2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a gem of a movie which married the fun excess of old spy movies with OTT violence and foul language. Can they pull off the same trick twice?
Well, the answer is almost.
This second adventure finds Eggsy AKA Galahad (Taron Egerton) still in action as an agent of Kingsman, a private spy agency. But when he’s attacked by a familiar face, it appears the agency is in the sights of a resourceful and ruthless foe. A foe who quickly takes out the agency, leaving Eggsy the only survivor other than tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong).
Following their “doomsday protocol” the two discover a bottle of bourbon branded Statesman and travel to Kentucky to investigate. There they find their American equivalent, posing as an alcoholic manufacturer. After a brief run in with Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), they realise they are on the same side and unite.
Their common enemy is Poppy (Julianne Moore), head of a global drug cartel and robotics genius. She has poisoned all of her drugs with a lethal disease, and promises the cure if all drugs are legalized, allowing her to enjoy her success and come out of hiding.
Unfortunately the US President (Bruce Greenwood) has no qualms about letting all the drug users die as it will mean he is remembered as the President who won the war on drugs and Poppy will be blamed.
Affected by the virus are Eggsy’s girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), Tequila and the President’s chief of staff, who objects to his plan but is sent away.
Eggsy investigates with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who survived being shot in the first film but temporarily lost his memory and is not yet back to his best.
Can Eggsy stop Poppy’s scheme? How much can he trust Statesman or Harry? Will he find the antidote in time?
First things first, here’s what works- the action sequences retain the gloriously gory and overblown touches of the original, and while it lacks anything as madly brilliant as the original’s “Freebird” sequence there are some great scraps here. There’s also a nice little gag that plays on one of the first film’s major scenes.
The returning cast are all on form, with Egerton being allowed to let Eggsy’s chavvy enthusiasm to pop up at times. Firth is excellent again especially as he has to play both the badass Harry and the softer, damaged version who can’t remember who he is.
Mark Strong is good in everything he does and here he gets more to do as Merlin.
I also liked that they kept the Princess from the first movie as the love interest, and this relationship, while fleeting in terms of screen time is handled well enough. Also good that they brought back Edward Holcroft’s obnoxious toff Charlie as Poppy’s cybernetically enhanced goon as it added to his vendetta against Eggsy.
The newcomers are decent, although Tatum plays less of a role than trailers suggest. Pascal’s swaggering cowboy Whiskey is pretty badass and as their boss Champagne, Jeff Bridges is his usual charming self. The surprise was Halle Berry who is better here than I’ve seen her in a while.
Julianne Moore is clearly enjoying her campy, flamboyant villain turn but it’s less fun for the audience and it can’t match Samuel L. Jackson in the first flick. She’s not bad, and quite fun, but her reasons are flimsy.
But Poppy’s plan is pretty smart and the twist of having a callous President was smart.
There are a few flaws, some characters from the first film are written out rather cheaply and there is a sense of it sticking to formula. But the formula does work and it delivers plenty of laughs and fun along the way.
There’s also quite a nice extended cameo from Elton John playing himself, Poppy’s hostage and keying up “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to soundtrack a shoot out.
In fact the music throughout is playful and clever.
I really enjoyed it but MWF and I both felt this is probably where we should leave Eggsy as a third outing might stretch it too far.
Verdict: It can’t match the first movie but this is still a fun, frantic romp. OTT in the best way and with its tongue firmly in cheek this kept me entertained throughout. 7.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
It’s always interesting watching old sci-fi movies and seeing how quickly they imagined we’d balls everything up. George Orwell thought that by 1984 we’d be living under a totalitarian regime, constantly observed. John Carpenter went for 1997 as the year by which New York had become a prison colony. Of course, some of the joy watching them now is knowing they got it wrong.
And unless Donald Trump really cocks things up, The Running Man will join that list of films set in a future time we’ve now lived through. In 1987 they thought we’d really make a hash of things and live in a dystopian hell where the vicious government keeps the populace brainwashed with violence and glamour on telly.
The film is based on a book by Stephen King (writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) and with all due respect to King, is far more entertaining, mainly because it was adapted to be a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger who was at the height of his powers. This takes the bleak and grim novel and revamps it as an ’80s action movie.
Arnie plays, Ben Richards, a police pilot framed for the killing of unarmed civilians, despite the fact he was the one who objected and refused to follow his orders. Locked up on a working prison where they convicts are forced to wear exploding collars that stop them from leaving boundaries. I saw this movie as a kid, and the exploding collars are the thing that stuck with me the most.
He engineers an escape with rebellion members Laughlin and Weiss (Yaphet Kotto and Marvin J. McIntyre, respectively). They want to bring down the government and expose the brainwashing, while Richards wants to get the hell out of town and go into hiding. He plans to get his brother to help him but when he gets to his apartment finds that he has been taken for “reeducation” and that a new tenant is living there, musician Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). Richards uses her to attempt to flee the country, but she blows his cover and he is arrested.
As a result he meets Richard Dawson’s Killian, the smarmy game show host who runs The Running Man, the world’s most popular TV show. Dawson is a fantastic villain, arrogant, scheming and utterly without compassion, all hidden behind a friendly, polished public image. A game show host himself, he captures the faux sincerity and interest, before revealing a stone cold side away from the cameras.
Also, in a brilliant moment he responds to Arnie’s trademark “I’ll be back” line with a simple “Only in a rerun”.
