About a third of the way through Kong: Skull Island, Warner Brothers latest bid to recapture the franchise crown from the house of mouse, marooned Second World War airman Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) yells how happy he is that a military expedition has finally arrived to save him – ‘I heard you were coming, they told me you were here’ he feverishly exclaims. The problem with this exchange is that he is alone on the remote pacific atoll of Skull Island, exiled since he crash landed almost thirty years ago, apart from the standard issue deployment of a primitive tribe whom have also just discovered the expedition, mere moments before. His potential saviours are a reassigned Vietnam Marine unit – this film is set in the early 1970’s for no qualitatively discernible reason – captained by a standard issue Samuel L. Jackson blustering lazily through his usual blockbuster bricolage. That such a elemental disregard for narrative script logic has surpassed the studio QC test speaks volumes of this productions disregard for the audiences intelligence (who are they, exactly?), the incremental tip of an insulting iceberg, in what I am afraid to report is this year’s worst movie so far – and I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge.
So let’s rewind a little and outline the plot, as much as there is a semblance of such things. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is the senior executive of the secretive government organisation codenamed Monarch, a unit charged with investigating the mysterious and clandestine caverns of the globe. Despite being enveloped in a mysterious, permanent storm which obscures any satellite penetration (not to mention defying the laws of physics) he has spent years lobbying for an expedition to Skull Island, a remote archipelago situated in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean, which due to its unique qualities has never been crawled over by scientists like a phalanx of curious climate attuned toddlers. So finally, despite being ignored by centuries of inquisitive homo-sapien exploration Randa finally convinces the powers that be to assemble a B-Movie battalion of character tropes to see what’s going on, and whom, or indeed what might be roaming around this Eukaryoteic eden.
Quite how you waste an ensemble cast of Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchel, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and Terry Notary is a gargantuan achievement, as no attention has been aimed at assembling any sliver of adventurous creation, Hiddleston in particular being spectacularly miscast as some roguish adventurer in a desperate grasp for Han Solo symbiosis. Second lead Larson as Mason Weaver, a self-proclaimed ‘anti-war’ photographer recruited to the mission also yields no internal instruction or arc, no political purchase or indeed personality, but she does get the ‘best’ line in the film when she reports for duty and a surprised military attaché exclaims ‘Mason Weaver? But (dramatic pause, scrolling through the ship deployment manifest)…but…you’re a woman?’…’Last time I checked!’ she retorts. Alas, I am not joking.
After half an hour of this tedious stumble through the labyrinth of lazy Hollywood engineering I recalibrated my expectations accordingly, as even if we can’t have anything resembling fun characters or dialogue, any graze of excitement or energy we can at least reel in some scintillating CGI and mirthful monster mayhem, right? Wrong. Blockbuster brawlers such as Guillermo and Jackson have consistently and correctly reasserted that an essential element of any monster movie is to invest your creations with some semblance of personality, a trait that is fully absent here, there’s just no there there beneath the CGI carapace. The main draw of the movie, the almighty Kong who squats atop the pinnacle of American monster movies since 1934 in this incarnation is simply boring to behold in all his supposed simian stupendousness – it’s all inertia, with no metaphoric gravity nor heft. That critical, fatal flaw is reinforced in the design of the perfunctory flora and fauna of Skull Island that assail our heroes, the supporting characters are picked off red-shirt style with no human dimension nor consequence, as we progress through a plot untroubled by interest or consequence. Sure, I am fully aware that you should perhaps check in any concerns of reason or logic at the ticket collection booth – this is a big, loud, brash blockbuster intended to deactivate the cerebellum – yet the flippant lack of quality or design in any other dimension of filmmaking, the set pieces, the SFX, any sense of exotic adventure or mysterious investigation, they all render this movie as mediocre par maximus.
