Monday, 30 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War feels like a Marvel movie on steroids. Trying to describe any part of it alone will make you sound like you’ve lost your mind; trying to describe it all kind of makes it sound like it’s lost its mind. And it’s all the more confounding for how closely it mirrors its decade of movie predecessors only to end up shattering that mirror: Infinity War moves, sounds, and acts like a typical Marvel movie, but then unmasks itself as a creature distinctly its own.

Directed by the Russo brothers, the architects behind Captain America: Civil War and Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s a testament to Marvel and the Russos’ daring that villain Thanos is actually one of the less surprising things about Infinity War. For the past six years, we’ve been told that he’s on a collision course with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, setting us up for the chaos that ensues in this long-heralded culmination. What I didn’t fully realize is just what that chaos would look like, and that Marvel had the guts to, mostly, pull it off.

The most difficult task Infinity War is faced with is addressing all of the characters, motivations, subplots, and relationships that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built up over the years without making it feel like an expository avalanche careening down a mountain to bury the audience below. For example: Gamora and Nebula are adopted daughters of Thanos, the villain of Infinity War and the big bad lurking in the shadows of Marvel’s movies since 2012’s Avengers. Gamora and Nebula hate each other and hate Thanos, who tortured them by pitting them against each other; he also killed the family of Gamora’s Guardians of the Galaxy teammate Drax. Gamora, Drax, and the other Guardians aren’t technically Avengers, but that’s just because they operate in Marvel’s cosmic universe, which we found out in Thor: Ragnarok is connected to Thor’s Asgard, a recently destroyed world populated by Norse gods and goddesses. That intricate web of characters and motivations barely scratches the surface of four of Marvel’s recent movies; there are 18 total, not including Infinity War. The Russo brothers’ solution to this dilemma is to turn a movie nominally about the Avengers into a movie about Thanos, played by Brolin decked out in lumpy mounds of purple CGI.

Most of the Marvel superheroes appearing in Infinity War, particularly Black Panther and Captain America, are compressed, concentrated versions of themselves. T’Challa is given five or so lines to be majestic in his defense of Wakanda; Captain America gets a few more minutes to be noble and inspiring. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is around to remind us that he’s young. Scarlet Witch and Vision have scenes together to tell you they’re in love. Characters like Drax, Mantis, Falcon, Bucky Barnes, Shuri, Okoye, Rocket, Black Widow, and, of course, Groot have a few one-liners. Instead of showing us why these characters are so beloved, the Russo brothers employ a Marvel shorthand of sorts, relying on past movies to do most of the work. And that’s not an unreasonable instinct: Captain America’s first onscreen return in Civil War is awe-inspiring in large part because he’s the Captain America who’s lived in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past seven years. The same kind of chills happen when the Wakanda theme plays in Infinity War — a testament to the power of Ryan Coogler’s massive film.

Not all of the film’s heroes are underutilized, though. Tony Stark’s fear of a galactic threat, established over the past few films featuring him, is fully realised in Thanos, and Downey sinks his teeth into Stark’s vulnerability and apprehension. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor are apt counters to Stark. Cumberbatch’s Strange is coolly stubborn, calculating in ways that Stark isn’t. And Hemsworth, after flexing his knack for comedy in Ragnarok, taps into that same humor but laces it with jagged grief and anger informed by having seen Thanos’s wrath firsthand. It would have been stellar to see all of Marvel’s superheroes allowed these little pockets of storytelling in between the Thanos action, but there’s not enough room in Infinity War’s two hours and 40 minutes. I’m not convinced that giving us a Thanos origin story and relying on that Marvel superhero shorthand to fill in the gaps was the most efficient way.

Midway through, I lost count of the planets and galaxies visited, each one terrifyingly beautiful in its own way. There’s a breath-stopping visit to a deserted ghost city of a planet, so evocative you can almost smell the sulfur in the air and feel the temperature drop when it comes on the screen. The problem with flexing this sort of expansive world building is that it requires so much jumping around the universe that the film feels like it’s spinning plates. That results in the compression I mentioned earlier, the feeling that some characters are around simply to remind you they exist. But it also, frustratingly, kneecaps what should be the MCU’s grandest fight scene, Infinity War’s invasion of Wakanda. It’s the largest-scale onscreen fight I can recall since the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Our heroes, in a valiant last stand, are the only thing that stands between Thanos and universal destruction. And his generals have unleashed thousands of intergalactic hounds upon Wakanda. Unfortunately, though, because there are multiple storylines going on at one time, we jump from Wakanda to outer space and another faction of Avengers doing their part to save the universe, or get thrust into Thor’s side quest to find a weapon strong enough to kill Thanos.

