Where The Favourite lulled viewers into a false sense of security before indulging in Yorgos Lanthimos’ sly humour, Poor Things is open with its weirdness from the start. Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s novel, Poor Things is at its core a film about a young woman’s discovery of herself and the world, told through a kind of steampunk historic fable with a visual style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam. The opening chapter is steeped in gothic imagery, a scarred Willem Dafoe embodying both Dr Frankenstein and his monster, literally playing God as he shortens his name, Godwin. Lanthimos reunites with Emma Stone as Godwin’s creation, Bella, who begins undeveloped despite her adult body, toddling and prone to tantrums, the puffy shoulders of her costumes creating an unstable, top-heavy silhouette like the strange chimeric animals that fill the lavish house. I opted to see a rare 35mm film screening which faithfully recreated the cinematography choices, like lenses that provided distortion and mismatched sizing to heighten vignetting, replicating the effect of early cameras. Colour arrives as Bella sets off to travel Europe, accentuating the film’s painted backgrounds. Bella’s immaturity grants her the freedom typically commanded by men of the period, freed from societal constraints as she applies logic without understanding. Emma Stone’s performance is fascinating as Bella evolves over the course of the film in both knowledge and capability, whilst the men around her stagnate — it is a rare opportunity for a single actor to take a character from early childhood to realised adulthood. In the abstract many of the intermediate scenes are bizarre and uncomfortable — particularly given the quantity of sex — and Poor Things must have required extreme trust from its actors that Lanthimos would successfully tie this all together. He has always been a director of singular vision but here it seems stripped of pretension, producing something sly yet whimsical, witty yet haunting.
Since the underwhelming Bright in 2017, Netflix has been chasing a big budget action film success in vain. Yet, with big name stars drawing high streaming figures, Netflix now seems content with a regular cadence of generic and largely forgettable films instead, and that is the mould for The Adam Project from director Shawn Levy (teaming up again with Ryan Reynolds after last year’s Free Guy). Its loose time travel mechanics are forgivable but its greater flaw is laziness in establishing its sci-fi world. We never really get a sense of the stakes in 2050, or how the existence of time travel has changed the planet, and a direct reference to The Terminator serves only to highlight The Adam Project‘s comparatively weak world-building and derivative story. The action is competently choreographed, with a few memorable moments using futuristic energy and sonic weapons. A more serious tone also allows Ryan Reynolds to deliver a more emotionally nuanced performance than Free Guy, particularly in the regret Adam feels when faced with how he treated his mother as a child. Unfortunately, with the exception of Walter Scobell as his younger self, the excellent supporting cast is wasted on characters that are never developed beyond sketches. The Adam Project is enjoyable but will be forgotten within a few months.
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.
“That’s good. It’s good to be positive despite making zero progress in a year.”
The level of smartness of this sequel is evident from the fact they failed to call it Now You Don’t. Where the original was a surprise success with stylish sleight of hand distracting from its lack of substance, this movie fails to cover its tracks at all. The freshness is gone, but so too is the tension. The tricks are now overblown and ridiculous, to the point that each time one is revealed it induces a groan rather than amazement. There is no magic here.