Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal
Release date: November 3rd, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 128 minutes
Best part: Affleck’s subdued performance.
Worst part: The third-act plot-twists.
The Accountant is the latest in the never-ending line of middle-budget action flicks. It – Like John Wick, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher – lives in bigger-budget movies(superhero flicks, space-operas etc.)’s shadows. At best, they deliver cheerful call-backs to 1980s/90s action-thrillers. At worst, they seem cheap and desperate. This year’s Bourne and Reacher franchise extenders resemble the latter.
The Accountant, unlike Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is still a good movie. The marketing and movie itself revel in A-lister/talented filmmaker Ben Affleck’s renaissance. This is his second action-hero/intelligent savant role for 2016 after Bruce Wayne/Batman. Of course, despite the flaws, this is Citizen Kane next to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It follows highly functioning autistic and small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck). Head of strip-mall firm ZZZ Accounting, he lives a secluded existence in suburban Illinois by day. By night, he un-cooks the books for assassins, drug cartels, money launderers etc. His latest mission may be his most puzzling. Living Robotics’ accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds irregularities in the company’s finances. Wolff monitors executives Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), Rita (Jean Smart), and Ed (Andy Umberger).
The Accountant is the busiest and most complex of 2016’s action-thrillers. The central plot-thread is difficult to crack or even explain. Bill Dubuque(The Judge)’s screenplay throws together lists of names, dates and figures associated with said fictional company. In the second act, as the whodunit mystery unfolds, the scripts opts for confusing jargon over clear explanations. More so, the financial-decoding is never cinematically appealing. Even Dubuque loses interest, adding multiple plot-strands and characters around it. On top of said industrial espionage, the script includes a buddy-cop sub-plot led by Treasury Department director of financial crimes Raymond King(J. K. Simmons). His story-line – blackmailing analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking down Wolff – leads nowhere. Meanwhile, an assassin (Jon Bernthal) is hired to dispose of Wolff. The eight-movies-at-once feel hinders an otherwise engaging premise.
The Accountant, although not succumbing to blockbuster fatigue, still feels dated and formulaic. Along with said meandering subplots, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) wrestles with flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood and dealings with jailed accountant/fixer Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor). By the third act, O’Connor struggles to pull everything and everyone together. Plot-holes emerge as the set-pieces and revelations kick in. However, like with Warrior, O’Connor’s rustic, gritty aesthetic pays off. His peculiar camera angles and movements provide nuance, while the action sequences are fearsome. Thanks to Affleck’s committed performance, the autism spectrum disorder angle never feels forced. The character’s professional and personal lives are well fleshed out. The movie’s stacked cast give unique turns in generic roles. Bernthal, deliciously over the top here, is the breakout star.
The Accountant, like many of 2016’s blockbusters, delivers maximum potential and mixed execution. O’Connor and his cast enthusiastically grapple with the material. However, 128 minutes is simply too long for this story.
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton
Release date: October 27th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: The energetic performances.
Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.
Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.
Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).
After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.
Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming.Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.
Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.
Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot
Release date: October 20th, 2016
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The starry cast.
Worst part: The bland comedy.
Comedy is one of modern entertainment’s most subjective genres. One man’s trash is another’s treasure; what some may perceive as humor may deter or anger others. 2016 has seen big-budget messes like Bad Neighbours 2, the Ghostbusters reboot, Zoolander 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates come and go without impact. Keeping Up with the Joneses, sadly, continues this laughless downward spiral.
Before I attack Keeping Up with the Joneses mercilessly, I will say the premise is wholly compelling. The movie follows suburban married couple/loving parents Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla FIsher). Sending the kids to summer camp, the pair are stuck in a rut. Jeff lives for his meaningless HR department position at a local, government-affiliated company. However, Karen becomes restless and bored at home. Her freelance interior decorator role fails to satisfy her itch for excitement. Soon after, attractive couple Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. Of course, they aren’t who they seem.
Keeping Up with the Joneses, like so many Hollywood comedies, collects elements from several, much-better movies. Similar action-comedies (Mr and Mrs Smith) aptly balance the humour and set-pieces. Overall, there is an army of better movies out there. Writer Michael LeSieur does not even attempt to reinvent the wheel. The story, such as it is, is as bland and banal as expected. Indeed, everyone involved seems not to care about it. It is a shock to the system when the plot kicks into gear. Thanks to laughable exposition and plotting, the director and actors seem to switch off at seemingly important moments. Despite the premise, the spy-work is never shown on-screen. Tim and Natalie’s mission is lost in favour of cheap set-pieces and bad dialogue/gags.
Keeping Up with the Joneses, in true Adam Sandler fashion, is condescending and sweet to its audience. The first half mocks suburban lifestyle, painting the men like cretins and women like nagging shrews. Unable to commit, the movie’s half-assed turn makes everyone and everything cheesier. The comedy is shockingly hit and miss. Director Greg Mottola forgets what made his earlier flicks (Superbad, Adventureland) so engaging. Here, his comic timing drags down the performers. The jokes feature excessive awkward pauses rather than punch-lines. The cast do their best with woeful, unimaginative material. Galifianakis, a hit-and-miss talent himself, is fine in his small-town-hero role. Meanwhile, Hamm is a force of charisma and likeability. Fisher’s screechiness ruins yet another role. Sadly, Gadot is yet to master anything beyond kicks and punches.
Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t deserve a one-word review, let alone all the words written by the world’s bloggers/reviewers. Like most 2016 movies, this lazy action-comedy evaporates from memory before leaving the theatre.
Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
Release date: October 20th, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: Cruise’s charisma.
Worst part: The daughter subplot.
A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.
Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.
Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio
Release date: September 29th, 2016
Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 133 minutes
Best part: The starry cast.
Worst part: Sarsgaard’s wacky villain.
The buddy/team-up flick typically goes one of two ways – disgustingly enjoyable for embarrassingly terrible. The better ones give audiences a grand ol’ time. 2016 has delivered several inconsequential team-up flicks (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, Now You See Me 2). The latestMagnificent Seven remake breaks that string of flops and never looks back.
The Magnificent Seven is as cool, calm and collected as everyone in front of and behind the camera. The John Sturges-directed/Yul Brynner-starring 1960 original is, of course, a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune classic Seven Samurai. The story centres on law-enforcement helper/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Vengeance-seeker Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tasks Chisolm with destroying her husband(Matt Bomer)’s killer, mining giant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Chisolm recruits six badasses – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to save Rose Creek from Bogue’s evil regime.
This badasses-banding-together premise is as tried and true as Hollywood itself. Seven Samurai‘s legacy influenced westerns, actioners and A Bug’s Life. Also, 1950s westerns pitted good-goodies (whitehats) and bad-baddies (blackhats) against one another. Similarly, this remake is smart in its simplicity. The aforementioned premise takes over the first half. Given 133 minutes, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective seasons 1 and 2) and Richard Wenk linger on Chisolm’s audition process. The introductions, on their own, aren’t particularly interesting. Horne’s opening scene is a highlight, showcasing a rare glimpse of old-era violence. The script provides vague glimpses at their backstories (Chisolm and Robicheaux’s, in particular). However, it explores the ensemble more than any particular member. The drama and comedy rely on blissful character interactions. Steadily, our titular crew assists the town and take on the snivelling bad guys. If it aint broke, I guess.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) takes the Washington-actioner reigns from the late Tony Scott. Fuqua’s slick style and pulsating action hit with brute force. Of course, our leads dodge bullets and hit their targets every time. However, its pacing, practical effects, and score amp up the thrills. The climax delivers an extended miasma of bullet holes and explosions. Like his other popcorn-chomping distractions (Olympus Has Fallen, The Shooter), it delivers slight twists on convention. Most importantly, it’s an advertisement for multiculturalism and gender equality. Overcoming limited dialogue, the Asian, American-indian, and Mexican characters give their African-American and caucasian counterparts a run for their money. Bennett delivers a scintillating, eye-opening introduction to wider audiences.
This newer, fresher Magnificent Seven is cinematic macaroni and cheese – clichéd but insatiably enjoyable. Despite the flaws (broad characters, twists etc. galore!), the cast and crew are worth the admission cost. Thankfully, I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. Sadly, the epilogue does not work!
Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna
Release date: August 31st, 2016
Distributor: SND Films
Country: France, USA
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.
Worst part: The gangbanger villains.
2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.
Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.
Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.
Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.
Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.
Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.
Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.
The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.
Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.
Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!
Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel
Release date: July 28th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.
The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.
Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.
Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.
Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.
Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana
Release date: July 21st, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA, China
Running time: 122 minutes
Best part: The central cast.
Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.
In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.
The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.
Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.
With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and Furious’ Tokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.
Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Release date: July 14th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: The four leads.
Worst part: The cameos.
No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.
It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.
The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.
Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.
Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.
Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)
Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes
Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.
Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.
Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!
Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.
Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.
Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.
The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt
Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe
Release date: June 23th, 2016
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: The old cast.
Worst part: The new cast.
Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!
The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).
Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.
This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.
Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper
Release date: June 16th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.
Worst part: The human characters.
Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.
Warcrafthas stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.
From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.
Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.
Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.
Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee
Release date: June 9th, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 112 minutes
Best part: The skydiving set-piece.
Worst part: The weak villains.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows encapsulates everything cheap and monotonous about modern Hollywood. It is not simply that it’s rote, or confused, tiresome etc., it’s that there is just nothing special about it. Despite the aim to please the core franchise audience, it fails on the basis of completely ignoring everyone else. This instalment is a poorly-handled and forgettable waste of significant filmmaking resources.
Despite the harsh words, Out of the Shadows is nowhere near as obnoxious and amateurish as the 2014 original/reboot. The original threw together focus-group logic and studio-executive desire into a soulless melting pot. The sequel sees our four reptilian warriors – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – wary of the humans around them. Afraid of exposure, the troupe – with Master Splinter(Tony Shalhoub)’s help – carefully choose opportunities to explore the outside world. Meanwhile, plucky journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) investigates renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s dealings with Shredder (Brian Tee). Shredder, escaping custody with the Foot Clan’s help, hires fellow escaped convicts Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) to execute a world-destroying plan.
Out of the Shadows cherry picks characters, plot-lines, iconography, and imagery from the TMNT movies, cartoons, comic books, merchandise, and video games. This instalment is strictly for die-hard fans, spending most of its 112-minute run-time on fan service and selling toys. Alongside the turtles and April’s antics, sub-plots including Vern Fenwick(Will Arnett)’s newfound fame, cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones(Stephen Amell)’s revenge mission, and alien baddie Krang(Brad Garrett)’s assault on Earth rear their ugly heads. The movie never allows its sub-plots or characters to develop beyond one or two dimensions. Its tone is almost unbearable, throwing in too many wacky elements at once. Intriguing ideas, including the turtles’ desire to become human, are overshadowed by bright lights and bubblegum.
Like with most blockbusters, Out of the Shadows‘ screenplay – written by TWO so-called ‘professionals’ – is overstuffed and weightless simultaneously. However, this movie is not for the critics. Developed and marketed for children, the target audience won’t mind the gaping plot-holes or lack of originality. The action is enjoyable, combining state-of-the-art motion-capture performance and technical wizardry. The cargo plane sequence adds several layers to this otherwise lifeless affair. The direction, special effects and humour combine effectively for this all-too-brief rollercoaster ride. The humans are more lifeless and irritating than their CGI counterparts. Fox, once again, delivers a flat performance guided by pure sex appeal. Amell provides a charmless Chris Pratt impression and toothy grin for the female viewers.
Out of the Shadows mines this once-popular franchise to the brink of collapse. For all the bright colours and flashing lights, this sequel proves only one thing – popularity and quality are not the same. The installment embarrasses the redeemable cast, hard-working production crew, and studios.
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco
Release date: June 2nd, 2016
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Running time: 129 minutes
Best part: The stacked cast.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.
The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.
In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.
Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.
Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.
Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly
Release date: April 22nd, 2016
Distributor: Focus Features
Running time: 92 minutes
Best part: Idris Elba.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.
Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.
The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.
Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac
Release date: May 19th, 2016
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 144 minutes
Best part: The stacked cast.
Worst part: The weak villain.
Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.
This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.
That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.
Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.
At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.
The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique makeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.
Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.
Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero
Premiere: March 18th, 2016
Best part: Jon Bernthal.
Worst part: A few too many episodes.
Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.
Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.
Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.
Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.
Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.
Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.
Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.
X-Men: Days of Future Past reinvigorated the beloved superhero franchise after the laughable misfires of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Though X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine did valuable work, Days of Future Past pulled fans back into the franchise and newcomers into its intricate plot and pacy vibe. The movie, described by Honest Trailers as a near carbon copy of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, played on familiar tropes with an effervescent glow. The plot bent and stretched the X-Men franchise’s chronology beyond comprehension. Like the varying mutant powers on display, the story requires a full suspension of disbelief.
Despite the inclusion of a naked Hugh Jackman, the original and First ClassX-Men casts, and the bizarre absence of Anna Paquin (you know, the MAIN character of the original 2000 flick?), there was one aspect of Days of Future Past critics and general audiences have refused to shut up about! Quicksilver, played by relative newcomer Evan Peters (Never Back Down, Kick-Ass), is as slick and scintillating as Wolverine and Magneto combined. Despite the surf-brand name, the character was key to the movie’s unbridled efficiency. He, introduced as a kleptomaniac with a desire to escape the basement, is one of the franchise’s more positive and charismatic characters. His existence yields several plot-holes (Why not take him on every mission? Their mission would be wrapped-up before lunch!). Thankfully, the character makes an immediate impact.
After springing Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of the Pentagon’s prison headquarters, Quicksilver – along with Erik, Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine, and Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) – is cornered by armed guards in a cramped kitchen space. So begins the movie’s standout, hold-onto-your-butts sequence – it’s up to Quicksilver to take out the guards and stop the bullets before any fly through anyone’s heads. This sequence is just one of many fun action beats this series has conjured up since its early-00s conception.
Like the exhilarating Nightcrawler-White House sequence from X2, the Quicksilver-kitchen sequence is a short, snappy highlight full of neat tricks. This 2-minute set-piece, backed up by Jim Croce’s 1973 folk-pop hit ‘Time in a Bottle’, was the tireless work of director Bryan Singer’s army of special effects crewmen and stunt coordinators. Thanks to the blockbuster filmmaking’s endless developments, Singer and co. reached new nooks and crannies. Whereas The Avengers and Man of Steel aimed for epic scopes and core emotions, Singer’s third X instalment scored visceral thrills and stylistic flourishes. This sequence proves superhero flicks don’t have to stick to a cinematic universe or dark, dreary introspection. Who knew, huh?
