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The Mummy (2017)
If you enjoy seeing Tom Cruise get the living snot beat out of him then this is the movie for you!
The first of Universal Pictures' new 'Dark Universe' movies, The Mummy, doesn't exactly bode well for what's to come...assuming further movies even happen after this. Hoping to create an interconnecting universe of classic monsters doesn't work if you haven't thought things through properly, and as others have speculated, this feels like it's not been properly planned out at all. The previous iteration of The Mummy, the 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, might not have been a 'masterpiece', but it was a good old-fashioned action/adventure movie that was at least FUN and *entertaining*. This one? Not so much.
Things get off to a rocky start with a rather dull/boring opening featuring a crusader buried with a red jewel which will become important later. We're then treated to what feels like a rushed backstory to the movie's title character, the mummy herself, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, who deserves so much better than this to show her talents and was the only reason I even saw this movie). The backstory isn't anything new/exciting. She did something bad, tried to raise some ancient evil, but the ritual was interrupted and she got mummified for her trouble (in a surprisingly less gruesome flashback than Imhotep's from the '99 movie).
We're then introduced to one of the least heroic 'heroes' ever, Tom Cruise's Nick Morton, and his offsider, Jake Johnson's Vail, in a typical shoot-'em-up/explosions aplenty action scene that somehow manages to not be exciting/interesting at all. They're 'liberators of precious antiquities' (ie. looters/thieves) and Nick is kind of a jerk. Annabelle Wallis' Jenny Halsey agrees, and her entrance involves her delivering a well-deserved slap to Nick's face (he slept with her so he could steal from her). They're soon thrown together by Courtney B. Vance's man-in-charge, Colonel Greenway, and descending into a big hole where...you guessed it, they unwittingly awaken Ahmanet.
As they're transporting said corpse via airplane, things start getting hairy when Vail (looking the worse for wear after earlier being bitten by a creepy-crawly) turns all murder-y and Nick's forced to put him down. Then birds start hitting the plane and it plummets. In a seemingly heroic move, Nick gives the last parachute to Jenny and saves her life (it'll later be revealed this wasn't in fact entirely the case) and he next wakes up in a morgue. Before you can say "An American Werewolf in London", Nick's seeing Vail looking all corpsified and gross as he delivers snark/ominous messages to Nick who is also experiencing visions of Ahmanet. Seems he's been 'chosen' by her for a second attempt at raising that ancient evil with the ritual she was so rudely interrupted during the middle of previously. It involves a dagger and that red jewel.
Cruise and Johnson attempt to convey camaraderie between their characters, but their 'banter' falls flat. There's not much humour in this movie, and what little it has rarely works. The biggest laugh in my theatre came from Jenny's reaction to seeing Ahmanet straddling Nick at one point. I think calling her character 'useless' is a bit unfair. She saves Nick at least once or twice (which is kind of her, considering he was going to ditch her/leave her to fend for herself against the mummy's minions at one point) and is certainly less of a jerk than him. The romance that Cruise and Wallis try to make work between their characters doesn't really succeed much (there's a line uttered by Nick to Jenny towards the end of the movie which Wonder Woman did SO much better).
Meanwhile, as mentioned elsewhere, you'd think that a movie title 'The Mummy' would, you know, have more of the actual MUMMY in it. Alas, poor Sofia Boutella is underutilized. She does what she can with the material she's given (probably her best/most effective scene was the one she shared with Jenny after having been captured/imprisoned). I was almost on Ahmanet's side rather than Nick's. Sadly, Ahmanet's powers aren't as interesting as Imhotep's were (except for the neat trick with the irises/pupils in her eyes splitting in two). Though at one point she does pull the same face-appearing-in-sandstorm stunt as he did. At least she gets to toss Nick around like he's a ragdoll...so that's something. Here's hoping she's better utilized when/if she appears in a future installment.
Russell Crowe feels like he's acting in a different movie as Dr. Henry Jekyll. At least he looks like he's trying to have some 'fun' with the role, but even when we're introduced to Mr. Hyde (who isn't really much different to Jekyll, other than having a different accent/looking all veiny), it's not enough to save this film. There's cameo appearances by some of the 'classic' monsters (in the form of pieces of them in jars), but the movie as a whole lacks cohesion. The ending's especially WTF-worthy, as the impact of certain character's deaths is completely undone (not that they had much to begin with), how Nick 'saves the day' is rather anticlimactic, and what happens to/becomes of him is somewhat vague.
As much as I wanted to like this film, it's just hard to find anything particularly memorable about it. The action scenes aren't anything special (the only half-decent one is the plane crash sequence), the characters' dynamics aren't that interesting, there's no snappy dialogue, not much depth and nothing really that makes you go "Wow!" (unless your "Wow!" is immediately followed by "That was BAD!" in reference to the movie). I don't mean to sound so harsh, but it feels like all this movie achieved was setting up what's yet to come, and even then it doesn't appear as if they have a clear idea of what exactly is going to happen. If the 'Dark Universe' is to become a thing, they're going to have to try harder than this subpar first outing. Do yourself a favour and see Wonder Woman instead (and if you've seen it already...then see it again).
Wonder Woman (2017)
Why Wonder Woman works wonderfully
After beginning the film with adult Diana regaining possession of that old photo of her she so eagerly wanted in BvS, we flashback to Princess Diana as a child who yearns to be like the rest of the Amazons of Themyscira. Her mother, Hippolyta, is hesitant and hiding something from her, but eventually relents and commands her sister/Diana's aunt, Antiope, to train her to be better than the rest of the Amazons. She proves herself to be just that and so much more. After rescuing Steve Trevor, whose plane from World War I penetrates Themyscira's shield/cloak and crash-lands, their two worlds collide. After Steve's subjected to the Lasso of Truth (Pine's equal parts amusing and utterly believable when under its influence), Diana's convinced the Amazons' old enemy, Ares the God of War, is behind the war Steve speaks of and she travels back with him to help the world of man.
