Independence Day: Resurgence Review - The Fourth of July lights up with a lot of spark but little substance
Twenty years ago Independence Day (1996) delivered one of cinema’s grandest and noblest moments, as President Whitmore stood outside an Airforce hangar, megaphone in hand, briefing a crowd of troops that knew they were about to fly off to what would most likely be the end of their days. There Bill Pullman uttered one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable speeches, remarking ‘We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. This is our Independence Day!’ Sadly, this film’s scrappy sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), does little to convey the same enthusiasm or heart. Instead the now-retired President delivers a dismal drawl about unity and resolve to but a handful of soldiers, flipping back and forth between the strong and stern leader of old and today’s PTSD-crazed old man. If only the deadpan delivery ‘They like to get the landmarks’ didn’t ring as true for the famed film itself as it does within the story.
This time round the plot is as complicated as it is convoluted, picking up twenty years after the events of the original film. Earth has adapted well in the wake of the War of 1996, with David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) using the time to prepare the world for the alien’s retaliation, developing the aptly titled Earth Space Defence Program and recruiting a bunch of orphaned youngsters to take up the mantle as soldiers. As expected, things don’t quite go to plan as a spaceship the size of the Atlantic Ocean returns to rain down chaos and devastation. There’s also something about another alien race that left their physical bodies thousands of years ago for a virtual one, as well as a surprisingly super-sized beast, but for the most part it’s a lot of red-herrings and unnecessary side-plots. Like the off-kilter characters, the scriptwriters don’t quite seem to know where they are going, meaning by the end of the film’s two-hour-run we are left thinking that Levinson’s statement ‘We never stood a chance,’ was directed more at taunting the filmmakers failings than developing the plot.
If one redemption can be magically pulled from the movie though, it is in proving Liam Hemsworth worthy of his leading man status. Confined to background roles and pushed into the shadow of his older brother, the young Australian finally proves his mettle. Sadly, the women of the film don’t fare quite as well. Yes, they take prime position as some of the strongest professions, including Presidents, Doctors, and Fighter Pilots, however, when it comes to saving the day that duty goes to the self-sacrificing, legacy laden men. Maika Monroe does her best with the older version of Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, the female lead to Hemsworth’s hot-headed Jake Morrison, but we never see her truly connect with her heroic father, not even in the final climactic battle. In fact, despite the film constantly bombarding us with the notion that Earth has become a united people, we never see any of the characters truly connect with each other. The closest we ever come is an African War Lord remarking that a once shy and socially awkward man has the heart of a warrior, and even that feels contrived.
Equally, one can’t argue that it’s not a rollicking ride though, full of the same intense action sequences and sporadic moments of genuine humour. Roland Emmerich might wander onto the same treacherous ground as his dreaded Godzilla (1998) at times, as rampaging monsters run riot and cities crumble under his constant desire to crush things, but he does deliver on his first sequel, for the most part due solely to Judd Hirsch’s magnanimous father Julius. While his son stands in as the ubiquitous bridge between the younger generation and the old, serving little purpose outside this role, Levinson Senior delivers the same charm and comic timing as he did in the first film. Similarly, Emmerich’s action sequences are full throttle on the popcorn crunching genre, escalating the exploits of the first movie as swarms of fighter jets take to the skies and a descending space-ship leg creates a thrilling tsunami. He may destroy everything, but at least Emmerich knows how to create genuinely imposing visuals in the process.
For those cinemagoers expecting a well-rounded and scientifically plausible movie, then this is not the one for you. Like the first film, there are a lot of questions regarding the lack of logic present in a film that builds itself up on its ability to ‘quantify’ its science. Like how Singapore ends up in London, or how World Peace ensued in the aftermath of the War, instead of squabbles over the rights to the fallen flight-machines. Even plot devices like having old Levinson adrift at sea as the alien encounter begins, just doesn’t quite add-up. Where the first movie bounced off its absurdity through wit and willpower, ending on an emotional high, the follow-up delivers a preposterous finale, which sadly sets-up another sequel, as smoothly as if it has already been signed-off on by the studio.
What’s most disappointing about Independence Day: Resurgence is the way the picture treats its legacy. Yes a tonne of new technology has been developed in the aftermath of the War and yes they’ve given young orphans purpose as some of the world’s top fighter pilots. But with a new generation of stars, the 1996 veterans are dismissed. The previous President is now a crackpot old man, David Levinson begins to feel like a supporting character and Will Smith’s hero is dismissed in the briefest of mentions. And that’s all before one character is so severely mistreated, you’re forced to do a double take after their early-onset death, because what writers could possibly be so callous? No dramatic build-up. No tension. Here one minute, gone the next. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. A little bit like the movie itself.