Predictably the wider movie references are speared throughout the film like a postmodern skewer (including a nod to this), but the obvious antecedent is Apocalypse Now which I detected from the initial trailer and the colour palette, period soundtrack and those images of mosquito framed choppers shrouded against a blazing oriental sun. A cold opening of Marlow’s initial arrival on the atoll in 1944 is pinched from Boorman’s Hell In The Pacific when a Japanese airman is also marooned along with Marlow, a plot point which is suitably set up and then thoroughly abandoned. Gentle reader, given the deliberate historical locality I’m not necessarily expecting some squirming subtext of an arrogant battalion of Westerners invading an exotic oriental locale, raining napalm and ordinance on the denizens and arousing the wrath of some ancient, gargantuan, elemental wrath, but a movie on this scale has to be fun on its own genre terms, and on that front Skull Island fails abysmally. Once again the studios have drafted in a talented Indie director, Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts (helmsman of 2013’s charming Kings Of Summer), and ruthlessly crushed any potential flourish or notable technique, as all must be in thrall to lowest common denominator blockbuster banality personified in the near ubiquitous and groan inducing post credits sting – see also Jurassic World. Doug McClure must be spinning in his volcanic grave, as taken as a franchise inceptor or mere creature feature Skull Island is a colossal disappointment;
More trailers as the film reviews continue to mount, I saw Logan today as a timekiller before a full day of further BFI activities – this is getting ridiculous and I really need to clear this backlog next week. Anyway, I surprisingly enjoyed the original so more of the same seems filthy fun;
There is clearly something in the water as the full trailers for this years nervous franchise holders are dropping thick and fast, and this looks several parsecs more entertaining that Alien 8. Still, not sure they had to crowbar in that fairly major spoiler;
Jesus Christ on a xenomorph this is looking increasingly wretched – maybe like how Promethea had a great trailer and was bad, this has a bad trailer and is….good? Yeah, I know, I’m clutching at interstellar straws. The casting doesn’t help either, I just can’t take Danny McBride nor James Franco seriously in this universe, and nice to see the fate of one character spoiled already. …yes I’m there opening weekend ’cause its Alien, but it will be be arms firmly folded and legs crossed, awaiting to be impressed;
Oh, and that whole ‘post-credits-sting-action-beat’ technique thing can also go fuck a duck….
Whats this? The director of cult creature romance Monsters and the mildly successful 2014 Godzilla reboot has a new film hitting theatres at Christmas? Cool. I think it’s part of yet another franchise or something (rolls eyes), but this might be good fun, yes?
So this is in the same continuity and set before Episode IV, huh? That was a good trailer as trailers go, just the right balance of footage and intrigue, and I think Felicity Jones looks strong. Also featuring terrific support in the form of Mikkelson, Forrest Whitaker and Ben Mendelsohn, and allegedly shot at my local tube station? Roll on December, and let the nerding commence…..
It’s barely February and already the Marvel juggernaut continues unabated with its latest big-screen addition to the spandex roll-call, except this time we have a R rated twist to the sequential panel storytelling that is quite a foul-mouthed fulmination true believers. For the most part the character of Deadpool was an unknown to me, he arrived guns ablazing on the scene after I stopped reading comics on a regular basis, and from a distance the inclusion of a wise-cracking assassin was hardly breaking the traditional post Dark Knight Returns grim and violent 1990’s graphic novel mould. In that sense I have no baggage, no ‘it’s not like the comics’ nerd-rage tedium to taint the opinion of what I found to be a largely amusing and entertaining romp, a mischievous melee which manages to annihilate that acidic aroma of Reynolds relationship to the terrible Green Lantern picture from a few years back. If I’m honest those initial trailers for the film left me rolling my eyes in faux exasperation, but I needed an alternative to the grievous subject matter of the other two movies we have circling in the airspace, and some of the conclusions oozing out of various social media faucets seemed to suggest this could be an entertaining aside. The Marvel marketers have also pulled an amusing coo by programming this against Valentine day’s weekend as Deadpool, as its titular character voiceover asserts is in many ways a love story. Well, when I say love story, I mean love story that follows a rather non-traditional pathway of boys meets girl, girl meets boy, boy contracts terminal cancer and submits himself to a horrific secret medical procedure which leaves him a wretched and ragged shadow of himself whom is immune to pain and regenerates shattered tissue as he mercilessly hunts and exterminates down the members of the shadowy syndicate whom have subjected him to this horrific fate.
