Summer is now in full swing, which means films for the kids and, for those not entirely allergic to same, films for the family.
This week's fare includes Spiderman: Far From Home, Toy Story 4, Lion King, and Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans.
All four are in one way or another, extensions of already successful franchises: although as part of the Marvel franchise, Spiderman likely sees itself as being part of something a little bit larger...the first tentative steps in the new Marvel/Avengers arc, which ended its ten year, 22 film run earlier this year with Endgame.
And like all Marvel, it is a pretty competent example of its type. Decent action story, setting up the next movie and laying down a few hints about future direction of travel.
By contrast, Toy Story 4 is a little bit of a surprise, as, at one time, Toy Story 3 was seen as the big farewell: Andy moving off to college and no longer in need of his toys. So this was the end? Well, honestly! Do you really expect Hollywood to give up on a billion-dollar franchise when they see the chance of pushing the boat out just a bit further? Of course not. And here we have that extensions, a passing of the toys down the generations and a film that has been well-received all round, by audiences and critics.
The Lion King is not so much extension as re-make. Basically, Hamlet with wild animals. They made it a cartoon and it did well. They made it an on-stage musical and it soared. So now it is back as “live action” adventure. As in, director, Jon Favreau, mixed traditional film-making (using actual animals) and computer technology to come up with a unique film in which you might even believe the lions speak. And they do look a lot like lions (and warthogs and mandrills etc.).
Like the original it is critically acclaimed...though perhaps the audiences have not taken to it QUITE as much as the original. And it includes a new track from Elton John: Never Too Late.
As for Horrible Histories, this is a TV phenomenon given a new lease of life in film. For a while now it has been obvious that the only way to get young folks to learn ANYTHING about our history has been to turn it into comedy and with a mix of intelligent writing and clever characterisation, Horrible Histories has done well as book and TV series. Now, with the addition of a stellar British (comedy) cast including Alexander Armstrong and Derek Jacobi it is wowing children – but maybe not so much the critics – at the cinemas.
But those are all – gulp! - kiddies films. Fear not: if you want something more growed up, there are three films on their way this week and next that change the tone, change the pace just a little.
Action with Statham
First off the blocks (later this week) is Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw, which delivers exactly as it says on the tin: Fast, Furious Action adventure with increasingly (!) improbable plotting. Yes: it's the odd couple trope once more as lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an “unlikely alliance” to take on a cyber-genetically enhanced villain who threatens the future of humanity.
Mmmm. Maybe not so realistic. Look. It stars Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba. If you like this sort of nonsense, you'll love this. If you don't, you won't.
Out next week, billed as comedy drama is slightly bleaker fare in Blinded by the Light: a biographical movie about how, in 1987 Thatcherite Britain, a teenager learns to “live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen”. It examines issues of race and growing up in Britain today and if you are a fan of under-stated, self-deprecatory British comedy, this will likely make you think a bit as well as laugh.
The Return of Tarantino
In sharp contrast, and looking like one of this year's potential big hits, is a comedy-drama written and directed by Quentin Tarantino: Once upon a Time in Hollywood. This is a bitter-sweet take on the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 as seen through the eyes of a fading jaded television actor and his stunt double seeking fame and success in the film industry.
There's lots to like here (and the critics have definitely liked it): a big name cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. And a general (if not universal) sense that Tarantino is back on form.
Good solid entertainment – and not a blockbuster in sight!
See you again for the rest of August.