Avengers Infinity War Review

The Plot

Almost every hero from Marvel’s vast cinematic universe are drawn together to face the ultimate threat to the Universe from god like supervillain Thanos, a seemingly unstoppable foe determined to obtain absolute power over the cosmos with apocalyptic consequences.

The Good

Marvel’s game changing creation of a fully integrated cinematic universe incorporating their entire vast archives of mighty heroes and sinister villains reaches a dramatic crescendo in Infinity War after over a decade. It’s simply impossible to understate just how well Marvel has succeeded in the daunting task of bringing each iconic character to life while also fully integrating them into an ongoing connected story. It is an act of world building on a truly unprecedented and miraculous scale.

Gathering together countless iconic characters Infinity War offers an endless array of novel interactions between them, adding up to blockbuster action unlike anything fans have seen before. It’s pure comic book heaven to finally see Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, Star Lord and Spider-Man trading quips side by side in the same film. When the Avengers first assembled that marriage of combined acting talents added up to simply awesome levels of screen presence. Infinity War yet again raises that bar even higher. Each character has distinct individual arcs and these are only brought more vividly to life by the interactions between them. Seen in combination it becomes clear just how much core characters have grown during the franchise and how quickly new characters have established themselves as equally important.

The Guardians of The Galaxy were initially viewed as Marvel’s most obscure and audaciously original addition to its cinematic universe. In hindsight they are actually one of the most vital components at the heart of the MCU’s biggest story arc. The Guardians not only helped expand the Marvel universe in weirder cosmic directions, it also provided a perfect comedic counterpoint to the darker and occasionally sullen tone adopted by other characters. Infinity War takes full advantage of that invaluable comedic charm, with Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista in particular on undeniably scene stealing form throughout.

The film readily relies on the Guardians to not only offset the film’s more heart-breaking moments with laugh out loud respites, but also to carry the bulk of responsibility for adding depth and purpose to god like villain Thanos.

Under director James Gunn’s the Guardians films have perfectly slipped surprising emotional depth in amongst wisecracking intergalactic action. It’s brilliant to see Infinity War follow that pattern, with Zoe Saladana’s Gamora and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket in particular taking their performances to even more soul searching levels.

Josh Brolin also deserves special praise for his portrayal of Thanos. Having been teasingly introduced across several past films his character’s awe inspiring power is finally fully unleashed in Infinity War, providing the ultimate adversary for all the collected Marvel heroes. Due to Brolin’s skill and flawless visual effects, it’s easy to forget that his performance is a work of CGI and motion capture magic.

It’s surreal to observe just how effortlessly Marvel can make a full CGI character the centre of its entire universe whilst DC can’t even manage to get rid of Henry Cavill’s facial hair. While it’s perhaps cruel to make such obvious comparisons, it’s also helpful in assessing just how spectacularly well Infinity War succeeds to compare its minor flaws with just how bad the hot mess of DC’s hastily assembled Justice League was.

Avengers Infinity War raises the bar yet again for Marvel, pumping up the stakes for characters and audiences while setting a perfect stage for next year’s climactic conclusion. It will be an agonising wait for part 2, but at least it gives fans time to digest and celebrate Infinity War and everything Marvel have given us.

The Bad

While Infinity War is often brilliant it does also occasionally suffer from the incredible burden of having to hastily introduce so very many characters to both audiences and each other; whilst simultaneously trying to explain and advance a sprawling plot as big and complex as the Universe itself. With so very many strands of storytelling to tie together after a decade of disparate adventures it’s a constant challenge to give each character their ‘moments’ during this long awaited climax.

While the film undeniably succeeds in so many ways it is sometimes a little fractured as it swiftly jumps literally from one side of the universe to the other. More casual viewers of the Marvel movies may also find themselves occasionally overloaded with information and less rewarded than those dedicated fans who have an intimate knowledge of all of Marvel’s past big screen outings. As a specific example anyone who missed the superb Thor Ragnarok will struggle to keep up with Infinity War’s starkly dramatic opening moments.

Predictably some fans may also feel agonised by the fate of both individual characters and the wider MCU, but it’s important to remember that this is merely the first half of a two film journey, with next year’s as yet untitled sequel undoubtedly addressing many of the uncertainties and anxieties likely to be left by this first chapter.

The Ugly Truth

Avengers Infinity War is a satisfyingly vast and epic super hero adventure that seamlessly brings the wondrous Marvel cinematic universe together in even more profound and poignant ways than any film to date in the decade long franchise. Infinity War demands immediate and repeated viewing as many fans will find it takes time to process everything that happens and all of the seismic shifts that take place in the MCU.

