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Film Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

“The Imminent Destruction Of All We Know And Love, Begins Now…”

Whilst overly long blockbuster movies are indeed not exactly anything original, it does take the patience of a saint to be able to sit through and enjoy most of Michael Bay’s most recent cinematic exploits, and whilst The Rock and Bad Boys prove that sometimes Bay does manage to create something which although is undeniably stupid, is too a whole bunch of fun, his annoyingly pompous stamp on the Transformers series proves without a doubt that fame and fortune is the only thing on the mind of its’ creators, particularly when the series just doesn’t seem to be slowing down in terms of worldwide and domestic gross. Clocking in at a staggering 149 minutes however, a runtime which is actually generously measured when put up against previous Transformers entries, The Last Knight is stated by both Bay and leading star Mark Wahlberg to be the final entry into the CGI-fuelled, overlong, action franchise and with that in mind, there is a sense of joy heading into the cinema knowing that this may indeed be the last time to witness Bay’s live action interpretation of Hasbro’s famous plastic toy range. Unfortunately, yet rather inevitably, The Last Knight is not exactly a movie which can classed as anything remotely joyful, with Bay successfully managing to create the most insipid, boring and woeful excuse for a blockbuster in years. Wait a second while I just clear my tinnitus.

Although narrative and plot are never usually at the forefront of most Transformers movies, The Last Knight actually revels in the fact that there simply isn’t a story to be told. Whilst something about King Arthur, Merlin and some ancient, historic sword attempts to linchpin the movie together, Bay’s latest makes Batman v. Superman look like a picture-book example of coherent A to B storytelling, with the movie too often more interested in endless explosions and placid CGI to really offer anything for the audience to really sink their emotional teeth into. Aside from a woeful narrative, epileptic editing and a cash-hungry supporting cast including the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Last Knight suffers from two inexcusable elements which simply make the film a painful exercise of patience. Firstly, the length. Not many films earn the right to be 150 minutes plus and whilst The Last Knight may be one of the shorter Transformers offerings, my sweet lord do you feel every single second of its’ sheer awfulness, with each passing minute ripping your soul apart as you slowly lose hope in the future of cinema as we know it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the 12A rating slapped onto the movie encourages kids to go and see it, albeit with their parents, and whilst the action and spectacle may keep many wildly entertained, the constant use of unnecessary expletives and ripe sexual references make this supposed “kids” movie a poison chalice of misjudgement, and a movie which although may succeed in taking shed loads of money, will surely not satisfy even the most hardcore of Transformers fans. An explosive mess of a movie, The Last Knight is worthy of complete avoidance. Don’t take the risk.

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: Wonder Woman

“You Have Been My Greatest Love. Be Careful, Diana. They Do Not Deserve You…”

Whilst many audiences could be forgiven for experiencing a somewhat turgid time at the cinema within the summer period, suffering from a duo hit of remakes and sequels amidst an air of superhero fatigue, particularly within a year in which the two major forces in the form of DC and Marvel Comics are warring face to face in a contest which rivals the Battle of Helms Deep for sheer epic eventfulness, with more films than ever being released which focus on big-screen adaptations of everyone’s favourite literary heroes. Whilst Marvel waits on hold for the time being, with Spider-Man: Homecoming set for release next month, the ball is currently in DC’s court this week with the release of Wonder Woman, the fourth entry in the so-far much maligned DC Universe, but more importantly, the first real big-screen adaptation of the Amazonian Queen and the first superhero film since Elektra to be solely focused on a leading female character. Adding to the winning formula, Patty Jenkins, director of the Oscar winning serial killer drama Monster, takes the lead of a movie which holds so much in attempting to add a sense of integrity into a franchise which has been slowly dwindling in the shadow of Marvel’s many successes. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is indeed a winning return to form for DC, taking a brilliantly cast leading star and working with a script which adds an element of fun and adventure back into a series which has been sinking into the shallow depths of despair.

Whilst her introduction within the mighty mess of Batman V. Superman was overly rushed and ineffective, Wonder Woman perfectly crafts a backstory for a character who to most audiences may be completely alien, with WW possibly being the first time understanding the nature and background of such an infamous leading comic character. With Gal Gadot in the leading role, the DC Universe has finally hit the first mark in terms of casting, putting to shame recent debacles such as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luther and Jared Leto’s overly wasted Joker, with her physical ability and enviable natural screen presence adding organic depth to a character who is represented more than adequately in Gadot’s shoes. Pairing up with the always reliable Chris Pine, the narrative does reek somewhat of similarity at times however, using the first half of the movie to generate backstory whilst using the latter as a chance to once again conclude with a staggeringly dull CGI boss battle, yet the comedic element which rips throughout the dialogue is effective enough to combat a two hour plus running length, a decision perhaps primarily based upon Marvel’s successes in mixing action, drama and comedy within most of their many releases. If Wonder Woman is the direction in which the DC Universe is heading, sign me up for more, and whilst Jenkins doesn’t really offer anything particularly new to the superhero scene, the brilliance of Gadot in the leading role is the best thing DC has done since Nolan was around. No, it’s not The Dark Knight by a long shot, but Wonder Woman is still a success.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

“Find Jack Sparrow For Me And Relay A Message From Captain Salazar. Tell Him: Death Will Come Straight For Him…”

Praise be and grab your rum of choice, it is indeed that time once again. After believing that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had sailed its’ last sail with On Stranger Tides, a third sequel to Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney’s flagship theme park based series swiftly returns this week with Salazar’s Revenge or perhaps, Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending on where exactly you will be spending your hard earned cash in order to witness the newest CGI orgy of famous actors dressing up like second year university students hitting the town and pretending to act serious when shouting “arghhh” and battling invisible, digitally created cannon fodder, all of whom are eager for disposal by death. Holding my frightfully cynical tone for a moment, the release of Salazar’s Revenge might controversially be the film which reinvents my opinion of the gargantuan series, and even with expectations as low as the depths of the pacific ocean, the addition of Norwegian directorial pair Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg alongside the ever reliable presence of Javier Bardem is a cause for cautious optimism, particular with the latter’s ability to carry off a damn fine villain when necessary. Inevitably, Salazar’s Revenge instead is yet just another CGI-fuelled bore-fest, one which trades set pieces for narrative and acting ability for budget costs within a skin peeling two hours which confirms the series has indeed sunk to the depths of mediocrity without any sign of resuscitation aboard.

Whilst the film centrally is based around the retrieval of a mysterious object which breaks every and any curse laced upon the many characters within the Pirates universe, Salazar’s Revenge also has to try and squeeze in the titular character’s quest for violent justice, with Javier Bardem’s CGI-masked villain setting his sights on the figure of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, a Captain Jack Sparrow who has seemingly worsened in every subsequent movie, resulting in a performance which has increasingly become a caricature of itself in an almost cringe-like fashion. With a script which is laced with cheesy and ear-grating dialogue, Depp has finally managed to confirm that his time in the spotlight as the world’s worst pirate must finally come to some sort of a dignified end, and whilst the inclusion of Orlando Bloom and a completely silent Keira Knightley could leave some fans jumping for joy, the return of their respective characters adds absolutely nothing to the overall enjoyment of the movie. Alongside some terrible sound editing and a complete lack of threat, Salazar’s Revenge is unsurprisingly a meaningless, dull affair, one which continues the woeful track record of blockbusters this year and a film which rivals David Beckham for worst cameo of the year so far. I mean, Paul McCartney, what are you thinking?

Overall Score: 3/10

Catch-Up Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker

“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”

As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?

In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.

Overall Score: 3/10

Catch-Up Film Review: Rings

 “I Keep Thinking About This Story. There’s This Video That Kills You. Seven Days After You Watch It…”

Blah, blah, blah. Whilst there is nothing new in the notion of American remakes, the category in which really grinds my gears is the one filled to the rim with English-speaking “re-imaginings” of foreign language horror movies, with absolute classics in the form of A Tale of Two Sisters, Let The Right One In and Ju-on: The Grudge all being mashed up and reproduced in the flight of gaining a quick yet tainted blood-stained buck on the account of the butchery which tends to happen when foreign movies are translated onto an audience which is primarily English speaking. Of the many horror franchises which has roots well and truly set in the minds of more intelligent filmmakers, Rings, directed by Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez, is yet another entry into the Ringu canon which began all the way back in 1998 with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying cinematic take on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name, and whilst the third American entry seems to begin with an element of interest, Rings unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, ends up being yet another wasted opportunity, with it not only coming across as incredibly offensive to horror fans across the world, effectively spits on the shadow of its’ former self with its’ sheer and utter dreadfulness.

With a leading star who carries as much charisma and interest as an ASDA bag for life, Rings begins with a narrative which looks as if it is set to offer some new light into the world of spooky water-covered teenagers with long black hair by delving into a somewhat underground network of shady college preps who view the infamous killer video tape as a reason to get up in the morning, using the threat of Samara as a messed up type of adrenaline rush alongside a basis for Johnny Galecki’s character’s thesis on the mystery of her existence. Whilst this interesting notion covers roughly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the following 90 minutes is essentially a cheap re-telling of a story in which every single person in the cinematic world is now bored to death with, trading real elements of threat and suspense with cheesy dialogue and awful jump scares which rely on the power of the cinema’s sound system in order to actually come across as worthwhile. News alert; they don’t. Ending on a supposed twist which offers up the idea that the franchise is set to continue into the future, Rings is the type of cinematic face-palm which you really struggle to understand its’ existence. If you’re thinking of buying it on DVD, don’t.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”

Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.

With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: The Fate of the Furious

“Our Paths Have Crossed Before, Dom. You Just Didn’t Know It. I Think I Need To Remind You Why You Chose To Be Here…”

Franchises, franchises everywhere. Whilst the unexpected is utterly unreliable when it comes to the release of particular films in the current cinematic tidal wave, it does seem that the golden dollar bill sign is precedent as the leading force in the development of modern cinematic treats, evidenced by the return of the ridiculously indestructible Fast and Furious series in the form of The Fate of the Furious, a continuation of the franchise two years on from the previous instalment which managed to take an eye-whooping 1.5 billion dollars at the global box office. Whilst the mountain of eye-rolling snobs sniff at the sight of yet another jumped-up, adrenaline-heavy fluff piece, myself included, there is to some degree a sense of enjoyment watching a series continuing to live on despite stretching out what is a basic plot thread throughout eight films, due primarily to a overly ripe cast which all seem to have bundles of laughs causing endless waves of destruction and chaos with a seemingly blank cheque book at their disposal. As for the franchises latest offering, The Fate of the Furious is a surprisingly dull affair, offering very little originality amongst a tonally bipolar and utterly stupid narrative which aside from a few, minor elements could be regarded as the worst the series has had to offer so far.

Of the good things within Furious 8, Jason Statham absolutely steals every single scene in which he is present, from scenes consisting of a constant battle of words between himself and Dwayne Johnson to a final act in which he massacres a variety of killers whilst attempting to save the life of a incredibly important minor, all the while aboard a seemingly untraceable aircraft, one which is operated by Charlize Theron’s Cipher, a character which unfortunately offers no sense of threat whatsoever despite her attempts to come across all edgy and unhinged by wearing Metallica tees and moulding her hair on the likes of Bob Marley and Gary Oldman’s character in True Romance. The absolute absence of threat is fundamental to the film’s overall flaws, with each of the characters acting and performing in such a superhuman manner that the risk of injury or even death is so minimal that at times the film seemed to sink to the level of the worst the Roger Moore era Bond films had to offer, whilst the truly awful CGI comes across as so lazy and haphazard, particularly when considering the array of practical-based action we have witnessed recently within good examples of the genre such as The Raid and Mad Max: Fury Road. If The Fate of the Furious is indeed the future of the franchise, perhaps it’s time to hang up the cape, but with astronomical ticket sales inevitable, the likelihood of such is as solid as Vin Diesel becoming the next US President. Well, to be fair, that wouldn’t be the worst option right now.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter Two

“You Stabbed The Devil In The Back. To Him This Isn’t Vengeance, This Is Justice…”

Along with The Raid movies in 2011 and 2014 respectively, 2015’s John Wick stands up there as a prime example of how to do an action movie properly in modern-day cinema, utilising the somewhat distant characteristic of everyone’s favourite Lebanese export by creating a stone-cold merciless killer and placing him in the middle of a quite admirable neo-noir backdrop which offered the opportunity for the titular retired hitman to kill as many bad guys as humanly possible. Where the original thrived in the best use of a handgun since Michael Mann’s Collateral, with the thrilling action set pieces akin more to tightly packed choreographed dance scenes than just mindless free fire, the main pulling power of the original was the B-Movie-esque straightforward storytelling of the movie, one which at no point attempted to be something more than just a classic action adventure, inevitably resulting in a much more enjoyable thrill ride than one might have previously thought. As per the norm of current cinematic climates therefore, the success of Wick inevitably has brought with it a sequel, one which once again features Reeves in the leading role and a movie which actually manages to surpass the quality of its’ predecessor, featuring bigger set pieces, cooler kills and a heightened sense of sheer lunacy which creates a sequel which takes the OTT nature of the Wickverse all the way up to eleven.

Following on almost immediately from the conclusion of the first film, Chapter Two heads straight into the action-packed territory everyone in the audience seemed to expect, highlighting Wick’s reunion with his dearly departed vehicle after a mildly intense car chase, a bout of tough hand-to-hand combat battles, and a peace treaty with guest star Peter Stormare, who chews the scenery portraying the sheepish relative of Wick’s foes from the first movie in a theme-setting opening ten minutes. Although more stylised than the first movie, Chapter Two also ramps up the levels of violence depicted on-screen, with its’ titular character using everything from high-powered weaponry to an everyday pencil in an attempt to kill as many cannon fodder as humanly possible. In the leading role, Reeves too seems to have found peace with the character, having fun where necessary in a performance which is once again low on dialogue but ripe in complete bad-assery from start to finish. Whilst the plot is pretty straightforward, the ambiguity and strangeness of the underworld nature of Wick’s world is intriguing enough to carry the film to a conclusion which inevitably leads on to the certainty of a sequel, yet if the levels of quality continue to be as superb as Chapter Two, I look forward to see what eventually comes around next.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

“We Need Someone Who Can Move Like Them, Fight Like Them. It’s Time To Be A Patriot…”

Adding to the long list of sequels which no one really wanted this week is the return of Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, the thrill-seeking sports enthusiast turned spy who uses his extremely silly background to kick some bad guys half to death in an even sillier b-movie esque manner, one which brought with it a wholly forgettable sequel featuring Ice Cube in the lead role with the only meaningful link between the two being the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson. With The Return of Xander Cage therefore, it comes with no surprise whatsoever that this third instalment is utter dross from beginning to end, saved ever so slightly from being a London Has Fallen style hate-fest by not being a film which sets out to offend anyone but instead suffers from a knuckle dragging screenplay which seems to serve no purpose except to inflate the ego of its’ leading star who takes on the challenge of being one of the film’s many producers as an excuse to be at the helm of a movie which will no doubt be regarded as one of the most self-aggrandising releases in recent history.

Although the film does manage to exhale a few cheesy laughs during the course of its’ agonisingly overstayed welcome, the ridiculously generic narrative forces itself along in order for Mr. Diesel to sleep with, flirt with and throw grenades at as many of the female cast as possible, a female cast which of course seems to be entirely populated by Playboy style models who seem to serve no purpose within the movie except to be degrading eye candy. Ironically however, aside from the mass onslaught of female extras, the movie does at least feature some kick-ass female leads in the form of Ruby Rose and Deepika Padukone who when aren’t shooting endless rounds of ammunition into bad guys, sink back into non-existence with sloppy and utterly cliched dialogue. As said previously, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage isn’t exactly a film which sets out to harm anyone, it just really sucks at what it does set out to accomplish from start to finish.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

“This Is Bigger Than I Imagined…”

During the opening credits to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, there was an uncanny moment of laughter from the audience when we made aware to the notion that not only was the latest Lee Child big-screen adaptation starring Tom Cruise, it was also specifically, “A Tom Cruise Production”, immediately evoking thoughts of that sketch from Little Britain in which Dennis Waterman has the desire to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune etc, etc. Perhaps regarded as a Tom Cruise-driven money booster therefore, with director Edward Zwick perhaps being top choice to lead the project due to their involvement together with The Last Samurai, the latest Jack Reacher was in danger of becoming a complete turkey and yet, whilst it isn’t exactly groundbreaking, Never Go Back is a passably fun, strictly 12A action thriller which passes the time nicely but does little to break out of its’ minimal existence.

In backing up the notion that Never Go Back is an undeniably and wildly strict 12A movie, kill-shots are edited away so quickly that for all the audience knows, Mr. Reacher may well have missed whilst one scene in particular comically shows one of the films’ bad guys attempt to say a naughty word beginning with the letter F only to be buffered out so all we hear instead is a muffled “fuh”. The editing and obvious cuts adhere to the now-favoured choice to gain the much wider appreciated 12A rating rather than a 15; a decision firmly based on economic reasons and whilst I’m rarely bothered by such trivial matters, Never Go Back suffers from being just another action flick, just with less Werner Herzog and more annoying sub-plots featuring 15 year old girls. To say the movie is both preposterous and predictable is an understatement but on-screen, the dynamic duo of Cruise and Cobie Smulders look like they are having enough fun to warrant its’ short existence, even if it isn’t quite the advocate for future Jack Reacher movies it might want to be.

Overall Score: 6/10