“These Creatures Were Here Before Us. And If We’re Not Careful, They’re Going To Be Here After…”
With Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World managing to take an eye-watering amount of cash at both the worldwide and U.S domestic box office back in 2015, a sequel to the return to all things dinosaurs was rather unsurprising and expected giving the current cinematic climate, and with Fallen Kingdom adding to the already mind-blowing array of big-screen blockbusters within the past six months, 2018 seems to be the year to beat in terms of record breaking ticket sales. With Trevorrow taking a step back from directorial duties for the time being, with the American reduced to executive producer before returning to the director’s chair for the third Jurassic World instalment in 2021, The Orphanage and A Monster Calls director, J. A. Bayona takes control of a middle trilogy entry which remains high on gorgeous spectacle and charismatic characters, but one too which is aching for any meaningful level of substance, but with a flashy, beautifully designed catalogue of reincarnated dinosaurs and a riveting potential set-up for Jurassic World part three, Fallen Kingdom is a popcorn-induced exercise of cinematic box-ticking which becomes more rewarding the less you examine its’ rather obvious many faults.
With the movie sweeping towards you with a break-neck speed from the outset, the frenetic pacing of the piece provides quite obviously a film which may have benefited from being broken in two, with the first hour dedicated to a return to Isla Nubar, the titular home of the Jurassic Park franchise, for the basis of a rescue operation after the introduction of previously inactive volcano which is set on eradicating all life on the island, and the second hour a hammer-horror style exaggerated set-piece which sees the newly created Indoraptor wreak havoc within the confines of a mansion where the richest of the rich have come to exploit the now captured prehistoric beasts. With characterisation out the window and the emphasis instead on set pieces, Bayona’s movie attempts to juggle a wide range of interesting notions, ranging from animal rights to the strange inclusion of human cloning, amidst continuous destruction in order to both add something original and stay faithful to audiences who come to just see dinosaur mayhem on-screen, and whilst the end result is messy, the attempt can at least be applauded, particularly when some of the more downright horror inflicted elements of the movie work rather efficiently. With a handful of gorgeously executed shots, including the sight of a sole dinosaur being swollen up by the darkness of an on-shore volcano and the biggest survival downhill run seen in years, Bayona’s take on the Jurassic World franchise is admirable and engaging enough to paint over the creases, and with a tantalising premise hinted at during its’ conclusion, Fallen Kingdom is undoubtedly the middle act of a wider scheme which does its’ duties well enough to suit the generic movie-going audience eager for some explosive digital dinosaur action.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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
“This Isn’t Just A Game. I’m Talking About Actual Life And Death Stuff…”
With The Post earlier this year garnering a wide flurry of Oscar nominations and a critical consensus which boarded on the side of rousing positivity, a return to form for director Steven Spielberg after the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The BFG was welcomed with open arms, and with only three months since its’ release here in the UK, Spielberg returns once again to the movie-fold with Ready Player One, a cinematic adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction adventure novel of the same name. Projected in 3D for its’ preview screening release, Spielberg’s latest primarily focuses on Tye Sheridan’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Wade Watts, a slum-stricken teen who uses the environment of the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming platform created by Mark Rylance’s (Dunkirk) recently deceased James Halliday, to both escape his daily slumber and more importantly, to join many others in the hunt for three “Easter Eggs” left within the game by Halliday before his death which give the finder both riches beyond belief and the key to control of the entire OASIS itself. With pop culture references galore and an upbeat, heroic sensibility, Spielberg’s latest undeniably should work in the hands of a filmmaker renowned for popcorn delights, but with a brain scorching over-reliance on digital effects and a screenplay both absent of emotion and effective engagement, Ready Player One doesn’t work as a whole and is merely saved by individual elements which make it passable rather than thoroughly entertaining.
With an obvious social commentary regarding the nature and impact of modern technology, Spielberg’s movie mixes the subversive ideas within Cronenberg’s Existenz and Videodrome with a obvious love for the science fiction genre in its’ eye-watering levels of on-screen references, levels which makes The Cabin in the Woods look like a passing fling with its’ respective horror genre, but too a staggering amount which by the half-way point does become overly tacky and cheap. With an entire segment dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the set-piece is a real bottle spinner in regards to how one might respond, with my own personal obsession with Kubrick’s masterpiece resulting in a subverted distaste to seeing our on-screen heroes quickly pop through the Overlook Hotel, music cues and all, and instead making me think how I would rather be watching The Shining instead. With Ready Player One a movie which Spielberg himself has coined as the most difficult movie he’s worked on since Saving Private Ryan due to the staggering levels of visual effects, the CGI battle scenes really aren’t worth the time, particularly in a final act which boarders on George Lucas style dullness and a complete lack of character engagement when at least eighty percent of the film is spent inside the OASIS itself with digitally designed “avatars”. With Ben Mendelsohn once again resigned to Rogue One style typecasting as the film’s one-note central antagonist and a ear-scraping level of exposition heavy dialogue, Ready Player One certainly has more negative aspects than positive, and for a director who time and time again has proven that giant gargantuan science fiction spectacle is part and parcel of his day job, Spielberg’s latest annoyingly doesn’t hit the heavy heights we are all very much used to.