If that sentence was a little breathless and overwrought then you’ll forgive me for aping the film itself in such a meta-textual way, as it opens in a balletic mid-combat title sequence where the traditional credits have been supplanted by descriptions of the roles from Deadpool’s perspective, hence ‘Produced by a couple of Douche Bags’, ‘Starring A British Villain’ and ‘Also Starring A Dumb Sidekick’ set the framework for the general direction of travel. We are thrust into the midst of the second act transition to the climax, where after a quick action beat chaser our wise-cracking guide Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) provides through flashback his origin story, sliced by frequent asides to camera, whip crack montages and frequent shattering of the fourth wall, all fostering a general disregard for genre credentials in a boisterous charge that sustains momentum throughout the movie. As an ex-mercenary type Wade is the aforementioned guy who robs from the bad guys in order to maintain his own degenerate lifestyle, a path that changes when he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, best known for Homeland and that terrible V reboot from a few years back) at the seedy bar that his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) runs with a hirsute, criminal efficiency. True love and frequent fucking blooms until the cancer raises its ugly head, leading Wade into the arms of a shadowy cabal. These swine subject him to a torturous experiment that disfigures his body but leaves him with accelerated healing powers, setting him on a righteous path of vengeance, punctuated by bone shattering violence, wank gags and frequent Marvel legendarium in-jokes – and a couple of third tier X-Men appearances…..
I don’t think it was unreasonable to assume that this could have been some obnoxious frat-boy of a movie judging by some of that trailer content, and with Van Wilder Party Liaison himself in the driving seat I believe my caution to be justified. They obviously caught me on a good day as I cackled like a tickled wraith throughout Deadpool, I relished the squelching violence and let the flow of risqué quips and convention buggering bulldozer demolish my snooty objections, while the light scattering of in-jokes wasn’t as possibly onerous as a sandpaper dildo, just to steal another line from our potty-mouthed protagonist. With a Shane Black inspired machine run ratio the various eviscerating beats land with a 70% to 80% accuracy, and even that perennial failure of the Marvel brand, a toothless charisma void of a main villain, didn’t particularly wound the film by evidently being grown in some Jason Statham clone tank. Crucially the action is well choreographed and reasonably inventive, and the appearance of comic book characters like Colossus power drives enough weight to lift the attention from Reynold’s hyperactive histrionics. Where it might be most subversive is with its structure, not to get to boring or academic but running the origin movie requirements movie in voiceover attuned flashback from the second to third act transition worked quite well, and broke up the linear original story template in a fresher, more engaging fashion than this particular strain of films usually attempt.
It took a few hours for the penny to drop that the appearance of the two lower tier X-Men and associated in-jokes results from the rights to the main characters being bound to another studio – this a Fox production, not Disney who no doubt would have recoiled at such a disgusting expression of corporate ambition. This brings to light the total lack of explanation of Deadpool’s connection to Xavier’s school for gifted pupils and the entirely new (to me) character called Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a sobriquet that I thought was another deeply buried in-joke, but no, she’s just another z-tier character whom they thought would be funny to render on-screen. But I digress, just as our narrator does in the picture before catering off on some new wet sliced woes. For all the films proud rule breaking it still struggles in giving the character of Vanessa any effective agency, so it was a shame to see her slip away from the narrative until the final, inevitable damsel in distress clustered climax. Closing a film on some furious set-piece structured showdown isn’t exactly original but these are minor quibbles, as overall I loved that Deadpool is that rare beast which really seems to throw caution to the wind and confidently express ‘fuck it, let’s go’, so for me its closest ally in attitude and tone must be something like Dredd or even Team America:World Police. Not that I was particularly seeking any clues but I didn’t even notice the hand of any specific director, auteurist led aficionado that I am, so the news that this was some talented Second Unit / SFX guy who has been given the step up wasn’t surprising, as visually it still cleaves to that gleaming Marvel identikit aura, that bright and clearly defined digital ambulation. It’s some of the specific turns that still leave me chuckling – the ‘mask’ reveal, the corpse semaphore – two incidents that individually have within them more wit and genuine subterfuge than the entire run-time of Kick-Ass or the genuinely disgusting Kingsman movie whom both pretend to wallow in the same subversive space – god, I fucking hated that movie.
