Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

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.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Inferno Review: Hanks for nothing


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Tom Hanks.

Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.

Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.

Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Inferno could be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.

Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C.  Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).

Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).

Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.

Verdict: A franchise killer.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

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Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

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.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe

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Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


2/5

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.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review: Shell of its Former Self


Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2/5

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.

Verdict: On the brink of extinction.

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

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.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Bad Neighbours 2 Review: On the Fence


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz

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Release date: May 20th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Zac Efron.

Worst part: Chloë Grace Moretz.

Comedy-sequels are like Australian Prime Ministers – there is plenty of them, but most of them are completely forgettable and ultimately disposable. For every 22 Jump Street-sized slice of wacky, self-aware genius, we get 50 Zoolander 2/Horrible Bosses 2-level disasters. Certainly, Bad Neighbours 2, or the poorly titled Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising, is far from the worst comedy-sequel Hollywood has pumped out recently. However, it’s still a cynical and mindless distraction unlikely to test the brain cells.bad-neighbours-2-image-1

Bad Neighbours 2 kicks off with married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a blissful haze after the birth of their first child. Despite their friendly nature, the pair struggle to act responsibly around their young daughter Stella. On top of expecting their second child, Mac and Kelly must also comprehend the 30-day escrow set prior to selling their old home and moving into their new McMansion. Predictably, newly established sorority Kappa Nu – led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) – moves in next door. Before long, with arch nemesis Teddy(Zac Efron)’s help, Kappa Nu becomes a hard-partying cacophony of post-teen chicks.

My review of Bad Neighbours 2 could best be summed up by replicating my write-up of Bad Neighbours. In true comedy-sequel fashion, this instalment hurriedly turns into a spineless remake of the original. Granted, the 2014 surprise hit showcased the extraordinary talents of its underrated cast and crew. It also provided an enjoyable mix of gross-out gags, fun characters, and thoughtful themes. This time around, director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and the 5 credited screenwriters broadly duplicate every plot point, character type, and running gag from the first. Of course, neighbors_2Mac and Kelly unite with married friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to drive the sorority out of the neighborhood. This time, however, they team up with Teddy after the sorority turns against him. So that’s…something.

This installment had the potential to be worth more than just the sum of its parts. With such a talented acting, writing, and directing ensemble, the comedic moments should have put it several notches above most comedy-sequels. However, in reaching backwards too often, the comedy is disappointingly hit and miss. Oddly enough, the quick-fire mix of gross-out humor and light-hearted character moments works effectively despite its lame slapstick gags. The sequel also fails to invest in its views on gender equality, age and social status. The women are depicted favourably for feats like becoming mothers, creating the first sorority able to throw parties etc. Simultaneously, the men – including Efron’s character – are seen as too old, square, and ‘rapey’ to function. Although intriguing, the movie continually hammers the same points without quit.

Bad Neighbours 2 relies on its esteemed cast’s charisma and sharp comedic timing. Rogen, surprising effecting in Steve Jobs last year, proves he’s still a charming leading man. Byrne, known for a vast array of drama and comedy performances, once again proves her ability to adapt to any role and genre. Efron is the stand out performer here, providing a mix of arrogance and sympathy to elevate an otherwise wacky screen-shot-2016-01-19-at-60519-pmcharacter. For anyone interested, there is a whole section devoted to his impressive muscular figure. Sadly, Moretz quickly becomes an annoying, whiny presence in what should have been an intriguing role. Like with the original, small turns from Barinholtz, Gallo, Lisa Kudrow, Dave Franco, and Hannibal Buress deliver big laughs.

Bad Neighbours 2, although a slight cut above most comedy-sequels, still resembles a haphazard attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle. Despite a top-notch cast at its peak, the hit-and-miss humor and lack of follow-through makes for an unremarkable and pointless return to the neighbourhood.

Verdict: Another forgettable comedy-sequel.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War Review: The Ice Queen, The Hunk, His Wife, and the Sequel No One Asked For


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Craig Mazin, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5

Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Audio Review: Divided They Fall


Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 151 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review: When Animals Attack


Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni

Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, China

Running time: 95 minutes


 

3/5

Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

London Has Fallen Review: Trump’s America


Director: Babak Najafi

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, Christian Gudegast

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributors: Focus Features, Gramercy Features, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2/5

Review: London Has Fallen

Zoolander 2 Audio Review: Model Idiots


Director: Ben Stiller

Writers: Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, Justin Theroux

Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell

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Release date: February 12th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


1½/5

Review:

Ride Along 2 Audio Review: Ice-cold Hart


Director: Tim Story

Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong

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Release date: February 18th, 2016 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Article: World War Z 2


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Article: World War Z 2

Horrible Bosses 2 Review: Two & A Half Stooges


Director: Sean Anders

Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris

Stars: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine


Release date: December 11th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The three leads.

Worst part: The recycled plot.

Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Verdict: Another middling comedy sequel.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

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 tearing down Sin City.

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.

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.

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. 

The Expendables 3 Review – Rough ‘n’ Tumble


Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson

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Release date: August 14th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

3½/5

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.

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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.

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.

The Inbetweeners 2 Review – The Trip Down Under


 Directors: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Writers: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas


Release date: August 7th, 2014

Distributors: Film4 Productions, Bwark Productions 

Country: UK

Running time: 96 minutes 


 

3½/5

Best part: The leads’ inherent chemistry.

Worst part: The overlong gross out gags.

As the perfect release from reality, sitcom TV relishes in bizarre situations and unadulterated slapstick. With the enjoyment factor turned up to 11, shows like Parks & Recreation and Community fuse light-hearted thrills with imaginative characters. One recent sitcom – British cult hit The Inbetweeners – achieved success by latching onto a particular age bracket. As a slice of UK escapism, the E4 franchise has been lucky enough to launch two mega-smash cinema releases.

The Inbetweeners down under (pun definitely intended)!

Admittedly, I realise these big-screen Inbetweeners adventures come off like extreme acts of desperation. These ventures, taking our downtrodden characters from sitcom modesty to American Pie glory, could have easily become tiresome and frustrating. However, bafflingly so, the original’s massive profit margins pushed many boundaries. Now, after three years of watching our four leads fail to develop multi-layered careers, we get a front row seat to watch this sequel shunt its way past the competition on opening weekend. This movie, if anything, displays the nerds becoming the jocks of the British franchise universe. All that’s needed now is a televised Inbetweeners vs. Doctor Who showdown. Fortunately, unlike everything else this series has offered, The Inbetweeners 2 is a likeable and sensitive effort. Our favourite nobodies – Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas), Neil (Blake Harrison), and Jay (James Buckley) – have somehow stooped lower than before. Will – his university’s least popular undergraduate – is aching for a much-needed escape. After falling for yet another clever prank, Will, Simon, and Neil receive an extensive email from Jay. Jay, enjoying a “mental” gap year in Australia, tells them of his sordid adventures within his uncle’s lavish mansion.

Jay making himself king of the “Sex Capital of the World”.

