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The Last of Us Part 2 – Spoiler Free

It’s been a very odd few months in the world. Perhaps that’s the greatest understatement in history. The closure of cinemas, the halt of society as we know it, and the seriousness of the issues happening with the pandemic and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement sapped the motivation to write anything, as there was so little in the areas I cover to write about.

Over the course of the last few months, I have watched films, played games and binged tv shows but rarely anything new. Mostly COD, FIFA, Brooklyn 99 and comfort films. Then last Friday, I got The Last of Us Part Two. I like the first one, but not nearly as much as some people, so this new one was intriguing, but I wasn’t super hyped in the build up to launch. On the day though, it felt very exciting to have something new, something I had not experienced. What I did not understand at that point, was just how unique this experience was going to be.

I have played hundreds of single player games in my life. I have watched even more movies than that. I have read countless books & comics. I have listened to podcasts that tell stories. Never before has anything I have experienced told a story in the same way that The Last of Us Part Two does, and with nowhere near as much emotional resonance.

I am going to avoid spoilers, which is going to make some of what you read here a little odd. There are points in the game where I genuinely did not want to carry on. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I just didn’t want to press the button that caused the next action on the screen. Or I didn’t want to do what the game was pushing me to do, because I had been played like a fiddle for 10 hours to be convinced of one thing, to then have it all flipped.

You are aware it is happening. This is not subtle; it doesn’t hide it like a magician to be revealed at the last moment. Part of what makes TLOU2 so remarkable is that you know exactly what they’re trying, and you tell yourself “There is no way that’s going to happen”, then hours later you find yourself frozen at the control because they’ve done exactly what you didn’t think they could.

Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller tells a story about how Metal Gear Solid was the first time he realised what video games could do. For years I was of the belief that video games had this barrier that prevented their stories from being truly complex and compelling on their own. The Gameplay always had to be part of the focus, and that would make always hold back the narrative in an odd way.

God of War in 2018, changed that for me, it told a story of a father and son that really resonated. The gameplay was fantastic, but the story was the thing that had me gripped.  TLOU2 has fine gameplay, its hectic, not the tightest mechanically but solid. The way they manipulate you and tear down the ideas you have in your head repeatedly throughout the game is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

This is a new level of storytelling. The more you think about the messages it portrays. That message to me was a lesson in how revenge, hate, vengeance, all of those horrible feelings can consume a person and make them miss out on the rest of what life holds for them. The events of the game are an extreme example, but at it’s heart, like most of the great stories, it’s a very human story that I have found myself relating to.

If we treat storytelling as a medium, encompassing games, tv, movies, books and anything else you can think of, The Last of Us Part 2 has topped it all. Nothing has stuck with me this much before. Whether you are a gamer or not, find a way to enjoy this. There are already YouTube “movies” of the game, showing you all the key scenes and elements that tell the story.

The Last of Us Part 2 is the most unique experience I have ever had with a piece of entertainment. It’s a new level for storytelling in games.

 

 

 

Uncut Gems (2019) Review

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Adam Sandler hasn’t been hitting it out the park with his recent comedic movies. With Uncut Gems, he is returning to dramatic acting and leaving behind trying to make people laugh and trying to make them feel something very different. 

Throughout Uncut Gems, you’re following him from terrible decision to silly mistake to awful choice. Adam Sandler is transformed into this character of Howard, a Jewellery store owner who has a gambling problem who is always trying to find the next big score. At first, I was expecting to be rooting for this character, to be cheering him on towards the finale, but really, you’re just cringing and feeling anxious about every wrong choice he makes.

There is a line in this film, delivered by Frozen star Idina Menzel, where she refers to Sandler’s character as the most annoying person she’s ever met. That’s honestly a very accurate description of him. He is uncomfortable to watch, and you are with him for near enough every scene in the film. The characters around him are important and effect the events of the story, but it’s very much about this aggravating man that you just wish would make the right choice yet never seems to.

