“Hell Of A Day, Huh? Science Experiments Falling From The Sky…”
Ever so slightly based on the incredibly retro arcade games of the same name which began all the way back in 1986, Brad Peyton (San Andreas) returns to the big screen with Rampage, a CGI ridden reunion with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) which sees him front and centre of a science experiment gone massively out of control, resulting in gigantic, destructive beasts being let loose in the heart of Chicago. With the arcade game instructing players to destroy everything and anything in their wake whilst famously controlling an oversized gorilla in order to move on to the next level, Peyton’s movie features a screenplay which attempts to sew together some form of genuine narrative around such, and with the aid of a seemingly unlimited digital effects budget and the presence of Johnson who always seems to lure in the big bucks, such a feat has somehow been accomplished, albeit one far from a standard of quality for the movie to be considered at all successful. With endless mind-numbing action, a ludicrous and thoroughly stupid narrative, and some ropy examples of both effects and acting alike, Peyton’s movie is annoyingly not the fun blockbusting entertainer one may have hoped for, and whilst the movie may not have any issues at the ticket stand, the film seems only to work to a particular audience of which I can proudly admit I bear no chance of being part of.
With the film struggling to hold together a rafter of intertwining plot threads throughout its’ overbearing 100 minute runtime, the first half hour attempts to build up the central relationship between Johnson’s Davis Okoye, a retired soldier turned primatologist, and the albino gorilla, George, whose presence is managed through a mix of effects and Andy Serkis-inspired motion capture, and with it difficult to think of anything other than Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its’ subsequent critically acclaimed sequels when it comes to a cinematic relationship between man and ape, Rampage does manage to hold its’ respective bond to a solid and passable degree. Unfortunately for the rest of the movie, come the latter two-thirds when destruction upon destruction is the central focus for a staggeringly dull and unpleasant period of time, all the good work is undone and the film essentially becomes an amalgamation of Pacific Rim, Transformers and all the other bloated works of cinema which don’t earn their decision for utter and ultimate destructive chaos. Throw into the mix truly awful performances from the likes of Jake Lacy (Their Finest) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), with the latter essentially just doing his role of Negan from The Walking Dead, Peyton’s mix is a real uninteresting work of nonsense which fails to capture both the enjoyment of the video game in which it derives from and the guilty pleasure sensibility in which it undeniably should have aimed for.
Overall Score: 3/10
“How Did Faith Work Out For Those People..?”
Acting as a more than unnecessary reboot of the Michael Winner 1974 film of the same name, torture porn aficionado, Eli Roth (Hostel, Knock Knock) takes control of Death Wish, a ridiculously mainstream B-Movie attempt which swaps Charles Bronson for Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey who wreaks havoc on the criminal fraternities of Chicago after his wife and daughter are caught up in a robbery gone violently wrong. Forged around a screenplay by Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The Grey), Roth’s latest is a strangely inert and viciously edited piece of nonsense which although fails to live up to perhaps the levels of incompetence many would suspect, is still a cliched and generously predictable ninety minutes with a Bruce Willis on hilarious form with arguably his worst on-screen performance in his entire career thus far. With vigilante justice a mainstay of cinema and television alike, with John Wick: Chapter Two and Netflix’s thoroughly entertaining The Punisher released in the past year, albeit one delayed due to questionable murmurings regarding its’ violent tendencies, the argument for whether yet another film depicting the horrors of U.S gun control in a day and age ripe with high profile massacres and murders is simply one I tend to stay away from, with instead focus directed primarily on the film as a work of cinema, rather its’ place in the overriding social stratosphere.
