Friday, 15 December 2017

Review: Star Wars - The Last Jedi - SPOILERS

Speaking as one of many for whom Star Wars was a formative part of my early childhood, the resurgence of the franchise to its former glories in recent years has been something I have joyously watched over. Force Awakens was a great, fun ride, Rogue One was the closest the franchise has ever come to what I’d refer to as a great FILM, rather than just a great movie. It was with baited breath then that I attended the midnight screening for Episode VIII. Willing it to live up to its recent predecessors. I needn’t have worried. It blows them out of the water, and even the original trilogy along with it.

Let’s begin of all places at the end. That last 60 seconds. The moment you realise hope is truly still alive in the galaxy. It’s a beautiful and enchanting vision of the rebellion, and unlike anything which has come before in 8 films truly seems to present how important the rebellion is not just to those few ragtag fighters but to the whole oppressed galaxy. These 3 children, telling the story of Luke Skywalker, are as important as any Jedi or Sith or Rebel or First Order fighter. Where Empire Strikes Back leaves the universe in torment at the end of its trilogies second act, Last Jedi's message is one of hope from tyranny. I know even after one viewing that this tops even Empire Strikes Back, long held in my heart as the high watermark by which Star Wars should be judged. A statement of intent on how the franchise could work. 

Last Jedi is without a single shadow of a doubt in my mind the most well crafted Star Wars film ever made. Peril which genuinely felt perilous; a story which took everything I expected (an Empire carbon copy to follow on from Force Awakens’ New Hope carbon copy) and turned them on their heads; and even while it’s probably the bleakest vision of this universe we have had to date it’s also somehow the funniest. Yoda being his playful mischievous self - and a PUPPET NOT CGI - was wonderful. Also a far younger puppet than the one in Jedi, because it would seem like Anakin in NewJedi he has decided to present himself in his prime not at the point of his death. No, even in the darkness of a film in which we learn Luke nearly murdered a child, director Rian Johnson is brave enough to intersperse a nice amount of comedy and brevity to the proceedings without for one moment lessening any of those big moments. We learn that where we thought Snoke was going to be our big bad a la The Emperor, in the grand scheme of things the point was that Snoke wasn’t that important. We assumed we would relive Jedi, and the struggle would be for Rens soul against Snoke as Vader’s was with the Emperor. But then they killed Snoke and Ben was still evil. The twist was the real important bit, not Snoke. Ren was able to hide his true feelings from Snoke. Suggests Snoke was never that powerful a Sith, and that his apprentice is already WAY more powerful. Supreme Leader Kylo Ren is a bad guy reborn from the ashes of his failures in Force Awakens. He is a mad man the likes of whom cannot be reckoned with, and to see him battle Luke at the end, with even Luke - who could turn Darth Vader of all people - conceding that Ren could not be saved sets Kylo up as an almighty big bad come Episode IX and his seemingly inevitable reunion-come-battle with Rey and her new Jedi order. On Rey, her not being a skywalker or a Kenobi or a Solo is a bold, some might even suggest inspired choice. She’s just Rey. Its huge for the franchise because it takes it beyond the Skywalker saga. If Ren dies, the final part of the Skywalker bloodline dies with it. It also once again helps to subvert every expectation that this was going to be Empire2. We spend the film waiting for a huge familial reveal, because that is what must come, and it simply doesn’t. I wept when Luke and Leia reunited, and actually cheered out loud when we finally got Leia's force moment. We have always kind of known she was at least passably force sensitive, but she is literally like a fully untrained Jedi. These characters have lived with so many of us for so long that to finally see them shine again on the big screen is incredible. 

Carrie Fisher’s General Organa is fantastic. She has matured from the Princess cracking wise to a leader who understands that every life lost in the resistance is a blow which could wipe it out. Her expression while everyone else celebrates the Dreadnaught kill and she simply looks at the screen listing the fleet members lost is one of the more finely played moments in the franchise to date.
It is Mark Hamill though who deserves the most plaudits. Luke Skywalker, our legend, our hero, has been torn asunder, and its in Hamills performance that it never for one moment feels forced. He gets the odd laugh (brushing himself off after the AT-AT barrage is a particular highlight), but for the most part he has completely inhabited the role of the old and broken master, desperate to end the Jedi once and for all, not because he has turned to the dark side, but because he believes it is the only way to bring balance to the force, ending the Jedi’s hold over it once and for all. 

His final emotional sequence as he pronounces the rebellion (an interesting choice of words, not Resistance but Rebellion, just like the old days) reborn, and that he is not the last Jedi after all is the completing of a story arc more than 40 years in the making. Him then bowing out in silence before the twin suns, clearly having transported his consciousness back to Tatooine one final time, is the beautiful and touching end to a character we saw come from nothing all those years ago.

