Zendaya

Spider-Man: No Way Home

17/12/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I’ve seen most of the superhero movies and the one franchise I consistently enjoy is Spider-Man. I suppose it makes perfect sense. I was a big fan of the comic books back in the day and the films – all three of the major strands – have always had that lightness of touch that somehow steps aside from the pomposity of so many Marvel projects. Played mostly for laughs, the ‘Spidys’ have a levity about them, as their young protagonist goes about his heroic duties, whilst trying to woo his girlfriend and ensure that he gets a proper education.

I was somewhat apprehensive when I picked up on the various rumblings about the Multiverse (inevitable, I suppose, after the success of Lord and Miller’s wonderful Into the Spider-Verse) and also, the heavily-trumpeted presence of a certain Doctor Strange, but, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. While this is undoubtedly the most complex Spider-Film to date, the sparky script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers manages to keep things moving briskly along. Every time a scene threatens to become too portentous, they throw in a snarky comment or a bit of tomfoolery and everything blurs back into motion. The two hour running time is never allowed to drag.

No Way Home picks up at the cliff-hanging moment where Far From Home left off – with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) being publicly outed. The ensuing fallout from that event kickstarts the new film straight into action and it barely stops to take a breath. It all feels horribly real as Peter, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are trolled, mocked and despised by the right-wing buffoons who have been listening to shock-jock, J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons). It’s weirdly prescient.

Feeling cornered and understandably worried about those he loves, Peter has what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He approaches his old pal Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to reverse time (as you do) so everyone will forget that he’s actually our favourite neighbourhood web-slinger.

Needless to say it’s a very bad idea.

Strange’s celestial tinkering accidentally opens a breach in the Multiverse and, almost before Peter knows what happening, he’s being pursued by adversaries from across time – they include Doc Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and many, many others, most of whom are astonished to find that Peter doesn’t look anything like the man they remember, but are perfectly happy to try and kill him anyway. Luckily, he doesn’t have to fight them off single-handedly, because he’s offered help from an unexpected quarter…

As is so often the case with these movies, there’s an extended super-powered punch-up at the conclusion, but even this is saved from becoming tedious by liberal deployment of the aforementioned witty dialogue – and there’s a surprisingly poignant coda to the film, which ties all the multifarious strands neatly together. Holland has hinted that this may be as far as his involvement will go and I have to say, if he does choose to step away, he’ll be leaving a very accomplished trilogy to remember him by.

Mind you, it’s clear that this won’t be the end. A post-credits teaser dangles the dubious prospect of a Spawn/Spider-Man mash up, which really isn’t something I relish, but Sony are bound to want to involve their other big-selling franchise at some point, so we’ll see what happens on that score.

Those who are willing to stay in their seats till the credits stop rolling will be rewarded with a trailer for the upcoming Dr Strange movie, which looks… strange, to say the very least.

But meanwhile, No Way Home is well worth your attention. Even unapologetic spandex-haters should give this one the benefit of the doubt. Because, you know what? It rocks.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Dune

21/10/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

After the long shutdown of the pandemic and the recent Bond-led ‘resurrection’ of cinema, what we need next is an epic – one of those big, sprawling sci-fi adventures replete with stunning alien landscapes and awe-inducing special effects. So Dune really couldn’t come at a better time, but director Denis Villeneuve must be all too aware of the potential pitfalls. A previous attempt to put Frank Herbert’s source novel onto film – in 1984 – almost stopped David Lynch’s burgeoning career dead in its tracks. And while Lynch attempted to pack the entire contents of the book into one film, Villeneuve adds the extra gamble of shooting just the first half of the story, trusting to providence that the resulting movie will be successful enough to bring him sufficient revenue to make the second part.

The jury is still out on that but initial worldwide box office figures look promising.

It’s the year 10,191 and Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) has recently been assigned – by the Emperor of the Universe, no less – to become the fief ruler of the desert planet of Arrakis (Or Dune, as it’s sometimes known). He and the rest of House Atreides will be taking over from its previous overlords, House Harkonnen, led by the corrupt Baron Vladimir (a hideously bloated Stellan Skarsgård). Arakis is the source of spice, a mysterious substance that pretty much runs the entire solar system, so of course the Harkonnens are far from pleased about being ousted from their exalted position.

