I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.
One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?
This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.
The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.
We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.
Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.
Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.
They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.
Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.
Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.
Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.
Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.
Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.
Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?
Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.
This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.
It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.
Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.
Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.
But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.
The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.
The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.
This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.
The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.
It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.
I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.
A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.
Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.
Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.
The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.
Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.
Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.
A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.
Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?
I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.
Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.
It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.
The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.
It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.
But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.
The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.
The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.
The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.
The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.
As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.
Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.
Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was a massive fan of The Lego Movie and one of the many good things about it was the treatment of Batman (Will Arnett), who they transformed into a cocky, self absorbed show off. When it was announced that he’d be getting a solo run out, it instantly joined the list of movies I was looking forward to and yesterday MWF and I went along with a friend to check it out.
The film kicks off with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) leading a team of Gotham’s villains in a daring attempt to seize control of the city by threatening with a gigantic bomb. Unfortunately for the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman arrives just in time and makes short work of his associates. As the duo face off the Joker is hurt to discover that Batman doesn’t regard him as special or his archenemy, announcing he doesn’t care.
Batman saves the day and all is good, however, it is revealed that when he returns to Wayne Manor he is lonely and bored. His trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned that he has no life beyond Batman, but he refuses to acknowledge this. Bruce—0s0A\\\ attends the retirement party of Jim Gordon, where his replacement is to be announced. The replacement is Jim’s daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who Bruce is attracted to. Distracted by Barbara’s beauty Bruce agrees to adopt nerdy orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
Barbara announces a bold new plan for Gotham and her desire for Batman to work with the police, and highlighting that despite his efforts Gotham is still the worst city for crime. Joker and Co. attack but Joker then surrenders, much to the suspicion of Batman and Barbara. Joker and the other villains are imprisoned, and the city celebrates.
With nothing to do Batman is bored and sad, resisting Alfred’s urging to spend time with Dick and act as his father figure. Batman continues to spy on Joker and decides that the only way to be safe is to send Joker to the Phantom Zone, where the universe’s worst villains are imprisoned. Recruiting Dick as his sidekick, and giving him an old colourful costume the duo steal a device to send people to the Phantom Zone from Superman (Channing Tatum), who Batman discovers is throwing a party for all the superheroes that he was not invited to.
They send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara imprisons them. Unfortunately, this has played into the Joker’s plans and he breaks out with several other villains to get revenge on Batman and Gotham.
Batman reluctantly agrees to allow Barbara, Dick and Alfred to help him, but can they triumph and can he resist his urge to go it alone? And will he be able to admit to himself that his insistence on working alone comes from his fear of losing people again?
This is an incredibly daft and fun movie which works because of the central character, with Batman continuing to be a swaggering, boastful jerk who has to face up to his failings and feelings. It’s a big twist on the traditional way the Dark Knight is portrayed and the egomaniac is hugely entertaining, especially when he is repeatedly outwitted or out of his depth.
This happens often with Barbara who is a clever, confident woman who has his number from the jump and provides sensible advice he routinely ignores. As the movie unfolds he is forced to accept that teamwork is key and slowly acknowledges the help the others provide him with.
The other supporting players work well, especially the irritatingly cheery Dick Grayson who slowly breaks down Batman’s stern exterior.
The storyline of the Joker’s rejection and his relationship with Batman is quite well done, playing it as almost a warped romance, with Joker believing it was a deeper connection and Batman brushing it off saying that he “likes to fight around”. The Joker’s plan is pretty clever and allows a whole host of cameos from different villains in the final act, with King Kong, Voldemort, Daleks, Gremlins and the Wicked Witch of the West among others.
The action is fact paced and largely comical, with characters making the sounds of the guns they use and the Lego world allowing for inventive chaos. Batman, as a master builder, continues to build massive, crazy contraptions and visually it is stunning.
It’s also a delight for geeks as it’s rammed with little gags and references. The beginning and end poke fun at the seriousness of some superhero movies, and there are nods to the many different incarnations of the characters (including a brief clip of Adam West in action). The Joker’s posse includes a host of Gotham’s villains including lesser, dafter enemies and there are nods to the comic book conventions, especially how inept the Gotham police are and one hostage’s relaxed response to being confronted by the Joker. It’s quite clever and funny, but I did wonder how well it would play for kids as a lot of it is very ironic and pokes fun at the character and the world.
