Deadpool 2 – Film Review

Deadpool does things differently. Fast-talking, gleefully profane and with a fondness for fourth-wall-breaking, the first ‘proper’ outing for the Merc with a Mouth had an outrageous spirit that pulled the pants down on its fellow oh-so-serious comic book movies. And did it with a wink and a smirk.

So it follows that Deadpool 2 was never going to bow to convention and follow its record-breaking predecessor by going bigger, badder and darker. Instead, it takes a katana to the rule book and just keeps doing what Deadpool does best. Namely, delivering a ferociously filthy and wildly entertaining antidote to the usual fate-of-the-world superhero formula.

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With John Wick’s David Leitch at the helm (replacing Tim Miller), Deadpool 2 has a slick, confident swagger. The restless stream of gore, dick jokes and meta put-downs are ballsier, cleverly and cruelly taking down rival superhero universes, Deadpool’s own messy cinematic history and featuring what’s quite possibly the most disturbing Basic Instinct gag ever committed to film. The giddy kinetic action sequences, meanwhile, have an inventive verve, including a comically catastrophic road heist that’s so ruthlessly violent, even Thanos would be watching from between his big meaty purple paws.

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That’s mightily impressive given Deadpool spends most of the movie in a massive funk. Having reunited with fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and found a living using his unique brand of crime fighting, Wade is ready to start a family. But when that chance is ripped away from him by tragedy, he sinks into a deep depression. Ryan Reynolds struggles to sell these bleaker moments, which jar with the movie’s otherwise haywire energy. Watching Wade mourn, you’ll find yourself waiting for a punchline that never comes to undercut the mood. That’s because the character development doesn’t ring true, the transition from ultimate loner to doting father-to-be coming without explanation, and Wade’s pain lacks impact as a result.

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Fortunately, Wade quickly finds a new family when a grizzled super solider with a “Winter Soldier arm” travels from the future to kill a super-powered child, and Deadpool forms the X-Force to help take him down. Once Deadpool has a fresh batch of super buddies to riff off of, the movie really finds its stride. Zazie Beetz is enjoyably invincible as ‘lucky’ Domino; Rob Delaney makes an adorable cameo as the sweetly non-super-powered Peter; and with Cable, Josh Brolin continues to show he has a knack for imbuing unstoppable Marvel baddies with wit, charm and uncommon vulnerability.

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The cynical view might be to say that this simply serves to set-up a future universe of inter-connected franchises (an X-Force movie is already in development). Yet this is still Reynolds’ movie and a role that fits him like a tailor-made spandex suit, providing the perfect vehicle for his juvenile charm and hyperwit. So whether its slicing up scoundrels while wearing stilettos or tea-bagging a time-travelling robot hitman, whatever Deadpool does next, it’s sure to be something different.

Runtime: 119 mins (approx.)
Director: David Leitch
Screenwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin

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Avengers: Infinity War – Film Review

“The fate of the universe is at stake,” warns Doctor Strange, early on in Avengers: Infinity War. That’s no overstatement. The first of a two-part story – an untitled Avengers 4 is due next year – that’s widely pitched as the endgame for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this latest superhero mashup promises to bring 10 years and 18 movies of unprecedented world-building to a close with planet-shattering consequences. That’s one hell of a mission statement. Yet Infinity War not only matches its gargantuan ambitions; it smashes through them, delivering Marvel’s most shocking, dramatically hefty movie so far.

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That Avengers prefix is a tad misleading, though. Infinity War might involve pretty much every major character in the MCU, but they’re all overshadowed by the giant, purple-skinned titan who’s finally decided to get off his space toilet and join the fight. A darkly operatic opening sequence immediately dispels any lingering doubts about Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) effectiveness as a villain, with a ruthless demonstration of power grimly kick starting a rampage across the cosmos as he makes a smash-and-grab for the remaining Infinity Stones.

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That he is such a frighteningly formidable foe owes a great deal to the emotional weight Brolin brings to Thanos’ pixelated heft. His plan to exterminate half the universe is completely mad, but it’s powered by traumatic experience and his victories come at great personal cost. He suffers for his cause and the unimaginable lengths he’s prepared to go to succeed in his mission make him a far more compelling villain than we’re used to seeing in the MCU.

