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Transformers: The Last Knight Released: 22 Jun 17 Rated: M Runtime: 149 mins Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the plot is crap and full of holes; the characters are so clichéd they may as well walk around with signs around their necks ('plucky teen', 'stoic hero', 'crazy old Englishman', etc); and, shock horror, it goes for way too long. Now that the usual, and most definitely deserving, Transformers gripes are out of the way, how does The Last Knight stack up against other instalments in the franchise? And, more importantly, as a big, loud and dumb blockbuster in general? The good news is that it's a big improvement from the series low of Age of Extinction. The bad news is that it's still stuffed from head to toe with the sort of rapid fire editing and shaky-cam movements that have increased in direct proportion to the speed at which these movies are released. The set pieces are a mixed bag; the opening Bumblebee-centric sequence is exhilarating and inventive, while an abandoned Midwestern town showdown is lots of fun, but the finale is a tedious, save-the-world CGI mess that encapsulates the major issue plaguing big-budget blockbusters today. Yet for all the Michael Bay-isms that are still very much on display, this latest entry feels somewhat fresher and more lightweight than previous sequels. Juvenile humour has always been a staple of this series, but here it works more often than not. A Suicide Squad-esque villain intro montage is enjoyable, Stanley Tucci's cameo as a stonkered Merlin is hilarious and Mark Whalberg's culture clash repartee with spirited Brit Laura Haddock is consistently amusing. It won't garner any new fans nor turn the tide of the critical onslaught, but the fifth Transformers is a minor course correct for the franchise thanks to some invigorating set pieces and well-delivered humour.
Arriving not long after the bland Jack Reacher sequel, this remake gives Tom Cruise a one-two punch of misfires. It's hard to tell whether this movie falls flat because it has miscast the Cruiser, or because it fails to capitalise on his charisma by surrounding him with b-grade trimmings. The first act is thrilling, opening with a rip-roaring set piece full of bullets and explosions before culminating in a spectacular free-falling aircraft sequence that sees Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis perform some mightily impressive stunts. But from there it is all downhill, and at a rapid rate. The tone and atmosphere shift dramatically, going from Indiana Jones-esque perilous delights to non-spooky Gothic terror that maximises its dreariness by hiding under a gloomy colour palette. Going hand in hand with the awfully drab cinematography is a sudden over-reliance on cheap CGI, the herky-jerky undead are tremendously off-putting for all the wrong reasons, whilst the London-destroying climax is a pure mess of pixels. The presence of a plethora of screenwriters is felt too, the main plot is disappointingly roteespecially considering Universal are hoping this kick starts their new intertwined monster universeand the film's internal logic is flimsy at best, resulting in many of its own rules being broken for the sake of easy narrative progression. Cruise is in default enthusiastic mode, which enlivens proceedings sporadically, and Wallis is a likable hero full of pluck, however Russell Crowe is wasted as a shadowy task force leader and Sofia Boutella is reduced to hissing and shrieking as the eponymous ancient princess. The promising start demonstrates the potential The Mummy had to deliver a rollicking good time; unfortunately it only serves to highlight just how dull and unsatisfying the rest of the movie really is.
Warner Bros have been playing catch up with their DC Extended Universe (DCEU) for years, fruitlessly trying to match Marvel Studio's critically and commercially successful Avengers-led franchise. Wonder Woman, although not perfect, edges the DCEU closer to its goal, thanks to a refreshingly optimistic hero and a plot that is neither convoluted nor cut to pieces in the editing room. Told via a flashback framing device, this WWI-set blockbuster follows the eponymous Amazonian princess Diana as she discovers mankind during one of its ugliest eras, yet continues fighting in an attempt to bring peace and harmony. It's a simple tale, but one director Patty Jenkins manages to keep on the right side of earnest with a steady flow of action and fish-out-of-water comedy. Very much shot in the style of Zack Snyderchockfull of speed ramping and flying sparksthe action sequences are wonderfully choreographed, but the CGI lacks photorealism at times, particularly during the opening act staged on Diana's idyllic home island. An extended set piece in which our titular goddess emerges from the trenches on the Western Front to overrun the Nazis is captivating; the dazzling cinematography and rousing score fusing together to create one the DCEU's finest moments. It helps that Jenkins has the likes of Gal Gadot in front of the camera portraying the peace-seeking warrior. Gadot is a terrific blend of strength, passion and beauty, imbuing Diana with an unstoppable righteousness that in lesser hands could have been preachy and pretentious. Relatively free from the confines of the DCEU's overlapping storytelling, Wonder Woman is an exciting superhero adventure anchored by a magnificent central performance.
Nobody wanted a cinematic remake of the campy 90s show that cemented David Hasselhoff's enduring legacy as the butt of all jokes. But alas, here it is anyway, in all its Mickey-taking glory. And it's actually better than you would think. Turning up the tongue-in-cheek humour to maximum levels, this updated version throws in everything but the kitchen sink to garner a laugh: toilet and genital gags, racy double entendres, ironic meta-jokes, and ludicrous slow-mo shots. Whilst it's more of a quantity over quality plan of attackresulting in its fair share of jokes that fall flatthere's a giddy energy that keeps it afloat, with a cast who are game to poke fun at the stereotypes they're playing. Dwayne Johnson is the beefcake leader, Zac Efron is the thrill seeking renegade, Alexandra Daddario is the hardworking rookie, Kelly Rohrback is the blonde bombshell and Jon Bass is the goofy sidekick; and all ham it up wonderfully. When it veers into action territory it loses momentum and interest. A couple of the bigger set pieces, including the finale, are drowned out with cluttered editing, shaky camera-work and poor CGI and, quite simply, are completely boring. Those sporadic actions sequences threaten to sink proceedings but with its no-holds-barred comedic onslaught and enthusiastically self-deprecating performances, Baywatch is a fun time at the beach.
Disney's ghoulish swashbuckling adventure rages on with a sequel that sees the indomitable Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) reluctantly team up with Henry 'son of Will' Turner (Aussie youngster Brenton Thwaites) to find the trident of Poseidon. Six years after the dull On Stranger Tides proved this seafaring franchise should take its last sip of rum, instalment number five, although a step up, does little to change that viewpoint. Battling against a mishmash script that doesn't bother to hide its contrivances or uninspired storyline save for a neat subplot that ties up loose ends this outing lives and dies by its big budget set pieces and tongue in cheek humour. And signs are positive for the first hour or so. A wildly ambitious, exhilarating and funny bank robbery sequence is the perfect introduction to a still-drunk Jack Sparrow, and an early demonstration that Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg could breathe life into the 14-year-old series. But they well and truly run out of gas by the tremendously tedious third act; the set pieces become increasingly muddled and so CGI-heavy that the undersea finale may as well be a cartoon. Brought on board as the murderous, revenge-filled Captain Salazar and given an awesome vessel-devouring ghost ship to boot Javier Bardem's swishy-haired and tar-drooling villain is a delight to watch. Pity the rest of the cast don't leave the same impression. Depp can do Sparrow in his sleep by this point, which is the heart of the problem. The drunken sway, slurred words and permanently confused expression still provide the odd giggle here and there, yet it just as often draws yawns and eye-rolling. If you're a big fan of this franchise then there's enough here to keep you entertained, but on the whole Dead Men Tell No Tales is a merely passable time-waster.
The follow-up to 2014's surprise smash hit is much the same of what came before. And it's brilliant. Completely, unashamedly, couldn't-give-a-damn brilliant. It sticks close to its barebones formula: Wick reluctantly comes out of hit-man retirement, some idiot decides to double cross him, Wick goes on a killing spree that makes Rambo look like a humanitarian. The simplicity of the plot allows director Chad Stahelskiwith his extensive background in action choreographyto focus on what is most important; brutal, balletic and innovative set pieces. Combining bruising close quarters combat, methodically stylish gun battles and subwoofer-breaking car carnage, the action sequences are rushes of pure adrenaline. The second act showpiece set in the Colosseum is an early contender for best set piece of the year. What amplifies the awesomeness of the action is the lack of rapid editing and messy cuts, the lengthy, uninterrupted shots showcasing not only the classy choreography but also the immense effort put in by Keanu Reeves to perform majority of the stunts. Reeves has long been known as a dedicated action star ever since his gigantic input into the Matrix trilogy, however, at age 53, his commitment is as astounding as ever. He's crafting John Wickall stoic heroism and suave ferociousnessinto a memorable action hero. John Wick: Chapter 2 offers no surprises narratively or tonally, but delivers all the imaginative, kick-arse action you could ask for in a movie.
After the ambitious but divisive Prometheus, veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott promised a more straight-up prequel to his original 1979 masterpiece. What we're given, however, is actually more akin to a remake, and a shallow one at that. Scott attempts to combine the philosophical head-scratching of Prometheus with the body-horror eeriness of Alien, but somehow fails to achieve either. Covenant is not chilling enough to be scary nor clever enough to be worthy of debate, sitting somewhere in the dissatisfying middle of the two. It's also not especially fun. There are a few gory moments of delight, but after an exciting early sequence where a newly born xenomorph wreaks havoc, the set pieces slowly deteriorate into uninventive excuses to kill people off in exactly the order you assume they'll go. For a director who so excellently builds tension and sustains suspense, it's a shock to see so many sequences go straight for the easy kill; the under-the-skin terror Scott is capable of has been swapped for B-grade violence. As per normal Michael Fassbender provides plenty of awesomeness amongst the mess, his dual role performance as a pair of androids showcasing his immense talent as well as elevating the material to a semi-watchable standard. In her second big role after Fantastic Beasts, Katherine Waterston turns in an acceptable Ripley-wannabe performance yet never fully convinces as the hard arse heroine, whilst Danny McBride sticks out like a sore thumb as a cowboy pilot. On the surface this has what is required for a great instalment into the franchise, although ultimately it never succeeds due to what appears as a lack of commitment from the man behind the camera and a lack of ingenuity by the screenwriters. Covenant has its moments of passing excitement, but nevertheless is a disappointingly dull sequel/prequel that adds very little to the Alien canon.
Despite existing in the ludicrously popular Marvel Universe, the first GotG outingfull of relatively unknown charactershad minimal expectations attached to it. The follow-up, however, has big shoes to fill thanks to the immense popularity of the original. Whilst it falls slightly short of blowing minds like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is still a rollicking good time that boasts inventive action sequences, edgy humour and a titular ragtag group that are so likable you don't want to leave their company. Director James Gunn brings his idiosyncratic flair to the blockbuster realm once again, imbuing the set pieces with little flourishes that add an extra depth of awesomeness to the proceedings. A booby-trap battle in the jungle is creative and hilarious, the ballsy opening credits sequence is an absolute hoot, and a Yondu-centric annihilation aboard a spaceship is undoubtedly the standout set piece of the entire film. In fact, Yondu's stock increases dramatically: his screen time triples, his arc is integral to the plot, and he's handed the most badass moment of the movie. Michael Rooker is clearly having a blast playing the arrow-wielding anti-hero. Chris Pratt leads the way though, his easy charisma shining through as Star Lord. He also shares a wonderful chemistry with Zoe Saldanaas the tough as nails Gamorawith their unspoken relationship building slowly throughout. Baby Groot is sure to be a hit with the younger audience members, but they return to that childish humour too often and the Groot-based jokes quickly become cutesy instead of cute. The biggest flaw is the finale; it's not quite blue-beam-from-the-sky bad, however it still suffers from the overwrought, CGI-hodgepodge requirement demanded of big budgeted affairs. All in all GotG Vol. 2 pushes past its flaws through sheer excitement, energy and passion, topped with another ripping soundtrack and multiple laugh-out-loud moments.
There are only two elements on which all Fast and Furious movies should be judged on: the crazy car-centric set pieces and the interplay between characters who, despite being stereotypes, are familiar and fun. Using that yardstick, this previously indefatigable franchise appears to have hit a wall with an almighty crash; the eighth instalment stalls its way through a relatively dull and repetitive two-plus hours that places it in the bottom half of Fast flicks. There is a plethora of car carnage as expected, but director F. Gary Gray can't muster a sequence that's as inventive or as memorable as any number of scenes from the last three films, and the finale is the most rote climax since the fourth entry. Gray seems to be devoid of the edge that James Wan (Ep 7) and Justin Lin (Ep 3-6) so gleefully brought to their vehicular mayhem and bruising fisticuffs, however he does deliver an extremely entertaining hand-to-hand combat sequence with the Stath kicking arse aboard a plane. The untimely death of Paul Walker also leaves a massive gap in the cast. His cockiness and charm as ex-Fed Brian O'Conner was the perfect antidote to Vin Diesel's muscle-head grunting and is sorely missed in this episode. His absence is only made worse by newcomer Scott Eastwood's utterly bland performance; the sooner they realise a Walker replacement is impossible at this point in the series the better. Yet Eastwood isn't the only concern, many of the established cast are clearly on autopilot. Tyrese Gibson is all shout and no laughs, Ludicrous looks tired and uninterested, and Michelle Rodriguez has the same old star-crossed lovers crap to plough through. Perhaps most disappointing is Charlize Theron's underwhelming cyber-villain, who partakes in exactly zero action and is reduced to sprouting cut-away lines like "you're smart, but not smart enough." The Fate of the Furious is a frustratingly tedious and unimaginative effort that, especially for a fan of the franchise like myself, is ultimately a huge let down.
After sitting through this overlong cinematic adventure for the titular band of colourful warriors, it's not completely clear if this was made for the 30-somethings who grew up with the cheesy show or the current generation of pre-teens. Similar in tone and presentation to Michael Bay's Transformers franchise, this big screen adaptation has a healthy dose of teenage angst (and awkwardness), whirling camera-work and rapid-fire editing, suggesting the new crop of kids are the target audience. On the other hand there's a tongue-in-cheek campiness that is clearly meant to tug on the nostalgia strings; the goofily choreographed fights, the insanely hammy villain and the on-the-nose metaphors are all handed over from show to movie. It's hard to see how either demographic is going to walk away wholly satisfied though. A bloated runtime and a lack of action will surely lead to boredom for the young'uns, and the ludicrously long wait to actually see the Power Rangers in full getup could annoy the fans from way back. Waiting until approximately 90 minutes in before the new batch of heroes even suit up, the climax is a CGI flurry of underwhelming baddies, nonsensical action beats and plot contrivances so outlandish they make Vin Diesel films seem as clever as Inception. There's no doubting the noble intentions of this modern update, and Elizabeth Banks is a blast as Rita Repulsa, however this incarnation of Power Rangers fails to quicken the pulse.
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