Killian wants Richards for the show in order to boost stagnant ratings. The show involves criminals having to run through a series of challenges, with the promise of a blissful tropical paradise should they succeed. Stopping them are the colourful, flamboyant and vicious Stalkers, who are a combination of ITV’s Gladiators and the OTT wrestling heels of the ’80s.
The Stalkers are good value, each with their own gimmick. There’s Jim Brown wielding a flamethrower as Fireball, an electric shooting opera singer named Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude), Sub Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka) who wields an ice hockey stick fitted with blades and chainsaw wielding Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch).
Each operates in a different section and attack Richards, Weiss and Laughlin. Amber is also thrown in with them as she starts to realize that the government has lied about things and is busted snooping.
Of course, every Stalker fails and Arnie dispatches them in short order. Each time with a quip ready to go- “Here’s your Sub Zero, now plain zero” and, having cut Buzzsaw in half, “he had to split”.
Killian becomes increasingly frustrated, and the crowd after initial horror begin rooting for Richards. Killian wants to send in Captain Freedom, the retired all time champ played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, but he refuses.
The action is fast and well orchestrated, with a simple, ’80s bloodiness reliant on practical effects which sees Arnie hack, smash and incinerate his pursuers. Arnie can do this in his sleep, but his odd, unique charisma carries him through and it’s an interesting look at how audiences can be bloodthirsty and fickle.
Arnie’s physical appearance is necessary here, his strength is why he’s chosen as a contender and against better armed enemies it’s ingenuity and brute force that hand him the wins. As a character, Richards isn’t the most developed and we’re expected to just accept him as a hero because he refuses to kill innocents, is fleetingly sad about his brother and tries to protect others, but at the same time he’s rather cold blooded, and physically violent towards Amber when they initially meet. Of course, we root for him because he’s Arnie, which is a clear example of star power.
The ending, where the truth is revealed to the audience suggests things may be about to change. But it’s an ambiguous ending, and while Richards is free and cleared, it seems unlikely that the whole system will come crashing down.
In taking a decent premise but injecting the drama and visuals of wrestling and game shows, the filmmakers take King’s decent idea and transform it into something far more engaging and believable. This seems more like a show people would get sucked into than the idea from the book, where they merely evade capture in the real world.
By upping the cheesiness around the spectacle, they actually make it feel more real. That people will swallow and enjoy blood and mayhem if it’s packaged the right way.
One of Arnie’s best films and hugely entertaining.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money…but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it- I will not look for you, I will not pursue you….but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you…and I will kill you.
That speech, delivered by Liam Neeson’s ex-government agent Brian Mills over the phone to his daughter’s kidnapper is the high point of this film and one of the most badass movie speeches of all time, like the 21st century equivalent of Dirty Harry’s “Do you feel lucky?” speech.
The snatching scene is an immensely powerful film, with Brian hearing his daughter scream for help and get taken. It would be effective in any film, but with Neeson rather than a traditional action hero it’s even better. As he listens his face clearly shows the fear and shock as he lives every parent’s nightmare, and then incredibly subtly his face shifts and a steely resolve is clear. Then he delivers the above speech.
The movie, written and produced by Luc Besson, the French action movie legend, follows Mills as he travels to Paris on the trail of his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who’s been snatched by human traffickers. Arriving in Paris he punches, shoots and tortures his way through the Eastern European heavies to track Kim and her friend down.
Along the way he realizes that the Albanian mob has ties everywhere and even old friends can’t be trusted and he wages his one man war on the mob.
The movie exists in a post Bourne and 24 world so there’s some extremely gritty, bone crunching action along the way and Neeson’s character isn’t adverse to torturing people for information. This causes problems for some viewers, but luckily despite the gritty realism of some scenes it stays true to it’s roots by having a string of unremarkable goons for Neeson to wade through.
Pierre Morel the director and student of Luc Besson (he’d previously worked as cinematographer on Jason Statham vehicle The Transporter and directed the pretty ace District 13) is capable behind the camera and shoots the whole thing in a tight, fast paced way with plenty of in your face camera work and a real knack for capturing the seedy underbelly of Paris.
But above all else it’s Neeson’s film. Since this he’s had a string of action hero style roles, but this was the first one and it was a bit of a surprise to see an actor like him switch to doing a rather nasty exploitation movie.
The nastiness works in it’s favour, allowing Neeson to sink his teeth into a morally ambiguous, relentless character who seems willing to go to any lengths to get his daughter back. The rather vicious, grim tone is a large reason for the film’s success which makes the fact they cut the sequel down to a 12 all the more mindboggling and disappointing, because this movie is a well executed, solid B-movie that sticks true to it’s nasty roots but is elevated by a strong central performance from Neeson.
Mills is an engaging character. His skills are impressive, but his strongest trait is resisting telling his ex wife “I told you so” after his fears for his daughter’s safety are realized.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers Ahead! I’ve tried to avoid them where possible, but some have snuck in, apologies.
Halfway during this film Colin Firth’s character, Harry Hart, is asked if he likes spy movies, to which he replies “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones….marvelous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.” It’s pretty much voicing the film’s intent, which seems like a reaction against the more serious Bourne and Craig era Bonds, and delivers on the far-fetched theatrical plot front.