Singer’s immaculate direction elevates this sequence from dumb fun to substantial entertainment. The switch between speed-up and slo-mo establishes the character’s greatest feats. He – decked out in a silver jacket, walkman, Pink Floyd shirt, and thick goggles – encapsulates Singer’s pulpy version of the 1970s. His cinematic treatment illuminates Quicksilver’s boisterous sense of humour and uber-slick style. As all manner of plates, food-stuffs, and utensils fly through the air, he uses everything at his disposal. In one fell swoop, he tastes the soup flying through mid air, knocks off people’s hats, steal other people’s caps, watches water droplets bounce off him, and runs across the surrounding spherical walls.
Quicksilver’s core strengths elicit big laughs and hearty surprises. Quicksilver, needing to take out a troop of guards, utilises gravity and brute physical force to save his mutant buddies. He does everything from throwing plates into people’s faces to forcing guards to punch themselves in the face to using gun recoils against one another. Effects including rippling skin and slo-mo bullets build tension before the scene’s spectacular payoff. As the scene switches back to regular motion, we see the full force of Quicksilver’s power. Full-grown guards, pots, pans etc. are sent flying across the room. Logan, Erik, and Charles’ reactions say it all: Quicksilver is not to be crossed!
Stars: Stellan Skarsgard, Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Kristofer Hivju, Bruno Ganz
Release date: December 23rd, 2014
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: The scatological humour.
Worst part: The female characters.
Ever tried finding a needle in a haystack? Difficult, isn’t it? Well, imagine looking for a cocaine brick in a snowstorm. Now that’s a frustrating endeavour! This strange dilemma/contemplative thought sums up Norwegian crime-comedy In Order of Disappearance. In a year of unfunny comedies, expansive blockbusters, and cumbersome Oscar hopefuls, This crime-comedy wants to be known simply as: “that little Scandinavian flick that could”. Hey, there is nothing wrong with that!
Stellan Skarsgard as Nils.
In order of Disappearance strives to call out and dissect Hollywood’s sanitized, sanction-heavy practices. In fact, it skewers everything from influential gangster/action flicks to Europe’s crumbling economic status. Sure, this isn’t the first crime-comedy with a mean streak. Boiling-pot satires In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths did this years ago. Enough with this movie’s searing viewpoints, what is it actually about? Well, to put it simply, it’s about everything and nothing simultaneously. This vague statement will become relevant whilst watching it. It follows a near-retirement slow plough driver, Nils (Stellan Skarsgard), dragging himself from one day to the next. Despite being awarded Citizen of the Year by his quaint hometown, he feels unfulfilled and underappreciated by his family. His life takes a shocking turn after his son dies of a suspected drug overdose. As we see in the first few minutes, his son crossed the wrong drug traffickers. From that point forward, Nils’ life spirals out of control. His wife succumbs to shock and rage, his work life becomes a meaningless chore, and his well-being is destroyed. Certain revelations, preventing Nils from ending it all, propel Nils to keep going.
Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen as Greven.
Determined to destroy those responsible, Nils carries out a layered private investigation of a local mob outfit and their Serbian rivals. In Order of Disappearance, from the opening hunter-becomes-hunted set-piece onwards, develops several questionable plot-lines and character traits. Nils, a reliable and submissive worker-bee, can suddenly stalk, trick, and murder vicious criminals without prior experience. The movie leaves several twists and turns without reasonable explanation. Despite said logic gaps, the narrative itself is just so fascinating! Like Nils, you are constantly on the look out for surprises. This crime-comedy delivers constant thrills whilst never talking down to its unsuspecting audience. Keeping us constantly engaged, It places certain affectations and ideas into the backgrounds of certain sequences. The Norwegian drug-runners, led by eccentric douche Greven (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen), are comprised of blonde-haired, fashion-friendly, bloodthirsty badasses. These characters are given enough development and kooky traits to push the story along. In particular, it examines Greven’s inflated ego, vegan diet options, and modern art collections intensely. But hey, drug-traffickers and gangsters are people too.
“You Chinese are the Jews of Asia.” (Greven (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen), In Order of Disappearance).
Bruno Ganz as Papa.
In Order of Disappearance shoots down modern genre conventions and pop-cultural stigmas in a fiery bloodbath of comedic jabs. Like Nils stalking his victims, this crime-comedy pits modern Hollywood crime/action flicks against those from other countries. Paying homage to Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and Martin Scorsese, multiple scenes – in which henchmen delve into profound philosophical discussions – illustrate the movie’s intentions immaculately. It even rubs against the veteran-action-star trope. Nils’ sociopathic behavior repels us from the typical Liam Neeson/Denzel Washington/Keanu Reeves archetypes plaguing cinema screens today. Oddly enough, its comedic moments resonate more than the story or characters. The spirited direction and visual flourishes heighten the tension and profound emotional impact, giving its wacky moments greater impact. The slapstick sequences, hyper-violence, and witty dialogue add to the movie’s ever-lasting, self-referential glow. The movie lets its characters off the leash – henchmen frolic in the snow before their mission commences; Greven and his ex-wife’s quarrels become increasingly silly and idiotic; two homosexual gangsters seek to dispel common misconceptions. Somehow, it’s all in good taste.
Above all else, Skarsgard’s magnetic performance, as the deadly third-wheel, elevates this spirited crime-comedy. The top-tier character-actor, known for supporting roles in everything from Thor to Melancholia, excels as the silent yet soulful avenging angel. Thanks to its charismatic performances, insightful references, and attention to detail, this crime-comedy is a genre-bender willing to place Hollywood and Scandanavian crime-thriller on the chopping block.
Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
Release date: November 20th, 2014
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: The grimy visuals.
Worst part: The love triangle.
Let me stress this to film-goers and Hunger Games aficionados everywhere: this latest instalment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is a mixed bag. Following in the Harry Potter, Hobbit, and Twilight‘s footsteps, this first-half feature is purposefully messy. Ok, that’s unconfirmed. However, it sure seems tangible. The movie’s central action sequence solidifies this theory.Teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), eyes down an enemy bomber, takes a deep breath, and fires her bow. Despite the awesomeness, it’s the one time she uses her signature weapon here.
Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.
Setting everything up for Part 2 (coming mid to late 2015), Mockingjay – Part 1 constructs an obstacle course for itself. Spinning several plates at once, the story wobbles violently before its rescue. Part of another undeserving and needless trend, this instalment should have only been one 150-minute feature. However, to make an extra billion in box-office revenue, Lionsgate screwed the pooch. The story, such as it is, hurls us back into the desolate landscapes of Panem. Thankfully, this entry takes a wholly refreshing departure from the Games. Katniss, having survived the world-shattering events of Catching Fire, is on rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee(Philip Seymour Hoffman)’s watch. Applauded by Districts 1 through 12, she’s become the symbol of rebellion and hope. Previously unaware of District 13’s existence, she learns of several mind-numbing truths. Pulled into the resistance/Capitol war, her efforts spark significant unrest. Worried about friend/admirer Peeta(Josh Hutcherson)’s safety, she focuses on protecting her loved ones. Despite volunteer soldier Gale(Liam Hemsworth)’s long-lasting affections, Katniss’ resolve reaches breaking point. Armed by previous Games winner Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Katniss and Gale become the children of the revolution.
Philip Seymour Hoffman & Julianne Moore.
Similarly to Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay already suffers from studio interference. Almost always, splitting one narrative into two causes major structural flaws. In no other instance would this tactic be acceptable. So, why does this multi-billion dollar industry do it? Beyond the monetary gain, mass fandom influences these decisions. The fans, infatuated with Suzanne Collins’ original material and/or these adaptations, form a tight-knit community. Predictably, despite the cast and crew’s efforts, this installment doesn’t work by itself. It’s wafer thin narrative yields overwhelming major and minor flaws. The first half, specifically the painfully dour first act, explores our distraught lead’s psyche. Aided by former Hunger Games victor Finnick O’Dair (Sam Claflin), she flips between rousing anger and teary-eyed remorse. The movie unevenly plonks certain sequences next to one another. Though emphasising the consequences and stakes, it’s repetitiveness and bloated narrative are repulsive. The story leaves little but charred corpses, random set-pieces, and heavy-handed rants to connect with. The Capitol, however, still comes off like the Empire. The tension builds whenever moustache-twirler President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) appear. Sadly, this instalment takes the arrow away from the bow. Katniss, by focusing entirely on Peeta and Gale instead of the world around her, becomes yet another love-struck Young Adult heroine. Slipping from Catching Fire‘s grit to Divergent‘s distasteful pandering, this instalment never establishes its love triangle. Katniss, the only well-developed and charismatic character of the three, almost becomes Bella Swan here (but could still kick her ass!).
“You will rescue Peeta at the earliest opportunity, or you will find another Mockingjay.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).
Despite the complaints, Mockingjay – Part 1 is still a worthwhile installment. Here, Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water For Elephants) becomes this series’ David Yates. Displaying a bright infatuation for the franchise, his earthy direction – previously bolstering Catching Fire – grounds this expansive universe. Ditching the original’s shaky-cam/washed-out aesthetic, Lawrence’s cinematic flourishes boost this otherwise haphazard entry. Luckily, the movie’s last third builds significant tension and thrills. In addition, the political subtext overshadows its threadbare story. This installment examines the resistance’s larger-than-life propaganda machine. A camera crew, led by punky director/Capitol escapee Cressida (Natalie Dormer), follows Katniss and co. around whilst surveying the despair and destruction. This time around, popular characters Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) butt heads with revolution big-wigs over Katniss’ fate. Forget 3D and IMAX – this instalment launches its convoluted agenda from all angles. Katniss, forced into advertisements and viral marketing schemes, goes through several peculiar situations. Judging by just a few expressions, she’s more comfortable murdering small children than reciting lines and trying on fashionable military attire. Lawrence, switching between indie-drama experiments and major franchises, connects with the crowd-pleasing material. Amplifying the character’s physical and emotional transformations, the 23-year-old mega-star – displaying exceptional singing skills in one vital scene – displays more class than her more-experienced co-stars. New additions Moore, Dormer, and Mahershala Ali add gravitas as vital resistance players.
The major problems with Mockingjay – Part 1 have little to do with its actors, screenwriters, or director. Similarly to the Capitol, Lionsgate’s overbearing gaze affects everything involved. The infamous split-in-two decision sucks this instalment dry. Katniss doesn’t help either: becoming a shrill, unfavourable, and indignant YA trope. Fighting only for herself, her barely defined family members, and two bland super-zeroes, the Girl on Fire is now extinguishing her own flames. Sadly, the Mockingjay is struggling to take flight. Let’s hope Part 2 drops the attitude and picks up the bow.
Verdict: Half a Hunger Games flick (for better or worse).
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Release date: November 6th, 2014
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.
Worst part: The exasperating length.
Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster,Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.
Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.
So, how did Interstellargarner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook several exponential changes. Working from brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.
Interstellarbares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).
Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.
Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.
Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.
Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.
Writers: Nick Stafford (play), Michael Morpurgo (novel)
Stars: Jack Monaghan, Nicholas Bishop, Andy Williams, Nicola Stephenson
Premiere date: 2007
Best part: The puppetry.
Worst part: The exhaustive story.
Broadway and the West End are the dreamscapes of aspiring theatre actors, directors, and playwrights. As theatre’s most prestigious hubs, they light up the night’s sky with billboards and prowess. Productions including Les Miserables, Wicked, and The Lion King have garnered huge profit margins and critical acclaim several times over. Nowadays, the world’s biggest cinema and theatre industries have a helluva lot in common. In fact, said theatre productions drastically overshadow the industry’s smaller players.
Joey and Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan).
War Horse is a prime example of big-budget theatre’s stranglehold over New York, London, and everywhere in between. Despite its immense power, the play is only one minuscule part of a multi-billion dollar franchise. The play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 smash hit children’s novel, turns a modest fantasy tale into an exhaustive and overwrought epic. Originally, Morpurgo thought the adaptation was a bad idea. Now, as the royalty cheques flood in, he’s keeping his mouth shut. See, even the world’s most prestigious entertainment hubs are wrought with opportunistic business dealings. No one is innocent! Today, though Steven Spielberg’s misjudged 2011 cinematic adaptation flew in one ear and out the other, the play still works. Just remember, as you walk up the New London theatre’s winding staircases, this adaptation was never considered original or revelatory. The narrative, sticking close to the original story, covers multiple time periods and character arcs. Under the guise of our equine hero, the story depicts war, love, chaos, and heartache. Bought at a Devon auction by alcoholic farmer Ted Narracott (Andy Williams) for 39 guineas (a baffling amount for a poor man in the early 20th century), the horse becomes his son Albert(Jack Monaghan)’s best friend. Named “Joey” by the young farm-hand, the horse is heavily scrutinised by Albert’s mother Rose (Nicola Stephenson) and Ted’s wealthy brother Arthur (Nigel Betts). Trained to plow, the horse becomes the family farm’s lifeblood.
One of many war scenes.
Premiering at the National Theatre in 2007, War Horse is a long-lasting theatre staple. Drawing mass audiences to London’s busiest district, the premise resonates with multiple demographics and tastes. Fit for action junkies, youngsters, criers, and frustrated parents, this production crafts the perfect recipe for appeal. It’s fit for every king, queen, soldier, and stable boy across London. Defined by immense storytelling and technical precision, the production is worth every penny. Despite the positives, War Horse gallops into many deathtraps before reaching its heartbreaking finale. The flaws, carried over Morpurgo’s original material, nearly trample this page-to-stage experiment. Playwright Nick Stafford crafts a similarly indulgent and treacle adaptation. Despite dodging Joey’s point of view, the non-human characters cause several unfortunate foibles. Being one of modern literature’s most nondescript and manipulative characters, our lead only carries so much, ahem, horsepower. Stretching to fit the monstrous 160-minute run-time, the narrative darts into several meaningless and hokey directions. After winning over the farmland and town, Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Nicholas Bishop). What follows is an egregious war-drama depicting slaughter, prisoners of war, sacrifice, and raw courage. Switching from comfortably comedic and viscerally bleak, the topsy-turvy story is untamable. In the transition from humble page-turner to sweeping epic, the story’s emotional impact and thematic weight becomes wholly diluted.
“We’ll be alright Joey. We’re the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you.” (Albert Narracott (Jack Monaghan), War Horse).
The production true majesty.
Forcing us to care about its sorrowful characters and dour narrative, War Horse is blindingly manipulative. The second half, following Albert into World War I after Joey, delivers several fine twists and turns. However, the human characters – given little development – serve only to admire our equine warrior. Despite the weepy moments, the story never solidifies Albert’s affection for Joey. However, despite the story and character foibles, the production itself elevates the material. Galloping between set pieces, story-lines, and characters, the show saddles up the beast, brushes it clean, and shows it off to the adoring public. An example of style and spectacle over substance, it works in fits and starts. In fact, certain set pieces deliver many thrills and chills. Delving into magical realism, the production crafts a balance between sprawling wild fantasy and gritty conflict. Aiming for David Lean’s signature story tropes and visuals, the production survives on technical achievements and wholehearted direction. One scene, examining the story’s true potential, delves straight into the war. After Joey is trapped in barbed wire, a British and German officer work together to free him from a bloody demise. In this scene, the equine and human characters exude enough empathy to captivate a modern audience. Most importantly, the Handspring Puppet Company deliver unparalleled compositions. Handled by three puppeteers (listed as the head, heart, and hind), the horse puppet is a meticulous creation. Constructed of an intricate wire frame, the horse characters are much more fascinating than their human counterparts.