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman was the stand-out in BvS, and here she proves the skeptics incorrect about that simply being a fluke due to her limited screen-time. This movie rests on her shoulders, and Gadot proves she's more than up to the task of portraying Diana as brave/courageous, intelligent, a warrior/'badass' and, most of all, deeply empathetic/compassionate (not just regarding people, but animals too). Her performance is, at times, even heartbreaking during the really emotional scenes. She's also capable of showing Diana's 'lighter' side, has good comedic timing/delivery of lines (one example being when she discovers ice cream) and is just so warm/likable, endearingly earnest but genuine. Everything a hero should be.
Chris Pine's Steve is far more likable than his Kirk. He does a lot with what could've been a thankless role. Like Diana, Steve is honourable, brave and proves himself a hero. He helps Diana adjust to being in a new world, teaching/explaining things to her, but is never condescending towards her. Both actors 'click', especially in the boat scene on their way to London. They have an easy chemistry; their banter is fun and Steve/Diana's respective fish-out-of-water scenarios are amusing without being silly. They show respect for one another, neither one is ever portrayed 'negatively' to 'prop up' the other (even when they argue), and it's one of the only comic book movie romantic pairings (that's been developed over the course of just one movie) which I've found truly believable.
Steve's secretary, Etta Candy, also provides some humour, though thankfully not so much that she ever becomes annoying. She takes an instant liking to Diana (and you can see why), while Diana respects her in return. Steve's other trusted reinforcements only get a small amount of screen-time each, but feel like proper characters with depth/flaws. The camaraderie that forms between them and Diana is *earned* and believable.
On the villains' side, there's Danny Huston's Ludendorff, who represents everything that's made the Amazons wary of man. He provides Diana with a decent adversary/someone you really want to see her kick the arse of. Also really good is Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru aka 'Doctor Poison'. I've been impressed with her previously in movies such as The Skin I Live In, and although she's acting with nearly half her face covered by a mask, she manages to convey much more than the typical henchperson. She shares one scene with Steve where I even felt for her (Pine does well in this scene too, and especially in his final scene of the movie). I was happy to see there be a moment between her character and Diana, and that they weren't simply pitted against each other in the typical 'female vs female fight' sort of way.
Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright and the rest of the Amazons are only in the beginning of the movie, but they're all good in their roles, with Nielsen's Hippolyta probably being the best. At times it might be understandable why Diana's so frustrated with her, but you believe their love for each other (as well as all the Amazons) and understand why Hippolyta's so protective/secretive. At first David Thewlis feels underutilized as Sir Patrick, who helps Diana/Steve, but proves a wise casting choice later on, when he's given more to do/work with.
The music throughout the film packs an emotional punch, and those worried about 'overuse' of the awesomely memorable Wonder Woman theme which we got a taste of in BvS and this movie's trailers needn't worry, it's only used sparingly/at the right times, mostly during the epic fight scenes. Speaking of, this movie manages to give us something different with the hero's style of fighting. Her use of sword, shield, and bullet-deflecting bracelets, as well as the Lasso of Truth, makes for some stunning/inventive action sequences.
Regarding complaints of 'too much CGI' during the climax, given who was fighting who and the power at their disposal, the effects on display were justified. The Wonder Woman costume doesn't get enough credit for being true to the comics character whilst also being functional (no star-spangled panties for her!) and non-gratuitous/non-exploitative. The first time she shows it off in the 'No Man's Land' sequence is very memorable/one of the movie's best scenes. Diana's other costumes are also gorgeous, as is Themyscira ('Paradise Island' indeed), and the film feels like a classic action/adventure movie. It's well-paced, got loads of heart, and is indeed one of the best comic book movies in LONG time.
Naturally, it'll have its detractors/nitpickers, but this is one movie where the hype is warranted/to be believed. It's everything I've been waiting/wanting to see in a superhero movie for so long. This isn't just easily the best DCEU movie so far, it's not simply an excellent superhero movie, and it's not only a triumph for the first major female-led superhero movie/first big screen adaptation of Wonder Woman, it's an enthralling cinema-going experience, the best movie I've seen this year so far and one of the best movies in recent memory.
The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie still remains the best, the second I grew to enjoy more and more each time I watched it, the third was a mess and the only part I enjoyed/that stood out to me of the fourth was the mermaid attack. I would rank this fifth film in the middle, it's better than the last two, though not as good as the first two. The main problem is that once again this franchise throws in everything (PLUS the kitchen sink), and as such is needlessly overlong. Tightening the script up would've done wonders.
The movie begins decently enough, with the young son of Will and Elizabeth, Henry, wishing to free his father of the curse from the third film. Fans of Orlando Bloom's shouldn't get their hopes up, as his time on screen amounts to a brief scene with his son at the beginning and ending of the film (as well as the after credits scene). He fares better than Keira Knightley, though, whose appearance in the movie amounts to basically a silent cameo at the end and in the after credits scene (though fans of this couple should at least be content to see them reunited/get a happy ending).
Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow seems quite a bit more drunk during the beginning of this film than he has previously. If you're over his shtick by now, chances are this movie won't change your opinion of him, but if you're up for one more adventure with Captain Jack, then you should just go along for the ride. At least his introductory scene in this film is better than the last two (though not as good as first two). By that point we've also met the adult version of Henry (Brenton Thwaites), who's after this film's 'McGuffin' that everybody wants (the Trident of Poseidon) in order to save his father, as well as astronomer/firm believer in science/skeptic of the supernatural (despite constantly being called a witch), Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who's the only one who can read the map that leads to the trident.
When the two newcomers aren't being tied up or shouting each other's names, they prove decent additions to the cast. Carina's intelligent, independent, resourceful, important to the overall story, and Henry's...Will's son. Well, at least they're better than the missionary man/mermaid coupling of the last movie. While their characters certainly won't replace Will/Elizabeth as the romantic centre of the franchise, the actors try their darnedest to make their coupling work (with mixed results). They each work better playing off of Jack, actually. Kaya manages to make her character heroic without ever swinging a sword, and her exasperation at being surrounded by pirates and their ignorance allows for a comedic touch. It's also revealed she has an important connection to Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa. It's a shame they didn't get more time together.
Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar is thankfully a more interesting a villain than Blackbeard (not hard, considering how underwhelming Blackbeard was. Salazar has a trio of undead sharks and a ship- eating ship at his disposal...but somehow they're less ridiculous than Blackbeard's magic rope controlling sword and ship with flame- thrower), though the most memorable thing about him is the unique/interesting effects used to bring him and his cursed crew to life. They're quite something. A flashback scene explaining Salazar's motives (and the origin of how Jack got his various accessories, including his hat), displaying equally impressive effects with a de-aged Johnny Depp as young Jack, while interesting, may have been better placed at the start of the movie, as where it is placed in the film kind of brings the story to a halt.
Filling the void of the weirdly 'hot' (despite efforts being made through make-up to appear otherwise) witch-type in place of Naomie Harris's Tia Dalma is Golshifteh Farahani as Shansa. Her character is bald, covered in tattoos and, like Salazar, in serious need of a toothbrush...but somehow manages to make the look *work* for her. She proves intriguing, but sadly she seems to disappear not long after her introduction.
There are several big action set pieces throughout the movie, though I think the most visually dazzling was the final one, which was set at the bottom of a parted ocean. The film's humour is hit & miss, some of the jokes work and some don't (Paul McCartney gets an amusing cameo, though, as 'Uncle Jack'). There are a couple of emotional beats that have some emotional impact, but don't expect to be tearing up too much. Despite the fact this film, for all intents and purposes, seems like the 'final' one, there is the door left open for possibly more. However, it would be in the franchise's best interest to end here. It might not be at the highest of highs, but neither is it at the lowest of lows; so they should quit while they're ahead/make like dead men and tell no (further) tales.
Rogue One (2016)
Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!...Again...some more...
To be fair, it IS the same Death Star from ANH, so technically there've only been three of them out of (now) eight movies. Yes, this is a prequel (Episodes I-III being prequels *wasn't* what the problem was with those movies), but thankfully it's the GOOD kind. Though you more or less know what's going to happen, it's the journey that matters...and it's one hell of a journey. Felicity Jones, as always, is absolutely lovely in her performance here as Jyn Erso (to those haters: bite your tongues, heathens!). Her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, making the most of his screen time and sharing some emotionally effective scenes with his daughter both young and grown-up), finally addresses the exhaust port "plot hole" in the Death Star from the previous movies that was subject of much parody.
Jones, who was done a disservice in Inferno, is given better material to work with here (though I'd hoped for a different ending with her this time around). Her ability to convey the emotional/physical sides of Jyn convincingly shows why she was cast as the hardened 'badarse'. Jyn isn't 'perfect', doesn't do 'everything'/things nobody else can; she's flawed/makes mistakes and doesn't save the day all by herself. She's supported by a diverse group of characters who each bring something to the table, starting with Diego Luna's character, Cassian Andor, who's equally the hero Jyn is. They play off each other well; they fight/argue, rescue each other, and save the day together. Both actors do a remarkable job of giving their characters complexity, depth and building a believable relationship in enough time that by the end it truly resonates on an emotional level.
The same goes for the rest of the 'Rogue One' team. The best of which is robotic K-2SO, brought to life by Alan Tudyk. His dry line deliveries provide much of the movie's humour, but his character's also useful, his different relationships with Cassian and Jyn allow for many good moments, and he's definitely a character you'll care for by the end. Donnie Yen is also excellent as Chirrut Îmwe, who is "one with the Force" (and the Force is with him). Plus, he got the biggest laugh in my theatre. Rounding out the team are Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus and Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Each one's important and given time to shine, their camaraderie is earned over the course of the movie so the ending has maximum impact (people in my cinema had obviously grown attached to these characters, given their reactions). The movie truly feels like an ensemble piece. Those with less screen time, such as Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera and Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma (the spitting image of the original actress), are also good in their roles. Meanwhile, Ben Mendelsohn clearly knows exactly what type of movie he's in with his portrayal of Orson Krennic.
There're numerous character cameos (from both the OT and PT), some de-aging and even resurrecting of certain actors from the OT (which is quite the feat/impressive, although over-use of the latter spoils it a bit), and shout-outs/callbacks to the previous movies. Stormtroopers still have their classic bad aim. Darth Vader's in a small scene partway through the movie (he has a castle!), not reappearing until much later, but when he DOES...it's glorious/all you've ever wanted to see from him and *then* some. Watching him go to town with his lightsaber will make many fans happy, I'm sure. It's good to see him being scary again (the incomparable voice of James Earl Jones is as awesome/menacing as ever) after the PT nearly ruined him. Thankfully, there's no one word exclamations that make him sound like a sad cow this time. The directing's exciting (Gareth Edwards uses scale well), the action's thrilling, there's some great set pieces, the scenery on the different planets looks amazing (especially Scarif) and it's so good to be in this universe again, as Star Wars does 'space opera' like nobody else can (my audience was made up of a variety of different people, all clearly Star Wars fans, who cheered at various points throughout the film and applauded when the credits rolled, commenting how great the movie was). However, I wish that not such a significant portion of scenes/lines/moments from the trailers were missing from the actual movie. The music/score was also a bit much at times.