Plot wise it’s quite straight forward, and the issues of teamwork, family and Batman accepting help from others and letting people in hardly groundbreaking. It’s not quite as good as The Lego Movie in terms of sheer manic energy, but it’s still a very solid comedy adventure and keeps moving at a decent pace. But it feels like this is a good place to leave the block Batman, as any more would overplay the joke.
Verdict: Consistently funny and loaded with injokes, this is an extremely entertaining movie. Daft in places it, it works well as a fast paced romp. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Arriving on a wave of hyperactive marketing and talk of reshoots and extensive cuts comes the third film in DC’s Expanded Universe (DCEU) after Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but this time the focus is on the villains. It’s basically a Dirty Dozen for the world of DC with a disparate group of criminals brought together by Viola Davis’ shady government agent Amanda Waller.
Many are inmates of a black site prison in Louisiana including the incredibly accurate hit man Deadshot aka Floyd Lawton (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a psychiatrist turned psycho, lover and associate of the Joker (Jared Leto), both having been brought down by Batman (Ben Affleck).
Joining them is the beast like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), pyrokinetic gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) known unimpressively as “the man who can climb anything”. Rounding off the team are Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who is seen being apprehended by the Flash (Ezra Miller).
The team is under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) a decorated soldier who has fallen for June Moone (Cara Delevigne) an archaeologist who has been possessed by the malevolent Enchantress, who is kept in line as Waller owns her heart, her only vulnerability. To keep them every member has an explosive chip in their neck and Flag is backed up by samurai sword wielding vigilante Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and some anonymous Navy SEALs.
The Enchantress betrays Waller and unleashes her brother, a towering powerhouse with whom she lays waste to Midway City. The Squad are airlifted into the city in order to retrieve a VIP, but their individual weaknesses and inability to function threaten their effectiveness. Can Flag get the job done with his ragtag team? Can he trust them? Can they trust him and Waller?
I enjoyed this movie but it has plenty of flaws and is definitely a case of style over substance. The major weakness that having a team thrown together so quickly many are underdeveloped and here Katana, Killer Croc, Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are all slightly underwritten. My feeling was that several scenes must have hit the cutting room floor as the team go from disparate strangers to what El Diablo calls “a family” rather too quickly.
But there are moments that work. Kinnaman and Smith do a good job of capturing their characters differing views and distrust, with a slowly developing respect as the film progresses. They are both good actors and Kinnaman does enough to suggest that Flag isn’t the clean cut All-American hero he’d introduced as. He nails the character’s toughness while letting the cracks of vulnerability show.
Will Smith is always reliable and likeable but his Deadshot feels like a missed opportunity, with too much heroism thrown in the mix which throws off his anti-hero status. As the biggest star Smith is the centre for the team in many ways and while he is a good anchor it unsettles the balance and he never fully convinces as the cold killer he thinks he is. There are a couple of moments where he is quite badass but it doesn’t quite come off for me. Also he takes the mask off far too early and far too long.
The only character who gets the same kind of background and focus is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The manic energy is oddly charming and quite fun, but the character is emblematic of the film’s inconsistent tone. There is a brief glimmer of vulnerability and moments where the cheery mask drops, but then the film reverts back to having her quipping and messing about. I have to admit my view was harder than MWF’s who found Robbie’s performance the major strength of the film and the best member of the team.
The worst part of the treatment of Harley is that the film botches the relationship between her and the Joker. In the cartoon and comics the Joker is extremely manipulative and cruel to Harley, the emotional clearly abusive and sadistic but the film bottles it softening these aspects and making the Joker seem to care for her in a way that undermines his psychopathic nature.
Leto’s Joker has limited screentime and it may be too early to judge but for me it doesn’t quite work, it feels like it’s trying too hard to be edgy and the actual jokes are thin on the ground. He might impress more in later Batman movies but here he disappointed me.