Review by Russell Nelson

Sherlock Gnomes Review

The Plot

Gnomeo & Juliet have moved to London and have a new garden home. While they’re busy navigating their relationship and new roles as leaders of their combined Gnome family, tragedy strikes as Garden Gnomes across London suddenly disappear. Fortunately Gnomeo and Juliet cross paths with the world’s most brilliant team of ornamental detectives Dr Watson and Sherlock Gnomes.

The Good

Sherlock Gnomes represents a significant change in style and genre from Gnomeo and Juliet’s first adventure, switching gears from romantic comedy into outright action adventure. Borrowing the classic template of the greatest detective stories the film fuses it playfully with colourful animation and daft Garden Gnome antics.

Sherlock Gnomes voice cast is a sheer embarrassment of riches with returning stars James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Stephen Merchant, David Walliams and Ashley Jensen taking their place alongside the added talents of Mary J. Blige, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Johnny Depp.

Superstar Depp is often celebrated as one of the most whimsically versatile character actors. This time yet again. His recognisable vocal charms make Sherlock Gnomes a credible character and not just a bad pun. Depp perfectly captures Sherlock’s defining characteristic blend of refined illuminating charisma and flagrant arrogance. The combined vocal talents of an enthusiastic cast help inject some genuine emotion in spite of the unapologetically cartoonish visuals.

The film’s colourful Gnome world is perfectly complimented by a frequently toe tapping soundtrack comprised of classic Elton john material and original songs. Executive producer Elton John generously once again gifts the film a free reign over his impressive back catalogue and helps provide new songs alongside the reimagined hits. The soundtrack quality is so high that it elevates the consistently elevates the overall appeal of the film.

Sherlock Gnomes is both mischievously silly and endearingly innocent. There’s something comforting about a film aimed at a young audience that doesn’t feel the need to cram in heavy handed adult themes or heart-breaking life lessons. Garden Gnomes are such a perfect symbol of kitsch childish fun that it would be a terrible mistake to abandon that welcome silliness. Thankfully this film knows exactly how to delight young fans.

The Bad

Those that weren’t immediately won over by the first film’s barrage of Gnome based gags and heavy reliance on silly slapstick and puns won’t necessarily find this new adventure sufficiently different to change their mind.  The film’s cartoonish visuals and frequent silliness is aimed most squarely at a mostly younger audience. While not lacking in charm it’s fair to say that overall the film lacks the kind of layered emotional complexity that Pixar and Disney consistently manage to offer adults.

The film’s catchy soundtrack and energetic vocal performances don’t change the fact that endless reimagining’s of Sherlock Holmes stories are becoming increasingly overly familiar. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle certainly would never have imagined seeing his iconic creations transformed into animated garden ornaments. We’ll never know for certain whether he would have approved of this most unlikely transformation or merely have been mortified.

The Ugly Truth

Sherlock Gnomes is a brightly coloured and action packed romp through London’s iconic landmarks and a fun detective adventure. A talented voice cast and a magnificent soundtrack make the film an easy watch for patient parents and delighted kids.

Review by Russell Nelson

Bat Out Of Hell The Musical Review

The Plot

In a dystopian future wild teens wander the apocalyptic streets, mysteriously never aging past 18 years old. The tyrannical Falco rules high above them with his wife and rebellious daughter Raven trapped in a luxurious skyscraper. Until a forbidden romance between Raven and Strat, the rock and roll leader of the Lost youth, threatens to tear both worlds apart.

The Good

Meatloaf’s epic musical collaboration with composer Jim Steinman remains one of the highest selling and most iconic albums of all time. Originally created with the intention of being a theatrical production, after over 40 years Steinman finally realises that dream to the delight of long term fans and new audiences alike.

As crowd pleasing ‘jukebox’ musical Bat Out of Hell draws upon a truly unique collection of songs, made even more powerful by audiences existing familiarity. Few West End productions can boast soaring power ballads with even half the power of I’ll Do Anything For Love. It’s simply an enjoyable embarrassment of musical riches to parades hits like Dead Ringer For Love, Two Out Of Threes Ain’t Bad and the titular Bat Out Of Hell.

Meatloaf is one of the most instantly recognisable and powerful vocalists in rock history, so it’s a massive compliment to the entire West End cast that they are able to fully match that note perfect power and collectively reimagine his popular back catalogue. Aided by elaborate production value and the grandeur of one of London’s most lavish Theatre spaces the musical fully succeeds in avoiding ever feeling merely like skilful karaoke. There’s  genuinely electrifying atmosphere to these live performance that gives audiences so much more than watching a YouTube medley of Meatloaf music videos ever could.