To those with issues regarding Jyn Erso as the film's 'lead', comparing her to Daisy Ridley as Rey, and/or whining about the use of more than one British brunette female character in the new SW movies, Felicity Jones said it best: "They both have dark hair and talk funny to you Americans and they're both in Star Wars...but, yes, remarkably two young British women CAN exist in the same cinematic galaxy. I know, CRAZY!". The "Is Jyn Rey's mother?" question is also answered definitively. As for the ridiculous claims of "too many of the same 'type' of woman" in the new movies, I'm sure there being two American males as the leads spanning across six movies wasn't regarded as "repetitive", so why so here? Why are there those threatened by women playing fictitious lead roles in movies when it's so often been men previously? Does the anger stem from there being CHANGE from what you think Star Wars 'should' be? And anyone who disagrees with your assessment has the same lazy over-used terms such as "Mary Sue" (apparently used for female characters who are skilled at more than one thing or get any sort of focus) and "Social Justice Warrior/SJW" tossed at them in place of actual solid justifiable arguments. There's this thing called 'confirmation bias' where, once you've made up your mind, everything will feed into your existing beliefs/theories/interpretation and you'll ignore anything you don't wish to hear. A word of advice: get over it. In the end, this is a movie about hope, and as for the naysayers...I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
There is no beginning, there is no end, there is only the coming
I still remember seeing the first Underworld in the theatre and enjoying it very much, though I didn't see any of the subsequent films at the cinema, only on DVD. I re-watched them in preparation for seeing this film and, as it stands, the original's still the best, with Evolution and Rise of the Lycans vying for second and third place, alternating between the two depending on my mood, while Awakening remains my least favourite. I'm afraid Blood Wars isn't much better. Whilst the fourth film felt like it was just non-stop gory action with little to no story, this film seems to have the opposite problem. Gorehounds needn't fear, there's still some quality violence (most of which the Lycans seem to wind up on the receiving end of, like being split in half and having their spines ripped out). The main problem is the vampire politics are brought to the forefront.
The other problem? Super sexy latex-clad vampire Death Dealer, Selene, feels as though she's no longer the focus of her own franchise (though at least she gets some memorable lines/moments). Let's be honest, most people come to see Kate Beckinsale rocking the black latex catsuit like nobody else can. So it remains a mystery as to why the writers appear to be slowly phasing out her character. Please note filmmakers: These films wouldn't be worth continuing without Ms. Beckinsale. Some tend to dismiss her acting ability, but she's what's held this franchise together. So it's disappointing her character is absent for what feels like long stretches. Blood Wars begins like Awakening did, with Kate's/Selene's voice-over (now with added echoing repeating what she's already said!) and clips from the previous films...though, really, if you haven't seen the others, why're you even here? Theo James's David character from Awakening has a much more expanded role this time (now fully replacing Scott Speedman's Michael as the franchise's male lead. Yes, Michael's dead. Barring some future "We only SAID he was dead/were only pretending!" reveal pulled out of the writers' arses, the Smurf is no more). Whether you're a fan of David or not will likely contribute to your enjoyment of the film, as he seems to take over the movie from Selene for significant portions.
I'll miss the Selene/Michael relationship, but am not opposed to David's character helping Selene, though it might rub some the wrong way how his backstory/ancestry's delved into so deeply it almost feels like *he's* the film's main star. Those who paid attention to the first films will appreciate references to a certain character who had minimal screen time, yet plays an important part in this film's storyline, while everyone else will be left wondering, "Who?". The blood of Selene and her daughter, Eve (who's referenced aplenty but only appears in the film's closing seconds), also proves important, as there's much exchanging of said blood between different characters. Other than Selene and David, the only significant returning character is Charles Dance's Thomas. Whilst not as memorable as Bill Nighy's Viktor, an actor of his caliber lends some weight/credibility to proceedings. His relationship with his son and heretofore untold connection with a past long-dead character is given prominence. Playing well off Dance is Lara Pulver, sporting constantly changing hairstyles as Semira. They do what they can with the material they're given. Semira's character also provides a cautionary tale in why you shouldn't treat your henchman/lover like crap, as we see play out between her and Bradley James' Varga.
Outlander's Tobias Menzies, as Lycan Marius, isn't given anywhere near the complexity of his character from that series, as here he's mainly just another complication in an already rather convoluted story. Nor is his relationship with vampire, Alexia, given much depth...though at least Daisy Head is quite striking, so you don't forget her character. Also memorable on account of their physical appearance are the Nordic Coven, the best of which is Lena (resembling a vampire Daenerys Targaryen). She kicks major arse with a sword and shield (apparently the Nordic Coven *do* bring swords to gun fights), plus also possesses a "teleport" ability of sorts. For a newcomer, Clementine Nicholson fares better with what little she's given compared to others who're given more. She also plays an important part in Selene's physical transformation (including her picking up that handy teleportation ability) to becoming 'more' than she already is...which is just as well, as poor Selene's put through the wringer this time around. It pained me seeing our heroine beaten up/knocked down more than ever, but allowed for a triumphant return, stronger/faster/better than ever...and now with white blonde highlights in her jet black hair.
The last couple of films' over-reliance on CGI versus the practical effects for the Lycans of the earlier films is to the movies' detriment, as the CGI creatures just aren't as impressive (and in the case of the Marius man-wolf creature, rather laughable/dredging up bad memories of the Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns...though not quite THAT bad). Note for future movies: Refrain from going half/half, either human or full beast is the way to go. Clearly this isn't intended as the franchise's final film, but assuming another one does indeed happen, that probably *should* be the last. The earlier Underworld films weren't exactly 'high art', but they felt like they had more substance to them than these last two. Given how much time was devoted to Eve previously, it's strange she's mainly absent here (perhaps she'll play a more significant role in the next movie?). I feel the franchise lost something after delving more into the world of men, but at least this one LOOKS more like an Underworld film than Awakening did (though the music/score's sadly lacking Wedard's 'Leidenschaft'). Say what you will about Len Wiseman, but I feel these later films' direction have suffered from his absence. My main hope for the next movie? That the filmmakers remember who this franchise's star is and give Beckinsale/Selene the attention/importance/prominence she deserves.
Fantastic film! Where to find it? Your local movie theatre (duh)...
So the Harry Potter theme lives on...and is now apparently the Fantastic Beasts theme too (so no chance of getting it out of your head anytime soon). This film starts quite dark, which immediately sets it apart from the first HP film, with some destruction and lots of zooming in on/twirling around newspaper articles. Despite attempts to explain what's going on, it's a wee bit disorientating. I liked it more once we met Newt Scamander and his suitcase which contained the fantastic beasts of the movie's title. I'd first seen Eddie Redmayne in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Pillars of the Earth and a few other things before he became well-known/an Oscar winner, but even in those earlier projects there was something about him that caught my attention. I found him quite captivating to watch and he was certainly different to your typical 'leading man material', so it's no surprise to me that he's been as successful as he has and garnered well-deserved attention/praise in his later work. Obviously that's part of the reason why he was chosen to portray this role, and I think he does an admirable job with a character that requires him to be somewhat twitchy, not overly talkative and kind of hard to get a read on. However, one thing that's crystal clear is how much Newt cares about his fantastic beasts, which instantly made me like the guy. Redmayne is completely believable in his shared scenes with these wondrous creatures, and it's his performance (along with the dazzling CGI that brings them to life) which ensures you're invested in them and their fate/relationship with Newt.
Not far into the movie we're introduced to three out of the four leads. After Newt, we're introduced to Katherine Waterston's Porpentina 'Tina' Goldestein and Dan Fogler's Jacob Kowalski. I'm not overly familiar with either actor's previous work, but both make memorable first impressions here. Jacob is a "No-Maj" (in other words Muggle) baker who just wants to start up his own bakery, but is quickly drawn into the world of magic. Fogler conveys Jacob's wonder and perpetual confusedness extremely well; his reactions make for many great moments throughout. He also has nice buddy chemistry with Redmayne, which helps you buy their quickly-developed friendship.
Waterston's equally brilliant as the film's female lead. She has a rather difficult role, as it would've been quite easy for her to come across as rather a 'stick-in-the-mud' character type who only causes problems for the two male characters. Thankfully, that's not the case. Waterston's performance gets across Tina's warmth/kindness/likability where other actresses may not have been able to and she works well with the other two. Rounding out our 'core four' is her character's sister, Queenie, played perfectly by Alison Sudol who is instantly likable in the role. It's not hard to see why Jacob is so taken with her upon their first meeting (which is one of the first particularly memorable scenes in the movie). All four actors instantly gel and got me invested in them. You know they work when towards the end there's a deeply emotional scene involving one character's departure from the group and it's actually very effective, as already you've grown attached to them.
I was less into the other side of the story/other characters, such as Ezra Miller's Credence, Colin Farrell's Graves and all the drama surrounding them. Miller's good in his overly twitchy (though understandably so, once you find out what's going on with him) role, but for a large chunk of the movie I just wasn't really sure what his deal was, and even afterwards, I just wished to get back to the main four (which was the case whenever the movie diverted attention away from them, as THEY were the characters I actually *cared* about). Farrell plays his usual smarmy self, though you think for a while that maybe there's more to him than first appears...which, actually, there *is* (it's just not that he's secretly nice or anything). The characters he mainly interacts with are the ones I'm not overly fond of. No one's necessarily 'bad' in their roles; it's just that they're not particularly likable either. Johnny Depp's cameo will likely be divisive, but I thought he was effective enough in his barely-a-minute's worth of screen time.
Far more likable are our main foursome and the many fantastic beasts that we meet who Newt has set up safe environments for all contained within his suitcase (which kind of acts like a TARDIS in the way that it appears bigger on the inside). Some real imagination has gone into thinking up/bringing to life these amazing creatures, two of my favourites being the Niffler (aka the one which looks like a platypus and is obsessed with bling) and a Thunderbird named Frank. These beasts are the real standouts of the movie (which is only fair/makes sense, given they're in the movie's title).
Setting this movie apart from the HP films is that everything is quite often gloomily lit (which adds to the more 'mature' feel), there's less 'silliness' and most of the actors are highly accomplished (thereby ensuring no cringe-worthy moments like were present with some of the child actor's performances in the early HP films). I knew very little about this movie going into it, and I'm sure I missed lots of references the book readers will have caught (though I noticed what I thought were nods to moments from the previous movies). This movie's very different to what came before in the HP franchise, and whilst there was some stuff I wasn't that into (the beginning of the film cut between different scenes/characters a bit too much for my liking. Just as I was starting to get a handle on characters and what was happening, we'd jump to somewhere else), on the whole I liked our new core group of characters and look forward to seeing further adventures of theirs...not to mention, of course, many more fantastic beasts!
Doctor Strange (2016)
Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler are FINALLY reunited! Sort of
Benedict Cumberbatch (best known as Sherlock Holmes in the TV series Sherlock) and Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies) play exes, Dr. Stephen Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer, who work at the same hospital. He's a successful neurosurgeon; she's a trauma doctor specializing in thoracic surgery. Cumberbatch isn't straying too far from his Sherlock role here, as his Strange is just as stubborn, arrogant and cocky as Holmes...though thankfully doesn't indulge in quite so much speed-talking. Palmer is far more likable a character, as she only wants what's best for Stephen, but after he's in a car accident that robs him of the loss of his hands (the movie's end credits include a driving safety message), she can only take so much of his crap attitude/treatment of her before she's had enough. We haven't seen her like in a female lead throughout the MCU before. She's supportive, but not a pushover, she's firm/tells it like it is, but wouldn't (nor shouldn't) ever be classed as "whiny/bitchy". McAdams balances the right amount of strength and warmth that the character requires to ensure the audience is on her side during her 'fight' with Strange post-accident. McAdams also has good comic timing, and her reactions to Stephen later in the film are great. She and Cumberbatch have a nice chemistry, their characters have a very 'grounded/believable' relationship (which contrasts nicely with the later craziness), though they aren't playing out some 'typical MCU love story', it's quite different to what's come before.
Like with his Sherlock, Cumberbatch's Stephen is not someone you are immediately meant to like. He does have a fondness/vast knowledge of music (too bad The Doors' 'People Are Strange' wasn't included), and he can toss out a quip or two, but on the whole he's kind of a jerk. However, what separates him from certain other jerky MCU characters is that his cockiness makes sense given how skilled a surgeon he is, and his stubbornness almost ruins his relationship with Christine, but he goes on a character journey that teaches him humility, patience and to think of others instead of himself. We already know Cumberbatch can play an egotistical jerk to perfection, but throughout the course of the movie his Stephen actually manages to become more likable (moreso than his Sherlock is) and he learns about self-sacrifice (his solution for defeating the film's 'big bad', Dormammu, is quite ingenious). Aiding him in becoming a sorcerer and losing that arrogance is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Her performance seems so effortless, playing this ancient being. She gives off this serene vibe, always so calm and at times frustratingly so (for Stephen especially), but there's more to her than is first presented. She and Cumberbatch play well off each other, sharing some memorable scenes.
Also helping out is Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong. Mordo is a curious character, as he seems on the side of good, but oddly enough his most intriguing/important scene comes post-credits, suggesting he's not what we once thought. There seems to be a running theme of the characters not being quite as they first appear, as Wong seems like the humourless sort who protects the books/spells and doesn't get Stephen's jokes/pop culture references (of which the film could have done with far fewer of, I thought, as they rather overdid it), but by film's end is seeing the humour in things and proves Stephen's closest ally against the Ancient One's former pupil turned adversary, Kaecilius. Mads Mikkelsen, who was so great as Hannibal Lecter and Le Chiffre, doesn't have a whole lot to work with here. He gets maybe one or two amusing lines, but on the whole, like the majority of MCU villains, doesn't leave much of a lasting impression (though at least he uses henchwomen for a change). His fights with the good guys, though, are very memorable. It's the effects on display (which the 3D definitely enhances here, rather than being just a money grab) that are the real stand-outs of the film. Yes, there's been comparisons to Inception, but that was hardly the first movie to feature moving cityscapes (Dark City, anyone?). The mind-bending effects and sheer trippiness of the film is what stands out most, as is Strange's Cloak of Levitation aka THE BEST CLOAK EVER since the Invisibility Cloak from the Harry Potter movies. This one's even better, as it keeps him from harm, helps him find the most appropriate weapons for fighting, wipes away tears from his face and, best of all, kicks the arses of bad guys all by itself.
Like with Ant-Man, this film may feel so 'different' to what's come before that those who have grown comfortable with the MCU movies to date might feel this one's a little *too* different, but I liked the fact that there are still new ways of telling these movies and giving us something we haven't seen before in the MCU. There are two credits sequences, the post-credits one as mentioned earlier (it's worth waiting for, plus you get to hear 'The Master of the Mystic End Credits' tune, which is pretty neat, although the film's score overall does have some sense of familiarity about it), and one mid-credits (my favourite of the two) featuring an amusing cameo from Thor. It's great to see Stephen interacting with another Avenger already (and even better that it's one of the one's I actually *like*). It's the more entertaining of the two credits sequences, and promises some interesting stuff to come whilst raising questions about the next Thor film and what's happened since the last one. He may have started as a jerk, but by the movie's end I'm fully on board with seeing Doctor Strange in further films.
The book is MUCH better than the movie
This seems to be the popular comment whenever a movie adaptation of a book is released. I myself haven't read too many of the books that have been turned into movies, and of the ones that I have read, the movie versions were fairly decent. So it comes as quite a shock for me to see a movie adaptation of a book and be sorely disappointed, which is unfortunately the case with Inferno. I hadn't read the books that the two previous movies were based on, I only saw the film versions, and I actually preferred Angels & Demons to The Da Vinci Code. Inferno was the first Dan Brown novel I've read, which I did so once I learned there was a movie version being made and who had been cast. I don't know what the previous two books were like, but for me personally, Inferno was a fantastic read that I couldn't put down. I know some of what Dante's Inferno is about and its fascinating subject matter which allows for some nice disturbing imagery. It felt like it would make a great movie, and I could totally picture the book playing out on screen. Sadly, the changes made are rarely ever for the 'better', contrary to what some opinions may have you believe.
The beginning was the first change I noted, as it pretty much puts out there what the "villain's" motive is right from the beginning, whereas in the book you discover what it's really all about as you read on. I'll admit that Ron Howard's managed to tackle the tricky subject of Robert Langdon's hallucinations that he finds himself with after waking up in a hospital, wounded, with amnesia, quite well. There are some striking images. These visuals could be confusing/might not make complete sense to some, but they convey just how disorientated Tom Hanks' character is. Speaking of, Hanks is obviously comfortable in the role now, this being his third outing. Langdon is a likable guy, though he's a bit snarky at times, but it's never to the detriment of his character. His Langdon is confused and trying to piece things together with the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks played by the lovely Felicity Jones. Yes, she's much younger than Hanks, as have been his previous two leading ladies, deal with it. They aren't paired up in 'that' sort of way. She helps him on his journey of discovering clues regarding how to stop the spread of a virus that Ben Foster's Zobrist believes is the only solution to Earth's overpopulation problem.
Jones' Sienna proves more than a match for Hanks' Langdon, she's intelligent, resourceful, cunning, and is more than she appears...which, unfortunately, is where the movie's first real mistake occurs. The book goes into great detail about Sienna's background and what drives her as a character/the choices she makes, but apart from one flashback scene late into the movie, we're not given nearly enough information about her to really understand the character's motivations. There's a lot more to the character than what the movie would have you believe, and I was particularly disappointed/upset regarding what they did with her at the end. Jones is more than up to the task of portraying this character's complexities, and she has a nice chemistry with Hanks, so it's a shame the movie doesn't dive into her character more. I don't mind changes from book to movie if they make *sense*, but there's really no reason why such a drastic change had to be made with her character. Hopefully Rogue One at the end of the year will better utilize Felicity Jones' talents.
Adding to the above disappointment is the changing of the book's ending as a whole. The message was actually really important, and I was hoping it wouldn't receive the 'Hollywood treatment', but sadly they've gone the predictable route by not sticking to what made the book's ending so great. The movie could've been saved, had they kept the book's ending, but instead it's rather weak/wholly paint-by-numbers and therefore boring.
Along with the two leads, the movie's other benefits are its pace (things seldom slow down until near the end, before the climax), its visuals as mentioned before, and the return of an actually interesting requisite assassin who pursues Langdon. The Da Vinci Code had Paul Bettany's memorable albino monk (I can't recall the second movie's equivalent), and this time we have one in the form of Vayentha. Ana Ularu doesn't get to say much, but she conveys a lot with just her looks and appears ruthless enough in the role. The confrontation between her, Langdon and Sienna above the Hall of the Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio is memorable, especially her demise. I was less fond of the Elizabeth Sinskey character/her relationship with Langdon, which slowed things down near the end. Time could've been better spent elsewhere. Irrfan Khan's 'The Provost' feels as though he's meant to provide the majority of what little 'humour' (albeit of the morbid variety) the movie has, but falls rather short on account of the fact that he tends to mumble/is hard to understand at times. Ida Darvish's Marta, however, is a welcome side character.
Reading a book that I enjoyed immensely, only to have a sub-par movie adaptation of it made is a new experience for me, and not one I'd like to repeat in the future. For those who're wondering whether they should read the book before seeing the movie...see the movie first if you don't wish to be disappointed, as perhaps when taken on its own merit the film isn't that bad. However, if you have a sense of morbid curiosity and wish to see just what's been done to what should've been a great movie, then read the book first. The third option is to imagine the film's cast when reading the book and NOT go see the movie, as that path will only lead to disappointment.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Suicide Squad, attack!!!...
I've only seen Smallville's and Arrow's interpretations of the Suicide Squad previously, but apparently both weren't really accurate representations. I'd only known of Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series (and Mia Sara in Birds of Prey), and hadn't really seen what the big deal was, so I had few expectations of what she 'should' be like in her first big screen live action interpretation. Clearly everyone has their own opinions, and obviously pleasing everyone would've been impossible, but Margot Robbie is the MVP, her nuanced portrayal of psychiatrist, Harleen Quinzel, turned Joker's accomplice, Harley Quinn, without a doubt the scene-stealer of this movie (if it wasn't already immediately apparent from the very first trailers). Out of many different versions of the character, the one we meet here (accompanied by 'You Don't Own Me') uses her gymnastic skills/bed sheets to make a harness and swing upside down inside her cell, which seems in character. Through brief flashbacks, we see glimpses of her as a psychiatrist, where she became infatuated with the Joker (despite, or perhaps *because* of, her seeing him for what he was), strapped to a gurney and being given harsh electroshock "treatment/therapy" by him, which explains her mental instability/how she's as much a victim as a perpetrator.
Those whose opinions of Robbie's Harley depended solely on whether she retained the character's traditional strong New York/New Jersey accent and traditional harlequin costume need not fret, as the former is on full display (she bounces from harder to lighter, though not because she's incapable of holding down a Harley accent, as she clearly pulled it off in The Wolf of Wall Street, but rather to show her moments of clarity) and the latter is acknowledged/paid respect in a brief clip that I'm sure will launch a thousand GIFs. The character's look/attitude is a little different, but that's to be expected when animation is adapted to live action. People needn't get so hung up on such things, as her character shouldn't be *defined* by these traits, and she DOES "have agency" (*choosing* to fall into the vat of chemicals, rather than being pushed), which should alleviate some fans' fears. Robbie knocks it out of the park, ensuring Harley's much more than "just a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy". For evidence of her perfectly suitable/twisted chemistry with Jared Leto's Joker, look no further than the scene of them riding in the "Jokermobile" together, where she calls him "puddin'"/"Mr J" and Batman "batsy/bats" (Batfleck's featured at the beginning, subduing both Harley and Will Smith's Deadshot, and mid-psychedelic end credits scene with Viola Davis' Waller).
I'm unfamiliar with Leto as an actor, having never seen him in anything else, and some might be disappointed with his amount of screen time, but I think it's for the best that he didn't overshadow the movie. He's used sparingly, but just enough/when the occasion calls for it. The Joker/Harley "relationship" remains intact, and what's shown of it leaves us wanting more. Smith is basically playing himself, though his character has some "human" moments with his daughter, and his best dynamics are with Harley and Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag (himself having a relationship with Cara Delevingne's June Moone, who is taken over by an entity, the Enchantress, giving her a scary-as-hell makeover). They play well off each other, and you can tell that most of the characters, against their better judgement, have a soft spot for Harley (who can blame them?). Flag's relationship with Moone is engineered by Waller, who it becomes quite clear early on is a manipulative, cold-hearted bitch (who's more of a witch than Delevingne's ACTUAL witch character is) and, in case you missed it, is NOT to be trifled with (which the movie keeps hammering home). There's no "good guys" in this film, as evidenced by the way she treats/manipulates/kills people.
Other characters are surprisingly decent (El Diablo's not only the most powerful member of the Squad, but also one of the films "heroes" at the end...although they ALL pitch in), the voice of reason/most "normal" (Kinnaman's Flag, who thankfully isn't *too* much of a stick-in-the-mud), entertaining/amusing (Jai Courtney perfectly fits the role of Captain Boomerang, the bogan with a pink unicorn fetish, who'll sneakily drink a beer mid-fight), provide arse-kicking sword action/muscle (Katana/Killer Croc), provide the film's "Big Bad" (Delevingne's effective with the creepiness, and I felt sympathy for her regarding how she and Flag were used by Waller) and are cannon fodder (Slipknot may as well have been called "Dead Meat", given how predictably doomed he was).