I can't remember how long its been since I felt so entirely euphoric coming out of a movie. I am so excited to see how they move forward, because right now we are in a position of great hope. They have to rebuild the rebellion, and they have to rebuild the Jedi order, and getting there is going to be so intriguing. There are what, maybe 50 people on the Millennium Falcon. Thats technically the entire Rebel Alliance (a phrase which as mentioned above I think may be about to make a resurgence). Yet somehow we know they will overcome. We have what George Lucas knew was most important to the franchise decades ago, when he came back to sub-title Episode IV. We have: A New Hope. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2

The sequel is never as good as the original. Its an adage as old as Hollywood itself, and has very very few exceptions to the otherwise hard and fast rule. After the overnight success that was Guardians of the Galaxy then, there was a level of trepidation surrounding Marvel’s return to their band of space mercenaries. 

Thankfully it picks up right where the first film left off from a comedic point of view, and from the exuberant opening sequence which sees Baby Groot dance to Mr Blue Sky while his friends fight an inter-dimensional space slug in the background, its impossible not be smiling, and the laughs just keep going and going.

Its not just the comedy that keeps on giving though. This film sees our heroes really grow as characters. Where the first film concentrated heavily on Chris Pratt’s Starlord, somewhat at the expense of his compatriots this new entry concentrates far more heavily on the background players, as we see Nebula, Yondu and in particular Rocket take centre stage.

After Rocket’s “I didn’t ask to be made!” explosion in the first film, he is desperately searching for a true family bond, but doesn’t know how to ask for it, and so ends up sinking deeper and deeper into his outcast role, arguing and acting out constantly, just hoping to be noticed. As the group constantly mock him as a “trash panda” or “triangle faced monkey” his dejection only grows, as does his descent into anger and depression.

Its heartwarming therefore to see his relationship with Yondu grow, as they realise they are effectively two sides of the same coin. Both are reckless loners who long for acceptance, but both believe themselves irredeemable. Its my favourite thread through what is an excellent adventure, and really helps to round both characters beyond their rather flat roles from the first outing.

Nebula too grows beyond her “generic evil super villain” role here too as we realise that Gamora isn’t the only daughter of Thanos to see the darkness for what it is. We find out that Nebula was jealous of Gamora, seeing her as Thanos’ favourite and that this feeling of abandonment even from her adopted father is what had turned her heart cold. 

For all the love that the Avengers will get within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and their part in the eventual battle with Thanos come the Infinity War, it would only be truly fitting at this point for either Nebula or Gamora to deal the final blow that brings the monstrous tyrant down. As deep and sweeping as Thanos’ terror has been across the galaxy, it is these two above all others who truly have that intimate terror, and inextricable link to Thanos. 

We are also reintroduced to a character who, despite only uttering 3 words, came to be the symbol for everything we loved about the first film: Groot. Long gone are the days of him being Rocket’s “resident houseplant and occasional muscle”. He’s now reborn from a single twig of the original, and is a hand sized Baby version of himself. Not only does this make him infinitely cuter, but it also brings a real change to the character, as the Guardians now have to look out for him, keeping him out of the fray of the darkest battles - a direct comparison to the first film. It was really interesting to see this evolution, and its wholly successful. You instantly believe that this is the same character, while equally understanding the shortcomings he now suffers. It will be interesting to see where Volume 3 goes, whether it will pick up from the post credits sequence with Teenage Groot or whether we will go back to his full grown form next time around. 

I make mention above of Mr Blue Sky, and it would be remiss in any review of a Guardians film not to bring up Awesome Mix Volume 2. Like the first film, this has a pumping soundtrack at it’s heart, as Quill’s walkman brings the music of the 70s and 80s to the big screen. I’d say it's not QUITE as good a mix as the first film offered, but that was always going to be a hard measuring stick, and this is great nonetheless. 

This film then takes everything which was great about the first films, these characters and their camaraderie, and boosts it up to 11, building on the universe with new characters, and really getting to the hearts of the characters we came to love first time around. 

To put it simply, this is a sequel with real heart, proving what the first entry in the series suggested: the Guardians are Marvels best movie property. Now the long wait begins. Bring on Volume 3 and the long awaited entrance of the Sovereign’s secret weapon: Adam Warlock! 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Why "Gilmore Girls - A Year In The Life" Cannot Be The End [Spoilers]

Today, I completed the final episode of the four part Gilmore Girls revival, A Year in The Life, and to say I have thoughts would be an understatement. I should say from the outset - I am not a long time GG fan, I haven’t waited nearly a decade to see this continuation, indeed I completed my first run through of the original series a little over a week ago. I should also say that despite the much maligning that original series’ finale has taken over the years, I actually think it was a perfectly decent ending, tying the show up nicely. So what of this revival and its finale?