Uncut Gems is unusual in that watching it is not fun, or even particularly entertaining. It’s an experience that puts you in an uncomfortable state for over two hours witnessing the events unfold. The film assaults your sense’s, you follow characters through busy sets with them throwing dialogue at each other at light speed. You aren’t given time to rest and just as you think one uncomfortable scene has passed, Sandler’s character has fallen into another one for you to witness.

I can see a way in which you might empathise with Howard in this, as things fall apart around him. As much as I thought I should be liking the main character, he is just such an uncomfortable and ugly character to spend time with. I was looking for a reason to empathise with him, but he’d keep giving me reasons to find him annoying. As things unfolded, I found myself giving up trying to root for him.

The film does a phenomenal job of making things feel claustrophobic and anxiety inducing. The whole film is shot in a way that makes everything feel very intimate. Tight angles and close ups are used throughout to really add to that feeling of being trapped with this character’s issues. Even the environments, particularly the jewellers he runs, are grubby and nasty places. At one point you’re at an auction, where things are run smoothly, and everything is neatly arranged which contrasts brilliantly with the mess that is his store & his life.

Uncut Gems was an interesting experience for me. I can’t really pinpoint what I think might improve the film. It achieves exactly what it was aiming for, I just didn’t really like the experience. The weird part there is that I think that is the idea. You’re supposed to watch this film and feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to raise your anxiety levels. By the time it’s over, you just want to leave the world you’ve been inhabiting and never go back. Credit has to go to director siblings Benny & Josh Safdie for absolutely nailing their target.

Good: It forces you to feel anxious, concerned, confused and angry at the events unfolding, while you just wish he’d do the right thing at some point in the film. It makes you feel like you need a shower afterwards because you feel dirty.

Bad: It’s the least rewatchable movie since Foxcatcher.

TL:DR – Uncut Gems is a great showcase for Adam Sandler’s talent as a dramatic actor. If you’re looking for something to stress you out and spike your anxiety, this is the film for you.

 

The Social Network (2010) Review

People have been telling me to watch The Social Network for years and I finally got round to it this week. Knowing a little about the back story, I was not really sure how this would go. It turns out Facebook had a more tumultuous past than I imagined. Would I “Like” it? 

Jesse Eisenberg is always a bit odd when I see him in films, he is only ever worked as the guy in Zombieland, everywhere else he just never fits for me. That’s no longer the case now, as he is perfectly cast as Mark Zuckerberg, especially this version of him. I expected the film to spin things more positively towards him, but this is a sad story about a person so far in their own world they have not made any meaningful connections with other people. He is successful but has nothing outside of a bank balance to show for it.

From the first scene, I could tell who the star of the movie was, and it isn’t Eisenberg, it is the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. The first scene in a busy bar with Zuckerberg talking to Erica sets the pace for the entire film. There is a lot of information given to you, but in the form of a conversation that’s seemingly about something else. You expect the scene to be about these two people’s relationship, which it does convey to a point, but its real job is to set up the character of Zuckerberg as a self-centred arsehole.

From that point the movie clips along delivering the story by jumping between board room meetings, College dorms, Facebook HQ and at one point an English boat race. Every line of dialogue in the film feels important and furthers the plot. It’s a rare thing to have a script where the dialogue is so sharp and purposeful. Having only seen the film this one time, I imagine with multiple viewings you will pick up little lines here and there that add to the experience.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is pretty much perfect. When all the components come together like they do in this film, they almost disappear. The score adds a lot throughout the film, without sticking in your head and distracting you. Every shot is framed to give you easy recognition of which situation you are watching as it jumps between environments and times. David Fincher makes sure the elements are all blended perfectly and that nothing is left to chance. Fincher was probably as meticulous during this production as Zuckerberg is shown to be in the film itself with his coding.

A stunning technical achievement, telling a story about something we all know of, brilliantly acted, what else could you want? The thing missing from this for me is quite odd. The elements are all there, but for some reason the film just didn’t captivate me. I was taking in all this information; I was enjoying all of the dialogue. Towards the end of the film, I found that there was nothing to evoke the emotional response in me that I look for in my very favourite films.

