Starring: James Marsden (Enchanted), Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation), Tika Sumpter (Think Like A Man), Colleen O’Shaughnessey (Digimon), Idris Elba (The Suicide Squad), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show)
Director: Jeff Fowler (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Writers: Patrick Casey & Josh Miller (Transylmania) and John Whittington (The Lego Batman Movie)
Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes
Release Date: 1st April (UK), 8th April (US)
Synopsis: When the maniacal Dr. Robotnik returns with the revenge-driven echidna Knuckles in tow, Sonic must team up with his plucky new friend Tails to find the all-powerful Master Emerald before Robotnik can use it for world domination.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog was hardly a grounbreaking piece of cinema, but it was an enjoyable and harmless family film that didn’t take itself too seriously and packed in just enough treats for franchise fans to keep them enticed. That doesn’t seem like much, but by video game movie standards it was a breath of fresh air and proved to be a step above the Alvin and the Chipmunks-style disaster most were expecting. Of course, the biggest pop of the movie came in its mid-credits scene teasing the arrival of Sonic’s long-time companion Tails, and now Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is here to deliver on that promise and more. Whilst still far from being a perfect recreation of the games, this sequel certainly leans harder into them and for the better, crafting a more confident and entertaining follow-up that’s sure to please kids and fans of Sega’s mascot.
Picking up roughly eight months after the events of the first movie, Sonic 2 wastes little time in re-establishing the world and characters and, for the most part, moves as quickly from there as the Blue Blur himself. Learning a good lesson from the first film (and most adaptations of this ilk), the new story wisely relegates Sonic’s human supporting cast to the sidelines and focuses in more on the title character and his fantastical friends and foes. The scale here is immense compared to the first film’s road trip approach, turning the adventure into a globe-trotting treasure hunt with a lot more action and world-ending stakes. That’s not to say the movie hasn’t abandoned the family comedy aspects, with the human characters getting their own subplot at a Hawaiian wedding and a totally superfluous dance number in the second act. These moments can occasionally feel like padding to fill out the simple save-the-world plot, but they’re luckily over before they wear out their welcome and there’s enough solid humour in them that they’re far from a total waste.
Ultimately though, the key question is simple: is Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fun? The answer is just as simple: yes, quite a bit. It’s not nutritious or always logical, but it knows its audience and caters to them with aplomb. There’s never a dull moment, it moves at a solid pace, the humour is quippy and cartoony in a good way, and the final act delivers the exact kind of go-for-broke bonkers finale you’d want out of a Sonic movie. Top it all off with another mid-credits tease that outdoes the first, and you’ve got yourself honestly the best movie you could reasonably expect about Sonic the Hedgehog.
Though James Marsden still oddly takes top billing despite getting less screentime than almost every other named character in the movie, Sonic 2 unequivocally belongs to Ben Schwartz as the titular speedy mammal. Whilst not every joke lands, Schwartz throws them out with such speed and exhuberance that it’s hard not to laugh along with him, but this time around he also gets a lot more opportunites to humanise Sonic and give him a little more emotional depth. It’s hardly anything revolutionary, but it’s more than you’d expect and does a lot to heighten the film. Tails, unfortunately, doesn’t get quite the same love. Whilst it’s lovely to hear Colleen O’Shaughnessey reprising the role and she imbues him with a lot of innocence and devotion, Tails as a character is sorely underdeveloped. His origins and motivations are explained very hastily, and his purpose in the story is mostly perfunctory; if it wasn’t for the first film bigging him up, you could easily write him out and not lose much. Thankfully, whilst Tails is a bit of letdown, Knuckles is easily the film’s best new addition. He’s basically a more kid-friendly version of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy: a hulking brute driven by revenge but who doesn’t understand sarcasm and empathy. It’s a bit that keeps getting funnier every time it’s about to wear out its welcome, and Idris Elba’s deadpan delivery just makes it even more hilarious; it’s easy to see why they’ve already greenlit a Paramount+ spin-off series for him.
On the homo sapien side of things, Jim Carrey continues to ham it up as a more visually-faithful take on Dr. Robotnik, turning his unhinged levels up to eleven and just has a blast. As said before, Marsden’s Tom Wachowski is mostly relegated to cheerleading duties as Sonic’s surrogate dad, but surprisingly it’s the rest of his extended family that gets more to do. Tika Sumpter has a more active role as Tom’s wife Maddie, and for a good ten minutes the movie basically turns into a side vehicle for Natasha Rothwell as her sister Rachel. It’s an amusing bit and Rothwell really sells the pissed-off Bridezilla vibes, but it’s a plot cul-de-sac that resolves as quickly as it’s introduced and never comes up again. Adam Pally and Lee Majdoub also return as Tom’s bumbling deputy Wade and Robotnik’s sychophantic aide Agent Stone respectively, but the movie doesn’t really know what to do with them. Pally shows up sporadically throughout to do his usual awkward comedy shtick, and whilst Majdoub gets a big reintroduction and hints at some evolution in his relationship with Robotnik, it ends up going nowhere with the vague promise it may be resolved in a third film.
When it comes to spectacle, Sonic 2 is a massive upgrade from the first film. Though they’ve showed off a good chunk of them in the trailers, there’s a great deal more action set pieces here and they’re all executed with a lot of flair and imagination. The initial battle between Sonic and Knuckles as they tear up the Wachowski home is good and the Siberian snowboarding avalanche chase is even better, but nothing tops the finale back in Green Hills that really brings the speed and madness of the games to life. When it’s just the animated characters and Robotnik, the movie is a real visual treat, but again when it comes back to the humans it looks like a pretty standard studio comedy and it doesn’t gel as well with the video game elements. It’s so bizarre to see how they’ve upgraded the aesthetic of one half of the film whilst left the other basically the same, and hopefully in the next one they can make it a more seamless blend of styles.
The visual effects are mostly pretty solid for what are very cartoony designs, with a lot of great animation details on Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, though there are a few shots where I swear the models looked a little grainy like they were rendered at the wrong resolution. There’s also some shoddy compositing and rotoscoping around Robotnik during the action scenes; there’s some shots where I swear they’ve feathered his edges way too much. Despite those little nitpicks, the movie overall is a solid improvement on an aesthetic level, and capping it off with another 16-bit-inspired end credits sequence is a nice way to send the audience home nostalgic.
In my review of the first film, I hoped that a Sonic sequel needed to meet the “apologetically dumb fun” levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and the 2017 Power Rangers movie; two other retro franchise adaptations that knew what they were and revelled in their goofiness. Well, I’m pleased to say the final result meets those desires. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 isn’t quite the best video game movie yet, but it’s very comfortably in the top five at least. It embraces its source material more wholeheartedly and does a admirable job of bringing in more of what the fans expect whilst still fitting within the groundwork set by its predecessor. Those who who didn’t find charm in the previous movie will likely not be swayed, but it takes the franchise in the right direction and sets the stage for a promising third installment.
Starring: Jared Leto (House of Gucci), Matt Smith (Last Night in Soho), Adria Arjona (6 Underground), Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Al Madrigal ([Finding] The Way Back), Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious)
Director: Daniel Espinosa (Safe House)
Writers: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt)
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 31st March (UK), 1st April (US)
Synopsis: After taking an experimental serum derived from bat DNA in an attempt to cure his debilitating disease, Dr. Michael Morbius becomes imbued with superhuman abilities but also an ever-increasing thirst for blood.
When Sony decided to start exploiting their rights to Spider-Man by making movies about his supporting cast, it feels like they didn’t really know where else to go with it after Venom. I mean, we’re apparently getting movies about Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web next, with projects featuring Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, and Jackpot (no joke, I’m serious, bloody Jackpot!) in various stages of development too. Of all of Spidey’s associates though, it’s baffling yet fitting that their next choice after Venom was Morbius the Living Vampire, probably the only other character in that roster who has enough history away from the wall crawler to stand on his own. The final product unfortunately, after a long string of delays from its original July 2020 release date, is a dull, formulaic and overproduced nothingburger of a movie with some of the worst universe building since 2017’s The Mummy.
Right from its opening moments, Morbius follows in the footsteps of the first Venom by feeling like a superhero movie made roughly twenty years ago, constantly in a battle with itself over tone and genre. Its premise is a basic sci-fi horror yarn ripped straight from the Jekyll & Hyde playbook and plays out with no real surprises, treating its plot less as an opportunity to explore its characters or world and more like a shopping checklist of tropes from superhero and vampire flicks. There’s no real nuance and depth to any of its storytelling choices, and despite trying to present Morbius as a conflicted anti-hero, the morality of the film is incredibly black-and-white and negates the internal conflict that makes the character intriguing in the first place.
The structure and pacing is all over the place, exhibiting the telltale signs of a troubled production like important plot beats happening off-screen and copius scenes from the trailers missing in the final product. Despite running at a light but healthy 104 minutes, there’s little meat on the bone here that isn’t recycled from a plethora of better films, and its teneous connections to the Marvel universe are mostly fleeting…until the inevitable post-credits bonus. Without a doubt, these two scenes are the most random, underwhelming, confusing and desperate examples of expanding a cinematic universe since…ever, to be honest. The fact they spoiled this reveal in the very first trailer (which has clearly been dropped and reshot since) is evidence enough that Sony knew they had a non-starter on their hands and just gave up, but these scenes would have fallen flat even if they had remained a secret until release.
It’s hard to think of an actor more unpopular and unsuited to being the lead of an aspiring blockbuster franchise than Jared Leto, especially given his last stint as a comic book character didn’t go over so well. It’s also surprising he took the role because, as a method actor known for his bold and bonkers choices, the character of Morbius on paper doesn’t give him much to play with. Seperated from his disability, he’s seemingly a smart and sweet but boring guy, and whilst his early flippancy with scientific ethics makes it seem like he’s going to be this morally complex character, that angle is abruptly dropped once he gains his powers. After just one scene of giving into his vampiric thirst, Morbius is chugging artificial plasma and basically in control of his bloodlust for the rest of the movie, robbing the film of the horror and suspense a good man-or-monster movie craves. In their attempts to make Morbius likable, they’ve way overstepped the mark and turned him into a high-and-mighty, hypocritical, melodramatic bore. I thought it wasn’t possible to make a vampire movie this dull, but accomplishing that dubious feat is the only original thing Morbius succeeds in.
The supporting cast unfortunately doesn’t fair much better. Adria Arjona does a fine enough job bringing fellow scientist and love interest Martine Bancroft to life, but she’s something of an empty vessel with no real sense of her own life outside of her relationship to Morbius. The only time she even comes close to seeming well-rounded is when she’s on good enough terms with a bodega clerk to convince him to thrown an FBI agent off her scent, but that’s really stretching. Speaking of the FBI, Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal plays said agents hunting down Morbius but they add next to nothing, especially because we know early on that Morbius is mostly innocent. At least Madrigal has some sense of character with his vampire supersitions and Alan Alda-like voice, because Gibson’s Simon Stroud is a complete empty shell role. Given that he signed a three-picture deal and said in a 2020 interview that his character was a superhero with a high-tech arm, those reshoots must have been incredibly drastic.
Similarly wasted on this film is Jared Harris as Morbius’ mentor and father figure Emil Nikols, who appears so sporadically that you forget he was even in the movie every time he shows back up. The only actor who seems to be having any fun here is Matt Smith as the friend-turned-villain Milo. Yes, the character is a pretty generic “evil mirror of the hero with the same powers” adversary (and the only other trope they’ve ripped from modern Marvel fare), but Smith’s indulgent performance is so wonderfully daft that you just wish he was the one playing Morbius instead of Leto. To put it simply, and with pun fully intended, he properly vamps it up.
The reported budget of Morbius may be $75 million, but most of the time it looks like it cost about half that. The visual effects are firmly stuck in the late 2000s, with horirble scene compositing and laughable vampiric face warping on Leto and Smith ripped right out of a Video Copilot tutorial. Much of the action looks like a pre-rendered cutscene from a PS3 game, especially the scenes where Morbius flies across the city in a manner eerily similar to Alex Mercer from Prototype, and that’s when you can even tell what’s going on. The lighting is so minimal and the camera whips around so much, combined with the overuse of fog and neon, that you can only tell what’s actually happening when the action slows down in faux-Zack Snyder style. Heck, the entire climax is essentially rendered unwatchable by a gigantic swarm of bats obscuring the fight! On the plus side though…um…Jon Ekstrand’s score is decently eerie, I guess, and…I liked the look of the credits. I mean, the whole vaporwave aesthetic seems like an odd choice for a vampire superhero movie, but…nice job, whoever put together the credits? I think?
The anti-hype was right for once, folks: Morbius is exactly the big-budget misguided flop everybody’s been predicting it would be. With the exception of Matt Smith’s performance, which mostly seems like him just having a bit of a laugh for an easy paycheck, there isn’t a single positive thing to say about this film that isn’t grasping at straws or doesn’t come with huge caveats. It doesn’t even have the so-bad-it’s-good qualities that made Venom morbidly enjoyable, quickly placing it amongst the worst recent examples of the genre alongside X-Men: Dark Phoenix and 2015’s Fantastic Four. What exactly Sony thinks they’re accomplishing with these Spidey-less spin-offs other than playing keep away with Marvel Studios is beyond me, because all they’ll end up doing is devaluing the brand. Yes, Sony just made a boatload off the back of No Way Home, but it would only take a few more duds like Morbius to bomb the Sonyverse and send Ol’ Webhead into the hands of Uncle Walt.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (The Matrix Resurrections), Eiza González (Baby Driver)
Director: Michael Bay (Transformers)
Writers: Chris Fedak (Chuck)
Runtime: 2 hours 16 minutes
Release Date: 25th March (UK), 8th April (US)
Synopsis: When their heist goes haywire, flustered criminal Danny and his reluctant accomplice/brother Will hijack an ambulance, holding jaded EMT Cam and an injured police officer hostage as they are chased by law enforcement across Los Angeles.
Whilst the public perception of his career is still (and most likely forever will be) dominated by his Transformers movies, Michael Bay is a much more interesting filmmaker than people give him credit for. He’s not particularly introspective or nuanced, but he has filmmaking instincts and a distinctive style that still set him apart from the copycats and journeymen that dominate the action genre. The issue with much of his filmography is a lack of restraint on his worst instincts. His two best films, The Rock and Pain & Gain, were respectively made in either his early career when he didn’t yet have total freedom, or a much smaller picture that didn’t have the scope or budget to go too far off the rails. In summary, Bay excels when he doesn’t have too many toys to distract him and sticks to a simple narrative, which makes a contained action thriller like Ambulance a perfect vehicle for his talents.
Taking the base premise of the 2005 Danish original (which I have not seen, so I cannot compare) and jazzing it up with a Hollywood sheen, Ambulance is one of those movies that’s easy to explain with a “blank-meets-blank” comparison; in this case, Heat meets Speed. It wastes no time in getting to the action, explaining the motivations and dynamics of its three central characters in two scenes or less each, and then immediately leaps to the central heist and doesn’t let go of the accelerator from then until the final moments. It’s a frantic and occasionally exhausting experience as the film moves at a sprinter’s pace for over two hours, and it easily could lose a good twenty minutes of that runtime around the start of the second act, but it’s nigh-impossible to claim that it isn’t engaging or tense. In a rare move for a Bay movie, where plot and spectacle reign over character and theme, Ambulance does actually make just enough room for those humanising elements even as the chase remains ongoing. It’s a basic but solid exploration of family, morality, purpose, and the choice of whether to let those attributes define us or push them aside. It’s really the only Michael Bay movie that I can think of that has anything positive to say that isn’t wrapped up in jingoism or cliches, and whilst that may be a basic ask for most filmmakers that Bay probably should have figured out decades ago, it’s a point in the film’s favour nonetheless.
Whilst there are plenty of other characters floating about connected one way or another to the plot, our core attentions remain pretty focused on the three conscious occupants of the titular vehicle. With the brief amount of time the story gives the leads before literally cutting to the chase, the filmmakers establish our central characters thusly: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Danny is quick-tempered and cruelly sardonic, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Will is desperate and morally conflicted, and Eiza González’s Cam is a committed professional but lacks genuine empathy. For much of the film’s first act, these basic character traits are exploited ad nauseum and it quickly threatens to make the experience even more strenuous. Luckily, that monotony is thankfully broken before it gets tiring and the characters start expressing complexity and developing beyond those core traits. These arcs honestly don’t go anywhere other than the way you may expect, but they are satisfyingly punchy mainly thanks to the solid performances.
Gyllenhaal channels the same manic and unpredictable energy that made him delightfully devilish in Nightcrawler and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and though he certainly does threaten to go OTT there’s always a sense of humanity to his insanity. Yahya continues to show himself as one of the best new talents in mainstream cinema, squeezing every last drop of empathy from a character who could have easily been rote, whilst González is immediately engaging and threatens to steal the show from her male co-stars. There’s not a whole lot to say about the supporting cast, who are mostly made up of the usual stock characters like the rookie cop, the angry captain, and the smug FBI agent, but there are at least a few decent one-liners and interesting quirks amongst them. Also, just wanted to note: Michael, well done on including a prominent gay character and NOT making his sexuality a punchline. Again, this really shouldn’t need congratulating, but just glance back at Bad Boys II for a moment and…yeah, you’ve come a long way, Bay-by.
When it comes to action in Michael Bay movies, audiences should really know what to expect at this point, and by his standards this is easily the most coherently-made of his explosion fests he’s put out in a while. The camera is constantly moving whether it’s justified or not, the editing is frenetic and full of random shots that feel like they were left on the timeline by accident, and it all remains smeared in that putrid and oversaturated orange-and-teal colour grade that every Bay movie has had since Armageddon. As visually cacophonous as the viewing experience may be at times, there’s no denying that the unrepentant energy is intoxicating, with enough memorable moments to stop it all smushing together in your mind like a big Autobot-shaped blob. Ambulance certainly isn’t for the squeamish as there is a lot of bloodshed, particularly in one gruelling moment as Yahya and González engage in high-speed emergency surgery, and who could deny the absurd awesomeness of a remote-control lowrider fitted with a minigun? Top it all off with some wildly inventive use of drone shots that may upset a few stomachs, plus a solid action score from Lorne Balfe, and what you have here is one of the best examples of pure Bayhem in a long, long time.
I think it’s time to stop expecting Michael Bay to conform to standards he has no interest in following, and instead encourage him to the best version of who he is. Ambulance still isn’t the best movie he’s ever put out, but it’s absolutely the kind of film he should focus on making and he’s certainly matured out of some of his worst sophormoric habits. Those who just inherently can’t get on board his style need not apply, but if you’re one of those who grew frustrated by his continued flaggelation of his own credibility on the Transformers movies and just wished he’d return to more grounded action, this is probably what you’ve been waiting for. Maybe don’t pay full price for it, but if you’re going to see it, see it on the biggest screen you can and just go along for the ride; you might want to bring a barf bag though.
Starring: Robert Pattinson (Tenet), Zoë Kravitz (Divergent), Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), John Turturro (Barton Fink), Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan), Andy Serkis (Black Panther), Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths)
Director: Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes)
Writers: Matt Reeves and Peter Craig (The Town)
Runtime: 2 hours 56 minutes
Release Date: 4th March (US, UK)
Synopsis: When masked killer The Riddler starts murderering Gotham’s elite and exposes their darkest secrets, Bruce Wayne/Batman must reconcile his family’s legacy with his obsessive crusade for justice before the city is consumed by corruption.
The concept of superhero fatigue comes up alot in current movie discourse, and if there’s any comic book crime fighter we should be all sick of by now, you’d think it would be Batman. Instead, he seems more popular than ever. He’s practically been the face of the genre since 1989, his history in cinema consists of some of the highest highs and lowest lows, and fans will still endlessly argue about which version of the Caped Crusader was the best. He’s a character that means something different to everyone, malleable to interpretation more than any other superhero, and it seems like every generation will get at least one definitive portrayal. So what does Batman mean in 2022? What does yet another perspective on such a well-worn character have to say about the source material, the genre itself, and beyond? Matt Reeves’ sprawling epic clearly has these questions and many more on its mind and, whilst it doesn’t answer all of them perfectly, what it does deliver is one of the finest depictions of The Dark Knight on screen since…well, The Dark Knight.
Whilst it began its life as a DCEU project, The Batman is completely divorced from that universe and sets itself in a more grounded but still stylistically heightened reality. On both a visual and tonal level, this is easily the darkest interpretation of the comics on screen, but it avoids both the dedication to realism of the Nolan trilogy and the Frank Miller-inspired neo-fascistic undertones of the Zack Snyder version. Where it most sets itself apart, however, is in its approach to genre. Previous entries certainly incorporarted Batman’s status as The World’s Greatest Detective, but they were primarily action movies with occasional mystery elements. Reeves’ vision, in contrast, is a straight-up crime thriller with shades of socio-political intrigue and even elements of horror in what is probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a David Fincher superhero movie. There is plenty of high-flying spectacle and the familiar elements you’d expect from a Batman movie, and there’s never a sense it’s ashamed of being a comic book movie (*cough* Joker *ahem*), but it does feel less concerned with being a crowd-pleaser and more with delivering a unique yet faitful take on the source material.
The central mystery is a genuinley intriguing and character-driven detective story that unravels Gotham’s underbelly and psychologically tests Batman more than any previous film, and the sheer quality of it all secures it a place as one of the best Batman films ever brought to the screen. What perhaps holds it back from being absolute perfection is its length and pacing, both of which may test general audiences expecting a more typical blockbuster. Clocking in at nearly three hours and taking its sweet time to unravel its intricate and sprawling murder mystery, it at times plays out less like a movie and more like a truncated season of True Detective, and though slow-paced it still seems rushed and lacks the time to properly explore certain characters and scenarios. That said, it’s hard to fault a movie that leaves you wanting more in such a positive way and, whilst it mostly avoids any kind of MCU-style teasing, it’s clear that they don’t intend for this to be a one-and-done. Now that the expectations have been set and the puzzle pieces are all in place, hopefully the next chapter of The Batman can refine the formula in much the same way The Dark Knight did for Batman Begins.
Another Batman, another casting choice that sent corners of the fandom into a frenzy where, thankfully, they’ve been proven wrong again. Only more time under the cowl will confirm it, but based on this performance alone, Robert Pattinson may be the best live-action version of The Dark Knight yet. He’s certainly the most eccentric take on the character since Michael Keaton, portraying him as a brooding loner with no social life and an all-consuming fixation on vengeance. He’s an incredibly weird and off-putting presence in all the best ways, accentuated by how many characters are baffled by his mere presence, but at the same time he’s easily the most human version of Bruce Wayne too. It’s one of the few stories where Batman is not only pushed to his limits but forced to reckon with his methods and change for the betterment of Gotham, and both Pattinson and Reeves have done a fantastic job of portraying that inner conflict and dogged self-righteousness. It’s also the first time since Begins that Batman himself hasn’t been overshadowed by his co-stars, and whilst his civilian side doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, Pattinson’s presence looms large and finally proves himself in front of a mainstream audience that he’s more than just “that sparkly boy from Twilight“.