It’s frustrating that it’s so difficult to fully appreciate the fantastic work that went into orchestrating these massive spectacles when we’re constantly being jostled from place to place. Midway through, all these different settings and all these jumps begin to feel exhausting.

But still, Infinity War boasts the most breathtaking, audacious moment in superhero movie history, one that rocketed through my brain an heart. For the first time in a while, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Friday, 13 April 2018

A Quiet Place

The horror is tricky to get right and modern horror films have developed a new set of rules for the genre. They tend to be sub-par, a parody of its own genre, pandering to the lowest common denominator with copious and unnecessary amounts of gore and cheap, poorly filmed jump-scares. Sad as that may be, there is a silver lining; namely, in a genre saturated with bad films, whenever there is a decent one, it gets the appropriate attention and praise it deserves. Last year the exception to the rule was Get Out – a different, unique horror film that audiences and critics alike adored, partly due to its strength and partly because it stood out among the slew of films released at the same time. And now this year, we have A Quiet Place, comparable to Get Out in how it has made a splash in Hollywood, bringing in a large audience and receiving universal praise and adoration. Personally, I haven’t seen suspense like this in a film since Berlin Syndrome at the 2017 Glasgow Film Festival.  

Cinema may be an audiovisual medium, but silence is one of the most effective tools a film-maker has at their disposal. When used well, the absence of any and all noise can draw an audience into a moment like nothing else, instantly ramping up the tension as they tentatively wait to see what might be behind the sudden need for quiet. It's a very primal reaction that films have been taking advantage of for decades now, and it's one that A Quiet Place uses to great effect, making well-established techniques feel incredibly fresh in the process.

I mean, it's kind of genius really. By setting a horror movie in a world where making any kind of noise is likely to get you killed by a lightning fast and virtually invulnerable alien predator, A Quiet Place finds an in-universe excuse to never allow its audience the release of tension that something as simple as a conversation or the hustle and bustle of normal life often provides. Most of the time, a dead silence in a horror film indicates that something is about to jump out and scare you - here, it's indicative of nothing in particular, offering no clues about if the characters we follow throughout (the Abbott family) are in immediate danger or not, and that can't help but imbue every single scene with a staggering amount of suspense that the film itself doesn't even need to work that hard to maintain. Even the most ordinary of day-to-day tasks take on extra significance when the smallest of slip ups will have deadly consequences, and that's something that A Quiet Place takes great pleasure in playing with.

A Quiet Place is really intelligently written - not that it's thematically deep or scientifically accurate or asking big philosophical questions of its audience, but simply because it has a really solid understanding of how to get the most out of its premise. The film never abandons its smart suspense building techniques in favour of the kind of exciting but dumb chase sequences you could easily imagine it falling back on. Everything logically stems from the thing that preceded it, resulting in a film that feels less like a monster movie and more like watching a carefully constructed Rube Goldberg machine operate without fault. A sound attracts the aliens; the Abbotts do something to draw the aliens away; now they must deal with the consequences of what they did to draw the aliens away. It's nothing groundbreaking by any means but it gives a sense of internal consistency, a sense of consequence that is vital to its success.

It helps, of course, that director/co-writer/star John Krasinski seems just as at home behind the camera as he does in front of it. The amount of visual storytelling required of this kind of film means it could've easily collapsed under its own weight with a less capable director at the helm - fortunately, Krasinski instead makes it all seem quite easy, ensuring throughout that the audience have all the information they need at any given moment to fully understand the stakes of the situation at hand.