Of the rest of the Squad the only one with any development is El Diablo, who is introduced as a seemingly reformed character who no longer uses his powers. His tragic back story is a bit obvious, but Hernandez does a good job in making him human and at least he gets some kind of storyline, which is more than many of his teammates.
On the whole the movie has more misses than hits, with inconsistencies in tone, underwritten characters and an annoying habit of quick pop music blasts over scenes. But the action sequences are fast and furious and the script delivers a few laughs along the way.
The plot is predictable in places, and as with BvS I got the feeling that DC are rushing the DCEU and a few of these characters could have done with being introduced elsewhere first before being thrown into the mix here.
One of the aspects I liked most was Viola Davis as Waller. She gives a commanding performance as the hardened, calculating character with whom you don’t want to mess with and her moral ambiguity means her motives are never fully clear and it will be interesting how she works with the forthcoming Justice League, teased in a solid credits sting where she sits down with Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.
She makes a ruthless and cold antagonist for the anti-heroes, and Davis carries it off with a ruthless badassness which makes her utterly convincing as a no-nonsense woman used to getting her way no matter who opposes her.
On the whole it’s a fun enough action movie, but there’s very little beneath the surface and it struggles from having to introduce so many characters so quickly but if there’s a Suicide Squad 2 I’ll probably go see it as there they can just get right to the action. And I so look forward to seeing more about the Joker’s history with Batman, even if Leto’s clown prince of crime is my least favourite incarnation of the character.
Verdict: Riddled with flaws and underwritten in places the film looks good but lacks depth. Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Kinnaman do their best but many if the actors have little to sink their teeth into. A decent introduction but you hope further adventures are stronger. The DCEU seems to lack the patience of Marvel’s universe building process. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Like a lot of folks who love the original I was skeptical about a reboot of this series and the initial trailer didn’t inspire confidence, but unlike many folks online I decided to withhold judgement until I’d seen the movie. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have impressed me in other films and so I was up for giving them a chance. So today MWF (a massive McCarthy fan) and I, along with a friend, went to check this out.
And in all fairness they do a damn fine job here, as do the rest of the cast.
Sure, it won’t replace the original in my heart or develop the same cult following, but it’s a solid, entertaining and funny movie. From start to finish there’s a steady stream of gags and I chuckled throughout.
It all kicks off with a ghostly encounter at a mansion which leads the owner to seek out Erin Gilbert (Wiig) a university professor who earlier in her career had co-written a book about ghosts she thought long forgotten. Worried that it’s reappearance online may jeopardise her chances at tenure she seeks out her former friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) who continues to focus on the paranormal.
Erin and Abby, along with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Abby’s new co-worker investigate and see the ghost. When all are fired from their respective jobs they decide to go into business to prove the existence of ghosts.
They hire Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a dimwitted receptionist who Erin finds attractive and set about trying to find more ghosts, being sought out by transport worker Patty (Leslie Jones) who also witnessed a ghost and who joins the team.
Investigating they discover that someone is releasing ghosts and plans to open a portal to another dimension which will unleash an army of the spirits. With the Mayor’s office trying to keep things quiet the four ladies are New York’s only hope and must work out what’s going on and bust those ghosts.
The plot is basic and straightforward, but this is fine as it provides some decent sequences and the relationship between Abby and Erin as they rebuild their lost friendship is well handled and serves as the heart of the story.
McCarthy and Wiig are both on fine form with Wiig playing the uptight Erin with fragile likeability and slowly unwinding the character as the film progresses. Even in her weaker films McCarthy has shown herself to be a great comedic presence on screen and she does well here, getting some great lines as the group’s unofficial leader.
McKinnon and Jones, who I knew less about are also very good and funny, and McKinnon’s Holtzmann who was one of the things I worried about in the trailers turns out to be a rather likeable oddball.
But stealing several scenes is Hemsworth as the useless, ditzy Kevin. While there have been some humourous moments in his previous films it’s still impressive how well he takes to comedy.
The effects are good and the first ghost is introduced in a genuinely creepy way, and the climactic sequences are well done and involving.