The movie isn't the "mess" some are making out. It begins seeming more like a series of music videos than anything, with different songs playing as characters are introduced/helpful character attributes displayed on screen, but once the Squad's formed/unleashed upon the enemy, things come together. As we're constantly reminded, they're the BAD GUYS, so things are quite different to what you're probably used to (though at least they have an excuse for being a-holes, unlike certain so-called "good guys/heroes" in other comic book movies). Things might seem slightly confusing on occasion, but it's actually a pretty basic premise. Ayer's directing and co-written script endeavor to keep things from ever getting "boring", which they succeed at achieving more often than not. The overall feeling I got from the movie was a sense of "fun" (so those complaining about BvS's "seriousness" have no one to blame but themselves). There'll be those who'll let the negative reviews sway them, those jumping on the DC hate bandwagon/going into this movie already hating it, those who deem these interpretations of the characters as "not right"/how they think the characters should be...but those looking for a fun time with entertaining characters, and the added bonus of a great soundtrack, should be satisfied. Here's hoping that, despite all the Negative Nellies' criticizing, we still get the "Untitled Harley Quinn Project" that was announced, as Robbie's Suicide Blonde certainly deserves it.
Jason Bourne (2016)
Matt Damon is Bourne again...
After a long absence, and a rather forgettable fourth film, things get back on track with Matt Damon returning as the character these movies are *truly* about and who most people want to see (sorry, Renner). 'Identity' still remains my favourite of the entire franchise and I highly doubt it'll ever be surpassed. Unlike many, I wasn't as fussed on 'Supremacy', though both it and 'Ultimatum' were certainly better than 'Legacy'. While it's certainly good/a relief to have Damon back as Bourne, that doesn't automatically mean this film is 'great'. I'd say this one ranks somewhere in the middle. Matt Damon has always been likable in the role of Jason Bourne/David Webb. He's believably tough (his first 'fight' in this has him knock out a guy with one punch), selling the action scenes (he once again shows off Jason's proficiency for driving vehicles down lots of stairs), credible as this highly experienced/intelligent but tormented person, and I've always felt for the guy. I liked pretty much everything regarding the first film, the action, story, characters, relationships and especially the directing. A shame Doug Liman never returned as director of these films.
I was really saddened/annoyed when the woman Jason had been through so much with and later formed a relationship with, Franka Potente's Marie, was unceremoniously disposed of in the film's first sequel. That made me like that film less. However, I was pleased that Julia Stiles' Nicky Parsons got more to do later on. As I'm sure people will have been spoiled for by now (seriously, don't read unless you WANT to be spoiled. Consider this fair warning), poor Nicky suffers a somewhat similar fate to Marie in this movie. I completely understand the outcry over this. I felt a similar way when Marie was only in a small part of 'Supremacy' at the beginning. It's a testament to Julia Stiles, that she's managed to take a character who hadn't much to do early on and made her so memorable/someone the audience formed an attachment with. Here she gets a 'badass' moment, looks out for Jason/helps him until the very end, and is part of the movie's first action scene, which is quite a memorable one. Like Marie, her demise in unexpected (well...unless you've read spoilers), a total gut-punch and a completely unfair way to go for such a likable character. Having said that, Jason was warned early in the series that everyone around him/associated with him would wind up dead, and Nicky's death cements this fact (as if Jason wasn't already aware after Marie). When so many films are tempted to bring popular characters back repeatedly/use them until they've outlived their welcome, there's something depressingly 'real' about this film's 'nobody's safe' statement. It's just a shame we lose the Jason/Nicky dynamic (and the chance for any answers to questions surrounding their history) in the process, as Damon and Stiles worked so well together.
That's not to say that the new characters are a waste. Tommy Lee Jones is good, like Chris Cooper and Brian Cox were before him, though possibly doesn't have quite as interesting material to work with as they did. Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander plays a strong, intelligent, ambitious woman in CIA agent, Heather Lee. You think you know what sort of role she's fitting into (ie. taking over from Joan Allen's Pamela Landy), then later seems like an ally for Jason, buy she is in fact much *more* than that. She's crafty and can go toe-to-toe with those who are higher up than her, as well as Jason himself. I wouldn't mind seeing Heather Lee and her black plastic claw hair clip return if there's another movie. Vikander conveys SO much that's going on underneath with her character via looks/micro expressions and proves the film's biggest asset. Ironically, the character who's simply credited as 'Asset', played by go-to bad guy Vincent Cassel? Not so much. Sure, he looks dangerous, and there's some backstory given as to why he's so hell-bent on offing Jason, but for an assassin...he's rather sloppy/not very 'clean' about it. He's no Karl Urban, he's not even Clive Owen. He just simply shoots people all willy-nilly in public without any consequences. Like with Urban's character, I certainly wanted this guy dead by film's end, and his climactic fight with Jason is the movie's most memorable hand- to- hand action sequence.
Speaking of, while the Paris chase in Marie's little red Mini Cooper coupled with the use of 'Ready Steady Go' on the soundtrack in The Bourne Identity remains my favourite, the car chase in this film does bring on the public destruction...and how! The amount of cars a SWAT vehicle plows through, flipping them into the air, is really something, as is the conclusion to the chase. Although, there doesn't feel like there's as many memorable action sequences as some of the previous films had, which may disappoint some people. The directing can get a bit too shaky at times (which it to be expected with Greengrass directing), but on the whole I was at least able to make out most things when they were focused upon, despite the constant zooming in/out. The film does feel relevant to today, with issues of privacy vs security, etc. While it may not seem as 'thrilling' as the first few films, nor as interesting, the movie's not a complete write-off. There's some intriguing stuff regarding Jason's father, though like with the other interesting elements, the movie doesn't seem to explore things enough. I quite liked the film's ending, and the use of the 'Extreme Ways' song once again was most welcome, but it's possibly time the franchise wrapped up. If this film's the last, then I'm cool with it.