Simon and Neil, escaping psychotic girlfriends and meaningless existences, agree to Will’s plan to travel half-way around the globe. Leaving Jay’s uncle’s house behind, our four adolescent schlubs head from Sydney to Byron Bay – in the ‘Mobile Virgin Conversion Unit’ – in the hopes of achieving their impulse-driven goals. Obviously, The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t trying to wow its target demographic with intricate plot-threads or heartbreaking character arcs. Aware of their series’ immense appeal, directors/writers/show creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris take the reins with suitable street-smarts in tow. Unlike the original, this instalment sticks wholeheartedly by its four dunderheaded leads. Despite smashing into several cliches and dry spots, this sequel takes a hands-on approach to this standard road trip tale. Running on buddy-comedy wise-cracks and tried-and-true plot-lines, even horny 13 year olds can predict where this shame-fuelled journey is heading. However, laid out like any given episode of the original series, the joy comes from seeing our clunge-obsessed ravagers rise and fall spectacularly. Unsurprisingly, the Australian stereotypes come thick and fast. In the first third, Jay shows off his encounters with boomerangs, sun-drenched beaches, frenzied nightclub scene, and bikini-clad babes. His first scene alone, playing out like a Wolf of Wall Street montage, makes this sequel feel wholly cinematic.

“Will be careful, muff before mace is actually a crime in Australia.” (Neil (Blake Harrison), The Inbetweeners 2).

Emily Berrington as Katie.

However, providing pure laugh-out-loud relief, the last third brings specific Aussie cliches, and our awesome foursome, together. During the climax, the hilarity spills fourth as our leads become stuck in a harsh desert landscape. I half expected them to run into Mick Taylor and his trusty -. Sadly, despite the positives, this sequel ventures into several ill-advisable gross out gags and soppy moments. The water park scene, in particular, yields several unfunny and ethically questionable set pieces. In addition, like with the original, the supporting characters – rounded out by several antagonistic back-packers – stall this otherwise quaint adventure. Worse still, the movie almost breaks down whenever its misogyny catches up to everything else. Presenting multiple female characters as hindrances, it’s offensiveness becomes unrelentingly vapid. However, making this sitcom-based series whole, our lead performers seize this opportunity to show off their sublime talents. Bird, hitting his stride as the crew’s nerdiest combatant, is a charismatic and witty force throughout. Eclipsing his three comrades, Will’s arc instantly takes centre stage. In addition, Buckley’s Jay delivers several cracking moments as the group’s most obnoxious yet ambitious member. Oddly enough, Simon and Neil get pushed to the background in favour of their more-intriguing buddies.

The Inbetweeners series sits best with the hormonal teens and clueless adolescents scrounging around this bleak, blue marble. Driven by expletive-driven humour and manic characters, this pacy and hysterical creation has transitioned gracefully from sitcom success to celluloid gloss. The Inbetweeners 2, though not an award winner, makes for a worthwhile 90 minutes. surprisingly so, fans and newcomers will enjoy Will, Simon, Neil, and Jay’s final on-screen adventure. God knows where they’ll end up!

Verdict: A mostly triumphant last hurrah. 

22 Jump Street Review – Second Shot


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare


Release date: June 6th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5 

Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some of the wink-and-nudge gags.

Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.

The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.

Spring Break!

With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.

“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).

Ice Cube.

Ice Cube.

Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.

Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A hysterical and reflexive comedy sequel. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro Review – All Tangled Up


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan

poster-TheAmazingSpiderman2


Release Date: April 17th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time:  142 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Garfield and Stone’s chemistry.

Worst part: The hokey villains. 

At one point in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, pithy geek turned super-powered saviour Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), after fighting off the Sandman, empties sand out of his shoe and says to himself: “Where to these guys come from?”. Ideally, this question can be applied to every comic-book/superhero franchise. It’s a good call – pinpointing the absurdity of having super-powered ne’er-do-wells attack these superheroes one after another. Spider-Man’s latest offering, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, attempts to answer Peter’s question. Sadly, the final product is significantly less than amazing.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Obviously, the conflict between the original Spider-Man trilogy and Sony’s new Spider-Man saga is a major talking point here. With the 2012 reboot released five years after the much-maligned Spider-Man 3, this franchise contains a strong “too soon” vibe. However, for commercial success’ sake, the relevant studios have ignored pop-culture’s critical backlash. Unfortunately, these studio-fuelled quarrels hit The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro like one of Spider-Man’s wily punches. The plot, to put it simply, tangles itself into a convoluted and incessant creation. Here, much like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. Should he protect New York’s citizens as the wall-crawling arachnid or look after long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field)? Breaking his promise to Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from her, Peter is torn between his life’s most important strands. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your relationship with Spidey’s comic-book saga, the narrative delivers several sub-plots and cartoonish characters. Some of these include Aunt May heading back to nursing school and Gwen being accepted into Oxford University. Believe it or not, eclipsing these already unnecessary subplots, the narrative throws even more strands into its already bloated and top-heavy structure.

Spider-Man vs. Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino.

Obviously, there’s way too much going on in Spidey’s latest cinematic endeavour. Notorious blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) spray their frustrating screenwriting ticks all over this sequel’s intriguing premise. Backed up by fellow screenwriter Jeff Pinkner, their needlessly convoluted and sketchy screenplay forms an inconsistent and cheesy web of plot-lines, character arcs, tragic moments, and predictable revelations. Sadly, it’s as if this particular universe means nothing to these infamous screenwriters (other than a hefty paycheque). This instalment, striving to overlook the now two-year-old reboot, is treated like yet another mindless and glossy jumpstart. Overtly, the narrative and Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer)’s direction are strongly influenced by preceding superhero/action-dramas. For the first third, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro strives to string Raimi’s trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe into its dense, labyrinthine structure. Despite containing several of the original’s foibles, I will give credit where it’s due. Unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t blatantly copy one of Raimi’s efforts. However, temped to make more web puns, I’m still perplexed by this movie’s flaws. With a $200 million+ budget anchoring this sequel, the movie’s tonal and pacing issues are more obvious than Spidey’s web-based “I Love You” signals.

Jamie Foxx.

Aiming to be bigger, broader, and ballsier than previous flicks, this instalment’s reach drastically exceeds its grasp. After mistreated dweeb turned freakish monster Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and long-time confidant turned slimy adversary Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are introduced, the story suddenly decides to crawl toward its explosive and miscalculated final third. Setting up conflicts for future instalments, the second half’s dour side clashes with its more over-the-top moments. Seeking a Tim Burton/Batman vibe, the kooky villains’ motivations, heart-wrenching twists, and bizarre alliances overthrow the first half’s light-hearted and comedically savvy tone. The movie, advertising itself as “the untold story”, almost immediately forgets about Peter’s missing parents. The movie’s emotional stakes rest on Garfield and Stone’s shoulders. Fortunately, their sweet-natured performances lend a romantic-comedy tinge to this laboured superhero-action flick. Despite their nonsensical roles, Foxx and DeHaan deliver fun performances as Spidey’s snivelling adversaries. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti, Martin Csokas, Chris Cooper, B.J Novak, Colm Feore, and Felicity Jones suffer through thankless roles. Sadly, the characters, though likeable and occasionally sympathetic, are as inhuman and ridiculous as their superpowers. Peter and Stacy’s relationship flip-flops between cheerful exchanges and soppy admittances. Worse, however, is Osborn and Electro’s involvement in Oscorp’s shady wheelings and dealings.

