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.
People can be a little snooty about the 80s/90s high concept style of movies, where films were seemingly greenlit on the basis of a quick pitch, but sometimes it pays dividends. Like this movie, which is essentially “invisible alien killing machine hunts special forces commandos”.
What John McTiernan produces from this simple premise is one of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and a hugely entertaining sci-fi action movie that still stands up to this day.
In a prologue we see a space ship crash to Earth and then the movie follows Arnie’s character Dutch who leads his elite squad on a mission in Central America to rescue a missing official. There they meet Dutch’s old buddy Dillon (Carl Weathers) who works for the CIA, who joins the team, cue the most gratuitous, homoerotic “gun show” moment in cinematic history.
Soon Arnie’s boys find a downed chopper and the remains of a special forces team, who have been skinned. Meanwhile, something watches them from the trees.
They hit a guerrilla camp which they eliminate in a blizzard of bullets and action hero one-liners (“I ain’t got time to bleed”), they snatch the sole survivor, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) as a prisoner and Dutch twigs that Dillon has screwed him over (“So you cooked up a story and dropped the six of us in the meat grinder. What happened to you Dillon? You used to be somebody I could trust“)
The cloaked figure (as in Star Trek cloak, not Lord of the Rings cloak) stalks them through the jungle and takes out the group’s wisecracking geek Hawkins (Shane Black), sparing Anna. It’s not long before mini-gun toting Blain (former wrestler Jesse “the Body” Ventura), Blain’s best friend Mac (Bill Duke) glimpses the shimmering figure and opens fire, the crew pouring firepower into the trees, but only seeming to land a glancing hit, leading to the classic Arnie quote “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Anna tells a charming campfire story about a local legend of “the demon that makes trophies of men” and we see an alien figure cleaning the skulls of his victims. Even Arnie’s highly trained squad are freaked out, with badass Billy (Sonny Landham) getting a serious case of the willies.
Pancho: Bullshit! You ain’t afraid of no man.
Billy: There’s something out there waiting for us…and it ain’t no man. We’re all gonna die.
Mac and Dillon go off to take it down. Mac having got a little cracked following the death of his buddy. I gotta hand it to Bill Duke in this section of the movie, he’s not known for his acting chops but he nails Mac’s breakdown, and his ragged singing of “Long Tall Sally” is seriously creepy.
Needless to say it doesn’t go well.
Dutch rallies his boys and along with Anna they book it for their extraction, their extraterrestrial hunter hot on their heels. Billy decides to go one-on-one with the beastie, ditching his guns and drawing his machete.
Billy goes down off screen moments later, his death shown by a scream in the distance. I kinda get why this is done, because they’re saving the mano-a-predator face off until the end, and showing this fight would ruin that later showdown, but I still think it sucks. Of all of Dutch’s crew, Billy was the most badass and they build him up only for him to get this really crap death.
Poncho buys the farm shortly after and Anna goes for his piece, but by this point Dutch has twigged that the Predator only hunts those with weapons, because this is sporting.
This is another thing that always bugged me, is it really that sporting, I mean, sure Arnie’s boys have guns, but you’re about 8 foot tall, can go invisible, have a laser sighted cannon on your shoulder which is miles ahead of anything they’ve got. It’s like me giving a bunch of schoolkids muskets and hunting them with a sniper rifle. While being invisible.
Dutch tells Anna to “Get to da choppa!” and legs it. He winds up in the water, the Predator in hot pursuit. During all this he gets covered in mud that masks him from the Predator’s heat seeker, and the water also disrupts the cloaking device.
Dutch hunkers down and builds traps and creates weapons before Tarzan yelling into the night.
The Predator comes for him and they fight to the death. The Predator kicks his as pretty badly but Dutch’s brains win out and he wins the day. At which point the sporting Predator activates it’s nuclear bomb self destruct (sore loser) and Dutch legs it.
There are several reasons why this movie has dated better than a lot of 80s sci-fi fare but I think that comes down to two major factors- excellence of execution and campness.