There are a few nods to the original and cameos from several of the original cast (Bill Murray, Dan Aykryd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts all appear). There is also a nice tribute to the late Harold Ramis. The film acknowledges it’s roots and inspiration, and also takes a few well aimed shots at the ridiculous online backlash this film has faced.
The doubts I had are vanquished by what is a very entertaining movie.
Verdict: The leads are fantastic and the jokes fast flowing. Plenty of laughs and while the plot is simple it keeps you involved. An entertaining blockbuster. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
When I saw the trailer for this film I took away two major positives; it used the awesome “White Rabbit” as backing and it presented what might be the last chance to hear the late Alan Rickman’s marvellous voice.
“White Rabbit” isn’t used in the film and Rickman’s Absolem is barely in it.
The film picks up three years after the original and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the time aboard her ship The Wonder exploring the world. Returning to England she finds that much has changed, her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has sold their shares and their house is in jeopardy, their fate in the hands of Hamish (Leo Bill), last seen having his proposal rejected by Alice.
Upset she storms off and sees a butterfly, who she identifies as Absolem. He flies through a mirror and she follows, arriving back in Wonderland where she meets her old friends and discovers that the Hatter (Johnny Depp) is ill.
Having found the first hat he made, long thought destroyed, he believes this means that his family may have survived the attack of the Jabberwocky. When Alice is skeptical he loses his temper and throws her out. She decides to go back in time to save the Hatter’s family and goes to visit Time (Sasha Baron Cohen) to borrow the chronosphere.
Time argues that it is dangerous and you can’t change the past, only learn from it, so Alice steals it and heads off to find out what happened to the Hatter’s family. Time gives chase and Alice learns more about the history of Wonderland and a whole mess of timey-wimey bollocks ensues.
I saw this because MWF loved the first film and loves Alice in Wonderland in general. She enjoyed herself, which is good.
I, however, hated it.
There were a couple of laughs, but you could count them on your fingers. The first movie was alright, if a little overdone, but this is insufferable.
It clocks in at less than two hours but feels much, much longer and there’s so much green screen and animation you wonder why they didn’t just do a cartoon.
The visuals are like the work of an art student trying too hard to be quirky and weird, and it is not a fun place to spend your time. I found myself happily greeting the real world sequences, for as dull as they were, at least I wasn’t getting slapped in the face by a tsunami of overblown design and colour.
The plot is your basic “meddling with time travel” stuff and Mia Wasikowska is likeable enough, but she is let down by a stupid script and the fact that the movie tries to pull off the same tricks as part one. Obviously people loved Helena Bonham Carter’s hammy Queen of Hearts because she’s back, as is Anne Hathaway as her sister. Hathaway seems to be phoning it in, and probably regrets signing the sequel clause, while HBC just does the “aren’t I mad?!” OTT stuff that she’s done a thousand times before.
Johnny Depp’s Hatter mopes about and still has the unexplained lapses into a Scottish accent which makes even less sense now as his family are not Scots. It’s an annoying performance, feeling overly worked in a way that Depp never has before. He seems to have chosen mannerisms and flourishes and finds himself stuck with them, stifling anything close to a portrayal of a rounded character.
The rest of the cast are clearly picking up cheques, and have little to do. Rhys Ifans plays the Hatter’s dad and just adds another name to the list of people who deserve to be in a far better film.
The one bright spark is Sasha Baron Cohen as Time. He plays the character with genuine comic skill, and captures a sense of a egotistical ruler who has plenty of quirks and flaws.
He’s also clearly set up to not be a villain. In fact, he’s the one trying to fix things after Alice cocks them up spectacularly. SBC is over the top like everything else in this movie, but it seems less forced and he carries it off better than anyone else.
The only problem is the accent he picks, which I couldn’t quite place. French in places, but then more Germanic. At times he even veered towards Arnie territory and I found myself thinking of Schwarzenegger’s campy nadir in Batman and Robin.
I thought about this, about the steroid Bane, the Bat-Card, Chris O’Donnell, all those ice puns. I thought about these and I realised that given the choice, I’d happily have left the cinema and gone and watched Batman and Robin again. And there can be no more damning criticism than that.
