Ant-Man And The Wasp Review - Marvel's tiniest heroes pack a punch in this struggling scientific sequel
There’s a line in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster where leading man Scott Lang states, ‘Do you just add the word quantum in front of everything?’ It’s a tongue-in-cheek moment, of course, because that’s basically what watching Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) feels like to those among us who don’t possess fancy science degrees. Following up his quirky MCU debut – full of miniaturised men, giant ants and a physics-for-dummies approach – was always going to be tricky for director Peyton Reed. I mean, his sequel is the first one fans have been delivered following the apocalyptic events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But instead of delivering another character-driven heist film full of heart, this time around we are given two-hours of technical jargon about quantum tunnels, tardigrades and molecular displacement. And while it’s never quite enough to dissuade a viewer from watching, it’s hard to argue that it’s the sort of movie the MCU needs right now.
Set in a post Captain America: Civil War (2016) but pre-Avengers: Infinity War (2018) world, Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) follows our pint-sized hero and his former friends Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym, as the trio attempt to bring back a long-lost family member from the quantum realm. Scott is just days away from the end of a two-year house arrest, imposed for his violation of the Sokovia Accords, when he receives a strange message from Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet van Dyne. Reconnecting with his former associates he finds out that despite her disappearance into the quantum realm 30 years ago, there may be a way to bring Janet back – thanks to the invention of a quantum tunnel. After powering the device up, the team hope to use Scott’s connection to find Janet’s coordinates and mount a rescue mission. But with their revolutionary work highly sought-after, there are plenty of people ready to sabotage our protagonist’s efforts, including a phasing woman known only as ‘ghost’, and a black-market technology dealer. And with the FBI keeping tabs on him, Scott is forced to make the hard decision whether to help his friends or protect his new life.
Having stolen the show in his previous MCU outing, Paul Rudd seems to relish his return here, effortlessly stepping between the comedy, action and familial drama inherent to his character. Meanwhile, Evangeline Lily is finally given a meatier role, transforming into not just ‘the wasp’, but Marvel’s first co-billed leading lady. She is as tough and smart as the boys (sometimes more so) and it’s empowering to see that it is her emotional storyline that holds the picture together. The heroes are joined by veteran actor Michael Douglas, who provides a somewhat softer grumpy old man performance for the sequel, as well as a more grown-up Abby Ryder Fortson, melting hearts once again as the adorable and precocious Cassie Lang. But as with Ant-Man’s first outing it is Michael Pena’s Luis that steals the show with a hilarious expansion on his ‘storytelling scenes’ lending some much needed charm and charisma to the film. Similarly, Tip T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian return as the fellow ‘Ex-Con’ workers Dave and Kurt, with the latter’s Baba Yaga moments a true masterpiece despite their fleeting nature.
The villains are far less impressive however, with Randall Park’s FBI Agent Jimmy Woo largely providing little more than a chuckle here and there, and Walter Goggins’ Sonny Burch unmemorable, annoying and unnecessary. The true depth comes in relative unknown Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava, a.k.a. Ghost. Desperate for a way to make her pain stop, she has real drive but remains human enough to know there are lines you cannot cross. She’s redeemable in her quest, if not a little misguided, but in a film chock-a-block full of characters, even she gets a little lost in the mix. One character that doesn’t though is the city of San Francisco, with its presence permeating throughout the movie. One chase sequence craftily utilises the city’s most famous street, while another shows the murderous nature of the seagulls from Fisherman’s Wharf. And who could forget how cool it is to see an 85-foot man swimming through the bay and emerging near a ferry in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sadly, there’s a tonal shift of sorts from our last outing, with the movie leaning more towards the ‘lacklustre’ than the ‘inspiring’. You see, what made Ant-Man (2015) such a great Saturday night flick was that it built itself up as a comedy crime caper. The heist elements were fun, as were the brilliantly crafted action sequences, including the now iconic train scene, full of tiny crashes and a giant Thomas the Tank Engine. The joy was in the juxtaposition of the miniaturised world and the normal, not simply the dazzle of special effects. And perhaps that’s why Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) feels so flat. The action is great, with Hot Wheels cars zooming down streets and a giant Hello Kitty Pez being flung through the air. But there’s fewer cuts to remind us of the extraordinary difference in statures. And for all the fun it delivers, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the scale and scope is simply lacking.
At its heart Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) is a solid sequel, providing plenty of laughs, action and gorgeous CGI effects. But having to follow on from the events of Marvel’s previous summer blockbuster outing, which broke new ground and plenty of hearts thanks to its cut-throat mentality, means it just does not rise to the MCU’s high standards. It’s a shame too, because it’s easy to see how well-received the film could have been prior to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But in a post Thanos-snap world, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t explosive, ground-breaking or 2019’s as-yet-untitled resolution. And while the mid-credits scene sets up the potential importance of the quantum realm for the upcoming instalment, the film itself is little more than a two-hour distraction while fans eagerly await new information.
Rating: 3.5 Drumming Ants out of 5
Ever since the King of the Apes first appeared on the silver screen in 1933 he has been both a terrifying presence and one that has defined cinematic history. The tyrannosaurus may have a memorable roar, but Kong’s chest pounding is just as intimidating. His latest incarnation, in Jordan Vogt-Roberts Kong: Skull Island (2017), falls short of both these ideas though, delivering the biggest modern-day incarnation of the menacing monster but one that manages little with all his might. He’s got the chest-pounding down-pat. He’s got the growl. He’s even got that glimmer in his eye for the busty blonde. But he just doesn’t have that something special, that something incredible. That something that brings the film above a glorified and formulaic Apocalypse Now style (1979) re-telling. Complete with orange hues, helicopter homage and a napalm fireball.