Unfortunately for Roth however, his decision to focus wholly on the power of violence and delights of retribution without any flip-side or depth to the film’s leading character is where the movie ultimately fails, with Death Wish oh so quickly falling into a pattern of an on-screen violent murder followed by minimalist discussion through random radio off-cuts and then quickly back to yet another violent death without any real sense of purpose or character development other than just Willis’ Kersey simply acting as cannon fodder for the film’s plodding progression. For example, in a remarkably misjudged scene, Willis’ Kersey enters a gun store with a busty, flirty female sales assistant happily flouting the power of the many weapons on show with Kersey questioning how easy it is for him to purchase such weapons, a question which I, and perhaps the entire audience, assumed would then proceed to satire the sordid state of affairs American gun control is currently in. Shockingly however, this discussion then leads to a scene later in the movie when Kersey returns hand in glove with a desire to purchase everything and anything in order to violently massacre whom he sees fit, showing that in fact, Roth’s view of the American weapon fascination is only for the greater good. With the film so obviously edited to fit under the umbrella of the 15 certificate that at times the picture jumps frames so violently you feel as if you’ve been shot yourself, Death Wish is still not exactly terrible and at just over ninety minutes, is sort of bearable to some degree, but with lazy decisions and a god-awful Willis, Roth’s movie is still utter nonsense.
Overall Score: 4/10
“This Is The Way The World Ends…”
With Guillermo del Toro joyously arriving home earlier this month with a couple of Academy Awards in his back pocket for The Shape of Water, his latest rousing critical success is brought somewhat back down to earth with the release of Pacific Rim Uprising, a sequel to del Toro’s 2013 ridiculously silly action gargantuan which in all fairness, is more painfully cheesy than entertaining, and a film which brings to mind the middling rough patch the Mexican seemingly went through before this year’s resounding return to form. Swapping the director’s chair for a producing role however, the job of taking hold of the unnecessary sequel falls to Steven S. DeKnight of Daredevil Season One fame, undeniably the strongest Marvel/Netflix release to date, whose big-screen debut features John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Jake Pentecost, son of the legendary General Stacker Pentecost as portrayed by Idris Elba (Thor: Ragnarok) in the first film, who swaps his life of thieving and black market dealings for a return to the fold in line with the Jaeger program after a fresh threat arises from the destructive, otherworldly Kaiju. With awful dialogue, a woeful lack of emotional investment and endless, mind-numbing overblown action set pieces, Uprising is unsurprisingly utter tosh, and even when some of the characters at times threaten to make the film more interesting than it should be, it’s plain to see that the main function of DeKnight’s cinematic debut is of course, solely monetary.
Whilst the first feature was just straightforward, unadulterated nonsense with an added layer of awfulness due to Charlie Hunnam’s vacuous leading character, the performances of both Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi meant that the film was at least likeable to a certain degree, and with the latter one of the more interesting returning characters added to the fold once again, her particular narrative strand within Uprising is systemic to the problems of the film. Far too many times are new and returning characters given so little to do in terms of engaging character development that when the film does eventually heed to the wishes of its’ true and fundamental natures in the form of CGI-engulfed action sequences, not one audience member actually really cares who does what and who makes it out alive. With it becoming patently clear that any movie touched by the woeful “talent” of both Charlie Day (Fist Fight) and Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad) is destined to be labelled as god-awful, Uprising does at least benefit from a committed, cockney-fuelled performance from the ever-charismatic Boyega and a runtime which improves on the staggeringly long length of its’ predecessor, but with a concluding act which makes Man of Steel look like a Woody Allen movie and a jarring post-credits sequence which makes you roll your eyes in utter condemnation of the movie’s future possibilities, Uprising doesn’t totally suck, it’s just the type of movie you watch with a blank expression and let it leave your consciousness as soon as its’ over. If you stay awake that is.
Overall Score: 4/10
“You Messed With The Wrong Family…”
With Angelina Jolie and co. all the way back in 2001 showing how not to make a half decent video game adaptation with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a movie perhaps best remembered for featuring a pre-martini’d Daniel Craig in his youthful glory and the most annoying supporting character ever in the form of Noah Taylor’s I.T addicted Brit, here we are seventeen years later bearing witness to yet another cinematic franchise reboot with Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) taking over the reigns as the titular wall climbing heroine. Based upon the similarly titled 2013 video game from developers Square Enix, a game of which I can confess to playing from beginning to end and thoroughly enjoying, Tomb Raider, directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave) follows the more robust and hunter-gatherer motif of the rebooted game series, utilising a much younger and innocent Croft as she develops her skills and understanding of the mystical forces of nature in a Casino Royale styled coming-of-age fashion, and whilst the movie does remain loyal to its’ foundations with some interesting ideas and a dedicated leading lady, Uthaug’s movie is still slightly under par of something which should have been much more entertaining.
With Vikander adding a staggering amount of muscle in preparation for the role, her physical demeanour and willingness to at least look the part lands kudos points on her as an individual, and whilst the Swede is an undeniably likeable leading star, her approach to the role of Lara Croft is somewhat undermined by a screenplay which tends to verge on the edge of slumbering dullness, particularly in its’ first half when we move from the urban wasteland of contemporary London through to the mysterious island of Yamatai via a stop-off in a thieve-ridden Hong Kong. Where the movie does eventually pick up the pace is in Croft’s discovery of the island she so dearly seeks in order to answer questions regarding her father’s disappearance, an area which formed the basis of the 2013 video game, and a location which introduces both Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) as the underwritten primary antagonist and Dominic West’s (The Wire) hermit-esque and poorly wigged father figure whose narrative arc does seem relatively cliched. Concluding with a poorly managed “twist” which comes across as the definition of shark jumping, Tomb Raider is a somewhat mediocre blockbuster adventure and one which suffers primarily from a tendency for action over substance, but with Vikander an enjoyable leading presence with a kick-ass sensibility, the latest video game adaptation just about crosses the line.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Why Do I Always Get Screwed For Doing My Job…?”
Itching with a sense of Hollywood styled nepotism, director Nash Edgerton brings brother Joel (Red Sparrow), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Oxford’s own, David Oyelowo (Selma) aboard for his directorial debut, Gringo, a kooky, wildly inconsistent crime caper based on a screenplay by both Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone which sees Oyelowo’s white-collared Harold Soyinka caught between his sickeningly narcissistic bosses and the murderous ventures of the Mexican cartel as attempts to reconstruct his life based around cheating partners and financial ills by conning his way into a paycheck suitable enough to begin a new life. With the trailers somewhat misleading the movie’s true intentions by presenting it as a full bodied comedy, Gringo instead is the type of movie which can’t seem to make up its’ mind as it grinds solemnly through a runtime which edges just under two hours, and whilst each of the cast members give it their all in attempting to breathe some sort of life into proceedings, Edgerton’s movie just doesn’t seem to leave any sort of meaningful impression and simply comes in via one ear and departs swiftly out of the other.
Beginning by laying the foundations for the misfortunes which await Oyelowo’s titular “Gringo” as he follows Theron and Edgerton’s success craved business partners across the Mexican border in order to talk business regarding the sale of a marijuana-infused pill, Edgerton’s movie takes time to really set sail, with a first half unsure of its’ ultimate direction resulting in losing audience interest rather swiftly, and even as the action unfolds once we hit the the sunny sights of a gangland infested Mexico, Gringo doesn’t at any time hit a steady stride in regards to what we as the audience are meant to be taking in and dissecting. A few chuckles aside, Gringo doesn’t ultimately work as a comedy either and is a film better served being admired as a Guy Ritchie-esque double crossing caper, just without the freshness of a Lock, Stock… or the zesty absurdity of a Snatch, and with a thrown in penchant for unnecessary violence and crude stereotypes regarding one-dimensional Mexican citizens, Edgerton’s movie is a strangely dull mixed bag of a movie. With the trio of front and centre stars all managing to come across somewhat watchable however, with Oyelowo’s likeable luckless lead the obvious standout, Gringo isn’t exactly poor, it’s just badly managed, and for a cast this talented at the heart of it, Edgerton’s debut could, and should have, been much, much sharper.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Are Not Yakuza. You Are A Gaijin. An Outsider…”
With Bright, Mute and The Cloverfield Paradox a trio of big budget movies which have used Netflix as the chosen platform for their respective release over the course of the past six months or so, it’s fair to say that so far, critical consensus has been, let’s just say, less than positive for anything with the Netflix branding tainted on it, aside from the likes of Okja and Annihilation which have seemingly broken the bog awful standard set so thus far. Another week, another small screen offering however, with Netflix turning to Jared Leto this time in The Outsider, a generic, yet overly functional, crime thriller which utilises the much commentated approach of placing the American in the heart of post-war Japan as he rises up the ranks of the Yakuza after saving the life of Tadanobu Asano’s (Silence) long-serving crime boss, Kiyoshi, in prison. With a nihilistic, unnerving tone and both underwritten characters and subplots, director Martin Zandvliet’s approach to handling the inclusion of Leto’s wandering military ghost figure, Nick Lowell, is not exactly justified, with the narrative more focused on handling a whistle stop tour of violent deeds and double crossing than ever coming up with a valid reason for his inclusion in a primarily Japanese cast, but with enough style to at least hold your attention whilst it works its’ way from A to B, The Outsider is just about good enough to warrant two hours of your in-home small screen.
With attention obviously centred around the fundamental plot hole regarding whether a titular “outsider”, or in the words of the Japanese themselves, a “gaijin”, would ever be allowed into the strict ruling of the Yakuza traditions, the idea itself is one of interesting possibilities, but with a narrative starved of substance and an overripe, unnecessary violent streak, The Outsider is strangely unimaginative, utilising generic tropes of in-house familial power struggles to carve out a strangely tacked-on ending after we witness Leto’s Nick progress from messy haired prisoner to sharply dressed gangster with added cheekbones. Whilst the performance of Leto himself is similar to attempting Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive without half the acting ability or talent, his fundamental dullness is entirely down to the writing, where although the primary focus of the movie is seemingly meant to infiltrate the ways of the Yakuza through the eyes of a Westernised psychopath, the audience is instead left with an empty vessel which violently acts out whenever he feels the audience may be starting to lose patience. Whilst The Outsider is undeniably messy therefore and full of ludicrous implausibilities, Martin Zandvliet’s latest still managed to keep me interested however, and for a film which manages to have so many weaknesses and still hold me until the end, something somewhere ultimately worked.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Keep Your Eyes Open. Every Cop In The Country Is Going To Be Looking For Us…”
Being an avid hater of most things which bear the name Gerard Butler in the closing credits, the release of Den of Thieves unsurprisingly accompanied a heavy sense of sadness at potentially spending yet another two hours sat in a screening which results in time ultimately being well and truly wasted, and with London Has Fallen screenwriter, Christian Gudegast, on directorial duties for the very first time in his career, it’s not exactly hard to imagine why on entering the auditorium in preparation for Gudegast’s movie, my heart became just a tiny bit heavier. Whilst I’m more than adjusted through years of movie-going experiences to sometimes accepting and devouring a slice of humble pie, Den of Thieves is unebelieavably the sort of movie which raises above the sordid expectations set upon it in a somewhat miraculous fashion and leaves you shamelessly declaring out loud how wrong you were in the first place, a movie which presents itself as a slick, if sometimes silly and overly cliched, action romp which although is nothing entirely original or groundbreaking, still manages to be a worthwhile trip of high octane guilty pleasure. Praise the lord, we have a miracle.
Focusing on two teams either side of the law, each with their own questionable moral compasses and a penchant for steroid infused workouts, Den of Thieves undeniably pays a significant homage to Michael Mann’s 1995 crime masterpiece, Heat, in more ways than none, with the narrative essentially switching Al Pacino for Gerard Butler (300) and Robert De Niro for Pablo Schreiber (Orange Is The New Black), and whilst on paper such a switch seems similar to swapping Ferrari for Nissan, Gudegast’s penchant for style and solid eye for action set pieces and well orchestrated heist scenes means that within a overly similar tale of cops and robbers, the debutante’s movie packs a significantly entertaining punch and manages to hold your attention throughout its’ bulky two and a half hour runtime. With Butler actually managing to not be entirely god awful, with even the staggeringly underplayed bad boy lifestyle in which his character partakes failing to undermine his performance, and the rest of the high profile cast including O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Southpaw) all giving a solid case for their inclusion, Den of Thieves is undoubtedly one of the surprises of the year, and even with a “I gotcha!” style ending which wouldn’t have gone amiss in Hustle, Gudegast’s movie is actually pretty darn good, and for someone who was sharpening their knife going into it, that’s damn fine praise indeed.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Started This Together. We May As Well End It That Way Too…”
Whilst probably not the best person in some way to comment on a concluding act to a trilogy of which I have been completely absent from up to now, the latest entry into the Maze Runner series, directed by franchise stalwart, Wes Ball, brings to end arguably the most uninteresting young adult dystopian book adaptation to date, one which seemed in all honesty to exist primarily in order to latch onto the success of the far superior Hunger Games, and whilst I always revel in the chance to be proved wrong, The Death Cure is unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, a complete and utter elongated drag, one which fails to ignite any sense of interest or involvement throughout its’ unbelievably running time and a film which although is primarily designed for the younger side of audiences, seems entirely misjudged and altogether unrewarding. Beginning in a Skyfall-esque fashion with a somewhat well executed train heist, The Death Cure follows Dylan O’Brien’s (American Assassin) indestructible Thomas and his merry band of wavy hair followers through a Mad Max inspired landscape in order to save Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, who has been captured by the ridiculously named organisation, WCKD, in order to utilise his immunity to a virus unlike 28 Days Later’s rage virus and potentially save the remaining human race. Sound convoluted? That’s just the start.
Whilst I am all for spectacle-infused action carnage which sides with brass over an influx of brains, Ball’s movie is fundamentally one which reeks of glaring similarity, and whilst the film seems to be at least made with a somewhat dedicated respect to the source material, the movie ultimately suffers due to a wavering and uncertain narrative and an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but too are characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been simply plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. With Dylan O’Brien in the leading role as the one-note resistance cornerstone, Thomas, his performance similarly seems to have been simply transferred from the set of last year’s American Assassin, with the actor once again proving that with even the strongest will in the world, the American is still one of the most boring leading performers working today, and with the film personifying the term, deus ex machina, thanks to a constant stream of deadly set pieces which are suddenly revoked thanks to laughably bad saviours who seem to pop out of the cinematic ether for no apparent reason, The Death Cure is a shark-jumping bore of the highest order.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Nineteen Men Attacked Our Country. The Twelve Of You Will Be The First To Fight Back…”
Growing up throughout the late 1990’s and the early 20th century, whenever the name, Jerry Bruckheimer, appeared on the opening credits of a movie, my action loving, adrenaline fuelled teenage mind would jump in extended joy at the knowledge that what lay ahead was an eye-watering level of action and adventure which had me sold from the word, go. Whether it be The Rock, Bad Boys or Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, the standardised Bruckheimer release tends to consist of hyperbolic explosions, rugged leading heroes, and of course, guns, lots of guns, and what we have with 12 Strong, the directorial debut of Swedish filmmaker, Nicolai Fuglsig, is indeed a movie which confines strictly to such a model with a steady degree of success. Set directly after the events of 9/11, 12 Strong follows Chris Hemsworth’s (Thor) inexperienced Captain Mitch Nelson as he leads his titular team of warriors into the heart of Afghanistan in order to broaden alliances with Navid Negahban’s (American Assassin) General Abdul Rashid Dostum and strike back against the threat of the Taliban, personified by Numan Acar’s (The Great Wall) murderous leader, Razzan.
Based upon Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers”, Fuglsig’s movie is full to the brim with mechanical, macho mayhem with notions about the price of war and the effect of 9/11 on the wider world simply glanced at in favour of endless action set pieces and somewhat cliched, emotionally manipulative character development. Thankfully for the first-time director however, the sheer spectacle and scale of the aforementioned action presented on-screen is surprisingly well done, with the mixture of well-tempered violence and sound design managing to inflict a rigorous amount of tension, and even when it becomes somewhat easy to giggle at witnessing a tight muscled Chris Hemsworth riding into battle upon a horse in a War for the Planet of the Apes-esque manner, 12 Strong doesn’t ever become too mindless to lose its’ audience completely. With a ensemble cast featuring the likes of Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Michael Peña (End of Watch) and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, the chemistry between the band of brothers is solidly captured, and whilst the film does seem at least twenty minutes too long, with a sense of familiarity and repetitiveness hanging over it come the concluding act, Fuglsig’s first shot at Hollywood is entertaining enough, and even with a ridiculously bald William Fichtner, 12 Strong is the type of Bruckheimer release I would have drooled over as a child, explosions and all. Bring the popcorn.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.