Category Archives: Action

Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) [2015]

Kingsman - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman make an awesome screen-writing couple. Together, they wrote the hilarious Kick-Ass and the first-rate reboot of the X-Men franchise. Now, they are back in comical fashion with the secret service spoof, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

Kingsman is based on the comic-book by Mark Millar. It is about a young man from South London called Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who is descending into a life of violence, drink, drugs and crime when secret agent Harry (Colin Firth) pays him an unexpected visit. Harry offers him the chance, which Eggsy accepts, to train and become a secret agent/Kingsman to stop Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) from making the world anew with his new invention.

Kingsman is a stylish and entertaining film. At its core, the movie is a satire on the spy thriller genre and James Bond in particular (which, itself, was a satire on the world of espionage until Daniel Craig’s Bond hijacked the franchise). Yet, Kingsman has a (charming) stick-two-fingers-up attitude that most spy thrillers and James Bond films would never dare employ. This attitude has a strangely endearing quality and hints at why Vaughn turned down directing X-Men: Days of Future Past in favour of making Kingsman. This attitude not only makes the film worthwhile-viewing, it reminds audiences of why they loved Kick-Ass so much back in 2010.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

It also helps that Kingsman is ludicrously funny. Vaughn and Goldman have an impeccable understanding of the most essential ingredient for comedy: timing. As a result, the numerous jokes, touché lines, exaggerated action sequences, and amusing special effects all work throughout the film’s 129-minute running time. Indeed, one is likely to be so amused by the ridiculousness of the movie that one is unlikely to care that the plot is cliché and overblown, or that the actors take themselves as disingenuously as their counterparts did in Knight and Day, Mission: Impossible IV and This Means War.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

No-one epitomises the preposterous nature of the storyline and the acting as much as Samuel L Jackson (SLJ), as the camp, 1980s-dressed, lisp-impaired villain of the film (named Valentine to cap it all). When one is used to watching SLJ as the stern and authoritative Coach Carter and Nick Fury, one has to blink repeatedly (and with disbelief) to remember that Valentine is the same man. But credit to SLJ: he performs insincerely admirably as Valentine without disgracing himself. The same can be said for Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson, even if their roles are far less humiliating than SLJ’s.

Over-all, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an enjoyable film, provided it is taken with a handful of salt. The movie is absurd and over-the-top in all departments. But it is a very funny and entertaining spoof on James Bond and the spy genre in general. Thus, like with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class before, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have scored again with Kingsman, and long may they keep scoring.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Exodus: Gods And Kings (12a) [2014]

Exodus - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Fighter, The Dark Knight I-III, American Hustle, The Big Short
  • Joel Edgerton – Smokin’ Aces, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Gift
  • John Turturro – Anger Management, Transformers I-III, The Taking of Pelham 123, Hands of Stone
  • Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III, The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Need For Speed, Eye In The Sky
  • Sigourney Weaver – Alien I-V, Ghostbusters I & II, Paul, The Cabin In The Woods, A Monster Calls
  • Ben Mendelsohn – The New World, Killing Them Softly, The Dark Knight Rises, Mississippi Grind
  • María Valverde – Body Confusion, The Anarchist’s Wife, The Liberator, Broken Horses
  • Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hugo, Iron Man III, The DictatorKnight of Cups
  • Indira Varma – Rome, Basic Instinct II, Silk, Game of Thrones, Caesar
  • Hiam Abbass – Munich, Lemon Tree, A Bottle In The Gaza Sea, Nothing Escapes My Eyes

Music Composer:

In my review of Prometheus in 2012, I wrote that since Gladiator came out in 2000 all of Ridley Scott’s films have not been good enough for a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Since 2000, Scott has consistently made disappointing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Prometheus, while 2013’s The Counsellor was rotten to the core. So bearing in mind Scott’s portfolio over the last fourteen years, what could one expect with Exodus: Gods And Kings?

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

The film starts with (the anachronistic method) of a transcript, giving viewers the political context of the movie, as well as Moses’ position in Ancient Egypt. Subsequently, the film centres round Moses of the Torah and we follow him (Christian Bale) as a young adult living among the elites in Cairo; through his exile and marriage to Zipporah (María Valverde); to finally taking his place as the first leader of the enslaved Israelite/Jewish people and leading them out of Ancient Egypt via the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is a lively adaptation of the famous Biblical tale. The film is not absolutely historically accurate (especially if one swears by the Quran) and contains much artistic license. Some of the inaccuracies are avoidable, for example the number of years that the Israelites were enslaved for. But others inaccuracies are unavoidable and require the artistic license that Scott employs because there is no historical record of it; for example, where and what Moses did in exile.