Verdict: Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp deliver overdone performances that are all camp excess and no substance. The rest of the cast is poorly served, with Sasha Baron Cohen being the only one who does anything with his part. It drags and the CGI onslaught is tiresome. Can’t see this being unseated as my worst film of 2016. 2/10.
(The two being for the presence of several favourites of mine- Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Timothy Spall and for Cohen’s role as Time.)
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
The X-Men series has always been a mixed bag, with the movies getting some things right (the casting of two generations of Xavier and Magneto, the Deadpool movie, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine) and some things rather wrong (pretty much everything in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, Emma Frost). This continues to be the case here, with the movie succeeding but in a frustrating manner.
Picking up a few years after Days of Future Past in the early 80s, it finds a world where human and mutant relations are still tense but improving. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to run with his school, isolated from the world and helping his students master their powers.
Former friend turned enemy Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is in hiding in Poland, where he lives a quiet life with his wife and daughter. But when he uses his powers to save a co-worker’s life he is exposed and tragedy follows.
The tragedy makes him vulnerable to the influence of a new threat. Having lain dormant since Ancient Egypt, the world’s first mutant En Subah Nur (Oscar Isaac), has returned. He plans to cleanse the weak from the Earth and rule, and to aid him he gathers four followers, mutants whose powers he enhances. This earns him the nickname Apocalypse.
He recruits Magneto along with a winged cage fighter Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) a violent psychic who can create weapons from psychic energy and a young thief with powers over the weather, Storm (Alexandra Shipp).
Apocalypse’s return is felt around the world, including by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a powerful telepath at the school, who has nightmarish dreams of what he plans.
Fearing for Erik, shape changer Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to the school along with the teleporting Nightcrawler (Jodi Smit-McPhee) who she rescued from a mutant fighting ring. She wants Xavier’s help, and is reunited with Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), her former lover with whom things remain tense.
Charles’ power draws the attention of Apocalypse who kidnaps him, and the mansion is destroyed in the process. The US military then captures Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
Nightcrawler joins Jean and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and they attempt to rescue their friends and work out how they can stop Apocalypse, if they can. What are his plans for Xavier? Can the inexperienced heroes save the day? And is Charles’ faith in Erik’s goodness misplaced?
Quite complicated stuff, right? And that’s one of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. The plot is quite involving and there are quite a few interesting subplots and character arcs, but because of this a few are a little undercooked, even with the movie clocking in at over two hours (it doesn’t feel that long to be fair), it’s hard for all the aspects to get a fair crack.
This means that while some parts work perfectly, others are frustratingly underdeveloped and some just flat out fail. I’ll focus on what works first.
The casting is solid across the board and the returning players like Lawrence, Hoult, Peters, McAvoy and Fassbender all know what they’re doing and have a good feel for their roles, with Lawrence in particular impressing as a conflicted, lost Mystique who struggles with being regarded as a mutant hero.
It’s a strong performance, with Lawrence managing to capture the character’s fears and inner turmoil well without lurching into moping and she also shows the character developing into a badass leader, her own experiences helping her rally the younger mutants she finds herself in charge of.
The character of Quicksilver is vastly different from his comic book counterpart, but works well with Evan Peters making him a likeable slacker who gets one of the film’s best action sequences and who exudes an easy charm.
Hoult is good in the role of Hank McCoy, even though as a fan of the comics I hate that they’ve made the Beast a bit of a wet blanket and moper. If they reboot the series, could we please have the chatty, happy beast from the comics?
Several of the newcomers do well, particularly Tye Sheridan who gets to play a relaxed, impulsive Cyclops although the movie shows him starting on the road to being the serious leader he becomes. He shares decent chemistry with Sophie Turner, who is very good as the confident Jean Grey.
While his performance as Magneto is great, capturing the rage and power of the character, Michael Fassbender is let down by the storyline he gets. While his anger and decision to join Apocalypse is understandable, it doesn’t feel completely convincing especially as the plan unfolds. Apocalypse’s plan is so awful it’s hard to imagine that Magneto would sign up so easily.