Reaching for its own stellar reputation, War Horse crafts seminal moments and value-for-money entertainment. Thanks to stellar direction, puppetry, and performances, this soulful drama reaches a wide audience. Predictably, this is one of the West End’s most awe-inspiring productions. However, carrying major story and character flaws, the production never capitalizes on its premise. For all the crashes and bangs, the play is as manipulative as the titular creature.
Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena
Release date: October 24th, 2014
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: The tank battles.
Worst part: The machismo dialogue.
Considering his current critical and commercial acclaim, It’s hard to believe actor/producer Brad Pitt was once considered one of Hollywood’s most irritating personalities. Back in the early 1990s, general audiences and film aficionados beat his reputation into submission. However, within just two years, the hat-trick of True Romance, 12 Monkeys, and Se7en hurled him into the stratosphere. After this ball-busting trifecta’s release, people saw a thespian instead of a dumb-looking pretty boy.
Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman.
In Tinseltown’s latest war-actioner, Fury, his character’s introduction asks a valuable question: Seriously, what would the world be like without this spirited performer? Guiding this flick through the trenches, the 50-year-old mega-star throws everything at the intriguing material. Thanks to his cool persona, fun sense of humour, stunning looks, and immense physicality, he is exactly who men want to be and women want to be with. So, beyond my overwhelming man crush, is Fury worth saving from tyranny or destroying with a big f*ucking tank? Thankfully, it falls into the former. The story delivers a horrifying take on World War II’s battlefields and mass graves. It’s April 1945, and the Allies have snatched the European Theatre of War from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The narrative is, remarkably so, constructed by one extended take. The first shot depicts a Nazi officer straddled atop a white horse. Striding through a smoke-and-blood-stained war-zone, the mounted superior is ambushed and murdered by a beige-covered soldier. This murderous man is battle-hardened US Army Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt). Wardaddy – holding up the 66th Armour regiment, 2nd Armoured division – commands a M4A3E8 Sherman tank called, you guessed it, “Fury”. We meet his crew – gunner T/5 Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), driver CPL Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and loader PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (John Bernthal) – mourning their assistant driver/bow gunner’s gruesome demise.
Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena & Jon Bernthal.
Having toured together since the North African Campaign, the crew despises everything. Recently enlisted typist PVT Norman “Machine” Ellison(Logan Lerman), having zero warfare experience, becomes a major obstacle during the team’s latest mission. Guided by CPT “Old man” Waggoner (Jason Isaacs), the squad pushes straight through the Fatherland. These events, taking up the simmering first third, develop Fury‘s heart and soul. Introducing the team and tank within the opening shot, Fury defends this loyal squad the way Wardaddy defends his Macklemore haircut. Playing to his strengths, writer/director David Ayer (Street Kings, End of Watch) ditches the mean streets of Los Angeles for the meaner landscapes of 20th-century Germany. Ayer proves himself to be a better story-teller than screenwriter. Guided by egos and wavering accents, the movie approves of its characters’ despicable behaviour. In fact, it may prove too much for some liberal-minded viewers. Developing a 134-minute dick-measuring contest, its ‘badass’ lines and brutal images craft a relentless take on WWII. Throughout the narrative, as the team surges from one battle to the next, the team serves to talk down to, then pick back up, Lerman’s character. Ayer’s story and character tropes – brotherhood, death, masculinity, existential angst – are lathered on thick. Pitt, LaBeouf, Pena, and Bernthal’s characters are given little development. However, the team itself tugs Fury‘s emotional threads. Analysing their broken-down psyches, the movie fights for our blood-stained anti-heroes through the worst.
“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” (Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), Fury).
The gang of Fury.
Essentially, Fury is an intensifying concoction of Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, and Inglorious Basterds. Sheltered within its dour and morose middle-third, one sequence delivers a slice of humility. Wardaddy and Norman find two pretty, blonde women in an apartment. Despite their positive-role-model personas, they carry out a bizarre form of statutory rape. Soon after, the entire team argues around the breakfast table. This standout sequence, upping the tension and pathos, marks Ayer’s evolution from adrenaline-fuelled pyro-head to seasoned, mature filmmaker. Beyond the invigorating character moments, the action sequences are worth the admission cost. Resembling the Call of Duty video-game franchise, these sequences put several clunky vehicles to the test. As guts, bullets, and emotions fly, the movie’s technical precision and gravitas match that of the year’s biggest blockbusters. The tank battles, ascending in quality, deliver edge-of-your-seat moments and magnificent visual flourishes. In addition, the last third’s 300-style, few-against-many set piece delivers an exhaustive roller-coaster ride. Most importantly, Roman Vasyanov’s uncompromising cinematography fuels Ayer’s vision. Diving into the filth, his precise camera-work and muted colour palette bolster the movie’s aura. Like most Ayer efforts, the performances overshadow the screenwriting and directorial flaws. Pitt, using his Lt. Aldo Raine voice, is powerful as the all-encompassing leader. Shedding his pretty-boy persona, his charisma tares through flesh and bone.
Hurling us into the hot seat, Fury creates enough surprises, thrilling moments, and heart-breaking performances to fire on all cylinders. Carrying its strong-minded agenda, the movie delivers more gravitas and emotional heft than expected. Crafting one of 2014’s biggest surprises, Ayer’s action-direction and attention to detail overshadow his screenwriting foibles. Pushing the tension and violence into overdrive, this war-actioner ranks among the year’s brightest blockbusters.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo
Release date: September 26th, 2014
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 132 minutes
Best part: Washington’s aura.
Worst part: The inexcusable run-time.
Nowadays, with franchises controlling Hollywood’s back account, star power and name recognition don’t mean sh*t! Craving attention from studios, critics, and fans, A-list actors walk an ever-so-skinny tight rope between eternal success and straight-to-DVD hell. One man, becoming a shining example of big-screen staying power, has become a role model for aspiring actors the world over. Winning Best Actor back in 2001, mega-star Denzel Washington has since made the most of his immense prowess.
Denzel Washington doin’ his thing!
If nothing else, his new actioner, The Equalizer, exists solely to honour one of this generation’s most inspiring performers. Having spent his early career delivering heart-breaking performances in docudramas like Malcolm X and Glory, Washington has steered his post-Oscar career in a wholly different direction. Carrying many action-thrillers across the line, the veteran actor’s staggering range and charisma continually draw people back to the cinema. In fact, The Equalizerhas already been slated to make big bucks over its opening weekend. Nowadays, Washington-led actioners and early-morning iPhone launches are the only two things guaranteed to deliver significant profit margins. Once again, the 59-year-old plays a badass on a mission dictated by God, the Devil, and the local mafia. Washington plays Robert McCall, a middle-aged simpleton working at the local Walmart rip-off. A hit with his co-workers, McCall leads a charmed life guided by a specific routine. His life – consisting of work, friends, reading, and the local diner – is hearteningly succinct. Obviously, this isn’t how he used to live. Being a former intelligence offer (for an unnamed organisation), McCall’s skills outmatch those of everyone in and around Boston. After befriending underage prostitute Teri (Chloe Crace Moretz), McCall begins to move on from his wife’s death. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, he goes on a monstrous rampage through the Russian mob, the police, and the government.
Chloe Grace Moretz in a bland role.
Before I lambast The Equalizer for its many flaws, I’ll commend it for establishing Washington as Hollywood’s most alluring A-lister. Like Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, the star pulls his movies through thick and thin. However, even he can’t save this action-thriller from the critical doldrums. Sadly, the movie has no idea what it wants to be or do. The movie – for the first 40 minutes, in particular – skulks aimlessly like a restless former spy. Some scenes – depicting him helping his friend lose weight, making the winning catch in a baseball game, or completing his household chores – serve little purpose. Dragging its wafer-thin story for 132 minutes, this action-thriller delivers several false starts and bum notes. Sadly, the first half hurriedly drifts from the consciousness. Throwing in more-than-enough genre tropes, plot-threads, comic reliefs, and minor twists, the character-study-esque first third – despite our lead’s intriguing behaviour and vague backstory – will make viewers pine for silly fist-fights, shoot-outs, and explosions. Eventually, well past the point of no return, McCall goes Old Testament on pimps, gangsters, corrupt cops, and senior mobsters. Washington – displaying his undeniable presence within the movie’s many daring scenarios – crafts a ferocious, pseudo-Christian saviour worth supporting. Unfortunately, in melding the bland first third with the action-and-exposition-heavy second and last thirds, the movie becomes a mess not even our all-powerful anti-hero can fix!
“I am offering you a chance to do the right thing. Take it.” (Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), The Equalizer).
Marton Csokas getting some well-deserved recognition.
Despite the confused tone and inconsistent pacing, The Equalizer never forgets to have fun. As the movie switches from suburban drama-thriller to balls-out action extravaganza, our lead character becomes increasingly more interesting. Timing himself with a stop-watch to refine his routine, Washington’s anti-hero bares several neat traits. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) revels in McCall’s super-human abilities. Flaunting McCall’s martial arts macho, intelligence, and DIY skills, Fuqua’s style yearns for our approval. His action – though marred by quick cuts, dimly-lit settings, and shaking cameras – delivers more-than-enough chills, tension, and “Ouch!” moments. The climactic action sequence – set in McCall’s workplace – becomes an ultra-visceral, Home Alone-esque thrill-ride. Based loosely on a 1980s TV series, Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk’s adaptation picks up and drops several signature characteristics without warning. McCall, despite suffering slight shades of Obsessive compulsive disorder, never develops beyond the tragic-vigilante archetype. Despite this, Washington’s insatiable talent kicks the movie into overdrive. Using every line, facial expression, and mannerism to his advantage, the A-lister cements his tough-guy status here. Kiwi character-actor Marton Csokas almost steals the show as Russian freelance hitman, Teddy. Described by Melissa Leo’s character as a: “sociopath with a business card”, his slimy, adept antagonist becomes a fun sparring partner. Sadly, commendable actors including Moretz, Bill Pullman, and David Harbour are left stranded in shallow roles.
It’s not simply that The Equalizer is a bad movie, it’s that there’s nothing special about it. Though far from the 2014’s worst action flick, this one forgets to connect with with audiences and critics. Certainly, everyone gets a kick out of seeing Washington eviscerate five mobsters, in under 20 seconds, without breaking a sweat. However, everything else about this revenge-thriller screams trouble. Despite Washington’s immense charms, his latest schlocker tries too hard to be Man on Fire. Unfortunately, Fuqua ain’t no Tony Scott!
Verdict: A disarming yet by-the-numbers action-thriller.
Writers: Scott Frank (screenplay), Lawrence Block (novel)
Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook
Release date: September 19th, 2014
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 113 minutes
Best part: Neeson’s charisma.
Worst part: The near-laughable bleakness.
Believe it or not, grimy pot-boiler A Walk Among the Tombstones is a game-changer. Recently, a specific trend has pulled scores of action-loving cinema-goers back to the theatre. This particular current, sprouting up only a couple of years ago, has been kind certain demographics. In addition, the big-name actors involved have been given full-scale career revivals. Thanks to Kevin Costner vehicle 3 Days to Kill and Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua’s latest collaboration The Equalizer, this resurgence of veteran anti-heroes shows no sign of slowing down.
Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.
With A Walk Among the Tombstones, one headliner is making amends for recent poor career choices. Liam Neeson, despite being one of Hollywood’s most popular leads, has recently been dealt several hits and misses. Since 2008’s surprise hit Taken, the Irish badass has landed major studio gigs from The A-Team to A Million Ways to Die in the West. Picking every script he’s given, his immense charisma and professionalism support his A-list status. Having languished in Non-Stop‘s reputation-destroying aura, his latest effort makes for a remarkable return to form. The story, despite resembling Neeson’s preceding sleep-walk-like efforts, delivers enough thrills to win over detractors. In the first scene, set in 1991, troubled detective Matthew Scudder (Neeson) – whilst on duty – walks into a bar, downs an Irish coffee, then skims the headlines. Soon after, three latino gang-bangers kill the bartender, steal some cash, and leave. After Scudder thwarts the robbery, the movie jumps to 1999. We then follow Scudder – now an unlicensed private investigator aided by Alcoholics Anonymous – through the ultimate doomsday mission. Hired by notorious drug kingpin Kenny Kristo and his dodgy brother (Boyd Holbrook), our lead tracks down Kenny’s wife’s kidnappers. The perpetrators, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), are on a kidnap/murder rampage without end. Along the way, Scudder’s friendship with street urchin T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) becomes a distraction.
Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.
Based on Lawrence Block’s highly-rated crime novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones tackles the famed writer’s tropes with vigour and confidence. The narrative, etching itself into the consciousness, embraces its airport-thriller roots whilst crafting its own identity. Teetering between Neeson-action and crime-thriller ticks, the movie’s intentions strike a chord. Unlike most ‘Neesoners’, known to delve into dull pure nonsense, the movie’s existential shades and killers-punishing-criminals premise elevate it above most big-budget schlockers. As one of 2014’s more invigorating efforts, the story steadily, and intelligently, moves from one plot-point and revelation to the next. Like with Scandinavian detective-thrillers, the narrative revels in the genre’s darkest-possible tones. As the investigation takes several disturbing turns, the movie switches between grounded character study, fun actioner, and bleak crime-drama. From the first highly disturbing frame onwards, writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) succinctly, and passionately, delicately covers the material’s moral, ethical, and thematic depths. Examining every intrinsic detail, this adaptation turns mind-numbing and derivative ideas into worthwhile bursts of energy. His narrative, breaking off into slight sub-plots and character arcs, injects emotion and stakes into key moments. However, with Frank’s infatuation with Block turned up to 11, the darkness becomes laughable within the second and third acts.
“I do favours for people. In return, they give me gifts.” (Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), A Walk Among the Tombstones).
Our killers on the loose!
