“There’s Been Whispers Of A Thief. He’s Got Our Commoner’s Looking Up, Seeing Hope…”
With the unintentional hilarity which ensued during last year’s dire attempt to recreate one British legend in the form of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which a cameo from David Beckham was one of the better aspects of the movie, Hollywood’s obsession with re-hashing well versed tales of adventure and heroism continues with yet another adaptation of Robin Hood, succeeding Ridley Scott’s mediocre 2010 version as the most contemporary telling and one which utilises the talents of Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) in the titular role. Directed by Otto Bathurst, a British filmmaker famous so far for his acclaimed work on the likes of Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders, and based on a debut script from Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood circa 2018 somehow manages to leapfrog in front of Guy Ritchie’s work of nonsensical silliness with relative ease in terms of cinematic woefulness, channelling an off-kilter tonal mix between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as it attempts to redefine the age-old tale with a strange stylistic decision which seems to cater particularly for audiences who are simply after a slice of mindless fun. Unfortunately for Bathurst and co, Robin Hood isn’t a movie which can be branded with such positivity, bordering instead more on the edge of being totally irredeemable as it slogs its’ way through a two hour incoherent mess featuring awfully slim characters, a laughably bad script and feeling that once again a supposed future cinematic franchise dies spectacularly with its’ first attempt. Whoops.
Opening with a cockney-geezer voice-over which instructs its’ awaiting audience to forget everything they know about the tale of Robin of Loxley and be amazed at a fresh new take of the historic legend, hilariously, such a statement is ultimately completely contradicted almost immediately thanks to one of the most lazily constructed and cliched scripts not only this year but in living memory. Introducing our central hero as a toffee-nosed, obnoxious ruling class beefcake who quickly chooses to swap allegiances after four years of war, Egerton is charming to an extent but ultimately feels wickedly miscast as he is simply directed to portray a hooded version of his character from Kingsman, awful accent and all, and therefore loses all sense of belief in a performance which at times crossed into the realm of on-screen pantomime. Joining him on this list of miscastings, Jamie Foxx’s (Baby Driver) role as a dodgily accented prisoner of war turned teacher is the American’s worst on-screen appearance in recent history, whilst joining in on the pantomime sensibility of the film is surprisingly Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), an actor who aside from slowly being typecast as the turn-to Hollywood sneering villain, pulls off the most OTT and overly camp lead villain performance since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. With woefully directed action set pieces which include a jaw-droppingly misjudged opening scene set in a Iraqi inspired third-world war zone, automatic crossbows and all, and a penchant for utilising the “art” of slow-motion to paint over the pants choreography which seems directly inspired from similar tactics used in King Arthur, the latest version of Robin Hood isn’t just bad, it’s a lazy, pointless and amateurish so-called “blockbuster” which makes Guy Ritchie look like the reincarnation of Stanley Kubrick. Avoid like a CGI arrow to the chest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“The Country Is In A State Of Complete Chaos And The Universe Sends Me You…”
Winning the award for least anticipated sequel of the year, Johnny English Strikes Again sees the return of Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling British secret agent following on from his first appearance on screen in 2003 and its’ sequel, Johnny English Reborn in 2011. Directed by Northern Irish big-screen debutante, David Kerr, the third installment of the spy spoof franchise is ninety minutes of pretty much what you would expect from a Johnny English movie, offering PG friendly slapstick comedy within a selection of sketches which are marginally worked around the thinnest of narratives which sees English hooked back into the payroll of MI7 after every single serving secret agent’s identity across the globe is revealed by an unknown, tech savvy hacker. Whilst most critics will undeniably head into Strikes Again fully aware of the certainty that the next Citizen Kane won’t exactly be waiting for them inside, the real litmus test for Kerr’s movie resides in the way in which it manages to work to its’ strengths, and whilst Strikes Again fails to offer anything fresh or interesting to the catalogue of spy-spoof comedies, Atkinson’s undeniable smirk-inducing talent results in a movie preferably best watched when either drunk or with highly energetic friends. Or even both.
With a high proportion of the funniest set pieces readily available within the movie’s trailer, ranging from a diabolical attempt at utilising cutting edge virtual reality to the complete and utter destruction of a classy, world renowned yacht, Strikes Again does manage to capatalise on Atkinson’s hilarious slapstick persona to a somewhat effective degree, and with the film’s best gag undeniably an elongated riff on a similar comedic routine seen in Jon S. Baird’s 2013 black comedy, Filth, in which English feels the effect of adrenaline enhancing drugs, it’s hard to prevent smiles being cracked even when you know the film as whole is absolute tosh. With the enigmatic presence of Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) chewing the scenery as the opinionated, wine-dependant British Prime Minister, the more the movie remembers it has to at least follow some sort of plot is when it ultimately crumbles to pieces, with Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Jake Lacy (Rampage) managing to supply performances both instantly forgettable and agonisingly dull, and whilst it’s quite sanctimonious to hate on a film not exactly aiming for anyone other than a child-friendly audience, Strikes Again manages to be neither good nor bad, just ridiculous nonsense.
Overall Score: 5/10
“What You’re Hunting Is Rabid Animals. You Should Go In Knowing You’ll Probably Die…”
With Nicolas Cage primarily confining himself to acting roles within releases of a more B-movie nature since the turn of the twenty first century, its’ understandable when both critics and audiences alike approach the latest Cage-led flick with a slight tingle of trepidation, particularly one which heads onto the big screen following a widening level of support and critical praise, and in the case of Mandy, the second feature from Italian director, Panos Cosmatos, Cage’s latest arrives with exactly that, with an array of extensive positive reports clinging to its’ back after the film’s debut showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival back in January. Blending supernatural horror with gross-out, exploitation levels of gore, Cosmatos’ latest is as wacky and unpredictable as the temperament of its’ leading star, a movie which synchronises a Death Wish-esque revenge plot with a beautiful, stylish design, accumulating in a wickedly entertaining genre piece which fully understands the nature of its’ existence and completely runs with it, resulting in Mandy being not only the most impressive and original Cage-led movie in donkey’s, but one of the most riveting visual and sensual cinematic experiences this year.
Shot entirely with a blushing, blood red colour palette and smokey, dream like cinematography from the excellent hand of Benjamin Loeb, the film’s stylistic approach to the revenge based narrative is a glossy mix of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and strangely enough, the odd-ball, thematic craziness of The Void. Add into the mix an array of truly baffling camera shots which range from morphing, superimposed character close-ups to shadowy, nightmarish long shots, Mandy is a hazy, drug induced stupor of outlandish visual and audio delight, with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, one of his last before his shocking premature death, managing to expertly supplement the crazed, florescent feel of the movie from start to finish. With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Cage and Andrea Riseborough’s (Battle of the Sexes) Mandy, a pair of reclusive outsiders who seem to be reeling from uncertain traumas from their past, the film’s opening hour manages to assemble a true sense of empathy for what follows, as Mandy soon becomes embroiled in a seedy plan hatched by Linus Roache’s (Batman Begins) Jeremiah Sand, the crazed leader of the Children of the New Dawn, a murderous and drug obsessed religious cult.
Because of the first hour’s willingness to allow the main characters of the piece to breathe and expand behind the backdrop of the sheer wondrous and mythical retro spirit which flows throughout the film’s two hour runtime, the second act in which Cage’s Red Miller is let completely off the chain does ultimately feel thoroughly deserved and immediately welcomed with open arms. Because of Cage’s penchant for exaggerated performances throughout his entire career, Cosmatos seems to actively understand and embrace Cage’s odd-ball nature, allowing him to basically play himself for the second half of the movie after a first act where he is somewhat subdued and second to the ever radiant and brilliant Andrea Riseborough. When the film does begin to hit the conventions of revenge genre cinema however, boy does it become a slice of over-the-top brilliance, with intentionally comical insane set pieces, including a truly unhinged chainsaw duel, and S. Craig Zahler levels of exploitation splatter violence all resulting in one of the most enjoyable second acts I have witnessed in a very long time, and with a final, haunting shot of a bloodied, gleaming Nicolas Cage after his mission has well and truly been accomplished, Mandy is a slice of euphoric, wacky unhinged excellence which will, with time, undoubtedly become a infamous cult classic.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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.