Opening with the crash-landing of a World War II fighter pilot and his enemy combatant, it isn’t that long before we get our first glimpse of the title ape, as the behemoth stuns the duo amidst their clifftop battle-to-the-death. Just as the adrenaline hits though we find ourselves flung forward in time to Washington circa 1973, were we meet a research team made up of Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), who are looking for someone to bankroll their plight to find some mythical animals ‘that were here long before us’. Bullshitting their way on the back of another mission the pair also manage to secure some military backing in the form of pissed-off Vietnam vet Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), his troupe of threadbare men and a chiselled renegade SAS tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). No mission would be complete though without someone to document proceedings (or more accurately some stereotypical female role), with Brie Larson’s antiwar photographer Mason Weaver helping round out the unlikely bunch. Bonding over seventies rock and flying off into a literal electrical storm-laden sunset is just the beginning of their adventure together though, with the crashes, creatures and character-deaths coming thick and fast over the remaining hour and a half runtime.
Visually the movie is a step above Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort, punching above the weight of a cliché storyline and adding some true razzle dazzle. While Andy Serkis’ motion-capture creature may have had far more emotion in his grizzly jowls, the action moments here don’t simply aim to be bigger and better, but deliver something refreshingly intense. When the helicopters go down, audiences cringe at the impact and when the monsters attack, they bring a real sense of weight with them. The ecosystem is more detailed than previous filmic incarnations too, giving birth to razor-beaked pterodactyls, bark-encrusted stick insects, a much-too-large spider, some domineering water buffalo, and the real villains of the piece – some reptilian snake dinosaurs that look terrifying up-front and plain preposterous from the back. In an age of psychedelic superhero films and expansive spacey sci-fi’s, it is a real feat to feel something so very new here on our own earthy shores.
On the acting front, the cast certainly work well together, having clearly got to know each other throughout the months spent filming in exotic and isolated locations. Within the title figures Hiddleston feels the most strangely miscast though, brought in as the muscle, smarts and all round hero archetype. But in trying to fill so many shoes, he fails to fit even one. Not only does his posh accent feel jagged in the jungle setting, but with so much time devoted to the ensemble, we never really get to know his character outside of a throwaway line to his father. Nevertheless, he’s killer eye-candy, his blue t-shirt clinging to him in all the right places to satisfy those who tuned in solely to see him finally headline an action-adventure. In contrast, after her award-winning turn in captive-drama Room (2015) Larson has the hippy vibe down-pat, bringing a real effervescence and spark to the photo-journo. After showing off her comedic chops and badass ‘take no shit’ attitude here, she is bound to please in her upcoming turn as Captain Marvel. Samuel L. Jackson, usually a champion of pretty much any role he’s given, puts in his most unlikable bastard performance in quite some time. And frankly, it’s just plain bad. Maybe it’s the writing – after all he is playing a military team leader who tries to take down an animal simply because he thinks he’s higher up on the intelligence scale. Or maybe it’s because it doesn’t feel any different to the hundreds of villains he’s played before.
Despite being a creature feature at heart, there is a strange political undercurrent to Kong: Skull Island. One so brief one could be mistaken for thinking it’s not there at all. It comes as John Goodman’s Randa steps out of a car at the Capitol, claiming ‘Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington!’ Meant as a reference to its seventies setting - where America’s presence in the unpopular Vietnam War and the upcoming Watergate scandal are full force – of course, it comes off as a tongue-in-cheek dig at President Trump’s turn in office. And for all the sly smiles and quiet chuckles it brings to the face of businessman’s opposition (myself included), it just seems incredibly unnecessary. It’s not just politics that find its way into Kong; Skull Island though, with racial stereotypes also prevailing. It may be set in the seventies, but there is something to be said for a modern story that projects a black antagonist against two white protagonists, at times almost comparing him to the ape himself. Such storyline frailties are never fully acknowledged, but are pushed to the back of the audience’s mind to make way for a killer soundtrack. If Kong himself could be represented by music, it would no doubt be the sweet tunes of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising or the late David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. And not since Star Trek Beyond’s (2016) epic Sabotage scene has music been better matched to a scene than it does when the crew’s helicopters get smacked down by the mighty beast to the hype of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
If I had to pick a ‘best bit’ concerning Kong: Skull Island, besides the hilarious and heart-warming performance from John C. Reilly and the cult classic soundtrack, it would be that the action sticks to Kong’s home turf. Not once do we see him scaling a skyscraper or simplified to the horrendous line ‘twas beauty that killed the beast’. Instead, he is a badass that wrecks helicopters with no apologies and munches on live calamari like there is no tomorrow. He is an animal: wild, full of rage and without the hints of humanity previous films have given him. When he does get a glimmer of a soul it is well-earned and brief, exactly the way it should be. While at times it feels like the film is overreaching purely for its future instalments, anyone who knows anything about Legendary Pictures pursuit of the perfect monster movie universe, knows that eventually the giant gorilla will face off against Godzilla himself. Something heavily hinted at in the ever-more-common post-credits scene. So, although it may never rise above its b-movie status, Kong: Skull Island is a fun popcorn flick that aims low and delivers. Especially if you’re all about that sequel.
Rating: 3 Growling Gorillas out of 5
In America’s current political climate, where walls are being built to keep people out and bans are being enforced to stop diversity from getting in, it is important to remember that despite our differences, there is one universal feeling that unites us –love. And it is this theme that is at the centre of Peter Berg’s latest biopic, Patriots Day, a vivid and captivating retelling of the hundred hours that followed the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15, 2013. What defined that day, according to the film, was not the fear, hatred and anger that spilled blood onto the streets and plastered despair onto televisions around the world. Instead, it was the reactions of a broken and battered city that refused to let themselves be victims. It was the response of the townspeople that ran towards the bomb sites instead of away. It was the bravery of single, unarmed and untrained Chinese immigrant that had the courage to stand up for his new home. Simply put, it was the idea that we are greater together than we could ever be alone.
The film picks up in the early hours of the morning before the race, as Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a composite character used to represent the Boston police force, sneaks home to grab his uniform before heading out on the beat to work off his suspension. Patrolling the finish line Saunders has a front-row seat to the attacks and from the moment the bomb blasts rip through the unsuspecting crowds he is the audience’s connection to the action. Helping the wounded, re-tracing the bombers footsteps and ready to run in guns blazing, he bears the burden that many officers endured that day. Representing the bureaucracy a tier above him is FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), who is brought in after the explosions to run the show. Quick to point out that ‘the moment we label this terrorism, everything changes,’ it is not long until everyone is readying themselves for a fight, from John Goodman’s Commissioner Ed Davis to J.K. Simmons Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese. With Boston on lock-down and the two Chechen bomber-brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev still on the loose, it is a race against time for the taskforce to take them down and prevent more lives lost.
Despite the bombings taking place just three years ago, Patriots Day is no mere rush job; instead layered with extensive research, first-hand accounts and the balls to tell it how it happened. Berg’s emphasis on a structured storyline provides audience members the grounding needed to navigate multiple subplots and scene-changes with ease too. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes of such catastrophic crimes and for once we are allowed backstage, privy to the recreations and analysis necessary to thwart such terror attacks. Making a movie about provocative and atrocious real-life events is something that will always prove challenging and Berg treads the fine line he is given with respect and compassion. With a history of big-budget biographical films and a box office of more than $250 million to live up to, it’s incredible that he managed to stay true to the emotional and human element rather than go for the obvious blockbuster set pieces.
One of the biggest let-downs for Patriots Day though is that it maybe goes too far in trying to prove itself accurate. Real CCTV footage is mixed in with actor recreations and moving from the rich, warm tones of film to the cold, fragmented security footage is jarring. And while emotionally affecting, when the film’s real-life counterparts appear interview-style in the final moments, they are so far removed from their previous depictions that we are again left feeling disjointed. With all the chaos and confusion Berg plays it relatively safe, jumping back and forth between good and bad while refusing to question how the film could provide a voice in the wider geopolitical sphere. He doesn’t want to look at why the brothers became radicalised. He doesn’t want to know whether it could have been prevented. But I wouldn’t say he is downplaying or dismissing it. Instead, it is simply that Patriots Day is the story of two men who did horrible things based on their beliefs but found they couldn’t defeat the strength of a town that refused to be silenced. The words ‘Boston Strong’ are never spoken during the film’s 133-minute runtime, but they are there in every tear, every defiant stare and every drop of blood.
The supporting cast certainly help carry the film from tele-movie territory to a multiplex-worthy drama. From Kevin Bacon’s no-nonsense FBI director to Michelle Monaghan’s worried wife, everyone pulls out their A-game and shares the spotlight. While Wahlberg is clearly pitched as the centre of attention, there is a reason neither he, nor any of the remaining cast, were ever going to be front-runners come awards season. Because no single person is meant to shine alone here, the ensemble instead representing the heart of Boston’s community. As for the terrorists in question, Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff prove resounding new talents, innately aware of both the passion and rage their counterparts must have had to orchestrate such horrible events. While they never go so far as to treat them as innocent, they push it just far enough to remind us they were human too. This is particularly noticeable Wolff’s portrayal of Dzhokhar, juxtaposing the tender moments he played with his niece against the knowledge it was just a room over from where he was researching bomb-making. Or when he asked whether the car he and his brother had just stolen to carry out more attacks happened to have an auxiliary cable for playing music.
For the people of Boston, Patriots Day 2013 was not simply a horrifying ordeal but a violation of everything their community represented. But instead of letting mania, fear and violence take over, they fought back with the one thing that was left to them - love. Patriots Day may not be a perfect film, but it is a worthwhile one, if only because Berg makes sure we see that love in every angle, every scene and every goddamn shot. From a policeman saluting the body of eight-year-old victim Martin Richard as he is taken away, to Saunders sobbing on his wife’s shoulder and apologizing for asking her to come down the finish line. It sounds cliché to say that love is the answer. That’s something poets write about or rock stars’ croon. For most people, love is seldom seen and rarer felt. But Patriots Day challenges us to recognize that love begets love just as hate begets hate. So, despite trying times, like the people of Boston we need to stay strong. Run towards the fear, not away from it.
Rating: 3.5 Shoe Hearts out of 5
There is no denying that Multiple Personality Disorders, or what we layman commonly refer to as split personalities, are about as close to a classic Hollywood horror trope as you can get. From Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining flick Psycho (1960) to David Fincher’s hit film Fight Club (1999), movie-makers have created a major market out of exploiting such mental illness. And while their intentions are usually more profit-based than pure, it must be said that in the process they have also shed light on an issue rarely discussed. So, while it is understandable that the most politically correct among us have been calling for a boycott of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Split (2017) thanks to its representation of this disease, it is also understandable that others may find the film a guilty pleasure, which is thought-provoking, suspenseful and superbly acted.
Split builds its universe around Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who was abused as a child and subsequently splintered his psyche into 23 distinct personalities to cope. Among them are fashion designer Barry, diabetes afflicted Jade, evangelical Miss Patricia, obsessive-compulsive Dennis and nine-year-old Kanye West-loving Hedwig. We are introduced to these alters one-by-one through the eyes of the trio of teenage girls they kidnap and imprison in an underground bunker. Knocked out in a parking lot after a birthday party, feisty friends Claire and Marcia are keen to kick down walls and fight for their lives, while our soon-to-be leading lady and heroine Casey, a detention-loving outsider whose back-story bares a rather striking resemblance to Kevin’s, is happy to suss out the situation before she makes her move. The girls soon realise they are up against no normal foe though, when the alters begin to mention a menacing and malevolent final personality known only as ‘The Beast’. With their sacrifice to the monster looming, what follows is a daring and disturbing high stakes game of cat and mouse.
After years of half-hearted twists, poor cinematic choices and frankly squalid scripts, Shyamalan is surprisingly centred here. With controlled camera movements, sleek dialogue and excellent performances littered throughout, it is almost like we could forget his career-destroying misfires The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013) ever existed. Sadly, there are some things that even time can’t obliterate. Split is at least a world away from these, swapping a tunnel vision focus on the ultimate twist turn in favour of an electrifying pace and curious link to one of Shyamalan’s forgotten gems. A team-up with It Follows (2015) cinematographer Mike Goulka’s proves fruitful too, the duo cranking up the intimate and claustrophobic camera work to remind us how horror movies are defined by what they don’t show rather than what they do. A camera that hardly dares leave a protagonist invites such dread when it does.
James McAvoy is a tour-de-force as far as the acting goes, dominating every moment he is on screen with impassioned energy and empathy. Never once do we struggle to know which alter he is inhabiting, his mannerisms accurate down to the last eyebrow lift or goofy grin. Elevating the villain is never an easy feat, but here the Scotsman succeeds on charm alone. Relative newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy triumphs too, holding her own against her more experienced co-stars and building on her phenomenal breakthrough in The Witch (2015). Such ethereal power and persuasion is rarely found in Hollywood stars, especially so young. With this just the start of her career, it will be a pleasure just to see where it goes. The remainder of the cast provide solid support, but are never given enough screen-time or backstory to truly develop. Best of them is familiar face Betty Buckley in the rather redundant role of Dr Fletcher, if only for the fact she is finally given the chance to redeem herself after her involvement in The Happening (2008).
With such incredible performances, it is easy to overlook Split’s faults, but that is not to say they don’t exist. For instance, Kevin’s frustratingly dense therapist Dr Fletcher, who is so caught up in trying to prove that the damaged among us can become the next step in evolution based on their thoughts alone that she fails to see it is happening with Kevin’s latest beastly alter. Similarly, for all the taut suspense and genuine intrigue Shyamalan builds, Split is let down by the most basic of movie problems – the lack of a streamlined narrative. Bouncing back and forth between Kevin’s therapist’s office and the underground lair rips the audience out of the high-tension game. Add in the jarring flashbacks to Casey’s youth that seem strangely out of place and we are left with an untidy mess that would set of Dennis’s OCD for sure.
Despite it’s fractured premise, Split proves to be Shyamalan’s most straightforward film to date. Perhaps that’s the reason it is proving to be one of his most successful too. But in classic Shyamalan style it wouldn’t be complete without somewhat of a twist. And whether you take that as the monster lurking beneath the surface that is not the simple Criminal Minds (2005) type we have been brought up to expect, or as the cameo that proves a shared-universe theory, is up to you. So long as you suspend disbelief, prepare for upturned superhero stereotypes and try not to overthink the thoughtless science, you’ll walk away happy. And hopefully, talking about why people are the way they are.
Rating: 3 Personalities out of 5
At the heart of Sony Pictures latest piece Passengers (2016) there is a major moral dilemma that demands to be debated. So much so, after attending a screening my friend and I argued relentlessly, having taken vastly different approaches to analyzing the film in those tired and intellectually-hazy moments after the credits roll. While I viewed the ethical conundrum as understandable, even somewhat inevitable, my friend was quick to profess that no matter the circumstances, such actions are inexcusable. While we stubbornly butted heads for the next half-hour before ‘agreeing to disagree’, such heated discussion shows just how Passengers has stolen its way to something more than ordinary. No great film for sure, but it is an important one if only for the fact it challenges people to make their own decision on such morally ambiguous problems. Beware though, spoilers abound henceforth.
We begin our filmic journey aboard the Starship Avalon, a spacecraft transporting 5000 souls in suspended animation on a 120-year journey to the new world of Homestead II. Despite promises from the global conglomerate operating the expedition that it is fail-safe and the passengers will awake just three months before they should reach their destination, during a meteor storm one pod malfunctions and mechanic Jim Preston finds himself alone onboard, with 90 years still to go. Denied access to the crew’s quarters and unable to find a fix to reset his pod, Jim’s loneliness begins to get the better of him. With his only company that of robotic bartender Arthur, after a year of unsuccessful attempts to fix his situation he reaches the end of his tether and drunkenly decides to launch himself from the ship sans helmet. Backing out at the last minute, Preston stumbles, quite literally, across the gorgeous, golden-locked and very much asleep Aurora Lane. Cyber-stalking her through the computer’s database, Preston begins to fall for the proverbial sleeping beauty and in one of the year’s biggest filmic quandaries, decides to wake her up. Oblivious to the truth behind Preston’s actions, which have doomed her to live out her life on the ship as well, Aurora begins to grow closer to the engineer, while he tries unsuccessfully to bury the guilt of his staggeringly selfish decision. But when a slip of the tongue brings the façade down just as the ships systems begin malfunctioning, the two must put aside their differences to protect everyone else onboard.
Visually, Passengers is a masterpiece, launching audiences into the wide expanse of space with a stunning display of control. From adrenaline infused anti-gravity moments, to solar fly-bys, beauty abounds even when the script slips up. One moment in particular is as excruciating to watch as it is impossible to look away from, with Lawrence experiencing a weightless dip in the onboard pool. Craftily choreographed and stunningly realized thanks to some CGI help, it will be a standout for years to come. Jon Spaihts script in comparison, does few favours to those onboard, laying down a foundation of clichés thick and fast. One can’t help but feel he has taken bits and pieces from every story out there, crafting a utopian world that is perfectly pristine while simultaneously infusing it with one of the oldest tales around – that of the famed Adam and Eve. So much does he struggle that he even employs a literal Garden of Eden to pick up the slack.
It is also hard to pin Passengers down to a simple genre, as it tediously flips back and forth between sci-fi, drama and action piece. While it handles the jump to explosions and fireballs with aplomb, it’s hard not to focus on how easily it also slips into suggestive stripper territory. With multiple sex scenes and plenty of naked torsos abounding, we bounce back to the tradition that a movie can’t make millions if it doesn’t display a little skin. It’s not a complaint per se, but if everyone is all too willing to call out the clichéd and cheesy romance between our leading lady and lad, then they should be just as quick to question their steamy screen appearances. Thankfully, the film never slows down enough for our minds to wander to this, as we yearn to know what pleasures the ship affords, what backstories will be brought to light and whether anyone else will awaken to help our plucky protagonists out.