Rating: 3 Destroyed Landmarks out of 5
Finding Dory Review - Disney and Pixar deliver a fun fishy sequel, which just keeps swimming right into our hearts
Nineties kids are a bit judgemental when it comes to Disney films. After all, we were the generation that lived through iconic classics Aladdin (1991), Beauty and the Beast (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998). So when it came time to make a sequel to our beloved Finding Nemo (2003) almost fourteen years after the aquatic crew first swam into theatres and our hearts, many a flag was flown about the potential problems that could ensue. However, those eagerly awaiting Finding Dory (2016) can finally breathe a sigh of relief, because despite our worst fears of another disappointment when it comes to Disney Pixar’s precocious sequels, this time round the studio manages to deliver a fun, fresh and fantastic fishy film.
The piece kicks off with the most heart-breaking sequence since 2009’s Up, teasing Dory’s beginnings in the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. The adorable young Blue Tang is being taught by parents Charlie and Jenny about how to deal with her disability, before an accident sees her lost and alone in the big wide blue. From this flashback we come full circle as Dory grows up, gradually forgets them, and meets Marlin one his way to find his son. Skipping ahead one year, Nemo is back in his anemone home safe and sound as Dad Marlin and best-friend Dory settle into life as usual. That is, until the stingray migration hits town, reminding Dory that her new family might not be her only one. The intrepid trio soon set off in search of her long lost (and long forgotten) parents, winding up at the Marine Institute of California. But with challenge after challenge and no parents to be found, Dory has to dig deep and remember that there really is no place like home.
Finding Dory certainly swims familiar waters, playing out as the reversed narrative of the first film, whereby the lost child seeks out the devastated parents. Sadly, the picture is relentless in its desire to pull on the heartstrings and elicit emotion. Instead of sadness, we receive loneliness, and instead of courage we receive fear. While co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane smartly tap into these feelings, tearing our hero down only to build her back up again, it just doesn’t have the same ease or endearing quality it did the first time round. Similarly, there is a distance form the first film, with only a handful of returning characters like Mr Ray, Squirt and Crush, who receive far too brief a moment in the spotlight to actually shine. One of the other let downs is the increased reliance on bigger and bolder actions. While it is feasible that a bunch of fish can roll their way to freedom in baggies, it is not quite as believable when a septopus steal a delivery truck and drives it off a cliff.
The newcomers make up plenty of ground though, proving fantastic additions to the elaborate undersea world. Ed O’Neill’s Hank is the breakout hit, as a hilariously cantankerous septopus so hell-bent on living in his own little bubble that he forgot how to have a family. Similarly, Bailey the Beluga and Destiny the Whale Shark are both wonderfully constructed, with humour and heart aplenty. Idris Elba’s Fluke and Dominic West’s Rudder might skew the storyline but they also steal the show, thanks to their brash humour and interactions with silent stars Becky the Loon and Gerald the Sea Lion. What is great about them though is the part they play in helping the film tackle a sensitive subject – that of disability. Not only is there Dory’s iconic short-term memory loss, and Nemo’s bad fin, but this time around we have the disfigured and dumb sub-characters; Becky the literal loon, Gerald the sea lion who never speaks a word, Hank the seven-armed octopus, and of course the pair of sight and sound challenged whales.
So, while at times the film feels as lost as the titular blue tang herself, flitting from one moment to the next, when control is exercised we can truly see why Pixar are a step above the rest. Great care has been taken, for instance, to make sure the Californian water appears notably different from the bright blues and crystal clear imagery we are used to. Similarly, as we delve underneath the surface of the Kid Zone pool we see a war like battle ground erupt, as fishy friends thrash for cover and hands reach down to touch, poke and grab. Just as fish are friends, not food, in Finding Nemo, this surreptitious sequel reminds us they are not cute and cuddly pets either, and should not be treated as such by parents letting children run amok.
Lessons are, of course, the heart and soul of film. From teaching us that even those with disabilities can live life to the fullest, to reminding us we can always find our way back home. However, the most endearing message the film promotes is the idea that it’s okay not to plan your life out. It’s okay to forget things, find a new family in your endeavours, and just go with the flow. For a child struggling to figure out what they want to do with life (or even us nineties kids), nothing could hit home more. So, just like the titular character herself remarks, remember to just keep swimming.
Rating: 4 Fishy Friends out of 5
Despite only directing seven films in the genre, James Wan is undeniably a modern master of horror. His talent comes in taking simplistic stereotypes like brides and clapping games and making them the stuff of nightmares. His latest flick, scary sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016) continues the trend, making sure you’ll never think of nuns or British pensioners in quite the same way. Taut, tense and downright terrifying, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t quite scare up the same suspense as its predecessor, but damn it if it doesn’t come close.
Based on the true tale of the Enfield Poltergeist, the film follows the Hodgson family, made up of mum Peggy, daughters Margaret and Janet, and boys Johnny and Billy. Life is not easy for the British bunch, with no money for biscuits and young Billy picked on at school for his stutter. Things get a whole lot worse though when Janet finds herself teleporting around the house and hosting the deep voice of a 70 year old man named Bill Wilkins. Nearing the end of their tether, the family take their story public in the hope that someone will hear their plight and help. With their own personal problems, which become more evident as the film progresses, supernaturalists Ed and Lorraine Warren are reluctant to get involved when called in by the Catholic Church. However, reason gives way to heart, and they take up the cause to decipher whether it is one of the worst cases they’ve ever faced or one of the biggest wind-ups in paranormal history.
It’s a smartly scripted piece, bringing us full circle from the first film and again playing on the terrors that lurk out of sight rather than those we see. What’s even smarter this time round though is the strong focus on the children and in particular Janet, who are the only ones who witness the disturbances at the start before adults are gradually introduced to the terrors, thereby making us constantly question the validity of the ‘ghost’ story and the truth or trickery behind it. Sequels too often fall into the trap of trying to emulate their former films scene-by-scene that they forget to bring anything new to the plate. But what makes The Conjuring 2 succeed, is its inclusion of the opposing voice – the critics, non-believers and sceptics. Balanced films are so few and far between nowadays that it is a pure and simple joy when one finally surfaces. So much so that it is easy to forgive its weaker parts.
The film certainly has them though, notably in the rather long time it takes to really get rolling, with the Hodgson’s and the Warren’s not even meeting until after the first half of the film. When they do, it is still stand-offish, as any true bond between the families seems fractured until the inevitable denouement. What is also surprising is the fact Wan leaned on the same scare a number of times. Creepy turns around corners are indeed chilling for viewers to watch, but eventually what was once thrilling turns somewhat tedious. The other downside is the extreme variance in the ghosts and ghouls. Where the nun is perhaps one of the creepiest characters ever put to screen, the crooked man comes across as a laughable and cartoonic CGI caricature.
Wan proves his mettle though with some simply stunning shots, including a creative scene involving the unsettling nun, an establishing shot where we are guided around all the individual rooms of the Hodgson home to witness the inhabitants within, and another involving an eerie and evocative interview made with backs turned. He tests our sanity time and time again, building up anticipation, only to let it come crashing down around you. One of his best sequences has to be the moment Ed sings an impromptu Elvis concert, as you wait thoroughly prepared for the family night to turn south and instead are simply given the utter delight of Patrick Wilson’s voice. A good horror director knows when to scare you, a great one knows when not to, and the best understands the area in between. Horror aficionados and enthusiasts will certainly be pleased, with Wan creating a clear homage to the best of the best. Where Hitchcock mastered suspense at the turn of the 20th century and Craven turned schlock and slasher into something memorable in the seventies, Wan will be remembered for his stylish and sophisticated presence in the genre for many years to come.
Young actress Madison Wolfe proves her status as a rising star, with a controlled and compelling performance, donning an incredible British accent that will make you do a double take to believe she really is a bonafide American. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also electric, cranking up the notch without succumbing to cliché, their chemistry eliciting genuine emotion from their audience by the film’s resolution. The only downside to this is the depth of their storyline sometimes stunts the films progression, as you become too rooted in their world and not in the connection they have with the family. They are, after all, at their best when they are answering their calling from God, and between the stories dual arc and the focus on questioning the validity of the girls account, we don’t see them unite enough.