The Social Network is fantastic. It’s a brilliant showcase in all the technical elements of a film. It gives as much information as a documentary, although how much is accurate is irrelevant for the films purpose. Whilst it’s giving you all those nuggets of information, there is a war or words going on in the board rooms, there is the beginnings of a court room drama, there is a best friend feeling betrayed, there is a man so focused on building a social network, he forgets to have a social life.

Good: A fantastic screenplay delivers the sharpest, most focused dialogue you will find. All packaged in a phenomenally crafted box and delivered to you with pace.

Bad: This is an excellent piece of cinema but didn’t evoke the emotion to be one of my very favourite films.

TL:DR : The Social Network has one of the best screenplays of the 21st century, and it’s expertly translated onto the screen, something you should definitely take the time to watch. 

 

When Harry Met Sally (1989) Review

I apologise for neglecting the blog since this quarantine thing started, for some reason being stuck in doors all day for the last 4 weeks has not involved me watching any films. Until yesterday when I watched… Oceans 12. It’s a surprisingly fun time, but not one I felt was review worthy, but perhaps I will review all 4 Ocean films at some point. After that, I decided to cross one of my list of shame classics off the list and watched When Harry Met Sally. 

I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was Billy Crystal is usually funny, and Meg Ryan was the Rom Com queen for a hot minute. Within minutes of the two of them interacting, I knew this was a special film. Their chemistry is lightning in a bottle which works perfectly with a script that feels so sharp.

Crystal’s Harry is one of those guys who is supremely confident and witty, to the point that you almost think you might be sick of him after a while. Due to the time jumping nature of the story we are allowed to see the growth in its broader strokes, through the different phases of his twenties and thirties. He’s a player, then he’s a devoted married man, then he’s heartbroken and struggling to get over it whilst simultaneously returning to his player days. All this is there under the quips and fast ramblings that make him such an entertaining character.

Sally (Meg Ryan) reminds me of some people I know, who are always looking for something but can’t quite put their finger on what. She’s cut from a different cloth to Harry and feels rigid against the free-flowing guy she’s met. Similar to Harry’s development, we see her become a woman. She is more confident but no less certain about what she’s looking for.

There are scenes in this movie that had me rolling with laughter. That cafe scene is iconic for a reason, but there are so many fun moments that feel genuine and endearing whilst also making you chuckle. Mixed in with those laughs, like razors in candy floss, are moments that will hit you hard, varying depending on your circumstances. They’re moments that feel genuine, and whether it’s the “I’m Sorry” hug after a heated argument or the probably often repeated confession of love, you will feel something all the way through the film.

When Harry Met Sally is the kind of film, I dream about making one day. You connect with the characters immediately, and their dialogue and chemistry are the thing that stops you taking your eyes away from the screen. I expected a fun and probably dated rom-com. I got a film that has propelled itself to being high on my list of Favourite films.

Good: Chemistry off the charts, a script that you could cut diamonds on, and some great laughs.

Bad: Honestly nothing comes to mind. It achieves everything I think it set out to.

TL;DR – If you haven’t seen this, it should be the next film you watch. 

Yes, I am getting rid of scores. I never liked that part of reviewing things. I am replacing it with TL;DR, which stands for Too Long; Didn’t read. So, if you just wanted to know my thoughts in a second, there will be a one- or two-line summary at the end of my reviews now.

ChAzJS

 

Greed Review

All I knew about this film was Steve Coogan was playing a rich twat, and it had a load of comedic actors I enjoy like Miles Jupp and David Mitchell. I wasn’t sure what the story is, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure having just seen the film.

Greed follows (sort of) the rise of businessman Richard McCreadie. Yep, that name is every bit as on the nose as you think. It also gives you a lot of serious commentary on working conditions in the factory’s that make a lot of your favourite high stores clothing. It also has an element of family drama in there alongside that, with a side helping of refugee crisis discussion. A lot to juggle for a film that also features a Lion, a court hearing, and plenty of Fucks and Cunts played for comedic effect.