Similarly dealt a poor hand is the character of Storm who has been criminally misused in all the X-films. While Alexandra Shipp looks the part more and carries herself with more badass flair than Halle Berry ever managed her storyline is woefully executed. A neat trick is used to have Apocalypse use their language barrier to trick her as to her intentions, but it takes her far too long to realise that he’s a wrong ‘un. And her decision to come good is late in coming and inspired by one minor act rather than the mass destruction that proceeds it.
The character is horribly underwriiten, and while an improvement, it’s annoying to see a strong, leading lady of the team relegated to the sidelines once more.
Storm becoming a good guy isn’t a spoiler is it?
Now the villain, Apocalypse has serious powers and his “strong survive” attitude is a good motivation but he feels like a watered down version of the books character and the look doesn’t quite work for me. His posturing and view of himself as a godlike figure makes him a good villain, as does his callous streak. But it felt like something was missing, particularly how quickly he wins over his horsemen.
All in all it’s a frustrating watch, with some massively entertaining sequences and a crowd pleasing cameo (which only confuses the timeline more) and some good performances, but the missteps jar you out of it and the timeline of the films is now so muddled none really work, although they seem to have decided to pretty much erase X-Men: Origins: Wolverine from the continuity, which is a good thing.
The formation of a new team is bound to make fanboys happy and it just about works, but after the excellent Days of Future Past this is a step backwards. Entertaining, but it feels rushed and underdeveloped. It might actually have been worth making this a two partner, to fully explore the characters and maybe have the changes have more weight and reason behind them.
It keeps you hooked, and there are great fights, a few laughs and some nice moments, but those problems gnaw at you and stop you fully going with it.
Verdict: Hit and miss heroics. Some nice touches and solid performances carry it through, but there are quite a few flaws and the characters are underdeveloped. On the whole it just about wins out. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
WARNING! Some spoilers ahead.
The 1967 Disney animated film The Jungle Book is a beloved classic and a personal favourite of mine, so Disney’s decision to do a live action remake/reboot/reimiagining was something I approached with some trepidation. How could it match the old film, and how would it treat characters I loved?
Turns out, it would do pretty well on both counts.
How close the animated version stuck to Kipling’s book is a mystery to me, but this movie holds true to the older film, while developing and expanding some of the themes and storylines.
Jon Favreau directs a film which is effortlessly charming, involving and gorgeously realised. The plot follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy, who having been found in the jungle as an infant by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) has been raised amongst a wolf pack.
Despite the love of his adopted mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) he is still an outsider, failing to keep up and aware of his differences. Pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) has taught him the law of the Jungle, and treats him warmly but disapproves of his inventions which he calls “tricks”.
During a dry season there is a water truce, where none can attack others at the watering hole and this brings Mowgli to the attention of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a vicious tiger who carries scars from previous encounters with man and who threatens that after the dry season he will kill Mowgli and any who attempt to stop him.
The wolf pack debates what to do next, and Mowgli volunteers to leave. Bagheera offers to lead him to the “man village” and they set off. Shere Khan encounters them, injuring Bagheera but Mowgli escapes. Angry, Shere Khan visits Akela, who says that their quarrel is over, but the tiger kills him and takes over the turf, saying he will remain until Mowgli returns.
Alone and lost Mowgli encounters more of the jungle residents including the Gigantopithecus (large orangutan like ape) Louis (Christopher Walken) who rules the monkeys within the ruins of a temple and the hypnotising python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).
He also befriends a lazy, sneaky sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) who encourages him to use his tricks for their gain and whom he lives with for a time. Bagheera arrives and Mowgli argues with both animals, and discovers the news of Akela’s death. Stealing fire from the man village he races to confront Shere Khan. Can he defeat the tiger? And what consequences will his use of fire have?
I loved this movie because Favreau really succeeds in creating characters who stand on their own and is helped by a wonderful voice cast. As the only human on screen for much of the film Neel Sethi does well as Mowgli, but there are a few creaky moments, but as child performances go it’s a good one.
Luckily the voice cast work well with him and also in making their characters come alive. All inhabit their roles well and there are some nice alterations from the cartoon.