Fuelled by unlikeable people, disturbing crimes, paranoia, and tragic backstories, this concentrated dose of evil becomes tiresome and nonsensical. By setting this action-thriller in 1999, themes of identity crisis and man-made chaos come with the territory. Sadly, the Y2K commentary escapes the central, police-procedural plot-line. Reserved for only a couple of throwaway lines, the themes rift against the cop-thriller vibe. However, despite the over-ambitiousness, Frank still crafts emotional heft whenever possible. Thanks to Mihai Malaimaire, Jr.’s cinematography, the movie’s atmospheric aesthetic bolsters Frank’s straight-laced direction. Adding unique camera angles and movements to peculiar sequences, his flourishes bolster this otherwise morbid experience. In addition, the sound design amplifies each action beat. Elevating Scudder’s significant presence, the gunshots and punches strike with brute force. Despite the positives, the movie occasionally delves into bafflingly pretentious tangents. Marked by slo-mo flourishes and a manipulative score, certain scenes do little but extend the movie’s egregious run-time. However, even in its corniest moments, Neeson’s otherworldly aura lends gravitas to this stock-standard crime-thriller. Fitting the tragic anti-hero role like a glove, his thunderous tone and impressive frame make up for the character’s cliched development. Boosting his polarising action-hero resurgence, the movie makes for a major step in the right direction. In addition, Stevens, a breakout star thanks to Downton Abbey and The Guest, excels in his underwritten, Red Herring role.
Resembling 90s-style crime-thrillers like Ransom and Payback, A Walk Among the Tombstones comes off like a Mel Gibson vehicle driven by a universe-conquering Irishman. Bolstered by Neeson’s monstrous aura, the movie excels whenever he’s on-screen. Thankfully, that’s most of the time. However, despite Frank’s competent screenplay and direction, some stylistic and thematic choices hinder this hearty effort. Adding to 2014’s film noir/crime-thriller resurgence, the movie flaunts Hollywood’s gothic/manic-depressive side.
Known for playing idiotic teenagers and clueless action heroes, Keanu Reeves has certainly had a unique and fascinating career. Headlining hit actioners including Point Break, the Matrix trilogy, and Speed, the Canadian actor, director, and musician is at home in the genre. Lately, however, his interests have switched to directing kung-fu flicks like Man of Thai Chi and documentaries like Side by Side. So, having been six years since his last guns-and muscles action role (as a grizzled cop in Street Kings), why has he returned? Well, despite the hefty financial gain, it appears his latest explosion-fest, John Wick, may actually be much better than what the title suggests. Even Wick’s signature line winks at Reeves’ latest career one-eighty: “People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m back.”
Reeves plays the titular character in this potentially enthralling action-thriller. Going by the poster, we can discern that his character – an unshaven, ultra-slick badass – is gunning for blood. Peeling back a significant part of the movie’s wafer-thin plot, the trailer lets our characters off their leashes. After his puppy/gift from his dying wife is killed by intruders, Wick comes out of mercenary retirement to recover his weapons and eviscerate those responsible. Fuelled by tough-guy posturing, revving engines, neon-soaked nightclubs, and gunplay, the trailer has enough chutzpah to boost even the most cynical critic’s expectations. With a cast rounded out by John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, and Adrianne Palicki, this movie might become one of this/next year’s biggest surprises. In addition, moving away from the Raid series’ relentless aura, the action and violence seem – by Hollywood standards – refreshingly watchable.
We’ll find out when John Wick premieres in the US on October 24th. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!
Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.
Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.
With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!
Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.
These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.
“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).
Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.
Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.
Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.
Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late.
Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Release Date: August 20th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 89 minutes
Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.
Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.
Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.
Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!
Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.
Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.
Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.
“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).
Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!
A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.
Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.
Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.
Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson
Release date: August 14th, 2014
Running time: 126 minutes
Best part: Snipes and Banderas.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Dark Knight? In particular, the part where The Joker mashes on a detonator to set off a firestorm of explosions? Now, do me a favour: picture that scene, then apply it to the Expendables franchise. Over the course of three movies, the directors, actors, and ‘writers’ involved have done little more than mash on detonators and watch studio-approved pyrotechnics light up the sky. Here, our pathos-driven Expendables come out all guns blazing for one last hurrah. The Expendables 3 is, at the very least, an efficient and amusing way to waste two hours.
Sylvester Stallone at his baddest!
Nowadays, action flicks – leaning on extreme expectations from young, middle-aged, and old cinema-goers alike – are continually shot down by harsh critical backlash. Despite making piles of money higher than Scarface’s cocaine mountain, this series is seen as being the nadir of blockbuster filmmaking. More so, its cast members are laughed at for drifting through an extreme aura of denial. However, thanks to cinema heavyweight Sylvester Stallone’s influence, there’s something just so intriguing about these movies! This time around, Stallone and co. delivered a gargantuan marketing campaign. Willing to roll tanks through the Cannes Film Festival, this cast and crew lap up the attention they so desperately crave. Obviously, The Expendables 3 is not looking to be a straight-laced meta-narrative about the perils of getting older. Here, Stallone’s army is simply having a grand ol’ time in the spotlight. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the aforementioned team losing members left and right. Breaking original Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a fortified prison locomotive, Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) meet up with Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) to track down more bad guys and send them to hell! Unsurprisingly, their Somalia mission goes horribly wrong when arms dealer/former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) severely harms one of our muscle-and-wrinkle-bound heroes.
Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes’ friendship on a…knife’s edge.
Obviously, this series has suffered its fair share of hits and misses. The 2010 original, thanks to cheap CGI and a diminutive scope, tripped over its own intriguing premise. However, 2012’s sequel delivered several testosterone-driven set pieces and ‘f*ck yeah!’ moments. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 defies the odds whilst sticking to its guns…and knives…and colostomy bags. Running its premise ragged, this instalment could, and should, follow its poster’s advice and establish itself as that “one last ride”. Upping the stakes and scale immediately, this sequel displays more signs of life than our ageing screen icons. It delivers everything you’d expect: train/helicopter chases, car chases, knife fights, shootouts, explosions, funny lines, emotionally gripping twists, and more deaths than The Wild Bunch… and that’s all within the first 20 minutes! The opening set pieces, developing a consistent tone, launch this sequel into overdrive. Sadly, Stallone takes everything a little too much to heart. Firing his near-retiree buddies, Stallone’s roided-out stature goes looking for fresh meat. Sadly, despite mercenary turned recruiter Bonaparte(Kelsey Grammer)’s sage advice, the middle third stalls an otherwise promising actioner. Stripping away its nostalgic glow, the youngsters – rounded out by hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), Vegas bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and weapons specialist Mars (Victor Ortiz) – lack their elders’ overt charisma. Adding zero gravitas to the conventional narrative, the middle third is salvaged only by zany badasses Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas). In addition, the original members transition from vicious warriors into jealous buffoons.
“Jing-a-lang, jang-a-lang…” (Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), The Expendables 3).
Antonio Banderas as kooky mercenary Galgo.
Beyond the vicious piracy scandals, The Expendables 3 is still one of Lionsgate’s biggest box-office weapons. However, Despite director Patrick Hughes(Red Hill)’s commendable intentions, the screenwriters and post-production workers spray a hellfire of bullets into this fresh corpse. Delivering dodgy CGI, cheap stock footage, distracting film grains, and off-kilter voice dubbing, this heavy-duty juggernaut hasn’t been taken care of. Delivering a near-inexcusable final product, Stallone and co. should know better by now. However, thanks to Hughes’ searing direction and the cast’s enthusiasm, The Expendables 3 is a franchise standout! The action, though choppy to accommodate the PG13+ rating, fires on all cylinders. Utilising its performers’ abilities, the fight choreography lands several effecting blows. With Hughes hitting his stride, these sequences deliver enough explosions, knife attacks, and gunshots to take down a small army. In fact, that’s exactly what our plucky heroes do in the hell-bells final third. Throwing in tanks, helicopters, Harrison Ford, and Jet Li, this extended action sequence delivers well-charged thrills and energetic back-and-fourths between fan favourites. Despite the stupidity, motorcycle stunts and falling buildings add to the immense spectacle. In addition, as expected, our leads’ rapport is worth the ever-increasing admission cost. As the franchise’s saviour, Stallone carries the lead role with style and gusto. Getting along with Statham and co., his immense presence elevates hokey material. In addition, Snipes and Banderas are wholly aware of the movie they’re in. Blissfully, their charm offensives sit well with the series’ baffling stupidity.
With Stallone and the gang keeping everything afloat, at this point, this series has, unquestionably, said everything it could ever hope to say! With a fourth instalment and The Expendabelles on the cards, I can only hope they recruit some better screenwriters and post-production staffers to salvage the mission. Obviously, hiring Shane Black or John Woo would deliver that truly brilliant Expendables flick we’ve been waiting for. However, compared to 2014’s other nostalgia-driven actioners, you could do a helluva lot worse than this low-three-and-a-half-star explosive thrill-ride.
Verdict: A charming yet transparent explosion fest.
In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.
Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!
Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend, we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.
John Hurt – King of Paycheques!
Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.
“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).
An even-more-badass Ian McShane.
Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting characters are sorely underdeveloped.
In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik
Release date: July 25th, 2014
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 89 minutes
Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.
Worst part: The overblown final third.
French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.
ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.
“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).
Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.
With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.
From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.
Stars: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
Release date: July 18th, 2014
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 103 minutes
Best part: Grillo’s hard-edged performance.
Worst part: The idiotic supporting characters.
Occasionally, and I’m saying very occasionally, a big-budget franchise will listen to, and take notes from, its eager-to-please fans. They, overcoming their own bloated egos, turn to the average Joe for advice on saving their most precious creations. One such example involves a newly gestating horror series and its invigorating premise. The Purge series, pushing its characters through hell and back, has boosted its shaky reputation on our dime.
Before continuing on, I should explain what I am taking about. Whilst walking out of the original Purge feature, many folks pleaded for this series to start embracing its more outlandish ideas. Ignoring its premise in favour of a generic home-invasion plot, the original bewildered and underwhelmed horror aficionados and common filmgoers everywhere. Creating an opposing side for this blood-stained coin, the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, takes its arresting ideas and runs with them into the night. Gloriously, this instalment begins by erasing and re-writing its own dodgy rulebook. Within the inter-titles, the premise is whole-heartedly established as a force for good within our dying world. Every year, for one night only, America’s citizens are given the freedom to do whatever they want. Labelled ‘The Purge’ by the New Founding Fathers of America, this 12-hour event allows the public to commit heinous and disgraceful acts without police, fire department, or emergency service interference. Rape, murder, arson, looting etc. are all on the table here, as the nation invests in war instead of peace. Seems farfetched? Oh, you have no idea! This movie chronicles the Purge of 2023, as the world starts to uncover the cracks this event has caused overtime. First off, we meet Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). Out for revenge over the harrowing hit-and-run death of his son, Barnes is determined to bring the irresponsible driver to justice.
Kiele Sanchez & Zach Gilford.
I’ll stop right there, because I just described this silly yet entertaining instalment’s most interesting plot-strand. By continuing on, I’ll only be ruining audience expectations. Make no mistake; The Purge: Anarchy is significantly better than the bland and boring original. As a tiresome retread of Panic Room, the original spends too much time alluding to intriguing concepts whilst delivering stupid characters and a stack of horror clichés. This instalment, though not without its flaws, comes out swinging by sticking to its implausible premise. Stranding itself in Downtown Los Angeles, a crime-ridden metropolitan labyrinth in itself, this instalment answers to our suggestions whilst delivering a more interesting narrative. In addition to Barnes’ tale, we’re introduced to a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), on the verge of separation. Targeted by mask-donning warriors, the couple’s car breaks down, in LA’s business district, shortly before the annual slash-fest begins. Meanwhile, an African-American woman, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), are targeted by a Black Ops-like unit tasked with abducting lower class people and delivering them to one-percenters. The narrative, despite getting off on the right foot, throws in far too many contrivances, dumb characters, and plot holes. How do our leads all meet up in the same place at the same time? I don’t know, seeming as how the movie shrugs it off like a bullet wound. Beyond the glowing positives, the predictable twists and turns nullify the final product.
“People like us, we don’t survive tonight!” (Liz (Kiele Sanchez), The Purge: Anarchy).
The ultimate nightmare!
Fit for a late-night run-time on cable TV, this pulpy action-horror flick cheapens itself with laughable dialogue, distracting sub-plots, and a sappy denouement. Despite the issues, which may eventually hinder this series’ continuing existence, the movie earns points back by delivering on everything it promises. Looking past the trite narrative and inconsistent character motivations, writer/director James DeMonaco successfully ups the ante with this $9 million franchise buffer. Aiming for a pulpy Escape From New York vibe, DeMonaco’s fetishistic visual style delivers several thrilling moments and memorable images. One scene, in which our revenge-toting lead straps on Kevlar and guns, closely resembles the Punisher comic-book series. DeMonaco, aware that comic-book flicks and post-apocalyptic actioners are all the rage now, sticks to what he does best. His action, despite the odd shaky-cam disturbance, heightens the thrill-ride factor. Thanks to Barnes’ badass military skills, several shootouts and fistfights deliver on what this wild premise promises. Thankfully, Grillo has enough charisma and physical prowess to boost this generic role. Bolstered by Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grillo is certainly an actor to watch out for. However, the supporting characters, and the actors playing them, are nothing but two-dimensional distractions. With attitudes and intensity levels flying, these people all become irritating and unnecessary.
Certainly, if the Purge existed in real life, it wouldn’t have the desired effect. In fact, with The Purge: Anarchy sprouting viewpoints about everything from gun violence to population control, this series comes close to resembling a Republican wet dream. However, despite the premise’s sheer implausibility, it’s worth standing up and cheering whenever a gruesome murder or ‘fu*k yeah!’ moment occurs. Nowadays, considering the state of modern horror, we should be protecting the ambitious movies whilst eradicating the inept ones. Let the games begin, Hollywood!
Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay), Ralph Sarchie (book)
Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale
Release date: July 2nd, 2014
Distributor: Screen Gems
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The electrifying performances.
Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.
Which two genres draw in major crowds no matter what? Give up? Ok, I’ll give you a hint – they both rely on cliches, dumb characters, and opening weekend grosses. Ok, fine! The two genres are horror and romantic-comedy. Opening on the July 4th weekend, Deliver Us From Evil is Hollywood’s latest horror/smash-and-crash extravaganza. Yes, the title is as predictable as the ending to a slasher remake (spoiler: the nicest hottie lives!). However, this one belongs to a particular sub-genre currently making the rounds. Deliver Us From Evil, drawing comparisons to the director’s previous work and recent horror flicks of its type, is an exorcism-thriller trying and failing to become a whole other monster in itself.