“You know what it is I love about being Spider-Man? Everything!” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro).

Spidey vs. Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin.

Ultimately, apart from telegraphing certain events, these interactions stall an already disjointed and vacuous tale. Fortunately, Webb injects his signature style into several sequences here. In fact, some scenes, when judged on their own, come off like acclaim-worthy highlights lifted from this shoddy misfire. With this instalment being a compilation of disparate concepts and set pieces, Webb’s style heightens its interest factor above tedium. Certain sequences, charting Peter’s descent from misguided simpleton to mischievous and miserable vigilante, add class and charm to this overcrowded extravaganza. Several montages, depicting changing seasons and super-heroic acts, track Peter’s bizarre life story. In addition, saving certain sections from becoming laughably earnest, Webb’s action-direction vastly exceeds his previous efforts. With Spidey flying through the sky, his web-swings deliver gloriously thrilling adrenaline rushes. Overcoming the under-utilised villains, the stakes are raised with each sprawling action sequence. Spidey’s first action sequence pits Peter against a car chase and his graduation ceremony. This conundrum, complete with Spidey’s sarcastic wit, commendably kick-starts this instalment. Meanwhile, Spidey and Electro’s showdown in Times Square almost rectifies this antagonist’s inclusion. However, nowadays, this whiz-bang stuff is expected of every big-budget tent-pole. Despite the movie’s glossy sheen and thrilling moments, its major issues intrinsically poison an otherwise enjoyable blockbuster.

Today, we expect our blockbusters to entertain us and re-shape the Hollywood system. Fresh ideas and brilliant minds keep audiences coming back to these exhaustive and over-long adaptations (thank you, Joss Whedon). Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is a case of too many cooks, and crooks, spoiling the broth. With plot-threads, character arcs, and Easter eggs clashing with tonal shifts and tiresome pacing issues, this sequel, fittingly, gets stuck in its own gargantuan web (last one, I swear).

Verdict: An underwhelming and confusing sequel.

Muppets Most Wanted Review – Vaudeville Verve


Director: James Bobin

Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire

hr_Muppets_Most_Wanted_11


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The kooky humour.

Worst part: The exhaustive length.

Before I delve into the latest Muppet instalment, I’ll state one important fact – all Muppets are puppets, but not all puppets are Muppets. To earn this title, a puppet must earn the skills, know-how, and wit to stand alongside Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. Yes, this review already seems entirely earnest. Perhaps, it’s a bit too serious. However, this series deserves significant credit and attention. This franchise carries people through one decade after another. Despite the old-fashioned humour and dated plot-lines, this series still clings onto its undying charm. Judging by Muppets Most Wanted, this series shows no signs of slowing down…again.

The Muppets are back…yet again!

Created in the 1950s by legendary artist and puppeteer Jim Henson, this franchise touches people’s lives. Whenever Kermit runs across the screen, viewers glue their eyeballs to the screen. With The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper becoming instant classics, these colourful and spirited characters reside in pop-culture’s all-important aura. However, after seven big-budget movies and long-running TV series’, these characters have lost their intended target audience. Younger generations, judging by Muppets Most Wanteds US box office earnings, are neglecting this engaging property. However, 2011’s The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted prove that older generations still stand by these favourable, felt-lined characters. This movie kicks off one second after the kitsch reboot. At this moment, the Muppet cast realises its true potential. Kickstarting a sequel, the troupe still holds its Vaudeville act close to its heart. At the centre, Kermit looks after everyone. Controlled by tour manager Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bajee”) (Ricky Gervais), the Muppets are pressured into an around-the-world tour. Travelling, by train (a cracking gag, indeed), from America to Berlin, the crew begins to look to Badguy for guidance. However, made obvious by his kooky name, Badguy is slowly pulling on the thread. Escaping from a Siberian Gulag, villainous frog Constantine heads to Berlin to find Badguy and the Muppets. Sporting a brown mole on his right cheek, Constantine plots to steal from European museums and banks. Swapping out Kermit for Constantine, Badguy wholeheartedly wins the Muppets over. Kermit, residing in a harsh Gulag, is watched over by head prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey).

Ricky Gervais & Constantine.

From there, kooky hijinks, strict investigations, and touching revelations steal the show. With this sequel, director James Bobin and executive producer Nicholas Stoller, carrying on from the original, needed to justify this franchise’s existence. With Jason Segel and Amy Adams stepping down from the fuzz-covered mantle, the Muppets themselves are thrown into leading roles. Thankfully, though not as good as the reboot, this sequel makes several successful and impactful strides. The Muppets, including newbie Walter, highlight our immense preconceptions and the narrative’s more obvious tropes. Backing up the evil doppelgänger and prison escape plot-strands, Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle parody European customs agents whilst investigating crime scenes across the continent. From the opening musical number onward, the movie acknowledges its ridiculousness and semi-unwarranted existence. Thanks to meta-textual humour and self-reflexive characters, this instalment answers to each generation’s requests and complaints. Covered head-to-toe in fur-covered nostalgia, this instalment embraces Gen-X’s infatuation with the seminal troupe. Throwing us into an over-the-top narrative and tried-and-true character arcs, we see this kinetic franchise becoming wiser and heartier with age. Fuelled by determination and joy, these cushy characters bop along at a leisurely pace. Fittingly, the movie, for the most part, heartily clicks during the jokes and musical numbers. Unfortunately, the movie’s 113-minute length delivers too much of a great thing. Stretching the conventional narrative beyond reason, the jokes, conflicts, and motivations become tiresome even before the final 15 minutes.

“Hi-lo, Kyer-mit thee Frog heree.” (Constantine (Steve Whitmire), Muppets Most Wanted).

Ty Burrell & Sam the Eagle.