Some of the movie is extremely well done, I mean, even though the shimmering Predator cloak effect looks a little creaky it still sort of works. In fact, the worse it looks the more realistic in a way. Yeah, I get that using the word “realistic” about a film which follows an alien hunter is kinda dopey, but the whole idea is that the Predator doesn’t really vanish but camouflages itself, and even the best camouflage fails under scrutiny.
The effect works and the creature design is phenomenal, at the time there’d been nothing like it and its still an iconic genre figure. Due to the time a lot of the effects have more weight than some later CGI stuff.
The campness factor comes due to the fact it’s an overblown Arnie vehicle and the gloriously cheesy dialogue throughout. Arnie busts out several quotable one liners (“Stick around!”, “You’re one ugly motherfucker!”, “If it bleeds, we can kill it”, “Get to da choppa!”) and his squad is oddest special forces teams since the A-Team.
There’s gruff Billy and the seriously creepy Mac, but there’s also the tobacco chewing Blain, played with OTT swagger by Jesse Ventura who proclaims himself to be a “goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus”.
The whole film toes the line between the properly gripping and the ridiculous and just about manages to keep on the right side, and in a way the daft parts are what endears it to the audience, or to this 80s action movie lover anyway.
The sign of how good it is that it’s never been matched and is still, along with Aliens the benchmark for sci-fi action movies.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
That’s how long Arnold Schwarzenegger went between films where he played the lead. After 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, he left our screens and became the Governator. Sure, there were cameos along the way to keep us Arnie fans going (Welcome to the Jungle aka The Rundown, Around the World in 80 Days, the Expendables films) so now he’s back, just like he always said he would be.
But would his return be a welcome one?
Here Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small town in Arizona, Sommerton Junction , near the Mexican border. With most of the staff away supporting the high school football team, Ray plans a nice relaxing day off.
Ray’s team includes Mike (Luiz Guzman) his right hand man who’s lazy and bored by the slow pace in town, Jerry (Zach Gilford) a young guy who craves excitement and Sarah (Jaimie Alexander), the most on-the-ball of his crew. Sarah however, does have a problem in that her ex, former marine Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) is in the local jail and who’s life after leaving the military is sliding out of control.
Of course, that isn’t going to happen and heading his way after a daring prison break is Cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) who’s escaped justice in a souped up super car which is capable of ridiculous speeds. FBI agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker), is in pursuit and knows he must stop Cortez before he crosses the border and disappears, a situation made worse by the fact Cortez has snatched a female agent, Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) as a hostage.
The Feds alert the border towns, but discount Sommerton as the only way to cross is a massive gorge.
Ray becomes suspicious of Burrell (Peter Stormare), a shifty stranger in town and on his day off two of his deputies head off to a local farm after the milk doesn’t show up. They discover the farmer dead and that Burrell and his crew have been constructing a bridge over the canyon. During a shoot out, one of the crew is killed.
Ray decides to try and stop Cortez and Burrell’s men, but is told by Bannister that support won’t arrive in time. Ray deputizes Frank and Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), the village idiot who runs a gun museum, and they tool up to try and block the path.
Can they beat Burrell’s men in a shoot out and stop Cortez crossing the border?
As the synopsis tells you, we’re in standard genre country on this one. There’s a strong Western vibe to proceedings with the sheriff having to defend his town from the black hats. Arnie is well inside his comfort zone as the lawman facing unfair odds, and despite looking a bit more weathered than in his last outing, he’s still got the physical presence to pull it off and knows what he’s doing.
It’s hard to review an Arnold Schwarzenegger performance, because aside from the Terminator, every role is pretty much the same. The jobs and names change, but it’s the usual mix of physical power and cheesy one liners, and he delivers both here, even if it does feel a little watered down than previous efforts. The shootouts and fights are CGI-enhanced and the one liners aren’t as memorable or as funny as in other Arnie flicks (this is no Commando or Predator).
Arnie can do this in his sleep, and as a big fan of the Austrian Oak, it worked for me.
As with all the 80s action heroes’ recent work there are a couple of references to his advancing years, but it’s only hinted at a couple of times and for much of the film Arnie smashes through windows and trading punches in the same way he always did.
The film is quite good fun, it’s simplicity part of it’s appeal. The good guys are good and likable, the bad guys are evil, hissable cartoon figures. Subtlety is not the order of the day.
Noriega makes a good villain, hamming it up to great effect and ensuring that his cartel boss is thoroughly unlikable and scummy. He’s got the cocky swagger of a man who believes he is above the law, and exudes this cold, ruthless aura and suggests that he can be a ruthless enemy. It’s this cold blooded, vicious aura that means that while physically he’s no match for Arnie when they throw down, this edge, coupled with his quickness means that he’s a realistic threat when the two finally throw down.
Stormare does his sleazy, slightly crazy schtick again and is rather entertaining. Forest Whitaker is underused and mainly serves as exposition- giving the audience the info on how bad Cortez is and filling in Ray’s background as a tough LAPD officer.
The rest of the cast are alright with what they’re given, with Guzman and Knoxville on fine form as comic relief. I know Knoxville isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like his turn as the town’s resident nut, and his goofy character amused me.
It’s all painted in broad strokes, and the action sequences have a cartoonish quality to them, bodies fly backwards, blood spurts up in the air and seemingly mortal wounds to our heroes are walked off with a slight wince followed by a half hearted gag.
Arnie’s done better, but then again he’s done a lot worse, and while it won’t change your life it’s a decent enough action movie and the kind of movie I’ll probably end up watching with my feet up when it’s repeated frequently on ITV4.
Verdict: It’s far from Arnie’s best work, and there are few surprises along the way, but it’s still a fairly fun, dumb action movie and nice to see Schwarzenegger back on the screen. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This isn’t going to be a standard review. It’s hard to review a movie which is the sixth installment in a series, because surely by now everyone knows if it’s their kinda thing or not.
So basically deciding to see this movie comes down to one simple question: Did you like the other Fast and Furious movies?
If you say “no” then this isn’t going to change your opinion.
Personally, I did (well, apart from 3, which I didn’t dig that much) and so I already have a taste for it’s brand of action. Like previous installments its stock full of things that will please teenage males.
Following on from part 5 this finds the group enjoying their new wealth. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has settled down with Brazilian copper Elena, and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a child together. The rest of the gang is spread around the world having fun and living large.
Things change however when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) turns up to ask for Dom’s help in tracking down a highly skilled and vicious gang of thieves. The incentive for Dom is a recent photograph of his old flame Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez), who he believed was killed two films ago.
Dom and O’Connor rally the gang (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot) to go after the gang with Hobbs and his new partner, Riley (Gina Carano), with the promise of full pardons and being able to return home to the US.
The leader of the gang, Shaw (Luke Evans) is an ex-SAS officer and general badass. Dom chases Lettie down, but she shoots him. O’Connor discovers she is suffering from amnesia and has been recruited by Shaw.
Can the gang figure out Shaw’s moves and bring him to justice? Will Lettie remember her former life?
I had a ball watching this movie.
It’s pretty simple and fun, but it works. The cast all know what they’re doing and Vin Diesel is still cool as Toretto, all gravel voiced intensity and macho swagger, although it’s nice to see him display a slightly softer side in his scenes with Rodriguez.
Similarly Rodriguez has a switch of pace, with Lettie being less self-assured than before and struggling with who she is and what she’s doing, although she’s still something of a badass. Of course, it’s hardly an in depth character study, but it’s more than the hot badass chick she’s played in the past.
As with part 5 the show is stolen by Dwayne Johnson, who’s hulking form dwarfs Diesel and who’s easy, muscular charm is in evidence. He gets stuck with a bit of exposition work, but he’s still badass when the action starts and shares some nice comedic chemistry with Ludacris. They also give him a decent physical threat in the form of a gigantic henchman.
The rest of the gang are on familiar ground, and all do fairly well with what they get. Walker is still the weak link, but he does well enough as O’Connor, even if he doesn’t convince as a tough guy. Tyrese Gibson is quite fun as the slightly dim car thief and Sung Kang and Gal Gadot are kinda sweet as the lovers in the gang.
Newcomer Gina Carano is quite cool as Hobbs’ partner and has a bruising fight with Rodriguez which was one of my favourite parts of the movie (I just like a good catfight, alright?).
As the villain of the piece Luke Evans is alright, he’s cold and ruthless seeming, but the character is a little on the bland side and underwritten.
It all whips along at a lick, and they keep it light, with lots of gags and tomfoolery along the way. The script is nothing special but I’ve definitely seen worse in the action genre, and there are some nice touches, even if one of the “twists” fails to fully shock.
The action is pretty well done, with some great car chases and some explosive set pieces, but on a simpler level it works with the shootouts done well and some nice hand-to-hand stuff.
The last two chases involving a tank and a plane are over the top to a ludicrous degree, but it’s never been a series built around subtlety, has it? And in a way the ridiculous stunts just add to the cartoony joy of the film, as every other franchise seems to buy into the idea that you have to go darker, it’s nice to see an action movie that knows it’s role as popcorn fodder.
And oddly for a higher numbered sequel, this actually leaves you eager for more, thanks in no small part to a scene in the end credits which teases the villain for Fast 7, the awesome Jason Statham. The Rock vs the Stath? I’m in.
Verdict: Loud and dumb, but great fun. Johnson and Diesel do the action hero stuff well enough, and the supporting cast do their jobs. The villain is lacklustre, and it holds no surprises, but on balance it’s a solid action movie and an entertaining way to spend an evening. Get a pizza and some cans in, kick back and enjoy the show. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Disclosure time, I never actually got around to watching GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I was initially curious about it because as a kid I used to play with the Joe figures and vaguely remember the cartoon, and I’m a fan of big dumb blockbusters and Stephen Sommers’ work, but I think i got wind of the Joe’s using some kind of crazy super suits which put me off, and also despite a few actors I like (Dennis Quaid and Christopher Eccleston) it couldn’t quite outweigh the fact that Marlon Wayans had a major role in the flick.
However, despite missing the first Joe movie I was keen to see the sequel, mainly due to the presence of Dwayne Johnson, but also because the trailers implied that it would be robo-suit free and more of an old school action flick.
The film kicks off with unrest in Pakistan after their president has been killed, in the interests of safety the elite GI Joe unit is sent in to retrieve the country’s nuclear weapons. Headed up by Duke (Channing Tatum) and his right hand man Roadblock (Johnson) they rescue the nukes and are awaiting transport in the desert when their base is attacked, leaving most of the team dead, including Duke (I don’t count that as a spoiler, the trailers make it pretty clear Tatum wasn’t going to be in the movie for long).
Roadblock and the two other survivors Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), haul ass and discover that the President of the US (Jonathan Pryce) has denounced the Joes as traitors and installed their dreaded enemy Cobra as his security force. The President has actually been replaced by shapeshifting villain Zartan (Arnold Vosloo).
Ninja assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) poses as masked Joe Snake Eyes and allows himself to be imprisoned so that he can bust out Cobra Commander (body Luke Bracey, voice Robert Baker) with the aid of another Cobra operative Firefly (Ray Stevenson). The real Snake Eyes (Ray Park) then takes new Joe recruit and Storm Shadow’s cousin, Jinx (Elodie Yung) to get Storm Shadown and uncover Cobra’s plans. Along the way Storm Shadow learns about his past and that his allies in Cobra may have lied and manipulated him.
The Joes then reunite and get ready to make a move on Cobra Commander and co. as their plan will come to fruition with a summit with all the nuclear powers. To aid them they enlist the original Joe, retired General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis).
Can the Joes expose the plot, stop Cobra’s plan and avenge their friends? And what is the mysterious “Zeus” weapon that Cobra Commander has planned?
As the plot tells you this is a fairly generic action movie- good guys are screwed over and must fight back and stop villains from causing mass destruction and obtaining global domination.
But it really works as a piece of goofy blockbuster fluff. The action sequences are pretty well done and it has an enjoyably cartoonish quality- ninjas fight on cliff faces and deflect bullets with swords, guns never run out of ammo and many boots are put to asses.
The film’s major strength is Johnson as Roadblock. I’m a massive fan of Johnson and I think aside from Jason Statham he’s probably the best action star around. He definitely looks the part and he also has this easy charisma, he can deliver quips with the best of them and despite convincing as a badass, there’s a sense of humour to his performance and you can’t help warm to the guy.
He has good chemistry with Tatum and the two bicker to good effect and he does a good job of conveying the sense of duty and anger after the death of the Joes while also holding it together to rally what’s left of his troops.
The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, Tatum is as charming as ever as Duke, Bruce Willis isn’t stretched in his extended cameo but does okay with what he’s got.
Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee do their jobs as dueling ninjas well enough and their sequences together are rather good fun.
The only real weakness is D.J. Cotrona as Flint. The role feels underwritten and a few half hearted hints at more with Lady Jaye aside he brings nothing to the table. Well, not exactly. Due to his whining and Cotrona’s oddly shifty performance I was expecting a double-cross which never arrived.
The villains are pretty fun. Pryce is clearly having a ball hamming it up as the President’s doppelganger, but this is blown out of the water by Ray Stevenson’s performance as Firefly. Stevenson really sinks his teeth into the part of the crazed bomber and it’s helped along by an OTT and ever-so creaky Deep South accent.
Stevenson is also a big guy and so he provides the perfect enemy for Roadblock to go toe-to-toe with.
I don’t want to big it up too much, however, because the movie is at times unbelievably stupid and some of the dialogue is so cheesy those suffering from lactose intolerance should probably steer clear. But it still kinda works as a fun blockbuster and it ticks the boxes of an entertaining romp.
It’s also quite nice to have a few different elements mixed in- you get ninjas, some brief espionage bits, sci-fi gizmos and then tons of old fashioned beat and shoot em’ ups.
It’s also got a kind of old school, Bond-ish aspect to the threat of massive nuclear war. Yes, I did just kind of express nostalgia for movies based around atomic bombs. (Although there are a few North Korea jokes which given the current climate feel a little misjudged). Oh, and when did London become the go to city to get destroyed in movies? It gets leveled a lot, I miss when it used to be Paris that always got wasted.
So, it’s not perfect and it’s stupid, but it’s a good movie to pass the time with and it’s a damn sight better than some other action movies I’ve seen recently (A Good Day to Die Hard and Battleship). Johnson carries the whole thing rather well and continues to impress me as an action hero, and it’s rejuvenated the franchise.
And at least it has this going for it- it’s the best movie based on toys since Clue.
Verdict: It won’t change your life, but it’s all rather good fun and most of the cast do well with what they’re given. The action sequences are handled well and the plot moves along well enough. Johnson is as good as ever and it’s a decent knuckle-headed blockbuster. 7/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Here’s my 10 step guide to how I’d make Die Hard 6 an improvement on A Good Day to Die Hard.
Get back to basics. One location, John McClane and a gang of thugs in a big showdown. It’ll rein in the excesses that marred 4 and 5 and get back to the series’ roots.
2. Get a Brit in as the villain
Die Hard‘s major strength is that it has a tip-top villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, he’s menacing, charming and entertaining and a worthy adversary for McClane. …With a Vengeance starred Jeremy Irons who was another cracking villain, so it’d be nice to get a Brit in the mix again, and preferably someone charismatic and tough enough to give Willis someone good to go up against.
My shout for the role? Idris Elba, he’s cool, badass and looks like he can handle himself in a scrap.
3. No school like the old school
Ditch the CGI and do as much as the effects as possible for real, down and dirty style. Even the best graphics age and never quite convince, blow some shit up!
4. Hire Shane Black
Black is one of the best guys for writing action movies in the business, he’s capable of crafting really cool, memorable dialogue as evidenced by his work on the likes of The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon.
5. Out of his depth
Have McClane being totally outgunned and also at risk. In the first flick McClane was someone who hurt, he cut his feet and so he was limping, and the impacts felt real, it was what made Willis’ character different from the superhuman Arnie and Sly characters, but as the series has progressed he’s become able to sustain massive crashes and impacts and barely drop his grin.
It’d be nice to see him outgunned and outnumbered having to improvise his way through his enemies and getting a bit beat up along the way. He can be tough, but let’s see him as a human again.
7. Family angle
McClane works best with a personal connection, so stick some family members in the line of fire.
Have McClane team up or guard a hapless assistant. Give them a skill that helps but mainly have them irritate and frustrate McClane and get grabbed by the baddies, it gives us someone to watch the villain’s plan unfold and someone for Willis to bounce off.
9. This time it’s personal?
I know I said I wanted McClane to just blunder into a mess, but they could go the other way and have him be targeted deliberately by someone with a grudge. They could be a demented villain out to destroy everyone he cares about, ice Al Powell (sorry, Al)in the pre-credits, have Zeus (Samuel L Jackson from 3) get attacked and survive to team up with McClane again.
You could have them ride to the rescue of Matt and Lucy, who in my soft git version are still together and even have Bonnie rock up too.
The angle could raise the stakes and add an extra element of danger.
10. Definitive Ending
Draw a line under the series, have McClane reunite with his missus for good, or hang up his guns and ride into the sunset. Or, maybe, maybe, kill him off? In an awesome, blaze of glory/last stand kind of way, of course.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Die Hard is a classic movie, and was the blueprint for a dozen knock offs (in a stadium- Sudden Death, on a boat- Under Siege, on a plane- Passenger 57, on a mountain- Cliffhanger). It’s premise was simple, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is caught in a skyscraper with a gang of dodgy Euro terrorists/criminals and has to take them out and stop them pulling off a massive heist.
Over a series of sequels the scope of the threat gradually expanded- a whole airport in 2, all of New York in 3 and the entire US in 4. All have been successful, largely down to Willis’ wisecracking and resourceful copper. He’s a loudmouth who’s always the underdog but never backs down, and he’s usually out of his comfort zone.
In this the 5th installment the scope is bigger again and McClane is even further out of his depth as he travels to Russia to see if he can get his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courteney) out of some trouble with the local law. When he gets to Moscow he discovers that Jack is in fact a CIA agent on a mission to keep a dodgy Russian safe. Kumarov (Sebastian Koch), said dodgy Russian has apparently reformed in prison and knows the location of a file which will ruin corrupt politician Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), who the US want to stop getting to power.
Chagarin is trying to eliminate Kumarov when McClane collides with his son and gets sucked into keeping him safe from Chagarin’s goons, led by Alik (Rasha Bukvic), a crazed mercenary. Can McClane and son keep him safe and get the file back? Who can they trust, and can they rebuild their tattered relationship?
Here’s the thing about this movie, it was never going to match the original, which as I said, is a classic but I was in no way ready for the disappointment it turned out to be.
It may not have pleased everyone, but I rather enjoyed number 4, which saw Willis being teamed with a geeky sidekick and ramped up the scale with a string of ludicrous OTT set pieces and a great villain, at times it creaked a little and there was a little too much CGI for my tastes as I like my stunts old school, but on the whole it was quite good fun.
But 5 doesn’t even match that, with there being far too much computer imagery and the ridiculous aspects even more outlandish. With each installment the series has moved away from it’s roots as a fairly low-key actioner.
It ditches the traditional Die Hard motif of McClane being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by having him actually go after danger and gives him a partner who’s actually up to the challenge, which makes a change but doesn’t quite work as Courtney makes Willis look older.
Courtney however is one of the film’s strengths as he and Willis share fairly decent chemistry and he looks the part as the tough guy junior McClane.
Willis is his usual grinning, wisecracking self and as likable as ever, if not quite given as good a script as in previous episodes.
But there’s little else to recommend the flick, the charismatic villain Alik is underused and a little too cartoony at times.
With the heavy use of computer effects the only real standout sequence is a rather impressive car chase through the Russian capital, which was rather awesome but other than that there are too many missed opportunities, including a hulking henchman who you’d imagine was being included for a big one-on-one scrap with at least one of the McClanes but this never materializes and there’s no real dramatic showdown to cap the movie.
The whole movie carries this feeling of opportunities missed, and it just feels flat and a bit by the numbers..
There have been suggestions that the series may continue with Courtney’s character as the lead in a sort of Son of Die Hard way, but personally I’d much rather see McClane return for one last round, but with the excess reined in and a return to the more claustrophobic, no frills vibe of the original.
Verdict: A rather disappointing addition to the series, with it seeming to just go through the motions and even Willis unable to elevate it above mediocrity. Jai Courtney is good but all in all it falls flat. 5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.