“Our World Is Changing. The Mass Extinction We Feared Has Already Begun. And We Are The Cause. We Are The Infection…”
With Gareth Edwards having the chance to bring the infamous sight of cinema’s most versatile monster to the big screen once again in 2014’s visually stunning, Godzilla, Legendary Entertainment’s so called “MonsterVerse” was thus born in an attempt to choke audiences and critics alike with yet another extended universe. With the so-so success of Kong: Skull Island back in 2017, this week sees Godzilla: King of the Monsters be released, acting as the second chapter in the fire-breathing legend’s repertoire before taking on Mr. Kong himself in Godzilla vs. Kong next year. With Edwards choosing not to return for a second outing, the directing mantle is instead handed to Michael Dougherty (Krampus) who along with an endless digital effects and explosives budget, has the absolute pleasure to work with an absolute top-notch, A-list cast, with the likes of the returning Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins) joined by the ever-reliable presence of Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea) for a movie which in all honesty, completely wastes the army of talent involved as it pummels you to death with endless carnage, ear-grating dialogue and a central story which rivals Geostorm for having the stupidest screenplay of the past five years or so.
Whilst it may be slightly highbrow to head into a Godzilla movie wanting something much more than just two plus hours of entire cities being dismantled by gargantuan, irresponsible titans, the fact remains that Edwards’ own interpretation of Godzilla was first and foremost primarily interested in its’ characters, with his movie essentially a family drama which just happened to include world destroying monsters, and whilst Dougherty’s movie seems to have similar desires, woeful characterisation and exposition heavy dialogue means that in terms of an empathetic level, his movie is completely lifeless and unengaging come the forty minute mark when the army of superb acting talent is left behind in favour of endless and ridiculously overblown set pieces. With the likes of Farmiga, Chandler and the now heavily typecast, Charles Dance, all wasted, with the latter essentially playing a high-tech version of Tywin Lannister, the only two redeeming features of the piece is rising star, Millie Bobby Brown, of Stranger Things fame, who with her extended level of screen time undoubtedly gives the best performance of the lot, and of course, the monsters themselves, with the titular ‘Zilla, the three headed Ghidorah and the beautiful Mothra all actually incredibly well designed, resulting in a couple of epic shots which deserve to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. Whilst King of the Monsters doesn’t hit the sordid lows of Roland Emmerich’s version, Dougherty’s vision is a messy, palm-inducing two hundred million dollar B-movie which should be a guilty pleasure but instead, is immediately forgettable.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Hi, Baby Dumbo, Welcome To The Circus. We’re All Family Here, No Matter How Small…”
With the world currently in a cinematic state of affairs where Walt Disney Studios have decided to take it upon themselves to remake every single famous animated classic from the past century or so, one could argue that the impact and timelessness of the originals means re-hashing them again for live-action cash grabs isn’t exactly worth the hassle. However, with the excellent Cinderella, the very good The Jungle Book and the middling solidness of Beauty and the Beast showing that sometimes remakes or “reimaginings” do ultimately work on a critical level, here we are once again with Dumbo, the latest big screen adaptation of the 1941 film of the same which famously came into fruition in order to recoup the financial losses of one of my favourite Disney releases; Fantasia. Directed by the Gothic wackiness of Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman) and featuring a screenplay from American screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, whose eclectic back catalogue unfortunately contains the likes of Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Ring Two, Dumbo circa 2019 follows a very familiar holding pattern to the live-action predecessors that have come before it, a movie which is obviously designed to open a new generation into the well-versed tale of the large-eared elephant but a movie too which is undoubtedly the weakest example of the Disney remakes to grace the big screen thus far.
With Burton’s last movie in the form of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children one of the most tonally awkward films in recent history, the American’s approach to Dumbo sort of falls upon familiar ground, where although the basic storyline from the 1941 original remains the same, the decision to add on nearly an hour of running time results in expansion for the sake of expansion without any real depth or substance to any of the major characters aside from the titular elephant who through the miracle of digital effects is rightfully cutesy and undeniably adorable. With the film managing to come off more depressing than fun for the majority of the action, the simple fact remains that not one human character manages to evoke any sense of sympathy throughout the drama, with the dwindling accented Colin Farrell (In Bruges) and Eva Green (Casino Royale) both left to hang by the one dimensional waste-side, the young actors not entirely captivating nor memorable, and the rather geeky reunion of Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Danny DeVito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) after their work together on Burton’s, Batman Returns, ultimately a massive let down. Decent digital effects and a couple of giggle-inducing comments aside, Tim Burton continues his dwindling career path with a remake which is neither interesting or worthy of existence. At least the racist birds aren’t there this time.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Alexander Elliot, It Was You Who Drew The Sword! This Realm Faces Mortal Danger..!”
In a time in which both King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the awfully misjudged, Robin Hood, at least effectively reminded everyone that sometimes rolling out the same old story time and time again isn’t always the best quick route to success, the release of The Kid Who Would Be King sees yet another legendary tale being brought to the big screen just in time for half term. Directed and written by Joe Cornish, whose previous credits include Attack the Block and the screenplay for 2015’s Ant-Man, the London born filmmaker helms a family friendly retelling of the Arthurian legend, this time set in the heart of contemporary England as we follow Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ (Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) Alexander, a geeky and overly charming school pupil who soon becomes central to thwarting the resurfacing of the evil presence of Morgana, who attempts to take over Earth after centuries away in waiting for the planet to fall into a particularly desolate point of crisis. With supporting trailers for the movie which teetered on the edge of awfulness, the signs weren’t exactly overwhelmingly positive heading into Cornish’s latest, and whilst The Kid Who Would Be King does have some interesting ideas alongside some likeable themes ideas, the latest spin on the well versed fantastical tale is admirable, but is too a movie which fails on a fundamental level of not entirely being worthy up upon the big screen.
With Serkis following in the footsteps of his father, Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, by immediately coming across as a more than adequate lead performer, the initial thirty minutes set up is actually rather well done, with Cornish’s script managing to blend youth infused comedy with the ridiculousness of the central legend as we our introduced to both Alex’s home life with his struggling single mother and his school life, which is balanced between the daily battle against constant bullying from Tom Taylor (The Dark Tower) and Rhianna Dorris’ Lance and Kay, and his friendship with Dean Chaumoo’s Bedders, the self proclaimed Samwise to Alex’s Frodo. With Excalibur soon being thrusted from its’ positioning in a desolate building yard, the arrival of Angus Imrie’s Led Zeppelin supporting Merlin pushes the comedic elements of the movie into a string of constant Thor esque gags as we witness the wizard attempt to make the wide-eyed fellow pupils of Alex aware of impending doom. Sharing the role with the wispy white haired figure of Patrick Stewart (Logan), Merin is undoubtedly the most interesting character within the drama, with Rebecca Ferguson’s, (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) Morgana, ridiculously underwritten, resulting in a threat level which is shared with the awfulness of Toby Kebbell in Destroyer. As the movie swings past the hour mark however, the remaining fifty minutes annoyingly become devoid of fun, ideas or decent editing, concluding with a final special-effects laden battle which seems to have less production value than the early episodes of Doctor Who, and whenever a film tests my patience after starting so well, the final package isn’t really worth it come the end of it. Solid, but very mediocre indeed.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Bumblebee, Our War Rages On. You Must Protect Earth, And Its People…”
With Transformers: The Last Knight undoubtedly holding the title for one of the worst films in recent cinematic history last year, the thought of having to endure yet another entry in the undying Hasbro based franchise heading into the last few weeks of the year harnessed a similar reaction to being handed a large straw bag of coal for Christmas after anticipating something much more useful and entertaining. Extravagant similes aside, heading into Bumblebee after being made aware that no longer were the awful directorial mittens of Michael Bay actually attached to the project, with the American killer of contemporary cinema reduced to a slight producing role, my expectations were somehow slightly raised in anticipation of a movie which just might get the subject matter bang on for the very first time in just over the course of an entire decade. Directed by the BAFTA winning Travis Knight, a filmmaker famous for his works on animation, with the excellent Kubo and the Two Strings acting as the American’s official directorial debut, it comes as no surprise that Bumblebee is undoubtedly the first film in the Transformers franchise to actively be of any good, with it being a character driven, effects heavy coming-of-age science fiction adventure which scrapes the pallet clean of the woe which came before it and offers up a thoroughly entertaining and engaging end of year blockbuster. Yes that’s right, I got weepy at a Transformers movie.
Of the many plus points, the primary concern of Bumblebee clearly settles on an intention to go with a completely alternative filmic sensibility to the previous entries in the franchise, with the painful epileptic editing, jokes about statutory rape and fascination with up skirt camera shots thankfully no more in favour of a film with a central narrative both enjoyable and crucially, family friendly. Along with proving just how awful a filmmaker Michael Bay has turned out to be, Knight’s movie understands the notion and impact of character depth, with Hailee Steinfield’s (The Edge of Seventeen) central music obsessed teen, Charlie Watson, beaming with levels of effective characterisation unseen previously within the franchise within the first five minutes of the movie. With the CGI superbly noticeable due to the film’s somewhat low-key approach in comparison to previous ventures, the relationship between Charlie and the cutesy titular robot in disguise is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the movie, with laugh out loud comedic set pieces and charming interactions resulting in a central partnership which brings to mind the likes of E.T and at times, Big Hero 6. With a crowd pleasing era-based musical jukebox featuring the likes of Tears for Fears, Simple Minds and a continual riff regarding The Smiths, Knight’s movie is a surprisingly accessible and charming Transformers adventure, a movie with so much to like even with a rather cliched central plot, yet the most crucial aspect of Bumblebee is that it is a movie which sets a precedent and platform for potential future films in the franchise by clearly signalling to everyone involved; THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE A MOVIE IN THE RIGHT WAY. Please take note.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Sixty Minutes Is All It Took To Bring Humanity To The Very Brink Of Extinction. Mankind Mobilized, A New Age Arose…”
Executively produced and partially written by the mastermind of fantasy cinema, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), Mortal Engines, the debut big screen release from long-time Jackson collaborator, Christian Rivers, acts as a live-action adaptation of the 2001 book of the same name from the series of novels, The Mortal Engines Quartet, from English author Philip Reeve. With Jackson purchasing the rights to Reeve’s award winning novels all the way back in 2009, the nine year production process finally pays dividends this week, offering the chance for audiences both privy to the novels and those completely unaware of Reeve’s written world to breathe in the supposed beginning of yet another groundbreaking science fiction franchise, and with the added incentive of Jackson’s central involvement in the project something to particularly savour after his successes in the decade plus Middle Earth based filmography, what seriously could go wrong? Shockingly, pretty much everything, with Rivers’ debut unfortunately an overly messy, unnecessary complicated and spectacularly dull adventure spectacle which substitutes basic and effective storytelling for a plethora of digital effects within a movie which once again proves how difficult it can be to transfer particular stories from paper onto the big screen.
Suffering from the infamous Dune complex, which in other news is set to be once again revisited by the second best director working at the moment, Denis Villeneuve, very. very soon, Mortal Engines opens by describing a seemingly post-apocalyptic futureworld in which societies are now based upon huge, mechanical mobile machines, and even when the reasoning for such a dramatic shift isn’t really explained to an effective extent to fully latch on aboard with straight away, such an opening is only the start of the varying issues at the heart of a movie which dreams big but ultimately falls into a two hours plus cinematic nightmare. With a central storyline which does manage to feel like a blended hybrid between the works of Frank Herbert, Tolkien and Star Wars, Rivers attempts to bring the Mad Max sensibility of the central landscape at the heart of the novels from paper to screen doesn’t work whatsoever, with an over-reliance on CGI rather distracting and painfully bland to view upon the big screen, a particularly strange weakness when the technology has worked so well on previous ventures of a similar nature. With the always reliable Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings) well and truly chewing the scenery in the eyebrow raising central antagonist role, the film’s best element is undoubtedly Hera Hilmar (The Fifth Estate) as the film’s primary hero, a scarred, vengeful wasteland dweller who is unfortunately completely let down by her Han Solo rip-off of a love interest as played by Robert Sheehan (Mute) who seems to have fallen off the set of Gods of Egypt thanks to some truly awful, cringe-laden acting abilities which threatens to derail the movie as soon as he appears on screen. With a final act so obviously yet another contemporary take on the attack on the Death Star, one particular narrative twist did indeed make me bark out loud in laughter due to its’ sheer absurdity, and with another three books potentially in place to be developed, the opening chapter of Jackson’s latest adventure franchise begins in completely the wrong gear.
Overall Score: 3/10
“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
“So Today, I Want To Talk About The Greatest Woman I’ve Ever Met…”
Much like the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor many moons ago, the eleventh series of Doctor Who brings with it both a fresh, new incarnation of the travelling Time Lord alongside an alternative showrunner, with Broadchurch creator, Chris Chibnall, taking over the reigns from Steven Moffat who presided over both Smith and Peter Capaldi’s time in the role which boosted the show into international success. Getting the primary talking point from the new series out of the way, The Doctor has of course decided to shift genders, with Chibnall reuniting with Broadchurch star, Jodie Whittaker (Journeyman) to offer up the first female incarnation of the character in the show’s fifty five year history, and whilst my main concern isn’t of course anything to do with the gender of a character who not only is alien but has managed to last on our screens for over fifty years, there are particular worries regarding Chibnall’s ability to take over a show loved by so many across the globe, particularly when you examine Chibnall’s previous writing credits on the show which so far have been anything less than impressive. Here we are however and what “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” proved to us was that the show is indeed headed in a different course entirely to the Capaldi era, channeling more of the early Smith-led episodes for an opener which was high on ideas but low on execution.
Utilising a full hour to not only introduce a brand new Doctor to the world but a considerable amount of new companions too, Chibnall grounds his opening episode in contemporary Sheffield, where a regenerated and slightly shaken Doctor crashes into the lives of the Sinclair family and Mandip Gill’s probation serving Police Officer, Yaz, who believes her time is better spent than dealing with more than parking disputes. With hammy acting and quick-fire comedic dialogue, Chibnall’s writing feels more than a touch of Moffat’s handling of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and even with a wide range of local, Northern banter which keeps on reminding that “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield”, Whittaker’s first performance manages to blend the kookiness of Smith and Tennant with the sincere dramatic pull of a Eccleston or Capaldi, with the former particularly coming to mind in how his early beginnings seemed to show an actor uncomfortable with the lighter touches than the heavy doses of drama. With dark, brooding cinematography and a Blade Runner-esque heavy synth soundtrack from Murray Gold replacement, Segun Akinola, Chibnall’s attempts at balancing the tonal waverings of the show does slightly fail, and even with a staggering amount of death and a rather creepy leading antagonist which looked like a cross between the Green Goblin and the monster from Jeepers Creepers, the feel of the show never really settled down but undeniably still managed to evoke more of the “classic” Who than one would have imagined. With bundles of exposition adding to its’ downfall, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was no means a disappointment, just an opening hour which comes nowhere near to the excellent openings NuWho has presented in the past, and with nine weeks to flourish and become her own interpretation, Chibnall’s’ reign begins in interesting, if flawed fashion. That theme tune though.
Overall Episode Score: 6/10
“That Thing’s Out There. We Need To Find It And Kill It…”
Rushing onto the big screen and breaking the rules of conventional cinematic rules by managing to swerve away from straight-to-video bargain bucket where it undeniably belongs, everyone’s favourite bald-headed Brit, Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) leads the cast of The Meg, a horrendously dire, B-Movie nightmare which sees Statham as Jonas Taylor, a seemingly invincible and overly irresistible rescue diver who is tasked alongside a team of awfully inane scientists to defeat the titular Megalodon, a seventy foot long murderous shark thought extinct which is released upon the world to chew upon the cannon fodder of citizens which lay in its’ wake. Based upon the 1997 book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by American science fiction author, Steve Alten, The Meg fails on a comprehensive level of failing to be the type of movie which can be typecast as “so bad its’ good”, with the film’s dire script, awful dialogue and shambolic acting performances all managing to co-exist together in a finished product which ranks up there with the worst cinema has offered up this year so far, a turgid release which makes you yearn for the sheer absurdity of Sharknado.
Whilst Jason Statham is the sort of actor whose presence is always welcome in any type of movie, his particular individual performance within The Meg is Oscar worthy in comparison to the carnival of awful side-notes which encompass the supporting cast, with the likes of Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two) and the horrendously accented Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) all being handed woefully two-dimensional characters whose chemistry and comedic timing comes across utterly cringe-worthy at a range of different points during the action. With a screenplay which includes the type of dialogue where each character takes it in turn to shout obvious warnings and entirely lazy portions of tiresome exposition, The Meg seems to know the genre basis it attempts to sink its’ teeth into quite clearly, but thanks to the staggeringly inadequate direction of Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker renowned for the likes of The Sorcerers Apprentice and erm, Cool Runnings, the finished product is downright stale and unworthy of viewership, and whilst it’s easy to poke fun at movies which try to be just good old fun instead of attempting to come across as the new Citizen Kane, The Meg just doesn’t work at any level at all, and for a movie which happens to include the brooding baldness of Jason Statham, that’s quite a startling feat in itself.
Overall Score: 3/10
“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.