Of course, this is from the team that brought us Kick-Ass so we’re a long way from Roger Moore territory. Once again Matthew Vaughn directs a script he co-wrote with Jane Goldman based on a Mark Millar comic book, and the result is essentially what you’d expect from the above quote and that team: a plot from an old Bond movie but served with a heavy dose of profanity, hyper violence and hilarity.
Colin Firth plays Harry aka Galahad, the sharp suited gentleman spy who works for Kingsman, a privately owned and run spy agency. Harry is investigating the death of a fellow agent, Lancelot (Jack Davenport), killed while on the trail of mercenaries connected with several incidents involving terrorist groups being taken out by being exposed to something which made them violently turn on each other.
With an agent dead, Harry’s boss, Arthur (Michael Caine), asks Harry to suggest someone to compete against the selection of the other agents. Harry’s unlikely choice is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a former colleague who sacrificed himself to save Harry’s life. Eggsy lives on a rough council estate and doesn’t fit the traditional suave spy type, but Harry sees the potential he has squandered.
Eggsy in turn is impressed by Harry’s abilities as a fighter and his suave, restrained demeanor and agrees to engage in the training programme. Here he must compete against the other candidates, all of whom are posh toffs and he faces judgment and mockery from many of them, although Roxy (Sophie Cookson) does befriend him. The training is overseen by Merlin (Mark Strong), who also knew Eggsy’s father and was present at his death.
As Eggsy goes through his training, Harry investigates Lancelot’s death, which turns out to be connected to tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), who seems to be plotting something big and is assisted by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) an assassin who uses bladed prosthetic legs as her weapon of choice. What is Valentine’s plan and how is it connected to the free SIM cards he’s giving out?
Will Eggsy stick to the course and become a Kingsman agent? Will he and Harry be able to work out what Valentine’s up to and stop it?
This movie is an utter gem, filled with laugh out moments and hugely entertaining OTT action sequences. MWG and I laughed throughout and left the cinema extremely impressed and entertained, as did all of the people we went with. It plays with the spy genre conventions, ribbing and reveling in the excesses and ridiculousness of it.
At the centre is a fantastic performance from Colin Firth, who you can tell must have had a ball playing with his traditional persona. He doesn’t look threatening or badass, but throughout the film he carries himself with this taut restraint and posh mannerisms that suggest great personal control, which ensures that when he finally cuts loose in the fight scenes it’s incredibly entertaining.
Firth’s performance generates a lot of laughs and his stiff nature is the island of calm in the middle of the ridiculous OTT film that unfolds around him.
The rest of the cast are on fine form too, Egerton, who was a new face to me is wonderful as Eggsy, making the character believable and likable. He may front with swagger and bravado, but Egerton allows us to see the softer side and the fear which has hampered him from fulfilling his potential. Eggsy is an engaging character, guided by an inner sense of decency but also having a ball with the high tech gadgets and adventures that await him.
Egerton’s transformation from chav slacker to suited gentleman spy is well done, and best of all he maintains his grinning, life loving verve throughout, meaning that even when he’s an ass kicking spy there are still flashes of the jokey, loudmouth youth. He might have the suit now, but it’s clear that he was always a hero and that being a gentleman isn’t about where you’re from or who your family is, but how you carry yourself.
Of course, a lot of the scenes get stolen by Samuel L Jackson, who still has great gravitas even with the bizarre character he plays. A man with a plan for world domination who can’t stand the sight of blood and speaks with a lisp, it’s to his credit that SLJ manages to still make Valentine a mesmerizing and charismatic on-screen presence. It plays slightly with his usual type of character, as Valentine is far from a “bad ass mother f**ker”.
Valentine’s plan is a treat, the kind of nutso idea that old Bond movies would go for, a plan to save the world by culling the population by turning the masses into rage fuelled maniacs who’ll take each other out. This leads to a fantastically excessive sequence of extreme brutality as Harry takes on the congregation of a far-right church who have all gone crazy. It’s a fast paced, extreme sequence which mixes black comedy laughs with some wince inducing, bone crunching violence.
The movie zips along with a great sense of fun and while some developments are easy to see coming it still manages to surprise and amuse with little touches that toy with Bond movie tropes and builds to a crazy, but satisfying conclusion.
I also loved Gazelle, Valentine’s henchwoman who with her bladed legs is like a throwback to the colourful henchmen of Bond movies past and she’s a cool character, with a steely look in her eye and the perfect compliment to the squeamish Valentine.
Vaughn’s direction is on point, with great comic timing, fast paced action and a joyous delight in the film’s daft touches. All in all it’s a hugely entertaining movie and left me with a big dumb smile on my face, and dare I say it, it even beats Kick-Ass.
Verdict: A magnificently overblown spy movie pastiche/homage complete with colourful villains, outlandish plots and insane gadgets. Vaughn and Goldman’s script is chockablock with laughs and the performances, particularly Firth and Egerton are extremely well done. The violence and swearing won’t make it everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it hit the spot and I found it a real treat, because I like my action movies to be a bit OTT and my spy movies on the silly side. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This movie means a lot to me, partly because I’ve watched it repeatedly and also because it’s one of the few movies that has made me cry as an adult.
In my defence, it was just after Valentine’s Day, I was single and I’d been drinking.
Picking up where the first movie left off with crazy Riggs (Mel Gibson) and family man Murtaugh (Danny Glover) as wisecracking partners we’re launched straight into the tone of the movie thanks to the Looney Tunes theme and then a big car crash where Riggs and Murtaugh chase a bunch of blonde crims and uncover a mass of gold coins.