Meanwhile, Leto’s son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), has been having recurring dreams about Arakis, or – more specifically – about a young woman who lives there, Chani (Zendaya). She is one of the indigenous Fremen, who have always endured a precarious existence under the yoke of their despotic rulers. Paul begins to think that he’s destined for something important and, when he learns his friend, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), is setting off on a preliminary reconnaissance of the planet, Paul begs to be allowed to accompany him. But he’s told he must wait until Leto and the others can go with him.

So it is not until he and the rest of House Atreides set foot on the sun-blasted sands of Arakis that they discover they are venturing into a carefully laid trap….

James Herbert’s novel has an almost messianic following and I imagine most of its readers will be pleased with what’s on offer here. Villeneuve’s direction, combined with the almost hallucinatory qualities of Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s eerie score, makes for a memorable experience. The casting is impeccable, with Rebecca Ferguson excellent as Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica, and Josh Brolin a perfect choice as the dour warrior, Gurney Halleck. And then, of course, there are those infamous sandworms, one of the elements that really didn’t work in Lynch’s movie, but they certainly generate lots of tension here…

Villeneuve keeps everything bubbling along at a sedate pace, taking enough time to set out his stall. The world-building is beautifully done and the theme of colonialism convincingly explored. And if Paul Atreides is just another in a long list of Christ figures, a popular conceit in science fiction, well it hardly matters. Dune carries us along on a tidal wave of sensory overload until we dimly register that the first instalment is over and we’ll have to wait another year to see how things turn out for Paul.

Quibbles? Well, yes, and it’s one that’s becoming increasingly common. Dune has a 12A certificate, which means that some of the more violent elements of the tale have been downplayed. While I understand there’s a wish to maximise the potential audience for the film, this was never going to be another Star Wars (Dune comes from a much more po-faced universe than Obi Wan and his merry gang). So I think a 15 would be a much better fit. But I absolutely understand why it is what it is.

That said, I enjoy the film enormously and I’m sure I won’t be the only one eager for a second helping, which… all being well… will be coming to a universe near you in the not-too-distant future.

4. 6 stars

Philip Caveney

Spider-Man: Far From Home

12/07/19

I’ve never been the biggest fan of superhero movies, but out of the pantheon of comic book contenders, Spidey was always my go-to. I read the comics as a teenager, even sent fan letters to Stan Lee at The Bullpen – and I was delighted when, in 2017, Spider-Man: Homecoming finally gave the world a Peter Parker that looked the right age.

If Far From Home isn’t quite the slice of perfection that its predecessor was, it’s nonetheless hugely enjoyable – and somehow, I feel happier with a spandex-clad character who is actually aimed at a teenage audience, rather than grown-ups attempting to relive their time in the sun.

It’s eight years since the events of Avengers: End Game, and the  survivors are coming to terms with the event that they now refer to simply as ‘The Blip.’ Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in dire need of a little R & R and is fully expecting to find some on his upcoming school trip to Europe. He also plans to tell MJ (Zendaya) exactly how he feels about her, preferably in the most romantic location possible. But Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has other ideas. Now that Spider-Man is a member of The Avengers, he argues, it’s time to step up to the plate and fulfil the promise that Tony Stark saw in him.

Peter keeps his head down and goes on holiday with his schoolmates but, on the first leg of the tour – in Venice – the city is attacked by a gigantic beast made of water. This is one of The Elementals, weird creatures that have come from an alternative reality. Luckily, another superhero pops up to handle the situation. He is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), quickly dubbed ‘Mysterio’ by the local press. Beck tells Peter how The Elementals destroyed his family and he and Peter quickly become friends… but as Peter’s school travel from one picture-postcard location to the next, trouble follows them with a vengeance.

For the first third of this movie, I feel that it lacks a credible villain, but then I realise I’ve been sucker-punched and, after that, everything falls satisfyingly into place. Refreshingly, this is, at heart, a teen movie, with all the tropes you’d expect in that genre. There’s funny interplay between Peter and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon); Zendaya’s MJ is a delight, light years away from the usual suppliant females beloved of this genre; and there’s a delightful subplot featuring a budding romance between Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy (Jon Favreau).  Even the climactic CGI punch-up feels fresher and more innovative than most of the competition, with one sequence bordering on the psychedelic.

In the end, I am thoroughly won over and very entertained.

Of course, we all know by now to stay in our seats for the post-credit scenes. There are two on offer here and both of them contain some pretty startling stuff.

‘Nuff said.

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney