Film Review: Venom

I didn’t have high hopes going into this movie, despite being a fan of Tom Hardy and the Marvel character he was playing. The reasons for my doubts were that this movie had been mauled by the critics and the idea of making a film about Venom that is separate from Spider-Man doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given the history of the character. Hell, his whole look is based on the wallcrawler, so how would they explain that here.

The answer is, they don’t and, frankly, it doesn’t come up as they ditch the spider on his chest and so the only real Spidey influence is the eyes.

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The film is fun, with a lot of decent action sequences and plenty of humour wrung out of the internal bickering between Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the symbiote which infects him. The bloodthirsty alien clashing with Brock’s morality is handled well, with the two slowly starting to warm to each other and eventually becoming more like one entity. It’s almost a buddy movie played out within one body, and props to Hardy for making it entertaining while also giving a sense of Brock’s panic and unease.

Plot wise the film keeps things simple, dodgy science guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is looking for ways to save mankind from the world they have bled dry and overpopulated. His idea is space, where he looks for possible new homes, and on one of his missions his team retrieve some symbiotes, alien beings that need hosts to live. Unfortunately, one gets loose and causes a crash on re-entry, possessing the sole survivor before moving on to another host and deciding to track down Drake’s Life Foundation in San Francisco.

Needing to do damage limitation on the accident Drake decides to do an interview with investigative reporter Eddie Brock. However, Brock discovers some dodgy human testing information which he only knows about because he snoops on his fiance Anne’s (Michelle Williams) computer. Anne working as a lawyer for the Life Foundation. When Brock raises this allegation at the interview it throws his life into chaos. He is fired and blacklisted, and Anne, hurt by the betrayal, dumps him.

Six months pass and Brock is struggling, but one of the scientists who works for Drake approaches him, no longer able to keep quiet on the human trials they are doing which kill the hosts. Brock investigates and discovers a homeless woman he knows as one of the test subjects, letting her out he is then attacked and the symbiote transfers to him.

Unlike other subjects, Brock and the symbiote, named Venom, bond successfully and flourish. Drake is interested in finding out more and sends goons after Brock, but the symbiote grants him new powers which help him to evade capture, although the symbiote’s fighting style is extremely vicious, which Brock is horrified by.

Can they stay out of Drake’s clutches? Will Brock be able to curtail Venom’s aggression? Or will the symbiote gain the upper hand? What is the plan of the other symbiote that is making it’s way to San Francisco? How much can Brock trust the alien within and what is it doing to his body?

Like I said at the top, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, which I think injected some much needed dark humour to proceedings and didn’t water down Venom’s darker aspects. That being said, I felt the 15 rating was a bit harsh, while it was definitely too creepy for younger audiences and there were a few swears, the violence is surprisingly bloodless and I’ve definitely seen more at this level.

Hardy is, as ever, superb in the lead role, making Brock a likeable loser type, who’s own obsession ruins him and leaves him a broken man. There’s humour in the portrayal, especially in the panicky, bewildered way Hardy plays some of the scenes and his disbelief at what’s going on.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, although Ahmed’s Drake is a little bit bland as a villain. His coldness works, but there’s just something missing from taking him to that next level.

The action sequences are pretty cool and the way the symbiote moves and shifts shape during combat is impressive, as is the final reveal when Eddie goes full Venom.

It’s not brilliant, and it lacks a major emotional punch, but it’s perfectly fine viewing, even if it does make you regret that they didn’t introduce this character into the MCU as there doesn’t seem to be any real threat for Venom to face off against here. Potential sequels may change this, but it’s hard to see how they’ll manage this without it seeming shoehorned in.

Also, there’s the villain problem. Ahmed’s performance is solid, but the character is bloodless and the other symbiote, while impressive, doesn’t quite work. The film also suffers from the fact that it and Venom look too similar, meaning during their big showdown it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Enough of it works to make it fun, but this is definitely a lower tier comic book movie.

Verdict: Fun if a bit average. Hardy is good as the lead, but he’s good in everything. The supporting cast are underwritten and it could do with a better villain, but these quibbles aside it has a few laughs, solid action and some pretty cool effects. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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: The Happytime Murders

Having seen the trailer for this movie I didn’t go in with especially high hopes, I thought it would be good for a few laughs, but the trailer appeared quite crude and silly.