Still here? Well I think we’ve finished and there isn’t much else to say? Well, if you insist I suppose we could take a cursory look at the state of the industry with yet another big scoring superhero picture, based on a pre-existing media entity. By my reckoning 90% of this Superbowl montage is reboots and remakes, and I assumed that that odd Turkish Airlines corporate interjection was a fucking skit until with growing horror I realised it was genuine, as was the shameless pilfering of the iconic Fight Club visual – you can justify replicating comic panel compositions all you like Snyder, but that is just….well, my initial reaction is disgust. In a recent S&S article the landscapes of reboots, reimagining and sequels was explored, with the usual and expected positions floated – Hollywood and the industry worldwide has been in the business of xeroxing success since the two-reelers were a blazing technological breakthrough, thus there is nothing new here. What was more interesting was the slow change in the gender and racial composition of the protagonists (Hunger Games, The Force Awakens) that seems to be slowly changing, and the four quadrant chasing that Deadpool may already have eviscerated, that an incredibly successful film has to be family friendly to be successful, at the expense of the wider richness and diversity of the subject matter mustered by the industry. Naturally the initial reaction has been to green light R rated fare now the almighty dollar has mitigated the fiscal risk, and that didn’t take long now did it? For me this not in the top tier but certainly in your B grade superhero fare, not as originally satisfying as Guardians, or parts of The Avengers or The Winter Soldier, but I’m glad they are carving out space for R rated material which might just save a increasingly yawn inducing genre. In the spirit of Mr. Pool I’d like to provide a hesitant link to this skit and warn that it is extremely NSFW and likely to offend due to its dark subversive wit, a piece from Comedy Bang Bang precursor Comedy Death Ray which might be the kind of sketch our hero would enjoy as he embarks on his claret soaked carnage. What will be dredged up next? Well true believer I’m waiting for that impossible sounding Turk Luis Guzmán starring spin-off, but who knows, anything is possible, as the obliterating onslaught of omertà obligated objectives obviates all objections – erm, excelsior?
A quick but effective technical post as it has been a slow week movie watching wise, although I did watch Tak3n which has been an instructive instrument in appreciating all that is horribly wrong with modern franchise movies – what a wretched and insulting waste of money, time, ideas and shells. I guess I should be celebrating the chance to go and see Gasper Noe’s latest orgy which is (vaguely NSFW) perverting some London screens, I’m just not sure I can summon the amorous strength. We shall see, but until then, some techniques;
Wow, I have to say that these imitation comedy trailers have come along way over the past few years, this one in particular has it all. Weakly plotted three act formulated guessable dreck? Check. Shoddy, sub-TV par CGI? Check. Indiscriminately identified foreign psychopathic antagonist? Check. Cliché ridden dialogue bursts? Check. Nauseating Amerocentric patriotic mood manipulation? Double check. Deeply insulting travelogue-location-montage ripped straight from an incompetent tourism board’s worst audio-visual commission? Triple check with bells on…..
What do you mean it’s genuine? Don’t be ridiculous, I wasn’t born yesterday. I guess if you’re in the right frame of mind – as in under the influence, say, of ten pints of Stella – that could be quite hilarious…..
The last nerd belch from SDCC2015 I promise, after footage leaked everywhere Warner Bros. finally got their act together and officially unleashed their other big marketing plea. DC do seem to be getting some traction with their competing universe, a place with consequences and lots and lots of scowling;
I’m really not sure what to make of this except a growing exasperation with yet another bloody comic book movie, as since I never read the comic I have no immediate investment in the material. Academy Award© winner Jared Letos’ Joker leaves me colder than a witches tit but I suppose this could be a fun, passable, throwaway 100 minutes, a bit like Blade II or Underworld IV or something…..
I’ve never quite understood or appreciated the financial vagaries of the film business, so even my inexperienced eye can’t quite fathom why one of the titans of this years film schedule would get an overseas release a full nine days ahead of its stateside debut – I mean it’s not as if a behemoth on the scale of Marvel Comics The Avengers: Age Of Ultron needs to generate a little on-line buzz or supportive word of mouth now is it? Disney wields one of the most advanced and expansive marketing juggernauts in modern media parlance so it certainly wouldn’t be saving a few grand on P&A costs across different release territories would it? No, after the first installment of Joss Whedon’s warmly received Marvel franchise picture become the third top-ten grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) all expectations were on the inevitable return to the vengeance afflicted victors replicating the initially successful formula – adrenalized action based antics, fanboy friendly narrative arcing, cute quipping, team based pyrotechnics and state of the art CGI wizardry. Well, all these contours are covered in Whedon’s return to make what he’s called ‘the most difficult project of my entire career’, with an elevated angle as Age Of Ultron yearns to be more entertaining, funnier and frantic that its predecessor, with a timely technological villain which I’m confessing is a favorite of mine from the original comics – the .James Spader voiced annihilating automaton Ultron.
Opening in media res with an action sequence amongst the best in the film the crew are paying a violent visit to the land of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s specter from the evil clutches of Hydra general Wolfgang Von Strucker. The gangs all here including the increasingly green-goo-eyed Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Arrogant Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain Sidelined (Chris Evans), Timotei (Chris Hemsworth), ha see I’m married in this film so the rumors aren’t true (Jeremy Renner) and a more prominently deployed Hulk (The Hulk). The dastardly Strucker has been experimenting on his local subjects to make them into what the film euphemistically terms the ‘enhanced’, giving a broad stroke backstory to two new additions to the MCU The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her accelerated brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) which I’m guessing has been divorced from the comics continuum due to rights issues – can’t exactly name them as Magneto’s mutant children when he doesn’t exist in your cinematic universe now can you? Anyway, with the specter acquired Banner and Stark get boffining with the artifacts infinite power and inadvertently breathe life, Pinocchio style, into Stark’s secret Ultron A.I. project which he designed to protect the earth from a repeat alien invasion like that seen in New York three years ago. With the antagonist activated the film ambles through a cacophony of character beats, world travelogue hopping and digitally enhanced mayhem in a mostly incoherent fashion which leaves the viewer reeling in confusion rather than celebration, although I guess to be fair to Whedon he has clearly yearned to push so much into the film that much of his ambition oozes out at the super-powered seams.
Now I know what you’re all thinking, that this is the long-awaited three decades in the making unofficial screen rematch showdown between Downey Jr. and Spader since the 1985 social urban classic Tuff Turf, right? It’s something of a conundrum is this installment in the increasingly dense Marvel Universe, as although in many dimensions it is an enhanced and intensified reprint of the original issue I initially walked out of the cinema amused but not as agreeably exhausted as I reeled from the first picture back in 2012. I’m guessing that Age Of Ultron will probably benefit from a re-watch which I am tempted to indulge which may ensure many of the sub-plots and garbled dialogue will fall into place, but fans of these movies and comical carnage in general will be in hog-heaven, with many characters from the MCU getting cross-over celebration. Whedon has focused his quill on both Hawkeye, Black Widow and by association Brucy Banner’s story arcs, while Thor and Captain America get relegated to barking orders and embarking on watery quests, the former due to Whedon’s self-confessed difficulty with writing for the character, although Thor does got the majority of the best lines with the Mjölnir manipulating machinations (‘Yes, it’s got a really nice follow-through’). As with the first film it must be a logistical nightmare to maintain momentum with over a dozen characters to juggle over a studio mandated 2 hours & ten runtime (although I think we’re getting an extended edition on Blu), so inevitably some plot serving plates crash to the floor while others soar off into blockbuster bruising awesomeness.
