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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Review

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Raya and The Last Dragon

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Voice Cast:
Kelly Marie Tran as Raya
Awkwafina as Sisu
Izaac Wang as Boun
Gemma Chan as Namaari
Daniel Dae Kim as Chief Benja
Benedict Wong as Tong
Sandra Oh as Virana
Thalia Tran as Little Noi
Lucille Soong as Dang Hu
Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.

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I had heard about Raya and the Last Dragon for the past months, it’s the latest Disney animated movie and it looked pretty good from the trailers. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but the movie actually turned out better than I expected it to be.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is an exhilarating and beautifully told fantasy adventure. The storylines and characters that inhabit this world were unique and interesting to watch (although I could’ve done without the baby and monkeys). The movie does move very fast, and I was quite invested in the story. There were some moments where the film could have slowed down a little, but on the whole the fast pace works to the film’s benefit. I liked the movie from the very start, but it really finds its footing when the main group of characters begin to get assembled. As Raya meets these new characters, she has to learn to trust them and pretty quickly, you can pick up that trust is the main moral and message of this story. With the addition of each new character, Raya learns a lot from her new friends and takes the first step in putting her trust in someone else. So thematically, the movie has plenty to offer. It does quite well in terms of world-building, and by the end I actually wanted a bit more from this world. One thing to note is that the movie doesn’t have musical numbers where characters suddenly burst into song, and while it’s to be expected from Disney animated movies, I actually like that they don’t have them here. It is a risk for them when they have such a wide target audience, but I’d say it pays off. Something that has been said about this movie which I will repeat myself as well is that the plot is very predictable and derivative, and structurally it may appear to be similar to other Disney animated movies like Moana or Tangled. The fetch quest, band-forming and lesson-learning genre has been done to death by now, but that didn’t make it any less investing for me. Despite its familiarity, it manages to keep it at least a little interesting throughout. Its humour doesn’t always land as well as it potentially could’ve, especially with how they implemented it in the movie and overall story. It’s not necessarily bad and it isn’t a dealbreaker, but truth be told, only some of the jokes really hit. There are some essential exposition dumps that could’ve been done slightly better, but it’s at the level of most modern day animated movies and again aren’t a dealbreaker.

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There’s a solid lineup of characters in this movie, and the voice cast are great playing them. Kelly Marie Tran is perfect as protagonist Raya, Awkwafina is a scene stealer as Sisu (the last dragon), and Gemma Chan is also a standout as the character of Namaar.

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Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada directs Raya and the Last Dragon greatly. First of all, the animation is stunning, this is probably some of Disney’s best animation, absolutely stellar and gorgeous. There are a number of settings and places here that are immaculately presented here. Each location, character, object, or detail feels so profoundly gorgeous. What particularly stood out was the action, which was insanely good. The swordplay and hand to hand combat is sleek, and the combination of martial arts techniques were used so effectively. With this and the film’s incredible lighting, Raya and the Last Dragon makes for an awesome visual experience, and honestly it is worth watching the movie for that alone. Additionally, James Newton Howard’s score is powerful and enthralling, especially during the action sequences.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is a solid and very well-made animated movie. It has a familiar and somewhat predictable story but it’s entertaining and works for what it is, with some enjoyable characters. Additionally, the voice cast are great and it’s beautifully animated. Definitely worth watching.

Hellboy (2019) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence and offensive language
Cast:
David Harbour as Hellboy/Anung Un Rama
Milla Jovovich as Vivienne Nimue/Blood Queen
Ian McShane as Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm
Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan
Daniel Dae Kim as Ben Daimio
Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson
Director: Neil Marshall

Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, Hellboy (David Harbour), caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battles an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich) bent on revenge.

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Hellboy 2019 was a movie I wasn’t certain about going into it. Everyone wanted a Hellboy 3 with Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman, and I was one of these people. A Hellboy reboot wasn’t exactly what I was wanting. With that said, they cast David Harbour as Hellboy, had Ian McShane as part of the cast, and had Neil Marshall directing, so I was cautiously optimistic. Despite the trailers looking a little rough, I was hoping it was good. Even after the overwhelming negative response to the movie, I was hoping to at least be entertained by it. While I didn’t necessarily hate it like so many people did, it really was worse than I thought it would actually be.

I should mention that my knowledge of the Hellboy characters and world only comes from the Del Toro movies. So I’m treating this movie as its own movie (it already has enough problems as it is). 2 hours feels like a standard length for a comic book movie, yet it somehow manages to draw the plot out really long, the pacing is really slow. It takes about 30 minutes for the movie to really start with the actual main plot of the movie, and really it takes another 30 minutes after that for Hellboy to really get involved with it. Even after that point it feels unnecessarily long and drawn out, not to mention it fails to be engaging on any level. There are so many random and lazy expositions dumps given by characters it’s actually astounding, I’m pretty sure I checked out after the 5th one. The opening scene is an example, where it just has Ian McShane just talking about something that happened in the past with the main villain, Arthur and Merlin, and he just explains everything that happened in the past. Not that I don’t like a McShane narration, but from that point I really knew that something was off. This movie is yet another movie that has been hit by a bad case of studio interference, and you can feel it throughout, however it’s really hard to tell at times which was what parts were originally filmed and which were changed. The tone is all over the place, at some points it’s trying to be serious (it doesn’t work), at other points it’s trying to be witty and quippy like it’s trying to be a Marvel movie or something (that also doesn’t work). At points it’s also trying to be edgy, however it’s not quite like the 2019 Shaft type of edgy where the movie thinks it’s so incredible and hilarious when it does it. When Hellboy 2019 does it, it almost feels like thrown in and obligatory.