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It’s this unflinching determination that sets Thanos apart from the splintered band of heroes who try to stop him. “We don’t trade lives,” Steve Rodger’s (Chris Evans) nobly claims at one point in the movie – Thanos spends most of the near-150 minute runtime testing that conviction. Time and again the Avengers are forced to chose between saving a life and doing what’s necessary to win, a constant turmoil that drags them into dark, challenging places as they confront their deepest demons. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) comes face to face with the monster who has tormented him since the Chitauri invasion of New York. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has to consider how far he’s prepared to go to keep his promises. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doubts how much more he can bear to lose. Is the price of being a hero one any of them are willing to pay?

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For all the bleak, existential quandaries, this is still a Marvel movie – so there’s plenty of levity shining through the darkness. The fractured, disparate nature of the heroes leads to several delightfully unusual combinations. The meeting of egos between Stark and Strange certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thor’s unexpected arrival aboard the Guardian’s ship is another hilarious highlight, as is his amusingly accurate retelling of his family history. And Tom Holland continues to prove he’s the best on-screen Spider-Man yet with his naive exuberance landing some of the film’s best lines.

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Naturally, not every thing works perfectly. With such a massive cast, it’s unsurprising that several characters struggle to make an impact – the Children of Thanos fail to register as anything more than surprisingly handy henchman – and it feels like directors Anthony and Joe Russo are pulling their punches with some of the bigger plot twists. These minor quibbles feel just that, though, when the rest of the film is such a bold, exciting spectacle. That’s especially true as the movie enters its thrilling endgame, culminating in perhaps the most strikingly inviting of cliffhangers since Han Solo was dipped in carbon. Think Infinity War is the end of the Marvel Universe? On this basis, it’s just getting started.

Runtime: 149 minutes (approx.)
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Stars: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth

Rampage – film review

At one point in Rampage, Dwayne Johnson’s muscle-bound zoo keeper rides a crashed helicopter across a toppling skyscraper, pursued by a rabid, 30ft wolf… with wings. If that sentence doesn’t send you feet-stompingly giddy with delight, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Rampage is a patently preposterous, ludicrously illogical, stupendously stupid popcorn B movie. It’s also a whole lot of fun. Just not as much fun as it could have been.

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The first sign that director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) might be pulling his punches is his loosey goosey approach to the source material. The original Rampage was a 1986 arcade game that saw the player control a human who had been transformed into a super-sized wolf, gorilla or crocodile. Rampage the movie is slightly more grounded. Instead, normal animals are turned into enormous, city-shattering monsters when exposed to a serum created by a shady tech company. That’s not too much of a problem when scientists carry out their tests all the way out in space; but when a lab accident blows the space station to smithereens and sends three cans of monster juice hurtling to Earth, it spells big trouble for the sibling megalomaniacs (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) responsible for the program. Especially when one of the canisters lands in San Diego Zoo, infecting George, the albino gorilla pal of Johnson’s special forces solider-turned-primatologist Davis Okoye.

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All this plot is purely functional, of course. And Peyton spends longer than necessary cobbling together what is essentially a barely coherent frame on which to unleash senses-shattering destruction on a CGI Chicago. But when it comes to the giant monster-mashing action, Peyton undoubtedly delivers. Cargo planes plummet through the clouds. Skyscrapers topple like half-mile tall dominoes. Fighter jets are snapped out of the sky and tossed at tanks. It’s all gripping and effective stuff, expertly wrangled with button-smashing abandon by Peyton.

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As cartoonishly unhinged as the action is, though, it should be bigger and even sillier. Countless disaster movies have reduced cities to rubble, and Rampage rarely offers a set-piece we haven’t seen before. For a movie that features a mile-long mutated crocodile, that’s not a good look. It’s not just the action sequences that need more juice. Could it not have more gags poking fun at the absurdity of the conceit? The winged wolf is unexpectedly fun, so why can’t the other two monsters have outlandish mutations too? And is it wrong to ask that the supporting cast be hammier? After all, when you’re sharing the screen with a giant albino gorilla, the only way to stand out is to chomp kaiju-sized chunks out of the scenery. Why else would Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s government spook insist on swaggering around like a time-travelling cowboy?

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That, again, might be the fault of Peyton, who misguidedly tries to give his characters unnecessary depth and backstory. We don’t care about why Okoye prefers animals to humans. Or what happened to the brother of Naomie Harris’ arbitrary sciency person. We want to see colossal monsters punching buildings; and giant gorillas riding enormous crocodiles. We want to see The Rock attempting to outrun a flying wolf. And Rampage doesn’t deliver the goods often enough.

