think one had robot legs, and one could breathe underwater, a skill which doesn’t really factor into the plot at all, despite it being very easy to do so). Obviously the script thought it was more important to spend all it’s time showing things the audience already knows is false when it would have been a better use of the time to develop the side characters.

So yeah, that’s Bloodshot, and I can’t even be bothered to write a joke about bloodshot eyes through alcohol consumption. I would not recommend this at all, a huge disappointment (well it would have been if I had any expectations of it to begin with) that just leaves you asking questions. Mainly:

  1. Who edited that trailer?
  2. Who thought it would be a good idea to try and start a franchise with a first time director?
  3. Why did they keep his ex alive? They should have known he would attempt to find her and then find out how long ago they split. Actually, why did they use a real person at all? They could have just fabricated one in a false memory like they did everything else. Was it an attempt to get emotion into the film? Why would you attempt to put emotion in a Vin Diesel action film? FFS

My Spy (2020)

I mentioned in my review of Stuber last year my hope that this would be the film that causes Batista to go from “oh yeah, that guy” to “THE guy”. Sadly that’s not the case. This film is predictable, the villains are SEVERELY underdeveloped, and a lot of the actions of the characters don’t make any sense if you think about it for more than a minute. It’s also REALLY fun and well worth a watch.

Yeah it has some flaws, but I seriously doubt you’ll regret watching it. It’s funny, sweet, and has enough unique parts to stand out. It sets its tone very early on with a hostage situation that turns into laugh out loud comedy, and a reference to Iron Man 2 (although if the MCU exists in this universe, who played Drax?), and then plays a car chase to foreign language covers of I Will Survive and My Heart Will Go On. It’s a cheap laugh, but it’s a laugh nonetheless. It’s also something you don’t really expect in this film, a bit like the high number of Notting Hill references compared to most comedy action films.

Now when I say “things that don’t make sense” they’re mainly character-based mistakes rather than impossibilities. For example he stands in front of a class and admits he’s a spy. Number one on the “list of things needed to be a good spy” would be “never mention you’re a spy” yet he never suffers any backlash from this. (Number two on the list, by the way, is “a preference for cheese sandwiches over ham”, I don’t know why that’s important, it just is.) It’s strange as he suffers for other things he do which aren’t spy-like, but not for this. It’s a very sweet moment, and incredibly funny, but like I said it doesn’t make that much sense. I mean, it is worth it for his description of his time in the service when he mentions killing people: “they were all terrorists, human traffickers, or really annoying”

One thing is made abundantly clear in this film: Batista is f*cking huge. You don’t normally notice it because he’s paired up against similarly muscled men. But when you see him standing against normal people, you realise he’s a massive human being. Like, scarily large.

So in summary I think you do need to see this. It’s not like “omg that was so smart and brilliant” but near the end they think a helicopters about to explode so she begs to do a slow cool-guy walk away from it. it doesn’t blow up so he throws a grenade at it so she can do it. How can you not love a film like that?

Babyteeth (2019)

Those of who who have been following this blog for a while, or have spoken to me for an extended period of time, know that I LOVE slice of life dramedys, especially ones with a cool visual style and a female lead. For evidence of this, view my love for Ghost World and Lady Bird. I also love films that go into dark subject matter, 50/50, for example, is one of my favourite comedies. So lets look at this film:

  • Slice of life dramedy? Check.
  • Female lead? Check.
  • Dark themes? The lead has cancer, so check.
  • The lead has funky hair? Check.

So this should be one of my favourite films of the year, but it pains me to say that it may be one of my least favourites. It’s not one of the worst, it has too many good things about it for that to be the case, but from a subjective standpoint I just could not enjoy this. I never hide the fact that these reviews are entirely subjective, that’s why Lego Batman movie gets a more positive review than Dunkirk. This approach hits some films more than others, and never will it hit harder than for this.

This film lost me in three of the opening scenes, to the point where it would have had to work VERY hard to get me back in.