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So, it was a pleasant surprise when the movie began with a film noir style narration and an interesting twist on the puppet aspect of the film. While the puppets appear in a variety of shapes and sizes, they are all clearly identified as puppets. The human characters don’t just go along with it as they do in The Muppet movies, they see them as puppets. This is the basis for one aspect of the film, that it takes place in a world where puppets are real, but treated as second class citizens.

This interesting beginning is never capitalised on, and while there is a subplot of anti-puppet bias it never pays off the way I expected or hoped it to, that this silly film would actually have a serious message at heart. But the puppets don’t fit as an analogue for any marginalised group in real life, and so it just feels like a clever touch that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s also inconsistently handled in the film, with some puppets being accepted or successful while others are mocked and struggle.

The noir style pays off a lot better, with our hero, the puppet PI Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) being the typical noir hero, a sarky, chain-smoking, hard drinking disgraced cop who gets caught up in a larger web. Phil’s backstory, that he was the first puppet in the LAPD before being kicked off when it was speculated that puppets won’t or can’t shoot other puppets.

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Phil is approached by a young puppet, Sandra White (Dorien Davies), who is being blackmailed. The trail takes Phil to a puppet adult bookstore, where he bumps into an old acquaintance Mr Bumblyplants (Kevin Clash), while Phil investigates files in a backroom, a mysterious figure arrives, gunning down Bumblypants and the other puppets in the building.

The case is investigated by Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s former partner who testified against him. She believes it to be a robbery gone wrong until Phil points out that all the cash was left behind.

Mr Bumblyplants formerly worked with Phil’s brother Larry (Victor Yerrid) on a successful television show, The Happytime Gang, which is now going into syndication. Larry, who has attempted to look as human as possible through surgery, is excited by the new earnings this will bring.

Shortly after, Larry is killed too, torn apart by dogs released into his house. Phil, eager to catch his brother’s killer reluctantly agrees to work with Edwards and the two discover that The Happytime Gang cast all stand to earn substantial cash from the syndication, which is divided equally among them. If a cast member dies it transfers to their spouse, but if unmarried, their share is divided between the other cast members.

Which one of the Gang is behind it? And are the other cast members safe? And is there more to the case than just greed?

The plot is surprisingly clever, with a couple of red herrings and twists, in keeping with the noir inspiration. In fact, it unfolds quite nicely and genuinely caught me by surprise. Similarly, the relationship between Phil and Edwards is handled rather well, and provides the emotional core of the movie.

Unfortunately, this emotion is undercut because the filmmakers are always trying to sneak another gag in, not letting the quieter moments breathe properly. The gags come quick and fast throughout, but a lot of them feel lazy and easy. While seeing puppets doing things like having sex and abusing drugs is initially novel and amusing, the film overplays this, skewing towards the crude and vulgar.

I laughed a fair few times, but it always feels like it should do better.

It’s decent enough to pass the time, and amuses in places, but on the whole this feels a little flat and the kind of movie that once seen you don’t have any real desire to see it again.

Verdict: A few nice touches and a clever, noirish plot are let down by some lazy gags, over reliance on gross out and attempts to shock. Merely “alright”. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: The Jurassic Games

Ten death row inmates are put on a TV show where they have to race each other. The sole survivor will win their freedom. The only problem there are nine other prisoners after the same thing and they can kill their competition. Also, there are dinosaurs.

That is a slam dunk pitch right there. The title may suggest that this is Jurassic Park/World crossed with The Hunger Games, but it actually owes more of a debt to films like The Running Man, The Condemned and the Jason Statham version of Death Race. A death match featuring ten prisoners and dinosaurs should be great fun, but this film gets pretty much everything wrong.

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Some of the fault lies in the budget, which seems low as the CGI is poor and there’s no sense of scale, but these are beyond the filmmakers’ control in some ways, and they work with what they have. The major problems are actually down to the story, the characters and the performances, and the movie struggles on all counts.

The premise is set up and our hero is clearly meant to be Tucker, an everyman bloke found guilty of killing his wife, which he denies. Obviously, the guy is our in to the world, a regular Joe who has to deal with the giant lizards and psychopaths, also there’s the fact he’s innocent so unlike the others he’s clearly a good guy. The problems begin with the fact that he is the character equivalent of magnolia paint, he’s a walking charisma vacuum and very little effort is made to get us onside, it’s almost as if they think that showing his kids and implying he’s innocent that it’s enough, but it isn’t. Why should I care?

One way they try to show him as a good guy is that he doesn’t kill any of his rivals, even when he gets the only gun in the game. The problem here is that the “don’t kill ethos” drags all the way through, I get having it at the start and maybe even having him show compassion for the others, but here it just makes the character extremely weak looking. The people he spares are trying to kill him and thwart his goal of getting back to his kids, so surely there should be a turning point where he decides enough is enough. But he spares one character who is clearly deranged and has almost killed several others already, it’s a dumb move.

Another weakness is the other characters. Tucker has to deal with nine other death row inmates, and the film would be a lot more fun and memorable if these were colourful characters, but nobody stands out. There’s the old guy who gets munched early doors, a big black guy, an Asian dude who does a bit of kung fu, two redneck brothers, a cannibal, a psycho girl, another girl and I think the last one is a rich guy? Whatever.

The kung fu guy expresses this “we have to work together” ethos which seems the direct opposite of the nature of the game, where only one survives. The redneck brothers are kinda dull and the cannibal doesn’t get enough to sink his teeth into.

As the film progresses the convicts get whittled down, but again, why should the audience care? The Asian guy goes mano a dino in an obvious rip off of a scene from Predators, this scene drags a bit and the guy’s skills aren’t even particularly impressive.

Other characters drop dead with even less fanfare and the film suffers from having Tucker’s major rival be rather uninteresting. A standard cold blooded killer with no flair or individuality, it’s like the filmmakers decided that making her female was enough, and to the actress’ credit she does alright at showing the ruthless, cruel streak. Unfortunately, she never gets

I will point out that the villain does reveal a last act twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming, although probably because it makes sod all sense. It’s clearly thrown in to raise the stakes, but this is right at the end of the movie and they’re fighting for their lives, if the audience isn’t invested at this point it doesn’t matter what lazy motivation you toss in at this stage.

Given the premise this feels like a film that takes itself far too seriously. It never embraces it’s inherent goofiness and comes across as a bit dull. Throw in some whacky convicts, a couple of quips and visual gags and this would be fun, instead it plods along unimaginatively. The lead is far too earnest and two dimensional, and he is given very little to play against. It would work better if he had a bit of edge, and that the villains were more hateful.

The bar was low as this was clearly straight to video affair, but even those need to entertain. This wastes it’s premise and muddles up to many elements. It lacks the emotional power of The Hunger Games, colourful characters of The Running Man or the fun and charisma of Death Race.

But the film’s worst sin? Making the whole game take place in virtual reality, which is just bloody stupid. Just make the dinosaurs real. The problem with this odd Matrix addition is that it ruins the sense of surprise. Instead of random dinosaur attacks we see the producers sending them in and controlling their actions, they’ve tamed the beasts.

It feels like an unnecessary level to add, as does a plot about rebels in the real world. Give this a miss and dig out The Running Man instead, you’ll thank me.

Verdict: Not as fun as it should be. You never care and it’s not goofy enough to get away with that. Flat. 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: The Equalizer 2

In this movie Denzel Washington plays former DIA operative Robert McCall, who works as a Lyft driver by day and spends his spare time righting wrongs, normally by smacking about bad guys. The character is a man who lives by routines, liking things to follow the plan he sets out. You get the feeling the character would like this movie as it’s quite a routine affair.

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That’s not to say it’s not entertaining but it’s quite predictable.

McCall’s old boss, Susan (Melissa Leo) comes to visit him, checking in on what would have been McCall’s late wife’s birthday. She then heads off to Belgium where a former agency asset has been whacked, although it’s been staged like he killed his wife and then himself. While there she’s attacked and killed herself, seemingly by robbers.

McCall smells a rat and digs deeper, finding flaws in the story. He approaches old agency buddy Dave (Pedro Pascal), who was with Susan in Belgium and who is leading the investigation into her death. With Dave inside the agency and McCall working on the outside can they bring Susan’s killers to justice? And how is the Agency involved in all of this?

Here’s the thing, halfway through this way, WoM turned to me and predicted a twist. She was right, but it wasn’t that hard to spot. And that’s the problem, a lot of the story beats here feel very generic.

But it manages to get away with it. Just.

This is largely due to Washington, who continues to be one of the most watchable on screen premises around. Even in his quiet moments he holds the attention and despite the quiet nature of the character his charisma is still there and he wholly convinces as the badass vigilante. The problem is that the whole film hinges on his performance, with many of the other characters being rather dull and underwritten. Bill Pullman rocks up as an old friend, but doesn’t do much and the villainous hit squad are largely anonymous. Only one stands out, and that’s only because he has a giant beard.

It’s disappointing that despite the charisma he showed in Game of Thrones that Pedro Pascal is so bland here. His character is never given any interesting touches or quirks, and just feels like a typical agency suit. Pretty much any actor could step into his shoes and it feels like a waste.

As well as Washington’s magnetic presence, the other thing keeping this film afloat are a couple of sweet subplots that highlight McCall’s urge to help those in need. These films offer a softer side to the action, which is pretty brutal when it arrives. The fights here are largely fast, no frills affairs similar to the Bourne films, but with the added aspect of having McCall often plan out his attacks or quickly take in his surroundings before. There are some bone crunching moments that’ll make you wince and a fantastic sequence where McCall fends off an assassin while driving.

Director Antoine Fuqua handles the action well enough and keeps the film moving along at a good pace, and I especially liked the simple but effective use of an approaching storm to mirror and heighten the plot’s tension. There’s a low rumble of thunder in a few early scenes, and throughout the film we get weather reports and gathering clouds to up the tension. Then in the final act the hurricane arrives at the same time as the climactic showdown, with McCall using the conditions to his advantage when outnumbered.

It’s entertaining enough to pass the time, but it feels like a good place to end the franchise and there’s nothing new here. Denzel Washington relies on his natural magnetic presence to carry the whole film off, and while he does so, it’s disappointing that everything around him feels so humdrum.

Verdict: The action is good, and there are a few good scenes, but a formulaic plot and uninteresting supporting characters mean that this underwhelms. Washington is predictably solid, but it’s nothing special. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: Set It Up

You’d think after the disappointment of The Kissing Booth that I’d be wary of any more Netflix produced rom-coms, but darn it, I love rom-coms, so gave this a watch.

Thankfully, this is a far better movie. Firstly, the plot is brilliantly simple- Charlie and Harper (Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch) are overworked personal assistants, who regularly find themselves as the last people working in their building. They realise that if their workaholic bosses were in relationships it would benefit them as (a) they’d be happier and easier to work for and (b) they wouldn’t be in the office as much. And so they decide to set it all up and get them together.

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Solid pun in the tagline

Of course, there are hurdles in the way and our heroes have to deal with other issues. Will Harper find the courage to submit some of her writing to her editor boss? Will climbing the corporate ladder really make Charlie happy? Can his relationship with model girlfriend Suze (Joan Smalls) survive despite them not having much in common or even talking that much? Can Harper find love for herself as well as her boss?

Once the premise is set up the movie has some fun with the way that Charlie and Harper know everything about their bosses and how to play them. The initial attempt to create a “meet cute” goes hilariously wrong, but soon they get the ball rolling and begin reaping the benefits. The movie also works well to play off the contrasts between the two assistants, the rather sweet and cheery Harper clashing with the more cynical and shallow Charlie. Both actors give solid performances and win over the audience that we buy into their misadventures and the romance that inevitably blossoms between them works well. Harper makes Charlie reassess his life and want to do better, while he pushes her to take risks and be less insecure in certain aspects.

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While Powell is solid and cool as Charlie, he’s outshone by Zoey Deutch, who is wonderful. She’s endearingly cheery throughout and her sweet, charming performance reminded me of the rom-com legend Meg Ryan, and she is the emotional heart of the movie. It’s easy to see why Charlie begins to develop feelings for her, and why she makes him want to be a better man.