Abusing Hollywood tropes and audience attendance patterns like a child in Freddy Kruger’s rape dungeon, Deliver Us From Evil comes off like a pitiful effort dumped into an unforgiving release date. In fact, the premise will cause plot-hole critics everywhere to prick up their ears and tap on their keyboards with an unholy amount of glee. However, for those of us willing to suspend pure and unadulterated disbelief, this horror-thriller makes for a quaint outing with mates. Teaming up with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and noisy viewers yelling: “Don’t go in there!”, this B-movie delivers, at most, an enjoyably goofy cinema experience. The story, such as it is, is as tried, tested, and true as an Apple product. Of course, with the Devil being the biggest villain of all, the movie first touches on his/her origins. The plot kicks off in 2010 Iraq, with three soldiers murdering several Taliban soldiers before discovering the story’s most intriguing and terrifying device. Cut to 2013 New York, and grizzled street cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is upset with his chaotic profession’s darker shades. After watching a baby die in his arms, Sarchie’s goodwill unravels within one night. With his partner Butler (Joel McHale) pushing him through, Sarchie’s latest case may alter his understanding of good and evil. Teamed up with roguish priest Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Sarchie may be forced to find his faith before taking down Santino (Sean Harris).
From the opening frame, Deliver Us From Evil, despite labelling itself as being “based on actual events”, shuffles through and picks out every horror, familial drama, and cop-thriller trope in the book. In fact, this derivative horror flick comes just short of pulling out a cursed book and reading from it. This bizarre crime-thriller, the latest sceptics-and-believers tale from polarising writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), is nowhere near as interesting as his more profound features. Working from his own derivative and ethically unsound screenplay, co-written by frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman, Derrickson’s work harks back to a much more meaningful time in horror cinema. As the autistic lovechild of The Exorcist and Seven, Deliver Us From Evil checks off everything said features had already given us. Derrickson, presenting this an inventive and potent genre mash-up, proves that a writer/director can grow too close to their own material. Like the possessed characters running through this concoction, Derrickson has been taken over and manipulated by artistic integrity’s greatest threats – studio executives and teenagers. Catering to certain demands, his latest is a significant step down from the creepy and thought-provoking Sinister. However, it’s still better than his biggest adventure, thus far (the Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Recently hired for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strangelove, this auteur may further succumb to this particular affliction.
“I’ve seen some horrible things, nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.” (Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil).
Newcomer Sean Harris.
Without examining the fact vs. faith argument, Derrickson and co. assume we know everything about this issue before going in. With Sarchie’s “radar” referred to as a spiritual gift, the movie’s flawed logic and stereotypical overtones keeps us at arm’s length throughout. However, Derrickson’s atmospheric direction salvages an otherwise forgettable exorcism-thriller. With horror tropes plastered across each frame, the jump-scares come thick and fast. In addition, his unique camerawork and sound design ticks amp-up the movie’s overbearing intensity levels. Pumping The Doors at opportune moments, certain musical interludes breath life into several nail-biting sequences. Aptly, Derrickson saves his best directorial flourishes for the final third’s extended exorcism set-piece. Bizarrely, with an unnatural reliance on animals, tattooed villains, toys, crucifixes, and flickering lights, the movie’s bump-in-the-night moments are punctuated with near-laughable jaunts. With McHale’s inclusion, I was half-expecting a satirical jab against cats in scary situations. However, despite his bet efforts, the comedic moments jar with the story’s dour, omnipresent tone. It’s not his fault. In fact, for the most part, he draws convincing turns out of his cast. Bana and Ramirez elevate their polar-opposite roles with innate charisma. Meanwhile, Harris, McHale, and Olivia Munn keep up with their pseudo-valuable supporting characters.
With the Paranormal Activity series and The Last Exorcism dominating cinematic horror of late, this mega-successful genre has all but used up its share of exorcism/crisis-of-faith concepts. With these debates raging on, this particular sub-genre puts everything the most simplistic of terms. Deliver Us From Evil, despite Derrickson’s commendable intentions, can’t help but communicate tried-and-tested information. Obliterating its fine performances and alluring direction, this exorcism-thriller becomes little more than an extended episode of Supernatural. The power of Hollywood compels you? eh, not this time.
Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jaques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel)
Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
Release date: June 27th, 2014
Countries: South Korea, USA
Running time: 126 minutes
Best part: The alluring visuals.
Worst part: The heavy-handed final minute.
More often than not, Hollywood refuses to make the right choice. The big-name studios, pushing us into theatre, hire major players to stand in front of, and behind, the camera. However, forced to follow a formula, these studios end up bullying these people beyond belief. Unfortunately, foreign directors suffer the worst of this atrocious behaviour. Despite the critical acclaim, Korean directors including Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon had to fight to keep their big-budget efforts alive.
Chris Evans & Jamie Bell.
Gracefully, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, one Korean export took it upon himself to make this year’s best action extravaganza. Bong Joon-ho (The Host) is yet another three-name filmmaker currently working under Tinseltown’s bright lights. His first Hollywood feature, Snowpiercer, looks like a tiresome and cliche-driven post-apocalyptic actioner. However, after entering the theatre, you’re taken on a revelatory journey unlike any other. This year, we’ve seen several blockbusters rise and fall quicker than expected. As Snowpiercer illustrates, the smallest projects are pulling people back into Hollywood’s firing line. Guided by stark visuals and touching moments, the narrative transitions instantly from obvious to transcendent. The premise, despite anchoring this enjoyable action-thriller, highlights its glaring agenda to an extraneous extent. Based on a French graphic novel, the story examines a desecrated Earth on the brink of oblivion. To combat global warming, the world’s governments banded together to release a specific chemical into the atmosphere. Sadly, because these forces ignored the signs, the chemical caused a destructive ice age. The world’s last-surviving citizens now live on a globetrotting train called, you guessed it, Snowpiercer. Developed by mysterious benefactor Wilfred (Ed Harris), the train divides its inhabitants to conserve the status quo.
Song Kang-ho & Go Ah-sung.
Ambitiously, Snowpiercer has several points to prove. With its angry side ever-so-slowly taking over, this daring and resonant sci-fi actioner utilises everything to its full potential. The narrative centres around a revolt, driven by the lower-class folks subjected to the train’s tail end. Covered in dirt and dour memories, leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), second-in-command Edgar (Jamie Bell), and age-old prophet Gilliam (John Hurt) empower their fellow “Freeloaders” with dignity and respect. The narrative, like the train itself, runs on the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. Following a hearty formula, Joon-ho’s most expansive effort yet is far more exhilarating and prescient than expected. Despite Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s controversial cuts, the movie flows naturally from one revelation and set-piece to another. Pointing at global warming, race relations, and social issues, Snowpiercer bolsters its agenda with profound motivations and charming surprises. Cleverly, its points are summed up by a witty speech about shoes and hats. As our crew shuffles through the train, the narrative conquers its momentous twists and turns before reaching the heartbreaking finale. From the opening frame, without derailing Joon-ho’s immaculate execution, the movie throws in clever intricacies designed to raise the stakes. Bullied by middle-class guards and arrogant socialites (led by Margaret Thatcher-esque ruler Mason (Tilda Swinton)), our lower-class warriors come off as empathetic more so than reckless. In fact, unlike most summer tentpoles, “F*ck yeah!” moments and emotional pay-offs come thick and fast throughout.
“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” (Curtis (Chris Evans), Snowpiercer).
Given free reign over everything, Joon-ho has taken several chances with this meaningful and touching post-apocalyptic bloodbath. Paying homage to his favourite directors and dystopian features, this foreign director delivers seminal references without catering to anyone else’s desires. Further more, this story swerves around several blockbuster cliches. Avoiding a massive scope, over-long set-pieces, and manipulative beats, Joon-ho’s style is of an entirely different species of filmmaking. Like the train’s never-fail, perpetual-motion engine, this auteur is a well-oiled machine keeping everything together. In particular, his visuals speak to critics, Korean film fans, and blockbuster nutcrackers. Within the first third, the grimy tail-end becomes a rage-fuelled character in itself. With small beds, tin cans, and gelatinous blobs coveting the screen, the opening scenes construct the vacuous hell-hole our heroes call home. Indelibly, it’s in the first act – after drug-addled engineer Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his psychic daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) are recruited – that our characters discover the first-class passengers’ dastardly schemes. Righteously, our talented performers take control of this intensifying narrative. Handing the physical and dramatic aspects, Evans displays his polished skill-set throughout. In addition, Octavia Spencer, Bell, Harris, and Swinton anchor the film’s more impressionistic tangents in well-crafted roles.
Unsurprisingly, this project was met with questions from every studio executive it came across. The premise, attacking the first world’s obsession with celebrity and order, is as repulsive as the second act’s blood-stained axe-fights. However, resting on its writer/director’s strength and intelligence, the final product is more satisfying than most action flicks of its type. It might even cause a revolt against the Transformers-hocking big-wigs in their ivory towers. Maybe. Hopefully.
Verdict: A sumptuous and potent post-apocalyptic thrill-ride.
In 2010, action-hungry superstar Sylvester Stallone gave us a taste of his excessive lifestyle. Surrounded by action heroes, explosions, and bland one-liners, The Expendables became a commercial hit in the vein of Planet Hollywood, the National Rifle Association, and your average strip club. However, eerily resembling a set of testicles, this testosterone-charged roller-coaster rubbed critics and pop-culture the wrong way. However, in 2012, The Expendables 2 upped the ante. Quality wise, it was vastly superior to the original. Sadly, it didn’t elevate the series’ reputation.
This year, Stallone and co. aim to please every being on this big, blue marble. Looking back on the first two with regret, this-and-last-century’s action stars are, at the very least, trying to make a different type of Expendables venture. Ridding this sequel of CGI blood, useless cameos, and irritating jokes, the style and tone have been drastically altered. Bred by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), The Expendables 3 sticks to this genre’s roots. With explosions, fist-fights, and wrinkled facades covering the screen, this trailer makes everything look somewhat authentic. From the get go, we see a train being turned into junkyard scrap-metal by our arthritis-ridden supermen. Ironically, their target is a jail-ridden Wesley Snipes. Giving this instalment a chance, this trailer gets off to a promising start.
Here, we also see some significant upgrades from the first two. Adding gravitas to this witless and brash franchise, newcomers Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer boost this instalment’s gargantuan potential. Sadly, Ford makes room to make fun of Jet Li’s height. Seriously, why would ANYONE pick on this martial-arts master? However, this sequel’s purpose rings true. Kidnapping the Expendables’ younger additions, Mel Gibson’s bad-guy character delivers some bite for this preposterous series. Beyond this, the trailer may be delivering the movie’s better moments. It could end up as a momentous disappointment. Then again, we’ve already sat through the first one. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!
Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen
Release date: June 20th, 2014
Distributor: Relativity Media
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Costner’s hard-edged performance.
Worst part: The dodgy action-direction.
Known for tear-jerking baseball/ghost flicks and the movie that inspired Avatar‘s by-the-numbers storyline (Dances with Wolves), actor/director/producer extraordinaire Kevin Costner has been thrust back into the spotlight. Embarrassingly, I don’t think anyone was asking for his return. However, amiably, this All-American bloke is keen to repurpose his charming persona and limited range for a vastly different generation. In addition, this cool-calm-and-collected star hopes to reinvigorate a particular type of character – the father figure.
Now emblazoned with crows feet and grey-tinged stubble, this brand of Costner elevates, but never legitimises, ultra-moronic actioner 3 Days to Kill. Donning a suitable facade, this veteran Tinseltown icon has fallen into a morose and vapid trap. Sadly, Costner is now wrapped around ‘acclaimed’ writer/director Luc Besson’s gargantuan middle finger. Labelled by pop-culture as a “factory” or “school”, Besson’s stranglehold on French film production is fuelled by optimistic executives and stylish action beats. Repeating himself over multiple decades, this auteur has developed a knack for handing responsibilities, and blame, off to other writers, editors, cinematographers, and directors. Kicking off Pierre Morrel (Taken) and Louis Leterrier(Unleashed)’s perfunctory careers, Besson now places his trust in one of Hollywood’s most despised directors. However, before I talk about him, I should examine 3 Days to Kill‘s meaningless and confused plot. Trust me, this synopsis won’t take too much out of you. Costner plays grizzled CIA operative Ethan Renner. Suffering a bizarre illness, Renner’s health could potentially disrupt his next major assignment. Renner’s team, aided by CIA assassin Vivi (Amber Heard), is assigned to track down a dangerous arms dealer, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his lieutenant, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). After the mission is obliterated, Renner coughs up blood and passes out before waking up in a hospital.
As it turns out, Renner has malignant brain and lung cancer. Given 3-5 months to live, he heads to Paris to send some quality time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). As you can tell, 3 Days to Kill‘s story neither says nor does anything original or intriguing. From the opening action sputter onward, the movie’s plot-points, twists, and character turns become visible from miles away. The narrative, copied and pasted from Besson’s previous efforts (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), makes for devising a fun game out of pinpointing certain French action-thriller tropes. However, given the budget, resources, and talent on offer, this derivative and inconsistent narrative just isn’t acceptable. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels series, Terminator Salvation) treads over and slips across tired, old ground. Yet again, McG’s bizarre and inconsequential style covers farcical situations, spies, and explosive action sequences. Failing to eclipse his TV series, Chuck, 3 Days to Kill delivers frustrating flashbacks to McG’s preceding flop This Means War. In addition, like Renner’s illness, Besson’s style infects the movie’s more valuable conceits. Like that atrocity, this actioner mistakes genre-hopping antics for jarring tonal shifts. With useless comedic hijinks clashing with heartfelt moments, the movie’s tone is as shaky and destructive as Renner’s ailing condition. Haphazardly, the movie also juggles Renner’s parenting issues, an African family squatting in his dingy apartment, and several wacky torture sequences. Bafflingly, this concoction of Taken and The Transporter lacks stakes, pacy thrills, and grit.
“The longer I was gone, it felt like the harder it was to come back.” (Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), 3 Days to Kill).
Connie Nielsen & Hailee Steinfeld.
Despite the directorial foibles and insufficient screenplay, 3 Days to Kill delivers enough enjoyment to last…about 2 hours in the memory banks. In fact, this movie is worth little more than a lazy, hangover-induced Sunday morning. Sadly, the extensive run-time outlasts the movie’s more gripping aspects. After the second act, the narrative falls head-long into predictable revelations and tiresome shootouts. Wrapping up plot-lines in ethically questionable and unfulfilling ways, this action-thriller could, and should, send Besson and co. back to the drawing board. Despite this, this mindless actioner still delivers entertaining action sequences and witty lines. The shootouts and fist-fights, utilising Paris’ gorgeous aesthetic, are fun distractions in this po-faced schlock. However, in typical McG fashion, the sound design and editing fatally misfire. Held hostage by misplaced gunshots and quick-cuts, McG’s approach undercuts everything Besson’s work promises. Overcoming the woeful direction and dialogue, Costner’s inherent charm saves this bland and uninspired effort. After scintillating turns in Hatfields & McCoys and Man of Steel, this veteran star can still deliver touching performances. With Liam Neeson seemingly unavailable this time around, Costner skilfully adapts to each set-piece. Despite his limitations, his action moments elevate this forgettable effort. Meanwhile, taking on a pseudo-Sin City vibe, Heard overtakes Denise Richards for the title of ‘Sexiest Blonde to Envelop Unconvincing Roles’.