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
“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Paddington Wouldn’t Hesitate If Any Of Us Needed Help! He Looks For The Good In All Of Us…”
Amidst talk of political scandals, sexual harassment allegations and the threat of nuclear armageddon, what an absolutely fantastic and necessary time it seems for the release of Paddington 2, Paul King’s live-action sequel to the runaway success of the titular Peruvian bear’s first real big screen appearance back in 2014, a film which not only put the marmalade loving charmer back into the hearts of millions, but reminded that when done well, the reinvention of a classic, culturally important character can lead to successes for both filmmaker and its’ respective audience. With the inevitable sequel upon us therefore, Paddington 2 reunites the bulk of the original movie’s cast with the added inclusion of acting heavyweights Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson, and whilst sequels rarely surpass the brilliance of their predecessor, King’s return is an undeniable heartwarming delight from beginning to end, utilising Paddington’s fundamental characteristics of kind-willed ignorance to great comedic effect, alongside a note perfect ensemble cast who seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the audience within a movie which perfectly caters to younglings and adults alike. Anyone for marmalade?
With Paddington well and truly moulded into the lives of the Brown family, his attempts to raise money for an exquisitely designed pop-up book for Aunt Lucy is thwarted when the item is stolen and Paddington blamed, resulting in the Peruvian settler quickly incarcerated alongside the menacing figure Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty. With a plan on the outside from the Brown family to locate the real culprit, with Hugh Grant’s narcissistic Phoenix Buchanan being the top target, Paddington has to use all his charm and unwavering loyalty to escape prison and clear his name. With comedic elements which seem to have been directly influenced from the likes of Monty Python and the movies of Wes Anderson, with the prison sequences almost uncannily referencing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and emotive, beautiful set pieces including an early journey through a pop-up view of London and a concluding reunion which is bound to make even the sternest of audiences reach for the tissues, King’s movie not only continues the brilliance of the original but dramatically improves upon it, with the casting of both Gleeson and Grant a major factor in its’ many successes, and in a time when uncertainty and ambiguity is rife within the real world, Paddington 2 is a family-friendly work of escapism which everyone could do with a slice of.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Were Warned And We Did Not Listen…”
Although hailed as some form of guaranteed audience grabber, Gerard Butler’s most recent backlog of film appearances isn’t exactly the greatest run from the growling, wide-chinned Scot, with the likes of Gods of Egypt and London Has Fallen being two of the worst cinema releases in recent history, and whilst there is always hope for redemption, the release of the CGI-fuelled Geostorm brings with it a heavy sense of, “here we go again!”, particularly after months and months of trailers hyping up a movie which on the face of it, might give Independance Day: Resurgence a run for its’ money as worst big-budget science-fiction disaster movie of the past few years. Directed by American debutant Dean Devlin, whose past producing credits ironically include the likes of Resurgence and erm, Eight Legged Freaks, the latest movie to showcase how much destruction can be created from the screen of a computer in the form of Geostorm is unsurprisingly a gag-inducing barrel of garbage, one which takes the cliched notion of leaving your brain at the foyer to a whole new level of unparalleled literalness and too a movie which just makes you question why and how it ever made it past the cutting room floor.
With Butler showcasing the limited amount of range he has as an actor, portraying a supposed super intelligent science engineer with all the efficiency of a leather based raincoat, Geostorm is the type of movie which doesn’t even begin to offer credible reasons for making the audience believe any events which depict on screen are even capable of actually occurring, and whilst end of the world, disaster movies fundamentally require a minimal level of audience open-minded participation, the mind-boggling and headache inducingly bad narrative at the heart of Geostorm leads to a movie which although features scenes of tidal waves, gigantic laser beams and gargantuan explosions, is undeniably boring from beginning to end. With plot turns aplenty all resulting in a synchronised round of sighs from the audience and a tacky, saccharin sweet family narrative thread acting as the film’s through line, Geostorm is trash unrefined, and whilst Devlin’s CGI-based load of hogwash isn’t exactly the worst film of the year, it is undeniably the stupidest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.
Overall Score: 6/10
“It’s Our Mission That Doesn’t Make Sense, Sir…”
With French filmmaker Luc Besson not succeeding in making a decent movie since the 1990’s when it comes to directing, the array of fingers which he has managed to stick into a wide range of cinematic pies including The Transporter and Taken series, means that particular film companies still feel the need to finance certain projects which stem from the mind of a man who continues to live off the success of his earlier and much more impressive bodies of work, of which Nikita and Léon still remain the standout features. With his latest release of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week, aside from having arguably the most arduous and stupidest film title in recent memory, Besson’s return to science fiction brings with it a relative amount of caution, particularly when the finished product could either be the silly, blockbuster fun of The Fifth Element or the idiotic, laziness of a film such as Lucy, and whilst there is no doubting that Valerian is filled to the rafters with a mountain of issues and quandaries, Besson’s latest is the type of movie which you begin to hate from the outset but then slowly edge through acceptance, excitement and enjoyment as the film reaches its’ long-awaited conclusion. Valerian is stupid, nonsensical and completely bonkers, but boy, I didn’t half enjoy it.
Although the screenplay is primarily based upon the French science fiction comic series, Valérian and Laureline, there is no doubting the visual splendour of the film takes cues from a wide variety of movies from fantasy cinematic history, and whilst it comes across as lazy to simply paint Valerian as a Star Wars rip-off, the sandy plains of the opening act and the introduction of characters that so clearly resemble famous faces from a galaxy far, far away is strikingly undeniable, even when the film effectively manages to be designed in such a superbly crafted fashion it’s impossible to not applaud the creative process behind it. With the visuals so flashy and impressively detailed, the cheddar-cheese dialogue and questionable acting does manage to be somewhat overlooked, even when Cara Delevingne manages to act almost everyone off the screen including leading co-star Dane DeHaan whose montone affinity results in him coming across as a next-generation Keanu Reeves cast-off, and with a narrative as bonkers and fundamentally confusing as the one at the centre of it, Valerian is that rare case of a movie being so wrong it’s right, and whilst I may be in the minority when the dust eventually settles, Besson’s latest isn’t a masterpiece by any measure, it’s just ridiculous, braindead fun.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters…”
Adding a new layer to the ongoing genre of Universal Horror, a cinematic legacy which began all the way back in the 1920’s. the newest blockbuster franchise comes in the form of the so-called “Dark Universe”, a directed step into another legion of remakes and re-imaginings which begins this week with The Mummy and is set to continue into the future with fresh interpretations of classic monster movies which are reported to include the likes of Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s Monster and of course, Dracula. Taking the time away from beating the heck out of people in Jack Reacher and flying super speedy jet planes in the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Tom Cruise leads the way as the flagship star of the franchise’s beginnings in the latest incarnation of The Mummy, a well-known and well-versed adventure tale, with arguably the most popular representation being the Stephen Sommers led take in 1999 which featured a clean shaven Brendan Fraser and a pre-Daniel Craig infused Rachel Weisz. With Alex Kurtzman on directorial duty, a filmmaker with a background in the likes of movies such as Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness and Mission: Impossible III, the latest incarnation of The Mummy is unfortunately a generic, overblown snooze-fest, ultimately resulting in a movie which begins the Dark Universe franchise in a rather mediocre manner to say the least.
With a narrative which is more than familiar in terms of the overall set-up of the titular bandaged antagonist, The Mummy suffers too from a wild scope in tonal bipolar, changing from B-Movie horror to cringe-inducing comedy in between an array of soulless set pieces which either consist of endless CGI hollowness or people wildly screaming whilst being shot at with both never actually managing to induce a sense of threat into the proceedings. At the heart of the action, the duo star power of both Tom Cruise and Russel Crowe never really have anything juicy to work with either, and although Crowe’s character reveal was quite charming in a in-joke, canon kind of way, Cruise’s overly cocky and quite annoying leading character is at its’ best a poor depiction of Brendan Fraser. Similarly, although Boutella has all the hallmarks of a beautifully seductive Egyptian princess, her campy leading villain is ultimately a dead rubber alongside a long list of supporting characters who are either there for cannon fodder or for cranking the creaky narrative into place. The Mummy isn’t exactly terrible, it just reeks of laziness, and for a movie which is meant to propel a new franchise into some sort of success, Kurtzman’s movie doesn’t do the job effectively enough to wonder where it ultimately goes next.