1: The “meet-cute”

If your story is based around a romance between two people, you need the introduction of the two to each other to have a certain spark. Whether it’s locked eyes from across the room, one helping the other with an issue, or even just sitting near each other and their being an unexplained chemistry. So how do these characters meet? He bumps into her whilst running at a train. At first I thought what had happened was him bumping into her slowed his momentum as he attempted suicide by jumping in front of the train. I actually loved that as it would have been incredibly unique and funny. Now I look back at it I’m not entirely sure that was the case, there is a slight chance it might have been though so I won’t hold that against it. What I will hold against it is the following: they start talking and she gets a nose-bleed. How does he stop it? Pretty much like this:

Yes, he basically smothers her face (with a cloth though, not just his hand). Oh, and you have no idea how much I had to search before I found a non-porn picture like that. It genuinely looks like it’s going to start a kidnapping scene, especially once he gets onto the floor and pulls her down with him. For some reason she finds this cute, so he asks her for money, which she gives him. It’s at this point the film is begins to make me feel uncomfortable.

2. The therapy scene

Soon after this we’re introduced to a scene titled something like “9am Tuesday appointment” which features a woman and a therapist talking and then having sex. It’s not made clear until near the end of the scene that they’re husband and wife so you’re sitting there thinking it’s a man abusing a vulnerable patient and then by the time you realise it’s not you’ve forgotten what actually happened in the scene as none of your notions about what was happening were correct. This is good a time as any to point out how weirdly the film introduces major plot points. How do we find out the main character has cancer? A title card that says “remission”. It’s not set up AT ALL.

3. The Dinner scene

This is where we find out the characters ages. The girl? 16, the guy (Moses), 23. So this film is about a 23 year old guy (who already has a girlfriend) going out with a 16 year old cancer patient, breaking into her house to steal things, and at one point stealing her drugs. Why should I give a shit about it?

Like I said, it would have taken A LOT for the film to come back from these scenes, and it never even looks like it’s going to. Moses never gets any better, never has a redeemable moment that makes him likeable. He continues doing awful things throughout the film and is never held accountable. His relationship with the main character (Milla) is basically this:

Moses: *steals from her*

Milla: You dick I hate you, leave!

Moses: *breaks into her room in middle of night*

Milla: I forgive you

Moses: *takes her to a house party and makes out with a girl in front of her*

Repeat ad nauseam.

It all makes for an incredibly frustrating watch. He doesn’t even make up for it in the closing scenes. Chronologically (there’s a random flashback at the end with no indication as to when it was) this film ends like this: She tells him the pain is too much and asks him to smother her with a pillow until she dies. He does it but stops halfway through, they then have sex. Yup, they really did a euthanasia-based sex scene. Fuck that. He wakes up the next morning and says hi to her parents and has a smoke. By this point, she is dead, and he doesn’t mention it to her mum before she goes to wake her up. He doesn’t even have the decency to look shocked. Well he might do but you can’t fucking see as the scene is weirdly shot with him being half in, half out the door so you can’t get a proper look at his face, instead being met with the far more interesting sight of beige. In that scene you NEED to see his emotion. You need to see the emotional conflict he’s going through, and this film hides that from us, and is all the worst for it. There are multiple sub-plots I haven’t mentioned because in the end they meant absolutely nothing.

Now onto the positives: the colours were wonderful. It had a vibrant palette that really popped and was interesting visually. Also the music was incredible, it had possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year. That cannot make up for the rest of the film though. It doesn’t make up for how, I’m really struggling to find the words here. Well, you know how when you do exercise in the middle of a heat wave? (like running, jogging, or standing up out of a chair). You know that horrible sticky sweat you get? The sweat that clings to your body like it’s semi-solid and hangs in the air so you can almost taste it? Watching this film feels like touching that. It also reminded me of one of the worst songs in existence

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

So we’ve reached the point where I’m catching up on films I’ve missed so far this year. First off is this one, a film not released in cinemas but was on netflix. It was originally supposed to be released alongside Eurovision, which was cancelled due to COVID 19.

Eurovision is insane and weird, so this is perfect fodder for a film, and should allow Will Ferrell to be at his madcap best. It’s a shame then, just how plain this film is. Will Ferrell’s character is essentially “Will Ferrell with an accent”, and at this point that type of character is just becoming grating.  The film itself is incredibly plain, very American. It also has a central premise that doesn’t hold up if you do any research into it.