However, a Batman is only ever as good as his villains and allies, and the supporting cast of The Batman is certainly worthy inheritors of such revered characters. Jeffrey Wright makes for a compelling Jim Gordon and his repartee with Pattinson feels instantly familiar and yet strikingly fresh; they feel very comfortable with each other and yet distant enough not to fully trust the other. Andy Serkis doesn’t get a huge amount of time as Bruce’s loyal butler Alfred but he makes the most of what he has, especially in a heartbreaking scene where he recalls to Bruce his father’s greatest mistake. Whilst it’s always going to be hard to top Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal in Batman Returns, Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle stands wonderfully on its own as a more nuanced and modernised take on the classic femme fatale, and her emotionally-charged performance makes for a great contrast with Pattinson’s dogged stoicism. John Turturro makes for a charming but still unnerving Carmine Falcone, whilst Colin Farrell is utterly unrecognisable as Oz Cobblepot and brings a wickedly sleazy energy to the classic villain, even if his performance at times teeters into Dick Tracy territory; seriously, his accent sounds like Al Pacino doing a Robert DeNiro impression. All that said, the real standout here is Paul Dano’s demented version on The Riddler, who runs with the “familiar yet different” remit of the film to its extreme. He’s easily the most unsettling take on the character yet, far removed from the popular conscience’s vision of Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey, and yet once the mask comes down he’s still recognisably the puzzle-obsessed weirdo comic books fans have known for years. If this is the standard moving forward in this potential franchise, I can’t wait to see how Reeves reimagines more of Batman’s legendary rogue’s gallery.
Because Gotham City is a fictional location, it has been reinterpreted almost as many times on screen as Batman has himself in a way that often reflects the current interpretation of the character itself. Reeves’ version of the crime-ridden metropolis sits somewhere between the gothic cacophany of Tim Burton’s Gotham and Christopher Nolan’s more grounded take (i.e. basically just Chicago and New York mushed together), bathing the streets and alleys with grime, shadows and neon. It is dripping with atmosphere like a graphic novel come to life, and yet it feels real enough that it’s easy to get lost in its spell. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is a huge part of this effect, and whilst at times the visuals can be underlit and disorienting, it creates an immersive aesthetic so thick you can practically smell the fog and steam that coats the city.
The set and costume design is absolutely top notch, with one of the most practical yet page-accurate Batsuits ever put to film, and a Batmoblie that thankfully eschews the tank-like design of recent years; it looks cool and dangerous, but it still feels like a real car you could feasably buy and modify. There isn’t a whole lot of action here, but what’s there is executed with a irresistable stylistic flair that emphasises the forboding fear of Batman himself, with the Batmobile chase against Penguin and the climactic shown in the heart of the city being the easy standouts. Tying it all together is Michael Giacchino’s haunting score that clings to your ears and oozes with atmosphere on every note, including a simple but instantly memorable new theme that more than earns its place next to the compositions of Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal and Hans Zimmer. The film’s use of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” as a chilling leitmotif is an especially dark touch, plus “Something in the Way” by Nirvana is brilliantly deployed as basically the soundtrack to Bruce’s inner monologue.
The Batman isn’t the best Batman film ever, but captures the essence of the character in a way that no other adaptation has dared to, crafting an evocative and emotionally-rich thriller worthy of such a vaunted character. Yes, it is lengthy and may test the patience of those wanting more comic book spectacle, but the world of Gotham is so thick and all-consuming that it’s easy to just get lost in its gloomy aura. This is absolutely a Batman movie that reflects our modern anxieties and fears, shows its heroes and villains as being far more morally uncertain than ever before, and leaves things open for further expansion without feeling like it is begging for it. If you’re tired of all the cinematic universes and cookie-cutter storytelling of the current superhero landscape, The Batman is a welcome change of pace that reaffirms the genre has plenty more to offer when it diversifies and broadens its horizons.
Let’s not waste any more time. I saw so many movies last year, plus a whole bunch still to catch up on, but if I delayed these reviews any longer I’m gonna end up not covering them at all and I’d feel super guilty about it so…here ya go!
Yeah. That feels like a totally cogent intro…
A fantastic cast and an intriguing premise can’t save this dystopian noir mystery from getting off the ground. It’s really telling when offhand details about the societal collapse and war that led to this water-damaged future are far more fascinating than the actual plot, but it leads to Reminiscence feeling like a bad episode of an otherwise solid TV show. As hard as it tries to differentiate itself, it really is just Inception but with memories in place of dreams; apt, considering it was written and directed by Christopher Nolan’s sister-in-law. Only real reason to watch it is for Thandiwe Newton, who consistently steals the show in a way that makes you wish the movie was about her instead. 5/10
The Night House
Note to Ari Aster: this is how you make a horror movie about depression and suicidal ideation. Rebecca Hall has never been better in this deconstructive twist of both psychological horror and haunted house tales, creating a chilling mystery that leaves you guessing until the end…and long after too. Whilst the ambiguity of what’s really going on adds a lot to the suspense for much of the story, as well as it mostly just being in service to discussing grief and trauma, but there’s a few too many dropped threads and tangents to make it feel totally cohesive. Still, Hall’s haunting performance makes it more than worth the watch, and the fact the filmmakers behind this are now tackling the Hellraiser reboot gives me confidence that they’ll nail the core of Clive Barker’s most famous work. 7/10
Can we please just ban James Corden from appearing in musicals now? Please? I mean, he’s not in this one that much, but he did produce it and so it really is his fault more than anyone. There’s certainly nothing wrong with yet another live-action Cinderella movie, and this one does try to set itself apart in a lot of promising ways, but the execution is absolutely dreadful in nearly every way. Despite its extravagant sets and costumes, the whole production feels cheap and the direction is of an incredibly poor standard for a musical; Kay Cannon may have written the Pitch Perfect movies, but she sure didn’t direct them and that’s obvious here. Camilla Cabello feels completely miscast and she’s not a strong enough actor to make herself even slightly convincing in the lead, the film absolutely wastes much of its cast of British comedians (seriously, how do you make James Acaster unappealing?), and even with his tiny role Corden is more than irksome enough; only Billy Porter and Doc Brown come out of this looking any good. If that viral video of Corden humping on a guy’s car wasn’t enough to scare you away from this movie, allow my words to confirm it: it’s really, really bad. Also, who decided to let Pierce Brosnan sing again? What did we do to deserve that? 2/10
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Most of the Conjuring spin-offs have never risen above OK, but the mainline series was always what held the whole enterprise together and that can mainly be owed to James Wan. Well, he was too busy making the batshit glory that is Malignant, so instead this third main instalment ultimately feels like a workmanlike spin-off that happens to star Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. More than ever, the real-life inspiration feels just like window dressing to another generic exorcism flick, and Michael Chaves just utterly lacks the gonzo style of Wan to make it all tick. Still, Wilson and Farmiga are as engaging as ever, there are a few well-handled sequences here and there, and I’m always happy to see John Noble in anything, so it’s far from a total wash. If you’re invested in the franchise or just want some easy scares, it’s a fine but forgettable Friday night rental. 6/10
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Remember that movie The Prom from the other year? Yeah, this is basically that, but the good version. Bringing the hit West End musical to the silver screen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a fun and timely musical about being yourself, defying the norm, and looking bloody good while doing it. Whilst Richard E. Grant constantly threatens to steal the show as the veteran queen Loco Chanelle, with his number “This Was Me” being the emotional highlight of the film, it’s young Max Harwood as the titular Jamie who ultimately makes the whole production work. There are plenty of hackneyed moments and forced conflicts, but it’s all so breezy and enjoyable that it’s hard to care if it’s a little trite. 7.5/10
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Taylor Sheridan’s last directorial effort Wind River was a marvellous hidden gem back in 2017, so it’s great to see him get another shot behind the camera, but this Western-influenced thriller is unfortunately a little lacklustre. Angelina Jolie is easily its strongest asset, playing the lead role of a traumatised smokejumper with a compassionate but bitter disposition, and there’s some decent supporting work from the likes of Aiden Gillen and Jon Bernthal. However, the storytelling is muddled and far too understated for a plot with apparent larger consequences, the pacing is all over the place, and as thrilling as the climax is at points, the horrendous flame effects turn what is otherwise a beautiful and grounded film into a cheap CG fest. 6/10
The Last Duel
The first of two Ridley Scott films this year, The Last Duel’s long runtime and grim subject matter may make it a difficult watch, but if you’re in the right mindset this is a brutal and highly effective historical drama that explores gender dynamics and egomania in a way that’s depressingly still topical. Matt Damon and Adam Driver give strong performances as the former allies turned bitter rivals, whilst Ben Affleck puts in a memorably pompous show as the debaucherous Count Pierre, but this film ultimately belongs to Jodie Comer and her devastating role as Marguerite. The script by Nicole Holofcener and Damon & Affleck is also wonderfully constructed, using a Rashomon-style structure that recontextualises and renews each scene as we see the events from three separate perspectives, all leading to the titular duel that is as biting as it is vicious. If you missed this one in theatres and can stomach its more trigger-worthy moments, do yourself a favour and catch up. 9/10
The most expensive and successful Netflix original film yet, watching Red Notice is like watching the feature-length version of a fake movie inside another movie; it’s cliched, over-the-top, and plays out like a parody of itself. Whilst Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds are two of the most charismatic actors working in Hollywood today, their charms ultimately cancel each other out as they charmless bicker for over two hours, whilst Gal Gadot feels horribly miscast as the main villain. It has all the pizzaz and style you’d want from a big action movie, but it all feels so calculated and unreal that it might as well have been written and directed by the same algorithm that decides what’s next in your Netflix queue. Apparently, we’re getting two more of these. Yay, sarcastic joy! 5/10
tick, tick… BOOM!
Andrew Garfield delivers what may be the defining performance of his career as the man who would go on to create Rent in this fraught but hopeful musical drama directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The life and lyrics of Jonathan Larson leap onto the screen with a nervous exuberance that make you want to dance but also may induce a panic attack, all buoyed along by the phenomenal cast that also includes Robin de Jesus, Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens; it’s like Uncut Gems with jazz hands. As a struggling writer approaching my 30s without any major success to speak of myself, this one hit home pretty hard but was also an incredibly satisfying kick up the backside to keep going, and one I’m sure I’ll revisit whenever I need to remind myself to keep going because you never know how much longer you’ve got. Miranda had a phenomenal year in 2021, and whilst I prefer both Encanto and In the Heights to tick, tick… BOOM!, this is one that would have snagged the gold in a far less competitive year. 8.5/10
Home Sweet Home Alone
Yeah, this…this is pretty bad. The plot is a meandering mess, the characters are underdeveloped and/or unlikable, the comedy is all based on awkwardness and excessively violent slapstick, and it seems to think just playing the Home Alone theme is enough to make it heartwarming without, you know, actually doing anything but pay lip service to the concept. Archie Yates is clearly a good young actor, but his Max comes off as a selfish and arrogant twerp, whilst the story spends too much time focused on Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper as this entry’s equivalent to Harry & Marv, and making the burglars sympathetic is just flatly missing the point. Ailsing Bea is totally underutilised in the role that was the emotional centre of the original, whilst great comedic talents like Keenan Thompson, Pete Holmes and Chris Parnell are wasted on cameos. In stronger and more creative hands, this could have been at least some harmless fun, but instead this just feels like a 90 minute SNL skit without a good punchline. 2.5/10
House of Gucci
Whenever Ridley Scott puts out two movies in a year, usually one is good and the other…not so much. For 2021, despite receiving far more attention, it’s House of Gucci that ends up being the far weaker of the two. Swinging between camp melodrama and sophisticated family politics, it can’t decide if it wants to be The Godfather or The Wolf of Wall Street, and its hodgepodge middle-ground approach makes it a disappointment on both fronts. Lady Gaga is admittedly phenomenal as Patrizia Reggiani, mainly because she is the only actor who is able to bounce between its tonal extremes without looking ridiculous. Adam Driver and Al Pacino are pretty good too, but Jared Leto’s performance is such an absolute travesty that he threatens to derail the entire production. He disappears into the character, yes, but he’s a laughable stereotype who’s more cringeworthy than funny or interesting. It’s far from an intolerable watch, but there are very few surprises and it has a bit of a damp squib ending. Also, the needle drops are pretty gratuitous and all over the place; when “Faith” by George Michael started randomly playing over a wedding, I thought the cinema speakers were on the blink. 5/10
I only have vague memories of watching and mildly enjoying the first Sing, and so even I’m honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Sing 2. Yeah, it’s cheesy and its musical taste isn’t always to my liking, but it has this infectious energy I can’t quite put my finger on. The story has perhaps a few too many subplots, but the core narrative is on-point and sends a solid message about pursuing your art in spite of what those with power and influence say. The cast are all really going for it (I got to the end credits and was like, “Wait, that was Bono and Halsey in those roles?!”), the animation is a step above the usually safe Illumination style, and at least a few of the musical numbers are genuinely a lot of fun on either a visual or auditory level. Defo a solid recommendation for the kids, but also an entertaining enough one for all the adults in the audience too. 7/10
West Side Story
This new adaptation of the classic musical is honestly about as good as the seminal 1961 film version; better in many aspects, but worse in a few others. Spielberg is perhaps not born to be a musical director, but he shows an impressive hand for a first-timer and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is *chef’s kiss*. How did this man make a man standing in a puddle look so beautiful? Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose are the easy standouts here and are now easily now the definitive versions of Maria and Anita to me. Mike Faist is a great riff, Brian D’arcy James is an inspired choice for Krupke, but I especially love everything they did to update Anybodys (trans headcanon confirmed!). The real sticking point here is Ansel Elgort. It’s a shame, because I do really like how they’ve reworked Tony as a character to be less wide-eyed and more remorseful guy with a troubled past he can’t seem to get away from, but Elgort’s performance is a bit flat and forgettable; if the writing and direction in his scenes weren’t so strong, it would threaten to tank the whole production. Whether you prefer this one or the ’61 version is going to come down to preference. If you put a gun to my head, I’d go with the original, but there is so much I do love about Spielberg’s that I wish I could combine the best of both to make the ultimate version of this show. 8.5/10
Single All The Way
Well, it’s a Netflix Christmas romantic comedy, but gay. That’s honestly all you really need to know. Speaking not facetiously though, this is a silly but cute little bit of holiday nonsense. The script is incredibly tacky and it’s padded to high heaven and there’s a lot of cringeworthy moments, but what ultimately makes it work are the lead performances from Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers, who remain completely earnest and actually manage to pull off the “will they, won’t they” bit without obviously telegraphing where it’ll go. Also, it’s got Barry Bostwick, Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy in it; how could any queer at least ironically love this. Sure, if I was to genuinely recommend an LGBT+ Christmas movie, I’d say go for Happiest Season, but this…is OK enough too. 6/10
The Worst Person in the World
I’ve never seen a Joachim Trier film before this one, but watching this has made me want to go back through his whole filmography, because this is such a beautiful yet melancholic portrait of millennial angst. Everyone has either been or known a Julie in their lives, and Renate Reinsve brings her to life with such a relatable amount of dissatisfaction and empathy. Her story is not some grand life-affirming tale of what it means to discover your calling or truly find love, but a meditation on how messy and complicated and honestly underwhelming being an adult is and, to not-so-subtly drop the title, that disappointment can make you feel like the worst person in the world. There’s such a simple beauty to this film that reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, but one that reflects today’s anxieties. An absolute gem. 8.5/10
Dear Evan Hansen
I don’t think I’ve ever empathised with a movie so much whilst simultaneously hating it so much of it. First off, Dear Evan Hansen is frustratingly incompetently staged as a musical film. Most of the numbers are delivered whilst sitting down or standing still with next to no visual flair. The only exceptions are “Sincerely Me” and “You Will Be Found”, which just so happen to be the best songs. Like, if you took away the music and let the characters just say the lyrics as dialogue, not very much would change. That’s a bad sign. And then there’s Evan who, putting aside how unconvincing Ben Platt is in the part both age-wise and acting-wise, is badly portrayed in regards to perspective. I’ve heard he’s got more of a sociopathic anti-hero vibe in the stage show, which makes a lot more sense, but here he’s just a weeping mess who does some really messed-up stuff purely out of anxiety-fuelled politeness? Yeah, that makes him very hard to like even if I relate to some of his mental health struggles. Some of the cast are pretty good, like Kaitlin Dever and Colton Ryan, and whilst Amandla Stenberg is trying they are left with an underdeveloped character does a pretty shitty thing for poorly motivated reasons and gets no real comeuppance. Also, Amy Adams’ character is supposed to be grieving, I know, but she comes off as more deranged than sad; I half-expected to explode into a homicidal rage at some point. So yeah. It’s bad. The only thing is has to be thankful for is that Cinderella exists, thereby not making it the worst musical this year. 3.5/10
Don’t Look Up
Right up front: I absolutely believe and support the message of this film, and am just as frustrated with how the selfish idiocy and capitalistic lust of our world leaders is leading us right towards disaster…but just because I agree with its politics does not mean I think it’s a great movie. Don’t Look Up is honestly just OK. The performances are overall pretty strong, there’s some great gags spread throughout, that one Ariana Grande song is a bop, and as with Adam McKay’s previous satires he does a fantastic job of translating complex topics into easily digestible comedy. That said though, the movie makes its point pretty quickly and then just continues to hammer it home over and over for two hours plus, most of the supporting characters are caricatures so far removed from reality that it stops being biting and starts getting annoying, and its final conclusion is telegraphed a mile away. This could be a movie that ages better with time and distance, but it also just as easily could seem incredibly dated in mere years. Overall, its intentions are too noble to call it a flop, but I still can’t understand how so many awards bodies are slobbering all over it with accolades. Not everything with Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep in it is immediately Oscar-calibre, folks. 6/10
Can we please try and make a Megan Fox renaissance happen? Honestly, this woman really got done dirty simply for the crime of being attractive, starring in some bad movies, and calling out a director in an admittedly tactless but prescient way; c’mon, there’s people in Hollywood who’ve done far worse we’re still making excuses for. But anyway, Till Death is a solid little horror/thriller that shows Fox has solid scream queen chops if Jennifer’s Body hadn’t already made that clear to you. It takes a little too long to get going, but the basic Gerry’s Game-inspired premise is immediately engaging and works in some very tight but gory and satisfying set pieces. If you’re looking for a solid bit of Friday night schlock, you wouldn’t go wrong picking this. 7.5/10
Is this the best Paul Thomas Anderson movie? No, but it’s quite possibly the most Paul Thomas Anderson movie. It’s a movie very much about the journey rather than the destination, and what a wild ride that journey is! Cooper Hoffman is a revelation; he mirrors what made his late great father so charming and fascinating, but he’s still very much his own man. Alana Haim is equally astounding and her love/hate relationship with Hoffman is what keeps the movie going on track even as it keep going off on tangents. Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn and Tom Waits are absolutely nuts in their all-too-brief roles, with Cooper’s performance especially being such a perfect capture of the bizarre lunacy of the very-real Jon Peters. Honestly, just so any side characters just screaming out for movies of their own. They’ve truly created a living, breathing world in this nostalgia-fuelled reimagining of 70s California, and I loved every minute. This is what I wanted from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood! 9/10
Stellar performances, beautiful sets and costumes, stunning cinematography, a moody and gothic atmosphere so thick and creamy you could cut it with a butterknife, grotesque and haunting imagery. There is so much to love about Nightmare Alley…but a movie is nothing without a story, and the story here is easily its weakest element. The first act at the carnival is really solid; a great ode to Todd Browning, as you’d expect from a cinephile like Del Toro. The second act though overstays its welcome and eats into what should be a more beefy climax. The biggest tell? I predicted the ending within the first five minutes. That is never a good sign. It’s a gorgeous movie, and that counts for a lot, but it’s not enough. But goddamn, Cate Blanchett is hot in this! 6/10
If you were disappointed by Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, I’d highly recommend giving this one a watch because everything that film got wrong, this one gets right. Yes, it has its moments of grit and sadness, but it’s also grand and unabashedly romantic and so full of life, and such a perfect translation of the stage experience to the screen whilst taking advantage of the best of both mediums. Joe Wright’s direction is strong, the aesthetic of the film is exquisite down to the last detail, and the songs by The National are all brimming with emotion and pain, but the real reason to watch this is just for Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett. These are honestly probably the best performances I’ve ever seen from either of these actors, and the fact Dinklage especially has been snubbed an Oscar nom for this is a crime. Yes, I know he’s swimming in Emmys at this point, but dammit the man deserves at least to be recognised! Whatever. Just go watch it, because it feels like right now nobody is. 8.5/10
Starring: Tom Holland (Spider-Man: No Way Home), Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon), Sophia Taylor Ali (Truth or Dare), Tati Gabrielle (The 100), Antonio Banderas (Desperado)
Director: Ruben Fleischer (Venom)
Writers: Rafe Lee Judkins (The Wheel of Time) and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (Iron Man)
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
Release Date: 11th February (UK),18th February (US)
Synopsis: When approached by swindling treasure hunter Victor Sullivan with the key to finding the lost treasure once sought by his estranged brother, aspiring thief Nathan Drake embarks on a globe-trotting adventure following the footsteps of Magellan whilst being hunted by a ruthless magnate who believes the treasure is his by birthright.
The Uncharted seriessits in a bit of a weird positionwhen it comes to video game-to-film adaptation, as it is both so story-driven and cinematic that it makes for a smooth transition, and yet too cinematic that all a movie version could end up being equivalent to just watching someone else play the game. Regardless, an Uncharted movie has been in some form of development for over a decade, seemingly as cursed as some of the artifacts intrepid adventurer Nathan Drake has sought over the years. Heck, it’s been in the pipeline so long, Mark Wahlberg was originally attached to play Drake back in 2010, and that was just the first iteration of a project that’s been through multiple directors and writers since. Finally unleashed to theatres as the first of a planned slate of adaptations from PlayStation Productions (they’ve even got a fancy Marvel Studios-esque logo and everything), can Uncharted take advantage of everything great about the games without falling the usual video game movie traps? In short: yes, but not without major caveats.
Rather than adapting one of the games outright or telling a wholly original story in the margins of the canon, Uncharted splits the difference by taking inspiration from the games (mostly A Thief’s End with touches of Drake’s Deception) whilst crafting its own take on the series outside established continuity. It’s highly comparable to how 2010’s Prince of Persia and 2018’s Tomb Raider took elements of their respective games but recontextualised them, and the result is a movie that is entertaining enough on its own merits, but the number of fundamental changes to core franchise elements may irk anyone expecting a fully faithful translation. The plot is nothing to write home about, being just another rehash of the usual treasure hunt tropes that filmmakers have been cribbing from the Indiana Jones playbook for decades, but the games did much the same so it doesn’t feel nearly as jarring.
The pacing is incredibly tight as the plot moves briskly whilst still finding moments for the characters to breathe, and it absolutely makes sure to cram in as many elements from the games as it possibly can. Overly complex puzzles and scavenger hunts that require constant checking of journals? Check. Pseudo-intellectual exposition dumps? Check. Both heroes and villains constantly double-crossing each other? Check. Action sequences that tempt the laws of physics and feature so much casual killing that it makes you question Drake’s morality? Double check. Seriously, the only things they’ve left off the checklist are some dark twist about the hidden treasure and watching Drake die constantly as he (or, more accurately, the player) misidentifies what is a climbable ledge. If that’s all you want from an Uncharted movie, you’re probably going to be satisfied, but without that sense of player connection that made the games more than just interactive movies, it’s not an experience you’ll remember for long.
There was some doubt when it was announced Tom Holland would don the iconic half-tucked Henley of Nathan Drake, especially from those who were still dead set on casting Nathan Fillion (guys, the man is 50 and he already did that fan film, so please just leave it be). Thankfully, Holland ends up being the glue that holds the movie together when the action can’t. Playing a younger Drake just starting his career as a plunderer of lost treasure, he’s given a certain amount of leeway to not be an exact imitation of Nolan North (who gets a nice tip-of-the-hat cameo), but from his cocky quips in the face of danger to his penchant for knowing the exact historical trivia to solve a puzzle, he’s recognisably Nathan Drake regardless. It’s a role Holland certainly has room to grow into, and in future installments, they’ll hopefully incorporate more of Drake’s obsessive and thrill-seeking tendencies. On a similar note, Sophia Ali captures the essence of series mainstay Chloe Frazer to a T, from her teasing sarcasm to her inability to trust anyone (or be trustworthy herself…). In the villain’s seat is Antonio Banderas as the brutal Moncada, and whilst he’s certainly an intimidating adversary at first, he’s barely in the movie. Most of the actual antagonising comes from his lieutenant Braddock (who I’d bet hard cash was Nadine Ross from A Thief’s End and The Lost Legacy in early drafts), who lacks any of the history and connection to the treasure that Drake and Moncada have, nor has much of a personality beyond being tough.