It takes an incredibly skilled team of film makers to combine so many things into a coherent film, and unfortunately with this everyone involved bit off a bit more than they can chew. The story jumps from sub plot to side story without every focussing on one core story. The does build to a particularly unbelievable crescendo, but it feels out of place, like much of the film does. The tone shifts from comedy to drama to romance with no clear through line and there are moments when you’re wondering how the film got to the scene you’re watching.

On the positive side, Steve Coogan is hilarious as an overconfident billionaire McCreadie. He’s great fun in every scene and he’s just flexing his comedic muscles with his timing and the script actually gives him some fantastic lines. There are lines in Greed that my mates and I will be quoting for years to come. Coogan is consistent throughout the film, and I wish they’d have committed to a comedic film and let him really enjoy himself, possibly giving more to David Mitchell to do as the journalist writing his biography.

The other elements of the film aren’t necessarily bad on their own, they just don’t fit together. Take the refugee thread, and it feels like there is a lot more to explore and to say when you pull on it, but the film just doesn’t have the time to get to it. The same goes for the underpaid workers in Sri Lanka, another thread that the film threatens to pull on and unfurl, but it never quite gets there. The film skates across the surface of these issues with its comedic blades on, but never breaks the ice and dives into the really meaty subject’s underneath.

Greed is not a film heavily relying on special effects, but there are a few shots of shops that McCreadie owns that are photoshop edits of real-world places, and they look horrendous. I was shocked to be looking at them and noticing it so much. There are also a few really strange pauses in the film, as in the screen literally freezes forms second before transitioning into the next scene. It’s stuff that may well go unnoticed for many, but they really made me feel like this film hasn’t been made with the attention to detail you’d expect.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this film at all, as it genuinely made me laugh at times and the stats at the end cement how important some of the topics raised are. Greed just doesn’t combine those elements into something quite the way it was attempting to and that leaves it feeling like a disjointed, confused film. It’s got some really funny moments that’ll get you, but not quite the impact it aims for.

Good: Steve Coogan is great, the comedic moments hit quite frequently.

Bad: The multiple strings to this story, whilst important, never quite fit into the narrative making it a bit jarring when we go to those places.

4/10 – Greed’s eyes bigger than its belly.

 

Just Mercy Review

Based on a true story, Just Mercy tells the story of a man who is wrongfully on death row, and how one young lawyer strives to do everything he could to reverse the conviction and let justice prevail. Starring Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson, the film had all the potential to be a really great movie. The only question is could director Destin Daniel Cretton get the most out of this story.

Well they certainly managed to get really good performances out of the entire cast. Michael B Jordan as lawyer Bradley Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian are the undoubted stars of the show. Brie Larson, much like her characters role in the film, is a great support throughout but you’re never in any doubt this is Michael B Jordan’s vehicle. The film gives him a lot to do, but it’s at times a case of just a lot of acting rather than it being something really special. Not to say he isn’t good in the role, just I don’t think it’s the Oscar bait role it might seem like.

Jamie Foxx serves up a fantastic performance in his role as convict McMillian. You get a feel for the character pretty much in seconds of meeting him, and you buy that this man wouldn’t do the things he is accused of. Throughout the film he comes across as a genuinely good man and that helps with the impact of events later in the story. Those events in the latter stages of the film are really engaging and as someone not familiar at all with the source material I was hooked on the courtroom drama. The last 30 minutes are the best part of the film and you’ll be on the edge of your seat wondering which way things are going to go down.

The issue I had was that it takes forever to get to the good stuff. For a solid hour and half the film is painstakingly introducing plot points and characters. It does so with very little pace as it focuses on explaining every element of the story. It’s a difficult thing to do in this type of film with so much in the story to tell, but it just felt like a major drag for a good 90 minutes and I was checking my watch multiple times between trying to keep myself from falling asleep.

I wanted to be invested in the story early on, but it just felt a little bit too heavy and wordy. I think the film makers wanted to be very faithful to the true story and didn’t want to miss any of the information, and in that sense Just Mercy achieves its goal. Such is the nature of the facts though, some of it just didn’t feel very compelling. There is certainly drama there, but for me we didn’t get to the root of it quick enough and that took a lot away from the film for me. 