If one can overcome these inaccuracies, one can appreciate many of the enjoyable elements of the movie. Scott impressively designs Ancient Egypt to give viewers a feel for how ancient Cairo and the slave city of Piton probably looked like; the battle at the start of the film is really good (although, strikingly similar to the battle in the opening scenes of Gladiator); the splitting of the Red Sea is refreshingly different from the conventional story (although, one recently saw a better example of what the film achieves in Interstellar); and the CGI plagues and godly miracles are emphatic and vividly memorable.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Furthermore, Exodus depicts Moses in an innovative and interesting way that is seldom discussed. This is important as Moses was a human being (who we know little about), so his (real or possible) flaws should be laid bare for us so we can assess what sort of a man he was. Exodus does this in a pseudo-intelligent manner and Scott should rightly be recognised for trying to do something different.

However, sadly, Scott undermines his idea of Moses, as well as the other key individuals from this period, with his poor choice of casting. Forget the racism issue (which Scott daftly fuelled with his lamentable responses); none of the actors in the main roles look their part. Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver do not look like they are Ancient Egyptian or Mediterranean, and no amount of spray tan and make-up can change that. And, also, what was Scott thinking when he chose Christian Bale to be Moses? How can Batman be Moses? It just isn’t believable, and if viewers cannot believe in the characters, it is an uphill struggle for the cast to come across convincingly.

In fairness to the cast, they are handicapped by the wretchedly written script that relegates all, but Moses, to one-dimensional characters. The biggest victim of the script is the main villain: Pharaoh Rameses II, played by Joel Edgerton. If Scott’s intention had been to make Rameses be Exodus’s Commodus, Scott fails miserably. One may have loathed Commodus by the end of Gladiator, but that was only because Scott gave him/Joaquin Phoenix the chance to be loathed. Scott does not give Rameses/Edgerton such a chance, consigning Rameses to a pathetic, ranting idiot, who is unfit to rule. This is a shame (and gratingly frustrating) because it is a waste of a talent like Edgerton, because it is contrary to history, and most significantly because one feels nothing towards Rameses by the end.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses' request to let his people go.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses’ request to let his people go.

Speaking of the end, it takes an Earth’s turn to get there. One cares so little for the characters in Exodus that the movie’s 150-minutes running-time feels like double that. To think that Gladiator, at 155-minutes, was longer than Exodus, is surprising as it felt shorter. This speaks volumes for just how much of a masterpiece Gladiator was, and how far Scott’s stock has fallen as a director since 2000.

Overall, Exodus: Gods And Kings is not a terrible film. One may object to the historical inaccuracies within the film, yet this cannot be helped due to the limited amount of source material available on the subject. Instead, one should enjoy the aspects of the movie that have been done well. That is, if one can overcome Scott’s glaring casting errors and the poverty of the script that leaves even Christian Bale, one of the most talented actors of the current era, struggling for conviction. But, then again, what did one expect from Exodus? Another film of Gladiator’s quality? Don’t be ridiculous! Just be grateful that Exodus is not another Prometheus.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Hobbit III: The Battle of the Five Armies HFR 3D (12a) [2014]

The Hobbit III - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Lovely BonesThe Hobbit I & IIThe Adventures of Tintin II

Additional Writer:

  • Guillermo Del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy I-III, Mama, Pinnochio

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s EndSherlockFargo, Captain America III
  • Ian McKellen – Lord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr Holmes
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue JasmineCinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack SkyInto The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – AlarmThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – CasanovaCharlie Wilson’s WarOne Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo24: Day 8ColumbianaCreed
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyStar Trek II: Into DarknessThe Fifth Estate12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-IIIThe Kingdom of HeavenThe Good DoctorZulu
  • Lee Pace – The FallTwilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part IILincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – LostThe Hurt LockerReal Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the TitansImmortalsThe RavenDracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For VendettaAlice In WonderlandSherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I IIILord of WarRatatouille
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings TrilogySeason of the WitchThe Girl From Nagasaki
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix TrilogyLord of the Rings TrilogyCaptain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III, Strangerland

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugoA Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit I II, Denial

(Please read my reviews of The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug for context, as I won’t be going over points I’ve already made, such as the problems with the High Frame Rate, negotiations with the orcs, and the alterations that Jackson has made to the trilogy from the source material.)