Lets start, perhaps paradoxically, at the end. The last four words, fabled for so long in the Gilmore Girls fandom. The four words Amy Sherman-Palladino had meant to end with all those years ago that finally came full circle here:

Rory: Mom?
Lorelai: Yeah?
Rory: I’m pregnant. 

Do I believe this was always going to be the end? Yes I’m inclined to say so, but the finale of season 7 under Palladino, with Rory at just 21 years old would have been drastically different than the finale of this special, all these years later, and so the lead in to those last 4 words would be drastically different too - you’d set it up more, with a full season behind it, really hitting the situation home before the 4 words fall.

It would be a denouement, a final revelation, not a cut to black cliffhanger. I would picture her finding out about her pregnancy early in the finale or even an episode or two earlier, telling the father, and then, together, announcing it to Lorelai, as the music swells and the pair hug eachother, all smiles.

No, what we had at the end of A Year in The Life was decidedly not about ending the show, but about giving Netflix and the Palladino’s a back door into a seemingly inevitable full Season 8.

There is just too much open ended about it - we know the baby could be Logan’s, we see her sleep with him, but clearly, between Logan, Jess, Paul and even Wookie-One-Night-Stand-Guy there are options. This isn’t just a “You get to imagine what happens to the characters next” situation, this is a legitimate cliffhanger, and one which needs examining.

If fans were left unsatisfied by the original finale, at least it could be said to have tied everything up, the party at the end seeing everyone get their happily ever after moment. This had none of that. 30 seconds earlier it did, just letting the Gilmore Girls enjoy the first moments of Lorelai’s finally happy married life. But the final 30 seconds, and those final four words in this context cut deeper. They force you to cry out for the next four words, and the next four lines, and everything which follows them.

A Year in the Life was far from a disappointment though. At its best was the final redemption between Lorelai and Emily. We got a glimpse to it in the original finale, as Lorelai found a way to engineer the continuation of Friday Night Dinner, but this four parter took it one step further. As both of the Gilmore matriarchs tried (and often failed) to come to terms with the loss of Richard, they found solace in each other.

First in therapy, then in the last conversation we see between them as Lorelai belatedly shares her memory of Richard, its a moment with overwhelming power, and one which left me in total tears.

To see how far these two have come from the start of the series is remarkable. Its a troubled relationship, but one which has clearly taken both women to their limits and back again, in their quest to come together. They love each other deeply, and always have. 

They will never be firm bosom buddies in the way Rory and Lorelai are, but the fact they have been able to come to this point is wonderful.

On Emily, Kelly Bishop puts on a tour de force performance throughout the revival. The loss of Edward Herrmann to the show was always going to be a tough one, especially for Emily, who had almost exclusively appeared along side Richard in the original series - their stories permanently linked.

To see Mrs Richard Gilmore find her place in the world, to learn how to be Emily Gilmore again, was beautiful. Her grief at the funeral/wake ; her spur of the moment selling then reversal of all the goods in her home; and then finally the decision to quit the D.A.R and sell the Gilmore mansion, these are all evolutions of the character we know and love, making her a more rounded character, a fuller person. Bishop was a master throughout and every time she was on screen she stole the scene out from under everyone else.

I am genuinely excited to see that relationship flourish more than any other the show has to offer as it moves forward, assuming it does - that and I long for more Lane, something drastically missing during A Year in The Life.

The revival as a whole felt like a snapshot, a view back into the lives of these characters, but as I’ve said, it didn’t feel like an end. I long to see where we go from here, with a full season. I get it that with scheduling getting all these characters back full time is difficult. I get it that we will lose Sookie, but thats not a reason to drop the entire show, especially when its reaching such an intriguing point. 4 episodes was always going to be a big ask to get everything lined up. It had to drop a number of the characters down to single scenes, with little room for growth. A full season would allow these characters to flourish, but also to answer the questions at the heart of A Year in the Life’s finale.

We need to find out whether Jess or Logan (the two presumably viable options) is the father, and indeed where Rory’s heart lies, none of which has been resolved yet.

My partner (who is a long time fan of the show), refers to Logan as Rory’s Christopher, and Jess as her Luke, and I’m inclined to agree. Jess is the right man for Rory (to use Lorelai’s logic from the final scene: he fits). It would be especially interesting seeing that play out if Logan turned out to be the father, while Rory’s true affection lay with Jess - it really would be a full circle finish, both for Rory’s book, and the show, a mirror reflection between the two Gilmore Girls, but with Lorelai showing the acceptance for Rory’s decisions that her own mother couldn't at the time. 