The film’s most frustrating casting, though, comes from Mark Wahlberg as Drake’s mentor Victor Sullivan. Though he has a solid report with Holland and by tale’s end starts to take on the iconographic traits of his digital counterpart, he completely lacks that “cool uncle” wit and charm that makes Sully such a memorable presence in the games. Wahlberg might as well be playing any number of his interchangeable action heroes from over the years, and most of his attempts at being charming come off as smarmy rather than endearing. At the same time though, it’s his character arc of slowly becoming more trusting of Drake that serves as the emotional backbone of the story. Despite a throughline of following the trail of his missing brother Sam, Nathan’s progression is mostly relegated to becoming a better treasure hunter and helping Sully be a better person rather than any personal fulfillment. Wahlberg is not an untalented actor and playing a lovable scoundrel like Sully is in his wheelhouse, but neither he nor the filmmakers have made the effort to bring that character to life beyond a brief promise they may eventually.
The developers at Naughty Dog have prior said that they usually come up with the set pieces of each Uncharted adventure first and then construct the plot around them, and it often feels like a similar approach has been taken to the action in its celluloid counterpart. The film opens with a bang in typical Nathan Drake fashion with a flash-forward to later in the story as our hero is in the midst of some death-defying situation; in this case, a faithful recreation of the famous crates-hanging-out-of-an-airplane sequence from Drake’s Deception. It sets expectations quite high for thrills to come, but it takes a long time for anything comparable to that tease to arrive. Other than a brief display of acrobatics during an auction house robbery inspired by A Thief’s End, Drake and Sully spend most of the film in basic foot chases and henchman brawls you could find in any action blockbuster. Some are a little more imaginative, such as when Drake has to fend off Moncada’s thugs in a crypt-turned-nightclub whilst Chloe frantically solves a puzzle, but compared to the average life-or-death situation you’d find in the games they pale in comparison. Thankfully, the finale does a lot to make up for it by creating a set piece wholly original to the film and yet would make for an epic level of the games. If the film had at least one more action beat that impressive nestled somewhere in the first two acts, it would be easier to forgive its more pedestrian moments.
As a technical package, Uncharted looks about as slick as any typical Hollywood blockbuster but that also means it has many of the same faults, most evident in its overuse of CGI. Whilst both the plane sequence and the final battle are a blast, it’s blatantly obvious how much of it is being done on a soundstage with digital doubles stitching together the more ludicrous stunts. Perhaps the borderline-insane antics of the recent Mission: Impossible have spoiled us, but it’s hard to settle for Tom Holland jumping on boxes in front of a green screen when you know Tom Cruise has done more dangerous stunts practically. Much of the rest of film’s aesthetics have a similar expensive-but-expected approach, with Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography capturing the exaggerated cinematic look of the games but with much of the grit and playfulness softened at the edges. It all feels too focus-tested and corporate, which isn’t made more obvious than in a scene where Sully conveniently finds a keyhole to solve a puzzle inside a Papa John’s; easily the most egregious use of product placement since Krispy Kreme in 2017’s Power Rangers. This is all topped off by Ramin Djawadi’s score the, whilst the way it slowly incorporates the familiar Uncharted theme as Drake grows as a character is a nice touch, otherwise lacks the adventurous John Williams-like feel of the game’s music and opts for a more rock-infused soundscape comparable to Djawadi’s work on Iron Man and Eternals. No disrespect to the composer, I love most of his other work, but I’d certainly love to see a rescored version using Greg Edmonson and Henry Jackman’s compositions from the games.
Uncharted is at least spiritually faithful to the games and makes for a decent bit of matinee fun in the vein of National Treasure or 1999’s The Mummy, but without the controller in your hand, it lacks the magic ingredient that makes it so special. It’s a triumph when compared to most video games movies, but stacked against the best of them (none of which would garner above a 7/10 from me) and it’s probably not even in the top five. Whether the potential sequel decides to more closely follow the games or go off on their own tangent, what it really needs to prioritise is to find its own niche in the genre beyond OTT action and self-deprecating repartee. I think that’s the real hurdle that has hit almost every video game adaptation: satisfyingly replacing what’s lost by removing player agency. Resident Evil isn’t as scary when you aren’t the one opening that creepy door, Mortal Kombat isn’t as brutal when you aren’t the one pulling off that fatality, and Uncharted isn’t as thrilling when your quick thinking isn’t what gets Nathan Drake out of a jam. Whenever they figure out how to compensate for that loss, that’s going to be when video game movies can go beyond being tribute acts and become great films in their own right.
Starring: Halle Berry (Bruised), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), John Bradley (Game of Thrones), Michael Peña (Ant-Man), Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World), Kelly Yu (One and a Half Summer), Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games)
Director: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Writers: Roland Emmerich & Harold Kloser (10,000 BC) & Spenser Cohen (Extinction)
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Release Date: 4th February (US, UK)
Synopsis: When Earth’s moon falls out of orbit due to an unknown extraterrestrial threat, a disgraced astronaut must team up with his former partner and the conspiracy theorist who saw it coming to discover the secrets of The Moon before it destroys the planet.
Does anyone really expect a Roland Emmerich film to make anything other than trashy? I say that as someone who thoroughly enjoys trash, but Emmerich’s films can range on the spectrum from good trash (Independence Day, White House Down) to mediocre trash (The Day After Tomorrow, Midway) to just plain trash classic (10,000 BC, Independence Day: Resurgence). The key to his better movies is when their ridiculousness is outmatched by their charm and fun factor, usually thanks to some good casting or a hell of an action set piece, which can make it easier to forgive its weaker elements and just go along for the ride. But what else can the modern master of disaster throw at us at this point? He’s destroyed the earth with aliens, giant monsters, Mayan prophecies and global warming; where else is there to go? Well…how about the whole bloody moon? It’s an immediately tantalising premise that promises action, suspense and utter stupidity, but can it overcome that threshold to be considered good trash? The short answer: no. In fact, Moonfall falls so far off the Emmerich spectrum that it deserves a category all of its own.
There are many tropes to a Roland Emmerich disaster movie, and Moonfall diligently ticks them all off by the end of its bloated two-hour-plus runtime. It’s got conspiracy theories, divorced parents, government cover-ups, destroyed monuments, noble sacrifices, an incompetent trigger-happy military, nerdy scientists, a kid who hates their parent, the asshole stepparent who turns out to be not so bad; honestly, the rest of this review could just be me reciting the entire checklist. So yeah, Moonfall basically does nothing to innovate on a storytelling level, simply slotting in its preposterous lunar disaster into a stock script that might as well have been written by MadLibs. The film starts pretty high on the insanity scale and just keeps rising as the plot gets progressively more frantic and preposterous, reaching a huge crescendo in the third act as the whys of this cataclysmic event are revealed and even the most generous suspension of disbelief is thrown out the window.
There’s absolutely nothing of substance here on even the barest emotional level, because not only are the stakes so outrageously overblown that you can’t relate to the situation, it’s all so hackneyed and obvious that you know the gist of what’s going to happen three scenes before the characters do. This is absolutely a film designed for those who’ve turned their brain off at the door, but one could only imagine someone finding enjoyment in it if they’d literally never seen a Roland Emmerich film before. Literally, there is absolutely nothing of value here that you couldn’t find a better version of in one of Emmerich’s previous films, and at this point it’s just insulting. The director has been trying to make lighting strike twice ever since Independence Day was such a big hit by rehashing the same formula with slight tweaks, but Moonfall makes Independence Day: Resurgence look original by comparison. At least that film took advantage of its premise and expanded its universe, even if it did so poorly, whilst this is just a rehash of those same decade-old ideas with a bad paint job and an ironic sticker slapped on top.
Another trope of the typical Emmerich film is that they have a cast of thousands and, though Moonfall is certainly on the slimmer side of most of the director’s call sheets, there are still far too many characters and most of them are played by no-name actors so there’s not even cheap recognisability to make you care. The story is mostly split between two or three narratives with characters shifting back and forth between the streams, but our main focal points are Patrick Wilson as disgraced astronaut Brian Harper, Halle Berry as his former partner and NASA higher-up Jo Fowler, and John Bradley as amateur scientist and moon truther K.C. Houseman. Wilson and Berry are true professionals and don’t bat an eyelid at their preposterous situation, but there’s nothing particularly compelling about their characters.
Despite his understandably frustrating situation, Harper comes off as belligerent and kind of unlikable during the first act, whilst Berry is given little to work with other than “I have a son and an ex-husband”. Bradley is saddled with not only much of the exposition but also most of the comic relief, and to his credit he manages not to cross into annoying territory; I can only imagine the horrifying screeching we would have gotten if Josh Gad has remained in the part as originally planned. He’s still a pretty pathetic caricature of a nerdy conspiracy theorist, but he at least has a few chuckle-worthy lines and a consistent character arc, and for this movie that’s a lot. Michael Peña is wasted in the role of Harper’s wife’s new husband, Charlie Plummer is pretty flat and disposable as his son, Kelly Yu gets the one genuinely on-purpose funny joke as the nanny to Fowler’s son, and Donald Sutherland is only here for one pointless scene of exposition and then disappears from the movie. C’mon, if you’re going to hire Donald Sutherland, give him a good line or a memorable death or something; anything!
With a budget of $146 million, Moonfall is apparently one of the most expensive independently-funded movies ever made, and it’s clear that the money is on screen. Bar some occasionally dodgy compositing, it absolutely looks just as polished and professional as any Hollywood blockbuster. However, looking expensive doesn’t mean looking good, because in terms of imagination Moonfall looks incredibly plain. The whole production is just awash in dull, pale colours and bog standard design choices, and anything that doesn’t look boring is a visual idea stolen from another movie (e.g. the evil swarm that moves and forms shapes eerily similar to the Sentinels from the Matrix movies). The cinematography is bland, the costumes are bland, the sets are bland, and even the music is, you guessed it, bland. At least there’s some cool action sequences to make up for it all, right? Honestly…no. Again, there is absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen before, and the movie doesn’t even really take advantage of the possibilities of what the moon falling out of orbit and cracking to pieces could do. Really, it’s just a bunch of the usual natural disaster beats with characters running away from tidal waves or earthquakes or whatever, and then occasionally the oxygen levels drop and the gravity goes a bit wonky. That’s it.
Moonfall is mind-numbingly dumb by even Roland Emmerich’s standards, and it’s simply nowhere near entertaining enough to make up for its ridiculousness. It really does feel like a movie made by an AI trained on previous Emmerich films, chucking in every cliché and the kitchen sink too in his most shameless attempt yet to repeat the success of Independence Day. Its few fleeting moments of value are mostly unintentional as you find yourself laughing at its sheer impudence, but it’s not even bad in a unique enough way to be enjoyed ironically. What else really needs to be said at this point? Moon fall, movie bad, ‘nuff said.
Starring: Melissa Barrera (In the Heights), Mason Gooding (Booksmart), Mikey Madison (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why), Jenny Ortega (Insidious: Chapter 2), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Marley Shelton (Sin City), Jasmin Savoy Brown (Yellowjackets), Sonia Ammar, Courtney Cox (Cougar Town), David Arquette (Never Been Kissed), Neve Campbell (Skyscraper)
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not)
Writers: James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) & Guy Busick (Ready or Not)
Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Release Date: 14th January (US, UK)
Synopsis: Ten years after the last series of murders in Woodsboro, a new killer dons the mask of Ghostface and terrorises the teen relatives of those involved in the previous killings, revealing untold secrets about the legacy of Ghostface and once again drawing back the original survivors to the cursed town.