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was one of the greatest trilogies of all time. It was beautifully put together and held phenomenal emotional weight that made viewers care about the characters in the story. The same, however, cannot be said for the first two volumes of the prequel trilogy. Nevertheless, could the final volume of the prequel trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, redeem The Hobbit trilogy?

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

The Hobbit III starts where The Desolation of Smaug ended: with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashing his fury upon Laketown. But with the dragon now out of the Lonely Mountain, there is a huge treasure of gold to be had. The greedy leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), may not want to share it, but the people of Laketown, as well as armies of elves, orcs, and other dwarves come for their share of the treasure all the same. Thus, the battle of the five armies begins…

The Hobbit III is the shortest of The Hobbit films at 144 minutes and that is one of the movie’s saving graces. Well, that, the opening scene when the Cumberdragon burns Laketown, and the ending itself. The desolation of Laketown is done well, particularly as it’s given the right length of time, as well as the right amount of comedy, action and special effects for it to be spectacular.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

It is a shame that the ‘epic’ titular battle, itself, is neither spectacular nor given the right amount of time. It is 45-minutes of repetitive, pleasure-seeking action, devoid of the laws of physics, emotional weight, and should have been cut in half. One does not care what happens to the dwarves or the CGI orcs as they’re all synonymous and lifeless. Plus, if Jackson had comprehended the problems of the hour-long battle in Transformers III or the 40-minute fight in Man of Steel he would not have allowed his ‘epic’ battle go on for so long because it loses its sense of timing. Without the crucial ingredient of timing, the battle becomes snooze-inducing. But then again, the dwarves have always been synonymous throughout the trilogy, the (dark-skinned, deformed) orcs have been there merely to be slaughtered, and more or less every scene in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug went on for too long, had no sense of timing and ignored the laws of physics. So there really was no hope Jackson learning his lessons and making The Battle of the Five Armies an emotionally fulfilling, succinct masterpiece.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a... reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a… reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

And like the muddled titular battle, the rest of The Hobbit III is dispiritingly all over the place. That The Hobbit has had a troubled production history might go some way to elucidating why The Hobbit III, in particular, is so bad. (A film based on The Hobbit book was supposed to have been written shortly after the successful conclusion of the LOTR in 2003, but didn’t materialise. Guillermo Del Toro was appointed to direct The Hobbit at some point in the late-2000s, but stepped down for unspecified reasons. Jackson, subsequently, came to the rescue of the project, only for Del Toro to come back on board in some capacity. And, then, after initially deciding to make two films out of the 300-page book, Jackson decided to split the second film in two and shoot new scenes in 2012/13 to make The Hobbit into a trilogy in post-production.) But is the film’s troubled history truly a reason for why the dialogue is so clunky; for why the aftermath of Laketown goes on for too long; for why storylines (unforgivably) do no conclude; for why the central premises of the film/trilogy are (inexcusably) forgotten; and for why the eponymous character of the trilogy, Bilbo Baggins (played with charm by Martin Freeman), feels like a peripheral figure in the concluding chapter of his own story, among other things? The Hobbit III is so unsatisfying that the answers cannot boil down solely to a troubled production history, especially as Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) claimed earlier this year that the LOTR had a chaotic production too. This entails that the film’s/trilogy’s faults lie with Jackson, who has done nothing of significance since the LOTR and has now shown that he can muck up something he loves if he is not controlled.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

One might have pardoned Jackson for some of the aforementioned errors in The Hobbit III (and the trilogy as a whole) if he had added something innovative to Tolkien’s universe. It would have made for interesting viewing if he had given audiences details of the backgrounds, cultures and religions of the peoples of Middle-Earth that Tolkien, himself, failed to put into his stories, or put in a Machiavellian-style character (like Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). But no, Jackson (depressingly) doesn’t do any of this, meaning that people go away from this bloated film/trilogy knowing nothing more about the wizards, men, elves, dwarves and orcs of Middle-Earth than they did after the LOTR. Simply put: this is not good enough, Jackson.