With Besson and McG at the helm, 3 Days to Kill is as predictable, tedious, and groan-inducing as you’d expect. Treating constructive criticism like a mind hindrance, Besson’s money-grubbing system deals perfunctory efforts out to desperate hacks. However, with Costner anchoring the silly narrative, this action-thriller is still more tolerable than Columbiana, Taken 2, and Lockout. Well done, McG – you’ve finally made something that’s considered better than something else.
Verdict: A misstep in Costner’s career renaissance.
Writers: Dean DeBlois (screenplay), Cressida Cowell (novel)
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson
Release date: June 13, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The wondrous visuals.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
Certainly, Mega-conglomerate/animation playground Dreamworks has delivered its fair share of soaring highs and crushing lows. As critics and filmgoers know, this multi-billion dollar studio spoils its spectacular achievements (Antz, Kung Fu Panda) with forgettable time-wasters (Megamind, Rise of the Guardians) and pitiful misfires (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens). Laughing all the way to the bank, Steven Spielberg and co.’s company, at one point, took on a habit of looking past constructive criticism whilst delivering passable-at-best efforts. However, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has rebooted Dreamworks’ once-declining reputation.
Jay Baruchel & America Ferrera.
Assuredly, How to train Your Dragon 2 establishes this studio’s true potential. Catching up to Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, this company’s greatest creation soars higher than birds, planes, and daydreams. As we all know, this series deals with far more interesting winged beasts. This sequel, examining everything that made the original a momentous success, puts the pedal to the metal from frame one to frame…let’s not keep count. For despite the exhaustive number of man-hours and intricate, scene-stealing creations, this instalment successfully utilises every strand of the animation filmmaking process. Before I finish singing its praises, I should describe the plot’s most basic conceits. This instalment picks up five years after the groundbreaking yet patchy original. We are re-introduced to geeky Viking/dragon tamer Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he watches over the peace-laden village of Berk. Nowadays, he and his scaly friend Toothless whistle through the skies whilst exploring strange and significant lands. Supported by his father – and village chieftain – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), blacksmith Gobbler the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and girlfriend Astrid (America Fererra), Hiccup is faced with his greatest challenge yet: growing up. In the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, Hiccup must contend with his father’s overwhelming expectations and the village’s safety.
Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.
The original, placing flavour-of-the-month actors in hearty roles and utilising 3D technology’s endless possibilities, was one of 2010’s most enthralling success stories. Riding on the back of Avatar‘s immense critical and commercial glory, the original displayed the big-budget entertainment’s boundlessness. So, what separates the sequel from the original? Surprisingly, this instalment scorches the first movie’s foibles and constructs a more meaningful and succinct experience. This time around, several new and old characters are charged with purposeful positions in the narrative. Here, we have humans and monsters fighting each other for control of the world. Building upon its influences, this sequel seeks to expand this already glorious universe. In its first few scenes, this instalment breaks genre barriers to soar above its twee competition. Introducing multiple plot-lines, the story heartily rushes from one to the next. Tying up loose ends and burgeoning character arcs, the plot divulges into several touching concepts and sequences. With Stoick expecting Hiccup to take over his chieftain duties, the story clings onto several impressionistic and bold conceits. Touchingly, the baseline plot-thread revolves around its protagonist’s actions and reactions. As the over-arching conflict begins, involving notorious dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and trapper Eret(Kit Harington)’s plans to enslave humanity by controlling the world’s dragon populations, our characters become well-rounded personalities. As familial feuds and allegiance switches rear their ugly heads, sparked by Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the narrative takes several dark turns without becoming dreary. Unceremoniously, like with most family-friendly adventure flicks, the messages lumber into frame alongside the final third’s heartbreaking battle sequences.
“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they’ve all moved in.” (Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), How to Train Your Dragon 2).
One of many impressive action sequences.
Overcoming the corny and tiresome admittances, How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s underlying subtext is surprisingly soulful and potent. Giving hope to our fearless characters, the narrative’s life lessons are worth noting. The movie, unlike most animated efforts, touches on several confronting and intriguing topics. Hiccup, having had his leg amputated in the original, now contends with a multi-functional prosthetic. In addition, several supporting characters relate their crippling injuries to destructive motivations. This series, thinking outside the box, relishes in its violent action sequences and tear-jerking twists. Beyond the sorrowful flashbacks and high stakes, this sequel’s attention to detail and sumptuous visuals are worth the price of admission. Worthy of big-budget cinema’s majesty, some sequences deliver pure escapist thrills and heart-throbbing joys. Improving upon the original’s accomplishments, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins’ influence makes it easy to bask in this fantasy-epic’s glow. Not to be outdone, the intricate animation style develops epic landscapes and a wide variety of dragons. In each frame, dragons, weather patterns, and scenic vistas tell extraordinary stories. Also, unlike most Dreamworks efforts, the voice actors suit the characters on offer. Baruchel, normally miscast, is perfect for this charming and amicable role. As modern animation’s most likeable lead, his puberty-ridden quarrels suit the overarching conflict. Butler’s thundering vocals bolster Stoick’s magnetic presence. In addition, Blanchett, Hounsou, and Harington are welcome additions to this unique franchise. However, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig are stranded in bland and unnecessary comic-relief roles.
Redeeming Dreamworks’ critical and commercial slump, How to Train your Dragon 2 casts aside all blockbuster-related preconceptions to bolster its entertainment factor. This series, breaking off from the sugarcoated animated-adventure formula, raises the bar thanks to its unique visuals, intensifying action sequences, and likeable lead characters. With an enjoyable voice cast anchoring the fantastical story, this tale of familial bonds, sacrifice, and heroic acts never feels like it’s…draggin’.
Verdict: Dreamworks Animation’s most exhilarating effort yet.
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (graphic novel)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Release date: May 28th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 113 minutes
Best part: Cruise and Blunt.
Worst part: The throwaway one-liners.
Hollywood, over the past decade, has sheltered one of the most influential and polarising public figures. This particular celebrity, known for jumping on Oprah’s couch and keeping Katie Holmes out of the spotlight, is outrageously attacked by critics and filmgoers the world over. Tom Cruise, despite his peculiar comments and religious allegiances, is still one of our bravest movie stars. His latest action flick, Edge of Tomorrow, alights his magnetic screen presence and immense buying power.
In this intensifying action-adventure, based on Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Cruise transitions from media spokesperson to blood-drenched saviour. This role suits the real-life Cruise more so than you’d think. Overlooking his recent comments about A-listers and the US Military, Cruise can sell entire audiences on any character, storyline, and leap in logic. However, despite plastering his impressive physique across the posters, Edge of Tomorrow is much more than a one-man show. The surrounding elements ground Cruise and the premise in an expansive and invigorating layout. The narrative, like similar apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganzas, begins by tying major political issues to the movie’s vicious alien invasion. Creating the United Defense Force to combat the Alien hordes (labeled ‘Mimics’), the world’s military units are straining to control the situation. From there, we meet advertising executive turned military PR advisor Major William Cage (Cruise). Ordered by UDF leader General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson) to join the front lines, Cage must suit up and fight alongside war-hungry privates. Thrown to the wolves, Cage is bullied by his fellow J-Squad members. Storming the beaches of Southern France, his character suffers a horrific death at the hands of a boss-level Mimic.
Cruise haters will love seeing this A-list juggernaut become shockingly eviscerated by alien forces. However, Cruise’s character, after suffering this fate, comes back to life. In this instance, he wakes up 24 hours into the past. Holding onto specific details about the following day, Cage’s proactive nature throws him into each repetitious situation. The first third elevates Edge of Tomorrow above most sci-fi epics of its type. Co-written by Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), the screenplay races through impactful dialogue, gritty warfare, and tender moments. Immediately ascending above Oblivion, this Cruise vehicle embraces its tried-and-true concepts. Like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow’s time-loop-based narrative delivers immense surprises and twists on genre tropes. The military base sequences, featuring Cage’s encounters with optimistic Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton) and obnoxious grunts, provide their fare share of witty lines and heartening revelations. From there, the storyline delves headfirst into each explosive action beat and character interaction. The first third’s beachside set pieces, pitting ExoSuited battalions against nasty alien warriors, become nail-biting moments that overshadow the time-shifting premise. Playing with video-game mechanics, Edge of Tomorrow’s relentless storyline lends intelligence to an otherwise derivative concept. These life-or-death scenarios, building to the explosive second-two thirds, are bolstered by Cage’s momentous character arc. Cage, struggling to cope with his newfound talent, looks to persistent Special Forces member Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for guidance. Gracefully, Cruise stands aside to allow Blunt’s charismatic persona to stand front and centre. Developing chemistry over several time-loop scenarios, this mismatched paring sidesteps everything we’ve seen before. Pitting a cowardly soldier against a sword-wielding badass, their training sequences deliver entertaining comedic jabs.
“Come find me when you wake up.” (Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Edge of Tomorrow).
Our cute, blood-thirsty couple.
Despite Edge of Tomorrow’s exhilarating pace and jaw-dropping action sequences, the narrative occasionally falls into dour patches and obvious plot-holes. Switching from a gritty sci-fi war flick to an unending chase story, the movie slowly pushes its time-loop guidelines into the distance. However, beyond these minor complaints, the final third throws landmarks, high stakes, and sacrificial acts into an extended set piece. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) perfects his action-direction here. As his most entertaining effort, Edge of Tomorrow brings back the frantic editing and swift camerawork he first brought to Go and Swingers. Beyond this, his alien-invasion thriller even constructs a backstory without dropping it halfway through. Comparing Military pragmatism to the conscription era, this tale of masculinity and second chances becomes a step above similar blockbuster schlock. Creating symbols of American idealism and Military prowess, our characters are transcendent and captivating examples of the modern political and social environment. More importantly, however, our characters are extremely likeable. Cruise’s everyman persona and convincing delivery moulds a multi-layered lead character. Before evolving into the typical Cruise/action-hero type, he first steps outside the norm to play this cowardly and manipulative anti-hero. His role – transitioning from blackmail, to acceptance, to pure determination – is nuanced compared to his more recent characters. In addition, Blunt, taking on the action-hero role, stretches her already significant range for her intriguing and damaged character. Mastering fighting skills and yoga poses; Blunt’s character is a mysterious and bubbly foil for Cruise’s outlandish role.
Weapons training and filmmaking rely on repetition. Fortunately, Edge of Tomorrow takes this conceit and delivers thrilling set pieces and refreshing characters. Along with a subversive sense of humour, the movie rewinds time and examines Cruise’s star power. Placing the narrative on a world-sized scale, this sci-fi actioner succeeds without superheroes, transforming robots, or brightly coloured CGI vistas.
Verdict: An entertaining and gripping sci-fi actioner.
Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
Release date: May 28th, 2014
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Angelina Jolie.
Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.
Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.
Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.
After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.
“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).
Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.
Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.
Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic.
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard
Release date: March 28th, 2014
Distributor: Open Road Films
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: Schwarzenegger’s aura.
Worst part: The unlikable supporting characters.
Here’s a question, Hollywood: Whatever happened to guns in popular cinema? Over the past few years, studios have put down their guns and picked up everything else in sight. Noticeably, blockbusters try, and more often than not fail, to one-up those that come before them. Gleefully, Tinsel-town’s biggest and baddest action star has returned to the big screen to overshadow everything around him. Sabotage, despite irking nuances out of its dynamic performers, underwhelms more often than it enthrals.
Obviously, I’m referring to bodybuilder/action-movie icon/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a previous review, I stated that he has “lived the life”. Returning to the silver screen after a string of controversies, the Governator’s latest effort is nowhere near as profound and intriguing as its lead’s reputation. Unworthy of Schwarzenegger’s aura, Sabotage is hyperactive and lazy simultaneously. This action-thriller – based to a certain extent on Agatha Christie’s seminal story Ten Little Indians – tries to fit round bullets into square targets. As cheesy as this metaphor seems, the movie clings onto a specific level of corniness to propel its static and conventional narrative. Whilst reading the synopsis, anyone with a basic understanding of plot mechanics will be able to predict where this action-thriller is going. Sabotage follows a no-nonsense group of DEA agents known for shooting first and insulting one-another later. Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharthon, the leader of this outrageous unit. Known for his immaculate reputation, Breacher leads with his swagger and precise technique. His team, however, is made up of delusional and arrogant warriors. Rounded out by James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington), his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bruce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel), the unit goes guns blazing into every assignment.
The DEA team.
Here is the thing about Sabotage – it’s neither good nor bad. In fact, it hits the 50% mark from the get-go and rarely shifts above or below that point. However, though it could have been worse, we should not commend this big-budget actioner for being mediocre. With better material, it could’ve been a transcendent return to form for Schwarzenegger. Director/co-writer David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Street Kings and End of Watch) yet again takes on LA’s ‘finest’ and presents his creations as machismo-driven outlaws. The whodunit shades kickstart after $10 million goes missing from a raid. With our characters being picked off one by one, Ayer and Skip Woods’ dumfounding screenplay grinds on the consciousness. Taking on corruption and interrogation techniques, these intriguing concepts are dropped in favour of car chases, gun fights, and horrific murders. In addition, like the team itself, the movie itself, from the opening torture sequence onward, barges through each unrelenting and abrasive moment. The story inexplicably sticks to its overwhelming and repulsive convictions. After barging headlong into a cartel safe house, one of many vile and cruel set pieces, the narrative takes several meandering and laughable turns. Sabotage, inexplicably, distorts its simplistic plot with a fiery mean streak and idiotic twists. Intent on dousing the audience in blood, the movie immediately kick-starts its unending rampage. Exploding heads and inappropriate gags turn this actioner into a nightmarish ordeal.
“Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are just getting dead.” (Sugar (Terence Howard), Sabotage).
For better or worse, this movie’s only memorable trait is its lead’s nostalgia-drenched glow. Like the Terminator, this celebrity refuses to slow down despite his damaged physical and psychological status’. Standing above the material, credit goes to Schwarzenegger for taking on this gritty and relentless role. Taking inspiration from John Wayne, Schwarzenegger’s post-political-career resurgence is seemingly mimicking the western-era icon’s work ethic. In the final few minutes, Arnie’s wish is granted as the movie transitions into dark revenge-thriller mode. Sporting a grimacing look and cowboy hat, it’s nice seeing the ageing star embracing his limitations. However, overshadowing the lead character’s magnetism, the supporting characters hamper this otherwise diverting experience. Spitting one-liners and evil-eyed glares at one another, commendable character actors like Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau suffer significant career damage here. Sadly, almost everyone in this intriguing ensemble turns potentially gripping moments into hammy and ridiculous hindrances. Despite their loyalty to themselves and the job, these are some of modern Hollywood’s most detestable characters. To them, beating up bouncers and injecting illicit substances on company time are acceptable actions. Worthington, Manganiello, and Enos overcome hideous dialogue to come out relatively unscathed. However, Holloway and Howard are given little to do in two-dimensional roles.