It’s about two Icelandic singers who enter Eurovision (essentially a Euro-wide singing contest which is, well it’s kind of weird) hoping to win. But (unknown to them), one of the people on the Icelandic Eurovision committee has been killing Icelandic singers because if a country wins then they have to host the next years contest, and the country can’t afford it, so if the singers die then they won’t win. The central premise is flawed, as if a country can’t afford to host, it can defer to another country, and that has happened multiple times. So the premise of the film doesn’t work. It doesn’t even work in the universe the film creates. A character mentions in passing that “Everybody hates UK so they never win”, but in this film, the song contest is being hosted by the UK. So they obviously won the year before. So even if in this film universe of “no, if you win, you HAVE to host” it completely lacks consistency.

The opening song has to be commended though, it’s the kind of weirdness that you associate with Eurovision and is kid of perfect, the rest of the film? Not so much. It’s an incredibly generic “a man and woman work together and one doesn’t realise the other is in love with them, complete with comedic misunderstanding” film. First off, why is it a romance film when it should be like a sports story? Also I consider it a mistake to have so much Will Ferrell, this is the perfect setting for an ensemble movie. You have different comedians be different performers, focus mainly on one night of the contest, and just let them all go nuts.

It’s also FAR too American. There’s a moment where the cast randomly burst into a song medley. This would have been a good opportunity to do like a mini-showcase of Eurovision hits, and whilst it does include ABBA and a Celine Dion song which was an entry in 1988, it also includes Madonna, Cher, and Black Eyed Peas. So that scene doesn’t give you an insight into the contest, and instead is just an advert for American music. It would be like if a film about the American film industry had a montage that consisted mainly of anime and Bollywood films.

One final thing: why the f*ck was this 2 hours long?

Onward (2020)

I was both looking forward to, and slightly apprehensive about this. Yes, it’s Pixar, and if a studio’s worst film is Cars (which, as much as I hate it, is MASSIVE financially) then you know you’re in for a good time, but since this film has been out I haven’t heard a lot of love for it. So maybe it’s just average, maybe it’s another Good Dinosaur, a film that’s perfectly serviceable but nothing special. After seeing the film, I don’t get it, it’s hard to say it’s one of Pixar’s best, but that’s only because their films are such high quality that it’s really hard to rank them. I will say this though: it’s going to take something special coming out for this not to be in consideration for one of the best films of the year.

I mean it could be argued that the plot is kind of generic, it’s essentially a road movie. But a lot of Pixar films are really when you think about it. For every brilliant plot of Ratatouille or Wall-E, you have the simple plot of Monsters University. Pixar are not about the story the telling, it’s about HOW they tell them, and they tell them perfectly. As to be expected it looks gorgeous, and the script and the characters are just as beautiful.

The best thing about this is just how deeply personal you can feel it is to the writer. I often criticise films by saying “I can’t imagine someone feeling they NEED to get this film made”. You could NEVER say that about this. It’s obviously deeply personal and that personal touch permeates every inch of the film.

It’s helped by the performances, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland work incredibly well together and their relationship is the true emotional core this film depends on. It depends on the brother relationship much more than the “sons missing their father” angle that you expect. I mean, the fact that they miss their deceased father is central to the film, and it does provide one or two deeply emotional moments, but the central emotional crux is the relationship between the two brothers. For a story about not-mythical creatures it is incredibly human, but then again that’s always been Pixars strength.

Now the downside: it feels like it doesn’t do enough with the premise. The film has two main concepts:

  1. Magic used to be a thing people could do, but then technology replaced it as it was simpler. Reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  2. The legs.  Okay I should mention it: this film is about them trying to bring their dad back from the dead but it goes wrong and only his bottom half comes back (fully clothed thankfully).

I feel it could have done more with those premises, although then I suppose there is a risk that might have taken away from the emotional developments. The legs thing is weird, and should provide very unique scenarios, but it really doesn’t provide that many. It does provide a great moment where the legs realise that his sons are there. One of them lets him know by tapping on his foot like he did when he was a child, after that the legs immediately search for the other son, and press down on his foot with his own. It’s the closest it will get to a hug, and it’s beautiful. As is the moment near the end, when you see it you’ll know.

So yeah, go see it. It’s a great film, and all the cast are brilliant (I haven’t mentioned it but Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer’s characters are crying out for a spin-off).