Over-all, one can breathe a sigh of relief that The Hobbit trilogy is over. While The Battle of the Five Armies has a couple of good moments, like the opening scene and the end credits, it is a mess and suffers from the same issues as The Hobbit I & II: notably, its swollen length to accommodate the extreme self-indulgence, tedium and sameness. Whilst watching The Hobbit III, it feels like one is watching a glutton stuff his/her face, whilst the problems within The Hobbit trilogy as well as the problems surrounding the trilogy’s production illuminate before one’s eyes. Worse, The Hobbit III and the trilogy as a whole show up the problems within Tolkien’s works, including the LOTR. Peter Jackson, how could you go so wrong?

PG’s Tips

Review – Fury (15) [2014]

Fury - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • David Ayer – Harsh Times, End Of Watch, Sabotage

Cast:

  • Brad Pitt – Snatch, Mr & Mrs Smith, 12 Years A Slave, The Big Short
  • Shia Lebeouf – Disturbia, Transformers I-III, Nymphomaniac I-II, Man Down
  • Logan Lerman – 3:10 To Yuma, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Percy Jackson I-II, Noah
  • Michael Peña – Crash, End Of Watch, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Martian
  • Jon Bernthal – The Air I Breathe, The Ghost, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Sicario
  • Jason Isaacs – Black Hawk Down, Windtalkers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Stockholm, Pennsylvania

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – The World’s End, Gravity

The topic of World War II (WWII) is well trodden territory in Hollywood. Seeing stellar American soldiers gunning down Nazis and ‘Japs’ has been revisited on many, many occasions as Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbour, Band Of Brothers, Flags Of Our Fathers, and Red Tails testify, to name a handful. Unsurprisingly, after such a high volume of movies on the topic in the last two decades alone, there is a sterile and samey feel to WWII films, unless a new film adds something unseen to the genre. Alas, Fury does not do this.

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), 'Gordo' (Michael Peña) and 'Coon-Ass' (Jon Bernthal).

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), ‘Gordo’ (Michael Peña) and ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal).

The film is fictional and begins in 1945. The Allies are advancing into Nazi Germany, and Fury, the name of the tank led by Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), is in one of the regiments leading the assault into the Fatherland. Including Sergeant Collier, the tank consists of a five man crew: Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia Lebeouf), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), and newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).

As the crew push deeper into Germany, Sergeant Collier takes it upon himself to educate young Ellison about the brutal nature of war and how to deal with it, as the personality of the enemy sinks to ever more depraved levels.

Fury’s premise is simple and the film sticks to it rigidly. Fury has a raw, muddy, and claustrophobic feel to it. One gains a true insight into what it must have been like (and probably still is like) for a group of soldiers inside a tank while fighting in a war. The movie shows how the crew’s situation turns from uneventful to frenzied chaos upon the rippling of a machine gun or the boom of an explosion. Suffice to say, there is plenty of both and all the action scenes are well done.

Sergeant 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Another aspect of Fury that’s done well is the developing relationship between Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt and Norman Ellison/Logan Lerman. This is because David Ayer’s script is good and the actors perform their roles well, particularly Pitt as the grizzled but caring war-veteran. To Pitt’s credit, in a film which he dominates, he manages to hold viewer’s attention, whether it is with Ellison, the other members of his band of brothers, other American soldiers, or Germans. Pitt’s/Collier’s character is most interesting and revealing when he is teaching Ellison/Lerman about the nature of the Nazi enemy as audiences get to see the complexities in his character.

Yet, as a corollary of Pitt dominating the film, the rest of the non-peripheral members of the cast don’t get enough screen time to illustrate that they are much more than (lazy) personifications of their nicknames. (Nevertheless, they do get time enough to praise Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt. For which film starring Brad Pitt wouldn’t give the supporting cast time to applaud him?) That the other characters are not given adequate screen time is a bit of a shame as the actors all do good jobs with what they’re given; even, shockingly, the much-derided Shia Lebeouf!

Other than Fury being (yet another) glorification of Brad Pitt, the film lacks direction and the storyline does not go anywhere as a result. Arguably, the movie never intends to build up to a climax (although it half does); and, instead, merely goes out to highlight the grisly, ghastly and inhumane horrors of war, merely from the angle of tank crewmen. Yet, if this were the case, Fury does not go far enough. Many criminal elements and horrors of war/WWII are not shown in the film, especially in comparison to the harrowing Schindler’s List and The City Of Life And Death.