Utilizing the world’s two top stars in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence is a smart move by director Morten Tyldum, and it pays off two-fold as they deliver impassioned and empathetic performances. Their chemistry is undeniable, quipping back and forth with genuine emotion, however even Pratt, the breakout hit he is, struggles to fully encompass the absolute weight of destroying someone’s life. Michael Sheen does far better with his supporting character Arthur, bringing charm, wit and warmth to what could otherwise have been a detached and distant role. Despite the script’s limitations, he packs the energetic punch we need, in an otherwise dreary monotony. Lawrence strips back her regular routine too, humanizing Aurora in the process and helping guide the film along at a good pace. Resourceful as everyone in the picture seems to be and despite the smile they consistently bring to the corner of your lips, it’s a shame that for the most part they appears to simply be along for the ride, rather than steering the ship home.
Of course, the main moral dilemma has already set many a critic’s tongue a-wagging, with labels such as ‘disturbing’ and ‘sinister’ thrown about. However, as foolish as it is to argue against such a stance, it is just as imprudent for society to ignore the deeper discourse it braves to travel. There are countless hard decisions we face every day and it’s important to discuss how we as individuals would choose to handle them. For starting the discussion, Passengers has already achieved the glory it warrants. Is taking someone’s freedom away ever right? Or is there such a thing as true love? Better yet, if you were faced with a lifetime of loneliness, would you have the willpower to say no? So the film’s biggest flaw falls not on its formulaic approach, or even it’s ‘big’ twist, but rather in its choice to fall back on blowing things up in Act III, an action that reeks of big budget studios trying to cash in. Released in the same month as the mega-movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), the film could easily have singled its self out as a strong and empowering exploration of the human condition rather than challenging the sci-fi realm. Instead, after all the bravado and beauty, it simply fades into the night sky, just like the Avalon.
Rating: 3 Unhelpful Computers out of 5
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review - Magic and mayhem ensues as a new series tries to claw its way to life
Just like the real world, magic must also mature over time. Childhood gives way to adulthood. Believing gives way to bureaucracy. School romances and bullying give way to lost-love, fear and hatred. Yet, like Dumbledore famously said – happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. For such reasons alone, the wizarding world’s latest instalment, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), is worth the watch, having grown along with its legion of fans to remind us that even in our changing and uncertain times, there is always hope. Unlike the first film in the Harry Potter universe though, which eased us into the magical and mythical universe, Fantastic Beasts’ throws us into the proverbial deep end. And whether it’s the darkness, pain, whimsy or fantasy the film jolts between, we just can’t help but feel it hasn’t quite embraced the true meaning of being an adult yet.
Set in the 1920’s, seventy years before Harry’s story begins, Fantastic Beasts reveals a new protagonist in the titular book’s author and acclaimed magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Trading the familiar London setting for prohibition-era New York, not a day after Newt passes through Ellis Island’s immigration he is already wreaking havoc, having sought to bring the majestic Thunderbird back into the wide and welcoming plains of Arizona, but instead unleashed his creatures on the already politically turbulent city. In steps Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), former Auror and Statue of Secrecy enforcer who tries to regain her position by turning Newt into the authorities. After a mix-up of suitcases lands no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) with Newt’s animals however, the three must work together, along with Goldstein’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), to track down the beasts and work out what bigger, badder force is at play in the city. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a plot point about a fanatical anti-witch group called the Second Salemer’s tossed in for good measure too, as well as Gellert Grindelwald’s mysterious disappearance and a family of non-magical politicians whose presence there is just plain and simply dumbfounding.
The special effects are as dazzling and dynamic as they were five years ago, but even they struggle to pull the film into anything other than ordinary. One standout sequence though would have to be the inventive journey into Newt’s suitcase, where we marvel at miniaturised makeshift habitats designed for an array of critters big and small. It is a testament to screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates that this feels both fresh and fun. As for the beasts themselves, they burst to life with colour, beauty and ferocity, from the bird and snake hybrid Occamy to the rhinoceros-esque Erumpet. Australians in particular may find a close connection with the Niffler, a pilfering echidna cross platypus that causes considerable grief for Newt. Similarly, a shout-out must also be given to the glorious and majestic Thunderbird Frank, who possesses just as much heart and soul as our favourite hippogriff Buckbeak. But it is the tiniest among them that bears the biggest weight, with the sassy stick-insect Bowtruckle saving the day on more than a few occasions.
A cluttered film from the outset, Fantastic Beasts’ biggest struggle is in how it pays too much attention to future instalments, forgetting to make its current one shine. Unlike a gambler sitting at the tables, Rowling and Yates are fearful to go all in, frightened they will spoil films two, three, four and five. Why we will need that many sequels is never really explained, but with so many lines cast out and not enough answers delivered, you can bet fans are already salivating for new source material. And with the legacy of Severus Snape’s big reveal, most have faith something equally uplifting will come to fruition here. On a more positive note, Yates’ direction is outstanding in its consistency, revelling in the fights and battles and good versus evil nature of the sorcery setting. Challenging situations fall at the wayside under his control, as he weaves his own kind of movie magic. It’s just a pity he, the studio, Rowling and pretty much anyone involved in the film behind-the-scenes, can’t decide how to enchant both children and adults alike.
Fogler and Sudol are clear standouts when it comes to the acting, boasting a relaxed allure and comfortable chemistry. Redmayne, in contrast, brings an affable, mannered and boyish charm, that jumps between frustratingly wearisome and refreshingly heroic. He has no interesting scar, ‘chosen one’ label or elderly mentor to set him apart. He is instead every bit the average man, preferring animals to humans. Waterston holds a more reserved performance, likeable only in the fact we get to know more about her, through flashback, than we do Newt. Veteran actors Jon Voight and Samantha Morton however are criminally underused, in what will likely go down as their most thankless roles to date. Depth is, in fact, missing from most of the characters, including the whole MACUSA horde, better known as American’s magical counterparts to the Ministry of Magic, who are just plain unlikable. Even the most redeeming among them, a female mix-raced president, proves to be bland and basic.
Ultimately, no matter how hard Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them tries to catch the magic of the original, it slips away like a memory in a pensieve, the gaping hole instead filled with the reality of the film’s cash-grab nature. It’s predictable, it’s formulaic and it’s far from fantastic. But thinking back, what adventure series that wasn’t based on a carefully calculated novel, constructed over years, has turned out great first try around? So although like the encyclopaedic book it’s based on, there is lots of information but little soul, thankfully it teaches us that there’s no point worrying about whether future films will be handled the same way. If only because that means we’ll be suffering twice.