Of course, Muppets Most Wanted relies on humour, visuals, and all-out chaos. The humour, despite occasionally falling flat, controls this instalment like a puppet on a string. the meta humour and slapstick gags work wonders throughout. Gracefully, the rambunctious surprises and pithy one-liners overshadow the more witless moments. Like with previous Muppet creations, the cameos deliver enjoyable, albeit self-indulgent, gags. Here, lacking the original’s glorious sheen, character actors and TV personalities prance across the screen. Christoph Waltz and Salma Hayek acknowledge The Muppet Show’s eclectic veneer. In addition, stuck with Kermit in the Gulag, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Tom Hiddleston, and Jermaine Clement display their musical theatre chops (who knew, huh?). Speaking of which, the musical numbers, though insightful and clever, never ascend above the original’s catchy interludes. Written and composed by Flight of the Choncords’ Bret McKenzie, these bizarre songs maintain his imaginative and hysterical style. The opening number, ‘Do it all Again’, delivers a zany commentary on Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels, prequels, reboots, established properties etc. Meanwhile, Fey’s seminal number, ‘The Big House’, provides several subversive and light-hearted moments. However, more importantly, Muppets Most Wanted brings back our favourite furry friends. Kermit, voiced by Steve Whitmire this time, undergoes a transcendent journey. Like with previous instalments, the world’s nicest frog underlines the movie’s salient points and overarching messages. His doppelgänger is the franchise’s most engaging new addition. Sporting a thick Russian accent and martial arts skills, his mannerisms deliver major laughs. Interacting with these two, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo etc. light up the stage and screen.

Throughout Muppets Most Wanted, this instalment’s cast and crew enthusiastically pat themselves on the back. Elevating this franchise’s already sterling reputation, its self-aware gags, fun musical numbers, and enlightening performances make for a worthy cinematic offering. However, falling short of the reboot’s seminal aura, this sequel proves that, more often than not, original features are almost always better.

Verdict: A rambunctious and honourable sequel. 

The Raid 2: Berandal Review – The Ultimate Gut-punch


Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusawedo

The_Raid_2_Berandal_teaser_banner


Release date: March 28th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Stage 6 Films

Country: Indonesia

Running time: 150 minutes


Best part: The inventive fight choreography.

Worst part: The convoluted sub-plots.

Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

Verdict: A pulsating and revelatory martial arts flick.

300: Rise of an Empire – Bodybuilders & Blood Splatters


Director: Noam Murro 

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

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

3½/5

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.

Sullivan Stapleton.

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.

Eva Green.

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).

Rodrigo Santoro.

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. 

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Review – Big News, Bigger Laughs


Director: Adam McKay

Writers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay

Stars: Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner 


Release date: December 18th, 2013 

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

 

Best part: The zany humour.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Verdict: A hilarious, zany, and touching comedy sequel.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review – Game On!


Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland


Release date: November 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 146 minutes


 

 

Best part: Jennifer Lawrence.

Worst part: The familiar structure.

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Verdict: An engaging, moody, and impactful sequel for the holidays.

Star Trek into Darkness Review – Khan-do Attitude!


Director: J.J. Abrams

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch


Release date: May 16th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The villain.

Worst part: The underused supporting characters.

In 1966, a sci-fi TV show called Star Trek hit the airwaves. It contained a low budget, some groovy outfits, and an over-acting William Shatner. With all that said, it’s difficult to comprehend that Trek is now a pop culture phenomenon. 47 years later, the Starship Enterprise is still going where no man has gone before. The latest offering, Star Trek into Darkness, proves this franchise has many more successful voyages to come.

Zachary Quinto & Chris Pine.

The twelfth film to be crafted from Gene Rodenberry’s original creation, Star Trek into Darkness is a visually stunning and powerful blockbuster. This may be a strong statement, but the movie is in serious contention to be the best big-budget movie of 2013. This sequel/reboot/prequel/whatever starts off with an exciting race against time for our plucky band of heroes. After Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) are chased by an alien tribe, Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) comes to be in charge of saving the tribe’s planet from destruction. Whilst saving Spock from being burnt alive inside an active volcano, Kirk comes under fire from Starfleet for breaking the mission’s ‘Prime Directive’. However, Kirk and Spock’s demotions are the least of Starfleet’s problems. Super-powered secret agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) betrays the Federation and blows up London’s Starfleet Archives building. With a point to prove, Kirk and Spock are reinstated and tasked with eradicating Harrison by any means necessary. However, the universe and Harrison hold many surprises for the Enterprise’s crew.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

The real captain of this multi-layered ship is J.J. Abrams. Abrams is one of the busiest and most engaging producer/directors currently working. When he’s not creating shows like Lost, he’s directing big-budget flicks like Mission Impossible 3 and Super 8. His first Star Trek film, back in 2009, revived a once flagging franchise; smartly and efficiently bringing together the beloved group of Starfleet officers in an alternate timeline. Once again, his directorial flair shines in every scene. Clearly inspired by the early works of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, he injects charm and wonder into every shot. His film hits warp speed rather quickly. This instalment, despite containing a convoluted screenplay by Lost writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, excels at keeping everything balanced and weightless. Despite some familiar and unnecessary plot points, the screenplay keeps you guessing whilst keeping the extraneous Trek jargon to a minimum. Unlike most sequels, the plot, characters, and special effect/action sequences fit together seamlessly to propel the story forward. This instalment owes a debt of gratitude to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Whilst containing some major spoilers, this instalment matches the classic Trek sequel in emotion and thrills. Both Trekkies and average film-goers will savour Abrams’ take on these eternally culturally-relevant characters.

Alice Eve.

This time around, Abrams has beefed up the series’ ‘Mac Store’ look. The film switches mostly between futuristic Earth settings and scenic vistas of the universe. Every setting is slick, expansive, and brightly lit; adding to this already awe-inspiring experience. Some may find Abrams’ lens flares to be jarring, while everyone else will quickly be immersed in his expansive creation. Abrams, hurriedly becoming an auteur, has a keen eye for universe building. The production design immediately impresses with the opening scene. The threatened planet, featuring a lush, red forest and black and white-painted tribesman, becomes an enthralling sight to behold. The inventive cinematography and score also stand out. Abrams’ unique camera-work presents the Enterprise as an intricate, maze-like creation. The action set-pieces come thick and fast. Spaceship battles, foot chases, and shoot outs are some of the film’s most enthralling moments. The ship is nearly destroyed on multiple occasions, somehow coping with whatever the universe throws at it. However, Abrams never allows style to overtake substance. His references to the original series and movies are subtle and, at points, extremely clever. The famous quotes and signs (Vulcan salute, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” etc.) are subtly thrown in when required. The comedic moments are also fun, and delivered particularly well by the film’s immensely-talented cast.

“KHAAANNNN!” (Spock (Zachary Quinto), Star Trek into Darkness).

Despite the heavy amount of exposition in some scenes, the dialogue is delivered flawlessly by this stellar cast. The cast now comfortably fits into every key role. Abrams balances wit and drama whilst controlling the film’s colourful array of personalities. Pine is a charismatic and powerful presence on screen. Kirk is a man of many talents, but continually fails to follow orders. His arc here is both familiar and touching. To conquer this ominous threat, he must trust his crew members and learn the importance of humility. His friendship with Spock becomes more naturalistic as the film progresses. Quinto flawed me here with his nuanced and delicate portrayal of Spock. Here, Spock is in an internal tug of war with his Vulcan sense of duty and humanistic sense of modesty. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a menacing and sympathetic villain. Essentially a 23rd Century terrorist, his startling actions draw many comparisons to current events. He represents the enemies that major organisations struggle to find. This vengeful character’s motivations are clear and understandable. However, this is one of many recent blockbusters to depict the lead villain being intentionally captured (this cliché has now officially run its course!). The supporting cast, including Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana, are effective in small roles. However, newcomers Peter Weller (‘Robocop’ himself) and Alice Eve fail to make the most of their underdeveloped characters.