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven't we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven’t we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

Additionally, Fury lacks depth. There are several occasions when some of the cast talk about criminal acts they’ve committed during the war. They may talk about it with remorse, but no-one ever questions their actions. This renders the scene frustrating because the film misses the chance to explore the moral conscience of each character, and pointless because it means that such scenes have no consequence (positive or negative) on the rest of the movie.

Indeed, frustration and pointlessness sum up Fury. It is a film that has a lot going for it due to a good script; solid acting from all the cast; the a muddy set which enables one to feel what it must have been like (and what it probably still be like) to be inside a tank during war; and the graphic way that warfare is depicted is gruesome and sickening. However, ultimately, the above-mentioned positives of Fury are not enough to satisfy viewers, considering that WWII has been portrayed in films so many times over the last two decades alone. Thus, Fury has the sterile and samey feel of so many other WWII movies which not even the dominant display of Brad Pitt (and his abs) can overcome.

PG’s Tips

Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past (12a) [2014]

X-Men 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men II, House of Wax, Fantastic 4 I-II, Valkyrie, Non-Stop, X-Men: Apocalypse

The Batman and X-Men franchises have undergone similar arcs and reboots in relatively recent times. 1997’s Batman & Robin and 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand were so bad that the franchises were torn up and magnificently re-started in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was a great sequel to Batman Begins, so Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future is a great continuation of First Class.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is loosely based on the comic-book with the same title. The movie starts in the apocalyptic, present day or the near future. Led by the reunited Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), the last handful of mutants are trying desperately to hold out against the invincible, changeable Sentinels.

With the situation hopeless, Professor X, via Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. Professor X’s hope is that Wolverine can persuade a younger, mentally-broken Charles (James McAvoy) to re-establish his friendship with Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the Sentinels.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has an engaging storyline that interlinks the two time-periods within the film nicely, if not without problems for some of the other X-Men films. Indeed, Days of Future Past may come at the expense of some elements of the three original X-Men movies and may even black-out the existence of the two Wolverine spin-offs (but that is probably for the best).

Moreover, Days of Future Past involves itself in crucial events in history, in the same way that First Class did with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Like with its prequel, Days of Future Past does this in a smart and hilarious way. This, combined many in-jokes and phenomenal special effects, makes Days of Future Past very enjoyable to watch.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Nevertheless, what makes (First Class and) Days of Future Past so interesting is that it is not about a showdown between Good and Evil; it is about the friendship/rivalry of Professor X and Magneto. These two characters may not have the depth or the darkness of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but their personalities and differing ideologies make for a refreshing change to the crash, bang, boom nature of other superhero movies like all five Spiderman films, Iron Man III and Captain America II among countless others.

Additionally, the dialogue and acting in the latter two X-Men films is significantly better than in those above-mentioned superhero movies, with the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy. All the actors in Days of Future Past (old and new) are brilliant without fail. Whether it is Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is played with the same vigour and damaged personality as in First Class; Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as the vulnerable Mysterique, whose unhappiness in her own skin has led her to take vengeance against anyone who takes a dislike to mutants; Hugh Jackman once again shows that he owns the Wolverine character; Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play magnificently as Charles Xavier, although McAvoy undoubtedly has the more demanding parts of the role; and Peter Dinklage is great as Dr. Trask, even if his accent switches from his normal New Jersey accent to Tyrion Lannister’s English accent for no obvious reason.

The above-mentioned characters may dominate Days of Future Past, but they are only a minority of the swollen cast. Consequently, a great many characters are not given much screen time, including new mutants like Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). These mutants have a back-story and it would have been good to hear it.

Otherwise, in the eleven years between the end of First Class and the beginning of Days of Future Past (1962-73), viewers are told of many interesting developments that have occurred off-screen. It would have been nice to have been shown these. (Then again, another film in between these two movies would have been needed for that.)

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels.

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels (which come to look remarkably like the machine-monster Thor fights in Thor I).

And, lastly, the film deviates quite significantly from the same-named comic-book; for example, in the comics, it is Kitty Pryde who goes back in time, not Wolverine. But if comic-book geeks are honest, even they would accept that Kitty Pryde cannot dominate the screen (or hold viewer’s attention) in the same way that Wolverine can. And besides, these alterations should not knock down a film that achieves so much by way of its ambition and is so entertaining.