But both leads almost have the movie stolen from them by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs, who play their bosses. Both seem to be having a ball playing the demanding, pedantic bosses who issue outrageous demands to their staff. In the early stages Diggs and Liu convince as cold, cut off execs, but as their manufactured relationship develops we get to see glimpses of their softer side. It’s here Liu excels, as she manages to catch the conflict her character faces- torn between her cynical side and the teenage-like glee she shows when happily in love.

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The plot is predictable in places, but the film doesn’t suffer for it, as the plot unfolds nicely and the performances are all very good. Both relationships are handled well, and all four characters share that they are struggling to open up at the start, which is something they have to address as the story goes on.

It ticks a lot of the rom-com boxes and I found it very charming. Worth watching, and considerably more satisfying than The Kissing Booth because it actually works on developing the characters.

Verdict: A well made rom-com which works due to the performances and characters. It’s not gonna change the world, but it’s a good addition to the genre and a very charming experience. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: Christopher Robin

As a kid I used to have a copy of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on VHS that was watched frequently and much loved by my sisters and I. I’ve read bits and pieces of A.A. Milne’s stories, but for me the Pooh I know and love is the Disney one. This movie draws on both sources to craft a sweet, if cheesy, story about perspective and the importance of remaining young at heart.

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Ewan McGregor plays the grown up Christopher Robin, who is trapped in a life of office drudgery and needs to cut his department’s costs by 20% and explain how at a big meeting. Due to the meeting he cancels plans for a weekend in the countryside with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), which doesn’t go over well, especially as Madeline is soon to be packed off to boarding school.

Back into his life comes Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), who seeks him out when he loses the rest of his friends. While CR initially thinks he is cracking under the stress he agrees to take Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, although he struggles with the silly old bear.

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But as time progresses he begins to recover the childlike joy of the world he created, and has fun for the first time. Unfortunately the real world soon calls and he departs once more, leaving behind important papers.

Pooh and friends set off to return the papers and encounter Madeline, who joins them in their expedition, and runs off.

Will Pooh get the papers to CR in time? Will CR realise there are more important things in life than work? Will Madeline have to go to the boarding school she’s not fussed on?

You can probably guess the answers to these questions, as plot wise this doesn’t have many surprises, but it doesn’t need to as it’s a solidly told tale. Helping it out are the familiar and lovable characters, alongside a solid performance from McGregor who captures the quiet frustration and emotional distance of Christopher Robin in the early stages, as well as nailing the childlike joy and humour he rediscovers.

It’s wonderfully heartwarming and filled with some funny moments and entertaining sequences. The CGI rendered toys are all delightful, especially Tigger (also voiced by Cummings) and the wonderfully downbeat Eeyore (Brad Garrett).

Unfortunately for much of the cast they don’t get much to do. Bronte Carmichael impresses as Madeline, showing spirit and humour as she joins in the adventures.  But Hayley Atwell is underused as Evelyn, which is a pity as she has natural on screen charisma that goes unused.

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Some people might regard it as schmaltzy, but I found some parts genuinely affecting and sweetly charming. The idea of reclaiming youthful joy is hardly a new story but it’s well executed, and using the residents of Hundred Acre Wood ensures that the audience feel the same nostalgia and affection that Christopher Robin experiences.

Verdict: There are cheesy moments, but the movie has genuine heart and McGregor excels as the eponymous character. The CGI characters outperform many of the living actors, and the story is predictable, but it still works as an entertaining and warmhearted tale. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: The Meg

As a film studies student I heard all about “high concept” films, this being the idea of blockbusters having simple premises which could be pitched in a sentence or two. Some people are a little snooty on this, but sometimes it helps to be able to sell a movie in twenty-five words or less. And this one was sold to me in six; Jason Statham versus a giant shark.

WoM wasn’t as enthused as for some reason she doesn’t like The Stath, which is just weird. But she agreed to go see it with me and actually enjoyed it more than she’d expected, as she’d dismissed it as looking stupid. It is stupid of course, but it’s jolly good fun at the same time.