Runtime: 107 mins (approx.)
Director: Brad Peyton
Screenwriters: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykeil
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jason Liles

Ready Player One

Move over Stranger Things. With its mind-boggling explosion of pop-culture eye-candy – an early sequence sees a DeLorean, the A-Team van, Akira’s futuristic motorcycle and about a hundred other icons of Geek surging through a New York City street race – Ready Player One is a relentlessly paced nostalgia rush like no other. And who better to orchestrate this 80s-tinged chaos than Steven Spielberg? Having made his name with precisely the type of blockbuster movie referenced in Ernest Cline’s best-seller, the director proves he’s lost none of his visual chutzpah, crafting an involving cinematic thrill ride that stands alongside the magic of his early movies.

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In 2045 the world has become the oft-predicted grim dystopia, with over-population and violent in-fighting driving many people to seek a means of escape. Most find it by plugging into the Oasis, a virtual reality universe where anything is possible. When the game’s timorous creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, his avatar launches a competition to find an easter egg hidden somewhere in the virtual world – the winner inheriting Halliday’s fortune and gaining sole control of the Oasis. Our Charlie Bucket in this digitised Chocolate Factory is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a poor teenager living in the Stacks – a perilous tower of rusty campervans – who dreams of playing his way to a better life. He’s not alone in his desire, though. If he wants to claim the prize, he’ll have to outsmart a vast squad of players, controlled by Ben Mendelsohn nefarious software CEO Nolan Sorrento.

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Visually, the Oasis is a stunning creation. Despite relying heavily on computer generated imagery, it deftly avoids feeling like an over-elaborate cut scene from a video game and its vibrant, jiggering landscape neatly contrasts the bleached surroundings of the real world. Lesser blockbusters might be overwhelmed by such a reliance on CGI (yes, we’re looking at you, Justice League), but by centring the action on a core group of characters, Spielberg manages to keep the set-pieces crisp and clean without sacrificing any of the gonzo gamer spirit that the source material inspires.

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And while Ready Player One is steeped in pop-culture iconography (even the most dedicated of Redditors will struggled to spot every reference hidden here), Spielberg is careful not to let all the nods to video games, books and movies overshadow the story. Crucially for a movie where the bulk of the action is set in a fictional world, it never looses sight of the real world stakes. In their thirst for escapism, many payers plow their life savings into their virtual lives, so while they might not perish along with their avatars in the game, loosing can mean financial ruin and imprisonment in online labour camps known as Loyalty Centres. Wade experiences these real consequences first hand when his quest to find Halliday’s easter egg makes him the centre of a real world manhunt that draws his loved ones into the crossfire. The resultant tragedy is perhaps too easily forgotten to have any impact, but it counts as a rare misstep in a movie that is otherwise excellent at layering its fantastical action with real peril.

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Crossing the finish line in a bum-numbing 140 minutes, it’s perhaps a shade too long and the third act noticeably drags in comparison to the ferocious velocity of the hours preceding it. For the most part, though, Ready Player One is an exhilarating watch. And even when you strip away the kinetic action, dazzling spectacle and waves of nostalgia, you’ll find a heart-warming story about the importance of taking the time to appreciate the things that make real life worth living. Simply put: it’s vintage Spielberg.

Runtime: 140 minutes (approx.)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Ben Mendelsohn

A Wrinkle in Time

Ava DuVernay was an unexpected choice to direct A Wrinkle in Time. Not just because in doing so she became the long-overdue first woman of colour to helm a big budget tentpole; but also because the source material of Madeleine L’Engle’s bonkers children’s novel seemed so far outside her wheelhouse. Suddenly, a director best-known for hard-hitting dramas excoriating America’s ugly history with racism was tasked with wrangling fantastical creatures, eccentric characters and the devine presence of Oprah Winfrey into a cosmos-hopping sci-fi extravaganza.

Perhaps that’s why, despite DuVernay throwing every shred of her creative razzmatazz at the screen, the resultant film is a muddled, mawkish mess that feels untouched by its director’s usually stirring talents.

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Our heroine is Meg (Storm Reid), a gifted student who has drifted into a life a pre-teen rebellion and isolation in the four years since her scientist father (Chris Pine) vanished without a trace. Not even the efforts of her precocious little brother (Deric McCabe) or her infatuated classmate (Levi Miller) can drag her out of her malcontent, until the peculiar Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) turns up to tell them that Meg’s father is alive and stranded across the universe after a botched experiment with a tesseract.

With the help of Mrs Whatsit’s equally uncanny celestials, Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Winfrey), the three kids tear across the cosmos in search of Meg’s father, only to become caught in the crosshairs of an evil being of unparalleled darkness who will test them all to their very limits.