One of the biggest problems fans might raise with the film though is its quick dismissal of iconic and well-documented Amityville case. The movie opens with the Warrens investigating the event, before strongly suggesting it was none other than a hoax. However, that is the beauty of The Conjuring 2, in taking something so cinematically infamous and turning it on its head, juxtaposing it with the film’s final climactic reveal and reminding audiences’ horror is so much more than blood, guts and gore. It is a sequel that does its predecessor proud, respecting the tone and style already established, yet remaining unique enough it to stand on its own feet. How lucky we are to have two such films now in this world…
Rating: 4 Crucifixes out of 5
Now You See Me was the sleeper hit film of the 2013, taking in close to half a billion dollars with its quirky charm and stylish, slick magic tricks. It’s no wonder then that a second film was commissioned, and rumours of a third flick abound. While Now You See Me 2 is more a shadow of its former self than a striking sequel, it’s the escapist fun (quite literally at times) of the cinema-fare of old. Where Harry Potter (2001 – 2011) was all about the ‘real’ magic, and The Prestige (2006) was all about the reveal, Now You See Me 2 plays it smarter and sexier, to make magic seem cool again.
Set one year after the roguish Robin-hood antics of the first film, Now You See Me 2 reunites the Horsemen alongside Lizzy Caplan’s new member Lula, who takes over from Isla Fisher’s Henley by adding some much needed physical humour. After their comeback show is hijacked by a tech genius, the horsemen flee down a shoot only to wind up in China, with no recollection of how they got there. Forced into a shady deal with an even shadier character, the Horsemen must conjure an extravagant plan to steal a piece of technology that could deliver the right kind of information to the wrong sort of people. With the FBI hot on their heels once more and the tables turning as the illusionists become the disillusioned, you’re left wondering if, like the first film, you are playing close enough attention.
The film takes its time finding its momentum and sadly never quite reaches the fever pitched twist turn of its predecessor. Instead it is a different dynamic, with the audience already aware of where Mark Ruffalo’s allegiance really lies and the knowledge that a big reveal will occur at some point in the two-hour roller-coaster ride. It’s a credit to director John Chu that it still manages this, catching even the most cynical of us slightly off guard. As Daniel Atlas quotes in the film, the real power of magic lies in a closed fist and the possibility of the secret that lies within it. Even if the secrets are slightly more lacklustre than last time around.
What raises its status though is the fact almost all the old gang has returned, including Mark Ruffalo as FBI double agent Dylan Rhodes, Jesse Eisenberg as headstrong horseman Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as veteran Merritt McKinney, Dave Franco as the young and energetic Jack Wilder and Morgan Freeman as experienced antagonist Thaddeus Bradley. Two newcomers also bring some fresh-blood to the franchise, with Lizzy Caplan delivering a scene-stealing performance as female-replacement Lula and Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter Mabry proving that even one-dimensional villains can be interesting to watch. Michael Caine is severely under-used however, his big dramatic return overshadowed by the fact he looks like he would rather have phoned in his performance for the payday he pocketed. Harrelson in contrast is the opposite, almost over-used, with the actor playing dual roles as Merritt and his crazy identical tanned twin. That, sadly, is not an illusion, coming as a serious distraction to the authenticity and appeal the first film forged.
The real problem with the film though comes from Ed Solomon’s script. Where his first attempt co-written with Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt was stylish, substantial and genuinely surprising, his sequel script comes off as a convoluted mess with no sense of purpose or real humour. Brief moments remind us of the series inordinate potential, like Caplan’s crazy physical humour involving a sawn off hand, or the genuine rapport between Wilder and McKinney. Outside this though, you are left wishing the line ‘look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see,’ wasn’t so accurate.
When the film does hit the right notes though, we are presented with a rollicking ride. The glory of Now You See Me 2 is that it doesn’t rely on heavy special effects, jarring action sequences, or ridiculous romance, but instead focuses on the pure thrill of the unknown becoming known. There is colossally cool card scene that steals the show and pays for the price of admission alone. And that’s not to mention Daniel Atlas’ crazy clothes-changing prowess and god-like powers over rain, all of which remind us that you don’t have to know how a magic trick happens to make it fun to watch, but when you do it can sometimes take it next level. The real magic though is taking four strong solo acts and making them work together as one single organism, something we are promised time and time again, and are delivered by the time the credits roll. Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, and Caplan are a great team, even if it feels that the powers that be were too convinced by their ego that they were two steps ahead, when really they were four steps behind.
Rating: 3 Horseman out of 5
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