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A small sub is exploring the bottom of the ocean, testing a theory that the water is deeper than previously thought and that beneath a natural barrier of almost freezing water is an undiscovered realm which could include all kinds of new life. The sub goes through the barrier and explores but is attacked by something in the deep. The last message sent by the captain, Lori (Jessica McNamee), is that something is down there and that “Jonas was right”.

Jason Statham is Jonas, a deep sea rescue diver who five years earlier was forced to leave behind two shipmates on a damaged nuclear sub in order to save the lives of the crew they had got out. He maintained that something had attacked the other sub, breaching the hull, and that had he not left all would have perished. Dismissed as crazy or cowardly, he quit diving and moved to Thailand were he drinks his days away. This is one of the parts of the movie I really liked, in that instead of being a depressed drunk, moping around the place, Statham’s character is rather cheery, chatting to the locals, smiling away and constantly holding a beer.

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Statham and Li

Jonas is approached to rescue the mission by old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), who is in charge of the mission and who works for Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), who oversees the base it launched for. It turns out Lori is Jonas’ ex wife and he agrees to the mission.

Lori and her crew are attacked again once they get the lights back on, and so they stay in the dark, the sub damaged. Zhang’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) decides to head down to save them in a small “glider”, but her lights draw out the beasty. It turns out to be a giant shark, or Megladon, thought to have died out millions of years earlier. But it has been alive the whole time, beneath the natural barrier.

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Jonas arrives in time to save Suyin and she escapes, leaving him to extract Lori and her crew. Unfortunately, with the beast bearing down on them one of the crew (played by Heroes’ Masi Oka) shuts the hatch and stays behind, saving the others but sacrificing himself. Jonas and the others get to safety, but upon leaving they break the barrier, which allows the Meg out before closing again.

With a giant shark rampaging through the ocean it’s up to Jonas, Suyin and the research base’s staff to try and stop it. Can they stop nature’s ultimate killing machine before it turns the seas into it’s personal buffet? And is killing it the right thing to do?

Yes, of course it is. It’s a giant, vicious shark. Luckily, the film doesn’t bog itself down in the ethics of this as the conversation basically goes like this;

The Stath: We gotta kill it.

Scientist: But this is a one of it’s kind life form.

The Stath: It’s gonna eat people. We’re gonna kill it.

Scientist: Okay, I guess.

From then on the film is the team trying to track down the nasty fish, which chomps it’s way through a variety of ships, supporting characters and whales.

The action sequences are quite fun and there are a couple of tense moments and jumps that keep you hooked in. Unfortunately the ending is a little anticlimactic, and the film never fully embraces it’s goofiness. That’s not to say it takes itself too seriously as there’s plenty of humour and the bantering, jokey dialogue is well done.

As ever, Statham brings his own gravelly voiced charisma to the table and is likeable and engaging as Jonas, our courageous hero. In the supporting cast, Li matches him well as the smart Suyin, and they make their underdeveloped love story work.

The rest of the cast are rather underused, although Rainn Wilson’s cowardly and greedy billionaire is quite fun and Page Kennedy gets a few laughs as the team’s only non-swimmer who sensibly argues for just getting to dry land and staying there. Others like Curtis and McNamee have barely anything to do and Ruby Rose is a background player.

It’s a whole lotta fun, even if there are a few obvious plot developments and the ending doesn’t quite satisfy in say the way Jaws does, but this was never going to be Jaws, this is a film where Jason Statham fights a giant shark, and on that level, it totally works and I can’t wait for a sequel where he fights a giant squid or something.

Verdict: Silly but very good fun. Statham carries the film well and it has enough scares and thrills to keep you entertained. The supporting cast don’t have much to do but they do it well, and the main stars, Statham and the shark are great. A good Saturday evening movie when you don’t want to think too hard. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

One of the questions during Infinity War was where was Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man? As one of only a handful of heroes not to appear, Marvel fans were left wondering where he and Hawkeye were when Thanos attacked. Luckily this film explains a lot of what Scott Lang was up to.

antwasp pos

Last seen locked up with the rest of Team Captain America (Chris Evans) at the end of Civil War, Scott has done a deal which has seen him allowed to return home but forced to live under house arrest. He has gone into business with best friend Luis (Michael Pena) starting a security company, and has no contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) or Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who helped him become Ant-Man.