mutants enhanced on the block are reasonable enough additions to the team despite their weak motivations and abrupt shift of allegiances, while my deeper personal disappointment with the film lies with Ultron. Visually impressive and given some semblance of consciousness with Spader’s command of some malfunctioning dialogue he’s less a megalomaniacal herald of humanities certain extinction than he is a slightly distressed toaster, with incoherent monologuing and plotting which frame him as ultimately more farcical than fearful – the MCU just can’t quite get the villans right can they? Those skrulls chitakri were a bit rubbish, the Kree guy from Guardians was undercooked, I can’t even remember the villains from the Thor movies, neither Mickey Rourke nor Jeff Bridges did much as Shellhead’s nemesis and I know everyone loves Loki but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s less the immortal god of deception than a petulant, sneering weed. Far more successful is the WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD activation of The Vision with Paul Bettany finally earning his keep with numerous hours in the make-up chair, once he arrives on the scene the film which was beginning to plateau for me with its doodling sub-plots kicks up another gear as it leaps into its extended final act of mechanoid mayhem and CPU crafted carnage, while the whole Natasha & Bruce romance was just embarrassing to witness and frankly reduces a strong character to a cow-eyed simpleton in a very dreary fashion. Just to get into full geek/nerd mode I found the Hulk/Iron Man scrap a trifle underwhelming (Stark still hasn’t worked out that beating the Hulk makes him angrier and stronger,doltish FFFFFFOOOOOOLLL*), some of the MCU legandarium loring such as the introduction of Klaw had me grinning in fanboy fascination, and I thought the extended if rather silly final Slovakian Sokovian show-down was a lot of fun when it wasn’t being interrupted by boring footage of choking, tear-stained refugees weeping in humble acquiescence at their wonderful American saviors – all must worship at the spandex and chrome hewn heels of super-powered hegemony SPOILERS END.
The films early release in European, Korean, Brazilian, Russian and other territories has not been without some controversy from some ill-judged comments by various members of the cast, some deliberately viral baiting stupidity from Channel 4, but I think this ‘spat’ between Downey Jr. and Iñarritu’s claims of ‘cultural genocide’ deserves a little thought. Have those renegade pinko homo-loving libruls in Hollywood seriously spun out fifteen years of blockbuster superheroics as some dark fascist plot to enslave the mind of children across the globe? I think this is more a case of filmmakers of even Iñarritu’s stature becoming increasingly frustrated in funding doors being denied to them unless they are making franchise features, so they blame the messengers rather than the hordes of punters who are flocking to these films, right or wrong. I don’t think you could accuse The Avengers of launching any cultural torpedoes other than some sparse spins on the whole ‘technology without oversight is evil’ or the usual ‘power wielded without responsibility’ creed which is as old as the movies themselves, and having seen the film twice now with the specific intention on picking up more plot threads and machinations underneath the superpowered chassis the only other algorithms Whedon has wrought revolve around evolution which don’t hold much water. Those right-wing readings have always been appropriated to superhero material of the printed or moving form since Miller and Moore pummeled the genre into a new level of sophistication in the late 1980’s, and with appropriate timing two of their series were announced to return this week. Second time around the distinct lack of genuine threat or peril still serves as a distraction from the fist-pumping action beats and satisfying quips, for these seeking a fun night out at the flicks this is high yield vibranium in contrast to DC’s dull charcoal smeared severity. The age of Ultron is over, and the age of the Ant is soon to begin;
*Private joke, nothing to see here, please move along….although this revelation might make one of my regular readers pass out….