None of this is to say that A Quiet Place is flawless, of course. I wish the ending had been reworked but having said that, the poor ending did very little to detract from what A Quiet Place ultimately is - a ridiculously tense and really well put together monster movie that at just 90 minutes long knows what it is and doesn't feel like wasting your time. It's smart, measured, well thought out and imbued with the kind of suspense that I really wish we saw more of in modern cinema.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Spider-man: Homecoming

In anticipation for the new Avengers film, released later next month, I have finally decided to fill the gaps in my Marvel Cinematic Universe knowledge.

Between the love still held for Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and the damage done to the brand by Marc Webb's half-hearted Amazing Spider-Man reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming was always going to find itself in something of a difficult position, culturally. Even ignoring how unlikely it was to live up to Raimi's Spider-Man 2, a film that's still arguably a genre high-point over a decade after release, Spider-Man: Homecoming is tasked with offering a fresh take on a character already well-established in pop culture while also delivering on the promise of finally seeing Peter Parker exist as part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe - maybe more than any other MCU film to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is burdened by some heavy expectations, to the point where it would have been far too easy for it to end up disappointing. Fortunately, that simply isn't the case. It may not reach the dramatic or emotional heights of Spider-Man 2, but by giving us a Peter Parker who looks and acts like a genuine teenager, avoiding any hint of an origin story and maybe most importantly delivering hard on the comedy, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to avoid retreading the same ground as previous films without leaning too heavily on its links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, in short, exactly what it needed to be, and the result is a film that's simply delightful.

Following his inclusion in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker back home in New York continuing his "Stark Internship", which has him spending his evenings practicing his super hero tricks in an attempt to impress Tony Stark and become an Avenger. He starts off small - giving directions to old ladies, preventing bike thefts - but after stopping a bank robbery involving extremely high tech alien weaponry, Peter takes it upon himself to find and shut down the group making and selling said weapons, all while attempting to juggle his school work, social life and extracurricular activities at the same time.

Peter Parker has always been something of a complex, contradictory character - awkward yet charming, naturally heroic yet deeply conflicted, deadly serious yet constantly quipping - but Tom Holland embodies all that with such ease that it seems like the most natural thing in the world. On top of that, his young age brings a real sense of vulnerability to the role that previous iterations of Peter Parker have lacked, helping him sell a number of big emotional moments that wouldn't have worked with an older actor in the costume - it's a genuinely great performance, and it's clear now how lucky Marvel Studios are to have found him. Seeing Peter being pulled in ten different directions at once as he struggles to balance his real life with his superhero double life is effectively the quintessential Spider-Man story.

In much the same vein, Spider-Man: Homecoming's entire supporting cast (particularly those playing Peter's schoolmates) are excellent throughout, lending its high-school drama a degree of authenticity that films set in high-school rarely achieve. As with Peter, these characters aren't just written to act like teenagers, they're played by young actors who genuinely look and sound like teenagers too, and some of the films best moments come from simply watching them interact with one another in the way that teenagers would. Director Jon Watts spent a lot of time comparing Spider-Man: Homecoming to various John Hughes films in the run up to release - it's clear throughout where Spider-Man: Homecoming's inspirations lie, and that's only to the film's credit. Marvel Studios seem to be well-aware at this point that "superhero" isn't really a genre unto itself, and Spider-Man: Homecoming's foray into the world of coming-of-age films makes it a stronger and more unique movie. Main antagonist Adrian Toomes is just as well-developed and three-dimensional as Peter Parker, driven by understandable motives and undergoing is own character arc over the course of the movie. Naturally, Michael Keaton is brilliant in the role, ramping up how intimidating he is over the course of the film without ever becoming too cartoonish, but what really makes Toomes work as a villain is how his relationship to Spider-Man progresses as the story develops.

Ultimately, Spider-Man: Homecoming only falters during its action sequences, some of which are uninspired at best and rendered virtually incomprehensible by downright poor CGI - a real shame considering that Spider-Man has one of the most potentially visually interesting power sets of any superhero. Around that though, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a hilarious, well-written and expertly directed movie that nails the character of Peter Parker in a way that no previous Spider-Man film has.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Black Panther

I don't think it's going to come as a massive shock to anyone to learn that Black Panther, the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is worth seeing. Marvel Studios have been releasing strong films for so long now that it almost feels like a foregone conclusion, which means that the real question at this point is if each new installment in this mega-franchise can meet the expectations set for it. In the case of Black Panther, those expectations are sky high thanks to the character's impressive debut in Captain America: Civil War and the fact it's written/directed by the brilliant Ryan Coogler.