Tense in some scenes and tear-jerking in others, Star Trek into Darkness is an almost flawless big-budget, sci-fi action flick. The cast, kinetic visuals, and fun action set pieces form a thrilling and enlightening film-going experience. With Abrams making Star Trek instalments of this quality, let’s hope that Into Darkness isn’t his final frontier.

Verdict: An exciting and profound sci-fi spectacle. 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review – America: F*ck Yeah!


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki


Release date: March 28th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


3/5

Best Part: Willis and Johnson

Worst Part: RZA as the blind master

Hollywood’s latest trend has been to adapt cartoons and toy franchises into big-budget movies. Toy company Hasbro is rolling in cash after the commercial success of the Transformers films and Battleship. However, commercial success doesn’t guarantee quality. Arguably, the best films with the Hasbro name on them are the G.I. Joe flicks. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the better of the two, but that’s still not saying much.

Dwayne Johnson.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is silly yet enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, is a lot saner than I thought it would be. It starts off with Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) enjoying military life as members of the G.I. Joe Unit. They save countless lives, defeat super-villains with ease, and lap up everything at their disposal. However, their time spent protecting the Earth is about to hit a huge, ahem, roadblock. On a mission to reclaim nuclear arms in Pakistan, they are attacked by the vicious underground military unit known as Cobra. The attack was organised by none other than the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As announced rather hastily in the trailer, the president is not who he seems. The only Joes left alive after the attack are Roadblock, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Teaming up with the original G.I. Joe member, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the remaining Joes must track down those responsible and bring them to justice.

Snake Eyes.

The original cartoon was designed to advertise the hugely popular action figures. Let’s make one thing clear; both live-action films are just as stupid and flawed as the original material. They are low-brow in every sense. The thing that makes them better than the other Hasbro flicks is their sense of humour. Both films wink at the audience. It’s as if everyone involved is aware of the franchise’s silly premise, catch phrases, and iconography. The first G.I. Joe flick, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was an ultra-dumb yet fun cartoon in live action form. It was essentially Team America: World Police without the satirical edge or marionettes. It reached for Transformers success without understanding anything about story or character consistency. Its sequel gives the franchise a facelift. This pseudo-reboot gets rid of the original’s ultra-shiny and unconvincing special effects to deliver a rollicking thrill-ride. Gone are the accelerator suits, advanced laser-weapons and ice palaces. Here, we get a cross between the original and grittier ensemble action flicks such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The A-Team. For the most part, the settings, costumes and gun-fights in G.I. Joe: Retaliation are tangible. Machine guns and camouflage army outfits suit this interpretation of G.I. Joe. This style may draw a larger crowd to this ridiculous franchise.

Cobra Commander & Storm Shadow.

This movie diverts from the crass and unessential elements of the Transformers films and Battleship. Unlike those movies, G.I. Joe: Retaliation knows what it is and doesn’t try to exceed its grasp. It revels in its predictable ‘men on a mission’ story without becoming jingoistic or insulting. Unlike the original, there are no unnecessary romantic sub-plots, predictable revelations, or awkward familial ties between characters. Here, it’s a revenge flick driven by both its action set pieces and spy narrative. The action set pieces are, of course, why the average Joe (du dun chh!) would want to see this movie. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 the Streets, Step Up 3D) utilises his talents to master these set pieces. His handling of choreography and movement brings fluidity and exhilaration to each action scene. Thankfully, he avoids quick cuts and shaking cameras. The film’s best set piece is shown in many of the trailers. The ninja fight across the mountain face is a lot more exciting and vertigo-inducing than expected. Unfortunately, the action sequences past this point are anti-climactic.

“In the immortal words of Jay-Z: “Whatever deity may guide my life, dear lord don’t let me die tonight. But if I shall before I wake, I’d accept my fate.”” (Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

Bruce Willis & Adrianne Palicki.

The witty script, by Zombieland writers Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, saves this film. The iconic elements of the G.I. Joe franchise are subtly and fondly peppered throughout this film. The all-important Joe characters shine on screen. Roadblock is a nice addition to this series. He is given a greater back-story than expected. He also becomes the strong leader needed in a time of crisis. Dwayne Johnson’s physique and natural charm stand out here. The original Joe’s inclusion was also a nice surprise. Willis brings his dry wit to an otherwise straight-faced role. Palicki and Cotrona liven up their one dimensional characters. However, faring poorly is former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. He is laughable as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s master, sporting both white-tipped facial hair and a strange accent. Asian actor Byung-Hun Lee does the best he can with some of the film’s worst dialogue. Except for Pryce’s ego-maniacal president character, the villains are uninteresting. The Cobra Commander and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) are over the top. You begin to miss the Joes whenever they aren’t on screen.

If you are willing to suspend disbelief, then you may enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Aided by the charisma of Willis and Johnson, the film is a non-stop thrill-ride. This film has its problems (e.g. too many silly code names), but it understands just how preposterous this franchise is.

Verdict: A silly yet enjoyable sequel.

A Good Day to Die Hard Review – Please Die Quickly!


Director: John Moore

Writer: Skip Woods

Stars: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir


Release date: February 14th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


2/5

Best part: Willis and Courtney.

Worst part: The incomprehensible plot.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Rocky Balboa and Rambo? These films were sequels that brought their respected series’s back into the spotlight. 80s-era franchises are loved by the masses. Today, studios are milking series’s dry for nostalgia’s sake. Even looking at contemporary film franchises, we currently have six Fast and Furious films, four Terminator films and, now, five Die Hard films. Having watched A Good Day to Die Hard, I believe that this series should follow its title’s own advice.

Bruce Willis.

It’s by far the worst in the series and a waste of time in more ways than one. It’s a cynical exercise in Hollywood politics that completely forgets what made the original the classic that it is. Watching this film, you can see how Hollywood has fallen from where it was in the 80s. The plot of AGDTDH is not important or interesting in any way, but I’m still going to describe it. The seemingly immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back in action. This time around, he must travel to Russia to get his son Jack (Jai Courtney) out of trouble. Jack, a CIA agent, is arrested over a catastrophic assassination attempt. His mission is to set political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) free. Komarov is set to stand trial, but must retrieve a file containing incriminating evidence against corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Before you can say “Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia”, The McClanes, Komarov, and Komarov’s daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) must travel to Chernobyl to retrieve the file before Chagarin’s henchmen catch up to them.

Jai Courtney.