The coins turn out to be South African krugerrands, which are illegal. Riggs and Murtaugh dig into it a bit more, but are warned off by the South African consul Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and his heavy Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor), and reassigned to look after Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a loud and irritating witness. Pesci fills this role wonderfully and with the heroes forms a fast talking, quipping triangle which delivers some of the film’s big laughs.
Pesci’s character is annoying in places, but he should be applauded for softening as the film progresses. He gives Gibson and Glover someone extra to spark off, and fits well with the rapid fire, joke heavy dialogue. Of course, there’s plenty of this already thanks to the easy, natural feeling way that Gibson and Glover have Riggs and Murtaugh banter and bicker throughout, with the duo working together fantastically.
Leo is targeted and the duo protect him, and realize that he’s connected to the South Africans. This is apartheid era South Africa, so they also hassle Murtaugh and are instantly unlikable. I think this reason, along with growing up learning about apartheid is part of the reason I’ve had a problem with South Africa and been unable to cheer their sports teams on, although now as most of their players are post-apartheid kids it’s not quite as strong a dislike.
Riggs and Murtaugh then proceed to investigate and harass the South Africans, and Riggs woos Rudd’s secretary, Rika (Patsy Kensit), in a romantic subplot that is actually rather well done. It’s brief, but Gibson turns on the charm and his goofy, funny approach makes it easy to see why Rika might fall for him. The only problem is that during their flirting scenes Kensit’s South African accent clearly throws Gibson off and his Aussie side starts to come through a bit.
Rika and Riggs get it on, but their happiness is short lived as their attacked and captured by Vorstedt. Vorstedt reveals that they’ve known about Riggs for a while, and that when he previously got too close Vorstedt tried to take him out, causing the car accident that killed Riggs’ missus. This doubles Riggs’ desire for revenge and escaping he teams up with Roger and they both go out for justice on the dastardly racists.
Ackland is very good as the sleazy, menacing diplomat who abuses his power and diplomatic immunity to run his drug business, and the scene where a minor goon walks in to a plastic covered room is a nice touch. Ackland is the power and a hissable villain, but his right hand man Vorstedt is the physical threat and his tough one-on-one fight with Riggs near the end shows them to be evenly matched and has some bone crunching realism. It doesn’t quite match the Riggs vs Joshua smackdown of the original, but it’s pretty good.
That brings us to the ending, which is an action movie masterclass. After Riggs takes out his man he’s dramatically gunned down by Rudd. Rudd then taunts Murtaugh with his diplomatic immunity, teeing Danny Glover up to deliver one of the best action movie post-kill lines ever.
And then comes the part that made me cry. Already upset by the death of Rika, watching Murtaugh race to the fallen Riggs as “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” kicks in was all too much for me, despite knowing there were two more movies to come. This is down to the great directing of Richard Donner, who shoots it wonderfully.
Apparently at one stage Riggs did actually buy the farm, but thankfully, they decided this was too much of a bummer and an injured Riggs lives to fight and quip another day.
The impact of this scene is a sign of the movie’s major strengths, which is the way they build the relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh. They’re still very different and bicker away, but there’s definitely a sense that they know each other a bit better, sparking off each other and joking along.
There’s also more signs that their partnership is helping to soften Riggs’ and that he’s becoming part of the Murtaugh family, and this is one of the series major themes and biggest strengths, the redemption offered by simple human contact and interaction.
Glover is solid, dependable and likable as Murtaugh and gets the movie’s big moment, but Gibson steals the show, and is unbelievably charismatic as Riggs, a motormouth ball of energy who looks genuinely badass and crazy in places. This is one of the best examples of why Gibson was such a massive star, and he has the easy on screen charm that few stars possess, and continues to make Riggs a man crush of mine.
The next two installments might not match the first two, but they’re still entertaining movies and Gibson and Glover’s chemistry continues throughout, making Riggs and Murtaugh one of the best buddy duos around. And this stands out as one of those sequels which builds on and strengthens the first movie, getting you even more involved in the characters and their adventures.
The connection with Riggs’ wife is a bit heavy handed, and you can’t help thinking that with all their cop buddies dead along with Rika, and a threat to his partner’s family, Riggs has more than enough reason to go after the bad guys, but it still works and gives him the closure to move on in parts 3 and 4.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.
What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.
While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.
Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).
This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also
Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?
I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.
As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.
The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.
The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.
Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.
The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.
Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Common Hollywood theory states that sequels are an exercise in diminishing returns, possibly due to the plethora of witless and by-the-numbers follow ups in the horror and action movie genres during the 70s and 80s (for the best example of this rewatch Jaws and then suffer through the sequels, or the Halloween series, the last one I watched featured Busta Rhymes for crying out loud, and he wasn’t even the worst part of it). But sometimes this theory is rubbish and the superhero genre in particular has thrown up several sequels which match, or even surpass, the original.
Back in the day Sylvester Stallone was the face of the “bad sequels” idea, with his two most popular characters, Rocky and Rambo, having some shaky follow ups (Rambo III is pretty dire, even if it is in a fun way, and Rocky’s II and V are weak). But in the 21st century he’s become the king of the sequels, Rocky and Rambo both returned and in some style, Rocky Balboa may be the best in the series after the original and Rambo is far superior to III.