This felt like a story that could’ve been spread across an entire eight-hour season of a show, where we could’ve really dived into every detail. The film is a crawl of information that takes a while to get onto its feet, but once it’s on its feet it runs away with you and ends with a tremendous punch. The social commentary and morals on show are scarily relevant today for a story from the early 90’s. Just Mercy is an important film, perhaps more than it is an entertaining one. During the screening I found myself a little bored early on but coming out of the cinema I felt a bit uplifted and hopeful, and it wasn’t just because I was heading to get Buffalo wings. 

Good: Great performances in a powerful story with a really good third act.

Bad: The first part of the film is a drag, and that makes it feel like a long time to get to the good stuff.

7/10 – Jamie Foxx is HUGE

 

Emma. Review

I had no idea what to expect with this film, a rarity nowadays with the number of trailers around. I knew I liked what I’d seen of Anya Taylor-Joy in Split a couple of years ago, but beyond that I didn’t know what I was getting with Emma.

As the film begins, I struggled to pin down what exactly this film was about. The characters are introduced in a flurry of names and I struggled to keep track of who was related and who was familiar with who. By the end I had a grip on it, but it took a bit longer than I’d like to settle into the story.

The first hour of Emma meanders aimlessly before it starts to sharpen its focus. Until then I was asking myself what the story was that this film was trying to tell. As someone not familiar at all with the Jane Austen novel it didn’t do a great job of getting me invested in the characters besides from the titular one, which makes some of the impactful scenes in the second half of the film flat.

Anya Taylor-Joy is excellent in that lead role and carries the entire film. Emma goes against the norm by having its title character quite an unlikable person. She is enjoying playing matchmaker and comfortable playing god with other people’s lives. As the events of the film develop, her character does too and there’s is a clear arc and at the end of the film she’s changed from the young woman at the start.

The rest of the cast have a few stand outs, and as a big Sex Education fan I liked seeing people from that show pop up in this film. Emma’s father played by Bill Nighy provides consistent comic relief, which is needed as most of this film is conversations where names are being thrown about and you’re having to connect it up in your head. Nobody is bad, but the nature of the film means it’s all centred around Anya Taylor-Joy and each of the other characters are only there to react to her, they’re not really fleshed out much in their own right.

That lack of development is a shame as some of the relationships between other characters are key parts of the film. There are scenes and moments that I felt were supposed to really hit an emotional note that just passed by, and that was because I only really been told about certain characters and not actually shown their relationship develop.

Emma has an interesting story to tell, but it takes a bit too long to get to the job of telling it. The first hour would’ve been better spent developing the characters rather than just a parade of names and situations. The production design and costumes are all great, up there with what we had in Little Women. It’s not a bad film, it’s just not as good a film as it threatens to be.

Good: Anya Taylor-Joy is great, Period piece setting is nailed and there’s some good moments.

Bad: Underdeveloped characters left me wanting more, and the first hour felt like sloppy storytelling.

6/10 – A film I wanted more from

 

Sonic the Hedgehog Review

Sonic was never too big of a deal to me. I remember playing a lot of whatever the Dreamcast game was back in the day (what an underrated console that was) but beyond that, I have no attachment to him. Somehow, the trailers for this film had me intrigued, and I went to a 4DX screening of it which made the experience a little more memorable. 

The 4DX thing is a normal cinema except it has moving chairs with fans and water spray and air shooting out of the seat beside your head and the back of the chair poking you occasionally. To be honest I knew nothing about it going into it, so when I was being flung around in my chair like a rag doll within seconds of the movie starting, I was a little taken aback. I tried to ignore it for the most part, but it added to the experience, and being a film that contains a lot of Sonic running around at high speed, it was a lot of fun.

The plot fits neatly into the “Don’t think about it too much” category and the coincidences that are required for the plot to happen are a touch too convenient but it works well enough to push the characters together and that’s when the sparks fly. Sonic himself keeps to the right side of annoying, which is a careful line they had to navigate. When you start to think he’s getting a bit annoying, he does something funny or cute and keeps you on his side.