Confidently, Schwarzenegger’s guile and confidence shimmer across tinsel-town. However, Sabotage, despite its engaging action sequences and alluring performers, refuses to get out of its own way. Attempting to take on multiple genres and plot-threads, Arnie’s latest action-thriller is little more than a destructive and forgettable ordeal.
Verdict: An over-the-top and silly explosion fest.
Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: April 4th, 2014
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 136 minutes
Best part: The inventive action sequences.
Worst part: Garry Shandling’s cameo.
Set two years after the spectacular yet catastrophic Battle of New York in mega-smash The Avengers, Marvel latest Phase 2 juggernaut, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, looks up into the universe for ideas. No, unfortunately, this instalment has nothing to do with Thor, Thor: The Dark World, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Honourably, aiming to become truly extraordinary, the movie seeks recognition. This instalment, ignoring the massive success stories that came before it, changes the game for future sequels, adaptations, and TV series’.
So, what did I think of the final Product? Well, I have to commend Marvel Studios, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s cast and crew for pulling off a visceral and all-encompassing sequel. Eviscerating the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s preceding sequels, this movie shows Hollywood exactly how it’s done. Watch out Spider-man, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy, the “star-spangled man with a plan” means business. Ascending above Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldieris a lively and ambitious effort unafraid of The Avengers’ conquering shadow. Here, aliens, gods, and monsters aren’t even mentioned. Some may believe this to be an idiotic decision. However, this instalment seeks to pull apart everything we’ve already learnt about this franchise. Here, unlike the kitsch 2011 original, there are no guidelines, black-and-white strokes, and corny dialogue. In fact, the movie kicks into overdrive at exactly the right moments. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), now completely thawed out of his icy tomb, finds the 21st century to be an even greater threat than Loki, alien hordes, and the Tesseract combined. Transitioning from 1940s Brooklyn to 2010s Washington D.C., Rogers feels uncomfortable even in seemingly normal surroundings and situations.
Sensitively, despite Cap’s red, white, and blue facade, this instalment strips stars and stripes off the flag before dousing it in shades of grey. Carrying around a to-do list listing pop-culture’s most transcendent aspects (Steve Irwin, Rocky etc.), Rogers looks to others for guidance. From the opening scene, in which Rogers overlaps selfless war veteran Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) on their morning jog, Rogers’ character arc becomes insatiably potent. The movie re-introduces us to this straight-laced superhero in a succinct fashion. Sporting an enviable physique and approachable personality, Rogers overshadows Cap’s star power and superhuman abilities. From there, the movie delivers many shocking and tangible twists and turns before the explosive finale. With athletic agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) by his side, Rogers notices several peculiar occurrences. Unsure of whom to trust, Rogers and Romanoff suspect security agency SHIELD, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in their Triskelion headquarters, of carrying out ethically questionable actions. Soon enough, tempers and allegiances reach breaking point before Rogers and Romanoff are branded as threats to democracy. Thankfully, before even the titular assassin is introduced, Captain America: The Winter Soldier strives to be the most intelligent and thought-provoking instalment yet.
Samuel L. Jackson vs. The Winter Soldier.
Thanks to politically-charged overtones and pragmatic characters, the movie draws the line between worldwide peace and overwhelming chaos. Seeking a 70s conspiracy-thriller vibe, the narrative throws in several unexpected chills, thrills, and kills. Despite being comparable to All the Presidents Men (thanks mostly to Redford’s inclusion), the relevant socio-political commentary makes it, essentially, the year’s best Jack Ryan flick. In this instalment, each character’s actions spark major ramifications that could potentially re-configure entire governmental, economic, and social layouts. Rogers, introduced to a paranoid and cynical version of his stouthearted country, brings 40s ideals to every motivation, action, and judgement. In fact, the original feature’s hearty messages are seamlessly injected into its slick and ultra-relentless sequel. However, unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t rely on bubbly supporting characters, boisterous montages, or light hearted moments. This sequel, significantly darker than expected, delivers gritty and momentous tonal currents. Beyond these energetic and revelatory surprises, this series’ over-arching narrative has been radically altered by this instalment’s fundamental revelations. Shifting this series from popcorn-starved schlock to adrenaline-charged, character-based drama, Captain America: The Winter Soldier systematically adapts to preconceptions and delivers an enthusiastically purposeful experience.
“You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection.” (Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Of course, despite its thorough examination of the First World’s shattered political state and endless desire for information, audiences turn out to see Marvel’s 90-something military-trained badass hit people with his custom-built shield. Fortunately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s action sequences don’t disappoint. Oddly enough, the movie’s directorial flair delivers several intense and enlightening sequences. With Jon Favreau creating indie-dramas, Kenneth Branagh heading back to Shakespeare, and Shane Black planning his next hysterical actioner, whom did Marvel Studios get this time? Why, TV directors, of course. Despite Anthony and Joe Russo’s previous credits (Community, Arrested Development), their meticulous action-direction is startlingly effective. The first sequence, displaying Cap’s awe-inspiring fighting style on a hijacked cargo ship, throws this action-adventure into a steady ascension. In addition, Falcon’s outlandish abilities and Romanoff’s extraordinary martial arts bolster this instalment’s immense “WOW” factor. Despite the final third’s occasional plot-holes, the well-crafted set pieces distract from minor gripes. In addition, like with the other successful instalments, the characters elevate and define certain scenes. Evans grips onto his role differently to Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. Switching from glorious symbol, to no-nonsense hero, to idealistic spy, his performance provides the movie’s most touching moments. Johansson and Mackie deliver enjoyable turns in well-meaning supporting roles. Meanwhile, Redford accustomed to the spy-thriller genre, relishes in his role’s more impactful conceits.
Whether you think it praises liberal principles or right-wing motivations, audiences will lap up Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s analysis of the US Government’s most pressing issues. Brave enough to be intelligent, the movie’s greatest sequences deliver depth, intense action beats, and glorious characterisations. The movie, speeding past previous Phase 2 instalments, justifies its existence. Appropriately, Marvel Studios has defined the similarities and differences between the world’s “good guys” and “bad guys”. If only our real-life public figures could do the same.
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson
Release date: March 28th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 138 minutes
Best part: The immense scale.
Worst part: The bloated final third.
In spite of our insightful ideas and beliefs, there’s no denying we live in a complacent, opportunistic, and cynical world. Today, whether it be individuals or major companies, some view others’ creations and strive to make them their own. Alarmingly, Hollywood continuously carries out these profit-making actions. Nowadays, blockbusters are based on novels, comic books, and video games. So why do they adapt Bible stories into big-budget follies like Noah? Well, for starters, they don’t have to pay anyone for the rights.
However, most importantly, The Bible contains several awe-inspiring stories. As arguably history’s most involving and relevant text, The Bible’s seminal parables and messages touch millions in vastly different ways. Certainly, this is a sensitive and meaningful subject. Bible-based movies, and the reviews covering them, are prone to criticism. With major Christian groups boycotting this big-budget extravaganza, the movie might suffer significant box-office losses over its opening weekend. Graciously, I’ll take logical steps to describe the movie’s thematic relevance and heartbreaking narrative. Whether you’re Christian, atheist, or agnostic, everyone is aware of the tale of Noah’s Ark. However, this movie incoherently utilises ideas from the original material, preceding cinematic endeavours, and written interpretations. Here, we are exposed to an untamed, bland, and blunt examination of one of the Old Testament’s most seminal passages. An animated opening sequence introduces/reintroduces viewers to The Bible’s most valuable stories. Developing a specific timeline and guidelines, this sequence links Adam & Eve’s journey to Cain, Abel, and Seth’s story. Outlining certain passages, this prologue latches onto the movie’s expansive narrative. Noah, as a young boy, is forced to witness his father Lamech(Martin Csokas)’s murder. Years Later, adult Noah (Russell Crowe) must scour the sun-scorched Earth for food and shelter.
Inevitably, and ploddingly, Noah‘s narrative takes several colossal turns after the first act. With fallen angels turned rock monsters labelled The Watchers aiding this quest, Noah – along with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Caroll), and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) – must build a gigantic ark before his apocalyptic visions become reality. Before I continue on, I’ll address the liberties taken with this version. Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan), a self-proclaimed atheist, spent 20 years pleading with studios and financiers for the chance to adapt this tale. Aronofsky, not one to abide by original material, has thrown in several peculiar and jaw-dropping concepts. Unfortunately, his version delivers a flood of inconsistencies and unconvincing turns. Don’t get me wrong, I love this iconic tale of hope, sacrifice, and bravery. It’s one of the most inspiring stories ever created. However, this version, when judged as a cinematic endeavour, doesn’t rise above its momentous issues. The first-two thirds, though sumptuous, refuse to stretch the original narrative’s boundaries. With plot-points and character motivations needlessly explained, Aronofsky’s version comes off like a simplistic and nonsensical retelling. Sadly, like with the doomed human populations, there’s no room for subtly on this ship. Noah, presented as a Lord of the Rings-style action-adventure flick, throws nuance and depth overboard whilst attracting vast audiences. The final third, depicting post-flood events on the fabled ark, is an anticlimactic and cloying slog. Melodramatic subplots and fantasy-epic cliches undermine the narrative’s transcendent aura. Before long, fistfights, meaningless subplots, Tubal-Cain(Ray Winstone)’s involvement, and obvious symbolism weight down this already lifeless journey.
“A great flood is coming. The waters of the havens will meet the waters of Earth. We build a vessel to survive a storm. We build an ark.” (Noah (Russell Crowe), Noah).
Funnily enough, like with other Hollywood trends, these modern biblical epics are arriving two-by-two. Later this year, we’ll have Ridley Scott’s Exodus to compare this to. Ironically, relying on blockbuster cliches, Noah comes off like one of Scott’s historical epics. Aronofsky, pressured by Paramount Pictures throughout its tumultuous production schedule, answers far too hastily to this ‘higher power’. Despite matching immense scale with CGI-fuelled battles and wondrous creations, this version lacks the original material’s emotional impact. Unfortunately, throughout this Ten Commandments-like epic, Aronofsky’s seminal visual, sensorial, and thematic styles are stripped bare in favour of monstrous creatures and violent set pieces. This immaculate filmmaker’s idiosyncrasies shine through only a handful of sequences. Thanks to the opening credits sequence, blending an earthy aesthetic and flash cuts, Aronofsky’s vision starts off promisingly. In addition, the time-lapse-fuelled vision sequences, displaying Noah’s imminent future and the theory of evolution, are refreshing moments in this otherwise hokey and underwhelming epic. However, despite the glorious premise, little separates this blockbuster from similar fare. Oddly, the characters are shallow vessels in charge of channelling the story’s revelations and viewpoints. Highlighting the plot’s more intriguing aspects, the story’s incestuous family dynamic becomes startlingly uninspired. Pushing its pro-environmentalism/anti-industry agenda, Noah’s quest is little more than selfish, psychotic, and overblown. Fortunately, enthusiastic performances save this meandering fantasy-epic. Crowe, fittingly seamlessly into period-piece settings, tares chunks off this all-important role. Thanks to his gruff tone and powerful physique, Crowe outshines his under-utilised co-stars.
Overlooking The Bible’s purposeful “thee” and “thou” aspects, Noah earns points for striving to reach out to a wider audience. Stretching beyond the mass religious crowds, Aronofsky’s effort falls apart long before its inevitable conclusion. Despite the movie’s glowing positives, the seminal filmmaker’s ambitiousness results in this didactic, stolid, and inconsistent fantasy-epic. Concerning Aronofsky’s style, less really is more. Like with Noah himself, Aronofsky’s willpower has blinded his gaze.
Verdict: An ambitious yet unimpressive biblical epic.
Writer: Stuart Beattie (screenplay, Kevin Grievoux (graphic novel)
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto
Release date: March 20th, 2014
Distributors: Lionsgate, Hopscotch Films
Countries: USA, Australia
Running time: 92 minutes
Best part: Aaron Eckhart.
Worst part: The wafer-thin narrative.
Hiding in the shadows of Hollywood’s smallest studios, one screenwriter/producer/actor keeps on getting work. Despite the idiocy of the screenplays and productions he creates, his immense power and surprising intellect pay-off more often than they should. This man is Kevin Grievoux. Sound familiar? Nope. Okay, I’ll explain. Grievoux, delivering the Underworld franchise and now I, Frankenstein, doesn’t deserve his notoriety. However, despite my overt cynicism toward his work, his immense stature scares me. Playing a large Werewolf in the Underworld series and a scary henchman here, Greivoux, literally and figuratively, stands by everything he creates.
At the very least, he bares commendable intentions. However, despite holding several degrees, graphic novels, and screenplays to his credit, this hard worker delivers nothing but B-grade fluff. No offence Mr. Greivoux, but you don’t deserve anything except for criticism. Judging by the lacklustre marketing campaign, everyone around him must be embarrassed by this dull action flick. Kicking off this ridiculous thrill-ride, the movie’s prologue glosses over Mary Shelley’s original material. As we all know, Dr. Victor Frankenstein created a monster out of 12 parts from 8 corpses. Realising he has conquered God’s true power, he strives to kill the monster (Aaron Eckhart). After Dr. Frankenstein and his wife’s death, the monster takes his creator’s body to the family graveyard to give him a proper burial. Inexplicably, to advertise the target demographic and potential for perplexing action sequences, demons ambush the monster and attempt to control him. However, as soon as the monster escapes his captors, Gargoyles attack and kill the demons. The Gargoyle forces, led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and bodyguard Gideon (Jai Courtney), invite the monster into their labyrinthian lair. Convinced they can convert the monster (renamed “Adam”, for some reason) into a soulful warrior, the Gargoyles are fighting a losing battle. This goofy fantasy then jumps forward 200 years, and mysterious Benefactor Charles Wessex (Bill Nighy) pushes employed scientist Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski) to track down and study the monster.