The Expendables series would seem to be primed for disappointing sequels, of stars taking the cheques and laziness seeping in, but somehow, they’ve actually got better too. The first one was quite good fun with Stallone leading a gang of action heroes into battle for some standard action heroics, and the sequel was lots of fun too, thanks in part to a better villain in Jean Claude Van Damme and giving Schwarzenegger and Willis more to do than just chat in a church.
In a way the third might be the best of the series so far, even if the action has been toned down to 12A levels. A large part of this is down to some new faces to the franchise, some familiar and some less so.
The movie kicks off with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his squad (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) staging a daring rescue on an armoured prison train to rescue a mysterious figure. The man they rescue turns out to be Doc (Wesley Snipes), an old friend of Ross’ and an original member of the Expendables. Doc is a slightly unhinged dude who joins the squad on their next mission to take down an arms dealer.
The mission hits a snag however when the dealer is revealed to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former friend of Ross’ and Expendables teammate.
During the ensuing firefight Stonebanks deliberately targets one of the team to hurt Barney, leaving them critically injured. Barney’s new CIA handler, Drummer (Harrison Ford) is unhappy with the failed mission and reflecting on his injured friend and having to face Stonebanks again, Barney fires his team.
This does not go down well, especially with right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham). The four uninjured members struggle to come to terms with being out while Barney recruits Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to build a new, younger team (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey). Another prospective member is rejected when Bonaparte realizes it’s actually an older mercenary, Galgo (Antonio Banderas), who’s former team cut him loose and is eager to return to fighting, the one thing he can do.
The team are skilled in modern tech and fighting and Ross leads them after Stonebanks, however, the mission fails and the new recruits are captured. Stonebanks calls out Barney to come and get them, and he returns to the US to tool up, reluctantly agreeing to take on the talkative, enthusiastic Galgo. His former teammates arrive and volunteer to stand with him, and the six man crew head back to Stonebanks’ Eastern European base.
Meanwhile, Barney’s former rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to go back them up, assisted by Yin (Jet Li), a former Expendable, and Drummer volunteers to come with them.
Can they save the younger crew or are they walking into a trap? Can Barney defeat a man who knows him so well?
I bet you can figure out the answer to those questions. But while this film may be predictable it still works as a hugely entertaining action film, and is probably the most fun of the three, and this is down to some of the new characters, particularly Antonio Banderas’ crazy Spanish soldier, who talks a mile a minute and manages to make the character entertainingly flamboyant but human underneath. His backstory is one you see coming, but there’s something wonderfully sweet about the way he acts around the others and he’s a breath of fresh air among the scowling action heroes.
Another good addition to the mix is Snipes, who is a charismatic on screen presence and has wonderful chemistry with Stallone and Statham. Statham and Snipes’ characters are rivals but there’s a bantering side to it all that I felt really worked.
It also helps that in Gibson the series has it’s best villain yet. Gibson’s trademark barely contained lunacy works masterfully here, he’s a more cynical, jaded and extreme version of Stallone’s character, less morally conflicted and with a nasty streak. He switches between demented swagger and icy, ruthless evil to great effect and he appears to have beefed up a bit meaning that the inevitable showdown with Stallone seems like an even match.
The young guns are good even if a tad underdeveloped, although it is nice to see a female join the ranks and MMA fighter Rousey does rather well, holding her own in the middle of all the testosterone and taking part in a fantastic fight scene. The only problem is it feels as though Lutz’s character was meant to build a relationship with Barney, but its never realized properly.
Ford is the weakest of the new additions, never really getting in the mix and Willis is written out in harsh style (“He’s no longer a problem”). Not given much to do Ford looks out of place and even among the older heroes seems past it, it doesn’t bode well for the new Star Wars flicks (assuming he survives past VII).
But it’s not all about the new faces, the major draw is still Stallone. I’ve always found him to be a likable on screen presence and here he’s near his action hero best, and the older he gets the more badass he looks. Stallone also manages to show some acting chops, with one scene after Stonebanks takes out his man standing out for me. It’s subtle, while flying the plane the camera closes in on his eyes there’s a shift from sadness to cold, steely resolve in his face.
Stallone plays Ross just right, we see the effect his chosen career weighs on him, his heroism and his fears, pushing his team away to save them and prepared to die in order to rescue the kids he’s got mixed up in a private vendetta with Stonebanks.
The other standout among the returning members is Statham, probably the cast member who’s career is strongest at the moment. He and Stallone share easy chemistry and their bantering, bickering interplay is one of the series’ strongest assets. Statham has less to do here, but its a typically solid, charismatic performance.
Crews, Couture and Lundgren continue to be underused, which is a shame, but in a cast this big inevitable, but all three do their jobs. Jet Li by this stage is just cameoing, and when he does show up barely does any kung fu fighting.
Arnie gets more screen time in this addition and seems to relish it, he and Sly work well together as friends/rivals and with his stubble and cigar chomping Arnie looks quite badass as he blasts his way through the final battle.