James Marsden will forever be looked at a wasted Cyclops in the X-men films, but he fits well in this role. He’s goofy, fun, and plays well off Sonic, which is a compliment especially when you consider there was nothing for him to act off for the most part in the film. He has good chemistry with everyone in the film and plays well off Jim Carrey’s Dr Robotnik.

I never really expected this character to work. I fully expected a completely over the top Jim Carrey performance that would be fun but dumb. To my surprise he is a legitimately good villain and will entertain kids no end. There is one line he has in response to someone mentioning breastfeeding that I have found myself chuckling at in my own time since the film.

I was surprised how enjoyable the action was, it’s all simple stuff, but the little touches added a lot to it for me. It’s good nostalgic fun to see the moves I remember from the game, like Sonic curling up into a ball and launching himself at objects, happen on screen. There are probably tonnes more of this kind of Easter egg style secret that I missed because I am not that well versed in the lore, but I found myself having a good time.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that knows its place and doesn’t try to break the mould. For a film aimed primarily at kids, it’s surprisingly fun for adults. It’s a film that all the family can enjoy and that’s exactly what it’s trying to be. It’s not aiming to make you feel a deep emotional connection to something or provoke any moral questions. It’s fun though, and that won’t change regardless of the audience’s age.

Good: Surprisingly entertaining and I would be happy to watch a sequel. Probably as good a sonic movie you could make.

Bad: Too much convenience and forgotten plot threads. Some egregious product placement.

7/10 – Sonic 2 is a film I want to see

 

Dolittle Review

Off the back of Robert Downey Jr’s turn as Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he decided to step into the role of an eccentric genius. Doesn’t sound particularly different at first, but just 30 seconds of a trailer and you’ll know this is a far cry from the character who snapped his fingers and made $2.9 billion last year.

Downey has had an interesting career over the last decade when he’s stepped outside the MCU. The Judge, Due Date and Sherlock Holmes have all been similar degrees of okay without setting the world on fire. Well I can say that with Dolittle, he’s broken that trend. Unfortunately, I am not stating that as a positive.

His characterisation of Dolittle could be charming, but his voice never quite settles in any one place. It’s a Welsh accent, but it also seems to have been dubbed in over whatever Downey’s original voice was. There are points when his lips don’t seem to match what’s being said, and a surprising amount of his lines are said whilst his face isn’t visible.

The animals are all well animated, and they are the best part of the film for the most part. They’re all doing a bizarre assortment of tasks, and even when went in knowing what this film was and how ridiculous the premise is, I still found myself being surprised by the things I was watching.

There is a plot; Dolittle must travel to a place to get a thing to save the Queen or he loses his home. That’s all of it and expecting anything more intriguing or any kind of twist is only going to set you up for disappointment.

The climax of the film is unbelievable in the sense that I genuinely can’t believe I saw a kid’s film where the climactic battle was against constipation. I wrote that sentence and had to stare at it in disbelief for a minute.

Dolittle will be a great way to distract kids for just over an hour and a half. The short run time means it goes by pretty swiftly and just as I needed a pee it finished. That might be my favourite thing about the film, which kind of says it all.

Good: Kids will have fun with the animals.

Bad: Forgettable, Downey is just too much, and a steadily rising level of ridiculousness that makes no sense.

3/10 – Does little.

Birds of Prey: and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quin – Review

Oh, Suicide Squad. Remember that garbage pile? Well Birds of Prey is Warner Bros latest attempt to put things right with their DC Universe. Essentially being a Margot Robbie led Harley Quinn film, they decided to bet on one of the few things to come out of Suicide Squad with any praise. The trailers were colourful and crazy, two words synonymous with Harley, so that gave me some hope that this would be a fun time.

Having spent my week watching Drama’s and Best Picture contenders, Birds of Prey was been a great palette cleanser. The 6th film of my week was by far the most colourful and striking visually. Describing this as a palette cleanser is perhaps doing the film an injustice, it’s more like I have spent my week eating Michelin star cuisine, and this is a chicken vindaloo from a takeaway.