It's without a doubt one of the stronger films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, introducing us to great new characters and telling an interesting, thematically complex story that I'm sure people will be analysing and talking about for a long time to come. It's a really good superhero film for sure, certainly one with more ambition and intelligence than most, but the realities of making a Disney-backed Marvel Studios film means that it's also ultimately only a really good superhero film, rather than the legitimately great piece of cinema it falls short of.
Set some time after the events of Captain America: Civil War, we follow T'Challa as he is officially crowned the King of the technologically advanced and secretive African nation Wakanda following his father's death. But after Vibranium thief Ulysses Klaue (last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron) resurfaces, T'Challa sets out to capture him alive and bring him back to Wakanda to face trial, a decision that ultimately results in an outsider named Erik "Killmonger" Stevens challenging T'Challa's right to the throne. It's a politically charged, thematically rich and almost Shakespearean tale of royalty, family, tradition and legacy that would be interesting regardless of where it was set, but it's only made all the more compelling by Black Panther's ability to sell us on Wakanda as a place worth caring about. It takes mere minutes for Wakanda to feel like a tangible location with its own history, culture and place in the larger world around it. With the exception of scenes that are overly reliant on CGI, Black Panther is one of the best looking films in the Marvel Universe to date thanks to Rachel Morrison's vibrant and colourful cinematography, and Ludwig Göransson's constantly evolving score. 

The only actual problem in Black Panther is the incredibly disappointing CGI. Between this and Thor: Ragnarok's inconsistent-at-best green screen work, I'm genuinely worried that Marvel Studios think they can get away with skimping out on the visual effects budget. They can't - Black Panther looks really bad whenever it is forced to resort to CGI characters fighting in CGI locations, don't get me started on the ancestral plains, to the point where it pulls you out of the film entirely. Naturally then, Black Panther's action is at its best when it's trying to be a more grounded spy-film, and at its worst when it remembers that it's meant to be a large scale superhero movie.

Black Panther might not be quite as impressive (or consistent) as Coogler's other films have been but it's still undeniably an intelligent, entertaining, mostly very well-made movie, and something of a watershed moment for blockbuster cinema too.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

It's a really good movie.

I say this upfront because I know that parts of the following review might indicate otherwise, and I wouldn't want that to be the only thing people take away from what I'm saying here. Yes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has problems in its approach to some of the topics it attempts to deal with - but that doesn't stop it from also being a really well-made and engaging movie that I liked a lot. It's writer/director Martin McDonagh through and through, a great script bolstered by some of the best performances you're likely to see this year, and that alone means that it's a film very much worth seeing, warts and all.

Set in the fictional town Ebbing, Missouri, we follow divorcee Mildred Hayes in the wake of the rape and murder of her daughter, Angela. Frustrated by the inability of the local police to catch her daugher's assailant, she erects three billboards outside the town that specifically take police chief William Willoughby to task about the lack of arrests - a decision that the seemingly tightknit community of Ebbing don't take kindly to, being as Willoughby is in the late stages of pancreatic cancer.

But this conflict is ultimately only half of what Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is dealing with - the other half being the violently racist Officer Dixon, who is well-known in the area for having tortured a person he had in custody (an act that was subsequently covered up by Chief Willoughby). It's here that the film stumbles - Officer Dixon might be an interesting character played perfectly by Sam Rockwell, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's approach towards him and the topics of race and police brutality is... clumsy at best, to the point where you have to wonder what exactly McDonagh wanted to say with the character.

Is it that everyone is capable of change, regardless of what they've done in the past? Is it that good acts can't make up for bad? Is it that they can? Is it that racism is easily solvable, if only we try? Is it that even the worst people are nice, deep down? The vague gesturing that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri makes towards all these possibilities and more throughout its running time means that after just one viewing, it's impossible to say for sure exactly what McDonagh was trying to get at - and that places us in the uncomfortable position of being expected to at least somewhat root for a guy who is proud of using his power as a police officer to get away with torturing someone. It's unfortunate to say the least, and it means that while it doesn't derail the film entirely, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri definitely becomes a less well-polished movie - if not necessarily a less entertaining one - when Officer Dixon takes centre stage.