Only with one more season can we wrap the show up properly, once and for all. So lets get it done, and soon. Lets get Season 8 recorded and onto Netflix soon. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Review - A Monster Calls

This weekend I was able to get down to my local Cineworld to watch A Monster Calls. I’d heard good things going into the film, but I honestly couldn’t have been prepared for what followed.

In short, the film was a masterpiece. 

It’s visually stunning, and everything from the CGI of the Monster himself, through to the beautiful water colour animations are a feast on the eyes. 

One early shot as we first meet the Monster in particular stands out in my mind, as we see Conor stood at his bedroom window while the silhouette of the Monster gets closer and closer, on the house the street lights flickering with every step so the silhouette flashes, growing larger each time. Its innately cinematic, and its terrifying on the big screen. 

It is in its characters though that the film will come alive ever more. 

Lewis MacDougall is a bewitching screen presence as the young Conor O’Malley, and from the first moments you are invested in his story. 

As his mother slips deeper and deeper into her illness, you see Conor slip further and further into a state of despair, and retreat deeper into the fantasy he has created for himself, the Monster on whom he can project his fears and the darkness he is feeling. Under lesser hands, this might feel twee, but MacDougall more than holds his own. 

Felicity Jones also continues her hot streak as the boy’s terminally ill mother. She is at times completely unrecognisable, but you truly feel that through all the decisions she makes this is a mother deeply and madly in love with her only son, trying to protect him from the darkness as long as she can, never wanting him to see just how much she is suffering until he absolutely must.

I’m not afraid to say I spent the last 20-25 minutes of the film just openly weeping in the cinema. What started as a single tear I tried to hold back was soon floods of them, and a quick glance around the packed cinema confirmed I wasn’t alone - the film was having a deep affect on everyone around them.

When the film ended, many - myself included - sat completely still while the credits rolled. So deeply moved by what we had witnessed that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, taking instead a few silent moments of reflection to process everything we had just seen. 

Even now, I cannot get the film out of my head, and I’m desperate to see it again. Director Juan Bayona has created a modern masterpiece with this film. I know its early in the year, but I am already as certain as I can be that this will be my Film of the Year 2017 - put simply: Its one of my favourite films ever, so to bring it down to just this year, something is going to have to go one hell of a way to beat it.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Review: Moana

This generation of Disney films, beginning with Princess and The Frog, has been its strongest since the early 90s, but it is difficult to argue Moana as anything less than the jewel in its crown. It has some of the best Disney songs in decades, and will surely stand the test of time within that most hallowed pantheon moving forward. 

From its opening narration it's clear we are in firm hands - it evokes the opening sequence of Beauty and the Beast, filling us in on the legends which will lie at the heart of this vibrant story. 

The spirit of our heroine too is shown early on as we see Moana escape her father again and again in her quest to reach the ocean, even if she herself can’t quite work out why.

This longing leads us into the films first of several knockout songs - not since The Lion King has a Disney soundtrack so entirely bowled me over, and on which more later - “Where You Are”. Hamilton’s Chris Jackson makes this into an anthem about family, about duty, about putting the tribe’s needs ahead of the dreams of one person. Of course what it truly does is serve as the inspiration for the journey that must follow.

We come to learn in time that like the very best of Disney characters, like Belle, or Mulan or Simba before her, Moana doesn’t quite fit in, and isn’t ready for the destiny laid out by her forefathers. She needs to journey out, discovering her path. This is presented beautifully in How Far I’ll Go. She understands tradition, but at the same time, she's “been standing at the edge of the water, long as [she] can remember, never really knowing why.” 

It’s when she journeys out into the Great Sea in search of Dwayne Johnson’s Maui though that the film hits its real stride. To begin with the oceanscape animation is a thing of beauty. You believe in it as a living entity, pushing Moana forward on her quest.

When we finally meet the demigod, its perfect. When I first heard that The Rock was going to be joining the Disney family, I rolled my eyes. I love The Rock, but Disney?! Surely not. And yet from the opening moments of ear worm You’re Welcome you realise he was born to play the role.

Just the right mix of arrogance, and self-obsession was what made The Great One such a wrestling phenomenon in the late 90’s and its exactly what makes Maui simultaneously hilarious and impossible to look away from.

His redemption arc gives the film its heart. We are already with Moana from the beginning, but in Maui we find the flawed character who we hope we can bring to the light as the movie progresses. In many ways (and its a comparison I keep coming back to), he is to this film as Beast was to Beauty and the Beast.