Over-all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a really good film. It has its flaws and it would have been nice to learn more about the non-central characters, and to see some of the events that happened off-screen. But, on the whole, Days of Future Past is amusing; it deals well with its two competing time-periods; continues the conflict maturely between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr; and is a credible sequel to X-Men: First Class. Now all the franchise needs, like with The Dark Knight Trilogy, is a satisfying conclusion in its third instalment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

PG’s Tips

Review – Captain America II: The Winter Soldier (12a) [2014]

Captain America 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Directors:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Titular characters are usually (and unsurprisingly) the main characters in their films. Bruce Wayne/Batman is the lead character in Batman Begins, Conan is the central performer in Conan the Barbarian, and Tony Stark/Iron Man is the dominant personality of the Iron Man franchise. Yet, in some movies the titular character is usurped by a member of the supporting cast. This is what happens in Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, and in this case it makes for a better spectacle.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

The saucy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

Captain America II is the third instalment of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’ and takes place two years after the events of The Avengers Assemble I. With military and spy technology having evolved, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) has become increasingly uncomfortable with how SHIELD is operating. Believing that there is something underhand at SHIELD, Captain America and his fellow Avenger, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), go on the run to find out who or what might be behind SHIELD’s worrying change of direction. And that is when they come up against the powerful Winter Soldier…

Captain America II is a significant improvement on Captain America I. Its storyline is much more enjoyable and it justifies its 136 minute running time. Unlike the lacklustre and simplistic plots of Captain America I, Iron Man III and Thor II (the latter-two films being the previous two instalments of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’), Captain America II’s storyline tries to be complex and raises some thought-provoking moral dilemmas. Issues, such as the use of drones, and how far government agencies are permitted to use technology to gather intelligence about its citizens (and foreign ones) are matters that are greatly relevant to the present era, and the film should be commended for bringing them up.

However, Captain America II lacks the stamina to maintain these complicated themes as the film goes on. This is because the movie does not have the maturity of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so it falls into laughable stereotypes and senselessness; all of which is a shame to a degree, yet do not affect the film’s entertainment value.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

Chiefly, this is because of the role of Black Widow, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson. Black Widow has appeared in Iron Man II and The Avengers Assemble I; nevertheless, it is only in Captain America II that Black Widow is given proper screen time to express herself and she does not disappoint. In a similar vein to the Joker in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale’s Dicky in The Fighter, and Loki in Thor I & II, when Black Widow is not on screen viewers long for her return. It is not just due to her skin-tight costume, her excellent kick-ass skills, and Johansson’s tantalising good looks (although those are inordinately influential); it is Black Widow’s astuteness, savviness and (somewhat) enigmatic personality that makes audiences want to see more of her, since she keeps one guessing as to what her agenda is throughout the movie. (Indeed, it’s pity that there is not more of her.)

Black Widow undoubtedly overshadows the titular Captain America. This is not surprising since Captain America is the least talented and the least interesting of all the Marvel heroes. Captain America is merely the archetypal soldier without a bad bone in his body, which (as lovely as it sounds) makes for dull viewing (which was probably why Captain America I was so boring and why the directors included Black Widow this time around). This is not to say that Chris Evans does a bad job with the material he’s been given; it’s just that the material doesn’t have enough substance to it and wastefully does not develop Captain America’s character. The same is true for Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), while the villains (none of whom I’ll name for fear of spoiling the film) are even less fleshed out and significantly more trite.

Trite is also how one can describe the dialogue in Captain America II. For the heroes, the dialogue is lazily written; for the villains, it is pitifully comical.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America's) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America’s) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

But dialogue aside, the many (but thankfully not too many) stunts and action scenes are well choreographed. Those, in addition to the decent CGI and the uplifting music score, make Captain America II an enjoyable watch.

All-in-all, Captain America II: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining comic-book hero movie. Its attempts to be complicated, both on a plot and on a moral level, may become silly as the movie goes on. Yet, the film holds its audiences interest throughout its over two-hour running time. Unquestionably, this is because of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. In Captain America’s own movie, Black Widow steals his thunder (pardon the Thor pun), so much so that the film should not be called Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, but Black Widow: The Savvy Avenger.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug (12a) [2013]

The Hobbit II - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Lovely Bones, The Hobbit IIII, The Adventures of Tintin II

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s End, Sherlock, Fargo
  • Ian McKellen – Apt PupilLord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue Jasmine, Cinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack Sky, Into The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – Alarm, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – Casanova, Charlie Wilson’s War, One Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo, 24: Day 8, Columbiana
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek II: Into Darkness, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-III, The Kingdom of Heaven, The Good Doctor, Zulu
  • Lee Pace – The Fall, Twilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part II, Lincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – Lost, The Hurt Locker, Real Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the Titans, Immortals, The Raven, Dracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For Vendetta, Alice In Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugo, A Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit IIII