Murray’s Baloo is a delight, a slacker who ambles through life and getting some great lines, all aided by Murray’s easy, warm delivery. Baloo is funny, charming and instantly lovable. He is the standout but not alone in his success in bringing a convincing humanity to the animal characters.
Ben Kingsley provides a quiet dignity to Bagheera while stopping the character from being a lecturing killjoy, and he ensures that the panther’s concern and affection for the boy is obvious throughout. As the villain of the piece Idris Elba makes Shere Khan a menacing presence, and his rumbling tones are well suited to the predator.
Nyong’o also impresses with scenes between Raksha and Mowgli having real emotion, and she fills every word with maternal love and protective qualities. When Mowgli decides to leaves it tugs at the heart strings and MWF got rather teary at this point. It lends the movie genuine emotion and adds weight to the story
Possibly the biggest change is King Louis, who goes from the comedic, singing orangutan of the older film to a massive ape who Walken fills with menacing gravitas, turning him into a sort of mob boss figure. The hulking Louis and his army of monkeys are a nice change to the story, and the sequence in the temple is one of the strongest in the film.
All the characters are filled with personality and yet the magnificent CGI means they look sensational. There’s very little anthropomorphic adjustment, and yet they convey their emotions clearly.
The effects are sensational and some of the settings are simply magnificent, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen as the junglescapes are beautiful.
There are some solid action sequences and a couple of wince inducing animal conflicts, with the beasts clashing in furious sequences. To anyone with young kids, these could be quite upsetting for them, and there are some scary parts. But for everyone else I wholeheartedly recommend this movie as it is gorgeous to look at and populated with wonderful characters. It’s fantastic family film making from Favreau.
Verdict: An utter delight, Favreau and a sensational voice cast bring the characters to life, in a story that is full of emotion, charm and thrills. It’s very good fun and looks amazing. Magnificent. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
I finally got around to seeing this with MWF today and I’m kinda glad I did, having allowed the fanboy hype and critical mauling fade into the background. So, does the big screen meeting of the World’s Finest work or not?
The answer is partially.
The plot works decently, even if it does feel like a whole lot is going on. It uses the destruction of the Zod vs Superman (Henry Cavill) smackdown of Man of Steel as a jumping off point for much of the drama, this is good as the smashing of Metropolis was distinctly unlike Superman, so it’s good it had some kind of point.
Debate rages over what Superman should and shouldn’t do and whether he is helping or a threat. He rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from African rebels, but the hired guards kill many and he takes the fall for this and the reprisals, leading the US government to question how he acts.
While some embrace him as a saviour others are skeptical especially Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who talks to the government about using Kryptonite as a “silver bullet” in case they need to put the Man of Steel down.
Meanwhile, in Gotham Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed the destruction and saw many if his employees die, returns to his life as Batman after a break and starts his war on crime. He is highly suspicious of Superman, and plagued by a nightmarish dream of a desolate world where Superman reigns.
For his part, Clark is not keen on the violent justice the Bat is dishing out. He wants to write about it in the Planet, but Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) kills the story.
Wayne’s investigations lead him to Luthor, who is shipping in Kryptonite which Batman wants. Also looking into Luthor is a mysterious woman, who wants a file that Lex has on her. She is unable to crack it and gives it to Bruce, who finds out she is Wonder Woman, another superhuman who fought in WWI.
It turns out Luthor has used his government connections to access Zod’s body and ship and is breeding something there, and is also aware of Batman’s identity and orchestrates a showdown. Who will triumph or will they be able to realise what’s going on and unite?
First the good. The questioning of Superman’s role on earth is handled well with fake news broadcasts and rival factions. Given the sheer havoc that rained down in the last movie it makes sense that not everyone is too keen on the Last Son of Krypton, and the way Luthor conspires to smear him is well done and paints Luthor as a genuine threat.
The problem is that this ball is dropped as despite Eisenberg’s early success as the slick, egotistical billionaire he lapses into raving look territory halfway through, which is a shame as it would be nice to have a Luthor who manages to be evil while remaining clean on the surface.