The visions of the spirit-ray and the ships as I Am Moana rips through the film will have your eyes glinting from their beauty even as the lyrics have you holding back tears as the anti-princess finds her feet.

On that note it is so refreshing to see a Disney female who is not the stereotypical princess with a love interest. Moana has no love interest at all, and while she is the daughter of the chief, she makes perfectly clear she is anything but a Princess. She is a strong and independent woman who will one day lead her tribe back across the ocean. She will make her own destiny.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack will forever sit among the list of the very best Disney have put out there. We Know The Way will be an anthem to rival Circle of Life, Tale as Old as Time or A Whole New World, but every single song has a place, and a purpose in the story. Just as Hakuna Matata, or Can’t Wait to Be King could be Lion King’s centrepiece, How Far I’ll Go or Shiny or any of a number of songs could stand out here.

To say I loved this film would be an understatement. I laughed, I cried, I literally felt my toe tapping along to the songs. It was spectacular.

If I can give you a piece of advice: Go see it. Now. And hey, in advance…You’re Welcome. 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Captain America: Civil War

It is eight years since Iron Man first graced our screens, introducing the world to a Marvel Cinematic Universe that has continued to grow both in its cast but also in its scope. With Captain America: Civil War it feels like the universe has reached a definitive high point.

With this many characters jockeying for screen time, it would be easy for the threads to become tangled, but the Russo brothers have masterly built a thriller which gives everyone a place in a jigsaw puzzle that under lesser hands would have fallen into disarray. It’s near impossible not to make comparisons to the other big Versus movie of the year, and to say there is little to no comparison would be an understatement. This is a vastly superior film

From the start it is important to note that while the cast list would suggest otherwise: this is squarely a Captain America film and not Avengers 3. I was lucky enough to see the film as a triple bill screening alongside First Avenger and Winter Soldier, and viewed that way you realise that these movies stand not just as a technical trilogy but actually a three part story. This is the evolution of not just Cap, but of Bucky too, as they build from being young adults in Brooklyn to take on the roles destined for them.

Like Winter Soldier before it, this has all the elements of a great spy thriller, with the superhero backdrop as Rogers must work under the radar to try and prove his friends innocence while Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo tries to frame and discredit him at every turn. 

While it draws on many elements of the graphic novel bearing the same name - the need for Superhero supervision leading directly from a deadly superhero inflicted explosion being an obvious one - this story is unafraid to jump off from this starting point and packs plenty of surprises too, and for that it deserves a lot of credit because none of these plots feel forced.

Right back to Avengers Assemble it has been clear that Rogers and Stark are peculiar bedfellows, both sharing very different world views. The further on through the story we have got this has only exemplified, with Stark's guilt growing deeper with every passing calamity. As the mother of a dead boy chastises him for his role in the Battle of Sokovia, he finally reaches a breaking point. While his Ultron project may have failed to put the shield around the world, he cannot sit idly by any longer, realising something needs to be done. 

He is not entirely without fault of course - he (like many) wrongly believes in Bucky's guilt after the UN is bombed, and refuses to listen to Cap's explanation that there is a darker force at work, and this is where the two men's stories will separate at last. Iron Man is ready to be the soldier the world requires, while Captain America instead evokes the very thing Dr Erskine saw in him way back in 1942, that he will put what is right above his orders every time. 

He is ultimately a good man, even if that means he cannot be a good Avenger, or a good soldier. The emotional crux of the film, as the final battle reigns down is the moment he realises he cannot kill Stark. He will defend Bucky to his last breath, even giving up his role as Captain America if needs be, but he cannot kill Stark. 

The film also marks the first appearance on film of Black Panther, as well as the long awaited appearance of Spider-Man in his rightful place alongside these heroes, and both is handled perfectly. Boseman’s Panther is a master warrior, introduced in the throes of an epic chase through the streets after telling Black Widow simply that he will kill Bucky himself if needs be, to avenge his late father. He is a stoic if somewhat silent protector for his people, and it will be interesting to see the character grow when given his own stage. 

Without harping on too far in comparison between this and BvS, the reason this succeeds where the latter failed is that it is bursting to the seams with fun, something Dawn of Justice lacked entirely. The film is sidesplitting in its gags, and they just keep coming and coming and coming. I feel certain I need to see the film again because in laughing so hard I will have missed others. 

While everyone from Ant Man to Falcon have their moments, nowhere is this more true than in the introduction of Peter Parker.

Seeing Stark visit him and Aunt May (nice to see a very different take on May - “aunts come in all shapes and sizes”) was a nice touch because it made it feel real. If he had simply turned up on the tarmac at the airport something would have felt missing, but now we have seen just enough of his world to make us want to come back for more. This is a Spider-man far younger than any we have encountered on screen, but the fresh faced Holland steals every scene he is in. 