Basically everyone does what they do, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It’s great fun, especially for action fans and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The action might be rather bloodless, but it doesn’t stop the movie from being an immensely entertaining action flick, and with fresh blood added I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Expendables, especially as there’s mention of the team containing up to twenty guys at one point (who’ll turn up in part four? Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Ice T, Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Chow Yun Fat? Just please, no Busta Rhymes)
Verdict: A solid and entertaining action movie which benefits from some new blood (particularly Gibson, Banderas and Snipes) but some of the cast get lost in the swelling ranks. Sly and Arnie fans will love it and there’s enough banter and gags to keep it ticking over. Best so far? Maybe. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
There are three different Hercules movies released this year, but this is probably the biggest, why? Because it stars Dwayne Johnson while the others star the WWE’s John Morrison and some bloke who was in the Twilight movies and will be in Expendables 3. So it’s already ahead in the leading man stakes, and also boasts a decent supporting cast.
It’s also nice because it plays with the story, we’re introduced to the familiar legend of Hercules, son of Zeus and his twelve labours, all being told by his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who has been captured by pirates that Hercules has been hired to get rid of. When Hercules arrives however instead of the one man army the stories imply he’s actually assisted by a gang of mercenaries.
This sets up an element of doubt, is Hercules a demigod, or just a strong and able warrior. Hercules and his gang are hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who’s waging war in Thrace against an army rumoured to include demons and centaurs. Hercules agrees to aid them and assists in training up the farmers of Thrace as soldiers.
At the same time Hercules is haunted by his past, the death of his family for which he was blamed and subsequent exile from Athens. His former king, Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) has expelled him, leading Hercules and his friends to act as mercenaries.
Hercules leads Cotys’ half trained men into combat reluctantly, and they triumph despite heavy casualties, and pursue the rebel Rheseus (Tobias Santlemann), defeating him and taking him prisoner. However, after their victory Hercules begins to question whether the cause he has fought for was just and whether he’s received the full truth from Cotys, who has now become king of Thrace.
I really dug this movie and found it to be a lot of fun. Dwayne Johnson has easy charisma on screen and the muscular build to ensure that it’s plausible that the people he meets would assume he was half-god. In the combat scenes he makes an impressive figure and at times he flashes his roguish grin and settles into action hero mode, but it’s nice to see him handle the character’s more troubled aspects. Haunted by muddled, hazy images of his family’s deaths and the image of Cerberus, the one labour he failed to complete, it’s handled well through flashbacks and Johnson does a good job of playing the damaged, shaken hero.
At times it’s predictable, you know that he’s been betrayed in the past and it’s fairly obvious early on by who and why. Similarly there are a couple of moments when you figure out what’s going to happen minutes before it does, but you could say that for any number of action movies, and it doesn’t stop them being enjoyable.
The fight sequences are well done, and director Brett Ratner (The Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist) manages to make them engaging while and fast paced, but well edited enough that you always know what’s going on. He also has a knack for comedy and there are some delightfully overdone takedowns and quips.
One of the film’s strongest assets is the supporting cast, particularly Hercules’ posse, which includes Rufus Sewell as Autolycus, his old friend, a cynical, sarcastic knife thrower who gets some of the best lines. Also impressive is Ian McShane as another of his crew who believes he can see the future and has foretold his own death, as with Hercules’ godliness this is left vague and unconfirmed.
John Hurt, Peter Mullan and Joseph Fiennes all do the Brit baddies with aplomb too.
All in all it’s an entertaining romp which raises a few laughs, boasts a solid performance from Johnson, a good supporting cast and succeeds in subverting the legend while also including moments which muddy the water. Some of Hercules’ actions border on the incredible and so it’s never entirely proven that he is not the son of Zeus, which I found to be a nice touch.
Verdict: An entertaining adventure with some nice touches and an on-form cast, spearheaded by Johnson, who as well as looking the part manages to get the tone right. Great fun. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
It’s sad how quickly misconceptions can take hold, and this movie has suffered from many of these. Sylvester Stallone’s acting chops are frequently mocked, while he may be regarded with a bit more respect than Arnie, Sly is often dismissed as just another action hero but while he’s made some meatheaded clunkers along the way, it ignores the fact that he has also had some great performances. Similarly, due to the witless sequels the character of Rambo has become a synonym for gung-ho, gun happy action bombast.
The thing is, while the sequels did slide that way, this first outing for the character is a much more interesting, darker and less clean cut affair, and boasts a fine performance from Stallone at it’s heart.
This isn’t the story of a gun wielding hero blazing through hostiles and saving the day, this is a bitter story about the way soldiers can carry the horrors of war long into peace time and the possibly dangerous qualities of leaving veterans without support or rehabilitation back into the civilian world.
Stallone plays Rambo, a former special forces soldier who served during the Vietnam War. Years after the conflict he has become a drifter and visits an address given to him by an old comrade, only to discover that the man has died of cancer due to the chemical weapons used by the US in the conflict.
Rambo moves on and reaches the small town of Hope, where he hopes to get some food before moving on. The local sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) spots him and due to his unkempt appearance decides to drive him out of town, giving him a ride to the town limits and dropping him off. Rambo, however, turns around and heads for town, at which point Teasle arrests him.
While in custody Rambo remains silent and uncooperative, suffering abuse at the hands of deputy Galt (Jack Starrett). When they hose him down one of the deputies, Mitch (David Caruso), expresses concerns over Rambo’s scars and expresses concern over Galt’s conduct.
Rambo’s abuse causes him to flashback to his treatment as a PoW during the war and he fights off the deputies, injuring several before he escapes and flees into the mountains.
Pursued by a helicopter Rambo attempts to evade them, but comes under fire by Galt, who is ignoring Teasle’s orders no to shoot, Rambo defends himself and in doing so Galt falls to his death from the chopper.