Eisenberg’s casting drew some heat, and it’s a flawed portrayal that justifies some of the doubts. Doubts about Ben Affleck’s ability to be the Bat are blown away thanks to a fantastic performance which portrays a darker, more morally ambiguous Batman than we’ve seen before. It owes a debt to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in particular but this is a Batman who doesn’t shy from killing and is coldly ruthless.
There’s a sense if an older, jaded man behind the cowl and a scene where Batman and Alfred (played with a long suffering, dry charm by Jeremy Irons) talk about how all the good guys are gone, and many didn’t stay good. It teases more to come and a murky past, some of which we’ll probably see in Suicide Squad, and Affleck carries it well.
His fear is understandable and his rage utterly human, and he’s a total badass in the role, both as the Bat and Wayne. Those who criticised him will be feeling rather embarrassed now as he owns the film.
That’s not to do Cavill a disservice, he continues to impress as Superman but the character isn’t developed much and others steal the focus. That being said he captures a human side to the Man of Steel and works well with Adams again. The contrast between the two heroes is good and Cavill succeeds with what he’s given.
The third hero involved, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is given a great introduction as she’s shown to be smart, resourceful and strong and her bantering with Affleck is well handled. MWF liked that she was shown in a costume that looked badass without being too slutty. I always worried that Wonder Woman, like Thor, wouldn’t translate to the big screen but Gadot is solid and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in action.
I like that they introduced her but there are a couple of things that make you aware that this movie made in the shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly The Avengers, and clearly DC and Warner Bros. Want their own franchise, but it feels that this is a bit of a rush to get there. Marvel built up over a few movies, this is the second for DC.
Cameos from other Justice League members are fan pleasers, but this feels in places like a stepping stone to get to a bigger movie.
The other thing that’s rushed is Doomsday, a major villain in the comics, who rocks up here. While he’s a real threat here, he’s dispatched with relative ease and it’s a shame they couldn’t have done The Death of Superman as the second or third Justice League movie. It’s a major villain used against three of the team, which is a shame although there are hints of a bigger villain on the way.
Another misstep is the visions Batman has. They’re never explained, apart from a brief glimpse of the future Flash talking to him and it’s not clear if this is a dream or meant to be real. It’s messy and feels needless, why is he having them?
It feels in places like it would have been improved by being stripped back and with Luthor having a better ending.
So while it’s far from perfect it’s not an utter failure, it just feels like they’re trying to fit way too much into one movie and there are lots of gaps and questions left. But for the most part it works as a superhero epic and there are some good performances and it sets up further movies well.
Verdict: A little messy and with a few mistakes, this just about works and is helped by Ben Affleck’s sensational work as Batman and some good action sequences. The conflict is set up well and the conclusion satisfying, but in places it feels less like it’s own film, and more like a means to set up other movies. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
On Christmas day MWF and I settled in to watch this, slightly surprised we’d missed it at the cinema despite MWF being a massive Disney fan.
I was sceptical, as the current trend of Disney making live action remakes is not one I support. Especially as Maleficent was a massive waste if time and effort.
You know the drill, Cinderella (Lilly James) is a sweet, lovely girl who has to live with her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and ugly sisters (Holiday Grainger and Sophie McShera) after her father dies.
She becomes their skivvy, but despite this remains kind and good. The local prince (Richard Madden) throws a ball and with a little help from her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) she goes to the ball. Has to leave by midnight, loses slipper, yadda yadda.
Kenneth Branagh deserves props for giving it a fair go, and to its credit the film does make Cinderella and the Prince’s relationship a bit more substantial than that they just dance, as they talk more and form a genuine bond even before the ball.
This aside it’s the same old story, and while great for kids it doesn’t impress adults. There’s a halfhearted attempt to make the stepmother more rounded, but this fails to make an impact and Blanchett is wasted in the role.
And HBC is her usual overly quirky self. King’s Speech aside everything she’s done recently is painfully OTT.
James is fine as Cinderella, but the character is a nice it’s rather dull and the whole film feels simplistic and old fashioned. Best stick to the animation, or panto, I reckon.
Verdict: Branagh tries but the cast are wasted and its all a bit dull. Nice enough but nowt special. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.