As much as they might make light of the trends and fads of the horror genre, the Scream franchise itself has succumb to plenty of them over the years. The original film was an instant classic to many and helped define what the genre was heading into the new millennium, whilst Scream 2 helped buck the trend of the inferior sequel by being pretty good in its own right. After that though, the third entry completely fell apart and just became the cliché-ridden mess the series was meant to satirise, and whilst the belated fourth instalment brought plenty of fresh ideas to the table, the execution was a little muddled and it ultimately didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive. Scream 4 also sadly ended up being the last directorial effort of horror legend Wes Craven, and with his passing it finally seemed like we wouldn’t see the streets of Woodsboro again.
However, no intellectual property stays dead in the current Hollywood landscape, and so fittingly the series’ reins have been handed over to a new generation of horror filmmakers. The fifth entry, simply titled Scream just to confuse you (and yes, of course they make light of this in the movie itself), is from its opening moments clearly made by people who love these movies but have enough distance to twist the formula. The result is quite possibly the best entry since the original, bringing the franchise back to its roots whilst still finding a way to say something new about the current state of horror.
In many aspects, the new film is essentially a do-over of Scream 4: there’s another Ghostface killer on the loose in Woodsboro, and a new generation of teens try to solve the mystery whilst the original trio are drawn back in to assist. That said, it uses that same framework to make something tonally and thematically quite different and the comparisons quickly dry up as the story goes down its own path. As usual, the film uses its plot as a meta-commentary on whatever the tropes of Hollywood filmmaking are at that moment, and this Scream bluntly takes aim at what it dubs “requels” (films that function as remakes/reboots of a franchise whilst still taking place within the same continuity). In this regard, the film actually does a better job of being a “requel” than many sincere examples of them, packing in plenty of fan service but ultimately favouring new ideas that expand upon the themes of the previous films.
What ultimately pushes the film over the line from endearing tribute act into its own mature beast is how it expands its critique from the films themselves to the wider culture surrounding the genre. From calling out the snide elitism of the term “elevated horror” to plenty of digs at toxic fandom, this truly does feel like a Scream for 2022 that manages to stay on topic, as opposed to Scream 4’s last-minute swerve into a critique of internet celebrity culture mostly removed from horror tropes. As usual, it’s hard to get into detail without spoiling the film’s best surprises, but be assured there is intelligence and love put into every moment; you can really tell this was made by the same team behind Ready or Not. That said, this is far from a perfect film, but most of its issues are ones the franchise has had since the beginning. The dialogue can be incredibly on-the-nose especially in moments of foreshadowing, there are lapses in logic that go beyond parody and into just bad writing, and there are story threads that ultimately feel unresolved. Again, can’t say too much, but one major example is there’s a character who is having visions that suggest a fractured psyche, and whilst it plays into the story thematically, it feels a step too far in an otherwise grounded story and it’s never really resolved; its point was perfectly made without hammering home with a cliché like that.
One major improvement over the fourth instalment here is whilst that film attempted to set up a fresh batch of teen victims but ultimately ended up just focusing back on Sidney, Dewey and Gale, the new Scream is definitively about its new cast whilst the legacy heroes are firmly in supporting roles. Melissa Barrera takes the lead as Sam Carpenter and gives a compelling and endearing performance, even if the character on the page is a little lacking; there’s a lot of talk about her being a reckless troublemaker in her past, but that rarely comes across on-screen. Her greatest strength comes from her tumultuous relationship with Jenny Ortega as her sister, as the pair attempt to reconcile their disrupted childhood whilst fending off the machinations of the killer. Much of the rest of the supporting cast fill out the Scream archetypes but with their own little tweaks. Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown as especially fun as twins Chad and Mindy, with Brown filling in for the Randy Meeks film expert role with exuberant aplomb, whilst Jack Quaid as Sam’s boyfriend Richie brings much of the same grounded “outsider flabbergasted by exceptional events going on around me” energy that’s made him so endearing on The Boys.
In terms of the familiar faces, David Arquette gets the most to do as Dewey Riley filling in as the reluctant mentor type often found in these legacy movies, and he does a solid job playing a more downtrodden and sloppy version of his usually straight-laced character. Neve Campbell is as pitch perfect as ever as Sidney Prescott, once again showing herself to be an all-time great final girl, but it’s also a relief to see her take a step back and avoid being thrust into the spotlight to the detriment of its main cast. Unfortunately, Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers comes out of this one a bit underserved. She gets one admittedly solid emotional scene reuniting with Arquette, but afterwards the film finds little for her to do but be someone for Campbell to talk to and exchange “I’m getting too old for this shit” gags with. It’s far from a complete disservice, and it’s honestly great to see how Weathers has evolved from her tabloid days into a more mature and respectful reporter, but I wish the writers could have given her a bit more to do than be a soundboard.
In terms of actual frights, the Scream movies are rarely that creative; it finds a hell of a lot of different ways to stab someone, but it’s still just stabbing no matter how you cut it. This new entry doesn’t mess with that formula too much, but there are some standout sequences where they ratchet up the tension and do Wes Craven proud. These include a frantic race against the clock as Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) as rushes home when Ghostface threatens to kill her son (Dylan Minnette), and a genuinely haunting and nail-biting sequence as Tara gruesomely winces through her injuries whilst trying to escape a hospital wing. The gore is perhaps not as over-the-top as in other entries but the blood certainly looks thicker, and the kills themselves have a little more imagination to them even if using familiar tools.
On an aesthetic level, the filmmakers have done a fantastic job of emulating the look of the old films whilst still giving it a modern lens, with certain familiar locales recreated so perfectly and yet shot in a way that you may not even realise you’re somewhere you’ve been before until it’s too late. Brian Tyler takes over scoring duties from franchise mainstay Marco Beltrami and he does a strong job making his own foreboding tracks whilst working in familiar cues to good effect, and the soundtrack smartly picks a lot of modern songs that have a retro feel to evoke the late 90s setting of the first film. Also, it has probably the most inventive use of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” in the whole series, hands down.
2022’s Scream may cut deep into the issues with legacy reboots, but it ends up being a solid example of how to do one right; it’d honestly make a great double feature with The Matrix Resurrections of all things. It’s perhaps a little too derivative to match the originality of its main inspiration, but rivals Scream 2 for second place and stands confidently above the third and fourth. Whether new and younger audiences who may not have experienced the original will connect with it is unclear (that’s honestly what may have doomed Scream 4 after such a long gap), but franchise fans should find it a satisfying watch unless they themselves are a toxic fan who doesn’t like how the movie shines a mirror on them. There’s surprisingly not any other horror fare out compared to the average January so it’s not like you have a choice, but if you’re looking to see a scary movie, you can’t go too wrong with the new Scream.
I mean, seriously though: why not call it Scream 5? Yes, I get it, it’s a meta joke the movie itself points out as an annoying trend, but now it’s just perpetuating…OK, I’ll shut up now.
Hey, sorry for getting to this later than usual (you can thank the holiday rush and me catching the dreaded plague for that), but considering I never got around to doing one of these last year at all, better late than never! I literally had my 2021 picks all planned, and even though every year there’s always one or two that slip into the following calendar, the list still ended up being almost identical to my 2020 one due to the amount of delays caused by COVID so you didn’t miss much; heck, there’s even one film from my 2020 list that’s now on my 2022 list! But overall, 2021 did manage to deliver on most of its promised releases, which gives me enough confidence this year to actually publish a full 2022 ranking.
Since it’s been a while, allow me to run over the rules again:
I am only counting films that have a confirmed release date as of publishing in the United States and/or the United Kingdom. There are certain films I’m looking forward to that are aiming for a 2022 release, and may even play the festival circuit during the year, but if it hasn’t been given a set release, I can’t count it. Inevitably, some release dates may change and slip into 2023 or later (a few big ones like The Marvels, John Wick: Chapter 4 and Indiana Jones 5 did as I was collating this list), but as of writing these are all confirmed for 2022. I know that tends to mean these lists tend to focus on franchises and blockbusters rather than indie films and original IP, but that’s just how it works I’m afraid. I can’t foresee a surprise now, can I?
Films that will release here in the UK in 2022 but released in the US or elsewhere in 2021 do not count. I’ve already seen a few films like Belle and Belfast that are coming to the UK this coming year thanks to LFF, and I’m looking forward to watching other awards contenders like Cyrano and Nightmare Alley when they finally release, but I can’t include them. Not only because they are not truly 2022 films, but because of their releases elsewhere, my anticipation is tainted by having heard positive buzz from overseas. This is a list for blind expectations about movies no one but the filmmakers themselves have seen, and it shall remain that way.
This is by no means me predicting that these’ll be my favourites films of the year, or me guaranteeing any of them will even be good. I’ve ranked films on this list before that have ended up being disasters, and there are a few this year I have serious doubts about, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out all the same. More often than not, my favourite films of the years end up being the surprises, and maybe that complete lack of expectations is what makes them seem better than most films I’ve been looking forward to for years. Again though, I can’t predict what I’ll like, and all of these films will face their true judgement of quality once I’ve actually seen them.
Release Date: 14th January (US, UK)
Scream was the seminal horror movie of the 1990s, spawning a slew of sequels and knock-offs that defined a generation of slashers, but the genre has changed so much since then…but honestly not all that much since the last film in 2011. So far, this fifth entry (honestly, couldn’t they have called it 5cream or something? It’d be dumb, sure, but at least it’s less confusing) seems to be treading much the same ground as Scream 4 did: the original trio are drawn back to their hometown to help a new generation of teens deal with a new Ghostface killer. So what’s the gimmick here? What’s the real selling point that makes this more than just a cash grab? Well, since the filmmaking duo behind cult hit Ready of Not are behind this one in lieu of the late Wes Craven, the answer is likely waiting in the film itself, and hopefully them playing this one close to their chest will make up for the lacklustre marketing so far. I’m putting a lot of faith here in the directors to create something worthy of Craven’s legacy, but whatever they come up with, I’m sure it’ll at least be better than Scream 3. We’ll find out in literally a matter of days…
24. Super Mario Bros.
Release Date: 21st December (US), TBC (UK)
Yeah, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Chris Pratt is a terrible choice for Mario, and it’s disappointing that of all the studios this could have been handed to, it had to be Illumination. Put those gripes aside though, and there is also a lot to be optimistic about. The rest of the voice cast is honestly spot on (I mean, Charlie Day as Luigi? Inspired!), Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto are heavily involved, it’s being directed by the duo behind the bonkers Teen Titans Go!, and for all the guff we give Illumination they have put out a few wee gems here and there. I still highly doubt this will be anything more than a fun family romp, but was anyone seriously expecting or even wanting a Pixar-level tearjerker to be made from Super Mario Bros.? If it’s spiritually faithful to the source material and doesn’t go too hard on making it hip, I think this’ll be mission accomplished. Just please don’t make any Goombas twerk. Please?
Release Date: 25th December 2022 (US), 6th January 2023 (UK)
Damien Chazelle’s latest remains relatively under wraps so far, but we do know it will be set in 1920s Golden Age Hollywood and features an all-star cast, so that’s it guaranteed awards buzz sight unseen. Jokes aside, Chazelle has yet to completely whiff it and the cast is a tantalising smorgasbord of talent from across the industry: you’ve got A-listers Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie in the leads, great up-and-comers in Jovan Adepo and Samara Weaving, old hands like Eric Roberts and Jean Smart, comedic talents such as Chloe Fineman and Jeff Garlin, and even wildcards like Tobey Maguire and bloody Flea; I could go on! Whatever Babylon ends up really being about, the calibre of its talent alone has it on my radar.