Teasle and his men give chase, but the highly skilled Rambo makes short work of the subduing the inexperienced deputies and warns Teasle to back off, before vanishing once more.
This sequence is handled very well by director Ted Kotcheff, who captures the disorganization and panic of the deputies as Rambo appears and disappears in the undergrowth and deploys booby traps. Throughout this there’s a sense of danger and Stallone captures the character’s ruthless, cold approach to combat.
The national guard and state police arrive to aid in the manhunt, and Rambo’s former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives, urging the sheriff to call off the chase and let Rambo go, believing that he will be captured with less trouble at a later date. Teasle rejects this and doesn’t believe Trautman’s claims that Rambo is more of a threat to the men than they are to him.
Crenna does very well in this role, and while he’s largely here to big up Rambo’s skills (“A man who’s been trained to ignore pain! To ignore weather! To live off the land! To eat things that’d make a billy goat puke!”) a role he would continue in the next two films, with hyperbole building Rambo’s legend. But it’s more than that, Trautman is an enigmatic figure, with hazy motives- is he really there to help Rambo, or to get rid of him. And by helping does he mean merely recruiting to fight once more? Crenna handles it all well, and has a charismatic confidence throughout. Towards the end of the film he shows more humanity and sympathy for Rambo, coming to understand what the situation is, with sympathy replacing his initial rage and dissatisfaction.
The reckless National Guard soldiers engage Rambo in a gunfight at the entrance to a mine, and blow the mine using a rocket launcher, believing that they have killed Rambo. However, he has hidden in the mine and escapes, hijacking a National Guard truck and heading back to the town, where he quickly begins taking out the power and wreaking havoc, while Teasle holes up on the roof of the station, awaiting him.
What I love about this movie is that despite watching it half a dozen times when I stumbled on it last week I was quickly engrossed and saw things I’d missed. Originally I just thought it was about a battle scarred veteran who’s pushed too far and snaps, but watching it again it blurs the lines even more.
Trautman accuses Rambo of actively seeking the fight, which I’d previously dismissed, but there might be something to that. Does Rambo decide to return to town because Teasle driving him out seems unjust? Or does he actually want a fight? Coming from finding out another of his squad has died, does he just want to unleash his rage and do the only thing he can remember how to do?
Similarly, his final assault on the town may just be an attempt at suicide, a desire to go out fighting rather than fade away. Is this his motivation? Can he think of no other way to proceed, other than to pursue the glorious death he was denied during wartime?
Halfway through the film I almost tweeted that First Blood is one of very few films where the good guy kills a dog (the only other example I can think of is The Rookie, because stuff like I Am Legend or other mercy kills don’t count) but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered- is Rambo the good guy?
Stallone ensures he’s a sympathetic character, and the protagonist here, but a good guy? A hero? Its not clear. There are heroic qualities, he wounds the deputies and gives Teasle the chance to back off, but why doesn’t he slip away after the mine explosion? Why head for town and declare war on it?
He’s not a hero, but he’s definitely an anti-hero. His treatment from the law enforcement officers, from the rude and dismissive Teasle to the actively abusive Galt is troubling viewing, and while others object none actively intervene. His motivations are murky, but the backstory, and the flashbacks reveal that the war has left it’s mark on him, mentally as well as physically.
It’s here that Stallone’s performance is a triumph. His face is impassive for much of the film, in fact the only time we see him smile or light up is when talking about his old army buddy at the start. As soon as this friend’s death is revealed his demeanour changes, and he becomes closed off, as though his final shred of humanity and hope has been killed off and he is now an empty husk, deadened by the horrors he witnessed.
Stallone nails the thousand yard stare and quiet pain of the veteran, and for much of the film this is kept restrained. When he first speaks to Trautman on the radio it’s still there, the dull, ache of grief and loneliness. It only comes to the surface at the end, where the cornered Rambo finally breaks down, crying and yelling as he recounts a war story to Trautman. It’s a powerful scene, with Stallone pitching it just right, and while it might seem OTT to some it works, because it’s someone finally opening the floodgates after years of silence and despair.
What makes the scene even better is Crenna’s reaction to it. The colonel watches his man break down, realizing the extent of the damage and in the end embraces him, and they leave together.
The ending is left open, with the audience not knowing what the future holds for Rambo, but the hope that he will finally receive the help he needs.
It’s a fantastic, moving movie and proves, along with the first Rocky movie in particular, that Stallone was a proper acting talent.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Zack Snyder’s 2007 action movie 300, based on Frank Miller’s comic book, is a movie I really love. Yes, it’s a triumph of style over substance and Gerard Butler yells his way through the movie like he’s auditioning to play a young Brian Blessed, but it’s a whole heap of fun. The story of Leonidas (Butler) and his small band of Spartan warriors facing off against the might of the Persian empire is a fantastic story, and Snyder does a good job of making the battle scenes gloriously over the top and entertaining, and the monstrous Persian army is executed quite well.
So the announcement of a sequel was something I was kinda interested in, as the first movie had hinted that the battle of Thermopylae helped the Greeks unite and finally destroy the Persian invasion. I’d thought this is what the movie would pick up on, but instead it takes place alongside the events of the first movie.
Leonidas’ widow Gorgo (Lena Headey) acts as our narrator, filling us in on the background. The previous Persian emperor, Darius, had attempted to invade Greece, but been stopped when the Greeks launched a surprise attack against the larger force at Marathon. The Greeks were led by Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who during the battle kills Darius and later becomes a hero.