There are several reasons why these movies continually become box office bombs. Like the titular character of this uninspired effort, these action flicks are noticeably flawed. To further criticise the movie’s actors, director, and audience, I’m glad to announce that this year’s the Oscar season has overshadowed their efforts. Thankfully, post-Oscar season dreck, like this, is now looked down upon by the masses. Believe it or not, we are evolving beyond I, Frankenstein. The plot, such as it is, is flimsier than the casts’ agents and publicists. Suited for stupid 11-year-old boys, the movie will bore anyone with two braincells to rub together. In fact, those braincells will no doubt develop more chemistry than the movie’s performers. I’ll admit it, I fell for mega-flops like Van Helsing when I was 11. Similarly, I, Frankenstein‘s brainlessness and chaotic nature might bewitch some viewers. However, unlike similar fare, it forgets to have fun. Fittingly, Frankenstein’s monster represents this comic book adaptation’s execution. Like the mistreated creation, the movie comes off like several disparate parts awkwardly stitched together. From the get-go, the movie establishes itself as a no-nonsense action-adventure flick. Unfortunately, inexplicably overlooking its own stupidity, the movie takes itself way too seriously. Unlike Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire, I, Frankenstein doesn’t solidify its absurd plot mechanics or bizarre aesthetic. Hilariously, breaking through the movie’s straight-faced facade, the overwhelming production issues hinder the final product. Cutting away from action sequences, limiting the scope, birthing generic creature designs, and delivering dodgy CGI throughout, writer/director Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow When the War Began) mishandles the premise’s most intriguing intricacies.
“I, descender of the demon horde. I, my father’s son. I…Frankenstein.” (Adam/Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart), I, Frankenstein).
Gargoyle vs. Demon.
Despite obtaining a $65 million budget, Beattie highlights the narrative’s more conventional and laughable aspects (hard to believe he wrote Collateral). Despite his previous screenwriting efforts, Beattie’s work here delivers contrivances, unintentionally laughable moments, and forced dramatic tension. Crowbarring the monster into this silly feud as a Christ-like figure, the movie even throws in symbolism. To be fair, kids would fall head-over-heels for ancient history if the Roman Empire/Barbarian war had involved Gargoyles and Demons. Beyond this, I should be angrier! Shot in Melbourne’s Docklands Studios, it’s nice knowing my taxpayer dollars last year went toward this banal Blade rip-off. Do yourselves a favour, save your money and re-watch the Blade and Underworld franchises. Whilst not being Oscar-worthy successes in-themselves, those movies deliver more intentional laughs, ambition, and memorable action beats than I, Frankenstein. Here, despite Beattie and Greivoux’s commendable intentions, their ideas stall this over-the-top action extravaganza. However, despite placing thebest action sequence in the first half, the movie’s first few set pieces deliver slight shades of joy. Featuring sword-wielding Gargoyles and Parkour-loving Demons, these sequences almost elevate this brain-dead material. Sadly, the action and CGI, in the second half, become exceedingly more transparent and monotonous. Depicting Frankenstein’s monster as a baton-wielding vigilante, the martial arts sequences add nothing to the movie’s befuddling mythology. Flaunting his character’s nonsensically rugged aesthetic, Eckhart bolsters his frustrating role. Growling every line, his dark performance is, by far, the movie’s best asset. Unfortunately, the supporting players are underwhelming. Otto, Nighy, Strahovski, and Courtney deliver gormless turns in underwritten roles.
Despite the cheap thrills and fine cast, the movie falters because it doesn’t make sense. There are several questions left lingering after certain twists and turns. How is the human population so oblivious to this ancient war? Why is ascending to heaven this horrible? Why is the love interest’s apartment so decrepit compared to her impressive workplace? Thankfully, there won’t be a sequel charged with addressing these nitpicks. With a diminutive scope, derivative story and character traits, and dodgy CGI, I, Frankenstein‘s lead character is nowhere near as listless and pitiful as the movie around him.
Worst part: The frustrating supporting characters.
Disastrous losing streaks aren’t enjoyable for anyone in Hollywood. They come without warning whilst embarrassing their victims beyond belief. In Tinseltown, losing streaks can happen to directors, writers, and actors. Sadly, Hollywood’s catastrophic run of video game adaptations is officially getting worse. After witnessing exhaustive action flick Need for Speed, I believe Hollywood should throw in the towel. The movie, despite its alluring cast and marketing campaign, isn’t worth the admission cost. Save your money and play the game instead. trust me, you’ll have a much better time. At the very least, you’ll gain some sense of control.
Who’s asking for these video game adaptations, anyway? Everyone wants their favourite games, comic books, and novels adapted into movies. But why can’t people simply enjoy them for what they are? These adaptations, cashing in on a particular brand, prove that some entertainment mediums don’t cross over effectively. The mass divide between video game and cinema mechanics drifts Need for Speed into an inescapable vortex of mediocrity. It’d be simplistic and cheesy to make a significant number of car puns throughout this review. However, the plot, such as it is, relies on its viewers having low IQs, acute nymphomania, and Red Bull addictions. People who refuse to sit through 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street (you know, intelligent movies) will lap up Need for Speed‘s irritable ticks and predictable turns. The plot kicks off with testosterone-fuelled car mechanics being idiotic. After a sorrowful introduction from renowned radio presenter Monarch (Michael Keaton), we run into notorious grease monkey/street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). Marshall, running his late father’s garage, is haemorrhaging money faster than he can earn it. Gaining respect within Mt. Kisko, New York’s underground drag-racing scene, Marshall is considered one of the circuit’s hidden treasures. Celebrity driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes to Marshall for help. Hoping to settle their long-lasting feud, Brewster offers Marshall a spectacular opportunity. Brewster asks Marshall’s crew to fix-up the Ford Mustang acclaimed car designer/entrepreneur Carroll Shelby (don’t worry, I didn’t know who that was either) was working on before his passing.
Dominic Cooper & Dakota Johnson.
Before I go on, I’ll ask Dreamworks Studios and co. just one thing. Dear studios, this is based on a plotless video game, what did you think would happen?! The Need for Speed franchise consists only of uninteresting cut scenes and exhilarating car chases. This franchise, despite reaching the right demographic, can’t deliver acceptable cinematic endeavours. Congratulations Burnout and Gran Turismo, I now have more respect for you! Anyway, the plot takes sharp turns early on. After pitching their work to car dealer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), Marshall gets back on Brewster’s bad side. Hindered by Marshall’s efforts, Brewster challenges him and his comrade Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) to a race. Using Koenigsegg Ageras, the three speed down the freeway before Pete is killed. With Pete’s sister and Marshall’s old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson) standing by Brewster’s word, Marshall is sent to prison. Before long, motivations, revelations, and speeches bust out of these irritating characters. This revenge plot, controlling this half-assed Fast and Furious rip-off, is as tedious as watching someone play the aforementioned video game. Even before the half-way mark, it divulges into derivative tropes and face-palm-inducing moments. Sadly, thanks to George Gatins’ interminable screenplay, the movie assumes its two or three movies into its own franchise. After its annoying characters are introduced, the movie pushes on without depth, personality, or originality. Separated from the franchises’ eighteen instalments, these characters are simply uninteresting hindrances. Another problem – trust me, there are a lot of ’em – stems from Hollywood’s current trend of adapting useless properties. Stunt coordinator turned director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) obviously doesn’t care about the movie’s slower moments. Not knowing whether to take itself seriously or take deep breaths, Need for Speed’s jarring tonal shifts become debilitating road blocks.
“Racers should race, cops should eat donuts.” (Monarch (Michael Keaton), Need for Speed).
Tripping over the franchise’s baffling ‘mythology’, gullible thirteen year-old boys will be the only ones savouring this tumultuous experience. Deliberating on visions of the future, masculinity, and racing’s raw power, the movie’s spiritual side dampens its insignificant and questionable narrative. Predictably, plot contrivances, cliches, and unnecessary sketches extend the bloated story. Despite presenting itself as a homage to 70s drive-in flicks, aided by overt references to Bullit, the movie sorely lacks pathos, energy, and relevance. Beyond the plot-hole, and pot hole, driven narrative, the dramatic and comedic moments don’t help. The slapstick moments, led by irritating supporting players, are accompanied only by crickets and tumbleweeds. One act of defiance, involving one character quitting his job, is just plain tiresome. Paul, coming off of AMC hit series Breaking Bad, does his best with such immature material. Paul and Poots, developing a slither of chemistry within their Mustang’s small confinements, are charismatic forces in need of better projects. On the other end of the spectrum, rapper Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi hampers every scene he coverts. As the movie’s most offensive stereotype (and that’s saying something), Mescudi should stick to his rap career. Somehow,Need for Speed‘s characters are less realistic than the racing sequences.Thankfully, the action set pieces steal the show. Created with flawless technical precision and attention to detail, the skids, crashes, and flips deliver tiny joyful moments. Thanks to immaculate practical effects, Waugh’s exhaustive knowledge of stunt-work pays-off here. Unfortunately, he and the screenwriters stall when it comes to everything else. Why should I compliment this abominable mess? The negatives far outweigh the positives. I could make more car puns and jokes, but they would distract from my anger toward this unending skid-mark.
Here, Hollywood has blessed us with yet another woeful and forgettable video game adaptation. Yawn! Surely, it can’t be that difficult to produce one worthwhile adaption. Up there with Doom, Max Payne, and Prince of Persia, Need for Speed steals this franchise’s rhythmic title and speeds off into the distance. Thankfully, this movie will probably crash and burn at the box office. Trapping Paul, Poots, and Keaton inside a fiery mess, this lazy car-race flick delivers cheap thrills and loud groans. Unfortunately, story-driven games are now being given short shrift. Thanks to the aforementioned franchise killers, the Last of Us, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid adaptations may never happen.
Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Frank Miller (graphic novel)
Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro
Release date: March 7th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: Eva Green.
Worst part: the stilted dialogue.
Everyday, Hollywood comes up with new and transparent labels for its big-budget efforts. Placing blockbusters into specific categories, this system is hard to keep track of. Nowadays, its difficult deciphering whether something is a reboot, remake, sequel, or prequel. To bolster the ever-pressing studio system, Hollywood has come up with a new category. The ‘interquel’, thanks to belated sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, seems like a bizarre act of desperation. Thankfully, the movie ably justifies the category’s existence. This sequel/prequel is an enjoyable, action-packed romp.
Set before, during, and after the events of controversial auteur filmmaker Zack Snyder’s 2007 surprise hit, 300: Rise of an Empire continues on with the original’s overall narrative. Despite the extensive gap between instalments, the sequel commendably connects the two. Overlooking the original’s cult classic status, 300: Rise of an Empire justifies its existence from the get go. Fortunately, despite being a step down, the sequel is a pleasant surprise. Beyond the grown-inducing trailers and premise, the final product is salvaged by its lively execution. This series, ostensibly based on infamous comic-book writer Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novels, leans pressingly on major historical events. Here, we are introduced/re-introduced to the Battle of Salamis. The movie beings with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling this pressing tale to a battalion of warriors. After her re-introduction, the movie jumps back to the conquering Battle of Marathon. With the Athenian and Persian factions locked in an epic battle, Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) becomes an unstoppable force. In the first five minutes, the highly-esteemed leader eviscerates an entire Persian battalion. After killing King Darius I of Persia (Yigal Naor), Themistocles declares the battle worthless. Witnessing his father’s death, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) becomes an angry embarrassment. Scheming Persian naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) pushes him into the desert. Becoming a God-king, Xerxes’ wrath descends upon Athens. Xerxes, one of the original’s unintentionally laughable creations, is a small part of a much grander vision. Thankfully, this backstory is lightly brushed over. Serving Artemisia’s disturbing plans, this uninteresting character is simply a puppet under a puppeteer’s control.
It’s worth pointing out, highlighting this movie’s troubled production history, this sequel is based on one of Miller’s unpublished creations. Basing his efforts entirely on cinema’s overwhelming potential, Miller’s writing and artwork reek of style more so than substance. Then again, Snyder’s style is also a perfect example of style over substance. So, will this franchise continue to mimic their stylistic flourishes? Or break away from irritable ticks and overblown creations? Judging by 300: Rise of an Empire‘s sheen, their notorious styles are imbued in this franchise’s DNA. Given the reigns to the Warner Bros./DC Comics universe after Man of Steel‘s significant profit margins, Snyder clings onto writing and producing duties. Director Noam Murro, beyond his silly name, is an odd choice for this type of blockbuster. With Smart People his only other feature-length credit, Murro launches into a wildly different genre with this convoluted sequel. For the most part, he does a commendable job. Murro understands the original is still a major talking point. The original’s cognitive elements – homoerotic overtones, muscular heroes, and visceral action sequences – drive his ambitious instalment. In love with the original’s monumental events, the sequel bows before Miller and Snyder’s grand accomplishments. Unfortunately, copying 300‘s structure, this instalment relies on the audience’s profound understanding of the original. Characters, at random, act on, and react to, the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans’ brave sacrifice. Shoddily deliberating on freedom and political prosperity, the movie’s purpose relies on epic action sequences. Taking itself too seriously, the awkward dialogue moments present themselves as needless, and mindless, filler.
“Better we show them, we choose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees.” (Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), 300: Rise of an Empire).
Surprisingly, the movie is defined by its closing credits. Bashing Black Sabbath and 2D animation together, this brashness efficiently sums up the preceding two-hour experience. Thrusting thinly-veiled exposition and messages into each scene, 300: Rise of an Empire paints a wholly expansive, gritty, and broad picture. With white characters charging through brown enemies throughout each action sequence, relevant discussions about military forces, political power, and social indifference are under-utilised. This franchise – aped by the Hercules reboots, the Clash of the Titans series, and Immortals – still stands above the pack. In particular, the directorial flourishes and action sequences elevate this series above its meandering competition. The plot, such as it is, caters to a series of overblown set pieces. Expectedly, the talky moments come off as cut scenes. Providing button-mashing-level entertainment values, the expansive set pieces are worth the admission cost. Beyond the video-game-like structure, the movie inventively takes to the seas. Depicting naval strategies and military prowess, the visceral and impactful naval battles stand out. With ships and swords clashing repeatedly, these sea-faring sequences are packed with edge-of-your-seat moments. Despite overusing Snyder’s slo-mo/speed-up trick, 300: Rise of an Empire amps up the violence. Slicing and dicing Persian forces, CGI blood is gratuitously splattered across each frame. Deliberating on honour, love, and war, the characters are defined by glorious speeches and harsh orders. Stapleton, a fine Australian actor, lacks Gerard Butler’s overt charisma. The soft-spoken Stapleton, despite his impressive physique, is stranded in an underdeveloped role. Thankfully, Green enthusiastically elevates her mediocre material. Lending maliciousness and sympathy to her antagonistic role, Green’s spectacular range pays off. The sex/fight scene between Themistocles and Artemisia sits head-and-shoulders above everything else.
Though not up to Spartacus and Gladiator’s immense status’, the 300 series benefits from immaculate production values and rippling muscles. You can’t help but notice these near-naked warriors’ enviable physiques. The casting directors must’ve had a helluva time picking these people. However, beyond the superficiality, 300: Rise of an Empire, despite its flaws, is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. With a smarmy villain, fun action sequences, and stellar cinematography, this sequel is much better than you’d think.
Verdict: An enjoyably outrageous sword-and-sandal flick.