Which means that it's the first half of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that is its strongest, focusing on Mildred Hayes and Chief Willoughby as the titular billboards bring them into conflict. This is where McDonagh's script really shines, frequently veering between laugh-out-loud hilarious and devastatingly emotional without ever suffering from tonal whiplash thanks to the sheer strength of direction and the fantastic performances given by everyone involved. Woody Harrelson is great as Willoughby, injecting this not unlikeable character with an enormous amount of sympathy and humanity (maybe too much, given Willoughby's tolerance of Dixon), but naturally it's Frances McDormand who'll be receiving most of the praise here - and rightly so. She's simply incredible, a commanding presence of tightly wound grief and rage and loss and anger and newfound purpose, spitting McDonagh's best lines with the kind of delivery that would (and does) make a clergyman blush. Any awards she might win from this role are well-deserved to say the least.

How Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri sits with you is ultimately going to vary from person to person based on their interpretation of what McDonagh might've been trying to say with Dixon, and that's totally understandable given the importance and timeliness of the topics that are, at best, poorly-handled here. Assuming good intentions, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a hugely entertaining and captivating film that gives a lot of great actors the opportunity to deliver great performances - it's just a shame that the few problems it does suffer from are around such a sensitive area.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water sets its sights on the 1950’s and the life of Eliza, Sally Hawkins, a mute janitor working at a secret science facility. One day, a mysterious trunk is delivered to the facility’s water tank by surly, violent security specialist Strickland, Michael Shannon, soon to be revealed as a fish-man hybrid, played by Doug Jones, to be studied by the military as a prisoner and test subject to hopefully uncover powerful secrets that could tip the tide of the Cold War. Eliza instantly takes a liking to the creature, bonding over their shared inability to talk, and hatches a plan with her coworker Zelda, Octavia Spencer, flatmate Giles, Richard Jenkins, and a friendly doctor, Michael Stuhlbarg, to rescue it once it becomes clear that Strickland isn’t interested in gathering data on it while it’s alive. Eliza just can’t bear to lose her one real shot at true love.

The Shape of Water
continues Del Toro’s trend of mixing his style with established genres to make something that feels familiar and yet still his own. After taking on Gothic horror with Crimson Peak and post-apocalyptic Godzilla-style monster movies with Pacific Rim, The Shape of Water sees him turn to Douglas Sirk romantic melodramas to color his tale. The production design (from Paul D. Austerberg) is a freaky fun melange of classic 1950s decor and the retro futurism of sci-fi flicks of the day, framed with relish at all sorts of kooky angles by DP Dan Laustsen. The result could best be described as Terry Gilliam making his own circus carnival version of Carol, but with more fish monsters. It’s a hyper-specific and unique sort of film that’s become Del Toro’s calling card over the years. And the look of The Shape of Water is perhaps its best trait, with a depth to its set design that always gives the eye something to latch onto even if it’s the fifth time returning to that place.

The script, written with Vanessa Taylor, makes a conscious effort here to focus on Eliza and her experience, generally leaving much of the mystery on the outskirts of the proceedings. A lesser film might have put all the focus on the fish man: his origins, his abilities, how he’ll be used by the military and so on. Del Toro isn’t concerned with any of that; he focused his exposition almost exclusively within the frame of reference of Eliza. He gives plenty of room to establishing her daily routine, cooking hard boiled eggs and watching classic movies with Giles. The Shape of Water paints such a clear picture of who Eliza is that we have a keen sense of her tender heart, her vulnerability, her kindness and her loneliness. And all of that comes down to Sally Hawkins, forced to create these shades of character and personality without benefit of speech. Her face and her body language are remarkably expressive, and she’s buoyed by actors with the quality of Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer playing her confidants. Jenkins is (unsurprisingly) especially strong here, equally lonely and outcast in his own way with an artist’s soul. Michael Shannon can uncork the menace without batting an eye, though it would be nice if there were a little more to his character than simply being a heavy. We get a glimpse of who he is with some quick asides to his home life, but I wanted a little more to sink my teeth into.