Darius’ son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) survives and buries his father. His father says that only a god could defeat the Greeks, and his trusted commander Artemisa (Eva Green) manipulates Xerxes into believing he is a god-king and sends him off to the desert, Xerxes returns transformed and vows revenge on the Greeks.
Themistokles tries to rally a united Greek force, going to Sparta to ask for their help. There Gorgo tells him her husband has visited the oracle and killed Persian messengers, but will not stand alongside other Greeks. Themistokles leaves and gathers a small army and fleet to face off against Artemisa’s warships.
Meanwhile, the Spartans march to Thermopylae. Themistokles hopes their sacrifice will turn out to be the inspiration Greece needs and sets to war himself, using trickery and tactics to score early victories against the larger foe. His skill in command interests Artemisa, who longs for someone to stand by her side as a worthy equal and second-in-command.
Xerxes defeats the Spartans, but Greek is fired up, but they are still outnumbered. Themistokles’ army suffers defeat and heavy losses in their third battle.
Themistokles asks Gorgo to join them, but she believes Sparta has already given enough. Xerxes lays waste to Athens and what remains of Themistokles’ army prepare for a last stand against Artemisa.
Can they pull off an unlikely victory against the Persians? Will Xerxes be stopped? And will Sparta and the other regions really sit on the sidelines as Themistokles’ few ships go into battle again?
Here’s the thing about this movie- it’s dumb.
Like the first film there’s an almost ludicrous quality to some of the fight sequences, with blood gushing everywhere and almost superhuman feats performed throughout (the Greek strategy of leaping thirty feat off a cliff onto the Persian ships is a prime example) and there’s a later scene involving a horse which provoked disbelieving giggles in the showing I attended.
For the most part this works well enough, if you go into this having seen the first movie you know what you’re gonna get and it delivers. The fight scenes might lack the intensity and relentless energy of Snyder’s original, but Noam Murro does a good job of making them engaging and exciting.
The first movie had a single setting and the Spartans holding out against wave after wave of Persian assault helped keep it fizzing along, a constant threat hanging over Leonidas and his boys, here it’s different and the enemy they face remains the same throughout- Persian soldiers. There are no monsters or beasts this time around, it’s mainly mano-a-mano on the decks of the ships.
This movie also suffers because of the change in focus, the Spartan view of honourable deaths and warlike sensibilities made sense. Leonidas goes in knowing he’s going to die, and relishes this in a way, as do his men. That’s not to say he wastes his men, but instead offers them glory and honour. Themistokles, an Athenian, has a different view and seems scornful of the Spartan’s desire for glorious deaths, the loss of his men weighs heavy upon him, as does the fact he missed the opportunity to kill Xerxes before he rose to power.
Sullivan Stapleton, who I’ve not seen before, does a fairly decent job in the lead, even if he lacks Butler’s muscular charisma. He captures Themistokles’ cunning and moments of doubt, and conveys that the Greek commander is intelligent and dedicated to the ideals of freedom that Greece stands for. But there’s far too much brooding between scraps and there are times when he comes across as a little bland.
This is particularly evident when he goes up against Eva Green’s hate fueled villainess, Artemisa, who steals the whole movie. Green makes the Greek turned Persian commander a sexy, tough presence throughout and there’s a fiery intensity behind her eyes which suggests she’s not someone to mess with. She struts through the movie, a mesmerizing presence, exuding a sense of danger. Her realization that in Xerxes she has raised and emboldened an arrogant fool is handled well, and the movie should be applauded for having a strong female character at it’s heart. Stapleton may be the hero but it quickly becomes apparent that this is Green’s movie.
The interplay between Green and Stapleton is handled fairly well, with her fire and selfishness crashing against his stern sense of duty, and could have been developed into something more interesting. As is, it goes off at half cock and their sex scene has a decidedly uncomfortable feel at times, as they scrap for dominance.
The rest of the cast are a little by the numbers, none of the Greeks really stand out, and the inclusion of a father and son plot line between Themistokles’ right hand man Scyllias (Callan Mulvey) and his young, eager boy Calisto (Jack O’Connell) is exceedingly cheesy and never matches the one from the first movie for impact. O’Connell, however, does a fair job as the young, idealistic would be soldier who becomes a man under combat, even if there are moments where he’s a little wet.
Returning characters are a mixed bag too- we get more glimpses of weakness in Santoro’s Xerxes, which help dispel his “god-king” posturing, but he’s rather underused and the mystic part of his back story sits uncomfortably with the rest of the movie.
Lena Headey is imperious and solid as Gorgo, but feels like she’s on autopilot and aside from one rallying speech, never really gets fired up.
David Wenham’s Dilios, survivor of Thermopylae is underused to the extent that I was surprised he got a screen credit. Gerard Butler is noticeable by his absence, we see him in scenes from the original but he’s out of town when Themistokles visits Sparta and it’s evident that Butler probably asked for too much money or wasn’t interested in putting the sandals back on.
It never matches the original and there are creaky points in the plot, but it has enough fizz to keep you engaged and at it’s heart it’s a rather fun, dimwitted blockbuster.
Verdict: Loud, daft fun which is not a patch on the original. Stapleton is no Butler, but Green’s villainous turn is delicious. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.