“You Can Do It. You Can Do Anything. You’re The World’s Greatest Grandma…”
Tasked with being the first Marvel release to follow on from the universally accepted awesomeness of Avengers: Infinity War, Peyton Reed’s second instalment of Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s own MCU journey hits cinemas this week, reuniting audiences with a large proportion of characters from 2015’s excellent origin story as it delves deeper into the notion of the quantum realm and the hopeful return of Michelle Pfeiffer’s (mother!) Janet van Dyne, the original embodiment of The Wasp who was lost many years ago in order to save the world from nuclear disaster. With a zippy pace and a childish playfulness which parallels completely with the two preceding Marvel releases within 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp undoubtedly falls into the MCU category of “great fun but not particularly necessary” alongside previous examples such as Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and whilst come the closing credits Reed’s movie falls down under the weight of much better entries within the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, the razor-sharp comedy and fundamentally likeable characters at the heart of the drama all succeed in making Ant-Man and the Wasp a thoroughly enjoyable throwaway superhero ride.
With the Bond-esque sensibility of Black Panther and the gargantuan epic space opera of Infinity War proving to be two of the strongest entries within the MCU so far, it’s fair to say that Reed’s latest follows closest to that of a down-and-out comedy, one which stays well away from the R-rated expletives of Deadpool to keep within the remit of 12A rated family friendliness, but also one which feels comfortable poking fun at not only its’ titular character’s fundamental absurdity but the genre itself, with a bundle of well constructed gags eager to please casual and die-hard MCU fans alike. With each of the primary cast all thoroughly enjoying themselves, the dryness of Michael Douglas’ aged Hank Pym mixed in with the brilliance of a Paul Rudd who seems to have been born for the leading role offers the chance for constant giggles, a feat not undone when the movie switches to a more dramatic tone in order to introduce not one, but two leading villains in the form of Hannah John-Karmen’s (Ready Player One) Ghost and Walton Goggins’ (The Hateful Eight) excellent arms-dealing criminal, Sonny Burch. With the action and spectacle offering a much more expansive usage of the shrinking technology utilised by the movies’ heroes, a concluding car chase wraps the film up nicely, leaving the tone of the film within the up-beast positivity in which it began, and even with a post-credits sequence which ties into the mould of the universe set up within Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an MCU movie which is undoubtedly great fun, but one which too feels oddly irrelevant considering the dramatic turn the franchise has taken in wait for next year’s concluding arc to the MCU as we know it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“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
“We Started This Together. We May As Well End It That Way Too…”
Whilst probably not the best person in some way to comment on a concluding act to a trilogy of which I have been completely absent from up to now, the latest entry into the Maze Runner series, directed by franchise stalwart, Wes Ball, brings to end arguably the most uninteresting young adult dystopian book adaptation to date, one which seemed in all honesty to exist primarily in order to latch onto the success of the far superior Hunger Games, and whilst I always revel in the chance to be proved wrong, The Death Cure is unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, a complete and utter elongated drag, one which fails to ignite any sense of interest or involvement throughout its’ unbelievably running time and a film which although is primarily designed for the younger side of audiences, seems entirely misjudged and altogether unrewarding. Beginning in a Skyfall-esque fashion with a somewhat well executed train heist, The Death Cure follows Dylan O’Brien’s (American Assassin) indestructible Thomas and his merry band of wavy hair followers through a Mad Max inspired landscape in order to save Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, who has been captured by the ridiculously named organisation, WCKD, in order to utilise his immunity to a virus unlike 28 Days Later’s rage virus and potentially save the remaining human race. Sound convoluted? That’s just the start.
Whilst I am all for spectacle-infused action carnage which sides with brass over an influx of brains, Ball’s movie is fundamentally one which reeks of glaring similarity, and whilst the film seems to be at least made with a somewhat dedicated respect to the source material, the movie ultimately suffers due to a wavering and uncertain narrative and an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but too are characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been simply plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. With Dylan O’Brien in the leading role as the one-note resistance cornerstone, Thomas, his performance similarly seems to have been simply transferred from the set of last year’s American Assassin, with the actor once again proving that with even the strongest will in the world, the American is still one of the most boring leading performers working today, and with the film personifying the term, deus ex machina, thanks to a constant stream of deadly set pieces which are suddenly revoked thanks to laughably bad saviours who seem to pop out of the cinematic ether for no apparent reason, The Death Cure is a shark-jumping bore of the highest order.
Overall Score: 3/10
Loved from an early age, Quentin Tarantino has no doubt had a astronomical effect on the early stages of my cinematic knowledge with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and to an extent, his work elsewhere on True Romance and everyone’s favourite guilty pleasure, From Dusk Till Dawn, being early examples of a somewhat unhealthy obsession which over the years has strangely subsided due perhaps to my ever-increasing age or Tarantino’s failure at creating something that topples the magnum opus of his early, and better, work. Reuniting with actors such as Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight suggested somewhat a return to Tarantino of old, whereby nostalgia and almost cringe-worthy attempts to reassert Tarantino’s love for cinema of the past would be discarded in place of a film that is in fact, wonderful. Staying away from trailers and fast-tracked reviews in the build-up to its’ release, the experience of watching The Hateful Eight was similar to that of watching your dad attempting to dance at a wedding, where although some parts are cringe-worthy and incredibly misjudged, on the whole you are quite amazed and taken aback, with Tarantino’s latest being a weird mixture of thrills, spills and blood, lots of blood.
After a series of fortunate events lead to an array of characters being bundled in to a place of shelter away from the snowy storm of a time soon after the American Civil War, tensions soon begin to mount regarding the real intentions behind many of the occupants who may indeed may not be who they say the are. In the middle of such is Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, a.k.a “The Bounty Hunter”, a man whose intentions mirror that of Kurt Russel’s John Ruth, a.k.a “The Hangman” who is escorting the captured criminal Daisy Domergue to Red Rock in order to face swift and meaningful justice, yet their forced stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery leads to a turn events seemingly based around the captive Domergue whose real identity is equally ambiguous as the rest of the occupants within the stagecoach lodge. Following in light of its’ title, The Hateful Eight does indeed feature a rafter of characters all hell bent on being more vile and unlikable as the next, with both Warren and Ruth being violent, notorious bounty hunters whilst Domergue being completely unparalleled in her disgusting nature, all the while being beaten, strangled and flayed in blood over the course of the movie. With such characters at the heart of the film, it is indeed hard to engage emotionally with any of them, resulting in a strange situation similar to that of Pulp Fiction whereby although most of the people portrayed on-screen are inherently bad, it doesn’t stop from them being rooted for in some sense, with the character of Warren being my personal choice throughout most of the film even when told of his downright disturbing history as a bounty hunter and killer.
In terms of the film’s successes, the movies’ cinematography, direction, and score all deserve a sincere amount of applause, particular the former and the latter, with the swerving scenic scale of the mountainous surroundings being a beauty to behold and then brought right back down to earth within the confines of the cabin, boosting the tense atmosphere that takes note from Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs rather too obviously, whilst the return of Ennio Morricone also marks the best score within a Tarantino film since Kill Bill: Vol 1 and should indeed reward him with yet another Oscar. Positive too is the acting trio of Jackson, Russel and Leigh who combine to become the standout performances, whilst the utterly stupid amount of violence that resonates within the film is not only ridiculously enjoyable but taints the film with Tarantino’s lust for a sense of exploitation he has always seemingly been after since the days of Pulp Fiction, which although may not be for everyone, added to the film’s overall sense of fun and B-Movie grandness.
Where the film is ultimately knocked by any chance of gaining full marks is its’ ridiculous need for a strong-willed editor to come in and say, “look Quentin, can we lose at least half an hour of the film?”, particularly in the first act in which the endless waves of dialogue start to become tedious and un-engaging, something of which I kind of expected when seeing its’ eye-popping runtime, whilst the inclusion of a nonsensical voice-over by Tarantino himself, the pantomime performance of Roth’s attempt as an Englishman, up to the final act, and a borderline racist, cliched inclusion of the character of Bob, a.k.a “The Mexican”, result in The Hateful Eight being a few steps away from the masterpiece many have proclaimed it to be. Highly enjoyable but with rather too many obvious flaws, The Hateful Eight is a strong return for Tarantino yet continues my willingness to see another masterpiece in line with his better and bolder earlier work.
Dan’s Score: 8/10
As you’ve probably noticed, Dan is a big fan of Tarantino. Myself however, not so much. I watched Pulp Fiction many years ago and honestly didn’t pay much attention to it as I had other things to be doing and seeing snippets of crude, over the top violence didn’t really do it for me. It felt like he was always trying too hard to be edgy and I couldn’t stand it. Until Django came. Django was the film that peaked my interest. A topic that’s typically trodden delicately around was attacked with brutal honesty, a western flair and little discretion. It’s cast were huge, it’s acting was on Oscar worthy and the music still livens up my commutes 4 years on! You’d suspect those 4 years to reward those patiently waiting with something as equally delectable but I can’t say I’m impressed. Dan and I have seen two variations of the film. For some reason, somewhere along the line, something was cut out which equated roughly 6 minutes less for Dan’s viewing alongside no interval break while I was “treated” to the original cut. So, what was this space filled with and why? We don’t quite know. It certainly wasn’t the excruciating “Chapter” breaks throughout that took your immersion and used it to floss and spitting you break a dribbled mess. Perhaps it was the rolling credits at the very beginning of the film that informs you of an actor that you spend the majority of the time waiting for to pop out of the woodwork while you watch a horse drawn cart get pulled through the snow several miles away. We don’t quite know.
My Mum and Dad always taught me not to play with my food so lets be frank. Its OKAY. That’s it. Sure, the filming is gorgeous and the scenery locations are real pretty to look at and all but you can’t polish a turd. While Django pulled no punches and its actors were on top of their game, The Hateful Eight swung and missed. Samuel L Jackson is back to his usual self as there is a fair bit of consistency with him. Tim Roth however is a completely different kettle of poison. I liked him in Lie To Me and hated him in that one Hulk flick that no-one talks about. The stereotypical British accent was god awful. Its almost laughable until you realise that this isn’t a comedy. The stereotypes all the way through are painful and feel like more of a joke than actual characters. Even more so when you consider that Tarantino actually tried to develop some of these characters. Instead he just gave up and insulted them all by making them utterly annoying and dull as doorknobs. Does the story pull it together, Pete? I don’t feel it does. As I mentioned previously, you are waiting for a certain actor to appear who is the catalyst to the whole situation and that really ruins any sort of surprise. Now as a premise, the story could be great. Eight bounty hunters locked up in a blizzard with one prisoner with a huge bounty on their head. But logic defies these guys. Everything is coincidental and was actually rather lacklustre in execution that bored me for the majority of the time.
Rather than drag on for too much longer, I’d like to note a few more things. The violence, while excessive was alright, the effects for it were fairly lacking and with The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero involved, I expected a higher quality of visual gore. I also expected a lot more from the soundtrack. John Legend’s “Who did that to you?” is a common tune for my playlist and Rick Ross’ “100 Black Coffins” joins that also but I’ve got nothing from this. The songs mirrored the movie incredibly well while Hateful Eight’s soundtrack merely blended into the background. I don’t feel that the Hateful Eight was a film for the consumer. It was no where near complete and didn’t have the pizazz needed to contend with its big, badass brother. Tarantino has been noted over the years talking about wanting to make a western film and it seems he’s probably riding that wave and letting the marketing sell the product no matter what. So overall what do we have – An exceptionally long experience which left me with nothing more to say than, “Meh.”
Pete’s Score – 6/10
Overall Score: 7/10
Natural Bored Killers
So here we are with our 250th blog on Black Ribbon Reviews and instead of having a mind-blowing, totally amazing, triple whammy style review to craft out, we have a singular, rather timid and overly anti-climactic take on American Ultra. a film so strung up on its’ stoner/b-movie conventions that the only advice I can give is to watch the trailer and embrace in its’ rather lovely 120 second runtime instead of watching a rather drawn out, overly stupid, and senselessly violent forgettable mess which, I assume, will quickly be transferred to a discount DVD bucket near you. Although American Ultra does boast a significantly impressive cast, with Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart and The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg being the film’s lead roles, the wide range of flaws that encompass the movie throughout prevent it from being the complete stoner action flick writer Max Landis must have originally wanted it to be.
Not only is the level of senseless violence completely off the chart, but the film is ridden with cliches, from the script to the characters, whilst the constant need for the characters to interject the already meaningless lines of dialogue with tiresome swear words made the film a painful experience in a similar vein to this years’ Spy, with both seemingly forgetting the power of a well-written speech and instead flooding our characters with the vocabulary of a 14 year old who has just realised how naughty such words are when used. Within all the negativity is a power couple comprising of the leading stars with Steward and Eisenberg obviously making the most of their dire script which makes their on-screen relationship the only positive aspect of the film, something of which doesn’t save American Ultra from what it overly is; a forgettable mess.
Overall Score: 4/10