Bat Out Of Hell has assembled a talented cast of seasoned theatre veterans and undaunted newcomers. The shows core quartet of Rob Fowler, Sharon Sexton, Christina Bennington and Andrew Polec all deserve considerable praise for vocally flawless performances and for bravely tackling some of the more cringe inducing dialogue. The show often nods to self-awareness of its more ridiculous elements and the cast’s consistently earnest and enthusiastic performances carry audiences through those moments with a confident smirk.

Though the first act lurches often from the sublime to the ridiculous an indisputably stronger second act sees the show deliver a steadier stream of musical spectacle less often interrupted by silly narrative elements. Uncertain audiences are likely to be won over entirely as the show finds its feet and struts through a succession of iconic power ballads with their rapturous support. Having adjusted to the somewhat weird and wonderful world of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical audiences are ultimately left with the simple truth that these songs are uniquely entertaining and meaningful in the way only rock anthems truly can be.

The Bad

Meatloaf’s unique brand of gothic rock opera is widely appealing, but there are still some who are of course less enthralled by its kitsch charms. Those reluctant to embrace the ostentatious vocal theatrics of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman’s elaborate compositions are unlikely to find that opinion altered by the transition to stage. Indeed those that specifically object to the self-indulgence of 10 minute long power ballads will only be left more exhausted by a series of them tied together by sparse dialogue and a frequently bizarre narrative.

Shamelessly gothic production design and a near constant use of heavily stylized video projections may also divide audiences between those who love the camp fun factor and those left unsure how seriously to take anything. Likewise while Steinman’s lyrics have always been elaborate and wildly melodramatic, without the swooping support of symphonic guitar riffs that same language risks becoming outright laughable dialogue during the connecting scenes. Though of course that bare chested crudely poetic silliness is an entertaining guilty pleasure in its own right.

Though the show undeniably captures much of what millions of fans love about Meatloaf, amplifying those distinctive traits won’t win over everyone and especially those who find endless rock opera more draining than delightful.

The Ugly Truth

Bat Out Of Hell soars onto stage with triumphant performances of the most beloved rock ballads. The show pays loving tribute to the unique charms of Meatloaf while equalling his legendary live performances, especially in a relentlessly spectacular second act. After 40 years this new musical is a unique addition to the West End and essential viewing for existing fans and those discovering these song for the first time alike.

Review By Russell Nelson

Quiz Review

The Plot

Based on the most infamous scandal in gameshow history, Quiz re-examines the case of Charles Ingram, an army major who won a million pounds on gameshow Who wants to be a Millionaire?, only to be subsequently accused of an elaborate conspiracy involving his wife and another contestant on the show to cheat their way to the jackpot.

The Good

Those with any passing familiarity with the hysterical media coverage of the ‘Coughing Major’ case may enter the theatre with a pretty clear view of both what happened and what kind of people notorious couple Charles and Diana Ingram really are. What James Graham’s production skilfully does is embrace and challenge those well-established opinions with equal passion, profoundly impacting surprised audiences in the process.

Quiz leads audiences though the murky evolution of TV quiz shows, poking fun at the quirky theatrics and greedy consumerism and ruthlessness that underpins it. The productions use of video screens, Electronic keypads and frequent audience participation helps capture the peculiar quiz show world, whilst further investing audiences in proceedings by making them more explicitly involved and complicit. While seemingly silly it’s a fairly effective trick that pays off well during the shows more dramatic moments.

Quiz boasts a versatile ensemble of actor that offers audiences a compelling mix of pageantry and pathos. Keir Charles is a flamboyant delight as an exaggerated but instantly recognisable version of Chris Tarrant. Helping paint a vivid portrait of the gameshow’s most public face. True praise belongs however to Stephanie Street and Gavin Spokes as the Ingrams, at the heart of the production their performances morph effortlessly as required between comedy and poignant tragedy.

Leading man Gavin Spokes in particular does magnificent work at capturing the memorable eccentricities of Major Ingram whilst also managing to craft a vulnerable performance with sincere depth. Quiz goes well beyond mere impersonations in its quest for drama and truth.

The Bad

While the show’s second act bristles with anger and tragedy that is likely provokes plenty of audience self-reflection, it’s fair to say that the show’s first half is sometimes a little less focused as it has fun setting up the myths and misconceptions it later delights in tearing down. Frequent audience participation may be good natured fun, designed to set the scene for the gameshow drama, but at times it gives the show a pantomime like quality that belies some of the serious themes it truly explores.