When we get to the true introduction therefore at the airport, we can take a step back and see the sequence through his eyes. These are character’s we have known for years so we forget just how majestic they are. Yet to see this young guy in their presence, desperate for approval - but at the same time holding his own with enough quick talking smarts to put even Stark to shame - puts the entire sequence into perspective, and also helps further Stark’s point (while inadvertently also pointing towards Cap’s). Children are following them. They have to hold themselves to a bigger standard.

It is also telling that Daniel Bruhl is by some margin the most understated of Marvel villains. There are no electric whips or red skulls here. He is just a man. A mercenary who’s very goal is to turn the Avengers upon one another. He doesn't need an arsenal of weapons or gadgets or even an ability, he just needs to light the fuse and watch as they blow the hell out of one another. 

This was a wise move on the part of the Russo’s because ultimately Zemo is of only a passing importance. He is the catalyst for the fight to come, rather than being the end game. The audience is here to see Captain America and Iron Man do battle, and when the film reaches its inevitable climax (with a reveal that has been perfectly portended while not overtly spoiled throughout), that is exactly what we get. 

This has been the point the franchise has grown to over many years, cracks showing in our heroes ideologies running all the way back to their first joint adventure in Avengers Assemble, but here that story reaches a tremendous climax, and the jumping off point for something new. 

The Avengers have ripped each other apart, half are jailed, the other half broken physically and mentally, and it will now be the job of Phase 3 on the MCU to see exactly how we rebuild from here to get our heroes back on side by Infinity War.

For now though we can just sit back and enjoy the ride as we reach the absolute high point of a story eight years in the making. 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Wrestlemania 32

I'll preface what's to come with a warning that this particular review is going to end with a rant. Not a rant about the show, but about those in attendance. But I will get to that later.

For now though lets begin at the beginning, with the Intercontinental Championship ladder match. This was a match that was a darn sight better than it ever deserved to be. A strange build left this feeling sort of as if it had been thrown together at the last minute, with many wondering why the WWE hadn't simply gone for Zayn v Owens straight up, rather than hedging their bets. 

The match itself though was incredibly well executed, with just the right mixture of spots, while never feeling massively contrived in the way ladder matches so often do.  As the match went on I genuinely found myself lost in the action, with no idea who was going to win. First Owen's climbs the ladder, only to take the most brutal bump I've ever seen, then Miz appears. Surely its not going to be the Miz? It would be a shock sure but not a welcome one. 

Then, as if answering the very question we were all asking, from the back of the frame appears Zack Ryder. I was watching in a crowded bar full of wrestling fans following a packed out indie show that evening, and when we saw Ryder the entire place erupted, rising to their feet. This was the little engine that could, finally reaching the pinnacle. 

If I'd been asked to rank the likelihood going in of any of the seven men winning the gold, I would probably have placed Ryder last. Not because he was unworthy, but because the company has never really got behind him before. It was a true underdog story, and one I hope will continue now even with him as champion. Book him against bigger, stronger guys, and have him pull out some victories. The fans want to be behind this guy, so let them. Don't hotshot the championship. You've given him the ball now let him run with it.

Zack spoke of just wanting to hear his music play at Wrestlemania at long last after years of being in battle royals and multi person tags. Well not only did he leave hearing his music, he left a champion. His father hugging him in the ring in a moment this man will never forget. The Internet Champion no more, he was the People's Champion that night (The Rock will just have to forgive the gimmick infringement). I saw a tweet which read: "If you're not happy for Zack Ryder right now, you need to find a different sport." and I couldn't agree more. 

Then came another shocker, in Jericho V Styles. Again going in this felt like a foregone conclusion. This was Styles' coronation as a megastar, cementing his place in the upper card. But - and this would be a theme for Wrestlemania 32 - not all went to the assumptive blue print, and after a hard fought match, in which Jericho would reverse the Phenomenal Forearm into a Codebreaker, Y2J was walking out victorious, tying up their series at 2-2. 

The match wasn't quite as effective as their other three matches of late, but perhaps that has to do with us having seen it several times in quick succession already, but I enjoyed this thoroughly nonetheless. It was a good match, even a very good one, but not the GREAT one I believe they're capable of. We can just hope that when the inevitable fifth match comes (probably at Extreme Rules if I were a betting man), that the two really kick it fully into top gear, leaving this feud with both men better off than when it started.

