“Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” Full-Length Trailer!

Who expected Maleficent to be the year’s most epic family drama? Even Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with its all-stars cast, pales in comparison to a film starring Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer as rivals vying to control – and mother – the rebellious young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), in one epic custody battle involving magic, witchcraft, and giant bears ripping people limb-from-limb. We even get the pleasure of watching Jolie literally turn people into burning skeletons, while Pfeiffer takes aim at her with a hefty-looking crossbow, and – wait a moment: this is a Disney movie?

Indeed it is, proving that the Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some risks every now and again. After the first teaser for the film dropped, I was a little worried that the whole thing was just going to be a sparring match of witty one-liners between Jolie and Pfeiffer, and it might still boil down to that in the end: Jolie’s performance as the demonic sorceress Maleficent seems to be mostly about evoking a “mood” – with lines like “Don’t ruin my morning!” and “Love doesn’t always end well” dropped as if they’re mantras to live by, while her variety of outfits continue to stun and dazzle (though I still hate the wings: even worse, there’s more wings on the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Pfeiffer’s character, the Queen Ingrith, is quite clearly a villain: the smirk on her face as she embraces Aurora makes it kind of obvious that she’s not just concerned for the princess’ well-being – though it’s still a little unclear as to why she wants to risk open war with Maleficent’s forces of magic. As we go “beyond the fairytale”, a lot of things become unclear.

Granted, there’s still a lot of good stuff in the trailer: the darker elements are still very cool and surprising; Jolie and Pfeiffer are still good actresses, so their dynamic looks interesting and it does appear that we will indeed get some intense showdowns between them, such as I asked for after the first trailer; the production values look great (except for Jolie’s wings and horns: for some reason, Maleficent is the only character in the film whose costumes look completely bizarre and uncomfortable). The first film was criticized for relying too heavily on special effects, but honestly…the special effects look like they’ve only gotten better. There’s a real sense of danger from the trailer, something that Disney doesn’t often indulge in – I genuinely don’t know what will happen: will Maleficent conquer the forces that oppose her, and win back her adopted daughter? Will Aurora choose to leave the beguiling witch, and instead risk it all for true love? And what’s going on at the end of the trailer?

Near the end, we watch Jolie’s character get hit by crossbow arrows – fired by some of Ingrith’s own henchmen, or at least it appears that way. Anyway, she falls into the sea and is saved by a strange dark shape, that carries her away to some other mystical place of labyrinthine tunnels and glowing caverns where she encounters…Chiwetel Ejiofor? Sorry, that’s Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed up with horns and giant wings (wings that look just as ridiculous as Jolie’s). In fact, it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other demons like Maleficent (all of them winged and horned, to my dismay), and they want her to join them in their…war against Ingrith? Quest for world domination? Hunt for a better costume designer?

I don’t know what’s going on there, but it looks like both Maleficent and Aurora will be conflicted as their mother/daughter relationship is tested by the forces of evil – including Maleficent herself.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“Frozen 2” Official Trailer!

Brisk and tightly-paced, the first Frozen 2 full-length trailer gives us some interesting food for thought, but not a whole lot of answers to our burning questions. We do know, now, that the story will indeed focus on Queen Elsa’s magic, specifically its origins, as many suspected after the first teaser trailer.

So, right upfront we see the same beach-scene from the teaser, with Elsa running across the ocean, apparently trying to escape – but this time we see what happens after she plunges underwater, seemingly crushed by tons of falling ice. Obviously, she doesn’t die (thank you, plot armor!), but she does have a really weird encounter with a blue glowing horse…underwater. The horse seems to scare her, before it disappears in a cloud of bubbles. I don’t know what that’s about.

Vague exposition is then provided by my absolute least-favorite characters from the first Frozen movie: the Trolls. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that they might know what to do, since the chief Troll (his name is Pabbie, apparently, but I refuse to use that ridiculous name) was the one who originally made Elsa and Anna’s lives miserable. The Trolls sound concerned about Elsa’s powers and helpfully remind her that “the past is not what it seems”, while also providing flashbacks of a young Elsa staring out of the palace window, at the Northern Lights in the sky. The Trolls don’t seem to be the only people concerned for some reason, though: we can clearly see a whole bunch of citizens of Arendelle standing around in the background while Pabbie is talking – it seems clear: Elsa must have done something truly horrible with her ice-powers again, and she needs to figure out how to make it stop.

But…we get a glimpse of what she’s up to these days, and honestly it seems pretty innocent. She’s using magic to conjure up beautiful spectral horses (like the one she encountered earlier, perhaps?), giants, and amazing firework-displays – and she looks really happy about it. Who wouldn’t be? It looks pretty harmless. But no, for some reason, Elsa, Anna, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff, and their snowman Olaf, all have to pack up and head north, on a journey “across the enchanted lands”, according to them Trolls. Like, seriously, Trolls? You couldn’t even give them a map, or decent directions? Go north across the enchanted lands. What does that even mean? And why do they have to go north? Is there something there that will explain Elsa’s powers?

Clearly, something goes wrong with their little road-trip (thanks a lot, Trolls), because we see Anna and Olaf off on their own, boating down a river in a charming little ice-canoe – and plunging over a waterfall. There’s a pink wildfire spreading through an autumnal forest, and interestingly we can people in gray outfits running away from it: do they live here? Then it looks like the fire was caused by Elsa, as it takes the shape of some hopping, glowing, star-burst thing. Kristoff swoops in on a reindeer to save Anna – except…wait a moment. It’s a quick scene, but we clearly see Anna running towards Elsa, who is curled up on the ground, motionless, when Kristoff rides in and grabs Anna. Why would he do that? Is Kristoff evil? What is going on?