After Scott shrunk to a subatomic level entering the quantum realm and returned, Hank has begun to think that his wife may still be alive, trapped down there. The father and daughter team prepare to find Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), but their machine doesn’t work, however, Scott has weird dreams about Janet and her memories. After leaving a message with Hank, they kidnap Scott, who worries about breaking parole with only a few days left.

While they try to work out what’s going on they have to deal with black marketeers who are after the quantum tech Hank is working on, and a mysterious figure known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who wants the quantum machine in order to drain Janet’s quantum energy to stabilise her powers which cause her immense pain and are slowly killing her.

Can Scott make peace with Hank after forcing him underground and stealing his suit? Will Scott and Hope reconcile and get their relationship going properly? Will they rescue Janet or will Ghost get to her first? Will Scott get caught and sent back to jail?

First of all, I have to say that this movie is great fun. The dialogue sparkles with humour and the action scenes are magnificent, really making use of the characters’ shrinking and growing powers to create striking, inventive fights and chases. Paul Rudd is predictably great as Scott Lang, and is a likeable, charming presence at the heart of the film and Lilly does really well as his more collected partner. Lilly’s intensity and badassery is a nice contrast to Rudd’s goofiness, and the Wasp is a great addition to the MCU and I hope to see more, but this is still Rudd’s movie.

antwasp wasp

Despite everything this movie does right this feels like a lesser entry into the MCU canon. While still hugely entertaining it fails to live up to the shared universe’s recent run of form (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War). It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s missing but I think it may have to do with two major factors:

Firstly, after the massive scale of Infinity War it feels rather small scale, and while it explains Scott’s absence there to an extent and has one killer reference to the film’s events, it lacks the emotional punch of that film.

Secondly, the film drops the ball with Ghost.

antwasp ghost

Ghost kicking Ant-Man’s ass

A lot of people say that the MCU has a villain problem, but for me this is something the most recent run has worked hard to fix. We’ve had characters like The Vulture, Killmonger, Hela, Ego and Thanos, all villains who have posed a serious threat while also having solid motivation and varying degrees of depth. You felt some sympathy for Killmonger and Hela, cast out by their families. Ego was unrepentant in his ruthless plot. Thanos while flawed showed some love for Gamora and the Vulture remains probably the best of the bunch, a flawed, desperate man pushed to extremes to support his family.

So, what’s wrong with Ghost? Simply put the film makes her far too sympathetic. We see her suffering from the effects of her powers, hear the tragic backstory about how she gained them and how SHIELD weaponized her. The problem is that this could set up a debate about which life is more important, Janet or Ghost. Is it fair to save Janet if it means they can’t cure Ghost, is it okay to kill Janet to save a life? Unfortunately this conflict is never fully developed and while Hank offers to help we never see him working on it, as he’s focused on his wife, understandably.

Worst of all, the film’s actual resolution feels rushed, overly simple and disappointing.

It seems the film has decided that Ghost isn’t a true villain and they throw in Walton Goggins’ smarmy black marketeer, Sonny Burch. While Goggins is quite good in the role he’s clearly there to be a real villain of the piece, but his goons are never an even match. Perhaps had they given Burch a few flash weapons or even a super-powered goon for hire the fights may have been more evenly matched, but as it is they pose little obstacle for our heroes or Ghost.

antwasp giant

What are rent-a-thugs gonna do against a guy who can become a giant?

The laughs come fast and furious, the characters are solid and engaging. The visuals are magnificent and well worth checking out on the big screen, but the film sags and disappoints at the end. Well, apart from one of the best post credit scenes so far.

It feels a waste of the characters and a step back, the first film since Thor: The Dark World that feels like a rushed sequel and not part of a growing universe.

Verdict: Fun, but disappointing. Rudd, Lilly and Pena are great, but they soften the villain too much and it’s definitely a lower tier Marvel movie. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

I’m not gonna lie, I’d kinda lost track of the Mission: Impossible franchise. It turns out that this is the sixth film and I’ve missed the previous instalment, Rogue Nation. Luckily, this film does a good job of getting you up to speed before the action kicks in.

