‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’

Number three in the Ant-Man stand alone features – and sadly much of the irreverence and humour is lost in a dull, unengaging adventure narrative.

Turns out Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer – Hairspray, Dangerous Liaisons) wasn’t completely forthcoming in her time in the Quantum Realm. A whole convoluted universe (think Star Wars) exists where power struggles are fought – and Janet was a key member of the rebel forces against Kang (Jonathan Majors – Da 5 Bloods, Creed III). Dragged back into the realm, Scott (Paul Rudd – Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Fundamentals of Caring)and now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton – Ben Is Back, TV’s Big Little Lies) find themselves separated from the Van Dynes. They need to find a way to come together and prevent Kang escaping the Quantum Realm into their real world.

Derivative storytelling and visuals, the third Ant-Man from director Peyton Reed is sadly lacking in any sense of excitement or urgency. Moving from scenario to scenario, there’s little in the way of connection between the combined saviours of the world. Dull.

Rating: 35%

‘Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story’

Bridgerton 3: a six part season providing a Bridgerton backdrop to Queen Charlotte’s marriage to George III and the social ‘experiment’ instigated by Dowager Princess Augusta and a reluctant parliament.

There’s only a smattering of Bridgerton regulars in season three as the majority of the narrative focuses on the arrival in London of teenage Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and the early years of her marriage to George (Corey Mylchreest). Bethrothed to George against her wishes, Charlotte is not happy. As we already know, things are not quite right in the royal household. But Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story is set several decades before seasons one and two. As the older Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) struggles to secure succession from her many adult children, so she is reminded of the early days of marriage.

With George’s mother, Dowager Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) herself struggling with parliament to ensure the royal succession, the arranged marriage looks good for all concerned. Assuming Charlotte to be a passive minor German royal of good child bearing stock, as a black woman she is also perfect for the ‘experiment’ of social integration. But Charlotte is anything but passive and soon challenges royal protocol and prerogative. Expect plenty of clashes between mother and daughter-in-law, husband and wife, king’s valet (Reynolds – Freddie Dennis) and queen’s valet, Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) as Charlotte discovers she’s actually in love with her husband.

It’s a fun ride, interspersed with that of the elevation of the Danburys to the aristocracy – the first titled black family. Lady Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas) and Queen Charlotte become firm friends but Lord Danbury’s early death throws a spanner into the works regarding succession.

For fans of Bridgerton (and there are many!) invested in the characters, season three provides historical backstories to the three senior women of the series – Queen Charlotte (a personal favourite), Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Anode) and Lady Violet Ledger Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). But to be honest, like the first two seasons, it could have been achieved so much quicker. There’s a little too much of a young sulky/angry Charlotte eating alone or regaling Brimsley. The result is a somewhat repetitive narrative. But it’s lightweight entertainment well told exceptionally well cast – and it throws in social commentary of contemporary issues (racism, homophobia, sex, republicanism) for good measure.

Rating: 58%

Bridgerton Season 1

Bridgerton Season 2

‘Avatar: the Way of Water’

Thirteen years in the waiting since Avatar with Jake Sully now living as a Na’vi with his family in the forests of Pandora. But the familial idyll is threatened, forcing them to leave and find protection elsewhere.

Happy family life of Jake (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, Transfusion) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – The Adam Project, Infinitely Polar Bear) in the forests of Pandora is threatened by the return of a too familiar adversary. Only a cloned Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang – The Independent, The Lost City) and his grunts are in a very different guise. With Jake targetted for revenge, the family leave the forests to protect their people and find a home in the coastal settlements of the webbed Na’vi, led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis – Doctor Sleep, The Dark Horse) and his initially unwelcoming wife, Ronal (Kate Winslet – Ammonite, The Dressmaker).

Unsurprisingly, Avatar: the Way of Water is a visual feast as James Cameron (Avatar, The Terminator) takes us into the depths of Pandora’s oceans and a gamut of new creatures, friendly or otherwise, and environments fill the screen. But as a narrative, it feels little more than the repeat button has been firmly pressed but with an increase in cuteness as young family members feature. The result is a tedious overlong slog of same, same. It does not bode well for films 3, 4 and 5.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2023 including best film, production design, sound – won 1 for best visual effects.