Rating: 3 Fantastic Beasts out of 5
Superhero films are about a dime a dozen these days, the caped crusaders battling it out on the big screen and saving people like it’s simply an everyday occurrence. Amidst all the flashy CGI and awesome action though, we sometimes forget that it doesn’t always take idealised characters to pull off such extraordinary acts. That is where Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic Sully (2016) comes in, delivering us what could arguably be the seventh superhero film of 2016, detailing the complexities of the event the world dubbed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. Despite the obvious outcome of the titular character’s quick judgement, just like the heroes in Captain America: Civil War (2016) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), our real-life protagonist was measured on how he executed his good deed, instead of simply the fact that he did. Like the line goes, he’s had forty years in the air, but in the end he’s going to be judged on 208 seconds. And judged he was.
For those that don’t know the story, on January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1459 left New York’s LaGuardia airport on its way to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where it was set to stop over before flying on to Seattle Tacoma International Airport. Just three minutes into the flight and only 2,800 feet into its ascent, a flock of Canadian geese struck the plane causing critical engine loss. As the aircraft began to lose altitude Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) considered their options to return to LaGuardia Airport, land at nearby Teterboro airport or make the difficult decision to ditch the airliner off Midtown Manhattan in the Hudson River. They chose the latter. All 155 souls on board, including 150 passengers, 3 crew and 2 pilots survived the forced water landing of the Airbus A320, evacuating the partially submerged plane as it began to sink into the river, before being rescued by a number of nearby watercraft. In the days after the crash however, the National Transportation Safety Board began to look for a scapegoat amidst claims a safe landing could indeed have been possible at either of the nearby landing strips, leaving everyone wondering whether the right choice was indeed the one made.
Sully is a complex tale that develops from a seemingly clear-cut event. While many would simply see the incident as the act of heroism it is, director Clint Eastwood takes the opposite approach, sowing the seeds of doubt as to whether a safer and more viable option was available and turning achievement into government persecution. Over 35 films as director Eastwood has developed a tendency to villainise one group to ensure the valour of another and in a film that sees one man almost singlehandedly save 154 others, it’s run its course as a petty payoff. Heroes do not always need to be torn down to rise to victory, sometimes their actions alone are triumph enough. Eastwood instead panders to the politics, with an extraordinary individual targeted by those in power simply for being himself. One is left to wonder just how much better the story could have been had it been anchored in the psychological trauma those involved were left to deal with.
While for the most part Sully launches well and lands strongly, that’s not to say there isn’t some turbulence along the way. For one, it suffers technical problems in the position of the highly anticipated crash scene. Opening with a clichéd ‘what if’ scenario to get us on edge, Eastwood saves his big reveal until halfway through the movie, making us wade through forty-five minutes of flashbacks and frenzied fame until we reach the inevitable climax. What’s worse though is that Eastwood recounts the scene again nearly cue for cue in the final moments of the film, taking away all the original impact and alienating the humanity he was trying so hard to invoke. That being said, considering audience members not only know the crash is coming but also its positive outcome, Eastwood works his magic to make it adrenaline pumping and heart-hammering, as we tense on the edge of our seats and pray we never have to go through similar events.
Incredible acting is arguably what holds the broken pieces of the film together, with both leading men doing an outstanding job and giving their utmost to honour their real-life counterparts with genuine emotion and charisma. While screen veteran Hanks boasts an effortless charm as the moustachioed, white haired hero, Eckhart manages an unshowy and unassuming turn as Sully’s support act, deserving just as much praise and acclaim. The remainder of the cast is solid too, rounded out by some acting greats, including Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley and Laura Linney. Although their performances are relegated to burn in the background, they are nuanced and tempered, bringing understated warmth to the film. It’s a shame therefore that Eastwood isn’t as generous with their time as he could have been. I mean, there has never been a more apt phrasing for Linney’s role than that of ‘phoned in’.
The shortest film Eastwood has directed to date, Sully is a portrait of how important humanity is to some of society’s most devastating catastrophes and near-misses. From the cabin crew who remain calm and call out commands, to the air traffic controllers, ferry operators and pilots who made crucial, split-second decisions that saved lives. You don’t have to be a superhero to work together. You don’t have to be a superhero to care about one another. No line from the screenplay paints the film’s picture better though than when you are brought to the realisation that New York is so often devoid of good news, especially when it comes to planes. Despite its flaws, Sully pulls no punches in hitting home just how heroic one man can be. If only Eastwood had done as good a job as Captain of the film, maybe all the cinemagoers would walk away feeling it a miracle, instead of simply a moving tribute.
Rating: 3 Window Seats out of 5
Australian screen icon Mel Gibson is arguably at his best when embodying a protective and powerful father figure. We’ve seen it in his previous works The Patriot, Ransom and Braveheart and now we get the pleasure of a return to such roots in his latest comeback attempt Blood Father (2016). Having been caught up in a string of personal and public problems, the star’s atmospheric action-drama serves as redemptive piece for both character and actor, questioning just how far a man will go for forgiveness. Despite a number of flaws, including the monotony of treading the same beaten path as many before it, Blood Father is equal parts a hidden gem, full of charismatic central characters and amped up action.
An adaptation of Peter Craig’s novel of the same name, Blood Father is a stunning film stuck in the shell of a B-Grade movie, full of clever characterisation and dynamic dialogue. Its plot is simple enough, following the relationship between ex-con and recovering alcoholic John Link and his estranged daughter Lydia. Used to finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle, Link is struggling to stay sober and maintain a life on the straight and narrow, as a simple tattoo artist living in a beaten down trailer park alongside his sole friend and sponsor, Kirby. Just one year out of jail his world-weary life is upturned once again though, when he receives a call from his missing 17-year-old, who has got herself into a spot of trouble after shooting her drug-dealing boyfriend in the neck. When both cops and cartel come a-calling for her, Link must rely on his old friends and foes to find a way to protect her and prove that blood really is thicker than water.
The relationship between the two leads is clearly the standout of the film, as Gibson and Erin Moriarty share quips back and forth in a genuine and endearing interplay. Where there is blood, so too is there banter and heart-warming humour. A number of great supporting characters help fill-out the film too, from Diego Luna’s sleazy boyfriend Jonah, to Thomas Mann’s quirky motel clerk Jason. Out of the bunch the only gripe comes from the under-use of William H. Macy, whose character Kirby receives about as little growth as the weeds in the scenic desert setting. Gibson meanwhile is perfectly cast, with art imitating life for the man who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for the better part of this century. The film is not just his redemption, but is a look at what happens to the bruised and broken men Hollywood discards. Just as Link is a tortured soul, a man who has misplaced his own purpose as easily as he has lost his daughter, so too is Gibson wandering and waiting for the chance to payback on his penance.
The humour in Blood Father is as off-beat as the film itself, with Link musing over the destruction of his old beat-up Chevy Nova, not minutes after he was berating it for not starting. Even when the characters are in peril, they still hang hard to such heart, laughing over something as simple as the colour of one’s hair. Gibson has always made his money from his ability to shrug off any situation with a sarcastic swipe and there is certainly no shortage of that here. While most of the humour hits home, the film does fall flat on some accounts. At times the stark transition between the style and themes is more jarring than poetic, leaving you wondering just how much of a hand the studio had in post-production editing. This is never more obvious than when dealing with the supporting cast, with both Thomas Mann and William H. Macy’s scenes seemingly slimmed down to better encompass a shorter and more succinct story. While it certainly alleviates the boredom, we never feel like it quite hits the heights it should have.
Marking his first English language film since his 2001 remake of Assault on Precinct 13, director Jean-Francois Richet paints a glorious picture with his choice of cinematography though, from the sprawling sun-splashed deserts through to the stark and sterile lights of the cities. It’s strangely other-worldly, with more than a decent nod to the nostalgia of times past. Sure there may be tumbleweeds blowing down the street, but it’s the sort of place where we would never laugh at such a thing. As the bodies begin to pile up and the adrenaline-fuelled action sequences splatter across the screen, Blood Father leaves us with a sad, sinking feeling, rather than the quiet optimism of mainstream box office blockbusters. And despite the darkness that slowly spreads over the film, there’s nothing more magical than a film brave enough to show that not every story has a happy ending.
Shockingly violent and undeniably brutal, Blood Father catches you off guard when you least suspect, with more than enough double-crosses and dramatic deaths to keep viewers entertained. Despite its obvious flaws, in its simplistic story and been-there-done-that attitude, there is a lot to like and even a little to love in this latest crime caper. For those sitting there on their pedestals, hiding behind their blinkers and ready to let the film fall of their radar thanks to Gibson’s antics, it’s a damn shame. Despite bearing the scars both mentally and physically, he is as willingly as ever to give it his all, for whoever is still patient enough to be watching. It might be a grimy and meandering action-drama that punches above its weight, but just like what Link says about Lydia, Blood Father is every loser’s lucky day.
Rating: 3 Grizzled Gibson's out of 5
One of the scariest statistics about shark attacks is how they most often occur in less than six feet of water. Not only that, but according to the International Shark Attack File from the Florida Museum of Natural History, of last year’s 164 recorded shark attacks 98 of them were unprovoked. The most frightening piece of information about sharks though, is the commonly overlooked statistic that there are at least 28 other animals more likely to bite you than these razor-toothed foes. It’s safe to say that this last tidbit was overlooked for Sony’s latest menacing monster flick The Shallows (2016). Thankfully too, with director Jaume Collet-Serra crafting a tense and taut thriller that plays on society's deepest and darkest fears. Although realism and common sense make way for picturesque landscapes and gut-wrenching glee, Collet-Serra’s strong cinematography and edge of your seat action provide audiences pure popcorn escapism.
The soft sound of the ocean swell lulls us into The Shallows, with the film opening as a young boy discovers a Go Pro in the surf of a seemingly deserted Mexican beach. An innocent and unnerving scene soon turns sour when he replays the footage, catching a glimpse of the man-eating shark who will menace our main protagonist Nancy for the next hour and a half. Reeling from the recent death of her mother, the med-school dropout is restless, lost and seeking to regain her fighting spirit. Visiting a secret beach Nancy soon finds she is not alone after she is tugged beneath the surface. Critically injured and stranded on a rock shelf as the tide begins to turn, Nancy must use her wits to outsmart the great white shark and make it to the nearby buoy. But when it becomes apparent that help may not arrive, survival of the fittest begins to take on a whole new meaning.
As an Australian the most annoying part of the film is the fact Nancy defies three of the most crucial rules about avoiding shark attacks. Number one – never swim at dawn or dusk. Warned about it when she first arrives at the beach, Nancy still tries to catch one last wave before the sun sets and that is arguably why she winds up in the predicament in the first place. Secondly, she swims right up to a whale carcass, which was not only visible, but swamped by birds and bite marks. Lastly, she defies the never swim alone mantra, when her friend bails on her at the last minute and her two surfing compadres decide to call it quits for the day. However, this is not a film making its money off the logical, as other survival thrillers like 127 Hours (2010) did. Instead it takes pleasure in the visual, with a number of stellar action and establishing scenes. Notably there is the first pull-back to Nancy mid-wave, a dark silhouette shrouded in the curl of the water behind her. It’s not the two-note soundtrack tactic that Jaws (1975) took, but it’s an interesting method all the same. Similarly, despite a limited script the acting is as visceral as the visuals, Lively proving to be breath of fresh air in comparison to her Gossip Girl (2007) days. Like her husband Ryan Reynolds in his flick Buried (2010), majority of the film rests on her shoulders alone and she carries herself well whether she be surfing, swimming or screaming.
Filmed in Australia, on the beautiful beaches of the Gold Coast, the movie is sure to hit closer to home for many Australians. Especially after the spate of shark killings that have occurred off our beaches in the last decade. But the cinematography is a visual monster all by itself and one that demands to be seen on the big screen. To say it is beautiful is an understatement, with stunning overhead shots that soar above crystal clear seas and smooth ethereal underwater scenes. There are a few moments where time drags, as the filmmakers set up the scene and amp up the anticipation for the inevitable attack. However creating contrasts are what survival stories are all about. Close ups of surf straps and rubbery wetsuits are all-important to understand just how versatile they can be down the track. Best of all, the camera itself acts like a shark, its leering gaze drifting towards Nancy’s legs to create a deliberate attempt at audience discomfort. There is a trade-off though in paying too much attention to the landscape, with the film sometimes losing the fear and ferocity of its main attraction.
On a serious note, one must acknowledge the potentially dangerous flaws with such a flick, considering its misrepresentation of sharks. Just as Jaws spawned an interest in popularizing the recreational killing of sharks and vilified the creatures of the deep, so too does this movie treat them with little respect. Despite being an endangered species and one that rarely interacts willingly with humans, the shark in The Shallows is represented as a revenge-fuelled predator, more intent on knocking women off whales than feeding on the plentiful bounty its blubber would provide. What the film does point out though is how overfishing can push these creatures closer to human territory. It’s a shame Hollywood can’t sell science instead of fear in their films.
The Shallows might not be in the same league as Jaws, but you can feel it chomping at the bits to honour it. It even has the same slightly corny humour, with the best part of the film a bird aptly called ‘Steven Seagull’. The faithful friend is easily interpretable as a sign of Nancy’s late mother and it’s a heart-warming touch considering the lack of real backstory provided. Although the film adds little to the already established shark genre, it’s a rollicking ride and a throwback to classic edge-of-your-seat thrillers, where you can smell the saltwater, taste the seaspray and feel the searing sun on your face. Just what we all need before summer rolls in and we wonder whether it’s safe to enter the water.
Rating: 3 Teeth out of 5
The days of classic popcorn munching movies seem to be behind us, giving way to action extravaganzas and heavy-handed historical dramas. It’s arguably a hard line to tread, finding the necessary amount of action, drama, romance and comedy that made the genres 80's and 90's counterparts so rewarding. While Warner Bros new film The Legend of Tarzan (2016) doesn’t quite reach this, it is the closest we’ve seen in years. Delivering on its tagline ‘Human. Nature’, it is hard not to feel compelled by the greater moral plight of the film and despite being a complex CGI jumble, it must be commended on providing pure escapism fun.
The film deviates from the beloved Disney classic most viewers would know, instead following Tarzan’s (Alexander Skarsgard) journey back to the African Congo eight years after he has acclimatised to life in London as the Lord of Greystoke manor, John Clayton III. King Leopold of Belgium needs funds to finance his new army and so sends his confidant Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to acquire the diamonds of Opar. With the native tribes fiercely protecting the lands, Rom strikes a deal with their leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to bring Tarzan to him so he might exact his revenge for the death of his son. Convinced by American freeman and human rights activist George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to help him obtain proof of the areas slavery, Tarzan heads back ‘home’ with wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in tow, unbeknownst to the set-up awaiting him by Rom. As the devilish villain kidnaps Jane, Tarzan sets aside his civility to get her back, becoming the King of the jungle once more.
Director David Yates infuses his piece with authenticity and atmosphere, the scope overflowing from the moment we set eyes on the mist-filled jungle. The soundtrack adds to this, the drums and chorus of voices building and accentuating the untameable setting. The action increases in scale and magnitude the further into the film we go, as Tarzan slowly loses himself to the jungle. Car chases might be cool, but The Legend of Tarzan reminds us that so are wildebeest stampedes through African towns. Sadly, cliché carves its way into the film at times though, especially as Tarzan’s renowned cry resonated through the third act. While he may be the legend of a ghost in the trees, in the age of Marvel and DC, a mortal man will never be quite as cool as superheroes.
Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the civil war and the man who persuades Tarzan to head back to the Congo out of his desire to end slavery, is perhaps the best character in the film. While Alexander Skarsgard spends half the movie shirtless, delivering us one of the best bodies ever put to film, and Margot Robbie is completely enthralling as the ‘damsel in distress’ Jane, Jackson is the one that represents us all. He is the average guy who can’t keep up, the one who gets tired after running flat-track throughout the forest and the third wheel to the whole situation. He’s riveting, bringing his iconic quirky charm to what could easily have been a run-of-the-mill sidekick. In contrast, if any of the actors seem like they are suffering it would be Christoph Waltz, who plays his villain so two-dimensionally he could have fallen asleep half-way through and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The Academy Award winner suffers from villain fatigue, having played a similar role in Spectre (2015), Water for Elephants (2011) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).
There are flaws to the film though, notably the heavy dependence on CGI that was clearly not the ‘all expenses paid’ version utilised in this year’s similarly themed The Jungle Book (2016). Instead, the film was shot almost entirely on a soundstage in England and despite cinematographer Henry Braham’s best efforts to intersperse these scenes with the real-life stunning scenery of Africa, we always feel somewhat disjointed. That being said, when Tarzan takes flight among the jungles vines, there is a grace and fluidity to his motions. He is pure, unadulterated, animalistic energy surging through the wild and that’s pretty special to see. There is a gravitas to this version that you don’t get from the camp and musically-infused predecessors and despite what critics have been saying it’s a fresh and fun change.
The film’s biggest victory is in the fact it dares to acknowledge so many crucial social issues. Colonialism and conservation ideals are abundant throughout, symbolised by a group of Africans chained at the neck and within the soulful connection between mythical man and brutish beast. Feminism and anti-greed sentiments are also paraded about, albeit to less effect. Such heavy topics have a trade-off however, with the ideals going over the heads of the many younger audience members who have been drawn to the film based off Disney’s 1999 production. There is a deeper and darker narrative here, which deserves a more mature audience and there’s nothing wrong with that. At its core, The Legend of Tarzan is a romance built upon the endearing relationship between the King of the Jungle and his American girl. And as Jane remarks, even an ordinary man can do extraordinary things for the one he loves.
Rating: 3.5 Shirtless Skarsgards out of 5
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