Likewise while the production offers audiences excellent arguments based on compelling facts, more stubborn spectators may not entirely welcome having their established preconceptions so directly challenged. Nobody like to feel wrong and changing minds is never easy.

The Ugly Truth

Quiz is a fascinating theatrical experience that provides audiences with frequent laughs and many lingering questions. It’s playful and interactive approach allows it to gently confront audiences with uncomfortable truths about what we believe and just how easily we can be deceived. Quiz is a fun and thoughtful night out combining technology and mass media motifs with classic West End showmanship.

Review by Russell Nelson

Ready Player One Review

The Plot

In the future people escape the grim realities of the real world in the Oasis, a fantastical virtual reality where the only limits are your own imagination. A group of young players set out to solve a series of mysterious challenges left behind by the enigmatic creator of the Oasis, in order to win control of this digital world and keep it out of the hands of an evil corporation determined to exploit it and its inhabitants.

The Good

As the legendary creator of so much iconic pop culture, Steven Spielberg is a director uniquely positioned to turn author Ernest Cline’s novel of retro digital delights into a big screen reality. The film does an astonishingly good job of not only making the Oasis a wildly fun and beautifully realistic digital playground, but also populating it with an endless array of pure pop culture magic.

Ready Player One is a shameless love letter to the movies, comic books and video games that define us. The mash up of beloved characters is a wondrous toy box for Spielberg to play with. Seeing the flying Back to the Future Car racing Akira’s bike through a booby-trapped New York, dodging Jurassic Park’s T-Rex and King Kong, is a dazzling assortment of cinematic delights. It’s impressive just how many familiar content the film manages to cram on screen, whilst also simultaneously telling an entirely original story.

In truth it really has been a while since Spielberg made an unapologetically crowd pleasing science fiction epic on this scale and it’s a triumphant return for the master storyteller. It’s hard to imagine a better nostalgic homecoming than Ready Player One. Spielberg manages to inject healthy portions of genuine emotion into effects laden big screen adventure, crafting the film with his trademark gift for wonder and heart.

Rising star Tye Sheridan graduates from a recent supporting turn in the new X-men franchise to competently play Ready Player One’s leading hero. He manages to deliver plenty of exposition heavy dialogue whilst still giving digital dreamer Parzavel some infectious enthusiasm. Olivia Cooke is even more impressive as mysterious heroine Art3mis, a charismatic digital dream girl who lends the film wry wit and some surprising emotional depth. Likewise, Ben Mendelsohn adds another convincing performance to his growing list of recent villainous turns, playing a ruthless corporate slime ball with just the right mix of greedy smarm and maniacal menace. Meanwhile TJ Miller is on typically scene stealing form as evil digital henchman I-Rok.

Spielberg’s latest muse Mark Rylance delivers typically brilliant work as the digital ghost of reclusive tech billionaire Halliday, the creator of the Oasis and a literal spiritual guide for the young heroes playing his game. His performance channels real life iconic figures such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg into precisely the kind of awkward genius that can change and inspire the world despite their own obvious personal flaws.

Though a solid cast are a strong asset for the film, the undeniable star of Spielberg’s digital wonderland is the impressively crafted CGI visuals that fuse nostalgia with inventive fun in virtually every frame. It’s heartfelt crowd pleasing escapism on the most spectacular scale.

The Bad

While every inch of the screen in Ready Player One is frequently bursting with beloved video game and film references, it can at times feel just a little oversaturated. In order to fully appreciate every geeky in joke and familiar character featured you would literally need to freeze frame the action. For every fan favourite that gets their moment of glory there’s another 100 blink and you’ll miss it cameos. Some fans may be a little disappointed to find their personal favourites given a split seconds attention or omitted entirely. It’s simply impossible to cram the entirety of modern pop culture into just one film.

Although it doesn’t majorly spoil the fun, it’s also fair to say that the world of Ready Player One does sometimes suffer from slight gaps in logic and noticeable inconsistencies in how the real world and Oasis effect one another. Not an uncommon flaw for stories built around virtual realities. It’s also a little ironic that a film that exists as the ultimate escapist fantasy also tries at some points to heavy handily warn audiences about the importance of facing up to reality.

The Ugly Truth

In Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg leads audiences on a fun romp through a boundless digital playground, packed to bursting point with our most beloved pop culture. It’s an action and special effects fuelled ride though our collective imaginations that puts our capacity for joyous wonder up against the forces of greed and gloom. It’s a film that neatly encapsulates both our fearful cynicism and our inspired optimism for the future. It also deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Review by Russell Nelson