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It’s been two years since Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) stopped former MI6 agent turned anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), stopping his international syndicate of rogue agents. While many of his associates have been taken out in the intervening period there are several who have never been identified and they continue to work as terrorists for hire. Hunt is tasked with stopping the sale of three plutonium cores which could make nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, during the operation Hunt’s friend Luther (Ving Rhames) is held at gunpoint, and the cores are stolen. The cores are held by the Apostles, Lane’s followers. They are to be sold to John Lark, a fundamentalist terrorist, however, nobody can ID Lark as all his associates have been taken out by the CIA. Hunt is reluctantly partnered with Walker (Henry Cavill) a CIA agent to take Lark out of the picture, pose as Lark and get the nukes back. Walker’s boss describes him as hammer to Hunt’s scalpel, and the character is portrayed as a powerhouse, and revealed to be the man behind taking out most of Lane’s associates. Their contrasting approaches and outlooks cause tensions as the two men are forced to work together.

mifall cavill

The mission hits complications, including the arrival of Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who previously worked with Hunt in bringing down Lane, a former colleague at MI6. Lark is killed and Hunt can’t create a mask, so wings it, cosying up to the broker known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). Things become more complicated when it’s revealed that the deal is for the nukes to be traded to Lark after he helps break Lane out of custody.

Of course, Lane will recognise Hunt and Hunt’s reluctant to kill a bunch of French coppers. So, he double crosses the Widow’s team and extracts Lane himself, hoping that he can still make the trade for the nukes and save the world from disaster.

I really loved this movie. Like I said, it fills in the back story quickly enough and in a way that doesn’t resort to some bloke spouting exposition. That out of the way the whole movie is a roller coaster of thrills and spills, with plenty of double crosses and twists along the way.

Right at the centre of this is Cruise as Hunt. Cruise is brilliant in the action hero role, convincing in the fight scenes and bringing a lot of charisma to the role. Given that he’s been playing Hunt for over twenty years (man, I feel old now) he seems utterly at home as the character who is a mix of seemingly indestructible super spy and blagger. At several points the well laid plans unravel and Hunt is forced to wing it, which adds fun and unpredictability to the proceedings.

mifall cruise

It’s also good that as we seem him survive all these threats and dangers, that Hunt remains human and vulnerable, in part due to his connections with other people, not just his team but the wife he had to leave and now lives in hiding. It’s a human aspect and well handled, particularly in a scene where Luther explains the situation to Ilsa, urging her to back away as his feelings for her make Ethan vulnerable.

The supporting cast are solid from Rhames as his right hand man and best friend, to Simon Pegg’s techie comic relief. But the great strength is that a lot of the characters are quite ambiguous and you’re not sure who Hunt can trust beyond his core group. Is Cavill’s Walker on the level, or does he have other orders from the CIA? How much faith should we place in Alec Baldwin’s boss character? What is Ilsa’s involvement?

There’s a surprising amount of humour in the film, which worked for me, especially in the dialogue between the team and some of Hunt’s reactions as things spiral out of control around him.

mifall team

Another plus point is Sean Harris’ villain Lane, who is shown to be capable, vicious and ruthless, but without lurching into caricature. In fact, his softly spoken performance gives the character more gravitas and holds the attention better than any ranting supervillain would.

But the film thrives on it’s action sequences, and they are absolutely wonderful. Car chases, rooftop chases, parachuting through a thunder storm, shoot outs, fist fights, helicopter chases, helicopter chases all leave the audience perched on the edge of their seat. There are unbearably tense scenes, near misses and amazing visuals, the whole movie a brilliant thrill ride that locks you in, even when the stunts reach ridiculous levels. As I said, Hunt is beyond tough, surviving crashes and bruising brawls and somehow still having enough in the tank to run full pelt for ages. Despite this, you can’t look away and WoM and I were fully engrossed in the movie.

Given that I lost interest halfway through Spectre, it’s glad that someone is still making entertaining spy movies, and I’m definitely ready for the seventh movie now.

Verdict: Action packed but with moments of humour and genuine heart, this is a hugely entertaining spy thriller with plenty of turns in the road. Fantastic fun. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do? BETEO.