Oh I see, we’re going “into the unknown”, now, thanks to Troll-narration.

Then we get more Trolls, and now they’re talking about how they “always feared” that Elsa’s powers were “too much for this world”. Again, though, the scenes used to back up this preposterous claim are happy, beautiful ones of Elsa conjuring giant snowflakes and stuff – though I’m really confused about one particular scene of her skiing up an ice-ramp and then just standing still, staring up at thousands of tiny crystal-diamonds falling from the sky. But on a side-note, the city of Arendelle has never looked as beautiful as it does in this trailer.

The trailer ends on an ominous note. Elsa and Anna walk hand-in-hand into a foggy circle of standing stones: as someone who knows my Celtic history, I can tell you for a fact that nothing good comes of walking into a circle of standing stones. Those are places of sacrifice, typically of the ritualistic variety.

And the last shot is of Elsa cowering behind a tree, as, in the background, something huge rises up from the darkness.

So, yeah. Something has gone wrong in Arendelle. I’m blaming it on the Trolls, personally, but it definitely looks like we’ll see the mysterious origins of Elsa’s power: is she the only one out there like her? If there are others, what can they do? After the first teaser, there was a lot of speculation that Elsa would run into somebody with Autumn-powers, since that trailer featured so much Autumn imagery, like falling leaves and stuff. Not as much of that shows up here, and we don’t even see the strange boy and girl that we glimpsed in the teaser.

So what do you think? What’s going on? How can Elsa fix this situation – and, what exactly is the situation? Too many Trolls, not enough answers.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“Ad Astra” Trailer Review!

It’s been difficult for any sci-fi films to compete with the indomitable force that is Star Wars over the last couple of years, and so we’ve seen the genre descend into something of a niche – sci-fi and space-adventure films like Gravity and Interstellar still win awards and get critical praise, but tend to fall short at the box-office. Sci-fi adaptations have been few and far between: even Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which should be an easy win for any studio, has been stuck in stasis over at Apple TV.

This year, 20th Century FOX (now owned by Disney) is going to be attempting the impossible, with a new, completely-original sci-fi epic that transforms award-bait Brad Pitt into an astronaut living in the shadow of his father, who was lost in the deep expanses of space. He’s got all the trademarks of one of your generic astronaut protagonist of the last few years – maybe it’s just the astronaut suit and the sort of vaguely Midwestern name, but our hero Roy McBride feels like an amalgamation of many stellar explorers who have come before.

The first part of the new Ad Astra trailer only seems to reinforce this: Liv Tyler gets the thankless job of playing Roy’s wife – again, one of the archetypal characters in modern astronaut thrillers. After meeting her, we’re then treated to some fairly generic explosions on the International Space Station that send Roy plummeting towards the surface of the Earth (I honestly have no clue how he makes it out of that alive). As he wakes up in a hospital bed, I’m already yawning and waiting for this to turn into a sequel to Gravity.

Yeah, no.

Immediately after that point, the trailer changes radically – Tyler’s character is going on about fires and explosions all over the world, Pitt discovers that his father is alive somewhere on the far side of the solar system, working on alien tech that could destroy the earth, and there’s…a car-chase on the Moon? The way this trailer plays on your subdued expectations, and makes you think you’re watching another sad, ponderous astronaut drama: and then suddenly throws you into a full-speed-ahead science-fiction epic? That’s brilliant. It’s like the best of both worlds – because don’t get me wrong, the trailer still unabashedly shows off how much Ad Astra wants praise (and awards) from critics; aside from Pitt and Tyler, the film also stars Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones and rising star Ruth Negga (who, unfortunately, is not seen in the trailer).

And yes, there is one epic action-scene on the Moon, with astronauts in little space-buggies zipping around shooting at each other – you honestly can’t go wrong with something like that.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“Terminator: Dark Fate” Trailer!

One of the words that comes to mind immediately while watching this trailer is…wow. Just…wow.

I don’t even know if it’s a good “wow” or not. On the one hand, this is just James Cameron trying to breathe life into a tired franchise that feels generic in our modern world, over-saturated as we are with action thrillers, and sci-fi dystopians. He’s really not giving us anything new with this trailer, and that’s a shame. But on the other hand – well, it’s still got Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reuniting one last time, and nobody’s going to want to miss that. I’m not even a Terminator fan, and it still feels like a big moment to me: Hamilton’s entrance, equipped with bazooka, is probably the best scene in the trailer.

But seriously, how can it not be? When Sarah Connor’s car screeches to a halt and she faces down the new Terminator (played by Gabriel Luna of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., here just barely managing not to reprise his role as Ghost Rider, creepy skull-mask, reckless driving and all), you immediately prepare for an epic showdown. Unfortunately, that suspense is lost pretty quickly – Connor guns down Luna’s character in a matter of seconds and carries away our protagonists, the half-human, half-robotic assassin Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a half-human, half-Terminator girl. The trailer is pretty light on action, even though it can’t afford to be. Seriously, you’ve got these robots and androids and cyborgs running around – use them! Luna’s Terminator is this really cool and terrifying liquid-metal skeleton creature that is able to detach from his body – use that!

But no, the trailer’s “money shot” is instead Grace whacking Gabriel Luna’s Terminator over the head with a hammer. Like…a literal hammer, too, not some Hammer of Thor or anything. Just the most boring weapon imaginable. Unsurprisingly, we see Luna’s character shrug off the impact.

Where’s the fun in that? Especially after Cameron’s latest project Alita: Battle Angel, which featured very inventive high-tech robot weapons, this seems like a downgrade. Cameron and director Tim Miller better have something truly incredible up their sleeve: the shock and awe of seeing Schwarzenegger and Hamilton reunited is only going to last so long.

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10