That extra bit of spice we get from Jenkins can also be found in Stuhlbarg’s character, harboring a secret that recontextualizes his actions in an enjoyably subtle way. And then of course is Doug Jones, no stranger to Del Toro films, nor is he a stranger to this specific sort of costume. This is his largest role to date, having previously played all sorts of monsters, but when put under the spotlight he proves he’s up to the challenge. His job is even more difficult than Hawkins’, buried under a mountain of makeup and prosthetics as he is, but he generates an astounding range of emotions that makes him an equal part of the central romance.

All told, this is Del Toro’s most complete and satisfying film since Pan's Labyrinth. He’s perfectly at home in the 50’s melodrama trappings, and does some fiendishly clever things with the premise (including a wonderful dream sequence that has to be seen to be believed). Despite the grimy nature of the facility and Strickland’s gleeful sadism, there’s a wholesomeness to this world, a place where people who love and respect each other can get on board with a woman falling in love with a fish because they can tell it’s real love, and real love is too important to let a silly thing like different species get in the way. That sounds flippant, but in practice, it works incredibly well. The performances from Hawkins, Jones, Jenkins and Spencer, the intricate design of every sumptuous moment framed beautifully, all of it adds up to a wonderful ode to classic melodrama through a lens only a unique mind like Guillermo Del Toro could bring to the screen. This is the Del Toro I’ve always wanted, the auteur who can back up his wild ideas and visuals with real content. It’s good to have him back.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There's a moment quite early on in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that concisely sums up writer/director Rian Johnson's approach to his entry in this new trilogy. After an opening space battle establishes the stakes of the main plot, we cut to where we left Rey at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, still standing in front of Luke Skywalker with her arm outstretched, offering him his father's lightsaber. He slowly reaches forward, gently takes it from her... and throws it straight over his shoulder and off a cliff. Like Luke, Star Wars: The Last Jedi simply isn't interested in the plot threads left hanging by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, nor is does it care for what direction you thought the franchise might take - and it's all the better for it.

What we have here is what many wanted Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be - not a movie that panders to the characters and iconography of the original trilogy but one that isn't afraid to take bold creative risks with them, and while that's certain to anger the more possessive Star Wars fans, it also results in an original, imaginative and genuinely exciting film.

It might be part of an enormous blockbuster franchise, but it's also Rian Johnson's film through and through, driven by the kind of creative vision and thematic intent that's rarely seen in films of this size, and while that doesn't stop Star Wars: The Last Jedi from having problems, it does go a long way towards ensuring that those problems ultimately do very little to harm the overall experience. It's the perfect example of a film being greater than the sum of its parts, a movie in which even its weakest aspects still have something important to offer thanks to the way that they add to the overall picture. Take, for example, the most obviously flawed section of the film which sees Finn and new character Rose Tico travel to a wealthy casino planet - it might feel a touch perfunctory in the moment, but it doesn't take long before you understand how well it ties into and informs the ideas that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is interested in.

Which means that while it might be just a little rough around the edges (particularly in its first half), you could never accuse Star Wars: The Last Jedi of being a mess - it's simply too well-written, offering too cohesive and compelling an exploration of its themes and characters, for that to be a fair criticism. 

But that's only half of what makes it such a great movie - it's also littered with some of the best moments, cinematography, action scenes and character arcs that a Star Wars film has ever contained. It's not just the story that benefits from what looks like a huge amount of creative freedom - it's the film-making too, and while Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still recognisably a Star Wars movie, it's also one that seems more willing to push at the boundaries of the "house style" that Star Wars is known for. The trademark screen-wipes are rarer and less obvious, the score far less reliant on the pieces of music we already recognise, which when added to Rian Johnson taking inspiration from a wide variety of sources makes Star Wars: The Last Jedi look (and more importantly, feel) every bit as new and different as this story deserves. 

So I'll say it - Star Wars: The Last Jedi is 
one of my new favourite Star Wars films, and one of the best new entries to the Star Wars franchise. What Rian Johnson has delivered here is a truly special piece of blockbuster entertainment, and I hope that he'll be a driving force in wherever Star Wars ends up going after this. Will J.J Abrams be able to conclude this trilogy in a satisfying way? I doubt it, to be honest - but even if he can't, at least we'll always have Star Wars: The Last Jedi.