In December 2012, Peter Jackson started audiences on another nine-hour trilogy into Middle Earth, nine years after the last one ended. But anyone expecting The Hobbit Trilogy to be of the same quality as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy should have looked at the size of their respective source materials. With The Hobbit book having less than a third of the pages of The Lord of the Rings, it was unsurprising that The Hobbit I: An Expected Journey was overly-stretched, self-indulgent and stuffed with scenes that added little to the adventure. Well (predictably), The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug suffers from the same syndrome, but it is a vast improvement on its predecessor.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

In The Hobbit I, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) left the Shire to help Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves of Erebor reclaim their gold and homeland from Smaug the Dragon. By the end of An Unexpected Journey, after a long and dull trek (that mimicked the journey of the fellowship in The Fellowship of the Ring), some chases, and some fights with goblins and orcs, the eagles rescued Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves, and flew them to within sight of the Lonely Mountain and the ruins of Erebor.

Now, it is up to our new fellowship to make their way to the Lonely Mountain and retrieve the Arkenstone, the legitimising gem for the dwarf king. Yet, in order to regain this precious pearl, someone will have to be brave enough to snatch it from under the clasp of a dragon…

The plot for The Desolation of Smaug is straightforward and fun. The storyline also runs at a much faster pace than that of An Unexpected Journey, which is a good thing (since last time out it took 43 minutes just for Bilbo to leave the Shire).

Another noteworthy matter is that Peter Jackson has somewhat rectified two of the faults of the last film by adding in a major (albeit made up) female character (Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly); and by giving some personality to Balin, Dwalin and Kili so that they can differentiate themselves from Thorin ‘wannabe Aragorn’ Oakenshield and the other nine (synonymous) dwarves.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she's made of.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she’s made of.

Moreover, the dragon has been done superbly well. The special effects, combined with Benedict Cumberbatch’s rich, rumbling voice make the scenes with Smaug some of the most creative dragon scenes ever seen in a movie. Undoubtedly, the arrival of Smaug is one of the best features of The Desolation of Smaug and makes the film worthwhile.

However, in a similar vein to An Unexpected Journey, at 161 minutes The Desolation of Smaug is long. (Couldn’t the eagles have flown the protagonists to the Lonely Mountain and spared us two hours?). Worse, The Hobbit II is bloated with the disapplication of the laws of physics, an overuse of CGI, too many fight scenes, some (Logger’s Leap-style) fairground rides, irrelevant sub-plots from old and new characters, and an unnecessary love triangle (stolen from that wreckage of a pentology known as Twilight) to cap it all. All of these add nothing to the story and should have been edited out.

Yes, the water rides might be as entertaining as the love triangle is contrived and pointless. But there is something troubling about the continued mowing down of the orcs by the protagonists. Why couldn’t Peter Jackson have had our heroes at least try to negotiate peace with the orcs? Is it because the orcs look deformed that they can’t be negotiated with?

One may argue that as no negotiations take place in the source material, it cannot happen in the films. But, first, we are in 2014 (not the 1930s when the book was published, or the 1960s when the book became a sensation, or even 2001 when the first of The Lord of the Rings films came out). And in 2014 peace negotiations with peoples different to our own must be given every chance to succeed. Second, Jackson has changed so much from the book that merely to state the excuse of ‘not in the source material’ is neither convincing nor valid.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Perhaps, if Bilbo had posed the above-mentioned questions, it would have enriched the story and given the film a deeper moral dimension. More to the point, it would have been in character with Martin Freeman’s excellent portrayal of Bilbo and made The Desolation of Smaug a more gratifying and thought-provoking film.

Over-all, The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug is a step up from An Unexpected JourneyThe Desolation of Smaug moves at a decent pace; has some, if too many, enjoyable and imaginative action scenes; and a fantastic looking and aptly sounding dragon to make for an entertaining spectacle. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from The Hobbit II’s swollen running time. The Desolation of Smaug, like An Unexpected Journey before it, is burdened by the numerous, purposeless, Jackson-invented side-stories that have ruined all that is good about the first two instalments of The Hobbit Trilogy, and that are also surreptitiously sullying The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

PG’s Tips