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Jason Bourne (2016)
Bourne again...for the better?
I've been waiting for this movie for nearly a decade now and the fanboy in me probably thinks its the greatest thing ever! But objectively speaking, 'Jason Bourne' is a pretty great revival of the franchise, but it isn't exactly of the caliber of the original trilogy (especially Greengrass' two previous efforts).
Its not a knock on the film itself. There are some great action set- pieces, particularly the opening one set during a night-time Athens riot. It does everything much like its titular - with perfect surgical precision. And yet, one gets the feeling of it getting a tad too formulaic - a series of boxes being ticked off. Car chase? Yes. Hand-to-hand fight with rival assassin? Yes. Stake-out? Yes. And so on. In defense of this film, the box-ticking arguably started with 'Ultimatum' (and its really inevitable in any franchise after a point), but it seems a tad more emphatic here. Yet, the box-ticking does serve the purpose of reassuring audiences that yes, Bourne is indeed back (the REAL Bourne and not Jeremy Renner pretending to be Bourne in all but name), so perhaps one should cut it some slack. Ultimately though, what 'Jason Bourne' does well, the previous films did better.
There are two points of 'originality' I credit this film for, and both are particularly intriguing and vital if one considers this to be the launch of a new cycle of Bourne films. One is Alicia Vikander's cyber-intelligence expert Heather Lee. Ostensibly, she appears to be the latest iteration of the Nicky Parsons/Pam Landy archetype, but as the film progresses, we learn there's a lot more to her than meets the eye. Without spoiling too much, let's put it this way - Heather Lee may well the the character that truly gives this franchise its second wind. The other is an interesting discussion, that occurs intermittently through the film, about Bourne's patriotism and whether or not it can be used to convince him to return to service. In the current political climate, dominated by issues of identity and nationalism and debates over who's a patriot and who's a traitor...this is indeed a potent new hook on which to base Bourne's future character arc.
Matt Damon of course sinks back into Jason Bourne like he'd never left, though this time, there is a certain weariness to the character, which of course fits in with the narrative. Tommy Lee Jones takes a decent stab at playing Tommy Lee Jones, the gruff CIA Director Robert Dewey, who's basically plays the part Conklin, Abbott, and then Vosen did in previous installments. Julia Stiles brief return as Nicky Parsons is pretty decent too, and she adds some much needed connective tissue between the trilogy and this film. Of particular note is the performance of Vincent Cassel. The nameless 'asset' he plays is the most fleshed out version of this archetype thus far and he's actually relevant to the plot in a way that his predecessors never were (barring Clive Owen's Professor perhaps).
On the whole, Jason Bourne is back and there's potential for great things ahead. Only time will tell if we finally get a film that surpasses 'Supremacy' and 'Ultimatum'.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
'X-men Apocalypse' is an episode of an X-men cartoon brought to life!
If 'First Class' was the prequel/quasi-reboot that refreshed the franchise for a new decade and 'Days of Future Past' was a celebration of the history of the entire X-men film franchise...then 'Apocalypse', the concluding chapter of this loose 'prequel trilogy' is Bryan Singer finally taking the X-men to its roots as a comic- book spectacle, something which a significant portion of the fanbase has been clamouring for, to varying degrees, since the very first X- film hit the silver screen. And it would be unfair to judge 'Apocalypse' without taking this into account...
As a work of cinema, 'Apocalypse' pales in comparison to its two immediate predecessors and of course Singer's original two films. But as a comic-book fantasy brought to life, it more than delights! There are no themes, overt and subtle, of discrimination and evolution and destiny here (well, there are somewhere in the background, but they are hardly of any importance)...what this film does have is the X-men valiantly flying into battle to literally save the world. It does have bright, colorful costumes, tons of continuity references to films and comics alike, mindblowing SPX, and an extended cameo by a certain franchise star that will no doubt have the audience cheering. And that's fine! Not every comic-book film needs to be a 'Dark Knight' or even an 'Iron Man'.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
A superb celebration of the entire X-men franchise!
One of the most eagerly awaited superhero films of the decade (if not, like, EVER), 'X-men Days of Future Past' certainly hasn't been crushed by the weight of ginormous expectations placed on it - rather, it has far surpassed those expectations to become one of the greatest comic- book films of all time. In my opinion, DOFP may well lay claim to inclusion in an elite club of superhero films that includes The Dark Knight and The Avengers.
Indeed, Bryan Singer's task in DOFP was far more ambitious in some ways than Joss Whedon's mission with 'The Avengers'. This time, it wasn't a bunch of superheroes that had to be united on screen, but rather two disparate franchises within the X-men franchise - the world of the original X-men trilogy (with Jackman, Stewart, McKellan et. all), and the 'prequel' world of 'X-men First Class (with Hoult, Fassbender, McAvoy et. all). And he does so masterfully, uniting the two eras of the franchise into one cohesive whole...further developing the younger cast of 'First Class' while also giving a fitting tribute to the ones who started it all.
Hugh Jackman of course is the star of the movie, who literally bridges the two casts just as his character Wolverine uses time-travel to bridge the two eras. But the true protagonist of this film is James McAvoys's younger Charles Xavier. In 1973, Charles is a far cry from the wise mentor and leader embodied by Patrick Stewart - he is a tortured soul, a drug-addict who has numbed his mutant powers in order to be able to sleep peacefully, a man who has seemingly lost his purpose. In an interesting inversion of their relationship from the original films, Logan is forced to mentor the young Charles and set him down the path to becoming the legendary Professor X. Michael Fassbender does a great job as the younger, more militant Eric Lensherr/Magneto. And Jennifer Lawrence's Raven/Mystique is of course the lynchpin of the film's time- travel plot. When we last saw her in 'First Class', she was torn between the opposing paths of Charles and Eric. The original trilogy would have us believe she is destined to become Magneto's ally and fellow mutant terrorist...but if this film teaches us anything, its that the 'future is not set'...
Despite the focus on the 'First Class' cast (Wolverine notwithstanding), many of the characters from the original cast get their moments to shine in the midst of the final desperate battle with the mutant-killing Sentinels-most notably Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde, Patrick Stewart's older Professor X, and Ian McKellan's Magneto. Also, while the film in many ways functions as a direct sequel to 'First Class', owing partly to the time-travel plot and partly to the return of franchise creator Bryan Singer, this film feels more or less like a spiritual sequel to X2 - from the use of the soundtrack of that movie, to a number of homages and callbacks to that movie.
On the whole, DOFP is both an ending and a beginning (a fitting thing for a time travel movie to be!) and leaves you excited for the next installment in this, the longest-running superhero franchise ever!
The Wolverine (2013)
A well-deserved Japanese vacation for the Wolverine!
'X-men Origins Wolverine' was an entertaining film, admittedly, but it was a deeply flawed movie that ultimately didn't do the character or his origin story enough justice. 'The Wolverine', Fox's (and Hugh Jackman's) second attempt to give the character a solo adventure, does rectify a lot of those flaws, and ends up as a good film (maybe even a very good one)...but it just falls short of 'great'.
The movie undoubtedly has its strengths. It treats the character and the source material seriously, adopting a dark noir-ish tone befitting Wolverine and more specifically the 'Japanese saga' it is based on. Logan's inner struggle with his immortality, and his lack of purpose, are perfectly illustrated, and resolved. The supporting cast, including the members of the Yashida clan (Master Yashida, Shingen and Mariko), Harada, and of course, Yukio, are near-perfect. Viper proves to be a chilling antagonist (though nowhere near the level of Brian Cox's William Stryker, Ian McKellan's Magneto, or even Liev Schreiber's Victor Creed!) The cinematography is breath-taking-from the opening scenes in the Canadian wilderness to the alleyways of Tokyo.
But where the movie disappoints, to a large extent, is in its plot structure. What could have been an pure atmospheric Japanese noir drama/action flick, ends up getting 'polluted' with clichéd superhero and thriller tropes such as lost superpowers, 'secret identities' and 'surprise' twists. Instead of being the definitive Wolverine story, this movie ends up being a darn good superhero story...but certainly nothing close to the likes of The Dark Knight or The Avengers.
Man of Steel (2013)
Truth and Justice...in the 21st Century
At some point, probably in the mid to late 1980's, Batman suddenly became DC Comics' most popular character, and arguably, the most popular superhero character PERIOD, leaving the true 'granddaddy of all superheroes', Superman, far behind. The reasons for this were never difficult to discern. Batman, with his cool Gothic-noir styled world, his psychologically fascinating rogue's gallery, and the overall dark and cynical themes of his franchise (which resonated with the true state of contemporary society only too well) was understandably galaxies ahead in the zeitgeist than Superman with his old-timey ideals of 'Truth, Justice and the American Way'. The fact that Christopher Nolan gave the world the 'Dark Knight' trilogy of the most critically acclaimed comic- book films EVER, while all Superman fans got was a nostalgic look-back at the Christopher Reeves/Richard Donner days, sure didn't do the Big Blue Boy Scout any favors!
Indeed, the greatest triumph of director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer, is undoubtedly the fact that, for the first time in a long while, Superman seems as grounded, emotionally intense, and dare I say 'cool' as the Dark Knight!
The story is one which everyone is familiar with, yet the details have changed a bit, and its those little changed details which have imparted 'Man of Steel' with greater depth than the previous live-action adaptations of the character. From Krypton, to the Kents, to Clark's developing powers, to his emergence as Superman, his first meeting with Lois Lane; we see all the familiar beats of an often told story, and yet THIS time round, we're far more emotionally involved in this tale than we ever were before. Jor-El and Lara, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lois, Perry et. all are no longer just supporting characters playing their part in the myth and bowing out from the stage-they truly are full- fledged characters whose actions and fates we are as investing in as we are those of Superman's.
Speaking of the titular Man of Steel, special credit is due to the lead actor Henry Cavill for his very relatable portrayal of a character many have complained is completely unrelatable. In stark contrast to Reeves' somewhat one-dimensional, corny, paragon of selfless heroism, Cavill's Clark Kent is a far more conflicted character, demonstrating a few grey areas that will not fail to shock audiences. This is most vehemently NOT a Superman who spends his days saving kittens from trees.
Amy Adams does a great job as Lois Lane, making her more than just a damsel-in-distress or a standard movie love interest. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner both stand out as Superman's kryptonian and human fathers respectively. And Michael Shannon truly steals the show as the violent, genocidal, yet oddly sympathetic General Zod.
On the whole, 'Man of Steel' succeeds not only at reinventing a seemingly antiquated hero for the 21st century, but also as the pivotal film that sets the stage for a further realization of the DC Universe on the big screen...
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
A film that's less about reluctance and more about turmoil...
Off late, it seems that there's a new genre of films, both in India and in the West. As varied as they may be in their narratives, they share certain broad elements-a Muslim immigrant to the West facing the hostility and suspicion of a post-9/11 world and gradually becoming disillusioned with the once sought-after Western way of life and seeking solace in his/her own roots. 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is the latest addition to that particular genre and yet, unlike many of the others, it doesn't have a lot to do with terrorism. Sure, terrorism and its consequences do drive the plot to a significant extent; but above all, this is a very human story about identity, self-doubt, and internal conflict.
The protagonist Changez Khan is a man living in two worlds, and throughout the story, he is never really able to pick a side, despite his assertion that his side has picked for him. In that regard, he is perhaps the most realistic reflection of a modern Muslim youth placed in a similar situation. Without spoiling anything much, I will say that this isn't your sundry story about young people feeling victimized and turning to radicalism-this is something far more complex...something you need to see the whole movie to truly appreciate.
Riz Ahmed does a great job portraying the multi-faceted and conflicted protagonist Changez, and Liev Schreiber is brilliant as Bobby Lincoln, the enigmatic American whose conversation with Changez forms the backbone of the narrative. Less impressive is Kate Hudson as Changez's American lover Erika.
Superman: Unbound (2013)
Superman vs. Brainiac: No Holds Barred!
Like the previous Superman animated DTV 'Superman vs. the Elite', 'Superman Unbound' also has the Man of Steel squaring off against a super-powered foe who can truly match him punch for punch. The difference is that while the conflict in the previous film was centered around a larger philosophical and ethical debate, this conflict is pretty much a superhero vs. super-villain battle played straight. And the villain is none other than one of the most iconic members of Superman's rogue's gallery...
The portrayal of Brainiac, and Superman's clashes with him, are easily the highlights of this story. Another interesting point is Kara/Supergirl representing the helplessness of a powerless civilian against overwhelming threats, and the desire for such a person to set the world right when given a chance. Less impressive however is the attempt at showcasing tension in the Clark-Lois relationship. 'Superman Unbound' is ultimately a sci-fi story at its core...and attempts to introduce romantic elements sorely stand out in what is otherwise a pretty decent production.
Los cronocrímenes (2007)
A Beautiful Piece of Cinematic Craftsmanship!
'Timecrimes' is truly a brilliant piece of cinema in every respect. Its got an intricate and tight plot, a chilling atmosphere, a well-developed protagonist and a near-infinite supply of intrigue and psychological tension! Its far more of a horror film and psychological thriller than it is a sci-fi/time travel film, but the time travel element has been masterfully utilized and seamlessly woven into the overall fabric of the narrative. This film literally blurs the lines between the 'protagonist' and 'antagonist', and between 'free will' and 'destiny' in a way few stories, especially in this genre, have accomplished. If you enjoyed time travel films like 'Twelve Monkeys' or 'Primer', you will definitely find 'Timecrimes' to be an excellent watch!
Jack Reacher (2012)
Introducing a new icon of the action genre...
I'd never read any of the Lee Child 'Jack Reacher' novels so I went in with no particular expectations about the portrayal of this character. But this film can certainly live up to ANY expectations thriller fans might have had of it, in my opinion!
Having seen Tom Cruise as the flamboyant, charming and somewhat Boy Scout-ish Ethan Hunt in the past, its refreshing to see him as someone almost as ruthless and taciturn as Jason Bourne or Daniel Craig's rendition of James Bond. Jack Reacher's appeal doesn't lie in the fact that he's a 'larger than life' figure, or the world's biggest bada##...it lies in the fact that he's a normal, perfectly relatable and very realistic human being, albeit a trained and skilled soldier and detective.
Rosamund Pike does a great job as the lawyer, Helen-a far cry from glamorous 'Bond girls' (one of whom Pike herself has portrayed), and Lara Croft styled action heroines who normally populate the action film genre. Instead she's a three dimensional character with her own doubts, anxieties, convictions and flaws.
One of the great things about this movie is how, without wavering from its narrative, it does highlight several significant real-world issues; ranging from the political debates over gun control, to legal representation for terrorists, to the politics surrounding the actions of military personnel overseas, to the corrupt political-industrial nexus...without necessarily taking sides or trying to come across as being preachy of moralistic.
To sum it up, Jack Reacher is virtually a 'slice of life' piece...albeit, a very dark and grimy slice of life.
A Golden Bond for the Golden Jubilee!!!
Fifty years ago, Sean Connery first walked onto screen as the suave and sophisticated secret agent, James Bond, 007-looking dapper in his tuxedos, swilling down his vodka martinis 'shaken not stirred', bedding a bevy of alluring women and dispatching England's enemies with cold dispassion. In the decades since, 007 has taken on spies and counter- spies, crime lords, nefarious international organizations, and megalomaniacs who seek to destroy the world! But the 50th anniversary outing, 'Skyfall', isn't about any of that. Well, actually, it DOES touch upon those iconic elements, and many others, but above all, it is an insightful piece of self-introspection by the franchise about its lead character and his relevance in contemporary society.
'Redundancy' and 'resurrection' are the twin themes that drive the narrative of this film, as Bond, M, and the very concept of intelligence agencies are all deconstructed and deemed to be redundant. 'Skyfall' is thus the story of their resurrection, as they rise from the ashes to meet the seemingly insurmountable challenges that face them and persevere. Their antagonist, Silva, too has had a 'resurrection' of his own, albeit of a darker variety...
Another underlying theme which the movie keeps returning to is the adage that often, the 'old ways are best'...a fitting meta-textual reference to the age-old traditions of the Bond franchise, many of which are revived for this installment. The conflict between old and new is best reflected in the banter between veteran field agent Bond and tech-whiz 'Q'...and much as the two learn to work together through the course of the film, the old and new seamlessly merge together in this film in the broader context of the franchise.
Beyond the themes and sub-texts, the film boasts of some stunning locales-the scenes in Macau are virtually scenic pornography!-mind- blowing action sequences, and some good old fashioned dry humor. And of course, the brilliant performances by Javier Bardem (who's Silva owes as much inspiration to Heath Ledger's Joker as it does to classic Fleming- esque bad guys), Judi Dench (as masterfully imposing as ever in the character of M), Ben Whitshaw (a younger avatar of the beloved character Q), Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, and last but not the least, Daniel Craig. Craig has really come into his own as Bond now...no longer is the 'new' Bond...he IS Bond, pure and simple; ready to save the day for a few more thrilling cinematic escapades...
Ultimately, 'Skyfall' is everything the 50th anniversary of any film franchise should be (not that there are any others that can boast of this distinction thus far!) Willing to respect the old while welcoming the new, it has brought the series full circle, figuratively AND even literally (as shall be evident to anyone who watches it)...reminding us not only of who Bond is, but why he has endured for five decades and will hopefully endure for several more to come!