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DuVernay is undoubtedly at her most joyously inventive here. Wrinkle is infused with daft, off-the-wall humour, warm optimism and some truly wondrous visuals. Giant trees twist into the skies like verdant helium balloons. Towers of amber revolve and swivel, as if we’re watching an oversized game of CGI Screwball Scramble. A deeply disturbing suburb feels like it was ripped from a Tim Burton-directed version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

As astonishing as DuVernay’s boundless imagination is, though, you get the feeling it’s little more than an expensive distraction for the movie’s wayward plotting. DuVernay never quite settles on a comfortable tone, pinballing between saccharine family melodrama and quirky fantasy, while any sense of realism is swiftly swept up amid a melee of CGI-assisted landscapes and overblown set-pieces involving talking flowers and physics defying tornadoes.

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It’s a shame, because in Storm Reid’s Meg, A Wrinkle in Time has a character worthy of more attention. Haunted by the disappearance of her father, Meg’s self-esteem is in tatters. She feels abandoned by his departure and obsesses over how her supposed flaws might have driven him away, consuming herself with crippling self-doubt. Reid sells such a complex, troubled psyche with an absorbingly soulful performance, while those around her flounder with a script that favours mawkish sentiment over real character development. And it feels like such a missed opportunity precisely because Meg is exactly the type of conflicted, empowering charcter that DuVernay would usually excel at exploring… when she’s not overwhelmed by the demands of a 10ft tall Oprah Winfrey.

Runtime: 109 mins (approx.)
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenwriters: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling

Black Panther – Film Review

Think of Black Panther and one thing comes to mind. As the first black superhero movie, much of the noise surrounding its release has focused on the landmark statement of intent it makes for inclusivity in Hollywood. Quite rightly, too, given that, for all its recent forays into far away galaxies, quantum realms and astral planes, the MCU has remained tightly bound to its white male superstars. Yet perhaps Black Panther’s greatest achievement is that, once you’ve settled down with your popcorn and gallon-sized cup of cola, you’ll forget all about the game-changing importance of its mere existence. Instead, you’ll simply be blown away by a searingly intelligent, exhilaratingly well-crafted piece of filmmaking.

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After a potted Wakandan history lesson, which cleverly establishes the secretive, technologically advanced nation while laying the seeds for an engaging mix of geopolitical thriller and complex family drama, we arrive in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. With his father murdered in a bomb-attack, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to be officially crowned Wakanda’s king and super-powered protector Black Panther. His rule is immediately beset by challenges, however, as rivals line up to take his crown and political tensions quietly simmer between his most trusted advisors. When his kingdom comes under threat from canon-armed weapons smuggler (a gleefully unhinged Andy Serkis) and a rogue US black-ops solider, Black Panther is forced into action to protect his throne and Ulysses Klaue stop the world from discovering Wakanda’s secrets.

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What is immediately striking is writer-director Ryan Coogler’s (Creed) emphasis on eschewing reductive African stereotypes, particularly in the vivid, jaw-droppingly detailed realisation of Wakanda itself. A lively, Afro-futurist utopia, the hidden nation is a thriving metropolis, boasting advanced medicine and superior weaponry thanks to an abundance of vibranium laying beneath its lands. Coogler grounds these fantastical elements by throwing in plenty of African cultural influences, with separate languages, shirtless ritual combat and brightly-attired tribal leaders, serving to compliment a richly complex landscape that feels wholly unique, and yet entirely believable.

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Such an intricate cultural backdrop allows Coogler to touch on several weighty political issues. While Wakanda has remained hidden for decades in order to protect its resources, many of its tribal leaders disagree over whether this remains the best course of action as the outer world dives deeper into turmoil. Is the country safer on its own or as part of a global community? Does it have a moral obligation to share its wealth with poorer nations? Coogler poses many difficult questions in the kind of powerfully thought-provoking drama not seen since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

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While its themes run deep, Black Panther offers plenty of ferociously paced, dizzyingly exhilarating action sequences to keep its Marvel rivals on their toes. From a chaotically inventive brawl in a South Korean casino, to a wildly intense car chase through neon-lit city streets, to a heart-poundingly brutal fight atop a cascading waterfall between T’Challa and Michael B Jordan’s highly-skilled Killmonger, the movie offers plenty of whizz-bang for its buck.

That latter sequence is so gut-wrenchingly tense at least in part due to the powerful, commanding presence of Jordan’s Killmonger – one of Marvel’s best villains in a long while. Although viciously monomaniacal in his intentions, there’s an understandable, deeply emotional rationale to his desire to use Wakanda’s technology to arm the world’s oppressed minorities. Jordan sells Killmonger’s unflinching commitment to his cause with a bitter, savage swagger that neatly contrasts Boseman’s poised assuredness.

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As good as they are, though, there’s a number of charismatic supporting players who threaten to steal the show from underneath them. Daniel Kaluuya is quietly composed as W’Kabi, the leader of Wakanda’s Border Tribe, while Danai Gurira is confidently aggressive as Okoye, head of the all-female special forces team that protects T’Challa. Meanwhile, Letitia Wright enlivens every scene as T’Challa’s cheekily intelligent, tech-savvy little sister Shuri, who builds and develops all of Wakanda’s tech. What makes them all so compelling is that every one of them posseses an emotionally engaging throughline – W’Kabi is frustrated at his king’s failure to catch his parents’ killer, while Okoye finds herself torn between her heart and her sense of duty – and Coogler ensures everyone gets their moment to shine.

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Yes, there are flaws. Some of the early action sequences are clumsily edited and the climatic battle suffers from Marvel’s usual overload of CGI gadgetry and giant creatures. But at a time when MCU movies have becoming increasingly cookie-cutter in style and tone, Black Panther dares to be different. It delivers glorious visuals, insane action sequences and an absorbing, complex story filled with rich, fully-rounded characters that elevates the superhero genre to extraordinary new heights. It’s mightily impressive.

Runtime: 134 mins (approx.)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenwriters: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Danai Gurira, Latitia Wright

Coco – Film Review

One of the most colourful and joyfully mesmerising occasions in the world, Dia de los Muertos has provided a vibrant, otherworldly backdrop to everything from Amblin-esque TV movies to epic romances to exhilarating action thrillers. Few, if any, of those movies can claim to have brought to life Mexico’s annual celebration of the dead with as much warmth, nuance and captivating flair as Coco, though. Pixar’s latest astounding animation ambitiously and affectingly blends cultural admiration, gorgeous visuals and lively musical numbers into a heart-tugging triumph.

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Our hero is Miguel (Gonzalez), a 12-year-old boy who yearns to sing and play the guitar like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). The only problem is that his family has been forbidden to enjoy or play music ever since Miguel’s great-great-grandmother was left heartbroken when her musician husband abandoned her to pursue his passion.

Determined not to remain trapped in this mariachi Footloose, Miguel plans to run away with the stolen guitar of his musical hero but instead winds up trapped in the Land of the Dead. Unable to return home until a deceased ancestor gives him a blessing, Miguel teams up with boney hustler Hector (Bernal) to find his relative and make it back to the world of the living before he’s forgotten by his family.

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Throughout, Coco is a loving tribute to Mexican culture, with references to local foods and customs bursting out of every scene. Ofrendas (shrines to passed family members) are a pivotal thematic touchstone, while Alebrijes (folk art sculptures of mythical creatures) are turned into fantastically entertaining characters. Even the entire voice cast has South America heritage – with the natural exception of Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger – such is the commitment to breathing Mexican traditions into every sinew of this story.

It’s exquisitely animated, too, the kaleidoscopic city of the dead and the floating bridges of shimmering marigolds being the most obviously spectacular showpieces. Yet it’s the smaller details that truly take your breath away: the weathered skin of elderly relatives, worn and etched with memories; the warm glow of a melting candle; or the scuffed cobbled streets of Santa Cecilia, so authentic that it requires a double take when you see a cartoon boy racing across them.

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Such beauty will help to keep you captivated when the bum notes are inevitably struck. The middle chunk of the movie falls flat as Miguel and Hector become trapped in a mechanical series of underwhelming hijinks, lurching across the city in search of Miguel’s ancestors. It’s telling that this lull comes when Coco adheres closest to formula, hitting all the usual beats with familiar a timing and rhythm. Suddenly, there’s less energy and charming authenticity, and the pace drags as a result.

Yet when every thing is played in tune, Coco is a lively, breezily entertaining adventure filled with clever gags, endearing characters and some exceptionally ear-worming songs curtesy of Frozen’s Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. At it’s very core, though, is a complex, thoughtful story about a young boy coming to terms with death and learning to cherish his loved ones. And when it gently eases into its touchingly tender resolution, everyone watching will need to wipe a tear from their eye… even a skeleton.

Runtime: 105 mins (prox.)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Screenwriters: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Stars: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach