Film Review: Final Score

During an interview with Jonathan Ross I heard this movie compared to Die Hard, which is fair enough given that this has a similar plot of a lone hero going up against a gang of terrorists. But really the film that this is most like is the Jean Claude Van Damme flick Sudden Death, the only difference being that instead of taking place during an ice hockey match, this is during a football game.

final score pos

Dave Bautista plays Mike Knox, an ex-soldier who comes to London to visit the family of a fallen comrade, who he was good friends with. He is an uncle figure to the man’s teenage daughter, Danni (Lara Peake), who he surprises with tickets to go see West Ham in the European Cup semi final (one of the more far fetched parts of the movie). While there he starts to suspect that something isn’t right and stumbles across a bunch of Eastern European bad guys.

Unfortunately, he also loses Danni, who sneaks off to see her boyfriend who is sitting elsewhere in the ground. Incidentally, the boyfriend is one of the worst written characters in recent memory, I get that he’s meant to be a douche, but you’ve got to show at least some charm that explains why Danni is into him, but here he’s just a turboknob in every scene.

With the stadium cut off from the outside world by the terrorists, and the police not believing him, Mike has to find a way to stop the villains and find Danni.

The problem with this movie is that a lot of it feels very familiar, as it lifts wholesale from other movies. There’s a fight in the kitchen which reminded me of Sudden Death and Under Siege 2, and Mike gets the attention of the cops by dropping a body off the roof just like John McClaine did. And one of the goons he takes out as a vengeance seeking loved one in the crew, like the brothers in Die Hard.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t fun, the action sequences are pretty good, particularly a motorbike chase and the kitchen fight which features two inventive ways to kill a bad guy. Bautista is a decent enough lead, although due to his massive size the “everyman” aspect of the scenario is hurt a bit, and the dialogue he’s given is pretty generic. He’s likeable enough in the role, but he definitely lacks the charisma of many other action stars.

final score bautista

The film does deserve praise for the set up actually making sense, with the crew led by Ray Stevenson’s Arkady attacking the stadium during a match because they’re actually looking for one particular person, his brother, the former leader of their revolution who faked his death and relocated due to the bloodshed that was happening in his name. Aware that he lives in London and will be attending the game, they spring into action. It’s a clever, neat set up and gives them a believable motive.

Pierce Brosnan plays the brother, Dimitri, and is criminally underused in a dull role. It’s especially galling as this is supposed to be the figurehead for a revolution, so you would expect him to be quite a charismatic figure, but Brosnan plays it very dry. This robs the movie of the point of having a big name in a supporting role, as you feel any middle aged actor could have played the role. At least he doesn’t sing, I guess.

final score brosnan

However, this is undercut by the fact that Ray Stevenson’s villain is unforgivably dull. While he’s shown to have a ruthless streak and military background that make him a legitimate threat, he gets no unique traits or flourishes to engage the audience. I miss when villains were more colourful.

In a way, he serves to illustrate the movie’s major flaw- it’s fine, and does the job, but in an extremely workmanlike fashion. There’s very little flair or charm to elevate this above the standard action fare you got in the early ’90s. It’s a decent enough popcorn movie, the kind of thing to pass the time of an evening, but it’s miles off the Die Hard level.

Verdict: A distinctly average action flick which is let down by a lifeless script and characters who don’t jump off the screen. Does the job, but without any flash. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s a sign of Marvel’s confidence in their cinematic universe that this, the tenth installment revolves around a lesser known title and is only loosely linked (so far) with the other movies. While the other films all built up to the Avengers team up and were Earth based this follows a separate team far across the cosmos.

guardians poster

It’s a gamble but it pays off magnificently, resulting in a ridiculously entertaining sci-fi romp which is easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while. Humour has been a key component in the Marvel movies, and I think is part of the reason for their success, but this is definitely the closest they’ve come to an all out comedy.

The plot revolves around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who we see being abducted from Earth following the death of his mother in the late 80s. Twenty six years later and light years away, Quill operates as a petty thief and outlaw styling himself as Star-Lord. However, the theft of a mysterious orb lands him in higher stakes. Turning on his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) he decides to go alone in selling it.

The orb is actually sought by Ronan (Lee Pace), a fanatical Kree who wishes revenge on the Xandarians, a rival race. If he can give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) then in exchange the Xandarians will be destroyed. Ronan is assisted by Thanos’ two adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and sends Gamora to retrieve the orb.

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Gamora tracks down Quill and attempts to get the orb back. Her attempts are hindered as Quill is also the target of a pair of bounty hunters seeking the reward Yondu has offered- Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cynical, sarcastic genetically engineered raccoon and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. All four are arrested and transported to a maximum security prison space station.

At the prison Gamora’s association with Ronan makes her a target for many of the inmates, including Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a hulking brute who seeks revenge for the death of his family. Quill intervenes, saving Gamora by arguing that keeping her alive is probably a better way of getting to Ronan.

Gamora reveals that unable to go along with Ronan’s plan to murder billions she intended to betray Ronan and had found another buyer. She joins forces with Quill, Rocket and Groot to escape and get the orb away from Ronan and Thanos. They escape and Drax joins them.

Meeting the buyer they discover that the orb contains one of six infinity stones, immensely powerful and destructive objects that can only be wielded by the strongest beings and can destroy whole planets. Drax, drunk and desiring revenge gives away their position to Ronan, who discovers what the orb contains. After defeating Drax in one-on-one combat Ronan leaves.

Quill calls Yondu in order to be captured to save a stranded Gamora. Groot and a remorseful Drax want to rescue their comrades, and convince Rocket. When they reach Yondu’s ship, Quill’s fast talking has got him and Gamora out of trouble. The five are reunited and knowing that Ronan now knows about the infinity stone will head to destroy Xandar and other worlds, Quill suggests that they need to stop him, despite it being seemingly impossible.

Can Quill unite the misfits and rally them to make a stand? And will it be enough if they and Yondu’s ships do face down Ronan? And will the forces of law believe that Quill and the others are telling the truth and want to help?

I freaking loved this movie, the plot is a fairly standard sci-fi adventure, and the idea of misfits having to team up to save the day is hardly new, but it’s executed brilliantly. The script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn is a delight filled with nice ideas and great touches, and Gunn (Slither) has serious comedic chops, but also handles the action brilliantly.

The characters are realized wonderfully, especially the CGI duo Groot and Rocket. Groot, despite only uttering three words (“I am Groot”) is strangely endearing and the sarky Rocket is a delight. This is the third Dave Bautista movie I’ve seen, and this is the best performance he’s given (underused in Riddick and just there as muscle in The Man with the Iron Fists),  but here not only does he bring the muscular presence to Drax but he’s gloriously deadpan as a character who inteperets everything literally. It’s a sign of the film’s class that despite these ridiculous characters you warm to them all and get genuinely invested in them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

Zoe Saldana also deserves praise for her role, capturing Gamora’s ferocity but also a bizarre naivety. Raised as a weapon she seems uncomfortable with emotions and experiences confused irritation towards Quill. Saldana does a good job of slowly allowing the character to develop and reveal her emotions and form relationship

As Quill, Chris Pratt is the stand out. Coupled with The Lego Movie (review coming soon) this is definitely his year, I’d been impressed with his work in the show Parks and Recreation and supporting roles like in The Five Year Engagement, but I was really surprised by how well he handled the leading man role here. Slimmed down and buffed up, Pratt looks the part but his winning quality is the way he marries Quill’s cocky swaggering with goofy failure. It could have made the character look utterly delusional, but Quill is just about talented enough to justify the confidence, even if he sometimes emerges victoriously by luck rather than judgement.

Pratt’s easy charm carries much of the film, he’s constantly out of his depth and his roguish facade, and “Star-Lord” posturing is blatantly a cover for a man who is lost and basically a decent bloke. When the chips are down he rises to the challenge, however long the odds, with a combination of fast talking, courage and fluke. He’s clearly cut in the Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Malcolm Reynolds mode but far goofier. There’s something almost childlike at times in the character, or at least adolescent, and this extends to his relationship with Yondu, who despite constant threats gives him a lot of slack and treats him like a favoured, indulged child.

Pratt in action as Quill

Pratt in action as Quill

The back story adds some mystery, (why was a small child abducted? And why is his father so shrouded in mystery?) but also gives the movie one of it’s nicest, most idiosyncratic touches, the soundtrack. When he’s abducted one of the few possessions Peter has is a walkman with an mix tape in, which includes a plethora of great, cheesy 60s and 70s hits, including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” which appeared in a trailer. During the opening robbery Peter dances and lip syncs with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. It’s a hilarious sequence and sets up the movie’s quirky, fun tone and had the audience I was with laughing, which they continued to do throughout.

I know I’ve pushed the comedy side, but it’s still a rollicking adventure, with great fights an intimidating villain and a class supporting cast. I eagerly await the sequel, and seeing if they have a Guardians-Avengers crossover.

Verdict: A goofy triumph, Gunn mixes humour, action and sci-fi with great skill and the cast are sensational. A brilliant soundtrack and weird, but endearing characters makes this one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a while and up there with the best of Marvel’s cinematic output, and in the mix for my favourite movie of the year. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Movie Review: Riddick

Recently I wrote of my love for the first outing of space criminal Richard B Riddick (the B surely standing for “badass”), Pitch Black. It was a fun, low key sci-fi action flick about an anti-hero convict played by Vin Diesel leading a group of survivors against some nasty critters. The movie was a big success and a sequel was made but The Chronicles of Riddick, was a bit of a misstep, trading the simple thrills for an overreaching plot about intergalactic empires and whatnot. It wasn’t well received, although isn’t as bad on repeat viewings just rather daft.

Now, Diesel gets the shiny eyes out of retirement for this third installment, which takes a step back to the character’s more simple roots.

riddick pos

We catch up with Riddick left for dead on a seemingly desolate world, and a flashback reveals that the Necromongers who had installed him as their leader betrayed him and he wound up there. The planet seems uninhabited save for a variety of nasty creatures- reptilian vulture things, jackals on steroids, creepy looking eels and some nasty, poisonous scorpion like things, aka Mud Demons, that live under water. Riddick is injured but soon starts relying on his wits once more, deciding that he needs to make up for letting himself go soft and making the mistake of getting civilized.

He snatches one of the space coyote pups and trains it, and works out a way to make himself immune to the Mud Demon stings. Then he escapes the desert into a more lush valley where he discovers an abandoned mercenary station. He raids it for supplies and then sees an approaching rain storm, which allows the MDs to come out.

Riddick activates the station’s beacon which scans his face, planning on attracting bounty hunters who’s ship he can nick. Two ships respond to the signal, the first being Santana’s (Jordi Molla) crew of rough around the edges bounty hunters (including former WWE star David Bautista), shortly followed by a smaller but more polished and professional crew led by Johns (Matt Nable), the father of the merc who’d captured Riddick in the first movie. He wants answers about what happened to his son, and offers to help, but Santana rejects it.

Riddick picks off a few of Santana’s crew and the teams join forces under Johns’ leadership, with his second in command Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) clashing with the unstable Santana.

Riddick pinches power cells from both ships and offers a deal- he’ll give them one so they can leave and take the other ship for himself, warning them that something more dangerous is coming. Riddick is taken down and wakes up just before the rainstorm hits, bringing the Mud Demons out in force.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Many of these characters will not see the end credits.

Can they all work together to get off the planet? Can Riddick trust the bounty hunters, and can they trust him?

I really dug this movie, but then as a Riddick fan I was already in the zone. It’s a definite step back towards the first movie in terms of scale and plot- a fairly tight, no frills sci-fi action flick. It quickly gets Riddick off the throne and back down in the mud and then after he slowly gets back into the zone the action kicks in and it doesn’t let up.

Diesel is allowed to have some fun with Riddick again, the wolfish grin and swaggering badassery is back in a big way, and his sarky narration helps things along at the start, and allowing him to be by himself for the first section of the movie allows the film to build up his aura of ingenuity and resilience. He starts the movie with his shin bone poking out through the skin and employs some Rambo-style rudimentary first aid.

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

Swaggering badassery- Diesel as Riddick

When the mercs show up he’s clearly having fun taunting and outsmarting them and they use the Pitch Black trick of having him skulking unnoticed within feet of his pursuers. Vin Diesel has the muscular charisma to pull it off and is in his comfort zone, with easy toughness and nailing the anti-hero likability from the off.

He’s given good support from the actors playing the two team leaders, Molla and Nable. Nable doesn’t look old or grizzled enough to have been Cole Hauser’s dad a decade ago as the movie suggests, but he does a good job nonetheless as the tough leader of the pro hunters and his relaxed confidence himself was quite cool, and he exuded natural authority.

Molla is clearly having a ball as the nasty Santana, who’s a caricature scumbag villain- he shoots a woman in the back, harasses and attacks Dahl, and is generally unhinged, you’re in panto hissable villain territory. My one problem with the character was that he never seemed a genuine threat to Riddick- physically he was kinda small, but also he was way out of his depth. I know this was deliberate, with his crew being distinctly bush league and aiming too high going after Riddick, but he was a little too inept, at times seeming almost willfully stupid.

The rest of the bounty hunters are largely unremarkable cannon fodder, with the only three standing out being Sackhoff, Bautista and Nolan Gerard Funk (cool name) as the religious kid on Santana’s crew, with everyone else being generic tough guy types.

Bautista only really stood out because of his hulking size, dodgy mohawk and the fact I’m a WWE fan. He does alright as the heavy, but disappointingly doesn’t do much for most of the movie, and when he does finally throw down against Diesel their fight is rather short and a little lame. Why hire someone with such physical presence and not let him use it?

Underused- David Bautista

Underused- David Bautista

Katee Sackhoff as the only female on the planet does well enough with a hugely cliched role as the “badass chick”, to be fair she does both parts of this genre trope well enough- she’s hot and she actually looks like she can handle herself in a scrap.  I know that sounds sexist, but this film is definitely in the teenage boy market and as a former teenage boy I can confirm that there are few things sexier than an attractive woman who could kick your ass.

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

Sackhoff in action- badass but a poorly handled character

But the character and the treatment of her is also one of the most problematic They make it plain she’s a lesbian early on, but then she has an odd flirty relationship with Riddick. I say “flirty” but some of our slapheaded hero’s dialogue to her is seriously creepy- I doubt complimenting anyone on their toenail polish and comparing it to the colour of their nipples which you saw while perving on them in the shower would ever go down well.

I’ve seen that a few other people have been irritated by this and it was rather disappointing and a misstep for the movie, although I personally think that Riddick’s coarse dialogue with her was deliberate as part of his MO in trying to throw people off their game. Still, it was a bit suspect and the fact she was flirting back at the end was dodgy (I assume she was flirting back, I couldn’t make out her last line to him). There was gratuitous nudity as well, with her showering but I missed this because I’d stupidly necked two bottles and a coffee before going into the movie.

The lesbian being won over by the hero’s manliness wasn’t cool back when Fleming had Pussy Galore fall for Bond, and it’s definitely not legit in the 21st century, however, I liked that they didn’t consummate the relationship and hope that her flirting back was intended as her being tongue in cheek and slightly mocking of his cockiness, which is how I initally read it. She seemed to treat his claims that they’d end up shagging with amused irritation more than anything. Whatever, it wasn’t necessary- either make her a lesbian and ditch the flirty stuff, or make her straight and a proper love interest, you can’t have it both ways and I can understand why lesbian viewers and female audiences in general might not like the way the character was handled. It just smacked of teenage boy fantasy.

Also, calling her Dahl was a mistake as I thought they were calling her “Doll” throughout the movie.

It really is a shame as Sackhoff was quite badass in the role and did banter well with Diesel and hold her own around the others, but these scenes did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Other than this the film is executed well enough, David Twohy knows how to shoot a decent action sequence, and while it lacks the “dying light” tension of the original the critters are still quite creepy and it’s a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. The script is cliched in places but there are a few decent lines and nice touches throughout (one character berating another for jinxing them, one of the kills that Riddick predicts before he does it, etc.)

Verdict: Diesel is on fine form and the simpler plot suits the character better, it’s generally very good fun even if the treatment of the female characters does cause a few problems. A step in the right direction, but if Riddick gets another outing maybe give him a decent human foe and better supporting players. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.