Rating: 57%

‘Independence Day: Resurgence’

A macho strut sequel to the earlier space invaders of Independence Day, part two is little more than a rehash of the original – only everything is exponentially bigger.

Some 20 years after the original invasion, as predicted the aliens are back and bringing with them the mother ship carrying the egg laying queen. New defence systems have been built – but will they hold? Scientists David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum – The Fly, Jurassic World: Dominion) and his dad Julius (Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans, Independence Day), along with the rest of the world, certainly hope so. But if it gets a little too close for comfort, there’s always pilots Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher – The Banker, Shaft), son of the first film hero Will Smith, and Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth – The Hunger Games, Poker Face) waiting in the wings. And just to ensure there’s an element of gender balance, Maika Monroe (Honey Boy, Significant Other), daughter of former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman – Dark Waters, The Coldest Game), is more than a dab hand flying jets.

A trashy, overblown, big budget sequel to a film that didn’t need a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, directed by Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC), a director known for trashy, overblown, big budget features is an almost joyless (Goldblum’s humour the exception) tedium.

Rating: 38%

‘Slow Horses’ (Season 2)

Slow Horses and the error-prone MI5 agents dumped at Slough House under the leadership of Jackson Lamb returns triumphant for a second series as Russian sleeper agents (code name Cicadas) are activated in the quiet of the English Cotswolds.

As agents Min Harper (Dustin Demri-Burns) and Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar) are assigned to a seemingly run-of-the-mill security detail in central London involving Russian industrialists, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) finds himself under cover in a picturesque, archetypal English village posing as a journalist. All seems polite and relatively low key until Lamb (Gary Oldman) connects the dots and recognises old pre-Berlin Wall emnities between old school UK and Russian agents.

But it being Slow Horses, nothing is as it initially seems and the old suspicions between Lamb and MI5 Deputy Head, Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) are ever present – with the latter as always plotting to improve her position and power base within the organisation. Even if that means kowtowing to the odious Home Secretary, Peter Judd (Samuel West), who has his own political aspirations.

As with the first season, past events impact on the current with the experience of old hands such as Lamb and River’s grandfather, David Cartwright (Jonathan Pryce), crucial to the understanding of the modern day narratives. Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) also takes a more central role in the unravelling of Cicadas outside of her long-suffering office support to Lamb.

Whilst more intriguing than the kidnapping in season one, season 2 admittedly has a level of inevitable predictability to it as the investigation itself follows a more ‘traditional’ spy storyline. These plot lines may be more dominant in this season, but what sets Slow Horse apart is the slovenly Lamb and his relationship with and to his superiors (namely Taverner) along with the dynamics between colleagues in Slough House itself.

Rating: 78%

‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Some 35 years after the original, the thrilling and unexpectedly likeable Top Gun:Maverick hits the screen – and blows Top Gun out of the water.

Ever the larrikin with no respect for authority, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise – Magnolia, Mission Impossible) has held on to his pilot training position with more than a little help from former rival, Iceman (Val Kilmer – The Snowman, The Doors) – now Admiral for the Pacific Fleet. But protection is running thin: there’s one last chance – to train a group of elite pilots in an almost mission impossible that could demand the ultimate sacrifice.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Spiderhead) replaces testosterone with adrenalin, introduces a whip-smart diversity of cast and mirrors the original in a Maverick/Iceman rivalry in Hangman (Glen Powell – The Bad Guys, Hidden Figures) and Rooster (Miles Teller – Whiplash, The Spectacular Now). And just to make it that more personal, Rooster is the son of Goose, the former best friend of Maverick. It works. For all its fist-pumping thrills, Top Gun: Maverick‘s success is based on the simple fact you care – about the story, the people and their very personal concerns. And then there’s that mission.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2023 including best film, adapted screenplay, visual effects.