Next up, my favourite act of the moment, The New Day would make their presence felt. Falling out of a giant box of Booty-O's, dressed in full Dragonball Z cosplay, the nerdiest tag team in the company just made me love them even more. But, and given the way the night was going this perhaps shouldn't be surprising: their fun was cut short by a surprise win by the League of Nations. A team which can't buy a win usually. To say it was a surprise would be a massive understatement. It almost didn't make sense.

It doesn't make sense that is, until the League of Nations get on the mic and talk about how no-one can beat them, only to promptly be met head on by Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and the Texas Rattlesnake himself: Stone Cold Steve Austin. Its a nostalgia pop sure, but one which made this event feel larger than life. These are legends, standing across from the current generation, and just from the brief stare down they were elevated. 

It was a really fun segment, which ended with the New Day trying to convince the legends to join them in their dance, only for Xavier to get a stunner for his troubles. Even now they are faces, seeing Xavier getting his butt handed to him is still fun, so that was just fine by me. 

One more surprise result for what was fast becoming the most unpredictable Wrestlemania in years. So often you can work out most of the results way in advance. This year it feels like more often than not it was far from the obvious choice they would go for.

As Brock Lesnar and his advocate Paul Heyman marched to the ring next, the night kicked up a gear. The Beast Incarnate brought the fight to Ambrose throughout, hurling him around like a rag doll. Even in a losing effort though it was Dean who left looking like a million bucks here. After double digit suplexes, he continued to get up and bring the fight to Lesnar before an F-5 would seal his fate.

My one minor gripe would be that having been gifted weapons by both Mick Foley and Terry Funk, these were perhaps a little bit under utilised. This could have been a true passing of the torch moment for Ambrose from these two men, and in the end neither really factored. A really fun match though for sure. 

And then to quote The Rock's promo later on: its gonna get good! An already excellent show was highlighted by three women determined to make a name for themselves. Earlier in the night Lita had announced the end of the Divas division, and formally reinstated the Women's Title, now adorned with its own mirror image of the World Title belt. This is a proper belt, for a proper division, not a toy like the butterfly belt was.

The three women sent out to fight for it, all understood the gravitas of the situation, and rose to it, stealing the show in absolutely the Match of the Night. If there was ever going to be a match to kick start a whole new division this was it. Counter after counter, blocked submission after blocked submission, these women fought like this title was the only thing which mattered to them. They've fought their way from developmental to the main roster, and now to grandest stage to be one of the main events. 

They worked body parts to allow them to get their submissions locked in, they sold the pain of every move both on their faces and in their bodies. These are three masters of the game, presenting their craft for all to see, and the very fact the company gave them this chance, and not a five minute including entrances segment, shows just how far we've come. Divas are dead. Women's wrestling is forever. 

All three women did every thing they could to make this feel like a big fight. Gone are the days when you'd go to the bathroom during the women's match. This was real wrestling, and they made you care about every second from bell to bell. Both Sasha's incredible Frog Splash, and Charlotte's near perfect Moonsault will appear in Wrestlemania highlight videos for years to come.

I was pulling for Sasha, who I truly believe will be the face of the division one day, so as the match reached its final moments and Ric would screw Sasha out of her win, I was pissed, but I get it. The face chases the title. Thats how the business is most effective. This was Sasha's first chance at it, she didn't need to win yet because her fans will now be even hungrier to see her win. When it finally comes (I'm calling Summerslam, a year to the day after her instant classic at NXT Takeover Brooklyn), Sasha will ascend into megastardom, and thats because she was screwed out of a fair win here.

This is something a lot of the matches recently have forgotten. Wrestling is most effective when there is a clear face and a clear heel, and the heel cheats, and the face gets screwed until they finally rise up and overcome. Sasha, Becky and Charlotte just get it, and they put on a masterpiece, making history in the process

Definitely the match most hyped up before the show, Shane McMahon would meet the Deadman in his yard. Hell in a Cell is always interesting because there are various ways of working it. Some take place almost entirely in the ring, with the cage a barrier to stop escape. Some use the cage itself as a weapon, throwing people into it. And some involve crazy bumps. 

Shane and Taker took door number three. The question going into this was whether we could ever see the Shane of old now he is in his mid forties, but we needn't have worried. From the very start he barely misses a step, getting in and out, dodging Taker's onslaught while making his own offence count when he can. When Taker finally gets his hands on him the greatest pure striker in the business takes the Boy Wonder to task, but again Shane uses his mind, managing to get Taker into a triangle choke, before the pair would break down the wall of the Cell, and head outside.

Again, the bar I was in rose to its feet as Shane looked up. He wouldn't?! He would. The fourth generation superstar dove 20 plus feet to the table below as Undertaker rolled to safety.