This film is somehow much dumber than its already pathetic title. It seems that hack writer Skip Woods (Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and hack director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) have failed to grasp any understanding of this series. It has bigger issues to contend with than just a clichéd narrative. Many action flicks have predictable plots, yet can survive on other strengths. When analysing it as a mindless action flick, AGDTDH is terrible. But when judging it as a Die Hard instalment, it’s even worse. What makes Die Hard one of the best action flicks in history is its basic elements. It contains a simple story aided by many fun and jaw-dropping moments. With the fifth instalment, everything is pumped up to a cartoonish extent. The action set-pieces have an epic sense of scale, yet fail to convince. They stretch both plausibility and patience to breaking point. It’s awkward watching the many distracting and unnecessary visual flourishes at Moore’s disposal. The excessive use of CGI destroys action scenes that should be tangible and enjoyable. However, the stunts, noisy explosions and gunfights are fun. The leaps and bounds made by certain characters are positively baffling and add to this otherwise empty experience.

Yuliya Snigir.

This film provides a rather uninteresting and inaccurate interpretation of the John McClane character. In the first three films, John McClane was a relatable citizen. He was essentially the action hero version of the ‘Hitchcockian’ lead character; always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Die Hard 4.0 hit cinemas, that vulnerable side of John McClane vanished and suddenly he was launching cop cars into helicopters. In AGDTDH, he is essentially a superhero. He can jump through windows, crash cars and dodge bullets without receiving any broken bones or concussions. I’m looking forward to seeing him in The Avengers 2. Where the film lost me was in its insanely bombastic car chase. John, Jack and the slimy European baddies use three large vehicles to destroy half of Moscow. They obliterate hundreds of cars and structures in a 10 minute sequence, without receiving disabling injuries or police interference. In fact, the police are strangely vacant throughout this film. John and Jack must fight helicopters, terrorists and bad one-liners by themselves. John also becomes an unlikable and angry tourist. At one point, he knocks out an innocent Russian man for not speaking English. From then on, I found it difficult to care about his struggle.

“The sh*t we do for our kids. Yippie-kai-yay, motherf*cker.” (John McClane (Bruce Willis), A Good Day to Die Hard).

The A Good Day to Die Hard gang.

Willis is still charming. He overcomes his putrid dialogue whilst injecting some life into his beloved character for a fifth time. Willis reminds me of my dad- tough, hard-working and bald. He and Courtney have significant chemistry. Courtney, fresh off of his villainous role in Jack Reacher, is charismatic. He does what he can with the inept material here. The relationship between John and Jack fails to ignite. Like the conflict in Die Hard 4.0, the McClanes face-off with both the bad guys and each other. The father-son shouting matches never stop and soon become sitcom-like. John saves Jack’s life, only to be treated with distain. At the same time, John’s comments about Jack’s CIA work are condescending (“The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey”). The only charming character in AGDTDH is a Frank Sinatra-loving cabbie. Every Die Hard flick should, at the very least, have a strong villain. Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons brought charm and prickly demeanours to their immaculate roles as Hans and Simon Gruber respectively. Even Timothy Olyphant shined as Die Hard 4.0’s computer whiz baddie. Here, there are too many inferior villains. None of them stand out beyond the film’s confusing political espionage sub-plot.

AGDTDH is an example of how not to make an action film. With Die Hard 6 on the horizon, everyone associated should go back to the drawing board. Hollywood’s worst ideas and impulses have been injected into this dumb action flick with the Die Hard name slapped on it. If they are looking for an even stupider title for the next instalment, may I suggest ‘A Die Hard Day’s Night’?

Verdict: A vapid and disappointing fifth instalment.

The Expendables 2 Review – Macho Mayhem


Director: Simon West

Writers: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis


Release date: August 17th, 2012

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The comedic moments.

Strapping on the pistols, knives and corny dialogue once again, The Expendables 2 loudly expresses that the revered elements of 80s action cinema are still valuable. Despite this series already feeling the pinch of a discerning modern audience, this instalment is a clear step above its underwhelming yet still enjoyable predecessor.

The Expendables.

The Expendables.

The super group known as ‘The Expendables’ has survived the deadliest assignments in the harshest environments on the planet. But after one of their own – Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) – is killed on the job, the team must stop the dastardly plans of Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a terrorist hell-bent on world control. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), under the orders of a higher CIA power (Church (Bruce Willis)), must overcome his emotional restraints, gather his muscle-bound friends – rounded out by knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) – and save the world yet again. Along the way, the Expendables are joined by alluring, tech-savvy security expert Maggie (Yu Nan), spec-ops badass/troublesome loner Booker (Chuck Norris), and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Carrying over many problems from the original, we still spend little time on anything more than the team’s killer attributes. Stallone and the gang are simply cyphers of their most famous characters, asking a lot of an audience who might be unaware of their previous work. Despite being built around the most obvious action film cliches, it provides a clever spark of confidence with the advantages of its A-list cast and glowing sense of nostalgia. Simon West, a director with prior experience in the genre with Con Air and The Mechanic  remake, pulls back and allows guns, martial arts and weird accents do the talking. The team of both old and new action greats is expanded from the original with satisfying results. Side by side through every gun shot, explosion and catch phrase, the muscle-bound elephant in the room fades away as the ensemble evolves into an enjoyably chummy group of friends. The dialogue unfortunately falls into failed sitcom delivery with the regular use of petty insults, references and one liners drowned in a cheesy fondue. Despite this, the wink and nudge style illustrates the worth of these great actors. Here they pay homage not only to each other, but all forms of influential and violent genre cinema with its modernised Magnificent Seven narrative.

“Why is it that one of us who wants to live the most, who deserves to live the most dies, and the ones that deserve to die keep on living? What’s the message in that?” (Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), The Expendables 2).

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Bruce Willis.

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Bruce Willis.

Despite problems as glaring as the veins covering Stallone’s triceps, it’s still one of the most likeable action flicks of the year. Unlike many of 2012’s spineless action extravaganzas including Battleship and Total RecallThe Expendables 2 delivers on its most promising of opportunities. The chemistry between this dynamic ensemble of iron clad heroes delivers the energy needed for any entry in the ‘men on a mission’ sub-genre. Stallone and Jason Statham provide the most charisma as team leaders, with Stallone using his emotional range seen in films such as Rocky and Copland. Yu Nan is charming as the crew’s token female, while Dolph Lundgren, the always hysterical Terry Crews and UFC fighter Randy Couture are enjoyably silly yet underused as the bickering comic reliefs. Everyone provides a satisfying payoff in the film’s many jaw-dropping and bloodthirsty action set pieces. With the likes of Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Schwarzenegger partnered with the violence and stylish choreography of the most popular and exploitative action flicks of their day, The confusing, quick cut style of the original is thrown out for the greater good.

If Norris making a Chuck Norris joke or Jet Li hitting villainous soldiers with pots and pans sounds cool to you, then The Expendables 2 is a real treat. Increasing the action, charm and cheesiness of the original, this reunion of seasoned action heroes is a flawed yet enlightening homage to an immortal genre.

