Lightyear is the real film based on the fake toy from a real movie who thinks he’s a real person from a fake film which they have now really made. That convoluted (yet technically accurate) description demonstrates how unnecessary a film this is, but as Pixar exhausts the Toy Story franchise it is now looking to spin-offs for brand recognition. Based on the animation style, Lightyear would presumably have been a live-action film within the fiction of the first Toy Story, and perhaps fittingly it feels like an utterly generic sci-fi family film from the 1990s as Buzz takes on robot antagonists with the help of a handful of rookie Space Rangers. There is much to appreciate visually, from soft lighting diffusing through varied skintones to the weathering detail on aged space suits. Technical merits aside, this may be one of the least ambitious stories Pixar has ever told. Although it briefly sets up an interesting time dilation concept as Buzz tests hyperspace fuels, years passing each time he returns to the planet, Lightyear exhausts its creativity within the first act. In two hours it does little to advance Buzz’s character beyond a touchingly poignant gloss to his most famous catchphrase. Though unlikely to be profitable directly, Lightyear will presumably succeed through merchandising with a varied set of space-suited characters and a very cute robot cat, and perhaps Disney’s budgeting requires the studio to make a film like this to fund others like Soul. I am not sure there is quite enough here to keep kids fully entertained for two hours; adults, even accounting for nostalgia, will certainly feel like they have seen this all before.
Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s modern remix of the classic whodunnit. The traditional elements are present: a deceased patriarch, a squabbling family with secrets and a large mansion with plenty of space for intrigue. Whilst Johnson’s love for the genre is evident, he highlights some of its contrivances like the idiosyncratic civilian detective inexplicably given free rein to investigate. As in his debut, Brick, the language often jars with the modern setting, but his flair for dialogue makes it fit this specific world. Unusually our viewpoint is not that of the sleuth (Daniel Craig with a distracting Southern drawl) but rather the deceased’s nurse, Ana de Armas wonderfully portraying both vulnerability and determination. The ensemble cast is delightful, deriving humour largely from the absurd, although its sporadic placement results in a slightly uneven tone. The mystery itself is expertly plotted over the course of two hours which rapidly fly by, and some secrets remain until late in the proceedings without a sense of cheating. The result is far superior to the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The height of praise for this sort of film is that — even where I could anticipate certain elements — watching them unfold remained entertaining. With its eccentric characters, stylised dialogue and constrained setting, Knives Out feels theatrical rather than cinematic, but that should not diminish one’s enjoyment whatsoever.
“If you can’t remember then it’s better to forget.”
Snowpiercer is fresh high-concept science fiction that arrived a few years ahead of its time with an admittedly unsubtle allegorical tale of climate-induced revolution as the destitute rise up. Director Joon-Ho Bong adapts a French graphic novel with a confident blend of Korean and Western sensibilities that needs to viewed texturally in the manner of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam. Logical interrogation of the implausible story will invariably lead to disappointment, but the violent journey through this train — hurtling ceaselessly through a frozen wasteland — is filled with tension and fabulous imagery. The revolution’s success seems ever balanced on a knife-edge, but as they advance each carriage presents its own distinctive diorama full of wonderful details. Chris Evans carries the audience as the reluctant hero, supported by a host of venerable British talent, including John Hurt and a riotously hammy Tilda Swinton. More than the sum of its parts, it was perhaps inevitable that the creative yet bleak Snowpiercer left critics more enamoured than audiences.
It’s impossible to discuss the final instalment of Marvel’s 12-year project without spoilers but then this is a movie that no one requires a review to decide whether or not they will see. Its overarching time travel plot holds together surprisingly well, offering an opportunity to revisit characters lost in the previous films despite a fairly tight focus on the original six Avengers (with a few additions). For all the build-up, the overpowered Captain Marvel is largely absent elsewhere in the universe, serving predominantly as a deus ex machina when needed. After Infinity War, I knew that my overall view would depend largely on Doctor Strange’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to use the Time Stone, instead willingly handing it over to Thanos. Although Endgame offers half an answer, it is never adequately explained. Despite my issues with the journey, Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion that ties up the character arcs for a host of original characters, including a weighty, well-earned death near the end. It’s also particularly nice to see Jon Favreau given a few scenes, having helmed the film that started it all.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.