Rating: 80%

‘Jurassic World Dominion’

Elements of the third film in the Jurassic World series are a significant improvement on its predecessors, other aspects lame and derivative.

Several years after the destruction of Isla Nubar and the dinosaur haven, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt – The Kid, The Tomorrow War) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard – The Help, Rocketman) are raising the genetically modified Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) off grid. But as a person of interest to the Biosyn multinational based in Switzerland, Maisie is kidnapped. The adults go in search, a move that coincides with a group of scientists led by paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern – Wild, Marriage Story) looking to expose Biosyn for their dodgy genetic practices.

It all degenerates into a somewhat tacky and cluttered yarn after an engaging opening thirty minutes or so with more than a nod to many, many other adventure features (director Colin Trevorrow – Jurassic World, Reality Show). Ultimately, it’s a disappointing end for the trilogy.

Rating: 37%

‘Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery’

The return of Southern detective Benoit Blanc (Knives Out) sees him travel as an uninvited guest to a private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend.

Billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton – American History X, Motherless Brooklyn) invites five friends, all of whom owe their wealth and success to him, to join him on his ultra luxurious island. But Blanc (Daniel Craig – Skyfall, Knives Out) quickly puts paid to the murder mystery game just as things suddenly begin to go awry for the guests. Former business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe – Harriet, Hidden Figures) starts to assert herself but nothing is quite what it seems.

Hysterical, over-the-top slapstick buffoonery from director Rian Johnson (Looper, Knives Out) as the narrative spirals out of control. The unexpected twist in the middle of the feature creates a momentary pique of interest, only to see the so-called ‘disruptors’ (about as effective as ignoring a ‘do not walk on the grass’ sign) and the absurd plotline waste the amazing cast. Risible.

Adapted for best adapted screenplay Oscar in 2023.

Rating: 30%

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’

Fun family entertainment that, with children the main leads, manages to avoid cloying cuteness and saccharine sweetness in a narrative that provides few surprises.

Broke with few prospects, the family Spengler (mom and two kids) are forced to give up city life and take up residence in the isolated Oklahoma home of mom’s (Carrie Coon – Gone Girl, The Post) eccentric, recently deceased father. He abandoned her years earlier as a child. But not everything is as it seems as nerd 13 year-old Phoebe (Mckenna Grace – Gifted, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) teams up with new classmate, Podcast (newcomer Logan Kim) to explain the many ghostly sightings. And then there’s the more than strange equipment hidden in the barn and underground.

More Ghostbusters 1984 and not, thankfully, Ghostbusters 2016 starring Melissa McCarthy, Afterlife is an entertaining sequel/reboot of the much-loved franchise from director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno), son of the late Ivan Reitman, director of the original two films. It’s light, it’s funny (Paul Rudd will always add a level of irreverence) that appeals to both adults and children alike.

Rating: 64%

‘The Godfather CODA (Part III)’

The final chapter in the Corleone story as Michael (Al Pacino) looks to pass on the mantle of family responsibility and move away from the world of organised crime.

Directed (and written in collaboration with Mario Puzo) by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Godfather II), the sweeping epic of a narrative continues in the same vein as its predecessors with individuals jockeying for position to catch the eye of Michael and win his favour. Arrogant and strutting nephew Vince (Andy Garcia – Ocean’s Eleven, The Mule) finds that favour as Michael’s own son, Tony refuses to be involved in the family business, looking instead to further his (operatic) singing career.

Moving between the US and Sicily, a highly derivative The Godfather III covers familiar ground. It remains an engrossing unfolding of the tale with daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola – Anna, Peggy Sue Got Married) set to become the public face of respectability: with the family’s long history, however, nothing can be that simple. But, sadly, the magic of parts I and II (made 16 years earlier) are missing, resulting in a somewhat ponderous closing of the saga.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1991 including best film, director, supporting actor (Garcia) and cinematography.

Rating: 63%

(The Godfather CODA (Part III) includes new scenes shot by Coppola and added to the version originally released).