Release Date: 29th April (US, UK)
If the names Scott Beck & Bryan Woods ring any bells to you, it’s because they’re the creators of A Quiet Place. However, the pair direct together as well as write and, after handing the reigns of their star-making baby over to John Krasinski, they’re getting their own high-budget directing shot in 2022. There’s not much info about 65 out yet, with Sony’s official synopsis being little more than “An astronaut crash lands on a mysterious planet only to discover he’s not alone.” That’s all we know, but whatever it’s about, it was more than enough to attract Adam Driver to star, Sam Raimi to produce, and Danny Elfman to score. We don’t get enough original sci-fi movies, especially on this scale (the reported budgetis $91 million), so I’m always going to get behind one when it comes along. Let’s just hope all the mystery is worth it, or we’re looking at another Cloverfield Paradox situation.
21. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Release Date: 22nd April (US, UK)
Nicolas Cage playing himself? That alone had me sold. Nicolas Cage playing himself being paid to entertain at the party of an eccentric millionaire drug lord in order to save his wife and child…and the drug lord is played by Pedro Pascal? Do I need to say more? No, I don’t. I’m there, day one, no questions asked.
Release Date: February 11th (UK), February 18th (US)
Uncharted is one of those video game properties that seems so perfectly suited to adaptation, but because it’s already so cinematic in its original form, what can a movie really add when in principle all you’ve done is take away player agency? Loosely pulling elements from across the franchise, mainly the flashback sequences from the third and fourth games, this big screen debut for PlayStation’s poster boy Nathan Drake has potential to be a fun romp to tide audiences over until Indiana Jones’ final adventure in 2023. Despite initial doubts, Tom Holland seems to be pulling off the smug swagger and in-over-his-head tenacity as Drake, and it’s great to see Antonio Banderas as what will hopefully be a scenery-chewing villain worthy of the franchise. The real potential sinker here, other than the video game movie curse in general, is Mark Wahlberg as Sully; a poor casting choice in every regard, and the piddly moustache he’ll likely only have for one scene as a gag doesn’t really make up for it.
19. Top Gun: Maverick
Release Date: 27th May (US, UK)
Yes, this one still hasn’t been released (and people gave The New Mutants a hard time!), but 2022 finally seems like the year Maverick will take to the skies once again. There’s not really much left to say, as we’ve just been seeing the same footage over and over for the past two and half years, but this sequel to the 80s classic looks like it’ll at least be a visual feast if nothing else.
18. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Release Date: 11th November (US, UK)
I honestly wish I could be more excited for Wakanda Forever. The first Black Panther was a landmark moment for both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the superhero genre in general, and a sequel that brings back so much of the talent from that exemplary film should skyrocket this movie right to the top of my list. Unfortunately, two elephants in the room keep me from being that excited. Firstly, the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman casts a huge shadow over everything about this project, and whilst I’m sure they’re going to respect his legacy, there’s no fully satisfying answer to how they move forward; I hope Ryan Coogler and Marvel surprise me, but I’m not yet convinced. More pressingly, the continued presence of Letitia Wright in the project worries me further, with this once-promising young actress now having given in to anti-vaccine conspiracies that neither she nor the studio have seriously addressed. I try not to let outside influences affect my enjoyment of a movie, but if speculation proves true and Wright is the one who ends up inheriting this franchise from Boseman, I’m out no matter how good the film is otherwise.
17. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Release Date: 16th December (US, UK)
It may be hard to believe, but the first Aquaman is the highest grossing movie based on a DC comic book ever. Yes, the movie with the bongo-playing octopus and the sea monster voiced by Julie Andrews made more money than any film with Batman in it, and I think that success can be owed mostly to the insane directorial choices of one James Wan. The horror maestro returns to Atlantis for another sea-faring adventure, and if anything this one looks like it may be more bonkers than the last. More monsters, more swashbuckling, more Jason Momoa being a hunky bro; it’s certainly giving the audience what they want.
16. The Fabelmans
Release Date: 23rd November (US, UK)
Steven Spielberg’s films have always had an intimate touch no matter their size, but The Fabelmans already seems like it’ll be the legendary filmmaker’s most personal film yet. Based on his own childhood with Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen playing fictionalised versions of his parents and uncle respectively, Spielberg has been toying around with since 1999 and the story of his early filmmaking ventures as a youth in Arizona will finally be brought to the screen with a script by himself and frequent collaborator Tony Kushner. Could this be the American answer to Belfast? Based on what little we know, it sure sounds like it, but Spielberg is no stranger to coming-of-age tales both tragic and heartfelt, so I have no doubt he’ll be able to bring something unique to the table.
Release Date: 22nd July (US), TBC (UK)
I may be in the minority here, but Jordan Peele’s Us was a bit of a disappointment and his Candyman was a promising but mishandled follow-up, so my excitement for his latest venture is a little more muted. Get Out worked not only because it was a great movie, but because it was a surprise that came out of nowhere, and you can’t get that same effect when everyone is now expecting something amazing and mind-blowing from you every single time; go ask M. Night Shyamalan. Still, Peele is far from reaching those lows yet, so here’s hoping he defies my expectations with his latest project…whatever the hell it end up being about. I like the poster though.
14. The Northman
Release Date: 22nd April (US, UK)
Robert Eggers’ first studio picture certainly has a lot of promise. A Viking tale of blood and revenge, The Northman essentially looks like Gladiator as made by the lovechild of Terence Malick and David Lynch who’s also really into Burning Man, and I can’t wait to see what this dark and twisted madman can do with a budget. The cast is absolutely fantastic, including Eggers veterans Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe and Kate Dickie, some gorgeous-looking production design and cinematography, and I’m sure all kinds of disturbing violence and imagery await in the final product. It’s always a risky gamble when a beloved indie filmmaker steps into the bigger Hollywood system, so here’s hoping Eggers manages to find a way to make it work for him.
13. The Black Phone
Release Date: 24th June (US, UK)
Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill finally reteam to tackle this adaptation of the Joe Hill short story, and early buzz suggests this one is a horror to remember. Ethan Hawke seems almost unrecognisable as the masked villain, and the idea of a kid trying to escape captivity by communicating with his captor’s dead victims via the titular phone is a golden premise ripe with suspense and frights. Whilst it was a shame Derrickson left helming the Doctor Strange sequel, seeing him instead return to his horror roots and make the true spiritual successor to Sinister we’ve all been waiting for is honestly the best consolation. We were supposed to be getting this one in January, but the fact the studio has pushed it into June shows they have confidence this could be a solid summer hit.
12. Black Adam
Release Date: 29th July (US, UK)
We’ve got another year to wait until the sequel to Shazam!, but before then we finally get to see Dwayne Johnson take on the mantle of his anti-hero nemesis. Black Adam is a fascinating character in the DC universe with a lot of depth and potential, and to see Johnson finally step away from his amiable persona to play a character with a lot more moral ambiguity is exciting on its own. On top of that, they’re pitting Adam against the Justice Society, which means the big-screen debuts of classic characters like Hawkman and Doctor Fate, and the battle that’ll undoubtedly come to pass between these titans could be one for the history books. If this proves to be hit, it’ll only be a matter of time before Johnson gets to square off against Billy Batson and his alter ego…or perhaps even The Man of Steel himself…
11. Strange World
Release Date: 23rd November (US), TBC (UK)
I’m a basic girl: Walt Disney Animation Studios announce a new project, and I get excited. There’s admittedly little info out there about Strange World yet, but we do know it’s a sci-fi adventure about an explorer family on a…well, strange new world. The film comes to us from director Don Hall and writer Qui Nguyen, who co-directed and co-wrote on this past year’s Raya and the Last Dragon, the story is supposedly inspired by the pulp adventure stories of the early 20th century, and seeing Disney’s interpretation of that style will certainly be a visual delight if nothing else. I’m one of the five people who enjoyed John Carter, so if this can capture a similar sense of escapism and otherworldly fantasy, I’m all aboard for this voyage into the unknown.
Release Date: 17th June (US, UK)
It seems Pixar still isn’t quite done mining the Toy Story well yet, but thankfully instead of once again returning to Woody and the gang, the studio taking a drastically different approach. Pitched as the blockbuster movie that in-universe inspired the action figure, Lightyear will explore the origins of Buzz Lightyear in a Hollywood-style sci-fi action movie that so far looks out of this world. Older fans may remember the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command TV series from the 2000s, but this looks like a far more mature take on the idea and one with actual involvement from Pixar (they supposedly weren’t too happy with that show). Little else is known about the film other than that Chris Evans is taking over as the voice of Buzz (plus Taikia Waititi’s in it, so that’s always a plus), but based on some imagery in the trailer, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the titular Space Ranger take on a certain Evil Emperor at some point in the story.
9. The Flash
Release Date: 4th November (US, UK)
Despite being in development for far longer, the long-awaited big-screen solo debut of The Fastest Man Alive is likely going to get a lot of unfavourable comparisons to Spider-Man: No Way Home, as DC steps its own foot into multiverse storytelling with an adaptation of the “Flashpoint” storyline. Directed by Andy Muschietti of the It duology, The Flash will entail Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen teaming up with an alternate version of himself, Sasha Calle as the new cinematic Supergirl, and not one but two Batmen (or is it Batmans?): Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton. Honestly, Keaton’s return as the Caped Crusader is enough to sell me on this, but here’s hoping DC can pull off the same magic trick Marvel just pulled.
8. Mission: Impossible 7
Release Date: 30th September (US, UK)
Yes, the franchise that refuses to die is back, and what ridiculous stunt is Ethan Hunt going to pull this time? We don’t know yet, but we do know a train is involved somehow. The Mission: Impossible series is hardly deep and is mostly an excuse for Tom Cruise to show off, but they’re honestly some of the most fun I have in a cinema every year they come out, and each instalment since the third has only gotten better, especially those helmed by Christopher McQuarrie, who returns again here. What little we know is this is intended as the first of a two-parter, with newcomers to the series Hayley Atwell and Esai Morales on board for both entries alongside Cruise and other regulars Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson. Whatever Cruise and McQuarrie have cooked up in what could be the beginning of the end for Ethan Hunt, I’m on board.
7. Don’t Worry Darling
Release Date: 23rd September (US, UK)
Olivia Wilde made quite a splash with her directorial debut Booksmart, so how is she following up her hit teen comedy? By making a period-piece psychological thriller, of course! We’ve only seen mere seconds of this latest effort, but it already looks like a huge leap forward in style and ambition for Wilde, with a look and atmosphere that combines the nostalgic aesthetic of Pleasantville and Far from Heaven with a disturbing undertone that only hints at the shocking secrets hidden within. Combine all of that with the glitzy cast led by Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, and Don’t Worry Darling will certainly be one film cinephiles will be chomping at the bit to see come September.
6. Turning Red
Release Date: 11th March (Disney+)
Right as I was readying this list for final release, Disney announced Turning Red would forgo a theatrical release and go straight to Disney+, making it the third Pixar film in a row to receive such a fate. It’s disappointing to be sure, and probably even more so for all the animators working on it, but it at least hasn’t one bit dampened my excitement for the movie itself. Pixar has certainly been going through a fascinating experimental phase in its post-Lasseter years, and this feature debut from Bao helmswoman Domee Shi is certainly unlike anything the famed studio, or really any mainstream Western animation house, have ever done. A coming-of-age urban fantasy tale set in early 2000s Toronto with an Asian lead and a boy band soundtrack? And people said Pixar ran out of original ideas after Toy Story 3. It’s once again disappointing that the biggest screen I’ll be able to see Turning Red on this year is my telly (seriously, Disney, not even a dual release?), but considering how Encanto didn’t hit it off with the general public until its Disney+ debut, hopefully its streaming debut will at least help this oddball animation reach a wider audience.
5. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Release Date: 6th May (US, UK)
I’m less excited for Multiverse of Madness because it’s a sequel to Doctor Strange or the potential for endless possibilities in terms of surprises and cameos, but simply because it’s the new Sam Raimi movie. Arguably my favourite director ever, the legend behind Evil Dead hasn’t directed a feature film in close to a decade (his last effort was the divisive Oz the Great and Powerful), and to see him return at all is a blessing, but do so by returning to the genre he helped revolutionise with his first Spider-Man movie? That’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see how he weaves his unconventional aesthetics into the fabric of the MCU. Multiverse of Madness promises to be the darkest and weirdest entry in the franchise yet, and the presence of an evil Strange variant and a literal Lovecraftian monster in the trailer shows they aren’t kidding around, so here’s hoping they really push the inevitable PG-13 rating to its limits and show us the truly insidious side of the MCU. Also, gay icon and all-around badass America Chavez is set to make her MCU debut as play by Xochitl Gomez, so…yeah, hopefully they don’t fudge that easy lay-up.
4. Avatar 2
Release Date: 16th December (US), TBC (UK)
To be bluntly honest, I’m less interested in this movie because I’m genuinely invested in returning to Pandora and seeing the continuing adventures of Jake and Neytiri, or because I care all that much about whatever new fangled technological breakthrough in filmmaking James Cameron is going to be hocking all year that will become a thing for maybe five years and then just quietly fade away (seriously, when was the last time you saw in a movie in 3D because you wanted to?). No, I’m invested in Avatar 2 at this point because of the sheer ridiculous ambition of the whole endeavour and how far it potentially has to fall. Cameron started hyping up his plans for a sequel as soon as the first film came out, which has since ballooned into a planed five-film epic with fully completed scripts and a third film already in the can shot alongside the second. They started filming these movies five years ago and we’re still waiting…and does anybody actually care about Avatar anymore? Beyond an apparently cool theme park, it’s lost all pop culture relevance despite still being the highest-grossing movie ever. Do they seriously expect this movie is going to make anywhere near the cash the first film did, especially in a post-pandemic economy? Who knows? Maybe Cameron has some insane trump card up his sleeve that will make this the cinematic experience of the century, but I highly doubt it. I’m genuinely fascinated to see the final project, but…my god. This could be that moment we’ve all been waiting for where high-budget filmmaking just goes up in smoke.
3. The Batman
Release Date: 4th March (US, UK)
It seems a little premature to be returning to a grimdark, super-grounded take of Batman just under ten years after the end of the Dark Knight trilogy, but this latest take on The Caped Crusader still has a lot going for it. Firstly, Matt Reeves’ direction already looks distinctive and fresh for the genre, bathing the visuals in harsh colours and lighting that immediately set it apart from its superhero contemporaries. Whilst The Batman is seemingly eschewing the fantastical elements of the mythos, it is at least keeping things stylised with a sense of heightened reality, as evidenced by the almost Dick Tracy-esqe look of Colin Farrell’s Penguin and the ultra-gothic cityscape of Gotham. Additionally, the cast is just filled with inspired picks for some of the most recognisable characters in comic book history, led by Robert Pattinson in what will hopefully be a role that finally shuts up all the dipsticks whining about Twilight (who did the exact same sh*t to Ben Affleck nine years ago, and now they’re all complaining they want him back and…*frustrated sigh* Bloody fanboys). So yeah. The Batman looks pretty cool. Really looking forward to it.
2. Thor: Love and Thunder
Release Date: 8th July (US, UK)
If things work out a certain way, we may actually be getting two Taika Waititi movies this year, with his biographical sports dramedy Next Goal Wins hopefully hitting in time for awards season, but even if it doesn’t make the cut we still have his follow-up to Ragnarok to give us our fill of the Kiwi comedic madman. Beyond having simply a cracking title, Love and Thunder is bringing in not one but two of the heavy hitters from the recent Thor comics: Gorr the God Butcher (played here by Christian Bale in what will hopefully be a deliciously evil change of pace for the former Dark Knight), and the return of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster now wielding Mjolnir as Mighty Thor. Also, the Guardians of the Galaxy are in it, so that’s neat. What exactly awaits Thor and his compatriots on this adventure is currently unknown, but I expect a lot of gods getting killed, some space-faring antics, and hopefully some explicitly queer stuff are in the mix. It’s going to be incredibly hard for Waititi to top the manic energy of Ragnarok, but I’m more than confident he can at least match it.
1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)
Release Date: 7th October (US, UK)
Really, I shouldn’t be this excited for yet more Spider-Man content, but…yeah, until further notice, Into the Spider-Verse is the greatest superhero movie of all time, so how can I not be chomping at the bit for more of that. Admittedly, I was sceptical at first of what they can do to top the first film beyond bringing in even more Spider-Variants, and they’ve already promised several like Jessica Drew, Takuya Yamashiro, and an increased role for Miguel O’Hara…and then I saw that teaser and it became clear: this isn’t just about exploring different versions of Spider-Man, but different universes all with their own unique art style and animation. Plus, it’s a project so ambitious and sprawling they had to split it in two, along with the continued promise of spin-off projects? I…I…my Spider-Man-loving brain can barely process all of this goodness! My only real wish this time around is that enough people go see this movie that it becomes a box office smash as well as a critical one. Seriously, so many people slept on Into the Spider-Verse despite the unbridled ravings of people like me until it was too late. Don’t make that mistake again.
Starring: Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall), Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe), Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill), Matthew Goode (Watchmen), Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), Harris Dickinson (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Charles Dance (Last Action Hero)
Director: Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass)
Writers: Matthew Vaughn & Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion)
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
Release Date: 22nd December (US), 26th December (UK)
So Kingsman: The Secret Service was a pretty good movie, wasn’t it? It was brutally entertaining and knew how to be controversial without giving into tastelessness, but it also had a good heart and a timely message about the class system that was essentially “f*ck off Tories, you don’t have to be an upper-class tit to be a superspy!” It’s a shame then that the sequel The Golden Circle squandered its franchise potential by just being a lame duck rehash of the first film, eschewing evolving the story in favour of reverting the status quo just so they could bring Colin Firth back; it truly was Men in Black II all over again. Now a third entry is still apparently on the cards, but in the meantime Matthew Vaughn and company have opted to make a prequel exploring the origins of the titular Kingsman organisation. Aptly titled The King’s Man, it finally makes its way to cinemas after a cavalcade of delays (some COVID-related, some not), but has all that extra time mean the filmmakers have learnt from their mistakes and made a Kingsman film that lives up to the original? Short answer: no, but at least they made new mistakes.
Whilst the founding of the Kingsman Agency was discussed in the first film, they never went into explicit detail about the hows and whys beyond “a bunch of rich people who lost loved ones during World War I decided to pool their resources to create an independent espionage bureau”. The King’s Man though, as the title implies, is more of the story of one person than of an organisation, focusing in on Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his journey to becoming a key founder. The idea itself is sound enough, but the film quickly stumbles out of the gate due to its confused approach to historical accuracy. The first two films were set in a world mostly like ours but dealt with supervillain crises only allegorically similar to those we face in real life, but the prequel instead opts to interweave its spy game antics into the fabric of real-world events. This could have worked and even been a bit of anarchic fun if it went down the Inglorious Basterds route by clearly marking itself as alternate history fiction, but it cares too much about fitting into the logic of real events that it comes off as not only stupid but (and remember, the first movie avoided being this) tasteless. By the time it reaches its preposterous mid-credits reveal, it feels less like a clever piece of historical revisionism and more like the ravings of a conspiracy theorist who only vaguely remembers bits of trivia from high school history class.
This issue, however, is really just a microcosm of the film’s completely inconsistent tone. Of the many problems with The Golden Circle, one of them was that it went too far into the realm of the ridiculous and forgot to put as much care into the characters and themes. The King’s Man, meanwhile, has overcorrected on that front and is instead an overly serious mess that seems to forget what kind of movie it’s supposed to be. There are long stretches where if you walked in without context, you’d assume it was a completely serious historical drama, and whilst this does occasionally add some weight to proceedings, it needs an effective counterbalance. It’s only in the story’s final throws where the film seem to remember it’s a Kingsman movie and starts actually having fun, but by then it’s too little too late and it just doesn’t gel with the movie that proceeded it. It’s a movie that mistakes seriousness for earnestness, missing that sense of ironic detachment that made the first film so joyous in its ridiculousness; it was a love letter to the Roger Moore era of Bond movies, but one that knew they were silly and dated. I’m willing to accept a movie where WWI is sparked by a shadowy SPECTRE-like organisation made up of a bunch of villainous historical figures led by a raving anti-capitalist Scotsman, but when you play it as straight as The King’s Man does, it stops being fun and honestly comes off as more disrespectful than if they’d given in completely to batsh*t fiction.
A lot of what carried the first Kingsman, and its sequel to a lesser extent, were the lead performances by Taron Egerton and Colin Firth as new recruit Eggsy and his mentor Harry. Whilst The King’s Man initially seems to be setting up a similar dynamic between Fiennes’ Orlando and his headstrong son Conrad (Harris Dickinson), this never really comes to pass. Fiennes is charming enough in the role and occasionally gets to utilise that dry wit that made him so funny in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he spends far too much of the film with a stick up his arse fretting over the safety of Conrad. It’s a dry and repetitive conflict as Orlando constantly beseeches his son not to go to war and does everything he can to stop him, whilst Conrad argues back about his pride and need to be of use to his country.
It’s hard to blame Dickinson, who seems to be a fine enough actor, but the part of Conrad is a bland and one-note character who only starts to get interesting as his story is coming to an end. Far more compelling are the Oxford’s servants and confidants Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), who imbue a lot of charisma and fun into the film whenever they get the chance, especially in the action-packed climax. The rest of the performances are just as tonally confused as the film itself, with the only actor who understood the assignment being Rhys Ifans as a particularly repellent Grigori Rasputin; I just wish he were the actual main villain, whose identity remains shadowed for much of the runtime. Tom Hollander does a solid enough job that I didn’t realise he was actually playing three roles, whilst great actors like Daniel Brühl and Stanley Tucci are wasted in bit parts that seem to be here for the sake of setting up a sequel to the prequel (please, just don’t). Oh, and this is a pretty consistent criticism of mine, but there’s not enough Charles Dance. Filmmakers, please: stop wasting his time if you’re not going to give him a decent part.
Another defining aspect of the previous Kingsman films were their over-the-top action sequences, with the legendary church fight from the first having become something of a meme in the years since. Unfortunately, much of that brazen dynamism seems to be missing from The King’s Man. There are only two action sequences where the film actually feels like a part of the franchise: a three-on-one brawl as Orlando, Conrad and Shola attempt to take on a surprisingly-spry Rasputin, and a properly brutal fight where Orlando attempts to take control of an elevator from a gigantic henchman. Outside these two standout moments, there’s honestly not even that much action to speak of beyond one scene set in the trenches that can’t help but seem weak in comparison to other recent WWI-set action films like 1917 or Wonder Woman. The whole aesthetic of the film feels like a bit of damp squib, grounding things much more in reality than the other films and only sparingly indulging in playful spy camp; it does, however, include a sword which is also a gun, and that’s always a plus. The colour palette is just a mush of browns and beiges, the camerawork lacks energy even when the action pops off, and the score is bland and unmemorable. In a current blockbuster landscape where even the weakest and most cookie-cutter examples are at least technically impressive, there’s nothing really to wow in The King’s Man that isn’t just a fleeting reminder of what the series used to be.
It’s such a shame that a franchise that began with so much potential to revolutionise a genre has now become another staid example of one, but that’s where we are. The King’s Man is far from an awful movie, but it’s just an aggravatingly bland one that adds little of value to the series’ mythology. In its attempt to counteract the excess of the prior entry, it instead becomes a confused and po-faced slog that only occasionally remembers it’s supposed to be an action-packed spy caper. The entire point of the Kingsman franchise was to be a fun alternative to the increasingly serious modern Bond movies, but in a bizarre twist of fate, this year’s No Time to Die honestly has far more in common with The Secret Service than this supposed prequel to it. Vaughn and company say they still intend to finish off the series with one more adventure with Eggsy, but at this point it’s hard to really care. If this franchise wants to redeem itself and go out on a high note, it seriously needs to buck up and deliver a finale that lives up to the high standards of its progenitor.