Verdict: The manliest and most enjoyable nostalgia-based flick in recent memory.

The Dark Knight Rises Review – The Final Flight


Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine


Release date: July 20th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Nolan’s direction.

Worst part: The leaps in logic.

With a penchant for achieving both artistic integrity and visceral entertainment with his acclaimed works, Christopher Nolan has now seemingly achieved the impossible. The Dark Knight Rises delivers on its promises, while defying impossible fan boy expectations, to create an over-long yet powerfully affecting conclusion to the Dark Knight Saga.

Christian Bale & Tom Hardy.

Set eight years after the Joker’s wrath upon Gotham City and Harvey Dent’s downfall from heroic grace, Gotham is at peace. A crippled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is torn from its citizens through his own exile. Despite a slinky cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), hot on his trail, Wayne is still determined to rebuild his shattered company, Wayne Enterprises, and restore his family’s honour. But this promise of redemption in the eye of a first world order comes at a powerful price. Under the city, a new evil has crawled to the surface; determined to destroy its hate filled existence. Bane (Tom Hardy), a complex yet threatening psychopath  and terrorist leader, leads the strike against Gotham’s democratic order. His thirst for destruction plunges the city into  darkness, drawing the controversial yet hailed caped crusader out of the shadows to end Bane’s destruction of Gotham’s integral infrastructure.

Anne Hathaway.

Nolan has created an influential, thrilling and poignant tale of good and evil set in the confines of a city under siege. His vision is ever changing, blending together fantastical and realistic elements in an organic fashion. Nolan’s unique and constantly evolving style has developed a balance between dystopian crime-drama and artistic action cinema. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the most formalist instalment in this already revered saga, as the grand scale of this epic masterpiece creates the climactic struggle for democracy within Gotham’s soul. This is a powerful story created by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, crossing the boundaries of modern blockbuster cinema through emotional depth, a relevant thematic structure and a truly involving and epic sense of scale. The thematic and symbolic structure is based on both Nolan’s artistic influences and the relevance of a crumbling democratic society. The destruction of economic and social order, inspired by Metropolis and The Taking of Pelham 123, is carefully examined through Bane’s madness and Catwoman’s desire for a shared socio-economic society. As a symbol of the wealthy elite in peril, Wayne must ultimately face his harshest fears to protect the citizens of Gotham. With Batman Begins symbolising the importance of fear and The Dark Knight questioning the structure of a post 9/11 society through chaos, The Dark Knight Rises creates a crumbled existence based on the relevance of social order.

“We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.” (Bane (Tom Hardy), The Dark Knight Rises).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Gary Oldman.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Gary Oldman.

The personification of all three elements here is Bane. A mythic creature born with a taste for torturous violence and a vision of ‘freedom’ within Gotham City, his violent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ based assault on Gotham’s elite social hierarchy creates a terrifying yet empathetic presence. Immersed in terrifying villainy, similarly to Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hardy is a dramatic and physical force. With a multi-layered muscular structure aiding his cold demeanour, thick accent and thirst for pain, Bane goes toe to toe with Batman, using his tortured soul to create a similar sense of anguish for Gotham’s citizens. Hardy also creates an awe-inspiring menace through brutal fighting ability. His lack of remorse and fierce physical presence creates a truly potent and symbolic battle with Batman, particularly in their first fight sequence featuring beautifully shot and creatively choreographed martial arts. Bale delivers one of his greatest performances here as the emotionally decayed anti-hero figure, particularly through poignant interaction with Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Hathaway commands the screen with a much needed ferocity. While Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide solid turns in important roles close to Wayne’s emotional separation from Gotham’s existence.

Arguably the best trilogy in the history of Hollywood cinema, Nolan has grown as a film-maker through his creation of an emotionally gripping and revered superhero saga. Through this depiction of poignant characterisation, a symbolic visual style and resonant thematic core, this truly is cinema as it’s meant to be.

Verdict: An emotionally gripping conclusion to one of modern cinema’s greatest trilogies.

Wrath of the Titans Review – Swords and Sam-dals


Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writers: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson

Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike


Release date: March 30th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The sumptuous visuals.

Worst part: The lack of depth.

Illustrating a world of grotesque monsters, bearded gods and vivid desert landscapes, Wrath of the Titans, despite conveying many problems from the lacklustre 2010 original, emphasises and exaggerates its mythological action-adventure appeal; creating a fun, special effect fuelled popcorn feature aimed primarily at fathers and sons, but not carved into the stone of memorable Hollywood spectacle.

Sam Worthington.

Sam Worthington.

This enjoyable romp through fantasised Greek mythology cleverly begins its journey with re-telling the brave events of fisherman turned demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) in the first adventure. We revisit him in a small village, fishing with his young son and teaching the ways of honest living. But war between the gods almost immediately disrupts the peace Perseus created as titans and traitors threaten the existence of mankind. With Zeus in great peril and murmurs of the titan’s release, its up to Perseus, spirited warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and the son of Poseidon, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), to reach the underworld and destroy the minions and masters of hell once and for all.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Wrath of the Titans lives up to its name by delivering exactly what it promises. There’s Wrath, and there’s Titans. The film’s simplicity leaves room to showcase one cracking action sequence after another. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) Turns what could easily be video game-like hack and slash monster mashes into breath taking set pieces, each one excitingly increasing in quality. The fast pacing aids the brisk yet captivating action set pieces while the threats of annihilation by monsters, gods and the almighty Kronos build to a thrilling and climactic final third. With shaky cam and quick cuts plaguing the original, the sequel defies all expectations in its most appealing elements by showcasing immersive tracking and panning shots, fluid choreography, beautiful CGI effects and sharp sound editing. The maze sequence is filmed and designed with the ingenuity and epic scope of a labyrinth inside the mind of  Christopher Nolan. Unlike the disappointing misuse of the monsters in the original, the raw, wriggling and disgusting creations in this film create one startlingly imposing threat after another. They range from slobbering minotaurs, to blood stained siamese twin warriors called Makhai, to Cyclops’s looking remarkably like British soccer hooligans. Much like the original, its over dependence on action set pieces leaves much to be desired with the script and story telling.

“We may not be gods. But we do what people say can’t be done, we hope when there isn’t any… whatever odds we face, we prevail.” (Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Wrath of the Titans).

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.

With a story solely based on following the characters struggle against every monster in the Greek isles, it falls flat on its face as its hollow interior leaves nothing but a straightforward quest for our gaggle of misfit characters. Plot twists based on the bonds between fathers, sons and brothers become increasingly confusing as this theme is just one of many opportunities sorely wasted by a conventional screenplay. One and two dimensional characterisations and stilted dialogue also harm proceedings as Wrath of the Titans noticeably lacks a necessary emotional connection. The cast does an adequate job with the little they’re given. Worthington drastically improves on his dull performance in the original through a charismatic yet stoic portrayal of this fabled yet modest hero, while surprisingly convincing in his comedic moments. Kebbell as the wise-cracking thief and demigod Agenor lifts the tone slightly with clever one liners. Pike as the love interest seldom gets enough screen time to make her normally gorgeous presence known. While older actors such as Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston and Bill Nighy are captivating yet suffer due to lacking screen time, unclear character motivation or diminutive story involvement. Fiennes and Neeson deliver great chemistry between each other; creating a believable relationship as brothers.