It’s loud, bombastic and fast paced. The films firmly focused on Harley Quinn for the majority of the film and having just broken up with Joker, she’s trying to figure out what her life is now she’s no longer the clown prince’s right-hand gal. The Joker’s shadow hangs heavy over the both Harley’s mind, and on the film in general. You can tell they’d have liked to use the Joker for parts of this film but due to the controversy over how Jared Leto was received they just kind of awkwardly step around it.

Once Harley and the film are into their own stride, Margot Robbie takes over completely and is clearly enjoying her time as this character. She does all she can to embody the anarchic yet fun personality the character has always had. She uses Guns, exploding glitter bombs, Mallets and baseball bats and you believe she’s just having a great time doing so regardless of who she’s using them against.

The rest of the birds aren’t developed nearly as much as Harley, but they’re all fun in their own way. Rosie Perez as frustrated detective Renee Montoya is a believable bad ass, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is entertaining and then funny when needed, and she plays it really well. Those two are pretty undeveloped throughout the film. Both are given backstory through the running voice-over from Harley Quinn, but they aren’t really given much to do besides that.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary and of the other members of the Birds, her character came closest to having an arc worth noting. Youngster Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain and does well with what she’s given, but she is essentially a plot device for large parts of the film. They have good chemistry together, but I’d have liked to see a little more of their stories rather than rely on voice-over from Harley.

I understand why this film was so focused on Harley, as she’s by far the biggest named character in here, but her character is the only one we see go through anything and show any growth of note. The rest of the film adopts a “Tell, don’t show” approach which is the opposite of good storytelling in film.

As the main protagonist, it’s odd to find yourself cheering for her as she battles her way through a police station or blows up a chemical plant. She’s a psychopath and a serial killer, but she’s fun to watch. When you have such a flawed protagonist, you need a real dick as the antagonist, and this time round we have Ewan McGregor chewing up scenery and oozing arsehole-ish charisma.

He plays Roman Sionis, also known as Black Mask. I can’t say I have read many comics featuring him but from what I know of the character he’s a crime boss and a pretty feared one. His right-hand man is Victor Zsasz, a character who keeps popping up in live action batman media that doesn’t contain batman after his appearance as a key character in Gotham. That’s not really relevant, I just find it interesting how he keeps popping up.

McGregor clearly just threw himself into the role of being a dickhead, as the character has no redeeming qualities. They say the best villains are the hero of their own stories, well there is no way he is a hero in anyone’s eyes. He is fun to watch, as he always is in any role he pops up in, but there just isn’t much to the character other than he wants something, and these women are in the way.

That brings me onto the heavy-handed Women V Men angle this film takes, and whilst I have nothing against it being this way, it’s never really acknowledged. Sionis builds an army of mercenaries, but none of them are female. There is one moment when a female is trying to get out protagonist’s and it’s a short exchange with a stick of dynamite. This film doesn’t give enough time to developing the group and making them feel like strong characters. The bond between them isn’t there, we are just told they’re a group of strong people, and then they fight their way out of situations to prove it.

When you focus a film so much on the plot and what the antagonist is after rather than the characters, you need it to be an interesting plot. Roman Sionis, whilst definitely a dickhead, just want’s something. Harley and the Birds of Prey are between him and that, and that’s the conflict. There is nothing deeper at play. That type of plot is fine in films where the characters are strong and well developed throughout the movie and it becomes more about them and their interactions than the plot, but Bird of Prey doesn’t do that.

Birds of Prey is an entertaining film and it’s a feast of visual candy for the eyes. Harley Quinn is front and centre, and perhaps that’s needed for the first one of these films, assuming there will be more. There is potential for a franchise here, as the characters have enough to intrigue me further, just I wanted more in this one. This film gets much closer to where Suicide Squad was trying to get to, and if you’re into the superhero genre, it’ll be a lot of fun for you. If only this had come out years ago, pre joker, and they just hinted at him throughout before a reveal in The Batman next year. If Only.

Good: Margot Robbie is electric; the cinematography and colours are a treat and the violence is really well executed. Also a great soundtrack.

Bad: Underdeveloped characters for all but Harley, and a very basic plot.

7/10 – Colourful Fun