Three stars In cinemas; Cert PG
It comes as something of a relief when every now and again superheroes are taken for what they really are – instruments of adolescence that really ought to have the mickey taken out of them whenever the opportunity arises.
The more swollen and self-important these spandex-clad mythologies have become, the more necessary it has felt for these behemoths to have the hot air thoroughly lanced from their derrieres by whatever Deadpool or Teen Titans Go! appears wielding the pin.
The recent tranche of Lego animated features has made a name for itself by doing exactly this to the Batman brand, the superhero franchise that surely reached a pinnacle of sulky preciousness with Matt Reeves’s The Batman.
Like all billionaires, Bruce Wayne deserves as much ridicule as we can lay on him, which is why we should at least applaud the arrival of this feisty animated gambol from the good sports at DC Entertainment.
That writer-director Jared Stern and co-writer John Whittington previously collaborated on the Lego Batman outings will be apparent just a few minutes into DC League of Super-Pets.
The recipe is simple enough; cute and irreverent pets attain superpowers and mix up their heroic/villainous ambitions with gags about the relentless necessities of walkies, do-dos, postman-chasing and what have you.
Meanwhile, the Justice League of household names – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al – have been incapacitated by the latest threat to humanity, meaning the super-pets have to clean up after their owners, for once. Throw in an A-list voice cast and the scene is set for perfectly serviceable fun for kiddies.
A flashback sequence shows us an infant Superman on the planet of Krypton bonding with a new puppy. This is Krypto, the faithful pooch who stows away on the escape pod that delivers the Man of Steel to Earth. Cut to present day Metropolis city, where the customary man-and-dog relationship is in full swing, albeit with every pet-owner cliché supercharged by flight, super-strength, and laser-beam eyes.
Clark Kent (John Krasinski) and Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) are taking their relationship to the next level, much to the chagrin of Krypto (Dwayne Johnson). An attempt to distract Krypto with some canine company brings us to a small pet shop for strays and rescues.
Here, a dastardly guinea pig called Lulu (Kate McKinnon) has hatched a plan to take down the Justice League. A mysterious meteor fragment gets her powered-up – as only mysterious meteor fragments can.
Soon she has busted out of the kennel and is causing havoc. Lulu’s motivation, in case you wondered, is to emulate her human hero; a smooth-headed zillionaire businessman hell-bent on global domination. No, not Jeff Bezos – Lex Luthor, sillies.
However, the meteor’s effects have also rubbed off on her fellow inmates in the pound – a boxer (Kevin Hart), a pot-bellied pig (Vanessa Bayer), a wizened terrapin (Natasha Lyonne), and a cowardly squirrel (Diego Luna).
When Krypto’s powers desert him, he has to train up this unintentional super-pet rabble to help rescue the now-imprisoned Justice League from Lulu’s clutches.
In particular need of help is Batman (Keanu Reeves), who is unravelling in captivity and droning on to the rest of the team about his well-publicised childhood demons.
Little ones will inevitably salivate at the crossover of puppy-eyed heroism and big-name heroes in capes (Paw Patrol even gets namechecked in one of a few examples of Stern and Whittington’s self-awareness). Some of the action set pieces are unsparing, however, building toward an inevitably humungous finale that is possibly a tad too intense for very young viewers.
Krypto himself is unlikely to win any awards for most charismatic cartoon character, but around the fringes the animators and voice cast combine here and there to better effect. McKinnon, Hart, and Reeves all stand out as voicing characters where the look and sound have wedded effectively.
The same cannot be said for Krasinski, Wilde, or Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as Aquaman, all of which have a flatness about them.
The key component, though, is that irreverent humour, which by and large lands, albeit within a familiar formula. That is the element that will make your litter sit, and indeed, stay.
IFI & selected cinemas; Cert 12A
Jafar Panahi is a giant of Middle Eastern cinema whose sublime storytelling has drawn short shrift from the Iranian government, including a 2010 arrest on propaganda charges. Making his feature debut with this festival-winner is his writer-director son Panah, who very much looks to have inherited his father’s enlightened, subversive qualities.
At the core of this happy-sad road film is a crystal-cut family unit which is on a journey to some unknown destination. The messers in the backseat are Hasan Majuni’s world-weary dad who has to deal with not only a leg in a cast but also his rambunctious six-year-old son (Rayan Sarlak).
Things are more pensive in the front seats, where the mother (Iranian screen icon Pantea Panahiha) and oldest son (Amin Simiar) turn over in their heads the implications of what lies at the end of the road. From the boot, meanwhile, the little family pooch isn’t doing so well.
Panahi’s film is filled with wicked humour, tender observations, and perfectly pitched family banter that makes its final passages all the more poignant. From the microcosm of a family SUV, he and his dream-team cast unearth some universal jewels. Hilary White
IFI & selected cinemas; No cert
Through film work and book titles, French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft expanded our understanding of the mechanics and dangers of eruptions. That the couple were killed in 1991 by a pyroclastic flow is testament to how perilously close they got to these unpredictable and potentially disastrous craters.
This daring fed into the celebrity status the Kraffts had cultivated to help fund their excursions, making them regulars on chat shows and book tours. Sara Dosa’s Herzogian portrait charts this as well as their origins, hitting it off as students who shared a hunger to get right up to lava flows and towering mushroom clouds in the name of science.
The obsessive nature of their approach is explored, meaning that a quiet tension builds in the knowledge that their all-consuming pursuit of volcanic violence would end up literally consuming them.
The uneasy psychological undertow mixed with the stunning volcano footage and archive clips makes this a journey into a rare form of grail-hunting madness.
If only it didn’t have the atonal, over-wrought narration from auteur Miranda July. Chris Wasser
Select cinemas from August 5; Cert 12A
Old age, as the tagline for this sketchy yet admirable documentary confirms, can be a drag. Just ask David Raven, aka Maisie Trollette, the UK’s oldest working drag artiste.
On the eve of his 85th birthday performance in Brighton, Raven – a treasured icon of the circuit – learns of a spirited American named Walter Cole who, at 87, holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest performing drag queen on the planet.
Cole wants to meet, and so arrangements are made for these octogenarian queens to swap stories and secrets over high tea. A fabulous concept. Trouble is, Lee Cooper’s Maisie doesn’t appear to be all that interested in properly pursuing it, and this brief, scattershot feature never quite gets a handle on its fascinating subject. Instead, it wanders in and out of dusty changing rooms and dimly lit corners, politely examining Raven’s meticulous prep routines.
An old BBC recording informs us of a lost love. It’s suggested that Raven might have Alzheimer’s. The closing credit notes tell us more about Maisie than anything we experience in the film. Impossible to turn away from – but Cooper’s documentary should dig deeper. Chris Wasser