“We Fight New Wars. The Old Options, Military, Diplomacy. They Don’t Always Succeed…”
Acting as the fourth collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after Lone Survivor and the excellent one-two of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, Mile 22, based upon a screenplay written by American writer, Lea Carpenter, sees Wahlberg as James Silva, the ferociously agitated, quip-laden sociopathic leader of Overwatch, an elite, CIA-led special ops division who are tasked with traversing the destructive roads of Indonesia as they attempt to extract a prize asset from the country into the United States in return for the location of missing weapons grade plutonium. With Berg’s previous releases successfully managing to balance the re-telling of horrific true events with strong storytelling and well orchestrated action set pieces, Mile 22 manages to bat in completely the opposite direction, with Berg’s latest a film which can only be described as a crazed frenzy of a movie, a ninety minute, action packed head rush which is as violent as it is overly ridiculous, and a movie which results in you leaving the cinema with a guaranteed headache and a high chance of tinnitus as you feel your body become overcome with exhaustion from the events that have occurred before your eyes on screen.
Whilst strictly based on some form of “true story” regarding the existence of the Overwatch programme within contemporary wars across the globe, Mile 22 clearly wavers towards fictionalised events in which Wahlberg’s Silva and his team of cold-hearted killers have free reign to blow up, violently execute and cause as much general havoc as they desire. With paper thin characterisation which mainly focuses on our “heroes'” penchant for killing as effortlessly as possible, this only results in there being no sympathy whatsoever for events which unfold throughout the movie, particularly towards Wahlberg’s Silva, a foul-mouthed, utterly despicable smart-ass, a leading performance which made me wonder whether Wahlberg had actually been incredibly mis-cast due to Wahlberg not at all managing to balance the OTT nature of his character and ends up coming across more annoying than heroic. However, with a heart-stopping editing pace, crunchy action scenes with gunfire aplenty and a rousing, physical performance from arguably the greatest action star of the past decade in the form of Iko Uwais (The Raid, The Raid 2, Headshot), Mile 22 was a film in which I was never bored, and for a film in which its’ mistakes are blindingly obvious, Berg’s latest is a confusing, often manic, all action speed rush which sort of won me over the more it ventured into the realms of complete and utter ridiculousness.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”
With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.
Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Some Bad People Are After Me And Now They’re After You…”
Mixing together the comedic talents of Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms), an actress whose sensual, dramatic performance in Black Swan feels strangely historic considering her own personal penchant for the genre of American comedy since, The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, a returning filmmaker with her first release since 2014’s Life Partners, sees the duo as best friend partnership, Audrey and Morgan, who become embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot after being “dumped” by Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) suave super spy, Drew Thayer. With McKinnon unfortunately being the type of actress who so far in her career seems to have been handed a selection of raw deals when it comes to getting the best out of her natural flair for comedy, with Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party being no more than solid examples of the genre, the same annoyingly can be said for The Spy Who Dumped Me, a surprisingly violent and tonally manic action comedy which falls much too heavy on a reliance for gunshots and action over genuine laughs within a screenplay which makes Rampage look like the most intelligent film of the year by an elongated mile.
With ineffective time jumps utilised at various points of the movie as an attempt to establish some form of characterisation, albeit in its’ most restricted format, the movie takes no time in establishing the layout of the narrative, using awfully constructed moments of naff dialogue to exercise the inevitable exposition before resorting back to endless action set pieces which begin in enjoyable fashion but then end up becoming tedious after the cycle of the movie becomes increasingly obvious come the sixty minute mark. With the film’s two hour running time overstretched by at least forty five minutes, the saving grace of the movie is ultimately its’ leading female stars, with McKinnon and Kunis working expertly well as a kooky double act caught in the cross-hairs of government conspiracy and double crossing international secret agents, and with the added involvement of the always magnanimous Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), girl power at least stops the movie from falling into the black hole of awfulness it may have gone without them. With a few chuckles but no full laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is full-on flash without any residue of substance or memorability, but with committed performances and likeable leading stars, the end result is messy but not exactly intolerable.
Overall Score: 5/10
“There Are Two Kinds Of Pain In This World. The Pain That Hurts, The Pain That Alters…”
With The Equalizer 2 being the first sequel in which Denzel Washington has starred in throughout his luxurious cinematic career so far, it goes to show the trust which has been established between actor and director Antoine Fuqua, a filmmaker who reunites with Washington for the fourth time after the likes of the excellent, Oscar winning Training Day and of course 2014’s The Equalizer, a film based on the 1980’s American television series of the same name in which Washington’s Robert McCall beats down on the evil of the world in an attempt to save the helpless and aid the innocent in the most violent ways possible. Jump forward four years later and McCall returns once again in a sequel which attempts to blend an It’s A Wonderful Life style story arc with gritty, hard-edge violence, culminating in a bit-part character study riddled with rather cliched twists and a strange lifeless tone which pushes the movie forward at almost walking pace, and even with flashes of brilliance at times and Washington at his mercurial best, The Equalizer 2 is still a forgettable sequel which fails to expand upon its’ predecessor in a way which warrants its’ reason for existence.
With the opening thirty minutes re-treading old ground by once again establishing McCall’s “hero for hire” type to an audience who potentially may have completely missed the first movie, Richard Wenk’s screenplay seems more interested in showing how McCall fits into the everyday lives of random residents of Massachusetts instead of actually delivering the promise of the film’s action-packed trailer, and whilst the next thirty minutes attempt to elbow in a murder mystery subplot featuring the return of Melissa Leo’s (The Fighter) Susan Plummer, Fuqua’s movie never really gets going until the final act when the film remembers it is meant to be shelved within the genre of action rather than dour, dramatic nonsense. With Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) providing the most obvious character deception seen in cinema this year, the real fireworks within the movie undoubtedly resides between Washington and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), with McCall’s patriarchal relationship to Sanders’ Miles providing the best scenes of the movie, particularly one set piece in which McCall rescues Miles from a criminal-infested high-rise and emotionally spells out the tight balance between life and death. Whilst there is something within the DNA of the character of McCall which makes him undeniably watchable and interesting, The Equalizer 2 unfortunately does not carry the same sense of intrigue, resulting in Fuqua’s latest being a rather stale sequel which starves both action audiences and Washington fans alike for any real sense of engagement or emotional involvement.
Overall Score: 5/10
“The End You’ve Always Feared Is Coming. It’s Coming, And The Blood Will Be On Your Hands…”
With screenplays for the likes of The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow on Christopher McQuarrie’s cinematic CV, it seemed only natural that McQuarrie would soon helm the US’s most longstanding and successful contemporary action franchise, where the transition from sole screenwriter to director has formed a winning partnership with Tom Cruise since the release of Jack Reacher in 2012 and the critically acclaimed Rogue Nation three years later. Returning to the fold this week with Fallout, the sixth Mission: Impossible release, McQuarrie reunites with the majority of his cast from Rogue Nation including Rebecca Ferguson (Life), Simon Pegg (Star Trek) and Alec Baldwin (The Departed) as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is tasked with retrieving stolen plutonium cores before they fall into the hands of “The Apostles”, a terrorist cell with connections to “The Syndicate”, the primary antagonists from Rogue Nation which featured Sean Harris as their treacherous and anarchic leader. With spectacle in abundance, a barrage of breathless action sequences and an editing pace which holds your head in a storm of jaw-dropping disbelief, Fallout is the ultimate summertime blockbuster, an action movie which mixes style and substance as the best genre movies always do and a shining example of how a series can expand and improve when made with such precision and expertise.
With the franchise in general being more and more renowned for Cruise’s lust for practicality when it comes to stunts and set pieces, Fallout features some of the series’ best examples yet of Cruise at his most insane and death-defying. Whether it be a high-speed The Dark Knight inspired vehicle heist, a Casino Royale and Jason Bourne-esque rooftop chase, or a concluding aerial helicopter pursuit which channelled the opening act of Sam Mendes’ Spectre, Fallout perfectly blends the lines between fiction and reality, offering high-octane action on a constant basis in front of beautiful cinematography by Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) which makes you question how exactly a film which sees Cruise being put through the absolute wringer can be made without an over-reliance on digital effects. With an opening thirty minutes which does strangely drag after being bulked down with a crescendo of generic spy-genre exposition, Fallout isn’t perfect but is undoubtedly saved by the remaining two hours which provide a cracking amount of evidence for being the best example of the genre since Mad Max: Fury Road, and with Cruise and co. so obviously enjoying exploring the capacity for how far the action genre can be pushed to the limit before certain death, from an audience perspective, long may it continue.
Overall Score: 8/10
“The Pearl Is The Tallest, Most Advanced Building In The World…”
With Rampage up there with one of the most tedious examples of over-inflated, digitally enhanced works of blockbuster trash so far this year, following on from the similarly painful endurance test which was last year’s Jumanji remake, it’s fair to say my opinion of Dwayne Johnson’s acting pedigree has somewhat deteriorated recently, but with the release of Skyscraper, the latest movie from Rawson Marshall Thurber who reunites with Johnson after their work together on Central Intelligence, Johnson returns to the bombastic, B-Movie-centric blockbuster hero many have come to love in a movie which revels in its’ utmost absurdity and succeeds in being nothing more than one heck of a fun ride. Based on a screenplay written by Thurber, Skyscraper is the type of disaster movie unashamed to scream out its’ influences as it swerves between a mix of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and Panic Room, with Johnson’s former FBI agent turned amputee security adviser, Will Sawyer, forced into a perilous situation as he attempts to save his family who have been trapped within the titular structure coined “The Pearl” and a terrorist plot helmed by Roland Møller’s (Atomic Blonde) muscular if underwritten Kores Botha.
With the movie taking no time out of its’ harmless ninety minute runtime at all for meaningful characterisation, with even Sawyer’s opening catastrophic life-changing injury flashed through without cliff-notes, Thurber’s screenplay is much more interested in using Johnson’s physicality to influence the story in a fashion which was gratingly absent from the actor’s previous endeavours on screen, particularly in the likes of Rampage when Johnson’s natural charisma was wasted in favour of over-inflated digital pixels and explosions. Whether it be a bruising and practical one-on-one fist fight, holding up crumbling bridges with just his hands or taking a leap of faith with the movie’s most bananas moment as his character evades certain death when jumping from a crane into the heart of the fire ridden tower in order to save his family, Skyscraper is indeed ridiculous, but the type of movie which manages to phase through its’ cheesiness and leave you with an almighty grin, even with the inclusion of corny plot exposition and character deceptions which are so obvious there really wasn’t any need to attempt to hide them in the first place. Whilst offering nothing new whatsoever to the genre in which it sits, Skyscraper is a ninety minute guilty pleasure which reinforces the love for Johnson that was once lost, proving that when placed in the right scenario, The Rock is the man you need to save you from certain death.
Overall Score: 6/10
“If We Want To Save Our Country, We Must Release All Our Anger In One Night…”
With The Purge: Election Year correctly signalling the conclusion of a trilogy which had already outstayed its’ welcome after a triage of films which never really managed to balance the interesting socio-political ideas at the heart of the series with effective elements of horror, even if some of the genre-inspired masks were actually quite creepy, for reasons which can only be regarded as monetary, here we are once again with The First Purge, an unwarranted series prequel which showcases the events of the first ever Purge-related experiment as the idea is authorised for testing within the area of Staten Island, New York City. Written and produced by series stalwart James DeMonaco, who this time takes a backseat from directorial duties and instead hands the reigns to Fruitvale Station producer, Gerard McMurray, The First Purge is a languid, pointless and utterly worthless work of gratuitous nonsense which falls into the trap of its’ predecessors by simply exploiting its’ fundamental notional cornerstone in favour of graphic violence which is eagerly presented without any real sense of meaningful purpose, and even when the same can be said at times for the preceding three movies, McMurray’s take is the first entry to miss the mark in astronomical fashion.
With newcomer Y’Lan Noel’s Dmitri portrayed as the central hero of the piece, a character who earns his money through exploiting a poverty stricken community via drug dealing and murder, it’s fair to say that in terms of the movie’s sense of peril or threat, the radar lands on a resounding zilch, and even with the inclusion of Lex Scott Davis’ morally central, Nya, and brother Isaiah, as played by Joivan Wade (Doctor Who), the chance to break away from the two-dimensional characters in which the actors represent is never offered, resulting in a movie which is tonally cold and utterly un-engaging. With the movie also struggling to contain a lid on the various tonal strands it embarks on, with elements of horror, action and unwarranted comedy all jumbled together like a cinematic equivalent of spin art, the constant and untimely gags end up feeling jarring, with a scene of a sexual assault in particular concluding in a chuckle-some Trump-targeted pop which literally had my mind exercising somersaults of disbelief. With Marisa Tomei (Spider-Man: Homecoming) being criminally underused in favour of happy-go-lucky drug dealers and endless cheap jump scares, The First Purge is a wasted opportunity to represent the series with a new, interesting light, the type of movie which ironically enough, should be purged from our cinema screens as violently and quickly as possible.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Wanna See This Thing Through? I’m Gonna Have To Get, Dirty…”
With Denis Villeneuve showing a wider audience what was to come of his expert film-making prowess back in 2015 with Sicario, a expertly crafted, white-knuckle thriller which laid the basis for the similarly masterful Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 in terms of what the French-Canadian could achieve with the right backing, arguably the more impressive element of the feature was Taylor Sheridan, an American most famous at the time for his stint on Sons of Anarchy but whose screenplay for Sicario was both smart and compelling, one swiftly followed by equally impressive screenplays for both Hell or High Water and Wind River, capping off a trio of superbly written movies. each with a dedicated lust for heavy doses of substance and style in equal measure. Returning to writing duties again for the eagerly anticipated Sicario sequel, subtitled Soldado, the absence of Villeneuve means Italian director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) takes charge of a movie which continues the oppressive, ominous tone of the original whilst working through a genuinely thrilling narrative, one which sees the return of Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War) and Benicio del Toro (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Matt Graver and Alejandro Gillick as they attempt to orchestrate a war between the Mexican cartels after they are seen to be aiding agents of ISIS cross the border in order to carry out their destructive message, and whilst Soldado doesn’t entirely hit the heavy heights of its’ near-perfect predecessor come the end credits, Sollima’s movie is still an unnerving, powerful work of war at its’ most darkest and lawless.
Beginning with a catalogue of terrorist related events, including a jaw-dropping and horrific supermarket explosion in which the camera lingers closely from outside through every familiar step of contemporary terror, Soldado quickly re-introduces the reunion of Graver and Gillick as they are handed the freedom to do as they please in order to combat the ever-increasing Mexican cartel presence on the US-border which has now taken extra precedence due their involvement in potential terror activities. With a central narrative which sees the kidnapping of the young, spoiled daughter of a renowned Mexican cartel boss, one which ultimately results in in-house allegiances being put to the test, Sheridan’s screenplay also follows closely the exploits of newcomer Elijah Rodriguez’s Miguel as he crawls up the ranks of the cartel’s people smuggling operation, and whilst the sequel doesn’t entirely hit the brooding, ambiguity which drove through the entirety of its’ predecessor up until the very end, the tight-knit, unbearable tension does manage to completely follow over, rearing its’ head throughout a high proportion of a movie which aside from one sarcastic aside, primarily holds its’ tone as completely and utterly serious. With a Michael Mann-esque, militaristic sensibility which sees countless shots of rampaging army vehicles cruising across the vacant, perilous landscapes of the US/Mexican border, Soldado is wickedly spectacular in its’ approach to action set pieces, with the piercing sound of bullets echoing the overripe mixing of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk merging spectacularly with endless cinematic screenshots of whirring helicopters, over-head drones and enough firepower to start and end a small coup.
With the inclusion of much more lusciously orchestrated action scenes second time around, the question remains whether the overall screenplay deserves such luxuries, and even as an overall body of work Soldado doesn’t piece together as tightly or rigidly as Sicario, with particular crucial plot threads concluding rather suddenly without any real sense of full-blooded purpose, the avenues which Sheridan’s writing takes us undoubtedly suits the bleak mould of the series, particularly in the movies’ penchant for gut-wrenching murder sequences and a concluding near-death experience which undeniably ranks up there with one of the more brutal character arcs in recent history. With Brolin and del Toro on superb, angst-ridden, macho-growling form, with the latter having much more space for a deeper layer of examination this time around as his character’s uncertain, ambiguous nature is slowly scraped at and given light, young Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) as the similarly tough Isabela Reyes gives an equally impressive performance as the daughter of the cartel boss responsible for the death of Alejandro’s wife and daughter. With a bruising, battling, war torn sensibility which is as tough at times as it is riotously engaging and enjoyable, Soldado is a sequel success story which both pays homage to its’ predecessor with utmost respect whilst developing its’ characters in fascinating ways, and with the possibility of a third film coming to nicely round the series off as a trilogy, one can only query how much further Sheridan can continue his winning scripture streak.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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.