Banking on the success of Worthington and Liebesman, Wrath of the Titans is obviously a made-by-focus-group action flick. Being a sequel to one of the biggest flops of 2010, the movie barely scrapes by on pure adrenaline and brute force.

Verdict: A shallow yet entertaining action-adventure sequel.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review – Up in Flames


Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Writers: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer

Stars: Nicholas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Ciaran Hinds


Release date: February 17th, 2012

Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 95 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: Idris Elba.

Worst part: The comedic moments.

Nicholas Cage proves once again that his crazy antics and bad script choices are still in full effect. This adaptation of the infamous Ghost Rider comic book series, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, may look cool, but one incomprehensibly ridiculous story and character element after  another turns what could’ve been a fun exploitation flick into a barely watchable and stupid waste of time.

Nicholas Cage.

With Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Things start off promisingly however when we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the action. Moreau (Idris Elba), an alcoholic French outcast but loyalist of the church, desperately tries to save a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), and his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido), from the forces and leather clad henchman of the devil, in the form of Rourke (Ciaran Hinds). His need for a saviour leads him to the Ghost Rider himself, Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage). With Blaze clinging onto the hope of exterminating his own demonic torment, its up to this gang of misfits to expel the forces of evil from both themselves and the Earth forever.

Idris Elba.

Despite having a completely different vision and team behind it than the original, the many embarrassing flaws will give any comic book film fan a reason to audibly sigh and sense of deja vu at the same time. Agonisingly pursuing to tie this sequel into the lacklustre 2007 original while depicting a rebooted version of the Devil’s bounty hunter, Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance still carries similar pathetic script and directorial failings. Most noticeably, the film stops every few minutes to throw in terrible moments of slapstick comedy and cheesy dialogue. Its painful to sit through scenes of pointless religious preaching and  groan-able one liners making up the film’s entirety. Face-palming when Ghost Rider throws a villain under a moving car and says “roadkill” to himself or when pissing fire and laughing at the audience would be completely agreeable. The script goes even further into the bowels of hell with a cliche story, quickly turning from gothic action film to boring road trip, that moves increasingly slow throughout the second and third acts. The idea of the devil trying to force his body into a prepubescent boy is a stupid Exorcist style cliche to begin with. Not only do several plot twists throughout involving character consistency make no sense, but the final scene is forced to a point of throwing in one more cliché within the space of a minute.

“He’s scraping at the door. Scraping at the door! And if you don’t tell what I wanna know, I’m gonna let him out. And when he’s done with you, there won’t be anything left, you understand?” (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider (Nicholas Cage), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance).

Johnny Whitworth.

Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (The Crank Movies, Gamer) have taken  their schizophrenic but innovative visual style and focus on a character perfect for their film-making eye. Their interpretation of the incinerating motorcycle rider starts off promising; bringing tight editing, cinematography and gritty 2D animated origin sequences together with the thrill of the chase and a climactic score to create a somewhat entertaining first 25 minutes. But soon their crazy style conflicts with the boring script to become increasingly irritating and somewhat useless, creating the obviously uneven pacing and tone. Also descending in quality after the strong opening are the performances. Cage plays it too far over the top to become an impersonation of himself, particularly when trying to contain the Ghost Rider. While Hinds and Johnny Whitworth as Carrigan start off exuding charisma but soon turn into corny and ineffectual villainous caricatures. Putting out the fires somewhat is Elba. Still sporting the same contact lenses he had in Thor, his cool reserve and endless charm provide a notable performance, despite delivering a strange French/Caribbean accent.

Adding to Nicholas Cage’s disastrous run of critical and commercial slip-ups, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t even pack enough Cohoes to be considered a guilty pleasure. Sadly, this fire fizzles out quick!

Verdict: A lifeless and pointless superhero sequel. 

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows Review – A Clueless Mystery


Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (novels)

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jarred Harris


Release date: December 16th, 2011

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 129 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Downey, Jr. and Law’s chemistry.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

The massive success of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes brought an energetic mix of convincing detective story, boisterous action adventure and witty buddy comedy. This perfect mix sadly doesn’t cross over into the sequel; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Jude Law.

Having said that their are still several elements that make this instalment an adequately entertaining thrill ride. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows starts with a bang as tensions mount between France and Germany over the threat of annihilation. Bombings in both countries lead Holmes to the investigate the infamous and psychopathic Professor James Moriarty (Jarred Harris). With Watson (Jude Law) forced to his side once again, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) must stop Moriarty from continuing his assault on Europe and promises of global destruction. With a successful first film under his belt, director Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) directs with an increasing level of excess.

Noomi Rapace.

Failing to capture the charm of the original, Richie over uses his visual style to the point of irritation. With every twist and turn in this steampunk crime story, every few moments is cluttered with inconsistent editing techniques, over-used slo-mo/speed up and constant zooming camera movements. Holmes’ detection of one clue after another soon becomes tiresome as we are forced to watch one confusing effect after another in quick succession. Where Richie’s techniques do work however is in several of the action sequences. Particularly in the beginning as Holmes, in an old Chinese man costume, is confronted, by several thugs. the quick cuts and swerving camera movements create the look of an 18th century Bourne film. The slo-mo also works in small doses in these scenes. The very artistic and climactic chase through the woods at the dodge of cannon and gun fire is fascinating to watch. Like many sequels, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows struggles trying to find its point; leading to it becoming instantly forgettable.

Jarred Harris.

The story itself is largely incomprehensible and grinds to a deafening halt in the second act. In sticking too close to the comedy and character relationships for the most part, there is a noticeable loss of purpose and urgency in their journey. The relationships thankfully work as well as they did in the original. Downey Jr. and Law still work very effectively together as Holmes and Watson. Playing it a little too comedic at points, Downey jr.’s consistent charisma creates an ever enlightening interpretation of Holmes. Jarred Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace as Sim, a card reader thrown into their travels, and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s Brother Mycroft all deliver dynamic performances, yet suffer at the hands of their small and to some extent thankless roles. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows benefits greatly from a stellar cast, well filmed Kung Fu fights and chases, explosions aplenty and convincing performances. However its problems in pacing, gimmicky visual style and story inconsistency sadly keep it from matching the explosive innovation and quick wit of the original.

Obviously, thanks to his recent professional and personal turnarounds, Downey, Jr. can make anything on Earth seem even remotely exciting. In fact, despite the momentous problems festering in this drab sequel, he, Law, and everyone else involved, at the very least, make an effort to piece this mystifying puzzle together. Third time’s a charm, I guess!

Verdict: An underwhelming and convoluted sequel.