Despite the long runtime there are at least a number of scenes that were cut out and altered, especially from the trailers. If you watched the later trailers you probably saw a moment with Hellboy on a dragon with a flaming sword, don’t expect much from that scene, because it only lasts like 30 seconds. The trailer really does showcase the best moments, and unfortunately they mostly look worse in the actual movie. I checked out a few of the deleted scenes online just out of curiosity. One of the most notable scenes was an alternative version of that aforementioned opening flashback scene, where instead of having McShane just narrating everything that’s happening in an overly explaining way, you have characters like Milla Jovovich’s character and Arthur and Merlin actually speaking their lines, and it was considerably better. Now I’m not sure if including all those (and no doubt more) deleted/original scenes would’ve fixed most of the problems, but the movie would’ve been at least a little better. Throughout most of the movie I just felt nothing, and I didn’t particularly care about the plot or the characters. I wasn’t even fussed about potential parts of the plot that didn’t make sense, at this point I would’ve accepted a dumb movie and didn’t even get that. It’s really just a couple of action scenes that were the highlights. The first involved giants but had its own set of problems (more on that later). The other was towards the end (partially shown in the trailer as well), it’s a tracking shot action scene and it had more energy than the entire rest of the movie beforehand. Also if you really care enough, this movie has a couple credits scenes, as it seems they are very much keen on setting up for sequels. However it seems very unlikely that they’ll produce any form of media following up on this movie as a sequel.

Casting anyone for Hellboy that’s not Ron Perlman seemed an impossible task, he played the role perfectly in the Guillermo del Toro movies. David Harbour was however a great alternative and pretty good casting. He definitely does the best that he can with what he has, unfortunately he’s not exactly given the best material to work with. His character wasn’t exactly defined well and his arc just had him jumping around with him making sudden random character choices for some reasons, with some pretty lacking development. Ian McShane is always good to see in movies and Hellboy 2019 is no exception, however I didn’t really buy the connection between the two characters despite this movie’s efforts. Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim are decent enough in their roles, but again aren’t given that much to work with. Milla Jovovich plays the villain and she’s one of those over the top taking over the world sort of villains where you can’t really do much with them. In her situation, you could either look like you don’t want to be there or ham up the role, and Jovovich does the latter. She’s really not good but again there’s really not much that she could really do with the little she’s given.

Neil Marshall directed this movie, and I’ve liked the movies I’ve seen from him However there are multiple parts with his direction which didn’t work, but I’m not entirely sure I can put it fully on him. Apparently there were disagreements. You can definitely tell that the budget is lower than the Del Toro movies from even just looking at this movie. Despite it being R rated, it’s kind of generic and dull somehow. As for the actual blood, there are some violent moments every so often in the first two acts but aside from some exceptions, some of it looks like it could be edited down to a ‘hard’ PG-13. It’s very much the CGI and fake looking kind of blood, and yes, when it’s on screen they are excessive with it and it honestly kind of feels lazy and over reliant. At the same time, they’re oddly enough not in the movie as much as I thought it would be. The third act is where the blood suddenly is ramped up, even though there are some other bloody moments in this section of the movie, it cuts to the city and has a full minute of people getting brutally murdered by giant monsters for whatever reason (maybe they thought that there wasn’t enough blood so just added it in at the last moment?). The second trailer at least seemed to indicate a really over the top and goofy hard R rated flick. Unfortunately, it seems that trailer had over 10 times more energy compared to that in the actual movie.

The CGI really is a mixed bag, at some points it looks pretty good, at others it looks really bad. For example in one of the highlights of the movie where Hellboy fights some giants, the environments and the giants themselves just look really off and it’s very distracting. The cinematography is so bland, and there are points where the movie looks flat out ugly, and no not in a good way. With the exception of a few moments, generally the look of the movie is pretty bland and colourless. More often than not, the only red thing on screen is Hellboy himself. On the other hand, the creature designs for the most part are creative and good. I know that a lot of people don’t like the design of Hellboy and think it makes him look ugly and all that, but honestly I liked the whole idea of trying to make him more monstrous. A more R rated horror take on Hellboy would’ve been interesting to see, but if they ever planned or even filmed some of that, it’s not in the final product at all. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch was pretty good, but the other song choices for certain sections were a little weird. It’s not even the few certain song choices, it’s just that there are so many cases where they put known songs in some of the scenes and it was kind of distracting.

Hellboy 2019 was quite a disappointment, and I wasn’t necessarily expecting much from it. By the time I got around to watching it, I was expecting at worst to be Venom levels of absurd silliness, but it couldn’t even reach that level. I’m not even sure what they were really trying to do with this movie, it doesn’t even seem to know what it’s trying to be. It really did seem like one of those 2000s comic book movies that were a misfire, and didn’t really work on any level. The cast were mostly fine with David Harbour and Ian McShane being pretty good, and I liked some of the action, but nothing else in the movie really works unfortunately. Maybe watch the aforementioned action scene with the giants and the ending when these clips come out online, but it’s really not worth watching the full 2 hour long movie. Instead if you haven’t seen them already, I’d recommend watching the two Hellboy movies from Guillermo del Toro, they are considerably better.