I loved Michael Cole's call here: "For the love of all mankind, Shane just exploded through the table". A subtle reference to the last man to take that bump. Thankfully Shane looked like he took a far flatter bump than Mick did back in 1998, so I'm sure he'll be fine. 

Shane demanding Taker bring it was a nice spot too, and gives credence to Shane's never say die attitude. He forced Taker to beat him, rather than just letting the match stop.

While far from perfect, this was the best Undertaker Mania match since the End of an Era Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania 28, and will be remembered for both the cell bump and the excellent Coast to Coast dive. 

It will be interesting to see how the story progresses from here, as Shane, even in a loss still has the leverage of the contents of the lockbox. He swore if he lost he would give it to Vince, but there's nothing to stop him just announcing it all first before leaving, knowing it will force Vince and Co. out of the company. We will have to wait for Raw to see how that goes, but taken as a match in and of itself, rather than as part of a developing story, this was excellent, and historic (albeit in a very different way to the match which preceded it)

I'll skip The Andre, except to say well done Corbin, and welcome to the main roster, and then move onto The Rock. As they announced the cheerleaders coming out, this was the first time I looked at the clock all night, and realised they had very little time left, especially with a main event to come. The 4 hour show was already at 3hours 30minutes. Then Rock got a flamethrower. And blasted for a few minutes. It was epic, but this was the moment I found myself thinking: Wow, they're going over. This is the beauty of the Network vs PPV. They can go as long as they like. 

Rock announces the all time Wrestlemania attendance record has finally been broken. Twenty nine years since Wrestlemania 3 and the record falls. We can finally stop lying about the Pontiac Silverdome attendance and admit it was probably 75-80000, not 93. 

Then we get down to business, as Bray and the Wyatt family march to the ring, telling Rock that they chose him because he is the symbol for everything they hate. He despatches Erick Rowan inside of 6 seconds, breaking another record (something I think the company did to erase Daniel Bryan's name from the quickest loss on the record books), before John Cena made a surprise return to clear house for the Wyatts.

Take from this what you will but the symbol on the WWE Network page right now for Payback is The Wyatt Family. Could we be about to see Rock and Cena Vs The Wyatts?! Probably not. But it would be incredible if we did. 

Now, as promised, there is a rant coming. Is Roman Reigns a perfect superstar? No. But he has one hell of an upside, and he is progressing incredibly. Yes, the WWE has clearly chosen him to be the next top baby face. But you know why they did it: because the fans were so behind him just 2 years ago in the Shield. He was by some margin the most over member of the Shield at the time, and it was only when the company made clear they were moving forward with Reigns that the smart marks online turned on him.

From the very moment the bell rang, boos rang down throughout AT+T Stadium. These fans were not going to even give Roman the chance to throw his first punch before they wrote him off. There were Gable and Jordan chants, Ole chants, NXT chants, Boring chants.

The in ring product actually WASN'T boring though. It really wasn't. I've gone back and watched the match with the sound off, and its a perfectly fine match. Not a five star classic by any means, but a perfectly fine, solid main event match. Hell, Hogan was the most over superstar ever and not one of his Wrestlemania matches was this good. More memorable for MOMENTS (slamming Andre), but not actually better matches by any means. 

I'm getting really tired of certain portions of the IWC who are just going to crap all over anything the company does. If you don't like it for genuine objective reasons that is different. But if you don't like Roman because he's The Guy, that isn't a good enough reason. 

If you just want to crap on WWE, then go away. Find another promotion. Go watch New Japan, or TNA, or Lucha Underground. Go support your local indie promotions. Roman has been a victim of poor booking yes, and I wish he could come in as a stronger competitor (his booking at the Royal Rumble was atrocious for example, he should have broken his own elimination record, looked as strong as possible before the moment came for Hunter to eliminate him) but that doesn't mean he isn't an incredibly talented performer, who absolutely has what it takes to lead the company into the future. 

The company has stuck to its guns not out of some blind belief that they know better (they showed with Bryan that they aren't afraid to admit their mistakes), but they clearly believe in Reigns if he is given the chance. Now its up to us to give it a fair shake. We cannot right him off from day one. Lets see if he can run with the ball. He might fall flat on his face, but at least then we will know. Or he could be a megastar who we come to love the way we loved Rock and Austin and Flair and Hogan. We've seen #GiveDivasAChance come to fruition so now I reverse the aim of this from the company itself to instead implore wrestling fans: #GiveRomanAChance


All of this said: while this was far from the high watermark of say a Wrestlemania 3 or 30, this was a really great show, with some REALLY great moments, chief among them the women's championship match, which we will look back on a decade from now as the beginning of a new movement in women's wrestling. 

It will be interesting to see exactly where the company goes from here, and I am super psyched to see Raw tonight.